What makes these poems powerful is knowing that their desolation and anger are a kind of nascent love awaiting transformation.
This article explores the concept of the network as it appears in the early writing of the literary scholar Hugh Kenner. Anticipating the widespread use of network in the humanities today, Kenner adapts the term from Marshall McLuhan and uses it throughout the 1950s and ’60s to think about intellectual networks, little magazines, and academic communication. The network concept is also considered in light of Kenner’s political conservatism and his participation in the midcentury movement of conservatism.
It is interesting to note another book that came on the scene in 2015: The Burnout Society by Korean born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Han’s brief foray into exhaustion, while incomplete, is to be commended as he broaches the malignant phenomenon through several helpful texts and ideas. One that is of particular interest is Han’s treatment of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”—a sure precursor to the age of exhaustion if ever there was one. Following a reading developed by both Agamben and Deleuze, Han presents Bartleby as a prototype of late modern fatigue—a victim of the liturgies of pre-Fordist mechanization and the insatiable machinery of runaway capitalism. As Deleuze writes: “Even in his catatonic or anorexic state, Bartleby is not the patient but the doctor of sick America, the Medicine Man—the new Christ or brother to us all.” François, of course, is no Bartleby; but he is certainly a symptom of a neoliberal woundedness. In his case, it is a sustained moral and spiritual blindness, reinforced by the “pressures of modern life”—the business ontologies of commodification and atomization that not only disconnect him from the people he “loves,” but which also foreclosed upon his interior development as a person from day one, ensconced as they are in culture: “I wondered what could interest me, now that I was finished with love,” muses François in a moment of utilitarian splendor, “I could take a course in wine tasting, maybe, or start collecting model airplanes.”
Neither Houellebecq nor Han are moralists, of course, but the links among moral injury, psychological turmoil, and spiritual aridity are under serious review in their work. Han’s The Burnout Society indicts the toll that highly competitive achievement cultures take on us all. He then posits a kind of solution to this problem, one you, dear reader, will surely recognize: “We owe the cultural achievements of humanity—which include philosophy—to deep contemplative attention,” an insight Josef Pieper develops much more fully than Han in his 1963 study.
As Pieper argues, contemplation is central to any philosophy of ritual, festivity, and culture: “The concept of festivity is inconceivable without an element of contemplation”; and this contemplation, performed in intentional liturgies, explodes outward as a sign of recognition, right relationship, and praise. “This is as true today as it was a thousand years ago,” observes Pieper, “It remains the form of the praise given in ritual worship, which is literally performed at every hour of the day. By its very nature that praise is a public act, a festival celebrated before the face of creation.”
"Looking for Cormac is a 33 1/3 minute documentary that follows the trail of our greatest living writer, Cormac McCarthy, from his origins in Knoxville, Tennessee, through New Orleans and into the vast expanse of Texas. "
Overall I was only moderately interested in the book’s thesis that we are globalizing American concepts of mental health. With the exception of the genuinely interesting anorexia chapter, the depression/PTSD/schizophrenia chapter all showed societies with pre-existing recognizable versions of these disorders. America got really interested in and heavily medicalized these disorders in the mid-20th century, and now these other societies are getting really interested in and heavily medicalizing them. People who like calling things “colonialist” should call this colonialist, and people who like debating whether or not things are colonialist should debate it, but I’m not sure how much extra we can learn about mental health here.
I was more interested in a sort of sub-thesis that kept recurring under the surface: does naming and pointing to a mental health problem make it worse? This was clearest in Hong Kong, where a seemingly very low base rate of anorexia exploded as soon as people started launching mental health awareness campaigns saying that it was a common and important disease (as had apparently happened before in Victorian Europe and 70s/80s America). But it also showed up in the section on how increasing awareness of PTSD seems to be associated with more PTSD, and how debriefing trauma victims about how they might get PTSD makes them more likely to get it. And it was clearest in the short aside about the epidemic of neurasthenia in Japan after experts suggested that having neurasthenia might be cool, which remitted once those experts said it was actually cringe. A full treatment of this theory would go through the bizarre history of conversion disorder, multiple personality disorder, and various mass hysterias, tying it into some of the fad diagnoses of our own day. I might write this at some point.
