An Unforgivable Act of Cultural Appropriation

This reprehensible theft of cultural property by non-originators of the stolen item should be reported to the United Nations, or perhaps to the University Professors’ Union, or maybe even to Huma Abedin, who could tell That Woman about it.  Punishment must be meted out.  The very existence of this enormity threatens the foundations of Social Justice!  (And don’t be misled by the word “Cover” in the upper left-hand corner of the window.  “Cover” is a cover-word for a whistle-blowing conspiracy, or maybe it’s a whistle-blowing word for a conspiratorial cover-up.  Whatever it is, I smell a rat.  No offense meant to That Woman.  Or to any rats.)

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The Nobel Prize: A Moderately Inebriated Opinion


Leonard Cohen

Artie Lennon, vocalist and guitarist, is a featured attraction on Sunday afternoons at the Old City Hall tavern and restaurant in Oswego, where Richard Cocks, Dick Fader, and I, and a few other known malingerers regularly assemble for the weekly Symposium of the dissentient and disaffected.  Today Artie played a number of Leonard Cohen “covers,” with his usual uncanny aplomb.  (And, if I may say so, rather dissentiently and disaffectedly.)

After two, or perhaps three, pints the known malingerers concluded, in a moderately inebriated palaver, which was nevertheless culturally informed, that if any 1960s Bohemian singer should have received the Nobel Prize in 2016, it ought to have been Cohen, not Dylan.

The moderately inebriated Doctors Cocks and Bertonneau, the Honorary Doctor Fader, and the known malingerers invite moderately inebriated comments from The Orthosphere, or from the Jovian moon Europa, or from the Trans-Neptunian object Sedna, or from wherever the anti-That Woman vote is in the majority these days.  (Is Texas a planet?)

Especially from KRISTOR, who knows how to sing, and whom we hope someday will join the known malingerers for a palaver at Old City Hall on a Sunday afternoon!

Too Many Words versus Too Few

This is a response to – not a critique or attempted repudiation of – J. M. Smith’s two most recent postings.

One of my courses in the current semester is a course with the catalogue-name “Writing about Literature.”  Like many college-level courses nowadays, “Writing about Literature” is an exercise in absurdity.  Only those who have literature, and who have it massively, are ready to write about literature.  My students have almost no literature.  The men especially have never been readers.  The women have read recent consumer-fictions in which young female protagonists singlehandedly overthrow murderous “patriarchal” dystopias with the same police-state resources at their disposal as the modern Federal Government of the USA, but they cannot name the authors of these fictions.

I agree with Smith that ninety-nine per cent of public words nowadays are otiose and fugacious when they are not cases of downright mendacity and meretriciousness.  On the other hand, it is possible that in some venues there might be an unhealthy dearth of words.  I cite my “Writing about Literature” class as an example.

We are five weeks into a fifteen-week semester.  As my students have no literature, I have not worried about the writing element in the course-title; I have simply been giving them an essential minimum of literature – specifically the quaternity of English Romantic poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats.  I have been encouraging the students to speak coherently and systematically about the poems of these poets, beginning with the paraphrase, and proceeding to the interpretation that takes into account the web of connotations woven in the syntactic warp and dictional weft of the rhapsody.

If anyone ever designed to utter a single phrase – in a discursive context of other phrases – that might “work a miracle” in a responsive audience, let us say, of one, so that the singular utterance would elicit a correspondent testimony of many words, then any member of the aforementioned poetic quaternity would qualify.  Wordsworth’s “Solitary Reaper” should provoke conversation, at least.

Alas!  My students – whether out of timidity, alienation, vocabulary deficiency, or total inexperience with the connotative aspect of language, all of which are probable – have tended to respond to promptitude almost solely in the medium of monosyllabic utterances.  If the question, intended to elicit the beginnings of a paraphrase, were: “Who is the ‘solitary reaper’ in the poem?” – the answer would be, with the lilting diffident uplift in tone that denotes questioning uncertainty, something like, a girl? – or nature? – or a peasant?  There is never a sentence.  And there is never much possibility of a discussion, which can only be conducted in sentences.

I had to say to my students last Friday, in a delicately worded appeal, that I wished them henceforth to speak to me as I speak to them – in sentences.  Whether they will respond, I have no way of predicting although I am not sanguine about the likelihood.

