5.13.2011

My essay on the end of times via "Inapprorpiate Thesaurus"

There is an eschatologic strand that has run through our culture for eons and runs through our very private sense of self. There is a deep ambivalence about it: "Holy shit, I don't want it all to end!" And, in the same breath: "Please, let it come down — all of it. This life it too much."

Speaking of the end of times wreaks of nihilism, of a death wish — the ultimate death wish.

But of course it is obvious that the life we lead, here in the US, is unsustainable....

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8 comments:

drwatson said...

This is nice - It speaks to my last post - but it speaks sideways. Which is appreciated even if it wasn't meant. It'll take a few more readings and some thinking for a reasonable response. But it will be forthcoming.

drwatson said...

To go in a direction I wasn't expecting: at the end you mention that things are constantly changing. In some sense this to me seems like one of those fundamental debates that are underneath all debate. Namely, is there anything new under the sun?

From my readings of postmodernists like Derrida and Foucault it seems to me one thing their work doesn't deal well with is change. If you start from the outside, and assume the outside creates the conditions for the possibility of an inside, it makes it very hard to determine how the outside changes. Clearly, it does. But that system of thought, in my view, isn't great at dealing with it. And that system of thought is the system of thought I tend to follow. I never realized this problem until last semester and it's sort of driven me crazy since then.

I read old texts a lot, and I think I understand them. So how much different is an Athenian from me? Even when someone like Thomas Kuhn describes how the old science and new science are not talking about the same understanding of Being (that's not the best way to say that) he still uses a language that allows me to understand both worldviews. So, perhaps the concept of "worldview" is problematic.

The best professor I've had in my PhD program has been Stephen Yarbrough. His book "After Rhetoric: The Study of Discourse Beyond Language and Culture" has been the most interesting thing I've read on the subject of worldviews this year. His argument is essentially that the ideas "language" and "culture" are neither accurate nor useful. And to say that without backing it up is problematic, but it'd take an essay to describe his argument.

And his last book, which I'm reading now is called Inventive Intercourse. Which who cares what it's about - what a great name for an academic book.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I think Foucault is great at talking about change. That's in fact all he talks about — the radical discontinuity between Greek and Christian morality; between corporal punishment and prison; between king and panopticon; etc.

I'm not saying that there's nothing new under the sun. I'm saying: change is inevitable but that doesn't mean EVERYTHING ends at once. It means everything ends and everything begins in its own time.

There is something new under the sun — lots of things, infinite things. But change is constant.

And change does not equal the end of times; it equals the end of this time.

All is in flux and it's our job, amongst others, to map this change. That is what Foucault does in all his books.

Inventive Intercourse is a pretty good title.

drwatson said...

I agree that Foucault's whole project feels like a tracking of change. My question is something like this: given postmodernists view of language as a medium that is situated between person and world, how does change occur? It seems to me they end up in a pickle because language basically creates reality under this rubric, thus the weird idea of political correctness: talking about something differently makes reality different. They way I understand it, that's basically a postmodern position. But if reality is constructed by a medium, I always have trouble figuring out how anybody would ever change their mind.

Or with Foucault, the individual is created by certain social institutions. Well if the person is created by these certain social institutions, it because hard, at least the way I'm thinking about it, to explain institutional change.

Hopefully, that at least borders on making sense.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Well, first of all, I don't believe there is such as thing as the postmodernists. Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze: they each have their own view on things, on language, on meaning, on what it means to operate in this world.

And none of them ever ever ever says language creates the world. What Foucault suggests is that we can look at language to see the limits of what we're allowed to think, the normative structures of truth and speaking.

For each — and his own way — we reality is itself an odd notion but we certainly don't make it. It is made, along with us. We make and are made.

The individual is not made by these institutions (for MF). It's that we come to be through our world. The subject is not distinct from the world but part of it, made in the process of everything else.

At least for Foucault and Deleuze, change is constitutive of their thinking. And not just change in general but very specific changes. They provide tools to think through, to map, change in its radical specificity.

How's that?

drwatson said...

Yeah, I'm overgeneralizing. It still seems to me, though, that there is a problem with, say, Derrida, to use one example. As I understand Derrida, there is person and world, connected by language. So a person's world is constituted by language. As I've read him, there is always a distance, a medium, between the person and the world and if you change the medium, the world does change.

That medium is usually described as language or culture and I think, basically, that there is no medium between person and world.

I see the same problem with Burke's idea of "terministic screens" which always assumes a filter between person and world. All this is why I prefer Merleau-Ponty to Derrida. It always seemed to me in reading MP that there was no medium nor any need for one.

drwatson said...

Coffeen - you've gotten me wanting to start blogging. This is about the only blog I actually respond to - I read a few others, but rarely am as engaged as this one - so thanks. There's some older posts that are pretty poorly written on the link I'm about to post, but the one today I think I like. It's weird writing for an audience that isn't there - so that's what I figured I'd write about. But the post was sort of in response to comments about a month ago from some guy responding to one of your essays on TC. I forget his name - but I remember thinking that there's a kind of dumb that only comes through education.

http://philosophicalmatters.blogspot.com/

Daniel Coffeen said...

Hey, DrW: Love it, love it. Keep on blogging — whatever comes to your head. I find it a great way to stir my intellectual loins, as it were.