Saturday, September 26, 2015

Backwards, Forwards

First, I'd like to congratulate everyone involved on the launch of Eruditorum Press. Now you can get Phil Sandifer, Jane Campbell, Jack Graham, and Pex Lives all in one place. I've updated my links list to reflect this exciting development.

Second, Shabcast 10 is up! Three solid hours of conversation with the intelligent, funny, inimitable Jack Graham of increasing Shabogan Graffiti fame. It's received some positive responses on social media, so I imagine you'll enjoy it. I may try to follow up on some things mentioned in the podcast, especially those places where I was less than clear.

It's also a late response to Kevin and James hoping to bait me and Jack into an anarchism vs. Marxism debate way back in the Hammer Frankenstein episode of Pex Lives. It turns out we get along famously, so my pals at Pex Lives can go screw. Oh, and hating the Caretaker is a sign of character and sound judgment. Recognizing the substantial overlap between Marxists and anarchists, especially in these beleaguered times for the radical left, is worthwhile. That's not to say the differences are unimportant, but it's not going to be my focus in addressing capitalism (in my small way), first because I find sectarian debate often tiresome, and second because I already had an internal debate on the subject years ago when I moved from Marxism to anarchism. Each are plural anyway, so teasing out the differences between libertarian Marxists and communist-anarchists (to name two of the closest) seems an exercise in angel-counting.

Besides, I've already rented out too much space in my brain to gothic horror and 1970s children's television, so I'm probably no longer capable of debate. Christ, how did I end up here? knowing more about Peter Cushing credits than points of divergence in rival Maoist groupuscules.

Four paragraphs in, and I haven't gotten to the point: Jack has a wonderful new post up, so go read it. I'm going to address only the last few paragraphs, but that shouldn't be taken to mean the rest isn't important to his argument. I'm just going to be focusing on a few aspects of it in connection with some things I've been thinking about lately.

I have a weakness for dusty old things and mouldy literature more in keeping with being an apolitical small c conservative than a supposed radical. Yesterday I got to hold an Anglo-Saxon coin from the reign of Edgar I, and I found it exciting as hell. I don't know why I should. It was a small, lightweight, insubstantial little thing, misshapen and crude. None of the gleaming practicality of a modern nickel, something with more bearing on my survival than the ugly, unimportant little thing I regarded and touched with the reverence due a holy relic. I'm overstating that reverence, of course, but I don't give my loose change a thought when I handle it.

Different too was my reaction to handling some Third Reich pennies minted in 1938. Hardly a Luger or an SS uniform, just small things as insubstantial as the Anglo-Saxon coin or the nickel in my pocket, but Christ, the horror of touching it. An object from a brutality much less remote than medieval England, and thereby felt more acutely.

But that brings me back to the nickel, a coin minted by a government responsible for some terrible crimes in my own lifetime. It's rather like the old point made by phenomenologists that what is closest to you is the hardest to see. The coin of an empire that counts me as a citizen passes from my hand without comment or thought. (To anticipate a reaction: I am not pulling a Godwin's Law here.)

So part of what generates the horror in touching the Nazi penny is not only in its nearness, but its distance. It's easier to see than the Anglo-Saxon or American coins. It's a kind of metaphorical maximum grip (to abuse a concept from Merleau-Ponty). I am ideally situated in respect to the penny for it to show up as an object of horror. The nickel, too close, shows up for me only in its being as practical equipment to further other ends, and Edgar's coin, too distant, shows up as an artifact, an end in itself for my appreciation and reverence. I suppose if I were a dealer in antiquities I'd appraise it from the standpoint of the artifact's market value, but I never look at old things in that way.

To avoid the danger of any of these coins becoming the Zahir, I'll turn again to Jack's post.

