Archive for April, 2013
19 Apr 2013

H.P. Lovecraft… Philosopher??

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Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937)

In Salon, Brian Kim Stefans discusses a new book by “Speculative Realist” philosopher Graham Harman (who teaches at the American University in Cairo, not at Miskatonic), which attempts to identify the early 20th century author of pulp horror stories as a literary philosophic opponent of Kantian Phenomenalism, materialism, and linguistic analysis.

Evidently, Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man gibber und kreischen über von einer Band aus amorphem Flötenspieler Begleitet. What we cannot speak about, we must gibber and shriek about, accompanied by a band of amorphous flute-players.

Few movements in recent philosophy have had as startling a rise as that of the writers loosely grouped under the heading “Speculative Realists.” Attention to this movement, which includes Harman, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Levi Bryant, and Quentin Meillassoux… is growing exponentially, not just in universities but also among the unaffiliated continental philosophy junkies who troll the blogosphere. The one principle that is inarguably shared by these philosophers is quite simple: they wish to retrieve philosophy from a tendency initiated, or at least made unavoidable, by the work of Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that the subject (meaning a human being) can ever know anything about the external world due to the very fact of subjectivity. For him, reality is always mediated by cognition, and the thinkable has a basic handicap: it is just thought. Nothing comes from outside into the mind, in other words, that is not turned into thought; the radical epistemologist argues that all we can know lies in the firm foundations of what is available to the senses, while the radical idealist argues that nothing remains in this thinking of whatever it was that spawned the thought, leaving one at the impasse of believing that all of reality is virtual, a bunch of mental actions. The result, according to the speculative realists, is that philosophy since Kant has been stuck with making this very mind→object relationship the locus and subject of philosophy, thus shutting down the project of metaphysics, the search for absolute laws beyond what can be established by experimental science.

Quentin Meillassoux has dubbed this mind→object relationship — the impasse that is at the heart of the Kantian tradition — “correlationism,” and the term has become a rallying cry for speculative realists. Harman’s philosophy displaces the mind→object relationship with that of object→object, the “mind” being just one object among many. Oddly, though Meillassoux names correlationism as the primary curse of the Kantian tradition, he also seems the most devoted of his peers to preserving the best part of it by making it the one place where he claims anything like an absolute exists. To Meillassoux (who, coincidentally or consequently, is also a fan of Lovecraft), the universe is not characterized by necessity (God-given or inevitable laws) but by a radical contingency, a “hyper-chaos” amidst which the only thing that could be seen as absolute is the mind→object relationship itself. ….

In Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, Harman enlists Lovecraft in his battle with epistemology and materialism — Lovecraft himself expressed loathing for normative science, and certainly had no love for legitimate academics — but also against correlationism: the conviction that all the mind could ever know are purely mental phenomena, which ultimately led (and here we are brushing with broad strokes) to the so-called “linguistic” turn of much 20th-century philosophy (most characteristically that of Wittgenstein and Derrida). To that extent, Lovecraft’s failure to engage in the linguistic experimentation of his high Modernist contemporaries does not make him some kind of recalcitrant provincial, but rather a sensible (if xenophobic) voyager who simply did not want to make the claim that language was all there was. Lovecraft’s language “fails” only insofar as the narrators fail to get into words, to journalize, some experience that simply cannot be fully available to the meager human senses and mind. For the most part, Lovecraft is happy to use language as a simple, functional tool, rather than to insist at every moment through linguistic estrangement — like, say, a Stein or a Beckett — that language is not what you think it is (and, consequently, that language is everything). For Lovecraft, it’s the universe, not language, that is not what you think it is. So what is it then? Well, weird.

Weird Realism
opens with an idiosyncratic set of short essays that lay out the method of the book. Harman notes that there is a choice that philosophers generally make between being a “destroyer of gaps” — those who want to reduce reality to a simple principle — and “creators of gaps” — those who point to those areas to which we will possibly never have access. He deems the latter “productionists” (in contrast to reductionists) and writes: “If we apply this distinction to imaginative writers, then H.P. Lovecraft is clearly a productionist author. No other writer is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess.”

19 Apr 2013

News

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#BostonMarathon In case you’re just joining us, here’s what’s going on.

19 Apr 2013

“If I Could Live In Any Decade, It Would Definitely Be The 960s”

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Jonathan Soifer in the Onion:

Ever feel like you’re living in the wrong era? Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of stuff I love about today, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that I was born too late. When I look back at the past, I get the sense that I truly belonged in those heady days of peace and love, back between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the High Middle Ages. That’s why, if I could live in any time period, I would definitely choose the 960s.

