« Writing Well under Political Oppression | Main | University of Blogaria Class Notes »

March 01, 2005


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

That's a keeper. Typo here, though: "With what contempt must be have considered".

Thanks, fixed it. I should have acknowledged your influence, vis a vis "Store of Convenience." See? You should blog so I could link.

oh my ....

Interesting thing about the Horowitz site is that it's a poorly executed rip-off of activistcash.com.

However, that doesn't mean it won't work. Shitty looking sites have a certain "authenticity" that draws users in.

Is the internet an experiment in building a Stasi that doesn't rely on walls and barbed wire? A Postscript.

Love thy neighbor? No thanks. "Perhaps the feature which characterizes true friendship is precisely a tactful knowledge of when to stop, not going beyond a certain threshold and 'telling everything' to a friend."

So, Klaus, are you saying that we should not share our thoughts even with our Dumpster bretheren? Instead we should internalize the disciplines of fear? Using our liberal writing skills to speak with evenhandedness of the devil himself, lest he take offense and singe our feet?

No those are just some links. I didn't write that stuff! But maybe peoples whose has "internalize the disciplines of fear" spends a lot of time writing likie Hunter Thompson instead of Philboyd Studge.

Could be. You talking about Rageboy?

RageBoy - no but an affinity with he of ravaged face. Really. Harry Dean Stanton and RB should have a road show. Repo, man. What goes around comes around.

Please be advised that if you put Deleuze and Lacan together into a beaker at room temperature all the matter and antimatter in the known universe will implode.

Also, T., I'm more than a little concerned about the apocalyptic tenor of this post. You're beginning to sound like...well, like me. This might also cause all the matter and antimatter in the known universe etc.

Let's be more careful out there, okay?

Last time the dam broke, me and Ms. B and the two little Buckies were up that long dark creek without a you-know-what - if you know what I mean.
These guys came through, on-time and on the money, delivering precisely as promised.
In the in-between times, go back and read Isaiah, all the way through.

The shadow is not a translation of your body. Plain texts are like a shadow that pulls the strings and makes you laugh or smile on queue. Even with careful reading the body can not be constructed because the text describes the shadow in minute details forever hoping the body will be understood. Such is the writing of "Those Nice People". The best write such that the body is reconstructed, resurrected while the shadow discarded for the text is but a shadow that draws us to life flowing from....


The comment got too long. Turned it into a post.


Bucky, thanks, Missy loved the links, has to spend her allowance somewhere.

T.V. Maybe I will get writer's block too, could save my life?

K! Great link. Seriously, and without irony, you have right, privilege, and a duty, now that you are a citizen of the US, to help us connect with the Patriotic Traditions of Poland and Eastern Europe that led to the fall of Communism. They will come in handy. As one way said, "Be careful when you tear down the Statues of Tyrants to keep the pedestals. They will come in handy."

A mild manner can derive from experience of intolerance, watching people drunk on power going wrong. It can, among many other things, be a sign of Sabine detachment from the passion of the hour. To consider it within the larger context. It doesn't preclude the most adroit and fanged action. A certain impulse-weariness sets in in a universe of blogs that lunge at every passing fly.

Tom, thanks, yes. Horace was an effective satirist, to say the least. The urbane manner coupled with the willingness and ability to wound. Same with Pope, Swift, Dryden, Dr. Johhson, the liberal tradition was not always so meek and mild. The inheritor of it is Dick Minim, but the genetic code contains an atavistic gene for satire, invective, indirection, parable, and many other rhetorical modes that are devastating. I wanted to include you in this post, and ran out of energy, before I did. Would say that your own writing is irridescent with an urbane surface half concealing dangerous depths. Placid water with a nice gradualy sloping shore line of white sand, that goes out 3 feet and is 2 ft deep and then at 4 feet is fathoms deep. The life guard in your prose seems to be asleep, though he watches with half closed eyes as the reader drowns. You are writing from conflicting traditions, high culture widely read in many languages, middle brow culture journalism, and teaching in many diverse contexts, all that comes into your blog manner and style. Your readers are expected to swim at their own risk. You are working on the stylistic challenges of addressing extraordinary thoughts to ordinary readers. You are like Frost in Directive, "a guide who has at heart only your getting lost." You make no effort to put people off, no matter what their background, no signs saying, "Literacy required," but under the urbanity, the placidity, the smooth surface, the writing is treacherous - and I mean that as you know as compliment. You betray the reader from complacency into thought. (As you did me in your comment.)

So, I fully accept your correction, or amplification. The plain styule has not failed liberalism, today's liberals (at the NY Times for example) have failed it. If we learned to write it as the Augustans did, to take one example, we could hold our own in any venue, from the most degraded to the highest, from Bedlam to Congress and back.

Thanks for the fencing lesson. You won. Fencing being another good analogy. We have been taught to fence with the button. Yet as Horace shows, the button sometimes falls off and the rapier of wit goes all the way through, or to cite Dryden, wit is like the blade that separates the miscreants head from his shoulder, while leaving it sitting on his shoulders. We have lost, I think, that ferocity. Have learned that is uncivil, whereas, in reality, it is the last and best defense of civility, vigilante justice, sublimated to art, when the courts fail or are corrupted. Such justice leaves even the victim laughing and improved. A high art. A noble trade as Dryden called, likening it that of the public hangman, Jack Ketch.

