Archive for the ‘criticism’ Category

The Power of Vitalism

April 1, 2014

We exist in a social and intellectual world that is deeply schizophrenic. As the tradition of the Marxists reminds us, society is constructed and constrained by class, economics, and control of the means of production. Thinkers from the Frankfurt School extended the idea of limits and constraint into the realm of the academic and aesthetic, speaking of “instrumental rationality” and “the culture industry.” Philosopher Michel Foucault showed us how our very bodies and minds are disciplined and ordered by dominant knowledge forms, forms that further shape our most basic institutions. His project of trying to intervene into this normalizing process with his deep quasi-psychiatric analysis and treatment of post-Enlightenment society met with mixed results.

Postmodern thinkers like Derrida and Lyotard have added further complications, undermining the notion of grand narratives and even the fixed meaning of text itself. At times it seems we are left in a chaotic, endlessly confusing, frustratingly relativist world. Few still revel in this intellectual morass without any even vague guideposts, much as it at times does provide for dynamic and playful aesthetic outbursts.

And thus we are left with life. Life constantly ordered, organized, constrained, systematized, analyzed, institutionalized, disciplined, proscribed, described, and, sadly at times, senselessly destroyed.

But, despite these factors, life is a constant reminder of the small, essential truth of vitalism. It remains, sometimes only in slight, subtle ways, sometimes only in fits and starts, ultimately unpredictable in any universal sense. No ordered, mechanistic, technocratic system, regardless of its ferocity or scale, can completely consume life’s endlessly unpredictable and dynamic process of becoming.

Power is a heady and dominant notion in our world, but life is, in its essential nature, beyond the constraints of power. To believe in life as life, to accept some small segment of the idea of vitalism, is to, in the final analysis, “fight the power.”

N.B. The original draft of this text is about fifteen years old…It was recently rediscovered and necromantically re-animated and re-purposed as a blog post.

Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

March 23, 2014

Much of what gets posted on this blog is essentially ephemera — random thoughts, idle speculation, little morsels of meaning, and the occasional snapshot. But I do also produce more cohesive work in my “real life” as a historian and philosopher of science. Believe me, in the age of the corporate university, that’s a lot less glamorous than it sounds.

Anyway, without further ado (well, maybe a bit more ado) here’s a link to a semi-popular piece that I wrote last spring in the literary e-magazine Berfrois about breathing, mindfulness and their simple transformative potential.

So take a deep breath and dive right in!

The Philosophy of Slack 9: Slack and Success

March 8, 2014

Slack states unequivocally that it remains sedated in the face of success stories. There is no success, only survival. In a Darwinian struggle for existence replete with killer asteroids, super bacteria, mutagenic cosmic rays, environmental toxicity, dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, and oncoming buses just making it through the day unscathed is success.

Slack is inured to the inundation of insights offered by an unending stream of success gurus. In any event, these all boil down to a conspiracy on the part of “management” to just get you to work harder.

There is no “secret” to success. Success is an illusion – there is no success, as thing out there in the world. We are all Holden Caulfield, and the brass ring will always be out of reach. Success, rather, is perspective. Getting out of bed is success. Alas, even here slack is sometimes unsuccessful…

Slack understands that success is, quite definitely, not directly related to effort. The winds of fate and fortune blow hither and yon, and for some, success is an innate function of being. Would anybody listen to Anthony Robbins if he were 5’7” and had crooked teeth?

Slack is its own success. In just letting go and being, slack has succeeded where most fail. Success, after all, can only be measured, never truly felt. Success is a function of comparisons – with others – and judgments of those around us by often arbitrary and obtuse standards. In its dependence on judging, success is actually by definition failure.

Slack grows weary of the whole self-help and self-improvement craze. Taking a page out of Alan Watts, slack knows that “self-improvement is a hoax.” Better how? Better when? Better than what?

In embracing each moment and languishing in it like a lizard sunning itself on a rock, slack happily waves goodbye to success as it speeds by on the highway of life, always moving towards its next goal, objective, meeting or coronary.

Besides, success in a contemporary context amounts to the acquisition of larger and larger quantities of stuff, which is really just a drag (c.f. “Slack and Stuff”).

