Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Blog Has Moved

Please come and see me at www.civilizedriley.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Freedom, Character, and Circumstance

Ohhhhh the concept of freedom is always a difficult one. What does it mean to be free? Blah blah blah.

Two things that stand in the way of freedom are character and circumstance. We often just have emotional reactions and can't do anything but follow our character. It seems like that could interfere with freedom. Also circumstance. It determines our character and much else about us.

Either way, Collingwood says that both character and circumstance are compatible with freedom. In fact, they depend on them. He claims that "man is never more free than when he acts in accordance with his character, and think[s] it absurd to maintain that an honest man shows his freedom by acting dishonestly but not by acting honestly. Indeed, character, so far from hampering freedom, confers it: or rather, confers not freedom in general but the special freedom to act in this or that way" (The Principles of History, "Reality as History," 290). Reminds me a bit of Collingwood's sense of duty. That freedom is not to be identified with capricious action, but with an individual sticking to their guns, obeying their character, following their unique path to act in the way that they must act in that moment.

Circumstance, too, therefore, is not a hindrance to freedom. It is, in fact, the only thing that can possibly enable freedom: "But essentially to be unhappy is to be in the power of circumstances, things other than oneself standing round oneself, constricting one's movements by their presence, forbidding one to do anything except what they permit.... Happiness and unhappiness are not the consciousness of freedom from passion or the force of circumstances, and of subjection to these things, respectively; they are that freedom itself and that subjection itself. As we shall see, so far from being states of consciousness they are not even first-order objects of consciousness: they are second-order objects, the terminal and initial points of desire, abstractly considered... The fundamental form of happiness is not being forced by circumstances to behave viciously, it is being forced by circumstances at all. Happiness is a condition in which the self not only rises superior to the passions which are provoked in it by circumstances, but to force of circumstances as such. The happy self is master of circumstances" (The New Leviathan, 84).

Ohhhh boy. What the hell are you talking about, bro?

What is this master image Collingwood was working towards? This fusion of history and philosophy? This overcoming of the traditional distinction between subject and object, between theory and practice.

What the hell was all this about?

How were you to lay the groundwork for the science of human affairs? Why did you die before you told me this? Why do I feel so compelled to chase your dead thoughts? To bring them back to life.

Why do I want so badly to carry Collingwood's torch?

I Can't Write Like That Anymore

I used to just puke out 10-15 page essays. I was so content to just explore a book or two. Use some quotations. Argue some basic points. Just flip around in a pleasant abstract world.

But it takes so much more for me to do really serious writing now. I have to have a real problem to work on. I need to have a bunch of evidence pushing me in a similar direction.

Right now I'm reading a lot of Collingwood. I'm working on connecting his moral and political philosophy to Clausewitz and John Gray.

Slow going.

I'm moving through The Principles of History and the essays and notes published with that volume.

It is soooooo obvious that Collingwood's morality hinges on a proper conception of history and historical education. There is a total vision in Collingwood that was never actualized. It would benefit so much from a well reasoned comparison to Clausewitz and Gray.

Let me share a lengthy quotation for you. This is found in Collingwood's notes on the philosophy of history. It comes from his notes on 'Scheme for a Book: "The Principles of History"'. In this note Collingwood lays out tentative outline for the book and its main points. I'll pick up about halfway through after Collingwood declares that history must be the human sciences. That is, only history can provide human's with self-knowledge: "The main idea here is that history is the negation of the traditional distinction between theory and practice. That distinction depends on taking, as our typical case of knowledge, the contemplation of nature, where the object is presupposed. In history the object is enacted and is therefore not an object at all. If this is worked out carefully, then should follow without difficulty a characterization of an historical morality and an historical civilization, contrasting with our 'scientific' one. Where 'science' = of or belonging to natural science. A scientific morality will start from the idea of human nature as a thing to be conquered or obeyed: a[n] historical one will deny that there is such a thing, and will resolve what we are into what we do. A scientific society will turn on the idea of mastering people (by money or war or the like) or alternatively serving them (philanthropy). A[n] historical society will turn on the idea of understanding them" (The Principles of History, 246).

A long quotation that has a ton going on it.

Collingwood didn't get anywhere near addressing all this stuff. The idea of a historical society, one that seeks to understand people seems revolutionary.

I'm trying to work this stuff out. Historical morality. Historical civilization. Historical education.

Yeahhhhh.

I don't know what to do.

But I am moving on this shit. Trying to get it clear. Trying to write what Collingwood would have written.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Modest Writing.

Ok ok my writing isn't terrible. I am just writing in a way that I haven't been writing for a while. I'm trying to do a pure exposition of The New Leviathan. I'm doing my best to just grapple with the book as it is. Trying to understand its content, its structure, and its context (both in the author's life and in history). It is challenging. It is a very confusing book. And I'm really trying to work with it.

I might get crazy with it. Really dig into it.

It feels like a much more modest task. The writing I'm doing isn't about my ideas. It sort of is. But I'm trying to just describe Collingwood's book. Render it in different or more general terms. I'm not sure if I'm doing it well. I think I'm working towards something.

But it feels a lot more challenging than it would.

Dealing with serious books is hard.

I already know this. Sort of.

I understand 'the task' intellectually. I haven't really grappled with books on the level that I'll need to in the future. But I'm getting there.

And I think it is a good idea to start taking The New Leviathan seriously, to spend the time with it that it demands.

*Le Sigh*

Gonna take some time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

OH Man

Mannnn I'm trying to write right now and it feels terrrrrible.

Not that I dislike writing. It feels fun to write right now in this blog.

But my writing just sounds so terrible to me. I am doing bad writing.

I'm trying to write about The New Leviathan and I don't understand why it is so difficult.

It has turned out to be a much more pivotal moment in my reading through Collingwood than I thought it would be. I don't know why, but I didn't think that TNL would occupy my thinking so much. I thought for some reason the stuff in The Idea of History, An Autobiography, The Idea of Nature, The Principles of Art, and The Principles of History would occupy me the most.

I guess I just didn't see TNL coming. This bizarre political treatise. So elusive in its purpose. So suspect in its context. The question: Is this the book of a dying man? The answer is definitely yes. But does that detract from it? What does it say about it?

It means it might be hasty. Might be shrill.

Someone described An Essay on Metaphysics as shrill. I thought it was interesting.

There certainly is something fierce and desperate in the late Collingwood. But I don't think shrill sounds right.

But boy howdy am I struggling on writing about The New Leviathan. I think I should just push it all out and see what is there. Puke out a bunch of stuff without concern for its coherence or order. Then I can sort it all out later. Because I'm definitely not able to sort it out in my head.

Gotta externalize this stuff.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Emotionally

I declare.

The natural sciences will not provide adequate self-knowledge.

For this we can only turn to history, philosophy, and the rest of the humanities.

Such a foreign idea.

To love the humanities so much.

To see in them such potential.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Criticizing Collingwood

The task for me is to get myself into a position in which I am able to criticize Collingwood.

Right now I am too busy immersing myself in his thinking, trying to arrive at some kind of clearer picture of his mind.

For a long time this is how I felt about Foucault. I felt like I was in a position where I was totally dominated by his books. I couldn't begin to criticize them because I was fully involved in understanding them. I got to a much better position with Foucault. I certainly don't completely command Foucault's oeuvre. But I certainly have spent enough time with it that I feel comfortable making certain criticisms, or appropriating him in ways that I see fit. I feel like I grasp him enough to criticize him at times. I grasp enough to use him as a tool.

I'm not quite there with Collingwood yet.

I'm reading The Principles of History and that is helping. But it is so short and some of it I've read before.

I want to read The Idea of Nature.

I was glancing at his Essay on Philosophical Method.

I'm curious about it.

I'm ready to keep reading him.

I'm about to begin writing on his notion of duty and its role in The New Leviathan.

I'm ready to keep working with him.

Scoff.

I'm such a Collingwood hipster.

I'm so irked that somebody wrote another book called 'The New Leviathan'. This one has the subtitle: How the Left-Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America's Future.

Written by some conservative folks.

Blech.

Didn't you know Collingwood already wrote The New Leviathan and no one is paying enough attention to it anyways.

Thx.

Thx a lot.

You've ruined the title now.

Blarg blarg blarg Collingwood is the best blah blah blah.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It Begins Again

I've begun another one. A new essay. Wrote the first page and a half last night. Feel pretty good about it.

I have been hinting at it on the blog for the last few weeks, but I haven't been able to make any kind of actual progress.

The main title, as I have said, is 'Duty, Agonistic Pluralism, and Historical Pedagogy'. But I've added a subtitle. " Collaborating With Collingwood’s ‘Science of Human Affairs’ "

For a while I was trying to find a way to pull all these ideas together. A way to synthesize the work of Collingwood, Gray, and Clausewitz. For a little I thought maybe I could talk about the counter-enlightenment as a way to introduce all these ideas. So I did some very quick research on the counter-enlightenment and found that I don't know enough to really begin on that topic.

Then I remembered Collingwood's idea of the science of human affairs. His attempt to invent a method of study by which people "could learn to deal with human situations as skilfully as natural science had taught them to deal with situations in the world of Nature?” (An Autobiography, 115). It turns out the science of human affairs, for Collingwood, is history.

This is the claim that I really intend to explore in this upcoming essay. I want to understand how history can become a form of study that would improve our capacity for dealing with the social world.

Sounds fun to me.

I look forward to getting this essay underway. But I can already tell that it is going to get a lot longer than I am thinking.

Further, I believe that this essay might be the thing that lets me finish AZI.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shocking, Indeed.

I am still on the cusp of some large writing.

I can't grasp it yet.

But I certainly know that Collingwood is who I want to be reading and who I want to be thinking like.

I feel so involved with him, so familiar and connected with him as a thinker. I quite like it. He is the thinker I feel most committed to. This may be due to a lack of exposure. Perhaps far down the road Collingwood will be a marginal figure in my thinking.

But right now he is my man.

My intellectual idol.

And I immediately scoff at the idea of him assuming a marginal position in my thinking.

Who knows what will happen in my thought.

But I want to keep him central.

I really want to understand him.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Shocking Discovery!!!

Oh my! Oh. Well then.

I'm starting to dig in to Collingwood's unfinished final book, The Principles of History. Very interesting.

And then I ran into something veryyyyyy exciting. Something that feels very significant to me.

Collingwood claims that aesthetics and historical thought are inextricably related, and that "a science of aesthetic is an indispensable precondition to any science of historical method..." (The Principles Of History, 52). How interesting. The union between aesthetics and history comes from the fact that historians gather evidence by reading documents and things. Historians work exclusively through language. All language, according to Collingwood, belongs to the realm of aesthetics. Thus the historian must necessarily pass through an aesthetic stage of reading and understanding a text before he can set about his task of understanding its historical significance. Historical thinking thus involves a 'literary' process. To think historically is to "do something of exactly the same kind as reading a work of fiction or a warning to trespassers. Investigations concerning the nature of this process are carried out by the science of language, which is not philology but aesthetic" (Ibid.). Very interesting indeed.

This may have some potential relationship with Schiller. The idea that someone must pass through a stage of aesthetic education if he is to be able to move on to other forms of education.

This is most exciting for me because it gives me the possibility of completing AZI. Because I will be able to successfully connect the whole idea of the aesthetic existence to the dutiful consciousness, which is simultaneously the historical consciousness. Thus properly uniting all of Collingwood's work.

I think I'm starting to see more of the whole that Collingwood intended his oeuvre to be. The intersection of aesthetics, metaphysics, history, duty, and political rationality are all coming together.

I'll try to explore all this in much longer form soon.

Every day I feel like I'm gaining momentum on this thinking. Strange, how my thought seems to be coming on so heavily these days. It felt stagnant for a while but now I've got so much to think about.

The Counter-Enlightenment

I am slowly beginning to identify myself with thinkers of the so-called 'counter-enlightenment'.

Chief among them is John N. Gray. But I've also read and enjoyed Isaiah Berlin, Gray's mentor, and the coiner of the phrase 'counter-enlightenment'.

Generally, it refers to attempts to abandon or do away with the flaws of the Enlightenment project.

The main things that counter-enlightenment wishes to overcome (among others), are the Enlightenment's philosophical anthropology and its philosophy of history. In particular, we need to adopt a historicized view of life, meaning that we can't assume that local/traditional identities are not transient, but are rather constitutive of individuals and communities. Communities cannot subsist on reason alone. They need tradition. Overcoming the Enlightenment's philosophy of history removes removing any idea that history inevitably moves towards progress, or that it moves in any other direction.

