Category: Arts & Letters (Page 1 of 3)

Naked, Shivering Creatures: A Look Behind Burke’s “Pleasing Illusions”

By: Sonia Maria Pavel

“Only man placed values in things to preserve himself – he alone created a meaning for things, a human meaning! That is why he calls himself “human,” that is: the esteemer. […] Only through esteeming is there value: and without esteeming, the nut of existence would be hollow.”[1] – F. Nietzsche

In the Reflections, Edmund Burke expresses his concern with the radical political changes prompted by what were then recent events in France. He sees the “new conquering empire of light and reason” threatening to tear off the old “decent drapery of life.”[2] Contrary to the enlightened reformers leading this empire of light, Burke defends prejudice and the “pleasing illusions” that surround political power. In his view, prejudices ought not to be cast aside simply because they are old or irrational, but rather valued as a common moral heritage that engenders stability through feelings of familiarity and belonging.

In this article, I differentiate between two dimensions of Burke’s argument. The first is a historical and anthropological description of ‘pleasing illusions’ – their manifestations and meanings in pre-revolutionary France. On this front, I take Burke to be arguing that the ‘pleasing illusions’ surrounding power are not designed as ways of deceiving people into obeying authority, but evolve alongside relationships of obedience thereby making them gentler and more liberal.[3] According to him, communities and cultures are not built from scratch in accordance to a rational plan to yield particular results, but emerge and develop historically.

At the same time, on a secondary political level, Burke’s argument is not merely a tribute to this fading cultural reality; it is in itself a rationalist justification of why it should be revived and rehabilitated. Burke argues that life without such prejudice is brutish and crude. Sans prejudice we would be left with nothing but our “naked shivering nature,” alone and afraid. As a result, he reasons that conventions should be maintained through prejudice.[4]

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Femininity and the Emasculation of Western Politics

By: Glen Paul Hammond

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me, from the crown to toe, top-full of direst cruelty!”

With these words from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the playwright provides modern readers with a sense of what the western world’s view of womankind was in the late medieval period. This view backed up a foundational belief that women were ill-suited to the hard demands of leadership outside the home. Shakespeare’s stratified society was a more complicated system than our own; aristocrats were “born to rule,” and women, depending on their placement within that system, were, more or less, expected to turn their talents to the personal sphere of society, allowing men to apply theirs to the professional world that operated outside the home. In Lady Macbeth’s desire to “unsex” herself, the character outlines the way different traits were assigned to the sexes: She wants kindness to be replaced with cruelty, and compassion to be replaced with action.

As these caricatures of sex traits began to be dismantled in the post-feminist world of the 20th century, female leaders were expected to adopt the attributes of male-styled leadership, since these were still considered the defining features of a leader. However, by the end of the 20th century this began to change, so much so that in the early 21st century, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way.

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PAUL RYAN ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT FROM CONGRESS

PLANS TO REJOIN THE CAST OF THE MUNSTERS IN THE UPCOMING REUNION FILM

By: Josh Lorenzo

April 11th, 2018, Washington, D.C. – Current Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Representative of the 1st District of Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, has announced that he will not seek re-election when his current term expires.

​In a surprising turn of events, Speaker Ryan plans to rejoin the cast of the Munsters for a reunion film set to begin shooting early next year. Speaker Ryan will reprise his seminal role as the gregarious Eddie Munster.

​“The House is in much better shape after my tenure,” Ryan confidently told colleagues after announcing his decision. “No matter who the next Speaker of the House will be, they will be quite capable of facilitating the non-cooperation and partisan politics I have worked so hard to achieve.”

​Reprising the role of Eddie, the all-American boy/werewolf of the mid-1960’s television show, is truly a dream come true for the actor-turned-unmotivated politician. As the only child to Herman and Lilly Munster, Speaker Ryan was taught valuable lessons in selfishness, a lack of compassion for others, and a sense of entitlement. These traits were used quite frequently during his twenty-year tenure in the House.

