Hippiesis FREE this week on Amazon (Kindle). Get your copy now. Or if you have a copy, gift a copy or two to friends. Just tell them to be polite and write a brief and honest Amazon review in return for the freebie 🙂
Click the cover below to link through. (Read some excerpts below that.)
(Note: Paperback, unlike e-book, isn’t free but is 20% off at $10.89.)
“Left and Right have become mirror images of each other. There are stories of conspiracy, of America being hijacked by an evil cabal … Their purpose is not to persuade the other side but to keep their bases agitated … to beat the other side into submission … what has been lost in the process … are those shared assumptions – that quality of trust and fellow feeling … [This is politics, but] there is another story … millions of Americans who are going about their business every day … [All] those ordinary citizens … who have found a way – in their own lives, at least – to make peace with their neighbors … are out there, waiting for Democrats and Republicans to catch up with them.”
“Any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and ideological strategy misapprehends the moment we’re in … keeps us locked in either/or thinking.”
“I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe … I reject politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally.”
“I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.”
Pinker’s big push for the Enlightenment values that got us where we are is the right message at the right time. Not perfect, mind you. Pinker’s cheerleading for capitalism goes a little overboard and understates the problems commensurate with it. His treatment of cultural movements that press against the Enlightenment, such as Romanticism, are at times astonishingly simplistic. Enough so to undermine his credibility in isolated passages. When he criticizes Thomas Piketty’s landmark Capital in the 21st Century, Pinker has a point in that Piketty’s emphasis on wealth inequality elides the improvements in material life that have carried all classes forward. But Piketty’s willingness to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of late capitalism makes his work seem more impartial overall, less slanted than Pinker’s. The charts and counter-charts that make Piketty’s book more tedious and less readable than Pinker’s more informal tome also make Piketty’s analysis seem more balanced and complete.
Overall, though, Pinker’s own core thesis is persuasive and exceedingly timely. After all, the Right has always had a deeper investment in religious and authoritarian structures that cut against the Enlightenment’s commitment to open inquiry and to a principle of individual freedom that transcends religion, region, or demographic. It is only recently that the postmodern Left has joined in the attack, often renouncing the Enlightenment standards of universal truth (accessible to reason and science) and condemning the Enlightenment-based liberal Western democracies as hopelessly enmired in racism, sexism, and other oppressive formations. In this regard, Pinker’s pushback against the Left as well as the Right is spot on. Despite the obvious bumps along the way, and bumps that are still with us, the Enlightenment, with its philosophical message of universal rights over tribalism and of the universal standards of reason and science, has resulted in the most humane, anti-sexist, and racially tolerant sensibility in social history. This is measurable in Pinker’s statistical graphs (and most visibly of late in the Washington Post’s worldwide survey-based map). That there were bumps and contradictions along the way, that challenges of social justice are still with us, is no reason to attack the foundation of the Enlightenment and of the Western liberal democracies that go along with it. Indeed, it would be preposterous to expect no bumps, no contradictions and challenges. We need to improve, perhaps even to do so at a revolutionary pace, but we need to start by working with what we have, not throwing it all overboard and creating a vacuum for some less Enlightenment-based power formation to move in.
Cimarron Rose is the first book I’ve read by Louisiana native, James Lee Burke. Thoroughly enjoyed it, though the content was a bit raw and gruesome at times. I would not recommend the book to those who are invested in the culture of “trigger warnings.” For everyone else, go for it!
Like all writers worth their fame, Burke has strong characters driving the plot. And like all good writers of his genre (suspense/crime drama), that plot is very carefully crafted. But Burke’s signature element for me is style – a muscular prose style of the sort sometimes associated with Hemingway but adapted to the genre and the regional setting (small-town Texas and west Louisiana). It is a style paradoxically very sparse and very vivid. Tight sentences with words and images chosen with great efficiency. It reminds me a bit of the way Clint Eastwood created a richness of character in the spaghetti westerns with a few facial gestures and fewer words.
