right, here's my piece on cultural appropriation for the la times.
a couple of additions: dreadlocks originate as a religious expression among jamaican rastafarians. now, if a black american gets it done at the hairdresser, is that cultural appropriation? how much might such a person know about the meaning in the original context, or how much must she know to make it ok? it is not implausible to hold that jamaican rasta and black american cultures are not the same culture. but on the other hand they are of course connected and are both african diasporic cultures.
and just edging toward paying off on what i said about new orleans: try to figure out the cultural positioning of the mardi gras indian.
what do you think about men appropriating women's culture? if you're opposed to cultural appropriation by dominant groups, surely you oppose, say, drag queens and transvestites of all sorts. now, one might think that one thing drag does is criticize the gender categories and preopossessions of the dominant culture. and that is what, say, many wiggers are doing as well: to attack one's own suburban whitebread world, one tries to do a little emigration; crossing and passing are ways of critiquing dominant cultures from within, on a good day, making their values evidently optional or even displaying them as oppressive.
and this is a piece from record magazine (a music-only thing published by rolling stone). it got cut down severely and mangled in editing, as i recall, and then it evidently got mangled more when i cut it out and taped it to a sheet of paper. but, on the other hand, i interviewed run of run-dmc, russell simmons, and a very young rick rubin (i got him on the phone at his dorm at nyu, if i'm remembering rightly). this must have been before run-dmc's "walk this way".
i'm headed to cali this weekend to do some events for the dickinson advancement office. i'll be talking about the film 'happy', which is about positive psychology (about which i am certainly skeptical). it's the item that's sort of supposed to draw the college together; the director is coming to campus etc. i will say that in my view the thing is profoundly wretched: superficial, boring, depressing, with completely incompetent or just non-existent intellectual underpinnings. amazingly, it is a series both of cliches and contradictions. one good indication of the intellectual level of this material: dan gilbert, the harvard prof who instructs you on your happiness in the film, now uses the same canned little raps to shill for prudential insurance. also, i really think that the existence of dan gilbert raises the question of what harvard university is for.
seriously, you'd think these psychheads just discovered happiness yesterday, and though they are good at data entry, they are terrible at defining terms, leaving their research without any actual subject-matter. (on the other hand, philosophy - with which no one in the film shows any acquaintance - has been grappling with the question for 2500 years.) the research is based on reports of 'subjective satisfaction', while every single characterization of happy people (in the film, e.g.) makes happiness a matter of external relations: families, communities, objects, and so on. of course the film just goes neuro in the most useless hackneyed way, shifting to cartoon neurons: happiness is dopamine bursts, which is completely incompatible with anything anyone says about what actually makes people happy, and which also makes these guys' account of happiness identical to their account of the effects of cocaine. well, that's partly because they have absolutely no notion of what they're looking for, which makes it ridiculous when they claim to have found it. as per usual in social and in other sciences, it's the initial set of terms and concepts that does all the work. but scientists are unbelievably bad at figuring out how to elucidate these words and concepts. if you fuck that up, everything you build on top of it will collapse if someone raises an eyebrow.
i'll be doing my anti-left-right-spectrum thing this friday at the european and american philosophy conference at the fordham law school up near lincoln center. noon in room 3-01. it may well irritate people, but you never know.
i am often frustrated that my books rarely get reviewed; i know a lot of authors who feel that way. but i did find a nice review of political aesthetics from the journal of aesthetics and art criticism, by paul voice from bennington.
i love the praise, of course, and he praises the book for strengths i do think it has. and i also think that his criticisms poke some of the weak spots. it is true that i have a hard time with the concept of 'the aesthetic'. i certainly have been worrying about it for decades, but even when a student asked me today in my beauty class what i meant by 'aesthetic' (properties, aspects, experiences) i fumbled around. and it does have a tendency to get bigger and bigger until it's not surprising that it engulfs everything. i am not satisfied with the general characterizations of the aesthetic i gave in the book, and i have no pop-up definition. but of course i could and do say something and then something else and so on about it; i don't think it's completely nebulous.
