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Showing posts from January 6, 2008

Hazlitt and the claims of the imagination

Both in Hazlitt’s essay, Reason and Imagination, and in the Spirit of the Age essay on Bentham, Hazlitt’s argument against utilitarianism proceeds on two levels. The first level is, so to speak, a defense of the moral integrity of the person that rests on construing the imagination as having a major shaping role in creating the person. On this level, Hazlitt is not just defending the imagination as an instrument of practical reason, but he is making a larger, cultural claim against utilitarianism, which is that utilitarianism does a manifest harm to humans by diminishing their imaginative capacity. Philosophers are more used to the first line of argument than the second, if you take Hazlitt to be using the imagination to play a role similar to Hegel’s recognition. According to David Bromwich, in Hazlitt’s major and little read philosophical treatise, Essay on the Principles of Human Action, he ‘puts forward a single main thesis about the nature of action. It includes, however, distinc

Tears again

It kills me. It kills me. In Don Delillo’s Underworld, he has Lenny Bruce giving a performance during the Cuban Missile crisis about JFK’s speech on TV, and he says: "Kennedy makes an appearance in public and you hear people say, I saw his hair! Or, I saw his teeth! The spectacle's so dazzling they can't take it all in. I saw his hair! They're venerating the sacred relics while the guy's still alive." And he punctuates his monologue with a “line he’s come to love: we’re all gonna die!” That was back when superman first came to the supermarket. The monster was just being born back then, and it didn’t seem at all like a monster, it seemed like art: those Esquire writers, like Norman Mailer, going beyond the surface scrim of politics to contact with knowing fingers the Siamese twin tie between the larger than life personality and the larger life at large, the semiotic encoded in the statesman’s gestures, his suits, his dislike of hats… And so this new way of writ

Magic, zombies, the NH primary

Ah, the old dilemma. On the one hand, the Clintons represent the vilest D.C. shit imaginable – war, neo-liberalism, faux progressive politics that gets up in your ass and eats your intestine. And just as you are about to throw them out, they get attacked by – the even viler people. The media krewe of nitwits and combjobs who, over the last week, danced around like the high school students in Carrie, so happy that the wicked Hillary – she’s not a cheerleader girl at all! – was no longer in contention to be prom queen. The sheer overwhelming dreadful gross misogyny of it all made anybody with any heart want to strike them back, to slap those fat sleek faces until they were red. And so the 1998 white magic happens all over again. You can tell from who votes for the Clintons that it is a visceral class phenomena – that’s the sad part. It is the Blue collar belt that really always saves the Clintons bacon, not because the working class are stupid peckerwoods, but because they have a healthy

Alien: coming to an economic sector near you!

LI has several posts on the drawing board. We have a post about Derrida and intercessors that is partly a reply to certain things LCC has said about my man Jack; we have to complete our sequence about Hazlitt; and most of all, we want to talk about Alexander Herzen. Piqued by this recent piece in M ore Intelligent Life about the Moscow Inszenierung of Tom Stoppard’s play in Moscow (and, by accident, doing a lot of editing recently on papers having to do with Russian intellectual life) , we started reading Herzen. Long ago, I bought a paperback abridgement of Herzen’s autobiography, and somewhere in the mounds of paper on one of my desk it is probably hibernating, its little heart slowed to a death’s breath by day after day of non-reading. But all of those fun things are so fuckin’ convoluted, dude! Taking forever to think out and then to write. Whereas I could just refer to this excellent little Financial Times piece by Stephen Roach. Now, at least I know one of my readers – I’m looki

The General from Hope

You know, when President Backbone way back on January 2005 (Year of the Liberated Pig) made us all choke up as he celebrated the winds of freedom he’d helped waft over the Globe, we didn’t even know the half of it. Comrades on the Decent sites , who know a knight of the Weltgeist when they see it, knew that President Backbone was history’s way of bringing permanent revolution and a New Labour outlook to the benighted and dusky races of the world. They liked what they saw, and who could resist our impossibly handsome liberator, flak jacket in his left hand, big cock in his right hand? Which surely will be inscribed on the coins one day. One face Bush, the other face President Truman, cooking a girl scout on a grill. Because Truman was Man Tough! Just ask famous adult entertainment star Peter Beinert. We were bedazzled too. So we jumped up and down for joy at this NYT headline : “In Musharraf’s Shadow, a New Hope for Pakistan Rises.” Hope is a strange thing – one might think that the H

happiness so far

I need to take a breather and survey the progress of my happiness thesis so far. Since starting on this project last June, I’ve floated certain approaches, had that feeling of brio about certain ideas that crashed and burned, and have had to chisel here and chisel there. And I’ve driven down many dead ends – the deadliest of which has been trying to make sense of the various psychologies of the emotions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Down these mean streets others have walked before me, each ending up with the distinct feeling of being separated from the main, lost among fathomless assumptions and philosophical anthropologies. William James, in the Principles of Psychology, wrote: “The result of all this flux is that the merely descriptive literature of the emotions is one of the most tedious parts of psychology. And not only is it tedious, but you feel that its subdivisions are to a great extent either fictitious or unimportant, and that its pretences to accuracy are a s