8.06.2010

"The false god punishes, the true god slays."

My new favorite book is called Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals; it was published in 1992 by Iris Murdoch. Oh, the headaches I could've saved myself if someone had assigned this book to me at the outset of indoctrination graduate school! Here are some excerpts [NOTE: Murdoch uses the term "structuralism" to indicate what we might refer to as "post-structuralism" or "postmodernism"]:
  • [Derrida's] Structuralism poses as a neutral quasi-scientific theory. Marxism was a theory of history which used historical evidence established by traditional methods to support its world-view. An aspect of structuralism is to regard history as fabulation, and 'the past' as a meaning-construct belonging to the present. It is, and admittedly, rhetoric versus reason. Of course we cannot see the past, so we must be though of as inventing it. This fake choice blots out the conception of seeking carefully for some truthful conception of the past. Marxism and (Derrida's) structuralism can join forces however in their rejection of God and religion and their hostility to 'bourgeois' views and values, seen as solidifying a view of the world which new revolutionary forces must destroy. Happily, since I wrote the above, the Zeitgeist, assisted by very many courageous individuals, has discredited and is demolishing Marxism. One of the first things which liberated people want to know is the truth about their past.
  • Of course there is much novelty, scholarship, brilliance, to be seen in the structuralist compound. What is objectionable is the damage done to other modes of thinking and to literature by the presentation of this fanciful metaphysic as a fundamental system. Philosophy, anthropology, history, literature, have different procedures and methods of verification. It is only when the idea of truth as relation to separate reality is removed that they can seem in this odd hallucinatory light to be similar. With the idea of truth the idea of value also vanishes. Here the deep affinity, the holding hands under the table, between structuralism and Marxism becomes intelligible.
  • ...it is a merit of structuralism to indicate to us, with so much energy and so much learning, that the concept of the individual which we have inherited from centuries of thinkers cannot any longer be taken for granted but must be defended.
  • ...in the time to come, which we are not told but might gloomily prophecy, the majority of people will make contact only with the childishly simple machinery, as the great machines which explore the depths of what will then be thought of as human reality will only be understood by brilliant and highly trained experts. Most people, unable to read, will be watching television. Television, the dictator's best friend, already erodes our ability to read. What is, and not implausibly, envisaged here is an apocalyptic change in human consciousness, involving vast social changes and the disappearance of old local ideas of individuals and virtues. A loss of sovereignty.
  • What is important is that we now take in conceptions of religion without God, and of meditation as religious exercise. There is, just as there used (with the old God) to be, a place of wisdom and calm to which we can remove ourselves. We can make our own rites and images, we can preserve the concept of holiness. The veil of Maya is not a single mysterious screen which can suddenly be whisked away by magic. We need the Platonic picture here. We are moving through a continuum within which we are aware of truth and falsehood, illusion and reality, good and evil. We are continuously striving and learning, discovering and discarding images. Here we are not forced to choose between a 'religious life' and a 'secular life,' or between being a 'goodie' and being a cheerful egoist! The whole matter is far more complex and more detailed. Our business is with the continual activity of our own minds and souls and with our possibilities of being truthful and good. Incidentally, and philosophically, we may see here the necessity of the concept of consciousness.
  • Learning is moral progress because it is an asceticism, it diminishes our egoism and enlarges our conception of truth, it provides deeper, subtler and wiser visions of the world. What should be taught in schools: to attend and get things right.
  • We must indeed preserve and cherish a strong truth-bearing everyday language, not marred or corrupted by technical discourse or scientific codes; and thereby promote the clarified objective knowledge of man and society of which we are in need as citizens, and as moral agents.

7 comments:

文王廷 said...

我們能互相給予的最佳禮物是「真心的關懷」。.................................................

pure_sophist_monster said...

Here is where I would throw in my "or": "With the idea of truth the idea of value also vanishes." Casey, we could be (and perhaps are on board about a lot of things -- for instance, the ridiculousness, if true, if removing a graduate for their views alone*). The difference, it appears is how. I do not think value disappears if "truth" (am I safe in assuming Iris means "Truth") disappears. Values are fabrications, and that is fine. Fabrications can be well made and durable.

*I would add that a graduate student who is doing a project on the immorality of homosexuality may have a other issues, but this is my secular value scheme speaking and not "postmodernism," the critique of which has always been that it doesn't allow to take a stand on anything. And the left, including parts of the academic left are no more fans of postmodernism than "the right." Habermas, you might recall, referred to Lyotard (back in the day) as a "young conservative" because Habermas felt postmodern held no promise of resistance or progress in its rejection of grand narratives (which every side always has) The same holds, as well, for rhetoric. The left doesn't much like sophistry either and many find it conservative in its insistence on appeals to tradition and authority.