There's a point where we can go from recognizing brutality in the past to projecting modern brutality into the past. The strain of fantasy we see in Game of Thrones has brutality as its major theme. I remember coming across this post and thinking it had a good point: GoT has a lot more to do with colonialism than with feudalism. I'm interested in hearing what Jack might have to say about this as it's got a double edge to it: you could see such a move as progressive if it uses the projection of modern brutality into an imagined world with the trappings of medieval history as a way of criticizing that very recent horror (making it distant and easier to see), or as a potentially reactionary normalization of the brutality of the last few centuries by suggesting it's an essential fact of human nature and not the consequence of specific social relations and material history. I'm not familiar enough with Martin's work to make a judgment on this account—I've only seen the show and have a lot of distaste for it, similar to my issues with Walking Dead (to give a near-SF parallel), so I'm not the best judge.

What often interest me in the European Middle Ages are the conspicuous ruptures in its history, contrary to the popular narrative we've received from the victorious bourgeoisie depicting it as a monolithic church-state union setting a tone and not abating until Martin Luther's constipation caused the Reformation. Things were a lot weirder than we often recognize. For a radical perspective on these ruptures, you can look to books like Kenneth Rexroth's Communalism, Raoul Vaneigem's Resistance to Christianity (both in the links list) and Movement of the Free Spirit, and even Kropotkin's Mutual Aid. You have all these strange instances of communalism popping up throughout the period, sometimes contemporaneous with the quiet stirrings of what would become the bourgeoisie, and being in the medieval period, often framed in religious language. All of this could be overstated, and of course the protagonists of these communalist struggles were all defeated and the normal order restored, but there's still a shock of anachronism when we read about them.  

History in the gothic is a bit trickier than in SF and fantasy, I think. The gothic can be haunted by the past (numerous examples) or the future (Frankenstein is modern, after all), or one in the guise of the other (as in Moretti's reading of Dracula). That's part of its appeal and power. Folk horror (and despite the hype on the blogosphere, and being a concept coming from Mark Gatiss, I do think it's a legitimate genre distinction) has its own duality at times. In the paradigm example, The Wicker Man, you have the horror of a revived pre-Christian paganism, but damned if I and most of my friends don't have more sympathy for the pagan islanders than for the Christian cop.

How did we get here? To the capitalocene extinction as Jack calls it, to the technic (Gestell), to the constant instability of our age, to the world and human being as resource (Bestand)? It's an incessant question, cropping up in progressive and conservative contexts as people feel increasingly untethered but not liberated. So we turn to history to find the guilty party. Some philosophers go back as far as Plato and lay the blame on the invention of metaphysics, though that was itself the consequence of a change already underway before Plato and his puppet Socrates. Is it Descartes instead? He's certainly responsible for a lot of what I'd consider bad philosophy. But we could look materially, and identify it as the capitalism, itself sprung from the soil of feudalism as institutional consequence or as elaboration of the dialectic, your pick. Or it's the industrial revolution, or it's the invention of agriculture, or even the human phenomenon of language as some primitivists will tell you. I think this question is the founding question of the Neopagan movement, where the locus is identified as the conquest by monotheism. Sometimes it's in the service of positing a golden age and a subsequent fall from grace. Many people have a sense of a wrong turn in history. For conservatives, it's the outrage of increased social equality, for progressives, the recognition despite that increased equality, we are still subjects of capitalism, and capitalism has a history, an origin.

