The Ironic Imperative

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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Lúthien » Mon Jan 02, 2017 5:54 am

Meneldur Olvarion wrote:
Lúthien wrote:[...] But every good thing can be taken too far (isn't that part of the dynamic of Hegelian dialectics?)...
I be bowin' out o' dis discussion now, y'all be startin' to speak Farsi on me. I still be listenin', I jus' be in da shade wit' my corn-cob pipe down by da crick. ;)
No need to bail out :)

Sorry, I got carried away a bit. What I mean is just something I learned in high school about how political or philosophical ideas develop over time: first they are stated and gain a following. This stage is called "thesis".

Then, as the idea continues to grow and gain foothold, a counterforce develops. This is called "anti-thesis".
And over time, thesis and anti-thesis merge together and form a "synthesis".

I understand that this sort of summarises and reflects Hegel's ideas but the terms were never used by himself; they were coined by Johann Fichte.


So what I meant to say is that "taking a good idea too far" can be seen as just a stage in the process of dialectics and will thus naturally lead to antithesis and synthesis over time.
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Mon Jan 02, 2017 6:38 am

Lúthien wrote:[...] What I mean is just something I learned in high school about how political or philosophical ideas develop over time: first they are stated and gain a following. This stage is called "thesis".

Then, as the idea continues to grow and gain foothold, a counterforce develops. This is called "anti-thesis".
And over time, thesis and anti-thesis merge together and form a "synthesis".
I've seen the shifting back-and-forth polarities quite a few times in my life with fads, which probably aren't the same thing but seem related to me. The reason I usually avoid philosophical subjects is that they seem arbitrary and capricious to me. There doesn't seem to be much attempt to define a metric, unlike in the sciences. Cognitive Science being an example of one in which metrics are hard to come up with, but at least attempts are made.

Without a metric, it (mostly) seems like opinion to me. Not that I don't like some opinion writers (e.g., Charles M. Blow), but I'm just saying.

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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Lúthien » Mon Jan 02, 2017 9:45 am

Well, philosophy is indeed a qualitative business.
But that doesn't mean that it is necessary arbitrary and capricious. Maybe you could see it as establishing a framework to understand the world with.

I'm not so very well read in philosophy either. I read quite a bit of Plato because I enjoyed it (I would recommend the Symposion dialogue about the nature of love in any case). Other than that I've read a few overviews and of course Robert Pirsig.

Since I think that postmodernism is largely bollocks, I don't waste my time with people like Boudrillard et al.
Maybe my antipathy is not justified, but I've never had a good reason to change my views.

But Plato is absolutely fascinating, and so are key figures like Nietzsche, Hegel, Hume etcetera.

The interesting thing about Pirsig is that he identifies the conflict between Socrates and the Sophists (won by Socrates) as the root cause behind our inability to perceive the reality of quality. I still wonder whether that is related to the point of the cultural blind spot for the reality of he imagination that I'm trying to make in that medium article.

Anyhow, sorry for the sidetrack.
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Taurandir » Mon Jan 02, 2017 3:28 pm

I've done a bit of reading in philosophy. It is very much is trying to understand concepts in concrete practical terms, but it is attempting to grapple with the great ineffable problems of existence. Many fields of human endeavor used to be considered a branch of philosophy; such as logic, cosmology, biology, physics, etc. As the philosophers in question solved basic problems their work spun off into separate fields of thought. The point of philosophy is that it is not opinion. Philosophers are trying to honestly discover core truths about the nature of existence. Some lines of inquiry are apparently insoluble, such as the possibility of the existence of God, but the rules of logic must be followed to reach valid conclusions. Statements of opinion are not philosophy and are rejected.

I think the problem is the word "philosophy", like the word "theory", has developed a corrupted meaning in popular usage. People say something is "their philosophy" when what they really mean is something is a deeply held personal belief. A true philosopher has to place all his beliefs on the cutting board for examination and possible rejection. Another problem is that most philosophers are terrible writers. Yet a third problem is the subject matter is extraordinarily complex and hard to follow, and it's not really needed to live your life anyway.

