Monday, May 30, 2011

Well...

Well, after I wrote about my legs the problem quickly became my stomach. A little post-coffee sickness didn't kill me, but it certainly put me back to bed. I slept for a while.

Now after a PBnJ and some yogurt I'm feeling much better.

I need to figure out a book to read. I don't think that Think Smart is a book I want to plow straight through. I have a copy of WIlliam James's Pragmatism in front of me. Might take a look at this. Not sure what to read/do.

Perhaps I'll read Edward Hallett Carr's book, What Is History? That is a book I will need to read eventually. Might as well.

Ooof, My Legs

When I party too hard my legs hurt. I'm not sure if it is from walking a lot, or if somehow drinking just makes my legs hurt. But today my legs are sore.

I'm having a super lazy morning. Just sitting in my pajamas, just now pouring my first cup of coffee. Really intense night last night. Very strange bar that had a dance floor. I danced a little. But it wasn't the best dancing scene. I wish I had danced more. But my friends were playing pool and I wasn't feeling the music. Just dancing in the middle of this crowd. Lot of bros. Really really strange bar scene. We played a bit of pool. It was fun.

Wacky night. Sometimes nights are really wacky. This was one of them.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Of What Mind Can There Be Knowledge?

I wrote a post earlier today on Speculum Mentis where I discussed Collingwood's claim that the only true object of knowledge could be the mind itself. I've been reflecting on that idea and I came up with a question that I had to ask myself. What precisely do we mean by the mind? How to explain this?

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that we can only be sure of our minds knowledge if we assume a historical perspective on our own thoughts. If we were to approach our minds phenomenologically we might not be able to be certain of our knowledge.

I was thinking of Foucault and his work in The Order Of Things. I was thinking of Johanna Oksala's analysis of Foucault in Foucault On Freedom. She says that Foucault's work in TOT is an attempt to find a way to get beyond phenomenological claims to knowledge. She claims that Foucault was working against Edmund Husserl, trying to show that the subject's experience cannot be the basis for knowledge. TOT was thus an attempt to use history to find a basis for knowledge.

I think that this is the direction Collingwood is going in at the end of Speculum Mentis. He discusses what he calls 'The Absolute Mind'. He asks, what mind are we talking about when we talk about when we say that the mind alone can be known? He says that we are speaking of concrete, real, historical minds. Not some abstract mind.

Then he goes into detail about this idea of the absolute mind. Strangely, it sounds much like Foucualt's notion of an episteme. He says that "The absolute mind, then, unites the differences of my mind and other people's, but not as the abstract universal unites: rather as the conrete universal of history unites. The absolute mind is an historical whole of which mine is a part. (299). So we see that knowledge of individual mind has to be historically situated within an understanding of the larger absolute mind of which our mind is a part. The absolute mind "lives in its entirety in every individual and every act of every individual, yet not indifferently, as triangularity is indifferent present in every triangle, but expressing itself in every individual uniquely and irreplaceably" (299). Ummm. So, to have knowledge of mind is to have historical knowledge of your mind and other minds. Just like Foucault's notion of the episteme. Foucault seemed to think that we couldn't ground our own personal knowledge unless we knew the historical conditions of our knowledge. Similar thing. Collingwood then goes into some stuff on finitude and infinity that I don't understand. Foucault also discusses finitude. I have a lot more reading to do of Speculum Mentis.

Collingwood, however, takes this notion further. He discusses what he calls 'Absolute Ethics'. Because when I read Foucault I always think that it carries some kind of ethical implications. In particular, it reminds me of something I used to talk about by saying 'forgive everyone for everything'. In fact, I discussed that idea in this essay. Collingwood actually draws similar implications. He says that because everyone is part of this absolute mind, individual and society are in many ways one thing. And when we realize this we have to accept that, "The agent is now conscious of himself as absolute mind, and of every other agent, whether in agreement with himself or not, as coequal with himself. This means that he ceases to regard himself or his country or his party as in the right and everybody else in the wrong, but he regards all actions as manifestations of a will which is always and necessarily rational even when 'in the wrong', and therefore never wholly in the wrong. He thus sympathizes even with his opponents, and in proportion as he becomes truly rational he ceases to regard any one as an unmitigated opponent, but sees in every one a fellow-worker with himself in the cause of the good.... In absolute ethics the agent identifies himself with the entire world of fact, and in coming to understand this world prepares himself for the action appropriate to the unique situation" (304-5, my italics). In short, if everyone's thoughts and actions are governed by the same absolute mind or episteme then in some ways we cannot hold people in full blame. We have to have some kind of sympathy, because every action has a point of reference in the absolute mind of our age.

But anyways, the lesson to take from this writing is this: I can only have knowledge of my own mind if I recognize it as part of a larger historical absolute mind. The subject can only have knowledge of itself (and therefore at all) if it historicizes itself.

I don't know where most of this leaves me. I feel confused. I know that I am going to have a lot of work to do with Foucault and Collingwood. Both of them want to ground knowledge in a historicized mind, and both of them see it as leading towards ethics. I don't know what else to say right now.

But I feel as both of them are pushing me in the direction of developing a historically oriented ethics of compassion. What a great thing that would be.


New Music

For some reason I've become super lazy and apathetic about finding new music lately. I guess I never got on websites like pitchfork, and I don't know other blogs or sites. So I just didn't really get a lot of new music unless I stumbled on it.

