Thursday, April 24, 2008
I agree with the conclusion that Russell was instead saying, “Be careful what you wish for”. They went all the way to Rakhat because of the music and they all had to endure so much death, suffering, and pain and in the end what do they get? Music. Its kind of a cynical way of saying, well you asked God for this and here it is, whether you like it or not. I would have liked to have Russell made Emilio’s character a little more disappointed with the music at the end, that yes it’s beautiful but was it really worth it? What, if anything did it change? I don’t think she explored that as much as she could have. Sequels usually aren’t as good as the first one was and, while I enjoyed Children of God, I feel The Sparrow did a better job at fully exploring its themes and really making the reader think about things even after they were done reading. Children of God leaves you wondering, but not in the same way. I agree that perhaps it could have ended with a bigger bang or a bigger twist, but I think Russell’s intention was to have the ending be as plain and simple as the whole thing started: with a beautiful piece of music and a question about what it means.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
AAArgh. I’m sorry but that novel was a total mary sue. Carlo gets it in the end. Emilio has a child and grandchild, and his mental sanity. And we’ve all got purpose because genetic sequences harmonize! Whooptee doo! While I certainly didn’t detest the novel as Chris did. I definitely didn’t think it was a tour de force. 438 pages and the payoff is…well…bland. The janata will live as an intellectual curiosity and the Runa march on.
Also I didn’t notice any of that “whaaa?” that we were supposed to experience. Maybe its because I read way too much sci-fi but nothing was too out of the ordinary. I was waiting for something a bit more expansive. Like, Isaac has bioengineered a new virus that does x or that the janata are actually a subset of earth wolves brought here by y. Instead it was just “oh the perspective has changed and these folks aren’t as evil as we thought..” Though I did find it deliciously pleasurable to see Kitheri get trampled to death. Too bad there was no specific detail.
Stemming from the good but kind of eh plot, the message of the novel was eh too. God is there if you believe in him, and he’s not if you don’t. What simplified nonsense is that? Pascal’s wager is more sophisticated than this. Russell just gets mired in postmodern relativism. We don’t need 438 pages for “to each his own,” That’s all grand and magical but, really find something a tad more interesting The only useful message of this novel is “Catholics and Jews are really stupid for believing in God.” They go through trial and tribulation and never seem to wonder, “Maybe God sent us that meteorite?” No its always “God sent that meteorite at this angle so it would only damage us! Praise the Lord!” They’re like a bunch of abused kids exclaiming when daddy buys them a soda after a particularly vicious beating. Wake up you nonces, God does not love you. This is all a product of natural forces. Some of which you control, some you don’t. If god does exist, he’s not helping!
Also, why couldn’t Russel resolve some of the big questions such as where the Magellan party went or why 6 missions failed? All of this was left unexplained so that she could focus on healing her main man sandoz. And she only accomplished this mixing some genotypes together to make a song. Ggarg. This book frustrates me.
I think a lot of our discussion danced around two issues that were never completely addressed, ontological displacement, and epistemic frameworks.
So first let’s get into ontological displacement. Basically ontological displacement is a total displacement of being. The thing, or the Other is so utterly different that it cannot truly relate to us, its ontology. Its being is alien to us. I’m not sure this can happen between humans, but it could certainly happen across species. There may be aliens that are so different we don’t even know that they’re aliens. So different that we cannot understand the other on anything but a superficial level; think of the planet in Solaris.
Perhaps this is unnecessarily privileging experiential knowledge over everything else, but I think that in order to understand a person you must have some sort of common referent i.e. a common experience. When your natures of being are completely divorced, this is rather difficult. There’s a taste of this in Todorov, as the natives and the Spaniards seemed to exist on different planes of existence, though they were not so different that they were totally unrecognizable to one another
That sort of dove tails into my other point about epistemic frameworks. As I was saying in class, you can only really empathize with an Other if your epistemic and moral frameworks have some sort of commonality. Cortes could understand the how of Aztec ruled, but could never sympathize with or fully grasp the why. This cyclical time stuff was as nonsensical to him as it sounds to most westerners. I’ve read about the Aztecs, and taken classes on Latin American history. All I really know is the how. Their world view still sounds like nonsense on stilts. Circular time and ritualized speaking do not appeal to me and I do not empathize with the decisions drawn from them (ex. human sacrifice). I can still hate their leaders for these practices with much ease.. Tim mentioned how much we hated on
I think the only real hatred is a hatred based on knowledge of the other. Chris and I were discussing this and we agreed that the sensationalized other as the “foe” is more or less just fear. It’s an enhanced fight or flight response, not real hate. You’re not really fighting a person but a wild animal that will stop at nothing to destroy you. Thus it is not hate but instinctual fear that drives us to atrocities. Hate is only made possible through active participation. You have to fully understand how radically different your moral frameworks for two people to truly despise each other. In other words, hate’s a garden and it needs tender loving care.
An interesting parallel with the title which might have been completely unintentional is that Emilio's constant refrain seems to be "don't do this to me again, kids and babies". However, the title directly relates to Children (although here it is meant in the wider since of the three separate species all of children of the same God). Perhaps the parallel here is that despite however much he tries not to, Emilio will meet up with all the children again. I'm not certain about this interpretation, and wonder if Russel purposefully does not have Emilio use the word children or child to reduce this parallel, however, to me it seems something that should be significant in this imagery laden novel.
One strong compulsion I felt throughout the later half of the novel was just to yell the word 'genocide' at Sophie. Even through all her prejudeces and the evil she felt had been committed by the Jana'ata, with her history and the conditioning against genocide she almost certainly has, one would hope she would pause to consider what she was truly doing. Sophie's complete blindness to this fact only worked for her, although it would have felt jarring with anyother character, because of her proven ability to shut out her emotions and disconnect herself from the realities of what were going on around her. This is also why Russel couldn't allow any of the other humans to survive, if just one other had, they may have been able to rein in the attempted genocide to a role reversal where the Runa became masters of the land, while the Jana'ata became the lower class species.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
My first thought in the first few chapters about Columbus was how well Orson Scott Card's novel Pastwatch fit into this narrative. The way Columbus is represented in both books as a man more on a quest for the Church than trying to gain money. The impression I truly got of Columbus was of a noble, if time-misplaced, nitwit who without many forceful hints, would completely miss the importance of reality and continue on in his own world.
The analysis of the differences in communication methods also struck me. The presented idea that Montozuma and the other civilizations did not wish to speak to the envoys when they were there, but still preferred to ask the soothsayers what their chances were and what the state of affairs were. This seems perfectly nonsensical until the differing modes of communication are thought of. A person-to-person mode of communication is assumed and is actually what the basis of communication analysis is in the "Western" context. The idea that this second mode of communication with the natural and social group and religious world would be the more dependable runs counter to what I can see as provable. Coming out of an anaylsis of Methods from my IR research class, I believe then this is when other methods than a scientific or neo-postivist must come to bear as with these you would quickly notice that not everything matched. However, if the entire society is forming itself with a constructivist/relational view, they are building the world among the way they see it and they agree it to be, regardless of how a truthful discourse between themselves might present it. To me, this makes the most sense on how to see a how this completely different way of communicating with the universe might come to work.
However, these differing types of thinking are what we are looking for in our classic 'other', and cause me to doubt many of the science fiction aliens that we find. The oddest thing is how we often find patterns of thought and physical shapes on Earth that are more bizarre or different than many from other worlds, even when the ones that are supposed to be "human" aliens are excluded.
An interesting point we touched on in class was the differentiation that evolves when we chose or chose not title someone/thing as human. If they are human, they can be equal. However, Todorov argues that almost by definition, if the other is not human, it cannot be equal, as we have delineated a difference that can not be overcome. This is unequally troublesome for an even hopeful idealist as the hope would be when other alien races are found that we learn to eventually work with them as equals. But can we truly accept that someone is truly 'other' in practically every way, except that they are inherently have the same moral and "human" rights as us, even when there moral structure is alien to us? It is hard to truly conceptualize what this would mean, let alone how an individual or humanity as a group would handle it. But looking at Todorov and pasts where we have met alien humans for the first time probably is the closest we can come to analyzing how we might feel.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I definitely also agree with the point that just because you understand someone doesn't mean that you sympathize with them or even like them. I can think of a few people that I know pretty well and still absolutely dislike. In fact, understanding your enemy is perhaps the best way to beat them. The more you understand about how someone does something, the easier it becomes to destroy them in the end. I also think that it is possible to sympathize with someone and still dislike them. Empathizing with ones enemy is one way to get and to keep the upper hand. Perhaps this is why Cortez seemed to understand, and even sympathize in the end, with those that he encountered? Was he doing this because he knew that this was an easy way to get what he wanted in the end? Maybe Cortez is proof that it is possible to understand, sympathize, and even feel sorry for someone, but still destroy them in the end.