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A Quick Word on How Social Media is Rewiring the Democratic Ganglion

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

All major political epochs have their corresponding media epochs: the reformation and the printing press, the nation state and the broadsheet newspaper, nationalism and the pamphlet. That Fascism rolled on the waves of radio, to take another example, is no coincidence. The acoustic space furnished by transmission, its spherical, enveloping field, allowed the disembodied God-like voice of the Fuhrer to cruise through every living room in the Reich. The proliferation of the bound, typeset book in the sixteenth century gave us what Marshall McLuhan called Gutenberg minds–– individualist, solitary, thinking. Books took us out of the city square and into the home, and newspapers later undid this by making reading more participatory and communal. If we take media as an extension of the central nervous system, one that provides the lattice which structures our whole reality, then any new transformation will inaugurate a transformation of the political nervous system along with it.

We now find ourselves at such an epoch, somewhere between the global village and the filter bubble. It’s been almost twenty years since broadband, and about fourteen years since the rise of social media, beginning with Facebook in 2004, and already we’ve observed the ways in which these technologies have altered democratic norms of communication; this includes a whole set of ethical questions re. privatization of the internet, censorship and “fake news.” (The last deserves some revision. We shouldn’t allow Trump’s slur for anything that dissents from the empire of his mind to be conflated with real obscurantism.)

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Bare Breasts, but no Bunga Bunga

Art of Politics, Politics of Art, A Series By: Jeanette Joy Harris
In this series, Jeanette Joy Harris looks at how artists around the world are using public and participatory art forms to describe, analyze, and influence contemporary politics.

The re-emergence of Silvio Berlusconi in the recent Italian election was protested by FEMEN, the “sextremist” group that uses bare breasts to bring attention to feminist issues. As a piece of political performance art, FEMEN’s action against the infamous lethario is powerful, and representative of how the art world is using exhibition space to demonstrate its concern the future of Italy.

A cocksure Silvio Berlusconi strode into his local polling station on Sunday, March 4th to vote in Italy’s General Election. He had dressed for the occasion. His black suit and sculpted hair was met by photographers who crowded the room as he checked in at tables manned by officials who still use paper ledgers to determine voter eligibility.[1] Berlusconi planned to vote for Forza Italia, the center-right political party he founded in 1993, which maintained dominance during his four-term tenure as Prime Minister. Forza Italia, in alliance with Matteo Salvini’s League Party, hoped to win a majority and oust Matteo Renzi and the Democratic Party.[2]

Berlusconi’s path was suddenly crossed by a bare breasted woman in black pants and heavy boots. With her arms extended defiantly in the air, the woman yelled “Berlusconi, sei scaduto!” (Berlusconi, time’s up!), the same message that was written on her chest.  Kicking and screaming the woman was then quickly removed.

The protestor was a member of FEMEN, and this was not the first time that the feminist organization had shown up to greet Berlusconi. They had staged a similar protest against him in 2013. [3]

Loved and loathed, Berlusconi is a living myth. He started his business career in the 1960s and since that time has built a fortune worth 7.0 billion USD, with most of his wealth attributed to numerous media holdings. His involvement in politics dates to 1994 and he was the longest serving Prime Minister after Benito Mussolini.[4] His political career was beset with scandals, and in the last decade he has been convicted on various charges of tax fraud and bribery. What makes Berlusconi so infamous, though, is not the corruption, but his “bunga bunga” parties, where he would socialize with swarms of beautiful young women, many receiving monetary “gifts” at the end of the night.

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“To Art Its Freedom”: Right-Wing Arts Policy in the New Austria

Art of Politics, Politics of Art, A Series By: Jeanette Joy Harris

In this series, Jeanette Joy Harris looks at how artists around the world are using public and participatory art forms to describe and analyze contemporary politics. With an eye to the intersection of politics and aesthetics, Harris looks to art as a type of political action and a means of understanding ourselves as political animals.


Art can be a challenge to power, or be power’s instrument. Sometimes it can even end up being both. This last is what happened recently in Austria, where a new, right-wing government has adopted the motto of an art movement that formed in Vienna in 1897, precisely in opposition to conservative leadership.