But right now I'm downloading a bunch of new music. Getting new Four Tet, New Pornographers, Ariel Pink, Gil Scott-Heron, seeing as how he died. I dunno. Music is so interesting and I should listen to more of it. I should be more explorative. I should just get more things. I play music at work.

The other thing is that my ipod doesn't play music anymore. The headphone jack broke. So I can't do that. But yeah. I guess I don't need to play music on the bus or anything like that.

Right now I'm listening to the latest No Age album. I liked their old stuff. Never bothered to hear the new stuff. Glad I'm listening.

I'm also downloading a movie called 'Of Gods And Men'. Mr. Mightremindyou has told me about it in the past, and my aunt has talked about it too. I think I'll watch it tonight for fun.

Mindful Walking and Living

I have been running a little bit lately. Three times in the last week. It has felt good. I can't run very far. I'm out of shape. But I have been trying to do it. Trying to eat better and such.

I run for a little while and then I walk for a little while.

I am trying to listen to some advice of a book that I have been reading called Think Smart. The author suggests a combination of physical and mental activity. In essence, he encourages you to be mindful while you walk or run. Look at things, pay attention to things, be aware of your surroundings.

I was walking through my neighborhood and I suddenly saw this huge fenced in opening full of a crumbling foundation, full of trees and plants. There was a notice about the way the land was going to be used.

It is easy to be mindless. To just run. To just talk.

To not just do my dishes but to let my mind wander.

I'm trying to think about what mindfulness is. What it takes to be in the moment. I think that running and walking are good things for me to do. I think that eating well is important for me to do. I'm feeling very open to these possible changes in my habits. I hope I can continue to reflect on them. I hope I can continue to clean my apartment and take care of my body.

I suspect it will really benefit my thinking. Which, frankly, is what I care the most about. But I am starting to accept that a healthy mind needs a healthy body.

Duh. It has just been harder to act on.

The Mind As The Only Object Of Knowledge

This will be brief. I think I now have a way of understanding the most general claim of Speculum Mentis. I certainly don't grasp all the details, all the nuance of it all. Because there is a lot.

But the most general claim of the book is that art, religion, science, and history all mistake the object that they are trying to gain knowledge of; they misstate their claim to truth. Art believes truth and knowledge are to be found in the world of the imagination and in the work of art that is created. Religion claims that knowledge is to be found in god. Science claims that it is to be found in the natural world. History asserts that it is to be found in the human world. All of these objects, for Collingwood, are false objects.

The true object of knowledge, the only thing that we can truly know, is the mind itself. And this is what philosophy strives to do. It strives to know the mind so that the mind can know what it knows. Collingwood admits that most philosophy dose not achieve this dual goal of the mind that thinks about its own assumptions, but that this should be philosophy's goal. Also, Collingwood feels that philosophy and history are inseparable in this quest for a self-knowing mind.

Anyways, I'll have to do more work with Speculum Mentis at the time. But the real issues seem to be epistemological. The problem is that of knowledge and how it is possible. Collingwood approaches it 'ideally', in that only mind can be known.

Over and out.

Friends

I am not revelatory

Please stop

Acting like your beautiful babies aren't yours

I lie

I deceive

I conceal

I am desirous of you all

And I'll never let you know

Tell me of your reflection

Tell me of your world

Is it full of denied investments?

Full of a resented reality?

Think of it how you will

It isn't what you say

It is frightening

It is cruel

It is realer than you claim

I can never be your mirror

I can never acknowledge you

Only coldness can do that

Only distance can satisfy you

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Brain And Soul

I'm reading a new book, Think Smart: A Neuroscientist's Prescription For Improving Your Brains Performance. I think the book is a little bit silly. The author is attempting to write about science in the most accessible ways, presenting things in very dumbed down terms.

So far he has been discussing a lot of things about diet, about exercise, about the brain in general. I am finding the book valuable primarily as a way of cultivating my eating habits, my exercise habits, etc.. I am working hard at steering myself in a better direction, a healthier direction. And most importantly, I am trying to make this something that is habitual.

Habit has become such an important issue for me philosophically. I therefore need to try and reckon with my own habits at the most basic and practical levels. I went running this morning. I'm trying to eat better. I'm trying to be honest. I want to be a good person. And I need to realize that these things are realized at the level of habits. I need to create new routines for myself. I hope this book can do this for me. Even if I do find his writing style to be silly and overly popular.

But one interesting thing has occurred to me: The fact that I find the book to be persuasive because it approaches these issues from the standpoint of the brain. Being a neuropsychiatrist, the author is inclined to talk about the brain as the crux of personal and emotional problems.

Why is it that the brain is such a powerful way of approaching things? Because I live in a time in which science is the master of knowledge, and because the brain has been scientifically identified as the seat of the mind.

But what of the soul? People used to speak in terms of the soul. Knowledge used to appeal to the soul. I said to a friend tonight that I found it much more appealing to speak of experience in terms of the brain as opposed to the idea of the soul. But the notion of the soul has lost its weight. I exist in an age in which we associate our experiences with the brain. People say things like 'oh my brain is going crazy' or 'I don't know what my brain was thinking'. We casually speak of the brain as the cause of our experiences and feelings.

It reminds me of Foucault. It reminds me of the way that we privilege certain types of knowledge over others, and how we regard science as the most legitimate form of knowledge.

