The eyes have hills

Bergson famously pointed out that we’re almost totally incapable of speaking about time without the language of space. And in order to do so, Bergson found that he had to bracket time altogether, imagining a language of duration. What’s presupposed here is that thought without language is nearly impossible. In order to go further into the metaphysics of change and integrity, we have to go back through the linguistic maze by another entrance.

The other day, for the first time in ages, I put on contact lenses. What I saw in the mirror was the equivalent of looking underneath my skin. I saw what I had very quietly assumed but never needed to think about because I have either been too blind to see it in detail or else it was obscured by the frames of my glasses: there’s a topography to my eyes. Noticing a few scattered bits of gray on my temples or chin is nothing like the sudden appearance of crescent valleys, bulging peaks, and dried up river beds stretching over my very own ocular cavities. Ageing is no longer just something my peers have been up to.

I’m sure that’s why my dreams of late have been about present problems and problem figures invading the sanctuary of my youth. Worries and regrets invert the careful set design of my adolescent plays, and I can’t remember any of my blocking.

All of this–I think–is also tied into the realization that in a few short months it’ll have been a year living in another country. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been dwelling so much lately on Tommy Saxondale’s (Steve Coogan’s greatest creation) eloquent quotation of Hartley: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

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Bergson said that when time calls, it’s space that answers. But I think that’s only true when we’re trying to articulate the present as a device taking in the past and spitting out the future, like the endless strip of tape on a Turing machine. Or, more to the point, the Turing tape may be what time has to be in language. But whether you think of the ontology of time as Bergsonian duration or, as Heidegger would have it, the pulse of a present arrangement, I think that when it comes to time, there’s a third mediating term between language and reality. When when we look at time, it’s place that looks back. Yes, the past is a foreign country, a place distant from the place we presently stand. But as a place (actually, manifold places), the past is also relational distances, distances between those which inhabit that place. Which means that it cannot be condensed and replicated as a file in some world hard drive.

–To hastily conclude because I’ve run out of time and am unlikely to return to this post soon–

Presumably the same is true of the future. From this, we can take a couple things. First, the space-place contrast suggests that there is indeed non-representational, non-symbolic thought. Thought mediates itself. Second, aesthetics has to be at the root of anticipatory practices about the future. I’m currently thinking about the possible anticipatory practices of embodied machines, and that second point is going to be tricky. But we’ve got to start there. More ideas about that to come.

 

 

 

 

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Global Warming and the Poetics of Experience; or WHINGE is my Factory Setting.

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First, a personal whinge: In the months leading to my move to Sweden, I followed the local weather pretty closely in order to get a baseline. It seems that they had a late start on winter, but when the snow did arrive, it kept coming. All the way to April. As the months before my departure became weeks and days, I became far more concerned with what still needed be done in Toledo. And by the time I got on the plane, I had no specific idea about what kind of ground conditions to expect when I landed. But I had heard that things stayed pretty wet and cool until July, so I happily packed my rain jacket into my backpack with a near certainty that I’d have to pull it out as soon as I stepped out of baggage claim.

When I say “I happily packed my rain jacket,” I mean just that. I was happy. Not just that I’d be prepared, but because I like cool, dreary days. I always have. Mind you, I don’t walk around with black eyeliner and I’m not at all displeased that Friday I’m in Love is only Cure song most people know. And yes, there is a point of diminishing returns if it stays dreary for too long. But I generally like my days in grey tone.

For one, the heat is not a good look for me. I sweat a lot. And excessive sweat does ugly things to curly hair and a ruddy complexion. Ugly things. Imagine Dylan Thomas in a sauna. Or don’t.

For another, the sun has always seemed to me a sort of luciferian figure. Yes it illuminates the world for us; but when you actually walk around in the sunshine, your head is forever bowed. When it’s too bright, the ground in front of you is all there really is to look at. But on a grey day, light is less homogeneous. It breaks for the turn of a single leaf and the whole cityscape alike. The world is less illuminated, but the things in it are more vibrant.

