Evolving Systems: August 2009 Core Group Meeting
August 18, 2009 Core Group Meeting
and Continuing Discussion
Background (Paul's version):
Our second meeting revealed some dissatisfaction with the concept of dissatisfaction. To explore that and its implications, we will look more deeply at the three texts originally suggested as background for the second meeting. What is the significance of "against," as used by these three authors? in their own contexts? in general? for our own work, individually and as a group?
Susan Sontag. "Against Interpretation" Against Interpretation and Other Essays.
Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1966: 4-14; rpted. http://www.idst.vt.edu/modernworld/d/sontag.html
Paul Feyerabend, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.
Verso, 1993; rpted. http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm
Peter Stallybrass, Against Thinking. PMLA 2007: 1580-1587; rpted. http://faculty.winthrop.edu/kosterj/WRIT510/readings/stallybrass.pdf
Both Sontag and Feyerabend wrote subsequent reflections on their original essays. Excerpts that may be relevant to our discussion include
"had I understood better my time, that time ... would have made me more cautious ... We had entered, really entered the age of nihilism ... I suppose its not wrong that Against Interpretation is read now, or reread, as an influential pioneering document from a bygone era. But that is not how I read it, or ... wish it to be read. My hope is that its republication now ... could contribute to the quixotic task of shoring up the values out of which these essays and reviews were written. The judgments of taste expressed in these essays may have prevailed. The values underlying those judgements did not." ... Susan Sontag, 1996, "Thirty Years Later," included in the Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux paperback edition of Against Interpretation and Other Essays, 2001.
"Many things have happened since I first published Against Method ... Freedom has increased but ... simple philosophies, whether of a dogmatic or a more liberal kind, have their limits ... I therefore again warn the reader that I don't have the intention of replacing "old and dogmatic principiles" by "new and more libertarian ones" ... I am neither a populist for whom an appeal to "the people" is the basis of all knowledge, nor a relativist for whom there are no "truths as such" but only truths" for this or that group and/or individual" ... Paul Feyerabend, 1992, Preface to the Third Edition of Against Method, 1992 (Verso, 1993)
My main motive in writing the book was humanitarian, not intellectual. I wanted to support people, not to "advance knowledge." People all over the world have developed ways of surviving ... The stories they told and the activities they engaged in enriched their lives, protected them and gave them meaning. The "progress of knowledge and civilization" ... destroyed these wonderful products of human ingenuity and compassion without a single glance in their direction. Today, old traditions are being revived and people try again to adapt their lives to the ideas of their ancestors. I have tried to show ... that science, properly understood, has no argument against such a procedure ... I am not against a science so understood. Such a science is one of the most wonderful inventions of the human min. But I am against ideologies that use the name of science for cultural murder." .... Paul Feyerabend, Introduction to the Chinese Edition, included in the Third Edition of Against Method
A meeting summary (Bharath's version)
We first talked about Feyeraband and what it was he was against. A distinction was made between the scientific method oppressing scientists whose work is not recognized and the method oppressing the general public because of a pervasive sense of the infallability of science. This lead to discussion of dichotomies and how they both help and hinder not being limited by method, interpretation and thought. They help it because the dichotomies provide pushing off points which generate creative tensions, and they hinder it when they suggest that the dichotomies are exhaustive and one has to just pick between them. This lead to thinking of how Daoism incorporates dichotomies and moves beyond them.
Next the issue came up of what it would be to practice “being against” in addition to thinking of it theoretically. An example was what if someone in the group did something out of the ordinary which he felt for some reason compelled to do, such as standing on the table and yelling profanities. What would happen to the group discussion then? Would the individual’s actions be incorporated into ongoing group interaction or seen as a move “outside of” and threatening to the group interaction? Could it be incorporated without courting chaos? Is not incorporating it equivalent to conceding to forces of normalization or conformity?
These issues raised the topic of the extent to which academia normally thwarts explorations which cannot be easily categorized. Example: if at a colloquia, a person stood on the table and screamed, the person would be removed with no engagement with her. This led to the thought that perhaps it is like this in other domains as well: family, friends, sports, etc. In any group setting there are moves which members recognize as familiar and comforting, unfamiliar and comforting, familiar and uncomforting and unfamiliar and uncomforting. The idea was explored whether a group dynamic which becomes too focused on just the comforting becomes oppressive to some members and even to an individual’s own growth. This raised the questions: how can the familiar and the unfamiliar, the comforting and the uncomforting all be integrated into a group interaction? Do current academic patterns of discourse do a good job of such integration? Would new attempts at such integration constitute “a new erotics of conversation”? And would it constitute freedom in those conversations for all involved?
One example of such integration voiced by several people was juxtaposing the realm of academia with another realm normally kept separate from it, i.e. family, personal background, religion, etc. Each realm is a flux of tension and freedom, good and bad. Could each realm be challenged and strengthened by bringing it into creative conflict with another realm? Could standing for a third realm connected to both realms be both causing a rupture (creating trouble, being a nuance, being wayward) and creating new bonds (soothing old wounds, empathizing with the other, not restraining oneself)? And would the creation of a new realm mean the creation of new categories, questions and identities? What might such a process look like for the evolving systems group?
Continuing discussion (below)