Archive for the ‘ Philosophy ’ Category

Heidegger, Dialectic, & Simba

The Lion King is known for being one of the greatest Disney films of all time. Until last night it had been quite a while since I’ve watched it — and this time I couldn’t help going through some analysis. So as not to ramble, I’ll begin by laying out the basic dialectical structure of the story.

Thesis = Mufasa. The start of Simba’s life is the start of his philosophical growth. In all honesty, there is not a lot we see of Mufasa. He tells Simba about the social structures of their kingdom, he gives a hunting lesson, and he dies. However, in this short time Mufasa makes himself out to be the most Heideggerian character in the movie. Yes, I am allowing the assumption that an anthropomorphic entity can be Dasein given the context of fiction. His whole “Circle of Life” spiel is essentially a leonine articulation of Bewandtnis (which Macquarrie & Robinson translate as “involvement”). Bewandtnis or Bewenden more crucially refer to the fact that the world is turning or that it is bent. All that equipment (for lions: gazelle, grass, weather, etc.) is tangled together. The understood state-of-mind (Befindlichkeit) Mufasa articulates is one of responsibility — the world matters to him. He has concern for it and solicitude for Others. We may also note that Mufasa ignores Zazu when he begins recounting gossip (idle-talk, a clear sign of the they-world). We will return to Mufasa later.

Antithesis = Timon and Pumbaa, the hippies. My sense of Hakuna Matata is a total immersion into the they-world. All is given over to ambiguity. The past is behind you, you merely flit from one grub to the next. Indeed, Timon and Pumbaa’s strong emphasis on eating (which almost gets Pumbaa killed) is a brilliant depiction of lust for the new. Simba learns from them how not to worry about anything. Maybe the lack of red meat in his diet is what causes his voice to be higher-pitched than all of the females in the film.

Synthesis = Rafiki. This half-senile, poo-flinging wizard effectively combines Timon and Pumbaa’s willful covering of the past with Mufasa’s Circle of Life business. Basically, the moral is “The past can hurt… but you can either hide from it or learn from it!” I’m pretty sure Mufasa would not disagree. Actually, I get the sense that Mufasa and Rafiki may not be in total philosophical agreement. When King Hamlet’s ghost… I mean, when Mufasa’s ghost appears to Simba, he tells his son to remember who he is as an individual. I would argue that the conversation between Simba and his ghost-dad represents a call of conscience in the Heideggerian sense. The content of the call is nothing, and it merely comes from Simba to Simba. It is a call from his Self to his Self — it goes over the they-self. Indeed, it pulls him out of the they. Timon and Pumbaa lament that their friend is “doomed” and they are very correct. The call of conscience reveals to us how we have been thrown into the world and the possibility of our Being as Being-towards-death. Because Simba realizes that he has the possibility of having no more possibilities as a Being in-the-world, he is confronted with the question of “What really matters?”

The synthesis, I would argue, is not necessarily what Simba takes. Rafiki’s emphasis on learning from the past doesn’t really have any further importance in the movie. Probably this is because Rafiki has crucially misunderstood what learning is… but that may be another story. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Rafiki. The philosophical construct of “Asante sana, squash banana, wewe nugu, mimi hapana” is dazzling.

The following clip should exemplify some of the things I’ve been babbling about:

(My issue with Rafiki and learning is that he says, “It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past!” but then expects you to learn from something that doesn’t matter.)

Technology with Utility and Beauty

A recent silliness I have encountered is the insistence on SMART Boards as the tool with which education must happen. Obviously, my Heideggerian sympathies prevent me from accepting this. The problem with SMART Boards is not that they are some kind of technology. The problem is that we have no idea what kind of technology they make us. More and more we become ensnared by screens. If it is through these screens that the sum of education happens, then the only world in which humans will be educated is in that screen-world.

As far as usefulness goes, I’m sure SMART Boards are fine. There are two lingering problems. First, the use of SMART Boards chains teachers ever more tightly to what I shall call the Escalation of Methods. The Escalation of Methods states: Novelty and expense are necessary for children to learn. To begin to integrate SMART Boards into the classroom is to bind yourself to the ready-to-hand equipmental technologies associated that come along with it. The second problem arises in the form of The PowerPoint Delusion. This complex is the irrational belief that PowerPoint (or any comparable screen-based information) works. The use of SMART Boards may avoid this to some extent, but any information presentation technology that involves vanishing information is a part of The PowerPoint Delusion.

What of aesthetics? I won’t address this — I’m taking a class on Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art next fall. I will say that other technologies have a greater capacity for beauty than SMART Boards seem to offer:

Linguistic Analysis No. 5 — Learning

Time to write another post. Specifically, a post in which I gripe about edjumucation.

Allow me to share a quote from an edjumucator-in-training. This was his definition of intelligence:

“The ability to understand knowledge in a learning environment enhanced by internal and external factors.”