It reminds me of Collingwood and the issue of philosophy as the purest form of knowledge. It reminds me of Collingwood on the purposeful creation of habits.

I expect that I'm going to explode soon. Intellectually. With words. Serious structured writing is on the horizon. But right now I'm still just a spazz. An emotional, brain bound, conceptually limited, desperately habit seeking spazz.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reflections On The Fizzling Out Of AZI

I was working on the same writing project from September up until the beginning of this month. The project was called 'Art, Zen, And Insurrection: Finding Personal And Social Change In The Art Of Life". The project was inspired by my reading for the last year or so. The main people I was working with were Collingwood and Foucault. Foucault provided the initial inspiration when he introduced the notion of the aesthetics of existence in The Use Of Pleasure. Because of that book (and Clausewitz and others) I was compelled to read and think about creative living, philosophy of history, neuroplasticity, personal change, theory of mind, lots of things. I was sent on a weird reading path that addressed a wide range of issues, all of which focused on the question of aesthetic or artistic living. In many ways I think I was just trying to find out for myself how I could live a good life, or an expressive life, or to figure out whether an expressive life was a good life.

Eventually I ended up reading Collingwood's The Principles Of Art. I remember it clearly. At the end of August I tried to write an essay called 'The Science And Art Of Minds' and I couldn't do it adequately. I was stumped by the issue of living creatively, the issue of aesthetics and art. So Collingwood seemed like the logical place to turn. And gosh what a book I found! The Principles is an astounding book. I will talk big game about Collingwood all the time until I learn better. But at this point I still find his work so fascinating and fun and amazing.

I found The Principles so impressive that I decided to use it as the focal point of a large scale writing project that would address the issues raised by Foucault, and hopefully incorporate much of my other reading and writing. I managed to get really deep into the project. I wrote a ton on a lot of different things. I explicated Collingwood's aesthetics, I asked questions about how it applied to real life, and I capped the whole thing off with work on the purposeful creation of habits. The project occupied tons of my time and quite a lot of pages.

I still, however, have not finished the project. Recently I fizzled out on my serious writing. I wasn't able to continue going. But I want to continue going. And writing this post I feel it more than ever. The questions I am asking, the things I want to understand, are important to me. I don't think I'm talking about stupid things. But I might not be well read enough to talk about them adequately (duh).

And I think this is the core problem that is preventing me from plowing away at Part IV of AZI: Parts I, II, and III were drawing primarily on the reading that I had been doing for the last 2-3 years in my undergrad and my first year out of undergrad. Part IV, however, demanded that I take a very new track with my reading: it demanded political reading, reading about the relationship between art, culture and politics, reading about governments and wars, etc.. It demanded that I deal with the issues of war, politics, and violence. And I have been reading. I have certainly been reading, no doubt. But because Part IV is drawing on very fresh reading, it is much harder to write. Parts I-III were drawing on things I had read a while ago and had already been working with, already been reflecting on. But this new stuff, this Part IV, this is all very fresh, I can't expect myself to process such large and complex issues so quickly.

I will say, however, that this post has been quite helpful for me in two ways. First, it makes me understand that Part IV is a different beast, and that the material, the reading, the thoughts, are so much fresher that I can't expect myself to make hay of it as easily as I did the other parts. Second, that by sticking to the original premise of the project (to reckon with Collingwood and Foucault) I can potentially persist and finish the project. I think I did fizzle out because I was overwhelmed with new tasks. I read Rousseau and found it confusing. I read Enlightenment's Wake and found a ton to grapple with, I read Howard Zinn and didn't know what to do, I have been reading Zizek and feel confounded.

In short, Part IV is hard as shit for me to write, and there are reasons for it. But that doesn't mean I'm done. Because I'm not.

Excuse Me

Excuse the babbling. I have hit a weird point with myself in terms of my writing.

I am pleased because tonight I finished Speculum Mentis. I don't dare write anything about it right now.

Except to say that Collingwood is always interesting and strange. I suspect large things will come out of it in the future for me. But I have hit a weird point in my writing.

I did find one line in the book to be comforting, however. He was writing about art and how spontaneous it can be. He was saying that when things seems to go dry, when we are struggling to produce significant writing, "The wise man relapses contentedly into an ordinary humdrum existence and waits for the moving of the waters" (82-83).

I'm doing my best to be humdrum right now. But frankly I'm feeling like a little bit of a spazz. I'm resltess and confused and irritable at work. My apologies. Not always irritable. Just sometimes. Just a little sensitive sometimes.

Those last two bits of writing were fun though. So I dunno. I'll keep going. There is no slowing down.

Brothers And Time

We all know how horrifying that electronic buzzing is. But today I knew that I was the most horrified waker of all. I was ready to eat any type of electronic equipment, so long as it would cut me badly enough to prevent me from doing the work that I had to do. I was reminded of a song: ‘I got a lot of things to do, but I’m not gonna’. The electronic world had finally broken something inside of me, that fleshy chord that ran the length of my torso had finally ripped itself in half.

When I finally woke up it wasn’t because the electronic babble had stopped, but because my brother was punching me in the head. In my emotional flood I had forgotten that it was my turn to shut the alarm off.

