Saturday, September 16, 2006

9.16.06, Revised Schedule, & On (Mis)Understanding

[the second post, rather long and rambly, appears right after paragraph three below]

I got some really good news a couple of days ago, although it has nothing to do with cancer, at least not directly. I found out that Thomas Pynchon has a new novel coming out, "biggest" of them all so far, weighing in at 1120 pages (so says Penguin and Amazon; it's already sales ranked at about #1,900-something), and called Against the Day. Don't know the plot or many details except that it's set in the decades before and through WW I, has a markedly international sweep, and I also know that I'm excited. And I think this means I will have to reschedule some things. Like dying. OK, I've never scheduled it, granted, but I figure this way I won't even be able to die before the book comes out and I get a chance to read it. Appears sometime around November 21st, I won't be able to get through it, say, till December sometime at the earliest. Then my birthday is right around the corner, so I should wait for that. The way I figure, I'm pretty much guaranteed to be "OK" until about mid-January.

Breath a sigh of relief. Read slowly. I always do, I can't help it.

Yesterday I skipped over my blog responsibilities, I admit, but this was in part because the day felt basically good and I didn't want to interrupt it with too much "cancer thinking." You know? When you've had quite enough of something on your mind and for some inexplicable reason you then find yourself in a zone, just somewhere else and able to be away from that Big Thinking Thing. . . ? Like that, you might say. I just wanted to go through the day and not necessarily evaluate myself for life fitness. That said, it was probably a 7, and today's Franky Scale seems to be shaping up about the same.

[new addition]
On (Mis)Understanding, Communication, and the Negative

Part of this post has to do with truth, or more accurately truths in the plural, and where we find them. I have another post written during The Sopranos period (I’m waiting on season 6 so I can continue that soon), that I’d like to add into this since it might be timely again now. I’d missed the moment before, but tomorrow it might be a good follow up to this. So “this” is a round-about kind of essay into where I am usually, where I go sometimes, where I write from, and what’s behind it all. It rambles, such is the form.

Part of this post and this whole blog has to do with my writing too: how it comes across, how you read it, how I come across through the writing of posts and comments. I forget sometimes that I can come across as opinionated, at times closed-minded, and to some even I might seem, that dirtiest of dirty words, “negative.” Negativity’s story should be retold, though, to be fair. This will help to explain where I’m coming from. As I see it, the Negative is not always something “bad” or “destructive” or “harmful” — it is, rather, a tool closely and inextricably linked to critique and to the possibility improvement. Whether it be improvement of a discussion, a system, an organization, or a self. Myself not excluded, of course.

It’s been a pet project of mine since before grad school, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Later I learned that “critical philosophy” is one name for it, that people like Spinoza and Nietzsche and Marx and Adorno have all been known to use this tool, this engage in this type of philosophy. For clarity, it can be contrasted quite directly with positivist philosophy (one term any dictionary of philosophy will gloss adequately). The critical or negative approach means asking hard questions and performing critiques of all claims to knowledge and truth. All positivist claims break down at some point, even in the hard sciences, knowledge is put forward and assumed, too often, to be timeless and unchangeable. Even a common sense understanding of the sciences tells us this isn’t true (e.g., Thomas Kuhn has written on this). New knowledge is produced, paradigms change, and we correct what was incorrect about our thinking (Foucault is another one). Critical or negative philosophy takes as its task to ask the question “What is wrong with, or what structures, this claim to knowledge?”

As an rule, note what Spinoza writes: “Omnis determinatio est negatio (All things are determined by negation).” From his Epistula. I think that the more we critically analyze and think through this statement, the more truth we can find in it. That is, the more accurate we’ll find it to be. Presented with any knowledge we find flaws in logic, cracks in a rhetorical edifice, etc. and only then can we work to correct them. (An aside, I took this as a point of departure for a theory of aesthetics in grad school, in my dissertation, a thing I’m still desultorily working through it in a book manuscript.)

It relates back to being understood or misunderstood, and to my coming off as harsh sometimes — in posts, comments, emails, etc. — on an interpersonal level, in that I take this as a rule for myself, and too often I forget that not everyone does so. An error I hope I’ll be forgiven for, if I’ve offended. There’s no malice intended, just a desire to get at the core of the matter. Sometimes my brain goes on through a matter more quickly than my heart. I realize, too, there are “on” times and “off” times for this, depending on the parties involved and emotional conditions. The realization isn’t always instantaneous.

Back to the philosophical aspect, I’m hitting very basic points, so I beg the indulgence of some of you who know this too well already. : ) Knowledge is contingent, context based, determined in large part by other knowledge and experience possessed by a subject / person. Each particular situation colors a given knowledge. So we always have to analyze the context in order to understand the rightness or less rightness of a concept, idea, theory, or strategy. In communication we have to work through the contingency, or rather, through a thousand little contingencies. Truism. Still, sometimes a tall order.

Again, why rehash all this? Because I assume all it before I write anything, before I approach any situation. It’s why I’m always skeptical, or if you like, critical. It’s a positive (salutary) approach, in my view. It might come out in the form of critiques of multi-level marketing, new age-ism, religion, or alternative treatments to a disease like cancer. It might also come out in disguised form in the basics of how I try to deal with the latter every day. So, while I want all the help in the world, on the one hand, on the other, I tend toward radical skepticism and often plunge when I’m thinking it through. The critical edge is not an attempt to push anyone away, to break down the community that’s been established here.

Another aspect of what I think and go through every day, aside from the physical realities, is an intense psychological battle. How good do I feel? Or bad? Why? Am I getting better? Or, how much worse? Isn’t the clock still ticking away toward that last ding? If I feel better, is that a safe feeling, or should I lay low and be quiet about it? Will I jinx it? A former poet laureate of Utah (they have them!) died fairly recently of pancreatic cancer, and there was a news article where he told of how he feared going to bed at night because he didn’t know if it was the last time, if he’d die in his sleep. Fortunately, that’s not a fear I have, though it is an indication of what the mind can do.

There are a million such questions. They take time to work through, or to avoid, as the mood dictates. Normally I like to face them, a facing that can produce tone shifts or mood swings in the blog, which I know some of you notice. Some even worry. It might keep me from taking calls at certain times also. That kind of thing. People have been wonderful to me through this and I thank everyone for that. I can’t say it enough. Yet with all the help in the world there are still times of profound shock, disbelief, frustration, and sadness. There is a feeling where I’m preparing to miss something: life itself. Even though I don’t believe there will be a mind “on the other side” to do the “missing,” it’s hard to avoid living in moments and wondering “Will this one be repeated? Is this the last time?”

5 comments:

[disenchanted princess] said...

january?!?!??! that's it? i'm feeling jipped now . . . i want a refund! i thought we had talked about AT LEAST May 2008!!

tossing salads said...

exactly princess at least 2008. im so glad you have this to look forward to, it so helps. ill get the book also, try to get thru it and have some discussions about it. i love history so this should be great. ugly here in zion. cant believe im wearing long pants. argh!!!!! glad yesterday was a good day, cant imagine anyone more deserving than you. love you brother.

Slarry said...

Hey Mr. Jones:

The book by Thomas Pynchon sounds exciting and inspiring. More, I love the
fact that you are excited about it. If tossing salads is going to read it and you are
going to read and relish in it, then I am going to look forward to it coming out and reading it as well.

Tossing Salad “Came Out” this past year in a different, yet equally exciting way. : )
Now that her debut, her coming out is complete and over we needed something
new ( like a big, Hefty book ) to look forward to and get excited about.
Don’t I have one of his earlier books by my beside?


Critiquing, questioning and researching is in your nature and a big part of who you are.
As is a good debate. They are also some of the
tools needed to be a good, thought provoking writer. Which you most definitely are.

Questing and researching for the “truth," the core of the matter, is one of the reasons your beautiful mind is so replete, splendid and yes, beautiful. It is not negative to
question--
it is what makes each of us unique.

I am also, however, grateful to have known you long and well enough to be a
frequent recipient of your heart; your thoughtfulness and kind gestures.

So, I will keep my calendar wide open for the book club beginning in January of 2007.
Hopefully the Princess and Ms. X will join in as well. Knowing me, though, we might have to stretch the time a little--- at least until sometime in 2008. ( slow reader ).

Love you my brother. I love your words, mind and heart.

Sheri

tossing salads said...

so deep so early in the morning. and yes mr. j it does help me to understand you better. i appreciate it, the way you look at things. its always given me pause. as always thanks for the enlightenment. at least the sun is shinning today. im so not a winter person. as u know i have a hope there is a mind in the next world. i dont know but i hope. as a mom especially i cant imagine never seening my son again. that the last time was the last time. it was a hard day for me yesterday. saw dan everywhere. he was a beautiful boy. as you are a beautiful boy/man. your youngers so your still a boy to me at times. ;)it seems to me what a horrible joke that there is nothing after this, all of this that we go thru. what is the fucking point!!!??? oh well, if the nade reads this im gonna be in troube yet again. have a good sabbath brother ;)

Anonymous said...

Negative? I'm amazed at your ability to post as often and honestly as you do! I only see passion - to write - to exist - to fight - to live! Passion bro. pure passion!