Bits and pieces

    Grandfather's letter to homophobic daughter

    Dear Christine:
        I’m disappointed in you as a daughter. You’re correct that we have a “shame in the family”, but mistaken about what it is.
        Kicking Chad out of your home simply because he told you he was gay is the real “abomination” here. A parent disowning her child is what goes “against nature”.
        The only intelligent thing I heard you saying in all this was that “you didn’t raise your son to be gay”. Of course you didn’t. He was born this way and didn’t chase it any more than he being left-handed.
        You however, have made a choice of being hurtful, narrow-minded and backward. So, while we are in the business of disowning our children, I think I’ll take this moment to say goodbye to you. I now have a fabulous (as the gays put it) grandson to raise, and I don’t have time for heart-less B-word of a daughter.
        If you find your heart, give us a call
    - Dad


    This letter triggered We Vote with our Right Hand


    Review of Marx and the Postmodernism Debates

    Marx and the Postmodernism Debates: An Agenda for Critical Theory by Lorraine Y. Landry. London: Praeger Publishers (2000), xiii+232pp.
    Douglas J. Cremer, Department of Natural and Social Sciences, Woodbury University, Burbank, CA
    Lorraine Landry has confidently entered a field that has drawn much attention among philosophers: the debate between Jürgen Habermas on the one hand and Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard on the other. Rather than seeing this intersection as one between a rationalist modernism and an irrationalist postmodernism, Landry seeks to create what she calls a "fruitful tension" between these two warring camps by reconceptualizing the debate through the work of Karl Marx. The connection between Marx and Habermas is clear. Habermas, as the heir to Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, is recognized as the latest German philosopher to build off of Marx' work. That a rapprochement between these two positions might be accomplished through the work of Marx has also been hinted at in Derrida's later works as well as in the widely know early Marxian roots of Lyotard and Foucault. Landry makes profitable use of a wide variety of well-known commentators on the debates, among them Seyla Benhabib, Matei Calinescu, Mike Featherstone, Douglas Kellner, Andreas Huyssen, Alex Callinicos, Christopher Norris, Thomas McCarthy, Peter Dews, and David Rasmussen. Due to the wide range of material covered and the clarity of writing, Marx and the Postmodernism Debates is a welcome addition to this highly developed, intellectually rich and philosophically challenging literature, doing an admirable job of summarizing the major issues and developing a new approach that keeps the book from being another rehash of a now lengthy debate.
    By explicitly reintroducing Marx to the debates, Landry hopes to show the relevancy of postmodern thought for social change and contemporary politics, making it part of the tradition of ideology critiques begun by Marx. Yet before undertaking this project, Landry goes back to the work of Immanuel Kant, who is as important as Marx in her overall analysis. It is in Kant's work that Landry sees the fully developed form of modernity: individualist, instrumental, mechanical, methodological, and manipulative. Yet this modernity, she argues, was from its origins tied to and complicated by the earlier existing organic conception of the world as well as the emerging romantic view. Landry makes the argument that there are thus as many modernisms as there are postmodernisms, as many different forms of Enlightenment rationalism as there are postmodern critiques. Her analysis of aesthetic modernism, as a variant within modern thought that was intensely critical of the rationalist strain of modernism, is well argued. It is one of the cornerstones of her effort to show how the paradoxes and complexities of postmodernity were embedded in the paradoxes and complexities of modernity. One of the strengths of this book is the clear way Landry lays out these important issues.
    The apparent conflict between modernity and postmodernity is repositioned by Landry as a "fruitful tension," a phrase she admits is a bit trite. Her stated methodology is to take the positions of Habermas, Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard each on its own terms and as empathetically as possible, referring to similarities and differences, avoiding easy syntheses and polemics, and seeking a viable theory and politics from each. She initially addresses Habermas' critique of postmodernism where he argues that postmodernism is neo-conservative, irrational and potentially fascist. Detailing Habermas' rejection of the aesthetic modernism at the root of postmodernism, Landry discusses Habermas' associated dismissal of the outsider view taken by the tradition from Friedrich Nietzsche through Martin Heidegger to Derrida and Foucault. She offers that Habermas was mistaken to take aesthetic postmodernism as a natural ally to political conservatism. It is precisely in the fact that both critical theory and postmodernism seek a critique of late twentieth century modernity, and that both have taken reified, and thus amendable, views of the complexities of modernity, that Landry sees the possibility of rapprochement, of creating a fruitful tension.
