2 Aug 2021

And What are Chickens For in a Destitute Time?

Hühnergeist (SA/2021)
A sub-species of a good-looking bird from Southeast Asia known as the red juglefowl, chickens were originally reared for fighting or ceremonial purposes and there are numerous references to them in myth, folklore, and literature. Indeed, once upon a time, such sacred animals had greater divine status even than man and only they were worthy of sacrifice [1]
But then someone had the idea of eating them ...
And now they are reared and slaughtered in their billions as a cheap source of food and the intensively farmed chicken has just about the most miserable (if mercifully short) life of any bird on the planet - hardly a day goes by without some fresh horror being revealed (to a largely indifferent public). 
These intelligent and sensitive creatures are not just killed, but negated as beings in their very birdhood by the system within which they are enframed. That's what Heidegger meant when he suggested a metaphysical equivalence between mechanised food production and the manufacture of corpses in Nazi extermination camps [2]
And it's surprising, I think, that there are critics who still find this idea morally insensitive and/or philosophically absurd. What would it take, one wonders, to have them acknowledge the essential sameness that reduces all life - be it avian or human being - to raw material ...? 
To argue, like Žižek, that there is no malevolent will to humiliate and punish birds by the farmers - whereas this plays a key role in the treatment of prisoners prior to their murder - may or may not be true, but I don't see that intentionality alters anything; you still end up with a lot of dead chickens [3].
I can't help hoping that, one day, the spirit of these birds will come home to roost ... Then we'll understand that our destiny has never been separate from theirs [4].    
[1] See Jean Baudrillard, 'The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses', in Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Farier Glaser, (The University of Michigan Press, 1994), pp. 129-141. The line I'm paraphrasing is on p. 133. Later in the text, Baudrillard develops this point and writes: 
"Whatever it may be, animals have always had, until our era, a divine or sacrificial nobility that all mythologies recount. Even murder by hunting is still a symbolic relation, as opposed to an experimental dissection. Even domestication is still a symbolic relation, as opposed to industrial breeding." [134]  
[2] See Martin Heidegger's Bremen lecture of December 1949 entitled Das Ge-Stell in volume 79 of his Gesamtausgabe (1994). The English translation of this volume, trans. Andrew J. Mitchell, is published as the Breman and Freiburg Lectures, (Indiana University Press, 2012), and the above text appears as 'Positionality'.   
[3] In other words, we should speak of impact rather than intention.
[4] Jean Baudrillard, 'The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses', Simulacra and Simulation, p. 133.   

31 Jul 2021

What's-a-Matter Midge? (Hey!)

Midge Ure and Joe Dolce photographed in 1981 -
guess who has just scored the number one single
I.  Schadenfreude (n);  pleasure derived from another's misfortune or humiliation ...
I have to admit, it amuses me to discover that - even after all these years - singer-songwriter Midge Ure is still pissed off by the fact that Joe Dolce beat him and his synth-pop combo, Ultravox, to the number one spot in 1981 [1]. 
Let us remember the time, reminding ourselves (and explaining to younger readers) who the principle protagonists of this little drama are, beginning with one of Scotland's greatest musical exports ...

II. Midge Ure (He'll Love You Forever and Ever)
Midge Ure may now just be one of those talking bald heads who regularly appear in rockumentaries on Sky Arts and be better known for his charity work, but, back in the day, he was a flash young fucker from the outskirts of Glasgow, with good-looks, bags of talent, and responsible for some big hits in the '70s and early-mid '80s.
He started off as a member of Slik - who were a bit like the Bay City Rollers - and so impressed Malcolm McLaren that, prior to auditioning Johnny Rotten and giving him the job, Midge was offered the role of lead singer with the Sex Pistols in 1975. 
Obviously, he turned it down, but, two years later, he would link up with bassist Glen Matlock (after the latter was fired from the Sex Pistols and replaced by Sid Vicious), to form the Rich Kids, releasing the glorious pop-punk anthem Ghosts of Princes in Towers in August 1978. 
Leaving the band due to musical differences, Midge next formed Visage, along with Rusty Egan (who had also been in the Rich Kids) and Steve Strange on vocals. Their second single, Fade to Grey (1980), was another top ten hit written and produced by Ure.   
But, arguably, it's Ultravox with whom Midge is most associated and best remembered. Replacing John Foxx as the lead singer and guitarist in November 1980, he revitalised the group and ensured they had massive commercial success, including seven top ten albums and seventeen top forty singles, until finally disbanding in 1987. 
This included the title track from their fourth album, released as a single in January 1981, Vienna ...     
III. Austria 2 Italy 1
I have to admit, despite its haunting notes and pizzicato strings, Vienna means nothing to me - it's way too mystic and soulful for my tastes. 
But it's regarded by the people who do like this kind of thing as one of the finest examples of the new romantic synth-pop genre and became Ultravox's signature song; one which Midge proudly continues to perform to this day (even though, apparently, when he first heard the classical-sounding orchestration he was hesitant about its use in a pop song, fearing it might be a bit too much even for a band that was proud of its own grandeur).  
Vienna was one of the best-selling singles of 1981 and voted Single of the Year at the Brit Awards; it reached number one in Ireland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, but it never made the top spot in the UK charts. Initially, Vienna was held in the number two position by John Lennon's Woman. But then, hilariously, Joe Dolce's comic masterpiece, Shaddap You Face, kept it there for a further three weeks.
Although known as a novelty record, the fact is people all over the world loved to sing along with Dolce's song (and still do). Not only did it get to number one in fifteen countries, but there have been numerous foreign language cover versions and the original single has sold over six million copies since its release. 
So hats off to Joe Dolce, an Italian-American-Australian singer-songwriter who is now highly respected as a poet and essayist. Maybe, one day, Midge will even agree to meet him - having turned down the opportunity to do so when in Australia a couple of years back - and the two will produce a song together ... I think that would be kind of nice.
[1] I'm basing this on recent press reports, including this one in the Scottish Mail on Sunday, by John Dingwall (18 Oct 2020): click here
      To be fair to Midge, I can imagine it would be irritating to be forever asked about Joe Dolce and subject to mockery throughout the last forty years - such as in this scene from the sixth and final episode of the BBC sitcom Filthy, Rich and Catflap (Feb 1987), featuring Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson: click here.  

