Saturday, September 5, 2015


First, I have to thank my fiancée Kim for design-tweaking and the incredible title graphic, drawn from the fantastic A Field in England. I almost selected something from Doctor Who, but given I have yet to write anything about Doctor Who, I thought this choice was more in keeping with the theme of the blog as I've been half-assedly developing it. Still, the pun in my title demands that one day I try to address something Who-related.

I also have to thank Jack Graham as I've stolen his choice in post title font for my own. An additional thanks to Jack is in order as it was my appearance on Shabcast (soon to be uploaded to the Pex Lives stream) that inspired me to create this thing.

I've been reasonably busy with school and personal philosophical research (that doesn't sound pretentious!), and I haven't had the time to sit down with a cultural work and concoct a deranged and inappropriate take on it. So, in lieu of a full post for everything I've been thinking about lately, and although the review of Retrieving Realism is long enough to count as a full post, I thought I'd jot down some things in this post without fully developing them, which isn't too different from how I do a regular post anyway. Here goes.

Retrieving Realism by Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor
I don't intend to provide a full philosophical review of this work. I imagine it'll be forthcoming on NDPR sometime soon. I'm not as familiar with Charles Taylor's work as I should be, but Hubert Dreyfus is almost wholly responsible for my orientation in philosophy apart from political philosophy and perhaps whatever I possess that approaches ethics.

Reminds me, I'd like to investigate possible resonances between Deleuze's reading of Spinoza and Nietzsche, Heidegger on ethos in Letter on Humanism, and whatever a Marxian ethics might look like. I would exclude anarchism from this investigation, I think, as it's more amenable to a traditional ethics. Not sure if this blog would be the appropriate place for that, but hell, it's not in the main line of my philosophical interests, so maybe something off to the side is the best place to put it.

Back to the topic at hand. Dreyfus's approach to phenomenology made the work of this tradition accessible to me. I was already familiar with and heavily influenced by Wittgenstein, but Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty were foreign to me. Heidegger's Nazi baggage didn't help matters—it was an obstacle to reading and appreciating his work, and it remains problematic as it always should be for anyone who reads and draws upon Heidegger. Dreyfus made me take Heidegger seriously for the first time.

I can pinpoint where it all started: it was running across this series of videos that introduced me to the phenomenological tradition. I downloaded and listened to his lectures on Division I of Being and Time, went to the original texts, and eventually read the work of the American Heideggerians, many of whom initially studied under Dreyfus. While there are areas where I disagree with Dreyfus and prefer the work of his students, his approach remains foundational to my understanding.

Now we have 2015's Retrieving Realism. As an encapsulation and further development of Dreyfus's life's work, and as an introduction to the issues that interest me most in philosophy, it has my highest recommendation. I am so steeped in philosophy that I don't know how comprehensible it would be to a neophyte, but I suspect it's much more approachable than any of the major thinkers (Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Todes, and Gadamer) it draws upon, save Rorty. There is some jargon used, which is hard to avoid in philosophy, but Wikipedia or either of the philosophy encyclopedias on the internet would probably do the trick to get one up to speed where something is unclear.

Giving it my highest recommendation is not to say that I think it's a perfect work—I can see where the passage from deflationary realism to robust realism is problematic. But the concluding chapter introducing a sense of pluralism to this robust realism addresses some of the reservations I have about such a move. While endorsing the possibility of science providing a neutral description of the universe as it is in itself, it also suggests that such a causal description does not exhaust all the possibilities of perceiving and engaging the universe. It affirms the notion in Heidegger's essay The Origin of the Work of Art of the "earth" of existence, the part of things that seems to escape us or be inexhaustible in our thinking, perceiving, and interaction. That sense of "earth" is still present in this realism.

I think it's a valuable contribution to the surmounting of the opposition between relativism and scientism. In this connection, however, I feel I ought to link to this review of the book that raises some worthwhile objections from a Rortyan point of view. If I were trying to write a properly philosophical review of the book, I would have to delve into my own criticisms and some possible responses to that review, but for the purposes of the blog, I'm more interested in singling it out as a possible entryway into this kind of philosophy.

In that vein, I'd also suggest as a followup Heidegger and Unconcealment by Mark Wrathall, one of Dreyfus's former students who was also partially responsible for this accessible documentary. Wrathall's book is an in-depth treatment of an important concept in Heidegger's thought that also draws upon Merleau-Ponty among others. I suppose I could also recommend William Blattner's introductory book on Being and Time, although I have (serious) qualms about his interpretation, but Wrathall's book has the advantage of drawing upon later Heidegger.

Observation on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Holographic Moriarty is a Cartesian nightmare. Not a nightmare for Cartesianism, but a nightmare from it. The cogito is liberated from its deceiving demon only to be deceived again.

That is all for now.

