Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Twelve Rounds with Kant (Part 8)

Ohohoho. Hoh ho hah. Hahahaha...hah.

So we're back to Immanuel Kant again. I'm going to commit a blogging faux pas right off the bat and not provide any links to the first seven posts on the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–7), partially because I'm lazy (just use the archive and look around the fourth quarter of 2020), and partially because those posts embarrass me somewhat. I spent so much time trying to come to terms with the Transcendental Aesthetic and Analytic that I had only enough energy and patience to give the Transcendental Dialectic (the longest and really the most important section of that book) a undeservedly sketchy treatment. But there's nothing to be done now.

I won't claim to completely understand the Critique of Pure Reason, nor am I close to substantially internalizing its schematics—but my admiration and fascination with it have not diminished since I set it aside for a while (but never for a very long while). And I suppose in some not insignificant respect I've accepted at least a few of Kant's main points: during a discussion with a coworker who was bouncing some of his metaphysical ideas off me, I heard myself saying that the concept of the human soul, considered as an indestructible and eternal object existing in a continuum where past, present, and future exist as a singular unity, lies so far beyond the bounds of possible experience that there's nothing to be gained by elaborating on the idea or imagining that it has any implications we can reasonably explore.

I waited several months after finishing the first Critique before opening the second, the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). As a mere book, the second Critique is far less intimidating than the first: not taking  into consideration the print size and trim of each edition, the Critique of Pure Reason runs over 600 pages, while the Critique of Practical Reason is a comparatively scanty 130. I smiled when I first held it in my hands. "A featherweight," I told myself. "This will be a breeze."

Hah. Ha ha ha ho heeheehee heheheh heh hah hoohoo hah haaah. 


So here's what we're going to do. In this post, I will summarize the Critique of Practical Reason. I am not doing this with a reading audience in mind; I'm perusing the text, taking notes, and writing them out so as to better understand this dense motherfucker of a book. If you want to follow along, well, the more, the merrier—though I would strongly advise against quoting me on anything here. I am a humble student, and prone to misinterpretation and/or missing the point. There are plenty of experts who can provide synopses and commentary far more informed than mine.

Also: I will abstain from expressing any reservations I might have about Kant's premises, methods, or conclusions, at least for now. Before I argue with him, I feel I ought to make a concentrated effort to comprehend what he's saying.

As before, I will intercalate paintings in order to give us all an opportunity to relax our eyes between slabs of text. There isn't much of a thematic connection between Kantian ethics and late nineteenth-century American still life, but the pairing somehow feels right. Perhaps it's the intimation of mustiness.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

contextual disintegration supplement: MAD and The Simpsons

The last post was originally going to be more generalized, examining the "contextual disintegration" of media artifacts (for lack of a better term) across a few different fields. It ended up being too broad a topic for a short blog post, so I settled for focusing on the particular case of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which had anyway inspired the idea. I did jot down some notes regarding a couple of other specific instances, which I'll expand upon here. Just for fun.


My father bought me my first copy of MAD in 1993. For the next several years, I'd greedily seize new issues and specials off the magazine rack whenever they appeared. I was hooked. Even though I'd seen almost none of the movies or TV shows satirized in each issue, I could spend hours studying Mort Drucker's illustrations; the man was a virtuoso. Just looking at Tom Bunk and Rick Tulka's illustrations was enough to make me burst out laughing. Don "Duck" Edwing wasn't exactly Don Martin (Duck's mentor/collaborator, and my father's favorite MAD artist, whom I wouldn't discover until picking up a few reprints and specials), but his idiosyncratic themes and macabre vaudeville were always good for a chuckle. I wasn't sure whether I should find Bill Wray's "Monroe" relatable or appalling, but when it became a monthly feature in 1997 it was one of the first things I'd look for when opening a new issue. And, yeah, I became a little more informed about the way the world works from articles like "A MAD Look at the Real 'Clinton Coalition,'" "MAD's 1993 Washington Lobbyist All Stars," and "The Republican Party's 'Contract with America' (TRUTHFUL Post-Election Version!)" were much more educational than the Darkwing Duck and Goof Troop comics I was reading in Disney Adventures.

Cover of MAD #319 (June 1993)

Only much later did I understand that the 1990s were the beginning of MAD's slow decline after four decades of publication. Even though MAD's cultural influence had long since peaked, it remained as spry and incisive as ever through most of the 1990s. But the media ecosystem in which it was able to thrive was on the verge of a cataclysmic transformation.