Friday, November 28, 2008

On B+ movies and literature

In short, the contemporary apocalypse pits family values against the cannibalistic universe--the good guys versus the bad guys, in McCarthy's unironic terms. And so, with the end of civilization, the age-old conflict between sexual love (eros) and love of one's neighbor (caritas) also disappears; and the grown-up Jesus' exhortation to his followers that they leave their families if they wish to pursue righteousness is as little remembered as among Christian fundamentalists today. No one pauses to reflect that in our civilization, pre-collapse, it was invariably the defense of the individual household that justified a nation's warlike international posture or its profligate use of energy. Nuclear war might be averted, went the insipid Sting hit of the late cold war, if the Russians love their children too. But if global warming is not arrested, it will be because we (and the Russians) want for our children everything we have and more.

Benjamin Kunkel, "Dystopia and the End of Politics" (2008)

Thursday, November 27, 2008


For us, paradox reduced itself to the simplest terms: it was the ability to say what was not expected, to fool one's audience. If, during a thunder shower, another boy looked out the classroom window and said, "It isn't raining, is it?" expecting us to answer "no," we would say "yes." By doing so, we were giving what we called a First Convolution answer.

The theory of convolutions was evolved in Pittsburgh, at Peabody High School, but it might have appeared in any city during those years before the war. [...] The process seems capable of indefinite extension; it can be applied, moreover, to any form of art, so long as one is less interested in what one says than in one's ability to outwit an audience.

Malcolm Cowley, Exile's Return (1934)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Pretty Idea

The premise of secular humanism (or of just old-fashioned humanism) is that the examples of action and thought portrayed in the enduring works of literature, philosophy and history can create in readers the desire to emulate them. [...] It’s a pretty idea, but there is no evidence to support it and a lot of evidence against it. If it were true, the most generous, patient, good-hearted and honest people on earth would be the members of literature and philosophy departments, who spend every waking hour with great books and great thoughts, and as someone who’s been there (for 45 years) I can tell you it just isn’t so.

Stanley Fish, "Will the Humanities Save Us?" (2008)