Monday, March 15, 2010

The Order of Things and other adventures of the day

So, right now my nonfiction project is Michel Foucault's The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. My reading of Foucault up to this point has always been challenging, fascinating, and very rewarding. I read the first two volumes of The History of Sexuality and quite a few of his essays and interviews, but OOT is a whole different ball game. It is actually startling how difficult it has been so far. I am about 120 pages in, the whole thing is 400. A friend of mine had previously warned me that if I thought any of those other books were difficult then OOT was gonna wreck me. I wouldn't say it is wrecking me, but it is definitely true that at the end of certain paragraphs I just have to say wtf? And the book is so big that I am just gonna keep going. I know I am not going to be able to understand everything he is saying this time through it. So I just want to get all the way through it regardless. I definitely will.

At the end of undergrad I feel like I acquired a pretty strong ability to identify the major arguments of a monograph, but this book. Jesus. I mean, I have a sense of what is going on and I could tell you what type of argument is being made. But I was thinking I would try to give a brief summary, but I don't think I have the energy. Also, it isn't even worthwhile at this point to try to write about it. I'll finish reading it and then I will perhaps write a post about it or something. But yeah. It's about language and representation, and how the development of more complex systems of language allowed people to assign meaning to the world in different ways. He claims that prior to the 17th century nature was thought of in terms of similitudes, so that pretty much everything in the world was infinitely related to everything else. Also, things were classified not necessarily based on abstraction, but based on what objects really were. The second chapter is called "the prose of the world" and I think that is what that means, that the world literally exists as a text that can be deciphered. But then the development of grammar and more advanced understandings of language essentially allow language to free itself from reality. Language becomes a representation of a representation. For abstract concepts build on abstract concepts and refer to one another and eventually become disassociated from their subject. Or something like that. Jesus. I said I wouldn't try then I did.

Today I had a strange day with a headache and some dehydration. I went to Barnes n Noble and, excitingly, quickly saw a table called "brain awareness month." I immediately thought BALLERS ONLY BALLERS ONLY and started checking out what they were showing off. Basically I ended up buying three books on neuroplasticity and how it is possible to change the way your brain functions pretty much throughout your life. I am not super familiar with the literature but it seems as though people often thought the brain cemented fairly early in life, childhood maybe. But yeah, it is relevant to my interests because of my concern for how the humanities can modify the brain/mind. Synthetic experience is the main thing.

Basic idea: experience communicates things in ways that language cannot. Straight up. So is it possible to use language to approximate the effects of experience? Well! I know some top notch scholars who think so, and I find the entire idea very exciting. I was originally introduced to it in terms of history and synthetic experience. But, novels and synthetic experience. Imagination and synthetic experience. Mirror neurons. Anyways, I always think about this when I read novels. Or history. But two nights ago when I finished reading Sputnik Sweetheart I was so swept away by the feelings I was feeling. This one line, it smacked me in the face. Well, it was more like a full body wave. It is impossible to read about another person's experience without simulating that experience for myself in my own mind. Not that I have to try to do it deliberately, it is literally the only way to understand other people's emotions. That is basically what my reading on mirror neurons has stressed. So when people talk about the humanities as though they are some sort of bogus major, some impractical thing, that's bs. Experience. I mean. Seriously, life cannot be navigagted exclusively with technical knowledge. We can't always say what it is that we need to do or even why we do what we do. Intuition, basically, wordless understanding, is a very very important part of living and decision making. How to improve intuition? Experience. How to get experience without actually going through those experiences? Synthesize it with the help of language and reflection. Ummm... I will have a whole post on synthetic experience and how it was that I was introduced to this concept. That will be very worthwhile I think.

As for right now, I am working on a paper on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I know, I finished school. But I wr0te this paper right before I finished and a teacher told me I should try to publish it. I am currently expanding it to the appropriate length. It was 7 pages, now I have it to 17. I am working on the last section as we speak. Looking at a book. Ummm. Here I go. Onward to writing. I will perhaps have a post on this paper later. Anyways, peace out.

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