Whooshup Reorganization

To reflect what this blog has become, the format has changed to emphasize the enormous number of useful links to resources we provide. To go to the whooshup blog and conversations about these resources, just scroll to the bottom of the lists of resources!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Notes: Conclusion to Philosophy 7

Inspired by Dreyfus' concluding lecture to his Phil 7 Existentialism in Film and Literature course, I made this set of diagrams. They attempt to show my take on the way in which the following four (or five if you count the two Christian Existential stories separately) contrasting world views (the ones which everyone in class voted their preference for on the last day) and how they would interpret the significance of themselves and each other:

  • Traditional Christianity (Onto-theology) 9 votes

  • Liberal Enlightenment (Science, Progress) 9 votes

  • Christian Existentialism (Kierkegaard & Dostoevsky) 8+1(Dreyfus) votes for K & 43 votes for D

  • Atheistic Existentialism (Nietzsche) 16 votes

In this last lecture, Dreyfus described how, to followers of one strand of existentialism, another strand looks like it is in error and doomed, even though they share many of the same approaches, such as the five he listed:

  1. There is no human nature ("custom is our nature" -Pascal "the undetermined animal" -Nietzsche)

  2. We can change human nature - History is the story of changing human natures

  3. The Individual is higher than the Universal ("suspension of the ethical" - Kierkegaard)

  4. The Involved point of view is better than Detached ("truth is subjectivity" -Kierkegaard "perspectivism" - Nietzsche)

  5. Against Onto-Theology but retain The Sacred: they reject the view that One Creator God grounds all meaning ("calling without a caller" -Kierkegaard "connectedness of all beings" -Dostoevsky "we are all gods" -Nietzsche)

The chart tries to graphically represent the Heideggerian concepts of world disclosing (open circle), world collapse (x mark) and the revitalization of marginal practices (dotted lines). This is me reaching for what I think the class is really about: how these three examplars of early existentialism set up Heidegger, and ultimately, Dreyfus.

(click on the diagram below to enlarge it)

Anybody care to take a stab at how Heidegger/Dreyfus would construct such a diagram?

Here's my cut:


Anonymous said...

What folly! I'm not only surprised but disappointed at these childish drawings you've made and purported to resemble anything even close to reality. To draw such a framework of existential philosophy in its current instance, and its historical development, would require far more detail (and, frankly, knowledge) than you could hope to put in these "diagrams" you have made. Before I point out the obvious errors, I would mention that it is highly questionable whether it is even appropriate to try to encapsulate subtle and intertwined intellectual moves such as these, like some third-rate college football coach sketching plays for his team. Your medium of representation is, prima facie, laughable.

My biggest complaint, however, is that whatever they contain that is correct, is trivial, and the rest is just plain wrong. Certainly you can draw lines between words, but what have you left out? Just about everything important. You had better try tracing the millions of "lignes de fuite" Deleuze describes in his essay Rhizome. The essence, the reality, is in the opaque soil of thought; it is not the paragraph headings in High School social studies textbooks.

You're simply wrong to imply there is anything like a "Postmodern Existentialistist Synthesis", or that Dreyfus and Heidegger would have anything to do with it if someone suggested it. You will find exactly five Google academic search hits for the phrase "postmodern existentialist synthesis". Existential thinkers shun synthesis - they prefer methodological chaos. Nietzsche and Dostoevsky are not in the same intellectual front moving forward into the existential light, and cannot represent any "postmodern alternative" simply because they share a few common approaches.

Your graphical implication that both the traditional religious and the secular enlightenment have failed as viable movements is absurd. Half the developed world and all the rest still believe in traditional faith stories. The other half are working for a better, cleaner, more sensible, more educated and more progressive global demographic. Existentialist thinking impacts the few, not the many.

Finally, you leave out just about every other strand of modern philosophy that might really develop into the post-postmodern standard. I won't list them, but by any categorization one might adopt, existentialism such as you imagine it is a tiny drop in an ocean of serious academic philosophical trends you have apparently never encountered.

I wish you the best of luck in whatever trade you choose to follow, as long as amateur philosophy is dropped from your list!

BH said...