You offer a Tarentinesque portrait of the satirist that captures wonderfully well your own writing as well as to that of other liberals worthy of the name. I'd include AKMA there, and others who do not, stylistically, anyway, surrender foreskins in tribute to some desperate huddled need to be reassured that all, despite much stageworthy manufacturing of spectacular crises, will be well. The duel's the thing, and the opponent is typically that part of oneself seduced at the slightest glance of that which it loves or fears. The deadening cliche of liberal media: fair and balanced - ok, so long as it's on the tightrope of Zarathustra. Otherwise you're speaking in prose. Televised spectacle: inverted images of Gloucester in Lear, voiceover by Dan Rather in tights: "Methinks the ground is even."

Here's the modern version of this mess. Your deepest convictions are at the mercy of focus groups. Every goddamn phrase that comes out of your mouth is the result of market research. This sort of thing has always been a problem in politics, of course. But I propose to you that since Clinton/Dick Morris it has become a disease that robs the Democratic party of all content, and turns its leaders into mere configurations of emptiness. Clinton was able to survive this destruction of human personality on a load of charm and expertise. Gore and Kerry, on the other hand, ran as zombies. I voted for Kerry. But I think Kerry ran the most one of the most despicable campaigns in the history of American presidential politics.  [other candidates: Buchanan, Humphrey, Nixon]

Tom, you point about moderation being born of mutual violence, from civil wars, really, in Rome and England, is well taken. Moderation is diplomacy. We decide it is better to have debates and courts rather than duels, and to have a Parliament with Parliamentary order than to have ongoing civil war. But what is the price paid by Horowitz, Coulter or Limbaugh in likening political foes to terrorists? Who will pay the price? The gloating tone, the bullying tone from small people, the thuggish elment - how do you set that back on its heels? With a moderate temperate reasoned response, that will be met with a knowing inolence?

AKMA takes the high road that leads to the Cross. There is no higher, but that comes down to leading by extreme example, no matter how moderate the speech that accompanies the self-sacrifice.

I fear there's been some slippery work in the props and costumes dept. [In the next scene, the role of Poster Boy for the moderate Kerryesque clown pinata will be played by *Tom*]. You shoot them. You bring the ire of hell upon them. You show them for what they are: Fellini grotesques posing as white middle class fartquads. You take the button off your rapier, slice their suspenders, and inscribe bad words on their shivering white flesh. Liberal does not mean nice. It does not mean moderate. It values the risks of freedom and hates the stultifying certitudes of absolutism. It understands that freedom is not some absolute state or condition (on the march), but something unfolding in the world by those who find something in the world to love, and not by those who find everything in the world to rule. It is more complex than ideology, therefore often mistaken for something it is not. Like moderation, which is a means, but only one of many. Others would include the ruses of indirection, humor, displacement -- elements of style, as you well know, but normally not found in political platforms such as constitutions. More's the pity.

Nope, you are not a moderate Kerryeseque clown pinata. You are trying to solve some complex stylistic equations, with the moderate tone held constant, and all the underpinnings changing, if need be. Honorable work, and it just might work, if you can connect with the right wing reader. How does one engage with Coulter, or Limbaugh? Or Horowitz? Not just write about them, but to them? Expressions of outrage? Please for reason? For mercy? Subtle humor that they don't get?

attend to them.

Smoky Joe blogged the link in the John Emerson post.

Play dead whilst taking steps to ensure your own soul doesn't die whilst trapped on this horrible desert island where there are only malls and tvs and only zombies are admitted ... attend, as Tom would have it, when useful and take the precaution, in this benign time of our post-post-postmodern North American world, to construct your own interior life, filling it with such friends and family as you may wish ... and for this interior life, oh so carefully lay the rapier down outside the door. It is amongst this inner circle, as it were that Minim will come into his own. I have no doubt Kerry is well and truly loved in family and friends, and was a good father. We are reduced to the essentials, no ?

I'm sorry, I missed the part where the virile alternative to liberal eunuchry and mounting the Cross with hammer in hand was laid out. If it just comes down to what gives you pleasure--letting id take pen in hand, and glorious glossililalia shouted freely to no one save the others huddled in the miserable pews, venom shared among poison congregants against the new ruling scum and liberals too cowardly to just give up and join the defeated in their justifiable rages--then I'll stick with what gives me pleasure, which is the pursuit of public reason and the hope that decency is widely distributed if slow to rise to the surface when it is under assault. Because then it just comes down to which circle jerk you want to join: yours or the liberals, and I suppose I rather prefer to wank where I'm used to the other wankers.

If on the other hand you think you've got a better hand to play against the Horowitz types, I think I missed that part of the entry. I got to the dump part but you sort of just left me there in the garbage with everybody else who followed the piper's tune. I suppose it's better to huddle in loving com-misery amidst the garbage than to actually be garbage like Horowitz, but it doesn't seem to actually rise to anything resembling a "plan" with the usual feature of a plan, the promise of superior accomplishment in some shared objective. Since most of the bill of particulars you lay against the oh-so-reasonable liberals is that they're foredoomed to failure, the implication is that you think you've got a better mousetrap in mind. If not, then we're back to deciding which circle to jerk in, and that's just a matter of taste. De gustibus non est disputandum.

I'm sorry, I missed the part where the virile alternative to liberal eunuchry and mounting the Cross with hammer in hand was laid out.

