Sounds weirdly like modern politics, no?

“When we feel like victims, all our actions and beliefs are legitimized, however questionable they may be. Our opponents or simply our neighbors, stop sharing common ground with us and become our enemies. We stop being aggressors and become defenders. The envy, greed, or resentment that motivates us becomes sanctified, because we tell ourselves we’re acting in self defense. . . . The first step for believing passionately is fear. Fear of losing our identity, our life, our status, or our beliefs.”

That’s a speech given by Andreas Corelli in The Angel’s Game (a great novel, and its English translation came out in 2009).

Oh, and he’s the devil. So we probably ought to be wary of what he says.

Reading such passages is a reminder of why politics in the post-literacy era may not be going so well. It would be hard for a high-literacy person—like most of the “founding fathers” were—to have made some of the recent political choices that voters have made.

 

Life: Bicycle and morality

“Tolstoy had also been in his sixties when he learned how to ride a bicycle. He took his first lesson exactly one month after the death of his and Sonya’s beloved youngest son. Both the bicycle and an introductory lesson were a gift from the Moscow Society of Velocipede-Lovers. One can only guess how Sonya felt, in her mourning, to see her husband teetering along the garden paths. ‘Tolstoy has learned to ride a bicycle,’ Chertkov noted at that time. ‘Is this not inconsistent with Christian ideals?'”

—Elif Batuman, The Possessed, and I can’t help but notice the way many transportation options take on a moral dimension in the eyes of many commentators.

Life: Myth and biology edition

“But if art… is a harmony parallel to nature, as I’ve said, then the exploration of nature should be no less exciting and no less spiritually rewarding than the function of art. I mean, it’s the same field. When one’s bliss is actually science… it has to be. I remember that when I was in prep school, biology was the thing that grabbed me, and now I think of mythology as a function of biology, a statement of the impulse system and the organs. Not something that’s made up in the head. What’s made up in the head is the fiction; what comes out of [the heart]  is a myth.”

—Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey

Life: There is no authority left edition

All modern thought is falsified by a mystique of transgression, which it falls back into even when it is trying to escape. For Lacan, desire is still a by-product of the law. Even the most daring thinkers nowadays do not dare to recognize that prohibition has a protective function with regard to the conflicts inevitably provoked by desire. They would be afraid that people might see them as ‘reactionary’. In the currents of thought that have dominated us for a century, there is one tendency we must never forget: the fear of being regarded as naive or submissive, the desire to play at being the freest thinker—the most ‘radical’, etc. As long as you pander to this desire, you can make the modern intellectual say almost anything you like. This is the new way in which we are still ‘keeping up with the Jonses’.

— Rene Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.

The book itself is a hodgepodge of brilliance and incoherence / irrelevance, but the former outweighs the latter. The notion of defining the difference between “man” and “animal” seems to fascinate older philosophers in a way that I find bizarre or unimportant.

To my mind, the strongest part about American culture American culture’s meta ability to rapidly re-write itself in response to changing conditions and outside influences, including conditions related to Girard’s conception of desire.

Life: Reading Houellebecq edition

“There has been something in my literature, from the first, that goes hand in glove with shame. To be honest, when I published my first books, I expected to bring a certain shame on myself (even though, as I said before, I’ve always hated putting myself forward). What actually happened, and it was a wonderful surprise, was that readers came up to me and said, ‘Not at all, what you describe are human things, some true of human beings in general, others specific to human beings in modern Western societies . . . In fact, we are grateful for you for having the courage to expose them, for having shouldered that part of shame . . .”

—Michel Houellebecq, Public Enemies.

It’s never fully possible to anticipate reader response, which Eco wrote about too.

Shame’s meaning and role does seem to shift with time and place, and yet it gets little airtime in contemporary Western culture.

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