Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Hobsbawm

What led Hobsbawm to Marxism? In his own words, “Pity for the exploited, the aesthetic appeal of a perfect and comprehensive intellectual system, . . . a little bit of the Blakean vision of the new Jerusalem and a good deal of intellectual anti-philistinism” (Eric Hobsbawm, (2002.) Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life, New York: Pantheon,. p. 74; quoted by Robin Melville). And what did Marxism bring? Pitiless exploitation, the ugliness of a corrupt and totalitarian pseudo-intellectual system, the imposition of a Dantean vision of Hell on earth, and a great deal of mind-numbing philistinism. Any surprises? Were these not an inherent part of Marx’s vision?

Friday, 17 June 2005

Fewtril

One may fairly suppose that, when it comes to the winning of power, even the most ardent of socialists would not wish to abolish the brisk trade in grandmothers.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

Fools and Persuasion

It is almost impossible to persuade a fool of the rationality or truth of a matter if upon that same matter some genius has averred to the contrary. This fool is apt to insinuate that, if Newton was a genius and said x, and you are not a genius and you said not-x, then no matter what your argument, x is more likely to be the case than not-x. It is no matter that you put forth a water-tight argument that proves not-x beyond doubt, and that said genius had no argument for x and was just airing his prejudices, the fool will have none of it, simply because he does not come to his stance through rational deliberation, but through seeking to align his opinions to those of someone known to be clever. It has been the less sage and sometimes downright stupid sayings of geniuses that have provided fools with much of the spurious support for their foolish opinions. Einstein – currently, the fool’s favourite genius – said many a silly thing in his time, but because it came from the mouth of a genius, it is taken by the thoughtless to be full of thought. But then, there’s a fool making notes every time a genius opens a bag of nuts.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

The Guardian of Bad Ideas

Today I am reminded that bad old ideas never die, they just eke out a sordid and valetudinous existence in The Guardian. Therein George Monbiot reiterates the old calumny that property is theft: “in terms of looted resources, stolen labour and now the damage caused by climate change, the rich owe the poor far more than the poor owe the rich.”
.....This is how Proudhon put it back in 1840:

If I were asked to answer the following question: WHAT IS SLAVERY? and I should answer in one word, IT IS MURDER, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: WHAT IS PROPERTY! may I not likewise answer, IT IS ROBBERY, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

(What is Property? Or an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government. Chapter 1.)


It is fortunate that Proudhon feels that no extended argument is required; for he would find that none could be found to defend such nonsense. This passage, by the way, is a fine example of Calumnious Redefinition, which is defined below.

Friday, 10 June 2005

Wilful Misinterpretation

In ideological struggle, the scoundrel wishes to make known that all great thinkers are essentially on his side, so that it appears that the light of genius shines on him. As often happens, however, the writings of great thinkers exhibit views that are anathema to his ideology. The bold step here is to denounce these thinkers, but this is dangerous; for claiming that a widely acknowledged genius is an idiot can reflect badly on one’s character, even if he is an idiot. The safer option is to misinterpret wilfully the writings of great thinkers in concordance with one’s ideology. One says things such as, “Taken at face-value, it could be thought that by saying ‘x’ he means x,” and then one should intimate that only ignoramuses, reactionaries, and naifs could think that he means x. For instance, it has been the sport of many an ideologue to pretend that Nietzsche’s advocacy of warfare was no such thing, that what he was really advocating was philosophical warfare in passages such as the following:

War indispensable.— It is vain reverie and beautiful-soulism to expect much more (let alone only then to expect much) of mankind when it has unlearned how to wage war. For the present we know of no other means by which that rude energy that characterizes the camp, that profound impersonal hatred, that murderous cold-bloodedness with a good conscience, that common fire in the destruction of the enemy, that proud indifference to great losses, to one's own existence and that of one's friends, that inarticulate, earthquake-like shuddering of the soul, could be communicated more surely or strongly than every great war communicates them: the streams and currents that here break forth, though they carry with them rocks and rubbish of every kind and ruin the pastures of tenderer cultures, will later under favorable circumstances turn the wheels in the workshops of the spirit with newfound energy. Culture can in no way do without passions, vices and acts of wickedness.— When the Romans of the imperial era had grown a little tired of war they tried to gain new energy through animal-baiting, gladiatorial combats and the persecution of Christians. Present-day Englishmen, who seem also on the whole to have renounced war, seize on a different means of again engendering their fading energies: those perilous journeys of discovery, navigations, mountain-climbings, undertaken for scientific ends as they claim, in truth so as to bring home with them superfluous energy acquired through adventures and perils of all kinds. One will be able to discover many other such surrogates for war, but they will perhaps increasingly reveal that so highly cultivated and for that reason necessarily feeble humanity as that of the present-day European requires not merely war but the greatest and most terrible wars—thus a temporary relapse into barbarism—if the means to culture are not to deprive them of their culture and of their existence itself.
(Human, All Too Human, §477.)

