Generous Listening

The title comes from a Vox podcast interview with Jenny Odell, which also talks about Danah Boyd's notion of "context collapse".
To listen generously being the antidote to context collapse, which is happening on the internet and which can be tricky for those of us in micro-climates where complexity is already denigrated for being "philosophical" (for some people even working in higher ed, this word is at once categorically negative and deemed an appropriate [!] way to discard ideas that require work: some professionals apparently do not know the difference between technical schools and universities, which I do not write to belittle technical schools but to make a distinction).
Let me play the hypocrite and hyperbolize by saying: also disappointing are the number of people working in higher ed who would immediately discard those who do not agree with them as being stupid or crazy. Should it not be expected that an environment filled with people who have worked - at least - to form (and hopefully support) their opinion be by default an opinionated environment? (Because I agree it is unrealistic to expect for the motivations of everyone in the "academy" to be pure - and here I am being philosophical: ideally one departs from opinion to reach some form of more objective truth.)
I have been writing a Dada/surrealist-inspired manifesto to try to vent my frustrations creatively (entitled "Return to the Waking State of University") but every time I return to it and reread the first point (basically the one I made here), I think, that's probably all the manifesto needs and stop writing, though once I wrote number two about egos. I'd love to release it to crowd source and have it become a template for others to try to bring humour their situations...

Humour is good but not a panacea. Working on endurance helps. And also making the dedicated decision to stop worrying over the workplace. There can be so much negativity (I think what I actually mean is toxicity) which can even trickle down to the students who may become habituated at least temporarily to what David Epstein has called "wicked worlds" and 'act out' in ways that can hinder the progression of a class (sometimes; I usually find ways to bypass this a few weeks in).
A kind world, according to Epstein, is one where one knows the world and gets appropriate and timely feedback to assist with continued growth; a wicked world is one where the rules are not clear; feedback may be wrong; etc.
Given these prognoses (frustrations, wicked worlds, and related worries), one must be very clear in one's intentions to not fall prey to circumstance and to only answer provocative "calls" with goodness. Or, like in the akathist to Saint Nektarios of Aegina, to "Endur[e] hardships as a good soldier", "not entangle thyself in the affairs of this life", and "Refus[e] to speak one word in [one's] own defense" while "joyfully" committing to doing good.
Of course, perfection is distant from the realistic abilities of most of us - but the idea of renewed commitment to keeping the mind untangled from so much junk is helpful and even curative.
Like the anti-drug ads of the 90's, I am trying to remember to tell myself to "just say no!" to responding to small-mindedness in kind, or more accurately, to carrying the negativity of what I have heard home with me.
And to give an example of this in the art world, I will cite a rather (what was for me) unexpected example concerning the manufacture of the blackest black.
And a second, final example from the natural world: an account from a long-distance hike with some very astute reflections on humanity from Ryan "dirtmonger" Sylva, an example of which is quoted below, and which reminded me of a tactic used by French female explorer Sarah Marquis.
‘Hey man. I am sorry I upset you. Like I said, I didn’t know. Have a good evening.’ I turned and walked away, unphased in my stride, but agitated by this microcosm of fear I hear and see in America these days. I play the middle; the extremes in either direction just scream and shout and look for fights. Good luck with that, people. I’ll keep on walking along in this world. I am certain there’s more good than bad, more sane than psycho. The land is free but the people on it are not. Whether stricken emotionally, internally, or philosophically most of the time we set our own confines. ... I see their pretentious belief system solely based off fear and arrogance, anger. How can we connect, communicate, with so much anger infused into one person, let alone the impressionable folks around him? We severed our humanity with anger, with ideology. I find the irony in me identifying, or relating to a coyote. A varmint, a pest, unknown, killed off by folks who refuse to try to understand.

