Fully responsive template

Recently, I’ve been helping my partner redesign his website. As a result, one of the phrases that’s been popular around our house lately is “fully responsive template.” Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you know what I’m talking about, but for those that might not, a fully responsive template is a website page template that adjusts your content in response to the technology your reader is using to read it. In an age when your reader may be using a cellphone, a tablet or a standard computer screen, it’s a really useful thing to have.

I am also currently mapping out my spring courses. Especially, I am going Amerigo Vespucci all over the section of Introduction to Philosophy I am teaching as a dual enrollment course at a local high school. I’ve been teaching Intro for 4 years now. Not only am I ready for a good shake up of the material, but I well aware that I have an opportunity to turn a group of kids on to philosophy as something vital and inspiring.

Additionally, I am preparing for a conference in March on the philosophy of Jean-Luc Marion. The paper I’ll be presenting is an extension of the arguments I made in my graduate thesis, arguments that I’m really passionate about. It’s the first writing I’ve done on this particular line of thinking in awhile. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to once again wield the exquisite tool of technical language. Having been away from this kind of rigorous writing, I newly appreciate how much complicated thinking can be contained in a single word. On the other hand, having been teaching philosophy at the community college level for the last four years, I know that the same technical language that enables me to say so much, creates the possibility that a larger audience will hear very little. And I believe, as passionately as I do anything else, that the larger audience deserves to hear it. More than that, that if philosophy has anything to say about human existence, then it has a duty to make that truth as accessible to as many humans as possible.

So, I’m conducting a bit of an experiment. I’m going to try to construct this semester’s Intro to Philosophy class with a “fully responsive template.” It’s not just that I intend to use social media and internet sources (which I definitely do, visit my fledgeling Storify page), but I intend to demonstrate to my students that philosophy is a living discipline and then, hopefully, inspire them to live it.

Have ideas for me? Please join the conversation. That responsive thing, you know.

Origami Elephants Podcast

This week’s Origami Elephant episode opens with a longish tangent on horror films before addressing issues my co-host and I are facing in our new communities.

Origami Elephants is a podcast intended to walk the tightrope between religion and philosophy, faith and certainty, symbol and science. We tackle the elephants in the room, initiating a conversation about controversial subjects with an invitational tone.

Check it out.

A woman’s wiles

victoriandressContinuing research on Spiritualism, I found this gem in a Wikipedia entry on “apport.” For the record, an apport is a psychically transported or paranormally transported object. The article reports that Terrance Hines claims in his book, Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, that “female mediums went so far as to conceal in their vagina or anus objects to be ‘apported’ during the seance.” And why might a woman so conceal an object in such a place? Because propriety trumps skepticism in the conscience of the Victorian male. They wouldn’t search there for decency’s sake. Therefore, the object would be missed and could be mysteriously produced later on.

I recently ordered Mr. Hines’s book and am eager to inspect p.51 to see how this report is validated. Whatever the substantiation, the observation is stated in terms reflective of issues raised in my last post about gender, credibility and the Spiritualist movement. I realize, without the original text, I am jumping to conclusions, but I have trouble understanding why the charge is strictly drawn along gender lines. Male mediums also have bodily orifices. Victorian females also had a strong sense of propriety and likely were stamped with modern skepticism like their male counterparts. Again, this little snippet suggests that women were perceived as particularly prone to vulgar deceit and men especially called upon by society to safeguard against such trickery. Unless Hines has specific proof that this was a female ploy only, then I’m calling foul on this one.

Woman in the Middle

seancebwOne of the things that’s fascinated me as I’ve been researching Spiritualism is the paradoxical position of women in the movement.

On the one hand, most of the on the ground spiritual activity was begun by women, conducted by women. This really isn’t any great news. Having been historically disenfranchised from leadership in institutional religion, women throughout history have officiated folk practices. In some way, Spiritualism, with its impressive roster of female mediums, brought to light a long tradition of women quietly distinguishing themselves as spiritual and psychic adepts.

On the other hand, during the Spiritualist movement, the supernatural abilities of women were sometimes validated by a woman’s lack of education or intellectual ability. In other words, women were often perceived as too naive to orchestrate a hoax as elaborate as a public séance or as substantial as a portion of automatic writing.”Uneducated woman” became a byline that vouchsafed authenticity.