How clear would Nietzsche have had to be in order not to be sympathetically misinterpreted by persons desperate to save him from his clearest assertions? How was he ever to advocate x if lesser and ideological men are forever going to take ‘x’ to mean not-x? Credulity has been stretched to such lengths by those who would like to tame and save Nietzsche for themselves that this radical aristocratist has even been seen by some as a prole-loving egalitarian!

Thursday, 9 June 2005

The Advantage of the Deranged

One might have thought that a derangement of the mental faculties would be of some disadvantage to an intellectual career, had one not time and again met with the most absurd and idiotic pronouncements in spittle and ink by our most celebrated academicians.
.....But a derangement of the mental faculties has one advantage in the academy which elsewhere would be seen as a liability and a danger: it allows that one might proclaim without necessity and with effulgent whim the boldest connections between things, which thitherto would have been deemed absurd, and thus it yields a never ending supply of what the academy esteems most: originality.
.....We are so used to thinking of originality as a good thing, that it is all too easy for us to accept originality per se as a good thing. But only a little thought is required to understand that originality by itself is a sorry and silly thing. An estimation of orginality per se would have us esteem a computer made of custard that doesn’t work above an old and conventional computer that does. Of course, when it’s put this way, no one would countenance originality for its own sake.
.....But as I say, in the paper-mill of the academy, where consequences are barely perceived and where, presumably, matters are thought to be epiphenominal, originality in all its unfettered and insane glory reigns. There is good reason for this. A never-ending supply of originality means a never-ending supply of work. If academicians restricted themselves tomorrow to saying what is both original and sensible, or just sensible, academicians would find themselves a week next Tuesday circling the classifieds. But with a working ethos that esteems orginality above all, there is no end to what can be said, and thus no end to academic work.
.....The modern academician finds himself stuck for something to say only for a short while; for with orginality trumping reason and evidence, there is nothing to stop him forging ahead with that ground-breaking work on the hitherto unsuspected link between paper clips and hegemonic systems of power.
.....For him there is no lifetime of barren struggle looking for the causal connection between x and y, only to find there isn’t one, because to him x and y can be picked at random and made to stick with the glue of some esoteric and hermeneutic theory. Indeed, the more disassociated x and y are, the more bold, shocking and original is the forging of a link between them.
.....In the atmosphere of untrammled orginality, the befuddled and irrational half-wit suffers no disadvantage; on the contrary, he blazes a trail.

If you have a favourite academic loon, please recommend him or her at The Hatemonger’s Quarterly, whose “crack young staff” are running an
Academic of the Month competition.

Monday, 6 June 2005

New Report Finds Britain is "Hideously White"

