Monthly Archives: March 2004

I Am Clearly Mad

Only six weeks to go in the semester, with six papers to write (three of them large research papers), and what do I do? Choose absurdly difficult topics for two of them, and then get distracted by Michel Foucault. I am thoroughly obsessed now with the possibility of combining my interest in philosophy and critical theory with the writing and analysis of history. This is all well and good, but I need to be working on such changes in my approach over the summer, not NOW, when I have so much work to do! I am a foolish little masochist.

Not only that, but I have an opportunity to get a paper published in the school’s literary journal, and I haven’t gotten around to finishing it. I have until Friday, so… one more day to get all of my sources properly cited and the final draft stuck on a CD and submitted. I hope I can concentrate on this stuff to-morrow, because I’d really like to get this one in… I need to improve my prioritisation.

In “file under weird” news: it appears that I got a perfect score on my Literature mid-term. Weird, eh? I thnk she fudged a couple of extra points that I didn’t deserve, since I gave short and shoddy answers to a couple of questions. Whether or not I knew the material is irrelevant- I did not demonstrate that on paper. Why, with all of my wacky health problems, I can remain so hard on myself is unaccountably strange. I am clearly mad. Someone should lock me up before I hurt, err, someone else. *grin*

At any rate, I, my madness, and I, are now going to step off this precipice and into the waiting arms of sleep. My cat is making strange devil-noises, and the computer fans are giving me a headache. The room reeks of old dust. I crave chocolate and beer. And there is no Easter Bunny.

“Modes of thinking, such as love, desire, or any other of the passions, do not take place, unless there be in the same individual an idea of the thing loved, desired, etc. But the idea can exist without the presence of any other mode of thinking.” -Baruch Spinoza

Who… Are… You…?

Oh, happy joyous me… I have decided what I am going to be… that is, MYSELF!

In a long conversation with my department head to-day, we have come to the conclusion that I am definitely a new cultural historian, and not a social historian. I will now have to spend the summer beating out of my head my old methods and approaches to writing history, and start to integrate my interest in post-modern thought into my analysis of history. I had always kept my study of philosophy and linguistics separate from history for some reason, and he has shown me a fabulous way to combine them by using post-structuralist critical theory. I have thus spent the evening re-acquainting myself with Michel Foucault, and will continue my reading from there over the course of the summer. Should be fun!

It’s also an excellent excuse to continue my philosophical investigations in the guise of historical research! *grin* I am obsessed with the idea of ripping existentialism, bleeding, from its roots in early twentieth century thought (in particular, phenomenology), and re-constructing it in the light of post-modern ambiguity. I think that the structuralists ‘threw the baby out with the bath water’ (so to speak) when they demolished existentialism, and no one has made a serious return to it since then. I see no reason why the basic ideas involved (the revolt against traditional philosophy, the emphasis upon life, etc.) could not be re-utilised in a new non-system for the twenty-first century. Had I decided upon philosophy as a career, rather than history, this is undoubtedly the direction I would have pursued.

The last two days have been obscenely hot; hopefully to-morrow is not a repeat. I am going out for drinks with a mate after school, and we’re going to attempt to induce a professor to tag along… should be a lot of fun. Other than that, I’m making some progress on each of my projects, though I still lack a theme for my World War II historiography. Any suggestions out there? Post ‘em in the guestbook! I have so many interests and angles where that conflict is concerned, that I have had no luck choosing a direction. Sometimes I’m just too damned diffuse for my own good.

It’s been a long day, and I have plenty of reading to do, so I’m going to get into my nice comfortable bed, turn on the lamp and a cool white fan, and let M. Foucault slowly lull me into a well-deserved sleep. Aren’t you jealous? Don’t you want to be me? I know you do. It’s okay to be jealous, we can’t all have the perfect life of leisure…

“What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?” -Jacques Lacan

Ideas?

I have to determine what I will do as a senior thesis this week, and I have no clue yet what I want to focus on! There are SO MANY POSSIBILITIES! I need to narrow the list down by Monday, and make up my mind by the end of the week.

Even sooner, though, I must know by Tuesday what I will do for a World War II historiography paper. Initially, I had thought to do something on an aspect of diplomatic history or foreign policy, but I am lately considering doing a cultural history- that is, studying an idea.

