Welcome to The Valve

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Statement of Purpose

John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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About Last Night
Academic Splat
Amardeep Singh
Bemsha Swing
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Blogging the Renaissance
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Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
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Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
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Ideas of Imperfection
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jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
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Long Sunday
Making Light
Maud Newton
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Motime Like the Present
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Pas au-delà
Planned Obsolescence
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
Say Something Wonderful
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
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Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
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The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
What Now?
William Gibson

About Joseph Kugelmass

Joseph Kugelmass blogs at The Kugelmass Episodes. He is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. He joined the Valve in September, 2006.

Email Address: kugelmass@me.com
Website: http://kugelmass.wordpress.com/


Posts by Joseph Kugelmass

Saturday, December 13, 2008

At Least It’s An Ethos: Why Merging Rhetoric With Composition Is A Mistake

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 12/13/08 at 02:18 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, dude, at least it’s an ethos.
-The Big Lebowski

After almost five years teaching writing, English, ESL, and humanities survey courses to high school students and undergraduates, I have come to the conclusion that it is a serious mistake to ground undergraduate instruction in writing in the basics of Aristotelian rhetoric. I believe doing so is increasingly common, and that it is increasingly normal for universities to reframe composition jobs as being in “rhetoric and composition.”

This is a discussion somewhat rooted in the practicalities of teaching first-year undergraduates to write, but it has much broader implications. It is part of a larger conversation about what, exactly, the humanities are supposed to mean at a historical moment when college-level reading and writing skills are quite valuable, yet also when the political and economic conditions put “anti-ideological” pressure on institutions of higher learning. In other words, universities increasingly see themselves as preparing students to write fluently on any topic, from any perspective. This is not the “end” of ideological instruction, naturally, since its final consequence is to encourage students to write for the highest bidder, making every young writer into a copy writer. But it is worth examining how rhetorically themed instruction in writing—especially in ethos, pathos, and logos—arose as a natural way of resolving political conflicts between Western institutions, and to consider the consequences of this paradigm shift for our students. My objection is not merely political; it is also pedagogical, since “rhetoric and composition” forecloses many other valuable ways of teaching reading and writing.

Continue reading "At Least It’s An Ethos: Why Merging Rhetoric With Composition Is A Mistake"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A New Blog For You To Read; Also, Mad Men and the Office

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 11/13/08 at 10:12 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Epsiodes)

I utterly recommend the blog Blographia Literaria, if you aren’t reading it already. I just discovered it, courtesy of an interesting and kind (though ultimately critical) response to my previous post on summarizing theory.

Via that post, I found Andrew’s reflections on the television shows Mad Men and The Office, which, by incredible coincidence, I am watching concurrently while reading Andrew’s post on why one might watch them concurrently.

(More below the fold.)

Continue reading "A New Blog For You To Read; Also, Mad Men and the Office"

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Derrida’s Obituary, or, Is Literary Theory Too Abstruse?

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 11/02/08 at 03:45 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

REPORTER: How do you answer the charge that you’re a fascist?
REPORTER: Your band, Joy Division, named after a group of women recruited by the SS for the purpose of breeding perfect Aryans. Isn’t
that sick.
WILSON: Have you never heard of situationism, or postmodernism? Do you know nothing about the free play of signs and signifiers?

-24 Hour Party People

One time after class I actually went up to the TA and asked him what postmodernism was. “Nobody really knows the answer to that,” he said. I think he’s teaching at Princeton now.
A friend, to me, five days ago

Jacques Derrida, Abstruse Philosopher, Dies at 74
-The New York Times, 10/10/2004

When I was in my second year of graduate studies at Irvine, Jacques Derrida died. The New York Times chose to summarize him as an “abstruse” philosopher, prompting many people at UCI and elsewhere to sign a petition of protest. Given Derrida’s immense philosophical legacy, as well as his devoted efforts as our teacher and colleague at Irvine, it seemed offensively callous to sum him up in such a dismissive way.

I did not sign the petition. I thought it a fair assessment, though one that sits poorly on the day after a man’s death. The Times could have used many other words—radical, groundbreaking, influential—that would have been kinder and just as apt. Yet as long as Derrida continues to be read, he will continue to be a puzzling and frustrating read, albeit a dazzling and seductive one for certain types of readers. That quality in his work leads us to a question that never seems far from the surface in discussions of literary theory and criticism: what are we to make of the last fifty years in criticism? Can it be summed up? Can it be comprehended fully? Must we refrain from “calling out” Derrida on the thicket of his prose?

