Sunday, December 31, 2006

Politics and Literature

I found a fantastic article about the academy's infection with politics, especially as regards literature and philosophy (American philosophy). Some excerpts:

Reclaiming Negative Capability, by Ihab Habbib Hassan

Characters in a novel elicit comments more appropriate to a "real" person, say a dying aunt or a mugger in the street, and provoke outrage or approval as representatives of an entire category, WASPS, Women, Blacks, etc. They may even serve as evidence in a legal, class-action against the hapless author. No doubt, literalism, naiveté of a certain kind, abets this tendency. But so does the current rage for identity politics; and beyond that, the conviction that politics matters more than both literature and philosophy. Thus are all representations forged into weapons of social struggle; thus are poetry and truth instrumentalized.
p. 311

Yet the intellectual, once locked into an oppugnant stance, faces acute risks of another kind. Opposition is reactive; the gesture of perpetual rebellion condemns to perpetual adolescence. The gesture also shrinks the world, turning it into a Manichean battle between top-dogs and underdogs, victors and losers. Where is the freedom in this? And is siding with the weak the same as siding always with the truth? Put another way, opposition flattens and externalizes the character of the intellectual because it gives established authority a spiritual and psychological (not just political) interest that it does not deserve; it gives power a total, false grip on our lives. Thus politics, in the words of Fredric Jameson, arrogates to itself "the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation." 15 (Is it not a hushed intellectual scandal that Western Marxists have yet to reckon with their colleagues, their students, and above all themselves, for confidently spreading failed ideas through half a century?) Again, I prefer the Emersonian view of mind, a mind enabling itself, without rancor or reaction, to take hold of life. Thus ends "Experience": "The true romance, which the world exists to realize, will be the transformation of genius into practical power" (p. 234).
p. 316

At this late point, I want to offer a historical glimpse of my subject, which is not intellectuals but negative capability. I do so because I want first to give the evidence of our time, and also because I find history ambiguously relevant to my theme. Always historicize, cry our ideologues, and they historicize always to learn from "history"--their interpretation of it--the same lesson. In this case, however, I find in history an ironic displacement: the old quarrel between philosophy and literature has turned into a more savage quarrel between politics and both.
p. 317-318

Heaney means triple "redress": how poetry restores something to the world, how it can re-establish itself as object and occasion of celebration, and how, finding its own rightness, poetry sweeps ahead into the fullest human self-realization. Thus to know poetry, Heaney says, "is to know and celebrate it not only as a matter of proffered argument and edifying discourse, but as a matter of angelic potential, a motion of the soul." 21

Unabashedly, Heaney speaks the language of spirit; but unabashedly, too, he fingers the loam of history. Indeed, for him the "frontiers of writing" are those we continually cross and recross, make and unmake, between poetry and politics, between sacred and profane knowledge, between the marvelous and the banal. This is no feeble piety; for poetry is "strong enough to help" (Seferis), respond, and answer "in its own language rather than in the language of the world that provokes it . . ." (p. 191). As a countervailing reality, poetry erects "a temple deep inside our hearing" (Rilke's phrase), at which we all need to worship in order to save both ourselves and the world (p. xviii).
p. 321-322

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Not sure what inspired me to see if this still existed, but I was curious, so I checked. Sure enough, there it was!

Well, I don't have anything profound to say at the moment, just that I was glad to see a couple people still checking the old posting-board. I'll be sure to put up a note the next time I'm blindsided by a person, thing, or event of extraordinary beauty.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Perfect Day

Thoughts on happiness, perfection, and the connection between the two were on my mind at work today. To be completely honest, it started yesterday morning as I served cantankerous people food and listened to them immediately complain and openly scorn me. At first I was frustrated and irritated; what right did those people have to come to my restaurant and then dispense ill-will at little offense? However, it suddenly occured to me after listening to a man complain that his food was cold and he had waited nearly twenty minutes for it, so he didn't want it to be sent back, but he certainly didn't expect to be paying for all of it, even though he was going to be eating it (note-this man also happened to come in ten minutes before we stopped serving breakfast and already had a room full of people who had already ordered. The first thing he did when I brought his food to him was touch it to check the temperature, as soon as I had put the plate down. Subtle, buddy. Real subtle.), it occured to me then that my happiness was not contingent on his.
He didn't like the service he recieved.
Was that my fault? Was that my problem?
No and no.
I surely did commiserate with the poor soul; nobody likes to be kept waiting even when it is unintentional. The difference was that I didn't really care if he was happy or not. That fact was not going to change the outlook I had on my day. This might be a bit of a dangerous attitude by which to venture deeper into the food service employment chain, but I trust that I can wield it properly. I don't think that it is nihilism or apathy for customer satisfaction, just a reaffirmation of priorities. And my priority is my own happiness.


