Thursday, March 31, 2005

modernity is not continuity but change

I am scratching at something in the following three quotations: modernity; change, both social and existential; the phenomenological point called "the present."

Pierra Nora “The Tidal Wave of Memory
“…the key feature of modernity is not continuity but change – an accelerated precipitation of all things into a swiftly retreating past. This change shattered the unity of historical time, that straightforward linearity which traditionally bound the present and the future to the past. For the way in which a society, nation, group or family envisaged its future traditionally determined what it needed to remember of the past. This gave meaning to the present, which linked the two. Broadly speaking, the future could be envisaged in one of three ways: as a form of restoration, as a form of progress, or as a form of revolution.

Friedrich Engels, “Socialism”
For everyday purposes we know and can say, e.g., whether an animal is alive or not. But, upon closer inquiry, we find that this is, in many cases, a very complex question, as the jurists know very well. They have cudgelled their brains in vain to discover a rational limit beyond which the killing of the child in its mother’s womb is murder. It is just as impossible to determine absolutely the moment of death, for physiology proves that death is not an instantaneous, momentary phenomenon, but a very protracted process.

In like manner, every organic being is every moment the same and not the same; every moment it assimilates matter supplied from without, and gets rid of other matter; every moment some cells of its body die and others build themselves anew; in a longer or shorter time the matter of its body is completely renewed, and is replaced by other molecules of matter, so that every organic being is always itself, and yet something other than itself.

Further, we find upon closer investigation that the two poles of an antithesis, positive and negative, e.g., are as inseparable as they are opposed, and that despite all their opposition, they mutually interpenetrate. And we find, in like manner, that cause and effect are conceptions which only hold good in their application to individual cases; but as soon as we consider the individual cases in their general connection with the universe as a whole, they run into each other, and they become confounded when we contemplate that universal action and reaction in which causes and effects are eternally changing places, so that what is effect here and now will be cause there and then, and vice versa.

Leo Charney, Empty Moments
In 1915, Alfred Wegener put forward the first version of what he called “drift theory” and what has come to be known as the theory of continental drift. “This is the starting point of displacement or drift theory,” wrote Wegener in the fourth edition of The Origin of Continents and Oceans. "The basic "obvious" presupposition common to permanence theory--that the relative position of the continents has never altered--must be wrong. The continents must have shifted.” In the words appropriated by Marshall Berman for the title of his seminal book on modernity, "Karl Marx defined modernity as 'all that is solid melts into air.' " Wegener sends us down a different but related path where we might say that in modernity all that is stable drifts into motion. Like Einstein’s image of elastic and relative time, Wegener’s vision of continental drift magnified in global terms the destabilizing of simple, stationary presence that marked modernity. (9)

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Kant, "The fool has said in his heart..."

What follows if from Immanuel Kant's 1784 essay "What is 'Enlightenment'?".

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] "Have courage to use your own understanding!"--that is the motto of enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think...

But would a society of pastors, perhaps a church assembly or venerable presbytery (as those among the Dutch call themselves), not be justified in binding itself by oath to a certain unalterable symbol in order to secure a constant guardianship over each of its members and through them over the people, and this for all time: I say that this is wholly impossible. Such a contract, whose intention is to preclude forever all further enlightenment of the human race, is absolutely null and void, even if it should be ratified by the supreme power, by parliaments, and by the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot bind itself, and thus conspire, to place a succeeding one in a condition whereby it would be impossible for the later age to expand its knowledge (particularly where it is so very important), to rid itself of errors,and generally to increase its enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature, whose essential destiny lies precisely in such progress; subsequent generations are thus completely justified in dismissing such agreements as unauthorized and criminal.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Descartes' Transcendental Turn and Locke's Psychologism

II’ve been spending some time over the last few weeks slowly and painfully making my way through the article Edmund Husserl wrote on phenomenology for the 1927 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica (available free on the web.) I've hardly read anything as difficult, matching the most enigmatic portions of Heidegger. At only twenty or so pages, I have yet to make it halfway through, and even then I am missing some of the structural logic.

In his essay, Edmund Husserl is always fighting. He is trying to gain credibility for his philosophy--and what a philosophical project it is! Peel back the dense layer of Husserl's prose and one discoveries one of the boldest projects philosophy has to offer. I can hardly believe that he could even suggest such a project, especially given the "know nothing" epistemologies of today.

