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IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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"Real men study law and engineering, while ideas and values are for sissies." [Dec. 18th, 2010|03:13 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


From one of the most distinguished and celebrated intellectuals of our day, literary scholar and philosopher Terry Eagleton:

The Death of Universities
Academia has become a servant of the status quo.
Its malaise runs so much deeper than tuition fees

Terry Eagleton
Friday 17 December 2010

Are the humanities about to disappear from our universities? The question is absurd. It would be like asking whether alcohol is about to disappear from pubs, or egoism from Hollywood. Just as there cannot be a pub without alcohol, so there cannot be a university without the humanities. If history, philosophy and so on vanish from academic life, what they leave in their wake may be a technical training facility or corporate research institute. But it will not be a university in the classical sense of the term, and it would be deceptive to call it one.

Neither, however, can there be a university in the full sense of the word when the humanities exist in isolation from other disciplines. The quickest way of devaluing these subjects – short of disposing of them altogether – is to reduce them to an agreeable bonus. Real men study law and engineering, while ideas and values are for sissies. The humanities should constitute the core of any university worth the name. The study of history and philosophy, accompanied by some acquaintance with art and literature, should be for lawyers and engineers as well as for those who study in arts faculties. If the humanities are not under such dire threat in the United States, it is, among other things, because they are seen as being an integral part of higher education as such.

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The Bowed Piano - Stephen Scott and BPE [Dec. 12th, 2010|09:02 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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Social Justice in America - We've Come So Far Since The Middle Ages. NOT. [Dec. 5th, 2010|07:10 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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The American Montaigne [Dec. 5th, 2010|07:05 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


Navigating Past Nihilism
The New York Times
December 5, 2010

“Nihilism stands at the door,” wrote Nietzsche. “Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?” The year was 1885 or 1886, and Nietzsche was writing in a notebook whose contents were not intended for publication. The discussion of nihilism ─ the sense that it is no longer obvious what our most fundamental commitments are, or what matters in a life of distinction and worth, the sense that the world is an abyss of meaning rather than its God-given preserve ─ finds no sustained treatment in the works that Nietzsche prepared for publication during his lifetime. But a few years earlier, in 1882, the German philosopher had already published a possible answer to the question of nihilism’s ultimate source. “God is dead,” Nietzsche wrote in a famous passage from “The Gay Science.” “God remains dead. And we have killed him.” . . .

But there is another option available. Perhaps Nietzsche was wrong about how long it would take for the news of God’s death to reach the ears of men. Perhaps he was wrong, in other words, about how long it would take before the happiness to which we can imagine aspiring would no longer need to aim at universal validity in order for us to feel satisfied by it. In this case the happiness of the suburbs would be consistent with the death of God, but it would be a radically different kind of happiness from that which the Judeo-Christian epoch of Western history sustained.

Herman Melville seems to have articulated and hoped for this kind of possibility. Writing 30 years before Nietzsche, in his great novel “Moby Dick,” the canonical American author encourages us to “lower the conceit of attainable felicity”; to find happiness and meaning, in other words, not in some universal religious account of the order of the universe that holds for everyone at all times, but rather in the local and small-scale commitments that animate a life well-lived.

(read full article)

(Yay, SparkNotes!)
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Far/Nearness: Consciousness Turned Inside Out [Dec. 4th, 2010|08:35 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

Roger Caillois
"Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia"
October, Vol. 31, (Winter 1984) pp. 16 - 32
MIT Press

Mimesis: the idea of imitation. Alterity: the idea of difference, the opposition of Self and Other. For anthropologists, social scientists, artists, and everyone else caught up in the enigma of "modernity," the question "What is reality?" is crucial to knowing what it is we know and what we are. If traditions are inventions, and social life is a construction, how is it that we understand reality as both real and really made us?

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"tax breaks for the richest 1%, education cuts for the rest of us" [Dec. 4th, 2010|02:18 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


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Nietzsche: "God is dead." - Althusser: "Man is dead." [Dec. 4th, 2010|12:38 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser is best known for his theory of interpelation, wherein he presents not just an argument about the oppression of workers within the relations of production, but, far more fundamentally, an account of the process whereby the very working $ubject is produced. Yes, churches, schools and offices are sites where this takes place. But the crux of Althusser's insight is this: one is not a person who enters into "the relationships of the relations of production after the fact; in this is, in fact, no person until after interpelation. Human consciousness is ideological, per se. Whatever takes places outside of ideology is entirely inaccessible to consciousness. To name this traumatic "beyond", Althusser uses for the term "encounter". Following Althusser's lead, the great American Marxist scholar, Fredric Jameson, uses the word "history".

Just to bring you up to speed, not only should the duplication of the stem "relat-" catch your eye, but in particular Althusser's use of the word "relation-ships". This is not a Marxist economic terms of the sort Gramsci would have used but rather an anthropological term, one taken directly from Claude Levi-Strauss. It refers to the superstar anthropologist's presentation, in Structural Anthropology, of the "elementary structure of kinship", an atomic set of basic familial relationship which inform all identities, activities and even attitudes within primitive cultures. The point Levi-Strauss wants to make in this essay is that within such structures the individual means nothing. Each individual body enters into the structure, which is to say into culture, only insofar as loses its individuality and takes up a functional role within the larger whole. Not only does the discrete biological body no longer exist in the raw form after this moment of "interpelation" (as if it ever did in the first place), but indeed the individual unit of consciousness does not exists before this moment of entry into larger structure. Even before its birth, as Althusser insists, the individual was "always already" a $ubject.

