Thursday, September 27, 2007

My tireless quest to promote the humanities

In my tireless quest to promote the humanities to my students, I seized this opportunity to speak more extensively about rhetoric and the importance of rhetoric, so that I might seduce them to take a greater interest in philosophy, literature, english, history, and the social sciences. This time around I chose to appeal to their avarice, their desire to be successful and fabulously wealthy, rather than the high ideals surrounding the tradition of the liberal arts. This is, after all, the wealthiest county in the state, and my students seem profoundly cynical of high falutin ethical ideals, seeing the world itself as a dark and cynical place, a battleground of competing interests, where they have to fight for their own advantage and piece of the pie, rather than advance idealistic causes. Moreover, I consistently get the impression that my students resent being in classes such as mine (though they generally seem to enjoy the class), seeing classes such as philosophy and english as bullshit requirements they have to fill to get their degrees, and outside their real classes pertaining to business or whatever profession they will enter.
Thus, in a move that was not without guilt, I declared that the most lucrative jobs in the world are jobs in rhetoric. I say I adopted this rhetorical strategy with a certain amount of guilt and hesitation, for in arguing in this way I was giving credence to a set of values central to capitalism and treating those values as the telos defining the value of all other things. Yet when speaking before an audience, it is necessary to work with the ethos of that audience and work with the potentials that ethos renders available. As Rumsfeld would say, “you go to speak with the ethos you’re given, not the ethos you would like.” In appealing to avarice and a particular set of values common to this cultural milieu, the hope is then that something very different might occur, and that the student that begins to pursue the study of the various humanities, hoping to gain the rhetorical skills to become fabulously wealthy will, in measures, be seduced to a very different set of values no longer shackled to the telos of capital as the measure of all things. That is, perhaps, in the becoming-capital of the humanities, a becoming-humanities of capital might also take place, allowing a line of flight from a particular system of values. Or this, at least, is how I attempt to mitigate my shame.
Drawing a distinction between the world of Survivorman and our world, I proceeded to distinguish between those tools and weapons (again the value system of capital) that are useful in particular jungle and those that are useful in Survivorman’s jungle. For those who haven’t seen it, Survivorman is a reality survival show where the host, Les Stroud, is dropped for a week in exotic and remote places such as the Amazon rain forests, remote regions of Alaska, the Antarctic, etc., and has to make his own way with a very limited repitoire of odd tools (they’re different every time), as if he had fallen into these situations as a result of an emergency without preparing for them. He does all of his own filming without the benefit of a crew, and spends the week trying to find food, build shelter, etc. Often things do not go very well, and he ends up very hungry, without sufficient water or shelter. Over the last couple of seasons he seems to have aged from these experiences.
The skills Stroud possesses are largely useless in our world. For the most part, many of us have our basic needs met– even if not exactly in the way we would like –and are not faced with serious questions of how to make fire, find food and water, build shelter, etc. Ours is a world of communications, images, symbols, sound-bites, speech. Regardless of what one pursues later in life, these are the tools with which one will be working. If rhetoric is desirable as a skill, then this is because you can use it to get people to do shit and because you can critically unpack those rhetorical strategies that are attempting to get you to do shit (often against your own self-interest or aims). If this were not the case, lawyers, advertisers, marketing men, televangelists, political consultants, and so on would not be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, collectively billions of dollars, for their skills. If rhetoric did not work– whether visual or in speech –it wouldn’t be such a sought after skill in employees by those who wish to advance their ambitions. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars Frank Luntz has been paid for his political consulting… For simply coming up with a few well turned phrases. And which disciplines will best serve students in developing these skills, if not the humanities and the social sciences, where one works intensively for years, learning how to read, write, and think creatively. Certainly this isn’t the case with business degrees, which arguably shouldn’t be offered by universities at all. Again, I hate myself for this line of argument.
This discussion of rhetoric bled into an analysis of rhetoric as it is deployed in various television commercials such as the Geico caveman commercials, commercials for various erectile disfunction pills such as Cialis (gotta wake the students up), car commericals, the swiffer sweeper, and the iPhone. The interesting feature of most commercials is that the techniques used to advertise them seldom has much, if anything, to do with the product at all. Rather, commercials instead sell fantasies… Usually fantasies that either appeal to our narcissism or self-love (the caveman commercials that implicitly appeal to our superiority to neanderthals), sexual desires (the swiffer sweeper where the women are always breaking up with someone for someone else who fulfills them more completely), desires for mastery and control, where we’re freed from the ordinary constraints of our bodies and lives (the Hummer commercials where we are able to conquer the world and go anywhere), or our desires for a better world where we’re freed from the drudgery of work and human ugliness (many car commercials that take place on an empty, scenic road– implicitly referring to the irritations caused by other human beings –and the whimsical, annoying, iPhone commercials that evoke a whole counter-cultural politics where technology doesn’t dominate us, but rather improves our lives, and where we get the sense of people who are kind and nice to one another, without any of the ordinary ugliness that characterizes so many anonymous interpersonal relations).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Schelling-Zizek: Mental State + Eternal Character -> Action