All socially aware people have long suspected it, the line-up at the upcoming Live 8 concerts has highlighted it, but now a report to be released today by the Committee on Racial Affairs has confirmed it: Britain is “hideously white”. The report found that upto 91% of the population of Britain is white. “This can’t go on,” said Dr Donald Watkins, who co-authored the report. “I find it offensive that in this day and age so many people in Britain are white. It is a disgrace.”
.....Institutions, such as the BBC, have been reprimanded before on precisely this issue. The new report, however, makes it clear that the problem is not confined to institutions: the problem extends all the way down into wider society. Indeed, the hideous whiteness of institutions is an accurate reflection of society at large. As Prof. Tetherton, a sociologist at the University of East Anglia, explains, “Because 91% of the population is hideously white, it means that the institutions naturally tend to take on the same horrific hue. If we are serious about tackling the problem, we must eradicate it at the root. Only this way can we create a freer, more equal society.”
.....Chris Martin, of the popular beat combo Coldplay, was unsurprised by the findings: “Most of my teachers at school were white, most of the people in my street were white, even my parents were white. I think it’s disgusting. People don’t seem to realise just how offensive it is. And when you consider that most shareholders are white, well, then we know we are dealing with the most unspeakable evil.”
.....The report comes after weeks of mounting pressure on the government to make known its understanding of the extent of the problem. “It seems there has been a lack of will on the part of politicians to tackle this issue,” said Emily Burton, spokeswomen for the independent think-tank Totalitas. “But now the government cannot ignore it.”
.....The report also places greater pressure on the organisers of the Live 8 concerts to change the racial constitution of its performers. “The thought of old white people playing guitars makes me physically sick,” said one activist.

Friday, 3 June 2005

A Masterclass in Indoctrination

The search for the grounds for ignorance has been no less exhaustive than that for knowledge. The old Socratic maxim stated that wisdom consists in the understanding of one’s own ignorance, whereas the new radical maxim states that it consists in the willing of it. Nowadays, with new pedagogical techniques, it takes only a few years at university to learn how to misunderstand the world properly.
.....This morning it was my misfortune to stumble upon the scribblings of a man called Amardo Rodriguez, an educator in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at the Syracuse University, New York. This information alone should be enough to make you fear the worst. If I tell you that his piece appeared in the latest edition of Radical Pedagogy, then you may begin to feel that your foreboding was justified. But let me confirm the worst.
.....His essay – if that is the right word; for I saw no attempt at understanding –, entitled
Searching For Paulo Freire: Classnotes For My Students, is in the form of a plaintive address to his students, outlining his hopes, fears, etc:
I come to teaching with all of my being. My devotion to you is complete. For me, teaching is about something you are, something you embody. Thus I have no techniques, no strategies, no skills, no drills, no exercises that tend to work in conveying various ideas and concepts. Instead, my focus is on how I enter the classroom as a human being.
Now, though a chap may be relieved to learn that he intends to enter the classroom as human being, and not as a chaffinch, say, or as a virulent strain of TB, one might be forgiven for having reservations about a teacher who makes a boast of his lack of skills and his unwillingness to convey ideas and concepts. But fear not; for he hath come to heal:

I want you to leave my class less afraid of the world. For I know you are afraid when I [sic] you enter my class. Most times I cannot even begin to fathom how scared you are. You are too young to be so scared. What has this world done to you? Of course I know you often pretend to be unafraid. But eventually you always become undone. I despise the world for what it has done to you. Your capacity to imagine new and different worlds is shot through with fear. I want my classroom to be the place where your healing begins—that is, where you find the courage to act upon the world in ways that affirm your ability to alter and change your world. It is therefore my responsibility to create a space that encourages you to come face-to-face with all the forces that are damaging you. It is also my responsibility to create a space that allows you to explore the beginnings and possibilities of new and different worlds.

Gosh.

The world you belong to is discursively and materially dichotomous and discontinuous. Something is either positive or negative, good or bad, right or wrong, male or female, sacred or profane. You too believe that the world is outside and separate from you. Of course you also believe the world is finite. Thus you believe that regardless of how one chooses to interpret, say, an apple falling from a tree, the fact of the matter is that the apple will fall to the ground rather than up to the sky. Understandably, you believe deeply in this finite world. You know no other. You are therefore suspicious of any suggestion that our interpretive capacity gives us the power to change and redefine our worlds. You believe that such claims only have purchase in theory.

Admittedly, I am suspicious when a sociologist tells me gravity can be overcome by the right kind of “interpretive capacity”.

You generally tend to believe that there is a world outside of us that dictates a set of harsh realities. Hierarchy, for instance, is presumably such a reality. The law of gravity is presumably a next such reality. You also generally tend to believe that cultures are morally and spiritually unequal. Naturally, you tend to believe, though most times embarrassed to openly say so, that your culture is the most superior because it supposedly accepts the world’s harsh realities. For instance, you believe in competition, and thereby in capitalism [aha!], because you believe it constitutes the natural order of the world. So although you sympathize with those who are suffering the fallout from social, political, and economic systems that promote competition, you merely wish for some way to alleviate their plight. But you want to hear nothing of revolution.

