Watching the Super Bowl with Moby Dick

Captain Ahab would have made a heck of a football coach.  The monomaniacal anti-hero of Melville’s Moby Dick was the harbinger of the death of civilization as we know it.  But dang could he give a pep talk!

Well, ok, there’s probably more to being a good football coach than being able to give a pep talk.  Probably, for instance, you need to know something about football.  And football coaches aren’t really involved in the death of civilization, either.  (More on that later.)  But Ahab’s skill at getting his team up for the match, at getting them ready to sing out in unison, at the top of their lungs “A dead whale or a stove boat!” and really mean it, to believe with all their heart and all their rippling muscles that the only two options for a man in this business are to kill a whale or to be wrecked trying, that is a skill that any great coach needs.  And Ahab had it all in spades.  Even poor, wandering Ishmael, not much more than a second string place-kicker on the Pequod, gets caught up in Ahab’s “quenchless feud”.  “My shouts had gone up with the rest,” he said.

My oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul.

I’m telling you, Rex Ryan has nothing on this guy.

Now, it is probably an utterly mad conceit to examine America’s national obsession with football through the lens of Melville’s Moby Dick.  For one thing, the intersection between Melville lovers and football fans is probably, well, a lot smaller than Troy Polamalu’s hair.  Moreover, the most obvious connection between whaling and football is the brutal and vicious nature of each; and for the purposes of this examination I would like to place that issue completely to the side.  Without underplaying the importance of Greenpeace, we can all agree that theirs is not the most perspicuous or revealing perspective from which to encounter Melville’s work. So too, I submit, for the brutality of football.  There is no doubt it is a brutal sport.  But perhaps it is not bloodlust alone that draws our national attention to it.  Let me propose what I think is a more revealing approach, one that focuses on moodiness and risk.

Neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio and others have made a breathless appeal, over the last twenty years or so, for the importance of the emotions in any account of ourselves.  Affective neuroscience – the branch of neuroscience that studies the neural mechanisms underlying our emotions – is at that early and exciting stage of development in which it is just now publishing the enormous Handbooks that purport to cover all the basics of the field, and which will be discarded in another 15 years when we discover how much we’ve gotten wrong.  Now, it’s not exactly a newly discovered secret that we have an emotional life; literary characters from Dido and Aeneas to Romeo and Juliet would hardly exist without their emotional side.  And the slightly more sophisticated idea that our emotions bias our behavior and decision-making, or that they influence our ability to be rational, should hardly come off as much of a surprise in this literary context either.  But against the background philosophical claim that our essence is to be rational beings – an idea that, it is often asserted, can be found in something like its current form all the way back in Aristotle – against this background idea it is probably right to think that the importance of the emotions hasn’t been given its due.

But Melville’s world – like the world of football – is much more than simply an emotional one.  For emotions are usually understood as private, inner, psychological states, states like titillating happiness or lovesickness or personal depression.  But the moods of Melville’s world, by contrast, are essentially public; like the mood of a football game, they set the tone for what a whole group of people can experience together.  Public moods like these are shared with one another – they are literally contagious – and they change what we can see as important in the world and in the particular situation in which we find ourselves.  When a moment of genuine athletic excellence occurs on the ball field, for example, an overwhelming mood of wonder and joy and amazement whooshes through the crowd like a tidal wave.  People are brought together into a shared community by being caught up in this wave, and sharing such an experience with a family member or a loved one is setting down touchstones in a life that will bring you together through later periods of difficulty. Public moods, therefore, bring out an aspect of human beings that is not just a-rational, but is essentially social, communal, and infused with meaning.  Football can literally bring meaning to life.

Indeed, Moby Dick presents public moods as the salvation of the West.  Although a minor character in Ahab’s world, Ishmael is the biblically proportioned protagonist of Moby Dick who literally begins the world anew; he is the book’s only survivor when, at its completion, “the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”  And Ishmael’s single most important trait is his moodiness, his ability to get in touch with public moods, to live in them, experience the world as mattering and valuable by means of them, be brought together in community with others by sharing them, and then to begin the process all over again.  Moby Dick suggests that the Enlightenment account of human beings as rational, autonomous agents, as beings who create meaning in their lives through pure and individual acts of the will, is an account that leads to a worthless and meaningless existence.  Ishmael stands against this philosophical conception of human being by embodying an open-ness to public moods.  Ishmael would definitely have been a football fan.

Now, there is no denying that this is a risky pursuit.  When Ahab gave his pep talk he brought together a group of people to share with one another a sense of purpose, a sense of the importance of the task they were engaged in together, and a sense of their dependance on one another.  He gave to many of them a sense of meaning in their lives.  But Ahab is also something like the devil in Moby Dick.  Like the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost he is indignant, passionate, and often eloquent in his rebellion, taking along fallen angels by the horde.  Indeed, Melville’s Ahab is even more dangerous than Milton’s Satan; for ultimately Ahab’s monomaniacal quest succeeds in bringing down the whole of the Roman Christian world. So organizing one’s life around a passionate commitment to meaningful community, as the football fan does, is not just a philosophically revolutionary pursuit, it is laden with world-historical risk.

But this is a risk that is essential to take.  For every Ahab who would draw you to his side there is a Martin Luther King whose rhetoric lifts you up and makes you better; for every Jared Loughner whose crazy, paranoid, and murderous actions repulse there is a Daniel Hernandez whose background and sensitivity reveal for him his heroic path.  In taking the risk of a passionate engagement, therefore, not only do we need to open ourselves to the shared community of public moods, we need to learn to distinguish those we should celebrate from those we should condemn or bitterly regret. A moody and passionate world is an eminently risky one, and we must hope for and cultivate leaders who reveal the world at its finest, rather than those who set a mood of darkness and deceit, who bring about in us moods of jealousy and despair.  But the danger inherent in this passionate commitment is one we have to learn to confront.  For the world would be an infinitely poorer place if 200,000 people had not allowed themselves to be caught up in the mood of Martin Luther King on the National Mall, if they had all just walked away for fear of the madness of crowds.

The football stadium – like sporting arenas generally, or the concert hall or the celebratory meal – is a proving ground for these broader and more noble experiments in human excellence.  In its limited domain we learn to revere a certain kind of essentially human greatness, and to feel ourselves raised up together in its presence. That experience is something worth holding onto and cultivating in this world.  Of course the kind of excellence we can hope to see in a football game is not the same as the kind we could get caught up in by listening to Martin Luther King.  And if these moments of public worth are in some sense or another sacred moments of existence that is not to say they are identical with any particular form of religious worship.  But they rightly elicit our wonder and gratitude, and at their best they bring us together in the shared celebration of one aspect of what makes us great as the beings we are.  So we can all hope that this week’s Super Bowl raises us up together in the celebration of a certain kind of human worth.

I’ll be watching, with a copy of Moby Dick close at hand.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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114 Responses to Watching the Super Bowl with Moby Dick

  1. Kathleen Cramm says:

    Sean, Damasio’s work is fascinating in showing how rational thought doesn’t occur without being able to experience emotion as well. I’m bothered by the focus in this post on what seems to be very trivial – a football game – as a relevant example of ‘shining’ in human experience. I wonder how central triviality is to experiencing nihilism. If life doesn’t have more depth than football, no wonder people feel life isn’t meaningful. I believe you are using football as an example because you think people will understand what you’re saying better with an contemporary and somewhat universal example. Perhaps the Superbowl helps people experience ‘national community.’ However, I still think that an appreciation of higher values is necessary for true meaning.

    Perhaps, like Tiger Mama, I’m too Appolonian to appreciate what seems to me a waste of time watching overpaid brutes ruining their physical and cognitive health pushing each other around – even though I also know there’s mental skill and strategy involved. I think an Appolonian value system explains Tiger Mama’s choice to demand achievement and believe that achievement will be what allows her children to truly enjoy life. Although I understand from one article I read that Amy Chua is quite fun at parties.

  2. dmf says:

    Sean would you differentiate between those very rare moments when people regardless of (tho especially against) their team/tribal affiliation rise together in recognition of an excel-lent performance from the more normal crowd-mentality of a kind of vicarious identification (and amplification) experience by fans with the actions/drama of players/teams?

  3. Albert Borgmann says:

    Let me try to find the middle ground between Sean and Kathleen.
    Consider surgery, a Nazi rally, and the Super Bowl. Would anyone say, I have problems with surgery; you know it’s cutting someone with a stainless steel blade; so how can you distinguish it from an assault with a switchblade? Michael Roth in his review of All Things Shining says that Bert and Sean’s higher order skills won’t help us in marking the distinction between “sharing joy at a game and at a Nazi rally.” Is making that distinction any harder than distinguishing between surgery and an assault with a switchblade? Wasn’t it clear that Hitler was trampling the norms of equality, dignity, and self-determination and his rival Brüning was not? What’s troubling is not the difficulty of distinguishing between applause for Hitler and applause for Brüning, but rather the difficulty of understanding why someone like Heidegger could applaud Hitler, why so many Germans supported Hitler, and why too many Germans acquiesced in the rise of the Nazis. But we wouldn’t be so troubled if the distinction between Hitler and Brüning weren’t clear.
    So is Bert and Sean’s discussion of metapoiesies unnecessary? Their discussion is important for two reasons. One is that, as they rightly imply, Kantian ethics would allow for an impoverished and meaningless kind of existence if that kind of ethics is thought to be necessary and sufficient for a morally commendable life. It takes a certain kind of courage and skill to step across the bounds of the deontologically correct life. The other reason is that aside from the clear and urgent cases of what’s right and what’s wrong there are intermediate and complex cases that require the skill of discernment.
    The Super Bowl is one such case. There is no doubt that football players possess admirable athletic skills, that the formations and strategies of the game are intricate and interesting, and that football generates enthusiasm and a sense of community. But all too often players ruin their brains, hearts, backs, or knees. We offend their dignity by using them for our excitements and celebrations. It’s complex of course. No one forces the players to suit up. They exploit themselves. But we applaud their doing so, and we support the cultural inducements that make them seek the brief glory of the game. These inducements are powerful, if little noticed by philosophers, and they seep into high schools and bring injury and grief to thousands of youngsters.

    • dmf says:

      Albert, the distinctions that from the outside you find so easy to make between responses to the charisma/cult-of-personality of Hitler (and how he and his team were able to tap into and amplify the undercurrents of the times/circumstances) and his more secular-style opponent seems to ignore the factors that we have been discussing both of getting caught up in moods, like patriotism or war-fever, and of giving oneself to ends/callings that defy our everyday standards of civic responsibility. Easy to distinguish between a scalpel and a switchblade and yet we have a long and sordid history of medical/surgical atrocities, like lobotomies or unnecessary hysterectomies, done for the ‘good’ of the patient Jim Jones for instance started out sounding/acting much like MLK and then over time things got more warped, and the cult of Reagan allowed war criminals like Ollie North to emerge as heroes setting the grounds for our continuing use of torture.
      Football has many of the problems that you describe but in addition to the troubling tribal aspects (heightened by national anthems,war plane flyovers and hyper-consumerism often tied in to alcohol, junk-food, military recruiting,and sexist machismo) that I mentioned above my main worry is that being a spectator (including reading) most often ends in a catharsis that relieves people of the drive to change their own live, they leave such engagements feeling fulfilled and return to their old habits. Not unlike how after getting caught up in the spirit of amening and praising agapic love in a well performed service at church people will than return to their usual modes of being on the ways to their cars.

  4. Charlie says:

    Kathleen is at the heart of the matter and perhaps the larger point is that the qualitative distinctions between moods/moments are modest (raising a host of implications)?. But, more directly, if you wait for purity you could miss a lot. As noted, if you are courageous enough to be open to different forms of greatness (to look at virtue more broadly) it enriches human worth.

