Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I would like him to announce his withdrawal with a comic and possibly vulgar dance.
It would give a moment of pseudo-levitas to all the pseudo-gravitas.
And then, at the end, he could endorse McCain.
Monday, January 28, 2008
A young woman named Eufrosina Cruz wants to be mayor and considers her indigenous culture to be an abusive one.
It is quite obvious that feminism (which promotes the rights of women, but does so largely within western democracies) is at odds with multiculturalism, which often entirely denies women any kind of rights (depending on the culture).
The seemingly natural alliance of feminism with multiculturalism has never made any sense to me.
There are many super-macho cultures around the world that allow almost no say to women, and those women who live in those cultures, want in on the rights of the west.
"But the male leaders are refusing to budge. 'We live differently here, senor, than people in the city. Here, women are dedicated to their homes, and men work the fields,' Apolonio Mendoza, the secretary of the all-male town council, told a visiting reporter."
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Thus for the Lutheran Reformation there is a step out of seeing the Ten Commandments as a personal affair (Catholics saw the ten as a way to keep one's private life decent). Now, the 10 commandments (especially the last seven) are the root of all law in the Lutheran kingdoms.
Here's a passage that addresses a hot-button issue, or at least an issue that seems to get everybody all upset whenever I touch upon it:
"Officials were also to promulgate rules to govern family relations. Civil laws were to proscribe monogamous heterosexual marriages between two fit parties and to proscribe homosexual, polygamous, bigamous, and other 'unnatural' relations. They were to ensure that each marriage was formed by voluntary consent of both parties and to undo relationships based on fraud, mistake, coercion or duress. They were to promote the created marital functions of propagation and child rearing and to prohibit all forms of contraception, abortion, and infanticide. They were to protect the authority of the paterfamilias over his wife and children but to punish severely all forms of adultery, desertion, incest, and wife or child abuse" (84).
An enormous number of books is listed in the bibliography which support Berman's assertions. One of the most interesting is John Witte's From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion and Law in the Western Tradition (Knox, 1997).
I've ordered that, to put on the pile. I've looked through it at Amazon.com. It argues that marriage was once a sacred covenant between a couple. Now it is more and more seen as a legal contract.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Harold J. Berman's book The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition is a ball of light. The man is so erudite that he opens whole worlds with every line.
He has the wit to look at the population of Wittenberg in 1517 when Luther posted the 95 theses on the door of the cathedral.
2,500 souls (p. 54).
At one point he will look at such details. At others, he looks at enormous ideas. He's comfortable with both, having a kind of magisterial intellectual reach that allows him to write paragraphs such as:
"The church, he taught, belongs to the heavenly kingdom of grace and faith; it is governed by the Gospel. The earthly kingdom , the kingdom of 'this world,' is the kingdom of sin and death; it is governed by the Law. Luther considered this doctrine to be revolutionary. 'Of this difference between Law and Gospel,' he wrote, 'there is nothing to be found in the books of the ancient fathers. Augustine did somewhat understand this difference and showed it. Jerome and others knew it not...'" (40).
"Indeed, humankind, in Luther's view, is wholly incapable of lifting itself out of its fallen state. This part of Lutheran theology, which is perhaps the hardest for post-Enlightenment Western society to accept, was in fact what appealed most to early-sixteenth-century European Christendom, with its daily experience of oppression, corruption, and wretchedness, coupled with a moral doctrine that had come to appear unrealistically optimistic" (41).
Berman, Harold J. Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition (Boston: Harvard UP 2003).
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
I was sick, and was forced to lie about between races to the bathroom. I turned on the TV at 4 am and saw a film called the Fountainhead. I knew this was based on a book by Ayn Rand which I had never read, but which is often referred to, so I took a look.
The Fountainhead was a quite simply astonishing film. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, and it impressed me that such a powerful, openly philosophical film would have ever been made by Hollywood. Its ideology was right there on the surface in astonishing speeches where actual thought was proudly presented. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Has Hollywood ever made another overtly philosophical film?
There were hundreds of architectural sketches that were used in the film, too, to illustrate the ideas.
It was incredible to me that such a viewpoint could have been made using the top actors of the day. The history of how on earth this film ever got made must in and of itself be amazing.
One of the things I liked in the book What Art Is, about Rand's aesthetics, which I once browsed while in Portland, Oregon's Powell's Books (an entire city block 5 stories high of a book store), was that the writers made fun of Kenneth Koch's poems by children. I think they said there wasn't enough meaning in them, or something. It was a mild hit of some sort like that, but I couldn't believe anybody would take on those poems. I too think there is almost no real quality in them. They are fresh and fun, but they aren't poems. Koch thought that freshness was enough even in his own poems, but I think his poems kind of suck, too.
But then, what is a poem? What is art?
The notion has been lost. But these Randian fellows, or so it seemed to me, were going to try and elucidate this -- more and more relativistic value, that, it seemed to me, had been overtaken by race, gender and class to the point that not only had that come to be the way in which value was assigned to the authors we studied in graduate school (in certain classes), but also to the very students who were reading those authors. If you had the right credentials in terms of race, gender and class then in some classes you didn't have to do anything else. You were home free. And God help you if you were white and male and straight. You couldn't get above a B.
Several students in graduate school actually turned gay in order to cash in on the phenomenon.
Many people have turned into Native Americans in order to cash in on the phenomenon. Ward Churchill is just the most visible. I've known several people who did this. You even get a better mortgage rate, and nobody checks.
William Least Heat Moon is an author who claimed this. He became a bestseller, but it turned out he has no Native AMerican ancestry.
I suppose this is part of what drives me to continue to want to look at quality. And to that extent, I still think Rand is right to want to look at quality. And at individuals.
One of the things she denounces throughout the film The Fountainhead is the collective. The evil people in the film are constantly talking about what the collective wants. To that extent, I agreed. I too think that when people are talking about what the collective wants, they are only disguising their will to power.
But there is also a Ubermensch mentality, esp. as it is seen in the ghastly last image of the film in which the heroine is adoringly looking up at Howard Roark standing on top of his disgusting modernist skyscraper. Howard Roark is a genius skyscraper builder in the film, if you haven't seen it. He insists on making buildings his own way, and doesn't care what others think. At one point the community wants to add balconies to the modernist council flat he's built. He blows the whole place up, costing the city millions of dollars. However, the jury declares him innocent by reason of genius.
Without God, there seems to be two alternatives: communism, or Nietzscheanism. At least those are the two forks in the road most commonly travelled. They both suck, since both use power as the only criterion. As Mao used to say, power comes from the end of a gun.
But I think power comes from correct principles (as they are defined in the OT and the NT).
Ten Commandments, esp. the last five, are amazing.
Thou Shalt Not Kill.
Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.
Thou Shalt Not Steal.
Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.
Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife or Property.
Howard Roark actually DOES live within these commandments. His opponents do not. They commit all five. One of his architectural opponents steals his work, and then bears false witness against him.
