Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and University of Northern Iowa’s Gary G. Gute found highly creative adults tended to grow up in families embodying opposites...not because they’re dark, depressed, anxious, or neurotic. It’s a myth that creative people have these traits. (Those traits actually shut down creativity; they make people less open to experience and less interested in novelty.) Rather, creative people, for the most part, exhibit active moods and positive affect. They’re not particularly happy—contentment is a kind of complacency creative people rarely have. But they’re engaged, motivated, and open to the world. - Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The fundamental structure of Shakespeare's sonnet is the evolving inner emotional dynamic, the fictive speaker is shown to see more, change his [or her] mind, pass from description to analysis, move from negative refutation to positive refutation, etc. The proffering and hierarching of several conceptual models at once is, as I see it, Shakespeare's main intellectual and poetic achievement in the sonnets...the successive emotional tonalities of the sonnets, from abjectness to solitary triumph, from perplexity to self-loathing, from comedy to pathos. The issue of a good poem must be urgent to the poet.
Most of the sonnets lend themselves to more than one schematic representation...the self-lacerating intelligence in the later sonnets produces a voice so undeceived about reality and himself (his perjured eye) that the reader admires the clarity of mind that can so anatomize sexual obsession while still in its grip, that can so acquiesce in humiliation while inspecting its own arousal, that can lie freely while acknowledging the truth. To represent such a voice in all its paradoxical incapacity and capacity is the victory of Shakespeare's technique. - Helen Vendler
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
- Simon Jacobson
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
– Meister Eckhart
“It is highly significant that each of [Hitler’s mistresses] committed suicide or tried to do so, and more than a simple coincidence. He would ask them to shit on him you see. It might very possibly be that they could not stand the burden of his perversion in its shattering absurdity and massive incongruity with [his] public role. I would say that this discordance between private and public esthetics is possibly too much to bear, unless one can get some kind of commanding height or vantage point from which to mock it or otherwise dismiss it.”
– Ernst Becker
Existentialism holds that you can only truly change the way you think and feel about your life by behaving differently, by acting rather than simply reacting, by asserting your will rather than simply allowing yourself to be swept along by circumstances, by always taking responsibility for yourself and what you do. - Gary Cox
So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.” - William Deresiewicz
Monday, July 19, 2010
Some modern philosophers (Heidegger, Kierkegaard) have argued that existential anxiety proceeds from being unconscious of, or inadequately conscious of, death. True, I think, but I wonder if the emphasis might be placed differently, shifted from unconscious reaction to unrealized action: that is, our anxiety is less the mind shielding itself from death than the spirit’s need to be. It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music which, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things.
THERE IS A DISTINCTION to be made between the anxiety of daily existence, which we talk about endlessly, and the anxiety of existence, which we rarely mention at all. The former fritters us into dithering, distracted creatures. The latter attests to—and, if attended to, discloses—our souls. And yet it is a distinction without a difference, perhaps, and as crucial to eventually overcome as it is to initially understand, for to be truly alive means to feel one’s ultimate existence within one’s daily existence, to feel one’s trivial, frittering anxieties acquiring a lightness, a rightness, a meaning. So long as anxiety is merely something to be alleviated, it is not life, or we are not alive enough to experience it as such.
AT FIRST, attending to the anxiety of existence can seem like a zero-sum game. Any attention turned toward the truth of the spirit is attention turned away from all we have come to think of as “life.” Thus we parcel out our moments of devotion—a church service here and there, a walk in the woods, a couple of hours of meditation a week—all the while maintaining the frenzy of our usual existence outside of those moments. This is inevitable, for the initial demands of the spirit are intense, but it is not sustainable, for the soul is not piecemeal. We are left with this paradox: only by hearing the furthest call of consciousness can we hear the call of ordinary life, but only by claiming the most mundane and jangling details of our lives can that rare and ulterior music of the soul merge with what Seamus Heaney calls “the music of what happens.” - Christian Wiman
Friday, July 16, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
And this is one of the foundations of man’s service of his [or her] Creator.
It is only that the divine power of tzimtzum (constriction) holds the divine life-force in a state of concealment and obscurity, and we perceive only its outer form (i.e., the physical reality).
Our mission in life is that we should approach everything in life from this perspective. That we should each strive to reveal, as much as possible, the divine essence in every thing, and minimize, to the extent that we are able, its concealment...
So one must take great care that secondary and external matters should not obscure the essentials of life and its ultimate purpose.
A person might experience difficulties, trials and challenges in separating the good from the bad. But these are but the means by which to achieve the purpose of life—that his [or her] soul should elevate itself through its positive deeds in this world... So one must never allow the difficulties in overcoming one’s trials, or even the fact that one might occasionally fail and stumble, to overwhelm the joy that one must feel.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
At one point in this book Michael Foley laments his own tendency to buy books and CDs in pursuit of some transcendental experience - the books are going to give him arcane knowledge and explain the meaning of it all. Of course, they stay on the shelf, eventually becoming a source of guilt and stress. This is ironic, because The Age of Absurdity comes as close as anyone ever will to giving you arcane knowledge and explaining the meaning of it all.
