31 January 2009
With some tweaking, I think the formula could work again. Maybe a better site design, maybe a less explicit commitment to conservatism. Then again, maybe I'm just wishing again that everyone on the planet had the same taste as me.
Joshua Treviño has written an analysis of why the business model didn't work, etc. It seems pretty smart to me.
29 January 2009
“So first you learn the syntax. Your most basic grammar is arithmetic with fractions, square roots, and unknowns—that’s the present tense. Trigonometry and quadratic equations (factoring) are your past and future tenses. Poke around in mathematical logic and set theory: that’ll give you your various clauses and prepositional phrases. A little bit of probability won’t hurt, either. ‘Imaginary numbers’ (like ‘the square root of negative one’) are like the subjunctive tense, except they turn out to be far more important in the long run.”
It's a little bit silly, I know, but I think it works, somehow. Did you see me disregard basic geometry? Click through, and you'll see that I consigned it to the dustbin of history.
“‘There's this series of dominos that are all facing each other, and if you can get one of them to fall, the other ones will fall with greater ease,’ Wright told the Independent in 2007 for a cover story about the collective on the eve of Daniels' first album on Fat Cat, Sharp Teeth. ‘I think they're falling.’
“Instead, it was Bu Hanan that was falling apart. Writer's block crippled Wright as he tried to pen Prayers and Tears' follow-up. Hart began touring as a multi-instrumentalist with bands like The Polyphonic Spree, and he was rarely at home to collaborate. Daniels, who'd made Sharp Teeth with everyone's advice and two-dozen collaborators, began working on its follow-up in isolation. Bu Hanan's once-close collaborators became mere artistic acquaintances, old friends growing apart.”Sad stuff. But here's hoping for more great albums from David Karsten Daniels, The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, The Physics of Meaning, and Kapow! Music, along with a little bit of sadness that they're working seperately now.
26 January 2009
I picked up Camp Concentration because I've come across several remembrances of Disch, who killed himself only a few months ago. Joseph Bottum wrote of him quite fondly for The Weekly Standard, and an article in the Boston Review praised in his first book, 334.
Camp Concentration is set in a nightmare America, where President McNamara has embroiled the United States in another Vietnam-style war. The book is the journal of an imprisoned conscientious objector who finds himself stuck in a secret military human enhancement project. It really takes off from there. Themes include: the existence and nature of God, alchemy, the possibility of creating Hell for ourselves, science and ethics, human cruelty, the pathology of genius, and, inevitably, death's inevitability.
The book's question is summed up in this passage, where one prisoner explains his philosophy to the narrator:
“Well, I do what I can to bring alchemic procedures up to date, but my attitude to pure Science, capital S, was stated a century ago by a fellow alchemist, Arthur Rimbaud—Science est trop lente. It's too slow. How much more so for me than him! How much time is left me? A month, two. And if I had years instead of months, what difference would it make? Science acquiesces, fatally, to the second law of thermodynamics—magic is free to be a conscientious objector. The fact is that I'm not interested in a universe in which I have to die.”
“Which is to say that you've chosen self-delusion.”
“Indeed, no! I choose to escape. I choose freedom.”
“You've come to a splendid place to find it.”
“Why, this is exactly where my freedom is the largest. The best we can hope for, in a finite and imperfect world, is that our minds be free, and Camp Archimedes is uniquely equipped to allow me just that freedom and no other. […] Anywhere else one begins tacitly to accept one's circumstances, one ceases to struggle, one becomes hopelessly compromised.”
“Nonsense and sophistry. You're just trying on theories for size.”
“Ah, you see into my very soul. […] But there is, after all, a point to my nonsense and sophistry. Make your Catholic Gaud the warden of this prison-universe, and you have exactly Aquinas' argument, nonsensical, sophistical—that it is only in submitting to his will that we can be free. Whereas in fact, as Lucifer well knew, as I know, as you've had intimations, one is only made free by thumbing one's nose at him.”
