The Modern and the Post modern 8th (final) assignment {Wesleyan / Coursera}

Which two thinkers in our class do you think Anthony Appiah would consider “cosmopolitan” in his terms?

Cosmopolitan versus the Really real.

Richard Rorty’s analytical philosophy introduces the concept of post-modern pragmatism and the dire relationship of the vocabulary we use and perceive as “truth” with the community we belong to. Worlds outside this community do not qualify for us to review or judge, since we are in effect irrelevant to these and these to us.  The notion is close to the Hegelian ideals and their sense that human dignity and moral derive from being a part of the community [4].

Kwame Anthony Appiah takes this idea a step further and suggests that people, who belong in different communities, are in fact capable of exchanging ideas about morality – what’s right or wrong – thus engaging in a globalized discourse. These people are considered “cosmopolitans” [1], a term coined from the 4th century BCE Ancient Greek words “cosmos” (world) and “polis” (city state). A global citizen of the world is briefly described in his book “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers”:

Cosmopolitans think human variety matters because people are entitled to the options they need to shape their lives in partnership with others”. [1]

He’s being careful while analyzing the “cosmopolitan” post-modernist identity by refusing to put fixed cultural tags to specific groups of people; one can rather accumulate a range of characteristics from various communities in order to shape his own cultural identity through a multiplicity of traditions. In a sense a cosmopolitan identity is an overlap of identities; depending on what context one finds oneself, one projects the most suitable part of it accordingly.

What about the criticism against “global citizens”? Well, Appiah doesn’t advocate the purity of a certain tradition – meaning that it is only meant for members of that particular community alone to uphold – but he doesn’t want to abandon the sense of belonging to your community either. Originally a paradox but Appiah explains that we in fact need to both have a healthy sense of national pride as well as understanding international neighbor communities without letting our own background overlap all others. He remarks

And the one thought that cosmopolitans share is that no local loyalty can ever justify forgetting that each human being has responsibilities to every other”[1]

Appiah might have considered some key figures of (post -)modernist philosophy and art as “cosmopolitans”.  Rorty after all believes that it is in art we must seek to converse, in order to discover our identity:

“The principal backup for historiography is not philosophy but the arts, which serve to develop and modify a group’s self-image by, for example, apotheosizing its heroes, diabolizing its enemies, mounting dialogues among its members, and refocusing its attention”.[4]

 In his poem “Crowds” [2], Baudelaire wanders around the boulevards of Paris, with no particular reason. His idea of the “flâneur“ means essentially finding delight in observing people and witnessing unknown scenes of human interaction, which might come as a refreshing surprise to the viewer. In retrospect the wanderer becomes less selfish by getting out of his lonely shell, of his boring sheltered space and delving into the wider world, “the Crowd”. Appiah’s words do portray a sense of belonging to a broader world yet the backbone of his philosophy is there in Paris Spleen; go out and meet the world, whether that’s the Earth’s countries or just the other part of the city you rarely visit.

Coming to a more recent thinker, Butler seems to uphold that same “cosmopolitan” ideal as well, despite focusing on gender issues alone. In her book “Undoing Gender” she is convinced that gender is “a practice of improvisation with a sense of constraint.” [3] If we take this definition and apply it to having a globalized identity then

  1. People do improvise when coming to terms with other customs, religions, beliefs in their attempt to understand them
  2. People are constrained in their own social, economic and cultural background, thus making it hard to wholly embrace the “Other” – in return they engage in a dialogue with it, trying to understand it – achieving the “cosmopolitan” global ideal.

Appiah’s post-modern tradition is interesting, since it connects the modern human world with a sense of practicality. It also reaches out equally to developed and emerging societies, without falling victim of euphemology or global utopia (Hippy 60s style). He shows a deep understanding of how difficult the task of global understanding is, he respects tradition as well as co-existence and offers valuable insight instead of vague empty philosophical rhetoric of what’s really “Real”.