See, we set the alarm everyday. We can’t not set the alarm. We refuse to forgo the alarm because to forgo the alarm is to allow time to slip away. And we simply can’t have that. But by rotating the duty of who has to turn the alarm off we are able to escape the grips of time one day at a time. We are able to have a day where we are only briefly interrupted. Our sleep ceases for a matter of moments. Then we remember it isn’t our day and we can ignore it, incorporate it into our dreams. I have become quite adept at this. Whatever I’m doing in my dreams, whether it be running, fighting, crying, flying, having sex, killing, whatever it may be, I’ll suddenly be doing it to the rhythm of the alarm clock. Sometimes this can even trigger a lucid dream for me. The buzzing enters my dream and I become a new man.

I wish I could say the same thing about the days when it is my turn. I wish I felt like a new man every time that alarm went off. But I don’t. I feel like the same man living in the same damn world. The world in which I am slave to an electronic device that I control. The world’s greatest zombie.

So we switch off. One day I turn off the alarm and we both go back to sleep. The next day he turns off the alarm and we go back to sleep. Today was my day. But something was different in my mind and body today. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t be okay with this alarm anymore. Even as my brothers fists continued to collide with my hair I couldn’t move. He knew that this moment had been approaching. We had talked about it. I told him. I said to him that I wouldn’t be able to do this much more. That for a time it freed me from the burden of time. It made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted, sleep however long I wanted, and that I didn’t have to worry about the sun or the world anymore. He agreed. He too felt drowned by the normalcy of our existence. These commonplace desires to live an efficient life.

My brother didn’t seem to be slowing down. He was going to keep hitting me. He was shouting about the contract, about the agreement, about the laws of man and the laws of time. I couldn’t do anything. In a matter of moments I knew that I would rather die at the blindly raging hands of my brother than face another day of turning off that alarm. A few weeks into this process of near perpetual sleep my brother expressed some concerns. Couldn’t this make us crazy, he asked? Not any crazier than this world beyond the alarm is already making me, I said.

We chose to live a life forgetting the alarm in an effort to defer that terrifying life beyond the alarm. I chose not to be compressed during this new round of space-time compression. Did my brother choose? Now that my death seemed obvious, it was clear that my brother did not really choose. He let me choose for him. Death would be for the best. This time won’t work for me anymore.

A Monk Amongst

A monk amongst

A wheeled world

Of lost and lonely

Organic tamed hearts


Baying and crowing

For a larger piece

A shinier knife

To prepare the feast


Useless edification gives way

To useless erudition

Only to collapse again

Into the worst habits


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Cosmopolitan Night

Tonight I attended a lecture by Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah. The title of the speech, and of one of his books, was Cosmopolitanism: Ethics In A World Of Strangers. The talk was pretty interesting. He was pretty interesting. But I wasn't entirely able to follow it. Well, it isn't like he ever said something that was completely confusing in its own right. But I don't feel as though I was able to grasp the structure of his presentation with enough clarity.

When I say Francis Fukuyama speak about a month ago I feel like he made the structure of his presentation very explicit. He said 'there are three major themes I am going to be using to illustrate blah blah blah.' It was easy to see the structure of the speech because he told you what it was going to be.

I took some notes. Maybe I'll try to do some work on them. Maybe I'll just get his book.

The only thing I'm sure of is that I don't feel like writing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Sunday Sunday

Some days I just don't know what to do with myself.

I ate Chipotle this morning.

I made a pot of coffee and it is so weak I have no idea what it is that I have done wrong.

I've been trying to experiment with the way that I grind the beans for my french press. I've been trying to use a coarser grind. But it has just been coming out as super weak coffee. Super weak.

Tony's coffee is the coffee I'm drinking.

I'm not sure what to think.

I know I'm annoyed at how weak the coffee is. But whatever.

I'll read for a little.

I'm happy with the post I wrote yesterday on implosive rationality. I'm not completely happy with the phrase. But it pleases me to come up with new phrases that capture things that I'm trying to think about.

Then I like to google the phrases. It turns out the phrase 'implosive rationality' only appears on my blog. That sounds funny to me. But I like when I use words that no one else is using.

Collingwood seems to be talking about similar things.

I'll do some writing at some point, but for now I need to keep reading.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

On Implosive Rationality

This post is inspired by a single line from Collingwood's Speculum Mentis. But I hope to use that quotation to address several issues that I have been pondering for the last couple years. The quotation comes from Collingwood's section on art.

As the title of the post suggests, the issue I'm trying to deal with is the paradoxical utility of reason. Reason, I suspect, is not very valuable in its own right. On the contrary, reason is valuable because it has a residual effect on our behavior. By which I mean that a rational conclusion is most valuable when it ceases to be rational and exists simply as intuitive behavior. In other words, reason is most valuable when it helps us create new habits for ourselves.

The purposeful and rational creation of habits is something that has been troubling me for quite sometime now. It is so difficult to conceptualize this idea. So let me just throw the quotation from Speculum Mentis directly into the mix. In this section Collingwood is arguing that aesthetic consciousness is defined by pure imagination that doesn't pay attention to rational criteria. "[E]very artist," he claims, "who can recollect the actual aesthetic experience knows that in this experience the world of men and things is forgotten, and that any desire to communicate or seek an audience for this thoughts is subsequent and alien to the experience itself" (69). In other words, the aesthetic experience has nothing to do with rationality and is a world of pure imagination. That does not mean, however, that reason has no part in the development of this aesthetic consciousness. In fact, Collingwood asserts that rational reflection is necessary to the development. If we don't take the time to reflect on the nature of aesthetic consciousness then we may never develop it at all. But this is where the use of reason becomes paradoxical, and where I feel tempted to call this form of thinking 'implosive rationality'. "The life of reason, therefore, whose first step is the development of the aesthetic consciousness, finds its second step in the conquest and, in some sort, the destruction of that consciousness" (73).

