Justin E. H. Smith has a new post on “gelastics” – “a neologism coined by Mary Beard from the Greek ‘gelan’: ‘to laugh’” – my favorite section is on Kant:
Kant is generally held to have offered the most disappointing account of music in the history of philosophy, one that cordons it off to the margins of human society and human experience, while failing to charge it with that mysterian force that Plato gave it in arguing that it is something too powerful to be allowed to be permitted, unregulated, into the Republic. Certainly, the feature of Kant’s philosophy of music that disappoints the most is that, while for us music is supposed to be serious, for him it is of a pair with jokes. But those who are gravely serious about music should bear in mind that, even if he ranked the figurative arts higher than the aural, he does not seem to have known much, or cared much, about either. Kant was likely the greatest thinker ever to tackle the philosophy of art in the absence of any critical sensibility whatsoever for the object of his theorising.
His sense of humour was equally underdeveloped, as we’ll see. Yet, I want to argue, it is Kant who has given the strongest theoretical account ever offered of the structure and nature of jokes. Kant is the most prominent representative of what has come to be known as the “incongruity theory of humour,” according to which instances of humour are generated out of the temporal experience of a mixing of incongruous conceptual categories, a mixing that, as he elegantly puts it, gives rise to “the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing [die plötzliche Verwandlung einer gespannten Erwartung in nichts].” Kant explains: “[W]e laugh, and it gives us a hearty pleasure: not because we find ourselves cleverer than this ignorant person, or because of any other pleasing thing that the understanding allows us to note here, but because our expectation was heightened and suddenly disappeared into nothing.”
The conference was happily free of dogmatism. No one on the stage was there to represent a particular party or doctrine. There were disagreements, but at heart was a simple proposition. Communism is an idea that has been with us in different forms for thousands of years, as Terry Eagleton pointed out. The task is now to think what the concepts of egalitarian voluntarism, self-organisation, common ownership of common means of production, abolition of class-structured society, and freedom from state power can mean today.
It’s a bold statement, declaring oneself a communist. The cultural revolutions of 1968 were the beginning of the end of the party-state, when programmatic communism was replaced by a more postmodern, abstract idea of “the left”. Freedom of thought and nomadic thought undid the old certainties of Marxist political knowledge. No one has quite figured out how to replace them, and this perhaps more than anything else can account for the current weakness of the left, even as capitalism is in crisis: what is to be done?
First, the question of the role of the state and the economy remains open. While Judith Balso, Toni Negri and Alain Badiou insist on creating new political movements at a distance from the state, Zizek and Bruno Bosteels point to the experiences of Bolivia and Venezuela as contemporary proof that by taking power, a progressive radical movement can survive even against overwhelming reactionary forces. For Zizek, to reject the idea of a revolutionary state in the absence of a clear alternative is a cop-out.
However, such considerations all seem to beg the question of how to organise. It is difficult to imagine a new Communist party, but without one, the idea of communism remains just that: a quasi-religious article of faith. This was perhaps Eagleton’s point when he observed that it is not so difficult to imagine a communism of scarcity, foisted upon us by disaster rather than rapture. Continue reading →
Here’s a nice line from Lucretius in his De Rerum Natura:
For fools always have a greater admiration and liking for any idea that they see obscured in a mist of paradoxical language, and adopt as true what suceeds in prettily tickling their ears and is painted with a specious sound. (Book 1: 640.2-4)
The target is Heraclitus, but it made me chuckle for a few reasons. Not least in the context of “bloggery.” Or in the context of Mikhail’s recent post about philosophy as a written or oral medium. In the comments to that post, I think there was talk to the effect that if Derrida didn’t feel the need to publish everything he wrote, we’d be better off.
Anyway, the passage made me chuckle (out loud no less) this morning. That’s good.
Oh, yes. And there is the bit in which Lucretius refers to Heraclitus’ “unitarianism” as nothing less than “harebrained lunacy.” We’re far too thin-skinned to talk like this today, I would imagine. Though I do seem to remember someone telling me that Catherine Pickstock once referred to theology in America as a “vast wasteland.” Not that such things really concern me, but nice, indeed.
Every couple of months we read about how America’s youth are falling far behind their international counterparts when it comes to math and science. The experts keep trying to figure out why this has happened, and how they can reverse the trend.
Finally, some answers:
BTW: This poll was commissioned by Counterpoint: The MIT-Wellesley Journal of Campus Life (whose staff, I’m guessing, is much more Chemistry/Mathematics than they are Studio Art), and comes to us via Pushback. Just last week, MIT announced that they were abandoning their sixteen year partnership with Wellesley and pulling out of the academic journal. They’re heading over to BU to get laid.
Son of God or America’s first Black President? Take this Quiz!
Something else caught my eye and also falls under the category of irresistible sarcasm: this article from Jewcy traces the Islamic roots of anything that is well, awesome. Here an excerpt:
First they told us that not all Muslims were evil. We didn’t resist.
Then they told us that not all Muslims were Islamo-fascists. We stayed silent.
Then they told us that not all Muslims were Islamists. We conceded the point.
Now there are no labels with which to stereotype and generalize all Muslims. I have seen this state of affairs come to pass and I feel bad for my fellow man, who is deprived of access to a word that might allow him to reduce 1.2 billion people to one essential characteristic.
Given that I am already considered by Muslims to be part of the Crusader-Neo-Con-Zionist alliance to undermine, subvert, and sabotage Islam – not to mention seduce-all-Muslim-women-without-marrying-them-four-at-a-time – I thought I would go ahead and offer non-Muslims a little bit of information that will assist them in stereotyping my people. Here it goes: my friends, most Muslims are Muslamists. It is a fact of which I am only now becoming aware.
Nietzsche, despite his atheism and hatred of organized religion, was more or less a Muslim too, because he said that Spain’s Islamic baths were beautiful and that there was something commendable in the Wahhabi antipathy to alcohol. Muslamism towards Nietzsche is particularly strong, with Allama Muhammad Iqbal, India’s foremost Muslim philosopher once declaring that had he been alive before Nietzsche suffered dementia he would have been able to convert Nietzsche to Islam.