Monday, July 31, 2006

Paglia on Gay Culture

Well, here's a very entertaining interview with Camille Paglia in which the high priestess of high and low culture dishes on art and gay culture. (The picture is unrelated, but was the most entertaining to come up on a Yahoo! image search)

Some highlights:

On turning 60: Because of their ubiquitous cruising principle, aging is generally a more critical issue for gay men than it is for lesbians. Old dykes retain status as tough customers, while aging gay men need money, fame, power or all three to keep their clout vis-à-vis the beautiful boys who so casually and cruelly rule the roost.

(She's right here. I wonder if testosterone gives men this obsession with deflowering the young. Certainly straight male sex objects seem to have gone from knowing women of the world who can teach them something, such as Jane Russel, to dithering idiots who can be easily manipulated, as in every pop music tart of the current era. In gay culture, beautiful boys have ruled for some time now. Actually, since the beardless youths of ancient Greece. But, the emphasis on youth and glitz is hardly known in lesbian culture.)

On Madonna's recent shows: I just saw the first of Madonna's two concerts in Philadelphia, and I wasn't thrilled with it. I simply wanted to see her --not be assaulted by an avalanche of pretentious, irrelevant images dizzily winking on giant screens. Alison enjoyed it--she's much more of a True Blue Madonna fan, while I can't turn off my beady critic's eye. The lugubrious montage of doleful African orphans framing a glammed up Madonna as she reclined on her sparkly disco crucifix was too much by twenty miles.

(Yeah, I'm torn between wanting to see Madonna in concert and being repulsed at the idea of her recreating Olivia Newton John's performance in Xanadu!)

On the public divorce between gay men and camp: Today, camp is no longer fashionable--in public, that is. Camping may be going on at fever pitch at gay bars and parties, but except for a few comedic TV shows, the official house style for gay men is now driven by politics: gravitas is in--an odd accessory indeed in the metrosexual toilet kit.

On Brokeback Mountain: I don't think Brokeback Mountain is a great film. It's far too long, soggy, and monotonous, and its bleak portrait of small-town and working-class life is (in my indignant view) condescending and offensively elitist. Without the picture-postcard mountain photography and wonderfully evocative score (which won an Oscar), this would be a small movie on the early '90s indy level.

(Here I disagree. The movie reminded me often of lesser Ingmar Bergman with it's careful attention to the intimate details of simple and difficult life. The dialogue wasn't always great, but I think that the attention to detail and the performances lifted it above being an obvious South Park gag.)

I found the sudden removal of Gyllenhaal's character from the script via a brutal gay-bashing simplistic and egregious--although no more so than the earlier bizarre mutilation-murder of an old gay man in a gully, which Ledger's character was improbably forced to narrate.
The intrusion of a political agenda so baldly at those points struck me as factitious and reductive, betraying too-heavy manipulation by the screenwriters. (The director, in contrast, tried to soften that material by treating it as mere cinematic flashes.) Why hammer the audience?--unless you have no confidence in your central theme.

(I agree with her here. In my experience of small towns, the old gay couple wouldn't have been killed- everyone in the town would just completely deny that they were actually gay. I've lived in towns with numerous 'confirmed bachelors' who nobody ever put two and two together about. I'm guessing that Will & Grace and pop culture are changing that, but not in the 50s.)

Why gay men love movies while lesbians could care less: My theory is that gay men, unlike lesbians, have an innate, hyper-acute visual sense. It's related to what I have speculated to be the genesis of much (but not all) male homosexuality: an artistic gene that ends up isolating sensitive young boys and interfering at a crucial moment with the harsh dynamics of schoolyard male bonding.

(I don't know... I recognize that most gay men I've known were hyper-aware visually. But, I tend to be pretty aesthetically acute myself. And the Europeans are all aesthetes! In fact, I have no idea how French gays distinguish themselves when everyone else is chic and catty.)

On the 70s film Cruising (which gay rights groups boycotted):
I loved Cruising--while everyone else was furiously condemning it. It had an underground decadence that wasn't that different from The Story of O or other European high porn of the 1960s. I bought the Cruising soundtrack, which was really radical for its time, and played it for years.

(I've never gotten why Cruising was so villified. Certainly it detailed a part of the culture that exists, and continues to exist, and which is probably a lot more interesting than watching an old white-bread gay couple opening their mail, or whatever else is politically correct to film these days! And she's right about the soundtrack- it's great, especially the stuff by The Cripples and The Germs.)

On the death of gay aesthetics (Bruce La Bruce has argued that AIDS killed off gay aesthetics): As a disciple of Oscar Wilde (whose epigrams I began studying in adolescence), I definitely feel alienated from the ideology-driven standards of many gay festivals. And I completely agree with Bruce La Bruce's analysis of the death of gay aesthetics.
One problem is that film-making in general declined in quality from its high points in studio-era Hollywood and European art film of the 1950s and '60s. The precipitous drop-off can even be seen in the careers of genius directors like Bergman, Fellini, and Antonioni. The great age of movies may be over, replaced by other genres, such as digital animation and Web communications.

(I'd agree here. Gay films have gotten dreadful and ham-fisted for the most part. But, so have most films. The cinema is becoming an echo chamber of empty noise.)

If we are ever to see a revival of artistry, young film-makers must study and absorb the great movie past. To build on the small, weak, one-dimensional films of the 1980s and '90s is a dead end. The same thing with writing: if young people simply draw on the shallow, cynical, jargon-clotted postmodernism of the 1980s and '90s, they'll produce nothing that will last.