Adam Says: September 23rd, 2007 at 9:37 pm Meister Eckhart didn’t take as long as I thought! (The Defense against Heresy is apparently mostly retreads of other stuff.)
Daniel: I suppose it’s possible I’ve been confused about objective spirit. I hope I’m not too thoroughly confused about it, because I just had an essay come out that is based on Bonhoeffer’s use of the concept. In any case, I don’t have the Encyclopedia onhand and so can’t really carry this end of the conversation further.
John: I didn’t read your comment in its entirety before putting it off, and now I see that it’s mostly you bitching about how unfair I am to you in light of the shortness of your article. I would note that being personally annoyed by the amount of Lacan in Zizek is not the same as saying that Lacan is unimportant to understanding Zizek. (I also don’t buy Daniel’s “Lacan == Hegel, ergo….” Zizek is doing a Lacanian read of Hegel, which differs from the traditional reception. And in any case, John has never defended himself in that way, only expressed an understandable preference for dealing with the Hegel stuff.)
By “inwardness” I meant essentially that by means of which the subject stands in absolute relation to the absolute. (It may not be the exact terminology SK uses in Fear and Trembling, and if it’s not, I apologize.) Something incommunicable — “he cannot speak,” as I keep pointing out. In Zizek’s read of Lacan, there are two modalities of the subject — the “feminine,” which is the pure self-relating void, and the “masculine,” which is basically one’s “identity” as normally conceived (one’s social being). In Indivisible Remainder and some other places, Zizek claims that the “feminine” mode of subjectivity is ultimately identical to objet petit a — the traumatic kernel isn’t some solid “thing,” but is the subject’s “insane” eternal choice of character. In extreme situations — such as Abraham’s, I would argue — one is reduced to this incommunicable zero-level of subjectivity.
He works out the feminine/masculine things in terms of Descartes: the feminine is the abyss of radical doubt that even doubts whether he exists, and the masculine is the cogito ergo sum that allows him to dig himself out and found some kind of intelligible system. I don’t know for sure what page it’s on, but in Parallax he draws a comparison between Descartes and Kierkegaard in this regard.
I’m sure that’s still too compressed, but it’s something.
jholbo Says: September 23rd, 2007 at 11:08 pm “Being personally annoyed by the amount of Lacan in Zizek is not the same as saying that Lacan is unimportant to understanding Zizek.”
I never said - nor hinted - that Lacan was unimportant to Zizek, or to understanding Zizek. That would be a nutty thing to think. So I don’t see the fact that you don’t have this nutty opinion, and I don’t have this nutty opinion, as marking a clear line of distinction between our respective positions. I just said I tend to approve more, or disapprove less, of the bits that strike me as more Hegelian. (OK, I’m sorry to get exasperated. But just cut it out with saying the things that exasperate me.)
I am entirely happy with Daniel’s exposition of Hegel on objective spirit and would be content for Adam to address that. If Adam can address Daniel, my questions will be largely answered. “If what Zizek really wants to talk about is world-historical suspension of sittlichkeit, then Zizek and Kierkegaard aren’t concerned with the same topics.” This is my suspicion. The main criterion that separates Kierk. from Hegel, in this regard, is the idea of retroactively making sense of what you have been doing. Hegel is big on this, to put it mildly. Kierkegaard is insistent that this isn’t faith. Faith isn’t having it make sense, looking back, after it’s done. This is important.
Two minor points: I don’t insist that Hegel = Lacan. It is true that Zizek thinks that Hegelized Lacan and Lacanized Hegel makes for mutually reinforcing structures. So there is a certain heuristic value to Hegel = Lacan. Eh.
Daniel writes: “I think that Kierkegaard really may want to oppose this entire system; this is certainly how Holbo reads him. I’m not sure that Kierkegaard’s criticisms of “The System” are aimed at Hegel himself, but I think he does hold to some ideas which are opposed to Hegel’s.”
One thing that makes reading Kierkegaard against Hegel hard is that he is clearly addicted to the rhetoric of standing Hegel exactly on his head. This makes for wonderful jokes, which are spoiled by any attempt to come at Hegel at other than right angles. There isn’t any negotiation of ‘well, I sort of agree with Hegel about Ethics, but not about Faith.’ By way of exactly disagreeing about faith, K. has to pose as if he agrees perfectly about ethics, so as to throw the disagreement about faith into absolutely stark relief. So I just say ‘Ethics’ and let it float, not committing to the snap-to-grid 90 degree angles of the rhetorical frame. But it’s important that it isn’t going to float off that point that Daniel makes, above. Which is the main point.
Adam, I’ll have to think about the ‘inwardness’ point. I still don’t really get it. Following up on a comment at the Weblog, I think “The Indivisible Remainder” should have been entitled “The Invisible Reminder” That makes more sense.
Adam Says: September 24th, 2007 at 8:03 am You just seemed to be placing undue emphasis on my remark.
All I can say is that Zizek doesn’t understand Hegel to be saying that objective spirit really is this universal all-encompassing thing — just that in order to work, it has to be regarded as such. Every historical era is “the end of history” from its own perspective and can’t help but view itself that way. Your reading of objective spirit is “Althusserian” — subjects are brought into existence by and for ideology. In Zizek’s Lacanian reading, the subject can always “opt out” in psychosis or in the self-directed negative act that Zizek calls the “properly ethical” — the social subject is the product of the primordial subject’s unconscious choice to submit to ideology (which includes basically all the things that Hegel classes under objective spirit).
Daniel appears to have read The Indivisible Remainder — isn’t the account of the rise of the big Other “Hegelian” or dialectical in its approach? The big Other arises out of the mutual deadlock among subjects, but in order for it to function, it has to be posited as “eternal,” always-already there. I understand this to be compatible with what I have read of Hegel, though obviously not with the traditional reading of Hegel, and I unfortunately remain unable to engage you at the level of detail that you have given me — and I’m sorry about that. All I can say is that Zizek’s reading of Hegel on this point seems plausible to me.
Daniel Says: September 24th, 2007 at 10:36 am The Encyclopedia is actually online:
It’s lacking the Zusatze, but Miller didn’t translate those for anything after about halfway through “Psychology” anyway; his thinking was that if you wanted detail on “Objective Spirit” you could check the “Philosophy of Right”, and if you wanted more on “Absolute Spirit” Hegel’s lectures on Art/Religion/History of Philosophy had been translated already.
The tail-end of Holbo’s “Short Article is Short” rant actually did have some substance. He asked a question at the very end. Skipping the rest was probably an OK thing to do; Holbo seemed to be losing his temper, so it seems charitable to just let him get it out of his system and then go on.
I have not read The Indivisible Remainder in its entirety. I had an evening to kill at a bookstore; catching up on Yotsuba&! volumes hadn’t taken as long as I thought it would. Barnes & Noble had a copy of “The Indivisible Remainder” for some reason (as its only Zizek book, even), so I figured I’d check it out, since you keep speaking so highly of it. I read several pages into the first part, hit an argument that struck me as bad in a particularly toxic way, and skipped to the second part, which I read most of, but don’t recall very well at this point. So, a half-step above skimming. Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t recall the origin of the “Big Other” given in that work; the summary you give sounds vaguely like something Hegel might say, but it also sounds like something Fichte might say, or even “social contract” theorists. One should not put too much weight on “sounds dialectical.”
I do recall the argument which struck me so badly: It was attributed to Schelling. Zizek notes that a subject has a variety of beliefs, desires, and other mental states of various sorts at any given moment. But these are not sufficient to motivate action: Given all that I believe etc., I could still do either p or ~p. Thus Schelling claims that we must also appeal to “eternal Character” to explain action: So-and-so is the sort of person to do this in this case. What struck me was that Schelling-Zizek simply rushed to say that (for instance) “I should like a drink of water” is not sufficient motivation for my getting a drink of water (since I could opt not to satisfy my thirst). But this is not the case in all cases — when I do get a drink of water, I often do it because I wanted a drink of water. My belief that I should like a drink of water caused my action, the getting of a drink of water. (Or if you prefer, my desire for a drink of water caused me to get a drink; there is no reason we cannot say both.) My mental states can be sufficient to cause me to act. A given mental state does not necessitate any given action, is what Zizek-Schelling notice; they conclude that there must be some additional element in action. But this is to fail to canvass all possibilities. In effect, Schelling-Zizek notice that there are no natural laws which go from mental states to actions, and conclude that there must be additional elements which can be added to mental states to produce the needed laws: Mental State + Eternal Character -> Action.
But there is another possibility: The anomalism of the mental. There are no laws of nature governing thought, because to use “law of nature” talk we must also use talk of mental states, and so mind-talk cannot be reduced to nature-talk, or replaced with it. And there is no reason for this to preclude the causal efficacy of mental states. Not all causal relations need to be instantiations of covering laws; the belief that they do is what McDowell calls (in “Functionalism and Anomalous Monism”) the “fourth dogma of empiricism”: “The Nomological Character of Causality.”
Or, if you want to hang onto your fourth dogma (Davidson did, for reasons I haven’t been able to puzzle out), there is Davidson’s “anomalous monism.” Each mental event is token-token identical to a physical event, and there are covering laws governing all physical causal relations. Thus mental events are involved in causal relations, since the same event can be characterized in both physical-talk and in mental-talk. But mental events cannot be talked about in nomological terms; law-talk is not suited for the task demanded of it. We need talk of propositional attitudes as support for any talk of the objective world at all, and thus also for talk of natural laws. Thus an absence of strict psychological laws, yet the causal efficacy of the mental is retained. (The locus classicus for this doctrine is Davidson’s “Mental Events”; in “Three Varieties of Knowledge” he does a much better job in arguing for the anomalism of the mental. ME is in “Essays on Actions and Events” and also “The Essential Davidson”; “Three Varieties of Knowledge” is in “Objective, Subjective, Intersubjective”. McDowell’s “Functionalism and Anomalous Monism” is in his “Mind, Value, and Reality”.)
I could go on about this longer, but you get the general idea. If you don’t, then this is probably a good thing to discuss.
I regard the anomalism of the mental as something very important to take note of; missing it can cause one to produce a great deal of bad metaphysical speculation. It appears to me from what you’ve written above that this has likely happened in Zizek’s case (if not in Lacan’s): a second “subject” is posited to explain why there don’t appear to be any mental laws, just as with Schelling’s “Eternal Character”. But a proper understanding of the propositional attitudes, of the relations which hold between belief, action, reasons, causes, the world etc., leaves one without the compulsion to posit the additional entity. The ordinary subject doesn’t need to “withdraw” anywhere to be free from nomological constraints, because there is no point at which it is not already free of such imaginary shackles. Hegel speaks of the relation between will and freedom as being like the relation between a body and weight — an unfree will would be no will at all.
Kotsko: “All I can say is that Zizek doesn’t understand Hegel to be saying that objective spirit really is this universal all-encompassing thing — just that in order to work, it has to be regarded as such. Every historical era is “the end of history” from its own perspective and can’t help but view itself that way.”– it occurs to me that any interpretation which leads to ascribing an “error view” of some sort to Hegel should be suspect. Hegel is not one to maintain a strong demarcation between what appears to us to be so and what simply is.
More substantively, Hegel does not think that all ages regard themselves as the “end of history”. Philosophical world-history is a novel development in the development of historicizing; indeed, Hegel says it is so far only practiced in Germany during his own time. It is the distinctive mark of this “highest” form of historical reflection that it knows historical development as self-directed, as guided by an internal telos. Hegel argues that the only telos which can do the required work in guiding our understanding of history is freedom, as other notions would simply be external purposes; Hegel is a critic of all external teleology, following Kant. And freedom reaches its fullest development in the modern state. Hegel repeatedly says that the Greeks did not know freedom; this was the failure of Aristotle, simply that he was born in Ancient Greece rather than Lutheran Germany. The idea of freedom only comes into play with Christianity; even the Stoics still had a flawed notion of it, since for the Stoic man as such was not free, but only man insofar as he was a sage. After the rise of modern civil society and the spread of Protestantism in religion etc. there is no longer any in-principle reason for man to be alienated from nature or society, to not know himself as freedom. Any further “historical” development will be the working-out of the modern political ideal which is already known: Man is and ought to be free. Thus history, as the self-development of freedom, has ended with modern society.
“Your reading of objective spirit is “Althusserian” — subjects are brought into existence by and for ideology.” — Here I think the assimilation of Hegel to a later figure has again caused a misunderstanding. As I understand the term, “Ideology” seems too rigid to do the work of Hegel’s “Objective Spirit.” Ideology is something basically static, given; I am born into an ideology, which governs me, moulds me, makes me who I am. But this again makes it seem as if it is something basically over and against me; whereas I am a novel moment of Objective Spirit, always with my own particular will, my own personal idiosyncrasies, my own novel familial and social relations etc. “Objective Spirit” is the actuality of the Idea, and the Idea is ever-active, ever unfolding itself out of itself; “The chalice of this realm of spirits/ flows forth to God his own infinity”, to quote the closing verse of the Phenomenology.
As I understand it, “ideology” is something more or less constant: Thus ideology always attempts to continue itself, but sometimes fails to produce the subjects it intended, and in this way do ideologies rise and fall. Objective Spirit does not try to maintain its previous shape, but fail; it tries and succeeds to develop itself as concrete freedom. I may be misunderstanding you on “ideology”; I tend not to use the term, and so may be missing some subtleties to it.
“In Zizek’s Lacanian reading, the subject can always “opt out” in psychosis or in the self-directed negative act that Zizek calls the “properly ethical” — the social subject is the product of the primordial subject’s unconscious choice to submit to ideology (which includes basically all the things that Hegel classes under objective spirit).” Here Zizek seems to be thinking of Hegel’s “infinite power of the negative”; the power of Spirit to abstract itself from all content that is given to it. (I don’t have my books on-hand at the moment, so I can’t place this more precisely.) But for Hegel this is not a way of escaping from Objective Spirit; it is a moment of it. The recoil from the “given” is part of the development of freedom, and Objective Spirit is the actuality of the Idea in its freedom. And of course I’ve already made another criticism above, that Zizek wouldn’t feel the need to talk this way if he took notice of the anomalous nature of the mental.
Adam Says: September 24th, 2007 at 10:51 am Daniel, I’m not sure how different this “anomalous nature of the mental” is from what Zizek is doing. He’s not positing the primordial subject as some kind of homunculus — it’s the power of the negative. What is added between mental states and acts is just a gap, not a separate entity.
We’re getting to the point of having such long comments that I’m tempted to just point you toward Zizek’s most detailed reading of Hegel, in For they know not, and ask you to get back to me once you’ve gotten a chance to read it. (If that doesn’t seem assholish.) And I’ll go do a more intensive reading of Hegel (in and for himself) while you’re getting around to that, and we can talk again. I’ve read a good chunk of Hegel and a few commentators other than Zizek, but I’m not yet at the point where I feel comfortable throwing around Hegel at the level of specificity you’re using.
Daniel Says: September 24th, 2007 at 3:08 pm The point of the anomalism of the mental is that there needn’t be any such gap to accommodate freedom, Hegel’s “infinite power of the negative”. The mental as such is already the space of freedom. There is no need for an addition, even the addition of a “gap.”
Recommending we “hit the books” and get back to this stuff later doesn’t seem assholish at all at this point, though I have no idea when I’ll get around to reading any given thing; my backlog is legion.
As for reading Hegel intensively: I’d recommend focusing more on the Encyclopedia Logic and the Philosophy of Spirit. Hegel wrote the Encyclopedia volumes for use as textbooks for his lectures, so they’re quite a bit more readable than the Science of Logic or the Phenomenology. The Encyclopedia Logic also has the advantage of having a fairly-recent Hackett translation, which means plenty of handy footnotes, annotations, etc.; I’ve never been able to understand why Miller was so stingy with footnotes. Hegel’s text benefits from having constant reminders about what terms were used in the German.
(The translators’ introductions to the Encyclopedia Logic are great, too. Just reading their arguments over how to translate various terms does a lot to spell out how Hegel’s using them. It also explains how in the hell “ob-ject” was deemed fit for print.)
Also, to be assholish, Davidson is seriously fantastic and you should read him if you haven’t already. “On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” is one of the best essays ever written. “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” is also terrific, and by the time I was through with it I was pretty much sold on all things Davidsonian. And I really do think it’s relevant to the sort of things you’re interested in.
Adam Says: September 24th, 2007 at 3:20 pm I’ve been eying the new edition of the Encyclopedia Logic for a while now. But I’ve heard that the other translations out of the Encyclopedia are pretty shitty — any idea whether this is the case? I don’t want to be a light-weight, after all: if I’m to read the Encyclopedia, I’m going to read the damn Philosophy of Nature, too.
If you’re going to take a long time, though, maybe I will have the chance to “bone up” on German and just read it straight.
abb1 Says: September 24th, 2007 at 3:34 pm BTW, Russian revolution of 1917: to Lenin it wasn’t a Russian revolution, it was merely the beginning of a world revolution. Russia was the weakest link in the imperialist chain; break it and the whole thing falls apart. I’m not sure this is in contradiction with the original marxism. “Socialism in One Country” sure is, but that was Stalin’s thesis.
Daniel Says: September 24th, 2007 at 3:50 pm The Miller Philosophy of Spirit is readable, which is always a plus. And it’s the only one on the market; apparently someone translated the section on Subjective Spirit back in the ’80s, but it’s a rare book and runs about $150, last I checked. I remember Kenneth Westphal complained about the Miller translation in one of his articles, but all of his criticisms were fairly minor: basically, the Zusatze need updating.
There are some really terrible older translations of the Encyclopedia Logic, at least; some of them are mentioned in the translators’ introduction to the Hackett. One of them translated most of Hegel’s technical vocabulary literally: Daseyn was “There-Being”. Given the sheer amount of technical vocabulary Hegel accumulates, you can guess how well this worked out.
I have no idea if the translation of the Philosophy of Nature is any good, nor do I care. Nor does anyone. All of the the secondary stuff I’ve read on the PoN has fallen into one of two categories: 1) Utterly worthless dreck whose authors should be ashamed of themselves; 2) an article by Terry Pinkard about why the PoN is justly neglected, and what its irrelevance tells us about the relation between Nature and Spirit. Pinkard pointed out that Hegel’s attempts to unify mechanism, chemism, and organism went on a few years before the accidental distillation of urea, which rather revolutionized ideas about the relationship between “organic” and “inorganic” matters. This is just as well, since there are a few places in the PoN where Hegel just says “We still have a lot to learn about this subject” and moves on to the next heading. This is not a sign that Hegel’s strategy was going as planned.
Good luck on learning German, though. I’ve done a piss-poor job at maintaining my Greek and Latin, so I’ve more or less resigned myself to reading works in translation. Luckily the German Idealists are pretty well-represented, here; the only Kantian works which still need translating are some lecture notes on random subjects and parts of his Reflexionen. The Cambridge edition of the Opus Postumum is actually said to be superior to any German edition, just because the Cambridge folk did better critical work on the manuscripts.
Adam Says: September 24th, 2007 at 4:04 pm I already “know” German — the problem is getting it up to speed so that I can read comfortably. I’ve already achieved that level in French, so I know it’s possible in principle.
My readings in patristics have made me fond of outdated scientific schemes, but maybe an early modern one wouldn’t be different enough to be interesting. (Sometimes I’ve pondered becoming a crank who defends Plato’s Timaeus instead of creationism, just for the sake of generating controversy on blogs.)
Anthony Paul Smith Says: September 24th, 2007 at 4:08 pm I only have a, at best, passing interest in Hegel, but doesn’t Stephen Houlgate’s work make some hoopla about the philosophy of nature as an important neglected aspect? Isn’t he good?
I could be way off since looking at his faculty page this information I thought I was remembering is not there. Still… is he one of the cranks?
Daniel Says: September 24th, 2007 at 5:07 pm Can’t say; haven’t read Houlgate. He does appear to be who you were thinking of:
I’m not sure why this book isn’t on his faculty page. Must just be a “selected works” list rather than a CV. (Why do people do this? Is it that hard to throw up a CV if you’re going to throw up anything?)
I suppose the PoN is bound to be better than it’s generally taken to be; it can’t possibly be worse. Though the Amazon description for Houlgate’s book does not fill me with hope; trying to develop Kant’s “Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science” in a positive way can’t end well. The “Metaphysical Foundations” is a trainwreck. (See Kenneth Westphal, “Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism” for an excellent analysis of just how badly Kant’s project goes here; Gordon Brittain tried to defend Kant’s book in “Kant’s Theory of Science”, but mainly succeeded in writing a fine book discussing a lot of Kantian themes in light of Quine. Brittain did not actually do much to dispel worries that Kant’s project in “Metaphysical Foundations” was a bad one from the get-go. Though again: “Kant’s Theory of Science” was a good book. The same can’t be said for the “Metaphysical Foundations.”)
Anthony Paul Smith Says: September 24th, 2007 at 5:39 pm Seeing as how I fancy myself a philosopher of nature I should probably read some of this old German stuff, but I just can’t and your descriptions really aren’t fostering any desire to do so either.
I’ll just stick with my assumption that the real philosophy of nature starts in 1907.
Scene points go to those who can figure out my reference.
sputnik Says: September 24th, 2007 at 9:22 pm Holbo: But then it will just be like Scotty fixing the warp drive, even though the manual says it can’t possibly work. That is, it is just good old never-say-die, can-do spirit. If it is not like that, then why is it good?
there is a big difference between ‘never say die, can-do spirit’ and ’spirit overcoming despair through the possibility of eternity-in-time.’ The latter is a very different sense of ‘never say die’. Kierkegaard is the latter, Lenin is the former. So that’s the objection.
Much more than Lacan’s nuance, the point is that if we assume the unconscious/real we can’t know the difference between ‘can-do spirit’ (?) and ‘spirit overcoming despair through the possibility of eternity-in-time.’ It means this even if the difference makes a BIG difference, which is Holbo’s claim. Even Kant thought that our ‘inner and outer experience’ were divided such that we can never know for sure the “purity” of the maxims of our own action, let alone the actions of anyone else. Holbo’s position assumes it is accurately/reliably possible to tell the difference (as he does between Stalin and Lenin), if not practically, at least in theory. In general, the main antagonism between Adamb and Holbo’s positions is that Holbo’s doesn’t take into account the concept of the unconscious, while Adam’s does (as does Zizek, of course) It is in this sense that Adam’s point about the big Other is valid, and why Holbo doesn’t respond. Simply put, Adam is considering Kierkegaard in light of the “Freudian Experience” and Holbo is not.
Holbo: “I don’t get why inwardness should equal objet petit a in this way”
Because he does take account of the unconscious. Psychoanalysis is very interesting. It is its own leap of faith in a way.

Deleuze diverges from Kant in arguing for a creativity sensibility

September 23, 2007 Bogue on Deleuze and Art Posted by larvalsubjects under Deleuze Outlining his “transcendental empiricism”, Deleuze, in Difference and Repetition writes,
The object must therefore be in no way identical, but torn asunder in a difference in which the identity of the object as seen by a seeing subject vanishes. Difference must become the element, the ultimate unity; it must therefore refer to other differences which never identify but rather differenciate it. Each term of a series, being already a difference, must be put into a variable relation with other terms, thereby constituting other series devoid of centre and convergence. Divergence and decentering must be affirmed in the series itself. Every object, every thing, must see its own identity swallowed up in difference, each being no more than a difference between differences. Difference must be shown differing. We know that modern art tends to realise these conditions: in this sense it becomes a veritable theatre of metamorphoses and permutations. A theatre where nothing is fixed, a labyrinth without a thread (Ariadne has hung herself). The work of art leaves the domain of representation in order to become ‘experience’, transcendental empiricism or science of the sensible.
It is strange that aesthetics (as the science of the sensible) could be founded on what can be represented in the sensible. True, the inverse procedure is not much better, consisting of the attempt to withdraw the pure sensible from representation and to determine it as that which remains once representation is removed (a contradictory flux, for example, or a rhapsody of sensation). Empiricism truly becomes transcendental, and aesthetics an apodictic discipline, only when we apprehend directly in the sensible that which can only be sensed, the very being of the sensible: difference, potential difference and difference in intensity as the reason behind qualitative diversity. It is in difference that movement is produced as an ‘effect’, that phenomena flash their meaning like signs. The intense world of differences, in which we find the reason behind qualities and the being of the sensible, is precisely the object of a superior empiricism. This empiricism teaches us a strange ‘reason’, that of the multiple, chaos and difference (nomadic distributions, crowned anarchies). It is always differences which resemble one another, which are analogous, opposed or identical: difference is behind everything, but behind difference there is nothing. (56-57)
What Deleuze here proposes is a new transcendental aesthetic. For Kant, the transcendental aesthetic made up a part of the critical philosophy, answering the question “what are the conditions under which experience is possible?” Kant argued that time and space must function as a priori forms of sensibility or receptivity imposed on the matter of experience by the mind. As a result, Kantian sensibility or receptivity is passive. Deleuze diverges from Kant in arguing for a creativity sensibility, a sensibility in which forms of experience are created rather than simply received. Thus, in Deleuze, “aesthetic” does not merely refer to what is felt or senses (as in the Greek sense of “aisthesis“, but also refers to an artistic production or creation within sensibility.
Even the most casual glance at Deleuze’s work reveals a profound engagement with art. Within the space of this engagement, Deleuze is not interested in evaluating whether the artwork is beautiful or not as in the case of traditional aesthetics (aesthetic judgment), nor in interpreting the artwork, but rather in the artistic process of production, it’s creation, its genesis. Deleuze devotes four books to literature alone (Sacher-Masoch, Proust, Carroll, Kafka), two volumes to cinema, another volume to painting (Francis Bacon), a plateau to music in A Thousand Plateaus, and a third of What is Philosophy? to an account of art.
In addition to this, Deleuze’s devoted a variety of essays to various artists, as diverse as Jarry, Klossowski, and Tournier. In all these works, the question is never one of representing the artist or in engaging in the critical analysis of the artist. Rather, for Deleuze, art is a form of thought and thought is always the creation of new forms, new potentials, new ways of living. This, perhaps, is seen most clearly in his analysis of Sacher-Masoch, where Sacher-Masoch’s literature does not merely represent a pre-existing form of desire known as “masochism”, but brings it into being as an entirely new way of living. Just as the bat and bat-sonar must come into being, the artist, philosopher, and scientist, for Deleuze bring new forms of life into being. In this regard, it is clear that Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism must be radically distinguished from classical empiricism. The task of the latter is epistemological, and is concerned with how we might invent the world. For Deleuze it is a question of how worlds are produced, where there is no assumption of a world in itself pre-existing that production. Moreover, Deleuze always approaches the artist as a thinker, treating the artist on the same level as the philosopher. Thus Francis Bacon provides a logic of sensation, Proust an account of signs, cinema an ontology of images, etc. The question is not one of representing the artist or saying what the artist “meant”, but of developing the concepts proper to the affects and percepts the artist has invented.
Although his studies have been around since 2003, it does not seem that Ronald Bogue’s magnificent three volume analysis of Deleuze’s relationship to art has received much attention. Bogue had already written an outstanding introduction to the thought of Deleuze and Guattari, released in 1989. To this day, Bogue’s introduction remains among the best available, distinguished by its careful attentiveness to the various texts it explores and the clarity of its exposition. Deleuze on Cinema, Deleuze on Literature, and Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts, are no different in this regard. As I reread these works now, years later, I remember just how much I’ve learned from Bogue and what an illuminating reader of Deleuze he is. Bogue’s style is free of the irritating trendiness that blemishes so much work on Deleuze, distracting from the force and vitality of his concepts, and is instead animated by a rigor that sheds light on the most obscure elements of Deleuze’s thought. Not only does Bogue exemplify a careful attention to Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari’s texts, but he is a model of clarity. Additionally, Bogue carefully follows Deleuze’s references to various other philosophers such as Ruyer and Simondon, shedding a tremendous amount of light on Deleuze’s often allusive references. For anyone interested in understanding Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism and Deleuze’s metaphysics, one could do worse than Bogue and Deleuze’s writings on art.

One Response to “Bogue on Deleuze and Art” va Says: September 24, 2007 at 3:35 am How timely (for me)! I just read Daniel W. Smith’s essay on this topic but yesterday. Among the many things I learned is that the Francis Bacon in question is not, in fact, the Renaissance philosopher, and it turns out that the modern-day Bacon has a very cool body of work.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Before the work, the writer is nothing yet, but after it, still nothing

Death, famously, is Blanchot's name for the relation of the writer to the work that is experienced as the withering of subjective power. Death, as it cannot be annulled and elevated by the work of Hegelian negation, invades and weakens it from the first and from before the first. Before the work, the writer is nothing yet, but after it, still nothing, since it is not linked together with his labour.
As such, the author is a mere actor, given over to an 'intermittent becoming' that leaves him, with respect to the experience to which he belongs, none the wiser. Certainly, the writer can take on the airs of a creative genius, laying claim to the work of art as it reflects the triumph of his sovereign will, but this is bad faith itself with respect to the work and its origin. For the author never quite coincides with himself; there is always a double who shadows his labour. A second Orpheus has disappeared into the underworld; a second Ulysses lies drowned in his wrecked ship on the seabed.
To exist is to act; to be is to do - but how can you take responsibility for your literary work when it implies your dissolution? What is specific to literary responsibility as it also includes the double who is also you? Invited in 1975 to submit work to the journal Gramma which was concerned with his work, Blanchot declined with these words, 'My absence [from this issue] is a necessary step rather than any decision on my part. I would like nobody to be surprised nor disappointed by it. Publishing is always more difficult. Publishing on the basis of the name is impossible' (anecdote via).
Blanchot's absence from the journal parallels the absence he was so scrupulous to maintain, refusing to meet scholars, to attend events celebrating his work, and refusing to be photographed by his publishers, or, except on one occasion, to be interviewed. What effort did it cost him not to see visiting scholars, or to accede to the demands of the great machines of publicity? Perhaps a great deal; perhaps very little. Either way, it is completely continuous with his work. Blanchot's refusal to appear is bound up with the demand of writing, which lets itself be experienced in its retreat.
But if it is as a writer that Blanchot disappeared in the postwar years, following his own political disaster, it is also as a writer that he reappeared, lending his support to the efforts of those determined to resist the claim to Algerian independence. As he says in his only interview, granted to clarify the aims of the so-called 'Manifesto of the 121', he is an essentially apolitical writer. But let us not misunderstand this to suggest political quietude. It was as a writer, too, that Blanchot sought to join his voice to others in the failed collaborative project of the Revue Internationale, which occupied him and others in the early 1960s. And it is as a writer that he takes part in the Events of May 1968, again working collaboratively. Blanchot grants that what he calls 'literary responsibility' is different to 'political responsibility'; but he also says both kinds of responsibility 'engage [...] us absolutely as in a sense does the disparity between them'. This engagement (so different from what Sartre meant by that term) reveals itself in Blanchot's commitment to what he will allow himself to call communism, in both the foreword to The Infinite Conversation (1969), and the anonymous writings he allowed to circulate during the Events... September 22, 2007 in Blanchot TrackBack (0) spurious

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It is hard to resist its infectious songs and its celebratory spirit

THEATER, NOSTALGIA Let the Sunshine In (Briefly) By MELENA RYZIK Friday, September 21, 2007 Donna Alberico for The New York Times
Get off your cynical high horse and head to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for a free production of “Hair.” It stars Jonathan Groff, of “Spring Awakening,” but other than that, it’s a Flower Power period piece, writes Charles Isherwood. “You can’t pry ‘Hair’ out of the 1960s, give it a new perm and make it speak of things timeless,” he says. On the other hand, “it is hard to resist its infectious songs and its celebratory spirit. All these years later it still sounds pretty groovy.” It runs for three days starting tomorrow, just enough time to pick up a commemorative afro wig, peace button and attitude adjustment before you go.
The Aging of Aquarius,” by Charles Isherwood READY TO ROLL From left, the actors Jonathan Groff and John Gallagher Jr. and the composer Duncan Sheik.