speaking of free will, here is the freedom chunk of entanglements, half or so of the ethics chapter of my magnum opusy thing. it does show the range of tones, or good portion of it, in the book, from a phenomenological and first-person account to riffing about louis armstrong to a fairly precise analytic-style argument that free will is not necessary for moral responsibility (an analogue in ethics to my view, also re-argued in entanglements, that justification is not necessary for knowledge). i wouldn't say i try to squarely solve the problem of whether we have free will; i'm trying to re-enrich it. i think an beautifully replete question has been nibbled away to nothing by analytic philosophers.
suddenly i have very much warmed to experimental philosophy. once, i was skeptical or even dismissive, for one of the things that very much attracted me to philosophy was that, unlike in many less rigorous disciplines, you could do your research lying in bed, maybe with a bunch of books lying around, maybe not. but however, experimental philosophers are vindicating my theory of knowledge, which, if i'm recalling correctly, is profoundly radical yet mind-humpingly simple. i conclude from this that their research methods are unassailable. k=tb, baby.
one thing i'll say for 'knowledge is merely true belief' that perhaps i didn't say back in the day: it's pretty darn economical, oh, elegant really. i think knowledge is a richer notion than is captured in analytic epistemology. but let's restrict ourselves to an account of 'S (a person) knows that p (a proposition [or something that can be true or false])'. i actually am not quite sure how to value simplicity as a quality of theories; i am not sure that a simpler theory is likelier to be true than a complex one. but S knows that p iff S believes p and p is true (or 'S knows that p iff p and S believes that p') is an extraordinarily simple theory (iff is 'if and only if'), and i assert that it does a surprisingly good job of covering 'the phenomena', which i make out to be the ways the term is centrally or paradigmatically used in ordinary language. that it can do that is what i was arguing in my early papers, and the survey materials lend at least some support to that notion. the simplicity might be compelling at this point because of the baroque refinements to jtb-style approaches post-gettier.
[or, to review: the usual account of knowledge is jtb: justified true belief. obviously, tb is more economical. also, that little j thing or whatever we may call a similar condition, or multiplying conditions, begins to become truly rococo: dude it leads into endless labyrinths, worlds full of barn replicas.]
i generated k=tb in jim cargile's graduate seminar in epistemology at uva in the late 80s. it was explicitly an attempt to display the philosophical power of sheer perversity, a not entirely atypical bit of playful grandstanding: alright, what position is no one taking? i literally built a grid of theories and saw a big hole, and one thing about finding a fissure in the taxonomy like that is that if you jump in, you see a bunch of assumptions other people are making, which you then can try to undermine. but there could have been other perverse approaches and here's why i went for this one: it leans on truth like a mofo. as david sackris and james beebe put it, "bringing about the truth of p is (except in exceptional circumstances) not a task that falls to S. Rather, that 'task' falls to reality" (9). everyone at the time was willing to delete the truth condition; i had a lot of more or less rortyan gard contemporaries. my approach was designed to fit into a reality program. (cargile thought it was ridiculous, but in a great way or just the way i'd hoped: blasphemy! he cried, with a big old smile. also he always called me 'jean-paul'. he gave the final version for the class/first version for the world a 'B+', if i recall.)
another motivation at that moment, however, was that (almost secretly) i was reading kierkegaard, and really, as people sensed when the stuff angered them, i was going to try to derationalize knowledge; i was going to let your faith count as knowledge if its propositional content was true, i was going to encourage you to intuit, i was going to claim that even reason rested on faith, and so on. i was going to argue that there were many sources of knowledge, reason/science being only some, anarchizing epistemology. the main purpose of the papers was to take the sting out of the actual results, to show that it wasn't irrationalist at all. well, maybe it wasn't, necessarily, without some ancillary arguments. i was going to sneak all that up on you after i pulled the rational part out of the conceptual analysis of knowledge.
