Waking Life
November 14, 2008

by Pegleghippie

I have a new favorite movie.  It’s called Waking Life, a 2001 film by Richard Linklater, and I’m a little jealous that it exists, because that means that I don’t get to be the creator of such an awesome piece of art.  

Honestly, I was beaten at philosophy tonight.  I didn’t know it was a competition until this film came along and totally kicked my ass.  Now I know a little more about the stakes involved.

Waking Life follows a guy as he has various philosophical discussions with/dreams about writers, philosophers, psychopaths, crackpots, filmmakers, imaginative figments, and one very pissed off libertarian.  Many of these are real people really being interviewed about their area of expertise (oddly, many are faculty from the University of Texas at Austin), but the interviews flow seamlessly between real and imagined.

And imagination is really very important here.  The protagonist spends a long segment of the film not knowing if he is awake or dreaming, and the settings only subtly clue you in.  Eventually he becomes aware that he is in a lucid dream, which turns into a bizarre series of dreams-within-dreams, and the discussions turn increasingly towards what a dream-like reality entails.  Things end with the suggestion that all these dreams are the last firing of consciousness before the protagonist dies, but the narrative is unclear about whether this actually happens.

I can’t accurately summarize everything I loved about this movie.  Top of the list is the conversations, which are consistently mind-blowingly well thought out.  Here’s one example of an earlier one:

Insane, right?  and there are dozens of these, on a wide variety of topics, in the movie.  You could teach a course on this movie alone, going topic by topic, exploring each one for all that it’s worth.

Next thing I loved was the animation.  I’m sure you noticed from the first clip, this movie looks strange.  The style changes at least every scene, and often in the middle of a scene.  The strangeness of dreams is very well captured here.

I’ll admit, if you don’t like philosophy you will not like this movie.  Fortunately for me, I love philosophy, and this movie challenges me in ways I had not even considered.  I need to get a copy of it and watch it until I’m comfortable with the discussions.  Only then will I feel qualified to really engage with all these topics, and to conceptualize exactly what it is that Linklater did here.  

If you do like philosophy, even a little bit, see this movie.  I doubt you will regret it, and it may even change your life.

What I wrote for POMO
October 9, 2008

by pegleghippie. 

I know it seems i don’t write anymore, but its just that I’ve been writing a shitload for school.  Wednesday I wrote three papers.  Yeah.  Three.  and they kicked ass.  I write a small novel’s worth of material on a weekly basis.

Anyway, since I don’t have much time to blog, I thought I’d post my class notes from one of my philosophy classes.  Take it as you will.

So in this class we talked mostly about Bataille, who is pretty much a mascot for us at this point. 

We started out with how the crush freaks are performing animal sacrifice, and how this was just a modern version of what ancient cultures did.  We also talked about how Bataille described sado-machochism is modern human sacrifice, while more generally, deviant sexuality is filling a general religious role.  This lead to Cs’ weird thought:
“Reproduction of [the crush freaks video] is like printing the bible.  The bug is the Christ figure”
I think C may be onto something here.  While sure, it is pretty much pornos being produced, the only reason there is a market for these videos is because people are feeling that sort of transcendent connection to these bugs, they’re identifying with them. 
This led us to discussing the sacrificial nature of the religious experience, with R saying,
“religion is the destruction of the individual” 
What he meant was that the individual gets lost in the group and the experience.  Animal sacrifice serves as a nice metaphor for this since it involved something very valuable being given up.  We talked about the meaning of the word “sacrifice,” and how it denoted loss automatically.  To emphasize the sense of identity, and not just property, that was lost, Dr. T said, 
“the property has to be so valuable that losing it is a loss of at least some self.”
This reminds me of the story of Cain and Able in the old testament, where Cain’s sacrifice is deemed unworthy by Jahweh because it was second rate property.
3One day, Cain gave part of his harvest to the LORD, 4and Abel also gave an offering to the LORD. He killed the first-born lamb from one of his sheep and gave the LORD the best parts of it. The LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering,5but not with Cain and his offering. This made Cain so angry that he could not hide his feelings.  6The LORD said to Cain:

 

   What’s wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? 7If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling. [c] But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. 