Along the same lines, paranormal science was born during the Spiritualist movement. Drunk on the heady wine of rapid progress, scientists developed experiments and technologies to measure, observe and potentially harness supernatural phenomena.  Again, this means that while female practitioners of psychic arts were enjoying new levels of popular notoriety, they also found themselves newly subjected to male, scientific validation. It’s noteworthy that mainline religious experiences were not subject to the same level of scientific interrogation (this remains true in the most recent paranormal science craze). The fact that institutional religion is dominated by male authority may not have anything to do with its being granted self-validation, but it is a correlation that is certainly interesting.

I have been thinking a lot about what it might be like to be a woman trying to navigate these particular competing forces. I think its also notable that the suffrage movement was also gaining momentum  at the same time as the Spiritualist movement. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking the two would not have aligned very closely, but it’s another indication of the way women were trying to emerge on their own terms. The question still remains to any people group caught in the middle of cultural currents: how to gain a platform from which to speak without losing your voice in the process?

The Leftovers Ends Perfectly Imperfect

The season finaleleftovers of the HBO series, The Leftovers, was not perfect in execution. But that’s exactly perfect.

In the apocalypse category, The Leftovers is original, hinging on a catastrophic non-event. The central event, which claimed a thoroughly random (Gary Busey!?) 2%of the world’s population, lacks any discernible shape at which the characters might direct (and therefore manage) their anger and fear. There was no calamity, no noise, no light. Just suddenly nothing where people had been.

Along the same lines, the non-eventness of “The Departure” left no mark on society apart from the absence of the persons it claimed. In many post-apocalypse stories, the main characters are preoccupied with adjusting to new realities: disease, shortage, flesh eating zombies. Any introspection on the nature of existence happens in the small space between life or death choices. In The Leftovers, the buildings are left standing, the TV is left broadcasting, the restaurants are left open and ready for business. And people are left free from distraction from the ultimate reality: non-existence attends existence. Always.

And this, apart from its beautifully sparse cinematography, apart from its actors’ brilliant performances, is why I love The Leftovers. It exposes truth. Human agency is fabulously effective, but ultimately limited. When life is perceived as a puzzle to be solved, as a race to win, there is only so much we can DO to attempt to make that happen. There are times in life when we have done everything according to the directions, when we have met challenges with stunning courage and competency, but we are deprived of a winning end result. We come to the end of our existant tether and experience existence in its bleak reality. If life is a math problem, then it solves for zero. But only at that summation is joy possible.

The finale of The Leftovers demonstrates this perfectly. I was disappointed with the way the Wayne story line was not played out in camera. I was disappointed with the disappearance of Kevin’s dog hunting “friend” in the last episode. There were pieces of the story that got smudged out of focus in the haste to gather it all back in frame for the last episode. However, the events of the last episode clearly demonstrate our inability to engineer ourselves out of confrontation with non-existence. The final act of the Guilty Remnant, so carefully planned, so meticulously (and maliciously) performed was not responsible for deliverance. In psychology, it would best be categorized as a extinguishing behavior, an elevation of antagonism that is a demonstration of its perceived futility. It was a temper tantrum that did not earn them an extra cookie, an extra hour of play time before bed. Because the reality is that what they were seeking could not, in fact, be earned at all.

Deliverance came in unlooked-for places. Nora, having decided to give up trying to move on by running away, finds a new beginning in an infant failed-savior on the front porch. Kevin realizes, in the relief of having his daughter restored, that life itself (not the portrait of life that he was tortured by) is all that is precious. Without any reform or obedience training, the feral dog presents itself as a friend. Lori sees in her son’s face the permission to let go of her need to overcome her first failed marriage. In the end, there was nothing they could have done to surmount the grief and anguish, except to accept that just as surely as existence is always attended by non-existence, so joy attends that tension. The acceptance is not an act of the will or a decision of the intellect, but a relaxing into our proper, human position.

So if the final episode of The Leftovers was not able to perfectly bring about its own ending, then I say, I can’t really think of a more perfect ending.