Posted by: HAT | February 1, 2008

This Morning, 4 a.m.

 What I wrote this morning: First, it’s been extraordinarily difficult making time to do serious work on this project.  It would seem this would be easy, since I’m not teaching and theoretically my part-time job requires fewer hours than teaching.  In reality, however, as usual, this has proved not exactly correct – between the recent imperative to exercise, along with its practical requirements (time of day), demands for doing stuff for the household, and the practical demands made by 9 year old swimmers, to say nothing of my own slowness, and [being honest] my life-long aversion to productivity . . . so something has to change!!

This reminds me of Krishnamurti’s question:  can we change?  The more I think about it, the more profound this seems.  Because – how would a person change, herself?  If a person could change, would it have to be because she were in some measure already what she was trying to change into?  But then it wouldn’t be “change” as much as it would be selecting a different option to exercise.  If I really envisioned becoming something I am not, really not, how would I go about that?  How would I go about becoming something I am not?  How does a person acquire a set of entirely new attributes?  How does a situation do it?  The question of change, and what is involved in change, is really perplexing when you come to think about it.

Of course, it depends on what kind of change we are talking about, too.

Growth is a kind of change.  And yet – now thinking about Hegel – the pattern for the changes involved in growth is already set by the inner nature of the thing/organism that is growing.  (Hegel says acorns and oaks.)  Not that Hegel talks about that kind of growth as if it were smooth, or is even really (?) thinking about that kind of change.  Because it doesn’t really seem that acorns develop dialectically into oaks.  And dialectical development doesn’t really seem to be the kind of development that proceeds as outlined by the inner nature of a seed aiming to become a tree, or even something analogous, though the self-realization of Spirit no doubt does fit that description.

With respect to utopia:  how does the present or how would the present become utopia, or even something closer to utopia?  It’s no coincidence that in literary utopias, there are discontinuities, either of space (Thomas More’s remote island, inaccessible) or of time (all the futures that are on the other side of some profound political revolution, whether or not peaceful, whether or not complete) or both.  Even with the utopian communities, the setting up of alternative quarters is always involved:  moves to the New World, or moves west, or the move to Brooke Farm, or the establishment of the Phalanx, or whatever.

[At which point I might point out the at-least-superficial similarity between utopian communities and certain religious ones:  the move to Plymouth or Massachusetts Bay, or Nauvoo – Salt Lake, or Munster, or Canaan, or (ahem) Jonestown or Waco.  (Or upriver, à la Joseph Conrad & Kurz.)

So the problem of change has something to do with the problem of continuity, as the problem of difference has something to do with sameness/non-difference or in-difference.  Back to Chanter, Levinas, and most recently ***author of Jewish Messianism and the History of Philosophy*** which I haven’t been able to finish reading for lack of focus.  Whether it is desirable to be able to think about difference without relating it to sameness – I don’t know.  Is the point there that we would want to get out of the structuring paradigm, the one our already-trained minds impose on what we are encountering, that invariably gets to know (to the extent it does get to know) whatever is different or encountered as different through the structures of different/same?  Not having read Levinas, I am guessing here.

But let me think about a different Jewish messianic fragmentary thinker.  Let me think about whoever it was who said “The Kingdom of God is like a woman who took three measures of flour and mixed in yeast, until the whole loaf was leavened.”  [sorry, working from memory, don’t want to take time to look it up – I’m sure something is not quite right about that quote]  That’s a utopian statement.  The Kingdom of God is a utopian symbol.  [Tillich would surely agree.]  It’s a more apt utopian symbol than heaven, really.  Although sometimes the idea is rendered Kingdom of Heaven, but mostly, I think, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, and that symbol seems to have to do with radical change, that people would experience as such, and would be able to continue to experience as having to do with quality of life.  It’s a communal and political symbol (by the inclusion of the term “kingdom”).  And that sentence is a model of radical change:  the change from flour to bread.  But when it comes to that change from flour to bread, there is (analyzing the situation here) an external agency involved – the woman who mixes, who brings the materials together. 

So if a person wants to find herhimself in that little description, would shehe be the woman, or the flour, or the yeast, or the mixing, or the final product, or in the final product, or . . . ?  Or any and all of those elements, on any given point of observation or particular reading? 

I think it is important to pay attention to the utopian element of the symbol of the Kingdom of God.

Another thing:  about “how people think about things.”  One way to think about the connection or connections between utopian thinking or utopian discourse and religion/religious discourse/religious thought and aesthetics/aesthetic discourse or aesthetic gesture – obviously I’m not wanting to be terribly precise here – is “terms” or concepts and contexts.  That is:  I can cast my utopian expectation (or in other words, my desire), thematize it maybe is a way to say it that connects with something that makes sense to some of us, in religious forms – I can talk about bringing in or ushering in or seeking the Kingdom of God, or waiting for the World to Come, or working for the realm of Islam, or making an effort to reach the Pure Land.  If I do that, I emphasize some features of the utopian expectation, and situate it in relation to certain other structures, themes, institutions, practices, systems or networks of ideas, and so on.  A lot has already happened, a lot I already know or think, and whatever I think about that ideal, it’s not by any means independent (again – obviously not wanting to be terribly precise, not to say “it’s determined” or “it’s constructed” by all that, not as if there are no opportunities for a little freshness to enter into my or anyone’s thinking about this ideal, but there are also some limits to that novelty, that freshness, that are set by the whole apparatus with which this thinking about the ideal is being conducted) of all that I’m situating it in relation to. 

