Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Guilty Pleasures

Via Sarapen: this Guardian article assembles a list of several intellectuals’ guilty pleasures.

I loved the ambivalence of AC Grayling’s entry:

Boxing should be banned, of course: it causes brain damage, and there is something questionable about the pleasure taken by spectators in watching men hitting one another. And yet… there is also something noble about boxing…

The solitude of the boxer before his opponent, the stripped-down, unfurnished, essential nature of man pitted against man, in a bare space roped off from the rest of the world, sums up everything about courage. In its way boxing recapitulates something ancient, almost primordial, about human striving, with a rough beauty all its own.

It should, though, be banned.

And of Roger Scruton’s:

Although I argue vehemently against modern pop music, on grounds of its musical incompetence, verbal impoverishment and general morbidity, narcissism and salaciousness; although I fiercely object to disco dancing as a sacrilege against the human form and a collective rejection of civilised courtship; although I defend reels, minuets, galliards, sarabands and (as limiting cases) waltzes and polkas as the only ways in which ordinary humanity should dare to put its sexual nature on festive display, and although I regard the 12-bar blues and the flattened subdominant seventh as the lowest forms of vulgarity in music, I find rock’n’roll in general, and Elvis in particular, irresistible, and would happily dance away the night to it. I cannot explain the thrill of delight with which I hear the first bars of Jailhouse Rock or the eagerness with which I at once search the vicinity for a partner: but there it is, appalling proof that, despite all my efforts, I am human.

I have to agree with Sarapen, though, that the pick of the list must go to Zizek:

Military PC games

I play them compulsively, enjoying the freedom to dwell in the virtual space where I can do with impunity all the horrible things I was always dreaming of – killing innocent civilians, burning churches and houses, betraying allies… Plato was right: there are only two kinds of people on this earth, those who dream about doing horrible things and those who actually do them.

My favourite game? Stalin Subway, a Russian one: Moscow 1952, the player is a KGB investigator, called by Stalin Himself to unearth the plot to kill Stalin and other members of the Politburo. One can arrest and kill suspects at one’s will. If one wins, one gets a medal from Stalin and Beria! What more can one expect in this miserable life?


It’s an interesting thing, guilty pleasures: intellectual life itself is mine… As a child, for the most part, I had to hide intellectual pursuits: I read in secret, hid everything I wrote, and worked very hard – and generally unsuccessfully – not to engage publicly in those forms of behaviour that would cause any adult within earshot to look at me sharply and demand: “Are you trying to be smart?!”. As a teenager, in order to get into a better school outside my home district, I enlisted the support of kind strangers to help me construct an elaborate fictitious home life in an appropriate geographical location (it still amazes me, the luck I had, finding people who helped me arrange such things…) – and, when that school wasn’t as challenging as I had hoped, I then became both a consummate forger of excused absence notes and an incorrigible delinquent: skipping classes and sneaking off campus whenever I could – possibly the only truant whose regular haunt was the local university library, where I would hide in the stacks and read all day… The result of this odd background is that I am now living my guilty pleasures… Does this mean I should be reflecting on the ones I don’t feel guilty about?

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3 responses to “Guilty Pleasures

  1. Sinthome February 6, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    “and, when that school wasn’t as challenging as I had hoped, I then became both a consummate forger of excused absence notes and an incorrigible delinquent: skipping classes and sneaking off campus whenever I could – possibly the only truant whose regular haunt was the local university library, where I would hide in the stacks and read all day… The result of this odd background is that I am now living my guilty pleasures… Does this mean I should be reflecting on the ones I don’t feel guilty about?”

    This was my last two years of highschool and my entire college experience. The state actually tried to take action against me in highschool due to my absences and the faculty came to my defense as I had failed the previous year (long story, involving love, drugs, a school burning down, and homelessness) and was no suddenly doing stellar. My days were spent in a coffee shop reading all sorts of things and playing with math. I’d read Spinoza’s Ethics, Heidegger’s Being and Time, Kant’s First Critique, Descartes’ Meditations, Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, and Husserl’s Ideas (the first philosophical work I “conquered”) before graduating highschool… And assorting other things such as James and Dewey and a smattering of Santayana, Whitehead, and other strange figures. Books were gifts that I had to comb used bookstores to find, so I read everything I could find. Along with this was an engagement with history and literature. Anyway, I’m showing off my peacock feathers.

  2. N Pepperell February 6, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    We’re in a thread about guilty pleasures: show off all you like… ;-P I’ll play too… ;-P

    During a period of… enforced leisure when I spent a long period not enrolled in school, I filled much of the time working my way through a neglected box full of philosophy texts (as well as a few stray biology texts, a small collection of – quite wretched, actually – social theory, some trashy science fiction, and a box set of Vietnam-era Doonesbury cartoons thrown in for good measure…). By the time I was able to attend school again, I had a project: I wanted to understand what seemed to be breaks between the philosophy texts written in different periods, and specifically what appeared to be some of the distinctive elements of more modern works…

    I was almost tossed out of school several times, for various reasons: my fake home story fell apart at one point, necessitating a new fake home story, invented on the spot when I was summonsed to the principal’s office and told that I was no longer eligible to remain in the school…; I had a period of enforced absence because I couldn’t afford a required immunisation, which added up to enough days that I had to gain an exemption from the district in order not to fail automatically (more forged signatures, as well as a faked phone conversation with my – cough! – worried parent); and I had various near-misses with truancy (I had an ongoing cat-and-mouse game with the high school principal and with the school’s security guard that threatened to reach Ferris Bueller proportions at various points)… My friends used to take advantage of my truancy skill (and the fact that I sounded much older than I was): I would get these calls out of the blue that would start, “Hi mom!”, and would know that someone was in some situation they didn’t want their parents to know anything about…

    College was much better intellectually – I enjoyed the experience, and was able to navigate courses to find faculty who were challenging; college was also, though, much worse in terms of my financial and housing situations, which were periodically quite dire. I think back on this periodically: I honestly don’t know how I got anything done, in some of the circumstances in which I did it… Much smaller things seem to disrupt work now…

  3. Sarapen February 7, 2007 at 9:24 am

    Lately, my entire blog has been about my guilty pleasures. Then again, I don’t really feel too guilty about them, since after all I’m listing them publicly. This despite me having been in Catholic school from nursery (a level before kindergarten) to high school.

    Frankly, I’m amazed at these stories of furtive intellectual pursuits. Most of my stories of truancy involve ditching school to go the arcade, back when kids still hung out at arcades. Come Mass time and the nearest arcade was packed with boys in ties and dress shirts pissing away the entire morning by killing each other over and over. It was something of a counter-Mass, now that I think about it. Certainly the slack-jawed expressions of rapture on our faces were genuine, and we achieved greater oneness with the universe standing in front of our game machines than we would have daydreaming during Mass.

    Hmm, game consoles, worshipful countenances, household gods — this idea can be developed more. N. Pepperrell, I always get such great ideas while procrastinating at your blog. I should look for my previous comments and do something more with them.

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