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Monday, July 21st, 2003

Unity, Duality

I opened The Birth of Tragedy to the first page of the main text (i.e. not counting the Critical Backward Glance or the Foreword to Wagner) and read the following first sentence:

Much will be gained for aesthetics once we have succeeded in apprehending directly — rather than merely ascertaining that art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysiac duality, even as the propagation of the species depends on the duality of the sexes, their constant conflicts and periodic acts of reconciliation. [emphasis added, except "ascertaining" is emphasized in the original]

Well that sentence sort of knocked me for a loop. I will confess before I start laying this on you, that what I have come up with bears a bit of a tenuous relationship to this particular book, and is probably more pertinent (if still not that solidly so) to Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. I am going to assume that you have read the latter, or have some knowledge of Jaynes' ideas.

What got me going is Nietzsche's formulation, "apprehending directly — rather than merely ascertaining" -- I have seen similar formulations before and never remarked on them -- the idea is pretty straightforward and familiar to me, and I would think to others as well. But look at the distinction -- what is implied is ('scuse me while I use my big words)1 a dualistic epistemology. There are two ways of knowing, at "first hand" and at "second hand", and the two are not necessarily closely related or part of the same process. And this is where I want to bring in Jaynes' idea of the bicameral mind.

Ascertaining, "coming to know", is different from knowing because it involves the willful intervention of the conscious mind. If I did not treat my conscious mind as a separate entity, there would be no need for such a distinction. My thinking is that this conscious "other" is the modern vestige of the bicameral voice Jaynes wrote about -- and I believe this fits in with what Nietzsche is writing about as well; I will talk about that when I write about the text.

What interests me right now, is dualism. I have felt for a long time that there is something wrong with dualistic metaphysics, and something right about monistic metaphics; but have never been able to explain to myself the common-sensical appeal of dualism. That is to say, both dualism and monism have attractive features but they will not fit together in the same box. But now I am realizing I can combine a monistic metaphysics with a dualistic psychology and end up with an extremely coherent world-view. (Why I should want such a thing is left open to question.)

---

1 I write about philosophy as a layman. Some concepts demand technical descriptions, which I use in the hope that I am not embarassing myself with misuse. Here are my understandings of terms I use here or plan to use in the near future:

dualism
This needs an entry of its own, or several; but basically I'm talking about a worldview which splits the universe into two types of being, usually along the lines of "mental" and "physical". Think of Plato's theory of forms as a good representative.
monism
The opposite of dualism, the idea that everything in the universe is in one category or something like that.
metaphysics
A statement or group of statements about what matter the universe is made up of.
psychology
A statement or group of statements about what constitutes the human mind.
epistemology
A statement or group of statements about how the human mind can come to understand the universe.
When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

-- Humpty-Dumpty

posted evening of July 21st, 2003: Respond
➳ More posts about Friedrich Nietzsche

I read some more of The Birth of Tragedy this weekend and it prompted an almost unprecedented burst of note-taking -- the margins of the first 15 pages are now filled to overflowing. I am thinking a lot about dual and single worldviews -- how I find them attractive and how they are useful -- and intend to write a long post about it this evening.

posted morning of July 21st, 2003: Respond
➳ More posts about Readings

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

Today I finished The Beginning of Spring -- I felt curiously moved by the interaction between Frank and Selwyn in the next-to-last chapter, "curiously" because I could not understand quite how I was reacting. I got a sort of adrenaline rush -- though the book is not by any stretch a thriller -- and I felt totally alienated from Selwyn, much more so than I had throughout the book. Not in a particularly condemnatory way, I just thought, This guy is not from my planet.

The last chapter is total disintegration -- almost like the final third of Gravity's Rainbow in microcosm. And the ending did feel a bit like a tease.

...

A little later I picked up The Birth of Tragedy and started reading Nietzsche's forward to Wagner and wow! realized that it was written in Selwyn's voice. I'm not sure what to make of this realization but there it is. The first few pages of the first chapter are inspiring me to get back up on my Jaynesian hobby horse -- but I will read a bit further before I decide to subject you to that. My favorite quote from these first few pages is,

...but nature itself, long alienated or subjugated, rises again to celebrate the reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.

-- which I like in large part because every time I read it, it seems to me like Janis Joplin is speaking, and giving a different intonation to the final two words than that intended by the translator. (Who is, by the way, Francis Golffing of Bennington College; date of the translation is 1956.)

...

I have the evening to myself, as Ellen and Sylvia are visiting Uncle Kenny on the east end of Long Island; I think I will walk to town and have a drink. I will be joining them tomorrow so no blogging this weekend. (Not that that is unusual or anything, but still.)

posted evening of July 17th, 2003: Respond
➳ More posts about The Beginning of Spring

Tuesday, July 15th, 2003

Started two more books

After finishing The Ginger Man (and not thinking too much of it) I need a new book for my commute reading -- looks like it will be Penelope Fitzgerald's The Beginning of Spring, which I started this morning. I think it is going to be a good one!

Last night on a lark, I picked up The Birth of Tragedy and read (for the manyth time) the forward -- it intrigues me and I may stick with it this time.

posted morning of July 15th, 2003: Respond
➳ More posts about Penelope Fitzgerald

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