everything is art

So I’ve blogged before. But not necessarily like this. I feel a distinct obligation to use big words and be coherent. Unfortunately, the mind is not always coherent. So have I reached an impasse? A stalling point?
Perhaps not.
I keep staring at my attempt at an artsy title for this introductory post and can’t help but cringe. It takes way too much effort to keep up a pretense of constant knowledgeability. My mind is often in a place where I can’t sort through my thoughts because there are too many of them. I can almost bet with confidence that many of those thoughts are something along the lines of: a;lskdfja;slkdfj.
I should mention that I ramble. That’s a really important fact. I’ll try to keep that on the down low.
While this blog is initially created as a course blog, I don’t think that’s what I want this to be. Rather, it’s not the only thing I want this blog to be. While I do have my own personal blog on Tumblr (yep, I’m one of those people and I promise we’re a good people!) that doesn’t mean I always post things about me. I find that my idea of how much should be said about myself online is a strange perspective. And I think we all have some type of this way of thinking when we put anything about ourselves out there. Especially our thoughts.
We can claim as much as we want that we don’t care what people think about us or how they see us. But it does cross our mind. It crosses my mind all the time. I’m always looking at things and people and trying to understand and observe them, so I naturally wonder if people do that when they see me as well. The way people see us is just a mirror with an opinion, really. So why not wonder?
Sorry, I think I just got a little off topic there. Often times I get lost in my musings and forget my real point. But that only happens in my head, I promise. I try to keep it out of my essays.
I guess what I’m trying to say in this not at all introductory post with a silly not very artsy title is that we see ourselves in a different way than from what people see when they look at us. And because of that we control what we say in places like blogs because people can see further into us through our words. And because this is my blog, and I don’t believe that it’s purpose will be purely academic 100% of the time, I can only hope that the glimpse I give into how I see myself only gives you (whoever you are, hello!) a fair perspective that you judge in a hopefully nice way.
Yeah, I think that’s the point I was trying to make. Who knows, maybe I didn’t have a point to begin with.
Like I said, the rambling thing strikes again.

Here’s to the adventure of blogging!

“Gorgias”, apparently

I decided to not delete that first automatic blog post (“Hello, world!”) because in a few years I’ll probably look back on it and remember not really understanding exactly what I was supposed to do with this.

In our last seminar, our professor commented that we preferred syncretic (okay, I just googled that to make sure I spelled it correctly, and I didn’t at first) questions: as she explained it, questions that could be answered with a yes/no. That reminds me of two different memories: the first one being one of my teachers from high school, who would ask us if we had any questions and then pause. He would hold the pause for a while and one time he explained to us (as far as I can remember) that the silence was designed to give us time to formulate our questions and then get over the awkwardness of raising our hands to ask them. The second memory it reminded me of is that one time I was with some friends at a science exhibit and one part had us answer questions on a screen by pressing buttons. A friend of mine laughed when she noticed that I was slapping the buttons and I thought it was kind of funny too, and the best explanation I could come up with was that there are some topics I have very strong opinions on, and that I’m completely comfortable with having those strong opinions. For me, at least, I think the preference for close-ended questions is real. Just telling somebody what you think, without having to explain, without having to let them pick your brain a little, is easy and not as personal. Lately I’ve been wondering if having really strong opinions on something could just mean that I don’t want to consider other perspectives. Is the best opinion one that you’re willing to change? (I’ve thought about this and I’ve concluded there’s some kind of semantic tangle in that question, but I don’t know how to fix it.)

I do think that although yes/no questions are easy to answer, they’re really just good for warming up. If all you can get out of somebody is yes or no, it probably means that they don’t really want to talk to you or that you aren’t asking the right questions.  Sometimes I’m watching an interview and the interviewer asks a question that does more to show what they already think and less to show what the interviewee thinks (and isn’t that really the point of the interview?). The fact that I can’t go through the computer screen and say, “Objection – leading question” saddens me a little.

In the case of the seminar, we were lucky, and the yes/no questions were just a warmup. I remember checking the time on my computer, realizing we were halfway through, and thinking, “This is so great”, despite having trouble in the first bit even getting some thoughts together before somebody made a remark.

Also, thoughts on Gorgias:

Socrates talks so much that I used three different colours of tabs for him and one colour for everyone else. Trying to understand exactly what the other characters think can be a little difficult if a lot of what they express is a yes or a no to Socrates’ paragraphs. (more syncretic questions!) Being able to quote them is far better. The only note I have for Callicles, for example, is that he disagrees with Socrates, which isn’t exactly helpful. And Callicles and Socrates get to converse at length, unlike, for example, Gorgias, who has lines at the beginning but not much otherwise.

More generally, though, “Gorgias”‘ discusses of the exact definition and purpose of oratory extensively, which gets very Abed. Socrates gets the last word but ultimately we have to decide for ourselves and I’m still not sure about what oratory is (but if I hadn’t read “Gorgias”, I don’t think I would have thought about it).

That’s all I have for now. Hopefully I’ll write more soon. Good night, everyone. Thanks for reading.



The fruit itself

I had meant to do something else for my first blog post but this observation was too funny to pass up.

So, in my seminar someone offhandedly referred to the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (loquacious, innit?) as an apple, as is the popular conception. Of course, nowhere in the text does it state that it is an apple, so where does this stem from? Obviously the apple is (at least in Western Culture) the quintessential fruit, and one most associated with intellectualism and thus the transgression that implies (Newton’s apple, teacher’s apple, apple a day keep the doctor away). But later that day, while I was eating potato chips at the bus stop (I’m that guy, yes) I noticed that the French referred to it as pomme de terre, fruit/apple of the earth.

In Hebrew the fruit is referred to as Ha’adamah, fruit of the earth. Given that French is a Romantic language and early Christian translations of the Bible were in latin, it’s easy to see where the conception of it being an apple comes from.

Except that pomme de terre also means potato.

The forbidden fruit, with all the eroticism, transgression, and liberation that it implies for humanity, that which caused The Fall and our expulsion from Paradise, Original Sin, was a potato.

A potato.

Just picture it, a nude rosy cheeked Eve in the hue of youth, flush with the overwhelming discovery of knowledge and of her own latent sexuality, with the tempting serpent coiled round her shoulder in an insidious seduction, voluptuously, sensually, taking a bite out of a potato, before passing it on to Adam.

But if potatoes confer knowledge of good and evil, what is the fruit of The Tree of Life?



The Book of Genesis and Oneness in Judeo-Christian Culture

The second set of readings for the #ArtsOne course was the Book of Genesis and Kant’s Conjectural Beginning. The Book of Genesis translation which we were assigned to read was Robert Alter’s 2004 version.

As I was reading Genesis this morning, I kept stumbling upon this tension between unity and individuality. I noted evidence of this tension in Kant’s commentary on Genesis as well.

Here are some of my notes pertaining to instances where I think there might be a move away from unity/oneness towards individuality in Genesis:

1:26 – “our image” – god creates humans in “our image” not in his image, which leads me to believe that he is creating humans in this image of “the good”, as all his creation before (plants etc. etc.) had been deemed “good” by the creator. “Our” implies that others are part of the creation process – meaning that all that he has created is also part of his image, and humans, made in his image, are part of everything else he’s created as well. The pronoun “our” suggests an inter-connectivity.

Around 1:27 – Alter notes that there is controversy over the translation of the pronoun representing Adam. Could Adam be androgynous before his rib is used to make Eve? The transfer of the rib is itself a hint at a sense of oneness, and the idea that Adam is androgynous before this (which Alter seems to reject under the pretext that it unleashes “dizzying paradoxes”) would mean that much like the way god divides in Book 1 of Genesis (in all honesty a lot of the first chapter of Genesis should be mentioned here), the creation story is about a crumbling, or falling apart of a unity.

2:18 the use of the word “sustainer” – suggests a sort of loneliness inherent in humans – they are not really part of the inter-dependency of the animal world.

9:? Following the Fall, further indication of humans being separated from the oneness of creation becomes apparent. I noted that in chapter 9 Alter suggests that the way that humans move towards a carnivorous diet suggests that humans are exercising a sort of inner violence upon the animal kingdom – the notion of ruling over the animal kingdom is also apparent, Kant notes, in 8:114.

Chapter 10 – The Tower of Babel is a pretty well-discussed instance of human dis-unity. Once united under a similar language, humans loose that sense of collective when they are punished for trying to build a tower to the heavens. Babel could be seen as the real end of unity – humans are isolated individuals

The Fall can really be seen as the turning point between unity and individualism. I think that this tension and sense of duality should be examined further considering that a lot of what modern spiritualism promotes is re-aligning oneself with the oneness of the universe. Many stories in the Bible have this inherent individualism that I’m sure makes many skeptical. – I’ll explore this more in my essay

Just some thoughts, nothing to be taken too seriously. nothing should ever be taken too seriously relaly.

