Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You Cannot Be Yourself all at Once

If we say that a person is courageous, what are we saying about them? Are we saying that they are courageous every moment of their lives? That if you were to snatch them up at any random moment, you would find them being courageous? What about introverts? If we call someone introverted, does that mean that they are always going to prefer to be alone or that they will always find social interaction draining? This is not to wonder if we might sometimes catch courageous men being cowardly or to wonder if we might find an introvert acting as the life of a party. This is to wonder if there are not times when we might catch someone that we call "courageous" living completely apart from the whole gradient of courage or if we might catch an introvert in a situation where his reactions to crowds do not matter.

In fact, I think it is quite obvious that we can. Whatever we might say about a person, there are certainly times when they escape the entire concept that our description of them is based upon. In fact, I might say that whatever you say about a person is essentially an abstract fiction based on a handful of events. Courageous men are men who have displayed courage a handful of times and have not been caught similarly acting to the contrary. Witty men are men who frequently have moments of wit; they also spend eight hours every night being completely outside the whole game of wit. Sharpshooters spend the better part of their lives not even holding a gun.

This is to say, we exist right now. We exist in this moment. And there is only so much that we can do in a single moment. So whatever attributes make up your character, chances are that at any given moment you are not exercising a lot of them. In what way do you still have those qualities?

You could say that they continue to reside in your nature at all times. A sharpshooter is always capable of acting as a sharpshooter, even if he is not presently holding a gun. His conditioning is different, and that persists through every moment. Witty people are those who can always come up with a quick, snarky response when the situation calls for it, and that readiness is present even when the situation is not. This I would agree with, roughly.

What I think we should take note of is deterioration. The longer you spend away from an activity, the more your conditioning deteriorates. A Greek-speaker who never speaks Greek will become a rusty-Greek-speaker and eventually a former-Greek-speaker. In this way, your self is a balancing act. An undulation. You must repeat in order to preserve your conditioning in order to preserve your nature.

But then, you are never perfectly yourself. You are always yourself in different situations. This is you cooking. This is you sleeping. This is you blogging. This is you arguing. If you never repeated the same situations, you might not have anything to keep you grounded to yourself.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tainted Faith contra Pure Faith

If there is a Pure Faith, what is its character?

First, what is a Tainted Faith? I want to say that Tainted Faith is effable. Tainted Faith is pagan, that is, comprehensible and worldly. We can make sense of a Tainted Faith, we can paint a picture of the world according to the Tainted Faith. The Tainted Faith is the ineffable collapsed into a sick science.

So then, what is the Pure Faith? The Pure Faith is that thing that is corrupted when made comprehensible. It must be incomprehensible. It must be where reason does one no good. We can not form a picture of the Pure Faith, we cannot imagine what it looks like. It is not clear, logically formed propositions. It may even appear to be nonsense, if we do not distinguish between what is beneath reason and what is above it.

But then, if it is incomprehensible, what does it have to do with us? And how could we possibly interact with it? I propose placing the Pure Faith into a Religious Body. But then, is that not tainting it?

No, because if we understand the nature of what we have done, we know that the religion is not true. That the religion acts as a mechanism by which we practice the Faith.

But if it is incomprehensible, why do we bother? I can not answer that. In fact, I would say that if you have to ask, then it is not for you. You would be happier without it, I bet. Not, mind you, that we are doing this to be happy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Enlightened Thinker

Here is someone who sees
himself in such a way.
He is not such a helper.
In Christianity - perhaps all faiths, but certainly Christianity - there repeatedly turns up the figure of the man who knows what the faith is really all about and how the rest of civilization has fallen away from the true religion. This is not too surprising, the entire religion is built upon one such figure. But there is always something discomforting about reading such a thinker.

If you are the only one - or one of the elite few - then it must be that everyone else is wrong. You must lead them, and they ignore you at their peril. But you are a particular man. You love some things more than others. You are terrified by some things and not by others. You have a body type, a skin color, a hair style, a wardrobe. How can an entire church become like you when there is no one else in the world precisely like you?

Perhaps we say that they only need to resemble him in one capacity - the capacity of faith - but men do not divide that cleanly. If he had a different upbringing, a different culture, a different nationality, a different tone of voice, a different socioeconomic status, a different hobby, a different length of penis, a different preferred style of writing or film, a different sized family, a different first crush; then the faith would be different.

I want to say that we should approach all such Enlightened Thinkers as helpers. People who have excelled at some faith game and become a certain kind of man, and who can therefore help us become certain kinds of men. Distinct from them, but great in our own way. That is what I want to say, but is it true from the Christian point of view? It certainly seems to be a rare sentiment among the Enlightened Thinkers themselves, they rarely sell their ways and methods as just another set of ways and methods.

