Tuesday, April 30, 2002

In 1999, Dr. Mirkin published an article in an obscure academic journal likening the "moral panic" surrounding pedophilia to the outrage of previous generations over feminism and homosexuality...Last week, the Missouri Legislature voted to cut $100,000 from the university's budget, saying taxpayers did not want to finance such perversity.
Actually, I think I approve of the way both parties are acting in this conflict. Although the professor certainly should be able to profess what he believes on this issue, I don't think that the government is necessarily obligated to financially support his controversial work.

Mirkin's article, via Metafilter.

Monday, April 29, 2002

"I turned around and saw a black silhouette, his face hidden by a balaclava. Suddenly he ripped it off, and I recognised him," he told the ARD television network.

"I then asked him, 'Robert, did you shoot?' The young man was silent. 'Robert, what's going on in your head?' Silence again.

"I then showed him my chest and asked him to shoot at me saying, 'but if you shoot, look into my eyes'. Then, he responded, 'for today, sir, that's enough'. I then shoved him into an empty classroom and locked the door with two turns of the key."

Soon after, Steinhauser shot himself in the head as armed police closed in.

Friday, April 26, 2002

Anyone personally inclined to construct the world from the subject will not regret the argument that the subject is always only an individual in the phenomenon and therefore requires a certain share of truth and error in order to achieve its individuality. Nothing, however, differentiates men more than the amounts that these two ingredients are mixed in different proportions.
—Goethe, in a letter to Schopenhaur, found in Safranski's Schopenhaur and the Wild Years of Philosophy

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Excellent interview with Ken Wilber in What is Enlightenment? magazine this month (not avaliable at the website--only on the newsstand so far). Also an interview with Robert Wright, which I haven't read yet. The Wilber intrerview is very good, especially if you are already familiar with his thought. I think it's clear by now that Wilber can no longer be called a normative Buddhist--taking a page from Aurobindo, he is transforming the tradition. A Buddhist heretic.

KW: ...In a sense, the nondual realization, which became a historical realization for a fair number of people right around the turn of the century, including Sri Arobindo, is still unfolding, keeps evolving--spirit's own self-expression keeps unfolding--and it happens, as far as we can tell, to build on what it did yesterday, which is why evolution is indeed an unfolding event in the world of form. So as this incarnational nonduality, this ultimately ecstatic tantric nonduality itself, began to unfold, and its forms of manifestation began to unfold, you find that by the time that you get to people like Sri Aurobindo, there's such a full-bodied understanding of this process. Even though some of the earlier sages were ultimately enlightened for their time, there's a richness, an unfolding, a resonance of spirit's own incarnational understanding in some of these recent sages that just gives you goose bumps.

AC: Wow. So what you're talking about is the evolution of enlightenment itself.

KW: Yes. If we talk about enlightenment as the union of emptiness and form, the pure emptiness doesn't change because it doesn't enter the stream of time, but the form does change, and the two of those are inextricably united. And therefore, there is, in that sense, an evolution of enlightenment.
I just used the phrase, "Thanks for the heads up" in an email. And it made me think. It warns me about reading poetry in translation. The phrase, of course, comes from ball games--when a wild ball is lobbed, one yells "heads up" so people will look at where the ball is and get out of the way. But I wonder, if the phrase was used in poetry, how would one translate it meaningfully into another language? "Thanks for the warning" doesn't convey the same thing at all.

What does this mean about idiomatic expressions in general?

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

This is one of my favorite pictures recently. It's on my PC desktop at work.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

I found this in my inbox this morning.

Message: 4
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002 13:08:14 -0700 (PDT)
From: Michael Christopher {anonymous_animus_at_yahoo_dot_com}
Subject: Re: Digest Number 625

I've noticed a tendency for people who agree with the Palestinian drive for statehood (which I also agree with) to make excuses for suicide bombings. "Despair drives people to do it". If despair is justification for crime, then quite a few people in our own country who are in prison should be let free. Kids who lost too many family members to gang violence and grew up to commit murder...rapists whose mothers scalded, bruised and choked them. Racists who had horrific experiences which led them to attack people with the wrong skin color. Despair does not "force" anyone to do anything. To claim it does is a slap in the face of anyone who survived terrible abuse or oppression and CHOSE NOT to abuse the innocent.

At what point does an explanation become an excuse? When the choice of those who surpass their victimization goes unrecognized, and those who abuse others because they were abused are the only ones recognized. The Palestinian boy who grows up to practice nonviolent resistance, or who becomes a paramedic or counsellor, that is the one who should be famous. Despair can drive people to great heights as well as great depths. Let's not ignore the ones who made the better choice.


Monday, April 22, 2002

"Ah, the irony of conservatives rushing to the unelected judiciary to thwart the will of the people!" --Marshall Whitman

Whitman rocks my world.