Rand's anti-Christian, but she still has her hero live within these five commandments (except possibly the last one since he is interested in one of his benefactor's wives, and ends up with her at the end, after the benefactor blows his brains out because he can't compete with Roark for sheer genius).
But let's look at the earlier commandments. Does Roark keep those, too?
Honor Your Father and Mother. This is a positive injunction, unlike the ones listed above, and it doesn't come into play in the film. But, it's crucial in living a good life. Anyone who doesn't love their mother and father is a scumbag. Moms and dads aren't mentioned in this film. It's as if they don't exist!
Roark also doesn't use bad words, and ... well, he doesn't attend a church, but you get the sense from the film that we are in Egypt, and that Roark is meant ... like Moses, to lead us out of Egypt into the promised land of modernism.
It's an amazing story and so skillfully done that I have to hand it to Rand that she was a genius to pull this off. There is one great sin in the film. The skyscraper at the end is a direct reference to the Tower of Babel, but she doesn't seem to get this. The last shot shows Roark at the top of his latest skyscraper while his new wife takes an elevator up the scaffolding while adoringly looking up to Roark as if he is god. The poor dear. Rand got close to the truth, and yet I think she fails in terms of the most important commandment, the first.
"You shall have no other gods."
In a sense, the modernists all screwed up by placing genius as the new god. What a bunch of goofballs!
We ARE meant to serve our community with whatever genius we possess. It's not to be worshipped as an end in itself, as this bizarre film does. It's a complete mess to do that. The idea that Roark should be a god is so repugnant that it's laughable. He's a false idol!
Is: 42:8 I am the Lord; that is My name! I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.
This is the great sin and the great problem of the modernists: they place too much weight on the false idol of art. And it makes everyone unhappy because art as an end in itself can never make anyone happy. Happiness is a function of total faith in the Lord.
1 John 5:21: Dear children, keep yourself from idols.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Harold J. Berman was a legal historian who taught until the age of 89 at Emory University. His blockbuster book Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition (Harvard UP 2004) is next up in my list of readings. It opens with an account of the Lutheran legal tradition.
Berman argues that every great revolution in the west offers new legal traditions to match new philosophies.
"Lutherans replaced the 'two swords' theory of the Papal Revolution with a new 'two kingdoms' theory: the invisible church, the priesthood of all believers, they taught, belongs to the heavenly kingdom, which is governed by the Gospel; the earthly kingdom, the kingdom of 'this world,' including the visible institutional church, is governed by law, which is in the exclusive competence of the Christian prince and his councilors" (6).
The Catholic church at this time had become oppressively corrupt with the Pope ruling all. Many attempts at reformation from within the Catholic church had failed. Luther's succeeded, but it didn't do so out of the blue. It was a needed reform that was deeply felt throughout the society, as no one was any longer taking the church seriously, since it was widely felt to be a joke, with its practice of indulgences, etc.
Berman's book is meant to be a corrective and also a reminder, that our legal tradition is steeped in our religious traditions, and that as we move toward global law, the traditions are bound to conflict. He wants us to remember ours, because it is a fine tradition that is largely being forgotten as we rush toward secularism. Berman's book opens with the Lutheran reformation, but also deals with the English reformation, and touches upon the Marxist reformation in the Soviet Union and tries to get at the legal underpinnings of each, and how they are natural outgrowths of the belief systems of each.
"The belief systems that accompanied these apocalyptic visions were reflected not only in radical poltiical, economic, and social changes but also in new concepts and new institutions of public and private law" (4).
This book is about three hundred pages in length. I hope to finish it over the weekend, and then squib a note or two before school recommences on Monday.
Berman died in November 2007. I doubt if my divagations would have been worth his time, but I'm certain that his divagations will be worthy of mine. This is what Lutheran surrealism needs: a sounder concept of law. Surrealist law practice stemmed from Lewis Carroll's Red Queen. Lutheran law practice is on a sounder footing, and is, I suspect, what has led to Lutheran countries being the world's happiest.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I often wonder what to put on my tombstone. Well, actually I never do, but today I thought I was going to die, someone said something so weird. So maybe I should put that weird thing on my tombstone. Why not?
Today I was having lunch with a friend in the Ming Moon restaurant, a tiny place in the former Ames Plaza. In the restaurant I spotted my Dean, with the geography teacher and went over to say hi, before I went and dined with my pal Gary Mayer, a painter, who is my best friend.
The geography professor said, "The dean and I were just laughing about you. We find you so funny." The dean added, "Yeah, we're always making fun of you." I asked nervously, "Um (gulp) what did you say?"
"I said, 'He answers questions nobody has asked,'" the geography teacher said.
I loved this, because it made me seem completely original and completely irrelevant simultaneously. The Dean and the geography teacher are such jokers. This is New York State, and I am still getting used to the sense of humor here. This is much better than Seattle, where the agelasts had outlawed humor... but it's not MUCH better, because it makes me feel that I MYSELF don't have a sense of humor. (I don't, which is why I study it.)
I had the broccoli with garlic sauce. My fortune cookie said, "And you will have problems of identity, too."
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
"The factors that contribute to this border mentality, which emerges in infancy, include dirt, feces, soil, ugliness, and imperfection, in other words, 'puritanical, western obsessions'" (145).
In other words, we should like to be covered in shit and filth, like those outside of the first world of the west, or like babies who don't realize they've soiled themselves. I found this passage amusing beyond belief. Even when you travel to Catholic countries the Protestant notion of cleanliness is abandoned. I remember in Paris in 1983 in my tiny apartment in Montmartre, up in the 18th, near Porte de Clignancourt. The only toilet was an actual hole in the floor utilized by several different apartments. It was a disaster area to put it mildly, because there was invariably a turd outside the hole. I went into reasonably priced restaurants at the time and there were the same holes in the floor. You had to squat, and try to get your turd to fall down the hole. Most didn't care if it did or not. In Spain, at the train station in Madrid, the situation was even worse. Piles of turds surrounded the hole in the floor, like piles of snakes. What those countries could have used was a little more Puritanism, I felt then, and I still feel now.
Reynolds is arguing in her defence of multiculturalism that America should be more accepting of filth and feces.
A friend of mine who lived in Japan told me that in the 1970s he lived in a town that didn't have a single toilet. He used to have to take a dump every morning into a pit that was hundreds of years old. He'd hold on to a rope, plant his feet against the side of the pit, and lean his butt out over the hole. When his sphincter relaxed, he would relax, too, and nearly fell into the pit. Once a week he'd take a bullet train to a McDonald's in the regional capitol, and spend two hours on a real American toilet, reading the newspaper, grinning.
The notion that America should be more like the Third World, and that the west needs a thousand Mogadishus (as Ward Churchill put it) so that we can be more like them, seems to arise from anthropologists such as Levi-Strauss who were reluctant to judge the cultures that they studied, and never developed UNIVERSAL standards by which they could be judged since that was felt to be a form of ethnocentrism.