And then I step back out of the Christian Vantage Point, and leave that question to simmer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Wonder....

How about this guy?
He seems pretty rigorous!
If you gave a brilliant and rigorous thinker a list of sufficiently rigorous axioms, postulates, and values, could he flesh out an entire worldview that would be perfectly rational?

I am inclined to think that he could. If he were given assigned framework, and also reassured that he would not actually have to believe in his conclusions (since presumably his axioms and values are different from the ones that he was assigned) then I think that actually fleshing out the worldview would become something like a grind. He would make the logically necessary inferences, process the available data, and make relative measurements of probability. Any bias that creeped in would, I imagine, be due to his body trying to find mental shortcuts to avoid expending too much energy, he would not need to incorporate a bias to skew the worldview toward his own values because the entire project would be understood as a hypothetical fleshing out. The inferences only stand insofar as the axioms, postulates, and values are held - he would be safe from any horrifying conclusions because he does not have to share the basic assumptions.

Of course there would be the matter of insufficient empirical data. But that would be no great matter, because he could, in accordance with his assigned assumptions, develop his own "scientific method" that would make all empirical processing just a matter of going through the steps to obtain more measurements and rules for processing the probability of all theories and explanations of empirical measurements.

In fact, our thinker could do away with "belief" altogether. Instead of asking whether or not you believe a proposition, you could turn the entire enterprise into nothing but statements of fact. Instead of asking, "do you believe that there is a city called New York in North America," and the person responding with the binary "yes, I do," or "no, I don't," instead the conversation could be conducted this way, "is there a city called New York in North America" the response would be, "there is 99.9% certainty that there is such a city." Belief and acceptance of propositions would be a necessary evil that would arise as a result of individuals not being aware of the results of probability measurements; the proper and rigorous way to talk about the world would be by talking in measured probabilities. Shades instead of binaries.

Disputes about the probabilities of of a given proposition would not arise, as there would be a clear, publicly available method of calculating probabilities in accordance with the assumed rules. Any deficiencies with the method would be corrected once it was shown that another method furthered the assumed values more fully without violating an assumed truth.

Reasonable disagreement would be impossible. All disagreement would be failure to understand the probabilities calculated by the method.

The method would take the available evidence and the available theories and calculate the extent to which each theory explained the evidence, the extent to which the theory retains unexplained ambiguities, the extent to which the theory conflicted with other available evidence; any theory that contradicted an assumption or that contradicted itself (assuming the impossibility of contradiction is one of the assumptions) would instantly be disregarded as impossible. The available theories could then be assigned numerical values that reflected how their probability stands in relation both to each other as competing theories and the entire body of theories in all disciplines.

In this way, the entire universe, insofar as human beings can perceive it, could be organized into a monolithic body of knowledge and statement of fact. All of it public, clear, and factual. All by that rigorous thinker and his assigned assumptions.

The reason that this will never happen in real life is that we do not have such assigned assumptions. Disagreement takes place at the basic level, at the area that in this little scenario was covered up by assigned assumptions. It is only for this reason that we can have belief, assent, reasonable disagreement, or any kind of diversity of thought. Because when you follow a line of reasoning back far enough, you will come to something personal. Without this, we could reduce the whole enterprise of thought to a method.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Rotten Body that Faith Resides in

Suppose that there is a God. And suppose that there is a faith that brings us into communion with Him. And suppose that this faith needs the trappings of a religion to be made intelligible.

If there existed a religion that originated in a hoax, was spread by means of deception and violence, and only among the adherents was honesty possible because all the teachers knew the falsehood of what they taught (at least initially until the first teachers died and the religion took on a life of its own), would this be a suitable religion by which we could approach God?

Or perhaps we should ask if it is possible to find a religion that was not similarly rotten?

Friday, August 17, 2012

To What Extent Am I Responsible for Motion

If you do not grow, then you are stagnant. Stagnation is basically conscious death. You go nowhere, but you continue to feel what it is like to go nowhere.

But there is a midpoint between growth and stagnation. Stillness. Basking in being what one is at this very moment instead of rushing on to become something else.

Maybe Stillness and Stagnation is the same thing - just approached with a different attitude.

All the same, I have to wonder, to what extent must I propel myself forward and to what extent will fate, my environment, and my nature carry me? Is it acceptable to just continue being what I am until some kind of motivating pain or motivating situation occurs? Or is that indicative of laziness? Reverse it all - is there something wrong in being too quick to change into something else? Is it our responsibility to spend a little time experiencing what it is like to be what we are?

