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, March 23, 2009

The Broken Circle

I have had an interesting experience the last couple of months. I abandoned my own discussion group. I suppose any attempt to compare such an action to real life begs bemused contempt. A boy running away from home; a husband from his wife; a captain jumping his sinking ship. Leaving a virtual reality is extraordinarily easy by comparison - virtual feelings and virtual loyalties run shallow, a truism Dreyfus, as usual, sniffed out early and loudly outed (see his book On the Internet).

So now I'll do the obvious Tysonian thing and discuss, in public, on my discussion's blog, what it feels like to reject my discussion's "on the basis of which" and like so many others, just break the wrist, and walk away.

First, the technical points to review. The Whooshup discussion was meant to draw in a crowd of Dreyfus' podcast lecture devotees as a sort of adjunct classroom. In Fall 2007, I sent polite email invitations to hundreds of contactees and got polite responses from many dozens, some enthusiastic. We held an inaugural meeting in Second Life, which drew a dozen or more curious participants, who got to converse, after a fashion, with Bert Dreyfus in the budding metaverse, the "basis of which" he has so presciently criticized most of his life. Our group, following a stumbling statistical tail curve, soon diminished to five, then four, then three. The three of us got to know each other too well, until we could describe each other's philosophical undergarments, and then I dropped out myself. I'm not sure if the other two virtual souls I left behind still virtually meet at the Garden Spot at EdTech to talk about Martin Heidegger (arguably the greatest philosopher of the last century), Bert Dreyfus (arguably Heidegger's strongest living proponent), and the constellation of worthies that surrounds them. Well, do you?

So that's the scenario. But why did I leave? Well, the easy answer is that I just got too busy. Things came up. Absorbing things, that turned out to be more compelling than virtual discussion groups. But that is only one aspect of the answer. Another aspect of the explanation, brighter but even more contrived, is that I left in order to find out why everybody else left. What did it feel like to the other critical members, who could have kept something afloat if they had really tried to, after they just stopped showing up every weekend? Because now I could feel that way. A little remorse, a twinge of regret at not getting in to a good philosophy discussion every week, perhaps even guilt (virtual guilt?). Now I can feel it too.

But there's a darker aspect too, and I'll dive right into it. Religion and politics, they say, are two things strangers cannot discuss safely. Philosophy is a sinewy matrix that encompasses and entwines religion and politics. One thinks to escape them in pure speculation but gets tripped up nevertheless, and I believe our discussion group mirrors, in our palpably bumbling and amateur way, the wider picture in contemporary philosophy, even in its academic stratosphere. Dreyfus, like Heidegger, is tangibly conservative. Rorty, like Derrida, is bona fide liberal. These labels are almost meaningless in terms of pure thought, but can we ever really escape them?

So if you want to follow my justification for leaving farther than it may justifiably go, and franker than it ever needed to get, here it is: Those Dreyfus fans who got as far as the "real" but "virtual" discussion group ended up peeling away by ideological idiosyncrasies. The buddhist Deleuzian left first. Then the Rortian liberal secularist. The existential christian Heideggerian (me) left (experimentally?) the ground occupied by the neo-pagan Heideggerian. The best of us, just a good man looking for a good world view, stayed to the end.

But is this the end? If we all faced our own deep religious and political insecurities, picked them up and laid them on the table along with all the "safe" but equally bizarre and ultimately ridiculous concepts such as Heideggerian authenticity, Neitszchean free will, Kierkegaardian commitment, could we still come together for continued discussions? Could we put humpty dumpty together again? I'm open to it.

