Work for 6 years. The 7th, go alone or among strangers, so the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become
Either Vinay, or via Vinay
Work for 6 years. The 7th, go alone or among strangers, so the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become
Either Vinay, or via Vinay
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Thomas Edison, attib.
David Graeber traces a line from Roman property law, through Cartesian dualism and Hobbes’ state of nature, to the foundational myth of the free market:
At this point we can finally see what’s really at stake in our peculiar habit of defining ourselves simultaneously as master and slave, reduplicating the most brutal aspects of the ancient household in our very concept of ourselves, as masters of our freedoms, or as owners of our very selves. It is the only way that we can imagine ourselves as completely isolated beings. There is a direct line from the new Roman conception of liberty – not as the ability to form mutual relationships with others, but as the kind of absolute power of “use and abuse” over the conquered chattel who make up the bulk of a wealthy Roman man’s household – to the strange fantasies of liberal philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Smith, about the origins of human society in some collection of thirty- or forty-year-old males who seem to have sprung from the earth fully formed, then have to decide whether to kill each other or begin to swap beaver pelts.
David Graeber (2011) ‘Debt: The First 500 years’, p209-210.
Graeber uses an anthropologist’s view of history to argue that markets are brought into existence by the state, and particularly by an expansionist military state which wishes to force all social actors to be intermediaries in the war machine. By obliging everyone to accept state currency a state-coinage-slavery complex is created. This dynamic drives the creation of slaves, which are, by definition, people ripped from all social context. The collision of market economies with social economies (which are about interaction as much as obtaining goods) creates a moral dilemma which we can trace written in the texts of all the ancient religions (you’ll have to read the book for details). The dominant modes of human relation in historical time have been three: exchange, hierarchy and communism (not in the Marxist sense). The dominion of the exchange mode, and its perversion into being primarily market exchange, reduces the primacy of the other modes in the models of liberal/market thinkers, and so our conception of our selves (individually and politically) is contaminated by contradictory notions of debt and ownership (again, you’ll have to read the book). Ultimately this finds expression in a vision of ourselves as separate from our own bodies, and in the foundational myth of economics in which we markets come into being de novo among an asocial but equal status collection of isolates who can begin to trade to satisfy their wants.
It’s an extremely rich book, which is also very disorganised in its arguments. I’m still digesting what I’ve read so this is a poor summary. Most importantly for me, and separate from the specifics of the argument, the anthropological and historical material does the job of expanding our conception of what we and our society could be.
Pro-tip: on the final pages (p384-387) Graeber offers his own summary of the thesis of the book.
Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.
Stuart Sutherland, in The International Dictionary of Psychology entry on Consciousness
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
Anaïs Nin, volume 3 of her diaries (apparently)
There are no solutions here – it’s about what problems you choose to address on an ongoing basis
Rob Riordan, via @AlecPatton
I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c., daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies, and sea-fights, peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances, are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, currantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villanies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of Princes, new discoveries, expeditions; now comical then tragical matters. To-day we hear of new Lords and officers created, to-morrow of some great men deposed, and then again of fresh honours conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh: he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps &c. Thus I daily hear, and such like, both private and publick news. Amdist the gallantry and misery of the world: jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villany; subtlety, knavery, candour and integrity, mutually mixed and offering themselves, I rub on in a strictly private life.
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (p.19)
Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.
