British cultural critics, in my opinion, suffer from an insularity which prevents them from connecting the events of their own country to any wider patterns of civilisation. This is truest for those who are the most correct with their criticisms. Take for example Theodore Dalrymple, whose 1998 article Uncouth Chic in the City Journal was prophetic in diagnosing a distinctly British pathology. I give a lengthy quote to showcase the depth of his description:
“The signs — both large and small — of the reversal in the flow of aspiration are everywhere. Recently, a member of the royal family, a granddaughter of the queen, had a metal stud inserted into her tongue and proudly displayed it to the press. (…) Middle-class girls now consider it chic to sport a tattoo — another underclass fashion, as a visit to any British prison will swiftly establish. (…) Advertising now glamorizes the underclass way of life and its attitude toward the world. Stella Tennant, one of Britain’s most famous models and herself of aristocratic birth, has adopted almost as a trademark the stance and facial expression of general dumb hostility to everything and everybody that is characteristic of so many of my underclass patients.”
Dalrymple lays the blame for this “uncouth chic” on moral relativism: “… since nothing is better and nothing is worse, the worse is better because it is more demotic.” This much may be true, but it sidesteps an important matter. There’s an area where the British remain elitists: money. Whatever relativism now reigns upon our morality, it has areas of preferred emphasis. With manners we are relativists, but with cash we are a nation of absolutists who think being rich is better than being poor. Indeed, the very need to transform the uncouth into a type of chic (a word meaning sophisticated and fashionable) betrays such a mindset. Nobody is demanding unfashionable uncouth trash.
To be an elitist about your wallet and a vulgarian about your manners. I wager this combination isn’t accidental but vital. The latter flows from the former.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who defines a lot of things near-finally, defines an oligarch as someone who is both wealthy and has a wealth-based idea of goodness. That is, an oligarch isn’t just rich; he thinks being rich is identical with being good. This is why he thinks only the rich should hold political office, for example. So, it’s not that money is the root of all evil and the rich the wickedest. The one who has his character in order only benefits the more money he has, because he understands money as a tool for acquiring other goods. The oligarch grasps for money like an idolum and hates anybody who doesn’t have it.
But why does the oligarch think this? Hasn’t he observed all the good poor people in the world? Is he blind to the honest pauper? Aristotle’s answer is simple: the oligarch thinks money equals goodness because he thinks living well is gorging every appetite with no limit. “For where enjoyment consists in excess, men look for that skill that produces the excess that is enjoyed”[ii]. In other words, if the good of life is endless pleasure, and endless pleasure needs endless money to buy it, the good of life requires endless money. Those without money are unable to get endless pleasure, so the oligarch looks down on their lives as inferior.
The collection of norms we call “etiquette” or “manners” have emerged organically over a long period. Some are obviously arbitrary or meant to exclude people unjustly (the outmoded and snobbish dress code of “no brown in town” comes to mind). But a great many are there to limit personal behaviour, to channel action into a disciplined pattern.
Why chew with your mouth closed? Because it shows consideration for your fellow diners. Why take small bites? Because it controls you to eat at a healthy pace. Why not deliberately get drunk? To not impair your reason. Why avoid constant use of foul language? To show that your mind dwells on higher things than bodily functions. In all these there’s a standard of excellence, mental or physical, drilled into the person through control of their actions.
It’s a principle properly summarised in a line from Confucius: “Therefore the instructive and transforming power of ceremonies is subtle; they stop depravity before it has taken form, causing men daily to move towards what is good, and keep themselves farther apart from guilt, without being themselves conscious of it.”.
Is there then any reason for an oligarch to cultivate manners? I think none of weight. An oligarch might make a show of good manners, if he thinks this displays wealth. But once the cultural association of money with good manners is gone, he’ll stop this act. An oligarch who sees money as the means to swelling himself with pleasure actually has an incentive not to cultivate manners. Why would he cultivate something designed to limit his appetites? If the purpose of eating is to shovel as much food into your mouth as possible, and not to nourish yourself, then you can dispense with the cutlery, even possibly the plate.
But this leads to a further thought. Money for its own sake is necessarily vulgar because any constraint on it points to a standard other than pleasure. If we accept that the manners and etiquette we call aristocratic have developed over time as a way of disciplining wealth into excellence, then an oligarchy engorged on pleasure must reject them. Rather, manners that the underclass have adopted out of lack of correction or poverty now become the fascinations of the rich. A poor man wears ragged jeans because he can’t afford anything else. An oligarch wears designer torn jeans because money compels him to wear whatever he wants however he likes it. The expression of “general dumb hostility” which Dalrymple notes, may have been born from the Hobbesian nightmare of a slum; but for an oligarch, it’s the hostility of wealth to any external correction.
In an oligarchic society the top and bottom begin to resemble each other in customs even as they drift apart in income, and even as the top despises the bottom. We may explain the vulgarity of British elites in terms of class guilt, demoralisation, or political posturing. But the issue remains that love of gold doesn’t protect you from barbarism. It’s the passion that unites the highest emperor with the coarsest bandit.
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Five Truths from Dostoevsky’s The DevilsBy Dustin Lovell — 5 months ago
Whenever I scroll through the news on Twitter or listen to talk radio, I like to play a game called “Dostoevsky called it.” As one can guess, it consists of identifying events or trends that correspond with those in Feodor Dostoevsky’s novels and letters. Because Dostoevsky devoted so much ink to warning about the motives and effects of atheist-utilitarian socialism from the radical left, the game often points to his most direct attack on those ideas: The Devils.
Published between 1871 and 1872 and written in response to the Nechaev affair, where an underground group of socialist-atheist radicals, planning to ultimately overthrow the Tsarist government through propaganda, terrorism, and assassination, murdered a former comrade who had left their secret society, The Devils (Бесы; also translated as Demons or The Possessed) is Feodor Dostoevsky’s most explicit expose of and polemic against the revolutionary nihilism growing in late nineteenth-century Russia. Although, due to his own participation in a socialist plot aimed at educating and ultimately liberating the serfs, he often gave the benefit of the doubt to the moral idealism of the younger generation of radicals—assuming their hearts, if not their methods, were in the right place—in The Devils he nonetheless skewers the radical ideology and his generation and the next’s culpability for it.
While his main focus is on the characters’ psychologies and their symbolic significance, Dostoevsky nonetheless lays out many of the ideas populating late-nineteenth-century Russia, displaying a thorough understanding of them, their holders’ true motives (which, like those of that other ideological murderer Raskalnikov, are rarely the same as those consciously stated by their loudest advocates), and what would be the results if they were not checked. In several places, Dostoevsky unfortunately calls it right, and The Devils at times reads as a preview of the following fifty years in Russia, as well as of the modes and methods of radicalism in later places and times.
