Category Archives: philosophy

Indignant

[update 04/13/10:  My TA more than redeemed himself today.  He started out recitation by saying that in grading our papers, he was forced to reconsider the criteria that he’d laid out for us for writing our papers, one of which was that we should write in simple prose.  He still believed that we should do this, but he wondered what the value of that might be.  So we spent the entire class debating the value and lack of value in simplifying the language of these philosophers, which evolved into a wholesome discussion of relevant topics both explicitly and implicitly at hand:  the difference between analytic and continental philosophy; the purpose of writing these papers; the question of audience; the difference between explaining and expressing, and how we necessarily do both while writing these papers; the cognitive process of reading and writing; motives for writing the way we do; language as a tool for contextualization; and the way certain philosophers subvert language to re-contextualize concepts.  The TA was very open to our varying opinions and arguments, and it was clear that he cared about how his criteria were affecting our writing and learning.  And that’s all i needed to know.]

I was deeply offended, insulted, and hurt today.  I’m not sure if i should write about this publicly, but i’m so flustered and have been upset like this for the past twelve hours that i need to vent, or else i won’t be able to sleep tonight.

I wrote my first paper for Existentialism & Phenomenology class several weeks ago.  I was transfixed by Heidegger’s account of death and knew that I needed to write my paper on it.  One of the suggested topics involved it anyway, so i set out to write on that topic, but as i wrote the paper and re-engaged with the text, i became more interested in a different issue within Heidegger’s account of death:  his characterization of death as possibility, not actuality, and the implications this might have for his entire argument.  And this shift in interest—and consequently, in my argument—occurred sometime in the morning of the day it was due.  In short, i procrastinated quite extensively, stayed up all night and just wrote and re-wrote like my life depended on it, panicked for fear of not even finishing on time, and then really did run out of time and was forced to cut the paper short and slap on a concluding sentence.  Not surprisingly, the paper ended up being quite disorganized, and ultimately, my claims were not backed up with strong enough arguments.  Had i given myself ample time, i would’ve done what i knew i had to do when i decided to change my topic:  start fresh and build up my argument.  But since i was irresponsible and left myself too little time, i was forced to rework what i had already written, which culminated in patching and re-patching chunks here and there, re-ordering paragraphs, removing some and adding new ones, and all of this in vain.  In my effort to work with what i already had, i neglected to fully develop my argument and work out a strong line of reasoning for it.  I didn’t even know if my argument was valid.  I decided to just write and see if i could come up with an argument in the process.  Bad, bad mistake, obviously.  I always outline my argument and make sure i have it down pat before i even start writing, but i didn’t think i could do that with the time i had remaining.  I probably could have if i had stopped panicking and had steadily thought things through, but there’s no use in crying over spilled milk.

After i handed in the paper, i wanted to spend the next few days revisiting my argument and trying to see if what i wrote really made sense.  Of course, other classes and obligations got in the way, and soon, i forgot all about the shoddy argument.

Earlier this week, i got the paper back, graded and commented on.  I got a higher grade than i expected, but it was clear from the TA’s comments that he didn’t get the point of my paper.  This was seriously worrisome for me, and i couldn’t just let my argument go misunderstood, or even not understood at all, so i went back to my dorm and started tearing the paper apart.  Initially, i was just writing responses to the TA’s comments, but i soon realized that there were too many missing links in my argument.  Responding to these comments wasn’t gonna get me anywhere.

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Mapping out your life is overrated

A wise friend of mine recently said to me, “Knowing what you want to do is not quite the same as knowing exactly where you can go.”  School and society put so much emphasis on the where that i lost sight of the what as i came closer to where i am now:  my last semester of college.

This academic year has changed me in strange ways.  I struggled a lot last semester with insecurities i never knew i had, most of which got in the way of my learning.  For the first time in my life, i found my classes to be an inconvenience and a drone (this partly had to do with the kinds of classes i was taking that semester, but it was also my attitude towards the learning that got in the way).  Needless to say, it was a highly disappointing semester, resulting not only in dropped grades but also a further drop in self-esteem.  (Just to be fair, one class and the professor that taught it encouraged me to express myself, which positively changed my approach to writing, but this didn’t change the fact that i felt oppressed by my other classes and professors.)

This semester has been interesting in that the four classes i’m taking are so different from each other and yet still overlap in various ways, in ways that motivate me to synthesize the thought products of each class with each other, which in turn makes me strive hard in all of them.  One class, Tactical Media, is a graduate course cross-listed as an offering to undergraduate upperclassmen, but the class is mostly graduate students.  I was intimidated at first by their professional accomplishments and general outspokenness, but i’m starting to find it easier to talk to these people than my fellow undergraduates.  There is a higher degree of respect for each other and not just a willingness but a desire to get to know one another.  I think it might have to do with the lack of competition.  They’ve already accomplished a great deal in their respective fields, and they’re all here for different reasons (the course belongs in the Arts and Public Policy department, but students come from all different departments, backgrounds, and careers).  They’re here to further their own individual projects, whether it be producing a social activist movement or sparking a debate about urban etiquette, but while doing so, they work together and share their individual interests and skills.  At the undergraduate level, most students are in the same boat of graduating and moving on to their respective fields.  Whether they admit it or not, undergrads are out to outdo one another in order to get a job or make it into grad school.  But going back to why i started talking about this class in the first place, it’s a key element in my learning this semester in that it is helping me become more outspoken in all of my classes; to put it simply, it’s encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone, but in a welcoming environment.  There is no competing—only sharing.  We don’t even compete for grades, because we grade ourselves at the end of the semester.  Discussion in this class is therefore as democratic and open as it can get; besides the individual projects (which are always collaborative), we are all in the unified project of progressing as a class.