Slik, 'Forever and Ever', single released from the album Slik, (Bell Records, 1975). 
Rich Kids, 'Ghosts and Princes in Towers', single released from the album Ghosts and Princes in Towers, (EMI, 1978). 
Visage, 'Fade to Grey', single released from the album Visage, (Polydor, 1980). 

Ultravox, 'Vienna', single released from the album Vienna, (Chrysalis, 1980). 

Joe Dolce Music Theatre, 'Shaddap You Face', (Full Moon Records, 1980).

Readers interested in Midge Ure can visit his official site: midgeure.co.uk

Readers interested in Joe Dolce can visit his official site: joedolce.net

29 Jul 2021

I, Too, Dislike It: Thoughts on The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

Fitzcarraldo Editions (2020) 
Any work with the word hatred in the title is likely to catch my attention. 
For hatred is a poorly appreciated passion, often understood purely in reactive terms as love on the recoil, as if the latter were the great primary term or essential prerequisite and the former lacked its own positivity or dynamism. 
The fact is, however, that whilst love makes blind and compromises judgement, hatred activates areas of the brain involved in critical evaluation. Thus, whilst love may seem to promise human salvation, it's hate which has enabled us to survive as a species [a].  

Still, we're not here to discuss hatred per se, but, rather, Ben Lerner's essay from 2016 in which, paradoxically, he uses his hatred of poetry to construct an interesting defence of the art and craft of which he is himself a skilled practitioner [b].
Lerner opens with the revised (shorter) version of Marianne Moore's 'Poetry':

