Introduction to Literary Theory with Paul Fry

Spent a lot of time in the car today. Found this on Open Yale Courses and listened to the first lecture. I highly recommend it for both personal and professional reasons.

“In this first lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the course’s title in three parts. The relationship between theory and philosophy, the question of what literature is and does, and what constitutes an introduction are interrogated. The professor then situates the emergence of literary theory in the history of modern criticism and, through an analysis of major thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, provides antecedents for twentieth-century theoretical developments.

The Quotable Eugene Victor Debs

I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.

A great refusal of the cult of personality by someone who could have exploited it.

You might recall that Debs ran for President of the United States 5 times, the fifth from jail.  This is from his statement to the Court upon being convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

I listened to all that was said in this court in support and justification of this prosecution, but my mind remains unchanged. I look upon the Espionage Law as a despotic enactment in flagrant conflict with democratic principles and with the spirit of free institutions…

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in a fundamental change—but if possible by peaceable and orderly means…

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison…

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and the factories; of the men in the mines and on the railroads. I am thinking of the women who for a paltry wage are compelled to work out their barren lives; of the little children who in this system are robbed of their childhood and in their tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the monster machines while they themselves are being starved and stunted, body and soul. I see them dwarfed and diseased and their little lives broken and blasted because in this high noon of Christian civilization money is still so much more important than the flesh and blood of childhood. In very truth gold is god today and rules with pitiless sway in the affairs of men…

Some Political Sequiturs: Your Extreme Pocket Guide To Political Philosophy

Aristotle Ethica Nicomachea page 1
Aristotle dedicated his most important ethical treatise to his son.

None of the following thoughts originated with me.  I’m just helping curate.
  • Fiscal responsibility is a progressive position.
  • Conservative, liberal, progressive, radical…these are labels powerful people use to keep people with most interests in common apart.  In reality, most voters have no interest in this kind of politics, no use for these kind of names, no time for these games, waning patience for these kind of political “ethics.”
  • Members of the middle class tend to identify with the upper class because they see upward mobility as reachable and good.  That’s fine, except when it keeps us from also identifying with the economic underclass from which most of us came, part of which most of us could still easily be, and to which we have human, civic, moral and spiritual responsibilities, as they have also to us.  As we all have to each other.
  • Prudence is not a reactionary or cautious position.  It’s knowing the good and know how to bring it about and then doing it. (Aristotle)
  • We have more similarities than differences.
  • Citizens of different nations have more in common with each other than they do with their own ruling classes.
  • Information wants to be free, and so do people.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The Beloved and the Knowing

I’ve been thinking about Plato’s idea of the Beloved, and about how every decent pop song ever written exhibits the yearning for wholeness and completion that Plato locates in the Beloved.  This is, perhaps not coincidentally, also why so many pop songs can be rendered as peans to what we usually mean when we say “God.” (Brian Wilson knew this when he talked about “Smile” 40 years ago).   That’s really all I have to say about it; just that pop songs are almost invariably Platonic. Our relationship with the Beloved teaches us about ourselves, cultivates joy, and lifts us for observations of the divine.  (Brian Wilson knew this when when he wrote “God Only Knows” and knew it again the first time Carl finished singing the first line).
The spiritual tension isn’t always expressed as sexual/romantic.  Often it’s rendered in terms of what people usually mean when they say “platonic” in the first place.  How right they are, as it turns out.  All the Pink Floyd songs about Syd Barrett are about the platonic (in the popular and classical senses) friendship of Roger Waters and Barrett and then its loss, or rather Waters’ and the world’s loss of Barrett spiraling out from Barrett’s own loss of self.  God, those songs are good.
I suppose you need this yearning if you’re going to make art.  I suppose you need this sense of incompleteness…I suppose this is why art has become so personal and why didactic art or message art is usually bad.  I suppose it’s also why you can hear and see yearning in art at all, that is, why you can receive it as such, why you can feel like you own it, why you can sing a stranger’s words and somehow still feel known and like you know.  And so then art is in the intuitive, emotional knowing that we are not finished. That we lack.  What it is we lack is something else.  God or human other, lover, loving, love?  But at least there is the knowing.