Monday, April 27, 2009

Meet My Advisor

During a seminar:

Student - "What if we take God out of the equation?"
PTK - "What if we take the equation out of God?"

And that, my friends, might as well be a summary of all of Kroeker's thought.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Erich Heller on Wittgenstein:

He could not but have contempt for philosophers who "did" philosophy and, having done it, thought of other things: money, lists of publications, academic advancements, university intrigues, love affairs, or the Athenaeum - and thought of these things in a manner which showed even more clearly than the products of their philosophical thought that they had philosophized with much less than their whole person.
The sight of a thought that was detachable from a man filled him with loathing.

Kenneth Parcell:

Strawberries! Dick Whitman!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Guts of Good Taste

One cannot really advance an argument about taste. I think most of my generation is at least vaguely appalled by any attempt to take inventory, according to some predetermined standard, of those things which are in good taste. When my choir conductor called last year’s overhaul of CBC Radio 2 a struggle between high culture and low culture (Bach=high culture, 3 minute pop songs=low culture), he – and most of his ‘flock’ – was confident in locating good taste on one side of that divide. Establishing such an a priori divide at all seems to me to be in bad taste.

One cannot really establish criterion for beauty. I have long known this. Beauty, like Christ’s Lordship, must be its own argument. Of course, this does not mean we should shut up about beauty (or Christ). It just means that our claims about beauty have no ground to stand on but our own taste. This is a Nietzschean claim, but it – along with Nietzsche’s thought more generally – should not reduce us to some sort of relativism. Not everyone has good taste! Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but not everyone has an eye to behold it, and no one can always behold it. Taste is necessarily discriminating. Beauty may be resilient, and may be encountered where we least expect it, but it is not everywhere. Even an argument advancing aesthetic relativism becomes something of a theory of beauty, a criterion that obscures the actual encounter of beauty in some ‘places’ and not others.

A claim about the beautiful is therefore a risky business. One might be wrong. And it’s not as if we can simply find that principle or standard that will ensure our rightness. In judgments of taste, we risk ourselves. I could admire my conductor’s guts, his dedication to Mendelssohn in the face of CanCon and the simple strum of the acoustic guitar (Lobgesang is, after all, frighteningly good), but the problem is that for him there is no risk. His defence of Mendelssohn is a self-preservational claim, something resembling a political platform more than a confessional declaration.

I think I’m going to stick with Nietzsche for awhile. The academic world is one primarily interested in protecting itself with argument, and yet Nietzsche’s works are very respectable objects of study. Too many of these studies still are interested in protecting the academy from Zarathustra’s injunctions by dissecting him rather than wrestling with him (or dancing with him, as we might rather say), but I really do think there may still be room enough to keep him alive and, well, kicking, to allow oneself to be wounded (and blessed) by his demands on us. His demand, finally, is that we have courage enough to make claims about good taste because it is in good taste to make these risky claims. So let us be honest and brave enough to stammer “This is my good; this I love.” This is my good; this I love.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gravely read the stones

Kierkegaard on cemetery plots:
Death does not say, "There is no difference whatever"; it says, "There you can see what the difference was: half a foot." [...] Thus in death life returns to childlike simplicity. In childhood the big difference was also that one person had a tree, a flower, a stone. (Works of Love, Series 2, IX)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Truthsome Television

I watch a lot of television. Streaming online video has only perpetuated a much older habit fostered initially by MuchMusic and the first years of the WB. As such an admission suggests, I have some pretty shitty taste, and a lot of the television I've watched in the last while has been particularly terrible. I have resolved (not for the first time, of course) to give up prime time soap operas. They're like Old Dutch barbecue chips: they taste awful but I keep eating them anyway (next time you find yourself in the potato chip aisle, you would be wise to heed this warning). So, I no longer waste my time (I don't generally believe in such a thing as wasted time, but network television may be a notable exception) on the scripted, two-dimensional lives of Private Practice, or on the Roman theatre of Gossip Girl. I briefly took up other rather more interesting though perhaps no more worthwhile hobbies (Firefly fanfiction, anyone?).

