28/04/2011

Virtuous Prick


(Songs of Nietzschean virtue)




On Spotify Here

1. HONESTY


"No Children" by MoGos
(or "Honest to A Fault" by At the Drive-In)



2. COURAGE


(Bizarre amount of Nietzscheanism in the Shins, it's worth an essay.)


Shins, "Sleeping Lessons" and Manics, "Judge Yrself"

3. EXUBERANCE

"I don't know what the spirit of a philosopher might wish to be more than a dancer."




"I See the Light" by Paradise, "Customer" by Replacements

4. HUMOUR




5. HEALTH




(!)



6. FATALISM
"Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal
..."




7. AESTHETICISM






8. HARDNESS





9. GENEROSITY





10. POLITENESS





11. FRIENDSHIP





12. PRIDE



("I'm So Glad, So Proud" by Link Wray, and Electrelane. Honorary mention for absurdity: "Forefather")

(Also, Pride comes before the Fall)



13. SOLITUDE






(All illustrations randomly generated here.)


22/04/2011

my public ignorance #1





"...postpone reading Nietzsche for the time being; first study Aristotle for ten to fifteen years."
- Heidegger


"Further, no one can truly grasp Heidegger without a deep understanding of Kierkagaard. Sygdommen til Døden is foundational to "Sein un Zeit." Without mastering the subtleties of Kierkagaard, you will never glean the key insights from Heidegger that the essence of your work with Derrida demands.
Of course, you will need to learn Danish
...

...But in order to understand the Epic of Gilgamesh, you'll first have to comprehend the cave paintings and sculpture produced during the Upper Paleolithic. Without a total grasp of the cave paintings at Lascaux, you'll never be able to contextualize the oral tradition that produced Gilgamesh, leaving you without a full knowledge of the Septuagint, making your reading of Kierkegaard incomplete, making your reading of Heidegger & Derrida faulty.
Of course, you'll need to learn Proto-Indo-European
."
- Trolls

Wait right here. I'm going to go try crack something open.



Most of us realize my ignorance. (Really, I'm as tired of it as anyone.) But it is dreadfully hard to just jump in to philosophy, if you mind about Historical meaning rather than personal ones.

So, over about a dozen posts I'm going to pick out a philosophical lineage and struggle with it in public, for yr gratification and edification. It ends up looking "Continental" but isn't Continental (nor German idealist, empiricist, sceptic, existentialist, phenomenologist) as far as methods are concerned. It's neither comprehensive history nor arbitary cherrypick. It's not meant to be a canon (nor would most of these folk accept any such thing).


"I'm just trying to be a better person."
- My Name Is Earl


#2 Hume


#3 Kant


#4 Hegel


#5 Husserl


#6 Heidegger


#7 Derrida


#8 Kristeva


#9 Spivak

21/04/2011

LEAFLET REVIEW: BNP, Scottish Election 2011


"Fed up with useless politicians?"
- yes, so go away

My mate notes that this "looks like it was knocked up in the loft". Now, people like our trusty Labour Club can afford this loft aesthetic cos we know they're (mostly) not fools and gangsters.

But pathetic ideological lying is only allowed when you're in power, fellas.


DUBIOUS CLAIM#1: (Fourth line in) "Just 1 vote in 15 elect your BNP Member of the Scottish Parliament."

Meaningless, I think. Are they claiming that Aberdeen Donside is unsafe enough a seat that 7% of the vote will get them in? Or, that if BNP voters were spread evenly across Scotland, first-past-the-post would explode from sustained Far-right latency? Or, what?


DUBIOUS CLAIM #2: "SNP want More [immigrants]"

Actually I can't find much at all in the SNP manifesto or anywhere on their site about it. (No "immigration", "immigrant", "minorities", "asylum", "minority", "multiculturalism" nor even "influx of inferior races".) Their completely ignoring minorities is nasty, but rather less nasty than some people who take a keen interest.

