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Saturday, June 06, 2015

Wright vs Banks

Or if you prefer, Hugo nominee vs PhD. A few weeks ago, Phil Sandifer challenged me to a literary debate. He suggested we each select a work we particularly disliked that the other individual favored and take turns criticizing and defending it.

He chose the Hugo-nominated "One Bright Star to Guide Them" by John C. Wright. I selected one of the BBC's top 100 novels, The Wasp Factory, by Iain M. Banks, which in my opinion is one of the worst books I have ever read. We're doing the debate tonight, it will be recorded and broadcast later on "a lefty sci-fi podcast called Pex Lives".

Phil is not what you would call one of my biggest fans, but he's been here on and off of late and has comported himself impeccably, so it should be an interesting and civil discussion, if nothing else. We would appear to be rather more in his wheelhouse than mine, but it's always interesting to venture out onto new ground.

Anyhow, I'll let you know when the podcast is broadcast and will link to the transcript when it is available.

UPDATE: We went about 1:45 and while there was an amount of talking past each other, I think the discussion was fairly substantive on the whole. It definitely illustrated the size of the gap, or rather, massive chasm, that separates our opinions of what a good book is, but there was the occasional common ground to be found too.

I'll leave it to the listeners to decide whose perspective was more compelling, but I was satisfied with both the case I made for "One Bright Star to Guide Them" as well as my case against The Wasp Factory. And while I don't agree with either of Phil's arguments, I now have a much better understanding of why he feels so differently about both works.

I will provide the links once Pex Lives provides them to me.

Labels:

84 Comments:

Anonymous zen0 June 06, 2015 7:03 PM  

Sandifer is well behaved, but he reminds me of that guy Luke. A lot of posturing and verbiage. I read the link, and it seems he is just saying what Irene Gallo said, only she only takes 6 lines to do it.

I like brevity, bcz brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes......

Anonymous Varenius June 06, 2015 7:15 PM  

I somehow missed Sandifer's "analysis" of Vox until now. Good Lord, what a mess of ignorance, self-satisfaction, projection, and speculation as fact! And his/their understanding of "fascism" doesn't even reach the level of Wikipedia! It leaves me much less optimistic than Vox that the podcast will be fruitful.

It's yet another example, BTW, of SJWs not understanding Vox due to being oblivious to his humor & mischievousness.

Anonymous roo_ster June 06, 2015 7:17 PM  

Read the sandifer link. The man is either incapable of understanding or dishonest in his characterization of wrights and days views. Ignorance is not an excuse given he makes noise like he read the material.

I have read the vd and jw source material and had no problem following the arguments.

Perhaps this head to head will demonstrate if sandifer is cleverly dishonest or merely dully incapable of understanding.

One last tasty bit...accusations of fascism from a someone who writes "...views so gobsmackingly outside of the realm of what it is socially acceptable to think and say in 2015..."

Catch that? "What is socially acceptable to think." Just who is the fascist here?

Blogger automatthew June 06, 2015 7:18 PM  

He's actually willing to debate Vox, though, so that automatically raises him several ranks above the usual Sir Robins.

Anonymous Varenius June 06, 2015 7:26 PM  

roo_ster, yes, his denseness & nasty combox responses toward Wright were particularly revealing.

Blogger camperbot June 06, 2015 7:29 PM  

I actually like The Wasp Factory for its view into the mind of a pure pyschopath. I look forward to seeing VD's criticism of it.

Anonymous black knight June 06, 2015 7:33 PM  

faggots gonna faggot

Blogger Cail Corishev June 06, 2015 7:45 PM  

Perhaps this head to head will demonstrate if sandifer is cleverly dishonest or merely dully incapable of understanding.

Five bucks on the first one, though "dully dishonest" might be closer.

As far as his impeccable comportment here goes, he didn't descend into name-calling and figuratively pissing all over himself. The usual SJWs don't exactly set the bar very high.

Anonymous Rhys O'Reilly June 06, 2015 7:48 PM  

I see you didn't take the easy option and use 'If you were a Dinosaur, my love'. It would have been hilarious to see Sandifer attempt to defend that.

Blogger S1AL June 06, 2015 7:51 PM  

Not particularly impressed with his arguments. When you go to the extreme of saying that fascism isn't *actually* a political philosophy because that's the only way to characterize your opponent as a neo-fascist, you've fully abandoned the sunny realm of logic.

