BOOK REPLIES/REVIEWS (2013): Nussbaum and Cohen’s (2002) For Love of Country?

30 September 2014

Summary (in One Sentence)

Some reply and elaborate new alternatives; some respond and choose between existing alternatives; some react and deny some of the existing alternatives.


Last year in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day, and now I’m not sure if I kept up. I have the same task this year, and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). These reactions will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to that when I read it. In general, these amount to assessments of in what ways I found the book helpful somehow.

Consequently, I may provide spoilers, may misunderstand books or get stuff wrong, or get off on a gratuitous tear about the thing in some way, &c. I may say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff. There are some in the world who expect everyone to be omniscient and can’t be bothered to engage in a human dialogue toward figuring out how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reaction I offer for a book is a here’s what I found helpful about this, then it is further up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, this or whatever it is we see as potentially helpful toward making the world a better place. If you can’t be bothered to take up your end of that bargain, that’s part of the problem to be solved.

Another Reaction To: Nussbaum and Cohen’s (2002)[1] For Love of Country?

NOTE: it appears I forget to post this last year; better late than pregnant, as they say.

This book consists of numerous essays responding to a piece by Nussbaum that appeared in the October/November 1994 edition of The Boston Review, which at the time also included 29 replies; in this edition, compiled after 9/11, eleven original responses re included plus five new ones, along with a concluding reply by Nussbaum. Since this is 18 essays in all, I may react more than once to this book. This is the fourth.

As a first note, an observation by twelfth-century monk Hugh of St. Victor bears on the present set of essays:

The man who finds his country sweet is only a raw beginner; the man for whom each country is as his own is already strong; but only the man for whom the whole world is as a foreign country is perfect (qtd. In Todorov, 1984,[2] p. 250).[3]

One of the things to emerge over the course of riding several responses to Nussbaum (2002), and Pinsky’s (2002)[4] piece, exemplifies this, involves the tautology, for example, that patriotism and cosmopolitanism “are not mere ideas, but are feelings, indeed they are forms of love” (85). The false opposition between mere ideas and affects, actually forms of love, makes good on Pinsky’s expressed worry later that he risks an “accusation of sentimentality” (90). Absolutely right, for in his fantasy about Brooklyn, a Brooklyn he admits he never lived in, a Brooklyn that existed if at all only in his imagination as a child, and which looking back he can now admit “was far uglier than [he] supposed in [his] afición for the Dodgers” (90) of that era, he admits that his form of love—call it cosmopolitanism, as he does, or patriotism—has no grounding on anything real.

Immediately, one my say the man who feels he needs to rape a woman or put a genocide in motion gets contextualized by Pinsky’s excuse for this: that eros sometimes takes terrible forms—on grounds just not only just as neurotic and irrational but just as selfish (and that matters more than the neurosis and irrationality) Pinsky expresses a willingness to tolerate rape and genocide, so to speak, just so he can keep his false nostalgia for a time that never existed; “nevertheless, the Brooklyn of the Dodgers is a cultural reality shared by many, and I am proud to be among them” (90).

What remains so irking in Pinsky’s idealization of affect, which borders on the narcissistic in the way he formulates it and which he signals ideologically in the phrase “mere idea,” arises in the notion that these affective experience somehow involved no learning, as if Pinsky (or anyone) would have, does have, these sorts of “feelings” regardless of who or where they live. Notwithstanding that not everyone feels rooted to the place of their birth or the place of their growing up—much less has an illusory nostalgia about that period—not everyone orients to their experience through affect either. One might, in fact, discern in the patriotism versus cosmopolitan debate a Jungian-type distinction between thinking-oriented people and feeling-oriented people. Pinsky’s article, which juxtaposes and privileges one of the most intellectually rarefied notions of affect (eros) next to one of the most affectively driven efforts to create a pure abstraction of language (Esperanto), signals where he comes down on the matter just as surely as the lamentations and garment-ripping opens with make it seem as if Nussbaum has stolen his sweet roll with her essay.

It might seem unjust or unfair or even slightly cruel to react this way; after all, Pinsky fires up a gigantic emotional appeal (more than an argument) so that rejecting it has that quality of pathos that Frye (1957) imputes to the (often female, often rejected) supplicant, who must beg the King for some kind of mercy. But this apparent trap implicates the crux of Pinsky’s argument—must one accede to an appeal, merely because it comes with a big wash of feeling? Once again, the rapist and would-be genocidalist doubtless wants vastly what he wants as well, and so what? Children regularly get their wants crushed, and on far more arbitrary grounds—on that point, one may find no accident that Pinsky’s argument circles around to childhood nostalgia at root; the same root that these kinds of affect-driven appeals to patriotism tend to devolve.

