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!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Heidegger Channel

“All Heidegger, All the Time”. Little did I know what I was getting into when I got this pretty piece of technology called an iPod Nano, and accidently tuned in to the Webcast Berkeley site. I wonder what “Heidegger” means, says I? Seemed like something I should have heard of years ago when I was in college......

Well, many of us spent the last year listening to podcasts past and present, with the ghostly “dead hand” of Heidegger pushing some of us through the machinations of Second Life. The podcasting phenomenon allowed people all over the world to listen to these lectures, and meet a couple of times a week in Second Life (if they chose) to wrangle over their lack of understanding of the material. As we were attempting to discuss Division II of Heidegger’s “Being & Time”, and Kierkegaard’s “Fear & Trembling” to a general audience, there was lots to be confused about. We generally had 4 to 6 people show up consistently when we finished the Spring 2008 semester.

A Group of Four elected to continue our experiment in Second Life with a course of study we called “Later Heidegger” over the Summer. We used as the text for the course “Basic Writings”, plus a series of archived podcasts by Dreyfus which covered much of this material. We hoped this would be easier than “Being & Time”, but soon found ourselves swimming once again through more wet sand! However, we kept up with it, and I suspect we all got something out of it by summer’s end - plus more books by or about Heidegger.

This past semester we had the chance to continue the experiment with Philosophy 6. Homer to Moby Dick, seasoned with plenty of Heidegger. It was a bit reminiscent of Monty Python’s Dead Bishop sketch ....

Well there's rat cake ... rat sorbet... rat pudding... or strawberry tart.
Man: Strawberry tart?!
Woman: Well it's got some rat in it.
Man: How much?
Woman: Three, rather a lot really.
Man: ... well, I'll have a slice without so much rat in it.

Well, our slices of Homer, Aeschylus, Virgil, John, Dante, Melville and sometimes Luther and Pascal all contained rather a lot of that philosophical rat Heidegger! The “auf toten hand” was never far away...

Professor Dreyfus has a style of channeling Heidegger’s work in his lectures which has attracted a following from the general public all over the world. The Second Life experiment was presumably a response to the overwhelming interest his podcasts attract. For a number of reasons, it never really took off, due partly to technical difficulties and also to the semester’s subject matter. Philosophy 6, although challenging, deals with works which are better known to the general public, and would have been a better starting point for the experiment. Unfortunately, nobody really knew about it in Fall 2008, so like a tree falling in the woods, it withdrew into its own soundlessness.

Lifting a line from Heidegger, which he lifted from Holderlin, “For as you began, so will you remain”. If it’s one thing I have learned in the year long study of Heidegger, it’s how much I don’t know. Looking things over, they seem different than when first apprehended, and no doubt will continue to evolve as my understanding/mis-understandings deepen. What is the point? Perhaps “philosophy is held together by its questions rather than its answers” (Roy Sorenson, A Brief History of the Paradox”). There remains a lot more of Heidegger than what we have covered to date. Perhaps only the podcast can save us now...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whooshing Up Religion

For some unknowable reason, it seems this blog needs another long-winded pseudo-literary demarche from its founder.

I have an admission to start with, which is poor advertisement for the authenticity of my own blog. I'm not currently following the Fall 2008 production of the Dreyfus Phil 7 trek (famously subtitled "From gods to God and back to gods" reflecting our path from polytheism to monotheism and back). So, that said, I'm still following many interesting hints by other members of our small discussion group, and I have enough of those to make a couple comments myself, albeit from a position of profound ignorance.

I started and named this blog after listening to the 2007 version of this same class, saying this in my first post reverently praising Dreyfus:

(Y)ou will frequently find that things just "whoosh up" and take over - at least when you are in tune and ready to get whooshed.

This observation pointed to a phenomenon rather than an understanding. That understanding of whooshing up actually unfolded with a Dreyfus-mediated reading of Being and Time on the moods (rooted in the past) which dispose us (in the present) to press into our destinies (in the future). And I claim that I have experienced a kind of whoosh up in the project of creating this blog and encouraging people to participate in the particular learning process which is Dreyfus via the internet (a proposition which I loudly proclaimed was risky, could fail, and by many measures now has failed). I met (virtually) and corresponded for a time with Dreyfus himself. I was thrown into reading and grappling with thoughts I never would have. I don't regret the ride.