Something about those wild, revolutionary years really speaks to me. It seemed like everything was going on back then. The frocks looked good, the chants were amazing, and everyone who wasn’t suffering typhoid or acute vitamin deficiencies was just so alive with energy. The 960s just seemed like an electrifying time to be living.

The straight-laced 950s were over but the stirrings of feudalism were only just beginning. Everyone was in this vibrant period of transition between Byzantine autocracy and fealty to large landowners, just trying to discover themselves. For a brief moment you had this optimism that made you feel like you could just stick your thumb out, hop in a passing cart transporting waterfowl, and go. Didn’t even matter where—you’d just take it easy at the next fiefdom and figure it out. Who was going to tell you no? The king? Edgar the Peaceable was on the throne and he didn’t care. It was a simpler time.

There was just this laid-back, anything-goes culture in the 960s, what with the dissolution of the Carolingian dynasty, and I know I would have fit right in.

Plus, so much of my favorite music came out of 960s—the Gregorian chants, the atonal dirges. Before that, they just had plainsong. But then there was this surge of creativity and monks started adding another part to the chant, and boom, florid organum was born. And the sounds they were able to produce with their lutes and recorders were truly groundbreaking. Forget the crap you hear today; back then they knew how to write real hymns.

Can you imagine what it was like to have been around when Odo of Arezzo broke onto the scene? Or to have actually seen Reginold of Eichstätt live? It blows my mind that on any given weekend in the Abbey of St. Martial you could have seen St. Tutilo von Gallen, Ademar of Chabannes, or Hucbald. Hucbald! And just think how amazing it would have been to experience that unforgettable summer of 969, when it seemed like everyone gathered on the lea to circle-dance and intone around a communal fire. Yeah, it was muddy, and yeah, the food was almost assuredly rancid and diseased, but so what? Two words: Heriger and Wigbert!

I guess I was just born a few decades and a millennium too late.

18 Apr 2013

Fictional Characters You Would Not Believe Were Based on Real People

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18 Apr 2013

“Whan That Aprill”

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Today in Literature:

On this day (or possibly the next) in 1394, Geoffrey Chaucer’s twenty-nine pilgrims met at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to prepare for their departure to Canterbury. Chaucer’s poem condenses the four to five day trip into one, and scholars have used various textual references and astrological calculations to establish that day as the day before Easter, thus allowing the pilgrims to arrive at Canterbury Easter morning, after a fifty-five-mile hike through a pleasant English springtime.

Here begins the Book
of the Tales of Canterbury

1: Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
2: The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
3: And bathed every veyne in swich licour
4: Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5: Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
6: Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
7: Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
8: Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
9: And smale foweles maken melodye,
10: That slepen al the nyght with open ye
11: (so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
12: Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
13: And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
14: To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15: And specially from every shires ende
16: Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
17: The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
18: That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
19: Bifil that in that seson on a day,
20: In southwerk at the tabard as I lay
21: Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
22: To caunterbury with ful devout corage,
23: At nyght was come into that hostelrye
24: Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye,
25: Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
26: In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
27: That toward caunterbury wolden ryde.
28: The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
29: And wel we weren esed atte beste.
30: And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
31: So hadde I spoken with hem everichon
32: That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
33: And made forward erly for to ryse,
34: To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.

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My favorite quotation:

NPT 2805 Sir, sey somwhat of huntyng, I yow preye.

18 Apr 2013

Barack Obama: Bad Loser

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Barack Obama did not take the Manchin-Toomey expanded-background-checks bill’s defeat in the Senate very well. In fact, he called all of us opposed to that bill “liars” and said that this measure, which would not have prevented the shootings in Newtown or in Phoenix or any other of the well-known mass shootings, was a “common sense step to help keep our kids safe.”

It was never clear to me why Barack Obama or Pat Toomey thought the Constitution actually granted any power to Congress to regulate a non-interstate firearms sale that takes place across a table.

Senator Mike Lee
explained that he voted against the bill because he recognized that all this was another liberal salami game, taking one more slice of our rights today and then coming back for another tomorrow.

The Toomey-Manchin amendment admirably attempted to carve out certain protections for gun owners, but today’s carve-outs are tomorrow’s loopholes. The current “gun show loophole” was itself once considered a legitimate carve-out that protected certain private sales.

Eratosthenes was moved to remark on the president’s sense of self-entitlement. When the left doesn’t get its way, the system has always failed.

I was just noticing this yesterday while listening to the President’s speech on the radio. If the democrats get their butts beat a hundred times in a row, we can predict they’re going to say some variation of exactly the same thing, a hundred times in a row, and that thing will be: This just goes to show that you voters have to give us more of a lock on power.

