There has to be an invisible sun

21 08 2017

Since I just wrote on Pink Floyd, I’ll go with this for the eclipse:





We cannot even choose a side

10 08 2017

After the election of the current occupant of the White House, I considered pitching The Atlantic on a story about the unpreparedness of Americanist political scientists for the new regime.

Like with so (too) many things, I never got around to it, but, today, reading Anthony McElligott’s Rethinking the Weimar Republic, I circled back around to this idea.

Political science, as taught in the US, is often divided into 4 fields: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. Sometimes comp & IR are combined, and in some of the larger departments, there may be slots given over to methods/quantitative analysis; theory (my field) is almost always the smallest portion of a pol sci dept.

Anyway, one of the big issues in analyzing the rise and fall of the early German republic is the role of institutions: the attempt of the republic to create new, representative ones, and the role of reactionary institutions (namely, the judiciary and the army) in either not supporting or weakening the republic.

And that’s what brought me back to a consideration of Americanists, and their general lack of consideration of institutions qua institutions.

Let me explain. Here’s [my sense of] how the different fields break down, in terms of what’s studied:

  • American
    • Institutions (govt-specif)
    • Policy (general and specif)
    • Parties
    • State politics
    • Interest groups (oft in conjunction with policy and/or institutions)
    • Political psychology (attitudes & behavior, incl voting behavior)
    • Elections (oft crossed with pol psych, parties, state politics, interest groups)
  • Comparative
    • Institutions (qua institutions)
    • Specific countries/regions
    • Human rights
    • Political culture
    • International law/institutions
    • Political economy
    • Non-governmental organizations
  • IR
    • Diplomacy
    • War
    • Militaries
    • International law/institutions
    • NGOs
    • Political economy
  • Theory
    • History of pol thought
    • Ideologies
    • Specific theorists
    • Specific traditions (e.g., critical theory)

(Again, this is simply my impressionistic take; were I writing a paid piece, I’d test this against something more solid.)

As a general matter, all fields except theory rely on quantitative methods, Americanists probably most of all; Americanists and comparativists may also use qualitative methods. IR, comparative, and theory are variously broadly and narrowly historical, while Americanists are usually only narrowly historical.

What do I mean by “narrowly historical”? They might consider the history of the use of executive power, say, or of the evolution of various House or Senate procedures—that is, they’ll look at the history of a policy or institution in terms of that policy or institution, not any wider trends.

And by “institutions, specific”, I mean, the institutions of government and the various procedures therein; they are generally not considered within a larger context of the institutionalization (“qua institutions”) of the American federal republic or American political culture. A while back I asked someone (Daniel Nexon?) on Twitter—or maybe it was Nexon at Lawyers, Guns & Money—whether there were Americanists who studied institutions in terms of institutionalization, and Stephen Skowronek was the only name he could come up with.

And American political culture? There’s plenty of stuff out there, but little of it done by Americanist; for that, you need to hit up the historians.

Think I’m kidding? Type “American political culture” into Google Scholar and see what pops up: historians and comparativists, some sociologists, and yes, a few political scientists (however narrowly focused).

But not a lot.

This is not a criticism of any particular Americanist. I follow Sarah Binder and Amy Fried, both grad school colleagues, on Twitter, and Sarah’s my go-to scholar for Congressional procedure. And it’s not as if Americanists won’t talk perceptively about what the hell is going on in our country on a conversational level. But bringing scholarly weight to bear on these matters? Not so much.

Okay, it’s getting late, so I won’t stretch my speculations any further. Let’s just say I think Americanists need to—perhaps they already have or are doing so!—broaden their focus and deepen their (historical) analysis if there considerable knowledge is to be of any use in making sense of our current, disintegrating, era.

And theorists? Have I mentioned it’s late. . . ?





When the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath a clear blue sky

3 08 2017

I had to have been high when I saw Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii.

I mean, who watches a Pink Floyd concert film sober?

JT and his roommate took me and maybe some of the other freshmen from our floor in Sellery over to the Humanities building, where they showed free films in lecture halls (Harold and Maude was regularly featured). JT & roommate were both sophomores, way into music, and likely to be high whenever it seemed like a good time to be high—and in a classroom watching Pink Floyd play long trippy songs in an empty amphitheater would seem to be a very good time to be high.

I knew Pink Floyd well enough—had a couple of albums, knew songs from a couple more—but was never a super fan. I learned that night in Humanities, for example, that they had a song called “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”, which I thought (then and now) was a great title. And I learned that young David Gilmour was beautiful, and that whatever drug he had taken had turned his pupils into teeny-tiny dots amidst a startling blue.