I'm simplifying a complex and detailed argument here. But, in brief, Foley argues (or at least I take him to be arguing) that the modern world has placed two major barriers in the path of happiness - the `culture of entitlement' and the worship of potential. (NB: Foley breaks down the analysis into more categories, but I think there's good reason for thinking that these are the main issues). The culture of entitlement is so much part of the zeitgeist that we can hardly see it anymore - it drives the talentless to obsessively seek fame, spawns a million `self esteem' workshops, and ensures that every thug knows his rights without considering that he even has responsibilities. (And if you think it's just thugs, ask yourself when you last concluded a whinge by observing that `someone' - some unnameable `they' - should do something about it). But it also means that when the world fails to notice our talents or respect our rights - which, let's face it, is most of the time - we feel hard done by. We are all poisoning our lives with a terminal feeling of injustice; all have a chip on our shoulder big enough to overbalance us.
The worship of potential is what causes dowdy frumps to face humiliation on TV for the sake of a swift makeover, hi-tech firms to lay off anyone who looks over 40, middle-aged dads to dress as their toddlers (all bright artificial fibres with toggles on), everyone to love travel even if they have no idea where they want to go, and society in general to become dumbed-down and infantalised (don't want to grow up? Don't bother! Why should you?). It also leaves people with a constant sense that they're missing something, that a better time is to be had elsewhere, so we're constantly on the look out for the next big thing - job, relationship, possession. And it discourages us from making the firm decisions which, in a way, define and develop our characters.
It's probably no coincidence that modern capitalism needs both these things - the worship of potential keeps us wanting the newest thing; the culture of entitlement (`because you're worth it!') makes us believe we deserve it, whether or not we have the money.
Many of our problems are the problems of abundance, so Foley draws extensively on the Stoics, (who were writing for a rich, decadent late-Roman audience with many of the same problems). He also makes considerable use of the existentialists, proto-existentialists like Schopenhauer, and Buddhist thought. Obviously it does no harm to have come across these thinkers already. But for anyone who hasn't he leads you in gently, so the lack of a philosophical background isn't too much of a handicap. Indeed, his prose throughout is clear and accessible (just as well for an age which eschews difficulty!)
Two things really make this book special. One is the incisiveness with which he analyses the modern condition. Time and time again, Foley hits the nail on the head - often to the point of being uncomfortable. I'd come to similar conclusions myself about some of the points he makes here, but I hadn't reasoned them through as thoroughly. So it was sobering to be continually confronted by descriptions of my own behaviour. There I was thinking that my problems were interesting and complex, and lo and behold they're everyone's problems. For a while it made me squirm, but actually it's quite reassuring.
Secondly, there are no glib answers. Yes, Foley makes some suggestions for how we might be happier - consider learning to meditate, allow yourself to daydream more, develop the Stoics' mental habit of accepting whatever life throws at you and asking yourself how you might turn it to your advantage in one way or another. But the main answer is that there is no `answer' - we make our own deals with life. The best thing we can do is come to a clear understanding of just what the main issues are - and that's what philosophy (and this book) can help us with. - modern life is rubbish
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
- Marjorie Perloff
Illich believed that the penetration of systems logic into the lifeworld had to be opposed on an individual basis. One way to do this was to engage in deep compassionate friendships. Another was to be sensitive to and eschew the kind of infernal comparisons technocrats make between people and technologies, i.e., that humans are systems consisting of software and hardware, inputs and outputs. As part of this, he also attacked the technocratic reconceptualization of mankind through new definitions of old words and their former meanings, e.g., the new notion of "life" as some general entity that can be nurtured on some general level, presumably by a technocrat or politician, i.e., the "culture of life." Rather he insisted that life is embodied in and inseparable from biological entities -- that there is no life, only lives. Illich also suggested reading history, especially the writings of key monastics from the 12th century, as a way to defamiliarize oneself the hegemonic power of the current version of "common sense" and so understand that other ways of living and interacting with each other and with the world were possible, and necessary. He sought by such readings to demonstrate that beyond a certain level of institutionalized expertise, most experts and their expert systems are actually counterproductive.
Illich's critique cannot be countenanced these days when the ideology of technical progress has so permeated us that the notion of organ repair kits (from our clones) seems like a good idea. It seems clear now that the desacralization of the lifeworld cannot be stopped. The spark of hope that it might was extinguished by the counterrevolution of the bosses in the mid-70s. The NY Times meekly fell back into line along with just about everyone else. Illich was a conscientious objector to modernism to the last, preferring to let a cancer on his jaw take his life slowly and painfully rather than surrender himself and his dignity to the anti-human ethos of the medico-technologico community.
IVAN ILLICH IN CONVERSATION is an excellent introduction to Illich's radical humanist perspective.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The limitation of Western democracy, then, comes in 'only' managing to form a company of strangers, and that would be to do with its associated individualism. This finds it difficult to recognise that my own good is intimately caught up with the lives of others: we are prepared to live with others insofar as it's good for me; the test is how far we are prepared to live with others because it's good for others.
That, in turn, brings us back to the issue of meaning, for other-orientation - and the sacrificing of some self-sufficiency and autonomy it implies - is what makes for meaning: it takes the individual out of themselves and so situates their life in something that is bigger than themself.
That other-orientation is also what the terrorist so hideously perverts, since whilst their violent actions take them out of themselves, and so yield meaning, they necessitate the killing of others in the process. In truth, then, terrorism is not other-regarding but self-obsessed - a kind of extreme individualism, in fact, and in that sense thoroughly modern.