Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Exhilaration As Transcendence


A deep insight from Jordan Peterson.

He argues that deepest within us is the inclination to transcendence. Whether that has its source in evolution or God, it is immanent in us. When we experience transcendence, we glimpse, we experience, our highest mode of being.

And then he gives plain spoken examples—the exhilaration in hearing great music, experiencing great art, the joy in ideas, the wholeness and thrill of creativity, the deep satisfactions of love, sex, sex in love, love in sex—that coexist with other less plain spoken examples such as mystical experiences, ecstasies, the effects of certain chemicals, out of body experiences.

Our exhilaration is our experiencing of our deepest immanence, of revelatory meaning, of transcendence.

Fred Astaire Polemics


Nice insight from Jordan Peterson:

He was was asked what is the most legitimate criticism of him.

He said it is his inclination to anger. 

Then he noted his need to keep his temper in check. 

He’s been thinking about this a lot and trying to do this, he said, especially over the last year and a half or so as he’s become publicly more prominent. 

Then he spoke about the common law doctrine of self defense using only the minimum amount of force necessary. He spoke about how he has adapted that doctrine to situations in polemics, particularly oral polemics, in a word, discussions.

He then said, in a striking, indeed a sparkling, formulation, that it’s a mark of “sophistication and elegance” in discussion and debate to defend yourself, which you have a clear right to do, which is necessary that you do, with only the amount of rhetorical, personal (and maybe intellectual—I’m not sure about intellectual) force that is necessary.

What a wonderful notion: so often in discussions, particularly virtual ones where you don’t have the constraint of the living presence of another person (though I suppose that that face to face dynamic can cut both ways) we can get overheated, lose it, become insulting, want verbally to hurt. How often do we regret what we’ve said. How often have we frayed or even blown good relations by what we’ve said. And how often have we counted to ten, gone back to a first version and toned it way down and then breathed a huge sigh of relief for doing it. 

I love the notion of “sophistication and elegance” in self constraint in polemical self defense. 

And hey, who doesn’t want to be sophisticated and elegant?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sam Zemurray The Banana King: Rich Cohen’s The Fish That Ate The Whale


Who knew, right?

I’m reading, as I’d noted, Rich Cohen’s The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King. 

It’s a an excellent biography of Sam Zemurray, a Russian Jew who came to America as a kid and wound up running United Fruit, through amazing sequences of events. 

He’s one of the most outsized, impressive men of gigantic achievements I’ve ever read about. And until picking up this book—I’ll read anything by Rich Cohen—I’d never heard of him. 

But back to my opening question: what did this guy and his banana business have to do with the establishment of Israel?

Once you consider it, it makes sense.

He was a banana man all the way down. And he worked from all the way down to all the way up and to fabulous wealth. In doing that he spent big portions of his life in the Honduras and had extensive dealings with the people and governments of it and close by countries.

He also later in his life got incredibly involved with the Zionist cause of Israeli statehood while not publicizing that involvement or wanting it publicized.

It took two General Assembly votes to get to yes on the Partition Plan by a needed 2/3ds vote. What finally swung getting there were, among other things, the 13 Latin American and Caribbean country affirmative votes.  

And who was instrumental in getting some of those votes finally delivered? 

You bet: it was the work, the pressuring, the insistence, the cajoling, the persuading, the paying off, the lobbying, and on and on by the “Banana Man,” Sam Zemurray.

His is a life that makes me think of Shakespeare’s line about not looking upon his like again and that truth can be stranger than fiction. You couldn’t have made up all what the Banana King amazingly did and accomplished.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Prosaic Exchange On #metoo


An exchange on #metoo


.... I don't know quite what to make of it all, truly.

Part of me finds this all exhausting and overblown. Nobody has done, or is doing, a fine-grained analysis of whether these behaviours are, in the aggregate, more or less common than they were. And so I'm inclined to agree with your point that media, and social media in particular, has fanned the flames of a fire whose original size we don't know. That's a problem. 

But I'm also struck by the number of so-called feminists today who can't seem to muster some basic assertiveness. And on that point, I think we disagree. We have a society whereby women are endlessly encouraged to be empowered and independent, sexually free, etc. etc. And yet I can't help comparing these accounts to how I think my mother would have handled similar situations in her younger years, where it seems totally clear she would have slapped these men around, or worse, for that kind of behaviour.

