Category Archives: Theories

Encore des nouvelles. On modernity, and on race.

– Thursday is César Vallejo’s birthday and he will be 125.

– This, as we know, could also be about Vallejo, as it is about many:

Living in Budapest, connected to a self-confident and industrializing West but set apart from it by language and often religion, Polanyi and his contemporaries embodied one of the central facts about the cultural and political ferment that we often equate with modernism: Its vitality depended on the admixture of a modern social order and outlook with often archaic folk communities. (Bartók’s music is a classic example.)

Polanyi is one of many intellectuals I would like to understand.

I am interested also in the conversion of the Jews in the nineteenth century, as both Marx’ and Heinrich Heine’s parents converted, as my ancestor did. Polanyi and other twentieth century figures longed, says Gareth Dale, for “a social order in which the entire issue of assimilation would be an irrelevance.” (It could be worth reading the book whose review I refer here to learn more about what this meant then, because it is yet another experience of race and difference in the high modernist period.)

Then there is Marisol de la Cadena:

…mestizo and mestizaje…are doubly hybrid. On the one hand they house an empirical hybridity, built upon eighteenth and nineteenth century racial taxonomies and according to which ‘mestizos’ are non-indigenous individuals, the result of biological or cultural mixtures. Yet, mestizos’ genealogy starts earlier, when ‘mixture’ denoted transgression of the rule of faith, and its statutes of purity. Within this taxonomic regime mestizos could be, at the same time, indigenous. Apparently dominant, racial theories sustained by scientific knowledge mixed with, (rather than cancel) previous faith based racial taxonomies. ‘Mestizo’ thus houses a conceptual hybridity – the mixture of two classificatory regimes – which reveals subordinate alternatives for mestizo subject positions, including forms of indigeneity.

Y sí, and that is what the talk the other day did not address, and it is key for my piece on Isaacs: there is racial and religious mestizaje that stand in for each other. THIS is a good insight, I do think. (About mestizaje itself, the other way in which the word or concept “means in two accents” is that it is deployed in both oppressive and utopian or liberating ways.)

And Isaacs is another 19th century person, working on the conversion of the Jews, and there is a connection here.

(I so must create a system in which to put all these thoughts together.)

Axé.

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More about the anxiety

I love co-working and dislike working in isolation, but I see now that I have a longstanding (although not evident) anxiety condition for which Boicean-style advice is a trigger. I am also so naturally organized, disciplined, and motivated that the Boicean-style admonishments feel demeaning, as I know that what I need is time to contemplate, not exhortations to rush.

Both of my parents have anxiety conditions. My father manages his rather well, and my mother allowed hers to disable her almost completely. I have always imitated my father, because it was clear where my mother’s choices led. In addition, when I was small my mother and brother would entertain themselves by imposing upon me, and imposition and needling have been anxiety triggers for me ever since.

I seem so calm, people do not realize I suffer from anxiety, but the calm is only my deeper nature, combined with my longstanding policy, because of the anxiety, of not participating in histrionics.

The first time I really felt the anxiety (the feeling I am identifying as anxiety now) was as a teenager, living with a family who liked to procrastinate and then hurry. In my family we take our time and are on time, but this family would insist upon waiting and then go into a frenzy about how we were about to miss the ferry. The frenzy would make me shake. Why are we even going to town, if we must create such suffering for ourselves around it? I would ask.

I am claustrophobic. My father talks about this openly: “I need space, light, and windows, and I will not work in a cubicle.” This is why I do not like living in small towns without easy access to a variety of hiking trails and views from different heights. A lot of my energy in fact goes to tolerating the feeling of enclosure in Maringouin. And any city will have a variety of paths and heights, and that is why I like cities better. If I am to take anxiety seriously, and treat it seriously now, I should structure in time spent in less claustrophobic environments. I should stop considering this a luxury or a guilty pleasure.

Most fundamentally I do not like to be needled or imposed upon, manipulated, pushed, or told to rush. It is a separate issue that I do not really need exhortation; the key issue is that the imposition, the needling, the poking, the attempts to distract and disorient, are all ancient. I used to have this happen to me all day and have to remain calm, because my mother was ill and my brother was younger, and I was still small and could not stop them from taunting me, and my mother would advise that the more imperturbable I could be, the sooner they would stop. So I am imperturbable, but it is also a fact that I can still look imperturbable when I am in fact at a breaking point.