Disch doesn't let the book close on this or any single perspective—he's too good for that—but it's wrestled with throughout.
The plot, by the way, is fairly close to pulp in its barest outline. It's written on the Philip K. Dick model, where fairly standard sci-fi tropes are elevated and warped into originality by the author's ingenuity—and perhaps a touch of madness.
EDIT: Fixed up some confusion about when the book was published—I had looked at a republication date.
24 January 2009
“…In the tragic there is implicit a sadness and a healing that one indeed must not disdain, and when someone wishes to gain himself in the superhuman way our age tries to do it, he loses himself and becomes comic. Every individual, however original he is, is still a child of God, of his age, of his nation, of his family, of his friends, and only in them does he have his truth. If he wants to be the absolute in all this, his relativity, then he becomes ludicrous…
“…Intrinsically, the tragic is infinitely gentle; esthetically it is to human life what divine grace and compassion are; it is even more benign, and therefore I say that it is a motherly love that lulls the troubled one. The ethical is rigorous and hard.”
-Kierkegaard, writing as “A,” in “The Tragic in Ancient Drama,” a section of Either/Or vol. 1. trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987. (144-145)
How is tragedy gentle? It is absolution without repentance. Oedipus is filled with infinite sorrow, but he does not repent. How can he? It was fate that maneuvered him to ruin. In the tragic, the hero has guilt, but still he lacks responsibility. But the individualist that A (the unnamed aesthete who “wrote” most of the first volume of Either/Or remain.) attacks has rejected fate because he wants to be his own man. And without the consolation of fate, only judgment or mockery remain. “Divine grace and compassion” arrive on the other side of ethical guilt, after the judgment has been made, and require, I think, an understanding of original sin if the analogy is to be complete.
What has set me off is this piece from Tim Lockney, The Daily Tar Heel's “behavior columnist,” which asks what the evolutionary point of alcoholism might be. I shouldn't be too hard on him, because he's just a biology major trying to write a weekly column, but I have to wonder what he thinks the point of his argument is.
His thesis is that college students get terribly drunk and do stupid things on the weekend out a deep instinctual drive to impress potential mates. I'm not sure what part of Amotz Zahavi's handicap theory is “new” to Lockney, but that's the basis for his claim:
“Because I can drink so much without dying, far more than my peers, then I must be the most evolutionarily fit male to father your offspring. This theory goes deeper than sociological explanations (peer pressure, pleasurable tastes and feelings, lowering inhibitions, etc.) and concludes that our animal instincts to impress females enough to impregnate them drive our consumption.”
He concludes on an ambiguous note, claiming both that the ability to consume great quantities of alcohol was once a useful demonstration of sexual prowess, but also that alcohol consumption only demonstrates liver capacity, so “maybe the sociologists are right” (in which case the entire article is pointless).
My question: how does knowing the biological origins of our desires help us decide how whether to act on them? I don't see how this knowledge can do anything to help me order my own life, though I suppose it could help you if you were trying to control other people. From my subjective perspective, how can I know whether a particular desire is maladaptive? Trust the scientists? And even if it is maladaptive, what if I decide to do something with my life besides doing my utmost to ensure the continued existence of my own genetic material?
It seems to me that you can only call something maladaptive when you can study it through several generations of other organisms. As a decision-making individual, you have to evaluate your needs and desires on a “non-evolutionary” standard.
The recent New York Times science article, by Marlene Zuk on “paleofantasies,” which considered why we yearn for a time of ancient biological balance, was a better article, but my reaction comes along the same lines. Here's the opening:
“Maybe our woes arise because our Stone Age genes are thrust into Space Age life. That beer gut? It comes from eating too many processed carbohydrates; our bodies evolved to eat only unrefined foods, mainly meat, and we get out of kilter veering from our ancestral diet.
Food allergies and digestive woes? We, like other mammals, aren’t meant to consume dairy products after weaning. When politicians fall from grace after committing adultery, some commentator will always point out that such behavior has evolutionary roots: weren’t the best procreators alpha males with roving eyes?