I'm not sure what all this means. Or why I'm identifying with it.

But I intend to explore it in my new essay, 'Duty, Agonistic Pluralism, and Historical Pedagogy'.

All of the writers I'll be drawing on present a different form of morality, one not grounded in the Enlightenment, or in utilitarian or regularian analysis.

Who knows.

Either way. I really like John Gray, Isaiah Berlin is cool, and what I know of Alasdair MacIntyre is very exciting. Collingwood seems to have traces of this stuff, although probably not appropriate for him to be called counter-enlightenment.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Undirected Emotion

Sometimes when I walk and sit and live I feel a sort of intensity that I have no way of expressing.

I've got this ball in my heart that shakes in every direction, threatening to explode at any moment.

But it never does.

My chest always stays in tact.

My body never breaks under the pressure of my emotions.

My mind shakes and wavers, but it never breaks.

I want so badly to find a way of expressing the intensity that I feel. My mind, my heart, my thoughts, my emotions.

They don't come out easily.

Especially when my primary medium is language.

Especially when I am so aware of the limitations of my primary medium.

I wonder about poetry.

I wonder about painting.

I wonder about language.

I wonder about art.

I feel all this emotion that I don't know how to express or direct.

I know I don't really understand that emotion, because I can't understand it unless I express it.

A serious challenge.

These emotions.

These mediums.

This idea of expression.

I am typically bursting at the seams.

Don't think I'm not.

Finishing AZI

I have an idea about how I am to finish the AZI project. It involves an essay that could stand alone, but that will also fit directly onto the end of the project.

It is the essay I have been hinting at in a few posts, tentatively titled 'Duty, Agonistic Pluralism, and Historical Pedagogy'.

The problem I am encountering is one of ordering. How exactly to fit it into the project?

Because the last thing I was doing in AZI was a survey of political themes in Collingwood's final books.

I stopped working on that survey about three months ago when I reached The New Leviathan, which just so happens to be the final book in the survey. I didn't understand crucial things about the book. I am still missing certain things. But I now have a grasp on a few of the central ideas that were eluding me. In particular, I now understand what it means for Collingwood to develop a concept of duty that is disentangled from conceptions of right and utility.

There are a few other things that I don't really understand, still.

But I still think I grasp the concept of duty enough to write about it. Well, almost.

The question, however, is how grasping TNL will leave me in a position to finish AZI.

It seems that TNL and the ideas I'm having now are really pushing at the limits of the project. I'm not sure if they really fit in there. Or if the project is really coherent at all.

Because what the whole thing is ending on is this idea of an aesthetics of decision making. That it is appropriate to think of a certain attitude towards decision making as 'aesthetic'. The analogy is still legitimate. Still makes sense in some ways. I have some evidence for this. But I dunno.

I don't understand how I can make this new series of ideas fit into AZI.

Maybe I should just write it straight up on its own, as a sort of laboratory for AZI. Because the truth is that the essay is different enough from AZI that it should be written separately, but similar enough that it could go in.

I think I should write it separately, then decide what to do. If I feel like it I can just tack it on to the end of AZI. Or I can use it as a starting point for more writing.

Who knows.

Monday, April 2, 2012

BAHHHHH!

RAHHHHHHH!

Sometimes I want so badly to get my hands on a book but it is expensive and the library doesn't have it and I'm not a student so I can't use ILL!

WHYYYYYY!

Currently that book is Collingwood and the Crisis of Western Civilization: Art, Metaphysics and Dialectic.


RAHHHHHHH!

I can tell from the title, the covers, and the snippets I can read, that it is a supremely interesting book. Totally situates Collingwood in a way that makes sense to me: approaching the crisis of Western civilization from a variety of angles, such as art, metaphysics, and dialectics.

I want it!

It is new!

2008!

Written as a dissertation and published as a book!

I want to be the best Collingwood scholar ever! I need this book!

Philosophical Courage

I've started readings some Schopenhauer. I'm pretty excited about it.

He is often labeled as a pessimist. But I'm not sure what I'm seeing in him so far.

I've definitely seen a concise defense of compassion in his essay 'On The Suffering Of The World'.

But what I'm really gaining from him is courage.

Courage to keep going on thinking and living and choosing.

Sometimes things are confusing.

But it helps to commune with these dead minds that had the courage to ask the tough questions, to face the meaninglessness of life, to look into the abyss.

I recently also read Collingwood's lecture 'Goodness, Rightness, Utility'. It was most excellent, and has greatly improved my grasp on the main arguments of The New Leviathan.

As I was reading it I would occasionally remember that it was delivered as a lecture. I couldn't help but imagine myself sitting in a room, listening to Collingwood speak. It was so interesting. I've seen pictures of him. I roughly know what he looked like in 1940, when the lecture was delivered. He even tells you that he is wearing a cap and gown, as the occasion required.

Reading that lecture, gave me a sort of energy, a sort of courage, a much needed breath of fresh air into my thinking.

Because lately my thinking has felt stale. I didn't know what I was thinking about. I wasn't reading anything in particular. Glancing at a book, Women, Fire, And Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About The Mind. I was looking at it today. Interesting sort of linguistic cognitive science from 1987. Prototype theory. Expanding on prototype theory with the theory of mental modeling.

Mental modeling is something I've already explored in Claxton, Humphrey, and Frith. Very interesting stuff.

I digress.

My recent reading of Collingwood and Schopenhauer has given me a remarkable intellectual energy. I can feel all kinds of thoughts moving towards something more coherent.

It gives me hope for my thinking. And for the possibility of some serious writing in the near future.

But I'm not sure what it means for my graduate school decision making.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Science Of Human Affairs

The thing Collingwood was really working towards was a science of human affairs. He claimed he wanted to come up with a method of study that would allow individuals to handle social problems as well as the natural sciences had allowed us to handle natural problems.

Then he died.

I intend to repeat his ambitions. The science of human affairs seems desperately necessary. Political problems don't seem to be handled very skillfully. At least not all the time.

I want to be a philosopher of the science of human affairs. But I need historical education to do this. I am, however, scared of history programs.

I just need to be a Collingwoodian.

Need to figure out how to push the Collingwood/Clausewitz comparison even further.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Caprice

I fear capricious action.

I've recently been told, however, that is an indispensable form of action.

I'm very out of touch with that style of thinking and acting.

I internalize things and reflect on them.

I think this is a pretty bad thing.

Blech.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Enlightenment Morality

I wish someone would want to talk to me about John Gray, Alisdair MacIntyre, or Collingwood.

I am so fixated these days on our cultural/political inheritance. I am so concerned with the Enlightenment.

I want to read more history.

On Reference

"My child-like creativity, purity and honesty, is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts. Reality is catching up with me, taking my inner child. I'm fighting for custody"

Don't hate.

Reference is an indispensable part of socializing. We must be able to say 'What do you do for a living?' or 'What kind of music do you like?'. There must be some kind of reference that we can make to the outside world. Reference is necessary.

But reference is also very damaging. Very dangerous.

We live in a very referential age. Internet, television, and radio circulates all kinds of images that are easily reproduced.

Referentiality in technological culture is one thing.

Referentiality in conversation is another.

Because in conversation reference can be so alienating. If someone wants to say something like oh 'I love Schopenhauer's such and such book,' or, Oh, 'This new band is so good because they are combining Nirvana and Pixies blah blah blah, they will kill a conversation.

In short, only a certain amount of referentiality is tolerable.

The problem is with referential density. How many layers of reference must I deal with? I can deal with references to work and cities, because I work, and I live in cities. But I cannot tolerate references to this band, this venue, this shit. Because you expect me to know too much. First I must understand the reference to the economic system, then the geography, then the local music scene, then the specific band. There can be too many layers to a reference.

Do me a favor, keep your references at a minimal density.
.

If you want to give me all this hyper-referential shit I'm going to laugh at you in my head.

Because this band or that bar isn't cool enough.

My hostility towards reference comes from my hostility towards Seattle.

I think this city is too referential. Too wrapped up in its own scene.

I think The-Dream is too referential. And man his music is amazing.

But he seems to be caught up with what 'the-dream' should sound like. His albums are so referential. He is trapped in his idea of himself.

Seattle, too, may be trapped in the idea of itself.

All this shit about the Seattle freeze, about the shyness, the awkwardness.

Self-fulfilling prophecies.

Oh, the pain.

Oh, the referential density.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Honesty. Honestly. Again.

It isn't easy.

I once told someone that I kept secrets from myself. They really didn't like this idea. They thought I was lying to myself. That the only issue was the decision as to whether or not keep secrets.

But the issue is a totally different one.

The issue is self-deception.

I don't understand myself. I seriously suspect there are things going on in my mind that I am most minimally in contact with.

I can feel the bubbling. The vague aching.

I know there are things hurting me, truths weighing on me, that I'm not yet able to face.

My consciousness, in many ways, is corrupt.

I am not artistic enough. I am not expressive enough.

I've got deep dark secrets of the most trivial nature.

I'm largely happy.

But I know I'm failing to be honest with myself.

Because the words won't come.

The words won't come.

I feel these insecurities, these pains, these deep dark feelings.

But they aren't words. They are feelings.

And as soon as I try to make them into words they hurt too much.

I keep secrets from myself because I'm not strong enough to tell myself certain things.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Philosophers and Philosophy

I have read quite a lot of philosophers.

I reckon myself a philosopher.

But I don't really know what 'philosophy' means.

It means to be a lover of wisdom. One who is curious about life and knowledge.

But I don't yet dare to speak in generalities.

I know what Foucault says.

What Collingwood, Gray, Schiller, Zizek, or Scarry says.

I know what these philosophers said.

But I don't know what philosophy is.

I understand it as an activity of individual minds.

But i don't understand it as a pure activity.

I bet Collingwood's Essay On Philosophical Method would be helpful with this.

But I don't have that kind of time right now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reflexivity In Painting, Writing, And Living.

Frankly, this idea I outlined last time is essay worthy. No mere blog post could cover those topics!

We must move these ideas to a word document!

Ahhhh but no!

I have another essay I wanted to write!

The one about agonistic pluralism and duty!

Nooooo!

Plus I'm slowly but surely working on another painting.

I don't have a lot of free time, son!

What am I to do?!

And just while I'm sharing, this is what my latest painting looks like so far:


I want it to be a series of rolling hillsides with a very dark earthy muddy green color to them. With some hints of lighter green grass, and even some very bright pink and yellow flowers. I secretly want to put a burning village or something on the furthest hill. I want to make weird bluish white streaks of lighting on the black sky. I am tentatively titling it: 'The day the birds took over the sky'.

Why?

I'm not sure. But I like the sort of pockets of white I preserved in making a very black sky.

I hope to work on it tonight when I get home from work.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

These Are Notes

Reflexivity in Painting, Writing, and Living.

Tomorrow I want to write a post of that title.

It has to do with epistemology.

With the way that all of those things involve a more or less noticeable degree of reflexivity.

Painting is so obviously reflexive.

Writing, still yes, but less so.

Living, hardly noticeable, but still reflexive.

All of this has something to do with my relationship with technique or craft.

In painting, the gap between what is in my mind and what I can produce technically is so large, that when I begin to paint I am forced to find a middle ground between my technical capacity and the image in my mind. That is, I am not skilled enough to put what is in my mind on paper that I have to change what is in my mind to match what is on the paper. Writing, similar, but different.

Living, hardly noticeable. What are the shortcomings in my existential technique? And how does my living change as a result?

Reflexivity, as developed by Roger Smith in Being Human, is such a compelling epistemological argument. I find myself massively swayed by it.

My jaw dropped when I read Smith.

Yet, I cannot incorporate his thinking into my living.

How am I to regard life as a supremely reflexive process? Changing changing changing.

My recent explorations in painting (in addition to being incredibly enjoyable), are prompting reflections about this issue of reflexivity. Painting gives me a very intense example of a reflexive process. One that might serve as a useful analogy for thinking about reflexivity in other parts of my life, such as writing and living.

I'm the best!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Yeah, I Finished Schiller. Big Whoop. Wanna Fight About It?

For about six weeks or more I slowly pushed through Friedrich Schiller's On The Aesthetic Education Of Man.

It took me quite a while because it is a challenging book. I found it very difficult. His writing style is not clear. His terminology is not consistent. And his organization is not apparent.

So, no, I don't understand it! Sometimes you read stuff slowly and you still don't read it so well.

Something about beauty as a emergent property or composite factor.

Something about the play impulse as the proper way to mediate between man's sensuous and rational sides.

