Em oi! #430: The Ravell’d Sleeve

The kid started daycare this morning. So there’s that. The upshot is that I have a few minutes to think about comics. Apparently I finished inking this one on October 10th, which means it took me nearly a month to erase the pencil lines and scan it. Oops.

If you are going to ask me, “Hey Em, why have you been so obsessed with Heidegger lately?” The answer is I’m not sure. I watched a couple of entertaining videos about him last month (example 1; example 2). (I spent a lot of the last twelve weeks sitting on the sofa with a fussy/hungry/just cuddly baby, watching videos about philosophers.) Heidegger’s ideas about learning to live authentically through being aware of our temporary, fleeting lives are interesting in the same way that Buddhism’s ideas about samsara are interesting. And in fact a long time ago I edited a book of essays about Asian philosophy that discussed the similarities between Heidegger and Zen Buddhism. But at the same time, as I’ve been spending time watching our dogs and the kidlet, I’ve become somewhat convinced that the way to live authentically isn’t to live with an awareness of one’s own mortality, as Heidegger would have it, but more to live in the present. Of course, the rejection of “noise” (das Gerede) is probably a good idea to help us learn about the value and connectedness of life (das Sein).

There’s also the problem that Heidegger was kind of a Nazi. A lot of sites that talk about his philosophy gloss over this or sort of apologize for it, but he never really did so. I should note that I have mixed feelings about that article’s seeming removal of culpability from Arendt by saying she was “in thrall” to him. Dude wasn’t a vampire; she made a choice to defend him. But that also raises the question of why, which is not satisfactorily answered.

Simone de Beauvoir’s remarks are influenced mostly by my understanding of her quote about “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Her meaning is about socialization, I believe–being a woman is essentially a social construction. Times of upset in one’s life that require a reorganization, like marriage and births, are times when one can feel one’s socially assigned role shifting significantly, sometimes whether one wants it to or not. There are certainly a lot of people who have told me sort of soppy, annoying things about motherhood (e.g. don’t come up and tell me I’m the most important person in my son’s life, I am not his only parent and I don’t want that kind of pressure), but the “mom shaming” one hears so much about has not really been a problem.

I have been approached by a lot of old people who want to look at the baby though. What’s up with old people?

For more on Donald Winnicott’s ideas about motherhood (or parenthood, if he were writing today), you can see the book Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel. She goes into it much better than I could. Or Wikipedia has a summary here. Basically, “meet the child’s needs, and it’s okay to fail a little bit.”

All right, I am going to spend the last twenty minutes of my lunch break with my head down, since I slept 4.75 hours last night. Whee.

We’ll file this under RC547 L86 2017, for Internal medicine–Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry–Psychiatry–Neuroses–Sleep disorders–General works. Because there doesn’t seem to be a call number for “sleep deprivation torture caused by having a newborn around.” Also, why is psychiatry cataloged under “internal medicine”? If internal medicine just means “stuff inside the body,” it arguably contains (as a category) all branches of medicine except maybe parts of dermatology. Weird.

Em oi! #427: Media Is Misfortune


I cut this up into panels for easier viewing. Click here to view the original.
A few notes and sources:

  1. Chomsky didn’t develop this theory (properly called the “propaganda model”) alone–he co-wrote the book with Edward Herman. Wikipedia suggests that the theory was more Herman’s than Chomsky’s, but everyone seems to call it Chomsky’s theory. Here is a video that explains it in more depth than one panel of a comic can do. As a (former, I guess) southeast Asianist, I have mixed feelings about Chomsky…he seems to be generally accepted on this point, but he was so, so wrong about a number of things (specifically, the Khmer Rouge)…
  2. Here is the main interview with Zizek that I referenced. I do enjoy the contrast between the well-dressed BBC host and the Ziz, who always looks like he has been awake for about 43 hours and hasn’t done laundry in a week.
  3. Foucault’s stuff about the power structure and revolution was touched on in this earlier comic.
  4. Fitzgerald has a weird face. Sorry, dude. Of all the real people I’ve tried to draw, he is the weirdest. And this is including J-P “Walleye” Sartre.
  5. Chomsky and Foucault didn’t get along either.

