Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Starring Winnie-The-Pooh, Clay, and the Enlightenment as "The Devil"

It's been hard to blog the last few days, primarily because I haven't been able to write on any one topic while so many have been competing for real estate in my gray matter. I begin by thinking about something, find a bunch of articles or blog posts on it, think some more, then the thoughts lead to another topic which holds me in its thrall until the next and so on ad nauseum. I don't think I'm ADD; I'm just not finding sufficient conclusions so I move on to more fertile pastures and VOILA, I haven't gotten anywhere at all. I end up feeling like Winnie-the-Pooh, rapping my skull, commanding my brain to "Think. Think. Think." It availeth nothing; the ole bean keeps drifting.

I can't recall now which of my college philosophy profs it was, but one used to tell me that a huge chunk of philosophy happened while things were simmering on the back burner of your mind. The analogy invoked cooking and food, so of course it stuck with me. It didn't always ring true, especially when I was running up on a paper deadline and my marathon writing sessions yielded decent results, but most often it did feel like setting aside the topic limbered me up for the next encounter with it.

I can't shake the feeling, though, that I never get that far in my tinkerings, philosophical or otherwise. My college papers always felt so small in comparison with the ideas I'd wanted at first. Early paper ideas were doctoral dissertation topics and so were cut down to bize-size, undergraduate pieces for consumption. But I was never satisfied with the end result. I have a hard time seeing all the individual pieces I need to tackle to achieve my final goal. I guess I could try to outline, or make those bubble diagrams or stick to understanding/critiquing existing philosophy without reference to moving forward (my usual tack) but there are real problems to solve in this planet and sometimes relegating things to the back burner feels like turning a blind eye while a crime is committed.

I miss philosophy classes. Well, some things about them anyway. I miss reading insightful works. I miss not caring if discussions drifted in and out of relevance with the present day. At the same time that philosophical issues are strongly tied to historical times and cultural movements, there's something timeless about the problems and arguments. I don't have to be up on the latest celebrity scandal to understand them. The web of ideas holds an endless fascination for me, NO SERIOUSLY. Coming up with a good analogy to mirror my thoughts? Thrilling. What a dork . . . :-D

My ear has been bent recently to people decrying serious social issues, and what I hear touches me. I can't put aside the anger I feel toward perpetuators of crime, oppression, and injustice. I can't listen to the voice in my head that used to say, "humanity has always been like this. Just thank the Maker you were born in relative privilege and get back to the magnificence of ideas in your classes. You'll help later."

I took several classes with a friend of mine in college who has a very different perspective than mine, I think. He is less emotive than I (not that he feels no emotion, but that I probably feel more of them - and toward more things - in a day than he does), and I doubt he has the kind of demands on aesthetics in daily life that I do (my desire for a certain taste or my need to admire beauty in art, music, and design regularly). I often catch myself envying him "the high ground," as I perceive it. Sure my idealism puts me in the clouds, but my need to relish good coffee and my inability to uproot emotion from a news story leaves me very much on the ground. He, on the other hand, can rise above a circumstance and take it in carefully from all angles. Plus he's probably less likely to be distracted by a passing woman's fantastic shoes.

I know these idiosyncracies make me who I am. When I'm feeling generous, I try to think of them as offering a different, more grounded perspective, rather than merely muddying a more detached one. It's probably an emphasis on Enlightenment concepts of "pure, unadulterated reason" that makes me feel mine is inferior anyhow and it seems that few scholars like that concept now. But while some declare that all perspectives are valid when we take into account that no one is fully objective, I am not willing to join them. I have seen that some are better than others at bringing out rich detail, insight, and structure in a topic and its analysis. I want to be that insightful, rational person while preserving those parts of myself that might yield a new vantage point. Well, on days when I'm not PMSing I do.

I began to realize after a while that I was right on some level to envy this friend his detachment because it yielded real focus for him. He was always writing his own essays on philosophical topics outside of and sometimes unrelated to class. He read much more than I did. It always took me so long to read and so much effort to fully grasp. For me learning was a process of grafting more clay onto an urn. In order to add anything, I had to understand the structure of the urn's wall below it. I had to blend the new clay with the old at the seams, making sure they fit together before testing them with more clay on top of that. More clearly, I had to understand the philosophers who came before the current one, grasping their terminology and categories for understanding which would influence him. Once I had grasped that, I could begin understanding how the new ideas fit with the old, where they would support one another and where the ideas were branching upward, outward, adding shape to the urn. It wasn't a process I could really set aside, either, because if I didn't grasp all these things, I felt the urn collapsing under the weight of my sloppy understanding. I needed time to think, time to throw things on the back burner and then pull them forward to examine them again. College didn't always yield the chance to follow up, however, while friends and boyfriends and financial commitments pulled away at my conscious hours, to say nothing of other classes. I usually had to settle for understanding the individual hunks of clay, instead of getting the chance to mold and shape them as elements of my own perspective. Now I feel like there's something missing when I gaze at my oft-revamped and never finished Urn of Personal Perspective. (Go ahead and laugh - it IS a stupid name.)

So I mull all kinds of things over in my head: that news story that made me unbelievably sad and then angry; that vision of understanding the role emotions can play in understanding the world around us; that goal of being comfortable in my own abilities as a thinker and knowing when to speak up and when my perspective was inadequate. I guess that's why it's so hard to get anywhere and then write about it - because it's bound up in my ongoing investigation into my brain as much as my world. I grow impatient with this long process. I want some answers, darn it.

My friend KD & I still finish a long phone call with our running joke about "talking so much we solved all the worlds problems." Talking to her is great because though we often start with different perspectives, we agree on so much that if we were the sole members of a committee tasked to solve the world's problems, we'd be perfectly happy. Maybe I'm just taking that concept and applying it to reality where it is OBVIOUSLY not suited. I cannot expect myself to answer problems that have plagued all of human history anymore than I can expect myself never to be angered by my husband's quirks. It's an admirably goal, but not a realistic one and beating myself up when I don't achieve it is only making me miserable.

So I guess what I'm saying is that the Committee For Solving All The World's Problems has a seat opening.

1 comment:

Cap'n Ganch said...

I know you read Dooce, but I'm not sure how regularly. Did you read this? So ... so real, I guess?