(Some of them do study old films. But the problem is that they're so limited themselves that nothing sinks in. Like Tarantino idolizing Godard, but only noticing the visual style, and lacking any interest in the politics or the existential themes in the films. The pictures haven't gotten small- the directors have!)

This is why I exalt Tennessee Williams as a supreme role model: he was openly gay (daring at the time) but never ghettoized himself. He lived in the real world and thought and felt in passionate, universal terms--which is why he created titanic characters who have had worldwide impact and who are still stunningly alive.


Philosophers: Dead or Alive

Meanwhile, Iran isn't busy enough with waging war against Israel and trying to destabilize and take over the entire region. They've also got time to arrest Ramin Jahanbegloo, one of their nation's great intellectuals and philosophers and keep him in jail without any formal charges being brought against him.

Oh, and also make it illegal to say the word "pizza".

Where do they find the time?


When Mommies Attack

A philosopher has come under fire from nutjobs, recieved death threats, has to lie low, etc. for arguing that women should be encouraged to work outside the home. In Syria? Iran? Afghanistan?
Not quite.


Why I am Optimistic About Global Warming

This month’s National Geographic, in an article by author Bill McKibben, lays out why it might seem that global warming is suddenly a much more serious issue. Here are his opening paragraphs, which do a nice job of summarizing information:

“This is the year when we finally started to understand what we are in for. Exactly 12 months ago, an MIT professor named Kerry Emanuel published a paper in Nature showing that hurricanes had slowly but steadily been gaining in strength and duration for a generation. It didn’t attract widespread attention for a few weeks- not until Katrina roared across the Gulf of Mexico and rendered half a million people refugees. The scenario kept repeating: Rita choked highways with fleeing Texans; Wilma setting an Atlantic Ocean record for barometric lows; Zeta spinning on New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, other data kept pouring in from around the planet: Artic sea ice melting past an irrevocable tipping point; thawing permafrost in northeastern Siberia creating so much methane that lakes didn’t even freeze in the depths of boreal winter; the NASA calculation that 2005 had been the warmest year on record.

In January, a trinity of announcements sealed the mood. First, British scientist James Lovelock, who invented the instrument that allowed us to detect our eroding ozone layer, published an essay predicting that we’d already added too much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and that runaway global warming was inevitable. He predicted that billions will die this century. A few days later came a less dramatic but equally alarming announcement. The steady and long-serving NASA climatologist James Hansen defied federal attempts to gag him and told reporters that new calculations about, among other things, the instability of Greenland’s ice shelf showed ‘we can’t let it go on another ten years like this.’ If we did? Over time, the buildup of carbon dioxide emissions would ‘imply changes that constitute practically a different planet.’ Less than ten years to reverse course. Not in our kids’ lifetimes, or our grandkids’. Ours.”

So, that pretty much sums up the information on the subject. This seems to be one of those historical moments in which we need to remove our heads from the (quickly increasing) sand. Are the worst doomsday scenarios correct? I don’t think so, and not because I seriously doubt the science, but because they make the same mistake as Malthusianism and assume that humans will do nothing to preserve their own lives: that we cannot adapt and save ourselves. But, we haven’t experienced the serious famines that Malthus predicted, and I think it’s because people simply control their populations when resources start becoming scarce. In other words, they do adapt.

Besides, McKibben’s article isn’t a doom-n-gloom nightmare scenario either. He thinks that we can handle this, if we roll up our sleeves and get to it. And one of the things that I love most about Americans is that they can get the job done, if they’re looked straight in the eye and told what they have to do. Europeans sometimes get the job done, and sometimes they smoke cigarettes and drink wine and bitch instead. But, Americans pride ourselves on our ingenuity. Besides, we’d secretly love to save the world and hold it over everyone else’s head for the rest of time and eternity.

So, here then are reasons to be optimistic about the struggle ahead:
1) Americans could stand to have a ‘mission’ that doesn’t involve fighting off endless sneak attacks by fanatical terrorists. It’s strange to imagine, considering that we’ve been such a fat-assed obstacle to fixing this problem, but if there’s any country that can put solutions into effect quickly and optimistically, it’s this one.

2) Environmentalism is already America’s legacy to the world. From Thoreau to Rachael Carson, we were the ones that figured out that the planet was worth preserving, and more importantly, that the industrial revolutions were putting it in jeopardy. If there’s anything we should be proud of, it’s this. We still live on the frontier of nature in many cases, and there are none of us, aside from Woody Allen, who actually hate the great outdoors.

3) As McKibben points out, if we can mobilize our churches, we have a huge force for change, and they’re starting to come around. For one thing, Christians are already accustomed to thinking of the bigger picture, and already shun narcissism and materialism (well, at least in theory they do). For another thing, if this is God’s creation, what right to we have to trash it? If suicide is a sin for this reason, then surely global suicide would be a sin, right? McKibben is optimistic about the churches that recently broke with Pat Robertson’s environmental nihilism, and I am too. Just as most Muslims are not as violent as the ones that make the news, not many Christians are as dumb as Pat Robertson.

4) The left needs to get over its defeatism and stop chastising America whenever it gets the chance. They need to drop the childish attitude that global devastation is going to ‘teach America a lesson’ about its consumption. Besides, they’re right on this issue in a way that the conservative establishment is not. How often does a political party get to be right? Why not think the best of Americans for once? Why not admit that many of them do need to grow up, but if you expect the best of them, they can still deliver? And why should the left back down on this? There are serious questions as to if they’re right about the economy, the war, the culture, or much else. But, here, they’re on the side of right.

