Saturday, November 13, 2010

blog adultery

Sometimes I write more substantively on other people's blogs than on my own. God knows why. Here are some recent examples.

1. A comment left over at Lee's blog in response to his post about his father's new philo book, which says in part:

Complexity is our friend! I was in religious studies, after all, so I had to digest plenty of philosophy, from classical Greek thinking to analytical philo to the painfully garbled nonsense that is postmodernist "thought." Not to say that I feel totally at home when tackling pure, raw philo; one blog I read routinely leaves me feeling as if my brain were about to explode (here's a sample post from that blog, just so you can feel that feeling, too).

In philo, it's often necessary to go backward before going forward: if one encounters a term or set of terms with which one is unfamiliar, a bit of background reading may be necessary before one can make it past the passage on which one is stuck. I had trouble slogging through Bernard Lonergan's Method in Theology for that reason: the book assumed that the reader had read Lonergan's previous works, and employed concepts that, for the uninitiated, should have been more carefully unpacked. (Lonergan on method: "A method is a normative pattern of recurrent and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results." That's pretty clear. But then there's this doozy: "A term of meaning is what is meant." I still have no idea what that means.)

Philosophers tend to operate in several different modes. Sometimes they're building on their own previous thoughts. Sometimes they're teasing out the implications of the thoughts of others. And very often they're reinventing the wheel-- crafting and using their own terms as they create (or should I say describe?) complex metaphysical structures. Sometimes the only way to decode and navigate those structures is by reading their earlier work; otherwise, it's a bit like stepping into the middle of a conversation between strangers. That's probably why I resented the profs who made us read works like Heidegger's Being and Time or Gadamer's Truth and Method without prepping us for those torrents of unfamiliar vocabulary.

2. A comment at Mike's blog in response to his quirky Tarantino/Kurosawa short story, which says in part:

I’m simultaneously reminded of the crazy officer at the beginning of “Dances with Wolves” (“I’ve pissed in my pants, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it” — or something like that), and the prose of James Clavell, who often used the term “void” (空) in that same sense [i.e., as a place to which slain warriors are dispatched].

I never quite understood Clavell’s usage: the Chinese character gong does indeed mean, variously, “void,” “vacuity,” “vanity” (in the Ecclesiastes/Lao-tzu “all is vanity” sense), and “emptiness,” but as a metaphysical concept, it’s intimately associated with Buddhism (空 = sunyata = emptiness), and wouldn’t have referred to a place to which people go when they die, as if gong meant “netherworld.” In Buddhism, all phenomena already participate in emptiness by lacking permanence and/or aseity (being-in-itselfness, if you will).

Then again, folk beliefs often trump dry metaphysics. Perhaps the Japanese warriors of the day had their own idiosyncratic beliefs about what comes after this life. Clavell knew a hell of a lot about Japan, so [maybe] I should cut him some slack.

3. A comment at Malcolm's blog, in response to his annoyance at the PC replacement of "customer" with "guest" in some New York establishments, which says in part:

Interestingly enough, there are at least two commonly used words for “customer” in Korean. The technical (or should I say generic?) term, go-gaek, comes from two Chinese characters. It simply means “customer.” In stores and restaurants, however, one often hears son-nim, which might be translated as “honored guest.” (The “nim” is an honorific particle, as in Yaesu-nim for “Jesus” or Bucheo-nim for “Buddha” or seonsaeng-nim for “teacher.”) So for me, switching “customer” out for “guest” doesn’t sound so grating.

At some point, I'm sure I'll get back to writing substantively on my own blog.


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