Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

Life Lessons

So, this morning, I was writing in my diary on the subway and I thought, “If I were to die, and someone found this book, what would I want them to know?”

  • There are always more options than you realize or are actively considering.
  • Giving is good.
  • The system obeys its own logic. It is not a human logic.
  • Our conscious perception of reality is a product of our nervous system. Ensuring that this product reflects the inputs as accurately as possible poses its own unique challenge. The other challenge is not always falling for this product and forgetting that we have conjured it forth.
  • There’s nothing wrong with lying, per se. There are no rules, strictly speaking, but telling the truth, as difficult as that can be (given, in part, the difficulty of knowing the truth with certainty), is often easier to live with. It can also, at times, be downright heroic.
  • You will be wrong about this and that. Admit it.
  • Everybody is on some trip, though not everyone consciously so. This trip is an archetypical paradigm, a “way of living” that may have been sketched out explicitly for us (in church or school or work), or inferentially in song and story. It could be a power trip, an ego trip, a rebel trip, a mother trip, a father trip, a blues trip, a business trip, a science trip, a slacker trip, whatever. Recognizing you own trip qua trip can be helpful as can recognizing the trips of others. However, our overblown sense of individuality and personal novelty makes it difficult to accept that we are on a trip (we can, in defensiveness, immerse ourselves, lose ourselves, in it), so pointing it out won’t exactly win you any brownie points.
  • Compassion towards others should be your default setting. Realize that they are on their trip or running their script, their programming, or simply living out their limitations, acting out, acting against something invisible, unconscious. And that they are doing so deliberately, as it may happen, as you yourself may be doing.
  • Trips run the game.
  • When somebody is coming at you, being rude and aggressive, it can be hard to remember that this is a trip they are on (it can be almost as difficult as realizing this is a trip you are on). You are going to feel like you need to defend yourself (in fact, you may actually need to), and you will want to respond with your own form of rude aggression. Choose another option.
  • Feelings change. Life is longer than you expect. It’s all over before you know it.
  • Be hard on yourself. Give yourself a break.
  • There are infinite, though not unlimited, ways of doing anything.

How the World Works

We all carry around with us an idea of how the world works. This idea isn’t necessarily super detailed, but it does lay down the general guidelines for what we deem possible in the world and what we deem impossible.

For example: I am an atheist. This means that I don’t believe it’s possible that a supernatural being may, from time to time, intervene in human affairs (in response to a petitioning with prayer, for example), if for no other reason than that I believe such beings to be, all interventions aside, impossible.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that no matter how sophisticated one’s notion of the world’s machinations, there is always something that one just doesn’t yet get or know about the world.

If we ever experience something like a revelation, then, what gives such revelation its jarring force is the way in which it reveals a fundamental and unsuspected truth about how the world works: that the imagined impossible is, astonishingly, possible.

And sometimes the realization of this possibility is nothing short of apocalyptic.

Is That True?

I once worked for a CEO who would, when someone made a declarative statement such as, “Toothpaste is made with formaldehyde and detergent,” frequently ask, “Is that true?”

It always surprised me how disarmed I felt when he would ask me that question, for, frankly, it inevitably made me realize how infrequently I asked that question myself. In some cases, of course, the question would have been superfluous because the case in point was so commonsensical.

In other cases, admittedly, I was simply naive or embarrassingly uncritical.

Still, I have found that this question, when I pose it myself, almost inevitably makes people uncomfortable. This may be because, once posed, it causes people to reflect on their unconscious assumptions and unreflected credulity, and they are perhaps thereby a bit chagrined.

It could also be because, when someone asks you, “Is that true?,” they aren’t really asking you to back up your claims, they are, instead calling you either an idiot or a liar.

Trouble With Length

A friend pointed out that the most effective posts on this blog are the shortest.

Tree of Smoke

I’ve just finished reading a book.

One line—”Now James felt as if his head had been chopped off and thrown in boiling water.”—made me burst out laughing.

Another two—”Courage is action. Thought is cowardice.”—made me burst into tears.

There is much more in this book than these few lines.

And a hopeful broken-heartedness about the whole thing.