Here’s how things have taken shape. In December 2017, a coalition between the far-right Freedom Party and the more center-right People’s Party, took control of the Austrian parliament. Their win, representative of the increasingly conservative EU political landscape, was based on an anti-immigration platform. Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz has already promised Austrians stricter immigration policies and has recommended the creation of militarily-backed “safe spaces” where immigrants can stay before entering into the EU. This is a strong statement coming from the leader of the country that will hold the European Union Presidency from July to December of this year. [i]

Andrea Mammone, a historian of modern and contemporary Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London, talks about Austria’s new government as “nationalism in action,” providing examples of its ethnically-based politics in an article for Al Jazeera earlier this year.[ii] In 2017, the “Integration Law” was passed, which requires immigrants to read and speak German and forbids Muslim women from wearing a face veil.[iii] With this law as an example, culture seems to be a high priority for the new Austrian government, which has further claimed, in its public agenda, that common heritage “contributes significantly” to national identity. [iv]  But the power of nationalism, as a widely-held cultural value in Austria, cannot be evaluated strictly through policy and legislation. Consideration should also be given to the ways in which the government might use cultural institutions to more subtly define and refine what it means to be Austrian.

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Lorde’s Crusade

By: Caleb Mills

Here’s a story whose cast of characters couldn’t be more odd: The Washington Post, “America’s Rabbi”, and Lorde. Even though it may sound like the beginning of a bad joke your uncle would tell (The Washington Post, a Rabbi, and the ‘Lorde’ all walk into a bar…) the spat between the singer and the rabbi is actually a perfect encapsulation of a serious problem in contemporary political discourse.  

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The Woman Question in Plato’s Republic

By: Mary Townsend and Political Animal

In the era of women’s marches and #metoo movements, the role of women in society is being challenged from many quarters. To better understand the controversy, it is worth recalling that the fundamental question is one that human beings have had to wrestle with in every age and in every regime.

With this in mind, the editors of Political Animal Magazine spoke to Mary Townsend, the author of The Woman Question in Plato’s Republic. Her book examines how Plato dealt with the role of women in his Republic. We asked Townsend to tell us a little about the “Woman Question” and Plato’s thoughts on the matter. The following is what she had to say.


Political Animal: The title of your book refers to “The Woman Question” – what is “The Woman Question”, and how does Plato deal with it in the Republic?

Mary Townsend: The “Woman Question” is the open, living, and perennially fraught question of what women’s nature, role, and political position in the human community is or ought to be. Plato’s Socrates’ answer is without parallel: he pulls apart the polis in search of the women who will be educated in philosophy and rule as philosopher-queens.

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Performing a Seduction: Performance Art Houston’s “Political Seducer’s Diary”

By: By Jeanette Joy Harris and Steven Martz

“The Political Seducer’s Diary,” is an Instagram-based performance art exhibit by Performance Art Houston that ran from November to December 2017 on @PerformanceArtHouston. Inspired by Kierkegaard’s “The Seducer’s Diary,” the exhibit delved into the question of how “what is beautiful” might determine “what is just” and ultimately affect politics.

Jeanette Joy Harris, the organizer of the project and one of the contributing artists, reflects on it below:

The Instagram handle @kimkierkegaardashian has six posts, most of which would certainly make the great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard cringe. One is a picture of one elephant giving another a bouquet of daisies, saying, “Some people won’t love you no matter what you do and some people won’t stop loving you no matter what you do. Go where love is!” Appropriate for Kim Kardashian’s very public romantic life, but ironic for a man who abandoned romantic love for a lifetime of philosophy. In short, @kimkierkegaardasian has used celebrity appeal to promote a philosopher. In this context, it is hard not to envision Kardashian in a tight designer dress, seducing people into attending a Kierkegaard lecture by using the type of banal pick-up line that a hostess would use to woo you into a sidewalk cafe.

As an artist, curator, and writer based in Houston, I am interested in this combination of the aesthetic and seduction, and especially in how it overlaps with public dialogue and politics. This is the goal of my recent Instagram-based, performance art exhibition, “The Political Seducer’s Diary.” Using social media as a platform, I invited eight artists from around the world to consider how aesthetics and seduction affect public life.

Julia Claire Wallace, director of Experimental Action, invited me to participate in the organization’s larger project that explores how performance art interacts with social media. Like me, Wallace is interested in the political possibilities of Instagram, particularly since its image-based platform would seem to make political speech a difficult endeavor. After conversations with Wallace and a recent reading of Kierkegaard’s “The Seducer’s Diary,” I asked my artists to delve deeper into how “what is beautiful” might determine “what is just” and ultimately affect politics. This resulted in the two-month exhibition, “The Political Seducer’s Diary,” which ran from November to December 2017 on @PerformanceArtHouston. Each artist took control of the handle for one week and looked at topics from assault to consumerism.

