Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Sick of Metaphysics: Genesis of My Projects and Today's Frustration



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I've grown impatient with metaphysics in my adulthood. Scarcity of free time and desire for productivity may have more to do with this distaste.

Twenty or so years ago (feels like lifetimes ago), I had little problem reading a work that made little sense to me. I enjoyed it. Four things generally happened:

  • I came up with my own interpretation
  • I would skip over parts that made little sense to me then paid more attention to parts that did
  • I would slow down to try understanding better (probably the slowest and cognitive taxing thing to do)
  • I would just keep reading, try to pay as much attention as I could, then eventually just get it spontaneously, as in an AHA! moment
I enjoyed reading more back then. It probably had a hypnotic effect on me. A little younger than than then, my parents had no problem taking me around town as long as I had a book. Just sit me down, I'd read and stay out of their hair.

The shapes of words, letters and paragraphs fascinated me on some level, I think. At an even younger age, I would cover different parts of book titles on covers with colored labels. Something about it fascinated me. Maybe it had something to do with my ability to read even when I didn't fully comprehend.

Science fiction, role-playing rule books (mostly Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) and psuedo science, social science and philosophy books became my steady diet. The social science and philosophy came about mostly through a fascination with Terence McKenna, a combination of psychonautic anthropology and drug-induced mythology. Beat literature also caught my attention, too. Some amount of outrageousess every once in awhile kept me attentive.

Work on my novel started around this time, too. I had read the beginning of the teenage dystopian canon: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Much of my real reading into the genre took place during my college years and after. Suffice to say, these three books influence my novel quite a bit.

On an embarassing note, so did my adolescent hormones. The novel started as a patchwork of scenes in my brain that I wrote down in random order. Many of them focused on a date between a man and a woman that turned sour when she found a book he had squirreled away. Books are forbidden, see!

Before that point, though, the man and woman had the teenage fantasy of a great date. It had a late-night skinny dip scene that took place in a swimming hole deep in the woods. Even better: the woman had helped liberate the man out of his clothes after some bashfulness on his part.

How ironic that later in the night, after seeing the book, she ran away to report this guy to the authorities because he had a book. Liberated, indeed!

Hindsight pats me on the back for cranking up the taste levels on those scenes. Wish I came up with that improvement myself. Let's just say good-natured ribbing by critics of different genders helped. Looks of horror prove even more helpful with more offensive fare. Youth. . ..

Looking back, I have a hard time gauging what precisely I wanted to write. So many influences. For awhile in my adulthood I thought I wanted to write a simple thriller set in a superficial dystopic setting, focusing more on the natural human fight against a shadow conspiracy that somehow shaped the world and conditioned people into boring lives. If only I could minimize my ambitions that much.

My disorganized brain back then had great imagination but little control over scope. It somehow had created a proto-dystopian society that drew on a lot influences. Funny, really, how we get bombarded by so many influences and never realize it.

I guess it explains how a phenomena I've experienced occurs. I just write something that comes to mind, which I think works. Other people that give it a read come with a pretty cool interpretation for its significance that I could never have consciously created. Always a fun experience.

The project became less fun and more complicated by the college experience. Just writing a piece of fiction wouldn't cut it. It needed the backing of some kind of academic project. My project sponsors and I reached an interesting project goal: Dissect three pieces of utopian/dystopian literature and three historical utopian communities to see what attracts, repulses and makes people go meh about them.

Fourteen years after my last semester at college, without a degree, I still work at this damnable project. The novel hasn't received any worthwhile attention for years. The academic side has sucked me in, along with all the usual adult things like work, chores, social life, investments, gaming and all that stuff. First drafts for five essays have come out of it.

Mr. George Ripley and his community, Brook Farm, in 1840's West Roxbury, MA exasperates me. They do so because I don't understand their metaphysics, some strange mish mash of European Romanticism, New England Transcendentalism, Utopian Socialism, New Engand Unitarianism and whatever other influences this guy could grab onto and digest into his sponge of a brain.

Errrmmmmm. . .sounds familiar.

Seriously, though, why does the definition of Nature have to change over the centuries? How does the implications of realism change from Plato to today? What motivated some German guys, some English folks, a few New Englanders and apparently people in France that their individual sentiments and passions are better than a well-designed society? How did they create enough of a heritage that we respect it today? How do they say they want to write in plain language of the people, but readers today get lost in words we recognize but somehow their combination just puts us to sleep? And what's up with Kant, German Idealism and how it's supposed to reconcile the mind, the world and some crazy realness that we can perceive with our direct senses?

I probably don't have to answer all the questions there. Mr. Ripley could have helped much if he had written more clearly and succinctly about many of these things, though. Maybe if he delved deeper into HIS understanding of the metaphysics he read rather than just quoting a lot of it and expecting his adversaries to just nod their heads and agree.

For the Constitution of Brook Farm, he, along with his fellow organizers, wrote as motivation many effects and symptoms in society of problems they saw. They hardly addressed any root cause other than just human nature or the organization of society.

If he just said the organization wasn't efficient, and they started Brook Farm as an experiment to see if they could stumble onto something better, I could work with it. Even better, if they kept copious notes, analyzing and dissecting all the little experiments they did to see results.

But no, they saw Brook Farm as some grand solution. They hardly seemed to know how to articulate specific problems, though. They didn't do so through materialistic descriptions. By that time, Mr. Ripley didn't do so much metaphysically, at least nothing in writing at the time. They just focused on promoting this community doing things right, and the people in it just kinda did what they did.

I can appreciate not having time to write anything. The last couple months took a lot out of me and didn't give me much energy for writing. Nonetheless, beforehand Ripley had written so much intimating his intentions without articulating his reasons.

Maybe afterward he could have written something a little more reflective highlighting things that worked, things that didn't work, how they worked, how they fulfilled goals and so forth.

But no. . .he just sunk into literary criticism journalism and paying off debts from the venture. OK, that might be understandable. Getting saddled with debt on something that didn't work out, did Ripley want to revisit or did he want to move onto brighter pastures.

I wish I could take that approach. Unfortunately, I've somehow convinced myself that these projects have reached high levels of importance and will make a difference. Much more important than doing everyday things to make other people's lives betters. Something about it has convinced me that I'll make a much bigger impact by finishing it and releasing it into the world.

Dang it. To do so, I'll have to dig through metaphysics and philosophy to figure out what organizating principle this George Ripley followed.

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