Friday, July 27, 2007

"...and here we're stuck in this kind of crap"

My last post (click here for reference) featured the following: "'Dis got 'ta stop. 'Dis got 'ta stop." About half way through the conversation, Jesus words about gnats and camels came to mind when he said, "We got bigger things to worry the unavailable $70,000 dollars needed to get the pool up and running that's been closed for the last two sumers...and here we're stuck in this kind of crap.' Eventually, the conversation ended when, this time himself representing Happy Gilmore's hip-swaying prowess, the president said, 'I think Sylvia just needs to get laid.' Right about then I began to ponder whether this little episode with the bricks involving gnats, camels and sexual tension might just be a microcosm of the windbag world of contemporary politics (see next post)." Alas, here lies the referenced "next post."

Such "crap" referenced by my mom's condo association president reminds me of another conversation I just "finished" with Thomisticguy. I put "finished", because, as you will see, he just quit responding after my comments to this post of his (I wonder if he and I are just "stuck"...but you will gather what's going on, I hope, although I have paratrooped you into the middle of the combat grounds, so to speak):


[Jason, on the heels of a previous comment on the relation between the symbolic and real value of a recently democrat-proposed cigar tax, says to Thomisticguy and whoever else wants to hear]

"National politics is like the Roman circus in first century Rome. It is entertainment to keep us distracted from the REAL issues." - a parapharase of Stanley Hauerwas, quoted at this post, by David Fitch.


[Ron says]

Jason, I think I agree with Hauerwas on that. Second, you completely lost me in your discussion about Gulliver's Travels and archetypes and symbolism.


[Jason says]

For one thing, just to get it out of the way, I only provided the Johnathan Swift reference/quote so that T.G. wouldn't have to go searching to find what I was referring to. So then the globalism and Gulliver's Travelers thing sort of got thrown in there by accident. Although I do think it applies. That's why I commented on it.

Also, I think you yourself reference the national "circus" earlier in this very conversation.

So, to explain, if I can...see if I can "find" you...

Symbolism and Reality

This is a post whose contents seem to rely on the idea that cigar smoking symbolizes masculinity. Or at least that cigar smoking symbolizes men doing stuff together. This is also a post that seems to speak out against "the left." A "left" that "doesn't think there's any truth." A marginal point of mine is that its misleading and confusing to say that they don't think there's any truth. The real issue is whether there is any necessary tie that binds symbol and reality. Does marriage "really" symbolize Man's relationship with God? Does the moral life of following the Law "really mean" a life that's closer to God? Is there any longer any hope that a cigar will symbolize anyting besides Monica Lewisnsky's...uummm...yeah...

"The left" would answer "no" on both of the first counts, and "yes" to the question of the cigar. The "right" would answer yes on both of the first counts, and yes on the question of the cigar. Neither the left nor the right would quibble over the statement that a cigar can "symbolize" either sex or masculinity, depending on whether its in the hands of Bill Clinton while on a particular phone conversation or in the hands of one of a group of Armenians in the hooka bar down the street late at night.

Where the right, however, would say that a "traditional" family structure is "natural," the "left" would disagree, stating that such "structure" only "symbolizes" bourgoisie society and all of its pretentious ills. And where the right would say that the Law is given by God and so necessarily followed by man "or else," the left would say, "get a life and quit letting the Big Other suppress your desires."


Are the questions of whether the traditional family structure is "natural" or whether we are obligated in some way to follow the Law questions simply of our obligation to God to do something that He imposes on us? Or is it that when something is "natural" it is because it was made that way "in the beginning"? "Arche" in Greek means "first." Is the Law inherently in harmony with how we are actually made "from the beginning," or "from the first"? Do we do the hard work of love in a marriage becase we are "made" for it, and because such love reflects the image of the God who made us?

This is a question of whether there is some tie that necessarily binds a symbol and the reality to which it points.

Now, in the aftermath of T.G.'s "Teaching Christianity with Tattoos" post, he and I ended up in a bit of a discussion on this link.

There Strauss and Howe refer to "actual categorical differences between generations" (as T.G. referred to them) as "archetypal." They describe generational differences and how generations react to each other over time as "archetypes." This, then, got me to asking myself: "What is the necessarily binding tie between the phenomenon that Strauss and Howe are observing in the world, that being generational interactions and reactions with and to each other (and the identities that each generation then take on), and the spiritual essence that has an actual spiritual substance that is usually attributed to an "archetype" (which would be be "under the surface" of the identity that those generations take on)?