You need to learn to lie, express a renewed commitment to take back the party and try not to be a pompous, supercilious asshole.


Learn to lie, check. I'll put that one down next to "Learn to destroy the village in order to save it."

Take back the party. Is this the party where they're serving hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, or the Democratic Party? Or the Democratic Party party where the cocktails are being served? Taking back the cocktail party seems easy: crash the gate, eat all the shrimp really quick, guzzle the hard booze and puke on the floor! Ta-da! Taking back an actual political party might be a little more difficult: tends to require frustrating things like organization and money and oh yes, persuading people that you have a better plan for achieving common results. Since here liberal aspirations are merely eunuchry, I don't feel especially excited about getting to ride in the back of the bus while the he-men drive it off a cliff--even if it was already going off that cliff anyway while we sit in it and have cucumber sandwiches and tea.

3) Pompous and supercilious assholery unfortunately comes rather naturally to liberals, I guess. If only we could learn to call people sacks of garbage, we would be much more humble.


You yourself have repeatedly hinted, or said openly, that you no longer consider yourself part of the left. You've also said yourself (here) that American liberalism is completely dead in the water and that the only alternative for liberals is...to become libertarians. Yes, well. Objectivist pro-corporate authoritarianism with guns and drugs for all may have its charms, but it doesn't have much to do with either progressive values or public reason--and if that makeover is the necessary price of keeping a "stake in the game," then there's really not much of an argument for keeping a stake in the game. (And if you think that "libertarianism" would play out in America as anything other than a ruthless corporate mafioso with occasional safety-valve access to cheap whiskey and hookers, then yes, I'd say we're in the position of id-yammering on behalf of our favorite pleasurable fantasies, in which case let's just shake relativistic hands and proceed to our favorite holosuite instead of being so mean to each other.)

I don't feel particularly adversarial toward most of what you write at Easily Distracted, and even cheer occasionally, so I'm genuinely puzzled why you feel personally impugned by this post. You've renounced your identification with its target, so what are you so angry about? Besides, Phil is a "dialectical" writer, so the charge of liberal eunuchry in one post or one voice here isn't a position statement any more than any one statement by Kierkegaard would be a pure expression of his authorial intent or political belief. (I could easily point to comment threads where I'm playing the denunciative apocalyptic and Phil is playing you, the defender of honesty and public reason against long odds. That was the subtext of my joke above, in fact.)


For one, I'm genuinely curious about what's being advised for here, beyond ideological skeet-shooting. Because one thing I am genuinely interested in--whether if comes from the left or somewhere else--is a sense of what might counter or effectively struggle against Coulter, Horowitz and so on. In that, I'm prepared to hear anything, including that the perceived threat is much less than it seems, but my own instincts actually are close to the fears underwriting the essay above. I've written about that many times, that this is a late-Weimar moment, that the stakes are all or nothing at all. Given that I share the urgency, it is a wonder to me, something I genuinely struggle to understand, that my sense of how to play this most dangerous game is so far from this, and in fact seems to be the target of the malice in the essay. To me public reason is what it is about, what it's all about, whatever that makes me: left, liberal, libertarian or none of the above. It's not just the method, it's the objective.

That too is doubtless far too earnest as well as pompous and supercilious. As you observe, the essay--which I do think is brilliantly written--also contains many junctures where it's possible to just have a big old laugh and say "gotcha" at the fact that I respond to it as a criticism. Too earnest! Too uptight! Too serious! Gee, maybe if it bugs you there's something to it, hey buddy? I know, I know, and yet for some reason this really did get under my skin a bit.

Not that any of this is new: liberals and radicals have played this song before many times in the last century. The wiser thing by far is to stand on the sidelines and sagely observe those inexperienced enough to stamp their feet to the tune.

One other note, though, TV: I thought one of the points here was to disidentify liberals with the left. I wouldn't identify myself as left any longer, but I'd embrace the label of "liberal", understood as a composite of what that word meant in the 19th Century and what it meant in late 20th Century American politics. So I do identify with the target, both in label and in my perception of the substance of the complaint.


First of all thank you very much for stopping by, and thank you too for taking the whole issue of style personally. Unless we find a better way to engage with the disingenous likes of Horowitz, the outcomes are depressing.

Let me try to walk you through my own sense of it. I first of all consider myself a liberal, or some variant thereof. I was not attacking liberalism, but the ineffectiveness of our received prose style. If you look, for example, at your own comment in this thread, and score it, you are not doing as well as you would like. You are writing a moderate reasoned prose and losing your temper at the same time, in any debate that is a straight loss. Liberals to do not do anger well. We are bred to be reasonable - not a bad thing, but the Horowitz strategy, or Limbaugh's, or Coulter's, is to provoke an over-reaction from those committed to moderation, and let them strangle, as you do in your comment here, in their own spit. (I am not attacking you by saying this; it is meant as coaching. As when one says to a journeyman boxer, "Don't lead with your chin.")

What we have to work with, in liberalism, is an entire tradition of indirect discourse, of artistic langauge that can win, easily, against pugs like Horowitz. Earlier in this thread, and in the post itself, I hinted at that tradition.

Horace, Dryen, Swift, Pope, Addision and Steele, Dr. Johnson, the New Yorker that is a double helix that descends in that DNA. The first strand of this truly liberal tradition is the plain style, yes? But note that this is also the great line of Classical and Augustan satire, and that even the New Yorker carries on that urbane deflationary rhetoric, at least in the cartoons.