Galla Placidia's Stars

Once upon a time when I went to Ravenna, I did not take a camera. I was lent binoculars and told to not be embarrassed about sitting on the church floors to take time to look at the mosaics. That looking has remained with me in a far more vivid way than anything I have ever photographed. The couple who lent me the binoculars also gave me an old Baedeker, and among other things taught me to be aware of the space around people, the constellation they inhabit - all we bring with us through our being in the world. Are we brittle, soft? Do we seek growth?
I think of people I have known who are near or far, or not on earth at all any more, and realise what a miracle of good will it is for there to be understanding. To shine as a person, this would mean being the ear for someone else, taking the best from them and nurturing it.
Letting go of the rest, remembering it only for potential reference.


America Has Two Economies And They're Diverging Fast (brookings) article with infographs

YETI makes very good video content (about cowboys, people spending time in the outdoors - always with a thought worth mulling on further, excellently shot and produced), including funny spoofs like this with the memorable line:  "Scooters are the vaping of public transportation."

7 ways to de-escalate office tension (99u) : "The ultimate goal of mediation, after all, isn’t agreement. It’s understanding."

The Death of the Neutral Public Sphere (American Interest):
"The metaphor of a 'marketplace of ideas,' where some sort of rational choice theory means the eventual selection of the best quality information, looks naive in an environment where junk news driven by bots and trolls and other forms of non-transparent amplification floods the web, spreading faster than any byte of truth. (...)
A new approach to social media would need to be able to ignore such immediate financial demands. It would need to work with another set of metrics: Does a piece of content improve trust, and does it generate a constructive conversation? Indeed, how can one move beyond mere content production into a more hybrid approach to foster sustained online and offline engagement?"

On the Slow Build-Up to the American Revolution (lithub):
"As the histories of many modern nations reveal, a people who are terrified, who are continuously anxious about their own security, often demonize their enemies and enter­tain actions that they later come to regret."

More about electronic music this week. Four decades after Jean-Michel Jarre's synthesiser (?! can it be? - also worth noting his fusion of being a performer as much as if not more than being a musician) I think its potential is starting to be discovered. Interesting works seem to be coming from musicians who happen to be classically trained. To wit:
Lena Raine (One Knowing; Celeste: Farewell). I discovered her through Bandcamp explorations and find it fascinating that her music usually accompanies video games (as in the second example). Does that not underline the hunger for experience, some kind of immersive and emotive experience, that people seem to be seeking today?
The DJ and singer "Alison Wonderland" whose show at Red Rocks included live musicians playing over some of her tracks (second half of this podcast).

Blogger I would like to have over to a dinner party (not on my standalone page):  Will Knight, MIT Technology Review's senior editor for AI (link goes to his articles).

Here or Nowhere

The title is from Horace's Epistulae (1.17). It is a contested poem - Fraenkel thought it entirely ought of character for Horace, calling it "upsetting". It is definitely jolting; perhaps it is better to avoid any final conclusions. What I will share here is my understanding of it in recent times.
There are so many things I like about this poem, not least how it begins by the offering of teaching from one who yet "has much to learn". I like how this can be seen to compliment Seneca's disendo discimus - and other approaches to pedagogy that I am writing about in my book.
What is so shocking about the poem is that Horace criticises Diogenes' refusal to interact with the rich as being a form of excess: showing Aristippus as superior, for he can wear rags, as does Diogenes, albeit if circumstance requires, but he can also wear fine garb and eat fine meals. So the poem can be seen to promote parasitism (dining at the expense of the rich) over genuine friendship as the nature of the relations in this poem that are advised are of a purely worldly nature.
Stephanie McCarter's very enjoyable Horace Between Freedom and Slavery suggests that Horace in some of these epistles is the concept of the Aristotelian golden mean, which she writes goes
back to Hesiod. Wilson defines the term as 'the area between too much and too little' and as the 'opposite of excess' ... Aristippus has captured both the adaptability and the moderation that ought to be exercised in every situation.
In 1.17, "Aristippus offers a way of accommodating one's longings for public life and friendship with the great without sacrificing one's independence or consistency of character." This reminds me of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, where the Flyte mother discusses how wealth is not incompatible with the sacred (112-113).

