“We are irrevocably free, but must work critically to ensure that freedom is maintained”

The feeling is that of a national tragedy, quite evidently in my communities – at work, in Oakland, in California, in the “progressive” community (which admittedly I’ve grown quite critical about, though no more critical than I am about anything else) – that feeling is shared.

In attempting to arrange my understanding of many aspects into a whole, I acknowledge the nature of my thoughts as being reliant on what is ultimately just a single way of seeing things. I believe in some specific regards it bears an important, true relation to what we term reality, but I also see it as a limited, specific comprehension. It applies, but not absolutely.

We’re in a moment fomenting, engaged broadly in divisive self-criticism. A socio-political framework predicated on self-actualization and the virtues of liberty has developed into a social arrangement defined, explicitly, in terms of bi-polar opposition. Unity is in turn defined as acquiescence to what is at any moment a fixed, explicit set of positions and opinions. I do not doubt an argument could be made about the instability and danger present to our society purely in those terms, without needing recourse at all to other perhaps more obvious, more dangerous sociocultural malignments present today.

There are other purely logical conditions that should put plainly before us the untenability of, for example, this recent election. The nominee figurehead for the Democratic party, preeminently presenting as the group of people concerned with human equality, while perhaps holding that virtue, is scandalously clad in other virtues considered contemporarily to be antithetical: oligarchy, cronyism, institutional finance, and – the summation of these forces in practice – globalization. This is obviously untenable.

Consequently that nominee was not put into a position of great power and total leadership, and instead the Republican nominee was installed by a kind of default, in opposition.

Within the group generally identified as Republican there is not the same unanimity: right, alt-right, conservative, libertarian, anti-Clintonists, and uncatalogueable others besides, hardly any in fixed agreement with their nominee, now the President-elect, beyond the impulse for severe change.

We are experiencing tremors of real instability. How do we unify, but remain free?

For my part I say that reverence for the United States and the elemental virtues we in faith believe it stands for is still the fundamental mechanism of unity. Belief in the founding, unifying principles does not mean technocratic adherence to exact phrasing, but celebration of the ideas incompletely represented by the documents, realized in earnest action toward freedom.

We are irrevocably free, but must work critically to ensure that freedom is maintained for all members of the unity. Without that, the limits of your own freedom close in. In this there is no eventual or permanent balance, there is no rest, it is constant labor. It is effort we are all obligated to exercise in the virtue of liberty.

This does not mean an emboldened march toward the pinnacle ideal of liberty and justice for all. Before we boast of our greatness in liberating all societies of their frameworks, we are obligated and perhaps in existential need of liberating ourselves, again.

 

Scientific progress and the supreme fiction, practicum

On Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962/1970)

The aspect I hear discussed less in other literature is the observation that “the progress of science” is illusory. Reasoning about the nature of things observed suggests there is no forward motion in any absolute sense — there is only development to and away from ideas corresponding in the minds at the time to specific constellation of observations held as true.

Revolutions are regarded with such romance because they are truly radical. The way that human beings perceive reality, in the sense we would describe a perception as being “objective”, is fundamentally altered, and as that orientation cascades through the minds of increasingly vast collections of people, the practical consequences are of a magnitude without many parallels.

Given that practical-level cognition is at least in part a function of the elements of a worldview, the task of articulating the nature of “the progress” becomes quite ambiguous. That there is a steady drumbeat of revolutions, singular solutions to constellations of problems in major frameworks of thought, is not in doubt. The teleological position, that this cascade is toward any one thing in particular, however, is betrayed by the nature of the perceptive changes themselves. I will make an insufficient attempt to characterize that betrayal as a lack of fundamental correspondence between the cognitive percepts of successive scientific paradigms.

That these “truths” can’t be compared directly in a phenomenological sense prohibits any line we might attempt to draw through them. A single ultimate truth again seems elusive, or fictive.

To echo Kuhn, “That lacuna will have disturbed many readers.” As he also points out, though, conversion away from the notion of some ultimate singular truth as an essential tenet clarifies and solves problems (this being the key articulable criterion of scientific validity). It need not be upsetting. Reality will not slip away — other real things will become.

To find the real, to be stripped of every fiction except one, the fiction of an absolute […]

Soldier there is a war between the mind and sky, between thought and day and night […]

It is a war that never ends. Yet it depends on yours, the two are one.

Wallace Stevens, Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction (1947)

strummer

over the wind
chimes and through the sea soft
irregularly rustling trees
a rhythm of four notes emerged faintly

coastal colored and polite, elementary
speech so endearing i forgot all about
my bother before hearing the sincere fumbling
about the rhythm
by this ukulele strummer
losing their track of time

the lot of us apartment dwellers around here
are sympathetic when you go silent
hushed longer than you played after realizing
you couldn’t say whether you were at the end
of a measure but did

but it’s Sunday, and that’s as much as we know

Hetch Hetchy

San Francisco Bay, the Oakland Hills are chilled
by several factors, including the felicity of coincidence and
geographically correlated globe-scale meteorological patterns.

Suppose the climate systems continue to shift
along what our best guess suggests is the vector,

My community’s idyllic temperatures and breeze perfect
enough to warrant causing offense to non-residents
metamorphose into a thick band of heat

It is tangential to this thought to mention
the severity of the concomitant drought.

Suppose the Hetch Hetchy is emptied,
green becomes gold, and the people and their money dry up

We’ll move to the poles and abandon all that shit
and leap from the machinery of our civilization
whirling and spewing smoke agog with
three thousand years of inertia.

It’s cooler at the poles, and things are limited
The biosphere is thinned, and we recognize and
name a period of genetic, ecological extinction

Even in retreat we are potent, though
perhaps we synthesize a new diversity to support
us, inversely chiral, an awkward flood, likely
forcibly inserted as is so often the thrust.

As shiva beats the drum.

Éliane Radigue’s “Adnos II”: Ecstasy and Relative Value

It may not be fair or even helpful to refer to those aspects of the piece I previously described as “arbitrary” as such. To do so invokes notoriously murky and problematic notions of intent — what does it matter if I find something to seem not deliberate, and who is to say or know the extent to which some property of an aesthetic object was shaped deliberately by the creator? The creator may not even be able to say, nor is it always fundamentally important for the person observing the object to have any awareness of the object’s conceptual context (mode of observation, historical context, etc), of which the creator’s intent is a part.

Instead, I’m now searching for the phenomenological underpinning of what first drove me to reach for the notion arbitrary. At the time it seemed to me a sensible way to articulate why the sudden buzzy breaks in Adnos II were “problematic”, or “unsuccessful”, or simply “not good”. Those are at best relative assessments, and at worst are nothing more than value judgments. As a justification of these assessments “arbitrary” is insufficient. What were the apparently empirical impressions that lead me to that judgment?

There is a kind of attention I give to the piece, and the nature of the sounds — fine, minimal, of long duration — brings about that attention. There is a very satisfying, expansive relationship between the state of my attention and the developments of the sound. The abrupt breaks require a different kind focus in order to be perceived, and do not have the same timbral or harmonic refinement as the material that proceeds or follows. If in between warm courses of fat-basted duck breast you are delivered wax candy on a chipped plate, how would you react? When the reward loop of attention broke I drifted away from mindful awareness of the piece and into analytic, independent thoughts.

My impression of the piece (for many contributing reasons), as well as my enjoyment and understanding of it, happened to be predicated upon the notion of a long-form deep-listening experience. The interruptions struck me as incompatible. I was not cognitively enticed to integrate the long- and immediate-scale sensory experiences into one unified perception (as I had been able to while listening to Adnos I, and to a lesser extent Adnos III). It was rather an awkward arrest in the middle of sex and I can’t reason that it ended well for either of us.

Here I’ve come most of the way to an empirical assessment: the sensory experiences of the breaks in Adnos II render untenable the experience of the whole as conditioned by that same experience.

In terms of my critical thought at large this is the more worthwhile, more useful articulation. It puts the burden of the supposed aesthetic failure on me: in what other ways might I listen to this piece? As a reader finds the apparent natural “rhythm” of a poem, so I might find the “groove” of the piece where the aesthetic qualities and my perception of them are in alignment. “Where” else in the piece can I focus my listening, what else might my ear select?

This burden falls on us more generally, also. If there is dissonance between supposed facts and our own sense, we are to varying degrees responsible for interrogating our sense just as we are to varying degrees responsible for interrogating the facts. Axiomatically: there are possibilities beyond the one in mind.

Knowing when to end the interrogation and hold a serviceable thought is practically mystic. When does a thought ever seem sufficient? How, or why? Delineating the origins of each sufficiently satisfied thought, or defining the threshold of sufficiency, is at best an impractical task. I mean this not only as regards analysis in the laboratory, but also with respect to moments of self-critical awareness, in which we pause to consider our own feelings and conclusions. The sum of our personal cognitive dependencies — experiences since birth, intellectual conditioning, shocks, neuronal idiosyncrasies, etc. — together provide the sense. There is no guarantee that spending hours tracing knotted threads will bring a person any closer to the understanding of a single momentary thought.

The ecstasy of knowing, of the alignment of mind and sense, is what I sought in listening to the Adnos trilogy. The pieces offered an opportunity to calibrate that alignment. The measure of the tightness of fit is the degree of ecstasy. The absence of that experiential measure (as I become increasingly concerned with calibration) is withdrawal. It’s an upsetting, aching affair not at all different from that of any other addict in search of a specific high.

Can I reorient my conception, recalibrate my experience of Adnos II to find that high associated with resonant clarity? There may very well be a “groove” that when followed does resonate, but it would be at remove from what I am prepared to (or am seeking to) behold. And so I finally arrive at a pragmatic conclusion. It is pragmatic in that it excites my ecstatic intuitive sense, and also satisfies the requirements of my relatively defined analytic logic. The piece, not good or bad, is not for me.

I am nevertheless indebted. Adnos II, as with any exceedingly abstract aesthetic object, leads an observer toward and leaves them with their empirical sense. To the extent that I was able to give my unfettered attention, I was proportionately rewarded with clearer sense.