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Archive for the ‘humanities’ Category

How Do We Change The World? with Rob Riemen

In ethics, humanities, philosophy, society, sociology, world on March 25, 2014 at 03:47

From: How Do We Change The World? A Conversation with Rob Riemen by Rose Mary Salum, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

RMS: At one point during the symposium, you posed the question to your panel: “What do you see as scandalous in contemporary society?” And I wondered, what is scandalous to you?

RR: There are many scandals, but the greatest scandal in rich Western society is the destruction of education and culture by the ruling class: the organized stupidity. And of course, that is in the interest of the ruling class, as which products would still be bought, which programs still watched on television, which politicians would still be elected if people were just a little bit more wise?

RMS: You once told me: “We have given up the notion that there are universal values. These are all complex things, and they have political consequences.” Was this round of conferences intended to recover those universal values?

RR: … I want to create a space where the tradition of European humanism is kept alive and transmitted to anybody who realizes that without universal spiritual values and the great cultural legacy that makes us aware of these values, there cannot be a civilized society in which everybody has the possibility to live his life in truth, to do justice, and to create beauty. And as long as I have the energy and the means to continue this work, I’ll do it as my modest contribution to “changing the world”.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

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The Philosopher and the Wolf with Alan Saunders

In animals, audio, ethics, humanities, interview, philosophy on December 9, 2013 at 20:03

From: The Philosopher and the Wolf with Alan Saunders, The Philosopher’s Zone, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

Alan Saunders: Hi, I’m Alan Saunders, and this week on The Philosopher’s Zone we’re going to the Sydney Writers’ Festival for a conversation with Mark Rowlands, Welsh-born and now a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami.

As a philosopher, he’s concerned with the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with applied ethics, and with bringing philosophy to a wider audience.

Well he certainly reached a wide audience with his book The Philosopher and the Wolf, an account of the 11 years he spent with Brenin, the wolf, whom he bought when he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama and Brenin was an exuberant, destructive puppy.

Brenin went everywhere with Mark. He had to, because it wasn’t good for the furniture if he were left alone at home. And he travelled in the US, Ireland, England and France.

And what lessons did the philosopher learn from the wolf? Well, many, but one was this: that wolves, unlike us, live without hope. And what is most important in us, is what is left when time has taken our hope from us.

Mark Rowlands: We do spend a lot of our time obsessing about the future and obsessing about the past in the way that no other animal does. The drawback is I think, that we have a hard time making sense of our lives once we’re hooked into time in that sort of way. I think that is one of the drawbacks at least.

Alan Saunders: But we have a hard time making sense of our lives, but on the other hand we do have a project, which involves making sense of our lives. Brenin, the wolf, didn’t have any trouble with making sense of his life, because he just carried on being a wolf.

Mark Rowlands: Yes, because we’re what philosophers call temporal creatures, we experience time in a certain way, as a line stretching from the past into the future. We face a problem. And the problem is we know that there’s going to be an end to this line. And so then we have a fundamental choice to make: what is our stance going to be to the fact that there is an end to the line of our lives? And it seems to me we have two fundamental choices: either we tell stories to the effect that there isn’t in fact an end, that what we think of as the end is not in fact the end, there is something else; we can do that. Or we can live our lives in the acknowledgement that there will be an end.

Part of what I wanted to do certainly in the latter half of the book, was to try and show the ways in which making up stories about there not being an end, about death not being the end, doesn’t allow us to be what we are capable of being.

Listen to the interview & read the transcript

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

How Do We Care For Future People? by J. Hughes

In biology, ethics, humanities, medicine, religion, society, theory on December 9, 2013 at 19:45

From: How Do We Care For Future People?
 Buddhist and Jain Ideas for Reproductive Ethics by J. Hughes, IEET, http://ieet.org

Link to Part 1, Link to Part 2, Link to Part 3

Many questions in contemporary bioethics turn on views about the nature of personhood and which creatures possess it. Christians and many other faiths believe that humans, and only humans, possess a supernatural soul that confers moral significance, that they possess it from conception to death, and that it is not capable of evolution or improvement. Modern secular bioethics, on the other hand, focuses on the emergence and dissolution of a psychological self dependent on the brain. For secular bioethics humans share elements of this psychological self with other animals, the self changes throughout the life course, and it is open to improvement through the use of science and technology. Jainism and Buddhism stand between these views on the self and humanity in ways that can contribute to contemporary bioethical thought.

Buddhism and Jainism can connect with and illuminate contemporary bioethics around a shared belief in an evolutionary trajectory and moral continuity from animal to human to posthuman.

* Buddhism and Jainism differ radically in how they connect with bioethical debates on personhood, with Jains adopting substance dualism and Buddhists closer to neuroscientific reductionism.

* Liberal Buddhists and Jains could, however, set aside literal interpretations of ensoulment and adopt a materialist, neuroscientific view of ensoulment that would permit some abortion and distinguishes between the karma incurred from harming different kinds of animals.

* While some secular bioethicists believe it is permissible to genetically enhance humans and animals, and Abrahamic faiths generally oppose genetic enhancement, Jains and Buddhists would use virtue consequentialism to judge genetic enhancements, approving of those that give future generations maximal opportunity for spiritual growth, meaning not only that enhancement for health and cognitive ability might be obligatory, but also enhancement for moral and spiritual traits.

* Jains and Buddhists are more open to the radical optimism of the Enlightenment that we may transcend our humanness.

Read the articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Reposted with permission from: IEET

 

Archive Fever by Lorena Allam

In audio, Australia & Oceania, books, history, humanities, information, interview, research, theory on September 24, 2013 at 00:29

From: Archive Fever by Lorena Allam, Hindsight, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

Australia is leading the world in a new approach to archives. It is challenging traditional archivists to embrace a more multilateral approach, one which suggests many versions of the past. But what does this mean archives are about become? Do they describe our past or our future? If we are to believe in Archive Fever then we might find our archives produce our history as much as they record it.