In the comments following my post on Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, Valve contributor Rohan Maitzen asked the following:

There’s a lot of lit-blogging (and reviewing, and publishing) that goes on that disregards or is even openly disdainful of the conventions, contributions, or (dare I say) rigor of academic literary scholarship and criticism. But refuting (or complicating, or qualifying) literary judgments or interpretations is (or is it?) a different kind of game than ‘refuting specific factual inaccuracies’--though factual inaccuracies may sometimes be involved. Maybe these discussions, because they don’t have the same public stakes (not to mention audience) as “political scholarship” like Goldberg’s, should just be left alone--but then, do we professional lit-crit types not think there are better and worse (more or less responsible and legitimate) ways to do our kind of thing as well? Do we have any responsibility to get in the game, then?

Bill Benzon, also of the Valve, responded:

That’s a very good set of questions, Rohan. Has there been any attempt to present the results of academic literary criticism and scholarship to the general public? Sure, Harold Bloom has written about Shakespeare and about the Western canon, but he wasn’t presenting a popular synthesis of scholarship; he was presenting Bloom on those topics. Marjorie Garber has published a big fat book on Shakespeare that’s pretty general in nature, but based on a wide range of scholarship. But that’s one author, albeit, a central one.

Just around the corner from here I have a post presenting J. Hillis Miller’s reflections on how the profession has changed in 50 years. Has anyone attempted to lay out what we’ve learned about literature in the past 50 years? For surely we have learned a lot. And it would take more than one or three books and a dozen magazine articles to set that before the public. And, of course, there’s considerable contention within the profession about what we’ve learned. But that’s OK.

The discussion continued apace for a while; in response to a later comment by Bill, I wrote:

The problem here is language about language (e.g. literature). If somebody dumbs down Heisenberg and quantum mechanics enough for me, sure, I can see that the observer cannot be separated from the observed, and I can worry over the death of Schrodinger’s cat. But what I can’t do is important work in the field of quantum mechanics. Whereas that seems to be exactly the desire with synopses of literary criticism and theory: to reduce things down to inarguable truisms or clichés, and then to believe that’s actually preparation for reading in depth.

Bill answered: “If this is so, then reading ‘in depth’ has no value to anyone but the critics who do it. Might as well be Stanley Fish. BTW, language about language is built-in to language; Jakobson called it the metalingual function. Literary critics didn’t invent it in the 1960s.” As the discussion continued, tomemos wrote in to suggest that a primer on literary studies

would amplify our cultural misunderstanding of what the humanities are supposed to produce: when are we going to roll up our sleeves and get something done?  Bill talks about a book that would “present the results of academic literary criticism,” but obviously literary criticism does not have “results” in the scientific sense, and so a book that pretended that it does would not just be dumbing down the ideas of the field; it would be a complete distortion of the field itself.

Tomemos raises important questions. What is the nature of the field of literary criticism, given that it does not make “progress” in the same way the sciences do? Why do we consider summaries or popularizing explanations of theory and criticism to be inherently distortive?  Why is there so much demand for less technical, summary accounts of theory? The demand goes well beyond immediately affected graduates and undergraduates working on deadline.

Continue reading "Derrida’s Obituary, or, Is Literary Theory Too Abstruse?"

Monday, October 27, 2008

A post in which we go from graffiti to meta-graffiti and maybe meta-infinity

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/27/08 at 05:03 PM

The meta-graffiti is below the fold.

Continue reading "A post in which we go from graffiti to meta-graffiti and maybe meta-infinity"

Academics, Political Scholarship, and Jonah Goldberg

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/27/08 at 01:46 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Over at Acephalous (and at The Edge of the American West), Scott Kaufman has posted the text of Friday’s panel presentation on Jonah Goldberg (Liberal Fascism) and the right-wing version of what we might call “political scholarship,” a genre that (taken loosely) might also include K. C. Johnson’s Until Proven Innocent (which Scott also tackled), and that, interestingly, comes in both cases from the desks of committed bloggers. I write “political scholarship” rather than “political science” because of the deep strain of revisionist history in Goldberg and Johnson’s work.

First of all, as his political posts so often do, this puts Scott once again at the forefront of academic blogging. He is carving out a niche for himself as a defender of liberal fair-mindedness and plain old scholarly integrity.

I am also glad that Brandon Gordon, the UC Irvine grad student who corresponded with Goldberg, refused Goldberg’s Facebook request and that Scott reported it. The creepy pretense of affability that characterized William F. Buckley’s unctuous conservatism will, I hope, go to rest with him in the grave.