In short, we have what the anthropologist Leslie Aiello called ‘paleofantasies.’ She was referring to stories about human evolution based on limited fossil evidence, but the term applies just as well to nostalgia for the very old days as a touchstone for the way life is supposed to be and why it sometimes feels so out of balance.”
Zuk's basic response is that there never was a perfect balance. Surely, ancient men had their woes as well, and the process of adaptation is continual. Genes for adult lactose tolerance, for example, appeared quite recently. So don't imagine that there was some time when man had a the perfect healthy diet.
What Zuk says seems reasonable to me, and I'm glad that I learned a little bit about lactose tolerance. But I still don't see how this information will play into any basic decisions I will make. So my descendents might someday be better adjusted to a modern diet. But even if they get a gene that lets them eat Snickers Bars like salads and still be fine, I don't have it. Again: I have to make my own decisions on non-evolutionary criteria.
The problem I have with pop-Darwinism, then, is that it takes a worthwhile field of human knowledge—the study of our genes and how they came to be—and tells us that understanding the origins of our desires is enough to make good decisions about them. But this understanding isn't enough.
22 January 2009
The bad news is that I'm going to have to cut back on my own blogging this semester. I'll do my very best to keep this site from turning into a dead link, and maybe I'll find a rhythm that lets me keep up the pace I want, but real life is intruding.
Quickly: I'm going to mostly endorse Freddie's take on the incoherent plotting of The Dark Knight. The point of the movie was never to tell a compelling story; it was to mix and match a series of political symbols in such a way that people in the audience can draw on its mythic structure to examine their own unarticulated questions about the use of (super) power in an age of terror. But in order for for such mythic structure to stand, it needs a solid foundation, and can't have these gaping plot holes and out-of-character decisions.
(I have similar problems with Battlestar Galactica, where Apollo seems to become a different character every few episodes just to fit some plot twist that the writers want to hit us with.)
That being said: what the comics fan enjoys in the movies is seeing big-screen versions of their favorite characters that somehow carry through the soul of the comics character. And Nolan got that right, unlike the awful Joel Schumacher. So the comics fan in me had to give the movie a thumbs up, whereas the movie fan in me had to give it an ambivilent sideways shaking thumb.
19 January 2009
“The year the album, Born in the USA was released, was an election year and some wondered if Bruce was being political. They wondered if he was favoring President Ronald Reagan. Although his songs reflected social concerns, he claimed no such thing. A registered voter, Bruce votes, but won't say who he votes for. That's the American way.
“Some think that because the Born in the USA album cover has a picture of the American flag that Bruce is into politics and trying to make a statement. But actually he's not. The flag has nothing to do with his feelings or beliefs. Having the American flag on the cover is impressive, as the American flag always is, and it fit with the title song. That's all.”
(In case you've never listened to Springsteen, this passage was ridiculous then and is ridiculous now.)
17 January 2009
But the reader of Kierkegaard, like the reader of Freud, is furnished with a set of terms and symbols that can be used to construct his guiding narrative. And it comes out in fiction: Walker Percy built character dynamics in The Moviegoer on the model of Either/Or, and Rob from High Fidelity made a Kierkegaardian journey whether or not Nick Hornby had the Danish philosopher in mind when he wrote the novel.
Here’s how the Kierkegaardian story goes. The protagonist, usually a young man, lives an aesthetic life, meaning that he is oriented towards feeling and experience. Much of his effort goes toward avoiding boredom. He keeps life interesting primarily through art and relationships with women. In these relationships, he is faithful only to the experience of the relationship, not to the woman as a human being. Ethically, this is bad behavior—but the protagonist does not see himself ethically. At some point in the story, he commits to relationship over experience, often through marriage. By doing this, he enters the ethical mode of living. He finds an unexpected security in this mode, and a certain restlessness that has always plagued him subsides.
This is, of course, only a framework, and it’s probably better to say that Kierkegaard didn’t invent this story so much as treat it comprehensively.
