History Has No End, Composing, 29/02/2016

The last third of Utopias will deal explicitly with political philosophy. I don’t aim to have some kind of comprehensive view of the overall state of political philosophy as its generated all over the academy. 

Ronald Reagan is loved not because of his real-world
achievements, which are as checkered as the career of
any great state power's leader. He's loved because of
the myths he built around himself and America.
From a purely practical point of view, I don’t have access to a lot of that material. And summarizing all the ongoing trends in – even just North American – political theory in all the major research journals is beyond the scope of the project. 

I’m not aiming to demonstrate some superlative level of comprehensiveness. I want to build and build on a specific tradition within political philosophy to make an important point explicit about the nature of our human society in the early 21st century. 

To me, that’s always been more important for philosophical creativity than simply tracking trends in a sub-discipline’s major research journals. Even when I was in the academy – maybe that played a part in why I found myself marginalized out of the academy once my doctorate was finished.

But since I’m still writing, I wanted to explain how I now write. When I was writing the original draft of Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, I gave lip service to the demand for comprehensiveness of an established research field by peppering my writing with extraneous footnotes. 

Now that I don’t have to do that, my writing will be much more explicitly focussed on explaining and exploring concepts. Friday’s post explained that method a little bit. But today I want to focus on a specific example.

Last year, I wrote several posts about Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, where he talked about exactly that. Antonio Negri talks about the central ideas of Fukuyama's book in one section of Empire, and he’s quite rightly contemptuous of it, even though there are parts of the concept that are truly insightful about the world.

Reagan never took down the Berlin Wall single-handedly.
The most he did was make a speech and have a tourist
moment taking a brick after unification.
The central concept of The End of History is an attitude of faith in America. In Fukuyama’s writing, America as a real country in the world merges with the ethical ideal of America as the embodiment of freedom. 

Fukuyama works in the conceptual context of his funny, over-literal Hegelianism, where a society and nation actually does find its highest expression in its state. And the highest expression of such a state is as a regime to safeguard the freedom of the nation – each individual who constitutes the nation lives their liberty to the fullest.

So when America won the Cold War, it was literally the victory of freedom in a profound and plodding sense. Plodding because it didn’t take much. As Negri points out, America and Americans as a nation didn’t actually do anything to bring down the Soviet Union, despite the mythmaking of contemporary Republicans’ belief that Ronald Reagan’s speech alone brought down the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Communist Party.

No, the Soviet Union collapsed because its state-controlled bureaucratic command economy couldn't adapt to technological and labour changes to the global market. Economic recession combined with the government’s weakening power to control its people, and the Communist states of Europe collapsed.

America happened to be the only globally dominant state whose economy and society was still vibrant and creative. This was a contingent fact – no great achievement, just a situation in the global economy's development that made the Soviet Union catastrophically maladapted.

Material reality popped Fukuyama’s mythical balloon* of America’s having not only become the culmination of human freedom in history, but to have actually made itself the culmination of human freedom in history.

When you believe that your nation once had a mythic
greatness, the contingency of real life burns extra hot.
That fire is easily channelled in dangerous directions.
* And, as he was their philosophical voice, the mythical ballon of conservative American nationalists at all levels of society from state leaders, business magnates, movers, and shakers, working people, and rural militiamen.

That argument will appear in the final Utopias manuscript in some form, as I work through my arguments that libertarian conservatism is not only a false, violent utopia, but is also a destructive self-delusion. Here’s the central concept of the argument.

The messy contingency of reality trumps mythmaking, every time. Mythmaking has enormous social power to mobilize people, but a myth is always false. It’s a distortion of the real development of the world that most often has many terrible consequences in the long term. 

In this case, nationalism, American triumphalism, the attitude that America is the culmination of the world, the victor of history itself. 

And to someone who thinks this way, the victor deserves the spoils of war. In real life, this concept is the voice of Candidate Trump.

This Mad British Monster IV: Men in Dresses, Jamming, 27/02/2016

Doctor Who almost died a sad, notorious death in 1986. If the show had been outright cancelled on the heels of the Colin Baker era, when everything behind and in front of the camera that could go wrong did, I’m not sure the BBC would ever have gotten behind a revival, or even the degree of post-cancellation product licensing they did.

Any sensible television executive would never have kept
Doctor Who greenlit after 1986. But thankfully, they did,
so we got the greatest Dalek story of the classic series
and the template that the show would follow for its
2005 revival and its worldwide mass success.
Leave all the production explosions and criminal activity aside. Look at the arc of Doctor Who aesthetically from 1963 to 1986. A popular hit almost straight out of the gate that was able to adapt to several different eras of culture: the pop sci-fi of the 1960s, psychedelic camp of the 1970s, ratings triumphs with styles of sci-fi-horror, sci-fi-comedy, and sci-fi-action. 

But then all the tropes that the show not only relied on, but that practically defined Doctor Who, all ran out of steam and could no longer function. 

The prickly Doctor became an abrasive ass. Companion actresses were mere screaming peril monkeys who defined male gaze victimization. Monsters were generic, uninteresting, and unavoidably xenophobic. Its plots consisted of running around corridors marking time until the closing credits

All the writing on the wall, combined with a production staff in total chaos, would have signalled the complete bankruptcy of Doctor Who as an artistic institution. Then something utterly unexpected happened.

Marginalized in a time slot opposite ITV ratings powerhouse Coronation Street, the BBC expected to let the show die out, fading from public consciousness. John Nathan-Turner was kept in the producer’s chair so his career could die in peace. It was probably a punishment for humiliating the BBC with Ian Levine’s incompetent Save Doctor Who campaign in 1985, featuring a moronic image of himself smashing a TV in Doctor Who Magazine and producing one of the worst songs of all time, Doctor In Distress.*

If you include the books (and you totally should), the
McCoy Doctor had three major companions. The
first was Melanie Bush, a holdover from JNT's taste
for musical theatre and camp. She embodied the giddy
sci-fi pantomime of his era's first stories.
* Don’t click the link. Why would you do that to yourself?