They challenge, teach, and inspire us by shedding light in all corners of life

Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life through the Eyes of Actors
By Retta Blaney Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Paper 0-7425-3319-0 / 978-0-7425-3319-6 2003 160pp TABLE OF CONTENTS SAMPLE CHAPTER(S) REVIEWS "Blaney digs deeply into the lives of actors in this engagingly written book."— Publishers Weekly See all reviews

Stage and screen actors form unique relationships with their audiences. Through their work, they challenge, teach, and inspire us by shedding light in all corners of life and connecting with us through our senses and emotions. Working on the Inside goes backstage into the inner lives of respected actors like Liam Neeson, Vanessa Williams, Phylicia Rashad, Edward Herrmann, Kristin Chenoweth and many others to reveal the deep spirituality each one relies on in their lives and work. The result is a book like no other that draws ten key elements of the universal spiritual life from the perspective of actors whose work it is to tap into the essence of life, tell stories, and reveal life's truths.

Retta Blaney, an award-winning journalist now specializing in theatre and religion, was inspired to write this book by the spiritual wisdom actors conveyed in their interviews with her over the years. She dared to ask actors questions few ever do--How does your spirituality influence your life and work? How do you pray? What do you pray for? How do you stay centered in a career with so much uncertainty? And they answered her, readily sharing experiences of faith, being in the moment, listening, silence, prayer, self-knowledge, community, hospitality, ritual and transformation. The result is a book that takes readers into the private thoughts of some of their favorite actors for inspiring tips on how they, too, can begin working on the inside.

About the Author Retta Blaney is a theatre and religion writer in Manhattan. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Newsday, National Catholic Reporter, The Jewish Week, The Living Church, American Theatre, Back Stage, and other publications.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Our in-group relations are always fraught with conflict

The Alethetics of Rhetoric Posted by larvalsubjects under Antagonism , Assemblages , Communication , Deleuze , Heidegger , Politics , Rhetoric , Systems , Uncategorized September 21, 2007
Burke writes, “The Rhetoric deals with the possibilities of classification in its partisan aspects; it considers the ways in which individuals are at odds with one another, or become identified with groups more or less at odds with one another” (Rhetoric of Motives, 22). There can be rhetorics that strive for deterritorialization and decoding, so as to create division within a group or seduce members of a group out of that group. Thus, for instance, when takes out the add that says General Petraeus or Betray Us?, not only are they attempting to deterritorialize Petraeus from his ethos, from the territory of his respectability, but also they are attempting to reterritorialize viewers of this ad on the territory of the anti-war movement. There is an attempted decoding of Petraeus’ identity in popular imagination, and a reterritorialization and recoding of that identity on the territory of betrayal. This kind of rhetoric attempts to produce a new group or enlarge an existing group (anti-war folk), seducing folk over into the code of the anti-war side and undermining the codes supporting the pro-war side.
At the moment it would appear that the conservatives have won the battle of rhetoric in this particular instance. The aim of the MoveOn ad was to deterritorialize Petraeus by undermining his credibility, thereby effecting a decoding of his report as credible. Moreover, the aim was to decode Petraeus identity as having the welfare of the troops in mind, and a recoding of his identity on the territory of the administration as someone who has neither regard for the troops, the American people, nor the suffering Iraqis. However, in an act that can only be described as “rhetorical judo”, the conservatives shifted the territory of discussion, turning discussion into a discussion about the Democratic presidential candidates and whether or not they support the troops, rather than the issues of the accuracy of the report, relief for the troops, and ending the war.
One of the central aims of any military engagement is to define where the battle is fought (the territory on which war is waged). The case is similar in rhetoric. An effective rhetorical exchange lies in defining the topic of debate, the territory of debate, so as to put ones opponent at a disadvantage. It is in this connection that we can speak of an “alethetics of rhetoric”. The effectiveness of the conservative rhetorical judo lies in a bait and switch that redefined the territory, deterritorializing the initial aim of the ad and reterritorializing it on another terrain where the ad becomes coded as being against the troops. A revealing here takes place, while the original issues of the accuracy of the report, troop relief, etc., becomes concealed. The success of this conservative gesture lies not in its accuracy or honesty or sophistication, but in the way it has led to a media blackout and forced democrats to respond. On the one hand, all the television news stations are now busily discussing whether or not the ad disrespects the troops and whether democrats support the ads, pushing discussion of any other issues into the background. Even the President made a statement about the ad today, generating yet more reporting. On the other hand, the democrats have now had to respond on this territory, rather than on other issues, putting them at a disadvantage. In this connection, it is especially odd that the 22 democratic senators voted in favor of the resolution to denounce the ad. At any rate, the general maxim here is “when confronted by an unpleasant argument, make the discussion about the person/people making the argument”. This often occurs in religious discussions as well, where the discussion inevitably shifts from the issues being discussed and the arguments being made, to a discussion about the persons making the arguments, the rhetorical style being used, etc. In this way, the original territory of the discussion is concealed and the religious territory is protected from insurrection.
Later Burke quotes Aristotle as saying “it is not difficult to praise Athenians among the Athenians” (55). This, I think, would be a different kind of rhetoric. When Lacanians talk about the “real”, one of the things they have in mind are the antagonisms that plague all social relationships. Our in-group relations are always fraught with conflict and this is one of the major reasons we create enemies-of-the-group or phantasms like terrorists, pedophiles, witches, and demons that threaten the group. Rather than focusing on real entities, it is here, instead, a question of looking at the structuring role these phantasms serve… Of why they become central points of anxiety and worry for a particular group of people at a particular point in time. Why, for instance, are Americans not obsessed with corporations that arguably do them far more harm either through shady financial dealings, various environmental disasters (polluting, etc), and layoffs? Why is it the terrorist and the child molester that captivate the minds of Americans, filling them with dark fears, rather than the CEO? Through the production of these figures or codes, we can deterritorialize aggressions that would be directed at people in our own group and reterritorialize it on some real or fictive entity (I think there’s always a lot of fiction at work in how we talk about these entities) so as to direct that aggression elsewhere and maintain the group. Here the Enemy functions as a sort of safety-valve for a group.
This other kind of rhetoric would not be about deterritorialization or reterritorialization, but rather about maintaining and sustaining territory. You praise the Athenians to the Athenians to ensure that the Athenians will remain Athenians. There’s a whole theory of affect in relation to coding that needs to be developed here; a theory that would focus on how certain affects are produced and reproduced to maintain the autopoietic re-production of group identities and the conditions of reproduction. Lucretius argues that properties like names, justice, nationality, etc., are not intrinsic properties of objects like solidity is a property of lead itself, but are rather accidental features attributed to objects that can be taken away without the object ceasing to be. Clearly this diverges from the relational position of Deleuze and Guattari, but it does have some merit in thinking about the nature of assemblages. Being-an-Athenian is something that has to be made and perpetually remade, as there’s nothing intrinsic about human bodies that entails they must remain Athenians. Praising the Athenians would thus be a way of maintaining a particular order of identifications (a set of codes) in much the same way we maintain our lawns.
In each of these rhetorical maneuvers there’s a disclosure that takes place and a simultaneous concealing of other discourse possibilities. One of the aims of the rhetorician should be the archeology of these silences, as Dan Price argues in Without a Woman To Read, that would allow for the production of other possibilities and be generative of deterritorializations. The peril to perpetually be avoided, however, is that of rhetorical judo that uses these deterritorializations as the very substance of reterritorializations and capture.

