Friday, February 29, 2008
A graduate student found my blog recently and was interested in my post against the Duke 88. She complained that at her school everything is organized around Race, Gender and Class, and you can't study anything else, and you're only welcome in a class if you're of the precise group being studied.
"I already read a good portion of your book on comedy, and love what you said about introducing laughter into the curriculum. It's also just nice to read something that appeals to my work, my area of interest, and that's a rare event. Like you, I'm no fan of identity politics, if only because as a result of it there are no classes offered that strive to appeal to a broad spectrum of people. You're either a feminist, a Chicano/a, an African-American, a gender studies person, or ... I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but it's all in sync with the Balkanization of America, an I-first policy that we can even see playing out in our recognizing Kosovo. I'm all for the I, but at some point I think the I needs to recognize the we, and everything in society today says the we is dying.
To not feel excluded, or unwanted, I have to go back to the early modern and Renaissance periods, where I hid myself for a good period of time during my studies. In fours years between my last university and here, I didn't once see a class in post-modern fiction or post-WWII fiction. If the 20th C wasn't dealt with via the identity of the authors involved, it was limited to the modernist period or the study of modernism, which, I gather, is the stuff that all the current crop of professors cut their teeth on when they were in grad school. I'm building my field exam and dissertation around the books I'd like to teach: a survey of humor theory and comic literature."
Hey, you're not alone. A lot of people are interested in comedy and humor theory. As the editor of To Wit: Newsletter of the American Humor Studies Association, I get a lot of notes from disgruntled graduate students who wonder if there are ever any actual classes taught on anything but political indoctrination. It seemed to me that in the early 90s when I was in grad school that was still the case. There were a few classes still being taught on surrealist or postmodernist or poststructuralist writers in the French department or in Comparative Literature at the University of Washington. But almost everything else was race, gender, and class and the few oddballs were very much marginalized.
How did it come to be the case that consciousness-raising about evil white men, and how wonderful minorities and women are, has come to be almost the sole focus of humanities education?
I don't know. It seems to me that it is an obvious outcome of Marxism. You start with class, and then add race, and gender, and you have a program, or a pogrom. I see this as the first start of the police state to come (but I have always stood with the anarchists against the Marxists, and share much of their paranoia about Marxism).
Anarchists never functioned, however, as an alternative, since the very notion of institutions was anathema to them. So I've gone over to the one tradition that remains somewhat rooted: the Christian church, and lo and behold, there are still answers, if you dig deep enough. If you go back to the 1520's, what did Luther and Melancthon believe an education should consist of?
Harold Berman writes of "...the Lutheran belief in the importance of education as a preparation for living a spiritual life," (186) which is something that they largely shared with the Roman Catholics.
"In those cities that accepted the Luther-Melanchthon plan, children in the Latin schools, starting at the first level, were to be taught reading, Latin grammar, and various prayers; at the second level, they were to study more advanced grammar in various classical and humanist authors, religious instruction from the Psalms and the Gospels, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, verses of Terence, Plautus, and Erasmus, and Aesop's Fables (which Luther himself translated); at the third level, advanced students were to study the works of Ovid, Cicero, and Virgil, and to learn dialectics, rhetoric, and poetics. At all three levels music, mathematics, science, and history were to be taught, as time allowed" (186).
The "spiritualization of the laity" was the raison d'etre of education, as Luther believed in the priesthood of all believers, and Melancthon wrote, "Better letters bring better morals" (quoted on p. 186).
Pastors had considerable freedom to sermonize, and teachers to teach. Berman writes, "Luther wrote, '...indeed no ruler ought to prevent anyone from teaching or believing what he pleases, whether Gospel or lies...'" (183).
Freedom, and depth. Needy students were helped by the congregation. "The Bible was a central object of study" (187).
Perhaps I'm interested in lies, as Luther put it, but I like to study humor. It seems that Luther himself liked humor, because Terence and Plautus are on his list. Humor in the Christian tradition is not lacking: Rabelais, Laurence Sterne, or John Updike would be enough to hold many scholars for a lifetime. No doubt there are different kinds of humor in different denominations. Amish laughter must exist, or have a canon of crucial comic texts. Anarchist laughter was frequent and ribald. Marx himself had wit. Marxists, on the other hand, seem to be largely agelasts (persons without laughter). Or, at any rate, I have yet to see a compilation of the best witticisms of Enver Hoxha, Nicolae Ceausescu, Pol Pot, and Joseph Stalin.
