Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The near enemy of compassion, the rage for order, and the politics of the semi-colon

I just read Noga's post that took the Brecht poem mentioned here as its starting point. I strongly recommend reading it, and thinking carefully about Hannah Arendt's argument about pity as a corrosive force in politics.

Arendt's argument resonates with a piece by Lisa Ruddick which Martin Meenagh links to. Riddick's (long) article in The Chronicle is very, very good, written in the wake of 9/11 and indicting the dangerous orthodoxies of the liberal humanities. There are many important, mainstream, left-wing academics who are exceptions to the orthodoxies Ruddick discusses. Martha Nussbaum, Richard Sennett, Zygmunt Bauman, Charles Taylor, Les Back and Robert Fine spring to mind. Interestingly, none of these are in English literature departments...

The reason the piece resonates with Arendt's argument is that Ruddick uses the interesting concept "near enemy"; what Arendt is saying is that the near enemy of compassion is pity. Compassion - especially in the form of solidarity - is a necessary element in politics; pity leads only to terror.

I also only just noticed that Norm picked up on the same semi-colon news item that aroused such passionate debate here. (Should I be writing "semicolon" instead, as Norm and the NYT do? I need Mr Neches' help on that!)

Norm uses the item to present a fascinating, thought-provoking anecdote about the Nuremburg Charter. Which would neatly lead me on to what I have to say about Samantha Power, except I haven't written it yet...

And, this seems sort of related, another inspiring academic, Bernard-Henri Levy. BHL was the subject of a debate-let on this blog as to whether he is a "candy-ass intellectual" or not: 1, 2, 3. (Incidentally, BHL's daughter, Justine Levy, was Jean-Paul Enthoven's wife before he had his affair with Carla Bruni, who is now Nicholas Sarkoszy's wife, about which I will pass no comment.)

5 comments:

The Contentious Centrist said...

BHL backed Segolene. Maybe his motives were not so pure, based on your revelations...?

Here is a debate he held with Andre Glucksmann about the latter's energetic support for the even more energetic Sarkozy.

http://contentious-centrist.blogspot.com/2007/05/t-his-duel-between-two-french.html

BHl is a sort of a philosopher celebrity, married to a beautiful and talented wife who is also a celebrity. So it's easy sometimes to dismiss him, until he comes up with one of those genuine moments of moral lucidity. After which you are ready to forgive him anything, including his ostentatious humilty...

The Contentious Centrist said...

Congratulations on your Normblog profile.

So you are neither Bob nor from Brockley...

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Anonymous said...

" except I have written it yet..."

Haven't?

bob said...

Thanks anon for the pointing out my error, particularly glaring in a post which includes a tribute to Mr Neches. I will amend.

Thanks Noga for the congrats - I'm keeping up the air of mystery for the moment.