May 27th, 2012

love involves work!

Love, says France’s greatest living philosopher [Alain Baidiou], “is not a contract between two narcissists. It’s more than that. It’s a construction that compels the participants to go beyond narcissism. In order that love lasts one has to reinvent oneself.”

Alain Badiou, venerable Maoist, 75-year-old soixante-huitard, vituperative excoriator of Sarkozy and Hollande and such a controversial figure in France that when he was profiled in Marianne magazine they used the headline “Badiou: is the star of philosophy a bastard?”, smiles at me sweetly across the living room of his Paris flat. “Everybody says love is about finding the person who is right for me and then everything will be fine. But it’s not like that. It involves work. An old man tells you this!”

But, he argues, avoiding love’s problems is just what we do in our risk-averse, commitment-phobic society. Badiou was struck by publicity slogans for French online dating site Méetic such as “Get perfect love without suffering” or “Be in love without falling in love”. “For me these posters destroy the poetry of existence. They try to suppress the adventure of love. Their idea is you calculate who has the same tastes, the same fantasies, the same holidays, wants the same number of children. Méetic try to go back to organised marriages – not by parents but by the lovers themselves.” Aren’t they meeting a demand? “Sure. Everybody wants a contract that guarantees them against risk. Love isn’t like that. You can’t buy a lover. Sex, yes, but not a lover.”

For Badiou, love is becoming a consumer product like everything else. The French anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové once wrote a book entitled Le Monde n’est pas une Marchandise (The World Isn’t a Commodity). Badiou’s book is, in a sense, its sequel and could have been entitled L’Amour n’est pas une Marchandise non plus (Love Isn’t a Commodity Either).

It’s a shame a lot of what he argues here is not already commonly accepted wisdom.

Read further at The Guardian

May 21st, 2012

make good art

Neil Gaiman offers advice to aspiring artists during his commencement address to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts via boingboing.

May 13th, 2012

SOLITUDE is out of fashion.

An interesting article from a few months ago on introversion in the (creative) workplace..

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Read further at NY Times

May 7th, 2012

dismantled by ants

via 3QD

April 12th, 2012

interest driven learning

I have some amazing friends who tell me that when they were young, they read the dictionary from cover to cover. Other friends of mine have read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

My sister calls me an “interest driven learner.” I think that’s code for “short attention span” or “not a good long term planner” or something like that. I can’t imagine being able to read the dictionary from cover to cover. In fact, I don’t think most people could sit down and read the dictionary from cover to cover.

Although reading the dictionary and the encyclopedia from cover to cover may seem a bit extreme, it often feels like that’s what we’re asking kids to do who go through formal education.

Courses are organized, sequenced in a very structured way as student scurry from class to class sitting through lectures and expected to pay attention as instructors go on and on about calculus, history and grammar.

Students with the ability to focus and motivate themselves either through the need to achieve good grades or through understanding the long term benefits of a good education are able to succeed.

Personally, I find the dictionary, the encyclopedia and videos online as excellent resources when I need to learn something. I find the need to learn things every day in the course of pursuing interests, preparing for meetings and interacting with exciting people. I’m extremely motivated to learn and I learn a lot.

I love the videos of professors, amateurs and instructors putting their courseware online. They are a great resource for interest driven learners like me. However, I wonder whether we should be structuring the future of learning as online universities where you are asked to do the equivalent of reading the encyclopedia from cover to cover online. Shouldn’t we be looking at the Internet as an amazing network enabling “The Power of Pull” and be empowering kids to learn through building things together rather than assessing their ability to complete courses and produce the right “answers”?

From Joi Ito.

April 5th, 2012

talking heads

Alain de Botton talks about the ideas in his book, religion for aetheists.

March 29th, 2012

classroom literature

Here is something I know: I feel better when I read — not just good, but better. Anxieties are assuaged, burdens lightened, relationships enriched. I feel part of something hopeful, a connection to the writer, the characters, other readers. I feel smart, if it is okay to say that. I am moved to act after reading — to write, to talk. I have new questions and fresh answers. And I am hardly alone. Anne Lamott knows that “when writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with the absurdity of life instead of being squashed by it over and over again.” After sharing stories, writer Barry Lopez feels exhilarated: “The mundane tasks which awaited me, I anticipated now with pleasure. The stories had renewed in me a sense of the purpose of my life.”

Here is something else I know: the power of literature to “renew a sense of purpose in our lives” gets killed in literature classrooms — unintentionally, no doubt, but killed nonetheless.