My project had two goals: First, to use the term ‘political’ in the classical sense, broadening it to a description of issues that are shared in community. This opened up the possibility for artists to look at social issues beyond party politics. Second, to use Kierkegaard’s articulation of aesthetics in “The Seducer’s Diary” as a starting place to ask the question: what if aesthetics not only guided our personal actions but political actions, as well?

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The Grand Trumpeter

By: Philip James Villamor (Many Thanks to Fyodor Mikailovich Dostoevsky)

Trumpeter (from Dictionary.com) – 4) A person who proclaims, commends, or extols something loudly or widely. And, interestingly, 5) Any of several large South American birds… related to the cranes and rails, having a loud, harsh, prolonged, cry.

Even this immediately recognizable plagiarism of ideas from Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” must have a preface, although I am a poor hand at making one. Nonetheless, as in that incomparable poem, the story to be told here imagines heavenly powers interacting with mankind – albeit something short of the second coming – which allows for some insight into the motives or rationale of otherwise incomprehensible others. In this case, however, you will be spared the insight of characters discussing the merit of those arguments, partly because this is not the middle of a book where those characters’ personalities have already been established and mostly because this author lacks the commitment and actual talent to do so.

The action of the story to be told does not occur in the sixteenth century, where it was customary in poetry to bring down heavenly powers to earth, but in the twenty-first century, where the prospect of heavenly powers -let alone the Messiah- materializing on earth is so far from expected as to no longer merit a poet’s ponderings. Nonetheless, this story is told in the spirit of those sixteenth century tales and one notable nineteenth century one. In an effort to parallel that nineteenth century tale, as well as bring hope to the heart, the story is told as if what is being described is in the distant past and the days described are long behind us.


He came to the United States of America at a time quite different than that of the Catholic Crisis which Dostoevsky had observed in Spain. The prevailing perversion of many Americans was, making use of their democracy as a godly tool, purporting to protect their way of life they viewed as threatened by forces both from without and within by demonizing and pre-judging those forces. The forces being Bad Hombres who immigrate illegally to the country bringing with them crime and drug addiction (not to mention infidels from Muslim nations that want to kill all Americans), and loose laws by tolerant administrations that allowed for morally degenerate groups like homosexuals, transsexuals, and others to claim better or near equal footing in business and government relations.

And so, as different as the circumstances and nature of the institutions involved in the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries might be, the choice between security and happiness or complete freedom was still the conflict of the day. The difference, an important one to be sure, was that it was no longer one or a few members of an institution making the choice to take away freedom and provide security and happiness but the masses themselves proclaiming the virtues of this argument, hoping for and then electing a politician brazen enough to take on the task. Such was the situation when He came again.

And, behold, He came once more in a human shape similar to that in which He walked among men for thirty-three years twenty-one centuries ago. He came down to the hot pavements of the streets of Yuma, Arizona, the very same as which, on the day before, almost a hundred illegal immigrants had, Ad majorem Trump gloriam, been rustled up by a local town’s sheriff and deported back to Mexico. And, as luck – or fate – would have it, He came on a day that President Trump was to hold a rally at the local arena for the Trump faithful – those neglected, tried and true Americans who had for too long waited for a leader to bring law, order, and patriotism back to the United States of America. He came on a day when Donald Trump was locked and loaded, ready and willing to expound on how to Make America Great Again.

He came, at least in appearance, as an undocumented Mexican American, moving through the crowds of Trump supporters as comfortably as might a white representative of Breitbart News. He wore beat up jeans and a stained tee-shirt. His face was unshaven, with a week’s growth, and His hair was slightly disheveled, thick as if with dirt from recent labors. At first glance, one might assume that He had come straight from the fields, but the grace with which He moved through the crowd and the steady gaze of His eyes belied the aforementioned details. The masses parted for Him as he made His way from the back end of the arena towards the front, as the presence they felt was not that of a common field worker. He was unrecognizable, yet somehow entirely different from anyone with whom they had ever come into contact with, and many seemed to know exactly who He was…

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