I am grasping for a meta-narrative of this entire whooshup episode, acting inside and outside of it, myself as object and subject simultaneously. Some may find it embarrassing or distasteful, but it is clearly the only thing to be done beyond brushing our hands and walking away. It is a form of group analysis. A learning experience inside a failed learning experience: What is the "basis upon which" a freely organized high-level philosophy discussion group remains susceptible to such an apparently weak contingency as cultural alignment, and is it possible for the group disbanded by such contingencies to seek its explanation? Or better: Can the patient who has died on the operating table evaluate the cause of the mishap? Or better still: Can the society, the civilization, that tears itself apart in violent strife over political (who gets what) and religious (who believes right) issues, successfully analyze the "basis upon which" that urge to fight, or any other social tendency can be caught, diverted, subsumed, survived?


foundrysmith said...

I think things went pretty well overall - at least for those who stuck it out - It seems hard to believe that after Division II last Spring we continued through the Summer with our own course of independent study on “Later Heidegger”! The momentum never picked up in the Fall of 08 with Philosophy 6, which was unfortunate, as I think that would have been a good introductory course in the Second Life realm.

I saw in the recent Berkeley Philosophy Newsletter the following item:

"His (Dreyfus) latest
adventure in cyberspace was to set up and lead a virtual discussion
section in Second Life, to which an eager group of podcast listeners
from all over the world showed up. Although Bert himself has been
too busy with classes in the real world to attend the virtual discussion regularly, he understands that a core online group continues to meet
on a weekly basis."

It would seem we did make a small footnote by being-in this enterprise - though where we go from here is anybody’s guess. It seems we need a Dreyfus or equivalent to generate podcast fodder to keep the group interested and asking questions. The Holderlin lectures of Fall 08 never slipped out of the jaws of Berkeley, which would have been the obvious follow on at Ed Tech Island.

Oddly enough, I find myself reviewing the B&T podcasts from time to time. They are always there to go back to. I either misunderstood or just didn’t get it the first time through, so I am getting more benefit out of them now. Though that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t struggled through them last year in Second Life! I can’t believe that we would ever run out of Heidegger stuff to talk about, the challenge seems to be to get everyone on the same page with a discussion topic, so a meaningful conversation may be had at some appointed time in SL. I am also open to suggestions.

BH said...


The "Between Husserl and Heidegger" course given by John Drabinski is excellent. I would also be interested in discussing the course Dreyfus gave on Merleau-Ponty. Let me know what you think.


foundrysmith said...

I’ve listened to a few of the Drabinski lectures, and a couple of the M-P. I’m not sure I would necessarily want to commit to the whole series (although I might get sucked-in). Perhaps we could give it a go, maybe from the beginning, or maybe pick and choose? You guys I believe have already given them a listen, perhaps you could suggest a “best of”.

The 2009 Templeton Prize was recently awarded to the Frenchman d’Espagnat, here is a link in yesterdays BBC website:
I am intrigued by the use of the word “Being” here, and how or if Heidegger would weigh in. Firstly, he would discuss the “little b” being - the leap to a “big deal” Being seems like quite a stretch (although it may be rooted in the interpretation of the press - not the author). D”Espagnat talks about a “Veiled Reality”, which “evokes something like a coemergence of thought and phenomenal reality out of a Being that is conceptually prior to both.” Hmmm. Smells a bit like aletheia fumes wafting around a quantum mechanical kitchen to me, although I will need to look closer at the cookbooks!

I bring up this example to suggest we might also seek out specific problems and topics for the consideration of the group. Some may lead to a dead end, others out to a clearing. The ancient proverb runs ” He who learns but does not think is lost.” Confucius adds “He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”

Karl Tyson said...

There are obviously lots of topics available. Since we last talked I have been trying to read Lyotard, Deleuze, Wittgenstein, and Saussure. They are all important to the Heidegger trail.

What we must face is our own inadequacy to continue. We all know that we desperately needed new blood all last year - especially after our New York and French friends stepped out. We need people like us and not like us, people we can help and people who can help us. If we can't figure out how to get such thinking people to join in, our discussions will inevitably continue to be circular, always returning to the same questions, and positing the same answers. Or, how am I wrong?

I value the energy of your suggestions, I'm glad you still feel like continuing, and I will try to show up and keep germane to whatever we have on the table to discuss.

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