Richard Rodriguez on our current situation

18 01 2011

Via the Western Confucian:

I am about to make a point so simple that I am astonished few in what we used to call the American Left, have bothered to say it. In fact, it is corporate America that is profiting mightily from the uncivil war Americans are waging against each other. The real players in the game are up in the luxury boxes. And they are not named Glenn Beck or Jon Stewart. They are executives at News Corp. and GE and Disney and Comcast (which will soon own NBC)…

Fox News also sent the indomitable patriot, Sean Hannity, to the border to reinforce support for the valor of Minutemen who train their gaze southward. What Hannity did not discuss, during his stint on the border, was the way American drug addiction has destabilized various countries in the world, including Colombia, Afghanistan and, of course, Mexico…

The reason the Right is noisier than the Left in this strange game we are all forced to watch or hear is that the Right has big-balloon figures – shouting radio personalities and politicians with gams. The dour Left has no big balloons, just plenty of grump. Ironically, the Left ends up as obsessed as her devoted fans seem to be, albeit negatively, with a cartoon creature like Palin.

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Of course, I also liked his swipe against “Chicano education” as ethnic tribalism. As my days as a Trotskyist taught me, ethnic nationalism is one of the preferred rhetorical lifeboats of the bourgeoisie.

Eden on West

17 01 2011

Sometimes, it’s good just to read some good old fashioned Catholic debate and see if I can read it with a straight face. For that reason, I am thankful that Dawn Eden put her Master’s thesis on-line for the curious to read and contemplate. Since I have never read Christopher West, I won’t go on the war path too much with him here. Since I have read the original Theology of the Body lectures and found them to be impenetrable gunk with the consistency of a marshmallow, I feel I can comment on general tendencies I see both in the polemicizer and the object of her polemic:

1. Repression: I have to go back unwillingly to my studies of Foucault, but I think it goes without saying that West’s characterization of the pre-Vatican II church as sexually repressed is a perfect example of pop-sociology gone wrong. In Foucault, the greatest repression comes not in silence, but precisely in discourse. That is why, for him, the Victorians were far more sexualized than those who came before them. A far more respectful position towards sex is the silence of the taboo. People speak about something to neutralize it, to bring it out into the open. Who knows? Maybe pre-Vatican II Catholics enjoyed sex way more than we do precisely because they didn’t talk about it.
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Notes on Zizek’s Christianity

13 01 2011

When Christian commentators get excited about Slavoj Zizek’s dialogue with Christianity, it seems to be sort of like the biggest high school nerd getting excited because the head cheerleader casually said hi to him in the hallway. As one of my mentors told me some time ago, for anyone to get excited about intellectual developments in Christianity in the last fifty years is a little like becoming obsessed with the politics of a kindergarten sand box. It goes without saying that we are on the defensive. It should go without saying that even the most militant Christian ideologue doesn’t believe in half the words that come out of his mouth. As Zizek would point out, most fundamentalists say and do absurd things precisely because they don’t really believe, not because they do.
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Anti-romanticist romanticism

11 01 2011

Sometimes it is good to look at what you think from another angle. I do so over and over again. Indeed, most of my projects are games of “let’s turn this on its head and see what it looks like.”

In this case, I would like to analyze why I have been so adverse to romanticism of all stripes. I have concluded that this sentiment is due to a mind blinded by romanticism. Indeed, is that not the essence of cynicism: a profound disappointment with things as they are? Are not cynics idealists who have just given up? Perhaps that is the reason that I can’t sit through a piece by Liszt and keep a straight face. There is a voracious totalitarianism at work in romanticism: an attempt to swallow reality in the emotional gaze, an attempt to absorb all mysteries of thought into the great well of passionate reason.

Why then resist? I have preferred artforms that have “left me alone”, so to speak; philosophies that explain the least but speak the most. But perhaps the best anti-romanticism is to own one’s romanticism. To not want to be “pegged down” to a certain position is the failure to accept failure itself. But the human condition is failure. To own up to systems that fail, to beliefs that are not perfect, is the greatest feat of superhuman realism. Yes, one perhaps will roll one’s eyes from time to time. But ideology may know better than we do, or the only way to beat it at its own game is to accept it as is, warts and all.

Notes on religious discourse – left and right

10 01 2011

Above: People taking their religion far too seriously. Really, to sing this with a straight face, you would have to, wouldn’t you?

