Month: September 2019

“The task involved in bringing together the petrified remnants of yesterday and the life of today provides a vivid illustration of what tradition always means: not just the careful preservation of monuments, but the constant interaction between our aims in the present and the past to which we still belong.” – Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Relevance of the Beautiful”

“The question posed by contemporary art imposes from the outset the task of bringing together what threatens to fall apart into two antagonistic poles: on the one hand, the art that appears historical, and on the other, the art that seems progressive. The appearance of art as something historical can be described as the delusion of a culture that holds that only what is already familiar to us from our cultural tradition is significant. The appearance of art as something progressive, on the other hand, is sustained by the delusion of the critique of ideology. It claims that history should now begin anew, since we are already thoroughly familiar with the tradition in which we stand and can safely leave it behind. But the riddle that the problem of art sets us is precisely that of the contemporaneity of past and present. There is no question here of anticipation or of degeneration. On the contrary, we have to ask ourselves what it is that maintains the continuity of art and in what sense art represents an overcoming of time.” – Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Relevance of the Beautiful”

“All artistic creation challenges each of us to listen to the language in which the work of art speaks and to make it our own. It remains true in every case that a shared or potentially shared achievement is at issue. This is true irrespective of whether the formation of a work of art is supported in advance by a shared view of the world that can be taken for granted, or whether we must first learn to ‘read’ the script and language of the one who speaks in the creation before us.” – Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Relevance of the Beautiful”

“The symbolic representation accomplished in art does not have to depend directly on what is already given. On the contrary, it is characteristic of art that what is represented, whether it is rich or poor in connotations or has none whatsoever, calls us to dwell upon it and give our assent in an act of recognition.” – Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Relevance of the Beautiful”

“The contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks, makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience . . . the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favour of this unfortunate class of men.” – Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, March 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“It is a maxim with some great military judges, that with sensible officers soldiers can hardly be too stupid; and on this principle it is thought that the Russians would make the best troops in the world, if they were under other officers than their own. . . . I frequently hear it objected to the scheme of embodying negroes that they are too stupid to make soldiers. This is so far from appearing to me a valid objection that I think their want of cultivation (for their natural faculties are probably as good as ours) joined to that habit of subordination which they acquire from a life of servitude, will make them sooner become soldiers than our White inhabitants. Let officers be men of sense and sentiment, and the nearer the soldiers approach to machines perhaps the better.” – Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, March 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“What the media have done is to create a new electronic peasantry. The experiment with democratization through mass education has failed, and the message of civilization, in achieving its widest audience, has moved toward entropy.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

“The Negro’s and Negro Women are unhumanly treated, are two-thirds naked, and are very disgusting to the Eye and another Sense, Tho I begin to be more habituated to the Sight, yet I cannot be to the great Cruelty made Use of to the poor ignorant Wretches. Indeed the Title of the Overseer is a sufficient Explanation of the Whole. He is stiled a Negro Driver. These circumstances of Cruelty to these People render the persons who exercise it disagreable, nay odious to me. When a Set of People can sit down enjoying all the Luxuries of Life without feeling the least Sensation or Compunction for the sufferings of those poor Wretches whose Lives are render’d Miserable and Constitutions destroyed for those Purposes, I must conclude them Obdurate, Selfish, and Unfeeling to the greatest Degree imaginable. At what an Expence of Life and Happiness do we eat Rice and Sugar! One thing more I must add, that their Diet is almost entirely on Rice and sweet Potatoes as they are allowed Meat but once a Year.” – Stephen De Lancey to Cornelia Barclay De Lancey, Savannah, Georgia, January 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“What we call art compared with the formative activity of production in general is mysterious in several respects, inasmuch as the work is not real in the same way as what it represents. On the contrary, the work functions as an imitation and thus raises a host of extremely subtle philosophical problems, including above all the problem of the ontological status of appearance. What is the significance of the fact that nothing ‘real’ is produced here? The work has no real ‘use’ as such, but finds its characteristic fulfillment when our gaze dwells upon the appearance itself.” – Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Relevance of the Beautiful”

“There can be no love in one who does not love himself, and one can only love himself if he has the compassion that grows out of the terrifying confrontation with one’s own self. To look into one’s own shadow is to learn compassion for the shadow of others, and if one has no compassion for himself, then he can have no compassion for others. If you hate yourself with a fierce loathing, you may try to run from your own shadow in a campaign to do good, not for love, but to rescue your ego and convince yourself that you are not evil.” – William Irwin Thompson, Evil and World Order