One might ask, why emphasize “in a learning environment?” A very simple reason. The speaker was talking about schools. Not “learning environments,” but schools. Humans are learning-creatures, we automatically learn. There is no reason environment needs to be factored in if we are approaching intelligence from such a broad perspective. Proximally and for the most part, all environments are learning environments. Yet the linguistic imperative of “learning environment” so often leans towards “school.”

So, I gave this guy’s definition more thought and decided to translate it into common parlance:

“The skill, based on being taught, to recall information in school.”

Notice how edjumucation does not address learning

Another approach to “Dune”

I really like Dune. So, I thought I would look specifically at the novel through a Heideggerian lens. This will be shorter than my first analysis of it.

Before I do that, I want to look at some things in terms of Nietzsche. I suspect that Nietzsche would despise the Bene Gesserit. Their goal seems to be to genetically create an Uebermensch, yet they de-emphasize fear. Indeed, they reassert the idea of fear as bad in the novel’s (most famous) line: “Fear is the mind killer” (8). On the other hand, Muad’Dib’s betrayal of the Bene Gesserit would please ol’ Friedrich. Indeed, the following statement could just as well have come from Thus Spake Zarathustra: “And always, he fought the temptations to choose a clear, safe course, warning ‘That path leads ever down into stagnation'” (218).

So what of Heidegger? He too, I would argue, would not express much pleasure with the Bene Gesserit. One of their proverbs reads:

“Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere. Climb the mountain just a little bit to test that it’s a mountain. From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain.” (69)

I would argue that Heidegger would be disappointed with this proverb because it assumes a merely knowledge-based conception of the world. Being at the top of a mountain may prevent you from seeing the mountain in a purely visual sense. Therefore, you would not know how the mountain appears, but such an ontology is not our complete experience. Rather, we first come to understand the mountain. It is equipment of Nature — an environment. Indeed, the mountain may even be such a ready-to-hand that it appears as the woraufhin: the scene on which things appear, the scene that remains distinct from those things or any-thing. Such a view of the mountain would no longer even allow it to be equipmental. Instead, the mountain as woraufhin would be a world.

My central argument about Dune from a Heideggerian perspective is that place is more important that Herbert suggests. Herbert likes to focus on things like religion and militancy and economics — yet the language he uses betrays a different trope. It seems unintentional, but it permeates the novel.  As I have explained, it is the idea of place, environment, and world that Heidegger would particularly notice; these are ideas with which Herbert spends little time, but they account for much of the representation of humanity.

We need look no farther than the function of the Kwisatz Haderach — whom we come to discover is Paul, Muad’Dib. The Reverend Mother states, “Yet, there’s a place where no Truthsayer can see. We are repelled by it, terrorized. It is said a man will come one day and find in the gift of the drug his inward eye. He will look where we cannot — into both feminine and masculine pasts” (13). Two brilliant things become clear. One, the Reverend Mother again announces the Bene Gesserit obsession with thought only; the Kwisatz Haderach is meant merely to look. Secondly, we see quite overtly that the pasts of men and women, the multitudes, are measured by place. This connection between time and space magnifies and gives meaning to the abilities of the Kwisatz Haderach. Late in the book we see Muad’Dib grapple with the numerous possibilities — many of which even he cannot see. It is only because the world bends in a certain direction (involvement) that allows any possibility whatsoever. Because of the involvement of time and space, the bent world opens, always, the possibility of being aware of our being (as Dasein).

See, I made this one shorter.

Good as Gold

I finished Joseph Heller’s book, Good as Gold, last week. Because the book is old and Heller hasn’t written anything for a few years (which will happen when you’re dead), I don’t want to review the book. I will however do two things:

1) I highly recommend this book. The humor is excellent — bleak, but excellent. The joke about Chaim Potok is worth reading the book.

2) A few comments can be made about Heller’s attacks on contemporary culture. Yes, contemporary even though the book is from the 70’s. Again and again Heller shows the absurdity of the mass consumption ideology. More education = more smartness, more smartness = more money, more money = more happiness. We can think of this in the terms Ivan Illich assigns: we are caught up, thinking that “escalation leads to success.” Heller effectively shows that more, while always more, is not essentially better.  The main character, Bruce Gold (a college professor), rages constantly at his family for their stupidity. We see nothing but hatred for them from him, yet he is unable to cast them from his life. Indeed, the closer Gold gets to a government appointment, the more tightly he finds himself bound to his family. He cheats on his wife with several women, but, in every case, he cannot help but to weigh his mistresses against his domestic obligations.

Thus, we get an overall effect that it classic Heller. The things that are really valuable are not the things that the bulk of society tells us are valuable. Military action, government involvement, and money all splinter in comparison to something(s) else.

Heidegger and the Jedi

Movie marathons are, occasionally, very good for the mind. They relax and captivate. Last night I took part in a Star Wars marathon — we watched only the good movies, the originals. As I watched I consistently found myself in a phenomenological mood. I came to notice two big things.

