josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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28 Apr '03 09:04:56 AM

David wrote in to note, in response to my comment below about "turn the other cheek", that the injunction shouldn't necessarily be read as advocating some kind of masochism. I don't think so either, but I could have chosen a better wording than "bend over" to indicate that. I was thinking, though, of something like "I am willing to be hurt so why bother", which David also rejects as making sense when "turn the other cheek" is taken alone, but not making sense in the context of the Christian account of love. I don't know anything about that debate, really, but just thought you might like to know a bit about how it keeps going.

28 Apr '03 08:51:05 AM

Take say the one moment in the one where Buffy finds out that Dawn is only retroactively part of the Summers family. A heart-rending moment: Buffy has already done the magic-detecting spell, seen Dawn and Dawn's things and pictures of Dawn flashing in and out, real and unreal, the fact of her creation exposed. Buffy has also heard the dying monk's confession. Enough has accrued for her attitude toward Dawn to change - she's now suspicious, wary, confused. Inclined to regard her as a thing, or a problem, rather than her sister, a person. So, the moment: near the end when, goaded into it by Dawn, Buffy falls naturally back into the sister-sister dynamic, treating the family relationship and history she thought they shared as real: "oh you always" etc. And we see a look on her face. What is that look? I don't know. At the very least, she remembers that there's a problem now, maybe, with talking that way - with acting as if Dawn was not actually just energy coalesced into a person with a history by a bunch of goofy Eastern European monks. What I don't know is if it's just that. Can she act that way, then catch herself, unsure, without some recognition that that shared history between them is important? What does it mean that, later on, after possibly an extended period of time in which she treats Dawn kind of like the Presidential nuclear football, she somehow finds herself able to start regarding her as a human again, and a sister, worthy of her love despite how she got there? Somehow I think that in both cases she would have to recognize something like the same thing - that that history of love, of being together and caring for one another, is important. Somehow.

Heart-rending in part because it's so much, with so little. ("A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar." - L.W.)

28 Apr '03 08:23:12 AM

First takes on two of the articles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy (predictably awful, but useful in a cautionary, I-learned-it-from-watching-you-Dad! way):

Greg Forster's 'Faith and Plato: "You're Nothing! Disgusting, Murderous Bitch!"' gets excited about the possibility of finding a pre-established moral system to compare to the one in Buffy, grabs onto Plato and dubs him a eudaimonist, then spends most of the rest of the time making Faith out to be an example case of Plato's: the comparison between the just man and the unjust man (which is happier?). The point of disgruntlement: early on Forster takes eudaimonism to hold that "the basis of moral goodness is the fulfillment of human nature to its highest potential". Later he seems to slip into equating eudaimonism with hedonism, which doesn't blow his comments about Faith, but at least distorts them. It all comes down to Faith's pleasure-seeking making her less happy than Buffy - "happy" on some basic level. I mean, really basic - everywhere she goes by the point of the body-switch or her visit to Angel at the point of suicidal desperation, she's just fucking miserable, abject. And, sure. She is. But the way Forster gets at this backgrounds the reasons he marshalls. There's a bit that suggests that, being a person, Faith will just start feeling guilty or whatever, her unjust actions causing her unhappiness directly. (Whether this is due to human nature or the way she was raised or whatever is unclear, and unmentioned.) The rest of Forster's reasons circle around - without directly confronting - the idea that Faith does not love, and isn't able to accept being loved. This is where things really get interesting, or should, but don't, because of the slant toward hedonism. Yes - it seems right that somewhere in this beautiful, fascinating mess we've got to talk about "the fulfillment of human nature to its highest potential". Doesn't the show make it blindingly obvious that prematurely reducing "happiness" to "pleasure" (or even - whoops, I did it myself - reducing "fulfillment of human nature" to "happiness", hello there Nietzsche) might be a mistake? (Rhetorical answer to a rhetorical question: do you suppose it felt really good when Buffy jumped off the tower to save Dawn and also the world? Well maybe somehow but not like Faith-manhandling-Xander good, to draw an example totally out of thin air.) Also, Plato's doctrine of the tripartite soul can bite me.