If we can locate the “justification” for crushing children’s desires—children’s’ eros—then it comes at the juncture where whatever the adult must accomplish, whether keeping a roof over everyone’s head, providing food, clothing, whatnot, then this happens in such a way that the child can provide essentially nothing toward that end. I want a toy robot, but my mother has rent to pay—with some creativity, and given a luxury of time, a parent might find a way to meet the wanting of the child without assenting to the specific (expensive) demand. &c. Fill in all the other variegated details of child-rearing as you like. In the present case, in the human task of taking care of the world, his desire for the toy robot of nostalgia may (I say does) warrant crushing, especially as his affect-driven “tear-jerker” involves emotional hostage-taking. It frames an issue in an either/or—or simply picks up Nussbaum’s either/or, though he immediately changes the terms of her argument to suit his—and then comes down in what amounts to a “take it or leave it” appeal.

Nussbaum’s’ augment has two central elements: a rejection of patriotism (this points to the negative part) and a promotion of cosmopolitanism (described positively). Pinsky, like others, uses the latter to browbeat the former, precisely in the kind of way that Nussbaum flags as problematic. Pinsky gets rubbed raw by lectures on jingoism and hurls the epithet provincial liberally at Nussbaum, while getting jingoistic and provincial himself, even adamantly and proudly so; “Call it patriotism” (90). He offers little, if any, rapprochement between Others in culture, dismissing the passion of Nussbaum’s piece as bloodless and abstract, and this while lecturing her for not taking Marcus Aurelius’ advice to listen to others closely seriously enough.

All argumentation remains affect-driven to some degree, but it may shade as well over into affect-blinded. Such affect-blindness, what might be a case of ego-inflation in Jung’s terms, makes for a central concern in Nussbaum’s essay, and in her reply to these essays Nussbaum (2002)[5] specifically says,

We have many ways of avoiding the claim of common humanity. One way, I think, is to say that the universal is boring and could not be expected to claim our love. I am astonished that so many distinguished writers should make this suggestion, connecting the idea of work citizenship with a “black-and-white” world, a world lacking in poetry (139).

Pinsky exemplifies the aptness of this concern, but most of all in his refusal to consider the Other—the one who does not comprise an inhabitant of whatever (imaginary) zone of patriotism the patriot occupies. For all of his professions of admiration for Nussbaum at the beginning of his essay, that she has come out and said these things makes Pinsky wail and, ultimately, he draws a line in the sand: since she shows herself not with him, she proves herself against him.

Putnam (2002),[6] despite being an arch-philosopher, veers into affective terrain as well. In illustrating answers to the question why is discrimination wrong, replies like we are created in the image of go or because we are both fellow passengers to the grave appeal to him in a way that because we are citizens of the world does not. He suggests this test yields the results it does because the history of explanations (religious or social) provide hooks; in other words, he has a history of acculturation to these traditions and thus finds himself reacting according to them, whereas the political appeal of we are citizens of the world has no traction because there exists no tradition (however much Nussbaum sketches it out for us). So Putnam (affectively) responds to what he has been trained to respond to—que mirabilis! Putnam, rather superciliously notes:

It may be that “citizen of the world” will one day have that kind of moral weight and that Martha Nussbaum will have been the prophet of a new moral vision. But it doesn’t today (96).

At one point, Putnam expresses astonishment that Nussbaum has invoked universal reason as she has in her essay. [7] For a philosopher of Putnam’s rank to declare that Nussbaum’s argument lacks merit because it lacks public support seems equally as striking. Having allowed himself this lapse, he then tries to explain it away, and does so with a (possibly useful) bait-and-switch substitution of “critical intelligence and loyalty to what is best in our traditions”(97) for cosmopolitanism and patriotism, respectively. He says this because, without something like a tradition we would have nothing to work on to sort what to keep from what we find worth keeping, a process we must accomplish necessarily as situated individuals, not as empty (universal) reasoning engines, which sound reasonable enough. Presumably, Putnam acknowledges, though without actually saying so, that whatever critical intelligence we might bring to the project of discerning in tradition what we want to keep and what we want to abandon occurs in a situated way itself. In his example, he says, “I believe that we need to condemn the conditions that poor people everywhere daily experience as unjust, as contrary to the most elementary principles of morality, and simply as contrary to ‘our’ values, in the style of Richard Rorty” (96). Presumably this expresses Putnam’s situation, and robber-barons might share that situation, even as they merrily (or guiltily) go on perpetuating and imposing poverty on most of the people in the world.

