Tag Archives: life
I’ve had a lot of time to think in the past couple months, mostly due to my general unemployed-ness (I’ve been picking up a few odd part times jobs here and there to pay the bills, of course, but I mostly consider myself unemployed).
And one thing, among many, that I can’t help but notice is the apparent continuation of the contemporary trend I wrote my thesis* on: western society’s overwhelming transfiguration of “the other.” Or, in more simple terms, our glorification of, adoption of outward form and appearance of, and transformation and attempt to constructively collaborate with “the other” (aka other ethnicities, other genders, other sexual orientations, and so on and so forth).
This trend first developed in the world of “high art” as a response to the deconstructive-ness of postmodernism. Postmodern artists deconstructed the hierarchical western canon, claiming, for example, “Hey! Black and women artists are just as important as those old white guys!”
But once the canon was turned upside down, artists were left feeling a bit lost. It’s like emerging from a bomb shelter after a nuclear war and realizing that all is chaos. Thus, artists started returning to the basics, the building blocks of how living things interpret and experience their environments.
This caused artists in the 60s and 70s, for example, to start exploring the five senses and performance art; how the audience directly experiences a piece of art.
Some artists have started to glorify and exalt “the other,” effectively starting the transfiguration movement. One more contemporary, popular culture example of this is the 2004 film version of Phantom of the Opera with Gerard Butler as the Phantom.
In the 1909 book, the Phantom is an ugly, terrifying creature. In the 1925 film and the 1976 musical, he is human, but remarkably deformed. In the 2004 film, he is a downright sex object. He is viewed as a valid romantic interest for Christine and we, as the audience, are encouraged to empathize with him.
Other artists glorified the imperfect human body since the western canon had previously only accepted the idealized human body The imperfect human body, here, is considered “the other” simply because it had been previously ignored or sugar-coated in art. This includes artists like Jenny Saville and Kiki Smith (see below images).
Jenny Saville – Hem
oil on canvas – 1998-1999
“Semen” — part of “Untitled”, Kiki Smith, 1987-90.
In the second phase of the transfiguration movement, artists wish to change their own outward form and appearance to adopt the appearance of “the other.” This includes artists like Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena (see below image.)
But this phase also includes more contemporary artists like Iggy Azalea and Lady Gaga when they dress in Middle Eastern and Indian garb (see below images).
Some would argue that the above artists are involved in cultural festishization, but that is a discussion for another time.
In the third phase, artists wish to transform global perspectives and encourage constructive collaboration across cultures. They do this in a variety of ways, some involve the audience in the artwork giving the spectators the chance to become the art-makers (performance art) and some attempt to understand the world from “the other’s” perspective.
Take the picture above, for example, that is a perfect example of the internet’s response to the infamous Shark Week. We are encouraged to place ourselves in the shark’s position, an animal typically feared or “other-ed.” But instead of fearing the shark, we empathize with it.
This phase is also evident in recent Disney movies like Finding Nemo and Shrek. No longer are sharks and orges scary monsters, but relatable protagonists.
This transfiguration movement is not just cultural, either, it has extended into politics and society at large. It is seen in the LGBT movement, the movement to accept those with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities, and, in the popular culture world, the hipster movement; it is now hip to be geek.
I see instances of contemporary transfiguration every day, and every time I see one, I want to scream out “There! Look, people!” Because art is no longer separate from culture. And culture is no longer separate from politics and societal movements.
I now use Tumblr and Facebook as my primary news sources, with a little New York Times and NPR thrown in for fact-checking. I no longer need to subscribe to fashion magazines because it’s all here.
That is what makes the regulation of the internet so troubling for some. How can we control the flow of knowledge and information if everything is available to all? Who can hold power?
That is exactly why I’m excited and scared by the future at the same time.
At this moment, actually, I’m staring at the Tumblr-suggested post to the right of my screen (if I can, I will reblog it once I finish this post, but I can also describe it for you guys just in case).