Saturday, April 20, 2002

Something good to always try to keep in mind is that the human capacity for self-deception, to see the world as you would like to see it, is enormous. I find that my imagination works against me--I am able to unconsciously reinterpret people's statements so that I hear what I want to hear. And it results in quite a bit of emotional pain. That's why contemporary society's penchant for euphemism and jargon is so insidious. It allows for ambiguity and imaginative interpretation. That's why speaking and writing clearly and directly is a moral imperative. And why having a healthy dose of self-criticism is wise.

Self-deception is not just a temptation, it's a reality that has to be actively and regularly beaten down.

Friday, April 19, 2002

In an effort to avoid the terms Israel and Palestine, I propose calling the war in the Middle East the "Levant War".

Robert Wright has an article on Slate entitled "Was Arafat the Problem?". I find this a balanced, thorough, trustworthy analysis and more helpful than any of the obviously partisan sites created by both sides in this war of propaganda.
William Pfaff, one of the best political columnists I know of, warns that Europe and Canada do not support an attack on Iraq, that they feel that it will make terrorism worse, that it could destroy NATO, and that the Bushies don't really care about any of these things. How long till 2004 again?
Marshall Whitman, former adviser to John McCain, who now runs a good column called BullMoose at the "Project for Conservative Reform" website (the idea is an organizatiion of progressive Republicans like McCain), recommends that the Democrats consider Wesley Clark, former NATO commander, as a presidential candidate. (April 16th column; scroll down. No permalink available.)

It's a good idea that could put paid to the Democrats' dovish, wimpy reputation they now have. An idea that they will, of course, ignore. I felt strongly that in the last POTUS primary election, the two worst candidates (Bush and Gore) won over the two best ones (McCain and Bradley). This is no accident. Both of my favorite candidates were too far ahead of the people. They were too mature, politically and ethically.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article about my favorite Chicago Restaurant Review site, Chowhound Chicago.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Kelli asks about the difference between cults and religions.

I have studied religion for some time and have NEVER seen a definition of cult that does not just as well describe many forms that the major religions, and some non-religious organizations, take. It's a useless word, in my opinion, used to bully groups that other people don't like. When I went to Baptist Sunday School as a kid, I was taught that Catholics were a "cult". No joke. Yet the Baptists are at the very least just as manipulative and deceptive as Catholics. So it's a name-calling, bullying, insulting, worthless word. The origin of the word "cult" is a Latin word meaning to adore or care for, which "cultivate" also comes from.

I'm not saying that many religions are not manipulative. Obviously, many are, and many do not deserve to be placed in the same group as the great world religions, all of which I respect deeply. But these religions are great and staggeringly long-lasting because they take many many different forms. Some of these forms are some of man's greatest accomplishments. Other forms of the same religions can be malignant, as we see coming from the Middle East.
Is the parliamentary system superior to the presidential system? In Holland, you have the government resigning over the neglect of the army to prevent a Bosnian slaughter. In the US, I think that what would surely result is denials, stonewalling, dissembling, and dirty tricks until the head of the government was forced out by the courts…if it came to that.

This is in addition to the other obvious advantage of the parlimentary system--that the official head of state and the working head of state are two different people, and thus some of the scandal-laden nature of our elections is avoided.

Of course, the downside is that a parliamentary government cannot do anything radical enough, decisive enough or risky enough to risk being given a “no confidence” vote. If I’ve misrepresented the parliamentary system, or if you think I'm being too hard on the US, please let me know by email.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Yet another appreciation of the intransigence of the difficulties in Israel and Palestine.

170 windmills off Cape Cod are proposed.

Weblogs as new business communication tool.

LOTS of LEGO movies!

Long bets. People are betting on how they think technology will unfold in future decades. One of these bets is that weblogs will consistently out-scoop the New York Times by 2007. More specifically,
In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site.
Via this Wired article.

Another interesting point in the article (about a different bet):
If any 2-year-old today lasts till January 1, 2150, then Austad wins. Since neither Olshansky nor Austad expects to be around that long, a panel will adjudicate the contest and bequeath the prize to the bettors' heirs. And since neither scientist had $500 million on hand, each started a trust fund with $300, which according to their calculations should top $500 million in 150 years if the compounding is left undisturbed.
Actually, given his beliefs about consciousness, Ken Wilber should be the one betting Ray Kurzweil that artificial intelligence will not pass the Turing Test by 2029. [Note slow, obnoxious "Ramona" pop-up window at Ray Kurzweil's site.]

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

In the Wilber interview I linked to earlier, he describes the thesis of his new novel as:
Beyond pluralism and irony, there is spirit and ecstacy.