Listen to the broadcast

Archive Fever is the title of a book by Jacques Derrida that has caused much debate around the world. Years later archivists and researchers are still disseminating its meaning. It came at a time when archives were just beginning to face the challenge of the digital age and so were ripe for an new definition. This new definition is still being debated, but so far it looks like it will involve archivists being more open about their practises, and institutions being more open about the gaps in their collections.

Modern archival theory and practise is based on organisational and government records. So the rules for archiving personal papers, oral histories, pictures, ephemera etc, are all adaptations from this dominant model. This is one reason why there are gaps. The histories of minority groups, indigenous communities, women, children and even sports stars, are all underrepresented in our national collections. These are big gaps, but there are also small gaps for instance when a correspondence suddenly breaks into a phone call. Even today archives are essentially about paper, and if the correspondents speak to each other then, the chances are, there’ll be a gap in the record, and a gap in our knowing, and a gap in the conclusions we draw from that knowing.

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Is absolute secularity conceivable? by Simon During

In humanities, philosophy, politics, religion on July 7, 2013 at 17:45

From: Is absolute secularity conceivable? by Simon During, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Is absolute secularity conceivable? The question arises from the paradoxical intuition that the secularization thesis is simultaneously both right and muddled. Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the broader secularization thesis (which I take to claim that, over the past half-millennium or so, Western society has undergone a systemic diminution of religious practice) is that it isn’t clear what the non-secular is. After all, it can be extended from those beliefs and practices that avowedly depend on religious revelation to those that affirm some form of transcendentalism, though they may make no room for God as such. But for a long time both radical atheists and Christian apologists have argued that what looks as if it is secular through and through may not, in fact, be secular at all. From this point of view, important elements of enlightened secularity in particular can be understood, not as Christianity’s overcoming, but as its displacement. Thus, for instance, in his Scholasticism and Politics (1938), Jacques Maritain, following Nietzsche, speaks of the “Christian leaven fermenting in the bosom of human history” as the source of democratic modernity. Here the secular, political concept of human equality is seen to have a Christian origin and to bear a continuing Christian charge, even though its purposes and contexts have changed.

Numerous applications of the displacement model of secularization are current, but here I will point to just one. It concerns philosophical anthropology. The argument is that certain post-Enlightenment concepts of the human (or of “man”) remain Christian in their deep structures. Of these, the most important is the philosophical anthropology of negation (to use Marcel Gauchet’s term), according to which human nature is not just appetitive but necessarily incomplete, that is to say, inadequate to its various ecologies and conditions, and for that reason beset by fear, uneasiness, anxiety, and so on. For those who accept the displacement model, this anthropology, even in its modern forms, remains dependent on the revealed doctrine that human nature as such is fallen. Philosophical anthropology is important for thinking about secularization because the secularization thesis often becomes a proxy for the argument that secularity places human nature at risk.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder

In humanities, philosophy, religion, society on June 12, 2013 at 08:18

From: Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder, the new Humanism, http://www.thenewhumanism.org

The unspoken questions. The first time my father realized that I wasn’t expecting us to meet again in Heaven, he asked: “So you think we just die and that’s it, like animals?”

He said “like animals” as if it were obvious to any five-year-old that animals have no souls. I was fascinated by that assumption. But then I thought about who I was talking to. Dad has been a farmer all his life. He has killed, seen killed, or sent to be killed countless chickens, pigs, and cattle. And yet, I don’t believe he has ever murdered a human being.

Why is it OK to kill animals but not people? That’s an important question for any meat-eating farm culture. My father’s Christianity answers by putting a great metaphysical gulf between animals and humans: We have eternal souls and they don’t.

Meaning and the afterlife. The inevitability of death throws a monkey wrench into our stories. Usually our short-term stories get their meaning from the longer-term stories they fit into. Studying at 2 a.m. is meaningful because it’s part of the story where I ace tomorrow’s test. But the test is only meaningful as part of the longer-term story where I pass the class. And that matters because of the story where I get my degree, and so on.

But what if the longest-term story I can tell is the one where I die? Doesn’t that undercut all the others?

Because I might die at any moment, the stories I think I am in the middle of may never conclude in any satisfactory way. And even if my life is not cut off prematurely, then eventually I arrive at decrepitude and senility. What kind of climax is that?

So you see the problem. It’s not just that I will die. As I said at the beginning: That’s easy; everybody does it. But given that I am going to die, how can I tell the story of my life in a way that engages me and motivates me and gives me a sense of meaning?

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Reposted with permission from: the new Humanism

Neo – Humanism by Roland Benedikter

In ethics, humanities, information science, philosophy, research, science, society on May 11, 2013 at 19:15

From: Neo-Humanism by Roland Benedikter, The European: The Transhumanist Delusion, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

Technological changes have turned discussions about human self-perception from a peripheral topic into a substantive one. Our conditio humana, that which we have thus far embraced as the essence of human identity, is being put into question. For example, neurotechnologies of the newest generation aim to increase human freedom by transcending established boundaries of human capability. They do so by entering into our own flesh and blood: Brain implants have made it possible to link man and machine at the neural level and have produced simple patterns of neural-technological interaction. Some advocates harbor the ultimate hope of constructing a system of interactivity on a global level: It promises universal agency without the need to even get up from our chair.

While we can measure the degree to which technologies transcend physical and physiological boundaries, we can merely speculate about the ethical consequences of these developments and about their effect on human self-perception. The merging of human consciousness and technology changes not only the latter, but also the former. And the question is whether technology will become more human in the long run, or whether humans will become more technical.