Ultimately, the purpose of rationally apprehending the aesthetic experience is to be able to leave that rationality behind and fully engage in the imaginative world of the aesthetic. It is a form of rationality that is meant to destroy itself, meant to implode on itself, and to give way to a fully imaginative and intuitive behavior. It is rationality that is meant to dissolve into a set of new habits. In this case, the habit is to embrace the aesthetic experience. But does this notion of implosive rationality have implications for things beyond the aesthetic?

I think the answer might be yes or no, depending on where we decided that the aesthetic begins and ends. If the notion of the aesthetic extends to all of our emotional life, then the answer is no, it doesn't have implications beyond the aesthetic (but that doesn't matter because in that case all of life becomes a matter of aesthetics). But if we find it necessary to separate ordinary life and the aesthetic experience, which we probably should, then we can say that this notion of implosive rationality has implications that go beyond just art. Anytime we are using language and reason to create a new habit for ourselves, or to give us a new intuitive understanding, we are benefitting from the existence of implosive rationality.

In many ways that is what 'idealism' is at its core. It is this idea that to introduce new concepts into our lives means to introduce new experiences into our lives. It is like how Inuits experience snow in a far more nuanced way than us because they have more than 200 words for different types of snow. We can describe snow in a very limited number of ways, and in turn we experience snow in a very limited way. But there a certain branches of our lives that we experience in much more nuanced ways because the language we have for them is more nuanced. What is a good example? Well, just think about the way that our experiences of people are facilitated by our ideas of people. We experience situations in terms of people's race, class, gender, sexuality, social classification, etc.

So in almost any situation that we experience things, we can introduce new concepts rationally, let those concepts implode on themselves, and we will then begin to experience those things in new ways.

I therefore define implosive rationality as a form of rationality that is meant to enhance an intuitive capacity or create a habit, thereby negating itself, or 'imploding on itself' in the process. It is a self-undermining form of rationality. It is a form of rationality that seeks to be destroyed by the habits that it creates. It is a form of rationality that seeks to perpetuate its content by negating its form. The form of the rational proposition is negated, but the content of the proposition persists in the form of the habit that is thus created. To put it even more simply (thanks to M'ax), a form of rationality whose ultimate goal is to improve a process that is intuitive or non-rational.

A curious idea. I'm pleased to have come up with this phrase 'implosive rationality'. I'm not sure if it makes sense entirely. But it is a new idea, an infant idea. It lines up well with my work on habit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beginning Collingwood's 'Speculum Mentis'

Over the last three days I have read the first sixty pages of R.G. Collingwood's book Speculum Mentis, Or, The Map Of Knowledge. The portions I read were the preface, the prologue, and the second chapter called 'Speculum Mentis'. I am finding it curious stuff. Weirdly organized paragraphs. Slightly confusing.

He begins the preface by observing that in the 1920's few people seem to care about art, religion, or philosophy. He says that the modern era is unique in that there are plenty of people producing art, religion, and philosophy, but no one seems interested in consuming them. "The coexistence of overproduction on the one side with unsatisfied demand on the other," he says is "the special problem of modern life" (21). So Collingwood sees the problem of modernity as this separation between these types of producers and the everyday consumers indifference to them. This is especially problematic because Collingwood asserts, "Art and religion and philosophy are not vain quests, they are normal activities of the human mind" (20). If these activities are indeed normal (and important), then the modern age is in a strange predicament. How did this happen?

Collingwood then uses a historical survey to try explain this indifference to these works. He says that the Middle Ages were different from the modern modern era in that the people at the time possessed a greater 'unity of mind'. Furthermore, that the Middle Ages possessed institutions that were able to organize people's lives for them. They were, more than us, able to to engage in work that both supported them and made them feel like they were doing something worthwhile. "In every case there was an organization which gave the individual what to do and–in a rough and ready way, perhaps–looked after him so long as he did it" (24). But this institutional structure was not the main thing that separates the middle ages from the modern era.

The more important thing, as I mentioned, was the unity of mind that they possessed. What Collingwood means by this is that art, religion, and philosophy had not yet been divided into distinct disciplines. Instead, religion served as the basis by which art and philosophy were oriented. These three things were always working in relation to one another. This interrelationship of these forms of thought, Collingwood claims, allowed individuals to experience a mental unity. They were more comfortable, more complete, more okay with their ways of living and the ideas that they had. On the contrary, Collingwood believes that we are no longer able to experience this type of mental unity. He says that we have to choose between being religious, scientific, philosophical, artistic, et cetera. That we have to choose which type of knowledge we subscribe too. "What is wrong with us is precisely the detachment of these forms of experience–art,religion, and the rest–from one another; and our cure can only be their reunion in a complete and undivided life" (36).

