For a couple of weeks now there’s been a trend circulating on facebook for readers to reveal the top ten books that have most seriously influenced them as people. And I have noticed, first by reading these lists and then considering my own reaction to the matter, that there is a surprising amount of discrepancy between the books that seriously affect us on an artistic level: that is, books that are masterpieces of form, craft, insight, and beauty; and books that affect us intellectually. To put it concretely: Anna Karenina may be, by consensus, the greatest novel ever penned – but nobody (with some few exceptions) has it on their list. So let’s talk about that for a bit.
Recently, on a friend’s facebook page, a long discussion brewed about the nature of parts of speech as they relate to philosophy. Mostly this was in response to the sheer volume of dull, meaningless verbs that show up in the wide majority of continental philosophy these days: words like “accomplishes” or “deploys”, which only invoke a vague sense of what the thinker in question is trying to express. This is a problem: philosophy is already confusing and abstract enough without unspecific terminology getting in the way – and phenomenology doubly so. I made some snide comment in response that philosophers should be required to take creative writing courses – and I was called out by some of my friends to discuss, in some detail, the role of certain words and word types in philosophy. So today we will start a series on the philosophical uses and implications of certain parts of speech, beginning, of course, with the mighty negation.
So here’s a really esoteric thing nobody asked for but I want to talk about, because I’ve been reading Feinberg’s No One Like Him, and he seems to miss this point like a champ: the simplicity of God. Feinberg is sympathetic, but uncharitable to those who would hold that God is simple, and it seems like the greater part of the Evangelical theological discussion dismisses the subject with their characteristic disdain for Medieval thought. But for some reason, I keep trying to defend Aquinas to Evangelicals who want nothing to do with him (in part because Aquinas is awesome, and in part because I like causing problems), so let’s throw off our blinders and start theologizing.
This past week has been a weird one for me: I’ve been transitioning into the new semester by moving into a new dormitory, accepting new responsibilities, and conducting the all-too-familiar shift from summer laziness to autumn industriousness. As a result, I’ve had less opportunity to read, or watch movies, or play video games than I’ve liked, and what I find myself doing in my spare time has been mostly relegated to quick fixes: games like The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing and One Finger Death Punch, even as I’ve tried to spend more time on the more slow-paced, thoughtful Unrest. But playing these three games has highlighted for me an interesting difference between the way we usually look at art and the way it applies to video games specifically.
Enter, reader, and take a seat. I am sorry I did not reply earlier: the temptation to ignore the entreaties outside my door grows strong some days, especially when my own work clamors for attention. But I began a blog to address matters of life – not merely the assessment of religion, art, and philosophy, but applying the lessons learned through the study of these disciplines to the real arena of ethics and life – in this case, to the unrest in Missouri. Forgive me if it sounds trite, sentimental, or even ill-conceived: there are no experts in life, after all, and I am in my early lessons – but I won’t get any wiser by navel-gazing, and it’s better we talk than pass along in silence.
While driving to a friend’s house this week, I encountered the cryptic license plate number: W8N2XHAL, and it suddenly occurred to me that this would serve as a perfect example and basis to discuss some of the critical philosophical questions surrounding the study of language that inform and influence many of the most serious problems in both the understanding of art and of our relationship to religious scriptures. So today’s post might be a little bit more technical and philosophical than most of my musings lately, but I hope it will remain accessible, and a good introduction to some of the issues at stake in contemporary philosophy of language, even if I end up asking more questions than I provide answers.
So while observing the meager trickle of activity on this blog, I discovered that my “random things” post from June has considerably more traffic than the others, which leads me to believe that it might actually be interesting and popular. And, being the slave to public opinion that I am, I’ve decided to post another one of these on a monthly basis, in order to curry favor with you, my beloved readers.