This is the crucial difference between Marx and Althusser; or, between the early Marx and Althusser. Because one of Althusser's greatest projects, a life-long project, was to demonstrate something I discussed in class yesterday - that at a certain moment in Marx's life, around 1848, a fundamental epistemological shift ("decalage") occurs - just like the total historical break which for Bynum occurs between the Middle Ages and Modernity. In the same way that pre-history of modern sculpture, at a point around 1900, can be seen to meet an agonized end in the failed commisions of August Rodin; or just as the historical "moment" that was modernist sculpture in turn meets its demise around 1964, when a welter of previously unimagined but nevertheless mappable forms begins to arise; so, at a certain moment in the mid-19th century it becomes possible to think the end of another historical "moment", that of Man. The end of Humanism, a tradition apparently going back a number of centuries, according to this argument which is made in structuralist terms akin to those used by Krauss, in fact only dates back to the late 18th century, with the rise of a particular set of ideas, question and disciplines known as the Sciences of Man - all of which focused on the human body as a scientifically knowable entity, and all of which maintained a face that the scientific investigation of Human nature would eventually lead to a just, equitable and peaceble brotherhood of Humanity.

Althusser's argument, quite simply, is that sometime just around 1848 - when he wrote the "Theses on Feurbach" (Feuerbach being the last great exponent of Humanism) and The Communist Manifesto, Marx was able to think the end of Man, to realize man is neither the apex of creation nor the perfection of nature, nor is Man even an entity which has a continuous and unified history which will eventually culminate in self-knowledge and self-actualization. Rather, Man is an ideological construct of relatively recent advent. I say 'advent', instead of 'invent', specifically because Marx, as Althusser constructs him, does not believe anyone in particular invented the myth of Human History. Rather, Human History arises as an "event", and takes the form a total "moment", a comprehensive structure outside of which it is not possible to think at all. Or, to say it contrariwise, it is only by fully mapping out the extended field within with the Human is but one term or position (and for that reason it can no longer be seen as a priviledged), that one is able to project the end of Man. One can only think the end of Man from within, and at a particular moment during, the History of Man. In other words, the critique of Man must be a radically immanent critique, because thought itself, consciousness itself, only exists within a structure.

To put it in psychoanalytic terms, which Althusser also admits to adopting, it is only possible to map the Unconscious from the position of consciousness. This is the fundamental difference between the early Marx and the later Marx, the early Marx and Althusser. The former believe in the original dignity and eventual sovereignty of Man. Ideology, according to this view, is a state of false consciousness into which humanity fell. In the middle of his essay, Althusser points out the two prevailing beliefs about this fall: 1) That of the 18th-century French philosophes was that false ideas has been foisted on the majority by the priest and despots in order to exploit them. God, here, is a weapon to crush. 2) That of the 19th-century German philosophers and historians (a veritable new science) was that false consciousness was a phase that humanity needed to pass through over the course of it natural development. God, here, is a fantasy construct through which humanity darkly contemplates its own image. Of course, for Althusser, both of these are wrong. Because each supposes that it is possible to overcome ideology, to start, "in the final instant", outside of ideology and come to consciousness per se. Hence, the obvious contrast is between false consciousness and free consciousness. What Althusser claims Marx saw, though still dimly because he lacked the methods and insights later furnished by structural anthropology, what the free consciousness was itself a form of false consciousness.

In fact, free consciousness, the belief that we are in control of our own minds and actions and destinies, is false consciousness par excellance. The very feeling, to put it as plainly as can be, that we have finally stepped free of all ideology and at last stand in the clear, this is the surest indication that in that very moment we have entered into Ideology completely. This, again, is the famous moment of recognition, the moment of the production of the $ubject, of his entry not into the relations of production but into the relationships of the relations of production; which Althusser calls "interpelation", or "hailing". It is both a total event which happens at various key moments in our individual lives, but even more importantly for Althusser, it is a ongoing process we repeat, moment by moment, every instant of our waking lives. Each time we say to ourselves not just, That's where I work; or, Now it's time to pay my bills and do my taxes; but indeed each time we say to ourselves, These are my pants and thank God the key are in the pocket; or, Man, I really feel like myself today; we are in that same instant hailed into $ubjectivity, as term which must be heard in its pure ambivalence.

Robert Gober
"Untitled" (1992)
Site-Specific Installation (2007)
At Schaulager, Basel

There is no outside to Ideology. In the same way the outside of the total social practice we call Text can only be thought as a logically necessary aspect of Text, one which must properly be understood as Not-Text; so the outside of the total social practice we call Enlightenment, or Freedom, can only be thought as a logically necessary aspect of the same structure which must be properly be understood as Ideology, or Necessity. As Lacan, so famously put it, "There is no other to the Other." This is no "God" after the death of "God".
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Atheism and Anti-Humanism: A Little Literacy Can Be A Very Dangerous Thing [Dec. 4th, 2010|12:34 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

Here's a letter I wrote some time ago to a friend. I'm posting it here to follow up on Eckhart and also to prepare us for our next reading, Machiavelli. I believed what I wrote when I wrote it. Today, however, I take a much dimmer view, feel much less tolerance for the "enthusiasm of the proselyte." It's hard for me to feel even patience today with NRA fanatics, militia members, and Sarah Palin and her tea-party goons running amok. As I suggested at the beginning of the letter, a little literacy can be a very dangerous thing.

Here, then, is a letter I wrote to a friend on the subject of what contemporary French philosopher Jacques Derrida calls "White Mythologies". I'm posting it here because of its relation to you. Not all of you will care to read this, I know. But perhaps at least one or two of you will.