It would be too great a task to cite, here, all the places and times where Dostoevsky’s visions were confirmed; at best, after laying out a few of the many truths in The Devils, I can only note basic parallels with later events and trends in Russia and elsewhere—and let my readers draw their own additional parallels. Nonetheless, here are five truths from Dostoevsky’s The Devils:
1: The superfluity of the preceding liberal generation to progressive radicals.
The Devils is structured around the relationship between the older and younger generations of the mid-1800s. The book opens with an introduction of Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, father to the later introduced radical Peter Stepanovich. A Westernized liberal from the 1840s generation, Stepan Trofimovich represents the upper-class intelligentsia that first sought to enlighten the supposedly backwards Russia through atheistic socialism (a redundancy in Dostoevsky).
However, despite his previously elevated status as a liberal and lecturer, by the time of The Devils Stepan Trofimovich—and, with him, the 1840s liberals who expected to be honored for opening the door to progress—has become superfluous. This is highlighted when his son returns to the province and does not honor his father with figurative laurels (when such a symbol is later employed literally it is in satirical mock).
Though never the direct butt of Dostoevsky’s satire, Stepan Trofimovich cannot (or refuses) to understand that his son’s nihilism is not a distortion of his own generation’s hopes but is the logical, inevitable product of them. The older man’s refusal to admit his ideological progeny in his literal progeny’s beliefs, of course, enables Peter Stepanovich to mock him further, even while he continues to avail himself of the benefits of his father’s erstwhile status in society. This “liberal naivete enabling radical nihilism” schema can also be seen in the governor’s wife, Yulia Mikhailovna von Lembke, who believes that she can heroically redirect the passions of the youth to more socially beneficial, less radical, pursuits but only ends up enabling them to take over her literary fete to ridicule traditional society and distract the local worthies while agents set parts of the local town ablaze. Stepan Trofimovich, Yulia Mikhailovna, and others show that, despite the liberal generation’s supposed love for Russia, they were unable to brake the pendulum they sent swinging towards leftism.
The same pattern of liberals being ignored or discarded by the progressives they birthed can be seen in later years in Russia and other nations. While it would historically be two generations between Belinsky and Lenin (who was born within months of Dostoevsky’s starting to write The Devils), after the 1917 Revolution, Soviet Russia went through several cycles of executing or imprisoning previous generations who, despite supporting the Revolution, were unfortunately too close to the previous era to be trusted by new, socialistically purer generations.
In a more recent UK, Dostoevsky’s schema can also be seen in the Boomer-led Labour of the ‘90s and ‘00s UK paving the way for the radical, arguably anti-British progressivism of the 2010s and ‘20s (which, granted, sports its share of hip Boomers). In America, it can be seen in the soft divide in congressional Democrats between 20th-century liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and “the squad” comprised of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and others who have actively tried (and arguably succeeded) in pushing the nation’s discourse in a left progressive direction.
2: Ideologies as active, distorting forces rather than merely passive beliefs.
“I’ve never understood anything about your theory…” Peter Stepanovich tells the serene Aleksei Nilych Kirillov later in the book, “I also know you haven’t swallowed the idea—the idea’s swallowed you…” The idea he is referring to is Kirillov’s belief that by committing suicide not from despair or passion but by rational, egotistic intention, he can rid mankind of the fear of death (personified in the figure of God) and become the Christ of the new utilitarian atheism (really, Dostoevsky intends us to understand, not without pity for Kirillov, an antichrist thereof). The topic of suicide—rising in Russia at the time of the book’s writing and a result, Dostoevsky believed, of the weakening of social institutions and national morality by the subversive nihilism then spreading—is a motif through the book. Countering Chernyshevsky’s romanticized revolutionary Rakhmetov from What is to Be Done?, Kirillov is Dostoevsky’s depiction of the atheist rational egotism of the time taken to its fullest psychological extent. Like others he had and would later write (Raskalnikov, Ivan Karamazov), Kirillov is driven mad by an idea that “swallows” him in monomania and which he has admitted to being obsessed with—the idea of a world without God.
Though Dostoevsky considered it the central issue of his day (which still torments Western culture), my focus here is not on Kirillov’s idea, itself, but on his relation to it. Countering the Western Enlightenment conceit that ideas are mere tools to be rationally picked up and put down at will, Dostoevsky shows through Kirillov that ideas and ideology (ideas put in the place of religion) are active things that can overwhelm both conscious and unconscious mind. Indeed, the novel’s title and Epigraph—the story of Legion and the swine from Luke 8—already suggests this; for Dostoevsky, there is little difference between the demons that possessed the pigs and the ideas that drive characters like Kirillov to madness.
Of course, a realist-materialist reading of Kirillov’s end (I won’t spoil it, though it arguably undercuts his serenity throughout the book) and the later Ivan Karamazov’s encounter with a personified devil would contend that there was nothing literally demonic to the manifestations, but for Dostoevsky that matters little; for him, whose focus is always on how the individual lives and experiences life, being possessed by an ideology one cannot let go of and being in the grasp of literal demons is nearly synonymous—indeed, the former may be the modern manifestation of the latter, with the same results. In his work, such things almost always accompany a lowering of one’s humanity into the beastial.
The problem with ideology, Dostoevsky had discovered in Siberia, was in their limited conception of man. By cutting off all upper transcendent values as either religious superstition or upper class decadence, the new utilitarian atheism had removed an essential part of what it meant to be human. At best, humans were animals and could hope for no more than thus, and all higher aspirations were to be lowered to achieving present social goals of food, housing, and sex—which Dostoevsky saw, themselves, as impossible to effectively achieve without the Orthodox Church’s prescriptions for how to deal with suffering and a belief in afterlife. Of the lack of higher impressions that give life meaning, Dostoevsky saw two possible results: ever-increasingly perverse acts of the flesh, and ever-increasingly solipsistic devotion to a cause—both being grounded in and expressions not of liberation or selflessness, but of the deepest egotism (which was a frankly stated element of the times’ ideologies).
From this view, Dostoevsky would have seen today’s growing efforts to legitimate into the mainstream things like polyamory, abortion, and public displays of sexuality and increasingly aggressive advocacy by groups like Extinction Rebellion or NOW (he predicted both movements in his other writing) as both being attempts to supply the same religious impulse—which, due to their being cut off by their premises from the transcendent metaphysic required by the human creature and supplied by Christianity, &c, is a doomed attempt.
3: Seemingly virtuous revolution motivated by and covering for private vices.