    • dmf says:

      charlie not sure why/where one can find only modest qualitative differences between moods/events (tho I get you and Sean on bootstrapping/making use of even the mundane aspects of life), but this does raise the tension/question of whether Bert/Sean’s examples are just leading to a better/richer quality of life or if they are pointing towards seeing excellence in terms of something more virtue-like, perhaps even heroic/saintly?
      I have to believe that if Bert was walking across campus and he was run into by one of hundreds of young undergrads texting gossip, or following a pop-star’s tweet, with headphones on blasting a nerve-deadening pop song selling the virtues of SUVs and one night stands that he would see this (regardless of the student’s sense of having a good/meaningful life) as an embodiment of our nihilistic age.

      • david leech says:

        I think the only way it makes sense of what they are up to (my 4-fold + poet) is if we see them pointing to something more virtue-like and are pointing past (or away from) the current age. Heroic and saintly can’t be right. Maybe “post-consumptive” is more like it. Depends on what new practices are gathering. I don’t think Bert/Sean claim to know what those practices are. They emphasis the skills for recognizing what to “lean into” as possibilities become apparent.

  5. dmf says:

    d.l., indeed they are offering a desperately needed alternative to the single-mindedness of calculative reasoning (the kind used by say insurance companies, investment bankers and their quants, or by folks like Robert Mcnamara {}, forget about Kantian ethics which are only a problem in certain branches of academic philosophy) one could certainly come away from the book hearing echoes of a Wendell Berry like nostalgia for the simple/balanced life, this would resonate with some conservative themes in Heidegger, but I’m hoping that instead people find themselves more attuned to the kind of liberation/heart-religion that drives Dr.Paul Farmer (see Tracy Kidder’s Mountain Beyond Mountains) .

    • david leech says:

      I would argue that calculative rationality is but one manifestation of a set of metaphysical commitments (“commodification” for short) that almost completely dominate the age (not just the exemplars you provide). UNLESS one can find a kind of unity (balance), one can’t poetically cultivate a space outside of commodification/ calculative rationality. (I take it that H’s oblivion of oblivion speaks to this threat.) There is, therefore, nothing conservative about that balance. To the contrary, it’s liberating and enabling. I suspect that Farmer and Berry have both achieved some kind of a unity (balance) that enables them to get attuned (poetically) to phenomena that many cannot.

      In the context of what Dreyfus/Kelly are up to, I don’t think you have the right to “hope for” Berry over Farmer. It’s too ontic. That is your problem, not theirs. They are “only” looking to open up a space to get us past the imbalanced, nihilistic metaphysics that dominates the age.

      • david leech says:

        On second thought, I’m not sure it makes sense to say, “imbalanced and nihilistic metaphysics.” Better, I think: in the absence of a “turning,” a metaphysics that inclines us to imbalance and nihilism.

  6. Dan says:

    Forgive me for posting an irrelevant question:

    Does anyone know where to find the quote from Kierkegaard that Iain Thomson mentions in the “Being in the World” trailer? (It’s “trailer 2” on YouTube.) I’m sure he’s paraphrasing, so I can’t find it by searching:

    “Kierkegaard said that if you think all meaning comes from you, then you can just take it back. You’re a king without a castle. You’re a sovereign of a land of nothing. There has to be something in the world that pushes back, that has some force over you, or else you’ll never experience anything as really mattering to you.”

  7. Sarah Blythe says:

    As a student of American literature, I very much enjoyed your book-blog preamble comparing Moby-Dick to football. Your final assessment of Ishmael, that his specialness lies in his ability to get caught up in “public moods,” or what I would call (a la Victor Turner), “communitas,” confirms what I have long believed: that the true climax of the novel is not in the final confrontation between Ahab and Moby-Dick but in “A Squeeze of the Hand,” where Ishmael finds himself squeezing and squeezing and squeezing sperm until he melts into the most spiritually uplifting moment of communitas found in the novel. (“Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, – Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.”)
    I am, however, not sure I’m as convinced of your final appraisal that “Moby Dick presents public moods as the salvation of the West.” And here’s why: in a letter to Hawthorne, Melville leaves the following nota bene after his post script: “This ‘all’ feeling, though, there is some truth in. You must often have felt it, lying on the grass on a warm summer’s day. Your legs seem to send out shoots into the earth. Your hair feels like leaves upon your head. This is the all feeling. But what plays the mischief with the truth is that men will insist upon the universal application of a temporary feeling or opinion.” Isn’t this insistence Ahab’s hubris and Melville’s critique? Isn’t this insistence so often our own downfall?
    But I did enjoy the post. And I look forward to reading the book.

  8. dmf says:

    dl, you can keep preaching “balance” but you haven’t offered us how this is possible (let alone desirable) as a way of being in the world, and in a case like Farmer’s he reports a constant struggle between competing interests/gods in his life (as we all face) that he takes as an article of faith (heavily anchored in his relationships and his direct medical care practice) that he is doing the best he can in choosing to not do some things by choosing to do others, practicing as we all do ethical triage, and living with the haunting costs of those choices. “Metaphysics” and terms like “ontic” are fictional/mythological terms of sublimed speech that only exist in books and if we are bewitched by them, as you try and scold me into being, to put our ethical response-ability to make civic-minded/political choices on hold than they are very dangerous indeed, that is a serious personal problem for me and others who care both about the well-being of the poor and disenfranchised and all of the unnecessary everyday suffering in the world caused by selfishness and lack of attentive-care. Individual preferences are all we have and they will always involve error, sacrifice, and debts/imbalances, and if we forget these all too human aspects of our being than we will be lost in the mirrored temples of our narcissism and all of the shiny images therein.

    • david leech says:

      Good grief! It’s not my place to scold. Sorry if that was the tone. I thought, “the “context of what Dreyfus/Kelly are up to” — a book about reading the great works — prevented that.

      As to “only existing in books,” I think that is wrong. In one sense, sure, you can’t kick a metaphysics but surely you can see the manifestation of core … what? … “on the basis of which” actions are taken, beliefs are formulated, and commitments made. Your student who bumps into Bert, is ensconced in a “world” that s/he needs (we would agree I think) at least to get in a free relation to. Maybe that is mythical, in the sense of being a story for how the world works, but without an alternative mythology how is s/he going to begin to see, and learn to live, an alternative, especially when they are all carrying around the myth-sustaining apparatus — the market — in their pockets in the form of hand-helds and computers with which they shop, shop, shop. (The argument about the GPS toward the end of GPS could be extended to include these. Arguably, the GPS is a “resource transportation device” making “resources” more available in their respective markets.)

      If there was something akin to scolding going on, it was only that in the context of what Bert/Sean are doing in ATS — the way people who write books do their part in the bookish aspects of their lives — it seems like misplaced criticism to gig them for examples that “just” lead to better/richer quality of life rather than more virtuous heroes and saints.

      Finally, I think my preaching (actually, more like groping for) balance is, at this point, just an intuition that you have to have some standard for the “virtuous life” that we sense is missing at large. I take it that unity/balance is central to virtue ethics but I am just beginning to explore that.

      Interestingly you (“conservative themes”) and Britt Z. (in her January 25 response to the “navigating between nihilism and fanaticism” theme) think of the idea of balance as complacency. I don’t see that but since both of you point it out, I’ll have to think more about it. I am reminded of Zarathustra’s tightrope walker on a line stretched between the past and future spires over the market place (no less). That just doesn’t strike me as risk-less. Balancing between here and their strikes me as fundamental. I haven’t thought much about whether its possible and desirable. Next!

      • Britt Z. says:

        I’m for the aporetic interweaving of the two economies of differance: the restricted economy (the conditioned) and the general economy (the unconditional). A Heideggerian way to put this is the difference, the relationship, between the world and the earth in OTWA. I just think that revolutionary, extraordinary events, justice, etc, occur during periods of disjunction, not jointure.

  9. dmf says:

    for charlie, this hostess tends to annoy me but this guest makes it worth listening to:

    • Charlie says:

      Thanks as always dmf. The natural imagery is powerful. Her expression/language reflects the contradictions she relishes. I think it’s topical because it captures a common theme in all these ATS discussions, the nerve that Sean has touched. She’s espousing an emotional, active and aesthetic life. An honest celebration. It’s expressed differently on this site – balance, sacred, etc – but in the public realm the book scratches that common itch (as Sean says) for wonder and gratitude. There’s a rush to pause (e.g. Brooks and Colbert). It’s all the more alluring when meaning might be as accessible as a football game. Bootstrapping makes it tantalizingly close. Listening to her unique portrait I thought again of Nehamas’ Nietzsche Life as Literature. Everyone has their own aesthetic interpretation, betraying their biases in the celebration, but we all get poetic license

      • dmf says:

        She showed many of the traits of someone tuned-in not just to her own moods but to her other environs such that if her habits/traditions didn’t meet her experiences/concerns than they had to go and given the immediacy of the tensions/crisis being faced she pursued/invented others (patience is only sometimes a virtue). I appreciated her example of people who shared none of our usual markers of political/cultural identity being brought together by a mood of righteous anger and her coming to understand the limits of beautiful language/soul, the need for committed action.

  10. dmf says:

    dl, there is a the tension in the book which you highlight when you say “Maybe that is mythical, in the sense of being a story for how the world works, but without an alternative mythology how is s/he going to begin to see, and learn to live, an alternative” most of the time (when we are in the flow) we neither have nor need theories/models/programs/narratives/justifications ( or other myths of the mental) to make our ways in the world, no one has done more in the academy to bring this (our non-conceptual coping) to light than our good authors (and Todes and all). Our embodiment does not work out of a “core” but is an often conflicted confluence of processes, struggling to get a grip on the differences that make up the social and physical environs, pluralities, not totalities, abound which is why our capacities to engage polytheisms are helpful.
    As I read Sean/Hubert they are trying to point us to real ‘gods’ in/of the world, not figures of speech/writing, and if we could become attuned to moods and such than we would not have a freer relationship to a world but be in a different one. There is no neutral ground, nor God’s eye view, here to occupy we have our kind of animal faith in one world or another.
    The question then becomes can books (and all that comes with promoting one) connect us to such experiences/powers? This is a pragmatic/empirical question about which I have been raising some questions and offering some friendly amendments. You may find it distasteful for me to question the value/impact of vicarious/spectatorial modes/livings but I am interpreting our authors to be seeking to have a real impact on the world, one that goes beyond the limits of merely/routine/academic reading and writing. Whether or not using a book/blog to such an end is a productive irony or merely ironic remains an open question, I’m all for pitching in and making the most of it but not to just offer people more for mores sake, the costs are too high.

    • david leech says:

      I think “freer relation” has real meaning. There need be no neutral ground for this to have “cash value.” If one is “converted” to another world (say by the examples in ATS — a tall order), one must still deal with one’s situation; where one is on the tightrope. Mixing metaphors, if I awake in a dark wood and see the light at its edge, alas I am not transported to that edge (even granted that the more conversion-musical of us might be). I have to put one foot in front of the other to get there. Nothing neutral about that ground at all. In fact, I am only a little more likely to get to the edge having sensed its presene. There are many pitfalls and false vantage points along the way.

      Also, it seems to me that, with ATS, the authors have gone well beyond academic reading and writing. (I take “academic” to mean something institutional. In my life, marginally academic at times, reading and writing are not “mere”. They are essential tools.)

      • dmf says:

        “Academic” is a kind of socialization that occurs in but is not bound by the walls of educational institutions as one can see by the responses here and elsewhere to this book. Reading and writing may be fun-da-mental as they told us in grade-school but not are certainly not existentially essential and as I mentioned in reference to Emerson’s experimental essays not always not limited to the traditions of the academy (in what particular ways do you see this book as being outside of this genre?). More to the point have you, or anyone else, started to pay a different kind of attention to moods since reading the book? I’m really asking.