All this talk of responsibility is, of course, disingenuous. Does the question make sense without that kind of talk? No, not as a question, so instead I can say it like this:

You can sit and wait for something to happen that causes you to change and evolve, or you can try to force the change yourself. Neither is correct; neither is wrong. But it is the way life is.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Effective Method?

I read, but I don't understand. My eyes scan all of the words and I flip through the pages and eventually I come to the end, but I spent the whole time skating along the surface. All of the words were read and have their opportunity to be represented in my brain, but I do not understand them. I can not explain them to you. Its okay, I did not expect to understand.

So I keep reading. I keep consuming more words, but only skating along the surface. And the depths of the writing still eludes me. I can not follow the author in twisting and stretching and exercising my mind the way he has. But I still don't get it.

And as I keep reading, slowly, I begin to notice patterns. I cannot deny the value that secondary works have in this, not because they tell you what the work means, but because they are an additional perspective that is using similar material for different ends. This makes the patterns stand out more.

And I think back to the books I have read and I realize how little I understand. I realize how the bulk of the book was lost on me. But it is different now, because knowing what I did not know implies that I am now capable of knowing it.

Is this an effective method of learning? No, probably not. It would certainly be a pisspoor way of approaching programming, biology, or history. But it is an appropriate way to approach poetry, I think. Literature as well. These should not be "learned" they are to be experienced. Repetition with minute changes - perhaps along with the occasional sudden breakthrough - this seems to be the proper way to approach literature and poetry. Skating, enjoying, absorbing as a full man instead of cramming information in like something distilled to just reason.

I think this method is an essential step in learning. Skating familiarizes you. Then at some point, you have to start digging down into the material, or all you will ever have is a skater's understanding.

What Makes a Suitable Religion?

If there did exist a Pure Faith, but we could only approach it by first placing it into a religious body, is there some way to determine a best religious body to put it in?

More to the heart of my question: there are religious bodies that seem to make historical claims. Suppose we could disregard the truth of these historical claims, would choosing a religion that made such claims be inferior to one that did not?

Could one use the Christian body for their faith if they could not bring themselves to consider the crucifixion and resurrection an historical event? Is there anything left of the body once you discard that?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What About the Non-Philosopher

On occasion I get into the tendency of seeing philosophy as very important, similar to the way that I used to (well, still do) see religion as very important. If I could not go on philosophical and religious investigations, my life would deflate, it would just be work, sleep, and aimless Googling. And sometimes I forget that this is the way the world works for me, but not for everyone.

The human species is such that anything can be lovable and anything can be loathsome to us. The human species is also such that no matter what is loved there is going to be someone else who just does not care that much. No matter what philosophical perspectives or religious heights we might pioneer, frankly, most of the world is simply not going to care.

It is best to just accept the fact that diversity dictates that your life will not fit correctly on another person's shoulders.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to Approach Ones Conscience

What is the conscience? It is a moral feeling - a moral voice - it is moral inclination from within. It is a kind of guidance. But what is the nature of its guidance?

Does the conscience proceed from the will? Then the conscience simply beckons you to keep being yourself. To be more like yourself. To keep you to the path that you have chosen.

Does the conscience proceed from instinct? Then the conscience beckons you to live according to your nature. Your biological nature, anyway. It beckons you to be human. To live in a way determined by your genes.

Does the conscience proceed from upbringing? Then the conscience beckons you to live according to society. It tells you to be more like those around you. It tells you to shape yourself according to the lessons you have been taught.

For that matter: is the conscience constant or is it dynamic? If it is constant, then we have found something seemingly mystical, because what else about a human being's feelings and thoughts is so constant? If it is dynamic, then what kind of guide is that who tells you to do one thing and then another?

There are hypothetical ethical imperatives that can be cast as a science. There are moral intuitions and inclinations that make up our conscience. The former lend themselves well to a nihilistic view of values in the world, as well as a utilitarian approach to created value, or an approach that aims to be a certain kind of person, or an approach that aims to value and will in a certain kind of way. The latter lend themselves to what?

I want to say that we should disregard the conscience as anything but a helpful feature that does... something, but does not offer genuine guidance. But it intrigues me. The possibility that it is something deeper than my current understanding of ethics allows makes me want to look a little further. Is it possible that it offers a kind of real, individual guidance in the world? If so, we can approach ethics without bogging down the individual in universal "moral facts" that make it impossible for a man to be himself and instead tells him to be everyone, but also without doing away with imperatives apart from the hypothetical imperatives that exist only after someone has already chosen a goal or thrown his will behind a value.

For the moment, though, I have to call it intriguing, not desirable.

A Moment of Self-Doubt

I do not believe that a God's eye view of the world is possible for any human. I do not believe it is possible for any human to escape the relation between perception and perspective and somehow reach Perception. I do not believe that it is possible to grasp reality as it is, a privileged point of view that somehow stands "true" above all vantage points.

If someone were to take issue with my saying this (which there are many who would) I do not know how I would answer them. In matters of evidence, two people of good faith can take a journey down the available evidence together, wherein the conclusion becomes obvious. On this issue, I can think of no evidence I could show to someone who disagreed, nor can I think of any evidence that my opponent could give to me.

Perhaps there is only this. I can show you an entire species utilizing diverse vantage points at different times; sometimes thinking according to these rules, sometimes according to others. Can you produce a single example of a man thinking rightly?

This gets us nowhere. Because of course you can show me men thinking rightly. And then you will simply be frustrated when I say that I don't think he's free from perspective at all. Because he's thinking the way that you think is correct and free from perspective. But to me, it's just one more perspective.

Why do I see a world of diverse vantage points and an inability to transcend perspective? It is not because my concept of vantage points has proven itself; it is because I have not yet found a justice or a rationality that can show itself to be correct, except relative to certain basic values. From this, I make a leap from "all hitherto are such" to "all are such." This is, of course, still a leap.

I have no rational obligation to believe in a true perspective or a true ethic. But neither do those who believe in such things have a rational obligation to come over to my point of view. I can point to past failures, but they will just say that one of those failures was actually a success. My concept of vantage points makes it impossible for me to demonstrate the validity of my concept of vantage points.

It seems that my perspectivism gets itself into a self-referential tangle at some point. If everything is only true according to the epistemic lens that you use; then in what way is it true that we only use epistemic lenses instead of epistemic eyes?

Monday, August 13, 2012

King Theodore, Ethics, and a Question of Importance

I imagine a fantasy kingdom, wherein a fatal and easily communicated skin condition breaks out in a large village. King Theodore covertly chooses a very capable team of light infantry and sends them into the village with armor that he says will protect them from the skin disease with orders to slaughter every man, woman, and child in the city. They are told to burn the city afterward, and then strip off their armor before returning to the palace. As soon as they remove their armor, a team of archers executes them.

The disease is eradicated. Many are dead. The archers never speak a word of their mission to anyone.

What role would an ethical question play in all this? If you said that what King Theodore did was wrong, what does it matter that you say that? If you say that it was right, what does that matter? What does your opinion about King Theodore's action matter in the least?

There is only one ethical investigation that matters: King Theodore's own investigation prior to setting his plot in motion. This is the only ethical question that could have changed anything. Anything after that is impotent, insofar as the plot itself is concerned.

If you condemn him now, you are not actually affecting King Theodore, but rather you are making an ethical decision for your own life. The ethical decision to not be like King Theodore. And if you praise him, your ethics only affect yourself. Your value judgments only influence your own behavior. Your ethics hold sway only over yourself.

For this reason, I can not conceive of values apart from valuers. If it were a fact of the universe that what Theodore did was right, what would it matter? And if it were a fact of the universe that what Theodore did was wrong, what would it matter? What would change? Where is the importance of this fact?

When we praise and condemn, we are making ethical decisions for ourselves and ourselves only.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Clarification on Evolutionary Psychology

Perhaps I am wrong, considering that I am not an evolutionary psychologist, but it seems that there is a common consistent flaw in the use of language when talking about the findings of evolutionary psychology. Consider this statement:

People behave X, because it is more advantageous to reproduction and survival.

X here could be anything: "in an altruistic way," "in a promiscuous way," "in a dominant way," or you could get more specific, "Men tend toward non-monogamous behavior because this is the best way to ensure the spread of his genes."

This may be true, but the language in statements like these fails to communicate the fullness of the situation, and leads to a misunderstanding.

Suppose someone said to you that the reason you like to gossip is because your ancestors used gossip to keep track of more and more people, thereby making it possible for complex societies to develop, which in turn led to increased reproduction. This is true in one sense: the cause of your desire to gossip is that you are the latest in a long line of people inclined toward gossip and you have all those gossipy genes inside of you (disregarding environmental factors for the moment). But when you start talking about how Krissy was totally making out with Bryce even though Bryce is engaged to Melissa, well, your motivation is not to hold society together. Your motivation is a love of this kind of information.

