Em oi! #405: Philosophy Ruins Films

em_405

Well hello. It has been a while since we had one of these little chats, hasn’t it? I’ve been reading a lot, but not blogging too much beyond book reviews. So you’re probably asking, “Hey Em, how’s it going?”

It has been all right. Not great, not amazing, but also it’s going much better than it was in January. I went through a rough patch between seasonal affective disorder and a leg injury. The first was solved with phototherapy, the second with PT, which is just about finished. PT has been a strange collection of triggerpoint dry needling (which is not super pleasant, and the alcohol wipes are giving me a rash) and various exercises and stretches designed to 1) make you feel inadequate when you realize how many of them you keep forgetting to do and 2) fix whatever imbalance exists in my hip that is hurting my ankle. In the meantime I spent a lot of time swimming in January when I was totally off running, and then running only on the dreadmill and elliptical in February—I’ve been doing about 24 miles on the dreadmill and close to that on the elliptical as well. I’ve also been lifting weights a lot; since early September, B and I have switched to a 5×5 program which is a lot more intense than our previous 3×10-type program. My lifts have gone up a lot, which is very satisfying, but I’ve also put on some pounds of muscle and so my bra no longer fits right.* The best news is that as of tomorrow I am encouraged to try running outside again; if everything goes well, I may be able to show up to race the 50-Furlong World Championship in Paoli on Saturday. I doubt I am in condition to defend my title as 8th fastest woman in the world at that distance, but it would be really nice to race again.

What else have I been doing? Learning to code. As in write computer programs. So far if you want a program that spits out a triangle (right or equilateral) in ASCII or that curses at you in a variable way based on your input, I am your programmer. Actually, I have to admit that this is my second attempt at learning to code. When I was an undergraduate, I took the introduction to programming course the UW offered (which is taught in Java). Now I am learning Caché ObjectScript, which is a much less well-known language, but it is easier in part because B is teaching me, and it turns out that he is a much better teacher than the grad student (who may have been a forestry major?) they had teaching the intro class when I took it. B is a good teacher; it’s also convenient to have my professor on site rather than inaccessible except by email sometimes. I may also be a better student now.

Well let’s not go overboard on that.

I’ve also been learning indexing. And Chinese. And editing a bunch of books (I did three full-length manuscripts, on ancient Athens, moral philosophy, and sociology, from the first week of February until last Friday the 7th of March). In other words I have been busy, not sleeping enough, unable to find time to do the things I enjoy or see my friends much, and basically acting like I’ve not developed any coping skills since college. But things will get better now.

A note on podcasts and the like. A bunch of people gave me recommendations, many of which have been very satisfying. The Hound Tall Podcast (formally The Hound Tall Discussion Series with Moshe Kasher) is very funny and a lot more Jew-y than Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (I recommend the George Clinton interview if you haven’t heard it yet). Of course the Ultrarunner Podcast is a good way to keep up with a sport that no one follows but me; my new goal is to get interviewed on there, since I’ll probably never get on Fresh Air. Also, the Moth Radio Hour has some very good stories–also some gutting ones, so do be careful. Finally, John Harris’s excellent podcast/audiobook of The Epic of Gilgamesh was both exciting and intellectually stimulating. I may or may not have time to do a whole review, but in the meantime, it’s highly recommended.

I’m filing this comic under PN1995.9 S695 L86 2015, for Drama–Motion pictures–Other special topics, A-Z–Star Wars films.


*If you are reading this and saying, “Wait, you only own one?”, I will tell you: You obviously don’t know me. Ninety percent of the shirts I now own came from races. I am not an enthusiastic shopper.

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Em oi! #398: Happy Birthday, Your Majesty

em_398

Pretend I got this up on Saturday for my birthday and not four days late. Thank you.

The idea that you shouldn’t care about your age is about as deeply ingrained in our culture as the idea that you should–check out the phrase “age ain’t nothin’ but a number” next to Nicole Kidman getting botox. I think it was my mother’s particular defiance of age-related stereotypes that rubbed off on me most of all. When she turned 50, someone sent her some black balloons, and she called up the flower shop that delivered them and gave them a stern talking to.