Something about three distinct phases through which both man and society must pass if they are to be free.

Something about the appreciation of beauty as the prerequisite to freedom.

Who knows.

I gotta skim him at some point and see what else I can learn from him.

He struck me as remarkably similar to Clausewitz, which is excellent, because Clausewitz probably read him.

Means I'm not crazy in the connections I'm making.

And it turns out that Peter Paret, who some have called Clausewitz's leading biographer, claims that the relationship between Schiller and Clausewitz deserves more attention.

I'll try to figure it out.

Today I Wondered

If I am just writing about philosophy.

Or if I am writing philosophy proper.

It is hard to know.

But there is clearly a difference.

As Deleuze puts it at the beginning of Difference & Repetition: "There is a great difference between writing history of philosophy and writing philosophy. In the one case, we study the arrows or the tools of a great thinker, the trophies and the prey, the continents discovered. In the other case, we trim our own arrows, or gather those which seem to us the finest in order to try to send them in other directions, even if the distance covered is not astronomical but relatively small. We try to speak in our own name only to learn that a proper name designates no more than the outcome of a body of work - in other words, the concepts discovered, on condition that we were able to express these and imbue them with life using all the possibilities of language" (xv).

What am I doing?

Mostly writing about philosophy. Mostly studying the work of others. What else can I do? I am too young. Not yet well read enough.

Oh well!

Sometimes I try to write philosophy on my own.

But my voice is still muddled. Still uncertain and drowned beneath my references.

Someday I'll have a clearer voice of my own.

Someday I'll be a real philosopher, and not just someone who writes about philosophy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Humility.

The attitude I respect the most is humility. The confession I respect the most is that we do not know.

The other night a friend said something to me about how such and such a people overlook the most basic implications of dialectical thinking. Which, on the surface, sounds like it could be a vague jargony statement. But he is quite right. Dialectical thinking is of the utmost importance.

Especially when we realize that dialectical thinking is properly contrasted with eristical thinking, in which an individual merely tries to convince someone of their point, regardless of the merits of the other's point. Eristical thinkers merely argue their own point, never striving for understanding or synthesis.

Outrage, I declare! Bullshit, I say!

I always want to work with you. I always want to understand you. I always want to be dialectical with you. Never eristical.

Yet our culture, both popular and political, seems to be saturated with eristical modes of thought. We only care to convince other people that we are right.

This type of culture, I suspect, emerges from a common source: The Enlightenment.

That is what John Gray wants me to believe.

And, man, the more I think about it the more I stand by Gray.

The more I think about him the more I realize that Gray is central to my thinking.

All of my work, on the aesthetic existence, on technology, on nihilism, all connects to Gray.

For Gray is humble! Gray would never dare tell us what the best form of social organization is. Because we can't know! Ah!

Ah!

Where is the humility! Where is the gentle engagement with this uncertain world! Where is the remorsefully decisive attitude I long for!

Oh! No!

I love certain songs so much.

I love Chad Van Gaalen's song 'Sara'.

It kills me. So simple.

So lovely!

I'm amazed at singers, songwriters, and poets. The way they can create these sounds that go together with all these different words. How marvelous that your words connect with your images and your images with your sounds!

Because, I, despite all my attempts, do not feel like a multi-disciplinary artist. I am a writer. I am a thinker. I use words. I am good at careful reading, creative synthesis, and argument. I don't know how to be an artist. I try.

But I feel like a writer more than anything else.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Am

A blogging secret luddite.

I fear the internet.

I fear what it is doing to me.

I fear what it is doing to culture.

I deeply distrust technology.

Some Kind Of Light. Some Kind Of Dark.

When the powers out
And its dark in the house
I will run

When those lights flash
And I'm out on the streets
I won't run

Deep at the end of space
Further than the sun
Is a crowd of chairs

I was running in the snow
Thinking about that red
Wanting to know now

Way out on a crystal sea
Protecting you and me
Is a battleship

Way down deep in my heart
I know what is on the horizon
I know what my soul is like


They will discover you
Walking down the avenue

They will find us
Living in their memories

Never saying a word
Waiting to live again

Wondering about the end
On those things which we depend

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Duty, Agonistic Pluralism, and Historical Pedagogy

Ah! I have an idea again! I already wrote about it briefly in my last post on duty.

But now I a beginning to try and take those vague ideas and turn them into an essay.

In fact, I think that I'm going to write that essay as a part of AZI.

I took some notes by hand today. I'll share them at some point soon.

I'll be writing soon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beauty

I feel that Schiller has finally provided me with an adequate definition of aesthetic beauty. I feel like talking about beauty is usually super difficult and kind of lame. It is a vague word, no one know what it means, and we mostly revert to the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is to say, a discussion of beauty often collapses into relativism. Or, there may be that link between beauty and truth, of course. Which is also good.

But Schiller doesn't speak of beauty in this way. He describes beauty as a composite or emergent property of a person. He argues that in individuals we find three distinct types of relationships: our relationship to the physical, to the logical, and to the moral. That is, we relate to our body and emotions, to our thought and rationality, and to our morality and sense of right. There is, however, a fourth quality: a thing may also "relate to the totality of our varies powers, without being a specific object for any single one of them; that is its aesthetic character. A man can be pleasant to us through his readiness to oblige; he can cause us to think by means of his transactions; he can instill respect into us by his high moral standards; but finally, independently of all these and without our taking into consideration any law or any design in our own judgement of him, but simply contemplating him, simply by his manifesting himself–he can please us. In this last-named character we are judging him aesthetically" (On The Aesthetic Education Of Man, Note pg 99). Thus beauty as a composite or emergent property. It is something that emerges from contemplating the whole formed by the relation of the parts.

I very much like this idea of beauty.

Duty

Duty, according to Mr. Collingwood, is the highest form of practical reason. We behave most responsibly, most authentically, when we say 'this is what I must do, this is my duty'. Duty, in other words, is the type of practical reason that recognizes that we are unique individuals acting in a unique situation, doing what we must because the situation compels it. It is not that we are not free. It is that when we really pay attention to ourselves and our situation, we can only act in one way. We have a duty to ourselves to choose a certain course of action.

This is how I think of my own behavior. I rarely feel like I am making a difficult decision between one option or another. I feel compelled to do what I do. I do what I must. I do what I feel it is my duty to do. 

To put it another way, duty is the form of consciousness that lets us see every individual as a rational agent, acting in a way that is always within the same world of thought that we exist. Although Collingwood did not fully develop his idea on duty until late in his life, he hinted at it in his early work. In Speculum Mentis he claims that there is something called 'absolute mind' that leads to a similar view: "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). 

Further, history, Collingwood claims, is duty's theoretical counterpart. That is, duty is knowledge of the self as an individual acting in a unique situation, and history, similarly, is knowledge of the other acting in their unique situation.

Something about forgiving everyone for everything, as I've often said. Absolute mind, absolute ethics, duty, history. 

These things deserve my attention.

Because utilitarianism is lame.

Further, because John Gray and Isaiah Berlin, and their ideas on 'agonistic pluralism' have quite a lot in common with this stuff. In this conversation John Gray explains how agonistic pluralism, too, humbly says, 'this is what I must do'. This is because, on their view, the world is made of incommensurabilities. That is, even when doing the right thing, we may have to do something wrong. There is no pure right or pure wrong. The world is made u on competing claims to right and wrong that can never be fully reconciled. We must humbly make decisions, do what we feel is right, even though we are breaking hearts and lives in the process. 

I wish to act dutifully. I wish to think historically. Only in this way can I continue to act while forgive myself and others.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Technology, Smart Phones, and Standing By Words

Tonight I saw Andrew W.K. in concert. How interesting it was! What fun it was!


But I saw a person using a smart phone in the middle of the concert and I had a thought. This title came to mind and I knew I had something to write. 


It was a shocking moment because the room was so collectively effervescent. A term I've heard attributed to Durkheim. Don't you just feel the magic of a crowd sometimes? The collective effervescence of the moment? 


A smart phone, though, temporarily banishes that communal energy. It creates a space separate from the moment in which we can escape the bodies and minds around us.


And this is where I begin to write seriously.


The problem with technology is that it encourages us to have a certain relationship to time. That is, technology implicitly tells us to think about the future. The process of developing technology is always about what can be created in the future, what the next advances will be. The use of technology, too, often inclines us to think about the present, about the elsewhere. We use technology to organize our lives, to plan the future, to keep in touch with people distant from us. All of which is great, incredibly useful, invaluable. These uses of technology, however, are similar in that they incline us to think about the future instead of the present. 


Perhaps it is possible to speculate about the future, as technology necessitates, and still remain in the present moment. Perhaps we can use technology and still be mindful. I'm not sure. But the Wendell Berry of the mid 80s believed that thoughts about the future often came at the expense of the present. Moreover, Berry believed that excessive thought about the future compromise our capacity for honesty. “People speaking out of this technological willingness,” Berry argues, “cannot speak precisely, for what they are talking about does not yet exist. They cannot mean what they say because their words are avowedly speculative. They cannot stand by their words because they are talking about, if not in, the future, where they are not standing and cannot stand until long after they have spoken. All the grand and perfect dreams of technologists are happening in the future, but nobody is there” (Ibid., 60). 


I worry about the cultural consequences of the internet. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Withdrawing From Words

I, Riley Paterson, aspiring wordsmith, might be temporarily withdrawing from words.

Not entirely, of course. Don't worry, folks, I'll still be doing plenty of talking! Sometimes I'll be writing.

But I find myself in an odd situation. I finished my nihilism essay and was very pleased with the results. I had a great time writing it, and, after reviewing it, I think my writing is somewhat clear. Further, I don't want to continue on the AZI project. Admittedly, I should probably finish the section I am on, because all that would mean would be to discuss The New Leviathan in relation to my analyses of Collingwood's other work. Sure, easy enough. But I don't feel like it. Besides, I already know where finishing that writing will put me: Knowing the the only thing I can do in response to Collingwood's oeuvre is to connect him to the Clausewitzian pedagogical project. And I'm not ready to do that yet.

I feel like relaxing for a little bit. I don't feel pressured to push myself into my reading. After Virtue is a remarkable book. After 80 pages I can already tell that Alasdair MacIntyre is pushing me to think in very serious ways. It isn't easy, though. On The Aesthetic Education Of Man, too, is a fascinating book. Schiller seemed to be a bizarre mind. I have no idea why. Talking about 'melting beauty' and shit. Very odd. So MacIntyre and Schiller are on my radar. I plan to finish both the books. I'll have to see how it goes.

But I don't want to get all wrapped up in these things right now. I need to maybe apply to graduate school this year. I should be focusing on that. And my graduate work is going to have a lot less to do with this stuff! I need to begin to change the direction of my thinking.

I think that is why my mind has become so odd in the last few weeks. I'm trying to shift mental gears and it is a real challenge. Gotta start thinking about different stuff.

I'm painting some. Finished three, which I posted. Working on a fourth. Just producing them for fun. Why else? It is just an interesting thing to do.

Trying to think about poems. I should read some poetry or some fiction.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Another One

You will pull strange gifts
From the heart of trees
Ooooooooh

Unforgotten love
Not forgotten peace
Oooooooooh no

Will you drag me into
The heart of the boiling sea?
Oh Sara, I hear you calling me:

 

You're a golden beam
Breaking into the ocean deep
On a single breathe
To be led to escape, nooooo

Now you cast your light
And Exposing the same colors
You consume my mind into silence
Oh Sara, I hear you calling me...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Painting!

Today I went and bought a set of watercolors and a pad of 12 watercolor papers. So I've been spending some time painting today, on this, my second day off. I was able to complete two paintings. One a weird picture of my bedroom windows. Another of some weird winged swamp man with three arms. I shall share them here, on my internet blog!

They are weird and not very good. But I really enjoyed sketching with a pencil and then painting and seeing what emerged. Both of them sort of developed as I worked.



This painting thing could be weird. I wonder what kind of direction it could put me in. I am glad I did it. Because writing and reading gets frustrating sometimes. Can't deal with all that stuff all the time. Sometimes just need to make some colors and space out. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hard Books

So I finished that essay on nihilism. But in its wake I feel like I have very little momentum. I don't want to return to AZI. I don't have any writing projects I'm working on. Although I could see myself completing the latest section of AZI that I began (a survey of political themes in Collingwood's final five books). All I need to do is analyze The New Leviathan and explain how it implies that Collingwood's work must culminate in Clausewitzian pedagogical project.