But hey, I'm going to take a toilet over a hole in the floor or a pit with a rope no matter how exotic they are. And I'm going to do it because of HYGIENE standards, which are not silly, but promote LONGEVITY. I'm in favor of LONGEVITY, a LACK of CRIME, a LACK OF CORRUPTION, CHECKS and BALANCES, standards of cleaniness not only in toilets, but also in food (preparation must be hygienic!). Excuse me for my ethnocentrism, but the Protestant west is good in some ways.
Reynolds on the other hand thinks that crime is somehow scintillating, and that a fear of it gets in the way of learning. I kid you not.
In a passage where she's taking a student named Zoe to task for the class-based nature of her responses, she writes,
"Zoe's reactions were probably influenced by her family's experience with urban crime: during a visit from her family to Leeds, their car was 'nicked' and burned on Prince Phillip's playing fields. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these middle-class white students had strong aversions to places marked by terraced housing or security bars..." (146).
She thinks this is a sign of something apolitical on the part of the students that needs to be addressed. We should all learn to "dwell" in shit and crime.
Against Reynolds' notions, Anthony Kronman's work starts to look sanitary and salutary.
However, Reynolds does things that Kronman hasn't thought about. She develops the notion that people are comfortable with some texts that mirror their own realities. I thought of how my African American students felt very comfortable in a book called Rikers, about a boy who spends ten months awaiting trial in Rikers prison. I was completely uncomfortable in that text. On the other hand, these same students didn't enjoy inhabiting the poems of Wallace Stevens, which I love to inhabit. But against Reynolds' notion that literature should make me more comfortable in Rikers, I would rather that students who have never inhabited a lovely poem and learned to dwell in it learn to do so. That's value-added, in my opinion.
And to some extent, the point of reading is to expand one's awareness of different types of texts as places. I found the Rikers book fairly simple, and completely painful. One of my students told me that he had been in Rikers (this was a white student with tattoos all over his body). I asked him if he would have protected me in Rikers. He said, sure, if you was my ho. Again, not exactly what I wanted to hear. Whereas Wallace Stevens is a delight. I realized it is important to make all students more comfortable in a clean and delightful text rather than to make them all comfortable in prison.
It's not clear what Reynolds gave as assignments or how she graded them. She does hint at an assignment by Harvard Scholar Lawrence Buell, but doesn't tell us what it was. The notion of judgment remains a huge taboo in the academy. What counts as quality? If she wants me to try out her methods, I need an assignment or two, and some notion of what criteria to use in grading the papers.
This is an odd book, limited by the methodology of Marxist-feminist thought, which at this point is largely a mess, but also interesting, as it opens new doors. The doors turn out to open into a rabbit warren of a kind, but still, that's not entirely bad.
So: Kronman or Reynolds?
Each offers something, and to my mind, it's best that the two routes continue to confront one another, and to teach each other something.
In the comments, someone said that they thought Georges Bataille was frightening. He was, and is. He meant to be. But he and his ilk also gave rise to the likes of Raymond Aron, who was sensible, and clear, and good. The Sophists in ancient Athens gave rise to Socrates and Plato. The Pope during Luther's day was so bad that in a sense he could be said to be the true inspiration for Lutheranism. The current rabbit's warren of the humanities has to give way to something clear and good, too. It is darkest just before dawn.
Monday, January 14, 2008
One reads signs of this weariness throughout Nedra Reynolds' book.
One of the problems in the book is that Reynolds wants to radicalize white middle-class students by sending them into neighborhoods where they're not comfortable, and change their perceptions about themselves. Students, however, are there for a grade. They are not there to be radicalized. Also, if you send them into a bad neighborhood and they get killed, you are in big trouble.
"The theories and methodologies of streetwork are necessary to a successful fieldwork project that equips students to analyze their experience in space, but an 'appreciation of difference' is not enough -- cultivating such appreciation does little to interest students or residents in activism or social change" (116).
Whatever Reynolds means by social change isn't clear. She seems to think that various people are oppressed by white middle-class English people, and that that's why they're poor. If she can turn her students into activists, this will change them around, and change the society for the better. I doubt that this is true. Poor people are badly organized and often have no strong institutions of their own upon which they can count. That can be oppressive, but you won't hear this from any Marxist-feminists.
When you have a major religion for instance that doesn't allow women and girls to read, you have by necessity a bunch of very ignorant women and girls. If you oppress them in this way, your country and by extension your culture, will not be very smart, since half of your population is dumber than donkeys. No Marxist-feminist will allow this to be said.
But without at least this much said how can there be any clear liberation in store?
The presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in a speech in Michigan last evening that was televised on C-Span that poverty doesn't touch those who get married and stay married. This, too, would be something that no Marxist-feminist would like to hear.
If you want to avoid poverty: get married and stay married, Huckabee said. Now, what if our young missionaries went into the housing of the poor and told them this? It might do them a lot of good to know this, but most Marxist-feminists think that heterosexual marriage is itself a terrible yoke, and only for yokels.
Get married and stay married, Huckabee (that yokel!) said. Work together for a lifetime. White Protestant culture was built on that basis. It rather flies in the face of feminist assumptions about who gets ahead and why. And it would be rather annoying if you went into poor areas and told them: hey, there is a way out of your misery, people. Become Protestant, so that you have not only the right, but the duty, to educate yourself and your children, and then stay married to the same person for your whole life.
Reynolds writes, "...service learning should be informed by a more radical notion of activist fieldwork, which is less about volunteerism and more about intervening to effect social change" (133).
What it is that she expects to change and how this is going to be done has still not been clarified, and I'm on p. 138 of a 175 page text. Reynolds' social change means de-centering the white middle-class students. Take them, and tell them, go into the ghettos and barrios and Muslim areas of Leeds and see the other, and somehow get off your high horse and be like them? But some of Reynolds' students discovered instead that white middle-class people were intellectually superior to those they encountered and drew "neater, tidier, and more creative" maps than those drawn by those in the "poorer, working-class area" (129). This wasn't what the teacher wanted, students.
In a business area of Leeds, students thought that gender was equalized by the power suits that people of both genders wore and that "not gender but age seemed a key distinction among people" (126). This was not the idea of the assignment, dummies.
But I think Reynolds herself is less and less enchanted with missionary activism with student populations and that her own research discombobulates her erstwhile political beliefs. It is one thing to have a fine theory. It is another to go into the street and see it doesn't hold up, or that is at least a "mentally challenged" idea.
She herself admits that it is understandable that the students didn't enjoy being sent into contested areas where they might be mugged or spit at. Some of the students instead chose to go into farmland outside of Leeds where they encountered intact villages from which the farmers and shepherds had fled. They were now occupied by the yuppies of Leeds who wanted to live in the supposedly authentic villages. Few if any inhabitants were actually from the villages and the perfect communities the students expected were instead not communities at all.