This is actually a composite of phrases, and not a direct quotation, but I think that he would approve of it. I also think that his holism can be summarized in the following way:
All objects are also, in some sense, subjects.

Other times, Wilber seems to being saying something very similar but more controversial:
All objects are a single subject.

And I think this summary shows the commonality between what I have termed the four schools of holism: the Indian (the Buddha and the Vedas), the Greek (Heraclitus, Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Dante*), the German (Goethe, Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhaur, Emerson, Rilke) and the contemporary (Aurobindo, Wilber).

*I know that Dante and Augustine were not Greek (in fact, Augustine was African--Carthaginian?), but they were certainly Platonists. Emerson was not German, but he was a Hegelian--although it may be more accurate, as well as more convenient for the purposes of this notebook, to say that he was a Goethean. I believe that there are more contemporary holists than Aurobindo and Wilber, and some quotations indicating such are here.

Monday, April 15, 2002

I promised someone an essay on Goethe and I haven't come up with anything yet. But here is an excellent article surveying Goethe's life and works. Note especially that his Sturm und Drang period was prior to even the birth of most of the English Romantics, and that the German Romantic movement was named in opposition to Goethe and Schiller's Classicism. So why is Goethe considered a Romantic by most English majors and even some textbooks? You tell me.

From the article, I put together a chronology of Goethe's works.

1773 Goetz of Berlichingen - A play about a Medieval hero with a (literal)
      iron hand.
1774 The Sorrows of Young Werther -The ultimate Romantic novel of
      unrequited love.
1775 Faust: A Fragment - The core of Faust's romance and wager.
1787 Iphigenia in Tauris - Goethe's ultimate classical play, about the
        triumph of honesty, strength and ethics over adversity.
1789 Torquato Tasso - A play about an Italian playwright who represents all
1789 Roman Elegies - Poems, some off-color, written while in Italy.
1790 The Metamorphosis of Plants - Attempt to discover a primal form in
      various plants.
1794 Reynard the Fox - Fable of the utility of cunning.
1795 Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship - A Bildungsroman: an novelistic
          account of the cultural education of a young man.
1795 Conversations of German Refugees
1798 Hermann and Dorothea - A classical poetic epic of a German couple.
1809 Elective Affinities - A romantic and tragic novel about partner
          switching and a mystical scientific principle.
1810 Theory of Colors - An attempt to "save the phenomena" of light
          and an attack on Newton's very well established optic theory.
1811-33 From My Life: Truth and Poetry - One of the first psychologically
          literate autobiographies, not unlike Rousseau's Confessions.
1816 Italian Journey - An autobiographical account of Goethe's flight from
        literary celebrity into the land that is the inspiration for Goethe's
        classical period.
1819 West-Eastern Divan - The first book of world literaure, a book of
        poetry including many homages to eastern writers including
        Mohammad, Rumi, and Hafiz.
1821 Wilhelm Meister's Travels - Continuation of the bildungsroman and a
        ready vehicle for Goethe's opinions.
1832 Faust, Part Two - Faust has more symbolic, mythic and bizarre
        poetical adventures.
1836 Conversations with Goethe - The conversations of Goethe's last ten
        years, arranged by date and recorded more or less accurately by
        Goethe's assistant, Eckermann.

Sunday, April 14, 2002

Kelli asked some questions about AI on her blog. I’ll take a shot at answering them.

would we gaze in wonder and awe as David did during the last day with his 'mother' if we knew it were the last day with someone in our lives?

I think the answer is “No”, and made the final section of the movie somewhat implausible. But—let’s face it—the entire movie is enormously, audaciously speculative, and the last section completely so. But why wouldn’t we be able to enjoy our last day with our mother, as David did? Because our emotions would irrationally interfere with the experience that we would like to have. David’s did not. Was Kubrick implying that there were ways in which David was superior to humans, that, mature, he had better control over his emotions? I think yes, in fact, David and the other bots were almost continuously and multi-factedly portrayed as superior to human beings.

is it true that life is merely a journey to fill the empty gap created by the separation with our parents?

Is this a quotation from the movie? Very interesting if so. It’s a bit too unreconstructedly Freudian for me, but probably does describe one level of our existential quest. So my answer is: take out the word “merely”. Life is that, in addition to a host of other things. The problem with Freudianism is it’s typically reductive use, reducing all of life to it’s rather meager outlook.

would the gigolo dude replace woman’s need for sexual fulfillment so that she could concentrate more fully on 'nurturing' relationships with other women? this appears to be the more important question for me. female/female relationships are smoother.

I’m going to cowardly duck away from this question, with the excuse that, being a man, I have no female/female relationships. Suffice to say that the excess of hormones that nature has imbued both men and women with insures that there will probably be a significant amount of unsatisfied sexual longing to keep Gigolo Joe and Jane busy. Personally, I doubt that female/female relationships are any less competitive or aggressive than male/male relationships, the aggression just takes less overt forms.


