Posts by author:

John Holbo

Nietzsche, Swiss Thinker

by John Holbo on August 10, 2015

In teaching Nietzsche I joke he was a Swiss philosopher – like Rousseau and Calvin. (Like them, he believed autonomy is paramount and impossible. “Girls, girls, you’re both pretty!”) The biographical basis is not just that he taught at the University of Basel and got a small medical disability pension from that institution. A Swiss institution funded his major work, so credit is due. The basis is also that he renounced his Prussian citizenship when he took up his professorship in 1869. This is a fun fact about our Fred. He was stateless for the last 30 years of his life. Citizen of no modern European nation. I’m sure that was just how he wanted it. But this morning I was thinking: it fits oddly with one fact. In 1870 he was a volunteer medical orderly in the Prussian army. He was at the Battle of Metz. So he first renounced his citizenship, then participated (didn’t fight) in the Franco-Prussian War. I had transposed that order in my mind, because it made more sense the other way. Now, checking the timeline not just on Wikipedia but in Safranski’s biography … yep, renounced citizenship first. Curious. Oh, well, it’s traditional for the Swiss to help put folks back together after the battle. I’m curious now whether Nietzsche was officially attached to the Prussian army, as medical orderly, even though he had renounced his citizenship. I haven’t actually read any biographies of him for a while; details slip.

As I keep mentioning, I’m teaching Nietzsche. Regarding which, I have a request of sorts to place before our knowledgeable commentariat (and I can’t stop the ignorant ones from chiming in as well, but that’s modern life.) I’m going to include a unit, near the start, in which I offer a sampling of diverse responses to/interpretations of the guy. I think most students come to Nietzsche with … notions. I am not concerned to dislodge all that, certainly not at the start, but I think it might be efficient to encourage explicitness about it, if possible. To that end, I’m going to offer a menu of options. Maybe the students will say: yeah, that’s kind of my impression of the guy, from what I’ve heard and read.

This morning I went quote hunting in Mencken, Russell and G.K. Chesterton (not because I seriously think my students are going to show up on day 1 a bunch of junior Chestertonian-Menckenite-Russell-heads, in need of de-programming. I just like this stuff.)

H.L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Broadly speaking, they [Nietzsche’s ideas] stand in direct opposition to every dream that soothes the slumber of mankind in the mass, and therefore mankind in the mass must needs to suspicious of them, at least for years to come. They are pre-eminently for the man who is not of the mass, for the man whose head is lifted, however little, above the common level. They justify the success of that man, as Christianity justifies the failure of the man below.”

I could quote more Mencken, but let me proceed to Chesterton and Russell, who are hilariously arch and contemptuous. (I’m not planning to share all this with students, but some.) [click to continue…]

Hey, Kids – Colors!

by John Holbo on July 29, 2015

Do you like colors? Do you like art? If you answered ‘yes’ to both questions, you might find this site interesting.

Nietzsche Wins The Internet in 1886

by John Holbo on July 28, 2015

Couple weeks back I pointed out Nietzsche was an internet theorist avant la net. He is a nice observer of the psychology of it.

Stand tall, you philosophers and friends of knowledge, and beware of martyrdom! Of suffering “for the sake of truth”! Even of defending yourselves! You will ruin the innocence and fine objectivity of your conscience, you will be stubborn towards objections and red rags, you will become stupid, brutish, bullish if, while fighting against danger, viciousness, suspicion, ostracism, and even nastier consequences of animosity, you also have to pose as the worldwide defenders of truth. As if “the Truth” were such a harmless and bungling little thing that she needed defenders! And you of all people, her Knights of the Most Sorrowful Countenance, my Lord Slacker and Lord Webweaver of the Spirit! In the end, you know very well that it does not matter whether you, of all people, are proved right, and furthermore, that no philosopher so far has ever been proved right. (Beyond Good and Evil, Part 2, 25, The Free Spirit, trans. Judith Norman)
Lord Slacker and Lord Webweaver are perfect, not to mention the Knight – ahem – Troll. (“Ihr Ritter von der traurigsten Gestalt, meine Herren Eckensteher und Spinneweber des Geistes!” Not sure about the German connotations of ‘Eckensteher’ – corner stander. Does it mean: flaneur? Guy who hangs out on the stoop, just watching the passing show? Rubbernecker, wallflower, guy who has been sent to the corner by teacher? Probably not that last.) Some of you will want to continue reading the post. Others will already be running to stick bits of the above passage into a Meme Generator. O joy! (For a circa 2012 value of ‘joy’.) [click to continue…]