As stated in the blog's heading, this site provides a discussion group for those who want to become familiar with Dreyfus through the webcasting of his courses.

Anyone who has listened to those webcasts knows that the Professor often uses diagrams and charts like the one that you have found so objectionable. I assume he does this to familiarize students, who may not have a lot of background in philosophy, with this difficult and complex material. Whatever the reason, this is a technique that Dreyfus employs regularly. Perhaps most of his students will never go beyond the charts and diagrams. But some may use it as their starting point to pursue "the opaque soil of thought".

Many who come to this site do so because the webcasts sparked an interest they wanted to pursue. The blog and the discussion group have made that possible. There is no pretence here. People come here to become familiar with these webcasts which, for whatever reason, they have been drawn to. Why that offends you so, I cannot say.

foundrysmith said...

Anonymous, so far we haven’t gone in for Deleuze, although we have talked a little bit about him. Actually, we have been pretty busy with Heidegger, focusing on his Being & Time. We will be having discussion sessions several times a week in Second Life this Summer, focusing primarily upon Heidegger’s later essays (we have a proposed schedule posted on this blog and elsewhere). Perhaps you might have an interest in joining our discussions? We generally try to keep an open mind with each others interpretations - much of what you see posted here reflects the ecstasy we experience as we traverse these philosophical questions and ideas.

Perhaps you and Deleuze have solved the vexing question of Temporality? I could certainly use some constructive ideas on that topic.

Karl Tyson said...

Dear Anonymous,

You are right. I admit to every fault and shortcoming you have listed: I could have written them myself and spared you the trouble. I have no business in this game. I did not earn it, and I cannot do so now, after so much has passed me by.

I am indeed a tradesman, not a scholar. Here is a partial list of trades I held but never chose: dishwasher, soldier, janitor, construction laborer, landscaper, mill hand, rig helper, meter reader, office assistant, data analyst, engineering technician, scientific technical writer, office manager, software programmer. I believe every one qualifies me for philosophy just as much as stonecutter, soldier and public gadfly qualified Socrates, or dissident, soldier, journalist qualified Dostoevsky, etc. We modest amateur philosophers are in a constant battle against the power grab by our betters for territory which by right belongs to all. So what if I am squatting on a scrap of intellectual landscape I have no deed to possess? If I till it, if I care about it, that makes it mine. Surely there's space in this vast expanse of speculation for every pioneer who ventures forth.

Your real argument is not logical, it is negative emotion poorly masked as cold, impersonal reason. You might have made every point kindly, presented recommendations to fix each flaw, and encouraged where the blind stab I took struck at something, anything, concretely halpful. Like so much of what we do to each other, and even to ourselves, your swipe that I present "third rate", "disappointing", "laughable", "absurd" material wields an emotional entrenching tool with which to dig an intellectual grave.

But let me turn your attack around. Every fault you find in my humble diagrams can be fixed. The complexities that underlie them can be coaxed up into them: the soil can be scraped, sampled, and the root hairs and rhizomes of language laid bare. The symbolization can be improved. What's left out can be added. What's misleading can be amended. The structure implied can be either generalized or individualized - this is my diagram - what would yours look like? But none of that can happen without a start. It may not be correct, it may not even be close, but risk implies failure, and failure precedes success. It could not be a risk if it was never wrong. Don't we all, putative authorities more than most, fear to be wrong, fear to be a failure?

At least you have bared your thoughts in a cyber world where most of us hold back, you have made your own visceral stab back at my puny efforts. For that I am grateful. But you are not anonymous. By your every word you reveal yourself. You are that loathsome creature in my own subconscious self, ever ready to spring into my cramped, unbalanced awareness to clutch and drag me back into despair. You wait there crouching and gnawing and spitting out fish bones, my own Gollum, to mock my lackey spirit. You are my inner Smerdyakov, the part of me that snarls: "You can't, you mustn't, you're just a serf, you have no business playing the nobleman's part in this lofty masquerade. What foolish hope of yours must I murder today, before you risk us both to shame?"

Dave said...

Karl, your answer to Anonymous stopped me in my tracks. Bravo for quieting the whispering monster!