But beyond the ethical, there is the religious. In Fear and Trembling, one of Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous characters writes of “the teleological suspension of the ethical,” which is the idea that God can require an unethical action from a believer for some purpose unknown to the believer, and the believer must lay some ethical commitment on the altar of faith, as Abraham did when he took Isaac up Mt. Moriah. Some theologians have found Kierkegaard’s description of the situation to be problematic, to say the least, and I must say that I have my doubts about its theological validity. Nevertheless, Fear and Trembling is a good book. (I’ve tried to describe it as Kierkegaard’s attempt to make the simple truths that faith people know complicated enough that even intellectuals can understand them.)
I find that Kierkegaard’s writing is not anything that I would try to defend as truth, but it does provide a wealth of material for reflection and self-examination. Also, once you get his rhythm, reading Kierkegaard can actually be entertaining, as he’s one of the few philosophers with a decent sense of humor.
Two final things: it should be obvious by now that I haven't read enough of Kierkegaard's later writings, and I am currently wondering about the connection between the certain sort of Protestant who is drawn to Kierkegaard and the certain sort of Protestant that is drawn to MacIntyre. I welcome comments on either point.
“Having a realistic estimation of one’s talents is a virtue, and having enough self-respect to be willing to suffer humiliation is, too. These two virtues yield utterly opposite styles of argumentation and I can’t imagine why they are both called "humility." I am more interested in the latter kind. In the same way that every man will eventually die, every man will eventually be wrong. The dogmatist never accepts this; the pragmatist accepts this before he begins; the humble blogger knows his humiliation is coming, but argues assertively until it arrives, secure in his confidence that, when it does, it won’t be that bad.”
I hate humiliation. Oh well.
I suppose it all comes around anyhow.
16 January 2009
So far he's done “Up on a Mountain”:
“Monique’s un-ambitious Sunday school recital here best suits the magnitude of the situation, as if she were instructing, in rueful, plaintive melodies, the theology of death to unsuspecting toddlers.”
And “Sold! To the Nice Rich Man”
“The Welcome Wagon evades the tree-stomping theatrics of Danielson, forgoing the waltzing punches of passion for a groovy, bluesy party vibe decorated with snappy brass jabs and soulful monosyllables from the choir, anointed with a B.B. King blues guitar jam.”
It's kind of weird that Stevens writes about The Welcome Wagon as a separate entity, because I'm under the impression that he did most of the arranging. But I could be completely wrong about that.
15 January 2009
Way back in November, he posted a list of “Top 10 Irritating Phrases” that weren't your typical grammarian fare. The top two entries were “a sense of” and “In a very real sense…”, and he's pushed back at commentors and interlocutors who have used the phrase. I didn't get it at first. But if he's asking people to “join the fight” (in the comments), I want to know what the problem is. How does “a sense of” destroy the fabric of reality?
Using “a sense of” is clearly legitimate when you're talking about the faculties of sight or smell. “Does your dog have a sense of smell?” Not a problem.
James hates “a sense of” when it relegates what should be the proper subject of a sentence to a propositional clause, and the speaker doesn't do this deliberately. Believing, for example, that “a sense of authority” is the same as “authority” proper, for example.
So, in tough economic times, people focus on restoring a sense of security rather than security itself. A language therapy rather than an actual solution, an attempt to make uncomfortable realities disappear by feeling differently about them. So the difference between saying that someone wants to restore a sense of authority, security, happiness, or whatever, and saying that she wants to restore the authority, security, etc.—this is not a trivial thing.
I think I've solved the puzzle to my own satisfaction. As for my last post, I could have said “a sense of irony” without hurting the fabric of reality, because it would have had the meaning of a faculty for the detection of irony, analagous to the sense of humor, not a feeling of the presence of irony when irony is not actually there (I think this sentence is dangerously close to ending in an infinite recursion). But “irony” worked as well, because, in my experience, the irony of bored graphic designers is not like other people's irony.