If man is the animal that laughs, were these people even human?
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
What surprised me the most was that I came out really liking Barack Obama. He was very intelligent, and charming, and funny.
Apparently, he used to smoke, which does bother me, but at least he quit. He uses something called nicotine patches now.
He also said that he would be willing to go into Pakistan with a predator drone to take out OBL if intelligence suggested the terrorist was there, and he implicitly praised W. for doing same two weeks ago when OBL's #3 was wiped out by predator drone.
I thought, geez, Barack's not all peace and light. He actually thinks about national defense, too.
And for the first time I imagined voting for him, and I liked the idea!
I was reading Ron Silliman's blog as I do daily. Yesterday he mentioned Lutheran Surrealists in passing as part of the readership. He also published a photo of the beatific Woodstock concert that took place near here (about an hour away): some 39 years ago.
It is like Silliman to focus on Woodstock. He's an optimist.
I focus on Altamont instead. To me, Altamont sums up the sixties: poor hygiene, poor security, utopian hopes dashed by dystopian realities. Instead of thinking about the best that could happen, I worry about the worst that could happen, and try to prepare for it as best I can. Instead of thinking about lovely LSD trips that the many at Woodstock took, I think of those who ended up in mental hospitals. At Altamont, 850 people were hurt. There was a shortage of toilets and food. An 18 year old man was bludgeoned with pool cues by Hell's Angels who had been hired as muscle to provide security. He died. The last thing you want to do is trust security to unstable individuals like biker gangs, but the 60s... Suffice it to say that they thought it was the Age of Aquarius, but it was, like every age, the Age of Satan (once you leave the Ten Commandments).
Satan is with us every day, and he must have loved the promiscuous 60s in which all the laws against adultery, theft, love of God, marriage, love of parents, and murder, were simultaneously abrogated.
When I hear about the Sexual Revolution: I just think: what were they really sharing except diseases?
The music was terrific: under the sign of Dionysos it completely suspended reason and drove everyone into madness. Love (if you can call it that), but also murder. With Dionysos, the two always come together.
Flash back to the 1520s: Some of the same tendencies were present in the 1520s when Thomas Munster and his anarchist hordes of Anabaptists swept through Lutheran territories murdering in the name of God Knows What.
How do you put sane limits on people so that a civil order emerges so that the meek and the infirm can survive the whims of the strong? If communism is a form of capitalism in which a few meatheads take over the economy and drive it into the ground, and if pure capitalism is the same thing, then what would be the answer?
Inching ahead in Berman's book, I am still looking for that answer.
One very small answer is the notion of a JUST PRICE.
"The doctrine of just price was generally understood in the sixteenth century, as in the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, to mean the price fairly agreed upon in the market, without fraud or deceit, though with one qualification, namely, that it was also required, in the case of food and other necessities, to be sufficiently low to permit the poor to afford them" (161).
So how does a blog post that opens talking about Woodstock end up talking about Just Price? Who knows? But those are the two things on my mind today, due to having read Berman's book, and having read Silliman's blog. When I think of license, on the one hand, and law on the other, Altamont, on the one hand, and a functioning society, on the other, I can't help but think: what held Wittenberg together, so that northern Europe became slowly the comparative paradise that it is today?
"Improper... Luther wrote, and to be prohibited by law, were monopolies and the accumulation of products for the purpose of driving up prices. Likewise, while denouncing usury, Luther defended a reasonable interest rate on a loan, which he said would normally be 5 percent, although it might go up to 6 or 7 percent in special cases ... The creditor's risk, he asserted, is a form of work, for which he deserved -- and the law should permit him to receive -- a just profit" (162).
There ought to be limits on pleasure, just as there are limits on prices, is that the link? At Altamont, the concert was free, and there was no security. The cost was enormous. Over 850 injured, plus three dead.
At a time when one senses that all law and order are breaking down because the people of the 60s who brought us Altamont are now in charge (all hail the Clintons' ascendancy to the presidency), Lutheran surrealism continues to send a taproot down down down past Romanticism, past the Enlightenment, into the Protestant Reformation, where America seems to have gotten its original ideals that served us well for so long.
