The Clare Spark Blog

March 13, 2014

What is cultural relativism?

culturalrelativism2Briefly, cultural relativism does NOT mean that there are no impermissible human actions—sex and violence for instance, but that different cultures have ethical systems that make sense to them, given their state of material development and the belief systems that sustain them.  Cultural relativism exists in tension with human rights and ethical universalism. The Left uses that contradiction to trash the “bourgeois” notion of human rights advanced by ethical systems as diverse as the Catholic Church and freethinking. (Multiculturalism, a form of relativism, does not acknowledge this contradiction, but imagines different cultures united without conflict as in this illustration. This is the dream world of Wilsonian internationalism and today’s multiculturalism or rooted cosmopolitanism.)

I recall a period when leftists commonly attacked “imperialism” for destroying native “communities”—no matter how backward and horrifically sexist these pre-scientific/pre-capitalist cultures were. It was also the case that some Enlightenment freethinkers (Diderot for example), imagined that “primitive” cultures were free from the instinctual repression that they attributed to the West and its strict religions. (I have written about the fantastic nature of primitives earlier on this website: see https://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/.)

Or, some European leftists imagined that native Africans lived in untroubled harmony with Nature: the late Roger Garaudy for example. This was yet another common idealization of the primitive, following Rousseau or the multitudes who celebrated noble savages as a critique of surplus repression in their families of origin. The Melville Revival was partly motivated by his first two novels–the best sellers Typee and Omoo.

Turn now to Andrew Klavan’s booklet The Crisis in the Arts: Why the Left Owns the Culture and How Conservatives can Begin To Take it Back (David Horowitz Freedom Center, 2014). Klavan, a  crime fiction novelist, wants “conservatives” to open up a new front in the culture wars, by leaving off their censorious ways, and exploring the inner lives of humans, as if human nature has been the same no matter what stage of development a particular society may be in. The irony is that Klavan is addressing religious persons, either Catholics or evangelical Protestants, many of whom have been complaining about hypersexuality and violence in the media, and in popular or high culture in general. He wants their money to support Klavan-approved artists, and he wants them to create “conservative” art—art that would disseminate a new, conservatively constructed conscience, thence to rule the world, as Shelley advised in one of his most Romantic moments. Klavan also appeals to the late activist Andrew Breitbart, claiming that this was Breitbart’s hope before he died at the age of 43.

But Klavan is deeply unaware of art history, literary history, the history of popular culture, and of the marketplace of ideas that he presumably wants to extend to include his monolithic notion of conservatism (as if there were not deeply conservative trends in culture already). First, he imagines that there is something called the Left, monolithic and unified, that is currently in control of both high and popular culture. Take popular culture for instance: as a watchful consumer of both high and pop culture, I am struck by its populism, not its Leninism. The working class is not depicted as the vanguard of communist revolution, but as worthy of our compassion and respect, just as it is. Moreover, pop culture celebrates the tastes of the Common Man and Common Woman: for spectacle, for glitter, suspicion of hanky-panky in high places, and for shows of military force and physical virtuosity.

Such shows as Law and Order resemble other socially responsible capitalist productions, taking their marching orders from those institutions attacking irresponsible rich people (often Jews), whose instinctual excesses will, unchecked, instigate revolts from below. (For detailed blogs analyzing television programming see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/16/index-to-blogs-on-popular-tv-shows/.)

hornedhunk

To conclude, Klavan is still living in a magical world of mystery and simplicity, where there are no troublesome clashing world views, where families can be depicted as always happy and unified, where soldiers come home without PTSD or missing limbs, and where women would rather leave the workplace and go back home to the kitchen and multiple pregnancies. He means well; he wants an art that is so powerful it will defeat the big bad Left, to reinstitute a culture of conscience that never co-existed with the libertarian values that he simultaneously champions in this confusing booklet.

culturalrelativism1

You can stop reading here, or go on with an endnote to my book on the Melville Revival, along with some statements by powerful figures in the history of Western civilization; they deal with monsters and monstrous ideas. Monsters are one target of Klavan’s wrath, when he is in his conscience-instructing mood (as opposed to the libertarian mood):