Kill All the Gentlemen
Has anyone taken time to compare M. R. James' Martin's Close with actual Old Bailey Sessions Papers? There has to be some overlap between fans of the one and scholars of the other. I can't claim more than a passing familiarity with the Sessions Papers, so I might not be the one for the task, but it seems worth investigating. I think Martin's Close, a less remarked upon James story, is due a thorough examination on other counts as well. I'll offer a sketch of some angles on it, and maybe someone else will take up the task:

a. The despicable squire is brought to justice. This doesn't seem to be in keeping with the times and my (albeit meager) familiarity with the Old Bailey proceedings. This justice, though, comes as the consequence of a supernatural intervention by the ghost of his victim. The corpse is submerged in a pond, throat cut. The spirit of the peasant victim returns to haunt the living gentleman, an act of God's revenge. What does that say about James and his time versus the historical setting of the story? Is God, acting through the return of the repressed, the only means of justice in that time? Is framing it as God's revenge, a move made by the attorney, an attempt to recuperate the vengeance of the peasant?

b. Martin's Close is set in Sampford Courtenay, Devon, site of the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion, a rebellion whose reasoning was expressed in the wonderfully succinct slogan, "Kill all the gentlemen and we will have the Six Articles up again, and ceremonies as they were in King Henry's time."

Here, we have rising from the grave rather than an uprising, a seeking of justice on the individual rather than the social level. But hell, isn't that the way plenty of horror plays out? The setting invites exploration of how the story plays out against that history. The gentleman is killed, and on Innocents' Day.

c. The Hanging Judge George Jeffreys, responsible himself in part for the bloody suppression of a rebellion, appears here. We can probably dispense with the notion that it's a mere cameo for the sake of the setting, given the story is so focused on vengeance and justice. Naming Jeffreys as the judge draws attention to that theme. Perhaps the Hanging Judge is the pivot for a reading.  

d. Class, power, gender, ableism. So much to piece together.

e. The judicial framing makes it an unusual story in M. R. James' oeuvre. Is there anything interesting, on its own terms, in that divergence?

f. Was Ann Clark pregnant? Would that mean anything for our reading?
Reticence may be an elderly doctrine to preach, yet from the artistic point of view, I am sure it is a sound one. Reticence conduces to effect, blatancy ruins it, and there is much blatancy in a lot of recent stories. They drag in sex too, which is a fatal mistake; sex is tiresome enough in the novels; in a ghost story, or as the backbone of a ghost story, I have no patience with it.
– M. R. James, Some Remarks on Ghost Stories
Another divergence?

g. The Prayer Book Rebellion makes me want to reread The Uncommon Prayer-book with an eye to possible resonances. Probably not there, but why not look?

Seems perfectly normal to me.
The Maypole: A Rough Sketch of Some Lines of Inquiry into Folk Horror
a. What is its relationship to the gothic? To the weird?

b. The survival of the premodern. Why is it horrific? More pointedly, why is it not horrific? Why am I and others so damn sympathetic to the pagans in The Wicker Man even with the human sacrifice?

c. In that vein, Shadows: The Inheritance. There's nothing horrific about that one to my eyes. Spooky, maybe. If anything, it invites readings along the lines of Eigentlichkeit and Crowley's True Will while also opening up examination of the city/country distinction and the role of aspiration in a technic capitalist society.

d. The etymological connection between pagan and peasant.

e. The horror of folk horror seems to rest in part on communal practice as well as anachronism. It's a kind of collective rebellion against modernity.

f. The distaste of modernity for the premodern, for the peasant.

g. The restructuring of agriculture and the corresponding obscuring of agriculture's role in our lives, a kind of repression. Urban people eat the fruits of agriculture but have spare personal experience of it. In the United States we are even expected not to acknowledge, to see the migrant laborers responsible for providing that food. Some useful comparison with The City & the City on that point, perhaps—call it The Country & the Country if you like.

h. Hey, it's primitive accumulation! Remember me?

i. Capitalism, Marxism, anarchism, and the peasant. Are all of these too modern to deal with the question of the peasant? Too technic? Is the industrialization of agriculture a good thing after all? What the hell does folk horror have to do with all of that anyway?

j. Rexroth and Vaneigem on communalism and rebellion as expressed in Christian heresy.

k. Religion and radical ideology is a question worth exploring in connection with folk horror. Is there a possibility of a retrieval of certain premodern ways of being for the sake of the struggle against capitalist modernity? What about indigenous spirituality, so much closer to the present than all this European paganism, indeed very much still present?

l. The Wicker Man and science. Lord Summerisle is almost a gothic aristocrat, yet he's also the descendant of a man of science. What seems to have been put in place for the convenience of his (cynical?) scientific ancestor is embraced with sincerity by Lord Summerisle.

m. Drawing on Rexroth: religion as belief versus religion as practice.

I'll end this here.

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