i did get more convinced of it as time went by; also it was my hobby to go here and there to defend it against various onslaughts, so it provided amusement if nothing else; i did delight in its perversity, or even in the fact that everyone thought it was ridiculous. some people - including some eminent epistemologists - became genuinely angry, which is also not the worst thing in the world necessarily. it was a bit of a performance piece, but people did sincerely think it was absurd. i started touring it to little conferences and stuff as a grad student and had worked it through a million counter-examples before the first version came out in american philosophical quarterly. i certainly had a notion that it would be my little reputation-maker, that i'd be associated with that idea primarily. i'm glad it didn't quite turn out that way, i suppose.
there was a little sensation at the time when the second paper came out in the journal of philosophy, i guess, and i do remember defending the whole thing in front of an angry auditorium at an apa; i remember robert audi getting pretty hostile, e.g. but really, the thing blew over. i think one problem is this: if k=tb, too many problems on which people have spent too much time do not arise. if it were true, it really would mean a lot of the epistemology of the last x decades (again, gettier and after) was barking up the wrong tree. it just had no place in the line of the discourse at that time, is another way to put it. it was one of a number of times i mistakenly thought that people would find it delightful to be provoked.
no one would publish my book on the topic, which must have been profoundly frustrating at the time. they sent it out specifically to be refereed by people who had already attacked the argument in one venue or another. for awhile, they were assigning my papers to grad students at arizona - a big center of analytic epistemology - as an exercise, like a take-home final: what has gone so terribly wrong with this argument? an object-lesson in sophism. i used to get some emails every year or two with refutations from grad students (always on the same predictable lines). i actually didn't hate that; i've always thought the whole thing was a fun little thing to play with, and it came from a grad seminar in the first place, for god's sake.
there has been a trickle of references to it, but really it just dissolved. in a way, that was ok; it let me go on to other things, like the political stuff; otherwise i might have spent a career on it. after some years i got profoundly tired of the same objections and replies, and really wanted to go write about art or something. sriously, for a very long time if i was walking the halls somewhere with a name tag, philosophers would snap their fingers, like 'aren't you that guy?' it got to where i'd be: have you read my stuff on race? i started pretending not to remember my own argument, and then i really started not remembering my own argument.
but i definitely also still feel that this sucker has legs. people are going to keep circling back to it, i think. there are problems, but there are strategies for dealing with them. i think beebe and sackris show some of these better than i did. if i myself were going to return to a defense, i'd need to bone up on my own arguments! also rethink some. also it would need to be put into relation to developments in epistemology since the early '90s, like the 'truth-makers' stuff and timothy williamson's work in epistemology, to which it is interestingly related.
i feel very distant from the person who generated this idea, so maybe if i could be permitted to comment on its strengths? it is still out there as a fundamental challenge. no one has dispensed with it. (people were relieved to regard lycan's attack as decisive. not even close, i say, as beebe and sackris point out. but lycan reviewed the manuscript for one publisher or another.) the fact that many important epistemological problems do not arise if k=tb is right is not necessarily, all things considered, a strike against it. i still endorse it as a theory within limits (man it's going to be a little hard to deal with 'propositions' in my later ontology), but there should at least be a longer line of debate about it.
you know, my academic career has been a struggle. there are many factors in that, which i won't enumerate. but on the other hand i have tenure now and i've always had a job, even though i went into several mays not knowing if i'd be teaching in septembers. i cycled through disciplines; i've been a professor of communications, 'humanities and sciences', political science, 'art and art history' as well as philosophy. i've worked at vanderbilt, alabama, penn, millersville, penn state harrisburg, mica, and dickinson. honestly, all of this was just about trying to hold on. anyway, my kids had health insurance and shit. and what i'm proud of - and which has also partly been made possible by what i think of as my marginal career - is that i really did do whatever i wanted. i wrote exactly what i wanted, and i wrote it in exactly the ways i wanted to write it, and i honestly represented my own experience. i swore to do that after grad school, and i have. i have never not been paid a living wage to do what i wanted to do, including teach. so that is a lot lot to be grateful for. (on the other hand, i still owe 30k in student loans, and i'm 55).
