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John Holbo

Caricature and Kierkegaard

by John Holbo on August 10, 2016

I wrote a survey article on “Caricature and Comics” for The Routledge Companion To Comics. (I’m sorry to say that the volume is currently very overpriced, although I trust in a few years they will release a more modestly-priced paperpack version, and the Kindle version price shall descend from the heavens, where it dwells.) However, Routledge allows authors to self-archive, so I did. Abstract:

Caricature and comics are elastic categories. This essay treats caricature not as a type or aspect of comics but as a window through which we can view comics in relation to the broader European visual art tradition. Caricature is exaggeration. But all art exaggerates, insofar as it stylizes. Is all art caricature, since all has ‘style’? Ernst Gombrich’s classic Art and Illusion comes close to arguing so. This article conjoins critical reflections on Gombrich’s discussion of ‘the experiment of caricature’ with a survey of art historical paradigm cases. It makes sense for comics to emerge from this mix.

And this seems like a nice occasion to showcase the newest addition to my small, but growing set of philosophical caricatures. Soren Kierkegaard!

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My old poker buddy Eric Schwitzgebel has, for some time, been soliciting Top-10 lists from folks who teach SF and philosophy. So I finally got around to contributing. Tell me I’m wrong!

Eric has busted into sf authorship himself since our grad school days. Here’s one of his in Clarkesworld, “Fishdance”. “The two most addictive ideas in history, religion and video-gaming, would finally become one.” It’s good!

One thing I’m going to talk about this semester is the domestication of experience machines. In genre terms, The Matrix is a bit played out. Inception. Been there, done that. Can we agree about that? Also, video games just get normaler and normaler. Yesterday I looked around on the train and I was, literally, the only person NOT playing “Pokemon Go”. True story! It felt a bit weird. They were all off together in an alternate version of the city. I was alone in the real one, with only my headphones and music to keep me warm – like some savage. There are two obvious ways to make virtual life, as an alternative to real life, appealing: make the world really messed up. Make the virtual world nice. Maybe the people behind the scenes don’t need to be Agent Smith-style jerks. The first film to play it this way, in a nice way, is Avalon. But no one saw it. Good film. More recently you get the likes of Ready Player One and Off To Be The Wizard, in which players of games – and games within games, and games within games within games – are increasingly comfortable with the whole biz. Not that there’s no lingering anxiety about the appropriateness of this life strategy! I like to think that one of my all time faves, The Glass Bead Game, is an honored ancestor. Homo Ludens. What’s Latin for ‘man, the player of virtual reality games’?

Of course, I think of myself as more of a cartoonist than an sf author. Since I’m on the subject, here are a couple graphics I whipped up for my module last time, which amused me – although I did it all fast-and-sketchy. I’d really like to remake them carefully, in a Norman Saunders-y style.

The idea is to make fake pulp covers for classic scientific and philosophical thought-experiments. [click to continue…]

The Kith of the Elf-Folk – Unberufen?

by John Holbo on August 6, 2016

As I believe I have mentioned, I’m teaching Kierkegaard. K is an excellently – some say inordinately – literary-aesthetical sort of fellow, so we want to welcome that quality, when we invite him to come give a talk to our class. But there comes a stage in man’s life when he wearies of undergraduates writing yet another paper about Fight Club and/or The Matrix, or even “The Grand Inquisitor” from Dostoyevsky. More broadly, there is an academic convention – who knows when it got started? – of nudging the young into equating a work of philosophy to a work of literature/art, i.e. pretending the latter is likely to be, let alone was intended to be, a vehicle for the expression of the former. And so it turns out Hamlet was Shakespeare’s ham-handed attempt to write an essay on Freud, or what have you. These attempted equations invite minor (or major) fraud. (Not that I think this is a major social problem. Mostly it’s just silly and strained.) And for what? You can fit things to things without exaggerating the degree of fit. (Kierkegaard was a weirdo. What are the odds any literary figure, who wasn’t K, ever produced a Kierkegaardian work of literary fiction? Hell, even K had to pretend he wasn’t himself, half the time, to keep from falling into error about his author’s meaning.)

I’m thinking of assigning a few short works that are, to my eye, not Kierkegaardian. But one can make connections, draw lines. For example, Lord Dunsany’s “The Kith of the Elf-Folk”. Here we have spheres of existence, I guess you could say: aesthetic, religious – ethical? (Now we are pushing it.) And there is a nice question, twinkling in the author’s eye: which is higher? How could one be in a position to say? And there is an implied indictment of modern society (who could wish for less?) And there is a lyrical seriousness, yet ironic playfulness. So the question I’m going to ask the kids is: suppose you had to rewrite “The Kith of the Elf-Folk” to be a parable of Kierkegaard’s stages – which it plainly is not. What changes would you have to make? Defend your adaptive edits!

Or maybe that’s a really, really bad question that will produce bad results in my classroom.

But my question for you is a bit different. How great is this story? Pretty great, right? [click to continue…]

More On Gaus’ The Tyranny of the Ideal

by John Holbo on August 4, 2016

Having posted about Gaus’ new book, let me link to Will Wilkinson’s review essay at Vox. Will is more enthused about the conclusions than I am, although I agree it’s a great read. I’ve been trying to work out my own thoughts in the same vicinity and, for post purposes, I’ll just sketch a thumbnail argument that seems to me the right Gaus-style indictment of Rawls, using a modified version of his mountain metaphor. [click to continue…]

It seems Gary Johnson/Bill Weld have been disappointing to conservatives and right-leaning libertarians (fusionists), looking for an alternative to Trump. For example, Ilya Shapiro, in “Is Johnson-Weld a Libertarian Ticket?”
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Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. Although jetlag is is the the more pressing concern.

