I recently noticed another interesting blog post by Matt Cardin:
I posted it on Facebook which led to a conversation with a friend.
She wrote: “So, ideas as a kind of AI…”
I responded with: “Yeah, something like that. Ever since I heard of the theory of memes, it’s always made sense to me. It really makes sense to me when combined with Jung’s view of archetypes and the view of the imaginal.
“However, I’m not sure about the criticisms of Marx. I don’t consider myself a Marxist (mostly because I’m too uninformed about Marxism), but I’m certainly not an anti-Marxist. I do see truth that ideas often are fake, especially on the level of politics. A meme is amoral. It simply seeks to propagate itself. Political power is similar. A meme can reflect a deeper level of truth, but not always and maybe not usually.”
She then asked: “But what is it that feeds memes or ideas, that helps them propogate?”
The following was my answer:
That is an interesting and insightful question. It’s hard to answer as it implies further questions.
Asking what memes or ideas feed upon is the same as asking what are they dependent upon for their very existence and the continuation of that existence. How independent are they? To what extent are they self-propagating and hence independent of humans? Even if memes feed upon human psychic energy, is that their only food source? And either way, who created them originally or where do they come from?
It reminds me of the idea of thought-forms in the Tibetan tradition. They put an interesting twist on it. A ‘god’ or ‘buddha’ or other spiritual being is a thought-form. Ultimately, thought-forms aren’t real. They are merely useful in aligning our minds with some higher truth or, if they are of another variety, then they are the opposite of useful. This value of usefulness is held above any claims of reality. Focusing on thought-forms is useful because it makes us realize that we too are thought-forms and ultimately not real.
No matter their origins or their nature, it does seem that memes and thought-forms feed upon human psychic energy. In terms of human experience, at least, the paranormal tends to pay attention to a person when that person pays attention to the paranormal. Or is it that the person pays attention to the paranormal when the paranormal pays attention to that person? Are we feeding the beings of the imaginal realm or are they feeding us? Or is it a symbiosis?
Maybe the best explanatory model would be a metaphor, especially since we are trying to explain the imaginal where metaphors can resonate more deeply. The metaphor I had in mind is the garden.
The human psyche is a garden. All plants come from the wild as do humans. We create a garden that is separate from the wild, a safe area that we defend and tend. Humans eventually become so dependent on their garden that they forget about the wilderness except when it presents dangers and problems. The supernatural is the wilderness, the area we’ve chosen to exclude from our cultivated human reality. The garden is a reality tunnel, a filter throught which we see the world and a set of beliefs by which we interpret our experience.
The garden we create becomes an extension of ourselves. Maybe a meme is a humanized idea. Out in the wild, there are many thought-forms that float in and out of existence, that mate and evolve. When we domesticate an idea, we make it a part of the human world. We claim it as our own and if it is successful as a meme it becomes a part of our sense of identity. Eventually, the thought-form can become so domesticated that it can no longer survive in the wild.
This could be where symbiosis becomes possible.
Here is a quote from an article (Smithsonian.com: “What Defines a Meme?” — James Gleick, May 2011) in the above blog post:
“That “soup” is human culture; the vector of transmission is language, and the spawning ground is the brain. For this bodiless replicator itself, Dawkins proposed a name. He called it the meme.”
This seems to be the environment in which symbiosis takes place. When humans developed abstract thinking and language, they were able to grasp and more clearly perceive the non-material. This led to a familiarity, a closeness between the human species and the wild thought-forms. Humans became something more than just animal. As fairytales and UFO experiencers explain, maybe there even was a cross-breeding of sorts, a psychic melding between self and other.
I wanted to add some more commentary on Marx. I noticed that Matt Cardin linked to some writings by Marx:
“In every epoch the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas, that is, the class that is the dominant material power of society is at the same time its dominant intellectual power. The class that has at its disposal the means of material production also for that reason disposes simultaneously of the means of intellectual production, so that in general it exercises its power over the ideas of those who lacke the means. The dominant thoughts are, furthermore, nothing but the ideal expression of the dominant material relations; they are the dominant material relations conceived as thoughts, in other words, the expression of the social relations which make one class the dominant one, and thus the ideas of its dominance.”