I think this general idea – that it matters how I’m going about thinking of something – is important to remember when talking about “utopia and its religious connection” or “utopia and its aesthetic connection,” this is one way of understanding what that means, why that is important. 

To continue with the aesthetic piece, if I am thinking about or thematizing utopia, or the ideal human community, along the lines of what it looks like, what it feels like, its positives and negatives, its sensuous delightfulness – and again, we could if we were so inclined examine every aspect of what makes any particular description a description of sensuous delightfulness, and that would be pretty illuminating, more about the describer than about whatever actual ideal we might one day like to enter – that’s an aesthetic mode.  [There’s an aside here, too, I’ll try to come back to.]  So this is part of what it means to say that utopia is an aesthetic idea, has an aesthetic character.

The aside I was working on is this:  it makes a difference if I’m thinking, from an aesthetic point of view, about something I’m going to be looking at, which is largely how we describe things in certain kinds of art forms and conversations, or something I’m going to be experiencing, participating in, which is largely how we describe things in certain other kinds of art forms and conversations, like dancing and coaching, or doing a sport.  And to some degree, in those latter activities, there is a problem of translating what someone sees (say, the coach, or the judge, or the spectator) into what someone feels and does (say, the athlete, or the dancer, or the musician).  The aesthetics of watching, if this is an intelligible phrase, differs from the aesthetics of doing, of performing.

It’s a little intriguing to me that a lot of utopian discourse is about outward description, how the thing looks.  More, again, is a good example.  But presumably, the utopian reality would be performative.  The utopian communities, then, would be instructive in that regard.  And, of course, it would be hard to get good utopian coaching – it’s a variety of the Archimedean problem, not having a place to stand.

Now:  does this constitute working on my dissertation?  I don’t know, but I don’t know how I’m going to manage to do anything without doing this.  The main problem I have, really, is that I have to think about other things so much.

Points:

The Kingdom of God is a utopian symbol

The body of ideas in relation to which a person thematizes utopia or the ideal/desirable community matters in some way.

Chief bodies of ideas for this purpose have been religious, and aesthetic.  [Indeed, this brings up once again the inner relations of religion and art, as well as the divorce between religion and art in the modern period.]

And we’re back to the problem of thematizing the object of desire, and of ascertaining its objective desirability.

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Responses

  1. Your analysis of Krishnamurti and the question of change is quite fascinating. It gives one pause to reflect, especially since I’ve been a student of his teachings for decades.

  2. Thanks, although I don’t know that it’s terribly profound or original. But it’s interesting to me how often something Krishnamurti talked about comes back, as relevant, in thinking about western philosophy. Similar problems, fundamental insights. My father is a decades-long student of K’s as well, so the influence is inescapable — not that that’s a bad thing.

  3. If you don’t mind I would like to paste the section about change on the Kinfonet website (a K discussion group)so others might have something to say about it.

  4. Sure, that would be fine with me.

  5. Krishnamurti’s ‘s magic was his being in possession of the gift of LOVE. It’s really all that simple, though very rare are those who are blessed with such a gift!

    Bob M.

  6. I posted your observation on the following discussion board where you can read the responses. Unfortunately, you have to request a password to post anything in response. ken

    http://www.kinfonet.org/Discussion_Forums/sEnglish_Forum/showmessage.asp?messageID=100072

  7. I see that Love is just not welcomed here. And I guess its sister Truth isn’t either. But then I understand.

    Love,

    Bob M.

  8. Perhaps I must eat some crow and say that apparently the Truth is indeed welcomed here. Which is certainly a good thing as it’s the Truth and the Truth alone that sets one free from the bondage of self, and certainly not the endless and often well-polished monkey business I see here on the net virtually wall-to-wall.

    Bob M.

  9. “The Kingdom of God can never be fulfilled in time and space. Every Utopianism is doomed
    to metaphysical disappointment. However
    changeable human nature may be, it is not
    amenable to fundamental moral correction.
    Improvement in education and environment may
    serve to raise the general ethical level of people and to polish its original crudeness, but such improvements do not affect the freedom to do good and evil as long as man is man. Mankind does not become better; good and evil are merely raised to a higher plane.”
    [Paul Tillich – ‘On The Boundary’]

    Bob M.

  10. Calvin had often condemned the world for its “disorder;” conversely he indentified the
    restoration of order with the sovereignty of
    God. “No order can be said to prevail in the
    world,” he declared, “until God erects his
    throne and rules among men.”

    And remember here too that 10 days before J. Krishnamurti died he maintained absolutely that NO ONE he knew of ‘lived the teachings’, or one could very well also say that no one had radically CHANGED and dwelled in the state of liberation and love that he did.

    Bob M.

  11. “There are three monks, who had been sitting in deep meditation for many years amidst the Himalayan snow peaks, never speaking a word, in utter silence. One morning, one of the three suddenly speaks up and says, ‘What a lovely morning this is.’ And he falls silent again. Five years of silence pass, when all at once the second monk speaks up and says, ‘But we could do with some rain.’ There is silence among them for another five years, when suddenly the third monk says, ‘Why can’t you two stop chattering?”

    http://www.katinkahesselink.net/kr/jokes.html
    http://picasaweb.google.com/serendipidad0/FotosDeJidduKrishnamurti#


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