“The past is never simply what it is. Subjects have the capacity to create a different past by changing the present. . . . When we change what counts as valuable in the past, we engage in a retroactive causality that moves in the opposite direction of traditional causality. We retroactively transform the significance of what’s already happened and thereby effectively change what has happened. The subject is capable of a constant revision of the past. Retroactive causality has its basis in the insubstantiality of the past, but it doesn’t license the subject to change the past in an arbitrary fashion. Instead, the subject must come to see itself as a break in the continuum of history, an interruption capable of acting in a way that has no license from the past, and then it must act. The subject’s free act is what institutes the retroactive change in the past” – Todd McGowan, “We Are the Change that We Seek”

“Without absolute knowing, subjects are unable to act freely because they posit an authoritative substance that ultimately functions as a barrier to the act. The belief in substance limits what one conceives of as possible. For instance, the subject that believes in the substantiality of God can’t act in a way free of God or the subject that believes in the substantiality of the atom can’t act in a way that would challenge the existence of atoms. Whatever entity has the status of ‘substance’ for the subject impedes the subject’s ability to act freely.” – Todd McGowan, “We Are the Change that We Seek”

“The act of teaching the young so that they can carry our humanity, what we’ve made of ourselves, into future worlds is an act that in a sense defies the forward march of time and the relentless annihilation and oblivion of death. Even as a father’s material being abandons his children, he leaves something of himself behind, often lessons that are unpacked only as his children’s own lives unfold.” – Peter S, Fosl, “You Don’t Know Who You Are”

“We have been so turned around by our society that we no longer feel the stars turn. We have become so used to feeling religious only when we are uncomfortable and full of pride for having bothered to go to church at all that we no longer remember that religion was once a force that created civilization out of barbarism and inspired almost all the great works of art in history.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“You can imagine that if our civilization were to be wiped out, no scholar a thousand years from now would be willing to accept the fact that pieces of things as different as Volkwagens, Cadillacs, and buses all represented, not isolated cultures, but parts of one industrial civilization that covered the face of the earth. They would split it all up in tiny pieces and talk about how the Volkswagen I people conquered the Ford II people until both were replaced by an empire which moved people in large vehicles. Other scholars would argue that no one could possibly have crossed the great ocean, and that the Ford and Volkswagen cultures had nothing to do with one another but were separate and independent inventions.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Imagine a vehicle as large as a planet that began a voyage an aeon ago. After generations of voyaging, the mechanics lose all sense of who they are and where they are going. They begin to grow unhappy with their condition and say that the notion that they are on a journey in an enormous vehicle is a myth put forth by the ruling class to disguise its oppression of the mechanical class. There is a revolution and the captain is killed. Elated by their triumph, the mechanics proclaim the dictatorship of the proletariat and destroy the captain’s log, which contains, they claim, nothing but the lies of the old ruling class.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Imagine insects with a life span of two weeks, and then imagine further that they are trying to build up a science about the nature of time and history. Clearly, they cannot build a model on the basis of a few days in summer. So let us endow them with a language and a culture through which they can pass on their knowledge to future generations. Summer passes, then autumn; finally it is winter. The winter insects are a whole new breed, and they perfect a new and revolutionary science on the basis of the ‘hard facts’ of their perceptions of snow. As for the myths and legends of summer: certainly the intelligent insects are not going to believe the superstitions of their primitive ancestors.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“When we build a cyclotron to search for elementary particles, we do not observe elementary particles; we observe what happens when we try to search for elementary particles.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Scientists now work as stonemasons did once on cathedrals. They put the stones next to one another with great attention to detail and the work of the fellow next to them, but they have no sense of the architectonics of the whole. And sometimes they do not even have a sense of the purpose of a cathedral.” – Werner Heisenberg (interviewed by William Irwin Thompson in Passages About Earth)

“The separation of authority from power is not easily understood in terms of American culture. We based a whole revolution on rejecting European authority and power and lumped geniuses, lords, and cardinals all together into one untrustworthy group. It is, therefore, an historical irony that the country that rejected kings and crowns ended up by idolizing the Presidency and allowed the holder of the office to become more powerful than any Caesar.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Old people are supremely the people of opinions, and it is not important whether the opinions are right or wrong, for they are old enough to know how complicated all that is; rather, it is important that opinions are held, for in holding on to them one holds on to life.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“One of the primary rules of language is that there must be a good reason for the listener to attend to a second sentence after the first one; to supply a good reason is called ‘being interesting.’ Not to attend to the second sentence is called ‘not listening.’ The reasons to listen are always selfish, but that does not mean they are only selfish. It is hard to listen. It is also hard to write well and to think. These ought not to be unfamiliar statements. This ought not to be news. See you in the bookstores soon.” – Harold Brodkey, “Reading, the Most Dangerous Game”

“If you don’t know what’s in good books, how can your life not be utterly miserable all in all? Won’t it fall apart with fearsome frequency? The best of what this species knows is in books. Without their help, how can you manage?” – Harold Brodkey, “Reading, the Most Dangerous Game”