Archive for January, 2010


January 26, 2010

Audience – a word whose etymology suggests auditory qualities; sound and hearing. Once upon a time, one received an audience with a prince or potentate, and had the ear – the attention – of power.

What of the modern audience? Is anybody listening anymore? We all clamor for attention, seek to be on stage, to be seen, noticed, observed. But heard? Have we lost the expectation that anyone will hear us, understand our words? Do we even write for an audience anymore, expect a response, engage in discourse and dialogue? Or are we just shouting haplessly into the abyss, hearing only the ringing echo of our own voice?

Modern media like Twitter prompt the masses to produce sound, but not to actually write – to consider a receptor, an ideal reader…An audience. Social media are the literary equivalent of shouting out a jeer or expletive in a crowded stadium; a plea more than a parlance, more pathetic than profound.

I often wonder about the modern audience, whether those who randomly wash up upon these mediated and melancholy musings really “hear” anything at all. The nature of searching for information on the Internets means that the audience is no longer a kind of passive presence, forcing an awareness of the need for clarity and competence in the writer, but rather an active force, a driven soul, searching for answers that it already knows, discovering ideas it has already had. The modern audience finds what it wants, often in the most pointed and particular terms. We as writers, bloggers, wordsmiths, are merely churning out language like monkeys banging on a typewriter, hoping that someone stops and momentarily hears us.

But a real audience? That, I think, is too much to hope for anymore…


January 20, 2010

Term notably more charged than the conventional academic descriptor; counter-Enlightenment. But the author of a new book on notions of anti-Enlightenment, Zeev Sternhell, is a leftist and Zionist, not known for lukewarm political commitments. He’s written extensively about the history of Fascism. A recent review of The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition (published by Yale University Press) in Tablet suggests Sternhell misses important subtleties in the topic, instead oversimplifying and boostering for the cause of Enlightenment.

The reviewer argues that in condemning the anti-Enlightenment (closely associated with Burke and Herder) for laying the foundation of right-wing nationalist movements in the 20th century, Sternhell is overstating his case. In particular, Sternhell overlooks how post-Enlightenment responses (which one can call counter- or anti-) were a critical stance on the emergence of all the overly rationalist and scientistic aspects of modernity. Concepts like romanticism and vitalism, then, need to be viewed as sophisticated responses to the general universalizing trend of Enlightenment. The Frankfurt School, after all, saw the culmination of Enlightenment’s “instrumental rationality” in the darkly efficient Nazi regime. Clearly Enlightenment is something of a straw man.

In any event, dynamic new historical visions of the Enlightenment are emerging, challenging conventional readings. Scholars now talk of “Super-Enlightenment”, a fascinating synthesis of standard and esoteric paradigms. Many thinkers deny it’s possible to actually disassociate Enlightenment from its other.

What can’t be denied is the way debates about the legacies and meanings of Enlightenment are never separated from contemporary political commitments. In many ways, it remains a historical concept charged with ideology…

Originally by way of Arts & Letters Daily.

Lone Tree

January 17, 2010

I promised a picture…Eventually.

Squid Mystery

January 12, 2010

This story in the local news about Squid appearing along the coast of Vancouver Island in Port Hardy caught my eye a few months ago. These odd ocean beasts are Humboldt Squid, named by Alexander von Humboldt, a Romantic-era naturalist and naturphilosophe of some renown. Curiously, they’re rarely found this far north, living in the warmer waters off California, Mexico and even further south.

Like beached whales or a sudden plague of locusts, these curious appearances prompt us to recall the dynamism of the living world, and its connection to all the natural phenomena around us — like changes in weather patterns and climate, both short term and long. In response to this highly unusual (even unique) phenomenon, one is driven to seek answers, to find links between cause and effect. This may be a fruitless endeavor, but it’s also an altogether human one. Perhaps this fatal migration was brought on by a lack of food. Ocean scientists have recently reported, for example, on the development of a “dead zone” in the Pacific along the coast of Washington and Oregon. Could it be that these creatures swam north through what we could call a kind of ocean “desert”, and were trapped as a result of an unwillingness to head south again because of lack of food?

Weather was undoubtedly a factor. It’s an El Nino year, and there are clear climactic factors associated with this. One is a general warming trend, particularly along the Pacific coast (ed. note: This is why the 2010 Winter Olympics here in Vancouver are probably doomed). Certainly, given that this last September was the second warmest in 130 years of record keeping, this is important. Perhaps the squid headed farther north than usual because of warmer seas, subsequently losing their way.

When I penned the initial draft of this post, I was also thinking about beasts like the Great White Sharks and sea lions, appearing further up the west coast than usual. Again, maybe the squid moved further north to evade migrating predators.

Like the previous post, however, the Devil’s in the details we don’t know; in the inexhaustible complexity of the living, of the way it challenges us to try, in a heroic but ultimately futile manner, to adapt and respond. Our predilection for order, mechanical linearity and causality mean that we are always one step behind.

These squid are still appearing, but the mystery remains.

A Bee Crisis

January 7, 2010

Colony collapse disorder. The technical term for the disturbing new trend of disappearing bees. The Nature of Things on CBC begins its 2010 season with “To Bee or Not to Bee?”, a fascinating treatment of this odd and puzzling dilemma. In Germany, one case of bees dying in massive numbers was linked to a toxic new pesticide. Other possible causes include climate change, monoculture, fungal disease, parasites (mites), and even electromagnetic radiation.

Difficulties involved in this apiary crisis are quintessentially holistic and multi-factoral. This is archetypal of the issues we face in our modern environment — the kind of subtle, highly complex, interdependent, interactive conundrum that would have turned Rachel Carson’s hair white.

Yet we need to seek to solve these crises. In the case of bees, who are key pollinators in our modern agricultural system (which is problematic to begin with), our very survival may depend on it.


January 7, 2010


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