Self-Improvement is a Hoax

January 24, 2014

“Here is the situation: the whole idea of self-improvement is a will-o’-the-wisp and a hoax. Let us begin where we are. What happens if you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is nothing you can do to be better? Well, it is a kind of relief. I am what I am, there it is. So you say, ‘Now what will I do?’, and there is a little fidget that comes up because we are so used to making things better — ‘leave the world a little better than when you found it’ sort of thing, or ‘I want to be of service to other people,’ and all such dreadfully hazy ideas. There is that little itch still. But if we realize that there really is nothing we can do to improve ourselves or improve the world, it gives us a breather in the course of which we may simply watch what is happening. No one ever does this. It sounds terribly simple, it sounds so simple that it looks almost as if it is not worth doing. But have you ever just watched what is happening, and what you are doing by way of reaction to it? Just watch it happen, and do not be in a hurry to think you know what it is. People look and say, ‘Well, that is the external world.’ How do you know? The whole thing, from a neurological point of view, is just happening in your head. That you think there is something outside the skull is a notion in your nervous system. There may or may not be. That this is the material world, is someone philosophical idea. Or maybe you think the world is spiritual; that, too, is someone’s philosophical idea. The world is not spiritual, it is not material, the real world is simply as it is.”

Alan Watts, The Way of Liberation: Essays and Lectures on the Transformation of the Self (New York: Weatherhill, 1983), 69-70.

The Sorcerers

December 1, 2013

The Sorcerers

L. Sprague de Camp

They say the men of magic are all dead.
No more does the diviner in his swoon
Perceive the future in his mystic smokes;
No more the reckless sorcerer invokes
A demon fell to serve him. Xaltotun,
Imhotep, Merlin, and the rest, it’s said
Are gone from modern life.

But yesteryear, one who, the tale relates,
Was called MacGregor Mathers, Kabbalist,
Had built his Order of the Golden Dawn,
Donned robes, and struggled with the Devil’s spawn –
The wizard Crowley, skulking Satanist –
And, exiled, played at four-men chess with Yeats,
A ghost, and Mathers’ wife.

Then, too, in London sat, with cigarette
In hand, unkempt and testy, azure-eyed,
The uncrowned empress of the occult world –
Huge Helena Blavatsky. Round her swirled
A horde of chelas who, though daily plied
With dicta from Mahatmas in Tibet,
Were locked in frenzied strife.

And what bewhiskered Alchemist of yore
Made gold from lead with such astute address
As Mrs. Eddy, Hubbard, and their kind
Turn doctrines full of gibberish refined
To fortunes from the dupes that they impress?
With such, as in the mystic times before,
The world will long be rife.

From Anne McCaffrey, ed., Alchemy & Academe (New York: Ballantine, 1970), 41-2.

[N.B. Synchromystically, this is the 666th post on this blog...]

Madness and…Um…Civilization?

October 26, 2013

Really clever and incisive review of the new DSM-V, the manual of psychiatric disorders that serves as a kind of bizarre taxonomy of the human condition. Herein the author treats the text as a novel, with startlingly effective results. Highly recommended reading.

From The New Inquiry.

Thoughts of Her

May 20, 2013

Why so many thoughts of her? Do I still love her? Or do I want to be her? The whole glossy fashion magazine life – the right brands, the right places. Somewhere between lululemon and YSL is Nirvana. There was – is – a regal grace about the woman that’s really sexy. The pinnacle of a plug for United Colors of Benetton extolling the virtue of temperance.

I imagine her also in a luxuriance only dreamed of in some Arabian legend of gold and wishes granted. Delighting in massage after massage at the hands of big strong men while little Asian ladies give the eternal pedicure – a kind of state of permanent blissful grooming.

In my thoughts, her Adidas tennis skirt is always hitched up revealingly, instantly recalling the après game, set and match. Her soul served in a chilled vodka (Absolut?) and cranberry cocktail, sitting on a mosaic-covered table overlooking the town of Santorini – bathed in sun and the snazziest French produit de soleil. She is certainly a tart du tropique.

Then there is the innate mastery of arts gastronomique. She will always be rosy and smiling, filled with Paris, fine wine and enough chocolate mousse to choke une cheval. Her lovely long blonde hair forever bathed in the candlelight of a bustling Parisian restaurant. Dinner at Chez Janou, for the rest of time.

Well, anyway, cheers to you madame. On avait l’amour, si meme pas pour longtemps.

“Our Diamond Queen”

January 28, 2013

Queen


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