In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff


We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.







Try Advanced Search


  1. Life in a Nutshell
  2. John Seabrook on Stan Winston
  3. Blowhards Scoop Times Again
  4. "Master and Commander"
  5. Nicolas Gomez-Davila
  6. Angels in America
  7. Marginal Revolution
  8. Design
  9. Richard Gregory
  10. Elsewhere


CultureBlogs
Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
PhilosoBlog
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Gregdotorg
BookSlut
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Cronaca
Plep
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Seablogger
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette


Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Samizdata
Junius
Joanne Jacobs
CalPundit
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Public Interest.co.uk
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
Spleenville
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
CinderellaBloggerfella
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
InstaPundit
MindFloss
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes


Miscellaneous
Redwood Dragon
IMAO
The Invisible Hand
ScrappleFace
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz

Links


Our Last 50 Referrers







Saturday, December 6, 2003


Life in a Nutshell
Dear Friedrich -- This is an image that was making the email rounds recently. Did you see it? Imagine going to all that trouble for the sake of a joke. But I'm glad someone did. You can click on the thumbnail to get a better look. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 6, 2003 | perma-link | (22) comments




John Seabrook on Stan Winston
Dear Friedrich -- The New Yorker's issue dated Dec. 1 has an article I can recommend: John Seabrook's profile of Stan Winston, the Hollywood monster-creator who made the Terminator, the dinos of "Jurassic Park," the Alien Queen of "Aliens," and the Aflac insurance company's duck. Seabrook's often good, I find -- like Malcolm Gladwell, he's more open to what's fresh in the culture than most arts critics these days are. I especially enjoyed this passage: Winston casts himself alternately as a businessman and as an artist, swinging between pride and humility. He says, of his F/X atelier, "I have the greatest artists in the world working for me. The people here are the equals of the Renaissance artists of five hundred years ago. Michelangelo -- what did he do? He created fantasies -- gargoyles, images of Hell, demons, angels. Just like us. Or look at a great painting like 'The Raft of the Medusa' -- it's horrific! That parallels what we do." And, he goes on, although making monsters does not rank high in the art world's hierarchy, "I guarantee you that long after the painting the snobs say is art -- the painting and sculpture in the galleries -- is forgotten, the face of the Terminator will be remembered." But soon Winston will retreat from those remarks, and assure you that he is just a monster-maker after all. I couldn't turn Seabrook's good piece up online, drat. So I hope you have a hard copy of the issue still around. But while searching for the piece I ran across something else at the New Yorker's site that's well worth a look -- a Flash slide show illustrating a conversation between two of the magazine's cartoonists, Sam Gross and Matthew Diffee, here. New Yorker cartoons! As far as I'm concerned, they rank right up there with the Terminator. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 6, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments





Friday, December 5, 2003


Blowhards Scoop Times Again
Dear Friedrich -- Arts and Letters Daily (here) linked to this Mary Duenwald NYTimes article here. The piece is interesting enough in its own right -- it's about the dads vs. cads phenomenon. But what I enjoyed most was Duenwald's reference to the "fledgling field of Darwinian literary studies." "Fledgling"? "Fledgling"? Well, maybe to a NYTimes culture reporter. Mary, darling: 2Blowhards visitors have been getting familiar with the impact of evo-bio on thinking about the arts for well over a year now. And, you know, Mary love, it's been the most interesting, freshest development in thinking about the arts for quite some time. Joseph Carroll's "Evolution and Literary Theory," for instance, was published in 1994. (It can be bought here.) And Ellen Dissanayake's "What Is Art For?" (buyable here) came out in 1990!!! I've already ventured the thought that, for all their showy up-to-dateness and edge, arts people are about as slow to catch on to really significant developments as it's possible to be, haven't I? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 5, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments




"Master and Commander"
Dear Friedrich -- Have you caught Master and Commander? The Wife and I found it well worth traveling to a movie theater to see. It's a stirring, large-scale naval adventure picture, but it's also an unusual and thoughtful one. Critics and bloggers have written about the film well and helpfully, so I'll skip going into reviewer mode. It strikes me, though, that a few things have been missing from the conversation about the film, although it's possible that I've simply missed that part of the conversation. What hit me first about the film wasn't the cannonballs or storms, impressive as they were. It was the way that Peter Weir, who co-wrote the script and directed, focused on how complex an operation managing, and living on, one of those old sailing ships was; he emphasizes food, drinking water, chores, repairs, and the sheer, baffling quantity of ropes, pulleys, canvases, spars and whatsits. The grog-swilling ho-ho-ho moments are separated by long stretches of grunt-work. (I mean this as praise.) The other thing that hit me about the film -- something I found a lot more interesting -- was the way the film treated the topic of manhood. The film deals with the question of becoming a man as if it's discussing the process of entering an honorable trade; it sees manhood as something mysterious yet as something that needs to be achieved. I'll riff a bit on the questions the film raises: What does it mean to be a man? Since we're all scared little boys inside, where do we find the wherewithal to rise to the occasion? How do we find it again and again, over and over? How to contend if we come up short? And what does it mean to command, and to obey? Authority. Respect. Compassion. Fear. Loyalty: deep-down guy stuff, and treated with some dignity -- which was, for my money, what made the film a surprisingly moving experience. A rare experience, too, these days: how often are guy concerns paid this kind of respect? On TV, Dad's a bumbling fool. Movie heroes are wisecracking action-dude cartoons. In lit-fiction, guy-guys are paunchy, drunk and divorced, symbols of America's fall from grace. I sometimes feel sorry for American boys. Do you? The images of masculinity the culture offers seem to suggest that there's no such thing as a decent adult man; there are only superannuated overgrown boys, some of them successes and some of them failures. Manhood on a human scale is seen as a myth or a joke, never a desirable possibility. (Here's a good Roger Scruton meditation on modern manhood.) I don't want to make too much of this. I enjoyed the film a lot and was touched by it, but it wasn't instantly one of my faves. Still, it's striking to be reminded of how seldom these inner-guy dramas -- Am I man enough for that? Do I dare? And if I fail, then what? -- are presented sympathetically these days. The film (and probably... posted by Michael at December 5, 2003 | perma-link | (17) comments




Nicolas Gomez-Davila
Dear Friedrich -- Nikos Salingaros has made a remarkable discovery -- the work of a Colombian philosopher named Nicolas Gomez-Davila, who shaped his thoughts into aphorisms. Never heard of him myself. Neither have you, and neither has anyone else visiting this blog, because Gomez-Davila's work has never appeared in English. Till now: Salingaros has translated a sampling of Gomez-Davila's aphorisms, and has provided a fascinating introduction here. Two of my faves: • In philosophy, a single naive question oftentimes suffices for the whole system to collapse. • For the progressive modernist, nostalgia is the supreme heresy. Jim Kalb takes enthusiastic note here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 5, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments





Thursday, December 4, 2003


Angels in America
Dear Friedrich -- The drumbeats for HBO's broadcast of "Angels in America" have gotten so loud that even I can hear them. Talk about Prestige and Importance: a two-parter! Pacino! Streep! Thompson! Come to worship, seems to be the surface message; you're a Bad Person if you don't show up, seems to be the subtext. Count me as a Bad Person, then. I saw the play during its Broadway run, when it was being celebrated as the greatest thing in American theater since Tennessee Williams, if not Eugene O'Neill. I found it labored, exhausting, and bombastic, if in a featherweight kind of way. And, needless to say, a perfect and banal example of gay-PC groupthink. Perhaps if I were a true believer I'd have had the same swept-away, epic, ecstatic, quasi-religious experience many of the (mostly) men in the audience were having. But that's not my church, and I didn't. The conventional-wisdom's rap on Tony Kushner's play? Cosmically fabulous, too bad about his weakness for bitchily amusing repartee. The Michael Blowhard rap on Tony Kushner's play? Amusing-enough bitchy repartee, too bad about all the cosmic overreaching. Jeffrey Wright, on the other hand, was brilliant. (As he was in the movie "Basquiat." What a talent.) I note this down ... well, why exactly? Oh: if anyone watches "Angels in America" and feels underwhelmed by the experience, I'm here to let you know that at least you aren't alone. Not totally, anyway. Despite what HBO would like us to think. Best, Michael UPDATE: George Hunka does a much better job than I do of spelling out what makes Tony Kushner a lousy playwright, here. UPDATE UPDATE: For an example of what the usual media take on "Angels in America" is, you could do worse than eyeball Nancy Franklin's New Yorker review of the telecast here. Franklin calls the play "a masterwork," and writes, "There is wide agreement, and no compelling counterargument, that Tony Kushner’s 'Angels in America' is the most important play of the last decade."... posted by Michael at December 4, 2003 | perma-link | (42) comments