Anyway, there’s a semi-amusing countdown of Pink Floyd songs over at Vulture penned by someone who seems to hate that he’s a Pink Floyd fan. I didn’t click on the links to the songs themselves (on Spotify, which I haven’t joined), but did watch a number of the vids, many of which were live.

And, oh man, look at those concerts! I never saw Pink Floyd live, and most of the big shows I did see were either at Alpine Valley or at Summerfest, but that concert footage—guys mostly standing around, a few women ahhhhh-ing off to the side, and LASERS! and NONSENSE ANIMATION!—that. was. a concert!

I haven’t seen an arena show in. . . huh, ever, so, again, I can only go by what flashes across my computer, but it seems like most of the big acts touring today put on A SHOW. Plenty of music, yes, but dancing and more dancing and, oh look, another dancing routine. I can’t really say if this is better or worse than the old standing-around-noodling model, but it is a distinct change.

Guessing (again): the Grateful Dead were the premier stand-around-noodling band. Yeah, yeah, the Dead (and their ilk) are called “jam bands”, which, okay, is cooler than “noodling” band, but either way, not my thing. The Dead were still touring when I was in college, and you couldn’t swing a bong in Madison without hitting a Deadhead, but, nope, didn’t do it for me.

Didn’t hate ’em, didn’t love ’em; just thought, Okay.

But Pink Floyd? Yeah, they were all right. Biting, angry, inscrutable lyrics, and long (so very long) songs to play when you got in from a night out and needed to float back to somewhere in the vicinity of sobriety before falling asleep. What more could a teenager want?

One final memory: At one point while hospitalized, J and I were allowed out of the ward for a few hours. We walked down Lakeshore path over to State Street, where some kind of construction was going on outside of Memorial Library, the zone bounded by plywood sheets.

These sheets were, of course, a canvas, and on one, someone had spray-painted shine on you crazy diamond.

Both J and I, day-passed from a psych ward, thought this was pretty great, and I took a picture of her in front of it. J had a lot of bad days, but that was a good day, for both of us.





Break down, it’s all right

1 08 2017

When I was 22 I gave up hope.

It was necessary, a way to keep myself alive, but I don’t know that it was a conscious decision so much as a fait accompli.

Almost 30 years late, and I’m still snagged on that word, hope: hope you’re feeling better; hope it goes well; etc. I didn’t use it at all, for years, but sometimes there’s no good way to avoid the word without drawing attention to its avoidance. So, I use it, sparingly, and always with a mental reservation.

I gave it up because I was broken, as a person. I may or may not still be broken, and perhaps I won’t ever get past those breaks without at least a handshake with hope, but I have managed to put together a life without it.

It’s hard, and I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to anyone, but if you have to abandon hope, you can, and live.

The loss of hope is, or can be, less a tossing-away than an uncovering: you’ll see things, in this hope-less life, that you wouldn’t otherwise. I can’t say if this new sight is worth it, relatively speaking, but, again, there is a kind of clarity, here.

This is how I’m coming to see my response to the 2016 elections. Something broke inside of me, and I couldn’t get a handle on it. Now, I’m thinking that I had a kind of hope in American politics, a hope I never really considered, never really recognized, and that now that’s gone.

Again, a hard thing, but not the worst thing. Again, I gain a sight, a sense of the meanness of this country, which, however maddening, is useful to have.

The differences between the personal and the political hope-loss are that I didn’t know I had any left to lose, and that I thought I already knew how the US could be; that’s what made election night so unbelievably painful.

A more significant difference is that I ended up in a place where there are already a hell of a lot of people—mostly, people of color—who had discarded hope long ago. They haven’t given up; they just don’t expect that everything will somehow turn out right. No, there is work to be done.

This work would be easier, I’d think, if there were hope; or maybe it would just be easier to avoid the work. (I have evidence from my personal life to support both possibilities.) Regardless, there is work to be done.





We’re dancing for the restless and the brokenhearted

25 07 2017

I’ve got such a weakness for the pop anthem.

And not just, y’know, the regular U-RAH-RAH anthem—not We Will Rock You—but the slow build/propulsive/rip-your-heart-out-only-the-music-can-save-us anthem.

U2 seems the obvious go-to band for this, and it’s true, those boys could be mighty anthemic, but they were always too eager, never desperate enough. And while David Gray can do both the build and the desperation, he tends to crash through too soon, breaking the wave rather than letting it break over him.

