Tuesday, February 17, 2015

(WR) Toleration

Radhakrishnan talks about the process by which the Brahmanic tradition spread in ancient times, motivated not by dogmatic conquest but by inclusion and tolerance of difference. But just what kind of toleration is operative in this attitude requires some teasing out.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

(WR) Blogging this week

Those blogging actively are doing fine. One test of your blogging effectiveness is whether your classmates are moved to comment and start a thoughtful discussion, so if they seem not to be commenting much, you might try a different approach -- distilling your thoughts into a single brief paragraph, for example, or highlighting an issue that you think might interest others. As I said at the beginning, anyone not doing the minimum blogging every week should seriously consider cutting their losses and withdrawing from the course.

Monday, February 9, 2015

(WR) Hallucinogenic drugs and enlightenment

Following up on our conversation the other day about soma, here is a link to an article by Michael Pollan in the New Yorker magazine about recent research on LSD and psyllocybin. Among other experiments, these substances are being tried to alleviate depression and fear of death in terminal cancer patients. I don't know whether you can access it through this link without a subscription, but you might try going through the library site, or even (gasp!) going to the actual library and reading the magazine.

(PD) Literary tension in dialogue

One feature of any compelling literary endeavor is an element of conflict or tension. This can take many forms: unexpected turns of plot, threatening scenarios, ideological conflict, curiosity and discovery, impending doom, etc. A dialogue with two or more characters who are only in partial agreement, well enough crafted that they remain distinct personalities in the reader’s mind, carries a tiny element of tension, of evolving present or potential disagreement, in every exchange. It also routinely resolves some of the disagreement, providing nodes of calm or satisfaction. The particular issues the characters discuss ride the crest of this interpersonal conflict (kept reasonably low-level, so that they continue to be willing to talk to each other), and thereby commend themselves to the reader’s interest, even if she did not initially think she was curious about them.

A subtle tension of this sort that is internal to the form has advantages not only for engaging the reader, but for the writer’s own process. Forced to shift points of view as one character or another speaks, the writer finds the pressure points in the issues, or in the frameworks of rhetoric and ideology that render the issues hard to resolve. Imaginatively inhabiting each character in turn, the writer demonstrates respect for that person’s views and deep commitments, even while trying to show, alternately, the incompleteness or altogether mistakenness of each in turn. A reader inclined to sympathize with such a view feels the respect and consideration that the author gives to it, both by inhabiting the character and overtly through the consideration of the other character(s), and thus is in a psychological position to reconsider.

There are risks, of course. A less-careful reader, or one heavily fortified against self-examination, might latch onto a well and respectfully drawn character and perceive nothing but uncritical reinforcement for her (the reader’s) pre-critical views. The writer might thereby unintentionally amplify and encourage dangerous ideas merely by articulating them sypathetically, though the purpose is to show their limitations. I don’t know any way of mitigating this risk; perhaps it is simply one that intellectual honesty forces us to take.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

(WR) Analyzing Pope Francis

Those of you interested in developments in contemporary Catholicism might enjoy this review essay.