Come in she said I'll give ya shelter from the storm.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
This was calculated to achieve "civil order," (150). Following the law however had nothing to do with getting into heaven. That had to do with faith alone.
Lowering and clarifying the price of getting into heaven to some extent was an attempt to cut out the competition by levelling indulgences, and other taxes, and allowing a cheap and affordable route to God's mercy.
But it also reduced penalties substantially. "Death by burial alive" had been the penalty for infanticide, now it was "substituted death by drowning" (149), which is at least quicker, if no less final. Less sadistic, perhaps. (Btw., Is abortion infanticide?)
Lutheran theology de-emphasized purgatory or having to pay in hell for crimes committed on earth. Luther was having none of that. Entrance into heaven was by faith alone. You didn't have to pay the church in terms of indulgences, or other taxes.
Jails were not meant to extend the suffering of the prisoner and were "not intentionally to intensify his suffering" (149).
The laws were meant to be clear and educational, teaching citizens how to behave.
One of my favorite aspects of Lutheran legal thought is that it requires a "criminal mind" to ascertain guilt. That is, one must have attempted to do something harmful, knowingly, with malice aforethought.
Finally, the burden of defense was still on the accused in Catholic law, but in Lutheran law, "the accused was to be acquitted unless proved to be guilty" (143).
"They did not eliminate the crime of sorcery, though they required proof that the words or acts of the sorcerer caused actual harm to another person" (149). Since such a thing cannot be proven, were all accused sorcerers freed? Or were they sometimes such doofs that they assumed a connection between an injured individual and a sorcerer? If sorcery was "proven," the penalty was death by fire.
Rioters were beheaded.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
About 50 of the professors teach in literature areas. They asked in their original document: "What does a social disaster look like?" Below, you can see for yourself:
The Signatories of the Chronicle AdThe April 6 Chronicle featured a full-page ad supported by 88 Duke faculty members. Asking “What does a social disaster look like?” the signatories stated without qualification that something had “happened to this young woman [Mangum].” They based their judgment on the DA’s uncorroborated allegations. Here is a list of the names:
Abe, Stan (Art, Art History, and Visual Studies)Abe, Stan (Art, Art History, and Visual Studies)
Albers, Benjamin (University Writing Program)
Allison, Anne (Cultural Anthropology)
Aravamudan, Srinivas (English)
Baker, Houston (English and AAAS)
Baker, Lee (Cultural Anthropology)
Beckwith, Sarah (English)
Berliner, Paul (Music)
Christina Beaule (University Writing Program)
Blackmore, Connie (AAAS)
Jessica Boa (Religion & University Writing Program)
Boatwright, Mary T. (Classical Studies)
Boero, Silvia (Romance Studies)
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo (Sociology)
Brim, Matthew (University Writing Program)
Chafe, William (History)
Ching, Leo (Asian & African Languages and Literatures)
Coles, Rom (Political Science)
Cooke, Miriam (Asian & African Languages and Literatures)
Crichlow, Michaeline (AAAS)
Curtis, Kim (Political Science)
Damasceno, Leslie (Romance Studies)
Davidson, Cathy (English)
Deutsch, Sally (History)
Dorfman, Ariel (Literature & Latin American Stds.)
Edwards, Laura (History)
Farred, Grant (Literature)
Fellini, Luciana (Romance Studies)
Fulkerson, Mary McClintock (Divinity School)
Gabara, Esther (Romance Studies)
Gavins, Raymond (History)
Greer, Meg (Romance Studies)
Glymph, Thavolia (History)
Hardt, Michael (Literature)
Harris, Joseph (University Writing Program)
Holloway, Karla (English)
Holsey, Bayo (AAAS)
Hovsepian, Mary (Sociology)
James, Sherman (Public Policy)
Kaplan, Alice (Literature)
Khalsa, Keval Kaur (Dance Program)
Khanna, Ranjana (English)
King, Ashley (Romance Studies)
Koonz, Claudia (History)
Lasch, Peter (Art, Art History, and Visual Studies & Latino/a Studies)
Lee, Dan A. (Math)
Leighten, Pat (Art, Art History, and Visual Studies)
Lentricchia, Frank (Literature)
Light, Caroline (Inst. for Crit. U.S. Stds.)