if i could lament one thing about philosophy now, it is that most of it is written in a kind of generic academic voice, and takes up pretty well-defined disciplinary questions of the moment. the good part of that is that it ends up constituting a kind of collective project, even within the constant disagreements that have to be central to the conception of philosophy (it is a discipline of agument, after all). but when i think back on what and who is worth reading in the history of philosophy, it is great big and extraordinarily distinctive voices. surely if you named ten historical philosophers off the top of your head, they would have that quality. even someone like aquinas is remaking as much as instantiating the philosophical/theological discourse he's in, and on the other hand is stunted by all the texts he's trying to venerate and emulate and the institutions that embed him. i think we've lost a lot of that boldness and distinctiveness, and indeed we literally lost it when we lost people like davidson, quine, rorty, danto, baudrillard. this is what i admire about zizek, for example, or latour: they still give that flavor. right now they seem like outliers, though i'm not saying there aren't a lot of intersting eccentrics here and there. you'll often find them in the provinces, or isolated from the big research-1 discourse.
anyway, i don't mean to assert that i am playing on that level; i sincerely try to turn that over; the reception is not in my power, nor can it be, nor should it be. i have tried to write according to the demands of the project and the subject-matter, not in order to be acclaimed. sometimes i read my own stuff as being there, sometimes i don't, and nothing is harder to do than to squarely or honestly or 'objectively' assess your own work. but i did always intend to end up there, at least in the sense of saying exactly what i do believe in as me-ey a way as i can (well, also to prove my positions in your face). i am not going to stop trying.
if you happen to be in chicago next week, i'll be speaking as part of a fine lineup of people (including lewis hyde) at the 'lived practice symposium' at the school of art institute. i go off at 10 am saturday, november 8 at the fullerton auditorium. here's the paper. yes, i will show taylor swift videos, but you will also get a dose of merle haggard. thinking about it, i might be working toward a book on the aesthetic dimensions of identity categories such as race and gender, or an aesthetic account of race and gender and sexuality and so on that would also be a broadening of aesthetics and all its central concepts ('beauty', 'form', 'expression' 'aesthetic experience', e.g.). i guess it would kind of pick up where my (er) best book, political aesthetics, left off.
it's a familiar idea that these things are 'social constructions' but that's just the sketchiest of starting points. how are they constructed? where are they constructed? by whom? (even if they are not entirely or exhaustively social constructions, they surely have very many siocially-constructed aspects or inflections at a given place and time.) if we wanted to know how they are being made right now, where would we look? well we should look in my opinion at the arts very broadly construed: styles of movement and slangs, musics and scents, body adornments and modifications, designs of devices and device interfaces, arrangements of environments: what ranciere calls 'the distribution of the sensible'.
yes, i will be assessing sailor twift's 1989 after a day or two to absorb it (i'll give you something on the new lucinda too). i think when i first hopped on (with my daughter, circa speak now), people were all like "i hate that poppy auto-tuned bullshit!" to which i responded: i can hardly imagine a critic listening attentitively to this album and not coming away impressed. that has been borne out: she is a critical darling, and even brats who hate everything but indie dirge-pop can't frigging help themselves.
i do have some concerns about the decline of rock criticism, however, perhaps encapsulated by the lead of marlow stern's review in the daily beast. of the best pop songs, stern writes, "Ever present, they absorb the viscous lava of contempo culture through their pores, let it course through their veins ‘til a diffuse plexus of melodies and rhythms form, and then release the bubbly potion onto an unsuspecting audience." dave marsh and greil marcus might have been kind of boring and predictable in their opinions - they might still be - but they didn't write sentences like that, and if they (or we) did, their editors didn't wave them through. maybe it's supposed to be lesterbangsy? lord.
i guess the people i read most in the msm these days are the folks on the guardian: alex petridis (who loved the taylor album) and kitty empire, for example. i do think sasha frere-jones in the new yorker is good, so i'll give the old monocled one that.
