Monday, September 28, 2009

THE SHOOTING PARTY: I really didn't want to dislike this movie. It seemed like that would be the result of cynicism--the thing where people try to get on top of a movie, to prevent it from hurting them.

But this thing is so heavyhanded! I mean, it is just WORLD WAR I IS COMING GENTLEMEN MAKE YOUR TIME! the entire way through, from the opening voiceover to the final title cards. There are some affecting moments (and some embarrassing ones, e.g. "God save the British Empire!") and some funny bits (I liked the costume party). But overall, the entire movie could've been replaced by a title card reading, "ENGLAND, 1913," and no insight would have been lost.
MY COLUMN in the current American Conservative is about Malcolm X Park/Meridian Hill Park. You may be able to get a PDF version by scrolling down here.

I note that this issue of AmCon quotes not only the Cramps (in my piece) but also the Dead Kennedys (in Jesse Walker's profile of Jerry Brown).

More seriously, if even half the allegations in the cover story are true, it's one of the more shocking things I've read in a while.
I tapped her on the blogwatch and said, "Do you have a beau?"
She looked at me and smiled and said she did not know...

Camassia: A correction, re: sincerism! And a post about revenge and divergent views of authority.

Sean Collins: "Is it too much to ask for horror art to inflict emotional damage?"

(I think I'd also add a category for horror art which provokes teshuvah/repentance. Some horror I've seen and loved does neither for me--Suspiria is amazing, just incredible art, but I don't think it "traumatized" me in the way Sean means, nor did it provoke any change in my behavior. But a lot of other movies--Vertigo, obviously, but also Ringu and Barton Fink--seem to me to have the potential to provoke a change in self-understanding which wreaks itself through the emotions, but beyond them, into actions.* Anyway, yeah, I get behind Sean's cri de coeur!)

(*If you think you hear a faint echo of my disagreement with Sean about the ending of Eyes Wide Shut, you're right. On the other hand, I think Sean could have easily rebutted my points in that disagreement by saying that the movie itself has the capacity to provoke teshuvah, whether or not Tom Cruise's character actually ends up there. I think that's true, and it's a very strong point against that aspect of my criticism of the movie.)

Also, this comic sounds like it might echo intriguingly against "Keela, The Outcast Indian Maiden," which is the only Eudora Welty story I really love.

VJ Morton has a huge raft of reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival. I've added at least three movies to my Netflix "save" queue on his recommendation, and will be keeping my eye out to see if any of them open in theaters down here.
He always had a great deal of sympathy for the American past; he said that Americans had tried to do what had never before even been tried--perhaps they had failed because it could not be done. Constance understood this not at all; to her America was ordinary reality, what everyone is born into, and the rest of the world romance. She had fallen in love with it at second hand.
--Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution

Friday, September 18, 2009

SEAN COLLINS IS ALL OVER THE SMALL PRESS EXPO! And so are other people! And so am I!

BETHESDA, Y'ALL. 9/26 - 9/27. I can't do stuff on the Saturday until maybe 1 pm or so, but after that, I will get Human Fly all over this thing.

If you love indie comics and other stuff that is awesome, why not drop me a line so maybe we can do like a big lunch or something? I hear Bethesda has the occasional eatery despite being located beyond the bounds of civilization.
HOLY CATS, THIS IS A CLASSIC HEADLINE: "GOP frets it's too surly with the fringe on top."

Via Mark Shea.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BOUGIE WOOGIE BABY: Additions and corrections to my most recent sincerism post.

Addition #1) I forgot to mention that the Misery essay Camassia links to sounds terrific (haven't had a chance to read it yet) and very much gets at what I'm trying to do when I say that genre fiction can be more realistic than realism if your perspective is not that of the majority.

Addition #2) She's also put up a really smart post exploring a) whether I'm just defending the cool pose, which I do think isn't true though I can see where she's getting that; and b) adding a bit of historical context.

Correction #1: As usual I was carried away by my rhetoric! I think it's wrong to say that "...Christian translation should work, I think, the other way. In other words, in the translation from Pepper LaBeija's language to Peter Sprigg's, a Christian should seek to translate Spriggish into LaBeijan rather than visa-va-va-versa." I'll defend some degree of Spriggishness because I will always defend the bourgeoisie! I don't want to join them, but I do realize that they are the people who make the world work, and the fact that I don't share that vocation shouldn't lead me to denigrate it. Besides which, my "LaBeijan" formulation suggests that Sophia herself may be found nestled comfortably within one subculture, which of course is not what I believe.

