Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nate Silver over at has a post up on Glenn Beck as a Post-modern Conservative. Because I have enough on my plate as it is with postmodernism, I won't comment either way on this claim. What caught my attention was this:

Nor is it so clear that traditional (circa 1980-2006) American conservativism is particularly more self-consistent -- why, for instance, does it tolerate government intervention in the bedroom, if it considers it so imperative that government stay out of the boardroom?

In the comments thread, someone points out that progressives simply reverse the paradigm: bedrooms should be free while boardrooms should be regulated. Thus if Silver really values freedom in both settings, his position is much more libertarian than progressive.

The implication here is that progressives are no more concerned with freedoms than are conservatives, but I don't think this is quite right. The problem is in the rhetoric, not the superstructure. Conservatives define government intervention as bad, and rally against government regulation of business, multi-lateral diplomacy (where presumably negotiations interfere with the will of the American people), and even a federal presence in the healthcare industry. This last reveals the rhetorical rather than structural nature of the position when we find multiple people at right-wing rallies carrying signs that say things like "Keep your government off my Medicare." But this rhetoric fizzles when it comes to the bedroom or the body.

Progressives, on the other hand, organize their rhetoric around...progress. It's not good (enough) how it is now, so let's fix it. The driving force behind this rhetorical stance is that of humanism: through the application of reason and communication humans can improve the situation of all members of society. Because humanism's aim is inclusive of all humans, it looks for betterment for all those considered human. This means staying most of the way out of the bedroom (drawing the line at consent rather than normativity), but it also means staying in the boardroom, if for no other reason than to observe (with the possibility of intervention) those who wield power over the disenfranchised.

Progressives will use the language of liberty and freedom, but in the service of human progress, not as a point unto itself. The ideal of humanism is a state in which we are all free, but a responsible humanist is not so naive as to believe that absolute freedom now will beget absolute freedom tomorrow. As such progressives (think Jimmy Carter here) are more likely to talk about sacrifice and hard work and helping hands, while conservatives will talk about self-reliance while they release the dogs on the poor.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Form Matters.

I'm reading Patricia Carpenter's "Musical Form Regained," which is a response to an article I haven't read by Joan Stambaugh called "Music as a Temporal Form."

I'm going to skip almost all the particulars; they're quite specific to Stambaugh's article and as such not worth engaging without recourse to the earlier paper. I do want to pause on one idea Carpenter alludes to. It's fairly novel, and perhaps, from most folk's point of view, worth remarking upon at all, but it is a useful reminder, and I like it for that.

Stambaugh, it would seem, has arrived at a theory of music in which form is achieved through pure materiality. The feminist in me impulsively rejoices: in the Platonic system, matter is the always already subordinate, playing the part of the silenced domestic matron (whose etymological root is surely not coincidental), while the double pincers of form and content dominate the spoken domain. A theory of music as purely material, or even as totally subordinating form to matter, is alluring (shades of Kristeva make one balk).

But Carpenter chides Stambaugh for overreaching. "But as a picture of music, it is one-sided: form, structure, and objectivity are slighted." (37) This is not a reactionary rebellion against giving matter its due, but a reminder that matter cannot be given the place of form at the total expense of the latter. Reversing the imbalance is not the same as redressing. In Irigaray's terms, the feminist project is not, cannot be, about replacing a phallocratic system with a gynocratic one.

Let's be sure: Carpenter is not talking about feminism, but only aesthetics and philosophy. I'm over-reading as a way to remind myself against extremism.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I just had the greatest Star Wars dream ever. It's all narrated by Leia, talking to Han. While the allianace is working to take down the death star, she uncovers documents about a fanatic religious organization that is taking steps at the same time to get rid of the Empire. The cult has a plan to assassinate crucial heads of state (planetary governers and key military figures, including Darth Vader) in order to bring about a New World Order with messianic implications. Although toppling the Empire is nice and all, the sinister aims of the shadowy cult are too grave to risk, and the rebels are the only ones who know its secret. In order to save the galaxy, they have to put a stop to assassination plots, but put pieces of the puzzle together too late: key political figures have already started turning up dead.

And then I woke up.