I could discern no spiritual substance to Strauss and Howe's "archetypes," and nor could I discern any necessary tie between whatever bigger reality (the archetypes themselves) was being pointed to and the actual spacio-temporal generational identities of observable reality that supposedly represented or related to said "archetypes" in some way.

So then I was really confused. T.G., who stated that he really likes Strauss and Howe's theory, "leans right." Strauss and Howe seem to "lean right" as well. Previously in this comment I established that an "essential" thing that distinguishes the right as the right is that they think that there is a necessary tie that binds symbol and reality, observable phenomenon with archetypal ground. Comparatively an "essential" characteristic of the left is that they see no tie that necessarily "conserves" the tie between those things. And yet Strauss and Howe, who "lean right," seemed to be asserting a theory that does not rely on any such tie, a theory endorsed heavily by T.G.

I was strongly confused and perplexed. So I asked myself: why does the right, with its values and its platform, assert that there is necessarily a tie that binds symbol and reality, and then asset a theory of generational history that uses the "archetypal" language that screams for the issue of said "tie" to be considered in one's mind, and yet seems to want to deny said "tie"? It seems a bit "mad," if you will.

The Figurative and the Literal

One explanation I could think of to explain this perplexing series of events was Johnathan Swift's "inversion of the figurative and the literal" explored in his "The Mechanical Operations of the Spirit." So I will explain what I mean by "the figurative and the literal" first via actual machines.

The quote I provided made reference to a "debate" occuring in the 1690's. This "debate" was "The Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Mdoerns." So...on ancient and modern machines...and thier relation to the figurative and the literal...

Two writers help for me to illuminate how ancient men thought of machines. One is Vitruvius. He was an ancient Roman architect. He wrote the first ever known and/or surviving treatise on architecture. He says there are three kinds of machines: hinging, hoisting and inclining. Of course, when you read the list, you notice that the purpose of a machine, then, is to lift things. Now Vitruvius also said that there are two guiding principles to the motion of all machines: the axial and the spherical. No machine, however, moves in perfectly straight axes nor turns in perfect circles.

The other ancient writer who helps illume for me how ancients thought of machines is Alberti. He was an Italian Rennaissance architect of Mantua. He wrote the second ever treatise on architecture, in 10 books. For the purposes of this conversation, all I need to point out is that his discussion on machines is contained in his "book" on Ornament. That won't mean anything to anyone else here, so I'll explain what that would have meant to him. That Alberti included his discussion on machines in his book on ornament reflects Vitruvius' enlightening notion that a machine's purpose is to lift things. Ornament is the beauty of the building, the orderly distinction and decoration the joints between things that would otherwise be in chaos and disharmony. Ornament, for Alberti is about the "edification" and/or "elevation" of the human soul and of man's buildings, so that's why Alberti included his discussion on machines, "which are for lifting" (to quote the modern guy who wrote the third treatise on architecture, Le Corbusier), in his "book" on Ornament.

Even now, you are probably thinking to yourself: "So what? I still don't get why Alberti put his discussion on machines in his book on Ornament. And why does it even matter?" The whole point that is illumed by Vitruvius and Alberti is that ancient men thought of machines in a figurative manner. Their purpose is to point upward, and as such they figuratively point the building and the human soul upward.

And the machines are, however, hidden. You don't see the machines when the building is completed. Just as you don't see the glory of the archetypes, which actually have a spiritual substance, when you see the obervable phenomenon that represent them.

This relationship between building and machine, man and archetype, illumes ancient man's model for how he viewed the meaning of "society."

Modern "society," however, is modeled after Newton's "Clockwork Universe." Modern society, like a clock, is a machine. It does not imperfectly imitate the spherical heavens that you sensibly see when you look up, but it literally means to copy what we now logically know to be the elliptical paths of the planets. The prevailing motif of Baroque architecture, which hoped to grapple with the new modernity, was the ellipse.

Ancient society was viewed as like an acutally edified building. Stories were told orally in those buildings (or outside of them). Then text was written down that was conciously meant to represent, to imperfectly imitate, the actual happenings in the actual places and times. To see what I mean, click here. See the figurative "edification" or "elevation" in men's stories at that time?

Modern society, however, is viewed as or in light of the literary text itself. Society is literally a machine, rather than being lifted or edified by hidden machines viewed as having figurative meaning. All you ever hear about, by coincidence in terms of production, is effeciency - which, not surprisingly, is a mechanical term. Similarly, a modern building is literally a machine, rather than being lifted or edified by hidden machines viewed as having figurative meaning. And modern stories are not told but read. Again, to see what I mean, click here. Just as the great aim of many academic modern architects was to "show the construction," the question asked of contemporary evangelical churches is not of the holyness of Most High God, but of the "authenticity" of the peoples' worship.

