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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

The Will to Believe

October 8, 2014 | by

Sitting in on the 2014 Objectivist Conference in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, The Venetian

The Venetian. Photo: Dietmar Rabich

Even on a Monday morning at eight A.M.—an hour ripe for sober reckoning—the greatest lie of Las Vegas endures undiminished: if you keep playing, you’ll eventually beat the house. As I strolled through the Venetian, I saw the familiar ring of mostly young men crowding the aprons of a long line of craps tables. If any moment in Vegas should lend itself to second thoughts for these men, it would’ve been this one, the morning after a boozy weekend of debauchery. Yet the only concession to the occasion were the mimosas hanging pendulously over the Pass Line.

I was late for a different sort of spectacle, so I didn’t stop to watch. The Venetian, by some measurements the largest hotel in the world, had set aside a tranche of its 289 “meeting rooms” for the annual summer conference of the Ayn Rand Institute, an organization founded in 1985, a few years after the death of its namesake, with the express mission of fostering “a growing awareness, understanding, and acceptance of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.”

Open conferences are admirably egalitarian, which makes them something of an awkward format for discussing Objectivism, the name Rand choose for her canon of unalloyed elitism. “The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time,” her avatar, John Galt, declares in Atlas Shrugged. Meanwhile, “the man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.”

One need not be an honors geometry student to understand where on this pyramid most of us must fall. Throughout her writings, which began with allegorical novels and evolved into a miscellany of short works—speeches, essays, newsletters, and even, for one year, a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times—Rand was an evangelist for an aristocracy of talents. She characterized her aesthetics as “a crusade to glorify man’s existence” and the essence of her philosophy as “the concept of man as a heroic being,” descriptions which, if they mean anything, would lead one to believe an assembly of her acolytes might resemble a cross between a meeting of Phi Beta Kappa and an afternoon among the bodybuilders at Venice Beach. Read More »

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Instagram Meets the Death Wish, and Other News

October 1, 2014 | by

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Richard Prince’s show, “New Portraits.” Photo: the Gagosian Gallery

  • Richard Prince’s latest show: his Instagram feed, ink-jet-printed on canvas. “Is it art? Of course it’s art, though by a well-worn Warholian formula: the subjective objectified and the ephemeral iconized, in forms that appear to insult but actually conserve conventions of fine art … Possible cogent responses to the show include naughty delight and sincere abhorrence. My own was something like a wish to be dead—which, say what you want about it, is the surest defense against assaults of postmodernist attitude.”
  • You can probably guess where Louise Erdrich, who’s just won the Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, comes down on the controversial logo of a certain NFL franchise: “It’s more than a stereotype, it’s an insult … It’s more of the same disregard for basic human dignity.”
  • Nell Zink sees the sights at the World Science Fiction Convention: “In one room, old folks discussing how society might function if rulers were programmed to be wise (Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels); in the next, young people defiantly setting the conditions under which they will watch TV.”
  • One way (perhaps not the best way) to liven up your history of classical philosophy: fill it with puns. “Once Adamson has spotted a pun in the distance, he will hunt it down and pry it from whatever linguistic comforts it may have once enjoyed … We can never prepare ourselves for ‘like a giraffe, Parmenides seems to be sticking his neck out too far.’ ”
  • “The rooms that hold the Museum of Natural History’s famous dioramas are vast and dimly lit. The dioramas themselves shine like stages in a darkened theater … That hushed public place is the private secret of every child in New York, I think.”

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The Solar Anus

September 10, 2014 | by

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Photo: Steve Kollis, via Flickr

Happy birthday to Georges Bataille, connoisseur of Eros, born on September 10, 1897, a simpler time he took it upon himself to complicate. Actually, to call him an erotic connoisseur grossly understates what so many readers find, uh, gross about him. Suffice it to say his work revels in varieties of sexual expression that remain taboo today; a given Bataille text presents you with a veritable cavalcade of the debauched and the proscribed, and, worse still, makes all of it seem terribly worth investigating. Even his fellow Continental philosophers—not exactly vanilla adherents of the missionary position—thought he was something of a degenerate. Jean-Paul Sartre said Bataille “incarnated human sexuality in its most degraded form”; André Breton described him more succinctly as a “sick and dangerous pervert.”

But history teaches us that perverts make fine litterateurs, and Bataille is no exception. (Not to say there aren’t exceptions. There are plenty.) In Paris, he worked as a librarian and at night went drinking and whoring on the rue Pigalle. His first novel, 1928’s L’Histoire de l’oeilStory of the Eye, which he published under the pseudonym Lord Auch, or aux chiottes, or “to the shithouse”—was hailed not as a transgressive surrealist masterwork but as pornography, plain and simple. Its reputation has improved since then: it’s still regarded as porn, just the good kind. (John Wray wrote about it for the Daily a few years ago.)

Here, for your edification and titillation, is a bit from The Solar Anus, a short something-or-other published in 1931. I don’t know what you’d call it. It’s metaphysics. It’s a taunt. It’s a series of aphorisms. It’s an extended metaphor that stops shy of allegory. It’s a hymn; it’s a rant. And what it lacks in logical validity it makes up for in images. Among the lines of inquiry pursued: the passage of energy, heliophilia, heliophobia, fecundity, decay, volcanoes, the phallic, the Sapphic, the erect, the supine, excretion, intake, and many other things besides. Have at it: Read More »

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The Origins of Kitsch, and Other News

July 14, 2014 | by

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Rosso Fiorentino, Madonna and Child with Four Saints (Spedalingo Altarpiece), 1518; image via the Nation.

  • Bill Gates’s favorite business book is 1969’s Business Adventures, “twelve classic tales from the worlds of Wall Street and the modern American corporation,” and “it’s easy to see why. Brooks, who wrote for [The New Yorker] for more than thirty years, approached business in an unusual way. He had an eye for the technical details that mattered to insiders, but the sensibility of a broad-minded cultural critic.”
  • “If you visit Florence this summer, you may find that ducking into the Palazzo Strozzi to see the remarkable exhibition ‘Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: Diverging Paths of Mannerism’ (through July 20) is a great way to dodge the tourist crowds that choke the city’s streets. The works by these two Tuscans, who have good claim to being considered the originators of Mannerism, are as fascinating and problematic as ever. But chances are, if you’re inclined to look at them to discover affinities with art’s future, it’s not Matisse, German Expressionism, or Giacometti you’ll think of first. At least I didn’t—what I saw, for better or worse, was a postmodern Mannerism: the invention of bad taste or, as Clement Greenberg used to call it, kitsch.”
  • Talking to Jamie Keenan, a jacket designer: “Turd Theory (one of The Twenty Irrefutable Theories of Cover Design, written by myself and Jon Gray) works on the idea that in a scary world of disorder and chaos people are programmed to seek out repetition and order. So even the worst cover in the world, repeated twenty times in different colors of the rainbow, will get you an award or two.”
  • Some of literature’s greatest opening sentences—now in punch-card form.
  • Michael Oakeshott was one of the most original philosophers of the twentieth century, but also, his notebooks reveal, one of the strangest: “His response to the modern world was to cultivate an Epicurean gaiety and independence. (He rebuffed politely an approach by Margaret Thatcher, who had it in mind to recommend him as a Companion of Honour.) It was a style of life that combined seemingly antagonistic attitudes: a highly developed aesthetic sensitivity with a tolerance of everyday routine (he was punctilious when acting as chair of his LSE department); a capacity for intense romantic engagement with deep detachment.”

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Philosophy of the World

June 27, 2014 | by

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Detail from Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Kaufhaus im Regen, 1926-7.

In the summer, a trip to the grocery store or the laundromat can pose one existential conundrum after another. On seemingly every corner of the city, one is greeted by a young person with a clipboard in his hand, an enormous T-shirt on his back, and desperation in his eyes. And then come the questions—huge, unanswerable, world-shaking.

DO YOU CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT?

SPARE A MOMENT FOR GAY RIGHTS?

DO YOU LIKE TO LAUGH?

ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE IN NEW YORK STATE?

CAN I ASK YOU A QUESTION ABOUT YOUR HAIR?

YOU LOOK LIKE A FRIENDLY PERSON! CAN I ASK YOU SOMETHING?

ARE YOU JEWISH?

DO YOU LOVE CHILDREN? Read More »

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Train Robberies for Everyone, and Other News

May 1, 2014 | by

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Marius Amdam, The Great Train Robbery

  • Junot Díaz on getting an MFA: “I didn’t have a great workshop experience. Not at all. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: get me the fuck out of here. So what was the problem? Oh, just the standard problem of MFA programs. That shit was too white.”
  • Al Feldstein, the editor who turned Mad Magazine into an institution in the late fifties, has died, at eighty-eight. “In his second issue, Mr. Feldstein seized on a character who had appeared only marginally in the magazine—a freckled, gaptoothed, big-eared, glazed-looking young man—and put his image on the cover, identifying him as a write-in candidate for president campaigning under the slogan ‘What—me worry?’”
  • When print books are scanned and converted into e-books, a process called optical character recognition is supposed to ensure that all of the letters are “read” correctly. But things sometimes go awry, and your e-book includes sentences like this: “‘Bertie, dear Bertie, will you not say good night to me,’ pleaded the sweet, voice of Minnie Hamilton, as she wound her anus affectionately around her brother’s neck.”
  • DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg has a dim view of the future of the cinema: “A movie will come out and you will have seventeen days, that’s exactly three weekends, which is 95% of the revenue for 98% of movies. On the eighteenth day, these movies will be available everywhere ubiquitously and you will pay for the size [of the screen you watch it on]. A movie screen will be $15. A 75” TV will be $4.00. A smartphone will be $1.99… ”
  • In praise of train robberies: “Dismemberment and armed robbery have been lost in today’s commuting experience … A few train robberies would do wonders for commuter attitude. Instead of insisting the city clean up all the snow as opposed to just most of it; instead of complaining that the Citi Bike seats are too long or short, too hard or squishy; instead of issuing eye rolls when a passenger shoves in ahead of closing doors, disrupting their Candy Crush level—a train heist would remind folks that any arrival, even a tardy one, is a blessing.”
  • What’s wrong with contemporary philosophy? “The exclusion of the agrarian and nomadic, in favor of the urban and sedentary. The problem is not just ‘the West’, or Europe, or masculine domination, or white supremacy, or even the intersection of all of these. The problem is the city.”

 

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