Oh wait, here we go:

"Scotland has very different population concerns from the rest of the UK and we need an immigration system that recognises these needs. Migrant workers fill an important gap in Scotland’s labour market, and this cap will leave many employers struggling to recruit."
- Pete Wishart, SNP Home Affairs

What traitorous, bleeding-heart stuff.


DUBIOUS CLAIM #3: "FLOODS OF EAST EUROPEANS CAN, FROM 1ST MAY [&c]..."

This seems to be referring to a Westminster law with an exciting name: The Accession 2011. At the mo, the lightly sinister "Worker Registration Scheme" regulates migrants from the latest (2004-7) EU nations, and it's dissolving on 1/5/11. It's the end of economically nonsensical segregation.

"...migrants, including EEA nationals, can generally only access income-related benefits if they have a right to reside here and are habitually resident."
- Department of Work and Pensions

So the scaremongering falls apart before it starts. Also, the BNP's claim only works if you remember to add the premise that all immigrants are work-shy. (uh huh.)


DUBIOUS CLAIM #4: "There are already more Muslims in Britain than Scottish people!"

This one might really have got them in trouble. But if we stop at pointing out that this claim is wrong by 100% (There are about 2.4 million Muslims in Britain, and 4.6 million people identifying as Scottish), we miss the worst part of it: the despicable use of "Muslim" and "Scot" as exclusive categories.

Their factual errors pale next to their value errors, but those I can't redress as quickly or cleanly.


20/04/2011

INTERVIEW: John Emerson, ex-medic, ex-Zizka, ex-oaf, ex-wimp, troll


Philosophy is good advice, and no one gives good advice at the top of his lungs... I should like those subtle thinkers to teach me this: "what are my duties to a friend and to a man?" rather than "what number of senses is the expression ‘friend’ used?" It makes one ashamed that men of our advanced years should turn a thing as serious as this into a game.
- Seneca


In short, no one knows WTF is going to happen. Praise the Lord, we’re all brothers and sisters in ignorance! (And you needn’t fear the economists – they’re as frightened as you are, and only the Chicago School economists have a taste for human flesh).
- John Emerson


John Emerson has been posting "peasant wisdom" (freelance scholarship) in print and online for about ten years now. He traffics in crafty political radicalism and what he calls generalism, against the reigning academic milieu of specialisation and analyticity. He's a self-described "economic nihilist", and writes on the heartbreaking comedy of the dismal field from the outside, but well. However, you're as likely to see a piece on the Daodejing with a title referencing Henri Michaux, or an analysis of Nietzsche's marriageability, as you are a hardcore attack on modern methodologies.

Three essays, "Les Érudits Maudits" (on the humanities and class), "Thick and Many-legged" (on value and first philosophy) and "Attendent Lords" (on the Analytic stranglehold on philosophy) form an overlapping statement of his perspective.

What is a social critic but an academic troll?


***************************************************************


I stumbled onto your Trollblog in 2009, just as I was starting to realize the scale of the problems with my areas of study, philosophy and economics. These just so happen to be your areas of gouging satire. What was galvanizing about it was your connection of the two fields' issues. The pathologies as I understand them:

  • Philosophy: One dominant ideology has extraordinary science envy, which obsession has driven spurious professionalization and led an important social-intellectual guardian up its own arse. Pluralism has attenuated, in what had always been the most basically pluralist field.

  • Economics: An unscientific method with delusions of value-neutrality and a sixty-years-dead metaphysics controls all funding and influence. Also physical science envy. Unlike philosophy though, this lot have political power, and continue to wreak quantifiable suffering by exploiting policy-makers at a global level. (There's also the troubling thought that there might be endemic adverse selection into the field...)

  • Academia in general: As an indirect result of military spending on academic research in the early C20th, "paradigmatization" has seized almost every field, and universities have become markedly market-oriented. Narrowness is mistaken for rigour, jargon for precision, and categories for joints: déformation professionelle is everywhere, and won't apologise neither.


