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Archive for April 2006

useful idiot

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The Canadian papers – that is, the ones I get on Saturday (Globe and Mail and the Star) – are all worked up today about f’n Michael Ignatieff, the fact that he’s about to become the front man of the Liberal Party, or so it seems, how beloved he is in the Annex, and just how lubricatingly sexy he is (seriously?)

Positioning yourself as the useful idiot of some much smarter neocon goons should not, to my mind, be the golden road to electoral success up Ottawa way. Writing the ethics (and oh yeah necessity) of American Empire shouldn’t make you a hit off Bloor.

Here’s Jonathan Schell in the Nation back before the start of the war:

Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard, is also of the “do it right” school. His starting point, however, is the need to disarm Iraq. In his essay in the New York Times Magazine “The American Empire: The Burden,” he begins by noting that if Saddam Hussein is permitted to have weapons of mass destruction, he will have a “capacity to intimidate and deter others, including the United States.” Being deterred in a region of interest is evidently unacceptable for an imperial power, and forces it to remove the offending regime. Yet if the regime is to be removed, a larger imperial agenda becomes inescapable. By this reasoning Ignatieff arrives at the same destination as Friedman and Ajami: The United States must mount “an imperial operation that would commit a reluctant republic to become the guarantor of peace, stability, democratization and oil supplies in a combustible region of Islamic peoples stretching from Egypt to Afghanistan.” We arrive at a new formula that has no precedent for dealing with nuclear danger: nonproliferation by forced democratization. Ignatieff acknowledges that a republic that turns into an empire risks “endangering its identity as a free people”–thus menacing democracy at home by trying to force it on others abroad. Nevertheless, he wants the United States to take on “the burden of empire.”

If someone was interested, now or down the road, in an audio-visual demonstration of this useful idiocy, one could do worse than a greatest hits portfolio gleaned from this Charlie Rose debate between Schell and Ignatieff from February 25, 2003.

God. Ignatieff is an walking talking embodiment of the miasma of blinders-on stupidity that infected the chattering masses in the US during the run-up. Listening to this debate, reading his stuff, puts me right back in the bars of NYC in late 2002-early 2003, arguing with my bien-pensant colleagues. Hearing stuff like, “I’d support it, but only if the UN was on-board…” etc., etc., etc., Seriously, why now? Why Iraq? Why is this what we’re doing? What does this have to do with anything? Doesn’t that give you pause, to realize that there’s not a good reason and we’re doing it anyway? What do you think they’re up to with this, as expensive as it’s going to be, given that there’s no good reason? WTF?

UPDATE: Looks like it might be time for Ignatieff to get the laptop humming again. Wouldn’t want the hawkish left feeling all confused and conflicted when we end the treat of nuclear warfare in our time by dropping nukes on Iran.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 8, 2006 at 10:39 pm

Posted in america

biocentrism

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Serendipitously, while looking at something unconnected, I may have located the start of an answer to my issue from yesterday:

It is significant, I think, that “anthropomorphic” has no inverse, no opposite. There is no word, that is, for the attribution of inhuman characteristics to humans or humanity.

From Derek Attridge’s “Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee’s ‘Disgrace,” located here if you have access.

Coetzee’s novel has some affinities with what Margot Norris, in Beast of the Modern Imagination, terms the “biocentric” tradition in modern art: not that Coetzee creates animals in the manner of writers she discusses, “with their animality speaking” (1), but that his work like theirs (and like hers) tries to imagine a relation to animal life outside of the worthy but limited concept of what Norris calls “responsible stewardship” (24).

Attridge’s essay also appears here, if you’re interested. Have to get the Norris, now…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 5, 2006 at 4:23 pm

Posted in animal, coetzee

all that is solid melts into air

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A photo I took a few weeks ago, our first trip back to the old neighborhood.

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April 5, 2006 at 2:14 am

ache of modernism

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Two passages. The first from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles:

“The trees have inquisitive eyes, haven’t they?–that is, seem as if they had. And the river says,–‘Why do ye trouble me with your looks?’ And you seem to see numbers of to-morrows just all in a line, the first of them the biggest and clearest, the others getting smaller and smaller as they stand farther away; but they all seem very fierce and cruel and as if they said, ‘I’m coming! Beware of me! Beware of me!’ … But YOU, sir, can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all such horrid fancies away!”