It would be more accurate to say that Christian translation should serve Truth at all times, and thus should introduce new and startling terms to both the Spriggish and LaBeijan dictionaries. And yet it's worth noting that in most cases the minority/subcultural denizen will have a sharper understanding of the majority perspective than vice versa (and will get less credit for it). But yeah, Christ must radically reshape all of our perspectives, and we must accept no existing culture as sufficient.

Correction #2: Because I am a product of all the same cultural forces I decry, I twice used "choose" when I should've said something else. In the parenthetical "(I chose my leadership persona, so doesn't that choice incorporate the persona into my 'self'?)" I think "chose" should be "accepted" or "developed" or some other verb implying both unchosen elements and the work I did to shape those elements. (There are certain styles of leadership I can't pull off, and I had to learn not to try them.)

And in the same paragraph, in the sentence, "It is leadership which guides you to the beauty or Beauty you could love enough to choose one set of syllogisms over another equally consistent," "choose" should be replaced with "embrace." I think that implies a greater degree of recognition rather than maximization of utils.
NOLI IRRITARE LEONES has been blogging about panels from the recent Depressive and Bipolar Support Association Conference. So far I've found the "Nature v Nurture Debate: Overcoming Guilt and Stigma" write-up most interesting, but if you want to read one post I expect you'll want to read others.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

IN WHICH I STILL DON'T QUOTE OSCAR WILDE!: EDITED 9/28 to fix a ridiculously stupid mistake! ...I've gotten two terrific pushbacks on my big post about sincerism. You can find Camassia's here. And Miss Ogilvy emailed me thusly:
Just a quick question in reply to your recent "sincerism" posts: where and how does a gay self-identity (as opposed to a queer self-identity, which is a bit more flexible and maybe less self-serious) fit into your arguments against sincerism? I think one could use your definition of sincerism ("requiring a sincere, authentic, honest accounting of one's thoughts and emotions," which entails wrongheaded "assumptions about our ability to know ourselves") to diagnose a gay identity as a symptom of sincerism or subservience to the sincerist ideal. Would love to hear your thoughts on this question.

And where and how does a Christian identity fit into your arguments against sincerism? What would a Christian apology for irony look like? Might be interesting to try on the following proposition for size: Protestantism serves the sincerist ideal; Catholicism does not.

Am feeling very sincerist myself as I sort through Gay Christian Whatnot. But I agree with you that the sincerist ideal is a mess.

I think it makes the most sense to reply to both at once. What follows will be so scattershot, it'll make a blunderbuss look like a laser. But I never promised you a precision garden!

From stupid through cute and maybe eventually ending up in worthwhile, let's proceed with our education, one and all....

1) I would never have cited journalism as a sincerist profession! But then my genealogy of the profession looks like "Journalism in Tennessee" --> SOMETHING ELSE AWESOME TK --> the New York Post. I suspect that there are other valid genealogies!

2) Maybe helpful: My problem is not with sincerity. I've seen women at the pregnancy center do amazing work through transparent personal sincerity. (It may be relevant to Camassia's comments that the woman I'm especially thinking of here is black? But I've also seen white women make amazing impacts, forging incredible connections with women who clearly wanted a sincere and heartfelt woman to talk to. In my own counseling, I try to shift between more heartfelt and self-revealing talk as vs. more complicit and nudge-wink talk based on what the client seems to be open to. More on cultures and subcultures, and leadership, in a bit.) My beef is with the attitude that sincerity is always better than other modes of self-presentation. And this I think is a desperately American form of crudeness and anti-aesthetic, democratic/majoritarian well-meaning callowness. More on this in what follows.

3) Camassia's point about anti-sincere strategies serving minority communities in their internal communiques against outside understanding or this-bridge-called-my-back-building is fantastic. I never would've thought of that, actually, and I really take to heart her defense of translation even though I think I still partly disagree.

