Thursday, February 23, 2012

Week 6: Irene Carvajal reading response

Fixing a social problem such as poverty with acts of generosity alone is like putting a band aid on a cancerous wound. The root of the problem is a society that does not foster individuality. In a socialist society individualism will flourish due to the fact that basic needs are in place and need not take up surplus energy that can then be utilized in pursuit of beauty. 
 Starvation is the root of crime, if people’s basic needs were met crime would be unnecessary. When we see hunger and try to alleviate it with  generosity it actually promotes and prolongs hunger. A generous act between unequal parties exalts the inequalities, it demoralizes and degrades. But also and more dangerously masks and blurs the symptoms and creates apathy. Apathy that just prolongs the status quo.
A socialist society is formed by voluntary associations not compulsory or authoritarian rules. But then who does all the unwanted laborious work? Wilde proposes machines take on the role of laborers and/or slaves. Freeing up humanity to make beautiful things. But the machine must “belong” to all. For if it belongs to one person alone it displaces workers, but if it belongs to all it promotes individuality in all.
Oscar Wilde acknowledges the privileged position in which he and his peers live, those who need not labor for a living and therefore can occupy their time and energy in pursuit of their ideas, passions and art. Wilde proposes this should be available to all. Working to generate money and acquire goods should not be the goal of a mans life, for a man should not be measured for what he has but for what he is. Man should live not just merely exist.
You have a wonderful personality. Develop it. Be yourself. Don’t imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or possessing external things. Your affection is inside of you. If only you could realise that, you would not want to be rich. Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so shape your life that external things will not harm you. And try also to get rid of personal property. It involves sordid preoccupation, endless industry, continual wrong. Personal property hinders Individualism at every step.”
The laborer, the poor working man has little more value than a work horse. His virtue is in disobedience and rebellion. He must question and act upon this inequality. Conformity leaves no room for freedom. It would be like going through life asleep, merely existing. Agitators are individuals who are essential for human progress. Agitators are necessary to start a revolution. Revolution fosters progress for the enlightment of humankind. Wilde is interested in the change and evolution of mankind and of the individual. Attacks towards an individual create a personal revolution that ultimately intensifies the individuality. There is no greater expression of individuality than art. 
Art is the most intense mode of individualism. For art is only worthy if used for ones own pleasure. To make art that is agreeable to the public the artist must forget his culture, annihilate his style, and surrender everything that is valuable in him. In doing so the art becomes a commodity. Individualism (Art) is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Art is an agitator, art is a revolution. Trying to sell or please the public degrades both the artist and the art.
Oscar Wilde writes the Soul of Man in 1891, 4 years before the Libel Trials are to begin.  In the soul of man he speaks of public opinion and its destructive effect. Public opinion focuses on the private life of the individual, in trying to control him. Breaking his individuality. He goes on to say that public opinion does not alter a man. His personality is untroubled, his soul is free.   He should not listen to it. “Even in prison a man can be quite free.” Wilde is set free in 1897, socially and economically he is broken. He makes some spiritual and artistic attempts at renewal but by 1900 dies destitute and alone. Did society destroy him or did he have a hand in his own destruction? 
The Importance of Being Earnest

 is it somewhat autobiographical (double christening and leading a double life)
All these characters have multiple personality disorder! 
Or they are just children playing at being grown-ups. They sound very childish.
We have user names for our avatars in the virtual world. Do we use this as an alter ego?
Phrases And Philosophies For The Use Of The Young 

Read like bumperstickers
reminds me of the “Land of Happy” by Shel Silverstein:

“Have you been to The Land of Happy,
Where everyone's happy all day,
Where they joke and they sing
Of the happiest things,
And everything's jolly and gay?
There's no one unhappy in Happy, There's laughter and smiles galore.
I have been to The Land of Happy -
What a bore!”

Trial Transcripts

Of the many legal documents available for you to read at the link I provided in the syllabus I think this one is probably the one that will interest you most given our other readings for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"The Grigsby Episode"

Wilde's original four act play was subsequently re-written as the three act work we now know. Many lines were cut, but almost none of them are especially to be missed. One scene, known as "the Grigsby Episode" was more substantial and elaborates themes that matter to our particular reading of mannered comedies as documents of the emerging categories and subjectivities of neoliberal political economy. Here is a clip of a fine production of Earnest in which they director decided to re-introduce the Grigsby Episode back into the play. I strongly recommend that you read the more familiar and canonical version of the play before supplementing it with this scene.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Glimpses of The Threepenny Opera

Some Glimpses of the Beggars Opera


Just posted lots of little bits for you to look at. Sorry I waited so late -- I kinda sorta forgot all about it. Thanks to all of you who just e-mailed me with reminders! See you all tomorrow, Marx day is always fun!