There is an entire Heideggerian, alethetic theory of rhetoric and language

The Frame and the Window Posted by larvalsubjects under Autonomy , Communication , Critique , Education , Rhetoric , pedagogy September 20, 2007 This semester I had a Logic course thrown at me at the very last minute. Having taught Logic a number of times in the past, I’ve come to feel that focusing on categorical and symbolic logic is of very limited value to the students. Unless the student is going to go into computer science, Anglo-American philosophy, or focus on Badiou, will they really benefit from Venn diagrams (okay, I occasionally find these useful philosophically), Aristotlean syllogisms, and the intricacies of existential quantifiers? Probably not. For this reason I chose to instead teach the course as a critical thinking course, focusing on informal reasoning and rhetorical analysis. As we’ve begun entering the chapters on rhetoric and psychological fallacies,
I’ve been horrified by the reading abilities of my students. To be sure, my students can all read; yet reading does not simply consist in being able to read the words on the page. Rather, it requires a sort of gap, distance, reflection. The idea that words act on us, that words do something, that they don’t simply represent something or refer to something, seems entirely foreign to them. Thus, for example, when asked to
1) identify a particular rhetorical turn being used in a sentence, and
2) to explain what impression the speaker or writer is attempting to produce in the reader or listener,
the students are incapable of articulating a response to the second question. They seem to being constitutively incapable of recognizing the way in which connotations of the expression act on us to produce sentiments and beliefs. For instance, they are unable to explain why a politician might talk about a “war on drugs” (or terror, for that matter), rather than simply saying “we must pursue and prosecute those that sell drugs”.
I suppose this is why rhetoric is so effective. We can think of the analysis of rhetoric as being a bit like analyzing a window frame. Most of the time we simply look through the window towards whatever is outside. In this respect, the frame itself becomes invisible, falling into the background. As a result of the way in which the frame covers and veils itself, we thus miss the way in which it selects images for us by creating a distinction between what can be seen and what can’t be seen. Similarly, we look through language to the object spoken about, missing the way in which language frames our apprehension of what is apprehended. There is an entire Heideggerian, alethetic theory of rhetoric and language to be written here. To analyze language and rhetoric, thus requires a step back or a sort of transcendental methodology similar to how Hume and Kant investigated not the objects of knowledge, but the faculties through which the object is apprehended. The analyst of language must renounce the depths (the referents) and instead remain at the surface, forgetting the object and instead attending to the speech and its connotations alone.
Yet the question is, how is this shift in perspective, this shift from what appears in the window to the frame effected? How is it possible for us to become aware of the frames that enact a morphogenesis of our thoughts and sentiments. The discoveries I am making about cognition in my Logic course terrify me. Politicians and corporations globally spend billions of dollars a year for the formation of frames alone.
Due to educational reforms in the United States, we now have an educational system that focuses on rote memorization and schematic rule following (mathematics, chemistry, physics, etc) alone. As a result of this sort of educational strategy, we get entirely passive, docile subject that are merely stimulus-response machines, reacting to whatever images and words come their way in an entirely unreflective fashion, rather than actively engaging these words and images, determining how those words and images work them over like passive clay in the hands of a potter. Can it be said that such subjects, myself included, are even human? To what degree do we possess autonomy and to what degree are we simple coded stimulus-response machines.
Aren’t we rather highly sophisticated mechanisms that can be easily directed through a few well chosen, potent images and words? The story of Carol Smith underlines this point beautifully. Carol Smith was kidnapped and kept as a sex slave by the sadistic Cameron Hooker for seven years. For much of this time she enjoyed a high degree of freedom, moving freely about the house and yard, doing a variety of things around the house. At one point he let her call her family and even took her to visit. She even wrote him love letters. At no time during these seven years did she try to escape. He had convinced her that there was a ring of people throughout the United States called “The Company” that kept sex slaves. We’re she to escape, he said, The Company would come after her and kill her and her family. That’s all it took to create a perfectly docile subject, a subject that perhaps even grew to see aspects of her captivity as normal.
The story of Carol Smith is really just a microcosm of all socialization or subjectification. Power need not function through bars and guns. It can do its job simply through words and images. Why else would people, again and again, submit to forms of social organization that are profoundly against their own interests and flourishing? But again, this is precisely why rhetoric works. The question is, what form of engagement, what kind of pedagogy, can produce active subjects.
  • Deleuze often argued that thought is not a natural disposition, but requires a disruptive encounter that engenders thinking within thought. The rest of the time, according to him, we’re simply stimulus-response machines governed by the model of recognition or the familiar (his polemics against phenomenology largely issue from the way in which it valorizes recognition or the everyday lifeworld).
  • Lacan argued that thought requires a trauma, an encounter with something missing from its place, the failure for something to be where one expects it. Russell said that he was lucky to think for a single minute of a day each year.
  • Badiou argues that thought requires an event, the emergence of something that nothing in the Encyclopedia allows for.
  • For Heidegger, the present-at-hand only becomes illuminated as present-at-hand when the ready-to-hand fails or breaks down. When my hammer breaks, I suddenly discover the world in its brute facticity, divested of my various concernful engagements, alien and over against me.

I can see why Logic professors focus on categorical and symbolic logic. Everyone is happy. There are simple rules to follow such that the automatons can come to the right answer in much the same way a calculator calculates a solution. But what would be a pedagogy of the encounter that departed from the production of the endless stimulus-response machine?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The depth of Torah as an art form

Anonymous said...
Yo, I don't know who you are doni... but that dvar torah was hard core refreshing! It was such a spin on the depth of torah as an art form and not something stagnant... Now we just have to bring it out-- good luck to all of us! Peace out!
9:38 AM, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Our task as individuals is to seek and reveal the authentic

THE ORIGINS OF INTEGRAL THOUGHT derive principally from the writings and teachings of Sri Aurobindo, the great Hindu mystic philosopher who lived until 1950. Aurobindo conceived of an Integral Yoga that provided for the practical real-world manifestation and realization of spiritual experience. KRIS TINER
RITUAL MUSICS: functional/symbolic-metaphor/mythic/prepersonal (premodern)
ABSTRACT MUSICS: contemplative/signification-meaning/rational/personal (modern)
TRANSPERSONAL MUSICS: integral/intuitive-experiential/spiritual/transpersonal (postmodern)
The ritual musics (folkloric and ceremonial musics) function to solidify group membership and reinforce traditional communal (and often religious) values. Ritual music, art, and dance are not differentiated from the processes of everyday life, and the creative performer has not yet assumed the separate, solitary role of artist. Abstract or contemplative musics place primary importance on the individual creative force, which has been exemplified by the role of the great Western composer as an authoritative, godlike creative figure that emerged from Enlightenment-era humanism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This heroic archetype persisted well into the popular music of the early twentieth century and was partly responsible for the early success of figures as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, George Gershwin, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Bob Marley before it was all but dismantled by the deconstructionist wing of high art, and at the same time gradually drained of any authentic creative value (and hence transformed into a disposable commercial product) by the pop culture industry.
It is important to remember at this point that the thrust of evolution, in the integral view, is to "transcend and include", meaning that while abstract, contemplative music proceeds from ritual music, it does not completely bypass or exclude ritual music, nor does it have to exceed the communal functionality of it. In a given social system abstract and ritual musics may even exist side-by-side and operate in conjunction with each other. As musical praxis extends into the mental-logical dimension it retains aspects of ritual that remain necessary or useful in that new dimension. To be specific, concert music cannot exist without some trace of ritual (particularly the ritual of concert performance), without a mythical framework upon which to construct, interpret, and reinterpret its themes and deify its great composer-heroes, without communal interdependency to make possible the cultural preservation of old works and the ongoing creation of new ones. So it follows that a transpersonal music must be able to differentiate itself but NOT dissociate from the functional identities of both ritual and abstract musics if the overall goal is to transcend and include.
It is also important to note that even though we are dealing with hierarchical organization of holons (or holarchies), it does not necessarily follow that all abstract music is more advanced than all ritual music. Those familiar with Wilber’s writings will understand that he repeatedly emphasizes the point that evolution often proceeds very unevenly, and an individual or a society may be very well advanced in one line of development, and simultaneously very underdeveloped or even pathological in another (Wilber’s common example is the Nazi doctor – one who is very intellectually advanced but morally and ethically stunted).
THE NEXT PHASE of creative music will be initiated by breaking through the old systems and not simply breaking them up; it will be creative, not destructive. I have always felt a particular repulsion to the deconstructionist tendencies in literary criticism, early postmodernism, and various strains of free improvisation in music. Why tear a system apart if you are not willing (or able) to reveal anything beyond the mere failure of that system? Disillusionment alone does not constitute a progressive artistic philosophy, and neither does deconstruction or primitivism. Problems require solutions; failed systems require new kinds of systems. And in order for a new system to be successful, it must transcend and include previous systems (and avoid pathology in its own).
In his Tri-Axium Writings Anthony Braxton speaks of this in terms of "the composite realness of creativity", and indeed his Tri-Centric system is essentially a complex, multi-hierarchical synthesis (or integration) of ritual and ceremonial activity, philosophical abstractions and systemic compositional structures (for an excellent (and recent) overview in Braxton’s own words, Mike Heffley’s Third Millenial Interview is indispensable).
So the challenge now is to adapt the integral view of evolution to a musical point of view. How exactly does a transpersonal music work, being a form of communication that transcends (and includes) symbolic communal function as well as language-based rational/mental perspectives and philosophical concepts? Might this line of inquiry provide a clue as to what is truly meant by the old axiom, "Music is the universal language"?
Here we might take a cue from the visual arts, which in the twentieth century were more immediately successful at escaping the confines of literal representation than music (even though music as an abstract form was the initial inspiration for abstract art vis-à-vis Kandinsky):

