Friday, December 31, 2010

On looking at the TED website

Drawn by some sort of morbid curiosity, I just looked at this:

A few of my Facebook friends are fans of TED. I can see it being an enjoyable procrastination activity at work. I can understand the appeal. The main thing that occurs to me just now upon watching this lecture, is how good Americans are at talking. I can't imagine an Australian TED (or rather, I can't imagine an Australian starting something like TED. Knock-offs are perhaps a possibility).

What is this theatre of thinking and listening and laughing at the appropriate time? There seems to be something particularly American about it, something related to the comfort that Americans feel with oral communication. Everyone on stage seems so chirpy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Benign or malignant?

I am currently somewhat curious (in my usual desultory fashion) about Epicureanism, as I am reading this amazing translation of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, which I have borrowed from a friend.

It seems to me, based on the inexpert poking around that I have been doing, that an important tenet of Epicureanism was (or is) the affirmation that nature is benign; that we have nothing to fear from nature.

I wondered in passing tonight, however, if this is a belief that is available to us today. I'm not sure it is plausible in this age to think that nature has a calm regularity. Rather, for us the relation between humans and nature is a nightmarish one, because humans are fucking things up, throwing everything into imbalance. We do not think of ourselves as being in accord with the cycles of the world, but are instead a big, stinking spanner thrown into the works, throwing the whole humans-and-nature machine out of kilter.

I stress that I am not endorsing this latter view (nor, much as I would like to, the Epicurean account of the order of things), just pointing out its greater plausibility.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Middlesex Horror

I, like many others, am concerned and horrified that Middlesex University has decided to cut its Philosophy Department entirely. As An und Für Sich notes,
the entire situation bodes extremely badly for the fate of all research into continental thought, regardless of department.
Infinite Thought has posted details of the Save Philosophy at Middlesex campaign, which includes a petition as well as a Facebook group.

A friend of mine who is also studying 'critical theory' / European philosophy with me at the moment commented the other day that it often feels like we are being "inducted into a dead-end". Graham Harman has made a similar comment - this is 'canary in a coal mine' territory.

Let's hope this stupidity is reversed.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In Chicago

After a preliminary walk around the neighbourhood in which I'm staying, I feel pretty exhausted, so I thought I'd write a blog post about my travels so far. My travel blogging will probably be a haphazard thing.

Right now I'm staying at International House at the University of Chicago. I can't put any photos up as I haven't gotten the memory card for my camera working yet. Going to buy a memory card for the camera was in fact the first thing I did. It seemed illegitimate somehow to be a tourist without the possibility of taking photos.

I then took a stroll through streets of the campus, past prim-looking gothic houses, to visit Robie House. Carrying on the spirit of the day, this was also a bit of a non-starter, as there are no tours of the house running until tomorrow morning. But still, I gawked at the outside of the house, Lonely Planet in hand. The brickwork is beautiful: very long, thin bricks, much longer than they are wide. These are the dimensions of the whole building - flat and long. The design is so restrained that it hurts. Interestingly, there is also some leadlighting in the windows. This seemed an odd conjunction to me - decorative windows in a spare, modern building. I can't wait to go for a proper tour tomorrow morning.

Of course, America is full of Americans. This is my first trip to the States, and so I am not yet familiar with total immersion in these scenes which are so familiar from a lifetime of TV and film exposure, yet also alien because, well, I've never actually been here. The neighbourhood I'm staying in is very picturesque. Lots of well-tended little gardens doing things that are appropriate for Spring - small plants budding and so on, bare trees with hints of the first buds of spring, etc. I suppose it is well-tended because it is a university campus - we will see what downtown Chicago is like tomorrow.

Being Australian seems to be working out for me. I am very much enjoying the novelty of having an 'exotic' accent. Yes, already I have fielded questions about kangaroos and whether or not I have seen American films.

The flight was, of course, never ending torture. By the time I got to bed I'd been up for 36 or 37 hours. I also seemed to pass through customs about 10 times - each time a different form, removing my shoes again, taking more things out of my bag to be x-rayed.

The other thing I did this afternoon was to visit the Seminar Co-op Bookshop. It is the most amazing bookshop I have ever been to. Already I have bought four or five books. I could stay there forever. I had to leave mainly from fear that I would get lost in there and perish from starvation. So many interesting books.

I am undecided as to whether I will head out to dinner or just eat the bag of Nobby's Nuts I got at Melbourne airport and then fall asleep in my room. I should probably head out and order a meal, right?

Friday, January 22, 2010

We we we, all the way home...

Graham Harman has responded to my previous post. Hurrah! I exist in the realms of internet textual exchanges.

He considers the use of 'we' in academic writing, rather than 'I'. This reminded me, in reference to my anecdote about how my Honours supervisor instilled a horror of the 'I' in me, that said supervisor was even more withering about the use of 'we'. I think he evoked some sort of pseudo-ethical tone when he did this: who is this 'we'? What gives you the right to say 'we'?

It possibly needs to be delivered in the very particular tone of my supervisor, for full effect.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The I is a... What?

Many moons ago, one of my Honours supervisors told me that I should never use "I" while writing. How would this work, I asked. Well, he said, use lots of passive constructions.

I took this advice on board, despite the attempts of my other supervisor to talk me out of it. I implemented the passive writing style, the stance of strange objectivity ("it must be noted...", "such-and-such will be considered"), to a fault over the course of my entire Honours dissertation. Since then, it has become a stylistic tic that I feel bound to employ whenever doing 'serious' writing (i.e. anything that takes place in a word processor).

But I feel I'm sick of it.

This, in part, comes off the back of reading many posts about writing style by Graham Harman over at Object-Oriented Philosophy. He has made the point a few times that style is a very contagious thing. What you read, you tend to emulate. Not only that, but style and content in writing are essentially indivisible. Groundbreaking ideas need stylistic oomph. Therefore, the moral of the story is: read good writers.

Well, I have been reading some good writers of late. And plenty of them say "I". This makes me think: it's time to put away the aversion to saying "I".

But these habits, adopted to please the supervisorial Big Other, are hard to drop. You feel illegitimate somehow, perhaps too casual, when you say "I". It is also a more nude position to be in: these opinions are claimed, straight away, as my thoughts, my assertions.

Which is ultimately probably a good thing. But nonetheless, confronting.