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Reposted with permission from: The European

Teaching Criminology to Prison Inmates by Lawrence T. Jablecki

In ethics, humanities, North America, politics, social sciences, sociology, universities on April 17, 2013 at 20:05

From: Teaching Criminology to Prison Inmates by Lawrence T. Jablecki, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

Fourteen men—age thirty to sixty and clad in white, serving prison terms ranging from ten to thirty years for violent crimes—sit in a classroom discussing crime and punishment. When asked if they are willing to discuss the impact of their crime and incarceration on their families, their collective reply is “sure, doing time has made us tough.” Almost immediately, the room is transformed into the silence of a chapel as the teacher asks them one by one to share their stories. Two hours pass in a flash during which most of these “tough guys” are choked with emotion, wipe tears from their eyes, and some cry without shame. The emotional intensity in the room is an indescribable experience.

The above event took place in a Texas prison where the men were attempting to salvage what was left of their lives with the aid of a master’s degree from a major university. In 1974 the University of Houston at Clear Lake created a bold and controversial degree-conferring program for male inmates serving time at the Ramsey Prison in Rosharon, Texas. Today, this highly successful program offers several hundred inmates the opportunity to earn a BA or MA in the behavioral sciences and also in the humanities. (It’s worth noting that even though men greatly outnumber women in prisons—93.6 to 6.4 percent nationally—several Texas prisons offer educational programs for women as well.)

Probably the most widely held belief about prisoners is that most, if not all of them, claim to be innocent. I can count on one hand, however, the number of my students who have appealed their case with the claim of innocence. Instead, the vast majority concede their guilt and believe they deserved to be punished. This concession to the persuasive power of the centuries-old retributive argument emerged in our many class discussions in which they acknowledged making a decision to commit a crime and described the hard coinage of punishment as their just deserts.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

The Three Events of Philosophy by Slavoj Žižek

In history, humanities, philosophy, politics on April 8, 2013 at 17:49

From: The Three Events of Philosophy by Slavoj Zizek, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org/

So why a return to Plato? Why do we need a repetition of Plato’s founding gesture? In his Logiques des mondes, Badiou provides a succinct definition of “democratic materialism” and its opposite, “materialist dialectics”: the axiom which condenses the first one is “There is nothing but bodies and languages …,” to which materialist dialectics adds “… with the exception of truths.”4 One should bear in mind the Platonic, properly meta-physical, thrust of this distinction: prima facie, it cannot but appear as a proto-idealist gesture to assert that material reality is not all that there is, that there is also another level of incorporeal truths. Badiou performs here the paradoxical philosophical gesture of defending, AS A MATERIALIST, the autonomy of the “immaterial“ order of Truth. As a materialist, and in order to be thoroughly materialist, Badiou focuses on the IDEALIST topos par excellence: how can a human animal forsake its animality and put its life in the service of a transcendent Truth? How can the “transubstantiation“ from the pleasure-oriented life of an individual to the life of a subject dedicated to a Cause occur? In other words, how is a free act possible? How can one break (out of) the network of the causal connections of positive reality and conceive an act that begins by and in itself? Again, Badiou repeats within the materialist frame the elementary gesture of idealist anti-reductionism: human Reason cannot be reduced to the result of evolutionary adaptation; art is not just a heightened procedure of providing sensual pleasures, but a medium of Truth; and so on.

This, then, is our basic philosophico-political choice (decision) today: either repeat in a materialist vein Plato’s assertion of the meta-physical dimension of “eternal Ideas,” or continue to dwell in the postmodern universe of “democratic-materialist” historicist relativism, caught in the vicious cycle of the eternal struggle with “premodern” fundamentalisms. How is this gesture possible, thinkable even? Let us begin with the surprising fact that Badiou does not identify as the “principal contradiction,” the predominant antagonism, of today’s ideological situation the struggle between idealism and materialism, but the struggle between two forms of materialism (democratic and dialectical).

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Reposted with permission from: Zizek studies

A Romp Through the Philosophy of Mind with Marianne Talbot

In audio, humanities, philosophy, theory on March 21, 2013 at 12:28

From: A Romp Through the Philosophy of Mind with Marianne Talbot, University of Oxford Podcasts, http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk

The mind is a fascinating entity. Where, after all, would we be without it? But what exactly is it? These days many people believe the mind simply is the brain. Descartes would have disagreed profoundly. He recommended a dualism of substance. Modern philosophers are again finding various forms of dualism attractive because the problems with physicalism are so intractable. One such problem is whether the mind, like the brain, is located in space (specifically inside the head). But does philosophy have anything sensible to say about the mind? Surely today it is scientists we should be listening to? Come and find out why this is – and always will be – false.

Marianne Talbot was thrown out of school at 15. She came back to education at 26 when she took an Open University Foundation course during which she discovered philosophy. Transferring to London University Marianne took First Class Honours then went to Oxford University to do graduate work. She taught for Pembroke College, Oxford from 1987 – 1990, for Brasenose College, Oxford from 1990-2000, and has, since 2001, been director of studies in philosophy at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. Two of Marianne’s podcasts (A Romp Through the History of Philosophy, and The Nature of Arguments) have been global number one on iTunes U. Her podcasts have received over 3 million downloads.

Listen to the podcasts

Reposted with permission from: University of Oxford Podcasts

The Last Days of Immanuel Kant by Thomas De Quincey

In biography, history, humanities, philosophy on March 5, 2013 at 22:46

From: The Last Days of Immanuel Kant by Thomas De Quincey, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

… At six o’clock he sat down to his library table, which was a plain ordinary piece of furniture, and read till dusk. During this period of dubious light, so friendly to thought, he rested in tranquil meditation on what he had been reading, provided the book were worth it; if not, he sketched his lecture for the next day, or some part of any book he might then be composing. During this state of repose he took his station winter and summer by the stove, looking through the window at the old tower of Lobenicht; not that he could be said properly to see it, but the tower rested upon his eye,—obscurely, or but half revealed to his consciousness. No words seemed forcible enough to express his sense of the gratification which he derived from this old tower, when seen under these circumstances of twilight and quiet reverie. The sequel, indeed, showed how important it was to his comfort; for at length some poplars in a neighboring garden shot up to such a height as to obscure the tower, upon which Kant became very uneasy and restless, and at length found himself positively unable to pursue his evening meditations. Fortunately, the proprietor of the garden was a very considerate and obliging person, who had, besides, a high regard for Kant; and, accordingly, upon a representation of the case being made to him, he gave orders that the poplars should be cropped. This was done, the old tower of Lobenicht was again unveiled, and Kant recovered his equanimity, and pursued his twilight meditations as before.

