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Showing posts from February 11, 2007

sage and buffoon

I’ve been lining up sages, as you might have noticed. This is because I have a hunch that the sage and the buffoon share a destiny. I’m interested in the sage since I am at an age - middle age - a lying description because tomorrow, surely, or the next day, biking along, my backbone will be suddenly crushed in a blinding moment by a speeding truck driven by a hit and run drunk, I will see blackness, and then go down to the house of shades – when the sage should become important to me. And yet, to aspire to be a sage is such an obsolete and pathetic wish, the placeholder of that figure is so null and void in this culture, so completely disregarded, so much a joke moniker for some greyhaired keeper of baseball statistics or some fat brownnosing pundit oozing conventional wisdom and cancer, that it can only be a punch line ambition. (Well, so much for this culture, to which I give my middle finger). To my mind, the absence of the sage is not some natural event, but is all about that path

among barbarians, do what is proper among barbarians

Li Zhi was a Chinese scholar of the Ming period, a contemporary of Yuan Hongdao, (about whom see LI’s Valentine’s Day post). He grew skeptical of the official Confucian doctrine of the day, and wrote books with titles like “A book for burning” – a title that prophesized the book’s fate. Chronologically, his life roughly parallels Giordano Bruno’s. This is from one of his letters: “When most people write they strive to enter their subject by pushing into it from the outside; hereas I am already in there and make sorties to the outside, carrying the battle under the walls of the enemy, rummaging in his supplies, turning his own men and horses against him.” Li is famous for, among other things, an essay entitled “Childlike Mind”. Here’s a quote from that essay: Once people’s minds have been given over to received opinions and moral principles, what they have ot say is all about these things, and not what would naturally come from their childlike minds. No matter how clever the words, what

Neither science nor art

What is journalism, anyway? Is it an art? A science? A mixture? LI has had an overwhelmed feeling – the heart thrashing around in the socks feeling – for the last week about the fucking awful coverage of the Bush administration charges against Iran. That the charges were made by anonymous sources so that they could be echoed by the President is obvious to any sentient being. This is how the White House operates – like a peckerwood junta planning a small town lynching. However, LI is naïve enough to be truly grieved that the Washington Post and the New York Times would cooperate in this business, again. The form of the newspaper developed in the eighteenth century, which was the high water mark of Baconian science. Jevons, the nineteenth century economist, did not think highly of Bacon, and made an attack on Baconian science in The Principles of Science that damaged Bacon’s reputation for a generation. It is striking that the case against Bacon, as Jevons puts it, is so similar to the

LI's five fold valentine's day wish to you all

Yuan Hongdao was a district magistrate in Wu County, with a rank near 7b, in the reign of the Wanli Emperor, at about the same time that Shakespeare was writing his plays. He was intimately involved with the examination process. The exams concentrated on the classics. I came across a citation from Yuan Hongdao on a French blog, Le Lorgnon mélancolique which made me curious about him: Everything that touches on literature is very difficult to understand. Those who do not have the talent don’t understand it; those who do understand exactly as little. Those who have culture don’t understand it; those who do have culture understand exactly as little. Those who have talent and culture, but a superficial character and a narrow chest, don’t understand it either. So I looked up Yuan Hongdao and found this nice article about him. Just as I suspected, he was one of the clerks of literature, a Pessoa of the Late Ming period. He cultivated the art of perspective – that watch for the beautifu

Freud reads the NYT, then uses it to wipe his ass

In one of Hitchens’ recent apologias for warmongering in Slate magazine ( badly written pieces displaying the inglorious dream logic of a cartoon bully, Popeye’s Brutus, a surface incoherence governed by a deeper, unifying desire – which makes them all the more useful in indicting the belligerent mentality for its sham moral posturing and its real sadism), he wrote: “In many … people's minds, too, there is the unspoken assumption that what the United States does in Iraq is a fully determined action, whereas what other people do is simply a consequence of that action, with no independent or autonomous "agency" of its own.” This is, actually, not just in many “people’s minds” – this is the structure of the imperialist, racist and class based framework within which the reporting on President Backbone’s vanity war has been presented. T his weekend, devoted to upping the ante on confronting Iran, is typical. The anonymous briefing given to reporters about the weapons flowing

art and provocation

LI has strong and stubborn ideas concerning certain subjects of which, in reality, we are abysmally ignorant. One of those subjects is tv. LI has always thought that the influence of tv is vastly exaggerated. But even so, this article by Jane Kramer about “24” was a bit of a shock. Apparently, “24” is a Fox show centering on a fictitious Homeland security unit, and the gimmick is that it occurs in real time: “The show’s appeal, however, lies less in its violence than in its giddily literal rendering of a classic thriller trope: the “ticking time bomb” plot. Each hour-long episode represents an hour in the life of the characters, and every minute that passes onscreen brings the United States a minute closer to doomsday. (Surnow came up with this concept, which he calls the show’s “trick.”) As many as half a dozen interlocking stories unfold simultaneously—frequently on a split screen—and a digital clock appears before and after every commercial break, marking each second with an ominous

The Iran scarecrow

LI's readers should check out Jonathan Schwarz's putdown of the insane Michael Gordon article in the NYT yesterday. Schwarz applies himself, as Gordon's editor should have, to the sources that Gordon is quoting, since Gordon is making a little two thousand year regression to a time when citing an oracle was the height of the scientific method. Since then, we got us some of that civilization - except sometimes, as in warmongering articles from the NYT. And - to give us spirit for the long long long long war - do read Nicholas Hoffman's bracing column in the NY Observer. Like many journalists of good will, Hoffman has seen the sheer, well, you can only call it bravery of the American public as we face this truly terrifying threat of terrorist just walzing in, carting their four hundred pound suitcases full of nuclear material that any tom, dick or harry with a copy of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, a screwdriver and an old Playboy can turn into a ticking bomb that you'