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John Holbo

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.

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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…]

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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.

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Not to mention the Carl Stallingness of the music.

The design for the little girl slays me.

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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…]

Peter Gay Has Died

by John Holbo on May 13, 2015

New York Times obituary.

I guess I’m the one who should make this little post, since for the last couple weeks I’ve been talking, a bit, about his classic book, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider. I didn’t know very much about the man, myself, before reading his obit this morning. I haven’t really thought much about his legacy – how much of what he wrote was valid, or is still valid in light of subsequent historiography. But he has had an influence on me. In sophomore (?) year of college I heard about him from a Freudian psychology prof. I struggled through The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. It was maybe the first ‘proper’ intellectual history I read. I found it fascinating. But I had such screwy ideas at the time that the details didn’t really stick. Maybe I should go back and give it a reread in honor of the man. Well, maybe not the whole thing …

Any thoughts about Peter Gay?

This will be the final installment in my ‘were the Nazis right-wing and, if so, why were they socialists?’ series (part 1, part 2).

This final post will consist mostly of a long passage from a chapter titled, ‘The Conservative Dilemma’, from Conservative Revolution In The Wiemar Republic, by Roger Woods. But I’ll frame it with a few general thoughts.

Before we get to the passage, the thing you should know is that ‘Conservative Revolution’ is not a tendentious title – some sinister liberal attempt to slap ‘conservative’ onto a bunch of Nazis (who were radicals, not conservatives!) Or if it is semantically tendentious, it isn’t the author’s fault, just because it seems like an flagrant oxymoron. German nationalists, from 1918 on, used the phrase ‘die Konservative Revolution‘. It was the proper, often self-applied name of a literary/intellectual movement.

In 1937 Thomas Mann wrote: [click to continue…]