Read the essay at Berfrois

Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry

In Europe, humanities, nature, philosophy, science, theory on February 10, 2013 at 18:12

From: Timothy L. S. Sprigge – The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry, The Philosopher, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

Idealism is much less an option today than it was in the nineteenth century because of its association with universal, absolute religious principles and totalitarian, imperialistic political ideas. The decline of such thinking, especially in England, was also marked by the skepticism generated after the senseless carnage of World War I. For Sprigge, all of this was irrelevant to his quest for a satisfactory metaphysics.

Today, the idealistic doctrines are generally regarded as historically interesting but philosophically inconsequential. Idealism is largely viewed as implausible because of its disregard for the physical and biological sciences. Sprigge could rightly be accused of sidestepping science in his attempt to arrive at first principles, and he was well aware that his ignorance of science was a shortcoming of his philosophy. How far metaphysical thinking could get at first principles without the aid of detailed empirical studies was a great source of concern. He admired Spinoza and Whitehead for their scientifically informed metaphysics.

Moreover, while Sprigge followed Bradley and Royce in defending the sharp distinction between appearance and reality, or between the investigations of structural phenomena undertaken by physical science and those of introspective psychology, it is unlikely that physicists, chemists and biologists see themselves as engaged in anything less than a quest to know reality. Scientists do not see themselves as investigating what is merely abstract or phenomenal but rather an underlying reality. As far as the critiques of Russell, Moore and Ayer are concerned, the charge that metaphysical construction is a sort of Hegelian megalomania has not quite the force it had in the first half of the 1900s. The anti-metaphysical, linguistic methodologies ran their course and eventually faced fatigue, but the idea that idealism could serve as a metaphysical foundation for any system adequate for the sciences is upheld by relatively few.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia by Rane Willerslev

In anthropology, culture, humanities, society on January 19, 2013 at 00:24

From: Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia: Is Animism Being Taken too Seriously? by Rane Willerslev, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

In many respects, the Yukaghir distribution of resources reflects a traditional hunter-gatherer economic model of sharing, in that they run a “demand sharing” principle.18 People are expected to make claims on other people’s possessions, and those who possess more than they can immediately consume or use are expected to give it up without expectation of repayment. This principle of sharing applies to virtually everything, from trade goods, such as cigarettes and fuel, to knowledge about how to hunt, but it applies most forcefully to the distribution of meat: “I eat, you eat. I have nothing, you have nothing, we all share of one pot,” the Yukaghirs say [figure 3].19 The important point for my argument, however, is that Yukaghir hunters engage with the nonhuman world of animal spirits in much the same way as they engage with other humans, namely, through the principle of demand sharing. In the forest, hunters will ask—even demand—that spiritual owners share their stock of prey. They will also address the spirits of the rivers and places where they hunt, saying, “Grandfather, your children are hungry and poor. Feed us as you have fed us before!” In this sense, their animist cosmology could be interpreted as an integrated system, an “all-embracing cosmic principle based in sharing” in which the forest is akin to a “parent” who gives its human “children” food in overabundance, without expecting anything in return, as has been suggested for hunter-gatherer peoples more generally by Bird-David.20 The trouble is that in proposing this argument, Bird-David assumes that the official rhetoric of these hunter-gatherers faithfully corresponds to their activity of hunting. But this is not so—if it were, we would have aligned the Yukaghir with something akin to a “death wish,”21 for surely a community that hunts simply by waiting for the forest to “feed” them, without making any effort to control their prey, would not survive long.

What this points to, then, is that the Yukaghirs’ rhetoric about the forest being a “generous parent” is not meant to be taken too seriously. Rather, it is a sophisticated means of spirit manipulation, which is an inherent, even necessary, part of Yukaghir hunting animism. This becomes evident when we realize that a paradox is built into the moral economy of sharing, which makes it risky—lethal, in fact—to take the principle of unconditional giving at face value.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard

In Europe, history, humanities, languages, research on January 5, 2013 at 05:12

From: The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com/

mezzofanti

Without a doubt, the most important book in English devoted to Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849), the polyglot of Bologna, is The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, written by an Irish priest, Charles William Russell, and published in 1858. When I first began research on hyperpolyglots, I knew I was going to have to spend considerable time with Russell’s book, which contains a wealth of information about Mezzofanti, his time, and his language abilities, not to mention other famous language learners. I had discovered the book by chance in the collection of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The only way to get the required time to hunt through its treasures was to get some sort of research funding, I thought. Soon I discovered that the book, because it is in the public domain, had been scanned and republished in hardcopy, and was also available for free online.

