“But I have made no effort to sophisticate my early, tentative, amateur efforts to link the English and the Continental traditions, because I want them to show that to realign these traditions, after their long mutual shunning, at any rate to write witnessing the loss in that separation, has been a formative aspiration of mine from the earliest of the work I refer to here. It remains an aspiration to define and to date a place of its overcoming.” Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason, Oxford University Press 1979, p. xvii.
The least remarkable element of this quote, and why I started reading this book, is that it refers to the classical traditions. The most remarkable element of the quote, and why I will finish this book and write about it, is the emphasis on a charitable reading of other texts. I personally believe that it is that charity (of reading, of listening rather than the shortcut to charity which consists in giving money, time etc.) which has the potential to overcome all the man-made divisions which are the source of the need for the second, material, kind of charity.
A charitable reception of the other’s point of view is the basis of constructing a better – hence more shared – understanding. It simultaneously provides the motivation to share – hence improve – material stuff on beforehand instead of patching the inequality divide in a post-factum way. There will be less heroes this way but the amount of heroes a society generates is inversely proportional to the inherent charity in that society. That alone is the clearest of signs that our present society isn’t doing well. It needs heroes and it makes any other person feel average.
Feeling average is inhuman. In reading Cavell (and writing about it) it’s that very feeling of insignificance that is, in my humble opinion, deconstructed via scrutinizing the tyranny of points of view which are deemed (more, sufficiently, absolutely ) significant.
In this series of posts I will read Cavell’s “The Claim of Reason” and report on my reading. I invite you to read (with) me and contribute, as I will, your own peculiar points of view. I’ll start with some tentative, amateur observations of my own
More or less 25 years ago I experienced a zero-crossing. The sign of my well-being gently changed from negative to positive. My well-being in function of time is hard to measure. I do think it kind of maximized about 10 years ago. I hate to say that, being rather square, it doesn’t look likely I will avoid my second zero-crossing. Worse, I hate that it feels like it’s imminent. Here’s to hoping my polynomial has a reasonable term in the third degree.
I hate parabolic. I hope my vengeance comes in that third degree.
If you are lucky enough not to have been bored to death with polynomials of the quadratic kind when you were young enough to imagine aliens would rescue us from all that menial labor for which computers and robots were invented, you won’t mind a long sentence that promises to explain the above in more humane terms. The parabolic essence is: what goes up must come down. My family took me to a maximum but my gravity takes me down.
I hate gravity, specifically the one that I need to own up to as mine.
But more than all this, I hate being in suspense. And now for a rant. Continue reading
“One doesn’t always have to formalize: Nietzsche thought that if God existed, the I is impossible. That may be very convincing, if A commands B, B no longer is autonomous, doesn’t have subjectivity anymore, but when in the course of thinking, you don’t stay in the formal, when you think from the contents, a situation called heteronomy has a totally different meaning.” (own translation), E. Levinas, Entre Nous, Editions Grasset & Fasquelle, 1991, p.121.
I’ve been blogging on and off on this site called heteronomy. Truth be told I have never in that long time really though about the meaning of that word. Until recently that is, when I read Kant’s “Foundations of metaphysics of morals” and discovered the passage about autonomy and heteronomy. It made me think. There’s something appealing to autonomy; one would not want to do the good thing because there’s an external motivation to do it. Still, something is missing there. The misery of our own period of history has a lot do to with autonomy gone wild. It literally takes the Enlightenment to anti-humanist extremes. As a once avid reader of Kierkegaard I can but wonder whether the either/or isn’t in fact inescapable and whether I don’t have to switch over to the religious side after all. I seem to share all of the values although I’m fundamentally abhorred by the heteronomous part; obedience is not my thing, let alone the blind variant.
I am, like many, looking for a long time to avoid being caught on the horns of the either and the or. There has to be a way to derive a positive morality without relying on anything properly religious. It was no coincidence that I decided to read some more Levinas. It was a surprise though to find the above quote. It sums up the promise of another kind of heteronomy, one not based on higher powers but one based on everyday interaction with others. That surprise triggered this post.
