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Month: September 2009

The Enlightenment Strikes Back

The Enlightenment Strikes Back

Immanuel Kant. Artist Unknown
Immanuel Kant. Artist Unknown

Susan Neiman’s book, Moral Clarity, continues to impress. It’s wide ranging, but she points to other books for further, more in-depth study. A writer I had not heard of previously sounds like a great place to go for a comprehensive study of the Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel. Huge books for a huge topic. His Radical Enlightenment (2001) and Enlightenment Contested (2006) are 2/3rds of a planned trilogy on the subject.

The strikes back part. Strikes back because the Enlightenment has been under attack for nearly two centuries. It was always attacked from the right, especially on religious grounds, but now from the left as well. It’s a veritable cottage industry to sift through the works of its key philosophers to find precursors for the horrors of the 20th century, from communism to fascism, from the gulag to right wing totalitarian rule. One interesting aspect of critiques. They tend to have a momentum of their own, and … Click to continue . . .

Moral Clarity

Moral Clarity

Moral Clarity, by Susan Neiman. 2008
Moral Clarity, by Susan Neiman. 2008

Am about 100 pages into Moral Clarity, Susan Neiman’s defense of the Enlightenment. So far, so good. I’m reading this along with Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice, which tackles John Rawls and his A Theory of Justice. Neiman’s book is written more for the general reader, and keeps the book closer to the surface. But she is very good at using topical and literary examples to make her case, to make several cases, in fact. Judging from the first 100 pages, I think her main point is that ideas matter, ideals matter, and we shouldn’t be afraid of them, or afraid to talk about “ought” along with “is.” For her, no place on the political spectrum has a monopoly on ideals or values, nor does religion. She sees ideals and values and morality as existing outside as well as inside organized religions, and preaches inclusion, rather … Click to continue . . .

The Unnameable

The Unnameable

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 Composition as Cipher, or Number. The work after his ninth, or a painting to represent all paintings. Whatever his intentions regarding the title, the painting strikes me as musical, like pretty much all of his art, and he wanted that music to come from within all viewers so that they could become seers like Kandinsky. The inner artist meeting the work on the wall and turning it into a tunnel back to themselves. A tunnel with ears.

In your works, you have realized what I, albeit in uncertain form, have so greatly longed for in music. The independent progress through their own destinies, the independent life of the individual voices in your compositions is exactly what I am trying to find in my paintings.

— letter to Schönberg, 1911, after the performance of Schönberg’s second string quartet and the “Three piano pieces.”

 

George Spencer brings us a new poem below about things that perhaps shouldn’t have a name, like poems, … Click to continue . . .

George Spencer: Untitled

George Spencer: Untitled

No Title


You can’t say it that way any more. / Bothered about beauty you have to/Come out into the open, into the clearing,/ And rest.  Certainly whatever funny happens to you/ Is OK

And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name,  John Ashbery

 

The greatest problem in the arts today is the title; this tag that tells us what something is about: Battle of…,  Portrait of….,  Bowl of… Of course this gives even the most humble subject a coat of arms, presto a seigniorial dwelling, white picket fence and garden, all the dignity it deserves and Sunday painters so admire. But is this good? This, I would argue, has infected poetics, this aboutness, this supernatural force like it can’t be escaped. It’s the tongue lolling like a lazy sunflower tropistic by default.  But now I’m bored with this riff and need to take off in another direction which reminds me that most people can read maps,  understand … Click to continue . . .

The Local/Global Conundrum

The Local/Global Conundrum

Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow. 1565
Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow. 1565

George Scialabba’s excellent collection of essays continues to provoke thought. One arena with a great deal of complexity and contradiction is local control versus centralized control. That dilemma can be extended to all sorts of things, like education, health care, the environment, the arts, the economy and so on. Where should we cede control to localities, and where should we insist on universals of one kind or another?

There are arguments to be made on many sides of many issues along those lines, and it’s one place that makes “consistency” a vice, not a virtue. As in, whereas I think capitalism, globalization and the “free market” have had highly negative effects, overall, on local cultures, especially in the arts (and should be ameliorated), I think it’s essential that we establish universal health care, universal education, universal environmental protections, and so on, regardless of local differences. I also believe strongly that we should teach … Click to continue . . .

The Twilight of the Intellectuals

The Twilight of the Intellectuals

What Are Intellectuals Good For? by George Scialabba. 2009
What Are Intellectuals Good For? by George Scialabba. 2009

Almost finished with an excellent collection of essays by George Scialabba, entitled, What are Intellectuals Good For? It’s a close look primarily at the disappearance in our culture of what once was termed a “public intellectual.” A person so well versed in so many things, we look to them for insight on a host of subjects, from history to literature, from art to politics, from movies to music and back again.

Scialabba writes about such thinkers as Dwight Macdonald, Irving Howe, Noam Chomsky, Richard Rorty, Christopher Lasch, and Stanley Fish, among others.

 

The essays are all different, but point to some common themes. The two essays on Christopher Lasch perhaps struck me the most, and provoked much thought. A man of the left, Lasch was unusual in his critique of modernity itself, seeing problems not just with inequality, but with our response to it:

Lasch’s most intimate and intense disagreements were

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Without a Name

Without a Name

There is something Shakespearean in the setup of Sin Nombre, a brilliant film from director, Cary Fukunaga. It doesn’t really hit you until you’re away from the vision for a time. Away from the people and the setting and the imagery. Sin Nombre is the tragic story of the search for a home, and how that search leads to death and the desire to escape that home for El Norte. It is a Central American story with a hint of Romeo and Juliette, a revenge story, a story of very young people forced to grow up too fast. Grow up or die. Kill or be killed.

Fukunaga brings us a world we rarely see. Migrants riding train tops, gangs initiating twelve-year-olds by beating them half to death, journeys across countries, utilizing a not so hidden infrastructure for migrants to go north. An acceptance of an underground transportation system that moves through the clear light of day and black of … Click to continue . . .

Missy Higgins

Missy Higgins

Missy Higgin's On a Clear Night. 2007
Missy Higgin’s On a Clear Night. 2007

 A pleasant discovery for me a couple of years ago, the music of Missy Higgins continues to impress. I first heard her on my pandora.com account, and just picked up one of her CDs. Her warmth, intelligence, and vulnerability flow with every song, and her beautiful vocals resonate long after the song has worked its way into the night. I love her accent. I love that she never felt the need to hide her Aussie background. It makes her seem defiant to me, a sweet rebel, which is strange in a sense. Because she’s just being herself. My guess is that many in the biz told her not to sing with her own, natural accent, but she didn’t listen, and it makes her music better.

Missy Higgins writes her own music and lyrics, and has told interviewers that she’d rather write songs than sing them, if she had to choose. She does both … Click to continue . . .