Chomsky was, (possibly) surprisingly, on the side of Hillary Clinton during the last election, while Zizek wanted people to vote for Trump–not because he supported Trump; in fact, he views DT as immoral and terrible, in many ways a total disaster. But he believed that by electing DT, the left would see some galvanization and would begin to reconstruct itself, not just to offer opposition but to offer a viable alternative that did not include neoliberalism/late-stage international capitalism/what have you. Interestingly, I think he was right to some extent. I knew a few people involved in local activism while Obama was in office, but I now know many, many more people who are calling their senators and congresspeople regularly, going to rallies, and actively supporting various campaigns to change the country for the better.

As I’m writing this, however, DT has pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.* What this will actually mean for the world in the long run is difficult to say at this juncture, since it was a largely symbolic voluntary agreement that many (well, Honduras Nicaragua [ed: damn it]) claimed didn’t go far enough. But I do think that without the governmental impetus, the solution to global warming will wind up coming from the business community–that capitalism will eventually have to save us. If the idiotic old men in power can’t see the writing on the wall, the entrepreneurs can, and in this country money speaks a lot louder than treaty obligations. Which is ironic, because I think that the revolution Zizek had in mind was not essentially the renaissance of cultural capitalism in the role of savior, but (of course) socialism (“the good old welfare state,” as he would put it). To paraphrase Oscar Wilde (or, really Ziz quoting Wilde in the video linked just there), it feels like a bad idea to use private industry to lead the mitigation of the environmental disaster caused by private industry, because their motives will always be profit-driven rather than altruistic, and that means that people not living in the first world are going to wind up getting screwed somehow. On the other hand, as someone who is worried about the environment, I guess I’ll take what I can get at this point?

Circling back to the Ziz’s point about the president as the motive for revolution: the problem is that Trump is a good enemy but ultimately inept. The left doesn’t really have to do anything–they (we) just have to stand there and he’ll turn his administration into a dumpster fire. It’s been less than six months and there’s already been talk of impeachment on the floor of the House by Republicans. Thus, while the base is fired up, the democrats in congress don’t seem to be doing much in the way of providing alternative leadership or pivoting to embrace the more liberal Sanders wing or the multicultural Obama wing–they don’t have to.

And this is where the lack of objectivity I mentioned begins to bother me–rather than seeing any individual action the administration takes as the flailing of an inept and failing regime, the leftermost voices seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on interpreting how this is going to lead to fascism/autocracy/A Handmaid’s Tale/insert your particular fear here. I suppose this is the reverse of Obama, or perhaps more accurately the flip side of it. I discussed a few posts back seeing voters in 2008–especially African American voters, since I was in a heavily African American area of Philly–reconstructing Obama in their own image so that he could serve as a vehicle onto which they could project their ideas/hopes/dreams. Now on the other side, we have the left projecting its fears onto DT–perhaps because of a lack of transparency on his part that keeps him feeling like a remote and unknowable figure, or perhaps because this is how people always deal with their leaders–just as we must imagine that we live in a community filled with others who are basically the same as we are in order to become a nation, we must imagine the same thing about the leader who we will likely never meet in person–that he or she is a specific type of person that either is like us (for those leaders we like) or totally foreign to us (for those we hate).

To provide a possible counter-point to my own point here, I’ll add that while I was sketching out this comic, I found this video on Jacques Lacan,** about whom I know very little (he is widely admired by many of the continental philosophers I mention here, especially Zizek, but not widely discussed in the [undergraduate] philosophy curriculum, possibly because he’s largely still seen as a psychologist? Or because undergrad philosophy is kinda naff in a lot of ways). Anyway, the video quotes Lacan as saying, “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. And you will get one.” Lacan meant that what people want, from the time of infancy, is basically an “ideal parent,” someone who can make everything okay, and we carry this desire into who we vote for. Whereas it is better, following Sartre’s idea of radical freedom, to accept that no leader is going to be able to do these things, and instead to embrace the fact that if we want something to happen, the best way is to make it happen ourselves. Go out and break glass ceilings, clean up the environment, make art–do what you need to in order to be awesome every day.

We’ll file this under P95.82 U6 L86 2017, for Philology. Linguistics–Communication. Mass media–Special aspects–Political aspects. Policy–By region or country, A-Z. This allows it to sit next to the original being referenced, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media, at least at my alma mater.

Footnotes:
* When I say “pulled out,” it’s not clear how Bloomberg / the individual states and cities saying they’re still going ahead with the Paris Accord requirements plays into this argument. Bloomberg is of course a total centerist neoliberal (and so on and so on).