I got a new iMac. Awesome! Until last week I was using my old iMac, from 2009. I buy a good one so it will last. It’s amazing how one day in front of the retina display makes me think ‘yuck!’ looking at my tired old, burnt out 2009 display. But onward, to the future! [click to continue…]

Hurdy-Gurdy Facts and Fictions?

by John Holbo on July 20, 2015

I’m still preparing to teach Nietzsche. Today I was rereading “The Convalescent”, in Zarathustra – the key chapter in which the animals clue Z. in that his job shall be to teach Eternal Recurrence. A minor linguistic detail auf Deutsch: he is moping in the depths of his most abysmal thought and they – the animals – sing to him about how everything that goes around, comes around, and he calls them ‘barrel organs’ [Drehorgeln] and accuses them of bothering him with a mere Leier-Lied. Which seems like it should just be translated ‘lyre-song’, which it has been. But the Del Caro translation is ‘hurdy-gurdy song’. Which seems a bit unnecessarily far from the original. Curious, I put ‘Leier-Lied’ in Google translate and got ‘lyre-lay’. But then I tried ‘Leierlied’ – no hyphen – and got ‘gurdy song’. Is that a thing? (Obviously I have too much time on my hands.) ‘Hurdy-gurdy’ in German is Drehleier. Leierkasten, by contrast, is a synonym for barrel-organ, so it makes sense that the translator would make a connection. Both barrel-organs and hurdy-gurdys operate by means of cranked cylinders, which makes sense: Zarathustra is complaining that the animals’ philosophy is just cylindrical crankiness. Round and round and round. Very lowbrow stuff. The animals set Zarathustra straight and tell him he needs to make himself a new Leier, so he can sing this song himself, because this is totally his jam. At this point there is no question of translating it as ‘hurdy-gurdy’. Dude is in the middle of nowhere and those things are very complicated engineering feats. He’ll be lucky to string a few strings on a frame, to sing to the sheep, thank you very much. [click to continue…]

Where is this going, someone tell me?

by John Holbo on July 18, 2015

The neocons have been wailing and gnashing teeth over the abysmal awfulness of the Iran deal. Meanwhile, everyone else says it’s good or, at worst, better than the alternatives. I am a creature of irony so it is hard for me to discuss the situation rationally. I would like to mock the neocons but what is the irony? Dog chases car. Dog catches car. What’s a dog to do? Bite it! So this is dog-bites-car. That’s just neocon nature.

But here’s something a bit ironic, so I’ll pass it on. The most eloquent, pithy assessment I have read on the subject is from Pat Buchanan, gaming out GOP rejection: [click to continue…]

Hedgehogs

by John Holbo on July 14, 2015

Everyone who’s anyone knows Isaiah Berlin’s essay, “The Fox and the Hedgehog”, written around the postulate that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” It’s a good essay, although too famous for its own good. I would not presume to dispute the divine wisdom of Archilochus. But I’ve always thought that, applied to academic philosophy, the following would be more apt: the fox knows a variety of medium-sized things, the hedgehog knows an extremely large number of small things. Generalists, specialists. And having Big Ideas is yet a third thing. Having One Big Idea isn’t like slipping through the dappled forest, lightly, alertly. But it also isn’t waddle, hunker, clench. Waddle, hunker, clench. Write a tight little article, in which you anticipate 14 objections to your point and answer them, one by one. Defending yourself by preemptively making it too much bother for a potential predator to attack you from any conceivable angle is a classic academic tactic, but not a Big Idea thing. [click to continue…]

I completely agree with John Fund. No wait, let me back up. Belle and I were just talking about this. (Our planes passed, heading in opposite directions, and we held up little notes to the windows.) Wouldn’t it be funny if Trump were a double agent?

Our way of thinking about it wasn’t quite like Fund’s. He presumes Trump is motivated by desire for Canadian-style health care. We hypothesized there could be some money in it. The Clintons are rich. Surely they could just be paying him off with cash or promises of favors or whatever.