Putnam’s language here rings unpleasantly. He “believes that we need to condemn the conditions that poor people everywhere daily experience as unjust”; such condemnation may provide a necessary but not yet sufficient condition, while couching this all in “I believe” validates on similar grounds (or invalidates Putnam’s point as a belief) the belief that we need not condemn such poverty. Moreover, I might condemn such imposed poverty and continue imposing it, considering myself a sinner, rather than a hypocrite (who attempts to ascribe the evil of such imposition of poverty as actually a good).

Besides these inadvertent ironies of Putnam’s argument for example, which seem more rooted in his lack of real commitment to the tenor of the example chosen, the larger point points to a whole unacknowledged aspect of Putnam’s argument: how does the inquiry (using critical intelligence for the sake of our best traditions) get conducted. If my immediate point above involves who gets to participate, and all of the socioeconomic problems that points to, then once we even manage to get a genuinely representative sample of people to the discussion table, how will the dialogue of critical intelligence occur, in what mode of discussion?

Obviously, the participants will consist of situated individuals—saying this amounts to saying nothing. In fact, what matters in that room concerns not individuals at all but the (status of the) we composed or comprised of them. What does it matter if a King and a Pauper face one another across the table if they encounter one another as human beings—whether because Putnam finds his affect-gland tweaked by “we’re all in the image of god” or “we’re all fellow passengers to the grave” or doesn’t in “we’re citizens of the world”. At that moment at that table, precisely our situated responses as individuals become means not ends to the continuation of a dialogue. Normally they might serve as means, when we do not (in some way) have an Other to account for in our action;[8] in the kind of situation described here, we may recognize the inheritance of a long-standing tradition (to use Putnam’s wording rather than Nussbaum’s “universal value” or “universal reason”) that humans value recognition, compassion, cooperation, and fairness in our conduct with one another. Obviously, at any moment the King might “pull rank” (on defensible grounds or not), but that will no less present a violation of the long-standing traditions of recognition, compassion, fairness, and cooperation.[9]

Insofar as Pinsky and Putnam (seem to) construe Nussbaum’s article as an “attack,” one may read Pinsky’s affect-blinded response both as a reaction to (a perceived) lack of compassion on Nussbaum’s part or as a denial of compassion for Nussbaum’s position. One might say this involves a non-recognition as well, insofar as Pinsky dismisses her position as a mere idea, an abstraction, and bloodless. All of what I’ve called conduct virtues (recognition, compassion, cooperation, and fairness) necessarily hinge on and involve the Other, so a “violation” of any virtue will affect the totality of the Other. According to our own situatedness, i.e., our own orientation to whatever constitutes the preeminent virtue in our constellations of values, we will then read out violations. One may say that Pinsky treats Nussbaum unfairly, for instance, perhaps due to a lack of compassion on his part for her position or out of a (deliberate) refusal to recognize her position, &c. These details, in the abstract, bear no further than on an (my) analysis of the conduct of the static and paper-based exchange recorded in Nussbaum’s collection of pieces. What matters does not hinge on whether I have got it right or whether Pinsky’s or Putnam’s motivations lie elsewhere; the point hinges on my desire to illustrate how the dialogue gets conducted. Nor does this ignore that Nussbaum herself throws down gauntlets—a dog barks, another dog barks back, and astonishment on the part of the first event must seem disingenuous at best.[10] Still, one may discern in the range of responses a range “from” mutual monologue toward dialogue,[11] and the more the exchange moves toward monologue—for example, from the we of a reply such as Butler (2002)[12] or Falk (2002)[13] or Scarry (2002)[14] offer, to the I of a response such as Glazer (2002)[15] or Pinsky (2002) throw out, to the sort of basically instinctual reaction that Gutman (2002)[16] and Himmelfarb (2002)[17] display—the the more and more we see a violation of the long-standing human traditions of recognition, compassion, fairness, and cooperation in various forms. To frame this notion of the distinctions between reply, respond, and react, some cybernetics:

For the living system of human beings, first-order regulators govern cognitive processes, homeostatically maintaining the stability of the unities’ organic states by a reactive process of feedback. Second-order regulators govern self-aware processes, heuristically maintaining the viability of the unity’s organization by a selective process of reacting or responding. And third-order regulators govern meaningful processes, axigenically* maintaining the being of the unity’s identity by a dialogic process of replying, responding, or reacting.

*by “axigenic” I mean value-generating or value-creating.