That, and do these guys just all have an investors circular blogging relationship? He hits the exact same points as whtm and every other participant in the vile-prog side of the Hugo's.

Blogger Matt #0083 June 06, 2015 8:03 PM  

He was much less well behaved over at Brad Torgerson's blog recently. I'm forced to conclude that his schtick is related to that of the press and SJWs towards Muslims vs. Christians. He's *really accommodating* towards the ones who will actually hurt him.

Blogger Kull June 06, 2015 8:08 PM  

I appreciate that Phil stops by and isn't obnoxious but I am with S1AL. There is a large body of work on Fascism. I am not sure Phil has read any of it. Until Vox starts rooting for the corporate state and we see Arno Breker worked into the blog theme then should just leave fascism out of it. Orwell commented on that once, how the word fascism had lost all meaning from overuse.

Blogger Kull June 06, 2015 8:10 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Dexter June 06, 2015 8:26 PM  

I actually like The Wasp Factory for its view into the mind of a pure pyschopath.

I was gonna say, "all that 'mind of a psycho' thing is so 1980s, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, etc." and lo and behold, Wasp Factory was published in 1984 (which I did not know).

Blogger Cataline Sergius June 06, 2015 9:00 PM  

Philip Sandifer's definition of fascism is so tortured it would confess to anything.

It is literally a definition of fascism in which no actual component of fascism is actually present.

It's a cotton candy definition. One that smells good and looks substantial but once you bite into it, you will find that it was nothing but sugary grit.

Stalin fits his definition of fascist quite well, as does Che and of course Obama.

It's a definition that requires you to unquestioningly accept his paradigm. If I point out that my beliefs in free speech, free minds and free markets would have had me shot by any fascist government. Well that just proves I'm fascist because you see, I've been accused of being a fascist and I am under no circumstances permitted to challenge that accusation.

The left is drastically over invested in defining the term, "fascist." It is their's and they alone get to decide what fascism is and therefore who is fascist.

Therefore I am a fascist QED.

It would be much more accurate just call me a right wing shithead.

Anonymous MrGreenMan June 06, 2015 9:10 PM  

I forgot I read that from Sandifer's site before, but once I saw the weird defense of Rachel Swirsky's story for emotional range, and I wondered, what about plot, I thought I'd wondered that before. Then I am reminded - he thought the continued repetition of "fuck you" was the height of argumentation - I remember this before, as if it was some great put down, but really, it just seemed like the ramblings of somebody who has already lost. When somebody wants plot and action, and somebody else just wants emotional crescendo and titillation, those are rarely both satisfied with the same work.

Blogger buwaya puti June 06, 2015 9:20 PM  

I read Sandifers thing. I have no dog in this fight, but it seems to me that Tolkein and Tolstoy would easily fit his definition of a fascist, at least by his aesthetic definition. As would any number of others for that matter. And yet, perhaps, D'Annunzio wouldn't.
As for defeating him, I don't know. He seems a slippery customer.

Blogger buwaya puti June 06, 2015 9:21 PM  

I read Sandifers thing. I have no dog in this fight, but it seems to me that Tolkein and Tolstoy would easily fit his definition of a fascist, at least by his aesthetic definition. As would any number of others for that matter. And yet, perhaps, D'Annunzio wouldn't.
As for defeating him, I don't know. He seems a slippery customer.

OpenID malcolmthecynic June 06, 2015 9:48 PM  

Prediction: Sandifer's criticisms will be to the tune of "I don't like how obnoxiously his message/viewpoint is being pushed in this story" while Vox's criticisms will actually be about the book and the logic of it and the mechanics of writing and not be about the supposed viewpoint of the author.

(Sandfier might also throw in some variation of "He uses too many big words!" to be fair. That seems to be a common catch-all SJW complaint for Wright's work.)

Blogger buwaya puti June 06, 2015 9:55 PM  

And I don't know why the Wasp Factory.
It is a weak thing from a great writer.
Phlebas or many others would do him justice.

Anonymous D12 June 06, 2015 10:11 PM  

"He uses too many big words poorly!"

Anonymous BigGaySteve June 06, 2015 10:26 PM  

I am not sure if I want to listen to J C Wright, his voice might not be capable of doing justice to his prose.

faggots gonna faggot NAFALT- Not All Faggots Are Like That.