This relates to two aspects.
First, there is propaganda that is controlled by those with the power, propaganda being a manifestation of and an extension of power. Even with the acceptance of the reality of the imaginal, the power of propaganda is no less real. Propaganda just demonstrates how we are controlled by ideas and how, therefore, we seek to control ideas. However, it must be pointed out that even the powerful end up falling under the sway of the ideas that they think they control. Memes are powerful, even more powerful than the most powerful humans, for the reason that their power is subtle.
Second, this can be interpreted in a more contemporary understanding through the lense of what Robert Anton Wilson wrote about reality tunnels. We get trapped in a reality tunnel and can’t see outside of it. It determines our thinking. An example of this is that the medium is the message. When humans shifted from oral speech to written text, all of society shifted and all of collective reality shifted with it.
This notion of reality tunnels is elucidated, in different terms, within Marxism:
“This phenomenon is not restricted to individuals; but can, significantly, be applied to the various classes in a society. Class ideals spring from the conditions and necessities of its members. The bourgeois notions of private property and marriage are thus extensions of the material position of the bourgeoisie. “But don’t wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class” (Communist Manifesto). Culture, as it is understood in the larger sense, can be viewed as an outgrowth of the beliefs held by that society’s dominant class, as it has the power to impose its perspectives and make them seem ‘natural’ or ‘universal’. Thus, institutions such as the family, law, and religion as manifested in bourgeois society should not be dealt with in the terms of ‘universal law’ in which the bourgeois is likely to understand it. Rather, they should be viewed strictly in terms of the ‘life-activity’ of the bourgeois class, namely, accumulation. Ideals such as that of the free market are merely the beliefs held by the dominant class. Marx cites the case of classical economists: “There are only two kinds of institutions for them, artificial and natural. The institutions of feudalism are artificial institutions, those of the bourgeoisie are natural institutions… Thus there has been history, but there is no longer any” (Capital 92). These constructs become the cultural norm insofar as they are imposed by the ruling class.”
Marx is challenging ‘natural law’. This is a fair criticism. By claiming that one’s beliefs are ‘natural law’, one claims one’s beliefs can’t be challenged as if one was speaking for God. The powerful will claim their beliefs are ‘natural’, meaning real, and everyone else’s beliefs are unnatural or unreal, somehow unworthy and even dangerous.
A reality tunnel is about what is perceived as real. Also, a reality tunnel is typically a collective phenomena. We all share some basic reality tunnels or else we couldn’t communicate at all.
“Thus, Marx views consciousness as interwoven with the practical elements of individuals’ lives; a person’s place in society conditions his or her opinions. Ideas and consciousness must necessarily be rooted in an individual’s life and daily activity; earlier thinkers’ notion of a ‘self-sufficient philosophy’ cannot accurately explain the relationship between consciousness, ideas, and life. Significantly, these ideas extend beyond the individual level such that one can speak of class-consciousness. Marx elaborates on this notion, understanding the power relations and struggles as having ramifications in the moral or ideological realm, as the dominance of one ideology or the conflict between ideologies speak to the underlying class dominance and struggles. In this way, material conditions are able to determine what human beings, as historical actors, are able to do.”
Marx was challenging Enlightenment ideals. He was pointing out that abstract thought isn’t separate from the everyday world. To most people today, that is commonsense and to claim otherwise would seem silly. After all, thoughts exist in the realm where psyche and biology meet. We aren’t disembodied thinkers. Enactivists most strongly challenge this false notion and they do so from within a scientific framework. The ideal of disembodied thought is a meme that has haunted modern humans for quite a while now and has caused Cartesian anxiety.
It’s probably true that Marx tended to go too far in the opposite direction in emphasizing the material world, but his insight shouldn’t be dismissed. In the context of the imaginal, a deeper resonance can be given to the Marxist worldview. The imaginal is the meeting and merging of the subjective and objective, the inner and outer, the material and non-material. Ideas, like plants, grow in the mud of the earth. An idea is just a seed until planted.
Here is another link from Matt Cardin and the relevant quote:
“Marx is, in fact, more complicated on this issue, however, since at other times he suggests that some aspects of ideology (for example, literature) can have a semi-autonomous existence; that is, that such cultural products can exert an influence that is at odds with the dominant mode of production.”
