Em oi! #375: Another Terrible Thing Done in Nietzsche’s Name

The age of specialization is over.
Have you heard of a madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market place and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”

Writing a thesis is simultaneously the best and most terrible thing I have ever done.

Anyway. Nietzsche! Has there ever been a philosopher with a cooler mustache? I think not. Other things Nietzsche had: Syphilis. But that’s not to say we should write him off. He grew up next door to a church–his father was a Lutheran pastor (who died when young Friedrich was four). That he later went on to propose some revolutionary ideas about man’s relationship to religion in the 19th and 20th centuries is not entirely surprising. He lived a quiet life in the mountains, because of health issues, and so he knew what he was talking about when he said that happiness comes from overcoming obstacles. That’s an older idea than him, actually; I believe it goes back to Aristotle. At any rate, Nietzsche is quite cagey and doesn’t say what he thinks the new morals he’s calling for should be like. He is pretty clear that he thinks hanging on to Christian morality is stupid and outdated. You can check out the famous passage on the death of God from The Gay Science here. (He talks about the death of God again in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) He has a marvelous mode of writing, it’s very readable. What else? Philosophy Now magazine did a marvelous podcast about our fellow that you can listen to here. And philosopher Alain de Botton did a 24-minute episode of a longer series for the BBC about Nietzsche, and you can check that out here. It’s awesome both because the US would never air something like that (not enough desperate housewives) and because de Botton is very good at explaining the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Is that enough links? Can you tell I’ve been doing some research? I’m having an affair with Nietzsche; don’t tell M. Foucault, I fear he would sulk.

I wrote an article on running for a local running blog called Technically Running. You can read it here if you’re interested. You can check out the last comic I did with Nietzsche in it here.

This comic will be filed under B3317.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Modern (1450/1600- )—By region or country—Germany. Austria (German)—By period—Later 19th and 20th centuries—Individual philosophers—Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900—Criticism and interpretation.

Em oi! #373: What We Talk About on Long Drives

Conversation omitted: "Quick, grab a baggie before the dog drops a vom!"

This was drawn from a conversation we had on our drive back to Madison on Xmas Day. I had the comic 80% done before we left for Thailand, but I didn’t manage to get the last two panels colored and the whole thing scanned until just now. I should add that I know Berkeley was really refuting Locke more than Descartes, but I understand the objections to Descartes much better, so I drew him.

This is hardly the first time I’ve touched on Berkeley’s philosophy in the comic. He has long been an obsession of mine, given that immaterialism (also called idealism) is so damn weird.

The Rumble in the Library

The gentleman with the wig there is Samuel Johnson. According to legend (and Boswell), Johnson had this to say about Berkeley:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it THUS.’1

Of course, Berkeley would not have accepted this as a refutation, because both the stone and Johnson’s foot exist in Johnson’s mind.
I belieeeeve...in the Czech Republic's existence...

Finally a comic dating from Ly’s tenure in the Czech Republic. If you happen to be an atheist or agnostic, Berkeley’s philosophy becomes very strange, because whose intellect is watching the entire world? It’s troubling. Having just come from Thailand, I suppose I’m pretty sure that it still exists, or at least I’ve got friends there who might tell me if it ceased to exist. But I can’t be sure.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll file these under B1348 .L86 2013B1348 .L86 2007, and B1348 .L86 2007b, for Philosophy (General)—Modern (1450/1600-)—By region or country—England. Ireland. Scotland. Wales—18th century—Individual philosophers—Berkeley, George, 1685-1753—Criticism and interpretation.

Yesterday we came back from Thailand. Yesterday was Friday, but we actually got on a plane in Chiang Mai at 17:30 on Thursday to fly to Bangkok. From Bangkok, at 23:30 we got on another plane and flew to Incheon airport in South Korea (a very nice but intensely baffling place). We’d all been up since about 7:00 on Thursday (although we dozed on the plane, it was that weird fugue sleep you slip into on an airplane), so when that plane landed we were a bit loopy.

We got breakfast. I took some photos:

B's strawberry cream cheese waffle
B’s strawberry cream cheese waffle
Sara's blueberry bagel. I think the other available flavors were "garlic" and "plane."
Sara’s blueberry bagel. I think the other available flavors were “garlic” and “plane.” When I saw the flavor list is when I began to suspect that something about Korea is a giant joke being played (on me, I guess?).
This was called "stick pie." It was crispy.
This was called “stick pie.” It was crispy.