My point is simply this: That while there can be too many words, useless words, meaningless words, there might also be too few, hence only a sub-minimum of meaning, and no possibility of a meaningful parliament.  I daresay that we are afflicted, at this stage of American modernity, with both maladies: A surfeit of words and a poverty of them.  I daresay that one way to die is to give up on language, to revert to speechlessness, so that, at first, one can only say yes or no, and finally only yes.

Suggested Reading For Analytical Philosophers: Wordsworth’s Prelude


This modest offering stems from two provocations.  One is Richard Cocks’ piquant disquisition at The People of Shambhala, referenced here at The Orthosphere, concerning the limitations inherent in the modern school of thought that calls itself Logical Positivism or Analytical Philosophy; the other is a pedagogical necessity that befell me last week to explicate in class for the students of my “Writing about Literature” course a famous passage from William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Book I.  My title must obviously be taken cum grano salis, as logical positivists and analytical philosophers would immediately reduce Wordsworth’s  observations and arguments to their own insipid categories.  Frankly, I cannot imagine the logical positivists or analytical philosophers, or howsoever they dub themselves, making any sense whatsoever of Wordsworths verses or, for that matter, being interested in or aware of them.  Wordsworth’s fundamental assumptions must be opaque to such people.

I have written up my lecture-outline as a short essay.  I append the text on which I comment at the end of the essay.  Those sufficiently generous to feel curiosity about the essay might want to read the excerpt first.  I take for my illustration the fourth panel of The Voyage of Life (1842) by Thomas Cole, one of the founders of the Hudson Valley School.


A Brief Essay on the Adventure of the Boat at Night: It is an observation of natural philosophy that ontogeny repeats phylogeny: That is, the gestation and maturation of the individual repeat the gestation and maturation of the family, genus, or the species.  More generally speaking, everything that exists is an effect that research – or introspection – can trace back to a cause until the procedure finds its destination in a First Cause.  These facts entail any number of paradoxes, not least the poet William Wordsworth’s contention, found in his little poem “My Heart Leaps Up” (1802), that “the child is the father of the man”:


Wordsworth averred often in his prosaic self-explanations that his every line of verse belonged to one great conjectural poem such that each smaller poem was but part of a transcendent whole, which could perhaps never be completed in the poet’s lifetime.  That one Wordsworthian poem should  comment on another should come therefore as no surprise.  The few short lines, almost throwaway verse, of “My heart leaps up” indeed suggest much concerning a crucial passage from one of the early books of one of Wordsworth’s most ambitious poems – the epic-length verse-autobiography The Prelude, begun by the poet as early as 1798 but never published until after his death in 1850.  In the episode in question, Wordsworth recounts one of the adventures of his boyhood, in the Lake District of Northwest England just below the Scottish Border, the native locale where he spent his childhood and to which he returned to live later in life after the peregrinations of his young adulthood.

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Romanticism & Traditionalism


Introduction. The movement called Romanticism belongs chronologically to the last two decades of the Eighteenth and the first five decades of the Nineteenth Centuries although it has antecedents going back to the late-medieval period and sequels that bring it, or its influence, right down to the present day.  (I write late in 2016.)  Historically, and in simple, Romanticism is the view-of-things that succeeds and corrects its precursor among the serial views-of-things that have defined the eras of the Western European mentality by constituting a dominant worldview – and that precursor would be what historians of ideas call Classicism, which they identify as the worldview of the Enlightenment.  A good definition of Classicism is: The exclusive devotion to prescriptive orderliness for its own sake in all departments of life; the submission of all things to measure, decorum, and, using the word metaphorically, the geometric ideal; implying disdain for or suppression of anything deemed not in conformance with these criteria.  Classicism implies the conviction that reason, narrowly delimited, is the highest faculty, and indeed almost the sole faculty worth developing.  The Classicist believes that life can be perfected by rationalization.

Certainly this is how the Romantics saw Classicism, but it is also in broad terms how the Classicists saw themselves.  According to its own dichotomy, Romanticism would be a view of existence consisting of tenets diametrically opposed to those of Classicism.  And so largely it was or is, as Romanticism is by no means a dead issue.  As the Romantic sees it, imposed or conventional order tends to distort or obliterate the natural order; and by “natural order” the Romantics would have understood not only the order of nature, considered as Creation, although not necessarily in Christian terms, but the order present in social adaptation to nature, as when agriculturalists follow the cycle of the seasons and attune their lives with the life of the soil or when builders of monuments and temples go to great effort to align them astronomically.  In addition, the Romantic believes that a bit of disorder might stimulate and enliven life, preventing it from becoming stiff and ossified; that the quirky and unexpected, in other words, can exert a benevolent influence.  The Romantic also values emotion and intuition as much as he values reason, which he by no means disdains although he defines it more broadly than the Classicist.  The Romantics explicitly rejected the utilitarian arguments of the Classicists.  Romanticism prefigures and is the likely source of what in the second half of the Twentieth Century came to be known as Traditionalism.