alright, so, i started writing rock criticism at the washington star in 1980. i was a copy boy; our critic was on vacation when i started but i got to do records and shows by people like the ramones, clash, bb king. then the star croaked and i went to grad school in baltimore. i wrote for the city paper through the early 80s: hundreds of shows and records. it's funny to think the free-circ urban weekly should be shrouded in nostalgia now; really we did generate a lot of content. i was watching the wire recently, and noticing that rafael alvarez was all over the writing credits; he was all over the cp then. jd considine, who i started reading when he dominated the old baltimore news-american, was in the sun and then the rolling stone publications, so that was a a kind of model, though i'd have to say the actual critical approach was a counter-model.
so in the usual fashion i sent out clips, and soon i was reviewing for a number of mags. record magazine was probably the main outlet; it was a sub-rolling stone put out by the rolling stone dedicated entirely to music. but i guess i sort of knew the rs-type critics and editors of that era (anthony decurtis, for example), mostly at a distance. i reviewed many amazing shows and many turkeys, from donna summer and pat benatar to flipper and the dead boys, run dmc and the fat boys to tammy wynette and chaka khan. i kept almost but not quite reviewing records for rolling stone, but i did have the lead review in record sometimes. prince's purple rain, e.g.. they killed my review of born in the usa for the reasons i came to hate the whole operation: they were always trying to manufacture a consensus or pretend there was one, and soon the critics just didn't have very individual tastes or voices, which is how they wanted it.
my wife at the time, rachael, had a certain wanderlust, and we were always driving across the country or settling temporarily for the summer here and there. i would always pitch the local paper, so for example i wrote up roger miller and barbara mandrell for the albuquerque journal, or did stuff for the weekly out in seattle.
then she managed to drag me to london, which was the height of my little career. there has never been more rock criticism anywhere at any time than london in the '80s, and they had three tabloids the size of the new york daily news of that time every week, entirely devoted to music: sounds, new music express, and melody maker. i took my clips around; just walked into the newsrooms and pitched the editors. i caught on at melody maker, and soon was reviewing a couple of gigs a week, a variety of lps, etc, and doing features and interviews too. i met the nicest person in the world, cyndi lauper,
and the nastiest people, the members of x, for example. i got to see like everyone who played london in '83 and '84, which looking back on it had a lot to recommend it, even though i was pretty ambivalent about the 'synth-pop' then dominant. (god i hated depeche mode, live or on record, but culture club was excellent, for example.) chrissie hynde slammed a door in my face. i got knocked unconscious in the mosh pit at a killing joke concert by heavily booted mohawk punk thug, or thunk, as i think of them.
(everyone else was very nurturing, and i found myself under solicitous care propped up against a wall at the...hammersmith palais?)
[that represents the dominant pop sound of that moment in the uk; i must have seen twenty or thirty groups in this mode, swaying around and playing synthesizers. all the vocalists somehow sounded the same.]
i lost a night in paris where they flew people over to see inxs; me the nme guy ended up in a coke-and-groupie limo discohopping paris adventure with hutchence &co that i basically don't remember. the band rolled us into our hotel at 5 and we both missed our plane back to london.
so then i started turning pretty seriously toward the academic career and writing in that mode, but i did work through the late '80s. i interviewed lemmy for creem, etc. then around 2000, marion winik, disconcerted by my monthly country cd budget, suggested i pitch someone a country column so people would send me free cds. the guys from the balt city paper - russ smith and john strausbaugh - were doing the super-odd rollicking nypress, and i wrote the farm report in the persona of a 300-pound ultra-rightist farmer named crispin sartwell. then blogging...
come to think on it, i might could scan in some clips.
i have an essay on atheism up at the atlantic. i might put the point a bit more strongly: no one lives without faith, and no one's belief system can establish itself with no assumptions or no passionate commitments or no irrational kierkegarardian leaps.
my book of esays is out. it's in my less academic, more rollicking voice. stuff on magic, bluegrass and punk, graffiti and dutch painting, cynicism and the meaning of life, addiction and terorism. some bits are from this blog.