Taking an event to mean an occurrence that affects a human being as a living system, then human beings may be described as open to the energy but closed to the information and control[18] of a given event (Ashby, 1956). On this view, I use perturbation to connote the energetic aspect of the event, stimulus to connote the control aspect of the event, and message to connote the information aspect of the event. Furthermore, I suggest an event may be described as question that prompts one of three general forms of answer: a reaction connotes a mechanical answer with only a single alternative, a response connotes a dialectical answer selected from among a range of alternative answers available to the living system, and a reply indicates a dialogical answer constructed as a new alternative from the range of alternative answers available to the living system. While perturbations are always answered reactively, stimuli may be answered reactively or responsively, and message may be answered with reactions, responses, or replies.

Orders of regulation (as feedback, heuresis, and axigenesis) absorb input variety toward maintaining a living system’s continued existence (vis-à-vis stability, viability, and being). Feedback, as first-order regulation, reacts in the only way it knows how to the current range of a system variable toward maintaining a stability. Heuresis selects in the only way it knows how from the current range of alternatives available toward maintaining viability. Axigenesis dialogizes in the only way it knows how the range of range of alternatives effectible toward maintaining being.

Scarry (2002) immediately gets at some of this; “the way we act toward ‘others’ is shaped by the way we imagine them” (98), even if the weight of her article considers modifications to the law as providing a ‘role model” so to speak for modification of behavior in the non-legal sphere.[19] Although Scarry’s wording may seem a bit overstated, it bears repeating:

The difficulty of imagining others is both the cause of, and the problem displayed by, the action of injuring. The action of injuring occurs precisely because we have trouble believing in the reality of other persons. At the same time, the injury itself makes visible the fact that we cannot see the reality of other persons. It displays our perceptual disability. For if other persons stood clearly visible to us, the infliction of that injury would be impossible (102).[20]

Her major point, of several fine ones she makes, concerns that “the work accomplished by a structure of laws cannot be accomplished by a structure of sentiment” (110); or, even more succinctly, constitutions are needed to uphold cosmopolitan values” (110).

Nussbaum (2002) permits herself a reply to these and her other respondents, some of which I have not taken note of specifically.[21] One of the recurrent criticized elements of Nussbaum’s essay involves the metaphor of concentric circles—what Walzer tags as the “spheres of affection”. Nussbaum blasts past this criticism by beginning her reply with an image from the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, where one my see the trees planted to honor non-Jews who saved Jews. Each of those trees proposes a moment when the supposedly absolute or “natural” or inevitable spheres of affection were bypassed, to a moment when a human being reached out past all other “local affiliations” to save a stranger. Against this view, Nussbaum opposes how “we have so many devious ways of refusing the claim of humanity” (132), and that her call for cosmopolitanism represents a resistance to such devious ways. She insists that “we are all born naked and poor; we are all subject to disease and misery of all kinds; finally, we are all condemned to death” (132), and in these inevitable essentials we may find that moral allegiance to any person.

Fine, but the platitude of this bears closer analysis. Born naked, yes, but poor: no. In the spirit of Nussbaum’s remark, this disregard for the accident of fortune involved in birth proposes that kings and paupers might find their common cause, but this blows past Wallerstein’s (2002)[22] points not simply that we find ourselves born into a radically unequal world but also that the ‘stance of ‘citizen of the world’ … can be used just as easily to sustain privilege as to undermine it” (124). Nussbaum’s invocation of naked and poor here almost reads like her spitting in Wallerstein’s eye.[23] Consequent to this inequality, the disease and misery we find ourselves exposed to substantially differs so that the usual (wise) caution against trying to compare sufferings suddenly becomes instead a way to neutralize criticisms of the structural causes of various sufferings, i.e., yes, I suffer disease and so to you (our common humanity), but my cancer originates from bad luck or an unhealthy lifestyle, for example, while yours originates with a globalized industry dumping carcinogenic toxins into your water supply ( difference in material human conditions that matters significantly).

As a human being, I want also to object to “condemned to death”. As regards anything inevitable, then we become freed, at least in principle, to decide how she shall feel or think about that inevitably. Regions provide various alternatives to “condemned,” but I want to emphasize Jung’s rather existential notion that death represents a goal one achieves, not an event that happens to a person. If Nussbaum wants to feel condemned about death, then (to paraphrase Mustapha Mond in Huxley’s Brave New World), she’s welcome, but this provides no grounds for insisting that death condemns all people. In this sense, that we all die has no significance, how we reply to that inevitability, both as the one dying and as the community or world or family where the dying occurs, has significance.