I heard a good many conservatives complaining about the dear-leader undertones of many Obama posters. Such conservatives didn't spend enough time around bored but creative graphic designers to understand their irony.
N.B.: I don't know if James Poulos ever checks this blog, but in the last sentence I wanted to say “sense of irony,” and I didn't, just in case he sees this.
14 January 2009
Citizens of the United States should take an interest in the actions of our allies. In an ideal situation (i.e. one where the USA hadn't done so much to ruin its credibility on human rights--and of course it's worse that we infringed human rights than that we lost our credibility), the USA would make sure that if a major ally, say, bombed civilian targets, that the case for supreme emergency is solid, or at least plausible within standards of proportionality. Above all, I want the USA to be committed to the principle that innocents on either side of battle lines have equal (and intrinsic) moral worth.
These are my principles. I don't know how to apply them to a complex situation that I haven't really studied.
That being said, I was struck by Jeffrey Golberg's op-ed in the New York Times yesterday:
"There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief.
"The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness."
13 January 2009
The Hidden Life
by Joseph Bottum
For the poet Dana Gioia,
upon his taking a public office.
Sometimes on evening walks you hear,
in whispers from old wells
and almost-words that rivers speak,
a quiet voice that tells
of small, secluded things. Like murmured
prayers from churchmen’s stalls
or what the marbled echoes say,
it rises, then it falls.
And you may follow when it calls
or you may think to wait. The green
at dusk seems deeper than
the green at dawn. Beyond the gate
a garden opens on
long shadows overgrown with leaves
and lilac nunneries,
between the gravel paths, where sparrows
seek their tenebraes.
And you may follow, if you please,
or keep to public streets. Against
the bruit of busy day,
the private houses close their eyes.
A few small panes betray
high bookshelves in a firelit room,
a woman sweeping floors,
a glimpse of some unknowing boy
at work at evening chores.
And you may follow, through those doors,
or you may turn aside. In lines
of black between the flames,
a fire writes against its light.
Dry hopes, forgotten fames,
the traceless works of childless men:
All printed there to read.
The cinders spell the deeper night,
dark need inside dark need.
And you may follow where they lead
or you may look away.
12 January 2009
“He was the greatest reader I ever met. The greatest reader, and a cigar smoker, and a walker, and a preacher, and a brewer of some of the worst coffee ever made. What odd items the mind latches onto in moments of grief: the tilt of a friend's head, the way he used his hands when he spoke, an awful meal shared a decade back, a conversation about a book only a month ago.
“Only a month ago--it was only a month ago that he was still whole, still sharp, still himself. Novels and movies always seem to me to get it wrong. Grief doesn't conjure up ghosts. Grief renders the world itself ghostly. The absent thing alone is real, and in comparison, all present things are pale, gray, and indistinct: a vague background to the sharp-edged portrait of what is gone.
“And, oh, what sharp edges Richard John Neuhaus had. He wrote and wrote and wrote--a discipline of writing that almost every other writer I know has told me feels almost like an indictment: 30 books, and innumerable essays, and all those talks he flew around to give. And, just as an incidental, 12,000 words a month poured out in the column, The Public Square, that anchored every issue of First Things, the magazine he founded.
“I remember him, sitting on the couch, taking me through the argument of a book he had just finished reading--and making the argument clearer than the author had ever managed. I remember his puffing on his cigars, and his constant jaywalking across the streets of Manhattan in utter confidence that the cars would stop, and his Lutheran-style preaching, and his bad coffee. I remember the way he would tilt his head when he smiled, and the way he used his hands when he talked, and the brilliant conversation about a book only a month back.”
11 January 2009
There was one quote I thought was suitably public, but I left the book in my apartment and I can't access it from this coffee shop. Maybe later in the week, then.
09 January 2009
I have probably watched All the Real Girls ten or twelve times at intervals, maybe more. I get it out every few months when I don't have anything to do. As I've kept watching, I've started to see more ragged edges, but also more heart. Green's the kind of director where even his mistakes stick with you, who takes accidents and makes them work.
