“I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups” (3)
This reminds me of the Sapere Aude trip where Dr. Robb introduced to us how Plato thought a philosopher should be educated into a philosopher-king! This was a liberal arts education!
How then, just like we asked on Sapere Aude, did the intellectual and academic climate become so compartmentalized and what role does a liberal arts education have in mending this rift? Can it be mended?
I recognized game theory, Oxygen theory of combustion, the theory of plate tectonics, special and general relativity, natural selection, and quantum theory. As for experiments, I recognized Eratosthenes measuring the Earth’s circumference, Gregor Mendels’ genetics experiments, Marie Curry’s experiments with radioactivity, Newton’s light experiment, the Pavlovian conditioning experiment, Young’s wave experiment, and Millikan’s electron experiments.
I found it interesting how the dancers, particularly CAB said that they had to go back into their childhood to a time before others told them there was something wrong or different about being black. The way these dancers parsed out a particular identity that they all shared and embodied it through dance was fascinating and really meshed well with what we have been doing in this unit from a kind of post-structural analysis. I am curious if the experience of black girls growing up in today’s world is different in, and if so how is it different?
In the theater the issue of remains as material
document becomes complicated – necessarily
imbricated, chiasmatically, with the live body. For
the theater, to the degree that it is performative,
seems to resist remains. And yet, if theater refuses
to remain, it is precisely in the repeatedly live
theater or installation space that a host of recent
artists explore history – the recomposition of
? : Is this similar to the translation lecture in that a living document which is constantly retranslated reveals a greater and more transcendent truth.
! : A theater as a place in which history can be explored in the present living space.
The ultra-historicism of official memorials makes us
think the past is finished, when we still have the power to construct it.
? : If history can be constructed, though, then what is true? Should empiricism be left behind when discussing history?
!: Like the conception of history Dr. Denham brought up by Walter Benjamin!
The beauty of this illustration is in how it portrays the desolation and fear accompanied with this scene without embellishing any elements or making a caricature of any particular figure. It manages to heighten the already enormous fear of going to the penitentiary without providing any dialogue or any disturbing depictions. It shows the seeming impunity that the government can operate with; doing the right thing in the face of this authority will not guarantee any mercy: they OWN you. This is where the somewhat hidden rhetorical devices begin to shine. Written on the back of the bus carrying the prisoners reads “Property of the State of Mississippi” as if the prisoners are owned. They are no longer individuals. In a way, this can be seen as a connection to the enslavement of African-Americans. This allows the reader to draw the connection of slavery a hundred and fifty years ago, to the mass incarceration and corrupt prison system in the US today. Some would even argue that it is a direct continuation of the system of chattel slavery in the US. Also, the fact that there is an enormous and completely lifeless expanse past the gates conjures up a vision of Hell. There is no life here, only a wicked authority that acts with unspeakable acts of cruelty: “Parchman was the stuff of legends — dark legends”. Some ducks in a pond can be seen in the bottom right corner, free to do as they please just outside the penitentiary, and there are even small human figures, presumably guards, smoking cigarettes carrying their guns relaxed and without a care in the world. Then, just past the barbwire and chainlink fence, there is a guard tower with rifles on the lookout. Two pages later one of the guards tells them, “ain’t no newspapermen out here”. This is particularly poignant because it illustrates how immune this authority is. No one can recount the suffering, no one can hold them accountable, and it is desolate and lifeless in its enormity. The penitentiary is even nicknamed “Parchman Farm”. This nickname is perhaps an illusion to a plantation. It is where they will not only beat and torture the prisoners, but they will also work for the state, hence it is a “Farm”. This reinforces the earlier theme of these prisoners being “Property of the State of Mississippi”, and therefore their labor is as well.