Marginal Revolution
Dear Friedrich -- It's hard to keep up with Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, the resourceful (and speedy!) economists blogging over at Marginal Revolution. Don't miss two eye-opening new postings: Alex (here) on how and why so many Americans are on disability, and Tyler (here) on how not all of those who lack health insurance are worth getting super-worried about. (Think "college students," for example.) Interesting fact: high rates of uninsurance are in part a consequence of ... high rates of immigration. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 4, 2003 | perma-link | (20) comments




Design
Dear Friedrich -- A confession of ignorance and bewilderment: Are you as puzzled by the existence of this thing called "Design" as I am? And by "Design" I don't mean the fact that there's a guy or gal somewhere who's in charge of making the product look good. I mean "Design" in a kind of abstract sense. In a "Hey, let's go to the museum store and buy some Design!" sense. When you buy Design, you aren't buying a functional something that has some aesthetic appeal. No, you're buying aesthetics, with some vestigial function attached. Usually, of course, what winds up getting purchased is a carrot-peeler with a big, sleek translucent handle; or a big, sleek, translucent wall clock that's hard to read; or an umbrella decorated in big, sleek, color-theory 101 colors. You'll never actually use any of them. "Design," in other words, seems to mean -- 90% of the time, anyway -- the kind of genteel, cautious modernism that's what's typically featured in the Home or Living sections of many newspapers. So, can we conclude that "Design" is another arm of the Great Modernist Conspiracy to Shove a Lot of Awful Stuff Down Everyone's Throats? (And after all these years of being excessively polite to modernism, I've decided that I'm happy viewing modernism as a conspiracy if you are.) If so, I want to know more about it. When and where did this "Design" thing start? Who can we complain to about it? How has it managed to survive at all? And what can be done to hasten its demise? Here's the website for -- shudder! -- the Museum of Modern Art's Design Store, where many sleek, translucent, almost-functional things can be bought. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 4, 2003 | perma-link | (20) comments




Richard Gregory
Dear Friedrich -- I've been plotting out a lengthy appreciation of the British neuroscientist and philosopher (as I guess he ought to be called) Richard Gregory for 'way too long now. Time to let those plans go and just pass along information instead. So: I think Gregory is a wonderful figure. His specialty has been visual perception, and "how does it occur" has been the main question he's addressed. His interests have led him to spend a lot of time working with and thinking about optical illusions, which he presents as opportunities to sneak in there and have a look around. Hmm, that sentence may not have been very helpful. Another try: in Gregory's view, optical illusions present wonderful opportunities to investigate vision and perception. Why? Because our vision-perception systems break down when presented with a successful optical illusion. And when bewilderment occurs, perhaps you can crawl inside the stalled system and have yourself a look around. Gregory has come back with many fascinating ideas, observations and hunches about how our brains put together our image of the world. Of his books, "Eye and Brain" (buyable here) is the best (short, accessible) introduction to his thought; in "Mirrors in Mind" (buyable here), he muses enlighteningly on our fascination with mirrors. Although he doesn't generally use storytelling as a vehicle for thinking and reflection in the way that Oliver Sacks does, I find that his writing excites my imagination in a similar way. I suspect that anyone who's enjoyed the thinkers we've advocated on this blog (Ramachandran, Salingaros, Dissanayake, Oakeshott, Pinker, Krier, Frederick Turner, Alexander, Polanyi, etc) -- our alternatives to the played-out usual art-world suspects -- would enjoy Gregory a lot. Come of think of it, I'm pretty sure that Gregory was Ramachandran's teacher. Richard Gregory's website is here. There's an oddball but fun site devoted to him and to some of his optical illusions here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 4, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments




Elsewhere
Dear Friedrich -- * I'd assumed that the early-'90s sexual-correctness vogue was as nothing in the UK by comparison to how nutty it got in the States. (Do you remember those years? What was that all about?) But perhaps I was wrong. British journalist Neil Lyndon tells here how he was the victim of a witch-hunt for an essay he wrote questioning the orthodox feminist litany. Good passage: "As my scepticism grew, I found it embarrassing to realise how uncritically I had acquiesced to feminist ways of looking at the world. Once I started thinking more independently, however, it was exhilarating how quickly the feminist view fell apart. For instance, the more I thought about societies other than our own -- societies in the past, societies in other parts of the world -- the clearer it became that the order of relations between men and women was determined, above all, not by the power-lusts of men, as feminists were wont to say, but by the availability of reliable birth control. Where women could not control their fertility -- as in the West before the 20th century and in parts of the Third World today -- they were inevitably confined within a domestic life. When women could control their fertility, they automatically gained admission to the public life from which they had been excluded -- education, emploment, and political representation." (Link thanks to Jim Kalb, here.) * I don't check in with Jim Kalb's blog (here) as often as I might only because his interests have turned towards Catholicism, a topic that doesn't mean anything to me. But Jim's as smart as can be. He's a first-class reasoner and writer, and he's one of the few non-libertarian, traditionalist conservatives out there. I'm happy to see someone making that case as well as he does. A respectful and intelligent group of paleo-commenters also hang out at his blog. So I just skip the Catholicism stuff and help myself to his other postings. Here's a good one about postmodernism and conservatism. And here's a good one on the topic of copyright. * George Hunka's response to the Great-Art-I-Don't-Get game is one of the funniest, as well as one of the most sweeping, I've run across, here. * Did you know that, prior to turning himself into Mr. Lord of the Rings, the director Peter Jackson had a wildass, edgy, irreverent film-nerd side? Polly Frost, who's on a horror kick, watched an early, buckets-of-blood splatter film that Jackson directed, and she enjoyed it. She's also come up with some original thoughts about vampires and zombies, believe it or not. Her posting is here. * Public Choice economists love to analyze what government types are up to in terms of what they're out for. But what do Public Choice economists believe? And what might they be out for? Tyler Cowen has some hunches, here. * I'm of several minds about the Bad Sex Award, whose this-year winner was announced here. On the one hand, anything... posted by Michael at December 4, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments




Nietzsche and Pinker
Michael: I couldn’t help but notice when I read the Edge interview with Steven Pinker (that you so thoughtfully linked to in your post below) that it almost seemed as if Mr. Pinker were channeling the spirit of Nietzsche. Obviously, Mr. Pinker has his own points of view, and I wouldn’t assume that he shares all of, or even any of Nietzsche’s more wild-and-crazy points of view, but the echo of the one in the other is, to put it mildly, striking. I thought I’d juxtapose quotes from the interview and from Beyond Good and Evil: PINKER: Most intellectuals today have a phobia of any explanation of the mind that invokes genetics. They're afraid of four things. First there is a fear of inequality. The great appeal of the doctrine that the mind is a blank slate is the simple mathematical fact that zero equals zero. If we all start out blank, then no one can have more stuff written on his slate than anyone else. Whereas if we come into the world endowed with a rich set of mental faculties, they could work differently, or better or worse, in some people than in others. The fear is that this would open the door to discrimination, oppression, or eugenics, or even slavery and genocide… […[L]ife itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest, exploitation….But there is no point of which the ordinary consciousness of Europeans resists instruction as on this: everywhere people are now raving, even under scientific disguises, about coming conditions of society in which “the exploitative aspect” will be removed—which sounds to me as if they promised to invent a way of life that would dispense with all organic functions.--Nietzsche] The second fear is the fear of imperfectability. If people are innately saddled with certain sins and flaws, like selfishness, prejudice, sort-sightedness, and self-deception, then political reform would seem to be a waste of time…. [If however, a person should regard even the affects of hatred, envy, covetousness, and the lust to rule as conditions of life, as factors which, fundamentally and essentially, must be present in the general economy of life (and must, therefore, be further enhanced if life is to be further enhanced)—he will suffer from such a view of things as from seasickness. --Nietzsche] The third fear is a fear of determinism: that we will no longer be able to hold people responsible for their behavior because they can they can always blame it on their brain or their genes or their evolutionary history—the evolutionary-urge or killer-gene defense…. [The desire for “freedom of the will” in the superlative metaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated; the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance and society involves nothing less than to… pull oneself up into existence by the hair,... posted by Friedrich at December 4, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments





Wednesday, December 3, 2003


Steven Pinker Interview
Dear Friedrich -- Here's a good Edge q&a with Steven Pinker, the author of the excellent evo-bio survey "The Blank Slate" (buyable here). What a brilliant guy, and how clearly he lays his points and arguments out. I can't resist quoting one arts-centric passage at length. The blank slate has had an enormous influence in far-flung fields. One example is architecture and urban planning. The 20th century saw the rise of a movement that has been called "authoritarian high modernism," which was contemporaneous with the ascendance of the blank slate. City planners believed that people's taste for green space, for ornament, for people-watching, for cozy places for intimate social gatherings, were just social constructions. They were archaic historical artifacts that were getting in the way of the orderly design of cities, and should be ignored by planners designing optimal cities according to so-called scientific principles. Le Corbusier was the clearest example. He and other planners had a minimalist conception of human nature. A human being needs so many cubic of air per day, a temperature within a certain range, so many gallons of water, and so many square feet in which to sleep and work. Houses became "machines for living," and cities were designed around the most efficient way to satisfy this short list of needs, namely freeways, huge rectangular concrete housing projects, and open plazas. In extreme cases this led to the wastelands of planned cities like Brasilia; in milder cases it gave us the so-called urban renewal projects in American cities and the dreary highrises in the Soviet Union and English council flats. Ornamentation, human scale, green space, gardens, and comfortable social meeting places were written out of the cities because the planners had a theory of human nature that omitted human esthetic and social needs. Another example is the arts. In the 20th century, modernism and post-modernism took over, and their practitioners disdained beauty as bourgeois, saccharine, and lightweight. Art was deliberately made incomprehensible or ugly or shocking—again, on the assumption that people's tastes for attractive faces, landscapes, colors, and so on were reversible social constructions. This also led to an exaggeration of the dynamic of social status that has always been part of the arts. The elite arts used to be aligned with the economic and political aristocracy. They involved displays of sumptuosity and the flaunting of rare and precious skills that only the idle rich could cultivate. But now that any now that any schmo can afford a Mozart CD or can go to a free museum, artists had to figure out new ways to differentiate themselves from the rabble. And so art became baffling and uninterpretable without acquaintance with arcane theory. By their own admission, the humanities programs in universities, and institutions that promote new works of elite art, are in crisis. People are staying away in droves. I don't think it takes an Einstein to figure out why. By denying people's sense of visual beauty in painting and sculpture, melody in music, meter... posted by Michael at December 3, 2003 | perma-link | (17) comments




