Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Philosophy Goes Pop

Orson Welles

- Your life is stupid.
- It is.
- Why don't you do something about it?
- Like what?
- Change it.
- If I don't know how?
- Find out.
- I've been looking.
- Look in places you haven't looked.
- I was doing that last night. There's this outfit that calls itself the School Of Life, founded by the novelist Allain de Botton. Late night at the all night fast food restaurant I was watching some of the hundred or more videos they've made. De Botton says about his undertaking (I copied it out because I plan to write something about the school):

The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganize knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.

- How's the school doing?
- Many of their videos have been viewed almost a half a million times. A Reddit page in their name counts 6 million visits. One of the videos, "Pop and Philosophy", claims that philosophy is outdated, unpopular; it should be updated by making use of the techniques of pop music. Philosophy like pop music should be short, direct, charming, regularly repeating, collaborative, and should lead to a collective euphoria. Philosophy historically has been the opposite: long winded, requiring much mental processing to be understood, less charming than off-putting in its difficulty, individualistic, eccentric, and producing gloom more than happiness.
- And it goes without saying that the School of Life see themselves in their books and videos and courses as making philosophy more like pop music?
- They don't say so, but Yes.
- And have they succeeded?
- No. The way they bring pop to philosophy is to leave the philosophy as it is but add flashy animated images and a catchy sound track, keeping it all as short and uncomplicated as possible, practical and upbeat.
- And for you, what would be pop philosophy?
- It wouldn't be born by putting pop elements into a package with philosophy, but instead would incorporate pop element techniques in the philosophy itself.
- How?
- By the philosophy itself being a kind of music: ideas rhythmically lead one to the other, each remaining concise, direct, and charming, drawing in the audience to a euphoric participation.
- Reading over the stories you put me in sometimes I really get that pop music feeling of euphoria. Like when we were talking about torture and prostitution*. Torture and prostitution do two things: they force the tortured or prostituted's body into positions that are against its desire, and they force the tortured and prostituted into making a communication: the prostitute into a false declaration of desire for the customer and the tortured into communicating the information the torturer wants to have. The play and movement of ideas here really is a kind of music; so is the dialog form you use with its rhythmic alternating of speakers. The ideas seem to have a life of their own, to be able to continue without end to move and find new application, you feel confident in them and prepared for something good, ready for happiness and pop ecstasy. If I wanted you to make the test, you could, couldn't you, extend and develop the music of ideas behind prostitution and torture?
- Yes.
- Then go ahead.
- It's almost too easy. The School of Life defines pornography as portrayal of human beings exclusively sexually, depriving them of social qualities such as kindness, love, gentleness, good humor. Pornography's loss of meaning is something to be avoided, but in our times it is everywhere. The best that can be done about it is to lesson its harm. The school has accordingly posted on their site stories composed of pornographic still images together with a written back stories told with intelligence and sensitivity.
- And that improvement of pornography by addition didn't work any better than did philosophy combined with animated images and sound track?
- Far worse, actually.
- Why?
- Because narrative requires of you as audience that you lose yourself in the actions and feelings of the characters depicted. And pornography, intending only and achieving the arousal of your body, interrupts the process of identification.
- So then pornography cannot fit into any narrative at all?
- The filmmaker Orson Welles once made that claim. There is however one kind of narrative that can incorporate pornography.
- And that is?
- Ritual. In a ritual, you reenact the story of an old god dying and a new reborn. The change of feeling of the participant is part of is the goal, the very purpose of the narrative process.
- Forgive me for the saying but this is music to my ears, the ideas return and return. Torture and prostitution force a body against its desire into making a communication, pornography is desire kept from communicating anything, whereas desire in ritual can be entirely removed and replaced. Correct?
- Correct. If pornography is capable of telling a story it is only of the death of the pornographic object's desire and its rebirth in a form that makes its viewer feel more powerful.
- Which sounds a lot like a story of torturing and prostituting. So then tell me finally; why can't you stop living a stupid life, you with your pop philosophy that really is pop, while those guys at the School of Life are living the life of luxury raking in the cash?
- Short and concise, remember?
- Ok. A song for another time.
* Torture & Prostitution