Saturday, May 14, 2011

I'm At The End Of The Final Section! Here's Another Bit

A week of staring at a computer screen will make you a little (or a lot) crazy. Susanna has been a trooper. I've had some more time with Casper than regularly. He is a good excuse for a break.

I'm happy to say I must be 10-15 pages from hitting the end. Then I've got a week or so of editing/revising. The hardest thing for me is to not have an immediate audience, a class of students to share these thoughts with, or a good friend to listen. I haven't bothered Susanna this week with any of this. In fact the other night I spent an hour reading through one of her short stories. I had a great phone chat with Will Lightfoot though on Thursday. He is always curious and it was good to hear myself try to verbally rephrase what I've been writing. That was a good exercise--a way to see if I'm making any sense.

But I can't help myself. I need to think/to know NOW that some of these things will matter to other people. I'm sure other grad students do this. Someone tell me I'm not too much of a weirdo. These two excerpts pretty well summarize of what I'm doing:

From IV.ii Revisiting/Re-framing: Dynamic Obstacles

Let me clarify that proper use of technology is not matter of either indwelling or not indwelling the tool or whether it is or is not meditative. It is impossible to use a tool without indwelling it. Tools will always mediate something. We might say that the technologies form us in their image; technologies are not benign; they are not value neutral; technologies not only encourage certain conversations, they can shove us into a narrowed, specific conversation. The question is how we are indwelling the tool and to what end—how richly we engage existence and how our affections are being formed. In Augustinian terms: “Those things which are to be used help, and as it were, sustain us as we move toward blessedness in order that we may gain and cling to those things which make us blessed.” It is as impossible for us to escape technology as it is to escape culture, and to escape culture would be to escape being human. The question isn’t if we are cultural or technological, but how and to what extent. In order to make sure we use our tools instead of being used by our tools, we have to subvert the capacities of technology and reform its power to order our lives and affections for the sake of “blessedness.” Some of us will decide that certain technologies are a waste of time and are not worth the dangers they pose. Others will find great surprise in renegotiating certain technologies and discover capacities and purposes for those tools that may have never been considered previously. Our posture towards technology depends upon the optimism we have theologically about God’s participation in culture, but it also depends on our faithfulness to actively participate in the work of redemption.

From IV.iii The Uniqueness of Music

I have spent many words arguing against the prominence of science. Is it fair to put music on a pedestal or is this just another type of reduction? Homo musicus instead of homo sapien? Is it unfair not only to single music out among all the sciences and humanities, but also unfair to the other arts? I don’t think so. How can I make so bold a claim? The primary uniqueness of music is its universal appeal, its historical and geographical ubiquity. “There have been cultures without counting, cultures without painting, cultures bereft of the wheel or the written word, but never a culture without music.” [1] Remember that music dates back as early as 45,000 B.C. Of course there are some people who don’t enjoy music, but they are rare. Neurologist, Oliver Sacks, writes about musicophilia, our shared love of music:

We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one. This takes many different forms. All of us (with very few exceptions) can perceive music, perceive tones, timbre, pitch intervals, melodic contours, harmony, and (perhaps most elementally) rhythm. We integrate all of these and “construct” music in our minds using many different parts of the brain. And to this largely unconscious structural appreciation of music is added an often intense and profound emotional reaction to music. [2]

Sacks explains that neuroscience has discovered how music is continually running in the muscle motor of the brain; we continually have access to songs in our head. While Walker Percy in a thought experiment imagined that visiting Martians would find speech the most peculiar identifying characteristic of humanity, Sacks points to the fiction of Arthur C. Clarke. In Clarke’s novel Childhood Ends the Overlords, curious alien beings, visit earth and identify music as the most distinctive human behavior. Of course I reconcile the two—linguistic and musical impulses—by assuming that the are both of the same outward impulse of homo colloquens/musicus. Homo adorans extends herself into musical conversation; she reaches out to the other for love’s sake. Yet, I do want to specify an elevated place for musical languages—poetry over propositional prose and poesis over sciencia because these preserve the fuller dignity and extravagance of the cosmos and a robust humanism.

[1] John D. Barrow quoted from Begbie, 15.
[2] Oliver Sacks. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) xi.

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