“The World According to Prag, or I See It Feelingly”
It reminded me of two stories, sort of mirror images of each other. One was from John Irving, The World According to Garp, when the protagonist explains to his mom about a man who has magic gloves. In the movie version, Garp says:
What occurred to me was the nice complementarity. Beatrice is poisonous to the world, while the world is poisonous to Garp’s hero. Both make the same choice, but not quite the same. Beatrice chooses to be touched while the man with the magic gloves chooses to touch. It makes me wonder. If I had to choose only one, forsaking the other, would I choose to be able to touch without feeling it myself, or to be able to feel the touch of others without being able to touch them? What would you choose? And what does the choice reveal.
Vicki Walsh who specifically creates it to be touched, although she makes you question whether you would really want to feel it.)
But there is something more going on. When we see something, we touch it through the "medium" of photons. When we hear something, we touch it through the "medium" of sound waves. In the end, even touching something in the regular sense isn’t without a "medium." The electromagnetic fields that surround our bodies encounter those of other so-called "objects" in the practical mode of “solidity.” The electromagnetic and thermodynamic (entropic) systems encounter one another in adorable complexity. But the real issue is not physical or metaphysical, it is moral.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
"Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay"
by Randall Auxier
I asked my spouse, “what does this sign say to you?” She said “serious car wash ahead.” Memory is a very strange thing. On our honeymoon in 1986, we ate in a diner somewhere between Mammoth Cave and Cumberland Falls. At the next table, two thirty-something men were having an enthusiastic conversation about investing in self-service car wash facilities. Given their decibel level, my bride and I couldn’t have a conversation of our own and really couldn’t help listening in. These guys were speaking in code, like listening to the Waffle House waitress call an order to a grizzled cook: “two over well, smothered, covered, and scattered, and put shoes on it.” What?
So we endured discussions of foaming brushes and spray nozzles, and so on. But they kept returning to how many bays you should have to get maximal return on your investment. Three bays or four? They discussed existing facilities, locations, initial land cost, building costs, materials, and how fast an extra bay could pay for itself. It was infinitely interesting (to them). From that day to this, and without warning, my wife will remark, as we drive down the road, “look, four bays,” to which I’ll answer “wonder what kind of nozzles they have.”
I am not the customer those investors were dreaming of. But they got us eventually. A couple of years back I surprised my wife with a classic car for Christmas. She is sentimental about one she had growing up. One our favorite musicians wrote a song about that kind of car. I drove my well-kept secret up to the house on Christmas morning, with a big red bow on top (not easily attached –try it some time). In a few minutes the spouse wandered out in her robe and slippers, noticed it in the driveway, said nothing. “You have a new car,” I offered hopefully. “I have a new car?” Mildly incredulous, she filled her coffee cup and wandered back to the bedroom as both our families kindly suppressed grins. It’s pretty hard to get anything past my wife.
The car was cheap, comparatively speaking. Ninety bucks a year to insure, but there are hidden costs with such investments. For example, this car has to be washed. So I went to my friend Ron, who is an expert in classic cars (well, he has 300 old Pontiacs in his yard –yes, 300). “Ron, how should I wash this thing?” He said, “Well Randy, the old rubber seals won’t take the high-pressure guns at those self-serve places, and that’s the original paint, isn’t it? Well, you can’t take it through a machine.” He said we could use a self serve bay to wash below the windows if we were careful and never sprayed the gun full on, but the best way was a soft cloth and a bucket of soapy water, rinse with a hose and no nozzle.
Here is the spouse washing from the windows down. Note that the car is barefoot, as is the spouse. The car was made in Dallas. The spouse was made in Kentucky. They don’t like shoes in places like Dallas and Kentucky.
