Thursday, September 02, 2010 2:57 PM
Thanks to the new book Cycling—Philosophy for Everyone, I now have a term to describe the state of mind I achieve on my daily bicycle commute. This passage comes from the essay “Becoming a Cyclist: Phenomenological Reflections on Cycling” by Danish philosophy professor Steen Nepper Larsen:
The standard bike is a piece of low tech, the nearly divine epitome of sustainability, and an absolute necessity when cities have to be rethought and redesigned without the present profusion of noisy, space-hogging, energy-consuming cars. In contrast to several years of gasoline-engine monotheism and tailpipes, the cycling polytheism will open many possibilities of otherness and gliding unpredictable processes.
The trajectories and escape routes of the bike do not follow the flows of commodities, money, and capital. The mobility of the bicycle reminds us much more of the old dream of being as free as a bird in the sky than a trip on the discounted economy expressway that commodifies our experiences. The freedom of the road contains much more than the modern, “creative,” self-managed workplace and is much richer than the freedom to consume. It is possible to accelerate your bike, but at full throttle it ironically contributes to a deceleration of the accelerating technologies of globalization. Cycling is an alternative version of rich global communication. Far from the Net, the PC, and the mobile phone, the life-world of the cyclist becomes saturated by the senses and overwhelmed by the physical and climatic reality “out there.” No protective walls or phantom digital walls to lean on. Below the helmet one is happy to enjoy what other people might consider to be empty and dead commuting time to be traveled at the speed of light, while moving from destination A to destination B. The biker knows that the road taken is more important than the goal. It’s no fun getting there if the getting there is deprived of quality and lacks adventures. The Germans have an expression for this fertile time-in-between: Zwischenzeit.
Larsen’s essay is one of the high points of Cycling—Philosophy for Everyone, which like every bike ride contains some uneven territory. The volume spills too much ink on Lance Armstrong and on bike racing in general for my tastes, and calling some of the material “philosophy” is a stretch. Still, almost any type of literary-minded cyclist will find something to latch onto in the book—food for thought during your next Zwischenzeit.
Source: Cycling—Philosophy for Everyone
Thursday, July 01, 2010 10:19 AM
Wallace Shawn is perhaps best known for his roles in commercial blockbuster films like The Princess Bride (where he played the conniving Vizzini) or the Toy Story movies (where he’s the voice of Rex the dinosaur). The more refined among you may know him from Woody Allen’s Manhattan or the film My Dinner With Andre.
Shawn is also a playwright and an essayist. His essays—all of them—are collected in a book published last year by Haymarket Books and called, rather succinctly: Essays. The late historian Howard Zinn called the book “deceptively simple, fiercely honest … and provocative.” Shawn is a radical, and his essays are blunt critiques of class and power. I talked to him about his essays and the evolution of his politics.
Wallace Shawn and the Revolution (15:33)
Or download the podcast at iTunes or the UtneCast blog.
Image by Jared Rodriguez.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 11:49 AM
Kevin Hartnett has a thoughtful burst of an essay over at The Millions. Blogging something posted to the internet one month ago is a crime in somebody's book I'm sure, but it ends with such a lovely quote that I couldn't resist. We'll get to that in a minute. Hartnett wrote the essay after finishing Tolstoy's War and Peace.
...just as it takes specialized knowledge to understand exactly why a magnet attracts metal, yet any five-year-old can identify a magnet when he sees one, it is one thing to apprehend the formal properties of a great work of art, but another, much more accessible question, to assess its effects. And so, having recently finished reading War and Peace, what I want to think about is just what it is that great art does.
If you want to see what he came up with, read the essay. What will hang with me for awhile is the last line in the piece. Here it is, do with it as you see fit:
An encounter with greatness, I would say, is like a bright light fixed in time, a marker that defines memory and makes it clearer than it otherwise might have been, that we were here.
Source: The Millions
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 1:02 PM
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to be open-minded about someone's spiritual beliefs, Emily DePrang can empathize. In “Cult Following,” a Nerve essay subtitled, “How I learned to embrace my girlfriend’s ridiculous religion,” DePrang describes the bumpy spiritual path that lead to her girlfriend Sam, a follower of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, known in the West as Amma, the “hugging saint.” The use of the word "ridiculous" in the piece's subtitle is appropriate, since spiritually transcendent moments aren't always elegant or otherworldly, and might seem absurd at first blush.
Finding spirituality in the seemingly ridiculous is also the focus of a piece by Rabbi Naomi Levy in Moment Magazine. Levy describes an epiphany she had involving a spectral figure wrapped in what appeared to be toilet paper. She sheepishly told her boyfriend about her vision, afraid of appearing insane, but he pointed out that “if God can could come to Moses in a burning bush, who's to say that God can't come to you in a roll of Charmin?”
Both stories explore the confluence of the absurd and sublime, a point well-taken by a cynic like me. The experience for me isn't always spiritual, but the act of finding beauty and common ground with others is almost always revelatory. For Emily and Sam, the story culminates in a pilgrimage to a desert ashram where they receive hugs from Amma herself, and Emily’s cynicism dissolves. DePrang's writing is well-suited for the subject: sharp and sardonic but also kind. She’s an assured writer who can still articulate her doubts. The piece—just as much a love story as it is a story about religion—considers the ways compassion can chip away at skepticism, both in our spirituality and our relationships with others.
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Monday, June 23, 2008 1:15 PM
Do you have any bumper stickers on your car right now? What do they say? More importantly, what do they say about you? And how do you react when driving behind a car festooned with bumper stickers? These seemingly simple and harmless decals can have greater, unintended implications, and backfire in the messages they convey.
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (via Wise Bread) shows that people with bumper stickers on their cars are more prone to aggressive driving and road rage. The connection? Like any other animal, humans are territorial, and those who mark their territory—in this case, their car—with bumper stickers are more likely to defend and dominate the space they occupy on the road.
Furthermore, the study found that drivers who display peaceful or religious bumper stickers (“Follow Your Bliss,” the Ichthys “Jesus fish” symbol, etc.) were just as likely to drive aggressively as those who displayed other kinds. And the more stickers a car displayed, the more aggressively its driver behaved. By that logic, we should steer well clear of the car pictured above.
This study comes on the heels of a thoughtful essay in the most recent issue of Fourth Genre entitled “My Volvo, My Self: The (Largely Unintended) Existential Implications of Bumper Stickers,” by Leslie Hayworth (article not available online).
Bumper stickers enforce our instincts toward stereotyping and oversimplification. Hayworth cites her own tendency to assume the worst about anyone displaying a Bush/Cheney decal or yard sign, and touches on various news stories about bumper stickers exploding into road rage and even workplace terminations. She reasons that the root of the problem lies in a bumper sticker’s distillation of big, complex matters into a glib meme, divorced from the complicated human being who holds that opinion: “Bumper stickers just say too much too soon.... When you argue via a bumper sticker, your argument is dehumanized and decontextualized.”
While I try not to jump to any conclusions about drivers of cars bearing antagonistic bumper stickers, knee-jerk reactions are hard to resist—especially in rush hour traffic, and especially during presidential campaigns. It makes me wonder what people assume when they see my own car, which bears only a sticker for the local public radio station and the Apple Computers logo. For all I know, even those relatively innocuous symbols speak volumes about some dark corner of my psyche, or at least my occasional tendency to change lanes without signaling.
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