Monday, February 27, 2006

Mike Phraudmann, CSUB Pangloss, cont.

Shakespeare's plays are not "true" as say historical writing is true or physical science is true (based on facts) ; it's debatable they should be taught in public schools or collges. Let's assume the plays should be taught in, say, elective courses.

The bad English professor, like F-mann, teaches them as representations of political, or worse, moral philosophy or "psychology." For the hack-pedant a play such as Macbeth functions not merely as rhetoric lesson, it's an ideological message--something like "excessive ambition leads to downfall." Obviously that "warrant" (in Toulminian sense; the warrant another word for a premise) is not at all true in all cases, or even more likely than not. (and yet the Machiavellian hick Phraudmann was at least as ambitious and conniving as the usual mafioso)

It's rhetoric and metaphor, perhaps powerful, yet also somewhat deceitful: Julius Caesar contains many historical inaccuracies for one: the assassination did not take place on the Ides of March. There are pre-Gallilean superstitions a plenty as well.

The somewhat obvious Orwellian point is that lit. often functions as a type of "doublespeak" for both left and right professor-ideologues, and that doublespeak element exists in Shakespeare as well: he's a spokesman for the Crown, as is F-mann, I believe, (though Shakespeare's is made of gold, and F-mann's is from Burger King). The authentic English professor attempts to avoid that sort of manipulation, common to both the right and leftist sorts of clowns of C-SUB English.

...the Lit. Biz depends on a type of ersatz Platonism: the works of the Lit. canon (like the catholic canon) are assumed to be timeless, transcedent, the great thoughts of great people. The F-manns are those types of professors who rely on Lit. as dogma: in the typical CSU or UC lit. indoctrination course, the student is not struggling to learn derivatives or integrals or UNIX or predicate logic which he then may use to solve problems of various sorts; he or she is being taught how to act, how to be a decent courtier-in-training, how to mind his or her manners.

THat sort of etiquette training may have been suitable in like 1750, or to theatrical narcissists; to students who care to succeed in the modern technocracy, Shakespeare if not Brit. Lit. as a whole is rather superfluous (indeed those gaseous tomes of the Victorians are in some sense worse).

Besides, life is far darker, brutal and animalistic than Shakespeare, even at his bleakest (like Macbeth) ever realized (Darwin and Malthus a better guide to reality than Shakespeare or Plato for that matter). But the Pangloss-like F-mann (or other C-SUB Panglosses and incompetents like Solomon the clown, Pawglovski, Vic. Laxative, Kartier, Klytmer, Andy Scoop, etc.) will do whatever he can to sort of create this Masterpiece Theatre sort of vibe which magically transports students away from the police state of Kern to the supposed pastoral bliss of Elizabethan England....

Yet some acquaintance with the facts of Tudorian history demonstrates it was only bliss for a few royals who could do whatever they wanted to--and that's another reason the Lit. Biz. remains au courant--it's sort of a de-sadean-lite phantasy camp for the bourgeois; and there are lots of sort of nauseating Brit. soft-porn aspects (Tempest, 12th Night, if you can stomach it). And tho' we may not care for puritans or fundies of whatever type (including muslims) one can perceive why many of the non-royals and "commoners" did not approve of the Tory theatre companies.


Even if one grants that there are profound and important messages contained in or expressed by literary works, those messages are hardly unequivocal. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment seems as much a vindication of Raskalnikov as a condemnation; and many works of fiction display that equivocal and ironic nature. C & P is quite a moving and symphonic work of literature, but there is not some transcendent Platonic "essence"--ethical or aesthetic, really--which it points to which all would agree to: indeed, some might appove of Ras.'s actions.

Literature and literary "truths" are not verifiable, tho' hack professors (ie. the C-SUB cavalcade of Lit. clowns) often seem to think they are. Moby Dick did not happen, except perhaps in Melville's mind (and a rather troubled mind it was). The metaphor has no necessary meaning or implication; the figures are not real. Any meanings are constructed, inferred, concocted. We might find Moby Dick entertaining, and even conclude some "truisms" from it--say the absence of a loving, omnipotent Deity, for one--but it's neither a deductively necessary type of argument, nor really inductively "cogent," and
as "art qua art," in some sense quite less powerful than say Beethoven or Debussy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

O'Keefe Trial

The murder of Ms. O’Keefe (in Palmdale CA, a few years ago) was obviously a tragedy and a candlelight vigil is entirely proper, yet the guilt of Mr. Jennings has not been confirmed, and the sort of vigilante attitude shown towards Jennings here and in the AV Press and Daily News has hardly been equitable or indeed Constitutional. That Jennings made some inconsistent statements or even failed a polygraph is also not really proof of anything, except maybe to some greed-driven hypocrite such as Rex Pearass, and the stooges who work for him.