"The ‘pure’ red of which certain abstractionists speak does not exist, no matter how one shifts its physical contexts. Any red is rooted in blood, glass, wine, hunter’s caps, and a thousand other concrete phenomena. Otherwise we should have no feeling toward red or its relations, and it would be useless as an artistic element." - Robert Motherwell, "Beyond the Aesthetic" (1946)

Motherwell understood that the experience of abstract art (abstract expressionism in this case) was dependent upon an underlying symbolic association. It is unfortunate that the ideal of the artist who creates an experience, not simply an art object, lost so much currency with the early deconstructionist tendencies of postmodernism. Mark Rothko, one of the greatest abstract expressionists, expressed profound joy when people experienced the same emotions viewing his paintings as he had when he painted them. Rothko was conscious of the fact that the art experience involved a mutual self-encounter, and he bitterly resisted the commodification of the "art object" as such.
There is a telling scene in the movie Pollock where Jackson Pollock’s character, played by Ed Harris, is asked about the "meaning" of his paintings. Pollock relates the experience of art to looking at a sunrise, "You don’t ask what it means…" This statement gets to the core of what a transpersonal art should do; it ought to be as simple as looking at a sunrise. We don’t need to see a sign posted to tell us to sit down and enjoy it, or even a program to interpret its meaning for us. The sensitive individual already knows intuitively what to do. Everything that has ever been known about beauty comes into play at that point, as we experience the sunrise as a brand new synthesis of emotional values, symbolic associations, and literal meanings that were in place previous to this experience. We create experience – we improvise at that point, by discovering and forging new connections to our prior experience, our prior knowledge.
We get into an interesting philosophical terrain here. What, for instance, is the difference between reading the word "sunrise" and actually being present for the event? Symbology and semiotics come into play, as there are multiple ways one can perceive the same basic information, albeit with obviously different psychical impact:
SYMBOLIC: pre-rational/pre-language - making or looking at a picture of a sunrise.
SEMIOTIC: rational/language - writing, telling or listening to a story about a sunrise.
INTUITIVE: trans-rational/trans-language - experiencing an actual sunrise.
A transpersonal art, whether it be music, painting, dance, poetry, literature, etc, facilitates an experience that is more like being there – a direct intuitive experience of the thing in itself, beyond (but inclusive of) symbolic association and literal meaning. Such an art challenges people to encounter themselves through creative experience. If the experience of art is reduced to simple intellectualizing and categorizing what is heard or seen, the full potential of creativity has not been revealed and nothing has really been discovered. Old information has not been synthesized with new, and the experience is simply filed away amongst that which is already known. To experience art on a transpersonal level involves the discovery of process and the intuitive construction of meaning, rather than simply decoding a narrative or uncovering the artist’s intent.
TAKE A MUSICAL PERFORMANCE like Blind Willie Johnson’s wordless vocal on "Dark Was the Night" (1927), in which he is able to say so much without literally saying anything. The melody itself is based on an old spiritual tune, but it is sung and played in the manner of the blues, and the result is a jumble of symbolic associations: religious vs. secular, sacred vs. profane, pain vs. deliverance, transcendent vs. worldly. It is a profound expression of extremely complex and conflicted emotion that can take on a myriad of different meanings and interpretations depending on the experience of the listener. In this sense, the abstracted vocal performance functions much more effectively than lyrical or literal storytelling, as it has inspired a multitude of different stories, interpretations, and experiences. Therefore, a transformation occurs whereby the artist’s initial inspiration is converted into new kinds of information – setting off a pattern of creative responses that continues indefinitely beyond the actual artistic act or performance, beyond a single interpreter or audience, and eventually into and beyond the culture at large (and even beyond the solar system in Blind Willie’s case).
An integral interpretation of music must deal with metaphor and meaning in the representation of musical experience, but not to the point of entrapment in a finite world of literal narrative and mental concepts. At the root of any integral theory of music is a close experiential examination of music, involving both the artist’s intent and the audience’s interpretation and how those dimensions continuously expand to inform the dynamic cultural significance and social functionality of a work. This is the Opera aperta of Eco, where the ultimate value of a work lies in its potential to differentiate (but not dissociate!) itself from dogma, from reductionist schools of thought that are limited to certain times and places, and in the case of the greatest art, to become essentially universal.
HERE IS A SYNOPSIS of the creative model that has been engaged in the music that Jason Mears and I have developed with the Empty Cage Quartet. This should demonstrate one example of what an integral creative music might look like (correlations with Wilber’s quadrants are indicated in parentheses). The assumption here is that such a music ought not to be considered simply as an entertainment, but as an actual philosophical proposition in its own right:
1. CULTURAL: style-associations (LL)
2. PERSONAL: expressions of individuality (UL)
3. TECHNICAL: purity of materials (UR)
4. SOCIAL: systemic interrelations of performers (LR)
Where: (1) is represented by an inclusiveness of styles and communicative references that is not for the sake of eclecticism but to reflect a certain transcultural openness – which is to say that for the audience there are many "entry points" to understanding this music in terms of a number of different musical styles, although the total music is not reducible to any one "style" in the traditional sense of genre categorization (or for marketing purposes);
(2) is represented by the possibility of assertion of individual control over the ensemble music by any one member at almost any point in the music, whether in terms of a solo improvisation, the cueing of a composition form, or the introduction of an original composition to the repertoire;
(3) is represented by a post-Cage, post-Coltrane adherence to the idea that a sound is a sound - that any sound can exist autonomously and in fact comprise its own "piece" of music at the same time as it may simultaneously participate in the construction of larger sound combinations (larger pieces) - as in biology where there is a holarchical continuity from atoms to cells to organs to organism;
(4) is represented by a diversity of approaches to the organization of written and improvised material among the musicians in the ensemble, both traditional ("classical" or "jazz") and experimental, based on diverse political, religious, ritualistic, and theoretical systems of social organization.
In such a music, written material usually functions to establish an agreed-upon systemic structure from which emergent zones of expanded group interaction become possible as new connections are established during an improvised performance. Over time these temporary states of spontaneous activity tend to solidify into new sound-structures that indicate holarchical stages of collective awareness. As each new performance builds upon the last, these structures can be analyzed, catalogued and mapped, and the development of an ensemble consciousness can be measured against the decreasing degree of dependence upon the written material.
THE YOGA OF CREATIVE MUSIC involves the integration of soul and system, product and process, prerational body and rational mind, worldly identity with mystical investigation… and the focusing of the resultant energies into manifestations of musical form. Much like Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, the creative musician pursues a practice that examines the progression of individual consciousness through improvisation as practical meditation, gradually transforming peak experiences into developmental structures, and the overall process is evidenced by composition and performance as the concrete sound-manifestation of psychic and spiritual inquiry.
"It is the artists who guard the spiritual in the modern world." - Robert Motherwell, "The Modern Painter’s World" (1944)
Mysticism has to do with experience, creativity with establishing experience as realization. In this way the artist reveals something hidden behind and beyond mysticism. The art work in this context assumes a spiritual dimension, becomes a spiritual text.
This integral spirit is obvious in the music of Bach, Beethoven, Ives, Stockhausen, Ellington, Sun Ra, Mingus, Braxton, Dylan, Zappa… these figures are not so much innovators as they are integrators, having that rare ability to perceive the breadth of information available to their time period and craft a holistic, profoundly artistic and culturally apposite statement from it. As well or as little known as some of these figures have become, so far this potential is yet to be fully realized on a global scale. There is no reason not to believe that the heights of creativity achieved by the great master artists might someday be universally accessible, as the scientific inventions of Edison, for instance, are now available to us all.
But contemporary art culture praises focus, which may be why we don’t reward our Bachs and our Ellingtons anymore (and possibly why they weren't so rewarded in the first place). The integral-thinking artist is considered unfocused, unable to be pigeonholed or explained in terms of style, or summed up in a tidy feature article or a concisely written grant proposal. The obvious example of this is Braxton, who has completely repositioned literal meaning in his music with the pictorial and systemic titling of his works, and after nearly four decades continues to mystify his critics.
Creativity is evolution, integration, the continuous revealing of the full spectrum of consciousness – the completion of which is the unfolding or involution of spirit in the world. Our task as individuals is to seek and reveal the authentic, and to learn to understand that the only absolute is that which is so completely beyond and within oneself. The task of the creative musician is to chip away at this essential truth, one sound at a time. There are many small revolutions within the one Revelation. Posted by KRIS TINER at 4:31 PM Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Nirod was aware that faculties can grow, in fact, had the firm conviction that they must grow