An endnote from Hunting Captain Ahab: See John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981), 35, 47-49, 53. The Attic sensibility was viewed by medieval (Aristotelian) Catholics as moderate, disciplined and balanced, while its monstrous antitheses represented “emotion, redundance, and formal disorder”; monstrosity was correlated with “the enigmatic, the inflated and the grandiose.” The hot, deserted antipodes were linked to the vaguely situated Ethiopia, and found at the most extreme distances from the Greek center of the world; its perverse inhabitants had feet turned backwards and walked upside down; i.e., they were out of reach of the Christian gospel.

[From Chapter Five of HCA:]

For Thomas Hobbes (1651), curiosity was not an aid to reason, but an indomitable passion of the mind that could overpower and displace the less troublesome pleasures of food and sex:

Desire to know why, and how, <is> CURIOSITY; such as is in no living creature but Man; so that Man is distinguished, not onely by his reason; but also by this singular Passion from other Animals; in whom the appetite of food, and other pleasures of Sense, by praedominance, take away the care of knowing causes; which is a Lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continuall and indefatigable generation of Knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of any carnall Pleasure.”[i]

In 1659 “Committees of the Good Old Cause” were virtuous vampires: “This Dragon it was and a monstrous Beast,/ With fourty or fifty heads at least,/ And still as this Dragon drank down Blood/ Those heads would wag and cry “good-good-good!”[ii] Not surprisingly, the same tumescent Heads exasperated Dryden in Absalom and Achitophel:

The Jews, a Headstrong, Moody, Murm’ring race,

As ever tri’d the’extent and stretch of grace;

God’s pampered People, whom, debauch’d with ease,

No King could govern, nor no God could please;

(God they had tri’d of every shape and size,

That God-smiths would produce, or Priests devise:)

These Adam-wits, too fortunately free,

Began to dream they wanted liberty;

And when no rule, no president was found

Of men, by Laws less circumscrib’d and bound,

They led their wild desires to Woods and Caves,

And thought that all but Savages were Slaves.[i]


NOTES to book excerpts


[i] 6. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Part I, Chapter 6, 26. Do Melville’s rebel senses refer only to repressed sexuality, or are they the necessary stimulus to thought, reflection, and the perilous search for “why” and “how”?

[ii] 7. “Sir Eglamor and the Dragon, How General George Monck slew a most Cruell Dragon, Feb.11, 1659,” Rump: or an Exact Collection of the Choycest Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times (London, 1662), 371-2.

[iii]  8. Quoted in Cicely V. Wedgwood, Politics and Poetry Under the Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1960), 165-166. Dryden’s fears have not been quieted in her commentary: “Leaving aside this sidelong shot at current political theories about noble savages, this is the statement of a man who remembers the excesses of the sects and disorders of the Civil War, who sees how fatally easy it is to kindle into flame a ‘Headstrong, Moody, Murm’ring race’–a one-sided but not untrue description of the seventeenth-century English–and who knows how difficult it will be to put out the flame once kindled?” Her obituary (NYT, 3/11/97) credits her with “vivid narratives [that] told the story of Britain with the common man in mind.” A fellow at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, 1953-68, Dame Veronica was born in 1910 to Sir Ralph Wedgwood, a baronet and former head of British Railways, and was great-great granddaughter to Josiah Wedgwood (identified here as a potter).

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February 21, 2013

Discovery anxiety

Joyce Kozloff Map

Joyce Kozloff Map

This blog is about mental health and idealization of families (for a previous and related blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/); but this one emphasizes the fear of discovery, whether it takes the form of self-inspection (examining our deepest, most hidden feelings) or discovering knowledge of other peoples, other places. Some might call this process of locating oneself in a specific personal history/world history a form of mapping. It is possible that many “anti-imperialists” suffer from the fear of actually encountering what is now called “the dark side” of human nature, and which in less enlightened periods, was called savagery or “the primitive.” Even the most enlightened and creative persons in the history of the West (e.g., Diderot) have imagined the “primitive” as exempt from the vicissitudes of growing to maturity in the developed societies. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.)

