Category Archives: Academia

How free is philosophical investigation?

I read a rather strange blog post from an author over at “an und für sich.” The professor complained that his undergrad students were satisfied, when viewing an artwork, or discussing a philosophical position, that it just comes down to a matter of opinion, how one was raised, etc. A consensus by way of commentary was reached that the reason for these statements was the fault of the students: there was an unwillingness to engage in conflict. Well, I mean, when I’m in a class setting, often I don’t really care to argue with people. There is nothing, really, to lose. If I am the curator of a gallery, then, absolutely I will have to defend why I choose to run my gallery according to certain principles and why I have these principles in the first place. Why? Because I have something to lose. I could lose my gallery, my job, my house, etc. So, to complain about students not having the need to be right in a discipline that is often very new to them is not a fair claim. Why should I have so much pride in the work that I have done as a philosopher when I have done no work as a philosopher?

So. How free is the philosophical investigation of the philosopher, especially as it pertains to a career choice. If I have built my career around a philosophy that has done me mostly well, why should I change course, which would thus negate practically all of my previous work? How many philosophers can you name that have changed their direction completely midway through their career? A change that could not be called political disillusionment. For we all know that political events inspire philosophers to change direction. Whence comes the giving up of one’s ideas that have been worked so hard for? Maybe at the onset there was a lot of turmoil before the choice was made to study Kantian metaphysics. Maybe the choice was clear. It doesn’t really matter. Because once your (career!) choice has been made, you cannot go back. You will spend the rest of your life defending your school of thought against its attackers. And you will spend the rest of your life attacking opposing disciplines. With that in mind, let us remember the example of Socrates who wrote (we think) nothing, and held no position at a university. If philosophy is about free investigation, have institutionalized universities and the type of careers that they foster destroyed the very nature of this discipline?

“How much truth can a spirit bear, how much truth can a spirit dare? That became for me more and more the real measure of value.” – Nietzsche 34 Ecce Homo

Context as Necessity

Often reading textbooks on Art History, philosophy, or even Music, a great deal of context is given. The work in question has to be situated. It comes from somewhere.

But I get the sense that when the climate of the times is described, the author implicitly suggests that the work wasn’t anything really special, or genius. One can easily trace its origins to the current ideas circulating.

When one presents a work like this, we cease to really see its transforming power. We cease to see it as a work of genius. And, I think, there are geniuses. When one reads a biography of the artist/philosopher in question, the transforming power of the work is almost always raised to a much higher degree because the work in question is seen in detail. When I look at it as one instance of one person’s work, as a sign of the times, I’m not really looking at the work as it was presented in its own context.

I can’t help hear Badiou’s voice in my head: an event is an ontological decision. One of his examples is the French Revolution. Once it is infinitely picked apart, no one can name it as unified event anymore, and if no one can name it as an evental site, it no longer holds any trans-formative power.

In sum, the way one views an artwork is a decision. I can decide to see Schoenberg as a consequence of the steady increase of the use of dissonance. Indeed, he seemed to say as much. But. One hundred years after Schoenberg, people often see his late work as the cut-off of what constitutes good classical music (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, then it ends…). And I can also say: “Ya, he wasn’t so great. You can easily see where he comes from. Sooner or later someone would have done what he did.” Here, (bad?) historical context is used as a weapon against the naming of a revolutionary work.

Be wary of textbooks and biographies that use context. Tracking the influence of a work is a difficult business, even if it is within context. So, “Context”, then, can be used either for the discrediting of a revolutionary work, or it can be used to show just how revolutionary the work really is.

A new blog with no new posts?

I fear that for the past while Idols & Icons has been a bit of a desert when it comes to producing content. If there are still readers out there hanging on, I can tell you that the reason for my absence has been that I was studying for and then recovering from the GRE. I’ve got a few posts just about ready to go. In the meantime, I can share with you one thing I learned from the grueling process, courtesy of Son of the Fathers: “The GRE is a great way to test whether you can study for and take the GRE. That’s about it.”

The Final Solution to Non-Violent Christian Mission

It seems to me that much current academic energy goes into two broadly contradictory tasks. The first attempts to unearth violences in texts of all sorts, to deconstruct them. The second (after showing the utter violence in all other ideas, interpretations, and approaches) moves on to present itself as the movement or position free of all problems and finally offering a truly final solution. Some have seen fit to critique the former approach. However, though I can see a potential for such a task to become pedantic or overly dismissive, I tend to find such work both judicious and important. The latter approach, on the other hand, is one that I am quickly becoming tired of. It is one thing to enthusiastically promote a good idea; it is another to dismiss all others out of hand, renounce critical self-reflection, and triumphantly present an idea as both untried and sure to success.

With that I want to present my final solution to non-violent Christian mission. I get it from a sermon preached by Lydia Harder at the Mennonite Church in Montreal around a year ago. She took three paradigms of Christian mission and worked with them, with congregational singing in between. She briefly described each, talked about their benefits and virtues, and then critiqued them, showing the ways that they can turn violent. And then we sang.

Continue reading The Final Solution to Non-Violent Christian Mission