. . .I'm going to just try to follow the wisdom that Steve Martin learned at his Grandmother's knee, which I've embedded in musical form at right. Most people just remember Martin from movies like The Jerk and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, or perhaps his earlier stand-up career from the 1970s. They don't know that he's also an award winning bluegrass player, who has written some pretty moving songs. Anyhow, Joe Bob says to check it out.
I don't want to toot my own horn too much, but I think that as the song progresses the lyrics do begin to some extent reflect a lot of the extant virtues that I associate with my vocation at its best. This is probably why the song means so much to me. It's both a call for all of us to do better, and somehow simultaneously a comfort that we can and will do better. What could be better news after such a tumultuous year?
From Will Oremus' article at slate, every co-writer's nightmare, a couple of cases where a marginal note somehow makes it through into the final paper. First, from biology.
RESULTS: In this study, we have used (insert statistical method here) to compile unique DNA methylation signatures from normal human heart, lung, and kidney using the Illumina Infinium 27 K methylation arrays and compared those to gene expression by RNA sequencing.
And a more recent example from the journal Ethology:
One of the things about advancing into middle age is that you get a reverse bucket list of things you realize you aren't going to do before you die. Here are my top ten:
Become fluent in some language other than English- I've come to realize that it would take about two years of doing very little philosophy. Not going to happen any time soon. I wish I'd worked at this prior to the passing up of the dreaded critical period.
Understand mathematics well enough to really understand Mark Wilson, Robert Batterman, and David Wallace- I didn't used to have any idea just how smart you have to be to master this stuff.
Play in a band that is good enough to go on a tour- This train probably left the station long ago, though (to be fair) good riddance to it. I'm not sure I would have liked the lifestyle that much even when I was younger.
Walk the Appalachian Trail- Emily and I used to fantasize about this one, and I'd still do it if nature had indoor plumbing, but it doesn't, so I won't.
Learn to meditate- I'm in awe of people like Tim Morton, who goes to these meditation retreats where nobody talks for weeks at a time. And it sounds pretty cool, but honesty compels me to admit that I would go out of my mind in a bad way. If John Lennon were around to play this song, that would be one thing. But it's also not going to happen.
Be serenaded by John Lennon so that I leave my meditation tent- Follows from number 5.
Be the honored guest at a Japanese tea ceremony and not behave in ways that bring shame to my country- I honestly don't see this whole "tea ceremony" thing going anywhere nice. At this point in my life, I'm prone to giggling uncontrollably during times when I'm supposed to be serious. For that matter, I'd probably put my feet on the table or something.
Use the phrase "perfidious Albion" in a non-ironic way- This is probably not the most important item on most people's bucket list, but it matters to me. The fact that I can no longer (given my age) envision it coming to pass actually makes me a little bit sad.
Be omnipresent- When you're younger, you have no idea just how big the universe is. Sure someone will tell you one hundred billion stars each in one hundred billion galaxies, but those are just numbers. However, when you get older it all starts to sink in and you realize that you will never be co-extensive with the totality of all that exists spatio-temporally. Let me tell you, it's a humbling moment.
Be simultaneously obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant- Maybe two out of the three, but jeesh I'm forty-four years old now. I'm leaving this one to the millenials.
Oh well, advancing senescence does have its positive qualities. That is, if it's a little bit sad that I won't get to do the above, it's honestly a bit of a relief too. I think that mid way through a well-lived life one should have developed a sense of humility about the possible.
As readers of this blog know, Graham Harman holds that the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. According to Harman, we live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Well, as far as I can piece together from disjointed and inconsistent accounts via e-mail, it seems to have happened last night during one of his lectures. According to the person who took this picture, everyone in the audience was reduced to a miasma of gibbering fear. My student friend escaped before (according to his account) the unspeakabe creature over Professor Harman's right shoulder fully manifest itself in our reality. The student, who asked not to be named, describes it thus:
It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.
I credit that. I mean there's photographic evidence. But the e-mail gets pretty fanciful after that. Apparently there were weird weather patterns and some kind of sink hole in the quad at Miskatonic University. In fevered mind of the student, this assumed a kind of cosmic significance. Here:
The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarising miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion, and twisted menace and suspense lurked leeringly in those crazily elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance shewed concavity after the first shewed convexity. Something very like fright had come over all the faculty and students before anything more definite than rock and ooze and weed was seen.
With respect to the Miskatonic sink hole:
The odour rising from the newly opened depths was intolerable, and at length the quick-eared [name retracted to protect the student's anonymity] thought he heard a nasty, slopping sound down there. Everyone listened, and everyone was listening still when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted outside air of that poison city of madness.
I don't know what really happened. Creatures coming out of walls and holes in the ground?