My reading, too, is petering a bit. I am currently looking at two books. Sciller's On The Aesthetic Education of Man (Which I haven't touched in like 2 weeks), and Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, which I'm moving very slowly through.

Both of them are very challenging. Especially Schiller. Writing in 1795 as some philosopher-poet. Shit yeah that is difficult stuff. I am about halfway through (it is only 140 pages), so I should probably keep going. MacIntyre I am taking more slowly. Both of them are incredibly relevant to my thinking. But they require more patience than I seem to have lately.

A bit of restlessness has crept into my heart lately. I don't have the patience. It is more shocking than usual to encounter what Collingwood describes as "a book whose words were English and whose sentences were grammatical, but whose meaning baffled me" (An Autobiography, 4). That is how these books are to me. Perfectly grammatical sentences that I cannot grasp. Because I'm not willing, at this moment, to put in that kind of work.

I think I'm doing sorting of another kind. I'm figuring out what is up with my heart. Because it has some fog in it. There are some problems that are only now becoming clear to me. The prospect of social and emotional reinvention is haunting me. The prospect of relocation is prodding at me. Life, and not philosophy, is waiting for me to do something else.

The Bees

This is that time
When you stay where
You are and where
You wait in that line.

You get all those clouds
You understand this blank
Wafting, swirling sensation
Within and without.

You've stopped creating
Because you aren't being harvested,
Subdued and not sorry,
Unwilling to stop yourself.

For stopping isn't what I need to do.
'Stop' is what nature would say.
What I do is use the smoke
To keep the bees at bay.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Uch!

It feels good to have finished that essay. I feel like it is meandering and I lost certain things I know I wanted to talk about. I know there are certain points I wanted to be clearer. Or certain authors I wanted to reference or certain topics I wanted to touch on. But I don't have the patience to keep going.

It is done. I am done with it.

The conclusion is just as long as the other four sections! Ha! Funny stuff.

It was weird. I had the last two days off. And I was actually able to write the last 16 or so pages in those two days.

So, hey, pretty productive two days off in terms of writing.

Not quite as productive in practical affairs, such as dishes and laundry.

But I've been enjoying myself. Been relaxing.

Been drinking a lot of coffee.

Hooray.

Don't know what to write now.

Maybe I'll return to my analysis of The New Leviathan.

Nihilism, The Destruction of Magic, and the Rise of Amusement: Recovering Aesthetic and Magical Experience

1. Introduction: On Nihilism
2. Nihilism and Logocentrism
3. Nihilism, Logocentrism, and the Destruction of Magic
4. Nihilism’s Destruction Of Magic and the Rise of Amusement Culture
5. Conclusion: On Recovering Aesthetic-Magical Experience


This essay’s key terms may appear to be silly phrases, almost non-terms. For I will be talking about things like nihilism, magic, amusement, and aesthetics. As my friend told me, I sound like some kind of Barnum & Bailey ring master writing about ‘the destruction of magic’ and ‘the rise of amusement’. Imagine that I have on a top hat and I’m shouting ‘come one come all to witness the destruction of magic!’ I probably appear as though I am writing something silly. But this is not the case.

One cannot read Collingwood’s The Principles of Art without taking his ideas on magic and amusement very seriously. He spends more than a hundred pages explaining the practical importance of magic and the dangers of amusement. That is, the importance of rituals that serve as useful ways for a community to focus their emotions; and the danger of forms of art that serve to dull and distract the mind from life’s proper business. Collingwood firmly believed that the emotional health of our communities have been compromised by our rejection of magic and our addiction to amusement. It is my intention to take those claims seriously, and, more importantly, to connect them with contemporary analyses of our situation. In particular, I want to connect Collingwood’s claims with contemporary work on nihilism. I will be arguing that the process that Collingwood describes, of magic’s destruction and amusement’s rise, can be rendered in terms of nihilism and logocentrism. Since the Enlightenment, Western culture has been gradually infiltrated by a spirit of rational inquiry that has destroyed 'traditional', ‘magical’ forms of life, while simultaneously failing to provide any rational basis for morality. The result has been cultural nihilism; a state in which we no longer have the means to emotional renewal; a state in which practical magic and aesthetic experience are foreign to us; a state in which we have become addicted to superficially articulate language, false certainty, and amusing spectacles.

My wager, along with others, is that the antidote to this nihilistic culture can be found in the recovery of aesthetic and magical forms of experience. More specifically, I believe that aesthetic and magical experience can reacquaint us with uncertainty, can remind us that we really do not know what is going on or what we should do. This recovery, moreover, is not just a simple reach back into the past, it is an attempt to create something new, an attempt to reinvent aesthetics and magic for the present. I am trying to elaborate a form of ethics that admits that it does not know, and therefore humbly engages in acts of judgement instead of confidently adhering to a flimsy doctrine. 

This whole thing will happen in five sections. First I will be clarifying my use of the term nihilism, explaining how it must refer to a cultural state, and not a method. After that I’ll be explaining how nihilistic culture arose out of the West’s relationship with language. I’ll try to show how our logocentric culture led to the hollowing out of our culture and the destruction of our sources of emotional renewal. Then I’ll be arguing that, in the wake of magic’s destruction, amusement became the dominant practice of our culture. That we now simply seek to amuse ourselves, distract ourselves from the drudgery of our lives. Finally, I’ll try to explain how the recovery of aesthetic and magical forms of experience can serve as an antidote to nihilism, and what precisely it means to ‘recover’ a lost form of experience.

1. Introduction: On Nihilism

I sometimes use the word nihilism in an unconventional way. For a while, I thought of it primarily as a method of using historical study to breakdown contemporary norms. Without this directed and aggressive historical study we run the risk of mistaking the social norms of our day for the natural order. Nihilism, therefore, can be thought of as a method of overcoming the social limitations imposed on yourself through the historical interrogation of contemporary social categorization. I think this is what Nietzsche was doing in The Genealogy of Morals. And Foucault, though not necessarily a 'nihilist', but a professed Nieztschan, embraces similar goals in his historical-philosophical studies. Thus nihilism as a method.

Nihilism, however, usually means something very different. Typically it connotes a certain worldview. Namely, the belief that the world is without objective meaning. Sometimes it is equated simply with pessimism, but more often refers to the perceived of the world or society. More precisely, nihilism refers to a society that finds itself in a cultural 'dead end' of sorts. One in which a way of life has exhausted itself, leaving its members in a state of disillusionment, unable to foresee a way to reorganize communities and reinvigorate culture.

Hubert Dreyfus claims this is what Heidegger meant with the term nihilism. Further, Heidegger believed that the West's focus on the technological domination of nature had forced us into this state of nihilism. Our culture is suffering from our focus on precise, technical language and its goal of technologically dominating nature for the perpetuation of man. John Gray, too, believes that both Heidegger and Nietzsche used the term nihilism in this way: "As I understand it, the hollowing out of the public culture of modern Western societies of their animating conceptions of science and morality is at least part of what Nietzsche means by 'nihilism'." (Enlightenment's Wake, 245). To put it even more strongly, Heidegger and Gray believe that nihilism is the logical conclusion of the West's commitment to science and the technological domination of nature: "It is in the global reach of this Western nihilism, as mediated through the technology whereby Western people have sought to appropriate the non-human world, that the last phase of the modern age is accomplished. In this last period of modernity, Western instrumental reason becomes globalized at just the historic moment when its groundlessness is manifest" (Ibid., 249). I, therefore, have been somewhat misguided in my claims that the word nihilism should denote a method. For nihilism is something quite different and serious: it is the fear that our culture and way of life is without foundation. That our commitment to science and technology has 'hollowed out' our culture, left us with an unsustainable way of life and no foreseeable way out of it. Nihilism is about an existential dead end.

There are many questions to ask about this sense of the word nihilism. I intend to ask four interrelated questions. Does nihilism really have something to do with science, technology, and the West's commitment to the use of reason? If so, what did the West's logocentrism do to our traditional, more religious, ways of life? What came about to replace those religious forms of life? And is there any use in attempting to recapture what Western nihilism has destroyed? That is to ask, is there any value in returning to a more ritualistic, mystical, and non-rational way of being? Four questions, four sections. 

In asking these questions I am trying to understand in some kind of way why my life is the way it is. In particular, I want to understand why I feel so removed from the concept of community. It is never something I feel like has been a part of my life. I want to know why. So the operative question of this essay is: What does nihilism as a cultural phenomenon have to do with my relationship to the notion of community? This entails two larger questions, both pertaining to Collingwood’s definitions of magic and amusement.

2. Nihilism and Logocentrism

The first thing I need to clarify is the relationship between nihilism and logocentrism. Is there a definite relationship between nihilism and logocentrism? Does the collapse of our way of life have something to do with our commitment to reason? I have already briefly used Gray and Heidegger to make this point. But now I’d like to draw on some different sources. 

Guy Claxton is insistent that the West is addicted to language and rational thought. In his Hare Brain Tortoise Mind Claxton argues that the West has developed an addiction to highly articulate, linguistic modes of thought. “We have been inadvertently trapped,” Claxton asserts, “in a single mode of mind that is characterised by information-gathering, intellect and impatience, one that requires you to be explicit, articulate, purposeful and to show your reasoning. We are thus committed (and restricted) to those ways of knowing that can function in such a high-speed mental climate: predominantly those that use language (or other symbol systems) as a medium and deliberation as a method. As a culture we are, in consequence, very good at solving analytic and technological problems” (Claxton, 6). For Claxton there is an element of logocentrism that is inseparable from the West’s cultural heritage. He claims that this logocentrism, which he calls d-mode (with the d meaning both deliberation and default), can be traced back to philosophers like Descartes or Locke. These philosophers claimed that the only true form of thought was rational, linguistic thought. The West, therefore developed an addiction to linguistic and rational forms of thought.

Wendell Berry, too, believes that the West has developed an addiction to technical language. Moreover, Berry believes that this logocentrism leads to a sort of nihilism, to the disillusion of individuals and communities. Berry believes that logocentrism is dangerous because it leads to “the cultivation of discrete parts without respect or responsibility for the whole” (Standing By Words, 34). In other words, scientific or technical language forces us to artificially demarcate the world. This artificial demarcation gives us a distorted sense of the world. It leads us to believe that our analytical world is the only world, leading us into a state of self-deception in which our technical language in no way reflects the reality of our communities. “People speaking out of this technological willingness,” Berry argues, “cannot speak precisely, for what they are talking about does not yet exist. They cannot mean what they say because their words are avowedly speculative. They cannot stand by their words because they are talking about, if not in, the future, where they are not standing and cannot stand until long after they have spoken. All the grand and perfect dreams of technologists are happening in the future, but nobody is there” (Ibid., 60). Technical language forces us into a delusional state in which we only account for a highly limited part of the world. 

This delusional logocentrism, Berry believes, ends in nihilism: it leads to the destruction of individuals, communities, and, most importantly, the language that sustains them. Technical language aims to remove itself from the community that gave rise to it. Specialization forces us to ignore the context in which a language grew up in favor of treating it as a self-contained system. Specialization invites us to analyze a topic as if it had no relationship to the larger world of individuals and communities. When language is separated from communal living, he claims, it  becomes “a paltry work of conscious purpose, at the service and the mercy of expedient aims” (Standing By Words, 33). Berry is very explicit on this point. There is no doubt that he believes that specialized language “attempts to detach language from its source in communal experience, by making it arbitrary in origin and provisional in use. And this may be a ‘realistic’ way of ‘accepting’ the degradation of community life. The task, I think, is hopeless, and it shows the extremes of futility that academic specialization can lead to. If one wishes to promote the life of language, one must promote the life of the community” (Standing By Words, 33-34). There seems to be an undeniable connection between logocentrism, the specialization of language, and the collapse of communities and individuals. 

Using Claxton and Berry, therefore, I can corroborate Heidegger and Gray’s argument that nihilism as a the cultural hollowing out of the West is a direct result of our commitment to science, reason, and the technological domination of nature. In short, The West’s nihilism is a result of our addiction to rational inquiry and the specialization of language. But why is this the case? What is it about logocentrism that would lead to nihilism? 

