Saturday, July 2, 2011

Assault of Thoughts - 7/2/2011

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- LK has an interesting post on the relationship between Hayek and Keynes. One of the things he covers that I've always been interested in is Hayek's recollection of the relationship many decades later in the UCLA interviews. I'm amazed at how uncritically people accept Hayek's memory and his side of the relationship. LK covers a lot of the reasons why I've been skeptical. I'd have to dig for the source, but in writing my 1920-1921 paper I think I came across Bruce Caldwell expressing skepticism about Hayek's reasons for not reviewing the General Theory as well.

- The Economist declares the end of the Space Age. I haven't read the article yet, but when I pulled that out of my mailbox yesterday afternoon I was predictably disappointed to see it splashed on the cover. They're referring, of course, to the end of the Shuttle program.

- Lovecraft is well known as a racist, although it's widely agreed that he abandoned a lot of those prejudices later in life. His views on Jews are incredibly complicated. His views on blacks were much less nuanced. One thing that's always bothered me about the analyses of Lovecraft's racism, though, is how they've used his stories as evidence against him. The most common story you hear cited is The Horror at Red Hook, in which the scene is set with a description of a degenerate, but multicultural neighborhood in New York City. It's always bothered me that this was taken as evidence of racism - that uncharitable portraits of immigrants and minorities in a story is presumed to have its origin in racism. Or, to put it another way, the assumption that a non-racist Lovecraft could not have written The Horror at Red Hook. I mention this because last night I was rereading The Dunwich Horror, which is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. It struck me that the introductory description of the Massachusetts town of Dunwich, populated by Americans of English descent, easily matches the squalor and degeneracy that Lovecraft describes in The Horror at Red Hook. Lovecraft was a fan of Oswald Spengler. Lovecraft is a big fan of the imagery of decadence that leads to degeneracy and dilapidation. He likes describing scenes of degeneracy and dilapidation which cultivate darker horrors. I personally fully acknowledge that Lovecraft was a racist, but I harbor doubts that racism motivated many of his stories. Certainly he had his own experiences with New York immigrants in mind when he wrote The Horror at Red Hook. That is beyond a doubt. But I imagine the inspiration for that description has its origin in the same aesthetic fascination with degeneracy that inspired the description of the Anglo-Saxon population at Dunwich. You can judge for yourselves from the opening passages of The Horror at Red Hook and The Dunwich Horror. I think our own revulsion at racism leads us to see it everywhere, even places where it might not play a major role. The Horror at Red Hook, I think, primarily has its origin in a much broader Lovecraftian aesthetic.


  1. OT: When are you going to talk about the economic evils of bitcoin? Like how it doesn't allow subjective central bank manipulation and such?

  2. I don't remember exactly, since it's been a while since I've read Caldwell's introduction to Contra Keynes and Cambridge, but I think Caldwell cites as most probable factors:

    (1) Hayek's desire to avoid great controversy as he worked on Pure Theory of Capital.

    (2) Hayek's desire to avoid controversy given what at the time was considered a "violent" criticism of Prices & Production by Sraffa (and despite what some claim, I think Sraffa's criticisms entirely miss the point -- I've said as much in one of my articles, although perhaps it merits a closer analysis).

    I don't think the notion of a wavering, fickle Keynes was the really the issue.

  3. Silas - bitcoin sounds like a great idea. If it can profitably respond to excess money demand that is to its credit.

    Can it?

    I don't know.

    But I'm certainly not aware of anything that's not to like about bitcoin. As far as I can tell I am pro-bitcoin. What I'm not is anti-Federal Reserve, and I think that's the point that you are confusing here and over at Bob's blog, where you were similarly convinced you had me figured out.

  4. In regards to

    "In the second video, Hayek states that he never replied to the General Theory because Keynes was always changing his mind"

    "(1) Hayek's desire to avoid great controversy as he worked on Pure Theory of Capital."

    I haven't verified it myself, but I recall this comment by Greg Ransom in Scott Summer's blog stating that Hayek DID attack The General Theory in Pure Theory of Capital.