5) Besides, what sort of conservative really wants to embrace nihilism? Back in the days when we arguing about whether or not global warming was a real issue (‘we’ being everyone who understood the issue vs. the oil industry), maybe the conservatives had a conservative stance to stick to. But, now that the argument has become a joke, many conservatives are turning to bizarre arguments like ‘Well, the planet killed off all life a million years ago. There’s nothing we can do.’ Does any political party want to be remembered as the one that embraced the message: ‘Screw it! We’re all going to die! Let’s get rich while we still can! I don't like our kids anyway!' Of course not. I think people underestimate the ability of conservatives outside of the political establishment to break from the party line. And quite a few of them already are. They’re going to be remembered as the visionaries, and as their numbers increase, they’re going to do the incredible.

6) Besides, even the oil companies see it- two more years and everything’s going to change. Their executives have widely acknowledged that it doesn’t matter if a Democrat or a Republican gets elected, because either way they’re very likely to take a different approach to this issue. And they’re going to have to.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I am currently plodding through Rousseau's Emile and finding my way around. This is actually the second time I've read the work, and actually the first time I've done as close a reading as I am. The other day I patiently worked through fifteen pages, which is obscenely slow. However, Philip Reiff, who I've just remembered, once advocated spending a week trapped in a single sentence if need be, so I think this is part of my job.

Reading in the humanities is supposed to be slow and deliberate. It is not always done this way of course. Since few of us are widely read (sadly, few of us have the time to become widely read), it is all too easy to come up with a fascinating theory about a text and cherry-pick sentences to fit that theory. Even more sadly, it is not unlikely that the academic world will lay gold at your feet for coming up with a fascinating theory. And so, the standard of honesty has to be one's own. As a scholar, you must avoid the romantic alure of a pat and fascinating theory and simply puzzle through texts. When I start to see interesting patterns in things I am reading, I try to write the following in my notes: "This is how the text seems to me. Maybe this will turn out to be wrong. Let's see." The word maybe, as in "maybe I am right and maybe not" or "maybe I just don't know", is the most intellectually freeing word in the English language.

As with most of the writers of the era, Rousseau's major theme is always human freedom. However, as opposed to dealing with day-to-day social freedoms, such as the freedom to worship as one pleases, Rousseau tends to focus on the ways that people are psychologically constrained by society. When he writes in The Social Contract that man is born free, yet everywhere in chains, Rousseau is refering to the chains of false consciousness. Human society forces men to rely on each other to fulfill their various needs, and to compare themselves with each other, and forces them to behave in a constrained and artificial way that Rousseau believes would not exist in a state of nature. Camille Paglia has written that Rousseau made "nature" a watchword for the west, and it is certainly a watchword in all of his work.

Of course, the question then is, if Rousseau is right, how do we escape this situation? Should we respond to Rousseau by walking on all fours, as Voltaire joked? Is it possible to be free within society? What Rousseau has done is to set up a dichotomy between 'nature' and 'society' that actually exists within all people. Jean Starobinski called this the contrast between "être" and "paraître"- that is between being and appearing. Hunan nature is conflicted within society, warped and made unnatural. And so we have two sides to our personality- innate selfhood and social selfhood. Because Rousseau acknowledges that we cannot return to nature and expect to be happy, we have to remain in society. But, we can live in a way that nurtures and develops our innate "natures". It is possible that Romanticism was simply a negative response to the burdens of social selfhood. Rousseau's project therefore rightly culminates in the work of Freud.


Monday, July 24, 2006


What to say about the Louvre? Our secular temple, our most holy of holies. A pier in a vast ocean recieving wave after wave of the products of human genius. Our visit there was overwhelming and emotional. Remember that there are works there that I have been studying in books for half of my life. If there is anything in the world, aside from Claire, that I would devote my life to, it's this.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tour de France

Here are some pictures from the end of the Tour de France today. I think the winner Floyd Landis might be just ahead of the group of riders in yellow jerseys there. It was very exciting to see the end of it. I basically stood by the side of the road for an hour while little happened and then heard cheering right before the pack went by. Landis did a great job and all of the riders were very impressive.



Okay, I hate nothing about the Internet more than the phenomenon of 'piling on'. But, this is also the funniest example of a net fustercluck that I've seen in a while. So, here goes.

Here is a cartoon by Chris Muir that makes some sort of point about the NYTimes hating America. Why do they hate America? Well, according to the cartoonist, because they subscribe to 'Kantian nihilism'. And then it ends with an ass joke. Okay, I get the ass joke: "behind the times". Is it funny? Well, funny is subjective, right? Let's say it's 'Bazooka Joe funny'.

But, the first thing you wonder if you've ever read Kant is what in the living fucking hell is 'Kantian nihilism'? I could say many cruel things about Kant, but the absolute last thing I would say is that he was a nihilist, much less characteristic of nihilism. One commenter compared this to writing about "Marxist capitalism". I might throw in "Augustinian secularism". But, the point is that it makes almost no sense whatsoever. Like your head might explode from trying to figure it out. But, hey, ass joke, right?

I've never quite gotten the 'cultural nihilism' argument anyway. It always reads like: "Do you know why teenagers are dressing slutty and smoking so much pot these days? Heidegger! It's totally Heidegger's fault!"

