Sunday, July 1, 2012

culled from 'the stone' - work of electronic literature

But what is literature? That in itself might appear to be a philosophical question. Yet the most persuasive answer, to my mind, was supplied by a novelist, Evelyn Waugh. (Well, not just a novelist — also the most versatile master of English prose in the last 100 years.) “Literature,” Waugh declared, “is the right use of language irrespective of the subject or reason of utterance.” Something doesn’t have to rhyme or tell a story to be considered literature. Even a VCR instruction manual might qualify, or a work of analytic philosophy. (Waugh, as it happens, was not a fan of analytic philosophy, dismissing it as “a parlor game of logical quibbles.”)
And what is “the right use of language”? What distinguishes literature from mere communication, or sheer trash? Waugh had an answer to this too. “Lucidity, elegance, individuality”: these are the three essential traits that make a work of prose “memorable and unmistakable,” that make it literature.

It may be that the most strikingly obscure continental writing  (e.g., of the later Heidegger and of most major French philosophers since the 1960s) is a form of literary expression, producing a kind of abstract poetry from its creative transformations of philosophical concepts.  

Still, I sympathize with one motive behind naturalism — the aspiration to think in a scientific spirit. It’s a vague phrase, but one might start to explain it by emphasizing values like curiosity, honesty, accuracy, precision and rigor. What matters isn’t paying lip-service to those qualities — that’s easy — but actually exemplifying them in practice — the hard part. We needn’t pretend that scientists’ motives are pure. They are human. Science doesn’t depend on indifference to fame, professional advancement, money, or comparisons with rivals. Rather, truth is best pursued in social environments, intellectual communities, that minimize conflict between such baser motives and the scientific spirit, by rewarding work that embodies the scientific virtues. Such traditions exist, and not just in natural science.
More From The Stone
Read previous contributions to this series.
The scientific spirit is as relevant in mathematics, history, philosophy and elsewhere as in natural science. Where experimentation is the likeliest way to answer a question correctly, the scientific spirit calls for the experiments to be done; where other methods — mathematical proof, archival research, philosophical reasoning — are more relevant it calls for them instead. 
We need finally to break with the dogma that you are something inside of you — whether we think of this as the brain or an immaterial soul — and we need finally take seriously the possibility that the conscious mind is achieved by persons and other animals thanks to their dynamic exchange with the world around them (a dynamic exchange that no doubt depends on the brain, among other things). Importantly, to break with the Cartesian dogmas of contemporary neuroscience would not be to cave in and give up on a commitment to understanding ourselves as natural. It would be rather to rethink what a biologically adequate conception of our nature would be.

Scanning tunneling microscope image showing the individual atoms making up this gold (100) surface. Reconstruction causes the surface atoms to deviate from the bulkcrystal structure and arrange in columns several atoms wide with pits between them.

like atoms of stone
these links form a whole
from what could be imagined
as a porous thing or web

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