I think Levinas has it more or less right. The problem is that I’m looking for something that is exactly right. I’m after all an analytical person close to analytic philosophy. Now – like in this excellent piece (by Martin Shuster) – there is a lot of activity trying to bridge the gaps between the two philosophical traditions, that’s still not exact enough for me. What I want is to derive Levinas’ anomalous heteronomy from the basic facts of language and – more specifically – from Davidson’s principle of charity.
This is what I have (and, pretty please, do help me along):
Remember those awkward days when your every move was dependent on being independent. Your laundry was done for you, dinner was still served and your presence at it was a sacrifice to the elders. You are ashamed now about the future you predicted for your self and that of others. You should be. It was naïve and self-centered on wishing ill on others. You had as little room for others in your heart as there was for yourself in your room.
I’m talking about the years 2015-2016. Years of stupidity that are by now mostly forgotten. Ape years paling in comparison to the big fires scarring the century before. Religion was a hot item again. Can you imagine? God was long pronounced dead. The notion of humanity was born long before His epitaph was written. But here we were: each boxed in their own room of right, sulking about the unfairness of it all.
In the end, it was all about being independent.
Yoinked from the comments at AUFS, because why not.
I saw The Hateful Eight as self-critique of Tarantino’s previous pair of movies, which were both alternative history by way of violent fantasies, the twinned Hitler-killings (and accompanying brutalization of Nazis) of Inglourious Basterds and the plantation carnage of Django Unchained.
The establishment of civilization requires that a man be hanged by the law instead of lynched by the mob. This is axiomatic to the Western (not to mention the Orestia). It’s the first scene of Deadwood, and it’s posed by “Oswaldo Mowbray” at Minnie’s.
Meeting after the Civil War on “neutral” ground, the characters are animated by fantasies and experiences that mirror the what-ifs of IB and DU. Marquis’s swath of fiery vengeance and $30,000 “head” makes him a close cousin of Django. And Tarantino doesn’t need to indulge in relativistic both-sides-do-it to show that Mannix sees his daddy’s raids as motivated by violent redemption for history’s losers as well.
The most critical violent fantasy, though, is the one that concludes the first half (coming before intermission in the Roadshow presentation). Marquis traps General Smithers in an inescapable, sexualized, racialized revenge fantasy. He stays on the right side of the law, or at least of custom, by getting the old man to raise his weapon first. But it’s a paper-thin justice.
This is mirrored in the “justice” of Marquis’s and Mannix’s final act — hanging Domergue under color of law rather than shooting her in the heat of revenge. For Domergue, there’s very little difference, and her hanging leaves the floor only slightly less wet with brains, but under the terms set out by John Ruth and explained by Mowbray, it makes all the difference. It’s achieved in the most bald of metaphors for postbellum peace: freedman and raider united to execute justice that, if not blind, is at least not motivated by any of the passions that drove the Civil War.
In the most simultaneously cynical and earnest gesture (up there with Liberty Valance‘s “Print the legend”), Tarantino lets his coalition expire while reading, admiring, and truly basking in Marquis’s fake Lincoln letter. It’s another kind of fantasy altogether: benevolent, paternal, intimate, and audaciously, inspiringly false.
This year was a lousy one. The problem with that is that it can still be much worse. So I shouldn’t complain, but I do. Let me explain. A lot of it is because of me but some of it is because of everybody else. Rarely have we seen such a regress of the public sphere.
Backwards is what we are. We are obsessed with reliving every single stupidity of the past. Most notably the origin of stupidity: that things can be engineered to an end. My generation hates gentle evolution with an impatience bordering on the insane. Shit is to be done. Muscles to be flexed. Pain to be experienced and gain to be had.