But the interesting thing about the Trump situation, structurally, is this. As I noted in this post, [click to continue…]

The Genealogy of Trolling

by John Holbo on July 10, 2015

I’m teaching Nietzsche this semester. I think Genealogy of Morals is the best place to start. At least they are essays! The aphorisms of The Gay Science are the most satisfying, but they are so superficially open to a wide variety of readings, they scatter students every which way. You need people to have a better sense of what Nietzsche is about if you don’t want the aphoristic stuff to turn into just a really fun rorschach test.

Here is my thought for the day: Nietzsche basically thinks morality, good and evil, were invented to enable trolling. That is the value of this value, such as it is. When he says we are decadent, he means Western civilization has turned into an endless comment box, filled with folks trolling. No one has even read the original blog post that set it all off. Eventually the trolls start trolling themselves, for lack of any non-trolls to troll. Trolling the trolls feels like non-trolling, but it’s really just supertrolling. Untermensch als Uberzwerg! (This is Zarathustra’s penultimate insight.) There needs to be some non-trolling way to get past all trolling. The one thing no true troll truly feels is joy, hence Nietzsche’s emphasis on the need to be joyful and affirmative. Also, truth. The one thing every troll pretends to care about. The one thing no troll cares about. Which reminds me: English psychologists, what’s up with that? Are they just sealions, sealioning us? It’s fascinating to ask what truly motivates them! Are they cruel or cunning or simply clueless? Or some combination of all three! Do they know how they look? Also, derp. Philosophy is derpy. This is a key Nietzschean insight. All those footnotes to Plato amount to a flerped herp of derp. Also, the internet as shame culture. “What do you consider the most humane? – To spare someone shame.” Nietzsche would not have liked the way the internet has turned out. In fact, when he complained about democracy, he was really just complaining about the internet. Right? [click to continue…]

Polygamy and Polyamory

by John Holbo on July 8, 2015

What does our esteemed CT commentariat make of this Politico pros-and-cons of polygamy back-and-forth between deBoer and Rauch? (DeBoer’s response to Rauch here.) [click to continue…]

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss

by John Holbo on June 14, 2015

Continuing my ‘great art books I bought this year’ series, it turns out that, secretly, Dr. Seuss liked to draw cats and architecture, in a Seussian style. You can buy the book. Or just browse the gallery. Mostly it turns out the secret is: he liked color. (That’s a reason to buy the book. Nice printing.) Also, a bit more sex.

Maurice Sendak wrote the introduction, just as he did for my other new Seuss book.

Ted and I met years ago and liked each other immediately. I gave him reason to laugh mightily on more than one occasion when I launched into one of my “wacky” (his word) subtext theories relating to my favorite Seuss books. I was a product of fifties psycho-analysis, and he forgave me that and my terrible earnestness.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall as an earnest young Maurice Sendak expounded his theory of Green Eggs and Ham. “I would not, could not, in the dark.” Hey, sometimes a tunnel is only a tunnel.

Tomm Moore and Harry Clarke

by John Holbo on June 6, 2015

My hand-drawn post drew a bit of interest. Folks seemed to think I should be talking up Tomm Moore’s films a bit more in this connection: The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. This is very true. I think Song of the Sea was my favorite film, last year.

And one of my favorite art books from last year was Designing the Secret of Kells. Which is sold out everywhere by now. Sucks to be you.

But let me console you with some alternative, Irish flat-style animation. [click to continue…]

Hand-drawn!

by John Holbo on June 3, 2015

Complaining about conservatives is well and good, but I’m a conservative about anything true and good, so I love animation – so long as it is hand-drawn, the way God and Walt and the Nine Old Men intended!

I have actually made myself (mildly) depressed (for a few minutes) thinking that Tangled might be the end of the big studio production hand-drawn line, in its hybrid CGI-way. You can’t fight progress.

So it’s nice to know I was wrong. Maybe. This looks fantastic. Such a wonderful Chuck Jones-y-ness, a Maurice-Nobleity, with an Eyvind-Earliness, especially in the morning light.

1

Not to mention the Carl Stallingness of the music.

The design for the little girl slays me.

2

The Counter-Enlightenment as Gotcha!

by John Holbo on June 3, 2015

It’s hard to find time to blog when one of your hobbies is reading Rod Dreher. Dude doesn’t stop!

Where to start, where to start? Dreher, like a lot of conservatives, is aghast at the Kipnis case. [click to continue…]