    • david leech says:

      I think of “academic” as a way of life; a certain style of bookishness/journalness that also usually involves the give and take of teacher and learner, master and apprentice leading to academic skill acquisition and eventually “academic” expertise.

      But there are other ways of life that also use books and journals as source material in the process of skill acquisition and expertise development. I think ATS is addressed to this latter group as well, especially, but not exclusively, at its margins where it fades into life in general. I say that because I am one of them; admittedly one that puts his toe in a the waters edge of academe from time to time and, importantly, one who comprehension of what he has learned and teaches (economics) is being transformed.

      The transformation has been of this sort: economist tell a joke about looking for dropped keys where the light of their models shines rather than looking to where they heard the keys drop. The more technical underpinning of ATS (Heidegger-through-dreyfus-kelly-and-others) has broadened the beam and/or changed the spectra with which I see. I definitely am more attuned to moods and the works of art that call them forth and sustain them than I was before the long investment.

      So, for me, ATS is a way to share my transformation with people I care about, including occasional students, if I can figure out the mode of delivery, without demanding of them all the investment it took me to see in a new light.

      Is that possible? I don’t know. But like I said above, I think Dreyfus did it with What Computers Can’t Do. Can they do it with ATS?

      Borgmann talks about a culture of words. That certainly need not be academic in my sense but maybe it is in your broader sense. You get the same thing in Rorty’s notion that we learn our ethics through novels. Heidegger talks about traveling to foreign lands. I think the culture of words is his main portal but in Sojourns you see him struggling to “read” other artifacts. If the culture of words is getting marginalized or atomized (I see that as a possibility: my occasional students tell me the don’t like to, or do much, reading — yike!) the field of the possible impact of ATS will be narrower. Words are special (“house of being” and all that) but, as you say, they aren’t the only mode of access to new worlds (or old worlds that enable us to dwell in current and new ones). Entrepreneurs and their social/political equivalents — your Berry and Farmer, Dreyfus’ Monroe, and ATS’ Autrey — find attunements to some extent outside words. Still, something tells me that words matter a whole lot.

      • dmf says:

        Outside of our imagined/Romantic desires for a theo-logos there just isn’t a culture of words (there are certainly cults of personality around the uses of texts) never has been never will, what would be the means of its transmission? Of course words in general are important (tho not necessarily more important than our other doings/expressions) but I was addressing academic reading and writing and in particular the book/blog/comments/reviews at hand.
        Rorty was right that for most people the ways in which novels resemble life are more gripping/moving than the figures/concepts that they might encounter in philosophy, so as a public ameliorative good literature would be ‘better’ than philosophy. Except that he was just as wrong that in general reading novels widens our actual empathy for (let alone motivation/know-how to actually take care of) people outside of books (this mistaken idea of a more liberal ethos, consciousness-raising, coming via exposure to books is the ruling justification for the liberal arts in our day). Our conceptual biases/habits are very strong (just try and change a habit that you are aware of let alone an unconscious one) and as I have said above there is actually a danger that reading books (and other spectatorial/vicarious practices) may provide people with a catharsis that relieves their need for connection/meaning, especially as these materials come with a plot and characters designed to please the reader’s expectations, whereas life has no such Director/Author to infuse it with coherent meaning. And as I have said if this book becomes just another form of literary criticism, or use of literature to illustrate philosophical conclusions, than it will be just more of the same. This isn’t an attack on the authors just a question of the efficacy of using such a familiar form and content.
        More info on how you moved from reading about to actually attending to moods and other modes of un-conscious motivation would be helpful.
        ps it’s most helpful, for me, in terms of understanding your posts when you speak in the 1st person about how you come to this vs when you write with the Author-ity of Heidegger and others.

      • david leech says:

        I have no idea what you mean by, “no culture of words.” Its Borgamnn’s terms (and he is probably more capable of defending it with objective evidence than I) but when I read it as an example along with “culture of the table” the light went on for me. He defined a set of practices that I have been engaged in for a generation (with my children), in the case of the culture of words, and for four generations in the case of the culture of the table.

        I think this an example of a mini-culture of words. I think that if you go to the public library in your community you are likely to find a group, usually older, who gather together to read the great works of the western world. That is the culture of words.

        I’ll respond to the other part of your question ( from reading about to actually attending to moods) latter. Its mostly a issue of recognizing something that was there but not thematized.

  11. Hi All,

    Just wanted to note that I’m delighted at the conversation here, and following it whenever I can. I think that Albert’s intervention, as always, is extremely insightful, and I’d like to take it up in detail later. But I’m terrifically pleased with the searching tone and seriousness of almost all the comments. Thanks especially to dmf, dl, and charlie who are leading the way with difficult and interesting challenges and genuinely grappling with the issues.

    I’m tied up with a bunch of administrative and other kinds of commitments at the moment, so I won’t try to contribute to the discussion now. But I hope you will all continue it, and bring in as many others as you can.

  12. dmf says:

    dl, for better or worse in this exchange we seem to be performing some of my concerns about the limits of reading/writing, communication is hard enough in the flesh with people that we have interacted with for years. Is any group that meets for a common activity a culture? I’m looking forward to hearing how some thing un-conscious being thematized carries over into an increased awareness/availability.

    • david leech says:

      My long experience tells me that communication in the flesh too is often quite difficult. In any event, multiple iterations seem to be required in both the face-to-face and the written cases.

      I am not sure what constitutes a culture. I have a feeling there is some rough consensus with which to judge if a bookish gathering is a legitimate example. Feels right to me. Borgmann confirms that I am not alone in this. I would think that in addition to common activity, there would be something like an inter-temporal ritualistic element, so that the participants need not be the same individuals for a mini-work or art to work; for things to thing. I am looking across the room at Searle’s Construction of Social Reality for clues (knowing that I have to be careful with Searle). In my great books-reading club example, there is a canon, usually Adler’s Britannica edition. Interestingly, ATS seems to be a part of this culture of Western canonical works, albeit with a radically different take on how to use the canon.

      You sensibly ask, “Can this Internet version of “book club” culture or the face-to-face version work as culture?”

      More later.

      • dmf says:

        If we take the examples of family meals or book clubs my experience is that these largely consist of people engaging in gossip/idle-talk, now Heidegger is a bit harsh on our need to have such social connections but it does raise the question of whether (and how?) such exchanges can (should?) do more than reinforce our place in the social order?

      • david leech says:

        Of course we might not expect the book club or family dinner to stand in for the revolutionary cell, much less if it’s hosted on the Internet. I’ll grant that!

        And for my part, I accept my place in the social order. That is a big nut to crack. More power to you. I still have a hard time rationalizing the costs and benefits. I guess my historical consciousness has gotten ossified. (I worry too that my knees are going too.) That said, when the crowd rises as one, it worries me. Those meta-poietic skills have real import. People can get hurt without them.

        (I tried to join a Maoist cell in my youther youth but was foiled by the FBI, or at least that’s the way I remember it. They got their first. And, in retrospect, probably for the best, at least for me, if not for my prospective comrades. I think as I left it, lo those many years ago, we concluded that the US wasn’t ripe for revolution. My revolutionary fervor has quelled and I have become thoroughly bourgeois. Still, as Marx observed, the bourgeoisie is a revolutionary class, in a manner of speaking.)

        If ones ambitions are less revolutionary, I still think that when “things thing” at the family meal or in the book club, it can shake ones complacency; orient one to new possibilities, to “gatherings” that could be socially transforming under the right circumstances.

        Admittedly, my political fervor has died. Whether that was a matter of will or the confluence of historical forces, as we used to say, I don’t know. But we both know, I suspect, when we gathered to read Marcuse and the 1844 Manuscripts, there was a certain transcendence, things were thinging, possibilities were opened up even if they did diminish and trail off into so much gossip. It might not have been the case.

        Our family gatherings don’t always “thing” of course. But there is always a chance that the lightning will strike. We combine the culture of words with the culture of the table with this little incantation that has the possibility of leading to a reflection that takes one closer to the edge, at least, of the order of things:

        [Condensing the last paragraph of “The Turning”]“May we be attuned to the passing of the danger and to practices that sustain our humanity.”

        A wish. Surely wishes count for something other than idle gossip even if wishes are insufficient.

    • david leech says:

      dmf. Sorry for the long delay regarding the, “move from reading about to actually attending to moods.” First, by “mood” I have understood Heidegger/Merleau-Ponty/Dreyfus/Kelly to be contrasting “mood-as-psychological-state” with a very different sense of the term: “mood-as-manifestation-of-attunement-to-artifacts-and-their-organization” (a “state” of dasein amidst the present-at-hand and the ready-at-hand). Moods are like the vibrations of our being-in-the-world. Moods happen and we have some limited capacity to steer into and out of them; to be opened to and closed off from them.

      Metaphorically (always a little dangerous), but it helps me get a grip on the phenomenon, I think of us (dasein) as interacting mood-detectors who use words and bodily signals (a facial scowl, a stare, a beam, a sigh, or other body language), to register our attunements. (I get this connection between moods and words by hooking Heidegger’s development of “disposedness” in B&T with his development of logos in Basic Concepts, pp. 14-15) The connection is probably made in B&T but I am not going back to figure that out before proceeding. If anyone knows if and where such connection is spelled out in Heidegger please inform me.)

      In my world (economics literature and application), there has been increasing attention to unconscious motivations over the last decade or so: lots of serious attention paid to neuro-economics, the importance of heuristics and biases in decision-making, and the economics of advertising for example. So there is some interaction going on between my grasp of Heidegger’s thought and my attention to what I perceive as “related” developments elsewhere, no doubt resulting in a somewhat confused mess. You asked, how I moved from reading to attending to moods and this is part of the story.

      After coming to terms with the role of moods in Heidegger (as developed by Merleau-Ponty/Dreyfus/Kelly/others) as well as the whole critique of the Cartesian ontology — economics seems to me thoroughly Cartesian (a gross gloss that needs a lot more unpacking than I am prepared to do now: a strong intuition) — I started to pay more attention to moodiness, usually with a backward, self-reflective glance and, to myself, “Why did I just do what I did? An attunement?” I also started observing the subtle, everyday reactions of others TO moods and others’ actions apparently driven BY moods.

      Right here, I think its best to switch from “mood” talk to “attunement” talk. It makes better sense of all the examples I want to give. They are very concrete but they spring to mind when you ask for examples of how themetizing moods has made me more conscious of them; more attentive to them. It seems so obvious how this happens and that it happens all the time, that I even wonder if I am really missing your point when you ask for examples of, “how some thing un-conscious being thematized carries over into an increased awareness/availability.” Strikes me as the process of learning in a nutshell. Anyway, here are some examples of awareness that have followed from the themetization of mood/attunement.

      1. Here is a composite pieced together from many “pieces” over the years. It has not been unusual for nuclear family members to comment critically on my tone or facial expression with something like, “Why are you so grumpy?” Feeling then (less now) that I had a “right” to protect my “inner states” from the intrusions, I would “deny” the mood detected (as if it were internal and under MY control, a private matter). Though this is contradictory with the sense that my “inner state” was inner, mine, and under my control, I would often going on the offensive with the observation that something THEY did caused MY negative posture. It was not that I was “under a cloud.” Rather my story, common enough I guess, was that I was in some kind of neutral place, and that neutral place was disturbed. On Heidegger’s account, to the contrary, I am always already in a mood. That strikes me as mostly right.

