A Celebration of Frivolity

My post yesterday showed that Philosophy used to be a more personal thing than it tends to be these days. Zeno died for it; Empedocles probably did too. Socrates certainly did. Today, it's hard to imagine even my most noble friends opting for death rather than renouncing Derrida. Something seems to have been lost through the centuries. These days, philosophy, and its bastard step-child, "Theory," seem like nothing more than Kenneth Burke's famous parlor metaphor make them out to be: a way to pass the time.

Some of the material I've been reading lately seems to take itself more seriously, and I like the idea that convictions about ideas may prove consequential in some "ultimate" way. In the interest of putting my money where my mouth has been, I went with my wife to a Unitarian Universalist church this morning. With all of my recent interest in theologies of unity, "the One," etc., it seemed a kind of next logical step.

By chance (!?), my first visit to the UU church of Charlotte fell on Carnival Sunday -- the last Sunday before Lent. The "program" for the service included a quote from Henry David Thoreau on the cover, so they sort of had me at hello.

The first five items on the agenda were: 1) Our Un-Principles, 2) Prey-Lewd ("Anything Goes," by Cole Porter), 3) An Unprofessional Processional, 4) Opening Worms (see "can of"), and 5) Opium Hymn.

No worries, we sang a "Her" later (an equal opportunity designation, the program said).

Then we listened to some "Inflammatory Words" before singing the Chorus:
We sing this tune most every time.
It transports us to the sublime.
It always has a certain rhyme.
Except today, when it does not.
Then we sang "Singin' in the Rain," had a "Time of Deflection," told some George W. Bush jokes, jokes about Unitarian Universalism ("You might be a UU if you call your pastor and say, ine tones full of worry and anxiousness, "I think I'm... starting to believe in God!")... and then came my favorite moment. We all stood to read in union, in our dry, monotonous collective voice, we read from the program:

Blah, blah, blah.
Every week, we do these inane readings.
None of us ever pays attention to the words.
We just drone on and on, pretending to care.
We'd never notice if it were all pure nonsense.
We're just happy when it is over
And we can sit back down again.

[Honestly, I couldn't make it through this part: I started laughing and didn't stop until I was crying.]

Then the "Welcome," then the "Concerns of the Congregation" (which bordered on serious), then the "Meditation and Exasperation," a word about how a 5% tithe is sufficient, and then the closing hymn. Then the choir (dressed as various Carnival goers) and the preacher & lay-leader (cross dressing) threw beads to the congregation.

I guess it's not like that every week, but they've certainly earned a second chance in my book. I'm not saying I'd die for it, yet; but I'm glad I let some new ideas guide me into a new experience, rather than just leading to another conference paper proposal.


Insignificant Wrangler said...

I don't have the time to craft a proper response, since I'm in the middle of a conference paper (CCCC's is almost upon us--its much like your description of the ceremony, sans the beads).

But I feel the pain of that opening glove slap. I would say that your explication of Burke's metaphor holds true only if all of human history, culture, society, are constructs dedicated to passing time. In fact, that sounds perfect. All we are doing amounts to staving off boredom.

Back to the CCCCs paper.

Casey said...


I won't say that opening jab wasn't aimed a little at you -- tho' I hope you didn't miss my finishing uppercut: "but I'm glad I let some new ideas guide me into a new experience, rather than just leading to another conference paper proposal."

The book I'm reading about Parmenides is concluding with chapters on Gorgias -- suggesting that the lineage goes "Parmenides-Empedocles-Gorgias" just as you might say it goes "Nietzsche-Heiddegger-Derrida" (or whatever).

The author (Peter Kingsley) suggests that passing time is precisely what Gorgias did... but it seems implied that he's doing it because he has seen through the veil of illusion and because, part of the structure of the illusion mandates that one cannot have the veil pierced for him by someone else.

Anyway -- the discussion of kairos is engaging, of course; but Kingsley's demonstration showing that Gorgias (father of Sophistry) was sort of the intellectual grandchild of Parmenides (often cited as the father of Philosophy) is fascinating... suggesting that there's a kind of ebb & flo holding the whole thing together.

And it makes sense: because if kairos means what I think it means, then there is a time for Tr-th, a time for Sophistry, a time for Tr-th, a time for Sophistry.

Clinging to one or the other may be what gets us in trouble.