The life of Captain Kierkegaard:

Phenomenological double agent

Subtlety of Beauty
Gowin's Nuclear Reservation
For some time now and completely unbeknowst to myself, I have been considering the terms of my surrender. I have been attempting to put a pleasant face upon it, couching my decisions in existentialist trappings and framing my escape from the world's assault upon my aspirations as another movement in the process of self-becoming. Today, as I openly wept at the marvelous sensitivity displayed in Muriel Barbery's novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I came to recognize the uncomfortable fact that for all my self awareness I am still, in fact, only attempting to deny that somewhere in the past several years I had, through myriad choices and hesitations too miniscule to be noted, lost my direction. Like most everyone else, I am being swept along.

This realization is difficult for someone who had, and still does, pride himself on the defiance he shows toward those forces that seek to shape our fates unseeingly and without sympathy or remorse. Some background: I was born into the underclasses to a family not destitute enough to warrant attention and sympathy, but not affluent enough to expect that any of us children would have any social opportunities beyond those of a basic high school education. My sisters, especially the middle child Allison, are both exceptional individuals, but only I have succeeded in overcoming the obstacles of our upbringing (most likely because I am the eldest and a male, both of which provide advantages in our misogynistic world). My father, determined that I not live amongst the alcohol wreaked devastation that is his life, sacrificed much to provide me with a decent education and continually encouraged both me and Allison to better ourselves, take care of ourselves, and be something more than our humble beginnings seemed to allow. I have, for my entire life, taken his charge to heart, and, having discovered philosophy, have had a world opened to me I had not previously known existed. Thus armed, I have striven, to the best of my ability, to open this broader world of meaning to others, expose them to the dangers of learning and the precariousness and fragility of our lives with the hope that they too will strive to want more from life than is usually offered them. I have not always succeeded, either with myself or others, but my intent has been to live up to the responsibilities incumbent upon those who have earned freedom. After all, much is expected from those to whom much has been given. The irony, of course, is that not much has been given to me at all, in a certain sense, but I still recall with deepest gratitude the many people who have freely given of themselves to allow me to be who I am today.

All the while, I have been sinking lower and lower into my cynicism concerning what is and is not possible to achieve given one's social starting point. I do not have a fancy degree as I could not afford one, nevertheless I humbly assert that I have received an amazing education thanks to the generosity and concern of my teachers. Yet in a world that makes no attempt to see you as anything more than the sum of your exterior manifestations, your contribution to some statistic or social algorithm, one begins to doubt the viability and propriety of one's quest to exceed expectations. Confronting the difficulties of attempting to make something of my life that appeared incongruous with my background and education has increasingly led me to limit my expectations for myself. At the same time I stand before a classroom and encourage my students not to allow social norms and expectations to determine either their self-conception or their choice of projects, I have submitted to the same pressures. I only realized my capitulation, however, by reading Barbery's sublime work of beauty in which the two main characters, each in their own distinct way, are living under the same crushing pressure we all face to be a social position, to live their role in bad faith. The interesting element in both of these characters is that they embrace their bad faith, consciously cultivating it and withdrawing into themselves so as to shield themselves from the horror vacui that is daily life. I, like those characters, wrapped myself in books in order to hide from the world of pain that surrounds us. I speak not of our personal situations, but of the world in general in which so much suffering, anguish, and callousness confront us on a daily basis to the extent that it is a marvel that we are all not paralyzed by grief and despair. The wonder of the book, the ending of which I will not spoil, is its manner of grappling with the need to live and find meaning in the world despite that world's complete disinterest in one's presence. In short, it is a novel about the Absurd.

What Barbery recalled in me by revealing the way in which I was authoring my own concession was the fact that this fate is precisely the outcome the external forces of the world are attempting to bring about. By leaving the academy that does not seem to want me, I give to it precisely what the system of accreditation wants and affirm all of the prejudices those professors with fancy degrees and high self-opinions think of people like myself. Not that their disdain elicits my defiance; such would indicate that I allow them to dictate the course of my life as a reaction to them and their own petty prejudices and insecurities. Rather, I must not allow their dismissals to determine my acts and, since I find value in my course, I must reaffirm it and continue, like Sisyphus, to lift the stone against the pull of gravity. After all, we must imagine Sisyphus as happy.

For a long time, my favorite quote was one by e.e. cummings, which, though I may be misremembering at the moment, ran "to be yourself in a world that is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle that any human being can ever fight and never stop fighting." Each moment of our lives is so transient, so tenuous, and yet is capable of containing so much ephemeral beauty, grace, and magnificence if only we choose to recognize it and maintain a place for it in our daily acts. To avoid the fight is to stop fighting and, by consequence, to sink back into one's place in the social order. I only remembered this quote in the writing of the above missive addressed, I suppose, mostly to myself. If you do read this, however, I hope that you too will see that there is just as much beauty and wonder in this world as there is pain, that nobility and meaning are found not in victory but in the campaign, and that failure and being vulnerable to possibilities can be even more glorious and rewarding than being given everything one desires, but have not earned.

Be well, I know I will be.

Cezanne's Marseilles Bay
I've become obsessed with Andy Goldsworthy.  His art expresses, in a perfectly aesthetic manner, the relationship between time and earth, delving into to the opacity of the inorganic and revealing it as the vital force that it is.  Of course, many have indicated the living essence of the natural world, but usually this is part and parcel of an ontology that hypothesizes a universal organization to nature.  The inorganic being is said to be part of a larger, living whole, organized for certain ends and it is precisely this participation in the living whole that gives them life.  The lives of things are taken to be derivative.  The meaning of their existence, then, comes from the goal toward which nature is said to strive.

Goldsworthy, on the other hand, does not seek the principle of the inorganic being's vitality outside of it:  each being radiates lines of force, entering into asymmetrical relationships and lop-sided processes through which the "landscape" emerges as it appears.  Each element of the work influences the others such that the meaning of the work comes neither from the whole, nor from the collective discrete meanings of the individual elements.  Rather, Goldsworthy sets the elements into relation in order to express something that is their collective meaning, a meaning that is only discovered in their collective being.  There is no pre-given sense that he seeks to impose upon the earth through his works;his work is always already there in the relations between the elements, in their play with one another.

The core of his work is time.  Many artists strive to make their art temporal, using time to create an effect, employing time so as to make a conceptual point.  The power of Goldsworthy's work lies not in his harnessing of time, but in the fact that he allows time to participate in the work.  This is not to say that he makes time into an object to be seen within the work.  Rather, what the work expresses is the finitude of natural existence, the emphemeral interdependencies and transient involvements and affinities between beings.  The stone and the river, as stone and river and not as constituents of a larger organization, express something of the forces that constitutes both as they are, the same energy that flows through all.  Without the river, the stone would be rough, and without the stone, th river's flow is altered.

What is so wonderful about Goldsworthy is that he is able to allow nature to express itself in his work rather than trying to make it speak.  His art transcends stereotypical dichotomizations of nature and culture without reducing one to the other.  There is no human within nature:  the human is natural.  At the same time, however, because humans are natural beings, the cultural order cannot be criticized as a falling away from nature or as antithetical to nature.  The myth of pristine wilderness must be dispelled.  Goldsworthy's work captures this equally in water flowing with color, fallen leaves, melting ice, and cairns of stone. 


(no subject)
Goldsworthy's Iris Blades
I thought I would pick your brains with a question that has been bothering me for some time. I am very interested in hearing your responses.

Poll #618153 Compliment or effrontery?

Would you ever approach a perfect stranger to tell them they were beautiful just for the sake of telling them, not to flirt?

I am a woman, and yes!
I am a woman, and no!
I am a man, and yes!
I am a man, and no!
I identify with no gender, you neolithic jerk!

If you answered no, why not?

It reduces them to their sexuality, pig!
I'm too shy.
I'm sure they don't care what I think.
Why bother them?
They might misunderstand my intentions.
A reason you did not list.
I answered yes.

If some other reason, why?

If you answered yes, why?

It might make them feel good to know someone finds them beautiful.
Beauty demands recognition.
I can't control myself.
People should recognize their beauty more often.
It makes me feel good to do so.
A reason you did not list.
I answered no.

If some other reason, why?

For the ladies: if someone were to say this to you, how would you react?

For the guys: if someone were to say this to you, how would you react?

Everyone now! If 1 is flattering and 10 is insulting, where do you think this practice would rank?

Mean: 3.83 Median: 3 Std. Dev 2.93

Please click on this link, it is very important.

Thank you.

Publicity Notice
Cezanne's Bibemus
Since I will be officially involved with students from this point on in my academic career and yet do not desire to discontinue my journal, I will be posting the majority of my musings in the future under the friends filter. I have also moved many old public posts behind the filter and included several of you who have introduced yourselves on my friends list. Though I still plan on posting publicly from time to time, I have to be a bit more careful about public disclosure of personal information in a format where a student could come across it.

As is common practice, if you introduce yourself I will most likely add you.

Hilarity ensues
Cezanne's Marseilles Bay
So for those of you who don't keep track, recently started giving a quote from the text of each book for sale along with various common and ideosyncratic phrases that appear in the text. I use Amazon as a giant database for ISBN numbers so I can hunt down books more cheaply from other sources. Today I went to the site to look uo Heidegger's On the Way to Language and was greeted by the following quote:

"You know Count Shuzo Kuki. He studied with you for a number of years..."

I'm not sure why it sounds so funny to me in specific, but the idea of Heidegger dressed in a samurai's garb travelling the lands in search of the man who killed his brother is rather amusing.


From Der Spiegel
Kertesz's Mondrian's Specs
SPIEGEL: We understand that very well. But because we do not live three hundred years from now, but here and now, we are denied silence. We, politicians, semi-politicians, citizens, journalists, et cetera, we constantly have to make some sort of decision or other. We must adapt ourselves to the system under which we live, must try to change it, must watch for the narrow door to reform and for the still narrower door to revolution. We expect help from the philosopher, even if, of course, only indirect help, help in roundabout ways. And now we hear: I cannot help you.
HEIDEGGER: I cannot.
SPIEGEL: That has to discourage the nonphilosopher.
HEIDEGGER: I cannot because the questions are so difficult that it would be contrary to the meaning of this task of thinking to make public appearances, to preach, and to distribute moral grades. Perhaps I may risk this statement: The secret of the planetary predominance of the unthought essence of technology corresponds to the preliminariness and inconspiciousness of the thinking that attempts to reflect upon this unthought essence.
SPIEGEL: You do not count yourself among those who, if they would only be heard, could point out a path?
HEIDEGGER: No! I know of no path toward a direct change of the present state of the world, assuming that such a change is at all humanly possible. But it seems to me that the attempted thinking could awaken, clarify, and fortify the readiness we have already mentioned.

HEIDEGGER: I do not think the situation of human beings in the world of planetary technology is an inextricable and inescapable disastrous fate; rather I think that the task of thinking is precisely to help, within its bounds, human beings to attain an adequate relationship to the essence of technology at all.

"An Idea to Ponder", or "Fair and Balanced Justice"
Would it be possible to get Ann Coulter nominated for O'Conner's seat? I mean they are both women, right? That's what we do in America to maintain appearances!

Frankly, I think that nothing short of a Coulter nomination will do full justice to the absurdity of political life in the States these days.

Now I must go to bed, and if I keep on repeating that maybe it will happen.

Time travel and the vestiges of the enlightenment
Kertesz's Mondrian's Specs
NY Times article on the concept of time and the possibility of time travel

I found this to be an extremely informative, entertaining, and thought provoking article. In it, the possibility of time travel is discussed by contemporary physicists through the concept of time derived from Einstein's theory of relativity and the [sometimes incongrous] rules of quantum mechanics. Written for a general audience, it is very readable, and the author does an excellent job of making extremely difficult concepts comprehensible without having to go back and read Schroedinger.