Saturday, April 13, 2002

Someone wrote me and recommended Kundera to me. Here is my response.

Kundera and his "Unbearable Lightness of Being" is actually illuminates many of the world's problems. A better title for Kundera's book would be the "Unbearable Flatness of Materialism". And Kundera very accurately describes the unecessarily flattened and lightened world that many people live in today.

Think of the cosmos as the ancients saw it. A timeless, incomprehensible cathedral infinitely reflecting itself. We moderns often laughingly marvel at the naïveté of the ancients and medeivals. The planets, perfect musically-integrated spheres in harmony with everything else. That's where astrology comes from, another beautiful ancient science—and not a separate science or belief, but a small, utterly integrated part of the vision of—what?—the world, life, existence, reality. It was a vision of being. Yes, matter exists, but that's a less interesting part of the world. This was the view of the Pythagoreans, with their mathematical cosmology. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Pindar, Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Dante, etc. all had this view. Shakespeare saw it slipping away forever. (cf. Ulysses' speech in Troilus & Cressida below.) Socrates, Aristotle, Copernicus, Newton, and esp. Darwin all helped to take this vision apart bit by bit until now, in the 20th century, we are left with Kundera's unbearably light being. It is totally unbearable to me. We have benefitted materially from this materialism—ample food, clean running water, electricity, antibiotics, etc. But we have suffered spiritually. Others have tried to repair the damage: Goethe, Hegel, Schelling, Emerson, Nietzsche, Rilke, Heidegger. I don't think the romantics got it—Blake, Wordsworth, Whitman, Baudelaire—they seem to accept the materialistic dogma too sincerely, rather than transcending it. It is an attempt to create an animism of the spirit. I think that we are all post-Kantians, like it or not. Just as we are all moderns. We are all post-Socratic, post-Copernican, post-Newtonian, post-Kantian and post-Darwinian. Creationists belong to the same group as flat-earthers. We don't live in Plato's or Sophocles' world, or Jesus' for that matter, like it or not.

Kant showed that our senses create our consciousness, that we don't see things-as-they-are-in-themselves (ding-an-sich), but only things-as-they-appear-to-us. He created back doors for Christian dogma, but they were obviously insufficient to actually instill belief in anyone. I believe Existentialism is a reaction to the crisis that Kant created.

To me, existentialism is all about believing that your intuition (usually your moral intuition, but could also be your artistic or other intuition.) is REAL. As real as anything. Existentialism is post-Kantian. It says, "Kant says that my perceptions do not reflect the real world. Well maybe the objects of my perception aren't real, but I know what is real. To Kierkegaard, that was his commitment to Jesus. That's what he knew was real. Kierkegaard: "Purity of heart is to will one thing." That is to say, following your intuition simply IS morality. That's all we truly have, all we are given with certainty. He also called it the “teleological suspension of the ethical”.

For useful consciousness to evolve through random processes is the height of improbability. If we do not perceive things as they actually exist, how can we communicate? How can we know anything? Hegel's answer is that Geist (German for spirit or mind) is the stuff that the whole world is made of. The corollary to Hegel's idea is that evolution is not simply the natural selection of random mutations, but is rather spirit maturing, and is thus a mentel phenomenon as much as a physical one.

"Just as the seed bears in itself the whole nature of the tree, including the taste and form of its fruit, so do the first traces of Spirit virtually contain the whole of its own history...The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom..." –Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History

Emerson takes this idea a step further. He tends toward mysticism, because he extends this reliance on intuition to include all of knowledge, to include our mental, spiritual and scientific lives.

So although Kundera is an interesting writer that I liked, rejecting his worldview is central to me. And that's why tracing the history of consciousness is not merely "the evolution of culture", but a spiritual aspiration par excellence.

Here’s part of Ulysses' speech the Troilus & Cressida quotation. If you'd like to see it in context, go here and hit Ctrl-F and search on the term "lack'd".

Shakespeare was a conservative who thought the world was getting steadily worse, whereas I sam a progressive that thinks the world is progressing towards something, but I can't say whether it will be better. I think it will be different and incommensurable, as ours is when compared to earlier periods. I like this quotation, because Shakespeare, at the beginning of the modern age, saw the medieval/ancient cosmology, which had his deep respect, slipping away, and being replaced with our materialistic view. I believe the Goethe is among the authors who moved beyond materialism into a cosmology that more resembles the interconnected, hierarchical view of the ancients.

