Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dads writing to daughters

Happy birthday Older Daughter!

I shared with you the lighthearted letter Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his "Scottie" in 1933. Here's one from William James to his "Peg" in 1900. Good "manly" advice for us all, if we ever need it.

"Your letter came last night and explained sufficiently the cause of your long silence. You have evidently been in a bad state of spirits again, and dissatisfied with your environment; and I judge that you have been still more dissatisfied with the inner state of trying to consume your own smoke, and grin and bear it, so as to carry out your mother's behests made after the time when you scared us so by your inexplicable tragic outcries in those earlier letters. Well! I believe you have been trying to do the manly thing under difficult circumstances, but one learns only gradually to do the best thing; and the best thing for you would be to write at least weekly, if only a post-card, and say just how things are going..."  (ContinuesWilliam James - Letter to daughter Peg - 1900)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trees & bridges

We're looking at the French Existentialists today in CoPhi. How they love their metaphors!  Camus with his Sisyphean stone, Sartre with his nauseating black knotty chestnut tree roots...
The chestnut tree pressed itself against my eyes. Green rust covered it half-way up; the bark, black and swollen, looked like boiled leather... I realized that there was no half-way house between non-existence and this flaunting abundance. If you existed, you had to exist all the way, as far as mouldiness, bloatedness, obscenity were concerned... In the way, the chestnut tree there, opposite me, a little to the left. And I—soft, weak, obscene, digesting, juggling with dismal thoughts—I, too, was In the way.
I like trees, myself . They're never in my way.

Simone de Beauvoir played with a problematic bridge metaphor in The Second Sex, attributed to D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley. "The bridge to the future is the phallus." So that's where Bill Clinton got his "bridge to the 21st century" metaphor.

"Thought and action have their roots in the phallus." Now we're really mixing metaphors."Lacking the phallus, woman has no rights." Man, on the other hand, is "polarized upwards, towards the sun and the day's activities." Hmmm.

This is all pretty Freudian, and even metaphysical with its implication that gender relations are forever a struggle for dominance and control. I prefer the implication of bridging as an equal connection of mutual respect. But so did de Beauvoir, of course. That's her larger point: that neither male nor female is by nature supreme or subordinate; inequality is cultivated and imposed. We can decide not to do that. Why don't we, then?

Why? I suspect it's because we're wedded to some bad metaphors, or maybe just a bad interpretation of some neutral ones. We were talking about this yesterday in Environmental Ethics, where most of us are tree-huggers and bridge-builders of a sort.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pulling his own strings

Puppet-Einstein illustrates a version of free will: when you form good habits, your choices habitually coincide with your intentions and you're "free."

For instance: I'm a habitual walker. On Saturday afternoon, typically a time of relative immobility for me, I happened upon this article on the importance of moving. So I did. Could I have done otherwise? Pretty sure I could, but the habits of a lifetime converged with the impulse to get up and go. So I went, and I enjoyed my walk. It felt like a free choice to me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Breathtaking optimism

I finally tracked down one of the best things former Chancellor Gordon Gee (now at Ohio State, again) ever said during his tenure at Vanderbilt.
"One of the best things at Vanderbilt, which, as you all know, is a campus full of “best things,” is a huge Lucite-and-bronze sculpture in a glass case in front of the Stevenson Science Library. The sculpture depicts, in angles and dimensions of Lucite, the unfurling unfoldment of the universe, and within that unfoldment, the interests of science in all arrays: ganglia and galaxies; a plesiosaur skeleton and a cityscape; ammonites and molecular structures; girders and retorts. It all rests on the backs of twisting primeval dragons, and the sun and the moon

The whole form and sweep of the thing takes your breath away, because it is charged with the optimism of atomic-age science, the optimism of space-age science – that amazing, exhilarating faith in the human potential to sound not only the reaches of space, but also the depth of our beginnings, and meanwhile continue to make a more livable civilization right here on this earth. Unfortunately, what one wonders now, gazing at this great jagged glass-and-bronze construction, is whether its dreams and expectations are still current..." 

Vanderbilt University Daily Register:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Who majors in philosophy?

You might be surprised. Steve Allen, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, George Soros, Thomas Jefferson... it's a very long list. [Here's another. And another.]

And why? It's the most practical major, of course. And Simon Blackburn notes that "people turn to philosophers when they feel less confident and more insecure." Bad times, good times... Bottom line is, philosophy prepares you to think and talk about everything. And the best philosophy puts it all in perspective and gives you a smile. Take it away, Eric the orchestra leader.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wendell Berry

The Mad Farmer's Manifesto
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. Accelerating Intelligence News