And the second from Woolf’s To the Lighthouse:

In spring the garden urns, casually filled with wind-blown plants, were gay as ever. Violets came and daffodils. But the stillness and the brightness of the day were as strange as the chaos and tumult of night, with the trees standing there, and the flowers standing there, looking before them, looking up, yet beholding nothing, eyeless, and so terrible.

Twin horrors of the modern period: the “horrid fancy” of human immanence within nature, and, on the other hand, the “terrible” realization of its cyclical continuance without human eyes to see it. In both cases, the horror is predicated on a strange conjunction of consciousness, unconsciousness, and time

It is significant, I think, that “anthropomorphic” has no inverse, no opposite. There is no word, that is, for the attribution of inhuman characteristics to humans or humanity.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 5, 2006 at 2:12 am

Posted in animal, consciousness, woolf

convolutes

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OK, so I’ve just spent an awfully long time messing with the categories on this site. No more generic typepad categories. And I’m going to take them seriously from now on.

This site, among other things, is a place where I drop thoughts about some projects I’m working on / going to work on / would love one day to work on. You can follow along with these projects, as they unfold, through the categories from here on out.

For instance, try out consciousness….

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 5, 2006 at 1:33 am

Posted in meta

no hook

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From a Charles Bernstein appreciation of Barbara Guest, who died in February, in this month’s Bookforum. (The article’s not on-line, unfortunately):

In a period of American poetry in which the most visible, and indeed much of the very best, poetry has been written with hooks galore – whether outrageous or flamboyant or hip or morally uplifting, arrogant or agonized or transcendent – Guest used no hooks. This allowed her to create a textually saturated poetry that embodied the transient, the ephemeral, the flickering in translucent surfaces that we call painterly for lack of a better term to chart the refusal of pseudo-depth of field. It would be easy to dwell on the exquisite surface reflection in Guest’s work while eliding the significance of this insistently modulated diffusion and liminal warping and woofing.

Interesting passage. Two things stand out:

1) the list of “hooks,” which seems to come close to a full list (or at least a well stocked partial list, and one that could be expanded) of literary postures. To imagine a literature without outrage or flamboyance, without uplift, transcendence, arrogance or agony is provocatively difficult. (I guess will have to read some Guest…)

2) the sense that, here at least, our recourse to the visual arts, to painting, when we attempt to describe the literary aesthetic (we do it all the time – the literary aesthetic might be said only to borrow its vocabulary from other media) also carries with it a sense of flatness, a pleasurable lack of depth. The pleasure of the painting isn’t simply the pleasure of the surface, here; it’s the pleasure of the surface without depth, volume, content.

A Guest poem to get you (and me) started. Here are some more.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 5, 2006 at 1:19 am

Posted in aesthetics

fantasy-based community

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Wendy Steiner in The Scandal of Pleasure:

Art occupied a different moral space from that presented in identity politics, because art is virtual. We will not be led into fascism or rape or child abuse or racial oppression through aesthetic experience. Quite the contrary – the more practiced we are in fantasy the better we will master its difference from the real.

This sort of argument, one that we’re all familiar with and one – especially if we’re teachers – we find ourselves functionally endorsing from time to time or even often. For instance. when I teach Heart of Darkness, and we come to this –

“What saves us is efficiency–the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force–nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind–as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea–something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

– of course, in the back of my mind is a sense that perhaps if they could learn to see (upon first reading, not my retelling) the fact that the “idea” is unspecified, can’t be explained further (at least without complications), these students might turn a slightly more skeptical ear towards the empty ideological gestures of the guardians of “efficiency” today.

But this isn’t all that art does, is it? A dribble of pleasure, and a little education in the difference between artifice and reality? The forms of art only lessons in distortion, skips and static in the recording that we can listen for, so that we can know the difference between the song of the sparrow and the recording of the song of the sparrow? The represented content of the work only there to show us how easy it is to translate the things of the world, the recognizable, into the artificial and false?

This can’t be it…

On the other hand, and this is where things get a bit complicated, isn’t Steiner’s rather banal formulation simply the negative, pedagogical form of Adorno’s evocation of artistic autonomy in his Aesthetic Theory?

By virtue of its rejection of the empirical world – a rejection that inheres in art’s concept and thus is no mere escape, but a law immanent to it – art sanctions the primacy of reality.

More to come…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 4, 2006 at 1:47 am

Posted in conrad, literature