I think Todorov’s greatest contribution is his emphasis on the discourse of language and epistemology. Rather than focusing on the political or material bases on which the Spaniards conquered
I also like how mike mentioned that westerners were particularly suited to understand the other so that they could annihilate them. I think this shift from
In that regard I also enjoyed the overview of
Another point that I found particularly interesting in The conquest, mostly because it is something I had never considered before, occurred in the epilogue. Todorov states that "This extraordinary success (Western European colonization) is chiefly due to one specific feature of Western civilization...among Europeans thereby becoming proof of their natural suoeriorty: it is, paradoxically, Europeans' capacity to understand the other" What I gathered from the statement is that Todorov is basically saying that the Europeans conquered the natives and not the other way around because they understood the natives better in the end. I am not sure if I believe that this is the case, but it is something that made me stop and think as I was reading. Is it really that Europeans were better communicators? Was it really nothing to do with technological might and infecting the natives with disease, i.e. smallpox? OR is it a combination of these factors that caused history to play out the way it did. Like I said, I don't know the answer or even my own opinion about it but it is a point that I found very interesting to contemplate.
So I think this class was eerie in that we seemed to be in pretty good agreement. The Jesuits were well intentioned and had some cute ideals, but they were woefully unprepared. They never thought to observe the planet from afar. They never contemplated the effects of their exploration. They never even checked if the air was breathable. The Jesuits got drunk on their own sense of serendipity and they never thought about the consequences of their actions.
I think the real message of the book lies therein. There may be a creator god or there may not be, but the fact remains that He or she or It isn’t going to interfere. You may read in that God is determining events or providing miracles, but he’s not. God if it exists is not going to interfere in worldly matters. When you choose to believe that God sent you on a mission and then that mission fails don’t blame God, blame your foolhardy assumptions. I think Mike mentioned that Abe Lincoln quote about god being on your side during war. It encapsulates everything pretty well about the whole “god’s on your side” ethic.
On a somewhat unrelated note I think this novel falls into a weird tradition of Sci-Fi/ Fantasy stories written by authors riffing on CS Lewis’s notion of the restricted God. Lewis basically stated God had to allow the universe abide by certain physical laws. If god were to screw around with miracles it would destabilize everything and well…up would be down and down would be up. Thus we need gravity and all the danger that it implies. Without physical laws, things can’t exist, but as a result existence creates evil or dissatisfaction, or whatever you wish to call it.
Russell follows in this tradition of “Well god may be out there, but he aint doing ya any favors.” Of course CS Lewis himself was notorious for breaking his own rules by allowing the introduction of “limited” miracle every now and then to show that god was still around. These miracles are quite similar to the turtles that the Jesuits kept witnessing. Further Lewis was big into science and “learning,’ much like the Jesuits. So I guess you would say that Sandoz suffered from an acute case of CS Lewis. Although Lewis was an atheist turned anglican, not an atheist turned catholic. So it doesn’t totally work. Oh Lewis, you were a traitor to your Irish brethren, no wonder your theories about God were silly and your novels sucked. And on that note, long live the IRA! The old one, not the PIRA. They’re silly.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
"I've always liked the idea of a special Hugo to be awarded (by force, perhaps) to literary authors who write books dripping with themes filleted from mainstream SF and then deny that it's science fiction 'because it's not about robots and spaceships'." (Terry Pratchett, fun sci-fi quotes)Although there are spaceships and aliens in this novel, to a "real literature" critique these elements can be safely ignored while they focus on the 'worthy' aspects of the story. But since the quality and thought-provokingness is not unique among Sci-fi novels, what is it that sets it apart to make it more relatable? It can't just be the minimization of 'technobabbel' and the fact that it isn't military or fighting-based (neither of these elements being unique either)? The reason is two fold, firstly the novel centers around the inner journey of one man, and and the religious/theological subject, themes that are associated with 'high' literature.
A basic idea/assumption, that as Americans at least we have, mentioned in the course of the discussion was that there is in fact little reason at all any aliens landing on Earth would say "take me to your leader." In fact, although I've read one book where the ET said "take me to your paleontologist", I can't recall an instance where the aliens first entered/integrated with earth culture and from there announcing themselves. It seems to me, we would be really annoyed, scared and mystified if that happened, so what reason was there to think it would be successful with that approach.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Perhaps I'm being a bit silly, but anyone in the expedition think "hrrm maybe we should bring some future weapons." Explorers going to an alien planet unarmed, grand plan...grand. I’m of course being a bit simplistic, but a whole mess of trouble could have been avoided if the humans had brought some orbital weaponry. Obliterate a few Janata strongholds, and make em think twice before they do anything silly. Of course the risks associated with bring a whole bunch of guns, are rather legion. However, the complete lack o worry that they would be attacked or would require force is incredibly naive.
Though its no surprise that naiveté is the rule of the day. Jesus has ordained this mission so of course everything will work out real well. That is…if Jesus actually gave a flying crap. The willful delusions of the expedition’s leadership to assume that things were ordained and that the intelligent life would never attack them were poorly advised. That and bringing only one Lander. Hasn’t Aliens taught us anything? Always have a backup Lander for pilot by remote. Anyway it seems as if the Jesuits got caught up in the excitement, but never thought about the possible dangers of the mission. They made a whole lot of safely precautions on the way there. But man, they did not think about the problems of contact all too well. I mean they didn’t even try to predict if their germs could cause a disease outbreak amongst the aliens.
An interesting thing is how everything goes down the drain so quickly, when the musicologist dies right after they land, you get the feel that it is going to be a gradual dying off, not the sudden killing of everyone else in a few pages. What this showed was that even if you begin to believe you understand a society, you are still likely to miss something and that one thing can send the entire plan on a huge tremendous down swing. While it was good to see how everything feel so quickly, after all the buildup, it seemed a let down.
Stylistically, I didn't like the idea of going into the viewpoint of the two Jana'ata. It made them much more human, and this made them more relatable, which I thought was actually unfortunate as it hurt they idea of them being truly "other". While Russel may have been trying to make us relate to the Jana'ata and see how we had the potential to evolve as they did. She tries to make a contrast between, "oh don't they seem so much more like us" and "what kind of creatures are they" and while this is obviously drawn, I feel that it took concentration away from actually exploring the differences and uniqueness of their society and turning into some relation to the Middle Ages of nobles and peasants.
Monday, April 7, 2008
I noticed that the class response missed something rather key. It seemed like we kept trying to muddy the waters of what the political was, and who it pertained to. Yes the work was a bit contradictory at times. It often provided a convoluted reason for conflict that jumped between Platonist essentialism and materialist analysis. At one point economics, morality etc have little to do with the enemy, and then it seems that the enemy is created as it stems from those same moral and economic conflicts.
However, we shouldn’t let this confound what the political is. Schmidt’s discussion of the political was pretty explicit in its dualistic, dialectic obsession. He wasn’t interested in muddy waters. He discussed things in a way that Descartes called clear and distinct ie the boiled down definitions. Schmidt really should have titled it “The Concept of the Simple” because he’s not dealing in anything but simple distinctions. He wants an all encompassing, universal definition; he can’t get too complicated when dealing with absolutes. This is why he likes dialectics so much. It logically helps boil everything down to one simple distinction, to their essential properties. Putting forth an either/or dichotomy forces him and the reader to categorize something as essentially a or b. In this case something is either political or non political.
The political is not complicated for Schmidt, which as Mel points out is a key reason why I didn’t like the text. You are political based on a basic either/or question. Are you willing to use deadly force in this conflict? If yes then you have a political situation. If no, it is not political. That’s it.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
-concept of political (p 26 & 37)
-new outlook: diverse state from the political
-state, what is it: question of capacity, recognition, black box(?)
-goes up and downs magnitude scale, but can't go sideways (i.e. the concept of enemies would most likely not affect competitors in economics)
-us/others: biological, history in past of having a distinct other
-Becomes political when "sufficiently strong enough to group men according to friend and enemy. If, in fact, the will to abolish war is so strong that it no longer shuns war, then it has become a political motive, i.e. it affirms, even if only as an extreme possibility, war and even the reasons for war." (p 36)
-willing to have a war, and kill someone else
-is it the same to pay public safety to fight?
-the conclusion seemed to be that although it is different, paying them to fight does not mean it is not political
-Balance of Power, or does he support that only the possibility of war, doesn't need Balance. "A world in which the possibility of war is utterly eliminated, a completely pacified globe, would be a world without distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics." (p. 35)
-MADD, Twilight Zone episode reference- no potential for harm, no need for protection from the state
-When is there not a possibility of real killing?
-Difference between enemy and other, can flip, doesn't need to be stagnant for all authority.
-political level, doesn't mean you personally hate the individual, hate the group - Christmas Truth
-'Axis' was common future fighting against, not fighting for a common future with US and Russia
-political to make shift with Russians between WWII and Cold War
-p 79, economic violence - is political, word game trying to imply nonpolitical distinctions that don't truly exist
-How do you know someone is an enemy? How do you know who the enemy is?
-foe vs. enemy
-foe can turn into an enemy - threat to our existence, an existential threat
-foe: inhuman other, can annihilate
-enemy: human other, push back to borders, root recognition
-is using legal proceedings (like EU with Microsoft) to sue the other a war?
-what if suit has potential to threaten livelihoods?
-identity theft as war? when brought to t he extreme could end up killing the person
-orders of magnitude - center on individuals/small groups who can now hurt state
-Nietzsche: 'strongest society doesn't have to be stringent w/prisoners'
-declare war on idea, which is an existential threat, but not an other.
-or is it the carriers of that idea? create dialog - 'statified' or 'stated' Al Qaeda
-'crazy' people, 'crazy' ideas --inhuman, same side as aliens in "Aliens"
-propaganda - how a state defines what/who the enemy is
-shaped the enemy, "enemize" them, show them the way out of the dark towards society or they must be completely inhumane.
Mac/PC: Franco-Prussian War. PC as France and Mac as Prussia. (Xerox must be Rome!!)
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The one less polarized concept is the difference between the political enemy and the personal enemy. The political enemy must be hated, if not as a cause of the enmity, then the hatred would quickly grow. The disturbing thing about this is that it seems to imply that once there are political enemies, they can never be truly reconciled. Force seems an end means to get what you want, and his ultra-realist perception of force being the driving factor and extreme in all communications and relations between groups.
The idea of the enemy that most interests me is the very one demontionality and requirement. In Schmitt's writings, an enemy is what holds the state together. The state is not held together by people of like minds or working hard together, but rather because they look outside the state and are able to point and say "there is the most horrendous enemy". Beyond his statement in the book that this means without finding another force outside the planet to unify against there can never be a world government, this also implies that any state would be in an almost constant cold war. However, the passion that has to go into the war and its ferocity is actually what I think is most important rather than the fact that there is the enemy. If this passion was not channeled into hatred for an enemy but rather into something more positive, then war would not have to be the inevitable option he lays it out to be. Andrew's insight (see below) about Schmitt's one sided view that force is right and the predominating (and practically only) aspect of the political, blinds him to the fact that it is the passion that's important, and the willingness to use force is only a measure of that passion.
So reading the Concept of the Political is something like reading the deranged ramblings of a facile monkey trying to ape the movements of a far greater thinker *cough* Weber. Surprise! Everyone politics has to do with the use of force! It’s not like Weber didn’t say something incredibly similar 9 years prior to this essay. Oh wait, he did!
It seems like Schmidt’s primary contribution to political thought is his unique obsession with force. Unlike Weber who gets into the mechanics of rule and the use of legitimate force, Schmidt just talks about force. Regardless of who or what you are, so long as you can get a bunch of dudes to kill, you have become political. Probably the best quote is when he says that once pacifists engage in a war to end all wars, only then will they have shown to have “political energy” in that they convinced enough people to group themselves between “friend and enemy”
This has interesting and dangerous metaphysical consequences, namely that the political becomes solely about drawing lines, about defining who is Other. In order to be political one must be willing not only to kill but to consider their enemy as something worthy of destruction. Yet at the same time you should consider loving that enemy in the private sense! Oh Schmidt how odd you are. Though what’s most peculiar is his justification for all this. Not morality or something rational, but on grounds of some weird realist notion of foreign nations. It’s as if there’s this platonic wonderland where you find your other and then seek to annihilate him or her. Of course that’s what he says at first. Schmidt seems to realize that he sounds like the mentally handicapped. Then he explains it all away by stating that that reasons for political matters, aka conflict, arise out of these other things in addition to the state’s drive for strength and expansion. Those axiomatic hallmarks of the political can never go away.
As if to make things worse Schmidt bases much of his argument on these silly dialectical notions. I know most German theorists felt a need to copulate with Hegel, but the intellectual necrophilia is rather obscene here. He gives no evidence or reason to institute dialectical categories in a discussion of the political. Good vs. evil and beauty vs. ugliness do not mean that you can divide the political world in two as well. This is glaringly obvious when Schmidt glosses over starving people into submission as just another example of disciplining unsuccessful competitors. Because intermediate forms of violence, like blacklisting someone from work, and non murder forms of violence (like rape) do not factor into his equivocation, we get a stilted view of the political. His obsession of using either or propositions completely screws up his theory. There’s no nuance, just totalitarian certainty.
Really it all boils down to political theory of crass warlordism. Whoever has the most guns wins the game. We all rush into a head-on collision with death to prove our political point. To show that we have the biggest balls. But that’s a rather foolish prescription for society. For in Schmidt’s world the only solution is a political force so big that it annihilates all internal political wills and keeps other states at bay. Some would call this dictatorship. Other would call it fascism. I just think Schmidt’s a fool.