"You go looking for one thing, and sometimes you find something else." (ref. lost)
I am currently reading an essay about the late work of the British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion (1897-1979): "Bion's work presented: A memoir of the future, some thoughts on its oblivion and dawn" (2004), by Paulo Cesar Sandler.
I once (early 1998) read a book which I now (June 2020) have compleely forgotten: "World in Fragments", by Cormelius Castoriadis, but which, by fortunate chance, I find is among the few books I have "kept out" and are not in boxes in the basement of my current house, or lost, so I may be able to reappropriate some off it here (I underlined a lot in my books).
My reading "World in Fragments", and feeling I lived in a World in Fragments (how fully did I feel this then? It's Sancho Panza time: "There is no memory which time does not efface"...) antedated the Coming of the Messiah, which can be precisely dated and geographically pinpointed: 01 June 2020, when "police used tear gas and flash grenades to clear out the crowd that had gathered across the street [from the white House] in Lafayette Square so Mr. Trump could walk to St. John's Episcopal Church afterward and pose for photographs while holding a Bible outside the boarded-up church.... Bishop Mariann E. Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said that she had not been told Mr. Trump would be making the trek. 'He did not pray,' she said. 'We need a president who can unify and heal. He has done the opposite of that, and we are left to pick up the pieces.'" (The New York Times, "As Trump Calls Protesters 'Terrorists,' Tear Gas Clears a Path for His Walk to a Church", 01 June 2020). "'Is that your Bible?' a reporter asked. 'It's a Bible,' Mr. Trump replied" (NYT, "Holding It Aloft, He Incited a Backlash. What Does the Bible Mean to Trump?", 02 June 2020). "a Bible that his daughter pulled out of her $1,540 MaxMara bag" (NYT, "How Trump's Idea for a Photo Op Led to Havoc in a Park", (02 June 2020, updated 03 June 2020) And he neither opened it, nor, a fortiori, read anything from it.
Another cleric, who was tending tear gas and pepper sprayed eyes of peaceful protestors at the time, recalls, repeatedly: "a sacrilege", that hallowed ground was used for a (POTUS №45) Trump Photo Op. "A voice cries: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'" (Isaiah 40:3). A way was cleared. He, aka United States President (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump, traversed it.
He appeared, or at least made an appearance, apparently, because he did not like the image that had been projected by news reports that he earlier in the protests had hid in an "underground bunker" (protests that had started with people's reaction to the killing of an already hand-cufffed black man by a police officer kneeing down on his throat, choking the man to death, and continuing to press down on the man's throat for almost 3 minutes after he was dead, while 3 other officers looked on doing nothing -- I can imagine a Rodin sculpture of this scene, cf. The Burghers of Calais). I asked in a Letter to the Editor of the NYT whether anybody had clued (POTUS №45) Mr. Trump in that The Red Army was not advancing on him from the East (but he does know; he's the one who told us there was no Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Vladimir himself told him so). I don't know if any voice cried, but if one did, it was likely thru a bullhorn.
He came (and saw and conquered?). But, nevertheless, as Elsa Morante wrote: "And history continues." And, as Bishop Budde said (see above): "we are left to pick up the pieces".
This essay is going to be long and rambling....
And that's the point. I am beginning to figure out, writing these pages in A place to study, that my authentic writing style, apparently perhaps somewhat like late Bion's, is not linear, but keeps wanting to digress, to wander, but not in Heidegger's sense of a non-logger being lost in a maze of logger's paths (Holzwege) in a forest. I think I know (or at least am finding out) where I'm going; it's just that there are so many destinations to go to (cf. the old IBM motivational dictum : "No wind blows in favor of that ship which has no port of destination"). I hope you, my reader, will find some value, and perhaps even some [healthy] amusement, in it. And, since I do not believe in "surprise endings" (see "The ending (Read me first?)), I will commence with my conclusion.
"Everywhere journeying, inexperienced and without issue, man comes to nothing in the end" ("Ode to Man", Sophocles, "Antigone"). But we have seen that the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss saw something else, too, see: "What do I mean by "living"?".
