Fundamentalism and Nihilism

I think of a broad range of categories and types as I read this from Eagleton’s After Theory.

This is just what the fundamentalist is unable to do. He cannot accept contingency. His life anticipates death, but in all the wrong ways. Far from the reality of death loosening his neurotic grip on life, it tightens it to a white-knuckled intensity. The fundamentalist tries to outwit death by the crafty strategy of projecting its absolutism on to life, thus making life itself eternal and imperishable. But is it then life the fundamentalist is in love with, or death? We have to find a way of living with non-being without being in love with it, since being in love with it is the duplicitous work of the death drive. It is the death drive which cajoles us into tearing ourselves apart in order to achieve the absolute security of nothingness. Non-being is the ultimate purity. It has the unblemishedness of all negation, the perfection of a blank page.

There is, then, a profound paradox to fundamentalism. On the one hand it is terrified of non-being, of the sheer sprawling gratuitousness of the material world, and wants to seal the fissure in the ramshackle structure with a stuffing of first principles, fixed meanings and self-evident truths. The world’s contingency, its improvised air, reminds it intolerably of the fact that it could easily not exist. Fundamentalism is fearful of nihilism, having failed to notice that nihilism is simply the mirror-image of its own absolutism. The nihilist is almost always a disenchanted absolutist, the rebellious Oedipal child of the metaphysical father. Like his father, he believes that if values are not absolute, there are no values at all. If father was wrong, then nobody else can be right.

There is, however, a deeper affinity between nihilism and fundamentalism. If fundamentalism detests non-being, it also is allured by the prospect of it, since nothing could be less open to misinterpretation. Non-being is the enemy of instability and ambiguity. You cannot argue over its content, since it has no content at all. It is as absolute and unmistakable as the moral law, as unequivocal as a cypher. The fundamentalist is an ascetic, who wants to purge the world of surplus matter. In doing so, he can cleanse it of its sickening arbitrariness and reduce it to strict necessity. The ascetic is revolted by the monstrous fecundity of matter, and is thus a prey to nothingness. For him, there is simply too much being around the place, not least–from the viewpoint of the Islamic fundamentalist–in the West.

Published in: on February 28, 2006 at 3:03 pm  Comments (1)  

A little on the trashy side

I like ’em sweet, I like ’em with a heart of gold.
Yeah an’ I like ’em brassy, I like ’em brazen and bold.
Well, they say that opposites attract, well, I don’t agree
I want a woman just as tacky as me.
Yeah, I like my women just a little on the trashy side.

Yeah, an’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side,
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed.
Too much lipstick an’ er too much rouge,
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused.
An’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side.

Trashy Women, Confederate Railroad

I liked Anna Nicole Smith when she had more meat on her bones–somebody I could imagine drinking a beer and shot with me at the bar, somebody encouraging me to write my memoirs because I’m just so damned cute and witty.

Published in: on February 28, 2006 at 12:14 pm  Leave a Comment  


Last night, I watched the movie Julia, a movie I have seen many times since it was first released in 1978. Old Lillian fishing from a rowboat as dusk settles over the lake, Lillian throwing her typewriter out the window as she tries to complete her first play, Nazism ascending during the dark and brutal days prior to World War II, Dash telling Lillian her play is the best that has been written in years, the heroic Julia renouncing her wealth and brilliant future for the best of all causes—the saving of human lives in Nazi Germany, and Lillian overcoming her fear to help her best friend Julia always hook me into watching it again no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

The movie is based on Lillian Hellman’s memoir, Pentimento, whose truth is contested. The truth of it does not bother me at all. History and our places in it will always be contested ground; we dispute the historical truth within our own souls. The search for meaning counts too; melancholy suffuses our souls when we fail to find the meaning of events most important to us. We bump up against a limit just as we do when we tackle other difficult problems. Meaning is hidden from us. We must dig for it, and no one knows exactly where to dig despite dogmas, doctrines, and assertions contradicted by actions. We indulge in certainties, and deny pastiche as a way to create meaning; thereby assuring that meaning will elude us.

Our fate is to know and not know.

Published in: on February 28, 2006 at 7:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Marx, Aristotle, and Eagleton

I reread Terry Eagleton’s After Theory yesterday, for what reason why I do not know. Let’s say I like the beat and it’s easy to dance to, so I give it a 98.

After Theory is Eagleton’s assessment—pitched at the general reader level—of the state of Theory (structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism) circa 2003.

