Unreadable Excursions Into the Higher Drivel

There was a bit of the New Yorker that I read. It, like most outlets, quibbled and fretted over the inclusion of Trigger Warnings.

Many of the op-eds and articles on trigger warnings published this week have argued on behalf of the sanctity of the relationship between the reader and the text. For the most part, I have agreed with them. A trigger warning reduces a work of art down to what amounts to plot points. If a novel like José Saramago’s “Blindness” succeeds because it sews up small yet essential pockets of human normalcy against a horrific backdrop, a preëmptive label like “Trigger Warning: Violence and internment” strips it down to one idea.

I relayed these thoughts to Brodsky, along with the anecdote about my professor and “Lolita.” “What a delight it must be to read a book full of graphic accounts of sexual violence and still have the book not be about sexual violence to you!” she said. “Why is the depersonalized, apolitical reading the one we should fight for?”

For those well-versed in the neo-orthodoxies of the new, illiberal liberalism the next paragraph writes itself. Immediately reference the author’s own non-WASP background. Dodge. Evade.

I admit, this was an angle I had not yet considered, and I recalled the severe annoyance I’d felt in college seminars and coffeehouse conversations whenever a white person would say a bit too ringingly that a book written by a person of color somehow “transcended race,” as if that was the highest compliment that could be paid to a work written by one of us poor, striving minorities.

Let us ignore, for a moment, an Asian-American from California talking with any authority on America’s race questions–because the only fun there is unintentional irony, and not much irony at that. Such a contrived point about the quintessential ‘white person’ making a reckless statement. I wince. Recall Heine’s prophetic observation about Marx and his peers: “These revolutionary doctors and their pitilessly determined disciples are the only men in Germany who have any life; and it is to them, I fear, that the future belongs.” I recall it daily. In name of tolerance we have a man, ostensibly a ‘man of letters,’ immediately contrite. The disciples of political correctness have another victory. He should have doubled-down. Where is Gore Vidal, James Baldwin or Joan Didion when we need them?

There is an excellent rebuttal begging to be made to Brodsky on Lolita. “What a tragedy it must be to read a book full of graphic accounts of sexual violence and have the book be only about sexual violence to you!” Brodsky has the benefit of owning a worldview that allows her to converse at length and authority on novels that she has never read.  Or if she has read them without understanding them. Give Brodsky credit, dear reader, for explicitly announcing her intention. Books should be edited for political reasons. For her reasons. Art can take a backseat. I hate the sensibility, I admire the honesty. Like an ancient Essene, or a modern Jain, she strives for irreproachable correctness in every action. But her zeal is more admirable because it is more exigent than their’s. The tenets of her creed are not eternal, but submit to the shifting caprices of Midwestern colleges and a few outposts along the coasts. If I had half as much dedication…

What I worry about is reduction. I can summarize with the lapidary phrase “Everything flows” the philosophy of Heraclitus. But what a weak reading. It consigns him to purgatory–remembered but hardly celebrated.

Take, for a moment, this synthesis by Borges.

Nils Runeberg proposes the opposite motive: a hyperbolic and even unlimited asceticism. The ascetic, for the greater glory of God, vilifies and mortifies his flesh; Judas did the same with his spirit. He renounced honor, morality, peace and kingdom of heaven, just as others, less heroically, renounce pleasure. With terrible lucidity he premeditated his sins. In adultery there is usually tenderness and abnegation; in homicide, courage; in profanity and blasphemy, a certain satanic luster. Judas chose those sins untouched by any virtue: violation of trust and betrayal. He acted with enormous humility, he believed himself unworthy of being good.

Think of the reading that began with Trigger Warning: Regicide. Or Theocide. Or Homicide. Much more consider the word conspiracy. Should that also be included and if it were consider the new meanings. Consider what has been lost. The word changes the meaning of the paragraph. Trigger warnings are edits. They are alterations of the text. It is only a difference of degrees, rather than a change of principle, between removing words. When I add a word I necessarily remove meaning, and relationships, just as if I took a word out. Some, either through stultifying or stupefying ignorance, dodge this last conclusion. Brodsky does not. For that I admire her. Be honest about writing profanities.