    The chapters on Derrida and Foucault are clear and concise summations of their positions and of their defenses against the attacks launched by Habermas. If there is a fault here, it is that Landry's voice is often lost amid all the commentators and philosophers, to the point that it is sometimes unclear exactly who is speaking in any one part of the text. Landry's goal is to emphasize the rootedness of postmodernism in modernist aesthetics, especially in Kant's third critique, the Critique of Judgement. It is this Kantian connection that is key to Landry's effort to rehabilitate postmodernism in the light of its confrontation with critical theory. In a Kantian light, Landry sees deconstruction as a form of ideology critique converging with the tradition of Adorno and Habermas. Foucault's genealogy is also placed within a Kantian framework, recasting Foucault's essay on the Enlightenment as a defense of the spirit of inquiry against         deadening principles and the promotion of an aesthetic of existence. For Landry, Foucault's practical ethics, along with Derrida's deconstruction, recognizes the inescapability of reason but does not accept its absoluteness.
    If there is one unreachable postmodernist in this group for Landry, it is Lyotard. His aesthetic postmodernism, which rejects the connection between political theory and practical politics, is less likely to produce anything of value in fruitful tension with critical theory, according to Landry. Although Lyotard is the central catalyst in the fractious discussion between Habermas and postmodernism, he tends to drop out of the discussion after Landry's critique in the fifth chapter. This is a weakness in the work, for Lyotard, along with other French theorists such as Jean Baudrillard, appear to be among the most intractable of the postmodernists as far as critical theory is concerned. By effectively limiting the discussion of postmodernism to its poststructuralist adherents in Derrida and Foucault, Landry makes her efforts easier, but also less significant. The tensions within postmodernism between the intense critiques of consumer society and of the oppression of institutionalized knowledge on the one hand and the celebration of image, virtual reality, and computerized data banks on the other, are obscured by the perspective Landry chooses.
    The result is an emphasis on the postmodernism debates as a twentieth century extension of the differences between the Kant of the first two critiques, refracted through G. W. F. Hegel and Marx, and the Kant of the third critique, developed by the work of Nietzsche and Heidegger. Landry wants to remind us again of the complexity of modern thought, of an Enlightenment tradition that embraces rational, moral, and aesthetic critiques. She rightly desires to keep us away from the simplicity of the so-called "Enlightenment Project" with its tendencies towards intellectual repression and political terror. She effectively takes us away from the stale dichotomy between transcendental rationalism and nihilistic relativism towards sustaining the tension between the Nietzsche-Heidegger tradition and the Hegel-Marx tradition. Finally, Landry tries to preserve the postmodern awareness of the multiplicity of otherness and to emancipate modernism from the domineering universality of the subject by using Kant as the touchstone.
    Much more critical of Habermas than of Derrida or Foucault, Landry accuses the German philosopher of failing to see that his theory of communicative action does not hew to either a correspondence notion of truth nor to a purely realist epistemology. For Landry, a nonfoundationalist, antirealist philosophy can establish the ground for the intended reconciliation of postmodernism and critical theory and for a progressive political theory, including Habermas' goals of completing modernity and avoiding the political linkage between postmodernism and neo-conservatism. Habermas, according to Landry, misses the importance of language in Marx' writing, making Marx bound to the philosophy of the subject than to ideology critique and the analysis of class conflict. Similarly, postmodernism's misinterpretation of Marx as focused on production, wedded to materialist thought and realist philosophy, is also taken to task, but Landry's fire is directed mostly at Habermas. The detailed critique of Habermas' position is not matched by an equally thorough critique of poststructuralist or postmodernist concerns.
    After outlining and debunking the Habermassian and postmodernist critiques of Marx, Landry finally makes her case for the rehabilitation of Marxian critical theory in a postmodern context. Landry's Marx is an advocate for situated knowledge, much like the postmodernists, a still important voice for critical theory and radical politics. Furthermore, Marx is seen, as are all the others, through a Kantian lens, emphasizing the critique of language and ideology. Landry wants to move beyond the negative evaluations of Marx towards a positive reception of Marx' refusal to be caught between the poles of universal reason and relativist skepticism. The rejection of simple bipolar dichotomies, a common denominator among postmodernists, is characteristic of Landry's thought as well, illustrating once again her closer affinity to Derrida and Foucault than to Habermas in the postmodernism debates.
    Ultimately, Landry wants to argue that a limited, pragmatic transcendence can be sustained by deconstructing textual play, that a marriage of critical theory and postmodernism can be made. She opens the door wide for a consideration of this as a possibility, but does not firmly make the case that it can be accomplished. For a book that perhaps could have been alternately titled "Kant, Critical Theory, and Poststructuralism," Landry does a fine job in establishing the conditions for the possibility of a rapprochement between critical theory and certain forms of postmodernism. Rather than using Marx to reinterpret the postmodernism debates, as the actual title might imply, Landry has shown how postmodernist concerns over difference, the Other, and the uses of language can possibly rehabilitate Marx, and through him, critical theory.

