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robertogreco : anniedillard   6

The Devil’s Bargain — Medium
"The question Graeber wants to put to us is this: To what extent are our imaginations shaped — constrained, limited — by our having had to live with the technological choices made by the military-industrial complex — by industries and universities working in close collaboration with the government, in a spirit of subservience to its needs?

Or, to put it another way: How were we taught not even to dream of flying cars and jetpacks? — or, or for that matter, an end to world hunger, something that C. P. Snow, in his famous lecture on “the two cultures” of the sciences and humanities, saw as clearly within our grasp more than half-a-century ago? To see “sophisticated simulations” of the things we used to hope we’d really achieve as good enough?"

"As I noted earlier, this seems to cover a very different subject than his meditation on flying cars and the absence thereof — but it’s really about the same thing, which is: the impact of economic structures on imagination. For Graeber it could scarcely be accidental that a world devoted to utility-maximizing, acquisitive market-based behavior would create a theory that animals, indeed the very genes of creatures, invariably behave in a utility-miximizing, acquisitive way in the Great Market of Life."

"For those whose ideas have been shaped so thoroughly by the logic of capitalism, people like Prince Kropotkin who see mutual aid as a factor in evolution, or who would go still further and see play as simply intrinsic to being alive — Graeber doesn’t cite J. Huizinga’s Homo Ludens here, but he should — are just nuts. They’re not seeing the world as it obviously really is.

But, Graeber suggests, maybe what’s obvious from within the logic of late capitalism isn’t so obvious from another point of view; and maybe what’s nuts according to the logic of late capitalism is, again from another point of view, not necessarily nuts. Maybe there is more in heaven and earth, Professor Dawkins, than is dreamt of in your evolutionary biology.

In a famous passage from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek — the much-anthologized chapter called “Seeing” — Annie Dillard cites the naturalist Stewart Edward White on how to learn to see deer: “As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you too will see deer.” That is, you have to learn to pick out certain now-and-for-you-insignificant elements in your visual field and reassign them to the realm of the significant. And this is true, not just for the visual but also for the mental field. But it is also and equally true that our constructions of the artificial obvious are not invariably reliable: sometimes they are wrong, and if we then forget that they are our constructions, and think of them as the natural obvious, as the way things just are … we’re screwed.

This is Graeber’s point. And you don’t have to agree with him about the playfulness of worms to see its importance. Our social and economic structures prompt us, every day and in a hundred different ways, to see certain elements of our mental field as significant while ever-so-gently discouraging us from noticing others at all. And when it comes to the constructions of our mental worlds, as opposed to our visual fields, we might be missing something more lastingly important than a guy in a gorilla suit.

All of these reflections started with my reading of a 1945 article about the entanglements of the arts with universities, at a time when universities were in danger of becoming what they have since largely become: “social and technical service stations.” Let’s try now to get back to those concerns."

"My point is: I don’t like seeing journalism being drawn so consistently into the same self-justifying, self-celebrating circles that the American university itself was drawn into during and following World War II. As R. P. Blackmur rightly feared, the intimacy between universities and government did not end when the war ended; it only intensified, and the fact that those universities became our chief patrons of the arts, especially literary writing, at the very moment that they crawled permanently into bed with government and industry, cannot be without repercussions for artists.

The best guide to the rise of creative programs in particular is Mark McGurl’s The Program Era, and it’s fascinating how McGurl repeatedly walks right up to the edge of a clearly articulated critique of this system without ever crossing it. In the penultimate sentence of his book he writes, “Is there not more excellent fiction being produced now than anyone has time to read?” Then he starts a new paragraph before giving us the book’s last sentence: “What kind of traitor to the mission of mass higher education would you have to be to think otherwise?” Oh clever man!

Yes, there is a great deal of skillfully written post-World-War-II fiction available to us, indeed more than we could ever read. But how much of it embodies the kind of imaginative otherness that, as David Graeber reminds us, our social/cultural/economic contexts militate against? How much of it, shaped as it is in institutions that owe their continued existence to their affiliation with the military-industrial complex, envisions ways of life radically other than the ones we now experience? How much of it offers more than increasingly sophisticated simulations of worlds we already know, can predict, feel comfortable in? How much, in shirt, is conducive to genuine hope?

