Thursday, April 21, 2016

I am bummed, too. All of us of a certain age own Prince: I mean, Controversy, 1999, Little Red Corvette, Purple Rain--wine coolers (yeah, so, I was 15!) and baking our little pre-cancerous hides in Hawaiian Tropic by somebody's pool. I get it. But I have to side with my mom on this a bit. For, what has it been, the past 10-12 DAYS that 1000s of people have been demonstrating and 100s have been arrested for protesting at the nation's Capitol? That protest has gotten about a cumulative 3 minutes total air time on the nightly news--at least here locally. Tonight, newscasters spent 15 minutes--FIFTEEN MINUTES--on Prince, including a ridiculous timeline of his last movements. What with ads, there was just enough time to squeeze in a little love for that cretin asshat Trump at the end. So, and okay give the man his due--Prince was an amazing songwriter and made a lot of money and was popular when we were of a certain age. But I've got to know, what does it mean exactly when the death of a pop culture icon gets more attention than the last jerks of a dying democracy? Go ahead, roll your eyes. I'm feeling a little frustrated and dramatic I guess. I'm just finding it hard to put a finger on what, other than his popularity, makes Prince so freaking mournable. If that's a word. Was he a great man? I mean, was he really? What did he do that was really, really Great? I mean, other than write some fine songs. Maybe he was a splendid human being, but that is not what everyone's weeping purple tears about. I don't know why everyone's all devastated. I don't get it.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sandel on populism in The Guardian-2/27/16

The conclusions Sandel reaches at the end of this excellent piece are similar to the premise of my PhD dissertation (2004) on the myth of equality in writing during the the American Revolution and early Republic periods. My further point was that equality survived as a motivating and even a unifying rhetoric during that period because it was elastic and empty and easily shifted content between an equality that meant "everybody shares the community bounty" to an equality that meant "somebody wins big, lots of people lose big, but nature or merit or God fairly arbitrates that outcome." American writers in the late 18th, early 19th century wielded "equality" like a flag, using it to promote a sense of national definition and purpose--even though what equality meant was quite unstable--moving between those two very different referents. We see a similar polarization in definitions of equality now, even--as Sandel points out--among populists. The difference between now and then seems to be that, because polarization is sharper now and spelled out constantly in internet memes, the myth of equality no longer describes our collective identity but underscores our contentious multiplicity. The contentiousness and division are nothing new but only less well obscured these days by a murky but encompassing myth. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leaving Right to the Mercy of Chance

The Thoreau quote below has always been one of my favorites. If I remember correctly he was writing in the context of an increasingly hot national struggle over slavery that would lead, in the year after his publication of his essay, to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which required free states like Massachusetts to apprehend and send escaped slaves back to the South--despite their own state laws against slavery. The sentiment and logic (and Thoreau's prose) never fail to fill me with a kind of awe. Majority rule keeps us running and supposedly reflects a people's values and priorities (it is "expedien[t]"), but it never bears a necessary relationship with right. When the majority holds for something evil (i.e., slavery, internment camps), Thoreau argues that a conscientious person ("the wise man") must vote in some way other than by ballot. How exhilarating. One thinks of the Occupy Movement. The only problem is that this logic is as much that of Thoreau and someone like MLK as it is central to the thinking of the more virulent anti-choice groups or those wankers in Oregon. So--and this is no argument against Thoreau's point--when your government does things that you not only disagree with but on reflection find deeply and morally repugnant, even horrifying (i.e., Guantanamo Bay, denying health care to women with few resources in Texas, etc.), how do you register your vote for right? Resistance that is meaningful must undermine the order of law. That sounds fine if the cause is my cause, but if it's the cause of Operation Rescue, things start to seem more complicated. Order is never the same as justice, but it seems a more likely context for it than chaos.

"All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back gammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obli­gation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority." --Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government, 1849

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I should be doing something else, something related to web site design and sexual health programming for women in jail, but instead I am eating string cheese and staring at the wall, thinking (probably not very originally) about how Moby-Dick, Leaves of Grass, and Walden resemble each other. They all attempt to "get at" some idea that is ungainly or ineffable through acts of artful, suggestive induction, acts of piling/listing/layering. Whitman does it serially, with lists of words--layering his sense of nation through a litany of concretes--roles, places, performances, tableaux. Walden maps the nineteenth-century sense of individualism onto his pond and cabin, again listing and layering his subject through the seasons and moods of his surroundings. Melville weaves around and around his whale--always not quite getting there--but building a mountain incrementally, a whale out of bits and pieces: metaphors, legends, histories, allusions, definitions, sightings. I'm wondering about how this may be reflective of a general sensibility, a way of accounting for things that is quite different--or not different at all (??)--from our own. I am in a week-long fit of procrastination.