3. Nihilism, Logocentrism, and the Destruction of Magic

I think one of the largest effects of nihilism and logocentrism is the collapse of religious forms of social organization. Further, I believe that the collapse of religious ways of life followed from the rise of the West’s logocentric culture. I think this simply because of all the struggles that took place between rational scientific knowledge and the church. I’m just thinking of folks like Copernicus, Galileo, or Darwin. People making discoveries so large they challenged all the basic assumptions that religious ways of life presupposed. The discovery of solar systems, deep time, or evolution will really shake some things up. As evidence for these claims I’ll offer Gray’s argument that “It may be that the status of science as the sole remaining accreditor of knowledge in Western cultures prevents them from perceiving the wholly pragmatic and instrumental practice it has now become” (Enlightenment’s Wake, 275). In other words, science has gained a monopoly on knowledge only to become an emotionless practice that is sapping the West’s culture energy, leading it into a state of nihilism. In the very next line, however, Gray also claims that modern Christianity would also fail to solve the problem: “It may be that the humanist character of Christianity closes off for Western cultures any form of spirituality in which human hopes are not comforted and confirmed” (Ibid.). Nihilism has broken the mental order that existed prior to the intense development of rational knowledge. There is no going back, rational knowledge has largely divorced itself from religious experience.

Collingwood, too, believes that there was some kind of rupture in Western consciousness that began during the Renaissance. He claims that prior to this break individuals were able to achieve a greater ‘unity of mind’. That is to say, “No mental activity, for him, existed in its own right and for itself. Art was always working hand in hand with religion, religion hand in hand with philosophy” (Speculum Mentis, 27). This unity of mind, however, was to be broken, and we are the inheritor’s of this scattered experience. Collingwood puts this historical sketch very clearly: "The middle ages thus represent, in their spiritual life, a mind content with its lot, at peace with itself, growing in sun and shower like a tree, hardly seeking ‘to know the law whereby it prospers so’; the Renaissance represents the same mind coming to a new consciousness of the depth and seriousness of life, realizing that it must choose its vocation, making its choice and thus breaking with the easy life of compromise when it could be in fancy, like a dreaming boy, everything at once.  Henceforth all is disunion. Priests and artists and scientists no longer live together peaceably, either uniting these functions in one single individual or at least combining them without thought of friction in a single organism; it is now a war of all against all, art against philosophy and both against religion. Henceforth no man can serve two masters; he must give his whole soul to art, or to religion, or to philosophy, and in choosing his friends he chooses at the same time his enemies" (Ibid., 33). This is clearly a huge generalization and real historical study would reveal all kinds of interactions between these experiences after the Renaissance. The point, however, is still vital and undeniable: traditional, religious, total forms of spiritual experience have been forever scattered by the pursuit of rational knowledge. We are stuck in some nihilistic mindset that refuses the unity of mind.

Slavoj Zizek, too, believes that we live in conditions that fosters  divided minds and communities. In Violence Zizek quotes a review of Michel Houellebecq’s novels. A review said that Houellebecq’s novels depicted the failure of love in the modern West due to “the collapse of religion and tradition, the unrestrained worship of pleasure and youth, the prospect of a future totalized by scientific rationality and joylessness” (Violence, 35). The collapse of religious ways of life has left us in a ‘postmodern’ existence, Zizek claims. Further, the character of our world can be characterized as ‘atonal’, that is, we “lack the intervention of a Master-Signifier to impose meaningful order into the confused multiplicity of reality” (Ibid., 34). For a long time religion served as a meaningful Master-Signifier: it could assert that this is how it is, this simply the tradition that we follow. And it worked for some time. Our culture, however, has driven itself to the point “that it tries to dispense with this agency of the ordering Master-Signifier: the complexity of the world needs to be asserted unconditionally. Every Master-Signifier meant to impose some order on it must be deconstructed, dispersed....” (Ibid., 35). Zizek, too, supports these ideas. Western logocentrism has driven us into a cultural nihilism, destroying religion and most other Master-Signifiers that are the foundation of any community. 

Gray, Collingwood, and Zizek, therefore, all agree that the growth of Western science led to the collapse of religious ways of life and the appearance of  nihilistic, fractured, and atonal individuals and communities. Religious and traditional ways of life were literally analyzed into destruction. The relationship between nihilism, logocentrism, and the destruction of traditional, religious ways of life should thus be clear.

The thing I’d like to do now, however, is to ask the question: What precisely was lost in the conversion from religion to nihilism? In order to understand why nihilism is so destructive we must understand what precisely it destroyed. But I cannot simply refer to ‘religion’ and ‘tradition’, those terms are too imprecise. As we saw, Gray believes that modern religion, too, has been hollowed out and ceased to be a source of meaningful experience for the masses. So this is not simply a matter of religion. Religion, too, has succumb to nihilism. What we must understand, then, is what religion once accomplished but no longer can. What were the practical benefits of religion, how was it able to organize the existence of individuals and communities? I believe that what religion lost was its capacity to general ‘magical’ experiences for people. What I mean by magic, however, is complex and entirely influenced by Collingwood’s definition of the term.

In The Principles Of Art Collingwood claims that art proper must be distinguished from magical art. For Collingwood, magic is a form of representation that is intended to arouse certain emotions that are practically useful in daily life. When we think of magic we think of think of modern magicians and their illusions. But that is not magic. That is illusion and amusement. Magic is a form of practical ritual, it is a form of representation that is meant to create the emotional energy required for daily living. Collingwood couldn’t be clearer. “Magic,” he argues, “is a representation where the emotion evoked is an emotion valued on account of its function in practical life, evoked in order that it may discharge that function, and fed by the generative or focusing magical activity into the practical life that needs it.  Magical activity is a kind of dynamo supplying the mechanism of practical life with the emotional current that drives it” (The Principles Of Art, 68-69). Let me make this abstract defintion clearer with a few examples.

I’ll quote a few of Collingwood’s important examples: that of rain dances in native American culture, and that of religion and sport in Western culture. Collingwood claims that when we observe a native American performing a rain dance we cannot assume that the individual really believes that their dance is going to produce rain. Instead, we must ask “whether the real function of rain-making magic, so called, may not be to cheer up the cultivator and induce him to work harder, rain or no rain” (Ibid., 68). Western religion, Collingwood argues, often served a similar purpose. It was a way for communities to focus its emotions by engaging in a ritual, a form of representation that everyone partakes in. He says that the purpose of “hymns and ceremonies and rituals” is obvious: Their “function is to evoke, and constantly re-evoke, certain emotions whose discharge is to be effected in the activities of everyday life” (Ibid., 72). Magic, therefore, is not to be thought of as requiring one form or another, but as amore general category that encompasses any form of representation that is meant to produce emotions that are practically useful in daily living. For example, Collingwood believes that Marxism at one time served a ‘magical’ purpose. He believes that in Marxism and other “historical schemes...” we see they “have an important magical value, as providing a focus for emotions and in consequence an incentive to action” (The Idea Of History, 266). Magic, thus, is a common social phenomenon that is vital to the existence of any healthy community. What it really boils down to is that “in warfare or woodcraft, nothing can be done without morale; and the function of magic is to develop and conserve moral; or to damage it” (The Principles Of Art, 67). We best take magic seriously, because our emotions could use a bit more focusing these days.

The collapse of magical experience, and not simply the decline of ‘religious or traditional’ ways of life, I claim, is the real problem that nihilism presents us with. It is not that we need to return to religious ways of life, because as Gray argues, religion, too, has become emotionally bankrupt. What we need is ways to organize our communities, we need forms of representation that focus our emotions in ways that help us build strong lives and relationships. Collingwood, too, agrees that our society has not simply lost touch with religion, but has become hostile towards magic as he defines it: “Hence magic is a necessity for every sort and condition of man, and is actually found in every healthy society. A society which thinks, as our own thinks, that it has outlived the need of magic, is either mistaken in that opinion, or else it is a dying society, perishing for lack of interest in its own maintenance” (The Principles Of Art, 69). The West is suffering from its rejection of magical tradition. 

The decline of magic, I believe, is an outcome of our logocentric culture. We believe that if we can simply come up with the perfect social model, if we can just create the right laws and system of government, then society will fall into order. But no, this is not the case. Because people are not rational beings that should be appealed to through logic and codified laws. People need to engage in rituals that focus their emotions. Magic, as Collingwood said, is an essential part of a healthy society. Zizek corroborates this claim that the modern fixation on law and codification, the West’s logocentrism, has led to an emotionally bankrupt society. Zizek points to the European Union’s failure to arouse a cultural or emotional loyalty. The Left’s commitment to administration, and not passion, has led us to a position in which no one has any emotional commitment to the EU: The “European project... fails to enflame the passions...” because “it is ultimately a project of administration, not of ideological commitment” (In Defense Of Lost Causes, 101). In other words, the EU and other modern societies’ commitment to administration (logocentrism) has destroyed our connection to magical experience. We no longer have communal rituals that can ‘enflame the passions’ and create commitments to political causes. Our emphasis on law and administration, undoubtedly a result of the Enlightenment project, has destroyed our capacity to magically organize society.

The main outcome of nihilism that we must reckon with, therefore, is not the collapse of religious ways of life, but the West’s gradual disconnect from magic. We must deal with the fact that the West no longer engages in forms of representation that are able to focus communal emotions and actions. We must attempt to recover magical-aesthetic forms of experience. How we can go about recovering those forms of experience, is what I’ll be exploring in the final section of this essay. Before I do ask that question, however, I must ask: If we have lost touch with magical experience, what has stepped in to replace it? If our time is no longer being spent in magical rituals, where is it being spent? What has replaced magic? My answer is simple: amusement has replaced magic. 

4. Magic’s Destruction and the Rise Of Amusement

I intend to make good the claim that the void left by nihilism’s destruction of magic was filled by amusement. That is to say, that the collapse of meaningful ritual led to an addiction to amusement, to an unhealthy relationship with entertainment. We have gone, in short, from relatively healthy communities to bread and circuses. By amusement I mean a form of representation that is meant to be enjoyed in itself, with no practical benefit, and with potential negative affects on daily life. Just as I drew on Collingwood’s discussion of magic, I am also drawing on his discussion of amusement.

In The Principles Of Art Collingwood wishes to disentangle art proper from amusement art. Moreover, he offers a critique of the West’s relationship with amusement, arguing that our addiction to amusement is a symptom of a social/mental disease. Collingwood’s concern with amusement thus has implications for the health of society as a whole. Before I explore the role of amusement in society I must provide an adequate definition and examples of amusement. 

Amusement art is similar to magical art in that it is a form of representation that is intended to arouse specific emotions in a person. In magical art, the emotions produced are of practical benefit to daily life. In amusement art, however, the emotions produced are only enjoyed while one experiences them, and are of little or no practical benefit. Collingwood is very clear on this distinction: “Magic is useful, in the sense that the motions it excites have a practical function in the affairs of every day; amusement is not useful but only enjoyable, because there is a watertight bulkhead between its world and the world of common affairs. The emotions generated by amusement run their course within this watertight compartment” (The Principles Of Art, 78). This distinction, of course, is ideal, and in real life there will be a variety of instances that fall somewhere along this spectrum. But it is important to recognize that the emotions aroused by piece of representation are either more or less useful in practical life. Collingwood claims that if a day of engaging in amusement provides a sort of emotional renewal it can indeed be of practical benefit. He says that sometimes he struggles to write and likes to garden or sail instead, do things that he finds enjoyable. He says that perhaps he “may get back to the book feeling fresh and energetic, with my staleness gone. In that case my day off turned out to be not amusement but recreation. The difference between them consists in the debit or credit effect they produce on the emotional energy available for practical life” (Ibid., 95). Thus amusement’s hallmark is that it produces emotions that are experienced in a ‘watertight bulkhead’ in which they are discharged, thus contributing nothing to the emotional energy necessary for daily life.

Collingwood believes that a society’s relationship to amusement says a lot about the health of that society. Collingwood argues that the rapid growth of the amusement industry signifies the onset of a moral disease: "Amusement becomes a danger to practical life when the debt it imposes on these stores of energy is too great to be paid off in the ordinary course of living.  When this reaches a point of crisis, practical life, or ‘real’ life, becomes emotionally bankrupt; a state of things which we describe by speaking of intolerable dullness or calling it drudgery.  A moral disease has set in, whose symptoms are a constant craving for amusement and an inability to take any interest in the affairs of ordinary life, the necessary work of livelihood and social routine.  A person in whom the disease has become chronic is a person with a more or less settled conviction that amusement is the only thing that makes life worth living. A society in which the disease is endemic is one in which most people feel some such conviction most of the time" (Ibid.) A society that is addicted to amusement is thus a society that has become dissatisfied with the conditions it has created for itself. It would be accurate to say that an amusement society is a nihilistic society, it has reached a cultural dead end and no longer possesses the practices that would allow it renew its stores of emotional energy. 

