April 28th, 2005

Boss Coffee

La Paglia at Madison

Ann Althouse went to Paglia's book signing last night in Madison and came away less than impressed. It seems to me that she might have been expecting more explanations than are really reasonable for a Q&A session like that, especially for someone as well-known as Paglia...on the rare occasions when I go to book signings, I'm usually pretty familiar with the author and his works, whether it's David Drake or Roger Kahn. So I'm surprised that she's not all that familiar with Paglia's criticism of post-structuralism or Paglia's career history - both of those are covered extensively in her two essay collections, Sex, Art And American Culture and the sequel Vamps And Tramps.

Paglia's objections to post-structuralism are first, due to to its origins in French language and culture, it has no real utility in English, any more than a crtiique of French politics would have viable application in America. Secondly, and far worse, post-structuralism is destructive to the disciplines of history and literature since it discourages students from studying the connections all art has with the past (depriving them of useful context) while encouraging them to play with words instead of gaining an understanding of what art, history and literature mean in their proper contexts. This is made very clear in her searing essay "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders", which is a declaration of war against the post-structuralists, their dominance of the Modern Language Association, and the damage they are doing to today's college students, who increasingly (and correctly, in Paglia's view) shun the humanities in favor of business and professional degree programs which have little (if any) arts content. Her criticisms are also made evident in a pair of scathing reviews contained in Sex, Art And American Culture, which are worth reading even if one has no interest in art history.

Althouse also ignores the context of Paglia's championing of pop culture. Yes, Pauline Kael was making intellectuals think about movies - but Kael wasn't teaching in a university, she was writing movie reviews. Yes, many of us had English teachers who had us analyze Beatles lyrics - but they weren't trying to get their masters' degrees at the time. Even today, professors who study the relationships of anime, manga, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to classic literature and modern culture are regarded as being somewhat "fringy" by their peers in the universities, so it's not too hard to understand how Paglia ran into difficulties thirty years ago. Not too hard for me, anyway.
the mark

The Wal-Mart conundrum

Something that's nagged at me for a while has been the hostility of a lot of folks to Wal-Mart and the other "category killer" stores like Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and so on...even people who are otherwise pretty libertarian get their shorts in a knot when one of their favorite shops goes under, ostensibly because one of the category killers sucked all the money out of the local economy. I've already commented on 433's complaint about Bound to be Read's demise, so I won't repeat that argument here, but I want to noodle out loud about this a bit.

Seems to me that while people are okay with the abstract notion of libertarianism, they also have these notions about how people should be able to earn a living wage doing what thy want to do, and that small Mom and Pop stores should be able to continue doing business even if it means that extraordinary legal measures have to be taken to keep Wal-Mart out of the neighborhood. This reminds me of the comment Garrison Keillor makes in Lake Wobegon Days about how his neighbors talked a lot about free enterprise but in practice expected people to support each other by buying local, even if it was less expensive to buy things a few miles down the road in St. Cloud. You see this on a bigger scale as subtext in Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash, where laissez-faire capitalism run amok has broken up the United States into "franchulates" and "Burbclaves" and some random scattered pieces of "Fedland" where the old Federal government still exercises what little power it still has. (Economically illiterate, imao, but that's an argument for another day.)

Now, I'm not going to repeat the normal arguments in support of Wal-Mart; you can find some here and here. These also apply to the other category killers, though WM tends to attract most of the flak on account of their high visibility and conscious Low Rent approach. There are conservative arguments against WM, too. What I want to know is, what's the libertarian argument against the big box stores? Is there one? Or is this just a case of people (as usual) being people and having different political stances on different issues?