Evolving Systems: July 2009 Core Group Meeting
July 7, 2009 Core Group Meeting
and Continuing Discussion
Background (Paul's version):
In our first meeting, we began to develop some common ground for our future work in terms of shared dissatisfactions with academic discourse as it is commonly practiced in a wide variety of disciplines. Dissatisfactions along these lines are neither unique to us, nor specific to this particular point in history. In this meeting, we will continue a process of trying to evolve promising new directions of inquiry from existing dissatisfactions, adding to our own some expressions two older and one more recent published ones.
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
Are there common patterns in the dissatisfactions and suggestions for ways to move beyond them, ones that might apply not only to particular disciplines but to inquiry in general? to life in general?
A meeting summary (by Hank Glassman; see forum below for additional stories):
[Disclaimer: This is a most personalistic and subjective gathering up of impressions and is not meant to be definitive or (even!) critical in any way.]
Today we met from 4:00 until 5:30 to inaugurate our discussions on “Form, Meaning, and Aesthetics” in an interdisciplinary setting in a warmish summer biology lounge that will be delightful in October. The conversation did not proceed according to anyone’s imagined course, I am sure, but was nevertheless productive in key ways. I will below describe the trajectory things took and then will add my personal ‘take’ and maybe some desiderata. At the same time, I certainly do not intend to express any dissatisfaction with the process as it is unfolding. It is still so early to tell and I, for one, found today quite stimulating and useful as a starting point.
So, now for my description. We began with an introduction to the group and to the website. It is the first time we have met as a group, and a couple of us had to be reminded to sign in when we post and so on. It seems that the website and postings there will be an important part of the group’s activities. However, the website also extends in many directions beyond this group through Serendip (and also through the through the whims of us the participants), so it will be unlikely that any one person will be able to read all associated posts. More on this below.
One of our leaders mentioned (off handedly, by way of introduction) that we had come together out of a shared feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction at the inadequacies of current models of academic practice and discourse. This quickly provoked several voices of dissent (an unexpected reaction, I’d say), and led into our discussion for the rest of the session. Some of us (about half?) are quite happy, thank you very much, with what we do and how we do it, even if we may be interested in an excursion or two.
This discussion was wide ranging, but to state the most basic moves as I see them . . . There was a statement that productive change is the fruit of dissatisfaction and that this feeling that things should be better or different is at the core of intellectual (and personal?) development. This was countered with the notion that opportunity could also act as a catalyst toward change – or curiosity could, if there was no special opportunity but no real dissatisfaction either – this led to a discussion of the idea of a motivating “gap” between a present, manifest, self or condition-of-being and a future more ideal (“less wrong”) situation, self, or state.
From there, some entertained the idea that this might be a question of cultural style or of underlying tendencies in philosophical/metaphysical/phenomenological orientation. (Fairly out of my depth here, and so possibly off.) This led to the positing of two kinds of culture or approaches to life – these were called “provisional” and “directed” and/or “immediate vs. deliberative.” These sorts of distinctions, when applied in our imaginations to real people or actual situations usefully raised some eyebrows and hackles. Are there really different sorts of people in the world? Are some curved lines and some straight? Do some of us, as peoples, struggle with the future, while some live in the present and feel only situational, not existential, dissatisfaction? I think that I have this position somewhat wrong, but would be very open to exploring it more and clarifying my take on it. It brought up some interesting questions surrounding images of time, traditional cultures (read as “pre-axial age” or “caveman” or “intact” or “autochthonous”??) and/or eastern philosophies. [The former, I am intrigued by, if nervous about, the latter, I am more allergic to, for reasons I’d be happy to articulate further.] It was a stimulating conversation, for me at least, and bodes well for our future. Below, I will make some observations as to how I might like to see these sessions develop in the future, but that should not lead one to think that I was unhappy with the way things went today or that I see myself as our “decider.”
I think that the foregoing pretty-much covers the way things played out and developed. Others will no doubt have noticed other things. Please do share these. What follows is (again) based on my own perspective and should not be seen as prescriptive. So here goes.
I did notice some of the traits of an interdisciplinary foray that Bharath entertains here:
If this (“description” in the above page) did not totally happen today, it did certainly happen a little. Regardless of diagnosis, we may want to address this. After all, we did have three fascinating writings, from over a four decade swath, each with the provocative “against” brandished in each title. [Following Anne’s and Bharath’s suggestions, might not a discussion of the meaning and function of this odd word in academic titles be another good starting place? Maybe in August?) Today, we did not get to the articles at all, really. And still, we did some very good work, I think. Defining what we are doing seems essential, so today was a key part of that process. Our conversation may be fragmented if we pursue all the many leads presented as we develop the website and our live conversations, but this is not necessarily a negative. (For me personally, I think it might be useful to draw a tighter circle in restricting the topic – pace Feyerabend! At the same time, I would be interested to hear the opinions of others.)
So, I hope that I have done us justice and described the afternoon with reasonable accuracy. I enjoyed it and look forward to more of this fruitful exchange, both here in the blog-non-blog world and when we meet again in August.