On the contrary, I can think of nothing more entertaining than listening to tales of bold revolutionaries swooping and soaring about the sky kept aloft by nobbut the hot air of anti-capitalist rhetoric and a charming insistance on the inefficacy of gravity.

I never want to convince you that your position or your beliefs are wrong.

But . . .

I am challenging you to contest everything you hold be true and sacred.

Righty-ho.

I always speak about race, ethnicity, and sexuality in my classrooms.

That’s nice.
But what is certain is that you have a deep fear of the racial, ethnic, and sexual differences between us.
More certain than the law of gravity?
I treat community as a verb rather than a noun.
Really?
I too am of this world.
Well, I was beginning to wonder . . .
There are those who now famously say that I have no business trying to use my classroom to change the world. This is the job of other professions. My job is merely ‘to interpret’ the world. Apparently, ‘the true task of academic work [is] the search for truth and the dissemination of it through teaching.’
Sounds noble.

I have no interest in searching for truth, much less engaging in its dissemination.
Oh.
Of course there are things in this world which are true and other things which are false. But no truth is outside of human experience, and human experience is inherently variable and changeable.
Ah, now this is a classic example of the sophisticated relativist’s trick of Affirm and Deny: he affirms his commitment to truth, saying that, of course there is such a thing, who could be stupid enough to deny it? And then in the next breath he denies it by redefinition, being that truth is redefined as being equal to human beliefs, variable therewith; thus truth is non-truth.

Of course no one should use a classroom to impose a vision of the world on you. [But . . .] Even if I sought to merely interpret the world, I would still have to engage you in an explanation of how various ideological, historical, cultural, and developmental forces shape your world. I would also have to demonstrate to you how different forces make for different interpretations. In the end, I simply cannot sustain my obligation to interpretation without engaging the condition of the world. To do so would simply be incompetent. I am therefore in no way trying to politicize the class. I am merely trying to be competent educator.

And so it is that we come to the old totalitarian argument:

Everyone is to some extent indoctrinated unsystematically with the assumptions implicit in society,
Therefore,
Systematic indoctrination is permissible
.

Nice work if you can get it.

Paradise for Philistines

Imagine a world in which the philistines controlled art. Ugliness, tastelessness, and tat would reign. Whatever was fiscally, politically or ideologically gratifying (for everything must have its use to the Philistine) would be praised as having merit, whereas what the Philistine cannot achieve - beauty, taste and skill - would be traduced as philistinism. One need not imagine such a world.
.....It helps that we are reminded each year of the worthlessness of modern art by the spectacle of the Turner Prize, the nominations for which have been announced. It is a time when rather dim people feel obliged to pretend that art is anything cobbled together by a simpleton with a degree in potato-printing. Here is what Sandra Laville of The Guardian has to say:

Almond's work focuses on time, using the digital clock as a focal point. He is also fascinated by the language of light, using his pictures to illuminate the night, turning darkness into light to allow people to witness scenes they would not normally be able to see.

Lambie, an artist, musician and DJ, constructs installations and sculptures from everyday materials like album covers, wool and safety pins.

All of which prompted the inevitable question from John Humphrys yesterday on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: 'But is it art?'

Modern art is indeed art insofar as it is not rocket science.

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

Intellectual Absurdities

The New Criterion declares that it has been a great year for academic absurdity, a subject close to my spleen.
.....I look at intellectual nonsense in much the same way as a coprologist views dung: each instance, though it may look similar to another, bears the unique imprint of its fabricator. Just as the coprologist may take satisfaction in determining by the study of dung the unique characteristics of health, habitat and diet of the animal whence it emerged, so might the keen fool-spotter find repletion in descriminating the constitution of absurdity, the haunts of pretension, and the fodder of platitudes evident in the mental droppings of the common intellectual shyster.
.....The shyster has a propensity for the showy and tart fruits of the intellectual world, ones high in kudos but low in edificatory substance, for which discernment he suffers conniption and literary flatulance. These fruits the intellectual shyster is wont to swallow whole, and even when he does take care to chew a thing over, it is punfuctorily done. This unwholesome diet of indigestibles produces in him the poverty of thought by which he is variously celebrated and reproved: he is celebrated by his fellows, for each effusion is further fodder for their consumption upon which their welfare depends; and he is reproved by everyone else for his fouling of the intellectual landscape.
.....One of my favourite specimens is now quite old, but it is yet to be beaten in the richness of its idiocy and the bravery of its pretension:

Nearness preserves farness. Preserving farness, nearness presences nearness in nearing that farness.

