Tricknology Built All This

A couple weeks ago I came across this really interesting photo of Detroit, taken in 1930:

(Click for higher resolution awesomeness)

Then just this week I started reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, where he has this passage:

My grandparents’ eyes glazed over at the sheer activity, streetcars rumbling, bells clanging, and the monochrome traffic swerving in and out. In those days downtown Detroit was filled with shoppers and businessmen. Outside Hudson’s Department Store the crowd was ten thick, jostling to get in the newfangled revolving doors. Lina pointed out the sights: the Cafe Frontenac… the Family Theatre… and the enormous electric signs: Ralston… Wait & Bond Blackstone Mild 10¢ Cigar.

It made me think Eugenides looked at this same photo when envisioning those days. So I contacted him to find out:

Dear Mr. Cole,
It was either that photograph or one very much like it. The giveaway is that Blackstone Cigar. Thank you for sending it my way.
I hope you like the rest of the book.
Sincerely,
Jeffrey Eugenides

Oh, the internets are magic. This reminds me of the time Richard Rorty wrote me, about 2 years before he died, and, to my everlasting chagrin, I didn’t save it before Groupwise auto-purged it forever. I think writing awesome people will be my new hobby, even if it’s only half as exciting as Letters of Note.

Quirk & idiosyncracy

Referring to Wes Anderson’s new movie The Darjeeling Limited, the NYT refers to this NY Mag piece as a defense of Anderson, and this Atlantic Monthly essay as the prosecution. They’re both worth reading, particularly the latter since its review of Darjeeling Limited is part of a large piece on “quirk,” a notion that really fascinates me (though I disagree with Hirschorn’s take on it). I’m reminded of three things:

  • A review I plan to write of John Vanderslice’s Emerald City by way of responding to the Pitchfork review in which Vanderslice is, like Anderson, essentially faulted for having a certain aesthetic, certain idiosyncrasies or private obsessions. Later I intend to give a full defense of Emerald City since I consider it one of the top 5 albums of 2007.
  • A famous(ish) essay by Rorty entitled Trotsky and the Wild Orchids, an autobiographical piece I alluded to in my last post. Rorty also wrestles with the question of our idiosyncrasies and personal eccentricities.
  • I have an essay, which I may or may not post later, that I wrote on Britney Spears and postmodernism. The concept of cultural identity (in which “quirk” definitely relates) is very intriguing to me and I told Heath yesterday that I see a way to weave together various threads in philosophy, art, music, and film into a coherent whole. This is obviously a large project, but feasible, and one in which Britney Spears actually serves as a fantastic introduction.Also at Atlantic Monthly:
  • About Facebook. Their entire current issue looks great, but little of it is fully available online.Speaking of bogus theories that I’ve fabricated: I also have a theory about swearing and the real issue involved in objections to swearing – ask me in person if you’re interested.
  • The curse of Plato

    Let me attempt to explain my shift in thinking during the last four years by illustrating via context-less quote-mongering. In high school when I was first “getting into” philosophy I would often come these interesting, derogatory quips about philosophy itself. For example:

    “Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.” – Ambrose Bierce”Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons – that’s philosophy.” – Aldous Huxley

    “The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.” – Bertrand Russell

    “There is no statement so absurd that no philosopher will make it.” – Cicero

    “If a man’s good for nothing else, he can at least teach philosophy.” – William James

    “Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.” – H.L. Mencken

    These will suffice, there are obviously more. The pecularity, of course, is that these quotes are by philosophers (many of whom never did shake this vice). Note that I read these and still went to university for philosophy. So for a long time my approach was one of a/bemusement; they were funny (ironic detachment, yadayada).

    You might think that it is only now that I feel their bite, that I protest, that I stutter and defend my mistress. On the contrary, it is only now that I laugh harder. I’ve come to realize that the history of Western philosophy is the history of an error, and that error is Plato’s (and/or Socrates, smarmy bastard that he was). It is a “bold flight of invention” (to turn Plato against Plato) and I readily join with so-called “postmoderns” in exorcising the demon of Platonism in all it’s latent/overt forms (pun intended). Sure, I joined the Tribunal of Reason and pontificated for a while, but I’ve now resigned my post — upon discovery, of course, that the king has no clothes. After the death of philosophy, what now? It’s not all dirty nihilism and trampled orchids: whether genealogy/archaelogy (Nietzsche/Foucault), phenomenology (Heidegger), hermeneutics (Gadamer, Vattimo, et al), deconstruction (Derrida), etc it seems clear there is something post-… post-metaphysical, post-representational, post-realist, pick your poison/medicine, pick your (un)hero. Me? I gots me Rorty and I gots me Van Morrison. Your mileage may vary.