I, too, dislike it.
    Reading it, however, with a perfect
      contempt for it, one discovers in
    it, after all, a place for the genuine. [c]
And that's a clever place to open and a clever little poem to open with, although I must confess to being uncomfortable with the final word; one that not only refers us back to ideals of truth and authenticity, but retains echoes of a concern with paternal origins and racial purity.
Still, we're not here to discuss the etymology and politics of the word genuine: it's the unforgettable first line that matters most; a line that has been on repeat in Lerner's head for even more years than Bartleby's I would prefer not to has been in mine [d]. I know exactly what Lerner means when he speaks of a refrain having either "the feel of negative rumination" or "a kind of manic, mantric affirmation" [e]
There is, then, something about poetry that makes us all dislike it - even if we continue to read it, write it, and wish to safeguard it. It's an art form which, as Lerner points out, has been defined for millennia by this rhythm of denunciation and defence. Maybe, he suggests, that's because poetry always fails to deliver what it promises to deliver; i.e., it always at some level disappoints. 
This probably has something to do with the limits of language. For language can never quite capture the transcendent impulse that often inspires great poetry and, as Nietzsche says, we posit words where feeling ends. 
Thus, whilst poetry clears a space for something, it isn't the thing itself. At best, poetry is a kind of approximation or simulation and this irritates a lot of people who want the real deal and demand the impossible from language (that it describe the indescribable, for example). The song of infinitude, writes Lerner, "is compromised by the finitude of its terms" [13]
This means that the poet is a tragic figure - someone gripped by a kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, filled with recurrent dreams and imaginative fantasies and repeating the same errors over and over again. In my view, the sanest poets learn to climb down Pisgah and attend, like Francis Ponge, to the nature of things as actual objects. To substantiate mystery is the task of the artist and their concern should be with immanence, not transcendence. 
But that's just my view: it's not necessarily Lerner's view. For even if he admits of the impossiblity of genuine poetry - and confesses that he can't hear the planet-like music that the Elizabethan poet Philip Sidney claims to hear - I sense that he still admires those who attempt to project existence into the fourth dimension of being and place individual experience within something bigger - something like Humanity, for example. 
But I might be mistaken here; for Lerner, like many contemporary poets, expresses acute hesitancy about the desire to speak for everyone and is sceptical of the Whitmanesque fantasy of a poet who could "unite us in our difference, constituting a collective subject through the magic of language" [60] [f]
There are many reasons to dislike Plato. But, to his credit, he didn't take any shit from poets, as Larry David might say. 
The irony of Plato's dialogues, however, is that "they are themselves poetic: formally experimental imaginative dramatizations" [26]. And Socrates might even be thought of as "a new breed of poet" [26]. The further irony, is that by attacking poetry as he did, Plato makes it seem sexier - more powerful, more dangerous - than it really is:
"How many poets' outsized expectations about the political effects of our work, or critics' disappointment in what actual poems contribute to society, derive from Plato's bestowing us with the honour of exile?" [28] [g]
This mistaken attack on poetry has continued in one form or another down the ages. One suspects that the Romantics were very much aware of something that Nietzsche later formularises: what doesn't kill a thing makes it stronger. Thus they secretly revelled in the attacks upon them: It is better to be hated than loved ... an idea which Malcolm McLaren would later subscribe to.   
Lerner tells us that his favourite poet is Cyrus Console, his boyhood friend from Kansas (which may be true, or may simply be a touching gesture on his part). And he confesses that he's "never found Keatsian euphony quite as powerful as Emily Dickinson's dissonance" [46], to which one can only reply: moi non plus. 
In fact, I'm fairly sympathetic to Lerner throughout this work and mostly in agreement with what he says; even if I suspect he'd characterise my hatred of poetry as a defensive rage against all otherworldliness (that is to say, as a form of reaction, whereas I tend to see this as a form of active nihilism or a negation of the negative).   
I certainly share Lerner's "refusal of modernist nostalgia for some lost unity of experience and [...] rejection of totalizing ideologies" [97]. That  would serve as a fine description of my own postmodern project (even if Lerner says it with reference to Charles Orson's 1949 verse 'The Kingfishers', and not Torpedo the Ark).
I'll close this post, if I may, with what might (and should) have been Lerner's own conclusion: Poems are like the meterological phenomenon known as virga - i.e., observable streaks of water or ice crystals trailing from a cloud that evaporate before they ever reach the ground. 
In other words, poetry is a shower of rain "that never quite closes the gap between heaven and earth" [100] [h].  
[a] I say more on the advantages of hatred in a post published in November 2014: click here
[b] As well as three highly acclaimed novels, Lerner has also published three poetry collections: The Lichtenberg Figures, (Copper Canyon Press, 2004); Angle of Yaw, (Copper Canyon Press, 2006); and Mean Free Path, (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). These three volumes, plus a handful of newer poems, have been brought together in No Art (Granta Books, 2016).
      For more information on Lerner and to read a selection of his work, visit his page on the Poetry Foundation website: click here
[c] See The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, (MacMillan, 1967). 
      The original (longer) version of 'Poetry' was published in Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, ed. Alfred Kreymborg, (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920) and can be read on poets.org by clicking here.
[d] I have always had an ambivalent relationship to Bartleby the scrivener; sometimes I hate him, sometimes I am taken with his strange beauty and negativism beyond all negation. See one of the very earliest posts on TTA (31 Jan 2013) in which I discuss Melville's great anti-hero: click here
[e] Ben Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry, (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020), p. 9. Future page references to this work will be given directly in the text.   

[f] Lerner provides an excellent discussion of Whitman in The Hatred of Poetry, see pp. 61-70. His conclusion is clear: "the Whitmanic program has never been realized in history, and I don't think it can be" [67]. In other words, poetry is incapable of reconciling the individual and the social; of transforming millions of individuals into an authentic people. Later in the text, Lerner describes the desire for universality as a form of white male nostalgia (see pp. 78-85) and veers towards identity politics in a fairly lengthy discussion of Claudia Rankine's writing (pp. 87-96).    

[g] Lerner provides an interesting discussion of poetry and politics - particularly in relation to the idea of being avant-garde - later in his work; see pp. 53-57. 
      For the avant-garde, writes Lerner, "the poem is an imaginary bomb [...]: It explodes the category of poetry and enters history. The poem is a weapon - a weapon against received ideas of what the artwork is, certainly, but also an instrument of war in a heroic, revolutionary struggle [...]." But of course, ultimately poems are bombs that never go off - much to the annoyance of those who hope to achieve real political change via poetry. 