Life Can Be Awful
Dear Friedrich -- Do you look at The Economist much? I'm a longtime subscriber, though I blow hot and cold on the magazine. Minuses: smartypants attitude, goofy about immigration, bossy about how America should conduct itself. (Like, we're supposed to take advice from the Brits? Nice job they've done with their own country: from #1 to insignificant in a couple of generations.) Pluses: sophisticated, cheeky and well-written, and straightforward about its point of view. You never don't know where they stand. But one of the main reasons I continue to enjoy the magazine is that it's far more honest than most American publications are about how awful life in some parts of the globe can be. A few examples from recent issues: * In the provinces of Afghanistan, where virtually no modern medical care is available, girls usually get engaged at ten, are usually married at 12, and usually start giving birth at 14. These girl/women have the highest rates of maternal mortality ever recorded -- 500 times higher than the rate in developed countries. Superstition and bizarre traditions run rampant. Midwives refuse to tie off umbilical cords; babies are born into bowls of dirt; and one way people have of trying to cure a woman's infections is by placing dead mice in her vagina. * The country of Congo has had a five year war, in which over 3 million people have perished. * Canaan Banana, the first president of Zimbabwe, just died. He was a mere figurehead, apparently, with a light workload that left him "plenty of time for his hobby, which was raping his male attendants." * Kenya's legal system has long been a joke, even to Kenyans. In the late 1980s, a chief justice "took his trousers off, balanced a shoe on his head and goose-stepped around the high-court car park chanting pro-government slogans." Justice comes at a literal price: "$250 to escape a rape charge, and $500 for murder." One investigation concluded that "only three of the country's 310 judges were neither corrupt nor incompetent." Reading passages like these, horrifying though they are, never fails to brighten my day. Reminds me to be grateful for whatever peace, calm, tranquillity, fairness and health we enjoy, of course. But perhaps the real reason I'm fond of reading about this kind of thing is because it makes life in NYC seem more rational and humane than it often does. The cable guy who showed up hours late? Annoying, yes. But by comparison to Canaan Banana, let alone mice-in-the-vagina? For a moment at least, I've got things in perspective. The Economist's web site, which I really should get around to making a little use of, is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 3, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments





Tuesday, December 2, 2003


Guest Posting: Maureen on Blindness and Beauty
Dear Friedrich -- I was having a good time swapping emails about ballet and beauty with Maureen, an occasional 2Blowhards visitor, when the conversation went off on a fascinating tangent. I expressed interest; Maureen filled in some blanks; and pretty soon this fascinating story had come together. After a little coaxing, Maureen -- who works for a Northeastern university and publishes books about blindness, the aging process, and rehabilitation -- gave me permission to run her account here. For most of my life, I've worked with people who are blind. Throughout my academic life, I've written countless words that seek to unlock the scientific and human meanings of sight (or lack of). I'll continue to write, of course, but my interests have been shifting from the cold hard science of it all to the meaning of aesthetics and art to someone who has never seen. What is beauty, then? Is it possible to appreciate visual art without ever having seen? These are the thoughts that keep me up at night lately. Of course, there's a human basis to this interest as well. Mine happens to be my dear friend and interpreter Jacek. In 1996, I made my first journey to Poland in order to help construct the first post-graduate university program in the rehabilitation of the blind in post-Communist Central Europe. Little did I know that it would become my abiding obsession and vocation. Jacek was assigned to me as my personal interpreter. He spoke fluent English, was intensely curious about America and Americans, and happened to be totally blind -- but with a twist. He was not only blind, but he had no eyes. As an infant, he had contracted a rare form of ocular cancer, and as a consequence, his eyes were enucleated (removed). Yet -- in Communist Poland! -- this man managed to earn a post-master's degree and start his own interpreting business. He was also a well-known jazz keyboard player. I loved Jacek instantly, which was fortunate since I spent almost every waking moment of my visit, as well as every subsequent one I’ve made since, with him. Traveling with him was always interesting. We had to juggle his portable keyboard and his long white cane in addition to our computers and backpacks. Sometimes a friend would provide a ride. But it was always in one of the tiny Polski Fiats that you see in Kieslowski films. No matter: traveling was always a Marx Brothers “Night at the Opera” affair. One of the things that I liked best about our friendship was that it seemed to transcend the superficial. At least, or so it seemed at first, we were free from the appearance game. Aha! Not quite. I soon began to learn that this accomplished man also had a serious eye, so to speak, for beauty -- female pulchritude, to be exact. I learned that Jacek had been making numerous inquiries about my appearance. He wanted to know every detail about me, although he already knew... posted by Michael at December 2, 2003 | perma-link | (23) comments