I find it interesting that Eagleton links Aristotle’s conception of the good life, human flourishing, and happiness with Marx’s philosophy. Maybe, it massages my ego to see the brilliant Terry Eagleton juxtapose Marx and Aristotle because I have been thinking about the juxtaposition for quite a few years.

For Aristotle, as we have seen, ethics and politics are intimately related. Ethics is about excelling at being human, and nobody can do that in isolation. Moreover, nobody can do it unless the political institutions which allow you to do it are available. It is this kind of moral thinking which was inherited by Karl Marx, who was much indebted to Aristotle even in economic thought. Questions of good and bad had been falsely abstracted from their social contexts, and had to be restored to them again. In this sense, Marx was a moralist in the classical sense of the word. He believed that moral inquiry had to examine all of the factors which went to make up a specific action or way of life, not just personal ones.

Unfortunately, Marx was a classical moralist who did not seem aware that he was, rather, as Dante was not aware that he was living in the middle ages. Like a lot of radicals since his time, Marx thought the whole of morality was just ideology. This is because he made the characteristically bourgeois mistake of confusing morality with moralism. Moralism believes that there is a set of questions known as moral questions which are quite distinct from social or political ones. It does not see that ‘moral’ means exploring the texture and quality of human behavior as richly and sensitively as you can, and that you cannot do this by abstracting men and women from their social surrounding. This is morality as, say, the novelist Henry James understood it, as opposed to those who believe you can reduce it to rules, prohibitions and obligations.

Marx, however, made the mistake of defining morality as moralism, and so quite understandably rejected it. He did not seem to realize he was the Aristotle of the modern age.

Later, Eagleton takes Aristotelian ethics to task.

Aristotle’s man of virtue is notoriously self-centered. He enjoys friendship as part of the good life, but it is the life of contemplation he finds most precious. What Aristotle does not fully appreciate is that virtue is a reciprocal affair. He sees, to be sure, that it can thrive only in political society; but he does not really recognize that virtue is what happens between people–that it is a function of relationships. His so-called ‘great-souled man’ is alarmingly self-sufficient. Freindship matters to the man of virtue, but it is more mutual admiration than genuine love.

This gets back to the question: what kind of Marxist am I? I keep returning to Marx to find answers; that is, trying to integrate my reading of Marxist’s texts into my other belief systems—no easy task for a humble thinker, like me.

Yet, the project has been an enjoyable one, one I look forward to continuing this year.

Published in: on February 27, 2006 at 12:58 pm  Comments (2)  

The real new year

My new year always begins about this time when I begin to believe the days will be longer and warmer. The holidays for me are always filled with regret over things left undone and sentimental longings for a past that never was. I hate the holidays and their darkness.

So as I begin my new year, I look back at the old one as another year where I spent some days seriously, yet spent way too many frivolously; and indulged myself irresponsibly most of the time and much to my great shame.

My goal this year will be to achieve some consistency and balance between my serious and frivolous times; and I must overcome my irresponsibility. I need to be productive again if only to restore my sanity—something I keep repeating, yet keep hoping to achieve.

However, I look at the stacks of books I’ve read over the course of the year, and find myself much pleased, for they represent a tradition which I was not much familiar with—such as Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger; plus I revisited with a new eye books that were gathering dust and almost forgotten, and explored many thinkers and subjects alien to me.

I can truthfully say that I understand better what I believe. Even though that is not the coin of the realm, I am satisfied with it. New projects present themselves for my inspection which is what the Spring and my New Year are all about.

Having easy going fun while doing my own thing in my own time is still my mission statement. My own thing needs to change a little though.

Published in: on February 26, 2006 at 1:57 pm  Comments (4)  

Because they had no category for marxist, we are not surprised

Marxist, yes. But what kind of marxist when you get down to cases?

A quiz at Advocates for self-government:


The political description that
fits you best is….


LIBERALS usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded “safety net” to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

The RED DOT on the Chart shows where you fit on the political map.

Your PERSONAL issues Score is 90%.
Your ECONOMIC issues Score is 30%

Published in: on February 26, 2006 at 10:40 am  Comments (5)  

In the bag?

Rooney, Saha, and Rinaldo have all scored early in the second half–all within six minutes of each other. Man U is up 4 nil over Wigan. It appears today’s football wager is safely in the bag.

If only I had not been so damned greedy this past week.

Published in: on February 26, 2006 at 10:21 am  Leave a Comment  

A +

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!
Could You Pass 8th Grade Math?

I would have been depressed if I had gotten anything less than 10 out of 10. I mean really depressed.

