Nobel For Economics: Herd Mind

Posted on December 13th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

The winner of the Nobel for economics explained his approach in an interview on PBS. He feels data indicates that the markets are driven by emotion, not reason. He noted it was odd that the other winners of the same prize had contradictory philosophies.

It’s also odd that emotion drives action is a revelation. Sometimes it seems academia is an extension of the pop culture, saying the obvious, but using academic guild talk.

The realization that the markets are driven by emotion is something of which we are all aware. The idea has been sanctified now by a prize. But it has seemed to me lately that this insight into reality, that human beings are principally driven by emotion, that they find reasons afterward, has become more and more obvious.

Benjamin Franklin: “The nice thing about being a reasonable creature is that you can find a reason for anything you want to do”.

It has always been assumed the arts are driven by emotion, but the art world to a large extent affects intellect now. It’s conceptual, you know. Certainly from the political to the scientific to the pop culture, it’s all herd mind.

Tocqueville noted this tendency toward consensus in America. Maybe for the center to hold in so diverse a country it’s better if everyone keeps their own counsel and just agrees with…whatever. But if you have the right to have an opinion, why not express it? You know: a right unused is a right that can evaporate.

Aspiring to being logical, intellectual creatures, is more a pipe dream now, with the internet driving the herd more quickly and packing it more tightly, more irrationally, more extremely. What really drives the world now is psychology and the chaos system of group interaction; it’s Id all the time, everytime.

Hasn’t it always been that way though? cf. Shakespeare.

Kafka’s Wish

Posted on November 16th, 2013 by admin

“I never wish to be easily defined. I’d rather float over other people’s minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person.”
-Franz Kafka

(via artistsintheclassroom5)

Einstein Speaks

Posted on November 14th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

Einstein, in this talk, a reading of his essay, describes the entanglement of language and thinking. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Einstein’s speaking voice before.

The concepts and language of science, conceived…

… In solitude, and yet in cooperative effort as regards the final effect, …created the spiritual tools for the technical revolutions which have transformed the life of mankind in the last centuries. [This] system of concepts has served as a guide in the bewildering chaos of perceptions so that we learned to grasp general truths from particular observations.

I remember hearing a scientist saying one of the greatest mysteries, not only in mathematics, but in all science, is why mathematics, an invention of mankind, so accurately describes the real world.

The arts, the sciences: bridges spanning all human consciousness.

Twixt @Netflix

Posted on November 11th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

The movie Twixt, now @Netflix, got terrible reviews but is very good. Twixt is beautifully mounted aestheticized horror. Coppola’s previous movies, like Rumblefish and The Outsiders, are predecessors of Coppola’s approach in Twixt. Dream/reality dualities fit well with the horror genre. Surrealism usually has a horrific edge.

Coppola clearly cares about the details of his movies – the performers clearly had fun. Bruce Dern in particular gave a very funny turn to his character, the sheriff.

Coppola didn’t want to revolutionize a genre but simply to play with it. The movie is free of the I’m-too-smart-for-this-venue attitude one sees in movies often labeled “ironic”. Irony has become, in its long life in the contemporary arts, a tired adolescent sarcasm, where originally it was meant as a distancing from the horror of everyday life.

Twixt is actually a beautiful movie.

Updike Interview At The NEH

Posted on November 8th, 2013 by admin

This interview with John Updike at the NEH included this affirmation of the visual arts:

INTERVIEWER: In the Renaissance, you get the invention of one-point perspective, which also is not really the way we see. We see much more, I think, impressionist­ic­ally, but somehow we think that we see in perspective. It is amazing how these conventions work on us as well.

UPDIKE: That’s so true, isn’t it? Of course, the human eye moves all the time. It’s unnatural for it not to move. To paint in the very precise way of Holbein or Van Dyke is to freeze the seeing process in a way that is highly unreal. Surreal, one could say—Dalí and Max Ernst have this same uncanny precision, of the frozen eye.

Visual art is very fertile ground for this kind of philosophical—existential—speculation, especially now that the abstraction has spoken up so strongly on its own behalf. Now, we’re not really sure what we’re looking for. What is excellent—what is excellent about this piece of abstraction as opposed to this other piece? Why is Rothko so eloquent, for example, and Hans Hofmann not? Hofmann is a thrilling theorist but his paintings look like linoleum.


The frozen in time quality of images is outside of normal experience. Add to that the suggestive quality of mind and vision; truly the visual arts are another reality, evoking speculation, circumspection, yes, perspective.

Scholarly Study Of Art: Helen Vendler

Posted on October 12th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

Helen Vendler, the great critic and scholar of poetry, gave a talk called the Jefferson Lecture, “… the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.” It is worth taking a look…

In a rare case of justified applause, the government chose wisely in Vendler.

Vendler’s lecture is an attempt to explain the necessity for scholarship in the appreciation of the arts. Vendler is not someone who puts you off with vaunting ego; she is simply saying a necessary part of the arts is scholarly study. Such study in other words is not outside, nor incidental to the arts.

… such studies establish in human beings a sense of cultural patrimony. We in the United States are the heirs of several cultural patrimonies: a world patrimony (of which we are becoming increasingly conscious); a Western patrimony (from which we derive our institutions, civic and aesthetic); and a specifically American patrimony (which, though great and influential, has, bafflingly, yet to be established securely in our schools). In Europe, although the specifically national patrimony was likely to be urged as preeminent–Italian pupils studied Dante, French pupils studied Racine–most nations felt obliged to give their students an idea of the Western inheritance extending beyond native production.