This, I think, is what Johnathan Swift meant by the modern "madness" of the "inversion of the figurative and the literal." So what?

Previously I had said that Johnathan Swift's inversion of the figurative and the literal seemed to provide a way out of my confusion as to why folks who "lean right" seem to either be asserting or endorsing a theory of history that does not display an essential characteristic of "the right", which is to "conserve" the tie that binds symbol and reality. So, upon explanation, what does Swift's notion of said inversion have to do with said tie between symbol and reality, between hidden archetype and representative observable phenomenon?

One thing we will notice about the difference between the modern and ancient societies and buildings is that the modern ones "show" what the ancient ones both hide and reveal. Chartes Cathedral, linked previously, "reveals" the "lifting" or "edifying" character of the machines that built it; and yet the machines are hidden. The modern building linked previously, however, "literally" looks like an actual machine.

Similarly, Strauss and Howe's historical and supposedly "archetypal" theory of genearational interactions...literally looks just like the physically/sensibly obervable phenomenon that it describes. It is not an imperfectly figurative representation that reveals its more perfect and hidden reality in the actual phenomenon of the world, but it is meant to be a literal copy of the world and its happenings, much like a photograph.

So then, if meant to be a literal copy of what we can all see out in the open, how could the theory possibly assert the existence and governance of hidden archetypes? Answer: it doesn't. The language of the "archetypes" in the thoery is a misnomer meant (I think?) to make itself sound important.

Secondly, then, why does there appear to be no necessary tie in the theory between the hidden archetypes, the "reality," and the observable phenomenon of generational history, or the "symbols"? Answer: well, if we aren't really dealing with "archetypes", nor with any foundational and/or hidden reality that stands beneath the surface of things, then we of course aren't dealing with any necessary tie between the archetypes and their representatives nor between reality and symbol! Or you could say that we are dealing with the "necessary tie" between a piece of paper and its "literal copy" made at Kinkos, but then that's neither "archetypal" nor "figurative," but rather literal and mechanical.

Globalism And Gulliver's Travels

This is already too long. If you still want me to explain, however, how globalism and Gulliver's travels "ties in," I can reference you to a previous post of mine (click here).

Again, so what? What does that post, on "the body, scale, limits..." have to do with this comment? I will simply quote myself from above: "Modern society, like a clock, is a machine. It does not imperfectly imitate the spherical heavens that you sensibly see when you look up, but it literally means to copy what we now logically know to be the elliptical paths of the planets." Again, though, the globalism issue was one that got "thrown in" sort of on accident when I quoted my own previous reference to Johnathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels and my own comments on it. I think the basic point I'm trying to make about the "necessary tie that binds symbol and reality," even in relation to Strauss and Howe's theory, can be made without bringing up the globalsim issue.


[Thomisticguy's response]

First of all, Strauss and Howe are not using the word “archetype” by way of the psychological definition. They are using it in the standard definition: An archetype is a generic, idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated. Wikipedia, (link here). Secondly, because you “cannot discern any necessary tie between” a “bigger reality” and their generational identity does not mean: A) that others also cannot make the connection; B) colleges and universities that use Strauss and Howe’s theory for classes on demographics cannot make the connections; C) subcommittees of Congress who often reference Strauss and Howe cannot make the connections; or D) that I cannot make the connections. You may want to consider the possibility that others may be able to see something that you do not.


[Jason's response back to T.G.]

To start: thanks for the response. Also...

You said: "You may want to consider the possibility that others may be able to see something that you do not."

I don't think that's the issue. I do see the connections that Strauss and Howe are making. I see how, for the most part, the generations interact with and react to each other in the ways that Strauss and Howe describe. For the most part, at least. Again, I have small qualms there. For example, I don't think of Bill Clinton as a "New Ager."

However, that is not my issue with the theory. I didn't read the whole link provided on archetypes, but the description you gave from wikipedia leaves a key ingredient out of the picture it paints of archetypes. That key ingredient is that they have an actual spiritual substance and reality. I can "generically" "archetype" all pooh as "brown" (maybe we should capitalize Brown), and we can even all agree on my "archetypal" description or symbology. But, for one thing, it really doesn't tell us much. And for another thing, the description doesn't actually have anything to do with anything "archetypal."