By the time he wrote The Devils Dostoevsky had seen both inside and outside of the radical movement; he had also depicted in Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment characters who discover, to their angst and horror, that their actions were not motivated by humanitarianism, but by envy, cravenness, and the subsequent desire for self-aggrandizement. The Devils features the same depth of psychology beneath the main characters’ stated ideas and goals, and the book often shows how said ideas cannot work when applied to real people and real life.
As the chronicle unfolds, characters often speak of the petty vices that undermine the purity of the revolutionaries’ stated virtues and goals. “Why is it,” the narrator recounts Stepan Trofimovich once asking him, “all these desperate socialists and communists are also so incredibly miserly, acquisitive, and proprietorial? In fact, the more socialist someone is…the stronger his proprietorial instinct.” So much for those who seek to abolish property; one can guess to whom they wish to redistribute it! The revolutionary-turned-conservative Ivan Shatov later continues the motif, digging deeper into the radicals’ motives: “They’d be the first to be terribly unhappy if somehow Russia were suddenly transformed, even according to their own ideas, and if it were suddenly to become immeasurably rich and happy. Then they’d have no one to hate, no one to despise, no one to mock! It’s all an enormous, animal hatred for Russia that’s eaten into their system.”
Leftists might accuse Dostoevsky of merely wishing to make the radicals look bad with such an evaluation; however, as addressed by Joseph Frank in his chapter on the topic in Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871, the “bad for thee, fine for me” mentality of The Devils’s radicals (if their ideology doesn’t completely blind them to such inconsistency in the first place) was straight from the playbook of men like Nechaev: the Catechism of a Revolutionary. Far from trying to evade contradictory behavior, such a work, and other later analogues (Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance”; Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals) advocate being inconsistent and slippery with one’s principles for the sake of the revolution. Indeed, contradicting the rules one was trying to impose on others was and is seen not as an inconsistency but as a special privilege—of which several examples can be found, from upper party opulence in the USSR to modern champagne socialists who attend a $35,000-per-seat Met Gala while advocating taxing the rich.
4: Social chaos and purges as necessary and inevitable in achieving and maintaining utopia.
Perhaps the single most prophetic scene in The Devils occurs in the already mentioned chapter “‘Our Group’ Meets,” which depicts the various local radicals meeting under cover of a birthday party. A cacophony of competing voices and priorities, the scene’s humorous mix of inept, self-serving idealists is made grotesque by the visions they advocate. Most elaborate of the speakers is Shigalyov, whose utopian scheme for the revolution was insightful enough that Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn both referred to the Russian government’s post-October Revolution policies and methods as “Shigalevism.”
While Shigalyov’s whole speech (and Peter Stepanovich’s commentary) is worth reading as a prophecy of what would happen less than fifty years after the book, here are some notable excerpts:
“Beginning with the idea of unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism…One-tenth will receive personal freedom and unlimited power over the other nine-tenths. The latter must forfeit their individuality and become as it were a herd [through re-education of entire generations]; through boundless obedience, they will attain, by a series of rebirths, a state of primeval innocence, although they’ll still have to work…What I’m proposing is not disgusting; it’s paradise, paradise on earth—there can be none other on earth.”
A direct goal of the purges in Soviet Russia, and of the alienation of children from their parents, was to create a new, purely socialist generation unburdened by the prejudices of previous or outside systems.
“[We’ve] been urged to close ranks and even form groups for the sole purposed of bringing about total destruction, on the pretext that however much you try to cure the world, you won’t be able to do so entirely, but if you take radical steps and cut off one hundred million heads, thus easing the burden, it’ll be much easier to leap over the ditch. It’s a splendid idea…”
While hundred million murders may seem like hyperbole in the scene’s darkly comic context, in the end it was an accurate prediction of what communism would accomplish if put into systemic practice; however, we should also not miss the stated method of destabilizing society via conspiratorial groups aimed not at aid but at acceleration—a method used in early 20th-century Russia and employed by modern radical groups like Antifa.
“It would take at least fifty years, well, thirty, to complete such a slaughter—inasmuch as people aren’t sheep, you know, and they won’t submit willingly.”
Besides the time element, the identifying of the individual human’s desire for life and autonomy as a lamentable but surmountable impediment to revolution—rather than a damning judgment of the radicals’ inability to make any humanitarian claims—is chilling.
“[Shigalyov] has a system for spying. Every member of the society spies on every other one and is obliged to inform. Everyone belongs to all the others and the others belong to each one. They’re all slaves and equal in their slavery.”
A corrollary to the section above on freedom-through-slavery, this part accurately identifies the system of paranoid watchfulness in the first half of the USSR, as well as the system currently in place in the DPRK, among other places.
“The one thing the world needs is obedience. The desire for education is an aristocratic idea. As soon as a man experiences love or has a family, he wants private property. We’ll destroy that want: we’ll unleash drunkenness, slander, denunciantion; we’ll unleash unheard-of corruption… [Crime] is no longer insanity, but some kind of common sense, almost an obligation, at least a noble protest.”
Anti-traditional-family advocacy and the flipping of the criminal-innocent dichotomy as a means of destabilizing the status quo all took place in the early years of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, they are all too familiar today in the West, whether we’re talking about the current argument in the US that children’s education belongs to the community (i.e. teachers, public unions, and the government) to the exclusion of parents, or the argument heard at several points in the 2020 that crimes and rioting committed during protests were an excusable, even “noble,” form of making one’s voice heard (while nicking a TV in the process!).
More recently and ongoing here in California (often uncannily parallel to the UK in certain policy impulses), our current District Attorney George Gascon, in an attempt to redefine the criminal-victim mentality in the state, has implemented policies that benefit criminals over victims by relaxing the definitions and sentences of certain crimes and refusing to try teenagers who commit felonies as adults (among other things); as many expected would happen, crime has risen in the state, with the Los Angeles PD recently advising residents to avoid wearing jewelry in public—which, to this resident, sounds oddly close to blaming the victim for wearing a short skirt by another name, and is certainly a symptom and example of anarcho-tyranny.
To nineteenth-century readers not as versed as Dostoevsky in the literature and ideas behind the Nechaev affair (which was publicly seen as merely a murder among friends, without the ideological significance Dostoevsky gave it), this section of The Devils would have seemed a comic exaggeration. However, to post-20th-century readers it stands, like a clarion pointing forward to the events later confirmed by Solzhenitsyn, as a dire warning not to forget the truth in the satire and not to dismiss the foolishly hyperbolic as impotent. Even in isolated forms, the ideas promoted by Shigalyev are real, and when applied they have been, as Dostoevsky predicted, disastrous.
5: Socialism not as humanitarian reason, but as religious poetry; revolution as primarily aesthetic, not economic.