Adam Smith: "Propensity to Truck and Barter"

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith 1776 Book 1, Chapter 2, "Of the Principle which gives occasion to the Division of Labour"

[01] THIS division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.

[02] Whether this propensity be one of those original principles in human nature of which no further account can be given; or whether, as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties of reason and speech, it belongs not to our present subject to inquire. It is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals, which seem to know neither this nor any other species of contracts.

Mill: "Homo Economicus"

John Stuart Mill, On the Definition of Political Economy; and on the Method of Investigation Proper To It.

46. In the definition which we have attempted to frame of the science of Political Economy, we have characterized it as essentially an abstract science, and its method as the method à priori. Such is undoubtedly its character as it has been understood and taught by all its most distinguished teachers. It reasons, and, as we contend, must necessarily reason, from assumptions, not from facts. It is built upon hypotheses, strictly analogous to those which, under the name of definitions, are the foundation of the other abstract sciences. Geometry presupposes an arbitrary definition of a line, "that which has length but not breadth." Just in the same manner does Political Economy presuppose an arbitrary definition of man, as a being who invariably does that by which he may obtain the greatest amount of necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries, with the smallest quantity of labour and physical self-denial with which they can be obtained in the existing state of knowledge. It is true that this definition of man is not formally prefixed to any work on Political Economy, as the definition of a line is prefixed to Euclid's Elements; and in proportion as by being so prefixed it would be less in danger of being forgotten, we may see ground for regret that this is not done. It is proper that what is assumed in every particular case, should once for all be brought before the mind in its full extent, by being somewhere formally stated as a general maxim. Now, no one who is conversant with systematic treatises on Political Economy will question, that whenever a political economist has shown that, by acting in a particular manner, a labourer may obviously obtain higher wages, a capitalist larger profits, or a landlord higher rent, he concludes, as a matter of course, that they will certainly act in that manner. Political Economy, therefore, reasons from assumed premises—from premises which might be totally without foundation in fact, and which are not pretended to be universally in accordance with it. The conclusions of Political Economy, consequently, like those of geometry, are only true, as the common phrase is, in the abstract; that is, they are only true under certain suppositions, in which none but general causes—causes common to the whole class of cases under consideration—are taken into the account.

Marx: "There Is No Royal Road to Science"

Karl Marx
1872 PREFACE TO THE FRENCH EDITION of Capital Volume One

To the citizen Maurice Lachâtre

Dear Citizen,

I applaud your idea of publishing the translation of “Das Kapital” as a serial. In this form the book will be more accessible to the working class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.

That is the good side of your suggestion, but here is the reverse of the medal: the method of analysis which I have employed, and which had not previously been applied to economic subjects, makes the reading of the first chapters rather arduous, and it is to be feared that the French public, always impatient to come to a conclusion, eager to know the connexion between general principles and the immediate questions that have aroused their passions, may be disheartened because they will be unable to move on at once.

That is a disadvantage I am powerless to overcome, unless it be by forewarning and forearming those readers who zealously seek the truth. There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.

Believe me, dear citizen, Your devoted,
Karl Marx
London, March 18, 1872

Marx As the "Darwin of History"

In his 1888 Preface to The Communist Manifesto, Frederick Engels attributes to Marx a “proposition which, in my opinion, is destined to do for history what Darwin’s theory has done for biology[.]” This proposition is as follows:
[I]n every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiters and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolutions in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class -– the proletariat –- cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class –- the bourgeoisie -– without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles.

Theses on Feuerbach

Written: by Marx in the Spring of 1845, but slightly edited by Engels; First Published: As an appendix to Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy in 1888; Source: Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume One, p. 13 – 15.


The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in The Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”, of “practical-critical”, activity.


The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.


The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.


Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.


Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants contemplation; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.


Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled: To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual. Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as “genus”, as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.


Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that the “religious sentiment” is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs to a particular form of society.


All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.


The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.


The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.


