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. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
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
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
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

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


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Immigration Visuals | Main | Webshorts »

June 16, 2006

They've Said What I Think I'm Thinking, I Think

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

It's always pleasing to run across people who have done a far better job than you could yourself of putting your thoughts and hunches (or something close to them) into words. It saves so much effort.

I didn't find John Gray's thoughts about Iraq and Kosovo (in this interview with Jonathan Derbyshire) very interesting: current events, feh. But his analysis of the difficulties naive liberals often have with the persistence of religion was awfully sharp, and his presentation of his own kind of "naturalism" was fearless and helpful. Fun excerpt:

I think the spirit of naturalism goes against secular theories of progress and hope. Yes, knowledge grows, technology develops. But the key insight of naturalism is that the analogy or metaphor, the undoubted fact of progress in science is extended by the positivists to ethics and politcs, the insight of naturalism is that that metaphor or analogy is misguided. The analogy between scientific progress and ethics and politics whereby there is a convergence on values just as, in science, there is convergence on a true picture of the world, is a myth we inherit from the positivists.

I guess that I'm a "naturalist" myself, at least on some days of the week, and at least of the Gray-ian sort.

John Gray is an interesting figure: a kind of neo-Oakeshottian conservative/liberal of a sort I often find simpatico, at least intellectually-speaking. (I've enjoyed the couple of books of his that I've read. They're super-smart, open-minded, and very accessible. Here's a Guardian profile of John Gray. Here's Wikipedia's entry on him.) As far as I'm concerned, he's also one of those eerie cases; when I check in on his work and his thought, I often discover that his brain has been gnawing on some of what my brain has been gnawing on. Fun, if also a little freaky. Here's a looooong piece by Gray about F.A. Hayek.

How I wish that John Gray sometimes devoted his brainpower to the arts. God knows that the arts discussion could use some of his sui generis incisiveness and provocation. I just ran across some of that, though. This interview with the philosopher Elizabeth Grosz struck me as the best general (and short, and readable) piece of arts BigThink that I've read since Denis Dutton's last piece. Grosz combines a little Darwin, some French theory, a pleasing dash of empiricism, and some cultural anthropology. Nifty passage:

I take it that all forms of art are a kind of excessive affection of the body, or an intensification of the body of the kind which is also generated in sexuality. So it's something really fundamentally sexual about art, about all of the arts, even though they're very sublimated. What art is about is about the constriction of the materials, so the materials then become aestheticised or pleasurable. The pleasure of those materials has to do with the intensification of the body. So this impulse to art is to not make oneself seductive but to make oneself intense, and in the process to circulate some of that eros that would otherwise go into sexuality.... {And] there's something about the autonomy of sensation now in that artwork that is transmitted, at least ideally, to its viewers.

Suits me, and also checks out with what I've experienced and witnessed as a cultureworld fly-on-the-wall.

Although a philosopher, Grosz isn't overweeningly intellectual -- she's true enough to her subject to acknowledge that art isn't primarily about ideas. And she has a lovely idea of what philosophy's role vis a vis the arts might be:

What [philosophy has] pretended to offer in the past is an overarching view of art from above, like an overview. What I think it offers is something much more humble, which is a partnership with art, so that philosophy and art and science share very common resources but they utilise them very differently. I think one of the beauties of philosophy is it is like art to the extent that it celebrates this chaos instead of attempting to tame it, which is what science does. So at its best, philosophy has a certain wildness that is kind of conceptually artistic alongside of the most adventurous works of art. At its worst, it's a form of containment.

Hey, she even goes on about the importance of the frame around the work of art, a subject I gassed on about here. I haven't read anything more lengthy by Elizabeth Grosz, and given the titles of her books and articles I doubt I'll be doing so any time soon. But I found this interview with her sensible, straightforward, and down to earth.

Have you run across anyone who has been speaking your thoughts recently?



posted by Michael at June 16, 2006


Michael, this is very much along the lines of the way I've been thinking about art/philosophy/religion for these last few decades. (I'm always instructed that since my religion includes no theos that I'm really doing philosophy. In fact, since I look inwards to experience rather than outwards to a theoretical supernatural, I'm probably doing psychology.) I've been very happy with Suzanne Langer, the attachment theorists among the psych folks (Winnicott, Kohut) and philosophers of place like Ti-Fu Yuan or Gaston Bachelard.

I look forward to following these leads.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 16, 2006 5:57 PM

No wonder we're simpatico: I like Tuan (er, is it Yi-Fu Tuan? It is), at least that one book of his, and Bachelard too. I need to catch up with Langer, who's been on my list for far too long. Winnicott and Kohut? ... I think I've heard of 'em ... Hey, you know someone who I haven't seen spoken about in decades? Gregory Bateson. Four or five of his "Steps to An Ecology of Mind" essays really blew mine back in the '70s. I wonder how they'd look to me now. Did you ever try Bateson? That little yellow paperback ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 16, 2006 7:36 PM

Oh, heck. I started fooling around with Yi-Fu/Ti-Yu as a joke and now I can't do it straight. (Can't say "albegra" properly either. Probably the root of many problems.)