An amalgam of, among other members of the 1840s generation, the father of Russian socialism Alexander Herzen, Stepan Trofimovich is, by the time of the 1860s setting of The Devils, an inveterate poet. This reflects Dostoevsky’s evaluation of his old theorist friend, whom he nonetheless cites as the enabler of men like the nihilist terrorist Nechaev, despite Herzen’s claims that the terrorist had bastardized his ideas (see truth number 1, above).
The brilliantly mixed critique of and homage to Dostoevsky’s own generation that is Stepan Trofimovich presents one of the book’s main motifs about the nihilist generation: that they are not pursuing a philosophically rational system of humanitarian goals, but a romantically poetic pseudo-religion. “They’re all bewitched,” cries Stepan Trofimovich about his son, “not by realism, but by the emotional and idealistic aspects of socialism, so to speak, by its religious overtones, its poetry.” Later, at the aforementioned pivotal meeting scene, Peter Stepanovich shows he is completely conscious of this fact—and willing to use it to his advantage. “What’s happening here is the replacement of the old religion by a new one; that’s why so many soldiers are needed—it’s a large undertaking.” In the next scene, Peter Stepanovich reveals to Stavrogin his desire to use the enchanting nobleman as a figurehead for revolution among the peasantry, intending to call him Ivan the Tsarevich to play off of the Russian folk legend of a messianic Tsar in hiding who will rise to take the throne from the “false” reigning Tsar and right all the world’s wrongs with his combined religious and political power.
Peter Stepanovich, himself, is too frank a nihilist to believe in such narratives; focused as he is on first destroying everything rather than wasting time pontificating about what to do afterwards, he even treats Shigalyov’s utopian visions with contempt. However, the rest of the radicals in the book are not so clear-sighted about the nature of their beliefs. Multiple times in the book, susceptibility to radical socialism is said to inhere not in reason but in sentimentality; showing Dostoevsky’s moderation even on a topic of which he was so passionately against, this critique often focuses on younger men and women’s genuine desire to good—which ironically makes them, like the naive and forthright Ensign Erkel, susceptible to committing the worst crimes with a straight, morally self-confident face.
It is this susceptibility to the art of revolution that causes Peter Stepanovich to be so sanguine about others’ romanticism, despite its falling short of his own nihilism. His intention to use others’ art for his own advantage can be seen most clearly in his hijacking of Yulia Mikhailovna’s literary fete to use it, through his cronies, as a screed against the social order and to mock artistic tradition. His doing so is just a follow-through of an earlier statement to Stavrogin that “Those with higher abilities…have always done more harm than good; they’ll either be banished or executed. Cicero’s tongue will be cut out, Copernicus’s eyes will be gouged out, Shakespeare will be stoned…it’s a fine idea to level mountains—there’s nothing ridiculous in that…we’ll suffocate every genius in its infancy.”
Against his son’s leveling of mountains, Stepan Trofimovich, to his infinite credit and speaking with his author’s mouth, declares, with the lone voice of tradition amidst the climactic fete, that “Shakespeare and Raphael are more important than the emancipation of the serfs…than nationalism…than socialism…than the younger generation…than chemistry, almost more important than humanity, because they are the fruit, the genuine fruit of humanity, and perhaps the most important fruit there is!” In this contrast between the Verkhovenskys, it is not different views on economics but on art—on Shakespeare, among others—that that lie at the heart of revolution, with the revolutionaries opposing the English Poet more viscerally than any other figure. This reflects Dostoevsky’s understanding that the monumental cultural shift of the 1800s was not primarily scientific but aesthetic (a topic too large to address here). Suffice it to say, the central conflict of The Devils is not between capitalists and socialists (the book rarely touches on economic issues, apart from their being used as propaganda—that is, aesthetically), nor between Orthodox and atheists (though Dostoevsky certainly saw that as the fundamental alternative at play), but between the 1840s late Romantics and the new Naturalist-Realists.
The prophetic nature of this aesthetic aspect of The Devils has many later confirmations, such as the 20th century’s growth of state propaganda, especially in socialistic states like Nazi Germany or the USSR, though also in the West (Western postmodernism would eventually make all art as interpretable as propaganda). Furthermore, the Stalinist cult of personality seems a direct carry over of Peter Stepanovich’s intended desire to form just such a pseudo-religious cult out of Nikolai Vsevolodovich.
Having written a novel on the threat posed to Shakespeare by the newest generation of the radical left (before reading of Verkhovensky’s desire to stone Shakespeare—imagine my surprise to find that Dostoevsky had called even the events in my own novel!), I hold this particular topic close to my heart. Indeed, I believe we are still in the Romantic-Realist crossroads, and in dire need of backtracking to take the other path that would prefer, to paraphrase Stepan Trofimovich, the beautiful and ennobling Shakespeare and Raphael over the socially useful pair of boots and petroleum. Like Stepan Trofimovich, I believe comforts and technical advancements like the latter could not have come about were it not for the culture of the former—and that they would lose their value were their relative importance confused to the detriment of that which is higher.
There are, of course, many other truths in The Devils that have borne out (the infighting of radical advocacy groups competing for prominence, radicalism as a result of upper-class boredom and idleness, revolution’s being affected not by a majority but a loud minority willing to transgress, self-important administrators and bureaucrats as enablers and legitimators of radicals…). While the increasingly chaotic narrative (meant to mimic the setting’s growing unrest) is not Dostoevsky’s most approachable work, The Devils is certainly one of his best, and it fulfills his intended purpose of showing, like Tolstoy had done a few years before in War and Peace, a full picture of Russian society.However, while Tolstoy’s work looked backward to a Russia that, from Dostoevsky’s view, had been played out, The Devils was written to look forward, and, more often for ill than good, it has been right in its predictions. Not for nothing did Albert Camus, who would later adapt The Devils for the stage, say on hearing about the Stalinist purges in Soviet Russia that “The real 19th-century prophet was Dostoevsky, not Karl Marx.”
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Conservatives can learn from modern artBy Daniel Evans — 5 months ago
You’re probably already baulking at the idea that there could be anything to learn from modern art. You’re not wrong that art and architecture today are often hideous, lazy, cheap, unconsidered, and, well, artless. It won’t help that I myself am still not completely concluded on what there is to learn. Alinskyite tactics of making the enemy live up to their own rules? Did Duchamp just encourage the wrong kind of person and end up making things worse? More on this later.
But there is something in modern art worth considering, it’s not a total waste, you must take wisdom wherever you can find it. There is so little wisdom going. You can’t afford to waste any. Your opponents in the progressives are powerful, rich, and vicious, in all senses of that word. Many, many, many are also group-thinking chasers of convention, out of touch, fearful, vain, and insecure. They don’t believe in the truth, something eternal, irrespective of them, they believe in their truth, as if it emanates from themselves. A pretentious way of saying they want to express their feelings? Perhaps. But truth for them is decided by consensus and fitting in. Yup, that’s
the art sceneprogressives for you.
That’s good, that’s a massive weakness. How do you exploit it? How do you handle these people? It’s risky, but people who stand out, do not follow the crowd, have the self-confidence to go their own way, and the actual knowledge and mastery to do it competently, are cool. A big part of what
the art sceneprogressives want to do is fit in and be cool. The risk is that what’s cool, or even just true, for them is decided by consensus, not reality.
Art, religion, politics, Rob Henderson’s luxury beliefs. What’s the overlap and what can you learn from one to the other? Dismiss all of modern art, if you like, but at least keep one artist. So much which comes after him is basically derivative and misses the point. Let’s follow a master, see what he did and why, and draw out the lessons. You too will make progressives clutch their pearls and faint, or pop their monocles, and exclaim “harumph, why, that is most unorthodox!”
Marcel Duchamp. He is exactly the right kind of figure to look at. Where to start exactly?
Marcel Duchamp is a tricky sort. You could say he was a total troll and he would often go out of his way to obfuscate history by making things up when asked about his work. He was a bit of a prankster, and he liked tinkering with all the new mediums of his day. He was unpredictable.
And modern art. Where to start exactly with that? Not all contemporary art is synonymous with modern art. If that’s not quite difficult enough, it’s not fair to describe all modern art as crap. At least you might concede it’s not all crap in precisely the same way. It’s a low standard, but a place for you to start.
It’s kind of like memes. They’re often highly context dependent, assume some level of preceding knowledge, are trying to say something to the person who sees them, and some memes are better than others.
Similarly, Duchamp is a man of his time. He was clearly interested in technology, and why wouldn’t he be? He’s around at the time of the wireless, new elements and other discoveries coming out of Marie Curie’s laboratory, the invention of cinema, and x-rays. New materials, new mediums, new ways of getting a different insight into the world around you. New ways of thinking. In physics and mathematics Einstein displaces Newton, non-Euclidean geometry bursts forward, the first thoughts about different dimensions. And it’s all happening around WWI, the ends of empires, the international rise of America, and the replacement of Europe’s monarchies.
What is analogous to any of this today? The internet, AI, social media, NFTs, space? New possibilities, new technology, new materials, new politics, it forces people to question things.
Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2
Duchamp’s first important piece: Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, an example of cubism, with caveats, because it upset some people.
Some context. Let’s quickly look at the Italian futurists in the 1910s, which started with Marinetti.
The futurists were pretty hard core right wingers (Marinetti co-wrote Il manifesto dei fasci italiani di combattimento), who were obsessed with technology and machinery. They wanted to scrap museums, libraries, forget the past, in favour of a world dedicated to speed, and strength, and the future. Is this what made the trains run on time? Anyway, artistically, they were interested in capturing energy and motion in two dimensions. And it was looking to have something to say. What a lot of people don’t fully appreciate about modern art (you were warned this would get pretentious), is that it involves audience participation. If you’re saying “WTF am I looking at here?”, you are saying a response to the piece.
Before modern art, you have realistic art. Actually, realism, which is what it sounds like. Technology by the 1910s keeps getting more and more advanced, and you have more cameras, and photos, and films, at the time artists were beginning to question the point of a realistic painting. Modern artists were rising to that challenge.
Whether it’s futurists, or dadaists, or surrealists, which all emerge around this time, they’re trying to deal with the paradigm shifts of their day. What are the artists of today up to? How many of them are energised and engaged with the paradigm shifts of our day?
The point is, a lot of art, especially modern art, is contextual, just like a lot of culture, whether it’s stories or music, movies, etc. to fully appreciate its impact you really have to be there and part of it. This goes beyond art, well into politics. How do you explain the world pre and post 9/11 to those who weren’t there? The New Atheism movement made more sense in the face of religious extremism, whether that was muslims like bin Laden or evangelicals like Bush.
Modern art emerges amid two world wars, and the blossoming of progressive democracy and its three fruits; communism, facism, and liberalism.
The futurists believed that war is the world’s only moral hygiene, a chance to start anew, that art gets shifted into the new world it brings forth. And then rather a lot of them died in WWI and that was more or less that.
Now, here comes a particularly important thing. A bunch of these art movements would come with manifestos. That is, instructions for how art is and isn’t supposed to be. Rules for what you could and couldn’t express and in what way. The simultaneous scrapping of the past, obsession with what’s new, a certain reverence for violence and domination, and replacement with a new hierarchy. No rules, and also rules, and lots of angry people. Does that sound familiar to you at all, duckies? Have progressives been the same for a hundred years, maybe more?
Well, when art comes with rules, and particularly about what it is supposed to say to people, that is almost certainly propaganda. Oscar Wilde might have had something to say against this (The Picture of Dorian Gray), or Kim Il Sung in favour, as Juche art is supposed to carry a moral, political element to it.
Can we forgive the futurists? They were working before the full, crushing horror of the progressive 20th Century.
Anyway, Duchamp’s Nude changes the art movement of his time, challenges it, mocks it. The full saga of the Nude takes place over a couple of years. He presents it at the pretentiously named (the progressives are all very self-congratulatory aren’t they?) Salon des Indépendants where the cubists reject it. Remember that art is supposed to be full of rules? Cubism is supposed to be about multiple dimensions portrayed simultaneously. Futurism is supposed to be about motion. The Nude is both. Oh no, what a disaster! Most unorthodox!
So, in 1912 some exhibits were supposed to happen at the Salon des Indépendants. The futurists came first, that was all lovely, and the cubists were supposed to come after. Some of the smaller cubists came together to do their own thing and have an “art movement”. Duchamp was having none of it.
The first thing the cubists had a problem with was the title, but Duchamp puts the title right in the painting, so it can’t be hidden, removed, changed, disguised. Total troll. He’s also trying to play with language. It was originally titled “Nu descendant l’escalier” in the literature, and “Nu” is ambiguously male. Worse still, nudes are supposed to be painted lying down, like one of your French girls. Nudes aren’t supposed to be descending stairs. What’s more, the only place naked women were likely to be descending stairs in Paris was at brothels or Mallard Chairman Jake Scott’s mum’s house.
All round, the hanging committee (not as ominous as it sounds) for the exhibit were totally scandalised. Have a look at the painting again. Yup. Duchamp was told to change it, the title was wrong, the painting was too futurist, too Italian, just no good, so he left and removed himself from the show. Something similar then gets repeated in 1913 at the Armory Show in New York.
So much for artists being open-minded or intellectual. Then again, are you surprised that there’s a lot of snobby arseholes in the art world who get bitchy?
Still, Duchamp had the last laugh. Who else out of the cubists exhibited at the Salon is remembered as well today? In Duchamp’s own time, at the Armory, the next year, he was peer level with Picasso as a cubist, and other artists such as Matisse, Delauney, Kandinsky, Rodin, Renoir, and others.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
Alright, so where can Duchamp go from here? His next piece, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, is an even further descent into top notch trolling.
Duchamp really wanted to get into the idea of the fourth dimension with Bride, in the geometric, not temporal sense.
In three dimensions, you can imagine a point within a three dimensional cube and create a coordinate for it along width, height, and depth. A fourth dimensional point would sit in relation to all three of those – it might be like if you could see all sides of the cube and its inside at the same time. And if this four dimensional shape could cast a shadow, it would be a three dimensional shadow, just like a three dimensional object casts a two dimensional shadow on a wall, for example.
The idea was that if you could put three dimensional reality into two dimensions in a painting, what is a three dimensional piece a step down from? You can’t seem to make it real, exactly, so you have to sort of imagine it instead. Can you imagine a tesseract, the fourth dimensional equivalent of a cube? Here’s a representation of the concept.
For a two dimensional painting, it should come very naturally to you to understand what three dimensional object or scene it represents. For any of you duckies who have spent time thinking about non-Euclidean geometry, perhaps Bride might come a bit easier to you.
Or not. But it’s a commendable attempt at trying something new from Duchamp.
So, yes, you will definitely look at it and think WTF is this, but this is very much by design. Though he started the piece in 1915, and it would go on exhibit 12 years later in 1927, he would later publish notes in 1934 as an accompaniment. He did not want a purely visual response.
How did this take him so long to complete, you ask? His patrons said they’d pay his rent until he finished.
Now, at this point you’re probably asking a very justified question. How much is Duchamp really just a bullshit artist? Well, that’s a kind of art too. He’s at least a little funny, a little clever, and a little daring. Can the same be said for progressives?
Duchamp at this point is experimenting. He’s playing with chance. Art is usually done very deliberately, but is it possible to create something through other methods? Are you limited in your materials? Is it possible to use abstract concepts themselves to make something? Is it sometimes more interesting to achieve something that you didn’t exactly set out to do?
There are a few replicas of Bride. The original in Philadelphia is broken, it broke on its way to the original exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. The ones in Sweden and Tokyo are not broken, and are a different experience. They’re also all getting a bit worse for wear. Duchamp didn’t necessarily make things to last. That wasn’t important. His personality itself is perhaps more the figure, more the legacy, than any of his works.
Disposability and personality? He would have been perfect in today’s world of memes, social media, and reality TV. Self-belief, showmanship, fake it til you make it, bullshit artistry. Politicians are memed into success these days. This kind of chaos, flexibility, fun, unpredictability, is not open to the progressives. They have a hegemony to conserve. You have a hegemony to subvert.
You could do worse than to learn from Duchamp.
Oh boy. Duckies, if I haven’t lost you already, this one might do it.
Duchamp is in America at this point. America, unlike Europe, has no real history at this time. Plus ça change. (French. You were warned this would get pretentious). Are there lessons to learn here about the internet and the internet generations? Not sure, perhaps you can think about that one.
Anyway, a lot of artists go to America because of the war and Duchamp is asked to run a show. The New York art scene wants to replicate the show Duchamp’s Nude was kicked out of. The Americans want to have a go at their own Independence. How derivative. So, two of the conditions for the show was that there was to be no jury and no prize. It’s like the Oscars. There are no winners. “And the award goes to…”. You can’t have winners. That would imply some people are better than others. No, jury, no prize, nothing is better than anyone else, but it’s still a selective hoighty toighty art show. All the artists who kicked Duchamp out of the 1912 exhibit will be there. Duchamp detects an opportunity.
He takes a urinal, signs it R Mutt and, sure enough, it is kicked out of the show. But it gets photographed.
Duchamp is making another mockery, running another test here. Why can’t a nude descend a staircase? Who made these rules? Who makes art rules? A lot of the audience had never even seen a urinal before, which makes it even funnier.
Duchamp is working with context. Everyone sees a toilet every day. Even prissy art snobs. You can’t look at one in an art exhibit? Why exactly? It’s extreme, sure, and you wouldn’t be impressed with it, duckies, but you’re not pretending to be progressive and egalitarian and open and free or whatever. Duchamp puts a toilet right in the middle of a fancy shmancy art show for all the people who are up themselves for reasons they don’t understand and they lose their minds.
And to this day, people are still debating whether it’s art. In today’s digital economy, when so much is abstracted – social interaction, work from home, shopping, entertainment, etc, – this debate is as relevant as ever.
Really this is about the governing classes, who today are the progressives. If you don’t understand three things by now, you really ought to. First, the ruling class don’t care about the rules in the same way many of the governed do, because they make them, know why they’re there, and what they’re trying to do with them, for power. Second, a lot of the governed really don’t know why their rules are there, but follow them anyway, for many reasons, and only care about the rules at the surface level. Third, a big chunk of the middle class gets up itself precisely because they’re not in the ruling class, are close enough to sniff it, can see it, want it, but aren’t truly in it, and don’t fully understand it.
The most important thing about Fountain is that Duchamp has a sense of humour. It’s even funnier that there was only one photo at the time, the Fountain now is just a replica, and nobody has even seen the original for 50 years. We don’t actually know if Duchamp was making everything up.
Duchamp used to make stuff up in TV interviews. Performance artist? Certainly an early iteration of it. It’s not just enough to subvert the progressives in your work.
You must live it.
Well, one in particular. L.H.O.O.Q., which is basically a meme.
The readymades were more or less mass manufactured products which Duchamp sort of took, made a few alterations to, and declared pieces. Yup, that’s a meme. Fair use!
L.H.O.O.Q. is a picture of the Mona Lisa with a moustache and goatee drawn on. Factory produced graffiti? This is 40 years before Warhol, and how long before Banksy? L.H.O.O.Q. was only possible because of advances in technology.
The readymades are a tension between art and not art (pretentiousness continued) – you can go to a museum, look at an exhibit with a urinal set with a sign saying “do not touch” then go into the bathroom and do rather a lot more than touch. The question for you is why is one thing there and not the other? The Mona Lisa (the real one) is there because it obviously should be there?
The answer is “yes”, btw.
Duchamp here is mocking style, taste, and aesthetics, he’s asking questions about reverence, perhaps even worship, but Duckies, don’t rankle. Duchamp is forcing the protection of what’s valuable, of what’s genuinely accomplished and beautiful. There is something to defend in the rules set around beauty conventions. Just not the progressive ones where the rule is that there are no rules, but there are rules, and they’re the ones who control them. If there’s one thing you should recognise about progressives it’s that they don’t exactly care what they’re telling you to do as much as they care that they are the ones telling you to do it.
