Friday, June 17, 2011

Sense of Life in Sense and Life

One of my favorite words in English is "to germinate." I could have said germination but it would not be the same. I like words which are in the form of verbs. Infinitives. What a beautiful name for verbs! They move, they make something happen when they hang on in the atmosphere. It is as though they are really infinite. An endless becoming...

Anyway... Today, after a chance encounter with the etymology of the word "fool" (which was also very interesting) I wondered what would be the word I would like to learn about while the page of an online etymology dictionary was still open in the screen. "To germinate!" I said to myself with enthusiasm. The dictionary first refered to "germination" (which I find a little dull), then from that page we smoothly passed to "germ" which was given as the root of all.

Here is the definition and the history of "germ":

germ (n.)
mid-15c., "bud, sprout;" 1640s, "rudiment of a new organism in an existing one," from M.Fr. germe "germ (of egg); bud, seed, fruit; offering," from L. germen (gen. germinis) "sprout, bud," perhaps from PIE base *gen- "to beget, bear" (see genus). The older sense is preserved in wheat germ and germ of an idea;[...]

Then something else comes into play: "sense of "seed of a disease" first recorded 1803; that of "harmful microorganism" dates from 1871. Germ warfare recorded from 1920."

How different is the definition of "rudiment of a new organism in an existing one" from "seed of a disease", or "harmful microorganism." Of course it could be said that this change in the sense of the word "germ" is parallel to the germ theory of disease which was validated in the late 19th century. But still I have a hard time to follow this kind of causal thinking. It is very dry and therefore it does not seem to be the real explanation of what happened. Furthermore, what I am inclined to believe is the almost opposite of this inference: I think the sense of "germ" has already been changed, it had already began to reside in the "bad" side, otherwise it would be impossible to name a bad, sickening thing with a word which carries life, which is "good." So life itself must have become a burden at some point. Then somebody was able to find "germs" as causes of disease.

How did we come to understand "new life" as a bad thing? Is it because new life does not ask our permission to sprout? Are we offended by life and its ways to invent itself? Why are we so afraid?

Another thing worth thinking in a different way, without resorting to causal explanations that reduce our sense of the world, thus us, to something which has no effect at all. It is like breathing and not even noticing the air you breath in eventhough you cannot live a second without it (well, it may be a little longer for some of us). We have to understand our making-sense-of-the-world right to be able to change it, or to get a breath of fresh air...


drwatson said...

I have a tendency to read and pick up on some little thing at the expense of the larger point - so forgive in advance.

What I was thinking about was your comment on "causal thinking" and how if I had written something akin to what you did, I would have made the same point - however, and this is where I always become a sort of split-self - I was thinking about the fact that a lot of my thinking throughout the day is totally built around concepts that pomo's hate - intentionality, causality and so forth.

Like I couldn't sit in a bar and order a beer without a belief in causality and intentionality, even though I know that I'm reducing complexity in the process. I'm not sure I have a big point here or even a good question, just a sort of ramble. I want to comment on the ideas of new life and I love the phrase "permission to sprout" but I just don't have anything witty to say yet, except that I think new can imply break-in-my-routine, which could imply fracture-to-my-belief-system which would obviously dictate resistance, at least at first, maybe.

ayşegül said...

Yes, I agree with your point that you can't really enjoy a beer without knowing that it will be served when you order. This is the kind of causality that works for us. And I believe that's why it has a very strong trace in our thinking. You see, I did it again: found a cause and related it to this way of thinking. So this move is inevitable, or it seems so.

But what I meant was a little out of this scope. Actually it was exactly this point but looking to it from afar. It seems to me, what "inevitability" of causal thinking means is an all-or-nothing way encompassing all thinking and living. In other words, the point of criticism here, is not exactly causal thinking but the tendency to see all thinking, and life, and the world as causal. Of course there is causality, arguing on the contrary would be absurd. Causal thinking is not a bad thing on its own right. But as Bergson said every concept, i.e. causality, should fit its subject matter so perfectly that it should be almost impossible to call it a concept. This is to see and to respect the difference of every phenomenon. So a little causality won't hurt if I will enjoy my beer when I order it. But now that I am drinking the beer, I can turn around and look to the people in the bar, listen to the music playing, breathing in the atmosphere, outside the perspective of causality. This is another world and there are lots of other worlds. New life(s) is always already there. The resistance to new life is the most subtle of it all. Actually it is the resistance to live. What you rightfully call routine sometimes feels like a prison to me. On the other hand belief system seems to be quite different, that is, I can believe that there is new life everywhere, in every moment. It is no more a system than it is a ground. A ground from which everything is interesting, well, almost everything.

