Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Must Read: Christopher Shannon

The Japery links to several works by or about Christopher Shannon, a contemporary thinker previously nearly invisible to me. A former student of Christopher Lasch, he seems to have zeroed in on the intellectual failings of his brilliant mentor:

Shannon tagged this project "the tradition of conspicuous criticism," and attempted to locate Lasch within it. "More than any other intellectual since the 1950s," Shannon wrote, "Lasch carried on the struggle with modernity as it took shape in the tradition of conspicuous criticism." But despite his acuity of vision, Lasch seemed unable to accept one ominous historical reality: due to the modern rejection of a world governed by a "spiritual order" and the affirmation instead of "the creation of value and meaning by autonomous human subjects," the sort of community for which Lasch and so many others yearned--whether they were on the left, center, or right--was impossible. Whatever their own self-flattering perceptions, Americans were, constitutionally, "a people bound together only by a belief in their inalienable right not to be bound together to anything." Given this brute philosophical and political reality, the unceasing jeremiads pronounced by moralists like Lasch, however intelligent and well-intentioned, were doomed to fail. "Calls for moral responsibility are pointless apart from some context of shared values, and the only values Americans share are the procedural norms of a libertarian social order, the thinness of which incites the anxiety that drives the jeremiad in the first place." He concluded the book with a damning pronouncement: "The bourgeois attempt to construct a rational alternative to tradition has failed."
Eric Miller, Alone in the Academy

Mr. Shannon did pen a memorable review of Frank McCourt's impotent, rage-filled Angela's Ashes for First Things, but due to the absolute nadir of my health I managed to miss his extraordinary essay Catholicism as Other.

Reading the culture of critique through the lens of Alasdair MacIntyre, Shannon considers multi-culturalism as one manifestation of a secularized Protestant spirit:

Gerald Early rightly traced multiculturalism's obsession with issues of personal identity back to the Puritan tradition of self-scrutiny; he would have done better had he also traced the metaphors of boundlessness that run through so much of multicultural (and liberal) rhetoric to their roots in the post-Puritan transcendentalism of nineteenth-century American literature. The multicultural attack on "structural barriers rooted in race, class, gender, sexuality, and citizenship" must be understood as a contemporary manifestation of the classic American antinomian rejection of all restrictive--or even defining--structures external to the self. Regrettably, even Early proved too dull to consider that American culture could ever possibly be anything else. That something else, the repressed story, if you will, simmering beneath the surface of the discourse of multiculturalism, is Catholicism.

Shannon also offers a choice analysis(to make a groaning pun) of Margaret Mead's selective reading of Samoan culture which even bypasses the bog of academic fraud allegations:

True to her anthropological ideas, Mead understood Samoan sexual freedom in the context of a broader culture that has no place for the romantic love or emotional intimacy Westerners tend to associate with sex. In adopting Samoan sexual practices, must Americans adopt Samoan attitudes toward romantic love? Not at all. For Mead, it is a very simple matter of picking and choosing what you like and do not like in a particular culture.

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