And your ancestors were the same way. They did not gossip because they wanted to hold society together, they gossiped because they enjoyed it, they gossiped because it was their nature to gossip. It just so happened that there was also an evolutionary advantage to it, so their genes and, by extension, their preferences spread because their very nature was advantageous.

Perhaps no one else ever found that the way statements from evolutionary psychology research are presented sometimes seemed to skew that fact, but I have noticed it a time or two.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Faith Reduced to Metaphor

There are those who expect to have their faith and their rationality too by turning faith into metaphor. They rightfully say that their faith is not literally true, and they add that their faith gives them useful metaphors by which they can live their lives.

This, however, does not preserve faith. This simply kills faith peacefully so that rationality can wear its clothes without bloodsplatter. Metaphors are communicative tools; if faith were nothing more than a system of metaphors faith would be superfluous except as a means to help people understand certain rational ideas that are, for the moment, too high for them to grasp. It's a ladder to what is really of substance, nothing to be loved or sought in itself.

But then, that is not really the way we approach faith. The whole difficulty that leads to people trying to hold onto their faith in this way is that they love the faith itself.

A Pure Faith

Would it be possible to come to a "pure" faith apart from all the particulars, cultural trappings, and situatedness of the religions that actually exist in the world? Is there some purity behind all the peculiarities and specifics of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and so on? And if it is possible, how do we reach such a faith?

Or does the soul of faith require the body of a religion? And if so, are the bodies perfectly interchangeable?

Could we create new bodies as we like to house the soul? Or are there criteria that must be taken into account for making suitable bodies?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fair Warning

I am in the middle of reading A Confusion of the Spheres: Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein on Philosophy and Religion by Genia Schönbaumsfeld right now, so, expect me to start posting a bunch of sympathies to fideism and religion for the next week or more.

What Did They Really Mean

With any philosopher, particularly dead ones who can not weigh in on the matter, you have disputes about the true content of their beliefs. There are debates and arguments about what the words they wrote really mean and what views and propositions they really held.

This is all very interesting and important - to a historian.

But why, I wonder, do philosophers care what other philosophers really meant? For example, we have all of the available text that Nietzsche ever wrote on the concept of the eternal recurrence; why does it matter-in so far as we are being philosophers and not admirers-what Nietzsche really thought about it, the question is what role does the eternal recurrence play in our philosophy? Kierkegaard is an even better example: how did he intend his pseudonymous writings to be taken, to what extent was he sincere in his writing, to what extent did he believe the things he wrote when he was Johannes de Silentio or Anti-Climacus? I answer that it does not matter to the philosopher what the true substance of Kierkegaard's beliefs were, rather, what matters is how do they help you to understand the world?

Historians learn of people. Admirers learn of people. Philosophers learn of the world. History and admiration are both excellent things, but insofar as we're playing the Philosophy game, it doesn't matter what the people believed, all that matters is how their writings can help us understand the world. If a book brings you insight into how the world works, then what does it matter if its author wrote it as a joke, the book worked in spite of its author.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On the Novella Project

So, that sucked.

I was confident I could get it done through strength of will. But I don't really want to. I realize that every time I sit down to work on the novella. Earlier today I posted a blog saying that I was going to try revisiting an older story, but I failed to get excited about that story either. Frankly, I don't think I have the drive to write something of that length in that short of time right now.

And I have an inkling why.

When I sit down to write, that's when I want to read, or I sit down to work on the novella, and I begin wanting to write a blog instead. I'm trying to pull a story out of my ass ex nihilo, which does not work. Inspiration is needed. And while I have been reading lately, and mostly enjoying what I have read, I have not read much that I want to imitate right now.

So, I'm shelving this project.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Cosmology of Gotham City

I love comic books, as a medium. Comics operate in two languages: written text and visuals. They're a middle point between the nigh-limitlessness and descriptiveness of literature and the understatement and optional depth of visual media. A drawing can be dense with information and meaning or it can be light and stylish; the reader can decide how much time he spends on the visuals and how much information he tries to gather just from what is drawn. And the text, due to the fact that it is delivered in quick, bite-sized chunks at a time, allows for a faster pace than most books allow.

I love them as a medium, but I just can not seem to really immerse myself in them as they exist in their periodical format. For me, Batman is the reason to read comic books. Watchmen too, but that does not count for the current topic, I am talking about the never-ending periodically published comics. I can not bring myself to immerse myself in them, and that is because their genres and plotlines unravel as new material is needed, and this makes it impossible to get a sense of unity from the books.

For some, unity is not that important. I am not one of them.