Perhaps one of the hardest life tasks is this process of mapping, for the darkest continent is ourselves. Many of us will do almost anything to avoid the mapping and I do not blame others for reluctance in undertaking a voyage into choppy waters, where strange creatures lurk.  For many, such monsters are transformations of our repressed rage at being unfairly bossed by parents, or competing with siblings for the love and protection of parents, or the “puritanical” tasks of self-control and the postponement of gratification or instinctual renunciation for the sake of treasured relationships (I refer to sex and aggression as instincts). Sadly, our schools and other socializing institutions may not address such “Freudian” considerations, because even the most advanced societies dare not tamper with the institution of family, lest its “citizens” start defending their political and economic interests with greater energy, focus, and sophistication.

I first realized that “discovery” was terrifying in my dissertation research as I read the very private letters and notes of major Melville scholars, most of whom developed frightening physical symptoms while conducting their researches into Melville’s texts—symptoms that they blamed on a dead author (and his demonic character Captain Ahab) who should not have been a real-life threat. Melville’s indefatigable close readings of every kind of “family” that he wrote about, whether that be his family of origin, or “families” aboard ships, or the wider Christian family, was disturbing to very intelligent men, who then diverted their attention from Melville’s texts to his “influences” in the literary history of the West, or perhaps the leftists among them, tore delightedly (and sadistically) into the task of destroying his reputation as a man and a husband and/or father. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/. )

One of my most productive friends in academe, dead at 55 of a massive heart attack, once told me that he was afraid to look inside himself, or even to go to a physician, because he feared the chaos within. The braver artists and scholars have fascinated us because they gave these “imagos” forms and faces. I don’t care if you call them Moby Dick or Leviathan or the State. Just don’t mix them up with Mom and Dad or sisters and brothers.

Joyce Kozloff

November 25, 2012

The Tea Party and the Greens

American Progress, 1872

This blog responds to a blog on Pajamas Media, that has been revived today: http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/10/16/6-green-lies-threatening-to-starve-you/

Tea Party activist, Walter Hudson, has written a blog for Pajamas Media that asserts this provocative claim: “Government owns much of the land in the United States and therefore controls its use. However, government should only own that which it needs to execute its proper function, which is the protection of individual rights. Public parks and wildlife reserves do not protect rights, and the land which constitutes them ought to be sold to private interests.”  Moreover, Hudson makes it explicit that the protection of the wilderness by the national government, is the rule that makes all his other scenarios abhorrent, even threatening as the road to mass starvation.

(Hudson was first motivated to write his blog by an LA Times article that transmitted the agenda of the National Resources Defense Council, as follows:  Curbing global warming, creating the clean energy future, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, ensuring safe and sufficient water, and fostering sustainable communities, but Hudson foregrounds the wilderness as [non-sacred] space to be sold to private interests.)

While it is true that the Green movement of the 1960s and 1970s was taken up by hard leftists as a rational entry into apparently unrelated social movements, the wholesale rejection of basic science that Hudson’s blog and many of the ensuing comments demonstrates, is not only alarming to me, but if representative of the new direction of the Republican Party, would likely result in a permanent statist regime in the United States, for we defy the immutable laws of science at our peril.  Sadly, most of us do not even know what they are, and yet we vote for, or oppose, environmental legislation that will determine the future of our species and all of life on Earth, and the journalists and bloggers we read are rarely trained in the relevant sciences, but they do abhor the “nanny state” as an unmerited intrusion on individual rights.

I have long criticized the term “nanny state” as absurd and sexist, proposing instead the term “watchbird state” (see https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/). No one has been more critical of illegitimate state power than I have been.  However, it is also true that American power was initially built on 1. Relatively unspoiled Nature that would be ruthlessly exploited and abused by many settlers as they industrialized and moved on West; and, later 2. The European wars of the 20th century that left America as the only great power still standing.