Published in: on February 26, 2006 at 12:59 am  Comments (3)  

17 cents on the dollar

Chelsea 2 – 0 Porstmouth.

I finally put a W on the board again. OK, so I only earned 17 cents on the dollar. Imagine how rich I would be in one year if I could get 17% daily compound interest? But that ain’t going to happen.

Oh well, I have Man U tomorrow in their Carling Cup Final match against Wigan.

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Too late

Each ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds is a dagger to the center of my head. I did not stay out real late last night, but I did stay out too late.

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  

The sporting life

One of the virtues of the Internet is ESPN’s Gamecast, an almost live update of sporting events, such as baseball and football, and their statistics. I have the Chelsea vs. Portsmouth match running on my computer as I write this. My money is on that match.

My home is a sportsbook parlor.

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 9:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Oh, for a couple of confidence boosters

I am going to resist the urge to try to recoup all my losses from this week’s Champions League matches in one weekend. So, here is what I’ve done.

* Sat: Chelsea 1.17 to win at home vs. Portsmouth
* Sun: Manchester United 1.61 to win vs. Wigan in the Carling Cup Final

I really could use a couple of confidence boosters this weekend.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 1:07 pm  Comments (2)  

A note on flesh

I fool myself quite often into thinking my thoughts are something above my everyday experiences. However, I am wrong, for whatever thoughts I have are grounded in my body: what its senses, how it moves about the world, and what makes it laugh and cry. My thoughts of mathematics, philosophy, and politics arise from my body and everyday experience. To be sure, these thoughts are illuminated by complex metaphorical schemes that help me make sense of it all—creating a way to survive as long as I might—yet it is my flesh, and its immersion in the world that makes these thoughts possible.

This flesh is the starting point of all my thinking, and one day it will be the end.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 8:51 am  Comments (6)  

A palace we will never know

I woke in the middle of the night two days ago, could not fall back to sleep, and commenced channel surfing until I chanced upon Frontline’s show on the Iraq insurgency. The violence chilled me, and left me with a feeling of despair and sorrow for everyone who lives in that most unfortunate country where fear of sudden and brutal death, no matter who you are, is the normal routine.

This morning, as I read in the newspapers about the wave of sectarian violence in Iraq this week, the nausea returns to darken my mood grayer than the February sky blanketing Chicago. Who are we, we humans, who do these things endlessly to each other without break or respite, without remorse, without questioning, always believing we will live forever in this world or the next, unafraid of what later generations will think of our slaughter and butchery, always justifying the unjustifiable, believing a few more deaths will pave the way to progress and peace, never admitting our primal fears that we may one day be prey and victim rather than hunter, and praying to god just before sacrificing the next victim?

And where are the gods while all this is happening? They sit it in a remote palace all their own—one we will never see nor know—and they do not laugh at us nor cry for us, for they do not know us, and we do not know them.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 8:13 am  Comments (1)  

Benamin and Sebald

Reading Walter Benjamin’s A Berlin Chronicle last night, I, at one moment, felt as though I was reading W. G. Sebald: a kind of trick my mind plays upon itself, for I know no German, and am usually lost when it comes to literary styles. Maybe, it is just the mastery of style that all great writers possess that makes many of them seem alike late at night before one falls off to sleep. This morning, while reflecting on reading Benjamin, I discover that I look forward to reading more of him, for I may have found a replacement—or rather an addition—to reading Sebald, who, like Benjamin, is gone and lives only in my imagination as a ghost who haunts me late at night.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 7:45 am  Comments (2)  

I’ve been tagged

Edie at Annotated Life tagged me with this. Here is what comes immediately to mind.

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?

It depends. Lawrence of Arabia cannot be a black and white movie; The Hustler cannot be a color movie.

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?

New Age spirituality.

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium
for prerecorded music?

CDs because I have a CD player.

4: You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going … Ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?

I’d do the right thing by family and friends and take the money and run. I would compensate them generously for the terrible loss of my company. Ah damn, I probably would not go.

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world’s most pressing issue now?

The explosive mix of unbridled capitalism, fundamentalist religious hatred and intolerance, and weapons of mass destruction in the world.

6: How would you rectify the world’s most pressing issue?

I doubt if it can be rectified. Human folly will play itself out until there are no more humans.

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?

I would learn how to write at an early age. Then I would become an independent scholar.

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?

I wish World War I had never happened. Changing history, however, sounds like a very risky proposition. Let’s try something less dramatic.

I wish Bernhard Riemann had not lost the journal he took with him to Paris, and also that his housekeeper had not burned some of his papers after his death. Who knows what great math might have been in them?