It's funny to see where these kids from NC School of the Arts have gotten to. Schneider was in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Lars and the Real Girl. David Gordon Green made Pineapple Express. And Danny McBride, who played Bust-Ass in All the Real Girls (as a first time actor!), was in Tropic Thunder.
08 January 2009
First Things, under Neuhaus's direction, introduced me to many theological debates, and to new levels in political ones. It's the magazine that introduced me to the writing of Stanley Hauerwas, R.R. Reno, David Bentley Hart, Joseph Bottum, Alan Jacobs, Matthew Milliner, and many of my other favorite essayists. Even though I now disagree with some of Neuhaus's positions, part of that is due to his willingness to publish and engage with dissenting points of view, even if he attacked them later. For that I am thankful.
Finally, I hope that Neuhaus's legacy will be his intelligent ecumenism and his consistent advocacy of the culture of life. For an example of the latter, see this speech he gave last summer.
EDIT: Here's Alan Jacobs:
“So when I think of Father Neuhaus I think primarily of two things. First, I think of his personal encouragement and support of me when I was a young and unknown writer. And second, I think of the major role he played in creating a new space for serious and thoughtful reflection on the place of religion in the public square; for informed and critical cultural commentary; for appreciation of the role of art in shaping and interpreting religious faith and practice. In that way First Things has been, and continues to be, a gift to me as a reader as well as a writer.”
EDIT II: Ross Douthat:
“…few of us can match the things that Richard John Neuhaus did right: The depth and skill in argument, the breadth of subjects covered, and the skill with which he wrote. And above all, the spirit of urgency that permeated his work - the sense that the controversies with which he concerned himself really mattered, in an everyday sense but in a cosmic one as well. At its best, his essays and arguments achieved a grace to which that all religious authors should aspire: They not only conveyed the sense that Richard John Neuhaus, priest and author, cared about the issues of the age, but that God Himself cared about them as well.”
06 January 2009
Blake is an awesome guy, and I hope this opens some doors for him.
05 January 2009
My attempted paraphrasing of the two claims Wilson posts:
(a) Though we must acknowledge that the claims we make about truth come from some particular context, this does not mean that we can simply slip into relativism. We can, and often do, hold these claims with universal intent (to use language that Lesslie Newbigin might have borrowed from someone else). For example, I know that much of the theological language I would use comes off as unintelligible or ridiculous to people that might happen upon this blog. I can't provide a purely rational account of why I use this language and adhere to these principles. This doesn't mean that these principles are only “true for me.” If they are true, they must be “true for everyone.” But there is no neutral ground on which I can vindicate them with recourse to reason alone.
(b) Moving further, I am still responsible for providing the best rational account I can give for why I hold the positions I do. I can still interact with and examine other positions, but it is important that I evaluate them on their own terms to whatever degree I can. There is no rationality as such, as MacIntyre would have it. Even a language explicitly designed in an attempt to provide a transcendent context where religious claims can be evaluated neutrally, it will fail, because it will itself be another particular language.
I'm sure I'm reading my own recent musings into the quotes, but I'd like to see what sort of discussion sprouts out of this. If you have issues with my paraphrasing, please comment here. Otherwise, head on over to PoMoCon and have at at. I've posted a comment there that tries to tie this stuff into blog comments and trolls. (If you get on it quick, maybe you can get in the ring before Freddie, Helen, and/or James do.)
04 January 2009
“What a strange old book it was. How oddly holiness situated itself among the things of the world, how endlessly creation wrenched and strained under the burden of its own significance. ‘I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.’ Yes, there it was, the parable of manna. All bread is the bread of heaven, her father used to say. It expresses the will of God to sustain us in the flesh, in this life. Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
-Marilynne Robinson, Home (page 102)
When I read Gilead, I had this feeling that I had been waiting for the book without knowing it. And it's happening again with this book. Theory: after so many years of reading Catholic novelists, finding a writer like Robinson is like, well, coming home.