Some things need to be universally translatable, like the Gospel. But does everything need to translate? Can we preserve some turf where the translator is still a traitor, and if you want to learn the language you'd better be ready to go native?

And what does it mean to be a Christian if your answer to those questions--like mine is, right now--is "no" and "yes"?

I'm not sure, and I think Camassia and Miss Ogilvy are both on to something supremely important. All I can really say in response is that I suspect that sincerism, like boboism ("bourgeois bohemianism"), attempts to assimilate the minority into the majority and translate in that direction--whereas Christian translation should work, I think, the other way. In other words, in the translation from Pepper LaBeija's language to Peter Sprigg's, a Christian should seek to translate Spriggish into LaBeijan rather than visa-va-va-versa.

I am open to accusations that this contrapposto stance simply reflects my own need to shore up my bohemian self-image. (She said, with a hipshot grin.)

4) I'm tempted to second Miss Ogilvy by saying that the Protestant denigration of "repetitive prayer" is a sincerist stance. I'm not sure if that's true really, because believe me, Protestantism is something I understand about as much as I understand the higher math. But here's something I wrote about repetitive prayer. Confession seems to work (for me, anyway?) somewhat similarly, in that the practice is so humiliating that it makes it unnecessary to dig the awl of self-scrutiny too far in: If I weren't really sorry I WOULDN'T BE HERE, ZOMG.

I think Miss O's suggestion that coming out is an inherently sincerist act is totally fascinating, since of course the gay subculture has traditionally (!) been one of the least sincerist, and yet I totally take her point about how coming out to oneself feels. Anyone have comments? I am at a loss!

5) I can think of two main categories of experience which prompted me to articulate why I think sincerism so often provokes bien-pensant stupidity on one hand, and cruelty-with-the-tweezers on the other. I have a hard time talking about sincerism because I find it much easier to point at than to define, and therefore it's easy to pat myself on the back for identifying examples. There's a way in which rationalism, for all its obvious falsehoods, is humbler than prudence, which requires so much trust in one's own perceptions. (Even if the examples are taken from my own life, there's still a showiness in the decision to display them in the light of my current better judgment.)

But here are the experiences. First, when I've been in a leadership position I've dealt with women (always women... I'm going to say this is cultural, and the guys would've framed their objections to my leadership this way if they'd thought it would win them masculinity points) who thought that the mask of command, as such, was inauthentic. Presenting a different persona when in leadership meant lying.

I think this is wrong on both rationalist grounds (I chose my leadership persona, so doesn't that choice incorporate the persona into my "self"?) and, obviously, aesthetic grounds. Leadership is an aesthetic act. It isn't rationalist, because there's always another syllogism, or an alternative premise, you can pose against the syllogism which would require of you something you don't want to do in the service of someone or Someone you don't love. It is leadership which guides you to the beauty or Beauty you could love enough to choose one set of syllogisms over another equally consistent.

So um yeah. I will, if necessary, pay for your trust by sharing some deep dark painful secret--but I'll respect you a lot less in the morning. I should be able to lead you without groveling for your pitying endorsement of my perspective.

b) I've several times tried to "relate" on a deep dark authentic level with someone going through a kind of suffering I can't share. I've tried to ask How You're Doing. I've tried to Be Real.

In no case has this ever been the right thing to do.

I get that people with much more sophisticated senses of how to be in the world (like Camassia) understand that what you do, when you're dealing with another person's desperation, is listen and be there and try to roll with what they give you, and not push. I don't think any of that is sincerism, even though it's sincere. But I do think sincerism is what I believed when I thought it was right to press my fingers against other people's bruises. I didn't think I was really acting as their friend unless I poked. I could not have been more wrong.

So that's where I'm coming from, on this question.

6) I'm not sure I want to overphilosophize here, since really I'm not sure what exactly sincerism is--like I said, it's easier to point at than to anatomize. But I am tempted to argue that sincerism is a part or a result of two philosophical tendencies I abhor anyway. ("You want a second opinion? Okay, you're ugly!")

a) My strong impression is that sincerism is connected to a belief that ethical discourse is the only valid philosophical discourse. Talk of right/wrong always trumps talk of beautiful/banal. (I hope this formulation indicates that I do think sincerity--like ethics-talk!--is frequently appropriate.) If you say, "Women covering their heads in church is just another sign of Paul's misogyny!", and I drawlingly reply, "Well hmmm, I'd rather see a bulldyke in a mantilla than a nun in a pantsuit"... I've stepped out of the ethical discourse into the aesthetic, and therefore forfeited my right to be taken sincerely/seriously.