I'm inclined to make a couple of points, here. (This is my conservative side coming out.) The first is that there's an easy and obvious solution to much of what I'm reading about: don't be promiscuous, don't get so drunk or high you don't know what you're doing, and try to make sex something you pursue with someone you know, trust, and love. Of the two sexes, women are much more capable of this, and I think it would serve their interests much better than the current standard.

Another related point I'd make is that the current standard is a mess. While modern feminism has done a great job of tearing down hypocrisies about male and female sexuality, it has done an awful job at replacing them with anything meaningful. It isn't enough, I would argue, to equate sexual pleasure and gratification with empowerment. And it isn't enough to just rail against guilt and shame. Feminism should have something more important to say about sex than simply asking whether it was consensual. It should give women (and men), an ideal or a vision of its purpose beyond pleasure. But I fear that it can't, and it won't.

Anyway, it's a muddled mess, what I've written. But I'm still trying to figure it all out.


....I want to present you with a counter-account that holds that what’s happening as encapsulated (say) by #metoo isn’t that complicated or muddled but is made to appear so by viral fanning, where individual cases get endless analysis, mainly celebrity instances, and lend much to at least three big mistakes: 

the conflation of anecdote and evidence; 

the corollary assumption that these sensationalized, over-analyzed instances disclose norms of, or typical, conduct; 

and the further corollary assumption that the rules are unclear and the ethics of sexual encounters are in a state of chaos.

I’ll try to do that by bouncing off your comments.

So your third paragraph is a case in point. I’m married for close to two generations so I can’t first hand speak to this. But all my adult life, from my late teens till now, I’ve been in contact with single adults of all ages and both sexes who date, who are out there. And apart from your present relationship, you will have had actual dating experience besides knowing people, being closer in age to millennials and most likely knowing more of them than I. 

In my experience I have never encountered anyone, man or woman, young or old, describing difficulty in saying “No” and being assertive in repelling unwanted advances. Never once. Have you? What I do understand, and what case by case can be grey or confused, is mixed feelings and motivations. 

In the Ansari case, my sense is that “Grace”is a star fucker, as I’d said, who was excited, by her own words, to be going out with a celebrity. My sense is that that’s what inhibited such assertiveness she otherwise might have expressed. Do you really think if she was out with a regular guy, nothing special about him, who put unwanted moves on her, she’d have trouble saying “No” assertively? For me that notion seems preposterous.

So I’d argue that that case is a template for the infinitude of instances where the recipient has mixed motives, is willing to let other considerations trump a lack of real desire or reciprocal sexual interest. 

Which, again, is not to say, that something really important culturally hasn’t happened and isn’t happening. It is. From the gross to the subtle, men are learning to put into practice lessons that are obvious, don’t, or try not to, trade on power for sexual advantage. Don’t be a bully, either a gross or a subtle one. 

The complexity, the grayness, the ambiguity, they’re all at the margins of a pretty well understood sense of the appropriate and inappropriate. And they’re usually case specific rather than there being rules we struggle to understand about how to behave sexually.

So I’m quite against your view in your second last paragraph. 

Give me an example of where there’s confusion about how in general terms we should conduct ourselves. The things you say in your third paragraph are some obvious examples of oughtn’ts. And even granting some drunkenness, being high, even for those states, the oughts and oughtn’ts are clear. And where errant things happen, it’s instances of oughtn’t rather than the standards themselves being confusing. 

One night stands may be ok, if that’s what’s wanted, I’d think, with some common sense appraisal of things and understanding risks. I wouldn’t myself in the interest of laying out clear oughts and oughtn’ts proscribe them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

More Back And Forth On “White Privilege”


Some thoughts in a discussion between and among friends on white privilege.


I looked back at what I'd written and realized I've evaded your distinction between privilege and advantage, and I thought I should try to address it. As I understand it, you're saying something like, privilege is socially constituted, whereas advantage is natural. If I've got that right, then I'd agree with the first part but not entirely with the second, in that I think the point of privilege is that it constitutes a kind of (socially constructed) advantage -- all privileges are advantages, i.e., but not all advantages are privileges. And a particular kind of privilege, white or otherwise, needn't be absolute, meaning that it needn't override or overcome all other privileges or advantages in order to still be a privilege and at least questionable as to whether it's fair or unfair. So, for example, some whites might be worse off than some non-whites, but still possess an unfair advantage/privilege just because of their whiteness. Whether that's actually the case or not, of course, is open to question, but it's not incoherent in itself.