The loss of any text from antiquity down to modern times has always weighed heavily on my mind.

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole’ Opry –Which do you choose?

I would try to find a cool date and go where she wanted to go.

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you’d like to solve?

I would like to know who really murdered Fyodor Karamazov.

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?

I would like to hang out with Fyodor Dostoevsky. I would fix caviar, shrimp, and cream cheese on cucumber slices for an appetizer, steaks, potatoes au gratin, and artichoke hearts with plenty of butter.

I would ask him if his mind was as on fire when he wrote the books as mine is when I read them. I would have plenty of vodka on hand and when he was tipsy enough, I would ask him who really murdered Fyodor Karamazov?

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky — what’s the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?

I have been celebrating it most of my life. Another couple of Buds at the local bar could not hurt though.

I tag Deertown Times, Raindrops, Empty Rhetoric, and The title conscious blog if they care to do it.

Published in: on February 23, 2006 at 9:04 pm  Comments (4)  

Welcome to the portfolio

At the heart of modern capitalism is the modern financial corporation. All corporations are financial corporations and are managed that way whether they are involved in pure finance or not. Business units, products, markets, human resources, and information technologies are all financial portfolios. They are there to generate share holder value. Nothing more and nothing less. They are financial assets to be bought and sold.

Modern American politics is composed of financial portfolios too. There are no longer political parties, philosophies, or even ideologies. What remains are political portfolios with ideas and concepts designed to garner share of mind that translates into votes, wealth, and power. If the political idea does not generate share holder value it must be sold to another party or become bankrupt.

We are all part of these portfolios whether we like it or not. Our differences are merely between who controls the portfolios and who does not.

Do you think there is a better place? Do you know the way to that place?

Published in: on February 23, 2006 at 3:22 pm  Comments (5)  

Category Theory: a possible tool for philosophy?

As we know, applying mathematical logic and set theory to philosophical problems was all the rage during the twentieth century. With the rise of modern cognitive science we better understand how the mind creates philosophy and mathematics. That understanding has at the least made philosophies based upon logic and set theory problematic.

However, over the past week or so, I have been wondering if applying category theory to philosophical problems might not produce some results. That does no alleviate the need for understanding the metaphors and metonyms underlying category theory, but it might be a useful tool all the same.

Published in: on February 23, 2006 at 12:40 pm  Comments (3)  

Trivial cases

One way of studying a new piece of abstract mathematics, say algebraic topology, is to study the trivial cases or models. One might study the real line or the plane as examples when taking up algebraic topology.

This turns out to be trivial and uninteresting work, but it has one virtue. If you don’t understand why those cases are trivial, then you probably won’t understand the more difficult problems and theorems either.

Published in: on February 23, 2006 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Unless the bubble bursts

I walked down State Street tonight into the Loop. The street north of the Chicago River will one day change completely into mid-rise buildings, chain stores, and upscale restaurants unless the bubble bursts.

Published in: on February 22, 2006 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

0 for 2

Another bad day at the races. Oh well, what goes up must come down in the sports betting world.

Published in: on February 22, 2006 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  


The Chelsea vs. Barcelona match will be broadcast live at 1:30 CST on ESPN2. It could be a honey of a football game.

Published in: on February 22, 2006 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Going under for the third time

I am diving back into the deep end even though I am pretty much a drowned rat after yesterday’s swimming expedition. Here is what I have on today’s Champions League matches.

* Chelsea 2.16 to win at home vs. Barcelona
* Juventus 2.20 to win away at Werder Bremen

Hope springs eternal as they say.

Published in: on February 22, 2006 at 7:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Reversal of fortune

In a stunning reversal of fortune, I went a perfect 0 for 4 in my Champions League football wagers this afternoon.

There are four more matches tomorrow. I plan on getting some of it back.

Published in: on February 21, 2006 at 3:41 pm  Comments (3)  

The action

I have won a spectacular 7 out of the 8 wagers I have made this month. In a fit of hubris and enthusiasm I just wagered on all four of today’s Champions League matches.

* Real Madrid 1.61 to win at home vs. Arsenal
* Bayern Munich 2.28 to win at home vs. AC Milan
* PSV Eindhoven 3.12 to draw at home vs. Olympique Lyon
* Liverpool 2.35 to win away vs. Benfica

Just writing the list has given me buyer’s remorse over blowing a potential good wagering month for February. I should have stayed with my original wager on Real Madrid and left it at that.

Oh well, I need the action today for some reason. My blood is up.

Published in: on February 21, 2006 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment