Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rule#1. Make it idiot-proof.
I hate explaining this shit, but it's all I do.

geek |gēk|
noun informal
1 an unfashionable or socially inept person.
• [with adj. ] a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest : a computer geek.
2 a carnival performer who does wild or disgusting acts.
geeky adjective
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from the related English dialect geck ‘fool,’ of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gek ‘mad, silly.’
The bottom two drawings are obviously models of human interaction: either in the present (mediated by language) or in the study of the past (mediated by language and time). The top two are diagrams of common utopian/dystopian fantasies [hopes] of far too many people.
I should have made this clear long ago, but I take people too much for granted.

We study the past not by studying the preoccupations of those who were there but by studying the record of those preoccupations. We live alongside one another through another version of the same process. We cannot claim to share their interests -in terms of the present we can't claim identity- though in some cases we can claim an affinity with them, but there remains a gulf between us and our subjects and each other. This gulf can be wider or narrower depending on their interests and ours. The applications of Mathematics can appear to collapse historical time and the distance between individuals, numbers live in an eternal present and in unity with one another, but we don't.
Our society is a society built upon isolation and simultaneously upon a fixation on a desire/fear of simple absolute unity. Raves and The Borg are products of the same fear, desire, sadness.
A geek is someone who is so wed to his own fixations that he is unable to imagine the world through the mind of another. Americans are the prototypical geeks, unable to imagine non-Americans. But geeks now rule academia, even the humanities. Literature is now studied in academia by literature geeks. Our soldiers are military geeks. That specifically is dangerous, but so is the rest.
The above is, objectively, how the world works. It's the diagram for water-cooler chitchat, presidential elections, academic advancement, and how to pick up girls. It's the model of life as theater, assuming of course that actors know they're being observed. It's the model for intellectual "progress" in that progress is only possible if the model is seen to apply to human behavior. It is also, therefore, a defense of the arts, of craft, as a mode of reflexive activity and social engagement [lawyers are craftsmen]. It's the model of artists' relation to one another and of artist to critic, if the critic sees himself as in a reciprocal relation rather than that of a voyeur vampire. That's what the social sciences become when they're seen not as acting within models of interpersonal activity but of relations of observer to inanimate object. The sciences and the pseudo-sciences have become not only asocial but antisocial. I've linked to Colin McGinn enough, but I've been pointing out examples of this for years. "Truth" is the metaphysical glow that attaches itself to unknown facts. It fades with familiarity and those facts return to their previous status as mundane.

If you don't understand that the most of what you are and represent is constantly being recontextuaized and that if you are remembered at all it will be as that, then you have no right to call yourself an "intellectual." You're merely a technician.

Reading any text, examining any man-made thing, you ask yourself what to respond to: text or subtext, the intention of the maker or what the thing seems on its own to represent. Ideally you learn from both, but perhaps you have no way of knowing the maker's intent. Still you may learn to respect the maker of a resilient, dynamic, order -a structure- and begin to reconstruct the categories they worked with, that were their preoccupation. You always ask, “Is there more to learn from this author as thinker or as symptom?",  just as meeting someone on the street you ask, "Is this someone to laugh at, or with?" The stuff that lasts never becomes dated; the memorable minds are never merely symptomatic. Philip Roth is a practitioner of philosophical naturalism. Brian Leiter is an academic and a professor of a minor branch of the minor school of late scholastic philosophy. Post-war rationalism, late modernism, baroque idealism, these are the categories that will be seen to define that school of thought. They're categories of history, not reason.
At some point this will become so obvious that even Ph.D's will understand it.


Anonymous said...

Awesome. What's missing from the diagram (but not the text) is interaction and recursion, but if your audience is the folks up in diagram 1 and 2 it's indeed best to start slow and gentle.

brenda said...

You might like this
Do Blogs Take Labor Issues Seriously?
But perhaps it relates more to a previous post of yours. Still I thought it might be of interest to you.

I get what you're saying here. That authoritarian utopias admit of only one dialog and liberal utopias admit several only as long as they don't challenge the direction all are headed in.

Anonymous said...

Hegel and Croce would have said that categories of history ARE categories of reason. Your suggestion that we will eventually 'progress' to a time when this is clear to all is in that tradition.

Anyway, it's well-said. Worth noting that these are commonplaces in my tribe, the intellectual and cultural historians. All of the ideas we look at are historied first. It's literati and philosophers who desperately cling to a kind of transcendence where ideas need to be more than the expression of their time and place. You do a service by troubling that crowd.

D. Ghirlandaio said...

Carl. having reread what you've written here and read a bit at your blog, I have to say you're beginning to annoy me. Your estheticizing is strategic, and thin. Max Forte is almost worse. Professor Immanuel Rath as a Marxist. Being intrigued and horrified by the thing you examine, while [whilst?] holding it, like a teacup, by the tips of your fingers.
Your perverse academicism differs from Leiter's mostly in being acknowledged, but without any attempt to overcome it by an honest description of its limitations. You make me want to go all smashmouth and Norman Mailer on you. Forte is more like Leiter in his moralizing lack of awareness.

I'm aware of the complexities of academics and their relation to the common folk. On my second jobsite at age 21, on a crew of 80, in South Brooklyn, it took about a week before the laborers were calling me "Professor." And I was a dropout at the time. But now after writing this and rereading this post by you I think I be more direct.

"Whether or not [the US gets out] any time soon, I think it’s worth going back and cleaning up that standard left-wing critique of the hypocrisy of U.S. democracy for supporting rather than toppling nasty dictators. Saddam was one of those, and according to the Cold War rhetoric of critical opposition to cynical U.S. imperialism the neo-cons actually did the right thing, for once, by taking him out."

Here your literary tastefulness has fed back into your imagination, resulting in a critique of Saddam as a vulgarian and thus worthy of removal. No son, more academic idealism is not what we need. Serious political thought is realism; principled -and that's the good fight- but realism nonetheless. And what you need, and what Max Forte needs, is about 3 years on in the fields without a notebook or a pen.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough! I've made most of these arguments myself, blue in the face with them; including, at some length, that description of the limitations of perverse academicism. Why do you think I bothered to follow you over here after you trashed everything in sight at Savage Minds? I'm trying to figure out how to make them stick. But the academic field is its own thing, with its own logic, rules and dynamics; it's highly resistant to internal overcoming, and completely invulnerable to external criticism, as you've seen. Just like any jobsite.

Anyway, my compliments. Sorry to intrude.