Saturday, April 30, 2011

What in the Hell is NATO? (It Will Even Take On Climate Change)

The US State Department's website explains the background and role of NATO(North Atlantic Treaty Organization). It states:
Formed in 1949 with the signing of the Washington Treaty, NATO is a security alliance of 28 countries from North America and Europe. NATO's fundamental goal is to safeguard the Allies' freedom and security by political and military means...Article 5 of the Washington Treaty -- that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all -- is at the core of the Alliance, a promise of collective defense. Article 4 of the treaty ensures consultations among Allies on security matters of common interest, which after 60 years have expanded from a narrowly defined Soviet threat to the critical mission in Afghanistan, as well as peacekeeping in Kosovo and new threats to security such as cyber attacks, and global threats such as terrorism and piracy that affect the Alliance and its global network of partners.
It is interesting how NATO has conveniently expanded its role over the last several decades. The raison d'etre of NATO is as stated in Article 5 "that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all -- is at the core of the Alliance." Currently,with the wave of a magic wand, NATO views Article 4's "security matters of common interest" to mean, literally,whatever it wants to make it mean. It echoes the essence of the statement by Former Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes that "the Constitution is what the judges say it is." In other words, NATO is what NATO says it is.

In 1999 NATO bombed Serbia due to the way it was dealing with it's internal conflict with Kosovo. A NATO member was not attacked. NATO decided it needed to intervene in the crisis regardless. Now, led by President Obama, NATO is involved in Libya's civil war (a significant distance away from the North Atlantic). What is the role of NATO?

I'm posting three short youtubes. One comes from a group promoting the "new" role of NATO. The two others are the opinions on the same topic by President Clinton's former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. What is noticeable is the blatant ambiguity of everything they are saying. There are no real concrete answers given.Madeleine Albright is even asked what role NATO has in dealing with climate change. NATO is now fighting wars dealing with environmental issues? The official NATO website has a most peculiar way of defining itself on the link "What is NATO?" It invites you to "Discover NATO." The viewer hears the sound of birds and forest water for a brief moment.There is a picture of teenagers jumping excitingly in the air. Juxtaposed to that picture is a couple laying down in the grass romantically. A computer animated flower is next to the guy. He stares at the girl while she is lazily reading. The definition reads:
We want to be sure that we can walk around freely in a safe and secure environment. Security in all areas of everyday life is key to our wellbeing, but it cannot be taken for granted.

Perhaps NATO will further expand by intervening in the global economic crisis? Would members be willing to bomb banks and send drones to assassinate corrupt CEOs? Even if such a surreal occurrence were to take place, in all likeliness, NATO would be on the other side of that war: "securing" markets. Or is that part of it's role already?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unemployed Negativity on Treme and Negri

I've been catching up with my blog subscription/RSS feed list over the last few days, and imagine my surprise when, searching through Jason Read's Unemployed Negativity, I found his recent remarks on Treme while I was looking for his review of Antonio Negri's recent Spinoza et nous (his third book on Spinoza). I thought the latter would be of some interest, as I've been thinking about reading something by Negri again (this always falters due to the amount of Rancière/Sartre/Marx/Hegel that I've stacked in the 'to read' pile). Read writes:
Negri’s little book, a series of essays on Spinoza covering democracy, Spinoza and Heidegger, and a sociology of the affects, is presented as both a defense of his particular interpretation of Spinoza, which began with The Savage Anomaly, and of what is stake in the general turn to Spinoza. With respect to the latter, Negri argues that the return to Spinoza should be given the conspicuous date of 1968. This is its date in intellectual history, following the publication of Matheron and Deleuze’s studies, but it also places it within the post-68 crisis of Marxism and transformation of capital. As Negri argues, the crisis of Marxism opened the turn to Spinoza.
While you are there, check out his remarks on the first season of Treme. I recently watched Treme (after, surprise, surprise, watching The Wire), and I think it is a remarkable portrayal of tragedy and joy, which is not something I often say about television shows. By the first episode, which a few of my friends found to be a bit long, I was hooked by the music, which is front and center in the narrative. Here's Jason again:
Treme is very much about New Orleans, about its cultural, geographical, and historical specificity. [...] the first show was bleak, tragic even, in its outlook. While the second has preserved much of Simon’s skepticism [from The Wire] of American government and capital, illustrated by the massive failure of every institution that became synonymous with Katrina, it has moments of pure joy, culinary and musical, the likes of which are never seen on television.[...]