I guess what I’m asking for is pretty simple: for writers of all kinds, journalists as well as fiction writers, and artists and academics, to strive to extricate themselves from an “artificial obvious” that has been constructed for us by the dominant institutions of our culture. Simple; also probably impossible. But it’s worth trying. Few things are more worth trying.

And I am also asking universities to realize and to reconsider their implication in those dominant institutions. I don’t demand that schools sever their ties with those institutions, since that would be financially suicidal, and economic times for higher education are hard enough as it is. But there need to be more pockets of resistance: more institutions with self-consciously distinctive missions, and within institutions more departments or even just informal discussion groups who seek to imagine the so-far unimaginable.

Finally, I am asking all this of myself. I’m fifty-five years old. I’ve probably got twenty or so years to think and write at the highest level I’m capable of, and in those years I want to surprise myself. I don’t want merely to recycle and redeploy the ideas I have inherited. I know that this is easier for me, a white American man with a secure job, than it is for many others. But then, that’s all the more reason for me to do it.

Fifty years ago, Jacques Derrida gave a lecture that would become very famous, and created a stir even as he presented it. When the talk ended, the first questioner was Jean Hyppolite, and he asked Derrida what his talk was “tending toward.” Derrida replied, “I was wondering myself if I know where I am going. So I would answer you by saying, first, that I am trying, precisely, to put myself at a point so that I do not know any longer where I am going.”"
2014  alanjacobs  education  culture  highereducation  highered  davidgraeber  whauden  rpblackmur  louisalthusser  adamkirsch  militaryindustrialcomplex  power  funding  academia  creativity  play  economics  imagination  richarddawkins  canon  corporatization  corporatism  mutualaid  peterkropotkin  homoludens  johanhuizinga  seeing  stewartendward  anniedillard  californiasundaymagazine  technology  siliconvalley  capitalism  latecapitalism  journalism  writing  jacquesderrida  jeanhyppolite  markmcgurl  context  resistance  utopia  pocketsofresistance  courage  possibility  transcontextualism  paradigmshifts  althusser  transcontextualization 
october 2014 by robertogreco
one human heartbeat
"I've put my heartbeat on the internet.

It's March 25, 2014 and the best technology I've found to save my heartrate is the Basis watch. It saves an average heartrate for each minute. It fails to record any heartrate for ~17.5% of minutes. When there is no data for a minute, you'll see the heartrate from the previous minute.

Basis doesn't provide an open API, so I access the data using a variation of this code. The heartrate you see is from 24 hours ago. This is because the data can only be accessed via usb connection. Twice a day I connect the watch and upload my latest heartrates to the database. I've been doing this for 33 days now.

It's March 25, 2014, and statistics say I have about 16452 days left.

Gotta go.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives... Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

Annie Dillard The Writing Life [ ]

See also...

Roy Scranton's Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene
[ ]

Cheryl Strayed's Rumpus Advice Column #64: Tiny Beautiful Things
[ ]"
jenlowe  2014  heart  heartrates  data  code  coding  time  life  mortality  anniedillard  royscranton  cherylstrayed 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Transom » Jonathan Harris
"All we have in life is our time. People struggle after success. They hunger for fame, fortune, and power. But in all of these things, the same question exists — what will you do with your time? How do you want to spend your days? As Annie Dillard reminds us, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

In life, you will become known for doing what you do. That sounds obvious, but it’s profound. If you want to be known as someone who does a particular thing, then you must start doing that thing immediately. Don’t wait. There is no other way. It probably won’t make you money at first, but do it anyway. Work nights. Work weekends. Sleep less. Whatever you have to do. If you’re lucky enough to know what brings you bliss, then do that thing at once. If you do it well, and for long enough, the world will find ways to repay you.

This fall, in a toilet stall in Burlington, Vermont, I saw this scrawled on the wall:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. The world needs more people who have come alive.”

If you’re doing something you love, you won’t care what the world thinks, because you’ll love the process anyway. This is one of those truths that we know, but which we can’t seem to stop forgetting.

In America, success is a word we hear a lot. What does it mean? Is it money, power, fame, love? I like how Bob Dylan defines it: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”

We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.

In the tradeoff between timeliness and timelessness, choose the latter. The zeitgeist rewards timeliness, but your soul rewards timelessness. Work on things that will last.

