Monday, May 17, 2010

I Pity the Fool Who Don't Like this Post!

In my ongoing quest to construct some personal sense of meaning for in what the hell I think I'm doing in this life at this point in time I was happy to stumble across Graham Harman's post on What Philosopher's Want. In many ways this was a clear and specific inroad towards what I was looking for in my Open Letter AUFS. Harman, taking some cues from Levi at Larval Subjects and his favourite sports writer Bill Simmons looks to explore the philosopher's purpose not through direct inquiry into the greater purpose or meaning of their work but rather with an indirect route of interests that exceed or are formed outside their work.

Harman writes,

The Simmons column was saying that each NBA superstar is motivated by something slightly different. Jordan = winning. Kobe = greatness. Shaq = fame. LeBron & Dr. J = to amaze people. Barkley = fun. Nash & Stockton = team.>Now, if you were to ask philosophers what they want, you’d probably hear “truth” as the answer a boring number of times. But that’s too self-congratulatory and unrevealing, so lets disqualify “truth” as an answer, and think instead about the particular conditions that one demands the truth should meet.

So what conditions does he explore?
1. What non-philosophers does a given philosopher admire?
2. What is your favourite philosophical book?
3. Which classic book of philosophy do wish you had written, which were you glad you didn't write.

Harman notes that he simply cannot imagine Nietzsche having written Kant's Critiques.

Harman concludes,

Many people may say they want the truth, but the fact is that people will quickly turn their heads away from truths that don’t meet a certain sort of longing, and that’s going to be different for each person. We are surrounded by truths as by a sandstorm, but zero in on specific ones. Engineering and economics are full of truths, for instance, but they didn’t interest me enough to devote my life to them. (emphasis mine)
The idea here being that our larger intellectual efforts are informed by influences external to those pursuits. Harman is not concerned to dig 'beneath the surface' of these factors to cite deep seeded pathologies. He is content at this level to identify a 'surface' motivation that informs the life's work of an individual (as in the NBA stars). So perhaps all of them are ultimately looking for affirmation and praise but that does not change that their means are not drastically different producing, in turn, different effects or performances in the same playing field.
For myself two figures stand significantly outside the academic field of philosophy and theology that I can point to in stirring my motivation. The first is a little more peripheral. As a kid growing up I, like many of the rest you!, was fascinated by Mr. T on the A-Team (aside - NOT excited about the remake). How could a 10 year old boy not love him? At the beginning of the episode he would be helping some inner-city kids fix their bicycles and by the end of the episode he would have built a tank out of spare parts to help rescue some motherly figure from the town's evil sheriff or something. But as I grew a little older I began to see Mr. T outside of the show and I realized that for the most part he was the same guy. He dressed the same way. He interacted the same way. He had the same attitude. What was impressed on me was some sense of congruence or authenticity.
The second figure was Johnny Cash. I can remember taking a road trip with my parents and picking up a Johnny Cash tape at some truck stop. He sang about sickness, anger, hatred, love, faith, murder, forgiveness, paradox, struggle. Here was someone who may not have been speaking the truth but who was again (in my mind) being congruent with their experience and their expression.
From here it was a short step from these figures to a deep love and appreciation for Dostoevsky, Rilke, Kierkegaard and certain strands of phenomenology. I am motivated (among other things) by a desire to simply express myself. I can read over my writings (theological, personal, fictional) and see at times when I was writing like or for someone that excluded my own expression. I am aware this is a complex idea and perhaps I am coming off as naive but again that is the point. That I am at least expressing where I am at (however and by whomever that I was formed).

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