Collingwood is most radical on this point while discussing the advent of pornography and sex as a form of amusement. He asserts that representations of sexuality in the West exist primarily for amusement, and that most of it is “an appeal to the sexual emotions of the audience, not in order to stimulate these emotions for actual commerce between the sexes, but in order to provide them with make-believe objects and thus divert them for their practical goal in the interests of amusement” (Ibid., 84). It is true that pornography is everywhere, way more than it was in Collingwood’s time, but he was concerned about it even in 1937. The proliferation of pornography and sex as amusement, he claims, “reveal a society in which sexual passion has so far decayed as to have become no longer a god, as for the Greeks, or a devil, as for the early Christians, but a toy: a society where the instinctive desire to propagate has been weakened by a sense that life, as we have made it, is not worth living, and where our deepest wish is to have no posterity” (Ibid., 85). Clearly Collingwood believes that our commitment to amusement is the symptom of a moral disease, of a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of our societies. Amusement and cultural nihilism seem to go hand in hand.

To corroborate this claim Collingwood turns to historical analogy. He claims that the downfall of Roman civilization could be seen in their relationship to amusement. “The critical moment,” he argues, “was reached when Rome created an urban proletariat whose only function was to eat free bread and watch free shows. This meant the segregation of an entire class which had no work to do whatever; no positive function in society, whether economic or military or administrative or intellectual or religious; only the business of being supported and being amused” (Ibid., 99). The important thing to note here is that an addiction to amusement can set in when an individual lacks an obligation to the state or their community. Amusement is enticing when one serves no purpose in a society. And once amusement sets in, it can take over a society: “Once a class had been created whose only interest lay in amusement, it acted as an abscess which by degrees drew away all emotional energies from the affairs of real life. Nothing could arrest the spread of amusement;....” (Ibid.). Collingwood admits that historical parallels are ‘blind guides’. But he finds the comparison with Rome to being “alarmingly close” to our own situation (Ibid., 102). 

We, too, have become dissatisfied with the state of our society and have begun to rely increasingly more on amusement. He believes that this “same disease is notoriously endemic among ourselves.” And that: "its symptoms are the unprecedented growth of the amusement trade, to meet what has become an insatiable craving; an almost universal agreement that the kinds of work on which the existence of a civilization like ours most obviously depends (notably the work of industrial operatives and the clerical staff in business of every kind, and even that of the agricultural labourers and other food-winners who are the prime against in the maintenance of every civilization hitherto existing) is an intolerable drudgery; the discovery that what makes this intolerable is not the pinch of poverty or bad housing or disease but the nature of the work itself in the conditions our civilization has created...." (Ibid., 96). The role of amusement in society, is therefore of great political importance. It shows us how the average member of society relates to their way of life.  Are we satisfied with our means to subsistence, or is it ‘drudgery’? Do we have means of creating for ourselves the emotional energy necessary for the business of society? Or has amusement overtaken us? Moreover, Collingwood makes it clear that our addiction to amusement has something to do with industrial capitalism. He claims that ‘industrial operatives’ and ‘clerical staff in business of every kind’ feel their work to be an ‘intolerable drudgery’. In Collingwood’s analysis of amusement, therefore, I find a way to corroborate my claim that nihilism’s destruction of magic led to the rise of a culture of amusement. 

In Empire Of Illusion Chris Hedges makes a near identical argument about contemporary America. He argues that the American political-economy has plunged our society into an addiction to amusement. Hedges believes that the most important elements of our culture have been systematically perverted by our socio-economic system. Our amusement culture, our “cult of distraction,” Hedges claims, “masks the real disintegration of culture. It conceals the meaninglessness and emptiness of our own lives. It seduces us to engage in imitative consumption. It deflects the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, costly imperial wars, economic collapse, and political corruption” (Hedges, 38). Unfettered capitalism has ravaged our communities and our identities to the point that we can no longer face reality. We are living, Hedges believes, in an empire of illusion, in a world in which our major institutions and pastimes have all been hollowed out by capitalist culture. Hedges argues that literacy, love, wisdom, happiness, and the nation itself have all been reduced to mere amusement and distraction. That is to say, television and spectacle have destroyed our faith in the importance of reading; pornography has come to dominate our conceptions of love and sex; our educational institutions have been transformed into economic training grounds, leaving liberal education in shambles; a whole branch of psychology now exists that tells people to strive for happiness, encouraging them to ignore real inequalities in their lives; and finally, that ‘America’ no longer exists, it is now ruled by an oligarchy, and the “words consent of the governed have become an empty phrase” (Hedges, 142). With illusion all around us, we have little choice but to give in. We partake in amusement to numb ourselves. Action in this world seems so difficult. It is so much easier to merely distract yourself. “The success of professional wrestling, like most of the entertainment that envelops our culture,” Hedges claims, “lies not in fooling us that these stories are real. Rather, it succeeds because we ask to be fooled. We happily pay for the chance to suspend reality. The wrestlers, like all celebrities, become our vicarious selves” (Hedges, 5-6). In short, Hedges believes that our capitalist culture has destroyed our communities and identities, leaving us with little choice but to amuse and distract ourselves.

Hedges argument is easily rendered in the terms of nihilism that I developed at the beginning of this essay. It is clear that Hedges blames the rise of amusement culture on technological-capitalism, which is inherently logocentric. Furthermore, given that I already established the link between nihilism, logocentrism, and industrial-capitalism, it is easy to say that nihilism has indeed led from the destruction of magical ways of living into a culture of amusement. 

Not only is distraction symptomatic of our capitalist culture, it is now embedded in the technology that we use everyday. In particular, cell phones, smart phones, and the internet all encourage us to lead distracted, amusement saturated lives. In The Shallows Nicholas Carr argues that the internet as a medium inclines us to engage material in a distracted, shallow way. His starting point is Marshal McCluhan’s famous phrase ‘the medium is the message’, which means that the way we perceive something, the form in which we access information, is just as important, if not more important, than the actual content we access. It means that form is more important than content, because form always colors the content in a certain way. Carr extrapolates form this idea to develop the notion of an ‘intellectual ethic’. He argues that every piece of technology, every ‘tool of the mind’, contains certain assumptions about how the mind does or should work. The piece of technology, in turn, then encourages the mind to work in that way. The map, for example, assumes that humans wish to engage with space in certain ways, and in turn effects the way that we engage with space. In short, a piece of technology will never passively provide us with information, it will always actively change the way that we perceive things.

The internet, Carr claims, offers us a dangerous intellectual ethic. The main thing the internet encourages, he argues, is distracted, shallow engagement. Carr points to the type of impatience that is implicit in the internet’s design. The existence of tabs, the fact that our e-mails automatically update once every minute, that hyperlinks are littered on every page, shows that the intellectual ethic of the internet is one of shallow, quick engagement. In other words, the internet inclines us to be distracted. Furthermore, this type of distracted engagement is supported by companies like Google, who purposefully design their pages to get us clicking as many links as fast as possible. Every time a sponsored link is clicked Google makes money. Our largest search engine is economically inclined to make us more distracted. To make our attention more divided. Moving us from link to link, window to window, tab to tab more quickly.

The internet thus appears to be the ultimate technology of a distracted, nihilistic culture. If the hallmark of our society is the collapse of magic and the rise of amusement, then the internet is our new church. It is the ultimate distraction machine for a supremely amused society. Nihilism, in the sense of a dead-end distracted culture with dying stores of emotional energy, emanates from the internet itself. 

We are a diseased culture. Technological nihilism has destroyed magical ritual, leaving us with far fewer means of emotional renewal. As a result, we have lapsed into perpetual distraction, endless amusement for a dying way of life. Collingwood, Hedges, and Carr make this point undeniable. There is something going on in our political-economic system, something in our relationship to technology and logocentrism, that has driven us into a state of constant distraction. We must recognize that our way of life has undermined itself. Our logocentric, nihilistic culture has driven us into an addiction to amusement. That is what I have said in this section.

Allow me to summarize the argument thus far and prepare for the concluding section. I have been arguing that our culture has discovered itself to be on a dead-end track, that we have exhausted our sources of emotional renewal, and that this state is best described as nihilism. I then  followed Heidegger and Gray in their claim that nihilistic culture emerged out of the Enlightenment Project’s commitment to rational inquiry. That is to say, the Enlightenment project bequeathed to us a logocentric culture, one that values, above all, rational language, scientific inquiry, and the technological domination of nature. Cultural nihilism emerged from the Enlightenment’s logocentrism. It has been said that this logocentrism led to the destruction of religious or ‘traditional’ ways of life. It is more accurate to say, however, that logocentrism destroyed magical forms of experience, that is, rituals and practices that serve as practical ways for communities and individuals to focus their emotions. I then argued that the cultural vacuum left by nihilism’s destruction of magic was filled by an addiction to distraction and amusement. Many thinkers have helped me along the way. In short, our logocentric culture destroyed our sources of emotional renewal and left us instead with proliferating forms of amusement. I now hope to make an argument about a cultural recovery. I think that if we are to overcome our nihilistic addiction to amusement we must find new ways of thinking and relating. And I think those new ways are to be found in aesthetic-magical forms of experience. I will now propound this idea that we must recover these ways of thinking, feeling, and knowing.  

5. Conclusion: On Recovering Aesthetic-Magical Experience as Embracing Uncertainty

My goal in this essay has been to explain how logocentric culture has destroyed our capacity for these aesthetic and magical experiences. Having arrived at a tentative diagnosis of my situation, I am now proposing a cure: the recovery of aesthetic and magical forms of experience with the goal of arriving at a more unified mind, one that is, above all, comfortable with not knowing. I am explicitly collaborating with Collingwood’s project in Speculum Mentis: “What is wrong with us,” he claimed, “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. Our task is to seek for that life, to build up the conception of an activity which is at once art, and religion, and science, and the rest” (Speculum Mentis, 36). As I showed above, Collingwood believed that the modern era, with its logocentric spirit of rational inquiry, scattered our experiences, forcing us to choose one form of knowledge over another. I, too, seek a reunion of forms of knowledge. I wish to possess a unity of mind. And seeing as how I grew up in a world saturated with scientific, philosophical, and historical knowledge, the task is thus to reintroduce aesthetic and magical forms of experience into my constellation of knowledge. Moreover, beyond this individual unity of mind, the recovery of aesthetic and magical experience might serve as a way of reinvigorating Western political culture. This is the possibility that I now intend to explore. How the recovery of these forms of experience can be both personally useful and politically important. 

There are two reasons that the recovery of aesthetic and magical experience is important. The first one I mentioned above: the attainment of a unified mind. The second reason, however, follows from the unity of mind, yet would have consequences at the cultural as well as the individual level. For the greatest benefit of the recovery of these forms of experience is that they are forms of knowledge that are compatible with, even encourage, not knowing. That is to say, our logocentric culture only values forms of knowledge that lead to clear argument and certainty, however flimsy that certainty might be. To reacquaint ourselves with uncertainty, therefore, may have some serious benefits both in our individual lives and in our culture. The recovery of aesthetic and magic experience is thus about re-familiarizing ourselves with uncertainty. 

Several authors have claimed that our logocentric culture has left is with an unwillingness to embrace uncertainty. We have a cultural fixation on knowing and being certain. This is because one of the hallmarks of logocentrism is analytical division: we create distinct disciplines, we segregate forms of knowledge, we create analytical distinctions. The analytical distinctions made by logocentrism, further, greatly favor rational, scientific knowledge. Logocentrism, moreover, is distrustful of forms of experience that cannot be easily analyzed, such as aesthetic and religious experience. These analytical distinctions, while more ideal than actual, infiltrate our minds and create experiential divisions. That is to say, we experience things differently based on the social ideas that structure that experience. Our minds, therefore, are far more inclined to experience things in terms of science, philosophy, and other forms of rational knowledge, while ignoring more affective experiences like aesthetics, religion, and magic. The analytical conclusions we reach, however, may be entirely inaccurate. But our comfort with rational thought may lead us to merely believe these quick conclusions, ignoring the problem of uncertainty. 

In other words, the nihilistic culture that emerged out of the Enlightenment has to no patience or capacity for dealing with uncertainty. We are addicted to articulate and superficial knowledge. Or, as Guy Claxton argues, “the Enlightenment view of the mind is in urgent need of moderation” because “Its lopsided adherence to explicit, deliberate, conscious reason as the acme of intelligence is flawed” (The Wayward Mind, 357). Furthermore, this logocentrism leads to things like “a kind of flimsy political culture in which no one ever has the time or the inclination not to know, and so buying and selling jumped-to conclusions becomes a substitute for thinking” (Ibid., 358). John Gray makes a similar point at the end  of his essay ‘Enlightenment’s Wake’. He, too, believes that our culture has lost touch with uncertainty, and can only engage in forms of thought that are deceptively certain. He claims that “the calculative and representational mode of thinking which philosophy has privileged in modern times is now so hegemonic that the cultural space is lacking in which an alternative mode of thought might occur” (Enlightenment’s Wake, 275). One of the greatest casualties of the Enlightenment is therefore our capacity for dealing with uncertainty. Instead, we cling to superficially articulate reason.

