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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance”*…

 

Man in a Three-Piece Suit Dancing Within the Circle at a Wedding,” Rockville Centre, New York, 1976.

 

The first monograph by the New York-based photographer Meryl Meisler, published last year, included rambunctious scenes from Manhattan’s disco scene, taken in Meisler’s club-hopping youth, alongside images of a crumbling, pre-gentrifying Bushwick, shot when Meisler was teaching art at a local public school, in the early eighties. But, before she began documenting urban life in New York, Meisler trained her eye outside of the city, photographing her own Jewish extended family on Long Island’s South Shore. In the early seventies, while home on winter break from studying illustration at the University of Wisconsin, Meisler began experimenting with deadpan self-portraiture, donning the Girl Scouts uniforms and the ballet and tap costumes of her childhood. Soon she was photographing her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—the whole mishpocha—finding loopy antics and exaggerated period detail in holiday gatherings and daily ritual. The result is a delightfully outlandish family photo album, and a capsule of seventies suburbia crackling with humor and mischief. In the Meisler-clan milieu, kitsch bedspreads match kitsch wallpaper, hairdressers blow chewing-gum bubbles the size of their clients’ bouffants, Hustler is the beach reading of choice, and everyone is a character or a ham…

“Mom Getting Her Hair Teased at Besame Beauty Salon,” North Massapequa, New York.

 

See it all at “Seventies Long Island: The Whole Mishpocha.”

* George Bernard Shaw, Immaturity

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As we prepare to reune, we might spare a utilitarian thought for Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer died on this date in 1832.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

 see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

Written by LW

June 6, 2015 at 1:01 am

“A city that was to forge out of steel and blood-red neon its own peculiar wilderness”*…

 

A woman and her work

 

Las Vegas– and the world– lost two icons of neon sign design on April 19th: Betty Willis, seen above with the iconic “Welcome” sign that she designed, and Brian “Buzz” Leming, creator of many of the Strip’s most memorable marquees, passed away within hours of each other.

Leming’s “Hacienda Horse and Rider”

 

Willis and Leming both worked at the Western Sign Company, where they struck up a friendship.  Many of their creations are preserved in the Neon Museum’s outdoor “Boneyard,” where it stores its relics.

The Neon Museum’s Boneyard

 

More at “Two Designers of Las Vegas’s Iconic Neon Signs Died on the Same Day.”

* Nelson Algren (writing about Chicago, though it’s surely apropos of Las Vegas as well)

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As we switch on the lights, we might send forbearing birthday wishes to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; he was born on this date in 121.  The last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers; his Meditations, written on campaign before he became emperor, is still a central text on the philosophy of service and duty.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language”*…

 

Wittgenstein playing Pictionary with Freud; Russell, Hegel, and Marx as Pokemon characters; Sartre’s birthday party; Greek Hold’em– all this and much, much more merriment (in larger format) at the exquisite Existential Comics.  The inevitable anguish of living a brief life in a absurd world.  Also jokes.

* Ludwig Wittgenstein

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As we get behind the greater good, we might spare a thought for Johann Christoph Denner; he died on this date in 1707. One of the Baroque Era’s leading musical instrument makers, he was renown throughout Europe for his well-tuned recorders, flutes, oboes, and bassoons.  But he is best remembered as the inventor the clarinet, a result of Denner’s attempts to refine the chalumeau, the first true single reed instrument.  The chalumeau and clarinet are the only woodwinds with a cylindrical bore; others (including the flute) have a conical bore.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I think it’s cool to wear roadkill”*…

Anna Paquin, modeling a piece from her line of “found fur” clothing and accessories

Approximately 50 million animals are killed every year for their fur; by comparison, 1 million animals a day— 365 million a year– are killed on the roads of America.  As Culture Change puts it, “only meat-eaters take a larger toll than its motorists.”

Where many animal lovers see, simply, tragedy, Anna Paquin sees opportunity as well.  Determined to create a clothing category that might sound oxymoronic– “ethical fur”– Paquin has founded Petit Mort, a company that recycles roadkill into fashionable clothing and accessories.

Wrap yourself in Anna’s story at “One Woman Is Revolutionizing the Fur Industry. By Using Roadkill.”

* Ke$ha

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As we bundle up, we might spare a thought for Hypatia; she was killed on this date in 370 CE.  A mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, she was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria.  She was murdered by a mob of Christian anti-pagan fanatics on the steps of an Alexandria church called The Caesarium– as a result of which, she has become a symbol of martyred Reason and of feminism. Stephen Greenblatt suggests that her murder “effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life”; Kathleen Wider proposes that her murder marked the end of Classical antiquity.

