Return (for now)

Hey all, it’s been a while. Though I’ve kept blogging on a school-based site, the nature of the blogging has been more academic, mostly reaction to readings or conferences. It wasn’t the sort of writing I was doing here.

But I think I’ve come to miss this space. Primarily for three reasons. First, it’s a chance to voice my thoughts in a public setting that is a more involved than most social media. It’s uncanny, for example, that my last post before the hiatus was about gun control, since the news of the Orlando shooting has left me blank and sort of shell shocked without a space to vocalize anything. The echo of the news is sort of reverberating in my body and thoughts but not really going anywhere. I’m not ready to talk about it, but I need a space to just sort of say that. That I am literally sickened and dazed at the news and can’t seem to figure out next steps or previous steps or any steps at all. This blog used to be that space, and I guess it is today.

Second, while I’ve been doing a lot of writing, I’ve been writing in a vacuum. True, I’ve been writing to peers and professors, occasional strangers, and fellow academics at conferences, but I miss a public place interface with an audience on a semi-regular basis outside of academia. Not a big one. Or a constant one, likely. But someone. Because I miss the sense that now and then my writing was doing something. It was a small something, but the occasional thank you message or thought was more nourishing than I gave it credit.

Third and final, I miss the sort of writing I did here, what I called “Backyard Philosophy” in my first post, back in 2012. As I wrote then:

“It’s not academic by nature, although it can grow academic in certain hands, I’m sure. It’s the wonder hard-wired in our humanity. Those ambling questions that drift up from the road on long, lonely drives or settle down from the stars on summer nights–these questions are wholly human, spun by awe at our world.”

Shortly after this definition, I wrote that my views on what it might mean would likely change. And indeed they have. In particular, I’m less stuck on the “human” side of the question. I also see the potential shadow of privilege entwined with Aristotelian wonder. I want people without a backyard to still have backyard philosophy. I want it to be less elitist and more inclusive. Instead of looking down on the working sphere and essentializing the human into some sort of fixed category, I want to open up the term to reflect a broader, less traditional sense of (backyard) philosophy.

Originally the sense of wonder grabbed me, the curiosity to just ask often pointless questions, like “What are the stars?” Or “What is time?” And that many of these questions can sink deep chords with who we are, like “Who am I?” or “What is the right thing to do?”

These questions reflect the ability to see something, like a concept or situation, and engage with it. To think through it, as I often say. It almost reminds me of the existential distinction between transcendence and facticity. While facticity refers to things we can’t really change–the “facts” of life–transcendence refers to our ability to change ourselves and our world, to be more that what we are in a given moment. Backyard philosophy reflects our engagement transcendence, I think. It’s our capacity to engage with possibilities, ask “what if” and “what is” and “why” questions to ourselves and the world. It’s the engagement with whatever freedom we have, the “play” within the constraints of context and existence.

I love pointless questions and wonder for its own sake, but I think they are profound gifts, a way of life that reflects a certain transcendence that we don’t all have. Someone may not have the time to wonder, being overworked or under valued in a society. And I want to leave the hierarchy that somehow thinking pointless questions is better or more authentic or fulfilling than asking more pragmatic ones.

But at the same time, I don’t want purely quotidian questions–what time is it?–to be backyard philosophy. Perhaps I’m just talking about critical thinking and curiosity, a desire to learn, a desire to critically engage with the workings, concepts, and structures of life and the world. Wonder could drive these engagements, but indignation could too. Or falling in love. Or finally getting a chance to ask tough questions. Or the drive to make something more efficient at a job.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the questions are more important than the wonder. It’s the critical, thoughtful engagement I’m after. The “examined life.” Unfortunately, such engagement does take a certain material privilege, but many other things do too. I’m not quite sure what such engagement brings, as I think it depends on the person. And I think that’s the point.  My situation brings its own questions, but I have a choice to engage them.

Ultimately I don’t think this makes me a better person, a nicer person, a more thoughtful person, more authentic, etc.–or what these traits really mean in a given situation–but it’s something I do. And that I keep doing. And I may start doing more here, like old times. But I do think, when done well, such engagement should be sensitive. Listening is as important as asking questions, since the question as a mode of speech–unlike the proposition–requires a certain dialogue. A good question implies that you want to engage, that there’s something more to do or know, and the situation is not done. The question comes from an initial listening and the expectation of listening to the answer.

It’s like Nietzsche’s philosophizing with a hammer, tapping concepts and listening to them, whether they are sound or rotten.

In any case, I have gone on far enough. It felt good to write. I reckon I’ll be back.

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