That said, however, I agree entirely with your more practical points against the concept of "white privilege", and your and Loury's points about the terrible politics of identity that it deepens, with its potential for blowback. That's where the real arguments are to be made, imo.


Maybe the philosopher among us is better able than I am to cut incisively to the chase here.

Regardless here goes.

I agree that all privileges are advantages and not necessarily vice versa.

I tend to think the natural/socially constituted distinction has to hold as a necessary but may not be a sufficient condition of the difference. 

We can be born into privilege. So to be born into great wealth and have all the benefits great wealth can confer is an example of that. But is it in that sense natural as opposed to socially constituted? I don’t think so. And we may be born with exceptional intelligence, which then allows us to thrive. We wouldn’t in common sense usage, I don’t think, call that being born into privilege. 

Complication can come from the element of social constitution: for instance the great natural gifts we’re born with may not be relevant to our particular society. Say great poetic gifts or say great math acumen in a primitive society. So social value impinges on what is extraordinary about us, if anything happens to be. 

Is it a privilege to be born beautiful or extremely handsome, and let’s assume great good things come our way as a result? My sense is no. Why? I guess because it’s something we’re born with. So the difference may, in some of these examples at least, be between “born into” and “born with.” 

It’s the impinging of social value on particular circumstances, say being born white in present day North America, that leads to much confusion. Where one’s circumstances are akin to something like being born into marked wealth and are akin to the social structures markedly favouring those circumstances, like being born into the aristocracy, then we can sensibly speak of privilege. 

But there are a whole host judgments involved in that. In different times and places, under different circumstances, the ascription of privilege will be easy,  grey or mistaken. So in the slave owning slave owning south, white privilege for being in the slave owning class seems generally an easy call. 

What about between reconstruction through to the 1960s civil rights legislation? I’d think so, though grayer. 

What about after? 

I’d think less and less till none as such. 

So de jure advantage is a constituent of privilege for those advantaged. And so too is a culture of unjust norms, values and practices regardless of formal equality. 

But where there is formal equality and generally cultural equality, i.e. norms, values and practices that generally favor equal treatment, then it make no sense to speak of white privilege. (And so mightn’t incoherence lie disjunctively either in the very meaning of the term *or* in its application?)

What I’m lumbering/meandering towards is *trying* get at definitively and succinctly the core difference between privilege and advantage and then move outward from there to the inapplicability of white privilege to North American life.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Notes On The Incoherence Of White Privilege

I wrote the following to some people I know:

Let’s for some fun start a thread going just among us. 

I suggest the theme should be “whether white privileged is a coherent idea.”

I’ll start off by trying to argue that it isn’t. 

And, so, I’ll set out at least some of  my reasons.

....Privilege is a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. “Education is a right, not a privilege"...

First this standard definition of privilege contrasts privileges and rights. What by right ought to be available to all, say a public education in Canada, is a right not a privilege. So is being treated fairly by law enforcement treated fairly and decently by business proprietors. That there’s disproportionate access among groups to what by right all should have isn’t on the above definition a privilege for those with better access. There is no special grant involved. 

I’d rather use “advantage” over “privilege” to mark this difference in access. What’s the difference? Advantage means some condition or circumstance that puts someone or a group in a better position to get a good or avoid a harm. 

Therefore, part of its utility is that it doesn’t suggest that the difference in access is based on what has been granted to anyone or any group. Advantage rather speaks to life’s lottery, the contingent working out of things. It’s a view of human difference closer, at least in Canada, to the way things are. 

Another part of the utility of advantage, is that it preserves analytical coherence when we consider all the variables that mark us apart. It’s coherent to see in different people arrays of advantages and disadvantages. But it strains common sense understanding to see in different people sets of varying privileges. 

Inflexibility impairs the assertion of privilege in encapsulating easier access. An implication in the assertion of white privilege is fixity, that every white person in virtue of being white is better off. But what can that mean if we contrast (say) an upper middle class black professional and an unemployed white high school drop out or (say) middle class blacks with the white poor? How do we make sense white privilege in these examples? If we can’t, then isn’t the idea of it incoherent.  

And let’s say Asians score higher on entrance tests than do whites and so as a proportion of their population get into good schools more than whites do. Do we then have a concept of yellow or Asian privilege? 