In sum: don't align postmodernism with political movements. And, for good measure, don't conflate sophistic rhetoric with postmodernism - rhetoric work out some those bugs years ago. I would refer you to the cartoon I posted on my blog about the perfect student. Translate it this way. "Values are fabrications?" "Yes." "I want to fabricate values."

Anyway, glad to see your back at it. I am going to get back on the horse soon too: I have some stuff on memory that you are going to love. Preview: memory is unstable because each time we remember something our brain physically rebuilds the memory (proteins and neurotransmitters and stuff), but each remember rebuilds the dream with "mutations" of a sort. This maybe the trick to forgiving and forgetting: the memories get rebuilt in less painful or less powerful forms.

Casey said...

I'm not buying that postmodernism is apolitical or conservative. Postmodernism is like bleach: it turns everything it touches into its own essence. So it looks apolitical if you're coming from a secular-modern political position.

Think of it this way (in exaggeratedly simply terms): the Puritans were trying to construct a certain kind of civilization. To "deconstruct" the values of that civilization is politically against that civilization.

Now, at a grand level, you may be--not right, but at least beyond the reach of rational (secular) argument: from that angle, one civilization is as good/bad as another, and there is no standard against which we might measure.

To move away from Truth as Iris, because Truth is too frivolous a concept for Iris, simply consider "Truth" whatever I and my community take to be true. That is, it's not "from God on high," or anything, but we all think you shouldn't eat your boogers.

Now: it's not apolitical to make me aware of the fact that my customs are "just human constructs." Is it? I thought we agreed somewhere that creating a perception is creating a reality...

Or another way: the problem with postmodernism is that I and my community want to fabricate values, and academic-postmodernism (as it's actually practiced) isn't satisfied with letting me, unless what I fabricate is what those-who-quote-Derrida want to hear me fabricate.

Even admitting that you sit in skeptical judgment of a graduate student who is doing a project on the immorality of homosexuality is effectively admitting that you're not really doing postmodernism, isn't it? Or else, that the postmodernism you're doing is a hypocritical brand?

Glad to be back! I hate the idea of the mind as physical, but only because it seems to me that there's been a lot of bad science based on that assumption, taking (for example) the presence of certain chemicals in the brain as causal when in fact they may be coincident (I'm thinking of seratonin, etc.).

Casey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pure_sophist_monster said...

You write: "Or another way: the problem with postmodernism is that I and my community want to fabricate values, and academic-postmodernism (as it's actually practiced) isn't satisfied with letting me, unless what I fabricate is what those-who-quote-Derrida want to hear me fabricate."

You are on to something here. There is a certain brand of postmodernism that is nostalgic modernism. Like the sophomore who discovers that because it's all just opinion that no one's opinion is better or worse than anyone elses. Rhetoric would be fine fabrications -- as you now appear to be.

Be I do know of academics who think their work ends simply at pointing out that something is a fabrication or a social construction. For rhetoric, and fiction, that is simply the starting point to a much more important and interesting conversation about which fabrications and which fictions. Given that "it is all made up" (i.e., you are the tooth-fairy, right?), there is more not less important to being able to debate, to decide, to pick (I.e., "can I wear the dress"). A certain kind of postmodernism (maybe prominent in cultural studies) cannot come this panel of the cartoon (I keep referring to). What you are pointing out is that fail to do this explicitly. They have a set of fabrications as much as the next I an my community. But, like Socrates, they have you go first, point out yours is a fabricated value system, and then win by default.

And I would never say anything is apolitical, just that postmodernism isn't automatically affiliated with one or the other (even though there are, as we'd both acknowledge, correlations).

And we can certainly deconstruct things we like (as we - this community of blogs - do all the time).

pure_sophist_monster said...

On the mind as physical: You would love Andy Clark's work - I drew on it extensively in my diss. He very much argues against seeing the mind as "brainbound" or trapped within "the skinbag." Although I used him to argue that once the mind is no longer trapped within the bounds of skin and skull it is far more open (susceptible, YOU might say) to the workings of rhetoric. In fact, I go so far as to argue that rhetorical action is necessary in the cultivation of minds. The mind is not automatic or simply a physical developmental process. Anyway, that's a whole other thing.

Casey said...

Yeah, the problem with you, PSM, is that I like your brand of postmodernism: it seems "fruitful" to me; it's the kind of postmodernism that actually helped me to go through my skepticism--to come out the other side fabricatin' and believin'.

Where Christianity has embraced the questions of postmodernism (by incorporating non-canonical works, but re-telling history, and most importantly by destabilizing assumed interpretations), Christian theology has made gains... gains which may eventually trickle down into institutional practice...

...and thereby lose what was gained, probably.

So anyway: my complaint stands! Down with all of the bad-postmodernists.