Anonymous WaterBoy June 06, 2015 10:31 PM  

Sorry, Vox, I had every intention of following this debate in as even-handed a manner as possible. But given the linked Sandifer post -- which amounted to little more than FASCIST ERGO DISQUALIFY -- I fear there will be nothing substantive forthcoming from your opponent.

That, combined with the positive review he bestows upon the worthless dinosaur story, shows all I need to see. I shall therefore resort to his own tactic and DISQUALIFY him in advance as a moron, based on his own words. And while a moron may still comport himself in a civil and gentlemanly manner, he is still, in the end, a moron.

Blogger Jack Ward June 06, 2015 10:48 PM  

Word count on Sandifers piece was 16,658, by my count. I read every word and wished I had spent the time on some decent fiction/non-fiction. Read the thing. It will tell you why we must fight the progressive/sjw point of view.

Blogger Super Snake (VFM #239) June 06, 2015 11:00 PM  

The link to Phil Sandifer's blog post is a short novel (approx. 20,000 words) about evil right wing fascists.

Fortunately, it's actually a pretty short read. Just skimming a few lines can give the basic content of the article.

"Me found many evil sub-humans who disagree with me. Sub-humans who disagree with me are Fascists. Fascists bad. Fascists must be suppressed via fascism."

Comments section: "Yeah", *golf clap*, *pat back*, *shake hands*, "Your so brave"



By the way, did anyone else find the artistic design and patterns on his post to be a bit strange? It looks exactly the same as my grandma's old kitchen wall paper.

Anonymous Huckleberry (#87) -- est. 1977 June 06, 2015 11:40 PM  

He's a step above the room-temperature glibgoblins of File 770, so I'll give Mr. Sandifer credit for that.
But good Lord does he live missing the forest for the pine cones.

Blogger Harsh June 06, 2015 11:43 PM  

Sandifer willingness to debate Vox = A-
Sandifer excess verbosity = D+

Keep it simple, Phil!

Blogger maniacprovost June 06, 2015 11:46 PM  

The more concise the argument, the easier to judge its logic or lack thereof.

Perhaps this explains the 16000 words.

Blogger Cail Corishev June 06, 2015 11:55 PM  

Sandifer excess verbosity = D+

It's squid ink, so by the time you plow your way through each response, you won't notice the goalposts are in a different place.

Blogger FlexFantastic June 07, 2015 12:08 AM  

Hey, one of the co-hosts of the lefty sci-fi podcast Pex Lives here. We're happy to be hosting the debate and anticipate that we'll have it up tomorrow. My co-host is the usual behind-the-scene guy and he lives in the U.K. so he just needs to wake up and do some mild audio leveling and whatnot and we'll get it circulating as soon as that's done. Cheers.

---

sous les pavés la plage

Anonymous Barg Uist June 07, 2015 1:07 AM  

I am greatly looking forward to a transcript/audio file of the debate. I hope it brings as many chuckles as the P. Z. Meyers Memorial Debate a while back.

Anonymous The other robot June 07, 2015 1:26 AM  

I have code to write and I have to figure out how to develop code for the ESP8266 and some great MilSF from Baen to read.

All of that is likely more productive than any PhD in English could ever manage. Productive in the sense of improving the world.

Anonymous Ain June 07, 2015 2:50 AM  

Queue Eye of the Tiger

Anonymous Stilicho June 07, 2015 3:25 AM  

Well, Cail, it takes a lot of ink to describe the joys of smelling your own flatulence

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 4:59 AM  

Similarly weighing in, and having listened to bits of it, I think it is, if nothing else, good radio.

I agree with Vox that much of what was clarified is the fundamental gap between our two sides. I think in the end, each of us finds profound beauty - on a deep and spiritual level - in something the other considers unfathomably ugly.

In the end, I suppose we shall see which of us actually understands fourth generation warfare better.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 5:24 AM  

Similarly weighing in, and having listened to bits of it, I think it is, if nothing else, good radio.

Well, you certainly scored points on that "look, I'm talking to YOU" line. That seriously cracked me up.

Blogger Student in Blue June 07, 2015 6:45 AM  

Certainly, there is a matter of different, incompatible worldviews (and as such, finding beauty and ugliness in different things)... but that doesn't excuse torturing definitions of things like "fascism" in order to make it stick.

Re-defining words (instead of simply choosing more appropriate words) is a fundamentally dishonest move no matter the worldview.

Anonymous Shut up rabbit June 07, 2015 10:28 AM  

There's only one group claiming to find beauty in something unfathomably ugly and they always lie - so that explains it.