Those are the only photos I took in the airport. I took lots of photos in Thailand, though (about 300 I guess). Here are a few:

Various Thai Fruits!
Various Thai Fruits!
ผัดพักบุงไฟแดง, or stir-fried morning glory. In Vietnamese, the plant is called "rau mung." (Please excuse my lack of diacritics.)
ผัดพักบุงไฟแดง, or stir-fried morning glory. In Vietnamese, the plant is called “rau mung.” (Please excuse my lack of diacritics.)
Sara makes a friend at the place we studied cooking.
Sara makes a friend at the place we studied cooking.
Cooking the morning glory with Maew's instruction.
Cooking the morning glory with Maew’s instruction.

I also took photos of wats, monks, that sort of thing. I’ll upload those later.

Anyway, I started training for my upcoming 50 km races this morning after I got up. The first is April 30th and it’s about 14 weeks away, which also means I have about 14 weeks until my birthday and until my THESIS has to be done and and and. So the 50k is really what I am focused on, since it is a lot less frightening. I thought running was going to be terrible because it is cold out (about 46 degrees colder than Chiang Mai was). But in fact I had a great run. I hit my planned tempo for the majority of the miles, had a runner’s high all day, and felt very strong. I stopped at 14.4 miles, but I could have gone much farther, I think. The only way it could have been better is if I’d remembered to bring water. Whoops.

Well this entry is already treatise-length, so I’ll leave off here. Hope you are all having a good winter/January!

1 Boswell, James. Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. Abridged and edited, with an introduction by Charles Grosvenor Osgood. Project Gutenberg, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1564/1564-h/1564-h.htm. 12 January 2013.

Karl Marx Sketch

The Beardiest Philosopher?
How can you be in two places at once–oh.

I found this on the bottom of a piece of paper I’d been taking notes on about Walter Benjamin, and I thought it might prove entertaining. I didn’t bother to ink it, just scanned it, darkened it slightly to make it more readable (the original was in pencil) and uploaded it. Therefore I will transcribe the dialogue below:

Em: Say Karl, do you really believe artists have no free will?

Karl Marx: No, I just see profit as an overwhelming motive.

Em: Well I mean, does that make something “not art”? Can’t art have a lot of reasons for its creation?

KM: My point is more that because of substructural problems, photography and film cause superstructural problems.

So there you go.

Karl Heinrich Marx was really the beardiest philosopher ever. I don’t think I really did him justice. But then, I was drawing him from memory.

When Marx says “substructure” he means “economy,” and when he says “superstructure” he means “culture.” And when he says, “You Bet Your Life,” it means you have to say a special word to win a hundred dollars from a duck.

Marx died in 1883 and the first movie camera was invented in 1888, so he probably didn’t have much opinion about film. But this is how I think through things sometimes.

Well, this romp has been a bit more shallow than it appeared to be on the surface. That’s okay. I’m leaving for Thailand in a few days, so I’m taking a little time to relax. I’ve been trying to come up with New Years resolutions, but mostly I’m glad that 2012 is ending. It has been I think the most stressful year of my life.

Every time I sign onto WordPress I see I have more spam comments. Anyone want to leave a real one? Let me know: What’s your New Years resolution? Did you make one? Or are you perfect just the way you are?

Em oi! #372: But is it Art?

I'm very popular on the internets in my head.

Comic to be filed under: B3209.B583W6 L86 2012, for Philosophy (General)—Modern(1450/1600-)—By region or country—Germany, Austria (German)—By period—Later 19th and 20th centuries—Individual philosophers—Avenarius – Brauer—Benjamin, Walter, 1892-1940—Separate works, A-Z. What a mouthful.

I have been trying to find a good summary of Walter Benjamin’s (say it like an academic: Ben-ya-mean) “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (or, alternatively, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility”) essay. Because it is the most oft-quoted essay of the 20th century (maybe), there are a few available. Wikipedia has a very bare-bones, straightforward summation. Yale’s Modernism Lab (perhaps unsurprisingly) has a much better, more detailed explanation. Finally the (much beloved?) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers some critical notes, not just on that piece (or rather the two pieces, since he wrote two versions of the essay) but on the themes of art and aura in Benjamin’s work.