I can’t claim the idea of the princess/queen dichotomy in American womanhood is entirely something I came up with–I believe it was in one of the books I read before I got married, like One Perfect Day, where the author remarked that it is a very particular fantasy to want to be a princess (a childish position of little responsibility) rather than the queen (an adult position with lots of associated power). Of course, I never wanted to be a princess…but I’ll be queen, sure.

Anyway, here’s a picture of me cross thing the finish line at a 20km race on Saturday. I don’t have a picture of myself at 21 doing the same because at 21 my idea of a big day was one where I walked to the library a mile away. Whew. (I’m exaggerating a little, but I wasn’t a runner at the time.) I’ve come a long way since then.
rct_4701

I’ll file the comic under PA3015.B48 L86 2014, for Classical literature–Literary history–Knowledge, treatment, and conception of special subjects, A-Z–Birthdays.

Em oi! #382: Make Good Choices

No bare bodkins here, sorry.

We went and saw the new Hamlet out at American Player’s Theatre in honor of my cousin Keith graduating from his PhD program. It was a pretty good show–the fellow playing Hamlet reminded me of David Tennant’s Hamlet, to some extent, and the guy playing Polonius reminded me of Bill Murry’s turn at that role. Jim DeVita, who played Claudius, was quite good, and I was reminded of the first Hamlet I saw there, with Mr. DeVita in the title role then. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were good and not portrayed as idiots, for once, which was very refreshing.

There were some more interesting things about the casting this time–for example, Horatio, Fortinbras, and a few other parts were played by African American actors; I don’t recall seeing that previously. It does kind of raise some other questions about race in casting (like: Couldn’t you cast a Black Hamlet?). But it’s a step, right?

The costumes were sort of surprisingly loud–the ball gowns and capes were made from some shiny material, maybe taffeta, and there wasn’t any wind, so as the actors went sweeping across the stage, we could hear the silken, sad, uncertain rustling. (And it didn’t thrill me.) But I do like a period dress Hamlet. I’ve been trying to put a finger on why modern-dress Shakespeare kind of bugs me, and I think it has something to do with the fact that when the actors are in modern dress, we have to pretend that the plays themselves are modern. What do I mean? Well, of course the plots are incredibly dynamic and, with a few exceptions, speak to us as much today as they did four hundred years ago. But not every sentiment in them is exactly an upstanding modern sentiment. For example: “Frailty, thy name is woman.” “Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain,/If with too credent ear you list his songs,/Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open/To his unmaster’d importunity.” Or how about Ophelia, speaking of the play, “Tis brief, my lord.” Hamlet: “As woman’s love.”

I could keep going, but I think I’ve made my point. I should add that I would rather see a modern dress anything than another “Hamlet wears tights and a dress tunic because that’s kind of like the way people dressed in the 1600s right?”

Interestingly, while I was drawing this comic, two people (neither of whom were aware of my researching J.P. Sartre) sent me the following joke:

Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.” The waitress replies, “I’m sorry, Monsieur, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk?”

Why is this funny? Because Sartre focused on the idea of choice. His thing about “authenticity” was that everyone should live the life that they want, so long as they do not negatively affect/exploit others, replacing ego with a “spontaneous selfness” he refers to as “ipsity.” As part of being in the world, we are free; choices represent a problem because they limit our freedom. But in order to really make a choice, you can’t just follow the path of least resistance–you need to actually make a choice. Since there’s no cream, he can’t really choose not to have cream, since he couldn’t choose the opposite (to have cream). (Quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Wikipedia also has a nice summary.) Anyway, Hamlet’s choice to either get revenge or spare his father is problematic in Sartre’s terms.

This one is filed under PR2807.A8 L86 2013 for English literature–English renaissance (1500-1640)–The drama–Individual authors–Shakespeare, William–Separate works–Hamlet–Criticism.

The process of choosing titles is a bit troublesome. I almost went with “Authenticity” (after a Harvey Danger song) but only my brother S. would have gotten it, since he and I are the only remaining Harvey Danger fans. As it is, perhaps he will appreciate this one.