      In light of that awareness of the constitutional role that moods play, I started realizing how physiologically attuned we are to the most subtle changes in posture and tone. While this is no doubt generally true, its more readily explored with our intimates. We are like a collection of mood rings and we can talk to each other about our changing shades!

      As a result, I have started to be more self-aware of subtle shifts in attunement, far less defensive, and more attentive to the “truth” of a loved one’s observations and somewhat more capable of pausing, leaning into or out of the mood that possesses me; somewhat more capable attending to the leaning in and out of others — very iffy, very incomplete, very much like the tightrope walker moving along the wire into the fog. Such is life.

      2. I also increasingly notice the role of attunements in my corporate/bureaucratic life; in my interaction with other professionals as we go about our assigned roles. In these cases attention to attunements isn’t mutually developmental, like it is with family intimates. One doesn’t discuss such things in polite company; and if one does, one does so only at the risk of looking the kook. It seems “inefficient” to wax philosophical about what appears to be the result of a colleague’s ontological commitments; their inability to actually control; their inability to be open to the flow, open to the give and take of learning something that is interesting, potentially useful, but not in the playbook or specifically spelled out in the contract. Our ability to sense but not engage and benefit from the attunements of our colleagues are further stymied if such intuitions and observations are employed “rhetorically” in the daily dance of puts and takes, “the struggle for higher achievement,” as Joni Mitchell puts it. Still, one’s perception of such attunements are “teed up” by reading and then attending to my and my colleagues moods.

      With this notion of the importance of attunements in mind, one can become more aware of entrepreneurial activity (and encourage it, or not), not as a “campaign” but rather as a very complex attunement to gaps in the real fabric of real specific supply and real specific demand. It is a rare skill, and a rarer expertise, because 1.) of our Cartesian commitments and 2.) because it depends so much on the difficult task of first uncovering the gap and then re-organizing supply and demand to fill the gap — herculean task with high failure rates. If someone has truly demonstrated this kind of attunement but the organizational/bureaucratic order is challenged by it (as is likely to be the case to some extent), expert attunement is nipped in the bud.

      A somewhat related business/organizational example is the problem of setting and achieving goals. I observe that goals are often NOT achieved by incentivizing people (as if we were conditioned-response machines rather than variously attuned beings) but by identify people (or creating conditions in which appropriately attuned persons are drawn forth) who are constitutionally-attuned to achieve the goals at hand. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip. You can really incentivize entrepreneurial attunement but you can encourage it by examining what it is historically and phenomenologically. I guess the rich case studies developed in business schools are all about this.

      3. Here is my very best example of having been turned-on to attunements by first reading about the phenomenon and then locating and experiencing the phenomenon — what Dreyfus implores his students to do! This example has opened me to the view, which I am struggling too slowly to articulate, that the market the “work of art” that dominates the age; the work of art that inclines us to nihilism; the work of art that we somehow need to lean into and away from in order to uncover an alternative; to locate a different kind of gathering that respects our “being there” rather than closing us off to it. I interpret ATS as part of that project even though I don’t think the authors see it that way in the details.

      My wife, Meredith, is a weaver. She gathers with other weavers to enjoy their craft for its own sake. Selling their wares is an infrequent and marginal concern. They gather together to share their craft and fellow feeling and to plan projects that develop their skills in new challenging directions. They are artisans. A certain kind of rug, a rag rug, was the object of the weavers’ focus — several meetings, discussions, experimental “prototypes” — when we walked into a college gift shop. I was on one side of the room, Meredith on the other, when she glimpsed a rag rug on display. I worried from afar as she approached it. As we converged, I wanted to scream, “Don’t!” It was too late. As she looked at the price I heard a long sad sigh. It was very inexpensive. “Made in India.” As irrelevant as that world market price was to her experience as a member of her local weaver community, her project was cheapened, her mood shifted.

      You can observe something like this on the popular PBS TV show: The Antiques Road Show. The auction price very often makes the possessor of the family jewels “vibrate” (mood detector) and cry. Often the artifacts in question are the focal “things” of intergenerational family rituals that clearly provide meaning (a repeated story) to the participant and her family. But the auction price, the market price, elicits emotions. Astonishing! In need of an explanation/interpretation: the market is our work of art. It holds up to this historical people what it is to be. And it is, in Dreyfus’ phrase, like water to the fish.

  13. Sarah Blythe says:

    This conversation has got me thinking of something Frank O’Hara wrote–albeit about poetry, but I think it can also apply to literature (it’s from his mini-manifesto “Personism”):

    “But how then can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies. As for measure and other technical apparatus, that’s just common sense: if you’re going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There’s nothing metaphysical about it. Unless, of course, you flatter yourself into thinking that what you’re experiencing is ‘yearning.'”

    • david leech says:

      I have to admit that I am not sure I understand the quote. I have led a sheltered literary life, boxed in between the peculiar literature of economics and a collection of relatively thin slices of philosophy, the latter highly skewed. But as to why anyone would care if others eat their peas and carrots, there is a difference between insisting (commanding/controlling/having-a-plan-with-objectives) and offering (sharing).

      Why does one share such things? The work of Dreyfus and now Kelly has opened up a world (maybe “the world” — a Heidegger translation convention) to me, a completely new “take” on my own life-long accumulation of experience, knowledge, and perspective. I think that is the spirit in which they offer their interpretation of the Western literary canon. They don’t intend to “convert” but if “conversion” (new perspectives) happens, great. Some of the interlocutors in these blog entries seem to be judging the efficacy of ATS according to their own plans, that is, instrumentally. I think they are likely to be dissatisfied. Maybe ATS is part of a plan. Well, of course it is: sell! But that can’t be the author’s reason (telos) for the book. Who would reason (prudence) that the benefits of such an undertaking would outweigh the costs? No one in his right mind! (From an economic perspective the publisher might prudentially reason that the benefits could outweigh the costs. The publisher’s portfolio is much more diversified than the authors, and this rationalizes the undertaking.) This kind of rationality is unlikely to be the authors’ motive. Their portfolio is far too narrow to diversify the risk. ATS must be mostly a labor of love, a commitment to share a long and well-developed perspective that has brought the authors and others joy. What readers do with that joy is a different matter.

      That’s why you care if the kids eat their peas and carrots: fellow feeling.

      I take these blog entries to be mostly of three kinds: people trying to share and thereby sharpen their thinking on the matters at hand (I have to say, the Internet is a fantastic way to do just this but, as Dreyfus points out in On the Internet, it does leave one disconnected in a real sense); people judging the efficacy of the book according to their plan; and those falling at the intersection. It’s handy for me to try and keep these perspectives straight.

      • dmf says:

        I’m not sure that one could separate such categories/intentions, and indeed your comment here seems to be an example of how they all might run together, but I would be interested in your hermeneutic methodology.
        On a side note it is hard to see Dreyfus supporting the value of sharpened ideas that leave one disconnected, wouldn’t that go against the grain of his life’s work?

      • david leech says:

        But we are in mid-stream. What is disconnected could surely get connected. Surely we’ve all experienced this: you share some observations you’ve acquired elsewhere (an Podcast lecture) with a real person in a real classroom setting. You’ve planted the seed with 100 real people and, two semesters latter, a student or colleague asks, “Hey, I remember…..” and your off! Maybe off to change the world.

        Efficient? No. Worthwhile in some other sense?

      • dmf says:

        In Achieving Our Country Rorty imagined a young undergrad coming to a liberal prof. and saying ok you have made me care about the problems of the world, the suffering of other people now how do I make a difference? And the prof. has nothing to offer. Dreyfus has not been one of these Ivory Tower dwellers, he has ventured out into the world and engaged in working through various problems with engineers and others (Sean has followed this path and is one of the leading figures in experimental philosophy), and now is offering a kind of method/discipline/approach for the kinds of problems one finds in existential/phenomenological philosophy.
        This is a potentially radical departure from the kind of Kantian/liberal-arts seed planting that you are describing here. I’m hoping that as the book is out for a while and people give it a go that we will get some sense here of whether or not it has worked or if it is neutered into being another example of the enduring value of the established academic cannon (the They say), which is just a mannered version of a social ordering. While calculative reason represents commanding/monied interests in our lives anyone who has been involved in the meetings called to implement such orders knows that personalities and gossip are the real daily powers at work, much to the chagrin of both managers/planners/social-engineers and whistle-blowers/humanist-reformers.

  14. Sarah Blythe says:

    Someone said hermeneutic: everybody drink!


    But in all seriousness, what I think O’Hara is getting at in this light-hearted passage from his manifesto is that we shouldn’t be so eager to pressure our audiences or ourselves into the meaning-making position, that not everyone needs/wants (or is able?!) to experience that fellow-feeling from reading “great works” of literature. And that, in over-stress such a literary experience, we’ll find ourselves, like J. Alfred Prufock, railing against world, crying “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all.” For Melville’s take on this very thing, read his Pierre: or, The Ambiguities.

    And I think it’s important to remember Moby-Dick was a colossal failure at the time of its first printing. And it remained so for many many years until it was recovered as a great work of fiction by some modernist eager to forget America’s longstanding love affair with (feminine; read: “ick!”) sentimental fiction that was, in their eyes, ruining the fabric of American (high) culture.

    And I’m not necessarily disagreeing with Kelly and Dreyfus: Great books (or poetry or art) do have the potential to reconnect us, to bring us together with that warm fellow-feeling. (Bully for us!) But that said, so do the “trashy” ones, more-so if we’re talking of a broad general audience (think Dan Brown, Steig Larsson). After all, literature is entertainment. But perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps I’m really just waiting for a Kelly or a Dreyfus to write THAT book.

    Perhaps I’m merely espousing a James-Baldwin-esque philosophy that refuses such constraints on literature/life: sometimes it’s okay to find salvation through, anything, salvation through everything. To ask for more is to leave too many people behind, outside the ivory tower this dialogue (perhaps even this book) seems to be constructing.

    • david leech says:

      On the question of “trashy” vs. “great” there is supposed to be something special about the great ones, at least that is Dreyfus’/Kelly’s intention (judging from their courses). The great ones are supposed to be great because they represent or manifest very different understandings of what constitutes a culture-world from the ground up. (So there is a chron-ontological component to the great works that the trashy vs. high quality misses.) The idea is that we reach back into these previous culture-worlds, get a grip on how they experienced and rationalized those worlds, and ask ourselves if there is something in their experiences and practices that we can employ to stave off the nihilistic tendencies of our secular world (in Charles Taylor’s sense of the term). There may be other ways to reach into these very different culture-worlds but reading is the easiest if not the best.

      I am also a little uncomfortable with the supposed exclusiveness of the great works. If you can’t read then you’ll be excluded. It’s a shame that so many people still can’t. But if you can, you aren’t excluded. You don’t have to be academic to read and understand the great works. You just have to see that there is something there worth trying to grasp and work (hard) as grasping it. Given what appears to me to be an intolerance for sustained intellectual effort even among the college educated, spreading the good news about the great works may be a “hard sell,” but with all the alternative technologies now available (I am thinking books on tap, podcasts, and digital down-loads) I think a revival is possible. Maybe that will be one of the consequences of ATS’s commercial success. And if that happens, ATS offers a whole new way to read them! My point is that if the great works calls you all you have to do is dig in and have patience.

      The economist in me can see literature as providing entertainment services like it can see religion as providing entertainment services. There is an metaphysical assumption in that view that all is reducible to a universal equivalent. I think there is something wrong with that assumption; that it is not conducive to human happiness (though I will grant that it is conducive to material abundance) and might be at the root of the nihilism that ATS worries about. According to the economistic view, I am a resource. I resist.