[He continues:] Treme is mostly about people who are outsiders, who function outside of institutions, at least official ones. The police, politicians, and reporters are still there, but they have become part of the background. What has moved to the foreground are musicians, “Indian chiefs,” chefs, and professors, all of whom are not so much outside of institutions, but outside of those institutions that are central in deciding the fate of post-Katrina New Orleans. We might argue that they are outside of institutions, but central to culture. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Arthur C. Danto," Andy Warhol"

Arthur C. Danto's Andy Warhol (Yale, 2009) is a philosophical biography of the most famous representative of American pop art. A biography is more than appropriate for the pop artist who was himself an  icon, because, as Danto notes, Warhol "invented, one might say, an entirely new kind of life for an artist to lead, involving music, style, sex, language, film, and drugs, as well as art" (47-48). Nevertheless, Danto avoids the temptation of filling the book with lurid prose, focusing on Warhol's philosophy of art.

Perhaps it has something to do with Danto's own intellectual/biographical trajectory, but Warhol stands out for him as the artist who reconfigured the central questions of the philosophy of art. In brief, Danto's account goes like this: the long-standing and traditional question of the philosophy of art was "what is art?" The question, and more importantly, the solution (art has something to do with beauty) had been largely unchallenged until modernism and the avant-gardes, and more specifically the anti-aestheticism of Dadaism. Modernism turned the question into an aesthetic self-interrogation,  and Dada used their art to ridicule the decadence of the ruling classes who had led Europe into the first world war.

Modernism and Dada, according to Danto, only challenged the solution to the question 'what is art?', while Warhol transformed the question:
The new form of the ancient question was this: given two objects that look exactly alike, how is it possible for one of them to be a work of art and the other just an ordinary object (62)?
Enter the Brillo Boxes, and drumroll, please:
Andy's various challenges to what philosophers and others have said that art is pale in comparison with the grocery boxes. Since he has found an example of a real object and a work of art, why can't anything have a counterpart that is a work of art, so that ultimately anything can be a work of art? That means at the very least a new of era of art in which artworks cannot be discerned from real things, at least in principle--what I have called The End of Art (65-66).
Danto immediately answers the obvious challenge that Marcel Duchamp's readymades caused this kind of havoc for art by arguing that the "one thing that has to be said about the Brillo Boxes is that they are beautiful" (66). The irony, though, is that choosing Warhol over Duchamp gives us a new question, but the old answer: the line might not be drawn in principle, but the work of art still has something to do with beauty.

That, however, might not be as important as the politics that Danto derives from Warhol's work. Warhol, he says, "celebrated ordinary American life" in his work (of course, one would have to exclude much of the underground film work, but I digress). Warhol the painter, celebrates "what every American knows." His genius, in Danto's view, rested in his ability to pick potent images that reflected what was on the American mind:
He represented the world that Americans lived in by holding a mirror up to it, so that they could see themselves in its reflection. It was a world that was largely predictable through its repetitions, one day like another, but that orderliness could be dashed to pieces by crashes and outbreaks that are our nightmares [...] It is a world of little people--us--with the imperfections that gnaw at us and explain why we are not loved the way we would like to be, but imperfections that afflict even the stars and celebrities who take their own lives, even though we envy them for their beauty, their success, their supposed success (126-127).
From what I can gather, Warhol represents a world that Danto felt at home in, and, for all its self-obsessed pathos, more than likely the world that he feels nostalgia for. Warhol or not, that's not a world I want to glorify, let alone live in.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

NASS 2011 Conference Schedule

In a few weeks, from April 27-29, the North American Sartre Society will be meeting in Montréal. The schedule for the conference is up here (PDF). As you will see, I will be giving a paper on Thursday, the 28th, around 2:15. For those who have looked, I'd like to clarify that I'm giving the paper entitled "The Being and Nothingness of Equality: Sartre’s Influence on Rancière," and not the one listed on Michel Henry (I would suppose that this talk will be delivered by the other panelist, Ian Coleman).