Anyway, changing topics, here is the first comic I ever drew with Shakespeare in it:

Men in Dresses is my Queen cover band.

This one I’ll file under PN56.H83 L86 2013 for Literature (General)–Theory. Philosophy. Esthetics–Relation to and treatment of special elements, problems, and subjects–Other special–Topics A-Z–Humor.

Also you should know that the Library of Congress has reserved the heading BF1311.S5 for Parapsychology–Spiritualism. Communication with discarnate spirits–Mediumship. Psychometry. Channeling–Spirit messages, inspirational records, etc.–Special, A-Z–Shakespeare, William. So. You know. That.

Scott Walker and the Abortion Law

If you have read my comic for a while, you may have gotten the feeling that I am pro-choice. This is not something I have talked about much on the blog, because I think that it is a complex topic with many ethical gray areas that cannot really be well-discussed in a short amount of time. But recently, the republicans in the Wisconsin legislature began to push through some anti-abortion laws that made me very angry.[1]

I thought, when I was younger, that we lived in a pluralistic country founded on the principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Increasingly, however, that seems to not be the case. But passing laws based on evangelical Christianity to govern a diverse country just isn’t cricket.

I only want to protest if there are sock puppets involved.

I only want to protest if there are sock puppets involved.

That isn’t to say that I feel like abortion is a straightforward question. There are certainly arguments to be made that there is a point in a fetus’s development where the ethicalness of an abortion (in most situations, but not all) tips to the “don’t do it” side. But I want this debate to be played out by bioethicists.

After all, there are things that doctors can legally do but they don’t, because it would be unethical (like the kinds of experiments Andrew Wakefield did). And there are other things that actually are unethical (like promising someone that they can be cured by homeopathic treatments) that are also legal. So why should abortion be singled out as the medical treatment that the government decides to legislate on? And why should legislators, who are not by and large doctors, nor are known for the depth of their scientific knowledge, be allowed to pass judgment on this?

I do understand why they’re doing it, sort of. In theory, evangelical Christians believe that abortion is murder (which I think is mostly wrong, but I’ll let the point stand for the sake of argument). If thought that people were being routinely murdered in the US, I would be against it (and I am–against the death penalty, and against uncontrolled, unregulated gun ownership). But laws like this ultrasound law don’t actually speak to the sense that murder may be going on–it just says, “There are reasons for getting an abortion, some of which are OK and some of which are not, and we want to police women’s sexual and reproductive agency by being the ones who get to decide what constitutes a reason.” It turns out that I have a problem with old white men telling me what I should do. In reproduction. In art. In life.

The problem is that the governor has repeatedly showed that he is motivated only by money, and is unwilling to listen to dissent or debate. There were protests about these laws, but–no one cared. Somehow during the 1960s and early 70s, there were enough people protesting the Vietnam War that the government had to take them seriously. But protesters in the US have not held that kind of sway since. In addition, Walker has been so outrageous on so many topics–busting collective bargaining, trying to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters, opening Wisconsin to environmental piracy and more–that most people are pretty tired of being angry. We’re just resigned. So I decided to write a letter to him to vent spleen.

Dear Scott,

I hope you don’t like me calling you Scott. I know it is not the preferred address for someone in your position, but I assume that because you feel it is acceptable to legislate about my internal organs, we must be on a first name basis. I also hope to come across as mildly condescending, because I believe that the recent bill requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion is predicated on the assumption that women are stupid, an assumption with which I take issue.
The bill, nicknamed the “Woman’s Right to Know Her Unborn Child Act,” seems to rest on the belief that women who go for abortions don’t really know that they have a fetus in their uterus. “So let’s show them the fetus!” the reasoning goes. But in fact, women who seek abortions are quite aware that there is a fetus in their uterus—that is why they are seeking an abortion. If there was ever a chance of there being something different in there—a new car perhaps?—I would not be as opposed to this procedure as I am.[i]

But in fact, the truth is that this bill is not designed to induce women to have fewer abortions. If you wanted to make it easier for women to raise children, you would consider projects that could reduce poverty such as making sure women get paid the same as men,[ii] increasing funding for daycare, or improving welfare payments for women with children. You could even offer a guaranteed paid leave for women and their partners.[iii] If you wanted to decrease abortions on the other side, you could increase funding for comprehensive sex education, make birth control more readily available, and offer family planning clinics to help women make informed decisions about when to have children.