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Memes, Millennials, and Meaning (and Anaphora)

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Elizabeth Bruenig has written an excellent piece in the Washington Post entitled “Why is millennial humor so weird?” While Bruenig is not the first person to diagnose the millennial condition through humor, her piece is the most clearheaded and insightful I’ve seen on the topic.

Bruenig focuses in particular on the aesthetics of absurdity in millennial cultural production, which, in contrast to absurdist aesthetics of the past, is not accented with outright pessimism:

Surrealism and its anarchic cousin dadaism are nothing new; neither is absurdism or weirdness in art. ‘The absurd,’ Albert Camus wrote in 1942, ‘is born of this confrontation between the human need [for happiness and reason] and the unreasonable silence of the world.’ Absurdity is the compulsion to go looking for meaning that simply isn’t there. Today’s surrealism draws aspects of all of these threads together with humor, creating an aesthetic world where (in common internet parlance) ‘lol, nothing matters,’ but things may turn out all right anyway.

I would add that millennial absurdism can further be defined against the cynicism and irony of postmodern cultural products (those belonging to baby boomers and gen x’ers). In postmodern culture, the central trope was self-referentiality–the practice of acknowledging production from within the production (think of the “S.O.B.s” episode of Arrested Development when the show found out it was going to be canceled). Here, we can go back to McLuhan’s distinction between hot and cold media. The postmodern aesthetic of self-referentiality was a bit like hot media in that its consumption was profoundly passive. It was so passive that its producers (writers, onscreen talent, etc.) positioned themselves as members of the audience, watching the production right along side us. In other words, even the producers removed themselves from the production. There was no need to go looking for meaning in context because, as the audience, we were the context. There was no meaning to be found outside of ourselves. Millennial absurdism by contrast takes the attitude that context is always yet to come; the audience must actively create the context by distorting the product.

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Properties and Predicates

I just finished a very nice little book by Douglas Edwards about the philosophy of properties, appropriately titled Properties.  The arguments Edwards covers are entirely from the analytical side of the fence, most of which are from the past forty years or so.  I was familiar with some of the arguments and unfamiliar with others.  But even if you are well versed in this area, I’d still recommend the book because of the masterful way Edwards put the various approaches into conversation with one another.  Properties is designed primarily as an introductory text, so it’s plenty accessible to the uninitiated too, and Edwards provides excellent definitions and examples for key concepts before discussing them in the context of existing arguments.

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That’s as far as I want to go by way of a review.  I really want to record some thoughts I had about properties and predicates as I was making my way through the book.

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Feckin’ Parentheses (A Note on Irish Rhetoric)

 

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I just got into my mom’s place a couple of days ago.  We stayed up until two in the morning last night, talking, sipping on Jameson’s, and talking.  Mom has always had the gift of gab, but since Dad passed away two years ago, she’s got more to say than ever.  This is probably because my father was usefully employed as a ‘round the clock sounding board for forty years.  Mom has since had to find new places to put her words.  As Dad got older, he said less and less.  He could speak and speak well when he needed to, but he was far more comfortable as a listener.  That’s the way Dad’s people are.  The older you are, the less verbal flexing you need to do.

But Mom is Irish.  They’re drunk on words and there’s no sobering up with age.

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“Scientism” is not a word I like to use.

brainnetworkThere’s a part in The Being of Analogy where I claim I don’t really know what “scientism” is supposed to mean.  That was a bit of disingenuous rhetorical flourish used to distance myself from the term, and I probably shouldn’t have said it.  I know perfectly well what it means and why it exists, but I’m still uncomfortable with it.  I’ve been uncomfortable with “scientism” ever since I made the transition in graduate school from physical anthropology to English studies, which is when I first encountered the term.  I identified then as a lone scientist besieged by an army of deconstructionists, and, as such, “scientism” smacked of glib, kneejerk anti-intellectualism.  It still feels pretty kneejerk to me, but I no longer see it as glib or anti-intellectual.  My beef with it now is that it’s too ambiguous and it’s often a gateway to either hypocrisy or disengagement with science.

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