Inspired by Kath Murdoch, I have long had an approach of selecting one word as a focus for the year. Last year, my word was ‘ideas‘. I think I had the idea that I would dig into different ideas. I started off reading Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy. Although this started many threads, life got in the way to tying any of them together. The year subsequently became a collection of beginnings:
Once you start grasping how deeply we are products of our time, you can almost invert the idea of genius. Maybe the genius isn’t so much in the inventor as in the age. When an idea’s time is ripe, maybe that idea is just gonna happen: The voltage is so strong it’ll course through several different people at once.
It’s great starting a project when you’re limited to these instruments and limited to this scale, and you’re working out what can you do with it rather than just, you know, everything being possible. I like to know what I can’t do and then work inside that.
In Graeber’s classroom, such questions of status had little weight. Even the big-name theorists he discussed — in Graeber’s telling, “they were just dudes,” said Durba Chattaraj. One of his Ph.D. students at Yale, she remembers lectures speckled with the personal foibles of the greats. Apart from the entertainment value, there was a message: These thinkers “were smart, but they were doing something that anybody can do if they read enough and think hard enough, which is creating theories about the world around you.”
The vaccine against monoculture is tolerance.
Many think of punk as a style or a category or a thing, but it’s much more interesting if you think of it as a process, a way of doing things, a disposition, a spirit.
CP: What always saves me is that someone will tell me a story, and I’ll spin this other story as a way of escaping that pain. No drug has ever got me as high as a good idea. You get that idea and, oh my gosh, you’ve got nothing else. You don’t need oxygen. That idea is meth. You don’t need sleep and you don’t need food. Because that idea is going to run you for a year. That little idea is your armor and it’s your savior. BLVR: I get that. The little idea is better than drugs because it has an engine.
Art, by definition, is artifice. It’s fake. It’s not “real” in the sense that a sunset is real, or a trout or a pomegranate. Art is a work crafted with calculation, forethought, and skill to create either the simulacrum of something real (a painting of a sunset, say) or to express an insight into, or attempt to bring order out of, nature or the experience of life.
There are endless arguments to be had when new ideas arrive. The challenge is in being clear that we’re about to take a side, and to do it on the effects, not on our emotional connection to the change that’s involved.
Whenever you are out of ideas, there’s someone, somewhere, with bad ideas that need to be corrected. But you don’t necessarily have to talk about the bad ideas, or take them on directly, you can just articulate the good ideas that cancel them out.
Feedback is oxygen for your ideas. It will help them grow and get stronger, starved of it, and your ideas weaken.
Those of us back here in reality must work together to enact a Gentle Awakening for our friends and loved ones who have gotten addicted to this video game. There is no man behind the curtain, no secret cabal controlling our destinies, no marvelous or nefarious plan driving Covid, vote counting, or global affairs. They need to awaken to something way way more frightening than politicians eating children: shit just happens, no one is in charge, and chaos reigns. There really is no scapegoat — never was. The only way through is to find ways of coming together, instead. One step, and one day at a time.
This sets pragmatic genealogies apart from evolutionary psychology’s conjectural depictions of hominin life in the Pleistocene. Pragmatic genealogies prove themselves not through the detailed accuracy with which they depict the actual historical development of our concepts, but through the way in which they help us grasp connections between our practical needs and our concepts. Imagine having to explain to an alien why your car has the shape it does. Instead of painstakingly walking the alien through the stages of the assembly line on which the car was actually constructed, you could explain how its shape answers to a combination of practical needs: the need to move from A to B, the need to stay warm and dry, the need to steer and brake, the need to have a good view of your surroundings, the need to see and be seen in the dark, etc. The best way to show how the car’s shape is responsive to our needs isn’t to work through the distractingly intricate causal process through which the car was actually constructed, but to reconstruct the car’s shape as a response to a series of needs – perhaps through a narrative or an animation showing how, if we start from some primitive shape and successively warp it to meet a series of needs, we end up with something recognisably car-like. The State of Nature does the same to help us understand the shape of our concepts and their relation to our needs. It offers us an idealised, uncluttered model that we can tailor to our interests and tinker with in our imagination.
Ideas only travel as far as the minds ready and willing to take them in.
One way to define our identity is to fall in love with an idea (often one that was handed to us by a chosen authority). Another is to refuse to believe our identity is embodied in an idea, and instead embrace a method for continually finding and improving our ideas.
Here is an idea I love that may or may not be true: Some books have a centripetal force— they suck you in from other books. Some books have a centrifugal force — they spin you out to other books.
In the end, I actually ended up committing myself to a return to reading (or listening to books). In part for ideas, but really for solace.
Therefore, having felt like 2021 was something of a right-off in regards to achieving my own desired outcomes, I was not sure about 2022. Like Austin Kleon, I feel dormant. I therefore thought having a focus was not a priority. I thought then that instead of having a word with particular outcomes perceived, I would instead return to a meditation on a theme or topic.
One of the strange things about the current malaise is that I feel like I both have too much time to think and too little time to do anything. Listening to Damian Cowell’s podcast associated with his album involving diving into his early years, I was led down my own rabbit hole. Associated with this, I started reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. This only furthered my reflections on the past. I therefore decided that my word for 2022 would be memories.
Whether it be reading more memoirs, such as Tony Martin’s Lolly Scramble, writing reflections of my own, such as my post on Changing Tracks, or simply diving into the idea of memories in general. I am going to dedicate this year to letting go of setting stringent expectations on myself and commit myself to letting my mind just wonder. Start often, finish rarely?
So what about you? Have you got a word or any thoughts on memory. As always, comments welcome.
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