I don’t believe the rhetoric about “every fetus is a gift” either. If you really believed that, why not move condoms behind the counter in the drug store or institute mandatory waiting periods for men seeking vasectomies? You could even require they undergo a trans-anal ultrasound to check the health of their prostates.

This bill is designed to shame women; that is its sole purpose. That is made clear in the exceptions allowed for cases of rape and incest. The truth is, they only make sense when you consider the bill in this manner. Perhaps a case study will further prove my point. Consider: Two women require abortions. Sally was raped. Molly had sex with her husband, but his vasectomy failed, and they have determined they cannot afford to raise another child (they already have two). Sally filed a police report and is as such exempt from the ultrasound. Molly is not—but isn’t she equally blameless for her situation?

Scott, I am tired of the rhetoric in the Republican Party that suggests that women are second class citizens who deserve to be treated as little better than gestational carriers who are capable of making sandwiches. I will not stand for such a message, and I hope that I am not the only woman who is hearing it. The next election is coming, and we will remember what you have done. 2014 is coming, and the people of Wisconsin will no longer tolerate your placing the “needs” of your rich donors above the well-being of our state’s people and economy. So enjoy your political career now. It is my dearest hope that it will not continue much longer.

Sincerely,


[i] That’s a joke. I would still be opposed.
[ii] You don’t care about this, either—remember when you repealed the equal pay act? I do.
[iii] Did you know that the US is one of the only countries worldwide that doesn’t require some amount of paid parental leave?

Walker is, for some reason, occasionally referred to as an up-and-coming republican wunderkind of some sort, possibly because he is good at 1) taking money and 2) kissing asses. I don’t really get it–he’s not presidential material (he didn’t finish college; even George W. Bush had a graduate degree), and he looks like a version of Paul Ryan where he slept on his face and it stuck that way, so he doesn’t have Dan Quayle’s reported appeal to FEMALES either. (Although, I just looked up a picture of Dan Quayle and all I can think is, maybe he looked better standing next to George H.W. Bush? Eech.)

Personally, I’m hopeful that someone even a little bit charismatic will come out of the woodwork for the 2014 elections and beat SW. In fact, I’m hoping to volunteer for whoever’s campaign that winds up being.

My letter was cosigned by nine people.[2] I was very grateful for the support. The letter is even now winging its way to the capital (well, it’s in the mailbox). I don’t expect a response, but writing it made me feel better.

Now to make everyone happier, here’s a picture of my dog being cute. Next time I’ll write about kittens.

When you're made of pillow, who cares where you sleep?

When you’re made of pillow, who cares where you sleep?


[1] The article only talks about the ultrasound law. There was also one allowing religious organizations to opt out of covering birth control on their health insurance.

[2] I won’t list their names here, because I make it a rule to not mention people in Google-able ways unless they give explicit permission.

Em oi! #381: First as Farce

First as farce, then as farce again.

“Philosophy does not solve problems. The duty of philosophy is not to solve problems but to ridify problems–to show how what we experience as a problem is a false problem.” –Slavoj Žižek, Zizek! (dir. Astra Taylor, 2005)

I have been busy getting to know Slavoj Žižek. He is an interesting guy–looks like someone’s weird uncle, keeps his socks in his kitchen, talks about popular culture, and is extremely funny. It seems as though American intellectuals are in love with him because he hates Americans and he is very well spoken. Also he once wrote the text for an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog (NSFW).

The thing is, I’d guess, none of them read his actual philosophy, which tends to be very concerned with Hegel and Lacan. Which leads me to the question: Why is everyone in Continental Philosophy so obsessed with Hegel?