We don't have to go as far as the medieval period to find a candidate for the wrong turn. We can look at the 20th c.—it's familiar enough in the way most anarchists mourn the Spanish Revolution. The sense of loss as located in the recent past seems to permeate all of hauntology in its various guises today as blogosphere philosophy, academic and critical fad, or musical genre. Mark Fisher, in his book Ghosts of My Life, identifies it as a longing for lost futures, a distinctly progressive counterpart to nostalgia:
Haunting, then, can be construed as a failed mourning. It is about refusing to give up the ghost or—and this can sometimes amount to the same thing—the refusal of the ghost to give up on us. The spectre will not allow us to settle into/for the mediocre satisfactions one can glean in a world governed by capitalist realism. 
What's at stake in 21st century hauntology is not the disappearance of a particular object. What has vanished is a tendency, a virtual trajectory. 
. . . 
Popular modernism was by no means a completed project, some pristine zenith that needed no further improvement. In the 1970s, certainly, culture was opened up to working-class inventiveness in a way that is now scarcely imaginable to us; but this was also a time when casual racism, sexism and homophobia were routine features of the mainstream. Needless to say, the struggles against racism and (hetero)sexism have not in the meantime been won, but they have made significant hegemonic advances, even as neoliberalism has corroded the social democratic infrastructure which allowed increased working class participation in cultural production. The disarticulation of class from race, gender and sexuality has in fact been central to the success of the neoliberal project—making it seem, grotesquely, as if neoliberalism were in some way a precondition of the gains made in anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-heterosexist struggles. 
What is being longed for in hauntology is not a particular period, but the resumption of the processes of democratisation and pluralism for which Gilroy calls. Perhaps it's useful to remind ourselves here that social democracy has only become a resolved totality in retrospect; at the time, it was a compromise formation, which those on the left saw as a temporary bridgehead from which further gains could be won. What should haunt us is not the no longer of actually existing social democracy, but the not yet of the futures that popular modernism trained us to expect, but which never materialised. These spectres—the spectres of lost futures—reproach the formal nostalgia of the capitalist realist world.  
This casting back into the past for an answer to the common question is a desire to rewrite the present for the sake of the future. If we can just identify where it went wrong. . . but it can't just be one thing, one moment, can it? Still, I think the sense of a wrong turn can be useful to progressives. I'm not particularly attached to the idea of historical inevitability, nor progression in discrete stages. The usefulness of inevitability as a Sorelian myth doesn't seem current anymore. I cite Sorel here because I want to bring out the multivalence (or is it ambivalence?) running through the whole discussion—like history in Jack's post, Sorel can be used for leftist syndicalism or rightist fascism. The wrong turn as indictment of the present haunts 20th c. poetry. Ever notice how most of the major figures of (the first half of) 20th c. modernist poetry are either socialist (typically Marxist at that), anarchist, or fascist? Or weird combinations of the three/atavistic quasi-pagans like D. H. Lawrence or Robert Graves? A complacent figure like Wallace Stevens, an insurance executive by day, is unusual for the period. I suppose it's trite and a commonplace notion to blame it all on the first World War, considering how modernism predates it, but the war is probably responsible for the explosion of modernism in poetry. Despite some turning to the peculiarly modern, brutal conservatism of fascism, that turn still seems to have come from a dissatisfaction with the way things were.

That's changed in the neoliberal decades. As a radical and poet, I'm always disappointed in how complacent contemporary poets can be. Sure, many of them, perhaps the majority, are liberal, even on the left wing of their respective establishment liberal parties, but few are radical. Just on an aesthetic level, and feel free to attack me for this sentiment, I'd prefer a lunatic fascist like Ezra Pound to a milquetoast liberal, just to have a good enemy to rail against. Instead, I get another person talking about electability, not making the perfect the enemy of the good, and other platitudes. I'm fine with amelioration, but there has to be some analysis of root causes and proposed solutions to systemic problems.

I got off on a bit of a tangent there. This is already threatening to be TLDR, but I'll continue to dig my grave with a glad heart.