Dear Z,

I'm glad you're still teaching Althusser. I won't even go so far as to say that he was unjustly maligned, but I nevertheless think he has much to offer, if only because he's doing something different. As you've seen, right now I teach medieval theology, and certainly the medieval Church has much not to be proud of.

And yet each day I'm finding myself more and more impressed with the love of learning, as well as the disregard for popularity and indifference to danger, evinced by the writers we're examining.

I think we're pretty much in agreement on the function of the compromise third-term (both A and B) as performing a naturalizing function. My class has examined this, though not necessarily from the perspective of critique, in the writing of Augustine: his attempt to invalidate heretical readings of the Scripture, as either too literal (Cyprian and Origen) or too capricious and symbolic (Tychonius) or too base (The Gnostics).

It seems that the Augustinian compromise formation results from a necessary ground operation: liberating the text from any necessary tie to history: i.e., from any “motivation”. Literality in Augustine (and of course this is merely my reading of him) means not what actually happened, but rather what the book, once the text has been properly established, actually says.

Augustine carries us from readings to Reading. I believe you can see how this shift from the literal to Literality, from the text to Textuality, from the many to the one; is tied up with an entire ideological project based in the narcissistic moment of recognizing oneself as a soul, as Human.

Once a “Human” middle term has been established as "natural" one then is at liberty to wander into allegorical readings, or to speculate as to the historical veracity of certain Old Testament narratives. But these relative freedoms are always based upon the possibility of returning to the normalcy and security of the Letter. (Or as Lacan would say, L'Etre.)

And I think it is preciesly this almost inescapably seductive ecstacy, or euphoria, of the Self recognizing itself in the Word, i.e., finding itself in the Field of the Other, which is the main target of Althusser's devastating critique of Marxist Humanism. I admire Althusser because his work allows me to see how ideological apparatuses operate at the most elementary (phonological) levels of everyday life, turning the mundane practice of reading (even the newspaper or the tabloids) into the Moral Act of Reading (and it's this sense of the quotidian as morally uplifting which I think is everywhere attacked in the Mythologies of Barthes).

From a purely critical perspective, it's nauseating to witness the self-satisfied and self-congratulatory middle-brow smugness I associate with consumer of the History-Channel and other equally banal mass-media representations. Yet perhaps, from time to time, we have to admire, and even envy, the childlike euphoria of the ideological proselyte. Perhaps, at times, this simplicity almost seems preferable to the generalized apathy by which we’re surrounded. Perhaps it might be tempting to hope for some moment of conversion of one’s own, to willfully cling to a naïve belief that not every initial burst of joy must soon give way to a banal happiness; a happiness which in turn gives way to a malaise whose only cure is to be found in converting one's neighbor (preferably an exotic one) specifically so that the Self can enjoy the intoxicating spectacle of watching it's own conception and birth re-staged for it by another.

As for Althusser, I think he is taught so little because, like Bernard of Clairvaux, or, even more, Eckhart, he utterly shatters our narcissism, annihilates our ego.

Your friend,

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***Last Readings of The Semester*** [Dec. 4th, 2010|12:34 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

These are they and this is it. Download The Prince onto your iTunes and listen to the appropriate files, or just listen to the assigned files at the Librivox site. It's about ninety minute's worth of material. The time will fly by if you just relent and allow yourself to have fun with this. Load your pod and take a walk, or go running to this stuff, as I do. It's better than music. Though I don't necessarily love Machiavelli himself, I love reading him. Montaigne as well.

We'll discuss Machiavelli on M/T and Montaigne on W/Th. This will be great way to end a rewarding semester. Our last few meetings have been especially good, and I want to thank you for your interest and participation. I hope you all have had as much fun and learned as much as I have.

Nicolo Machiavelli
(1469 – 1527)
The Prince

(Chapters 1 - 8, 12 - 18)

Michel de Montaigne
(1533 – 1592)
"Of Cannibals"
"Of The Education of Children"
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From North America's Leading Trade Publication in Higher Education [Dec. 3rd, 2010|09:50 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


Teaching Document Design, Not Formatting Requirements
The Chronicle of Higher Education
December 2, 2010, 8:00 am

By Prof. Hacker

[This is a guest post by Evan Snider, a doctoral fellow in Rhetoric and Writing at Virginia Tech. His research interests include visual communication, digital writing, and professional writing pedagogy. --@jbj]

Any academic practice that rests largely on inertia is one that’s ripe for hacking. One such opportunity is hiding in plain sight: Even as word processing software has highlighted design elements, even as design programs have become more accessible and user-friendly, even as my home discipline, rhetoric and composition, has dedicated much more attention to visual literacy, many faculty members continue to specify detailed formatting requirements for student writing.

You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about sentences like this:

Your paper must be double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman, with one-inch margins.

Such draconian formatting requirements stifle students’ creativity and cut off any critical thinking about what should be a crucial part of any writing-intensive classroom, namely visual design.

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YOB - Quantum Mystic [Dec. 2nd, 2010|09:31 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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Lacan's Seminary XX: Encore [Dec. 2nd, 2010|08:35 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


This experience of unspeakable ecstasy is what Lacan calls Other or feminine jouissance. The idea of Other jouissance is seen to mark an advance over the phallocentrism of Freud, in that Other jouissance is 'more than' phallic jouissance; it is beyond the symbolic and the subject and therefore 'outside the unconscious' (Soler 2002:107). Both men and women can experience phallic, or Other, jouissance and what defines whether or not a person has a masculine or a feminine structure is the type of jouissance they experience.