No, for the properly-calibrated desperation, you gotta go to the women.

Stevie Nicks knew how to do the propulsive/rip-your-heart out bit:

As did Heart:

Pat Benatar bridged both Heart and Nicks:

A little older, a little softer, but still that call:

Sinead switches it up: she starts at a pretty high level, then just levels this shit:

Here, she levels everything s l o o o w w w l l l y:

Okay, I will give this one to the boys:

This is our last dance, indeed.

Kate Bush is a force unto herself, and if you can’t find your way to liking even one of her songs, I don’t want to know you.

This one is pretty hard to ignore:

This one works, too:

The pièce de résistance, however, has got to be from the lovably dopey Streets of Fire, with Diane Lane lip-synching the combined voices of Laurie Sargent and Holly Sherwood. Big booms, big downs, big ups, big hair, and everything is demolished by the end:

God, I’ll stop and listen to that song every damned time.

Hell, I listened to them all: somewhere inside this middle-aged broad is that break-away-everything-and-nothing-matters girl, still.

All these years later, something more than a memory remains of her, still.





The chains are locked and tied across the door

21 07 2017

How does helplessness become resentment?

I’m in the midst of reading Robert Gellately’s edited transcripts of psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn’s interviews with Nazis at Nuremberg, Nuremberg Interviews; what is striking are the protestations that they could have done nothing other than what they did.

They were helpless.

They were helpless before Hitler’s charisma, helpless before his charm, helpless to do anything other than their sworn duty—to the military, to Germany, to their own high moral principles. And those who weren’t personally helpless emphasized Germany’s helplessness following WWI and the victors and their unjust Treaty of Versailles.

And as for the Jews, well, while these Nazis disclaimed any personal anti-Semitism, they did point to Jewish dominance of German cultural life and that so many Communists were Jews—so really, was it so wrong to want to free Germans from the yoke of such an alien people? Goldensohn paraphrased Alfred Rosenberg:

The cause of the Jewish question was, of course, the Jews themselves. The Jews are a nation, and like every nation, have a nationalist spirit. That’s all every well, but they should be in their own homeland. … Why couldn’t the Jews be allowed to remain where they were , in other lands? They would have been all right if they didn’t do bad things, but they did. What did the Jews do? They spat at German culture. How? They controlled the theater, publishing, the stores, and so on.

Similar sentiments were expressed by others: Jews provoked anti-Semitism by their involvement in German life. What else could Germans do? Of course they had to defend themselves.

There has been a great deal of discussion of the role of resentment in politics, but isn’t behind resentment some notion of victimhood, helplessness? How does despair over the inability to control one’s own life become politically virulent?

Propaganda, inarguably, but that can’t be the sole catalyst, can it? What makes it work?

And while it is supremely easy to dismiss the rationalizations of Nazi defendants, what cannot be dismissed is that some peoples have been victimized, are being victimized, and may justifiably feel helpless amidst the conditions of their oppression. Is it not just that they be freed?

Political mobilization draws in part on moving people from a sense of apathy or despair and toward action; when is this mobilization just, and when is it malignant?

One quick response might be that any mobilization which relies on or stokes resentment tends toward malignancy, but, honestly, that seems too quick: what, for example, distinguishes “righteous indignation” from “resentment”?

It could be that this distinction is too caught up in ideology to be of any analytical use, that is, that my good views will always be based in righteousness, while your bad views are riddled with resentment.

Again, there’s a ton of work, both scholarly and journalistic, on resentment in politics, so likely nothing I’m saying here is at all original—for originality, I recommend Nietzsche.

Still, Nietzsche disdained the ressentiment of the weak toward the strong; the resentment of the strong toward the weak, well, that would not even have occurred to them: to be strong was to be above it all.





Drifting this way and that

17 07 2017

These days I’m floating, a bit askew, a few inches from the ground.

I can touch down when I need to—when I have to teach or work my second job—but other than that, I’m untethered from the world.

This has been going on for awhile. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not, well, it’s not much of anything. Better than bone-crushing anxiety or quaking depression, a slow dissolve ends in sorrow, nonetheless.

I noted a coupla’ posts ago that I don’t know if I’ll remain in New York, if I can afford to stay here, but as real as the financial questions are, the really real issue is that I don’t feel really real. I’m not quite here.

Brooklyn, Chicago, if I’m not, here, I won’t be, there.

Again, not an emergency; the lack of urgency, perhaps, is part of the problem. I’m not drowning beneath, so am not fighting for air. I’m low in the air, not fighting at all.