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Slices of learned life, on a Thursday night

A trio of Weekly staffers fanned out across the Thursday-night culturescape to sample various panels, lectures and discussions, just to see what was happening outside the usual entertainment calendar:

1. Art collecting at Las Vegas Art Museum

Art critic Dave Hickey headlined a panel on art collecting at the Las Vegas Art Museum, with harmonies provided by wealthy collectors Roger Thomas, Lee Cagli and Anthony Spiegel. They’re smart, passionate, privileged men, but you go to these things mostly because Hickey, garrulous and fiercely intelligent, tosses out effortlessly great lines:

“Las Vegas has the virtue of being a visual town. So you don’t have to convince people about art. You have to convince them to like good art.”

“Art is more of a censoring function; I don’t hang around with people who have art I hate.”

“The whole business of being around art has been good for me. It’s taught me to be tolerant of the rich.”

“Las Vegas lacks a vertical [class hierarchy]. You can never figure out who to exclude. If you don’t have Siegfried & Roy, is that good thing or a bad thing?”

A good 80 people braved the economic chill, their 401(k)’s moving into a minimalist phase, to hear these rich dudes go on about the essentially frivolous—Hickey’s word—act of art collecting. Yet, finally, there was nothing insubstantial about Cagli discussing the way art has changed his life, or Thomas describing the old days in Vegas, when you had to leave town to find art worth getting worked up about, or Spiegel talking about the importance of surrounding yourself with beautiful things, or Hickey endorsing the way art creates ad-hoc communities of different-minded people. Nothing frivolous about that. —Scott Dickensheets

2. Heavy-duty philosophy at UNLV

In the back row of a small auditorium, a cute 20-something couple is kissing. And why not? We’re at Barrick Auditorium at UNLV, 10 minutes before a presentation called “Reason, Relativism and the Human Normative Predicament.” That’s hot.

Who knew more than 45 people would cram in here on a Thursday night to listen to “media celebrity philosopher” professor Kenneth Taylor of Stanford? He takes the podium—a big, bold African-American man wearing camel-colored shoes, pants, shirt and jacket. His message begins with a quote from Nietzsche’s Gay Science, name-checks Kant and DesCartes, and goes, I think, something like this, in much larger words: Let’s assume there really is no objective morality, no God, no transcendent realm of objective goodness, etc., how do we live in a world like that?

A quick summary of what follows: Humans are value-mongers. We don’t find value in the universe in the order of things, rather we create the values that we monger. Value value matter probity. Kant. Dostoevskian dilemma. Relativism is regarded as a bogey from which we must flee.

“Okay now things are going to get philsophically dense,” he says, 20 minutes in.

A few people leave.

I’m a reason for myself. You’re a reason for yourself. We find ourselves among droning others. The driver of human history is the hunger for normative community. The dialectic of ratification I offer up is a norm and you chose to ratify it.

A couple of others pack and leave.

“Okay, the conclusion ... Can we redeem humanity? There are no guarantees. But let us try it nonetheless and see where trying may lead.”

Applause!

Afterward, in the parking lot, there’s a Mitsubishi Galant with the windows fogged up. Inside, a couple is in the throes of philosophy. —Stacy J. Willis

3. UFOs at the Clark County Library

One could reasonably assume that an Area 51 worker was manning the audio-visual booth on the night of George Knapp’s presentation on the paranormal October 16; every time newsman Knapp began his speech, the screen over the stage kept bursting to life with segments he was supposed to show the audience later; this happened not once, not twice, not three times, but four, and Knapp, ever the professional, kept his quiet cool through it all.

However, if he at any time suspected a conspiracy, Knapp could be forgiven. After all, he’s spent the last three decades of his career chasing UFOs, searching for Men in Black and sitting in bushes, waiting for strange beings or forces to manifest themselves. And as a turnout of more than 300 at the Clark County Library proved, Knapp has followers. He may not be crazy about his connection to the unknown, but at least he’s not ignoring it. —Ken Miller

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