At the end of "The Odyssey", Athena instructs Odysseus that he must make a journey to a land where the people do not know of the sea, and plant an oar there. After doing that, Odysseus can return home and lead a happy, peaceful life for the rest of his life. Athena charges Odysseus to be an educator. And then he may return home, to his beloved native land, Ithaca (not Cornell...), and enjoy peace. No more excitement; no more surprises. Like the ending of Jean Renoir's film "The Grand Illusion", where two escaped prisoners of war limp across a broad snow covered open field in WWI toward the Swiss border, and a patrol spots them -- limping ducks -- and the soldiers raise their rifles and take aim, but their Officer commands them: "Hold your fire! They are over the border. The war is over for them, and so much the better for them." That, for me, like Hegel's story of "Evil and its Forgiveness" in his "Phenomenology of Spirit", is the true happy ending (not kitsch), or as close to a happy ending as us mortals are capable of. I think maybe it is also Robbie's "Commons"?
Where should I start?
Well, my reader, let me assure you that I will not here emulate Hermann Broch's masterful ["No kitsch here!"] ending of the first section of his great novel "The Sleepwalkers" (a trilogy), where he writes: "after the material for character construction already provided, the reader can imagine it for himself" (p. 158). I've told you the ending. Now my work is to get myself (us?) there.
We have already started. I think a good plan may be to work backwards -- not to be confused, please, with many generals' and other great leaders' strategy of "leading [the volunteered...] from the rear" (see, e.g., Stanley Kubrick's film "Paths of Glory"). And, again, no surprises, we will end up at the present, at the trumpery du jour -- even if we cannot afford to live in (POTUS №45) Trump Palace [Condominiums], which a felicitous accidental lookup on Wikipedia tells me is property which: "had previously been occupied by the New York Foundling Hospital, which businessman (POTUS №45) Donald Trump purchased in 1985". What more recession-proof [buy gold? bitcoin?] alchemy, what higher ROI miracle [loaves and fishes on the bread line? arbitrage profits?] than tranmuting a foundling hospital into high-end condos! I shall think about the liberal arts here; DJT will teach you The Art of the Deal (buy it for $12.75 on amazon.com).
The liberal arts are useless unless you can make a profit or at least earn a living out of them
I have dealt with this issue somewhat in my page Passum sub iugum (a biographical essay). I have mentioned Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. High culture "ain't worth shit" to a person whose stomach is chronically rumbling (which leads me to the thought that starvation should result in lessened fecal production, which I could express in mathematical "limit" notation if I was good enough at Wikimarkup or some plug-in to it). I also believe that persons who have mastered the use of polysyllabic words thereby earn the right to use monosyllables, as exemplified by George Steiner's -- to me, magisterial -- ending of his essay on British traitor art historian Sir Anthony Blunt: "Damn the man".
Back to the liberal arts! I always was careful in spending money. As a low-level computer programmer I didn't earn much, although I did for my first decade of working see the day each Autumn when they stopped taking FICA out of my paychecks. By the early-mid 80's I had saved close to $100,000, even while collecting fine handcrafts (but $25 could buy an IMO almost "priceless" piece of pottery from a famous potter), drinking good wine (it was less expensive back then...), buying "serious" books and Harmonia Mundi records, etc. My secret? Minimizing expenses on "pragmatic agenda" and not drinking [the] Kool-Ade. I had no desire to "go on a cruise" or even to a hotel (except "on business" -- in my first programming job at United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company, if I remember correctly, the company paid for first-class plane tickets when I went to IBM customer education classes!). When I read the early Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci's, note back home to his mother that "to go on an adventure one does not need to leave one's native town", I had already thought pretty much that already. At work, I found much satisfaction with covering the walls of my "cube" with meaningful-to-me scraps of paper cut out of magazines, from Despair comix to New Yorker cartoons, and also my own creations -- see, e.g. the picture and its alt text at the bottom of this page here on A place to study. Being a believer in "less is more" and from attending a Unitarian church -- the famous one in Baltimore, Maryland -- having learned to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good", I aspired to have few things, but all of lasting value. I wanted not to consume more, but to savor more deeply.