laying down the smack in the atlantic today. but readers of this blog have been familiar with this approach since 2011. i like to call the cred indextm "arrow's extreme improbability theorem", not because kenneth arrow is involved, but because i like the word 'arrow', nicely combining the phallus, the nobel prize, and kacey musgraves.
if you read this blog, you are familiar with my perhaps somewhat incessant attack on the left-right spectrum. honestly i might have been getting a little pissy about the whole thing, and i never had much success getting anyone to sign up. but yo, it's up at the atlantic. dedicating that one to the shade of ralph waldo, baby.
i will be on the al-jazeera english show "the stream" live at 3:30, talking with a cool panel about contemporary anarchism. now, al-jazeera english is not al-jazeera america, nor is the stream on aja the same as the stream on aje. and plus aje is "geo-blocked" in the states. one might be able to access it here, and maybe i'll be able to post a link to the video at some point.
i was surprised to find out that there's a new spanish translation of six names of beauty. it's a super-cute little object, too. i look back with mortification on some moments of my writing history, but i'm happy and proud that i wrote that book.
this morning i finished a submittable draft of entanglements: a system ofphilosophy at around 210k words. the basic outline is six chapters: ontology, theory of truth, epistemology; then the axiology: ethics, aesthetics, and political philosophy.it's the first such system since samuel alexander's space, time, and deity fell stillborn from the press 100 years ago or whatever it may be. or maybe not. anyhow, now i've just got to tack on the kant/schelling/hegel/schopenhauer style preface: 'Since the very dawn of time, members of our amazing species have wondered about this and that. Well, ain't gots to worry no mo, cause ole Uncle Crispy has figured this sucker out, in a way that makes rational disagreement conceptually impossible. In the book you are about to read, all knowledge is comprehended in a new rigorous science, the universe reaches perfect self-consciousness, and history is annihilated into ecstasy. Or just about, anyway."
i've been writing eyeofthestorm/cheese it, the cops! for exactly ten years. i was hoping to get to a million page views by now, but it's 968,021 at the moment. in some ways, blogging kind of spoiled me for other writing; i more or less quit my syndicated column simultaneously (well, and newspapers went broke). like i always wanted to be an op-ed columnist so i could instantly comment on whatever. the meaning of 'instant' changed. plus you can't cuss in the los angeles times. sometimes i've been surprised not to be arrested, or have an angry mob show up here at harbold's school or wherever i was huddled/concealed at the time.
i've felt burned out and repetitive at times or just left it there for a week or three, but sometimes i've on my own account done some very good blogging. one thing i love: write, then publish, then revise, then publish: it solves a problem i always had in newspapers and magazines: aw shit, now that i see it on the page...
anyway, thanks for reading and thanks especially to frequent commenters over the years (and of course the ol' crusader). and just remember that famous, prestigious stuff very frequently sucks chode: kennedys, for example; pablo picasso; james joyce; plato; the beatles; bob dylan; bruce springsteen; hillary clinton; neil gaiman; ludwig wittgenstein; u2; serious art music; willem de kooning; socialism; allen ginsberg; john ashbery; new york; 'literary fiction'; our heroic military men and women; being proactive; jay-z, kanye, beyonce, and kim; the italian high renaissance; neil young; gay aesthetics; the velvet underground; modernism; postmodernism; elizabeth warren; neuroscience; foodies; europe; and human evolution, which has brought us here and dropped us off. i do love many things too, as you must admit.
if you're around carbondale ill a week from today, you should check me out on my 'insufferable diva' tour, soon also to play slippery rock.
"Abolitionist Saints and Anarchist Freaks: American Radical Reform, 1820-1850" SIUC Department of Philosophy, Faculty Colloquium 3:30pm - 5:00pm; Faner 3059
"Crispin Sartwell: American Philosopher" Free Public Lecture with Dr. Sartwell after a brief screening of the film "Crispin Sartwell: American Philosopher" Film screening: 7:00 - 7:30pm; Free Public Lecture: 7:30 - 8:00pm; Q & A: 8:00 - 8:30pm Morris Library Guyon Auditorium