Of course, the null hypothesis is that there are lots of people suffering in silence until people raise awareness of and destigmatize a mental illness, after which they break their silence, admit they have a problem, and seek treatment. I am slightly skeptical of this, because a lot of mental health problems are hard to suffer in silence - if nothing else, anorexia results in hospitalizations once a patient’s body weight becomes incompatible with healthy life. Still, this is an important counterargument, and one that I hope people do more research into.
This book is about cultures that respond to mental disease very differently than we do, so I find myself imagining a culture that holds Mental Health Unawareness Campaigns. Every so often, they go around burning books about mental illness and cancelling anyone who talks about them. If they must refer to psychiatric symptoms in public, they either use a complicated system of taboos (like Sri Lankans) or maximally vague terms like “an attack of nerves” (like Zanzibaris). Whenever there is a major natural disaster, top experts and doctors go on television reassuring everyone that PTSD is fake and they will not get it. Whenever there’s a recession or something, psychiatrists tell the public that they definitely won’t get depressed, since “depression” only applies to cases much more severe than theirs, and if they feel really sad about losing all their money then that’s just a perfectly normal emotion under the circumstances.
Jake and Phil are joined by Scott Beauchamp to discuss his new book, Did You Kill Anyone? Reunderstanding My Military Experience as a Critique of Modern Culture, and Alistair Macleod's "The Closing Down of Summer"
Scott Beauchamp, Did You Kill Anyone? Reunderstanding My Military Experience as a Critique of Modern Culture
Read an excerpt: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/zer0-books/our-books/did-you-kill-anyone
Alistair Macleod, "The Closing Down of Summer"
Indeed, without any knowledge of the savagery, the spectacle did not so much appear to be an existential threat to democracy mounted by the violent forces of sedition and insurrection as it appeared to be something out of the Theater of the Absurd. Beyond absurd: the image of Pseudo-Dionysus and his votaries occupying the House chamber was offensively ludicrous. These initial real-time images of the Capitol breach circulating instantly across the globe magnified a national embarrassment that had been intensifying for four years, suggesting that Trump’s real crime against the nation was a moral one, a crime against our dignity. What crueler blow to one’s dignity is there than to be mocked? One could feel the Schadenfreude drift across the Atlantic like an ugly, slowly spreading fog as the damning footage was obsessively posted and reposted to social media by foreign friends and adversaries alike. An old friend of mine remarked, “It takes a village to raise a village idiot,” and it felt that, perhaps through guilt by association, we might all be implicated in making America “great” again. One felt the urgency of what Nietzsche called the “pathos of distance,”2 to keep the wretched of the earth at arm’s length, as if apologizing to an invisible waiter, “Oh, they’re not with me.”
We have since been disabused of any illusion that the composition of the mob conformed to the caricature offered above, of inflamed rural idiots storming the Bastille. One study found that of the Capitol arrestees sampled, 40 percent of the mob were business owners or held white-collar jobs, only 9 percent were unemployed, 90 percent had no connections to far-right militias or white-nationalist gangs, more than 50 percent came from counties Biden had won (as opposed to having “marinated” in deep-red strongholds), and that overall, the rioters’ various places of origin mirrored the American population as a whole: “And that is the point. If you presumed that only the reddest parts of America produce potential insurrectionists, you would be incorrect.”3
The media chorus thundered on in real time about the “attack on democracy.” Perhaps, though, it was more an attack on our idealist assumptions about democracy than an attack on democracy itself (whatever that means). There was a sense in which the attack was, both in its violent and absurd aspects, eminently democratic. Arguably, what was attacked (apart from the Capitol building and the people inhabiting it) was the meaning and worth many of us place on democratic institutions, processes, and the American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power that is indeed admired throughout world. However, “democracy” also refers to the potentially explosive power of the demos, such that an attack on democracy can paradoxically be an expression of it. The idea that the entire democratic system of governance in the United States, with the extended network of laws, institutions, and traditions devoted to both practicing and defending it were ever seriously threatened by a mob assault on the Capitol seems fanciful at best.4 What is really noteworthy about the attack was its expressive power and, underneath the overt political violence, the social-psychological mystery of what was being expressed, which, in the long term, may represent a very real problem of political legitimation.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor