Los Angeles Intellectuals

As a guide to understanding the cultural mythology and socio-geographical history of the singular American city that represents both "the utopia and dystopia for advanced capitalism," there is none more incisive than Mike Davis' City of Quartz, a tour de force which offers perhaps the definitive account of the land "south of the Tehachapis" even … Continue reading Los Angeles Intellectuals

The Marx Delusion

Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (Yale, 2018). Eagleton's witty Why Marx Was Right might be more accurately called something like Marxism Is Not What Most People (viz. Those Who Have Strong Opinions on Marx but Have Probably Never Read Him) Think It Is—or, What If the Common Objections to Marxism Don't Have Anything to Do with Marx's Actual Thought, which in Fact Constitutes a Plausible … Continue reading The Marx Delusion

Brecht and L.A. as Hell

In the 1930s and 1940s, Los Angeles became a haven for exiled European intellectuals on the run from or protesting fascism. Mike Davis traces their singular mark on the development of L.A.'s cultural self-mythology in his social history of Southern California, City of Quartz; here, the existential melancholia of playwright Bertolt Brecht captures the exiles' typical dismay at … Continue reading Brecht and L.A. as Hell

The Origin of Capitalism

A précis of Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View (Verso, 2017). There is a story told about capitalism—mostly by its proponents: classical liberals, American conservatives, libertarians, and the like; but also sometimes inadvertently by its Marxist critics—that sees this system as synonymous with human nature in all times and all places, as the innate … Continue reading The Origin of Capitalism

Aquinas and the Role of the Metaphysician

Part of modern philosophy's distrust of metaphysics arises from a not undue association of the term with the Rationalist and Idealist philosophers of previous centuries; for thinkers from Spinoza to Hegel the task of metaphysics involves the deduction of an all-encompassing system of reality based on self-evident, a priori propositions, an activity which easily slips into speculation. For … Continue reading Aquinas and the Role of the Metaphysician

2016: Year in Reading

I am not relevant enough to give recommendations for books published in 2016; for that, you can check out editor John Wilson’s excellent list here. I can, however, humbly offer a handful of exceptional books that I read this year. I’m pleased that it is a diverse list—new(ish) books and books I reread; classics, novels, intellectual … Continue reading 2016: Year in Reading

Notes from the History of Laughter

I recently picked up Mikhail Bakhtin's classic Rabelais and His World, an excellent and vastly illuminating work of literary criticism. Bakhtin's primary thesis is that Rabelais is the culminating literary expression of the carnival or grotesque idiom of folk humor, an idiom which had developed for over a thousand years (starting with the Roman Saturnalia) as an "unofficial" or subversive … Continue reading Notes from the History of Laughter