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July 2007

Rebellion (2)

Further to recent comments on rebellion, hostility to bourgeois values and art’s political lockstep, Fabian Tassano’s Iconoclasm by Decree seems relevant.

“Literature should be political and ... should unmask the rottenness of bourgeois culture.” Lenin.

“Question: How do you know when a society's culture has stopped being genuinely challenging and iconoclastic? Answer: When a government minister insists that ‘challenge’ and ‘iconoclasm’ are essential components of culture… A mediocracy has ersatz versions of everything related to intellectual or artistic independence: questioning, analysis, scepticism, radicalism, and so on. No real questioning or radicalism is involved, since that would be too dangerous.”


Friday Ephemera

Starling flying formations. (H/T, Mick Hartley.) // Horizontal rainbow over Oregon. The circumhorizontal arc or ‘fire rainbow’. // Unfortunate juxtapositions. (H/T, Maggie’s Farm.) // Fully jointed plastic men. 38 points of articulation, choice of colour and “neck style”, but no genitalia. // Vagina: the dance performance. // The London Breakbeat Orchestra. (H/T, Martin.) // Andrej Belic’s scuba photography. // Chinese urinals. (H/T, Small Dead Animals.) // Harry Potter and the Great Zionist Conspiracy. // Hitchens on Galloway. “I would, I told him, be waiting to write a review of his prison diaries.” // The Museum of Communism, Prague. // Communism FAQ. // 100 Things I’d Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord. On ventilation ducts, self-destruct buttons and not using devices with digital countdowns. (H/T, The Thin Man.) // The Encyclopaedia of Life. // God smites man selling religious literature. // Toypography. English into kanji. You know, for kids. (H/T, EyeTeeth.) // Rice paddy art. // More bad sci-fi physics. From War of the Worlds to Superman Returns. // Peanut business cards. More. // Via Coudal, an illustrated history of the American supermarket. // Afri-Cola! (1968) Nuns, hippies, caffeine mayhem. More. // Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Lee Marvin.

Egalitarian Epistemology

During recent discussions about postmodernism and its implications, a few readers have argued, implausibly, that as a loose set of ideas postmodernism has no single political bias. It’s true that postmodernism is remarkably ill-defined, not least by its devotees, and one might use the term ‘postmodern’ as a kind of shorthand to refer to any cultural product that’s conspicuously aware of its own history and conventions. One might, for instance, regard The Simpsons as postmodern without assigning any particular political leaning to its characters or creators.

Frank_lentricchia_2But insofar as postmodernism refers to a range of claims regarding the relativism of knowledge and ethics - specifically the claim, expressed with varying degrees of emphasis and clarity, that all aspects of reality are socially constructed or meaningful only as social intercourse - then these claims are political in their implications. As are assertions that Western knowledge – regarding, say, cosmology, computing or medical treatments – is a de facto power grab, the aim of which is, allegedly, to bolster the ideological “hegemony” of Western capitalist societies. Indeed, the assertion of epistemic questions as political activism is a defining trait of much postmodern rhetoric. The leftwing theorist Frank Lentricchia happily told the world that the postmodern movement “seeks not to find the foundation and conditions of truth, but to exercise power for the purpose of social change.” Achieved, one might suppose, even at the cost of truth. This overt political emphasis has led to an error and a misplaced pluralism. Specifically, the conflation of knowledge and fairness, and typically expressed as a belief that no one epistemological position – at least not a “Western” one - can be “privileged” above another, ostensibly in the interests of resisting “cultural imperialism.”

The assertion that reality is a matter of local consensus or social custom, with no existence independent of the claims made about it, seems to presuppose that there is nothing “outside” of social intercourse, and by extension that nothing much matters besides society. The default emphasis of such claims is on society, not the individual – who is, implicitly, reduced to an artefact of society, and whose character can presumably be reconstructed by society as is seen fit. Hence the preoccupation with social consensus as defining what reality is, whether or not the particulars of reality are known to human beings. A philosophy of this kind would appear to be a narcissistic cul-de-sac and metaphysically agoraphobic.

Several PoMo figures, among them Andrew Ross and Sandra Harding, have argued that rationality, coherence and standards of evidence are merely social artefacts coloured by white male patriarchy and other Western vices. Thus, it is argued, one cannot assert the primacy of the scientific method over, say, a belief in voodoo or Scientology. Defined in this way, epistemology becomes a matter of lifestyle choice or political preference. Hence Harding’s unveiling of “feminist empiricism”, a quasi-Marxist alternative to the kind that actually works.