Q1. After 2008 you said "The way to handle economists and financiers is to let them fight it out among themselves until there’s only one left alive, and then kill him or her."

What will it take for honest, humanistic economics? Is positive economics salvageable, as Kalle Lasn's latest good intention assumes? Or will we really never change - that is, be actual scientists or actual social theorists? Does it warrant burning the thing down?

Emerson:I don't think positive or scientistic economics is salvageable. I think that economics should intellectually be like history (i.e. eclectic), and professionally like law: a mercenary profession, but with some thinkers who are not merely doing tasks for people with money. It will never be purer than law and shouldn't be. Note that I don't understand economics: I watch what it does. I'm more knowledgeable about philosophy, in my own way, but with enormous gaps. I have no illusions that I'm a better philosopher than the average PhD. I'm just a mostly-outside critic who dislikes a lot of what they do and how they work.


Q2. Economists like JK Galbraith and Keynes knew well enough the limits and uncertainties of the work. You've already made the relevant distinction: that there is a very large gap between what economists know (e.g. that the Laffer curve is unscientific nonsense) and what economists say (e.g. that the Laffer curve is sensible policy). But, given this distinction, mightn't the field actually doing well, underneath the realpolitik? ("If we only had honest drivers of this shitty car!"...)

JE: Actually, very few economists take the Laffer curve seriously, to my knowledge. A BIG problem with economics is that once someone has a PhD they're an economist, and what they say represents the profession, regardless of how many other economists accept that view. This is a quality control problem. Knowing that someone is a PhD economist from a top 20 school doesn't tell you whether they're an idiot or a sociopath or something better.

Unfortunately, the important economists aren't the sensible academics, but policy advisers, Federal Reserve economists, ideologues, op-ed writers, and so on. Applied and popular economics really outweighs pure economics, because pure economics isn't good enough to dominate the mercenary economics.


Q3. The first ideological requirement in economics is that you believe that people are unprincipled. I don't see it; do you buy it?

JE: The problem with "rational man" (Sen's sociopath) is not that it's not a realistic description of humans in general - though it isn't - but that economics, and modern life, tend to produce too many of them. I have known more than one ordinary, non-drug-addicted, non-psychotic, non-felon American who shamelessly cheated first-degree relatives and took them for everything they could get. My brother tells me that the people who fish money out of the tip jar at his restaurant are invariably rich.

I actually never thought that the "rational man" was ever intended to be descriptive, but more as an ideal to strive toward, for certain illberal people. Likewise, economics has its scientific predictive descriptive aspect, but (as Galbraith said) one of its main jobs is to explain that, e.g., the Populists really had no complaint against the banks.


Q4. One of your sustained themes concerns les érudits maudits ("the cursed scholars"): what you regard as the unforgiveable deception of millions of Arts students heading toward menial work; the contemptible structure of enrichment education.

Maybe there's a fundamental problem with Arts students' preferences - i.e. people drawn to study the humanities view straight career education as compromising. But how do you get this through to us? It's hardly a secret that our Arts career will be constrained and fraught.

JE:I have little to offer on this question. I am doubtful about the university as a rewarding livelihood but don't see an alternative. It would be possible to do scholarship as a leisure activity if you had an OK job, but to do that you wouldn't have time and probably not money for a "normal life", for example a family life.


Q5. Do you know if philosophy in non-Anglophone universities is faring any better? (There's an idea that this is all peculiar to the WASP zone.) To what extent does "Continental" avoid the paradigm?

JE: I have relatively little interest in Continental philosophy, for better or worse. I think that the smartest thing to do within academia would be to find places, probably not philosophy departments, where people seem to be doing interesting things. Geography seems to be an interesting field. History. Maybe social science. Maybe interdisciplinary, but that's a risky career if you're thinking that way.


Q6. Is there a non-professional philosophical community to speak of? This could be the blogosphere's finest hour. (Albeit, a forum without any power...)

