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Monday, August 22, 2005

The Culture War In A Different Light

From Howard at Oraculations, we get a link to an interview with Camille Paglia. You've got to read Camille, but before you do, read Howard's post from earlier in August. Then note the points Paglia makes:
We are in an age of media that is very rapid. There is a mandarin mentality and snobbery that you can find in the urban metropolises and academe, and they are totally detached from the culture as a whole.
and:
Leftists are supposedly speaking for the people. But they have disdain for the people.
and:
Real leftists were truly proletarian. They had no airs, no airs whatever. They would labor in activist things and get their hands dirty. This whole thing of quoting [French philosopher Michel] Foucault, or [German philosopher Theodor] Adorno and looking down, all full of that—that air—I have been interviewed on radio in the past two weeks. You can hear an academic calling. You can hear it. They have a question and a comment. [adopts a fey voice] “Well, if I can just …it’s obvious…that current project.” Where is that coming from that tone? It’s the tone of what, the mainline Philadelphia elite? These are leftists?
and:
The idea that working people are voting against their interests seems to me—I’m sorry, I find that to be one of the most condescending, twisted things that has now taken root. It’s now in the media everywhere. That is twisted.
I love her comments on art and how she relates what she sees as a decline in art and writing to a cultural and political phenomenon. She says:
...I am very concerned about the cultural future of the United States in this kind of environment. Most people who are secular humanists having the idea that they are doing fine. We are doing fine and our only enemy is the Bible-based far right. The reason why the real threat is the far right is that they have the Bible. And the Bible is a masterpiece.
and:
What does the left have? The left has a lot of attitude....

Lowell still had a sense of belonging to the people as a whole. And the artists need to recover that. You have got to engage. And learn about how are they, the people out there. One of the best ways to do this is to listen to talk radio. You listen to talk radio long enough and you are going to hear the voices of the people.
Paglia is no fan of post-modernism and its derivative self-referentialism. It has evolved into a complete sterility IMO. If there were five or ten more people like Paglia leading the Democratic party it would experience an incredible renaissance. (I think she is somewhat unfair to Hillary, but that's just my opinion.) Okay, now read the Camillism below and then go read this post of Mamacita's that really struck me:
...to be a good writer you can’t just study writing. You have to live, OK? That’s the problem. The best writers have drawn from actual experience, have had some experience. What experiences do people have any more?

This is why I think literature, post-Plath, has drifted into a compulsive telling of any trauma that you can find in your life. Prozac—“I’m taking Prozac” or divorce or diseases or whatever. Endless kvetching.
And they complain we don't buy it! But go read Mamacita:
What kind of people have we become, when attempts to guide are interpreted by those in ultimate control as journeys into perversion? When did going out of one's way to try to help someone become inappropriate? Why must everyone now be so very equalized that much individuality is lost? Of what societal or individual use is an echo?

What possible good can be accomplished by a reflection that is not one's own?

When the arts are removed completely (and they already are, in some schools; for the rest, it's just a matter of time.) to make room for more practical, measurable, easily understandable lessons in math, sports, grammar, sports, science, sports, sports, sports, PC, and sports, what will our children have to write about? And why should they bother?
And now go read Pedro The Quietist, and then Ilona at True Grit (I linked to later post) and Carl at No Oil For Pacifists, both of whom linked to the same blogging rules.

Blogging for many is an attempt to reground ourselves and our culture with reality. It's a rescue attempt to escape from the culture of learned meaninglessness. This is why Howard reacted with a ferocious comment on an earlier post of mine about a comment war at Ann Althouse's blog - his anger was sparked by the idea that you can't put yourself above criticism. You can choose to speak to an audience or to puff up yourself, and there is really no in-between measure.


Comments:
You absolutely MUST read 'A Reader's Manifesto' by BR Myers.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0971865906/ref%3Dnosim/completereview/103-1461977-0633414

Beg, borrow or steal this book. NOW.
 
You have put together these thoughts and topics in your own innovative way, which brings fresh insight.

The arts are a barometer of the health of a society I think. They are the society's expression of its soul.

Your post made me remember the grassroots encouragement of the arts by such means as the Chatauqua movement.

I really do view blogging as just such an opportunity. Not a meeting of experts but a climate of discovery, encouragement, and provocation to do better. It's a priviledge to have this sort of interaction.
-that's what I think anyway. How else could I have been exposed to you and others like you? Not too make too much of it all, as I could really get all hyperbole on you here..... but isn't it great to read all these interesting minds? There just isn't sufficient time is all...
 
Ilona - I agree. It's amazing that we have the chance. It's a sort of coffeehouse of the blogosphere.

SC&A - Okay, I'll look for it.
 
The problem with the critical mindset that is the foundation of modern academic and artistic pursuits: in order to comment on and critique culture and society, one HAS to imagine oneself somehow, uniquely, amazingly, as OUTSIDE or ABOVE said society. Otherwise, your perspective can only be understood as the perspective of one individual among many. But in the quest for ultimate authority, academics, artists, journalists, and many John-Kerryesque politicians have to imagine themselves as having some sort of special, more expansive, broader point of view.

This, of course, is pure nonsense and snobbery. No matter how many letters you put behind your name, you are still a product of your society, and you can never escape that prison. The key to insight is not pretending to be above your society, but recognizing your role and place within it. Only then can you get a sincere, non-elitist point of view.

Maybe that´s why I´m attracted to blogging. Sometimes, I find more wisdom in the hurried scribblings of a normal person engaged in normal things than in many of the obscure, esoteric, studied books of the academics I work with and read.

Put another way: why is the entire Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, with all its rhetoric about antiracism, lily-white? Why are Hugo Chavez´s biggest supporters US academics? Why are ANSWER and the ACLU populated with the children of the wealthiest sector of society? You will find more racial and socio-economic integration in a corporate setting than in a university, with its plethora of competing, chaotic racial fiefdoms.

At some point in the early 20th century, academics decided it was their job to extricate themselves from culture in order to comment on it. But that process is a big farce: I can certainly wear a women´s clothes, but that doesn´t make me any more of a woman.
 
An excellent point, Pedro.

Perhaps the mindset you describe is the mindset Paglia so deeply reproves.

A mechanic doesn't announce that he is a meta-mechanic, a person who doesn't actually work on vehicles or even know how cars work, but instead knows how mechanics work and can pontificate about how they should work.

Many of these people are so removed from reality that they don't even recognize that reality exists. It's almost as if they have the unconscious belief that they, by choosing to approach externals in a certain way, actually change the reality of those externals.

It's as if they have answered Descartes question with "The tree in the forest only exists if I or others like me recognize it."

I thought of you, btw, when I was reading Paglia's comments about the working people needing capitalism. She is devastating in her accuracy.
 
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