Anonymous ugly June 07, 2015 10:36 AM  

Vox ought to take his own advice: Don't associate with SJWs... give them NOTHING...

Phil's whole "argument" boils down to:
1. People that Phil dislikes are poo-poo heads
2. Fascists are poo-poo heads
3. Thus Vox Day is a "fascist"

Seriously... I wasted 20 minutes of my life to discover this? Usually Vox doesn't troll us here, but in this case ..... ?

Blogger Thucydides June 07, 2015 11:23 AM  

I tried reading some of Philip Sandifer's stuff, and wish I hadn't. Although Vox is correct in that he comports himself a few steps above the SJW/Progressive rabble, his use of language and how he defines things is straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

Or more appropriately:

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIP6EwqMEoE

OpenID lostsailor32 June 07, 2015 11:55 AM  

Having read Mr. Sandifer's error-filled fantasy rage-rant when it was first posted, I look forward to hearing the debate.

But I did go back and read a story by Charlie Jane Anders he linked as an example of a Hugo-worth story that is "brilliant science fiction" that will "remind you what good science fiction can feel like." While not dreck, it's a rather boring, meandering story that does amply illustrate what the SJWs think is "good." What Anders' story, along with Swirsky's and the 2014 Hugo winner "The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere" shows is that what they think is "brilliant" science fiction is only by the furthest stretch of imagination science fiction at all.

Interestingly, though, Anders' story is the second pink-SF story I've read online in the last couple of weeks where the it's the protagonists writing that saves the world. And this is clearly what they believe. Not that writing science fiction should be entertaining and thought-provoking but that their writing will literally save the world. Which is also why they are so vehement and unyielding about defending their turf and will do anything to defeat the Sad and Rabid Puppies: it's not just genre literature but the fate of the entire world that hangs in the balance...

Blogger Cail Corishev June 07, 2015 12:22 PM  

Seriously... I wasted 20 minutes of my life to discover this?

Hey, I tried to warn you. But did you listen? Noooo...

Seriously, though, it's probably good to do this kind of thing once in a while, as long as someone like Vox has the patience for it. Leftism can seem like such a juggernaut that it's easy to start thinking there must be some great brains and complex philosophy behind it. There aren't. There's just some people who can talk fast enough that most don't realize they haven't said anything, who spend a lot of time pushing for their feels to be enacted while normal people are busy working and raising families. It's probably good to pull aside the curtain once in a while and be reminded of that.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 1:37 PM  

When I revise the essay for inclusion in a book, I will probably rework the definition of fascism section to just explicitly use Umberto Eco's analysis of Ur-Fascism, which my definition in the original piece is largely a simplification of. I went with the simplification on the logic that the piece was already 16,000 words and a fourteen-part definition of fascism was probably something to avoid if I could. But since objections to my definition of fascism have formed the supermajority of complaints about the piece, I've come to think the increased rigor would be helpful.

And in any case, of Eco's fourteen features of ur-Fascism, Vox and the Rabid Puppies seem to check off ten of them without much difficulty. So it will hardly affect the overall argument.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 1:44 PM  

And in any case, of Eco's fourteen features of ur-Fascism, Vox and the Rabid Puppies seem to check off ten of them without much difficulty.

Or, you could simply ask Dr. Eco if I'm an ur-Fascist. He'll tell you no. He knows me.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 1:49 PM  

Also, you're wrong. We only check off six of them, five if you're using "racist" versus "oppose the intruder". I'll bet you check off a higher percentage of the actual points of the Manifesto of the Fascist Scruggle.

You need to watch those weasel words around here. They are a tell.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 1:54 PM  

Alas, I am not on a "call him up and ask him about a random writer" basis with Eco. And anyway, it's his definition of fascism I'm citing; when it comes to understanding you, I'd rather go with analyzing primary sources.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 2:01 PM  

Also, you're wrong. We only check off six of them, five if you're using "racist" versus "oppose the intruder". I'll bet you check off a higher percentage of the actual points of the Manifesto of the Fascist Scruggle.

My rough count was that I could make strong cases for cult of tradition, rejection of modernism, disagreement is treason, fear of difference, appeal to a frustrated middle class, obsession with a plot, contempt for the weak/popular elitism, everybody is educated to be a hero, machismo, and selective populism.

But I will save working that out in rigorous detail and writing out the case for those ten for when I actually revise the piece, which is on the agenda for the next couple months.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 2:46 PM  

You need to look more closely at his actual definitions, not just the titles. For example, I assumed cult of tradition and rejection of modernism until I read what he meant by those things.

Cult of tradition is wrong. No syncretism.
Rejection of modernism is wrong. We are rationalists.
Disagreement is treason is wrong. We welcome analytical criticism.
Fear of difference is right.
Appeal to a frustrated middle class is right.
Obsession with a plot is right.
Contempt for the weak is wrong.
Everybody educated to be a hero is wrong. Quite the opposite, actually. All are fallen.
Machismo is right.
Selective populism is wrong.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 2:48 PM  

However, il Dottore says that just one of these things is enough to produce ur-Fascism, so you can always rely upon that. Of course, we have you SJWs likewise on Rejection of Modernism, since you are postmodern irrationalists.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 2:58 PM  

I tend to view postmodernism as the fulfillment and logical endpoint of modernism, not its rejection. And I firmly reject any accusations of irrationalism: I think our worldviews are equally internally consistent. (Actually, of the critiques you've made, it's solipsism that's most on target. I'm certainly not an extreme solipsist. I'm highly confident things other than my self exist, but I acknowledge that there can never be anything I am more certain of than the existence of my self, and tend to build most of my worldview out from my own experience of consciousness. Nihilism is also fair, although I'm something of a Christmas and Easter nihilist, if you will.)

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 3:01 PM  

(Incidentally, I'm told it should go live late tonight/early tomorrow, and I should have a transcript by the end of the week.)

OpenID malcolmthecynic June 07, 2015 3:37 PM  

Nihilism is also fair, although I'm something of a Christmas and Easter nihilist, if you will.

Blifferdorf urgham strottem.

According to the nihilist philosophy, there is absolutely no reason you should get annoyed at that response. None. Nor is there any reason that response isn't as adequate as any other to anything you say, ever.

As soon as you come up with a reason, any reason at all, to say that people are correct to be annoyed at certain responses, you reject nihilism.

Nihilism is an utterly incoherent philosophy, probably the most ludicrous philosophical system ever thought up. It's as rational as claiming there are square circles.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 3:42 PM  

Phil, dude, compare and contrast:

1. I tend to view postmodernism as the fulfillment and logical endpoint of modernism, not its rejection.

2. Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism.

3. And I firmly reject any accusations of irrationalism

Surely you see how 1 and 2 tend to belie 3. You may be solipsistic, but you don't get to redefine previously defined concepts that everyone else is already using.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 3:42 PM  

(Incidentally, I'm told it should go live late tonight/early tomorrow, and I should have a transcript by the end of the week.)

Excellent. I will post links to both. Thanks.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 3:51 PM  

2. Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism.

It will probably not surprise you to learn that in the course of earning a PhD in English during an era in which postmodernists dominate the academy I acquired a somewhat more nuanced sense of the movement than that offered by the first sentence of its Wikipedia article.

Nihilism is an utterly incoherent philosophy, probably the most ludicrous philosophical system ever thought up. It's as rational as claiming there are square circles.

Certainly that's a fair characterization of a very vulgar and simplistic nihilism. It would be a hard case to make against, say, Thomas Ligotti.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 4:15 PM  

I acquired a somewhat more nuanced sense of the movement than that offered by the first sentence of its Wikipedia article.

I have no doubt at all. And yet, X still does not equal Not-X.

Anonymous black knight June 07, 2015 4:18 PM  

no shit, Phil has a PhD in English? wow, that must mean you own a dictionary. Please continue to lecture us why A = B.

Anonymous Jack Amok June 07, 2015 4:20 PM  

It will probably not surprise you to learn that in the course of earning a PhD in English during an era in which postmodernists dominate the academy I acquired a somewhat more nuanced sense of the movement than that offered by the first sentence of its Wikipedia article.

How very postmodern of you to claim your own special definition of a word.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 4:29 PM  

I have no doubt at all. And yet, X still does not equal Not-X.

Indeed not. Nevertheless, I think the lead sentence of the Wikipedia article is at best misleading, and at worst simply wrong. (And Wikipedia is frequently wrong about postmodernism; its insistence on using secondary and tertiary sources over primary sources means that its articles on most postmodernist thinkers are based on summaries provided by people far stupider than Derrida or Foucault who generally badly misunderstand them. It is one of many areas where Wikipedia is simply a bad and inaccurate source.)

