Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dante's Foundations

From Stephen Botterill's introduction to Dante's De Vulgari Eloquentia:

" the aftermath of the disappointment of all his most cherished hopes for earthly success [ca. 1303], Dante underwent at this time an experience of profound and searching self-examination, which led him to try to rebuild the moral and intellectual structure of his personality from the foundations." (xiv)

I have two immediate reactions to this claim. The first is epistemological. How can we know such things? (Botterill explains that we know that he did a lot of reading at this time, and infers the rest "from later developments".) The second is wonderment at the idea of responding to a total failure in public life by rebuilding one's personality from the ground up.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


"Data" means "that which is given". In science we can distinguish the data from the objects of inquiry. The data are the means by which the objects are given to us. In Kantian terms, we can say that the data are known to us intuitively, immediately, while the objects are known to us only indirectly, mediately. Objects are always "theoretical", we might say.

The distinction between object and data, i.e., its immediate givenness in experience, which is philosophical (conceptual), not scientific, establishes a limit to our knowledge, a space for thought.

In politics, we can distinguish the subjects of governance from its "capta". The capta are the means by which we are "taken", immediately, as subjects, before we are empowered to act. (Compare the "a priori" that precedes our knowledge of facts.) Or, of course, before we are disempowered. (Compare: the data may be "given" and yet mislead, bringing only ignorance of the object.) Subjects are always entirely practical.

The extrication of the subject from its immediate captivity, its takenness with the "capta" of experience, which is poetical (emotional), not political, liberates us from power, empowers us, gives us time to feel. Sometimes, of course, we are able to feel only our captivity in this moment. Sometimes we are able to discern an avenue of escape.

A Preface to Composure

This is my body.
These are my hands, writing.
These are my eyes, reading.

The difficulty is keeping it together
amid distraction.
Overcoming the difficulty is composure.

This is my body.
I mean that literally.
This is literature.

Sunday, July 07, 2013


To know. To understand. To exist.

To master. To obey. To inspire.

Juxtaposed, the first two terms in each sequence give me pause. They suggest that understanding is to knowledge as obedience is to power (mastery). I've been aware of that analogy for some time, of course. But there is an everyday sense in which obedience completes mastery that I think we do well to dwell on a little in the case of understanding and knowledge.

Consider the simple case in which another's obedience completes my power. My power simply is the other's obedience; I would have no power without it. Can a similar case be imagined when it comes to knowledge? Well, yes, it will always be the case that our knowledge depends ultimately on our understanding.

But it's also a question of degrees. We rarely, perhaps never, reach the ultimate completion of knowledge (or power) in understanding (or obedience). The actual development of knowledge in experience is conditioned by the understanding I have of it as I go along. Similarly, we can imagine a power that is continually conditioned by the specific manner of our obedience. In one sense, the power is there, but it may gather or erode depending on how it is obeyed. And this "how" is, crucially, not "within the power" of the master.

The progression from knowledge to existence (through understanding) is properly called "enlightenment", and the ultimate condition is that of the sage, who is able to "just be", i.e., exist as such. There is an analogous progression from power to inspiration. We can call it "attunement" (to avoid a barbarism like "attentionment").

In the case of one's own self (which is the important case), the goal is to reach a perfect understanding of one's own knowledge, and thereby pass beyond the state of knowing itself. Analogously, we seek perfect obedience to our own power. Just as the enlightened individual merely exists—s/he just is, if you will—so does the attuned individual merely inspire—

s/he just becomes.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Basic Bouncing Ball

A few weeks ago I downloaded Chipmunk BASIC for my Mac. I haven't programmed anything for probably 25 years now, but I'm already able to do things I only dreamt of doing on my TRS-80 MC-10 when I was a kid. I'm enormously proud of this game (code below), for example. Not the most elegant coding, perhaps, but I'm getting back into the swing of it. The point of this experiment is to relearn enough programming skills to teach my kids something useful about how computers work (their experience is way too confined to the apps they've downloaded for their iPad). If there's anyone out there who is as nostalgic about BASIC as I am and wants to comment on or critique what I've done here, feel free. But please keep in mind that we're still in the very early stages of my own own self-re-education.

10 home
20 graphics 0
30 x = 200 : y = 400 : r = 20
35 tt = timer+60
40 vc = -20
42 pp = -10
45 ac = 1
46 gosub 500
50 graphics color 100,100,100
60 gosub 400
150 y = y+vc
155 vc = vc+ac
170 if y > 400 then vc = vc*-1 : vc = vc+7 : y = 399
175 if y < 0 then vc = vc*-1 : y = 1 180 if x < 0 then mv = mv*-1 : x = 1 190 if x > 600 then mv = mv*-1 : x = 599
205 x = x+mv
206 if mv > 0 then mv = mv-1
207 if mv < 0 then mv = mv+1 220 graphics color 100,0,0 230 gosub 400 240 t = timer 250 s = timer 260 if s-t < 0.05 then goto 250 275 k$ = inkey$ 277 if k$ <> "" then mm = mm+1
280 if k$ = "a" then mv = mv-20
290 if k$ = "l" then mv = mv+20
300 if k$ = " " and vc < 0 then vc = vc*-1 310 if k$ = " " and vc > 0 then vc = vc+10
320 if k$ = "x" then end
340 goto 50
390 end
400 for v = 1 to 360
410 a = x+r*cos(v*3.14/180)
420 b = y+r*sin(v*3.14/180)
425 moveto x,y
430 lineto a,b
435 if tx < a and a < tx+20 and ty < b and b < ty+20 then gosub 500

440 next v
450 return
500 graphics color 0,0,0
502 pp = pp+10-mm
503 ss = int(tt-timer)
504 if ss < 0 then goto 700

505 score$ = "You made "+str$(mm)+" moves. Your score is "+str$(pp)+". You have "+str$(ss)+" seconds left. "
506 moveto 180,500 : graphics text score$
507 mm = 0
509 graphics color 100,100,100
510 gosub 600
520 tx = rnd(480)+80
530 ty = rnd(300)+50
540 graphics color 0,0,100
550 gosub 600
560 return
600 for vv = 0 to 19
610 moveto tx,ty+vv
620 lineto tx+19,ty+vv
630 next vv
640 return
700 rem GAME OVER
701 ss = 0
703 graphics color 0,0,0
705 score$ = "You made "+str$(mm)+" moves. Your score is "+str$(pp)+". You have "+str$(ss)+" seconds left. "
706 moveto 180,500 : graphics text score$
710 moveto 300,200
715 graphics color 100,0,0
720 game$ = "GAME OVER!"
730 graphics text game$
740 moveto 220,240
750 game$ = "Press Space to Play Again. Press X to quit"
755 graphics color 0,0,0
760 graphics text game$
770 get k$
780 if k$ = " " then run
790 if k$ = "x" then end
800 goto 770