Thursday, June 05, 2008

Transcendental Moonshine

A lovely, if elliptical, post by Charles Mudede via Wittgenstein on what might eternity might be. SJ has come to think that Wittgenstein's true value is how he makes the ordinary strange. But we wonder why Mudede feels anxiety about (the apparent) irruption of the transcendent here. Worrying if one is being mystical is the sure sign of spending too much time in the philosophy department, where the tendency is to hand over everything to science or Deep Thought. There are so many processes that are mysterious to SJ, starting with how these letters appear on this screen. Haggling about one of the ultimate puzzles, especially if tenure doesn't depend on it, is a waste of time. As is worries about reinventing Aristotelian scholasticism. SJ still pines for the day when philosophers thought that if it could be thought, it must exist.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thoughts on WFB

William F. Buckley, the closest the right got to having its own George Plimpton (1), is dead. SJ can see that the writer had fun with this, and was also surprised that WFB suffered from diabetes. That disease is a misery and needs its own publicity crew as cancer and AIDs have. We would not wish it on anyone and hope WFB spent his final days in what comfort can be wrested from it with friends and family around him.

Still, SJ cannot help but remark the fact that it is appropriate that the founding gadfly of modern conservatism excelled as a debater and a bon vivant, not as someone who thought. The late Norman Mailer pins the butterfly to the wheel here ; it would have been perhaps unseemly to quote Gore Vidal, who spared enough time for this fellow in his day. It is time to admit that modern conservatism is a sophism, more guerilla war than proper campaign, and not interesting as thinking. The greatest work of modern conservatism, Oakeshott's Experience and its Modes is as antitheoretical as work of philosophy can be imagined.

The one possible aspect of interest of modern conservatism, the tactics and strategy of the movement itself, were thought through by Gramsci in his Notebooks under the idea of hegemony, and have been elaborated upon by Stuart Hall, Ernesto LaClau, and Chantal Mouffe, all figures of the left. Like most religiously inflected thinking, modern conservatism reasons with a conclusion in mind, and indeed when it reaches an aporia, that conclusion is invoked to end debate. True thinking begins at the edge of the aporia, though this sort of work is not for the faint of heart, of head or people who aspire to be politicians (which may be redundant). In truth, modern conservatism's wispiness will be revealed or rather will dissipate into mists of time, and only occasionally held up like the Aztec sacrifice as an example of barbarism of a previous age.

Nevertheless, farewell and fare thee well!

(1) Close, but no cigar. Plimpton had no ideology and didn't need one because he simply identified the best that was being thought and said in his time. (And if you don't believe that, imagine modern letters without The Paris Review; if you can, then you need to do your homework.) Without ideology--colloquially understood in the US as a marketing plan--there would be no National Review. We do praise WFB for giving space and time for writers better than he, and it does appear that he helped trim away some of the more benighted atavisms indulged in by modern conservatives--the same atavisms that the jackboots of the Reich indulged in--but there is barely a shred of intellectual integrity around his legacy. A fun life, for sure, but one that we see as wasted mostly on triviality and the boring games of the wealthy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Book Longer Than Any He Could Imagine Writing

Norman Mailer is dead. We will miss him muchly.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

'To Tase' Is a Runner-Up for Word of the Year -

Somebody's second favorite new word is 'to tase'. What SJ is curious about is how a lame locution like "locavore" could beat it out. 'Tase' has all the earmarks of an instance classic: evokes a strong, specific experience, sounds great, and will likely be put to new uses, while the immediate reaction to 'locavore' is that it is a coinage of a newspaper style writer. One is a word, the other is a joke, which really isn't funny.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Where Fun Goes To Die

The above has been the unofficial motto of the University of Chicago, one proudly embraced by its students. We at Snap Judgment have always been amused by this conceit and think it captures a certain essence of that particular university, together with the fact that a quarter of its student body majors in economics. Chicago graduates can be annoying, though, in their assumptions about how unique their college experience (so unique that the university is relatively unselective when it comes to students). And Rick Perlstein's essay, What's A Matter with College, shows why. For of course, all of M. Perlstein's examples of how college has changed come from his alma mater, the very same place where fun has been dying since 1890. Admittedly, this a provocation for an essay contest, so M. Perlstein's piece is essentially an essay question. But we still marvel that claims about the decline of the university, whether rightist (perfidious dens of decadent ideologues) or leftist (satanic mills of global transnationalism) take private liberal arts colleges as their exemplars, when most Americans go to good ol' U of State or State U. Perlstein's piece is a more liberal lament than those, one which SJ on certain days sympathizes with, but we believe that the change in the student experience does not have much to do with U of C or any U. for that matter.

In any case, we suspect the reason for such essays, M. Perlstein's included, has something to do with the fact that going to a small private college is something like volunteering for a cult; the main difference is that you can't go to private college indefinitely. When you visit as a graduate, the cult you are visiting is no longer the one you joined. What you are mourning--if you are mourning--is your own decline. Those Bright College Days aren't past for the college, but they are past for you.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

They Really Did (and Do) Mean It

SJ has always known that left liberalism endows one with mind-forg'd manacles that inevitably curtail imaginary sympathy, the sine qua non for adept cultural and literary criticism. And yet SJ has always found it hard to believe that members of the clique that once surrounded Partisan Review and then splintered into Commentary and other redoubts, have been called neoconservatives by themselves and others, and whose epigones dotted the White House truly believe that some sort of resurrected Victorianism, epitomized by laissez-faire economics, repressed social mores, and more recently, by America taking up the White Man's Burden of global empire, represents a plausible and moral path for the US, and those who stand in the way of that path are treasonous, at the very least. Yet Commentary has reissued from its archives a piece (.pdf) by Midge Decter mocking the actions of "literary lions" on the occasion of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and whose peroration clearly indicts the same lions (and American culture) as "decadent."

This claim is an old marxist charge, but means here, at least generously interpreted, the call for a reinvigorated Victorianism mentioned above. Nowadays, SJ thinks that Dinesh D'Souza really has shown the skull beneath the skin of these jeremiads. Due to the condition known as left liberalism. SJ can't imagine what they are thinking. Are they nostalgic for the workhouse? for the Black Hole of Calcutta? for naked resource extraction by any means necessary? for the Opium Wars (started by the British infusion of opium into China)? Or (this is what SJ suspects) are they a lot like people who when they imagine they have past lives are always someone famous? Someone who presumably would not have to care about the sheer terror, misery and hypocrisy of 19th century England, because they would be enforcing it? (SJ might go for 19th century Europe, with its political clashes and novels written for adults, but for these people, there will always be an England.)

Well, if they don't mean it, then why do they keep saying it? (Kudos for James Wolcott for his adept skewering of this crowd.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

They Did Say You Can Check Out

A friend in Taiwan laments discovering that even on the Internets, radio from all over (Micronesia in this case) returns to familiar ground.

Not a nice suprise, indeed, but it does give SJ a chance to air long simmering vexation at Don Henley howling at the end that "You can never leave." The end rang hollow and obvious, then, but more so now after years of thinking theoretically about closure. Even worse, we feel that he says it because he knows he is supposed to say it. That's the 70s from certain perspective: no stately pleasure dome without a taste of the whip.