(And I mean it, too! I'd clip a daggone diaper to my head if it meant that most women would wear actual pretty lace to church instead of board shorts!)

b) And on a deeper level, I really think sincerism is a subset of the Heideggerian fetish for authenticity and commitment. In this worldview, on the top level, Truth is found within--it's self-expression. I know that there is no philosophy without some level of self-trust. A radical skeptic can purchase bread, even though he knows it might be a hallucination, but he can never practice philosophy, because Sophia is nothing if she isn't real. (Even Derrida ETA 9/28 DESCARTES!!! "knew that he existed, and that he spoke French"!) But it is possible to distinguish between a philosophy of expressing the God within and a philosophy in which the self strives to recognize and love the God without--a philosophy in which recognition takes the place of expression, and submission is another word for love.

On the lower level, of course, "my real true deep self" becomes simply whatever my culture/subculture/biology/some complex interaction of all three tells me to value. That's one reason Heidegger's Rector's Address (which I used to be able to quote, as a party trick) is actually a valid conclusion from his premises. The naivete of sincerism is that it assumes that the self expressed will come pre-tamed.

Miss Manners knows better.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

THIS BILL IS NOT A TOY: The invaluable Walter Olson on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, aka the Unintended Consequences Are a Conservative Rhetorical Device Act--this is horrible stuff, and, as Olson points out, more may be coming down the pike:
Last Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee finally held a hearing on the highly controversial Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the children's-product-safety law that took effect on Feb. 10. Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) allowed a single witness: Inez Tenenbaum, the newly installed chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), who, like himself, is a strong advocate of the law. Not one of the thousands of craftspeople, retailers and small manufacturers the law has sent reeling was permitted to testify.

This law has saddled businesses with billions of dollars in losses on T-shirts, bath toys and other items that were lawful to sell one day and unlawful the next. It has induced thrift and secondhand stores to trash mountains of outgrown blue jeans, bicycles and board games for fear there might be trivial, harmless--but suddenly illegal--quantities of lead in their zippers and valves or phthalates in their plastic spinners. (Phthalates are substances that add flexibility to plastic.) Even classic children's books are at risk: Because lead was not definitively removed from printing inks until 1985, the CPSC has advised that only kids' books printed after that date should be considered safe to resell. ...

The CPSC touched off another furor this summer when it confirmed that Mattel, the giant toy maker whose many recalls helped set off the lead-in-toys panic, had qualified for an exemption from onerous third-party (outside laboratory) testing of its products under the law, and would instead be allowed to test in its own in-house labs. (Mattel had successfully lobbied for such a provision.) Of course, most companies do not operate on a scale that will make such an exemption feasible.

read the whole thing--there are no scary staples on the Internet!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The denial of the Fall--the hopeful insisted--was supposed to make life more cheerful; Bushnell was sure it succeeded only in making it duller. It was a denial of that human potential for evil which had made life adventurous precisely by making genuine moral crisis possible. It was a failure to understand tragedy. The sustained American aversion for tragedy, then as now, was based upon an obscure connection between tragedy and low spirits. Bushnell, pointing to the most enduring tragic dramas and tragic heroes, suggested that tragedy, by posing a real opposition and a real choice in human experience, was an affirmation of human dignity, and fundamentally optimistic. Adamism, Bushnell argued, by dissolving the opposition or absorbing it into a purely natural scheme, rendered life flat, colorless, undramatic, and boring.
--RWB Lewis, American Adam, via Rattus

Sunday, September 06, 2009

TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN ENGLAND: "Circa 20,717 field recordings of traditional music, including popular ballads, children's skipping songs, customs, music hall, soldiers' songs folk tales and interviews."

via WKO.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

PESTIVAL 2009: INSECT ARTS FESTIVAL. The termite pavilion looks pretty epic.

Via The Rat, who deserves a Pestival of her very own....

Eventually via LOTT-D.

EDITED to unfuzzle the link. You can click through now!