Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

A Veteran’s Day Thought

We honor the men, and more recently women, who have given their lives in our nation’s wars. In some cases, we can even say, “without hesitation.”

We do not only honor the fallen. We honor all those who have risked their lives in service to their country. Sometimes they have done so valiantly against well-armed foes. Sometimes they have done so less valiantly against ill-equipped and poorly trained young men impressed into unwanted military duty. And, indeed, sometimes they have done so in the perpetration of acts that resulted in the deaths of innocents, the destruction of their property, the maiming of their bodies, the scarring of their minds.

Nevertheless, when someone has served, that service lends them an indisputable aura: “This person is special. They have done something special. They have done something selfless. They have sacrificed.”

Such feelings, such values, seem ancient, if not timeless. The violence in which they have been willing to indulge, the violence to which they have been willing to expose themselves, open themselves, bestows upon them a privilege. This privilege is, on the one hand, bestowed as an expression of gratitude. It says, “Your willingness to risk your life in defense of my life, our way of life, our country, is something to be admired, applauded, and, yes, rewarded.”

But the privilege enjoyed by service men and women also reflects a fear. Its bestowal also says, “Your willingness to enact deliberate violence against others (soldiers, partisans, their supporters, their families, etc.), frightens and intimidates me.”

Whenever a veteran or an active-duty service man (or woman) asserts their privileged status as a sign of authority or to lend moral weight to their particular viewpoint (which may or may not be shared by others in the service), an unspoken threat echoes along with their words. It says, “I’m a trained killer. I have shown myself willing to kill and indifferent to death. Bear this in mind.”

Which is another way for me to say that, although I opposed the draft and compulsory military service in my youth, the creation of an essentially private army, rather than a public one, means that the privilege of which I speak belongs to an ever smaller subset of society.

Better it would be, in my humble opinion, if such privilege were distributed equally throughout society reflecting a shared burden adopted willing by all citizens. In such a case, actual acts of valor would truly distinguish individuals, rather than the fact of having chosen, for whatever reason, to serve.

Death Undoes Us

It does.

How the World Works

We all carry around with us an idea of how the world works. This idea isn’t necessarily super detailed, but it does lay down the general guidelines for what we deem possible in the world and what we deem impossible.

For example: I am an atheist. This means that I don’t believe it’s possible that a supernatural being may, from time to time, intervene in human affairs (in response to a petitioning with prayer, for example), if for no other reason than that I believe such beings to be, all interventions aside, impossible.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that no matter how sophisticated one’s notion of the world’s machinations, there is always something that one just doesn’t yet get or know about the world.

If we ever experience something like a revelation, then, what gives such revelation its jarring force is the way in which it reveals a fundamental and unsuspected truth about how the world works: that the imagined impossible is, astonishingly, possible.

And sometimes the realization of this possibility is nothing short of apocalyptic.

Reconstruction of a Talk Given on Walter Benjamin and Twitter (Part 2)

This is the second part of a textual reconstruction of a talk I gave on Benjamin at SUNY Albany.

After setting things up in the first part of my presentation on Benjamin and Twitter, and demonstrating how the cyberflâneur was alive and well on “the street” of Twitter, I went looking for Walter Benjamin there as well.

As it turns out, several people have set up accounts such as this, which intermittently posts Benjamin quotes, but someone also went to the trouble of setting up this short-lived parody account:

Aside from the comedic value of this account’s first tweet—”…the character of the age, distilled into the 140-character aphorism, explodes the character of the here-and-now…—I was struck by Twitter’s characterization, as you will note in the lower left-hand corner, of the Dalai Lama as “similar” to Benjamin.

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@WalterBenjamin: Twitter, Cyberflânerie, and the Aestheticization of Politics

Below is the text of a proposal I submitted to a conference entitled “Critical Speculations: Future Worlds, Perilous Histories, and Walter Benjamin Unbound” which will be held at SUNY Albany September 28-29, 2012

At the very end of his much-cited—and frequently misunderstood—essay on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, Walter Benajmin wrote, “Humanity, which once upon a time in Homer served as an object of fascination for the gods, has now become one for itself.”

As with much of that essay, this sentence is more true now than when it was written. While one need look no further than the ubiquity of reality television to appreciate this, it is actually in social media, and especially on Twitter, that this process achieves its mass apotheosis. Indeed, Twitter is the contemporary, virtual manifestation of the Parisian Arcades that Benjamin spent the last years of his life studying.

For Benjamin, the Arcades served as an allegorical crystallization of the far-reaching and irreversible changes wrought by the accelerated rise of modernity. The same must be said of Twitter with regard to the post-modern, post-industrial, hyper-mediated present. Indeed, like a living, electronic reef, Twitter is composed of the accreted micro-sentiments of mankind. As such, it provides a protean, hyperdimensional portrait of contemporary subjectivity in all its most trivial, absurd and sublime glory.

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The Court Jester

To a satirist

The court jester may speak truth to power, cloaked, of course, in jest.

And while there is power in this, the jester, alas, may not hold power.

Power is serious, and who can take a jester seriously?

Power rests with the master, and the court jester serves at his leave.

The master may, of course, also unleash the jester, like a dog, on his enemies, who die laughing.

In General

All generalizations are either false or tautologous.

The goal of science is to create new generalizations.

The goal of philosophy is to demonstrate that said generalizations are either false or tautologous.


No Reason to Stop

Standing on the corner of College Avenue and Dryden Friday night at 1:30ish, watching undergraduates stagger around aimlessly and shout at/to each other, I turned to my friend saying, “I’m gonna call it a night, even though, frankly, there’s really no reason to stop.”

“Now you see how I’m living,” he replied.

Just a moment before he had remarked, “Alcohol is a god to them.”

But earlier still in the evening he had said, “Love doesn’t tell; it asks.”

Blogging for the Hell of It

Yesterday, in a class on “Blogging” that she was teaching as part of a course my company produced, Erika Napoletano said something to the effect that, “Nobody blogs just for the hell of it.”

My first response was: “Actually, I blog just for the hell of it.”

“This blog—an ill-organized assortment of essays, reviews, aphorisms and ephemera—serves no purpose,” I wanted to say.

But then, as I thought about it, I knew that this was mere posturing. My blog serves a very specific and, for me, crucial purpose as a space that I “own,” one where I can post and publish my views, my thoughts, and my philosophy.

In fact, I frequently motivate myself to add to this collection new thoughts, or at least newly formed revisions of old thoughts, by saying to myself, “If you really have something to say, something to teach the world, some wisdom to impart, comfort or guidance for the lost or wounded, aid and counsel to the youth, a truth that must be spoken and known, etc., you’d better put it somewhere where it might endure and, from time to time, be discovered.”

That somewhere is here.

For the Hell of it.

Articles of Faith

  • The amount of money one makes is the clearest indicator of one’s value to society.
  • Success or failure is solely determined by an individual’s intelligence and strength.
  • Suffering results directly from one’s own personal choices.
  • There are no accidents, only instances of weakness, ignorance and indiscipline.
  • The purpose of the state, society and culture is to serve the interests of the powerful the most valuable individuals.