Basically there are two things you probably need to know in order to understand the essay: The first thing is that Benjamin is worried about methods of reproducing art–specifically, methods like photography and film–and how they change the original. For example, when I was in college, I had a poster of the Creation of Man (by Michaelangelo) on my wall:

And G-d said, “Let there be naked people!” And lo…

Philosophically speaking, there are a lot of differences between the poster and the original version on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I mean, one is a fresco and one is a photograph printed on (high quality) paper, but also, as Benjamin puts it, “reproduction…[places] the copy of the original in situations which the original itself cannot attain” (21). In other words, the Sistine Chapel would never fit in my dorm room, while the poster will. So reproducing the image creates this loss of authenticity, or what Benjamin refers to as “aura.” In his words,

It might be stated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced. These two processes lead to a massive upheaval in the domain of objects handed down from the past–a shattering of tradition which is the reverse side of the present crisis and renewal of humanity. Both processes are intimately related to the mass movements of our day. (22)

By “the present crisis,” I believe Benjamin means the rise of fascism, specifically in Germany. And by “mass movements” he means both fascism and Marxism. That’s the second thing you have to understand about Benjamin: he was a German Jew who escaped to Paris in the early 1930s, from whence he published this essay; eventually, he committed suicide while trying to escape France to the US via Spain when the situation looked grim [edited to add: or perhaps he was killed by Stalin’s agents in the area!]. He had a brother who was killed in the Camps. Beyond this, he was a Marxist. So while his discussion of aura, as the Stanford Encyclopedia suggests, has been accused of being overly nostalgic, I don’t think that’s really the case–he doesn’t seem nostalgic about the changes he’s describing, more just trying to explain how he thinks art has changed since the advent of (specifically) the moving picture.

So as a good Marxist, Benjamin when confronted by film suggests that it is the masses who essentially control film–more than perhaps any other art, it has a clear economic driver behind it. “While [the screen actor] stands before the apparatus [camera], he knows that in the end he is confronting the masses. It is they who will control him” (33). This changes the relationship between the masses and the art (36). Here he leans heavily on some psychological theory (Freud among others) to suggest that because of the way film acts on the mind (conscious and unconscious), it can act as an “immunization against…mass psychoses” (38). However that means, in a sense, that film can also brainwash people.

Now, fascism (which Benjamin views as Marxism without the dissolution of property/class), is not the first political movement to have used that old lie, “Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori.” Sparta comes to mind, and Rome (that phrase comes from Horace), and the Vikings/Norse all glorified death in battle, to say nothing of the Crusades, the Samurai, WWII-era Kamikaze units (maybe?)… However, fascism’s “logical outcome…is an aestheticizing of political life” (41) which results in war. “War, and only war, makes it possible to set a goal for mass movements on the grandest scale while preserving traditional property relations” (ibid.). In essence, the fascists create an aesthetic glorification of war in order to promote this agenda. If you have ever seen Triumph of the Will, you will know exactly what Benjamin was talking about.

Benjamin concludes, famously:

“Fiat ars–pereat mundis,” [Let art flourish and the world pass away] says fascism, expecting from war…the artistic gratification of a sense perception altered by technology. This is evidently the consummation of l’art pour l’art [art for art’s sake]. Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art. (42)

I have occasionally had reason to read Benjamin–his essay “The Task of the Translator” is another classic–and I often have this problem where I will have issues with the particulars of his argument but on the whole, I cannot refute his overall point. After reading this essay, I wondered if I could justify watching films that continue to glorify war.

I’m still going to see Skyfall. But one interesting problem to address in my own writing (as I think the more recent Bond writers have tried to do) will be to examine the non-glorified outcomes of violence.


Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility.” In The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, translated by Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingstone, Howard Eiland, et al. (19-55) Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008. (Also found here.)

Owen, Wilfred. “Dolce et Decorum Est.” The War Poetry Website, edited by David Roberts. Last updated 2011. http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html. Retrieved 26 December 2012.

Em ơi! #352: Open to Interpretation

Someday I'll stop picking on Derrida.

Bryan tells me that this comic reminds him of #303: Playing it Safe. I think the swearing teddy bear is still one of his favorite characters. It reminds me of the previous one I did with Derrida and his cat (I can’t seem to find ANY of the Derrida ones offhand. Weird.)

I will tell you something about the last panel: When I started looking up female philosophers, I noticed that 2/5 of them (Hypatia and Tullia) had nude portraits on their Wikipedia pages.  I’ve never seen a nude painting of any male philosopher, including Socrates, who was a dirty old man and totally asking for it.  If you want to know what society values in a woman, there it is.  Hypatia: Mathematician.  Philosopher.  Astronomer.  Naked.

Seriously, I can count on one hand the number of female philosophers I read (Philippa Foot was the major one) and on zero hands the number of pre-20th century female philosophers I read.  That’s kind of screwed up.

Anyway, enough of that.

This comic is filed under NX652.P47 L86 2011 for Arts in general–Characters, persons, classes of persons, and ethnic groups–By name of character, person, class of persons, or ethnic groups A-Z–Philosophers.