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Sex, Movies & Traditionalism on Mars

Of possible interest to Orthosphereans, my essay concerning Sex, Movies & Traditionalism on Mars  has appeared at Angel Millar’s invariably edifying People of Shambhala website.  The essay concerns independent Minnesota-based filmmaker Christopher Mihm, whose Saint Euphoria Studios has found a niche – and an audience – in the production of low-budget black-and-white retro-pastiches resembling the B-grade science fiction and horror movies of the 1950s.  I argue in Sex, Movies & Traditionalism on Mars that Mihm’s Cave Women on Mars (2008) is a cryptically non-politically correct film that employs a studied rhythm of low-comic japes and serious storytelling to argue for sexual dimorphism, with all its attendant and historically understood differences, as the basis of social life, expressing itself most essentially in the formation of the customary family, with its aim of bringing procreation under morality.

The essay also explores the question whether, in a politically correct environment, it might nowadays only be possible to articulate traditional insights, in public, by indirection. Mihm’s  film-festival audiences are undoubtedly liberal, and it appears that he has found a formula for making his dissentient points subliminally and covertly.

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George Inness: The Rainbow

Inness George (825 – 1894) Rainbow (1877 - 78)

George Inness (May 1, 1825 – August 3, 1894) belonged to the second generation of the so-called Hudson River or Hudson River Valley School, the first distinctively American school of painting.  In his early work, Inness advances the “luminist” tendency of his precursors (Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and others); and like them, he is almost exclusively a landscape painter, interested in the effects of light on mountain, valley, plain, lake, ocean, and sky.  In his later work, Inness innovates in the direction of Impressionism.  The Hudson River painters were American Romantics, steeped in the nature-philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers, but also conversant with the late-medieval tradition of reading nature as the outward sign of the supernatural (think Jakob Boehme), a tendency that culminates in the strange but influential writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.  Inness occasionally identified himself as a Swedenborgian.

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An Image for Our Time

Atlantic Abomination 01 (Art by Richard Powers)Edmund Alexander “Ed” Emshwiller (February 16, 1925 – July 27, 1990) was a commercial artist and illustrator and later, in the 1960s, an auteur of so-called experimental film.  He is notably identified with the science fiction genre, having contributed scores of covers to Galaxy magazine, and other similar periodicals, in the 1950s and 60s.  Emshwiller’s illustrations also graced many a paperback cover, as in the case of the Ace paperback edition of John Brunner’s Atlantic Abomination.  I have posted Emshwiller’s Abomination (so to speak) previously at The Orthosphere.  It is time to display it again.  Emshwiller’s painting instantiates the possibilities that lay within the popular and commercial genres of art in the middle of the last century.  It is a powerful image with many resonances in the archives of painting and drawing, which, to my mind, speaks deeply to our condition.

I invite commentary on Emshwiller’s image, or indeed on Brunner’s story, his lone foray into H. P. Lovecraft territory, should anyone have read it.

P.S. I call dibs on any That-Woman interpretation of the image.

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (2011) & the Crisis of Subscendence

Damsels in Distress CD COVER

Filmmaker Whit Stillman has managed with considerable aplomb to avoid the clichés of the romantic comedy, a genre within whose parameters he nevertheless works, not least in his fourth film of five, Damsels in Distress (2011).  In addition to being a romantic comedy, to the extent of transforming itself in its denouement into a 1930s guy-gets-girl musical number, with Fred Astaire’s voice patched into the soundtrack, Damsels in Distress is a college film.  Because Stillman understands the meaning and function of college, his college film is also a film about civilization – or rather about the current degeneracy of what used to be Western Civilization, as made manifest by the decline of higher education.  In Damsels in Distress, Stillman has undertaken to represent what I once, in a casual essay, half-jokingly called subscendence, a kind of active anti-transcendence that seeks the lowest level in everything; but Stillman has also created a set of characters, in his eponymous damsels, who, discerning subscendence and judging it repellent, rally themselves to mount resistance against it.

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