Monday, August 31, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 1)

Twenty-six years later, I finally know what book Hobbes is reading from.

Today I'd like to ruminate on the work of Immanuel Kant because, hell, it's not like I ever wanted readers anyway.

I began reading the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787) in April. What prompted me to take the plunge was something I puzzled over back in March: if mathematical entities have no real existence, and if numbers and geometrical forms are merely abstractions whose referents are those ineffable elements of reality that are present in all conceivable experience, what precisely are those elements? I understood that Kant was very much concerned with this sort of thing, and decided I ought to consult an expert who'd given the problem much more thought than I, and who was reportedly very systematic in his approach to it.

Well, I finished reading the Critique back in July. Or, I should rather say I arrived at its end—I'm not nearly at the point where I can shelve it just yet. It is without a doubt the most difficult book I've ever read, and as I review what I believe I've gleaned from it, I find myself consulting the index and flipping back through its pages seeking clarity on some obscure point or abstruse principle. I've read both the B and A versions of the Transcendental Deduction more than once, and I'll admit that I haven't yet fully assimilated Kant's reasoning. I wondered if perhaps fluency in German is required to parse his thinking, even in translation, but Ruven (librarian, wearer of florid shirts, native son of Deutschland) suggests that's not the case:
It so happens that a friend of mine here has a degree in German studies and philosophy and received very good grades, and I remember him saying some years ago that he'd very much like to travel back in time to witness Kant writing. Specifically, to stand behind him with a baseball bat as he wrote, make him read each finished sentence to an uneducated worker, and give him a good swing every time that worker didn't immediately understand it.
So it's not just me. But I don't think I'll be consoled until I get my goddamned head around this goddamned book. (I expect a long wait.)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

How the web was lost

oh god.

By whatever authority I have as an erstwhile webcomic author, I would bracket the period from 2000–2007 as the golden age of the online comic strip.¹ Not that we are or have ever been in danger of running out of well-written and visually captivating pictorial narratives to read in our browser windows, nor have webcomics declined in quality. To the contrary, today's strips display more technical proficiency and polish than the ones I followed in the early aughts. But the medium's glory days are nevertheless behind it.

I won't embarrass myself by trying to polish whatever infinitesimal legacy is left to my contribution, but I do take pride in having participated in what could fairly (if immodestly) be called a subcultural movement.² The webcomics scene, with its DIY ethos, camaraderous social networks, and the ingenuous passion of amatuerdom as its √©lan vital, was for kids like me what the ska punk scene was to my more gregarious and rambunctious friends.³ 

Jackie Lesnick, Girly (2003–2010)

At the beginning, nobody began cobbling together comic strips and slapping them up on the internet as part of a plan to pay off their student loans. Money and fame weren't the goal. Many of the early scene's biggest names—including ones who remain active to this day and have blueticked Twitter accounts—started out making and sharing their comic strips purely for amusement. For the first year or so of its run, Zach Weiner's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal was a series of scanned pencil drawings he produced in class in lieu of taking notes.⁴ The first pages of Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater certainly don't read like the work of someone who approached his web presence as though it were an audition for a Marvel Comics gig. David Rees assembled the first Get Your War On strips as a means of sorting through and screaming out his thoughts on 9/11 and the Bush Administration's ghastly, shambolic crusade against "terror." Even when the strip was appearing in Rolling Stone, Rees leased no space to advertisers on his website, maintained an irregular update schedule, and permanently retired the comic the day Bush vacated the White House.

David Rees, Get Your War On (2001–2009)