The Peterson-Žižek Debate, When Sportswriting Was Beautiful, and Online Nihilism
Joanna Baron reports on the $1,500-a-ticket debate (yes, you read that right) between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Žižek, which, it seems, wasn’t much of a debate: “In disposition and comportment, the contrast between the two approached caricature: Žižek, the aging Slovenian enfant terrible, slumped in his chair in a rumpled polo, sneering at being introduced as a ‘dazzling theorist’; Peterson, the upright Canadian in a three-piece suit, diligently taking notes on his laptop. But the two have similarities, for each has parlayed academic research—Peterson in social psychology, and Žižek in philosophy, psychoanalysis, and theology—into global stardom…Regarding the stated topic of the evening—Marxism and happiness—Žižek refused to defend Marx. Žižek has no use for linear propositions, but trades in inversions and juxtaposed contradictions: for him, since capitalism and liberal ideology are the air we breathe, our rational inferences are inherently suspect…Žižek ended up half-heartedly pronouncing the need for a ‘regulated capitalism’ and ‘new forms of international co-operation and so on,’ dismissing claims that such a possibility was utopian, in that capitalism is already regulated in ways that favor capital. Immediately, as though disgusted to utter such banalities, he raced to his conclusion that ‘we will probably slide towards some sort of apocalypse, awaiting large catastrophes to awaken us.’ Peterson nodded.”
In other news, the Tolkien estate distances itself from new film on the author’s early years: “On Tuesday morning, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a terse statement in which they announced their ‘wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film’, and that ‘they do not endorse it or its content in any way’. A spokesperson for the estate told the Guardian that the statement was intended to make its position clear, rather than heralding future legal action.”
Does spending time online kill our sense of self and empty life of meaning? A new book argues it does: “With special clarity, Gertz lays bare the animating wickedness that lurks at the dark center of the ostensibly merely ‘addictive’ properties of online (a nonplace so distinct its denizens now use the word as a noun). ‘For while swiping can provide quite a power rush,’ he notes, ‘it must be recognized that it can also be quite tedious,’ and the great mystery of online is how something so boring can also be so compulsive. The ‘pleasure economics’ of social media, says Gertz, is selfless — ‘not selfless in the sense of altruism but in the sense of the self-destruction of the morality of pity, of reducing others and oneself to nothing while at the same time feeling guilty about it.’ Online life offers a vicious cycle that sustains itself because it is not just a power trip but a boring one — a point Gertz might well have extended, yet conspicuously does not, to Internet pornography.”
The #lifehacks of medieval monks: “Some of these strategies were tough. Renunciation, for instance. Monks and nuns were supposed to give up the things that most people loved – families, properties, businesses, day-to-day drama – not only to erode their sense of individual entitlement but also to ensure that they wouldn’t be preoccupied by that stuff in their professional lives of prayer. When the mind wanders, the monastic theorists observed, it usually veers off into recent events. Cut back your commitments to serious stuff, and you’ll have fewer thoughts competing for your attention. Restraint had to work on a physiological level, too. There were many theories in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages about the connection between the mind and body. Most Christians agreed that the body was a needy creature whose bottomless appetite for food, sex and comfort held back the mind from what mattered most. That didn’t mean that the body must be rejected, only that it needed tough love. For all monks and nuns, since the very start of monasticism in the 4th century, this meant a moderate diet and no sex. Many of them also added regular manual labour to the regimen. They found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming or weaving.”
Capitalism and LGBTQ: “How did the gay liberation movement, so radical in the Stonewall days, come to make peace with corporate America? Conventional wisdom has it that after Stonewall, corporate and consumerist forces invaded gay culture. That narrative may be about to change. David K. Johnson, a social and legal historian at the University of South Florida, argues for a longstanding close relationship between the free market and sexual freedom. Buying Gay, an installment in the Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series, argues that the gay political movement owes a great deal—its very existence—to consumer capitalism.”
Essay of the Day:
In The Atlantic, James Parker praises the elegance of early 20th-century sports writing:
“Bap. that’s how Damon Runyon, reporting on Game 1 of the 1923 World Series, Giants versus Yankees, for the New York American, records the sound of Casey Stengel connecting with a pitch from ‘Bullet Joe’ Bush. Bat meets ball, the essential atomic encounter—and Runyon puts the sound of it, the briefest, most prodigious syllable, right in the center of his column. Everything leads to it, everything spins out of it. Bap! Writers, those nonjocks, know this moment too. Put the right word in the right place, make the connection, and there’s a perceptible sweetness of impact. Stadiums do not rise when it happens, earthly crowds do not roar, but at your desk or your wobbling perch in Starbucks you feel it: silent terraces of angels pumping their fists.
“The surprise and delight of The Great American Sports Page, John Schulian’s selections from a century’s worth of newspaper columns about baseball, boxing, football, gymnastics, and (in one case) swimming the English Channel, is how often it happens—how often the writers connect, how often the prose approaches the condition of flat-out poetry. The brilliant hard-boiled lyricism of Sandy Grady, in 1964, as he watches a crowd of Phillies fans after a home loss: ‘They hit the sidewalk with tight mouths, like people who had seen a train hit a car.’ Or Joe Palmer, in 1951, summoning a vision of the racehorse Man o’ War in motion: ‘Great chunks of sod sailed up behind the lash of his power.’ Sailed up: The soft swell of the verb puts us into slow motion. And the lash of his power: the conceit that Man o’ War, no doubt well acquainted with the ministry of the crop, is scourging the earth itself with loops of horse-voltage. Bap, bap, and bap again.”
Poem: A. E. Stallings, “Echo”
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