The Clare Spark Blog

August 14, 2012

Sex, drugs, and venting

Clare circa 1972

The website has now lumbered past 175,000 views since I started it circa summer 2009. My family is thunderstruck that so many are interested in this bookworm’s research, but I suspect that many of the visitors expected another kind of blog, if I can judge by those coming from such sites as Pajamas Media. I think they want to feed their anger and frustration, as opposed to looking at ideology and the often confusing history of political coalitions: for instance, numerous viewers went to the index to my blogs on “Pacifica Radio and the Progressive Movement”( https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/) but only about 25% of them read even one of the blogs. Those who regularly come to my Facebook page have more inquiring minds and are much better gauges of how well the website is doing. And they regularly contribute material about which I was either ignorant or inattentive.

Indignation can be productive when it leads to closer examination of policy issues, but is depoliticizing when it goes no further than venting. We might even suppose that this sort of obsession with scandalous “inside dope” packs a sexual charge, a form of sexuality that is sadistic and addictive. I have seen it on numerous websites, and it is not confined to either Left or Right. Worse, trolls are everywhere; give me a real skunk any time: at least they announce their true nature.

I don’t have “inside dope” other than what I get from close readings of texts, or learned in my years at KPFK radio, or in graduate school at UCLA, where I witnessed the domination of Stalinists, Stalinoids, Trotskyists, and postmodernists, “up close and personal.” Even the feminists were more left-wing than feminist. Oddly, I was labeled “that hysterical feminist” even though at that time (1983-1993), I was more of a Marxist than anything else: that is, I could see through the postmodern “moral relativism” and nihilism of the pseudo-Left, and favored class analysis over sorting people out by gender or race. When I raised objections to separatist ethnic studies or women’s studies in favor an integrated approach to the writing of history, tenured professors would scream out loud, make odd gestures with their hands, or call me a racist. It was Pacifica Radio all over again where, on one of my last appearances, my defense of the Enlightenment and the life of Reason elicited charges that I was a CIA agent or worse.

Arnold Bocklin Medusa

So why was I called (behind my back) “that hysterical feminist”? I would guess that a woman standing up to the orthodoxies put forth by prominent professors and other famous intellectuals (of either gender) was too evocative of Gorgons and Medusas. If there is a “war on women” it is an ingrained fear of the independent, curious mind—one that is not gender specific. I stand with that human impulse, and with every writer or artist who goes her own way.  “To life!”

(Illustrated: a photo of Clare after a prank. I wore a Berkeley-generated Karl Marx sweat shirt, along with rhinestone drop earrings to an Ed Ruscha opening on La Cienega Blvd. during the early 1970s. It was a comment on Ruscha’s letter paintings, including his patronage, and I don’t think he appreciated the joke, though some of his visitors did.)

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September 2, 2010

Spinoza as culture critic

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 8:48 pm
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Toying with Spinoza

I have been reading Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews (1987), and his account of Baruch Spinoza’s critical method leaped off the page, not least  because he identified a major cause of antisemitism in the Europe that Spinoza’s rationalism helped to transform. Here is the Johnson excerpt, along with a quote from Spinoza himself:

[Paul Johnson, p.291] The origin and substance of Spinoza’s quarrel with the Jewish authorities is not entirely clear. He was accused of denying the existence of angels, the immortality of the soul and the divine inspiration of the Torah. But an apologia for his views, which he wrote in Spanish soon after the the herem, has not survived. However, in 1670 he published, unsigned, his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, in which he set out his principles of Biblical criticism. Therein lay his essential heterodoxy. He argued that the Bible should be approached in a scientific spirit and investigated like any natural phenomenon. In the case of the Bible, the approach had to be historical. One began by analysing the Hebrew language. Then one proceeded to analyse and classify the expression in each of the books of the Bible. The next stage was to examine the historical context:

[Spinoza:] the life, the conduct, and the pursuits of the author of each book, who he was, what was the occasion and the epoch of his writing, whom did he write for and in what language…[then] the history of each book: how it was first received, into whose hands it fell, how many different versions there were of it, by whose advice was it received into the Canon, and lastly how all the books now universally accepted as sacred were united into a single whole.

[Paul Johnson, cont.:] Spinoza proceeded to apply his analysis, discussing which parts of the Pentateuch were actually written by Moses, the roll of Ezra, the compilation of the canon, the provenance of such books as Job and Daniel, and the dating of the works as a whole and its individual parts. In effect, he rejected the traditional view of the origin and authenticity of the Bible almost completely, providing alternative explanations from its internal evidence. He thus began the process of Biblical criticism which, over the next 250 years, was to demolish educated belief in the literal truth of the Bible and to reduce it to the status of an imperfect historical record. His work and influence were to inflict grievous and irreparable damage on the self-confidence and internal cohesion of Christianity. They also…raised new, long-term and deadly problems for the Jewish community.

[Comment by Clare Spark:] Almost all of Herman Melville’s religious doubts can be traced to this development in European intellectual history. As for the critical method advocated by Spinoza, it was music to my ears, for not only was such a method my own guide in researching the revival of Herman Melville in the interwar period of the twentieth century, but Melville himself recommended a similar (if abbreviated) approach to understanding art in his “Lecture on the Statues of Rome.”   He also mentioned Spinoza as a “visionary” in his long poem Clarel.  Take note scientists! The labor-intensive work of the competent historian should be obvious from the Spinoza quote.

Some readers may recall the “canon wars” of the 1980s and 1990s, wherein the artistic production of dead white males was pushed aside in favor of  “subaltern” authors and artists who had been ignored owing to “white male supremacy.” Did these trendy academics use the Spinoza method or did they imagine a limited space for art and artists that necessitated the decapitation of those supposedly in “the canon?” My work on the Melville revival strongly suggests that Melville as canonical figure is a joke: he was way too radical then and now. A different “Melville” was constructed by his erstwhile revivers for reasons that were strictly ideological. (For details see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.)

 

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