Perhaps this is a good place to talk about the Norman Yoke.
And this appears cleer, For when any Trustee or State Officer is to be Chosen, The Free-holders or Landlords must be the Chusers, who are the Norman Common Souldiers, spread abroad in the Land; And who must be Chosen: but some very rich man, who is the Successor of the Norman Colonels or high Officers. And to what end have they been thus Chosen? but to Establish that Norman power the more forcibly over the enslaved English, and to beat them down again, when as they gather heart to seek for Liberty. 
For what are all those Binding and Restraining Laws that have been made from one Age to another since that Conquest, and are still upheld by Furie over the People? I say, What are they? but the Cords, Bands, Manacles, and Yokes that the enslaved English, like Newgate Prisoners, wears upn their hands and legs as they walk the streets; by which those Norman Oppressors, and these their Successors from Age to Age have enslaved the poor People by, killed their younger Brother, and would not suffer Jacob to arise. 
O what mighty Delusion, do you, who are the powers of England live in! That while you pretend to throw down that Norman yoke, and Babylonish power, and have promised to make the groaning people of England a Free People; yet you still lift up that Norman yoke, and slavish Tyranny, and holds the People as much in bondage, as the Bastard Conquerour himself, and his Councel of War.
– Gerrard Winstanley, The True Levellers Standard Advanced (1649)
I was reminded of this when listening to the new Eruditorum Press Season 9 Podcast. In the episode, there's a brief discussion about the Meddling Monk attempting to prevent the Norman Conquest (and the great suggestion that a series following the Monk would be the better one). Jack remarks something to the effect that the Monk succeeding wouldn't have been a bad thing. Sounds like the Norman Yoke. Now, it's a notion fallen out of currency and often called discredited, so I don't want to claim that Jack holds that opinion, but it's worth considering as one of the many potential wrong turns I've been yammering about this whole time. That's not to say I endorse identifying it as a wrong turn—I haven't bothered to unpack that notion and see if it's worthwhile—but it's an established paradigm for the concept.

By a happy accident, Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake arrived in the mail the same day I listened to the podcast. Of course, I haven't read it yet, but I have read some of the material in the back of the book outlining his intention in writing it. It's a peculiar book, written in a pseudo-Saxon reminiscent of Alan Moore's similar attempts to capture the language of a distant past in his Voice of the Fire. The novel depicts the guerrilla struggle of Saxons against the Normans in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. I think it's telling that the protagonist Buccmaster is a pagan, and this despite the long history of Christianization in England. Really ties in, doesn't it? You can get a good idea of the background of the novel by reading this piece by Kingsnorth. It's fairly short, and I know the reader is begging for such mercy after slogging through this post.

In an opportune aside, one of the first things you usually hear about the Norman influence on the English language is the distinction between the animal in the field and the meat on the plate. Cow, pig, and sheep are Saxon words from Saxon farmers raising the animals for consumption by the Normans, who in turn eat beef, pork, and mutton. I think it's wonderfully apropos that the pig David Cameron is alleged to have fucked was dead—it became pork, fit for the ruling class.

I was going to talk about technology and the disposable in Jack's post, and also about how an experience of the seasons is different in the country than the city, but that'll have to wait for another time as this is already too long.

I'll wrap it up by returning to the perennial blog obsession: 1970s children's television ephemera. So, Shadows: The Inheritance. I can't expect anyone to have seen this, but it's only 25 minutes long, so take a look. It's a strange little episode, but it fits perfectly into the ideas under examination here and in the original post. Young Martin, under the influence of his dying grandfather, has visions of an ancient pagan dance performed by men wearing antlers. As a consequence, he rejects the future of capitalist aspiration (in insurance of all things) foisted upon him by his upwardly striving parents, and goes to the country to follow his own way doing something not terribly useful to the capitalist society surrounding him. I think it's ambiguous how progressive this is, but it's certainly a refusal to participate in the prevailing order. It would take another post for me to tease out a full reading of it—I think the grandfather's relationship to the deer is especially interesting. In lieu of an analysis at this time, I just encourage you to watch it with these themes in mind.

