Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gulliver's Urination: Another Conversation with Thomisticguy, Part 3 of 4

The following is a recording of part of another conversation with Thomisticguy - at this post - which stemmed from the following statement of mine on modernity: "My point here, in regards again to bodies, scale, limits and locatoin, is that the shift from ancient to modern involved one that fundamentally dwarfed and made irrelevant the human body, which was previously so central to man's understanding of who and how he was in the world. The modern body is dwarfed and made irrelevant (relatively) precisly because of the 'explosion' [to reference McLuhan] that occured as the defining moment of the start of modernity. The human body has no "real" rational relationship to the globe, and yet the globe sets the field of play, defines the location and/or deliniates the limits of modern life."

Thomisticguy's response was as follows: "Thank you for defining exactly what you mean by the shift in man’s understanding of himself. I will have to think about this. I do see a number of objections that could be raised to this theory. Let me raise a few and allow you to reflect on them if you wish to."

Parts 1-3 will be my response to Thomisticguy, which include his points. Part 4 will be expand on my central point from which the conversation hinged, and will itself be a recording of a previous part of the conversation.


3) You wrote: " Christian observers (CS Lewis and GK Chesterton being two) have noted that moderns have become irrational and sentimental. One might even say anti-rational. Contemporary philosophies seem to relish in the notion of incoherent nihilism. Sentiment appears to be the defining force for all things. Sentiment is a word that refers to the senses and passions which arise from the body. This contemporary orientation, of course, dovetails perfectly with the obsession over bodily sexual powers and unrestrained (by reason or religion) permissiveness."

As for sentimentality, see my point number (1): that, if the problem is with the irrelevance of the body rather than obession with it, then the proper reaction to the problem is not to firstly "restrain" bodily functions, desires and sensations, but rather to remember them as being an important part of our identity and our humanity.

As for irrationality, I will quote myself: "The human body has no 'real' rational relationship to the globe, and yet the globe sets the field of play, defines the location and/or deliniates the limits of modern life." Of course, then, having no rational relationship to the very field that delineates the limits and rules of his game (speaking of it here figuratively as a game) would contribute to, although of course not "determine," modern man's irrationality.

4) You wrote: "Thoughtful Muslims have noted all of the above and leveled serious critiques against the Western obsession with the body and sexuality. They, along with other religious observers, have noticed the striking anti-intellectualism that seems to have gripped Western society. In short, they see us as worshippers of the body who devalue the life of the mind."

I probably don't know enough about Muslim arguments against us folk. For one thing, though, I would again refer back to my point number (1). For another thing, I would return (gleefully again) to Swift (from Wikipedia), concerning that newly antagonistic relationship between mind and body in modern times: "Death became a frequent feature in Swift's life from this point. In 1731 he wrote Verses on the Death of Dr Swift, his own obituary published in 1739. In 1732, his good friend and collaborator John Gay died. In 1735, John Arbuthnot, another friend from his days in London, died. In 1738 Swift began to show signs of illness and in 1742 he appears to have suffered a stroke, losing the ability to speak and realizing his worst fears of becoming mentally disabled. ('I shall be like that tree,' he once said, 'I shall die at the top')."

I take that story from Swift's very life to be a "microcosm," illustrating the "death at the top" of modern man. Its a fitting curse for a man who views himself in such a way that the top takes central importance. God does funny things like that often in the Bible. Man curses all of creation by listening to the snake, so the snake will bite his heel from his place along the ground. Man was made from the earth, so then the earth (from where the snake will bite) will require sweat from his brow. Saul, in his educated darkenss kills a bunch of Christians; then he is blinded by God and made to see again by the hand of a Christian. David opens his soul to the death of sin with adultry, so the son born in it dies. Absolom dishonours the true king by sleeping with all of his women at the very top of the city; so he dies a dishonourable death while circumstantially hanging from the top of a tree. Then God Himself does the same, to free man from his attempts to supplant Him at the top.

Concerning that "newly antagonistic in a particularly modern way" relationship - between mind and body, that is (your referenced "anti-intellectualism") - as well as my definition of modernity to which you were resonding in this comment, we should again keep in mind the orig. title for Gulliver's Travels: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and Then a Captain of Several Ships. What appears as anti-intellectualism is actually the surface evidence of an underlying disharmony to be blamed other-where (again, I am referencing my point number 1).

Also interesting in regard to the very title is that for anyone who knows antything about ships, he or she knows that a ship is like a small city. In Swift's very title is the antagonism between the ancient "polis," or "body politic," and the modern "globe."



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