the rigorous m

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Archive for November, 2015

On bad copies

Posted by rigorousm on November 18, 2015

A restoration like the one at Chartres on the other hand, uses the illusion of scientific certainty to present a fantasy as fact, and justify the erasure of the past in the name of historical preservation. It is not restoration, it is a form of historical absolutism that imposes one reading, and one moment in a building’s history, on all visitors forever more. It is the copy that eats the original, spitting out the good bits as it goes.

“Destruction at the cathedral: Restoration work at Chartres Cathedral is sacrificing 800 years of patina at the atar of historical absolutism” by Adam Nathaniel Furman for RIBAJ (link to article)


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on sloterdijk’s view of free will and agency

Posted by rigorousm on November 4, 2015

Sloterdijk talks continually about our practices, our efforts to make ourselves into something other than what we are. For him, humans act out of their subjectivity in a fundamentally passive world. We have agency. Or, precisely, each I is a solo agent. Everything else is merely acted upon, by physics or instinct or gravity or whatever. Sloterdijk’s is an essentially lonely, not to mention exhausting, grammar of human life.

This exclusive emphasis on agency completely misses the way people often understand the changes in their lives, not in terms of what they do but in terms of what happens to them and, in some cases, what is done to them. Sloterdijk is not alone in this mistake; I would bet that nine out of ten readers of that last sentence would imagine that things “done to them” are almost by definition bad. And that just shows the degree to which we today are captive of a terrible picture of ourselves and our relation to the world.

To begin to get a better picture, ask yourself: Was I cared for by others, at least when I was a child? If I am in love, did I choose to fall in love? Did I decide what my vocation would be? In truth, many of the most mundane and the most momentous events in our lives happen because of a complicated dialectical dance between what we do and what we suffer—what, that is, is done to us. To imagine that we are essentially agents, that behind all the appearances of things happening to us is our own agency, or that of some other humans, and that we understand our lives most basically as a pattern established and shaped by practices that we do—this fundamentally traduces our own most basic experiences of life.

— Charles Mathewes, “Can You Change Your Life? Reflections on Peter Sloterdijk and the Confoundments of Religion in Our Time” in The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 17 No. 3 (Fall 2015). (link)

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On Gaitskill’s portraits of the interior

Posted by rigorousm on November 2, 2015

Gaitskill isn’t scary because she conjures monsters; monsters, she points out, are almost always in fashion. What makes her scary, and what makes her exciting, is her ability to evoke the hidden life, the life unseen, the life we don’t even know we are living. The critic Greil Marcus, a champion of her work, calls her a descendant of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne ‘‘is aware of the hidden chambers in the heart,’’ he told me. ‘‘He is aware that there are things that people won’t talk about and there are things that people can’t talk about — and those aren’t the same things. He wants to reveal all those layers.’’ Gaitskill’s fiction unfolds in these psychological spaces; she knows that we, unlike plants, don’t always grow toward the light, that sometimes we cannot even be coaxed toward it.

— “Mary Gaitskill and the Life Unseen,” Parul Sehgal for The New York Times (x).

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