Doctorow on “professionalism” as LARPing

‘It’s not surprising that gamespace has become a workplace for hundreds of thousands of “gold farmers” who undertake dreary, repetitive labor to produce virtual wealth that’s sold to players with more money and less patience than them. The structural differences between in-game play and in-game work are mostly arbitrary, and “real” work is half a game, anyway. Most of the people you see going to work today are LARP-ing (live-action role playing) an incredibly boring RPG (role-playing game) called “professionalism” that requires them to alter their vocabulary, posture, eating habits, facial expressions—every detail all the way down to what they allow themselves to find funny.’

Doctorow and Wang, In Real Life. From Introduction by Doctorow, xi.

I am certainly drawn to this for its cut on “professionalism” but it runs deeper. It is also a critique of the many forms of “professionalism” which are simply “gold mining,” or are aiming towards it.

“There is no part of history so generally useful …”

“There is no part of history so generally useful at that which relates to the progress of the human mind, the gradual improvement of reason, the successive advances of science, the vicissitudes of learning and ignorance (which are the light and darkness of thinking beings), the extinction and resuscitation of arts, and the revolutions of the intellectual world. If accounts of battles and invasions are peculiarly the business of princes, the useful or elegant arts are not to be neglected; those who have kingdoms to govern have understandings to cultivate.

Example is always more efficacious than precept. A soldier is formed in war, and a painter must copy pictures. In this, the contemplative life has the advantage. Great actions are seldom seen, but the labours of art are always at hand for those who desire to know what art has been able to perform.” p. 113

Imlac, “the poet,” to Prince Rasselas and Princess Nekayah, touching on what will become intellectual history.

From: Samuel Johnson. Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. 2008/1759. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing.

de Botton – How to Talk More About Sex

Quote

…. We were bothered by sex because it is a fundamentally disruptive, overwhelming and demented force, strongly at odds with the majority of our ambitions and all but incapable of being discreetly integrated within civilized society.
     Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and complex us to sty up to late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Unsurprisingly, we have no option but to repress its demands most of the time. We should accept that sex is inherently weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses.
De Botton, Alain. How to Think More about Sex. New York: Picador, 2013. Print. School of Life. 6-7.

Lincoln on the cult of “success” in publishing

Men are greedy to publish the successes of [their] efforts, but meanly shy as to publishing the failures of man. Men are ruined by this one-sided practice of concealment of blunders and failures. Abraham Lincoln (Burlingame, M. (2008). Abraham Lincoln: A Life. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP)

This statement sums up a lot about the failings of the scholarly literature and of the state of humankind’s recorded knowledge, in general.

Found as an epigraph to the Introduction (p. 1) of Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failures by G. Berman and Aubrey Fox. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press, c2010. Cited as in Burlingame, 1977, p. 358) I actually wrote this down a couple years ago now and finally am adding it here as was always meant.

 

An erotics of epistemology

The woman is dead, and she is everywhere, pulsing throughout My Poets. McLane’s hunger for poetry and for this woman are tangled; she desires to decipher them in order to possess them. McLane’s critical language is often flush with eros: “I thought I could make Stein mine,” she writes. “I thought I could read Bishop and could know that mind and make it mind my mind.” But such are McLane’s finely developed negative capabilities: She exalts in the waiting. “I am fascinated by that threshold where one hovers, not getting it yet wanting to get it,” she writes. “Where a tentative desire contends with frustration. Where frustration may be converted into desire, and desire into some provisional illumination.” This isn’t the language of criticism; this is the language of seduction, a celebration of yearning, of not-knowing and not-having. Asked to explain a line by Wallace Stevens—“Let be be the finale of seem”—she crows: “I didn’t know and I don’t and I was ecstatic.” Susan Sontag called for an erotics of art. My Poets is that and more; it is an erotics of epistemology. A celebration of meaning and mystification, of the pleasures and necessity of kankedort. As McLane writes, “All honor to those who wave the pure flag of a difficult joy.

the body electric – bookforum.com / current issue

History as a branch of literature

His first ambitions, he has told us, were literary. He has also said that once he turned to history, his permanent inspiration became Auerbach’s Mimesis, the reconstruction by a literary scholar of the path to modern realism, from the Odyssey to Virginia Woolf, whose route included Ammianus, Gregory of Tours, Saint-Simon, historians and memorialists along with poets and novelists. Literature thus both preceded history in Ginzburg’s cursus, and has always thereafter lain adjacent to it. There is a long tradition of the practice of history as a branch of literature, but what this has usually meant is either a studied elegance (or unbridled flamboyance) of style – Gibbon or Michelet – closer to works of imagination than of record, or the quasi-reproduction of literary genres in the construction of narratives: for obvious reasons, epic and tragedy – Motley or Deutscher – more frequently than comedy or romance.

Perry Anderson reviews ‘Threads and Traces’ by Carlo Ginzburg, translated by Anne Tedeschi and John Tedeschi · LRB 26 April 2012 Mostly for the Auerbach reference and history as a branch of literature. From a lengthy book review.

Mimesis and Platonic Forms

Deep inside his new collection of essays Life Sentences, in a discussion of mimesis, in the middle of a paragraph about the Pythagorean world of numbers and the differences between perfect Forms and imperfect appearances, William Gass throws down a challenge: “Put yourself in their place.” He’s referring to the place of the Forms—those poor, elusive abstractions that, according to Gass’s concise rendering of Plato’s theory, are damned to have reality but no animation, Being but no life. To understand them, we can’t do less than consider their predicament from their perspective. And once we’ve come this far, we have to pity them. Think about it: how utterly wretched it must be to exist as a Form, stuck for all eternity as a law of motion that does not move, or as an object of knowledge that “will never know what knowing is.” It might be tempting to strive for the symmetry of something as impeccable as an equilateral triangle, but it would be grim never to experience, or even to conceive as a delicious fantasy, “what it is like to be seen, longed for, touched, loved.

Till the Knowing Ends: On William Gass | The Nation Review of Life Sentences

Science and questions of meaning and purpose

Into the vacuum left by the humanities comes science, which by its own admission is unconcerned with the large questions of meaning and purpose. Even so, on campus and elsewhere, science is now taken as the final authority on any important human question​—​and not always the rigorous physical sciences, either, but the rickety, less empirical, more easily manipulated guesswork of behavioral psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology, developmental studies, and so on. Nowadays, if we seek insight into the mysteries of the human heart (not high on the academic agenda in any case) we are far more likely to consult a neurobiologist or a social psychologist than Tolstoy or Aristotle. This is not progress.

The Book That Drove Them Crazy | The Weekly Standard Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind 25th anniversary – review