Archive for October, 2010

Why yes, yes they are.

I was at a poetry reading by a “famous” (in the poetry world) Irish poet named Paul Muldoon, whose most famous poem’s refrain is something like “with a rinky-tink dinky-tink link link,” or something like that.  For such work, Muldoon has won a Pulitzer prize in poetry, which to my mind says something about the state of the arts at this point, but we’ll get to that in a moment.  Inevitably, perhaps, during the question and answer period one of the undergrads in the audience asked Mr. Muldoon:

“Sir, do you believe that song lyrics are poetry?”

And Mr. Muldoon said:  “Well, no, son.  Not really.”

And I wanted this supposedly world-famous, ultra-talented spokesman for modern poetry in the world to explain for us, why, indeed, this was not so.  All that he could manage, however, was something along the lines of, “Well, poetry is different; it’s more complex, and it often has forms which are not compatible with simple song lyrics.” (more…)


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Someone sent me this quiz via facebook, and as the friend himself said, he’s usually not into this sort of thing, but this one got him thinking.  It also helps that he’s a trained visual artist.  But he sent me the quiz, and, it did get me thinking, and so I thought I’d post on it here.  Being primarily a writer of nonfiction, my take on the visual arts will necessarily be a bit different from that of a visual artist, but that’s part of the fun.

My take is very much coloured by the fact that I am an historian of western civilization, who has been trained to see art history as one of several highly interrelated cultural, political, social, and economic threads which run through both western history, and, at the same time, of course, through global history, with the understanding that all of these are in dialogue, i.e., they are affecting each other dialectically at all times–though in some ways more than others, and more at some times than others.

It’s also very much coloured by an awareness of what I consider to be the ‘great divide’ in western cultural history – namely, before and after Dada-ism became prominent right around World War I.  My take on Dada, as outlined elsewhere on this blog,  is that it was attempting to grapple with the discovery of the subconscious by Freud, the relativity of time and space as articulated by Einstein, and the sense that species were not absolute and immutable, as Darwin had implied.  All of these, artists saw, seemed to imply that there was in fact no truth to the notion of a Platonic ideal, of the kind which had underlay all western art since the middle ages.  In other words, there seemed to be no absolute at all, of any kind:  no Truth, no Beauty, no Good, and thus, there was nothing which had created and could anchor such ideals, namely, God.  If God was dead, as Neitzsche had argued, then there could be no point in attempting to do art which followed the ideals which God had supposedly (according to Plotinus, and the Christian theology which followed him, and all renaissance and enlightenment thinkers who followed the Christians for the most part) laid out when he created the universe. (more…)

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So I came across an article on the fact that the French are all up in arms and striking and protesting because Sarkozy is proposing that they raise the retirement from 60 to 62.  Most people in the civilized world are, I believe, are amazed that the French had it so “easy,” that they could retire so relatively early.  And so few people are terribly sympathetic with the French workers, in an era of tightening state budgets, and increasing ranks of old people whose pensions must be paid.  Who cares if it is raised to 62?   For one thing:  it represents a precedent.  If it is raised to 62 now, there is no guarantee that it won’t be 64 in 2 years, and 66 2 years later.  This is a genuine cause for some alarm.

But the real issue, it seems to me, is why, when I look at the comments thread, I see so many half-literate people writing in things like “stop complaining and get back to work frogs I am lucky if i get to retire at 70” and the like.

So there are two possible reasons for this.  Either a) the French are supidly bankrupting their state, so that “everything is going to seed and ruin,” or else b) the Americans are so brainwashed by their own corporate media, that they become like the slaves of old, who snitch on their fellows who are planning to escape, because they so identify with the master, and are so jealous because they themselves have not the courage or wherewithal to plan an escape, that they lash out at at their fellow slaves. (more…)

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So the primatologists and anthropologists tell us, pretty clearly, that as a species we’re hardwired for hierarchy.

In virtually every tribal society, you’ll find pecking orders, and the reason for this is basic economics:  in nature, there is a healthy scarcity of food and mates, and so the species members compete to put themselves higher on the totem pole.  Of course, this often results in short lifespans, but raw nature says what the hey!  All in the interest of improving our species’ survivability!

The only problem is, of course, that we don’t need to rely on “survival of the fittest” style mechanisms anymore, to ensure our species’ survival.  We can clearly create societies which foster healthy competition, and reward risk-taking, etc., without resorting nature’s brutal mechanism, which is literally killing off he or she who is unlucky enough to be at the wrong end of a dispute over food or mates, before he or she has a chance to breed.

In fact, hardwiring for hierarchy is nature’s way of mitigating some of the brutality and waste of this kill-or-be-killed mechanism, of the sort that’s most evident with animals like insects and fish.  The hierarchical principle is evident many of the “higher” animals, which have longer lifespans and are less fecund.  The way this mechanism works is that if you fit into a pecking order, and accept your role as a lower-down on the totem pole, you won’t be so continuously challenging the alphas, meaning that the alphas will have a longer lifespan during which time they can propagate their genes.  And even as a beta or gamma, you can also hope to live longer if you’re not continuously challenging everyone to a fight.  But of course, nature cares most about the Alphas.  By having most of us accept servility, nature has spared her alpha males and females, and allowed them to have a natural monopoly over the rest of us.  Which again, works great in a fairly dog-eat-dog natural environment.  But hasn’t the purpose of civilization been to evolve beyond this?  And/or, even if it hasn’t yet, can’t we now realize that this is the case, and then construct new, better ways of organizing society, so that more of us can enjoy our lives to the fullest, rather than always being subservient to the alphas? (more…)

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