It’s a drawing of a computer (laptop?) and emerging from the screen, breaking the fourth wall as we call it in theater, are three raised fists. One is white, one is yellow, and one is green. And there are two sets of three “action” lines on either side of the hands. I see these as the hands of people around the world, sharing, learning, collaborating, and exalting through the computer, the internet.
I think I read somewhere that recently some organization gave a bunch of laptops to a poverty-stricken town in a third world country in Africa. They rigged the laptops so that they had limited capabilities for the people in the town, so that the people “would use them for the right reasons.” The people received these laptops, the first computers they’ve seen in their life, and within hours they had hacked into them and deleted all the restrictions the organization had programmed into them.
That is exactly what people in power are afraid of: giving the oppressed, the poor, the uneducated unlimited access to the information of the world.
I realize this post has veered off course, if this were an academic paper I would be agonizing over how the fuck I was going to conclude this in any logical way. But, hey, I just wanted to get my thoughts out of my mind and this is what happened.
Call it art. Call it bullshit. Call it what you will.
Welcome to Claire’s (unemployed) mind.
*thesis can be found at: https://www.academia.edu/1504353/Contemporary_Post-postmodernism_Transfiguring_the_Imperfect_Human_Body
by Maria Popova
“What Goethe can teach us about cultivating a healthy relationship with our finances.
The question of how people spend and earn money has been a cultural obsession since the dawn of economic history, but the psychology behind it is sometimes surprising and often riddled with various anxieties. In How to Worry Less about Money (public library) — another great installment in The School of Life’s heartening series reclaiming the traditional self-help genre as intelligent, non-self-helpy, yet immensely helpful guides to modern living, which previously gave us Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane, Alain de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex, and Roman Krznaric’s How to Find Fulfilling Work — Melbourne Business School philosopher-in-residenceJohn Armstrong guides us to arriving at our own “big views about money and its role in life,” transcending the narrow and often oppressive conceptions of our monoculture.
He begins with a crucial distinction, the heart of which echoes James Gordon Gilkey’s 1934 advice on how not to worry. Armstrong writes:
This book is about worries. It’s not about money troubles. There’s a crucial difference.
Troubles are urgent. They ask for direct action. … By contrast, worries often say more about the worrier than about the world.
So, addressing money worries should be quite different from dealing with money troubles. To address our worries we have to give attention to the pattern of thinking (ideology) and to the scheme of values (culture) as these are played out in our won individual, private existences.
While modern money-advice tends to fall into two main categories — how to get more money and how to get by on less — Armstrong points out that this bespeaks our culture’s fixation on troubles rather than worries. He writes:
This is a problem because the theme of money is so deep and pervasive in our lives. One’s relationship with money is lifelong, it colors one’s sense of identity, it shapes one’s attitude to other people, it connects and splits generations; money is the arena in which greed and generosity are played out, in which wisdom is exercised and folly committed. Freedom, desire, power, status, work, possession: these huge ideas that rule life are enacted, almost always, in and around money.
He draws an analogy from the philosophy of teaching, which distinguishes between training and education:
Training teaches how to carry out a specific task more efficiently and reliably. Education, on the other hand, opens and enriches a person’s mind. To train a person, you need know nothing about who they really are, or what they love, or why. Education reaches out to embrace the whole person. Historically, we have treated money as a matter of training, rather than education in its wider and more dignified sense.
Indianapolis Newsboys buying brass checks in a newspaper office, 1908
The U.S. National Archives, public domain
Underpinning our money worries, Armstrong argues, are four main questions that have far less to do with our financial standing than with psychoemotional and social factors — questions about why money is important to us, how much money we need to achieve what’s important to us, what the best way to acquire that money is, and what our economic responsibilities to others are in the course of acquiring and using that money. We’ll never overcome our money worries, he argues, unless we first recognize those underlying questions:
Our worries — when it comes to money — are about psychology as much as economics, the soul as much as the bank balance.