Duckies, don’t rankle at Duchamp attacking hierarchies in art. This is good when the hierarchy is intolerably corrupt. Duckies, you are against the status quo.
Duchamp basically agrees with the audience that trash is not really art.
If the 20th Century was about the great democratisation of technology, and all the chaos and opportunity that it brought (Twitter?), perhaps the 21st Century can be about the great ordering of technology with stable command. (Twitter + Elon?).
The last piece Duchamp does is Étant donnés. It’s a great big installation piece now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You could be forgiven for missing the most important part. It’s only visible through two peepholes in a door. And what you see looks like this. A nude, reclined against a landscape backdrop, what you might call a “real painting”, a real life piece, not readymade crap.
Duchamp kept this a secret between two girlfriends and his wife, only revealing the work after his death, and 25 years after he had apparently retired from art to play competitive chess.
Is this what Duchamp believed about art all along?
Duckies, relax, keep yourself in check, and stay cool. Let people enjoy themselves. There’s no real need to get snobby about other people’s tastes.
But also know your own. Do your thing. Let the progressives get on with theirs. They have all sorts of rules and ideas and it’s all built on sand. #Walkway? Disengage, do your own thing. They can do their thing. You’re going to do something cool that doesn’t care about their rules. In turn, your thing will show up theirs, passively. Show, don’t tell. Let them be ridiculous by comparison. Let it come naturally and not because you’ve driven them there.
Or maybe it’s all a load of rubbish? Duchamp used elements of luck as his materials in creating Bride. Jackson Pollock still came along as if he was doing something new with his drip period 20 years after. Andy Warhol still came along 40 years later with his prints as if the readymades hadn’t basically done the same thing before. And contemporary art keeps going.
Duchamp didn’t make anyone realise how ridiculous they were.
Did you just read this entire piece for nothing?
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Against the RationalistsBy Wyck — 5 months ago
I had forgotten why I wrote ‘Against the Traditionalists’, and what it meant, so the following is an attempted self-interpretation; for that purpose, they are intended to be read together.
The Preface of Inquiry:
God hath broke a motley spear upon the lines of Rome,
When brothers Hermes masked afront Apollo’s golden throne.
The Aesthetics of Inquiry:
Metaphors we hold in mind, those scenes with their images and progressions, are of the fundamental sense that orders our perceptions and beliefs, and from which everything we create is sourced; for metaphors are dynamic and intuitive relations; and they emerge from the logic of the imagination—let us have faith that our logic is not cursed and disordered, in its severance from the Logos. The phenomenologists would be amply quoted here if they weren’t so mystical and confused—alas, one can never know which of the philosophers to settle with as they’re all so sensible, and they can never agree amongst themselves, forming warring schools that err to dogmatism since initiation—so it is to no surprise that ideologies are perused and possessed as garbs regalia, and for every man, their emperor’s new clothes.
If brevity is the soul of wit, then genius is the abbreviation of methodologies. Find the right method of inquiry, for the right moment: avoiding circumstantial particulars, preferring particular universals; even epistemic anarchist, Feyerabend, would prefer limited, periodical design to persistent, oceanic noise. One zetetic tool of threefold design, for your consideration, might be constituted thusly: axiomatic logistics—Parmenides’ Ladder, founded, stacked and climbed, with repeated steps that hold all the way; forensic tactics—Poe’s Purloined Letter, ontologically abstracted over to compare more general criteria; panoramic strategy—puzzling walnuts submerged and dissolved in Grothendieck’s Rising Sea, objects awash with the accumulated molecules of a general abstract theory. Yet, do not only stick your eye to tools, lest you become all technique, for art, in Borges, is but algebra, without its fire; and let not poor constructs be ready at hand, for the coming forth a temple-work, in Heidegger, sets up the world, while material perishes to equipment, and equipment to its singular use.
Letters of Fire and Sword:
A gallery of all sorts of shapes, and symbolic movements, exist naturally in cognition and language, and such a gallery has it’s typical forms—the line and circle, for example, are included in every shape-enthusiast’s favourites—though Frye identifies more complex images on offer, such as mountains, gardens, furnaces, and caves—and, most unforgettably, the crucifix of Jesus Christ. I’d write of the unique flavours of languages, such as their tendency to particular genres, to Sapir and Whorf’s pleasure, yet by method I must complete my first definition—now from shapes, their movement. The cinematographic plot of pleasing images adds another dimension to their enjoyment—moving metaphors, narrative poetry, being the most poetic; their popular display is sadly limited to mainly the thesislike development of a single heroic journey, less so the ambitious spiral scendancy, or, in the tendency of yours truly and Matt Groening, disjointed and ethereally timestuck episodes in a plain, imaginary void. The most beautiful scenes, often excluded, are a birth and rejoice, the catharsis of recognition, and the befalling ultimate tragedy and its revelation to universal comedy—these stories hold an aesthetic appeal for all audiences, and that’s a golden ticket for us storytellers.
If memory is the treasurehouse of the mind, then good literature is food for the soul. In the name of orthomolecular medicine, with the hopes that exercise and sleep are already accounted for, let your pantry be amply stocked and restocked with the usual bread and milk, with confectionary that’s disappeared afore next day, and with canned foods that seem forever to have existed—as for raw honey, a rarer purchase, when stored right it lasts a lifetime, and eversweet. I’m no stranger to the warnings against polyunsaturated fats by fringe health gurus, but I think I’ll take my recommendations from the more erudite masters of such matters; and I’m no stranger to new and unusual flavours, provided they’re not eaten to excess. The canonical food pyramid of Western medicine, in its anatomical display of appropriate portions, developed from extensive study and historical data, places the hearty reliables en masse at its foundations, and the unhealthiest consumables at the tiniest peak, so that we might be fully nourished and completed, while spared of the damage wreaked on our bodily constitution by sly treats of excess fats, sugars, and salt. Be rid of these nasty invaders, I say, that’d inflame with all sorts of disease; be full of good food, I say, that’d sharpen the body’s workers to good form. Mark the appropriateness of time and place when eating to the same measure; a diet is incomplete without fasting—let your gut some space to rest and think. And note the insufficiency of paper and ink as foodstuffs, and the immorality of treating friends like fast food—the sensibility of a metaphor must be conducive to The Good as well as The Beautiful, if it is to be akin to The True. Aside, it is the most miserable tragedy that, for all the meaty mindpower of medieval transcendental philosophy, they did not explore The Funny—for the Gospels end in good news, as does good comedy.