Do blacks have an athletic privilege?

I argue the absurdity of these questions flows logically from starting with the concept of white privilege, that is to say, what’s meant by it 

A practical point emerges here as well. The differences in access go to injustices and unfairnesses. And since we are all fellow citizens, in a sense an injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us. We have a common interest in rooting out the sources and practices of such injustices. We’ll better be able to do that by not tagging one racial or ethnic group against another. The static fixity in the  of white privilege tends to set groups against each other rather than unite them in fighting for what’s right. 

Another problem with the assertion of white privilege is that it tends to freeze the racially or ethnically put upon, as they may see themselves, into competing  narratives of historical victimhood. 

After all, other groups have suffered, from outright depredations to daily mundane slights, simply by virtue of who they are. So, as just noted, the insistence on privilege contains an assertion of group victimization. That’s not a wrong assertion, but that it generates a kind of group formation in reaction, which at some point becomes divisively counterproductive. As Glenn Loury says and reported by George Packer: 

....I recently spoke with the social scientist Glenn Loury, who teaches at Brown University. As he sees it, if race becomes an irreducible category in politics, rather than being incorporated into universal claims of justice, it’s a weapon that can be picked up and used by anyone. “Better watch out,” he said. “I don’t know how you live by the identity-politics sword and don’t die by it.” Its logic lumps everyone—including soon-to-be-minority whites—into an interest group. One person’s nationalism intensifies tribal feelings in others, in what feels like a zero-sum game. “I really don’t know how you ask white people not to be white in the world we’re creating,” Loury said. “How are there not white interests in a world where there are these other interests?” He continued, “My answer is that we not lose sight of the goal of racially transcendent humanism being the American bedrock. It’s the abandonment of this goal that I’m objecting to.”...

So those are some of my reasons for wanting to reject the idea of white privilege as coherent. 

I look forward to any of you answering my reasons and taking them apart. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

And Some Back And Forth On The Meaning Of Porn


I'd written a few comments ago some tentative thoughts on what porn is.

A friend of mine wrote me back this in an email, after I sent what I'd written to a few, three, people.


.....I think that the concept of porn is a Wittgensteinian 'family resemblance' concept. 

Family resemblance works like this: line up, say, 10 members of a family in a row on the basis of shared resemblances. The first two members have a striking resemblance in one or more respects. The second member will have a resemblance to the third who resembles the second, but the first, not so much, etc etc. When you reach the 10th he or she will hardly have any relevant resemblance to the first. Yet they are all linked as members of the family. 

A long time ago I wrote an article in the rambling course of which I tried to distinguish  porn from erotic art in part by saying that erotic art, but not porn, has valuable aesthetic qualities, that positive aesthetic qualities are not found in porn, because the producers of porn strive to avoid any qualities that will arrest and fix the attention (as positive aesthetic qualities do) in order to keep the porn consumer focused entirely on sex. 

I now think that was wrong. 

At the time I was unfamiliar with Balthus' painting 'The Guitar Lesson' (look it up on the internet), a painting with considerable aesthetic/artistic qualities by one of the finest painters of the 20th century, but clearly also porn. 

Many of his other paintings I would classify as soft porn, sexy little girls fully clothed and not engaged in any sexual conduct, but very highly suggestive of sexuality. 

'The Guitar Lesson' is clearly a work of fine art and pornographic, so my distinction was  just wrong. 

So where does that leave us re defining porn? 

I admit that I'm not as widely acquainted with all, or even most, categories or types of porn. Nevertheless I have seen enough to lead me to think that porn is such that it would be futile to seek one or a few properties or qualities that all porn shares so that a successful and airtight definition of necessary-and-sufficient conditions can be had. 

Take all the categories of porn you wish and scrutinize them as carefully as you can, and you are just not going to be able extract or finesse an adequate definition distinguishing porn from all other imagery having to deal with sex, nudity etc. 

It is a family resemblance concept. 

Porn is a very problematic thing, and the difficulties in dealing with it intellectually have in recent years given rise to a number of 'Porn Studies' programs in a number of American universities (Berkeley and Duke come to mind) and at least one British university the name of which I do not recall, and at least two academic journals dealing with this vexing subject.


Don's Balthus example may help.  His "pornish" works look like porn, as Don's description suggests.  

However, I bet few people use them to masturbate; they make one feel sheepish about being aroused by young girls, even as one wants to keep looking, thus making one aware of both the desire and the resistance to it.  

That is very tough to do, but not unique to Balthus..  Stanley Fish argues in a fine book, Surprised by Sin, that Milton tempts us to mentally sin in various ways, the main one being to admire Satan, and then makes us recoil and recognize both our vulnerability to evil and our resistance, thus doing justice to our conflicted natures.  Not easy to do in a painting.  

I went with a non-art appreciating friend to a museum where we looked at a Balthus in which one peers up a girl's dress between her thighs but not all the way.  He called me quite a while later and said the painting kept coming back into his mind.  As well it should.


I'll just say that for myself I've never found "hard core porn" arousing but  have found soft core porn erotic. Soft core porn is something I hadn't considered when I wrote down my few thoughts.

Though a question in my mind is whether soft core porn is porn, whether what makes it “soft” has some aesthetic qualities that lift it out of that category given a certain understanding of porn. 

On Don's original notion of porn, before recanting, the presence of an aesthetic dimension, and we could say literary for fiction, lifts the work out of porn. So I wonder whether in this painter's work, I've heard his name but am unfamiliar with him, the mixture of what's seemingly pornographic with what's artistic is an example of the presence of a sexually arousing dimension that gets assimilated to something greater than itself in the work and therefore doesn't count as pornographic. 

What does it even mean to say there's a pornographic element to a work. Is pornographic merely standing in for sexual? Does the presence of young girls as sexually alluring comprise the pornographic in Balthus’s art?

If the subject matter is taboo, sexualizing young children say, then does that of itself make the work porn? 

I wouldn't have thought so. 

If the depiction is erotic, created with brilliant or less than brilliant aesthetic quality, even has a subtle theme, along the line you suggest, or just some or one of these, then I wouldn't have thought of the work as pornography or even as having a pornographic element, though a sexual one sure.


.... Tentatively, I'd say "pornographic" is standing in for "sexual". Or maybe "merely sexual". There would then be gradations of the pornographic, and various forms of it, not all of which would be seen as pornographic by all people, or not to the same degree. It may or may not be taboo, and so it may or may not be something we feel we need or ought to resist. And we may resist not because it's taboo but simply because it can be a bad habit. So extending the word to other contexts (violence porn, poignancy porn, romance porn, food porn, etc.) is always metaphorical, used to indicate a fixated form of desire....


...What was wrong with Don's (Wittgenstein's) family resemblance argument?  It seems a classic case to me, and attempts to define precisely are doomed...


.... I didn't say there was anything wrong with it, unless it's taken to mean that there's nothing that distinguishes pornography from, say, trees (which also display family resemblance). "Family resemblance" doesn't mean we can't find words for the resemblance. 

Things do indeed resemble each other in many ways -- this doesn't mean we can't find words for those ways. E.g., how is checkers more like chess than baseball? Or why, for example, does Don say that a Balthus painting is pornographic? Or why do you say Balthus' work "look like porn"? What, exactly, is the resemblance, and what isn't? Don't say simply it's a "family" resemblance -- what makes you say it's this family and not that, pornography and not trees? Of course you can always shrug and say you don't know, you just feel it's this and not that, but that's just a way of putting an end to thought altogether. Invoking W. isn't going to help you with that....


....I think, again and also tentatively, when “porn” stands in for sexual, it’s not porn as such but is a word used to label aversion to sex. That’s what “stands in” means for me.

And the view I’ve staked out has it that strictly speaking—maybe too strictly, I can see that, but I’ll go with it, tentatively—there aren’t gradations of porn. It’s either porn or it’s not. The reasoning for this is: if it’s soft porn or something like it, then it has qualities that mitigate the singular criterion of intending merely to arouse; with that the aim to arouse sexually is part of something larger than itself, that there is virtue in artistic qualities transcending the intent solely to arouse; and porn is by (my) definition comprised only by that singular aim. This is how I read Don’s recanted analysis, which I think jibes with what I tried to say going in.

I don’t think that taboo subject matter has any necessary thing to do with porn. Porn comes into it only by how that subject matter is deployed. Though arguably there is a “meta taboo” involved here, which is unadorned sexual arousal. 

I tend to think that porn can be extended to some other contexts other than metaphorically and violence might be an example. And maybe, the thought just now strike me, that a unifying denominator for the contexts porn as such applies to is that very meta taboo say for example violence, whereas in “poignancy porn” the word porn is metaphoric. 

