Cool Weather

It appears that fall is here. The nights have become chilly & the days cool & breezy. The maple trees continue to change color, with reds & yellows predominating. The days have been clear & sunny & gloriously autumnal, with that particular smell in the air–or of the air–which I cannot really characterize. The life of the woods & garden is most intense this time of year, the colors heightened, the sounds (blue jays) sharpened.

I like to sleep & I sleep well in this weather, the breeze making its low noise in the branches, but I fear to dream, for most of my dreams are set in that other world–the world in which I was not ill–so that I wake always back into the reality of my illness.

Bruno Latour’s Foreword to Thinking with Whitehead

Latour is one of our most prolific philosophers of science & and obvious choice to write a foreword to Stengers’ book. Stengers is, after all, trying to clear a space for thinking that falls outside the heavily guarded walls of science. Latour has been criticized by working scientists for attempting a similar undertaking in his many books.

Latour begins by placing Whitehead ahead of Wittgenstein among 20th century philosophers, an assertion that will certainly get a rise out of the vast army of Anglo-American intellectuals who have made Wittgenstein a touchstone, if not a cornerstone, of their thinking. Here at the beginning of this adventure, I remain unconvinced.

Latour notes that Whitehead has been relegated to a kind of back corner of the classroom because he has “indulged in metaphysics” and pursued a speculative mode of thinking, practices supposedly ruled out by the analytical philosophy that has so dominated 20th century thinking–at least among the small number of people who pay attention to such things. Latour focuses on the way in which science, in order to assure its objectivity has ruled out values as illusions, as part of something “secondary” to the primary work science has set for itself. Stengers is not trying, so far as I can see, to diminish the work scientists actually do, but to clear space for “illusions.” Stengers go to some pains in her introduction to not reignite the science wars & to not diminish the work of science, which she values as simply another kind of adventure, while at the same time insisting on the reality of things that science rules out.

Noted later: Doesn’t my talk in the first paragraphs above of inside & outside, of ahead & behind, immediately plunge us into the kind of dualism(s) Stengers is trying so very hard to avoid–dualism(s) very deeply embedded in our language & thought? Noted yet later: This strikes me as not a very profound insight on my part. Certainly, the way we have been conditioned to talk about science limits our ability to think completely about it. This is true of any subject, whether science or dentistry, say, because science has relegated unto itself the sole power to judge truth claims. That’s where the whole thing goes belly up.

Along came a spider and sat down beside her . . .

Thinking with Whitehead by Isabelle Stengers

It turns out the my friend Chris and I had nothing but praise for Menand’s The Metaphysical Club & we exhausted that after a couple of private conversations. Perhaps it was because both of us had read the book before, so that rereading didn’t generate much in the way of new ideas, notions, insights, or whatever. (Or perhaps because I had been filling up my imagination with audiobooks of detective stories, chief among them the Inspector Maigret series by Georges Simenon. High class detective fiction, but detective fiction nevertheless.) So we have decided to change the rules before the game began, taking up a book neither of us has read–and also one we both feel compelled to read despite its formidable density & difficulties.

Chris & I will be having at least part of our discussion of Isabelle Stengers’ Thinking with Whitehead in this blog space, with me posting a general topic, then moving to the comments for discussion. There are no doubt more elegant ways of presenting our thinking, but this one requires the least technical setup, for which I have less & less patience these days. Beginning with my next post the, we will take up this new adventure in reading–“adventure” being a key term in Whitehead’s philosophical system, for whom the word denoted a kind of opening in thinking, perhaps even a kind of eager opening. That, at any rate, is what I’m feeling in anticipation of reading this, as I said above, formidable book with my friend. Adventures are sometimes best undertaken with a trusty companion.

One final note about my own motivation for this project: Much of what Whitehead opens himself to in his non-analytical, intentionally metaphysical “system” of thought reminds me of the openness to experience of Zen, which has become my guiding universe of insights in recent years, though Whitehead’s language, terminology, etc. could not be further from Zen.

The Most Beautiful Morning

It is very early autumn here in the north country, the tops of the maples just beginning to change color while the lower branches remain green. The days are warm, the nights cool. This morning after Carole left for work I took the dogs out on the deck with me and sat for a while enjoying the still-cool morning air, the warm sun, the breeze. The sky was an expanse of pure blue beyond description & the river picked up that color, the surface broken by small wavelets that sent points of brilliant silver light in every direction. It occurred to me that, despite everything, this was the most beautiful morning of my life. Or perhaps it was because of everything. The ten-thousand things in perfect harmony, so that even the sound of a truck grinding its gears as it rattled over the bridge fit perfectly into the music of the morning.

The Quality of Time

It has been a little over a month since I’ve posted anything in this space. The hiatus began as carelessness, I suppose, or distraction by my own troubles, but then continued more or less intentionally. I’ve been taking a kind of vacation from human contact, listening to audiobook potboilers, surfing YouTube & napping as often as I could manage to fall asleep. I think what happened–this in retrospect–I had gotten tired of my own situation & wanted to get away from it. Time’s quality changes inexplicably.

I now find that, without consciously attempting it, that I am again interested in communication & my life as a writer. One grows tired of vacations after a while. I’m not yet sure what will come of this, but I expect to begin posting here again, at least occasionally. Not sure what I’ll write about, probably reading. I’ve just finished rereading Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club & have begun Isabelle Stengers’ Thinking with Whitehead. The plan to discuss the former with my friend has fallen through, mostly because of the vacation I have been describing, partly because of his pressure of work. I hope we will still have a chance to discuss books / ideas online.

A Rainy Day

After a dry summer we’re having a rainy day, with lines of thunderstorms moving through. Tomorrow is also supposed to be rainy. I find such days calming, especially when the storm is coming down hardest. At its most furious the storm is most calming. It’s hot & muggy now, I could use another downpour.