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Archive for August 2005

Romantic Meritocracy

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A famous passage from Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads:

Taking up the subject, then, upon general grounds, I ask what is meant by the word Poet? What is a Poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language is  to be expected from him? He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater  knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions,  and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the  Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.

Always “more,” “greater,” here. The poet is quantitatively, rather than qualitatively, different from the rest of humanity.
Parallel: the differentiation that couldn’t quite be cut out of the generally leveling “Declaration of the Rights of Man”:

1.  Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

A document that only shows its true hand with its last point:

17.  Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.

Wish I knew enough about the provenance of the DoRM to know if there’s a reason this comes last…

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August 30, 2005 at 12:48 am

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“Very Christian”

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From here:

On Monday, Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network´s “The 700 Club”: “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.”
The Christian leader went on to say that Washington doesn´t need to engage in another $200 billion war to get rid of one person. “It´s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
Rangel pointed out that Robertson has influence in the US, adding sarcastically that his words were “very Christian.”
His comments “reveal that religious fundamentalism is one of the great problems facing humanity in these times,” Rangel said.

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August 23, 2005 at 10:56 pm

Posted in Religion

Always Already

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(Photo from here).
Bergson, in Matter and Memory:
“But is it not obvious that the photograph, if photograph there be, is already taken, already developed in the very heart of things and at all the points of space?”

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August 23, 2005 at 10:52 pm

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Septembral Sunday

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So the last episode of Six Feet Under aired tonight, which was more of the exhausted soap opera stuff, tying and untying all of the knots that need to be tied or untied. At the end of a show, a 5 minute montage that I actually quite enjoyed. Saved the finale, on a certain level. Was rather on edge during the entire show tonight that it would end mired in the same marshy patch of melodrama where it’s been for, i dunno, almost 2 season…
Here’s a summmary of this final montage via the NY Times, where someone’s been up late writing tonight:

As Claire drove east in a new car – bless her, she had totaled that hideous hearse in her accident – she let her mind wander. Into the young, agile mind came a premonition: everyone would die. Suddenly the show became a montage of the ways all the show’s remaining major characters would leave this world. Keith (Mathew St. Patrick), David’s boyfriend, was shot in the back of an armored truck. An aged Brenda died while listening to her brother ramble on about emotional closure. Ruth expired in bed, attended by David and her companion, George (James Cromwell). David keeled over while fantasizing about Keith. Rico collapsed on a cruise ship.
And finally Claire herself, her eyes so rheumy they looked opaque, died in a huge dark-wood bed, surrounded by evidence of a well-lived, love-filled life and an HBO set designer’s sense of future décor. The year was 2085. She was 102.

The Times writer assumes that this sequence is Claire’s fantasy of what was to come, not a presentation of what’s “really” in store for the characters. Maybe, maybe not. SFO is usually pretty careful to mark fantasy as such, to break away from the daydream back into jarring reality…
Whatever. But if Alan Ball had really wanted a jarring close, to bring the momento mori factor to the next level, how incredible would it have been if he had thrown some more-than-familial history into the mix. More and better terror, David and Keith running a souvenir shop in Venice Beach where wealthy teenagers from Some Other Country come to do their Spring Breaking where their yuan/euro/yen goes a lot further, Rico finally run out of business by the conglomerate (really, he’s going to make it to the cruise ship running a family owned funeral home?)
The melancholy here, in this montage, is a sense that we’ll die and miss the more and better (especially the fabulous homes…) Which is the melancholy that coats the surface of contemporary American life… Underneath the surface, however, an extremely deep well filled with waiting for the other shoe to drop… Fire or fizzle or both…
Rome begins next Sunday.

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August 22, 2005 at 12:04 am

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Marginal Revolution

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Is it only a coincidence that just as Britain had touched bottom and was about to emerge from the Great Depression (the first Great Depression, from 1873 ’till the mid-90s), Oscar Wilde would write his preface to Dorian Gray?

