1. Burke on Perlstein on Reagan
Check out Timothy Burke’s reflections on the long arc of Rick Perlstein’s study of post-WWII American conservatism—through Goldwater, Nixon, and, now, Reagan. Here are some of the lessons from Burke:
a) “Perlstein shows (and means to show) that postwar American conservatism has surprisingly extensive and complex social roots and that at least some of its social roots have a kind of genuine “from below” legitimacy. This might account for why his previous two books initially received appreciative readings from conservatives, in fact.”
b) “I think his account comprehensively rebukes…the kind of progressive response to right-wing political power that falls back on tropes like “astroturfing” or that otherwise assumes that conservatism is the automated, inorganic response of a dying demographic to the loss of social power, that there is nothing real to it or that its reality is simple and self-interested.”
c) “Focusing on astroturfing, even when it is undoubtedly happening and has significance for controlling dominant “framing” narratives that influence politics, is mostly an alibi for [the Left] not doing the much harder work of understanding what’s happening in the larger lived experience of communities and regions.”
d) “Stop assuming that postwar conservatism’s content is wholly protean or arbitrary. “Big government” in this sense may be in all sorts of ways a really messed-up construction that obscures the degree to which mostly-conservative voting districts are actually the enthusiastic recipients of all sorts of public money, but it’s not a random or senseless trope at its origin point, either, …”
e) “Perlstein is very good on [contingency]…when he’s talking about political elites, politicians and party leaders, that the ways in which the fusion of popular and party agendas happened was full of false starts, unpredictable gambits, and improvisations.”
f) “Progressives today habitually underestimate the historicity, rootedness and local authenticity of what they regard as conservatism.”
Please go and read Burke’s post. And thanks to Ben Alpers for reminding me to read piece!
2. Giorgio Agamben Interview–on “The Courage of Hopelessness”
Learn something about Giorgio Agamben through Juliette Cerf’s interview with him, at the VersoBooks Blog. The occasion is the publication of a new Agamben work. Two questions and Agamben’s answers (translated from French):
Cerf: Theology plays a very important role in your reflection today. Why is that?
Agamben: The research projects that I have recently undertaken have shown me that our modern societies, which claim to be secular, are, on the contrary, governed by secularised theological concepts, which act all the more powerfully because we are not conscious of their existence. We will never grasp what is going on today unless we understand that capitalism is, in reality, a religion. And, as Walter Benjamin said, it is the fiercest of all religions because it does not allow for atonement… Take the word ‘faith’, usually reserved to the religious sphere. The Greek term corresponding to this in the Gospels is pistis. A historian of religion trying to understand the meaning of this word was taking a walk in Athens one day, when suddenly he saw a sign with the words ‘Trapeza tes pisteos’. He went up to it, and realised that this was a bank: trapeza tes pisteos means: ‘credit bank’. This was illuminating enough.
Cerf: Is this vision of becoming human, in your works, not rather pessimistic?
Agamben: I am very happy that you asked me that question, since I often find that people call me a pessimist. First of all, at a personal level, that is not at all the case. Secondly, the concepts pessimism and optimism have nothing to do with thought. Debord often cited a letter of Marx’s, saying that ‘the hopeless conditions of the society in which I live fill me with hope’. Any radical thought always adopts the most extreme position of desperation. Simone Weil said ‘I do not like those people who warm their hearts with empty hopes’. Thought, for me, is just that: the courage of hopelessness. And is that not the height of optimism?
3. The Teaching of Teaching
Joe Nocera ponder Elizabeth Green’s new book, Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone). Something for us:
Green’s book is about a more recent effort, spearheaded by a small handful of teaching revolutionaries, to improve the teaching of teaching. The common belief, held even by many people in the profession, that the best teachers are “natural-born” is wrong, she writes. The common characteristic of her main characters is that they have broken down teaching into certain key skills, which can be taught.
“You don’t need to be a genius,” Green told me recently. “You have to know how to manage a discussion. You have to know which problems are the ones most likely to get the lessons across. You have to understand how students make mistakes — how they think — so you can respond to that.” Are these skills easier for some people than others? Of course they are. But they can be taught, even to people who don’t instinctively know how to do these things.
4. Marketing Great Books
This one is for me. At the New Republic, Hillary Kelly reviews “the most iconic, important Penguin paperback covers of all time.” Here argument? “While the iconic orange stripes and simple sans serif typeface are perhaps the most indelible feature of the Penguin paperback, the examples below prove that with its evolution, Penguin has continued to push the boundaries of what makes a book cover smart, coveted, and collectible.” Check out the covers. Very cool. I think I love them all. – TL