Jul 23, 2005

Travel gambit

Actually, I was tempted to buy the other ticket, the crazy ticket with the four hour layover in Vegas and the four hour layover in D.C.

Jul 20, 2005

Out at the lake

On a fine summer day at Lake Sutherland - the little lake on the peninsula surrounded by little private docks and split level miniature mansions sold for scenic windows - the canary yellow float plane took a circle before running down the length of the water for lift off. The sun came down through filtering fir trees to tan the bikinied girls laying out in pairs where the boys on jet skis rode around a little closer, sending three or four wakes rolling against the pillars of the docks.

On a fine summer day at Lake Sutherland, a family of four raced a speed boat towing an inner tube of kids and a boomer couple kayaking by the bank paused their paddling to stare at me. I was coming down the bluff of trees hand over hand along a rigging rope in a half-repel. I came down the steep slope, then I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my sap-splattered blue jeans and waded out into the water carrying a six-foot pole saw and a pair of red pruning shears. I waded in above my knees, bare-headed and long-haired, and took to cutting out and tearing up the suckers growing out of lake’s edge.

How’s it going? my foreman yelled down over the sound of a jumping jet ski and some screaming kids. Fine, I said, but I’d rather be at the lake.

Jul 18, 2005

In this manner, III

We were just sitting there, waiting. Four of us boys sitting out in a couple of aisles waiting for the people and the preaching, for the singing and the praying and the coming down movement of the spirit.

The hall was rented for the revival, empty, with the chairs set in lines and one aisle leading forward. The room was waiting, waiting for a revival, for revivals can start anywhere, in the place you’d least expect, the spirit blowing where it will in tongues like fire. Like the revival in Wales, where the whole town stopped working and sleeping and everything to let holiness come in crashing in the sounds you’d least expect. Like Azusu Street. Like the Great Awakening. Like where Jonathan Edwards would only preach in a monotone so nobody’d be swayed by mere human theatrics, by just words, where he preached about that spider dangling spindly from the web of his own making over a lake of fire.

The microphones were wired up, waiting the words of God. We were just sitting there, antsy. We looked at each other and at the beige chairs in empty rows back to the double doors, and then again at each other. The shushed flapping of the ceiling fans set a slight stir in the air.

They’d been talking about tonight for a month. Now was the time. God was ready to move, to blow breath down, just waiting for us and for this room. They’d talked about battling flesh and battling spirits, about the wars of the realms and the feeling of God’s anticipation. The time was ready, waiting for tonight.

Someone’d gone to the airport to pick up the revivalist. We’d been talking about him a lot and what God had been speaking back in Arkansas about how he said to be open, waiting upon the spirit’s movings and sayings and the sounds that you couldn’t expect.

One mic up front, for the revivalist who was coming in. One in the aisle, for testimonies. Two on the side, for the music. The room vibrated with the silence of expectation.

Then the one boy stood up, letting his hand come up to rub his chin and he stood there sort of staring at the stage. We looked at him. He stepped out into the aisle and he went up to the revivalist’s mic and leaned in, stooping, cupping his hand around his mouth and the mic.

eeeeeeEEERRRG CHboukh BOUKH, he said and the mic played loud in the empty room and it sounded exactly like a bomb shell whining in over rows of trenches to explode in dirt and blood and noise. We jumped, each getting a microphone and leaning in, stooping down to cup our hands and send out arching whines and exploding noises. It was an all out sound effects war. The little kid did a machine gun ut ut ut ut ut ut ut ut ut and the shelling noises all came back verberating off the white walls, in chaos down around our heads.

That’s when the revivalist walked in, when the parents walked in and started shouting to stop, shouted our first and middle names. We stopped, and stood there. A stern silence settled down.

They stared at us, faces stuck in states of shock. We stared at the carpet with that sinking feeling of having fouled the whole thing.


(See part 1 and part 2.)

Jul 16, 2005

The history of philosophy by influence

The BBC has up a list of the 10 most influential philosophers – one of those exercises that is half fantasy baseball for nerds and half intellectual mapping – and some of the neocalvinists have followed suit.

I don’t think Popper ought to be on the list. I’m thinking “influential” means “changed the face of philosophy, or even the way we think,” and I don’t think Popper will survive the next 200 years except, perhaps, as a contemporary and rival of Wittgenstein’s. I think the BBC ranks Marx too highly, for Marx’s influence was mostly on world politics and not, actually to the way we think. To the extent he shaped our thinking he was, I think, reading Hegel. I could be wrong about that.

Gideon Strauss's list I think cants too much towards the political, which is a general disagreement I have with Gideon's philosophy. His understand of Modernism, e.g., is primarily political while I think the politics follows from the epistemology, like Locke’s political philosophy follows from his idea of the tabula rasa. So I would not include Machiavelli or Hobbes, and I don’t think Locke was the most influential philosopher of his school or generation.

My list:

1. Socrates/Plato – Necessarily combined, these two inaugurate philosophy with the ideal of abstraction and the metaphysicalist project. They radically moved past the religio-ethical thinking you'd find with the Stoics or the Hebrews, created "philosophy" and changedwhat it means to think.

2. Descartes – On my map, Descartes stands at the absolute center, where everything can be measured by its distance from him. He is, I think, the most brilliant thinker among a slew of brilliant thinkers. He suffers for this. In thinking the most clearly about the epistemological turn, he fails to really obscure the foundational problems with foundationalism.

3. Heidegger – If philosophy is metaphysics, Heidegger is the end of philosophy. His work on Being is the most sophisticated and thorough, his “turn” to language is shattering, and his later philosophy has yet to even be really explored. He’s the point where phenomenology and existentialism come together and remakes both of those schools. While not the most influential, he is arguably the greatest philosopher.

4. Wittgenstein – Brilliant and concise, LW is claimed and debated everywhere and he most effectively and influentially shows the linguistic turn of both analytic and continental philosophy. He’s also captured the imagination of more thinkers than any other philosopher.

5. Hegel – His dialect cracked philosophy’s addiction to dualisms, opening new possibilities and saved philosophy from strangling itself into Logical Positivism.

6. Aquinas – The greatest Christian philosopher, though in close competition with Augustine, whose “Aristotle and Jesus” project formed the face of Christianity and the west and to this day is the default Christian system of thinking.

7. Nietzsche – I know more people who have had their lives dramatically affected by reading Nietzsche than by reading anything or anyone else. I am leery of his work, and haven’t undertaken it like I will have to, but I do not believe one can understand and experience the condition of our world without feeling his sense of tragedy.

8. Saussure – He was in linguistics, not philosophy, yet his argument that meaning happens not by the reference of sign to object but by the relationships between signs was dramatically influential.

9. Augustine – He would top my list of theologians, his words having given shape to all the traditions of Western Christianity. As a philosopher, his critique of skepticism is the best, his Aquinas-like project of unifying neoplatonism and Christianity and his eventual lack of confidence in their compatibility, his doctrine of a Just War, and his doctrine of man are vital to the course of thinking in the west.

10. Hume – He’s normally known for skepticism, but I find him of more influence in his idea of the possibility of the end of philosophy, of a final resolving.

Considered but not included: Kant, because I’m uncomfortable with him and his project and can’t trace his line of influence; Derrida, because even though I think he’s incredible and give him a lot of my time, I don’t know completely unique influence he will have specifically on philosophy; Anselm, because he’s know too narrowly for his ontological argument to be top-10 significant.

I’d be interested in reading a list by Garver, who I know has a better and broader understanding of the history of philosophy than I do, Sam would be able to tell me about Frege, Quine, and the analytics, GC, who I’ve just started reading, Berek, and Talcott.

Jul 15, 2005

Qage, n. 1. the visual word and its parts; 2. where language and image are insperable; 3. the aesthetics of the image of a word, and the recognition of the strangeness of the idea that mere shapes can carry meaning.

Coined by visual poet Geof Huth in Sept. 2004. See Huth's work here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Jul 11, 2005

Animal tales 1 & 2

1. Protestantism started with Martin Luther preaching about a worm. Evangelicalism started, you could say if you wanted, with Jon Edwards preaching about a spider. If you were going to add a third animal to this history of Protestantism, what would you add?


