Category Archives: Art

Preface to the Justification

graphic about profiteering

Perhaps you notice how the denial is so often the preface to the justification.              — Christopher Hitchens

My last name is not Sackler. The gods sometimes kibitz with kindness. A name once engraved into stone now has stones thrown at it. The people at the Louvre are the latest to distance themselves from the miasma named Sackler. The Louvreans have clipped “the Sackler Wing” of the museum, but they didn’t return the Sackler family’s donation.

You know you’re a witness to a serious life lesson when a plaque about the source of a donation is removed. It’s like some cities in the United States that imagine that the expulsion of a statue of a Confederate officer means the city is then racially and morally fixed. Unbranding can be a kind of branding. Capitalists are magical that way. The energy left over after prostituting yourself can be devoted to denying you’re a prostitute.

Remember when the U.S.A.’s President thought the answer to planes falling out of the sky due to lousy design was simply to rebrand. Sorry, the tweet had “REBRAND,” all caps for an audience accustomed to screaming.

Meanwhile, being a Sackler isn’t fun as it used to be. David Sackler tells a reporter for Vanity Fair that his family is blameless. He decided to speak out, in part because his “four-year-old came home from nursery school and asked ‘Why are my friends telling me that our family’s work is killing people?'” That doesn’t sound like a four-year-old’s sentence, but then this child probably is sent to an expensive school for exceptional and accelerated learners. Let’s give David the benefit of the doubt, or chalk it up to wretched paraphrasing.

The reporter reveals that “at times, [David] appears almost on the brink of tears.” These are the same kind of tears Theresa May had at the end of her time as Prime Minister. Owen Jones called out those kind of tears: “Theresa May didn’t publicly break down over Windrush, or Grenfell, or disabled people having their benefits cut, or children driven into poverty. In the end, she only publicly shed a tear over her own career.” Likewise, David isn’t on the brink out of empathy with any of the people destroyed by opioids. His nascent tears are for him and his kin. In David’s view, according to the interview, “his family is being blamed for something they did not do.”

The article recounts not so much reflections about what the Sackler clan might have done differently while collecting profits from opioids as opioid overdoses devastated American state after state. In the course of denial, David doesn’t see a few howlers sitting out there in the evidence about what his family’s company did. Where David sees benevolent oversight, others see greed and corruption. It takes a minute or two for one of the howlers to unfold:

Sackler points to the decision in 2010 to launch a new form of OxyContin — one that was supposed to be an “abuse deterrent” because it couldn’t be broken down and snorted or injected. “We made a tremendously honest and ethical effort to fix a problem,” he says. “That’s all. To fix a problem.” The reformulated OxyContin, he adds, cost more than $1 billion U.S. to develop. At the time, he points out, the new version was praised by many of the state attorneys general who are now suing the company for marketing it. “We have gone past the point where not good deed goes unpunished,” he says, “into the theater of the absurd.”

But it is hard to see the move as merely a good deed. The abuse-deterrent form of OxyContin was approved a few years before the patent on the old version was about to expire. Then, in what an investiation by Esquire magazine called a “breathtaking pivot,” Purdue fought to prevent would-be generic competitors from copying its old version of OxyContin. The company, Esquire observed, argued “that the drug it had been selling for 15 years was so prone to abuse that generic manufacturers should not be allowed to copy it.”

In an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, venture funding for new antibiotics is declining, “just as new innovation is needed.” Why? It’s about “return on investment,” not about saving human lives. The Sacklers are not sui generis in the pharmaceutical business.


Quotation of the Day

I grew up in a beautiful era, now sadly in the past. In it there was great readiness for change, and a talent for creating revolutionary visions. Nowadays no one still has the courage to think up anything new. All they ever talk about, round the clock, is how things already are, they just keep rolling out the same old ideas. Reality has grown old and gone senile; after all, it is definitely subject to the same laws as every living organism — it ages. Just like the cells of the body, its tiniest components — the senses, succumb to apoptosis. Apoptosis is natural death, brought about by the tiredness and exhaustion of matter. In Greek this word means ‘the dropping of petals.’ The world has dropped its petals.
— Olga Tokarczuk, “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead”

photo of cherry blossom petals

Tears of the Gargoyles

cover of Michael Camille's book on Notre Dame's gargoyles

Notre Dame gargoyles

A Helical Hell

cover of audiobook of The Third PolicemanFor those readers who have wondered about the title of this blog, its backstory belongs to Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, which happens to be the subject of a new essay by Fintan O’Toole, considered one of the sharpest Brexit commentators on the other side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, this particular offering by O’Toole is behind a pay wall, but here’s the beginning to give you the flavor:

In 2005, viewers around the world were sucked into a meandering TV drama called Lost, in which it was never quite clear what was going on.

Then the writer let it be known that, in the third episode of the second series, there would be an important clue. The clue was that one of the characters was seen reading Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman, written in 1940, in which the reader begins to realise what the nameless narrator does not: that he is in hell. This made sense of Lost. But I can now reveal that The Third Policeman is also the secret key to another long-running drama in which everyone is lost, no one quite knows what is going on and everything begins to look a lot like hell: Brexit.


Kurt Cobain Outclasses Julian Schnabel

As a follow-up to a recent posting about “blood money,” dear Reader, I bring you some comments by two artists, one who wants profit regardless of the profit’s origin (the devil himself would presumably do), and another who didn’t mind telling certain kinds of potential purchasers of his art to kiss off.

The bit about Schnabel:

This single-minded, purist streak can come across as being rather privileged. Such as when he [Schnabel] scoffs at the idea of people protesting against the Sackler donations to major art institutes because of their connection to OxyContin. “I think to start to say that there is a cloud hanging over an institution because [people who donate money] have acquired it in some sort of nasty way … it’s hard.”

What about people who buy his work? Does he care where the money comes from? “When someone buys my work, I have no idea how they made their money or what they did. I’m happy to be able to sell a painting so I can make another painting.”

The bit about Cobain:

[I]n the liner notes of their album “Incesticide,” released that December, they warned: “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us — leave us the f— alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.” The liner notes to their next album, “In Utero,” echoed that admonition: “If you’re a sexist, racist, homophobe or basically an a–hole, don’t buy this CD. I don’t care if you like me, I hate you.”

Quotation of the Day

Hayden White uttered this in an interview before his death:

I worked in the Vatican library for many years and I found that a large number of the people there not only studied the Middle Ages, they believed in them. They were converted to them. I heard people praise the Inquisition.

image of inquisition torture wheel

Socrates on Stage

photo of Dave Quay, actor in play about Socrates

Today is the opening of the play Socrates at The Public Theater in NYC. The editors of the Blog of the American Philosophical Association were kind enough to publish my article about the play. The article includes a brief interview with one of the main actors, Dave Quay (photograph above).