I listen to a podcast called Philosophy Bytes. In each episode they interview a different professional philosopher about a different subject. The episodes are only 15 or 20 minutes long, which is nice. One question they asked each person was "what is philosophy?". They then had one episode which was all the answers one after the other. It was fascinating. They were almost all different. The most common answer was though, "philosophy is how to think".
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Taurandir » Mon Jan 02, 2017 3:30 pm

Lúthien wrote:I'm not so very well read in philosophy either. I read quite a bit of Plato
A common saying in philosophy is that the entire history of Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato's works.
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Lúthien » Mon Jan 02, 2017 4:13 pm

Ah yes, I read that one indeed :)
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Lúthien » Mon Jan 02, 2017 5:06 pm

I'll try and rewrite that post I lost.

The first thing that I wanted to say is that I'm surprised by the answers. I'm very glad with Taurandir's defence of Mr. Bloom, because I think there is nothing better than to have a (slightly) negative opinion refuted.
I love it when that happens, in any case.

I was aware that my initial opinion had a very narrow basis: reading an article where he lashed out to Harry Potter, and a third-party account telling about his general distaste for fantasy. I would still maintain that that's a silly distaste to have. Maybe that's indeed a case of type prejudice as was pointed out, though I also would think that a person of Mr. Bloom's intellect would be able to rise above that.

Therefore I think that it's not just his personal pet peeve, but something that is much more deeply rooted. You see this hatred of fantasy (or of any meddling with the primary consensus reality) with many people.

In one of his lectures, 'Tolkien Professor' Corey Olsen speaks about it, and in particular about he unexpected ferocious intensity of those feelings: it's not just that some people dislike fantasy as in, say, the same manner that they might not care much about potted petunias or Bruce Springsteen. No: people who dislike fantasy seem to pretty much resent it.

That has always fazed me. I think I described in that lost post how I found myself in more or less the opposite camp as the fantasy-hater because of the kind of literature we were made to read at school.
This was supposedly the Real Thing, Literature with a capital R. While we certainly read some captivating, good books - mostly early or classic stuff, eg. Beowulf for English - modern literature seemed to be entirely composed of unspeakably dreary accounts of people who were on a quest "to come to terms with themselves".
The protagonists invariably suffered from addictions, a traumatised youth, growing up in a criminal neighbourhood and awkward sexual frustrations.

I understand that this might lend itself well for psychological musings, if that sort of thing interests you - but I found familiarising myself with these protagonist's inner lives excruciatingly boring and unappealing. It may have given me some insight in how frustrated people think, but that's pretty much it. I certainly didn't have a good time reading any of that; I did become a better person because of it and I did not in any way feel enriched in any way.

It's not that I never tried after school either. I once set myself to reading James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" - diving right into Ulysses might be a bit too much, after all ;) - it was not a very thick book either.
But my goodness - three quarters of the book is filled with regurgitating the vivid and gruesome tales of what Hell should be like that were apparently mandatory for kids growing up in Ireland in the late 19th century.
All that it did to me was leave me in a gloomy mood. If that's what "modern Literature" is about, on top of what I related above about reading Literature in school, the choice between that and Fantasy that ain't Literature isn't very hard.

Tolkien might not have given me great psychological insight about his protagonist's inner lives. But he has enthralled me, captivated me and enchanted me. He has fanned the sparks of my imagination, offered consolation and food for thought. His stories learn people what mercy is and what a seemingly insignificant individual can accomplish.
He offers hope.
Reading his work has made me develop into a more complete person than I would have been without him.
And above all else: if you are open to such things, his stories can be transfigurative. Well, that is what this board is about.

This is, in magnitude and in quality, so far removed from anything that I have ever felt stirring by reading what is deemed Literature that there really is no comparison possible.