**  Yes, I watch stuff like that for fun.

Em oi! #422: Useful to Rise Up?

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This comic was begun in December and finished about ten minutes ago. It has taken forever. In real life, it’s 10″ x 16″; it was originally intended for a print publication, so that’s why. The top panel would have looked like this:

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The Foucault essay can be seen here in French and here in English. The translation above is my own. After significant discussion, I decided to translate “les hommes se soulèvent” as “humans rise up” rather than “men rise up,” even though the latter is more accurate. I made this decision for two reasons: one, I think given other things I’ve read that Foucault said I think he recognized that revolutionaries were both male and female–stylistically, it was very typical to assume the masculine when he wrote this, so I’m not convinced it’s an exclusive term; and two, because I initially envisioned this being published in a feminist zine for the upcoming Women’s March on Washington, and I thought that using a more gender-neutral term would go over better. A bit self-serving, I realize. But the whole essay is to some extent Foucault’s last middle finger toward his critics following his controversial coverage (and support of) the Iranian revolution, so perhaps let us not get into what is self-serving to whom. The second-to-last panel Foucault speech is from The History of Sexuality volume 1, p. 95 (Vintage Books edition, published in 1995). What he actually says is this:

Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. […] [Power relationships’] existence depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance … [that are] present everywhere in the power network.

(It goes on. The whole section is recommended.) Depending on where you stand, this is either good or bad. Either he’s saying that resistance always exists in a diffuse way, and since the would-be revolutionaries have access to power they can coalesce their resistance in order to affect change, OR he’s saying, as the Who would put it, “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.” You can never be outside of the system because everything is a part of the system.

At any rate, I did not come to lecture, just to voice some thoughts I’ve had recently.

This comic was actually pretty entertaining for me, despite the amount of trouble it has caused. Drawing so many historical personages was fun. The hardest to draw was Mao, since thanks to Andy Warhol, his face is pretty well-known (at least until we get Sojourner Truth on the new $10 bill). Also, in case you were wondering, it turns out that Sojourner Truth was 6′ tall, while Karl Marx was only 5′ 9″. Also, I regret that I had to omit so many august personages–the original draft of this comic included, among others, Alexander Hamilton, Sun Yat-Sen, VI Lenin, and Corazon Aquino. Here’s a fun clip of Jeremy Clarkson hating on Cromwell from QI.

We’ll file this under JC491 L86 2017, for Political theory. The state. Theories of the state–Forms of the state–Change of form of the state. Political change–Revolutions.

I’ll leave you with this final quote from Travesties, by Tom Stoppard:

I learned three things in Zurich during the war. I wrote them down. Firstly, you’re either a revolutionary or you’re not, and if you’re not you might as well be an artist as anything else. Secondly, if you can’t be an artist, you might as well be a revolutionary… I forget the third thing.

Em oi! #412: Foucault’s Elf

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I was surprised, but also not surprised when B told me about this conversation. After all, about a month and a half after we met, I went on vacation to Philly and sent him a postcard from the Eastern State Penitentiary, a panopticon prison based on Bentham’s ideas. And he decided not to dump me. Yay. I should have guessed that after all these years, my madness has rubbed off on him.

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To be fair, that employer was kind of surveiller et punir. Click to embiggen.

It still kind of shocks me that the “elf on a shelf” thing has become, well, a thing that people do. I find it kind of creepy. But then I’ve always found Santa creepy too, even when I was a kid and desperate to have Xmas so that I wouldn’t be different from all the other kids in my class. I look forward to having children so I can forbid them from celebrating Christmas.

We’ll file this week’s comic under GT4991 L86 2015, for Manners and customs (General)–Customs related to public and social life–Festivals. Holidays–Special days and periods of time–Christmas–Special customs–Elf on a shelf. This isn’t explicitly listed, but it fits into the categorization right between “Pistol shooting” [GT4990] and “Santa Claus” [GT4992]. If you are about to say, “Em, what the hell is up with pistol shooting being listed under special Christmas customs?,” well, I want to commend you for asking the right (tough) questions.

Here are a few other Foucault comics for your reading pleasure. I would guess there are others, but I can’t lay hands on all of them right now.