Jennings reported the crime for one. If he did do it (which is a possibility, however remote), then he is probably insane. And the weapon was never located. Those two facts should be grounds for at least some questioning of his guilt.

The genius reporters and crimefighters at the AV Press routinely overlook other important information: who dropped Ms O’Keefe off at the park-and-ride that evening? Were they questioned? Were any traces of gunpowder found on Mr. Jennings? Did he hide the gun, or did someone take it, and did the police thoroughly search the area? There is surely a possibility that an innocent person has been charged with a very serious crime.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ethics for sale

During campaign time--whether at national, state, or local levels--many of us may note that the words "ethics," "values", and "morality" are continually bandied about, by both left and right, as if we all agreed on what they meant. None of the political moralists ask the meta-ethical question: Why should we be moral? And what does morality really consist of? Obviously, it is in some people's interest to be moral (and to have others be moral); it is in some people's interest to be "immoral" (and to have others be what we might term "immoral," or act immorally). The needs of the moralists and immoralists are certainly going to clash sometimes. Imagine the requirements and goals of the following groups: teetotalers vs. bar owners and brewery owners; vegetarians vs. cattlemen; schoolteachers vs. casino owners and pornographers, etc.

There is ethics at the personal level-"normative" the Golden Rule, etc.---and then ethics at a political level--distributive justice; distributive justice might be defined as creating an ethical society based on entitlement, on the notion that everyone--except perhaps for criminal psychopaths--has a right to participate in the economy, to the best of their abilities; the two concepts are not easily demarcated, however (the distributive being based really on individual rights). Nietzsche claimed over a hundred years ago that "Morality in Europe today is herd animal morality." This sort of somewhat amoral view--a view of morality based on humans as an animalic herd rather than as rational agents acting for the "Good," is quite more accuate than the usual sunday school versions of normative ethics. And Nietzsche is not far from Darwin in terms of ethics, both echoing Malthus's pessimistic naturalistic visions. Any number of extreme situations demonstrate the futility of ethics. What is the status of values and morality or distributive justice during a famine, or plague, or warfare? Little to no status, to be sure.

Expecting humans to all suddenly become ethical (or rational) is about equivalent to expecting the barons and baronesses on the Forbes 400 list to start doling out cash, with no strings attached, to the millions of needy and impoverished. It was Bertrand Russell, I believe, who said that teaching people to be "moral" is nearly impossible, but teaching logic and rationality is possible; therefore, we should focus on developing intelligence rather than simply do-goodism, and with that intelligence hopefully morality will increase as well. But someone like VI Lenin certainly had some pragmatic strategies for bringing about a more economically-just society. So did, say, John Dillinger....

Humans, even ones that can program computers, spin integrals, or compose symphonies, are far more animalistic (and acquisitive, hungry, greedy, lustful, etc.) than any traditional religious ethics or philosophy portrays them as, and any attempts at rational ethics are most likely doomed. The great liberal myth of the "rational man" is, alas, mostly a sentimental fiction, useful to justify capitalism and greed, and any number of machiavelli-like strategies.

"Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun." Mao

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ich vergaß

Das tägliche Gebet für CSUB-Englisch!

Willkommen zur Hölle--Lügner, Diebe, Schweine,
The Narrative of Materialism

Postmodernists are fond of interpreting political and economic reality in terms of narratives; recently one of blogland's most esteemed comrades was suggesting (isn't suggestion tho a type of claim and sort of logocentric hegemony, mon ami?) that materialism is a type of narrrative. Is materialism a narrative, or rather narrative a manifestation of materialism? A story about starvation in the slums of Le Ciudad de Mexico is not at all equivalent to an actual person starving in the slums of La Ciudad . While narrative may be essential for conveying information about the starvation, literary narratives obviously are not necessarily connected to the facts and thus may distract or distance readers from the economic and biological contexts: and Marx himself, with all of his flaws and overgeneralizations, realized this, and was, I believe, quite the philistine in regards to matters literary, tho' making some exceptions for a few=--the Encyclopedists, Voltaire, etc .

Literary taxonomy, like Marxism itself, sort of comes pre-packaged with beaucoup ideological and ethical assumptions. Left connotes something positive to most of the blog readers; tho' what it denotes is perhaps not so easily defined--but the denotation of "leftism" would seemingly include as one of its attributes a emphasis on solidarity and proletarian unity which is perhaps ultimately more a matter of faith than reason. The rise of multiculturalism and of identity politics, perhaps extensions of marxist class struggle, show that other factos=--racial, socio-linguistic, sexual--might prevent any sort of prole bonding. Biology overtakes ideology (as it overtakes belle-lettres).