It’s not fashionable to be nationalistic – if you are American, Vendler is shrewdly saying. Other countries grok pride in culture; Americans seem suspicious of culture, at least as far as I can tell. They aren’t sure what to make of it. If you are being sold something, which is what the pop culture is always doing, then Americans trust the accompanying cultural aura – it’s part of the familiar merchandise stream.

She affirms again, in this next quote, the role of the scholar:

If we are prepared to recognize the centrality of artists and their interpreters to every past culture, we might begin to reflect on what our own American culture has produced that will be held dear centuries from now. Which are the paintings, the buildings, the novels, the musical compositions, the poems, through which we will be remembered? What set of representations of life will float above the American soil, rendering each part of it as memorable as Marin’s Maine or Langston Hughes’s Harlem, as Cather’s Nebraska or Lincoln’s Gettysburg? How will the outlines and the expressings and the syllables of American being glow above our vast geography? How will our citizens be made aware of their cultural inheritance; how will they become proud of their patrimony?

This is all beautifully said, and true, but I think she might agree that if all scholarly works about the arts disappeared, a terrible thought really, but if such were the case, new scholars would be spawned by the compelling nature of art itself. Art is the singular song, scholarship the chorus.

She ends her lecture with a a beautiful quote from Wordsworth:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Vendler attributes half that celestial light to the scholarly search for meanings in art. I’d suggest it is more fully the art which provides the illumination for the scholar.

Martin Amis About Meaning

Posted on September 22nd, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

Again, it must be stressed that you don’t have your themes tacked up on the wall like a target, or like a dartboard. When people ask, What did you mean to say with this novel? The answer to the question is, of course, The novel, all four hundred and seventy pages of it. Not any catchphrase that you could print on a badge or a T-shirt. It’s a human failing to reduce things either to a slogan or a personality, but I seem to have laid myself open to this—the personality getting in the way of the novel.

—Martin Amis

Ricky Gervais As Derek (Netflix)

Posted on September 17th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

Ricky Gervais has built up so much good will from his irreverent comedy that his appearance on Charlie Rose promoting “Derek” (Netflix) evoked real interest.

The premise of a mentally challenged “kind” man caretaking old people is rife with pitfalls, all of which Gervais seems to have fallen into. Its condescending mugging is the worst sort of caricature. The stereotype of the old would be called bigotry if any other group were so targeted. Gervais needs to meet Freeman Dyson to get a sense of the spectrum of what “old” might mean — someone a mite smarter and more alive, engaged and deeply contrarian than the Ricky.

Maybe Gervais thinks all the old are marginalized, but actually, they are the ones running the country — depending on the cut-off for “old”, which itself is a moving target. Age means about as much as race or gender or religion in judging other people.

Although Gervais says his comedy usually has a veil of irony, in “Derek,” he thinks it is just loving. If loving means treacly. Gervais loves himself for feeling supercilious “sympathy”. Where have we seen this before.

Comedy is cruelty. It’s a release. That’s its premise and its expression. We laugh at, not with. So really talented performers like Gervais devise personas that can allow the audience to laugh at. Steve Martin and Martin Short have both said they developed characters as youngsters, performing for their friends, which later became part of their performance. Andy Kaufman said the same thing.

Gervais says that his Derek character had long been part of his pantheon of comedic personas. On a private, therapeutic level, Derek may be reassuring to Gervais as a self-affirmation. But in a public arena, it just makes you uncomfortable.

Love’s Labour’s Lost and Salter’s All That Is

Posted on September 1st, 2013 by admin

Just finished James Salter’s All That Is.

Salter’s lapidary stream of consciousness holds your attention. Salter sketches, suggestively (he refers to JS Sargent in one interview), brilliantly. The language is hard yet resonant – like Hemingway. He writes about the erotic journey of his main character. A Seinfeld reference is inevitable: A Young Man’s Erotic Journey From Milan to Minsk. Philip Bowman’s erotic journey is from Japan to New York and London.

The book leaves you with a cold admiration. He writes of passion, but without passion. Salter does love women – their physical and psychical presence fill him with awe. Now 88, All That Is would be an admirable performance by any novelist, no matter their age.


I’m in the middle of Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. Branagh turned Shakespeare’s first comedy into a 1930s musical. Purists will, (and did), hate it – they didn’t think it worked. But the movie is filled with joy and cleverness. The play itself is a dance of language with plot an afterthought. When you have Shakespeare playing with language, well, then you’ve got something.

Seamus Heaney Quotes

Posted on August 30th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

“Getting started, keeping going, getting started again – in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival, the ground of convinced action, the basis of self-esteem and the guarantee of credibility in your lives, credibility to yourselves as well as to others.”

“It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir; that Tacitus was right and that peace is merely the desolation left behind after the decisive operations of merciless power.”

“Even if the hopes you started out with are dashed, hope has to be maintained.”

“Yet there are times when a deeper need enters, when we want the poem to be not only pleasurably right but compellingly wise, not only a surprising variation played upon the world, but a re-tuning of the world itself.”

“Even if the last move did not succeed, the inner command says move again.”

“Without needing to be theoretically instructed, consciousness quickly realizes that it is the site of variously contending discourses.”

Success: Banville and Nietzsche

Posted on August 27th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

John Banville, in his Paris Review interview:

“One of my favorite Nietzsche aphorisms is-I always trot this out when people ask about some other writer who’s having a huge sucess for some cheap thing…”

You will never get the crowd to cry hosanna until you ride into town on an ass.