  15. Charlie says:

    To backtrack a bit, but hit on Sarah’s point as well, a few observations on two questions in the thread: (1) is anybody paying to attention to moods since reading the book, and (2) the value of the method and sustainable impact/efficacy of the book. The answer to the first for me is yes. I have focused more on emotion and the centrality of moods, and how they might build to ideologies in the way ATS talks about epochs. In particular how the various modern, disparate moods can rival an over arching “ancient” world view, or at least bootstrap to more meaning. One concrete, radical example, is how I understand the unfolding, televised Egyptian revolution – where a collective mood may very well be toppling a regime and forcing other tyrants to take pre-emptive action. I’m not a student of history, but I don’t think there are many examples of this kind of non-violent stand-down eliciting huge change (at least this quickly). All the more fascinating is the technological interplay – where the internet shut down is trumped by a collective breath holding. “Events” accelerated and even crystallized into a mood?

    On the method of the book I think my initial reaction was wrong (coarse). I didn’t appreciate the subtlety in subjugating philosophy. Picking up on a point that Albert made, I think you could construe the method and message as a challenge to traditional ethics. I think knitting together “philosophy” or meaning to literary works is a novel approach and challenging “atomism” is serious .

    Now, I’m not saying that ATS will be viral, but there is no question it struck a nerve. Sean’s question of what constitutes a good life resonates with most people. All the political/cultural psychodrama’s that dominate our society are ultimately about these values. It’s just rare for the definition of virtue to be laid bare. Making it more accessible gets the fish on the line, and then you have to grapple with the challenge of fulfillment.

    I think there is Trojan horse potential. Colbert can say that Sean lives in the room above the Ivory Tower because philosophers are easy targets. It’s harder to mock Melville and it’s probably a better vehicle anyway. If there is a follow-up to ATS, who’s to say that there wouldn’t be a reasonably viable dialogue or contribution to modern ethics?

    • dmf says:

      charlie, thanks for answering the question, I would be interested if this new awareness is spreading into your own life/moods. the Egypt one is a good example of the power of moods, just as the recent financial debacle was, the more inter-connectivity the greater the amplification, the question in both cases is can we harness these moods/trajectories to think through our future responses and how to institutionalize them, always helpful to remember that Heidegger wasn’t just reminding us of moods but was calling for Thinking, and to remember that he had little to nothing to say about how organizations might be improved.
      As for literature and philosophy this is not a new idea/approach per say, it’s really the old foundation for studying ‘great’ works for moral edification. The new part as I said above is the attempt not to offer a definition but an accessible (?) approach, so not a matter of reference but of experience, one might even say a kind of existential gestalt switch.
      Colbert did not take the cheap shot he actually raised some serious objections that frankly Sean didn’t have a ready answer for, tho as I suggested by explaining the bootstrapping he might have made more of a case for the book.
      So far the book seems largely to be serving people’s preexisting purposes rather than creating new ones but time will tell. take care, dmf

      • Charlie says:

        Whether there is some kind of enlightenment or a reinforcement of pre-existing purposes is the right (and tough) question. Addressing your initial question on my mood/life is one way to assess the results. I happen to work in the financial world, interacting with few people interested in philosophy or reflection period. I’ve financed some interesting things in my day (a lot of alternative energy projects), but I wouldn’t call my job fulfilling in the shining sense. I work for shareholders, and modestly enjoy the fruits of my work as a stakeholder. I’m trying to run as fast as the treadmill, pleading with my wife and 3 daughters to purchase less apparel. I also happen to be turning 50 this year, so as my usefulness expires I’m inclined to grope for fulfillment. I’ve always known what brings me peace – reading philosophy and forcing contemplation has always been a tonic. To that extent, being energized by a new book, or fantastic blog, is reinforcing a disposition. But it boils down to whether/what you are learning. And, yes, I had not thought about moods or fulfillment in this way. I mentioned Brian Greene because I’m demonstrably happier if I’m attuned to my environment and this new approach to virtue fit nicely into my worldview. So, I’m an incremental yes. I didn’t appreciate the subtlety of the case at first and adjusted my perspective. I look at the world a little differently.

  16. Jay says:

    I’m afraid I’m cynical or just a bit skeptical of the importance of these moody public moments. Or maybe I’m merely missing the point.
    I recall last year New Orleans swept-up in emotion with the Saints finally going to -and even winning!- the Superbowl. Truly a great, joyous moment for that city. I saw fans (mostly drunk) on TV exclaiming how “it’s great for the city”. “It’ll be great for New Orleans” (shortly latter a BP oil rig further destroyed the coast, but anyway).
    In terms of people having a fun time and feeling some civic pride it was fantastic.
    But then what?
    Seems what would be great for New Orleans would be people getting off their couches, organizing and demanding the government do more for the people. More funding for their horrible schools for one thing.

    Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was a great speech and a great, uplifting moment that through modern media became The watershed moment of a massive social movement and now it is an important part of our national history. But it was the behind the scenes actions of countless unnamed, unknown autonomous individuals -many of whom worked together and got arrested and beat-up and did the hard work of organizing and participating in protest actions, that inspires me the most and that led to there even being a Martin Luther King and years latter a speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Speaking of Lincoln, his Gettysburg Address is a wonderful speech but he delivered it after the Army of the Potomac beat back the Confederates. But I’ve read commentary stating the speech is more important now to us than the battle.

  17. Charlie says:

    dmf, are addendum’s allowed? If I may, let me try to be more specific in describing my change in perspective. First, to fast forward and avoid suggesting I embrace universals, I would like to die with the courage of David Hume and take solace in the fact that I won’t know I’m dead – “immortal” as I recognize myself.

    In the intervening period, as I ask my version of Sean’s question on meaning, the novel concept I take from the book is that it can be serial. That if we can lean into more possibilities the aggregation is good in itself and it can make you more attuned to larger meanings. Perhaps this is just one forced interpretation, but I took away a call to action. That we are asking the question when it’s staring us in the face. Challenging us to see fulfillment in the super bowl or a HS lacrosse game forces the consideration of additional dimensions. It boils down to practice with respect to two words that Sean used: wonder and gratitude. Both are used in unhealthy ways (e.g. worship), and I think the “democratization” of virtue is powerful and I for one will try to sustain a little more participation

    • dmf says:

      more detail/specificity is always welcome, as the articles/comments I have posted suggest I’m not a believer in enlightenment just in the possibilities of seeing things in a different light, and not for revolution but for Dewey style pragmatist amelioration (Emerson talked of self-perfection but there was/is no Perfect that one achieved just a process of continual adjustments). Sounds like the book is well met in your life (and your predispositions/tastes), I said somewhere (paraphrasing St. Cavell) that philosophy is for grownups, but most folks never get past the push and pull of adolescent psychology, and as you say the demands of the daily grind. So we will count you as an ATS success story, thanks for sharing.

  18. Enoch Lambert says:

    Ishmael would not have been a football fan. At least, I think, not one that found any particularly significant meaning in football over and above other meaningful pursuits. Oh sure, he may have been open to, and temporarily enjoyed, the whooshes in a crowd were he at a game. But he doesn’t strike me as a season ticket holder. The crowd whooshes don’t offer anything like the experiences and understanding he came to have with Queequeg, the experience he had with the sperm, or the general promise of exploration, adventure, and new worlds that life on the sea promised.

    Nor do I think that Ishmael may be reduced to an open channel that any and every possible mood in the world could possess. Did he not cite principles of Jesus in coming to learn about Queequeg’s form of life?
    I think both Ishmael and moods themselves are more nuanced and complex than the paradigm of crowd whooshings would suggest. First, I think there is a sense of ‘public’, which not all moods fit. The contrast with private mental states is well taken. But in our culture ‘public’ often carries a connotation of being readily available to literally everyone. And, indeed, football whooshings may be the paradigmatic exemplar of that. But not every mood is equally available to every person. To begin, not everyone can get in sync with the mood of a great party. If you aren’t into the kinds of music, dress, topics of conversation, etc. as those who are in sync, you aren’t gonna get it. If you don’t know much about a particular topic, you aren’t gonna get swept up into the mood of those who do and are keenly interested. You aren’t gonna feel the pull of the unfolding of a great discussion.

    Further, public and private moods need not be irreconcilable. I’ve been to religious meetings where there was an overpowering sense of communal mood and yet the whole point of the meeting was for people to express their OWN experiences and feelings.

    Next, was Ishmael’s experience with the sperm truly public? Perhaps I am forgetting parts of the passage, but it seemed like what he was experiencing wasn’t available to just everyone engaged in the activity.

    I watched a lot of football with family and friends as a youngster and none of it seems to have anything to do with what brings me closer to them during difficult times. The crowd whoosh seems a lot closer to the moods that come over other animals–the pigeons in the park that take off together; the spook that washes over a herd of cattle, etc. The moods that open up stable worlds for further articulation seem to come from different sources. The possibility of the MLK rally was opened up by the determined dedication, striving, and sacrifice of thousands of people for years prior to it.

    Kantian morality is not sufficient for a meaningful life. But neither, I venture, are most public moods. I thought that awe in the face of athletic excellence may have been a useful heuristic for jump-starting the kind of sensibility that ATS is aimed at. But both it and the books it treats (like Moby Dick) point toward much more worthwhile and meaningful world-disclosers than an emphasis on crowd whooshes would suggest.

  19. dmf says:

    el, maybe you have missed our line of conversation about bootstrapping but the fact is that most people aren’t living in epic novels filled with such emblematic characters (and so the value of works of art) so we have to take is at hand and make due with it. But you do raise a broader issue that is worrisome which is whether the more Aristotelian aspects of Heidegger/ATS are in a sense trying to ‘smuggle’ in something like Objectivity post-post-structuralism. See the debates around Alasdair MacIntyre’s attempts to revive/worry such standards/virtue-ethics.
    Their have been similar objections over the years to Bert’s ethical expertise model suggesting that he ignores cultural context and all that comes with it. If Terence Blake was still posting here he could bring us up to date on Deleuze/Badiou and “events”, or as I have suggested that Wittgenstein offers another way of finding our way around the ‘religious’ (and the idea of “private”), and if you read Rorty on private/public you will find another metaphysics free line of thought.

  20. dmf says:

    this is kind of technical so I apologize for waxing philosophical but literature is illuminating to the degree that it is not illustrative, it gives us non-formal descriptions (not explanations) that allow the us some experience of the enabling background (like moods) that make possible (and as I have said elsewhere frustrate) the formal networks that we can plan/manage/account for. So we should really try and avoid rendering our literary resources into formal/controlling terms/rules in a quest for certainty/authority. We should try and continue to see through Ishmael, not to try and be Ishmael, he is a via medium (not media with all due respect to d.l.) and not an end to be achieved/emulated, this is not (I hope) an exercise in hagiography.

    • david leech says:

      I have no good idea of the brush with which d.l. is painted above. “Being Ishmael” makes absolutely no sense from my perspective (as I understand it). My heros (exemplars) are flesh & blood and present. The are references. I wish I could be more like them in some respects but I am aware that my situation limits the true extent of their effective influence. “Through Ishmael” makes more sense but my attention/exposure to imaginary literary figures is only recent and very limited.

      • dmf says:

        sorry if I wasn’t clear I was mentioning you in my follow up to my response to e.l. to try and highlight that I proposing a “via medium” which shouldn’t be read as a “via media” (which I think has been in line with your comments here). hope that is clearer now, glad that my offering of “seeing through” is acceptable.

  21. dmf says:

    d.l., thanks for the examples, I can see how Dreyfus/Spinosa might have led you here but I think that in Heideggerian terms the antiques roadshow would be evidence of the dea(r)th of Art, the works don’t work and therefore have to be assigned a value based on what they say, and this may as you say give credit to a certain individual’s personal feeling of nostalgia/reminiscence.
    The key point here, I think, is to keep in mind human-being as being-open-to-living-possibilities/potentialities.