Scott raises a valuable question: what role ought academics to play with respect to middlebrow political scholarship of this kind?

Continue reading "Academics, Political Scholarship, and Jonah Goldberg"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Time Must Have A Stop

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/18/08 at 10:38 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

At least three ABD students, myself included, are currently working on James Joyce at UC Irvine; all of them are working on Joyce’s representations of time, particularly the tension in his novels between diachronic (linear) time, the usual sort, and synchronic (simultaneous) time.

I expected, of course, that when I arrived at graduate school I would find a lot of interest in the philosophy of time, both because of its consistent fascination for thinkers in the 20th Century, and because of the games that fictions play with it. But despite the many ways of cognizing time, simultaneous perceptions get all the limelight: why? Why should it be that Walter Benjamin’s description of history “shot through with chips of Messianic time” now strikes so many critics so forcefully? In my last post, I asked readers for examples of vast alien intelligences, and maybe half of all the passages recommended to me dealt specifically with simultaneity (for example, “Story of Your Life” and Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End).

Continue reading "Time Must Have A Stop"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Question for our readers: Intelligences vaster than our own?

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/13/08 at 11:02 AM

Dear readers,

The following is a question from a colleague of mine, one that perhaps you are itching to answer: “I’m looking for literary examples of an individual and/or ‘man’ coming into contact with an alien intelligence so far beyond comprehension that human life becomes, by comparison, insignificant and beyond morality to the point of absurdity. The examples might be from Sci-Fi, but they might be from French Existentialism, Borges, Conrad, what have you. The nature of the alien intelligence can be conceived broadly: machine, organic, gassy clouds, whatever. The point is only that we get glimpses of something so far beyond human categories, that it renders the mind and soul without purpose.”

I suggested the Martians from Stranger in a Strange Land, as well as the Borg. He wrote in a follow-up note: “I’m after a more or less subjective account of the shock that comes from experiencing that vast intelligence beyond yourself and humanity. So I’m less interested in a vision of what extraterrestrial or alien beings actually might be (Ents, etc.), than in passages that describe the moment when you grasp something far in excess of human categories. These are sublime moments, but unlike the sublime, don’t support a compensatory moment when the human mind reasserts its cognitive powers. Also keep in mind that the examples don’t have to be from Science Fiction. They can be accounts of a primitive people experiencing a volcano and thinking its God, or accounts of the sea in Conrad--any account of shock and awe in the face of what seems to be something vast beyond the power of the human mind, something that is presumed to see humans as wholly insignificant.”

What would you recommend?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The idea of order and the problem of Stravinsky

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/01/08 at 04:58 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

The heated, often deeply antagonistic exchange that has developed in the comments to my post on David Foster Wallace reminds me of something from the recent past of my graduate studies. Tom Mellers writes:

[Kugelmass] should possibly watch a little less television, though.  I know that whenever I watch too much TV, my sense of order and logic suffers.

My response to his comment was focused on literary works that challenge order and logic, works like those produced by Antonin Artaud and Arthur Rimbaud. Meanwhile, his comment reminded me of something else: two periods of time when I tried to listen exclusively to music that reinforced my sentiments of order and my faith in the logical development of ideas.

Continue reading "The idea of order and the problem of Stravinsky"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On David Foster Wallace

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 09/25/08 at 02:57 AM

Over at The Kugelmass Episodes, a reader wrote in asking for a post about David Foster Wallace’s legacy and death, something I’ve been considering and before now avoiding. Whereas, when Elliott Smith died, I was able to write in honor of a performer I had always admired, Wallace was an enormous disappointment to me. Perhaps it is possible to write about that disappointment in a way that gives his death some meaning for those of us who did not worship his writing, but still feel the melancholy fact of his loss.

Wallace was a pathbreaker for the freewheeling, wildly creative, semi-political white male novelists and memoirists who have flourished in the past ten years: Michael Chabon, Benjamin Kunkel, Jonathan Safran-Foer, Jonathan Lethem, Dave Eggers and the rest. In some of his prose, he even anticipated David Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman. He did everything: not only did he write a Big Novel (Infinite Jest) and bunches of short stories, he wrote essays that appeared all over the place, he taught, and he took on subjects outside of the humanities, notably the concept of infinity.