What I had in mind was to discuss the uses and abuses of modern philosophy in Nazi ideology. Specifically, I would address the misappropriation of Nietzsche’s ideas in support of Hitler’s nationalistic and antisemitic policies, and the rôle of Martin Heidegger and existentialism within Nazi thought. As a framework, I could take Hitler’s Mein Kampf and deconstruct his ideas and their expressions in contemporary political, social, and philosophical theory. Sound too big? Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking… but it sure would be fun….

I managed to get nothing done on my “Becket” paper to-day, and I’m getting thoroughly stressed out by how far behind my health has gotten me. I want to tear out all of my hair and scream and cry and give up… but I can’t do any of that, of course. What I will do is pick myself up off the floor, figure out what my next step is, and take it. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” After all, I only have seven term papers to write in a month-and-a-half, three of which are 10-plus page research papers…. and keep up with everything else… that’s not so much, IS IT?!?! *grin*

I wonder if anyone has ever noticed that I often use quotes that are inspired by the subject of my Web-log entry. Sometimes they are complementary, sometimes contrapuntal. Always, they are accidental and random, in a sub-conscious sorta way; I don’t plan ‘em, they just come to me. Anyroad, I was just looking at the massive scribble I did late last night, and noticed the James quote I ended on. I said to meself, ‘Gee, that’s a subtle twist’ and wondered aloud if anyone had noticed. Well, if you haven’t, I’ve now given it away. Not that anyone really cares one way or the other, but I thought it was amusing, and you know I love to share with you anything and everything that just randomly occurs to me as my fingers fly across these keys…

Speaking of flying (which is no fun, by-the-by), I need to get off this damned computer and get to work on my “Becket” paper. It’s not a particularly long one, and once I get going, it should be easy enough. I just need to find that frequently-elusive perfect opening line… I am such a slave to my inspirations. I swear, if I ever had to produce copy on a deadline, I’d probably go insane. Wait a minute… Am I… Never mind.

Ah, I almost forgot to mention the supreme bummer that I am NOT going to be seeing Morrissey with Mindy next month. As it turns out, the shows (all FIVE of them) sold out within minutes, and of the huge crowd outside my local Ticket(Satan)Master location, only three people were able to buy tickets before they were all gone. I am well and truly disappointed, and I’m sure Mindy will be, too; I know I’ve wanted to see Morrissey since, oh, the mid-80s, just before the Smiths broke up (which is when I first discovered them). Ah, well. Since there’s an obvious demand (surprisingly?! He hasn’t had a hit in a LONG time), mayhaps he’ll come back to L.A. soon, and I’ll get another chance at it. ‘Course, it’d be nicer still if that happened before Mindy moved to Europa for good.

“To anyone who has even an approximate understanding of the concept of philosophy and its history, the notion of a world-view philosophy is an absurdity.” -Martin Heidegger

Subjectivity Rant

The following rant should be turned into an essay at some point, like so very many other ideas currently bouncing around, but I feel like babbling for a little while to-night as a way of distracting myself briefly from my reading. This is not a new idea per se, though I do take an extreme position within it, and it is important that I begin to outline my relationship to it in my own language. If I turn it into an essay for this site the points made will be elaborated and supported, of course; for now, I merely ramble aimlessly, making little sense, but extemporaneously elucidating the contents of my evening brain. Love me.

It is my contention that the ultimate expression of human hubris is certainty, in all its forms. That is, to feel absolutely convinced that one is “right” and another “wrong” is, for me, the purest expression of pride- an intellectual conceit. In a concrete and relevant example, this applies equally to the certainty of atheism (absolute denial of the existence of God) as to that of religious belief (absolute conviction in same).

I believe that to be intellectually honest, one must always acknowledge possibilities that are contrary to one’s own views. Whilst forming opinions or positions on matters of faith or philosophy, one must remain open to the spectre of error, as well as retain a sense of over-all perspective. All faiths, for example, depend upon the decision of an individual to believe in the absence of direct evidence; is this not as prideful as the protestations of the devout atheist, who rejects out of hand the possibility of God? Both positions rely upon the judgement of the believer, and neither can be logically defended- they are equally emotional in derivation.