[h] It's unfortunate that this isn't Lerner's closing remark; that he goes on to qualify it, thereby undermining the strength of his own argument:
"I hope it goes without saying that [...] poems can fulfill any number of ambitions [...] They can actually be funny, or lovely, or offer solace, or courage, or inspiration to certain audience at certain times; they can play a role in constituting a community; and so on." [101-102]

Lerner then provides a kind of postscript in which he attempts to explain how that can be; i.e., how poetry as a linguistic practice might overcome or bypass the internal contradictions he's been describing. Lerner thus ends his book not with an interesting comparison between poetry and a weather event, but with a (slightly nauseating) plea for the genuine and hate's sublimation:

"All I ask the haters - and I, too, am one - is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bringing it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences (like unheard melodies), it might come to resemble love." [113-114]

For an earlier review of The Hatred of Poetry - one which I had forgotten writing back in October 2016, until kindly reminded by a friend of mine - click here. 

26 Jul 2021

On Those Who Have Been Refused Entry Into the Land of the Free ...

Photo by John Tiberi of the Sex Pistols 
(Steve Jones / Johnny Rotten / Sid Vicious / Paul Cook) 
on the eve of their first American tour (January 1978)
As might be imagined, there exists a fairly extensive list of notable persons who have been deported from the United States for one reason or another, often on the grounds that they are aliens who are hostile to the American way of life defined in terms of motherhood and apple pie [1].  
It's a list that includes, for example, the English comic actor and director Charlie Chaplin and the Russian political activist and writer Emma Goldman; the latter described by J. Edgar Hoover shortly before her removal in 1919, as one of the most dangerous women alive.

But it's not this list or the figures upon it which interests me here: I am, rather, concerned with the list of notable people who have been refused entry into the Land of the Free ...
This a list that includes Kurt Blome, the high-ranking Nazi scientist who performed illicit medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein President and IRA sympathiser, and, rather more surprisingly, footballer Diego Maradona, domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, and singer-songwriter Lily Allen [2].    

I think my favourite entry on the list, however, is Sebastian Horsley, who, after arriving at Newwark Airport in March 2008, was denied entry into the United States on the grounds of moral turpitude
After eight hours of questioning - and despite the fact that he had removed his nail polish as a concession to American sensibilities - Horsley was placed on a plane and sent back to London; his planned book tour and six-month stay in the US over before it had even begun [3]
In failing to enter and tour America, Horsley actually goes one better than his heroes the Sex Pistols, who, seen above in passport photos taken at the time, were initially denied visas by the US Embassy in London on the eve of their first American tour (members of the band having committed a number of criminal misdemeanours).   
Although obliged to cancel several shows, the band were, of course, eventually allowed in to the States, thanks to the efforts of their American record company, Warner Bros., and the lawyers acting on their behalf. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, things did not go well - which is not to say they didn't go as Malcolm hoped; the plan being not to sell tickets or records, but incite mayhem and disillusion [4]
[1] It might be noted that only those designated as aliens are subject to removal from the United States. In other words, a U.S. citizen or a U.S. national cannot be removed from the United States under any circumstances.  

[2] Maradona had numerous criminal convictions in Argentina, Italy, and elsewhere; Nigella was barred from boarding a flight leaving London for LA in 2014, having recently confessed to a cocaine habit; Lily Allen was refused a U.S. visa for having assaulted a photographer in 2007 and for singing in a mockney accent. 
[3] Torpedophiles will be aware that I have already written a post on the idea of moral turpitude with reference to the case of Sebastian Horsley: click here.   

[4] At the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, on the 14th of January, 1978, the Sex Pistols self-imploded before the eyes of the world and exposed rock music as a dying beast that needed putting out of its misery. To watch the show in full, click here

24 Jul 2021

Götzen-Dämmerung: Notes on Wandering Wombs, Spontaneous Generation, Bodily Humours and the Ancient Greek Soul

Sounding out idols of the mind since 1888 
It's easy (and thus tempting) to look back on humanity's past and smile at some of the odd things that people - including philosophers and men of learning - used to believe. 
I've already written, for example, about the theory of maternal impression - click here and here - but thought it might be interesting to briefly mention three other ancient truths that we now know to be false [1] ...

(i) The Wandering Womb

Belief in the wandering womb (as a cause of hysteria) can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks, though it persisted as a popular idea in European medicine well into the medieval and early-modern period. 
For celebrated physicians like Aretaeus of Cappadocia, writing in the 2nd century AD, the uterus was a free-floating organ which resembled an autonomous creature happily living within the female body, sensitive to smells and always in search of fluids to sustain it. 
It wasn't until our knowledge of anatomy improved from the 16th-century onwards that this idea of a wandering womb began to slowly lose credibility and female hysteria would eventually become a condition associated with the mind, rather than the uterus [2].      

(ii) Spontaneous Generation 
The theory of spontaneous generation held that living creatures (such as fleas and maggots) could arise from non-living matter (such as dust and decomposing flesh) and that such processes were all part of the natural order [3]
Again, we have the ancient Greeks to thank for this amusing idea. 
For it was Aristotle who synthesised earlier explanations provided by the natural philosophers [φυσιολόγοι] for the mysterious appearance of organisms, into a coherent theory which would be taken as a matter of scientific fact for the next 2000 years (it wasn't until spontaneous generation was disproved by Louis Pasteur and others in the 1850s, that the term fell out of favour within scientific circles).  
(iii) Bodily Humours 
Even the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, subscribed to a few mistaken notions, central amongst which was the idea that vital bodily fluids (or humours) determined human health and disposition. 
Again, this theory persisted well into the modern era as doctors down the centuries vainly attempted to balance blood, phlegm, and two types of bile (black and yellow), in the belief that any excess or deficiency of any one of these four humours would result in illness or a bad character. 
It wasn't until the advent of germ theory, which demonstrated that many diseases previously thought to be humoral were in fact caused by pathogens, that physicians were able to move on (though such ideas persist in those parts of the world that still practice traditional medicine).  

The point I'm trying to make here is twofold:
Firstly, I'm trying to illustrate how even the best minds can get things wrong and how certain ideas can become so ingrained within our thinking over such long periods of time, that they become unquestioned articles of faith and common belief (doxa). 
Secondly, I'm trying to encourage readers not to simply look back and laugh at the mistaken ideas of antiquity, but ask themselves what cherished beliefs they might subscribe to as truths which will one day be exposed as fallacious and fantastical ...
I'm thinking, for example, of the still widespread belief in the psyche - a concept often used by people who think mind is something separate from (and other to) brain activity, but who still wish to sound rational rather than religious and so try to avoid words like soul or spirit. 
Like all of the ideas examined above, this one can be traced back to the ancient Greeks; ψυχή is central to the philosophy of Plato, and Aristotle wrote a hugely influential work on the subject. Indeed, the latter's theory of the three souls - vegetal, animal, and human - would dominate the field of psychology until the 19th century.
I'm reminded at this point of Nietzsche's realisation that one day we will have to overcome the last trace of Greek influence on our thinking - as beautiful and as profound as it may have once seemed - and take a hammer to all the old idols of the mind [4] ...  
[1] The big one, of course, would be God, but I can't imagine anyone reading TTA needs reminding of the circumstances surrounding his death.  
[2] Today, of course, hysteria is no longer a clinically recognised condition and no one thinks the womb a thirsty roaming animal.  

[3] The imaginary process by which life was believed to routinely and rapidly emerge from non-living matter (such as the seasonal generation of mice and other animals from the mud of the Nile), is sometimes referred to as abiogenesis. It should be noted, however, that spontaneous generation has no operative principles in common with the modern hypothesis of abiogenesis used within evolutionary biology, which argues that life arose from simple organic compounds over a time span of many millions of years.
[4] It might be argued that the analytic philosopher Paul Churchland has pushed philosophising with a hammer to its extreme in his eliminative materialism, which, as Nietzsche might have said, is radikal bis zum Verbrechen
      Churchland is convinced that neuroscience will eventually spell the end for psychology, which he thinks a fundamentally defective and confused theory. The problem, however, is whilst with hindsight we can see the inadequacies and absurdities of ancient theories, it's not so easy to see these within contemporary theories that remain part of our Lebenswelt and which the majority of people still believe to be not merely true, but blindingly obvious to anyone with common sense. 
      Readers interested in Churchland's work might like to see his crucial essay 'Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes', in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 78, No. 2 (Feb 1981), pp. 67-90. I refer to this essay in a previous (and related) post to this one: click here

22 Jul 2021

Aphantasia: On Eliminating the Imagination

Aphantasia (oil and clay) 
by Rachel L. Clarke
According to some, imagination is the foundation of material reality. That is to say, nothing actually exists before it has first been seen in the mind's eye. Such people have no evidence for this and so either quote poets or Plato for support, or fall back on good old common sense [1]
Isn't it obvious, they ask, that dreams, desires, and imaginative ideas encapsulate the true and essential nature of things and precede substantial forms. Think about it, they say, man like God creates by first imagining things and then willing them into physical existence.  
Well, I have thought about it and this mixture of idealism and folk psychology seems to me nonsense. I agree with D. H. Lawrence here; no mind - not even Jordan Peterson's - could have imagined a lobster "dozing in the under-deeps, then reaching out a savage and iron claw!" [2] 
Ultimately, I would suggest, we can only imagine things that already exist and that it is not the imagination that determines reality, but reality that shapes the imagination. To quote Lawrence once more: 
"Even the mind of God can only imagine 
those things that have become themselves: 
bodies and presences, here and now, creatures with a foothold in creation 
even if it is only a lobster on tip-toe." [3]