     Source: [Accessed: 25 October 2013]


    Parul Sehgal: An Ode to Envy

    So when I was eight years old, a new girl came to join the class, and she was so impressive, as the new girl always seems to be. She had vast quantities of very shiny hair and a cute little pencil case, super strong on state capitals, just a great speller. And I just curdled with jealousy that year, until I hatched my devious plan. So one day I stayed a little late after school, a little too late, and I lurked in the girl's bathroom. When the coast was clear, I emerged, crept into the classroom, and took from my teacher's desk the grade book. And then I did it. I fiddled with my rival's grades, just a little, just demoted some of those A's. All of those A's. (Laughter) And I got ready to return the book to the drawer, when hang on, some of my other classmates had appallingly good grades too. So, in a frenzy, I corrected everybody's marks, not imaginatively. I gave everybody a row of D's and I gave myself a row of A's, just because I was there, you know, might as well.
    And I am still baffled by my behavior. I don't understand where the idea came from. I don't understand why I felt so great doing it. I felt great. I don't understand why I was never caught. I mean, it should have been so blatantly obvious. I was never caught. But most of all, I am baffled by, why did it bother me so much that this little girl, this tiny little girl, was so good at spelling? Jealousy baffles me. It's so mysterious, and it's so pervasive. We know babies suffer from jealousy. We know primates do. Bluebirds are actually very prone. We know that jealousy is the number one cause of spousal murder in the United States. And yet, I have never read a study that can parse to me its loneliness or its longevity or its grim thrill. For that, we have to go to fiction, because the novel is the lab that has studied jealousy in every possible configuration. In fact, I don't know if it's an exaggeration to say that if we didn't have jealousy, would we even have literature? Well no faithless Helen, no "Odyssey." No jealous king, no "Arabian Nights." No Shakespeare. There goes high school reading lists, because we're losing "Sound and the Fury," we're losing "Gatsby," "Son Also Rises," we're losing "Madame Bovary," "Anna K." No jealousy, no Proust. And now, I mean, I know it's fashionable to say that Proust has the answers to everything, but in the case of jealousy, he kind of does. This year is the centennial of his masterpiece, "In Search of Lost Time," and it's the most exhaustive study of sexual jealousy and just regular competitiveness, my brand, that we can hope to have. (Laughter) And we think about Proust, we think about the sentimental bits, right? We think about a little boy trying to get to sleep. We think about a madeleine moistened in lavender tea. We forget how harsh his vision was. We forget how pitiless he is. I mean, these are books that Virginia Woolf said were tough as cat gut. I don't know what cat gut is, but let's assume it's formidable.
    Let's look at why they go so well together, the novel and jealousy, jealousy and Proust. Is it something as obvious as that jealousy, which boils down into person, desire, impediment, is such a solid narrative foundation? I don't know. I think it cuts very close to the bone, because let's think about what happens when we feel jealous. When we feel jealous, we tell ourselves a story. We tell ourselves a story about other people's lives, and these stories make us feel terrible because they're designed to make us feel terrible. As the teller of the tale and the audience, we know just what details to include, to dig that knife in. Right? Jealousy makes us all amateur novelists, and this is something Proust understood.
    In the first volume, Swann's Way, the series of books, Swann, one of the main characters, is thinking very fondly of his mistress and how great she is in bed, and suddenly, in the course of a few sentences, and these are Proustian sentences, so they're long as rivers, but in the course of a few sentences, he suddenly recoils and he realizes, "Hang on, everything I love about this woman, somebody else would love about this woman. Everything that she does that gives me pleasure could be giving somebody else pleasure, maybe right about now." And this is the story he starts to tell himself, and from then on, Proust writes that every fresh charm Swann detects in his mistress, he adds to his "collection of instruments in his private torture chamber."
    Now Swann and Proust, we have to admit, were notoriously jealous. You know, Proust's boyfriends would have to leave the country if they wanted to break up with him. But you don't have to be that jealous to concede that it's hard work. Right? Jealous is exhausting. It's a hungry emotion. It must be fed.
