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. . . . Read more. “The Enlightenment Strikes Back”
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.” . . . Read more. “Moral Clarity”
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.
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. . . . Read more. “George Spencer: Untitled”
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. . . . Read more. “The Local/Global Conundrum”
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.
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.
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. . . . Read more. “Missy Higgins”