In any case, postmodernism is not so much a departure from modernism as a reformation of it, or perhaps a fundamentalism of it. To those from without - and I would note that most people who call postmodernism a departure from modernism are neither committed modernists nor postmodernists - this may look like a departure, in much the same way that Martin Luther appeared to schism from the existing Christianity of his day. To those within, it is something much more like uncovering the true face of modernism and discarding its tiresome equivocations and moderate tendencies in favor of a purer form.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 4:30 PM  

How very postmodern of you to claim your own special definition of a word.

Hardly my own; the basic argument will be familiar to anyone who has read Deleuze or Zizek, for instance.

Anonymous black knight June 07, 2015 4:34 PM  

Phil is officially boring and predictable.

Vox, you gonna have a thread up for the Women's World Cup?

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 4:41 PM  

I think the lead sentence of the Wikipedia article is at best misleading, and at worst simply wrong.

Do you also think that postchristianity is a form of Christianity? Is postgraduate work done prior to graduation? It sounds to me like you are attempting to redefine the language.

"post" is a prefix meaning "after in time or sequence; following; subsequent

How can it be after modernism, how can it follow modernism, if it is still modernism?

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 4:54 PM  

Phil is officially boring and predictable.

I am genuinely curious as to the nature of this objection, or, perhaps more accurately, strongly suspect that a double standard is in play here.

In an earlier thread, I recall numerous posters claiming that former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and William Blake were both not Christians. This seemed to me at the time a use of the word "Christian" that is wildly at odds with both common dictionary definitions and most conversational usage of the term, and yet it went largely unchallenged.

Certainly it seems to me that the declaration "the former archbishop of Canterbury is not a Christian" is a wildly more idiosyncratic and special definition of the word "Christian" than the declaration "I think postmodernism is less a departure from modernism than a reformation of it" is of "postmodernism."

So, genuine question: what, exactly, have I said that goes against your sense of what is and is not fair disagreement about the precise definition of terms? It seems to me I am offering a coherent and usable definition, and I've noted the precedent for using the term this way in the works of Deleuze and Zizek. So what, exactly, do you find dishonest here?

(To clarify, I am not saying that there are not postmodernists who would consider themselves to have departed from modernism. Indeed, I will readily concede that they are. I am, however, noting that there exist views of postmodernism that do not accept that they have departed from modernism. Like any other large movement, there are sub-sects within postmodernism.)

Blogger Robert Veal June 07, 2015 5:03 PM  

could you explain to me how you think postmodernism is not a departure from modernism and perhaps even what the value of postmodernism is at all?

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 5:09 PM  

Do you also think that postchristianity is a form of Christianity? Is postgraduate work done prior to graduation? It sounds to me like you are attempting to redefine the language.

"post" is a prefix meaning "after in time or sequence; following; subsequent

How can it be after modernism, how can it follow modernism, if it is still modernism?


I will readily grant that the word "postmodernism" is in some key ways lacking as a description of the things it is in practice used to describe. Personally, I've always objected to the sort of inherent obsolescence it has; much like "modernism" it becomes an increasingly embarrassing term the more time passes from the movement's heyday. So yes, the term, when considered purely in terms of its prefixes, is misleading. Such is the evolution of language; let's all have a nice gripe about "flammable" too, while we're at it. Or, to use one of your examples, about how my postgraduate work was, in fact, followed by a graduation ceremony.

I was uninvolved in the coining of the term, and indeed was several decades away from conception at the time. For my part, I'm more partial to post-structuralist. But for the purposes of tribal affiliation, "I'm a postmodernist" tends to have the practical effect of getting people to cast me in with other thinkers I'm broadly comfortable being compared to, so I use the term in spite of its etymological absurdities.

Less attempting to redefine the language as attempting to communicate as clearly as possible within the limitations and inadequacies of a language that predates me, then.

In any case, to try to make the claim rigorous.

1. For the purposes of identifying other thinkers with whom I share either large amounts of common ground or basic similarities in values and approach it is fair to classify me as a postmodernist.

2. I think my approach is highly faithful to the goals and values of the modernists, not in the sense of following in their footsteps, but in the sense of seeking the same truths they sought and following their approaches to their logical conclusions.