At every turn, there were surprises underfoot, and no theory could account for it. The last chapter is entitled "Learning to Dwell," and opens with a quote from the Nazi sympathizer Martin Heidegger. "Man's relation to locations, and through locations to spaces, inheres in his dwelling" (142).
We'll see where this goes, and report in the next two days. (In spite of my sarcasm, I'm really enjoying this book. It's showing me things about how to potentially resuscitate my geographical composition project, but it's also showing me how hard it is to think coherently about what on earth can be done with it, or what on earth students should get out of it.)
NB: If anybody is wondering what the third strong group is that I didn't mention in my first paragraph but which I presented as my own group in the critical theory class of 1993, it was postmodernists. At the time, I thought they were "it." Oddballs, humorists, weirdos. I thought this was going to be such a piece of cake, and I thought at the time that we would ultimately triumph with humor, wit, and joy.
Since then, I too have lost almost all my steam in that area. It wasn't just the suicide of Deleuze, or finding out more about the dreary life of Michel Foucault or the crazy aspects of Bataille (all of which seemed charming to me at the time). It was having had a family. You simply can't be a postmodern dad. You have to be there, day after day. You have to deal with diapers, and groceries, and pay the bills on time. You have to clean up vomit, and succor bleeding noses. You have to love your children and tell them that life means something. You need institutions that support you. You need libraries, and schools, and hospitals, and doctors. You need sanity to contest the insanity that life will hurl at you. Reading Edward Lear to them and dancing to the Wiggles with them is only part of being a dad. There's a lot more going on. You have to take care of them. They have no idea which way is up. Even at age 6 they write letters to Spongebob and ask me to please deliver it to him. Children are already postmodernists. Take them for a hike and they say, "Dad, my legs are hungry for ice cream." You have to lock the doors, and make sure they are safe in their beds, and check the fire alarms, and take care of leaking toilets. It's endless, and you have to be relentlessly logical about it. You have to get new tires on the car, and make sure the breaks are sound, and get the car inspected, and pay the taxes. You have to shovel the driveway, and the steps, and mow the yard, and take down wasps' nests. It's not all fun and games.
The church helps me with all the suffering, and it tells me my suffering is nothing compared to that of Job's.
Postmodernism is full of fine theories.
Feminism is full of fine theories.
Put them to the test on the street and you will find that Christianity has the finest theories of all. It even opens your heart, through prayer. This is something that our schools desperately need to recover, but this knowledge is more or less banned from our universities (with the exception of the 150 colleges out of 6000 that are exclusively Christian or the several Jewish schools, which only extremely rich students can afford).
Sunday, January 13, 2008
I tried to construct composition classes around this topic at the University of Washington, using the Situationist International Anthology, and some other books on place. I used the surrealist novels by Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault and Mina Loy (Nadja, and Last Nights of Paris, as well as Mina Loy's Insel).
I got odd papers. One student watched a drug dealer for several weeks and wrote a kind of police paper about his activities. I had no idea. Other students wrote about Asian grocery stores they frequented, and the happenings there. Still others wrote about having had surrealist affairs with oddballs who take them to new areas of the city where they had never been (an unintentional side effect of the amorous novels I had given them). This isn't quite what I had in mind, but the papers were unusual and scintillating. One student wrote about the need for a traffic light at one intersection and documented the accidents that had taken place there. She had done a ton of research in the police archives as to accidents over the previous three decades that had taken place at the intersection. She herself had been in a three-vehicle collision at the site two years before and was still in therapy.
What I felt was needed was an account of how different people experience different places. When I go into Target and am waiting for my wife as she tries on a dress I am often standing in women's lingerie, and feel terrible. What am I, a man, doing in the women's lingerie section? It's been easier since I have a child or two with me. But it's still enough to make me want to melt as I stand admidst a sea of bras. I can imagine that almost any man knows that this is women's space.
Walking through Harlem in New York City a few years ago an elderly black man came up to me and said, "Son, you don't belong here. Get a taxi and get out of this neighborhood right now."
I followed his advice. I had been told by a black student that it would be safe for me to walk up to Rucker Park in the daytime. I was on my way, when I had gotten different advice.
In Finland, I was clearly a foreigner in a country that is 98% Finnish. Just having dark brown hair made some Finns believe that I was from India, and at night, I was often harassed, and told, "Go home, India!" I lived in a city of 200,000 people. I would guess that less than one in a thousand of the people who were there harassed me. But that's still 200 people. 200 people who want to militantly defend their territory. On holidays, when Finns were in a drunken stupor that could turn from ebullience to violence in a nanosecond, I stayed inside, with the shades drawn.
But I also felt exhilarated to be in such a new area, with new stores, and a new language, and a different mentality about me.
Reynolds writes about Socrates walking outside of the polis in the Phaedrus, one of the few dialogues which take place in nature: "Socrates, displaced from his usual haunt, may be more 'open' to new ideas because he is in unfamiliar territory, or more close-minded or harder to convince because he is not occupying his usual hood. Many educators believe that only when people are 'moved' - perhaps literally - can they be persuaded to see from a different point of view. However, moving them becomes the hard part when most people, like Socrates, live their daily lives within a small radius" (2).
Reynolds' book focuses to a great extent on students at the University of Leeds and how they experience the city but her book represents a wide array of geographic research, and that is part of the value of the book:
"...Orleans questioned a wide range of groups and then created composite maps from their responses (Gould and White). Unsurprisingly, the higher the income and the whiter the neighborhood, the richer and more wide-ranging were residents' knowledge of L.A. White respondents from Westwood represented tourist areas and the coast, for example, while black residents in Avalon identified main streets leading to downtown, but other districts were vague entities. Finally, Spanish-speaking residents in Boyle Heights constructed the smallest mental maps of all, representing only the immediate area, the City Hall, and the bus depot (Gould and White 17). In other words, leisure time, access to affordable transportation, and above all, feelings of empowerment and safety allow people to explore little-known regions and to broaden and deepen their own 'mental maps' of a place or region" (84-85).
At the same time as Reynolds seemingly regrets that some have such a small experience, she explains it as a matter of time and safety, based on money. How true is this? Isn't it possible that within the black and Hispanic communities there are some -- poets -- intellectuals -- journalists -- who nevertheless get around all of L.A., and learn about it, and have a much broader mental map?
At Leeds, Reynolds seems to take wealthy white students to task precisely for not knowing the poorer areas of the city. This time they aren't sufficiently curious to go into dangerous areas (students said that other students had been mugged in certain areas of Leeds and yet Reynolds seems to feel that they are somehow morally malignant for remaining in safer areas), and she also feels that there is no good reason whites shouldn't welcome everyone into their areas, while "there are very good reasons why a group of white privileged students and their teachers or researchers wouldn't be welcome in many neighborhoods or street dwellers. A person's sense of place can feel invaded or violated, and it's important to respect certain boundaries, to transgress others, and to know the difference" (177).