Related to this “obvious” assumption (that we all die), Nussbaum equally takes a misstep when—still trying to sketch in the human baseline where she can ground her main argument—she says, “we are all born into family of some sort” (135); the adopted, and especially the transracially adopted, know otherwise. Nussbaum might say her point does not change inasmuch as the adopted wind up in some kind of family ultimately, even if only an orphanage or foster care or the family of homeless street kids, but two things need adding to this if her point can stick. First, that she insists that the variation between, say, the average life expectancy for people in Sweden and Sierra Leone “is not just, and we had better think about it. Not just think, do” (135), then clearly the we would need also to consider how those who do not get born into a family, as Nussbaum generalizes, also “is not just, and we had better think about it. Not just think, do.” Second, the presumption that one may assert an equation of human birth and family as a human baseline must at minimum to expand to recognize the experience of those (adopted, orphaned, fostered, abandoned) who do not begin their affections or loyalties or experiences in the “circle” of family; the nation-state may set “up the basic terms for most of our daily conduct” (135) but not because “we are all born into a family of some sort” (135). Not only then may the metaphor of “family” show itself as ideological an inadequate as an organizing concept for “nation-stet” (however much those born to families extrapolate it as valid). We also see that something other than “family” itself prevails as the organization for the social order generally, because not all “are born into a family of some sort” (135).

Earlier, I noted Putnam’s seeming lack of concern for the poor even as he employed them as an example, and especially his preface “I believe”; “I believe that we need to condemn the conditions that poor people everywhere daily experience as unjust” (96). Here, Nussbaum asks in a similar way:

May I give my daughter an expensive college education, while children all over the world re starving and effective relief agencies exist? May Americans enjoy their currently high standard of living, when there are reasons to think the globe as a whole could not sustain that level of consumption? These are hard questions, and there will and should be much debate about the proper answers (137).

Just as Putnam arrogates to himself an end of responsibility by proposing to condemn the poverty, here Nussbaum asserts that posing the question suffices. We may rest very assured that the answer to the tritely rhetorical questions Nussbaum proposes came as a resounding yes, all the more so when a supposedly cosmopolitan response fins sufficient to pose these “hard questions” and to insist that the course of action “will and should be much debate about the proper answers” (137).

Are you shitting me? The next section of text begins, “As we pose these questions, we should value human diversity” (137)—Nussbaum has segued in matter of sentences from any kind of relevance into the depths of imperialist apologetics, illustrating Wallerstein’s (2002) warning that cosmopolitanism may as much abet as challenge privilege. Espousing a (justifiable) concern for hierarchy, Nussbaum insists that “some forms of diversity are clearly separable from hierarchy: most religious and ethnic differences” (138). Numerous wheels might get pitched at this, but I simply here want to underscore again—because Nussbaum’s effort of reply here keeps trying to get to the “basics” of human experience as a ground for her argument—that “religion” does not constitute a human universal, so long as one neglects to address atheism.[24] This point matters because Nussbaum cannot conceptualize matters outside of “the profound importance of religion, and respect for religious difference, in a just society” (137). The possibility that religion amounts to a socially destructive, and ultimately antisocial, superstition does not seem recognizable to Nussbaum as she characterizes her views here.

Not to take on the role of kill-joy, but when Nussbaum inserts as an intentionally humorous aside that “this does not mean that the world citizen cannot believe that the Bulls are better than all other teams. World citizens never deny was is self-evidently true” (138), this exemplifies the underlying falseness of Nussbaum’s view, just as surely as her trite rhetorical questions that we should debate how to address the question of world justice while children simultaneously starve for our benefit. In a pathetic footnote to this piece of cultural chauvinism by Nussbaum, where one hopes to find a proper measure of apology for this ridiculous incursion, instead she writes, “Marcus Aurelius did say that Stoicism required one not to be a partisan of the Green or Blue teams at the games—but he was speaking of a Roman context in which such rivalries gave rise to delight in the murder of human beings” (150).

I should add all manner of qualifiers acknowledging Nussbaum’s (poorly executed or offered) attempt at humor, but this moment in her reply functions much like the garish and ill-advised illustration of fucking in the street in her opening essay. Let her call me a humorless prig, her patriotic joke and its smarmy attempt to disregard the very source of her arguments precisely where they most apply, precisely in the face of an explicit point to the contrary, believes exactly the kind of licensure of privilege Wallerstein (2002), with an equal lack of humor and with just cause, warns against.