This was supposed to be a brief response to Jack's post, to be followed by an examination of personal mythologies in the poetics of W. B. Yeats, Robert Graves, Wallace Stevens, and D. H. Lawrence, but I'm so exhausted after writing this that it'll be a while before I get to that subject. Much to the reader's fortune. If there are typos and a lack of clarity, I apologize, but I haven't the time or energy to revise this.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Maypole at Merrymount

Better than the alternative, I guess.
After this they fell to great licenciousnes, and led a dissolute life, powering out them selves into all profanenes. Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a schoole of Athisme. And after they had gott some good into their hands, and gott much by trading with ye Indeans, they spent it as vainly, in quaffing & drinking both wine & strong waters in great exsess, and, as some reported, 10li. worth in a morning. They allso set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days togeather, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddes Flora, or ye beasly practieses of ye madd Bacchinalians. Morton likwise (to shew his poetrie) composed sundry rimes & verses, some tending to lasciviousnes, and others to ye detraction & scandall of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idoll May-polle. They chainged allso the name of their place, and in stead of calling it Mounte Wollaston, they call it Merie-mounte, as if this joylity would have lasted ever. But this continued not long, for after Morton was sent for England, (as follows to be declared,) shortly after came over that worthy gentlman, Mr. John Indecott, who brought over a patent under ye broad seall, for ye govermente of ye Massachusets, who visiting those parts caused yt May-polle to be cutt downe, and rebuked them for their profannes, and admonished them to looke ther should be better walking; so they now, or others, changed ye name of their place againe, and called it Mounte-Dagon.
– my ancestor, William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation
Yes, humorless and wretched William Bradford is one of my ancestors. I thought I'd post this as I was reminded of it again when writing my last post.

Oh, and here's Morton, the lord of misrule himself, on the event:
The Inhabitants of Pasonagessit, (having translated the name of their habitation from that ancient Salvage name to Ma-re Mount, and being resolved to have the new name confirmed for a memorial to after ages,) did devise amongst themselves to have it performed in a solemne manner, with Revels and merriment after the old English custome; [they] prepared to sett up a Maypole upon the festivall day of Philip and Iacob, and therefore brewed a barrelll of excellent beare and provided a case of bottles, to be spent, with other good cheare, for all commers of that day. And because they would have it in a compleat forme, they had prepared a song fitting to the time and present occasion. And upon Mayday they brought the Maypole to the place appointed, with drumes, gunnes, pistols and other fitting instruments, for that purpose; and there eredted it with the help of Salvages, that came thether of purpose to see the manner of our Revels. A goodly pine tree of 80. foote longe was reared up, with a peare of buckshorns nayle one somewhat neare unto the top of it: where it stood, as a faire sea marke for directions how to finde out the way to mine Hoste of Ma-re Mount.
And because it should more fully appeare to what end it was placed there, they had a poem in readines made, which was fixed to the Maypole, to shew the new name confirmed upon that plantation; which, allthough it were made according to occurrents of the time, it, being Enigmattically composed, pusselled the Seperatists most pittifully to expound it, which, (for the better information of the reader,) I have here inserted.
Rise, Oedipus, and, if thou canst, unfould
What meanes Caribdis underneath the mould,
When Scilla sollitary on the ground
(Sitting in forme of Niobe,) was found,
Till Amphitrites Darling did acquaint
Grim Neptune with the Tenor of her plaint,
And causd him send forth Triton with the sound
Of Trumpet lowd, at which the Seas were found
So full of Protean formes that the bold shore
Prsented Scilla a new parramore
So stronge as Sampson and so patient
As Job himselfe, directed thus, by fate,
To comfort Scilla so unfortunate.
I doe professe, by Cupids beautious mother,
Heres Scogans choise for Scilla, and none other;
Though Scilla's sick with griefe, because so signe
Can there be found of vertue masculine.
Esculapius come; I know right well
His laboure's lost when you may ring her Knell.
The fatall sisters doome none can withstand,
Nor Cithareas powre, who poynts to land
With proclamation that the first of May
At Ma-re Mount shall be kept hollyday.
The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise seperatists, that lived at new Plimmouth. They termed it an Idoll; yea, they called it the Calfe of Horeb, and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon; threatening to make it a woefull mount and not a merry mount.
The Riddle, for want of Oedipus, they could not expound; onely they made some explication of part of it, and sayd it was meant by Sampson Iob, the carpenter of the shipp that brought over a woman to her husband, that had bin there longe before and thrive so well that hee sent for her and her children to come to him; where shortly after hee died: having no reason, but because of the sound of those two words; when as, (the truth is,) the man they applyed it to was altogether unknowne to the Author.
There was likewise a merry song made, which, (to make their Revells more fashionable,) was sung with a Corus, every man bearing his part; which they performed in a daunce, hand in hand about the Maypole, whiles one of the Company sung and filled out the good liquor, like gammedes and Iupiter.