I will be discussing this passage and these citations in my book. But what I want to write about here is the tension between friendship with the great/all the people who one can find in the world and contemplative withdrawal (the critics who do not like 1.17 feel Horace's allegiance to lie exclusively in the latter). Is Horace being sarcastic in the second part of this epistle as some say? Attacking the pursuit of profit? Or is amicitia with great men a test of virtue and modesty?
These are questions that are most relatable, and may represent tension felt from adolescence onwards: does one have a sarcastic relation to the world made by les gens du monde - and so is it the life well-lived to withdraw entirely? Or is it not necessary, foremost for oneself, one's own well-being, to be part of this potentially superficial world? To enter it, it is suggested, is a test.
The phrase "here or nowhere", where it appears in the epistle, becomes a symbol of the acceptance of the validity of participation. Because of this, I use it as my chat app motto: it is the admission that an outer face - while exposed to intricate traps (that even Diogenes could fall into, with his performance art exaggerations performed publicly) - is necessary for the holistic life.
This corresponds with Emerson's thought in "Self Reliance": "It is easy in the world to live after the  world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst  of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
It can be seen that this tension is a timeless concern, but its implications and the shape of the trials associated with worldly life in this time in history are (as always) particular and do need especial thought and discernment (to say the least).
This is a tension that I have tried to bring forth (cf. maieutics) in my classes, in one way or another, over the years. Admission of whatever the topics of the moment are is integral to my courses, which are therefore always changing (they also change to attempt to cater to students' needs). But these aspects of the course are never the whole course, just a part of it.
And to that end, some of the links in this week's B/Logrolling section will likely end up being addressed in class (I am still finalising the syllabus).


A Letter From Hong Kong: I admit that from my distance, I did not immediately understand all of the angles of this situation, and this short piece is the best that I have seen. This passage in particular gives pause for thought:
Nor, sadly, can Hong Kong youth expect solidarity from the most militant of Western university students and faculty. They lost their taste for freedom years ago. Israel is apparently a bigger offense to their sensibilities than Communist China (or Iran). In all significant respects, these Westerners are the opposite of the young people I know. While Hong Kong students detest Communism, many of their Western counterparts embrace Marxism. While Western post-colonialists deride Western civilization, Hong Kongers wish they could have more of it. When Hong Kong students talk of a safe-space they mean a shelter from tear-gas and rubber bullets, not a refuge from offensive words. A trigger warning is not a professor’s presage of a painting by Goya; it is the sound of a revolver shot discharged skywards in the Causeway Bay night.
The site of Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants, with links to other articles he has written

Privacy is Power by Carissa Véliz (edited by Nigel Warburton - I am quickly becoming a fan, though have followed him for quite some time as he produces Philosophy Bytes, which has had quite a few good programs, some of which, back in the day, I used in my classes)

Who I'd like to have over at a dinner party (I have not introduced the concept for this section of B/Logrolling very well: what I mean to do here is to introduce 'content producers' [for lack of better name] whose sites are not on my static, standalone B/Logroll page):
Tim Hurst, host of WFMU's Techtonic podcast

