gall and gumption

Monday, May 07, 2007

Repeat As Necessary

I posted this comment over at Digby's Hullabaloo in response to a post that featured a longish quotation from Hazlitt. I've tweaked it a bit.

Chait grants that the netroots "instrumentalism" (our "practical interest") is perhaps necessary, but he frets that there is a danger that the movement will devolve into some sort of unthinking know-nothingness that rivals the right.

Chait here falls for the right's self-promotiing stance as defenders of culture against the know-nothing dirty fucking hippies. The "intellectual" right in this country has adopted the stance that it stands for "high" culture while the left stands for oh I dunno the Grateful Dead and the Beatles and sex on the teevee and sensational art exhibitions. In the first place this division is completely bogus, and their pretensions to culture are even more bogus. John Dean said it in his book: They have no ideas.

Their claim to be defenders of western civilization is so utterly empty. I mean, is Harvey Mansfield supposed to represent the best of Western philosophy? He could only seem so to empty and ignorant or deliberately dishonest people. I don't know how so many people got taken in by this stuff, but I do think that liberals are partly to blame for letting it get so far. Some of it was owing to what happened to education in the 1980s, in my view. What I saw during my academic career was this: the conservative movement was moving in on things, i.e., positions, power, resources, while people in humanities departments were arguing about words. I don't mean that the academic left should necessarily have been out on the barricades, but a lot of time was wasted not teaching students how to spot these frauds for what they were. Someone like George Will or the egregious Mansfield could not pass for a person of culture in any place where cultural literacy had been effectively taught, where, to use Ben Shahn's word, culture was "integrated" into your understanding and wasn't just a highbrow form of Trivial Pursuit.

The behavior that Hazlitt describes is not confined to one political party or even to politics. I've certainly run across it in personal life, and, come to think of it, in academic life. And the only way to fight it is head-on, ferociously and not giving an inch of ground. You must make them afraid to tell you a lie, you must make it not worth the trouble for them to try to manipulate and con you, it is the only thing that works. This is very old wisdom. Well, so then they can't be your friend. So what? They are not people whom you can trust and that is all there is to it, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you understand the speciousness of all their reasoning, the better off you will be. And yes, if you want to learn how to mop the floor with such weak reasoners, read Hazlitt. And Samuel Johnson. And Edmund Burke. And Sophocles. And Alexander Herzen. All these writers and thinkers these posers claim for themselves and whom they never read.

What I didn't write over there was that in my experience, lots of people who pass for liberals on campuses are not particularly liberal or, for that matter, particularly high-minded. A veneer of sophistication over howling incoherence and spite, shot through with the most grubby self-complacency, status-seeking, and self-servingness. And this sloppiness, carelessness, and incoherence are also responsible for the political plight in which liberalism has found itself in recent years. Nobody was minding the store. I know I'm being vague, and if you want me to be more specific I can. Just dare me. Otherwise I'll go on and on and on.


At 7:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, do be more specific.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

culture was "integrated" into your understanding and wasn't just a highbrow form of Trivial Pursuit.

I love this.

And I love your writing.

Thank you.


At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I double-dare you to write more on this.
--Bob E. (for: Eager to Read More) B. (for: in-your-Blog)

At 1:04 PM, Blogger buckner said...

Here’s a story you might find interesting, and perhaps related in a small way to this post. I’m currently a Fulbright Research Scholar at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice. I’ve only been in Italy less than a week and I’m already involved in a small drama. I met a man here who is the director of the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Monfalcone, a small, public exhibition space near Trieste. Although they are located in an out-of-the-way place in Northern Italy, and desperately under-funded, they have developed into one of the most respected venues for contemporary art in Italy. The director, Andrea Bruciati, has recently organized an exhibition titled, “Love Addiction: Practices in Video Art from 1961 to the Present”. This exhibition includes a long list of big name artists including Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Vito Acconci, and Yoko Ono. As you might imagine, I have little interest in the work of any of these people—particularly Vito Acconci and Yoko Ono, who both seem like pretentious and irrelevant phonies (the representation of Yoko Ono on South Park was one of the best ever!) Mr. Bruciati explained to me that he was having trouble with several artists who are associated with the gallery Ivon Lambert, which has exhibition spaces in New York and Paris. Apparently four artists—David Claerbout, Jonathan Horowitz, Mircea Cantor, and Salla Tykka—all agreed to participate in this exhibition, had been included in the promotional literature, and now Mr. Bruciati was having trouble getting the gallery to send their work. The opening is scheduled for this Friday, people are coming from all over the region to attend, and he has nothing from these people: no biographical information, no still photos, and none of the DVDs containing the work to be presented. In a panic he tried several times to contact the gallery, and could only get assistants who, because he speaks English only moderately well, treated him disrespectfully and as if he and his gallery were irrelevant. Not only did this piss me off, I see it as my responsibility as a cultural ambassador between the US and Italy to make sure things like this doesn’t happen. Because I speak English, Mr. Bruciati asked if I would intercede. So I got on the phone to New York this afternoon and attacked these people like a rabid dog. I pointed out that agreements had been made, that people here had gone out of their way to provide this opportunity for these artists, and insisted that the material be sent via FedEx tomorrow. In the morning I’ll get on the phone again to New York and Paris (I would have called the gallery in Paris today, but they were closed) and follow up. On Friday I’ll take the train to Monfalcone to attend the opening. I’ll be very interested to see if any of this work is included in the exhibition.

(Sorry about the long post Kia. Perhaps I should start my own blog)

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