Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Writing Last Year And Today

Today is the 1 year anniversary of me posting the first section of 'Society's Implicit War'. That project was super interesting for me. Foucault's Discipline & Punish threw a major wrench into my thinking. He effectively blurred the line between peace and war, between physical violence and symbolic violence. Fortunately, a year later, I feel capable of distinguishing between the violence of peace and the violence of war. Questions about war and civilization, however, are still floating around in my mind. My exploration of violence is far from complete, obviously.

But just thinking that 1 year ago I was in the thick of the SIW project is really interesting. I feel much more removed from it now. After SIW I began the 'Art, Zen, And Insurrection' project. That one was pretty personal and I think did a lot for me. It really helped me with the frustration I felt at the changes going on in my life. The project spanned from September until about April. But to be honest, I really lost momentum after February, and I think the whole project should have ceased with the end of Part III.

Part IV was more like the launching of a new line of reading and thinking. I wanted to turn to more political matters. SIW demanded that I take politics and violence seriously. I wanted to find out if my work on aesthetics, expression, and life as an art form had any political implications. This was pretty challenging. And I wasn't able to pursue that question within the framework that I had established for Part IV of AZI. So I abandoned the project. I stopped writing it for a little bit. I tried to do some other stuff.

Then finally at the beginning of of June something clicked and I was able to begin a new line of thought. It occurred to me that I might want to try and frame all of my thinking, reading, writing, etc., in terms of 'relationships', using the word in the broadest possible sense. This means thinking about how minds interact with other minds. And somehow I started thinking about minds in terms of mediums. Nicholas Carr's The Shallows was the first book that really pushed me to think about mediums. And the question of mediums then fit in very nicely with the issue of habit.

Habit has been a philosophical issue for me for a long time, but I wasn't always able to use that word to identify that problem. For a long time I talked about 'auto-pilot', about 'default modes of thought', 'the everyday a priori imagination' and other similar phrases. I was fascinated by the idea that we walked around with a whole set of assumptions that unconsciously structured our behavior. This is why Foucault was so fascinating for me. He was engaging in historical-philosophical studies that were exposing the structures of our thinking. And for a long time I wasn't sure what it was that Foucault was doing (and I'm still not precisely sure what he was doing). But fortunately I have been able to tie Foucault's work with the question of mediums and the habits that they create.

This is in part thanks to Roger Smith's book Being Human: Historical Knowledge And The Creation Of Human Nature. The operative idea of the book is that knowledge of humans is inherently reflexive. By reflexivity Smith is communicating that there are consequences to "people being both subject and object of knowledge" (8). Namely, that "knowledge of what is human changes what it is to be human" (62). In essence, you cannot say that you are something without effecting what it is that you are. You cannot represent yourself without modifying yourself. Knowledge of humanity is reflexive, it changes what we are.

Smith acknowledges his debt to Ian Hacking's work on 'historical ontology'. And Hacking, in turn, acknowledges his debt to Foucault. The task for all three authors is to use history to understand the conditions for our existence. What is the nature of our being? Why do we live in the ways that we do? Why we do use these particular words and engage in these particular practices? According to these thinkers, these are questions that can only be by historical methods. And I am inclined to agree with them.

There are, however, two things that I think these guys are ignoring. The first is the issue of individual minds and their mediums. The second is the importance of politics, economics, and governments. It isn't true that they are really ignoring the political. It is just that I don't find it as explicitly addressed as I would like.

As for the issue of minds: I am completely attracted to theory of mind because I am completely fascinated with my own mind. There is something going on with minds and consciousness. I believe in free will. I believe that we are capable of exerting volition. So when people like Foucault reduce the role of consciousness and will, I have some questions for them. I have some problems. I think Foucault is correct to pay attention more to the structures of thought, to treat language as something to be studied in its own right without regard for the speaking subject. But I also think that his work is valuable only if it helps us understand individual consciousnesses. It cannot ignore the phenomenon of consciousness. There is something real about it.

And for mediums: Minds, however, are not something that work in a vacuum. They always work through a particular medium. Further, a medium that instills them with certain habits, that encourages them to behave in certain ways. Those are the questions my latest writing has taken up: the question of the mind as the medium. Mind is what mind, and mind only does with the help of the medium. Mind, therefore, is nothing but the medium through which it works. A history of mediums, is therefore a history of minds. And I believe that Foucault is basically writing a history of mediums. He writes a history of spaces, of languages, of economic systems. And those are the things that I believe I showed to be 'mediums' in the sense that Carr defines them.

So the historical ontological project, I think, could benefit by being united with theory of mind. Further, it seems to me that it could benefit from more explicit politicizing. And this is something that comes through in Marx. Because it seems that Marx's concern is also how people's means, how their mediums create them. Our minds are created by the political and economic mediums through which they work. There is something very political about minds and their mediums.

And this is what my current writing is working towards. I'm trying to understand how civilization (as a collection of minds) is constituted by mediums that are controlled by political factors. And I want to understand how political, economic, and educational reform can be seen as a process of creating a new constellation of mediums that would in turn produce a different type of mind.

It is all very confusing. But for me the reading is taking place primarily in the philosophy of history, habit, representation and other stuff. So, I'm going to finish Foucault's Archeology Of Knowledge, then I hope to read Deleuze's Difference And Repetition, and after that I hope to read Elaine Scarry's Thinking In An Emergency. All will help me out hopefully.

I'm going to Maine tonight. I am not going to bring my computer. So I'll be offline for the rest of the month. I'm hoping to have a fun trip filled family, reading, and reflection.

Peace out.

See you for August, Seattle.

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