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John Holbo

Reciprocity vs. Baseline Communism

by John Holbo on February 19, 2015

I was rereading David Graeber’s Debt over the weekend. The intervening two years, since our book event, have not caused it to be the case that Graeber doesn’t owe Henry an apology, after all. But the life of the mind goes on. We do not freeze intellectual accounts due to outstanding personal debts. That is to say, the free market of ideas is baseline communist, in Graeber’s sense. If I have a bright idea, I do not expect to be paid back, by those who receive it, in the form of two half-insights – or 100 comments, each containing but a grote’s worth of thought; none of that. (I expect intellectual credit, of course.)

My bright idea for the day is that I have no idea what the difference is between reciprocity and baseline communism. [click to continue…]

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I’m an animation history buff, as you may know. Here’s something I noticed today.

“Hell-Bent For Election”, the 1944, Chuck Jones-directed, proto-UPA pro-FDR agit-prop classic, shows Roosevelt’s streamlined profile as the head of the Win The War Special. On the other track is the Defeatist Limited, pulling various cars including, finally, the Jim Crow Car.

jimcrowcar

That is, the cartoon basically says: vote FDR, because Thomas Dewey is in favor of Jim Crow.

I am very surprised to see this messaging in 1944. I wouldn’t have thought the Democrats would have wanted to go there. Too much of a raw nerve. Too close to home for a party still based in the South. (Probably also unfair to Dewey, but the cartoon isn’t a model of fairness. It contains a pretty raw ad hitlerum argument. The surprise is only that it seems to risk offending the white Democratic base.)

It wouldn’t surprise me if the cartoonists, who were all lefties, were wishing FDR further to the left. Maybe message discipline for this stuff wasn’t very tight.

The cartoon got a lot of play in the election. From a book on history of the studio:

The film worked. Distributed in 16 mm by Brandon Films, Inc., of New York City, the cartoon could be rented for ten dollars. Boxoffice reported that it was screened in “union halls, political clubs – even in private homes at parties organized for fund raising purposes.” Naturally, the liberal press trumpeted Hell-Bent For Election: “Clever cartooning, obviously done by Hollywood’s best,” noted John T. McManus in the newspaper PM. The Daily Worker praised the cartoon’s “expert craftsmanship and sound political advice to labor and the nation.” Hell-Bent also warranted a two-page spread in Life – a periodical aimed at the middle-American mind. Direction magazine estimated that Hell-Bent was “shown to more than ten million persons.” (57)

What do you think? I’d be kind of curious to see the Life spread.

Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Trollbird

by John Holbo on January 31, 2015

The author is a genius but would prefer to remain mildly anonymous. I think it reads like Donald Barthelme. (I mean, the Stevens influence is also pretty definitely there.) [click to continue…]

Daumier Does Socrates, Robo Hates Dr. D.

by John Holbo on January 22, 2015

I’m glad to have spread the gorey news regarding Daumier. Some commenters were evidently unfamiliar. Here’s a nice Flickr set if you just want to browse. But, for CT’s especially philosophically-minded and discerning readership, one from Daumier’s “Histoire Ancienne” series. (It also belongs in my collection of philosophers looking silly. This one is also good.)

I present: Socrates doing a soft cancan, to Aspasia’s discomfort. [click to continue…]

Daumier Does Edward Gorey

by John Holbo on January 20, 2015

While I’m on the subject of Honoré Daumier, let me just show a couple other items from the aforementioned whomping great volume. A pair of lithographs from the Caricatural Salon of 1840 (which I saved myself the trouble of scanning by finding here. Kind of interesting comparisons with some comics frames.)

Anyway, the first is “The Ascension of Christ. After the Original Painting By Brrdhkmann”:

[click to continue…]

Manspreading In 19th Century Paris

by John Holbo on January 19, 2015

So Manspreading is a thing, hence a controversy. I don’t have a lot to add to this Jezebel post on the subject. Except I do! I did some important historical research by remembering that Honoré Daumier got there first with “The Omnibus”.

pl1_371227_fnt_tr_ii [click to continue…]

The Race Card, circa 1871

by John Holbo on January 19, 2015

Jon Chait has an interesting column about the origins of ‘waving the bloody shirt’, which means (if you are unfamiliar with the phrase) demagogically inflaming resentment about past wrongs. The utility of such flames consisting, in part, in the generation of a smokescreen obscuring present circumstances the speaker finds it inconvenient to address in a more reasonable manner.

Chait just read a book – The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War, by Stephen Budiansky – alleging we have it almost backwards. The bloody shirt that birthed a notion didn’t belong to some dead Union soldier. That is, ‘waving the bloody shirt’ wasn’t functionally a smear against post-Civil War Democrats, turning every debate about post-war issues into a re-commencement of old hostilities. Rather, [click to continue…]

Happy New Year, Crooked Timber!

by John Holbo on January 9, 2015

Oh, and Merry Christmas! (Been a hectic holiday season for the Holbo/Waring clan. Good and bad. Leave it at that. So I went off the grid.)

Here’s a bit of Crooked Timber, captured in Takoma Park, MD.

crookedtimber [click to continue…]

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…]

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…]