There is some sort of philosopher threesome joke to be made here, but I ain't doin' it.
This was drawn three days before we got married! My hair has changed a lot since then. Bryan’s hasn’t. He can bench press a lot more now though.
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I think this one is B’s favorite. It’s based more on The Birth of the Clinic.
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My favorite comic ever. Also more Birth of the Clinic.
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I don’t remember what happened here. Also, I drew this on notebook paper and tried to turn up the contrast to get rid of the lines. Good job, Em of eight years past.
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Philosophers love cake because they understand the true meaning of life.

Em oi! #408: Kierkegaarding

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You will probably have to click to embiggen, I’m afraid.

I am forced to begin this week’s lengthy and possibly unreadable commentary on the comic with an apology: I am somewhat misconstruing Kierkegaard here.

Here’s the deal: Kierkegaard wrote a book called The Concept of Anxiety, which is the basis for the ideas that form the underlying framework here, but in the book, Kierkegaard is actually not talking about how difficult your problems are. Instead, he was talking about the responses of different religions to the idea of original sin.[1] That is, he seems to be making an argument like this: 1) Original sin happened, but there were/are people who don’t know about it because they’re not Christian (pagans) or they’re Jewish (??). 2) These groups experience anxiety in different forms (turning outward, in the case of the pagans; turning inward, in the case of the Jews, which is more correct but still unable to come to any resolution, which can only be reached by Christians because Jesus. 3) The angst as freedom of choice is still in there.

If all this sounds a little weird, well–Kierkegaard was kind of a strange guy and his philosophy is a little bit aphoristic. And this is one of his most difficult books.

These anxiety-to-outside/inside relations were distilled by another fellow, Stephen Dunning[2], into the framework that underlies the first three panels (anxiety-in-itself, anxiety-for-itself, and anxiety-in-and-for-itself), and then further distilled by another writer (whose book I cannot name yet, since it hasn’t been published) into yet another form that I’ve adapted here.

In other words, this is based on some secondary materials that somewhat (in my mind) misconstrued the original argument. Le sigh.

Also, I hadn’t used these markers with this type of paper before, and I am disappointed by how it absorbed them. It doesn’t look really as nice in person; I had to do a lot of fixing, some of which is sadly visible. Tch.

I’m currently trying to taper for the Twin Cities Marathon, which is coming up in just over a week. But B is having knee surgery on Monday, so we’ll see how well that goes. My training has been pretty average, but consistent, including consistent speed work, and my ankles are holding up really well (knock on whatever), so I’m guardedly optimistic. If I can get a good taper and decent weather, I hope to hit sub-4. I’ve been running sub-2 hour half marathons in practice, so I have a feeling I can do it. If I don’t get a good taper, I’ll see what I can do. The goal is 3:55:xx, which requires an average somewhere between 8:50 and 9:00 minutes/mile (okay, 8:58 to be precise); of course, the fact that I can sustain that for 13.1 miles is rather meaningless when we’re looking at twice that distance.

Until then, I’m sort of swamped with work, but I will still try to have a new comic up next week as well.

For the nonce, let’s file this one under B4377 L86 2015, for (deep breath) Philosophy(General)–Modern (1450/1600-)–By region or country–Scandinavia–Denmark–By period–19th century–Individual philosophers–Kierkegaard, Søren, 1813-1855–Criticism and interpretation.


[1] Side note: He says, among other things, “Jewish anxiety is over the possibility of guilt, rather than ‘the positing of an actual [guilty] relation'” (Dunning, 153). This is clearly false; Jewish anxiety is over many things, but most of them involve the possibility of disappointing your mother and whether or not this tickle in the back of your throat is going to turn into pneumonia or not.

[2] See Stephen Northrup Dunning. Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness: A Structural Analysis of the Theory of Stages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985. Retrieved from Google Books: Link

Em oi! #405: Philosophy Ruins Films

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Well hello. It has been a while since we had one of these little chats, hasn’t it? I’ve been reading a lot, but not blogging too much beyond book reviews. So you’re probably asking, “Hey Em, how’s it going?”

