Tag Archives: cultural optimism

Shorter That

“What cannot be said shortly, should not be said.”, well sums up our zeitgeist.

The spirit of rudeness is by now well entrenched. A lack of mores has become a wish rather than the woe it once was. Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to beat around the bush so we spin around the bonfire of the vanities vainly hoping to catch a quantum of eternity. There is never enough time so we spend time to buy time. It’s a free market after all.

“Cut to the chase!”, I hear my subconscious shouting. 100 words and close to nothing said. 7 more wasted and less than 500 to go. Reflection takes up space-time. It is a black hole. A singular type of anomaly. I am chasing the capitalism that cuts into our subconscious. It is hopeless of course to catch up with capitalism. We can only cut it off by self-reflection.

Just cut it out, already, like this:

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Being of Two Minds: Anomalous Monism

“Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations.” D. Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events, Clarendon Press, 2001, p. 214.

The lack of clarity in philosophy of mind is a lack of clarity of its terms. That lack of clarity of terms is, in its turn, nothing else than a lack of terms. There was a time the discussion was about mind/body dualism whilst most recent scientific writing is, implicitly at least, based on the identity of brain and mind. It’s all a blur and no matter how many tokens of supervenience or emergency types are exchanged, it remains a blur of bodies, minds and brains. The classical solution to this lack of terms is to index terms like consciousness1 or prefix them with an adjective like ‘basic’ mind or some such. This is then a temporary definition just good enough to make a local argument without risking to enter into holistic arguments. Good for publishing but bad for discussion.

I have always thought that Davidson’s anomalous monism was a basis for getting out of this black hole of terminological unclarity. It has the strength of common sense: there are no extra-natural things but mental descriptions of natural things aren’t something purely physically determined either. The thing is this: anomalous monism of what? Of the mental and the physical, sure, but what about the brain and its mind.

Let me repeat that: what about the brain and ‘its‘ mind? That the mind is ‘of’ the brain would not startle many if I had not also italicized it (and – to play it safe – put it in scare quotes too). Well, if the mind is of the brain I think we don’t have enough anomalousness and still too much monism. Since the mental indeed doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to the physical, this leads to minds1 and minds2 and hence right back into the muddy waters of going mental at or talking past each other.

So I made a picture to try to put the mind right back where it belongs: very much outside the brain. So far out that the mind does not have a location at all, which seems to me rather in tune with the anomalousness of the mental.


Here goes the not so short explanation: Continue reading

The self was a good idea but its time has come to fade away

Identity is the new Holy Grail. Everybody is looking for something that does not exist, and still would somehow magically transform their mediocre existence into the golden rule. The quest for identity responds to the post-modern question of belonging. Whether they are patriotic nationalist or universal subcultural causes, we constantly contrive collectives within which to identify with other people. This is post-modern because it is a melancholy for modern times when belonging belonged to the self-evident, except for those who self-evidently did not belong – the gays, the displaced, the ill, the Western Easterners, the out-of-luck. It’s the excluded who shaped these post-modern times because they frantically started a quest for being included ‘somewhere’. This was, for them, of the essence because not-belonging was the essential problem they experienced in modernity.

The rule is that the exception always has a tendency to become the rule. The exception is entropy, and it causes energy to shift to keep it under control. This is how in modern times the excluded discovered this problem of identity, that quickly became the post-modern problem for everyone. The meaning of life was transformed into the meaning of me and here we are trying to resolve our selves in an identity with others. Continue reading

The secular meaning of JoB

If you append a capital B to your first name and that first name is Jo, then the people around you are most probably in for some drama. What could I do? It is the only really entertaining biblical story and my surname happens to begin with a B. At least I left it capitalized, after all it is not like I am going to repent or something. I may be old but not as old as that (story).

I started out with a lot of luck. I was born in the West in a middle class family. This was followed with more luck. My brain turned out to work above average allowing me to graduate into a ‘top job’. After that came, well, more luck. A beautiful girl asked me out (or as we say in Flemish: on). It soon turned out most of her beauty actually was on the inside. Enter the drama, you think, but no, unless you call three adorable children drama. The first two were boy and girl so everybody in Spain called them a ‘king’s couple’ which was kind of on the mark as I certainly behaved a lot like a drama queen.

Rich, check. Smart, check. Happily married, check. Healthy and brainy children with lots of swag, check. If God were still alive, I’d be in for some real trouble. Fortunately Nietzsche checked his pulse for us, and found nothing. As it stands the only trouble I’ll be in is with the kids, associating them in such a non-swag way to being swag. They’ll forgive me because as corny as I may be, their parents stuck together and not just for them which is a double exception to their friends’ parents.

So here we went on our merry way making not one career but two, Continue reading

The Tunnel: Herschel Honey

“Yet when I talk to him sometimes, I hear my voice returning to me larger than it left: I find my thinking clarified, my mistakes disclosed, just by being spoken into him, because he naturally knows how to echo: first from this surface of consideration, then from that; each time differently, bending, shaping the conception, allowing all its holes to fill with further holes until it comes back hollow as a shell, and you are left with only your memory of how it once reverberated; how before, when it departed your sunny solicitous shore, your thought was vital, energetic, sea deep, insistent as surf, and how now it is tiny, tinny, thin, an alien husk, a brittle bit of calcified skin some worm’s worn.”
W. Gass, The Tunnel, Dalkey Archive Press, 1999, p. 415.

The Tunnel is: William H. Gass showing his ID, showing it, et al. (this is a plural), with super-egotistic condescension to his Herschel Honey readers – to nobodies like me. With 250 pages to go Herschel is, as I always am, the latecomer who – as the voice of reason popping up in your head just after sending the annoying  mail that will haunt you until the unreasonableness of its reply has been registered – is dumb enough not to feel disappointed at being too late to make the difference.

The article makes a difference (two can play at that).

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The Tunnel

“Poets are the bees of the invisible, Rilke said.”
William H. Gass, The Tunnel, Dalkey Archive Press, 1999, p. 110.

It should have been: ‘Poets are the bees of the not yet visible.”  Flowers that are not yet visible are invisible. And so are you. Am I. Some things remain invisible though & as such are not not yet visible. Maybe that accounts for Maeterlinck’s fascination with bees.

Was Rilke inaccurate (did he say that?) or does the invisible only apply to what’s ultimately going to flower? Truth as yet undiscovered still truth is. No matter if the words are well ordered. Rilke said; Rilke sad. It’s to a large extent how extent tends to some extent being turned into ‘extend’. A tunnel from the dark side to a more truthful state, of affairs.


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The Dead

“- Well, we usually go to France or Belgium or perhaps Germany, said Gabriel awkwardly
– And why do you go to France and Belgium, said Miss Ivors, instead of visiting your own land?
– Well, said Gabriel, it’s partly to keep in touch with the languages and partly for a change.

– And haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with – Irish? asked Miss Ivors.
– Well
, said Gabriel, if it comes to that, you know, Irish is not my language.”
(James Joyce, Dubliners, The Dead, The Portable James Joyce, Viking, 1947, p. 205)

And well, we’re all stuck between where we come from and where we to go. Well, some of us want to go where we come from. And others come from where they want to go. The difference is not material but it is the difference between artists, broadly speaking, and bastards, narrowly defined.

The nostalgic focus on the material, on solutions that are both clear-cut and that cut clearly into same and different. It is not so with the optimistic for whom push never comes to shove; there always remaining a difference, in principle. Never mind the issues we face in interpreting what is around us. What counts is that we will never and cannot ever have a final interpretation even if we always will have issues to face.

I know this is not clear. But it is what it is, and, well, Continue reading

Cannery Row (II)

“I was glad when you hit me,” Mack went on. “I thought to myself – ‘Maybe this will teach me. Maybe I’ll remember this.’ But, hell, I won’t remember nothin’. I won’t learn nothin’. Doc,” (..)
J. Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books 2009, Cannery Row, p. 496.

But he did learn. He was made to learn. Somehow learning is a sad thing because learning is leaving something behind and speeding away from it and that is why it is so common not to want to learn. Learning is picking up speed without knowing where you are getting to faster. There is a deep universal melancholy for a state of innocence which is a state of non-learning: the status quo.

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Cannery Row (1)

“It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary.”
John Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 410.

Why quote a crooked sentence out of a book full of exquisitely rounded ones? Because it is the idea that counts. The formulation of the idea helps but is not the essential part of why something resonates. Formulation fetishism is probably the predominant attitude in assessing the value of writing but in the end it is a lot like preferring The Harlem Globetrotters to the Dream Team.

What is the ‘it’ in the quote? What can a friend make unnecessary? Surely not a man’s right to kill himself. It must be the desire to exercise the right. That’s what it is to be a friend: to acknowledge your friend’s autonomy without leaving him or her alone in expressing it. Everything comes back to the Principle of Charity, including applying charity to a sentence with a, let’s assume, unintended twist. It is with language as it is with the main characters of Cannery Row:

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The Test of Time

“So conceived and supported, the Test of Time is nevertheless made ineffective by the intractable naiveté of its assumptions. For isn’t it naive to suppose that history will allow only the best to survive? (..)
(..) Considering the frequency of natural calamities, our treatment of warfare as a seasonal sport, and the insatiable squirrelliness of human greed, it should be an occasion for surprise when anything excellent survives.”
W. Gass, Tests of Time, The University of Chicago Press, 2002, p. 110-111.

As is his habit, Gass approaches his topic as one who out of curiosity approaches a body lying on the ground only to skirt it and skid away at a 90° angle from his incoming trajectory without even having ascertained whether the person whose body was near inspected was still alive.

The question isn’t whether what survives is excellent but whether who excels is, can be, mortal. The answer is that the excellent cannot perish. The cause of all confusion is that the Test of Time is thought to hold with respect to works and names of personalities whereas any real test of time merely applies to who lives on – however anonymously – as a source of something that had not existed if she had not contributed to that something.

Let me explain:

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