The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Posted for Justin

Justin Margitich

School for Scandal, Richard Sheridan

All of the characters in Sheridan's play, to use Schiller's words, could be called the "civilized classes". This is not flattery for he goes on to say that "Egotism has founded its system in the very bosom of a refined society, and without developing even a sociable character, we feel all the contagions and miseries of society". He might go on to say that the characters found in the play, in order to be complete, adequate and not stunted, need to "renounce the totality of their being" and to follow truth.

The petty gossip of the play is what makes it interesting and funny, contrary to Schiller's high intellectual ideals. The play is not a call to action or some sort of didactic tool, but something of a comedy, a reflection of a certain part of society.

Contained in it are more of the same dialogues concerning wit. I found interesting, the mentions of wit associated to good or bad. Lady Sneer at one point in the play says that wit is good or perhaps better with a little malice. Later on Sir Peter states that true wit is "allied to good-nature". For Maria, wit is not respectable with malice. Wit, it seems, can be seen as a blanket term, its meaning has an ability to change based on association or context of the user.

This, in a way, relates to the whole of the play. Wit sounds similar to the "scandals" in the play. That is to say that, most of the scandalous actions in the play, however they may bother a character's conscience, always seem to be then justified in the eyes of those very same characters. In other words, out of the character's upperclass boredom any scandalous enterprise may be questioned but ultimately justified.

* * * *

In his essay "Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man", Schiller employs examples of extremes to balance and to find what could be seen as some sort of ideal medium. The intermingling of dualities, or perhaps, the dialectic of these extremes, he uses to make the final case of beauty and aesthetics. He slowly works up to his conclusions of this idea. Schiller begins by giving us the idea of "natural" and "moral" laws, these he finds, somewhat crudely, in the masses/underclasses and then in the upperclasses. He deems them the "wild" and the "lethargic", applied respectively. He thus finds fault in each, perhaps more in the underclass of which he is not a part. Nevertheless, he quantifies them as extremes and not apt or conducive to an ideal. In short, this is his means of argumentative sway throughout the essay.

As stated, he gives us "natural" and "moral". He continues with the binary comparisons. "Imaginary" and "reason", (occasionally throwing in his biases, e.g., the Greeks were better, our class topic of veneration of the past, a sort of conservativism) "facts" and "poetics", "appearance" and "reality", "sensuous" and "formal", "change" and "permanence", "independence" and "passivity", "feeling" and "thinking", "strength" and "gentleness", "indetermination" and "determination", the list is long. He ponders on each of the aspects of what I understand as human qualities. It is not merely one or the other, they both must subdue the other and at the same time mix with each other.

How can these couplets become one? He answers: by beauty and aesthetics, wedding the two extremes. He goes so far as to say that art is the "savior of undignified humanity" and calls beauty "our second creator after nature". He then comes to his ultimate conclusion of beauty at the end of the essay. That is, that "aesthetic communication alone unites society, because it applies to what is common to all its members" and "Beauty alone confers happiness on all, and under its influence every being forgets that he is limited".

Schiller himself states his essay is directly influenced by Kant, and it dutifully is. The idea of temperance or giving up some autonomy to then be received by the collective whole, is present and the driving force. Aesthetics and beauty are Schiller's logical departure and step forward after Kant.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Just for the sake......... :  Neo Rauch, "Die Fuge", 2005

Week 3: Carlos Franco Reading Response

“Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View”

“All culture, art, which adorns mankind, and the finest social order are fruits of unsociableness...”

Kant sketches out his theory of the progressive evolution of societies throughout history. Based on a  “theological theory of nature”, he sees man as  holden to the precepts of end and purposefulness that he ascribes to it (nature). Those same precepts he applies both to the microcosm of the individuals and to that of societies; the highest end they may, and should aspire to, achieve is that of a “universal  civic society”, and by consequence a commonwealth of states. This may be reached by assuring the education, or ‘enlightenment’ (through ‘reason’, which is built through generations), of each of its constituents (both individuals and the states).

To accomplish this end (and also serving as a conceptual hook with which to defend the idea of free will and the rights of the individual in his theory) Kant inserts the concept of a dialectical progression of history. Man, through a history of strife and antagonism (him being an animal driven by a natural will to compete), must reason himself into sociability as it is the most practical solution to the problem that arises when confronted by the will and ends of other men ( reference: Hobbes concept of the ‘social contract’).

“Thanks be to nature, then, for the incompatibility, for heartless competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and rule! Without them, all the excellent natural capacities of humanity would forever sleep, underdeveloped. Man wishes concord; but Nature...she wills discord.”