It has been all right. Not great, not amazing, but also it’s going much better than it was in January. I went through a rough patch between seasonal affective disorder and a leg injury. The first was solved with phototherapy, the second with PT, which is just about finished. PT has been a strange collection of triggerpoint dry needling (which is not super pleasant, and the alcohol wipes are giving me a rash) and various exercises and stretches designed to 1) make you feel inadequate when you realize how many of them you keep forgetting to do and 2) fix whatever imbalance exists in my hip that is hurting my ankle. In the meantime I spent a lot of time swimming in January when I was totally off running, and then running only on the dreadmill and elliptical in February—I’ve been doing about 24 miles on the dreadmill and close to that on the elliptical as well. I’ve also been lifting weights a lot; since early September, B and I have switched to a 5×5 program which is a lot more intense than our previous 3×10-type program. My lifts have gone up a lot, which is very satisfying, but I’ve also put on some pounds of muscle and so my bra no longer fits right.* The best news is that as of tomorrow I am encouraged to try running outside again; if everything goes well, I may be able to show up to race the 50-Furlong World Championship in Paoli on Saturday. I doubt I am in condition to defend my title as 8th fastest woman in the world at that distance, but it would be really nice to race again.

What else have I been doing? Learning to code. As in write computer programs. So far if you want a program that spits out a triangle (right or equilateral) in ASCII or that curses at you in a variable way based on your input, I am your programmer. Actually, I have to admit that this is my second attempt at learning to code. When I was an undergraduate, I took the introduction to programming course the UW offered (which is taught in Java). Now I am learning Caché ObjectScript, which is a much less well-known language, but it is easier in part because B is teaching me, and it turns out that he is a much better teacher than the grad student (who may have been a forestry major?) they had teaching the intro class when I took it. B is a good teacher; it’s also convenient to have my professor on site rather than inaccessible except by email sometimes. I may also be a better student now.

Well let’s not go overboard on that.

I’ve also been learning indexing. And Chinese. And editing a bunch of books (I did three full-length manuscripts, on ancient Athens, moral philosophy, and sociology, from the first week of February until last Friday the 7th of March). In other words I have been busy, not sleeping enough, unable to find time to do the things I enjoy or see my friends much, and basically acting like I’ve not developed any coping skills since college. But things will get better now.

A note on podcasts and the like. A bunch of people gave me recommendations, many of which have been very satisfying. The Hound Tall Podcast (formally The Hound Tall Discussion Series with Moshe Kasher) is very funny and a lot more Jew-y than Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (I recommend the George Clinton interview if you haven’t heard it yet). Of course the Ultrarunner Podcast is a good way to keep up with a sport that no one follows but me; my new goal is to get interviewed on there, since I’ll probably never get on Fresh Air. Also, the Moth Radio Hour has some very good stories–also some gutting ones, so do be careful. Finally, John Harris’s excellent podcast/audiobook of The Epic of Gilgamesh was both exciting and intellectually stimulating. I may or may not have time to do a whole review, but in the meantime, it’s highly recommended.

I’m filing this comic under PN1995.9 S695 L86 2015, for Drama–Motion pictures–Other special topics, A-Z–Star Wars films.


*If you are reading this and saying, “Wait, you only own one?”, I will tell you: You obviously don’t know me. Ninety percent of the shirts I now own came from races. I am not an enthusiastic shopper.

Em oi! #395: I Kant Believe It

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This started as more notes to myself on the noumenon, because I have been reading The Parallax View and had to look it up. I dragged through A Critique of Pure Reason in college and also parts of Critique of Judgement and (if I’m recalling correctly) The Metaphysics of Mortals, but I can’t say Kant’s theories ever really resonated with me. Yet since reading First as Tragedy, I’ve had a new respect for him. In particular, I was struck by this passage:

The recent Revolution of a people which is rich in spirit, may well either fail or succeed, accumulate misery and atrocity, it nevertheless arouses in the heart of all spectators (who are not themselves caught up in it) a taking of sides according to desires which borders on enthusiasm and which, since its very expression was not without danger, can only have been caused by a moral disposition within the human race.

Which is to say, while “actual history is confused” on the question of whether or not true [i.e. ethical] progress is possible, spectators across Europe were remarkably sympathetic to the French revolution (Zizek, First as Tragedy, then as Farce, 106).

I think now that this quote is less affecting out of context. Anyway, the remarkable thing was for me that I looked up the noumenon, made my notes, and then suddenly understood exactly the point Zizek was making and sailed on through another several pages. (Then he came to some argument rooted in Hegel and I got bogged down again.)

Anyway I should add that according to Wikipedia, the conflation of the noumenon and the ding-an-sich is not quite so straightforward as the Ziz makes it seem. But you probably already suspected as much.

At any rate, having read my comic, perhaps you are now in a position to appreciate this one by Zach Weiner.

Ok, I have now somehow passed an hour looking at pictures of cats on imagur. Probably time to call it a night.

We’ll file this one under B2799.N68 L86 2014, for Philosophy (General)–Modern (1450/1600-)–By region or country–Germany. Austria (German)–By period–Later 18th and early 19th centuries–Individual philosophers–Kant, Immanuel, 1724-1804–Special topics, A-Z–Noumenon. Before you say “Don’t hurt yourself on that topic heading there,” I just want to let you know that PT2100.K3 is German literature–Individual authors or works–1700-ca. 1860/70–Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1749-1832–Biography and criticism–Biography–Personal relations–Relations to friends and contemporaries–Individual friends and contemporaries–Other friends and contemporaries, A-Z–Kant, Immanuel. So just be careful what you wish for.

By the way, I posted two reviews lately that you might have missed: this one of the play Red and this one of First as Tragedy. More reviews soon!

Okay, wait, I just remembered something I have to tell you about Kant. It’s a story my father told me when I was a kid: (and just to ruin it, I have forgotten the setup but) there is a guy in a neighborhood in Germany (well, Prussia). Every day he goes out for a walk at the same time. Every day he comes back at the same time. One day, his neighbor is raking leaves in the front yard and sees this guy walk past, and he has one foot on the sidewalk and one in the gutter. And half an hour later, sure as clockwork, back he comes, one foot on the sidewalk, one in the gutter. And that was Immanuel Kant. Later on, Dad told me that Kant broke philosophy, because he thought of it all. I don’t know if that is exactly true (philosophy has certainly continued after Kant, and gone down a lot of new and interesting alleys), but it perhaps explains to you what a huge and insurmountable obstacle he is in the study of philosophy. You Kant get there from here without going through him.

. . .

Ok, now I’m really going to bed.

Em oi! #381: First as Farce

First as farce, then as farce again.

“Philosophy does not solve problems. The duty of philosophy is not to solve problems but to ridify problems–to show how what we experience as a problem is a false problem.” –Slavoj Žižek, Zizek! (dir. Astra Taylor, 2005)

I have been busy getting to know Slavoj Žižek. He is an interesting guy–looks like someone’s weird uncle, keeps his socks in his kitchen, talks about popular culture, and is extremely funny. It seems as though American intellectuals are in love with him because he hates Americans and he is very well spoken. Also he once wrote the text for an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog (NSFW).

The thing is, I’d guess, none of them read his actual philosophy, which tends to be very concerned with Hegel and Lacan. Which leads me to the question: Why is everyone in Continental Philosophy so obsessed with Hegel?

I will file this under N84.L86 2013, for Visual arts–Theory. Philosophy. Aesthetics of the visual arts–Theory. Philosophy. Apparently Žižek is not yet famous enough to have his own LCC number. (I just checked–Chomsky has one, but it’s Z8168.18, a bibliography heading).

I wanted to write a bit about the Syttende Mai 20-miler and the Ice Age 50k–my last two races. But it’s already 22:30 and I’m pretty tired and I have to get up early tomorrow. So for now, enjoy this awesome panorama Bryan took of me finishing the Syttende Mai. I’ll write something up later in the week.

Bryan took this awesome series of me finishing the race.
Bryan took this awesome series of me finishing the race.

Em oi! #377: Sene-can

Who's that man who isn't getting angry? Seneca!

So I came across Seneca (founder of the Stoics) the other day and immediately realized I was dealing with a kindred spirit. Seneca actually did advocate spending some time every day meditating on what could potentially go wrong in your life, because then if it did go wrong, you’d be psychologically prepared for it. Alain de Botton implies that this philosophy grew out of the fact that Seneca lived among the Roman elites, who were a fairly angry and unstable group from the emperor on down. And I actually do this quite a lot, though I refer to it as “reining in my expectations.” For example, if I had a job interview that went really well, I tell myself that they are not only not going to give me the job, but they will probably come and burn down my house for wasting their time. Then if they actually give me the job (please give me the job–you know who you are), I am surprised and happy, and if they reject me, I am less sad.

