Skip to main content


Showing posts from September 23, 2007

From a wierd wedding to a minefield

“Let us return to what we have called the double movement. It can be personified as the action of two organizing principles in society, each of them setting itself specific institutional aims, having the support of definite social forces and using its own distinctive methods. The one was the principle of economic liberalism, aiming at the establishment of a self-regulating market, relying on the support of the trading classes, and using largely laissez-faire and free trade as its methods; the other was the principle of social protection aiming at the conservation of man and nature as well as productive organization, relying on the varying support of those most immediately affected by the deleterious action of the market - primarily, but not exclusively, the working and the landed classes - and using protective legislation, restrictive associations, and other instruments of intervention as its methods.” – Karl Polanyi I have just finished Gregory Clark’s much lauded A Farewell to Alms,

An austin day

Mostly, I think Austin is becoming your average urban professional car park. But sometimes you get pleasant glimpses of the older city. Today, for instance: first, I am drinking coffee at Whole Foods and a woman sits down and I notice, with admiration, that she has writing in Chinese, I think, of some sort tattooed on her back – and when I ask her about it, she explains that it is a poem from the fifth master, which, translated into English, makes for a pretty lousy poem. But a nice idea! Then a man stops by my table to inform me that Paul Simon wrote a song about numbers in 1982 – he does this, I realize, because the book I am reading David Boyle’s The Sum of our Discontent: why numbers make us irrational. Then I go to the post office and what do I see but a man who had tattooed not only his face, but his entire head. After depositing my letter, I was riding back up sixth street and passed by a man who was ambling along with nothing more on than a pretty green ribbon, tied in a little

the collective temperament

In Stendhal’s On Love, he takes six temperaments – the sanguine, the bilious, the melancholic, the phlegmatic, the nervous, and the athletic – and pairs them with six political situations – asian despotism, absolute monarchy, constitutional aristocracy a la Britain, republicanism a la the U.S., constitutional monarchy, and revolution – and from that pairing comes up with different regimes of love. Notice that the athletic and the revolutionary are paired. Here’s what he says about the revolutionary – this is the myth that still has that fatal attraction for certain esprits, of which LI counts himself, reluctantly, one: A state in revolution, like Spain [this is 1830], Portugal, France. This situation of a country, giving a lively passion to everybody, puts nature in the moeurs, destroys the stupidities, the convenient virtues, the stupid conventional wisdom, gives seriousness to youth, and makes him despise the love of vanity and neglect gallantry. This state can endure for a lo

in the american grain

When the news reached London of General Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga in 1778, Lord Chatham made a speech in the House of Commons, the like of which will never be made by any of the senatorial scum who currently prod the American Republic down the slope to hell. Here’s part of what he said: “No man thinks more highly than I of the virtue and valour of British troops; I know they can achieve anything except impossibilities; and the conquest of English America is an impossibility… You cannot conquer America… You may swell every expense and every effort still more extravagantly… traffic and barter with every pitiful Geram prince that sells his subjects to the shambles of a foreign power; your efforts are forever vain and impotent, doubly so from this mercenary aid on which you rely, for it irritates to an incurable resentment the minds of your enemies… If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I would never lay down my arms, never – nev

Two euphorics: Mr. T and Stephanie's Id

I am feeling grim about the mouth lately. A sickness I caught in Georgia has left behind a persistent, puzzling headache and cough - and then of course there is the day to day living in Blackwater’s USA, Bush’s America, which is a puling, putrid kind of thing to do. So I’ve been looking around for things to cheer me up. Here are two of them. the first is my friend T., his wife Kiyoko, and his baby Takeo-chan here: The second is this band, Stephanie’s ID . Just some kids in Asheville, NC making music – great garage music - instead of trying to make celebrity industry vampire music, eventually to be glued to some monster and useless product to make the joyless little suicide of a life enjoyed by the viewing audience that much more cluttered. This band is pure, and I love the voice of this woman, Stephanie Morgan.

Danto on Rorty

In the introduction to his Truth and Progress, Richard Rorty signals his appreciation of Donald Davidson’s work on truth: “The greatest of my many intellectual debts to Donald Davidson is my realization that nobody should even try to specify the nature of the truth. … Whether or not one agrees with Davidson that it is important to be able to give a definition of “true in L” for a given natural language (by means of a Tarski-type “truth theory ” for that language), one can profit from his arguments that there is no possibility of giving a definition of “true” that works in all such languages.” Yet, a page later, Rorty is breaking his vow of agnosticism in order to make the claim that “truth is not the goal of inquiry” for all the intellectual ‘progress’ we may have made: “How do we know that the greater predictive power and greater control of the environment (including a greater ability to cure diseases, build bombs, explore space, etc.) gets us closer to the truth, conceived of as

Oliver Twist asks for more modalization, please

I have always liked the idea of the linguistic middle man – the guy who can go stalking deep into the technical jargon of some specialty and come back out and explain it in a ordinary language. Now, this isn’t really a knock against technical jargon – every groupuscule has one, from beggars to ex presidents. But the faith of the great middle men (o those incorrigible whigs!), the Edmund Wilson types, is that the technical jargon is merely a preliminary stage in intellectual discovery. Some of that jargon should slip under the bars and become vulgate. Some must remain behind. And, of course, the vulgar shouldn’t be so shit ignorant that they use a little unfamiliarity as an excuse to keep their heads firmly stuck up their asses. All of which is to say that I am worried that, in my previous posts, I haven’t quite explained what I mean by modalization. Now that is bad. It is bad because I need the term to explain the history of a social phenomena – the creation and diffusion of a way of

the thrill of superstition

Alexis de Tocqueville landed in America in May, 1831 and spent nine months there; out of that experience he wrote Democracy in America and became famous. Charles Poyen never quite became famous, and is now utterly forgotten. He came to America by a convoluted journey worthy of a Greek hero – his itinerary was littered with omens, pronounced by somnambulists. He consulted a somnambulist, Madame Villetard, in Paris, looking for a cure for a chronic pain he suffered from. Her remarkable knowledge of his disease- which, we are assured in his memoir, The Progress of Animal Magnetism in New England, was not altogether beyond Poyen’s own comprehension, since he was a medical student – led him to ask her about his proposed journey to Guadaloup, where part of his family resided, apparently as plantation owners. Madame Villetard gave her approval, so off our hero went, to convalesce and further explore the mysteries of somnambulism. He did so, using some ‘colored servants’ as subjects, and p