A Blog’s Limitations?

Speaking of form and the limitations necessary for art, writing about May’s book has made me very conscious of the limitations of a blog. In fact for a moment I almost, but not quite, missed the classroom where I could have a dialogue with students about a book rather than just “lecturing” to myself.

Having written the summary of the first two chapters of The Courage to Create, I resisted writing more summaries (as you could probably tell if you came back for several days in a row). Although I admire Philosophical Investigations’ attempts to discuss Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations online, I personally find it very difficult to discuss a long work in my blog. The first time I tried to discuss a philosophical book, I posted an entry but then later deleted because I couldn’t figure out how to finish it online.

I find that quite frustrating because novels, and other full-length works, have been just as influential in shaping who I am as poets or musical artists have been, and I would like to deal with them in this blog. Although they aren’t as easy to deal with as a poem or a song, they have sometimes been more influential in my life. Books like Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure have been pivotal in shaping my “world,” to use Rollo May’s term.

I’m convinced that the philosophy that has emerged from my interaction with the “real” world and the world of ideas that I encountered in literature have allowed me to cope with my experiences as effectively as possible and to avoid, though neither unscathed nor unchanged, the life-crippling despair and bitterness that many of my friends have experienced when they experienced similar situations.

One of many reasons I became a teacher after my experiences in Vietnam was the belief that the young soldiers I served with in Vietnam has not been prepared for the “world” they met in Vietnam. To the contrary, they came to the war with an idealistic view of America’s role in the world that was belied by most of our actions in Vietnam. These recruits came expecting to gloriously rescue the “good” South Vietnamese from the “evil” North Vietnamese. Instead, they encountered a peasantry that, at best, was indifferent to the Americans, and, at worst, was fighting at night to defeat us.

Many of these young soldiers reacted very differently to the war than I did, and I’m convinced that in many cases it was because I had a different background than they did. After four years of reading modern literature in college, I was more skeptical of America’s war aims. Books like Camus’ The Stranger and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead gave me a different expectation of war than the patriotic, distorted high-school history classes these young men had taken. They had been told about all the great ideas America stood for and about our noble deeds in the past. Unfortunately, the media and their teachers had ignored all the bad things we had also done, like our treatment of the American Indians or America’s questionable practices in South America

As ill-prepared as they were psychologically, little surprise many of them simply couldn’t come to terms with the reality of what was going on in Vietnam. They couldn’t reconcile their “world” with the “real world” of Vietnam.

I, on the other hand, suddenly understood Camus’ The Stranger, a novel that seemed incomprehensible when I encountered it in college five years earlier. Existentialism itself became clear. Kiekergard’s despair became my despair, but at least it didn’t come completely unexpectedly. I must admit, though, that sometimes even I was shocked to realize that just a few years earlier I had been sitting on a college campus reading poetry and watching all the beautiful young ladies walk by.

When I came back from Vietnam, I couldn’t believe the changes I had undergone. I was even half-thankful that I had gotten a “Dear Loren” letter before I left because I didn’t think the girl could possibly recognize me as the same person I was when I left, for I hardly recognized myself.

The point is that books have played an integral part in developing my philosophy. If I’m going to continue to blog and explore who I am online, I need to find a satisfactory way of dealing with long works so that I don’t bore the hell out of myself and anyone else who just might drop in to see what I have to say on a particular day.

If you have an opinion, drop me an email.

An International Community

Blogging has reawakened my interest in the internet.

After years of using the internet, I had begun to feel that it, like much of everything else in our society, had been taken over by commercial interests. While I enjoyed the convenience and savings of ordering software and hardware for my Macintosh from the net, I wasn’t willing to pay $40 a month for the convenience.

Even when I did find articles on the web, they were often useless, either little more than encyclopedia articles or written with an obvious bias.

Personally, I found it more and more difficult to find intellectually stimulating ideas on the web. Either I didn’t know how to find them, or I was unwilling to wade through the tons of pages looking for relevant material.

Since finding blogs several months ago, though, I have a renewed interest in the internet. First, as mentioned in an earlier blog, I found some great sources of articles on the web and I didn’t have to spend hours doing it. Some of those sites are found in my links section, but I still rely daily on wood s lot.

More recently, I found several personal, philosophical sites that are close to my own personal philosophy, yet with a different enough perspective that I use them to inspire and to help refine my own thinking, sites like Cloud 9 , The Obvious? and whiskey river. I’ve even enjoyed briefly exchanging emails with some of them, but more importantly than that, I feel like there is another community, an international one at that, that I am a part of and that inspires me to focus my ideas and put them down on the page.

This community may not offer the kind of feedback that a personal dialogue does, but, at its best, it reminds me of an international university where ideas are shared among colleagues.

Too Much Time on My Hands

When I tell people I’ve started writing a blog, I would like to think that their first question would be, "What’s the address of your blog?"

It’s not.

Few friends ever get around to that question. Inevitably their first question is, "What is a blog?" Strangely enough, as often as I have been asked that question, I still don’t have an answer. What’s worse, I’m not even sure why I produce one, much less why others do it.

All I really know is that when I’m not hiking I spend a lot of time on the web, and there are certain pages that I go to more often than not. Now, I still have my home page set to MacCentral, and I still start out by reading some news pages like the Seattle Times and the New York Times, but beyond those I have begun to spend more and more of my time on blogs.

Almost invariably I start out with wood s lot. Sometimes I end up spending the entire session following the links on his page. Now, I know virtually nothing personal about wood (and that doesn’t bother me at all), but I do know that his interests and mine must be remarkably similar, though certainly not identical – I have neither the time nor the desire to plow through some of those articles he refers to. I have discovered new interests, though, by following some of those strange links. I’m always amazed, and a little awed with the extent of his links and the kind of in-depth articles he can find on an internet that increasingly seems to be dominated by sheer fluff. And, hey, anyone who links to Leonard Cohen articles is just all right with me.

Strangely enough, the blog I read most often after wood s lot is the journal of a writing man, which is almost diametrically the opposite of wood s lot . It’s a personal log with nary a reference or link in it, though it occasionally includes a poem or a pleasant picture of the English countryside. Mostly, though, it is simply a statement of the personal moods of the oldgreypoet, little more than a nice, short visit with an interesting fellow in England. Maybe it fulfills my need for some social interaction on a day when I’m stuck inside talking to a machine, but, for whatever the reason, I find it a pleasant break in the day.

I have never really trusted definitions, and I have certainly never wanted to be "defined" by others, but I suspect that any definition of a blog would have to somehow find a means of including these two sites in its definition.