In imagining the imaginative displacements that occur in art, the way that “fictive places … indicate a … desire to lure the imagination away from its most complacent moorings in the local” (140), Nussbaum ascribes a significant capacity to art precisely to tap into something like human universals to reach some of the highest moments of human realization, what Putnam called critical intelligence. But in the process, she pretends that this proposes a representation and, moreover, an often highly problematic representation of the Other, whether written by an Other or not, i.e., as outsiders: “people who, by virtue of their outsider status, can tell truths about the political community, its justice an injustice, its embracing and its failures to embrace” (140).[25]

Further on this point, it matters that Nussbaum begins this section of her reply by correctly flagging the affective bias of several of her critics and ends by an appeal to the affective power of art (to represent) universal human truths as exemplary cases of cosmopolitanism; hence, “Dante was a poet of his time … but if he were only a poet of his time, … Pinsky would not be producing his magnificent poem translating him, nor would any of us care to read his works” (141). She imputes a cosmopolitanism to Pinsky, one of her most emotionally shrill critics, precisely in his commitment to the value of (again) translating Dante’s poetry into English, but this obviously and at best ignores how such an avowed commitment to universal or cosmopolitan ideals adds substance to, or simply serves as a plausible smoke-screen, for the need for Pinsky to feed himself and his family and for late-order capitalism to continuously provide old commodities in new packages similarly to stay alive and in business. Because in general, no one (not even Italians) especially care to read Dante’s work, and those who do predominantly do so because someone like a Pinsky or publisher insist, with Wikipedia, that “his Divine Comedy, originally called Commedia and later called Divina by Boccaccio, is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature” (from here)[26]—what sluggards and dough-brains we may deem the Italians for not having managed anything better since the fourteenth century![27] And, just for the sake of precision in these things, we may note some statistics with respect to the number of editions and publication dates for Dante’s work. For the Commedia itself, however renamed or misnamed by others, we have 8,789 editions published between 1400 and 2011 in 64 languages and held by 7,072 libraries worldwide.[28]

  • Inferno (1,399 editions published between 1515 and 2010 in 45 languages and held by 5,258 libraries)
  • Purgatorio (630 editions published between 1768 and 2011 in 31 languages and held by 2,968 libraries)
  • Paradiso (432 editions published between 1769 and 2010 in 26 languages and held by 2,577 libraries)
  • Vita Nuova[29] (1,033 editions published between 1570 and 2011 in 29 languages and held by 2,246 libraries)
  • Monarchica[30] (298 editions published between 1559 and 2011 in 13 languages and held by 1,464 libraries)
  • Il Convivio[31] (302 editions published between 1490 and 2010 in 9 languages and held by 773 libraries)

I wish to show, in this specificity, the obvious historical vicissitudes in the history of Dante publication. Dante died in 1321, and the masses of publications especially appear from 1400 onwards. Moreover, despite the commedia being all of a piece, the separate publications of the three parts (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) stand out, especially as the latter two works followed independently more than two hundred years after Inferno. Dante’s famous cycle of love poetry Vita Nuova, has enjoyed a nearly equal fame, quantitatively and from date of publication, as the stand-alone Inferno. Also, conceptually there seems something amusing, ironic, or perhaps tragic in the fact that one may encounter the insights of purgatory in more editions, languages, and libraries, than the consolations of paradise.

The mere bluntness of this all as the cash-cow Dante represents does not militate against any aesthetic value in itself; it merely points out how disingenuous the claim sounds that Pinsky, or anyone, seeks to add the 8,790th version of a seven hundred year old book on the grounds of the humanistic values it purports.[32]

Over against the “I know my immediate family first and humanity second” notion of moral development, Nussbaum suggests a narrowing down movement; that one begins generally and this finally collapses (early on) to one’s immediate surroundings. Hence,

a plausible view about the origin of moral thinking is that it is, at least in part, an effort to atone for and regulate the painful ambivalence of one’s love, the evil wishes one has directed toward the giver of care. In atonement for having made the overweening demand to be the center of the universe, the young child agrees to limit and regulate her demands by the needs of others” (142–3).


[1] Nussbaum, MC, and Cohen, J (ed.) (2002). For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism) Boston: Beacon Press, pp. i–xiv, 1–155.

[2] Todorov, T. (1998). The conquest of America: the question of the other (trans. Richard Howard). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, i–xiii, 1–274.

[3] As an adopted child, exiled to life in the United States, I includes Todorov’s additional remark: “I myself, a Bulgarian living in France, borrow this quotation from Edward Said, a Palestinian living in the United States, who himself found it in Erich Auerbach, a German exiled in Turkey.