He says that this happened because art and philosophy came to maturity and had to free themselves from their connection to religion. And while it is good that these disciplines came to their maturity, the inevitable result is a sort of disunion within our own minds. He makes this point clear when he says: "In the middle ages the artist was perhaps not much of an artist, the philosopher was by our standards only mildly philosophical, and the religious man not extremely religious; but they were all men, whole of heart and secure in their grasp on life. To-day we can be artistic, we can be philosophical, we can be religious as we please, but we cannot ever be men at all; we are wrecks and fragments of men, and we do not know where to take hold of life and how to begin looking for the happiness which we know we do not possess" (35). In any case, Collingwood thinks that our era is marked by a disunion between the disciplines and thus a disunion in our own minds.

The entire prologue is occupied by this historical survey of the disciplines and their effects on the mind. In the next chapter titled 'Speculum Mentis' Collingwood begins to deal with the idea of creating a 'map of knowledge'. He had previously said that art, religion, philosophy and so forth, are unique forms of human experience that all count as forms of knowledge because they are the result of cognitive activity. So then, to understand these unique fields of experience Collingwood plans to analyze five distinct fields of knowledge: art, religion, science, history, and philosophy. The goal of the inquiry seems to be to acquire a sort of unity of mind between these things.

I am too tired to write anymore right now. I stopped writing this halfway through and went out to eat massive amounts of Italian food. It was good.

I'll have to see how the book goes.

I'm too tired.

I had this idea about how analytical distinctions turn into experiential distinctions. Language registers in our experience and changes it.

So the division of the disciplines that Collingwood describes would indeed turn into experiential divisions.

Anyways, sleep.

I'll keep reading Speculum Mentis.

I'm sure I'll end up writing on it more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Notes For My Writing On Habit And Education

So I am still making progress into Claxton's What's The Point Of School?. I'm finding it quite provocative and surprisingly far reaching.

Tonight as I was reading it I was struck by two things. First, with the way that his analysis of the problems with schools lines up with Foucault's analysis of normalizing power in Discipline & Punish. Claxton explains how schools are weighed down by the inadequate metaphor of school as a factory line where students do 'work' in order to come out as a finished product. He explains how a poor learning environment is created through a combination of the management of space in schools, the vocabulary used (dominant discourses), major activities, and examples set by teachers.

This comes quite close to Foucault's criteria he uses to define disciplinary institutions. He says that "discipline creates out of bodies the bodies it controls... an individuality that is endowed with four characteristics: it is cellular (by the play of spatial distribution), it is organic (by the coding of activities), it is genetic (by the accumulation of time), it is combinatory (by the composition of forces). And, in doing so, it operates four great techniques: it draws up tables; it prescribes movements; it imposes exercises; lastly, in order to obtain the combination of forces, it arranges 'tactics'." (167, emphasis added). Foucault is a bit difficult to read here, especially at the end of the quotation. But it should be clear that the control of space, activity, time, and organization is vital to Foucault's analysis of how disciplinary institutions function. Similarly, these are the criteria that Claxton identifies with the school systems that he is trying to argue against.

Interesting connection, I think.

There is also oodles and oodles of connections to Collingwood that are coming out of this book. For one thing, Claxton repeatedly talks about the importance of running mental simulations, about the importance of empathy, and the issue of habit. Collingwood addresses all of these issues at one point or another. Empathy perhaps the least.

I also see connections to John Searle and Ian Hacking. Both of these authors are concerned with the ways that language can create certain things, and in particular, identities. Claxton talks about how young people are able to learn better when they are able to think of themselves as learners that are capable of improvement. On the contrary, if students think of themselves as having a fixed potential, they will be less likely to work hard at learning. Claxton says that these labels effect the way that we approach learning. By labeling children smart or dumb, or as flexible learners, we create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that inclines them to act in certain ways. This is what Hacking calls 'making-up people': we literally create certain types of behavior by labeling those behaviors as such. Or what Searle calls status function declarations (maybe). Searle's work is different. But it might apply to identity.

Claxton also talks about the purposeful creation of culture. It makes me think so much of Zizek's work on revolution. He says that a truly radical revolution would be one that went to lengths to create new ways of daily living, it would be a revolution that was both political and cultural.

Lastly, the issue of habit and neuroplasticity permeate the entire book.

So what are the issues I need to discuss in order to synthesize this book into my ideas I already have?

- education and habit
- simulation and habit
- synthetic experience and habit
- cultural revolution and habit
- culture, identity and habit

I don't know how in the world I'll sort all these ideas out.

Blech!

Still confused.

But at least this book is giving me tips about my own personal learning. It is helping me try to keep calm and patient.

That is part of the reason I chose to read this book. After reading In Defense Of Lost Causes I hit a crisis point with my own learning. So now I need to try and reground my learning.

I'm on my own until I get to grad school. So I gotta think about learning sometimes.

How Much Am I Into Coffee?

Today I had a very interesting experience going to Tony's coffee shop. They invited my boss there to do a coffee cupping. They wanted us to taste this coffee variety known as geisha coffee. A very interesting coffee that is very fruity and flowery. A very unique tasting coffee.

Overall I found the whole process to be totally fascinating. Just the process of standing there, smelling different types of coffee, listening to these people talk about them.

I wish I had a more developed palette. I struggled to identify specific flavors in the different coffees. It is very difficult to do things like that.

Funny ending though. They lost my coat. Haha!

They found it, but I haven't gotten it back yet. They delivered it to my store after I left.

When I came in they took my coat from me and put it in a closet. But then I left and they couldn't find my coat anywhere. Someone else who was there left with it apparently.