What annoys me about periodical comic books is their tendency to become so inconsistent over time. Characters die, but didn't really die. Awesome characters become ridiculous. Demons and ghosts appear in otherwise realistic tasting works. Beloved characters get killed, but there's some kind of reset, so that an identical character exists but you always know that it's technically a different person. There is no sense attempting to change this, really, it would be impossible to deliver the same product to each generation and it would be nigh-impossible to not delve into either insipidness or weirdness when trying to consistently produce interesting and entertaining storylines on a consistent basis.

So, it is left up to the reader to develop his own consistency. Batman being the only one I am really concerned about, it is necessary to develop a cosmology of Gotham City. The persistent and enduring soul of all Batman storylines. For me, this is that system:

In my conception of the Batman mythos, there is no age or decay in the world. The Dark Knight Returns is just a fever dream; Batman never reaches that age. Growth occurs, but not real aging. Gotham City is a giant chaotic battleground full of conflicting wills, but it is one that is also balanced through the very clash of wills that makes it chaotic in the first place. Gotham is one of the few places on earth that has not been brought under a more-or-less united system of values, instead it is place where any sufficiently powerful entity can try to remake the city in his or her image. So you have the Joker trying to make the city into one giant, bloody punchline because the only thing he loves is the anarchy of laughing at everything. Two-Face wants to create a world of duality because his nature is defined by duality and he is powerful enough to impose the peculiarities of his nature on the world around him. Likewise for Poison Ivy and plants, Mr. Freeze and cold, and the Riddler and intellectual masturbation. No matter how idiosyncratic, you can try to make the world in your image in Gotham.

Arkham is the cooling off box. The idiosyncrasies don't die, they just go into remission for a time. The police are a moderating force for a flattened out order that favors letting people live their lives according to their desires, but not imposing their desires on others, but they are too weak to prevail. Gotham is bound to belong to one of the magnificent figures in the city, whichever one proves to be most capable.

And the Batman story is the story of one freak who is great enough to prevail over all others, but then chooses not to force his will on Gotham except insofar as necessary for the citizens to lead their own private lives. Batman is always smart enough, always strong enough to prevail; Batman can only lose temporarily, he will always prevail in the end. And his will is strong, but he has self-mastery and through the use of a handful of strict rules he forces himself to see himself as a servant instead of a master. If he were to ever fail to practice his code of self-discipline, Gotham would fall into anarchy, Batman is the force that keeps Gotham balanced. And it hurts.

Batman is in constant pain. Physically, mentally, emotionally, the guy is writhing in pain. He can't have the satisfaction of cutting loose, he can't retire, he can't lighten his load, he can't go too far, he can't have the things that would bring him private happiness. It hurts him. That is the order of Gotham: as long as Batman is willing to suffer, the world keeps working. He might believe that he has to do this, but we, the audience, know that he does not. We know that he has chosen to lead his life and that he continues to choose it every day. And he will suffer for it.

To me, this is the cosmology of Gotham. From this system, we can experience the tragedy of Bruce Wayne's sacrifice, the thrill of seeing someone as powerful as Batman consistently prevail without any supernatural powers that insure his safety, the hope that Bruce can carve out little slices of happiness for himself, and the fascination of watching the strange and the insane fight to acquire their own little pieces of Gotham.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Crowdpleaser

My blog does not have wide appeal. As I've tried to maintain: the blog exists so that I can write and post as I like, the consequence being that the blog will never be terribly popular. But I finally wrote something that is getting a modicum of attention from the Google crowd. My sarcastic remark on how Bane eats has drawn a small handful of people Googling "bane without mask." Because this is something that people want information about, and they are deceived into thinking that I can offer it to them.

Which leads me to think about the Crowdpleaser. The sort of Art that just wants to give people what they're looking for. Building off of what I said earlier about the distinction between Craft and Entertainment, Crowdpleasers are a form of Entertainment. You don't challenge the audience, you don't invite them to grow or develop you come to them and give them what they want. And there is not a single thing wrong with that.

Why does Art exist? I do not think an all-encompassing answer can be given. But one reason why it exists is to bring joy to people, to let people feel things that they like. This is why we tend to give ourselves permission to watch schmaltzy stories about elves who want to be dentists or people banding together to help Santa deliver presents around Christmas time. Christmas seems to be our chosen feel-good season, a time where we let ourselves focus on stories that turn out so well for the protagonists that we can practically wade through the cheese.

But these stories are paper thin. They only work because of our good will. Because we are in the mood to tolerate them. What do I mean by paper thin? I mean that they are not believable. There is an impulse inside of ourselves that wants to tear bullshit to shreds when we encounter it, and these Artworks have to work against that impulse. It has to gain the support of other feelings and inclinations so that we don't walk away scoffing. This is why Crowdpleasers almost invariably draw a strong negative reaction from those outside of its fandom.