I’d welcome being shown up short on any of this. 

My biggest problem might be that my notion of porn is too rigid and confined....

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On Powerhouse (The CAA Story), Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs, And A Word On George V. Higgins


A few notes on what I’ve been reading.


I finally finished Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency by James Andrew Miller. It took forever as it’s a long, long book.

It was absorbing from beginning to when Ovitz, Meyer and finally Bill Haber, three among CAA’s original founders, finally exited stage left. They were outsized—some lovely, some unlovely—characters. The founding, their ascent, their massive success, as told by way of oral history from their mouths, their clients’, and their friends’ and enemies’ lent concrete reality to this comprehensive account. 

As well, the personal perspectives reveal the big, bright distinction between the “talent,” essentially the creative sensibility, and the agents, their down to earth business mindedness, their strong shoulders to cry on, their always being there for the talent, essentially 24/7, and the talent mercurial, sensitive, seemingly kind of hopeless outside the envelope of their art. Not to a man and woman of course, but generally so it’s fair to say.

Once those original three left, the book became somewhat of a drag, but, still, made somewhat interesting by how things changed in comparison with the new guard, those changes tracking the changes in “entertainment America.” Amongst the guard, no one stood to me out in an outsized way; things became more corporate and the culture of CAA changed: more dog eat dog, more agent turnover, more of the top rewarding itself at the expense of the big, big amounts paid to keep agents in place by the old guard when business began to  hum; and sports became for CAA an unprecedented and huge revenue stream. But I didn’t get the sense of the athletes’ particular sensibility the way I did in the noted contrast between the Hollywood talent and the business side.

Final comment of the many more that can be made: only one character emerged as the successor to the CAA founders’ larger than life quality—Ari Emanuel, aka “Superagent,” and loosely and effectively played as Ari Gold by Jeremy Piven in Entourage.  Ari Emanuel is brother to Rahm and Ezekiel Emanuel. What a guy, what a family, and what an Agency cum ginormous business he’s built! It didn’t fit Powerhouse’s format to concentrate on him, but I divined an author chomping at the bit to key in on him but restrained by the bit of his main subject. 

Road Dogs:

I’m at the start of Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs. It’s nothing but a pleasure to read, or even better, listen to, this totally involving novel.  Nearly all dialogue so authentic you have to remind yourself it’s a book not an actual conversation, you’re compelled to listen, to hang on every word. It’s written in a style I’d call cinematic: you can easily visualize what’s going on as you read or listen. I believe it’s Leonard’s natural fiction style but not for nothing do many of his books become movies, this one became Out Of Sight, George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, an endlessly re-watchable movie. 

A little noted aspect of Leonard’s superb fiction writing talent is his ability deftly to invest would be losers, marginal men and women, riff raff, ex cons, low life’s, criminals, with their own particular vitality, singular character, and strengths  and flaws. I can’t get enough of this book: it’s like eating a delicious meal while  wanting always to have it. 

Leonard has said one of his writing masters is the incomparable George V. Higgins, incomparable especially in his earlier novels. I’ve read everything he’s written (and at the end IMO he lost his fictional way.) He’s a harder, more challenging read than Leonard because he creates more complex, more gritty, more fully realized characters and worlds. And even more impressive is Higgins’s mastery of point of view through the dialogue and various lengthy first person accounts of things that dominate his novels. 

Different characters will go on for pages giving their version of events forming axes of the story. And you will see these events so entirely and deeply from their perspective that you will be persuaded by them. And then a few pages later, you’ll be persuaded by markedly different account. What he does is create different overlapping worlds with each character’s tell tale. “Worlds colliding” as George Constanza once said. You need to get to the end of the books to see the resolution or irresolution of the collisions as the stories wind themselves up. It’s a brilliance quite unique to Higgins, at least in my reading experience.

What Is Porn


Just thinking aloud about porn, and pretty tentatively at that. 

I’d love some push back.

I read a criticism of the the series This Is Us, which I watched 1’ of and saw it wasn’t for me, that had the tease, “Poignancy Porn.”

It led me to note that porn has come to have a meaning, and maybe it always did, not necessarily connected to sex, as in violence porn or poignancy porn. 

Which got me to wondering what the core meaning of porn is such that it can apply to such a variety of subjects.