For Kierkegaard, the objective uncertainty of religion is the very foundation of its appeal; he denied that any religion could be demonstrated as representative of an objective reality, and relied upon a “leap of faith” into the unknown as the highest religious ideal. Whilst addressing the ambiguity and subjectivity that would later define existentialism, Kierkegaard’s leap is ultimately unsatisfactory philosophically. I believe that he is correct in assuming that it is the only basis for religious expression however; religious truth is, at its core, subjectivity. “Faith does not result from straightforward scholarly deliberation, nor does it come directly; on the contrary, in this objectivity one loses that infinite, personal, impassioned interestedness, which is the condition of faith.” -SK

For me, this principle has broad applications beyond the religious. Ambiguity is everywhere around us– it is in philosophy, in science, in communication, in relationships. We are all ultimately unable to define anything beyond the reaches of our own consciousness, and have to make assumptions regarding others’ understanding of the same realities. This ambiguity can be found applied to language in the works of Derrida, for example, but again, I do not wish to limit the thesis.

Personally, I hold that all “truth” is personal and subjective, defined by and existing within the limitations of our own experience of the world. Whether or not there is an objective truth, an ultimate reality, is in the end irrelevant to the human condition, as it is by definition unknowable and inconceivable. What we can know with some certainty, is that consciousness exists. It is from this point that philosophy may being to answer questions. Even here, however, ambiguity must be considered.

Sartre attempts, for example, to demonstrate phenomenologically the theory of direct realism; that is, that there is an objective reality outside of ourselves, and it is exactly as we perceive it to be. His proofs fail to account adequately for differences in perception, and break down further when quantum theory is brought into play.

I’m stealing an example from physics and misusing it here. Stated briefly, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle deals with the location of particles at the quantum level, and runs like this: “The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.” This idea has implications beyond physics, in particular within philosophy. Without going into details, I will point out that quantum mechanics, and this principle of indeterminacy, is a powerful argument for the subjectivity of reality, since it limits our ability to achieve full knowledge of physical reality. To see why, add in the famous Schrödinger’s cat demonstration of indeterminacy, wherein it’s argued that our perceptions act to -determine- the world that we experience. Where Sartre goes wrong is in denying this (the ideas predate his by a decade or so) and insisting upon the objectivity of our sensory perceptions.

Getting back to metaphysics and the religious experience, I will remind the reader that the desire to seek God, and the feelings that accompany such connexion, are demonstrably founded in neurology. Extensive studies of shifts in brain chemistry during religious experiences from wildly divergent faiths have shown an identical response. In short, religion as a concept is hard-wired into the human brain; only the manifestations vary.

Who can truly explain the differences of the major religions? Is it possible that they all reflect a deeper truth? It is possible that only one is correct, and all other Men are deluded, and if so, why is this truth known only to a few? Is it possible that none are true beyond the subjective needs of the believer? My position follows the latter question. The experience of religious truths is a subjective element of individual human consciousness, and not an expression of any external reality. This does not make them “untrue,” of course; it merely reduces them to a more appropriate foundation within subjectivity. Well, and the peculiar form of religious truth would be rooted in historical contingency, i.e., in the culture surrounding the believer.

If we were to accept, hypothetically, the proposition that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God exists outside the universe, and is its ultimate source and doom, could we ever hope to comprehend His ineffable nature? What frame of reference could we bring to bear? How can one hope to comprehend a God with such awesome properties; any definition we could possibly provide would be a limitation on, by definition, an infinite and limitless being. One would have to be a god to know the mind of a god, or to understand its motivations or desires. Kant shows this pretty well perfectly in his first Critique, where he limits the realm of human knowledge to the phenomenal- that which we can know through the senses- and cuts us off from knowing anything about the noumenal realm of objective reality. Brilliant work, but he doesn’t follow his epistemology far enough and makes excuses later for his beliefs.

Furthermore, I must accept that proposition that no two beings experience the world in exactly the same way, and that even shared value systems are defined by personal judgements- the same creed is expressed countless different ways by different Men throughout history. When we come down to it, all value systems, whether or not they are purportedly divine in origin, are intimately human, as it is our individual interpretations that give them form, and our actions that give them meaning.