So we can see how our logocentric culture would naturally lead to discomfort with uncertainty and an addiction to seemingly rational forms of thought. The logical response for me can only be an attempt to recover forms of experience that embrace uncertainty. As I’ve been saying, we must seek this type of comfort in aesthetic, magical, and potentially religious thinking. Claxton, Gray, and Wendell Berry all agree with me on this point. As Claxton argues in Hare Brain Tortoise Mind, “our culture has come to ignore and undervalue” slower, less certain modes of thought. We have come to “treat them as marginal or merely recreational, and in so doing has foreclosed on areas of our psychological resources that we need. Just like the computer, the Western mind has come to adopt as its ‘default mode’ just one of its possible modes of knowing: d-mode. (The ‘d’ can stand for ‘default’ as well as ‘deliberation’.)” (4). According to Claxton, we must try to recover different ways of thinking. We must recover less certain modes of thought. Ideally, we would cultivate the habit of being “relaxed, leisurely and playful; willing to explore without knowing what [we] are looking for. [Of seeing] ignorance and confusion as the ground for which understanding may spring” (Ibid., 13). Claxton identifies these less certain forms of thought with aesthetics and with buddhism. He claims that Buddhism is the world religion that most strongly believes that wisdom emerges from unconscious, uncertain modes of thought. Similarly, artists and poets are “comfortable setting out on a journey of discovery without the reassurance of knowing in advance where they were going” (Ibid., 84). 

Gray, too, argues that the antidote to our logocentric culture must be found in forms of experience that are properly aesthetic or religious. Gray asserts that we have no way to think of ethics as a process akin to aesthetics, that “Western cultures are so deeply imbued with rationalism that they cannot tolerate a conception of ethics, for example, in which it is an aspect of the art of life, not to be distinguished categorically from prudence or aesthetics in its character, in which it shares with these practical arts a provisional character, and local variability, which sits uncomfortably with both Socratic and Christian conceptions which are now elements in the common sense self-understanding of our civilization” (Enlightenment’s Wake, 274-275). The ethical life, just like a work of art, must be adaptable, creative, and uncertain. The ethical life must be artistic in that it must set out on an uncertain journey of expression and exploration. This is why Gray’s work “embodies the wager that another mode of thinking – found in some varieties of poetry and mysticism, for example – can assert itself against the domination of the forms of thought privileged by both science and philosophy in Western cultures. It is with these humiliated modes of thought that the prospect of cultural recovery... lies. Only if the ground of Western cultures can renew itself through such modes of thought can any practical measure have lasting effect” (Ibid., 275). Gray’s argument strikes at the heart of what I am talking about. He so clearly grasps the importance of overcoming cultural nihilism through a recovery of humiliated modes of thought, those aesthetic and magical forms of thinking. For Gray, this may be one of the only ways to save the West from “further hollowing out into nihilism, with eventual dissolution – or, worse, replication throughout the world as instruments of technological nihilism – being their fate” (Ibid.). The wager is that we can escape nihilism through a return to aesthetics and magic.

Wendell Berry makes a similar argument, claiming that Western culture needs to reacquaint itself with the most important elements of religion. Chief among religions uses, Berry argues, is that it makes sure there is always a boundary of mystery that encompasses our rational thoughts about ourselves and the world around us. In other words, religion is useful because it forces us to reckon with life “in as large a context as possible–to see, in fact, that the account is never ‘closed.’ Religion forces that accountant to reckon with mystery.... It forces the accounting outside of every enclosure that it might be internal to. Practically, this... means that all ‘answers’ must be worked out within a limit of humility and restraint, so that the initiative to act would always imply a knowing acceptance of accountability for the results” (Standing By Words, 49). Religion forces us to grapple with the limits of our knowledge and the impossibility of ever really knowing. It pushes us to embrace uncertainty. Even though modern religions speak so dogmatically, I still think that this might be true. In either case, it is a powerful ideal, one worth striving for. We should always be trying to take account of more, to face the mystery of the world and act as responsibly as possible from the largest perspective possible. This is what aesthetic, magical, and religious thinking can do for me. 

Beyond the fact that art, magic, and religion share this attitude that welcomes uncertainty,  there is a deeper continuity that connects these forms of thinking. According to Collingwood, the imagination is responsible for all three of these forms of knowledge. The artist, the magician, and the religious person, however, differ in the way that they regard the products of their imagination. “The artist,” Collingwood argues, “is an irresponsible child who feels himself at liberty to say exactly what comes into his head and unsay it again without fear of correction or disapproval.  He tells himself what story he likes and then, at the bidding of a whim, ‘scatters the vision for ever’.  In religion, all this irresponsibility has gone. His vision is for the religious man no toy to make and mar at will; it is the truth, the very truth itself. The actual object of imagination, which in art obscurely means a truth that cannot be clearly stated, in religion is that truth itself....” (Speculum Mentis, 112). In other words, religion is the aesthetic experience elevated to the level of truth. Magic occupies a sort of middle ground in which a work of art is not merely expressive, yet does not represent pure truth. Rather, magic is the imagination used for its practical benefits. For Collingwood there is a definite continuity between aesthetics, magic, and religious experience. And the imagination, the ‘cutting edge of the mind’, is this continuity. It seems that the type of attitude I’m describing can properly be called an imaginative life. The goal is to recover the forms of experience that are most imaginative, most comfortable with uncertainty, and lead to the most creative decision making. 

The return to aesthetic and magical forms of thought is thus an attempt to overcome nihilism by embracing life’s uncertainty. It is an attempt to improve our ability to make ethical decisions by finding ways to remember that we never really know what we are doing. And these ways of not knowing, I believe, are to be found in art, magic, and religion (in an unusual sense of the term). This type of ethics is to be found in humble and imaginative forms of thought that operate at the frontiers of the mind’s knowledge. Moreover, Gray believes that a return to these modes of thought may be the only way for a Western political recovery. There is something vital in this recovery of tentative, uncertain knowledge. We must learn to operate at the frontiers of our thinking. Because our culture hardly allows such thinking to take place. We like clear, definite answers. We don’t entertain uncertainty or daydreaming. We are closed off to many forms of knowledge. John Gray claims that his work is an attempt at ‘releasement’, “which encompasses an openness to ultimate danger, to the contingency and morality not only of human cultures and of other living things, but also of the earth itself” (Gray, 276). We must overcome nihilism by embracing past forms of experience, such as aesthetics, magic, and religion. We need to regain our familiarity with the uncertain and scary frontiers of thought. Yet so much stands in the way of the recovery of these forms of knowledge.

I can identify two obstacles to the recovery of aesthetic and magical forms of experience. The first is what I can call the specialization of art. By which I mean that art is something that people believe to be done by experts, something with very little connection to the ordinary affairs of life. The second lies in the notion of ‘recovery’ itself. It is dangerous to speak of returning to a former way of life. The idea of a better, ‘simpler time’, is the hallmark of radical conservative movements. Further, you run the risk of misrepresenting the past and creating a mere simulacra. Thus I need to find a way to speak of recovery and yet avoid conservatism, and the danger of simulacra.

One major obstacle to this conception of aesthetic-magical ethics is that art is something that is now regarded as the business of experts. People have a hard time imagining how aesthetics could have something to do with everyday morality because they think that art requires special training, that artists are experts in the use of language or paint or clay. This resulted from the specialization of other disciplines, which withdrew from aesthetics, leaving is as “the proper ‘field’ for artists” (Berry, Standing By Words, 5). The specialization of other disciplines thus forced the artist to constitute himself as an expert. The led, according to Berry, to the break down between aesthetics and morality which had once been taken for granted. Berry claims that “it remains true that the poet is isolated and specialized and that the old union of beauty, goodness, and truth is broken” (Ibid.). Logocentrism thus forced aesthetics into a new position, just as it did with magic and religion. “In reaction to the utilitarianism of other disciplines,” Berry argues, “the arts became defiantly nonutilitarian” ( Ibid.). Art loses its moral implications, and rather becomes the business of obscure and professionally trained artists. Foucault, too, believes that the specialization of art has destroyed the moral implications that aesthetics once possessed. “What strikes me,....” he said in a 1982 interview, “is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?” (Foucault Reader, 350). This specialization of of art has certainly decoupled aesthetics and morality, and has reduced the social function of art. 

The poet, Berry argues, is no longer able to connect or sympathize with his community, and has therefore lost his role as the community’s spokesperson. For Berry, as for Collingwood, the true poet is one that expresses the heart of their community, that the poets proper subject “is not words, it is the world, which poets have in common with other people” (Standing By Words, 8). We can see the specialization of poetry and the breakdown of art and truth all around us. Where are our public poets? Where are our artistic spokesmen? “That we have no poets who are, in that sense, public persons,” Berry writes, “suggests even more forcibly the weakness of our poetry of protest. In his protest, the contemporary poet is speaking publicly, but not as a spokesman; he is only one outraged citizen speaking at other citizens who do not know him, whom he does not know, and with whom he does not sympathize. The tone of self-righteousness is one result of this circumstance” (Ibid., 20). The specialization of art, therefore, is one of the major impediments to founding a morality based on aesthetics, and by implication, magic and religion. For all of these ways of thinking have been corrupted by rational inquiry. They have been robbed of their capacity of dealing with life’s uncertainty. Still, I must persist in my attempt to ‘recover’ them. 

The second problem with this whole endeavor arises from the notion of ‘recovery’ itself. As I mentioned, the attempt to recover a lost way of life can easily slip into nostalgia, dangerous conservatism, or the creation of a simulacra. I must insist that the attempt to recover aesthetic and magical experience is in no way an attempt at a return. It is an attempt to come up with something new. But something new that embodies the spirit or core of past forms of thought and experience. An art exhibit ‘Gauguin and Polynesia’ recently put me face to face with this question of cultural recovery. 

At Seattle Art Museum they displayed Gauguin’s work that was produced during his travels to Polynesia. He was hired by the French government to go to Tahiti and paint the people, their customs, and the wild life. He made several trips between 1891 and his death in 1903. There was something about Polynesian culture that fascinated him. One strange thing, however, was that he claimed that it was really the Polynesia of the past that he was in love with. But he persisted in his depictions of Polynesian culture, painting the people and practices around him. Admiring their work and mourning the cultural loss that had taken place after colonization. Much of the French population, too, seemed to be fascinated with Polynesian culture. In fact, at the Parisian world’s fair a group of sixty Polynesians performed a traditional dance in a recreated Polynesian village. This staged dance, however, could not have been an authentic replication. Rather, it was most like a simulacra of sorts: an attempt at simulating something, but in the processing creating something new that does not resemble the original. A copy without an original. But was Gauguin’s work doing the same thing? Were his depictions of Polynesian life capturing something real, something authentic? Or was he simply creating simulacra? Did his desire to recover the lost Tahitian culture force him to paint glorified, stylized things that never actually existed? In short, did Gauguin really recover something, or did he just create a simulacra through naive nostalgia? I cannot answer this question about Gauguin. I’m no art historian. But Gauguin’s problem is a good starting point for thinking about our problem in this essay.

When attempting the recovery of a lost way of life we must avoid naive nostalgia and the creation of distorted simulacra. In other words, we need to find a way to reckon with cultural loss without lapsing into conservatism or historical distortion. What, then, is the proper way to mourn culture loss and attempt some sort of recovery? What is the process that would allow one to do such a thing? 