[4] Pinsky, R. (2002). Eros against Esperanto, in Nussbaum, MC, and Cohen, J (ed.) (2002). For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 85–90.Boston: Beacon Press.

[5] Nussbaum, MC (2002). Reply. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 131–44,Boston: Beacon Press.

[6] Putnam, H. (2002). Must we choose between patriotism and universal reason? in Nussbaum, MC, and Cohen, J (ed.) (2002). For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 91–97.Boston: Beacon Press.

[7] Putnam suggest she may have over-reacted to Rorty’s call for a new consideration of patriotism, the very call that elicited Nussbaum’s original essay in the first place.

[8] Obviously, this very premise opens up a whole host of issues regarding my obligations to people I cannot see, and so forth.

[9] As a matter of recognizing situatedness, while one might look far and wide to find someone who has a principled aversion to one of these four virtues of conduct, one will in fact regularly find differences of emphasis about which of these four carries the greatest weight. Negotiating these differences of situatedness through a recognition of the conduct virtues of recognition, compassion, cooperation, and fairness remains essential as does flagging and resisting moments when someone attempts to (or actually does) flout these virtues.

[10] The whole exchange orchestrated by Nussbaum and Cohen has implicitly non-virtuous elements, insofar as the supposed debate (as a dialogue) consists more of mutually exclusive monologues.

[11] I question to what extent dialogue can occur through a mediated format. Minimally, such an exchange proposes at least one additional layer of representation; I represent my situated position in whatever form I manage (on paper, online) and that provides what my dialoguing interlocutor encounters (as an image of me) as a basis for her own mediated, imagized, representation of a reply, &c.

[12] Butler, J (2002). Universality in culture. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 45–52,Boston: Beacon Press.

[13] Falk, R. (2002). Revisioning cosmopolitanism. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 53–60,Boston: Beacon Press.

[14] Scarry, E. (2002). The difficulty of imagining other people, In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 97–110,Boston: Beacon Press.

[15] Glazer, N. (2002). Limits of loyalty. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 61–65,Boston: Beacon Press.

[16] Gutman, A. (2002). Democratic citizenship. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 66–71,Boston: Beacon Press.

[17] Himmelfarb, G. (2002). The illusions of cosmopolitanism. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 72–77,Boston: Beacon Press.

[18] Here, control is an exact synonym for regulation and indicates the external regulation of a system, living or otherwise.

[19] It can hardly come down to a simple yes or no, but at least in terms of public discourse it seems that some of the qualitative aspects of racism that existed prior to the civil Rights movement in the United Stets have experienced an ebb. For committed and structural racists and racisms, this retreat amounts to a retreat to cover and sniffing it out and exposing it remains a crucial social issue. One may agonize as well over whether or not the “naiveté” of the current younger generations about race—i.e., the friendly or apathetic confusion they express about issues of race—do not also (or still) comprise a significant element in the current forms of committed an structural racism. One may say, unpleasantly, that mass incarceration and increasing wealth disparity have “solved” the problem of racism, for instance. But whether these reactionary steps by Power have not just changed but made worse the kind of racism that prevailed prior to Civil Rights requires no glib yes or no either. If the answer fundamentally comes down to yes, then Scarry’s faith in constitutional change as a role model for changes to the constitution of social life becomes problematic.

[20] “Impossible” seems impossible to maintain here but one may substitute “improbable” or “implausible” (on the grounds of mere humanity or enlightened self-interest or even a Hindu realization of identity with another), but we might also suspend disbelief for the time being and entertain the possibility that “impossible” actually applies—perhaps similarly in the sense that Wright and Levac (1995)* describe noncompliance by a psychiatric patient as a “biological impossibility” (1).

Wright, L. M., & Levac, A. M. C. (1992). The non-existence of non-compliant families: The influence of Humberto Maturana. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 17, 913-917. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.1992.tb02018.x

[21] Walzer’s (2002) “Spheres of Affection,” pp. 125-7, permits himself an only trite, short, and smarmy reply, perhaps betrayed by the allusion to “feeling” in his title; Taylor’s (2002) “Why Democracy Needs Patriotism” throws around generalizations without answer why one might need democracy or whether patriotism needs democracy; and Amartya Sen’s (2002) “Humanity and Citizenship” does some of Nussbaum’s work of replying particularly to Bok, Putnam, and especially Himmelfarb, who (what Gutman and Walzer) stands as one of Nussbaum’s most contemptuous respondents.