Notice the remarkable alacrity with which the poverty, and that is the only word I have for it, of past works will have been officially forgotten and paved over, such that deep social difference is denied or homogenized and even the most recent and contested past is available only in this nostalgic plastic reproduction carefully bracketed by authorities. In an perverse sense this, I believe, is the only way the current of thought is credible. It is the sign on the highway of forgetting. We’re all happy, except me because I am never happy, to travel on it. It may be an inauthentic journey. It may lead us to some disturbing areas. But it is an inauthenticity that is, as it were, authentically created. This effort at forgetting is not contrived. There are several people, hundreds if not thousands of people, that are sincere about forgetting.

How Dante Saved My Life

How Dante Saved My Life

The Inferno is not an exhaustive taxonomy of sins (though it sometimes feels like it), but rather an allegory of the condition of sinfulness. For Dante, the worst sins are not those of the appetite—Lust and Gluttony, for example—but sins against the things that make us most human. In Dante’s spiritual geography, Hell is like a vast pit mine, with least corrupt sins punished near the top, the middling sins—sins of Violence and sins of Fraud—punished in the central regions—and the foulest sin of all—Treason—punished at the bottom, where Lucifer dwells.

One-Off: In Defense of Bullshit

One-Off: In Defense of Bullshit

Leon Wieseltier takes aim at FiveThirtyEight.

His distinction between analysis and advocacy is a little innocent. (Like the insistence of the man who went from the Times to ESPN that he is an “outsider.”) Is numeracy really what American public discourse most urgently lacks?

Mr. Wieseltier had a prime opportunity to approach the reoccurring theme of internet ‘debating.’ I enter argument, I throw some insults out there, and then I go to the proverbial “WhyIAmRight.com” before debating anew. If only indirectly Wieseltier comes close to making that point but at the last second ducks away to offer up some platitudes about inequality. Are we really lacking proper ‘numeracy,’ what a awfully pretentious word, Mr. Wieseltier? I do not know too many people who believe that inequality is absent from America. I do, however, see quite a few people–from all sides–defending themselves with the ‘need-not-be-said’ type of arguments. e.g. I vote for X, and it need-not-be-said that according to this argument concocted from these obscure and misguided numerals I am right. I know there is inequality, and it need-not-be-said that according this argument concocted from these obscure numerals I am right. And those are the worst type of arguments. They are not debates, the ‘debate’ is two people talking past each other.

Nevertheless, it makes for good, light reading. And anyone who mentions Isaiah Berlin deserves a bone.

Analyzing the ‘You Have Nothing to Hide’ Argument

Analyzing the ‘You Have Nothing to Hide’ Argument

In this short essay, written for a symposium in the San Diego Law Review, Professor Daniel Solove examines the nothing to hide argument.  When asked about government surveillance and data mining, many people respond by declaring: “I’ve got nothing to hide.”  According to the nothing to hide argument, there is no threat to privacy unless the government uncovers unlawful activity, in which case a person has no legitimate justification to claim that it remain private.  The nothing to hide argument and its variants are quite prevalent, and thus are worth addressing.  In this essay, Solove critiques the nothing to hide argument and exposes its faulty underpinnings.

Ham Sandwhich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime

Ham Sandwhich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime

“Though extensive due process protections apply to the investigation of crimes, and to criminal trials, perhaps the most important part of the criminal process — the decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what — is almost entirely discretionary.  Given the plethora of criminal laws and regulations in today’s society, this due process gap allows prosecutors to charge almost anyone they take a deep interest in.  This Essay discusses the problem in the context of recent prosecutorial controversies involving the cases of Aaron Swartz and David Gregory, and offers some suggested remedies, along with a call for further discussion.”