Works cited:

  1. Appiah, Anthony “Cosmopolitan Contamination” from Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. 2006.
  2. Baudelaire, Charles: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869. Web. Retrieved 13th May 2013 from http://baudelaire.litteratura.com/le_spleen_de_paris.php#.UYeb-LWeOSo
  3. Butler, Judith.  “Undoing Gender”.  2004.
  4. Rorty, Richard. “Postmodern Bourgeois Liberalism”. The Journal of Philosophy
    Vol. 80, No. 10, Part 1: Eightieth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. 1983
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Optional assignment: The Modern and the Postmodern {Coursera / Wesleyan}

Optional assignment: Compare at least two of our thinkers on the possibility of “coming to terms with the past.”  How do they understand the importance of understanding history or memory?

 

Defiance of memory against time in art

 

Coming to terms with our past denotes huge emotional strength, which at times humans fail to exhibit; letting go is a hard thing. Nostalgia according to a popular universal law is one of the most powerful aspects of life. It is in our history and memory where we find things were much better, more proper.  However, reminiscing the old hides the danger of failing to accept what’s innovative and new. How are we to attain progress if we insist on inhabiting the past? Prominent literature figures like Virginia Wolf and Charles Baudelaire have spent extensive amount of their work exploring issues arisen as regards memory and history.

It is hard for the average fiction reader to follow Virginia Wolf’s “stream of consciousness”. It is like we are sucked in the very minds of the protagonists, trying to follow their chain of thought and their inner preoccupations; at the same time a plot, perhaps insignificantly so, unfolds.

In “The Lighthouse” [3] we witness the symbolic depiction of the sea as a figurative metaphor of time. The beautiful calm sea turns violent and waves come crushing to the shores, much like time abruptly brings about change.  Woolf is talented in visual description: what we see is also what we should try to perceive.  The second chapter exhibits strongly the devastating alterations that come to pass within a ten year bracket.  Recounting the deaths of Prue and Andrew Ramsay, Woolf’s sentences become few and short. Symbolism again dictates that their deaths were either violent (war victim) or unjust (during childbirth); either way time causes premature loss. Mrs. Ramsey’s death is also indicative of untimely departure, leaving Mr. Ramsey almost helpless and unable to continue his philosophical research.

Near the novel’s conclusion Lily finally gets to finish up the painting she started ten years ago (again the past is echoed). Can art be our only consolation of stability in an ever-changing world? Lily contemplates: “nothing stays, all changes; but not words, not paint.” The forces of time may be unrelenting; neither Mr. Ramsay’s philosophy nor Mrs. Ramsay’s social gatherings were able to preserve memory. However art seems, according to Woolf, to be able to attain our experiences, meaningful moments of our lives.

Charles Baudelaire was also a man, whose art was meant to capture the fleeting little precious moments of life “for art is long and time is brief «as he suggested.  In his prose – like poetry he deploys symbolism and images taken from the “modern” urban boulevards of 19th century Paris. Again visual imagery – much like in Woolf’s writings – plays a crucial role in evoking nostalgia and intimacy for the past, as a true Romanticist would attempt.

Two of the poems in Baudelaire’s “Paris Spleen” [1] are mainly focused on the poet’s views concerning the passing of time. ‘Enivrez-Vous’ (“Get drunk”) calls for intoxication and indulging in life’s sinful pleasures. Time flees quickly and change comes in the form of death. So in turn men must seek ways to “Get drunk! Stay drunk! On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!” if they do not wish to end up “martyred slaves of Time”. Art and pleasures again can save the day and push back time’s decaying omens. The poem “Already” – in French “Deja” – poses a puzzling riddle for the poet. How is it that in all its power, nature cannot save the humans from mortality?

Time seems indeed devastating and unbeatable. Yet memories of the past and even the sweetness of the present can be preserved through the medium that these two predominant artists know all too well. Literatures, poetry, paintings or whatever the ancient Muses inspire keep the past intact as time runs with incredible speed, stampeding everything in its wake.