It was dropped upon the leaves of a book by the Great Pseudographer Martin Heidegger (in Poetry, Language, Thought). And what about this rather splendid example in Aesthetic Theory by Theodore Adorno, another giant of imposture:

As was already pointed out in Dialectic of Enlightenment, strict positivism crosses over into the feeblemindedness of the artistically insensible, the successfully castrated. The narrow-minded wisdom that sorts out feeling from knowing and rubs its hands together when it finds the two balanced is--as trivialities sometimes are--the caricature of a situation that over the centuries of the division of labor has inscribed this division in subjectivity. Yet feeling and understanding are not absolutely different in the human disposition and remain dependent even in their dividedness. The forms of reaction that are subsumed under the concept of feeling become futile enclaves of sentimentality as soon as they seal themselves off from their relation to thought and turn a blind eye to truth; thought, however, approaches tautology when it shrinks from the sublimation of the mimetic comportment. The fatal separation of the two came about historically and is revocable. . . . Ultimately, aesthetic comportment is to be defined as the capacity to shudder, as if goose bumps were the first aesthetic image. What later came to be called subjectivity, freeing itself from the blind anxiety of the shudder, is at the same time the shudder's own development; life in the subject is nothing but what shudders, the reaction to the total spell that transcends the spell. Consciousness without shudder is reified consciousness. That shudder which subjectivity stirs without yet being subjectivity is the act of being touched by the other. Aesthetic comportment assimilates itself to that other rather than subordinating it. Such a constitutive relation of the subject to objectivity in aesthetic comportment joins eros and knowledge.

I have many such examples from personages and peasants, but a collector is never satisfied. Please do not hesistate, therefore, to draw my attention to any fresh examples.

Elton Trifles

Sir Elton John is quoted in The Guardian today:
When the Live Aid concert happened 20 years ago I was pretty much a self-obsessed drug addict. Although I was pleased to be part of a great day, I really wasn't adult enough or mature enough to realise the full consequences of what we were doing.
Sir Elton, who over the past twenty years has selflessly dedicated himself to a study of political economy, is now well known for his disdain of material comforts and is justly celebrated for his encyclopedic knowledge; nor is there about him a trace of the pleasure-seeking, narcissistic, moral and intellectual cretin who knows no more about politics or economics or history than does a parboiled titmouse.
.....The erudite Sir Elton, who in the mid-Nineties proved in a brilliant display of statistical mathematics the inefficacy of supply-side theory, is hoping to demonstrate the absurdity of free trade by playing the piano quite badly in front of a crowd of baying morons.

Schmeagleton

More pretentious twaddle (The Nation, 15th June 2005 issue) from the prolifically profligate Professor Eagleton:

The future is already potentially present in the shape of the blind spots and contradictions of the present--in its silences and exclusions, its conflicts and fragmentations.
.....We must strike a balance between saying too much and saying too little, between the future as a mere projection of the present and as a cryptic silence. If there is simply an abyss between the present and the future, then we cannot logically speak of how the future takes shape in the present.

Strip it of its fawney-wisdom, and this is very banal stuff indeed. Doesn’t this man have anything worthwhile to say? I suppose that once a man’s mind is addled with Marxism and Literary Theory, things begin to seem the more profound and exciting and real the further they are from profundity and excitement and reality.
.....In response to another of Prof. Eagleton’s scribbled messes (The Guardian, 25th May 2005) last week, I coined a word and posted it on the comments board at The Daily Ablution:

Eagleton-eyed, adj. Pertaining to the inability to see or observe except with exceptional obtuseness; pertaining to the ability to perceive at a great distance from reality anything that might appear clever or be expedient to one's cause; pertaining to a perversity of and pretension to insight.