“Kafka and His Precursors”


Jorge Luis Borges’s “Kafka and His Precursors” begins oddly: “I once premeditated making a study of Kafka’s precursors.” The use of the verb “premeditate” is odd enough, in the Spanish (“Yo premedité alguna vez”) as much as in the English, not least because it is most usually found in juridical discourse: a premeditated crime is one that is considered and planned in advance, as opposed to a crime of passion or an outburst in the heat of the moment. This strange invocation of legal discourse might suggest that some wrong-doing is afoot, or that we are hearing some kind of confession. And yet–and this is the second strange aspect of Borges’s opening gambit–it is also suggested that the crime was never committed. “I once premeditated making a study” implies that the study remained unwritten or unmade; it was only planned. We have the guilty mind (mens rea) but not the guilty act (actus reus). The crime was averted, perhaps because some flaw was found in what was otherwise a perfect plan.

But this then leaves us asking ourselves about the status of the text that we have before us, which (as the title promises and as further readings confirms) turns out to concern precisely the topic of the projected but unwritten or abandoned study: “Kafka and His Precursors.” Yet if this is not that study (perhaps because it is too short, incomplete), nor is it the premeditation of that study: at best it is an account of that premeditation, a summary and reflection upon the preparatory “notes” that would have aided in the writing itself. It is an intervention between the plan and its execution, between intention and act.

In short, the text that we have here is perhaps triply parasitic, or three-times removed from its ostensible object: it is the summary of notes towards a study of Kafka and his precursors. It is also strangely located in time: it is the reflection on a plan in the past to write a study that is still unwritten (and so is postponed to the indefinite future) about a now-dead author and his precursors that (we soon find) proceeds by enumerating them “in chronological order,” beginning with the most far-distant.

As often in Borges, the part mimics the whole or (perhaps better) we find an almost fractal arrangement in which patterns are repeated at various orders of magnitude, albeit to produce less the comfort of familiarity than a vertiginous sense of the uncanny and a shattering of logic. Elsewhere, we see this effect in his description of the “aleph,” a shimmering ball (found in the banal surroundings of a Buenos Aires basement) that contains within itself the entire universe. But Borges also suggests that such apparent oddities (or impossibilities) are remarkably common, even quotidian: think long and hard about anything, and it soon becomes (or is revealed to be) an aleph of its own. Here, these opening lines anticipate the central problematic of the essay itself, which is about the ways in which texts are related and how strange fissures or reversals upset linear temporality, just as it in turn makes (or unmakes) its point through performance as much as through argument or exposition: for this text about Kafka and his precursors is in its own way about Borges and his precursors and in it Borges himself rewrites our collective past and disturbs our conceptions of sequence and priority.

Finally, if what Borges is ultimately saying is that a writer (that writing) has the strange power to intervene in history, to remake or remodel the past just as Kafka creates his own precursors (by making us see an otherwise disparate collection of historical texts as oddly “Kafkaesque” avant la lettre), he is also unabashedly claiming that there is nothing new in this notion. This observation precedes Borges and this text, and so confirms (what is now) his repetition of what can present itself as an established fact. For in another detail, a footnote–a classic paratext or parasite, neither fully part of nor fully detached from the text itself–draws our attention to T S Eliot’s Points of View, whose very title in this context becomes simultaneously uncanny and revelatory. After all, is this entire essay not about “points of view,” and the ways in which they are constructed, obscured, or undermined?

In a rather good essay on Joyce and Borges Patricia Novillo-Corvalán, whom I am here myself copying or appropriating to some extent, notes that “Eliot postulates an aesthetic principle, through which writers are not read in isolation, but as part of a living tradition in which the new alters the old, the present modifies the past and, as a result, texts are continually re-valued from the perspective of subsequent texts” (60). And Rex Butler’s “Everything and Nothing” points out that what makes Borges original–what makes the greatest authors the most original–is precisely the fact that they “can actually appear unoriginal, to add nothing to literature, to repeat what has already been written” (134).

At which point, as I observe that I in turn am in large part simply “repeat[ing] what has already been written,” remaking and remodeling it for my own purposes, creating precursors who sadly are not quite as disparate (or quite as unpredictable) as those of Borges and Kafka, perhaps it’s time to stop what is after all only a first approach to these issues. It’s time to end, in other words, so that we can at last begin.