Maybe I have read the wrong books, or just bad examples of Literature.
And as I said above, poetry is something else. In The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Kahn I did sense something powerful. But never as yet in prose.
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Taurandir » Mon Jan 02, 2017 6:02 pm

Lúthien wrote: I would still maintain that that's a silly distaste to have. Maybe that's indeed a case of type prejudice as was pointed out, though I also would think that a person of Mr. Bloom's intellect would be able to rise above that.
I don't think Harold Bloom is an example of type-prejudice. He doesn't express a rabid hatred of fantasy as a genre, just specific works in particular. He does include many works of fantasy in his list of what makes up the Western canon, but they in no way make up a majority. I think his problem is the quality of most fantasy literature (based on his particular criteria as a literary critic).
-Raúl

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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Lúthien » Mon Jan 02, 2017 7:56 pm

This topic is getting too complex. Maybe we should split it.

Even the original point consists of two parts: one is about irony dominating contemporary culture, the other about whether or not there exists a link between that cultural ironic position and the cultural appreciation of the imagination.

I mentioned Mr. Bloom as an example, but he turns out to be somewhat of a gnostic as well - even though what I read about him goes straight against the kind of imaginative sensitivity associated with fairy-tales, therewith in essence denying a gnostic dimension associated with (some) fantasy. Instead, he advocates a kind of subcrearion not associated with the mythopoetic imagination but with (psychological) literature of a certain caliber.

And on top of the confusion born from postulating this alternative kind of sub-creation - one that suggest an imaginative realm that is not "Faerian" but rather populated with the creations of contemporary serious literature - there seems to be a deep (and unavoidable, it seems) deep enmity between those two realms. Or, in any case, this "new" realm is usually hostile against the ancient faerian realm.

And lastly, I'm under the impression that it is hard to talk about Mr. Bloom without it becoming somewhat personal for Taurandir, thus turning part of the discussion in a kind of be-careful-to-not-step-on-anyones-toes minefield.

Please correct me if I misunderstand you, but I find it all quite confusing by now.
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Lúthien » Mon Jan 02, 2017 8:24 pm

Übermensch wrote:Along the same lines that Skookum pointed out, I think this may be an example of type prejudice.
(...)
I know that it often plays a role in critics of Jung's work, so it may be a factor in regards to critics of Tolkien's work as well. S)
Sorry that it took me so long to get around to answering your post. Taurandir's points stir up a lot to think about.

Anyhow, I think you do have a good point there. I just said something to the effect of that I would think that someone like Harold Bloom should be able to rise above type prejudice, but on second thoughts, it may be so that the definition of what Literature is (belongs to the canon) is itself a kind of type prejudice like you suggest ... that it singles out a certain mode of consciousness, while the mythopoetic mode engages other parts of our mind (soul).

Actually, this makes things less confusing again. This way it makes sense that those two modes seem so at odds with one another, even why that seems a bigger problem for some people than for others - e.g., the ratio seems to have more trouble accepting the soul than the other way around. It makes some sense to consider "great literature" as be sublimely creative within the confines of the ratio; likewise as with sublime creations in the mythopoetic realm, these subcreations could achieve a measure of reality (as Harold Bloom states).

The bee in the bonnet is still "why the enmity?" though. I can shift between the rational and nonrational domains to a degree and I found that here is indeed a fundamental kind of impedance mismatch between the two. I've never found a way to consolidate them in any case, though they don't necessarily fight. I would settle for a kind of respectful "let's agree we don't agree".
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Taurandir » Mon Jan 02, 2017 9:37 pm

And lastly, I'm under the impression that it is hard to talk about Mr. Bloom without it becoming somewhat personal for Taurandir, thus turning part of the discussion in a kind of be-careful-to-not-step-on-anyones-toes minefield.
I guess I can stop defending Harold Bloom because he certainly doesn't need it, but I guess it's kind of difficult to remain quiet while a sort of personal hero is being misrepresented. However, in the interest of not creating bad feelings I'll stand down.

I do think the core of the problem in this discussion is that we do not have the same definitions of "gnosis", "literature" or "fantasy". To continue will only cause further irritation.