On that note, let us turn to the connection of happiness and perfection. See, what is perfect is not always happy, and what is happy is not always perfect. Originally I was trying to think about what constitutes perfection and how to quantify or even vocalize the conception of perfection. There was this whole other tangential train of thought looking at the relationship between perfection and excellence and whether one was a subordination of the other or if the two operated in soleley autonomous spheres, but that is not the topic of right now, save to mention that excellence is a near semblance of perfection, but perfection is not excellence. Anyway, let us think of a cheeseburger with frenchfries. I love cheeseburgers. They make me quite happy. Even now, with dinner in the oven and a cup of coffee by my chair, just thinking about a juicy cheeseburger, richly melted cheddar cheese topped with crisp onions and pickles, thick slices of tomato, some fresh lettuce and a grilled kaiser bun dressed with a liberal helping of mayonnaise makes me salivate with happiness. Add in a side order of golden-brown frenchfries with a healthy (or not so healthy in one way of looking at it) helping of salt and you have yourself the cornerstone of an amazing meal. This cheeseburger is by no means widely regarded as emblematic of art, either high or low, but it is with all certainty, aesthetically pleasing to view. Something about how the tomato peeks out from underneath the fringe of lettuce, and there is just a hint of the pickle hidden in the middle. The way the golden-brown fries are tumbled helter-skelter like lincoln logs. The way the grease glistens in a soft sheen on the burger patty. These things just add up and you know that this is, without a doubt, a perfect burger. It makes you happy, and even more than that, you know that the cook who made this burger was also made happy by its perfection. Can one ascertain that the creation of perfection yields happiness? And furthermore, if this perfection is repeated over and over a countless number of times to the point at which it is no longer an awesome feat to achieve perfection, then the does the failure to attain the same quality of finished product result in unhappiness? Do the standards of perfection rely upon both the artist and the viewer?
I think that there must be a measure of impartiality when viewing art. The seasoned cook makes a perfect burger everytime and is aware of his skill, but thinks little of it, except to acknowledge that others find it remarkable. The junior cook makes a cheeseburger and thinks it to be the most aesthetically pleasing thing he has ever created, even when the diner percieves it to be less so than the casual masterpiece of the seasoned cook. So, then, does an artist have a wildly different view of the finished product, due to personal bias of either favor or unfavor? Maybe so, but in the end it might not matter. Just so long as everyone is happy in some matter or another, whether or not it comes from perfection.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Nostalgia: Drawing

Interesting article on the NYT website about drawing. It is quite nostalgic, but I think rightly so.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Changing of the Guard

In all honesty, I feel that I should admit that I have been playing around with the notion of posting for quite some time now. I think I waited this long, though, to see if anyone else would post. And now after I put this up, I will wonder if anyone has ever read it. I will, however, still endeavor to focus on aesthetics and the pursuit of beauty.
First, a quick update on the times had since we left the fold and blinking stepped into the sun, if I may so generously borrow from Sir Elton John himself: I skipped the self-reflection process while in the midst of a flurry of packing up my house and moving to a new apartment, saving it instead for the first two long weeks of life in a new neighborhood. I must say that it is quite an enjoyable place over here on the east side. I cook sweet meals, drink cheap wine, listen to artsy music and write scribbles of poetry every now and then to keep busy. The leaves are green, the sun shines, and I sit on my back deck nearly every morning and night. It gives me no small amount of pleasure to both greet the day and bid it goodnight from the same orange chaise lounger that used to grace the porch of my good friends.
I try to use this time to think about life and am lucky now to have a flatmate who is quite capable of holding down her end of a stimulating conversation in a multitude of conversations. I think that this post is veering towards encompassing aspects of one that we had just a few nights ago... I work at the Spar, waiting tables and pouring beer like I was born to do. Fans of irony should note that I am well aware of my situation: freshly graduated english major, aspiring but struggling writer, hopeless romantic, waiting tables to cover my rent money....I appear to be adding new coats of stereotypes to my already shellacked exterior.
Anyway, we happen to have a jukebox containing the general assortment of music that one would expect to find in a dining and drinking establishment. Everything from Modest Mouse to The Killers; Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Shins and Wyclef Jean. See, the thing about jukeboxes is that they opperate in a context somewhat akin to a social contract. The bar says 'hey patron, i trust that you have good judgement in music, and i'll let you choose what you want to hear because i believe that you will be happier and thus will drink more.' To which of course the patron responds by oh so eloquently stating 'ho good barkeep, i would very much desire another scrumptious pint of beverage by which to slake my thirst. and then i'm going to play the same song that everyone plays.' That is correct, my dear reader, that is correct. Everyone who plays songs on the jukebox does so under the mistaken assumption that he or she is the only person who has both the desire and the means to hear the same song by the Killers.
Now I transpose that to my discussion with my flatmate in which I wondered if people would ever be praised for their talents rather than be compared to historical counterparts. When will our generation find a talented songwriter who is seen simply as just that, rather than being compared to Bob Dylan? Why do we always attempt to quantify and package bands by saying they sound like the early Van Halen, before Sammy Hagar slid too far down the slope, or like Jethro Tull with a harmonica rather than a flute? My flatmate argued that historical counterparts are the only relevant measuring stick that we have by which to reference music and sports and other such subjective talents. Me? I'm not so sure. I still think that Scott said it best when he mentioned that only when we stop viewing authors by their gender, race, political and social views, and a multitude of other things, and choose instead to judge them by the content of their works, will we truly be able to appreciate them.
Until next time...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Anyone out there?

Hey all,

I know class is over, but I wouldn't be averse to random postings from time to time. So, China (because you are probably the only one checking), I thought this was funny. I found it on Here's what they said about the badminton birdie (you could probably get into a discussion of the practicality of art here... haha):

beauty in flight: Badminton birdie or art object?
Your grill is Vieluxe; the beer you serve is microbrewed. Shouldn't your Memorial Day badminton birdies be just as posh? Real goose feathers render this beauty the blue-chip stock of shuttlecocks. While more fragile than the everyday plastic variety, the increased flight quality—they're used in Olympic competition—more than makes up for the fact that you'll have to replace them with some frequency. And then there's the aesthetics. The cork head both pleases the eye and produces a satisfying bang, promising many happy returns.

Sunday, April 30, 2006


What do you think? I don't think I like it....or rather his attitude. But I don't know.

Click here.