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre,
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthron'd and spher'd
Amidst the other, whose med'cinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans check, to good and bad. But when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents, what mutiny,
What raging of the sea, shaking of earth,
Commotion in the winds! Frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate,
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixture! O, when degree is shak'd,
Which is the ladder of all high designs,
The enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenity and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows! Each thing melts
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe;
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead;
Force should be right; or, rather, right and wrong-
Between whose endless jar justice resides-
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Peggy Noonan, who I...what's the word? ...despise? ...am existentially annoyed by? Anyways, she has a column today on praying for peace in the Middle East, because it is all that we can do.

I remember when George Bush the First launched the Persian Gulf War, and then said, "Now all we can do is pray". I happened to be a the height of my anti-Christian college days, and I was beyond myself with fury at the irresponsibility and Medieval outlook of his words.

Today, I am more accepting of religion, and Noonan's column, apart from my visceral distaste for her general political and moral outlook, makes me wonder about the transcendence of prayer. How can I recommend Eastern meditation or contemplation and not recognize that prayer is not really so different?

I suppose that a major difference is that petitionary prayer is often quite egotistical. Prayers for a better job, etc. are centered on what the individual wants or thinks they need rather than aimed at expanding consciousness beyond the ego. (Echo of Kubrick: "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite".) But that seems to be a difference of degree, not of kind.

There's a new Ken Wilber interview posted on wilber.shambhala.com. He has his novel, Boomeritis, coming out, and apparently, he's written a sequel to his bible-sized magnum opus, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The title of the sequel is Kosmic Karma.
Whatever the actual title of volume 3, it's about the post-postmodern, post-Kantian, post-metaphysical, post-green, post-ontological approach to the Kosmos. God, it sounds unbelievably boring!            -kw

How to describe how important this is to me? If I were king, there would be a national holiday every time Wilber released a book so people would have a chance to read him.
Article by David Brooks in the Weekly Standard via Arts & Letters Daily.

The article is articulate, persuasive, and well-written, but utterly wrong and deliberately blind. It's more interesting as an exhibit in sophistry than anything else. The ostensible point is that there is no higher ethic than materialism. The author paints all arguments against materialism (and, incidentally, the entire continent of Europe) as, basically, allied to terrorism. It is diificult to underestimate the willful ignorance, and intellectual damage that an article like this can do. It's difficult to argue against someone with whom I have so little common ground.
"Being is desirable because it is identical with Beauty, and Beauty is loved because it is Being. We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being; ugliness is in going over to another order; knowing ourselves, we are beautiful; in self-ignorance, we are ugly." -Plotinus

A major problem with a thorough-going holistic monism like Plotinus' is that is begs the question: what is the opposite of being? In Plotinus' view of the world, meditation brings us closer to the One. Physical matter is less permeated with the One than mental entities.

In reply, any positivist will say, as oppossed to what? What else is there other than the One? If the One is all there is, how can something be less permeated with the One than something else? What is the background behind which the One exists? Basically, according to logical positivists, if you say that everything is made of something you aren't saying anything at all.

The response is that this is not a metaphysical theory, but instead, a theory of consciousness, and that, in any case, there is no difference between the two types of theories.

Another response is that there is a rhetorical component to Plotinus' words that is more substantial than the literal meaning. But Plotinus definitely seemed to believe in his system.

And, you know, materialism, for all its contemporary, and hopefully short-lived, hubris, has the same problem. Namely, what is the substance in which protons, neutrons and electrons exist (or quarks, if you prefer the sub-subatomic level)? "A void" is not the most theoretically satisfying of answers.

Others that I consider holistic monists include the Buddha, Lao-Tsu, Heraclitus, Plato, Goethe, Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhaur, Emerson, and Aurobindo. Augustine and Dante were influenced by Plotinus' and Plato's holism. Note that there is an Indian, a Greek, and a German school of holism.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Some people have no dignity whatsoever. Pressuring a website because it is facilitating sales of used books between customers? Any author who supports this should be lambasted. [NYT link requires free registration.]
Lesson for the day:

Don't re-design your website on your laptop. It will look too dark on a CRT.

I won't be able to lighten it up until tonight.
While watching 2001, Ted and I noticed many things that George Lucas stole borrowed from Kubrick's venture into sci-fi. The spacepod looks like the one R2-D2 escapes in. The bulbous nose of the Jupiter vessel looks like the Death Star, complete with the crater-like cone drilled into it. When the Pan-Am space shuttle enters the bay of the rotating space station, the scene is almost identical to when the Millenium Falcon enters the Death Star. The first scene takes place in a desert, and the next on a blindingly white set.