So, apparently Marx didn’t merely see ideas as being entirely controlled. Rather, he saw ideas as sources of power, both power to control and power to challenge control. Some aspects of ideology such as literature touch upon the imaginal and tap into the power of the imaginal, a power that isn’t human. I realize Marx probably didn’t understand it in this way, but Marx did recognize that ideas couldn’t always be controlled.
I was just now checking out Matt Cardin’s blog The Teeming Brain. He had some new posts since the last time I visited. I was impressed by one in particular: What I read in 2009. He listed a wide variety of reading material. Some I was already familiar with, but there was much I hadn’t come across before. I particularly appreciated his listing of articles. The following are a few that caught my attention.
By Andrew Sullivan
Buchanan, of all people, should know better than these tedious recurring explosions of racial panic. And, of course, he does know better. He has read more history than most pundits. He is personally a civil and decent man. But he feels these things in such a profound and tribal way that what he knows is submerged by tribal fear and expressed as hateful hackery. But this much is true and deserves restating:
Black Americans have shed blood in every American war since the Revolution. This country, even the very Capitol building in which today’s legislators now demand to see the birth certificate of the first black president, was built on the sweat and sinew of slaves. Before we were people in the eyes of the law, before we had the right to vote, before we had a black president, we were here, helping make this country as it is today. We are as American as it gets. And frankly, the time of people who think otherwise is passing. If that’s the country Buchanan wants to hold onto, well, he’s right, he is losing it.
And about time too.
I couldn’t agree more.
Rand’s Atlas Is Shrugging With a Growing Load
By Amity Shlaes
Some assumed the libertarian philosopher would fall from view when the Berlin Wall fell. Or that at least there would be a sense of mission accomplished. One Rand fan, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, wrote in his memoir that he regretted Rand hadn’t lived until 1989 or 1990. She’d missed the collapse of communism that she had so often predicted.
But “Atlas Shrugged” is becoming a political “Harry Potter” because Rand shone a spotlight on a problem that still exists: Not pre-1989 Soviet communism, but 2009-style state capitalism. Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders — until he doesn’t.
Yeah, this is true to an extent. I, however, think it misses a major issue.
The companies colluding with the government once were entrepreneurs themselves. The entrepreneurs became successful by beating out the other entrepreneurs. As history shows, many successful entrepreneurs became powerful by fighting dirty which included using political influence when it was convenient. The problem is that many of these pro-capitalists use Rand’s capitalistic mythology to support their views of state corporatism.
Sadly, Rand’s vision of honest, hardworking entrepreneurs are the exception to the rule; and they aren’t the ones that get filthy rich. In reality as it is, entrepreneurs are as devious as any other group of people including politicians. There is a very good reason that Rand is most popular for her fiction that reads like Romance novels. She does tell a good story.
Critical thinking? You need knowledge
By Diane Ravitch
Just a couple of years later, “the project method’’ took the education world by storm. Instead of a sequential curriculum laid out in advance, the program urged that boys and girls engage in hands-on projects of their own choosing, ideally working cooperatively in a group. It required activity, not docility, and awakened student motivation. It’s remarkably similar to the model advocated by 21st-century skills enthusiasts.
This article does make some good criticisms. However, the traditional method of teaching is problematic in its own way. Traditional rote memory does have its merits, but it has its weaknesses in a world of such vastly increasing amounts of knowledge. It is true that the hands-on approach doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of helping kids to really understand.
This article isn’t criticizing critical thinking. Neither the traditional rote memorizing nor the modern hands-on methodology teaches critical thinking skills to any great degree. I personally think that education should include the best of both of these methods all the while teaching actual critical thinking skills. I don’t have any solutions to offer, but I’m always irritated by the attitude that the past was better.
The problem, for certain, isn’t that good teaching methodologies don’t exist. The problem is that teachers have little motivation to take risks by stepping outside of pre-packaged curriculum. Most parents aren’t wealthy enough to send their kids to private schools that offer the best of education and most politicians aren’t interested in encouraging public schools to offer the best of education.
If you’ve ever sat through a teaching seminar, you’ve probably heard a lecture about “learning styles.” Perhaps you were told that some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others are kinesthetic learners. Or maybe you were given one of the dozens of other learning-style taxonomies that scholars and consultants have developed.
Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match your students’ styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are said to do worse.
Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no strong scientific evidence to support the “matching” idea, they contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to adopt it in the classroom.
I was prepared to be critical of this article, but it turns out to have been a fair analysis of a complex topic. Basically, the conclusion is that there needs to be more research.
Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor
By W.A. Pannapacker
The Great Books—along with all those Time-Life series—were often “purchased on the installment plan by parents who had never owned a book but were willing to sacrifice to provide their children with information about the world that had been absent from their own upbringing,” Jacoby writes. They represented an old American belief—now endangered—that “anyone willing to invest time and energy in self-education might better himself.”
What has been lost, according to Jacoby, is a culture of intellectual effort. We are increasingly ignorant, but we do not know enough to be properly ashamed. If we are determined to get on in life, we believe it will not have anything to do with our ability to reference Machiavelli or Adam Smith at the office Christmas party. The rejection of the Great Books signifies a declining belief in the value of anything without a direct practical application, combined with the triumph of a passive entertainment—as anyone who teaches college students can probably affirm.
For all their shortcomings, the Great Books—along with many other varieties of middlebrow culture—reflected a time when the liberal arts commanded more respect. They were thought to have practical value as a remedy for parochialism, bigotry, social isolation, fanaticism, and political and economic exploitation. The Great Books had a narrower conception of “greatness” than we might like today, but their foundational ideals were radically egalitarian and proudly intellectual.
As Beam concludes, “The Great Books are dead. Long live the Great Books.” And, I might add: Long live middlebrow culture.
I’m always of a mixed opinion about The Great Books. I do think that many of them are great for a reason, but I’m also a fan of lowbrow philosophizing and counterculture thought. I want the best of both worlds. What I dislike is ignorance. I don’t like the populist ignorance of intellectual knowledge and I don’t like the intellectual elite ignorance of anything that exists outside of their specialization.
This middlebrow perspective seems admirable in that it’s taking a broad perspective. It was originally the purpose of a liberal arts education. It’s at the heart of the ideal of meritocracy. It feels like the reality of meritocracy is dead, but the ideal is still lovely. This article relates to another article (Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?) which I wrote about in another post (Interesting Stuff on the Web: 1/13/10).
Please Save This Nation From the Birthers
By Laurie Fendrich
Instead, I’d like to ask everyone involved in education–at any level–the following question. Where did we go wrong? Why did we end up with so many citizens who have been through our schools who don’t know how to distinguish between fiction and fact, or rumor and truth?
Some, like Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, blame the Internet. Would that it were so simple. True, it takes only a few bucks to get yourself a Web site where you can post whatever slimy hogwash you want. And even the dullest crayons in the box can stumble their way to that post. But posting hogwash and mustering passionate followers is an entirely different matter. “True believers” (as opposed to people using their reason) frequently morph into an ugly mob. (Shouting down your Congressional representative, for example, constitutes ugly mob behavior.)
Scariest of all is the “mainstream media,” which keeps stoking this stinky fire–especially Lou Dobbs at CNN, and with the implicit approval of CNN. After giving credence to “Birthers” by saying, “Well, perhaps, maybe, blah, blah, blah,” Dobbs wasn’t even chastised. Instead, CNN’s president Jonathan Klein hid behind the wretchedly abused excuse of “freedom of speech.” Freedom of speech! That lofty idea, born of the Enlightenment, now used as a smokescreen for a major news organization to deliberately spread malicious rumors? (If you’re wondering about the reason for CNN’s behavior, you don’t need to look far. Hint: money.)
The Birther movement reflects our failure as parents and teachers to educate our children. We no longer seem to care if they become rational adults. This absurd movement reflects a wholesale abandonment of the original American idea of an educated, democratic citizenry.
Three definitely is a failure somewhere. If it isn’t the education system at the root of the problem, then I don’t know what is. There will always be an irrational element to society, but it’s perplexing how it becomes mainstream in a society that has so much educational opportunities.
The Rural Brain Drain
By Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas
What is going on in small-town America? The nation’s mythology of small towns comes to us straight from the The Music Man’s set designers. Many Americans think about flyover country or Red America only during the culture war’s skirmishes or campaign season. Most of the time, the rural crisis takes a back seat to more visible big-city troubles. So while there is a veritable academic industry devoted to chronicling urban decline, small towns’ struggles are off the grid.
And yet, upon close inspection, the rural and urban downturns have much in common, even though conventional wisdom casts the small town as embodiment of all that is right with America and the inner city as all that is wrong with it.
I’ve been thinking about this recently. It’s from these rural areas that much of the outrage arises. Combined with how electoral colleges represent underpopulated areas, this creates a weird political dynamic. The problematic part is that the media pays a lot of attention to the outrage that results but little attention to the social context that creates that outrage.
Is abstract thought just piggybacking on the physical body? by Matt Cardin
This post reminds me of the ideas of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Lakoff, in particular, has been voicing his opinions about the power of metaphor in politics.
The work of Lakoff and Johnson also relates to some others researching and speculating about the embodied mind. I know you’re familiar with Ken Wilber and integral theory. Have you seen any of the integral discussions about enactivism. Enactivism was influenced by both Buddhism and phenomenology, and was an attempt to discover scientific language to describe the embodied mind.
Beyond just horror, all works of imagination have had an upsurge of popularity: movies, graphic novels; and, within fiction, speculative fiction in general.
In movies, this can partly be explained by increasingly better special effects and graphic novels have been piggybacking on the superhero movie boom. In general, I think movies have made accessible realms of imagination that were outside of the norm in the past. I think the popularity of fantasy fiction is directly linked to the changes in movie-making. Even someone like Machen probably wasn’t all that popular in the past except amongst the literati.
There are a couple of other reasons that imagination has been let loose.
First, many of the censorship laws applied to the movie and comic book industries stifled creativity for many decades… or at least forced creativity outside of the mainstream and into the black market. Comic books such as the Watchmen were direct commentary on this dark period of the American imagination.
Second, I think that imaginative and speculative art in all its forms captures the public attention during times of social upheaval and stress. The American public has been under great stress this past decade, and it seems the fear-mongering has hit a high point recently. People want to escape reality and also imagine new possibilities
And my response to Matt Cardin’s interview with Stephen Jones:
This shows a contrasting view to that of your blog post about Arthur Machen.
I generally disagree with the negative view here. If I remember correctly, more books are being published in larger numbers than ever before in history. I was peruzing Amazon the other day. There were tons of books on a wide variety of intellectual topics and there was no lack of such books having been printed in recent years.
With e-book readers, this book boom will only boom even further. With an e-book, a person can easily carry around all of the volumes of the massive Oxford dictionary (which in physical form take up an entire bookshelf). I think, in particular, small presses are going to get an increase of sales as e-book readers become more popular. Books that have been out of print for decades will soon be available to anyone in the world at cheap costs.
Also, the internet helps the average writer. The internet makes it easier for writers to interact with other writers and interact with their readers. And the internet makes it easier for a writer just starting out to get their name and work out there by joining forums and starting their own website. The internet has introduced me to many new writers including those in the genres of horror and weird fiction.
However, it’s possible my view of reality is too rosy. I live in a liberal college town (Iowa City) which has the oldest writers workshop and supposedly has the highest per capita in the US of the well educated. I’m surrounded by bookstores and book-lovers.
Here is a blog post from Matt Cardin in which he responds to an article from The Atlantic (Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr). I agree that the internet alters cognitive functioning, but I don’t see this as problematic. I’m old enough to have grown up reading books. I didn’t even become all that involved with computers until my late 20s. I now spend much time on the internet and it has changed how I think, but it hasn’t made me think any less deeply. In fact, it has caused my thinking process to be even more complex.
I could see how some people might have a different experience. I suspect my brain is particularly suited for internet in two ways. I naturally think in non-linear connections. Also, I remember facts in terms of connections… meaning my rote memory absolutely sucks. The internet helps my mind to operate optimally. However, for someone with a more linear focused mind (or someone who is easily distracted and for some silly reason wishes to be more productive), the internet might be the bane of their existence.
