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John Holbo

The Young Philosopher: Caption This!

by John Holbo on December 16, 2014

You know what’s a good idea, if you have access to a university library? Checking out nice big fat art books. The older daughter and I have been undertaking a study of French art. She likes Daumier, not Picasso. The Essence of Line: French Drawings from Ingres to Degas [amazon]. Daughter says: great stuff! I also checked out The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting [amazon], because I wanted to show both daughters a better-than-web-quality reproduction of that Fragonard swing from Frozen. Disney has been on a Fragonard kick since Tangled. (But I don’t suppose so many Crooked Timber readers are heavy into Disney princess films. But Tangled is really a masterpiece, I say.)

Anyway, older daughter’s reaction to Fragonard’s The Swing: is this some kind of ironic political protest? Stands to reason that Fragonard must have been the Stephen Colbert of rococo art. Book says it was painted in 1790. Presumably Fragonard read the newspapers. But wikipedia says it was painted circa 1767. That makes more sense.

The thing that’s great about Fragonard is … the trees. Just look at this ridiculous thing, The Meeting. I want someone to do a fête galante superhero comic in the style of Fragonard, with all the trees like so much Kirby Krackle, and all the heroes and heroines in satin, flouncing about. Imagine if Fragonard had painted Galactus and the Silver Surfer.

But I digress. In the Fragonard book, on the facing page, we get an amazing addition to my informal collection of silly pictures of philosophers. [click to continue…]

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Bit late, but a family-oriented, all-American blog like Crooked Timber should have a Thanksgiving-themed post.

This semester I was teaching ‘topics in aesthetics’ and we ended up doing a unit on fakes and forgeries. I read a bunch of stuff on the history of famous cases. Lots of fascinating material, of course. I like the story of Lothar Malskat and the Turkeys In The Schwahl, entertainingly retold in Jonathan Keats, Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age [amazon]. (That subtitle doth protest too much. But fun read.)

Long story short: this guy Malskat was a fake and a fraud! He was supposed to restore the painting in this here 13th Century church cloister but it was, basically, like, gone. Nothing left. So he made it up! Here’s an excerpt: [click to continue…]

Ferguson

by John Holbo on November 26, 2014

Conservatives are wringing their hands. “There is no indication that the [grand jury] system worked otherwise than as it should. Nonetheless, almost immediately protesters — soon become looters — were throwing rocks at the police and then setting ablaze police cars and local businesses.”

This ‘nonetheless’ seems to indicate confusion. To review.

1) The law heavily tilts in favor of cop defendants in a case like this (by design). The law sides with cops. The law trusts cops.

2) In Ferguson, the police are (by design) an outside force imposed on the community, not really a community force. Citizens don’t trust the cops, and rightly not.

What follows is that, in a case like the Brown/Wilson tragedy, if the justice system works ‘as it should’, citizens’ already weak faith in the system will tend to be shattered. [click to continue…]

Why is comedy more painful than tragedy?

by John Holbo on November 20, 2014

So there’s this bit by Aristotle (famous philosopher) where he discusses tragedy. (If you don’t know it … well, you should Know Your Meme. Do some research, already.) Why do good people like to watch bad things happening to good people, so long as it’s fictional? Katharsis? Related topics: why do people like watching horror movies, since they are scary, and being scared is, apparently, unpleasant? [click to continue…]

Lud-in-the-Mist

by John Holbo on November 12, 2014

Hope Mirrlees’ 1926 fantasy novel/fairy tale, Lud-in-the-Mist, has a funny old publication history. An unauthorized version appeared in 1970, again in 1977, because publishers couldn’t figure out whether the lady – who died in 1978 – was alive. (Here’s Michael Swanwick, trying to sort it out.) I just noticed Amazon has a cheap Kindle edition available. I think you would be quite mad to read any other fantasy novel or fairy tale first, if you have so far failed to read this one, and are looking for anything of the sort with which to stock your electronic device.

It’s a fable of alienation and reconciliation. I’ll quote from chapter 1. Our proper Master Nathaniel has a strange secret, tucked into his soul. [click to continue…]

Adventures in Sexual Implicature

by John Holbo on November 12, 2014

OK, let me see if I got this straight. (Here’s a copy of Limbaugh’s lawyer’s complaining letter to the DCCC, via TPM.)

OSU instituted a strong, positive ‘affirmative consent’ policy for student sexual relations.

‘No’ means no, and only ‘yes’ means yes.

Clear? [click to continue…]

Do philosophers dream of saving electric cats?

by John Holbo on November 6, 2014

I have a horrible cold. Getting better, but as of Monday fever was pretty bad, thanks for your concern. I was trying to get some work done – any work. What I proved capable of was: reading Save the Cat, which I’m planning to discuss in my science fiction and philosophy class (yes, I’m lucky like that. I get paid to teach such stuff.)

