Sunday, June 21, 2009


So my wife dragged me to a packed bookstore last night to see David Sedaris, who is mighty funny. As I was waiting for my wife to get her book signed (took exactly 2 hours because Sedaris likes to yuck it up), I roamed the bookstore. I read every title in the poetry section, the terribly paltry nature / garden section, Nebraska and Nebraska Press sections, University of Nebraska faculty section, and the philosophy section.

The philosophy titles interested me immensely--at first. There's a trend in relating philosophy to the masses via pop culture: chat rooms, dating websites, Battlestar Gallactica, philosophy for dummies. Some of the titles, which I can't remember, sounded too deep / mercurial for me. Then I starting thinking not deep, self involved. Then not self involved, just sorrowful. I felt pity for the authors. All that time invested in what really amounts to nothing--circular words and arguments based on smoke and mirrors. Is all writing ultimately like this?

I think philosophy and, in general, "philosophizing" is fun and interesting, but it creates a very, very small world indeed--one that is exclusionary of experience in my opinion. And in many ways, I've just finished 9 years of a life that was this, but maybe it set me up to not live anything like that kind of life ever again. But I cheered up a bit when I hit the title on the bookshelf that read "On Bullshit." A small, thin book, and based on my flipping through its pages, discusses dictionary definitions and real wold manifestations of BS.

And I realized that, being self effacing but not really self effacing in a self effacing way, it was BS, too.

So I bought a 50% off garden book which seems to hold far more philosophy in one page than all that other BS. Which made me sad. Is all language just a form of BS?

So I started thinking about starting my own business--making change purses. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there's just not that much money in them.


Victoria Summerley said...

I giggled at the punchline but I feel bound to defend philosophy as a discipline. I think the study of ideas encourages a kind of extra-sensory perception - a way of thinking about the world that is not so selfish and dependent on one's own experience.
I think it also helps people appreciate literature more too - I think it helps you appreciate everything more, to be honest - because you are more receptive to someone else's ideas and images and metaphors, and more likely to appreciate them for what they are, rather than how they relate to oneself.
Sorry, that probably sounds like a steaming heap of bullshit, but I feel quite passionately that philosophy is A Good Thing.

mr_subjunctive said...

Is all language just a form of BS?



(Nah, it's not. I'm totally bullshitting you.)



(Or am I?)

Pam said...

I've been thinking the same thing, but more related to all of this social media thing. It's a big thing, I know - but it's also big because everyone is trying to make it into something. It's like if you say something has an influence enough times, it will.

As for your doctoral program preparing you for a different kind of life, I just don't know. You get surprised sometimes, years down the road, when something you learned or experienced (is there a difference? Hmmm...) comes into play. Our programs were probably structured quite differently, but I know that all of the 'beating ones head against the wall' has greatly prepared me for doing just that. I'm more resilient now. So more able to tolerate bullshit. I don't know is that is a very good thing though. I don't think that is exactly what you meant though.

Oh, by the way, I have a copy of 'On Bullshit'. It was a gift from a scientist-friend during my first few years of a faculty position.

Fake Sigi said...

Since language, literature, and society are human constructs conjured out of thin air and/or a connection to our divine selves, no matter how hard you try, you'll never get away from the self referentialness of it all. And since language and consumerism are most at home when they meet, the question of what that means for the self is pretty dicey at times. The only thing you can do is look for a way out once you've been in a system for too long.

As for the authors, and knowing my own meaningless writing, I suspect much of their work wasn't for naught.

Pat said...

Amusing post. No philosoper here...I mean me !
Enjoyed your garden and garden art.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Victoria--Thanks for that. I know you aren't saying this, but I don't think philosophy is necessary for understanding or applying literature to our lives. Maybe it helps in some situations, but that's also part of the ivory tower problem. Perhaps a good problem. I'm just way way jaded by higher higher higher ed.
Mr.S--Sweeeeet. Nothing like having my chain yanked.
Pam--More resilient, yes, absolutely. Still get pissed when that wall doesn't come down no matter how much blood I've left on it, though. It should come down. Now. What's another word for resilience? Stamina? Bullheaded-ness? Giant bird to the "man?"
FS--Language conjured out of thin air? No. Don't take language too literally, none of us should. What is language? How is it? All questions I'm tired of trying to answer, though.
Patsi--Nice of you to stop by. I'll have more garden / art pics soon. Maybe even some philosophizing rudbeckia.

Unknown said...

I've started typing a few times now... and keep deleting my comments as I think, "Well, now, that is DEFINITELY BS!" lol.

I guess that what it comes down to, for me--whether you're talking about writing and books, or social media a la Pam, or art--is that I always seem to prefer the subtle approach. I simply want someone to make me "see" their garden, or the subject of their book, or whatever they are depicting on canvas, as they "see" it themselves through their eyes. If 10,000 people look at the same street scene, each of them is going to have a different impression of what is going on in it... and I guess I want to know what they're seeing, and how it differs from what my eyes reveal.

This is probably my innate stubbornness speaking, but I also do NOT want to be philosophized or preached to, or improved or instructed. At least not blatantly. If I pick out something that makes me a better person in some way... like I often do when reading blogs like yours that make me think, I am happy. And I often come back for more.

And if you're writing about what you see, and feel and remember... whether on your blog or in a book... well, language is nothing if not malleable, right? It can always be used to create bullshit, of course, but it can also be a versatile tool with which you paint a picture on the page. :)

Les said...

David Sedaris is indeed funny, my favorite of his was stuffed into my Christmas stocking one year, Holidays on Ice.

As a gardener you must know the value of bull shit, just don't apply when it is fresh.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Kim--I agree with you on all points! Espially abou my blog. :)
Les--What about it burning plants?

Pam said...

Giant bird to the 'man'...indeed! That's how I've felt these past few weeks...