We interrupt this otherwise serious blog to talk some serious smack:

In general, I think right-wing Catholics are far more pagan and enjoy their religion more.

In general, I think liberal Catholics are far more devout and serious about what they believe.

I mean neither of those things in a good way.
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The sacred for sale

6 01 2011

Again, thanks to Wufila for posting this link to the Wall Street Journal article on the return of hoodoo practice in the Internet age. The article and the video were fascinating. Some random thoughts:

1. An anxiety of influence: I think that there is no doubt that there is some sort of flow of rituals and prayers between Mexico, the Caribbean, and the American South. The rose of Jericho ritual seen here is something that can also be seen in Spanish-speaking botanicas and occult shops. I have even seen before a holy card of High John the Conqueror in Spanish. It would probably be impossible to find out who influenced whom in this case. As in social and economic questions, the United States is inevitably tied to Latin America, and vice versa, at least in its undercurrents.
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The void where the sacred used to be

5 01 2011

Another one from Salon:

The folk culture of American constitutionalism blends themes from 17th-century English Protestantism and 18th-century neoclassicism. From Protestantism comes the rejection of the “Catholic” idea of an evolving scriptural tradition interpreted by an authority — the Vatican or the Supreme Court — in favor of the idea that the Christian or American Creed is in danger of corruption if it strays too far from the literal words of the original, perfect revelation. According to the Washington Post, one Tea Party member in Louisiana “has attended weekend classes on the Constitution that she compared with church Bible study.”

From 18th-century neoclassicism comes the idea that citizens of a republic must be taught that their constitutions are perfect and were handed down by superhuman lawgivers or “Legislators” — Solon in Athens, Lycurgus in Sparta — and must be preserved without alteration as long as the republic endures.

The blending of Protestant fundamentalism and neoclassical Legislator-worship explains the semi-religious reverence with which the Founders or Framers or Fathers of the Constitution have long been discussed in the United States. Other, similar English-speaking democracies — not only Canada, Australia and New Zealand but modern Britain itself — achieved self-governance or universal suffrage generations later, when these Protestant and neoclassical traditions had died out in their domains. The Canadians do not revere their first prime minister, John Macdonald, and to this day the British do not even have a formal, written constitution. Our Anglophone peers regard American constitution-worship as bizarre and quaint, like our fondness for displaying the national flag.

Just as my literary education was more in Spanish literature, so my political education came more from studying the volatile history of Latin American republics rather than my own.

My wife and I were once in southern Alabama, and someone was selling shrimp out of the back of his truck. On one corner of his truck, a prominent American flag was placed, waving in the wind. For some reason it hit me then that it is a sacramental sign for most Americans. I have never shared such enthusiasm. When I was a Marxist, I would never do the flag salute or stand for the national anthem. Now I do it merely out of courtesy. Nor do I think the Constitution a particularly sane document. Really, I think “the American way of life” is more due to an interior and exterior imperialism masquerading as a republic. Also, the myth that the United States is a “classless society”. Nothing to get excited about, really.

The sound of my essay going over people’s heads

4 01 2011

See here. I thought I would make some people’s heads explode with this one, but nothing going. Notice I never really condemn the Jansenist miracles, rolling with my contention that “hey, shit happens”.

What is philosophy, and who gets to say?

3 01 2011

The attitude of philosophers towards their readers has completely changed. It is no longer the truth they speak, but more rather the reader and the writer who become the principal object of their preoccupation. They themselves confess that they always hope, for their own sake, that the reader will approve of their opinions. What is still more important is that the reader for whom they write is no longer the philosopher, but rather that vague individual called the man of good sense on some occasions, the cultivated man on others, and the general reader on others. Compare that procedure with that of Aristotle or of St. Thomas. The Discourse on Method is essentially a rhetorical work. It was also one of the first appeals to unformed man precisely as he is unformed, an appeal which will some day shine forth in the appeal to the unformed masses insofar as they are unformed.
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2010 in review

2 01 2011

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 420,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 18 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 307 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 895 posts. There were 171 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 159mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was February 3rd with 19,896 views. The most popular post that day was On being “real men”.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were, Google Reader,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for norman rockwell, buenos aires, reditus, arturo vasquez, and saturn.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


On being “real men” August 2009


La sombra de San Pedro December 2008


Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires by Jorge Luis Borges June 2008


Las doce verdades del mundo August 2009


Oración a San Cipriano June 2008