And then came Mad Men, which quickly took me back from text to the talkies. The show's creator and writer, Matt Weiner, is one hell of a psychologist, not the Violet Turner "let's all find closure" variety, but in the sense that Dostoyevsky is a hell of a psychologist. The characters are so true it hurts. There is no closure, there are no wistful soliloquoys on what it all means, just a bunch of people stuck in the stories they tell themselves and each other. Too many of the reviews I've read try to make this a show about alcoholism and sexism and anti-Semitism etc. , but the truly tragic character - the deplorable Pete Campbell - is not the one who is markedly more sexist, more alcoholic, more anti-Semitic, but the one who believes the stories he tells himself a little too much. He's not a self-styled bad boy. In fact, he's unnervingly earnest: he earnestly believes that he is entitled to more, that his adulteries are justified, that his talents are the greatest. His communication - with his friends, with his wife - must follow the script of these stories.

The reviews mostly get it wrong again when it comes to our anti-hero, Don Draper. "All men want to be him, all women want to be with him." "A ladies man." If this was his appeal, I might as well turn back to Seely Booth or Derek Shephard. But Don Draper is the man who doesn't justify himself. He can sit down to a lunch of two dozen oysters and nearly as many martinis, or share a joint with a couple of beatnics after work; he can woo his wife, his mistress, or the bright Jewish business woman, and none of these "guises" are guises at all. These aren't games he plays at - seduce the girl, climb the corporate ladder, tarry with the kids in the Village - they're just things he does with the people he knows, with the people who know him. And yes, I think they do know him, despite his reticence. He seems mysterious not because he hides the truth, but because people don't know what to make of someone who doesn't account for himself. For all of his pretty pitches, he strikes me as remarkably honest; he has the sort of honesty that has nothing to do with talking about yourself a lot, and is quite often hampered by it.

But another review called Draper a total bastard. That one might be right, too.

Well, I've gone and tried to give an account of why I like the show and probably been painfully dishonest in the process. I mean, I haven't even finished the first season. I won't try to justify my actions.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On Jesus and Dancing (which could well be the title of every post)

What has so far been the greatest sin here on earth? Was it not the word of him who said, "Woe unto those who laugh here"? Did he himself find no reasons on earth for laughing? Then he searched very badly. Even a child could find reasons here. He does not love enough: else he would also have loved us who laugh. But he hated and mocked us: howling and gnashing of teeth he promised us.
Does one have to curse right away, where one does not love? That seems bad taste to me. [...] Avoid all such unconditional people! They have heavy feet and sultry hearts: they do not know how to dance. (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Fourth Part, "On the Higher Man")
Zarathustra seems quite certain: Jesus wasn't much of a dancer. A dancer is limber, yielding, light on his feet, and Our Lord and Saviour was lumbering and unwieldy.

I guess that cross was too damned heavy.

Where Zarathustra crowns his laughing one with a rose-wreath, Jesus had a crown of thorns.
But perhaps these are not so opposed as they first appear. I'm taking it upon myself in these next two weeks to explore the similarities between the rose-wreath and the thorns (or at least this will linger in the background of my explorations). Those who would wear either of these crowns are not those who seek to dominate the marketplace or the empire, but those who hear something above the noise of the mob. What they hear (a call of some sort?) leads to hardship, but not necessarily to heavy feet.

Zarathustra denounces the spirit of gravity: this burdensome dwarf weighs us down with alien words and values like good and evil so that we are unable to know ourselves. Does not Jesus also denounce the burden of alien words and values? Don't we call this grace? The marketplace and the empire cannot colonize a soul that has ceased to feel the weight of anxiety, calculation, and comparison--in other words, a soul that has truly heard the good news of Easter. Jesus did not curse that which he did not love. Rather, they find themselves cursed who do not love him, who are unable to put down the load and live in this grace, who are unable to join the dance of the light-footed.

For all the accusations of violence leveled against Nietzsche (I'm looking at you, Milbank and Bentley Hart), Zarathustra at least seems interested in a similar sort of grace.
You higher men, the worst about you is that all of you have not learned to dance as one must dance--dancing away over yourselves! What does it matter that you are failures? How much is still possible!
Sounds sort of like an Easter message to me.

And, I'll leave you with a dancing Jesus that places rose-wreaths on the heads of his disciples. So there, Friedrich.

Whew. That's a pretty substantial first post. I promise not to talk about Nietzsche and souls next time.