3. I believe my worldview to be internally consistent, and to believe that it is possible to frame it as a rational consequence of a fixed set of axioms in the manner of Euclid or Spinoza, although I have never actually taken the time to attempt to map it out in that way.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 5:15 PM  

could you explain to me how you think postmodernism is not a departure from modernism and perhaps even what the value of postmodernism is at all?

I think that the value of postmodernism is that it is honest about the fact that all reason exists as a phenomenon of subjective human consciousness. It is a flat rejection of the statement, to quote John C. Wright, that "the reasons of man were not the highest."

As for its lack of departure from modernism, I think postmodernism is entirely consistent with Ezra Pound's injunction to "make it new." It merely keeps following the command long after Pound himself stops doing so, ultimately rejecting Pound himself as no longer new.

Blogger Robert Veal June 07, 2015 5:30 PM  

To borrow loosely from genetics here: the genotype of postmodernism may be 'honest about the fact that all reason exists as a phenomenon of subjective human consciousness' but the phenotype is overwhelmingly ridiculous obscurantism defended by asserting that facts are not facts and probably racist too.

Maybe i'm not seeing the same postmodern critique and literature you are but that's been my impression.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 5:47 PM  

No intelligent postmodernist (I will freely admit that stupid postmodernists exist) has ever asserted that facts are not facts, at least in a general case.

Obscurantism is a fair accusation, although I would suggest that it is fair to ask whether obscurantism is necessarily and in every case a flaw. Postmodernism is, among other things, a set of rigorously constructed arguments for the idea that uncertainty and ambiguity are irreducible aspects of the universe.

From my perspective, this is the most basic disagreement that exists between Vox and me. Both Vox and I look at the problem of the world being far more complex than even an extremely intelligent person like ourselves can hope to fully understand. Vox's reaction is to give complete trust to an unknowable higher being with the capacity for full and total understanding of the world. Mine is to instead try to fully understand my experience of the world, a task that is still staggeringly difficult, but at least feels accomplishable within the scope of a human lifetime and intellect.

I view his approach as a horrifying act of submission to an authority that is at best imaginary and at worst illegitimate. He views mine as nihilistic solipsism.

Blogger Robert Veal June 07, 2015 5:52 PM  

thanks for responding, I'll sleep on what you've said and maybe come back with more questions.

Blogger Cail Corishev June 07, 2015 6:32 PM  

How can it be after modernism, how can it follow modernism, if it is still modernism?

Vox, if you ever get the urge to write about this (or if you have already), I think you'd be doing a service. Every time I think I have the meanings of these things pinned down, someone moves them on me (which I suspect is the point). As I understand it, modernism is the idea that things are always improving, so newer is always better and we should discard everything of the past. Then post-modernism would be the rejection of that idea, making it possible to value ideas from the past again, taking the ideas that work from each age and even combining them into something new. That's one definition I've seen, which makes sense to me. And Eco calls himself a post-modernist, right? That's a pretty good recommendation.

But then I run into post-modernism being defined as basically modernism on steroids, that it doesn't just reject the past, but rejects the present too, so it rejects objective reality. And we get guys like Philip spending a thousand words to say, "Well, yeah, A is A if you're going to insist on it, but it's complicated..."

(Then, in an attempt to understand the paradox of Pope Benedict, I'm reading about Hegel's theory that truth can be improved by integrating it with its opposite (A + not-A = A-plus, I guess), and I begin to understand why many people think philosophy is a racket.)

So anyway, a primer on modernism/post-modernism might be useful.

Blogger VD June 07, 2015 6:33 PM  

I view his approach as a horrifying act of submission to an authority that is at best imaginary and at worst illegitimate. He views mine as nihilistic solipsism.

I think you need to revise that. At best imaginary, at worst legitimate. Your biggest concern isn't that God exists and His authority is not legitimate. It's that He exists and it is.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 6:49 PM  

I think you need to revise that. At best imaginary, at worst legitimate. Your biggest concern isn't that God exists and His authority is not legitimate. It's that He exists and it is.

That's actually not a concern of mine, although we should be precise here and distinguish between his authority and his power. I am profoundly concerned that your god exists and wields the power you describe. It is literally my greatest existential fear; a terror that has genuinely kept me up at night, because in the event that it is true I am knowingly signing myself up for an eternity of torment that goes beyond anything I am capable of imagining.

I have no concern whatsoever that his authority is legitimate, however. It is not, at least over what I understand to be me, Philip Sandifer. The self that I am solipsistically invested in has an independent consciousness from your god. I am but a sinner, cast out into a material world and fundamentally separated from your god. But where you view my sin as my imprisonment in a lowly, materialist prison, I view it as my freedom from the tyrant you choose to serve.