Twilight gave tween (lets be honest, it's more than tweens. More than just girls for that matter) girls what they wanted: a story about a supernaturally handsome, mysterious, strong, and amazing guy who falls head-over-heels in love with a girl for no clear or discernable reason and proceeds to spend the rest of his life doing things that affirm her worth to him. Those who allowed themselves to enjoy the emotional satisfaction of the story turned the book into a phenomenon; a large portion of the rest of the world yelled "bullshit!" loudly and repeatedly.

Pro Wrestling is basically the art of teasing the Crowdpleaser. They create characters for you to love, characters for you to hate, and then tease whether or not they're going to give you what you want. And, of course, so many of its own fans have turned to calling bullshit because of how easy it is to see through the show, and non-fans looking down on Pro Wrestling is so common that all one needs to do is say that they're a wrestling fan and they will find at least three helpful people within earshot who are happy to inform you that wrestling is fake. Just in case you didn't know, of course.

You have certainly felt it yourself. You have probably watched a movie or read a book that contained a scene that just felt too unreal to you. You knew it was trying to please you, but in the course of trying to please you, it actually aroused your contempt instead. Maybe it teased the death of a character, but then relented; then it was you who demanded the character's death instead of accepting a contrived survival. Or maybe a relationship worked out that seemed destined for separation, soon you root against the relationship because you are watching something play out that can not feel real to you.

I don't speak out against either impulse, of course. Neither the impulse to have your happy endings, nor the impulse to hate stories that feel false because they fail to account for how much disappointment exists in the real world. But I do want to say that there are times when one impulse will be stronger and times when it is the other. And so I think that we all sometimes prefer a good Crowdpleaser. So here's to giving us what we want – regardless of how much sense it makes!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Drunken Aesthetic

I have an entirely too high Blood Alcohol Content, I am retyping everything repeatedly, since my typing skills have become nonexistent. But what information can we derive about aesthetics from this?

At least this: there exists the impulse to explore. There exists the impulse to be someone different, but then to sober up and be more-or-less oneself again. So we drink, we become someone else, we see the world from a different view, and then we return from our trip.

It's just a vacation....

Craft and Entertainment

I once wrote that, "all Art is a picture of remixed Nature." My main idea being that art is a creative - and intentionally distorted - reflection of reality. You will never find something in art that is not first found somewhere in nature, it's just that art can play with the proportions and remove undesired elements at will.

And as I say ad nauseum (mostly regarding ethics rather than aesthetics, though), values belong to the subjective individual, there is no factual objective good and bad.

But it occurs to me that there is another distinction we can make of Art that may be a bit more interesting. I call these two distinct forms of Art, Craft and Entertainment. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but insofar as a work of art is Craft, it is probably not Entertainment to most people, and insofar as it is Entertainment to most people, it is probably not Craft.


Craft is Art that proceeds from the peculiarities of the Artist's heart/mind/perspective/value rather than the commonalities. Craft is not intuitively appealing, Craft does not have wide appeal, Craft is esoteric, obscure, and mysterious. The reason for this being that it is created according to a vantage point that you probably do not use yourself.

Any given person is likely to have a lot in common with a lot of other people, some things he will have in common with all other people, but there will be some things so peculiar that only a handful of others will share them, and to some degree everyone is a unique snowflake. It is possible to create Art that remixes the world in a way that pleases the peculiar or unique parts of an Artist's nature. The resulting Art is a challenge to the audience.

The challenge is this: is there enough beauty in the Art, as it appears to you now, to compel you to understand it?

We philosophical types tend to have our heads shoved too firmly up our own asses to admit that we sometimes come across things that we do not understand, but that we feel is above us rather than incoherent or beneath us. But it happens. And if you don't have that characteristic arrogance, you have probably encountered movies or books or songs that seemed like they promised you something new and something great if you could just find a way to get behind them. If you could understand them. If you could figure them out.

That is the effect of some Craft. Of course, it is also possible for Craft to just be dismal. The Human Centipede probably sprang from some esoteric parts of Tom Six's character, that doesn't mean that it's worth trying to get behind or a point of view worth trying to acquire. But, then, that's how The Human Centipede impresses itself upon my character via my perspective; a different character and a different perspective might feel differently.

The essence of Craft is how particular it is to the Artist that created it.


