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Sunday, January 31, 2010


saturday, 1/ 30

After days of rain and wind, tonight the clear sky holds the full moon so brightly. It’s an experience belonging to human beings as far back in Earthly time as anyone could recognize that some same light is there again.

Gather a bunch of things—sticks, say, fallen from trees around. Deep historically (anthropologically), one presumes that’s good for making a fire. There’s little time to imagine doing anything else. Arrange them to make a pattern, just for its own sake?

What’s the evolutionary beginning of art? Surely, it includes the emergence of leisure time. I would argue that human intelligence inherently desires free time for symbolic production, i.e., leaving a lasting mark on the surrounds. Carvings and beads, dating back at least 100,000 years (maybe 195,000 years), were symbolic actions, denoting, like writing does, but earlier. Glyphical action is the mark of creative intelligence that leads to art. (Creative intelligence also leads to better production processes for necessary action that creates the time savings that allow for emergence of leisure time, thus opening chances for our inherent interest in leaving a symbolic mark on the surrounds.) Polychrome paintings in the caves of Lascaux are messages, symbolic communications, be they invocative, commemorative, or expressive.

At the boundary, the liminality, of producing necessarily (survival) and producing freely came the classically- Greek-named activity of poiein: to make, do, create, compose. With the written word, we have a record of a name for symbolic action, but symbolic activity itself is emergent from the Deep Time of evolving mind.

Gather a bunch of things—pins, say, and arrange them to depict a sailing ship. A Greek poiEtEs was a maker, a composer. Those who sing are glyphical channels of a message, long before the poet turns to writing. Yet, Greek poiesis is especially about creating “poetic” potential in words. But the poetic as such belongs to a potential of our nature for symbolic design, whether danced or sung, carved or written. Though the “poet” may be especially a writer “having great imaginative and expressive gifts and possessing a special sensitivity to language” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged), s/he can be “any creative artist (as a composer or painter) whose work is marked by imagination, spontaneity, and lyricism” (ibid). ‘Poiesis’ denotes a legacy of human nature wanting creative intelligence to be symbolic or to channel meaning from elsewhere, to have elsewhere (a realm of imagination, some past, the gods, predecessors of one’s art) inhabit our presence.

Thinking may project the concept of poiesis back into the sense of Deep Time, and nature itself becomes poietic or poetic. Socrates reportedly thought of sexual reproduction as poietic, i.e., mirroring a conception of creative work. From poiesis generally, for Socrates, there sometimes arises the fame for great achievements, which may lead to a poiesis of the soul through cultivation of wisdom.

Stories of the gods shaping nature flowered into all intellectual and literary history becoming the legacy of mental potential that may be figured as primordially “poetic.”

We look into the black cosmos and write a story of first light becoming us in 15-or-so billion years—which is no fiction! It’s the real story—though according to our evolution so far, and there are countless variations of The Story. I like to collect them. A favorite of mine is by the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin, Life of the Cosmos, which maps the notion of biological evolution back into the chronology of the cosmos, such that there “is” a physically evolutionary dynamic, analogous to our biological one—or both figure a primordial dynamic of self-gathering emergence—that makes a galaxy favorable to solar systems that are favorable to planets that are favorable for life. In such a story, our planet is very likely ordinary, relative to the probably-vast array of planets.

Any number of mathematicians will praise elegance as a leading value in what they do, and such elegance belongs to the universe that evolves the intelligence that can attain the dynamics of mathesis that express the nature of our evolved entertaining—Poetry of the Universe, one mathematician titled his book for a general audience. One may credibly argue, it is said, that intelligent life is implied by the accidental elegance of physics itself (among universes without elegant physics). And our solar system is young relative to countless others. (Such, by the way, has nothing to do with “Intelligent Design” religiosity.)

In light of an ultimately evolving cosmos, life can be understood to derivatively create itself, emergent from its nature: autopoiesis—self-flowering of the living from its physically-emergent biogenic properties (which become modally autonomous, irreducible to physics). Though Maturana and Varela’s coinage of the term was associated with a mechanistic conception (thus averse to seeing life as self-organizing), theoretical biology of the past couple of decades has made self-organizational notions of life tenable—from Gaia theory (self-contained intelligence of Earth, so to speak) to the regulatory genome, such that a conception of autopoiesis can be made quite relevant for understanding complex biogenesis. (The Santa Fe Institute has been especially relevant.)