So he hired a new script editor, and it was Andrew Cartmel, who said in his job interview that his goal for Doctor Who was to bring down the Thatcher government. Impressed with his ambition and chutzpah, JNT hired him.

Cartmel fulfilled his contractual obligations to produce one last (atrociously cheesy) script from Pip and Jane Baker, and then hired no writers who had ever worked on Doctor Who before.

Unlike when JNT and Saward implemented this policy during the Davison era, he actually found good writers. Likely, this was because he looked for people in the community of frustrated left-leaning television, fiction, and comic writers. 

It was quite a contrast to Saward’s Davison-era contention that Doctor Who stories should be free from explicitly political content and depict only classless futures.** The first story of the proper Cartmel era was Paradise Towers, a new kind of optimistic symbolic dystopia that Doctor Who had never done before.

** Saward abandoned this anyway when he produced the cruel dystopian satires of the Colin Baker years, the only television stories of the era that are at all watchable, and the style where Colin’s Doctor works best.

The McCoy era eventually embraced a kind of darkness,
but it usually remained a hopeful darkness. You could
look into the worst potential of the universe and wring
redemption and goodness from it. The nihilism of the
Saward era was definitively over thanks to Cartmel's
sensibilities and the performances of McCoy and
Sophie Aldred.
Paradise Towers is a story that only Doctor Who could do, they did it only once, and they did it perfectly. It was a pitch-perfect combination of the cruel dystopia of the Eric Saward era with an aura of pantomime camp that even the gayest highs of the Letts-Dicks years couldn't approach.

It was a brutalist tower block of apartment condos whose society had degenerated into chaos. Roving gangs of neon-coloured punk girls roamed the corridors. Portly old women who’d fit in perfectly at a bridge game with Mrs Slocombe had become cackling cannibals. The concierge staff had become a grey, bureaucratic, authoritarian guard. 

The building’s architect had uploaded himself into its mainframe computer and gone insane, sending the garbage collector robots to hunt down the remaining humanoid inhabitants. 

In the middle of all this was Sylvester McCoy’s devious clown of a Doctor and Bonnie Langford’s Mel, a grown-up Shirley Temple on a permanent mescaline overdose. Paradise Towers combined narrative innovation and a brilliance of execution that Doctor Who hadn’t seen since Douglas Adams was writing.

The show continued in this vein for three years, even though its reduced budget means it only produced 12 television stories through the entire Cartmel era. The best stories of 1988 and 1989 – budgets aside – could have fit seamlessly with the best of the Davies era next century.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Doctor Who stories Cartmel produced starring McCoy and Sophie Aldred as the street-smart punk kid Ace combined deep character development, trippy ideas, and an open engagement with social and political concepts and problems deeper than Doctor Who had ever done.

The father-daughter relationship between the Doctor
and Ace became a template for the future of Doctor
Who. They were equal partners in adventuring,
which Doctors and companions had never really
been until 1988.
Remembrance of the Daleks wasn’t just the tightest, best-paced Dalek action story of the entire classic series. It also confronted the messy, complex reality of everyday racism in society, and showed how our feelings of hatred and nationalism could be manipulated by evil forces.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek statement of love for a show increasingly on the margins of its culture. It was also a critical examination of how utopian ideals of art and politics can be corrupted by greed. 

And it featured the Doctor battling immortal stone gods in a timeless no-space dimension whose gateway was an impossibly deep pit with a giant staring eye at the centre of a blue energy hurricane. He fought them with the same weird stage magic he used for years in touring absurdist theatre – escape acts, juggling, gymnastics, and swordplay. 

Plus, there were the creepiest killer robot clowns that I’ve ever seen. Makes Pennywise look like the overcompensating wuss he really is.

Ghost Light returns to the horror tropes of the Hinchcliffe years with a literal haunted house story that openly confronts the British legacy of colonialism and its social Darwinist justifications. But it also provides character development for Ace that the companions had never gotten on Doctor Who before.

Cartmel’s only problem was that he had trouble getting scripts to fit coherently into their allotted episode length, meaning that they’d sometimes shoot an extra 20 minutes of footage. The final cuts would sometimes suffer from a too-fast plot. But better too much story than none at all. 

Ace also had a depth of character development continuity
that no companion ever had before 1989. The last season
of classic Doctor Who saw Ace in a narrative of
confronting the parts of her past that she'd hidden from
herself and others.
Ultimately, it only meant that the extended cut of Curse of Fenric on DVD was even better than the TV version. That story would provide the basic model for Doctor Who going forward after cancellation. 

The issue was that its basic model included more than one model. Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989, and began as a series of novels in 1991 with Virgin Publishing. Its first editor was Peter Darvill-Evans, who generally did a good job getting regular writers, but who didn’t contribute much vision to its concept.

It was up to the best writers to manage that, and in the Darvill-Evans years, that was Paul Cornell, whose hallucinatory fable Timewyrm: Revelation provided gripping drama, surreal imagery (an English country church transported to the surface of the moon!), a gut-wrenching character story for Ace, and a metafictional examination of the ethics of Doctor Who itself. 

That can describe pretty much any Paul Cornell book going forward, if you substitute Bernice Summerfield for Ace.

As the experimentation of the Doctor Who: New Adventures line kicked into gear under the editorship of Rebecca Levene, the question of what Doctor Who should be (and its answers) gave the line a schizophrenic identity at first. 

The two sides, a matter mainly of debates among fandom on the early usenet forums, self-identified as Gun and Frock. One side embraced Doctor Who’s dystopian settings, and used the restricted audience of the novel range to tell more violent epic stories that couldn’t have made it to the BBC. 