Before I say something about what makes Russell’s book so valuable for the hyperpolyglot hunter, let me say a bit about what a “hyperpolyglot” is. A hyperpolyglot is someone who knows six or more languages, according to Richard Hudson, a linguist at University College London. Some have criticized the word as an ugly string of syllables – the word “polyglot” trips off no tongues – but it’s useful for distinguishing ordinary multilingualism from the massive accumulation and use of languages that Mezzofanti and others displayed. For a long time, the hyperpolyglot was a sort of language learner whom many people had anecdotes about but who had never been investigated seriously. Is hyperpolyglottery a new kind of multilingualism, feeding off a globalized world of cheap communications? Is it a personal eccentricity, this passion or obsession for languages? Is it driven by a certain type of brain that remembers well, loves patterns, and finds pleasure in repetition? It’s all these things, to varying degrees, but to get my hands around the phenomenon, I was going to have to hunt for hyperpolyglots and start with Mezzofanti.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova

In books, humanities, psychology, society, sociology on January 1, 2013 at 19:09

From: Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

There is an opacity in individual relationships, and an insistence that the writer make the relation of the particular to the whole which makes for a kind of farsightedness. I believe in just the opposite. Every individual is representative of the whole, a symptom, and should be intimately understood, and this would give a far greater understanding of mass movements and sociology.

Also, this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

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Reposted with permission from: Brain Pickings

Democracy – Édgar Morales interviews Martha Nussbaum

In art, books, culture, economics, history, human rights, humanities, interview, philosophy, politics, social sciences on December 12, 2012 at 18:56

From: Democracy: A Noble But Sluggish Horse We Need the Sting of Critical Reasoning… Édgar Morales interviews Martha Nussbaum, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

Édgar Morales: Some of the topics you take on in your recent book, Not For Profit, were also addressed a decade ago at Cultivating Humanity. What has changed since then concerning your views on liberal education?

Martha Nussbaum: My views about the relationship between liberal education and democracy have not changed at all. I still believe that a healthy democracy needs an education that focuses on (1) Socratic self-examination and critical thinking; (2) the capacity to think as a citizen of the whole world, not just some local region or group, in a way informed by adequate historical, economic, and religious knowledge; and (3) trained imaginative capacities, so that people can put themselves in the position of others whose ways of life are very different from their own. Four things are new about the current book. First, it focuses on primary and secondary education, as well as university education. Second, it focuses on the arts as well as the humanities. Third, it is international, taking its detailed case studies from India and the U.S., but alluding more briefly to problems faced by other nations. Fourth, it is written in response to a different problem. Cultivating Humanity was an attempt to answer conservative American critics of new “multicultural” approaches in education; the opponents agreed wholeheartedly with me that the humanities were central; they disagreed only about how they should be taught. The new book is addressed to opponents who would rather bypass the humanities entirely, in favor of profit-making skills.

EM: At the beginning of your book, you state that “We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance”, a silent crisis, deeper than the international economic crisis. Why talking about a crisis? What were the first symptoms?

MN: I didn’t say it was deeper than the international economic crisis. I said that the economic crisis was recognized as a crisis, and this one has not been so recognized. The crisis is the drastic decline in support for the humanities, the arts, and even the social sciences as ingredients in both school and university education. The symptoms of this decline are subtle here in the U. S., where we still have an entrenched system of liberal education in top universities, supported by a longstanding tradition of private philanthropy, that sends signals to schools; however, even here the state universities, in particular, are cutting in subjects that appear not to contribute directly to the state’s economic growth. In most other nations of the world, liberal education was never favored at the university level, so it is even easier to cut departments and programs that are not perceived to be economically productive, and correspondingly easy for schools to focus on marketable skills.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Different People Are the Same? by Cat Pierro

In humanities, nature, philosophy, society on November 11, 2012 at 20:30

From: Different People Are the Same? by Cat Pierro, Hypocrite Reader, http://hypocritereader.com

A familiar controversy: are people all basically the same, or basically different? The question seems foundational for ethics, politics, history, and, well, roughly everything, but there’s no consensus on the matter, provisional or otherwise. The argument comes up in its most rudimentary form late at night in college dorms all over the world. Different people’s DNA matches almost exactly (one side says), and yet they say and do such different things (says the other)—but maybe these things aren’t really so different, or maybe people have it in them to do all the same things. Among the many difficulties that would crop up in the attempt to answer the question rigorously, one very basic problem makes the matter unresolvable: just as no absolute measure of similarity can be gleaned from comparing DNA (only a relative one where humans seem more different from bananas than from mosquitos), no absolute measure of similarity inheres in DNA’s expression (or in anything!). Even if I can determine that 70% of my opinions match someone else’s, what does that mean? Are we pretty much the same person? Alas, only an absolute answer would satisfy: not “Canadians are less different from Americans than artists are from jocks,” but “people are all basically the same,” or “people are all basically different.”

Unresolvability does not imply meaninglessness, however, if human interest is at all suggestive of meaning. For some reason, the argument recurs again and again in many forms and with great ferocity. “If you and one stranger were the last two people left on earth, do you really think it would matter which person you were left with?” “Nothing you could ever say would ever convince me to like cities.” Both sides appeal to intuitions they don’t share, evidence they don’t have, and instances that fall short of proving the rule. The very audacity with which the adversaries fly in the face of reason must make us suspect that they’re on to something important. Let’s therefore evoke the question again here, on territory that is neutral and relevant. Are these two adversaries, the advocates of each side, basically the same as each other—or basically different?

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

Gaza, Goats, and the Art of Patience: A Conversation with Jeff Talarigo by Jennifer De Leon

In humanities, interview, literature, writers on November 8, 2012 at 03:24

From:  Gaza, Goats, and the Art of Patience: A Conversation with Jeff Talarigo by Jennifer De Leon, AGNI Online, http://www.bu.edu/agni

Jennifer De Leon: Your story “The Night Guardian of the Goat” (AGNI 74) is set in the Gaza Strip. What was your impetus for building a fictional world in this location?

Jeff Talarigo: On my second trip to the Gaza Strip, back in 1993, I went with the mindset of a journalist, but I returned with the desire to be a novelist.  What happened was, one May afternoon, I was sitting outside along School Street in Jabaliya camp, where I was living with a Palestinian family, and I saw two boys with an injured bird and a piece of string tied around its neck. The boys would toss the bird into the air and the bird would flap its wings and fly a few feet until the string ran out and the bird would be yanked back.  Watching this, I thought that it was a striking, almost prophetic image.  As a journalist I could write about it just as I have told you, but by a novelist, so much more could be done.  I jotted in my notebook—Bird on a string—and I carried this image with me for nearly a year before I wrote a story about it.  This was my first published piece of fiction.