So what do I believe? Well, to paraphrase a zen aphorism, the only thing that I feel certain about [know] is that there is nothing to be certain of [is that I know nothing]. I do believe that it is within the province of Man to make value judgements, form religious and philosophical opinions, and take steps better to understand the world around them. I do not believe that it is possible for Man to understand the ultimate nature of reality, nor do I think it healthy for cultures or individuals to develop complex systems of belief and then accept them as absolute fact. I believe in the questioning nature of Man, which is the source of scientific, religious and philosophic thought; I do not, however, believe in our ability to answer all questions through any of these methods. I think it most prudent to form opinions, but to refrain from final conclusions, maintaining always an understanding of ambiguity and subjectivity, and the effects of these ideas on our evolving conceptions.

*phew!* Enough ranting for one evening; I am exhausted.

“Since belief is measured by action, he who forbids us to believe religion to be true, necessarily also forbids us to act as we should if we did believe it to be true. The whole defense of religious faith hinges upon action.” -William James

Spaten!

“A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag, is fast and bulbous, got me?”

I am tired. I have things to talk about, but no energy. They will wait.

I love you all. Now go away.

“I do occasionally envy the person who is religious naturally, without being brainwashed into it or suckered into it by all the organized hustles.” -Woody Allen

‘I Got A Little Black Book With Me Poems In It!’

To-day I shared some of my poems with my Lit. Prof., and she didn’t throw up or laugh at me, which was pleasant. Actually, she complimented my endings, and said that I have a pretty consistent voice. Considering how I feel about my own work, I was inordinately pleased with her response; always best to have no expectations, and be surprised by a decent reception. *grin*

Now, if only I could find the time to get some of them formatted and submitted for publication in the Uni. Lit. mag. before Friday…. unfortunately, none too likely. I am so ridiculously distracted lately… Maybe to-morrow night I’ll find the time, and get ‘em in at the last minute. Who knows? I certainly don’t know anything!

I also worked out a few details in me head on some papers I’m mulling over. I’m thinking about really pushing the envelope on one of them– bringing in some more off-beat references, like maybe Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger.

Tired now, am I, so sleep I will before big yucky maths test to-morrow.

“The philosophic thesis that all knowledge is ultimately founded in experience has in the end led to a postulate concerning the logical clarification of any statement about nature. Such a postulate may have seemed justified in the period of classical physics, but since quantum theory we have learned that it cannot be fulfilled.” -Werner Heisenberg

What, AGAIN?!

I am tired. Yeah. but it was a good day, so who cares? After class (hey, I managed to stay awake in both of my Thursday classes to-day! Maybe I’m getting better!), I had lunch and did some homework, then had a beer with Mindy and talked until her evening class (ALWAYS fun, that; I’m gonna miss her when she decamps to Europa in a coupl’a months). Returning home, I worked on a little more maths with Robin, and set up some practice work for me to do to-morrow after classes. If I get it all done, I should be in decent shape for the Thursday test. I hope. *grin*

So, yeah, nothing particularly interesting to say to-day except, everything is interesting. “Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person! … I don’ wanna talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food-trough wiper!”

“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.” -Jeremy Bentham

‘Bombastic Black Tyrannosaur Streetlight Soliloquy’