This is the result of the generation that allowed Reagan and Thatcher to redefine the world in their image. My generation. The generation of plenty, plenty people unwilling to share anything and scared shitless that once they might be outvoted by younger people, immigrants, other nations, other cultures. They claim they do everything for the next generation – as long as that generation shares a maximum number of genes with them. A generation that invented the term ‘political correctness’ to put up a wall against progressive insight (whether on economic matters, gay rights, you name it, the climate). Continue reading
It’s odd to talk about progress these days when everything seems backwards. We are given every reason to become pessimists and end up like Stefan Zweig. That these reasons are given by cultural pessimists might push us to withstand only because we want to deny them that victory too. Revenge, however, is their way so whatever victory that kind of resistance would lead to would not be really ours.
There is, then, no other option then to find a basis for our optimism in reason.
“(..) the whole (society) is prior to the part (the individual), not the part to the whole; and the part is explained in terms of the whole, not the whole in terms of the part or parts.” G.H. Mead, “Mind, Self & Society”, 1934, The University of Chicago Press, p. 7.
Society is the soil and the individuals are the flowers. The flowers are not there just to fertilize the soil but the soil isn’t something we can leave unfertilized either. Staying on-metaphor: language is the fertilizer. It’s allowing the soil to bring forth better flowers but takes, without coercion, from those flowers to make for an even better soil.
Nothing can be further removed from current opinion. If only because it is dynamic – and this world of now hates anything that is elusive; anything that can’t be decomposed in parts and reassembled in the whole we (think we) need. We live in anti-Darwinian times where we think we can make leaps without evolving.
But aren’t our cultural pessimists the ‘owners’ of the primacy of the whole (society)?
It is crucial, or so we are told, that we undertake things. In English, such undertaking can earn you the title of entrepreneur. It’s such a tongue-twistingly ugly word that it’s reserved for the successful few. Anybody can be an undertaker, but entrepreneurs, real entrepreneurs, are few and far between. It’s, by the way, characteristic of ugly nouns for ugly elite concepts to attract ‘real’ as adjective and contaminate it with the need for italicization. I confess I’m annoyed with the concept (which says little because I equally confess that I’m annoyed at being annoyed).
In my native Dutch language, the noun corresponding to ‘to undertake’ is not taken by the specific undertaking which is to take dead people to their underground destination. So we’re all supposed to undertake, ondernemen, and become true undertakers, ondernemers (for ‘true’, see ‘real’ above). As is adequately demonstrated by the time it takes me to come to the point, I ain’t no undertaker. Oddly enough this is also supported by the fact that the only corpse I plan to be associated with is my own whilst – in proverbial Dutch and The Apprentice – entrepreneurs have to handle corpses with the same ease as undertakers do.
Which brings me to why I’m no undertaker. Continue reading
It is popular to admit failure. Obviously those who report their failures do so after a subsequent success. If they weren’t in the end successful they wouldn’t have been newsworthy in the first place. I hate success. It’s such a subjective criterion. What we see is projected through the lens of success.
Me, I’m just flailing. Waving frantically, mostly without an audience. Failing probably but not failing fast as is the fashion of the moment. The best way to fail fast is not trying. The best way to not try is not dreaming. I never go for the best. Seconds is my thing and my seconds are not of fame.
Let me explain minutely. Continue reading
I confess that against my (and the doctor’s) better judgment, I went out for work yesterday. The result was that I achieved nothing significant and extended my illness over the week-end. So now I am alone and, for the first time in many months, writing to the few who happen to wander into this page.
Hello! You’re not the only ones to feel fucked over by the present life!
I confess making that remark mainly to get your attention. Not that I particularly want it, but it seems to be the honest thing to do. I at least have to try to get your attention. I’m not in fact fucked over. Far from it. It often feels that way just because I’m unable to cope with the absence of real bad luck in my life.
Let’s just all confess to it: we try too much. The drive for success is like a butt plug making us feel uneasy all of the time. Not that I know how a butt plug feels like; as I told you, I’m not in fact fucked over. Still, there’s an anal metaphor here. Society drills us to want to pick up the soap and the only break-through that is ever achieved that way … I’ll definitely say more. Continue reading