Key among Armstrong’s strategies for alleviating such worries is developing a good relationship with money, which parallels human-to-human dynamics:
One thing that’s characteristic of a good relationship is this: you get more accurate at assigning responsibility. When things go wrong you can see how much is your fault and how much is the fault of the other person. And the same holds when things go well. You know that part of it is your doing and part depends on the contribution of your partner.
This model applies to money. When things go well or badly, it’s partly about what you bring to the situation and partly about what money brings. What money brings is a certain level of spending power.
What you bring to this relationship includes imagination, values, emotions, attitudes, ambitious, fears, and memories. So the relationship is absolutely not just a matter of pure economic facts of how much you get and how much you spend.
In discussing research indicating that more money, after a certain threshold, doesn’t mean more happiness, Armstrong offers a necessary definition of happiness:
When we talk about happiness, what do we have in mind? Probably a mixture of buoyancy and serenity; you feel elated but safe.
The relationship money has to these attributes, he argues, is “real but diminishing.” While money can buy the accoutrements of buoyancy — chocolate, weekend getaways, expensive shoes — many people feel unhappy despite having these. His explanation, echoing the philosophy of Alan Watts, leads to the obvious conclusion:
Money can purchase the symbols but not the causes of serenity and buoyancy. In a straightforward way we must agree that money cannot buy happiness.
Since Armstrong’s main argument is premised on the idea that our culture is geared toward addressing troubles rather than amplifying well-being, which parallels the disconnect that Martin Seligman observed in the field of psychology when he founded the positive psychology movement, it comes as no surprise that Armstrong’s key construct in solving the conundrum mirrors Seligman’s philosophy of flourishing over “happiness.” Indeed, Armstrong argues that while serenity and buoyancy are appealing, they fall short of reflecting what people really want out of life:
Most people realize that they really need to do things for other people. There is a deep fear that one’s life will be lived in vain — without making a contribution, or a benign difference, to the lives of others.
Flourishing means getting on with the things that are important for you to do, exercising your capacities, actively trying to “realize” what you care about and bring it into life. But these activities involve anxiety, fear of failure and setbacks, as well as a sense of satisfaction, occasional triumphs and moments of excitement.
And yet this is in no way a motion to flatten the full dimensionality of the human experience:
A good life is still a life. It must involve a full share of suffering, loneliness, disappointment and coming to terms with one’s own mortality and the deaths of those one loves. To live a life that is good as a life involves all this.
While the things money can secure — like power, influence, and access to resources — may not be shortcuts to serenity and buoyancy, Armstrong argues, they are inextricably linked to flourishing by enabling you to pursue the things that are important to you and, in the process, to contribute to the lives of others. Here, the relationship between amount of money and potential for flourishing doesn’t flatline the way it does in a more narrow conception of happiness:
Armstrong’s key point, however, is that while this correlation of growth might be directly proportional, money isn’t a cause of flourishing but an ingredient in it, a mere resource with which to build the life we want, catalyzed by virtue:
Money brings about good consequences — helps us live valuable lives — only when joined with “virtues.” Virtues are good abilities of mind and character.
Reminiscent of Ben-Franklian virtues like temperance, frugality, and moderation is another essential skill in alleviating our money worries — the ability to distinguish between wants and needs. The need-desire distinction, Armstrong suggests, is useful in warding off mere desires, like the longing for the latest shiny gadget, even if it’s of little utilitarian value, or that sleek new bike, even if the old one works perfectly fine.
If we want to be wise about money we should resist the impulse to follow our desires and concentrate instead on getting what we need.
Need is deeper — bound up with the serious narrative of one’s life. “Do I need this”? is a way of asking: how important is this thing, how central is it to my becoming a good version of myself; what is it actually for in my life? This interrogation is designed to distinguish needs from mere wants. And that’s a good distinction to make.
But it is important to see that this is not the same as the “modest versus grand” distinction. Our needs are not always for the smaller, lesser, cheaper thing.
The ultimate purpose of purchases, he argues, is to help us flourish. His strategy for mastering the needs/wants balance thus rests on not conflating this dichotomy with familiar ones like basic/refined (“a distinction about the level of complexity of an object”) or cheap/luxurious (“a distinction to do with price and demand”). Instead, he recommends a seemingly counter-intuitive approach — to consider our needs first, without taking price into account.