Gore Vidal, I’m told
I have no explanation for my own vile ambitions. Confronted with your pus, I could not stop to examine my direction, whether or not I was aimed at a star. As I limped down the street every window broadcast a command: Change! Purify! Experiment! Cauterize! Reverse! Burn! Preserve! Teach! Believe me, Edith, I had to act, and act fast. That was my nature. Call me Dr. Frankenstein with a deadline. I seemed to wake up in the middle of a car accident, limbs strewn everywhere, detached voices screaming for comfort, severed fingers pointing homeward, all the debris withering like sliced cheese out of Cellophane – and all I had in the wrecked world was a needle and thread, so I got down on my knees, I pulled pieces out of the mess and I started to stitch them together. I had an idea of what a man should look like, but it kept changing. I couldn’t devote a lifetime to discovering the ideal physique. All I heard was pain, all I saw was mutilation. My needle going so madly, sometimes I found I’d run the thread right through my own flesh and I was joined to one of my own grotesque creations – I’d rip us apart – and then I heard my own voice howling with the others, and I knew that I was also truly part of the disaster. But I also realized that I was not the only one on my knees sewing frantically. There were others like me, making the same monstrous mistakes, driven by the same impure urgency, stitching themselves into the ruined heap, painfully extracting themselves
F., in Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers (1966), p.175
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion
Francis Bacon (1561–1626), ‘Of Beauty‘.
Affordance links perception to action, as it links a creature to its environment. It links both to cognition, because it relates to meaning. Meaning is in the world, as much as in the mind, because meaning involves the appropriateness of an organism’s actions to its surroundings
Eleanor Gibson, in Gibson, E. J. (1988). Exploratory behavior in the development of perceiving, acting, and the acquiring of knowledge. Annual review of psychology, 39(1), 1–42.
Whether in schools or in other public spheres, public intellectuals must struggle to create the conditions that enable students and others to become cultural producers who can rewrite their own experiences and perceptions by engaging with various texts, ideological positions, and theories. They must construct pedagogical relations in which students learn from each other, learn to theorize rather than simply ingest theories, and begin to address how to decenter the authoritarian power of the classroom. Students must also be given the opportunity to challenge disciplinary borders, create pluralized spaces from which hybridised identities might emerge, take up critically the relationship between language and experience, and appropriate knowledge as part of a broader effort at self-definition and ethical responsibility. What I am suggesting here is that public intellectuals move away from the rigid, ideological parameters of the debate about the curriculum or canon. What is needed is a new language for discussing knowledge and authority and the possibility of giving the students a role in deciding what is taught and how it is taught under specific circumstances. The question is not merely, who speaks and under what conditions? It is also about how to see universities (and public schools) as important sites of struggle over what is taught and for control of the conditions of knowledge production itself.
Giroux, H. A. (1997). Pedagogy and the politics of hope: Theory, culture, and schooling: a critical reader. WestviewPress (Boulder, Colo.), p263.
But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.
The Savage to Mustapha Mond, in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), p187
Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.
Matsuo Basho (attrib.)
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.
Master Chuang (c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC)
Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be
Ophelia, in Hamlet,Act 4, Scene 5, by William Shakespeare (1599-1602 ish)
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods.
From the foregoing account it will be seen that in Newspeak the expression of unorthodox opinions, above a very low level, was well-nigh impossible. It was of course possible to utter heresies of a very crude kind, a species of blasphemy. It would have been possible, for example, to say Big Brother is ungood. But this statement, which to an orthodox ear merely conveyed a self-evident absurdity, could not have been sustained by reasoned argument, because the necessary words were not available. Ideas inimical to Ingsoc could only be entertained in a vague wordless form, and could only be named in very broad terms which lumped together and condemned whole groups of heresies without defining them in doing so.
George Orwell, ‘The Principles of Newspeak’,
At the base of the modern state there is the professor, not the executioner… for the monopoly of legitimate education is more important than the monopoly of legitimate violence.
Nurit Peled-Elhanan, reported here
Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
Kurt Vonnegut, in Hocus Pocus
Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
Paulo Freire, in The Politics of Education, 1985 (apparently)
“Knowledge is potentially infinite. What we can attend to at a given moment is severely limited. So there’s always a question as to what will count as knowledge in a given context, and another about who will decide what counts. These questions ….are almost always properly political, that is they require a judgement about what is good, a judgement which the scientist is no more competent to render than any other citizen.”
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.
David Hume, Of Personal Identity, Selection from Book I, Part 4, Section 6 of A Treatise of Human Nature
“They’re Made Out of Meat” is a short story by Terry Bisson. It’s a great rift of the improbability of the human situation, and particularly relevant to psychologists (e.g. “So … what does the thinking?”)
Now, for your listening delight Erin Revell and Geraint Edwards, at my request, have recorded the story so I can play parts of it during a lecture. The result was too good not to share, so with Terry Bisson’s permission, here’s a link for the whole thing:
(Cross-posted at mindhacks.com)
Science is built of facts the way a house is built of bricks; but an accumulation of facts is no more science than a pile of bricks is a house
Henri Poincare, La Science et l’Hypothèse (1901), English translation: Science and Hypothesis (1905), chapter 9 (via Jim Stone)
A, a, a, DOMINE DEUS
I said, Ah! what shall I write?
I enquired up and down
(He’s tricked me before
with his manifold lurking-places.)
I looked for His symbol at the door.
I have looked for a long while
at the textures and contours.
I have run a hand over the trivial intersections.
I have journeyed among the dead forms
causation projects from pillar to pylon.
I have tired the eyes of the mind
regarding the colours and lights.
I have felt for His wounds
in nozzles and containers.
I have wondered for the automatic devices.
I have tested the inane patterns
I have been on my guard
not to condemn the unfamiliar.
For it is easy to miss Him
at the turn of a civilisation.
I have watched the wheels go round in case I might see the living crea-
tures like the appearance of lamps, in case I might see the living God
projected from the machine. I have said to the perfected steel, be my sister and for the glassy towers I thought I felt some beginnings of His creature, but A,a,a, Domine Deus, my hands found the glazed work unrefined and the terrible crystal a stage-paste…. Eia, Domine Deus.
David Jones, in The Sleeping Lord and Other Poems (1974), thank you Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts
Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man without a Country
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Defined by their lesser knowledge, students can do nothing which does not confirm the most pessimistic image that the professor, in his most professional character is willing to confess to: they understand nothing, and they reduce the most brilliant theories to logical monstrosities or picturesque oddities as if their only role in life was to illustrate the vanity of the efforts which the professor squanders on them and which he will continue to squander despite everything out of professionals conscience with a disabused lucidity which only redoubles his merit. By definition the professor teaches as he ought to teach, and the meagre results with which he is rewarded can only reinforce his certainty that the great majority of his students are unworthy of the efforts he bestows upon them. Indeed the professor is as resigned to his students and their ‘natural’ incapacities as the ‘good colonist’ is to the ‘natives’, for he has no higher expectations than they just be the way they are.
In secondary and higher education, it is taken for granted that the language of ideas elaborated by the academic and scientific tradition and also the second-order language of allusions and cultural complicities are second nature to intelligent and gifted individuals; or better, that the ability to understand and to manipulate these learned languages – artificial languages, par excellence – where we see the natural language of human intelligence at work immediately distinguishes intelligent students from the rest. It is thanks to this ideology of a profession that academics can vouch for professional judgements as strictly equitable. But in reality they consecrate cultural privilege. Language is the most active and elusive part of cultural heritage which each individual owes to his background. This is because language does not reduce, as we often think, to a more or less extensive collection of words. As syntax, it provides us with a system of transposable mental dispositions. These go hand in hand with values which dominate the whole of our experience and, in particular, with a vision of society and of culture. They also involve an original relationship to words, reverential or free, borrowed or familiar, sparing or intemperate
Bourdieu, P., (1994), Academic Discourse: Linguistic Misunderstanding and Professorial Power. Polity Press, Cambridge, trans. Richard Teese, p6-7 & p8.
The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out onto the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
snowed for two days and the unit
did not return.
The lieutenant suffered:
he had dispatched
his own people to death.
But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.
The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees
Miroslav Holub, Brief Thoughts on Maps,Times Literary Supplement, Feb 4, 1977