    • david leech says:

      I am not suggesting that antiques are art. As I understand it, the work of art in Heidegger is a work of art working. I am arguing that market institutions ARE a work of art working. The Antiques Road Show just shows folk emoting in the presence of a market price

      • dmf says:

        might be my agora-phobia speaking but how are modern markets not some hyperactive hybrid of Technology and crowd-sourcing/gossip?

      • david leech says:

        I think markets are one side of the coin (pun intended) and technology the other. Adam Smith famously said that the division of labor (process technology) is limited by the extent of the market. Market institutions have been around forever (“agora-phobioa,” cute) but they have been improved by technology (know-how) both physical and conceptual (economic) but more importantly, those institutions have moved from the margins of the social fabric to its center.

  22. Charlie says:

    Interesting question on the trashy vs. great distinction that dl raised, as to the universe of possibilities/potentialities. Does the classic definition of pornography apply here – we’ll know it when we see it? To push the envelope, take the amped up spectacle of Punxsutawney Phil, with guys dressed up like Pilgrims torturing a ground hog. It may be more entertaining than The Black Eyed Peas at halftime, but is this the best example of a nihilistic mood, or a peculiarly American equinox? I’m sure there are more than a few people that would equate the Super Bowl to a prognosticating rodent emerging from Gobbler’s Knob. Is it a personal question of what you want to lean into and get by with? I don’t want to turn this into a secular version of Pascal’s wager, where we’re all in, but I might lean toward seeing potential in more things

    • dmf says:

      I don’t know if this is a “personal” (in the sense of being ego-centric/reason-able) matter but I think that it is an existential matter of choice/commitments/response-ability for individuals.
      The danger of going beyond seeing potential to leaning into more things is that in some sense one has to adopt the related culture/practices, and as I tried to point out in my response to Albert above these commitments/leanings aren’t ethically/politically neutral. Also can one say appreciate the excellence of a football play and be mindful of the physical violence/ruin involved?
      for an interesting take on kitsch (that I don’t share) see:

      Click to access MellamphyandMellamphy.pdf

  23. Sarah Blythe says:

    I didn’t mean to set up a binary with my trashy v. great distinction. I find that when we like making distinctions most to either a) distinguish ourselves or b) when the difference or distinction really isn’t all that different/distinguished. It’s an obsession, a human tendency to want to classify, to want to categories, to want to establish hierarchy. In other words, I’m with Bourdieu: “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed.”

    I also think “great” can mean different things to different people. I think V. Woolf is great writing, but she’s not an easy read. I also think Charlaine Harris’s books are great reading, but her writing is often bordering on terrible.

    And I have a quick question for David: “chron-ontological”?

    • david leech says:

      Heidegger distinguishes ontological epochs, we are currently in what he/we call the technological epoch. Homer lived in the phusis epoch and on Heidegger’s account we are moving in a direction that tends to obliterate our understanding of what it means to be human (dasein). The manifestation of that is nihilism.

    • Jermaine says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I think we should remember that distinctions of worth are ultimately attached to practical, embodied skills (or better yet, ‘skillful coping’ at the level of mastery; i.e., The wheelwrights mentioned in ATS). I think Bourdieu is mainly speaking of aesthetic distinctions that usually accompany the conspicuous consumption–rather than the creation of–art/artifacts/material goods.

      Thus, in Poesis, both craft and craftsman reciprocally improve upon the other via finer and finer grained distinctions that enhance the work. Viewed in this light, these are differences (distinctions) that make a difference.

    • dmf says:

      d.l., there is an old Greek saying that there are two ways to see/understand a city, one from a hilltop as a would be conquering general would (we might now see a real-estate developer) the other more diplomatic, if one was interested in knowing what their values are, would be to visit the market and check out the local temples. In our age the markets have replaced the other forms of community (even our churches are market/purpose-driven) and as such have far outpaced research science as the main engineers/manifest-ors/purveyors of resource-commodification, fluctuating values and disposable go(o)ds.
      In our professional/organizational ethics we have shifted from paternalism to commercialism such that the consumer/customer is always right in fields like medicine, higher-education, and politics, where customer-satisfaction polls become the measure of what used to be quality and now is just goods.
      We are just now starting to get a feel for the dehumanizing/post-human implications of disembodied/virtual social-markets, that’s a whole other brave new world…

      • david leech says:

        I agree with all you say but I want to be very careful with my argument. I don’t want to replay capitalism vs. socialism. Like Heidegger’s caution about the peasant thatched hut, I don’t want to use insights from Heidegger to turn back the clock or fail to recognize the fantastic power of technology and markets to generate solutions to material problems. Hell, following Deidre McCloskey (Bourgeois Virtues), I have no doubt that there are some answers to “spiritual/ethical” issues there too.

        I think the ontic/ontological distinction is helpful here. I just want to argue that this work of art working cultivates certain metaphysical commitments that are like water to the fish; that color much, and that Heidegger’s “poet” senses this and is watching and waiting for something else to gather.

        Brining it back to ATS, and to the metapoietic skill’s they encourage, does Ishmael stand for that poet? Is it just meaningless background that the whaling industry was a global industry or that a central symbol — the doubloon — is market currency?

  24. dmf says:

    no not “just meaningless” background, but as history shows overwhelmingly meaning-less (in Heidegger’s sense of nihilism) the fact that we are part of (and made of) large and multiple networks/systems/processes is not a case for ontology/metaphysics just complexity/emergence. if you get a chance listen to Bruno Latour (who reminded us that we have never been modern) responding to Graham Harman in the section @ 11:20 called Response Graham Harman:

    • david leech says:

      I have only seen references to Latour’s work in introductory philosophy of science texts. I have never looked at his work. (I’m afraid I am a mile wide and an inch deep!)

      I have done some work in labs, in a sense trying to interpret what they do in terms of economic rationality. My unarticulated intuition — the meaning of which I am unsure — is that there is a intra-lab culture clash between the scientific ethos/rationale and the economic ethos/rationale (did we make scientific progress vs. was it cost-effective) and that this arises from the genesis of twin scientific and economic institutions and the overlap in the language of those institutions. (Phillip Mirowski, More Heat Than Light)

      In the link you provided, I didn’t grasp what Latour was talking about when he talked about the Heideggerian aspects of his work.

      • dmf says:

        sorry about that I’m still trying to get a feel for how much of a reference I can make to insider philo-baseball and still make sense here, see if this is more accessible:

      • david leech says:

        OK, I get it (to the extent that one can in a short speech). It all sounds a little too social “SCIENCY” for my philosophical taste. I can see the tangency of Heidegger’s “thing” (and Borgman’s “focal practice”) with Latour’s “node” and action network but I find it hard to imagine that Heidegger would have “leaned into” the idea of his “thing” as part of a social scientific project.

        I am reminded of Harry Seldon (Asimov’s Foundation Series). I am also reminded of Heidegger’s essay, “Age of the World Picture”. Network, worldview, picture, what is the difference?

        I think there is still scope for the distinction between ontic and ontological. I don’t accept that I AM a “node”. I don’t accept that I AM a resource.

        That said, the whole individual-aggregate reversibility thing is intriguing. And yet, somehow too, I am reminded of the planning vs. markets controversy and Hayek’s “in principle” argument that planning was a flawed because relative values (prices) were, by nature, indeterminate.

  25. dmf says:

    d.l. how do you incorporate Heidegger’s self-withdrawal, his Ereignis, and his desire to overcome metaphysics?
    I prefer Nietzsche’s untimely/vigorous contemplations, which Paul Rabinow understands in terms of “l’intempestif”;
    “The term tries to capture a striving to bring something forth, something that could be actual but does not yet exist. Of course, this claim does not mean that there is something waiting around to come to fruition but only that, taken up in a distinctive way, the things of the actual and existing world can be made into something appropriate as well as inopportune. Such an event would be appropriate at least retrospectively in that it reconfigures existing things and relations, and inopportune in that it disrupts those existing things and relations and changes their tone, register, directionality.”

    Click to access 120-COMPO_MANIFESTO.pdf

    • dmf says:

      ps (my reply is awaiting moderation, a service that would probably serve me well in real life) Ishmael is not a Heideggerian poet, tho he may be learning to dwell poetically which raises the question of whether one requires the other.
      I think that Heidegger’s disgust with America would likely extend to Melville but leaving this aside the question for me is do we learn along with Ishmael?
      We say that Cezanne makes us see beauty in everyday/taken-for-granted objects/scenes but does this appreciation extend beyond the viewing of the painting to our next piece of fruit?
      My reading is that for existentialism the learning through experience is importantly/vitally different than learning via what others say divorced from experience, but can literature bridge this gap?
      d.l. if you get some time for more extensive reading check out Deweys’ Art & Experience.

      • david leech says:

        I see your point clearly. Of course one can only expect ATS to point. We have to make sense of the imaginary Ishmael figure in our real life. You asked, way above, how does one DO it. I gave what I think are examples of how I DO it but they aren’t deep or extensive enough. The change it makes is only as effective as the impact I have on my “network.” In my case, that is likely to be quite inconsequential. But ATS could have a similar effect on a small percentage of readers and it would be more consequential.

        I said somewhat facetiously, somewhere, that maybe ATS is just phase I: pointing to meta-poietci skill through an interpretation how the authors of selected great works grasp, very differently, their “that on the basis of which.” Maybe phase II is some sort of “how-to” workshop. On the other hand, I suspect that HOW one implements can only be left to one’s situation. I am not sure Bert and Sean are up to an AA-like program. 🙂 That’s supposed to be jocular but it is a version of what one might have to do to get the kind of traction you seem to be interested in.

      • david leech says:

        BTW: thanks for being moderate. I can wait for both barrels.

      • dmf says:

        thanks for sticking with this (while I do hope that you do take this to heart none of it is meant to be personal), if you see how we are struggling to come to some basic working definitions I hope that this might illustrate how difficult communication/thinking can be, and why I question the effectiveness of much of our modes of teaching, especially the love of wisdom, because we do so without showing the hard and experimental work of loving wisdom (this is part of the ‘danger’ of machines doing our thinking/work for us). And in particular what is lacking is the role of apprenticeships and collegiality (both of which are often sadly lacking in the modern academy) the real model that we could learn from is likely the relationship between Sean and Bert,sadly ATS is not a very revelatory coming together of these folks as comes across in the interviews and in the ways in which there isn’t so much of Sean’s innovative work here, perhaps an act of appreciation for his beloved teacher, but shows some of the limits of gratitude (a much underestimated/honored mood) and likely also a limit of their other commitments. My armchair analysis aside I hope the point is clear.

      • david leech says:

        There is a tension here, speaking as a person who is all about application (in his professional life) rather than advancing the leading edge. Even in the little published work I have to show, my role has always been fitting advanced thought of my academic colleagues and advisors to the situation at hand. I think that inclines one to the tried and true because there, the tweaks, nuances, relaxations tend to dominate. A well-worn (if somewhat limited) perspective is easier to work with and, given those damned time constraints, more effective than the more advanced apparatus. (And in the final analysis the earlier iteration has survival power that, ex ante, we just don’t have with the leading edge.)

        So maybe if “the rest of us” are going to get anything out of the work of the most advanced thinkers among us its naturally going to get the traction that it has, as it has, not from what might look like the cutting edge but from the source of the cutting edge. And maybe that really is where the “bang for the buck” so to speak, the traction, is the greatest for now(-ish).