The name, The Happy Tutor, is taken from a drawing in Erasmus's "Praise of Folly." It shows a tutor, presumably a cleric, hired by a wealthy aristocratic family to be a Morals Tutor to the spoiled children. In the drawing, by Holbein, The Happy Tutor is taking a wriggling, squalling kid, over his knee and grinning as he spanks him soundly. Over the Tutor's neck is pushed a jesters cap and bells. See? The satirist is a morals tutor who delights and instructs the reader, including in Wealth Bondage, persons of wealth, in their moral duty. That is the premise. WB is a direct steal in its structure and point of view from John Gay's "Beggar's Opera." (His is a play in which Doxies and Theives impersonate Gentleman and Ladies; here in WB we Whores impersonate Marketers, Think Tank Thinkers, Academics, Pundits, CEOs and Presidents.) We are not presenting our views flatfootedly, as you are in your comment, nor hopping with impotent rage from foot to foot. We are, as T.V. said, creating a dialectical set of traps for the unwary reader - you blundered into the pit, howling, much to my delight, since you seem well-educated and intelligent, an estimable test case for Reader Response. All to the good, since you may have learned from it, and your misery is instructive to others. Better, however, it had been Horowitz who had befouled himself as you did.

WB is a rhetorical engine, a battle wagon. We really do mean, satirically and socractically, to chastise the wealthy and their lackeys.

What I was suggesting to my fellow liberals in the post was that we already have all we need. The English language has not failed us; we have failed it. When we learn to write, taking a page from the authors I have listed, Horowitz the Knave, becomes Horowitz the Dunce in a contemporary Dunciad.

Come back at me, Tim; show me what you can do when you try. Keep your temper and smile. Keep your hands up and your feet moving, because the literal is the first sign of a fool. No amount of reason or plodding analysis, or balanced locutions stand a chance in this game. In this battle of lies against lies, marketing and propaganda against art, the biggest and best liar wins. And the poets, in the tradition listed avove, are the best liars yet. It is with them we must stand to remake our world.

So, the plan is not a business plan, though I construct those in Real Time, for a living. The plan, or hope, is for an intellectual, artisitic, spiritual and political revival starting in a Dumpster, and spreading as best it can. But it has to begin as it is here in this thread with our helping each other to find both a better defense against the Horowitz, but also a better offense as well.

As for the sack of garbage, please remember that I write from a Dumpster, in or on a sack of garbage. I do not hold myself aloof. When the liberals are rounded up, I suspect I would make the list.

Thanks for your willingness to test your style n this dialectical game. I think it is not sufficient, too flat footed, but you can prove me wrong.

Well, to some extent, Tutor, what you're advising is what I think (I hope) I do in my own blogging. I really don't lose my temper. I'm curious that you think your essay lacks that: to me, it reads as harsh in many respects, and as egging on cruder kinds of left-liberal antagonisms. To some extent, my response was intended to play along with the home game.

Where I think the sharp disagreement lies is this:"the liberal is the first sign of a fool. No amount of reason or plodding analysis..." etc. I simply disagree. Radically. Intensely. Passionately. Perhaps even angrily.

It frustrates me that this is seen as a dialectical honey pot and thus a triumph because I, a bear, have earnestly wandered into the trap, where the children can stick Piggy's head on a stick and howl in delight and yet also say, "What, me worry? Do you think we really meant to criticize?" It's an old kind of pomo kung-fu and I confess to grevious weariness with it even while appreciating its wit, its inventiveness, its rhetorical and tactical brilliance. Thus goes my entire professional life, I suppose: unable to indulge the stupidities of crude anti-postmodernism, unable to tolerate the cul-de-sac hipness of the painfully pomo. Forgive me my passing annoyance; I'll go back to playing the part of Gomer Pyle, and the sophisticates can get back to lounging about in their bathrobes and smoking their pipes.

In any event, I see the more prosaic point: certainly Michael Berube's tweaking of Horowitz has stung him far worse than any ploddingly reasonable essay with the same intent might do. Yes and yes. But I also think this is about swarming the field, flooding the ecosystem, working a bunch of plays at once. Sting with satire, sandbag with sweet reason. Fair cop and dirty cop, funny and serious. I see the case for the satiric, the subversive, if not the knowing lie or propaganda, but I don't see it as an exclusive case. You seem to. Perhaps that would be more of my attempting to pin down meanings in flight; perhaps you will tell me, "Ah, that is precisely the dialectical result I intended, and you are following the Master Plan exactly as I hoped. Watch the skies! This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds."

fascinating - this exchange. and the exchange of b for t, (liberal/literal). This also impinges on the whole war of blogging/journalism, their inexhaustible impatience with each other.

I'm agog and aghast
with the painfully pomo.
I cain't read too fast
could y'all write more slow?


I think you have this wrong (and if I might remark kindly but pointedly about your weblog post, your mischaracterization of the tone here as hipper-than-thou pomo cynicism is cagey and malicious in much the same way that Horowitz is, since you know that frame will bias your particular readership in a way from which there is unlikely to be any fair-minded return if they should glance over here and skim).

