Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Persistence of Buffalo

Almost a year ago now, I remember reading this story from South Dakota that started out:

A buffalo that escaped from an auction ended up in a dressing room at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center where it spent a couple of hours staring into a mirror. [...]
Maybe this buffalo had some sort of profound realization, and became self-aware the moment he looked in the mirror. Or maybe...

I'm reminded of "The Metamorphosis" by Kafka. Perhaps this buffalo was someone else the night before — maybe, when they woke up, they were surprised to be covered in hair, standing on all fours, prepared for an auction. In that case, I'd stare in the mirror for a while too.

The idea sounds ridiculous, sure, but why? Because people never wake up in another body? But we do! Every moment we're changing. This is an old question, but it's still fun to ask: what is it about the "self" that's persistent?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Essentialist Argument and Nature

One of the standard arguments against homosexuality goes: "It's contrary to our nature, considering there's no way to reproduce, so of course it's wrong." While one of the arguments in support of homosexuality goes "It's genetically determined, so it's part of our nature and it's right." (the essentialist argument).

What I find interesting is that they both use the same premise, "If something is natural, it is good." Whether homosexuality is genetically determined or not, the rebuttal against the pro-homosexual will normally include mention of the evils of other natural tendencies (like kleptomania). What the anti-homosexual doesn't realize is that they are undermining their own argument as well!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Boredom and the Ego

Complaints in general are an interesting phenomena, but one in particular continues to captivate me: "There's nothing to do around here!". Frustration is understandable — when there are, in fact, very few things to do — but sometimes people will turn this frustration into an eternal lament, reminding others of their annoyance at every opportunity, like the underground man with a toothache. No longer a simple frustration, it becomes a standard, held high above everyone else: the very statement "there's nothing to do" makes a value claim on your surroundings, deeming them "unworthy" of your interest. It would be dangerous to associate oneself with a specific event or location anyway, it makes you part of a larger group — and everyone wants to be a unique individual. So, perhaps there's a bit of pride involved, but maybe it's even simpler: assuming "there's nothing to do" frees you from having to look in the first place (and it's so much easier to complain).

Summer Song

At the end of last semester, Princess played the most disturbing show I've ever seen. Yet... they inspire this macabre curiosity that makes it tough to stop listening. Near the end of the show, they belted out their "Summer Song"... I asked Alexis about it (which is where I got the lyrics — I tried to preserve his handwriting, but the emphasis is mine), and he said it was really just a series of rhymes that seemed to flow... The ironic origin takes its meta-commentary and self-reference one step further into the absurd:

spin it and I sing song
from treetops to king kong ping pong
ready set it wet it get it
medics let it pet it debit or credit
a fetish embellish u rellish n perish

Get it Get it going gone
these songs are arms trying to grasp
the world they Built

tilt down with a pound the sound
of clowns' frown abound
night gowns spin round n round
tight would might crown the night
sunlight at sunset jet set
magenta lent a particular bent
to the waves refraction
for a fraction of an instant
and we missed it

The Music Itself

Musings on music from an old sketchbook (around Novemeber 2005?):

What kind of music are people looking for? Jazz musicians will tell you that people want "genuinely deep, soulful, complex and beautiful music." Classical aficionados might talk about stories behind the music. Pop labels might say it's about "beautiful people making danceable cookie cutter songs". Others still... "real characters with an interesting story" (foreign groups, odd subcultures playing fusion...). Maybe we're all doing the same thing: romanticizing something associated with the music instead of just listening to the music itself?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cast as Audience

Kierkegaard on life:

In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.
Sartre used the metaphor of an actor as well:
His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tight-rope-walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually reestablishes by a light movement of the arm and hand. All his behavior seems to us a game. He applies himself to chaining his movements as if they were mechanisms, the one regulating the other, his gestures and even his voice seem to be mechanisms, he gives himself the quickness and pitiless rapidity of things. [...] He is playing, he is amusing himself. But what is he playing? We need not watch long before we can explain it; he is playing at being a waiter in a café.
As Sartre goes on to elucidate, the unbearable angst emergent from our ephemeral consciousness is often replaced by a "role" — an "act". What's more, as the guests respond to the waiter, he becomes more convinced of his personality (highschoolers demonstrate this principle perfectly — the outcast becomes more outcast, the bully more of a bully, the clown more of a clown...).

Perhaps Kierkegaard's actor and Sartre's actor aren't as different as they first appear: what if religion is a massive play, where everyone reminds each other of the "reality" of their role, and continues on, encouraged but deceived? How can you possibly tell the difference between the actor and the authentic?

There would have to be some sort of objective reality behind the actions of the individuals (after all, science would have this problem of inbred certanity as well if it wasn't for its attempt at objectivity). A Christian, for example, would have to be completely themself in a way the waiter is only attempting. I doubt you can resolve this in others, but might you answer for yourself?

The existential idea of angst could be approximated as a fear of potentiality. We take on roles to overcome that fear — by limiting our freedom we find a cheap imitation of security. We'd know, then, that we weren't acting (i.e., not deceving ourself and riding on the affirmations of others) if we had freedom without fear.

That's seems like an easy line to draw between naïve and realistic philosophies: there's hope in legalism and asceticism on one side (the denial of our "nature"), on the other, there's hope in the revelation of our true self.

(Note: Deriving the qualifications for our essence from Sartre's existentialism, which asserts that "existence precedes essence", is ridiculous. For the above conclusion to be coherent, we would have to reimagine his definition as something about coming to understand an essence previously unkown.)


Photos that are cropped so you can see the arm around the subject but not the person the arm belongs to. The sound of an unbalanced kettle after you put it back on the stove. Supremely vague words like "ish" and "whatnot". The way a short ponytail maps a sine waves when jogging. Bikes with old wooden baskets ridden in a cool summer twilight. Freckels on browning bananas. The first unexpected drops of a rainstorm. Sentences that start out with good intentions but never make it to the end. When someone covers a song on guitar and stops strumming to try and play an intricate solo, but never really makes it through.