3:16, Tarantino, the Avengers, and Apizza

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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My interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16AM (formerly 3AM).

https://316am.site123.me/articles/anti-theory-philosophy?c=end-times-series

Damon Linker on the bizarre 1619 project, over at the NYT.

https://theweek.com/articles/859776/new-york-times-surrenders-left-race

Caitlan Flanagan nails it with respect to Quentin Tarantino’s terrific Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/tarantinos-most-transgressive-film/595309/

Wonderful documentary on the incomparable TV show, The Avengers.

For a brief time, Dave Grohl was the drummer for Queens of the Stone Age, and the result was blistering performances like this.

A charming and fascinating look into the highly distinguished “Apizza” tradition in New Haven.

38 Comments »

  1. There’s a little typo or error that you might want to correct. When you’re talking about your collaboration with Massimo, you say “Dan and I….” when it seems that you, being Dan, mean “Massimo and I…”

    Yes, I know that I often point out small errors which may not matter to anyone. When I used to teach English composition, my students nicknamed me, “Mr. Punctuation”.

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  2. You say in the interview that “wisdom is inherently conservative”.

    I admit that I haven’t read your longer essay which you link to, but there is a long radical wisdom tradition in Western philosophy. Plato and Socrates (as depicted by Plato) are both wisdom philosophers, but both are very radical, rejecting most of tradition. The Stoics, also wisdom philosophers, are even more radical in their rejection of tradition. A more modern wisdom philosopher, Spinoza, is equally radical as are wisdom philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

    I realize that there is a more conservative wisdom tradition dating back to Aristotle, who seems to be your choice, but there is an open debate about which tradition is really wiser.

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    • admit that I haven’t read your longer essay which you link to

      You really, really should read Dan’s paper. It has some powerful insights. In any case, given the implied definitions of radical and conservative that you and Dan use, I suspect you are talking past each other.

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      • Thank you, but the PDF is available free at the link. I glanced at it, but it merits a more serious reading.

        Anyway, wisdom means understanding what a good life is (what is a good life may differ from one person to another) and understanding how to achieve that good life. Prudence obviously plays a role in determining how to achieve a good life. However, to understand what a good life is seems to call for a radical Socratic criticism of all traditions and conventions. Some traditions and conventions may emerge as wise after that criticism, others may not.

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        • And I don’t mean politically conservative, although I do think that wise people will tend towards moderation in their politics. Wisdom is conservative temperamentally, while knowledge is not.

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        • From the first paragraph:

          “The term ‘wisdom’ suggests a synthesis of intelligence and sound
          judgment. The wise person is one whose intelligence is prudentially
          applied to life, in all of its many, varying dimensions. ‘Prudence’,
          which means ‘good sense’, in addition to sound judgment, implies
          good habits, the development of which requires extensive, varied
          experience, and because wisdom is so intimately connected with
          experience, it cannot be understood in isolation from the common
          beliefs and practices, which constitute the framework within which
          one’s experience is interpreted. The wise person is not one who has
          adopted the ‘view from nowhere’—to employ an expression which
          aptly describes mainline philosophy’s preferred stance3—for he cannot
          separate the questions ‘Is it true?’ ‘Is it good?’ and ‘Is it right?’
          from the questions ‘What will be its impact on real people and real
          life?’ and ‘What will be its effect on that which is already in place?’
          which require us to pay attention not only to current opinions and
          practices but to the opinions and practices of our predecessors.”

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          • Socrates is a character. We know nothing really about the actual historical figure and what he thought, despite the fact that historians are trying mightily to figure it out.

            But the orientation of individuals doesn’t really matter. What I find strange is the idea that wisdom could ever be imprudent and radicalism is by definition imprudent.

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          • In certain situations it’s wise to be radical. Martin Luther King was quite radical in what he and the movement he led demanded, yet I’d say that he was wise in pushing things since there was room to advance. Sometimes a political movement can advance, sometimes not. Wisdom involves knowing when to advance, when to stay put and when to retreat.

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          • I don’t agree with the characterization of King. You are criss-crossing different senses of radical and conservative. And actually King is a great example. I would identify his approach with wisdom, in contrast with Malcolm X’s.

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          • King has been canonized by U.S. culture since his death. You’re not old enough to remember what many white people said about him during his lifetime. I can recall from high school in the early 60’s that King was considered a dangerous radical by many white people.

            Certainly, the people who declared the independence of the U.S. colonies in 1776 took a radical step, yet they seem to have been wise to me.