This is a big part of the reason why I don’t trust them, why their whole way of looking at politics is incompatible with the way the republic was built. Not wanting to over-simplify it too much, but they’re spoiled brats. It’s just like an ex-wife who wants her child support or alimony early: They got this idea in their heads about what is going to happen. Nobody gave them that idea. They literally just gathered around a conference table and wrote it all down. They formed the idea in what was, for all practical purposes, a vacuum, and nobody made any promises about any of it save for the promises they made to each other. On the strength of that thing not coming to pass, they portend misery and doom. Just like any spoiled brat.

They Won’t Give Me Their Guns!And it’s always something polarizing. They get a few RINOs to participate and on the strength of that, they throw around the word “bipartisan” like peas at a food fight or something…but really. If you haven’t been following the news too closely lately and someone described the bill to you and said “Now, what do you think is the Republican position on this and what do you think is the democrat position,” would you really stand their scratching your head going “duh??” because the bill is just so-common-sense and wonderful like Emperor Barry was saying yesterday?

In defeat, I would expect a party that really does deserve more power, to say, in America: Well, back to the drawing board. It wasn’t meant to be. Not right now, at any rate. …

In defeat, the democrats always say the same thing: This was supposed to happen — we decided so — and it didn’t happen that way, so this shows things are really messed up! Voters, you have to help us get rid of those Republicans. When we said we wanted a form of government that works for everybody, we were not talking about them! Their opportunity to be represented in our nation’s capitol, is the one thing that is really, really, heap-big busted right now, and that has to be the next thing fixed.

17 Apr 2013

Applause Drowned Out Leftist Jeers

At Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, the Telegraph reports that expressions of appreciation and respect from the British public drowned out the unseemly expressions of animosity from churlish representatives of the left.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. No one knew who’d started it – perhaps it was purely instinctual. But as the hearse came into view, the crowds found themselves breaking into applause – applause that followed the hearse all the way along the route, until it drew up at the church of St Clement Danes.

Then, once the coffin had been loaded on to the gun carriage and the horses moved off, the applause started again – and followed it all the way to St Paul’s.

Down the roads it spread and spread and spread, a long impromptu chain of respect and appreciation.

The applause wasn’t rowdy; there were no whoops or whistles. It was steady, warm, dignified. But also, somehow, determined.

At Ludgate Circus, protesters began to boo and jeer – only to find the rest of the crowd applauding all the more loudly to drown them out.

Read the whole thing.

The Thatcher funeral inevitably reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s. I remember the whole long route of the hearse to the grave-site far out into the hills, lined all the way with ordinary people, and even the television reportage filled with emotion. I remember in particular the cameras catching sight of one woman holding up a hand lettered sign, which seemed to me to sum up perfectly the feelings of most Americans. That sign read: “Well Done.”

17 Apr 2013

No Labour Voters Here

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Hubert von Herkomer, The Last Muster, (After, Sunday at the Chelsea Hospital, 1875, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

17 Apr 2013

Chinese Swords

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2,000-year-old 100-layer sword, reputed to have been owed by Lui Bang (fl. circa 200 B.C.) first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, found originally covered with blood rust. The pattern shown in the bottom photo is known as leopard spots.

Collectors Weekly visits swordmaker Francis Boyd, learns the difference between Damascus layered and wootz steel, and gets to see a sword gifted in China by Marco Polo (or a close relative).

When I got this sword, it was completely covered in blood rust.” Sword maker Francis Boyd is showing me yet another weapon pulled from yet another safe in the heavily fortified workshop behind his northern California home.

“You can tell it’s blood,” he says matter-of-factly, “because ordinary rust turns the grinding water brown. If it’s blood rust it bleeds, it looks like blood in the water. Even 2,000 years old, it bleeds. And it smells like a steak cooking, like cooked meat. I’ve encountered this before with Japanese swords from World War II. If there’s blood on the sword and you start polishing it, the sword bleeds. It comes with the territory.”

Blood rust: I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it would turn water red, but the steak comment is kind of creeping me out, as is the growing realization that if these swords could talk, I couldn’t stomach half the tales they’d have to tell.

Read the whole thing.

17 Apr 2013

Bad News and Good

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Milton Friedman – “If you put the federal government in charge of zombie maintenance & production, in five years there’d be a shortage of zombies.”

16 Apr 2013

Beautiful Ruins

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Mansion built in 1923 in San Antonio del Tequendama, Colombia, overlooking the Tequendama Falls on the Bogotá River.

I like that house.

My Science Academy has this one and 29 more.

16 Apr 2013

Where Did Your Tax Dollar Go?

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