    And what does jealousy like? Jealously likes information. Jealously likes details. Jealously likes the vast quantities of shiny hair, the cute little pencil case. Jealously likes photos. That's why Instagram is such a hit. (Laughter) Proust actually links the language of scholarship and jealousy. When Swann is in his jealous throes, and suddenly he's listening at doorways and bribing his mistress' servants, he defends these behaviors. He says, "You know, look, I know you think this is repugnant, but it is no different from interpreting an ancient text or looking at a monument." He says, "They are scientific investigations with real intellectual value." Proust is trying to show us that jealousy feels intolerable and makes us look absurd, but it is, at its crux, a quest for knowledge, a quest for truth, painful truth, and actually, where Proust is concerned, the more painful the truth, the better. Grief, humiliation, loss: These were the avenues to wisdom for Proust. He says, "A woman whom we need who makes us suffer elicits from us a gamut of feelings far more profound and vital than a man of genius who interests us." Is he telling us to just go and find cruel women? No. I think he's trying to say that jealousy reveals us to ourselves. And does any other emotion crack us open in this particular way? Does any other emotion reveal to us our aggression and our hideous ambition and our entitlement? Does any other emotion teach us to look with such peculiar intensity?
    Freud would write about this later. One day, Freud was visited by this very anxious young man who was consumed with the thought of his wife cheating on him. And Freud says, it's something strange about this guy, because he's not looking at what his wife is doing. Because she's blameless; everybody knows it. The poor creature is just under suspicion for no cause. But he's looking for things that his wife is doing without noticing, unintentional behaviors. Is she smiling too brightly here, or did she accidentally brush up against a man there? [Freud] says that the man is becoming the custodian of his wife's unconscious.
    The novel is very good on this point. The novel is very good at describing how jealousy trains us to look with intensity but not accuracy. In fact, the more intensely jealous we are, the more we become residents of fantasy. And this is why, I think, jealousy doesn't just provoke us to do violent things or illegal things. Jealousy prompts us to behave in ways that are wildly inventive. Now I'm thinking of myself at eight, I concede, but I'm also thinking of this story I heard on the news. A 52-year-old Michigan woman was caught creating a fake Facebook account from which she sent vile, hideous messages to herself for a year. For a year. A year. And she was trying to frame her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, and I have to confess when I heard this, I just reacted with admiration. (Laughter) Because, I mean, let's be real. What immense, if misplaced, creativity. Right? This is something from a novel. This is something from a Patricia Highsmith novel.
    Now Highsmith is a particular favorite of mine. She is the very brilliant and bizarre woman of American letters. She's the author of "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," books that are all about how jealousy, it muddles our minds, and once we're in the sphere, in that realm of jealousy, the membrane between what is and what could be can be pierced in an instant. Take Tom Ripley, her most famous character. Now, Tom Ripley goes from wanting you or wanting what you have to being you and having what you once had, and you're under the floorboards, he's answering to your name, he's wearing your rings, emptying your bank account. That's one way to go.
    But what do we do? We can't go the Tom Ripley route. I can't give the world D's, as much as I would really like to some days. And it's a pity, because we live in envious times. We live in jealous times. I mean, we're all good citizens of social media, aren't we, where the currency is envy?
    Does the novel show us a way out? I'm not sure. So let's do what characters always do when they're not sure, when they are in possession of a mystery. Let's go to 221B Baker Street and ask for Sherlock Holmes. When people think of Holmes, they think of his nemesis being Professor Moriarty, right, this criminal mastermind. But I've always preferred [Inspector] Lestrade, who is the rat-faced head of Scotland Yard who needs Holmes desperately, needs Holmes' genius, but resents him. Oh, it's so familiar to me. So Lestrade needs his help, resents him, and sort of seethes with bitterness over the course of the mysteries. But as they work together, something starts to change, and finally in "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," once Holmes comes in, dazzles everybody with his solution, Lestrade turns to Holmes and he says, "We're not jealous of you, Mr. Holmes. We're proud of you." And he says that there's not a man at Scotland Yard who wouldn't want to shake Sherlock Holmes' hand.
    It's one of the few times we see Holmes moved in the mysteries, and I find it very moving, this little scene, but it's also mysterious, right? It seems to treat jealousy as a problem of geometry, not emotion. You know, one minute Holmes is on the other side from Lestrade. The next minute they're on the same side. Suddenly, Lestrade is letting himself admire this mind that he's resented. Could it be so simple though? What if jealousy really is a matter of geometry, just a matter of where we allow ourselves to stand in relation to another? Well, maybe then we wouldn't have to resent somebody's excellence. We could align ourselves with it.
    But I like contingency plans. So while we wait for that to happen, let us remember that we have fiction for consolation. Fiction alone demystifies jealousy. Fiction alone domesticates it, invites it to the table. And look who it gathers: sweet Lestrade, terrifying Tom Ripley, crazy Swann, Marcel Proust himself. We are in excellent company. Thank you. (Applause)