Litle, Marcy (Comparative Area Studies)
Litzinger, Ralph (Cultural Anthropology)
Longino, Michele (Romance Studies)
Lubiano, Wahneema (AAAS and Literature)
Mahn, Jason (University Writing Program)
Makhulu, Anne-Maria (AAAS)
Mason, Lisa (Surgical Unit-2100)
McClain, Paula (Political Science)
Meintjes, Louise (Music)
Mignolo, Walter (Literature and Romance Studies)
Moreiras, Alberto (Romance Studies)
Neal, Mark Anthony (AAAS)
Nelson, Diane (Cultural Anthropology)
Olcott, Jolie (History)
Parades, Liliana (Romance Studies)
Payne, Charles (AAAS and History)
Pierce-Baker, Charlotte (Women’s Studies)
Petters, Arlie (Math)
Plesser, Ronen (Physics)
Radway, Jan (Literature)
Rankin, Tom (Center for Documentary Studies)
Rego, Marcia (University Writing Program)
Reisinger, Deborah S. (Romance Studies)
Rosenberg, Alex (Philosophy)
Rudy, Kathy (Women’s Studies)
Schachter, Marc (English)
Shannon, Laurie (English)
Sigal, Pete (History)
Silverblatt, Irene (Cultural Anthropology)
Somerset, Fiona (English)
Stein, Rebecca (Cultural Anthropology)
Thorne, Susan (History)
Viego, Antonio (Literature)
Vilaros, Teresa (Romance Studies)
Wald, Priscilla (English)
Wallace, Maurice (English and AAAS)
Wong, David (Philosophy)
Sunday, February 17, 2008
I would just as soon be represented by cottage cheese.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Friday, February 08, 2008
I was translated into Icelandic by a poet named Eirikur Northdahl (the last name means north-stone, I think, and is composed of letters that seem to exist only in Icelandic!) who used to argue with me here when LS was just getting started. He was a kind of communist, I think, but like many communists, quite fun! I don't know how to order the volume, and can't understand what's happening, but for all those of you who majored in Icelandic, here's some details of the publication, and some of the others who were translated into Icelandic with me. What's odd about the book is that Finnish and Swedish-Finnish and American poets exist side by side in the volume:
Charles Bernstein, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Susana Gardner, Oscar Rossi, Kirby Olson, Leevi Lehto, Sharon Mesmer, Jan Hjort, Jesse Ball, Markku Paasonen, Jack Kerouac, Derek Beaulieu, Katie Degentesh, Paul Dutton, Nada Gordon, Paal Bjelke Andersen, Gherardo Bortolotti, Daniel Scott Tysdal, Iain Bamforth, Michael Lentz, Anne Waldman, Teemu Manninen, Mike Topp, Ida Börjel, Amiri Baraka, S. Baldrick, bpNichol, Charles Bukowski, Mairead Byrne, Mark Truscott, John Tranter, Sylvia Legris, Maya Angelou, Bruce Andrews, Haukur Már Helgason, Craig Dworkin, Shanna Compton, Lars Mikael Raattamaa, Vito Acconci, K. Silem Mohammad, Frank Bidart, Rita Dahl, damian lopes, Jelaluddin Rumi, Rachel Levitsky, Tom Leonard, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ulf Karl Olov Nilsson, Caroline Bergvall, Christian Bök, e. e. cummings, Saul Williams, a. rawlings, Stephen Cain, Jeff Derksen, Linh Dinh, Nico Vassilakis, Martin Glaz Serup, Malte Persson, Anna Hallberg.
131.839 slög með bilum, 6" x 9", 195 síður / pages, ISBN 978-952-215-018-9. Kápuhönnun / cover design: Lauri Wuolio, kápumynd / cover images: Halldór Arnar Úlfarsson. EUR 14,00 + sendingarkostnaður / mailing costs.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
I propose the Burkha, for all candidates. Also, I would like to take the NAMES off the candidates. A name like "Barack Obama" says worlds, as does Hillary "Clinton." Therefore I propose that all candidates must remain in a Burkha throughout the election season, and go only by a number.
In addition, I humbly submit that voices should be disguised by a robot voice, so that every thing that a candidate says, sounds exactly like everything every other candidate says. Only the ideology, or the intellectual positions, would therefore be in play.
There is way too much emphasis on how candidates look.
And way too much emphasis on how some candidates sound.
I would like also all members of our society to dress in Burkhas, irrespective of gender (the Taliban's attempt to disguise all males behind a heavy beard doesn't go FAR enough). Also, we should just have numbers instead of names. And the numbers should never be prime numbers, or people would start to fight over them, and to talk about how their number is a "prime" number and mine, for example, is not.
Also, the robot voice should be in effect for one and all, even within the confines of one's home. There should be NO sense that an individual has ANY identity whatsoever, aside from their number (numbers should begin in the trillions, and never be primes, but other than that, numbers that are seen to be special for any reason should be taken out of circulation).
I think that in this way true equality can be reached. And that, after all, is the American way.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose centers upon the effect that Aristotle's Poetics of Comedy has upon a medieval monastery in the year 1327.
The second book of Aristotle's Poetics, the one on comedy, has always been thought to be missing. And yet, a tenth century Tractatus Coislinianus, was republished in 1839, and some argue that it's Aristotle's Poetics of Comedy. It's in an edition from Duckworth, edited by Richard Janko, entitled Aristotle on Comedy: Towards a Reconstruction of Poetics II (Duckworth 1984).
It's very brief: about a thousand words, with some 250 pages of commentary. Here is one of the sentences that makes sense:
"Comic plot is one structured around laughable events."
When I first read this sentence in graduate school fifteen years back, I loved the circularity of this definition. Comedy is something laughable. The laughable is comic. Neither term is defined any further.
It's almost absurd, and yet, we don't know if Aristotle believed that a tight plot was necessary in comedy as it is in tragedy. Can comedy follow a loose sequence of events and still be first rate? Does the plot determine the humor? Or is it a string upon which various events can be hung, as in the Airplane movies? We don't know if it's Aristotle who wrote the Tractatus, or whether it's a hoax, or whether it's a few notes by a student, or what.
As opposed to the large and significant magnitude of tragedy, comedy is smaller, and this is part of its ridiculousness. Kant says that comedy is about nothing at all, just as Seinfeld said it was.
Need it nevertheless take place between bonded relations, as it does in tragedy? In order for us to weep, we must lose someone close. For us to laugh, must we necessarily be with those we love?
When you tickle a child, the child must know you and trust you in order to laugh. If you tickle a child you've never met before, the child is VERY unlikely to find it funny.
Perhaps even in comedy a certain trust between bonded relations is necessary. We think of Seinfeld and his little gang. We think of Friends.
Then we think of Mr. Bean on his bicycle through southern France. Mr. Bean's humor often takes place in solitude. We watch him eating a lobster in an upper scale French restaurant seated alone. He is not aware that he is not supposed to eat the shell casing. We see him crunch, crunch. I find it painful, but still funny, but not for the full ten minutes the episode lasts. I think this is because he is alone. It would be funnier if a child he liked was sitting with him, and we saw it from the child's viewpoint.
We often attempt to relate principles to realities. How hard did we laugh in a given instant? And why? Is laughter always discoverable through principles? I find that comedy doesn't travel very well either in time or in space. Humorous plays of old such as Aristophanes are largely a puzzle to me. I rarely get jokes from the Middle Ages, or from other countries. Even Monty Python leaves me cold and itching to hit the channel switcher. Mr. Bean is closer to home, but not much.
Probably the funniest stuff takes place within one's own family. Outside of that context, things get less and less funny. Jacques Tati's comedy are curiosities. I don't find them funny at all, but I watch them, wondering how others might find them funny. Wondering if others DO find them funny. The channel switcher is always in my hand when I'm watching Tati, and it's about to go over to the news, or to see what's on the Weather Channel. I find Adam Sandler quite funny although his films never get more than two stars. They are crude but extremely effective.
The funniest thing of late is a little boy in our house who rides around on his scooter and goes by making funny faces as he travels. I look up from the newspaper and laugh.
Nothing on TV or on radio ever seems quite as fresh. My students tell me that a show from Japan called something like XM is very funny. It has people falling into mud. I tried to watch the show but I felt sorry for those falling into the mud or getting hurt. The XM show is something like the The Fear Factor, which is a show I also can't watch. I'm too afraid that the participants will be hurt. My favorite thing on a lazy Saturday morning is to watch the Weather patterns drifting across the state, while I read theoretical texts on law and comedy, and esp. on the laws of comedy.