      • david leech says:

        Then too there is what might be called a vertical (direct, “on the shoulders of”) and horizontal (indirect) application. So if Dreyfus used his grasp of Heidegger to address the (vertical?) problem of AI, and if Kelly used his grasp of Heidegger (in part through Drefyus) to grasp Merleau-Ponty to address problems of neurophenomenology and, you say, experimental philosophy (if that is different) (vertical) whereas Flores seems to have applied what he learned from Dreyfus to organizational applications and, one presumes, political issues (horizontal). I would like to make a serious contribution to another horizontal application: the intersection of Heidegger and economics. I have a long way to go but it keeps me off the streets as they say.

      • Charlie says:

        The love of wisdom always catches my attention. In connection with it being difficult, I’m wondering how meaning or fulfillment, in the way we’ve batted it around, align with wisdom/truth? If we take Albert’s point in the beggining of the thread seriously – challenging that Kantian ethics is sufficient for a morally commendable life – do we necessary posit a more relational theory of truth? Harkening back to the preface of BGE, to draw another analogy, are we trying too hard in each instance? Nothing singularly sacred or true. Epistemological notions are strewn through the discussion: dmf, your link to that excellent piece on Radical Empiricism (and purported Kantian inversion) or the simple elegance of going to a market to understand a city. Technically speaking, the categorical imperative is but another “faculty” springing from the Cartesian myth?

        Or maybe my predilection for systems betrays my naivete. I should wake up and smell the coffee. The pragmatists have already successfully trivialized truth.

      • dmf says:

        “The pragmatists have already successfully trivialized truth.” hey I resemble that remark, maybe it’s finally a matter of taste but when I read the pragmatists I find both remarkable imaginations and that sense of powerful reality setting in that comes when someone speaks (as Foucault says)the fearless-truth, cuts through all the bs and tyranny of the mean(s) and gets things moving in a powerful direction, full of enthusiasm and wit and a passionate desire for differences that make a difference. I tried to post this earlier but it got caught up by the behind the scenes program that enforces moderation so I’ll add one link at a time, see if this is grand enough in scale:

        Click to access 120-COMPO_MANIFESTO.pdf

    • david leech says:

      I am not sure what “self-withdrawal” means. I’ll bet its a different interpretation of a concept I know by some other term. The subtitle of “the market it a work of art” is “economics after metaphysics.” I am a little unclear what that might be but I have some thoughts that still need to be stitched together but a post-metaphysical (that is, post-ontotheological) economics situtation-specific, might not go for the grander unifications, and would, at least initially be classificatory; ground-up case study work. That’s post-metaphycial economics.

      The main project is to describe market institutions as a work of art working. I think microeconomic theory, say as represented in Gary Becker’s work, is the working out of a set of metaphysical commitments that add up to the kind of nihilism we are concerned about. In Heidegger the danger of the current epoch is the obliteration of dasein. In Becker, a family is a production function in which resources are transformed into higher value resources. To me that is a really good expression of Heidegger’s worst fear about the technological epoch.

      Erignis? Well I am not sure if any of us are all that clear about it. Not surprisingly, I follow Dreyfus in interpreting it as a very fundamental process of cultural “gathering.” I think the role of the poet in our era (a needy time) is watching and waiting for post-metapysical gathering and to name it so that we can hold onto it.

      I take ATS to be a handbook for developing the skills that we (as poets) need to sense the gathering of rudiments of a post-ontotheological epoch.

  26. dmf says:

    ch, one can hardly get more epic than Whitehead so not a harpoon but a lure:

    Click to access stengers_constructivist_reading.pdf

    dl, I’ll have to think more about Heidegger and Econ. but I do think that this is about translation/management. If one thinks about a chain of being/family-tree, from pure-research scientist to lab-science to engineering to technicians to users, I’m trying to get us to the level of educating/socializing engineers rather than technicians or users. Too ambitious?

    • david leech says:

      No, not too ambitious. I would only add that there is a difference between a person with an engineering degree and the same person with a lot of project experience under the belt. Or looking at it the other way, the technician with a vision of how to do things better, struggling get the engineers to see what s/he sees.

      • dmf says:

        indeed, my point was (building on “seeing through”) that one would want enough knowledge/know-how to not just follow prescribed/pre-programmed paths but to be able to frame new problems and envision/enact new possibilities. Have you read any of Mark C.Taylor’s work like About Religion: Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture or
        The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture?

      • david leech says:

        No, I don’t know the work of Mark Taylor, though it looks interesting. One’s arc can only be so wide. As you can imagine, I have paid more attention to Borgmann, Charles Taylor, and the social science oriented studies of religion. Looks like I might have to come to terms with Mark Taylor. Thanks for the pointer.

  27. dmf says:

    char, the only part of the categorical imperative that might hold is the desire to not treat people as means to ends (human-resources/capital) but this isn’t grounded in anything transcendent, early Heidegger seems to want to give voice to the “univocity” of Being that he believes is unsaid in Aristotle’s analogical methods but there is no contemporary equivalent of the soul to act as a kind of truth detector/resonator, see “There is No Moral Faculty” Mark Johnson (University of Oregon):
    “But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. ” -Aristotle

    • Charlie says:

      If we jettison truth and morality what’s left? Laughter? Tragedy? Day after day I’m still waking up seeking a commendable life. Dare I say that these moods, after the bombastic attack, are Dionysian after all?

      • dmf says:

        truth and and morality are as much a part of our lives as they have ever been, we are just organizing our selves in different ways.
        check out this recent interview with James Taylor on Charlie Rose, more of a troubadour than a poet, but quite eloquent on various existential/phenomenological matters, especially his distinction between pressured expression and expected performance:

  28. Charlie says:

    I think we cut the baby in half and call ATS a post-pragmatic antidote

  29. dmf says:

    so it struck me that here we are working out various projects, does this mean that we have not been properly converted by the text, missed the ontological opening/mood, or perhaps that DFW was just a strawman for those aspects of Sartre that fit with a post-pragmatist antidote/neopragmatism?

    • Charlie says:

      dmf, not sure you ever checked out Brian Greene’s latest, but, among other multiverse theories, he conjures synthetic universes built with advanced computers. With a functionalist premise, where you don’t need the brain as a substrate, he explores how advances in computational power might manufacture universes. I know, it sounds bizarre, but Brian is a pre-eminent String theorist/physicist/mathematician and you might enjoy his materialist speculations. His notion that physics may ultimately study bits of information as the fundamental constituents of nature struck a chord (Whitehead)

      • dmf says:

        thanks charlie I’ll take a look, I’m a pretty hardcore physicalist evolutionary thinker but believe that what makes us human-beings (above and beyond our familial primate resemblances) who can dwell poetically (invent new possibilities/recombinations/metaphors/bricolage) is exactly not reducible to functionalism (nor is it a Transcendent function pace Jung/kant), but rather is an accidental/contingent excess (not a literal Gift). Stengers has a similar slant (above) in her strong mis-reading of Whitehead. you might be interested in:
        where I continue my role as humanist gadfly (typecasting is a bitch I need a better agent).

  30. Britt Z. says:

    I think Bert & Sean need to write, at least, an article explaining why they place so much faith in Heidegger’s notion of der Spur. The book’s entire thesis depends on their take on it, yet it’s completely missing! I love ATS, but the lack of discussion involving the trace is a blindspot. Sean, what are your thoughts on the trace? (Important questions arise between Heidegger’s statements on the trace in Early Greek Thinking, on pg 54, and Derrida’s discussion of the trace in Ousia & Gramme. By using Heidegger’s notion of the trace, is ATS knee-deep in metaphysics??)

    • dmf says:

      I think there may be a lingering/haunting pietism here, I posted this above but it’s been a long thread and it seems to be worth (if I say so myself) repeating:
      how does the faithful reader of ATS incorporate Heidegger’s self-withdrawal, his Ereignis, and his desire to overcome metaphysics?
      I prefer Nietzsche’s untimely/vigorous contemplations, which Paul Rabinow understands in terms of “l’intempestif”;
      “The term tries to capture a striving to bring something forth, something that could be actual but does not yet exist. Of course, this claim does not mean that there is something waiting around to come to fruition but only that, taken up in a distinctive way, the things of the actual and existing world can be made into something appropriate as well as inopportune. Such an event would be appropriate at least retrospectively in that it reconfigures existing things and relations, and inopportune in that it disrupts those existing things and relations and changes their tone, register, directionality.”

    • Sean D. Kelly says:

      Can you say more, Britt, about how you see the book’s entire thesis depending on the trace? I think I know what you mean, but I’d like to have it spelled out a bit more clearly.

  31. Britt Z. says:

    This took forever to type…sorry in advance for typos.

    The thesis of ATS first relies on Heidegger’s narrative of the effaced trace of being caused by the mistaken transition from presencing (Anwesen) to permanent presence (standige Anwesenheit), leading to the obliviated experience and forth-coming distinction between being and beings. The early Greeks experienced the presencing of presence but never succeeded in naming the opening of this difference as difference(the lack of the Unter-Schied), quoting Heidegger, “Im Scheinen des Anwesens erscheint, kommt her (vor) Anwesendes. Das Scheinen ersheint nie!” (Holz 364). Thus, there are only traces, or a trace, of this experience, never an all-encompassing term. In Anaximander’s fragment, Heidegger locates a key trace in the “to khreon.” Heidegger writes:

    “However, the distinction between being and beings, as someting forgotten, can invade our experience only if it has already unveiled itself with the presencing of what is present; only if it has left a trace which remains preserved in the language to which being comes [in the context of ATS, literary works of art]. Thinking along those lines, we may surmise that the distinction has been illuminated more in that early word of being [to khreon] than in recent ones; yet at no time has the distinction been designated as such” (EGT 51).

    Heidegger relates “to khreon” to “ta onta,” giving a theory of jointure, gathering, shining, and harmony. Through etymology, he translates “khreon” to “Brauch/brauchen” (usage, engage), which in Dreydeggerian terms is taken to mean practical, everyday activity, revealing human beings as responsive entities.

    (Isn’t this use of “usage” as any “everyday use” questionable? Isn’t Heidegger invoking the trace of Ereignis here? In “What is Called Thinking,” Heidegger does discuss the radiance of proper use (187-89); however, he ultimately connects it to “It is useful,”with the “It” referring to the anonymous “there is/es gibt,” which is what sends/gives the epochs within the history of being. In fact, Heidegger calls for us to go beyond the common notions of “usage” as any type of human handling, and instead focus on its higher sense in terms of necessity, gathering, and propriety within Ereignis. Comments? )

    In ATS, “brauchen” is collected with an analysis of atomospheric moods and a certain phronesis to disclose the rising call (physis) of the unique situation and Dasein’s response, ending, possibly, in a beacon of illuminating harmony. The text then has no choice but to privilege the Homeric Greeks. It seems like a form of applied destruktion; a stripping away of the Christian and Latin in an attempt to reveal the primordial phenomenon/”essence.” (If only we could experience presencing with the distinction!) As stated earlier, the trace is preserved in language, resulting in an interesting double movement within ATS. The project follows the various sendings of being, gathering traces, through works of art/literature, and, interestingly, “trace” (Spur) means not only the trace to the past but also a track to follow into the future. Is this not the very aim and goal of ATS? Where else does this same double movement occur? Heidegger’s eschaton.