I posit the question however; are you looking at the works of Tolkien as a religious text? Do his works play the same role in your worldview that the Bible does for a fundamentalist?
-Raúl

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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Mon Jan 02, 2017 9:46 pm

Taurandir wrote:[...] I posit the question however; are you looking at the works of Tolkien as a religious text? Do his works play the same role in your worldview that the Bible does for a fundamentalist?
In my case, more like the Qur'an does for a Sufi (roughly), but I don't speak for anyone else.

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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Taurandir » Mon Jan 02, 2017 10:26 pm

If you don't mind me asking, what exactly is the Koran to a Sufi (as compared to an everyday ol' Muslim, say)?

For my part, dozens and dozens of books are sacred to me. They all reveal part of the mystery somehow.

I guess what I was really asking is if Tolkien (or his message) is beyond criticism.
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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Tue Jan 03, 2017 1:17 am

Taurandir wrote:If you don't mind me asking, what exactly is the Koran to a Sufi (as compared to an everyday ol' Muslim, say)?
Well, as in other religions, in Islam there exists a continuum between strict Scripturalists and Mystics/Experientialists. Sunni's are pretty far at the Scripture-alone end and Sufi's are on the opposite Mystical pole with Shi'as covering the area in between. The reason I chose Sufi's as a metaphor is that from what the Wikipedia and other sites on Sufism report, it's closer to my personal worldview and M.O. than fundamentalist Christians -- i.e., there is a lot more subtlety.
I guess what I was really asking is if Tolkien (or his message) is beyond criticism.
Only in the sense that criticism is mostly orthogonal to the data-set. From my POV, it would be like criticizing someone's trip-report on Erowid. It can of course be done, but the results won't mean much, other than to reveal the likes and dislikes of the critic. Luthien uses the useful expression, "That's not right; it's not even wrong" for such a situation. Although whether she would use that here, I don't know.

But again, this is my worldview. Others may have different takes on the issue.

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Re: The Ironic Imperative

Post by Lúthien » Tue Jan 03, 2017 10:49 am

Taurandir wrote: I guess I can stop defending Harold Bloom because he certainly doesn't need it, but I guess it's kind of difficult to remain quiet while a sort of personal hero is being misrepresented. However, in the interest of not creating bad feelings I'll stand down.
Don't get me wrong: I very much appreciate you giving more insight to his ideas. As I said above, I think it is great if a negative prejudice is proven wrong.

But on the other hand, I only mentioned him as the bearer of an anti-Tolkien (or broader, anti-Fantasy) sentiment.
I don't want to, or have any interest in dissing anyone as a person, though you can't always avoid that if a person identifies strongly is with a certain idea.

What interests me is how the imagination got its current cultural underdog position and how to remedy that. Mr. Bloom is of special interest here because he's considered as somewhat representative for Literature, not as a person; and even more because of what you told about him considering himself as a gnostic as well.
That complicates the discussion but also makes it more interesting.

It is in any case not my intention to be dissing anyone (any mentioning of people considering him a "gasbag" were only meant to sketch the sort of opinions that I encountered online).

I found it difficult to sense if you were really being very sensitive about any criticism on Mr. Bloom or that you were sort of half-joking. That made me feel a bit uncertain about which sensitivities to respect where - while I wouldn't expect such things to complicate our discussion here. That's why I asked.

So, as far as I'm concerned we're not into dissing persons; but at the same time I think that personal likes or dislikes should not burden discussions beyond what's generally considered well-mannered.

Taurandir wrote:I do think the core of the problem in this discussion is that we do not have the same definitions of "gnosis", "literature" or "fantasy". To continue will only cause further irritation.
If you think so, why not try and clarify that?

I don't think that this causes irritation though. It may cause confusion though, so nailing those terms down is a good idea.
Taurandir wrote:I posit the question however; are you looking at the works of Tolkien as a religious text? Do his works play the same role in your worldview that the Bible does for a fundamentalist?
Given all that we talked about in the past months (here and via e-mail), I'd think that it should be abundantly clear the answer is "no" ;)

So, why do you ask?
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