03 January 2009
“When the intellect has once been properly trained and formed to have a connected view or grasp of things, it will display its powers with more or less effect according to its particular quality and capacity in the individual. In the case of most men it makes itself felt in the good sense, sobriety of thought, reasonableness, candour, self-command, and steadiness of view, which characterize it. In some it will have developed habits of business, power of influencing others, and sagacity. In others it will elicit the talent of philosophical speculation, and lead the mind forward to eminence in this or that intellectual department. In all it will be a faculty of entering with comparative ease into any subject of thought, and of taking up with aptitude any science or profession.”
Ah, the benefits of a liberal education.
I saw Milk last night. As a total movie, it's not the best thing I've seen, though the acting is certainly solid.
The opening bits of old newsreel footage hit me hardest: the mixes of shame, defiance, anger, and resignation in the faces of the gay men as the police guided them out of bars and into vans. The rest of the movie wasn't straight hagiography: it portrayed Harvey Milk as a smart, brave, charismatic man, but one who couldn't always tell when he was pushing his friends and allies too far. And the poor lost boys that Milk did so much to inspire: isn't part of true religion caring for the orphans?
Traditionalist that I am, I should probably have something to say about promiscuity, or the institution of marriage, or something—but I don't, not really, not now. I don't want to argue this thing on principles. Beneath the preachiness of the movie is the struggle of what I can't deny is a real community of my friends and neighbors. And the sense that we are all in this together, even if we have to fight with each other to get through it.
EDIT: This entry, perhaps, demonstrates why you should let fresh ideas air about before typing them up for all to see.
02 January 2009
I think I now understand and accept MacIntyre's description of what a tradition is, why we need them, and how some people are unconsciously involved in traditions. I can place myself with a decent degree of specificity in an American Reformed tradition: the evangelical Presbyterian branch of the moderate Calvinist branch of the Augustinian branch of the Christian tradition. The moderate Calvinist branch is, I think, broad enough to be considered part of a tradition of enquiry. Even if it isn't fully expressed in culture-wide social arrangements, it partially orders the lives of a good number of people. And I think MacIntyre has convinced me that there is no transcendent point of rationality as such from which we could fully evaluate different traditions, so I have to keep working in the place where I find myself.
But it's starting to seem that MacIntyre is a bit imprecise in his use of “liberal” and “modern.” He'll critique a specifically modern intellectual project, but he hasn't convinced me that our modern society is organized in such a way that it depends on that project. In other words, he leaves the door open for someone who can describe democratic liberalism as a tradition with reference to the complexities of the interaction between society and intellectual endeavor in the United States. So I'm convinced that certain philosophical projects had to fail due to internal incoherency, but not that American liberalism, broadly construed, has to fail.
From the final chapter, a good point for all students:
“ . . . someone who, not as yet having given their allegience to some coherent tradition of enquiry . . . is confronted by the claims of each of the traditions which we have considered as well as by those of other traditions. How is it rational to respond to them? The initial answer is: that will depend upon who you are and how you understand yourself. This is not the kind of answer which we have been educated to expect in philosophy, but that is because our education in and about philosophy has by and large presupposed what is not in fact true, that there are standards of rationality, adequate for the evaluation of rival answers to such questions, equally available, at least in principle, to all persons, whatever tradition they may happen to find themselves in and whether or not they inhabit any tradition.”
I'd be willing to try to write up a fuller review of the book, with more context, if anyone is confused about what I've said so far and wants to know more.
01 January 2009
This is sad, because I wanted to write about MacIntyre, and about Socrates, and about Kierkegaard… and I needed a warm place to sit and get some thoughts down. But I'm wandering around and can't find an open building. It's only 40 degrees out, but my fingers still get cold as I type. So I'm going to sign off, go home, write some stuff, and post it tomorrow.
Happy New Year.
(What an awful first post of 2009.)
P.S. I welcomed in the New Year by watching Spirited Away, which was as wonderful as always. What did you do?