Monday, December 1, 2003


Coming to Grips With Nietzsche, Part II
Michael: This is the second part of my series of postings on Nietzsche. (You can read the first part here.) Having laid out his ultimate “goals” in the first posting, I want to sketch out the intellectual program that Nietzsche undertook to provide support for his ultimate goals. As you recall, Nietzsche felt that the demise of Christianity, which was speeding up in his era, was leading to a crisis of nihilism. He saw that the collapse of the central pole, so to speak, in the intellectual structure of the age would cause people to doubt all meaning and all values—to believe in “nothing.” And this belief in nothing would lead to a sort of suicidal depression that would be felt most keenly by the era's leading spirits. He felt it was urgent to replace the no-longer tenable Christian interpretation of the world and its associated hierarchy of values with a different interpretation, both to forestall nihilism and because he felt his new interpretation would speed the evolution of the individuals who would eventually give birth to a more life-affirming world-view. However, replacing the Christian world-view was easier said than done. By Nietzsche’s own estimate, notions that ultimately derived from the Christian world-view and its associated hierarchies of value were threaded throughout European culture, from the most abstruse speculations of philosophy to the most “down to earth” aspects of language and science. Where was one to start in untangling such a wide and subtle web? One of Nietzsche’s methods was to write an essay in a series of short “fragments” or "sections" in which he touched briefly on many different aspects of an overarching subject. In each fragment he adopts a reductionist position, showing that what at first appears to be an unrelated set of phenomena actually shows (on closer examination) an underlying unity. He thus simultaneously creates a chain of argumentation while making it clear that the examples chosen could be multiplied many thousands of times over, because the pattern he was describing is omnipresent. It must be admitted, of course, that this method makes it easy for lazy readers—like me at the age of 20—or intellectually unscrupulous readers—like some of our leading postmodernists—ignore the context and continuity of his argument. Heck, it’s fun to seize on one of his striking intellectual formulations and treat it as if it popped up in a vacuum. But I would assert that this is the wrong way to read Nietzsche. The strongest impression I’ve had in re-reading Nietzsche is exactly how sustained his argumentation actually is. Let me give an example of this by walking you through an overview of the first chapter or essay of his book, “Beyond Good and Evil.” The chapter is titled, “On the Prejudices of Philosophers.” It is divided into a series of 23 short numbered sections, the longest being several pages in length. In it Nietzsche has three highly inter-related themes. The first is that all forms of metaphysics can be reduced to religion (which, in... posted by Friedrich at December 1, 2003 | perma-link | (17) comments





Sunday, November 30, 2003


Inexcusable Self-Congratulations
Dear Friedrich -- Here's a well-done piece for Reuters by Mark Egan about the lit-fiction author John Robert Lennon, with a special focus on the finances of writing literary novels. "As soon as you get the money, half of it is gone," says Lennon, who (unlike most novelists) has at least had the luck to be well-reviewed by the NYTimes and other important outlets. (Link thanks to Bookslut, here.) May I be permitted a moment of gloating? Here's my posting about how goofy it is, from a practical and financial point of view anyway, to write a book. In Egan's piece, John Baker of Publishers Weekly adds an interesting fact: "More than 60 percent of fiction is bought by women and most of that by women aged between 35 and 55." May I be permitted another moment of gloating? Here's my posting about how publishers are worried that they're losing younger readers. Hey, did I ever mention that most authors of what's generally considered to be "serious nonfiction" actually lose money on their books? How is this possible? Well, say you're lucky, and say you get a $100,000 advance for your book. Subtract 15 percent for your agent, and 30ish percent for taxes. You're down to $55,000. That's got to get you through the writing of your book, which often takes two to five years -- "longer than you think it will" is a good rule of thumb here. Plus, the expenses ... All the telephoning, all the traveling, and all the hanging out that you've got to do to accumulate the facts you'll be making use of? They get paid for not by the publisher, but out of your own pocket. Harumph: And people think I make this stuff up. Of course, that may just about exhaust my store of mildly-interesting inside dope about the business of the arts ... Best, Michael UPDATE: Tyler Cowen takes note and offers some reflections, here. UPDATE UPDATE: Don't miss Alan Kellogg's discussion of RPG fiction in the comments on this posting. It's a whole new world.... posted by Michael at November 30, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments