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Universe Bar Forum

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UNIVERSE BAR on-line forum

This is a place for continuing informal conversation about matters arising from Universe Bar discussion. Announcements of related events are also welcome. If you'd like to be kept informed of U-Bar meetings and of new postings in this forum clicking on the "Keep Me Posted" icon below and providing your email address.

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Name: Mari
Date: 2004-11-03 21:44:10
Link to this Comment: 11348

One of the things that I had tried to get around to saying at the meeting (but didn't because I was too tired and my train of thought just never really pulled out of the station) was that it's very important to have a dialogue between all the different sides of the issue(s).
Just because they're the other side does not mean that they're monsters. They are people, and it is important to be able to talk with them whether or not you agree with them. It is even more important, perhaps, if you /don't/ agree with them. They need to see that /you/ are not a monster either. You can still be friends, even if you don't agree. If you really don't want to discuss it, the easiest thing to do is to agree to disagree and move on. I've had to do this with several uber-conservative friends because I really like them as people, I just can't stand their politics/religion. We're still friends, though, because we've found other common ground. It's important for both sides to see that there is that common ground that exists between everyone, if you're willing to work to look for it.
Sometimes, it's just not possible. You shouldn't have to put up with evangelical, preachy discussions because all they're going to do is make you mad, which gives a bad impression to both sides of each other. The evangelical will see you as someone who says to accept everyone but doesn't, and you will see them exactly as the deamon that you've always been told that they were.
It's highly unlikely (unfortunately) that you'll be able to convince anyone of your point of view in a dialogue or other conversation, but the fact that the conversation happened is important. If it's done in a civilized manner, you may be able to begin to break down some of the stereotypes that are being projected (but only for that one individual, who hopefully will tell their friends). It is important for both sides to see that there are decent people "over there". Because there are. And anyone who shuts out the other group simply based on one aspect of the person (though it can be deeply rooted in who they are and their attitude towards the world) is really only hurting themselves because they have, through their ignorance and willingness to be ignorant, closed the door on many others.

Ok.... that's really long and rambling..... it contains too many different points, but it's a conversation that I've had many times with many people, so I'd be happy to expound on points if people want me to... I'm also about to go to bed, so it's probably not coherent. Please excuse the shoddy grammar. And thank you all for the stimulating conversation this evening!


follow up
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-11-04 17:42:03
Link to this Comment: 11362

I don't think that's too long and rambling at all. I think it says some very important things: "its imporant to be able to talk with them ... even more imporant ... if you don't agree with them" and "the fact that that the conversation happened is important" and "anyone who shuts out the other ... is ... hurting themselves".

My thanks too for conversation last night, looking forward to more. In the meanwhile, there is always here. And, for those wanting to talk more about the elections, a new forum The Place of the US in the World Community, November 2004. Stop by there, leave your thoughts, tell friends about it? Its linked to from the Serendip home page at

Partially, but not entirely, related.
Name: Julia
Date: 2004-11-04 22:44:00
Link to this Comment: 11364

Tonight I went to a talk by a woman who pushed through a tax reform based on Biblical logic in Alabama. I felt torn throughout her speech, since on the one hand her tax reform helped get more funding for underfunded schools in desperately poor areas. But she had pushed it through by using justification from the Bible (passages on taking care of the poor, etc.) She criticized fundamentalists who called themselves Christians but were really, she said, atheists because they worshipped themselves and their own wealth rather than God. But because Alabama is 93% Christian and she had a list of all the representatives' churches and what position they held in their churches, she was able to manipulate a basically religious society/government into going with a policy she was able to justify with religious rhetoric.
Last night there was a lot of talk on fluidity vs. certainty and religion vs. science. So is it ok to do good things based on doctrine rather than logic?

Nov 10: Language
Date: 2004-11-09 21:31:55
Link to this Comment: 11478

Hi everyone,

Tomorrow, U-Bar will be held in Lunt Cafe at Haverford College, with the theme of "Language". Eric Raimy will introduce the topic and then the floor will be thrown open for everyone to contribute.

See you all there,

A correction
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-11-10 21:44:00
Link to this Comment: 11497

I’m an idiot. Remember when I said “Which came first, language or the mind, the mind or language”? NO. Not what I meant. We had been talking about labels and their superficiality. My thought (still incomplete) was this: Is language the trappings that we stuff meaning into? Or, as Eric suggests, is language what we pull meaning out of? Do meanings necessarily explode language? Or do meanings explode given language?

So unless someone actually saw some value in my “which came first” babble, I thought I’d correct myself.

Thanks for the wonderful conversation, everyone.


Change of Plan
Name: maria
Date: 2004-11-10 22:06:53
Link to this Comment: 11498

Hi everyone, thanks for the discussion tonight. A slight change of plan: Elizabeth and I were talking after tonight's meeting and actually would prefer to have E's presentation next week and then the presentation that we're both doing on Dec. 8th at Clynnoc. (in the interest of extending something of an olive branch on this issue, we're willing to make it seem warmer and more friendly and pretty yes, that would translate as "decorate"), but in terms of discussion I think that the atmosphere in the lusty cup is, for our tastes and purposes, not really suitable/ far from ideal. but look on the bright side, we get the best of both worlds: the louder more chaotic cafe atmosphere at Lunt and the quieter more private atmosphere at Clynnoc.

on topic then off
Date: 2004-11-10 22:26:34
Link to this Comment: 11500

thank you all for tonight ...

my frustration: i was telling paul after the discussion that i feel like Everything i do, Everything i think about, Everything i know comes back to this Absence .... words describe that whcih is Not ... they curl themselves around an Empty Space attempting to inject themselves into ... we fling them in order that they may enter into the space, but they don't. If we look at this as a microcosm for the world we see ourselves scrambling for a space at the center, we plaster our bodies onto this entity and yet we never get in ... and each time we plaster ourselves, hurl words onto the surface we make the definition of the space more and more specific ... but we never get in ... i'm not frustrated that we don't get in ... that's okay. I am frustrated that Everything I know comes back to this image, this action, of plastering myself to this Empty Space ... I am tired of definition ... i am tired of words ...I am tired of the Absence ... there is a part of me that has wrestled so much with the Absence that ... that ... that ... do i dare say that Loves the Absence, takes comfort in the fact that IT is Empty ... The Absence is my greatest oponent ... the one i compete against (and, alas, inevitably lose to) for the gold ... but is there anything else? is this The Only Quest ... is there any other act other than wrestling, plastering, defining, flinging .... they are all the same act, i think ..... can a religious person say, "I love God, but i want to think about something else for a while" ? take a break from being grateful to Jesus? or, is the religious life one that turns all focus, all care, onto The Entity ? a sacrificing of all other possibilities ... a full hearted dedication there anything beyond the mystical experience ? I'm afraid that Orah Minder is going to find that the only Search that matters to her is This search, and that i won't survive if I keep up the high tension wrestle, so i'll surrender...... maybe it's all about surrender ...... but bf i surrender maybe i'm a poet frustrated by an absence of skill .... but, according to my theory, no one has enough skill so .... maybe i will write and when i can't do that anymore i'll pray .... but, I want to be able to say something that you're not expecting .... Anne knows EVERYTHING that is going to come out of my mouth .... i can tell .... this whole posting was predictable .... i want to surprise you ... i want to say something Anne has never thought of ... i want to be genious ...

Date: 2004-11-11 18:32:20
Link to this Comment: 11523

don't mean to be dominating ... read this today and thought it relevant to our discussion ... from don dillilo's "white noise" ... "we start our lives in chaos, in babble. As we surge up into the world, we try to devise a shape, a plan. There is dignity in this. Your whole life is a plot, a scheme, a diagram. It is failed scheme but that's not the point. To plot is to affirm life, to seek shape and control ... to plot, to take aim at something, to shape time and space. this is how we advance the art of human consciousness."

we are driven by nature to "surge up" from the chaos of the world ... we use language ... "shabby equitment" ... all language fails to penetrate into ... the choas inevitably washes over us and roll on as it has forever ... where is the "dignity" in this ?

talking about ... talking
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-11-12 15:20:08
Link to this Comment: 11534

My thanks also to all for an interesting session. We're rolling, and I'm glad. Looking forward to more conversation, on whatever topics in whatever venues.

Needless to say, we didn't exhaust the language topic, anymore than we did the science one. Things to revisit. In meanwhile, re language, see scisoc language and Signs and Voices: Language, Arts, and Identity from Deaf to Hearing for more on language (the former a continuing series, the latter a trico-conference that started yesterday, runs through Sunday).

Occurs to me that a talk today also relevant, particularly to theme of language as characterizer of what isn't (yet?) and Orah's "want to say something that you're not expecting" followed by bemoaning "the chaos inevitably washes over us". Maybe if we could give up the wish to conceive both language and the past as ways to control "chaos" and learn to enjoy/accept the creative generativity of the present (with language as a component) then we could comfortably count on always sometimes saying something that suprises others (and ourselves), and ourselves as elements of the chaos instead of stable entities that it washes over?

count me in
Name: emj
Date: 2004-11-12 16:17:41
Link to this Comment: 11535

ok, i'm all for being an element of chaos.
and as for the emptiness, nothingness which we danced around on wednesday night and which orah mentioned--two things:
1. could this be because even when we are using our best words, our kindest or most particular words, we still can't have someone else understand EXACTLy what we mean? since people can't curl up inside each other's skulls and think each other's thoughts (though damn, that'd be just about the best thing ever), what we're left with instead are the fallible and slippery words we use to try to translate thought to meaning, understood. like su-lyn revising her statement--i STILL don't know exactly what she means, but that's OK, i'm going with the flow, and she might not exactly understand where i'm going either. which doesn't make either of us idiots, but rather partners in compromise--since that's what we've got.
2. i like orah's description of the nothingness best when it seems less threatening--the idea of the sounding board, which needs the hollowness behind it in order to speak. space, empty space creating sound and resonance...yes?
these are themes that seem to come up again and again for me, thanks to last semester's evolution/story class and my need to write about what happens to me/play my life through music. one nagging question i'm still left with (and i have no answer, don't know if i'll ever live into an answer) is: what does it say about us humans that we call each other such terrible names? my friend says it means we're human. i say that's a terrible excuse. as a UU i have been raised to think of the inherent good in every person. but this goodness can slipu up...? why do we let other people (and ourselves--oh, it's true) use bad words? it's times like those, staring into the face of the homophobic kid on the bus in 6th grade, that i feel the most angry and useless: once a hurtful word is said, it takes thousands of other words to fix it. and sometimes it feels like it can't be fixed.
3. (this # not included above, but i felt the need to say a big) Thank you.

on being surprised
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-12 19:01:03
Link to this Comment: 11537

I enjoyed my first night in the Universe Bar, learned some things, look forward to more....

And thought I might, in the interim, speak to Orah's desire to say something Anne has never thought of . I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago in another series on Language that Eric (aka "the Martian") organized. The punch line there was that we use language less/or not only to convey what we know, but more/also to invoke something which surprises--and that it's the restraint (the stuff we don't get, don't understand) which generates the newness, the-what-we-didn't-already-know-til-we-heard-it. It's the slippage that invites the surprise. What's important here is that we can't (being bound, being material, being limited in experience, being limited in word-availability) BUT slip. And we can't (being bound, being material, being limited in experience, being limited in word-understanding) BUT be surprised, as much by what we ourselves say as by what others say.

Understanding that process is one way of making sense (and use!) of what bothers EmJ: why do we let other people (and ourselves--oh, it's true) use bad words? A student of mine, Emily Elstad, spoke pretty eloquently about this a few years ago, in an essay called "Slipping into Something [Less] Comfortable...." which begins, "You're speaking your mind and sometimes you slip. We all slip," and ends by talking about

"a new state emerging from the act of slipping, a temporary loss of control that yields both a personal, subjective truth and a changed state that has moved away from 'a standard' and into new thought and order. Instead of chastising people for 'slipping,' for describing the way in which they honestly think about the world, perhaps we should consider the meaning behind words spoken in moments of 'slipping' and really think about how they speak to our world. Thinking metaphorically, sometimes only by slipping and falling to the floor do we notice that there is something down there that needs to be cleaned up. "

If this is the case, then Su-lyn's binary is a false one: we stuff (one set of) meanings into language, we pull (another set of) meanings out of it...and if the whole game gets to seem a little predictable, well then we gather together a group of people, in the knowledge that the mixture itself will produce something new (as a character in Margaret Drabble's The Radiant Way knew, when she invited a few too many people to a party):

She had, of late, felt herself uncannily able to predict the next word, the next move...had felt in danger (why danger?) of too much knowledge, of a kind of powerlessness and sadness that is born of knowledge. For these reasons, perhaps, was it that she had decided to multiply the possibilities so recklessly, to construct a situation beyond her own grasping? A situation of which not even she could guess the outcome? Had she wished to test her powers, or, a little, to lose control and stand aside? To be defeated, honourably, by the multiplicity of the unpredictable, instead of living with the power of her knowingness? With the limits of the known?....(8-9)

There's the wish to surprise. And then there's the wish to be, and the inevitability of being, surprised. By ourselves. By others. By the Universe. Unbarred.

The brain.
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-11-12 19:51:44
Link to this Comment: 11539

could this be because even when we are using our best words... we still can't have someone else understand EXACTLy what we mean? ...people can't curl up inside each other's skulls and think each other's thoughts...-- Emily

I speak for myself here: I really don't care for thinking someone else’s thoughts. I'm happy to muddle through ambiguities and to fill in the blanks myself. So here's an idea:
  1. The brain precedes language. In all likelihood, language inherited the brain as a system with a specific structure and specific way of functioning.
  2. What is this system? Paul can say more, but here’s what I’m piecing together: the brain (our brain?) is capable of connecting the dots, of conjecturing, speculating and extrapolating. It has little need for idiot-proof step-by-step instruction manuals.
  3. And so, why should we expect language, a product of the brain, to be an idiot-proof step-by-step instruction manual of communication? Maybe it's misleading to argue that we communicate "in spite of the ambiguity of language". Instead, we communicate through the ambiguity of language, because we are not paralyzed by the need for perfect transcripts of reality and of thought.
Having said that, the idea of "connecting the dots" is vague. I'm not sure if it requires awareness of the past and the future, of other minds similarly equipped with reasoning, and of the intention to communicate -- maybe Eric can help me out here. As I understand it, the reason why language works is that two parties recognize they are both trying to communicate, and will thus try to make sense of what is said, no matter how nonsensical. That is, no matter how big the gap in meanings, there is always someone trying to bridge it. Which in turn opens up a lot of possibilities for thinking about miscommunication, stalemates, etc.

And I see that Anne has posted something else since I started composing this. Will see if I change my tune after reading it.

See you all in a bit,

Date: 2004-11-13 17:25:57
Link to this Comment: 11545

oh my, you all say such beautiful / comforting things ... yes, what would it be like if we could stop trying to control the world, and rather, let its beauty wash over us like mist... let other writers flow free through my thought and words instead of tripping them up with the vague notion of originality... why do we feel that we much CONTROL the words after they have left our lips and fingers? why do we feel like trespasers if we use another's image ? maybe the beauty of writing in the post-modern era is the recontextualization of old images ... breathing life back into the images ... and, yes, em, i guess echos can occur only when there in an empty space ... a space to fill ... creation can only occur if given this space ... and what is art other than creation? words echo through time only if there is an emptyness within, a lonesomeness ... something always brings me back to orphans ... but, i digress ...
"a kind of powerlessness and sadness that came with knowledge." i like that a whole lot.

petty clarification by someone who cannot take being misunderstood: When i wrote, "the choas inevitably washes over us and rolls on as it has forever ... where is the "dignity" in this ?" I did not mean to be 'bemoaning' this condition. I am truly asking where the dignity is ... i recognize this as a dignified act, man, where would i be if i didn't?!?!? but, i cannot seem to pinpoint WHERE the dignity is. maybe the point of all this is that i shouldn't feel like i have to locate it, impose boundaries and limitation on by localizing it, but rather, allow it just to be ...

Empty Space
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-11-13 19:00:51
Link to this Comment: 11546

Just wanted to suggest that if anyone wants to bring something to the next U-bar meeting which to them represents emptiness or empty space that might be useful. There is lots to talk about even without this component but I wanted to extend this invitation. See you all soon... in forum and then in person on Wed.

I want to show you all the work of James Turrell and Gordon Matta-Clark and others (or at least will bring some images and see where the conversation goes). If you have time/interest and want to google these two names before Wed... that might be interesting also.

I am begining to see a distinction between nothingness and emptiness. I'll ask you all in person but does anyone want to consider this on the forum, before U-bar meeting?


The Library of Babel
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-11-14 17:36:23
Link to this Comment: 11557

I just read The Library of Babel, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Those who took Evolution of Stories might remember that Dennett mentioned it in his book.

It begins: "The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries... The Library contained all books". This is an enormous number, though not infinite given that it is limited by the uniform format of the books: "of 410 pages; each page, of 40 lines, each line, of some 80 letters", of which there are 25 in this particular alphabet. Given all the possible permutations of letters, it's still large enough to render futile any search for a particular book.

The virtual infinity of books drives many to hope, to desperation, to greed, to insanity.

In light of this story, infinity is emptiness, not nothingness.


Name: maria
Date: 2004-11-14 18:48:01
Link to this Comment: 11560

I’ve been thinking about Orah’s post…especially the line “Everything i do, Everything i think about, Everything i know comes back to this Absence…”
My mother’s been quite ill for the last ten years and so personally the idea of absence is very much linked with this constant threat of losing her, one of the issues that I struggle with is the potential/future losses that I know will occur (parents dying etc) and perhaps the reason such events are so painful is that they provide glimpses into the ‘absence’ around which (AGAINST which?) we try to exist. To be aware of loving someone as much as one is aware of missing them…to find a way to take as much joy in their presence as you will sorrow in their absence is one of the most difficult things to do…Is it ever possible that the presence of a person can make manifest the depth and breadth of our feeling for them with the same intensity that their loss does? If not, is this because their absence forces us to distinguish between the parts of a person we love and the encompassing love we have of that person’s presence …to have them, their voice disappear into the absence or void so quickly and suddenly …you can try to take comfort in the thought that you carry them with you but really it’s just an echo of yourself. Memories are a poor substitute for the company of a loved one, yet the memories of past events are often so much more poignant than the actual experience. I know that when sitting in the hallway of god-knows-what ICU the memories that were most evocative of my mother were the ones that I hadn’t paid any attention to as they occurred, they were the ones that I simply experienced with the blind arrogance of a child who has not yet been faced with the truly unkind abruptness with which life is capable of collapsing in on itself…Nabokov wasn’t kidding when he said “the cradle rocks above an abyss…”

“Surrender” is a interesting word to use, I was thinking as I read your posting about the difference between “surrendering” and “giving up” and decided that (for me) the important difference is that “to surrender” actually means to accept/acknowledge the reality of a situation, for example, one usually loses the war BEFORE one surrenders. If you just get tired and stop it’s just “giving up.” The question of course is then “can we ever do anything BUT surrender?” I’m tempted to say no. I suppose that part of what living is about is getting yourself to a place where you can , in good conscience, say that you fought the good fight for the reasons that you chose and that you lost, as of course we all do when what we’re fighting is absence…which, I increasingly find myself thinking, is inevitability itself. I know that what I want is just the chance to fight on my terms, not thinking that there is any particular or objective value in them, but feeling that to fight otherwise would be, in the largest sense of the term, an inadvertent suicide. And so…I suppose that is what truth is for me, it is the terms on which I am willing to negotiate with absence, with chaos…with the void, before it swallows me up…and as is true of any negotiation, in the process of figuring out what one is and isn’t willing to give ground on one deepens one’s understanding of what is truly important. To speak the line (it’s Camus again, I apologize) with honest conviction and no resentment: “Well, the tragedy is over. The failure is complete. I turn my head and go away. I took my share in this fight for the impossible.”

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-11-15 00:50:48
Link to this Comment: 11567

So much to say about absence. It looks like what I'm going to bring to the table on Wed. is very very visually based. We should also keep talking a bit about absence in language (EmJ) Spirituality (Orah), the other/parent (Maria)... the slippery spaces that bring us insight. In thinking about these issues, I realize that I am drawn emotionally to the idea of absence. I really wish that Wed. were more than one hour. But I suppose one could see time as being could see it as an "and the rest is silence" type thing or one can see time as infinite space which is continually filled, which cannot stop being filled because of the limits we construct. I suppose we could talk about that too... time as something either empty or composed of nothingness or non-existent.

A few moments ago I remembered an interaction between Anne and EmJ at the last U-bar meeting. Anne asked EmJ if she would still write poetry if there was no one around to read it. I had the experience today of, for no particular reason, opening up a poem which I had written and submitted for poetry class and reading it over again. (I have done this before) That made me think that MY answer to Anne's question would also be yes (although I was thinking no before). Yes, I would write poetry if there was no one there to read it because, if I am writing poetry, then I will always be around to read it. I suppose this could go in an article about a human propensity towards narcissism, though that's not the context in which i mean it.