Secondly, since saying that pooh is Brown doesn't actually have to do with anything archetypal, then there is no necessary tie between the symbol of the pooh and the reality of the Brown. Sometimes pooh is a bit green. If we eat corn, its sort of yellow in parts. On top of that, is there a spiritual substance to "Brown" that is imitated by the brown of the pooh. Or, shoot, is there a spiritual Pooh imitated by all pooh?

So then...if national politics is a circus to distract us from the "real" issues (and mire us in a swamp of pooh), then it would make sense that subcommitees of Congress often reference Strauss and Howe. The thought for me brings a question to my mind. If the theory doesn't have anything to do with anything essential (of actual substance), then why are we dwelling so much on the observable phenomenon that it describes? Might we be stuck in this huge swamp of divine Pooh for the very reason of our dwelling so much on it?


I had just said: "I didn't read the whole link provided on archetypes, but the description you gave from wikipedia leaves a key ingredient out of the picture it paints of archetypes. That key ingredient is that they have an actual spiritual substance and reality."

Why, I might ask, might Strauss and Howe's theory leave that key ingredient out of the picture? Well, it is a modern theory (with a strong relation to Hegel). Seeing as how the modern mechanical and literal universe is a dust-filled vacume, is it any surprise that its thoeries about itself don't leave any room for "archetypes" as having actual spiritual substance? And I wouldn't be surprised if Strauss and Howe leave the key ingredient out of their "idea" of "archetypes" for the same reason that wikipedia, if it does, does so.


[Jason a while later]


Are you at a loss for words? Do you have no defense? Or do you not believe me when I say that I do in fact see both the generational patterns described by Strauss and Howe and the archetypal Brown of pooh? Or was I not clear enough on my reasoning as to why the spiritual substance of archetypes would be left out of their formulation for both wikipedia and for Strauss and Howe (archetypal formation of the cosmos isn't the cookie-cutting of pre-existing matter into arithmeatic mathematical sets)? Or are you just busy


Thus far T.G. has responded with divine Silence. And speaking of Silence, which is hidden, I find it ironic that T.G. - on the heels of my discussing the difference between the hidden meaninig of the figurative/iconic and the obviously "exposed" meaning of the "literal" (like in a photograph, or in Strauss and Howe's theory) - retorted to my comments by asking me to consider the idea that others see things that I do not. Of course they do! I see lots of things things that others don't as well. Lol. "I see dead people," to quote M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense :)

And regarding the divine swamp of Unreal "crap" in which we seem to be mired, from which this post takes its title, just as I asked myself at the beginning of my last post, " it a vacation from reality or a vacating of reality?", I have to ask myself now, is our daily reality a vacating of reality (that our national politics supposedly governs), or is it rather a monstrous attempted vacation from itself?

Cigar smoking symbolizes masculinity? It kind of connotes gay masculinity, don't you think? Think about the entire sequence of behaviors. And you only do it by yourself or in the company of other men. If it's supposed to symbolize masculinity, who's on the receiving end of the symbol?
Maybe not gay masculinity but perverse masculinity, since those on the recieving end of it are those who are doing it? I guess its a bit narcissistic.

I've been following the whole conversation at T.G.'s blog, though. He thinks of it as not so narcissistic. For example, from some feminist website he references where Madonna smoked cigars in performances to break the gender barrier...I guess meaning that cigar smoking symbolizes masculinity also to those outside the smokey circle of male friends.

Why gay masculinity?
Why gay masculinity? First you circumcise the tip, then you give a quick lick-and-suck to the entire shaft, stick the tip in your mouth, light the other end, and suck. The receiving end of the symbol; i.e., to whom is this set of gestures supposed to symbolize masculinity? Certainly not to women, who are excluded from the smokers' company. The smoker parades around in front of other men smokers, alternately restimulating the lit end and sucking the other end. Madonna is a gay male icon.
Sounds to me, then, like Madonna could be the perfect candidate for a hetero male icon, too :) She's playing right into their/"our"...uummm...hand. would you say that this post...on "the figurative and the literal"...relates to your previous explanation at your blog on the ideal and the literal? You had said there that Jung's archetypes were more literal, since they are like a narrative to be lived by the audience (or something like that).
In what way might cigar smoking symbolize masculinity, either straight or gay, in a "real" way? Granted, tobacco is a natural substance, so God could have made it with the specific expectation that men would ingest it and women wouldn't. And certainly in Western culture public tobacco use was restricted to men until the early twentieth century. But of course tobacco is an American plant, so its association with manliness in Western culture would have to be a distinctly modern phenomenon.