For me, the internet hasn’t fundamentally altered my behavior in reading books (other than allowing me to discover new books I’d never have known about otherwise). But I do sometimes find myself oddly trying to use an imaginary cursor to click on printed text (it doesn’t work). Fortunately, I have an electronic dictionary that helps me at such times (interestingly, my looking up words has increased immensely since buying this electronic dictionary). Anyhow, I spend as much time reading text in printed form as I do reading text on a screen. Maybe I’m lucky. I have a job that allows me the time to read books (while disallowing me to get on the internet). And I have a friend who likes to sit around reading books when we hang out.
To me, books and the internet are complementary. I just love information and language, and it doesn’t matter to me about the format. I can skim information very quickly across multiple websites and I can sit for hours reading a massive book. Both are useful and enjoyable.
Anyways, it is rather ironic that people discuss on the internet such issues as the problems of the internet. There is Carr’s article that hyperlinked to several other articles, blogs, and a research paper. Matt Cardin (along with probably hundreds or thousands of others) hyperlinked to the article through blogs, articles, discussion boards, and emails. And Cardin also hyperlinked to another article thus creating a conceptual link that his readers could follow (which has greater impact than a footnote in a printed text). Other bloggers (such as my self and Quentin S. Crisp) then link to the writings of those who linked to the article. So, a world-wide discussion grows into a complex web of ideas and related discussions. Without the internet (including the wonders of Google), such far-reaching discussions of cultural import simply wouldn’t happen. In the past, people were mostly just passive receivers of information. But now such information has become interactive. I’d guess this increases the intelligence of the average reader.
I consider Carr’s article to be nonsense with a catchy title. For God’s sake, there is even a Wikipedia article about it (which by the way is longer and more edifying than the article itself and which I found through a Google search). Here is a quote that supports the conclusion I came to in the previous paragraph:
Carr’s essay was widely discussed in the media both critically and in passing. While English technology writer Bill Thompson observed that Carr’s argument had “succeeded in provoking a wide-ranging debate”, Damon Darlin of The New York Times quipped that even though “[everyone] has been talking about [the] article in The Atlantic magazine”, only “[s]ome subset of that group has actually read the 4,175-word article, by Nicholas Carr.” The controversial online responses to Carr’s essay were, according to Chicago Tribune critic Steve Johnson, partly the outcome of the essay’s title “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, a question that the article proper doesn’t actually pose and that he believed was “perfect fodder for a ‘don’t-be-ridiculous’ blog post”; Johnson challenged his readers to carefully consider their online responses in the interest of raising the quality of debate.
Many critics discussed the merits of Carr’s essay at great length in forums set up formally for this purpose at online hubs such as the Britannica Blog and publisher John Brockman’s online scientific magazine Edge, where the roster of names quickly took on the semblance of a Who’s Who of the day’s Internet critics. Calling it “the great digital literacy debate”, British-American entrepreneur and author Andrew Keen judged the victor to be the American reader, who was blessed with a wide range of compelling writing from “all of America’s most articulate Internet luminaries”.
I’ve criticized Google some recently because of biases in it’s search results, but overall I’ve been satisfied with it as a tool for gathering information… although I no longer use it as my sole search engine. I’m of the opinion that search engines in general are just awesome. I sometimes even end up perusing online books I already own (such as with Google books) because I can search the books quickly and find exactly what I’m looking for. I would say that if you’re feeling a bit stupid don’t blame Google.
This post will just be a jotting down of connections. I ordered some books recently and they came in the mail today. New books mean new thoughts. Yeah!
Okay. Two of the books are Metaphysical Horrorby Leszek Kolakowski and The Thomas Ligotti Readeredited by Darrell Schweitzer. They’re more or less related in their respecitve subjective matters.