Em ơi!#330: Of Writerly Texts

Lit crit jokes!  Awesome!I was going to color this a little more, but then I couldn’t find my markers and I got caught up in some little crises (related to the drafts of two papers which were/are due this past week), and I decided to just go with it.

In case you were curious, this is what Barthes says about writerly texts:

There may be nothing to say about writerly texts.  First of all, where can we find them?  Certainly not in reading…: the writerly text is not a thing, we would have a hard time finding it in a bookstore.  Further, its model being a productive (and no longer a representative) one, it demolishes any criticism which, once produced, would mix with is: to rewrite the writerly text would consist only in disseminating it, in dispersing it within the field of infinite difference.  The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language…can be superimposed; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system…which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages.  The writerly is the novelistic without the novel…

(Barthes, Roland.  From S/Z: An Essay.  New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1974. 3-5.)  Very pretty, but kind of incomprehensible, huh?  When I asked, I was told that he meant “highbrow texts,” but I don’t think that’s right–hence my answer about “tweets.”  However if anyone has a good explanation I’m willing to listen.

This comic is filed under: PQ94 .L86 2010, for French literature–Literary history and criticism–Criticism–By period–20th century–Treatises.  Theory.  History.

Next week I’ll be funnier.

Em oi!#306: That Foucault Guy

There is some sort of philosopher threesome joke to be made here, but I ain't doin' it.

I drew this comic on Sunday, but it took me until today to actually get it colored and uploaded (I inked it on St. Patrick’s Day, hence the date).  It is probably no surprise that I am busy since we are getting married in approximately 48 hours.

I might have a comic up Saturday morning, and then one more before we head out on our honeymoon next week.  We’ll see.  Right now, I should really go sleep or something.

Oh, about my 5k last Sunday: my goal going in was to finish in 24:00.  Instead, I finished in 22:57 (7:24 per mile pace), good enough for 9th in my age group and 15th among women.  I thought I was pretty hot shit, but then I passed a seven year old in the last two blocks, so clearly not that cool.  You can click here to check out some incredibly hilarious photos of me in the final stretch.  If I look kind of unhappy or like I’m going to throw up, that’s pretty accurate to how I was feeling at the time (didn’t barf, though).  You can see the seven year old in the background.

I guess I’m actually pretty pleased that I finished before he did.  It beats the alternative, anyway.

#304: The Meaning of Wife (book review)

Once I was reading an interview with Daniel Defert about Foucault’s last days, and he said this:

Deux jours après l’enterrement, j’entre dans un café, je croise un journaliste que je connaissais un peu. Il me regarde, absolument sidéré. Comme un objet d’effroi. Je comprends son regard. Je découvre, là, brutalement, que j’étais, à Paris, la seule personne dont on pouvait penser qu’elle avait le sida. Foucault mort du sida, j’avais donc le sida. Je découvre le sida, dans le face-à-face avec quelqu’un. Et c’est là que je comprends que je vais être obligé de faire un test, car autrement je n’arriverai pas à soutenir cette confrontation en permanence.

Two days after the burial [i.e. of Foucault], I went into a cafe, I met a journalist who I knew a bit.  He looked at me, absolutely flabbergasted.  Like an object of terror.  I understood his look.  I discovered, there, brutally, that I was, to Paris, the only person of whom it was possible to think she had AIDS. Foucault died of AIDS, I therefore also had AIDS.  I discovered AIDS, in the face to face encounter with someone.  And this made me understand that I was obligated to take a test, because otherwise I would never reach a place where I could withstand this confrontation permanently.

(My poor, idiomatic translation and bolding. The source is hereLibé, 2004.)

So that was what stuck with me, reading about Defert and Foucault lo these many years later: the terrifying isolation he must have felt and the silent oppressive stares he was met with, walking into a cafe one morning in Paris.  Defert has remained an object of passing interest ever since (as opposed to a footnote to a philosopher whose work I enjoy).

About The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century by Anne Kingston: fantastic book, wish it had gone farther into the 21st C (she wrote it before the onset of desperate housewives and the massive multiparenting Duggars/Jon and Kate Plus Eight (or is it Jon minus nine?)/the Octomom phenomena began, which saddens).  Also, not really much about LGBT marriage, sadly, except to say lesbians were cool at the end of the 20th century.  Bleh.  At any rate, perhaps not the book to read three weeks before you get married, since it rather makes one think that success may lie in staying single.  (It’s like a terrible article I read somewhere that pointed out that famous women writers typically had 0-1 child instead of 2+, as if having 2+ kids would prevent success or something?  Even with a room of one’s own?)  At any rate, am still getting married, so I’ll let you know re the success thing.