Monday, August 17, 2015

Update 43

So, I'm filling out this form for that continuing education place I've mentioned, hoping I can find a few interested members to help me write my book. Here are some of the questions and my first stab at replies. Interesting and challenging document.

Write a brief description of your intended pursuit considering the following: your questions and quandaries regarding this area of interest,  what you hope for once your pursuit has been concluded, and why this pursuit is valuable.

I’d like Perpetua’s help in completing and publishing a work of non-fiction discussing the nature and potential value of “pop-culture”. The first section of the book (which I’ve already begun) discusses what pop-culture is, beginning with discussions of human nature and art in general as a necessary foundation. The second section will discuss major themes and ideas that appear again and again in pop-culture, their value and any dangers or errors they involve. Distributed throughout both sections will be critiques and reflections on particular works of pop-culture.

First and foremost I’d like Perpetua to help keep my feet to the fire. Other work has begun to occupy more and more of my time, and some external pressure to move forward on this will help, I hope.

The major question I have is whether the arguments I make are thorough enough or convincing on their own, and what references I should include to support my thesis.

I believe the work is valuable because there are extreme and immoderate views concerning pop-culture, both for and against it, and given my educational background and personal interests, I believe I am well suited to attempt to give some helpful perspective on the issue.

Why do you think you became interested in this pursuit?

Because I am firmly convinced in the power and importance of reason, philosophy, and truth wherever it can be found, and I also enjoy action movies and Super Mario Bros. I’d like to think both can not only co-exist, but be part of the same thing.

What prior experience do you have with this area of inquiry?

I wrote articles on pop-cultural subjects for a full year and I currently write for an online publication focusing on video games and entertainment. I have studied the classics of western thought, literature, and dialectic.

What resources do you envision using in support of your endeavors?

Conversation, reasoned argument, the works of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and potentially Ananda Coomaraswamy and modern works on pop-culture (in my current draft of the book I refer to Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, for example).

Describe your way of learning (if pertinent to the pursuit).

I think I learn best through what I’d call absorption, followed by conversation. I’m not a big taker of notes, but if I focus on reading/watching/playing or otherwise experiencing something and then proceed to reflect on it, I think I do pretty well.

Describe your way of interacting with others.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Update 42

A Thought

As I'm preparing to write the book with the active help of other people, I thought it would be a good idea to take stock and think about why I'm writing a book at all. What do I have to say, and who am I that people should listen to me anyway?

To answer the second part first, I don't think I am anybody in particular. It would be false humility to say that I don't take pride in my abilities, as I see them. I do believe I've a certain knack for seeing things and for putting them into words. I partially have this opinion of myself because it's the opinion of people I trust. But, I don't think I'm special in the sense that what I say has value because it comes from me. An argument or observation should be persuasive fundamentally because it is true, and that rests on the thing argued or observed, not the person expressing the argument or making the observation. It seems to me that, primarily, the skills of the writer are like the skills of the sailor. A good writer knows how to harness forces that are already there in order to help his readers (and himself) get somewhere worth getting, even if that's just to the middle of the lake and back on a Sunday afternoon.

Now to answer the first part: what do I have to say? My thesis is pretty simple. Really, it consists of sharing a framework for thinking, or helping people notice what I think is our common framework to begin with. Specifically, it has to do with the nature and purpose of art that is made and appreciated in itself and it's about pop-culture because... well... I like pop-culture, and there really shouldn't be any difference between stories and drawings and music that are part of "pop-culture" and stories and drawings and music that are part of anything else, at least not in essence. There are several less than essential parts of pop-cultural things that are very interesting and important to take note of (the whole second part of my book is dedicated to taking those notes), but what is to be gained from art made by human beings is the same, regardless of where to comes from.

So there you go, you shouldn't listen to me particularly, but I think if you do you might just learn something about art. Why don't you read my book when it's done, and tell me if I was right?

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, August 3, 2015

Update 41

A Thought

It seems to me that authentic reaction to things is very important to having a good life and being a good friend, or even a good dinner guest. What I mean is that, when a person genuinely and openly expresses their thoughts and feelings about some topic, it naturally tends to enliven everyone else present, as well as enlivening the subject matter itself. Whether it's a movie, a piece of music, or an idea, expressing your spontaneous reaction to it lets everyone else in on what's going on inside you, and that means it enlarges their perspective on the subject at hand, because they literally have more than one perspective on it. 

The danger and fear, of course, is that you'll be rejected when you open up like that; that other people won't want to look from another point of view, or they'll turn on you because they think you're wrong. On a certain level, I think we need to weigh the cost and the benefits and tough it out, realizing that it's better to live exuberantly and be attacked than to clamp down on ourselves and become zombified. Frankly, being wrong is possible, and if someone genuinely reacts to your genuine reaction by thinking that you're wrong, you have to be able to take what you dish out. If both of you can continue the conversation after that point, one of you might even end of right about something new. On the other hand, people aren't always fair, and a little look around the internet can show you what that lack of fairness can result in.

Progress Report

Well, I missed a whole week. Things were pretty busy last Monday, it was my birthday last Wednesday. And, now, I'm sick! Such is life.

The book still sits there, waiting to be molded into a masterpiece of deep insight that will enrich the lives of the multitude! All I need is some kind of time machine or pocket dimension or something so I can work on it. Or, barring that, I'll just get well and get off my butt.

