Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Being in Wichita...

...means, among other things, that the odds of my being able to see this film--which I heard about a while ago, but the trailers for which I've only just become aware of--are practically nil. Unfortunately.

I just returned this past week from a conference--not APSA, about which there is always much to say, and which is always intellectually fulfilling and challenging all on its own. But no, this conference was much smaller, and was built around a small group of people who were using, for the most part, the best tools which philosophy and theology provide to examine a set of very specific (and, to those of us who are members of the faith group in question, very important) texts and questions. References to Badiou, Agamben, Gadamer and more abounded. I found myself, for the most part, completely outclassed. For the truth is, despite having written a dissertation on Charles Taylor, and read more about German romanticism and hermeneutics, via Herder and Schleiermacher and Hegel and Dilthey and more, than likely I'll ever be able to remember, much less be able to productively make use of, I'm not a continental philosopher, and I never will be.

And yet, it--"it" meaning addressing how we perceive and experience ourselves and one another "authentically" (using the term philosophically) when our "life-world" (same here) has been structured by "atomizing" (once again) forces both economic and cultural--still really appeals to me. Many different philosophical approaches can address these same existential issues--but in the Western tradition, at least (in the Confucian context, by contrast, things are much different), it seems to me that you have to turn to the Continental tradition of phenomenology to really articulate what is going on. And that is what I do, even if not explicitly. It comes out in how I talk about community, about simplicity, about technology and politics and work. Heidegger's essential questions--about embodiment and truth and individuality and society in a postmodern, post-industrial world--reverberate through my thoughts on religion and Marx and language and gardening and Canada and more. I don't really have the smarts or the patience to ask and follow through with serious questions of ontology and epistemology any more, assuming I ever did...but if I do find myself caught up in such questions, it is almost invariably the language of Heidegger and being and meaning and care which comes most naturally, if clumsily, to my mind. If someone had asked me questions which this film asks--such as, what is the significance of mastering a tool, and what does that tell us about our existence as tool-bearing creatures--I suspect I'd answer them the way of Herbert Dreyfus appears to so do, though probably with only a tenth of the eloquence.

Which I suppose is just a long-winded way of saying that if anyone has a spare copy of this film on dvd, please send it to me, as I don't imagine a documentary of philosophical reflections on what it means to lose oneself, and so doing uncover oneself, through an active engagement with one's Dasein will make it to our local Warren Theaters anytime soon.


Clark Goble said...

Russell, being partial to Heidegger myself I must ask though how he affects your view of Canada, SCTV, and the Loonie. (Personally I hated the change to the coins - now you lose much more money in couches and car seats)

Russell Arben Fox said...

Well, I suppose I was engaging in some hyperbole there. But just the same, I do think that if you dig deep down into my affection for Canada--or, more specifically, my affection for the political question of Canada--what you may find lurking, in the midst of other reflections on identity, language, constitutionalism, and the like, is the ghost of George Grant, and a kind of communitarian/anti-modernist rejection of the liberal, technocratic order. Grant--and Charles Taylor too!--carry forward, in different ways, at least one genuinely Heideggerian theme that fits Canada quite well: a refusal to accept a purely intentional, contractual conception of the political order (which is a myth Americans like to tell themselves about themselves), and the acceptance that our condition is linguistically and historically and culturally contextual, Geworfenheit, always already underway. It's a humbling insight, and America doesn't do humble very well.

Clark Goble said...

No, it was pretty interesting. What's most interesting to me is that I left Canada precisely because I saw the opposite. I saw in the 80's, when I was most impressional as a lad, the country largely control by a liberal technocratic order. I know Canada has changed since the Trudeau days of my youth. (There's even Canadian nationalism now)

I agree it rejects the social contract but seemed to adopt something far worse to me — a kind of paternalism by those who didn't know nearly as much as they thought they did. A hold over from the old British view of colonies along with a character that developed out of the Loyalists fleeing the US to remain true to Britain. If the US suffers due to an unexamined acceptance (even by liberals) of manifest destiny and a naive conception of a social contract then Canada suffered from almost the opposite. An anxiety of its neighbor to the South combined with vestiges of the old aristocracy.

Maybe everything would have been different had John Diefenbaker not let the US kill the Arrow. (grin) (A bit of an inside Canadian joke about the old days of the cold war and Canadian/US relations)

Russell Arben Fox said...

Well, Canada has changed tremendously since George Grant's day, and I doubt he would like any of those changes, even if the past 25 post-Trudeau years have brought some good develops to light. Interesting that you connect a kind of elite paternalism/political correctness running amuck with an old aristocratic noblesse oblige. I would see it more as the consequences of a society which has embraced liberalism despite having a social, cultural, and regional foundation for something much different. Grant wanted Canada's unity to be expressed in that way he thought it had been up until the mid-20th century; through diverse communities which nonetheless shared an ethnic and religious history. Some of that deep pluralism-within-unity is preserved in Charles Taylor's thought, but Canada has been so thoroughly caught up in America's capitalist/individualist/technological order that the notion of individual rights has to be grafted onto it, one way or another. Given the way Toronto can economically and electorally overpower outnumber and overpower just about the rest of the whole country, "individual rights" in practice becomes what Southern Ontario elites think they should be. So weirdly--and Grant would hate this--Quebec, with the "notwithstanding" clause--kind of becomes the carrier of the torch of the older, humbler, "Heideggerian" Canada which Grant lamented the passing of.

Clark Goble said...

It's interesting how the value of multiculturalism has persisted in Canada well past the Trudeau days when arguably it was developed. Indeed one sense of Canada can be seen as an opposition to the melting pot metaphor of American assimilation. This has caused problems at times - the overreach of the human rights council, some problem with Sikh violence, and a few other issues. But given Europe's problems with the same it is quite surprising how well Canada has developed an unique culture emphasizing multiculturalism.

What you say about Ontario is correct, and that was characteristic of a lot of stresses in the 90's. Federalism was a constant debate then well into the 90's. However I think that with the rise of Alberta as an economic juggernaut things have changed somewhat significantly.

Of course since I am now only a Canadian ex-pat I just can't speak to what it's become. I will say that the rise of Canadian nationalism probably has helped Canada have a whole more than anything else. That's a welcome change. When I was a kid the old joke was that Canadians were just like Americans and the only way to tell them apart was to say that. Now though I think Canada is something unique beyond being caught up in American capitalism. Whereas before it always felt like Canadian content requirements, especially in media, was a kind of rearguard action now it's something else.

At least I feel that way when I go home to visit. There's far more of an identity than there ever was before. Perhaps, to follow the Heideggarian route, Canadians finally decided to just be themselves rather than being so caught up (even within an over opposition) in Das Man - that is being lost in American or British culture.