First, there is a quasi-Heideggerian idea of destiny. The following clip should show this nicely:

Two ideas in Yoda’s speech seem in line with Heidegger. For one, we are told that “once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.” Here we can consider Heidegger and destiny — starting down a path. Once we go down a path, it is indeed very difficult to deviate from its course. Yet we might question Yoda’s wisdom in this. It seems we are to assume that the light side of the Force is then easy to deviate from. Therefore, it is not really the main way of destining and contributes to quite a different way of Being-in-the-World. To follow the light path is not the usual destiny apparent to Dasein at any moment. Proximally and for the most part, our mode of Being-in-the-World has to be the destining of the dark side.

The second item we can gather from Yoda is his proposition of knowledge. He says, “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” We come back to Heidegger’s refusal of Descartes — there is no “Bridge Problem” because the res cogitans and the res extensa are not opposed entities. Rather, Dasein finds her or his  being as Being-in-the-World. One is effectively smeared with the “things” in-the-world, however they appear. Knowing, for Heidegger, then becomes a matter of separating those “things” from the self. It is not a Bridge Problem but a Hygiene Problem: How can Dasein remove those things from her or his concern, how could we look and not touch? Here Yoda fails as a Heideggerian (indeed the Jedi fail as Heideggerians). There is always necessarily concern contained within defense, so to pursue knowledge and defense is a hopeless task. Knowledge, as rigid objectivity, is of supreme difficulty.

Now, to continue an analysis of Star Wars through Heidegger, we must consider that George Lucas was pretty much a hippie. His distinctive focus on the Force (spirit/energy) should be proof enough of this. It could also be argued that the the Ewoks fighting the Empire is an allegory to the Vietnamese and the U.S. (Empires are bad). Though, as a side note, this critique would ignore some pretty racist overtones — notice how it still requires people rebelling from the Empire (hippies) to “save” the Ewoks. I would observe, with a smile, that the Ewoks weren’t really in any kind of danger until after the rebels (hippies) began interfering on Endor. The stormtroopers were just defending their shields from the rebels — the Ewoks didn’t really seem to care too much, and they weren’t getting killed until Han Solo (who was totally Jabba’s drug dealer) decided C3PO should get them involved.

Returning to Heidegger… it might be fun to consider the use of technology. Unfortunately, Lucas hits us with the old complaint that technology is bad. It is useful, but should be avoided — you can’t beat Darth with a blaster, you’ve got to solve your daddy issues to beat him. Heck, the technology of beauty — Art — appears only in the hip music of the bar, Jabba’s seraglio, and the Ewoks (primitive) dance. Thus, one of the main messages that arises from the trilogy is that love and compassion (which appear suspiciously like coincidence and being really lucky) will save humanity. Because technology will doom us unless its really close to nature.

Dang hippies.

A Glorious Autotune

Please, watch the following music video:

I really cannot offer any critique, save for one thing. This is what autotune was designed for. Autotune has received huge amounts of bashing, much of it probably well-deserved. I would argue that it is through music like this that autotune has remarkable potential. Granting song  to non-singing types, particularly innerlekshul types, is something beautiful indeed.

But, for a moment, let us consider a Heideggerian analysis of autotune. In “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger shows that the supreme danger of all technology is that humans presume their mastery. The danger he sees is that we ignore the effects technology has on us, that we merely see technology as something we have created. Heidegger’s analysis applies to the discussion of autotune in two ways. For one, autotune is a technological innovation. Secondly, the Arts are technology. This second point is where it is helpful to have a literary perspective: one of the greatest achievements in literary theory is the consideration of ideology. Although I do become suspicious when so many aspects of literary theory are dependant upon Freud, Marx, Derrida, and Foucault…

So what of Heidegger? My favorite line in the song is, “The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will, one day, venture to the stars.” Heidegger, I believe, would particularly enjoy the first sentence. The sky calls to us — we do not call to the sky. This is classic Heidegger. He uses the word “poiesis” (“bringing forth”)to describe all change, all action, all creation. Specifically, he uses the word “phusis” (related to “physics”) to describe the poiesis of nature. Nature is indeed poetic (N.B. the common root!); the sky does call to us. Heidegger would also like the second quoted sentence. It puts the responsibility on us. We must answer the call of the sky. Human poiesis (i.e. techne) is thereby the response to that call — and it is absolutely a response for which we are responsible.

Heidegger, I would argue, treads the treacherous division between existentialism and essentialism. Given his Nazi involvement, his philosophy is likely to be quite dangerous. But, as he writes, the supreme danger contains the saving power; it is important to tread carefully through Heidegger’s thoughts. Technology (as science or art) as huge potential for disaster (for instance, Twilight), but a still more glorious dawn awaits.

I almost blogged on this article instead. Silly Canadians…