I will file this under N84.L86 2013, for Visual arts–Theory. Philosophy. Aesthetics of the visual arts–Theory. Philosophy. Apparently Žižek is not yet famous enough to have his own LCC number. (I just checked–Chomsky has one, but it’s Z8168.18, a bibliography heading).

I wanted to write a bit about the Syttende Mai 20-miler and the Ice Age 50k–my last two races. But it’s already 22:30 and I’m pretty tired and I have to get up early tomorrow. So for now, enjoy this awesome panorama Bryan took of me finishing the Syttende Mai. I’ll write something up later in the week.

Bryan took this awesome series of me finishing the race.

Bryan took this awesome series of me finishing the race.

Em oi! #377: Sene-can

Who's that man who isn't getting angry? Seneca!

So I came across Seneca (founder of the Stoics) the other day and immediately realized I was dealing with a kindred spirit. Seneca actually did advocate spending some time every day meditating on what could potentially go wrong in your life, because then if it did go wrong, you’d be psychologically prepared for it. Alain de Botton implies that this philosophy grew out of the fact that Seneca lived among the Roman elites, who were a fairly angry and unstable group from the emperor on down. And I actually do this quite a lot, though I refer to it as “reining in my expectations.” For example, if I had a job interview that went really well, I tell myself that they are not only not going to give me the job, but they will probably come and burn down my house for wasting their time. Then if they actually give me the job (please give me the job–you know who you are), I am surprised and happy, and if they reject me, I am less sad.

Anyway, despite all that, I couldn’t resist making fun of him a little. It could be worse, I guess–Schopenhauer advised his readers to swallow a toad every morning, so that would be the worst thing that happened to them all day…

We’ll file this under B618.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Ancient (600 B.C.-430 A.D.)—Occident—Greco-Roman philosophy—Individual philosophers—Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D.—Biography and memoirs. Criticism and interpretation—General Works.

I should point out that in the time between when I drew this and when I inked it, my hair streak was dyed over (so I could look respectable for job interviews). You can check it out in the below photo, in which I failed to do it and maybe I didn’t even brush it this morning? And also I look a little cranky. (Hah. Take that, Cameron Russell?)

Dog photobombed me.

Dog photobombed me.

There have been so many good, philosophical articles in the news lately, from the issues of justice and punishment versus rehabilitation raised by the conviction and sentencing of Malik Richmond and Trent Mays, to the question of deciding when someone becomes a person raised by the North Dakota Personhood amendment to all sorts of interesting problems raised by SCOTUS hearing arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. But then Bryan posed me a fascinating problem about epistemology and free will, so I’m going to write about that. Actually, I’m going to write down the problem as posed to me now, and then next week I’m going to write about my thoughts on the issue.

Here we go: Bryan doesn’t believe in free will. His proof for this goes thusly:

  1. Bryan is a materialist, which means he believes that there is no mind/brain dichotomy–the mind is just our perception of the workings of the brain. The brain is controlled by various chemicals.
  2. Because the brain is made up of particles, if we really understood the brain (and quantum physics), we could build a computer that could predict what someone is thinking.
  3. So now that we know what someone is thinking, given a set of initial conditions, we can predict someone’s behavior.
  4. Since all choices can be accurately predicted, there is no free will. We are essentially controlled by chemicals. Free will is just an illusion we have because we ourselves don’t entirely understand the workings of our brains. But we might as well live with this illusion, because we can’t build a computer that can predict things like that.

(Bryan, you will have to let me know if I have misconstrued your argument.)

So I have been reading and thinking about quantum physics, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, Newcomb’s problem and meta-Newcomb’s problem (even rereading my senior philosophy thesis), and  also looking into the works of a lot of theorists from about 1950-present. It has been quite a knotty problem, I will tell you. If you have any comments on it, please feel free to post them in the comments section here, on FB or G+, or email them to me at ehlupton(at)gmail(dot)com. I will try to address any worthwhile opinions I receive.

Em oi! #375: Another Terrible Thing Done in Nietzsche’s Name

The age of specialization is over.

Have you heard of a madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market place and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”

Writing a thesis is simultaneously the best and most terrible thing I have ever done.