    I saw this caption under a press photo of two men today:

    Gerry Kalicki, right, fixes soon-to-be husband Pratik Jhaveri's tie before their wedding. Kalicki, a Catholic, and Jhaveri, a Hindu, were married by a rabbi in a Unitarian Universalist church.


    Beat that! 


    Bishop follows conscience, changes gay marriage views

    The couple buys a marriage license, a recognized officiant signs it and it's refiled with the local government. That's a legal marriage, and in 14 states — with Illinois just the governor's signature away from becoming the 15th — that's a process open to both straight and gay couples.
    Getting the church on board is a little more complicated. The issue of whether clergy should officiate same-sex marriages is dividing an increasing number of denominations.
    Now, a retired Nashville bishop has become the latest to draw headlines on the issue — reversing course from a path that, four decades ago, had him playing a key role in sending the church down a path of resistance to change.
    The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America began allowing individual congregations to recognize same-sex marriages in 2009. Episcopalians adopted a same-sex marriage rite in July 2012, although a number of individual dioceses — including the one in Tennessee — chose not to allow it. The Presbyterian Church (USA) came close to approving same-sex marriages in 2012 but narrowly defeated the measure.
    And United Methodists, the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, are nowhere close after debating the issue for decades.
    That hasn't stopped pastors nationwide from defying church doctrine and performing those ceremonies. Some call it ecclesiastical disobedience. Others call it biblical obedience. Either way, it's exposing them to church discipline, with potential punishments ranging from verbal rebukes to loss of their ordinations — and the financial implications that go with it.
    Despite warnings from his denomination that he'd be violating the faith's Book of Discipline, Bishop Melvin Talbert traveled from Nashville to near Birmingham, Ala., to perform the Oct. 26 wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. They were legally married Sept. 3 in Washington, D.C., but wanted a church wedding. Openshaw said he specifically wanted Talbert to officiate since the bishop had spent years supporting Methodist gays and lesbians.
    That wasn't Talbert's stance 40 years ago at the 1972 Methodist general conference, which adopted language saying homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. His views changed several years later, when he was invited to a weekend seminar of gay and straight Methodists; participants could not reveal which they were until the end.
    The revelation destroyed his stereotypes. The married father and grandfather brought the issue to a head last year, when the denomination voted against removing the language he had helped put in.
    Bishop Melvin Talbert marries Joe Openshaw, left, and Bobby Prince on Oct. 26, 2013, near Birmingham, Ala.(Photo: Provided by Laura Ann Gilbert Rossbert)
    "I declared those laws that prohibited clergy from marrying gay and lesbian folk and using the church for that purpose are immoral, unjust, they are evil, and they no longer deserve our loyalty and support," he said. "It's time for us to do the right thing."
    He volunteered to perform same-sex weddings and urged fellow clergy to do the same. He likens his work to the nation's civil rights movement, a comparison he doesn't make lightly. Talbert, now 79, shared an Atlanta jail cell with Martin Luther King Jr. in October 1960 after being arrested at an Atlanta lunch counter sit-in.
    Gradual change
    Religious historians can point to several major social issues on which the church, by fits and starts, changed its stance. Vanderbilt University's James Hudnut-Beumler points to Southern religious leaders who went against church wishes and participated in the Underground Railroad to free slaves. In the 1960s, some ignored church orders not to integrate their congregations.