But, ultimately, Armstrong points out that the things most essential to our flourishing — despite what our monoculture might dictate — are often unrelated to material goods:
The crucial developmental step in the economic lives of individuals and societies is their ability to cross from the pursuit of middle-order goods to higher-order goods. Sometimes we need to lessen our attachment to the middle needs like status and glamor in order to concentrate on higher things. This doesn’t take more money; it takes more independence of mind.
There are quite profound reasons why we should care simultaneously about having and doing. Both are connected to flourishing.
What we do with our lives is obviously central to who we are. What we expend our mental energy on, what we put our emotional resources into, where we deploy courage or daring or prudence or commitment: these are major parts of existence and are inevitably much connected with work and earning money. And we need these parts of existence in order to find proper application in activities that deserve our best efforts. We don’t’ want to reserve our central capacities for the margins and weekends of life.
Despite certain cultural stereotypes, Armstrong points out that, precisely because of these parallel forces, doing well and doing good don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and there could in fact exist a straight positive correlation between intrinsic worth and extrinsic, material reward:
At an individual level, one is trying to find a way of making this happen in one’s own life. But because intrinsic worth isn not just what is good for me, but what is actually good, this is a public service as well. It’s not greedy to want to make quite a lot of money — if you want to make it as a reward for doing things that are genuinely good for other people.
In considering yet another essential difference — that between price and value — Armstrong makes a key distinction, which most of us intuit but can rarely articulate with such eloquence:
Price is a public matter — a negotiation between supply and demand. A thing’s price is set in competition. So the price of a car is determined by how much some people want it, how much they are willing to pay, and how ready the manufacturer is to sell. It’s a public activity: lots of people are involved in the process, but your voice is almost never important in setting the price.
Value, on the other hand, is a personal, ethical and aesthetic judgment — assigned finally by individuals, and founded on their perceptiveness, wisdom and character.
Armstrong finds a certain artfulness to the issue of managing our money-worries:
Ultimately, one is cultivating an art — one of the minor political arts, the art of domestic finance. By saying that it is an art, one is getting at the idea that there are multiple motives and rewards, which are integrated. There is anaesthetic or order — a physical beauty that is connected to neatness and clarity — like the beauty of the periodic table, or the elegance of a mathematical equation, or the rightness of a note in a sonata. It is a classical beauty.
In a chapter considering the problems of the rich, who are able to use money to fulfill their desires, Armstrong writes, with a wince and a wink at the “hedonic treadmill”:
Money does not liberate people in the way that we assume it must.
There is a very imperfect relationship between desire and flourishing. Desire aims at pleasure. Whereas the achievement of a good life depends upon the good we create. And the opportunity to follow whatever desire one might happen to have is the enemy of the effort, concentration, devotion, patience and self-sacrifice that are necessary if we are to achieve worthwhile ends.
Armstrong goes on to outline a number of practical strategies for improving our relationship with money and thus mastering our worries, concluding with a wonderful anecdote of a man who epitomized that relationship at its healthiest:Goethe.
‘The civilized ideal: elegance and devotion to work.’
Jonathan Joseph Schmeller, Goethe in His Study Dictating to His Secretary John, 1831
From his many writings about his own experiences, we know that he was determined to get well paid for his work. He came from a well-off background but sought independence. He switched careers, from law to government adviser so as to be able to earn more (which made sense then; today the trajectory might be in the opposite direction. He coped with serious setbacks. His first novel was extremely popular but he made no money from it because of inadequate copyright laws. Later, he negotiated better contracts. He was very competent in financial matters and kept meticulous records of his income and expenditure. He liked what money could buy — including … a stylish house-coat (his study has no heating). But for all this, money and money worries did not dominate his inner life. He wrote with astonishing sensitivity about love and beauty. He was completely realistic and pragmatic when it came to money but this did not lead him to neglect the worth of exploring bigger, more important concepts in life.
Quoted text excerpted from How to Worry Less about Money by John Armstrong. Copyright © 2012 by The School of Life.”
by Maria Popova
““We must gain victory, not by assaulting the walls, but by accepting them.”
As far as vintage finds go, they hardly get more fortuitous than You Can Master Life (public library) — a marvelous 1934 compendium of sort-of-philosophical, sort-of-self-helpy, at times charmingly dated, other times refreshingly timeless advice on cultivating “the power to think, to create, to influence and be influenced by others, and to love,” in the spirit of the 1949 gem How To Avoid Work.
Though written by a Christian pastor namedJames Gordon Gilkey and thus a little too God-heavy for these corners of the internet, the slim volume shares a good amount in common with Alain de Botton’s modern-day advocacy of the secular sermon. Take, for instance, Gilkey’s advice in a chapter titled “Breaking the Grip of Worry.” He cites a “Worry Table” created by one of the era’s humorists — most likely Mark Twain, who is often quoted, though never with a specific source, as having said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” The table was designed to distinguish between justified and unjustified worries:
On studying his chronic fears this man found they fell into five fairly distinct classifications:
- Worries about disasters which, as later events proved, never happened. About 40% of my anxieties.
- Worries about decisions I had made in the past, decisions about which I could now of course do nothing. About 30% of my anxieties.
- Worries about possible sickness and a possible nervous breakdown, neither of which materialized. About 12% of my worries.
- Worries about my children and my friends, worries arising from the fact I forgot these people have an ordinary amount of common sense. About 10% of my worries.
- Worries that have a real foundation. Possibly 8% of the total.
Gilkey then prescribes:
What, of this man, is the first step in the conquest of anxiety? It is to limit his worrying to the few perils in his fifth group. This simple act will eliminate 92% of his fears. Or, to figure the matter differently, it will leave him free from worry 92% of the time.
(Of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald intuited the basic premise of the table when he sent his daughter Scottie an itemized list of the things in life to worry and not worry about.)
In a later chapter, titled “Doing One’s Work Under Difficulties,” Gilkey offers some related advice which, on the one hand, bears that wise Buddhist-like mindset of living with sheer awareness but, on the other, makes a questionable case against introspection and the enormous enrichment of “living the questions”:
We should make ourselves stop trying to explain our own difficulties. Our first impulse is to try to account for them, figure out why what has happened did happen. Sometimes such an effort is beneficial: more often it is distinctly harmful. It leads to introspection, self-pity, and vain regret; and almost invariably it creates within us a dangerous mood of confusion and despair. Many of life’s hard situations cannotbe explained. They can only be endured, mastered, and gradually forgotten. Once we learn this truth, once we resolve to use all our energies managing life rather than trying to explain life, we take the first and most obvious step toward significant accomplishment.
In the following chapter, “Learning to Adjust,” Gilkey revisits the subject through the lens of aging:
Only as we yield to the inexorable, only as we accept the situations which we find ourselves powerless to change, can we free ourselves from fatal inward tensions, and acquire that inward quietness amid which we can seek — and usually find — ways by which our limitations can be made at least partially endurable.
Why is [this] so difficult for most people? because most of us were told in childhood that the way to conquer a difficulty is to fight it and demolish it. That theory is, of course, the one that should be taught to young people. Many of the difficulties we encounter in youth are not permanent; and the combination of a heroic courage, a resolute will, and a tireless persistence will often — probably usually — break them down. Bu tin later years the essential elements in the situation change. We find in our little world prison-walls which no amount of battering will demolish. Within those walls we must spend our day — spend them happily, or resentfully. Under these new circumstances we must deliberately reverse our youthful technique. We must gain victory, not by assaulting the walls, but by accepting them. Only when this surrender is made can we assure ourselves of inward quietness, and locate the net step on the road to ultimate victory.
Complement You Can Master Life with a contemporary counterpart of sorts, the wonderful and wonderfully useful How To Stay Sane, then wash down with a verse-by-verse neuropsychology reading of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”“