Put it this way. What if the point of the dialectical "trap" isn't to beat you in some adversarial ha-ha cooler-than-thou way, but to raise awareness all around about what role you're playing, and what roles you're casting everyone else in? What's involved in that array of roles, what assumptions, what constraints? Are you sure you're in the same play as everyone else, or are you Don Quixote (in a bad way)? Do you have some distance from your role, or is the mask stuck to your face? What are the prescribed roles in Horowitz's act? What sort of straight men does it require (the basic role-nature of the straight man being that he doesn't realize he is one)? What sort of character could come on stage in that commedia dell arte and really, really fucking upstage him?

These aren't hip pomo-analytic questions. They're old school. Think Kenneth Burke.

I can't speak for the proprietor's pedagogical motives or his "system," which eventually mystify and piss off everyone around here from time to time (though given his consistent spitting contempt for it, I can say with absolute certainty that he doesn't think he's doing "postmodern irony.") Me, I take it as an open-ended provocation without any programmatic political answers, just an attempt to get those dramatistic questions on the table for strategic and existential contemplation.

Unless you visit regularly it's hard to grasp the particular kind of game that's developed at this site. The slogan is: all the world's a stage. What character are *you* playing? It's not a magic bullet, but grasping your own passionate commitments as a "role" you play can yield important insight, at least of a personal and pre-political kind.

You're looking at & judging this post as a manifesto or platform, and you're looking at and judging the regulars here as some kind of political party or splinter group. I think that just misunderstands the activity and the nature of the discourse and the coming-together.

It's more like fencing lessons.

Or maybe a combination of Drama Camp and Fight Club.

I have enjoyed this post and this exchange very much. I hope to visit more often. I will blogroll you just 'cuz I like you. Peace.


I'm slowly realizing that Tim's misprision arises mostly from his assumption that your post was in the established genre of "radical left diatribes against liberals," and realizing that we're all so puzzled by it because none of us actually think of you as a "leftist"--since you reject the Continentals and indeed most everything written since 1800, work as a shuffling house slave for wealthy cryptoconfederate assholes, and hold as your highest rhetorical heroes a bunch of creepy Augustan reactionaries.

What the hell are you, anyway?

Suddenly puzzled,


Why bother with him. T.V.? Timothy Burke is a generic web troll looking for a place to play some petty game of gotcha.

It is in the celebration of the dumpster that the fear on the right is made manifest. They will delude themselves with the notion that victory has arrived when the dumpsters and dungeons are full, but for a short while.

Inevitably, it dawns that misery and privation are not the presupposed confinements of the coffin (nor are actual coffins desirable, for who would serve them tea and scrub the bidets?). They cannot hide from the sound of laughter emanating from the dank; it will haunt them. Their shock brought no awe. They have seeded the sewer with a conspiracy of fools who mock them even while they dream.

Frankl addressed the ultimate freedom we have, to choose our response in the sorriest of conditions. We understand their conspiracies while ours - freshly invented - make them tremble in the unknowing.

Thunderbird is a fine Scotch to the Fool's palate, and celebration the most fearsome weapon they've yet encountered. Their madness is predictable; ours is not.


A sinner, like all of us, as Tutor would say. But Tim's not an irredeemable passive-aggressive like Mike Sanders or Dan Hartung. Actually you and he share the proposal of a libertarian alliance as the only way forward, and in that sense you have more in common with him than you do with me. Sure, the devil's in the details. But instead of dismissing him outright, why not imagine the two of you tag-teaming me someday in fellowship? Tim could play good-cop bad-cop with us quite skillfully if he could get over wanting to lynch us. He'd be the best mole ever!

The war's just starting. It's important to screen carefully for the underground dumpster resistance, if only because the supply of Thunderbird is limited. But political identities are volatile right now and anything can happen.

It's been some time since I've read this site, and I found my way to this piece through the Weblog. So perhaps I saw what I was reading as something other than what it's meant, when you see it in relation to a ongoing stream of writings.

I don't mean, in making my "pomo" comment, to say this high-theory postmodernism. I mean that this assertion that there is a dialectical game, or at Tutor says it, "a dialectical series of traps". To react as I did is said to be a blunder, an error. That a person more attuned to purpose would be noncommital, cool, able to lie, to dance with wit rather than hop about flatfootedly. You suggest that neither this nor the original essay is meant adversarily, but only as a tactic of revelation, a method of discovery: who are we, what are our masks, our positions.

It's imprecise to say this is "pomo" if that term is meant to reference any body of concrete theory. But "pomo" seems to me to also reference a style, a mode of working language and the world, that may or may not come with a particular theoretical authorization. Perhaps I'm misidentifying something as pomo--with a rhetorical malice--that should just be called, as the Tutor prefers, "wit", in the tradition of Horace, or for that matter, Swift and Wilde. That puts this whole conversation in a different history, and probably a more generous one, at least to the Tutor and the Tutor's intent. It still leaves me as the straight man trying to play Irish stand-down while the wit dances a light fandango. But I still object to this game of double meanings as trap--Tutor's word, not mine--and I do think of that as a mode of rhetoric that has had a kind of distributed commonality in academic life for the last twenty years. I want to be literal, to get to plain meanings. The Tutor replies that this is inept, foolish, a loser's game. I disagree passionately, intensely, earnestly--and the Tutor's entire approach allows TV or anyone else to say, "Oh, well, you're taking this all too seriously" or "Is that *really* what he said?" The essay appears to be a harsh attack, read one way--and I don't think it's a mistake to read it in the tradition of radical rebuke to liberals, whether or not it consciously orients itself there--but the style allows Tutor and TV and other readers to say, "Oh, no, that's you reading into it, falling into the trap, revealing yourself". This serves as a auto-demonstration of its own effectiveness: see! this style works! the tribune of plain reason tries to find something to attack, some point of purchase, and just flails about. There is nothing there that will meet him in the terms he prefers. This is what makes me weary: a cake that is had and eaten, an engagement that melts into air once engaged, an avowal that disavows. This *is* the ironic spirit in action: the discourse that both is and is not what it appears to be, the prescription that is anti-prescriptive.