Funny.

Angels and Angels and People

I held the sun in my hand. I resolved to let it burn everything.

From my vantage it was an easy decision to make. I couldn't take the play of light and pulpy material anymore. They mingled in a way that made me uncomfortable. Through them I could see that swirling mass of disgusting flesh. I hated what we had done to them. We wanted to be the ones they could turn to, the ones that could protect them from what we made them into.

It was something we did out of desperation. We wanted them to tell stories about us, mostly just so that our own experiences could be clarified by their words. Because the truth is that we have never known what we are. Just as they don't know what the fuck happened to them, we have never understood why we have to live this way.

For a long time we just enjoyed ourselves. We can do quite a lot of things. There is a lot of room for movement in this realm. But you can only live peacefully for so long. Finally, I couldn't avoid the temptation to define myself by creating something else. I needed another being, another type of life, that would allow me to feel relative. I needed to feel like I was different. Because we are mostly the same.

Only now do I understand the fear that drove me to create them. I knew I had to melt all of them. I thought about the diffuse heat that would singe their toes and ears. I thought about the inside and the outside being united by an indiscriminate orange glow.

Unfortunately, my attempt to drop the sun was met with strong resistance. There are quite a lot of shining people just like me. They, too, wanted an identity that went beyond our individual mental attributes. Particularization wasn't enough for any of us. We wanted generality to flow through us like an unstoppable force. The rest of them seemed to be okay with it. It had lulled them into a complacency. They watched them constantly. They loved to think about the gaps that separated us. The gulf was only painful for me. My own identity had become painful for me.

But they didn't understand. They didn't want to understand. All I wanted was to return to my particular being. I wanted there to be an appreciation for all of us as individuals that wasn't corrupted by the push for generality.

I told them we had to kill our children. I told them we couldn't go on living this voyeuristic life. It was too late. They had been seduced. They were prepared to live life that way. And I wasn't so I brought war to them. I was ready to become the third layer if they were willing to stay on top. And so now I am the third layer. Now we can all define ourselves in terms of this hierarchy in which I am the shit. Now I am the one that will never be cold again.

Now they don't even think about me anymore.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Research And Writing

Sometimes I ask myself why I'm able to write so much on certain issues, and at other times so incapable of writing anything about anything. Why was I able to produce so much writing in 2010 and the beginning of 2011, only to drop off and struggle to produce the last couple months?

For one thing, I shouldn't expect myself to be able to produce all the time. Of course not.

But also the issue of reading comes to mind.

I think I was able to produce so much at the end of 2010 because I had been seriously reading for the whole year.

And I think I have been able to write so much of AZI because it is pulling on all of the different things that I have been reading since I graduated from college. There is more than a years worth of serious reading going into that project.

Writing requires so much research and reading. I shouldn't expect myself to just be out put out put out put all the time. I need so much more input. So many more books.

It is good to remind myself how much reading had to happen before I was able to write what I have written.

I need to remember how much more I need to read to write more.

Oeuvres As Minds And Minds As Processes

Grappling with authors at the level of their oeuvre is such an interesting thing to try and do. What does it mean to grapple with an author in their entire output?

This is something I've been reflecting on because of my curiosity about a few different authors. In particular, Collingwood and Zizek.

Collingwood is a writer I am so drawn to, who I am so excited by, but someone who I still have yet to grapple with adequately. I am familiar primarily with his later work and his posthumously published work. I do not have a sense of Collingwood in terms of his oeuvre. The Principles of Art, An Autobiography, The Idea of History, all of that was written between 1935-1940. I'm not at all familiar with his early work from the 1920s. Fortunately, I've just acquired a copy of Speculum Mentis, Or The Map Of Knowledge, which is his book from 1924. I believe that it is his statement about philosophy as the philosophy of experience, which in turn has to be a philosophy of ideas. He is typically known as an 'idealist' philosophy, meaning that our experience of the world has to do with our minds interaction with the world, or, in other words, that our experience of the world is dependent on our ideas of the world. Anyways, I hope that reading Speculum Mentis will help me begin to approach Collingwood in terms of his whole oeuvre.

I am experiencing the same feeling with Zizek. I have read two of his books, Violence and In Defense Of Lost Causes, both of which date from 2008. Unfortunately, Zizek has been writing since the 70s, and has been publishing in English since 1989. I wonder if I'll ever reckon with him at the level of his oeuvre. I wonder.

Foucault is one author who I feel, in some ways, I have come to terms with at the level of his oeuvre. Only in a superficial way, though. There are tons of things that he wrote that I haven't read yet. But I've read five out of eight of his books, and a lot of his essays and interviews. So I'm getting there with him. I've read critical books on him. So, you know. I feel like I know his oeuvre, and not just his works.

So that is the main reason I feel like I am wondering about this issue of dealing with an author as an oeuvre. Speculum Mentis sitting on my shelf really pushes this question for me.

But now I want to ask some questions about what it means to deal with an author at the level of an oeuvre. How is it different from just grappling with an author at the level of one or two books or articles? I have to answers. First, to grapple with an author at the level of their oeuvre is to grapple with someone as a mind and not just as a text. And second, to deal with someone at the level of their oeuvre is to deal with their mind historically, treating it as a process. Let me elaborate on these two ideas.

