Archive for January, 2014

The Education Of The Immigrant

January 25, 2014

“Instead, then, of saying either that we tell beginners what words mean, or that we teach them what objects are, I will say: We initiate them, into the relevant forms of life held in language and gathered around the objects and persons of our world. For that to be possible, we must make ourselves exemplary and take responsibility for that assumption of authority; and the initiate must be able to follow us, in however rudimentary a way, naturally (look where our finger points, laugh at what we laugh at, comfort what we comfort, notice what we notice, find alike or remarkable or ordinary what we find alike or remarkable or ordinary, feel pain at what we feel pain at, enjoy the weather or the notion we enjoy, make the sounds we make); and he must want to follow us (care about our approval, like a smile better than a frown, a croon better than a croak, a pat better than a slap). “Teaching” here would mean something like “showing them what we say and do”, and “accepting what they say and do as what we say and do”, etc.; and this will be more than we know, or can say.” (The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy by Stanley Cavell, 1979 Pg. 178)

In his more recent publication (Philosophy The Day After Tomorrow 2005) Cavell begins the like named chapter with
“Such has been my somewhat strained way within the institution of philosophy in our America that I perpetually feel the need to introduce myself intellectually, that is, to provide some sense of the way moments of my work are meant to lead to one another. Call this need my identification with the stranger, even, as Emerson almost says, with the immigrant.” (pg. 111)

Although written at different times, to address different concerns within different contexts, the two quotes are challenging to reconcile. Indeed, the first quote addresses the education of a child, the origins of the extension of language and learning. The second speaks feelings, those of an accomplished philosopher. The first quote could likewise be considered as an accounting of the origin of tribes, of national identity, of the mystery of culture, with its borders, porosity and evolution. The second evokes folks like Said, Auerbach, and Adorno’s “it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.” (the stranger or immigrant has a home and is at home, where?) Yet Cavell often references Wittgenstein in terms of philosophy being the education of grownups (soon after our second quote he writes “One of my early characterizations of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was as a work of instruction. Initially I meant this to emphasize the role of the child in that work, a figure one does not expect to encounter in a major philosophical treatise, let alone in a principal role. Somewhat later I turned the emphasis differently, speaking of philosophy as conceived in Philosophical Investigations as “an education for grownups.”” Pg. 111-112). To a certain extent, and understood generously (based on his reading of Wittgenstein) this “education” of grownups differs not much from that of the child assumed within the first quote. Eventually, the educated must choose to be off on their own, hopefully (for Cavell) in the spirit of Emerson’s Self Reliance. All this begs the question as to the education of the immigrant.

It is all fine and good to say one “identifies” with the immigrant, all while not actually “being” the immigrant, in background, upbringing or survival. The first quote relies on a one to one relationship – teacher/student, mentor/ward, master/apprentice. One could almost say lover/loved as later in Philosophy The Day After Tomorrow he writes “If morals of silence in teaching may be drawn to the effect that the pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world, and that what is said must be worth saying, have a point (warning, informing, amusing, promising, questioning, chastising, counting, insisting, beseeching, specifying the location of pain, and so on), then is there some question left as to whether the pupil has to find warning, informing, amusing, promising, counting, beseeching, chastising, and so on themselves to be worth doing?” (Pg. 115). This account assumes the terms of sharing, support, accommodation and endearment that often accompany that of the lover and the beloved. Yet the immigrant mostly finds herself in not exactly that kind of environs. The one to one relationship (with its loyalty and commitment) is for the most part absent, difficult to establish. The “showing them what we say and do” can come from multiple, unrelated origins while a non-existence or direct opposition to “accepting what they say and do as what we say and do” may be the popular cultural response. The immigrant learns by the seat of his pants. Her education comes continuously from disparate sources – others like her, translation of quirky language/cultural differences/similarities, memories or nostalgia stained with the unpronounced certainty that THAT will never be again, keenly lived survival motivations, etc. There is no respite. That is the greatest difference between the education of the immigrant from that of the child/student Cavell recounts from Wittgenstein. There is no point at which “the pupil must want to go on alone” as that is the immigrant’s point of origin, a point from which there is no going back.


Environmental News

January 11, 2014

“West Virginia chemical spill triggers widespread tap water ban
Tyler Evert January 9, 2014 Reuters

A chemical spill along a West Virginia river on Thursday triggered a tap water ban for up to 300,000 people, shutting down schools, bars and restaurants and forcing residents to line up for bottled water at stores.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for nine counties following the spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, a chemical used in the coal industry.”

At least the car washes are still open and working!

That Is A Happy Person

January 1, 2014

Various online news sources carried a report by Finnish researchers regarding how the human body (overall) feels different emotional states. Study participants were asked to rate how, and which parts of the body were affected (or disaffected) by different emotions. These plus or minus indicators of feeling were then mapped unto a color chart (deep blue max minus feeling to light yellow max plus feeling). The composite of statistically arrived at color indicators were then projected unto silhouettes of a figure so that a primarily darkened figure would be neutral, and various colored combinations would appear under a heading like fear, anxiety, etc. One report focused attention on the bodily “feel” of love, which appears to have the greatest max plus concentration, primarily in the torso and head (with the feet appearing deep blue!). Happiness, shown positively lighting up the entire body, was unmentioned by any report.

It is with trepidation that one chooses to speak or write about happiness, let alone a happy person. Zhuangzi (also previously known as Chuang Tzu, etc.) appears to hold top honors when it comes to producing a justification of third person knowledge of this subject with his The Joy Of Fishes. Comparing Yo Yo Ma (in performance) with a fish definitely stretches reader imagination (as well as credibility). Yet Yo Yo Ma, performing in concert or solo, appears to be a very happy person. “That is a happy person” would be met by a totally different response than “He’s a great musician” or “That was an amazing performance.” To say “That is a happy person” is to point out two things – the person, and something about the person (that happiness gathers there). The first seems ordinary enough, but what makes for the second affirmation (something Zhuangzi so eloquently addresses)? “That is a happy person” now becomes something other than a statement of fact.

Although Wittgenstein reminds us that “nothing has so far been done when a thing has been named” (The Literary Wittgenstein, ed. John Gibson and Wofgang Huemer 2004, pg.19), many would still claim that Yo Yo Ma is a celebrity, on stage, performing (as an actor), or that he has been gifted with his talent, position, or even that he is recompensed handsomely. How so that it can be said “That is a happy person”?

Without addressing The Joy Of Fishes (but rather the joy of Shakespeare), Stanley Cavell writes, “My idea is that, in varying ways, each of these sensibilities is one whom Shakespeare’s posing of the skeptical problem of the existence of others takes the form of raising the possibility of praise, of finding an object worthy of praise, and proving oneself capable of it.” (Philosophy The Day After Tomorrow Stanley Cavell, 2005, pg. 37) For Cavell, skepticism involves not only the “stuff” out there (and whether I can know it, if it exists, etc.) but also the psyche – other people or minds. With Cavell, part of the utterance of praising or cursing is the acknowledgement of this other. But how does this differ from naming, that is, that what is said becomes simply a kind of title for the person praised or cursed? The “possibility”, “worth’ and capability are considered, along with false praise (idolatry or iconoclasm), primarily in terms of acknowledgement of the other. Little concern is given for the actual attribute of the praise. Maybe that lies with the false praise, but it would be difficult to imagine someone who has never known happiness to say “That is a happy person.” Unless “That person exists” is interpreted as a performative utterance of praise or cursing (acknowledging existence), it appears that what is attributed as praise worthy is likewise acknowledged as existing. Saying “that is a happy person” not only acknowledges the existence of the other, someone not me, but also that happiness gathers there. If praise (or cursing) acknowledges the existence of an other then it is equally as important to be able to elaborate the qualities or attributes in conjunction with that person (OK, for the Finnish researchers, emotions). That is, what goes to make that person a person. As Wittgenstein elaborates, nothing is accomplished by simply naming. Simply acknowledging lacks character, the character of what is acknowledged. Conjoining an attribute or quality with the designated person likewise acknowledges the existence of that attribute. “There is happiness.” Praise (or cursing) deals with skepticism in a twofold manner. Not only does it acknowledge the existence of the other, but also the existence of qualities and characteristics which we may not gather to ourselves (“possess”), may doubt, or perhaps are unsure of in our own reasoning (the everyday guise of skepticism). “That is a happy person” affirms not only the existence of the person, but of happiness.