Neo-platonism is a progressive philosophy, and does not expect to state final conditions to men whose minds are finite. Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.

–Hypatia

 source

Written by LW

March 3, 2015 at 1:01 am

“What’s in a name?”*…

 

Create your own “Hipster Business Names“, courtesy of Connor Skye Riley.

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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As we noodle on nomenclature, we might send ambitious birthday greetings to Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola; he was born on this date in 1463.  An Italian philosopher, he undertook, in 1486, at the age of 23, to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers, in the process of which he wrote his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, which has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”; a revitalization of Neo-Platonism, it was a seminal text of Renaissance humanism and of what has been called the “Hermetic Reformation.”

Pico’s portrait, from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

 source

 

Written by LW

February 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Learning languages is like learning history from the inside out”*…

 

In a way that’s analogous to the evolution of morphology via mutation, the changes in the languages that we speak are driven by “mistakes” that get baked into practice.  For instance…

AMMUNITION

projectiles to be fired from a gun

It is common to misanalyze an article that precedes a word as if it were part of that word. Here the French phrase la munition was misanalyzed so the “a” of the article became part of the word, becoming l’ammunition

ARCHIPELAGO

a group of many islands in a large body of water

The etymology of archipelago seems like it should be from Greek arkhi meaning “chief” andpelagos “sea,” suggesting the importance of a sea with so many islands. The problem is that this form never occurs in ancient Greek, and the modern form is actually borrowed from Italian, with the intended meaning being “the Aegean Sea.” If that’s the case, then the archi- inarchipelago is actually a corrupted version of Aigaion, which is how you say “Aegean” in Greek…

More words that originated in error.

* Eric van Lustbader

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As we misspeak creatively, we might spare a thought for Baruch (or Benedict) de Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher who lived a quiet public life as a lens grinder– but whose rationalism and determinism put him in opposition to Descartes and helped lay the foundation for The Enlightenment, and whose pantheistic views led to his excommunication from the Jewish community in Amsterdam.  He died on this date in 1677.

As men’s habits of mind differ, so that some more readily embrace one form of faith, some another, for what moves one to pray may move another to scoff, I conclude … that everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed, and that faith should be judged only by its fruits; each would then obey God freely with his whole heart, while nothing would be publicly honored save justice and charity.

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 source

 

Written by LW

February 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The day after tomorrow is the third day of the rest of your life”*…

 

French Republican Calendar of 1794, Philibert-Louis Debucourt

 

… The Earth’s orbit is almost — but not quite — a round number, and so we continually try to fit the natural world into a mathematical order that makes sense. Even though the Gregorian Calendar solved one major problem (a year now aligned with the time of the Earth’s orbit), in the eyes of many it’s still far from perfect, and two quirks of its construction have continued to nag those inclined towards a more rational calendar. First is the inconsistent number of days in each month, and second, the fact that 365 is not divisible by seven, so that each year calendar dates fall on different days of the week…

Colin Dickey explores some the modern attempts to “correct” these short-comings in “Tempo Shifts.”

… As the Sumerian God Gozer tells Bill Murray and friends at the climax of Ghostbusters, we choose the means of our destruction. The End we imagine, Kermode writes, “will reflect [our] irreducibly intermediary preoccupations,” which is why the Apocalypse is always assumed to be happening within years or decades, rather than centuries or millennia. The plain fact being that no matter how we try to organize and structure the calendar — be we French Revolutionaries, post-Soviet mathematicians, or American evangelicals — we design it so that we are the center of history. Time and tide may wait for no man, but the calendar always revolves around the calendar-makers.

The full– and fascinating– story here.

* George Carlin

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As we count the days, we might spare a thought for Immanuel Kant; he died on this date in 1804.  One of the central figures of modern philosophy, Kant is remembered primarily for his efforts to unite reason with experience (e.g., Critique of Pure Reason [Kritik der reinen Vernunft], 1781), and for his work on ethics (e.g., Metaphysics of Morals [Die Metaphysik der Sitten], 1797) and aesthetics (e.g., Critique of Judgment [Kritik der Urteilskraft], 1790).  But he made important contributions to mathematics as well:  Kant’s argument that mathematical truths are a form of synthetic a priori knowledge was cited by Einstein as an important early influence on his work.

There is … only a single categorical imperative and it is this: Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

– Chapter 11, Metaphysics of Morals

 source

Written by LW

February 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

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