During the course of his article, Husserl gives a marvelous description of Descartes' Meditations. He explains why they are so important for modern philosophy. I found it a helpful and satisfying explanation, and is as follows:

In Descartes' Meditations, the thought that had become the guiding one for "first philosophy" was that all of "reality," and finally the whole world of what exists and is so for us, exists only as the presentational content of our presentations, as meant in the best case and as evidently reliable in our own cognitive life. This is the motivation for all transcendental problems, genuine or false. Descartes' method of doubt was the first method of exhibiting "transcendental subjectivity," and his ego cogito led to its first conceptual formulation....Once the world in this full universality has been related to the subjectivity of consciousness, in whose living consciousness it makes its appearance precisely as "the" world in its varying sense, then its whole mode of being acquires a dimension of unintelligibility, or rather of questionableness.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Bullet Points 3.18

Here are a few stray items which have accumulated in my notes.

Why "Freedom" is Such an Important Category for Theological Anthropologies
There is an inherent tension between morality and religion because there is a danger that people may act morally not because it is the right thing to do but because their religion prescribes it. This would take away the value of a good act: Kant is convinced that we can do the right thing for the wrong reasons, which would be devoid of moral merit. Achieving desirable outcomes is not enough; moral merit lies in the right intentions that are freely willed. Freedom is the necessary ground for the existence of the moral law.

Hungary, Slovak bishops regret clergy collaboration with communists
Warsaw (ENI). Roman Catholic bishops from Slovakia and Hungary have apologised for church members who acted as communist agents after clergy names appeared on new lists of former collaborators opening up old wounds in the two countries. ''Although this problem was tackled long ago, the church has never taken a public position on it,'' said Marian Gavenda, spokesman for the Slovakia Bishops' Conference. “The real responsibility for persecution lies with the regime. But society has accepted our request for forgiveness for priests who genuinely collaborated with the secret police.”

· Melody is analogous to an aesthetic/ethical presence made meaningful by transcendence.

· Habermas was Adorno's graduate assistant

· The essay form was well suited to aid Montaigne in his archaeology of the soul.

A Prayer for the Healing of the Wounds of Christ

Is not the work done? Nay, for still the Scars
Are open; still Earth’s Pain stands deified,
With Arms spread wide:
And still, like falling stars,
Its Blood-drops strike the doorposts, where abide
The watchers with the Bride,
To wait the final coming of their kin,
And hear the sound of kingdoms gathering in.

While Earth wears wounds, still must Christ’s Wounds remain,
Whom Love made Life, and of Whom Life made Pain,
And of Whom Pain made Death.
No breath,
Without Him, sorrow draws; no feet
Wax weary, and no hands hard labour bear,
But He doth wear
The travail and the heat:
Also, for all things perishing, He saith,
‘My grief, My pain, My death.’

O kindred Constellation of bright stars,
Ye shall not last for aye!
Far off there dawns a comfortable day
Of healing for those Scars:
When, faint in glory, shall be wiped away
Each planetary fire,
Now, all the aching way the balm of Earth’s desire!
For from the healèd nations there shall come
The healing touch: the blind, the lamed, the dumb,
With sight, and speed, and speech,
And ardent reach
Of yearning hands shall cover up from sight
Those Imprints of a night
Forever past. And all the Morians’ lands
Shall stretch out hands of healing to His Hands.
While to His Feet
The timid, sweet
Four-footed ones of earth shall come and lay,
Forever by, the sadness of their day:
And, they being healed, healing spring from them.
So for the Stem
And Rod of Jesse, roots and trees and flowers,
Touched with compassionate powers,
Shall cause the thorny Crown
To blossom down
Laurel and bay.

So lastly to His Side,
Stricken when, from the Body that had died,
Going down He saw sad souls being purified,
Shall rise, out of the deeps no man
Can sound or scan,
The morning star of Heaven that once fell
And fashioned Hell:--
Now, star to star
Mingling to melt where shadeless glories are.

O Earth, seek deep, and gather up thy soul,
And come from high and low, and near and far,
And make Christ whole! ~ Laurence Housman (1865-1959)

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Please note the following definitions:

Fraction. (frac·tion, n.) In liturgical use, the breaking of the host into three parts, which symbolizes the breaking of the flesh of the Son at his passion. The rite includes, (a) the Lord's Prayer, (b) summoning of the faithful to partake in the bread of life, (c) tearing of the bread into one cup symbolizing the unity of the holy community.

Infraction. (in·frac·tion, n.) (1) The act or an instance of infringing; a violation. syn. breach. (2) A bone fracture, especially one without displacement.

In-Fraction. (in·frac·tion, n.) The impossible possibility of synthesis between the previous definitions.