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5/14/2010 Final Performance

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Henry:  I’m most perplexed and astonished by your sudden willingness to experiences with this new companion of yours, but I do hope that you are enjoying the company of this Katherine Loring.

Alice: My travels to New Hampshire and Europe with Katharine have been good experiences, indeed but shortly after boarding the ship to reach London with Katharine to take her ill sister to Europe, I fell ill again. I only went because I thought it would be a unique opportunity to visit you in London, Harry. 

Henry: I’m pleased that you have made the effort but it seems the travels have done you no good. You haven’t left the cabin and you’re extremely weak. I believe I know the causes your sudden weakness even though the doctors have found no organic illness, and they’ve been treating you as a neurasthenic. I also believe you had more motive than just visiting me in London. You will stay with me in London awhile.

Alice: I’m grateful for your offering and would very much enjoy staying with you for some amount of time. Our kinship has been one of the most valued to me. I am concerned, however, that you say you know the cause of my sudden weakness…

Henry: As much as I do approve of your friendship with Katherine, I am concerned. It seems your weakness has resulted from the time Katherine is spending with Louisa, you seem to want her undivided attention at all times which cannot be a positive effect on your already weak health.  

Alice: There is about as much a possibility of ending my friendship with Katherine as there is for me to willingly allow my legs to be sawn off.

Henry:  But I do think Katherine Loring possesses a great spirit and there is a definite kind of understanding between you that I must accept with gratitude.

Alice: If I could only have a year uninterrupted with Katharine I do believe I could get better. It would relieve me of all responsibility.

Henry: Amen to this. You will either get well or you won’t. Either way, it is between yourselves. I am thankful to Katharine, though, for being a gift of providence so rare and little-to-be-looked-for in this hard world that to brush it aside would be almost an act of impiety. 

4/28/2010 Drew Faust and William James, a connection

"Last year, the Student Life Committee made 'Social Life at Bryn Mawr' the subject of one of its meetings. A dozen or so trustees listened to a procession of students tell us there was no time in their lives to do anything but work. The trustees in the group who are alumnae reacted particularly vehemently to these statements because I think we all saw ourselves in you. We had been exactly where these students were- not just overwhelmed with work, but overwhelmed with a sense of the sacredness of that work as our highest calling."

I find this quote from Drew Faust's commencement speech particularly interesting because I not only can relate to what she is describing but it seems like she is referring to the exact type of behavior that William James warns against in his commencement speech. Yet, instead of telling students to throw away their books and go play, Faust asserts that this type of burden of work is part of the essence of Bryn Mawr. It is something that all Bryn Mawr graduates go through and something that needs to be accepted and dealt with by each individual student. Her notion that the student isn't just overwhelmed with the work itself, but the sacredness of the work also answers to James simple solution of throwing away the books; it isn't simply a matter of too much work, it is a matter of how much the work means to us. Sure, we could throw away our books, go to sleep, enjoy the weather but since our work is so sacred to use these other relaxing things wouldn't actually relax us. Our minds would probably still be on the fact that we treated our work as something not valuable to us.

4/28/2010 Ursula LeGuin

"That's what I want - to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don't know the power in you - I want to hear you. I want to listen to you talking to each other and to us all: whether you're writing an article or a poem or a letter or teaching a class or talking with friends or reading a novel or making a speech or proposing a law or giving a judgment or singing the baby to sleep or discussing the fate of nations, I want to hear you. Speak with a woman's tongue. Come out and tell us what time of night it is! Don't let us sink back into silence. If we don't tell our truth, who will? Who'll speak for my children, and yours? "

I really enjoyed reading from Ursula Le Guin's commencement speech. It was very empowering to females and she brought some very interesting concepts to the surface. I had never before heard of such a thing as the "woman tongue" and the "father tongue" but I enjoy her opinions that the woman tongue needs to exert itself more and not be completely silenced by the father tongue. The father tongue, used more in scholarly work and in academic settings, seems to muffle the female tongue in these realms. However, the female tongue keeps it's strength in the settings of the family and home. Le Guin's encouragement of exerting the female tongue in multiple contexts is fitting when it comes to Bryn Mawr because I feel like the women of this college exert their female voice in all contexts- whether the male tongue is present or not.

4/27/2010 The Gospel of Relaxation

"One ounce of good nervous tone in an examination is worth many pounds of anxious study for it in advance. If you really want to do your best in an examination, fling away the book the day before, say to yourself, 'I won't waste another minute on this miserable thing, and I don't care an iota whether I succeed or not' Say this sincerely, and feel it; and go out and play, or go to bed and sleep, and I am sure the results next day will encourage you to use the method permanently" 

I find this advice hard to follow, especially for the Bryn Mawr student. It is easier said then done to throw all books aside and feel as though you don't care if you succeed. I feel like this is an impossibility because humans naturally are driven for success, how could they go against such an ideal? especially in the context of an institution of higher learning. I don't think this would be entirely impossible to enact at Bryn Mawr, but I do think it would be extremely difficult as the general student body here is very dedicated to their work and responsibilities as a student. To be told to "throw their books aside" would probably be laughed at and not taken seriously. If James could somehow merge the dedication of the students and the gospel of relaxation to meet in the middle, his point would be more effective.

4/22/2010 A Stroll with William James, College Education

" 'Of what use is a college training? A certain amount of meditation has brought me to this as the pithiest reply which I myself can give. The best claim that a college education can possibly make on your respect, the best thing it can aspire to accomplish for you, is this: that it should help you to know a good man when you see him.' The principle here is that only a developed mind can gauge the capacities that are equal to its own, or greater or less. It is an intuitive act, not a numerical demonstration on the basis of tests. The educated will know how to judge sound work, slack work, sham work, precision, thoroughness, and honestly."

I'm not sure how to respond to this. According to James, all a college education is good for is to give one the capacity for judgment, but I always thought judgment of a person is something that you gain with experiences not something that can be acquired through the institutional motions of education. It takes meeting countless people, interacting with them, categorizing them according to their behaviors and personalities to be able to judge people soundly. I guess I just don't see where a college education would come in here. Now, when it comes to judging sound work, I agree with James completely. A college education forces you to complete so much work that the dividing lines between brilliant, average, and subpar work become much more clear. Again, this seems to be a product of experience as college students subjection to a overload gives them this superior ability to judge the work of themselves and others. Non-college graduates, on the other hand, have not been subjected to such an overload of work (in an academic sense) and thus it is more challenging to them to distinguish the varying qualities of work. I'm still puzzled as to why James thinks these are the only two uses of college training. I think the gains of judgement of work and people are peripheral gains in a college education while the true gains lie in the judgement of oneself. How does one see their own work? How do you discover your own interests and passions? I think the real gain is the intellectual independence and desire for paving your own future.

4/21/2010 Stein's Objects

"A TIME TO EAT. A pleasant simple habitual and tyrannical and authorised and educated and resumed and articulate separation. This is not tardy."

This is one of the descriptions that strikes me most in Stein's Tender Buttons. Most of the description really makes sense to me as it seems to describe the essence of a time to eat whether the time to eat is something based on repetitive behaviors (habit) or something controlled (tyrannical, authorized) by an other. Either way, it is obviously something that needs to continue throughout one's life (resumed). However, her description becomes a little less clear with the term "articulate separation." The notion of having making "a time to eat" is an interesting notion as it is essentially trying to make raw human needs (hunger, appetite) into something of a cultural ritual. Elizabeth A. Frost explains in her text The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry, "The whole notion of creating a time to eat suggests a need to control the raw energy of the appetite; in appointing a time for consumption of food, the patriarch places limits on the satisfaction of desire" (Frost 20). Frost makes a connection here to feminism and how a time to eat is really an assertion of the patriarchy by stifling the freedom to give in to one's desires by making those desires inaccessible until a certain point, thus intentionally delaying gratification. The purpose of this delay is unclear to me but it could be for the purpose of asserting the patriarchy or just to bring more order to the raw nature of humanity.

4/21/2010 Psychics, William James

"Psychics and mind readers, he thought, might be people with weak spots in their mental fences, people who could penetrate the boundary that ordinarily isolates one mind from another and that separates all individual minds from this panpsychic realm."

As we went around in class today sharing particularly striking quotes from Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, I was particularly interested in James' fascination with psychic ability. I am intrigued by his attempt to explain this phenomenon that is often a point of contention in the world of science, as many have attempted to disprove the very existence of psychic abilities. I think his notion of "weak spots in mental fences" offers a clear, visualized explanation of the ability of psychics to penetrate into others thoughts that are typically isolated. Psychics, according to James, have a special gift that allows them to penetrate, not only into other minds, but also into other realms. However, the legitimacy of psychics and their capacities for mind-reading are constantly being challenged by science. The main argument against psychics is their failure to prove their abilities in a controlled, scientific setting. Yet, this reality does not completely debunk the the existence of psychic ability because it only proves that there is no evidence yet. The mind is a complex and mysterious subject that probably will never be fully explained and thus it is impossible to deny the mental abilities of psychics until the mind can be fully explained.

I searched the internet for some more recent explanations of psychic abilities and found some interesting scientific explanations in Michael Roll's article entitled A Rational Scientific Explanation For So-Called Psychic Phenomena from which I borrow the the following quote:

"Thanks to recent exciting discoveries in subatomic physics, the study of the invisible part of the universe, and the published work of Ronald Pearson, we now have the missing mathematical theory that matches the pioneering experiments. The reports of Jesus physically appearing in front of his disciples after he was killed are no longer to be considered as supernatural - above or beyond the laws of nature. At last we now know exactly where the so-called next world is. It is all around us, the life force that drives our physical bodies carries on operating on another wavelength at what we call death. This part of the universe that is normally out of range of our five physical senses."

So, according to subatomic physics and the work of Ronald Pearson, William James was entirely correct when he suggested that psychics could penetrate into other minds and realms. The realm they are penetrating into is all around us, but we can't experience it in our current form- it is something accessible only after death. Therefore, psychics are tapping into this invisible world prematurely and thus are able to access experiences that are completely foreign to the living.

kinda funny ->

4/20/2010 The Pit of Insecurity, Thoughts on Prof. Grobstein's Visit

"James's first unthinking reaction to the [San Francisco] earthquake, he tells us, was one of 'glee,' 'admiration,' 'delight,' and 'welcome' ... It was for James a moment of contact with elemental reality" ... William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, Robert D. Richardson, 2006

After Prof. Grobstein's visit I couldn't help but compare James' unthinking reaction to the earthquake to the recent volcano eruption in Iceland. Both situations are a "moment of contact with elemental reality," but I think they also illustrate the notion of the pit of insecurity that lies beneath us all. The earthquake and the volcano eruption are instances of the planet asserting it's power over humanity rendering us completely powerless and revealing that pit of insecurity beneath us all. The volcano literally halted air traffic in the UK, Finland, France, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries but nothing that could be done and humanity was forced to wait until the ashes and unsafe skies cleared which would take an indeterminate amount of time. It is pretty amazing how the planet can assert it's power in the most striking and debilitating ways leaving humanity in a state of confusion and chaos. I think this is a good example of the pit of insecurity as all of humanity is suseptible to the dangers of the planet and no matter how secure or sure of themselves they are, the planet is always more powerful and always able to crush humanity with just the eruption of a volcano, a powerful storm, or any of the other natural disasters that humans are completely defenseless against.

4/8/2010 A Visit from Prof. Vallabha

Vallabha- why he matters to me as a person and as a philosopher. I thought I would just talk for a while and then move onto discussion. The main point can be summed up in a quote (See handout). One of the things that define James is that he is uncomfortable with professionalization of philosophy happening in late 1880s early 1990s. More interesting is that he means we shouldn’t take any philosophy categories. We shouldn’t take these as pre given concepts, which we just maneuvered out lie to those concepts that are already given. We have to reshape these concepts, the work of being a person. We have to take everyday concepts like cars, TVs, books but also abstract concepts like truth, justice, reality, god and make them matter, make them practical. Reflection has 3 stages. 1) Every day practices that we take in mindlessly to some extent. 2) Abstraction is when we make sense of the everyday 3) engaged practice is when we determine how abstract categories affect our life. Often philosophical arguments (mind/body) seem never-ending but James says even philosophers recognize this. James says this happens because philosophers get stuck at the abstract level. Everyday practice of going to church gets you stuck at the abstraction of whether god exists. How are you going to pick between views that are disconnected? His main idea is we don’t pick between them we ask what difference is this going to make to my life. James policy was that we cant convince so just ask what difference it makes in our life whether we believe in god, eternal truth, or if everything is relative.

I grew up in India and lived there till 11 moved to New York. High school and college was an issue because I was Hindu and I went to college and loved philosophy classes.  I loved both but which do I choose? Everyone said eastern and western philosophies are completely different. Hindu says all is one, Plato says infinite forms. How do I merge my two loyalties to western and eastern philosophy? James felt these tensions as I did. I felt torn. The idea of rationalism and universalism are different. Started reading James, maybe take a pragmatic route. What diff does it make if I believe in Hinduism or practicalism, it doesn’t make a difference! They both help me in my life. The upshot and way they help me in my life is the same. A good example of going from a level of abstraction to the realm of engaged practice and not getting stuck. I created a new concept of what eastern and western philosophy is- don’t take at face value, they could meld into a more harmonious way.  I changed my concepts to have some mental piece. I was schizophrenic in my identity. It helped me make sense of two opposing parts of my views and identities.

I asked myself how they could be reconcilable. This is what’s radical about James- the fact that we feel tension is calling out for pragmatic reevaluation. Two sides holding different abstractions causing tension. For James, for each person he was interested in how people were transforming their life using concepts. Making concrete of abstraction

Anne- would this apply to us as well? Or should we start in another place in out lives.

Jrlewis- the fact that James doesn’t talk about any particular religion. He is concerned with practical implications of believer.

KyleeMason- even when he talks about truths they are more comfortable than doubt

Anne- …or more useful. Will to believe helps to, you could choose to believe something as it would affect you.

fabelhaft- it makes him more approachable. I like how he forces you to relate to the actual world.

Vallabha- what do u think about James?

fabelhaft- I like the article about squirrels but his language is possible

aseidman- I feel the exact opposite

Penguins- I found it hard to access his ideas.

Anne- maybe we should play out the language/ideas disconnect. Many are English majors and this could be a resistance to philosophical language.  Your narrative makes him so concrete and available, more so than before.

kkazan- I actually like James even though some of his examples are silly. They show how u can take philosophy and grand ideas fit into your life.

vallabha- I think its plausible to say what infuriating of James, for example what we read today. Does he need to talk about 12 philosophers and 10 different views and France and oxford? Why does it matter? He was torn as to what type of philosopher he was going to be. I don’t like how he’s trying to be an abstract philosopher, trying to put everyone in his or her place.  Philosophy is happening in everyday life and in reflection of our everyday life but he keeps pulling back into this abstract way of writing. He is this type of duck/rabbit. He’s saying “do your thing” take concepts and make something of them and create new concepts. Make our life somehow happier for us, coherent, or something.

Anne- this is very helpful. He engages in the shock tradition and open air. You get the open air and the shop tradition. It’s hard for us to get into the open air.

fabelhaft- I would get stuck on one thing and didn’t know what was important.

KyleeMason- Peirce’s essay appealed to authority, making yourself pragmatic would get your point made.

Vallabha- I don’t think it deeply has to do with your major…a lot of philosophers find these games annoying. It is a challenging view. Pragmatism is sort of similar to existentialism in the way of taking responsibility for ourselves- very practical, very immediate. Make up your mind, determine your faith, determine your path. It can seem hard to give up categories like what happens to truth? The dichotomies can criss-cross. Artists through their art may be trying to capture some eternal truth. James is saying what if there are no Universal truths? How does it affect my life?

Anne- is that how u placed yourself in resistance? Resistance to the truth

aseidman- that’s part of it

Anne – well you gather evidence, find criminal, find stuff your interested in.

aseidman- he would say different things about the same things. Too many possibilities. Overwhelming, didn’t know what to think

Vallabha- I don’t know many people who don’t like games. One of the things we want in texts is to tell us what to be thinking. James is struggling with the fact with he didn’t want to tell people hat to believe. He doesn’t want to say what to believe. He is always going off on tangents and other views.

aseidman- it’s hard to take him seriously

kkazan- pragmatism has to fit in your life and it may contradict because it applies to different lives differently

aseidman- I’m coming to terms with the objectiveness

fabelhaft- I think James is trying to e like dude u got it all wrong, its different for everyone.

vallabha- I think the same thing happens in literature because there is no one-interpretation happening. It’s getting us to deeper tension. We may want to say that type of interpretation with art but not truth. I think James is like Whitman in the fact that he has multitudes in himself philosophically. Traditionally there is just one way of looking at things, which James struggles with. How would we engage if we said all of us contain multitudes and that we cant peg each other anyway.  James is asking what does human interaction look like? Everything losing its shape. Almost mystic like.

Anne- and the essay starts with that. “we insist on classifying everyone…” so how would we even have a conversation

vallabha- what would James say of the distinction of say … democrats and republicans? What might he say of these categories?

KyleeMason- he’d be torn because categories make life efficient

Anne- in our gender class. . None of us are contained within gender, but its more efficient to categorize

Jrlewis- like genre? What is genre? What’s a novel? Etc

Kylee- in order to sway the ignorant masses. My mom was a democrat so I’m a democrat.

vallabha- extend to I’m a democrat because govt should play strong role in enabling social justice causes. This is an issue for James because it’s filled with abstract terms!! What do they mean? What do we make of those terms. We want to treat some words as unchangeable, not up for revision, not up for conversation, off bounds and yet that cuts against freedom, individuality. It’s a tension. Different people want to make diff things non- negotiable. What do we do then? James putting forward social structure problem. Communities come with categories, which impend upon individuality, which we want. What do we make of this cohesion, of this set of ideas. James was more attuned unconsciously to the sense that it is not possible to just be an individual while ignoring other aspects of us, which is a big concern.

Anne- did he deal with it? He seems less helpful in institutionalization of structures. Another article we looked at showed how PhD, titles could obliterate individuality. Does he think through problems of institution?

vallabha- he doesn’t have a solution. He does what all-challenging people do- there is no answer. James is similar with Nietzsche. You cant be a Nietzian in a deep sense because he is not interested in followers, he is interested in who are you going to be, what are you going to do? James felt hemmed in by institutions. I don’t feel as hemmed in as I do to constant negative reaction to institution that he did. James had so many interests and each institution forced him to focus on single interest. Religious thinkers are more systematic. Kierkegaard thought church was important but he was critical in it. He thought church should respond to individuals not the other way around. What does my life look like when I respect my individual but also everyone else’s. James was struggling with what to do to acknowledge everyone individuality- but then people say he’s ignoring their identity, their individuality. We can partly talk about how to deal with this issue of actually respecting each person. James would say there is no one thing to define a person

Anne – because we contain multitudes so how could you?

vallabha- respect seems to mean cohesion. You respect the cohesiveness but lose the multitude. So what does it look like to respect someone while respecting the multitude?

kkazan- I respect that she is a democrat but at the same time she doesn’t agree with this…they don’t seem exclusive. You can be an individual within a category.  I can still retain individuality within member of a group.

vallabha- but then what does democrat mean?

kkazan- different things to different people

vallabha- then why is it helpful ? It connects me to other people that are similar and so must be something in this category. What is the overall concept giving us? James experienced it as unsolvable because he had a negative attitude toward institutions. How do all of these things fit together? Does it seem like a tension or problem?

KyleeMason- makes me think of if u truly wanted to describe a person, you couldn’t convey yourself. People are infinitely complex which is why we use these labels and categories.

Anne- lets do categories more

MissArcher- possible institution would better define yourself by that you are not. There was a quote “I am a man because there are women….” Even if you identify w. certain segments you define yourself by using what other groups have

Anne- are you a student over and against me as a teacher. I think we bind ourselves by expectations of what we think students and teachers are. In the spirit of James, trying to unsettle those categories. Not to bind self as a student- bring in open air.

Kazan- we pay you to be here

Anne- that would be one way, what’s the cash value

aseidman- if we didn’t define categories everything would be complex, little would get done

fabelhaft- when u let students plan, it wasn’t successful?

Anne- no it got done

vallabha- three options 1) ditch categories 2) no you cant some you need to accept because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to talk to one another. 3) Take on categories with a sense of openness, playfulness. Say I am X but my categories may not be the same as others.  It’s a picture of thinking, of human education to reflect on categories so we know what we sign up for. Where is respect given to republicans or democrats identifying with some sort of openness, revisability.

Anne- like in marriage abstraction of portrait of lady and how Isabel remained faithful to abstraction to her detriment.

KyleeMason- and how it leads to tragedy

Anne- Isabel want to go back to your resistance

MissArcher- I don’t like thinking it has to do with his telling us how to think rather then tell us what to think and me interpreting how to think of them. I don’t have any appreciation

Anne- yeah but are existence can be helpful- brings us to a point we can talk about. His pluralism in the variety of thinking, for you there seems to be something prescriptive in terms of how to think.

MissArcher- Yes.

vallabha- idea that someone might say I don’t want to think in pragmatic way. I want to think about truths. This is going away from that. Make connections. Think however you’re thinking

Anne- its really an outer contradiction. He’s valuable bc of multiplicity but no there really si a single method. So you would prefer stories to lectures or essays because they seem more dogmatic

MissArcher – yes. And we dealt a lot with Henry James and it was very useful and I feel like James is not useful because he’s so prescriptive,

KyleeMason- Henry is big on leaving blanks for us to fill in. cathartic self help book in a weird way

Anne- all the ?s Henry James raised in the fixedness of words. Striking to think of diff genres and forms. Which gets back to how language. Marina what do you think?

Marina- idea of multitudes, no way to be individual

Vallabha- individual of multitudes is an issue of acceptance or denial. Are we going to accept everything? James would agree that there is no prescriptive element. What does radical acceptance look like? It’s a scary thought. Mass murderers, Hitler, etc. I cant deal with mass acceptance. If you do that then were is the line going to be drawn. Is Obama Hitler or not? The person must be crazy. But it’s not because line drawing. I feel like it’s a question of human condition. I don’t have a solution. What does it mean. You could read James as a mistake tying to get beyond everyday identity. Don’t treat me like a philosopher, treat me as being and lets deal with that. What do we do with that?

Anne- and what would happen to a class like this? Would we still be here?

Vallabha- I think James would say we would be here in a diff way or same way because it could be helping some of us. He’s not telling us what to change. He’s losing on all accounts because he’s not giving answer and religious minds hate coz he’s not affirm religion and he’s not prescribing any social affirmations. We aren’t going anywhere with this which is off putting. What am I getting out of reading this? Same response some people have to Buddhism and Daoism – just be. Don’t try to change world. What do I do with that that’s the real unsettlingness of James.



3/22/2010 Class Notes: The Will To Believe

Anne- We’ll use the suspension bridge as our image for conversation. We’ve seen this image before in Alice in Bed “my mind is like a rope bridge.” It relates to the willing suspension of disbelief- the readers accepting the author’s fictional world. You have to willingly suspend your disbelief in order to let yourself in the text. This is alike and different from “The Will to Believe,” James asking for us to actively believe. Which is what we are talking about today.

Field trip on Wednesday to the grave of Mary James Vaux? Friendship bench? Wear jeans. It’s a rough path. Solidify BMC connections.

Lets look back:

Anne- Impressed with Catherine’s visualization in her commonplace book. How did she do it?

Calamity - I used the paint application and with the pencil tool.  I only had my pad mouse so it didn’t come out as crispy as I’d like.

Anne- Arielle convinced herself that habit is a positive thing. Care to explain?

aseidman- Not sure what to say, speaks for itself.

Anne- How do you see that as complicating what James said? Why don’t we read it.

aseidman- Not all habits good, not all bad. There’s a middle ground. My father is an extremist and spending my life listening to him made me believe habits are perfect but they aren’t.

Anne- so, habits would be bad because they are conservative? Non-allowing of new things/experiences?

aseidman- Yeah.

Anne- so, you are focusing on conservative quality. James seems to celebrate habit, but you’re saying lets think about how the habitual may not be so great.

(portrait of James)

Here’s a portrait of James in which he looks gentle. I would want to have a cup of tea with him. We are moving from psychology (stream of thought and habit) to a study of larger philosophical ideas of how to think. Last week James asked us to understand mechanics of how the brain operates; now we are moving from psychology into philosophy. In this process the key essay is “ the will to believe” addressed to Harvard students. I thought we would go around and read it out loud and work with what we understand.

(read excerpts on serendip)

Anne: So, in James’ terms would you call yourself a believer? What’s your reaction? What does James want the word to mean?

Calamity- So, if you are a believer then you can have the ability to believe in a hypothesis that is live or relative to you.

Anne- a genuine belief must be forced, living, and momentous

Penguins- how can something genuine be forced?

Anne- Well, what does he mean by forced?

MissArcher- it has to be relevant to your life. If it doesn’t have practical effect to your life, it’s not valuable.

Anne- That’s the live. The options matter. He is trying to get you on that mountaintop. If I say to you to go with your umbrella or not, it is not forced. There is a complete logical disjunction. That’s what makes it forced. In the curious paradox of his logic that’s what makes it genuine. How can it be genuine if it is only forced?

Penguins- I’m not sure I can answer. Like he was saying, the option would be genuine if forced because you can choose, but he didn’t force it on you.

Anne- It’s not that he forces it on you. This is an option that there is no option not to choose it.

MissArcher- It’s genuine because of what it reveals about you. When you have to make this choice- what choice do you make. No option to show what true option you would make.

Anne- Yes, any option that is trivial he does not care about. Opportunity must be unique, decision irreversible.

aseidman- that eliminates almost every option.

Anne- what would be a genuine option?

kkazan- Go to college or not to go to college.

MissArcher- it would depend on how you make something reversible.

jrlewis- Chemistry teacher used this example: If you decide to boil an egg for breakfast, you cannot unboil an egg no matter how hard you try. You cannot undo this by any means.

Anne- but is it momentous?

Calamity- if you are going to starve without the egg….

Anne- this allows for individual variety...theosophist would be a weird, non-live option. I like the egg but it doesn’t get us all three conditions of the genuine option. Do you understand the forced option yet? It means simply you have to make it.

kkazan- like a rope bridge, you have to cross or not.

kmason- Let’s say you’re bleeding and need medical attention. You could cross the bridge or stay there and die.

aseidman- do you have enough strength though?

kmason- I think you could swagger, internal bleeding possibly.

jrlewis- could I propose a situation? Two people trapped on an island with no food- potential for cannibalism. Options are to let them kill you, you kill them, or both die.

Anne- I am hoping none of you will be in this situation. Lets go back to the college decision. Would this be forced?

kmason- Yes. Forced because I feel like college was a way to transcend socio-economic status. If you want to succeed, you are forced.

Anne- But then that wouldn’t be an option.

Calamity- you could decide not to change your decision.

MissArcher - This may be politically charged. On the subject of abortion: to keep the baby or abort the baby.

Anne- how would William James advise you? What would he say to you as your psychologist?

kkazan - One option would better your life, the other wouldn’t.

Anne- Let’s back up a minute. This is a useful example.

MissArcher - I have a quote (pg 719 on bottom)

Anne- On the subject of Pascal’s Wager, what is it exactly? Can someone explain?

kkazan- Believing in god is chance. You die and if you believed in god there is a heaven. If you didn’t believe in God but were devout, you’re dead and don’t care. If you were not devout and you die, you may end up in a bad place.

Anne – You might as well bet on god. If there is no god then, so what. If there is a god, you may be damned. Does James think this useful?

Fabelhaft- James didn’t seem too impressed with it. James says to make educated choice.

Anne- James says this is silly and vile. He says to think about major life choices as if they are chance. Doesn’t suit James at all. Not supposed to think of life as a game of chance. What is the world like that we need the will to believe?

kkazan- We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

Calamity - Know as much as you can about your options and then choose. You know you are leaping in the dark and there will not be a hole.

Anne - You don’t know what your  life will be like after the abortion. In the great boarding house of nature you will never have all the available information. When you came to college you didn’t have all available information.  I think the first important thing to realize is that the world in unpredictable, decisions that matter are leaps in dark, never will have all available info. So what would James say about the pregnancy? If he said faith in a fact can help create a fact.

aseidman – If you believe abortion is wrong, then it is wrong.

Calamity - Once you make the decision then it is the right one for you, don’t go back and think of what could have happened.

Kkazan - cease to exist as right possibility so they are no longer viable options.

MissArcher - how could you live like that? That maybe you made the wrong decision

Anne - does he give you an alternative?

MissArcher - To not let faith in your decision waver.

Anne – James is making fun of rational decision making. No bell will ever toll to tell your decision is right. You will never be certain. In that world on uncertainty and inadequacy of info what is the role of belief?

Jrlewis - we talked about the incest example. Haidt said people have instincts and rationalize them later.  I feel like that’s what James is saying; when you believe something, you will create a story to make it true.

Anne- Nice connection. Haidt says not to do that. James says that that is the only thing you can do.

aseidman - I’m against what James says. When he says no point in rationalizing decisions.

Anne - says at really important points all of that wont help you

aseidman- of that cant help you then its no good.

kkazan- No matter what you do – there will be no sign of right or wrong but if you believe its right then its right.

aseidman - lets say you’re a 16 y/o mother and have a medical history. It would be a poor choice to have a child. Medically the right choice may be not to have an abortion. Maybe you’re living on your own and cant keep baby. These are facts that can help your decision.

kkazan- Can’t tell me for sure you will die.

Anne- James says there is never proof of truth or likeness.

MissArcher- I think many wait until last minute and just pick one.

Anne- the leap in the dark?

Fabelhaft- Take a lot of little steps and then screw it – just jump.

Kylee – I feel like James would say only reasonable but not right decisions- right implies an assuredness.

Anne- I think that’s partly what he’s saying but there is no rightness, no certitude. No right decision, no certain decision.

kkazan- Like ordering off a menu, have to make an option. You have to decide.

aseidman- That situation doesn’t fit momentous criteria.

Anne- I like this deliberating, deliberating, deliberating then making a decision. Mothers of malformed fetuses book. The women deliberate thinking of these facts and background. They suddenly wake up and make a decision. What’s important is he is emphasizing the importance of the leap. We can be skeptical, be observers, gather evidence but finally we have to leap in the dark. What role does belief play in this? “a rule of thinking…”

Calamity - There is a muffin on the floor and there is a rule: no muffins on the floor in the classroom. So there is a stupid rule. No muffins on the floor but there IS a muffin.

jrlewis- quantum mechanics , counterintuitive things happen.

Anne- we are doing streams of thought now.

MissArcher - Doctor tells spinal cord injury patient he will never walk again. Ten years later he takes his first step.

Anne- So, one must believe in it for it to become true.

aseidman- My friend was told she will never have a child. Didn’t believe she would, but she had a baby.

Anne- so things happen without believing that they will happen. But James says some things wont happen unless we believe in them first.

kkazan- going back to abortion – religion and because you think this way takes abortion off the table. Isn’t that an irrational rule? That you can’t think of it as a rational option.

Anne- If you say it is not an option because of your belief, it is irrational. Lets think of religious belief more generally. Is it irrational to not believe in god in the world of William James?

MissArcher - This struck me as religious and excluding other gods, as if gods can’t coexist…

Anne- I think one of the things he is strongest in is accepting all religious beliefs. He is one of the great diversifiers, all experiences are worthwhile.  So if you believe that Jesus Christ is only way, then that is irrational because that shuts out the other truths. Like atheism for example. Marina will be our token atheist. Do you think James would find atheism irrational?

Marina- yes, because atheism cuts off the experiences you could have if you did believe in a god.

Anne- So being atheist would cut off experiences of believing in a god.

kmason – Agnosticism would be a good way to go.

MissArcher- you can’t believe in anything but have to believe in everything.

Anne- in what sense does it make sense to believe

Calamity – so you can decide

kkazan – you can win if you are winning at everything. Will to believe is want to believe and you need to stick to believing that ?

aseidman - isn’t belief involuntary?

Fabelhaft- instinctual?

Anne- I believe in Jesus Christ.

kmason – To tie to portrait of a lady, Isabel believed Osmond as she wanted to believe him.

Anne-I think one of the problems with word belief is that It has baggage with certitude and fixedness. I am going to make leap in the dark and hope for the best, but it must be able to be revised. Notion of revisability is really central here. Buddhist saying about building a raft and when the raft has served you, you kick off the raft and leave it behind you. It has served its purpose.

Calamity- I feel like this is why they invented portable rafts. How ridiculous to make a new canoe every time? Just bring the canoe. You might have to carry over beliefs.

Anne- Let’s go back to Isabel Archer. She made a promise and he turned out to be a creep.

Calamity- Her canoe has a hole, she doesn’t even have a canoe.

aseidman- Does she even know how to make a canoe????

Calamity- Isabel has her idea of Osmond (a canoe) but her idea was wrong (canoe had hole) and thus the canoe started sinking.

MissArcher – does the canoe hole get bigger?

kmason– is cotton stuffed in the conoe hole?


Anne – what would William james say to Isabel Archer?

MissArcher- he would tell her to peace out

Anne- to what?

aseidman- to take the canoe

MissArcher- to leave, to peace out

Anne- I have never heard this before.

MissArcher – He would tell her to leave. We talked about what allows for the possibility of something else to exist.

Fabelhaft- she is subscribing to…

MissArcher- something about a canoe….

jrlewis- a belief implies action, she made a positive choice to go back to Osmond. She made a decision to leave England and travel back to her husband. She clearly does have a strong belief. She met all suitors and she chose Osmond, she knew her options, but still went back. She was not being illogical.

Anne- what have we gotten from William James?

kkazan – An hour ½ discussion.

Kmason- About canoes.

Anne – Why should we believe?

Kmason- Can be used as a tool to make leap seem less scary, less regrettable.

Fabelhaft – Shouldn’t definitively say no to things, should have options hovering in back of mind. Always a chance you are wrong.

Anne – whether you like me or not halfway

Calamity- I don’t get the half way thing.

Fabelhaft- you don’t have to like anyone.

Anne – you’re believing in it

kkazan- Isabel wanted to believe she liked him.

Anne – Her believing him as good did not make him good. Believing something can bring it into existence.

Fabelhaft- Self-help regimen of the secret – if you believe it, it will happen.

Penguins – If I believe donuts will fall from the sky, it won’t happen.

Anne- if I say I like you and you work well, will you continue to work well? If I say you’re a bad worker, will you live up to my expectations?

MissArcher- it’s a personality thing.

Calamity- I would do the opposite.

Anne- does saying something make it true?

kmason- if someone tells me I’m going well of course I am going to try to live up to that.

Anne- if you can imagine possibility it can come to be. Peace activists do imaginings of a peaceful world. Instead of peace out, it was making peace.


2/14/10 "Realness" and "The Real Thing"

While reading Henry James' short story, "The Real Thing," I couldn't help but make connections to my college seminar course with Professor Raymond Ricketts entitled "Anxious Masculinity." The course examined the definition of "maleness" and what exactly it meant to be "masculine." Is maleness something that is biologically rendered or is it attainable through other means, such as performance? To investigate this further, Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary entitled Paris is Burning was screened. The documentary explored the underground drag ball scene in New York City during the late 1980s, particularly among the African-American and Latino communities. The contestants of these drag balls were judged on their "Realness"

I think this idea of "realness" and "being able to blend" connects well with the modeling performances of both Mrs Churm and Ms Monarch. Ms Churm possesses "Realness" because she is able to embody more than just one performance and thus is considered to be the superior model. Ms Churm's modeling ability allows her to blend and become something other than herself. However, Ms Monarch, despite holding the aristocratic status that the artist desired to capture in his painting, she does not possess the proper "realness" and cannot blend or become something other than herself. Ms Monarch only knows how to be herself whereas Ms Churm can take on many guises, which is what made her so valuable as a model.


2/9/10 "The Real Thing" by Henry James

"After I had drawn Mrs. Monarch a dozen times I perceived more clearly than before that the value of such a model as Miss Churm resided precisely in the fact that she had no positive stamp, combined of course with the other fact that what she did have was a curious and inexplicable talent for imitation.  Her usual appearance was like a curtain which she could draw up at request for a capital performance. This performance was simply suggestive; but it was a word to the wise--it was vivid and pretty." (15).

As suggested by James, appearance is essentially a constant performance. The comparison of Miss Churm's face to the drawing up of a curtain effectively conveys how she is able to model/perform in a variety of ways rather than Mrs. Monarch, who is unable to draw up varied performances, and thus consistently looks the same in all the artists drawings, creating a sense of monotony and dullness. Even though Mrs Monarch is "the real thing" and possesses the exact look that the artist is looking for, she could only project one image. Miss Churm, although less beautiful than Mrs Monarch, is the superior model simply because she is able to project more than one image. I also find it interesting how James uses the words "imitation" and "performance" so closely. Is performance just an imitation of something else? This discussion of performance and imitation is extremely reminiscent of Judith Butler's notions on the performance of gender. As Butler states, "The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again." Essentially, our performances are planned out well before we perform them, and our performances are heavily reliant on modeling those who performed before us. Then this must mean that each performance that Miss Churm executed was something she was previously exposed to and used that previous exposure to create a new performance. If this is true then does that mean that Mrs Monarch was less exposed to different performances? Did her place in society keep her from bearing witness to different performances and deprive her of the ability to model after them?


1/27/10 The Diary of Alice James

"I had a tooth out the other day, curious and interesting like a little lifetime - first, the long drawn drag, then the twist of the hand and the crack of doom! The dentist seized my face in his two hands and exclaimed, "Bravo, Miss James!" and Katharine and Nurse shaking of knee and pale of cheek went on about my "heroism" whilst I, serenely wadded in that sensational paralysis which attends all the simple, rudimentary sensations and experiences common to man, whether tearing of the flesh of of the affections, laughed and laughed at 'em. As long as one doesn't break in two in the middle, I never have been able to see where "heroism" comes in." (137).

I enjoyed this particular entry in Alice's diary because it really captures her cynicism and disenchantment with life. Alice's comparison of life and getting a tooth pulled leaves little to wonder about on her feelings towards life. She clearly does not find life to be a pleasant or easy experience, but rather finds it to be painful, drawn out, and inevitably ending in doom. It is also interesting how she portrays herself as compared to Katharine and Nurse who, "shaking of knee and pale of cheek," are clearly worried for Alice and concerned with her state after experiencing such an unpleasant experience, but Alice herself is "serenely wadded in that sensational paralysis" and finds their excessive worry to be humorous. I also found it interesting how Alice is so reluctant to accept her heroism that Nurse and Katharine are lauding her for. Perhaps her depression and apathy towards life cause her to have difficulty in accepting her own good qualities or she chooses not to see her own good qualities because she has gotten so comfortable in her depression. 


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