JE: My biggest mistake was not trying to find or make a community. Isolation hasn't been good for me. To do that you'd probably have to hang out in various university towns and maybe take a few classes here and there, do free-lance writing, attend conferences if possible as an independent scholar, and befriend and correspond with interesting people who are willing to correspond with you.




Q7. There's only one lecturer at my college who could rightly be described as a "philosopher of life" - that is, one in forty that works with human problems, where one can find Nietzsche, Dilthey, Sartre, Polanyi, Levinas, Toulmin for undergrads. What duties does philosophy have to the public? Is personal philosophy the right replacement for Analyticity?

JE: I don't really think of philosophy as such, except in the most general sense where Montaigne, Lichtenberg, Epictetus, Guicciardini, Thomas a Kempis and miscellaneous others are philosophers. I don't especially think of duties to the public, but we're all part of the public.


Q8. There have always been lifestyle gurus muscling in on philosophy - these days, they manifest as self-helpists (with some blurring the line - Alain de Botton for example) Where does philosophy end and the hollow begin?

JE: Not an area of interest but I really hate a lot of that stuff, when it's commercialized and publicized. Usually in America it tends to be optimistic when optimism is often the problem. I think of philosophy as a way of using your strength and not as a comfort or remedy.


Q9. Your writing style is startling, erring to belligerence. The non-professional philosopher Nassim "Tear down the Memorial Prize" Taleb is much the same; is it the freelance role that enables it? Or is your intellectual anger greater than dissenting academics'

JE: I really have nothing to lose and sometimes I write purely expressively. I have several layers of reasons to dislike the current system, not all of which deserve anyone else's attention. I deliberately overstate rather than understate.




Q10. Your new blog, Haquelebac seems to be doing you good (or, your good is doing it); while you were already writing about whatever you wanted, historical distance seems to be lending you some peace. What is it about, say, the feats of Asian warlords that draws you?

JE: I started studying Chinese for Lao Tzu, then poetry, but eventually the constant presence of nomads in Chinese life, after about 200 BC, captured my interest. Philosophically it's interesting regarding the origins of the state and the place of violence and treachery in the world.



Q11. You're a fan of literary nonsense - Rabelais, Michaux, Carroll. What's so tempting about the absurd?


JE: I am pretty eclectic, doing philosophy, literature, history without thinking about their relationships.


Q12. Doesn't Cynicism's recommended distance from society imply viewing it as irredeemable? Are you a Cynic for your sanity's sake?


JE: I am much less detached than I wish. I don't really see much place for a personal input from me any more. This isn't a general theory though. More like the present moment of my personal situation. The American finance-technology-military-media-methodology machine may be invulnerable.




Q12. What are you working on at the moment? Any new collection on the way, or is the Daodejing occupying you? I spy your fascination with C19th Brazilian radical preacher Antonio Conselheiro; any plans to vindicate him?
JE: I am not working much. I do plan to put out more collections, but my energy flags. Your interest is a positive factor, believe me. The topics would be Lao Tzu and Chinese philosophy, the rise of Genghis Khan, the origins of Chinese shi poetry (the Cao clan), Populism, and the general philosophical stuff you've showed interest in.



Thankyou much,



**************************************************


If you care about contemporary philosophy, economics, frustrating politics, Sinology, or the objects of the fields thereof, you'd do well to go engage with Emerson...

...as Borgesian artist.
...as Cynic
...as left-populist
...as scholar of Asia
...as Troll.




To me, once you think life is about success, you lose. It commits you in some way of accepting the world as it is, because the world decided who succeeds and who fails, regardless of how you define “success”.

If you take chances, you risk failure — success is a kind of result, and the results of what you do are out of your control. Not only is there an enormous chance element, but the cards are systematically stacked against certain sorts of goals.

There are various other ways of living than the search for success, but it’s hard even to state them in a country as activist, optimistic, and conventional as the U.S
.