Entertainment aims to please. It wants to provide a service to the audience, and for that reason does not try to lead the audience anywhere that it might not want to go. Where Craft beckons the audience to go chasing, Entertainment offers the audience a seat and sets up the stage nearby. As a consequence of this goal, an Artist creating Entertainment tries to limit the influence of his peculiarities, the Artist wants to focus on common ground between himself and the audience, or if necessary will even try to appeal to sensibilities that he does not share (like an director who makes movies for babies).

There is nothing inherently wrong with Entertainment, but there are those snobs who want to turn their nose up at anything that exists for people where they are instead of people who have reached a certain kind of special vantage point or expertize (of course, that's basically what a snob is, isn't it? Someone who supposedly sees things that you do not, and looks down at you for the sake of elevating his advantage).

For the consumer with an eye toward the evolution of his character, there are two things to keep in mind regarding Entertainment. Entertainment will not move you forward, you will not evolve or grow from Entertainment. However,  Entertainment is also an exercise in being what you are. If you have an aggressive nature, consuming aggressive Art will let you indulge in being who you already are; a sexual character watching pornography is being who he is. And if you do not exercise your present state of being, well, then how are you really yourself?

I imagine that this distinction will be revisited often in the future.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Setting Finger to Keyboard

I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.
-Ernest Hemingway

In the back of my mind, I've always sort of figured that if I actually sat down to write, whatever I wrote would probably be good. I figured it would need editing, and that it would probably take a very healthy dose of inspiration before I would be “literary,” but I always figured my writing would probably be about above-average.

I finished my first 1000 words yesterday, and in the course of it, contemplated scrapping the entire project. I even had an opportunity to do so when I realized that my announcement blog did not post at midnight like it was supposed to, so I could write up a different project and could avoid owning up to the failure altogether. Just reading a few paragraphs of my clunky prose made me see myself as too untalented to bother continuing, and reading my words appear on the screen never tickled my pride or excitement enough to compel me to go on. Worst of all, my chief motivation is the desire to have a novella written, rather than my desire to have a particular novella written. I'm writing without inspiration or without an idea or theme to build on; I have a rough outline and a handful of themes in mind, but they were chosen after I decided to write the book, they did not inspire the writing.

So I have about as much emotional fuel as a bored bureaucrat who has a set number of forms to review each day. This does not bode well for the quality of the material, or my endurance of the project. But there is one thought that I am trying to keep in mind throughout the writing:

It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be complete.

I'm sure that those with some writing experience are cringing right about now, but this is the philosophy that I think will carry me through this project. I am not approaching it as a potential masterpiece, I am approaching it as an experience that I want to have. If one day I ever do write something worth someone pirating online, then this novella will be practice for that day. If I do not, then this novella project was at least a case where I saw a creative act through to completion.

Mostly, this novella gives me a reusable lump of clay for the future. I can edit it, I can rewrite it, I can tweak it, I can modify it. Whenever I find an interesting literary technique, this novella gives me pre-written material that I can rewrite using the new technique, letting me look at it from the perspective of a writer and not just a reader.

Writing shit is the first step to writing something better. So, I will endure. But today, my prose still sucks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Novella in Thirty-One Days

November is NaNoWriMo, the month where people vow to sit down at their computers and type a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I attempted it one year, getting about half-way through a novel called The Saints before I abandoned it. The next year I did not even attempt it. This year remains to be seen, considering that in previous years I had the luxury of unemployment to ensure I had ample time to write.

August is just another month as far as writing is concerned. I have decided, however, to devote this month to a creative exercise. Less ambitious than NaNoWriMo, but with an equally dismal emphasis on quality, I am aiming to write a novella in thirty-one days. Specifically, a 31,000 word novella, which requires that I write at least 1000 words every day for thirty-one days.

What will come of this? Well, my chief aim is to have something that I can call a completed work that belongs to me. Whether or not it's any good is not my primary concern, once it's finished I can always work on molding it later. Naturally, I am going to try to make it coherent and try to make it something that I can be proud of, but this is all secondary for the month. I am not a professional author, so I get to approach the whole thing with the enthusiasm of a hobbyist.

What results from it, I am eager to see.

So what will my blog consist of during these thirty-one days? Chapters? Nope, I don't plan to post the novella on my blog at this time. Instead, I want to try to use the month to focus on aesthetics, entertainment, art, and literature. In other words, less epistemology and ethics, more aesthetics, preferences, and examinations. Sprinkled throughout will be anything I happen to notice during my effort to produce something written and complete.

Of course, I'm sure I'll work the epistemology and ethics in there somehow.

EDIT: This did not come to fruition, but it did help me clear out my head.