Shakespeare—The Bard of whom, I confess, all I write is imitation of, for the simple fact I write in English—deserving, him not I, of all the haughtiest epithets and sobriquets that’d fall short of godhood, writes so beautifully of dreams in Midsummer’s Night’s, and yet even he could not do them justice when speaking through his Bottom—ha ha ha, delightful. “I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man who can tell what. Methought I was, —and methought I had, —but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom…”, Nick Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At the end of Act IV, Scene 1.
Intermission, The Royal Zoo:
A Prince and three Lords did walk in the garden, and they sauntered about for the day.
The soon-to-be-King became awfully bored and inquired what game they could play.
“Perhaps, Sire, it’d be best to prepare”, they said, “for life’s duties that approach”.
“It is proper to train for a life’s work”, said they, “lest that debts’ hunger encroach”.
“Consider the rats”, said the Money Lord, “how they scavenge and thrift for tomorrow”.
“For their wild life is grim, and tomorrow’s tomorrow, so take what you can, and borrow”.
“Consider the lions”, said the Warrior Lord, “how they prowl and sneak for a bite”.
“For the proud life is hearty, strong conquers weak, lamb shanks easiest sliced at night”.
“Wise, yet consider the spiders”, said the Scribe Lord, “for they outwit both lion and rat”.
“To scavenge is dirty and timely, and hunting so tiring, better cunning employed to entrap”.
The Prince, unsatisfied by his Lords, summoned a Squire to ask of him his opinion:
“Squire, what do you do, not yet enslaved by your profession, that maketh life fulfilling?”.
“I play with whom I play, and with whom I play are my neighbours, my friends”, said Squire.
For that, said The Prince, “I will live not like a beast”, “I will live like a man!”,
And three Lords became three furnaced in fire.
“Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.”, Ecclesiastes 8:15, KJV. Amen.
The headstar by which we navigate, fellow Christians, is neither Athens nor Rome—it is Christ. “Be sure [Be careful; Watch; See] that no one ·leads you away [takes you captive; captivates you] with ·false [deceptive] and ·empty [worthless] teaching that is ·only human [according to human traditions], which comes from the ·ruling spirits [elemental spiritual forces (demons); or elementary teachings] of this world, and not from Christ.”, Colossians 2:8, EXB. Amen.
A Note on Opinion:
It is common sense, in our current times, that the most opinionated of us rule popular culture. Without a doubt, the casting, writing, directing, etc, of a major cinematic production project is decided in final cut by ‘the money’—so I speak not of the centrally-planned, market-compromised popular-media environment—but it is by the algorithm of the polemic dogmatist that metacultural opinions, of normative selection and ranking and structuring, are selected. One must be at the very least genius, or prideful, or insane, to have the character of spontaneously spouting opinions. It is an elusive, but firmly remembered anecdote that ordinary, healthy people are not politics-mad—ideologically lukewarm, at the very least. Consider the archetypical niche internet micro-celebrity: such posters are indifferent machines, accounts that express as autonomous idols, posting consistently the same branded factory gruel, and defended by their para-socialised followers over any faux pas, for providing the dry ground of profilicity when sailing the information sea. Idols’ dry land at sea, I say, are still but desert islands—houses built on sand. Now consider the archetypical subreddit: ignoring the top-ranking post of all time either satirising or politicising the subreddit, and the internal memes about happenings within the subreddit; even without the influence of marketing bots, the group produces opinions and norms over commercial products and expensive hobbies, and there is much shaming to new members who have not yet imitated and adopted group customs; essentially, they’re product-review-based fashion communities. Hence, the question follows: if knowledge is socially produced, then how can we distinguish between fashion and beauty—that is, in effect, the same as asking how, in trusting our gut, can we distinguish lust and love? How can we recognise a stranger? Concerning absolute knowledge, including matters of virtue and identity, truth is not pursued through passion’s inquiry, but divinely revealed. “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”, John 8:58, KJV. Amen.
A Note on Insanity:
It is common for romantic idealists to be as dogmatic as the harsh materialists they so criticise. All is matter! All is mind! One ought to read Kant methinks; recall Blake’s call to particularity: there needs be exceptions, clarifications, addendums, subclauses, minor provisions, explanatory notes, analytical commentary, critique, and reviews—orbiting companion to bold aphorism; Saturn’s ordered rings, to monocle Jupiter’s vortex eye, met in Neptune’s subtle glide. Otherwise, the frame is no other than that which is criticised: arch-dogmatism. If we’re to play, then let us play nicely; it is not for no reason that Plato so criticised the poets, for the plain assertions of verse do not explain themselves, and so are contrarywise to the pursuit of wisdom in a simple and subjectivist pride—selfishly asserting its rules as self-evident. Yet, they might be wedded, for truly there is no poetic profession without argumentative critics—no dialectic without dialogue. And so, if I must think well, and to accept those necessities, then questions of agency be most exhaustive nuts to crack. If all is matter, then all is circumstantial—If all is mind, then all is your fault; if all is reason, we’re bound by Urizen’s bronze—if all is passion, we’re windswept to fancy. Unanswered still, is the question of insanity. And even without insanity, what is right and what is wrong so eludes our wordy description. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”, James 4:17, KJV. Amen.
Endless curiosities might unravel onwards, so shortly I shall suggest a linguistic idealist metacritique of mine own, that: to make philosophy idealistic, or to naturalise the same, are but one common movement, merging disparate literatures representing minds, of the approach to total coherence of the human imagination; such that might mirror the modal actualism of Hegel, a novelist who was in following, and ahead of, the boundless footsteps of short story writer, Leibniz. To answer it most simply: for four Gospels, we have fourfold vision, so if one vision is insufficient, then two perspectives are too—all-binary contradiction is the workings of Hell, but paradox and aporia, is, as exposited by Nicholas Rescher and Brayton Polka, the truth of reality. This way we might properly weigh both agency and insanity, by taking the higher ground of knowledge and learning. Recall Jesus’ perfect meeting of the adulterer—when he saw the subject and not the sin.
A Note on Disability:
There is potential for profound beauty in the inexpressible imagination, such that would make language but ugly nuts and bolts, if it didn’t also follow that we cannot absolutely explicate language either. Then, it seems even if our words do not create the world, but are representations, we can still know and appreciate facets of reality without their full expression—our words construct models, or carve at the joints of the world, but the good and beautiful expression is true proof of God; to recognise truth is intuitive, perhaps being that mental faculty which is measure sensibility. Hence, let us first pray that we are all forgiven for our sins, ignorant and willing, and second, that the mentally disabled, and lost lambs without dreams, can know Him too. Amen.Post Views: 298