My savings, combined with IBM's then still very liberal educational benefits, enabled me to attend Teachers College, where, nurtured by Professor Robert O. McClintock aka "Robbie" and a few other good folks [I avoided all whom I smelled out as being "bad guys" or even just honorable but not "progressive" strict graders!], I was able to live a fantasy life for a few years of being not a "student" but [an aspiring] scholar.
Reading Sandler (per above) I learn that Wilfred Bion apparently diagnosed social arrangements (e.g., the employer employee relationship) as psychotic hallucinations. I'd never thought of it quite that clearly before. Lux mentis lux orbis. My "TC" experience was definitely an hallucination too, only a mostly good, not bad one. I played (and, indeed, I did play, i.e., have creative, imaginative fun!) at being a scholar. With Robbie's guidance, I read more big books than ever, esp. Elizabeth Eisenstein's "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change", which somewhere I read (was it in a reply to the letter I wrote to her?) that she really wanted to call it: "The Master Printer as an Agent of Change", but the publisher didn't like that. I also read Rabelais' "Gargantua and Pantagruel", which I seem to recall fascinated Robbie in part for its having long lists of things which would have been difficult in manucript culture but were facilitated by printing. I read slowly [more about that, here], but I read a lot. And Professor Forsdale's film course(s?) helped too (there I learned about "Paths of Glory", etc.). I even learned some by paying professionals, who had no relation to Teachers College and who therefore could not "grade" me, to talk with me about my dissertation topic. Is that what "reading" is at Oxford and Cambridge? It's what I would want it to be.
I had a great, grand time at TC! Even at the time I at least partly appreciated the good fortune and privilege what I was living. But it was "good fortune and privilege". My EdD and dissertation, while highly meaningful to me, and, I still believe of the latter that it has substantive cultural value!, have had no "cash value". I am not even certified to be a public school teacher. And I did not have enough savings to retire to a life of the mind. After getting my EdD, I went back to working as a low-level computer programmer (Passum sub iugum). Under conditions of programming technologies becoming ever more perverse coupled with myself getting increasingly worn down, my surplus energy after doing the job diminished, until, by the time I was made redundant from EMC/Dell 15 June 2018, I was pretty much, as I have long said should be America's national anthem: "Running on empty". (I was afraid of dying, i.e., suffering, but envied a sometime coworker when I learned he had died entirely unexpectedly in his sleep -- RIP James Manley.)
By Covid-19 pandemic time I had not read a book for several years, and I had pretty much ceased to think anything deeper than what I could read in The New Yorker (they do have some excellent articles!). Now that I think of it, my mind had pretty much suffered the same fate as the body of the protagonist of one of the last books I read, Natsume Soseki's "I am a Cat". The cat, always curious about what the beer he saw humans drinking tasted like, dies by jumping into a bucket of it and drowning. But I was suffering not from curiosity, but from [as I would title a Great American Novel if I could write it:] "Waste". Sublunary stars and non-HVAC fans, hubcap mentalité, people whose flat-earth imaginative horizon is bounded by dreams of techno-feudalism in flying fortresses (not to be confused with real B-17s!), the U.S. President who seemed to somehow have got thru Yale, graduating "Skull and Bones", without having a mind and who -- a prodigal son -- hoped to receive daddy's blessing by handing him Saddam Hussein's head on a plate ["Wanted dead of alive!"] GWB, etc. beyond nauseam.
You, my reader, may already have some idea what my ideas about education are going to be. First, let me say "different strokes for different folks", and I wouldn't want to make anyone have to try to fit into a shoe I would want to wear. I never took Entrepreneurship 101, nor would it appeal to me, but if I had the skills they teach there, I'd use them; I would follow Hermann Broch's example of selling the family business to be able to pursue my studies, if I had one. I would appreciate if "they" would let me earn a living at activity that was meaningful to me (refs. my manager who responded to this request: "If wishes were horses then beggars would ride"; and, in contrast, Robbie's "Commons", again?). I'm even pretty industrious, although I find "asses and elbows" (what one higher-than-first-level manager I knew wanted to see) far more repugnant than handling used [non-infectious] wound bandages, and I find "scrums" loathsome and dehumanizing (somebody once said: "If you're working overtime, your manager isn't doing his job"; Sun Tzu said: "The great general wins without fighting"; "No more heros"). I'm a Matisse-ean.