In college I think I was typically dealing with people who talked about 'texts', and what this particular text says. There is a lot of emphasis on the close reading of texts without paying attention to the author's intentions or the historical context. But I don't really like approaching books in this way. Each book is evidence of the activity of a specific mind. It is not merely a 'text', but is a mind attempting to convey its way of thinking. Furthermore, when we begin to approach an author across a variety of different texts, we can't simply think of those texts as isolated incidents, but we have to regard them as different appearances of the same mind. I'm not saying this very clearly, and I'm not feeling very capable of elaborating on it right now. But to summarize, we can't think of books as mere texts without contexts, especially not when trying to grapple with an author's oeuvre. We are much better off as dealing with them as a mind, and using their books as evidence of that mind.

This then implies that we have to learn to deal with authors as historical beings. We have to recognize that their views and opinions changed over the course of their work. We have to think of them historically, not as ahistorical texts.

The last thing I'll quickly say has to do with the notion of the virtual. I'm using that word in the sense of something that is almost but not quite actualized or real, something that is contained within but not quite explicitly there. I don't understand this notion of the virtual yet. It is Deleuze. But I do have a hunch that it has some implications for dealing with an author as an oeuvre as a mind. Wouldn't it be possible to detect the virtual element in an author's oeuvre? And wouldn't that virtual element perhaps be the 'mind' of an author. It would be the thing, the continuity, the theme, drifting in the background of the oeuvre. Accessing the virtuality of an oeuvre would be a way to find the mind behind the texts.

This is confusing me. But I think it makes sense in some way.

The Inside And Outside Of Social Interactions

I sometimes reflect on my social interactions. Okay, I reflect on my social interactions pretty frequently.

Last night while I was lying down I thought of something. I thought of an interesting distinction that sounds a little opaque and inadequate to me, but one that I'll put out there anyways.

The distinction is between the inside and the outside of social interactions. By inside I am referring to an interaction that involves primarily mental engagement, such as conversation. By outside I'm referring to something outside of the mind, something more physical. Often social interactions are facilitated by some kind of outside activity: we watch videos on the internet together, we play video games together, we watch a tv show together.

But then there are interactions that are facilitated almost entirely by internal engagement. I guess the best example is an emotional or intellectual conversation. You are sitting there with somebody and all you are doing is swapping words that give you a clue into their 'internal' mental world.

It can be really hard to always engage in this internal way. Sometimes I feel like it is easier to rely on external things to facilitate socializing.

This is a very underdeveloped idea of mine. But it is something I am somewhat curious about, no doubt.

A Return

So I feel like I'm ready to start writing again.

The last three or four weeks have been very strange for me.

My birthday happened, my mom visited me from Farmville.

I finished In Defense Of Lost Causes and it fried my brain. I just got a little frazzled.

I was busy. I decided to take a break.

I read Foucault On Freedom and Delillo's White Noise.

The novel was okay. It made me think about death. So I bought John Gray's The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death. Death is such an interesting issue.

I've now started reading Guy Claxton's What's The Point Of School?: Rediscovering the Heart of Education. I've read two of Claxton's books and an article by him before this, and I really like him. He is a very smart psychologist/cognitive scientist who takes mindfulness and education very seriously. Good stuff.

The book has prompted me to write an essay that will step outside of the world of AZI for a little bit. I can't really address the issues he raises within the remaining framework of AZI.

Interestingly, however, I'll be picking up on the work that I was doing in Part III.3 of AZI. In that section I tried to understand how it is that the aesthetic existence might be tied to the purposeful creation of habits. In particular, I tried to claim that habits could be created by engaging in simulative forms of thought that could create a synthetic experience. Habits come from unreflective experience. So could we create habits by creating certain types of experiences? That was my claim.

Furthermore, the issue of habit has occupied me heavily since then. That was around February. So for the last three or four months habit has been a more and more important theme for me.

This new essay, therefore, will be titled something like 'Education and Habit: Simulation and Synthetic Experience in Schools'. I don't even have an outline yet. Just ideas that are floating around. Notes in books. Notes in my journal.

But I think that I'll be able to pull something together. I will hopefully be able to tie in mindfulness, nihilism, historical thinking, idealism, etc.

I'm pleased to have an idea for a writing project that will move me outside of AZI for a little while.

I'll hopefully return to AZI this spring/summer. But not quite yet.

I need to reckon with habit a little bit.

In many ways I am thinking of this essay as a way to approach the issue of habit that I raised in Part III.3 of AZI. I don't know how to parse habit.

It seems like a very important philosophical and pedagogical issue. So I need to start parsing it somehow. And I will, hopefully, in this new essay.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blog Absence

Haven't been blogging yet this month.

I'm 24 years old now, bitches!

Very exciting.

I have been occupied with celebrations, with other real life things.

My mom is coming to visit me tomorrow. That will be fun!

I am still reading Don Delillo's White Noise. I wish I was more excited about it or cared more about fiction these days.

I sometimes realize my shortcomings, both personally and intellectually. I seem to have such an inclination towards reading nonfiction that I just feel like anytime spent reading fiction is somehow a waste of time. A silly feeling, but one I have.

I am waiting for my friend so that we can go get an air mattress for me to sleep on while my mom sleeps here.

I hope to return to my work on AZI at some point this month. I've been slowly mulling over the issues that are presented by Part IV.2.

I think that if I modify the title of it I can reconcile some organizational problems.

Oh boy.

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