my friend mindy just scanned her face isnt that bizarre its kind of like those office party pranks where someone photocopies their ass only her face is much nicer than some fat ass at an office party of course and that goes without saying duh cuz mindys actually pretty cute but anyroad i just finished two midterms today and i hope i did alright on them my hands hurt a lot lately and i need to see my neurologist about that again and then theres all the damn drugs im on which makes it pretty damned hard to string together a cogent sentence at that time of the day but im sure they didnt completely suck i know i could have done better on the literature one but i have to be in my right mind in order to write on literature whereas in history i could be stoned to jupiter and still make good sense i guess its just in the way i think and the kind of things i know well anyroad on the middle ages test i could have written for another hour or two on the topic there just isnt enough time in a fifty minute class to trace the evolution of medieval law from justinians reorganisation of the roman system up until irnerius and founding of the university of bologna i think i covered all of the points he was looking for at least i hope so like i said i could have written so damned much more but theres only so much time and you have to pace yourself and try to get to a decent conclusion by the end of the period oh that reminds me i should slip a period into this paragraph cuz i think it might need one by now wait for it here it comes take a deep breath and . there i stuck one in that should disrupt the flow of my prose just enough to let you catch your breath and keep up with me okay now i want to talk about typical houseplants you see the average ordinary green houseplant is not only boring and can set off allergic reactions in some people they actually make for a great snack food when you forget to go to stater brothers for a few weeks and then theres always the chance your cat will have shat inside the pot which makes it sorta hazardous to eat but then why live if you cant live dangerously i like to keep on the edge a little it makes up for being such a frightfully dull human being most of the time and so i ate all of the houseplants this evening i was really hungry and i dont have any money but maybe ill get some soon since i just did a short job today or rather i finished a job today and submitted the invoices for it now they only have to pay me which reminds me i never did pick up my cheque from chapman for tutoring the last few weeks in fact i dont think ive picked one up all semester i might have a little bit of dough waiting for me which would be excellent since morrissey is in town next month and playing at the wiltern and i have decided to check the show out with a friend and fellow smiths fan and that should just about whip the llamas ass i love the fucking smiths i wish johnny marr and morrissey would just kiss and fucking make up and start making records again but then theres that whole mike joyce lawsuit thing and i guess all of those guys must hate each other by now but whatever it would still rock if they got over themselves and made music again i would feel like a little kid dancing around in my dickies and doing my best morrissey impression complete with hearing aid and flowers speaking of music i finally got to listen to stings new album i had heard most of it in the barnes and noble over the last few months and didnt care for it but the huntington beach public library had it so i checked it out and its not very good i mean it doesnt suck ass but its definitely his worst record and the last one was pretty bad i dont think hell ever reach the breathy brilliance of his first three records absolutely transcendent music very evocative most of what hes done since then has been middling at best hes another one who should get over himself and get his band back together i know that stewart and andy would jump at the chance for a police reunion and hed make skads of money doing it which should be enough of a motivation for his shallow self to cave in but then theres that whole ego issue why do people always have to have ego problems theyre either too big or too small why cant everyone be perfect just like me hah isnt that a riot seriously though you can be both confident and modest i think i mean i dont think im hot shit but i dont cut myself down either whatever some ego is good for us all i guess i mean i wouldnt want to live in a world filled with buddhists no one would ever do anything okay ive said enough for one night now im going to go and get some serious writing done maybe for one of my papers who knows maybe ill just write some mad poetry or maybe ill have a beer and jerk off and then write a letter to george bush and tell him what a great guy he is and how i think he should become a missionary in africa and get the hell out of this country and then ill clean out my sock drawer and have another beer and listen to nick drake records until i cry and then ill have another beer and pass out okay maybe ill do none of those things maybe ill just go to sleep

“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” -Jack Kerouac

Should Be A Fun Month…

I have fallen really very damned far behind…. the semester is over in less than two months… I am going to have a VERY busy month of writing and reading and ‘rithmatic. *sigh*

This has been an important lesson for me: I am too sickly and disorganised to handle this many courses at once. Sad, but true. I’m going to have to trim one off for next semester, unless I can see some indication that things will improve for me (physically) before then.

Anyroad, I spent the day in study, with short breaks to eat, tutor Calif. hist., and chat with friend-Mindy about her current writing project. I am a lot closer to feeling confident re: my mid-terms to-morrow, but I’ll definitely make good use of the periods before each class to review!

I’m going to get some sleep now. Yeah, that might be a good idea. Uh-huh.

“The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Weekend, I

Thank you happy weekend I that sits in calendar pages dry and keeps my little brain awry…

Yes, well, I’m fine, err, that is, how are you? Good, good. Things here go well as always, indeed I have spent the great part of this fine day in preparations for examinations, two. Have them on Monday, I will, and ready for them must I be. Yes. And so, to Chapman will I return on the morrow, to study study study some more.

Peace and good cheer be unto you, my fine and furry friends. I leave you now to find my dreams.

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” -George Bernard Shaw