What I guess I don't get, TV, is why none of what I've said precisely fits what you say is the purpose. In other words, why do you meet me with resistance at all, or why should Tutor judge me, sadly, unable to snatch the pebble from his hand? Haven't I done exactly what I ought, by TV's reading: raised awareness all around, played my role to a T? Isn't my role in fact to act the liberal tribune of public reason and harumph like Colonel Blimp in a Monty Python sketch? The way you explain it, TV, I haven't misunderstood anything at all: I've done just what I'm supposed to.

May I say this thread has been the single most instructive moment for me in many years of blogging. I am genuinely grateful to Tim for his willingness to follow through in pursuit of a shared understanding. I do have some pomo training, but it left me literarlly speechless, unable to write from '81 when I left Yale with a Critical Theory disseration unfinished, to the late nineties when I started blogging. This site is really a continuation of the debate in some ways between Wimsatt on the one hand and the Yale Mafia as they were then called. You may recall that Wimsatt was an authority on the Augustans and tried unsuccessfully to parody and satirize the insurgents as "Prometheans." The satire failed and the citadel fell. I had come to Yale from 3 years at Oxford doing analytic philosphy. I felt a deep connection between the analytics and the Augustans. You might see some of that in Austin, for example, or even in the tradition of aphoristic wit that comes from Lichtenberg and Kraus through Wittgenstein. So that is my lineage - a survivor from an earlier era whose views and prejudices were formed in the defeat of the prior polite tradition of Anglo-American liberal arts and letters. (My father was a professor of English at Middlebury and I had been raised in that polite tradition of genteel literary liberalism.)

So, I myself within the liberal traditon and feel that there are two strands, truly, but todays liberals render themselves as vulnerable as were the New Critics at Yale in 1975 by writing only the prose of sweet reason. Within that value system there is another strand, that you mention Tim, of, for example, Horace, Swift and Wilde. That tradition works with not against moderation and reason. To see this read Swift on sermons, his piece, "Letter to a Young Man about to Take Holy Orders," or reread the Ars Poetica by Horace with special attention to the final couple of hundred lines, in which he moves from a sweet theory of art, that it should blandly "delight and instruct," to a swinging satire of Harold Bloom, or at least poets like Longinus in the tradition of the sublime. That is, Horace writes for moderate polished poetry, then modulates into a cruel satire of those who hold to a rougher and more sublime verse. He gets you coming and going. That is the ideal too in Swift. Yes, the Tale of a Tub, for example, is a set of rhetorical traps (as is all Socratic discourse), but it is not meant to lead to a bottomless pit of aporia, rather it leads to a plain moral that Swift actually italizices. In other words, "delight and instruct." Why not just write sermons? Because the parisishioners remain unchanged by them - right? Truly? Adults only change when forced out of the pocket of their comfort zone. They need to me made to think and reconsider, that is the Augustant ideal as I understand it. To use wit, banter, satire, and personae and rhetorical traps to get the reader to reconsider, change, and improve - this is a teacher's ideal. The Happy Tutor's ideal. Does this mean that I despise reason and moderation? No, only that I see those ideals traduced by the right, by Strauss for example, and by his neocon ephebes. By marketers too, which is what they are, propagandists. You cannot reason effecitvely and moderately with those who hold you in contempt, hold reason in contempt, and speak only to pursuade, infuriate, wrong-foot, or raise a mob. They do not as they say face facts, they create them, through creating a not so smart mob, getting elected and putting soldier's boots on the ground.

For my sad and ineffectual efforts in the plain prose mode, try http://www.gifthub.org. The idea there is to track views on philanthropy, right and left, but also to put together a coalition to raise money for left, liberal, or progressive causes.

I am not very politically sophisticated and go back and forth from a job in Wealth Bondage to my blogging from a Dumpster - which is how I feel about my life, actually. The sack of garbage is not you, Tim, but me. Out like a sack of garbage from an academic career, left as a Pimp without a Think Tank.

Don't have a party per se, or a group of people who think like me.

The practical effort is to work with progressive funders, like the ones villified by Horowitz to fight back. I would like to defeat his viewpoint and disengenous rhetorical strategems, by satire, surely, but also by building positive alternatives. To do that we need as they say time, talent, treasure and business plans. (You know that and said it, earlier.) In a serious way then my contribution is on the money raising side.