Thus “American exceptionalism,”so defended by segments of the Right, has the possibility of arrogance attached, unless it refers solely to a rational Constitution that encouraged a meritocracy (along with protection of the general welfare), but keep in mind that the “self-made” millionaires in finance and industry of the 19th century benefited from the virgin land, a rapidly expanding population of immigrants,  and during and after the Great War, from the errors of American rivals in Europe and elsewhere.

There are branches of “ecology” that appeal to mystics and to the counter-culture, for the promise of interdependence and harmony that some ecologists, especially deep ecologists (Kirkpatrick Sale was one such popular publicist), is attractive to those who imagine Nature as an inexhaustible source of nourishment, with adherence to “deep ecology” as a permanent return to the Breast or Womb. These constituents will not agree with Herman Melville, who famously described beauteous Nature as concealing “the charnel house within.” Similarly, there have been upper-class primitivists who idealized the social relations of indigenous peoples everywhere, imagining, with Diderot, that their preferred natives enjoyed freedom from puritanical (i.e. mother-imposed) strictures that excessively restricted sex and aggression. The point is to avoid “splitting” the conception of Nature as either entirely benign or entirely threatening, for Melville was possibly influenced by his resentment of a domineering mother.

I have been reading right-wing publications for many years now, and sense that many of its constituents do not possess a rational assessment of any authority whatsoever. It seems that some don’t want to be pushed around, even if the pushing is for their own good and that of their children.  This is infantile conduct.

Reasonable persons can differ on the role of the federal government versus more local entities versus individual choices, or even on whether or not global warming is man-made and reparable,  but what cannot be neglected is a rigorous education in the sciences, starting from the first grades onward.  As long as education is held hostage to persons with an anti-science agenda, we are digging our own graves.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/01/03/this-witch-is-not-for-burning-science-as-magic/.

May 12, 2011

Rappers, Primitivism, and Ritual Rebellion

Common, a man of the streets

A successful poet/rapper/artist named Common (formerly Common Sense, sic) was invited to perform at the White House May 11, 2011. This blog is about the general problem of hip hop culture, its practitioners, and its noxious appeal.

“Liberals” and “conservatives” were divided yesterday regarding the propriety of the invitation. Fox News Channel was in a snit all day, while Jon Stewart’s show took umbrage at this misplaced Foxian zeal, citing their prior adoration of Ted Nugent, and their ignoring the agressive and homicidal lyrics of Johnny Cash. Stewart did his own comical rap, directed against the “twits” at Fox. I personally objected to the invite on many grounds, including Jay Carney’s ludicrous attempt to explain Common’s legitimacy as a poet because he was making “socially conscious art.”  One Facebook thread on the subject elicited a flood of comments, many of them in defense of Common and the need for catharsis. No one attacked hip hop culture as such.

I am not any kind of specialist in the study of hip hop culture (though I am not unfamiliar with it either), partly because I find it at best primitivist* and suspect that it is a travesty insofar as middle-class kids who make its music, tee-shirts, and glitzy jewelry,  and purchase its other products are not concerned with the problems of ghetto youth, except as an outlet for their own frustrations with parents, schoolteachers, and other authority figures, or as an easy way to tap a market of angry young black males and their white allies in rage. It is a cheap pseudo-romantic form of adolescent revolt. Does Common care about those black adolescents stuck in ineffective schools, propagandized into antagonism to education as “a white thing”, and often beguiled by the drug culture and its profits?

There is no such thing as art as an expression outside of, and independent of society.  If “Common” aspires to social criticism, he should provide a better analysis of the sorry condition of American black ghettoes–for instance, the policies of the Democratic machines that have long controlled the big cities. He might want to look also at the separatism and thuggery of such figures as Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan, with whom he has been associated. He might want to look at the poetry and prose of all the memorable writers and poets who came before, and whose language did not descend to the gutter. Oh, but he can’t do that, for the white oppressor is the target of his spleen, and so even those significant black writers who preceded him must have been Uncle Toms. Look at his images on the internet. Is he a clean cut entrepreneur or a man of the streets, attuned to the miseries of his brothers and sisters?