Inside each of us is a little ten-year-old child, curious and pure, acting on impulse, not yet caring what other people think. Remember what you were doing at ten, and try to get back to doing that thing, incorporating everything you’ve learned along the way.

When I was ten, I was writing words and drawing pictures.

Maybe that’s the path out of the stuckness."

[Some anonymous (and smart) reactions from (mostly) private Twitter:

A: "Read that Harris essay. It just made me feel bad for him. Poor guy–can someone give him a hug? It's very introspective, smart, & forthright, but it seems like he wants to figure out people by observing them rather than being with them. And while it's pretty to think the answers for out there are inside, the risk is diving too deep, losing contact, & sinking inside yourself."

B: "I thoroughly approve of the ending of Jonathan's Harris's piece but still somehow felt like a loser after reading it"

C (responding to B): "I thought "same shit, different day." It's where I'm at with life/work advice from dudes hanging on Branson's island. although I agree w his thesis, and I like his work so much, just tired of the genre."

B (responding to C): yeah. I'm also tired of creative ennui from people with no constraints and money problems. Maybe they need some of those. I don't even know where/what Branson's Island is, i'm that un-privileged." ]

[Alternate URL: ]
jonathanharris  time  timeliness  timelessness  design  block  creativeblock  writer'sblock  creativity  success  attention  life  living  curiosity  impulse  impulsivity  making  fame  fortune  power  anniedillard  bobdylan  being  well-being  2014  privilege  writersblock 
january 2014 by robertogreco
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson - review | Books | The Guardian
"Henderson's project: a spellbinding book that seeks to astonish us with the sheer intricacy, diversity and multiplicity of life forms that share our planet. In what he modestly calls a "stab" at a 21st-century bestiary, he fuses zoology, literature, mythology, history, paleontology, anecdote and art through 27 brilliantly executed essays…"

"These are essays in the original, Montaignesque sense of the word, and range freely over whatever topic takes the author's fancy."

"In 1959 CP Snow delivered his famous Rede lecture on "The Two Cultures", in which he lamented the gulf between intellectual elites fluent either in the sciences or in the humanities, but all too rarely in both. Fifty years on, the landscape seems as divided as it was in Snow's day. It's a gulf of which the likes of Leonardo could not have conceived, and one that Henderson – an English graduate turned science writer – seeks to bridge. We have a great deal that we can learn from one another…"
gavinfrancis  anniedillard  toread  books  laurencesterne  sirthomasbrown  enlightenment  philosophy  art  anecdote  paleontology  history  mythology  literature  zoology  julesverne  darwin  italocalvino  robertburton  wgsebald  cv  essays  micheldemontaigne  writing  borges  multid  multidisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  leonardodavinci  bestiary  casparhenderson  2012  cpsnow  animals  montaigne  charlesdarwin 
december 2012 by robertogreco
Annie Dillard and the Writing Life by Alexander Chee - The Morning News
"If I’ve done my job…you won’t be happy w/ anything you write for the next 10 years…not because you won’t be writing well, but because I’ve raised your standards for yourself. Don’t compare yourselves to each other. Compare yourself to Colette, Henry James, or Edith Wharton. Compare yourselves to classics. Shoot there.

She paused here…another of her fugue states. & then she smiled. We all knew she was right.

Go up to the place in the bookstore where your books will go, she said. Walk right up & find your place on the shelf. Put your finger there, & then go every time.

In class, the idea seemed ridiculous. But at some point after the class ended, I did it. I walked up to the shelf. Chabon, Cheever. I put my finger between them & made a space. Soon, I did it every time I went to a bookstore.

Years later, I tell my own students to do it. As Thoreau, someone she admires very much, once wrote, “In the long run, we only ever hit what we aim at.” She was pointing us there."
via:lukeneff  anniedillard  creativity  writing  writers  teaching  education  advice  reading  learning  craft  alexanderchee  classideas  expectations  comparison 
november 2010 by robertogreco
Luke's Commonplace Book | A Text Playlist
"Frank Chimero came up with the idea for a Text Playlist. I like this idea a lot. I’m a little late to the game, but here’s mine."
textplaylist  lukeneff  davidfosterwallace  thewire  davidsimon  amyhempel  anniedillard  edwardabbey  jonathanrauch  introverts  wendellberry  billmckibben  marksinger  davidmilch  inspiration  reading  toread  wisdom  passion  writing 
july 2010 by robertogreco

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