Thursday, January 26, 2012

Christina Elliott – Week 2 Reading Responses

Christina Elliott – Week 2 Reading Responses
Rochester: A Satyre Against Mankind
In A Satyre Against Mankind Rochester highlights the despair and doubt associated with intellectual pursuits. Overall the piece is quite pessimistic in its opinion of Reason. Rochester uses the metaphors of a man lost in a foggy bog, nights spent with “common whores,” slavery, witchcraft, and tormented flesh-ripping battles to illustrate the frustration involved in scholarly thought. A second voice emerges in the poem to defend Reason, stating that it allows for distinction between man and beast and permits “flight beyond material sense.” Yet, this argument is short lived and quickly turns against Reason once more. He likens educational institutions to insane asylums filled with “frantic crowds of thinking fools.” Warning is offered against becoming overly engulfed in philosophic thought, that sensible reason can bring about happiness but overthinking these issues can destroy any inherent pleasure and lead to anxiety and listlessness.
Rochester’s ridicule against institutions such as universities and government bureaucracies draws to mind Goya’s Los caprichos, a series of etchings completed in 1799[1] that offered brutal criticism of the elite, the government, the clergy, societal norms, superstitious behavior, and the arrogance held in intellectual circles. Plate 43 The sleep of reason produces monsters, depicts a man falling asleep while studying. The man is immediately surrounded by owls, a typical symbol of wisdom. Yet, these creatures begin to morph into absurd monstrosities as they fly from the man. This image echoes Rochester’s warning against Reason becoming perilous if taken too far. Rochester’s prose “So charming ointments make an old witch fly. And bear a crippled carcass through the sky” readily relates to Plate 68 Pretty Teacher!, which portrays an old witch and her young apprentice. The owl in the upper right corner reflects back on the subject of reason, and may allude to a similar opinion held by Rochester, that scholarly endeavors are fraught with as much mischief, fear, dishonesty, and dread as demonic practices.  
“Tis evident beasts are, in their own degree, As wise at least, and better far than he.”
Hobbes on Equality
“Hobbes on Equality” seems to present a contradiction from the very start. Immediately he makes a distinction and alludes to a hierarchy in human thought. He states that men are basically equal, aside from those who inhabit the arts or sciences. Another thought he proposes seems to strike a nerve regarding current events. Hobbes states “For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of any thing than that every man is contented with his share. From this equality of ability arise the quality of hope in attaining our ends.” This statement is haunting in light of the current “Occupy” movements and growing discontent over the uneven distribution of wealth. Certainly “every man” is no longer content with his share.
Hobbes on Power
“Hobbes on Power” outlines the qualities deemed fundamental in acquiring power. Of these he highlights authority, financial freedom, reputation, and popularity. Yet, Hobbes has left out the role of sexuality in power struggles.[2] He proposes that power has its own inertia, “increasing as it proceeds.” Amusingly, Hobbes also states that “The value or worth of a man is, as all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power, and there for is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another.” In this sense Hobbes makes man a commodity and his exchange-value is highly dependent on how others rate his level of power. “Exchange-value manifests itself as something totally independent of … use-value.”[3] So then if the community refuses to recognize him, they deny him power, and his acquisitions of wealth and prestige become trivial and worthless.
Also interesting within this text is Hobbes statement that “Nor does it alter the case of honour whether an action (so it be great and difficult, and consequently a sign of much power) be just or unjust: for honour consisteth only in the opinion of power.” He goes on to explain that depicting Gods as rapists and thieves is honorable because they are actions produced by wielding power. Although these acts require power, does this still make them equitable in an honorable sense when they carry a heavy social stigma? Do we honor modern icons in similar manners? In Hobbes interpretation, politicians caught with their pants down should feel honored. The fact that they have the means and resources to engage in multiple affairs is proof of their power.
Questions for Discussion
Do you think Rochester had anyone in mind when he talks of the “whimsical philosopher” liking his tub better than the spacious world?
Do you personally believe that ‘knowledge is power’ or ‘ignorance is bliss’?

Goya, Plate 43: The sleep of reason produces monsters, 1799
Goya, Plate 68: Pretty Teacher!, 1799
David, Marat Assassinated, 1793
“his tub prefer”

[1] Basic information on Goya’s Los caprichos can be referenced in Perez Sanchez, Alfonso E. & Gallego, Julian. Goya: The Complete Etchings and Lithographs. New York: Prestel-Verlag, 1995. Print: 32-34.
[2] Luckily for us, Foucault elaborates quite extensively about the role of sexuality in systems of power…
[3] For more on the topic of various values and commodities see Tucker, R. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1978. 302-304.

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