Her arms looked strong, her stomach flat under her breasts. Her black gunbelt was polished and glinted with tiny lights…
His skin had the unblemished smoothness of latex stretched over stone…
Outside the window I could see trees of lightning busting all over the sky.
This style of Burke’s colors all other elements – the sense of place, the characters’ psyches, the pace of the story and of life in the universe of the novel.
If I ever make it back to Burke’s hometown, New Iberia, Louisiana, the place itself might be a little more colored in by this brush with his personality via Cimarron Rose.
The long-established progressive magazine, The Nation, recently created a stir by publishing an Anders Carlson-Wee poem about homelessness, and then apologizing for doing so on the grounds that the poem contained inappropriate language (i.e., language that might be offensive to those demographic groups among the homeless that Carlson-Wee tries to identify with in the poem).
As a long-time liberal, it is demoralizing to see what liberalism has become. God forbid that a poet should use language deemed inappropriate by the cultural police. God forbid that artists should ever creatively identify with people of backgrounds other than themselves. God forbid that any one of us should ever try to put ourselves in the shoes of other races or demographics. Guard those boundaries between races and other demographic groups! Where Bull Connor conservatives failed, today’s liberals may yet succeed!
The whole event is a nice, tight summary of where liberals went wrong and gave up the moral high ground on matters of race. Or, as my grandmother used to say (my brackets added), “When you drive the devil from the front door [Bull Connor], he comes in the back [identity politics].”
From the first page of A Second Chance at Dancing, we get the sense that Michael, the first-person narrator, is about to open up an inner emotional landscape that’s been long hidden. Too old for “coming of age” and too young for a “mid-life crisis,” Michael nonetheless occupies one of those transitional moments where all values seem up for grabs as he comes to terms with the existentialist meaning of life (or lack thereof). While the existentialist musings give an intellectual scaffold to A Second Chance at Dancing, the emotional weight is also full and authentic. If you want a conventional plot with good guys and bad guys and a ticking clock, this might not be for you. If you want something that leaves you thinking and feeling more deeply about human characters and the human condition, this book does that very, very well.
Robert Gogan’s one-man show, “Strolling through Ulysses” (ongoing at The Stag’s Head pub and other venues, Dublin) is ideal for anyone from the James Joyce scholar to the intrepid reader who found the work impenetrable. The former will be engaged by how Gogan highlights certain layers – especially the potentially humorous ones – of that manifold work, and the latter will be delighted to find a perfectly accessible presentation of Ulysses as a piece of entertainment. Even those who have never tried the tome will have no trouble following the plot and pleasures of Gogan’s show. Mainly, for those of us who read the novel with a mixture of admiration and frustration, Gogan brings back the good memories without triggering the bad.
Probably the lynchpin of the show is Gogan’s delivery style – the facial expressions, the rhythm and pace, the lingering on key phrases from the book (e.g., “scrotum-tightening sea”) that are pregnant with humor and with deeper meaning at the same time. Part of the story’s pace is driven by the erratic transitions (“ok, let’s get back to…”; “anyway…”). This is no oversight but a reminder that perfect continuity was never the point in Joyce’s writing. Gogan teases us into enjoying the associative flow without getting anxious about “losing the thread.” That, indeed, might be the best learned secret to enjoying Joyce’s longer works.
If any improvement could be made, Gogan could perhaps use props and dynamic movement to better distinguish the characters. One could picture a bit more color and prancing about. The second act is more polished in this regard, especially in the excellent segments on Gerty and Molly. Gogan’s epilogue of contemporary criticism fit well and could even be extended a bit for my taste. But as I press to think of how to pull out more potential, even that pressure is a sign of the show’s strength. As in Ulysses itself, part of the richness lies in the sense that there are always, no matter how many readings you give, more hidden opportunities to be dug out of the text.