Category Archives: language and linguistics

Alchemical Thoughts: Of Tales and Fires

In Plato’s seventh letter (341c), he says that what he pursues in his studies cannot be expressed in words, but emerges through sustained communion with “the thing itself” (to pragma auto) and “is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself.” There is always a call for a return to the thing itself. Contemplation feeds on an alimentary fire. Thinking is alchemy.  Continue reading

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The Aesthetics of Publishing

There are a lot of reasons to dislike academic publishing if you are trying to write philosophy or any kind of theoretical or scholarly work. Nonetheless, it’s still the best way to disseminate work with high standards of rigorous research, intellectual accountability, and meaningful communication. A couple of the usual reasons people give for disliking the publishing industry in general are that it is too slow and, more to the point, too elitist, whereas self-publishing platforms work more efficiently and give the author more creative control. That’s far from the whole story. It fails to mention the aesthetics…and the lunchmeat. Continue reading


After the End of the World

There are at least two ways of being after something.  After can be a matter of subsequence (like tomorrow is after today), and it can also be a matter of seeking something or trailing along behind it (like a predator goes after prey).  Being after is a lot like following something: tomorrow follows today, a predator follows prey.  This double-sense of after also shows up in German, “nach” (after/toward).

Although we generally know whether someone means subsequence or seeking when the word “after” is uttered, some ambiguity is inescapable.  One can always misread contextual and syntactic clues.  There is no way to completely secure the word “after” from the possibility of being read as pre- and/or post-.

We are after the past and after the future… a dual sense of after, a sense moving in both directions at once.  It is in that sense that we are after the end of the world.  We are not simply post-apocalyptic (or post-anything, for that matter), for we are still waiting, more or less vigilantly, for an apocalypse to come.

Some people might want to put apocalypse behind us and get it out of our future, but they’re just seeking an inverse apocalypse, an anti-apocalypse, seeking an end to all this talk of the end.  No matter how much we want to, we can’t just disavow apocalypse, end, or world.  We can never be after something in simply a “post-” sense.  The end of the world is our inheritance.  What we inherit is what we have coming to us.  The end, the world, the end of the world… they haunt our future, like a past that remains to come.

We’ll always be after the end of the world, and so we cannot just drop the end or drop our sense of the world (Lil Wayne’s ability to drop the world notwithstanding).  There’s nowhere to drop them off, no “away” to throw them.  We’re here in the middle of the world’s ending, going after it, composing a world that has already ended, mourning an end that returns incessantly.  Where are we going?  Immer nach Hause, immer nach Welt.


Latour, Rejoicing: A Critical Review

The recent work by Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME, for short), deals with the various felicity conditions of different modes of existence, including religious modes of existence.  Along these lines, AIME extends his previous works on religion, including his writings on factishes, iconoclash, and the freeze-frames that convolute science-religion dialogue.  It is appropriate, then, that the release of the English edition of AIME was accompanied by the release of the English edition of his 2002 work on the felicity conditions of religious speech, Rejoicing: Or the Torments of Religious Speech (Polity, 2013).  With these works as well as his recent Gifford Lectures, Latour is making important contributions to theology and religious studies, opening up nice points of contact with science studies, ecology, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology.

There are a lot of good points coming from Latour’s Rejoicing, which he articulates elsewhere as well.  Religions and sciences are not amenable to worn-out oppositions such as transcendence and immanence, subjective and objective, spirit and matter, fetishes and facts, iconography and iconoclasm, traditional and modern.  Instead of separating religions and sciences into two different realms of being or knowing, Latour recognizes that there is only one world, “no other world, just this one here” (174), and there is no truth we can discern about this world without constructing that truth.  Neither religion nor science has a monopoly on truth about existence, and neither one lays claim to knowledge of another world (since there is no other world).  Religions and sciences involve two different kinds of speech acts which thus have two different sets of felicity conditions, and when those felicity conditions are met, different things happen.  Scientific speech acts bring us knowledge of distant things (atoms, the Big Bang, the climate, etc.), whereas religious speech acts bring us closer to one another (family, friends, loved ones).  Sciences enact references and information about the distant and far away, whereas religions enact translations and transformations of what is close by, the everyday.  Nonetheless, I have a few problems with Rejoicing (which are, more or less, also problems with his other writings on religion).

Continue reading


Becoming Inaccessible: A Touch of Castaneda

Becoming integral is a way of life.  It is the light touch cultivated in the art of becoming inaccessible…

I think often of Carlos Castaneda.

“The art of a hunter is to become inaccessible,” he [Don Juan] said.  “In the case of that blond girl it would’ve meant that you had to become a hunter and meet her sparingly.  Not the way you did.  You stayed with her day after day, until the only feeling that remained was boredom.  True?”
            I did not answer.  I felt I did not have to.  He was right.
“To be inaccessible means that you touch the world around you sparingly.  You don’t eat five quail; you eat one.  You don’t damage the plants just to make a barbecue pit.  You don’t expose yourself to the power of the wind unless it is mandatory.  You don’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love.”
—Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan (New York: Washington Square Press, 1991), p. 69. 

“But don’t overdo it,” he went on.  “The touch of warrior-travelers is very light, although it is cultivated.  The hand of a warrior-traveler begins as a heavy, gripping, iron hand but becomes like the hand of a ghost, a hand made of gossamer.  Warrior-travelers leave no marks, no tracks.  That’s the challenge of warrior-travelers.”
—Castaneda, Active Side of Infinity (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 146.


struggle sans path: reflections upon moving

In the process of moving, I’ve come upon a small number of scraps of paper that give me pause, and I wonder whether I’ll keep the paper or consign it to recycling.  I’ve said some intolerably short goodbyes to some very old and dignified friends.  Adieu. 

The sequence with which I discover the scraps is, to my surprise, the most consistently important factor shaping my decision.  If the scrap is part of an interesting series, I’ll keep it.  Here is an example of a series of two…and I’m still waiting for the third.

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” (Emerson). 

“It is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary” (Whitman).


Rough Words with Whitehead and Neruda

“In order to acquire learning, we must first shake ourselves free of it. We must grasp the topic in the rough, before we smooth it out and shape it.”
Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1966), p. 6.

That comment from Whitehead could be read as an exegesis of one of Pablo Neruda’s poems, Verbo.  Here’s a rough translation:

Verb

I’m going to crumple up this word,
I’m going to contort it,
yes,
it’s too sleek,
it’s as if a great dog or great river
had passed its tongue or water over it
during many years.

In the word I want
the roughness is seen
the iron salt
The de-fanged strength
of the land,
the blood
of those who spoke and of those who did not.

I want to see thirst
Within its syllables:
I want to touch fire
in its sound:
I want to feel darkness
in its cry. I want
words as rough
as virgin stones.