March 31, 2005

Asking and Requesting II

In comments to Brian Weatherson's post, Gil Harman put up (without comment) this very nice list of contrasts between "ask" and "request" (my numbering):

[1] I asked a question.
I requested a question.
[2] I asked whether Bob had arrived.
* I requested whether Bob had arrived.
[3] I requested a seat in the rear of the restaurant.
* I asked a seat in the rear of the restaurant.
[4] I asked for a seat in the rear of the restaurant.
* I requested for a seat in the rear of the restaurant.
[5] I asked the waiter for the check.
* I requested the waiter for the check.
[6] I requested the check from the waiter.
* I asked the check from the waiter.
[7] Careful, pal, you are asking for it.
* Careful, pal, you are requesting it.

My take is that this actually helps my case. Let's distinguish some senses of "ask." In (7) we have an idiom. In (1) and (2) we have a different sense of "ask" than in (3) through (6)--asking a question rather than what we might call the imperatival "ask". "Request" is similar to the imperatival "ask"--it doesn't have the sense in which you can ask a question.

And (3)-(6) show that "request" and the imperatival "ask" behave different in systematic ways. The acceptable formulation in (3) is synonymous with the acceptable formulation in (4), ditto (5) and (6). But they seem to be grammatically different. In this case, the grammatical difference isn't an indication of an underlying difference between asking the waiter for the check and requesting the check from the waiter--it's not as though, when you ask, that's something you do to the waiter, and when you request, that's something you do to the check.

Perhaps Harman's examples were meant to respond to this comment from Marc Moffet:

The ask/request pair is pretty weird because “request” seems to otherwise behave like a typical [o]bject-raising verb, doesn’t it? In contrast, “hope” doesn’t. (For example, “I requested something” is fine, but *”I hoped something” is bad.) The thing about Brian’s example is that the differences he notes tend to cluster with other differences that one might reasonably take to mark semantic differences between properties and relations. Your example is atypical precisely because it doesn’t bring the rest of the cluster with it—which makes we think that “x requested me to come to his office” is ok.

I have to confess that I'm not sure about how typical object-raising verbs behave, but Harman's examples seem to show that the difference between "ask" and "request" isn't just a one-off concerning "request me to." So we still have a case of syntactic difference without semantic difference.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:16 PM | Comments (2)

March 30, 2005

Asking and Requesting

Brian has been discussing the fact that 'hope' and 'want' have different grammars. Brian suggests, I think rightly, that this grammatical fact doesn't tell us anything in particular about whether hoping and wanting are different. Hoping and wanting may be different, but you can't tell that from the grammar.

There's a similar case that's been bugging me for a while; the grammatical facts aren't nearly as clear-cut, but the semantic facts are more so, I think. That case is 'asks' and 'requests' (as you've already guessed, if you read the post titles).

Compare these:

(1) The department chair requested me to see her in her office.
(2) The department chair asked me to see her in her office.

(1) sounds, not quite ungrammatical to me, but a bit off. (2) is perfectly fine, though. If we change the infinitive to a that-clause:

(3) The department chair requested that I see her in her office.
(4) The department chair asked that I see her in her office

then both (3) and (4) are definitely OK.

Now, I'm sure as shooting about the underlying semantic facts: Asking and requesting are not fundamentally different types of actions. Requesting may be more formal than asking, but I'm not even sure about that; it may just be that "request" is used in more formal contexts than "ask" is. (I'm not sure whether the standard of formality governing "ask" versus "request" is context-sensitive or subject-sensitive, if you like to think of it that way.)

(I'm also pretty sure that I'm misusing "sure as shooting.")

I'm not sure about the linguistic data, though; is (1) actually funny, or am I being funny myself? An extremely unreliable Google search suggests to me that there's something to it:

"asked" without "frequently asked questions": about 62,400,000 hits AOTW (eliminating "frequently asked questions" cuts down hits by 1/3)
"asked me to": 1,750,000
asked that: 1,490,000

"requested": 33,500,000
"requested me to": 48,400
"requested that": 2,180,000

"Asked" is used about twice as often as "requested," "asked me to" is used about 36 times as often as "requested me to," and "asked that" is actually used less often than "requested that." This seems to me to indicate a fairly serious preference for not using the infinitive after "requested," though cautions about the crudity of such searches apply with even more force than usual (see the "frequently asked questions" thing).

So I am inclined to say that there is a difference between the complements that "ask" and "request" can comfortably take. And I insist that this gives us no evidence of any difference between asking and requesting.

(Another difference is that "request" is a noun and "ask" is not, but I don't think anyone ever tries to make hay of that sort of thing.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:40 AM | Comments (8)

March 28, 2005


When I receive a phishing e-mail ("click on this to update your PayPal account"--which I don't have--"or we will be forced to temporaly suspend it," is there someone in particular I should report it to? This one displays its HTML in a way that might or might not be useful.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:23 PM | Comments (9)

It's Spring! When a Youngish Man's Brain Lightly Turns to Tapioca

Just now I was leaving the office at the same time as some of my dear colleagues. They were taking the free UWM parking shuttle, which goes by a roundabout route to a point somewhat close to our apartments. Attempting to explain that I would take the city bus, to which I have a pass, and which takes a shorter route, I said, "I think I'll take the short bus."

Then--after putting my jacket on (over my head) backwards--I tried to explain how class was today. It's the first day back from spring break, as well as the first reasonably nice day, and not many people showed up, plus, I said, "I was more easily distracted, or maybe they were more willing to feed into my easel distractability." The thing is I still can't think of a better way to phrase that sentence. [We did actually spend a fair amount of the time chatting about the reading we'd already done.]

[And rather than taking the short bus home I am here blogging for you, dear reader. Actually I am in the process of putting some more reading online, which involves checking a book out and walking it over to the reserve desk, which is outside the magic realm where unchecked books can go. And which involves walking by a computer. Which is a black hole of time suck for someone of my easel distractability. Now to look the book up.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:15 PM | Comments (5)

March 27, 2005

Dept. of Useless Proverbs

First of all, I can't remember whether it's "Feed a fever, starve a cold" or "feed a cold, starve a fever." Second of all, I always assumed that the proverb contained two conjoined bits of advice. But someone said to me once that it was a disguised conditional as in "Marry in haste, repent at leisure" (see 2b here); if you feed a cold, you will find yourself having to starve a fever, or vice versa. Third of all, I don't even know whether it's supposed to be actual health advice or some sort of metaphorical counsel of moderation. Anyone know what's up?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:50 AM | Comments (2)

March 24, 2005

Wow. Just, wow.

There has been some talk lately of some silly doctor giving opinions on patients he has not examined who claims that he has been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Turns out that this nomination comes from a Florida congressman, who is not in fact one of the official nominators. By these standards, Lindsay Beyerstein can call herself Nobel Prize-nominated, since I just declared that I was nominating her for the Nobel Prize (in her comments).

But another commenter, Emmetropia, comes up with an amazing catch. This doctor, William Hammesfahr, has been the centerpiece of a National Enquirer story on stroke prevention. I feared that, in the way of such things, this might be a Photshop job. So I went to the main domain.

It's the site for the Hammesfahr neurological institute. (And I looked it up on Whois; it's registered to him.)

So there you have it--this guy is someone who gets written up in the Enquirer and uses it in his own publicity. Wow.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:32 AM | Comments (4)

March 23, 2005

Academics and Intelligence Services

Henry Farrell has an interesting post about whether universities ought to be making themselves useful to intelligence services--not in a cloak and dagger way, but insofar as the intelligence services want their employess to learn more about the places they're analyzing. There's a live debate about it going on AOTW at the Chronicle of Higher education. [UPDATE: So far it seems to be a chat with a bot who responds to every question by saying, "The United States is at war."]

One remark: Henry says,

I do think that there are real risks attached to a tighter relationship between intelligence services and universities, although they’re rather more subtle than CIA or FBI monitoring of what professors say in class (which I suspect is almost entirely a bogus concern).

I'm not so sure. As I blogged earlier, there was a bill (don't know what happened to it) that proposed to put federally funded Middle East Centers under the jurisdiction of an oversight committee composed of representatives from the US security agency. That strikes me as close to CIA and FBI monitoring of what professors say in class (and, as I said at the time, a heavy-handed parody of the worst-case scenario for academic freedom).

Incidentally, in case any CTers read this, I can't comment there; I get to the preview screen, but when I hit "submit" a blank screen shows up and my comment never materializes. I hope this isn't deliberate. (I'm using IE 5.5 on a Windows ME machine.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2005

The Uses of Philosophy

I believe Yglesias is showing off the value of a philosophy education. Those sound like the points of someone who's familiar with Hobbes and the post-Hobbesian literature.

[UPDATE: And then there's this.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

Begging the Question

Kevin Drum continues to hold a contrarian take on the use of "begging the question." Earlier I was inclined to mild toleration of Drum's point, but now I've decided his particular position is not defensible.

The situation is this:

The phrase "beg the question" originally meant "assuming the thing that was to be argued for" (I believe it originated as a more or less literal translation of petitio principii). Philosophers still use it that way and that way only, but most people use it to mean simply "raising the question."

Now, it would be better if "beg the question" were used only in the philosopher's sense. That's a useful sense to have available, whereas when "beg the question" is used to mean "raise the question" it can always be harmlessly replaced by, well, "raise the question."

Unfortunately, most people don't use it that way. And if, like me, you have descriptivist leanings about the use of language,* you may have to say that the meaning of "beg the question" is determined by the way it's used. Meaning that, when people use it to mean "raise the question," we can't say it's wrong.

In particular: Constantly trying to correct people who use "beg" to mean "raise" is futile; we won't stamp out that meaning of "beg." And using "btq" in the philosopher's sense when talking to general audiences is counterproductive--you usually won't communicate the point you're trying to make.

But Drum deliberately uses "beg the question" when "raise the question" would do just as well. I see no reason for that. He's contributing to an undesirable state of affairs--in which it is impossible to use "btq" in the philosopher's sense in general parlance. He could use "raise the question" to the same effect, and is aware that he could do so. And using "raise the question" couldn't possibly confuse anyone, since it only has one sense.

The only rationale for self-conscious use of "beg the question" to mean "raise the question" might be that it is better to have a clearly agreed upon meaning for "btq" than to have dissension, and since (as I conceded above) we'll never get everyone to adopt the philosopher's meaning, we should attempt to stamp that meaning out. But this won't work, because they'll never get us philosophers to abandon our meaning of "btq." (You'll pry it from our cold, dead hands!) It's extremely useful in philosophy, and no other phrase does the same work.**

So there's really no excuse for Kevin's conscious use of "beg the question" to mean "raise the question." "Raise the question" would do just as well, and he should say that. So there!

*so why do I nitpick so much? Because I do. Deal with it.

**I recall someone somewhere--thought it was here but can't find it--suggesting that philosophers go back to petitio principii instead. But that's a noun (at least as I've seen it used in English), and we need the verb.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:14 AM | Comments (12)

March 21, 2005

Wittgenstein and Looney Tunes

Last night I was struck by the resemblance between the famous duck-rabbit and the equally famous Duck Season! Rabbit Season! If Wittgenstein had published the Investigations earlier, then Daffy and Bugs could just have made one duck/rabbit season poster, to be rotated back and forth as the argument progressed.

(In fact the duck-rabbit seems to be originally noted by Joseph Jastrow rather than Wittgenstein, based perhaps ultimately on an 1892 cartoon in a German humor magazine.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:31 AM | Comments (15)

March 16, 2005

Labor Dispute at APA Pacific

I'm not going to the APA Pacific; but if you are, you may want to know about some of the issues surrounding the labor dispute at the Westin, where the meeting is scheduled. See here, here, here, and here. Some sessions are moving to the University of San Francisco; see here for the schedule and directions to USF. (I'm not sure whether other sessions, not yet listed on the site, might still move.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2005

The U.S. Should Not Send People Abroad To Be Tortured

(nor should we torture anyone ourselves, but one thing at a time)

Hilzoy posts on a bill that deserves everyone's support.

The Poor Man makes a rude point about who doesn't support this bill, but Hilzoy is still right: Everyone should support this bill.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:07 PM | Comments (1)

Just Links

A touching story from Moira at SnarkAttack. Who is still not forgiven.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

Carnegie International, Artists 30-37

The final installment of my review of the Carnegie International covers the artists on the first floor. (Other posts here.) As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I find the works on the first floor much less successful than the rest--or in some cases, unreviewable. So this will zip by with a lot of cheap snark.

30. Mangelos. Conceptual art.

31. Jeremy Deller. Tiny installations and, um, t-shirts.

32. Maurizio Cattelan. An alleged sculpture.

33. Pawel Althamer. A performance piece and a tiny video trailer.

34. Chiho Aoshima. A huge mural.

35. Oliver Payne and Nick Relph. Two videos.

36. Yang Fudong. Two 30-minute films.

37. Carsten Holler. A walk-in greenhouse installation.

30. Mangelos. The third career retrospective in the show (after Crumb and Bontecou), and the only work by a dead artist; Mangelos died in 1987. (Eerily, one of his manifesti predicts the exact date.) The retrospective is governed by manifestos on the wall; most of the art is rawly textual, words scrawled on canvases or globes. Says the guide, "For Mangelos, the manifesto--a declaration of ideological intent--was the ultimate example of 'functional thinking,' a concept inspired by a postwar world dominated by technology, which Mangelos believed had replaced the metaphorical thinking of a more naive age." And that is more or less explicitly stated in the manifestos. Mangelos' writing isn't imagistic or poetic; it's there to convey ideas.

Which ideas are completely wrongheaded, in my opinion. The idea that the postwar world has overthrown metaphorical thinking--that descriptive systems "were the logical heirs to the defunct metaphorical ones, such as philosophy, religion, and art"--reminds me of nothing so much as Dick Morris's moronic contention that we need to trash Social Security because it's outdated in the Information Age. Morris hasn't given any reason why the Information Age has anything to do with Social Security, and Mangelos doesn't give any reason why the modern world needs something beyond art. I'd say that Mangelos leaves me cold, and that's what he's trying to do, but he doesn't leave me convinced that leaving me cold is useful.

And since he mentions philosophy, with which I can claim familiarity: analytic philosophy is a hell of a lot closer to functional thinking thus described than most other forms of human activity. And it's not art, nor does it aspire to be. But the idea isn't that it squeezes out ways of thinking that draw unformalizable connections, or that appeal to, yes, the emotions. I hope it's clear that I'm no aesthetic reactionary--I think art should respond to the world we live in. But that calls for new ways of drawing connections, not the abandonment of any effort to do so.

(And is the functional thinking of analytic philosophy appropriate to a world dominated by technology? I can show you some Georg Lukacs that argues that it's so. Except the philosophy he's talking about is modern philosophy beginning with Descartes, and the world dominated by technology is the world that's heading toward the Industrial Revolution. Technology didn't start with the tank and the teevee.)

Ken Johnson says, "Why [Mangelos's] work cropped up in the Carnegie International is a mystery; it deserves an exhibition unto itself." Leaving aside the aggressive incoherence of this as a criticism of the exhibit--did Johnson expect the International to be cancelled for a one-man show?--I think it's revealing, taken with his slam at Doig and Andersson (see the end of this post). Those painters, he claimed, were stuck in a "backwater," in that they recognizably belong to old traditions. Well, if being stuck in a backwater is your greatest fear, you won't want to know from old ways of thinking. You'll want a way of thinking that's different from anything that comes before, never mind whether what's come before still has any validity. And, taken to absurdity, you'll decide that you've got to go beyond art. This, my dear, is throwing out the baby with the backwater.

31. Jeremy Deller. Breaking News (Dedicated to Peter Watkins) is designed for the Carnegie's miniature rooms. These dioramas--maybe a foot cubed--contain reproductions of period furniture. Deller's inserted tiny plasma TVs, showing reconstructions of contemporaneous battles. (And I believe he's disarranged the furniture somewhat.) The TVs are too incongruous to convince as a reimagining of the way people in the past might have experienced war. And, though the videos they show may be interesting, at this scale it's impossible to tell or to watch for long. I would've liked this better without the TVs--or if I'd been told the TVs were about to be inserted.

Deller also has T-shirts and plastic bags with biblical quotes for sale in the gift shop. When I think about this, it's really quite extraordinary. He's managed to break my "You call this art?" barrier. I didn't think it was possible (and I've played miniature golf courses where each hole was designed by a different artist, thank you).

I'm being so cranky about textual art that I think I ought to link my comments about Jenny Holzer again (end of this post). Believe me, I don't reject the concept.

32. Maurizio Cattelan. Cattelan's Now is a sculpture of John F. Kennedy in his coffin. Or so we are told. The sculpture couldn't be viewed by the time I saw the International. Sarah Hromack has more here (scroll down to "Qualifications" and "Truly Green"; permalinks are bloggered even though it's an MT blog). Given Cattelan's reputation as a provocateur and a prankster, perhaps many things could be said about the significance of his withdrawing his work, but to the ordinary museumgoer the absence of a Cattelan from an exhibition is indistinguishable from the absence of any damn thing else.

33. Pawel Althamer. Another unreviewable one--"Althamer's Real Time Movie consists of a performance of a 30-minute segment of daily life, and a one-and-a-half minute film trailer created to promote that performance. During the performance... actors will assume the roles of typical passersby" (I believe Big Star Peter Fonda is the guy idling in the car--which, if he does it for 30 minutes, isn't really typical Pittsburgh behavior).

Well, I haven't seen the performance. (When I said that a bunch of actors would act out daily life, one person said "Why don't we act like we saw it?" You know who you are.) And ordinarily I have no compunction about reviewing movies based on their trailers--often that's the best way to consume the movie--but in this case, there isn't actually anywhere to stand where you can both see and hear the trailer. It might have been cool to see it in a movie theater, but alas. So, no comment.

34. Chiho Aoshima. Magma Spirit Explodes, Tsunami Is Dreadful predates the real-life tsunami. It's a huge mural, spanning natural disasters, tiny people and cars thrown around by the waves, scenes of battle, and a huge fire-breathing girl in the center of the composition. The mural certainly has power and accomplishment of some sort--reminded me a bit of Irving Norman's War and Peace, which I saw in this this exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum. But but but, I'm just not fond of the anime aesthetic at work here. It comes across cutesy, which War and Peace sure does not. If you're moved by Aoshima, however, I won't argue with you.

(I note, with some distress, that I have denied being in tune with the aesthetic of both Japanese artists in the International [see the remarks about Kaoru Arima here]. I don't think this goes for all contemporary Japanese art. It certainly doesn't go for contemporary Japanese movies. Oh well.)

Behind Aoshima's mural are rooms showing videos and films. I didn't see all of any of them, because I didn't have time on any of my visits...

35. Oliver Payne and Nick Relph. ...and because you don't have to eat a whole egg to know it's rotten. Driftwood is supposed to be a travelogue of secret London, but it looked like a bunch of not particularly interesting shots of the city with a not particularly comprehensible and not particularly interesting voiceover. I suppose I shouldn't leap to conclusions based on a small sample, but I had no desire whatsoever to stay around and figure out what might be going on. Comma, Pregnant Pause is harder to describe--a cross between "Space Ghost, Coast to Coast" and that experimental film some guys in Pittsburgh showed a few years back, involving Hitler, a baby Jesus doll, a time machine, and mushmouth dialogue--after it stopped being funny? I would say that invoking Beckett's name in connection with this was cause for physical violence, but there's two of them and either one could probably kick my ass. Plus I didn't see much of this either. Anyone who wants to defend these is welcome to do so, though you'd have to be very convincing to get me to try them again.

36. Yang Fudong. Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest is five films, of which the first two half-hour segments are on view. This one I missed simply due to lack of time, and fatigue at the end of the exhibition view. I saw part of the second, in which the characters are in the city--apparently in part I they're in a landscape, and it seems much less potentially naturalistic than what I saw. Filmed entirely inside, there was a long dinner conversation that seemed to cross Whit Stillman and My Dinner with Andre--the very young actors discuss ideas and modes of life. Then sequences of the characters retiring, interacting in the bathroom, etc. There is no clear dramatic arc, no storytelling agenda that I could tell. It seemed fascinating but I'm unable to judge what might be going on without seeing a whole film.

37. Carsten Holler. "Solandra Greenhouse, a work created for this exhibition, is a garden filled with the Solandra maxima vine, a plant that exudes pheromones capable of inducing amorous feelings. Coupled with strobe lighting intended to create a slight disorientation in the visitor, the experience of the Solandra Greenhouse is meant to recapitulate the physical effects of falling in love." With the emphasis on Holler's doctorate in biology, and his theories concerning perception and reaction to stimuli, I suppose this is functional rather than metaphoric thinking. As such it's objectively evaluable, and I can say objectively: It fails. It does not recapitulate the effects of falling in love. Did it do so, it would be one of the greatest works of art ever, or a hella creepy experiment in mind control. But there's no way to tell what this is supposed to be about without you read the program.

Well, that was a grumpy finish to my review of the International. The exhibit was overall quite worthy, but the best work is certainly on the second floor. If you have to pick one segment, I'd recommend the middle (Alys to Doig), but there's much excellent work in the first part as well. If you're in Pittsburgh, the exhibit ends March 20, so get yourself down there posthaste.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:50 PM | Comments (2)

I'm Glad...

...that Kieran Healy mentioned Eichmann in Jerusalem so I don't have to. Everyone who voted to confirm Gonzales could stand to re-read it as well.

(This is the only thing to be glad about here.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2005


Ogged mentions the verb "Gaslighted" (see his blog for the meaning). Linguistics dabblers will immediately say, "Aha! Food for Pinker's argument that irregular verbs, when transformed into nouns and backformed into verbs, become regular!"* It's not "gaslit."

(Blar earlier found an apparent exception; more here.)

This reminds me of a case I've been meaning to try--with new Googlefight capability:

'Daydreamed' vs. 'daydreamt': 44,600:1380

'Dreamed' vs. 'dreamt': 2,940,000:851,000

Quite a falloff for 'daydreamt' as opposed to 'dreamt', but it's not completely unknown.

*Admit it, you linguistics dabblers. You immediately said exactly that.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:52 PM | Comments (4)

Carnegie International, Artists 26-29

Seventh installment. See here for all posts.

26. Katarzyna Kozyra. A surround-picture video installation.

27. Anne Chu. Figurative sculpture.

28. Paul Chan. Computer-animated video works.

29. Peter Doig. Large representational paintings.

26. Katarzyna Kozyra. Rite of Spring is a cinematic installation in which very old men and women (naked, with blatant fake genitalia) dance against a white background, to Stravinsky's music. Rather than have them actually dance, Kozyra photographed them lying down, frame by frame, to make stop motion animation--so they seem to pirouette and leap as they are surely no longer able to do (if they were ever). Rite of Spring is extraordinarily funny--in the herky-jerk parody of modern dance (the animation reminds me of Svankmajer), in the utterly deadpan expression of the dancers, who really don't look like they're enjoying themselves, and in the slow, synchronized movements of the corps de ballet surrounding the central dancers.

It's also disquieting when you think about it. Photographing the people lying down, and making it look like they're standing, gives an unnatural quality to their bodies--as if they're dead on slabs--that's accentuated by the stop-motion animation (and I think their eyes are closed throughout). We seem to be watching the living dead enacting the fertility rites. The end of the film is particularly ironic, as the central dancers seem to collapse to the ground with the end of the music. In the original Rite of Spring this was the sacrifice of a blooming youth to keep the order of nature going; here instead of youth, the sacrifices are near the end of their natural lives anyhow.

But the disquiet is a subtext--the overall impression is of good cheer and humor. Ken Johnson, the New York Times reviewer, calls this "just plain bad." I can understand our disagreement about Alys, noted previously, but this judgment makes me think the two of us simply have nothing in common.

27. Anne Chu "mines the history of figuration across cultures and eras to create sculptures that evoke ritual, storytelling, and mythology." Which is to say that, to an ignoramus like me, her sculptures look kinda folkloric or archeological--though, being an ignoramus, I can't say what tradition. Actually, only Maranao Man looks to me like it could conceivably be something you find in a dig, or an imitation of something you find in a dig. (Though perhaps the peaked cap should be a giveaway.) The "Hellish Spirits" (about four feet tall) are wicked-looking little creatures, misshapen and malevolent. But in an amusing way--no fear that they're going to get you.

28. Paul Chan. The main work here, Happiness (finally) after 35,000 Years of Civilization--after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier, is about as non-work safe as it gets. (But none of the images are online, so you don't have to worry, dear reader.) A 15-minute digital video--with less than photo-realist resolution, maybe about like a mid-90s video game--depicts a society of little girls like Darger's, beginning in a pastoral utopia, invaded and conquered by armed men, and then after an apocalypse looping back to the beginning. (There is a definite beginning--a hypnotic image of a bird flying backward over a meadow.)

This is another highlight of the International--tremendously detailed and with all sorts of unresolved resonances. The girls' utopia at the beginning is full of disturbing undertones--even if you take the open-air defecation and group sex as an assault on our booshwah hangups rather than anything that we should be disturbed by, there's an air of threat throughout much of these scenes. The girl eating the plants, and the buzzing sounds behind the pollination, and the way the clouds move across the sky, all create a sense of foreboding, for me at least. Unlike what's suggested by the title (and I think by Fourier's philosophy), we don't reach an end-state utopia, but one stage in a cycle.

I'm not quite sure of the import of many of the happenings here. At one point technological goods form in the meadow--their crystallization out of blobs of color is queasily reminiscent of the crapping going on elsewhere on the screen--and then at night the girls trade these for goods and services. Is the implication that reliance on technology comes to destroy the utopia? Or is it just part of its development? What destroys the girls' community in the end is the soldiers who rape and torture and burn the buildings. The rape and torture scenes raise uncomfortable questions of aestheticization--the fantastic setting and the video-game graphics distance us from the visceral impact, yet I couldn't help remembering that the U.S. is sponsoring this sort of atrocity right now. (Unless you think that, with Alberto Gonzales's promotion, the policies he loves have come to a halt.)

There's something unsatisfying about the external nature of the destructive forces--as though the message is that Bad People are the threat to utopian visions. That message would be too much of a myth of the counterculture. Also, it's not clear what destroys the armed men in the end. Destruction simply seems to rain from the sky--and Utopia can't count on that. On the other hand, the destruction of the armed men, with its sudden shift to an aerial perspective, is quite powerfully done. And if I'm complaining that Chan hasn't given us a prescription for Utopia, that's a lot to ask. As I said, what makes this so strong is the unresolved resonances.

Chan's other work (on the ground floor), Let Us Now Praise American Leftists, uses digital sketch software (used for suspect sketches) to create stereotypical facial hair for many kinds of activist. The faces, nose down, are shown briefly in a quick video, interspersed with occasional other scenes, while a text from I think Karl Kraus is read. This is about as funny as intended--but not so deep that I shouldn't point out that the concept writes women out of the history of activism entirely. Tsk, tsk.

29. Peter Doig. "Two years ago Doig and his family moved from London to the island of Trinidad, and the setting of this new series of paintings is recognizably tropical"--a modern Gauguin, but the family gets to come with. Of the many representational paintings in the International, Doig's seem to be the most purely retro. Andersson has her washes of pure paint, Rauch his outcropping of strange goo and otherworldly settings, Alys his overlays, but Doig does straightforward post-Impressionism. And it's extraordinary. The bather in the tidal pool, in green light, carries all the mystical freight he's meant to. (This painting reminded me of the Ancient Man in the Forest Questions scene of Meredith Monk's Atlas, but that's about as arbitrary as arbitrary personal associations get.) Another reason that painting is the strongest component of the International.

Ken Johnson says of the International,

Painting is not well served, however. Peter Doig and Mamma Andersson are interesting artists, but both seem mired in the backwaters of Post-Impressionist style and postmodernist signifying when their styles are compared with the nutty Soviet Surrealism of Neo Rauch, the show's strongest painter.

If I'm reading him correctly, he's dismissing Doig's work simply because he works in a previously existing style--because his work could have been painted 120 years ago (I think), it counts as mired in a backwater. This is horribly misguided, I think. The problem with art that self-consciously strives to recreate old styles is not that the old styles are inherently illegitimate, but that the self-consciousness of the attempt will cut the art off from the old style's power. But if Doig paints neo-Impressionist works because he likes neo-Impressionist works, and his paintings work as neo-Impressionism, that's no reason for a glib dismissal. (And if anyone's engaged in postmodern signifying here, it's Rauch.)

After viewing Doig's works one encounters a problem, if one wishes to consume the artworks in the strict order that is intended. Doig's are the last on the second floor, but nowhere near the desired entry point to the first floor works. You have to shut your eyes and rush all the way back till you reach the Alys, descending to the first floor at Donnelly's "Night Is Coming." (Note: Don't actually try it with your eyes shut.) But many of the works on the first floor are inaccessible, unreviewable, or unsuccessful. You might also consider taking a left turn and looking at the Carnegie's permanent collection. There's some decent stuff in there.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:52 AM | Comments (0)

Carnegie International, Artists 21-25

Sixth installment of my review of the Carnegie International. All posts here.

The International will be over very soon--March 20--and if you haven't seen it already, you probably won't. Tra la.

21. John Bock. An installation of some of the sets from a very strange live-action film.

22. Lee Bontecou. Hanging sculptures and wall-mounted reliefs.

23. Jim Lambie. Sculpture, more or less.

24. Tomma Abst. Smallish abstract paintings.

25. Mark Grotjahn. Larger, but still not huge, abstract paintings.

21. John Bock. The work on this floor is described as "a three-dimensional manifestation of Bock's 30-minute film," and indeed it seems like a pendant to the film (which I didn't see all of). In which scientists carry out mysterious proceedings, and alien thrashes around with a person inside, there is a crazy ride on the back of a thresher, and more. The film is simultaneously funny and enervating--though perhaps the disruption of our sense of time is essential to entering Bock's world of complete illogic. The film is also extremely gross. I believe I left before the live cow birth.

In a way this reminds me of Matthew Barney's Cremaster 2 (I think 2) in the last International. Similar defiance of logic, creation of its own world, and occasional shocking images and fascination with bodily fluids or their simulation. Bock doesn't have the clean shots of abstract sculpture though, nor the thundering self-importance. (Which may or may not be earned--I wandered out of the Barney when I realized that it was going to go on longer than Duck Soup, and I didn't feel like watching that much of that movie that afternoon. Be it recorded that I walked out of a Matthew Barney film before it was cool.)

22. Lee Bontecou. A massive retrospective of reliefs and sculptures, intricate shapes of canvas and wire. The reliefs tend to be dominated by central yawning black holes; the hanging sculptures center on tiny spheres that might be planets or eyes. Or eyes floating in interplanetary space, like AZATHOTH! (Actually I think I've completely misunderstood Azathoth. You know what I mean.)

Seriously, this is fine work, "powerfully express[ing] the awe and terror of the inexplicable" as the guide says. And, as my description perhaps conveyed, I think it ought to appeal to fans of Rick Griffin-style comics; in both artists' work, the obsessive elaborations of shapes turns grotesque without any direct correlation to anything disturbing. Except Bontecou isn't so, you know, cartoonish. (That would be flame bait if anyone were reading this--I'm prepared to explain why I don't mean to insult cartoons wholesale, if you wanna make something of it.) I'm not sure whether a theme of the International was supposed to be views of alternate universes, but if it was this would fit it fine.

23. Jim Lambie. The first piece is a pattern of black duct tape on the floor--easy to miss because it looks somewhat like floor, which you're walking on. The psychedelic soul stick leaning in the corner ("a branch wrapped with hundreds of layers of shredded record albums, photos, colored ribbons, and thread"--I think they mean album covers) is a neatish object. Sunbed, a mattress hung high and covered with yellow paint that drips onto the wall, is witty. But the main piece just doesn't come off for me. Chair backs draped with purses and speckled with mirror are meant to "recall[] both a plaza and the bedazzled inhabitants who might stroll there." The chair backs are meant to punningly recall people carrying purses and the chairs on the plaza (perhaps the people seated in them have hung their purses on the back?). But I wouldn't have got the visual pun if it hadn't been explained to me. We've already established that I'm dense, so that may not be Lambie's fault.

Still, I wish to hell he hadn't called this piece The Jesus and Mary Chain. You're a hot contemporary artist--of course you're hipper than me. Advertising your semi-rock star friends is so gauche.

24. Tomma Abst. Smallish abstract paintings (but not as small as Alys's). Neat, sharp-edged shapes; the guide describes them as "not quite biomorphic or geometric" but they're not biomorphic at all. (Compare Butterly, Nengudi, Bontecou.) They're not geometric in that the curves and angles are irregular rather than patterned--it's not Mondrian--but the overwhelming impression is of a neatness that's the opposite of the biological. Like Rothschild's sculptures, which these somewhat resemble, I like these but don't have much to say about them.

25. Mark Grotjahn. Abstract paintings, mostly monochrome with rays converging on vanishing points separated by a central stripe. The paintings are laid over more brightly colored backgrounds--as you can tell at the edges and the central stripe, where the background leaks through--and also on the side, where Grotjahn has carved his not inconspicuous signature. The signatures are a great joke. Where Rothko and Martin aspire to a mystical state that transcends their egos, these signatures both assert Grotjahn's ownership and disrupt the mood. Unfortunately, the joke doesn't improve with repetition, and the paintings just aren't as profound as such work can be. Rothko and Martin reach a mystical state.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2005

Comparative Advantage

It would be sheerest nitpicking to point out that the rabbit should be holding a trumpet. And that's what you come here for, right?

[UPDATE: It may not be a rabbit.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:40 PM | Comments (0)

Bad News for Academe in Utah

via Michael Berube, this horrifying tidbit:

Legislators wield one potent weapon: money. In January, Utah state senators quietly red-lined funding for a $37 million digital-learning center at Utah Valley State College.

The senators were worried about "the drift of the campus," says UVSC president Bill Sederburg, who fielded complaints from them about an Oct. 20 campus speech by Michael Moore, a student production of The Vagina Monologues and a course on queer theory in literature. "The legislators are saying 'We don't want the college to go too far and lose touch with the community.' But we have an obligation to protect academic freedom."

The state legislators may have realized that the Establishment Clause means that they can't mandate public universities to teach religion. But if the universities want to countenance politically incorrect views, the Legislature will feel free to starve them to death. Not only is this inimical to the mission of a university's spirit of inquiry--it's intended that way.

At least the state government finally got around to approving funds for earthquake-proofing the University of Utah's main library. (Previous complaint.)

The University of Utah also recently passed its accommodations policy (see here). The Salt Lake Trib editorializes (link will expire soon, because the SLT hates it when you link to their content):

The policy says that students who have to miss a class must let the professor know early, so they can decide together how work can be made up. Students are not allowed to simply "opt out" of a course assignment for any reason. If a student objects to some aspect of class content because of "sincerely held beliefs," the teacher can try to modify the requirement, but only if there is a "reasonable alternative." Faculty are not required to alter course content overall or adjust what they teach based on what might conflict with any individual student's beliefs.

Which sounds reasonable. The danger is that, since it's going to work like this:

Under the new policy, a student's request to opt out of having to read or recite certain materials must be considered by the professor, who can then decide whether to accommodate the student's request.

If the student's request is denied, the professor's dean has the right to overturn the decision.

If the professor or instructor disagrees with the dean's decision, it is the dean's responsibility to administer an alternative academic requirement for the student to satisfy the objective of the assignment or material

it might be that a professor would tend to accede to unreasonable requests, rather than go through the rigmarole of an appeals process. On the other hand, professors hate acceding to unreasonable requests. So maybe it'll work out. But I fear that the Legislature will not be above putting pressure on the U. if it doesn't like the decisions that this board makes.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:35 PM | Comments (1)

Carnegie International, Artists 16-20

Fourth installment. See here for all my posts on the Carnegie International.

The International is going to be over right soon--March 20--but I'm going to keep reviewing it until I'm done, anyway. In the meantime, if you haven't been, go.

16. Francis Alys. A big work, The Prophet made of small paintings.

17. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. A video, or maybe a piece of performance/conceptual art documented here by a video.

18. Eva Rotschild. Abstract sculpture.

19. Senga Nengudi. Nylon and sand sculpture.

20. Rachel Harrison. Photographs and more sculpture!

16. Francis Alys. A series of small paintings, about 8 1/2 by 11, spread around the walls of a large room. According to the guide these paintings partake of the tradition of Catholic devotional paintings and of Mexican retablos (Alys, born in Antwerp, works in Mexico City). They are simple and plainly colored, almost like children's book illustrations. A few of them have transparent paper overlays.

Yet there are some obvious differences from devotional art. Almost every figure is seen from the back; many of the ones that aren't are on or behind the transparent overlays. See, respectively, the skeleton embracing the girl in the painting on the left--reminiscent of allegory--and the man on the shore reaching out to the pig in the painting on the right (in the bottom picture here--click to enlarge).

According to the guide "Alÿs has said these works are 'little windows' onto a more spiritual plane; one that the artist may or may not believe exists." That comes across; the transparent overlays and general indirection function like the abstract areas in Mamma Andersson's paintings, separating us from the plane the figures in the paintings inhabit.

One particularly haunting image was of a sleeping soldier with rifle, reminiscent of Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy--but also capturing how our world is out of contact with the pastoral innocence that Rousseau may have depicted. A room with a single small painting in the beam of light that comes from the doorway, is also effective. The beam of light seems accidental, and the painting a moment of illumination in a monastic or prison cell. The more explicitly political non-retablos works were less effective; a stencil of the hooded Abu Ghraib figure was just heavy-handed.

One of the highlights of the International. New York Times critic Ken Johnson says, "Marginally interesting artists like Francis Alys... are given too much space; their work might have fared better in smaller rooms." He's dead wrong.

17. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. A video of the artist chanting a work on the text of female desire to an unknown female corpse. Rasdjarmrearnsook considers the work to be the reading, not the video, which makes it hard to judge. It's also hard for a non-Thai to appreciate the work--it seems to invoke all sorts of specific references to practices of praying over corpses that don't have a counterpart in my tradition. Or perhaps it just invites Orientalism. The video is somewhat hypnotic, and the focus on the reality of the dead human body is always disquieting. But is the disquiet earned?

18. Eva Rotschild. Abstract, minimalist-influenced sculpture. Upright, triangular or pointy forms, for the most part, using space (see the holes punched out of the triangle--click on the bottom picture here in a way that makes it seem less obdurate than perhaps some minimalist sculpture does. I like it but don't have much to say about it--suspended pom-poms raining leather fringes were perhaps my favorite part. According to the guide Rothschild is "also inspired by mysticism and new-age spiritual practices," but you can't tell, thank God.

19. Senga Nengudi. Would it be unfair to say "This year's works in sand and pantyhose"? The last international had work in a similar medium on a much huger scale--things you walked inside, kind of like a Moonwalker. (The artist's name escapes me.)

In Nengudi's work, the ends of the hose are attached to the corners of the room, and the sand fills out shapes suspended in the air. Says the guide, "These bulging, flesh-toned, anthropomorphized abstractions suggest the resilience of the human body. Like molted snakeskins, they retain the 'residue' of the body and the 'energy' of the wearer, suggesting the fragility and sensuality of flesh itself." Id est, these shapes are pendulous, obscene, and funny as hell. Nice work.

20. Rachel Harrison. "Perth Amboy is a series of photographs of a window in a suburban New Jersey house upon which an apparition of the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared." The windows get more and more smudged. The pictures, to me, are not particularly interesting.

Harrison's sculpture is better--goofy assemblages mixing the clean (cardboard boxes) and the messy (other stuff painted with drips). The one shown in the second picture here (click to enlarge, as usual) reminded me of how much moving sucks. The guide says "Intentionally thwarting easy reading, she sets up mysteries, encouraging the viewer to look actively, both physically and conceptually, and to follow her allusive clues into niches, behind walls, and through visual mazes," which I guess means that you can't always tell what the objects in the sculptures are right away, which I guess means I shouldn't tell you what's going on there. OK but not my favorite stuff.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

But Hodge Shan't Be Shot

Somebody had to use that title to link to this exchange of mild snark between Roy Edroso and Ann Althouse.

For the record, I think Edroso is for once wrong here. Also, in case you're concerned, the Hostile Mascot does not go outside, but merely sits on the windowsill thinking dark thoughts about squirrels. And I do not foresee hunting of any sort being permitted on the East Side of Milwaukee anytime soon. So, no worries here.

[I believe this is the fourth time I've resaved this post after some minor alteration. Perfectionism was ne'er so misdirected.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2005

Google Fight!

via John Holbo, Googlefight. I wish I'd known about it when I did this post.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2005

If you're going to the Pacific APA...

you might be interested in this, particularly the comments starting with Matt Davidson's. (And the rest, but especially those.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)


My friend Corey (using her pseudonym, "Corrine McCarthy") gets a shout-out on the Linguist List for this abstract on the decline of /aw/ monophthongization and the Canadian shift in Pittsburgh. I don't read phonological alphabet, so I can't tell exactly what the Canadian shift is--/aw/ monophthongization is apparently what happens in "aht" and "Dahntahn." Anyway, big ups.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:08 AM | Comments (1)

March 07, 2005

Useless Lunchtime Observation II

"Roast Beef, Au Ju Sauce [and other elements of a list]"

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2005

More stressed 'know'

Amanda Marcotte of Mouse Words writes,

Texas is a big state, which people from the outside know, but don't really know. When I met my boyfriend's dad and stepmom, who were down in Beaumont visiting his sister, they asked how far away it was to El Paso, where I was born. I said, "Oh get on I-10 and drive about 850 miles." [emphasis in original, of course!]

Interesting context shift there (or whatever you think is accomplished by stressing 'know'). It could be taken to mean, "Non-Texans think Texas is big, but they don't think it's as big as it really is." Or, what I think is more likely, "Non-Texans think Texas is big, but they don't really understand it." We know Texas is big, but we can't apply our knowledge, as some logic students know the Modus Ponens rule but can't apply it. (I have no particular students in mind.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)


via Atrios, this looks like great news for Pittsburgh and Philly. (See also this and this.) The transit systems were really up against the wall, and if scheduled costs had gone through it would've crippled the cities.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2005

The Trouble with Efficiency

Micah Schwartzman links to a funny article about the limits of Coase's Theorem. I had been thinking of mentioning the theorem (which I first learned of from Jane Galt) in this silly entry. From the article:

The Coase Theorem states that market forces will allocate property rights efficiently, no matter who initially holds those rights, as long as the interested parties can make contracts without additional transaction costs. A corollary, however, is that contracts are almost never made without transaction costs, so legal rules should try to minimize those costs for the parties and for society

and, I might add, to make sure that rights are allocated clearly and unambiguously. The analogy in the previous post would be that argument proceeds efficiently so long as the meanings of terms are stipulated clearly and unambiguously, regardless of what the stipulation is. [NOTE: I don't actually believe that--if you want to be reassured about it, read the rest of the post.]

But there's a point to be made about the article itself.

The situation: Some popular classes at NYU law school are oversubscribed. NYU has an e-mail list "The Coase List," for students who want to trade things--for instance, students who want to switch classes may arrange to meet so that one can add the class as soon as another drops. One student offered to buy spots in some popular classes. The Student Bar Association and administration decided that this was inappropriate, and banned selling class spots.

What interests me is the reasons that were given to defend the ban. Vice Dean Barry Adler said that

legal rules affect not only how resources are allocated, but who winds up spending how much. By barring the sale of classes, the law school aimed to avoid putting pressure on better-off students to buy the classes they wanted, and, even more importantly, pressure on poorer students to sell their valuable seats. "There's nothing inconsistent with Coase's Theorem there," Adler insisted.

Oren Bar-Gill, a behavioral economics professor, argued as follows:

"In a Coasean world, one would think it makes sense to allow trading cash for classes, because both parties are better off," he explained. "But you also have to take into account the ex ante effects of the rule." Specifically, Bar-Gill feared that students would initially bid in the lottery not for the classes they wanted but for the classes most likely to fetch a high price on Coase's List. Then "bright but not so rich students" would avoid N.Y.U., knowing that many spots in the best classes would eventually be sold to their wealthier peers.

Now, I think the simplest account of the problem here can be explained without discussing ex ante effects or any such. (And I think it may be what Adler's getting at.) If you allow unrestricted Coasean bargaining, then you will reach an efficient outcome--in that there will be no persons A and B and goods X and Y such that A has X and B has Y, and B would rather have X than Y, and A would rather have Y than X. But if you want an efficient outcome, and you don't care about the initial allocation of rights, I have a modest proposal: Give me everything. That will lead to an efficient outcome, in which I have everything, and there's no trade that would make both parties better off, because no one else has anything to trade to me.

The point being that efficient outcomes aren't always the best ones. An efficient outcome reached from a certain intial allocation of rights will maximize (roughly, I think) the sum of the following: Each individual's utility multiplied by the amount of resources that person started with. The initial allocation of rights affects each individual's weight in the final allocation, and that can affect how much total utility the society winds up with in the end.

For instance, if I start with everything and you start with nothing, you have a weight of 0, so we can maximize the weighted sum without any regard for your utility. The likely outcome--in which I'm happy and you're miserable--will be worse overall than an outcome in which we started with equal rates, and we both wind up pretty happy in the end. (If everyone has equal weight, the sum you're maximizing is the sum of utility. The more unequal the weights are, the farther away the outcome that maximizes the sum of weighted utilities will be from the outcome the maximizes the sum of actual utilities.)

In this framework, I think it's pretty easy to sum up the problem with selling spots in NYU Law classes. If there is unrestricted Coasean bargaining, spots in classes will tend to get allocated according to who wants the classes most, weighted by how many resources they have. Those resources include intangibles, such as spots in coveted classes, and also money. Money is in much greater supply. So in practice the richest students will get the best spots--and even if this is a Coase-efficient outcome, it may not maximize utility. You can wind up with a rich student getting a spot in a class over a poorer student who wants it more, simply because the rich student can outbid the poorer student.

The administration might well like to have spots in classes allocated according to who wants them most. That would mean it would be OK to have bargaining with spot-switching, because everyone starts off with more or less the same initial allotment (I assume you're all allowed to sign up for a certain number of classes); but bringing money in would not lead to a desirable outcome, and it would be banned.

And I'm a little distressed that a ton of people studying law and economics don't immediately say something like this: "The problem is that unrestricted bargaining, though it leads to an efficient outcome, won't necessarily lead to the best outcome. In the presence of inequality, creating an unrestricted market will mean that the rich will be able to crowd the poor out of desirable positions. And that's not necessarily the most desirable outcome."

If you want to bring it back to the philosophical point (which doesn't follow from the case, it's just analogous): Efficiency in argument isn't the be-all and end-all. Making the right stipulation actually matters. Sometimes you have to allow some argument over the initial stipulations rather than just declaring a technical use of a term and going on ahead.

(I have now linked all but one of the Crooked Timber posters, not counting the dead guy! Yay!)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:57 PM | Comments (4)

Carnegie International, Artists 11-15

Fourth installment. See here for all my posts on the International.

The International ends on March 20, so you'd better hurry if you're planning to see it.

11. Ugo Rondinone. A video installation and also a small sculpture.

12. Isa Genzken. Mixed-media sculptures.

13. Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Huge photographs.

14. Kaoru Arima. Small drawings in correction fluid-patches on newspaper.

15. Trisha Donnelly. Conceputalish stuff.

11. Ugo Rondinone. In Roundelay, as Philip Glass' music plays, on six screens we see a man and a woman striding through deserted Paris. Both move at a steady pace, looking ahead or slightly down, neither making eye contact with the camera even when shot from the front. Occasionally the scene cuts to shots of the skyline, zooming in and out or both at once. This one divided opinion--some of my informants thought it was one of the best works in the show, some thought it was a hyped-up music video. I think hyped-up music video. The skyline shots ("Manipulated to vertiginous effect," saith the guide--understand I'm not blaming the person who wrote this) break up whatever integrity of purpose the piece might have. There is an admitted impact of seeing these two people alone in the deserted cityscape--the "mood of modernist anomie" is well established--but this raises (as one of my sources says) the question of whether any video piece could attain a similar effect given a similarly sumptous surround-sound-and-video presentation.

So this is a piece that might call into question my appreciation of similar video installations in the past. But I think those were indeed better. In New York some time ago I saw a video by Pippilotti Rist (?) in which she pranced down a street in Switzerland, waving a long flowery stalk, occasionally stopping to smash the windows of the cars parked on the street as the bouncy music played on. I don't think I'll remember the Rondinone as long as I remember that one. One difference is that it's more of an accomplishment to generate a tone of whimsical delight underlain with inexplicable menace than of modernist anomie perhaps underlain with same.

I forgot to mention Rondinone's rainbow sculpture "Everyone Gets Lighter," which is the first thing you see as you enter the art museum. I have now done so. (Actually, particularly given the complete gloom of Pittsburgh weather when I was there, this has its uses--maybe the power of whimsy over anomie is at work here.)

12. Isa Genzken. Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death is apparently the result of post-9/11 trauma (I don't know her earlier work, so I can't say how things have changed). Sculptures made of kitsch and literal junk--discarded or smashed appliances--with paint slathered over them. The guide says "[t]he materials seem scavenged from the detritus of some post-apocalyptic landscape; old sneakers, gnarled metal, discarded clothing, and mirrored tiles are arranged in dioramas depicting turbulent struggles within the ruins of an industrialized society." That seems about right; I think the post-apocalyptic feeling would come across even to the unprepped viewer.

These works were apparently some of the more controversial ones in the International--not that they're not work-safe in any way, the controversy is over their aesthetic value. And I can see that. Some of the sculptures are powerful--one with a chain of toy soldiers climbing over some fallen household object (a stack of glasses, was it?) created the exactly the right atmosphere of the strife of war on the ruins of the domestic. Some are just horrible--one with a kewpie doll was the worst sort of attempted profundity through ironic appropriation of kitsch. Am I sure of my judgments in distinguishing them? No. Am I confident that Genzken herself knows the difference? No.

13. Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Huge photographs of pole dancers, mostly upside down, shot in deserted settings, the photographs displayed around the balcony of the Hall of Sculpture. (And if you look down you can see Mangelos's globes and manifestos in the Hall itself! But that's not to be discussed until #30.) Were we just speaking of aestheticization of kitsch? I'm not quite sure whether this recontextualizes the strippers as mythic figures or whether it just displays a lot of mostly naked pole dancers on a large scale. The most interesting one is the one in which the dancer is horizontal, which also as I remember is the one in which she's wearing the most clothes. That one succeeds in creating a feeling of a person suspending the laws of physics.

14. Kaoru Arima. Small-scale pencil drawings in patches of white-out on newspaper. The drawings depict imaginary creatures, mixing the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Or should I say "the doodles depict..."? These are cute but I don't think I'm in tune with the aesthetic of these works. They're not helped by their location, in an alcove off the Hall of Sculpture balcony--diCorcia's bombastic maximalism makes Arima's insistently small-scale work seem deliberately trivial.

15. Trisha Donnelly. As you pass from the Hall of Sculpture Balcony to the Contemporary Art Galleries, where you'll see much of the International's strongest painting and sculpture, you see Donnelly's Night Is Coming. (Don't get confused and go down the stairs--that takes you into Mangelos's work, which isn't scheduled until #30! Also, the stuff on the first floor isn't as good.) This consists of the phrase "Night Is Coming" fading in and out of view.

I'm not qualified to make the following judgment, but I think Jenny Holzer is one of the great artists of the 20th century. So I've nothing against textual art--gnomic phrases displayed in locations where they make a subliminal impact. But I think the difference between Holzer and this is that, say, "You would kill yourself in public if it would stop the war" makes you stop and think, and "Night is coming" doesn't. Donnelly aspires to have her art "slip into the back of people's minds" and this certainly doesn't come right out and grab your attention. Dark Wind, a sound installation in the sculpture galleries, may have created the right sort of subliminal impact; I'm not absolutely positive I heard it going on. Her untitled photographs of swords flanking an entrance in the sculpture galleries were nice in an unassuming way. The impact of Letter to Tacitus, a surprise oration given in the sculpture areas, is perhaps lessened if you find the guard who's going to do it and follow him around until he does.

(If you order the artists in the International alphabetically by last name, Tirisha Donnelly is the median. A "D." I think that's scandalous.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:46 PM | Comments (0)

Carnegie International, artists 5-10

Third installment. See here for all my posts on the International.

5. Kathy Butterly. Ceramics.

6. Saul Fletcher. Small photographs.

7. Neo Rauch. Large paintings.

8. Fernando Bryce. Ink drawings.

9. Harun Farocki. Videos.

10. Julie Mehretu. Really large paintings.

5. Kathy Butterly. Ceramics, shifted and deformed into organic shapes--not organic as in "an organic whole" but organic as in weird biological forms. Delightful work--very funny in an odd way. The gallery guide suggests that these works are 3-D cousins to R. Crumb's comics but Butterly has none of Crumb's underlying misanthropy. The ceramics are (as I remember) brightly colored and unironically cheerful. I haven't much to say about these but they're really extremely good and quite worth seeing.

6. Saul Fletcher. A couple of Fletcher's tiny photographs in the middle of white space are striking or effective--in one he strikes a chicken pose that reminds me of one of Tom Waits' cover shots--but. The Goth aesthetic is not ripe for appropriation/rehabilitation as high culture because it's just plain silly, and I mean in a laughing at you not in a laughing with you way. One particular shot of a woman lying palms up, with crosses covering every available surface, tips the whole thing into absurdity, if it wasn't there already. With a Tom Waits cover shot you get some damn good music.

7. Neo Rauch. Huge surreal canvases. The guide points out that his figures are derived from Socialist Realism, but they find themselves in odd situations and confronted by outbreaks of strange forms. Though when I type that it sounds as though the viewer is drawn to empathize with the figures, and that didn't happen with me at all. Rather, we observe the figures in their odd settings--parodies of stations of commerce on the waterways perhaps--and we observe the piles of weird stuff that they're looking at, with no particular way of resolving the situation at all. The non-realistic elements here are depicted as things in the scene, unlike Mamma Andersson's areas of abstract paint, which stand between us and what we're looking at. "Ambiguous and sometimes menacing," as the guide says; also striking but not moving. In an exhibition that's strong on painting, this didn't measure up to Mehretu (see #10), Alys, Doig, and Andersson.

8. Fernando Bryce "reproduces by hand entire archives of written materials from government documents to tourist brochures." And Revolucion has the impact of... reproductions of archives of written materials from government documents to tourist brochures, in a language I don't happen to read. Boy I didn't get this, though I didn't spend much time with it. Gerhard Richter's effaced painting of the Baader-Meinhof funerals creates a haunting feeling of events flying onto the ash-heap of history. Bryce's reproductions create a feeling of what exactly? You tell me.

9. Harun Farocki. Eye/Machine I, II, III is video of footage from surveillance cameras, film from planes of bombs striking their targets, etc. This is the sort of thing I usually like but not this time. If the footage is supposed to be aestheticized--if the footage from the crosshairs is supposed to show us what's being blown up in a new light--it's not working. (Well, sometimes when the surveillance cameras highlight a form.) If it's supposed to be decontextualized as a comment on the destructive power of technology, and I think that's what the idea is, it's not telling us anything we don't know already. When we see the bomb strike the target, we have to make an effort to think of the target as a real place, where people may have been killed, and to distance ourselves from the abstract perspective we've just been given. The exact same thing happens when we watch footage of bombing on the news with the sound off. I'll watch Jane and Louise Wilson exploring an abandoned military base if I want to see destructive technology with the humanity leached out, and I'll watch Paul Pfeiffer at a basketball game if I want to see video inventively recontextualized.

10. Julie Mehretu. A monumental tryptich of canvases (and an equally large black-and-white study). Abstract but multilayered. The background is derived from architectural drawings of stadia, creating a vast space in which Mehretu places shapes, curves, dots, and swirls. But the foreground elements don't seem to be within the stadium, but to occupy different planes and spaces in front of it. These include monochrome geometric figures as sharply delineated as in Mondrian, though isolated in a way that Mondrian's figures aren't; and recognizable, furthermore, as elements from flags (and often curves of downward-pendant triangles that reminded me of used-car lots, though I'm not sure if that was the idea). Other shapes seem to limn three-dimensional spaces that echo the stadium, or that march into or out of the space behind the canvas; and curves and smudges create a rout or rabble between all the areas.

Mehretu uses graphs that depict social movements, intended to (from the guide) "intersect with the current preoccupation with power, history, and globalization." And--shockingly, for an abstract painter--her intention succeeds. Though we don't know exactly what's going on in the stadium, the bits of flags give us the sense of a gathering of the nations, and the layers and layers of clutter seem to stand for all the people who will never appear as official representatives of their State, gathered in the same place. Awaiting a verdict? Regardless, there is too much going on in this stadium to be subsumed under any single rubric. There is threat here, too; I was reminded of the Santiago stadium, where Pinochet sent his prisoners before murdering them; though that may be an idiosyncratic association (Mehretu's about my age, and neither of us is likely to have been paying that much attention to Pinochet at the time). One of the highlights of the International.

(Pet peeve: You're not allowed to call a painting Untitled (Stadia II) unless perhaps the word "stadia" appears in the painting. If it's called Stadia II it's not untitled, is it? I do like the plain functional title, though.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:44 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2005

Post with Ulterior Motive--Do Not Waste Time Reading

If I were going to try to make a methodological point by linking to this discussion, it would be this:

To some extent, we are free to stipulate that our terms mean whatever we want them to mean, so long as we are clear that we are so stipulating. I could stipulate that I am using the word 'know' so that "S knows that p" is true if and only if p is true--as long as I say warn you up front, you can't protest that the word 'know' isn't used that way. I'm using it that way--that's what I just stipulated. (Speaking of upfront warnings, reread the title of this post.)

Yet some of these stipulations are bad stipulations. The foregoing stipulation is bad because it takes a word that's in ordinary use ('know') and stipulates that it has a meaning that really can be taken care of by another word in ordinary use ('true', give or take a lambda-abstraction). Other stipulations will just be plain awkward to work with. If I stipulate that "S knows that p" means either that S truly believes that p or that S was told p by a one-armed parrot dealer, then the things I go on to say using 'know' are not going to be useful or interesting.

So patently illogical stipulations are bad. Nevertheless, there can be cases in which one stipulation may be slightly more or less logical than an alternative; but the best thing to do is simply to settle on a stipulation upfront. The gain from using the more logical stipulation is less than the loss from determining that it is more logical, arguing that it is more logical, etc.

That's essentially what I was trying to do here. Or so I'll claim if anyone asks me about it.

(Really, the purpose of this post is to try and open up the CT comments to Google, so that this search--AOTW yielding no hits--makes some progress.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:20 PM | Comments (8)

Timothy O'Connor Speaking at UWM Tomorrow

Friday, March 4
Timothy O'Connor, Indiana University
"Freedom with a Human Face"
Curtin Hall 118, 3:30 pm

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

Central APA Program Online

The Program for the APA Central is up. Yours truly is giving this paper Thursday at 3:45, with commentary by Mylan Engel. It's a particular shame that I'm up against a symposium on intellectual virtue, since that's related to my topic, but still you should come hear me if you're in the area. (Please?)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2005

Paper on DeRose on Gaps

(cross-posted to Certain Doubts)

I’ve just posted a shortish paper entitled "DeRose on Truth-Value Gaps for '‘Knows.'" The title is a bit misleading–I’m not so much discussing Keith’s actual view as a view that Keith might have. Keith holds that the standards for 'know' in a certain context are the standards that the speaker chooses to use, rather than the ones that would be reasonable for her to use. If two participants in a conversation insist on different standards, then knowledge ascriptions that meet only one of the standards have no truth-value. I argue that, even if Keith held that the standards in a context were the standards that are reasonable to use, there’d still be truth value gaps in a lot of situations; and that even given his actual views, there are truth-value gaps in more situations than you might think.

Anyway, I’d greatly appreciate any comments anyone has.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)


[UPDATE: Link de-foo'd.]

Great post from Professor B. about how the uprootedness of academic life is hard on families. It's easier to be a rolling stone if you're single, but some of the concerns ("time is fleeting") still apply.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:31 PM | Comments (1)

March 01, 2005

A New Day

It is now March. Proposals for new kinds of weather are being accepted.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:23 PM | Comments (2)