January 12th, 2020
So, if you want UD’s long-ago take…

… on the crisis Ross Douthat is writing about here, go here. UD said quite the same thing fifteen years ago.

And by the way. Read the post directly under this one, which has to do with a crisis in another discipline – psychiatry – and you’ll see that the same principle is in play, whether the field in tatters is English studies or psychiatry. If you lack any agreement about the specific set of things you are collectively studying, and about how to use and value those things, your discipline is going to expand and expand until it explodes. A late-stage, pre-eruptive sign is that your discipline is increasingly taken over by amoral political actors. Note that responsible psychiatrists are indeed trying to respond to Bandy Lee (and by extension Justin Frank and other ideologues) by reasserting the discipline boundaries and ethical rules of psychiatry.

Specifically: You do not abuse the integrity and credibility of your profession by weaponizing it against people and ideas you hate.

August 13th, 2010
“I can’t help wondering if ugliness is not indispensable to philosophy.”

More on what beauty is, as UD prepares to teach aesthetics this semester.

A New York Times blogger proposes that the recognition of one’s own ugliness can be a spur to philosophy:

That original self-conscious, slightly despairing glance in the mirror (together with, “Is this it?” or “Is that all there is?”) is a great enabler because it compels us to seek improvement. The transcendent is right here right now. What we transcend is our selves. And we can (I am quoting Sartre here) transascend or transdescend. The inevitable dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance is the engine not only of philosophy but of civil society at large.

As long as we try to be beautiful, we evade our essentially imperfect – improvable – human condition:

In trying to be beautiful, we are trying to be like God (the “for-itself-in-itself” as Sartre rebarbatively put it). In other words, to become like a perfect thing, an icon of perfection, and this we can never fully attain.

Those who, like Sartre, acknowledge their inescapable ugliness early, are more liable to be able to philosophize. Indeed, the beautiful among us must, if they wish to be serious in this way, mar their looks:

I suspect that the day Britney Spears shaved her own hair off represented a kind of Sartrean or Socratic argument (rather than, say, a nervous breakdown). She was, in effect, by the use of appearance, shrewdly de-mythifying beauty. The hair lies on the floor, “inexplicably faded” (Sartre), and the conventional notion of femininity likewise. I see Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot in a similar light: one by dying, the other by remaining alive, were trying to deviate from and deflate their iconic status… Perhaps this explains why Camus, Sartre’s more dashing sparring partner, jotted down in his notebooks, “Beauty is unbearable and drives us to despair.”

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