What is it about tobacco that the modern Westerner might have regarded as specifically manly? That you set fire to it, and men are the fire-starters? I don't know: women were the fire-starters in the kitchen. Is it that tobacco stimulates the mind, and men, for whom mental ability is more important, stand to benefit more from tobacco's effects? Then why has alcohol, a mind-numbing substance, also been traditionally reserved for men in Western culture?

Is it because men, who are controlled by the mind, can more safely imbibe and benefit from any sort of stimulant or intoxicant, whereas women, who are controlled by the passions, are more likely to be overwhelmed and enslaved by these substances? I suspect that would be at least part of the argument. Here's an excerpt from Part One of Aristotle's Politics:

...for the soul rules the body with a despotical rule, whereas the intellect rules the appetites with a constitutional and royal rule. And it is clear that the rule of the soul over the body, and of the mind and the rational element over the passionate, is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful. The same holds good of animals in relation to men; for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are preserved. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.
"In what way might cigar smoking symbolize masculinity, either straight or gay, in a 'real' way?"

The way I see it - none, "really." Which is why the men sitting around smoking cigars and acting all manly makes me giggle.

"...women were the fire-starters in the kitchen."


"Is it that tobacco stimulates the mind, and men, for whom mental ability is more important, stand to benefit more from tobacco's effects?"

I think women are smarter than what we give them credit for.

"Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind."

Fantastic. Lets build a society off that "essential" principle! Lol.
Anyhow, I was trying to sketch a link between the archetypal behavior (smoking cigars) and the underlying reality/ideality to which it's connected (masculinity). If cigars are merely a symbol of masculine culture it's trivial, but if cigars actually point to something essentially masculine (e.g., Aristotelian rationality) then they become archetypal objects and smoking them an archetypal behavior.

Regarding the cycles of history, to what underlying reality might they point? Hegel presumed that history moved forward on a tricycle because he believed that human history pointed to the ongoing process of God coming to self-awareness through the resolution of internal conflicts. Hegel also thought that the cycles didn't just circle in place, like on a treadmill, but that each cycle moved history forward. Eventually history would come to an end, when men understood themselves and lived in peace, and when God fully understood himself. You might not agree with the idea, but his is definitely an archetypal theory, where the material world reflects an underlying spiritual reality.

Do Strauss and Howe see some corresponding cyclical action in the spiritual dimension? Do they see progress or deterioration across the generations, or just going around in circles? I have no idea; I never heard of their ideas before.
Here's a link to the summary that T.G. provided of Strauss and Howe's theory:

It does move in cycles. And it does move in cycles of deteriorization and rebuilding. So far as I know, however, Strauss and Howe don't actually speak of "progress." I think that for them things just go 'round in circles, which to me is kinda dumb. I also don't think that their cycles in the observable world correspond to reflected spiritual cycles.

So far as my opinion goes, I don't think self-consciousness would necessarily lead to Shalom. Although the idea from Hegel is interesting. I didn't know that it was quite like that for hm; that makes a lot of sense.

And it does sound to me, though...based on what you've said here...that Hegel planted the seed for one of the things that annoys me about Hegel. What you've heard me describe before, I think, as a "techtonified eschaton." Maybe "telosified eschaton," but whatever. The point is the idea of tying spiritual truth(s) down to material reality rather than an eschaton achieved by God that doesn't actually DEPEND on what us humans DO in history.

About the cigars...T.G. himself didn't mention anything about the cigars symbolizing intellectual activity. Interesting thought, though. For me the whole line of thought just came out of T.G.'s post, and I didn't myself see any need to try to connect cigar smoking to any underlying reality. At least not for the purpose of the conversation I was having with T.G.

Anyway, its interesting to me that you took that direction with the cigar. It probably relates, to me, to what you have said before about not really being able to tell the difference between what is natural and artificial anymore.
Maybe I don't get it because I'm not a big cigar enthusiast -- although I did love cigarettes. Maybe it's manly to smoke because men are natural born masochists?
Smoking and masochism? Masochistic becuase it kills/hurts you and you do it by yourself?
And why are men natural born mashochists? Because they don't have babies, so they turn in on themselves?
Yes, it's self-destructive and also addictive, but I don't really believe men are more susceptible to this sort of thing than are women. If it wasn't bad for one's health and so heavily TAXED I'd probably still be smoking a pack a day.
oops...correction from above comment to be in CAPS...

"And it does sound to me, though...based on what you've said here...that Hegel planted the seed for one of the things that annoys me about STRAUS AND HOWE."

On smoking...or you would NOT still be smoking a pack a day, since you might not be breathing anymore from it.
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