So, a bunch of people have piled on to ask "WTF mate?" And then a bunch of other people called these people "pompous", as if writing a comic strip whose central conceit is "Kantian nihilism" isn't pompous. Muir himself (or an imposter poster) wrote "Way to miss the entire point, cretin," after having been called out on, well, missing the entire point. Then someone else added:
"The philosophy-reading, sushi-eating elitist groupthink in this thread is why you guys don’t win elections anymore." Yeah, what kind of jerk reads philosophy anyway? Much better to make bewilderingly uninformed jabs at it without having read it. I almost, you know, spit out my sushi laughing at that one.

Then someone pointed out that Ayn Rand thought that Kant was a nihilist, and Muir may have heard this from her. Nobody has yet pointed out that Ayn Rand was an irritating gasbag.

Muir himself explained his bizarre reference in the next strip:
Chick: "The New York Times are Kantian nihilists?" (as opposed to her asking What in the living fucking hell is a Kantian nihilist?!?)
Dude: "Moral relativists anyway. No objective truths, we are all the same, etc." (Which is, of course, again the opposite of what Kant actually said, and gets at why Nietzsche hated Kant so much.)
Dude: "But this country was founded on Judeo-Christian moral values as well as Kant, Schopenhauer later." (At this point, the chick in the bikini starts smacking the male and screaming: "But, Kant was a Christian, you braindead avacado! And his entire ethical project is founded in Christian morality! Fuck!! And how in bizarro world was America founded on Schopenhaur?")

Then it ends with someone at the NYTimes being asked to distinguish between a terrorist and a US soldier and saying: "I Kant." Yes. They're now bashing the Christian thinkers of the Enlightenment with the same 'terrorist lover' crapola. Please. Head. Do. Not. Explode.

This got me wondering-maybe Muir actually has read Kant. Maybe the Enlightenment is now considered not sufficiently Christian for the conservatives not to bash on. Maybe even the Christian Enlightenment? Like you could almost understand if they were attacking Voltaire, but Kant? But, perhaps Kant really is not conservative enough because he really did think that all people could recognize the universal truth of (basically Christian) ethics. Maybe to be conservative, you have to argue that someone somewhere is innately immune to ethical imperatives, although I have no idea who. Are we supposed to believe that Arabs can't understand ethics? Or just Muslims? Or what?

And then Andrew Sullivan called out Muir as not having a clue what he was talking about, and he responded by drawing a strip making fun of the fact that Andrew Sullivan, as a gay male, is familiar with butt sex. Yes, another ass joke.

And then my head exploded.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Susan and Philip

Here's a lovely, but all-too-brief article on the lifelong affinities in the works of Susan Sontag and Philip Rieff. It was actually no surprise for me when both of them announced that we were living with the first generation of genuine Western barbarians at nearly the same time. There was a deep seriousness and even sterness to both scholars that transcended the simplistic political categories that divided them. Sontag was a leftist, and David Rieff, the son of both Sontag and Rieff, has described his father as being "to the right of Attila the Hun". But, that doesn't really get at the truth of it. Rieff was certainly a conservative thinker, and perhaps one of the greatest conservative thinkers that American academia has yet produced. And yet, his strange and aphoristic writing seems to beckon the reader towards a life of patient and slow quasi-rabbinical study of high culture that leads away from all political struggles. Rieff and Sontag were both cultural mandarins, as Margaret Soltan has pointed out, and so shared the same devotions (as the devout), and the same inflections long after their divorce.

Besides, Sontag's work is much more "culturally conservative" than most conservatives would admit, and Rieff's work is less "reactionary" than many on the left claim. It was no joke that he advised us to become 'inactivists' in his last interviews. A large chunk of his book Fellow Teachers deals with the cultural wreckage wrought by scholar/teachers who decided to become activists. And Rieff's style makes it extremely hard to pigeon-hole. Usually, you can puzzle through just what point he's making, but not quite know what his take is on it. He descibes the sacred/cultural world that we have lost, and the abyss we have gained, but you're never quite sure if he thinks we could return, and he says at various points that he wouldn't want to anyway.

Sontag's writing suffers from the same problems as Rieff's; it can be willfully obtuse and frustratingly self-contradictory. At times, one wonders just what she is getting at as well. Overall, I would say that she was the sloppier writer, and that nothing after Against Interpretation was quite as significant as those essays. But, when she was "on", she was one of the best essayists we had, and well worth studying still. I do think that his writing will be more important in the academy, but hers will probably have the wider influence.

Kant once wrote that the genuine savage was not only unmoved by the sublime and the beautiful, but actively offended by it. Watching bored American tourists snarking at the sublime and beautiful art in the Louvre today, I was reminded of that line, and more amused than deeply offended. Both Rieff and Sontag would have been deeply offended: this is their charm and what can frustrate about their writings. But, it's worth the frustration to read their works, preferably together. The article notes the likelihood that someone will one day write an intellectual history of the two frustrating, elegaic and deeply passionate thinkers; let's hope so.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Let them have fans

So far, nine people have died this year in France from the heat. Last year, the death toll was something like 1,500, but those were largely in August and we're not there yet. I think it will ultimately be lower this year though. There is an ad campaign trying to get people to check in on their elderly neighbors and the hospitals have made some needed improvements. People seem to be more mobilized this time. Last year, they got suckerpunched by the hottest year on record. But, then again, this year is hotter.