The Gun-Frock duality of the Virgin
Publishing years of Doctor Who was
embodied in how Ace and Benny
Summerfield developed. Ace became
a hardened soldier, an action hero
gripped by PTSD. Benny remained
a fun-loving, adventurous drunk.
Doctor Who for the Guns was a hard-edged space adventure, examples of what Vaka Rangi would call grimdark. Stories about violence, war, the inevitable nature of ethical compromise, revelling in pain, conflict, and brutality. The Doctor as a secretive, manipulative figure, playing the cosmos at the level of a Lovecraftian god. 

Lots of space marines too. Basically, the cruel dystopias of when the Saward era worked best. 

The Frocks were about something else entirely. I'd say I don't really know how to explain the aesthetic in short form because it’s kind of complicated. But I already did explain it when I was talking about the McCoy era on TV. 

The Frock vision of Doctor Who. Conceptually complex stories that played with multiple genres and narrative styles, maybe also experimenting with the medium itself a little. Combined humour, sometimes a camp sense of fun, scares, freaky concepts, inventive monsters and aliens, and emotionally powerful narratives.

Novels like Love and War, The Also People, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, and Sky Pirates! were of the same piece as television stories like Ghost Light, Survival, Dragonfire, Battlefield, and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. As well as television stories like Rose, The Empty Child, Midnight, and Daleks in Manhattan.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again. Because while that Levene/Frock/Cartmel aesthetic would eventually become the model the revived show would take, there was one horrifying period of diminishing grimdark returns Doctor Who would enter.

Why Would I Spend a Week Talking About Doom? Composing, 26/02/2016

Maybe that should be, “Why would I spend a week talking about a bunch of weird philosophers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries?” Because that’s kind of what I did. I tried to make the ideas pretty accessible, though you do need at least a high school reading level to follow my blog.

I don't think that’s unreasonable, given what I’m talking about. 

The greatest books contain whole
libraries of thinking.
Ideas and concepts are always going to sound weird when you write or talk about them. And it can be fucking hard to wrap your head around some of this stuff. I think it’s valuable, if nothing else, as an exercise for your brain. 

But I also think working your way through weird, complex concepts and using them to understand your world does make you sharper. It can improve the depth of your understanding of the world. It lets you see more of the world than you used to.

Philosophical thinking helps you cut through the bullshit.

When I write philosophically, whether it’s on the blog or in my larger published projects, part of what I always try to do is cut through bullshit. In Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, part of what I did was cut away a lot of the extraneous interpretations and academic riffs on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. 

They were the biggest single inspirations on that project. But university academics had written so much interpretation and argument over whose understanding of Deleuze and Guattari’s works was the “true” one. It was a doctoral thesis, so I had to acknowledge that I read it. 

But the furiously published secondary material of academia, the interpretations piled on interpretations, honestly gets in the way of thinking. Instead of understanding the book on its own terms and your own as a reader, you build some overcomplicated picture of influences and definitions.

Those academic battles are especially ironic in Deleuze’s case. He correctly identified that the books that have the greatest legacies are the ones whose interpretation and application to changing times can never stop. 

Books whose single, simple meanings are univocally clear from the start are quickly forgotten. They lose relevance as the world changes. That’s not to say that great books are incomprehensible.

Great books are multiply comprehensible, creatively applicable, infinitely unfoldable.

I had a simple starting concept for Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. What is ecological thinking? Look around for a solid model that appealed for its flexibility, breadth, and depth. Well, a lot of the stuff in A Thousand Plateaus works well. Let’s dive in, see what we can find, run like mad with it, and build a book.

I don’t think this is how much academics would work. But it builds better books. At least, it builds more interesting books. 

Deleuze and Guattari's works, particularly A Thousand
 and Guattari's short solo works The Three
 and Chaosmosis influenced the whole vision
of Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity.
Antonio Negri will do the same for Utopias.
So why did I spend the last week talking about these thinkers? Just because Antonio Negri listed them in a cursory comment about visionary writers of the end of modernity?

Because I’ve read or come to know of these writers, and they all write precisely with that theme, and with a very remarkable power. Nietzsche, Schmitt, Weber, Husserl, Heidegger, Rosenzweig, Benjamin. All legends in their own right.

When I write Utopias, it’ll be in a different style again from Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. My already-published book grounds itself in the academic tradition, familiarizing itself with many disciplinary fields of research and inserting as many into the text itself to prove that I'd done the requisite research.

Utopias will put the concepts at the foreground. Each sentence will be one step forward in a long conceptual construction and exploration. One element of a long argument about why we desire the perfect democratic society, and how our conceptions of past, present, and future condition how we engage with that desire.

So my research sources won’t be sources to cite. Largely, I’ll be working only with primary sources in philosophy: the tradition itself, standing on the shoulders of our giants. 

The ideas they discuss and create will shape the questions that focus each of those arguments. So when I get to my argument about the social impact of the First World War as the undeniable breaking of the West’s dream of inevitable progress, the ideas of Nietzsche, Schmitt, Weber, Husserl, Heidegger, Rosenzweig, Benjamin, and Ernst Jünger will illustrate and illuminate some aspect of that social collapse.

Utopias will be a very trippy book.

Doom Prophets V: People I Miss and Seeing God, A History Boy, 24/02/2016

Continued from last post . . . The last two names on Antonio Negri’s list of the visionaries of modernity’s self-destruction are the two I don’t know as well. There’s Max Weber and Franz Rosensweig.

From what I know of their work, I can give a hypothesis of what role they’ll play in Utopias’ analysis of modernity’s implosion. They both try to redeem Western humanity, given that Western humanity’s major cultural project and theme – modernity, the industrial revolution, the nation-state and nationalism, colonial conquest of Earth – turned into an undeniable disaster of bloodshed, destruction, and horror.

