Monthly Archives: January 2011

Norman Mailer


Norman Mailer on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in 1968.  Much of the dialogue sounds like it was written by a precocious grad student suffering from a hangover and the trots.

Today is Norman Mailer‘s birthday (1923-2007).

Frye in a 1968 interview.

Smyth: What about other critics who are less disciplined?  I’m thinking of Mailer.

Frye: But Mailer is not a critic.  He’s a novelist.  He has a creative mind. When he speaks in the role of the critic, he reflects the confusions that a person who is not really a critic gets into.  I think that we’ve found over and over again in the history of literature that some of the world’s greatest poets have also been the most confused people in their reaction to the current political scene.  The reason is that they are concerned with so fundamentally different a job that they really shouldn’t be asked to pronounce in these areas.  (CW 24, 67)

The rest of the Buckley/Mailer interview after the jump.

Continue reading

One Hundred Percent Renewable Energy by 2030


An excerpt from a speech delivered on January 13th, 2011, by Mark Jacobson

A newly released paper by professors Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucci of Stanford University suggests that we can, using existing technology and resources, convert to one hundred percent renewable energy as early as 2030.

All that is required, of course, is the political will.  And with climate change denialism being heavily funded by the likes of ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers — who also have a good portion of Republican members of Congress in pocket — that won’t happen just by wishing for it.

The Koch brothers are also among the founders and funders of the astroturf fraud passing for a populist movement, the Tea Party, which, of course, is wholly on the side of climate change denial.  Finding the political will to address climate change in ways that are available to us now will require getting past pretty formidable powers who’ve already demonstrated the damage they can inflict upon the public discourse needed to make it happen.

Tom Paine

Statue of Paine in Burnham Park, Morristown, New Jersey

Today is Tom Paine‘s birthday (1737-1809).  We posted on Paine’s Common Sense earlier this month.  But with events in Egypt and Tunisia still unfolding, he deserves another look in order to distinguish between revolutionary ideology and revolutionary imagination — a distinction ultimately between secondary concerns and primary ones.

From Fearful Symmetry:

For Satan is not himself a sinner but a self-righteous prig.  As Blake explains: “We do not find any where that Satan is Accused of Sin; he is only accused of Unbelief & thereby drawing Man into Sin that he may accuse him.”  As long as God is conceived as a bloodthirsty bully this priggishness takes the form of persecution and heresy-hunting as a service acceptable to him.  But we saw that under examination Old Nobodaddy soon vanishes into a mere perpetual-motion machine of causation.  And as Deism is an isolation of what is abstract and generalized in Christianity, Satan in Blake’s day has become a Deist, and has turned to subtler forms of persecution, to ridicule and shoulder-shrugging and pointing out contemptuously how little evidence there is for any kind of reality except that of natural law.

Yet Deism professed to be in part a revolutionary force.  The American and French revolutions were largely Deist-inspired, and both appeared to Blake to be genuiney imaginative upheavals.  He wrote poems warmly sympathizing with both, hoping that they were the beginning of a world-wide revolt that would begin his apocalypse.  He met and liked Tom Paine, and respected his honesty as a thinker.  Yet Paine could write in the Age of Reason: “I had some turn, and I believe some talent for poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouraged, as leading too much into the field of imagination.”  The attitude to life implied by such a remark can have no permanent revolutionary vigour, for underlying it is the weary materialism which asserts that the deader a thing is the more trustworthy it is; that a rock is a solid reality and that the vital  spirit of a living man is a rarefied and diaphonous ghost.  It is no accident that Paine should say in the same book that God can be revealed only in mechanics, and that a mill is a microcosm of the universe.  A revolution based on such ideas is not an awakening in the spirit of man: if it kills a tyrant, it can only replace him with another, as the French Revolution swung from Bourbon to Bonaparte. . . An inadequate mental attitude to liberty can think of it only as a levelling-out.  Democracy of this sort is a placid ovine herd of self-satisfied mediocrities.  (CW 14, 71-2)

Tunisia and Egypt: Primary Concern and Ideology

A young Egyptian woman demonstrating in Cairo

Whenever we see something like what is happening now in Tunisia and Egypt — and what was brutally stifled in Iran two years ago — it is heartening to recall Frye’s observations on the liberation movements in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  There are no guarantees when it comes to the triumph of primary concern over ideology, but there is always hope.

In conversation with David Cayley:

Cayley: Partly what I’m trying to understand are the political or real world implications of your thought.

Frye: The political implications are, again, in the direction of what I’ve called primary concern.  What has thrilled me about the movements in Eastern Europe is that they are not ideological movements.  They are movements for fundamental human rights to live and eat and to own property.  The authorities there, insofar as they are opposing these demands, are no longer saying, “We are conducting a certain course in the interest of a higher socialist identity.”  They are saying, with George Orwell, “The object of power is power, and we’re going to hang on to it as long as we’ve got the guns to shoot you with.”  The protest is made in the direction of something which breaks out of the ideological framework altogether. (CW 24, 1029-30)

TGIF: “White Teen to be Tried as a Black Adult”


We’re posting the newly launched Onion News Network again this week because its satire of cable news is not only breath-takingly detailed but infallibly deadpan.  It’s hard to believe they can hold it together so well.

In this bit, anchor Brooke Alvarez represents the now-stereotypical stilettoed faux-blonde scold whose politics lean toward the authoritarian; that is, the endlessly cloned norm at Fox News.  Rush Limbaugh coined the term “feminazi” to mock feminists on the left, but it is here the term finds its real home.