    "In the professional judgment of Bruce Caldwell, Hayek’s intellectual biographer, Hayek’s memories of the past are routinely inconsistent, and often erroneous — simply not to be trusted without verification and not to be understood without explication.

    I’ve come across Bruce saying this more than once, about multiple Hayek “recollections”. Famously, Hayek explains “why he didn’t attack Keynes” after the General Theory about 6 different ways — but in fact Hayek did attack Keynes and the GT in his _The Pure Theory of Capital_ and Hayek simply forget the fact."

  5. Desolation Jones,

    In other words, memory is a fickle thing and not to be trusted.

    So, he attacked it in 1941 in other words? Four years after the publication of Keynes work?

  6. Desolation Jones, yes, Hayek does critique Keynes in passing in Pure Theory of Capital, but I don't think this is the kind of criticism people are looking for.

  7. And let's be clear - it's not some kind of black mark on Hayek that he didn't respond. He may have not been sure how to form his response or he may have had a stunning response and was simply getting interested in other issues. Either are legitimate, but however we answer the question it shouldn't be an answer provided out of credulity or convenience.

  8. Jonathan,

    Because it was only in passing?

  9. If your are interested in looking at The Pure Theory of...

  10. Gary - any book like the Pure Theory of Capital is going to engage earlier work. I think when people say Hayek never responded to the GT, they mean that he never published a review (which many prominent economists did in 36 and 37) or a work specifically responding to the arguments of the GT.

  11. Daniel,

    That's sort of what I was getting at.

    For Hayek the issue probably what it is for most people - is this really worth my time and effort and is it going to make any difference anyway? I'm guessing after the publication of PTC that sort of question stuck in his mind even more - given how poorly it did.

    Anyway, I found this to very helpful:

  12. Gary,

    Saying "Keynes was wrong about this" is not the same thing as criticizing The General Theory. Otherwise, Lachmann's book on capital would not only be a re-statement of PToC, but also a critique of Keynes' book.

  13. On Lovecraft:

    To borrow from a criticism I read some time time ago, it is hard for me to take an author seriously whose main contribution to literary history is a giant, invisible, warbling octopus. Jew hater or not, racist or not, he was kind of a crap writer. Who here doesn't think his prose resembles rococo?

  14. Now you have done it, Gary.

    Lovecraft did not belong to the ranks of pulp writers, but of the older classic American writers such as Poe. His main influence was Lord Dunsany, another renowned literary figure. He was not one for shallow writing. His standards were so high, he considered Winesburg, Ohio to be common trash.

    The reason he wrote pulp stories was to MAKE MONEY. The man was nearly penniless and had to eat frugally. He was desparate.

    His main contribution is Cthulhu? Cthulhu does not even form 1% of his stories. Call of Cthulhu isn't even a typical Lovecraft story, but

    A typical Lovecraft story would be something more like The Color out of Space, The Whisperer in the Darkness, or The Picture in the House. Core themes here are lost worlds of Old America, with Puritan hermits still living in their dark rural lands; mysterious nature of such lonely thinly inhabited lands; and the confrontation by a modern person with such primitive supersitious regions. There is a supernatural element, but that is subdued and irrelevant.

    The reason I like his stories is that the detail in which he presents them almost makes it seem like they really happened. Whisperer in the Darkness and Picture in the House almost sound like real incidents he observed in his travels.

  15. Prateek Sanjay,

    I really don't care why he wrote pulp novels or stories; they still suck.

    Your description of him makes him sound like a throwback to Washington Irving, and I can't stand Washington Irving either.

  16. Gary -
    You're entitled to your opinion of his work, of course, but "what Gary likes and doesn't like" is hardly the criteria we should use to judge quality writers. I couldn't get fifty pages into Pride and Prejudice when we were assigned it. It simply wasn't a book I enjoyed - and just as you think an interstellar octopus is a shabby literary contribution, I felt the same way about a bunch of whiney sisters and an even whinier mother (Mr. Bennet wast he only character I liked).

    I'm still happy to say that I do not think Jane Austen is a "crap writer", rather I say that she's just not for me.