- The Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis

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"a new chapter in the history of the human body" [Dec. 1st, 2010|04:08 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


I guess what gets to me in these last readings is the double standard. Every piece seems to promote different expectations for men and women. We still somewhat promote a double standard though, don't we?


Yes, our culture still does promote a double standard for men and women. Though I hesitate to use the word still, because there have been certain times in history when this was either less or more the case. Enlightenment culture, for example, did much to work toward a single model toward which to understand both men and women, though this model was later replaced in the Romantic era by a gender model based on polar oppositions. These are the kinds of things I teach in my Gender Studies class. It's hard to read about this sort of discrimination - to risk using too gentle a word - in any society, whether it is Western or not. Bynum is very clear at the end of her essay that these are difficult issues for her to stand back an examine neutrally, nor does she claim she is ever able to do so entirely.

Still, Bynum does make the attempt to be objective, because what she has identified in later medieval spirituality is an extraordinarily unique moment in the history of woman, and the history of the human body in general. In the centuries she studies she find a genuine attempt, for the first time in almost a thousand years, to grapple powerfully and passionately, both intellectually and passionately, with what it means to have a human body at all. What she discovers is that for these people to be human at all always entails being at least somewhat female, and that to recognize our true humanity we must recognize and come to terms with our femininity. So much is this the truth for these medieval people, that when God took on flesh to redeem us, he became female. This is why his bleeding, for medieval people was so significant, because is was a loving form of providing vital, indeed saving, maternal nourishment. Images depicting this was seen by later eras as grotesque and morose, but people of the Middle Ages, or so Bynum marshals a preponderance of evidence to content, saw them as sweetly but powerfully moving.

Medieval persons, Bynum argues, had a completely different relationship than us not only to bodies, but also to emotions regarding it. In many ways, it might be quite beneficial to relate Bynum's essay to the Smith & Kleinman piece on managing emotions in medical school. In them we see almost diametrically opposed views of what it makes to have and behold the human body. Medieval people were astonished, curiousity-oriented, appreciative and passionate about their bodies, whereas we today are matter of fact, information-oriented, either hyper-repulsed or perversely fascinated or entirely anesthetized with regard to our bodies. The importance of Bynum's work is that it takes a piece like Smith & Kleinman's, which, for all that it is instructive in itself, becomes even more powerful by showing our "natural" reactions to the human body are in fact not so natural at all.

There is, as the entire Zone series of books (from which I select so many of our readings) suggests, no single correct view of the human body, both in terms of how we understand it and also in terms of what it can actually do. The body does not really exist at all before or outside of culture. It is culture, or cultures, which make possible and create various human bodies, each of them unique.

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The Cultural Significance of Pain [Dec. 1st, 2010|09:25 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

Why do mystics and devout laypeople in many different religious traditions glorify physical pain, some going so far as to ritually mutilate themselves in the name of the divine? In this erudite and wide-ranging study, Glucklich, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, offers a compelling explanation. Drawing on the fields of psychology, neurophysiology and religious studies, he observes that pain "the most familiar and universal aspect of all human experiences" affects both the body and the mind. Pain triggers an altered state of consciousness in which one's sense of self is diminished, creating an absence that can make way for a new and affirming presence. "The task of sacred pain," Glucklich writes, "is to transform destructive or disintegrative suffering into a positive religious-psychological mechanism for reintegration within a more deeply valued level of reality than individual existence." Although this state of transcendence exists across cultures, the way in which the experience is interpreted is culturally specific. To demonstrate this, Glucklich draws upon a wide range of examples, from the tortures of the Inquisition to Native American trials of endurance. He concludes by exploring what we may have lost with the development of medical anesthetics. This fascinating, closely argued study suggests that, in religion as in sports, there is no gain without pain.

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"Beauvoir, Irigaray and The Mystical" [Nov. 30th, 2010|07:07 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance




If anybody is really interested in this stuff, here's another piece by Amy Hollywood, one which references not only Eckhart and Porete but also The University of Utah's own Kathryn Stockton, who teaches for the English department and serves as director of Gender Studies.

By eliding women's mystical texts, then, in favor of their auto-hagiographical representations, Irigaray may hope to avoid the vexing question of belief and the nature of the object of religious faith raised within them. In pointing to the embodied subjectivity created in relation to the other, rather than following mystical texts in their attempts to name the unnameable divine, Irigaray reinserts the mystic's body as the source and site of her discourse. As Kathryn Bond Stockton argues, Irigaray replaces God with the body as the always unattainable and unnameable other toward which language tends (1992a, 1992b). Yet at the same time, when she gives careful attention to the language of Teresa of Avila's text, Irigarayr ecognizest hat it is through the Other that Teresa creates herself; her entrails are torn out, not by her body itself, but by the spear/dart of the divine angel.

(click for full text of "Beauvoir, Irigaray and The Mystical")

Man Ray
(American photographer)
Anatomy, 1929
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Indifference: Renowned Anthropologist Gregory Bateson [Nov. 29th, 2010|03:43 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


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***Readings - Week Fifteen - Set Two*** [Nov. 29th, 2010|03:06 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

These are some of the final readings of the semester.  Gear up, because if you thought earlier stuff we read was out there, these should make them feel relatively mundane.  At least that my impression of the work of these scholars, who, if you click the links and read their bios, are at the very top of their fields.  So, as always, prepare to keep an open mind and fight your way through these essays as best you can.  I'll try to make sense of them and answer any questions in class.  Good luck!