Here are some of Goethe's words on borrowing. They are taken from Conversations with Eckermann, 18 January 1825:
Walter Scott used a scene from my Egmont, and he had a right to do so; and because he did it well, he deserves praise. He has also copied the character of my Mignon in one of his romances; but whether with equal judgement, is another question. Lord Byron's transformed Devil is a continuation of Mepistopheles, and quite right too. If, from the whim of originality, he had departed from the model, he would certainly had fared worse. Thus, my Mephistopheles sings a song from Shakespeare, and why shouldn't he? Why should I give myself the trouble of inventing one of my own, when this said just what was wanted? Also, if the prologue to my Faust is something like the beginning of Job, that is again quite right, and I am again to be praised rather than censured.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Saw 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen last night, courtesy of the Music Box (which has a cool geeky info page on the film print). It must have been quite the phenomenon in 1968, and it has stood up to 34 years of technological development amazingly well. Of course, there is some irony that in 2002 we are still marvelling at pictures of space stations rather than flying there on business trips, but nevertheless, Kubrick's vision is sound, if a bit druggy towards the end.

Samuel Beckett said that "every word seems an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness", and Kubrick seems to agree. The long stretches of almost blank screen and empty audio are almost an invitation to meditate on the images.

The chaotic bagpipe-like sounds at the beginning of the movie remind me of the Heideggerian and holistic way in which Foucault begins the "Discourse on Language":
I would really like to have slipped imperceptibly into this lecture, as into all the others I shall be delivering, perhaps over the years ahead. I would have preferred to have been enveloped in words, borne way beyond all possible beginnings. At the moment of speaking, I would like to have percieved a nameless voice, long preceding me, leaving me to merely enmesh myself in it, taking up its cadence, and to lodge myself, when no one was looking, in its interstices, as if it had paused an instant, in suspense, to beckon to me. There would have been no beginnings: instead, speech would precede from me, while I stood in its path--a slender gap--the point of its possible disappearance.

Of course, there is always the short version. (via synthetic zero.)

Kubrick interview.

Jonathan Rosenbaum on 2001

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

If, like me, you are largely ignorant of the successive dynasties of modern middle eastern history, you may be interested in these two articles. They both yield some history while going over the what ifs and should'ves that have led to the current world crisis.

The first article is part of kheper.auz.com, a very large and interesting personal site that dabbles, as mine does, in mysticism, world religion, and philosophy.

The other is via Arts & Letters Daily.

Monday, April 08, 2002

In other news, I discovered yet another favorite Indian dish: Handi Chicken.
Here is a very interesting description of two possible interpretations of Hegel's thought--a metaphysical view, and a post-Kantian interpretation. I have been conceptualizing Hegel in the metaphysical interpretation, but the post-Kantian interpretation is almost certainly more correct. Also, from an ontologically Idealist point of view, the two interpretations are, I think, identical. It is the writer of the article's perspective as an ontological materialist that creates the distinction in the first place.

A quotation from the article:

No sooner had Kant’s philosophy appeared then many objections were raised, among which were complaints about the apparently irreducible gap between the mind qua universal discursive intelligence and the mind as individual psychological reality.
I guess my question is: what gap?

Sunday, April 07, 2002

I uploaded a page of Goethe quotations to my website. Even more than others, anyone who thinks that Goethe was a Romantic should read them.

Saturday, April 06, 2002

William Pfaff decodes rhetoric and clarifies much in his column on the Isreali/Palestinian war, and Robert Wright scarily thinks that Isreal's violent present is America's future if we continue to piss the world off willy-nilly.

Friday, April 05, 2002

There's a great Nietzsche article in the New Yorker today. I was linked to it via the excellent weblog, Art & Letters Daily. It is a book review of a Nietzsche biography by Rüdiger Safranski. I think that I can say with confidence that my own love affair with Nietzsche is long over, having called him "biographically pathetic" in a recent email. But he is still one of the most beautiful and strongest writers of German prose, and it took me years before I could read him without becoming sort of...emotionally possessed by his spirit. Here's a sample of what you might call "the strong stuff".

I have often asked myself whether I am not more heavily obligated to the hardest years of my life than to any others. As my inmost nature teaches me, whatever is necessary as seen from the heights and in the sense of a great economy is also the useful par excellence: one should not only bear it, one should love it. Amor fati: that is my inmost nature. And as for my long sickness, do I not owe it indescribably more than I owe to my health? I owe it a higher health—one which is made stronger by whatever does not kill it. I also owe my philosophy to it. Only great pain is the ultimate liberator of the spirit. Only great pain, that long, slow pain in which we are burned with green wood, as it were—pain which takes its time—only this forces us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths and to put away all trust, all good-naturedness, all that would veil, all mildness, all that is medium—things in which formerly we may have found our humanity. I doubt that such a pain makes us "better," but I know that it makes us more profound. —From Nietzsche Contra Wagner, "Epilogue"

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Every so often you get burned. You get too confident, and life, nature, the negative, whatever you want to call it, has to bring you back down, and not necessarily gently. At least that's the way it works for me, a seemingly stereotypically idealistic Pisces. But it shows you that pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, is a necessary, inextricable part of life. You could call it the force of emotional gravity. In fact, paradoxically, it's necessary for human happiness or flourishing. Because it is merely an indication that the world is bigger than we are, that we can't stretch our minds completely around the cosmos. Would you really have it any other way?