Anyway, despite all that, I couldn’t resist making fun of him a little. It could be worse, I guess–Schopenhauer advised his readers to swallow a toad every morning, so that would be the worst thing that happened to them all day…

We’ll file this under B618.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Ancient (600 B.C.-430 A.D.)—Occident—Greco-Roman philosophy—Individual philosophers—Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D.—Biography and memoirs. Criticism and interpretation—General Works.

I should point out that in the time between when I drew this and when I inked it, my hair streak was dyed over (so I could look respectable for job interviews). You can check it out in the below photo, in which I failed to do it and maybe I didn’t even brush it this morning? And also I look a little cranky. (Hah. Take that, Cameron Russell?)

Dog photobombed me.
Dog photobombed me.

There have been so many good, philosophical articles in the news lately, from the issues of justice and punishment versus rehabilitation raised by the conviction and sentencing of Malik Richmond and Trent Mays, to the question of deciding when someone becomes a person raised by the North Dakota Personhood amendment to all sorts of interesting problems raised by SCOTUS hearing arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. But then Bryan posed me a fascinating problem about epistemology and free will, so I’m going to write about that. Actually, I’m going to write down the problem as posed to me now, and then next week I’m going to write about my thoughts on the issue.

Here we go: Bryan doesn’t believe in free will. His proof for this goes thusly:

  1. Bryan is a materialist, which means he believes that there is no mind/brain dichotomy–the mind is just our perception of the workings of the brain. The brain is controlled by various chemicals.
  2. Because the brain is made up of particles, if we really understood the brain (and quantum physics), we could build a computer that could predict what someone is thinking.
  3. So now that we know what someone is thinking, given a set of initial conditions, we can predict someone’s behavior.
  4. Since all choices can be accurately predicted, there is no free will. We are essentially controlled by chemicals. Free will is just an illusion we have because we ourselves don’t entirely understand the workings of our brains. But we might as well live with this illusion, because we can’t build a computer that can predict things like that.

(Bryan, you will have to let me know if I have misconstrued your argument.)

So I have been reading and thinking about quantum physics, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, Newcomb’s problem and meta-Newcomb’s problem (even rereading my senior philosophy thesis), and  also looking into the works of a lot of theorists from about 1950-present. It has been quite a knotty problem, I will tell you. If you have any comments on it, please feel free to post them in the comments section here, on FB or G+, or email them to me at ehlupton(at)gmail(dot)com. I will try to address any worthwhile opinions I receive.

Em oi! #375: Another Terrible Thing Done in Nietzsche’s Name

The age of specialization is over.
Have you heard of a madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market place and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”

Writing a thesis is simultaneously the best and most terrible thing I have ever done.

Anyway. Nietzsche! Has there ever been a philosopher with a cooler mustache? I think not. Other things Nietzsche had: Syphilis. But that’s not to say we should write him off. He grew up next door to a church–his father was a Lutheran pastor (who died when young Friedrich was four). That he later went on to propose some revolutionary ideas about man’s relationship to religion in the 19th and 20th centuries is not entirely surprising. He lived a quiet life in the mountains, because of health issues, and so he knew what he was talking about when he said that happiness comes from overcoming obstacles. That’s an older idea than him, actually; I believe it goes back to Aristotle. At any rate, Nietzsche is quite cagey and doesn’t say what he thinks the new morals he’s calling for should be like. He is pretty clear that he thinks hanging on to Christian morality is stupid and outdated. You can check out the famous passage on the death of God from The Gay Science here. (He talks about the death of God again in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) He has a marvelous mode of writing, it’s very readable. What else? Philosophy Now magazine did a marvelous podcast about our fellow that you can listen to here. And philosopher Alain de Botton did a 24-minute episode of a longer series for the BBC about Nietzsche, and you can check that out here. It’s awesome both because the US would never air something like that (not enough desperate housewives) and because de Botton is very good at explaining the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Is that enough links? Can you tell I’ve been doing some research? I’m having an affair with Nietzsche; don’t tell M. Foucault, I fear he would sulk.

I wrote an article on running for a local running blog called Technically Running. You can read it here if you’re interested. You can check out the last comic I did with Nietzsche in it here.

This comic will be filed under B3317.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Modern (1450/1600- )—By region or country—Germany. Austria (German)—By period—Later 19th and 20th centuries—Individual philosophers—Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900—Criticism and interpretation.