JD: The story’s narrator is responsible for taking care of Ghassan Abu Majed’s last remaining goat every night during curfew. Ghassan calls his precious goat “the last link to the land.” Yet Ghassan’s wife says, “the link has long been severed.” In what ways are they both right?

JT: For the most part the refugees in the Gaza Strip have been there since 1948.  Most, and for many years, believed that someday they would return to the over 400 towns and villages that they fled in 1948. I believe that the large majority of those in the Gaza Strip have become resigned to the fact that this “return,” which they have held onto so dearly, will never happen; that Gaza is where they will die.  Still, the Palestinians, like all of us really, cling to these “links” or “connections” to the past.  Many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza still have the keys to their homes, the deeds to their land, and in my story, a goat.

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI Online

Alan Turing creator of Artificial Languages by Federico Gobbo

In humanities, languages, philosophy, research on November 5, 2012 at 21:43

From: Alan Turing creator of Artificial Languages by Federico Gobbo, InKoj, Philosophy & Artificial Languages, http://riviste.unimi.it/index.php/inkoj/index

ABSTRACT. In this paper an evaluation of the contribution to philosophical investigation by Alan Turing is provided in terms of creation of Artificial Languages (ALs). After a discussion of the term AL in the literature, and in particular within the theoretical model offered by Lyons, the legacy of Turing is  presented with a special attention to what remains after a century by his birth and what is still to be investigated in this area.

The definition of AL highly depends on two factor: the ambiguity of the English word ‘language’; the (scientific) context in which AL is used. In fact, unlike other so-called ‘natural’ languages – such as French – in the English language the word ‘language’ indicates both artificial and ‘natu ral’ languages – only when that adjective is expressed. In French, langage is the general term, which includes both artificial and natural languages, while langue explicitly denots ‘natural’ ones. Esperanto follows the French model in this respect. This lackness had great consequences on the antonym of the expression ‘natural language’, that is ‘artificial language’ (AL). From the point of view of linguistics and philosophy of language, Lyons (1991) ad- dresses this question in detail, giving a taxonomy of languages in terms of degree of naturalness.

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Reposted with permission from: InKoj

Philosophy And The Two-Sided Brain by Carol Nicholson

In books, humanities, philosophy, science on October 29, 2012 at 22:15

From: Philosophy And The Two-Sided Brain by Carol Nicholson, Philosophy Now, philosophynow.org

In two New York Times columns, ‘Does Philosophy Matter?’ (1 August 2011) and a week later ‘Does Philosophy Matter? (Part Two)’, Stanley Fish argued that philosophy does not matter to people’s everyday lives. He claimed that most people don’t have philosophical convictions, and for those who do have them, it is what he calls ‘the theory mistake’ to think that their philosophical views have any effect on the way they act outside of the classroom. He writes, “Philosophy is fun; it can be a good mental workout; its formulations sometimes display an aesthetically pleasing elegance. I’m just denying… that its conclusions dictate or generate non-philosophical behavior.” Hundreds of readers posted comments in disagreement with Fish, pointing out examples of ways in which philosophy has influenced the course of history and continues to make a difference to people’s ways of life.

It seems to me that there is truth on both sides of the argument. This is possible because Fish and his critics are operating with different definitions of philosophy. Fish is using a very narrow definition, according to which the function of philosophy is exclusively the analysis of abstract issues, such as whether there are absolute moral truths. In this thinking, the discipline of philosophy is not related to religion, ethics, politics, science, history, literature, art, or any other aspect of human experience. This severely limited view of the role of philosophy was dominant in English-speaking countries during the latter half of the twentieth century, but few philosophers today hold such an extreme position. The medieval view that philosophy is ‘the Queen of the Sciences’ is no longer widely held, but most philosophers think that studying their discipline can make a difference to one’s life outside the seminar room, although they may disagree about exactly what kind of difference. Many would argue against Fish that even if philosophy cannot give access to truths that are somehow more ultimate than scientific or historical facts, it can offer self-knowledge about the most basic assumptions and values that govern our thinking and action, and a clearer understanding of what we are doing that can help us to do it better. This links with a tradition going back to the ancient Greeks and which gives philosophy its name, meaning ‘the love of wisdom’. It’s Plato’s phrase, and he meant by it curiosity about all aspects of knowledge and experience. According to this more expansive definition, philosophy aims to understand ultimate truths about the universe and human nature (metaphysics), the extent and limits of knowledge (epistemology), and the principles that can give guidance in how to live a good life (ethics).

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Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

The Raw and the Cooked by Justin E. H. Smith and Cătălin Avramescu

In books, civilisation, Europe, government, humanities, interview, philosophy, science, sociology, theory on October 15, 2012 at 03:16

From: The Raw and the Cooked: An Interview with Cătălin Avramescu by Justin E. H. Smith and Cătălin Avramescu, CABINET Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The beginning of the modern age is heralded by the discovery of the New World, whose human inhabitants were principally noteworthy for their custom, real or imagined, of eating other humans. Scarcely had Columbus returned from his first encounter with the Arawaks of Hispaniola when this point of apparent cultural difference became for European moralists the centerpiece of their search for the ultimate grounds of morality and for the causes of the diversity of moral systems. The figure of the cannibal, in this sense, plays a leading role in the emergence of early modern moral and political philosophy.