Most scholars date the death of the sixties on Saturday, December 6th 1969, at the infamous Altamont Free Concert. Not having learned anything from the debacle when dimbulbs had shipped over members of the gang and their motorcycles to London for the opening of Apple Records, the Rolling Stones had stupidly hired Hell's Angels to police the event. In the fevered Roussean dream of the 60s counterculture, the Hell's Angels were "noble outlaws" who could do no wrong because all wrong emanated from the man, man. And what could possibly go wrong with letting criminal speed freaks have the legitimate monopoly on violence? What could go wrong with paying them in free beer? Well, watch the film. The highlight isn't the stabbing, but rather when Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin is punched into unconsciousness by a Hell's Angel while on stage and during their set, and the other members of Jefferson Airplane just respond with some sixties platitude about how it's all cool man and everyone's got to get together.
On this narrative, the infamous Stones tour film (which was supposed to rehabilitate their reputation), prog. rock, punk rock, Reagan, and John Lennon's murder are all codas to Altamont.
I call shenanigans. First, what we call "the sixties" went comfortably into the early seventies. Second, the Rousseau versus Hobbes trope is something we retroactively project back onto the sixtees to deligitimize the left political causes associated with sixties activism. It was part of what was going on, but I very much doubt that most of the people on the ground actually working to realize civil rights or end the war had that much to do with marketplace Rousseauanism.
Rather, I want to return to this old newapps post, where I pretty conclusively demonstrated that what really characterized "the swinging sixties" was movies with repulsive closeups of people eating food. In the course of the discussion I also demonstrated how all popular culture sense then has to some extent been a meta-commentary on this very trope. Once we see how much more central this was, then everything else falls into line. The import of Altamont is then clearly seen to be the fact that nobody was eating anything (even Ayn Rand understood that amphetamines kill the appetite) and the people there just didn't know how to deal with that, especially while being filmed, since their cultural sensitivities were so shaped by closeups of other people chewing.
And if you need any more evidence, consider the video at right, above for the Steelers Wheels' 1972 hit "Stuck in the Middle with You." Watch poor Wheels lead singer Gerry Rafferty, who is forced to sit close to people shovelling food into their gobs. There's even a person eating spaghetti, referencing the traumatizingly awful Lennon directed scene in the traumatizingly awful Magical Mystery Tour movie. The key point of the video is at the one minute thirty-five second mark, where the clown tries to eat the rubber chicken. Could there be any profounder reflection on the dismal failure of the 60s? But Rafferty is still forced to be right next to these people listening to them loudly masticate. In the context of the video, the bit at two minutes thirty-nine seconds where he intones "Please" becomes something much sadder and more terrifying. The sixties are dead, but we're still stuck with these people who can't chew with their mouths closed.* Is it any wonder that those very same people voted in Reagan and trickle nowhere economics? Steelers Wheel saw all of this coming as far back as 1972.
This is how one does satire. Consider Kotsko's conclusion:
We continually remind ourselves that radical new schools of thought always face opposition. What if Plato, Kant, and someone you’ve never heard of whom I’m putting forth as a self-evident part of the philosophical canon just gave up the first time someone asked them what they were talking about? And really, are we even properly a “school” at all? Isn’t Contemporaneanism more of a sensibility, a shared set of concerns, than a “movement” — at least a “movement” in the sense that we could be held responsible for some determinate positions and arguments? What’s striking to me is the radical diversity of Contemporaneanism. And you know what? It’s not my job to point out examples of the many people who adhere to Contemporaneanism (in such a way that it doesn’t constitute a determinate “movement” that can be criticized). If you don’t keep up with the most important and exciting developments in your field, that’s on you.
God. Can’t someone start a philosophical movement without having to constantly argue with people?!
Great satire works on some level whether you or not you get the references. I think this succeeds on both counts, as it also satirizes broader internet tendencies.
I can't say I'm that familiar with (or sympathetic to) contemporary neo-Contemporaneanism, but long time readers of this blog know that I have long been a champion of certain strands of old school Contemporaneanism. If this wasn't such a wonderful satire, I'd hate just how comfortable is this shoe he's crafted for me and mine.
I'd like to write a history of philosophy with the organizing thematic component being what philosophers have said about tables.
Russell's discussion about the table in his Cambridge office in The Problems of Philosophy contrasts beautifully with Heidegger's discussion about the table in his home in the lecture series: Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Facticity (which then evolved in History of the Concept of Time and then into the canonical hammer discussion in Being and Time). This contrast alone handles the problem of the external world as well as a decent amount of Dreyfusiana philosophy of mind.
This would only work if Plato talked about tables. Did the ancient Greeks even have tables, or did they just eat off of their bellies like otters?