Drinke and be merry, merry, merry boyes;
Let all your delight be in the Hymens ioyes;
Jô to Hymen, now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take a Roome.
Make greene garlons, bring bottles out
And fill sweet Nectar freely about.
Vncover thy head and feare no harme,
For hers good liquor to keepe it warme.
Then drinke and be merry, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Nectar is a thing assign'd
By the Deities owne minde
To cure the hart opprest with greife,
And of good liquors is the cheife.
Then drinke, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Mellancolly man
A cup or two of 't now and than;
This physick will soone revive his bloud,
And make him be of a merrier moode.
Then drinke, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Nymphe thats free from scorne
No Irish stuff nor Scotch over worne.
Lasses in beaver coats come away,
Yee shall be welcome to us night and day.
To drinke and be merry &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
This harmless mirth made by younge men, (that lived in hope to have wifes brought over to them, that would save them a laboure to make a voyage to fetch any over,) was much distated to the prcise Seperatists, that keepe much a doe about the tyth of Muit and Cummin, troubling their braines more then reason would require about things that are indifferent: and from that time sought occasion against my honest Host of Ma-re Mount, to overthrow his ondertakings and to destroy his plantation quite and cleane. But because they presumed with their imaginary gifts, (which they have out of Phaos box,) they could expound hidden misteries, to convince them of blindnes, as well in this as in other matters of more consequence, I will illustrate the poem, according to the true intent of the authors of these Revells, so much distasted by those Moles.
Oedipus is generally receaved for the absolute reader of riddles, who is invoaked: Silla and Caribdis are two dangerous places for seamen to incounter, neere unto Vennice; and have bin by poets formerly resembled to man and wife. The like licence the author challenged for a paire of his nomination, the one lamenting for the loffe of the other as Niobe for her children. Amphitrite is an arme of the Sea, by which the newes was carried up and downe of a rich widow, now to be tane up or laid downe. By Triton is the fame spread that caused the Suters to muster, (as it had bin to Penellope of Greece;) and, the Coast lying circular, all our passage to and froe is made more convenient by Sea then Land. Many aimed at this marke; but hee that played Proteus best and could comply with her humor must be the man that would carry her; and hee had need have Sampsons strenght to deale with a Dallila, and as much patience as Iob that should come there, for a thing that I did observe in the life-time of the former.
But marriage and hanging, (they say,) comes by desteny and Scogans choise tis better [than] none at all. Hee that playd Proteus, (with the helpe of Priapus,) put their noses out of joynt, as the Proverbe is.
And this the whole company of the Revellers at Ma-re Mount knew to be the true sence and exposition of the riddle that was fixed to the Maypole, which the Seperatists wer at defiance with. Some of them affirmed that the first institution thereof was in memory of a whore; not knowing that it was a Trophe erected at first in honor of Maja, the Lady of learning which they despise, vilifying the two universities with uncivile termes, accounting what is there obtained by studdy is but unnecessary learning; not considering that learninge does inable mens mindes to converse with eliments of a higher nature then is to be found within the habitation of the Mole.
– Thomas Morton, New English Canaan

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.