Re: A Spiritual Biography of Savitri by RY Deshpande on Wed 12 Sep 2007 09:05 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link A Road by the Heart
Apropos of the series Spiritual Biography of Savitri, Arun Vaidya calls my comments a “Katha by Deshpande” which, I must say, is an inspired and felicitous description, an apt description also. This is indeed an interesting way of putting things together, of the associations with the educative tradition of the Indian society of the recent era, of the religious discourses that, during the days of political subjugation, kept the spirituality intact at the collective level in another way, and of the symposia-colloquia of the learned gatherings of the professionals debating matters of deeper concern. Also, Arun almost suggests that the present work, belonging to the bloggers of the web-age, is a worthwhile undertaking which can be quite rewarding from many points of view. His general assessment that it is “a highly refined and noteworthy scholastic undertaking… enriched with spiritual insight” is flattering to me, flattering in more than one respect. I must feel happy if it should mean that the past cultural and the present techno-based approaches can come together and serve a useful purpose of self-discovery and of cosmicisation of thought, that it could possibly open the prospects of post-human destiny in a more agreeable, more acceptable, more comprehensive a manner.
Arun brings the reference of the 13th century yogi-poet Jnaneshwar who, just at the age of fifteen or so, gave us in Marathi the text of the Gita; the work is popularly known as Jnaneshwari which consists of about ten thousand verses. Such was the power of the devotional and authoritative rendering by Jnaneshwar, that it was immediately accepted as a dependable commentary on the Scripture, the Gita. He had achieved “two most significant goals: first, he brought the spiritual teachings of Bhagavat Gita to the Marathi speaking community that did not adequately know Sanskrit; secondly, he paved the path of devotional practice—Bhakti Yoga in the Marathi speaking community that was predominantly and traditionally pursuing Jnana Yoga only.” Carrying forward this comparison, of the work on the Gita, the Jnaneshwari, and the present one on Savitri, Arun says enthusiastically that the Spiritual Biography will succeed in arousing the “meditative and contemplative affinity” in the minds and hearts of its readers, readers of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri.
It will be wonderful if this happens, if the Spiritual Biography should prove to be spiritually contagious, communicable, transmittable. More it will be if it can bring out revelatory subtleties, provide intuitive understanding of the yogic-occult matters. But… and frankly, I don’t know. There are blue turquoise depths below bright blue turquoise depths in Savitri, and there are topaz heights above luminous topaz heights, and there are creamy white widenesses of the wide transcendental Vast, the Brihat. It will therefore be too presumptuous on our part to make any claim that we can ‘know’ Savitri. The prescription that we should approach Savitri with the heart, that, as the travel guide says, “the direct road to Savitri is by the heart”,—this is compelling indeed, unmistakably, luminously valid for Savitri.
Sri Aurobindo himself wrote in a letter “…what I am trying to do everywhere in the poem is to express exactly something seen, something felt or experienced.” How can that then be grasped unless that something is seen, that something felt or experienced by us? Our difficulty lies exactly there. Unless we grow spiritually, we cannot know what Savitri is. But then Savitri itself can become a wondrous means to grow spiritually; by it one can have all those loaded golden experiences, by it can come its own transformative realisations—and more than what is said in its richness.
One needs spiritual experiences—says the Mother apropos of understanding Savitri: “I think that man is not yet ready to receive it. It is too high and too vast for him. He cannot understand it, grasp it, for it is not by the mind that one can understand Savitri. One needs spiritual experiences in order to understand and assimilate it. The farther one advances on the path of Yoga, the more does one assimilate and the better. No, it is something which will be appreciated only in the future, it is the poetry of tomorrow of which He has spoken in The Future Poetry. It is too subtle, too refined,—it is not in the mind or through the mind, it is in meditation that Savitri is revealed.”
And can that understanding be universal? Sonia Dyne recollects one of her meetings with Nirodbaran: “A few years ago I had the good fortune to be sitting near to Nirodbaran, the ‘scribe’ to whom Sri Aurobindo dictated so much of the final version of Savitri. I told him very briefly about our plan to try a new approach. He commented: ‘Do you want everyone to learn Savitri by heart?’ Since then, how many others have asked the same question! The answer is ‘Regretfully, no, we have something else in mind’—regretfully, because learning favourite passages by heart, enjoying them, meditating upon them, making them part of our lives, allowing them to inspire and guide us, is the best approach of all.” Yes, we always have something in mind and we miss Savitri. The Mother said, “all that we need we will find in Savitri.” But, regretfully, we always have something in mind.
Let me also refer to Arun attending Nirodbaran’s brief Savitri-sessions in the evenings: “In my opinion, possibly the greatest value contribution anyone can make about helping others to learn from or about Savitri is to kindle an aspiration to seek Sri Aurobindo within and use Savitri as the magnificent divine grace made available to each of us. It was my great privilege to attend to Nirod-da’s Savitri Sessions during my visits to Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He used to recite and briefly comment but he never discoursed. He used to uplift my spirit to the serene spiritual domain. I would go into a trance and experience the mantric vibrations of Sri Aurobindo’s written words with Nirod-da’s utter devotion. It used to be a very exhilarating and almost metamorphic experience.” Nirod was the first and only person to have received Savitri directly, to have heard it directly from the lips of Sri Aurobindo,—and surely listening to him, to Nirod, has its deep occult connotations.
In the same informal vein, I too might quickly recount a part of my Savitri-association with Nirod. This was a little more than twenty years ago. One day he made, all of a sudden, a very surprising suggestion. This was in the nature of a question: “Why shouldn’t we read Savitri together?” I don’t know what had prompted him but, of course, I immediately jumped at this opportunity. This was at the beginning of our school vacation. And the result was, straightaway, we started reading, rather doing, Savitri together. Later also, during holidays and on Sundays, we used to meet regularly in the morning, the sessions consisting of breakfast in his small downstairs ‘pantry-cum-kitchen-cum-living-room’ followed by Savitri in the upstairs verandah, in front of the Darshan Room. We used to have quite a good breakfast, and assuredly enough his ‘famous’ tea also, prepared by himself; he served me always with warm gracious care and fondness, with a parental touch. This would be over by 7.30 or so, when he used to take ‘rest’ for about half an hour; but then this gave me a wonderful opportunity of going upstairs and being there of my own, till his arrival at 8. Our sessions would end by 9.15 when arrangements for the visitors to Sri Aurobindo’s Room would commence.
We started doing Savitri not at the beginning but with Book II Canto VII, The Descent into Night. What a strange beginning, straight with the most frightful part of the Epic! Nirod asked me to open the book and it opened there, in that Canto, almost in the middle of Part I of the two-volume edition of Savitri. The Canto has some eighteen pages (pp. 202-19) with 609 lines. After completing this Canto, in little more than half a dozen sessions, we continued onward, in a regular sequence, till we finished the last Book, Epilogue; the earlier five Cantos of Book I and six Cantos of Book II, the first two hundred pages, were then serially covered, thus completing the ‘reading’ of the whole of Savitri. This easily took us a couple of years to go through the entire poem, line by line, page by page, canto by canto. After this Savitri-reading we didn’t take any other work of Sri Aurobindo though in various contexts we used to meet often and talk everything under the sun.
About our Savitri-sessions, about Savitri-reading, let me briefly explain the procedure we followed. I thought he would read the text and I would quietly, contemplatively, listen to it, without asking a single question. It was not so. Firstly, he wanted me to read the text. He would have his copy of Savitri open in front of him and I would read the text. I would read the text in my own manner, in the manner of an Indian reading English, more particularly in the manner of a stiff abrasive Maharashtrian, reading heavily and ponderously.
Naturally, Nirod just didn’t like it. He told me bluntly: “You don’t know how to read Savitri.” I was mortified, but then I replied to him: “Nirod-da, you are absolutely right! How can you really appreciate anyone else reading Savitri when you heard Savitri directly from the lips of Sri Aurobindo himself?” I told him effectively: “It is impossible to speak English the way Sri Aurobindo spoke it.” That pure English tone, that grandeur, that softness, that beauty of the language,—it doesn’t come out in our recitations, cannot come out. In fact he even said at one time that the Mother’s reading of Savitri is somewhat forceful—it is not the kind of Savitri which he heard from Sri Aurobindo, the Master. So I said: “Nirod-da, how can you appreciate anyone else’s reading Savitri when you have heard it from Sri Aurobindo himself?” With that, I kept quiet. He understood what I meant and asked me to read in my own way.
But the sessions were not just reading the Savitri-text. They cannot be, reading hardly a couple of pages for about hour and a quarter. In fact, Nirod wished to ‘discuss’ everything that was there in the text and all that is connected with it, its poetry, its philosophy, its spirituality, its occultism, all that was feasible for us to do, all that could be reached by our best faculties. And of course he was aware that faculties can grow, in fact, had the firm conviction that they must grow. Promoting human faculties is an aspect of the widening spirit, the spirit expressing itself in countless ways in this creation. Well, it was an experience for me, of mind leaping into the possibilities intuition. “You can bite quite a bit into Savitri”—he said on one occasion and encouraged me to do so. There are many aspects connected with this and we could take them later. RYD Science, Culture and Integral Yoga