"Feeling for Buffy: The Girl Next Door", by Michael P. Levine and Steven Jay Schneider, is more disappointing. Here's the basic outline: Buffy is regarded as a success but all you lame academics are wrong about why, because it is not actually innovative or remarkable. Academics have been misled by the ways in which the show reinforces gender and sexual stereotypes because in 1912 Freud wrote "On the Universal Tendency To Debasement in the Sphere of Love", only in German, or maybe at least Viennese German, and anyway he explained once and for all that on page 179 love in the sense of deep and abiding affection and sexual desire are usually but not always incompatible, and to try to fix this problem men debase those they love and hey look voila madonna whore Buffy Jenny Calendar etc. etc. etc. but actually not so much because after Levine and Schneider call in Freud, jackbooted stormtroopers slithering down holes in the ceiling, leather analyst's couches strapped to their backs, klaxons blaring, putting to rest all pointless except insofar as it itself an interesting object of study since as previously mentioned the show itself is not innovative or remarkable -- academic work, whew! well then finally the essay screeches to a halt having taken almost nary a look at any evidence from the show to support their claims about how "there is plenty about Buffy's sex life -- which is, after all, the show's predominant focal point -- that illustrates central aspects of Freud's thesis and gives both young (and not so young) male and female viewers something to fixate on, fantasize about, and projectively identify with." So by now my preference, that they would have heeded Mark's (i) and not used the essay as a giant endorsement for Freud, should be clear. My disagreement with Freud, whatever it is exactly, is not a dispute about being able to fit some data to his psychological theories. It's a dispute about whether, regardless of apparent fit, his theory can actually explain what it claims to explain. I take it I'm not the only one that thinks this way. So is there a vast audience of academics and others out there that is somehow fine with the theoretical underpinnings, and just not sure whether the theory fits the data? Somehow I have my doubts. Then why do so many pro-psychoanalytic academics persist as if this were the problem, and they are actually providing helpful answers? (Rhetorical answer: hairstyles and wang brandishing, which NB do serve important functions but also NB talking about your wang in the classroom is verboten.)

This is all nominally frustrating - not truly frustrating - because like the Forster essay, there are a couple of good ideas floating around in "Feeling for Buffy" (I'm not going to type out the full title again and I would just like to note that nineteen out of twenty-two of the essays have colonized subtitles). One is that lots of the people who are interested in Buffy, including academics, love it. They think it is GRATE. (Whedon: "I designed Buffy to be an icon, to be an emotional experience, to be loved in a way that other shows can't be loved.") They go, holy shit, this is amazing, what the fuck? (A reference not for authority's sake but to show you what I have in mind.) Or, to put it another way, oh yes we almost forgot this is pop culture we're talking about here, and thus pop. This insight is confronted in, sadly, one of the lamest ways possible. We can apparently conclude that any intense engagement with a pop cultural artifact that takes a conflicted or even possibly utterly pedestrian stance on gender and sex is the result of what amounts to maladjustment. Nothing more. Nope. Do you suppose it's illuminating that "teenagers" are the paradigmatic class of Buffy viewers that the silly academics are set against in the essay?

28 Apr '03 06:28:32 AM

In the past I've referred to D.N. Rodowick's Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine. The first chapter is available online. It's a tough read but admirably clear as far as Deleuze scholarship goes.

28 Apr '03 12:42:35 AM

I find myself wishing someone had tried harder to emphasize to me that the Ramones were a conceptual endeavor.

24 Apr '03 08:15:44 AM

And for another instance - "Blind Love"? Yes oh yes, it's about blind love. Stone blind love. Only kind of love there is, you know. (It actually just about works on this one. God bless country music.)

24 Apr '03 07:58:23 AM

"Hang Down Your Head" is, for instance, about hanging-down-your-head. Whatever exactly that entails or why one would want to do it.

I should point out that I never really understood the full meaning of the phrase "turn the other cheek" until reading the bible verse it came from, courtesty of Norman Malcom's book on Wittgenstein and religion. That's probably, what, around 20 years of ignorance, at least?

(I never got that the injunction isn't merely one to pacifism as a response to violence, but one to - whether this is literal or not - sort of bend over and give them another shot. Which makes like all the difference in the world. Hmph.)

24 Apr '03 07:45:17 AM

Listening to that record again at the moment, it occurs to me that when the songs are about Uncle Murray or Chinese midgets or prostitutes with three arms, I tend to just sort of pay not much attention to what's going on in the lyrics. In my typical way of paying-attention-not-paying-attention, I mean. Actually, it might only be the ballads that I get much sense of (and they're not exactly rocket science as far as thematic complexity goes, so I can at least work together one or two ideas to knock together in my head like billiard balls - yeah yeah yeah, time time time, and uh love or something).

24 Apr '03 07:39:22 AM

We heard Rain Dogs at Hard Times today, only it was skipping all over the fucking place. I promise it is not just my affection for new things that made me think Markus Popp remixing Waits would be an excellent idea. It really did sound like it fit in, especially on the carnival-midget-falling-on-a-marimba songs.