Sunday, January 7, 2007

Taking the Bait

Kirby Olson at Lutheran Surrealism has "tagged" me with a game suitable for the MySpace/FaceBook generation: I'm supposed to reveal five secrets about myself. Why, I haven't the faintest idea. But since I shan't let it be said that I'm not, at least, a good sport, here goes.

1) When I was a child I was fascinated by the process of metamorphosis, especially tadpoles to frogs. My brain is wired to grasp processes and transformations, and it didn't take me too long to see the similarities between metamorphosis, evolution, and embryonic development. (This was around the age of five or six.) I used to keep jars and tanks of tadpoles every summer. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, over the course of my childhood. With only one exception -- a bullfrog named Capricorn -- every single tadpole I ever had died on my watch. So did a salamander named Brian.

2) For a few months, when I was about 9 or 10, I also had a dog named Seiko. My parents didn't know how to take care of a dog properly, and I didn't, and I didn't have anyone to teach me. Why we even got a dog, I don't know. I guess I must have wanted one. One time, the puppy was chained up in the yard behind our house, and it was barking incessantly. I became furious, and I ran at it and I beat it up. All I remember at the time was that I was full of a terrible rage that I couldn't do anything with. Now I'm filled with shame every time I remember how badly I hurt that puppy. We gave him away a few months later because we didn't know how to housebreak him.

3) Given (1) and (2) above, it's hardly surprising that I became what's known as a "cutter": someone who intentionally mutilates him or herself. This began when I was thirteen or so; I'd dig my nails into my arm until it bled. Later I switched to carving patterns in my left forearm with a swiss-army knife. The cutting started up in earnest the night after my first kiss, in freshman year of college. I didn't know how else to deal with the whirlwind of emotions I was going through. The main thing that makes me different from most cutters is that I've never tried to hide the cuts. I have scars all over the left forearm, and I think that this is why I wear shirts with the sleeves rolled up -- to show off the wounds, as if they were prizes earned in battle. (Note: the last time I hurt myself was in 2001.)

4) I was in Kenya for six weeks in the summer of 1995, and while there I was side-swiped by an irate hippopotamus. The impact broke a bone in my wrist and I had to be sent to a hospital in Nairobi. This technically isn't a secret, since it's known to most of my close friends, but it's not known to the friends I've formed in the past two years, nor to my colleagues in the blogosphere.

5) While in Istanbul several years ago (and isn't it wonderful to begin a sentence like that?), I befriended a keyif-smoking carpet salesman who showed me a little archeological find in his backyard -- literally. He'd found, in his backyard, an entrance to a small buried Byzantine palace. There were three or four rooms, huge beehive shaped structures with a central pillar maybe ten feet in diameter, that he'd rigged up with floorboards and track lighting. He asked the Turkish government to help him excavate, but they refused on the grounds that government funds were only available for archeological excavations that post-dated the Muslim conquest of Constantinople. (Why they changed it, I don't know.)

What I'm Reading Now

Books that I've least half-started, and plan to finish within the new six months:

Spirituality for the Skeptic: The Thoughtful Love of Life (Robert C. Solomon)

Adorno and the Political (Espen Hammer)

Stations of the Cross: Adorno and Christian Right Radio (Paul Apostolidis)

The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Rodney Stark)

A Pluralistic Universe (William James)

The Denial of Death (Ernst Becker)

Minimal Theologies: Critiques of Secular Reason in Adorno and Levinas (Hent De Vries)

Realism with a Human Face (Hilary Putnam)

Truth and Justification (Jurgen Habermas)

Why Blog?

Having been trolling through the blogosphere for a few years, I decided to go in all the way. Why blog? For my part, I think of blogging as a way of attempting to reconstitute community in the age of the "society of the spectacle" and the concomittant fragmentation of "the public sphere." To be sure, I have turned to the blogosphere (and why "sphere"?) for consensus-formation on key political, cultural, and philosophical problems and issues. To that extent the blogosphere plays a vital role formerly occupied by cafes and salons, a role that cannot be performed by either mainstream media (whether "news" or "entertainment") or by communications technologies that serve the interests of specific institutions. Moreover, the blogosphere is the best forum currently available whereby experts -- artists, scholars, scientists, intellectuals -- can share their expertise with others.

On the other hand, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that blogging is a rationalization of collective graphomania, an obsession with reassuring oneself through compulsive writing that one, after all, really does exist. But this is all the more reason to admire blogging, for it is a way of keeping alive the semblance of personalization and personality in a time where the forces that constitute the conditions of daily existence are increasingly depersonalizing.

It is, in other words, the superficial aspects of blogging, the ways in which it is akin to everything faddish and tawdry, that grant it whatever redemptive potential it may have.

A New Year's Resolution

Like all of us, I begin each year by going through the charade of making up a New Year's resolution, the annual ritual of achieving escape velocity from history and character through pure exertion of will. (Could the New Year's resolution be found anywhere but in America?) I, too, shall affirm my cultural identity, my annual expression of hubris, with -- as is always the case -- the same New Year's resolution that I make every year:

Resolved: No more New Year's resolutions!

(This post is devoted to the memory of Kurt Goedel and Alonzo Church.)