This seems to me to be too easy a summarization which elides the race, gender, class problems she's trying to explore as one in which only one group are ever victims, while another group are always victimizers. Being part of that other group, the supposed victimizers, didn't make me feel that she understood that there are always at least two stories to any boundary.
I still have a few chapters to read in this path-breaking volume although I've gone on to read the final pages. I like how it opens up new ways of seeing, but don't in general relish the blinkers of political correctness that seem to keep her from exploring the double-standard of her thesis that white males shouldn't be able to go into minority areas (and yet they should be ashamed for not knowing about them more thoroughly), or the militant feminism that keeps her from seeing that many men, too, feel uncomfortable in many parts of a city. (In my own village, there are places I won't go, or even be seen. For instance, I cross the street when I'm about to pass by the women's workout place called Curves, and I cross the street at night if I'm about to go past one of the two bars in the town, as there are often belligerent men milling about in that area, and I can't stand drunken people and their lunacy.)
Reynolds seems to block out the notion that there are places that men won't go, too. She argues instead that reading the city to feminists means:
"Learning to read these 'landscapes' means attending to the politics of space by focusing on issues of sexism, colonialism, and complicity with the military-industrial complex" (60).
Still, Reynolds' book opens up the city to investigation. The city is a kind of elephant, and we are all blind men. No one can see all of it. One of the blind spots in the Situationist International anthology is that almost all of the researchers are well-educated white men who speak French (there is at least one Arabic militant who it is rumored went on to work with the PLO), and the city they explore is French-speaking Paris. It's curious to open out the map. I find the book stimulating, but perhaps over the heads of my composition students. She gives us summaries of research, but doesn't give us actual composition assignments or discuss how they are to be graded. This book is a summary of research rather than a composition text book.
I need a good textbook. Right now, I hate pretty much all of the textbooks I've tried. Some focus on rhetoric, and this bores the students. Some focus on grammar, and that bores the students. Walking and writing about places is interesting, but can I make it the focus of a whole class? I want a book that discusses aesthetics of walking, as well as the politics of walking. I want one that gives me several good ideas for papers, as well as some sense of how they have been graded. It's a fascinating thing to combine composition with geography, but somehow I'd also like to link it to art and to literature, and I would like the papers to be dramatic and argumentative rather than purely descriptive. Perhaps it would be easier to do this if I lived in New York City or some town in which every street has been described by a thousand different poets and novelists.
Delhi, NY? I think that I am the only published poet that lives in the village boundaries. There is one other one who lives just outside the village boundaries. It would be nice, too, if I lived in a village that was already the subject of countless poems. Gloucester, Mass. with the Maximus Poems is such a town. Gloucester practically IS a poem thanks to Chazbo.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
One thing I found odd in Finland was that there was no generation gap. The young people liked the older people. The old people liked the younger people. The children liked their parents. The parents liked their children.
Not only that, but there was no gender gap. Men and women liked each other. Feminism was something that Finnish people laughed about as an American invention. Finnish women were equal to men, and always had been. If a tire blew on a car, it was not at all unthinkable for the woman to jump out and fix it, without a thought.
Not only that, but everyone Finnish seemed to like Finland altogether. They felt they had won the lottery by being born Finnish. That's in fact one of the first questions I was asked by a taxi driver at Helsinki airport when I first arrived.
"Is it true what they say? That even I, a taxi driver, have won the lottery to be born in Finland?"
I couldn't say. I had just arrived. So I said, "Yes, it's true."
American youth often don't like the army or the police. The general attitude is one of suspicion toward authority of any kind, and toward the uniformed guardians in particular. In Finland, this would be nonsense. Everyone has to serve in the army. It's a nuisance, but there is no one in Finland who wouldn't man the barricades if the Swedes invaded. No one who wouldn't be only too happy to line the trenches to stave off the Russians even if all they had to fight with was a wet noodle. Every last Finn would only be too happy to fight to the death with a wet noodle for Finland.
And in general the Finns respect their leaders. Matti Ahtisaari, who was president of Finland in the 90s, was also a good Christian. He spent a great deal of his time working in Namibia for the poor. He wanted to be sure that they were literate and had food to eat, and that they were secure.
When I saw Panu Hemminki's painting "Ahtisaaren Kokoelama" or "Ahtisaari's Whole Life," I assumed nevertheless that it would be a cynical attack on him. However, in correspondence with Lutheran Surrealist painter Panu Hemminki, it came out exactly the opposite. This painting is praise for the great Finnish leader:
You asked about that Ahtisaari painting. Its name has varied couple of times.I call it "Games of Global Life" nowadays,because There are 5 different games which symbolize dimensions of reality. For instance,Chess means religion or God`s effect on this world and golf (Ahtisaari`favourite hobby) and football means politics or action in society. I wanted to describe interactions and happenings of this changing world and how dimensions are implicit to each other. Theme of unity of everything is often found in my pictures. When I painted it Ahtisaari was still president and he was also a peacemaker in ex-Juogoslavia. At the same time Finland was integrated in European Union and Globalisation was launched here. That was time of tremendous changes and that was inspirating me very much. Small nation started really to communicate with other world and Nokia was making it even easier to do! This was a short explanation to this painting,which was also made for the respect I feel because Ahtisaari has made excellent work for mankind, not only in Namibia but elsewhere. Usually every symbol or irrational figure means something in my art. Allthough it seems to be meaningless there can be some profound message in it.
Because of the love and veneration that Finns have for their leaders, they are quite unlike the French surrealists who were largely anarchists and hated all their political leaders without exception, all clergy without exception, and only seemed to praise criminals and reprobates such as Sade and Gilles de Rais.
The Finns are totally surreal, and totally Lutheran. In some sense (I just realized this) Lutheran Surrealism is just simply what I learned in Finland. I went there to teach. I went there and my world was turned upside down, and I was taught a different way to live. I became a Lutheran Surrealist in Finland.
That is probably the true plot in my novel, Temping.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Ten years pass. A couple days ago I opened my email and there was a letter from Panu Hemminki, who is a young man studying Lutheran theology in Finland. And guess what? He's a surrealist, and we have now verified that he is the very surrealist painter that I thought was an old man when I walked through Seinajoki a decade ago! The paintings that I saw were his very first paintings and he's gotten a lot better. At his web site it's possible to see these paintings better, and they're going for a song: 700 dollars a pop. I asked him about himself. The following is from his second letter. Suffice it to say that coming across Panu is like that experience that Breton had when Benjamin Peret came to him from Nantes, and said, I'm interested in your movement. Ha ha. It is the fulfillment of a dream to have an actual Lutheran Surrealist of such talent show up fully born, it's like Venus arising from the waves while we tap Ming fingernails dreaming of our movement. I mean, I couldn't have invented this guy or the quality of his work!