What I’ve understood about porn in relation to sex is that at its core it is about fetishization, or the obsessive focus on sex as such detached from all else. Another version of this way of seeing it is as Wiki has it: “Pornography (often abbreviated porn) is the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal.” Which seems similar to “no redeeming value” and “prurient interest only.” 

On this definition, purpose, “for the purpose of,” is a key. But how do we infer purpose? Maybe it’s what the  creator tells us, if we can get that. But what if we can’t? Or what if the work defies the expression of purpose? And what is purpose anyway? Is it motive, the reason why, or is it intent, the intended effect? Mustn’t it be the latter? For the reason why may be simply (say) to earn money. But, again, the work’s effect(s) may defy the intent. So, I think the only real basis for judging effect is the work itself, which once completed doesn’t in the sense of response or critical response belong anymore to the creator. (“Trust the tale, not the teller.”)

On this reasoning I’d slightly modify the Wiki definition to “....the portrayal of sexual subject matter whose only effect is sexual arousal.” Then we can distinguish between such works and works in which sexual arousal is part of something more than itself whether in effect or in meaning. And that more than itself will go to “redeeming value” and beyond “prurient interest only.”

To extract from porn as solely sexual arousal in order to get at the meaning of porn apart from sex, (say) poignancy porn, I’d merge the idea of obsessive focus and the idea of singular and heightened effect. Might that then lead to this as a general definition of porn beyond sexual arousal: any depiction arousing an overly-heightened reaction that doesn’t go beyond itself? Or, maybe functionally, porn is that which intends to arouse a reaction analogous to when the depiction of sex is only for sexual arousal. 

So violence porn can be seen to be the depiction of violence for its own sake and not for anything else. 

And porn in This Is Us as poignancy porn may be more metaphoric than literal, as in suggesting the manipulative arousal of overly heightened emotion.

Monday, January 8, 2018

On Ignatieff’s Biograpghy Of Isaiah Berlin

Just finally finishing Michael Ignatieff's excellent biography of Isaiah Berlin. 

When I read the extensive discussion of many of Berlin's views, I feel often that he says exactly what I think in how I see the world. But one thing different is Berlin's fascination with religious content even though he was a skeptical atheist. 

The virtue of that content for him was at least two fold: 

abstracted atheism for him was way too far from the way people actually live and in that was thin intellectual gruel; 

and even more importantly that content and the pervasive fixity of religious belief formed an important reminder of the limits of reason. 

The failure to see those limits, positive liberty, was the cause of the great horrors of the twentieth century, Fascism and Communism. 

I don't agree with that analysis and argue that you can reject religion and still hold to reason as it gets practiced in liberal democracies without falling into a moral abyss.  In a word, the rejection of religion need not engender totalitarian horrors. 

I took some offense at Berlin's fascination with the story of Isaac as revealing something awesome and magnificent in that blind and unwavering display of faith, the same thing that delivered Kierkegaard from his fear and trembling. I have always deeply reviled that story and the idea of such a God who so tests Abraham's faith. I'm with Leonard Cohen on that one--his Story of Isaac.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On Seeing Fistful Of Dollars For The First Time


Surprisingly enough I've just seen Fistful Of Dollars for the first time. And I'm a huge Eastwood and Leone fan. 

I just wrote this note on a random film studies web site I hit upon. In all the comments I noted lots of discrete discussion on different cinematic aspects of the movie, with no one putting it or them together in an overall way. 

So I gave that a tiny shot and, as I say, wrote this:

.....I've  just seen Fistful Of Dollars for the first time. It has a coherent theme. The man with no name, or Joe, changes over the course of the film from an amoral gun for hire seeking only to enrich himself to an ascendingly moral man who reunites Marisol with her husband and child and out of his pocket pays their way to escape. He then becomes as an avenging God, virtually rising from the dead, and by implication what has been dead inside himself, conquering evil, the Rojos, by their own means, violent killing plus his own singular cunning. The no name man's donning of the armour implicates and evokes the heraldry and honour of knights in defeating evil and standing for good and, too, at the end by giving Ramon a fair fighting chance in their final stand off. The finale is an explosion of Old Testament eye for an eye  righteousness in the violent vanquishing of evil by evil's means but used righteously. Much  more to be said of course, but that's an outline of an account of Fistful Of Dollar's thematic coherence, or, put differently, what it's about....