The Salon Interview
This is the Blog for MORRIS BERMAN, the author of "Dark Ages America". It includes current publications and random thoughts about U.S. Foreign Policy, including letters and reactions to publications from others. A cultural historian and social critic, MORRIS BERMAN is the author of "Wandering God" and "The Twilight of American Culture". Since 2003 he has been a visiting professor in sociology at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Feel free to write and participate.
Well, every day brings more news of the American collapse: the cops shoot more unarmed civilians, the citizenry gets dumber and dumber, the media get increasingly excited about a meaningless election that is nearly 1.5 years away, and the progs predict that revolution or dramatic, positive social change is just around the corner. As Wafers and NMI's, we sit back and enjoy the show.
I have been doing interviews here and there, and was hoping to provide you guys with some links by now. But these things always take longer than anticipated, so let me just label this post 244 and hope that I can deliver something more substantive within the next month. Meanwhile, those of you in the NY area might want to mark September 7 on your calendar (Labor Day), when I'll be speaking about my Japan book at the Bluestockings Bookstore at 7 p.m. Also, I have been accumulating names for the Second New York City Wafer Summit Meating & Lunch, tentatively for Sept. 6, time and place TBA (possibly Madison Square Garden, but we'll have to see what attendance is like as the date approaches). Those of you who are interested should contact me via e-mail, and I'll add you to the list.
Other than that, I hope you are all having a good summer. If you keep in mind that Americans have fried rice in their heads, you can't go wrong.
I suspect we've wrung all we can out of the Symbology theme, so it might be time to move on to greener (or purpler?) pastures. The only trouble is, I can't imagine, at this point, what these might be. Shaneka Torres? Poop in Wal-Mart? There's only so much one can say about these colorful, patriotic Americans, beyond wishing that they become presidential candidates. Speaking of which, we could devote ourselves to Hillary; but every time I see that pasty-faced imperialist robot online, I have an urge to bring up all my meals from the past 24 hours; and how much we can discuss vomit here--well, I dunno, really; there's gotta be an upper limit.
Then there's the foolishness of 'progressives', and the general stupidity of the American people...One theme we've sort of discussed before is what the latter see when they watch TV programs that are nuanced, or even critical of US policies. For example, in the series called Homeland, which deals with the futile and destructive antics of the CIA, there is a comment every so often, given the inevitable carnage of innocents that CIA activity generates, along the lines of: "Is this really worth it?", or, "What are we doing, anyway?" I imagine these sorts of self-critiques go over the heads of American viewers, who just translate the show into good guys vs. bad guys, and of course we are the good guys. But then, the dumber we are, the faster we slide into oblivion. So, always a silver lining on the horizon, eh?
Perhaps the theme of 242 should be left completely open, left up to you guys to decide whatever subjects you want to raise. So on that note: let the fun begin!
I should say that this topic was motivated by a marvelous article by Adam Gopnik on the Warburg Institute in London, in the March 16 issue of the New Yorker. I have a fondness for the place inasmuch as I applied to be a research fellow there in the early 70s, when I had begun thinking about the themes that would become part of The Reenchantment of the World. They cruelly turned down my application, which was a shame, since I could have used their medieval and Renaissance collection; but I somehow managed to survive without it, all in all. Anyway, to launch our investigation into symbology, let me quote two paragraphs from Gopnik's essay (he's talking about the founder, Aby Warburg):
"Warburg's ideas are often not just baffingly inbred but expressed in crunchy impenetrable German compounds. It is a brave man who would attempt to simplify them too sharply. Nonetheless, his theory of pictures might be summed up in three words: Poses have power. The repeated poses of art--young girls dancing, snakes entwining, the moment of the kill in the hunt, the confrontation of sea and single figure--are parts of an ongoing inheritance, a natural language of visual meaning that we all understand without having been consciously instructed in it. Warburg's favorite illustration was what he called the 'Nympha' figure: the young woman in flowing drapery who gives the illusion of rapid and graceful movement and can be found dancing through Western art for two thousand years, from Hellenistic sarcophagi to Botticelli's 'Primavera' and Isadora Duncan.
"Like all powerful things, such poses are double-edged. There is a white imge magic that feeds humanism and infuses art with healthy Dionysian passion, and there is a black image magic that causes us to surrender reason to the ravishments of our own fixations. Although Warburg died before Nazism came to a head, he knew very well the appeal of 'Dionysian' imagery to modern people dessicated by rationality. As the long 'memory traces' of mankind--Warburg referred to these as 'engrams'--reach us through recurring images, we can be overwhelmed by them or we can organize them. The constellations of astrology are a perfect illustration of this point. There are no rams and bears and heroes in the sky, controlling our behavior. The patterns aren't real, but they trap us into imagining that they are. Yet the act of organizing that the constellations represent proved to be essential to rational science, giving us mathematics through imagination."
Talk about food for thought, eh?
Of course, all of this could take us into the deluded world of Joseph Campbell, whose "scholarship" I regard as simplistic New Age dog poop, in which everything is uncritically related to everything else. (See my critique of Campbell in Wandering God, esp. the footnotes.) Still, even as great a scholar as Claude Levi-Strauss was occasionally drawn into this kind of uncritical, "universalist" thinking. So I was wary of introducing a topic like Symbology. But what the heck; Wafers must soldier on, clearly, wading through the dog poop as best they can. As America collapses we need to have a little fun, after all. Onward, then; into the breach!