I don’t actually disagree with Boice at all, it is just that I always worked that way. When I was over 30, people discovered Boice and started lecturing condescendingly at me about him, and my anger at them about that is unabated. I had a project I disagreed with, and I wanted to use Boicean time to work with that. But these new converts said, do not question what you are asked to say, just say it and reap the rewards of having said it. It was I, and not they, who knew how to write.

Axé.

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Randolph Bourne

With the shock of war, however, the State comes into its own again. The Government, with no mandate from the people, without consultation of the people, conducts all the negotiations, the backing and filling, the menaces and explanations, which slowly bring it into collision with some other Government, and gently and irresistibly slides the country into war. For the benefit of proud and haughty citizens, it is fortified with a list of the intolerable insults which have been hurled toward us by the other nations; for the benefit of the liberal and beneficent, it has a convincing set of moral purposes which our going to war will achieve; for the ambitious and aggressive classes, it can gently whisper of a bigger role in the destiny of the world. The result is that, even in those countries where the business of declaring war is theoretically in the hands of representatives of the people, no legislature has ever been known to decline the request of an Executive, which has conducted all foreign affairs in utter privacy and irresponsibility, that it order the nation into battle. Good democrats are wont to feel the crucial difference between a State in which the popular Parliament or Congress declares war, and the State in which an absolute monarch or ruling class declares war. But, put to the stern pragmatic test, the difference is not striking. In the freest of republics as well as in the most tyrannical of empires, all foreign policy, the diplomatic negotiations which produce or forestall war, are equally the private property of the Executive part of the Government, and are equally exposed to no check whatever from popular bodies, or the people voting as a mass themselves. The moment war is declared, however, the mass of the people, through some spiritual alchemy, become convinced that they have willed and executed the deed themselves. They then, with the exception of a few malcontents, proceed to allow themselves to be regimented, coerced, deranged in all the environments of their lives, and turned into a solid manufactory of destruction toward whatever other people may have, in the appointed scheme of things, come within the range of the Government’s disapprobation. The citizen throws off his contempt and indifference to Government, identifies himself with its purposes, revives all his military memories and symbols, and the State once more walks, an august presence, through the imaginations of men. Patriotism becomes the dominant feeling, and produces immediately that intense and hopeless confusion between the relations which the individual bears and should bear toward the society of which he is a part.

This is about the Great War, or World War I.

Axé.

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Nikolai II

nikolai1917

“1917 will be a better year.”

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On teaching college composition

“The common use of the argumentative essay in US schooling dates back to unprecedented growth in higher education and a literate middle class in the early 20th Century. College was no longer the purview of an elite group from similar backgrounds, and more students meant two things: an insufficient number of teachers trained in writing instruction and a more diverse student body, less likely to share knowledge of the same philosophical or literary texts to write about.”

Read the whole thing.

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Alguien dijo

“One must do what is central to one’s self before anything else.”

It is interesting because I still do not, or do not really know what that thing would be as I do not do it. What I must do first is take care of Mother; second, I may choose what I like best from the menu she gives. That is all.

What would that thing be? People keep telling me I do not know what I want, or do not want what I should want enough, but that is not true. It is a certain kind of setting I want, and activity, and atmosphere, and autonomy.

Axé.

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Synopsis of Postman, “The end of education”

The “school problem” has two dimensions, as he sees it. One is the engineering aspect: the means by which young people acquire an education. The other is the metaphysical aspect: the underlying purpose or mission — the “end” — of education. Postman believes that the debate over the future of America’s schools focuses too much on engineering concerns — curricula, teaching methods, standardized testing, the role of technology, etc. — while very little attention is paid to the metaphysics of schooling. As the title suggests, he feels that “without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better.” For education to be meaningful, Postman contends, young people, their parents, and their teachers must have a common narrative. Narratives are essential because they provide a sense of personal identity, a sense of community life, a basis for moral conduct, and explanations of that which cannot be known. The idea of public education requires not only shared narratives, but also the absence of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. “What makes public schools public,” writes Postman, “is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods.” As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public. But in order to do that they depend on the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.

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