Kolakowski writes about the problems of philosophy and the question of meaning. Many philosophers have come to the conclusion that philosophy is at a dead-end. Kolakowski calls this anti-philosophy. It seems to me that the Pessimistic philosophy of Zappfe and Ligotti could be categorized as anti-philosophy. So, Kolakowski’s analysis and response would be helpful in seeing Pessimism in the larger context of the development of Western thinking. He writes about Descartes and horror which reminded me of Cartesian anxiety, but I don’t think he uses that specific terminology. I first heard of Cartesian anxiety in discussions about the relationship of enactivism and integral theory (which are theories that speculate about the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity). Kolakowski also writes about the phenomenologists (i.e., Husserl and Merleau-Ponty) who tried to respond to Descartes’ mind-body dualism. Phenomenology was a major influence on enactivism and is of interest to integral theorists. Also, in the volume of the Collapse journal that published Ligotti, there was an essay related to these ideas (“On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl” by Graham Harman)… and Ligotti considers Lovecraft to be one of his most important influences.
The Thomas Ligotti Readerhas an essay by Ligotti: “The Dark Beauty of Unheard Horrors”. In it, Ligotti references Lovecraft quite a bit and he uses a specific quote from Lovecraft that I’ve seen in a blog by Matt Cardin (Autumn Longing: H.P. Lovecraft). This isn’t surprising as Cardin is a fan of Ligotti’s writing and he even has several essays in the Ligotti Reader. Both Ligotti’s essay and Cardin’s blog cover a similar set of ideas. This dark aesthetic appreciation of the world can be put into the context of phenomenology and enactivism (autumn longing is an experience that I’m sure many phenomenologists and enactivists would understand). In the essay directly after Ligotti’s, Cardin discusses the topic of liminality in terms of Ligotti’s fiction. The liminal is another concept that deals with the meeting of and mixing of categories such as subjectivity and objectivity and also the personal and the collective.
One further thought involves something Ligotti brings up in his essay. He describes two tendencies in horror writing… that of making horror concretely specific and that of making horror emotionally evocative. This relates to Ligotti’s desire to present the horrific directly which he acknowledges as ultimately being impossible. He, in a sense, wants to decontextualize the experience of horror. A horror that has no form is all the more horrific, but a horror story by its very nature needs form. In the essay, he recognizes that “Of course, mystery actually requires a measure of the concrete if it is to be perceived at all: otherwise is only a void, the void.” This sense of a hard to grasp truth that must be approached subtly also reminds me of his style in writing about Pessimism in the Collapse journal.
There is a sense I get from Ligotti’s non-fiction writing (and his writing in general) that feels like he is circling around some singular insight. Along with his desire to free this insight from the constraints of the concrete, what it makes me think of is my experience of dealing with a particular person who was a very good example of dominant Introverted Intuition (Jungian typology). I use Extraverted Intuition (Ne) much more and there is a clear difference to the two styles of thinking. When Extraverted, Intuition thinking style goes off in a million directions sometimes simultaneously. It scatters and looks for connections, for context. When Introverted, it’s the complete opposite. It focuses in such an inward fashion that it attempts to leave the concrete entirely and so it’s hard to communicate. The Introverted Intuition type (Ni) has a very convoluted communication style that is plodding and meandering, but there is a core insight around which it all revolves. Going by Ligotti’s fiction and non-fiction and his interviews, that is the way his thinking seems to me (according to my Ne-biased view).
Also, there is the aspect of pessimism in Ligotti’s writing (by which I’m not referring specifically to his ideas about philosophical Pessimism). In that Introverted Intuition causes a desire for freedom from context, there can be a conflict with exterior reality, the concrete world (Extraverted Sensation). Ligotti’s story “The Shadow, The Darkness” seems to be an expression of what I’m sensing. The way Ligotti describes Grossvogel’stransformation feels like a dominant Ni type’s experience of an eruption of inferior Se (or something like that… anyways, not the way a dominant Se type would experience it). Ne types are often just as detached from the concrete, but their abstract and imaginative thinking is focused outward. The expansive nature of Ne can lend a quality of optimism as there is a sense of infinite possibilities (although this would also include negative possibilities as well). For example, I’m a very depressed person with Ne (althought it’s secondary/auxiliary rather than dominant). The expansiveness of Ne counteracts my depression all the while the abstractness of Ne exacerbates it, but no matter how dark my thinking when I consider possibilities I feel inspired and even a bit hopeful. Ligotti’s thinking challenges me and I meet that challenge by seeking to give his ideas a larger context.
I could go on with my thoughts, but those are the basic ideas rumbling around in my brains.