13/04/2011

Pop Portrayal of Vegetarians


"TURNIP PIE AND PEANUTS - THAT'S THE SORT OF FILTH I EAT!
ANY SORT OF RUBBISH THAT'S WHOLESOME AND DISCREET!
WHY DON'T I ADMIT THAT MY HYPOCRISY'S COMPLETE?
IF I SHOULD LIVE TO BE A CENTENARIAN -
BECOME OUR MOST ADORED HUMANITARIAN -
I'LL NEVER MAKE A DECENT VEGETARIAN
!"
- Dr Doolittle (1967)


Oh, you're into that no-meat diet stuff? Which flavour are you:
spiteful,
weak,
voguish,
sentimental
or neurotic?

Vegetarians get slandered all over the place in pop culture. Even now, I'm struggling to list many positive portrayals. The battle happens over and over, and vegetarians invariably lose. The holy grail of the matter would be the philosophical vegan who doesn't even like animals (rare in life, but unimaginable in fiction). When visible at all, vegetarians are 2D stereotypes, The Vegetarian Character and little else. Let's hunt:
  • Mystic: Wacky cultural moralism. e.g. him out of K-Pax, Spock, loads of Hollywood Hindus.

  • Hippy: As goofy, sentimental, contemptible. e.g. Phoebe from Friends, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.

  • Hipster: As smug, shallow, au courant. (This feeds through to the larger image of cheap rebellion.) e.g.

  • Wienie: As feminine and/or picky behaviour. HG Well's Eloi; Gregg Edelman in Green Card.

Unstereotypical examples:
  • Since 2000, Superman.

  • Amoral: Renton from Trainspotting just can't digest meat properly, and doesn't give a fuck about sentience.

  • As much as I'm surprised to say it, Legally Blonde is good, albeit trading animal-rights stereotypes for an extra ladle of gender ones. For political strength see also Joan Allen in The Contender.

  • The Lisas in Six Feet Under and The Simpsons are ok, though still heavy on the larfs: "Good news, everyone! You don't have to eat meat! I've got enough gazpacho for everyone!".

  • Michel Faber's not vegetarian, but (so?) has written one of few persuasive novels with it as a main theme. Safran Foer in Everything Is Illuminated. Joelle from Infinite Jest, too.

  • Scott Pilgrim could have been a subversion of the "weak" stereotype in the form of evil super-vegan Todd, but ends up showing him as an idiot poser.

  • You can always rely on Alan Moore to be thoughtful: Ozymandias is an Olympean-Hyperborean ethical villain.

  • Count motherfucking Duckula.

*******************************************************

This is just the distortion in the fictional envelope, of course: the News does a much bigger and more impressive job. Why is this wrong?

1) Deception by inaccuracy. By misrepresenting what vegism is actually like, it marginalizes loads of people (about 8% of Brits, 3% of Americans).

2) Deception by omission. Keeps the veil over omnivorous readers about the rational aspects and the challenge to speciesism.

3) Reproduction from deception. Worst, it obscures our violence to nonhumans, violence which couldn't continue without constant omissions like this. (I softly imagine.)


03/04/2011

notes on Infinite Jest

(c) Cody Hoyt 2009


"...I am just about the world's worst source of info on [Infinite Jest]."
- Wallace, letter to fan

Infinite Jest is a book. I am a reader of such. What could go wrong?

But it's hard to say things about IJ because, despite that ^ epigram, in a real sense you are competing with Wallace if you do; IJ has already Freuded, Hegelled and problematized itself, not least in its 200pp of (plot-endogenous) footnotes.

And its reputation obscures it, already, only fifteen years in. (e.g. As well as the usual exhaustive cult attentions, there's a series of wacky blogs and a support group devoted to how gruelling it is.) We view length as pretentious in itself. This speaks little for our generosity, motives or attention spans. And but the fact is that the book isn't really over-written or gratuitous: that it's 1200 pages of drum-tight shit, staggeringly funny and human to boot.

It reports in on a dozen things I'm not interested in - tennis, optical physics, pharmacology, counter-pharmacology, the specifics of child abuse - and is riveting even then. Every hundred pages there's a passage to gasp and halfclose yr eyes at. It is warmth reporting on ice.

Some first-read thoughts, (toward a lifetime of catching up):

- There's probably massive overlaps with its namesake Hamlet, though not for me, not yet, barring:

"BERNARDO: Who's there?" - opening of Hamlet

"I am..." - opening of IJ


As well as the bit where James Incandenza (the father)'s ghost manifesting and warning ... well, a character he's not related to - who notes that had the ghost appeared to his son, he would've messed the kid up good and proper...

- IJ stylizes itself with things which have been considered the opposite of style - formal organisation titles, straightfaced repetition of details and nerdy facts and full names; unnecessary, often-unfunny subject-predicate clarifications (Wallace, that is); and oodles of technical explanations. The thousand footnotes give reading it an interruptive rhythm. So but there's constant digression in the text (at one point there's three pages of flashback and tangents between two lines of dialogue) and in your train of thought. Life is a series of more or less successful digressions.


- Almost everyone is in some way deformed: phobic, neurotic, addicted, displacing, disabled. (And so too in the novel!)


- DFW is an omnivore, a generalist: IJ is nauseatingly detailed with academic arcana, medical/chemicological/mathematical/scientific passages, lC20th Boston slang, film-geek waffle, & what one reviewer called "pseudo-science" (but which are surely just "alt.hypotheses") - which theoretics all add up to sensory overload, and exasperation for anyone who expects to encircle and dominate what they read with their understanding.

- The "unreliable narrator" conceit in literature is making its worthy way towards cliché; the third-person-objective narrator who is nonetheless occasionally ignorant is entrenched but still crisp - but ignorant footnotes?

The discourse changes style and inflection when swapping storyline to storyline - most noticeably when the Francophone Marathe is its object. (At one point I got suitably paranoid and saw the whole book as an informal report by the cross-dressing secret agent Steeply.)


- The physical contrast between brothers (Apollonian, Olympean) Hal and (Tiny Tim, deformed, innocent) Mario is unsubtle, but so. Mario and Lyle are perhaps the only naive, unironizing characters among, say, the hundred in the cast.

"The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott [10yo] finds stuff that is really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. It’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy."

This links Mario's innocence to his defect: innocence, in an irony-obsessed world, is a defect. And 'stupidity as closely related to innocence', too: stupidity as the absence of an attitude, not the absence of intelligence (temporary or chronic).

Like Don DeLillo, Wallace uses hyperarticulate children. I'm inclined to name this sort of thing "Hogwarts Syndrome", with the kids more sensible, prolix and interesting than any pack of children have rights to be.


- Mario notes at one point that he has lost his easy empathy with his little brother, that he cannot tell how Hal is feeling anymore: we the readers go through the same, beginning the book inside Hal's head at moment of trauma and insight, and but gradually (as the cast expands) lose this closeness.

- The word "annular" recurs like every thirty pages, though I only noticed this cause I had no idea what it meant. ("...of or pertaining to a ring or rings, ring-formed, ringed.”) I now think it's a key MacGuffin, describing as it does

how IJ's cold fusion works;

how (super-MacGuffin) James Incandenza's film ouevre is structured;

how addiction works;

the appeal of suicide;

how they cured cancer by giving cancer cancer;

maybe the "Subsidized", ruined nature of time in his near-future paratopia;

and IJ itself - how its storylines fit (rings-within-IJ's-ring).

He could have used "meta-". It wasn't ruined yet in 96'.


- There are six suicides in the book, not counting people who watch the samizdat. A number of passages treat this, particularly the long depression rationales given by the characters Joelle, Gompert, Day et al (eg. p648-651):

"the person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. It is the weighing of two terrors, a rational decision, which rationality is invisible until you are there with the flames at your back..."

These can't help but be newly resonant for us. Just because you're a genius doesn't mean you'll ever arrive at any answers.