Now I can get back to drawing Zarathustra! Which reminds me: a few pages went up a few days ago, yet I didn’t flog them here at CT. So: here!

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Pre and Post-Scarcity Ecotheonomics

by John Holbo on July 29, 2016

Erick Erickson:

In Genesis, God put Adam and Eve to work in the garden. There is something soul nourishing about work. When we all get to Heaven we will all have jobs. Getting people comfortable not working sucks their souls away and destroys their families.
Two questions here. [click to continue…]

DNC Open Thread

by John Holbo on July 29, 2016

Thoughts and feelings. You know you have them.

Winners at the RNC

by John Holbo on July 20, 2016

Well, Slavoj Zizek. He’s now only the world’s second most famous Slovenian plagiarist.

Zarathustra and Kierkegaard

by John Holbo on July 15, 2016

Apologies for lack of posts. I’ve been without keyboard for 10 days. It’s silent meditation for the fingertips, if – like me – you type quickly. (I don’t count that hunt-and-pecking ground on my iPad mini as a keyboard.) But before leaving home I prepared a few “On Beyond Zarathustra” installments to hold my clamorous readership (yet you are all so politely silent!) until I return to my Cintiq at summer’s end.

I’ve been using my keyboard-free time to read news and be horrified, also to read as many hundreds of pages of Kierkegaard as I can before August. (When I get tired, I read Lord Dunsany, pagan palate-cleanser, when the Kierkegaardian Christianity gets too much.) So far I’ve gotten all the way through Either/Or, in the Penguin Classics edition, which is slightly abridged but – you know what? – I’m not complaining. (Have YOU ever read all the way through both volumes of Either/Or, as opposed to skimming “The Diary of a Seducer” for naughty bits, then getting disappointed and bored?) I have also made it through Philosophical Fragments, which is shorter but even more head-scratching. [click to continue…]

Friday Comics!

by John Holbo on July 1, 2016

It’s what you have been waiting for! Two more pages of On Beyond Zarathustra! (When oh when will Z stop talking already? Not soon, it seems!)

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Podcasts I just listened to

by John Holbo on June 30, 2016

Anyone have podcasts they like? I listen to a lot. Always up for something new and good. Or even something bad, maybe.

I just listened to an interview with Leslie Reagan, on On The Media. She’s a historian of abortion politics (here’s her book). She talks about how the movement to legalize abortion in the US got a double push, first from fear of rubella-related birth-defects, then from fear of thalydomide-related birth defects. (This is the late-50’s, early 60’s.) In a nutshell, ‘dangerous pregnancy’ had to be made vivid – pictorially vivid – as something that could happen to ‘good’ white women. I’m not sure whether this makes a difference to how we think about the politics of abortion today in the US. (There’s a zika virus hook, for the podcast. Will Catholic countries facing zika outbreaks lift bans on abortion?) But I found it very interesting because if you’d asked me about the US politics of abortion in the 50’s and 60’s I would have drawn a total blank. I would have said ‘something about the sexual revolution?’ and then realized, as the words left my mouth, that this didn’t sound right.

Second, I just listened to a Federalist podcast interview with Randy Barnett. Not my cup of tea, usually, but I have an interest in Barnett’s stuff. The guy really has a bug in his ear about John Roberts. A couple months back he was blaming Roberts for Trump and I was like – fine, fine, you lost your Obamacare case. You are a bit bitter, venting steam. But he’s still banging on about how Roberts is the betrayer-in-chief of the Constitution, hence to blame for Trump. This is polemically unfair, in ways I could spell out, but won’t. (If you really want to ask, that’s what comments are for.) But I’ve got to wonder whether this sort of thing isn’t really pissing off Roberts. It would piss me off, if I were Roberts. Barnett isn’t just some guy. He’s like the brain and soul of the Federalist Society, these days. A bit of on-again, off-again grousing about Roberts’ ‘bad’ decisions is one thing. But Roberts is shaping up to be this consistent, vile Judas in the conservative imaginary. Roberts is going to be Chief for a while, I expect. Dale Carnegie would suggest that the way to work the refs effectively is not this. If Roberts actually turns into some flaming Living Constitutionalist slave-to-the-democratic-mob in 20 years, maybe you can give Barnett half credit.

Kierkegaard: Jokes, Ideals, Revise and Resubmit

by John Holbo on June 27, 2016

Jokes first. This one is not so funny. Kierkegaard’s life basically was a “Hark! A Vagrant” strip. So what’s there to work with? But this one nails it. I think there should be a good one about “The Seducer’s Diary” and pick-up artistry. Negging and Hegelian negative? Can’t put my finger on it.

This one is ok, but, here again, the trouble with turning Kierkegaard into jokes is that, honestly, it was as funny in the original. Example: [click to continue…]

On Beyond Zarathustra – Z Speaks!

by John Holbo on June 23, 2016

In our last episode, I omitted a page, so we’ll start with that before getting to the new stuff …

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Forgetting Oneself

by John Holbo on June 22, 2016

Per this post, I’m preparing to teach Kierkegaard. My main frustration with The Concept of Anxiety is that I really, really have a hard time telling what Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety is. Journal entries like this don’t exactly narrow it down: “All existence [Tilværelsen], from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation, makes me anxious.” So I’ll dodge that for now. Here’s another Notebooks quote. [click to continue…]