            In any situation in life, at times radical steps are wise, at times not and one part of wisdom is precisely the ability to understand when radical steps are called for and when not.

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          • I disagree. Again, you are conflating different senses of ‘radical’ and ‘conservative’.

            And I don’t see what my age has to do with anything. What stupid, ignorant racists thought about him has nothing to do with whether he was actually radical or not.

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          • One is radical or not radical in a given historical context. What was radical in 1962 may well be mainstream or even conservative today. To be in favor of the vote for women in 1880 was radical, but in 2019 it is so mainstream that it seems trite.

            Thus, King was radical in 1962 according to people who were would not have been considered “stupid ignorant racists” in 1962: he was considered radical by mainstream educated middle class white people who would have repudiated the KKK and George Wallace just as they repudiated King.

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          • In any event, unless you actually want to engage with the arguments I make in the paper, which are substantial and in-depth, to merely insist that I am wrong is not particularly persuasive. We can trade examples and characterize them in different ways forever.

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          • Since we differ on the significance of our examples, we’ll probably get nowhere. We need examples because as you point out, wisdom is not based on abstract arguments, but on concrete experience.

            However, if I may make one further point, I believe that the more radical your way of living is, the more you need wisdom to live it well. Let’s say I have a conventional marriage: well, tradition helps it along; tradition more or less cues both partners on what roles to play, etc. However, let’s say that my partner and I opt for a long-term open relationship, where we live apart, lead separate lives, but see each other as the significant other in our lives and have done so for many years. To make that non-conventional relationship work for both partners requires lots of wisdom, lots of prudence, but it may be the case that that non-conventional relationship allows both of us to thrive as persons in a way that conventional marriage would not. That’s what I mean by wisdom.

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        • Aristotle’s *method* is demonstrably conservative, relative to Plato’s. He believes that one begins inquiry with views that are already taken as reputable, while Plato advocates inquiry based in a pure rationalism. Politically, Plato believes in rule by intellectuals, which can hardly be credibly characterized as being politically “wise.”

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  3. I loved the Avengers when I was young in the 1960s, but I rewatched a few episodes five years ago and I thought it didn’t age well. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) was as sexy & formidable as she was half a century ago, but for the rest it was a bit too wooden and self-conscious.

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      • I’ve never seen The Avengers, but for banter my favorite example is the 1959 movie, Anatomy of a Murder. Is it like that?

        And, speaking of banter in a contemporary setting, have you seen Veep? The banter is highly profane, but also hilarious and very smart.

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        • Haven’t seen the film. The banter in the Avengers — especially during the Diana Rigg years — was lighthearted, classy, and only included the barest hints of sexual innuendo.

          I’ve seen some episodes of Veep, as my wife loves the show. To me, it seemed to belong to the cringe-comedy genre, which I find difficult to enjoy for any extended period of time. I found Veep funny for a brief time, but quite quickly it felt as if it had outstayed its welcome.

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        • I can help here having seen Anatomy of a Murder – one of Preminger’s best; the Banter in that film is very American and occasionally borders on the folksy; that in the Avengers is very British, droll and ironic.

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  4. Besides being an exceptional film in its own right, Tarantino’s movie has generated some very interesting commentary. I agree that Flanagan wrote a good piece, but I would have liked her to look deeper at one topic in particular. We know that Tarantino likes to do projects that rewrite history in a pronounced way that is central to his plot. So this is a more particular sort of fantasy than just a generic “Hollywood makes fairy tales”. Much of what we learn about Cliff’s past comes from his flashbacks, and Tarantino deftly gives us reason to think that Cliff’s flashbacks are exaggerated and self-serving (as personal memory often is). So is Cliff actually a man with a code “who hews to the old values of the Western hero” as Flanagan suggests? Or is he just desperately trying to recast his life that way?

    Something that I was expecting writers to talk about but I haven’t seen is the two types of Western. So we have the Hollywood westerns of TV and B-movies that Rick and Cliff have been making for years. But Tarantino takes his title from Sergio Leone, and Rick and Cliff go off to Italy. The mythos of Spaghetti Westerns differs in some interesting ways from that of the older Hollywood and marks one of the steps in the demise of the Production Code sensibility.

    I liked that segment on the New Haven pizza. So interesting that each of those restaurants has a long family history.

