Blogging on "I, We"-space in the "IT" dimension of cyberspace

Friday, December 02, 2016

Kenneth Smith: Cultural Critic of the Modern Era

In 1988 artist and philosophy professor Kenneth Smith began writing a philosophy column called Dramas of the Mind in The Comics Journal. Smith’s column ran there intermittently for the next twenty years. Smith wrote about philosophical issues as they relate to modern civilization, covering ethics, violence, sex, education, science, art, etc. Smith wrote powerful analysis of contemporary manias and delusions in a blazing, take-no-prisoners style. His insights into the modern age are penetrating and worthy of the great cultural critics and essayists of the past, in the traditions of Chomsky, Mencken, Bloom, Orwell, Bertrand Russell, Edward Said, Vidal, Žižek, etc. Certainly his is a voice that deserves greater exposure.

This information page gives an overview of Kenneth Smith, links to many resources, and posts scans of his classic run of TCJ columns. The scans contain his most essential writing, but there is a Tumblr blog and a Gaim library that provide quotes from longer pieces. Here are some choice fragments.

via Gaiam:

Art or culture or philosophy must ply its genius today against this most prodigious opponent in all of history-human self-obliviousness, man’s deific powers of denial and delusion, the nescience buried in the heart of science. Art must keen its scalpel for one sure incision, it must razor the bladder of an inflationary corpus of hypertrophic beliefs so deftly that the violence is only felt after the fact. Delusion must be lanced like a boil bloated to purple distension: art is not the play of pretty illusions – entertainment is that whoring pastime – but rather righteous and wise disillusion, judicious severing of a malignancy. Art is far from amoral; it is in crusade against lying and trivializing conventional morality and must transcend that snake pit of corruption, certainly; but amoral it is not, in no way is it free to be neutral and objective. Art is either the lancet of a higher truth, a law superior to any of man’s pleasant and flattering rhetorical reasonings, or else it has no authority, no right to command anyone’s attention. Art traffics with the divine, that is, the hidden or occult, the mythic, which is after all of the very essence of man, the stuff his character and even his life are ultimately woven from. A wise society knows to have contempt for egomaniacal poseurs playing onanistically with art supplies, and a foolish society imagines that “art is whatever artists may do.”

Learning to free up or liberate one’s mind to capture precisely the most essential points in anything is an athletic exercise in which, for the first time, we discover just what the actual cash-value of our “culture” truly is: has our culture contributed to making our minds more acute, clearer, more nimble and elastic? Has it given us a richer vocabulary of essences or concepts to facilitate our rational and moral digestion of issues? Or is our “culture” really no enzymatic culture at all, but merely a scheme of encumbrances, of intellectual and rational impediments that have been compounded out of endless Pavlovian conditionings, by which we came to accept fallacies and equivocations and deceptive connotations and lying rhetoric etc. as if they were the gospel truth? The premier value of reading the ancient thinkers lies in their aristocratic culture’s determination to put an absolute premium on the development of acuity, directness, economy or essentiality of characterizations, etc. To be competent as an aristos (one committed absolutely to the cultivation of excellence or arete in its superlative degree), an individual was expected to keen his insights and judgment as much in the domain of intuition (being sensitive to the subtleties of the evidence, the realities) as in the domain of intellection (mustering the most apt tools of expression to characterize, conceptualize and evaluate these realities). Moderns have only the feeblest grasp of both of these processes.

How infinitely happier and more grateful is the whole personality or spirit when it finds something nourishing in art or writing or thinking, than the mere mind or intellect is: the kinship you celebrate in these personalities is your own dismembered Orpheus stumbling across another fine organ to rejoin to itself. I put it this way: aristic psyche loves itself enough to chasten itself, to put itself through boot camp for the sake of being competent for life, alive to life.

Nietzsche’s realization was astute that modernity had abolished the very prospect of humanity as ancient culture grasped it as aristeia or nobility, or even as medieval Christianity grasped it in the form of spirituality. Modernity has, from generation to generation and from century to century, an ever-lowering ceiling of minimalist “humanity,” an arrant folly of setting up the democratist “human, all too human” as if it could in any way serve as some sort of norm or standard. It is nothing but a quivering, quavering mass of pathos, a gross form of moral and spiritual and philosophical bankruptcy: it is one great complex of fault-lines across the superficial plaque of a veneer-culture, a mere mask of humanity over bestiality. That is what our programmatic war against aristeia ultimately means, the systematic abolition of “man” as well considered as an honorific or value-laden concept.

