7 August, 2016
The Olympic “spirit” has now become obligatory. Undergirded by unifying myth and ritual, the ancient games once provided some sense of the whole; today, these “modern” games would insist upon a partial return to events lost to memory and to history–this time staged as a barbaric parody of the whole—if only they did not insist so seriously. The crashing banality of the “Olympic theme” everywhere assaults the ear, a sickening Hollywood confection played in “loops” in broadcasts so that eventually its demands on individual consciousness mark the entire spectacle with an inescapable, only too recognizable, constantly repeated and repeatable fragment of ostensibly “classical” music. The distinction between “classical” and “pop” long ago elided, no one can say precisely when or how the tune was created, only that it stamps the proceedings with a recognizable “brand,” the mode of which is “gravitas.”
10 August 2016
The Olympic spectacle features beautiful bodies that are grotesque. The bodies are “beautiful” because they are grotesques, beauty no longer having any redeeming or recognizable content immune from the insistent pathos of the Olympic “games.” How hard they all work! Each body reflects the iron logic of a supremely specialized division of labor, each one crafted and then honed for its grim purpose. The swimmer Phelps is a monstrous torpedo. In woeful Sisyphean fashion, he works his way from one end of the pool to the other, lap after lap, so that to finish is not to finish at all, but merely to invite yet another “event.” Watch him utter a few banalities before slumping away toward the empty respite of a Potemkin Olympic “village” once his daily labors are through, only to do it all again the next day.
As I get ready for another fall semester at the University of South Carolina—finishing a dissertation and teaching a course on “the New South” of late 19th century and 20th century America—I decided to finally complete a book I have longed to read on my coffee table. James McBride’s Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul was released to considerable fanfare earlier this year. About the life and legacy of the musical legend, McBride’s book is a meditation on African American life during and after the age of segregation and Jim Crow (which, by the way, is a reminder that Tim Lacy’s series on Jesse Jackson is another reflection on that history). But beyond that, Kill ‘Em and Leave should leave any reader—certainly any historian—thinking about the places within America left behind by modern American history.
In 1964, Fact magazine published a survey of psychiatrists that claimed to show that Barry Goldwater was psychologically unfit to serve as president. The article set off a major controversy. Goldwater sued for libel and won. And the American Psychiatric Association (APA) adopted an new ethical principle that quickly became known as the Goldwater Rule: “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a candidate for public office] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
The Goldwater Rule is still among the APA’s ethical principles, but it only binds psychiatrists. This year, a number of psychologists have offered professional opinions on Donald Trump, whose candidacy and political personality have struck many observers as unusual. For example, in the June issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Dan P. McAdams, Chair of the Psychology Department at Northwestern University, published a long piece on “The Mind of Donald Trump.” Such articles have in turn led to articles, such as this one from Tuesday’s New York Times, recalling the Goldwater Rule and musing on what limits psychologists and others with apparent professional expertise should place on diagnoses-from-afar of candidates. (more…)here. My thesis is this: A full reconsideration of the politics, ideology, and political philosophy of the 1970-2000 period must involve a new, long, and serious study of Jesse Jackson. Last week’s post began with some personal anecdotes and a conversation regarding how Jackson has been caricatured. Today I move on to Jackson’s biography and activism. Next week I will begin coverage of his national political endeavors.
II. The Person
What of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., himself? Who was he? From where did he come? (more…)
Jedediah Purdy. After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
The centuries-old objective, more recently taken up by postmodernists, to bridge the divide between nature and culture has finally been met, it appears. No, the success didn’t come, as many thought it might, from a breakthrough in the cognitive sciences. Nor was there a mass conversion to some New Age spiritual creed. Rather, it’s simply that nature has become so fully infiltrated by the processes of culture that nature no longer has any place to hide. We mark this success by christening our era the Anthropocene and maybe even finding a new name for our planet (environmentalist Bill McKibbon suggests “Eaarth.”)
This is a conclusion largely accepted by Jedediah Purdy in After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene (Harvard UP, 2015), though he would not put it quite this way. If you know Purdy’s writing, you know he can be lighthearted but not reckless. You know his measured tone and how he strives to play fair with the opposition. One of the reasons I was looking forward to reading this book was because I’ve used his book, A Tolerable Anarchy, numerous times with undergraduates. That book’s argument – that experimenting with order is an American tradition — speaks to the whole of a US history survey course, draws on sources students know from textbook and lecture, and addresses political matters relevant to the present day. After Nature shares these strengths.
Those of us who teach on a semester-based calendar will be putting the finishing touches on one syllabus or another over the next week. In my case, it’s five fabulous syllabi — five courses, three preps, on three different campuses, for two different employers. (I know: take a number.)
I’m not allowed to ban guns in my classrooms at the university campus, or in my office either, which I will be sharing with 11 other lecturers. I have thought about showing up to work every day with a pair of purple Nerf six-shooters in hip holsters, with a bandolier of orange foam bullets slung over my shoulder – yes, all of these items are real, and are in fact just lying around my house (we are terrible about Nerf safety) – but that’s probably against the rules.
I can, however, ban the use of cell phones and laptops. In the past, I have allowed the unobtrusive (i.e., not distracted nor distracting) use of laptops and cell phones, but have proscribed certain kinds of activities.
Here is the most recent iteration of my electronics policy:
The names of the apps are always changing, but the underlying principle of my electronics policy is the same: the classroom is a space where students (and even professors, to some extent) should feel free to ask questions and make mistakes and try out ideas without having their efforts broadcast in real time to the whole world (wide web).