    Dan, have you tried making jerk chicken the way Kenji Lopez-Alt does at Serious Eats? A key step is using bay leaves and allspice berries to smoke the meat while it slowly cooks. I was very impressed with how it came out and am going to do it again soon. The charred leaves did produce a bit of an oily mess and the berries tended to fall down through the bottom of my gas grill (Kenji used charcoal). So I bought a couple of smoker boxes and will try that for the leaves and berries next time.

    His his Food Lab write up:

    https://www.seriouseats.com/2013/08/the-food-lab-how-to-make-jerk-chicken-at-home.html

    And here is the actual recipe:

    https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/08/jerk-chicken.html

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  5. Dan,
    your interview with Richard Marshall is really very good. You, the person and his beliefs, have slowly emerged over the course of many essays and comments. This interview puts it all together and the final Dan Kaufman is revealed, fully clothed. It is an appealing picture.

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  6. and the final Dan Kaufman is revealed

    I should have said “and the complete Dan Kaufman is revealed”. No person should ever be final and the interesting thing about you is the way your thought continues to evolve.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dan, I first read your paper, Knowledge, Wisdom and the Philosopher some four or five years ago. Now on re-reading it, it seems even more powerful. I really think your paper deserves the full treatment with an EA essay so that more people can be introduced to it.

    For now though I have a small question. In the early part of your essay you mention the questions, is it true, is it good and is it right? Are you not referring, perhaps incorrectly, to the three transcendentals, the true, the good and the beautiful? Your question, is it right, contains elements which may be subsumed under truth and the good. With your background in aesthetics I would have expected you to give more prominence to the beautiful?

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    • I spoke of these three, because they are what (small ‘r’) rationalists tend to fixate on. Beauty is widely believed to be ultimately subjective, so the sorts of people I am talking about are less inclined to treat it as an object of rational knowledge.

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  8. The Wikipedia article on the Avengers has a flaw, in that one of its stuntmen remember it being broadcast in America at 11:30pm. I don’t remember that, I remember it at 9pm. But broadcaster/distributer ABC Television always did have problems with the show – it was a surprise hit, very popular, yet it had a mature sense of humor and occasionally difficult spy-fi/sci-fi plotting – not run-of-the-mill for American television at the time. It was bounced around different time-slots for years, and still into syndication – one could find it on Saturday afternoons, as well as, in different years, Saturday midnight. (Perhaps the stuntman was remembering The New Avengers attempted re-boot, which was always slated for 11:30pm in the US.)

    Anyway, I trust my memory here, because Emma Peel was the first adult female that this then 12 year old boy had a crush on. I don’t think any woman on American television at the time was allowed to be that sensual yet self-assertive. (They almost came up with such a character, Honey West, but didn’t know what to do with her, and the series blundered around and swiftly disappeared.)

    The first episode I remember seeing was the Cybernauts, which was actually quite tense and scary in parts. The Avengers managed to combine style, humor, thrills and class. When one compares the unstudied savoir-faire of John Steed to the suave but very affected mannerisms of the Man from UNCLE’s Napoleon Solo, the difference is striking.

    Of course they had the occasional clunker, and sometimes they pushed the humor to the point of self-parody, and that can get tiresome. (I wish they had never introduced the “Mother” character.) I prefer what the writers of Brisco County referred to as “just below over-the-top” – an agreement between the show’s makers and the audience not to take anything too seriously (but to suspend disbelief in the scary parts). But that’s one of the many problems of television, it’s impossible to maintain high quality over the lengthy periods of 5 or ten years needed to have a successful program (that isn’t just some mutant soap-opera).

    Anyway, at its best, it was a breath of fresh air on TV, and has never been duplicated since.

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  9. Since no-one else has, I’ll put in a word for the 1619 project, a date mentioned in the MLK speech:

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/8/20/20813842/1619-project-new-york-times-conservatives-slavery

    “We know the history of this old order in America. You will remember that it was in the year 1619 that the first Negro slave was brought to the shores of this nation. They were brought here from the soils of Africa and unlike the Pilgrim fathers who landed here at Plymouth a year later, they were brought here against their will. For more than 200 years Africa was raped and plundered…It might be true that old man segregation is on his deathbed but history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power…”

    After reading the essays and the criticisms of historians of the books they cite (Sven Beckert, Edward Baptist), it seems to me that the material the 1619 project actually uses is, generally, less controversial than the grand “New History of Capitalism” theses per se. For example, I think it is quite plausible that the evolution of the US health system when compared to the rest of the developed world reflects pressure from those elements of society requiring a two-tier system. I am reminded of the Chilean Medical Association versus Allende and his public health oriented viewpoint.

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