As a child I was afraid of going to the doctor, but early on I figured out how to avoid the dreaded tongue suppressor by opening my mouth so wide that the doctor didn't need to use it, and, later, how to avoid panicking when the doctor palpitated my abdomen by telling him/her: "You can do what you want, only just do not do any sudden moves in doing it". I admit I've been pretty set in my ways since youth; I think I am also pretty "adaptable". I think Theodore Roosevelt spoke of a "Fair Deal".
On education for me
So I will speak here only of my ideas of education for me. I think I should never have been a student, but rather, even at least in high school, a teacher. I should have learned things in order to teach them to other kids.
Of course I respect those, often but not necessasrily my elders, who genuinely know more than me, especially if they are humble about it. They should give me a hand up to their level and treat me as a peer, not, as if I was a slab of beef, "grade" me. My ideal teacher sits with me (singular!) each day or so, and why not with some good wine or cognac?, and we talk about things I want to study -- things which, often, the teacher himself will have made me aware of by suggesting (not requiring!) that I look into them. (S)he will thereby earn the pleasure of seeing my mind -- my spirit -- flourish, and also the pleasure of my thematized gratitude. I remember ("Je me souviens"). I can't recall who it was who, while being murdered, asked their assailant:"Why are you doing this to me?" But I also remember those who have been decent and kind to me, and, ever more the older I have become, I thank them (see: Melanie Klein's "Envy and Gratitude").
I have come to love to write. Maybe my "journeyman's license" would be my first substantive publication. And I would want to give back, by mentoring others (when I worked as a systems programmer I enjoyed helping application programmers -- I thought of them as "apples", long before Apple -- who needed help and admitted it and didn't pretend to knowledge they didn't have and try to boss me around (I once made a point of humiliating one such "pretender to knowledge" in a staff meeting, and he didn't bother me any more thereafter; I got my comuppance when a different a--hole threatened to do physical harm to me in a way that wouldn't leave marks, and, when I reported him, the result was that the company, albeit in a more gentlemanly way, threatened to keep me from being hired by my next employer, so for the last couple weeks I worked there I kept my mouth shut and walked to work by different streets each day).
My ideas of education for me, are fairly simple although perhaps impossible. Time, good books, a computer to write on (revising text is always a good teacher, and doesn't absorb any of a mentor's valuable time!), and Rabelaisean [alas, I don't have his book at hand] the company of good persons. Piety (Heidegger's, if I remember aright: "Nur das Fragen ist die Frommigheit des Denkens" -- but did he himself question his Fuhrer?) sans chastity. Theleme U.
In the present time of Covid-19 pandemic [I've read its body count is not high enough for it to qualify it as a "plague"], somehow I got to speaking up and reaching out to persons from my past who were "good guys" via emails. Among them my TC dissertation sponsor, Robbie (Weinberg Professor Emeritus). He asked me to contribute to A place to study, and I've fantasied that invitation into a virtual remote course -- Covid 19 -- at Wuhan Pandemic University. My pages here are, among other things, course assignments I've thought up for myself. This page is an example of my ideas about education, in action.
Of course my ideas/fantasies are elitist, and Maslow's Demon [someone may see a playful allusion there...] may any day burst my bubble. On the other hand, I don't think it hurts any innocent souls, esp. Elsa Morante's "guinea pigs who do not know the reason for their death" (she was quoting a survivor of Hiroshima), and Everyman (including all the now everyday heroes, like the Detroit nurse who said on CNN that she got into nursing to help people: "I did not sign up to die").
And, after my TC experience: my Robbie and Louis Forsdale and Maxine Greene experience, I'm almost fully "self-propelled" and, if only my "pragmatic agenda" needs are met -- e.g., by a Scandanavian-style "social democratic" society, or, mirabile visu! somebody paying me to think about the fate of The West --, I can get on with my further education without taking anybody's time. When I left TC I thought that I would never run out of thoughts to think (and books to read), but Passum sub iugum showed me I was wrong. Souls may be immaterial, but at least mine is subject to abrasion -- legitimi carborundum (yours, too, my reader?). Once again, for the moment, apparently thanks to Covid-19 which has so far not paid me a personal visit, I think it again.