I - Thou

Let's invoke Shelley. In his "Defence of Poetry" he wrote that learning how to feel another's pain can aid the imagination to contribute to the greatest moral good (the highest political hope being the abolition of slavery).  
I, you, they, he writes, are mere grammatical markers essentially modifications of one mind, though the practise in seeing such connections is a practise, until it becomes a habit. It "tends to abolish the course of history" - it is timeless, rooted in the unchanging aspects of humanity, in case anyone has forgotten one of the paths to immortality. Time washes away even the imperfection of authors where they fail to reach the perfection of which they write - the failure to allow for such disparity is to lose sight of one's own faults (1921: 57). 
This ability to see beauty in something other, to see its relevance, is such a vital practise. I wrote about such 'relief' a long time ago, here. "Good" poetic writing restores order to the world, based on morals, Shelley writes - that kind of romantic imagining certainly seems distant today. But on the personal level, his sentiment has its relevance.
When one might feel like a carcass being devoured by so many thoughtless vultures, the mind can move away from those gory scenes of selfishness by seeking out other practises of healing, which may not be visible in the present scenes but that can be invoked, if one knows or remembers to call on them.
So the story goes. It has (obviously?) been a rough week in these parts, but I retain awe at the classical (not just Greek, also Chinese) rejuvenating and refreshing practise of returning to the font of literature: how is that not a treasure trove?

She descends from the soapbox, to write this week's


Other recipes I have made many times this summer:
Chipotle tahini sauce a great way to snack while avoiding processed foods
To make it from scratch, I make my own hot sauce (grilling tomatoes in the oven to avoid canned ones) - this is such a good hot sauce, it is hard to believe how simple it is to make
Nice and light eggplant parm (read: real eggplant parm, not breaded)

Why I am avoiding processed foods now: Have you ever heard of "cracking"? I hadn't either until I watched this (French) documentary. Wow. The process applies to foods now. The processed foods I ate most regularly were "bio" style. But now that I know about "cracking", and how the protein factor is obtained for those foods, I am making new efforts to home cook almost everything.

Another attack on the humanities. Yet again, a very educated person treats Plato as if Nietzsche had the last word. It is so tiring how trendy it is to submit the classics to reductionist gestures. I could write many pages on this but will make one point here. As if people don't understand what reading is. We are never finished reading the classics because the way we relate to them requires relating anew from the changing present. Yes, we do suspend our judgement to attempt to 'enter' the past, but what the past will mean to us and how we receive it will always be different - this is even true from within the limited scope of a single lifetime.

Speaking of history: Understanding religion in late imperial China from Columbia University's Asia for Educators

Apropos mention of acting (Brett) in last week's post: continued consideration of acting re. the individual vs. collective. To this end: a post on Hall, Fo, and Theatrics of Role and Story though I beg to differ on how method (Stanislavsky's approach to) acting is understood. It is very much an "I-thou" type acting and requires the actor to relate, in every 'beat' of dialogue, with their role. Similarly, through this very 'real' evocation (as the actor is calling up from their memory enough emotional vocabulary to make each 'beat' happen in real time - this is very taxing for the actor, who 'relives' the script every night), the audience is brought within a realm of introspection.
"Class wars" seem to efface this dimension of reality.

Two things I am thinking about how to include more thoughtfully in my classes: ethics and new practical skills (last year, it was a business proposal, this year, I am thinking about SEO...)

Daily ethical questions 
A Framework for Character Education in Schools
Ethical storytelling:
A more thorough primer
Another good link - active version of reference links: Concordia's toolbox; Ethics pdf; the Ethics Guidebook consent framework; resource for ethical practice in digital storytelling
Interested in this for so many reasons. One of which, an educational site with the declared purpose of promoting the "good" (ethical) in education, recently published a post in which backhanded, reductionist comments were made about not one but two cultures (in all of about six or seven words, at that). As always, it is the "circuitous route" that is most likely to include not what we want to hear or what is being said - but what we are not hearing. But once you hear, as Gadamer wrote, you cannot "hear away".

Blogger I'd love to meet at a dinner party (forgot this feature last week!): writes and produces the Canadian blog The Art of Doing Stuff - it was her well-written recent post on blogging that got me thinking about introducing SEO skills to my class this year. (I ought to practise her tips myself, but ... actually, there are advantages to being less visible and to amateurism that continue to suit me.)