Terrell appears to be associated with the Methodist church and to be of a religiously conservative background. She refers to a kind of exclusionary violence: the violence of Jim Crow. “As a colored woman I may enter more than one white church
in Washington without receiving that welcome which as a human being I have a right”, “Unless I am willing to engage in a few menial occupations… there is no
way for me to earn an honest living”. All these refer to a kind of blindness, or refusal to acknowledge black people, in particular women, as human beings who are entitled to their rights as such. Moreover, Terrell understands the lack of hope in education that so many black youths have. To her, this is the greatest impediment second only to the outright oppression of Jim Crow. Perhaps she hints that reforming this attitude is a solution to their situation. As for Ida B. Wells, there appears to be a religious rooting for her belief in equal rights as well and, as seen after doing some cursory research, she became a writer and editor for the black-owned newspaper The Free Speech and Headlight, which was based out of a Baptist church. The violence Ida B. Wells confronts is the violence of lynching, which is responsible for the “inhuman butchery of more than ten thousand men, women, and children by shooting, drowning, hanging, and burning them alive”. This is a much more tangible violence, perhaps. A violence which is easily quantified and impossible for any person with a semblance of moral consciousness to ignore. Moreover, this lynching finds its so-called ‘justification’ in the necessity “to prevent crimes against women.” Of course, this means only white women and it entails a demonization of black men as a result. Wells also asserts that “The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes”, pointing at the hypocrisy and fallacious justification for this heinous crime. Wells also seems pessimistic about the situation, stating that “there has been no single effort… to put a stop to this wholesale slaughter… the silence and seeming condonation grow more marked as the years go by.” Overall, she urges for repeated exposure of these crimes by the press in order to make lynching a reality that cannot be ignored.
The number of stateless people around me was truly shocking. These people are in the worst position: missing out on the benefits and recognition that citizenship grants, but still suffering the consequences of government iniquities. These people are ghosts, much like those that Sontag alludes to when referencing those “whose deaths are not being shown”. Perhaps these people are the most marginalized group of all. Completely excluded from the political process while still being subjected to the punishment, not the protection, of the state. This is the ultimate tyranny.
Photographs of war are effective in showing the true calamity and destruction of war. However, photographs of war, and of non-combatant casualties specifically, don’t necessarily show the horrible moral injustice of war. The question is: is this violence justified? Moreover, it eliminates the ability to discern and categorize the casualties, especially when the dead are mutilated, so it creates a particular empathetic struggle and fear when confronted with the moral implications of the photo. What’s most interesting, in my opinion, is when Sontag poses the question of “Whose deaths are not being shown” in these photos.
Photographs of war bring up the question of the value of violence in society, the gendered nature of warfare, and the narrow marginalizing effect that photographs of this sort can have when they choose to exclude other victims.
The execution photo of Fou Tchou-Li, the last person executed via Ling Chi in Qing dynasty China, illuminates the pleasure we might feel in looking at those suffering as a sort of twisted reflection of the ‘ecstatic’ spiritual transformation the victim undergoes from life and corporeality to death and the release of the body. This comparison then broadens to describe how modern society is mixing violence and pleasure as well as mayhem and entertainment in the form of mass media like video games and violent cinema. This constant bombardment with portrayals and interactions with suffering can be seen as a kind of “moral or emotional anesthesia”.
Pleasure and other mixed or dulled emotions, when confronted with these images, is a reflection of the anger and frustration we feel due to a compromised ability to empathize with the victims.
An aversion to these images betrays immaturity, since one is too morally inferior to have really questioned the scope of human depravity. At the same time, over-indulgence in memory of past historical inequities, particularly to those suffered by the now dead, may betray an immaturity in dwelling in suffering. Do we even have a right to view the suffering of others from a safe distnace that eliminates the true magnitutude of injustice, danger, and chaos of this suffering? On another note: “some people’s suffering has a lot more intrinsic value to an audience… than the sufferings of others”.
Immature responses to these images betray a sort of “moral defectiveness”, because it shows that the individual has not truly wrestled with the question of ‘how deep is the well of human depravity’; whereas one can just as easily descend into a worship or burial in past greivances if one never lets go, such as the “Serbs” and “Irish”.
Arendt’s “Banality of Evil” and The Origins of Totalitarianism
The phrase “Banality of Evil”, is featured as the final phrase in The Origins of Totalitarianism. The phrase is a product of the philosophical question, can one do evil acts without being evil themself? The phrase refers to the banal, almost quotidian, nature of evil and the actions of evil in the mundane world around us: in our institutions, culture, and everyday life. It expresses itself in the unquestioning, superficial, and thoughtless evil acts an individual shallowly performs when a part of an evil and authoritarian institution. It refers to Adolf Eichmann, in how startlingly normal or ‘banal’ he was despite performing the key actions in enacting the Holocaust.
- Initially a socially awkward outcast, he soon drifted into the Nazi party out of aimlessness then joining the SS.
- “if they had told me that my own father was a traitor and I had to kill him, I'”d have done it!”