Not only do my ideas apparently resemble
Max Weber, but I even have similar hair
when I cut it short. And that's a seriously
awesome beard.
So . . . yeah. That’s a bit of an issue for those of us who consider Western culture part of our heritage (whether we like it or not). Grappling with that heritage in many weird ways – that’s what Utopias will do.

Weber is an interesting figure to me. My gaps regarding his philosophy is pretty ironic, as my old friend The Yalie has said that my own perspective, especially in some of the early philosophy-related posts on Adam Writes Everything, reminded him very much of Weber.

So why didn’t I ever read his work until recently, when a copy of The Vocation Lectures has been sitting on my bookshelf for about two years now? Because I haven’t taken a sociology course since I was 18 years old, and disciplinary boundaries severely affected what I was exposed to and what I could spare time to devote to, for much of my time in the academy.

That’s why I’m looking forward to diving into Weber, and his apparently optimistic vision (a rarity among Negri’s list of doom prophets). 

But the thinker on that list that I’m most looking forward to diving into is Rosenzweig. I only have a little knowledge of his work, most of what came from my old rebbe Arnold. 

Arnold wasn’t a real rabbi – he wasn’t accredited, and I’m actually not sure how much yeshiva he attended over the years. Most of his career he spent as a documentary filmmaker. I’ve seen his award shelf at his old house in Manuels. He was a soft,* thoughtful, sardonic, and wise man.

* And seriously overweight, which was a likely contributor to his death at 70 back in 2011, which I consider premature, given modern medical science and preventative care.

I sometimes wish I could still talk to Arnold, as someone else who’s gone through some difficult economic times as a young man and still lived a fulfilling creative life. In my more stressful times, I really could have used one more friend like him, an intellectual who succeeded in life by living it largely on his own terms. 

Arnold knew Talmud better than the one rabbi at the one synagogue in St. John’s, and he’d sometimes school the official head of that city’s Jewish community in the more esoteric, less doctrinaire elements of the Jewish intellectual tradition.

Rosenzweig died of ALS just before
his 43rd birthday. In his last years,
he was able to communicate only by
blinking his eye yes or no as his wife
read the alphabet for him, one
painstaking letter at a time.
He introduced me to Rosenzweig and Martin Buber through the Jockey Club meetings that I used to organize at Memorial University’s Philosophy Department. I only read a few chapters by these inspiring thinkers, copied and sent around for our discussions. 

Arnold helped me understand the concepts in millennia of Jewish thought as Rosenzweig gave them voice. And there was more there than Negri’s cursory mention of a failed redemption suggest. 

In The Star of Redemption and the guiding philosophy of Rosenzweig and Buber’s phenomenological translation of the Torah into German, that compelled me – a committed atheist – to understand a deeper kind of atheism that could understand how the divine rises from existence, from life, and from thought. 

“There is no God in Judaism,” I remember Arnold saying, to provoke scorn as much as to provoke thought. “The divine is the ethics.”

Those papers that Arnold gave me, excerpts from Rosenzweig’s work and articles about him, are gone now. Lost in my move from Hamilton to Toronto just over a year ago. 

But the memory remains. And the Amazon Cart that still has The Star of Redemption in it, just waiting until I can find room in the budget again. It’s moved up closer and closer to the top of my list. Living in a Jewish household now has helped. 

That vision of God in my friend Arnold’s Judaism – the knowledge of an amateur Talmudic scholar whose intelligence was so deft, he could school the rabbi himself – is the only God that I could ever accept. 

I don’t think I’ll ever fully convert to Judaism – I’d be too argumentative with the Orthodox rabbis, and I’d eventually take things too far – they’d either kick me out of class, give me a job, or send me to a kibbutz. But those ideas in Rosenzweig’s work and my conversations with Arnold made the only route by which I’ve ever experienced God. 

And God will be in Utopias. As well as in our utopias.

Doom Prophets IV: The End of Us, Composing, 23/02/2016

Continued from last post . . . Carl Schmitt was another writer that Antonio Negri lists among those who grappled with the end of modernity. I haven’t yet read a lot of his work, though I think I’ve already said that I plan on going through his most influential book, The Concept of the Political.

When this is your image of
national pride and patriotism,
you can't really see it as much
of a problem.
Schmitt, at this point, strikes me as a thinker who want to rescue modernity from the crisis of his time. Or at least, he wants to rescue what he thinks is its most important feature: the social and cultural solidarity of national belonging. Rescuing nationalism.

Well, you can probably guess what I think of that project. And I don't yet have any details of how I’ll engage Schmitt’s ideas into my own project Utopias, obviously. 

But I can make at least a couple of preliminary statements about Schmitt’s concept of the existential threat* and what I think its ultimate results are when it’s used as a motivating concept in our era. All of humanity and the Earth will be destroyed.

* Having read some excerpts a long while ago, read many books and articles that talk a lot about different interpretations of Schmitt, and had some good teachers with quite deep knowledge of Schmitt’s ideas. 

This is just a result of our military technology. We’ve produced enough nuclear and biological weaponry to destroy Earth several times over. And it’s still sitting around in stockpiles, mostly under the United States, Russia, and China. 

Schmitt’s concept of the existential threat and the resultant total war touches on the analysis of warfare in Negri’s sequel to Empire, called Multitude. The model of war in modernist nation-states is a legally defined and constrained period of sustained, intense conflict among war machines of roughly equal power. 

Under that model, if nations who see each other as existential threats go to war, the conflict can end with a legal agreement of surrender or truce. But if you mobilize yourself for total war at the highest intensity possible, and you live after about 1950, it’s quite likely that such an intense conflict will destroy the human population entirely.

Okay, I think now there's a problem.
The salvation of modernity turns into a death spiral. It’s an insight that could easily have come from the philosopher on Negri’s list that I wanted to contrast with Schmitt. That’s Walter Benjamin. 

Benjamin is most famous for his essays on artwork, particularly the singularity of a unique work of art. But he wrote on many political, historical, and religious questions too. On this question of inescapable death, however, I’m more interested on this particular day on something Benjamin did rather than what he wrote.

On 26 September 1940, at age 48, Walter Benjamin shot himself dead on the Spanish border with France. He was a left-wing cultural critic and Jew fleeing the Nazi occupation of Paris, trying to escape the claws of Hitler and the Vichy government by fleeing to an ostensibly neutral country. 

Negri includes a poem about Benjamin by Bertolt Brecht that I want to quote from here, in full, before explaining why this aspect of his life – its end – is so important to Utopias.

I’m told you raised your hand against yourself
Anticipating the butcher.
After eight years in exile, observing the rise of the enemy
Then at last, brought up against an impassible frontier
You passed, they say, a passable one.

Empires collapse. Gang leaders
Are strutting about like statesmen. The peoples
Can no longer be seen under all those armaments.

So the future lies in darkness and the forces of right
Are weak. All this was plain to you
When you destroyed a torturable body.

When a plan for redemption, restoring what had been lost, only leads to annihilation, there’s no redemption at all. . . . To be continued

Doom Prophets III: A West in Crisis, A History Boy, 22/02/2016

Continued from last post . . . In his brief list of the prophets of modernity’s self-destruction, Antonio Negri includes Martin Heidegger. The reason is quite obvious, and there are several. 

One of those is that Heidegger was probably the most profound theorist of nationalism. Or rather, he was the most profound nationalist philosopher in the Western tradition. 

Now, I haven't read his Black Notebooks yet. I don’t know when I will, or even if I’ll ever bother. I never wanted to become a Heidegger scholar – I feel almost sick when I surround myself with his ideas for long enough. 

His thinking carries a constant weight of angst, loneliness, and surrender to fate. He makes you carry the same. 

The Black Forest in Germany, home of the German soul.

So, no, I never wanted to become a Heidegger scholar – I had other priorities as a thinker and writer than burying myself in his shrines. But the Black Notebooks would seem to be the most blatant statements of Heidegger’s nationalism and anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, the other works like his Introduction to Metaphysics from the same period – when Hitler ruled Germany – express similar ideas with a terrible profundity.

They're part of how he engages with the end of modernity, the end of the West’s cultural certainty in itself and its military conquest of Europe and the world. Heidegger saw the catastrophe of the First World War as the highest intensity yet of a trend that began in ancient Greece and dominated the entire Western mind-set since Plato.

Technology, the technological approach to the world. Philosophically, ethically, speaking – the technological approach looks at the world primarily as a resource. It’s something to be used for our own ends. 

Instead of letting the world be and living within it, we chew up the world in the violence of consumption and turn it into fuel, into resources for projects that express our own hubris. 

Martin Heidegger where he felt most authentic.
Part of what Heidegger wanted to do with his philosophy was to push humanity back toward this approach to life of letting-be. This is why he’s had such a following among environmentalists, because of his hostility to the idea that the world is our resource.

But Heidegger also had some very terrifying ideas about how people thought in an everyday sense. An individual couldn’t achieve this enlightened letting-be attitude on his own. Only a culture, a people, could achieve it. 

People had to be conditioned into encountering the world this way from infancy onward. By the time we were adults, age had calcified us too much to genuinely change the mode of our whole existence. Only a whole people could produce an ethic.

This is where the racist terror of Heidegger’s philosophy unfolds. Only a scant few cultures were capable of pushing against the world-as-resource technological mind-set. Those cultures not only had to have a language whose concepts depicted being most authentically. 

They also had to be connected to a land that pushed back against their efforts, but in such a way that they still felt at home, that their land was a happy place where they could thrive. German people had the right language, and the right environment in the Black Forest. 

A culture’s connection to its land had to be suitably profound, deep and continuous enough that it could only be the product of centuries of environmental acculturation. The culture literally grew around the land, and in constant feedback with it. 

Cultures who didn’t have these deep connections couldn’t fully actualize themselves as humans. Cultures who had been forced into nomadism for centuries became so disconnected from the divine presence of its land that they weren’t even complete humans. They weren’t even complete humans.

Edmund Husserl, philosophical inventor.
You know. Like the Jews in Europe. 

And now it becomes absolutely terrifying. 

Phenomenology, the philosophical discipline of thought whose goal was to experience and describe the world and its objects in the purest terms, was Heidegger’s method to connect with being as it was in the immediate sphere of his life. Its methods let him focus on the ideas and actions he wanted to explore. 

And that’s where the philosopher I added to the list comes from Edmund Husserl was the founder of phenomenology, and Heidegger’s mentor. Husserl was also Jewish, blacklisted by the German state generally and Heidegger specifically in the last years of his life.

All Husserl’s books in his phenomenology period were subtitled introductions to phenomenology. He kept trying to perfect the method, always taking different routes and contexts to explain it. The last attempt was cultural in The Crisis of the European Sciences, written in 1936.

In that book, Husserl took the phenomenological method from the tool of an individual thinker to the tool of a culture to understand its own place in the world and history. With that method, he developed the concept of the life-world.

Life-world is what we really experience in cultural existence – the constantly fluctuating web of interacting individuals, all building each other’s personalities. He opposed this vision to the theoretical attitude toward the world, where the environment only mattered as far as you could quantify, measure, and control it. 

That theoretical attitude had long been the dominant way Western thinkers engaged with the world. It was a mistake because it made our world feel dead, or never alive to begin with. Still, having to leave this theoretical attitude behind, knowing that it was growing bankrupt, left the West in crisis. What would replace it?

Husserl didn’t know. Heidegger hoped for a return to an older way of existence, that you could resurrect it with enough effort and luck. Even if at the end of the day, only a god could save us. 

The real answer is tougher. You’d have to create it. . . . To be Continued

This Mad British Monster III: Years of Hope and Darkness, Jamming, 21/02/2016

This week, my thoughts on Doctor Who’s history will cover the John Nathan-Turner years, up to his first major catastrophe in the Colin Baker years. JNT always had a mixed reputation in the history of Doctor Who, for some pretty complicated reasons.

Ladies, gentlemen, and other-identified, the late and
terrifying John Nathan-Turner. I found a photo with the
least offensive of his many Hawaiian shirts.
The JNT era from 1982 to 1986 caused Phil Sandifer some consternation getting the themes fully explicit when he first covered those years at the TARDIS Eruditorum blog. By the time the book on the Peter Davison and Colin Baker years came out a couple of years after that run of posts, his conclusion was clear, and I largely agree. 

JNT had some genuinely interesting ideas for Doctor Who, but he was often let down when his script editors couldn’t find and coordinate writers of the talent necessary to pull them off, and couldn’t write at that level themselves. 

But there was something more that was only uncovered a couple of years ago that gives his whole era a disturbing new twist. Yet it’s an ethical issue* and never impacted what made it on screen. So I’m not going to talk about it in the main body of the post.

* That ethical issue was that John Nathan-Turner, at least during the height of his tenure when he regular courtws organized fandom, aided his partner Gary Downie in the sexual assault of teenaged male Doctor Who fans.

JNT first worked on Doctor Who as a crew member during the Patrick Troughton era in 1969, and climbed up the ranks until winning the producer’s chair in 1980. There, he oversaw the last year of Tom Baker.

In the commentary to my Logopolis dvd, Baker describes how, during the Graham Williams era, he’d begin every season’s production telling the showrunners that this would be his last, because he loved when the producers would beg him to stay. JNT and his new script editor Christopher Bidmead shocked Tom by taking him seriously.

Antony Ainley would play the Master in nine stories
throughout the JNT era. He played the role with a pitch-
perfect camp that's inspired countless gay slash-fics.
The departure of Tom Baker dominated Bidmead’s year as script editor. The entire season was essentially Baker’s Doctor Who being dismantled piece by piece. The zippy tone of Williams and Douglas Adams’ approach to Doctor Who was gone. In its place, stories grew darker, more serious, intense, filmed with a more cinematic flair of quick cuts and tracking shots. 

Bidmead’s style of intellectual, cerebral sci-fi adventure foregrounded the exploration of strange, complicated ideas in Doctor Who’s stories. Warrior’s Gate was a surreal meditation on the cyclical nature of generational violence and slavery. 

Full Circle took seriously what kind of society would develop from a brutally transformative evolutionary mutation over a mere generation or two, but where no one remembered the change. Keeper of Traken was a Shakespearean drama set in a sci-fi world.

Bidmead’s script for Castovalva, Peter Davison’s premiere story, took place in an artificial pocket dimension whose spacetime was shaped literally like an M. C. Escher painting. His story Logopolis was a meditation on the ethical reflections of entropy, the inevitability of decay and transformation. A perfect theme for a regeneration story.

After Bidmead moved on, JNT began a long game of building publicity for Doctor Who as a cult property, engaging with its hardcore fans in the hopes that the fandom would grow and the expectation that everyone who liked the show was just like its fandom. 

Like soap operas, another realm of television JNT knew well, Doctor Who would cultivate its devoted fandom as the base of its audience. And JNT even developed a structure for the TARDIS crew for the 1982 season that worked like a soap opera, making them into a family straining itself apart.

Davison's has generally been one of the most difficult
Doctors to write for, thanks to the subtleties of his
performance as an ancient traveller with a young,
athletic body, who still possesses a boyish
enthusiasm for life. Sandifer had a good take on the
character, though: write him as an English Odin.
Tegan Jovanka, the longest-running companion of the Davison years, was aggressive, highly ethical, but not too bright, and would often instigate conflict. Nyssa was a calm centre for the family, but few writers knew what to do with her.** Adric was an annoying, petulant brat who made Wesley Crusher look like John McClane.

** I feel like Vaka Rangi would have a lot to say about Nyssa, as a long-running problem in sci-fi television – really up until the last decade – has been an inability of mostly male writers to figure out how to handle competent, confident, and assertive female characters.

Davison’s Doctor, thanks to his new younger face and quiet, snarky demeanour, couldn’t inspire the same admiration and unquestioning loyalty as his predecessor’s scenery-chewing ego. He had a softer personality than Baker, and was no longer the strong father figure that he played to Adric in 1981.

You can see how the conclusions of 1982 on the show – Tegan’s desire to return to Earth, Adric’s alienation from the new Doctor and the emotional fallout from his death – could have played out when you think through the details of how these characters would relate to each other.

But for this soap opera dynamic to work properly, you need to thread arcs of the characters’ developing relationships throughout all the disparate stories and events of the whole season. JNT couldn’t get writers or editors for a sci-fi show with that kind of skill, and he didn’t have the writing talent himself to pull it off.

JNT began courting the fans through his relationship with Ian Levine, a prominent and wealthy fan spokesperson who was, like JNT, gay*** and unlike JNT a famous DJ in the Northern Soul scene. Levine became a fan gatekeeper through his access to the production office and influence on Doctor Who Magazine, and was officially the continuity advisor.

Ian Levine today is generally considered the biggest
asshole in the history of Doctor Who fandom. I
suspect – though I have no evidence – that he's
responsible for the theft of the one and only recovered
copy of The Web of Fear episode 3. He'd have done it
for nothing but spite.
*** I don’t know if anybody knows how much Ian Levine knew about Downie’s sexual assaults and JNT’s complicity in them. Levine was a gatekeeper for bringing young male fans to the Doctor Who offices and studios. The fact that so many people who were actually or likely complicit in Downie’s predation were also gay is terribly awkward. It fuels the homophobic and hateful contention that gay men are also necessarily pedophiles. 

Today, Doctor Who has abandoned all effort at maintaining continuity of its world-building details across seasons. The reason is because Levine’s obsessively detailed continuity tracking hamstrung and straightjacketed the show. As he gained more influence over JNT and his new script editor Eric Saward, he constrained**** what kinds of stories Doctor Who could do.

**** Richard Marson, who today is a documentary filmmaker and television producer himself, wrote a book detailing his own experience as a victim of Downie's violence. JNT even helped Downie assault the young Marson. 

Saward took a while to grow into the script editor’s chair. He wasn’t very experienced when he was tapped for the job in the first place. His 1982 script The Visitation was his first Doctor Who story, and he became script editor a year later simply because there were no other candidates. 

The Visitation was kind of a bog-standard Doctor Who alien invasion plot. It took place in a historical setting, which was an innovation at the time. But it also suffered from generic villains and an unnecessary supporting character that took too much screen time from the regular cast.

But Saward was the only one available. So he took the job. And once he really grew into the role by the end of the Davison era, he was able to make his aesthetic clear.

Really, Saward had a style well-suited to the mid-1980s: violent action-adventure with a tone of cynicism and misanthropy, spiked with a gleefully bleak sense of humour. The best stories for Colin Baker’s anti-heroic Doctor were the dystopias. 

Trips through the most wretched muck humanity could offer that could always get a grim laugh out of suffering. When the show was firing on all cylinders Doctor Who could rub its shoulders at least against the waists of J. G. Ballard, Judge Dredd, and Alan Moore. 

Colin Baker isn't entirely blameless for the popular
failure of his Doctor. He was the chief architect of the
idea that his Doctor would have a ten-year plan: start
off incredibly alienating and unlikeable, then slowly
warm up with sympathy as an angsty anti-hero with
some kind of terrible secret. Depends on having an
audience prepared to stick with you for ten years.
I’m talking about when Saward was writing at the top of his game in Revelation of the Daleks, Philip Martin contributed his brutally acidic satires Vengeance on Varos and Mindwarp, or Saward’s mentor Robert Holmes came back to his old show for the subversive The Caves of Androzani, The Two Doctors, and The Mysterious Planet.

The problem is, these were the only good writers in Saward’s stable. The rest of the bullpen was barely competent, producing incoherent, nonsensical runarounds that delivered no character development, no interesting ideas, generic and mindless plots and villains, and reduced a talented actor like Nicola Bryant to a screaming pair of tits.

Doctor Who simply couldn’t maintain the quality necessary to keep it on the air. Its comeback season after an 18 month hiatus,***** Trial of a Time Lord was the most incoherent mess of all. 

***** Colin Baker and Janet Fielding appeared on a children’s wish reality show hosted by Jimmy Savile during the hiatus, starring with eight year old Gareth Jenkins in a ten minute adventure. After Savile’s death in 2011, it was revealed that he used the entire light entertainment department of the BBC as his personal child sex recruitment network. He wasn’t the only one, and it was an open secret among BBC old timers that light entertainment was were you sent the pedos.

It was 1986. Saward left the show in a rage after Holmes’ fatal heart attack in the middle of writing the season’s last scripts. Bryant walked away from her underdeveloped character. Colin Baker was fired when the BBC brass decided that his brand as Doctor Who was damaged beyond repair.

Even Levine walked away out of disgust at the hiring of Bonnie Langford to take over the companion role. She was famous at the time as having been a child actress in the ‘adorable moppet’ model of Shirley Temple for 1970s British TV. But she’s actually quite a talented actor.

JNT was left holding the reins of a show that no one would touch. The BBC brass were content to slash its budget, let its ratings languish, and have it quietly die. Perhaps for good. Despite the highs it did achieve during Saward’s tenure as script editor, its overall quality justified any opinion that it was best to let Doctor Who go.

But that’s why Doctor Who lives forever. Just when things look like they couldn’t get any worse, something brilliant comes out of nowhere.

New life from death. Regeneration.

Doom Prophets II: A Catalogue of Terror, Research Time, 18/02/2016

Continued from last post . . . Antonio Negri gives a list of apocalyptic prophets at the end of Empire. They may not be purely prophets of doom and death (at least not all of them), but they’re philosophers who articulate the sense that something is ending, and that the end will be terrible.

Why is it valuable for us to go back to the first prophets of modernity’s apocalypse? Because we’re still living through that apocalypse. And people are still driven to monstrous acts by apocalyptic visions

Too often I've seen the language of success
masking a dream of domination, that
you can only live well by forcing others
to suffer and die. So you should learn to
love the suffering, pain, and poverty of
others. This ideology of success on the
corpses of others will kill us all. It's
killing us already.
The end of modernity has come, and it was a kind of cultural apocalypse, because so much of Western culture was forged through the ideology of modernity. The secular values of our civilization have been adrift since the First World War, since we could no longer lie to ourselves seriously about the nature of empire.

Western culture needs a vision of peace, universal brotherhood, and the creative power of the people to replace modernity. Because in our century of scrambling, all we’ve done is fall back into old patterns of oligarchy, religious fundamentalism, the cutthroat values of new liberalism, the violent resentment of bullying culture, and a politics of global war.

Maybe if we start looking through the first prophets of modernity’s burnout, we’ll find a path forward. Negri made one list, and I’m modifying it with some additions of my own.

The obvious first one on the list is Friedrich Nietzsche. Most of the time, I concentrate on the productive aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy. The Nietzsche revival post-1960s. His conception of humanity and life as having as its highest power creativity. 

But Nietzsche was also a profound critic of modernity’s currents of nationalism. You can see this most clearly in his writings that critique the decadence of German culture in an increasingly violent nationalism and anti-Semitism. 

This is a core message of The Case of Wagner and Beyond Good and Evil. The rise of an aesthetics of bombastic, overpowering nationalism and imagery of racial pride started a process where the popular morality of German people eroded and destroyed all that was noble within it.

The irony is that Nietzsche’s notebooks were edited, after his final collapse in 1889, by his virulently nationalist sister Elisabeth to make him into a prophet of the nobility of racism. Which is why Nietzsche needed a revival in the first place.

But the value of his writings for understanding the end of modernity is immense. Nietzsche hits the most profound diagnosis of the self-immolation of modernity’s essential concepts, ideologies, and moral ideas. 

Friedrich Nietzsche, the most
profound philosopher-prophet
of the implosion of Western
Where to go from the end gets even trickier than Nietzsche’s difficult and sometimes bizarre writings. Negri discusses Carl Schmitt as a major apocalyptic figure of modernity. And his concept of politics as total war between existentially threatening cultures, peoples, movements, and states is practically a blueprint for the destruction of humanity.

Hell, in the age of nuclear weaponry, it's a blueprint for the destruction of Earth. Still, you’ll probably see some posts about Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political later this year as I dive into the bloodbath. Most important is trying to understand why a person could believe that such a bloodbath would be the only sustainable way forward for Western society.

The experience of the First World War and the vision of human nature that its most insightful survivor expressed seems only to confirm terror and mass destruction as the only way forward after modernity’s promises collapse under their own hypocrisy. 

Ernst Jünger’s work will probably fill that role in the Utopias book, a vision of humanity’s future as blood-drenched machines whose individualities disappear in a mass-movement of violence. A vision that understands itself as noble, which is more terrifying than the vision itself. 

But there are more ambivalent responses to the end of modernity. . . . To Be Continued

Doom Prophets I: Modernity Is Over, Right? Research Time, 17/02/2016

Moe Syzslak called it “weird for the sake of weird.” But back in my academy days, whenever I’d interact with self-identified analytic philosophers, they’d often make fun of ‘post-modernism’ as an idea. Or else outright spit abuse at it.

This is one reason I never entirely warmed to the broad style of analytic philosophy – I could always sense a futile anger in that history of contempt for alternative approaches to writing and thinking. I’d think, “Really? You’re going to get that angry about this?”

I would genuinely like to know if this makes a good
metaphor to explain what postmodernism is. Please
let me know in the comments, or on Twitter.
But the term postmodern, in its very simplest conception, just means that modernity is over. There was once a thing called modernism, modernity, the modern. An approach to the world and life. A particular set of broad presumptions about how humanity and the universe worked.

So the word postmodern means that, whatever those presumptions are, they no longer hold. The world has changed, and it’s made modernity obsolete. 

Like all the traffic signs that remain visible over the waterline of a flooded city. You can see them, you know what they mean, but the roads they’re built to control are five feet below you and you're in a motorboat.

Antonio Negri refers a lot to the postmodern era in Empire and this is exactly what he means every time. Now, he often discusses different aspects of this transition and what’s changed. But if you understand this sense of the term as the most basic, always underlying the more specific explorations, you’ll never scratch your head in any discussion of postmodernism again.

Not as much, anyway.

That transition from modern to postmodern will be a central idea to analyze in my own book Utopias. One image of perfection and progress was shattered in the West. Another had to replace it, but it was going to be a tough battle to work out what that new image would be.

And modernity’s image of social progress was intrinsically corrupt: it depended on the ascendance of a state and a bureaucracy over all of society. More than that, the development of the state was seen in mainstream Western culture as the highest achievement of humanity.

The apologists of imperialism and the European conquest, genocide, and exploitation of foreign peoples weren’t aberrations. Most people excuse the evil actions of their society as grounded in a higher virtue. And they actually believe this higher virtue, because otherwise they’d have to admit that they’re justifying piracy and violence.

You can't turn away from or justify the violence of
your own society and politics when it starts to turn on
So you had John Stuart Mill – who is standard reading in introductory moral philosophy courses – arguing seriously that England had a moral duty to occupy and control India to rise their civilization up to the most advanced culture of the West. People used to believe genuinely in the White Man’s Burden as a real moral mission of Europe.

The First World War was the moment when that moral illusion had to shatter. Of course, no one realized it all at once. But this is what happens when a bunch of states who’ve defined their entire existence through the mission of conquering the world have run out of space.

They have nowhere left to invade but each other. The First World War was when the imperialist states of Europe brought their full military might on each other. Blackadder was right.* For the first time, the powerful industrialized nations of Europe were fighting enemies of comparable technological power.

* "Well, you see, George, I did like it, back in the old days when the prerequisite of a British campaign was that the enemy should under no circumstances carry guns -- even spears made us think twice. The kind of people we liked to fight were two feet tall and armed with dry grass."

Stalemate could be the only result. And stalemate with military technology powerful enough to conquer the world and kill millions of people from Africa to India and China had the actual results you'd expect.

Empires of conquest weren’t the leading edge of social progress. They were devastating military machines. The dream was gone because we realized that it masked a nightmare.

And some of the people with the deepest, most terrifying insight into that nightmare were the philosophers who lived in the period surrounding the First World War. They were prophets of modernity’s unmasking, conquest’s betrayal of itself to the conquerors themselves. 

They looked into the face of terror, and had to deal with the fact that it was their own faces. . . . To be continued