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, July 20, 2015

Update 40: Dumbo

A Thought

I watched Dumbo recently. You know, the movie about the baby elephant with big ears that (spoiler) learns how to fly? I actually watched it because we had a formal seminar on it at the school I used to attend. It really is amazing how much interesting food for thought there is in almost anything. All it takes is a little conversational digging to get it out.
"But, Mr. Crow, can it be right to deceive the young into
belief in fetishistic magic in order to boost their self-esteem?"
"I'll probably be fine."

The obvious idea or "message" in Dumbo is that what makes someone appear strange or ridiculous might be turned to some good use and, in fact, make one essential, if cultivated correctly. Now, this idea has merits and problems, but I we also brought up a secondary point about the "magic feather", namely that it is a classic Frommian psychological example of idol worship.

Remember toward the end of the movie, the mouse gives Dumbo one of the crows' feathers and implies that, now that he has the feather, he'll be able to fly? Well, you see, the psychoanalyst and author Eric Fromm defined idol worship as the projection of some innate human power onto an external object, followed by the worship of that power in the object. (The fact that Dumbo is an elephant and not a human is beside the point, he is as good as human for our purposes here... I mean it, stop laughing.)

So, when the mouse deceives Dumbo about the feather, he does it specifically to get Dumbo to project his own ability to fly onto the inanimate feather because Dumbo won't believe in his own capacity. The idea is that Dumbo will have an easier time believing some external thing has lent him that capacity. Then, once he has proven to himself that he is capable, he no longer needs the feather as a surrogate source of confidence.

It's interesting to reflect on this, because Dumbo is certainly not the only place we see this idea cropping up. The idea being that an effective way to overcome debilitating fear is to fool someone into thinking they have power because of some external thing, when they've had the power all along (The Lego Movie comes to mind). One can understand the theoretical strategic advantage in this method. But Fromm, at least, certainly didn't think idol worship was the behavior of a psychologically healthy individual. Plus, there's the lying and manipulating people to get them to do what you want.

Am I ruining a childhood classic by reading too much into it? I prefer to think I'm giving you something intellectually invigorating to do when you're watching movies with kids.

Progress Report

I've had at least two people express interest in reading the book and helping me out with it. Now I've just got to track down the application form for doing a "pursuit" at the continuing education organization I belong to and get it filled out and submitted before next month's meeting. Woo!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Update 39

Although I had planned to wait until part 1 of the book was more complete, I recently decided to ask a small group of friends and acquaintances to read things as they stand and help me whip it into shape. 

I'm fortunate enough to belong to a continuing education group. One of the main things this group does is help members with projects or areas of study they're interested in by finding other members willing to work with them toward specific goals. I think the goal I want to set is publication of the whole work, self-publication almost certainly. I've announced my intention, but still have to write the formal proposal.

But, publication is still a good while off. First I have to hand over what I've got and see whether it makes sense to someone outside my head. One thing I'm really looking forward to is advice about elaborating my arguments and providing examples. Outside perspective on the cohesiveness of it all is very important, as writing and thinking about something for too long can cause one to be both too critical and too lenient. An author becomes too critical because none of their writing seems fresh or worth saying, since they've been thinking it and saying it for so long. They become to lenient because, when they understand an argument or point very well, they may not bother to be thorough in the presentation of it, since a short hand explanation will remind them of what they know so well. Of course I think what I wrote makes sense, or else I wouldn't have written it, but I need some confirmation. I'm not the full extent of my intended audience, after all. 

I also hope this will push me to work harder on the book. My schedule isn't as open as it was when I started this project, and there's always something pressing that takes priority. But, I have to make the time if I ever want to see this get done. Publication may take a while, but it isn't just a fantasy. I have to seriously work toward it.

So I'm gonna. 

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, July 6, 2015

Update 38: My House Leaked on my Neighbor's House

I live in a condo on the top floor. It's a lovely place to live in several ways. The view from my balcony makes one feel as if one lived in a tree house. I never have to mow the lawn. I'm only vulnerable to assaults by ninjas or helicopters.

It isn't all gravy, however. As you know, one of the many conveniences of modern life is that, not only are we shielded from the elements in houses of various description, we don't even have to go out into the elements when we want to use them for something. Water, for instance. we just pump that stuff straight into the house, no going down to the river required. It's a great idea in theory and the practice follows suit most of them time.

Today, however, my hot water heater started leaking all down into my neighbors house, which upset him. After various investigations that took up quite a chunk of the day, we discovered the whole device has to be replaced.

Such is modern life. Still glad I don't have to carry jars to the river. 

Hopefully I'll have more for you next week.

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, June 29, 2015

Update 37


"This universe that Humanity is struggling with when we make art includes man himself. While the effect of making a piece of art is as we've outlined, namely the materialization of immaterial things, the possible motivations for doing so are quite varied. 

McCloud may be wrong that humans qua humans make art because they're bored, but individual human beings very well may. They may make it because they're bored, or because they're anxious, angry, lonely, or because of a genuine love of beauty or desire to know the truth. 

And YouTube commenters may be wrong that humans are miniature gods, but our basic motivations and desires are mysteries that connect us to the highest things in ways we might not see or understand."

© 2015 John Hiner III