So, the originally poetic projection of human creativity into nature as the work of gods has evolved to a scientific sense of natural potential that can be detailed like metaphysicalist longing for determinate ontology—but that’s a longing that can’t be satisfied in an open universe. The epochal Question of Being is being displaced by epochal questions of life in our universe, especially in terms of our ongoing evolving, pursuant to the capability of one’s understanding (which is always an individual matter).

Though metaphysicalism is untenable (since our evolutionarity—ongoing evolving—belongs to the elegance of our universe itself, conceivable relative to the level of our evolving intelligence), a comprehensive creativity of our nature may be modeled with cohering ambition comparable to desire for scientific ontology (which became finally implausible in light of a greatly important biological turn in philosophical thinking of the past several decades).

Sunday, 1/ 31

We who have outgrown a metaphysicalist god should care what the people of “God” are validly doing with their fictions of moral Originism. I enjoy finding “God” integral to cultural evolution (but I have other priorities of interest). We who have outgrown the Originism of that—who would fold Biblical literature into Literary studies—may not have outgrown (I haven’t outgrown) wanting comprehensive comprehensions of life in our universe. (I repeatedly say “our universe” rather than the universe, because I admire the multiuniversal perspective.)

My desire to understand the so-called nature of things and to eventually express that as best I can faces my own limits regularly. But I know that the most highly appropriate expression, derived from some highest insightfulnes, lives nowhere in the incomprehensible archive of our global presence. (The “scientific” community is singularly global; there’s no such thing as, say, essentially English science. But also there’s no singularly comprehensive self-comprehension intrinsic to the scientific community. “Literary” studies can’t credibly hope for a definite conception of evolving human nature, I would argue.)

So, what is one doing with one’s (a finitude’s) selectivity of particulars or influences or works in tracking how we go along or get along (and not) that may constructively (lastingly?) inform discursive inquiry? If an orienting bibliography (“confined” to work in English) isn’t an ultimately idiosyncratic pointillism (let alone an ethnocentric one, etc.), it anyway destines work in a way. A private legacy of selectivity (the library of one’s influences) becomes the heir of eonic nature itself, like genetic variation that has become memic (a popular theme these days, in the Euro-American world at least). The evolutionarity of our nature may now be vested in the conceptuality of cultural evolution (and an English Project is typical, if not exemplary, of the multicultural and evolving garden). We organize intellectual work by countless academic topics, legacies of irresolute inquiry, trends of curiosity, etc., etc., inestimably, and there are as many leading edges as there are communities of inquiry to proffer one. (John Brockman has made a career of getting people to wonder where the edges are in the wandering—mental, scientific, technological, etc.—of our kind.)

Can endless vining of inquirial loves gravitate toward some durable singularity of understanding? Can any example of discursive synergy be durably useful for the vining that belongs to no one community? Can the notion of Telos be viably restored to our time as open-ended evolutionarity that is definite, if not determinate beyond the historicality of the given inquiry that renders the pointillistic weave in a way that educes its own transformation?

You see my impossible sense of fun (and I hope you’re laughing). I know I may seem to express a persistence of Romanticism, but I think something of the converse is in play: Romanticism intuited a post-theologistic sense of our presence on Earth via its organicism. Our speck in the cosmos (among billions of stars in one galaxy that will never communicate beyond The Local Region of an endlessly expanding universe), Earth, flowered the evolutionarity that conceives itself, from Gaia theory through cognitive science; and is destined to reconceive itself, from genomics to something like a controlled Singularity.

We cultivate and preserve public appreciations of our Open condition through evolutionary environmentalism (involving both a predicative and an active sense of ‘evolutionary’), but comprehensive appreciation is proximally a literary venture—trOpical, thematological, and discursive—through rhetorical mediations of conceptual prospecting that become very difficult. The work is Janus-faced, mediating itself, yet being transformed by the endeavor.

It’s sweet to convey post-metaphysicalist thinking as poetic, which Heidegger exemplified so insightfully in his late years by showing how he works with texts, experimenting with new conceptual prospects that others would have to attempt in their own way, relative to their own time. Yet, we should be wary of hoping for the future One who claims to epochally comprehend. (Heidegger surely did not so claim; he inquired into appearances of that—phenomenology—in the “history of Being” and ventured a hermeneutic of Appropriation or primordial enowning). What one may feel called upon to do, by the gravity of one’s life, the sense of one’s world, one’s time, participates in the countless ways that global creativity and innovation play into our incomprehensibly complex humanity.

Somewhat regardless of that intrinsically elusive reality, we want to anyway comprehend our complex humanity as well as possible. But the classical aspirations of philosophy are now impossible. The literature of its history is the especially conceptual literature of our cultural evolving into the planetary thing we are, shaping communities of inquiry, cross pollinating—and awarding “philosophy” passage on unprecedented seas. “Doing” philosophy constructively (if not originally) is internal to the conceptualities of the interplaying academic domains that can make good use of “philosophical” work. This so to speak highland aspect of Janus-faced work has no possible synoptic that doesn’t beg the terms of its conveyance (i.e., which doesn’t presume the discursive inquiry from which synoptic terms derive). (I, by the way, am not walking around with an unarticulated-but-clear comprehension of academic interdomainity as such. But I’m hoping to understand as much as possible—and also hoping to live long.)

Midland work, evolving poiesis, includes all those seminars that keep the university so interesting. Indeed, the poem of our humanity may be a Story of Everyone as One Endless Seminar—as the midlanding Conversation of Humanity works best—educes creative work better—as a conversation! Here, you appropriate a text in your own way (into your own way of life?), as any reader appropriates a text like a virtual conversation (I have argued).

The poet who’s best awake to our planetarity tends to channel a scientific humanity—or rather, I prefer a poetic that implies that. Though I haven’t yet read Angus Fletcher’s A New Theory for American Poetry (Harvard, 2004), the idea of such a thing—presumptuous, pretentious—is a delight:

With Whitman this book insists that ‘the whole theory and nature of poetry’ needs inspiration from science if it is to achieve a truly democratic vista. Drawing variously on Complexity Theory and on fundamentals of art and grammar, Fletcher argues that our finest poetry is nature-based, environmentally shaped, and descriptive in aim, enabling poets like John Ashbery and other contemporaries to discover a mysterious pragmatism.

That seems exemplary of midland work: the poet as orchestral channel of a realistic sense of our humanity (whatever Fletcher specifically argues).

But such conceptions may seem tame compared to the challenge of making sense of our accelerating species. Being human will likely become so woven with technological netweaves, prospects of life extension, enrichment of mental capability, genomic freedom, and probable discovery of life beyond Earth that competing new ways to conceive what we are may make religious conflicts of moral folklores (the leading poetic work of civilization before modernity) look tame. If Conservative views of “Life” create violence now, how are we to make irresistable enhancement culture acceptable to people who object to ideas of post-natural humanity? How might irresistible aspiration for post-humanity be best understood? Wanting to reach the gods is as old as human imagination facing mysteries of what’s there. Longing for post-humanity is part of our nature. What is that to mean? (“The kingdom of heaven will be within/among you” indeed.)

No doubt, an evolutionary pragmatism—a creative realism?—should need to universally cultivate flexibility of thinking, situational attunement, and deep appreciability of others’ very- differently-valid interests.

For the sake of creativity and innovation, we need as much free play as feasible, with as many of the sticks and vines of novel times as we can gather into our limited chances to experiment.

That tree into which my Inner Child would climb into its arms is a trOpical labyrinth of themes and conceptualities seeking wholly flowing self-efficacy of comprehension bearing fruitful asymmetries that educe more themes, etc.

Lovely figuring through textual affairs derives from lives that are themselves netweaves, assemblages, disassemblage, and reassemblages. Our singular world is that. But stories can be shared, maybe even lasting.

Yet our lives are singular. A life belongs to its individual aging, and that’s done ultimately alone, as no one else can have lived all those years, storied as mere traces.


  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis