Listeners on Listening
1 day ago
Front: MAX, Birdies (detail), 1991. Acrylic paste on painted wall. 86 x 130 cm. Private collection.Flipping through the book reveals many similar photographs of cats at work, or of the finished products themselves, some of which, like Birdies, are quite eye-catching. Are these cats really "painting"? One's first reaction cannot but be: no way (we know the titles how, for instance…?). But when John McEnroe exclaims "You cannot be serious!" he knows full well that they are: that's why he's upset about it. But this – is this a parody? A hoax? A sincere but deluded claim? (A startling discovery?) At first it's not clear.
Mutt, R. Decorative Retromingency. Urinary embellishment as a major problem in the curation of feline art. Journal of Non-Primate Art, Vol. XV, 1991.At first this isn't any more questionable than More Paw Less Claw. But of course "R. Mutt" is the signature on Fountain, Marcel Duchamp's infamous inverted urinal, to which this is a sly if unmistakeable reference – through the idea of "urinary embellishment" as well as to the issue of the artistic interpretation of found objects more generally. (There are other intentional giveaways: on p. 75, Bootsie's opus Cocking for Cockatoos (1993) is listed as being part of London's "Scraatchi Collection" – alluding to the actual Saatchi collection.)
As befits a reviewer [i.e., of Davidson's fourth volume of papers, Problems of Rationality] who is also a fervent disciple, I have used the space at my disposal to expound Davidson's views rather than to criticize them. I think that most of his critics have failed to grasp the audacity of his outlook—to realize that he is calling for what he once referred to as a "sea-change" in philosophical thinking. That change would make much of contemporary philosophical discussion seem as absurd as scholastic philosophy seemed to Hobbes and Descartes.With any luck (and subject to the by now familiar caveats), the same may be said of Rorty's work as well.
Davidson had no taste for polemics, and he was too courteous ever to adopt a merely dismissive tone toward colleagues with whom he disagreed. But his ideas were as radically subversive of the traditional problematic of post-Cartesian philosophy as were Wittgenstein's.
Many who have no use for Wittgenstein have none for Davidson, and for the same reason: to adopt the views of either would be to dissolve problems which they have spent the best years of their lives trying to solve.
Wittgenstein is no longer much read in graduate philosophy programs, and perhaps Davidson too will cease to be assigned. But if these five volumes of essays do suffer the neglect presently being suffered by Philosophical Investigations, they will remain, like time bombs, on the library shelves. They will be detonated sooner or later.
What Robinson really wants to talk about is why primitivism is the best way of life, why outdoorsy people are the only completely realized humans, why rock climbing is so interesting, and why Californians should be infinitely more snobby about their state than New Yorkers could ever be about New York. These themes interrupt Sixty Days so frequently, and at such length, that they essentially hijack whatever the book was trying to be.How about the natural disaster angle? In this first book, at least, not much actual climate change occurs – there's a big storm and flood in DC, and the Arctic ice is breaking up, affecting the ocean currents – but nothing really exciting. I suppose this is part of KSR's point, that it won't go down like The Day After Tomorrow, but it doesn't exactly make for interesting reading. There is a suggestion, in a subplot involving Tibetan exiles, of possible future paranormal activity (this is a science fiction book, after all), but I'm afraid I'm not going to stick around to find out.
I would like Robinson to go back to his word processor and give Sixty Days a fair shot, dispensing with the kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing, and feral life. That book would be more like a novel -- but unsatisfying, I suspect, to Robinson. And thus we are left with this question: if Kim Stanley Robinson's main priority is to preach primitivism and impress upon us the virtues of the California landscape and outdoor sports, does he really want to be in the business of writing novels, or is there a better way to communicate this?