From Arts & Letters Daily, two pieces:
Is Grand Theft Auto IV a kind of art?
Is the Bible a kind of literature?
To the first, it is worth nothing that The Godfather exploited the "old v. new world" concept in gangsterism to a much higher degree; and so, rather than the innovative work that the author imagines, it is derivitive and lesser (if it is art, as such, at all). Yet it may still be a step forward, if it means that games are beginning to engage the audience in moral thinking as well as mass violence. Many early movies were similarly derivitive and lesser of stage drama, particularly the black-hat-white-hat Westerns of the 1920s and earlier; but it evolved into a form that could handle High Noon or Unforgiven. Or The Godfather, for that matter.
To the second, it is a critically important question because the only avenue for students to encounter the Bible in public schools before college is in "the Bible as literature" studies. So is the Bible literature? Or is it really something else entirely? Does treating it as literature damage its nature? The author here does so; judge the result for yourself.
From Arts & Letters Daily, two pieces:
The Honorable Ted Stephens has been vindicated! The judge today overturned his conviction entirely, and ordered an investigation into the prosecutors. Now we know that Stephens was in the right, for example when he said:
A $2,700 massage chair, for instance, remained in his house for seven years but Stevens said it was a loan. He said he assumed a $3,200 stained-glass window was paid for, since his wife takes care of such things. A $29,000 fish statue was a donation to his foundation, he said, and only remained on his front porch because that's where the donors shipped it.Oh. Ahem.
New theory: Stephens is still guilty as hell; the Federal prosecutors are even worse. Fortunately, we know we can still rely on judges to uphold... um....
Well, back to the drawing board.
From World Affairs Journal, an article that puts the right name to the issue we've been discussing lately. Having largely (and perhaps unfairly) ignored Fukuyama's writings, I missed the point at which he correctly connected the modern problem to the ancient writings.
The danger he foresees is not simply that bourgeois democracy will cause human beings to degenerate, but that degenerate human beings will be unable to preserve democracy. Without the sense of pride and the love of struggle that Fukuyama, following Plato, calls thymos, men — and there is always an implication that thymos is a specifically masculine virtue — cannot establish freedom or protect it[.]Maybe not "specifically" but "mostly" would be better here; perhaps some women feel the same way about the society that men seem to feel about it.
And yet the author raises a good point about America, at least, which is that the thymos was slumbering or suppressed rather than absent. The Iraq and Afghan wars show that America had plenty of it ready to export, even if it remains unwelcome as a virtue within American society itself.
It may be that these extraordinarily violent movies that we produce today are a treasury of the virtue (which, as with all human qualities, ceases to be a virtue when there is either too much or too little of it). Having suppressed masculine virtue in other parts of society, a hyper-violent form of it explodes out in unrealistic characters like those portrayed by Vin Diesel and others.
The Homeric epics are marked by a full-throated celebration of the virtues of warriors and their courage in war, combined with a balancing full-throated sorrow of the horrors of war and the destruction of those warriors. It is what raises the Greek epics so far above most other human art; many have done one or the other well, but few have managed to combine the two and show them both to their full effect.
I'm in Kuwait awaiting the resolution of a visa issue, which bedevils travel through this country. In the meanwhile, let me refer you to a review of a new translation of one of Spain's great epic poems. I will have to find time to read it when this deployment is at an end.
His evil opponents in the poem are not really the Muslims (who are more prey than enemies) but rather the arrogant Castilian princes of Carrión in northern Spain. They are contemptuous of the Cid's modest origins and embarrassed by their own cowardice in battle. When the Cid is received back into favor by King Alfonso, the ruler arranges for the knight's daughters to marry the princes of Carrión. Their enmity toward the heroic knight is exacerbated by incidents where their lack of courage is obvious and a source of mirth for the Cid's followers. At one point, a pet lion escapes in the Cid's palace and the princes hide themselves in fear, one behind a wine press and the other under the couch on which the Cid is sleeping. ("O! the giggling and chuckling around the court!")I know from experience that there won't be time or attention for such a project over here; but I return in July, and hope then to have a moment for study.
The princes' revenge is a horrific attack on their wives, while traveling from Valencia back to Castile. They strip, beat and flog the Cid's daughters, leaving them for dead in a forest. The women are rescued and the rest of the poem is the unfolding of revenge. The Cid is a courteous and loyal vassal but relentless when provoked. It's pretty clear by the end that, in the words of the narrator: "Whoever beats a good woman, and then abandons her, should be in great trouble -- or worse!"