    Of the two beginnings proposed by Heidegger, we live not in the creative first beginning but at its end, in the eschatology, before the hopeful second beginning. We have the advantage to look back upon history, upon the early Greeks, able to think at both ends of history. This is important because Heidegger believes by studying and learning from the Greeks we can get a feel for the future; “But what if that which is early outdistanced everything late, if the very earliest far surpassed the very latest” (EGT 18). The becoming-attuned to the trace allows for the leap into a new beginning, which is why the interpretation of Moby Dick is so eerily similar, yet different, than Homer (from gods to god to gods!). It’s the coming again, the repetition of the early Greek experience; “What then occurred in the dawn of our dispensation [Geschick] would then come, as what once occurred, at the last, that is, at the departure of the long hidden dispensation of being (18). ATS gathers together the history of being, mirroring the role of the epoch within we find ourselves, collecting the traces, the errors, treading down the various paths. It is all in hope of finding a path forward into the future, into the new beginning; the double movement of the trace (Spur). Heidegger makes it clear:

    “The being of beings is gathered in the ultimacy of its dispensation. The essence of being up to the present time, disappears, its truth still veiled. The history of being is gathered in this departure. The gathering in this departure as the gathering at the outermost point of its essence up to the present time is the eschatology of being” (18).

    Hopefully, it appears clear why the thesis, the project, of ATS depends upon both, within an eschatological framework, the effacement and double movement of the trace (Spur); trapped between the metaphysical and the anti-metaphysical.

  32. Britt Z. says:

    Forgot this important quote:

    “What properly remains to be thought in the word “usage” has presumably left a trace in “to khreon.” This trace quickly vanishes in the destiny of being which unfolds in world history as Western metaphysics” (EGT 54).

    • dmf says:

      bz, I think that you are on the right track here but are you suggesting that Derrida somehow escapes this line of thinking because by my reading his ‘traces’ are more of the same gothic genre of quasi-transcendentalism

      • Britt Z. says:

        Thanks, DMF!

        I think the difference is Derrida recognizes that you have to operate within metaphysics, and Heidegger believes you can escape metaphysics. Derrida’s quasi-transcendentals are not anything like the common understanding of transcendentals — the very condition of possibility is impossibility. (The way you typed that reminded me of Rorty.) Here’s an example of the aporetic knot: Justice requires the law, the law requires justice, and, going a step further, beyond Rorty’s interpretation, justice ruins/destabilizes the law, the law ruins/ignores the singularity called for by justice.

        As far as the trace goes…in Derrida, the trace traces the origin as an effect of differential differences and spacing; this trace constitutes, unlike Heidegger’s, Levinas’, etc. He doesn’t want to use the term “signifier,” but “trace” doesn’t lessen the confusion.

  33. dmf says:

    not sure that Derrida ever embraced metaphysics (see his related exchange with Rorty) tho he was surely ‘guilty’ of it. I may have posted this already but check out:

    Click to access Moi_They-Practice-Their-Trades.pdf

    • Britt Z. says:

      He never “embraced” metaphysics, but he makes clear in Of Grammatology that you cannot 100% escape metaphysics…there will always be an aporia and deconstruction can only occur within the structure, never outside –it’s a loosening of the hinges, opening up the horizon to the contamination of the other, the event. We need to ask who’s not guilty of metaphysics??! Though if metaphysics is a sin, Derrida was the least guilty among us. Derrida is always about openness and permeability, not letting things congeal for too long, which is why he’s adverse to/wary of Heidegger’s notion of gathering, but not exactly against all gathering per se. Gasche probably deals with this issue better than anyone. His book “Tain of the Mirror” is an incredible piece of commentary, highly recommended.

      • dmf says:

        we are always at risk for subliming grammar, but it’s certainly not a necessity there are ways (tho provisional) out of the flyjar (see the article by TMoi above for a way back to the rough ground) sounds like you have good library privileges, if so check out Seeing Wittgenstein Anew, or Stengers above.

        Rorty was probably too generous when he said that Caputo “is wrong in saying that my view, or Derrida’s, ensures that ‘we get not further than propositional discourse’. All that I can (or as far as I can see Derrida) want to exclude is the attempt to be nonpropositional (poetic, world-disclosing) and at the same time claim that one is getting down to something primordial- what Caputo calls ‘the silence from which language springs.” Derrida was a possessed (against his own insights) by Philosophy and archive fever as Rorty was by the analytic demand for justifications and his own bibliophilia.

        will be interested to see what Sean makes of your line of inquiry.

  34. terenceblake says:

    The problem is not so much should one be metaphysical or not? but more one of pluralism, multiplicity, polytheism as incorporated in our modes of acting, perceiving, feeling and thinking. Deleuze can say unashamedly that he is a pure metaphysician (AV: Are you a non-metaphysical philosopher?
    GD: No, I feel I am a pure metaphysician
    because he is concerned with a meta-competence of navigating between the unities and multiplicities of our world.
    I too miss the Heideggerian background that is developped in Sean’s and Bert’s lectures, but I feel there are advantages in not emphasizing it in the book. This type of thinking is much bigger than just Heideggerian (or Derridian) problematics. This is why I appreciate dmf’s multiple references and the openness of thought they express.
    “Gathering” is not necessarily a monistic metaphysical term. Deleuze’s pluralist notion of “agencements”, usually translated as assemblages, could just as well be translated as gatherings.

    • dmf says:

      thanks and welcome back, I’ll have to give some thought to metaphysics as meta-competence (may need you to unpack that some for me) is this like
      “swimming upstream as it were, in placing oneself within the flow of the event in its becoming, to rejuvenate and to age simultaneously, to pass through each of its elements and each singularity. Becoming (le devenir) is not history; history designates only the collection of conditions, as recent as they may be, that need to be overcome in order ‘to become’, to create something new. That state of becoming is precisely what Nietzsche the ‘inopportune’ (l’intempestif).”?
      I like this take on Deleuze and what is philosophy:

      • dmf says:

        my worry with Deleuze (especially without his better half bringing him back to the concerns of actual people and their living conditions) is that while Nietzsche is using the specific examples of be-coming that he finds in Greek history to offer a young student a chance/means not to get worn down (lose his enthusiam/entheos), prematurely grayed by the weighty History of author-ity figures (not unlike Heidegger and what They say) but rather to be inspired, Deleuze (with some help from Nietzche’s mythological power trip of the Eternal Return) sometimes turns this into an epic/titanic puer-ile struggle between History and Becoming, this kind of mythologizing/metaphysics is part of what I would prefer to leave behind.
        That said the introduction of conceptual personae (as opposed to social-norms/stereotypes) seems to fit in with our working definition of “seeing through”.

  35. terenceblake says:

    This is one of the first things I read by Deleuze, over 30 years ago:
    It is one of the texts that made me want to leave my country, Australia, and come to live in France. It is as Deleuzian texts go fairly “experiential”. I had read lots of Nietzsche before and I found his remarks on Nietzsche just and illuminating. In contrast, when Sean and Bert talk about Nietzsche I have no idea who or what they are talking about, except some strange conceptual persona invented by Heidegger so as to assert his own philosophical superiority. This is not Sean and Bert at their best.
    Deleuze speaks about his intellectual development and expresses his desire to arrive at a form of “pop-philosophy”. This is ithe only way I can bear to read the title “Watching the Super Bowl with Moby Dick”. I cannot stand football in any form, and I think if Sean really took Moby Dick to the Super Bowl he would see things with a very singular eye, and not just see beautiful souls whooshing up in unison at a beautiful play, oblivious of whose side the player is on. Seriously, this must correspond to 0.001% of football experience on a good day.
    Deleuze speaks of his philosophical development, and I was sad to see Sean speak of his experience of football when his experience of philosophy would have been much more interesting for me.
    Guattari talks about his own and Deleuze’s works as examples of “meta-modelization”, and explicitly puts this meta-skill in relation to events, becomings, affects, multiplicities and singularities that may whoosh up in concrete worlds. Deleuze and Guattari whooshed up for me and changed my life, football never did this for me (but thanks to my reading of Deleuze and Guattari I began to practice tai-chi, and this did change my life).

    • Britt Z. says:

      Really, Deleuze’s Nietzsche is more of a stretch; it’s a very creative re-interpretation against Heidegger’s interpretation. Both Deleuze and Derrida have Heidegger’s Nietzsche specifically in mind when they see the “play of forces” as differential differences. Really, without Saussure, there wouldn’t be such a liberal, freeing interpretation of Nietzsche.

      • dmf says:

        the same teachings/teachers that gripped Derrida in a kind of anxiety of influence revolted Deleuze (for many of the same reasons that I praise some aspects of Nietzsche’s advocating for vitality), the question is not which thinkers most accurately re-present other thinkers (tho I think that some more respect for accurately re-presenting author-ity when speaking for others would be desirable) but who thinks through these folks in ways which carry the work, and us, forward.

    • dmf says:

      thanks for this (I’ll have to get to link later) I have been pushing here for recovering Nietzsche the psychologist from Heidegger (esp. his Gay Science), for more of Sean and Bert and how philosophy changed their lives, for talking (as you have here) about the ways in which are lives are re-arranged/re-oriented by some encounters that defy calculations or structures or historical trends. And I have been questioning (really I don’t have a definitive answer) if the means of ATS are too familiar/too easily reduced to the familiar the routine. My sense is that not only is all philosophy autobiographical but that it is by sharing the of our life experiences, our passions, that we will make the kinds of connections that make a difference in our lives. Books may be a medium for such accounts but they lack the full impact of flesh and blood encounters. David Miller wrote an article many years ago about method teaching (like method acting) as a way of bringing the passion (mood) to the learning experience so that students could get a lived experience that this matters not b/c someone said it does (it’s required reading) but because this can give the kind of sustenance/leading-example that will measure up to the heights and depths of life , to which I would add the fierce urgency of now. Thomas Moore wrote the Care of the Soul so anyone looking to have richer lives and follow their bliss is already well served. But if you want to understand the conversion of St.Paul and the difference between the quick and the dead, than maybe we need a more untimely, more challenging/unsettling book of meditations:
      “In any case, I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity. These words are from Goethe, and they may stand as a sincere [ceterum censeo at the] beginning of our meditation on the value of history. For its intention is to show why instructions without invigoration, why knowledge not attended by action, why history as costly superfluity and luxury, to use Goethe’s word, should be seriously hated by us-hated because we still lack even the things we need and the superfluous is the enemy of the necessary.”

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  40. Georgesify says:

    ktora kamagra najlepsza 2 . Badz ostrozny kiedy podrózujac i obstawac do goscie wskazówki . To jest najwiecej effective strategia do dostac sie zmniejszyc pojazd plan ubezpieczenia zwierzchnik . Liczny dostarczyciele ubezpieczenia nizej samochód wysoka jakosc z szacunkiem do klienci kto sa zdolne do pójsc trzy lata z zadnym committing singiel goscie pogwalcenie . Po prostu zaden przekraczanie predkosci naruszenia i ruch wypadki na twoim wlasnym podrózujac historia moze pomóc, ze ratujesz tyle sam jak piec procenty w twoim premia . ?

  41. Georgesify says:

    jaka kamagra dobra kilka . Odszkodowanie. To zupelnie okreslony that wola transportowy z redukcja , szczególny ubezpieczyciel ought do upewnic sie that ci ludzie umieszczony przykryty w dokladny finansowa pozycja on polubiony wczesniej strata (Leppard Porównany do Nadmiar). ?

  42. Georgesify says:

    kamagra Jak wiekszosc z rodzaje z plan ubezpieczenia , dom polityka ubezpieczenia jest nie zawrzec kazdy mozliwy wydarzenie który móglby nastapic w domu . Poniewaz wlasciciel domu , to jest wazne do rozumie jaki punkty do domu polityka ubezpieczenia jest nie pokrycie zeby do zrobic something dostac sie dodatek pokrycie ubezpieczenia nakazany . W wiekszosci wypadków , kierowca móglby byc dodany do dom polityka ubezpieczenia dostarczyc dodatek pokrycie albo byc moze odmienny pokrycie ubezpieczenia moze zostac nabyty przykryc okreslony potrzebowac . ?

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