Rather than being against Liberalism, I hope you can see, through all these screens, that I could well end up in Horowitz's database, along with my funder friends and friends of friends. (A week or two ago I was at the Momentum Funders Conference in Berkeley with Tides, Changemakers, Threshold, and others funders explicitly traduced by Horowitz. I was there to schmooze with them, as a financial guy, about how to step up their efforts in this time of crisis, and how to raise long term money to compete with Bradley Foundation that funds Horowitz, Hudson which is also funded by Bradley, and Heritage, which is part of the same network, and American Enterprise, which is again part of that network.) See? That is where the energy in my post came from, feeling honest fear that I, as fundraising activist, and mentro to some of the fundraiser in the left wing network, might, via some McCharthyite charade, end up in really bad place, without rights, without protection, in some dark place, having been called a terrorist fundraiser by Horowitz, deemed to be so by Bush or one of his people, and so sent without judicial review, to some dark hole for torture or whatever, since those deemed terrorists have no rights, in the fiction, false fiction, Horowitz vindictively promotes. Far from attacking liberals I was saying, or trying to say, "Wake up! Moderation will not save us. But perhaps with satire we can pillory those who, like Horowitz, would subvert democracy. At the very least we can speak up, stick up for one another and show that we are not intimated by by these bully boy tactics." Unless he fears us, or at least sees we have the guts to stand up, he and others like him will not back off. They will move forward inch by inch, until the tipping point is past and the cost of dissent is unacceptably high for all but those who are willing to be martyrs.Moderation will come from civil broils, as it has in the past, as Tom Matrullo noted in this thread, but only if we liberals who have been slated for defear by fair means and foul have the spine to remain unintimidated and to fight back. If we capitulate or appease, why would the neocons back off or do more than use the rhetoric of moderation, here and there, as their attack dogs drive the Liberal, now deemed Terrorists, to the Freedom Pens?

Thank you very much for getting as best we collectively can to the deepest level of thought of which we are capable. These are dire times. The stakes for all of us are high, for we are all on record, all over the net, and if Liberals are Terrorists we will all end up in the same dark place. What we have done is not working. What genetic variations can we come up with that might be more vital? I am exploring both "values based planning for the affluent," i.e, high end planning with wealthy liberal funders, and satire. Others will have other and better options. But in defense of liberal democracy we all owe it our best shot, even if we are all, in the upshot, hauled off to the dump like sacks of garbage. The animus came from thinking, "Yes, and you know what? When I and if I disappear my moderate liberal blogger friends will make at most a moderate comment. Until their turn comes."

So, far from wanting to further isolate myself from you and your friends, Tim, I am looking for company, particularly courageous company. We can win, and will win, but not without having the courage to move forward engaging with people like Horowitz, not with reason only, for that is a joke to them, but with jokes better than his, and to a moral purpose. Money would help too. We could do much with a few bucks to promote better thinking than comes from the perjured intellectuals in right wing think tanks.

best thread ever in my many months of hanging out, as you've also noted, Tutor.

Almost everything is locked up, controlled, watched and compartmentalized as reality is created by the cruel word games and charades perpetrated on an as-yet unsuspecting populace as Dear Folksy Father spreads freedom and democracy and helps the world speak with one voice.

What is left is ideas, courage and the decisions to stand up for humanity ... and as far as I can tell the only way to get to the heart of the matter, unlearn sufficiently so as to begin the deep work necessary, is through such exchange and arguably this (blogging) is the best medium for that. The "over-the-fence-in-back-yards" of Alinsky doesn't seem any longer feasible, given that the next-door neighbour stand a good chance of being glued to Fox Network news or sleepily consuming the latest fare from Blockbusters. So here we are.

And oh how I wish I could write cleverly, with reason hermetically woven into satire ... alas, it's beyond me.

Ok, so this really is one of those superhero- misunderstandings things, where Thor throws his hammer at Spider-man because he's been reading the Daily Bugle too much and then they realize it's all a misunderstanding just in time to confront the Red Skull.

At the end of the day, I think Swift or Wilde only take you so far. It's a necessary part of the toolkit, a necessary part of the oppositional ecosystem. There must be a Swift. As I've said already, look how much Horowitz is stung by Berube; and look in contrast at how easily he can absorb and make use of a tribune of reason, and how much the reasonable, moderate liberal must give away to Horowitz to even get him in a discussion. I'm convinced, especially by this essay and this discussion, that here you've got it perfectly nailed. There is no way that someone like me, with my normal voice and manner, can get in the ring with that particular tar baby, not the way I conventionally operate.

But if it's a toolkit or an ecosystem, then right tool for right job. Against a fool only foolery will suffice. The danger I saw in the essay is that it seems to categorically see fools everywhere and prescribe foolery and wit as the universal panacea. There are people on the right who I think have an intellectual authenticity, an earnestness, who are not there for instrumental reasons, who are not malevolent. Who are also reasonable, and who can be persuaded through the use of reason. There are whole populations of people who are swayed by the worst, most instrumental operators on the populist right but who cannot be reduced as populations to being the same as those operators, who have to be met in the authentic habitus they occupy. Respect must be paid to the spectators if not to those trying to play the game.

My solution is really not to write to or for Horowitz (or for that matter some of the fools of the far left). If I write as a literalist, with reason, with balanced locution, as a plodding analyst, it is for connection to other plodders, to those who stand inside the circle of reason even if (in my judgment) on the wrong side of that circle.

I do that partly because it's what I'm good at (I hope), what I know how to do. Partly because when I try to put on the mask of wit in my blogging I fear it too easily dissolves to snarkiness, cruelty, true arrogance. Which might just mean that I'm not good at it, or maybe something deeper.