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors…
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admiires it intensely…

A depression that taught the west the new rules of the game, the fact that from here on in economic crises would not arise from production failures, from lack, but rather from surplus, from a crisis of demand. *
This denigration of the useful, like society’s secret safety valve speaking through the artist here… In Wilde, the nineteenth century’s crisis of economic overproduction intersects its literary overproduction.
Think, for instance, of the extreme tediousness Chapter XI, when we go through Dorian’s belongings one by one by one by one:

And so he would now study perfumes and the secrets of their manufacture, distilling heavily scented oils and burning odorous gums from the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that had not its counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to discover their true relations, wondering what there was in frankincense that made one mystical, and in ambergris that stirred one’s passions, and in violets that woke the memory of dead romances, and in musk that troubled the brain, and in champak that stained the imagination; and seeking often to elaborate a real psychology of perfumes, and to estimate the several influences of sweet-smelling roots and scented, pollen-laden flowers; of aromatic balms and of dark and fragrant woods; of spikenard, that sickens; of hovenia, that makes men mad; and of aloes, that are said to be able to expel melancholy from the soul.
   At another time he devoted himself entirely to music, and in a long latticed room, with a vermilion-and-gold ceiling and walls of olive-green lacquer, he used to give curious concerts in which mad gipsies tore wild music from little zithers, or grave, yellow-shawled Tunisians plucked at the strained strings of monstrous lutes, while grinning Negroes beat monotonously upon copper drums and, crouching upon scarlet mats, slim turbaned Indians blew through long pipes of reed or brass and charmed…

And so on… The commodity and the tedium of the commodity, the failure of our desire to live up to the needs of the world…
What Wilde learned from Stephenson’s Jekyll and Hyde: We each need two selves nowadays just to keep up with the demand for demand…
* Of course, there is no such thing as a “crisis of demand,” any more than there are natural famines

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August 16, 2005 at 11:02 am

Posted in literature

American Stasis

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Interesting trifecta in the NY Observer this week, one by Chris Lehmann, one by Lee Siegel, and the best of the bunch by Francine Prose – all running under the group title “American Stasis”…

If there were such a thing as an urban psychotherapist, the good doctor might diagnose our malaise as a citywide case of chronic, low-level depression. Sadness? The faces you see on an average day on the A train look as if they’re auditioning for cameos in a Walker Evans photo. Free-floating angst and rage? I’d bet that if the average household were bugged (which they very well may be, before too long, in the interests of national security), you’d hear a startling number of New Yorkers yelling at their unresponsive TV screens as the network anchormen intone the evening news.
Those nightly wig-outs may turn out to be the key to our diagnosis. Because my guess is that we’re not all simultaneously being flattened, through some miracle of synchronicity, by the recovered memories of our unhappy childhoods. It hardly requires a board-certified psychoanalyst to read the signs and manifestations and to conclude that our malaise is not about past history, but rather about the present historical moment.

Only thing is, local color aside, this isn’t just a NY story… But a major change in barometric pressure…
What do we make of the fact that the declarations of the end of history always come when time seems to be rushing forward, while at times like we’re living in now, when “history” is ostensibly restarted, everything seems to have come to a halt.

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August 15, 2005 at 11:13 pm

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Wight Flight

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From a valuable blog called Squatter City (and by the author of a recent book by the same name):

Attention squatters: Detroit has 12,000 abandoned homes and 36 square miles of vacant land. What’s more, in a shocking tidbit, the dean of the University of Detroit’s school of architecture asserts that families are exhuming 400 to 500 bodies a year from local graveyards and reburying them in suburban cemeteries. All because of the fear of crime when coming to visit a relative’s grave.

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August 15, 2005 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Places

Recipe for Excitement and Innovation

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Holbo on The Valve:

The problem with Theory, as a normal feature disciplinary life, is it the nature of Theory never to be normal – always to be excessive and paradigm-shattering. You cannot oblige people to be this, on a regular basis, and expect them to maintain their intellectual honesty, not to mention dignity and equilibrium. Not that I want to restrain geniuses. (I’m sure if they really are, they will break any restraints I tried to install anyway.) I don’t want to oblige ordinary scholars, who might do something modest and solid, to pretend to be geniuses and do something fantastic and shoddy.

As Jodi Dean says in the comments:

what you support is a way of thinking that strives to be normal and paradigm reinforcing (as opposed to excessive and paradigm shattering), a method or way of thinking characterized by honesty, dignity, and equilibrium that produces modest, solid scholarship?
Presumably this way of thinking would trust ‘classical’ forms – conventional logic, standard argument. It would not insist on originality or in overcoming anything at all. It should avoid eclectism in favor of significance.
So, making the familiar strange is not advisable, but making the familiar reassuring and comfortable is? Shock is not a goal of a work, but serious contemplation or perhaps recognition of the rationality of the world?
Are there examples of works that do this that you admire? Presumably Mill.
And, if you reject the putting all the eggs in the theory basket in the passage that you quoted and I had quoted from someone else, would you say that the plain thinking (I’m trying something else instead of ant-theory) approach that you advocate resists the bureaucratic cooptation and assessment going on now in higher education?

Yeah – sounds like the Department of Merit Badge Earning, not literature…

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August 13, 2005 at 1:10 am

Posted in academia