Nietzsche recognized the prodigious accomplishment of the Greeks in at least two seismic insights: (1) that man was somehow capable of being cultured to become more than just another heteronomous “phenomenon” within nature, society or history, i.e. he could in the most exemplary or extraordinary of cases stand in some sort of parity with the ultimate principles that shape and drive and organize existence (which is as much as to say: the gulf between aristoi and douloi is as abysmal as the chasm between cosmos and chaos, between arche and hyle or principle and matter); and (2) that in man nature—in actuality culture—had managed to produce a true prodigy of timebinding self-mastery, “an animal that dared to promise” and to make itself live up to its promised responsibility. Modern behaviorism and economism and scientism have undereaten the foundations of all these normative accomplishments. All the spiritual and rational and cultural and philosophical achievements of premodern civilization had long ago become nothing more than a treasury of rhetoric for moderns to pillage and deplete. Culturally considered, modern “culture” is de facto a form of entropy or self-parasitism, a thieving or vampiric world-order that accomplishes nothing whatsoever in the domain of norms; on the contrary it bleeds this domain down to nothing, to pathos.

Kenneth Smith information page.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dave and Zayne discuss meditation

[5/18/2010 3:53:45 AM] Zayne Smith: so, I tried to meditate
[5/18/2010 3:54:00 AM] Zayne Smith: how do I know if its "working" lol- or is that a wrong question?
[5/18/2010 3:54:22 AM] David: :)
[5/18/2010 3:54:27 AM] Zayne Smith: lol
[5/18/2010 3:55:09 AM] Zayne Smith: I keep wondering, am I getting to that deeper side, or am I fooling myself
[5/18/2010 4:07:18 AM] David: A teacher tells his students tomorrow he will give them the most powerful meditation technique he knows, the one that will fully transmit the essence of his teachings to them, and the one that will carry them to enlightenment. The students were overjoyed at the prospect that at last they will have the meditation that they enrolled for, the one technique they will need. They speculated on what the technique was, some unbelievably advanced method. So the day came. The teacher began, "Alright, today I'll teach you the technique that you've been asking for, the final technique you need. First, before we start, let's take a moment. Just calm ourselves for a few minutes. Just breathe quietly. In and out." Several minutes pass. "Notice your body, as it breathes, and sits." Several minutes pass. "Notice the room, and the place we're in." By now, twenty minutes had passed. Then the teacher said. "Okay, thank you." A student in front asked, "But what about the technique?" The teacher said, "You just did it."
[5/18/2010 4:08:07 AM] Zayne Smith: sigh
[5/18/2010 4:08:08 AM] Zayne Smith: lol
[5/18/2010 4:08:21 AM] Zayne Smith: thats kinda what I figured
[5/18/2010 4:08:42 AM] Zayne Smith: ok well then ill tell you about it, it felt like my eyes dried out rly fast
[5/18/2010 4:08:51 AM] Zayne Smith: I couldnt sit still
[5/18/2010 4:10:58 AM] David: How long did you sit?
[5/18/2010 4:11:29 AM] Zayne Smith: well I was trying to to do for about 30 mins but I moved, as in got up and walked or changed position about 4 or 5 times maybe more
[5/18/2010 4:12:28 AM] David: Well, as I say, go easy on yourself, at the start. Try a smaller amount of time.
[5/18/2010 4:15:47 AM] Zayne Smith: yea I think ill do that
[5/18/2010 4:17:10 AM] David: If two guys sit everyday for a month, the guy who had thirty successful one minute meditations is a better meditator than the guy who tried to do thirty half hour meditations that were all restless and unskilled and irritable.
[5/18/2010 4:17:59 AM] Zayne Smith: icic
[5/18/2010 4:18:21 AM] David: Better that you reinforce successful technique with a shorter time, than continually fail at attempting a longer time.
[5/18/2010 4:18:53 AM] David: It's no good to continually reinforce frustration and irritation.
[5/18/2010 4:20:22 AM] Zayne Smith: yea I agreee
[5/18/2010 4:21:07 AM] Zayne Smith: im just not sure whats successful and what isnt
[5/18/2010 4:53:40 AM] Zayne Smith: so its ok if im day dreaming about flying around, or thinking "man my eyes are dry" or worrying about a test or whatever..?
[5/18/2010 4:54:14 AM] David: There's a thing called fresh start.
[5/18/2010 4:54:46 AM] David: Fresh start is when you notice that you are restless and worrying and irritable
[5/18/2010 4:56:13 AM] David: and you notice that, and you say, oh wait. And right there, as soon as you notice that, you can go back, "Okay, start again", and start fresh as if you had just sat down, as if you had just begun your session. A fresh start, right then. And you can hit that fresh start button at any time during the session.
[5/18/2010 4:56:52 AM] David: And you can press that fresh start button as much as you want or need to.
[5/18/2010 4:57:07 AM] David: Even if you're hitting it every twenty seconds.
[5/18/2010 4:57:28 AM] Zayne Smith: meditation makes my brain hurt
[5/18/2010 4:57:54 AM] David: This isn't easy and it takes awhile.
[5/18/2010 4:57:56 AM] David: Meditation is not for wimps.
[5/18/2010 4:58:05 AM] David: Meditation is serious stuff. And it will kick you around, no question.
[5/18/2010 4:58:14 AM] Zayne Smith: so
[5/18/2010 4:58:33 AM] Zayne Smith: if im thinking about someone else, fresh start?
[5/18/2010 4:58:40 AM] Zayne Smith: something, someone, somewhere ect
[5/18/2010 4:59:10 AM] Zayne Smith: the main problem im having is I have no idea what im sposta be doing lol
[5/18/2010 4:59:18 AM] David: This isn't easy and it takes awhile.
[5/18/2010 4:59:43 AM] Zayne Smith: im not sure if I just let my thoughts take me somewhere, or focus on the source of those thoughts, or focus on not having thoughts