    Blazing New Trails… Or Not.

    My senior seminar is sucking hard. I wish I had a sympathetic voice to bounce ideas off of. There’s this nagging fear in me that my entire project – my goals or thesis – may be entirely wrong. The problem is that my paper is fairly uncharted territory for an Evangelical, especially one from this university.

    The guys who might resonate most with my ideas – guys like Brian McLaren & Co. – all write on such a surface level. They aren’t doing serious, rigorous philosophy of the kind I need. Just today an example came up where McLaren misappropriates Quine – gesturing at Quineian notions without really grasping what he’s saying nor the implications. Even a key article in my thinking, Phillip Kenneson’s “There’s No Such Thing As Objective Truth, And It’s a Good Thing Too” is really disappointingly shallow. Great introduction to these themes and I’d recommend to everyone, but not exactly the highest quality source for a senior thesis.

    On a related note, I noticed a funny comparison between Dave Eggers and Richard Rorty. Like the former in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Rorty (et al) can sometimes be painfully self-aware or annoyingly reflective – they often frustrate by qualifying every statement to nth degree.

    The Future of Religion

    My Barnes & Noble order came yesterday; I’m about halfway through The Future of Religion already. A few choice quotes…

    Gianno Vattimo:

    “The existential analytic… makes us aware that knowledge is always interpretation and nothing but this. Things appear to us in the world only because we are in their midst and always already oriented toward seeking a specific meaning for them. In other words, we possess a preunderstanding that makes us interested subjects rather than neutral screens for an objective overview.””…postmodern nihilism constitutes the actual truth of Christianity.”

    “…the redemptive meaning of the Christian message makes its impact precisely by dissolving the claims of objectivity…”

    “…no experience of truth can exist without some kind of participation in a community… truth comes about as the ongoing construction of communities that coincide in a ‘fusion of horizons’… truth does not consist in the correspondence between propositions and things. Even when we speak of correspondence, we have in mind propositions verfied in the context of paradigms, the truth of which consists above all in their being shared by a community.”

    Richard Rorty:

    “…the quest for truth and knowledge is no more and no less than the quest for intersubjective agreement. The epistemic arena is a public space, a space from which religion can and should retreat.”

    Santiago Zabala:

    “…truth does not occur at the level of facts but only at that of propositions.””To surpass metaphysics means, according to Rorty and Vattimo, to stop inquiring into what is real and what is not; it means recognizing that something is better understood the more one is able to say about it. Problems are resolved with irony, privately exercised vis-á-vis one’s own predecessors rather than vis-á-vis their relation to truth.”

    “The space left open by metaphysics must not be filled up by new philosophies claiming to exhibit some foundation external to the ‘conversation.'”

    Kroger + Redemptive Truth

    I just saved $9.69 with my Kroger Plus Card. It’s beyond me how a quick trip to the store for Oreos ended up being an all out run on Cream Corn and Smoked Turkey. It’s like Y2k all over again, except I’m preparing for a pickle drought.

    How would you personally answer this question:
    “Do you think that there is a single set of beliefs which can serve a redemptive role in the lives of all human beings, which can be rationally justified to all human beings under optimal communicative conditions, and which will thus form the natural terminus of inquiry?”1 Comments appreciated.

    Feeling generous? Buy me this awesome Office Space gift set. Or actually, any of the hilarious t-shirts from Busted Tees.

    In case you missed it: Simon Wiesenthal has passed away peacefully at the age of 96.

    For the curious, check out Who Makes How Much, “An impertinent look at other people’s paychecks.”

    Lastly: On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Bot. A look at the most popular poker bot out there. If you’ve got $200 to spend on me, this might not be a bad idea either.