In an essay on eliminative materialism, Paul Churchland argues that "our common sense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than smoothly reduced, by completed neuroscience" [4].
One of the problems with folk psychology is that when evaluated with regard to its coherence and continuity in relation to more recent work in evolutionary biology and neuroscience, it soon becomes increasingly suspect and would, argues Churchland, evoke open skepticism were it not one of our oldest and most cherished theories.
The fact is, that even the faculty of creative imagination, for example, is something that remains almost wholly mysterious within the framework provided by folk psychology. The latter believes its truths to not only be self-evident, but universally and eternally true and so is little prone to self-criticism or to change; perfect theories have no need to evolve in the light of new evidence or knowledge. 
Ultimately, folk psychology has become a form of faith or dogma, proud of its own conceptual inertia. At best, says Churchland, it provides a "partial and unpenetrating gloss on a deeper and more complex reality" [5] - one that is wholly material (rather than imaginary) in nature and not cluttered up with a lot of second-hand representations and hoary old archetypes [6].
[1] There's a very good reason why those who belong to a post-Romantic literary and/or post-Kantian philosophical tradition often return to a conceptual framework for mental phenomena based upon a remarkably conservative theory of common sense (or as they sometimes call it intuitive wisdom). For as Paul Churchland points out, it very conveniently provides "a simple and unifying organization to most of the major topics in the philosophy of mind, including the explanation and prediction of behavior, the semantics of mental predicates, action theory, the other-minds problem, the intentionality of mental states, the nature of introspection, and the mind-body problem". 
      Unfortunately, explanatory and predictive success does not necessarily make a theory true and those who subscribe to folk psychology might at least consider the possibility that its principles are radically false and its ontology is an illusion.
      See Churchland's essay 'Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes', in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 78, No. 2, (Feb 1981), pp. 67-90. Lines quoted are on p. 68. I will return to this essay in part two of this post.   
[2] D. H. Lawrence, 'Demiurge', The Poems, Vol. I., ed. Christopher Pollnitz, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 603. 
      Lawrence's opposition to the imagination as the ability to make pictures of the world and oneself in the mind without any external sensory input, is revealed in his review of The Social Basis of Consciousness (1927) by Trigant Burrow. Lawrence argues, for example, that mental images are a substitute for life. As soon as man falls into self-consciousness, he makes pictures of himself - that is to say, he imagines himself ideally - and then he tries to live according to the picture. The imagination is thus a form of imprisonment; we become trapped within a world of representation. If only, he says, we could understand and admit to ourselves that we and the world are not the same as the images we make, then we might be able to live and think and create in an entirely fresh (non-ideal) manner. Ultimately, says Lawrence, the imagination is not real: "It is a horrible compulsion set over us [...] The true self is not aware that it is a self. A bird as it sings sings itself. But not according to a picture. It has no idea of itself." Those who call themselves psychoanalysts, if they really cared about their patients, would liberate them from their own imaginations and get them back into touch with the world as it exists outside them (i.e. mind-independently): they must shatter the great image-producing machine that reflects nothing but their own human conceit. 
      See 'Review of The Social Basis of Consciousness, by Trigant Burrow', in D. H. Lawrence, Introductiond and Reviews, ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen, (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp, 329-336. Lines quoted are on pp. 334 and 336.
[3] D. H. Lawrence, 'Demiurge', The Poems, Vol. I., op. cit., p. 603. 
[4] Paul Churchland,  'Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes' ... op. cit., p. 67.

[5] Ibid., p. 74.

[6] Even some philosophers in the European tradition eventually grew tired of post-Kantian models of the imagination; Gilles Deleuze, for example, refused to think of it as something innate or natural, but, rather, something that has been constructed and authorised by the governing determinations of the good, the true, and the beautiful. 
Readers interested in knowing more about aphantasia - the inability to create mental images in one's mind - should visit the Aphantasia Network: click here

21 Jul 2021

Global Goals

SDG logo
You may have noticed that all kinds of powerful people have been adopting the phrase build back better as a kind of zen fascist mantra over the last few years. The same people - let's call them the global elite - have also started to wear a circular multicoloured little badge and I thought readers might like to know why that is ...    
In September 2015, the leaders of all 193 member states of the UN adopted a universal programme known as Agenda 2030
At the heart of this programme are a number of Sustainable Development Goals (known more simply as SDGs or the Global Goals), which promote the utopian fantasy of a better world for everyone by the end of this decade; provided that is, we all work together and accept that far-reaching social, economic, and environmental change is necessary. 
If we all mobilise successfully, argue those who are seriously pushing this agenda, then we will meet the 169 targets contained within the 17 Global Goals [1] and transform society from top to bottom; ending all forms of poverty, achieving social justice, and tackling climate change, for example. 
Whilst the private sector, the media, civil society, and the general public will all have a role to play in this Great Reset, obviously governments will be expected to take a lead and establish the necessary frameworks via which the Global Goals can be implemented and achieved. The UN will monitor and report on their progress "towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and planet" [2].        
Of course, although unanimously agreed, the Goals are not legally binding and the UN doesn't have the power to enforce them - it can merely encourage everyone to get on board. Those who wish to show their support for the New World Order can even buy their very own SDG pin on Amazon: click here
And once you have the badge or brooch, you might want also to follow these suggestions about how to contribute to Agenda 2030:
"Spread the word about the Global Goals, so that more people can take action and contribute to meeting the Goals. Join an organization that actively contributes to meeting the Goals. Reduce your general waste and your enviromental footprint. Avoid plastics, take the train instead of the airplane, the bike instead of the car. Make conscious choices in your consumption. Buy local and try to make sure what you buy is produced in fair and sustainable ways. Show compassion and stand up against racism, exclusion, discrimination and injustice. Use your imagination. The future depends on our ability to imagine it." [3]
That last line is, of course, an expression of the purest idealism. In fact, it's almost a form of magical thinking; i.e., the belief that one's thoughts and fantasies can have real effects in the actual world providing one really, really wants something to happen or to change. The young and religiously-minded are particularly susceptible to such thinking. And the insane ...     
[1] The 17 Global Goals are: 
1. No poverty 
2. Zero hunger 
3. Good health and well-being 
4. Quality education 
5. Gender equality 
6. Clean water and sanitation
7. Affordable and clean energy
8. Decent work and economic growth
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10. Reduced inequalities
11. Sustainable cities and communites
12. Responsible consumption and production
13. Climate action
14. Life below water
15. Life on land
16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
17. Partnerships for the Goals
The order of the Goals does not signify priority; "all are critical and interdependent". 
[2] All information in this post is taken from globalgoals.org. Lines quoted are from the Q&A section.