[5/18/2010 6:08:59 PM] Zayne Smith: well im not sure if I just did it "right" but that was def not what happen yesterday, and it didnt piss me off at all... I wouldnt say it was comforting either but its something umm productive? not sure how to word it
[5/18/2010 7:17:47 PM] David: Cool.
[5/18/2010 7:20:21 PM] Zayne Smith: if you have another audio/video or anything else im ready =D
[5/18/2010 7:20:42 PM] David: Sure thing.
[5/18/2010 7:21:29 PM] David: How about some Shinzen?
[5/18/2010 7:22:00 PM] David:
[5/18/2010 7:22:01 PM] David: I'll watch along with you.
[5/18/2010 7:22:03 PM] David: :)
[5/18/2010 7:22:18 PM] Zayne Smith: kk
[5/18/2010 7:22:22 PM] David: Shinzen's hardcore!
[5/18/2010 7:39:10 PM] Zayne Smith: pretty interesting but there were many terms I dont know
[5/18/2010 7:39:38 PM] David: Ever see Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
[5/18/2010 7:39:44 PM] Zayne Smith: yea
[5/18/2010 7:39:52 PM] David: "First day of school, gentlemen."
[5/18/2010 7:39:56 PM] David: ;)
[5/18/2010 7:39:59 PM] Zayne Smith: lol
[5/18/2010 7:40:37 PM] David: Shinzen's awesome.
[5/18/2010 7:41:03 PM] Zayne Smith: so after meditating for many years people can walk around with that feeling all the time?
[5/18/2010 7:41:15 PM] David: Yes.
[5/18/2010 7:41:22 PM] Zayne Smith: that would be awesome
[5/18/2010 7:41:36 PM] Zayne Smith: and im sure im tapping into maybe 5% of what can be reached haha
[5/18/2010 7:42:05 PM] Zayne Smith: so, how much time do you spend in that state on avg?
[5/18/2010 7:45:27 PM] David: Me?
[5/18/2010 7:45:37 PM] Zayne Smith: yea =P
[5/18/2010 7:45:38 PM] David: Zero percent.
[5/18/2010 7:45:45 PM] Zayne Smith: o.0
[5/18/2010 7:46:13 PM] David: Again, and it makes no sense, I know, but I'll keep saying it. That's not why you practice.
[5/18/2010 7:46:25 PM] David: You don't meditate to attain anything.
[5/18/2010 7:46:30 PM] David: You meditate to meditate.
[5/18/2010 7:46:33 PM] Zayne Smith: then what motivates you?
[5/18/2010 7:46:33 PM] David: That's it.
[5/18/2010 7:46:37 PM] David: That's it.
[5/18/2010 7:46:45 PM] David: It's its own motivation.
[5/18/2010 7:46:53 PM] Zayne Smith: then why not learn to dance, or ice skate or fly a kite?
[5/18/2010 7:46:59 PM] David: Good question.
[5/18/2010 7:48:04 PM] David: If dancers, ice skaters, kite flyers have gotten results you are interested in, then dance, skate, and kite fly.
[5/18/2010 7:48:38 PM] Zayne Smith: um
[5/18/2010 7:49:23 PM] Zayne Smith: if someone is interested in results than they must be going for something right?
[5/18/2010 7:49:35 PM] David: Ah. You noticed that.
[5/18/2010 7:49:43 PM] David: A bit of a contradiction, huh?
[5/18/2010 7:49:48 PM] Zayne Smith: yea
[5/18/2010 7:49:55 PM] David: Well, get used to that.
[5/18/2010 7:50:10 PM] David: There's going to be a lot more of those kinds of contradictions.
[5/18/2010 7:50:17 PM] Zayne Smith: yay
[5/18/2010 7:50:31 PM] David: As I say, this stuff makes little sense in our cultural context.
[5/18/2010 7:50:38 PM] David: It's a different way of thinking.
[5/18/2010 7:50:58 PM] Zayne Smith: well, it seems to me if these people who meditate for years and years and gain some kind of state of mind than that is the goal, although im aware that chasing after that goal is futile, it is where one will find themself given enough time, practice and assuming their not going on the wrong path
[5/18/2010 7:51:00 PM] David: You do both. Work towards attainment, without attachment.
[5/18/2010 7:51:08 PM] David: Without being attached to the result.
[5/18/2010 7:51:36 PM] David: Obviously, the benefits are important and motivating,
[5/18/2010 7:52:10 PM] David: and they will come for us, with diligent practice,
[5/18/2010 7:52:35 PM] David: but that's not why we practice.
[5/18/2010 7:52:55 PM] Zayne Smith: well
[5/18/2010 7:53:05 PM] Zayne Smith: I think I see what your saying
[5/18/2010 7:53:08 PM] David: Those great things will happen, with correct practice.
[5/18/2010 7:53:18 PM] David: But if you are
[5/18/2010 7:53:21 PM] David: attached
[5/18/2010 7:53:24 PM] David: to that,
[5/18/2010 7:54:00 PM] David: But if you are attached to that outcome, if you are hungering for that result, if you are desirous of that goal,
[5/18/2010 7:54:01 PM] David: then
[5/18/2010 7:54:05 PM] David: it is
[5/18/2010 7:54:12 PM] David: just another kink
[5/18/2010 7:54:21 PM] David: just another trap
[5/18/2010 7:54:29 PM] David: just another hang up.
[5/18/2010 7:54:39 PM] David: And then you are using spirituality
[5/18/2010 7:55:34 PM] David: exactly the same as anything else, Captitalism, drug abuse, television, acquisitionism, materialism, etc.
[5/18/2010 7:55:52 PM] David: You've just substituted one trip for another.
[5/18/2010 7:56:25 PM] David: This time "being spiritual", "being holy" "being an evolved avatar," etc.
[5/18/2010 7:56:36 PM] David: it's just another kink. One less destructive,
[5/18/2010 7:56:51 PM] David: but still just another hang up that will ultimately just bring more suffering.
[5/18/2010 7:57:00 PM] David: If it's used that way.
[5/18/2010 7:58:08 PM] Zayne Smith: yea that makes sence
[5/18/2010 7:58:50 PM] David: First law of the Buddha, life is suffering.
[5/18/2010 7:59:04 PM] David: Second law, the cause of suffering is desire.
[5/18/2010 7:59:22 PM] David: Desiring spiritual attainment is still desire.
[5/18/2010 7:59:35 PM] David: Desire leads to suffering.
[5/18/2010 7:59:44 PM] David: No matter what it is you are desiring.
[5/18/2010 8:00:05 PM] David: Meditation will cause you to dis-attach to desire.
[5/18/2010 8:00:28 PM] David: because you will see that the thing that is desiring
[5/18/2010 8:00:50 PM] David: is your ego, your mind, your little-s self, your psyche.
[5/18/2010 8:00:59 PM] David: And you will see that that desiring thing
[5/18/2010 8:01:02 PM] David: isn't you.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Integral Spirituality Book Chapter conference calls annotations

I will be annotating the Integral Spirituality Book Chapter conference calls.

Subscribe and follow along. :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Integral readings podcast
Daily reading on spirituality, meditation, etc.

Monday, September 13, 2004

ITH Flickr Group Pool

possessedmandala4qs, originally uploaded by oversoul.
ITH people, keep on adding to our Flickr group pool.

Here's how. Let's rock!

Friday, July 02, 2004

Daily Zeitgeist

check out Flickr's Daily Zeitgeist. see side bar. very cool!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

So how was the weekend?

Yo coolmel and dave how was the DP weekend?? Dying to hear how it went...