Continue reading "Egalitarian Epistemology" »


Following recent discussions about contrarian posturing, the Rightwing Prof has steered me towards this piece by George F. Will. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“During the campus convulsions of the late 1960s, when rebellion against any authority was considered obedience to every virtue, the film ‘To Die in Madrid’, a documentary about the Spanish Civil War, was shown at a small liberal arts college famous for, and vain about, its dedication to all things progressive. When the film's narrator intoned, ‘The rebels advanced on Madrid,’ the students, who adored rebels and were innocent of information, cheered. Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, had been so busy turning undergraduates into vessels of liberalism and apostles of social improvement that it had not found time for the tiresome task of teaching them tedious facts, such as that the rebels in Spain were Franco's fascists…”

Of course, we live in more enlightened times and such a basic oversight could never happen now.

Rebellion_resistance Rebellion_terrorist_chic_2 Rebellion_wtc Rebellion_communism

More rebellion at Zombietime. Related.

The Floating Phallus

Further to my article on the stunningly fraudulent Carolyn Guertin, some readers have suggested that the “radical cyber-feminist” is merely an anomaly, albeit a vivid one, and not a reflection on her corner of academia. I’ve subsequently argued that one has to ask how Guertin’s “work” survived evaluation and peer review, and how she has come to find an audience “at conferences and events across Europe.” The fact that Guertin has been employed, and is still employed, by otherwise reputable institutions suggests a systemic dysfunction. Indeed, I’d suggest that Guertin is merely a symptom of a much broader malaise – one that has rendered large areas of academic study irretrievably tendentious and intellectually worthless.

Prof_pete_sigalEvidence to support this view can be found via Durham in Wonderland, where the estimable KC Johnson casts a gimlet eye over Duke University’s history department and its postmodern leanings. One faculty member, Professor Pete Sigal, will soon be shaping young minds with courses on colonial Latin American history and a seminar titled Sexual History around the Globe. A synopsis of the seminar asks, somewhat breathlessly:

“What does it mean to sexualize history? How does the historical narrative change as we use sexuality as our reading practice? What happens to the sign of history when confronted with the sign of sexuality? …When we read a military history, we will ask not just about sexuality as a topic within the military (Did soldiers have sex with other soldiers? Did soldiers impregnate prostitutes?), but also about sexuality as a reading process. What happens when we centre our entire analysis of the military by sexualizing the bodies of the soldiers?” 

Heavens. Somebody hand that man a towel.

Professor Sigal is, clearly, eager to “confront” students with the question: “What happens when we focus a feminist and queer analysis on history?” To resolve this burning issue, Johnson turns to Sigal’s previous scholarship, most notably his book, From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire. The “historical” themes explored by Sigal include The Phallus Without a Body and Transsexuality and the Floating Phallus.

Continue reading "The Floating Phallus" »

Friday Ephemera

Vatican: the board game. “Historically accurate… the ideal gift.” (H/T, Dan Collins.) // How to hide. // The flying car. “The ultimate off-road vehicle.” With video. More. // Via 1+1=3, stamps featuring UFOs. // Strange goings-on in the woods. // Stephen Law on an improbable universeMore. // Nick Cohen on unmentionable bad guys. “Even though it's the truth, on screen it might appear bigoted and jingoistic.” // Dan Collins on BBC bias. “This ignorance of the realities… enabled us to occupy the moral high ground.” // Via Coudal, Gerard Maynard’s Harlem panorama. // The aerodynamic umbrella. “Resists storms up to wind force 10.” // Stairs. // Spiders drugged with caffeine, cannabis, LSD. // Beer festival calendar. Drink globally, quite often. // Blade Runner: The Final Cut. // Via Bedazzled, B-movie trailers from hell. // Franzl Lang. He yodels. (H/T, Vitruvius.) // Screensaver shows global blog activity in real time, more or less. // The Fantastic in Art & Fiction. Strange spaces, peculiar happenings. // Aurora, seen from space. // 1.18.08. Be afraid. // No, fear not, here’s the Japanese It’s Alright Song.