[Added 3-18-14: A vigorous dispute broke out today on my FB page over Bill O’Reilly’s takedown of Jay Z, and here is how I answered many comments: “My problem with Jay Z and other hip hop moguls is not their success in a capitalist society. It is this: they had no choice, for powerful culture critics on the social democratic Left joined the New Left in rejecting anything and everything produced by Eurocentrism/white supremacy. There have been wonderful black entertainers and composers from an earlier period, before black nationalists resegregated a culture that was syncretic and hence original: to name a few: Scott Joplin, Bojangles, Bert Williams, all the black jazzmen, bluesmen, etc. Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin would have never become great composers without their predecessors with darker skin. Fred Astaire would have not existed, nor would Gene Kelly. I could go on and on. How many young people today even know what “syncretism” means?]

Cultural anthropologists are familiar with the form of social control known as “ritual rebellion.” In an autocratic society, run by unaccountable and arbitrary kings, periodic “carnivals” or similar releases allow the lower orders to let off steam. They are kings for day in this world turned upside down. But the rebellion, that is never allowed to name its true target (incompetent authority), is ineffectual in transforming the conditions it abhors. The new day dawns, and the ties that bind the lower classes to illegitimate authority are stronger than ever. So it is with hip hop. Our black population deserves better guidance.

*Primitivism is regressive and often racist: it imagines savages as free from “civilized” rules, a Golden Age of liberated instincts where anything goes. Much of modernism is primitivist and expressed a disgust with “civilization” after the Great War. But there were numerous precedents, for instance Diderot in his Voyage of Bougainville. Or see Marcuse’s critique of “repressive desublimation,” a vigorous refusal of 1960s counter-cultural tendencies in his Eros and Civilization.

August 20, 2009

“Shakin’ The Blues Away”: primitivism, rock ‘n roll and mental health

   Everyone is excited now about the proposed initiatives to reform mental health care, and though there are numerous references to “mental health services” in H.R. 3200, I have seen little or no discussion about the debates within the fields, for instance, who exactly is qualified to mess with our brains and endocrine systems by treating everything from marital spats to incipient schizophrenia, OCD, or the numerous “personality disorders” covered in DSM IV (soon to be DSM V: I can’t wait). According to the House bill under consideration, mental health services are to be reimbursed as long as the provider has either a doctorate or a master’s degree (i.e., is a clinical psychologist or a social worker), has had two years of supervision in treating clients, and is licensed by the state. I have already asked one psychiatrist friend to comment on how M.D.s are viewing these proposals, and know from personal experience and study in both older practices and more recent cultural history treatments of “madness” (heavily influenced by Michel Foucault) that there is zero agreement among “counselors” (as H.R. 32oo calls these providers) as to what causes mental illness, let alone how to treat, manage, or cure it/them. Meanwhile the Foucauldians instruct the hip young at the better universities that madness is a social construction invented by the bourgeoisie who want to control everyone else. And the writing of history itself is under suspicion: it is a narrative “written by the plebs” to punish geniuses like himself.

    Readers of my prior blogs will notice that all of them deal either directly or tangentially with how we feel and act/don’t act in the world, and how we identify the source of evil or account for our own unhappiness or failure, often blaming “the Jews” or modern women (these are conflated in the idea of the femme fatale). Like Freud, I take instruction from the arts, for the major literary figures of the last several centuries were all concerned with what passes for sanity, adjustment, or vigorous, righteous resistance to arbitrary authority, and one recurring theme is the incarceration by conservative families of their dissident young)–a major theme in early nineteenth-century literature.. In this one, short I hope, I want to comment on  what I learned from reading passages from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1922), particularly in one of the debates between “Naphta” a Jew turned authoritarian Jesuit, and Settembrini, an optimistic bourgeois humanist who believes in amelioration, health, and progress. (Mann is obviously arguing with himself, trying to reconcile or at least examine the warring parts of his own personality: read Dr. Faustus as another case study of Mann’s preoccupation with this theme, as was Herman Melville before him.) Here is an excerpt from Magic Mountain:

 [Hans Castorp thinks that “disease was unhuman”:] “On the contrary, Naphta hastened to say. Disease was very human indeed. For to be man was to be ailing. Man was essentially ailing, his state of unhealthiness was what made him man. There were those who wanted to make him “healthy,” to to make him “go back to nature,” when, the truth was, he never had been “natural.” All the propaganda carried on today by the prophets of nature, the experiments in regeneration, the uncooked food, fresh-air cures, sun-bathing, and so on, the whole Rousseauian paraphernalia, had as its goal nothing but the dehumanization, the animalizing of man. They talked of “humanity,” of nobility—but it was the spirit alone that distinguished man, as a creature largely divorced from nature, largely opposed to her in feeling, from all other forms of organic life. In man’s spirit, then, resided his true nobility and his merit—in his state of disease, as it were; in a word, the more ailing he was, by so much was he the more man. The genius of disease was more human than the genius of health. How, then, could one who posed as the friend of man shut his eyes to these fundamental truths concerning man’s humanity? Herr Settembrini had progress ever on his lips: was he aware that all progress, is so far as there was such a thing, was due to illness, and to illness alone? In other words, to genius, which was the same thing? Had not the normal, since time was, lived on the achievements of the abnormal? Men consciously and voluntarily descended into disease and madness, in search of knowledge which, acquired by fanaticism, would lead back to health; after the possession and use of it had ceased to be conditioned by that heroic and abnormal act of sacrifice. That was the true death on the cross, the true Atonement.” [Knopf, 1968 edition, pp. 465-66]

     I was astonished to read this paragraph, for it gave me a new clue as to why Melville had written to Hawthorne shortly after he completed Moby-Dick, “I have written a wicked book, and feel as spotless as the lamb.” And does not “crazy” Ahab carry “a crucifixion in his face”? As writer, Melville’s primitivist descent into madness (into the world controlled by the Devil?) accomplished several things for him: 1. as in Typee, he could safely criticize his conservative family and certain missionaries from a distance; but 2. as romantic artist he took the risk of destroying religion, and religion was the route to social cohesion and conservative notions of “order.” And it must be said here that “Naphta” and his predecessors (Nietzsche) knew very little about real “madness” and its multiple causation in genetic inheritance, belief systems that distort reality (and somewhat described in prior blogs here), overwhelming stress, and other factors that physicians have studied and continue to explore with emphasis on the physiology of the brain.

    And remember R. D. Laing and the 1960s-70s vogue for his romantic views of madness as a source of connection with the real world? I was reminded too of Diderot’s primitivism in his Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville (centuries before Laing’s ravings), a fantasy of life in Tahiti where there are no sexual prohibitions whatsoever. Which takes me to the 60s counter-culture/New Left appropriation of primitivism in their astonishing and still existing devotion to rock ‘n roll and/or hip-hop culture as a form of rebellion and self-assertion against the hypocritical dowdy and classical-music, old-standard loving prior generations–the generation they blamed for the Viet Nam war and the election of Richard Nixon.

    It is my view that primitivism is no solution to racism, but rather a ratification of the old stereotype conveyed by Diderot: that (perpetual?) adolescents  can escape “surplus repression” (Marcuse), or the Performance Principle (Freud) by going native. But in the elevation of black criminal elements (e.g. the Panthers or the Afrocentric pseudo-historians, one of whom repeatedly produced the viciously anti-Western and antisemitic “Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend” for KPFK in Los Angeles), they are maintaining the stereotype of the black person as savage yet entertaining minstrel, a minstrel supposedly ragging on the upper classes. So sensible black intellectuals who identify with a supposedly (jewified) puritanical and genteel middle-class and the American Dream are seen as uncool killjoys and can be safely ignored.