At the same time, he was something of a failure. He was not a da Vinci. His book on infinity was an explication of the concept, not a mathematical treatise. More importantly, he came to fruition with Infinite Jest, but the book is a terrible mess. It remains in desperate need of an editor; perhaps, had he found a collaborator able to focus his talent, Wallace could have produced something as enduring as Thomas Wolfe’s baggy monsters. His short stories were a study in diminishing returns. The Girl With Curious Hair was pretty good, while Brief Interviews with Hideous Men was terrible except for the title story. It is up to us, looking at his work, to try to understand what was eating him—not only driving him to despair, but first damming up his talent and undermining what work he did produce.

Continue reading "On David Foster Wallace"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stranger: On Heath Ledger’s Joker

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 07/24/08 at 02:12 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Dear readers, this is about the film The Dark Knight and will, of necessity, be crammed absolutely full of spoilers.


It seems we are still too close to The Dark Knight; we are reeling. The critics have generally rated the film very high, which is useful but not explanatory, and Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker has already become legendary despite the fact that we don’t really know what is legendary about it. An attempted discussion at The Valve died out amidst cries that comic books are kids’ stuff (or maybe FASCIST!), and our friend Scott at Acephalous showed wonderful enthusiasm tinged with unmistakable vertigo. Some critics have compared the Joker to a wounded child who turned out bad (instead of turning out bat), which is wrong, and others have compared him to the Sex Pistols, which is pleasanter but still not quite right. There’s as much of the bum—the homeless, unemployed and mentally ill man for whom beatings have lost their meaning—in the Joker as there is the punk.

I’m going to start from the premise that Batman’s acting and psychology in this film aren’t very interesting. Christian Bale doesn’t get a chance to act, because neither playboys nor avengers get to feel much emotion, and he doesn’t develop because he did all that in the first movie. Instead, it’s the idea of Batman, the sum total of the things he represents, says, and does, that start the engine of the film—he is the fixed quantity, the “immovable object,” with which the Joker dances. Furthermore, the secondary plot of the film, involving Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face, falls way short of Batman’s chemistry with the Joker. (This is partly due to Aaron Eckhart’s limitations as an actor, which are considerable. He appears to get his ideas for characters from their summaries on Wikipedia.) Thus everything revolves around the Joker. The film forces us to return to him obsessively.

In an interview with Fear.com, Ledger announced that he and Christopher Nolan had “the same idea” about the Joker, but refused to elaborate.

What is the meaning of what Ledger has left us?

Continue reading "Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stranger: On Heath Ledger’s Joker"

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Shape of Things To Come: On ‘Literary Thinking and the New Left’

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 06/29/08 at 03:28 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

What follows may appear to be a discussion of the 1960s in America; it is not. Reading through Sean McCann and Michael Szalay’s indispensable essay “Do You Believe in Magic?“, cited and quoted by Scott Kaufman here and here (with follow-up in the comments by Sean), it is clear that more than the Sixties, McCann and Szalay are out to expose “a cherished and ultimately comforting folklore” that still commands respect today: the idea that “the analysis of [symbolic or cultural] forms itself constitutes significant political action, or that the ability to affect culture is, independent of other means, also therefore politically efficacious,” and that “to provide, as [C. Wright] Mills put it, ‘alternative definitions of reality’ could itself be the most radically political of acts.” McCann and Szalay identify this idea with almost the entire canon of postmodern thought, from Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault to Jean-Francois Lyotard and Susan Sontag.

McCann and Szalay’s essay splits down the middle. On the one hand, it is a legitimate attack on currents of fuzzy thinking and complacent libertarianism within the New Left and academia. On the other, it is part of a contemporary movement that seeks to deride what the Sixties accomplished, which was reviving society-wide conversation about the relationship of politics to the rest of life.

For my own part, this is the right occasion to explain what I believe “the analysis of symbolic or cultural forms” can accomplish, including through the academic work of scholars and teachers of literature. I hope it will become clear how I understand the political implications of what McCann and Szalay call “self-realization”—deliberately (and justly) echoing the wretched tide of self-help manuals—but which one might also call “self-fashioning.” I also hope to clarify the charges of defeatism that I leveled in my post “Look Back In Anger,” and to explore what alternatives exist: the shape of things to come.

Continue reading "The Shape of Things To Come: On ‘Literary Thinking and the New Left’"

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Canon, The Critic, The Fetish, and the Pink Slip

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 06/06/08 at 06:35 PM

Briefly reflecting on the closing-down of mainstream critical venues, the relevance of the canon, and the question of whether you can evaluate art regardless of how much you like it, or even whether you should evaluate it as opposed to simply analyzing how it works.

Continue reading "The Canon, The Critic, The Fetish, and the Pink Slip"

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Look Back in Anger: The Death of Literary Studies

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/08/08 at 07:58 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

A little while ago, our own Amardeep Singh drew my attention to this article by William Deresiewicz, writing for The Nation, and also to the outstanding response written by CR and posted to Ads Without Products and Long Sunday.

This is Deresiewicz:

Twenty years after Professing Literature, the “conflicts” still exist, but given the larger context in which they’re taking place, they scarcely matter anymore. The real story of academic literary criticism today is that the profession is, however slowly, dying.

CR responds:

The decline of the English major has corresponded with the decline of two complexly, but distinctly, related things. They are: the reign of theory and what we might call the politicized classroom. These two factors are complexly related, in my mind, because I’m mostly sure that the politics of theory, as practiced by English departments, wasn’t much of a politics at all, and certainly wasn’t a politics with any (easy) applicability in the real world. Further, the de-politicization of the classroom is something that I’d mostly attribute not simply to the failure of theory, but mostly to the changing atmosphere after 9/11, when conservative attacks on “liberal bias” were front and center in the news [...] I am beginning to feel that students have felt the change in the atmosphere of the English department and have responded by finding other subjects in which to major.

Amardeep, in his post, links to a terrifically helpful report from 2001-2002 to ground his point that “theory” has not been responsible for the decline of the English major.

I am on my way to responding to a fascinating special issue of the Yale Journal of Criticism (Vol. 18, No. 2), edited by Michael Szalay and fellow Valve contributor Sean McCann, entitled “Essays on the Sixties from Some Who Weren’t There,” and featuring Szalay and McCann’s own essay “Do You Believe in Magic? Literary Thinking after the New Left.” So, in some ways, this post is a prelude. It is also a reflection on what it means to be apprenticing for a profession that Deresiewicz, an Associate Professor at Yale, thinks “is, however slowly, dying.” To put this in perspective, the job Deresiewicz currently holds is, for anybody in my position, more or less the pinnacle of their professional hopes ten years out.

Continue reading "Look Back in Anger: The Death of Literary Studies"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Little Something You Can Touch: HBO’s Wire and the Politics of Visual Media

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 03/20/08 at 06:48 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Spend some on a little something you can touch. A new car, a new coat...it’s why we get up in the morning.
-The Greek

You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way.

Talking about The Wire, which most of the people I know do twice per day, is like repeating a mantra: Season 1 is the police station. Season 2 is the docks. Season 3 is the streets (or, more inaccurately, “politics"). Season 4 is public schools. Season 5 is the press—I haven’t even seen Season 5, but I must’ve heard that six times already. People talk about each season as though they were separate reports from the President’s Council: “Have you started Season 5 yet? Wait, you didn’t see Season 2?” The show’s schematic design encourages people to talk about it in ways usually reserved for non-fiction, with an emphasis on its structural critiques of one poorer-than-average city (Baltimore), and maybe a comment in passing about the show’s brilliant detective/fuck-up in residence, McNulty.

Yes, McNulty’s no angel, but the terms of the discussion are themselves interesting and relevant to the perspective of the show’s writers. The Wire, unlike (for example) The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, is a show written almost entirely from outside the consciousness of its characters. Whereas, in the case of Tony Soprano or Claire Fisher, we felt their highs and lows, inhabited their dreams, and saw how their psychic lives bled into reality, The Wire keeps its distance from the cast, and does a good job of representing the systems that contain them. This (not the pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand) ought properly to be called the new objectivism, and it is a sign of the increasing dominance of visual representation (e.g. the television serial) as well as of a certain form of functionalist liberalism. I’d expect nothing less of a show with a title that substitutes media for persons, and I’m not critical of The Wire per se—rather, I think of the show as one of the best versions of a paradigm that should not be allowed to foreclose other ways of seeing.

Continue reading "A Little Something You Can Touch: HBO’s Wire and the Politics of Visual Media"

Monday, March 03, 2008

Forgotten Satiric Genius, courtesy of Theodor Adorno

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 03/03/08 at 02:33 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

About two-thirds of the way through Theodor Adorno’s admirable book The Jargon of Authenticity, illuminating the entire volume, is a little piece of German satire that nobody has ever heard of: Christian Schütze’s “Stenciled Speech for Festive Occasions.” Its relevance to the present moment is astonishing, particularly in these days of change, hope, changeful hope, and hopeful change. It brings us laughingly to our senses.

Continue reading "Forgotten Satiric Genius, courtesy of Theodor Adorno"
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