Harker, Barking

Further to Manish Vij’s claims that Apu is a “crude racist stereotype” and that Hank Azaria is actually a “brown man”, today the Guardian’s very own PC bigot Joseph Harker berates those who dared to disagree.

Readers may remember Mr Harker for his willingness to redefine words to suit his arguments, his repeated assertion that “all white people are racist,” and his belief that, “as a black man… I cannot be racist… because in the global order I do not belong to the dominant group.” (Some of the more discerning Guardian readers have wondered how this remarkable claim might address the realities of “dominant power” in, say, Zimbabwe, or overtly racist assaults committed by people with dark skin.)   

Today, Mr Harker would have us believe that Manish Vij “put across some cogent arguments” – sadly, none of which are specified – and that the disagreement of many readers was in fact an example of the “now wearisome onslaught faced by any ethnic minority writer flagging up the issue of racism”: 

“Overwhelmingly negative, it seems that nearly every commenter either didn't understand his argument, or didn't want to. Each (rare) comment expressing empathy with the writer was immediately drowned out by a welter of antis.”

Harker doesn’t appear to entertain the - perhaps more obvious - possibility that readers did understand Vij’s arguments and simply found them wanting or absurd - for instance, the bizarre confusion regarding Mr Azaria’s pigmentation. Instead, Harker blames his non-compliant readers and insinuates some nefarious racial prejudice:

“Now, the Guardian is part of the British national press, which has traditionally been produced by and for white people (though things are slowly beginning to change). But this paper is at least supposed to be at the liberal end of the spectrum, so one would have thought there'd be a few progressive types out there prepared to come forward. But where are you? Have you all been frightened off by the bullies, the boors and the bigots?”   

Naturally, Harker pre-emptively defines “progressives” as those who agree with Manish Vij, and by extension with himself. One therefore wonders whether those who have the temerity to disagree with Mr Harker, even on matters of fact and logic, will in turn be dismissed as cowards, boors and bigots.

Righteously, he continues:

“Some time ago I wrote saying that all white people are racist. I didn't mean in-your-face, BNP-style racism, but the subtle, unthinking, subliminal kind. Now I think I was being too kind… If we want to have a sensible discussion about race, or racism, is it possible on a general-access website such as this? Or do we need to find a new corner of cyberspace, and boldly go where no stupid white man has gone before?”

It is, I fear, significant that Harker’s solution to encountering unexpected disagreement is to yearn for a different venue and a more sympathetic audience, rather than to present a more convincing argument.

Polly and Boris

Well-heeled egalitarian Polly Toynbee (“of the Toynbees”) continues her public hissing contest with bumbling rogue, Boris Johnson: 

“Of course if a monkey can be elected mayor of Hartlepool, Boris Johnson might be elected mayor of London. Jester, toff, self-absorbed sociopath and serial liar, the man could still win. Even Conrad Black called him ‘a duplicitous scoundrel’, and he should know. But it's truly alarming that he who has never run anything except his own image could be in charge of this mighty financial centre - and some of the poorest, neediest boroughs in the country... Don't be fooled. Despite that designer shambolic demeanour, Boris is not called blond ambition for nothing, with a gargantuan appetite for everything: fame, women, money, praise - and power… Perhaps because he was not born to great wealth, unlike Cameron and Osborne, he revels in everything elite - intellectual, social or monied…”

Here’s Boris on Polly:

“She joins the usual Labour snarling against fee-paying education, and selective education of all kinds. In reality, of course, she is the beneficiary of a highly selective education and also sent her own offspring to one of the most expensive public schools in the country, an establishment way beyond the means of most people. Of course there will be those who accuse her of monstrous hypocrisy, and wonder… how on earth she can insist on imposing a one-size-fits-all comprehensive system on the rest of the country, and close down the opportunities of so many poor but bright kids, when she has so ruthlessly maximised the opportunities of her own children…

Then there will be those who complain that it is hypocritical of Polly to have her lovely second home in Italy, to which she doubtless repairs on so many cheapo flights that she has personally quilted the earth in a tea-cosy of CO2; to which I say, yes, it probably is wrong of Polly to keep calling for higher taxes when that would put such opportunities - for air travel to second homes - beyond the reach of millions slightly less fortunate than her. But never mind the hypocrisy: look at the fundamental Tory behaviour. At least she's renting the villa out at pretty keen rates.”

More at Devil’s Kitchen, Tim Worstall and Factchecking Pollyanna.