Homer was wrong in saying: "Would that strife might perish from among gods and men!" He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the universe; for, if his prayer were heard, all things would pass away....Heraclitus, fragment #43.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Andrew Sullivan wrote an essay about "The Blogging Phenomenon". If you're asking yourself "What IS this?", read it. And if you've read Andrew Sullivan recently, you know that he has as much resistance to new ideas as anyone. But even he's convinced:
"It's somewhere in between writing a column and talk radio. It's genuinely new. And it harnesses the web's real genius--its ability to empower anyone to do what only a few in the past could genuinely pull off. In that sense, blogging is the first journalistic model that actually harnesses rather than merely exploits the true democratic nature of the web. It's a new medium finally finding a unique voice. Stay tuned as that voice gets louder and louder."

This is very exciting news for people who have seen Tony Kushner's play, Angels in America. I saw it a few years ago and could hardly believe that it had never been filmed. The fact that it's HBO rather than a movie studio doing it is very encouraging.
Several people I know are either vegetarians or "conscientious carnivores". Thoreau said that 'just as surely as the human species gave up cannibalism will it give up carnivorism' (That's not exactly right...I'm quoting from memory.)

Although I'm not quite jumping on the "Meat is murder" bandwagon just yet, I am convinced that there is a certain bad faith for the majority of civilized meat-eaters, like me, who are too sensitive to kill and clean their own meat. I suppose maybe that that is part of the attraction of hunting for some. Our culture enthusiastically hides the brutal facts of meat-eating from view, and I think that we should all wonder about whether this is optimal or not.

So although I like nothing better than a good steak, and could probably never give up meat entirely, I do give vegetarians credit for an interesting and provocative moral stance.
I expected an article about Iraq's terrorist ties to appear about now, but I didn't expect it to be convincing, or from the excellent, and left-leaning, Christian Science Monitor.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

This post is in response to Jan's, below.

I do have reasons for putting Schopenhaur to the left of Nietzsche, but you could also think of those labels as arbitrary, as unrelated to the political left and right. But I (currently) do think of Platonism as more advanced than Aristotelianism (think of it in spiral dynamics terms), and therefore more "progressive" and therefore more advanced, and therefore further to the left, but that's just my own personal shorthand. I am much less sure of that than of my basic distinction of the two Goetheanisms.

I'm going to try to restate that whole post in plainer language.

Plato is an idealist. (If you saw the excellent movie Iris, you saw a good example of a Platonic idealist.) When he talks about concepts like love, or justice, or goodness, he believes that these abstractions actually exist as entities in themselves. These are known as the Platonic Forms. Aristotle believes that forms exist, too. But he thinks that they only exist to the extent that they are exemplified by objects or beings. That is, the form "love" is composed of individuals' feelings or expressions of love.

Nominalism is the philosophy that Aristotle tended towards, that abstractions only exist insofar as they exist in concrete examples of these abstractions. I called Plato an essentialist, but anti-nominalist might be more accurate.

I want to use the analogy of Plato's and Aristotle's views on the forms to describe two different ways of thinking about spirit.

I bnelieve that Goethe inspired a generation of German thinkers to think about spirit and the world in evolutionary terms. These thinkers, the German Idealists, included Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Heine, Schopenhaur, Nietzsche, Freud, etc.

The philosophical dogma is that these thinkers were decisively influenced by Kant. They were, but this does not explain the emphasis on evolution and development that all of these thinkers share and which I believe constitutes their genius. Kant certainly did not emphasize development in his philosophy; quite the opposite. I believe that they were decisively influenced by Goethe, and I hope to present textual evidence to this end.

But it's clear to me that these Goethean thinkers fall into two camps: nominalists of the spirit and anti-nominalists. Schopenhaur actually believed that his "Will to Live" was the fundamental force that the cosmos was composed of. He was therefore a spiritual anti-nominalist. Nietzsche criticized Schopenhaur in "The Gay Science" for believing in "one will". To Nietzsche, who saw himself as a student of the Enlightenment rather than a follower of Romanticism, this belief in "one will" was mystical unscientific nonsense. Emerson, who Nietzsche admired, had the idea of the oversoul which shows that he follows Schopenhaur on this issue.

The interesting question for me is whether Goethe was closer to Schopenhaur or Nietzsche on this question.
OK, I guess I need some clarification. I understand where you're going with the 2 wings of Goetheanism, but which is Schopenhaurian and which is Nietzschean? It seems that your comparison of Schopenhaur to Emerson and your own approach to spirit would lead me to believe this as the "left" school of thought, more liberal (?) but maybe I'm missing your definition of right and left.