And thank you. You are the first person to comment on my jibberrish and in such a way that made me think. So it has been a delight.

drwatson said...

Looks like my post didn't post - Let me try this again. I wish I had something more intelligent to say, but basically I just agree with your comments.

I had a great philosophy professor who had studied with Gadamer and met Heidegger in Germany - we had a blast for my last two years of Undergrad and then two years of Grad school reading tons of Heidegger and Merleau Ponty and Camus and then me trying to get him into people like Derrida - who he was never all that impressed with.

But when I started back in my PhD program everyone was a pragmatist - which just sounds so vile - not a bad philosophical position but I always want to argue with anyone that claims to be a pragmatist - I'm childish what can I say.

But I finally had a great professor who was into Donald Davidson - and that was eye opening - and analytical guy that I liked, and often agreed with. That's where a lot of my rethinking notions like causality and intentionality have been coming from - and I do love the American philosophers - pragmatists especially - attempts to write clearly. Most of my favorite thinkers and probably your too are difficult to say the least and often their writing - particularly early Derrida - I think is just bad. (Though I certainly can't read French, so who am I to say.) If we live in the same world, we should be able to communicate - my mantra is that if you can't explain what you think to a precocious 12 year old than you don't understand it.

There's a really nice conversation between Rorty and Davidson on youtube that can be found pretty easily - you might enjoy it.

ayşegül said...

Thank you for the tip. I will definitely watch that.

By the way I've often came across with people who argue that Deleuze, for example, writes in a way that is hard to understand. I never thought so. Actually he is one of the clearest writers for me, a breath of fresh air. Derrida, I don't know much of him but I've read Postcards and it was a delight. They say the same thing about Merleau-Ponty, that he is very hard to read, but it is just non-sense for me. I don't know, maybe it is about already being there, in the world the writer describes. Without ever being there you can't really get it, right? So that is another question: Can you ever teach anyone, make them understand something they don't know at all? A weird and very important question if you ask me. I used to think the same way as you do, if you cannot tell it to a child and make understand, you don't know it. But lately it seems pretty different than that. Teaching or showing other worlds...these are very tricky things to do.

drwatson said...

There is this great point Heidegger makes on an essay about math - it's seemingly Platonic, but of course it's not. He says you can only recognize an individual tree because you already understand tree-ness - much like you can only understand 3 because because you already understand groupings. And later he talks about teaching in a similar way - I wish I had the book here so I could quote it, but it's in my office. He basically says you can only teach someone to notice what they already know - which makes sense as a phenomonologist. (I've spelled that wrong, but it's late and I don't have energy to fix it.) So the cliche turns out to be true - the teacher really learns the most and at best they can bring the student to learning - if the student is willing to reside in the open. However, and I've taught at colleges for the last 7 years and now feel like I have a genuine perspective - most students are not in the open and have no desire to get there. The professor I mentioned in my last post referred to his last crop of students as "dull-heads" and he's a nice 74-5 year old guy - which means if you translate it into my speech he was saying "I'm teaching a lot of dumb motherfuckers." And that sounds awful - believe me I know - but it's starting to feel truer and truer - I'm so impressed with teachers who don't become jaded - I never thought I would - but I feel myself starting to go in that direction and it really sucks.

On a side note - I'm impressed that Delueze wasn't difficult for you to read - I had to read about 100 pages before I understood anything, really - but then I started to get it - and it all came into focus. Heidegger was my Deleuze I guess, i.e., the guy lots of people find difficult that just sort of made sense to me. I think that was because I have a background in religious studies and was fascinated by Taoism when I was like 16-19 and I think that helped me get Heidegger.

drwatson said...

Oh sorry - one quick follow up - I think M.P's Phenomenology Of Perception is not a book that I could ever read cover to cover - I've read a lot of it - but in chunks. However, The Visible and The Invisible was a page turner, much like a great detective novel. The last philosophy book to do that to me was either Heidegger's Zolikon Seminars or Agamben's The Open.