academic rock’n’roll

I’m not sure I trust Terry Eagleton, but I do like him. You gotta love a self-proclaimed Marxist that defends religion; there’s something in this combination that is so contradictory that it might actually produce something honest. On the other hand, the missionary “new atheism” of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (whom Eagleton groups together under the nickname Ditchkins) has always smelled a bit funny if you ask me. I’m not a believer, but their dismissal of religion has seemed to me as dogmatic as the subject of their rebuttal. And, to over simplify it, that’s pretty much the main point of Eagleton’s critique in his lectures, published under the title Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. He points out the incongruity and inaccuracy of their criticism of religion and the fact that they are just trying to replace one ideology with another, which, incidentally, functions quite similarly. The most spectacular part of these lectures is his reading of the bible, which he calls conventional, but which points out the radicalism and revolutionary content to be found particularly in the New Testament, embodied in the figure of Jesus who appears to be a radical socialist, semi-anarchist in his portrayal. He does not defend any religious denomination or current church of any kind, quite the contrary, he emphasizes their role in corrupting the message of the bible. All in all it’s a fascinating take on religion and understanding of freedom and human limitations that he expands upon and his lecture like style is extremely charismatic and often tongue in cheek. It made want to read the bible again (completely this time) and make up my own opinion about this Jesus guy and the role of religion; unlike the works of Ditchkins, which have made me suspicious of the term atheist and afraid to call myself one.

An article about the Eagleton-Ditchkins debate here and an interview with the man here

f&*% the anxiety of influence

The fear of plagiarism can be a paralyzing thing and not to mention pointless. It’s like being afraid of the air you breathe. Of course I’m not talking about the word for word type, that’s a crime, but about the unconscious one, about those ideas that are in the air sometimes and they come to more people at once and about things going on around us that enter our subconscious. You can’t prevent being influenced by everything around you. We are all the unique combination of different influences. Lolita was a story told by an obscure German guy, but who cares about that. What matters is that Nabokov wrote it the way he did after absorbing countless influences, among which the story written by the German guy. The anxiety of influence can become the ecstasy of influence according to Jonathan Lethem and this amazing article, it’s just a matter of the manner in which you look at things.

And an ecstatic cover:

back in the land of green plums

Returning to my homeland after a long time makes me go through the same cycle of feelings of attraction and rejection. In my mind, the longer I stay away, the better my country looks and feels like; it becomes my imaginary home, a shelter, the only place where I don’t get lost in translation, where people get my weird sense of humor, where tomatoes taste like tomatoes and last but not least where some of the most important people in my life live. The return is always sad and joyful, as I get to feel the love and familiarity I have long been missing, but I also get to relive the disappointment that led me away from there in the first place; the dirtiness, the hopelessness, the poverty that are intertwined and create a vicious circle we as a nation never seem to get out of. The people I love and admire the most are there, but they feel like tiny islands in a sea of dishonesty and vulgarity, which makes them even more precious to me. But even they, who are my last hope, have lost hope…

I remember feeling a tinge of hostility towards Herta Mueller’s fictional version of Romania, which is depicted as the embodiment of dictatorship and a type of corruption that leaves nothing untouched. Although I am aware that in her fiction the country is no longer the place itself but an epitome of repression, not a real land, but an existential one, I still couldn’t accept this totally somber vision of the society I too spring from, fictional as it may be. The first novel by her that I’ve read was neither in its original German, nor in Romanian, but in English and I remember being bothered by the translation of the title Herztier into The Land of Green Plums. Somehow, the more time passes and the novel itself fades from my memory, I am more and more taken over by this image of Romania as a land of green plums, which might have less too do with the actual book and more with my own projections. A land that keeps tempting me to have a taste of it once more, but then leaves a sour aftertaste in my mouth all over again… There is the undeniable beauty, but also the undeniable squalor:

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why marxists annoy me

Coming from a country where Marx and Engels where the household philosophers for about 40 years, I have never been too fond of the two. I still remember my surprise at walking down Karl Marx Allee in Berlin and the rather harsh remark from a German acquaintance that my view of Marx is quite limited and that it’s about time Marx got re-appreciated as a great philosopher. I have Western friends that proudly call themselves Marxists and quote Lenin like he’s their hero. That always makes me wonder about what a German would say if that same person quoted Hitler with such familiarity. They would dismiss the parallel looking at me like I’m a crazy person, but in my opinion they should consider it a bit. And yes, I know Lenin is not Stalin…

At one point I have walked out of a class on Marx somewhere in Germany feeling quite angry. Like my friend argued, Marx was treated like any other philosopher in that class and it is particularly this that struck me as inappropriate. I felt that they should have at least vaguely mentioned the consequences of putting these ideas into practice. Another question that I often ask myself is why is it that so many intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals still take so much pride in calling themselves Marxists and most of them, incidentally, are part of a university system supported through deeply capitalist means. I myself agree most of the times with Terry Eagleton and appreciate that part of Marxist philosophy that influenced Michel Foucault’s ideas about power, but I appreciate even more that it completely departs from its teleology.

Reading Bertrand Russell’s essay Why I’m Not a Communist started this whole train of thought. I was surprised to bump into this clear-headed rebuttal of Communism published in 1956 when so many Western intellectuals were completely enamored with it. Russell himself fell slightly under its spell, but a visit into the heart of the new Soviet Republic cured him. Here’s what he says:

“In relation to any political doctrine there are two questions to be asked: (1) Are its theoretical tenets true? (2) Is its practical policy likely to increase human happiness? For my part, I think the theoretical tenets of Communism are false, and I think its practical maxims are such as to produce an immeasurable increase of human misery. ”

More here

Autori clasici vs. autoare contemporane

Vara asta planuisem o intoarcere la clasici, dar cartile recente scrise de autoare contemporane, pe care le tot primesc cadou in ultima vreme nu imi dau pace. E o lupta inegala fiindca domnii clasici sunt greoi, mai fac si rime si te ingroapa in subsoluri, pe cand mai tinerele doamne fac tot posibilul sa te tina cu sufletul la gura chiar si pe cea mai mare caldura…