He also projects this dialectical progression into the world stage arguing for the necessity of the states (after going through their own internal process of “maturation”) to form a common bond, a ‘league of nations’ that can assure the security of the state, and by consequence the rights and well being of its constituents.

With this argument, and his focus on the role of Reason and Enlightenment in the history of men and societies, Kant sets the ground for later writers such as Schiller and Hegel and the development of German Idealism, which would later serve as the ground for a counter-argument atop which Marx would develop his theory of Historical Materialism.

“...our world rulers at present have no money left over for public education and for anything that concerns the best in the world, since all they have is already committed to future wars...”

In his essay preoccupations like the  ‘league of nations’ and the reference to the effects of ‘war debt’ seem more contemporary than anything else, which begs the question:

How do geometrical projections (such as linearity, or circularity) of history hold up two centuries later? Does an idea of  progress still have value? Progress of who and for whom?

Has there really been any progress, or are we still fumbling around contemporary notions of states and nations in a similar manner?

 In that context, what is the now in history? If the form determines the context, are we still in Kant’s theoretical now?

How does his romantic view of progress inform our concept of the now?

How did Kant’s argument serve as a legitimizing discourse for modern imperialism and colonization?

"An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightement"

“Sapere Aude!”

Kant struggles with the concepts of freedom in the context of his theory on the dialectical progress of history and the role of the church and state in relation to the individual’s right to reason. In his mind enlightenment equals the courage required for the embracement of freedom of thought and speech; immaturity he ascribes to those that ‘dare not’ and which still depend on the cemented ideas of previous generations.

“He must obey.”

Addicted to the impulse to categorize every concept that comes to his mind, Kant  distinguishes between two manners in which the use of reason could take part: "public" (scholars), which he says need to be immune from censorship, and the second "private", which he relates with civic responsibilities (such as a soldier taking orders) and which he considers, if necessary, able to fall under censorship and restriction. Nice way to defend his own skin.

It’s always entertaining seeing Kant, in his eternal inclination to make philosophy look ever more scientific, assert a general concept (ideal in this case) and then borderline on contradictions by feeding this urge for compartmentalization: the scholar must be able to speak his mind out, the soldier must obey orders but can question them as a scholar, and we must pay our taxes. This logic also leads him to defend the position of the monarchy (Frederick II) justifying the need for man to be guided by a supreme ruler... as long as he is enlightened and assures the freedom of the state’s constituents... right.

“...”Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.”

This constant playing between affirming the necessity of each person’s right to freedom, a dialectical  progression of history in which we must constantly question ideas and structures of previous generations, and the assertion that man must be guided by a supreme leader and subdue his own free will in determined conditions, leads to a load of precarious conceptual juggling, which fortunately Kant is master of, but at the same time, as is the case of any good philosophy from the 18th and 19th century, tries to make too much sense of itself.


Will we ever reach a level of enlightenment where we won’t need a ‘leader’ to discipline us? Is the only possible state one of fear?

Is Kant right on setting limits for freedom and the use of reason so it doesn’t interfere with our civic duty? To who do way owe our moral direction? The collective or the individual?

Does the state truly represent the collective and individuals, as Kant asserts?

How does the argument of freedom in the use of reason relate to the idea of freedom of speech? How does this apply to contemporary media and what are the implications in our culture and recent history?

“The Way of the World”

“ MIRA.  I wonder there is not an act of parliament to save the credit
of the nation and prohibit the exportation of fools.”

The thing that I found interesting about the play is seeing all these urbanite characters overtly conscious of their social positions; 18th century hipsters riding the milk cow, dandies conspiring themselves into social conformity. The play takes footing in a society thats going from a transient aristocracy into a burgeoning culture. A lot of the drama seems to revolve around the microcosmos of social logics that these people create around themselves, and to which they are subdued in order to maintain their own social position and ‘dignity’. Another thing that jumps out is Mirabell’s and Milamant’s pre-nuptial agreement, and the interest in most of the characters to determine their relations through economic conditions, also the manner in which some of the female characters pan out through the play, exerting what some would consider a libertine attitude for the times.


How can we relate this play to Kant’s vision of the nature of man?

Are any of these archetype of characters still visible today? If so what is the implication for our social relations and our ideas of the now? Does this imply a circularity in history?

All this talk of german idealism, history, progress, and archetypes leads me to one visual reference: Neo Rauch, Schöpfer (Creator) oil on canvas 210 x 250cm . Enjoy