Caroline Walker Bynum
Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
"The Female Body and Religious Practice
in The Later Middle Ages"

Amy Hollywood
Harvard Divinity School
"'Beautiful as A Wasp': Angelina Foligno
and George Bataille"

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"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it." - John Cage [Nov. 29th, 2010|11:15 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance



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Knowing-Nothing, Doing-Nothing [Nov. 27th, 2010|03:03 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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His Last Publication [Nov. 24th, 2010|12:14 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

Michael Camille's "history of death in miniature" explores not just the life and death of a single medieval artist, nor a society's obsession with the macabre, but the relation between mortality and image-making itself.

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***Anatomy Lab Field Trip*** [Nov. 24th, 2010|11:44 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

In keeping with our current set of readings by Thomas Aquinas, I'd like to extend to you all an invitation which I also extend to many of my other classes - the opportunity to take a field trip to visit our university's Undergraduate Anatomy Lab. This facility is among the only of its kind in the nation. Students of mine who have visited it in the past have enjoyed in very much as been fascinated to see not only what is there but also how they respond to it, physically, emotionally and socially.

Visitors to the lab will be able to examine and handle a number of cadavers, each dissected in order to display a different system of the body and its function. I realize this kind of close contact with dead human bodies, though a real privilege, is not for everyone. Last semester we had a few people who found the spectacle of the human anatomy to be more intriguing than they could ever have imagined; meanwhile, others couldn't handle it and had to leave. That's the nature of trauma: there is no way adequately to prepare for it. So, this trip is wholly optional. Also, remember that we are guest at the lab and should conduct ourselves as courteously as possible. Be sensitive to the tone the TAs establish for our our visit and work with them. ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOGRAPHY OF ANY SORT IS PERMITTED.

The visit is scheduled for Friday, December 10th, at 9:00AM. We will meet under the skybridge connecting the Old and New Biology Buildings five minutes prior to the visit. Please, don't be late.

The photographs in the remarkable new book Dissection shocked me, even though I spent a year in anatomy class during medical school. . . .

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Flowing Divine Love [Nov. 24th, 2010|10:41 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


Mechthild of Magdeburg
(1207 - 1297)

A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn't vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

Love flows from God into man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings --
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.

Yea! I shall drink from Thee
And Thou shalt drink from me
All the good God has preserved in us.
Blessed is he who is so firmly established here
That he may never spill out
What God has poured into him.
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The Joy of Life, The Joy of Death [Nov. 24th, 2010|10:39 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

St. Francis of Assisi
(1182 – 1226)

Canticle of The Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

Images from the Assisi Chapel
Giotto di Bondone
(1267 - 1337)

Francis Poulenc
(1899 - 1963)

Prayers of St. Francis

"Salut, Dame Sainte"
"Tout puissant, trè"
"Seigneur, je vous en prie"
"O mes très chers frères et mes enfants"
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***Readings - Week Fourteen - Batch One*** [Nov. 24th, 2010|10:11 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

We're getting down to the wire here. Because I wanted to include more women writers, I've given you two readings instead of only the one I promised. But I reduced them both to half their original size. These will seem odd at first, like everything else we've looked at all semester. As always, just do the best you can. We had some great discussion this week and if we continue on as we have been for just a few more sessions we will end the semester in superlative form. Very happy about how things are moving along. Have a good Thanksgiving and I'll see you soon.

Marguerite Porete
(burned 1310)
"Mirror of Simple (Annihilated) Souls"

Meister Eckhart
(1260 – 1328)
"Sermons in German"
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"Less Evil" [Nov. 23rd, 2010|08:04 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


Vatican: Condom use less evil than spreading HIV

Associated Press
Nov 23, 6:20 pm ET

VATICAN CITY – In a seismic shift on one of the most profound — and profoundly contentious — Roman Catholic teachings, the Vatican said Tuesday that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.

The position was an acknowledgment that the church's long-held anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn't justify putting lives at risk.

"This is a game-changer," declared the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor.

(read more)
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More Ghostwriters! Whee! [Nov. 18th, 2010|10:49 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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A New Intellectual Apparatus [Nov. 17th, 2010|02:18 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

From Glossia Ordinaria
To Summa Theologica

All the images below are clickable links. Amazing to me that the kind of thing show below is still available for general purchase.


To see what an actual glossed text looks like, click the image below, and then click forward a few pages till you get to the opening line of Genesis. You'll see at the top of the page, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Thereupon, you'll find three full pages of patristic commentary on this one sentence. Scan through that and you'll finally come upon the second line of Genesis: "The earth was without form, and void . . .". More pages of commentary follow.

Click below to see more at Amazon.

Now, here is an example of extended commentary by Augustine on Genesis. The treatment is philosophical and rational; but the voice is warm and human and the idea follow the natural flow of language. This is a treatment sub specie temporalis, the issue viewed and analyzed from within history.

In contrast, here is a systematic treatment by Aquinas on Genesis. Notice the tremendous difference in voice, or complete loss of voice, and the imposition of rational form in this treatment of the same subject. Aquinas proceeds item by item, question by question, until the pure essence of the issue has been completely abstracted from out of the Biblical narrative and laid out in purely schematic form. This is a treatment sub specie aeternitatis, the issue analyzed from an eternal perspective, completely outside of historical time.

Finally, scan over these pages from the Summa Theologica and see how Thomas moves, point by point, through every item of doctrine, analyzing each in the same exhaustive manner.

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***Readings - Week Thirteen - Set One*** [Nov. 17th, 2010|02:12 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

We're getting down to the wire now, in terms of both the semester and the materials I want to show you. Notice that with Aquinas we return to one of the very first pieces we looked at this semester, Mary Carruthers' introduction to The Book of Memory. St. Thomas Aquinas, she insists there, whether or not we agree with his either his premises or conclusions, is nevertheless one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of all Western history. Try to take your time and read him as carefully as you can. I know his thinking is very subtle, and the topics he discusses seem odd to us today. But in his writings we can see the first beginnings of so many ideas and activities remain important to us today, our modern legal system being just one of them. There will be no reading checks or quizzes. Just do the best you can and come to class ready to ask good questions and have a fruitful discussion.

Best to you,


St. Thomas Aquinas

"Of Idolatry"
"Of Temperance"
"Of Lust"

Finally, please click the image below and have a look also at the table of contents of the entire Summa Theologica, not only to see how little we are reading of this massive volume, but also to get a view of its comprehensiveness and strict, systematic organization. You'll be amazed.

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St. Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226) [Nov. 16th, 2010|09:47 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


Last Night of Innocent III

Punish me offwards. Illiterated and miniscular,
creaturely and grieving, I will twist my spine till thin
as branching chandeliers, hardly now trunk enough
for your hatchet to splinter free a Sycorax, ax prying
at entrails so detailed fornication’s hundred forms
seem curiously limited, insufficiently dental, glottal,
larynxed. Invagine me yonwards, soldier that you are,
Christ’s man and glad of it. November vents its wyverns,
wind scissors through my very boots, opens me cleaner
than your majuscules, your descant, antiphon and mass.
Ding-Dong Bell, blaming me weakly for God’s forgotten
knowledge; deafen me; act openly. Legs outstretched,
blare-assed; get in me, pour your wax. Pendicular son
of Mother Church, kiss me, seal me, please. Tell me,
is there, was there, ever, darling Father, any graver
whimsy than was mine, ever a more choral thanksgiving
than was yours towards this crustulum? To you I yield.
Deep-dripping ward of my threshold, be twice a pestilence
and twice a cupping glass, scalding and bleeding to heal me
with horrendous sores, bittercold draughts, underwater cures.
Brood over my waves, that break and flood and freeze
within me daily, and number them, like sparrows, hairs,
or any fallen thing. Preach me your whole ghostly quadrivium.
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Assemblage Theory [Nov. 16th, 2010|08:38 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

(I put behind the Panofsky image a link to an "awesome" site where supposedly you can buy college papers, complete with "real" typos to fool your teachers. But when I clinked on one of the links there my computer crashed. That's how cool these jerks are. So, I'll spare you the virus and instead just link some generic information on Panofsky.

Click here for a safe image I made of the site with Photochop.)

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Jewish Identity in The Middle Ages [Nov. 16th, 2010|07:49 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


Medieval Jewish History of Oxford
By Rich Ward
BBC Oxford

The Jewish community of Oxford dates
back to the late eleventh century.

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The Invention of the Self as The Subject of (Sexual) Discourse [Nov. 16th, 2010|07:41 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


We talked in class about the newly instituted medieval practice of regular confession, and how every thought, every touch, had to be confessed as a sin (making sex or any sexual thoughts internalized and the object of deep self-scrutiny and analysis. Here, I instantly thought of Foucault's "A History of Sexuality." My critical theory professor went over this piece and I was just wondering if I understood it correctly. Also, I think you said that according to Foucault, sexuality didn't even exist up into a certain point in time. What was the specific date you mentioned?


You are right on target with what you're saying. Michel Foucault is perhaps the most important philosopher of the last fifty years. Though lots of academic hipster types will casually drop his name all the time, as it reading him were nothing to them, Foucualt is in fact notoriously difficult - difficult to read and even more difficult to talk about. It's very encouraging to see that you're beginning to make some sense of him. The key for Foucault is that he considers things we take for granted, to be normal and natural and universal, are in fact historical and cultural productions.

A key instance of this is sex. For instance: I mean, how could humans have invented sex, or so recently at that? I mean, haven't people been doing that for years? I mean, isn't that where babies come from? Well, it's totally understandable that someone would think that. For Foucault, our whole culture is set up to encourage us to think that. And at some essential biological level - though it will be Foucault's perverse pleasure to make everything complicated - yeah, people have always been doing something. But Foucault insists that everything we experience (think, do, say and feel) is intimately bound up with the language we use to talk about it and understand it. Further, words, for Foucault, do not exist or make sense in isolation but only as parts of a larger linguistic system which determines their significance.

What we see developing very steadily in the 12th and 13th centuries, and Foucault was fascinated by this, is not just a random array of new words, but a very extensive and precise vocabulary. This vocabulary doesn't simply names things we already know to exist but it veritably brings into existence things (body parts, actions, sensations) which had never existed until they were named.

This new vocabulary covers the entire body, maps its surface into distinct regions and organs, each of which is now given a proper name, form, function, object and purpose for which it has been designed. And a new concept of the soul; as a rational, end-directed activity; is brought into currency. The soul, or the very action of existing, operates to ensure that the various names, forms, functions, objects and purposes associated with the body are all coordinated amongst themselves in order to produce a generally and optimally functional total individual. After a key moment of recognition, that in which we recognize ourself to have a specific identity (i.e., black, straight, Jewish, male, husband, professional, etc.) it becomes our duty and life's work continually to reaffirm our basic identity, to more perfectly manifest that identity through the rational and (self)conscious adaptation of all our disposable means towards natural ends. This is an infinite process in which try constantly and consciously to perfect a set of 'natural' dispositions, or techniques, whose correct functioning depends, on a very fundamental level, on the fact we are entirely unconscious of performing them. Paradoxically, we must be totally conscious and totally unconscious at once. Which is virtually impossible, but not entire impossible. Because we see this kind of behavior take place all the time. The everyday word we use for it is 'fluency'.

