Monday, January 24, 2005

I'm back--Kant and Adorno: whatta team!

I have been away for quite a long time, I realize. I had other things I had to do. Anyway, I'm back.

I have been reading Kant's Critique of Pure Reason on the LRT as I go to work, just because it's one of those books people always assume you should have read. Well, after quite a few rides on the LRT, I have learned the following:

*Kant tidies up metaphysics in his mission to save it from pure idealism, religiosity or empiricism. He does it by stating what he thinks the proper business of metaphysics is.
*The proper business of metaphysics turns out to be a priori questions. Everything else is just psychology, or just phenomenology, or just ethics, or just aesthetics when it isn't "transcendental". No more messing about with everyday facts. Now the business of philosophy was to be "higher things" to do with reason, understanding and cognition.
*Mostly, this will consist of thinking about how we end up having ideas without reference to the sensual world or the world of objects in any way other than an abstract way (like in geometry).
*I have a sneaking suspicion that the marginalization of philosophy specifically and the humanities in general (away from science) is probably due to Kant's tidying-up tendencies. He didn't think he was marginalizing philosophy, but that is what happened. And he has written about his idea for a modern university--today, much university structure is based on models that came from some of Kant's ideas.

Today, I opened up Theodor Adorno's Negative Dialectics right at the end (I had to return the book so that I can recall it again) and there was Adorno railing away about the very same problems I have with Kant.

I mean, wow. I wasn't off-track while tracking on the LRT! Of course Adorno said everything much more nicely than I would, which part of why he got to be so famous. And good on him! Usually I'd read somebody like him first and then read the Big Thinker so it sure is nice to have things go the other way for once.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Where is my coffee? Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Book Review: Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God

I was a little wary of this book. How can you compare fundamentalisms? But I am very impressed by her treatment. Armstrong's strength is her command of detail--the footnotes are there if you want them--but somehow she also manages to trace the patterns of fundamentalist development through the three largest monotheistic religions in the world: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It's not a perfect book but hey, whose is? As a recovering fundamentalist, I found much food for thought here.

Check it out on Amazon:

Doesn't start in the modern era, but quite rightly begins with the persecution of the Jews in the medieval period.

Maintains that fundamentalism is first a response to change within a religion, and then is a response to economic and social change in the modern world. It is not a throwback to an earlier time, but a response to problems in the current time.

Has a fascinating and readable history of Islam and politics, particularly in Iran and Egypt.

Makes it very clear why the war in Iraq is such a colossal mistake for the United States. The book was published just before the USA attacked Iraq.

Armstrong's division of all religious responses into logos (the response of rationality) and mythos (the spiritual response) works a lot of the time. When there is a clash between those world views, dialogue always breaks down over first principles. But Armstrong's insistence that having the two together makes a workable religion inevitably overstates her case, and it simplifies too much of the complexity of religious expression.

She does not mention why she focuses on fundamentalisms in monotheistic religions exclusively. There are Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist fundamentalisms too. She can't do them all, but at least she could mention why monotheism is her focus.

The strengths outweigh the weaknesses. This is a popular book and so it isn't for specialists, but it's a smart book too. In a world where fundamentalism has successfully put religion back on the political agenda of many modern states, it's worth figuring out who fundamentalists are, what they want, and why they are on the world stage right now.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Paul Farmer and Haiti--book review

For my autobiography and biography project, I get to read books I would not necessarily pick up. This is turning out to be an unexpected gift. One of these books is Tracy Kidder's biography of Paul Farmer, called Mountains Beyond Mountains. Paul Farmer is a Harvard medical professor and anthropologist who also founded one of the most innovative medical clinics in one of the poorest places in Haiti. He and his organization Partners in Health are largely responsible for socially-responsible treatments for tuberculosis worldwide. Tracy K. likes Farmer and is irritated by him. Farmer does saintly things, but he is an annoying person too (how else could he get things done). He has an unswerving commitment to making the lives of poor people better, and he stops at nothing to do it.

It makes me think that all us profs should have a gig like Paul, where we work in our rich first-world schools for part of the year, and then for the rest of the year we work in development projects. Hmmm, I wonder how to swing this? One of the advantages of what Farmer does is that everyone can see how useful medical treatment is, although Farmer himself sees medical problems as social problems. And so he gets paid a lot and he doesn't have to work at his school all year. BUT, then he donates a lot of the money anyway.

Hmmm. I'm no superman like Paul Farmer, but I have resources other people might want. What if I invented an exchange programme for professors that allowed them to work in development projects...this bears thinking about.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Butch or femme or ?

I am androgynous mostly. Except when I want to choose. But identity isn't always about us choosing. Try this test to see if you are butch, femme or something in between:

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Why I Love Heather Mallick

Ah, there are so many reasons.  She's a socialist who is not afraid to shop.  She uses words like "lickspittle" to describe our parliamentarians.  She likes to read memoirs.  She makes Michael Moore look conservative.  And her column is in the biggest newspaper in Canada, where every week, we get to see her skewer right-wing politics and anything else she dislikes that day. Go Heather!

This particular column is great--HM goes after Linda Ronstadt and Martha Stewart for their supposed radicalism. Martha compared herself to Nelson Mandela this week?  Wha?  Give that woman another 5 months in prison.  You're not a political heroine because you know how to match towels and oh yeah, aren't you serving a sentence for FRAUD? Somehow, I must have missed how it is that fraud and being in prison for leading an anti-apartheid group are in any way similar. 

So Heather's point is that radicalism amongst the American glitterati isn't all that radical (she names some good exceptions).  But I guess that the more interesting thing for me is that anything at all is expected of people in the entertainment industry.  During the most radical moments of the 1960s in the United States, you didn't see too many celebrities saying anything about politics at all.  The people who led the movements for civil rights, women's rights, disability rights, you name it -- were people who became celebrities because of what they wrote about and sang about.  Except for a few key exceptions like Buffy Saint Marie (who was a singer before she was an activist for Native rights), celebrity was made in the context of the uprisings.  Who would have heard of Gloria Steinem before that fantastic article about the Playboy clubs? 

The idea that media celebrity itself carries a kind of moral freight is only a couple of decades old, and it's part of what Adorno and Horkheimer call "The Culture Industry," where big-business entertainment conglomerates seek to integrate the values of the entertainment industry into the world-views of the populace.  I would have to agree with Heather M. that it's lamentable how few heroes and heroines for the left there are amongst celebrities, especially now in the United States.  But really, what else can we expect?  We should look elsewhere for models, and for intelligent spokespeople for things like human dignity and justice. 

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Communicative Action

People do not post blog entries or even live journal entries for themselves.  They do it in the hopes of communicating with others.  Diaries that are written are unique in that the writing takes place in secret, and for no one else.  If anything, the addressee is the future, perhaps the future writer him/herself. But the future is vague.

In order for us to talk to ourselves, our subjectivity must be split.  There must be an object, a "me" to talk to.  It is impossible to purely talk to oneself.  We invent an addressee, give her a history, imagine that she has solidity as we ourselves do.  Of course, this has been thought in poststructural thinking before, where linguists have discussed how alienation actually works linguistically.

But older than this, before we had selves, we sat around and talked to each other.  Like Bakhtin says, to another, whose body begins where mine ends. 

If we truly know ourselves, why do we produce so many narratives about "ourselves", this entity we invent? Who are we actually talking to?