- Study some Jewish culture as to become an expert for the Nazi state’s endeavor to eradicate the Jews.
- In charge of the expulsion of all Jews from Austria and the confiscation of their property, and later the same in Poland, and then all of Germany.
- Followed the orders to execute all Jews in the German Reich.
- Eventually captured and executed after fleeing and entering hiding after the war
- claimed he was merely following orders.
2. As Frankfurt says, “it is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction”. Therefore, it is understandable to inform the public as much as possible about the point of debate first; that way they will be forced to create an informed opinion and will only be lying if they reduce discourse to anything less than total honesty. Moreover, we can signal to one another in discourse that we are not bullshitting by citing facts with sources as much as we can when in dialogue. Can we really expect this though? Is it really possible or desirable to totally uproot bullshit from our discourse? From what my discussion group concluded on Thursday, it is my belief that bullshit has a pragmatic function in conversation. The social utility of bullshit comes from its entertaining factor but also by getting your audience to listen to you if you are addressing an important problem that many are uninformed on. This is why politicians, political pundits, and even comedians all use bullshit so regularly.
3. As asked in my plenary response on translation: what did Prof. Denham mean in bringing up the concluding quotation of his part of the lecture? He quoted Celan in saying that ‘the poem seeks its meaning in the audience’. Does this mean that literature interacts in an autonomous way from what the creator might have had in mind? What is the significance of this in respect to approaching what Walter Benjamin calls “pure language”?
What does professor Denham mean when referring to Celan saying that “the poem seeks its meaning in the audience”? Does this mean that there is a kind of semi-autonomous nature to an artwork that is independent entirely of the creator’s intention? Can this be true for works other than poetry and other artwork? How does a poem seek this ‘meaning’? Professor Denham also mentioned Walter Benjamin’s idea of ‘pure language’ which helps illuminate the efficacy of translation in not only make a work accessible to a wider audience, but also redefining and casting the work in a new light so as to further approach this ‘pure language’. I can only understand this ‘pure language’ to be related to the dilemma of the inherent imperfection of language; the idea that prof. Quillen addressed which is the loss of full meaning when communicating with language. So does this mean that a work can only be fully understood if it is continually reinvented beyond what was intended in the original piece?
The informed view during the Early Modern period in Europe was to view the world as a series of interconnected, mystical, yet pseudo-rational and predictable events. These events and actions would occur fractally from the smallest member of this universe to ‘God’ himself. Much of the sciences and hermetic practices at the time truly are the embryonic forms of the sciences we know today. Even from the lecture on Friday we can understand that Astrology makes certain ‘true’ observations and predictions despite being on a false foundation compared to the empirical study of Astronomy. Even the constellations that are understood and used as a tool in Astronomy were the astrological signs that were central to Astrology. This relationship speaks largely to the predicament of the Early Modern Period, people were equipped with logic and reason but were handicapped in their ability to use these tools due to a dogmatic belief, on the part of many, in ancient, mystical, and religious texts which were seen as a great font of wisdom.
Does an academic endeavor need to empirical, like we think we are today unlike our past, in order to be taken seriously? If so, then where can the line be drawn on where empirical claims can be made? If one’s senses are false or biased, then can one make an empirical claim? can there be multiple true empirical claims that answer the same question totally differently?
The point Davis makes about Elizabeth Martinez’s stance on immigrant and refugee rights since the 1980s caught my attention. The idea that since the 1980s there has been a surge of neoliberalism that complicates racism is fascinating because neoliberalism directly draws on the works of Locke and Adam Smith, both of whom championed free will and individual choice. However, Davis makes the point that reducing regulation and government expenditure hurts minorities. Moreover, these tenets of neoliberalism make the incorrect assumption that free-will and good-nature alone can untangle us from our unsavory racist history. So the things Locke and other Classical Liberals would believe in can actually work as a part of the systemic racism that Davis points out in a world after explicit government endorsement of racism. With this, Davis shows a compelling intersectional viewpoint that strengthens her argument: racism is still present in institutions despite the end of the civil rights era.
I would like to place Davis on a panel with Locke and Marx as I believe they represent an interesting continuum of thought from Classically Liberal to Progressive and Egalitarian.
- What is race? What is class? And what role do they play in society?
- Is human nature inherently benevolent?
- What action (if any) must be taken in the face of an unjust government or other institution?