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.
Posts by Joseph Kugelmass
Monday, January 29, 2007
The Poem And The Apocalypse, Part Two: Children of Men and Frank O’Hara’s Personism
This is a continuation of my first post, from yesterday, on art and the apocalypse. (Note: K-Punk has also just published a very good analysis of Children of Men, that both overlaps with and differs from mine. You can find it here.)
The best thing about Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is that we never know what causes the plague.
This brings us immediately into the realm of allegory; the causeless plague of sterility is standing for something else, something omnipresent in film’s imaginary United Kingdom.
Yesterday, I described that something as “ideological thin-slicing”: the tendency to conceive of the world as limited to a very small set of significant facts and allied persons, with the rest of the material world consigned to darkened chaos, and the rest of humanity understood to be lost or antagonistic. I noted that this kind of ideological thinking is often repetitive and “cult-like” in nature, and works by conversion rather than progressive rational argument.
In the world of Children of Men, there isn’t only one synthesis or identity of the personal and the political. There are many, and many of these are ultimately destructive. It achieves the remarkable feat of persuading us that its heroes are on a different sort of quest from the various factions they encounter, one that leads back to a habitable world, and one that upholds a diversity of artistic modes. It does so by transcending itself towards its opposite, which we might call “Personism” after Frank O’Hara.
This post does contain some spoilers. Now on with the show!
Saturday, January 27, 2007
The poem and the apocalypse, part one: Destructive fantasies
Recently, a number of different bloggers have begun writing on imaginings of the apocalypse, a theme that continues to haunt popular culture and that has changed in focus since the end of the Cold War.
For me, all this goes back to a conversation with two friends about Frank O’Hara.
We were on foot in North Beach, San Francisco, talking about the poets who succeeded the canonical modernists, and my friend S. mentioned how much she loved Frank O’Hara. The conversation (I’m paraphrasing) continued like this:
“But what about global warming?” B. said. “I’m just so tired of reading poems that will add up to nothing when Greenland melts. O’Hara lacks ambition. His poems are monuments to nothing.”
“Well, but I love the intimacy of them,” S. responded. “His poems are like notes written on napkins; he explicitly conceived of them as messages between friends, or between lovers.”
What on earth does Frank O’Hara have to do with global warming? To answer that, we have first to examine the apocalyptic fantasies themselves. That is this post; in my next post, I will bring the matter back to O’Hara and his manifesto on “Personism,” which, according to its author, may be “the death of literature as we know it.”
Saturday, December 23, 2006
After Tragedy: The Thomas Pynchon Scratchpad
In this post, I grapple with my own search for a successor to a rather embarrassing interest in Tom Robbins, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller—somebody who could complement the problematic works of Hermann Hesse. I am also trying to describe an alternative to the modernist tragedians, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and J. D. Salinger.
I claim to find this alternative, successor, and complement in Thomas Pynchon, because of The Crying of Lot 49. Included here are some close readings of The Crying of Lot 49 that may remind you to open it again at random, or intrigue you into reading it. Also, given that Against The Day is just out, consider this your Pynchon scratchpad for notes, reminisces, new readings, and speculative ideas.
Monday, December 18, 2006
No Desert Island: Towards A Gutsy Aesthetics Via Nabokov
Uh-oh. It’s that time again. Soon, every website remotely dealing with culture, plus a wide variety of magazines, will be talking up their “end of the year” lists. Regardless of your chosen demographic, this affects you: you’re listening to the year in review on NPR, or you’re reading the lists on Pitchfork. You’re reading the New York Times Notable Books for 2006, or you’re reading your own newspaper’s list of the year’s best movies. I will probably be doing all these things, and making lists of my own.
That’s why now seems like the perfect time to raise the troubling question of taste. Can we still talk sensibly about good taste and bad? Is there any way to deal with differences in taste without awkwardness or sudden outbursts of minor violence?
I will do my best to answer these questions, and to suggest why we still need to have discussions about taste. I will also propose an alternative to the uncomfortable moratorium that always seems to arise among those people who, ironically, care the most about art.Continue reading "No Desert Island: Towards A Gutsy Aesthetics Via Nabokov"
Monday, December 04, 2006
Paul de Man’s Misreadings: A Critique of Aesthetic Ideology
The following is an outline for a critique of Paul de Man’s influential essay on Blaise Pascal’s writings, and of de Man’s essay “The Concept of Irony,” in which he considers discussions of irony in Friedrich Schlegel’s writings and other philosophical and literary works.
It is not complete; it does not cover every essay in de Man’s boook Aesthetic Ideology, nor does it even respond to every part of the two very rich essays cited above. It certainly does not equate to a response to the whole of de Man’s thought. At the same time, I hope it will serve as an interesting sequel to our recent discussion, via the Michael Bérubé event and Berube’s quotations from Pulp Fiction, about meeting opponents on their own ground. It is also a sort of response to Scott’s absorbing and wonderfully attentive reading of John Keats, which I think de Man would have found quite sympathetic, and which I both admire and dispute.
Part One is the densest. (It is an unfortunate fact that reasoning from within other texts often leads one down narrow and apparently irrelevant corridors.) It deals with the role of intentionality in the construction of space, and with the related question of the “ground” of beings. Part Two deals with Pascal’s pensée on justice, the determination of linguistic meaning, and the apparent problems of power and seduction as they manifest themselves in language. Part Three concerns irony and The Karate Kid.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The Love of Argument: A Response to Michael Bérubé
In this essay, I want to offer a response to Bérubé’s new book What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts, rather than writing a review. My review is quite simple: if you are an academic, or are concerned about the prominence of left-wing politics in college humanities courses, you should read Bérubé’s book. It is a decisive refutation of David Horowitz’s charges, and (as others have written) a marvelous account of how English professors actually teach their courses.
In my response to Bérubé, I will focus on the fact that Bérubé considers himself to have a vested interest in argument qua argument, and specifically in the continuance of certain political debates that have a long history in the United States. Bérubé’s love of argument is representative of a widespread trend in both academia and the blogosphere. In my opinion, this bodes ill. Argumentation is a regrettable means, not an end; believing otherwise leads one to fetishize intelligence, misinterpret opponents, maintain incompatible ideas, and worse.
I will try to outline, briefly, a different account of what should be liberal about the liberal arts.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Norwegian Wood, Postmodern Love, and Generation X
I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I’ve begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I’m reminiscing this right now. I can’t go to the bar because I’ve already looked back on it in my memory… and I didn’t have a good time. -Max (Chris Eigeman), Kicking and Screaming
I’ve just finished Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, which was recommended to us in this recent post by John Holbo.
I agree that it’s a brilliant novel, and it’s also the kind of novel that doesn’t lose its luster in the subway or on the beach. Two things about it that particularly struck me. First, the characters indulge in a hyperreal sort of dialogue, unusual enough to warrant a closer look. Second, the main character’s friendships and love affairs are based on a strangely passive aestheticism that may, finally, be of concern to Murakami.Continue reading "Norwegian Wood, Postmodern Love, and Generation X"
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
That’s Not Socratic: Walter Benn Michaels, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek (Part 2)
This post is a reply to the statement made in the last chapter of Walter Benn Michaels’s recent book The Trouble With Diversity, that “the point of the book is not that people, including its author, should be virtuous” (191). I am writing a third post on the book because I am impressed with Michaels’s ability to articulate questions of ethical responsibility in academia. I don’t agree with his answers to these questions. He is, as one says, worth arguing with.
I hope to show two things:
1. That Michaels’s decision to include the chapter entitled “About the Author” undermines the ethical foundations of his book.
2. That Michaels’s argument is an eloquent example of a whole school of self-divided thought I will call “legalistic,” one which, interestingly enough, is evaluated and rejected in Paul’s epistles.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Forgetting the Apologists: Walter Benn Michaels, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek
I want to conclude my own consideration of Walter Benn Michaels’s new book The Trouble With Diversity by investigating further Michaels’s curious epilogue, “About the Author.” In particular, I want to examine how Michaels’s confessional chapter, and his claim that the information it contains is irrelevant, is symptomatic of a convenient misunderstanding of what it means to be “oneself” when one is a public intellectual. I hope to shed light on Michaels’s significant neglect of recent texts by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, and to consider what the consequences of that neglect might be for the academy and for society.
My post will be in two parts. The first part will show that Michaels’s argument is identical to arguments put forward by Zizek and Badiou, and will examine how this redundancy happened. The second will consider the specific relevance of Badiou’s work on Saint Paul to Michaels’s tactical use of autobiography.
Though my post will not respond directly to Adam Roberts’s post on Richard Dawkins and Terry Eagleton, it will eventually touch on similar questions about religion in our time and in history.Continue reading "Forgetting the Apologists: Walter Benn Michaels, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek"
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
The Man in Black: A Response to Walter Benn Michaels
I hope, in the course of this essay, to prove three points about The Trouble With Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels. First, that Michaels is right about the necessary connection between the American celebration of diversity and the persistence of economic inequality, but for reasons that are implied rather than explicitly stated in his book. Second, that one can find in unexpected places—namely, in popular works of American art – antecedents for Michaels’s political critique of culture. Finally, that only a political program informed and aided by culture, rather than dismissive of it, is capable of realizing the lasting equality for which Michaels so eloquently argues.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
My dissatisfaction with certain prevailing notions about literary criticism reached a boiling point at four in the morning, in a car on the way home from IHOP.
It appears that even in a car, traveling at forty miles an hour, full of passengers who are themselves full of pancakes and imitation maple syrup, one is not protected against the following clichés:Continue reading "Against Explanation"
Monday, September 18, 2006
A night at the opera; or, the trouble with narrative
I’m pleased to be writing my first post for the Valve. My humble thanks to John Holbo, for bringing me aboard, and to Scott Kaufman for introducing me to the community of academic blogs.
Thanks also to Adam Roberts, for his kind recommendation of a post I wrote under the pseudonym “forgottenboy.” My own blog, The Kugelmass Episodes, will be additional to these posts, as a place where I can write unrestrainedly about the Heideggerian interpretation of Johnny Cash.
I’ve been reading Adam’s excellent January post on Proust, and respond to it in a comment there. I want to use one of Adam’s ideas to consider a problematic mode of textual analysis, one based on the hypothesis of enjoyment.Continue reading "A night at the opera; or, the trouble with narrative"