Shakespeare once wrote a sonnet [2] explaining that yet another force is able to stand against the menacing Time: true love. The beauty of art and love transcend time, providing mortals with immortal values. As the years pass, rest assured we will still enjoy the writings of Baudelaire, Woolf and Shakespeare. Such is the power of memory in the arts.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

(Sonnet 116)

 

 

References:

  1. Baudelaire, Charles: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from http://baudelaire.litteratura.com/le_spleen_de_paris.php#.UYeb-LWeOSo
  2. Shakespeare, William: Sonnets.1609. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/116.html
  3. Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse. 1927. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from http://www.polyglotproject.com/books/English/to_the_lighthouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Modern and the Postmodern: Coursera 3rd writing assignment

Darwin wrote that: “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” Compare Darwin’s view of the persistent effects of the past with at least one other writer covered so far in the course (please try to write about someone you haven’t written about in the previous assignments). 

THE EVOLUTION OF MAN AND SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

Primal instincts and the seek for pleasure in the works of Darwin and Baudelaire

 

ImageDarwin’s theory of evolution strongly indicates the presence of a common ancestor of all living creatures – man himself included – , who over time and within the process of “natural selection” came to be modified in order to adapt each to their own surroundings. Thus Darwin boldly claims “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin”,  (Darwin 1871) suggesting that we are indeed nothing more than a successful mutation of a primal. As it was expected, his views raised controversy especially among the men of faith.

Darwin’s views about our genealogical past were not a result of painless efforts; Darwin was notably a meticulous scientist, who spent years of research in order to complete his work on the species that inhabit our planet and the origins of humans. He was more so diligent in writing about his endeavors not in a scholarly manner – as one might have expected from a man of letters – but in layman’s terms. By doing so he passed on precious scientific knowledge to people that were hardly accustomed to terminology of the sort, provoking mixed emotions to a huge populous even to this day.

In his work “the Descent of Man” the final Chapter digresses towards the moral differences between man and beasts, claiming that “…the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.” (Darwin 1871) According to his reasoning, our relationship with God and the vast power of social habit were hugely responsible to maintain those primary instincts and develop them to a more decent humane conduct. He concurs “ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor.” (Darwin 1871) As one observes, it is well within our nature to commune with each other, to sympathize even from the early stages of evolution. Darwin (1871) elaborates upon the matter:  “The motive to give aid is likewise much modified in man: it no longer consists solely of a blind instinctive impulse, but is much influenced by the praise or blame of his fellows. The appreciation and the bestowal of praise and blame both rest on sympathy; and this emotion, as we have seen, is one of the most important elements of the social instincts”. However our beliefs and higher principles such as faith in God were under no circumstances “innate or instinctive”. They were byproducts of social grouping.

Darwin provoked public opinion with his work in the mid-19th century yet his views about human basic instincts and our dormant past were actually supported in a completely different  field namely art. Baudelaire, the infamous French poet, shares the belief that intense emotions that even violate social standards and etiquette are indeed equal parts of human nature and goes on a step further; perhaps our bestial origins are actually better than the reformed social ones.

In the “Eyes of the Poor” (Baudelaire 1869), the Darwinian sympathy emerges as he observes that the glasses were too small to satisfy the upper middle class’ thirst for luxury; the eyes of the impoverished family outside the café haunt him. Yet, as social surroundings indicate, his companion doesn’t share the same thoughts. She is rather taken aback and irritated by their presence.

The themes unraveled in “Le Spleen de Paris” bear testimony of how man has become a social beast and if let outside the social grid he will eventually fall prey to his inner primal instincts. Pleasure for one is the ultimate medium, with which one seeks to express himself. Other motifs include narcotics and sexuality, both marginalized by the “comme – il – faut” society of the time.  It seems as if Baudelaire is biased against the prejudiced conformity and considers bourgeoisie a hypocritical hybrid; “the Rope” (Baudelaire 1869) is an excellent portrayal of how motherhood and innate motherly feelings are denominated in exchange for profit.

To sum up, Darwin theory of evolution is backed by considerable scientific data; it is in Baudelaire however that we find empirically how much we can change  – both positively and negatively – as humans based on the social surroundings we choose to abide by. It should have made one wonder: Is our hairy ancestor the true monstrosity?

 

Works cited:

1. Baudelaire, Charls: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869

2. Darwin, Charles: The Descent of Man. 1871