[22] Wallerstein, I (2002). Neither patriotism or cosmopolitanism. In MC Nussbaum with respondents, J Cohen (ed.), For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism), pp. 122–4,Boston: Beacon Press

[23] Even more so, since she specifically cites statistics on life expectancy in different countries of the world, specifically to refute the notion that the “luck” of these numbers “is not just” (135); and not just luck, one might add.

[24] The habit of treating atheists as a form of religious sometimes has merit, depending upon the atheist, but generally the move serves merely to misprision the atheist critique of theism.

[25] This passage, which fails to adequately represent Butler’s (2002) contribution, it seems, also seems to ascribe to Joyce and Whitman this kind of outsider status. Everyone constitutes an outsider somewhere—Joyce as an Irishman stood as an outsider to dominating Britain, and Whitman, as a (more or less closeted homosexual), stood as an outsider to heteronormative culture, but this does not prevent either of them (as white males) from arrogating to themselves the license to depict the Other. In other words, the relationship between outsider and Other stands by no means simple and straightforward—one may rightly ask to what extent Joyce’s representation of Leopold Bloom as Jewish deserves such an evaluation or the justness of making Leopold Bloom, s whatever kind of Jewish person a critic decides Bloom presents, as a representative for all Jewish people. Whether Joyce intended it or not, whether he believed he kept a grip on his thematic material, a favorable critic cannot simply wave away the ways that Leopold Bloom (or Gunga Din in Kipling’s poem) become representatives because their authors represented them. Just because some (aspiring) elements in a society may find a favorable orientalism advantageous (for their political aspirations) does not make the representation any less a representation or any less problematic as a representation of an Other. In Canetti’s (1960)* Crowds and Power, he provides a putative alternative to a sociopathic will to power in people in the political realm, by the sociopaths desire to name and fix and control (if not eliminate) the Other and other people, with what turns out to be a sociopathic will to power in the artistic realm, by the sociopath’s desire to name and fix and control (if not eliminate) the Other and other people in fictional works. So, the problem Nussbaum supposedly solves here—the benefit of cosmopolitanism insofar as in its artistic forms it exposes the universal or most essentially immanent aspects of humanity in general—fails to acknowledge this potentially equally problematic sociopathy that art may contribute to. In a strictly orientalist vein, comprador intellectual Azar Nafisi’s (2003)** right-wing subsidized Reading Lolita in Tehran provides a grotesque example of this as, in fact, does Canetti’s Crowds and Power, albeit in a far less culture-wide sense.

*Canetti, E. (1962). Crowds and power. New York: Viking Press.

**Nafisi, A. (2003). Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books. New York: Random House.

[26] Or so our great shill of modern imperialism, Bloom (1994)* assures us.

*Bloom, H. (1994). The Western canon: the books and school of the ages. New York: Harcourt Brace.

[27] Not that we English speakers have done any better since Shakespeare (see note 26, just above).

[28] As noted, “No other poem in any language has had such a wide appeal” (see here, as also for the statistics I cite above).

[29] This comprises a cycle of Dante’s love poetry, along with other themes.

[30] This represents Dante’s treatise on political theory, the kind of government best suited for human beings.

[31] This unfinished work offers a kind of vernacular encyclopedia of the knowledge of Dante’s time.

[32] As titillates and then reassures us (the language here gets goes beyond precious) about Pinsky’s translation:

The one quality that all classic works of literature share is their timelessness. Shakespeare still plays in Peoria 400 years after his death because the stories he dramatized resonate in modern readers’ hearts and minds; methods of warfare have changed quite a bit since the Trojan War described by Homer in his Iliad, but the passions and conflicts that shaped such warriors as Achilles, Agamemnon, Patroclus, and Odysseus still find their counterparts today on battlefields from Bosnia to Afghanistan. Likewise, a little travel guide to hell written by the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri in the 13th century remains in print at the end of the 20th century, and it continues to speak to new generations of readers. There have been countless translations of the Inferno [in point of fact, they have been counted, and by one count number 8,789], but this one by poet Robert Pinsky is both eloquent and tailored to our times.

Yes, this is an epic poem, but don’t let that put you off. An excellent introduction provides context for the work, while detailed notes on each canto are a virtual who’s who of 13th-century Italian politics, culture, and literature. Best of all, Pinsky’s brilliant translation communicates the horror, despair, and terror of hell with such immediacy, you can almost smell the sulfur and feel the heat from the rain of fire as Dante–led by his faithful guide Virgil–descends lower and lower into the pit. Dante’s journey through Satan’s kingdom must rate as one of the great fictional travel tales of all time, and Pinsky does it great justice.


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