Whooshup Reorganization

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dreyfus and Kelly start a blog

Professors Dreyfus and Kelly have started a blog associated with a book they are currently writing titled "All Things Shining." Here is an excerpt from blog's first entry:

How did we go from the intense and meaningful lives of Homer’s world to the sadness and indecision, perhaps even the nihilism, of the current age? And how can we find the shining things once more?

Bert Dreyfus and I are just completing a book on this topic. It is called All Things Shining: Reading the Western Canon To Find Meaning in a Secular Age. As we put the finishing touches on the manuscript this summer, and as we prepare for courses on the topic at Berkeley and Harvard this fall, we hope to use this blog to lay out some of the themes of the project and to generate discussion among a wider group of folks.


You can find it at: http://allthingsshiningbook.wordpress.com/

22 comments:

foundrysmith said...

Good work Brad! I see also that there is a movie out as well. Kind of remember listening to a Dreyfus podcast where the classroom was crawling with film makers, this must be part of that episode..

BH said...
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James said...

Dreyfus was on Philosophy Talk discussing the book a few months back:
http://www.philosophytalk.org/pastShows/Nihilism.html

Anonymous said...

H

joven said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Raul Gonzales said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Brad,

Nice blog, also like your links. I am looking for some sort of transcription or summary of the lectures on Being and Time(1), I have started my own, but they are lacking cohesion. Would you know where to look for something like that?

Igmar Rautenbach

Anonymous said...

The theme makes the assumption that homer’s world, in some way, possessed a quality that our own day and age lacks. If that were true, what exactly made the world of Homer so great? Was it not occupied with the recurring themes that human beings encounter, albeit, in their brief existence in this world: mortality, death, suffering, and the search for meaning in our life. Who am I? Did not this question provoke philosophers like Plato and Aristotle to seek an answer? So if our day an age expresses a nihilist attitude, could this not be a plausible reaction of any group of people in any given time? Homer’s world possessed no more nobler qualities than those displayed throughout the civilizations of history. What exactly do you mean by finding the shining things once more? That people could be given to greater apathy towards the plight of others, and perhaps their own spirituality, does not mean that they lack passion or zeal for the existential qualities that make life worthwhile.

foundrysmith said...

I'm not so sure that Homer's world is all that far away, anonymous.. and for many of the reasons you go on to list. Indeed, the words of Homer have not left the lips of men for three thousand years. They continue to be rediscovered by successive generations, illuminating the imagination of those who care to listen. Perhaps Homer "shines" through the cacophony of the growing wasteland for some of us in the West, just as the Veddas may likewise inspire some in the East.

Maybe Justice Potter Stewart had the right understanding when he remarked "I know it when I see it". Perhaps the same is true when it comes to finding the shining things once more?

Karl Tyson said...

I beg to differ with both Anonymous and Foundry-man. I believe the psychological world in which the people of 1000-800 BC lived, must have been substantially different from ours, even if the physical processes of movement, eyesight, eating, evacuating were nearly identical. Given this, the moods captured by Homer (e.g. of Aphrodite/erotic or Ares/aggressive) will be especially difficult for us moderns to return to, as Kelly-Dreyfus propose.

I have several lines of argument as to why Homeric man differs profoundly from Modern man, but rather than list them, I will wait and see if anyone is interested.

Best regards all.

foundrysmith said...

Bring the arguments on! I am sure the ensuing discussion will be interesting...

First off, I'm not exactly sure what a psychological world means. Is that some kind of mood? I suppose I wonder how the concerns of us "moderns" are so radically different from our ancestors - food, sex, sleep can't be all that different today, except that maybe we have an electronic device blaring somewhere in the background (or foreground) drowning out the sound of the blowing wind.

I suppose I see more that unites us with the past, but I would like to see your ideas on that which separates.

Karl Tyson said...

OK, Dean. I already admitted that things like eating food and having sex are probably the same now as then, especially in terms of immediate sensation, as opposed to background feelings of valuation.

What valuation? You mentioned sex. I believe most western moderns have multiple valuational overloads concerning sex - which ancient people probably did not. So it feels the same, but does not "feel" the same. We could take this in a couple directions:

(1) Our inescapable judeo-christian prudishness makes us have the idea of sin always in the background. So even if we are having sex with our "lawful" spouse we have in the back of our minds (if we do happen think before, during, or after that activity) some vague worries (or extra excitement) that maybe we are not thinking pure thoughts. My guess is, this purity hang-up did not exist much in ancient times.

(2) In any sexual situation we moderns must take into account the feminist revolution in which women in whole or in part asserted an equal right of engagement and decision-making about sexual matters, aspects that were (not always, but as a general rule) left to men in our male-dominated history since Homer. Now I realize this is dicey ground - who knows how much women controlled their bodies pre-1900 (but if they did so, why did we need such a revolution?). I believe it is safe to say, they do to a much greater extent today than before.

I propose that moderns tend to have, more or less, with different intensities, sexual "purity guilt" on one hand, and sexual "equality negotiation" on the other, which, along with many other nuances, might inform what I referred to as a personal modern "psychology" that makes the goddess/Aphrodite/erotic moods less accessible than in ancient times.

Sure, the sexual sensations are the same, but the background psychology is quite a bit different. This is the historical problem of "going back." To access those moods, we would have to lose some pretty deep modern conditioning such as those outlined above, and reclaim the sexual landscape of 800 B.C. Whether many people would jump on that bandwagon is a significant question for Kelly and Dreyfus to ponder.

Or, someone could tell me how wrong my lines of thought on this turn out to be - I'm OK with addressing that possibility too.

Karl Tyson said...

Well, I offered the opening play, but no response so far. No doubt there is not a soul here that is as interested in the game as I am myself, so in the way of Narcissus staring at his reflection, I will extend my meaningless cascade of words, and try to argue my way out of it.

My previous post about sex being different back in Homer's day raises several questions:

1. How important are these minor hangups that have been tentatively identified as "psychological background" to the immediate lived experience of eating, sleeping, or having sex? Does it really matter if moderns have a few mildly obstructive cultural elements to navigate, when the main event almost certainly tastes the same now as then?

My response is that definitely yes, it matters. After all, this is not a biological discussion, where the differentials in physiological response between, say, bonobos and humans in coitus aren't material to the conclusions drawn. We are alluding to the necessary conditions for such an erotic activity in receptive persons, namely the specific mood that can (but does not always) whoosh up in any given amorous situation like that of Helen bedazzled by Paris. It seems hard to argue that this necessary condition is not a matter of very small psychological quanta. A latent fear here, or a lurking guilt there, must be accountable for the go - no go condition.

The "psychological" nuance I am getting at is critical, because it shapes the mood, while the mood merely enables the physical sensations. That is, when getting at moods, sensory perception is at the end of the pipeline.

The role of historical cultural development, guided largely by the common sensabilities, "das Mann" as it were, cannot be minimized. I would guess, and could begin to enumerate, a near infinitude of such tiny cultural bits that have been added, altered, or taken away over 2500 years. And we are not likely to reassemble the puzzle correctly nor are we likely to permit it.

Karl Tyson said...

2. If a case has been made that the idea of reviving Homer's moods in relation to Aphrodite and sex is implausible, that does not necessarily extend to other areas where a revival of pagan gods and their attendant moods might be more plausible.

My response is that it appears to me that the basic psychological objection framed against Homeric sex is pertinent across the board, and if not I await a challenge on a specific set of moods that can be proven commensurable.

The case of the greek god of war, Ares, and his aggressive moody outbursts, seems to me much more devastating to the project than was the gentler case of Aphrodite. If there is one giant difference between historical man and modern man (however one chooses to define them) it is that moderns simply do not act as aggressively in personal, face to face situations as did our forebears. This is due not solely to laws, nor to morals, both of which are themselves ancient, and fail to prevent the aggression that does erupt in our society, and did in past ones. Somehow, incrementally, the most "civilized" modern cultures have, on average, undoubtedly by means of an accumulation of small psychological signal redirects, massively lowered the amount of actual (as opposed to media-broadcast) hand-to-hand violence in their midst.

This is true even under conditions of modern "total war". Whereas the 20th century saw incredibe lethality, very little of the killing happened face-to-face. Whether by incendiary bomb, long-range firearm, or poison gas, the modern victim almost never has the chance to look his killer in the eye. The Greeks never would have understood or approved of this industrial butchery, and could not have incorporated its disinterested, long-distance "kill strike" into their martial mood. Where we have seen exceptions, as in Rwanda, the question is one of defining modern warfare - it is not done by machete.

Warfare proceeds mechanically because it must. Modern westerns, unlike Rwandans, have no stomach for real-life (as opposed to virtual) gut-slicing sword play any more, and it is exactly that mood which cannot be accessed without dramatic changes in what I term our "psychological background". Despite the horror of modern weapons of annihilation, whether we can or should dial back to Ares is highly debatable.

Karl Tyson said...

3. I have described aspects of modern cultures that did not exist in ancient ones. It would be equally plausible - though harder to substantiate - to describe ancient cultural patterns that no longer exist (but the two problems are symmetrical - you simply can't prove ancient mind-states easily). To me, these considerations make the project of chasing ancient moods to revive the technologically straight-jacketed modern mind a mere chimera.

But perhaps the precise argument rendered against Dreyfus and Kelly's program of renewing polytheistic moods is entirely misdirected. Let's check. Here is a snippet from Kelly's opening blog entry:

How did we go from the intense and meaningful lives of Homer’s world to the sadness and indecision, perhaps even the nihilism, of the current age? And how can we find the shining things once more?

http://allthingsshiningbook.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/when-things-began-to-shin/

Sounds to me like going back is more or less the explicit agenda from this starting point. But maybe I am wrong; maybe their intent is not to somehow recapitulate Homeric moods, but only to serve as our guide, to suggest shining things (found among us in masterful performance givers, for example) with which to sway modern technological man.

However that may be, I think this question really hinges not directly in understanding what Dreyfus and Kelly want to do, which they appear to claim is to plumb Homeric sources for cultural re-coherence, but rather what Martin Heidegger wanted to do, which is perhaps less apparent.

I stole the entire bit following from an insightful comment by Ron Jelaco to Kelly's blog re Twitter at:

http://allthingsshiningbook.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/tweet-tweet/

Near the end of QCT, Heidegger does something out of character. He speculates about the possible ways that technology might loose sway. One way he suggests is, “that the frenziedness of technology may entrench itself everywhere to such an extent that someday, throughout everything technological, the essence of technology may come to presence in the coming-to-pass of truth.” And, he continues, “Because the essence of technology is nothing technological, essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it.”

However much he extolled some aspects of Greek existence, Heidegger did not seem to advocate resurrecting ancient moods - as if he knew we had to construct our own new moods, even if that means using the technology we have at hand. Could Dreyfus and Kelly be paddling the wrong direction?

Karl Tyson said...

4. Which brings us back to technology and my argument that we cannot re-assemble moods from history. Recall that I specifically exempted the virtual equivalent of an Ares-aggression mood: the ubiquitous first-person shooter so many of us have played at one point or other. Whatever shreds of Homeric war-fighting mood is left in the (predominantly male) game playing audience, hung like persistent genes (memes?) in our basal psychology, a yearning for the risk of combat (ancient heroism) without its all too frequent consequences we moderns deftly avoid (death and dismemberment), would seem to get exorcised by precisely that "leveling" technology Dreyfus and Kelly attack for the crime of hiding the shining things from us.

Their argument is boxed in. They must serve up either the raw Homeric mood full-blooded, in person, under a guise which I argue cannot and should not be visited on modern man without the real fear of Rwanda meltdowns on Main Street, or they rest their action plan on hollow echoes which they contend are the modern equivalents to Achilles and Odysseus, such as excellence in sports or other performing art (even master craftsmen are artists in an industrial context). But what they have not left themselves room for is to look directly into the eye of computer technology and see the moods of ancient times (or any times) lurking therein, embedded in the visceral tugs of, for instance, virtual reality games.

But this tendency results directly from a clear assessment of how Dreyfus and Kelly arrived at their Homeric fascination in the first place. They are literary men; they love to read and ponder the Classics, and extoll the wonders of the human imagination captured by the rhythms and cadence of an ancient master wordsmith, and the long-lost world he describes. Perhaps they are among the last of the mainstream humanists who will ever absorb the majority of their thrill from the printed word. The rest of us, trapped not in books but in RAM and bandwidth, will have moved on to the coming dominant technological mode of imagination, wherein history and the arts are experienced virtually, rather than read old-style, word after word. This outcome may indeed be a catastrophe. But it is, at this point, just short of a certainty.

Karl Tyson said...

Rebuttal 1. As I was tracing through the lines of argument at Sean Kelly's blog here, I realized that my vociferous denunciation of resurrecting ancient moods has one obvious, Achilles Heel, blind spot and it touches an area of thought near to me: faith.

