Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tapping Philosophy: Culture

Hi Tapping,

Thanks to everyone who came out for consciousness last week. I heard you all had a great discussion, no thanks to me. I'm happy to hear that things went well without my presence. This Thursday we'll be running rides from Connelly at 7:30, and meeting at Yeats at 8:00.

This week's topic is my own doing.


So first I'm going to give some historical background to frame the word culture with a little help from my friend Raymond Williams, in order to address the difficulty of this topic. Etymologically, culture derives from the Latin word colere, which can mean many things including: to inhabit, cultivate, protect, or honor with worship. According to Williams, culture has a classical agricultural meaning that denotes "intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development," (cultivation of the self or humanity in general) a modern meaning which denotes the particular way of life that a group of people that can be contrasted to other groups in a value laden way (civilized vs barbarians), and finally a contemporary meaning as a value neutral umbrella term used to refer to art, music, poetry, etc. It's also worth noting that this does not even cover the various ways in which culture is used within academic disciplines, which have their own specific uses of the term, which may or may not match up with any of the vulgar ones that I just mentioned. Therefore, when discussing culture, we must be aware that the ground is unstable, with its various usages between and within languages blurring, overlapping, and diverging. Tread carefully.

I think all it will take to fuel this discussion is one deceptively simple question:

What is the relationship between culture and human experience?

If we came even close to answering this question, that would be acceptable.

Perhaps I hinge too much on human experience with this formulation. However, I think we can all agree that understanding human experience is of central concern.

If that's not enough, I suppose we could delineate different aspects of all the different definitions of culture that we could come up with. We could talk about the various evaluations of cultures and participations within cultures. We could even talk about ideology if you want, as a sort of motivated culture.

Nevertheless, I think one question is enough. You may differ.

Love and Peace,



Francis Prior said...

frank--good topic, time to brush up on obsure gadamerian words...
-Mark Kasten

Francis Prior said...

Hey all,

I haven't weighed in in some time, but I still like to read the topics. Just one (small) point of contention with the way you framed the question, Frank. You say that the contemporary meaning of culture is value neutral...I would tend to disagree. I think when one uses the word culture there is generally an inherent value assigned. It would be rare for a film critic to use "Paul Blart, Mall Cop" and culture in the same sentence, unless 'is eroding the' was placed in the middle. Just pointing out that all descriptive words are value laden in some way by those that use them and I don't see culture as a neutral term but generally utilized as a stock positive descriptor when talking about the arts.

Love and Peace,

Francis Prior said...

3 Things.

1) for Rob's point. I would rather call culture a 'value blank' term than 'value neutral.' for it would be folly to think that we cannot at least hold off the question of value temporarily, and simulate objectivity or neutrality. but also it is a simulation. a value blank term would be a term that values a detachment from value. and thus appropriately caught within value (value, the immanent? historical? good) without just being a lie.

2) there is a Ph.D. defence on Kant and Hegel this Thursday at 5:15 in the philosophy department I am going to go to if you want to come.

3) here is the rubric on what is and what ought to be ethically, that I set up with Simone Weil; it is attached.... I went a bit nuts, so perhaps only the basic word-parts are worth looking at.

Necessity the Good

1 is ought to be

(the delusions of Doxa, opinion: things have to be the way they are, if only they were otherwise)

The Solid Stage; The Reified Norm

2 must be ought to be

(the philosopher’s vertigo: things are composed of limitations; finite necessity is never what ought-to-be-as-such)

The Liquid Stage; The Symbolically Constitutive Lack

3 must be is

(wonder, the Good beyond being: totality operates at the moment of its disappearance because the whole is purely excessive. That things are only what they are is the way that they are the good. Thus “constitution/construction,” and the symbolic, or “interpretive moment,” themselves become a lack—negative. And because thought, than, is the constitutive lack of things and persons, the positive itself becomes the symbolic structure maintained by this lack. Limits, subjected to the infinite limitation of necessity, pass beyond themselves further into themselves, and thereby can only desire to be limited… which in desiring being amounts to desiring the Good beyond being which is the inversion of being through nothing)

The Gas Stage; Self-inflecting limits (things) become nothing in order to be at all.

Evaporation; Necessity is uprooted by becoming essential, being contrasted to itself… within the palpable impossibility of the Good.