The Romanian philosopher and political scientist Cătălin Avramescu is the first scholar to notice the importance of the cannibal in modern European thought, and to attempt to write a comprehensive intellectual history of anthropophagy. His book first appeared in Romanian in 2003 under the title Filozoful crud (“the cruel philosopher” or “the raw philosopher,” depending on context), and in 2009 was published by Princeton University Press as An Intellectual History of Cannibalism. In June 2010, Justin E. H. Smith spoke with Avramescu in Bucharest about, among other things, the difficulty of intellectualizing such a bloody topic as this. This interview was subsequently fleshed out in a series of e-mail exchanges.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine

Žižek: silence and the real desert by Rob Weatherill

In Europe, humanities, philosophy, psychology, sociology, theory, writers on October 7, 2012 at 04:14

From: Žižek: silence and the real desert by Rob Weatherill, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org

… For Žižek, opposing the Law via direct action, what he calls ‘the rumspringa of resistance’ only reinforces the System through our robust participation within it. Rumspringa refers to the “running around” of Amish youth, permitted experimentation and transgression for a brief time before they either, re-enter their strict community as evermore committed members, or leave altogether. Žižek is also against humanitarian aid, giving to charities to support orphans in Africa, opposing oil drilling in a wide-life area, presumably buying fair trade coffee, ethical products, or supporting feminists in Muslim countries, and so on. All the things that make well educated middle class people feel that they are doing “their bit” with their little rumspringa, before they revert to their normal lives. He is also against the by now standard response of dis-identifying with the system – I know it’s all a game – while participating fully within it. Or, more radically, going to California or Thailand to meditate, Zen-style, for a week or for a year – maybe the ultimate self-absorption in the guise of pan-spiritual withdrawal. What Žižek wants to explore is a “new space” outside the hegemonic position and its mirroring negation – the Heideggerian sense of a clearing, the opening up of a place, ‘through a gesture which is thoroughly violent in its impassive refusal…to quote Mallarmé – nothing will have taken place but the place itself’ (Ibid: 381). This gesture is no-thing. It is the ‘immanent difference, gap, between this [everyday] reality and its own void; that is to discern the void that separates material reality from itself , that makes it “non-all”’(Ibid: 383).

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

 

Auguste Comte – High Priest of Positivism by Caspar Hewett

In Europe, history, humanities, research, science, society, sociology, writers on September 23, 2012 at 07:21

From: Auguste Comte – High Priest of Positivism by Caspar Hewett, The Great Debate, http://thegreatdebate.org.uk

Auguste Comte [1798 – 1857] was the father of Positivism and inventor of the term sociology. He played a key role in the development of the social sciences and was highly influential on thoughts about progress in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Comte believed that the progress of the human mind had followed an historical sequence which he described as the law of three stages; theological, metaphysical and positive. In the first two stages, attempts were made to understand the nature of things through supernatural and metaphysical explanations. In the positive stage, by contrast, observation and experiment became the principal means to search for truth. Applying the law of three stages first to the development of the sciences, Comte later claimed that it applied to human intellectual development in general and that it held the key to the future progress of humanity.

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Reposted with permission from: The Great Debate

Fiction books give a boost to the brain, says Stanford professor by Corrie Goldman

In books, humanities, literature, psychology, writers on September 17, 2012 at 01:28

From: Fiction books give a boost to the brain, says Stanford professor by Corrie Goldman, Phys.org, http://phys.org

Readers of literary works by the likes of Samuel Beckett, Stéphane Mallarmé and Geoffrey Chaucer are getting lots of exercise from these personal trainers for the brain. New research by Stanford’s Joshua Landy, associate professor of French and Italian, illustrates how authors throughout the ages have sought to improve mental skills like rational thinking and abstract thought by leading their readers through a gantlet of mental gymnastics. In contrast to the common practice of mining fictional works for moral messages and information, Landy’s theory of fiction, outlined in his new book, “How to Do Things with Fictions,” presents a new reason for reading in an age when the patience to tackle challenging pieces of writing has dwindled tremendously. Reading fiction “does not make us better people in the moral sense, whether by teaching us lessons, making us more empathetic or training us to handle morally complex situations,” said Landy. However, for those interested in fine-tuning their intellectual capacities, Landy said literary works of fiction can offer “a new set of methods for becoming a better maker of arguments, a better redeemer of one’s own existence, a person of stronger faith or a person with a quieter mind.”

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Reposted according to copyright notice from Phys.org website

Wilde Christianity by Simon Critchley

In books, ethics, humanities, philosophy, politics, religion, society, writers on September 1, 2012 at 17:38

 

From: Wilde Christianity by Simon Critchley, The Montréal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

I think this idea of a faith of the faithless is helpful in addressing the dilemma of politics and belief. On the one hand, unbelievers still seem to require an experience of belief; on the other hand, this cannot-for reasons I will explore below-be the idea that belief has to be underpinned by a traditional conception of religion defined by an experience or maybe just a postulate of transcendent fullness, namely the God of metaphysics or what Heidegger calls “onto-theo-logy.” The political question-which will be my constant concern in the experiments that follow-is how such a faith of the faithless might be able to bind together a confraternity, a consorority or, to use Rousseau’s key term, an association. If political life is to arrest a slide into demotivated cynicism, then it would seem to require a motivating and authorizing faith which, while not reducible to a specific context, might be capable of forming solidarity in a locality, a site, a region-in Wilde’s case a prison cell.

This faith of the faithless cannot have for its object anything external to the self or subject, any external, divine command, any transcendent reality. As Wilde says: “But whether it be faith or agnosticism, it must be nothing external to me. Its symbols must be of my own creating.”