(Genesis 4:3-4.7, Contemporary English version, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%204;&version=46;)
Dr. T mentioned a similar story from Hinduism: it seems that the idea of sacrifice being a valuable personal loss is prevalent across religions.  This supports Bataille’s idea that sacrifice is an attempt to escape oneself and to connect to something more continuous.
We also talked about a paradox with regards to objectification:  Being objectified violates our sense of self, and makes us feel less-than-subjective.  At the same time, our own subjectiveness only emerges when we have an objective sense to define it against.  An “I” and a “not I.”  This is the uncomfortable part of consciousness, which led us to desire.
Desire arises when our undifferentiated consciousness (which does not suffer the objective paradox) experiences the addition of objectivity.  Slipping in and out of this “auto-hypnosis,” this “Bhudda mind,” we go about our lives.  Dr. T said there were a few different ways to do this:
 “War is a form of sacrifice.  So is capitalism, which is basically consumerism.  Consuming is a form of sacrifice.”
The mention of economics led us to discuss Bataille’s concepts of economy.  K already posted on this, but basically he defined a general economy, with infinite consumption, contrasted with a restricted economy where the consumers are aware of limits.  He was more interested in how different cultures made use of their excess resources than with how they dealt with scarce resources.  
This led to mentioning the idea of pot latch, where native americans would either give something away or destroy it.  We talked about how eating something was destroying it, and how a pot luck in modern times did pretty much the same thing.  
T then asked:
“isn’t all this desire talk a new foundation?” [remember, pomo is anti-foundationalist]
to which Dr. T responded,
“Bataille is like walking into a junkyard.  We are playing with these ideas, don’t be so serious.”
I’ve actually been thinking that the philosophy we’ve been looking at has a non-serious attitude to it.  A lack of seriousness doesn’t mean we don’t work hard, that we don’t accomplish what we set out to do, or that we dismiss other people.  
But nothing has to get us so worked up that we start defining ourselves by it permanently.  It also means we don’t have much room for regret in our lives.  Whatever we do, whatever we philosophize about, it is neither significant nor insignificant.  It’s just something we do, or something we did, that is if we remember it at all.  So when we are aware, we shouldn’t fear enjoying ourselves,  or jumping headfirst into whatever comes our way, cause, in the end, what are we worried about?
What about this idea of a non-serious approach to philosophy?  Can an attitude undermine our field, or does it make philosophy less boring, more engaging?  Are there any consequences to light-heartedness that we should take seriously, and if so, why?

Geez do we still exist?
September 18, 2008

by pegleghippie

Sorry for not writing anything in forever. I get ideas and concepts and then i get tired and fall asleep. Don’t ask me what Mekhami’s excuse is for not posting.

But not tonight! Ok just a quickie, but i’m going to do a few different posts on post-modernism, and why you shouldn’t hate it (i’m looking at you Bing). So here’s my first thought:

The postmodern critique has largely been accepted and integrated by different fields. By postmodern critique i mean the old idea that we can’t ever really be sure of anything, and that input from our senses is no guarantee of truth. Pomo goes one step farther by positing that it’s unlikely that our senses work the same was as anyone else’s senses, so what seems absolutely right and true to one just doesn’t add up to another.

Scientists has accepted this by saying that empirical observation never proves anything, and that questions of any notion of ‘truth’ cannot be resolved by the scientific method. Rather, science categorizes and analyzes observation, nominally to make use of those observations.

Mathematicians have accepted the same critique by viewing math as a system, rather than as a picture of reality, the way Pythagorus did when he claimed that everything was numbers.

Engineers have accepted it by, well

It’s similar for artists:

So what’s the resistance? If everyone is pretty much ok with nothing being for sure, then why is there a problem with postmodernism? I have an answer.

Pomo goes a bit beyond just demanding that everyone admit they aren’t sure about reality. Pomo asks that we act based on values that deal with that uncertainty. In other words, because we don’t know if we are right or not (nor, in the case of pomo, do we really care), we have to be humble and accepting when we encounter views different from our own. It isn’t really fair to call someone an idiot anymore, since there’s no definite standard to judge idiocy by.

So take science. Science is often associated with enlightenment values (humanism, individualism, secularism, and of course, respect for the scientific method as a means of making decisions) and someone with a scientific view of the world is likely to hold these values. So when a scientist meets, say, a fundamentalist christian (who at best only partly holds a few of these values), the scientist is going to see the christian failing at living up to all these values (particularly the last one about the scientific method) and is going to dismiss the fundie as a moron.

So it only makes sense that when a postmodernist comes along and says to the scientist, “be hospitable! Try to see where the fundie is coming from, and look for common ground so that you can be useful to each other!” the scientist is going to get a little pissed. After all, it takes a lot of work by a lot of committed people to build the scientific body of knowledge, this fundie doesn’t recognize any of it, and on top of that this philosopher is telling him/her they have to give a rats ass about this person?  “I’m right and I’m the only one who has any proof!” he/she might say.  

I’m sorry, but technically, you don’t have proof.  You can’t.  What you can do is try to navigate the absurd, ambiguous web of human relationships in a non-inflammatory way, by recognizing your own limits.  Now is that so objectionable?

Of course, if the fundie doesn’t reciprocate with similar open-mindedness, that’s a whole different issue.   Maybe i’ll do conflict in another post, but what it boils down to is, “winning the conflict doesn’t make you any more right than anything else. Please try not to kill anybody, but do what you think you gotta do anyway.”

So that’s it for tonight: POMO in terms of action-values.  I’ve been cooking something up regarding democracy, should be exciting.