Scientific Bias

I heard someone on the radio yesterday say, “That’s the scientific bias: If you don’t know what causes something, then it doesn’t exist.”

That is not the scientific bias. The scientific bias says no more and no less than, “If you don’t know why something is happening, then you should develop a hypothesis about why it’s happening and devise controlled experiments to test your hypothesis.”

This is not a bias; it is a model for separating plausible hypotheses from their opposite.

The unscientific bias, by contrast, says, “If I can’t clearly articulate my hypothesis, or testing my hypothesis would be difficult or impossible (because it depends on the existence of immaterial beings that cannot be detected by our senses or any instruments we may possess), then science must be wrong.”

You don’t have to be “scientific” or apply the scientific method to the problem you are hoping to solve.

Choosing not to follow this approach, however, does not vindicate your belief or highlight the shortcomings of a method you implicitly subscribe to every time you start your car, boot up your computer, or turn on your microwave.

It only shows that you have decided to eschew the truly scientific bias: rigor.

Good Enough Is Good Enough, OK?

I heard someone today say, “Nowadays, good enough just isn’t good enough.”

I disagree.

Good enough, by definition, is good enough. If it weren’t good enough, then it wouldn’t be.

But behind the statement is a more general cultural consensus that one should never “settle for less” and, instead, strive for the amazing.

“Go big or go home,” they say. (“Go for the gusto or don’t go at all,” they used to say.)

Why? Why do we have to be amazing? Why do our experiences need to be amazing? Our homes? Our cars? Our jobs? Our sex?

It’s as if dissatisfaction, rather than the result of circumstances every now and again, should serve as the desired state.

Whatever happened to appreciating things the way are, in all their unamazingness, and being happy with enough?

If things are bad, we should work to change them. (Or leave them as they are. I’m not here to tell you what to do.)

If things are good enough, shouldn’t that be good enough?

Albert King, Live 1970

Lately I’m entranced by the slashing wail of Albert King’s guitar playing.

What’s entrancing you of late?

 

Rev. X Brings the Spirit of Truth

Can anyone tell me what ever happened to this guy? (WARNING: NSFW – but totally safe for eternal salvation)

Can anyone answer the question, “Am I high and lofty?”

Heidegger, Hölderlin, and Ronell – or – What Sticks in the Craw

2470380695_fd41f38779_mFunny what sticks in the craw.

I was doing a search for this pamphlet, Theory of Poverty, Poverty of Theory, a strange, Situationist tract that I bought in Berkeley long ago, when I came across the abstract for Avital Ronell’s essay, “On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger’s Reading of Hölderlin’s ‘Andenken’.”

This essay, which I have not read, “[C]onsiders the tendency among young theorists to forget or repress poetry. As symptom, the aberrant dissociation of poetry from theory reflects an increasing technicization, not to say impoverishment, of critical language.”

I won’t go into why I believe Dr. Ronell finds the dissociation of poetry from theory aberrant, or why she paraleptically equates technicization with impoverishment (especially when one could just as easily see in the study of literary theory the root-cause of its student’s quite literal impoverishment).

Instead, I will focus, briefly, on the last line of the abstract, which reads, “I zero in on the figure of ‘dark-skinned women’ in the poem ‘Andenken’ to show how philosophy is tripped up by the permanent insurrection that poetry conducts.”

First of all, as you can see in my ad hoc translation of Hölderlin below, the women are “brown” [braun], not dark-skinned. The poem “takes place” in southern France, after all, where the grape-ripening sun also tans the limbs of those laboring in the fields twixt the Garonne and the Dordogne.

Secondly, I’m disturbed by the anthropomorphic dissociation of philosophy and poetry. Philosophy and poetry don’t conduct anything and suggesting they do removes them from the historical and material contexts in which they are conducted.

Finally, and along the same lines, I take issue with the figurative use of the term “insurrection” when speaking of Heidegger’s appropriation of Hölderlin, especially given the poet’s known Jacobin sympathies. Specifically, when insurrection becomes solely metaphorical, it is not the poetical that is repressed, but the political. Read the rest of this entry »