As for the books, I am currently reading Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror" (approved by Robbie), and I am interested to read Wilfred Bion's "A Memoir of the Future" (after reading a little meditation by Professor Michael Eigen on squirrels), and Norwood Russell Hanson's "Perception and Discovery" (as said, at Yale I took a course from him, where I understood little beyond duck-rabbits, but those little fantasy creatures have "stuck with me" now for over 50 years). If I had the energy, or, rather, if I had good company to share it with, I would reread Hermann Broch's "The Death of Virgil" (I could handle "The Sleepwalkers" -- the book which, of all the books I've read, most changed/shaped my life -- again by myself).
This is then, this is now
As said, I'm currently reading "A Distant Mirror". Alas it seems not so distant. Tuchman has a biting sense of humor. So do I (until, like Galileo, shown the instruments of torture; I'm a chicken), although I'm not nearly so good at subtly weaving it into the narrative. Practice makes perfect? Definitely: The more your know the better you can bite.
I am finding (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump and all the history continuing around him these days a source of endless [wry] amusement during the present pandemic. That includes an endless source of referential links to explore to use in word plays, which is I think, an educational activity, at least as useful as many daily homework assignments.
And, in all fairness, (POTUS №45) Trump (or some person on his staff) has come up with a few nicknames for persons that would be funny if he was not serious about "going after" some of them. "Going after", of course, does not include "Rocket Man", but the label makes a point. I happen to have found Representative Adam Schiff very impressive in the mis-impeachment proceedings, but "Shifty Schiff" is alliterative, and Schiff was adept at adapting to changing (POTUS №45) Trumpers. I would suggest to (POTUS №45) Mr. Trump: "Vindictive Vindman", if he hasn't thought of that term to denigrate that most honorable soldier, but he's already denigrated John McCain for being a prisoner of war. He's amazing! More amazing with each new day. Crescit eundo. I think there are jewish jokes about the Holocaust. Question mark. Fact: One jewish man at a left-leaning jewish summer camp ("Su casa") once complimented scrawny me as looking like I came from a "camp". (I think I can take a joke as well a give one.)
(POTUS №45) Trump led me to discover the official United States Senate website, where I found the famous words Joseph Welsh said to Joseph R. McCarthy, and which I find all too applicable to DJT. That's what I mean by "source of endless amusement", actually for two reasons here: (1) the (POTUS №45) Trump-McCarthy imaginative association (there's also an all too real (POTUS №45) Trump-McCarthy connection: lawyer Roy Cohn!). And (2) I think about that Welsh's words are on the website of the institution that is now led by Addison Mitchell ("Mitch") McConnell Jr., who comes across as being a great candidate for Nietzsche's description of the man who has sunk so low that he is no longer able even to despise himself. More [wry] fun.
How can one not be amused by The Don's orange top-knot, his cute little cupcake topper (is it real or is it a toupee?)? He's an education [in malignant narcissism]. If I wondered whether (POTUS №43) George W. Bush had a mind, and invented a Just So Story about him looking for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the White House's cat litter box, that pales in comparison to the question (not, I think, original to me) whether DJT has a soul. Another item for Art History class: DJT's oral orifice looks so much to me like the big fish or is it something else? consuming some of the damned in some Renaissance artist's painting of hell. More learning opportunities (who was that artist? what is the creature?). Well, enough [wry] fun for now. As promised, I've brought you up to date (09:59AM EDT 03 June 2020).
A question for you, my reader
In all my pages on A place to study, I have tried to see both the forest and the trees. I have endeavored to inform the universal by the individual and the individual by the universal. Have I in any measure succeeded? What do you think? email@example.com
And: A little bonus if you're still with me
I remember eminent and pioneering philosopher of science [Wikipedia
says Thomas Kuhn built on his work]/ex-World War II Marine Corps fighter pilot [Yale]
Professor Hanson (RIP) once told
us undergraduate students that he had once seen what I will here call: the Holy Grail of empiricist philosophy:
pure sense data -- when, in a non-fatal plane crash, his eyeball had been displaced in
its socket. Vale!
- "You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"