Many European countries have little to no air conditioning. Those of us who are younger can handle it; we just go walking or visit a place that is air conditioned, such as the cinema. It's no wonder that you see people lounging in cafes for hours on end here sipping drinks and fanning themselves lazily. But, for the elderly and the infirm, the rising temperatures are a serious problem.

And one that does not seem to be going away any time soon. I've linked to a number of climate scientists here, and although I cannot claim any expert knowledge on global warming, or what it will mean, I trust them that it is indeed taking place. But, more importantly, I get the distinct impression that, even if the world ends the production of greenhouse gases tomorrow, which won't happen, the planet is not going to cool down any time soon.

So, as much as I think government projects tend to be doomed to failure, I think that in this case European governments need to undertake a massive project to supply their elderly citizens with air conditioning units, or just electric fans. Since Claire and I found a ventilateur here for about 20 euro, I suspect the French government could get them in bulk for half that, if not less. In fact, I'd guess that these little fan units could be produced for about 5 euro a piece. They fit on a nightstand, and if they were provided to everyone who was over retirement age, this would still be a workable project, and would prevent a great number of unnecessary deaths. It might well lead to bureaucracy, snafus, and the usual government nonsense, but it's also a justifiable goal, and worth pursuing.

The point is that the ridiculous argument over whether or not there is global warming is becoming increasingly stupid. Call it whatever you want, hell, call it an 'act of God' if that makes you happy, but each year is hotter than the last, and we're going to have to start figuring out how to live in a different and plus chaud world. And, as much as most of us tend towards moderation and measured responses to problems, we may well have to put into place rather radical measures, such as mass fan distributions, or a ten-year plan to phase out fossil fuels altogether. Because this is clearly going to get worse before it gets better, and as much as humans want things to stay the same, they don't, and they're not.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Viva la resistance!

So, now I get it. When Americans say that the French are rude, they mean the Parisians. Most Americans have only been to Paris, or they only know people who have been to Paris, and it's a different beast entirely. Comparing it to Nantes would be like comparing Virginia Beach to Manhattan. And imagine if you wanted to convince your foreign friend that Americans are really kind and open-hearted people (which I believe)- would you prove this by taking them to Manhattan to ride the subway at 8 in the morning during rush hour? Probably not.

People in big and important cities are up their own ass in a way that they're not elsewhere. Even a medium-sized city like Baltimore just can't compare to the vibe of a place like Toronto or NYC or Paris. Big cities are fast and impatient, and they're not exactly unfriendly, but they're not especially friendly either. They have mad dashes and people who take themselves very seriously, and nobody has the time for you and all of your small-town nonsense!

And the Parisians are not really friendly if they have no reason to be. But, is this worse than I've seen elsewhere? Not really. Sure, I've had a few 'French moments' like the older man who loudly scoffed at me on the sidewalk for my ratty college tee-shirt, but again, those were just too silly to care about. You adjust to the local tenor and tempo and deal with it.

And tourists really are terrible. I say this as a tourist, but it's true. They walk into Paris and bitch about how little air-conditioning there is here, they walk through the subways with their frat brothers beating the walls with their fists and yelling in midwestern, they don't understand anything, and because they have money, they expect that Paris will accomodate their special needs.

I've seen epic obnoxiousness here, from the college kids who walk through residential streets at 3 am on a Tuesday night screaming in midwestern, to moms bitching out the hostel staff because they have to make a deposit on a sheet even though they have children (always the damned children...). Yesterday, Claire and I pissed off a mother from Louisiana on the subway because we didn't move for her stroller. I didn't actually think we had to since we weren't really in the way and she had plenty of room for the stroller, and we didn't actually have anywhere to go. But, she kept bitching about how "I love how people here don't even care that you have a baby!" like a petulant child. Apparently, she thought we didn't understand English, so Claire made some comment to me, solely to piss her off (that's my girl!), and we laughed about it later.

Are westerners just so rich and bored that they have to remake the world in the image of the Marriot? Why do they need this endless cultural simulacrum to feel safe in? A sprawling air-conditioned mall where everyone kisses your ass because you have a credit card and pretends that their own lives just aren't as important as whatever stupid thing you want to buy to make yourself less bored and miserable for fifteen minutes. 'We want the world and we want it now!' Where is the shopping district?

Besides, I love all the parts of travel that irritate most tourists. I love the hot sweaty rooms and the languid pace of meals (which is the real reason that French waiters are so 'aloof'! People spend two hours eating meals here, and they're being polite.), and the dog shit everywhere, and the body odors, and the urine alleys, and the women with hairy armpits who glare at you, and the snotty clerks and all of those things that exist solely because people are asserting their right to be human and to exist outside of the simulacrum. And to not play a role in your stupid 19th century colonial re-run. The endless variety of human life and expression is stunning. Even more stunning than the simulation.


Political Correctness

Recently, they’ve been talking at the Pagan Temple about political correctness and whether or not the term has become something of a canard- a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. There is something to this; to me, political correctness seems terribly retro, something from the late 80s or early 90s, along with Nirvana and the Ben Stiller Show. People still seem to talk about it a lot, but I can’t remember the last time I had a run-in with a genuine PC lefty. In 1992, it was a weekly occurrence for me.

I’ve heard it said that the term “political correctness” is unfair because it evokes the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the PC college kids weren’t looking to go that far. But, people forget that “political correctness” was initially the term that those kids used to describe themselves- it was their ideal, and as hard as this is to imagine today, they were looking to evoke the Cultural Revolution as a sign of how radical they were.