This paper has been, unlike a few others over the past few years, fun to work on. I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to do when I submitted the abstract, and the process of writing has fleshed out the connections that I thought were there. However, I say that now, having established the transition from Disagreement to Being and Nothingness--but I still have to write something about the latter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NDPR Review of DFW's Fate, Time, and Language

Daniel Speak reviews for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews David Foster Wallace's Fate, Time, and Language, which is a posthumous edition of DFW's undergraduate thesis in philosophy. Like Speak, I've felt a few reservations about the way that people have, after DFW's death, sought to 

"Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!"

his writings, and an undergraduate thesis surely suggests that somebody was looking to cash in. However, as Speak notes (I've emphasized those concerns, and his reassuring verdict):
Frankly, however, I had my worries that the publication of his undergraduate thesis was a purely opportunistic endeavor under these circumstances. I convinced myself that accepting the invitation might nevertheless have at least two positive results. First, I could use it as a provocation and motivation to tackle Wallace's supposedly mind-bending Infinite Jest (1000+ pages!). Second, an honest and negative assessment of the philosophical merit of the volume, I told myself, might cast some useful light on the opportunism I was afraid was behind its publication. Having confessed my antecedent suspicions, I now publicly repent them. Fate, Time, and Language contains a great deal of first-rate philosophy throughout, and not least in Wallace's extraordinarily professional and ambitious essay --
I've read DFW's book on infinity (Everything and More), and I highly recommend it for somebody who wants to tackle mathematics in a serious but humorously self-reflexive series of discussions on infinity and set theory (it was so much fun that I kind of wish that I blogged during the time that I read it, so that I could write about it.)[1]. It concludes before, as we might say, the "Cohen-event," but there's plenty of Cantor. Speak has convinced me that I should give Fate, Time, and Language a shot.

[1] Maybe I will in the future.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the Chalice of this Realm of Spirits...

Today I finished the seven month odyssey that was reading The Phenomenology of Spirit in a reading group. I'll fight the impulse to summarize something of this movement (unlike Hegel himself?), and give the old man the last word. Wes Furlotte, one of the participants of our reading group, a few months ago pointed out this passage, which, with the right inflection, is kind of funny (although you might have had to be there):
Whether something is held to be good or bad, it is in either case an action and an activity in which an individuality exhibits and expresses itself, and for that reason it is all good.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

US/European Intervention in the Arab World

The Riz Khan show from last week on Al Jazeera English conveniently follows the topic I wrote about in my last blog. The topic covered on Al Jazeera addresses the curiosity many have as to why the West is intervening in Libya but not in places such as Bahrain and Yemen. This episode shows that the Arab and Islamic World are keenly aware that Western interests in Libya could be less than amicable. This skepticism is understandable when looking at the overall legacy (past and present) of Western policies in the North African and Middle Eastern regions.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The US Role in Bahrain Delegitimizes the US Role in Libya

On March 28, 2011 US President Barack Obama gave a speech to the nation regarding the US role in bombing Qaddafi's forces in Libya. Obama stated that the US must help the struggling people of Libya against the tyrant Qaddafi.To expand on his argument to justify intervention, he commented about the revolutionary "change" taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa:
There are places, like Egypt, where this change will inspire us and raise our hopes. And then there will be places, like Iran, where change is fiercely suppressed. The dark forces of civil conflict and sectarian war will have to be averted, and difficult political and economic concerns will have to be addressed.

The United States will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change. Only the people of the region can do that. But we can make a difference.

I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed at one's own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.

Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith -- those ideals -- that are the true measure of American leadership.
The hypocrisy of Obama and the US government is striking. Or is it hypocrisy? I would argue that they are merely playing out unconvincing propaganda. In Bahrain peaceful civilians have been slaughtered when they have protested against the tyranny of their government. This is occurring with a huge US Navy fleet secured in Bahraini waters. The invasion of Saudi troops to crush the unarmed rebellion has not been condemned by the US. If fact, the US government publicly stated it was not an invasion(Similar in spirit to US Vice President Biden's comments that Mubarak of Egypt was no dictator). Some of the US public may be fooled, but any informed person can see that the US claim to humanitarian concerns in Libya is not convincing.