Sunday, June 20, 2010

Creating one's own being

Father's Day seems like as good a time as any to break the blog silence, especially since child-related severe sleep deprivation has been a major factor in that silence. Also, the topic is children and philosophy.

In a recent post at Larval Subjects, Levi Bryant writes the following:
My daughter, who is now three and a half, has precipitated a true revolution in my thinking about the world. Prior to the arrival of my daughter, I think, deeply influenced as I am by Foucault, Bourdieu, and Lacan I was unconsciously a sort of behaviorist in my understanding of human nature. I think I advocated a strong environmentalist thesis to the effect that persons are simply products of the environment in which they’re individuated. What my daughter has taught me is the withdrawal of objects from their relations. This is best thought in terms of my recent post on Luhman. What I’ve discovered through my daughter is that all substances are abyssal black boxes. They are influenced by their surroundings, but they relate to their surroundings through their own internal structure or organization, generating deeply surprising responses to the world around them. She quite literally constitutes and creates her own being. I can’t make her be anything and each way in which I influence her will be structured or transformed into states of her being through her own organization. When McLuhan says that “the medium is the message”, this is, I think, what he meant. The medium, the object, organizes the message that it receives in its own terms.
I've blogged a lot about how I've come very late to the reading of philosophy. This late-coming is both irksome and instructive: I'm annoyed that I have so much to catch up on, but on the other hand, I'm not already unduly influenced by any one or two philosophies or schools or whatever. I bring my 40 years of life to the reading of philosophy. What has struck me as I read has been the almost total absence of women and children, certainly the dearth of anything intelligent said about women or children. It has occurred to me that the history of philosophy would look radically different if philosophy had not been generated almost exclusively by men off on their own doing Important Work. (Not least because the most important work that is done is in fact the raising of children.) Because it seems to me that one cannot help but have one's philosophy radically affected by what children actually do in the world, if one actually watches them, at all. That is, something like what Levi Bryant has concluded in observing his own daughter should be readily apparent to any one who observes children. This ought to have deep implications in many areas of life, not just the development and writing of philosophy.


Ethan said...

the history of philosophy would look radically different if philosophy had not been generated almost exclusively by men off on their own doing Important Work.

The same is true of oh so many other things. I frequently think the same thing about science.

I am almost entirely ignorant of philosophy, to the point where trying to "catch up" on it, as you say, seems borderline impossible. I wish I had a point of entry, but everything I try (even the paragraph you quote here) just seems so opaque to me.

skholiast said...

As a teacher and as a parent I'll second this post: my thoughts are shaped by games of foursquare, figuring out homework, and long walks. Also, fights, meals, getting along. But I also want to cheer you on in your admirable self-schooling in philosophy. This just never ends. (And of course don't forget that plenty of people have read all too much but can't do anything with it). The separation between 'real life' and philosophy's 'deep questions' is artificial (and, in my opinion, harmful). What deeper question is there than 'who are you?' And if a teacher just assumes they know the answer when they look at a 3rd-grader, they've probably surreptitiously replaced this with-- what are you? Which is deeply creepy, and happens all. the. time.

Richard said...

I can relate to your sleep deprived condition. My son, now just over 3 years old, did not sleep for a prolonged period of time consistently (more than 3-4 hours at a time at most) until he was about 14 months old. I usually got up for him 2-3 times a night, and then got up to go to work the next morning. Curiously, a lot of men seem to get away with having their wives or partners do this. It was, however, a wonderful bonding experience. I still remember reading to him at 3 in the morning.

Your remarks about the inability of philosophy to integrate this experience is on the mark. Some contemporary anarchists, the situationists and feminists have recognized that, as skholiast says, that "the separation between 'real life' and philosophy's 'deep questions' is artificial" (and, harmful, too).

There are a lot of reasons for this, obviously, but it is worth identifying a modernist one highlighted by Maria Mies: the Marxist-Leninist left's long time doctrine that women could only become liberated through proletarianization. Hence, Marxist-Leninists advocated for a Platonic inspired removal of children from the home into universal child care while both men and women entered the industrial workforce. More conservative social democrats (of the German SDP kind, even Zetkin) asserted the working class men should be paid sufficient wages such that their wives could remain at home and care for them and their children.

It seems to me that both strands endure in the US to this day, with liberals having embraced the Marxist-Leninist approach and conservatives having adopted the SDP one. The Mies/anarchist notion that there is no separation between the workplace and the home in terms of labour and the emotional fulfillment that one receives from them has yet to take hold, even though we individually perceive it through our personal experiences.