I believe the only way one can properly attempt the recovery of a type of experience is if one is committed to creating something new. That is to say, the attempt to recover a lost experience, the attempt to repeat someone else, will only be successful if it leads to something new. This is Zizek’s main argument in In Defense Of Lost Causes. He believes that revolutions of the past all had a valuable core that we ought to repeat, that is, we should take their thoughts and actions further than they were able to, giving them a new embodiment in the present. Many revolutions, according to Marx and Zizek, contain an element of excessive passion that is then “betrayed by the market reality which takes over ‘the day after’... this excess,” however, “is not simply abolished, dismissed as irrelevant, but, as it were, transposed into a virtual state, continuing to haunt the emancipatory imagination like a dream waiting to be realized. The excess of revolutionary enthusiasm over its own ‘actual social base’ or substance is thus... a spectral Event waiting for its proper embodiment” (Zizek, 394). Zizek believes that this spectral event can be realized only if we are willing to repeat the thoughts and actions of past revolutionaries. Here Zizek is operating under Deleuze’s definition of repetition. He uses film as an example: “The cinematic version of Edgar Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate is basically a failure, but an interesting one: a failure which nonetheless evokes in the viewer the specter of the much better novel. However, when one goes on to read the novel on which the film is based, one is disappointed – this is not the novel the film evoked as the standard with regard to which it failed. The repetition (of a filed novel in the failed film) thus gives rise to a third, purely virtual, element, the better novel” (Ibid., 322). Anytime you attempt to repeat an individual you inadvertently create something new, because you are necessarily accessing the ‘virtual’ of that person’s actions. That is to say, you always see what could have been in another person’s actions, and in repeating them you bring that spectral element, that virtual potential, closer to reality. You,  in turn, create further virtual possibilities that another person may be able to access in their repetition of your action. With the Deleuzian concepts of repetition and virtuality, we can see how something new must emerge from an attempt to repeat someone’s thought or action. 

There is compelling evidence that the human mind is indeed capable of repeating another person’s thoughts for themselves, and that this type of repetition could easily lead to the emergence of something new. This evidence comes both from Collingwood’s philosophy of history and contemporary philosophy of mind. There are two vital claims in Collingwood’s philosophy of history: 1. All history is the history of thought, 2. All history is the re-enactment of past thought in the present context of the historian’s mind. Collingwood believes that the only way we can ever achieve historical knowledge is if we accept that all we can know is thought, and that human’s have a unique capacity for understanding one another’s thoughts. To know another person’s thoughts, he asserts, “involves the repetition by one mind of another’s act of thought: not one like it... but the act itself.... To know someone else’s activity of thinking is possible only on the assumption that this same activity can be re-enacted in one’s own mind. In that sense, to know ‘what someone is thinking’ (or ‘has thought’) involves thinking it for oneself.” (The Idea Of History, 288). A most important point, and one that he wants unmistakably clear: There can be no such thing as historical knowledge unless “on the view that to know another’s act of thought involves repeating it for oneself” (Ibid.).  Moreover, not only is knowledge of past thought achieved through repetition, all knowledge of mind is achieved in this way: It is through re-enactment that “we discover the thought of a friend who writes us a letter, or a stranger who crosses the street.... In this sense, all knowledge of mind is historical” (Ibid., 219). Whether this means all knowledge of mind is historical depends on what we mean by historical. Regardless, it is clear that Collingwood believed that knowledge of thought could only be attained by repeating those thoughts for ourselves.

Collingwood also believed that this repetition was not a passive process, but one in which the repeated thoughts are critically examined. That is to say, Collingwood’s ideas about repeating thoughts also logically lead to the emergence of new thoughts. The new emerges from repeating other’s thoughts because that act of repetition provides an individual with self knowledge and knowledge of the world: "If what the historian knows is past thoughts, and if he knows them by re-thinking them himself, it follows that the knowledge he achieves by historical inquiry is not knowledge of his situation as opposed to knowledge of himself, it is a knowledge of his situation which is at the same time knowledge of himself. In re-thinking what somebody else thought, he thinks it himself, in knowing that somebody else thought it, he knows that he himself is able to think it. And finding out what he is able to do is finding out what kind of man he is. If he is able to understand, by re-thinking them, the thoughts of a great many different kinds of people, it follows that he must be a great many kinds of man. He must be, in fact, a microcosm of all the history he can know. Thus his own self-knowledge is at the same time his knowledge of the world of human affairs" (An Autobiography, 114-115). The repetition of thought is thus a powerful source of self-knowledge. It reveals to us the limitations of our thinking, and thus opens us up to the possibility of thinking differently. In fact, Collingwood believed that this type of thought would be the only way to construct a science of human affairs. That is, only through historical thinking can we  “learn to deal with human situations as skilfully (sic) as natural science had taught them to deal with situations in the world of Nature?” (Ibid., 115). I believe there are more ways in which Collingwood’s thoughts on re-enactment corroborate this idea that repetition always leads to something new. For Collingwood, the new emerges because repetition is what provides us with self-knowledge, alerting us to with the frontiers of our knowledge. Foucault, similarly, believed that historical thinking did the same thing for us. Let these brief examples suffice to show that historical thinking (repetition) leads to the new. 

Contemporary philosophy of mind also corroborates the claim that individual’s understand one another by repeating expressed thoughts for ourselves. In Simulating Minds Alvin Goldman argues that human beings understand one another primarily by ‘placing ourselves in each other’s shoes’. That is to say, we understand people’s thoughts by simulating them in the context of our own minds. I don’t intend to plumb Goldman for further evidence right now. I will simply refer you to all my other writing on simulation theory. Because the truth is that it deeply corroborates the idea that we understand other people through repetition of their thought, through simulations of thought.

The recovery of a form of experience, therefore, is never about a pure recovery or a verisimilitudinous representation. Rather, recovery must be about accurate repetition that leads to something new. Recovery is not about nostalgia, conservatism, or the yearning for a lost time. It is about re-thinking or re-experiencing something as intimately as possible with the goal of learning about yourself and introducing variety into your mind, thus arriving at something new. It is about re-thinking someone else’s thoughts in order to add them to the pool of your own mind. Moreover, this newness that arises from repetition must have a particular manifestation: it must lead to the cultivation of new habits

This attempt to recover aesthetic and magical forms of experience is primarily a moral project. It is about embodying a certain attitude towards yourself, others, and the world. One that is expressive, creative, and emotionally rich. Moreover, I fully believe that morality can only be achieved if we seek to alter our unreflective behavior. That is to say, we can only live a moral life if we are willing to purposefully create habits that implicitly embody our explicit morality. We need to regard habit as the synthesis of thought and action. 
 
The final thing I want to show is that this attempt to repeat past forms of thought logically leads to the creation of new habits. The relationship between repetition, the new, and habit formation becomes clear if we grasp several points. First, that habit formation is a necessary part of all emergency preparation and decision making. Second, that expression and the use of language always leaves a deposit of habits in its wake. Third, that to really repeat someone’s thoughts means to express something yourself. Fourth, that because we can gain control of who we repeat, and thus what we express, we can gain control of the habits that we create for ourselves. Let me elaborate these points in turn. 

It is vital that we recognize the role of habit in both emergencies and daily decision making. As Zizek observed in his essay ‘Madness and Habit in German Idealism’, in modern times habit has lost its role as a form of “organic inner rule” and is now viewed as“something mechanic, the opposite of human freedom” (1). We chide habit, believing that “freedom can never become habit(ual), if it becomes habit, it is no longer true freedom” (Ibid.). But why this decoupling of habit and freedom? Why the insistence on the rational break with habits? Elaine Scarry, for one, believes that we must find a rapprochement between habit and freedom. “Our derisive attitude toward habit,” she argues, “prevents us from seeing the form of thinking embedded in these cognitive acts and hence makes us willing to give up, or set aside, the most powerful mental tools that stand ready to assist us” (Thinking In An Emergency, 15). We must not ignore habit, especially not in difficult emergencies and moral dilemmas. Habit, Scarry claims, will always come into play during difficult decisions. Our goal, therefore, is to create habits for ourselves that will serve us well during trying times. For “It is not the case that ordinary life is habitual and emergency life is nonhabitual” (Ibid.). In fact, “in the absence of ordinary habits, a special repertoire of alternative habits may suddenly come forward” (Ibid.). The question is, Have we taken the time to prepare those habits for ourselves? Have we attempted to deeply intertwine thought and action? Have we engaged in a “highly willed act of internalization” that “may seem to be an artificial exercise without an object,”  that has left a deposit of habits in us (Ibid., 82)? Purposeful habit creation, then, is our task. Moreover, habit acquisition through expression and repetition. For when Scarry speaks of ‘an artificial exercise’ she is referring to forms of simulation that she surveyed earlier in the book. It is through these simulations, through repetition, that habits are formed. 

Habit creating exercise, furthermore, is something accomplished through expression and the use of language. For Collingwood the aesthetic process, i.e. the use of language, is a breeding ground for habit. He argues that although the use of language is a fully natural process, it creates ‘deposits of habits’ that can be denatured and become utilizable. “When we speak of ‘using’ language for certain purposes,” he argues, “what is so used cannot be language itself, for language is not a utilizable thing but a pure activity.... Language in itself cannot be thus denatured; what can be is the deposits, internal and external, left by the linguistic activity; the habit of uttering certain words and phrases; the habit of making certain kinds of gesture, together with the kinds of audible noise, coloured canvass, and so forth, which these gestures produce” (The Principles Of Art, 275). In other words, the process of expression involved in art leaves in us a residue of habits. I don’t grasp this entirely, but there is something about language and externalization that then in turn effects our behavior. Language, essentially, is reflexive: it changes us in the process of speaking. As John Dewey wrote, man uses language to create external structures that serve as guides, “we temporarily deposit our will in some external structure,” like a building or a piece of writing, and “after some time [it] returns to its source and modifies our behavior,” creating new habits in us (Quoted in Scarry, 106). By externalizing our will through language, we act upon our own hearts, letting that expressed language then become re-internalized, turning into a newly formed habit. Habits, therefore, develop as a result of externalized language becoming re-internalized. Expression thus creates habits.

Habit formation through expression, however, does not restrict us to merely expressing what we think. We can also access things that other people have expressed in the past, and attempt to form habits based around that expression. Because, for Collingwood, to understand another person’s thoughts is to repeat them in our own mind. And to repeat someone’s thoughts is not just to passively receive them, it is to express them for ourselves. As Collingwood say, when “a poet expresses, for example, a certain kind of fear, the only hearers who can understand him are those who are capable of experiencing that kind of fear for themselves. Hence, when someone reads and understands a poem, he is not merely understanding the poet’s expression of his, the poet’s, emotions, he is expressing emotions of his own in the poet’s words, which have thus become his own words. As Coleridge put it, we know a man for a poet by the fact that he makes us poets. We know that he is expressing his emotions by the fact that he is enabling us to express ours” (The Principles Of Art, 118). To understand someone’s emotional expression is therefore inseparable from expressing those emotions for oneself. We are thus not limited to the expression of our own emotions, we can express the emotions of anyone who we are capable of understanding. 

The different types of habits we are capable of creating in ourselves, therefore, is limited only by our capacity for understanding other people. Because if expression and language create habits in us, and to understand someone is to express their emotions for ourselves, then we can create habits by selecting what types of thoughts and feelings we want to express. In other words, we can pick and choose what forms of thought we repeat, and therefore what types of habits we create in ourselves.

The recovery of aesthetic and magical experience must proceed along these lines. We must reacquaint ourselves with writer’s who were able to express themselves in aesthetic and magical ways. By putting ourselves in touch with these writers we will be repeating their thoughts for ourselves, arriving at something new in the process. This is what I am proposing in this essay. What we would be doing, in essence, is creating forms of synthetic experience that would create beneficial habits for us. We would be allowing artist’s and other thinkers to ‘enlarge our experience with their own’. This is what the attempt at recovering aesthetic and magical forms of experience is all about: the use of synthetic experience to create habits that would lead to a more unified mind, one capable of overcoming cultural nihilism by recovering forms of thinking that are less certain.

I feel that this discussion of repetition, the new, and habit, has drifted a bit too far from the main point that I have been trying to make. The point of this whole essay was to explain how nihilism had destroyed our capacity for magic and aesthetics, leaving us in a culture saturated with amusement. I concluded that we needed to recover aesthetic and magical experience because they are ways of thinking that embrace uncertainty. One thing our nihilistic culture lacks is the means to deal with uncertainty. We cling to flimsy rationality, we have no patience for sympathy or uncertainty. The recovery of aesthetics and magic would thus be a useful antidote to the West’s logocentric nihilistic culture. Recovery, however, can not be a simple return to an old way of life. It must be a complex process of repeating (simulating) past thought with the attempt at arriving at something new. What we must really do, therefore, is reinvent magical and aesthetic experience for the contemporary moment. This can only be accomplished, however, through repetition, synthetic experience, and purposeful habit formation. This is my answer to nihilism. There is so much I’m not able to express here. I have so many other thoughts about what an aesthetic or magical life means. But I don’t wish to keep going. I wish to let this essay go now.

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