  17. Daniel,

    You're welcome to think that Austen - one of the greatest novelists of all time (it is now generally agreed, BTW, that women created the modern novel) - sucked.

    And what I like or don't like is the criteria I used to judge the merits of an author. I never suggested that I am propounding some universal measure of suckitude. Anyway, it isn't just an interstellar octopus, it is a warbling one.

    When it comes to Austen I always suggest people start with "Mansfield Park" - by far her best novel (and she is said to have loved it best).

  18. The one thing Lovecraft left us with was a character that South Park could lift for that classic three part series in the 14th season. That's really Lovecraft's single contribution to literary history.

  19. re: "The one thing Lovecraft left us with was a character that South Park could lift for that classic three part series in the 14th season. That's really Lovecraft's single contribution to literary history."

    And is that not enough for you?

    He contributed several characters to that series - although clearly Cthulhu got most of the attention. I thought their Cthulhu had too much body and too little bulbous head.

  20. It means he contributed as much as Cloverfield I guess.

  21. Gary is just being a troll. His ignorance can't be that great.

  22. argosyjones,

    Because yeah, no one has ever found Lovecraft's work to be crap besides me. And of course there were plenty of people during his own time period who thought his writing was crap too, so this isn't just some after the fact opinion of the guy.

    Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 - March 15, 1937) was the worst of the best American writers of the twentieth century, whose writing brought out the worst in twentieth century's best critics. Edmund Wilson's opinion of the weird tales' even weirder author was that "the only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art. Lovecraft was not a good writer" (47). British author Colin Wilson agreed "that Lovecraft is a very bad writer" (de Camp 438), while Avram Davidson, editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction, claimed, "Lovecraft was as nutty as a five dollar fruit-cake" (439).

  23. God dammit, Gary, Cthulhu is from only one freaking short story of Lovecraft's.

    One freaking short story. One that wasn't even representative of Lovecraft's work.

    His sole contribution? Give me a break.

    You are so blatant in your intellectual dishonesty, it's no surprise you are a libertarian.

    Okay, sorry, that was a low blow. argosyjones called you troll not because you disliked Lovecraft, but you had a ridiculous criticism. "The one thing Lovecraft left us with was a character that South Park could lift for that classic three part series in the 14th season. That's really Lovecraft's single contribution to literary history."

    Yeah. Right.

  24. Prateek,

    And that is all he will be remembered for (if he is remembered for anything).

    Of course I find horror novels to be rather silly generally.

  25. Really?

    When most of us Lovecraft fans talk about Lovecraft, Cthulhu is the last thing that comes to our mind. And he is not exactly a horror writer, but something of the mold of Guy de Maupassant's L'Horla.

    Even those who have read a limited amount of Lovecraft would first think, "Dreams in the Witch-house", if they ever thought of Lovecraft.

    It's like saying Anglo-Saxon America is the most representative of America. It would totally ignore the Scandinavian Mid West, French Louisiana, German and Irish South, and so on. (When I think of quintessential America, I think of Fargo from the movie Fargo, which was actually a Swedish town).

  26. Prateek,

    I'll stick with my Austen and Tolstoy.

  27. Gary, what you've done in this thread is demonstrate an almost complete ignorance of Lovecraft's work and influence, and then you did a google search to find negative reviews. Pat yourself on the back; that's better than your usual effort.

  28. argosyjones,

    I'm happy to be largely blissfully ignorant of Lovecraft's work. I'm like that with a number of writers who I've dipped into and come away with a headache. Indeed, when it comes to 20th century authors why exactly would I pick Lovecraft over say Gibson or Dick?

    And yes, Cthulu is pretty much the one thing he contributed to the broader culture.

  29. Yes, you are ignorant of his work. (but still hold forth on it passionately.)

    And yes you are also ignorant of his legacy (but still, you feel free to comment on it).

    Why is it you have this feeling of freedom to comment when you have nothing of value to contribute?

  30. Another person who pretends to have something useful to say on the internet.

    Have vague familiarity that something exists, and fill the gaps in your knowledge with Google.



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