   The primitivist strategy, like pornography, is controversial. For its defenders, though appearing crazy,  primitivism is a harmless catharsis for anti-social impulses. I suppose one would have to study individuals and their ideological leanings, including the ability to form and maintain enduring attachments, or conversely, to change their minds as they travel along the road to “objectivity” to make inroads on this judgment. (See Lippmann’s writing on this beneficent transformation, emphasized in my last blog.) More later as I survey existing debates within the field of mental health. Surely the narratives that are constructed for us by our families and teachers relating to our own biographies, to the national biography, and to America’s relations to other groups or societies, are of concern for all workers striving to enhance what is all too loosely described as mental health.

November 26, 2007

THINKING IN A DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC. LOVE CONQUERS ALL, OR DOES IT?

These are my notes for a radio program I did for the Houston Pacifica radio station, KPFT. It is archived on Michael Woodson’s LivingArt show. I doubt that I got to all the points outlined here. As soon as I find the date of the actual program, I will post it here.

I can’t say enough about the work of Frank E. Manuel. Read his Scenes From The End, a poetic montage of his experiences in Germany ca. 1944-45 while he was an interrogator for the U.S. Army. Writers will love it as they should all his work. I am not enamored of most academics, but this one stands out as a great man and a great historian.

1. Review Jonathan Israel, Enlightenment Contested. Diderot: Pull out merging of self-love with social welfare and criticize from p.o.v. of Frank Manuel, two conflicting needs that may not be harmonized: self-development versus need for community. (Melville understood this conflict and confronted it throughout life.) Coerced harmony as a strategy of social democrats, presumably brought about by redistribution, better communication and diplomatic skills. My view: conflict is normal, harmony a dream that is realized in the arts that exemplify organic unity and the union of opposites, (paradox, ambiguity, irony). Many prior utopias were ascetic: luxury bred corruption and unwillingness to defend the social unit. In actually existing socialism, inability to produce consumer goods was turned into assault on “consumerism” in the corrupt capitalist democracies.

2. SHINE (supposedly the story of pianist David Helfgott). Do Jews control the movie industry? No: in general they have adapted to liberal Catholicism. Hollywood has elevated love and forgiveness as the cure-all for social problems that may be structural in nature. This film contrasts the Jewish father, vengeful, stern, pushy, and authoritarian with the various Christians who support the schizophrenic Helfgott through love and understanding, bringing him back into the beloved community. This is a sub-text that critics do not recognize, and is based on a misunderstanding of Judaism and the Hebraic forms of Protestantism. Jews and the religions that are grounded in the Old Testament, demand that the wrongs we do to others be recognized, then repented and reparations made. Apologies are not enough: we must change our behavior, repairing ourselves above all. Repairing the world was an adaptation of Reform Judaism to social justice Protestantism.

3. The exploitation of the demonic and the paranoid style. The [Jewish] mad scientist as dominating our lives and the future. What is the appeal of horror movies or those that elevate gangsters such as The Sopranos? David Chase and his remark that “this country is run by gangsters.” In the process of socialization, we attempt to subdue our aggressive impulses or sublimate them through the arts or sports, but they are not extinguished. Hence the religion-based arts that exploit this sense that the anti-social, self-aggrandizing instincts are controlling us and are a constant threat. Such a feeling of pervasive invisible threats can lead us to immobility and the inability to act in our own self-interest. We trust no one (especially ourselves), and appropriate skepticism can devolve to cynicism and careerism. And worse, the real menaces in the outside world are not recognized, but are dismissed as the delusive products of capitalist and imperialist propaganda. We become putty in the hands of demagogues, including many in the classroom and in public media.

AUTHORS TO RECOMMEND: FRANK E. MANUEL (UTOPIAN THOUGHT IN THE WESTERN WORLD, REQUIEM FOR KARL MARX); SAUL FRIEDLANDER VOLUMES ONE AND TWO ON NAZIS AND JEWS (VOL.2 The years of persecution); anything by Walter Laqueur; Doug Macdonald on recent scholarship on Viet Nam that could change your mind: write to me and I will forward his essay on H-Diplo.

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