Anyway. Nietzsche! Has there ever been a philosopher with a cooler mustache? I think not. Other things Nietzsche had: Syphilis. But that’s not to say we should write him off. He grew up next door to a church–his father was a Lutheran pastor (who died when young Friedrich was four). That he later went on to propose some revolutionary ideas about man’s relationship to religion in the 19th and 20th centuries is not entirely surprising. He lived a quiet life in the mountains, because of health issues, and so he knew what he was talking about when he said that happiness comes from overcoming obstacles. That’s an older idea than him, actually; I believe it goes back to Aristotle. At any rate, Nietzsche is quite cagey and doesn’t say what he thinks the new morals he’s calling for should be like. He is pretty clear that he thinks hanging on to Christian morality is stupid and outdated. You can check out the famous passage on the death of God from The Gay Science here. (He talks about the death of God again in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) He has a marvelous mode of writing, it’s very readable. What else? Philosophy Now magazine did a marvelous podcast about our fellow that you can listen to here. And philosopher Alain de Botton did a 24-minute episode of a longer series for the BBC about Nietzsche, and you can check that out here. It’s awesome both because the US would never air something like that (not enough desperate housewives) and because de Botton is very good at explaining the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Is that enough links? Can you tell I’ve been doing some research? I’m having an affair with Nietzsche; don’t tell M. Foucault, I fear he would sulk.

I wrote an article on running for a local running blog called Technically Running. You can read it here if you’re interested. You can check out the last comic I did with Nietzsche in it here.

This comic will be filed under B3317.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Modern (1450/1600- )—By region or country—Germany. Austria (German)—By period—Later 19th and 20th centuries—Individual philosophers—Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900—Criticism and interpretation.

Em oi! #373: What We Talk About on Long Drives

Conversation omitted: "Quick, grab a baggie before the dog drops a vom!"

This was drawn from a conversation we had on our drive back to Madison on Xmas Day. I had the comic 80% done before we left for Thailand, but I didn’t manage to get the last two panels colored and the whole thing scanned until just now. I should add that I know Berkeley was really refuting Locke more than Descartes, but I understand the objections to Descartes much better, so I drew him.

This is hardly the first time I’ve touched on Berkeley’s philosophy in the comic. He has long been an obsession of mine, given that immaterialism (also called idealism) is so damn weird.

The Rumble in the Library

The gentleman with the wig there is Samuel Johnson. According to legend (and Boswell), Johnson had this to say about Berkeley:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it THUS.’1

Of course, Berkeley would not have accepted this as a refutation, because both the stone and Johnson’s foot exist in Johnson’s mind.
I belieeeeve...in the Czech Republic's existence...

Finally a comic dating from Ly’s tenure in the Czech Republic. If you happen to be an atheist or agnostic, Berkeley’s philosophy becomes very strange, because whose intellect is watching the entire world? It’s troubling. Having just come from Thailand, I suppose I’m pretty sure that it still exists, or at least I’ve got friends there who might tell me if it ceased to exist. But I can’t be sure.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll file these under B1348 .L86 2013B1348 .L86 2007, and B1348 .L86 2007b, for Philosophy (General)—Modern (1450/1600-)—By region or country—England. Ireland. Scotland. Wales—18th century—Individual philosophers—Berkeley, George, 1685-1753—Criticism and interpretation.


Yesterday we came back from Thailand. Yesterday was Friday, but we actually got on a plane in Chiang Mai at 17:30 on Thursday to fly to Bangkok. From Bangkok, at 23:30 we got on another plane and flew to Incheon airport in South Korea (a very nice but intensely baffling place). We’d all been up since about 7:00 on Thursday (although we dozed on the plane, it was that weird fugue sleep you slip into on an airplane), so when that plane landed we were a bit loopy.

We got breakfast. I took some photos:

B's strawberry cream cheese waffle

B’s strawberry cream cheese waffle

Sara's blueberry bagel. I think the other available flavors were "garlic" and "plane."

Sara’s blueberry bagel. I think the other available flavors were “garlic” and “plane.” When I saw the flavor list is when I began to suspect that something about Korea is a giant joke being played (on me, I guess?).

