Sunday, September 28, 2008


"Litost is an untranslatable Czech word. Its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog. As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it."
—Milan Kundera, The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting

Kundera gives an example of a boy who cannot swim very well, while his girlfriend is a strong swimmer. The boy struggles to keep up with her as she swims off beyond him, and when she returns, the outraged boy slaps her face. By slapping her, he projects his incompetency as though it is her fault.
"She was madly in love with him and tactfully swam as slowly as he did. But when their swim was coming to an end, she wanted to give her athletic instincts a few moments' free rein and headed for the opposite bank at a rapid crawl. The student [the boy] made an effort to swim faster too and swallowed water. Feeling humbled, his physical inferiority laid bare, he felt litost. He recalled his sickly childhood, lacking in physical exercise and friends and spent under the constant gaze of his mother's overfond eye, and fell into despair about himself and his life. They walked back to the city together in silence on a country land. Wounded and humiliated, he felt an irresistible desire to hit her.…and then he slapped her face."

Litost is, essentially, a guilt trip through actions; by aggravating someone via verbal actions, physical actions, and sometimes silence. There are layers to Litost. The ultimate form of Litost, Kundera explains is, "circuitous revenge…the indirect blow." Kundera writes, "Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery."

Kundera writes that love is a remedy for misery, and that all faults are redeemed by love's gaze. "Love's absolute," Kundera says,
"is actually a desire for absolute identity: the woman we love ought to swim as slowly as we do, she ought to have no past of her own to look back on happily. But when the illusion of absolute identity vanishes (the girl loks back happily on her past or swims faster), love becomes a permanent source of the great torment we call litost."

I think this ties in nicely to the (positive) idea of most monotheistic religions, in which no matter your state of being, God is said to be along side you, loving you eternally; God will not try and out-swim you either. However, this also creates a subconscious (or conscious) inferiority, which is apparent that though God is swimming along with the individual, the individual must at one point stop swimming at the risk of drowning from fatigue. This is the flaw, though God will be alongside the individual, the individual knows God, being perfect, can outperform the individual in every aspect of life. Thus, a feeling of litost is brought upon the individual again.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Analyze it to death. Literally.

Anything can happen, however, that is not to say that it will. Anything imaginable can happen, however things that are not imaginable will also happen. Every religion seems to claim an answer for not only what has happened, but what will happen as well; as if religion has known and will know everything in conception and existence. This is why religion is rather interesting. How are these conceptual answers known? In modern day, it seems to be through the application of science to everything—by applying the scientific method to the subject. Do we need to analyze things to death (see previous post)—literally? Do we really need to analyze questions and problems, and sometimes even answers until they no longer matter? Does every explanation, every reason, every process need to be documented and catalogued?

However, when I speak of how religions seem to have an explanation for everything in the past, present, and future, William James claims "nevertheless, at their extreme of development, there can never be any question as to what experiences are religious." However, the surface becomes even more slippery when James continues, "such a definition as this would in a way be defensible. Religion, whatever it is, is a man's total reaction upon life, so why not say that any total reaction upon life is a religion?"

Hmm, not sure where that was going, or went for that matter. Just a few thoughts that stemmed from my notes. So, please analyze this post to death, so it dies and we can cut it open and we have an explanation inside it all, thus never having to discuss it ever again. Thank you.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In & Out of Environments with William James

     "Still, you may ask me, if its results are to be the frlund of our final spirittual estimate of a religious phenomenon, why threaten us at all with so much existential study of its conditions? Why not simply leave pathological questions out?
     To this I reply in two ways: First, I say, irrepressible curiosity imperiously leads one on; and I say, secondly, that it always leads to a better understanding of a thing's significance to consider its exaggerations and perversions its equivalents and substitutes and nearest relatives elsewhere. Not that we may thereby swamp the thing in wholesale condemnation which we pass on its interrioor congeners, but rather that we ay by contrast ascertain the more precisely in what its merits consist, by learning at the same time to what particular dangers of corruption it may also be exposed.
     Insane conditions have this advantage, that they isolate special factors of the mental life, and enable us to inspect them unmasked by their more usual surroundings. They play the part in mental anatomy which the scalpel and the microscope play in the anatomy of the body. To understand a thing rightly we need to see it both out of its environment and in it, and to have acquaintance with the whole range of its variations. The study of hallucinations has in this way been for psychologists the key to their comprehension of normal sensation, that of illusions has been the key to the right comprehension of perception. Morbid impulses and imperative conceptions, 'fixed ideas,' so called, have thrown a flood of light on psychology of the normal will; and obsessions and delusions have performed the same service for that of the normal faculty of belief" (The Varieties of Religious Experience, 25-6).
     I am curious why James thinks it so important to study something in and outside of its environment. If something is out of its environment, it is likely not to perform as it was created. If we take a fish out of water, and place it on land, watching it flop around for a few minutes before suffocating, we will learn what a fish does when it is out of water, but why? Yes, we learn many things about the nature of the fish out of its environment—but the fish dies. So, there is a sacrifice. One thing is gained, and another is lost. What if we did this to every fish in the world, we would be out fish. And we would need to do this to every fish to truly know what every fish does when it is out of water, just so we can be sure our hypothesis is true and cannot be proved false. My point is, one, we can't observe everything in and out of its environment. Besides, as soon as the subject knows it is being observed, it will behave differently. My second point is, some things are not meant to function out of their environment: airplanes don't fly underwater.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The annotated post

The public: concerning the people as a whole. How many parts make this "whole?" What percentage does one person make of this "whole?" These are a few questions I ponder when considering who or what the public is. And how did the internet turn into a universal didactic forum, allowing people to voice themselves as experts. (Excluding non-western cultures et al. that allow freedom of speech.)

Finding reliable information on the internet can be as difficult as finding a hypodermic needle in the sand at the beach—which if you live where I do at Ocean Beach in San Francisco—it isn't that difficult. With that being said, here are a few sources that I've been visiting lately.

- is a straight from the source archive website. Their tag line is "Universal access to human knowledge."

- "Television without borders." I haven't watched this station in a while, but if you're watching the telly, you should be watching this.

- A great online symposium. I just discovered this one listening to an interview of Leslie Griffith. She contributes here, and this site seems to filter a lot of fat and sugar one might find on their homepage's "latest news."

- A concoction of modern-day material. Easy to get lost on the site though, so tread lightly.