But also do it because the circle of reason, the idealized public sphere is not just my method but my goal. It's how I'd like things to be, it's what I think is the lifeblood of democratic deliberation. I think that ideal requires a certain kind of authenticity, a certain kind of transparency, a certain kind of authenticity, the cards on the table. It's why Horowitz offends me so much: he's the opposite of what I think the public sphere ought to be. I could care less, in that sense, what his ideology is, whether he's suckling at the teat of the right or left. What matters is his method, his process, his manner and mode of speech.

Tim, you wrote, "the circle of reason, the idealized public sphere is not just my method but my goal. It's how I'd like things to be, it's what I think is the lifeblood of democratic deliberation. I think that ideal requires a certain kind of authenticity, a certain kind of transparency, a certain kind of authenticity, the cards on the table. It's why Horowitz offends me so much: he's the opposite of what I think the public sphere ought to be. I could care less, in that sense, what his ideology is, whether he's suckling at the teat of the right or left. What matters is his method, his process, his manner and mode of speech." I agree whole-heatedly and viscerally.

I am in a discussion list run by Lenore Ealy at the Philanthropic Enterprise, funded through the right wing network. There I do try to engage the right with a show of reason, but it is so hard. Few premises in common, and even when the writing seems in good faith, they don't seem to see how perilous is the very basis for a public square with civil liberties, including the liberty of dissent. They may be reasonable enough themselves, but within their "family" are Limbaugh, Coulter, O'Reilly, Horowitz and others who make these far right thinkers look moderate by comparison. These more serious thinkers do not denounce the attack dogs, in fact they need them to shift the middle rightward. So engaging in reasoned discussion while important will change little until we have "hitters" who can take out their "hitters" as in hockey. Someone has to lay the hellacious hits on their character assassins, or we will never get back to moderation. Swift strikes me as the archetypal defender of reason, moderation and civic virtue, who does the wet work needed to make immoderation, or as he called it "enthusiasm," like that of our Evangelicals, a laughingstock.

Banter, raillery, ridicule, chaff, parody are good. Even better would be a Fool or Knave embracing Horowitz as a brother and writing well reasoned prose, modulating in and out of moral monstrosity. Yes, he is a tar baby, we need our own "B'rer Rabbitt strategies." Uncle Remus is not a bad model for writing well under oppression. We write as if we were judges, fair minded. In reality we are the accused in what sometimes seems like kangaroo court, or show trial.

So, yes, I think we had a very productive misunderstanding. Were I to rewrite the post, I would take your comments to heart. Very helpful. "Collateral damage" was unintended, the hope was to rally the troops by taunting them.

Well I'm glad everybody's over their respective writers' blocks.

"...or a group of people who think like me..."
H.T., I think I think like you think. Sometimes I do anyway.
Reason, though, I don't know. It came up a lot here. The gangsters Horowitz is servicing don't worship reason; they use it of course, we all do, but their plans unfold in a schema that, when it isn't pure visceral charge, is mostly spiritual.
This is Dark Force and Light Force in combat, not competing theories of resource allocation.
Reason's kind of the fitting together of already known things, with the constructs every once in a while getting to deserve a brand-new name.
The best art, the best poems - and the best one-liners - aren't the result of labored reason, they come from outside the system, except that there is no outside the system because our idea of what this is is way too small.
"...with jokes better than his..."
Jokes. Unforced jokes. Humor that can stand at the grave and unite the mourners. Humor that opens good hearts.
We have our assignments.

ed. "...there is no outside the system" it seems that way "because our idea of what this is is way too small..."

There is instrumental reason that posits a result, and works back to the means; we have that in engineering, warfare, politics, marketing, and business plans. We have it in abundnace. It is how Bradley Foundation sets Horowitz's salary at $175,000 not $150,000 and not $250,000. He earns the $175,000 based on results. If he steps it up, he might go next year to $185,000. The Discover the Network Database, might be good for a $5,000 bonus. All that is reason. And it does work. You just have to define the jobs, seek out available talent, and compensate appropriately while they create the memes, products, brands, shows, spectacles, that make up our daily bread on the web, tv, and radio.

What is missing is reason that is disinterested, or Reason with the capital R for the light of Reason, for God's ray of light. We have all agreed, I think, implicitly, with Nietzsche, that the truth is a product of fiction, a mass of workable lies.

If so, Ajax, we do have our assignments, for of fictions some are better than others, more life giving. Some are art, which stands against lies and kitsch, against brands and propaganda. What Horowitz will never write is art; he might once have been capable of better things, but he grows smaller as he in Wealth Bondage does the bidding of his bosses, using his talents for purposes that are corrupt. I think of Satan in Paradise Lost, the great Lucifer, who sat next to God, becoming the sublime figure hurled from heaven, the Prince of Lies on the Floor of Hell itself, challening God, only to end up as snake in the Garden, envying the innocence he would pervert. We become hell, make ourselves a hell. And in Horowitz, his voice, his eyes, his extremity of hatred and cruetly, you see what hell is like, and the torments thereof, and how it seeks to draw others into itself. Can such a man yet be saved? Born again for a second time? Only a theologian could guess. I would say that for this grace was created. May it soften his hard heart before his disfiguration of the God in whose image he was made becomes permanent.

God as compensation consultant.

Which firm, representing which God, to hire ?

God as a mascot for a brand.

The comments to this entry are closed.