Monday, August 23 2021

Quote of the Day

You can make time for things that matter, or you can make time for more email.

Joe Pinsker, “The Best Time-Management Advice Is Depressing But Liberating“, The Atlantic

Big badda boom

I was talking with a friend’s parents over lunch this weekend, and they were interested in my novel. We got to talking about “ways to keep people inside,” and volcanoes were mentioned. That would be a very effective way of keeping people inside for a few weeks. I’ve added another research topic to the list.

There really is no such thing as an original thought

The Cognitive Dissonance of America: Writing Through the Terror of Trumpland

Brian Castleberry has come to the exact conclusions I have come to, and is using those conclusions to write a novel, just like I am.

These issues have only further formalized my understanding of what part fiction (the literary genre—not the sort of political fictions I’ve been talking about) can play in this struggle over reality and power. I’ve grown more aware of how people are predominantly shaped by narratives and often by misconceptions, and that we almost always act out of a sense that we’re doing the right thing, no matter how vile. Analyzing the fault lines between what a character thinks they’re doing and the real effect they’re having on others has become central to my process. I’ve come to see history as the missing piece in our culture: we’ve been marketed into a bubble of the present, with only little flashes of nostalgia standing in for history. I feel like fiction has a responsibility, wherever it can, to connect past and present—and to help readers see where progress or its lack have been papered over by political narratives.

I like easy

Hence, Sourdough Brownies.


Democracy is sentimental: Reason and facts cannot be the basis of political debates and civic life. Love and laughter are the heart of the matter

This essay is almost too much for my brain in some parts–though that could be because my brain is going in a million directions today–but it’s got some amazing gems that I kind of feel define my views on life. Or I would like them to. I would definitely like to find out more, when I’m not about to dive into the middle of a huge project.

If I put a truth serum in your drink, then I have caused you to speak truthfully but I did not convince you to do so using rational persuasion. I circumvented your consent and thus failed to treat you as an agent. Threats of violence, propaganda and advertisements cause us to feel or think things as a way to change our behaviour without giving any reasons for doing so. Feminists used language in unexpected and idiosyncratic ways, and in doing so were able to change how people felt about certain behaviours, rather than convincing them to care through rational persuasion (on their terms). It was to treat their politics like poetry.

Audre Lorde has likewise praised the poetic form as a medium for communicating genuine political insights beyond the confines of public reason. For Lorde, poetry exists outside what can be explained, yet it can communicate genuine political and ethical truths. Poetry can be a valid source of knowledge about ourselves, others and the world, even though what one ‘learns’ from reading a poem might not be fully expressible via reason-based explanation.

According to Fichte, a human’s ‘vocation’ or purpose was not ‘merely to know, but to act’. He believed that self-consciousness or the self was necessarily embodied: its only reality is through action, rather than as an object of reflection or a collection of experiences. Since selves are fully embodied, they are propelled in part by their instinctual nature, or what he referred to as our ‘necessary’ feelings. Fichte thought that humans were driven by their natural feelings into a perpetual striving toward unity or perfection that they would never individually achieve but could ever further approximate as a species.

For Fichte, a self cannot transmit knowledge to another self, because all self-conscious beings must develop knowledge from their feelings. Knowledge was something one does when one develops one’s necessary feelings into publicly communicative insights; knowledge is the process rather than the result. Being in community with others causes us to have feelings and ideas that we then use to develop into knowledge, which means that humans must live alongside other humans in order to know anything.

Fichte understands human embodiment and finitude as a call to action. So long as we can feel and exist in a community with others, then we can learn and continue becoming better versions of ourselves. To think that we could find the truth that would cease our strivings and settle our worries is to deny the necessary limitations of human existence. Though we cannot know whether what we feel is ‘really’ true (because all we know must come from feelings), we contribute to the collective progression of humanity towards perfection through following where our feelings lead us.

It’s time to give up the idea that ‘truth’ is the almighty stop-gap for justification and the hope that reasons will win out if we just find the right ones. Politically transformative work should aim to cause feelings and experiences in one’s adversaries that invite further investigation and reflection. Science, the environment, racial justice – all of these things matter because we care about them. As Nietzsche once mused, the head is merely the intestine of the heart.

Perhaps, then, political disagreements should be approached more like a work of art than a ‘rational’ deliberation, where the success conditions have been set beforehand.

Elizabeth Cantalamessa

Research art

Kim Stanley Robinson: Remembering climate change…a message from the year 2071

This could be helpful for novel research.