2. There’s a story going around our house about a cat. Actually it was something factual about some old friends who’re now in Michigan breeding pure Persians, but then I stole the male cat minor character. He’s got one eye. I named him Jack. We’re still deciding what Jack’s story is about.
Best you can get

I can’t find the picture we took, before we left. Marvin and me and David standing outside in the Texas spring, Marvin with his hand behind his back, maybe to hide the cigarette or maybe to hide his hand.

I’ll see you, he'd say, unless I’m dead.

He’d lost his thumb and two fingers in a tractor accident. He’d tell you that matter of fact, letting all the horror of it stand there bare. His wife had left him because she couldn’t see herself married to a cripple, and something happened where the Southern Baptist church said it’d be too awkward and would he mind leaving.

Marvin was matter of fact about dark things: dieing, betrayal, and human rottenness. For Marvin, the horrific was normal and he treated it as normal and a little sad, but not surprising. He showed up on the doorstep of our black January, when we were friendless and in shock and teetering on despair. He showed up with a catch of fresh fish, empathetic and offering to help and understanding the horror of it all without needing to know anything more. He didn’t want the fish, he said, he didn’t eat fish, didn’t eat nothing that swims or flies.

Marvin was one of the old guys I knew through woodcarving. He didn’t do much woodcarving, actually, sort of starting projects and leaving them around waiting for an inspiration of attention. He liked knives though, and taught my brother and me about blades, the temper of metals and the angles of edges. When we scrounged pawn shops for pocket knives we looked for what he was talking about, and then brought them to his sprawling ranch house cluttered with antiques and half-finished projects, bringing them to Marvin for official approval. He’d thumb the edge, contemplating, and take the edge to the stone bringing the angle out to a feather and then turning to the leather, the strop.

If you see straight razors, he'd say, buy them. Best metal you can get.

He died maybe a year after we left. When I think about it, his being dead doesn’t make any sense.

Jul 9, 2005

Sloggy brained

Feeling rather dull. And mildly angry about it.

Jul 6, 2005

The double lack

"...in the no longer of the departed gods and the not yet of the Coming One."
            - M. Heidegger

Jul 4, 2005

The last book I bought and other questions

How many books do I own?

I counted once, but that was number of years ago and I don't recall what the number was anyway. I started buying books when I was 14, in the couple of used book stores in Porterville California, my highschool education consisting mostly of hauting those bookstores, the chain book store and the library and reading everything. I have a lot of the old books, esp. the history and political ones I'm not really reading right now but will get back to, stashed here in Washington. And then in Hillsdale I have probably a few dozen books from last semester stacked in the house, waiting for me to move in. In Philly, where I have to go get them and move them to Hillsdale, I have three book shelves of literature, philosophy, theology, and poetry.

Books were really my first vice.

What’s the last book I bought?

I went to Powells yesterday, for the 4th, and bought I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, by Emmanuel Carrere, Fear and Trembling, by Soren Kierkegaard, A Quest for the Post-Historical Jesus, by William Hamilton, Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy, by K.T. Fann, Towards a New Christianity, by Thomas Altizer, Unframed Originals, by W.S. Merwin, The Rediscovery of Mind by John Searle and The Magic Journey, by John Nichols. Which is a fairly accuarte list, I think, of the projects I'm working on.

What’s the last book I read?

I'm in the middle of four books right now. I like to keep it to two, one light and one heavy, but I haven't lately. I'm reading Martin Buber's Eclipse of God, Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music, the Dick book, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 100 years of Solitude. The last book I finished - #20 for this year which puts me 4 books behind my one-a-week last year - was Girl Meets God, on the recommendation of Jeremy Huggins.

What are the five books that mean the most to me?

If my library were destroyed, the first five replacements I would buy are Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, Graham Greene's The Burnt Out Case, Heidegger's Being and Time, Derrida's Circumfesions, and Beowulf.

I was tagged by Gideon Strauss for this. In turn, I tag Peter Krupa, and Luke Heyman.