To misquote Blake, I am of the devil's party and know it.

Anonymous Beau June 07, 2015 7:34 PM  

.. it is true I am knowingly signing myself up for an eternity of torment that goes beyond anything I am capable of imagining.

Phil, you are a man who recognizes his true peril. Take the cure.

Anonymous Jack Amok June 07, 2015 7:54 PM  

You like Deleuze? Well, I suppose that's as close as we'll get to you admitting Vox is right when he says you are claiming X = not X. But since you brought up Deleuze, perhaps you can define Post-Modernism by way of it's differences with Modernism?

We'll see how closely it tracks with reality...


Anonymous The other robot June 07, 2015 8:19 PM  

But I did go back and read a story by Charlie Jane Anders he linked as an example of a Hugo-worth story that is "brilliant science fiction" that will "remind you what good science fiction can feel like."

You mean the Charlie Jane Anders who writes in Palm Strike's Last Case:

They're well trained, maybe even decently armed, including one customized 1911 with a tight-bore barrel.

Now, maybe I am not up on the latest customizations for John Moses Browning's creation, but I think tight-bore barrels are a thing with those air-soft pussies, not people with real guns.

Blogger Mastermind June 07, 2015 9:16 PM  

Philip,

"although we should be precise here and distinguish between his authority and his power. "

There is no need to distinguish between them, power is what grants authority. If someone has endless power, he also has endless authority. To argue otherwise is incoherent and usually the result of desire overriding objectivity somewhere in one's worldview.

Blogger kurt9 June 07, 2015 10:07 PM  

Speaking of novels, Vox mentioned earlier that he was reading Neal Stephenson's latest book and found that the feminist/uber women meme was a put off. I have now finished it. I found it more boring than anything else. The obsession with the superiority of the female is insufferable. In any case, it is definitely not his best work and not nearly on par with "Snow Crash" or "Diamond Age".

I just realized that the title itself, that I did not look at carefully, "Seveneves" really is the Seven Eves, the main female characters of 2/3rds of the novel. The title alone suggests the tone and content of the novel.

Anonymous Jim Richardson June 07, 2015 10:44 PM  

"There is no need to distinguish between them, power is what grants authority. If someone has endless power, he also has endless authority."

Might makes right?

Anonymous OMGthefail June 07, 2015 10:44 PM  

*FACEPALM*

Protip: when attempting to demonstrate that other people are Fascist and you are not, don't argue that your philosophy has the Ezra Pound Seal of Approval...

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 10:46 PM  

don't argue that your philosophy has the Ezra Pound Seal of Approval...

I think you'll find that I expressly noted my philosophy involved leaving Ezra Pound behind in the dust for not living up to his own injunction.

Anonymous OMGthefail June 07, 2015 11:21 PM  

Well, "Ol' Ezra failed it in the end, but back before the defeat of Fascism broke his spirit and unhinged his mind, he would totally see how consistent we are with his injunctions" doesn't exactly sound like a winner either in the no-you're-the-Fascist stable of arguments.

Blogger Philip Sandifer June 07, 2015 11:51 PM  

I think I can pretty safely invoke a three-word injunction from Ezra Pound without also invoking the entirety of his political beliefs.

I mean, really, I'm much more concerned about postmodernism's debt to Heidegger. I think there are some very legitimate concerns to be raised about that. (And I say that as someone who's quite partial to bits of Heidegger.)

Blogger buwaya puti June 08, 2015 12:10 AM  

I told you he was a slippery customer.
As for fascism and non-fascism, there are all sorts of ideological positions that are not either, being completely disconnected to period European politics. And there is no point in taxonomizing all these based on some arbitrary list of characteristics which themselves have no useful definitions. Without a particular historic context it is meaningless. Arguing over fine definitions of a fascist aesthetic, in order to defend a slur, seems absurd, as the whole thing has lost its context.
There is a big messy world out there.
This all means something to Eco, because in his world there were people he wanted to call fascist, because they did at some point have some connection with actual political fascists. So his definitions worked, at some time in one place. But could you take this stuff to modern Malaysia? Or to the modern US ? No I don't think so.

Anonymous Heaviside June 08, 2015 4:16 AM  

If Ezra Pound and Martin Heidegger were fascists, why wouldn't you want to be one?

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