On William Blake and Your Own Face

At the same time that I was studying social media (for librarians) and therefore learning about face theory and discussing the ways identity is performative, on my own time I was also researching William Blake’s mythology. That coincidence provided one of those connections which I found helpful as a metaphor, and it has held up: I think William Blake’s idea of emanation is a good analogy for self-expression. Thinking of self-expression like the creation of a second, separate entity has been helpful to me, and maybe it will also be helpful to you.

Source: Adam Purcell at flic.kr/p/tLtDHU.

Source: Adam Purcell at flic.kr/p/tLtDHU.

Let’s begin with face theory: in sociology, face refers to the particular way a person expresses themselves in a specific context. Face refers to the actions you choose, the things you say, and the postures and facial expressions you adopt; it can be thought of as a mask that changes according to audience and to the type of social interaction underway. People work to maintain their face and they feel emotional investment in their face, so that they become distressed when they lose it.

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Collection as Identity

While I work on a post about self-expression, face theory, and William Blake’s mythopoesis, I’d like to share another of the posts I wrote for my library class blog. It was (by my standards, anyway) more of a stub, but I’m hoping you can make some connections on your own. The themes it covers will relate to the themes in the Blake post, but not explicitly. Again, I’m hoping you can tie them together yourself.


Identity as Collection; Collection as Identity

A photo I took of a bookshelf in the home where I grew up.

A photo I took of a bookshelf in the home where I grew up.
CC 4.0 BY-SA

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Sacred Ideas Are Those You Know Are Wrong

What does it mean for a thing to be sacred?

Stonehenge Sunrise Mid-Summer

Source: Stonehenge Stone Circle at flic.kr/p/nWfuev

At Fred Clark’s blog slacktivist (the motto of which is, “Test everything: hold on to what is good”), there has been an argument over the definition of the words holy and sacred. In “If nothing is sacred, then everything is for sale,” the first of the three posts over which this argument so far stretches, Clark discusses Lawrence M. Krauss’s article in The New Yorker, which argues among other things that science is fundamentally atheistic because it holds no ideas as sacred; Clark disagrees, on the grounds that Krauss’s use of the word sacred is incorrect.

Here is an excerpt that shows Krauss’s use of the word:

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise.

Here is an excerpt from Clark, showing his understanding of the word:

And “sacred” does not mean that something “is beyond question.” It means that something is beyond price.

[…]

Sacred means more than that. It means we’re talking about something that cannot be bought and sold — something for which the very idea of price would be obscene.

To say that nothing is “sacred,” then, is to say that everything is for sale. This is not just a deeply cynical thing to say about the world, but a bitterly cynical thing to say about oneself.

Clark goes on to argue that science’s process relies on this sense of the sacred, on the fact that scientists are unwilling to sell their integrity. It is an interesting and clever argument, but almost certainly a flawed one.

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Worrying About Armchair Philosophy

Lately I have been wondering whether I ought to have ideas or opinions at all.

Source: Ashley Van Haeften at flic.kr/p/qHdSBt.

Source: Ashley Van Haeften at flic.kr/p/qHdSBt.

In the winter and early spring of this year, I was reading excerpts from existentialist philosophy—works like Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity. The experience was illuminating, or perhaps the opposite: I had managed to convince myself that I knew something about Continental philosophy, and as I was reading that whole edifice has come crashing down. I was chastened. I realized I had not only been ignorant, I had also been flatly incorrect about, for instance, Sartre’s views on morality. There is a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect in which people who aren’t good at a task tend to believe they are good at it while people who are good at a task tend to believe that they aren’t good at it. I learned that this cognitive bias is true by learning I had been victim to it. I thought I knew philosophy exactly because I did not.

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What is Religion?

What is religion?

Source: Paul Arps at https://flic.kr/p/cVStDq

Source: Paul Arps at https://flic.kr/p/cVStDq

This is a notoriously difficult question to answer, for a lot of reasons. For one, designating something a religion currently has political implications (it can be a dismissal or critique, or can be taken that way) and even legal ones, as John Oliver recently made clear. For another, the history of that category is fraught. The idea of a religion arose in Europe, where numerous conditions allowed religion to become a specific, identifiable category: the clear lines between Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy; the near-universal emphasis in Christianity of allegiance to a single God; and the increasing divisions between church and state and between local customs and religious orthodoxy (citation admittedly needed). Anthropologists have tried to apply that label to different contexts, where practitioners might participate in multiple traditions, where there is no central religious orthodoxy to distinguish between local practices, or where there is no difference between religion and government. Add to this various popular ideas about religion—that it necessarily involves a god or gods, that it necessarily involves the supernatural, that it necessarily involves authority structures—and it becomes hard to come up with a definition that satisfies all of our purposes. However, there are some approaches which I’d like to explore.

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