I have frequently said I think we are emboldened to take faith and faith communities more, not less, seriously when viewed from the existential, phenomenological, postmodern perspective. This boldness comes directly from Dreyfus and his many pointers back to Heidegger, et al. The essential point about faith is that such notions were prematurely put to rest by reason, decisively so, during the enlightenment. Now they must be put back in play among serious thinkers by a growing sense that rationality will inevitably prove insufficient to meet the demands of everyday experience. This argument is too broad to do more than allude to, so I will leave it at that.

So I have pulled my own particular faith rabbit out of Dostoevsky's tattered hat, a sort of christianity that defies disbelief, that refuses to make claims in words bereft of deeds, a faith rendered down to its underwear.

In this christianity of mine, I find an ancient mood I want to defend: Agape love, that weird, self-sacrificing, helpful, caring kind of mood sometimes exemplified by the early christian writings. Now, as I was mulling, it occurred to me that all my "psychological" arguments about how ancient people necessarily differed from modern ones, and thus ancient moods must necessarily be inaccessible to moderns, I seem to be hoist petard-wise. I naturally claim my Agape mood to be translatable to the here and now; it is indispensable to a Dostoevskian position.

Thus I have framed an argument against myself, twice really, and this disclosure is meant more as an admission, if not an apology, for being over hasty in my attack on Ares and Aphrodite, after experiencing a moment of sheer horror contemplating the fact that, based on a similar line of argument, my own preferred whooshing method, Christ Almighty, might be as illusory as those of Kelly and Dreyfus. Note to self: assign further speculative wrestling to a future exercise.

BH said...

I don't think Dostoevsky would count agape as a mood in the Homeric sense. It does not have the transistory character as the moods found in Ares and Aphrodite. Helen can return to domestic life with Menelaus following the Trojan Wars. Achilles can question the value of his life in the underworld. Not so with agape. For Dostoevsky, agape is redemptive. It forever changes a person. It is the point where the eternal and temporal meet. It is where humans come as close as is possible to the "mysterium tremendum."

Phenomonologically speaking it may be the deepest desire of the heart. The further away we move from humble love and compassion for our fellow man the further we are estranged from what is eternal in ourselves. This is what I take Dostoevsky to mean anyways. This is very close, I think, to Kierkegaard's concept of dread. Dante percieved this estrangement and placed a life devoted to Aphrodite in the 2nd circle of hell while dedicating yourself to Ares landed you in the 7th.

Agape may indeed whooshup on us like a mood. Probably many of us have had some experience, however fleeting, of it. Then it is gone. But Dostoevsky not leave it to the Heracleitian flux of whooshing up. He makes transmission very dependent on human agency. From Markel, to Zossima, to Aloysha and then to Dmitri, Grushenka and the boys. Once "born again" through agape love one is expected to do something. Dostoevsky does not have his characters wait for new revelations of being or simply be carried away by the mood. Their hearts have been changed by as much truth (love) as human beings can endure. The revelation and rapture actually kills Markel. This, it seems to me, is of a far different order than what occurs while under the influence of Ares and Aphrodite. Those who have been changed by agape are tasked in a way that Achilles and Helen are not. They are responsible for living it out in the world for the remainder of their temporal lives. Homer, seemingly, makes no one responsible. Gripped by Ares human beings can (and have) done remarkably heroic and noble deeds. But Ares can also lead to Auschwitz, My Lai, Rwanda, and the seemingly inexhaustible list of atrocities throughout history committed in the God's name. The acts that would have Ivan returning the ticket. People who commit those acts can also deeply regret and sincerely repent of them. For Dostoevsky and Christianity it is at least possible for them to do so.

Dostoevsky and I think Kierkegaard as well would have us align ourselves with the eternal and then make it our life's task to carry out what we can of its truth in the temporal. Zossima says, "Brothers, love is a teacher; but one must know how to acquire it, for it is hard to acquire, it is dearly bought, it is won slowly by long labour. For we must love not only occassionally, for a moment, but for ever. Everyone can love occasionally, even the wicked can" (VI, 3). We are to "Love a man even in his sin," Father Zossima exhorts, "for that is the semblence of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things" (VI, 3). For Zossima and the author who created him this is the one way and not merely one of many ways.

Karl Tyson said...

Note to self 2: Or, leave the speculative wrestling to friends who are seeing these obstinate things more incisively just now.

Anonymous said...

To all the contributor,
Excellent searchers for podcast!
Recently, I found H.S. Harris's pdf lectures notes, including Hegel's Philosophy of religion and Hegel' Logic
http://pi.library.yorku.ca/dspace/handle/10315/883

cch

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