What I found most interesting about the article is the way in which it indirectly calls into question some of the most basic concepts of our thought and science (at least traditionally). Observe the philosophical quandary here: any empirical theory of truth, whether in the traditional sense or radical in the Deleuzian, Quinian, Davidsonian, or Heideggerian sense, must have at its basis an assumed definition of how space and time operate and/or what they are. Formal definitions even must conform to empirical reality in order to judge their validity (thus the Gettier problem). If such is the case, then one is led to the further question of forming a correct (true?) definition of space and time, an undertaking accomplishable only once when has set down conditions for what will be an acceptable definition!

Though some may take exception to my first conjecture that theories of truth rely upon a definition of empirical reality, bear with me for a moment. This sort of paradox is not unique to this problem; in fact it underlies most philosophical issues. The inherent circularity an interrelatedness of all philosophical questioning brings to our attention the more fundamental issue at hand, what is the way in which (how) the universe is able to ground two incompossible series at once. In other words, if we are able to pose the question of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?", there must be a way in which this situation is resolvable in terms of its arising. What does that mean? the situation had o come about somehow, and so the real question is not going to be answered by "chicken" or "egg", but rather by an explanation of how the dilemma arose.

But what does this have to do with time travel? Take this quote from the article, for example: "Einstein once termed the distinction between past, present and future 'a stubborn illusion,' but as Dr. Albert said, 'It's hard to imagine something more basic than the distinction between the future and the past.'" The basic assumption of both of their statements is the distinction between appearance and "reality", a manifestation of the vestiges of Platonic two-world theory in our science. There is something "more real" than what is perceived, and yet the way that we know this "more real" world is through empirical observation and methods. The problems cited in this article are "real" problems, problems that do not arise in our ordinary perceptions, but are issues for our theoretical constructions for the way in which the "world itself" functions, explanations for our perceptions as such that are not properly speaking explanations of them, but rather are substitutions for them. What better proof do we have for the "stubborn illusion", however, than the "feeling in our bones" that it is not an illusion at all, but rather the way things"really" are? This is not to say that relativity is incorrect. Rather, I am asserting that the task is not to explain away the issues of phenomena by means of rational-scientific theory; the task at hand is how to support these phenomena with our theoretical constructions and in the process eliminate the need for a distinction between perception and "reality". In other words, but more adequately grasping at the nature of the phenomenon through transcendental phenomenology, we will be better prepared to ask the questions of science, better prepared to uncover the nature of being without appealing to rationalistic theories. In the case at hand, for example, if we adopt a different "working model" of time, say the Heideggerian or Bergsonian model, we can account for both the past-present-future phenomenal existence of time and underwrite such a theory with general relativity. That is a large claim, and one I am not prepared to back up right now. Rest assured, however, that I hope to "in time".

A quiz!
Knowing my fondness for pirates, how was I to resist!

LiveJournal Username
Fifteen men on a dead man's chest!
Cutlass or pistol?
What is the name of your pirate ship?
Where is your secret pirate base?
What kind of loot do you prefer?
What do you and your crew prefer to be called?
Parrot or monkey?
Your capable first mateapperception
Your bumbling cabin boy with a heart of goldholeymoley
The aloof, yet honorable, pirate with a mysterious pastnoetickerf
Is always the first one into the frayxenikos
Is the naval officer who ruthlessly pursues your shipjimotron
Is the comical pirate who is always drunk on grogpicarosado
Is currently in Davy Jones's lockermrbryanzanisnik
The amount of money you make as a pirate$169,032
This Fun Quiz created by Lynn at BlogQuiz.Net
Sagittarius Horoscope at DailyHoroscopes.Biz

You make me proud, mates! I couldn't ask for a finer crew! And you best check yourself, jimotron, or I will send ya to Davy Jones's locker as well, arrrrr!


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