Why Save The Cat? [click to continue…]

Two Great Parties

by John Holbo on October 21, 2014

I’m reading up on the history of party politics. It’s a nice question why Henry Bolingbroke doesn’t get more credit for theorizing the benefits of Two Great Parties. But, now that I’m tucking into his “Dissertation Upon Parties”, I’m starting to get a notion.

Dude did not appreciate that regarding Whigs and Tories as closely related independent causes, yet great, does not make it great to write in closely related, independent clauses. Ahem: [click to continue…]

Matthew Franck advances a number of arguments for thinking the Supreme Court taking a pass on gay marriage is similar to the Dred Scott decision. I think he missed one that is at least as good as several of the ones he offers. [click to continue…]

Kirby Copyright Case

by John Holbo on October 5, 2014

A couple weeks back the estate of Jack Kirby reached a settlement with Marvel, the day before the Supremes were set to take the case. This was a surprise, as the Kirbys were 0-2 in the courts, to that point. I hadn’t paid attention but I figured their case was weak, although they had my sympathy. I had read stuff like this from early NY Times articles:

WHEN the Walt Disney Company agreed in August to pay $4 billion to acquire Marvel Entertainment, the comic book publisher and movie studio, it snared a company with a library that includes some of the world’s best-known superheroes, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four.

The heirs of Jack Kirby, the legendary artist who co-created numerous Marvel mainstays, were also intrigued by the deal. Mr. Kirby’s children had long harbored resentments about Marvel, believing they had been denied a share of the lush profits rolling out of the company’s superheroes franchises.

Marvel made out like bandits, treating Kirby badly. But that’s not a legal argument.

What made Marvel blink at the last minute? The terms of the settlement can’t be revealed, so it’s hard to say.

omac [click to continue…]

The Personhood Dodge

by John Holbo on October 1, 2014

Crooked Timber seems to be suffering from a deficit of posts. I blame excess of virtue on my part. I was going to post about that Kevin Williamson piece that has set everyone off. I noticed it before it was a thing! And now it’s gone viral. And he’s followed up with a Twitter thing about hanging women who get abortions. Lovely.

Here’s the thing. 1) He’s trolling. 2) On or about Monday afternoon I realized this specific style of trolling bothers me a bit less than it did a couple years back.

Possible explanations: [click to continue…]

… an Alinskyite!

Unless I’m missing something, Kurtz’ actual argument that Hillary has consistently remained an Alinskyite radical is that, for decades, she has consistently done absolutely nothing whatsoever to suggest this is true – as one would expect! She is, to all appearances, moderate, incrementalist and pragmatic. Just like Barack Obama, who is such a model Alinskyite radical that he is on track to govern for eight years and retire to private life without once doing anything to suggest he’s got a radical bone in his body.

How much more sinister would The Manchurian Candidate have been if the trigger word were never spoken. The sleeper never wakes! (A lone hero tries to warn the world but, because there is literally nothing to warn people about, he is ignored.)

Back to Kurtz. [click to continue…]

Jonah Goldberg thinks it through. Bonus: “and Ludwig Wittgenstein had much to say on the subject as well.” I sort of hope Goldberg actually is writing a book about Confucius and Wittgenstein.

Musical Purity and Odd Histories

by John Holbo on September 10, 2014

I have two ideas for rock books I’m never going to write: first, a book about band members of famous bands who apparently don’t really love their own band. You’re the drummer for a heavy metal outfit (it pays the bills!) … but you prefer big band.

Second idea: members of cult bands with surprising musical biographies. Two examples I recently stumbled across. [click to continue…]

Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams

by John Holbo on September 9, 2014

I’m teaching an aesthetics seminar. We’re reading some stuff on music and Roger Scruton’s views were referenced. I’ve never read Scruton on music but I had heard about the Pet Shop Boys’ libel suit , of course. So, naturally, I had long since filed him away in the Allan Bloom remainder bin. Dude hates rock and pop. Thinks it all sounds the same. But googling, to get more of a sense for his views, I found this interview, containing this bit:

I have actually been listening to quite a bit of heavy metal lately, and Metallica, I think, is genuinely talented. ‘Master of Puppets’ I think has got something genuinely both poetic – violently poetic – and musical. Every now and then something like that stands out and you can see that people have got no other repertoire and have a very narrow range of expression, but they’ve hit on something where they are saying something which is not just about themselves. Pop music is so concentrated on the self and the performer that it’s very rare that that happens, I think. It never happens with Oasis or The Verve. It did happen much more of course with the Beatles, and in the old American songbook, Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter and all that. That was a popular music which was about communication of often quite gentle feelings. So I’m not as prejudiced as I seem. I would like to be more prejudiced because it would prevent me from listening to this stuff.

I now have a more fabulous picture of Roger Scruton in my mind, foxhunting to a Hoagy Charmichael/Metallica playlist.