This isn’t an indictment. Writer Richard Ford found himself teaching literature as a graduate assistant in 1969 and realized, “What seemed worthwhile to teach was what I felt about literature . . . [literature] had mystery, denseness, authority, connectedness, closure, resolution, perception, variety, magnitude — value in other words . . . Literature appealed to me. But I had no idea how to teach its appealing qualities, how to find and impart the origins of what I felt.” This is a difficult question.

Jeff Hudson via 3QD. More here.

January 8th, 2012

the impracticality of infinite information

I discovered the pictured device — a note-taking machine invented by one Vincentius Placcius — via a nice opinion piece on the BBC website about how we have dealt with information overload up until today.

In 1689 a professor at the University of Hamburg with a passion for new technologies, unveiled a device for managing information overload – a purpose-built mahogany cabinet designed to hold and organise several thousand hand-written notes taken by an individual reader from the books they were reading.

Along the back of the cabinet were narrow vertical posts, each headed by a letter of the alphabet. Running the length of each post was a sequence of brass plates engraved with alphabetised headings designed to capture topics of particular interest to the reader, each heading furnished with a metal hook, to which slips of paper containing information extracted from the owner’s reading were to be attached, ready to be retrieved for re-use at a moment’s notice.

It is not clear whether this rather cumbersome piece of equipment caught on (though apparently the philosopher Leibniz owned one) but the impetus behind it is obvious.

Sounds like a glorious object, no matter how impractical… I want one.

The danger today is rather that we are reluctant to let go of any information garnered from however recondite a source. Every historian knows that no narrative will be intelligible to a reader if it includes all the detail the author amassed in the course of their research. A clear thread has to be teased from the mass of available evidence, to focus, direct and ultimately give meaning to what has been assembled for analysis. Daring to discard is as crucial as safe-guarding, for effective knowledge management and transmission today.

There is all too little danger of the knowledge currently accumulating in floods – multiply-owned, stored and captured – being lost. Rather, if we are going to make sense for posterity of today’s information-saturated present, one of the things we will have to learn to do is decide how to prune the evidence, and ultimately, what to forget.


Addendum: Here’s an interesting article about the Belgian intellectual of the early 20th century Paul Otlet, and his approach to the same problem. Thanks Arnaudt!

December 5th, 2011

lust tot experimenteren

December 4th, 2011

forgone chaos

An interview with Rem Koolhaas in De Standaard. Lots of interesting ideas about architecture, filmmaking, East/West philosophies and the individual, celebrity…

Dat alles zo geregeld is, dat geldt toch vooral voor het welvarende westerse deel van de wereld?

‘Dat is zo. Dat is het bijzondere van mijn vroege ervaringen in Indonesië. Je hebt al jong ervaren hoe er in andere delen van de wereld geleefd wordt. Het was een chaos en dat was vanzelfsprekend. Daar werd verder geen oordeel over geveld. Ik heb tot mijn twaalfde op zes verschillende scholen gezeten. Nu zou het bijna als een misdaad worden gezien, maar mij heeft het veel gebracht. Talent voor organisatie, openstaan voor mogelijkheden, gretigheid voor het nieuwe.’

Verlangt u terug naar die chaos?

‘Ik lijd niet aan nostalgie.’

Wat voor jongen was u op de middelbare school?

‘Een van de vreemde dingen is dat ik door mijn ervaring in Azië niet zo aan mezelf denk als een ik. Het is niet dat ik de vraag wil ontvluchten. Het is meer dat ik geen westers persoon ben met een duidelijk afgebakend ik.’

‘Toen ik op de middelbare school zat, las ik alles van Dostojevski. Ik begon in film geïnteresseerd te raken, in kunst. School was bijzaak.’

Het individuele is te belangrijk in dit deel van de wereld?

‘Het is niet productief. Het is een obstakel om, eh, de manier waarop ik architect ben en bouw… (Hij tekent met een blauwe balpen vierkantjes op een vel papier.) Het is niet mijn ik dat bouwt en waar anderen dan een relatie mee moeten hebben. Het is: een vormeloze massa die iets wil bereiken en waar ik een onderdeel van ben. Dat heb ik aan Indonesië overgehouden. Ik zag al snel dat die opstelling me grote vrijheden gaf. De openheid, het permanent rekening houden met de andere kant. Ik ben vroeg doordrongen geraakt van het feit dat het Westen niet alles is.’

Waarom ging u in 1972 naar New York?

Opeens monter: ‘Ik had het gevoel dat er met New York iets te doen viel. Ik was geïnteresseerd in moderne architectuur en in Europa waren er vooral manifesten, geen realiseringen. In de VS, of in elk geval in New York, was het andersom: geen manifesten, wel realiseringen. Maar zoals ik dat nu zeg, zo had ik het toen nog niet doorgrond. Er was alleen dat gevoel dat ik daar iets kon doen.’

Hoe is het om ‘stararchitect’ te zijn?

‘Mensen kunnen zich niet meer voorstellen dat een normaal persoon de rol van architect kan vervullen. Ze willen dat je een celebrity bent. Vervolgens is iedere poging tot echte communicatie gedoemd om te mislukken.’

Waarom willen mensen dat?

‘Het is een effect van de markteconomie. Belangstelling voor ideeën heeft plaatsgemaakt voor aanbidding van roem.’

Wilt u dat dan ook het liefst als architect: kunnen doen wat u wilt?

‘Nee. Ik geloof in de tegendruk van de opdrachtgever. Dat meen ik oprecht. Door tegenstand kom je tot betere dingen. Of door samenwerking. Je kunt dit vak niet doen zonder dat andere mensen willen wat jij wilt.’

More here. Thanks Arnaud for the heads-up. The last point reminds me of this quote from Panamarenko.

November 23rd, 2011

come off it

From a talk by Alan Watts. Shame about the strings added in the background.

August 13th, 2011

we aren’t alone in the universe, we are the universe

From Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind:

We define manliness in terms of aggression, you see, because we’re a little bit frightened as to whether or not we’re really men. And so we put on this great show of being a tough guy. It’s completely unnecessary. If you have what it takes, you don’t need to put on that show. And you don’t need to beat nature into submission. Why be hostile to nature? Because after all, you ARE a symptom of nature. You, as a human being, you grow out of this physical universe in exactly the same way an apple grows off an apple tree.

So let’s say the tree which grows apples is a tree which apples, using ‘apple’ as a verb. And a world in which human beings arrive is a world that peoples. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in. Just as spots on somebody’s skin is symptomatic of chicken pox. Just as hair on a head is symptomatic of what’s going on in the organism. But we have been brought up by reason of our two great myths–the ceramic and the automatic–not to feel that we belong in the world. So our popular speech reflects it. You say ‘I came into this world.’ You didn’t. You came out of it. You say ‘Face facts.’ We talk about ‘encounters’ with reality, as if it was a head-on meeting of completely alien agencies.

people say there was a primordial explosion, an enormous bang billions of years ago which flung all the galaxies into space. Well let’s take that just for the sake of argument and say that was the way it happened.

It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlicue, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.

July 22nd, 2011

escaping the mundane

A comment on the Guardian book blog speaking out against the tendency in the information age towards a superficial experiencing of the world…

As a former journalist and the author of four narrative histories, I’ll tell you why I wanted to write a book. Journalism is “the first rough draft of history” but writing drafts soon seems as ephemeral as yesterday’s headlines. Writing and researching, especially if the topic is deeper than a memoir about one’s dog, allow a writer to escape the mundane, the puerile, the passing fancies that comprise the present day. To read a good book is to find the same escape. With the rise of Twitter, et al, and the steady decline of book sales, how sad that so many people are choosing to live solely on the surface. This shift will have deep consequences that we are only beginning to see.

Guardian | Books “Should we stop writing books?” Thanks to Alice for the heads up.


… we are a society of distraction, idle talk, and ambiguity. Everybody knows everything has happened, everything is automatically trivial, and, again, nothing means anything. This is the world of blogging, the fake world of Facebook, the world that compensates for an absent set of social experiences. There are virtues to social-networking sites, I’m sure, but you feel an awful vacuum at the heart of them. They compensate for something that is absent. It’s strange, one of the features of the contemporary world is a lack of attention. The world floats, it distracts us in endless ways, one is outside of oneself in a constantly divided attention, and you can multiply the force of distraction, which makes conversation harder and harder as an experience.

Simon Critchley in Vice Magazine — Thanks, Levi!

June 19th, 2011

soul killer

The material world is sometimes compared to an ocean, and the human body is compared to a solid boat designed especially to cross this ocean. The Vedic scriptures and the acaryas, or saintly teachers, are compared to expert boatmen, and the facilities of the human body are compared to favorable breezes that help the boat ply smoothly to its desired destination. If, with all these facilities, a human being does not fully utilize his life for self-realization, he must be considered atma-ha, a killer of the soul. Sri Isopanishad warns in clear terms that the killer of the soul is destined to enter into the darkest region of ignorance to suffer perpetually.

From the Śrī Īśopaniṣad, verse 3

I like the grandeur and poetry and sometimes the wisdom of religious texts even when I don’t subscribe to the religion in question.

May 26th, 2011

the polyphonic truth

Michail Bakhtin’s ideas on the individual, via wiki:

First, is the concept of the unfinalizable self: individual people cannot be finalized, completely understood, known, or labeled. Though it is possible to understand people and to treat them as if they are completely known, Bakhtin’s conception of unfinalizability respects the possibility that a person can change, and that a person is never fully revealed or fully known in the world. Readers may find that this conception reflects the idea of the “soul”; Bakhtin had strong roots in Christianity and in the Neo-Kantian school led by Hermann Cohen, both of which emphasized the importance of an individual’s potentially infinite capability, worth, and the hidden soul.

Second, is the idea of the relationship between the self and others, or other groups. According to Bakhtin, every person is influenced by others in an inescapably intertwined way, and consequently no voice can be said to be isolated. In an interview, Bakhtin once explained that,

In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding—in time, in space, in culture. For one cannot even really see one’s own exterior and comprehend it as a whole, and no mirrors or photographs can help; our real exterior can be seen and understood only by other people, because they are located outside us in space, and because they are others. ~New York Review of Books, June 10, 1993.

As such, Bakhtin’s philosophy greatly respected the influences of others on the self, not merely in terms of how a person comes to be, but also in how a person thinks and how a person sees him- or herself truthfully.

Third, Bakhtin found in Dostoevsky’s work a true representation of “polyphony”, that is, many voices. Each character in Dostoevsky’s work represents a voice that speaks for an individual self, distinct from others. This idea of polyphony is related to the concepts of unfinalizability and self-and-others, since it is the unfinalizability of individuals that creates true polyphony.

Bakhtin briefly outlined the polyphonic concept of truth. He criticized the assumption that, if two people disagree, at least one of them must be in error. He challenged philosophers for whom plurality of minds is accidental and superfluous. For Bakhtin, truth is not a statement, a sentence or a phrase. Instead, truth is a number of mutually addressed, albeit contradictory and logically inconsistent, statements. Truth needs a multitude of carrying voices. It cannot be held within a single mind, it also cannot be expressed by “a single mouth”. The polyphonic truth requires many simultaneous voices. Bakhtin does not mean to say that many voices carry partial truths that complement each other. A number of different voices do not make the truth if simply “averaged” or “synthesized”. It is the fact of mutual addressivity, of engagement, and of commitment to the context of a real-life event, that distinguishes truth from untruth.

When, in subsequent years, Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art was translated into English and published in the West, Bakhtin added a chapter on the concept of “carnival” and the book was published with the slightly different title, Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics. According to Bakhtin, carnival is the context in which distinct individual voices are heard, flourish and interact together. The carnival creates the “threshold” situations where regular conventions are broken or reversed and genuine dialogue becomes possible. The notion of a carnival was Bakhtin’s way of describing Dostoevsky’s polyphonic style: each individual character is strongly defined, and at the same time the reader witnesses the critical influence of each character upon the other. That is to say, the voices of others are heard by each individual, and each inescapably shapes the character of the other.

Thanks Levi, who referred me to Bakhtin in response to the D. H. Lawrence text I posted.

May 24th, 2011

the workings of the yeasty soul

I’ve wanted to share this text for a while, but I couldn’t find it online anywhere. I thought about just quoting the parts I like, but I felt like quoting most of it. So now I’ve typed out the whole text, a chapter out of the book The Use of Imagination by William Walsh (Chatto & Windus, 1959).

Even if you don’t agree with all Lawrence’s ideas (and in the latter part there is admittedly a rather questionable proposition for the realization of his philosophies), you can still even just appreciate the elegance of his expression, his clarity of vision, and the poetry of his words.

The book is a collection of essays exploring what some of the biggest names in literature have to teach us about imagination. The book is written for educators, but the insights are universal. This chapter is on D. H. Lawrence’s insights. The chapter is called The Writer as Teacher

Read the rest of this entry »

May 23rd, 2011

intelligent communication

Interesting insights into the scope of words as language versus other ways of interacting with meaning and environment. Thanks Esther for the tip.

May 15th, 2011

die toten seelen

I like especially 01:34 to 04:40.

From Wim Wenders’ Falsche Bewegung (1975).

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