Once a poem is writen, the self who wrote the poem becomes the other reading the poem. The me that read the poem today was not the same me that wrote the poem and I got a certain satisfaction as reader of my own poem and had a certain "slippage moment". I realized, while reading the poem that because of the form that I was trying, "the seamless merging of various narrative voices" I had made an "error". In other words, I was not so seamless...there was an absence...a gap in clarity of meaning. One narrative was about a male/female vaguely sexual relationship and the other was about a character's realtionship with her mother. By not transitioning "well enough", I seem to have created what can be misread as a sexual relationship with a mother. How do I know that this confusion exists within the poem? When I read it today I thought, goodness it sounds as if there is some sort of inscestuous relationship with a mother going on here. The person writing the poem certainly did not intend this but because of a glitch in form this door was opened. It is a door which the self, acting as other helped to open and which will help the self acting as poet to figure out what she really wants to say. That is to say by accidentally going over the edge, new metaphoric potential was opened up.

Also in response to Anne's question, I think the same holds true for painting... the mind that works on a given painting, is engaged in the process of creation is very much influenced by the unconscious/subconscious. This mind is different from the brain that then looks at the product. So if this other aspect of my self didn't exist... the "i can look at my work and learn about myself aspect"... if there was only the self that painted, existed through the visceral application of paint to canvas... then, why do it? I wouldn't do it. Yes, Anne you need at least one other in order for creative production to be worthwhile. In my opinion that other can be the self.

Date: 2004-11-16 17:56:06
Link to this Comment: 11611

"to have them, their voice disappear into the absence or void so quickly and suddenly …you can try to take comfort in the thought that you carry them with you but really it’s just an echo of yourself. Memories are a poor substitute for the company of a loved one, yet the memories of past events are often so much more poignant than the actual experience."

I'd love to listen to you, maria, or any else, elaborate on that.
yes, i (hesitantly) aggree, "memories are a poor substitute," but they are ALL (in the vacuume sense of the word...if we include dreams) we have. why not ascribe them more power than we are, before tragedy, inclined to ?

"The question of course is then “can we ever do anything BUT surrender?” I’m tempted to say no. I suppose that part of what living is about is getting yourself to a place where you can , in good conscience, say that you fought the good fight for the reasons that you chose and that you lost, as of course we all do when what we’re fighting is absence..." (you should read Freud's "beyond the pleasure principle") I, too, am toying with that idea ... glad to hear that I'm in good company.

Date: 2004-11-16 18:06:31
Link to this Comment: 11612

and it just occured to me that if memory is "an echo of yourself" ... it's like we're staring into a mirror when we remember. have been thinking a lot this semester about the relationship of the reflection to the gazer (fine, i admit it, this is the only thing i think about) ... that echo is not yourself ... the progected image, the surface reflection is not the self .... it is bounced off the absence / the sound board / the deep ... and returns to your ears / your eyes grazed by the absence ... memories have traveled distances for which we yearn... they pass before us and behind us and are only remembered ... they transcend the temporal and the dimentional... they tell something (if only a hazed reflection) of where we hope (though fail) to go.

for maria ... and anyone else who may be intereste
Date: 2004-11-16 18:28:18
Link to this Comment: 11615

eliot: "footfalls echo in the memory / down the passage which we did not take / toward the door we never opened / into the rose-garden. my words echo / thus, in your mind ... other echoes / inhabit the garden. shall we follow ? quick, said the bird, find them, find them ... look down into the drained pool . ... filled with water out of sunlight ... and they were behind us, reflected in the pool. Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty. Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children, hidden excitedly, containing laughter. Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind / cannot bear very much reality. Time past and time future / what might have been and what has been / point to one end, which is always present."

I am haunted with the secret, jubilant laugher of children who were, are, and will be.

rilke: "voices, voices. / listen, my heart / as only the saints / have listened .... listen / to that soft / blowing... / that endless report / that grows out of silence. / it rustles toward you / from those who died young. .. piercing / the arid numbness / and, in that stunned/ space / where an almost godlike youth / had suddenly stopped existing / made emptiness vibrate/ in ways/ that thrill us/ comfort us / help us now?"

for the future
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-11-16 19:34:44
Link to this Comment: 11616

We're just about halfway through our planned program. Any suggestions for future conversations? What topics are you intrigued by? You can either volunteer to introduce the theme, or suggest someone else.

Some of the things that interest me:
1) black hole computing -- theorizing about the limits of speed that computer processes can achieve. The most recent issue of Scientific American has an article on this topic and I've also mentioned U-Bar to Lindell, a prof from Haverford's computer science department who's interested in this issue (and others). Am hoping he'll replace my "innovation" theme on Dec 1.
2) dreaming -- why? what?
3) death -- particularly programmed cell death. Don't know much about it, just sounds like an intriguing idea.

My biases, my ideas. The conversations don't HAVE to be like the ones suggested here. Would love to know what other people are thinking about.


Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-11-16 23:17:30
Link to this Comment: 11622

Dreaming! That is very good. There is a lot I have been thinking about dreaming recently. Not to say I have to be facilitator, but do you think that we can make this a definite topic? I'm totally game for dreams. I have a lot to work out with that... came up a bit in my empty space thinking and in poetry class today and...

See you all tomorrow.

The slippery slope into the Abyss
Name: Wil Frankl
Date: 2004-11-17 15:56:13
Link to this Comment: 11631

I haven’t been able to attend the U-bar, yet. However, I am following along as I love the idea of a place to share and learn from other story-tellers that have fresh and slippery things to say.

I am wondering about a common thread regarding absence... about voids and can not help but remember my own forays into the existential abyss. But they were only forays and I believe it is possible that there are other alternatives and not necessarily ones that invoke an all knowing being. In fact, I take great pleasure in acting from the point of view that I am in the present and a full and equal agent of creation. To recall an obvious existential example, in “Waiting for Godot” one can do nothing or one can engage. In another story from science…the moral of the quantum physics story is that there is an infinite number of possibilities and only through action does ONE and only one become realized. So do not fret the abyss, act and in so doing, be part of creation. I have at home as a reminder a picture of a person walking into the deep blue sky...a tight-rope walker, holding one end of the rope on which he is walking.

On the other hand, I am still trying to surprise Anne, so it takes more than just action.

For what it's worth, it would be great to learn more about chaos,language and memory...

Date: 2004-11-17 19:40:29
Link to this Comment: 11634

just had a conversation that makes college worth 38 grand and nights that last till 4am ...
so i've been complaining that i'm tired of thinking about the absence, but that's not true. I'm tired of the language we use to describe It. it seems that we are stuck in a language that speaks of the absence and the deep and the other and whiteness ... but it's all talking about the same thing. i'm not tired of thinking of this thing, but am tired of the images of "air borne toxic events" and "moby dick" and "mont blanc" and the "unmoved mover" and "the word" ... i need a NEW image.

this IT is, like language, what we use to describe what we are Not ... in this human search for this other we are really looking for ourselves ... our obsession with mirrors/reflections: i sometimes say is a search for the other: we see otherness in the image ... and yet this search for the other is a search for our own essence: the best definition of the self, the closest we get to describing the self is when we define the other, i think. we are the reflection of the absence as the absence is the reflection of us. there is a deep meaninglessness in ourselves that we recognize in the absence that we see in the reflection: the other: the absence: the deep: the void.
so, in response to this meaninglessness at the base of our existence we construct. the act of construction (ANY kind of construction : identity, community, self, other, images, absence) is at its essence an attempt to create meaning into our lives. we are not absolutely free in this world because of inherent biology, but we are free to construct meanings. is construction the same as creation ?

BUT we have built ourselves so high, we are so entrenched in meaning at this point, that i am feeling a deep deep need to breathe outside of this meaning. i need to deconstruct. to speak a NEW image. but, language in itself is a construction ... I need deconstruction ... i'm looking for something more drastic than a new image, something more drastic than a new language ... something that transcends word. for word is a construction: a parceling of the world into what is and what is not. even parceling is too much for me right now. i need less. i need disorder.

and the only language that comes to mind is silence.

i said a few posts back that i think postmodernism is the recontexualization of images. what is beyond that ? melville said that he was in the last stages of metaphysics

and, in a world in which white noise permeates ALL can we acheive silence ? (THAT is the killer question right now!) and if silence is the only way to absolute deconstruction: an absolute view of what Is ... IT .... then, in the post modern world that we have constructed are we seperating ourselves farther and farther away from that for which we are ultimately striving ? have we created a world in which, for the first time, the limit of definition has been acheived ... and the only place to go is back ... but we've cut ourselves off ... there is no going back ... there's too much noise ... we've entered the static zone.

tired thoughts of surrender
Date: 2004-11-17 22:09:56
Link to this Comment: 11637

thank you all for the talk tonight ...
i get excited during those talks (combination of crunch time doses of caffine and your brilliant comments filtering into me) ... but that stimulation is so so tiring ... and, for lack of an appropriote place to put this personal comment ... TS Eliot (at 23 years old) writes the words that i cannot ... "I grow old ... I grow old ... " i wonder about surrender

the point of silence?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-11-18 08:02:50
Link to this Comment: 11645

Thanks Elizabeth/all for an interesting/stimulating evening. Am used to the idea of emptiness/nothingness as mystery or absence, in either case as something to be filled. And comfortable as well with the notion of emptiness/nothingness as the grist from which things are made ("in the beginning was the void"). Seemed to me though that an interesting new idea (to me at least ) emerged last night, the idea of space/emptiness/silence as an active architectural element, something (like the numerical zero) that contributes by its presence to the meaning of other things.

What made me link space/emptiness to silence (before reading Orah was a memory, as we were talking, of a line from Laurence Durrell's Justine (the first book of the Alexandria Quartet):

Does not everything depend upon our interpretation of the silence around us?

How about silence/space/emptiness neither as the starting point nor as the ending point of an enterprise but rather as simply another of an ensemble of building blocks whose relations to one another can be used to create meaning and which can be reshaped and repositioned (in an infinite number of ways) to generate alternative meanings? Maybe if we stop looking for the end all/be all and just enjoy working with what we have (as Elizabeth did) .... ?

On Space and Weak Connections
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-18 16:54:22
Link to this Comment: 11655

Mulling over, also, what emerged for me last night...was struck especially by the disinclination of the Greeks and Romans to figure "zero," to mark what is nothing--and the uses to which we now put those figures (turning 1 into 10, 10 into 100, 100 into 1,000); have a real curiosity about how contemporary logicans make sense of that "paradox" (figuring what is not) that the Greeks couldn't reconciile...

As a Quaker, I've long thought of silence as the place that "keeps things open," that gives words more "weight" (why Meeting for Worship "works" as well as it does--because there's space between the messages, time for them to sink in, and grow....)

But what I picked up last night (and which got re-activated w/ Paul's post) today, is this slightly different notion: that silence is not simply "another in the ensemble of building blocks," but actually an "active architectural element," a structural principle: as the remainder that escapes the drawing of any line, no matter how generous, it is not only irreducible, but irreducibly productive.

We had a (to me) curiously-intersecting conversation about this in the Emergence group this morning, where an ecologist was explaining to us the current thinking about biological stability: in food webs, the more linkages you have, the more instability you have (since destroying any link can badly interrupt the web). So ecologists are talking, not about reducing the number of links, but about changing their STRENGTH: if you make most of them WEAK, then breaking one/several would not harm the whole.

And THIS (in the loosely-webbed-way my brain works) put me in mind of a recent diversity conversation about how the very notion of "sustainability" prevents hard conversations from happening, among a group of women who want to "get along": the desire to "make nice" (to keep the links between us strong) can inhibit our willingness to talk frankly w/ one another, and so trace out new territory.

So (finally; am getting there) what is arising strongly for me here is an image of a system--not Elizabeth's circle or "zero" (with nothing inside/nothing outside) but rather a network, one w/ lots of weak connections in it. And lots of space--as in Elizabeth's installation, as on Serendip, as in black hole computing?-- between them.

Date: 2004-11-19 14:58:29
Link to this Comment: 11678

or course these talks always bring me back to the evolution class last semester in which so many of us participated. and, of course, so much of what we talked about in that class lingers in my thought, and the ways in which i am shaping myself. one of the themes that comes back and back to me is the idea of the "clinger" and the "drifter" the idea that some people cling to things (i.e. people) in life and while this is a much more comfortable way of life it always has the imminent possiblity of loss that can be fatal to one who clings too tightly. opposingly (though, these are just forms, and, i think, of course, no one is a full clinger or full drifter), is the character of the drifter who does not cling, and though her life may be less comfortable, for she does not hold onto anyone, lean on anyone, she is not in imminent danger, she is self sufficient and the only thing that threatens her is her own death. (again, i come back to freud's 'beyond the pleasure principal' which speaks about how people spend whole lifetimes fasioning for themselves the perfect death. ... people sneer, but i really like freud). the drifter and the clinger love differently. both can love, i think. the clinger loves with the full body thrust of fatal love. the drifter loves in a different way. so, mixed with mystical inclinations to acheive a perfect state of mind (and as a hemingway character says, "i want to be myself only much much better") i have tried hard this semester to become a drifter ... and have succeeded, i think, except for one thing to which i cling. i am trying to loosen my grip. trying hard. but am failing, and i am wondering if any of you have thoughts on the matter. virginia woolfe writes in 'a room of one's own' "Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others." though, at 21 i do not consider myself "wreckage" (nor, a member of the group she refers to as "men"), i do mind "beyond reason the opinions of others." i overheard anne say in passing bf the ubar on language that women, since the beginning of time, have sold their souls to be loved. since eve, i suspect. that is a hell of a heavy history to shake loose. do you think that's why women are not really found in the cannon ? because woolfe makes a mistake when she says that this wreckage found in litterature is that of men, but rather, the literary wasteland is a female landscape sprinkled, with staggering disproportionality, with men ? how do women deal with that ?!?!?!?!?!?!?

intense focus on nothing
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-19 18:20:11
Link to this Comment: 11689

Well, I'm going to let lay that comment about women's long history of selling of their souls for love....

in order to say something else about nothingness and presence. I have a good friend, Tom Sarrantonio, who is a landscape painter. I'm on my way to NYC this weekend to see an exhibit of his paintings at the Tatistcheff Gallery, and wanted to share here something from the catalogue that seems wonderfully resonant of this week's conversation. The essay, called "Painting and Presence," begins by speaking of Martin Heidegger's description of

"one of the pivotal moments in the development of modern consciousness, the moment when the phenomena of existence are transformed into a 'world picture'...the world conceived and grasped as picture. It is precisely this consciousness--this project of the world of objects perceived in contrast to the subjective experience of the viewer--that is an elemental feature of the modern world view, and makes possible modern instrumental technology. Once rendered into a picture, the world may be analyzed and broken down, its 'secrets' unlocked and taken advantage of."

Now this puts a huge spin on the conversation, earlier this summer, about the "assailability" of pictures; it suggests, contra that discussion, that it is precisely the formation of a picture of the world which enables its analysis. The sort of painting Tom does--landscapes--arose in Italy around the time Descartes' Meditations were first published (1650), but what I'm finding interesting just now/this weekend is that Tom's versions of landscapes are close-cropped fragments of a whole--he has lots of studies of grasses, for instance, so close-up that they seem abstract. He says he started this series out of a desire to paint "nothing"--meaning something that most people would pass by without a second thought. What his reviewer calls this

"existential, almost-Zen-like focus on 'nothing'" leads to an "an intensity of focus paradoxically making the presence of the grasses at once more specific (as the locus of attention) and less specific (as they dissolve into a web of painterly strokes). "

Look deeply enough @ something...and come up with nothing? (Cf. Chelsea Phillips: It matters so much that it has ceased to matter at all. ) Conversely: go deeply enough into'll eventually come up with something?

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-11-20 12:51:58
Link to this Comment: 11697

Paul was talking to me about a continuum, a loop rather than a line in terms of politics, when you go far enough to the left you get something close to what's considered right wing thoughts... Seeing thoughts/political opinions on a loopy continuum (not Paul's words) that is not a straight line can be useful for people seeing each other, creating change.

So too with emptiness. I like what Anne is saying- and agree. If any of you still have that packet you might consider the Miro painting next to the final painting by Kandinsky, or consider James Turrel's image with Jeff Wall's destroyed room. I think if you go far enough into nothingness, you get chaos again... lots of something. Jeff Wall's image of chaos is STILL empty even though on a literal level it is full of things. Nothing productive can happen in it because the space is so crowded. Or consider, Paul's discussion of the white the person is suspended in it with no border referent. He or she starts to create from the emptiness...plunged into the deepest emptiness, the mind conjures something... That something came out of the nothingness and will always remain close to it.

In my mind empty always comes before full and full is only full in relation to emptiness. It's very much a loop. Hmmm... I just got an image of Paul and Anne's entropy water wheel from Evolit.

on the way to "o"
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-11-22 00:26:47
Link to this Comment: 11709

On my way to O in the dictionary, I passed by N and the third entry for "nothing" caught my eye. (it's the entry at the top right hand corner of the page). I thought the definition was significant re: Anne's post.

nothing: 1 a: something that does not exist

Ahem... I wonder if anyone on the dictionary writing staff questioned the fact that the first word in the definition of "nothing" is "something". We are defining the word by giving that which signifies its opposite.

I think it speaks volumes about the way nothing and something are related and says even more about how problematic nothingness may be in our culture.

Do you think people would be worried if someone were to put out a dictionary where nothing was defined as follows?


Name: Wil Frankl
Date: 2004-11-22 11:24:34
Link to this Comment: 11710

I like the definition of nothing:…..

In the blank, one can read anything and thus the blank, the silence reads as everything. In nothingness, everything is possible and everything, being everything, includes nothing. And hence, go far enough to the right you get something that looks left and vise versa. And lastely, out of the silence/void you become an agent of creation by delineating meaning, by carving it out of the silence. We are all artists…carving meaning out of the silence, all scientist…using what we sense to guide our hand in the act of creation.

Transfering this paradigm to another dichotomy...What is the difference between the Red and Blue states? Are we really that different? If you act out of love, and tolerance, can you go so far that it looks like hate? If you think in the long term can it be perceived in the short term as something else entirely?

gibberish ...
Date: 2004-11-23 00:00:47
Link to this Comment: 11727

i, too, think that we are all artists carving meaning out of nothing. that is why faith, in my opinion, is more than something for the unenlightened. surrender, in my opinion, is more than a giving in to comforting falsehoods. that is why i put more emphasis on, give more power to memory than one (or more,) in the last ubar, might. when echoes and shadows are all we have ... when we are haunted by those who are no longer and, for that matter, haunted, in mind , by those those who still are (what's the difference there, eh? where does life fade into death? the memory seems to be a fading zone of sorts... the memory as the place where the living mingle with the dead ... oh, my goodness, the sublime beauty of dreams! ) ... when there is no pure sound, but only echo ... no body but only remembered touch ... touch draw out .... 'protracted bruise' (Dickinson) ....when all that remains are lingerings, fadings, ghosts .... what else can i do? (protract my bruise! ) there is, i think, a power in beleif that is rooted in the human mind as a creative, a generative force. ...
am i going mad when i see connections between every thought that glimpses into my perception? that everything comes back to ... the paradox surrounding, the fire that does not consume, the Am (Ahh... finally a new image for it... releif will not last long) the answer lies within the paradox, but the paradox is unsolvable ... i speak gibberish, and yet if all language is a description of the stuff surrounding what we are trying to get at, no language "gets to it" ... we speak the language of stuff when what we are trying to get at is (what is?) anti-matter ... all language is fire that does not consume ... a burning, flesh welting that does not dissolve .... it is a constant pain .... but, once we are singed all over ....the pain disapears and we continue to burn without feeling? ... interview a blacksmith (proceed, with caution, to chapter 112) but, i disgress ... then what is the difference between gibberish and language ... where is the border between madness and .... a description of what something is not, a flat, syntactical road we walk in order that we may transcend ... here is the everlasting rub that does not remove skin (no matter how hard) ...
and another seemingly irrelevant orah rant that ya'all can skip over for i write to exorcise ... ((though: a whispering: maybe, as a woman, i write only to connect to you ... vaguely ... but, i deny it! what did lady mcbeth say ? unsex me here? ... but, i'm not sure that's what i want)) i write to exorcise: a (flimsy, you may say) connection ... rimbaud beleived that the only way to acheive this ... you know .... This ... is through excess .... one must live a life of drastic extreems ... FULLY embody the clinger form or the drifter form ... we find that many of the genious poets and artists do just this: take control of their lives, grasp it around the neck, and Act. this grabbing of life by the neck is, i shall assert, poetry. poetry is more than word, it is a way of life (agree? disagree?) i extend: ART is more than a creation, but is, too, a way of life .... and the greatest assertion of the night: ART is the HUMAN way of life ... is human way of life is through action ... that is why the living must wake. the waking world (as opposed to the dream world) is a place of action. what the hell does that mean? smack me back on track : so many artists take on the life of a drifter ... attached to no one ... and as a means of acheiving This took on the task of self perfection .... there seems to be a trend that the only way This can be acheived is through individuality, solitary soul searching ...but, thinking about the heavy history of women ... this leads one to an answers : .... women seek not self perfection, but rather, the perfection of union... this constant self sacrifice for love, self crucifiction for love ... but, i wonder where this feminine form of perfection can bring us.... human bodies fit together ... are (do i dare use scary teleological words) MEANT to be together ............. and i'll leave this, tired, tangled and dangling

Date: 2004-11-23 16:18:32
Link to this Comment: 11734

"it was easier not to know, better holding heaven in your hand like a butterfly that is not there at all." -truman capote's "other voices, other rooms"

i wish all you you, my thinking companions, a wonderful thanksgiving.

interpreting the silence (there or not)
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-24 15:58:09
Link to this Comment: 11767

Does not everything depend upon our interpretation of the silence around us?

So, have been chewing for a little while now on this (rhetorical?) question, want to record here the results of the mastication, for my own reference and perhaps for others to pick up the pieces, after a weekend spent chewing on other (more material?) matter....

I started by digging into the novel which ends w/ this passage, Durrell's Justine, going back into the silences that precede the ending (the silence of an unanswered letter, the "huge" silence of a death....), realizing that what matters is less the silence than the wide range of interpretations we can make of it. Eventually I found myself (not surprisingly, in a novel which makes the city of Alexandria the figure of skepticism) meeting a descendent of Descartes who says of himself,

"'I am a Jew, with all the Jew's bloodthirsty interest in the ratiocinative faculty. It is the clue to many of the weaknesses in my thinking, and which I am learning to balance up with the rest of me'....He was really using himself up, his inner self, in living....To the Cartesian proposition: 'I think therefore I am,' he opposed his own, which must have gone something like this: 'I imagine, therefore I belong and am free.'" (93)

Trying to figure out the relationship here, between belonging and freedom--and how the use of the imagination may enable both--I realized that, for all the discussion, both in the Descartes and Universe forums, of being and thinking (of the need for "looping" between them, of the ways in which using one corrects for the excessive reliance on the other...) we've spoken very little of the power of the imagination. Now, maybe this is just splitting hairs (maybe "imagining" is just thinking of what hasn't yet been; maybe "imagining" is just being...?), but I have a hunch that I'm tracing out a bit of territory we haven't yet engaged, territory less located in sensory perception, freer of "real world" observations, than what we've been talking about so far, so I ask for a little indulgence while I play this out....

At the beginning of next week, the study group of the Graduate Idea Forum is reading Arthur I. Miller's Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty that Causes Havoc--a really remarkable account of ideas developed in common by artists and scientists at the beginning of the 20th century. What Miller argues is that Einstein and Picasso were alike in their discovery of "conception over perception." This enabled each to formulate new representations of reality (as Gertrude Stein said, they could see the "reality not of things seen but of things that exist").

Following Boltzmann, both knew that "unclarities" derive from "not starting at once with hypothetical mental pictures but trying to link up with experience at the outset." Einstein was drawn, even as a child, to the things "deeply hidden...behind things" (the force that determined, for instance, the persistent direction of a compass needle); and Picasso came to make paintings "without subject, silences." What is striking to me here is the reliance of both these men on "visual imagery" that was not tethered to the visual world (="not trying to link up with experience at the outset"); they were able to create something profoundly new because they were not limited by appearances, by what they could see or sense. Or, in shorthand,

They were.
They could imagine (what was not/seen) and
They could interpret what they imagined.

This re-formulation of "I think, therefore I can change," relies on dictionary definitions of "imagine" --to form a mental image or concept of something non-existent or not present to the senses (from the Latin imago) and "interpret" --to explain/make out/bring out the meaning of something mysterious (from the Latin for explain or translate). But what seems key-- and perhaps a useful revision/extension/addition--is the sense of detachment from the observable, from the everyday.

In their ability to to "withdraw from the 'merely personal' into worlds beyond appearances," Einstein and Picasso both resemble the narrator of Durrell's Justine, who describes his own "life-giving detachment": "I was like a dry-cell battery. Uncommitted, I was free to circulate in the world of men and women...." The title character of Durrell's novel, who operates not in the world of science or art, but in that of human relationships, has a similarly creative--if also destructive--effect: "But those she harmed most she made fruitful. She expelled people from their old selves. It was bound to hurt, and many mistook the nature of the pain she inflicted." She herself had a way of speaking of this, that may be particularly striking to the students in the Evolit course last spring, where we spoke so often of the difference between "clinging" and "drifting": "Damn the word [love]. I would like to spell it backwards as you say the Elizabethans did God. Call it evol and make it a part of 'evolution' or 'revolt.'"

Cute, huh? Love spelled backwards is EVOL--and is (one) result of interpreting the silence/the unseen/the "invisible realities" which surround us all. A way of belonging, and of being free.

change of plans
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-11-29 20:41:56
Link to this Comment: 11791

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Hope you had a good break. So, U-Bar this fine Wednesday. I'd originally planned to do "Innovation", but the creative spark never came -- I suspect it might be a struggle (at least for me) to make this interesting. So unless someone has a brilliant idea, I've put in place two contingency plans:

1) I've just emailed Jeremy Fantl, a Haverford prof of general programs & philosophy who's teaching a class on Conspiracy Theories and the Challenge of Belief. I invited him to come say a few words about lying and deception. Lots of room for creative spin-offs, I imagine.

2) If all else fails, you've still got me, unfortunately. Rather than force Innovation, I wonder if we might shift the topic to Critics and Criticism. This is something I've been exploring in the context of a "science critic". Again, plenty of room for contributions from different perspectives.

What say you?

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-11-29 22:16:59
Link to this Comment: 11795

Woo hoo, we have Jeremy Fantl! So the topic for Wednesday is Lies/Deception. If there is interest, we can revive Innovation for a later date.


Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-11-29 22:40:00
Link to this Comment: 11796

One more thing, one of my suitemates works on the Bi-Co and was floundering for an end-of-semester topic that didn't use the word "exams". I suggested she join us for U-Bar on Wednesday. She'll be interested to hear your views about U-Bar, so stay a couple of minutes later if you can.

See you all soon,

where's the problem?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-12-02 13:28:11
Link to this Comment: 11848

So...was intrigued by Jeremy's presentation, last night, of conspiracy theories and the challenge they pose for "belief"...

but (though interested in the clarifying re-"performance" of Kennedy's assassination) not quite "convinced" that there really *is* a problem here. Am thinking of Descartes, of the contemporary re-writing that emphasizes the usefulness of profound skepticism; am thinking of the 19th century American pragmatist philosophers, and their articulation of a way of thinking (and acting, based on that thinking) that does not rely on prior abstractions, rules or certainty (that actually sees certitude as the source of violence). And am thinking of the 8/11/02 NYTimes Magazine article which I mentioned last night. It's Lisa Belkin's "Coincidence in an Age of Conspiracy," or The Odds of That" :

which explores the unexpected connections, with no apparent causal relations, which "rattle and rivet" us, the surprising concurrences which we construct as meaningfully related. That we do so is no surprise, given... that we are ...pattern-seeking/pattern-making creatures who make smaller sets from large amounts of information and, conversely, infer larger structures from whatever limited information is available.

So: what's the problem?? That we can't ever get it "right"? And/or that we can only know in hindsight whether we have?? What's the alternative? A before-hand certainty that gives us no new spaces to move into, no new answers to old problems...?

gender and creativity
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-12-08 18:09:02
Link to this Comment: 11913

An early offering for Gender and Creativity: see revisiting this space.

some thoughts
Name: Maria
Date: 2004-12-09 11:15:46
Link to this Comment: 11918

I wanted to thank everyone for coming last night, I enjoyed our discussion and I hope you all did as well.
I wanted to return to the suggestion that was made during last night’s discussion that Elizabeth was “getting set up” by me. I felt fairly uncomfortable with that statement. It implied that my role in the discussion was to execute some sort of premeditated plan to unfairly use what was a personal image for Elizabeth to make a political point. (I ought to specify here that it’s the “unfairly” that I’m objecting to, the point I wanted to make was admittedly “political” but at the same time for me was also quite personal since my political views arise from very deeply held personal convictions). Sharon asked “is it fair” to critically analyze a work that is so personal and in this case I’m inclined to say ‘yes’. While Elizabeth’s image was the expression of a very personal experience it was not created and then “put away in a drawer.” It was posted publicly on a discussion forum. Presumably to be discussed. I had and continue to have serious concerns about what the painting says to me about a female’s generative abilities, but my intention tonight was not to paint Elizabeth into an academic corner where she was forced to side either with her own creative experience or with feminism, it was to explain what was going on with me in terms of how I responded to her image and why I responded in the way I did.

Mars and Venus
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-12-11 16:03:39
Link to this Comment: 11956

Brief thoughts before longer thoughts perhaps later. Loved all that Maria was saying on Wed- didn't at all feel boxed in an academic corner, or like i was being forced to pick the political or the personal. I wanted to listen to all the complexity that was being put forth and think more about how it pertained to my work in a larger context and to the way I exist in the world. Was generally delighted by all of the responses and the issues raised at U-bar.

Pertaining to my own image, something that I didn't mention was that it was also created in response to the ongoing coversation about people's various preferences for closed and open systems. Before, I had been painting boxes and felt, at the moment when I was creating this image for Anne, somewhat liberated. At that moment I began to think that perhaps images had to be concieved only when one allows oneself to be somewhat vulnerable, when one allows oneself (even if just for one instant) to exist in a place that is passive and not controling, to allow oneself to be entered. The original image has a hole cut out of the paper which created after making the image. The idea of consciously choosing vulnerability is something which I understand can cause a deep anxiety, but I do believe that it is sometimes useful to be vulnerable, open.

I see conception to be linked to inspiration which I still think (although I'm still evaluating) really is wordless- the rest of it is work and often pain. It was interesting to me to hear Lucy (and Anne and Sharon) point out that birth is not wordless. Yes, of course. This was actually something that I was not thinking about. Anyway now i've decided to equate conception to wordlessness- something more spiritual maybe, something internal at least... The internal grows and is carried and is born. So if there is a political act, the birth (of an idea or a child) is closer to the political act?

I can't help thinking that while Maria's shower images are made to reverse the notion of the "looked-at-ness" of women, they actually also play into it... that seems to me to be the main premise of satire also, to reverse something, dig deeply into it, present it almost as if you were the one guilty of perpetuating it. I LOVE what Maria is doing with her images (and even more which we did not quite get to see) where she is taking on multipule guises so that her "Maria-ness" is put into question. The images are brilliant. But, as evidenced by the reaction of some of the people who viewed Maria's images when they were first exhibited in her school, sometimes people cannot discern the implicit politically intended meaning. The reversal that the images dwell in. That is, if one doesn't know to look otherwise, one might take pleasure in the way the water hits the skin of the Maria-character in the images or the sensual pleasure that the character seems to be deriving from the water. What are the visual cues in those images which tell us that we should be thinking otherwise? A cultural knowledge? A liberal arts education? I will be the first one to admit that I like Maria's work just as much for the way the water looks hitting the eye of the woman as the way it tries to reverse a cultural assumption. And i still feel this way even knowing the context and thinking about them otherwise. They are beautiful the way I like what Maria calls chains on the woman in my image- I like those in particular for the way the blue oil pastel blended with the pink flesh tone. It felt good to make that part of the image.

Here is an image that I particularly enjoyed seeing in my Renaissance Art class this semester. It was created by Boticelli. mars and venus.

Date: 2004-12-18 20:35:42
Link to this Comment: 12001

i am sorry i missed the last ubar as i have been thinking about such issues. maybe these words jibe with what was said.
i am reading annie dillard's "The writing life." it pains me ... quite deeply. she writes, "the line of words fingers your own heart. it invades arteries, and enters the heard on a flood of breath; presses the moving rims of thick valves; it palpates the dark muscle strong as horsees, feeling for somthing, it knows not what." and i am hurt, because I KNOW THAT FEELING!! dillard speaks to something (maybe a pin-hole sense) in me, and threads her words to me. I know the feeling of rushing into my room after feeling the cooling air of november on skin and in lungs and nearly bursting because my computer won't turn on fast enough. i know what she's talking about. but, there's something stopping me. and i can't write. i can respond, but i can't generate for myself. i'm a student not a writer. i study the great and in that way come within blissful proximity to them, but i can't create. like a sob that's been pent up in your chest for 2 years. it's a painful fact for me to swallow, digest and live. so, i'm trying to break this block, burst into tears, here, in front of you. tear-drop words spilling from blistered fingers, words bled from pulse.

anne's little comment about women, since the beginning of time selling themselves for love, still haunts me. dillard writes, "One Washington writer- Charlie Butts- so prizes momentum, and so fears self-consciousness." is that the disease that the woman carries, the constant consciousness of the gaze? who knows if the gaze is actually constant, but, it has been, oh, so brutally injected, impaled, penetrated into our bodies and psyches that we are left in the impotent sickbed called womanhood.

i know i can write, but what i lack is direction. (i need to get to sea (the only place, i think, that lacks the possiblity of direction)... i know... I'm TRYING!...) direction calls attention to itself. paths penetrate into recognized space. path-walkers leave footprints. paths are noticed. bursts of word are not. but since paths are noticed then they require self-consciousness. i guess the great ability of the writer is to move into recognized space without knowing, or by forgetting that she is moving onto a stage as she sits hunched over her keyboard. but, what of the woman injected with that disease? how does a woman who wants, oh, so badly to be loved, and fasions her whole life, her whole self, her whole path and direction toward the place she thinks will give her that love, how does she move anywhere without self-consciousness? maybe that's the accomplishment of the woman writer. she is the one who heaves off heavy history, who expands far beyond the gaze, who accepts an identity that is not loved, or loves the identity that no one else loves and in so doing enables herself to live without self consciousness. she forgets that people will watch the reflection she presents with bodied words, or, more acurately: she doesn't care that people see it, because she creates it not to acheive something (i.e. love) but rather, she creates it so she can participate in the divine act of creation.

IT'S A PHYSICAL MATTER. always. if it wasn't physical then it could be forgotten, drowned in time. but, through word, we fasion for ourselves an eternal body (if not eternal then a long-lasting body ... might as well call it eternal) ... and who would want an imperfection to last forever? if death is the perfection of self then the written word is death that moves not into the dead-zone, but rather, a death that moves into more life, constant life. and who would want to be remembered as a constant imperfection. to write one must be able to acheive perfection. that's what the goal is. dying into a perfect life. that's the work of the writer.

i wish a splendid break to all. ((hoping to mind-graze here with others. maria and i have a pact to be posting feinds this break ... i hope we have some company (and i am not left alone, here.))

Date: 2004-12-19 08:00:39
Link to this Comment: 12002

but that doesn't mean that the identity of a male writer is better, or by nature (before harold bloom has a say) more apt of succeed in the literary world. i've been reading yeats lately and though at the age of 70ish, i think, he had a five year old son, the man was tragically aware of some impotency within himself. rather, if i follow this train of thought, i am bemoaning (fine, i'm whining about) the notion that our sex (male or female) prevents us from writing. i am plaugued with both a sense of impotency and self-consciousness. i think, probably, the two go hand in hand a lot. one breaks down the amune system and the other lets in the phenomonia. so, as, i think i said in a previous post, in the words of the wicked lady: unsex me here. an identity without sex. at least a literary one.

reproduction, generational life, only continues if the sexs are kept seperate, therefore there cannot be an unsexing, it's not human. unsexed writing, therefore, transcends the human, is divine. but, as aristotle reminds: we ought not to strive for divinity, only promiximity to a humanity perfected.

so, the wish of unsexing transcends flesh, humanity, and therefore transcends word. and word, body, gives me life. when divinity comes into flesh it is given life. life is something unique to humans and dependant on death. we strive for perfection WITHIN body. if we transcend we fail. perfect writing quivers as it conveys the fragility of the human condition, the constant threat of death, the constant possibility to death before perfection. (i would say that hemingway's quiver is apparent in the silence after his last words... and it's, oh, so very human that it can only be conveyed in a silence after. his works move toward this end of absolute weakness after death ... at least his early works) life is a tension within the constraint of body. all i want is more life, more power to fuel this body, these fingers, these word unstrung (and hope one day to string them).

and the want for more life, as freud says, is a want for the perfect death, which, i think, for me, might be a litterary death. so, i'm not looking for something that transcends flesh, but something very very phsycial, something that runs and pants, for in the act of running the soul is revealed. and then the looking up after finishing, the looking up and gazing at the manuscript as a mirror reflecting, translating the soul into the physical ... the body of soul is word.

so, since unsexing is not realistic i forget it. and, rather, say that if i cannot obliterate the female part of myself, the extreme oppostite may have the same effect: i will embrace, and relish my self-consciousness, my need to be loved. write works that pull people deep into my word, make people never want to stop gazing, ((for when the gaze is constant it disapeares, gives floating freedom?)) i guess i must risk it. write beautiful beautiful verse. beauty is all for which i will strive.

women, the desire to be loved, the writing process
Name: maria
Date: 2004-12-26 16:39:57
Link to this Comment: 12004

It’s funny that you (orah) were also thinking about Anne’s comment on women’s desire to be loved, their historical willingness to “sell” themselves for love. The comment had been firmly lodged in my mind, largely because when I look at my interactions, when I look at how I respond to people and the responses that I often try to elicit they are so much “please please please tell me that I am okay…” and part of me is SO that person who is young and unsure and so (even though I know better) wants positive feed-back not only from life in general but also from everyone they meet that they’re “okay”, but at the same time part of me is so NOT that person, part of me doesn’t give a damn what people think and actually prefers to be disapproved of just to make things interesting. So would the former be a more “feminine” side of me while the latter is the more “masculine”…I don’t think so…I think that both approaches to approval are probably in all of us to different degrees and girls are encouraged to identify with the approval seeking approach while boys are taught not to give a damn (these, are, I realize gross generalizations). But here’s my theory, based on my own experience, what I find myself willing to “sell myself” for ISN’T love, it’s a chance to be heard. Maybe what women have historically been willing to sell themselves for ISN’T actually love but rather the very human need to be heard, to have someone listen and many women simply bought into the lie that love implied some sort of behavior, that if someone loved you they would act in your best interest, care about what you needed…that they would LISTEN, that you would be heard and that by extension the women would know that they mattered, that they were important. But being loved and being heard are two VERRRY different things and people who confuse the two tend not to fare well. There’s a poem by Phillis Levin that I like a lot, that I feel speaks very much to this topic, it’s called ‘Conversation in an Empty Room’ and part of it reads“…we had a lot to say to each other. /But not enough. /There was a high level of chatter, very intelligent. /Of course, us being who we were. /But I was always at the edge of disappointing/Or annoying you, or delighting you,/Which was worse,/Since I feared you might want me,/And I did not want to be wanted./I wanted to be heard, to listen, standing/In a room with you—Really, you could have lain down beside me/At least once. It wouldn't have been/The end of the world./But it would have been...”
In terms of writing, the writing process…I guess my perspective is somewhat different because writing plays a very different role in my life than that of simply personal expression. Joan Didion was the first person to ever put into words my exact feelings on writing when she said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” What I’ve always found particularly interesting is that Didion, by her own admission, writes because she is unable to move beyond the specific, she enters the world through the details of her daily life, she maintains, in her own words that “had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write.” I am on the other end of the spectrum. Details of daily life are, for me, only interpreted in the framework of the abstract. I write because my access to my own mind, far from being “limited” is basically a free-for-all. I have full access to my mind and spend large parts of my day wading through all of the thoughts and ideas and observations that float around in there as though someone just dumped them into a blender and then turned the switch to ‘high.’ But in either case the motivating force is the need to answer one question, a question that was (unsurprisingly) perfectly articulated by Didion: “What is going on with these pictures in my mind?”

in response to maria's last post
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-12-29 15:15:30
Link to this Comment: 12010

"But being loved and being heard are two VERRRY different things and people who confuse the two tend not to fare well."- Maria

I suppose the idea is to have enough self esteem to begin to love oneself. The idea is to really hear oneself through the mess of voices, through the blended information inside of the head- to learn how to be one's own companion. but that's frustrating because there are so many other people out there--the idea is to connect.

I want to be loved and heard. Maybe they are very separate things but when I'm being heard, I feel loved. When someone is paying attention I feel love. I know how dangerously deep this need for love is. Isn't being told by someone else that you are okay... isn't this asking for a type of love? I want this too, Maria. A parent can tell a child "you are okay, i am here, i am listening, i am here for you". and I think, that can be felt as love. That it's an expression of love or can be. But I also think that you're right, mixing these things up, being heard and being loved can cause problems. I am pretty sure I need to think about this more.

As for boys being taught "not to give a damn" well, often... yes, I think so. And so it's hard when they want to care about certain things. I think one of the reasons I'm grateful for being a woman is the fact that I am given "cutural permission" to feel certain things and express them. I am given cutural permission to be weak at times when men are conditioned to be strong always. I was allowed to play with dolls and trucks and blocks whereas, if a little boy plays with dolls it's not seen as acceptable. The other day, my very little cousin was playing with his sister's purse and immediately a comment was made about that AND he was laughed at. I think the cultural conditioning for males is difficult too... I'm not saying that women don't have it hard and haven't had to fight a lot... i'm just saying that there are some wacky standards for both sexes which to me don't seem at all determined by biology-- they seem to be about something else...The messages start in childhood.

Date: 2005-01-01 19:52:51
Link to this Comment: 12012

"there are so many other people out there--the idea is to connect." EC

i have been thinking, this past semester, about the ambiguity innate to humanity. our lives are made paradoxical because alongside this amibiguity we have a deep urge toward clarity and understanding. i had a conversation last night (bf i had read your post, elizabeth) in which i said that i have spent the past semester turned inward, facing my own ambiguity, realizing the basic (sometimes frustrating) paradox of myself. the person said that she, opposingly, focuses on the space between people, rather than the space within the individual self. while the search for clarity within the individual (looking inward toward the self or outward toward others) inevitably fails, while words fail at peircing an indentity that exists in seclusion from other things, in a vaccuumed environment, despite these failures, there is a certain clarity BETWEEN people, we ARE able to define things in RELATION to other things. though this may seem not to be the center of the votex (we can see atoms, not electrons) we are able to reach a clarity. we can penetrate blubber, if not vitality. there is a success in skimming.

it's funny how we come back to ideas that we thought past. i spent a long time, a while back, thinking about BETWEENESS ... i had this idea of "the betweeness of a stare," back in high school. and here the idea is, again. EMJ, this summer, i think, posted about wanting to find one person in life ... i responded by saying that i read only to share with others. ... i was kinda shocked at myself reading over that post last summer and things changed. i've spent all semester trying to shed that dependance on the other, wanting to live a life worth living in itself, a life worth living in seclusion. but ... but ... humm ... maybe self perfection, self clarity, self understanding, is only acheived when one is mirrored by the other, when one can lean deep into another ... when one is able to dangle the self perfected ... hold the porceline body over a rocky cavern ... from the ascending to the peak of immortality the human eyes gaze into the dark drop... and fall from immortality into ... into ... a perfection acheived in plummet ... perfection in death ... in love ... sacrificing the self into the abyss of betweeness

the space between...
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-02 13:50:20
Link to this Comment: 12013

there is a certain clarity BETWEEN people, we ARE able to define things in RELATION to other things. -Orah

maybe self perfection, self clarity, self understanding, is only acheived when one is mirrored by the other, when one can lean deep into another ... when one is able to dangle the self perfected ... sacrificing the self into the abyss of betweeness- Orah

The first thing that came to mind when I read your post, Orah, was EmJ reading a line from one of her posts in Evolit... in my head it is "I have not lived enough or loved enough for that"... (memory and time can change what was actually said but I think it was something close- Do you remember?). I do not believe I have ever had the experience of sacrificing the self into the abyss of betweeness... into empty space, so to speak, trancendent space, the space of infinite potential. I really think this is deeply related to Maria's most recent post which had extreme echoes of the idea of mirroring. i.e. i want you to tell me that I am okay... I think that there is an abyss of betweeness both within the self and outside of the self. The betweenness inside of the self is sometimes seeks space outside of the self, then seeks connection with the betweeness inside of another person. That empty-full space.

One can only lean deep into another when there is love or if not love, trust... when one has been reflected by that other enough...then one can leave the self or bring the self into that outside space inbetween and then connect with the other.

I was also thinking about how this relates to taking care of other people who are so lost in their own empty space that there is no mirroring that occurs... I think that then... if you see those three inbetween spaces... inside self, between self and the other and then within other.... sometimes the leap doesn't get made, the person trying to help the other keeps falling in hopes that the other will also fall a little bit towards them...or that on the other side, a mirror will be uncovered. but it doesn't work- no gaps are bridged, no connections made unless both have made a comitment to the spaces inbetween. The scary thing for me would be to stop trying- to stop looking for a harmonious negotation of betweeness... I don't think the answer ever can be, just learn to take care of self- there will always be looking, always be seeking. But this abyss, I really think it's something entirely different from the death abyss. I think it is something else. I think everyone's looking for LIFE within empty space.

Date: 2005-01-02 16:54:16
Link to this Comment: 12014

elizabeth, i am interested in your idea of betweeness WITHIN the self ... haven't thought about that yet ...

"EmJ reading a line from one of her posts in Evolit... in my head it is "I have not lived enough or loved enough for that"... I do not believe I have ever had the experience of sacrificing the self into the abyss of betweeness... into empty space, so to speak, trancendent space, the space of infinite potential." EC

yes, i remember that post. i'm tempted to encourage us to look at it from another angle. let's say that we HAVE lived enough, that we HAVE loved enough, that the messages "started in childhood" are not only started in childhood, but fully instilled in childhood and RECOLLECTED through life. do we LEARN in life to a certain point, fill a capasity and then start KNOWING, having aquired that life-enough or love-enough ? i think, from this angle of thought, that i have been in a betweeness, an empty space, a transcendent space ... and maybe i am, right now, and have always been, and always will be in a "space of infinite potential" ... ((... everything i need was whispered to me in the soft glow of infant sleep ... murmured sound weaved into skin fabric... dabbled in only when the firm grip on time slacks before sleep ... when the hard, defensive contortions of faces ease ... watch each other fall into dream ... sleep ... a betweeness between consciousness and ... life and ... )) what would life be like if we didn't think of it on the verticle plain of transcendance, and mundane, but rather ... but maybe we do need those trope notes, those tic marks of time, in order that we don't explode ... every moment in life cannot be charged with "infinite potential" ... or else? ((real question that ... or else?))
and, yes, i think that one can only lean deep into another if there is love-enough or trust-enough ...

maybe i'm not saying anything new in this post ... just an excuse for parentheitical fragments of poetics ... maybe just opening the possibility to reverse a view of life ... maybe we don't spend our lives learning, gallpoing into unhoofed terrain, never before breathed air ... uncharted sound ... unswum waves... but rather we spend our lives collecting what was lost ... swimming out to sea ... the intensity of the infant's trusting sleep ... recollecting sound ... recollecting the betweeness we lived in birth ... what was before? what are we waiting to learn? what are we waiting for ? as we crawl forward? backward? orah, you're not making sense?

murmured sound
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-02 21:07:44
Link to this Comment: 12015

((... everything i need was whispered to me in the soft glow of infant sleep ... murmured sound weaved into skin fabric... dabbled in only when the firm grip on time slacks before sleep ... when the hard, defensive contortions of faces ease ... watch each other fall into dream ... sleep ... OM

Orah, I have two first reactions to this. First is that it's very lovely- your parentheticals...murmured sound weaved into skin fabric... hmmm... tastes good in my mind, the way you weave words. My second reaction, on a more rational level is, "I hope not" Re: everything I need was whispered to me in...infant sleep. And my "I hope not" reaction is a pretty strong indicator in my mind that you are probably right.

I don't have the time to spend on this post...that i'd really like to be spending... i want to bring The Waves into this as well. But, I would like to say that your new post, Orah makes me think of three new inbetween spaces... before life, life, after life... should one believe in them. It seems, from your last post... that you believe in all three.

watch me fall into sleep...

Name: maria
Date: 2005-01-07 15:19:19
Link to this Comment: 12021

"the messages "started in childhood" are not only started in childhood, but fully instilled in childhood and RECOLLECTED through life"'s my issue with that take on it, doesn't it imply that the messages that we are given in childhood are at some level complete themselves or that our interpretation of those messages was accurate? Doesn't spending your life trying to figure out what those first messages are confine you to someone else's message? I think that seeds are sown in childhood on a number of levels ranging from the values espoused by your parents to the way the circumstances in which you are born influence the way you look at the world. But I've always seen those influences as one's that I want to transcend, not in the sense of leaving them behind but in the sense of putting them into context, that there isn't one message or one reality, that we create the messages and when we say that we "recollect" them really we're just figuring out what interpretation of those first messages works for us, how we can interpret them in a way that makes sense in terms of the frame of reference that we've developed to make sense of what's going on around us. The important thing isn’t the messages that are sent to you, the important thing is what you do with them.

The comments on sleep are interesting. I don't really identify with the peaceful descriptions of drifting off. It would seem that I am not a big fan of "betweeness" as it's experienced by Orah and Elizabeth. I like the "defensive contours of faces," I like the edge of reality, I am usually at my best when I'm a little tired, a little hungry and a little pissed off. I find that it is at those times that I stop messing around with the stuff on the periphery and I'm able to get better control of myself, to see more clearly, to stay on course.

So far as the “loving-enough” or “living-enough” goes…when is “enough”? I certainly haven’t had all the experiences that I hope to have, my opinions are not yet fully formed…but both of those statements will be true when I’m 90 as well. I still won’t have loved-enough to understand, have lived-enough…and what is enough anyway? Szymborska wrote in ‘Our Ancestors Short Lives’ that “There wasn't a moment to lose,/
no deferred questions, no belated revelations, /just those experienced in time. /Wisdom couldn't wait for gray hair. /It had to see clearly before it saw the light /and to hear every voice before it sounded.” We don't always have the luxury of waiting for 'enough.' I tend to be quite careful about this notion of having “loved-enough”, it’s a sentimentalized notion in our culture today, this idea that if we all give ourselves over to our feelings and free ourselves to love other people without restraint that we’ll somehow understand a fundamental truth, that we’ll be wise, that if we “love-enough” we will understand. But the lessons, at least in my experience, that love teaches us that allow us to understand are lessons in compassion, in respecting someone else, in acknowledging their perspective and learning to exist in a way that is respectful of it and them. You can learn these lessons by loving others, but there are lots of other ways to learn them too.

The Bubbles
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-07 23:30:25
Link to this Comment: 12022

Orah, this is what i wanted to bring in from The Waves... "I shall be a clinger to the outsides of words all my life" p. 48

"The bubbles are rising like the silver bubbles from the floor of a saucepan; image on top of image... I must open the little trap door and let out these linked phrases in which I run togethr whatever happens so that instead of incoherence here is percieved a wandering thread, lightly joining one thing to another." p.49

In the spirit of VERY lightly joining one thing to another... i won't write why i found these relevant. I will say, that this book is so compelling and enimgmatic and beautiful.

Here is more: from page 113

"I think also that our bodies are in truth naked. We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.
"It is, however, truth that my dreaming, my tentative advance like one carried beneath the surface of a stream, is interrupted, torn, pricked and plucked at by sensations, spontaneous and irrelevant, of curiosity, greed, desire, irresposible as in sleep. NO, but I wish to go under; to visit the profound depths; once in a while to excercise my preogative not always to act but to explore; to hear vague ancestral sounds..."

Vague anscestral sounds, Orah... dreaming. The world inbetween is the word. The word is the dream.

Maria, it is very interesting to me, the distinction between edges and the space inbetween. I don't really know exactly how Orah and I experience betweenness... or whether we are saying it is peaceful. It is something which is deep...yes but in that depth i'm not sure if there is peace. I think it's fascinating what you say about somehow working better when you are tired or a little hungry or pissed off. It's not like that with me. I do understand that creative source often comes from pain... but do you try and make yourself hungry and tired and pissed off so that life can be better? Maybe you are associating pleasure and calm with being complacent?Then...well maybe it's better but it's also hard- perpetually frustrating. I think this way of being makes one always moving... but without a home. I want to move and come home.

thinking about words ... always.
Date: 2005-01-08 13:33:40
Link to this Comment: 12023

and that, elizabeth, i think, is my core question. "I think this way of being makes one always moving... but without a home. I want to move and come home" EC. where is home? we are always moving toward something, our lives do not exist unless placed in relation to a goal. right? if we were immortal would we really exist or just span out, overflow, bloat (to the point of eplosion) through time. mortality, fragility keeps our existence taut, definable. we aren't contained unless we have birth on one side and death on the other. if we were immortal undefinable, unbodied, then what?!?!?!? so this home, this rest that we are looking for, (hopefully) moving toward, has something to do with the closesure of that boundary started in birth. right? humans are BY NATURE tragic creatures because of this betweeness in which we live, because we are all hungry orphans, searching

we are perfect creatures before ... the strange look of the newborn just come from that place ... that ever-disapearing look of the infant... that look only seen as fully, as one enters into the after ... in death we find that perfection again ... but, life, that which is destructable, ending, is the definition of imperfection. death, perfection, the indestructable is the core and the structure, from which we come and to where we go ... life is mere pattern atop, a skin ... or maybe just makeup.

"It is something which is deep...yes but in that depth i'm not sure if there is peace" EC. i agree. there is no peace in life. the definition of having a goal is to be ever moving TOWARD. right? so, we can't REST in life. but, can there be peace in movement? i hope so. i haven't found it. but, i hope so. maybe i have found it ... or am coming close? i don't know. maybe peace has a deeper meaning than we think ... maybe peace is something other than rest. the gazing out, back onto the wastland of our lives. is it hopeful? that gaze? ARE WE searching for immortality as all but, have peace? do we gaze back, in death, on failure ... or as we are leaving find a peace of sorts in our own destruction? accept the inertia in life toward, away from ... acceptance. strange. acceptance. acceptance.

beyond sleep
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-08 15:26:05
Link to this Comment: 12024

if we were immortal undefinable, unbodied, then what?!?!?!? OM

Well, in The Waves, Woolf definitely seems to be playing on this sense of the unbodied and undefinable. The book struggles with the moment when there is a type of bodily connection...although not EXPLICITLY stated... it seems like sex and food would be two examples of things that stop the undulating unbodied betweenness state of life...or bring it to it's strongest place...creating the MOST unbodied state. If life is that loop we've talked about, the MOST unbodied state is closest to home and the cesation of movement.

My mother believes what she read once, that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I've not yet found enough of a home (fixedness of thought?) to say that I believe this too but I had a peculiar experience recently of being put under general anesthesia (it feels silly to post this but i think it's relevant- it's been absolutely on my mind so i'm posting it) And that state of not being here for however long- that state which was one step beyond sleep...not being conscious of pain or in recovery of a single thing that my mother said to me- it just felt much more natural than thinking. Not easier... it just felt that that was the more correct state. Does this make any sense? I felt then, unbodied although my body was still there... I was unbodied because my mind was shut off... I know that's not EXACTLY right but don't worry, I e mailed Paul to ask what anesthesia actually does... and i could look it up myself but that's not the point. i don't think my mind was actually shut off. But what was done was affecting my brain and then it was as if i didn't have a body. There was just nothing....but it was a very full nothing. It was not empty as in sad. It was more neutral- perhaps it was rest.

And then there are words... words move across the brain on the page they are seeking tools... they represent to me why being human is such a priveledge... I can discover through words and move forward. It is necessary to move forward. When I was a kid time moved more slowly. I felt stopping places. It is only now that the idea of home has come into question. I imagine that my ideas about this will keep changing.

"feeling natural"?
Name: maria
Date: 2005-01-12 08:43:48
Link to this Comment: 12029

I’ve always been interested in this notion of things “feeling natural.” What does one mean by “natural”? I feel as though when people use the phrase it often carries with it a sense of feeling that things are “as they should be” or “as they’re meant to be”. But things aren’t MEANT to be any particular way, there’s no intentionality. The example that springs to my mind is the response on most people’s part that when children die it’s somehow ‘unnatural’ that it “isn’t how it’s meant to be”, which isn’t true. It is sad, it isn’t how we’d LIKE it to be…but it’s not in violation of a pre-existing plan. I never think of something ‘feeling’ natural, our existence just is what it is…things that we designate as ‘unnatural’ are just the things that don’t line up well with the stories we tell ourselves, they don’t fit properly in the framework we’ve constructed and so re-structuring has to be done, which can be uncomfortable, but surely that is a natural process. Things that do feel natural tend to be things that confirm our pre-existing suspicions about the way things are “meant to be”. Pain is natural and necessary, on a physical level it’s an important indicator of what’s going on with our bodies and on an emotional level it’s an important part of understanding what ‘s going on around us it’s an important part of existing in a group, of functioning on the most basic levels. So far as the finding peace issue goes, I don’t think it’s something one arrives at, one makes one’s peace with whatever life sends our way. It’s not something to be had, it’s something to be negotiated.

the natural-vertical
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-01-12 22:33:58
Link to this Comment: 12031

i've enjoyed, over break, reading the musings here of orah and maria and elizabeth--so nice to listen in as thinking aloud continues...

and, as i turn my own energies to the preparation of a new course and renovation of an older one, i find myself also anticipating the resumption of extra-course offerings, like the universe bar. here's my contribution toward picking up that conversation.

like elizabeth, i had the experience this week of being anesthesized for a medical procedure. when the anesthesiologist asked me if i had any questions i said, "yes: how does this work?" he laughed and said no one really knew, that anesthesia just "depressed brain function." "what part of the brain?" i said, "what function? consciousness, while the unconscious goes on about its work?" "that's about as specific as we can get," he said.

when the second anesthesiologist arrived, to repeat the same questions--including the question of whether i had any questions--i said, "just the one the first guy couldn't answer: how does this work?" "how does anesthesia work?" she asked back, as if she'd never heard the query before. "well, it operates on the GABA transmitters, and lets you sleep."

GABA transmitters???? it's not like i understood any more than i had before... and it's not like it mattered. i rested very well with my consciousness turned off. it was a peaceful afternoon. nothing was required of me.

i tell this story because (well, really because i like telling stories) it connects for me, in my post-anesthesiatic brain (see below!), w/ elizabeth's query/challenge to me in the descartes forum: (perhaps anne would retell a compelling story about verticality?) I see my brain (literally have seen my brain, and you can too!)

as a vertical construction: consciousness on top, taking up most of the skull, and the unconscious below, occupying much less space.

So here's my next question: if the unconscious is so much larger--is the place where all we know we don't know resides--then why does consciousness take up so much more space? does the work of abstracting and storywriting need so many more neurotransmitters than the activity of...

knowing all we don't know we know?

and does this picture help w/ elizabeth w/ her fears about what will slip out in the verticality of storytelling vs. the safer, more "horizontal" activity of image-making/exinformating?

Date: 2005-01-13 18:25:50
Link to this Comment: 12036

i did a lot of thinking this past semester about the unconscious as a place in which the bounds of the self fade, a place where identity is shared.

i know someone who, as she was being put under anesthesia, floated above her body. don't know what to make of that

i'm reading "the mists of avalon" right now. there are characters in this book that are able to inhabit the space between body and spirit. generally, in life, the body and spirit are thought to be inextricably bound, vitally tangled. when they split one dies and the other ... in this book, there is a misty place in which the before and the after, the physcial and the spiritual, waking and dreaming are not so solidly seperate. in conscious life we construct. we build lenses through which to view the world "clearly". but, what if the unconscious is a place where we shed this need for clarity, and are able to lucidly ingest the world, witness the world in its absolute pure form? in consciousness, we construct chains that bind the spirit and the body ... we create the body to be a container of spirit. life is easier if we think that there are unchanging Laws that exist. but what if life is mistier? how often does the heart beat under anesthesia? what does it mean to float above the 'living' body?

Name: maria
Date: 2005-01-14 16:56:26
Link to this Comment: 12043

Why are we so sure there is a "spirit" self? Why does there need to be? Back in the day doctors used to weigh bodies before and after they died to see how much the soul weighed. Since then we've stopped thinking of the soul in such physical terms, but we still seem to need a story to account for the spirit or soul or "feeling side" of ourselves, it's an impulse I understand because it can at times seem to me that the intensity of emotion, of the bonds we share with other people, the really beautiful moments in life could never be accounted for by the sterile snapping of neurons, by something that can be diagramed in a biology textbook…but what if it can? What if it is accounted for by neurons? Would it be that bad? What if the body isn't a container for the spirit any more than the body is a container for the liver—that is to say that yes, the body contains the liver, but the liver is still a part of the body— what if all the things that we associate with the spirit are functions of the mind? What if the soul and spirituality are the labels we give to things that seem apart from the physical and so we label them differently and treat them as though they are separate but they are in fact part of the same system. What if there is no space between the body and spirit, what if the distinction that we make between them is our own construction?

dimentions beyond
Date: 2005-01-14 18:54:24
Link to this Comment: 12044

okay. i like the idea of there being no space between the body and spirit in life. but, what does it mean that i know someone who floated above her body? i guess that's not a fair question. it is fair, though, to say that i can't think its bs. nevertheless, i don't know what to think. i will defensively argue that i think saying the account is bs is presuming that modern science has acheived a point where observation/experience is less credible than history and law. when did we stop observing and instead begin filtering life into constructed law functions? when did we stop believing in creation? new phenomenon? no, i don't beleive every near-death-experience-story ... but, wasn't it socrates who said that the first movement toward wisdom is admiting that we don't know. Could there be a dimention beyond the physical? a dimention of the self beyond the body? is it possible? if there is the slightest possiblity than we must not scoff at talk of the metaphysical.

"Why are we so sure there is a "spirit" self? Why does there need to be?" maria

i'm not so SURE there is a "spirit" self. but i know that i can't live in a world without one. so, i kinda have to beleive in the spirit self. right? i dont really have a choise. i don't think that submitting to the subjectivity of my individuality pulls me farther from the Truth than anyone who flings her whole self toward absolute objectivity. and who said, anyways, that the Truth is in the objective, or, found through objectivity? doesn't really seem natural. maybe Truth, what IS, is imbedded in the fact that we are subjective beings. life is subjective. there are no perceiving creatures that are objective. right? objectivity isn't really possible, anyways. so wouldn't it be pragmatic to strive for something we can, orah, that's not right. .... maybe acheivement isn't what we're after. i'm not arguing for absolute subjectivity over absolute objectivity. no. maybe i'm arguing against absolutes. maybe perfection is not my objective. maybe i don't have an objective. maybe i have no direction, no goal. then what keeps me going? maybe i create a phantom, a shadow, for which i strive, but that receeds before me always. its all just pretend. but, pragmatically, the "spirit" works for me. it keeps me going. because GOING is the goal. the goal of life is more life. right? or, evolit, there is no goal to life. i still kinda think that there must be. even if it is pretend. even if it is moby dick.

Date: 2005-01-14 19:02:42
Link to this Comment: 12045

reading back over that post i think i am very wrong in saying that absolute subjectivity is an acheivable goal.

nothing absolute, i will assert, is acheivable for humans. by nature, we are ambiguous and therefore cannot embody anything absolute. we are dilluted, uncanny creatures. though we are individuals, and look through subjective lenses, we cannot acheive absolute subjectivity because we are social creatures, creatures able to love, who NEED one another, who depend on co-mingling bodies. therefore, all attempts at absolute subjectivity are dilluted.

Name: maria
Date: 2005-01-14 23:18:07
Link to this Comment: 12046

“i think saying the account is bs is presuming that modern science has acheived a point where observation/experience is less credible than history and law. when did we stop observing and instead begin filtering life into constructed law functions?”- Orah

I see how you got there, but I disagree that assuming the account is bullshit means that one is presuming that modern science places a higher value on history and law than on observation. First of all, there’s an important distinction to be made between observation and experience (and for the record I consider neither to be objective). Let’s take a schizophrenic, for example, and their experience is that god is talking to them. They’re not making it up, they hear god, they know with as much certainty as we are able to know anything that the voice they hear is that of god and they therefore act as though the voice they are hearing is that of god. Now they would observe that those around them are frightened of them, that they don’t trust them, that they think they’re crazy but they KNOW as definitely as they know anything that they aren’t crazy. The internal experience of an event is often not logical but it tends to supersede all other considerations. Outside observation would say that regardless of whether the person is actually hearing god or not, when you put them on anti-psychotics they stop hearing god and stop trying to purge their children of the devil by drowning them in a bathtub. Your friend would most likely concede that she was in an altered mental state in which she was more likely to have vivid dreams or dream-like hallucination while awakening and not be able to distinguish between being awake and asleep. But her internal experience of it was that she floated above her body. And that’s fine. But I think the question that you want to ask isn’t about science disregarding observation/experience, I think that once one makes the distinction between the two the question that (I think) you’re asking is why science gets to dismiss experiences with explanations that feel insufficient or don’t adequately account for the experiences to the people who had them. And…I don’t think it does. But it’s one thing to say “I experienced floating above my body, and it’s raised some questions for me that the explanations I’ve received thus far haven’t answered” and quite another to say “I experienced floating above my body and therefore it happened.” Experiences can raise questions, we can have feelings that science doesn’t satisfy…and that’s where religion and spirituality can come in, they, like science, are another way of helping us make sense of the world. Walt Whitman once wrote that “…I say the soul is not greater than the body…I say the body is not greater than the soul” and just because what we consider the soul lives in the mind isn’t to make it any less legitimate, it isn’t to make one “greater” than the other, it isn’t to assign them value judgement. The mind just…is what it is, it’s just as extraordinary, just as beautiful as it always was, and achieving a more detailed understanding of how and where the our sense of self originates doesn’t lessen the amazing nature of our existence, in my mind it just makes it more incredible. I love having a life driven by curiosity and the lovely thing about this world is that the more answers I get, the more I understand, the more wonder I feel. I’ve given a lot of thought to this over the years and the older I get the more I agree with Whitman: “I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough,/To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,/To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough…” I guess what I mean to say is that things can be miraculous without being miracles.

Date: 2005-01-15 18:48:37
Link to this Comment: 12047

i fall too often into defensive discipline habits despite the fact that one of the most valuable lessons i've learned in college is that all the disciplines are really working toward the same things ... i regret posting any broad statement about "modern science" ... fall into old, bad habits sometimes.

point taken and respected, maria.

hope everyone has a safe trip back to school and a good start to a new semester. when does ubar start again? same time same places?

Date: 2005-01-17 23:24:30
Link to this Comment: 12056

Hey all,

Time for the next round of U-Bar conversations. These are some topics that came up / sprang to mind:


Feel free to add to this list. If anyone is willing to take 10mins to introduce the topic, or has someone else in mind for the job, please let me know. The time & place still works for me, but it's flexible if it turns out that no-one can make it.

And finally, this is a marketing idea I discussed with Elizabeth last semester to get more Haverford students involved. We could ask Lunt to hold a competition to invent the official drink of the Universe Bar, with the winner getting a $35 account at Lunt. Publicity, etc. etc. Any suggestions?

See all of you soon,

The space of Dreams
Name: orah
Date: 2005-01-27 10:04:45
Link to this Comment: 12270

i'm not a very comfortable leader, but THIS is exciting:

random house dictionary defines imagination as "the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images or of recombining former experiences to create new images." ((and as a sub-echo: fiction is defined as the "class of litterature comprising works of imaginative narration.")) i'll sacrifice myself to the role of leader WITH SOMEONE. anyone willing? maybe have the topic be something along the lines of "spaces of reshuffling," places where experience and fact are boggled (dreaming, maybe, the ultimate example ... what gravity-type force is lost when fact is no longer held down? when fact floats?); how does recontextualization define its inhabitants? and is there a core identity to experience which pervades every recontextualization?

"there is fiction in the space between." what is the effect of "the space between" on the identity of that which inhabits the space?

just some ideas. any takers?

Date: 2005-01-27 10:13:41
Link to this Comment: 12271

maybe it's something BEYOND the flotation of fact ... maybe the hard, defined body of fact dissipates ... experience dissipated ... is the self comprised of its experiences? is experience the weight that holds the self together? but in the space of reshuffled experience is there a self? in a vacuum devoid of air is there fact? identity? when we are stripped and flayed what remains? ... maybe that's wandering way off the path of what i originally suggested ... but this conversation could take us anywhere, i think.

Date: 2005-01-27 16:38:49
Link to this Comment: 12274

so it looks like maria is willing to lead this with me ... if it sounds interesting to ya'all just give us a date ... looking forward co-thinking with all of you again.

best to all.

the metaphor
Date: 2005-02-12 08:51:57
Link to this Comment: 12809

another idea regarding the re-shuffling function of the imagination/mind that i may not be able to speak on wed. but can write here :

freud says in "on dreams," "we find that every dream without any possible exception goes back to an impression of the past few days, or, it is probably more correct to say, of the day immediately preceding the dream" (freud reader, 155). to discover the origin of a dream one must find the metaphoric connection between the event /the thought and its representation in the dream. freud writes, "a large part of the dream-work consists in the creation of intermediate thoughts of this kind which are often highly ingenious" (152). freud speaks of dream life as contained and restricted to representing waking life, every dream image is derived from the real world, there is no "beyond" or absolutely internal origin of dreams... but, EVERY dream is derived from an external contact, every dream is derived from being AWAKE, aware, in contact ... but, what interests me is: "creation of intermediate thoughts of this kind which are often highly ingenious." i think that the realm of possibilities, here, is an infinite realm...ingenious means "originality" or "invention" (random house dictionary) .... the outer limits of contained possibility mingle with creation ... or maybe the core of contained possibility is creation. though our materials are taken from contained space the use of metaphor enables us to create something that has never been created before. There is infinite possibility between 0 and 1. there is infinite possibilty of genious within the self, infinite metaphoric relations ... metaphore is the key, i think, to genious. there is a limited number of objects, images in vacuum, however, when placed in relation to each other, when taken out of vacuum and placed into fresh air, there is infinite possiblity.

Awake? A-dreamt?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-14 17:43:19
Link to this Comment: 12893

The distinction which arose for me, @ the end of our discussion last Wednesday night (overwhelming, in tsunami-like fashion, the distinction between two story-telling styles which were on the table) was Su-Lyn's juxtaposition of randomness and meaning-making: in other words, the really important cut is the one that happens when we shape the wildness of the world into some sort of order(ed) tale; the varieties of ordering are just...


This seems nicely linked to Orah/Freud's musings about the ways in which dreams are derived from the real world...but always in some delayed way, right, not by responding directly-while-dreaming to sensory stimuli (unless you are lying on your arm, or...)?

Know what? You might want to look @ the EEG tracings in figures 2 & 3 @ Basics of Sleep Behavior. (I found out about this @ a recent Emergence discussion about the bipartite brain.) What's really fascinating here is that there are similar measurements of activity in the neocortex when we are awake and when we are dreaming....

a new topic
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2005-02-18 01:00:17
Link to this Comment: 12994

Hey all, the following is an extract from an email that I sent to Megan Brooker, a senior at Haverford College and a remarkable student activist.

I'm expecting some disagreement, so please let me know what you think.


(As background, Coca Cola is reportedly stealing water from poor communities in India, and is responsible for the murder of labor union organizers in South America.)


Hi Megan,

I heard from Jamie Hanlon-Smith that you were in talks with the dining center about switching away from Coke products. I was wondering if you'd be at all interested in sparing an hour for Universe Bar next Wednesday, from 8pm to 9pm, to talk about this project.

The Universe Bar sells itself on the premise that we discuss "questions that matter", and I'm personally very interested to hear about a variety of issues: corporate social responsibility, economic disparity, social activism, and so on. However, rather than doing just the usual hard sell on the issue itself, I would also love to hear about your experience on the ground - what's it like to build a grassroots movement, to organize and mobilize people, and what problems/issues have you encountered working with groups like the DC, etc.

I think this would benefit both your cause, in terms of heightened awareness, and the Universe Bar's, in terms of bringing a touch of the real world into what has been a predominantly academic series of conversations thus far.

Let me know if you're interested.

Thanks very much,

Name: spoon
Date: 2005-02-18 01:02:06
Link to this Comment: 12995

Should add a qualification to my Coke statements -- "reportedly" in both cases.

living (?) unbodied ?
Name: orah
Date: 2005-02-20 19:54:24
Link to this Comment: 13043

just watched a movie that said that einstein wrote that if one were able to use her brain to its fullest capacity then she would be pure energy ...

how does that work ? did he really write that ?

wow. that's an incredible thing to write, i think.

makes me think, again, of borders: how solid are the borders between material and spirit (shall we call it?) ... i thought a lot last semester about the border between life and death .. read a lot of writers who described the betweeness of these places as "misty," a border that can be shattered making travel between the worlds possible. were we toying with the idea on wed. night that the border of the self (among other things: the strickly linear cronology of time etc.) in dream is less solid than we perceive it to be in waking life?

and, i guess, another thing i think is how this stament effects the idea of The Word in the beginning ...

oh, but there is so much more to think about from that statement : "if one were able to use her brain to its fullest capacity then she would be pure energy ..." too much to think here right now ... please, does anyone else sense the possibility of that statement?

hope everyone enjoys the snow.

Is unbodied living really living?
Name: Megan Rowl
Date: 2005-02-21 13:58:30
Link to this Comment: 13063

While i think the idea of unbodied living may be appealing from an intellectual stand point (i.e. wouldn't it be grand if we could all just float around and be), i am not entirely convinced that unbodied living would really constitute living.

How many times have experiences on the intellectual plain been enhanced by the presence of physical sensation? Perhaps this is merely the existentialist in me speaking, but I feel as if the physical aspect of life binds us to the brevity of that endevor. I find it interesting that we continue to try to spiritualize an endevor of the brain, that while instructive, may be nothing more than a random mushing of neurons. Dreams can be instructive because they allow us to exist outside of chronological time, a sensation that none of us get to enjoy while awake, but at the same time, they are very much informed by the physical, chronologically guided world of waking. Perhaps the proper place for this 'travel between worlds' is in the imagination; the idea that dreams should be a transcendent experience seems odd to me, since they are at least partially informed by the physical and partially random.

And just a thought, it seems to me that these travels and trancendence would mean more if they manifested themselves in the physical world, the waking world. The idea that a dream state cannot exist while one is awake without exploring the mist seems to lessen the great potential and moments of true genius that are experienced when people are awake. Dreams in a sleeping state are thought instructive because they allow us to perhaps see things in ourself that we have not already seen; imagination has no need to serve a merely instructive purpose, because our best moments of imagination are those that are truely unbound, that allow us to reach futher, as they are not bound by smashing neurons or limited sources of input.

Does that make sense?

Name: orah
Date: 2005-02-22 11:31:37
Link to this Comment: 13131

megan: i guess what einstein's idea made me think is that the line between living and non-living may not be as stark and clear as we think it to be. it seems to me that the quote suggests that we have the potential within us (physically) to be pure energy. with our contemporary language think: unbodied = not living. that is right within the confines of our language. and, yet, einstein seems to be suggesting something that transcends the constructed binaries of language. right ? he seems to be ignoring the idea of living and not living and rather seems to be looking at "becoming pure energy" as a shift in physical form. yes, we can translate that as "dead," or maybe that is reducing what einstein is saying ? i see, though, that that's not what you're suggesting. are you saying that moving from the physical may not be as grand as we romantics seem to think? but, i think, that einstein is describing a shift WITHIN the physical realm. we would become pure energy. energy is physical. it is dissipated matter, right? we are CONCENTRATED in our material bodies ... we think we experience pleasures and pains because our atoms are within a certain proximity to each other. but, if the transition into pure energy were just a movement of atoms from each other then, potentially, with higher sensitization, we could FEEL even if we were pure energy. no? physciality is wonderful because we experience so acutely, we feel so acutely, but lets say that in the transition into energy our ability to experience was sensitized. lets say, in turning to energy, we felt, as we do in bodies ... maybe even felt MORE ...

Name: orah
Date: 2005-02-22 11:50:22
Link to this Comment: 13133

i guess i am suggesting that we think about what it would mean to feel physical things outside of the self. were we implying last wed. night that dreams might be a venturing into a terrain in which the border of the self is less defined. and, i think, einstein might be venturing farther from the confines of the self. and he says that this place of absolutely-dissipated-self is reached (physcially) when we learn to use more of the brain. do dreams use a part of the brain that is dormant in waking life ? and if so, does that mean that dreams are that which is experienced as we move closer to energy form. (i realize the answer is probably no ... but, it's a comforting story ... it works for me right now) (btw: if energy is indestructable than that of which we consist when bodied never stops... so movement from bodies is just a reshaping of energy ... no? ... there is no end to physciality ... just change.)

Name: maria
Date: 2005-02-22 18:28:57
Link to this Comment: 13139

we are CONCENTRATED in our material bodies ... we think we experience pleasures and pains because our atoms are within a certain proximity to each other. but, if the transition into pure energy were just a movement of atoms from each other then, potentially, with higher sensitization, we could FEEL even if we were pure energy. no? ...Well, No. It's not atoms moving about randomly that makes us feel, it's our nerves and our brains. "We" don't exist without bodies. That's just the way it goes. Our brain is made of matter, an incredibly complex network of neurons and our sense of self, feelings, thoughts and emotions are patterns of activity across that network. Unless pure energy has a Central Nervous System, we're not going to be feeling much of anything. Even though atoms are what make us when we're living and dead it's the ORGANIZATION of those atoms that matters.

And beyond that...
Name: Megan Rowl
Date: 2005-02-22 19:23:53
Link to this Comment: 13140

Beyond that, there is something to be said for the fact that we can't conceptualize the ability to engage in a tangible experience without being tangible ourselves. The point is that becoming pure energy would not only constitute a basic refusal of our experience that came before, but that even if we were able to completely intellectualize our experience, it wouldn't be desirable. For me, the true beauty of life as a human being is not engaging in the "mist" or "pure energy" or even in experiences that are devoid of the physical. The true beauty comes when one is engaged in the physical world, with all its brevity and distance and disillusion, and still manages to have a transendent experience. Floating around as intellectual mist may be an appealing notion, but one that is ultimately devoid of real experience. How would one feel more as an entity devoid of a coporial form? And how exactly is one to sensitize their experience to heighten an experience that doesn't exist?

Name: orah
Date: 2005-02-23 09:49:03
Link to this Comment: 13158

no, there is no such thing as "we" in the movement into pure energy form; and, no, we cannot conceptualize "feeling" without bodies. but, beyond our inability to understand these things can we IMAGINE the possibility of FEELING OUT OF SELF ? i'm not suggesting an unknown law that provides for this possibility ... just questioning what it would mean to feel outside of the self, and then maybe we could figure out what it means to feel WITHIN the self (which is, to us bodied creatures, an important question) ... that seems to be what dreams are ... the ability to experience things that are absolutely outside of our waking range of understanding. ARE 'self' and 'feeling' inextricably bound ? is there such thing as uncontained feeling? well, no, orah, there is no such thing, especially when we are bodied. okay. let's imagine uncontained feeling. i'm not suggesting anything metaphysical , rather, i am suggesting that the physical is all that there is. i am suggesting an end of metaphysics. (melville said that he was writing the last stages of metaphysics...that was over a century and a half ago...EVERYTHING is physical, now ...i like that, i think it keeps the dissipated within range of our caress...and the caress is all that matters, i think ... )

the importance of the act of decifering each other
Name: orah
Date: 2005-02-24 09:52:32
Link to this Comment: 13205

this being one of my only thinking outlets this semester i will keep going ... please, bear with me (or don't) ... thanks, guys.

so, i'm reading some information theory which says that the only difference between a signal and noise is the intent of the transmitter or the desire of the receiver. In the case of natural noise we cannot know even if there is a transmitter, so the recipients of natural noise determine its identity as noise or signal. "noise," writes this theorist (moles, 1958) "thus appears as the backdrop of the universe, due to the entropic nature of things. the signal must stand out from noise. there is no signal without noise, no matter how little. noise is the factor of disorder contingent on the intent of the message, which is characterized by some kind of order."

so, i'm imagining that we can apply this to human relations and our identities as selves. when you look out onto a mass of people (i.e. you're at a football game, looking across the stadium) and you don't KNOW anyone, don't have a connection to anyone, then that mass of people is as noise (the noise of humanity shall we say?) (this assigned identity as noise is dependant on the recipient (you, sitting in the football stadium) for we know of no single intending force of humanity.) from this backdrop of humanity, this noise, come the people that we know, the meaningful signals that emerge from the flow. Likewise, we emerge from this backdrop, we are assigned meaning, we may claim the identity of "signal" when we are known, when we are recognized across that stadium and PULLED OUT OF, seperated from the noise. what i'm really trying to get at, here, is that there is no basic nature, so solid identity to noise (meaningless) and signal (meaningful), rather, both have differing identities that are determined by external forces. Likewise, can we speculate that we do not have solid, unchanging identities as selves, but rather, our individuality, our signal, our being pulled out of the noise, is relative to those who know us. and maybe i am realizing why everyone says that we are SOCIAL creatures ... the life of solitude is dangerous bc one looses her selfhood even in the attempt to codify, to define, to PROTECT that self. without external definition, without those who will decifer you from the noise, you become energy, unbodied, pure noise.

the pure energy of thought
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-25 21:59:40
Link to this Comment: 13229

There's an exhibit in Canaday's basement now, called "Here There Be Angels," by Chris Mills, which you might want to stop in and see. It consists of three clusters of books with wings, which read (on their spines; among other things), "Not sleeping, just dreaming." Very evocative "turn" on our recent conversations about the awareness of dreaming, vs. the cluelessness of sleeping....

The exhibit also invites a randomizing of the sequence of words, which turns the turn once more....

So, Orah (while I'm here): I'm intrigued by your recent postings regarding energy, intrigued esp. by your move from the "incredible" idea that using our brain to its fullest capacity...would be pure energy to the shadow side: that without external definition, without those who will decipher become energy, unbodied, pure noise. Your move, over several days, from celebrating the "pureness" of energy to calling it "noise" in the absence of a decoder (which could be someone else, but could as well be one's own reflective consciousness) puts me in mind of all that early information theory grounded in thermodynamics, the study of the cost of the transference of energy in steam engines, and more recent studies of how much work and how much waste occurs in the production of how much movement...and just what it costs to make use of information.

You've just called up for me, now, an image of the brain as steam engine, fueled by food, and fed by other thoughts, producing new ideas. With that image arises an awareness of the loss and cost that must occur in the production of new thoughts: some of the energy goes into the making of new ideas is inevitably lost in the process....

the woven moment
Date: 2005-02-27 12:47:12
Link to this Comment: 13251

the image of a steam engine seems to be a useful one.
last semester i was obsessed with the image of the mirror as tool used by mystics. since ubar two weeks ago ya'all have me thinking about the image of weaving. which, i think, too, to be a useful image. am still mulling over athena, the goddess of wisdom and weaving who speaks to people in the lucid place between conscious waking life and dream life. (she is the daughter of zeus and metis, a nymph (i think, significantly).) and freud's idea that genious is the place where dream and reality are woven together. and melville's "weaver god" weaving the fates. AND, here's another: murder in the cathedral: "In the small circle of pain whithin the skull / You still shall tramp and tread one endless round / Of thought, to justify your action to yourselves, / Weaving a fiction which unravels as you weave, / Pacing forever in the hell of make-beleive / Which never is beleif ..." and "what is woven on the loom of fate /... is woven also in our veins, our brains"

what is the act of weaving? it is the bringing together of two seperate things. it is the space between individuals. it is the meeting of the past and the future: the present: the moment of weaving: the moment of genious. ... and i am remembering a series of postings over winter break that spoken of soft things woven into skin fabric. what does it mean to have things woven into our veins, our brains ? are we not selves? but rather the space between our parents and our children? our past and our future? we are the genious of metaphore ... we are that which is woven between conscious and unconscious ... this is fun thinking, here.

Date: 2005-03-01 11:29:30
Link to this Comment: 13328

loose threads of thought, loosly braided, in hopes that an end will be caught into another's loom ... ..... so, the present is the moment that weaves the future and the past, the present is the moment of genious, the moment of metaphor, the space between (which is the space that matters) ... what is the space that connects the internal selves of two people? what is the moment of weaving between people? i will assert that it is the moment of the caress ...if we spend our time expanding the mind, becoming closer and closer to pure energy form, we loose this moment between ... when we are able to exist in absolute self-contemplation the strands of the self are loosed from the world and the place where the self meets the physcial (the body) dissipates .... and the moment of betweeness is gone ... the genious of life is in the physical body. it is the body that connects the splendor of the mind outward, from itself ... in the moment of the living body this splendor is created into the world. pure energy exists only for itself, constantly basking in its own radiance. the splendor is only realized in this world when contained, bodied ... "human kind cannot bear very much reality" ... oh, and finally, splendidly, beautifully i understand this line .... the brain fully used, the pure energy of the self is too much to bear, must be contained to be beheld ... ((bible talk: god's greatest gift to man is to contain his splendor into body form ....and that is the moment of genious ... that is the moment of beauty ... beauty only exists when comprehended by the other, when fit into articulation ... thought doesn't matter unless comunicated ((faulkner's light in august comunicates thought for characters ... brings the unarticulated moment , the energy into text)) ... god is beautiful because man can SEE his body, now. god's greatest gift was to create a space between himself and man ... and then man pillages that space between the divine and the human: the body of god)) what is beheld in the human body: the metaphor between world and self: you and me woven.

Name: Su-Lyn.
Date: 2005-03-02 20:31:49
Link to this Comment: 13355

Hey all,

We've got the next 3 weeks after spring break planned:

1) Greg Greenberg on media images in the gym
2) me and Hannah Wilhelm on science museums, after an abortive first attempt
3) Keith Weissglass on political advertising

Unless there are new ideas or suggestions, U-Bar will end with Keith's topic.


Descartes and Dancers
Name: orah
Date: 2005-03-04 09:59:37
Link to this Comment: 13410

The long night before i left for break i spent reading Descartes which is relvant to past thoughts here ((am always surprised when life seems to beat out a pattern (as it always seems to do); my dad calls it syncronicity ... so, maybe life is not patterned, ordered (and therefore predictable, decipherable, decodeable (boring!), but rather, in sync, like a pair of dancers whose bodies move like a single flow through space, unpredicted, next step unknowable, but felt, like being pulled, gently (but, surely) by time into the next moment, the stream of present moments that lead us into the farthest, darkest corners of dance floors ...our eyes follow, unceasing, unfaltering, with the steady ripple of bodies held tight together (like the body of a single self) by air)).

Descartes writes that the Mind is an entity that can exist in absolute self-contemplation, absolutly seperate from ANYTHING external to itself. The Mind, therefore, can exists without Body, is seperate from body and bodily needs: the Mind may exist outside of living. The SELF, however, is the UNIT of Mind and Body. The Self IS dependant on externals to maintain itself (the continuance of the self is hinged on the continuance of the Mind / Body UNIT.) In the unit of self (since the body is dependant on externals), the Mind, too, becomes dependant on the externals ((anne's steam engine image)). The unit of self, therefore, being dependant on the continuance of both Mind and Body is (by D.'s definition) a LIVING entity. (((paul says that my "einstein" quote doesn't sound like einstein ... alas ... but, i don't need the name-drop that lured me in ... i'm hooked on the orphaned idea that seems to move so nicely with D.'s theory : if the Mind is able to come to a full Knowledge of itself it leaves the body, leaves all that is external, enters the closed universe of itself (distinct from the Self which is dependant on body and therefore life): MIND. What does it mean to live in a closed system, live in the ALL, live in the Universe that is your own MIND (but has no connection to identity ... there is no need to distinguish identity (self) if there is no OTHER ... self is only necessary when distinguished from those who are NOT the self ... when ALL is the self the term (language) fails or ceases because it is absolutely unnecessary) ??? what does it mean when the Self stops and the MIND begins (and doesn't end)? (MY mind is bursting, here, at its seems). Could it be that when individual selves stop, when we learn to use our individuals minds to their fullest capacity, we become a single UNIT: MIND: energy? ... help me, someone, figure this out?)))

Descartes sets out in his meditations to figure out the basic nature of the Mind; to do so he seperates himself from externals (to the farthest extent possible) because any external allows for the possiblity of the infiltration of external manipulators and illusion. Descartes (in rythmic tradition, in clean sync)tries to crawl out of the cave into a world without illusion, into the world of the Real: the Mind, that which is suseptible to no illusion (because it lives in the absolutely CLOSED system of itself). Descartes realizes, though, that his initial quest is impossible in life: to discover absolute reality one cannot, in any way, be connected to externals (i.e. one cannot be living, one cannot be a self (the self being a UNIT of Mind AND Body (who's vitally connected with externals). ((and again i am blown away: "human kind cannot bear very much reality")) ... i'm spent and have to leave this jagged mess

Date: 2005-03-08 12:02:54
Link to this Comment: 13440

if jagged ends can't snag maybe stories will. i tell stories (maybe) to instill sense into life, to assign meaning (how do we find meaning in dream? we string the senseless together into our waking lives?). I will suggest, here, that this quest for meaning and sense is rooted in a desire for control. how is the greatest control acuired? if you are going to punch someone and you hold your fist tighttighttight then your hand will, in absolute constriction, break in the definitive ACT. if, however, you allow the fist to be effected, if you don't hold the fist at the max of constriction, then your ability to disturb the external will be much greater. (just wait, it'll make a loose sense in a sec.)another analogy: how do you hold the people you love? do you hold them tight? you jump i jump -leo/kate style? tangled too tight for tearing apart? i'll NEVER let go? do we rage our whole lives against entropy? are we frantic gatherers in a hunter/gatherer universe? imagine, however, a role change: no longer are we gathering flesh on the still-steaming battlefield of the universe, but we are, now, gathering purple and yellow wildflowers... blueberry picking ... carefully choosing which flowers will make the most exquistie bouquet, the most delicious pie? leaving some for another day of picking. what are the implications of loosening the fist? letting stories escape tired fingers? but remembering the secret pleasure of word-release, the evacuation of story-snare into the escaping universe? ... so, I make a story to gain control of something, and i constrict the story tight into words, and i eject it into the universe ... but, lets say i decide to hold the story loosely, and decide to make another story, in aim of gaining the same control ... if my grip on the first story is loose enough then i will be able to hold two stories in hand and can gain control from two angles and so it seems that the looser we hold stories, the more wild flowers we leave in fields, the more we leave in wind-like silence, free from the coursette of articulation (is there any way to use words NOT as bordering IN vs. OUT? do you think we can reassign, now, in 2005, the nature of word and articulation? i'm not going to stop using word, but would like to use words in a radical way, a way that moves out of the space between, into something new and wild, i'm tired of the jail-like quality of word ... but that's for another post), inhale deep, deeper than we've ever breathed, pull the universe in, and wash it clean in the self.

conatus ("relentless endeavor")
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-03-16 23:00:27
Link to this Comment: 13568

einstein wrote that if one were able to use her brain to its fullest capacity then she would be pure energy ...

i don't need the name-drop... i'm hooked on the orphaned idea...if the Mind is able to come to a full Knowledge of itself it leaves the body....

I've just finished Damasio's Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain--an attempt to recover an "orphan" if there ever was one. Damasio explicitly claims Spinoza as a "scientist's philosopher," and does so convincingly (to my mind), by showing how Spinoza's understanding of

the continuous attempt at achieving a state of positively regulated life is a deep and defining part of our existence....

"Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being....The actual essence of the thing"

....feeling is the idea of the body being in a certain way...determined by the state of life regulation....the "intensity" of feelings is likely to be related to the degree of corrections necessary in negative states, and to the degree to which positive states exceed the homeostatic set point in the optimal direction.... (36, 85, 131).

So--in terms of the questions you are asking, Orah--Spinoza and Damasio would say that the mind manages the body, which feeds inputs to the mind: we are all, simply, organisms striving to maintain our existence, and our feelings are one method of regulation we use to do so....without body, we would have no mind....

actively learning science (and other curious matte
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-03-24 13:30:28
Link to this Comment: 13980

I was so interested in the discussion we had last night, led by Su-Lyn and Hannah, about "the problem with science museums." It seemed to me a direct extension--and very practical application--of the discussion several of us had been having a week ago in a different venue, about the Bryn Mawr teaching and learning environment. There we were talking about ways to encourage "active learning" (which we defined as something like an "attitude" that says, "I am invested in learning. It's about me generating output, getting involved in experiential learning" ).

In that context, I was very struck by the descriptions I heard, last night, of science centers as largely "distracting from learning," as "clobbering the young," as "dumbed-down science for kids," as enacting our contemporary "society of the spectacle" in which kids expect education in the form of entertainment (infotainment? entercation?)

With an ancient history of bad science education, a less distant history of shepherding my kids on many visits to science (and art) museums, an even less distant history of going to large formal adult parties "staged" in astonishing local classic collections like The Mutter Museum and The Wagner Free Institute of Science, and a current experience of twice-shepherding BMC students to the Barnes Foundation (as well as a current mode of teaching that largely involves inviting students to both help prepare and consume a feast), I'm constantly trying to figure out less how to "inspire passion in science" than to feed natural curiosity in all sorts of (largely cultural) wonders.

And I got a couple of very good answers, last night, to my questions about what constitutes the border between "entertainment" and "active engagement"

In the sense that good teaching involves "creating a space....," would it be fair to say that classic science museums might actually do a better job than the new science centers? Like good lectures, they give you lots of material which you can re-order in ways that suit your own interests...? Instead of, like bad interactive experiments, forcing you into activities that do not....?

cliff climbing
Name: Orah Minde
Date: 2005-03-28 21:25:07
Link to this Comment: 14116

do we think that in order for the mind to be able to tranverse the toughest terrain ("mind has mountains; cliffs of fall / frightful, sheer" ) it must, like a muscle, be in 'peak condition?' this would, to follow the metaphor, entail living an active mental lifestyle. I thought, at one point, that taking an interest in my education meant amassing a plethora of "well-readness," but, too late for comfort, i've realized that active learning is "about me generating output, getting involved in experiential learning." Memory can only amass so much. a lot of the time "well-readness" is a pithy game. time spent absorbing classics is time largely wasted ((the word 'absorbing' is carefully chosen ... it is contrasted to the wonderful practice of dialogue with time past )). memory fades, muscle whithers.

there must be some kind of learning that is permanent, that molds the mind instead of bulking it. i guess i'll say that for learning to be permanent it must be woven into the very fabric of who we are, sink from consciousness. no? learning cannot be about acheiving bc all that is acheived is eventually lost ... i learn so that i can be satisfied with my life, my self, so that i can approach the end satisfied with the lack-of-mark that will be after me. nothing stays. i can't stive to clothe myself with the classics bc when things really matter, after 80 or 90 or 100 years of draped ball gowns and necklasses... the sea always rolls on. strips us, oh, so bare. all is nothing after the shroud of time. i learn so that i don't regret.
but, orah, what is it that makes you so digress? (spring is coming, friends! how can i not digress ...) focus: i would add to the given definition of "active learning" that since we are bodied creatures, and, therefore, so essentially, in relation to others (the body, i am thinking, is the public container for the mind ... or self ... though i don't know if there is such a thing beyond mind/body mingling ... ), deep learning can only take place with others. as a bodied creature that is perceived, I am defined (to a certain extent) by those who perceive me. (((i am sorry for another digression, but ... i have been thinking of the mind as that which is a self-definition, while the body is defined by that which is external to the self ... but, i also think that all language is nurtured into the self, given to the self by the other ... what i am saying is that we are born into an already determined mind ....and as the body, too, is defined by the other ... just stop!))) therefore, the deepest learning is not that which is internal, but rather, is that which alters the way that i am perceived by others. the deepest learning, i assert, is relational, in conversation, not written, not ink-word-formed, but rather, SPOKEN with another.

action is motion with intent. active learning depends on an external goal, an intent that is not yet possesed by the self that is in the realm of the other (whether or not we beleive in the goal is another question ... we could call it a mirage ... ). therefore, learning is so essentially done WITH others, because what we desire is in the other.

i have realized of late that i don't think there are objectives "out there," outside of any self, that are acquirable ... actually i don't even think that they exist ... so, what do i think this external goal IS ? i think it is communication with the other. could it be that we maintain mind-fitness in order to wander the wild terrains of the mind TOGETHER? no to acquire each other, or posses each other ... but just to BE together. "ridiculous the waste sad time / stretching before and after" US ...

Name: rafael fra
Date: 2005-03-29 22:56:33
Link to this Comment: 14152

hi, i'm not sure i'm in the right place, but such is the power of serendipity... what i have is a question:

it is my understanding that planetary orbits usually fall within the same plane, as if there was an invisible disc on which all the planets (except pluto) revolve around the sun at a specific relation to the star's equator. now the question – and sorry if i sound ignorant – but, can there be intersecting orbits? for example, can there be a planet orbiting the sun or any star on a north/south axis while another orbits on an east/west orbit? if not, why do these orbits usually always fall within this invisible plane?

i ask this because i am in the process of writing a nove which combines some elements of astronomy and mythology and the answer would help me elaborate one of the themes running through the text. i hope this doesn't sound absurd. anyone with any info can write to me at my email.


Name: orah
Date: 2005-04-02 09:08:06
Link to this Comment: 14205

a couple more words on mind/body/self bf next wed. (when paul and i lead ubar on the topic ... be there, please!) :

so, more reading and more thought has brought me to the idea that both the mind and the body are constructed by externals, making the presence of an internal self debateable. the body is that which is seen and felt. it is that which moves things that are external. it effects the external and is, therefore, dependant on the external to give it purpose. does a tree that falls in an empty forest make a sound? does an absolutely unperceived body exist?

HERE'S THE RUB: here's where i (finally!) come to a relatively optimistic idea: yes, the body unperceived by an external does exist bc there is something internal that perceives the body. Similarly, the mind is constructed by externals: given language, shaped by history etc. ... which would render it, too, completely dependant on externals. BUT, the mind is contained in the subjective, is physically cloistered from that which forms it. and is, therefore, independant of the externals. SO (and, oh, so happily SO) the mind and the body enable each other to exist independantly of any external. they are inextricable. they are vitally tangled. ahh!

((maybe every thought is originated from the way in which the mind was externally constructed ... so the body does not contain something original, something created, by rather, a bundling of a reflection of that which is external. uch. once created does something have absolute freedom, or is a created object bound to the limits of the material with which it is created? (i have to learn to start dropping the questions that i foresee bringing me to catestrophically pessimistic conclusions ... so, i'll leave these questions for now ... and stick with the rub that makes me happy.) ))

funny how i've come to this : that the mind and body ARE independant and then i realize that i'm not sure that I want to be independant of externals ... there is a tensioned sustinance in the pull between wanting to be independant and wanting to be one with the external. but, no, we don't desire to be one with the external ... we want to be housed in another's body ...skip the passage between internals ... the external is unprotected terrain ... our minds are pulled to move from our bodies INTO the protection of another's body. but, this passage requires a movement through the external and that prevents us from venturing into another ... the external (again, i realize) keeps us inside ourselves, holds us together, holds us from melting into each other's beings. language must be constructed by binaries or else there are only light shadings.we must be bodied or else there is just ... a deep formless void ... the first act of creation is seperation, forming, limiting from each other, cloistering apart

see you all wednesday !

unsettled self mummbling
Name: ominder
Date: 2005-04-03 21:28:33
Link to this Comment: 14255

what is realized when we examine our lives? how does this examination change the last moments before the shroud is rolled back? what has baited me to this point at 21: looking back at a life begun, looking forward into a life that will be spent deep-weaving? ... what's the bait? the self is the mingling of mind and body experiencing the external... glutton-learning pads and obscures the self. examination is an incision into the blubber of external experience that clings to the self, that bundles the self ... what is found under deep-cuts? beneath is a persistence toward, an intentional movement, ACTION ... the examined life is that which peels back the layers, unclothes the persistence, exposes the LIVINGNESS beneath. the unexamined life, assumes life, leaves the yearn submerged. but no ... that doesn't sound right ... and what is the difference in the end? what is the differnce in the end? what ................... sry for this post ... but its been mulled over for so long that i can't bear not feeling the achievement of pressing the "post comments " button ... tossing thought onto the web, to be left unwoven, ever-out of joint, to collect morning dew and finally droop and pad a flooring for further examinations

Name: Orah Minde
Date: 2005-04-06 22:52:03
Link to this Comment: 14361

i don't know why, maria, i can't just be happy with the apparent model of the self in relation to other and self in relation to thinking/nervous system/body. i am melodramatic. i know. (and kick myself for it on a regular basis.) but, these relations do seem to have a very physical effect on life. loneliness "in theory," metaphysical loneliness, though not identical to the "making friends" challenges (or lack thereof) does have an effect on / have aspects in common with the practical. if one is aware of our model of the self such that the most cloistered, inaccessible part of the self is that which one so desires to share, one may stop the trying ... i guess i hope for conversation that will enlighten me to how people either (a) keep theory and practical life seperate; or (b) choose to ascribe to theory that will not have negative effects on the practical. I identify (empathize with) theorist who find themselves deep in a theory that resticts the body (e.g. find "making friends" hard bc one knows that her most basic (only?) desire (ACTUAL communication) will never be fulfilled ... ) We can find, i think, our physical bodies drowing in metaphysical thoery. Foucault spent the end of his life DESPERATLY trying to get out of the theory rut that there is no such thing as a self. "Foucault's own growing interest in 'the care of the self' in his later years suggests that separating private and public is no easy task" (NA 1616). "care of the self" (though haven't read foucault on it), i think, would entail either (a) learning to seperate self from thinking (which, paul showed us, is impossible); or, (b) learning to pick theories that will not distress the body (i.e. theories that will not prevent one from "making friends"). THIS is where i have a problem with thinking being so dependant on self / with thinking being INSIDE body : the well being of our bodies resticts thought. foucault's "body," his private life, his "making friends" ability was impaired and diseased bc of his thinking. and, in order, that he maintain life (in order that the continuance of his body enabled him to continue thought) he has to restict thought. THE BODY LIMITS THOUGHT. ((now, THAT is something i have been trying to articulate for a while ... and finally have ... ridiculous the waste of time trying to get there ... wish i could have just transported that into your minds to begin with and then we could have continued deeper and ... though the desire for deeper is futile if there is no where to acheive, no destination ... dare i plummet into foucault's sad sad sad sad ...)) foucault's thoery is brilliant. he's a big time "heavy-weight" (as my dad calls him), he's the primary name-drop ... but, he realizes that as a living BODIED being he has to reject his brilliance ... what are the costs of brilliance ? what are the effects of thinking being contained in body (in objective) on the level of thinking ? how much farther (more brilliant) could foucault's thinking have gone if he had not had to "care for the self" ? if he did not have to tend to his sad sad body ?

the most comforting ((though i resent my demand for comfort ...)) theory that i got from tonight was the idea that projections of the self, reflected back into the self from the mirror-other, can allow one to come to a better understanding, a more accurate, a "less wrong" story of the self ... that's nice. all of life is an attempt to get oneself "less wrong." that's really nice. i think, though, that at the closest point of self-knowledge, at the end of life, SOMETHING must change, and this can only come from an external ... i am toying with the idea that there is no such thing as an objective. no, the couch would NOT be there if it were not being looked at. and, therefore, there is nothing external that will change this ever-closeing gap between self and self-knowledge. and so the question is: if it is impossible to know the self, is the self actually there ? if the couch (objective) depends on being seen (subjective) does the couch exist ? if the self depends on the quest for the self what happens if the quest is stopped? if the couch stops being seen ?

unless someone else is interested in joining me, here, in this ... this ... rut ....... then i am going to climb-up-on-outta this ... mud pile ... take a shower ... and take another stab at telling a happy story ... but, company is always prefered to cleanliness ......... thank you all very much for tonight ... :)

Date: 2005-04-07 06:58:49
Link to this Comment: 14367

suggestion: an understandable response to theory-rut-syndrome, i suggest, is the habituation of obsessive, possibly body-damaging running ....... in that act (in the act of body denial through absolute body concentration), i think, the gap between (or, separation : bounding from each other) thinking and body is minimized. at a point thinking stops and body is minimized to mechanical ACT. but, obviously, this proximity (oh, ya'all don't like that terminology, so ... this lessening of the gap between thinking and body) cannot be maintained ... it's a mysticism .... a liminal place .... that must be decended from ... or ascended from ....

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-04-07 09:08:36
Link to this Comment: 14368

Thanks, Orah/all, for conversation last night (and here). The "bipartite brain" is an evolving story this particular self has been working on for some time, and its helpful to have it refracted (maybe better than "mirrored"?) back to me by other selves. A bumping up against of stories among selves, to get it "less wrong". For all, I hope, in different ways?

Along these lines, one particular thing that will stick in my mind is the suggestion by several people that there should be a brain independent way of characterizing the main points of the story. It was Megan, I think, who suggested that what is different about the two parts of the brain/mind is that they use different "forms of representation". Thanks for that expression, it connects to some bumping up against in some other contexts, and will I think be useful in the future.

It occurs to me that having embodied the mind, and characterized some gaps, both internal and interpersonal, I didn't actually do something I had intended: to say what "self" corresponds to in this particular story. "Self", according to this story, isn't the "thinker, story teller" or the frog brain or any other SINGLE part of the body (see "I am, and I can think, therefore ..."). It is instead the ongoing, dynamic interaction of all the parts (cf Buddhist Meditation and Personal Construct Psychology), informed by, among other things those that are more easily seen by other selves.

Foucault and Descartes notwithstanding, one can't "think" onself into a coherent self (see David Hume for a description of the occupational hazards of trying to do so). Selfhood is an ongoing negotiation, a bumping up against one another of all the parts of the body (and of those with those of others), of continually acting/experiencing/thinking. It is the dynamic interaction, not any part alone, that promotes, indeed assures, change

Thanks to all for contributing to mine. Looking forward to more bumping.

yeah for the limits!
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-04-07 18:37:36
Link to this Comment: 14375

THE BODY LIMITS THOUGHT ((now, THAT is something i have been trying to articulate for a while ... and finally have ...))

Very glad to have it articulated, Orah, because now I feel I know what might be said in response--a resurrection, actually, of the story of Expansion and Contraction that you heard over a year ago, when we were talking in the Evolution class about
expanding our thoughts...
contracting them into postings...
which others take in, and expand on
(differently than we first imagined)...
which leads us to give (and ask for)
further concision/contractions
(different than we first imagined)....

In the Emergence group last week, I picked up another version of this story of the productive interplay of contraction and expansion from Elman's 1999 paper on "Origins of language: A conspiracy theory," which describes the "waist" (=squeezing) level of a network, the "bottleneck" where the dimensionality of information is reduced and information is re-distributed....Especially intriguing to me/relevant to your concern is...Elman's "less is more hypothesis," that "language-learning ability derives from a lack of resources."

The claim being made here is that children actually learn language because of their "maturational limitations." Being "handicapped by reduced short-term memory" means that their "search space is limited," that they are only able to perceive-and-store a limited number of forms. This "limited processing ability" makes them more attentive ("some problems are only solveable if you start small"; "precocity is not always to be desired").

In other words, constraint is a good thing--because it generates new things (like art, language, touch) which we would not need/would not exist if we knew either ourselves or others perfectly, in the way you speak of "knowing."

if it is impossible to know the self, is the self actually there ?

Alternatively (out of this notion, above, of the productivity of having limits) maybe the self is only there because it is impossible to know, because we are engaged, unremittingly, in the process of knowing (i.e., self is...the ongoing, dynamic interaction of all the parts).

You know, there have been lots of challenges, lately, to the notion that the thinking mind can transcend the body. Besides the work of many feminist scholars, who have for decades now been reclaiming the body--female bodies in general, our individually gendered/raced/classed/(dis)abled bodies in particular--as locus and foundation for knowledge, see, for instance,

Thinking, gladly, in-and-through the body, always,

Name: Orah Minde
Date: 2005-04-08 07:22:30
Link to this Comment: 14382

constraint! yes! language does not whittle down thought, it "squeezes" it. nothing is lost in the act of constraint, just intensified into a smaller space. even if the thought expands into different forms in our minds, the planted seed, the spoken/written word connects us. in the "refracted" image of the self as other we see this common origin. it's uncanny. but not in a scary way. it's comforting to feel the self doubled in the other, to feel strangely at home with other. we let the words of others into our minds and quench them with mind-dew and they grow and then sprout from our mouths and fingers and when the other hears her words sprouted from new gardens, she recognizes them vaguely, sees something of herself in the words that adorn me, and we realize that something as light as a cobweb holds us together.

oh. that thought is such a releif. oh my. i've been thinking for so long of language as violence. all communication, all sight, all witnessing of the other as a violence. it's hard to walk in the world when you feel like every time you look at something you are hurting it, and every time you are seen you are ... never mind .... language / sight / being does not have to be violence. i can breathe easy for a bit now. finally. finally. finally. finally!

and it's okay that we have brains and bodies and outsides between us bc what would happen if i knew your subjective? it would be too much. too too too much. two subjective views simultaneously is too much. a single person would explode. so brains and bodies and outsides protect us from our impulse toward empathy for/with the other. and language, too, through constriction, enables us to LIVE with each other. it's not a violence, but a constraint on the impulse we have to love the other beyond ourselves. life is loving the other WITHIN self. and after, maybe, that desire to know another's subjective will be; but not now, not in life.

i am quite worn out from the thinking of this semester ... and know that each positive story has a negative side ... and i am bound to realize these negative sides ... there is even a negative side to the story of constraint. but, it;s okay to arrive at the negative stories IF it is come to in company: if i can sprout negative stories in the company of others and form that uncanny cobweb with another. my goal is not to make a happy story of the world, but rather, to weave myself into the world with another. there is danger only when one becomes unwoven ... when language stops ... words hold us together ... keep us in this world ... no matter how much larger thought is from word, how much expanded, how innacuarate the word actually is ... no matter ... the word connects us, however vaguely, and there is no loneliness as long as we are both wearing the, oh, so very light wrap of conversation.

thank you all so much for company in thought. thank you.

imploded battle grounds
Date: 2005-04-13 22:12:33
Link to this Comment: 14558

thank you maria and meagan ... i write these reactions cringing bc i admit things that i am embarrassed about and hate ... but that's my point: that something has been internalized ... i can't be an outraged feminist bc the enemy is no longer "men" or "high school boys" or "the lack of the vote" or "a lower salary" etc. ... it's the fact that i assume that i am smarter than bryn mawr women but cannot make the same assumption at haverford. so, the articulate nature of any comment i make here is founded on the fact that i think i am, by default, smarter than any woman. (cringe, cringe, CRINGE! disapear now, orah.) so, not only has something been internalized (i don't know how deep) into the conglomeration of my mind/body (i won't say into mySELF bc i hope that it is not that deep ... that my SELF is not defined by this heirarchy), but sexism has imploded into the female sphere a certain degree it's no longer a matter of men thinking women aren't apt, but rather that women don't think women are ... you get the point.

and i was not surprised at all when someone said that women at bryn mawr dress for the grade ... or on a more subtle level : dress for the prof.. i've done it and have hated myself while doing it. and not known why i do it. and it's not even generated by a possiblity of fantasy coming into reality, but rather, body articulation says something different than mind articulation ... acheives something different. and i don't know how to acheive the height of one without diminishing the other. yes, maria, i aggree that it's about balance. but, i want to win! and when it comes to body it seems that my winning means your losing or visa versa ... and i refuse to lose so that means that my body is a violence against yours. and i hate that more than anyone will ever understand, but if i don't learn to weild the body-weapon than i'll be a dead woman walking ... one wins by living extremes: look at the remembered poets, olympic athetes, movie stars ... being remembered=winning ... what bothers me is that i might think that i am more able to body-win than mind-win bc of my problem at haverford. and what else bothers me is that winning seems to depend on the other. i just don't know what it means to win something for the self. i'm really trying to figure that out. i've been in classrooms where i realized that i was articulating more body than mind. articulating body to the point that mind articulation didn't matter ... was obsolete ... silenced by screaming body.

..... this whole post is a heavy-duty, ultra-embarrassing confession ... i'm self-critical enough to see myself doing all of this and hate myself doing it ... but know that i won't stop. THAT tension, i think, is the feminist subject.

and (as always) an and
Date: 2005-04-13 23:06:41
Link to this Comment: 14560

and as i think more the whole "dressing for the prof." "dressing for the male" mutates into "dressing for your enemy" "dressing AGAINST other women" ... the act of dressing stops being a sexualized act and is, rather, a violent act ...

paul, i'm reminded about your talk at the beauty symposium last year which ended with the assertion that it would be better if women stopped caring so much about beauty. it isn't useful to get all upset about how we got to this point: this point of civil war (within self, and within women): the point of striving for beauty as a negative act... but rather to foresee the next step ... ANTICIPATE CHANGE!!! (though, alas, i am handicapped by skepticism... but meagan isn't ... and i truly admire her for it!) does that mean stop caring about beauty? or stop competeing? how do we deny hagel? not only disable the master but release ourselves from the shakle of identities as defined by the other ... how does one do that? to be or not to be that is the question. and he desides to ACT and that means murder ... suicide or murder: take your pick, dear, dear friends!

thanks all very much!

ps i might be the only case of the female whose brain is naturally devoid of mathmaticle skills (is that possbile? to be hardwired like that?) since the third grade when i couldn't memorize multiplication tables ... and still have trouble ... but maybe that is the deepest example of all this ... the deepest nurturing ... society's cradle rock ... but sometimes a cigar is just ...

cool water for a high fever
Date: 2005-04-15 07:40:47
Link to this Comment: 14581

been agonizing for a whole day now over the silence after the last post. and really don't know if there is a point where dejected thought ought not to be brought into the world, but rather, the mind must be the place where such thoughts are imprisoned from the world and must die with the mind. the mind, therefore, is the boundary of the binary which allows the world to be sacred, by holding tight that which is profane: the ink-shell of the word. but, my mind has obviously failed in that function. and i have sullied the world with sick sick thought. an alternative to the view of the world that i purposed in the last post: while in the last post i purposed a violent female world and utterly ignored the presence of men in it, here, i suggest that if men are taken out of the picture the violence stops. strange ... bc i don't see men as actors in the violence that i previously described ... but i realize that men are deeply involved in the violence. maybe it's bc we still live in a society that is defined by a male standard ... that there can be female circles contained within the male sphere. i think the situation i described in the last post is of a circle of women within the male sphere, which, while looking inward looks to be absolutely female, but, what i didn't realize is that the male utterly surrounds this circle. it's a pretty bad situation, bc when i feel such violence and look up all i see are women, all i can blame are women, but the lack of freedom which pertetuates and festers this violence is due to the fact that the circle is imprisoned, that we live in a closed system with male boundaries. it's also been a hard thing to realize bc i don't think that males are conscious of the brutal violence within the internal circle ... they have no access to this circle and therefore cannot be expected to know of the violence ... so i can't be angry at "men" , but rather must say these words.

i've spent the past two days absorbing lots of judith butler and i find her to be inspiring in that she REQUIRES ACTION from thought. EVERYTHING is political and if it is not it is useless ... my mission is to allow the world to be a sacred place. but sacredness that depends on the cloistering of the profane, is vitally tangled with the profane, so there must be an interchange between the sick thoughts in the mind and the world. butler demands a HEALING exchange. i am trying to assuage the protracting bruise i feel in this world, sprinkle cool patience from my mind ... i am not here to absorbe the comfort that the world offers ... the individual is meaningless unless she puts herself OUTWARD instead of pulling the world inward. the world lasts and individual doesn't. one ejects burning thought only to follow it with cool dew. both must come from the mind. i am learning this. and, obviously, haven't mastered the art of cool-patience-sprinkling ... but, alas, i think the skill comes with practice and i hope, in the end, only to leave the world without having perpetuated the hurting ... i'm in the negative zone right now ... i apologize.

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-04-21 10:01:21
Link to this Comment: 14764

Thanks to all for calling attention to the concreteness of this dichotomy as seen from the student side and in the trenches. Wish it had been recorded, hope people will post some of their thoughts here, very helpful.

Thought you might find interesting some related debates at the faculty level. See, for example, The Two Cultures: A Conversation for our own faculty (update in An Exchange Involving a Humanist, A Social Scientist, and a Scientist, and Science and Non-Science: Bridging the Two Cultures Gap for precollege teachers.

There's also a recent relevant article by me called Revisiting Science in Culture: Science as Story Telling and Story Revising, that suggests there is (or at least ought to be) much less of a dichotomy, and an associated resource/forum site. Enjoy hearing reactions to that article there, here, or in person.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-04-21 21:57:11
Link to this Comment:

I was interested in last night's discussion, too, and struck especially by the particular ways in which I heard science students thinking about the work done in the humanities, humanities students talking about the work done in the sciences.... (the former a place where b.s. is possible, because the latter is one where empirical evidence meets a stricter (?) standard....?) and cross-majoring students feeling a need, in accord w/ this perceived difference, to perform differently on different sides of the campus: more words allowed in the humanities, fewer in the sciences....?

What was particularly surprising to me was how much the differences expressed differ from the ones I've experienced myself. I didn't like science early on because (the way it was offered in my hometown) it didn't invite the exploration of new things, was rather just an activity of (trying, always unsuccessfully) to replicate experiments w/ already-known outcomes. I liked reading and writing because they were exploratory, and those explorations were likely to lead to surprises--there was space to be creative. But this had nothing to do w/ "more words" (though it surely had to do w/ spending more time w/ words). To quote Peter Beckman (somewhere): "If I had more time, I could make this shorter."

Along these lines...since my own "real" (grown-up) science education began several years ago, in a variety of venues/Center-supported conversations on this campus, I've actually done quite a bit of writing w/ scientists. I often find myself in the role of "mop-up"--that is, taking the so-careful-that-it's-too-long-to-be-readable-much-less-clearly-understandable-prose of the precisionists and turning it into less-exact-more-allusive-more-accessible language of the...poet?

Poetry acknowledges (as Adrienne Rich said in her reading tonight) that language is a "translation" of what's in our head/that which we can't quite articulate, which is therefore both "opaque" and "transparent." Poetry is the most-pared-down form of this (except math?), and, I'd venture, is the most willing to trust its hearer. What would you say to my suggestion that science writing is not willing to trust the reader, as seen in the impulse to make all that's known (about a particular problem) explicit--and so shut off an interpretative response/close off the space for revision?

Name: orah
Date: 2005-04-22 08:06:45
Link to this Comment: 14783

i am interested in the idea that the impulse to tell stories is a characteristically female impulse while the impulse "to be" is a male characteristic. could this speak to the characterization of science/math as male disciplines and the hummanities as female ?? following this tangent further: what does a female impulse to tell of herself say about her desire to be seen/observed/watched? and does this impulse to tell make her dependant on the hearer/reader/watcher? or, i have heard about the writing process of famous writers (ironically all male) and how their most successful pieces were written when the writer was determined NOT to write for an audience, but rather, for himself alone. this, i think, is a kind of telling, a kind of performance that is not dependant on audience. what does it mean to perform the self for the self? (oohh! i like that.) placing delicacte words on wind. chimes. writing in damp sand. so, is it being suggested not only that a woman's desire to tell is inextricably woven with her desire to be heard ... or is it the act of wearing the self on the outside, but not necessarily being seen ... is it about the feeling of telling and not the feeling of being heard? or maybe the uncanny sensation of hearing the self?

also think the carefully worded phrase "cross-majoring students," or, cross discipline courses (as opposed to interdiscipinary courses) conjures an image of layering courses, building discourses, towering languages on top of each other in order to reach higher understanding. with this terminology one does not feel that a discourse must be "dummied down."

Date: 2005-04-22 09:00:49
Link to this Comment: 14784

hollow porcelain forms dangled into cavern
and then your mind breezes through.

Crash: a matter of survival
Name: Orah Minde
Date: 2005-05-08 12:03:00
Link to this Comment: 15079

it might be appropriote to wrap up my posting year on an unread site ... i posted a hollow frame of a thought over winter break : "i think the caress is the key to it all;" and, now, having gained some depth to that thought, a long long semester later, and i think i will aggree with the person who posted that once-shallow thought. i saw the film "crash" yeserday (and posted on it's serendip site). i am fascinated by the first couple sentances of the film. "its a sense of touch... we got rear ended and one of us lost his center point of reference and i'm going to get out of this car and go find it. " in LA, the paradigm postmodern city, there is no bumping into people on the streets, no rubbing up against strangers in subways. we miss that sense of touch so much that we CRASH into each other in the desperate need for touch. we have lost the sense of touch bc we are straight jackted into categories, identities, races, genders and these blockages of self disable us from connecting, seeing, hearing each other. it's NOT (as i have thought all semester) about needing to be understood. no. no. no. it's the sense of touch: a need so much more basic that understanding. touch is matter of survival. blockages disable us from touching each other. and we don't crave to be understood we crave to be touched. and so, here, on this unread forum, i suggest that the solution, the bare minimum (and simultaneously the absolute maximum) of what we need is the caress; which, i define as: an acknowledgement of the PRECIOUS, unspeakable, unknowable, un-understandable, interior of another (which is the irreducible substance called SELF which we may, bc of a desire to break substances into components refer to as : undifferentiable intermingling of mind and body.)
have a wonderful summer, dear friends.

universe bar forum
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-10-28 09:25:46
Link to this Comment: 16677

For archive of 2003-3004 discussion, click here.

appreciation/continuation ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-10-28 09:56:51
Link to this Comment: 16679

See notes on On Beyond Post-Modernism: Discriminating Stories, which now include the following as "The morning after" ...

Thanks all, for rich discussion. Accept/understand the need to provide some clearer measure of "generativity". Think though that we made some progress on that problem. It relates not to "all time" but to recent time, to time during which a comparison between two stories can in fact be made (just as there is no useful way (for present purposes) to compare generativity of bacteria versus humans across all of evolution; one can only attempt to compare generativity over periods when both existed). And, equally important, the measure is always a "bet", ie it is a projection of likely productivity in time to come. A "scientist" (and others?) puts his/her money on a guess about the future generativity of a story made in the present based on the past, and may or may not be be correct about it. Only time will tell.

Betting on the generativity of stories is, I hope I made clear, NOT the only criterion might use the discriminate between stories. One might take one story as better than another for other reasons .... including a wish for security, social order, etc and/or ... the wish to preserve stories themselves. My concern was not to argue that there is a single RIGHT way to adjudicate between stories (I trust everyone recognizes that I cannot and would not make such an argument) but rather to call attention to the importance of context in adjudicating stories, and to try and make clearer what was the "scientific" way (without making any claims that that particular one is superior). Notice though that people who are interested in generativity and use that as their own context for evaluating stories may make life more difficult for those who use other contexts. Scientific stories are NOT in fact developed to deny or "explain away" particular other stories but they may well be perceived that way by people who (consciously or unconsciously) are using contexts other than projected generativity to evaluate stories.

That thought in turn connects to two other issues that arose in our conversation that seem to me worth highlighting. The first is that most of us are most of the time probably not aware of the criteria we use to adjudicate between stories. Trying to make this explicit (conscious) in my own case was a part of the exercise and, obviously, I'm arguing this would be helpful in general (many conflicts actually reflect differences in criteria rather than differences in any intrinsic value of the stories). The second is that distinguishing between stories using one set of criteria need not preclude a given person in the same case making different distinctions using different criteria in a different context. The story of the earth as flat is a very useful one in some contexts even if its generativity is low. Adjudicating between stories based on their likely generativity doesn't inevitably require that other stories disappear, though it does make it perhaps more likely that some will (the parallels to biological evolution, involving innovation, persistance, and extinction are, I suspect, very close).

Another important point that came out in our discussion was that people differ in the degree to which "generativity" seems like a good criterion on which to discriminate between stories, for a variety of reasons including life experiences, and, I suspect, genetic predispositions. And I'd be the last person in the world to argue that we want more homogeneity in this regard (see Diversity and Deviance. At the same time, part of the point of the talk was that there are a number of existing problems, both social and individual, that might be eased by developing the inclination to use generativity as a primary basis for story adjudication, at least in particular contexts.

IF/when one begins to have the feeling that there really ISN'T any such thing as "Truth" or "Reality" outside oneself, at least not a useful one that one can rely on as a fixed and stable motivator of and guide to one's own behavior, AND one has the feeling that PC/postmodernist solipsism (all stories are equally good) is not an adequate response to this feeling, THEN the notion of generativity as a primary basis for story adjudication has some appeal. It doesn't by any means relieve one of the obligations of making choices and of personal responsiblity for one's behavior (as does pure solipsism or "primary schuckiness"). It does, however, in combination with an appreciation of the "bipartite brain", give one grounds for action despite knowing that there is no single justifiable story and, perhaps even more importantly, an authorization to sometimes act simply and only because one "feels" that is what should be done ("reflective shmuckiness, which treats action not as something to be justified in the present based on the past but rather as something being done in the present to make (and be evaluated by) the future).

Along which lines .... looking forward to further thoughts from all of you about the current state of this story. Thanks again for your contributions to its evolution.

from a (non) Martian point of view
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-10-29 16:06:13
Link to this Comment: 16690

I'd heard an earlier version of this talk about the importance of context in adjudicating stories. I had some questions then, which were amusingly highlighted during Thursday night's presentation, when Paul said that "any Martian" would judge the story of evolution as having been "more generative" than that of intelligent design. But if the claim being made is that stories might most usefully be judged, not by some extra-terrestrial authority, but rather locally,

--isn't that a local claim, that "generativity" is the most valuable "use" of storytelling?
--if the usefulness of all stories is "local,"
--and the work of science is aiming for "wider" applications of the tales we tell
--what happens to "local" when we "enlarge" the local"?
--do science's stories then/thus always "trump" stories that cover "less broad" swaths of material?

appreciation and reflections
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-11-02 22:51:32
Link to this Comment: 16784

Thanks, all, for rich conversation tonight, not only for the ideas but also for the strong feelings displayed in relation to some of them. I learned some interesting things from both.

I do think that many people are puzzled by the relationship between cultural change and political change and that that is raising serious questions in many peoples' minds about the efficacy of "political" action. It is not clear that recent American history is consistent with an ideal that political action is the most effective route to cultural change. In many cases it seems instead to be cultural change that drives political change. And to a large extent in a clash of forces, emergent mode, without any significant political leadership. At the same time, the ideal of political change creating cultural change is an appealing one, and one can make arguments that this is still true in some cases, and perhaps that it would be desirable to work towards making it more so in the future?

Might one agree that what the discussion helps to establish is that political change and cultural change are vis a vis one another both cause and effect? From which it might follow that people interested in righting social wrongs could choose to do so by the avenue either of "political" action or cultural action? And perhaps that righting social wrongs is most effectively done by having some people work along one avenue and others along the other, differing in their methods but united in their objective?

Perhaps there is a related and corresponding message in the clash of strong feelings that accompanied the play of ideas? That clash seemed to me to obscure a very significant commonality in objective, the creation of a culture in which each individual and distinctive person feels involved and contributory. What was being argued about was how to act to move in that direction, and I have the feeling that people were hearing reasons to move along one avenue as simultaneously and necessarily reasons NOT to move along the other. Its interesting to me that people tend to make that leap without thinking about it. In a monolithic culture, it would indeed be true that an argument for one thing is necessarily an argument against another. That isn't, however, true in a pluralistic culture, where one can not only have different people moving along different avenues but doing so with mutual support and respect. And since a pluralistic culture is in fact our common objective, maybe it would be useful for us to try and reshape some of the deeper assumptions we make when listening to one another in a way that would make one of the principles of a pluralistic culture part of the process of moving more towards it?

Unschooling U-bar
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-11-10 02:38:52
Link to this Comment: 16910

A very rich U-bar this evening. Wanted to thank Rebekah and all there! Found myself very quiet during U-bar so thought I'd give some post U-bar thoughts here. I've been pondering the way in which my learning (especially in my Catholic elementary/middle school) was heavily based on fixed notions of order, on rules and educational methodology projected from the other in power to the younger and less powerful self. After U-bar I found myself thinking back to my early educational experience and realizing that my favorite moments were indeed those rare chances I had to find my own way. I felt like I could do that in art class and especially in a special "art enrichment class" every other Wed. In art enrichment class I wrote a play called the Rainbow Dragon and worked with the other class members to make lifesize puppets to act out the play. I also remember being told to read Flowers for Algernon (a required class book) over the summer. This allowed me to chose whatever book I wanted to read while the class was reading Flowers for Algernon. So, while the class was reading that book and filling out worksheets and stuff I was reading Anne of Green Gables in the corner of the room and at home under my covers and on the stairs. It felt like an enormous privledge and, to a certain extent, one that I was given for being obedient and following the rules. The reward for not usually breaking the rules was the small chance of freedom from the normal class assignements, the ability to chose a book and to connect with myself.

In response to what Megan was saying about standardized testing allowing her and others to be placed on a higher educational track, the paradox for me was that my learning (best when given freedom...can self explore etc) did not allow me to perform even close to sort of well on standardized tests. Therefore, since I did not fit into the (non-freedom based) standardized test,I wasn't given the intellectual freedom granted in a higher track determined by such tests (though since i was in catholic, then private was not the track system in the same way). So the system for measuring a type of learner made it impossible for me (as that type of learner) to be "found" and given a chance to be more free.

To draw together this U-bar with another and with the teaching and learning lecture given last week: Paul explored the way that evolution as a story has generated many new stories and therefore is a useful story. Within the story of evolution, there is a firm basis in randomness and chance. When we are random to each can be rocked and challenged. Unschooling practices make us more random to each other, less predicatble and less controlled and more new stories can be created by the process. By the same token one can see such randomness as a luxury as it can prevent some productivity at the practical level...or at least bring up the question: if we are all working for ourselves, how do we function in a society made up of many selves? How does education which is about individual self betterment and becoming who we are help us to bump into other people and create new stories? Or if we're all bumping into each other...whose filling the anti-chaos roles...

Even now at Bryn Mawr my favorite moments are those moments where I can do my own within a framework that is fluid and changing and free but many of my classes do not allow for this. I am excited about the teaching and learning experiment evaluating various bryn mawr courses. I agree with Paul that thick skin is necessary to have one's course talked about in this way. I believe that, perhaps is thick skin on the emotional/ego level which allows for a vulnerablity and openness to change. I imagine that this project will meet with a great deal of resistence in the Bryn Mawr community. And because of this, I think it is very worthwhile.

I have a somewhat unclear relationship between framework and not and now find (for the most part) that having not as much framework and more freedom makes me extremly happy emotionally. When I have too many rules and too many expectations, when there are grades and when there is a clear idea coming from out there that interferes with what's within me...I get frustrated, however, often times i still comply. In complying I feel like the little un-smart feeling girl from elementary school who sits there trying to please her teacher and please her parents and never is quite able to do it enough. Education, to me, at least in my past was always about getting others to love me...if i sit still, if i am nice, if i read this, if i try hard...maybe people will love me more...And, I felt the illusion of that love when I got a good grade or an award or said something that the teacher liked. But that pleasure was so short-lived. I found myself living and working for three seconds of praise and being miserable for most of the rest of the time. It was unhealthy. I think what I like about working with what's inside me in a more free way (about going where i am most passionate and making my own rules) is that I'm able to cultivate more of a self-love that is not based on others and more of a self-regulation and self-approval. I no longer need to ask someone else "is this right?" which was a code question for "do you love me?" Now, I can ask myself "does this come from you? does it feel like something you want?" And, then I can answer: "hey, eliz. it's right." I can feel a greater sense of pleasure and self-love that does not depend on another voice. I think that the greatest act of love that a teacher can perform is to help a student to trust herself and her internal vision, to allow a space for freedom and exploration and help a student get over any fears of engaging in that process, to help a student want for herself and from herself.

No class that I have had that has been an independent study or has had no grades until the end has ever made me anxious or made me burn is only when I feel like I am being overly judged from the outside that I feel anxious and not good enough. Grades make me fall into the old game i played in my head with my teachers: "he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not" I believe that teachers have a big role but I think many are nervous about their position as authorities and forget just how unique each student is and how differently people learn. So, I guess that I would support some of the principles of unschooling...yet...

It would not have worked for me as a child, I don't think. Here is a question that I have. What about the painfully shy and introverted child? Even if there is a community of "unschoolers" how does this child get to learn in a social setting? It was great for me to get out of my house and be with a large number of people my age. But...I also always wanted to have someone to invent things with which couldn't happen for me at home or at school. If I were home, I think I would have read a lot but also done a lot of t.v. watching and video game playing...Even in an unschooled environment, how does a shy child get encouraged to be an assertive enough shy child for curiousity to yield something. Also , what if the dynamic between parents and children is strained or difficult? How does unschooling work in those circumstances? We talked about some of this...I do think a strong base of support is needed also so that a child learns to trust the world...if there is going to be this self and world exploration a child needs to be encouraged that it is okay to reach out into the world and touch it. I was taught or perhaps just felt? that i could not touch anything, that the world was not safe, that everything, including speech was a risk and that to explore too far would not create fulfillment but disaster. If someone has suddenly said "okay, now teach yourself. no more framework." I would have been really scared and locked myself in a closet. For me, the graudal move towards a realiztion of the value of independent thinking and self-teaching was best.

In general, the more and more I write about this and the more I think about our conversation, the more I can agree with many of the aspects of unschooling but I'm still very unsure about whether it would have worked for me. I think that personally it was good for me to come to realizations of what works for me in reaction to what didn't work rather than entering into life in more of utopian educational environment. For me, the reacting against has been useful. Moments of freedom within a repressive structure were EXTREMELY happy moments and solidified my identity as a...i guess as a "dreamer"?...I needed to take those positive moments and reconstruct them imaginatively in order to maintain a personal sanity a lot of the time. So, I'm not sure if it would have been better for my imagination to have developed in a completely free way and nourished itself as I worked within a zone that was completely based on where it led me or whether having opressive, structured, consistent roadblocks helped in some way for me to desperately want to seek out moments outside of the framework within which i existed. I'd like to believe in the resilient power of the human spirit and the human imagination sometimes in spite of environment but I am VERY interested in continued discussion about the best physical and intellectual landscapes for children to inhabit...Which lanscapes lead best to imaginative and personal fulfillment? Is it true that to think independently is to be greater prepared it act in and/or within the world?

Thanks again for such an interesting conversation!

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-11-10 22:31:01
Link to this Comment: 16923

Let me add my thanks to E's--I found Rebekah's presentation last night thought-provoking. But/and also (or because?) confusing: on the one hand, you were telling us what a wonderful thing autodidactism is, how you wished everyone could do it. On the other, you were asking lotsa questions/identifying lotsa barriers to universalizing the practice.

Occured to me--as we talked about various people we knew (ourselves included) who might not have profited from un-schooling--that universalizing that form of education, like universalizing "no child left behind" directives, or "teaching to the test," or other very structured forms of education, is bound to fail. The key has to be valuing diversity, and creating structures that nurture it: both the diversity of individual learning styles and preferences and interests, and a diversity of educational structures (and lack thereof) to serve all the different folks.

Another idea, in response to E's posting about how useful "reacting against" has been for her: Wil Franklin and I have been working on a paper about our experiences teaching in the Summer Institute for Philly K-12 teachers. We were surprised by--and unsure about how to handle--all the resistence we got. The paper's trying to make sense of this, by exploring the Hegelian idea that we all learn by resisting...

and then need to learn to stop resisting others, and find ourselves through our own labor in the world. Stay tuned for more.

Introducing myself
Name: Lucy Kerma
Date: 2005-11-11 17:11:30
Link to this Comment: 16932

I look forward to talking with you on Wednesday evening. I can tell from the posts here that you’ve had interesting discussions, and hope we can continue the tradition. I was intrigued by Paul’s post about the difference – or was it relation? – between political and cultural change, and wondered how that discussion addressed the other kinds of change we work toward (economic, social, etc). And having been involved in creating a new public school in West Philadelphia, I have some thoughts about unschooling and schooling too.

I thought it would be helpful to share some common texts before then, so you have some sense of where I am coming from. You can sample some of what I have been involved in at the University of Pennsylvania at; I co-authored a case study on our work, which is available at There is a lively national discussion about urban revitalization and the role higher eds (universities *and* colleges) can play, and we have shared our case study with universities, city governments, developers, and urban planners and consultants across the country and internationally.

I also thought I’d share a recent op-ed column from the Daily News, “Another juicy issue for the right,” by Mark Alan Hughes. You can find it at I don’t intend to talk about eminent domain – though it’s an interesting issue and I am glad to! -- but I think his point about the role of government and the idea of “public” is relevant. “Public” is very much in my mind as I work to support equitable development in mixed-income mixed-race communities.

I hope to see you next week.

Emotional Development and Unschooling
Name: Tara
Date: 2005-11-12 23:13:43
Link to this Comment: 16942

I'd like to thank everyone for their comments, which have been very stimulating. Though I didn't actually speak during the discussion, I was thinking about the emotional development of an unschooled child. The intellectual development and learning style of each child was discussed at length, but I felt that the emotional aspect of unschooling should be explored some more.

That said, like Elizabeth I was thinking about the shy child who might not necessarily benefit from unschooling. In social and school settings, I was the so called shy child who didn't socialize well with other children. This was how teachers labeled me from the beginning, and this was true to an extent. I never really wanted to socialize because what I really wanted was to sit and think up stories, I preferred to live inside myself, inside my own head, and that was apparently atypical behavior according to conventional psychological or educational standards.

This reliance on my imagination, combined with my dismal interactions with other kids made me feel very much isolated in a school setting. On a few occasions I even asked my parents if I could be home-schooled (I wasn't yet aware of unschooling) because I felt I couldn't handle going to school anymore. In any case, I had to continue going to school and learn the hard way lessons like defending myself, being an individual, following my own intellectual path. Still, my happiest moments were outside of school, reading books on all different subjects and making up stories in my room, which I sometimes did for hours. And at home I was near my parents, who always supported me. That support basis helped me become an individual and brought me through tough times.

So what about the shy child? Based on personal experience, I feel that it is important for this child to interact with other children, even if it is emotionally difficult. This is likely the only way for an introverted passive child to learn how to be emotionally resiliant when faced with society. But having support at home is crucial. Without parental support, I don't know how well that child would learn to be an individual thinker or to develop a sense of compassion. Without this support would she hide deeper inside her self? Suppress her imagination? Become defiant? I don't intend to generalize because I feel the outcome ultimately depends on the individual, but that some basis of support from within the home is a positive influence.

I feel that unschooling is positive for some children, but not all, though certain unschooling principles can benefit many. An intellectual curiosity, an individual way of thinking, support of imagination, these are extremely important values (and not strictly unschooling values either). These kinds of encouragement benefit not a child not only intellectually, but emotionally as well. I still don't feel as though I've reached a clear conclusion, if there is one to be reached. But these questions we're discussing are extremely important, and I'm glad that others feel the same. Thanks for all your comments and insights!

The common good
Name: L Kerman
Date: 2005-11-18 15:47:53
Link to this Comment: 17070

Thanks for an interesting discussion the other night. I was thinking about how I thoroughly ducked Anne’s question about how to define the common good. I said something about how I don’t think common good is necessarily intrinsic – it isn't "there" to be found – but it occurred to me afterwards that I also don’t think there are any easy “rules” or criteria that will inevitably define it. So yes, something long term rather than immediate, and yes, broader than the personal/local. Beyond that, though, I suspect that it is a matter of process more than definition. Who gets to be involved in that process, why them and not others, where does it take place and at what level of organization, how can that be legitimate, what if there are competing processes – yup, those are the right questions. Ask them early and often. In my worldview, you find the (approximate and temporary) answer best by doing it.

We talked at the end about what to “do” about feelings of difference at Bryn Mawr, and I suggested finding ways to act together, rather than only trying to talk through questions that are in some sense unanswerable. I was reminded today about World Game (, and it occurred to me that might be a fun common activity. I bet it could be adapted for a Bryn Mawr-specific world.

keeping my promise
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-11-30 21:58:21
Link to this Comment: 17247

So, as promised--I went straight upstairs and accessed the OED. Here's the report: "transcendent" is the present participle of "transcend,"
which derives from the Latin word meaning "to climb over or beyond, surmount;
to pass or extend beyond or above (a physical or non-physical limit);
to go beyond the limits of (something material or immaterial); to exceed."

Emerson himself said that "what is popularly called Transcendentalism is Idealism,"
and most of the other early references make similar claims:
"the difference between subjective and objective reality,"
"the tendency to trace up all things to the relation in which they stand to abstract Ideas,"
"exalted character, thought, or language; that which is extravagant, vague, or visionary."

What we seemed to be exploring tonight was the space located just opposite such definitions: not that which makes exalted meaning, but that which altogether precedes the making of meaning (and the believing of it, and the questioning of it).

Transcendent images from tonight's handout also available in color @
The Contextual, the Transcendent...and the Space Between.

You are warmly invited to come back next week for "post-transcendence" of an entirely different sort, aka "the end of ethics."

Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-11-30 22:08:17
Link to this Comment: 17249

thanks anne, elizabeth and all for meaningful discussion tonight. my conception of meaning as that which is infused AFTER the raw moment makes the act of creation quite difficult: hence, procrastination, here.

i think we came to the idea that an uncontextualized space is impossible. can we, however, imagine such a space? does contextualization demand a commerce between exterior and interior space? or, what is the nature of a space that is so contained/contextualized that there is no movement between it and the text by which it is contained? right now i am working with the image of the self as contextualized by the world. while, of course, the self cannot exist without its context in the world, what is the nature of this relation?
what is the difference between an interior space that has no commerce with the exterior and an uncontexutalized space? no, the self cannot be decontextualized from the world, but can one's experience of self be as absolutely detached from the world? can an interior space be detached from that which contains it? when the borderspace that holds the self as a coherence is so thick that the self-coherence does not experience the world that holds it. and as the self becomes more and more distinct from the the world does it gain coherence as a distinct (less contexutalized), pure text? and what is the significance of coherence that is not conveyed?

another image
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-12-01 07:46:02
Link to this Comment: 17257 (with a link to the art/neurobiology discussion I mentioned)

Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-12-07 22:10:52
Link to this Comment: 17338

thx anne and all for conversation tonight.
a couple things now on my mind:
anne's final comment about paul's diagram from last week that places the transcendant as interior recalled my use of the word transcendant in reference to the holocaust. when i used it i was placing the holocaust exterior to possible human experience. but, maybe it's more useful to place the experience as the core human experience: so central to what it means to be human that we do not have the capacity to detach from it enough to be self-reflexive about it and, therefore, cannot speak about it, or create art from it. if art is ever in reference to the real, maybe the holocaust is why all art fails to be real: why we are never satisfied for very long with self-articulation: why stories are never stagnant: because the core of human experience transcends us. ... is the transcendant space a space within the self that is uneffected by that which is external to the self? but, if such is so, than how can i speak of it? i can only map hisotry back to the holocaust. but cannot enter that void. is the use of maping the "human" onto the map of the "self" limited? i mean: if i am saying that the holocaust is the transcendant/core human experience does that mean that it is also the core experience of the self? does something of the human reside in the core of the self? my first instict is to say 'of course!' but with such an example i would disagree with myself. what of the holocaust is within me? that is the point where i can think no more. and stop.

maybe it is in there. but thought cannot venture that far. to think the holocaust as internal would be fatal: thought would become stuck there. so, we can't venture into the transcendant with thought ... do we have access to that place? i am playing on a rim. tightroping the strings of a violin. when i fall there is silence.

what does it mean for the holocaust to be taken out of time and space and placed within? or, does such an event launch us from movement through time and space and place us forever in one place and at time. or, worst scenario of all, does time continue after? is the holocaust an event? or is it eternity? which is worse???

the post anne referenced
Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-12-07 22:23:16
Link to this Comment: 17341

hooks seems, too, to say that the subject comes into existence not through simple failure, but a failure that harms others: a guilty failure. while butler writes in "the psychic life of power" that the subject comes into a melancholic existence, hooks might say that the this melancholy is not the result of a solely self-reflexive gaze, but the result of an awareness of how one has harmed another: it's the result of realizing one's relation to another as harmful to the other.
i can deal with the idea of being that which consistently fails. i may even (some day) learn to shape my failure into art. i cannot, however, deal with the idea that I AM BECAUSE I HURT OTHERS. the better to not be. ... we are created in the moment that we trespass into another's space, in the moment we violate another's being. that is the moment of birth. a rape of sorts.i don't know what to do with that. i don't like politics bc i dont want the guilt that inscribes by soul in every single movement of self-reflexion. i'd rather be oblivious.

this is what i couldn't speak concerning selfless morals. what is the impetous of the ascetic ?

taking a stand against oblivion
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-12-08 22:41:31
Link to this Comment: 17356

My thanks, also, to all of you for coming and thinking along w/ me last night about the "end of ethics," and to Orah for continuing that thinking here. What you say about the holocaust as "the core human experience" echoes an observation, recently made elsewhere on Serendip, about traumatic experiences causing us "to be more aware than most of us are (or choose to be) of the deep nature of the human condition...that there are in fact no fixed points that can be unquestioningly relied on, and that 'meaning' is always story created for oneself out of whatever materials one has at hand."

I want to try to create some meaning out of the material you have to hand, above, concerning the guilt (and there was lots of talk about guilt last night) of harming another. I do think it is inevitable that, in being alive, and being each of us uniquely different from another, we will misunderstand, and fail, and hurt one another. But that if we uniformly chose harm-reduction over risk-taking, well...

we will accomplish nothing. Make no changes in what is. So I say: better to try than to...
risk oblivion?

Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-12-09 07:51:13
Link to this Comment: 17358

it does seem to come down to the question of perpetuating the human race, doesn't it?!?!
Gan, decides to let himself be impregnated, NOT to kill himself
from Kushner's 'Angels:' "Even sick. i want to be alive. ... i want more life. I can't help muself. I do. I've lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much much worse, but. ... You see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their childre, they live. Death usually has to take life away. ... i recognize the habit. The addiction to being alive. we live past hope" (Perestroika, 134).

it does come down to a question to reproduction: KNOWING that my existance so unjustly wrongs other's do i continue. yes. it's an addiction, i guess. so, i continually reproduce myself.

now, i also recognize the act of being impregnated as an essential alternative. when i think of having kids i wrestle with the idea that i KNOW i will wrong them in some way. i don't know if there is style of parenting that spares children from this wronging. all the models of parenting to which i have been exposed have flaws. small as the flaws may be, children, i think, inevitably spend their lives untangling themselves from such flaws for which they are not responsible. when a life is spent undoing to mistakes of other's and experiencing the pain of such undoings and realizing what is not being DONE in the time that is spent UNDOING: how can one bring another into such a struggle. i guess one must see the process through bf one launches another into it : or, not 'through,' but to a point of rest so that one knows that there is an semi-peaceful glitch in the spread of pain (waves on the surface of the great deep) that one's children will experience. that rest, i guess, is forgiveness. if, one can forgive one's parents for perpetuating life in you: if one can forgive one's parents for the world into which they brought you, forgive them for making the world worse in you, then in such rest-forgiveness one may feed that addiction and have children. forgiveness, i don't think, can be complete, life is the antithesis of stasis, but, we must have spaces in which to breath.

l'etudiante de vie
Date: 2006-01-01 09:17:17
Link to this Comment: 17501

How is it you might ask, that an egalitarian might say, "All people are not born equal".

Because all people are not born equal. Common sense.

Unlike Aristotle, I cannot look at "the face of a baby and tell whether
or not it will make a slave". But I can look at its parents and draw
a general conclusion concerning its future.

I can do this because through the experience of over 40 years of life,
I have come to learn that some things in life are uncannily predictable.

Yes, we can do without the readers of crystal balls but when we toss
out art and philosophy, uncannily predictable will ultimately lead to
etched-in-stone, unevolved nouveau riche lording it over the have-nots
whose only sin has become having ever been born.

Point blank, few things are more nauseating than the politics of facade.

But then I care more about the way things really are as opposed to the
way things LOOK.

Make no mistake about it, my genetics put 3/4 of the United States at
an intellectual disadvantage but my salary would make the average hick

No college degree for me. I couldn't digest and immediately regurgitate
a plethora of details thrown at me like a disassembled jigsaw puzzle.

"Oh, you're a genius!" The working class chides as they giggle like a
bunch of hairless apes. No, my knowledge is nothing compared to theirs!

Of course I shall go at the book like a professional anthropologist. I'm
so glad to have read Margaret Mead.

definition of attitude when writen a project on ma
Date: 2006-03-16 03:30:27
Link to this Comment: 18553

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