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Protected: A confessional letter

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questions on the loo, issue #5: “People who know what they want.”

You see that remark everywhere.  Anywhere from job listings to online personals, people are always seeking those who know what they want.  I never quite understood what this might mean.  How could anyone not know what they want?  I know what i want, and those around me know what they want (assuming they are being honest with me).  You might not know how to get what you want, but how could you not know what you want?  It baffles me, really, and the next time i see that phrase, i am going to email whoever wrote it and ask what they mean by it.  

This is something that has been bugging for quite some time now, but i was prompted to write a post about it because this exact issue came up in my Ethics lecture the other day.  My Ethics professor, my wonderfully brilliant Ethics professor, of all people, used that seemingly meaningless phrase, “some people don’t know what they want.”  In Book I Chapter VII of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the search for a self-sufficient good, a final end, the one thing we aim at.  His assumption is that you could be aiming at something, but not be sure what you’re aiming at.  My question is, if you don’t even see the target, how could you be aiming at it?  That would be like someone handing me a bow and arrow and telling me to shoot at the red circle when there isn’t one.  In any case, the question that naturally follows from Aristotle’s proposition that some people don’t know what they’re after is, how do you tell what you’re really after?  One way is to get it first and then figure out if that’s what you’d been wanting, he says.  The only way to know what you’re after is to blindly go after something, get it, and then see if you’re satisfied with it.  If you are, that’s what you had been wanting.  But if humanity really did function in this primitive trial and error method, we wouldn’t get so far now, would we?  

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Filed under culture, language, philosophy, questions on the loo

Aura as the artist’s sacrifice

I usually don’t like to publish my academic work, but i like how this assignment turned out, and there’s a section in it that i would’ve liked to expand on but couldn’t because the essay format i was going for didn’t allow me to.  So here’s the essay and the addendum that was actually the inspiration for it:   

Manifestations of Aura

            The two human practices that involve exploring and attempting to explain reality are religion and art.  Both are ways in which we question everything about our reality—existence, consciousness, love, free will, the soul, values, ethics, good and evil—and attempt to answer those questions.  It could be said that religion is a human way of life and art is the human expression of life.  A fulfilling life demands the practice of religion (or at least a personal belief system) and art.  Because these are distinctly human practices that are vehicles for human thought and action, the metaphysical, which can only be experienced by humans, can be contemplated and expressed through them in the form of aura. 

I.  Aura as mémoire involontaire

“[These data] are lost to the memory that seeks to retain them.”
–Walter Benjamin

            By investing an object with the ability to return our gaze, we establish a distance between it and us.  Since “only what has not been experienced explicitly and consciously, what has not happened to the subject as an experience, can become a component of the mémoire involontaire,” the aura is implicit, intangible, inapproachable.   

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The name

One random day, the following thoughts struck me:

The only thing a parent gives to a child from the very beginning is a name.  We all make our own decisions and go our own ways as we grow older, but most of us do not change our names.  And that’s where i see the power of the name.  We fight all kinds of labels as we enter and make our way into society.  Here is just an example of what someone’s daily mantra might be:  “I am not just a Catholic woman, i am not just a Puerto Rican woman, i am not just a hispanic woman, i am not just a woman—i am a human being.”  And yet we gladly accept the most existential label of all:  our name.  Why might that be?  We blindly accept it and don’t question it.  By the time we’re toddlers, we just know what our name is—what we are called, how we are labeled.  Does it not seem weird that we accept the most important label—our identity, in the purest sense of the word—from our parents?  But in a way, that’s what gives our names a curious sentimental history; the fact that they are the only thing given to us that stays with us explicitly from our birth to our death as long as we accept it.  Like a mystical gift from the man and woman who created us.

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questions on the loo, issue #3: Visual culture

the-eye

(image via my professor’s powerpoint)

I was reading about the advent of electricity, when i came across an interesting idea:  that lighting is a “powerful symbolic medium”.  It never ceases to amaze me how powerful lighting is in the media and art.  Lighting is the lifeline of everything from store signs to the interior and exterior of any kind of venue.  The backbone of photography is the use of light, both natural and artificial.  Light pervades the media, art, technology.  Light allows us to see.  But why is sight so valued?  Why aren’t we equally preoccupied with sound or smell or anything else we can sense?  For some reason, we focus so much on visuals and not enough on everything else.  You say “art,” and the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is some kind of visual art, most likely a painting, but that’s certainly not the only type of art there is.  Although a lot of recent technology and art has been pushing the limits of our senses, especially sight, we’re still very much a visual culture.  The question is, why?  Here are some of my thoughts:

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