In essence, all the restless urges of the body and contained and channelled through a highly specific rational vocabulary, in a way which is closely analogous to the process through which the restless urges of the mouth - which we read about in Augustine - are constrained and channeled, at the moment of language acquisition, and trained to take the form a specific language. Our ability to produce rational utterances as speaking adults, then, is determined by a prior processes of disciplining the mouth. From earliest childhood we are taught to make and recognized these sounds and sound combinations and not those. This process of making meaningful sounds can only function if it becomes so conditioned in us that it becomes entirely automatic, a second-nature. The surest way to fail as a speaker, as anybody has discovered at one time or another, is to become suddenly self-aware, conscious of fact that you are speaking while in the very act of speaking. But the more we speak, the more fluent we become; and the more we recognize ourselves to be fluent, the more we care about our fluency, and the more we work to develop of it even further. It's an addiction. This is something which is true of our ability with language, and the same is true of our ability with musical instruments or our ability to discern quality wines.

This process of training the mouth, or another other part of the body, so that it can function automatically, is what Foucault calls a Discipline. Foucault is famous, amongst other reasons, for arguing that our own very highly disciplined modern society, which is to say our own highly educated society, for all intents and purposes functions as one enormous prison. If we don't recognized ourselves to be under lock and shackled constantly, that is probably because we have proven ourselves to be so obedient that we no longer needs walls and warden; we have, in effect, become our own jailers. And the total process of performing constrained, channeled and rationally directed actions, is what Foucault calls a Discourse, precisely because in such activities the entire body has been set into action as if it were one comprehensive vocal apparatus. To be the Subject of a Discourse is to act out one's identity, to perform one's duty, as automatically and unselfconsciously as if one were engaged in a casual but passionate conversion, though here one would use not just ones mouth and ears but one's entire body.

And of course Foucault's contention is that beginning around 1215 we begin to think this way about our entire lives. Or at least most of us do. Because there will always be those individuals who, for whatever reason (physical, mental, emotional, social -though, for Foucault, there is hardly a difference between these categories) are fundamentally unable or unwilling to undergo the primary act of recognition through which one takes upon a fixed identity. Consequently, these people will be forever beyond the bounds of discipline. They will become the marginalized figures, the deviants, the heretics and saints, the "others" in terms of which normal society understands itself, precisely as "we" who are not "them".

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Underground Ant Cities [Nov. 16th, 2010|02:04 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance
 Here's that video of the underground ant cities.  You really start to see the main structure of it at about 4 minutes in.

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Progress and Liberal Reform [Nov. 14th, 2010|05:21 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

The models of such exemplary iconoclastic action were venerable indeed, going back to the destruction of idols in early Christian Rome by Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540 - 604). According to the Dominican chronicler Polonus (d. 1278), "in order that the seeds of old heresies should not multiply, he [Gregory] cause all the heads and limbs of the statues of the demons to be broke, so that from the crushed roots of heresy, the palm of Christian truth might more fully manifest itself."

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Trade Liberalization: From North America's Most Prestigious Journal of Higher Learning [Nov. 14th, 2010|12:37 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

Q: "Trade liberalization" would be a euphemism for what?

So how does someone become a custom-paper writer? The story of how I got into this job may be instructive. It is mostly about the tremendous disappointment that awaited me in college.

My distaste for the early hours and regimented nature of high school was tempered by the promise of the educational community ahead, with its free exchange of ideas and access to great minds. How dispiriting to find out that college was just another place where grades were grubbed, competition overshadowed personal growth, and the threat of failure was used to encourage.

The Shadow Scholar
The man who writes your (students') papers tells his story

by Ed Dante
The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 12, 2010

Editor's note: Ed Dante is a pseudonym for a writer who lives on the East Coast. Through a literary agent, he approached The Chronicle wanting to tell the story of how he makes a living writing papers for a custom-essay company and to describe the extent of student cheating he has observed. In the course of editing his article, The Chronicle reviewed correspondence Dante had with clients and some of the papers he had been paid to write. In the article published here, some details of the assignment he describes have been altered to protect the identity of the student.

The request came in by e-mail around 2 in the afternoon. It was from a previous customer, and she had urgent business. I quote her message here verbatim (if I had to put up with it, so should you): "You did me business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved pls can you will write me paper?"

I've gotten pretty good at interpreting this kind of correspondence. The client had attached a document from her professor with details about the paper. She needed the first section in a week. Seventy-five pages.

I told her no problem.

(read full article)

* * *

p.s. I post this here for your information, to open a possible discussion about the current state of higher education in America. I do NOT post this as advice or to serve as a lead to Ed Dante or his associates.

p.p.s. I just sent this same article to one of my friends who ghostwrite letters, speeches, op-ed pieces and full articles for prominent and respected figures in Utah business and government. I use the plural because I have more than one close friend who is a professional ghostwriter. Your tax dollars hard at work, your elected officials not so much.
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"bored out of their minds with the cookie-cutter world of today" [Nov. 13th, 2010|10:34 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

On the Street - Style Wars
Fashion Week Revisited
by Bill Cunningham
New York Times
November 13, 2010

A renegade point of view came into focus at the recent New York and Paris Fashion Weeks with the return of large numbers of young people outside the shows for the first time in decades.