This was called "stick pie." It was crispy.

This was called “stick pie.” It was crispy.

Those are the only photos I took in the airport. I took lots of photos in Thailand, though (about 300 I guess). Here are a few:

Various Thai Fruits!

Various Thai Fruits!

ผัดพักบุงไฟแดง, or stir-fried morning glory. In Vietnamese, the plant is called "rau mung." (Please excuse my lack of diacritics.)

ผัดพักบุงไฟแดง, or stir-fried morning glory. In Vietnamese, the plant is called “rau mung.” (Please excuse my lack of diacritics.)

Sara makes a friend at the place we studied cooking.

Sara makes a friend at the place we studied cooking.

Cooking the morning glory with Maew's instruction.

Cooking the morning glory with Maew’s instruction.

I also took photos of wats, monks, that sort of thing. I’ll upload those later.

Anyway, I started training for my upcoming 50 km races this morning after I got up. The first is April 30th and it’s about 14 weeks away, which also means I have about 14 weeks until my birthday and until my THESIS has to be done and and and. So the 50k is really what I am focused on, since it is a lot less frightening. I thought running was going to be terrible because it is cold out (about 46 degrees colder than Chiang Mai was). But in fact I had a great run. I hit my planned tempo for the majority of the miles, had a runner’s high all day, and felt very strong. I stopped at 14.4 miles, but I could have gone much farther, I think. The only way it could have been better is if I’d remembered to bring water. Whoops.

Well this entry is already treatise-length, so I’ll leave off here. Hope you are all having a good winter/January!


1 Boswell, James. Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. Abridged and edited, with an introduction by Charles Grosvenor Osgood. Project Gutenberg, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1564/1564-h/1564-h.htm. 12 January 2013.

Karl Marx Sketch

I found this on the bottom of a piece of paper I’d been taking notes on about Walter Benjamin, and I thought it might prove entertaining. I didn’t bother to ink it, just scanned it, darkened it slightly to make it more readable (the original was in pencil) and uploaded it. Therefore I will transcribe the dialogue below:

Em: Say Karl, do you really believe artists have no free will?

Karl Marx: No, I just see profit as an overwhelming motive.

Em: Well I mean, does that make something “not art”? Can’t art have a lot of reasons for its creation?

KM: My point is more that because of substructural problems, photography and film cause superstructural problems.


So there you go.

Karl Heinrich Marx was really the beardiest philosopher ever. I don’t think I really did him justice. But then, I was drawing him from memory.

When Marx says “substructure” he means “economy,” and when he says “superstructure” he means “culture.” And when he says, “You Bet Your Life,” it means you have to say a special word to win a hundred dollars from a duck.

Marx died in 1883 and the first movie camera was invented in 1888, so he probably didn’t have much opinion about film. But this is how I think through things sometimes.

Well, this romp has been a bit more shallow than it appeared to be on the surface. That’s okay. I’m leaving for Thailand in a few days, so I’m taking a little time to relax. I’ve been trying to come up with New Years resolutions, but mostly I’m glad that 2012 is ending. It has been I think the most stressful year of my life.

Every time I sign onto WordPress I see I have more spam comments. Anyone want to leave a real one? Let me know: What’s your New Years resolution? Did you make one? Or are you perfect just the way you are?

Em oi! #372: But is it Art?

I'm very popular on the internets in my head.

Comic to be filed under: B3209.B583W6 L86 2012, for Philosophy (General)—Modern(1450/1600-)—By region or country—Germany, Austria (German)—By period—Later 19th and 20th centuries—Individual philosophers—Avenarius – Brauer—Benjamin, Walter, 1892-1940—Separate works, A-Z. What a mouthful.

I have been trying to find a good summary of Walter Benjamin’s (say it like an academic: Ben-ya-mean) “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (or, alternatively, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility”) essay. Because it is the most oft-quoted essay of the 20th century (maybe), there are a few available. Wikipedia has a very bare-bones, straightforward summation. Yale’s Modernism Lab (perhaps unsurprisingly) has a much better, more detailed explanation. Finally the (much beloved?) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers some critical notes, not just on that piece (or rather the two pieces, since he wrote two versions of the essay) but on the themes of art and aura in Benjamin’s work.