I did try to trek along with Bateson and with Mary Catharine as well. (She is just my age.) I used to love Margaret Mead even. But it all came unglued for me and I'm not sure where. Maybe they're just too bossy.

Richard Stern put me onto "On Form and Feeling" (Langer) and "Mimesis" which I must go back and look at again. In fact, my inner compass is swinging around towards this stuff with some real passion. I think maybe I should weed my bookshelf and get back to some of these things.

I'm thinking of a book called "Ecorche" which is the name for those skinned figurines that artists use for reference. I want to explore the problem of being open to a changing world while trying to preserve one's inner being. How can one stay in love with what is always different? Especially when the original first meeting is ecstatic and unforgettable -- cannot be denied and demands a response? Is relived in dreams over and over -- but are the dreams transforming the memory?

Stern's special theory reference was "narrativity," one thing after another, and he composed a text called "Honey and Wax." It's just a teaching anthology, but good reading as well.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 16, 2006 9:04 PM

"Have you run across anyone who has been speaking your thoughts recently?"

As I continue into middle-age, I become increasingly and gloomily meditative about the Holocaust. A kind of metaphysical ennui swirls around this interest, as if solid reality actually came to end with the cosmic crimes against those in Nazi concentration camps. As if "reality" since then has taken on an artificial, illicit aspect. Real time ceased to move forward after so many horror-stricken prayers went up to an Absent Ear.

This quasi-obsession of mine has gradually taken on a sense of solipsism, a kind of mental defect on my part -- everyone else seems to blithely move though their day without once being disconcerted over the ineffable events that took place in those callous camps.

I just stumbled on a book that, after a few pages so far, seems to promise some relief from that sense of solipsism. The author seems to be as haunted and chronically disconcerted as I am, and I look forward to seeing my dark obsession framed with the solemnity and sublimity appropriate to a subject approachable only obliquely:

WG Sebald's *The Emigrants.*

Posted by: Tim B. on June 18, 2006 7:55 AM

I want to address Tim's preoccupation though I'm not quite sure I understand what he's saying. The German holocaust and the Japanese atomic bombings and the American Indian holocaust and all the horrific modern atrocities that are on the television so much that I've stopped watching (but keep hearing about on the radio) are part of the horror of being alive and vulnerable. When in a vulnerable frame of mind, whether depressed or feverish or somehow hurt, these terrifying images -- the REALITY of them and the impossibility of finally escaping them -- can invade a person and make one ask, "Why stay alive? It just hurts too much." These are not theoretical possibiities: there is a missile silo just a mile or so from my kitchen window. We don't know whether its warhead is nuclear. They say that the backwash from the rocket might set our houses on fire. They say, when they ran some tests lately, that the huge concrete cover on the silo will be dynamited out of the way of the missile and that they don't know where the cover will land -- I imagine it landing on my house.

Most people around here say, "Just don't think about it." But I will. I want to. I must. So I have to find some way to glare back at the dragon.

What I put up against terrifying possibility is my daily life in this house itself. I call it "domestic eroticism." I'm not in a physical partnership -- haven't been for a long time -- but I do carry the sound of that voice and the feel of that skin still. In addition, there is my little old house.

A visitor told me she thought my front room was "English country" in style. What she meant was that the furniture is old and therefore draped with fabrics and pillows that I've packed around with me for decades because I'm so fond of them. I have a tall bright red desk and yellow ginger jar lamps and potted plants in blue and white pots. There's a lot of color and glinting gold frames on paintings. All of it is second-hand, used, old, inherited, cheap -- but when I walk out to the front room in the morning to find it sluiced with sun or in the evening to find it glimmering in twilight, I feel as though I were taking a well-loved hand.

Ideas and reading are like that, too. They feel like real erotic sensations to me: the sting and ache and shiver of the thoughts shuttling predictably or suddenly leaping into something like a big animal that grips me.

The people of this town think I live here alone with two fat cats. Little do they know. On the one hand are children with their arms hacked off and no medical care while they heal. I put against that my white drainboard, newly clean and bleached. On the other hand is a Chinese musician forced to do work that destroys his hands so that he can no longer play. I put against that a book about the history of thought. It's a war in here.

I think it always is for human beings who are really alive and aware. Candide was not as much of a fool as he is sometimes portrayed. The sensuousness of a garden, the fragrance, the nourishment -- it's enough to support survival. Even the people in the concentration camps knew that.

But maybe you meant something different. Maybe you'd explain more.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 18, 2006 8:50 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?