We barely know Panu, but are a bit intoxicated with this contact, and the incredible sense of a parallel universe. I looked for surrealist Finns in Finland for years, but found only his work, on a day when I was running from one thing to another, and thought, my Finnish is not good enough to contact him, and now he's contacted me. I cut big parts of his letter out because this is an unauthorized series of extracts from his letter, and I wanted to focus just on his work. Later we will delve into his biography, his psychology, and his theology and how it interacts with his aesthetics. Heippa Panu (just means, hello Panu):
...My town,Teuva, is a little place and only few people realize what art and surrealism is.That is why I am very much interested in possibilities to have international connections.I have noticed that people understand this kind of odd art better in other European countries...
This is so unbeleiveable that you have finnish wife and you have lived here so long time.You know a lot of this odd country and culture.It must have been big change when you came from huge metropol to this little land of forests and lakes...
Usually every symbol or irrational figure means something in my art.Allthough it seems to be meaningless there can be some profound message in it.Sometimes I understand it later myself.Sense of humor is important to me,allthough I deal with serious matters...
I have done 3 years work to find all good Finnish surrealist painters.Now we have about 10 talented person in this group or coterie.I wondered 10 years whether I am only one surrealist in this country.But there are very good artists,especially in Helsinki.We just had an exhibition of Surrealism and Hypnorealism there in Helsinki,Kanneltalo Gallery.And I have arranged 3 times national exhibitions of finnish surrealists at summer time,named "Surrealist in Tuuri".Tuuri is very little place( a.70 km from Seinäjoki to east) but it is the most famous tourist and shopping place in Finland.Quite grazy plce to have modern art show
Otto Mäkilä was first one [in Finland] who had "pro-art" group in Turku at least 50 years ago.They were not able to have international reputation or contacts abroad,while surrealists from other European countries were participating to the movement of surrealism,which Andre Breton was leading.I have this ambitious dream that we could continue that interrupted work and fulfill this empty hole in history of Surrealism! ...
I WISH YOU,YOUR WIFE AND FAMILY BLESSED WEEK AND AWESOME LIFE IN CHRIST!
Monday, January 07, 2008
I like Mitt (he's handsome, and sharp), I like Rudy (he's very sharp to make up for the fact that he's not violently handsome), I like McCain (tough grand-dad!), I like Hillary (I remember her husband and he wasn't THAT bad), I like Edwards (great hair!), I like Obama (chiseled face, and can dance, maybe the best dancer ever in terms of presidential contenders, and edited the Harvard Law Review), I like everybody, even Richardson (who I think has a sense of humor, and who has EXPERIENCE since he was a GOVERNATOR). If any of these people win, then so what? The world isn't going to end.
Therefore it's very funny to me that people are so riled up. To me it's a little like Gulliver in Lilliput who's shocked over the war between the big-endians and the little-endians who refuse to have anything to do with one another, because one likes to open their eggs from the big, and one from the small, end (a satire on the squabble between Protestants and Catholics).
The Democrats think they want to leave Iraq, but not without talking first to the generals! The Republicans would like to stay in Iraq, after having first talked to the generals. It looks to me like it's the generals who will decide what's to happen in Iraq, not the president!
The Democrats think that abortion should be very rare, but legal. The Republicans are in a dither over this since they believe it should be illegal to some degree, but since it's the Supreme Court that will decide and not the president, and since the Supreme court has already said they won't revisit a settled decision, all argument over this seems moot.
Gay marriage? Some are for, some are against. Some states have already ok'd it, and so it seems like it's something that's going to be left up to the states. Therefore, this is not a presidential issue either.
The environment? Maybe the weather will get warmer, but right about now, I don't really mind. It's 50 today in the Catskills, and the snow is melting. Is this a tragedy? If it is, then why am I happy? Tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer!
Meanwhile, Greenland was called Greenland 1500 years ago, and there were farms under all that ice! So I'm not terribly upset. There are more people now, and if Greenland were to turn green again, that would give them all a place to go and learn Danish. Danish is difficult, but it's not that difficult. After all, five million of them can speak it.
It's probably heretical, but I think the candidates are all human, and their ideas are more or less like big-end or small-end. America now isn't a lot different than it was ten years ago. In the next eight years, it won't matter very much to me who's in office. If a Republican gets in, the house and senate will remain Democratic. If a Democratic contender gets in, the house and senate will go Republican.
The big-enders and the small-enders will continue to screech and smash eggs against their foreheads to express their dismay, and I suppose that this gives them air time and what little drama the same people who watch football can afford, while they search for problems for which they will wish to stop speaking to the other side, and feel personally virtuous, if it's Alabama or Iowa, who wins the Bowl Game. I hope that one side wins so that some one can feel superior.
Meanwhile, I'm going to go on talking to everybody, and I will enjoy whatever happens. Because whatever happens, will probably be quite enjoyable, and whatever omelette is made out of America it will remain the same bunch of eggs, good and bad. I don't think presidents determine very much finally. They can't make me decide whether to crack an egg on the big-end or the small-end, for example. It's my decision, and I always crack them straight down the middle.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
"Every religion must ultimately insist on a fundament of meaning and value. And every religion must also insist that while reason alone cannot provide a foundation for answering the question of life's meaning -- that we cannot, so to speak, argue our way to a demonstrably right answer -- something else can. Every religion affirms that there is something else -- faith, mystical union with the godhead, the discipline of prayer, something -- that can provide us with the fundament we need to secure our answer to the meaning of life against all criticism and doubt. In these two respects, every religion, even the most tolerant, is fundamentalist" (199).
He sets this remarkably crazy assertion up with the contention that, "...every religion at some point demands a 'sacrifice of the intellect'" (198). He quotes "sacrifice of the intellect" as if someone has said this, but I don't find any reference in the references.
I would object to this notion on the grounds that Lutheranism clears out a separate space for art, the humanities, and science, as distinct from and separate from, theology. Theology is about the afterlife, and about the Gospel. But theology, in the Lutheran sense, allows for a separation of spheres. There is no Lutheran mathematics, or Lutheran automobile repair, for instance, since theology doesn't figure into either one (except perhaps insofar as a Lutheran automobile repairman would presumably feel bad about overcharging, and feel bad about creating further problems in the car in order to exact more money from the customer, since Lutheranism presumes a conscience that is monitored personally by God Almighty).
On the other hand, Kronman argues that an exclusive focus on the sciences and on technology, "encourages an ignorance of ourselves, the most important thing we could ever want to understand" (234).
Kronman is attempting to clear out a space -- by pushing religion one way, and science another, for the secular humanities.
His final assertion claims that PC is dying out (he doesn't quantify this, or reference this, but merely asserts it, and I doubt if it is true if the group of 88 at Duke are any kind of indicator), and that in its place will be a resurrection of the humanities as a secular study because they can "help us THINK about what living is for --" (241), -- presumably religion cannot do this since it forces a cut and dried interpretation on us rather than asking us to think for ourselves.
Again, I would object that Lutheranism and Judaism (at the very least) ask each congregant to do quite a lot of personal thinking, and neither one desires or demands a surrender of the intellect. Quite the opposite.
There is a very interesting appendix that lists the books that Kronman teaches in his Yale Directed Studies Program Readings. I went through it, and was surprised to see how many of the authors were Christians, or at least religious (ancient Greeks). In Philosophy, Leibniz, Kant, and Kierkegaard were all Lutherans. Berkeley was an Anglican Bishop. Wittgenstein had a late turn in which he was sympathetic to religious faith. This leaves only Nietzsche as a confirmed atheist.
Under History and Politics, Luther, Locke, Rousseau, Burke, Emerson, and Arendt were very deeply rooted in their various faiths. This leaves only Macchiavelli, Marx, and again, Nietzsche, as the atheists. (I don't know whether Tocqueville was a believer or not, and I'm not sure about Hamilton or Jay -- Madison was clearly very influenced by Protestant Augustinian thought via Witherspoon at Princeton.)
Even in Marx you have hundreds of citations of Luther, and in Nietzsche, whose father was a Lutheran pastor, he is so aligned against the church, that in a sense it forms the truest way to understand his thinking, or anti-thinking.
In Literature, we have a little more departure from the faith, but even here we have Dostoevsky, and T. S. Eliot, surely both Christian stalwarts, and John Milton, even more stalwart. Shakespeare is fairly obviously Christian. I don't know where Wordsworth stood, or Petrarch. Blake is an odd case -- but it could be argued that he's incomprehensible without a fairly thorough knowledge of the NT and the OT.
Brian Tierney's The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300, Augustine's City of God, Dante's Monarchy, Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will, Aquinas' Summa Theologica, are placed against selections by Aristotle, and Plato, and a handful of Roman intellects (Livy, Tacitus, etc.)
The Hebrew Bible (OT), and the Gospels (NT) are listed, as is Dante's Divine Comedy. With the ancient Greeks you have Homer, and Aeschylus, and for the Romans there is Ovid. But at least with Sophocles you get a sense of a strong faith. In the best reading of The Theban Plays (by Jean-Joseph Goux) you get that the meaning of the play is that man is not the maker of his destiny, and that humility before the gods is the only correct posture. We are blind, otherwise, without this insight, and doomed.
What Kronman finally seems to be arguing for is a return of the Great Books programs of the 1950s-70s, with almost no change in the canon. I like this. However, I wonder if it can be done without taking on board the fact that the canon (a religious term in Catholicism but one that reaches back into Greece via a word that once pertained to a straight rod -- kanon -- a Greek word for a reed with which the sculptors measured their figures) has been deeply influenced by religious faith for 1500 years? Since about 1965, many have tried to change the canon in order to allow in texts and authors of various non-western persuasions, but Kronman pushes them back out for a reason.
Kronman argues that the western canon is still the best way for students to understand the dialogue and discourse of the west, which, he argues, is still the light on the hill to people the world over. That is, everyone around the world would like to come and live in the west. He asks what makes the west great, and answers thusly:
"The ideals of individual freedom and toleration; of democratic government; of respect for the rights of minorities and for human rights generally; a reliance on markets as a mechanism for the organization of economic life and a recognition of the need for markets to be regulated by a supervenient political authority; a reliance, in the political realm, on the methods of bureaucratic administration, with its formal division of functions and legal separation of office from officeholder; an acceptance of the truths of modern science and the ubiquitous employment of its technological products: all these provide, in many parts of the world, the existing foundations of political, social, and economic life, and where they are not, they are viewed as aspirational goals toward which everyone has the strongest moral and material reasons to strive. To be openly opposed to any of these things is to be a reactionary, a zealot, an obscurantist who refuses to recognize the moral and intellectual authority of this ensemble of modern ideas and institutions and who (fruitlessly) plants his feet against their irresistible tide... No coherent program can be organized on any other basis" (173).
I would agree with this assessment that the west should remember its foundations and not try to be more like North Korea or take in the attitudes toward the other of Rwanda. Where I would disagree with Kronman is who established the ideas of the west. He himself lists Christians as the main bulk of his reading list. He even lists Luther. In fact all of his principle ideas can be found in Martin Luther, who postulated them. It is for this reason that the Protestant democracies remain the light of the world, and by comparison to which all else is misery.
Kronman believes that "secular humanism" once offered a pluralistic look at life's meaning, but that now a legalistic political correctness has taken over the humanities. "The result is a classroom where everyone, teachers and students alike, feels compelled to tiptoe on eggshells for fear of giving offense, an intellectually and spiritually frozen classroom in which the prospect of honest and passionate debate over matters of deep importance --about which deep disagreements are bound to be deep too -- becomes ever more remote, all under the guise of promoting a more honest confrontation with the facts of racism, sexism, and the like" (163-164).
Kronman believes that there was once a "robust diversity" of perspectives under secular humanism, but that today it is "in reality driven by an oppressive uniformity of moral purpose" (157) and that, "The conception of diversity that now enforces a chilling sameness of opinion in many humanities classrooms gives lip service to these values. But it fails to honor them in their deepest and most challenging form. It fails to take them seriously, substituting for a real and disturbing diversity a superficial one whose implicit demand is that everyone think and judge alike. And by doing so it undermines the authority of those who defend the contemporary ideal of diversity, whose own dogmatism about good and bad values, good and bad attitudes, good and bad ways of living, is as out of keeping with the pluralism of our age as the dogmatism of the old-time college" (158).
Kronman argues that the church was once a separate bastion from the colleges (for about a hundred years since the Civil War) but that since the late 1960s colleges have basically abandoned pluralistic secular humanism in favor of the doctrine of political correctness. "By comparison with the diversity that secular humanism affirmed, today's diversity is so limited that one might with justification call it a sham diversity, whose real goal is the promotion of a moral and spiritual uniformity instead. Secular humanism allowed for a much wider palette of possibilities. It had room for the soldier who values honor above equality, for the poet who believes that beauty is more important than justice, for the thinker who regards with diinterest or contempt the concerns of political life -- as well as for the moral crusader devoted to liberal values" (156).
Kronman brings up Nietzsche in contrast to Marx, and argues that these constitute two strands in western thought. One regarded the elite and the aesthetic, one thought about justice for the poor. He argues that the former has been basically nixed from the humanities classrooms. But he has better, stronger arguments, I think, when he tries to get at the problem that Marxist thinkers create when they argue (standpoint theory) that we are "permanently fixed by our racial identities" (149) and also that "gender should play an important and deciding role in deciding what and how to teach" which seemingly nixes the very notion of freedom of thought that the humanities once promised.
"Today, the humanities are not merely in a crisis. They are in danger of becoming a laughingstock, both within the academy and outside it" (139).
In fact, Kronman gives ample evidence that this has already taken place, and that in law schools and in other areas of the academy, especially in the sciences, what is taking place in the humanities is laughable to all and sundry. How to repair this collapse of authority is what he is working on. He argues that the humanities should talk about the meaning of life, and that, at present, the humanities have ceded this role to the church. He thinks that this in turn makes the churches stronger and yet stupider because they do not have a competing institution. He discusses briefly church schools (Liberty and Regent) and can barely conceal his contempt for these schools (he doesn't mention the hundreds of Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and other colleges that dot the nation, but contents himself with Liberty and Regent).
There are other arguments that I ought to address but they are quite huge. He says that the sciences and the social sciences are content with their authority. That economics is in especially good shape and is constantly sought out as an indicator of how well something is working out. What then is the role of the humanities? I haven't quite finished the last chapter. The last chapter is about how the humanities has a special role apart from science (I think he's going to pull a Kierkegaardian-Heideggerian move in which he talks about values as separate and different from technology, and in which the notion of Being trumps Doing, but I'm not sure yet).
There are brief and enticing bits in a chapter that attacks "The Research Ideal" as having been something that kicked the ladder out from under the humanities. Since we do not deal with statistics, and our work is not entirely empirical, but rather is a discussion of values, the humanities have lost out, and are no longer able to compete with the sciences. That we still attempt to do so by creating new knowledge in a sense undermines the basic truths of the humanities, perhaps, and forces us into taking novel positions? But he cites Hamann and other Romantics as having been against the Enlightenment ideal of knowledge as an end in itself and argues that to make each life into a work of art is what the humanities once offered.
He thinks that this too has been destroyed by the Marxist intrusion into the arts since it aims at making us all think, live, and react alike. The worst part of Marxism is that it offers an ontological and epistemic advantage to victims. I'll end here:
"The moral and legal priority of the victim, which affirmative action recognizes and properly respects, has been converted in today's classroom into an epistemic priority that always gives greater weight to the judgment of those who can credibly claim to represent the point of view of a group that has been unjustly excluded from wealth and power. The judgments of students who cannot make this claim labor under a disadvantage. They lack the special standing that only the judgements of victims enjoy. Openly to challenge this presumption often requires personal courage in an environment as deeply shaped by racial justice with epistemic authority as many humanities classrooms now are. And the books and authors who challenge this presumption labor under the same disability too" (163).
At any rate, I hope this gives you a taste. It's a good book. The counterarguments in which he gives the strong arguments for political correctness, etc., allow his work a credibility that this short take doesn't allow for. At any rate, there's a citizen at my elbow who wants to go to Disney.com and play video games there, so I'm going to log off, but will try to give you an idea tomorrow of how he works against science (techonology) in his closing argument. I haven't read it yet.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Dylan Redeemed, Stephen Webb (Continuum 2006). Argues that Bob Dylan is the great Christian theologian of the second half of the 20th century.
The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand. I keep trying to read her, but don't get very far. This book was given away, and will probably remain unread. The print is big, so at least I can technically get through it. They had copies of her opus major, too, but the print was no more than 9 point.
The Age of Huts, by Ron Silliman. (University of California Press). One of the pages got scrunched in transit, which sickens me.
The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell. This book was given away free.
Christianity & Literature, journal. Spring 2007. Given away.
Appalachian Review, journal. Summer 2007. Given away.
Blake, ed. by Stanley Kunitz (HarperCollins). Given away.
A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, by Ron Hansen (Perennial). Given away.
Anthology of Classical Myth, ed. Trzaskoma (Hackett publishers). Given away (all the Hackett books that follow were given away, in the hope that educators will use them. I very well may use some of the following from Hackett).
Aristotle on Poetry and Style, ed. Grube (Hackett).
The Essential Iliad, trans. Lombardo (Hackett).
The Essential Odyssey, trans. Lombardo (Hackett).
The Essential Homer, trans. Lombard (Hackett).
The Theban Plays, Sophocles (Hackett).
Four Tragedies, Sophocles (Hackett).
Sappho, trans. Lombardo (Hackett).
Homeric Hymns, trans. Sarah Ruden (Hackett).
On the War for Greek Freedom, by Herodotus (Hackett).
The Dr. Suess Catalog (complete bibliography of Suessian works, Lindemann (McFarland publishers).
The Sneetches & Whos and the Good Dr. Suess, Fenech (McFarland).
Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given up on the Meaning of Life, by Anthony Kronman, Yale University Press. Kronman was dean of the Yale Law school for a long while and is now trying to reconstitute a great book program there, of which this book seems to be the argument. I'm about half way through this book and can't stop reading it. It's very very good. It's part history of the American university and partially an examination of the changing rationale at the university. He argues that finding the meaning to life was the original rationale for the colleges of America, but now it's become a reeducation camp based on Marxism. He writes on p. 166:
"... multiculturalism is driven by a hostility to the ideas and institutions of the West that itself has many sources -- the Marxist assault on liberal democratic practices and on the inequalities of wealth and talent that western societies allow, which communist sympathizers in the West endorsed and that continues to have a moral resonance even today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disaccreditation of the communist movement; the anti-colonial attack on Western values, in the writings of Frantz Fanon and others, that converted the Marxist critique of capitalistic economic exploitation into a cultural and psychological critique of imperial 'identity domination'; and the deepening, and partly justified, skepticism about the wisdom and legitimacy of the projection of American power which the Vietnam War provoked and that has shadowed American foreign policy ever since. Together these have encouraged a suspicion of the West, and an antagonism to its values, that has been a powerful force in our colleges and universities for the past several decades. They are the political source of the intellectual outlook expressed by the stronger version of multiculturalism. This is not an outlook that has been embraced with the same enthusiasm in all disciplines, however. Only in the humanities has the politically inspired belief in the equality of Western and non-Western cultures been adopted as a pedagogical principle and made the basis for a range of educational judgments, including the hiring of faculty and the design of courses and curricula. Only in the humanities has the anti-Western animus which these judgments reflect been translated into educational practice, further degrading their authority by undermining values central to the integrity and purpose of the humanities themselves" (166-167).
Kronman is an intelligent guy who worked with SDS and dropped out of college in the sixties in order to work in far-left community organizations. He's now rethought the whole affair. He's no David Horowitz. His arguments are much more supple and far-reaching. Plus his background is law rather than journalism, so he's making much more grounded arguments, and is never content with facile turns of phrase. It always seems to me that one of his underlying positions of theoretical support is Kierkegaard, and that in itself I find interesting. He doesn't seem to be Christian, but he does argue that Christianity's appeal is due to the fact that it offers a meaning to life, which mere materialism can't, and doesn't. But he also points out that the split between the materialists and the Christians was already afoot on campuses in the 1880s, and there has been almost nothing but contempt between the two camps ever since.