[3] For more hints and tips of good things you can do, read the UNs Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World, click here
To understand Agenda 2030 etc. within a philosophical context, see Jean Baudrillard's essay 'The Violence of the Global', trans. François Debrix: click here.

19 Jul 2021

On Politeness of the Heart (A Nietzschean Guide to Good Manners)

At the risk of repeating what I've said in an earlier post, I feel it's important to respond to an email sent to me by an angry young man who suggests that rudeness is a worthwhile price to pay for sincerity and authenticity and that great artists can not only be excused their bad manners, but also their cruelty towards others. 
Amongst those he calls upon to support this argument is Nietzsche ...
Now, it's unfortunate that there are still readers of the latter who refuse to acknowledge that central to his ethics and the cultivation of the self are what he terms the four cardinal virtues: honesty, courage, magnanimity, and, finally, politeness [1]. This last virtue being just as crucial as the first and neither compromised nor negated by it. 
In other words, being honest with oneself doesn't justify being impolite or ill-mannered to others and moving beyond good and evil doesn't mean behaving in a boorish or brutal manner. And whilst it's true that Nietzsche rejects the Christian virtue of pity [Mitleiden] and speaks of the positive role that cruelty has played in the formation of man (often using Grausamkeit as synonymous with Kultur), so too does he privilege terms such as benevolence [Wohlwollen] and joy [Freude]. 
Ultimately, Nietzsche is a eudaimonic philosopher (if of a rather unusual kind); i.e., one concerned with promoting (and enhancing) the happiness and wellbeing of man as a species. This is particularly evident in his Epicurean mid-period works, wherein he writes, for example, of those little, daily acts of kindness that, although frequent, are often overlooked by those who study morals and manners; the smiling eyes and warm handshakes which display what he terms politeness of the heart [2].
And so, whilst it's true that, for Nietzsche, what are virtues in one may be vices in another (and vice versa), I can't imagine him ever being anything other than courteous in his own life. Thus, whilst he repeatedly encourages everyone to become what they are, that means giving style to the chaos within and listening to one's intellectual conscience; it surely doesn't mean becoming coarse, crass and crude [ungehobelt]. 
In conclusion ... Being rude, lacks discipline; it's base and lazy behaviour. Politeness is an acknowledgment of the other person's uniqueness of being; their starry singularity. My angry young correspondent would thus do well to remember that spiritual strength and passion, when accompanied by bad manners, only provoke loathing.   
[1] These four cardinal virtues are found in Daybreak, §556. Five years later, Nietzsche provides a modified list consisting of courage, insight, sympathy, and solitide; see Beyond Good and Evil, §284. Although he continually supplemented this list and substituted terms, he never made rudeness a virtue.
[2] Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Cambridge University Press, 1996), I. 2. 49. 
      This phrase, politeness of the heart, was earlier used by Goethe who saw it as closely allied to love. It was also used, in 1892, by Henri Bergson in a lecture to students. For Bergson, kindness of the heart helps evoke a better future by creating the conditions in which positive change can unfold (we are tempted to call it a form of grace). Bergson also spoke of politeness of manners (i.e., everyday courtesies) and politeness of spirit (compassion or empathy).   