Basically there are two things you probably need to know in order to understand the essay: The first thing is that Benjamin is worried about methods of reproducing art–specifically, methods like photography and film–and how they change the original. For example, when I was in college, I had a poster of the Creation of Man (by Michaelangelo) on my wall:

And G-d said, “Let there be naked people!” And lo…

Philosophically speaking, there are a lot of differences between the poster and the original version on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I mean, one is a fresco and one is a photograph printed on (high quality) paper, but also, as Benjamin puts it, “reproduction…[places] the copy of the original in situations which the original itself cannot attain” (21). In other words, the Sistine Chapel would never fit in my dorm room, while the poster will. So reproducing the image creates this loss of authenticity, or what Benjamin refers to as “aura.” In his words,

It might be stated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced. These two processes lead to a massive upheaval in the domain of objects handed down from the past–a shattering of tradition which is the reverse side of the present crisis and renewal of humanity. Both processes are intimately related to the mass movements of our day. (22)

By “the present crisis,” I believe Benjamin means the rise of fascism, specifically in Germany. And by “mass movements” he means both fascism and Marxism. That’s the second thing you have to understand about Benjamin: he was a German Jew who escaped to Paris in the early 1930s, from whence he published this essay; eventually, he committed suicide while trying to escape France to the US via Spain when the situation looked grim [edited to add: or perhaps he was killed by Stalin’s agents in the area!]. He had a brother who was killed in the Camps. Beyond this, he was a Marxist. So while his discussion of aura, as the Stanford Encyclopedia suggests, has been accused of being overly nostalgic, I don’t think that’s really the case–he doesn’t seem nostalgic about the changes he’s describing, more just trying to explain how he thinks art has changed since the advent of (specifically) the moving picture.

So as a good Marxist, Benjamin when confronted by film suggests that it is the masses who essentially control film–more than perhaps any other art, it has a clear economic driver behind it. “While [the screen actor] stands before the apparatus [camera], he knows that in the end he is confronting the masses. It is they who will control him” (33). This changes the relationship between the masses and the art (36). Here he leans heavily on some psychological theory (Freud among others) to suggest that because of the way film acts on the mind (conscious and unconscious), it can act as an “immunization against…mass psychoses” (38). However that means, in a sense, that film can also brainwash people.

Now, fascism (which Benjamin views as Marxism without the dissolution of property/class), is not the first political movement to have used that old lie, “Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori.” Sparta comes to mind, and Rome (that phrase comes from Horace), and the Vikings/Norse all glorified death in battle, to say nothing of the Crusades, the Samurai, WWII-era Kamikaze units (maybe?)… However, fascism’s “logical outcome…is an aestheticizing of political life” (41) which results in war. “War, and only war, makes it possible to set a goal for mass movements on the grandest scale while preserving traditional property relations” (ibid.). In essence, the fascists create an aesthetic glorification of war in order to promote this agenda. If you have ever seen Triumph of the Will, you will know exactly what Benjamin was talking about.

Benjamin concludes, famously:

“Fiat ars–pereat mundis,” [Let art flourish and the world pass away] says fascism, expecting from war…the artistic gratification of a sense perception altered by technology. This is evidently the consummation of l’art pour l’art [art for art’s sake]. Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art. (42)

I have occasionally had reason to read Benjamin–his essay “The Task of the Translator” is another classic–and I often have this problem where I will have issues with the particulars of his argument but on the whole, I cannot refute his overall point. After reading this essay, I wondered if I could justify watching films that continue to glorify war.

I’m still going to see Skyfall. But one interesting problem to address in my own writing (as I think the more recent Bond writers have tried to do) will be to examine the non-glorified outcomes of violence.

References

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility.” In The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, translated by Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingstone, Howard Eiland, et al. (19-55) Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008. (Also found here.)

Owen, Wilfred. “Dolce et Decorum Est.” The War Poetry Website, edited by David Roberts. Last updated 2011. http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html. Retrieved 26 December 2012.