But something puzzles me. Back at the big ole six bay wash, where they were doing it wrong, they had this sign. What? Apart from its deteriorating condition, I’m wondering, with the eyes of a highway ontologist, what this sign means. Are tokens less than a dollar to buy? Must I really do math like this, combining my money with some company scrip to avoid touching anything while washing my car? This is a question that has a more general significance, I strongly suspect. I will think about it and get back to you next week.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
“Dangerous Crosswinds May Exist”
by Randall Auxier
Future I-26 doesn’t come up to federal standards for an official “interstate highway.” (Now, now, there can be no civilization without bureaucracy, so don’t go there and I won’t either.) Apparently there are a couple of curves that are too sharp and grades that are too steep, or some such. So somebody has to come up with the money to tear up a perfectly good road and bring it up to federal code. Pretty expensive. No one seems in a great hurry to do it. Hence, this road has been “Future I-26” since 2005. With my fellow motorists I drive into a perpetual “not yet.” I couldn’t help wondering whether I was seeing “Past I-26” in the rearview mirror. Probably not.
This sign, and others like it, have opened up a new branch of philosophy, which I call “Highway Ontology.” This is a study of the modes of temporality, space, and even Being, Itself, based on our difficulty describing things as limited by road signs. We use pictures when we can. But that doesn’t always work. It’s not easy, for instance, to find a picture showing crosswinds. This is what the Irish worked out. To me this seems to say “Used Rough Rider Condom Ahead.”
On the other hand, the state of New Mexico decided to try a more discursive approach. On both I-40 and I-25, one encounters yellow caution signs saying “Dangerous Crosswinds May Exist.” And so they may. No, no, that isn’t strong enough. I insist, as an empiricist that they do, in fact, exist. I have written to the NMDOT, as a philosopher, to advise that they strengthen their stand on this issue. I see this as my civic duty.
I think every highway department may need more than a mere philosophy major as an adviser. I think we might need graduate level radical empiricists, people with expertise in temporality, space, and possibility. I have a feeling that someone pretty advanced came up with this sign in Ireland. It reduces things to their most iconic significance. One need not describe this possibility; one truly sees it. The subtlety of this piece of work is ontologically amazing. It is here, after all, to prevent what it depicts, right? By virtualizing a possibility, it prevents the actuality. And we all thought that possibilities were powerless, but this may be a principle we can appeal to in life as well.
Monday, August 6, 2012
“Days of Miracle and Wonder”
by Randall Auxier
But a quarter century from a milestone moment we shared, as communities, as nations, as a globe . . . well, there’s nothing arbitrary about that. Twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned, and Truth and Reconciliation was an impossible dream. Now it is the finest accomplishment in human history. Paul Simon’s role in the unfolding events of the late-80’s and early-90’s, events that would bring apartheid to an end, is ambiguous. The heavy lifting was done by tens of thousands of ordinary folks with iron wills and soft hearts, almost none of them from our hemisphere. But the Americans needed a symbol, some vessel from which our collective incomprehension of South African suffering could be poured out over the suburbs, sprinkled on the heads of Protestants and Catholics and Jews, incorporating them into the struggle, however lightly.
What Simon learned during his artistic journey was that we knew more about this world than we thought. Something sleeping in the sounds, seeping out of the roots of the Delta rhythms and creeping into our brains still remains. It isn’t just an analogy between American apartheid and the movement that struck it down. Rather, there is something 400 years removed that still calls and answers across the centuries, something that wells up in the body when the beat commences. Our music is African music. Some vestige of the simple freedom song flows over the jerky gyrations of colonizers and middle-passage merchants, smoothing it into a heartbeat. That is what Graceland feels like, and that is what we felt as a culture when we put it on the turntable. Paul Simon was not the songwriter, although he claimed credit perhaps beyond what was appropriate, but he was undoubtedly the conduit through which this remembrance passed from the present into the future. Or so it seems to me 26 years later, northbound on Future I-26 West.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
The girl shown here didn't ask for this war. We should practice "listening between the lines" for those quiet voices for peace, attuning with them, and praying with them.
Kofi Annan has resigned his post as UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, the Washington Post has reported. Annan said “When the Syrian people desperately need action, there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council,” the former U.N. secretary general said, according to a transcript. “It is impossible for me or anyone to compel the Syrian government and also the opposition to take the steps to bring about the political process.”