17 Jul 2021

A Brief History of Angry Young Men and the Manosphere from John Osborne to Ian Ironwood

Whilst the angry young men of the post-war era were prominent in the world of theatre and literature during the 1950s and early-60s [1], now there's a new generation of disillusioned malcontents who belong to what is commonly termed the manosphere [2] - a digital space composed of numerous websites, blogs, and online forums promoting a reactionary model of masculinity which, whilst not always toxic, is invariably anti-feminist and frequently misogynistic. 
The overall tone of the manosphere is aggressive, abusive, and alienated. Not only can one find a defence of the most appalling behaviour - including incitement to real-world violence - but such behaviour is celebrated as politically rebellious and anti-woke. Jokes about rape and other acts of sexual violence sit uneasily alongside discussions of men's rights.
Indeed, some within the manosphere seem to think hate speech is an expression of a special form of love; but then the same people probably also believe that Wilde's each man kills passage from The Ballard of Reading Gaol provides justification for murder (and they wonder why they're incels).
If John Osborne is the name most readily associated with the original angry young men, then Jordan Peterson is, arguably, the name that most often pops up when you cruise the manosphere, with some of his more lobster-like followers describing him as a spiritual saviour who will redeem masculinity from modern chaos and restore phallocratic order with his folksy rules for life and an all-beef diet ...!            
In brief - and to be clear - I dislike Jimmy Porter and his disconcerting mixture of sincerity and malice; I find him vulgar as well as cruel; a resentful loudmouth who thinks good manners and kindness can be discarded in the name of absolute honesty. 
Ultimately, I prefer the figure of Sally as imagined by Noel Gallagher: a young woman who even when realising that her life has been a series of missed opportunities and feels her soul sliding away, still refuses to look back in anger (at least not today) [3]
[1] The angry young men were a loose group of mostly working and lower middle-class British playwrights and novelists who came to fame in the 1950s. Leading figures included John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, and Alan Sillitoe. 
      The phrase was originally coined by the Royal Court Theatre's press officer in order to promote Osborne's 1956 play Look Back in Anger. The media soon began using the phrase, however, to describe any young writers who were bitterly disillusioned with traditional British society and culture. As a result, the phrase began to lose its meaning and many writers to whom it was applied refused the label. 
[2] The term manosphere is believed to have first appeared on a blog in 2009. It was subsequently popularized by professional sex nerd Ian Ironwood, who published an ebook entitled The Manosphere: A New Hope for Masculinity in 2013. He blogs (for an ascendent manosphere) at theredpillroom.blogspot.com 
[3] I'm referring here to the Oasis single written by Noel Gallagher, 'Don't Look Back in Anger', released Feb 1996 and taken from the album (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, (Creation Records, 1995). Click here to watch the official video dir. Nigel Dick (remastered and in HD), featuring Patrick Macnee.  

16 Jul 2021

On the Life, Death, and Shameful Maligning of Jill Bennett by John Osborne

Jill Bennett 
(as Aunt Pen in The Nanny, 1965)
Jill Bennett (1931-1990) was a British actress and - to her great misfortune - the fourth wife of overrated playwright John Osborne. 
Although born overseas (in Penang), Bennett was educated at an independent girls' boarding school in Surrey and trained as an actress at RADA. She made her stage début in 1949 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. Her first movie role followed two years later; a murdered showgirl in The Long Dark Hall (1951). 
Bennett went on to build a long and successful career on stage, film and TV. I remember her best as sexy Aunt Pen, in the Hammer horror classic The Nanny (1965), and as Jacoba Brink, a Soviet figure skater hired to train Bibi Dahl (played by Lynn Holly-Johnson), in the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only
Her final film performance was as Mrs. Lyle in The Sheltering Sky (1990). She died - by suicide [1] - in October of that year, aged 58, having long suffered from depression which was in no small degree triggered and intensified by her disastrous ten-year marriage to Osborne (1968-1978).    

The latter, who was subject during Bennett's lifetime to a restraining order which prevented him from writing about her or their marriage, immediately wrote a scurrilous chapter about his ex-wife as an addition to the second volume of his autobiography. The chapter, in which he rejoiced at her death, rightly caused controversy; this wasn't simply looking back in anger by a bitter old man, this was a vile display of toxic masculinity.  
Bennett undoubtedly had her faults: maybe, as Osborne claimed, everything about her life had been a pernicious confection and sham. It's true also that she dished out many vicious insults of her own directed towards her husband; publicly mocking his impotence and deriding him as a closeted homosexual, for example. 
But, even if all's fair in love and war, you don't need to speak spitefully of the dead and show open contempt for a woman who has taken her own life; describing her suicide, for example, as a tawdry piece of theatricality, if "one of the few original or spontaneous gestures in her loveless life" [2].
Nor do you need to add that your only regret is not being able to look upon her open coffin and shit upon the corpse. This doesn't make you a transgressive author who should be celebrated for the brutal violence of their language. It just makes you a prick ...
[1] Bennett took an overdose of quinalbarbitone (or secobarbital as it is known in the United States).    
[2] John Osborne, Almost a Gentleman: An Autobiography, (Faber and Faber, 1991), p. 259.  

Musical bonus: In 1992, Bennett's ashes - along with those of her friend, the actress Rachel Roberts (who also died by suicide, in 1980) - were scattered by the film and theatre director Lindsay Anderson on the River Thames, while musician Alan Price sang the Leiber and Stoller song Is That All There Is? 
      Footage of the event was included in Anderson's autobiographical BBC documentary also entitled Is That All There Is? (1992): click here to watch on YouTube.