We appear to be facing a paradox. On the one hand, to be true everything must become a religion, otherwise belief lacks (literally) credibility or authority. Yet, on the other hand, we are and have to be the authors of that authority. The faith of the faithless must be a work of collective self-creation where I am the smithy of my own soul and where we must all become soul-smiths, as it were.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montréal Review

Meeting Martha Nussbaum with Alan Saunders

In audio, humanities, interview, philosophy on August 31, 2012 at 03:52

 

From: Meeting Martha Nussbaum with Alan Saunders, The Philosopher’s Zone, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

Alan Saunders: I’m interested that you talk about the relationship between ritual and the moral life. This is not an obvious connection, I think, that many people would make. They’d think that ritual is just doing one damn thing after the other every day and it is unconnected with morality which involves thought and consideration of what you’re doing.

Martha Nussbaum: Well, you know, I’ve always said and written that emotions are central to the moral life and that if we really reflect about what we are deeply attached to, that’s quite an important part of getting our moral life in order, because we all have deep and passionate attachments to people and things outside of ourselves that we don’t control. And so for me ritual is a time of stepping aside from the busy life with all its distractions. And that I think is a big part of it; it’s just getting into a space of contemplation. But then meditating on the deeper emotional attachments that human life contains: grief and loss and aspiration and joy. And I think ritual sticks around because like a great piece of music – and of course it includes music for me very prominently – it just has that capacity to touch us with the deeper connections and attachments that we have, and I think the shear repetition could, of course, be just rote, but it can also bring back memories. I mean, when you go to a Passover seder I think you think about freedom in a new way because you are remembering your childhood and you are remembering your connections to loved people you have lost. The very fact that you’re back there one year later in the same place with many but not all of the same people helps you think about what you care about.

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Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

“Be Honest About the History of Our Country” by Amy Goodman

In ethics, government, history, humanities, North America, politics, society, video, writers on August 28, 2012 at 22:02

 

From: “Be Honest About the History of Our Country”: Remembering the People’s Historian Howard Zinn at 90 by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

Howard Zinn was a frequent guest on Democracy Now! We spoke to him in May of 2009 when he was in New York to launch a new edition of A Young People’s History of the United States, and I asked him to respond to a question he had frequently been asked about the book: Is it right to be so critical of the government’s policies, of the traditional heroes of the country?

HOWARD ZINN: It is true that people have asked that question again and again. You know, should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that Columbus mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold? Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a warmonger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Philippines? Should we tell young people that?

And I think the answer is: we should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.

Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain—well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No.

We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her.

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Reposted with permission from: Democracy Now!

Leftist Nostalgia for Academic Standards by Peter Wood

In academia, culture, education, humanities, North America, politics, universities on July 10, 2012 at 23:55

 

From: Leftist Nostalgia for Academic Standards by Peter Wood, National Association of Scholars, http://www.nas.org

What’s happening? We might think of it as a surfeit of success on the part of those who championed “cultural studies” and relativism in the humanities. They won the institutional war, much of which was fought by dismissing the importance of all curricular standards and capturing students with not-so-rigorous courses centered on progressive political themes. Many faculty members who were not actively involved in promoting this curricular dilution passively approved it. Voting to establish a Chicana/Chicano Studies program or accepting that “theory” would henceforth be a major part of an English-department curriculum seemed to them fairly harmless ways to promote progressive values.

The bills for these innovations are coming due. Students everywhere are deserting the humanities in favor of business-degree programs—“neo-managerialism”—and those who remain behind in the “studies” programs and the remnants of the old humanities departments are—all too often—not performing at very “high intellectual standards.”

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Hegel on Marriage by Slavoj Žižek

In gender, humanities, philosophy, sexuality, sociology, writers on June 18, 2012 at 21:58

 

From: Hegel on Marriage by Slavoj Žižek, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com/

The limitation of Hegel’s notion of sexuality is clearly discernible in his theory of marriage (from his Philosophy of Right), which nonetheless deserves a close reading: beneath the surface of the standard bourgeois notion of marriage lurk many unsettling implications. 1 While a subject enters marriage voluntarily, surrendering his/her autonomy by immersing him/herself into its immediate/substantial unity of family that functions with regard to its outside as one person, the function of family is the exact opposite of such a substantial unity: to educate those born in it to abandon (their parental) family and pursue their path alone. The first lesson of marriage is that that the ultimate goal of every substantial ethical unity is to dissolve itself by way of giving rise to individuals who will assert their full autonomy against the substantial unity that gave birth to them.

This surrender of autonomous individuality is the reason Hegel opposes those (Kant, among others) who insist on the contractual nature of marriage: “Though marriage begins in contract, it is precisely a contract to transcend the standpoint of contract, the standpoint from which persons are regarded in their individuality as self-subsistent units. The identification of personalities, whereby the family becomes one person and its members become its accidents (though substance is in essence the relation of accidents to itself), is the ethical mind.”

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“Scarers in Print”

In books, humanities, languages, media, universities on May 30, 2012 at 09:27

 

“Scarers in Print”: Media Literacy and Media Practice from Our Mutual Friend to Friend Me On Facebook. Part 2 – Jim Mussell – http://jimmussell.com

The materiality of media must become disciplined so they can function, in a particular instance as a particular type of object. Bill Brown’s distinction between ‘object’ and ‘thing’, where objects become socialized through discourse while things remain obliquely out of view, is useful here. As Brown notes, ‘we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us’.5 But what if rather than positing a binary we rethink thingness as a repository or resource, something that can be drawn upon to recast objects from one form to another? In her book, Writing Machines, N. Katherine Hayles posits a materiality that is emergent and shifting, linking together representation and the physicality of the object that allows representation to operate. If, as Hayles suggests, ‘the physical attributes constituting any artefact are potentially infinite’, then objects – standing on the threshold of a generative, unknowable, thingness – are repositories of materiality.6 The object world marks the boundary between the socialized properties of things and the vast repository of the unknown that constitutes their thingness. As use is social practice, the form of this threshold constantly changes: objects manifest different properties and, in turn, recast the social relations in which they are embedded. As Brown suggests, the ‘thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation.’7 In a very real way, then, objects are interfaces because they make things happen.

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