Friday, September 19, 2008

Why study philosophy, religion, poetry, art, dance, music?

When I went to college, I didn’t know anyone who majored in business. None of my friends asked, why are you studying that? Meaning, how will you ever get a job if you major in music or art of English or . . . Now so many of my friends' kids study business. They're all about the job after. And when they ask the question--what were you thinking? I have no answer. But I do know I am really happy I didn't worry about it. And I don’t know when it all came down to a question of dollars and cents. Maybe we were still in the hippy era, still believing in peace and love and happy evers and ... All of us worrying about silly questions like the meaning of life. Jeepers. Were we nuts?

Whatever it was, I loved all the impractical subjects, esp. philo and religion. I know it’s not going to ever "pay off." But it was just so much fun. Like having a tea party in the mind. I miss it . . .

Just thinking for the sake of thinking. I still love to think about Descartes saying, je pense, donc je suis. (I think therefore I am. Cogito ergo sum.) Which has become transformed in so many New Age best sellers: how I think, wish, or pray determines who, how, what I am (and sometimes you, too, oddly enough) or become.

It’s fun to play with, to say-- I don’t think like a blonde, even if I am one. But then again, can one see one’s own mind? (Or can you really say, it’s not me. It’s just my thoughts that are the problem? Is there a divide?)

Which reminds me of the French philosopher Michaux Henri ( not to be mistaken for the poet Henri Michaux), who wrote about thinking about thinking about thinking. After a while, you can lose track of where the thinker is—it’s as if the I becomes lost in the center of a Russian doll. According to Keirkegaard, there is no greater loss than the loss of the self. No one will notice when it happens. Or care, as Camus suggests, which is really creepy- his ability to make a reader feel as if life is an absurdity, and you have no meaning at all. But I think it was Hegel who suggested there is no I anyhow, really. Rather, all that actually exists is thought which moves through time in a dialectical manner. Theses, antithesis, syntheses. I don’t recall if God was in the theses or the antitheses, but I am pretty certain God was just another thought.

But Kant suggested one might act as if there is a God (though he preferred to talk about reason, pure reason, which made no sense to me at all. He was a really odd duck, and so was Aristotle—all I really remember about him is that he preferred shellfish to women.), which reminds me of Pascal. I never cared for the Pascalian wager, myself, but I love, LOVE the story of Blaise Pascal’s vision, which so changed his life, he felt a deep despair when it ended. If only it could have gone on forever, he thought. He tried his best to keep it in his mind and even sewed a note in the lining of his coat with the single word, fire, to remind of the time he spent in heaven. Like St. Teresa, he longed for the other world, the one that is so much brighter than this one-- which is like some dim shadow in comparison, which brings me back to Plato. (As the feminist theologians say, everything moves in a circle. And the Buddhists say so, too.) The Buddhists teacher, Kornfield writes, it is impossible to hold onto moments of vision and bliss, no matter how intense they are. It is a little like trying to write in water. Whatever the I is, it changes so slowly we hardly notice (unless one is like Keats and feels his life slipping away even as he composes his famous lines and letters), and so quickly we will think we have barely been here when it’s all over. Of course, death is key to every religion. As Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita, the strangest thing about man is that he can see death happening all around him, and still think it will never happen to him.


Amy Sparks said...

Oh Nin, I love this post! Boiling it all down and circling back. A nice respite from Wall Street and politics...

And I love the fact that you use the word "Jeepers."

Nin Andrews said...

Thanks Amy! I was afraid I'd bore anyone who bothered to look at this post. I LOVE this stuff.

Lyle Daggett said...

I went to college in the 1970's, in a highly informal and non-traditional program at the U. of Minnesota -- the program was more or less one of the havens toward which a lot of the hippie students gravitated -- and my B.A. degree (what it actually said on the official transcript) was in The Art of Political Poetry.

Over the years, when I've applied for jobs, I've just put BA in Creative Writing, which is essentially

I've worked for long periods of time for large corporations (and in one case for a non-profit agency), mostly talking on the phone and typing on computers in large offices full of cubicles.

The BA in Creative Writing has never been an obstacle in my finding jobs, and -- in at least one instance -- probably helped (the employer was seeking people with demonstrated creative skills).

In the past few years I've seen magazine articles here and there with titles like "Is the MFA the new MBA?" When I was first writing poems (in high junior high and high school, late '60's and early '70's), the only people who were writing poetry were the most alienated nerdy geek types (such as myself, then). Now, everybody and their dog wants to write poetry and show off in a poetry slam. I remember seeing, a few years back, a T.V. commercial for some big clothing chain store (one that's in all the shopping malls), that featured a "poet" reading (or saying) a "poem" at a microphone, with some light "jazz" accompaniment in the background, followed by applause from an unseen (off-camera) audience. The poem was about tight-fitting blue jeans, as I recall.

Interesting, isn't it, how the geeks and nerds of the day may turn out to be seers and prophets, anticipating the world of the future in their own lives...

Lyle Daggett said...

Errata in previous comment:

In the second paragraph, the last phrase should be, "...which is essentially what the degree amounted to."

In the next-to-last paragraph, second sentence, it should say "junior high," not "high junior high," which is of course a whole separate discussion. :)