Marxism is a product of the Enlightenment and thus there are traces of a belief in a Reason, which seems (regardless of the attacks on idealism) still more transcendent than scientific and material. And like much Enlightenment lit., marxism still seems to hold to Rousseauian models of freedom (blog leftists are all about the "Act") that may no longer be applicable; that's not to say Skinner should be reanimated either, but behaviorism and determinism and their relation to agency, to decisions and econ. should obviously be a part of the program of dissent. It was the naive new left, perhaps as driven by Jefferson as by Marx, who contributed to a sort of libertarian hedonism which is now endemic to both corporate liberals and conservatives. I think even HS Thompson realized this: hippies created Vegas, or at least their cowboy cousins did, as they did to the building of the freeway-laced Malebolges of El Lay and SF.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

To Hypostatize, or not to Hypostatize

Definition: to give ideas concrete existence: to treat something conceptual as if it were real

I suggest most of the Kantian schema (and those of his bastard sons Hegel and Marx) may be read as a type of hypostasis, starting with the synthetic a priori and the categories (at least viewed as transcendent), and the views on ethics and freedom based on the idealism. Tho' there exist some determinist and obviously materialist sorts of reflections in Marx, he still affirms a view of freedom closer to Kant than to, say, biological views of determinism (genetic, behavioral and cognitive). Of course theology as a whole would be closer to Kant.

Hypostasis is quite common among political writers and lit. people as well; political journalists routinely hypostatize the thinking processes of millions of people. Most people don't care for anyone interrupting their chants with some questions regarding verification, plausibility, proof; columnists and bloggers generally are content to make all sorts of generalizations about how American consumers think or the sort of mental states of both conservatives or liberals. It's like a type of conceptual intoxication, brought on by lots of social science or literary theory. But such pep rally speech or writing is preferred by both far right and leftist bloggers: once "by any means necessary" has been decided upon, vague generalizations and lies may be as effective as argumentation relying upon evidence and data.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hitchens: The case for mocking religion.

Mr. Hitchens in the house again. He's is one of the few western journalists willing to fight the zealots, be they dixie Xtians, mafioso-like Catolicos, or wild-eyed muslim fanatics. Hitchens takes some getting used to, but for those few moderates who still value Enlightenment principles and a secular politics, he's generally correct. And he's the possessor of a fairly wicked Swiftian prose style as well.

"Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death."


Friday, February 03, 2006

Aus der Anti-Kriegsschule des Lebens: Contra-Stupor Bowl

There exist quite a few decent reasons to detest the Stupor Bowl. First off, football is not some real profound type of activity. Even baseball requires a certain finesse and skill which foot, er, porkball lacks. That's not to say pro baseball is that much superior: like pork ball and bassetball, it's another type of popular hysteria as well. But a Dennis Eckersley or Will Clark are sort of athletic engineers compared to porkball thugs. Ok, an Elway or Montana type of quarterback, and the receivers, perhaps have some real skills, but on the whole it's far less of a skill sport than baseball or hockey (bassetball another thug- sport as well). Chess of course puts ball sports to shame in terms of cognitive skills, but a Karpov vs. Kasparov match does not provide much for the average non-chess playing spectator; for some reason it's hard to conceive of say Marv Alpert shouting, "He fianchettoed! He fianchettoed!." Motor sports also have a certain technological and modern thrill that the ball games sorely lack. That's not to say NASCAR, Le Grand Prix, or street bike racing are so superior to the Stupor Bowl, but the gear is a plus. There's a certain beauty to velocity and to horse-power.

The corporate-consumer feeding frenzy also contributes to the nausea. Stupor Bowl is, apart form the game, like one endless beer advertisements. Bud Bowl is not far from the truth. There may be some few humans out in TV land not enjoying a brew (or multiple brews) while watching the teams march up and down the gridiron, but be assured they are a very small percentage of the pork-ball audience. Beer is sort of like a requirement for the frat-boy Bowl ritual, accompanied with all sorts of junk foods and snacks that the American schports consumer needs. The Bowl is, let's face it, not very conducive to mental or physical health. The half-time show can be entertaining sometimes, at least if you leave the sound off--even the Tommy Trojan theme if not John Phillip Sousa hisself preferable to U2 or whatever rock/rap/pop noise featured this year--tho' maybe there will be some more nipple shots this time 'round, or guest appearance by the Al Jazeera press corps.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

From Goethe's Faust

Verachte nur Vernunft und Wissenschaft,
des Menschen allerhöchste Kraft,
laß nur in Blend- und Zauberwerken
dich von dem Lügengeist bestärken,
so hab' ich dich schon unbedingt.


"Scorn Reason and Science,
Humanity's highest craft;
permit yourself to be overcome
with the lying soul of magic and illusions,
and I have you absolutely"
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