The 70s and 80s were strange that way. When you read old lefty magazines from the era, it’s astounding how radical some people were. You can sense this frustration and anger at the end of the Age of Aquarius turning in on itself and curdling. This is the time when you get the real “up against the wall motherfuckers!” madness and intensity without the peace and love element. A lot of it is depressing. I’ve said before that when you survey the art from punk rock to the Night Porter, you get the feeling that the 70s were as nihilistic as we ever got.

Political movements spend most of their energy and time justifying their own existence. Actually, so do governments. What this means is that they all tend to be good at recognizing problems- some real and many not, and then suggesting solutions to those problems that only they can put into effect. As a general rule, they are right about the problems perhaps 20% of the time, and never right about the solutions.

Racism is a real problem in America. Being a cracker, I tend to forget this. And then, suddenly, one of my casual relations will say something scaldingly racist to me, because after all, we're both crackers, so I must get it, and then usually follow this with: "I mean, I just hate that PC shit!" and I'll think to myself: "Racism? You're still around?" And so it is. Like my relative who won't eat food if she thinks a black person prepared it. It's just so bizarre and surreal. Racism is like the 'flat-earth movement'; it's just so stupid and insane that you can't believe anyone buys into it. But, alas, it's the visitor who never leaves.

The political correctness movement was a product of the 80s, and was an even more bizarre solution to a really bizarre problem. I’ve never understood the idea of “empowering” people by treating them like fragile little children who can’t hear a disparaging word. In a country as vulgar and alive as America, it’s hard to imagine that political correctness could have a long shelf life. We don’t like being told what we can and can’t say. The idea of liberation through speech codes is pretty anathema to us.

And lo and behold, you don’t run into PC kids anymore, outside of Berkeley. At our university, being called PC is the kiss of death. So, the kids try to be as politically incorrect as they can. But, since they’re all trying to be crude, they have to go pretty far to shock anyone. When you have Axe Deodorant ads plastered all over your school that bash on single girls to sell their product, totally unquestioned by the student body, it’s hard to actually stand out as sexist. I’ll see kids make rape jokes and think ‘Just give up!’

The lefties at all four of the universities I’ve attended pretty much tried to be as crude as possible. This is actually appropriate in a way; the sixties lefties pretty much pioneered cultural crudeness. But, it’s also boring after a while. When you’re all watching South Park, what envelopes are left to push? And hasn't affectless disinterest been trendy for long enough?

At our university, the real crybabies aren’t the leftists anyway. When one of our World Civ. professors mentioned last year in class that the ancient Greeks were pretty accepting of homosexuality, half of the students left the auditorium, deeply offended at the mention of an ‘immoral lifestyle’. When the professor I taught for would discuss women’s history in class, several students would complain to me about it in recitations and call her a 'bitch'. When one of our professors talked about the Holocaust two years back, a political organization that monitors our campus for anti-Israel content decided that she hadn’t spent enough time on the subject and slandered her as ‘anti-Semitic” in the city paper. This in spite of the fact that she supports Israel’s right to statehood, and is, in fact, both Jewish and Israeli. Turned out the group was unaware of that. And let’s not get started on the campaign to get people here to say “Merry Christmas!” every year so as not to offend the Christians.

So, we’re through the looking glass. Now the lefties have shut up and the conservatives are the crybabies who need special protection. Wowee! What an improvement! For a while, I thought that we should call these people “Religiously Correct” or “RC”, but then I realized that they’re not particularly religious. And like the PC Nazis of old, they pretty much aren’t political either- they’re just hung up on trying to make other people do what they want. So, why not just call them what they are: PC zealots.


Monday, July 10, 2006

C'est fini!

Well, Les Bleus lost last night to Italy and everyone in Paris looks miserable today. Even the very fashionable Parisian women, who are usually frowning anyway, actually look a little sadder than usual.

The game was great fun to watch, and very dramatic. I saw it on the street outside of a bar with about 300 other people. Everyone was drunk and screaming and having a good time. Until the end, that is. I had expected them to party even if the team lost, but alas, everyone walked home quietly, some weeping. There was no joy in Pastryville; the mighty Zazou had struck out.

It was a bit sad that such a great player got himself booted in his last match. But, why cry? I mean, these people live in Paris, for crying out loud! They have delicious food and wine for every meal and they all look like fashion models. Who cares if their team lost? I mean, the streets looked like the first night of the occupation yesterday.

This is what I don’t like about sports; they make the losers miserable. It’s also why the best sport ever is tag. Think about it, there’s never really a 'tag loser', and nobody ever gets pissed off because their favorite player got tagged. Can you imagine angry parents screaming at a tag referee? Or somebody getting in a fight with his wife because he lost at tag? Of course not. And have you ever looked at people’s faces while they’re playing most sports? Steely determination. Now watch people playing tag; they’re usually all laughing.

I realize that there are some deficiencies to tag. For one thing, there are no tag boosters. I would love to see young people with their bodies painted with tag slogans and wearing funny wigs cheering on their favorite tag players. This would ideally be at the World Championship of Tag and perhaps some of them would have large foam hands on and be flashing the television cameras.

I think I might become a tag cheerleader. I’ll make an outfit and hang out in the park and wait until I see some people playing tag. And then I’ll cheer something like: “Yes we got it! What can we say? We’re going to tag you! Then we’ll run away!”

My point is that sports would be a lot more fun if nobody kept score. And if there were tag cheerleaders.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Yep, I'm the 300 billionth person to take this picture.


The Trouble With Multiculturalism (Redux)

I posted a thing on here a few weeks back about multiculturalism and why I don’t really buy it. Claire disagreed strongly with my post, calling it ‘garbage’ (we have very lively disagreements) and we discussed it for some time. Eventually, we decided that I really hadn’t made my thoughts very clear, although we still disagree about the subject. But, what I was arguing was not as harsh as I’d made it out to be.

My point was worded very poorly, but was essentially this: in the states, multiculturalism exists in opposition to an idea of ‘cultural assimilation’ that basically requires diverse and unique people to conform as closely as possible to ‘middle American’. If monoculturalism says that different cultures should assimilate, then multiculturalism says that they must preserve their cultures; even if that means that they don’t assimilate. However, it calls for them to ‘celebrate’ other cultures, while monoculturalism tends to see this as ‘ghettoizing’ themselves. Other criticisms of multiculturalism are more paranoid (‘It will lead to civil war!’), as are other criticisms of monoculturalism (‘Traditional cultures will be destroyed!’), and they aren’t really worth our time. But, my first point is that mono and multiculturalism exist in a dialectical relationship with two and only two poles.

Rufus’ First Maxim: When given two options, pick the third.

Let me make it clear that I prefer multiculturalism to monoculturalism. Monoculturalism tends to tie culture directly to nationality. So, if you are French, you will eat baguettes and drink wine. If you are American, you will speak English and aim at an upper middle-class existence. And so on and so forth. Culture becomes a sort of required protocol for living in a specific country, a sort of law of the road.

Of course, the problem with this is that culture is not tied to specific nations. This is a 19th century myth that grew out of the rise of nation-states and the collapse of empires. For the record, 'culture' includes things like language, art, religion, and other creations of man, and serves as a means for negotiating existence in the world- a sort of bridge between human beings and nature. Therefore, it can be influenced by the natural world, but it is in no way genetically tied to specific peoples.

Culture seems to be tied to isolated groups of people, but only because those people gave rise to it. So, a tribe that lives alone in the Amazon rainforest might have a unique culture, but this doesn’t mean that they alone can understand or appreciate that culture. In the Middle Ages, most cultures in the world were isolated, but this began to change in the 1400s or so with international trade and crusades. Empires tended to be multicultural in that they included diverse groups of people with a minimal requirement for membership. Maybe you had to pay taxes or speak a common language, but otherwise you were left alone. Strangely enough, even the Bismarckian Reich was basically multicultural.

Cultural nationalism was initially in opposition to the multiculturalism of empires. Various traditions were invented and ascribed to various peoples and became incredibly romanticized. So, if you’re Scottish, well by God you’ll wear a kilt! The idea of the nation in fact is simply a group of people who share a common plot of land and culture.

Of course, cultures are usually much more polyglot and hybrid than nationalists would like to admit. I previously used the example of national musical styles to argue that the idea that cultures are tied to nations is a bunch of nonsense. Not to rehash the point, but the idea that, if you’re French, then musette speaks to you, or that Canadians will get a tear in their eye when they hear Stompin’ Tom is ludicrous. Most national traditions are just sentimental kitsch really.

I think that the people who espouse multiculturalism know that cultures are not tied to nationality, but they still tie culture to ethnicity in a way that I find equally untrue. So, if you’re black, then you understand hip hop in a more profound way than anyone else and if you’re a Native American, you’ll get a tear in your eye when you hear a traditional song.

I find this to be just as implausible, and I suspect that most advocates of multiculturalism know that it’s implausible but accept the idea as an alternative to monoculturalism. But, I don’t see it as much of an alternative. In fact, I prefer the idea of cultures as gifts that groups of people freely exchange with other groups of people, no matter what their nationality or ethnicity. I think: “When you’re in America, you’d better speak English!” is arrogant and ignorant, but I don’t think that: “It’s a black thing- you wouldn’t understand!” is much better.

Original post here:
Multiculturalism is a strange thing; I really started hearing about it when I moved to Canada. People would constantly say to me: “You know what’s great about Canada? We’re a multicultural society!” And I would think to myself that this is like saying: “You know what’s great about Canada? We have gravity here!” (Eventually, someone explained to me that Canadians say this because they’re tired of the misconception that everyone in Canada is white.) But, you see the multicultural crowd everywhere: on billboards, on television ads, in magazines: it’s usually a pack of about five young people enjoying each other’s company, all of them representatives of different ethnic groups. It’s an advertising gimmick, a fake world where everyone is basically just that: a representative of their ethnic group, but they all respect each other in a sort of cultural détente. It’s a gentle sort of alienation.

Multiculturalism says that we are all, essentially, members of ethnic groups that should be respected for their own merits… but from a distance. Let us neither deride nor ape other cultures, but respect their cultural space from afar. It’s a sort of Platonic relationship between cultures that remains unconsummated because, after all, we have to respect our differences. We can all drink Coca-Cola together, but let’s respect those unbridgeable distances that exist between us.

And it’s all a bunch of claptrap, isn’t it? In this day and age, none of us are representatives of any ethnic group. And why should we have Platonic cultural relationships when the only thing that’s going to save us is cultural insemination, cultural orgies, and cultural perversion? That's the right metaphor- fucking. Multiculturalism says: "Respect other cultures for their inherent merits- but, don't fetishize them!" It sets up boundaries and calls them "respect" and "dignity", but they're just boundaries.And fucking is an appropriate metaphor because that's what's going to save us from the cultural stagnation of this new Qing Dynasty we're living in. Multiculturalism says that there's something inappropriate and politically incorrect about black men who want to fuck latinas or white women who want to fuck black men. Multiculturalism says that we should stay in our little boxes so that we don't "exploit" each other, or "disrespect" our differences. It says that, if you're a hispanic, or a black, or an Asian, or anything else, certain types of food, and music, and culture are your true heritage and that you should honor these things, and cherish them. And stick to them, it whispers in your ear.

So, the old "melting pot" nonsense was just monoculturalism- every culture should sort of blend into one culture that was really just European Lite. But, I can't see how multiculturalism, with its dignified isolationism is much better. Peter Lamborn Wilson wites: "Multiculturalism is the decor of the end of the Social, the metaphorical imagery of the complete atomization of the 'consumer'." I don't know if I agree with Wilson when he later calls it a form of control, but I agree with him when he calls it 'hegemonic particularism'. Multiculturalism is not challenging. It accepts isolation. It valorizes isolation.

So, what to do about the ugly side of cultural appropriation? Again, fucking is the best metaphor here because it's the free exchange of fluids and energy. Not theivery- not exploitation, but giving and recieving. We need to encourage all forms of cross-breeding, all forms of intercultural insemination. Not just hanging out and sharing a few Cokes. We need to drink freely of each other.


Friday, July 07, 2006

One more


How did it look in Paris when France beat Portugal?


Allez les Bleus!

Well, it’s unbelievable but Les Bleus are going to play in the finals of the World’s Cup, having now beaten Portugal. They will be taking on Italy, and as much as I would like to see them win, I suspect that Paris will celebrate no matter who wins. The free paper that they hand out on the subways is suggesting that “dans le climat moronse qui prévaut à un an de la présidentielle,” perhaps the French people “cherchaient des raisons de se réjouir.” Well, they’re certainly taking advantage of this one, riding through the streets, singing, honking their horns, waving their flags, playing bongos, and drinking lots and lots of wine.

I’ve never really enjoyed watching sports, and to be honest, I’m hardly watching this one. But, I am enjoying watching crowds of people watching these matches and cheering and embracing every time something good happens. From what I can tell, the French team’s secret weapon is their goalie; seemingly nothing can get past him, even when they’re playing a super aggressive team like Brazil. So, the other team will charge towards the goal, and the crowd will scream like they’re watching a horror film, and then he will block the goal and they will cheer and embrace. It’s a blast to watch them going wild.

Last night, I watched the match at a bar a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. It was not quite as much fun as watching it at the café where I watched the last one. There were a lot more tourists this time, and they seemed too nervous to cheer. But, the locals were having a good time and I walked around Paris taking pictures after the team won. I know a lot of people get down on sports because the fans can be jingoistic drunks. But, they’re also just as often looking for a reason to celebrate what the human body can do, and our physical existence in the world. Sometimes that can get me out of my head and help me out a little. So, allez les bleus!


What did it look like when France beat Brazil?


Monday, July 03, 2006

Paris is Burning

Tonight the parks are full of people. It's very nice and social- lots of blankets and wine and young people sitting around chatting. I wondered why I don't see this at home, although claire and I once saw a group of kids in the park with KISS makeup on, and then it occurred to me- we have air coditioning at home! There are very few places here that have a/c, so people have to get out and socialize. I like having air-conditioning, and I should note that our neighbors do like to sit on their porches and visit with each other. Still, I'd like to see a few more picnics.


Paris subways

Today, I rode the subways all over Paris and learned how to use the archives. Paris is a bit tougher to navigate than Nantes was. It's the big city, so it's trés vite, while I am trés lent! I feel bad when I am holding people up because, as with all cities, they have things to do, and they have no time for you! It's just like New York in this way. This is something that I love about NYC, even though it's tough for us.... um, slow & steady types. I'll get there. Hopefully, no angry city dwellers will throw me in the river.

The Paris Metro is the fastest one I've ever ridden. You stand there, because it's very crowded, and you expect that it will take off in typical lurching subway style. But, it zooms out of the station like those fighter ships on Battlestar Gallactica. You can almost feel your face pulling back on your skull and your cheeks flapping like in those wind tunnels. Zoooooooommmm!! The Paris subways alone are worth going to the city. Better than Paris Disneyland!


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Today, I met the great French filmmaker Agnes Varda, while I was walking down the rue daguerre. I'll tell you the details when I have more time.


Romance and Paris and Claire

Walked all over Paris today. In the Jardin Luxembourg, there were hundreds of people, all of them sitting on beches in the shade, most of them reading. Quite a few of them were kissing, and I missed Claire. Today, we've been married for a year, and these have been the best days of my life so far.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

And the Crowd Goes Wild

Well, France beat Brazil last night, and I got to see it in a cafe in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, so that was fun. Paris went nuts, but in a good way- a sort of outpouring of joy. I was in the Mission in San Francisco when the 49ers won the Superbowl over a decade ago, and that was a bit more wild: burning matresses in the street and gun fire and so forth. And when our local college would win at basketball, the fans used to turn over people's cars. This was more like kids riding down the street on their mopeds with their girlfriend on the back playing the bongos. A little sillier and more fun. Of all the places in the world I could have been last night, I'm glad I was here. (I wish my wife could have been here. But, otherwise, it was perfect)


Giving Paris One More Chance

Well, I'm in Paris and checked into the hostel. The train ride was a bit troubled, but that's travelling. I'll post more later, I'm sure.