    "Religious people do these kinds of things," he said. "We wouldn't have all of the denominations we just mentioned if it weren't for the Protestant Reformation, in which a lot of people were told, 'Well, you're not a part of this church anymore.' "
    Clergy who officiate same-sex weddings are asking God to recognize, sanction and support the union. They ask the congregation to help the couple uphold their vows, Hudnut-Beumler said.
    The issue drew debate in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in July 2012 when Tara Spuhler McCabe, three days after being confirmed as vice moderator of the denomination's general assembly, stepped down. Days before her confirmation, an anonymous person distributed evidence that she'd officiated a same-sex wedding in Washington, D.C., an event she didn't seek to hide but said she never thought to publicize, either.
    After she resigned, a group of Presbyterians filed a complaint against her. The result was a censure: "The Presbytery of National Capital, in the name and authority of the Presbyterian Church (USA), rebukes you. You are enjoined to be more watchful and avoid such offense in the future."
    McCabe, a straight, married mother of two, wasn't chastened. She asked for the censure to be read aloud at a church governance meeting because she wanted people to know what happened.
    "I don't know if I'd do it again. I didn't know I was going to do it for this couple," she said. "I made this decision in complete awe of visiting them.
    "I don't turn it down when I see the face of God in a commitment between two people."
    The Episcopalian Church's biggest split over homosexuality was more about ordaining gay clergy — although the denomination's most famous pioneer, Bishop Gene Robinson, said the debate was overblown in media reports. Churches representing about 100,000 members broke off over the 2003 decision to ordain Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. There are about 2 million Episcopalians in America.
    Today, a map the Episcopalian gay-acceptance group Integrity USA keeps to show which dioceses approve of same-sex marriage has a handful of red "no" dots and a sea of blue "yes" dots.
    "Western civilization as we know it hasn't ended," Robinson said. "These are the normal stresses and strains that come with change. It happened around the ordination of women and the new prayer book. People don't like the change, so they want to take their toys and go home. But that's never a solution."
    He said Bishop Talbert is right to press the issue — that the Methodist church could get so bogged down in ecclesiastical trials that it will be forced to choose between keeping good clergy and protecting a belief most Methodists disagree with.
    Colleagues object
    Talbert said it's unlikely he'd face discipline because the church conference that oversees him supports same-sex marriage. But he has run afoul of his colleagues on the Council of Bishops, which had issued a statement warning him not to officiate at the wedding.
    On Tuesday, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council of Bishops, said in an e-mail that the council will ask all United Methodists to uphold church discipline and explained the council's decision to intervene.
    "Every bishop belongs to the covenant of the Council of Bishops," she wrote. "We support one another in prayer and in our efforts to be faithful Christians and we question one another if we see that a colleague does not respect the discipline that is developed by actions of our governing body."
    Talbert is more than at peace with his decision — he's 100 percent convinced he's right.
    "I have openly spoken out against my own church," he said. "What they do, I can't begin to say. Personally, I'm not losing any sleep over it."