Thursday, January 7, 2021

Spiritual cramps

Orion; photo (cropped) by Adam Block, via Apod

In late December, I sent individual season's greetings-type texts to some friends during a lull at work. James replied with a message alluding to the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. He knows me well, and assumed I'd been watching for it.

I'm sorry to say that I missed it.

The benefits of my situation in Philadelphia are manifold (though most of them boil down to being able to bike and walk almost everywhere I need to be), but the costs sometimes prompt me to browse housing and job listings from towns out in the sticks, or in smaller cities famously protective of their green belts. Not being able to see many stars was one of the many privations and inconveniences I complained about when I lived on the fringes of Washington, DC (2014). Having relocated to Silver Spring after living my entire life in some suburb or other, a practically empty night sky affected me acutely. If we wanted to dredge up posts from Beyond Easy's first few years (big if, there), we'd find no small abundance of entries about stargazing and astronomy. The places I lived then weren't altogether devoid of light pollution, true, but you could still make out the Milky Way on clear, moonless summer nights. It was easy to notice the stars, especially if, say, you'd fallen into the habit of taking midnight walks with friends to get high in the woods. Once I started noticing the stars, paying attention to them and taking a deepening interest in them followed naturally.

After a couple of years, objects in the night sky took on a significance beyond their interest as mere aesthetic and intellectual wonders as I came to associate them with terrestrial events. When I think of craning my neck to look directly up Vega, I seem to feel the air of a warm summer evening on my skin. Conversely, thinking about Orion gives me a mnemonic chill.¹ Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Pegasus torquing up over the eastern horizon means summer is on its way out; glimpsing Arcturus in the early evening indicates it's finally on its way. And of course there are all the other stellar objects that keep a more precise time or are simply a pleasure to gaze at: Corona Berenices, Draco, Gemini, Lacerta, the Pleiades, Delphinus, Hercules, Scorpius, and so on. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

New novel, etc.

Postscript Jan 2: Well, it's out. Fun fact: I was lying awake last night and realized I'd overlooked a minor plot point. So if you already ordered a copy, there are now 45–50 added words that aren't included in your version. Trust me, you probably won't notice—but it literally kept me up at night. It's never over. (If you finish the book and are curious, drop me a line and I'll tell you what the change was.) Incidentally, I noticed a typo while I was interpolating the new content. It will never be over.

Well, I wrote a sequel to The Zeroes.¹ It was published (read: made available for purchase on Amazon) on December 28.

I haven't placed a link on the sidebar yet because I'm not done futzing with it. Over the last 36 hours I've repeatedly pulled up and skimmed the document, invariably finding something to correct—a phrase that suddenly embarrasses me (even though my eye passed over it unoffended four or five or six times already) or a random typo I never noticed. Just now I found a line of text that really ought to have been italicized, so I've fixed it and have to wait for the change to set on whatever monstrous database governs the Phyrexian print-to-order facility Amazon set up in Middletown, Delaware. I think tomorrow night I'll drink a few beers, scroll the thing for four consecutive hours, make whatever piddling changes seem necessary, and then force myself to close out of Word and get on with my life.

If you're motivated to find the book on Amazon yourself, it's probably not hard. Somebody already has, and I've sent an email apologizing for the unitalicized text and an unwieldy description on page 666(!) he'll have to suffer through. If you're interested in reading it, I'd ask that you wait a couple of days. Once I'm "finished" with the document, you'll see a purchase link appear on the right of the page.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (Part 7)

 RenĂ© Magritte, Natural Encounters (1945)¹

This is going to be the last time I post about Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–87) for the foreseeable future. Thank god. I'm ready to be done with it—even though I doubt it's done with me. This is a book one can exhaust a lifetime studying, and I still haven't plumbed it to the uttermost depth of its mysteries. But there are other books to read and ideas to ponder, and it's about time I moved on.

I feel I should reiterate that I'm not writing this to lecture an imaginary audience about Kant, but to help myself get my own head around the Critique. Don't take anything I say as authoritative, and do please correct me if you have some familiarity with the material and catch me misinterpreting it. 

Our last post about Kant is about the Transcendental Dialectic—which is, in fact, twice as long as the Transcendental Aesthetic and the Transcendental Analytic. Fortunately, it's a lot easier to understand on the whole—though in its particulars, it's as deep a rabbit hole as the other two sections.

While the Transcendental Aesthetic was a statement of the principles underlying Kant's transcendental logic, and the Analytic was a statement of those principles, the Dialectic applies them to some of the pressing metaphysical and philosophical questions of Kant's time—or, rather, to some of the proposed answers to those questions.

This brings us to something really scary about the Critique of Pure Reason: you have to give a close reading to three hundred pages of dense, onerously-phrased epistemology before arriving at the "critique" part. As a matter of fact, nothing that we've glanced at in the last six posts about this damn book have had anything to do with the Transcendental Dialectic.²

Saturday, November 28, 2020

X-Men X-Overs Addendum: X of Swords

X of Swords wrapped up this week, and it was good enough to necessitate a revision of our list of the ten best X-Men crossovers. Fortunately, making space for it is as easy as bumping the Muir Island Saga off the ten-spot.