(click for video)
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Ethnic Woman - Don't 'Tread' On Me [Nov. 12th, 2010|06:40 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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Against Textbook History . . . of Anything [Nov. 12th, 2010|03:31 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

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One Step Forward . . . [Nov. 12th, 2010|10:06 am]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance


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Birth of The Funky [Nov. 11th, 2010|04:05 pm]
IT Part 2: BK's Medieval/Renaissance

Some material to prepare for our field trip to the UMFA, this Friday at 2PM, to see Californian Funk Ceramics:

As I taught marginal drawings in 12th- and 13th-century manuscripts, I wasn't able to come up with the proper term for them while working with the first two groups. But when teaching the last group the other day, the right word popped out of my mouth:


Main Entry: funk 1
Pronunciation: 'f&[ng]k
Function: noun
Etymology: probably ultimately from French dialect (Picard) funquer to give off smoke
: a strong offensive smell

Main Entry: funk 2
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps from obsolete Dutch dialect (Flanders) fonck
1 a : a state of paralyzing fear b : a depressed state of mind
2 : one that funks : COWARD
3 : SLUMP 1 (an economic funk) (the team went into a funk)

Main Entry: funk 3
Function: noun
Etymology: back-formation from 2funky
1 : music that combines traditional forms of black music (as blues, gospel, or soul) and is characterized by a strong backbeat
2 : the quality or state of being funky (jeans...have lost much of their funk -- Tom Wolfe)

What interested me about both the articles we read (Ivan Illich's "In The Vineyard of The Text" and Michael Camille's "Image on The Edge"), as well as the film Mondovino, was the way all three depicted the evacuation of a certain kind of funk from traditional culture. Now, Ivan Illich clearly laments the loss of Funk1, and perhaps Funk2, with the rise of standardized corporate culture in the shift from the age of Monasticism to the age of Scholasticism. All that was succulent, unprocessed and not immediately accessable in manuscripts, for Illich, is obliterated by the ready-made, pre-digested "ordinary" text. In sharp contrast to this, Michael Camille argues that as a matter of fact medieval texts, though formerly wild, don't become truly funky (i.e. funk3) until after the appearance of Scholastic innovations.

Why this pronounced difference of opinion between these two reknowned scholars? To put it quite simply, because Ivan Illich is a Marxist, whereas Michael Camille is a Post-Modernist.

As a Marxist, Illich will want to point out how the development of newer, more efficient technologies are part of an overall ideological shift, one in which immediate contact with the sensual world, as well as regional specificity, are cancelled by new media. Immediacy is replaced by mediation. Once "Wine" (or as Michel Rolland puts it, "Great Wine") is available everywhere, wine (whatever it may have been), is effectively dead. Wine the very thing itself must be destroyed so that it can reappear in a sublimated form, as the pure semblance of its former self. Illich represents the renaissance of the 12th-century as a historical analogue to the rise of industrialism, which entail mass-production and distribution of immediately recognizable and consumable commodities. Capitalism, according to the view, offers a brave new world of efficiency and satisfaction upon demand. All of the labor which before was such an integral part of consumption, and which offered the consumer perhaps the greatest source of pleasure, has now been effectively eliminated, or at least relegated to the factories and slums. and kept out of sight. All of the funk (the sweat, grit, guts, accidents and failures; the raunch and rot; the immersion in the density of the body) have vanished from everyday life.

Camille, on the other hand, as a Post-Modernist, is not as overtly at war with Capitalist expansion as is Illich. From a post-modern perspective, there has never been a time when art, or folk culture for that matter, has been free of commerce. Post-modernist thought does not openly accept the bourgeois fantasy of capitalism. Certainly, few practicing post-modernism could identify with the bourgeois lifestyle of the Staglin family. And yet there is somethng tremendously signficant about Shari. Stanglin's collection of objets d'art, to which she describes as example of "California Funk Art". If very difficult for me to look at the Staglin family's immaculately groomed lawn and not think of the leveled and regularized surface of the Scholastic text, a visual as opposed to tactile space, created specifically by liquidating all traces of the long tradition of monastic connoiseurship of the spoken word. And if the Staglin family's estate does indeed resemble the ordinatio of the medieval manuscript, how then are we to perceive the funky sculptures by Robert Arneson and Viola Frey? What are these kooky images on the edge of the Staglin Estate if not contemporary equivalents to the medieval "babewyns" which so fascinate Camille? Post-modern art criticism, though it is by no means a celebration of Capitalism, nevertheless takes tremendous interest is the irregular, bizarre and hybrid forms of culture expression which arise as the veritable symptoms of a society characterized by total mobility and in which tradition exists exclusively in the form of an insubstantial simulacrum, the Tradition. According to this view of things, it is only once Capitalism and middle-brow have been firmly established that funk can irrupt startlingly, monstrously onto the scene. But not in the old sense of the term. What was once crusted in funk1, in post-modern times has now become funk3: "funky," in quotation marks. The immediate and authentic has been displaced by the wittily, self-consciously mediated. Whereas formerly funk might have been associated with savages and wild animals, now it the definitive mark of the shocking hybrids and monstrosities.

To sum up then, when confronted with the very same cultural objects and situation, the Marxist historian will lament the loss of funk, while the Post-Modern scholar will celebrate is sudden and outrageous efflorescence.

Stephen de Staebler
Winged Woman Walking (1987)

The Staglin Family Villa
Napa, California
Marc LaRoche Architects

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