Real and Fake

I had no idea about just what kind of things are being copied these days - nor about the volume of fakes circling the world in shipping containers. Learning of this reminded me of a Deleuze and Krauss passage, which I reread to find just how accurately it foreshadowed this glut of 'simulacra' clogging the ocean. Of course, they were writing to 'overthrow Plato'. But my latest approach to this theory has been to see it as sci-fi: recognising a present trend and then exaggerating it to paint that picture of what would happen if things keep going - unobstructed - along their course: theory is, then, if I may be permitted a reductionist stroke, like an oversized 1980s photograph that has been blown up (not thinking of Cortázar). Remember the novelty? A zooming in, a distortion through the oversized. Us, but not us.
Anyway, here is the passage - first with the definition of "copy" vs. "simulacrum", then the passage itself. Does it not remind you of the profusion of fakes?
After that, this week's links.
Copies are secondhand possessors, well-grounded claimants, authorized by resemblance. Simulacra are like false claimants, built on a dissimilitude, implying a perversion, an essential turning away. It is in this sense that Plato divides the domain of the image-idols in two: on the one hand the iconic copies (likenesses), on the other the phantasmatic simulacra (semblances). (...)
In the overthrow of Platonism (...) The nonhierarchical work is a condensation of coexistences, a simultaneity of events. It is the triumph of the false claimant. (...) But the false claimant cannot be said to be false in relation to a supposedly true model, any more than simulation can be termed an appearance, an illusion. Simulation is the phantasm itself, that is, the effect of the operations of the simulacrum as machinery, Dionysiac machine. It is a matter of the false as power, Pseudos, in Nietzsche's sense when he speaks of the highest power of the false. The simulacrum, in rising to the surface, causes the Same and the Like, the model and the copy, to fall under the power of the false (phantasm). It renders the notion of hierarchy impossible in relation to the idea of the order of participation, the fixity of distribution, and the determination of value. It sets up the world of nomadic distributions and consecrated anarchy. Far from being a new foundation, it swallows up all foundations, it assures a universal collapse, but as a positive and joyous event, as de-founding (effondement).
Deleuze, Gilles and Rosalind Krauss. "Plato and the Simulacrum." October, Vol. 27 (Winter, 1983), pp. 45-56
Compare the passage with: Les nouveaux mercenaires du faux - Documentaire: Les faussaires ne se contentent plus d'imiter les sacs ou les polos de marque. Ils ont infiltré l'agroalimentaire avec des mayonnaises, des sodas ou des plats cuisinés d'origine douteuse. (The blurb doesn't quite capture the craziness of the overflowing of fakes it shows.)


Two more documentaries, the first on Linky: Des milliers de Français refusent l’arrivée de ce nouveau compteur dans leur foyer, et certains affirment même vivre un enfer depuis son installation. Tous craignent que cet appareil "intelligent" ne collecte toutes leurs données personnelles… (A more interesting point, only brought up in passing, is how the electricity infrastructure was built before we all started to use the internet and plug in dozens of 'extra' gadgets.)

The second on "anti-consos": Les « décroissants » : consommer moins pour vivre mieux  Les sociologues les appellent les « décroissants », en France ils sont de plus en plus nombreux à refuser de consommer toujours plus. Ils refusent la spirale de la société de consommation.

For Wittgenstein, Philosophy Had to Be as Complicated as the Knots it Unties Making Sense of Nonsense, From Bertrand Russell to the Existentialists

The American Aristotle Charles Sanders Peirce was a brilliant philosopher, mathematician and scientist. His polymathic work should be better known 

I also wanted to write about Jeremy Brett's onstage poise and gesture, perfected in Sherlock Holmes. The way he moves is like measured dancing. How you would dance if you were not actually dancing but wanted to use your body for expression. Of course, this is taught in drama, but Brett worked on his style for decades, as suggested by this early musical, The Merry Widow (what a voice he has!) His individual flair is so far removed from today's normcore: I hear that Smoky the Bear may get a new motto (from "Only you can prevent wildfires" to something with a collective "we").