You also say that Schopenhaur was more essentialist. Could you define essentialist for me?

I'd just like to get a handle on the vocabulary of the Goethean world.
Bumper sticker idea: "I wonder if Mexico would take back Texas."
Look! It's my blog's namesake. I'd buy one if that didn't spell certain death for the plant.
There is one rather major facet in my conception of Goethe that I need to find textual support for in Goethe's works. I have an impression of Goethe, especially in his later works, as believing in something similar to Emerson's conception of the Oversoul. But I can't think of a poem in which he confesses this.

This is a major facet because it distinguishes between the Schopenhaurian and Nietzschean strands of Goethe's legacy. Nietzsche had a more nominalistic, quasi-Aristotelian monism, while Schopenhaur had a full-blown quasi-Platonic monism. To use a term that is overly and poorly used today, Schopenhaur was more essentialist in his approach to spirit, as was Emerson, and as I tend to be. In the future, I may refer to these schools of thought as right and left Goetheanism, just as Gadamer is often called a right Heideggerian and Derrida a left Heideggerian.
Who gave you the idea that publishing a dead-wood book is cutting edge? It was in Gutenburg's time. If you've visited a mega-bookstore recently, you know that half the crap published would be better burnt for fertilizer.

Exclusivity does not necessarily imply enviability.

Quiz: Which Shakespeare character was the most addicted to potty metaphors?
OK, goethe-boy, I'll scrawl on your microscopic shard of the Wall. I doubt the world is looking, though. Blogs have more in common with guys that have sex in a public toilet. A few people might figure out what sort of transaction you and your pal are conducting but only the few who happen into your john. Now getting a book published -- that is more like graffitti was in NYC in, say, the fifties. When the Big Apple was the apple of god's eye. Now this global culture has someone such as myself, a wouldbe Grubstreeter, competing with some kid from the streets of Saigon, or whatever it is called this week. Fifteen nanoseconds of fame. That is all we should be allowed. It is a far cry from Shakespeare's London. Which, I think, had a population of about half a million in 1600. Have to check on that. But so long as me scribbling here will get you scribbling this is cool. If it was about your feelings and thoughts and ontological proof of your sorry little existence... well, I just wasn't going to watch you do that to yourself. In the privacy of your own compartment -- sure -- whack away. But in a place where people can pass by? If you must I wouldn't stop you -- mostly because I would be pretending not to know you. Sakes!
More from Melody Barnes of the Emerson Listserv:

"Wisdom tells me I am nothing;
Love tells me I am everything;
And between the two, my life flows."

It reminds me of RWE's "I am a God in nature; I am a weed by the wall."

Nisagardatta said this:

"Watch your mind.
Discover yourself as the watcher.
Discover yourself as the Light behind the watcher.
Go to the Dark behind the Light and abide there."
Here is a conversation that could benefit from what I'm going to call a Goethean perspective (and you can't stop me). Unfortunately, the metafilter membership is closed, so I can't contribute. For now I'll just say that the creation/evolution debate could benefit massively from Goethe's views. A diatribe will follow later.
"These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence."--Ralph Waldo Emerson, via the Emerson Society Listserv

Apart from the losing-posts bit, I'm impressed with blogger technology. Often, I wonder why some people tend to see the Internet as an elaborate waste of time, and others tend to see it as a revolution. A revolution in time-wasting? The idealistic among us want to think of it as more than that. The power is very great, the harnessing of that power is more difficult. It's as if we have been standing around looking at the first internal-combustion engine for five or ten years. "It's great, but what does it do?"...."I'm sure we can find something to do with it." Let's hope it results in something better than gridlock.
hm. Blogger appears to have lost two of my four posts so far. 50% record. Bad for a school grade, extraordinary for a batting average.
Why the wacky name, "Goethea"? Well, if you know me, you know that I've been obsessed with (among others) the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After almost a decade of this obsession, I think that I am coming to an understand of why Goethe has had such a tight hold on my mind. I believe that he had a view of the world that is neglected in a significant way by the English-speaking world. I have been trying to articulate what that view is for years, and I really haven't made much progress. I see this blog as just another notebook in pursuit of that goal.
Apparently, I've established a weblog. The idea is that it is a better place to put my thoughts than in old emails that will sit in personal folders on various corporate servers until I switch jobs, at which time they will vanish into the digital ether.

Which makes me think: the digital world, although it is not equivalent to the actual world (a la the Matrix), is a good metaphor for it. In it, objects are composed of smaller entities (bits), until they are reduced to their component parts. All that is lost when a file is destroyed is organization. But organization is all that anything in the world is. Thus the McLuhanesque point that reality is simply information.