Now it also bears mentioning that the phrase "whoosh up" is just a wee bit sensitive, an aspect to which I was oblivious last year when I naively appropriated it. For it turns out that even though Dreyfus used it liberally when explaining the zigzag course our civilization has charted from Homer to Melville, he did not originate it. Richard Rorty, somewhere between or both a friend and rival of Dreyfus, used it first. So now, following Rorty's untimely death last year, and the nomenclatural piracy by our lonely discussion group, the phrase has been somehow occluded in the current series of lectures. Dreyfus has used it virtually not at all. (Check me on that - I haven't listened to every lecture, as I said.)

And further, bearing in mind the difficulties of sorting out causality from coincidence, it should be noted that Dreyfus has made no effort similar to last year's, to corral an enthusiatic fan base of non-student students dwelling in his podcast world into a serious, external, adjunct study group (which perhaps was my hope and never his). That project may revive, but for now rests moribund. I'd blame myself, but Dreyfus directly told me in an email not to do so, so I won't. This is merely the progression of an ultimately irrelevant and untimely little side note, whooshing up in the grand scheme of such things.

Now, to progress from this quantum condensation of reality in which Schrodinger's box has been opened and our discussion group found dead (unhappily, for those like myself who believed in the whooshup magic so cracklingly close last year), I have a second admission to make. I am at heart a spiritual reflector, for which the vicissitudes of religious thought are like comfortable pieces of furniture in a lived room, not like the perilous mountains some of the smartest of us seem to encounter therein. Of all the thinkers Dreyfus teaches, the one I like best, am drawn into deepest, is Dostoevsky. Melville would count, but his Ishmael is too frighteningly close to what I am myself: detached, restless, changeable, fascinated alike, and equally comfortable, in picking apart Ahab's megalomania, Starbuck's solid morality, or Queequeg's fantastical shamanism, but never able to face his own lack of conviction. No, rather give me Alyosha to be like, whose actions are governed from outside himself, by something immaterial whooshing up around and through him at every juncture. While Ishmael holds back, Alyosha leans in.

Perhaps Dreyfus believes that Heidegger's religious thought may be framed by the tension between, on one hand, Luther's hidden God and Holderlin's failing (fehl) God or fled (Entflohene) gods, which argue for resolute Dasein facing the abyss with self-conscious individuality, versus, on the other hand, the care (Latin caritas, Greek agape) with which, according to Dostoevsky, ordinary sinners pull other sinners out of the metaphorical lake of fire. Strangely, Heidegger seems to value the care (as concern) of the workman for his hammer-tapping carpentry, or the care (as shining) of the celebrant invoking a cheery toast at a convivial dinner party, more than the care (as love) of a self-sacrificing nurse for a dying invalid. I very much doubt that Luther, who urged the massacre of illiterate peasants, or Calvin, who had a man burned at the stake for disagreeing with him, or any other protestant reformer will yield a tangible source for agape love in our existential analysis of Heidegger's reconfiguration. They needed resoluteness, an Ahab megalomania, to do their jobs in history. Perhaps it is precisely in this space that Heidegger, in 1933, momentarily lost his path.

I have twice in this blog appealed to sacrificial love as the standard by which christian existentialism should be calibrated, both in relation to Dostoevsky's madness. Once in seeing, in the Grand Inquisitor's riddle, the answer simply as Jesus' willingness to be crucified however many times spoiled mankind demands it. Again, in seeing the villain Smerdyakov as the essential clue to Dostoevsky's search for the one who can never be reached, who is beyond saving, even by his saintly brother Alyosha. Somehow Smerdyakov must be saved, or the balance will never be restored, the exhausting epileptic fit that is our western culture will never end. Not even Dostoevsky, while alive, could answer that riddle, and neither can Heidegger. Can we?

The problem is that whooshing up is only half the problematic. All sorts of things can whoosh up and carry us off to think, to invent, to explore, to fight, to procreate, to kill. Understanding that moods are rooted in an unknowable past, and that their ultimate effects are likewise partitioned in an unknowable future, is Heidegger's great insight. He, like Nietzsche, fails miserably to give us believable guidance as to which whooshing we should tune in to. Dreyfus has long recognized this failing (see his Appendix to Being in the World), and has filled the gap with Kierkegaard's more reliable spiritual mechanics of steadfast commitment. But I suspect even that ultimately will not satisfy. Whatever hidden Second World we seek to coax into our mundane reality, whether the drunken old gods of Homer, the jealous, cruel One God of Dante, the disinterested Cartesian god of science, or the yammering new gods of the Internet, I suspect we will all attempt to tune in to that darkening which surrounds our own particular clearing in hopes of finding a personal whoosh of salvation.

So salvation demands a context, and although Dreyfus does not hesitate to speak into that context, I have never heard him come out of it, having, like Christ, and perhaps Dostoevsky, visited hell in person.