So now our list looks like:

10. Fatal Attractions
9. The Mutant Massacre
8. X-Tinction Agenda
7. Utopia
6. Messiah War
5. Inferno
4. X of Swords
3. Second Coming
2. The X-Cutioner's Song
1. Messiah Complex

Not that my opinion matters much (and not that X-Men comics are terribly important), but let's call this a tentative ranking. The other stories on this list have all been around for a decade at least and three decades at most, while X of Swords just wrapped up a few days ago. For all I know, it might age as well as John Greycrow's old codename. If anyone is interested in the reason for X of Sword's placement between Inferno and Second Coming, I'll say this: I struggled for a few minutes to decide whether X of Swords or Inferno deserved the four-spot. X of Swords earns most of its points for originality and for its explosive finale, but on the whole it tends to meander, and any story that makes Inferno seem focused by comparison is a story with a pacing problem. In the end, the penalty Inferno incurred by containing the limited series that introduced Wiz Kid allowed X of Swords to pull ahead. However, the points deducted from X of Swords for being a backdoor pilot for a new serial featuring Wiz Kid's comeback prevented it from even contending with Second Coming.

#4: X of Swords (2020)
Titles involved: Cable, Excalibur, Hellions, Marauders, New Mutants, Wolverine, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men

In brief: Banished to a nether dimension thousands of years ago, Apocalypse's kids are still alive, and they're pissed off. Saturnyne holds a tournament to determine whether she'll allow them to cross the dimensions and bring their hellish, unstoppable army to Earth.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (Part 6)

Ellsworth Kelly, Grid Lines (1951)¹

Today, in my ongoing battle with Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–87), I would like to spend some time examining the I think.

No, that isn't a typo. What Kant calls "the sentence: I think" (der Satz: ich denke) might be—and I suggest this with no authority whatsoever—treated as the hidden thirteenth item in his catalogue of pure concepts of the understanding. The importance of the I think to the Kantian scheme cannot be understated. All of the other categories are predicated on it; Kant calls it "the formal proposition of apperception."

[T]his concept is the vehicle of all concepts in general, and therefore also of transcendental concepts, is therefore always included among them, and so is itself transcendental; has no claim to a special title, inasmuch as it serves only to introduce all thought as belonging to consciousness.

Kant expands on the importance of the I think in the Transcendental Dialectic (excerpted above), but first introduces the concept in the Transcendental Deduction:

It must be possible for the I think to accompany all my representations: for otherwise something would be represented within me that could not be thought at all, in other words, the representation would either be impossible, or at least would be nothing to me. That representation which can be given prior to all thought is called intuition, and all the manifold of intuition has, therefore, a necessary relation to the I think in the same subject in which this manifold of intuition is found. This representation (the I think), however, is an act of spontaneity, that is, it cannot be considered as belonging to sensibility. I call it pure apperception, in order to distinguish it from empirical apperception, or also original apperception, because it is that self-consciousness which, by producing the representation, I think (which must be capable of accompanying all other representations, and which is one and the same in all consciousness), cannot itself be accompanied by any further representations. I also call the unity of appereception the transcendental unity of self-consciousness, in order to indicate that a priori knowledge can be obtained from it. For the manifold representations given in an intuition would not one and all be my representations, if they did not all belong to one self-consciousness. What I mean is that, as my representations (even though I am not conscious of them as that), they must conform to the condition under which alone they can stand together in one universal self-consciousness, because otherwise they would not one and all belong to me.

Well: what are we supposed to make of this?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part 5)

Caspar David Friedrich, Tageszeitenzyklus, Der Morgen (1820–1)

On we plow. I'm discovering that our friend John Ruskin wasn't being as facetious as he might have imagined when he insinuated that one should expect to commit a decade to studying Kant and the German idealists before achieving the comprehensive enlightenment they advertise. I've been rereading chunks of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–87) every day or every other day for the last few weeks, and I feel the progress of my understanding approaching a sheer wall. Before too much longer I'm going to have to put the damn thing away and let what I've gleaned simmer in me for a few months before I revisit it again.

I can't tell you how much I regret the title of this series. "Twelve rounds" was an extempore choice, an obvious and serviceable cliche. But sometimes, somehow, a flippant remark is hoodwinked into affirming itself. Having declared "twelve rounds," it's as though I unwittingly signed a pact wherein I've consented to writing twelve blog posts about Kant or else must live with the ignominy of welshing on an obligation to the universe.¹

My bizarre guilt complexes can be a topic for another post. For now, I think I've only got the wherewithal for another three rounds (including this one). The remaining five posts...well, there's still the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgement (1790), and I don't suppose there's any escaping them now. From what I understand, they're both shorter and more pertinent to mundane workaday experience than the Critique of Pure Reason, and I have reason to hope they'll be be easier to get through. Even so, I'm really not in any hurry to get started right away.

Today I'm going to spend a little more time trying to dislodge the tenets of transcendental idealism from my craw. Our visual garnish for this session comes from Caspar David Friedrich, peerless painter of Romantic landscapes. The reason for his inclusion may shortly become transparent.²

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part 4)

Charles Demuth, Machine (1920)

The operation was a success: after writing more words about X-Men comics than a grown man should be permitted to exhibit without opprobrium, my brains are more or less de-wormed, and we can resume our extemporaneous study of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787). I won't ask if you're as avid as I am to dip back into transcendental idealism and the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge—surely everyone's answer is a spirited HELL YES!

Hmm—but I'm finding that putting aside Kant for a few weeks is like reneging on an exercise regimen: you don't return to it with quite the same spryness and stamina you could muster before going idle. Maybe we should keep today's session relatively short, and begin by stretching our ganglia a bit. We'll also stimulate our eyes between blocks of text with some paintings by Charles Demuth, whose precisionist sensibilities are not inappropriate to a discussion of one of philosophy's most renowned (or infamous?) Order Muppets.