Journal 1: from January to July 2001
The trip so far has been better and worse than expected, faster and slower than expected and so surprisingly on. It took 6 months from conception of the trip in July of 2000 to get started. Part of this delay is from my consulting job in Essex, Connecticut which takes 2 months out of every four. And part of the initial delay was because the pieces of the new lifestyle puzzle took awhile to work out. In any case the 19' Coachmen class B motor home refrigerator, two beds (1 up top), gas heater, two-burner stove, toilet, shower, generator, microwave, etc. was purchased in September, 2000 in Ft. Lauderdale. I wanted a smaller RV to be able to park in cities near campuses more easily despite the restricted living space. Fitting it out with bookshelves and extra storage (using the tub/shower) and all the accoutrements took more time. Moving out of the house in Tallahassee and changing my lifestyle with cell phone, insurance, selling car and so forth took more time.
Just after purchase in October 2000 in yard in Tallahassee (47,000 miles on odometer)
The first interview under the reach-out plan of the Epistemology Express was at Florida State with John Kelsay of the theology department. It was enjoyable and very helpful. In December I made the following entry of a more sobering encounter (all entries were e-mails made to friend Dick in Oakland):
And today I paid a little visit on a local epistemologist, Jack Lyons, over at FSU during his office hours. It was sobering which is what I needed now because I was flying a little too high anyway. I can't say that it was a bad meeting in that we talked somewhat productively for about 20 minutes. He couldn't however think of anyone doing anything similar to my work which was not unexpected, but he didn't entirely reject it or fail to see the parallels with a lot of other work going on today. His main difficulty seemed to be a difficulty appreciating how one could situate the subject as agent in an extended body. In other words if Jack's loving Jill is a composite body of Jack and Jill then how is (from Jack's side of the equation) Jack's loving Jill composite body loving Jill? When I inquired about how he might construe a subject without an object to define it, he had difficulty ("I'm not an Eastern philosopher."). When asked what would make his life better, he replied "Having a permanent job." When asked why, he said "So that I wouldn't worry." I asked if "not worrying" was not a subject as body regulating itself rather than a subject defined by objects, and he paused without our really being able to pick it up from there.
What was amazing to me was that at first he could drone on about this boring stuff (I had just heard him rehashing textbook stuff with a student before I went in) in a way that sort of depressed me. This is partly because I have the phrase of one FSU philosophy doctoral student ringing in my head (before Jack himself came here) "They're (the philo profs) are all dead." But what was impressive is that when I switched the subject to my stuff, he changed gears completely after 2 or 3 exchanges and started methodically probing my arguments. He wasn't exactly enlivened but he could apply the same detailed, methodical probing to new material.
In early January I finally got away and went to U of Florida for just two days:
I am sitting here in my warm but cramped, little RV drinking a cup of Tahitian vanilla tea while my heater is running to keep up with the freezing weather outside and while Kitaro is playing on the CD player. I didn't cook tonight but had a gyro down near the U. of Florida campus earlier this afternoon and then had a bowl of cereal here in the van. Last night I did cook and had spaghetti with a salad of tomato and avocado. My "kitchen" is tiny but I was able to get it done by constantly moving things one way or another including onto the couch/bed. Now I'm typing this on the tiny, wobbly table that sits between the couch/bed and the sink/stove. Life seems pretty good.
But today at the campus went pretty well. I only had two conversations, but they were both nice and helpful. The day got started late as I had trouble finding a non-chain breakfast restaurant. I finally found what somebody recommended to me as a very good non-chain restaurant but which turned out to be the 43rd Street Cafe (on 16th Street) which was suspiciously indicating that there were now at least 2 of them, but I was too starved at that point to card them.
Anyway, I talked to a woman, Marilyn Holly, in the philo department who specializes in "environmental philosophy" and American Indian philosophy. She looked fun to talk to and was. And she had a done a year's residency at the Jung Institute in Zurich just a year after James Hillman was disbarred from being the head of the Institute. Unfortunately this time right now is what she termed the little tidal wave of the beginning of the semester for the faculty which is somewhat less hectic than the big tidal wave of the beginning of the fall semester. We both had stories and anecdotes to tell each other and she was very encouraging with my trip. On a directly helpful level she reminded me of the phrases "situated knowledge" and "positional knowledge" which I had heard from feminist epistemological studies but have not integrated to my concept of knowing from within a body of knowledge.
I've got an appointment tomorrow with Robert Baum, a more traditional epistemologist in the department. The next guy I talked to was a Ben Bolker who is in the field of theoretical ecology. He was also in the semester beginning rush but took about 10 minutes for a quick and somewhat helpful conversation. He gave me a couple of other names and introduced me to the concept of "extended phenotype" which is apparently a way that genes can be considered to specify external conditions necessary to an organism. He admitted, however, that he was more traditional as an ecologist and generally looked for emergent properties to explain ecologies from given species characteristics rather than looking for more radical approaches to escape reductive tendencies in a subject that is inherently more holistic than reductive.
In any case between those conversations and a few runs to libraries and bookstores before and after my first day on the job of doing the epis express not only went better than I expected (no rejections, for example) but also got me very stimulated and propelled right back into it.
Meanwhile I just found an unopened e-mail from my friend Keith which offered these alternative names for the Epis Express:
"- Samsaric Shuttle an endless round of non-novel sameness as in ‘Kali Yuga’, which loca many say that we are presently in.
"- Ouroboric Slithercraft (literally and profoundly ‘chasing one’s tail’) cf. Plotinus, Leibniz, Huxley, Wilber, Tarnas, et al.
"- Epistemology Express (your first take) which begs the question ‘How is it that that which you think, or believe to be known, is known?’ Via touring campuses?!
"- Burning Man Bus Tour (I’m surprised you don’t attend same at Black Rock, Nevada, annually over Labor Day.) Ken Kesey’s bus tour efforts in the 1960s were cute, but surely one thinks, we’ve come far since? Nonetheless, the descriptor ‘Burning Man’ does seem in a real sense to characterize the prevalent Jake - as we all know and love it - persona. During a particularly phrenic period I experienced in the 1980s a recurring refrain I hummed was from ‘Doctor, Doctor, Can’t You see I’m Burning, Burning?’ q.v. The Thompson Twins. Make of that what you will.
"- Route 666 Redux (obvious reference to the Route 66 TV series of the 1960s, but with the added significance of 666 as per Revelations q.v.). Slouching beastward?
"- Ontological Mystery Tour (more of the same, as in Mondo Cane Metaphysics). And here it seems that we’ve come full circle (cf. Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence) – the stubborn question does remain though – to what end? Et tu Charles Kurault?
The only drag is that I am worn out and ready for some reading and bed. The tea is gone. I think that I will slide out to the bathroom here at the campground to brush my teeth (I didn't load up my water tank or hook up their water to my intake since it's supposed to freeze again tonight), put away this table, lock my laptop in the safe, pull out the bed and call it a day.
After a month of work back in Connecticut there is another stop.
The Express is rolling again. I've been on the road again for 7 days and it has been very good. And, I now have the van decked out with the new signs that really make it the Epistemology Express which makes the whole experience a lot cooler than just an undecorated RV. Of course most people ignore it, but then when it catches someone's eye as on the edge of their comprehension of what the hell is epistemology, it's fun. It looks great and I'll have a picture up on the website soon. In fact I just bought a small digital camera this afternoon so that I can easily document the trip.
But the epistemology itself. I've been here in Athens, GA for 7 days now parked out in front of my nephew Jesse's apartment just a few blocks from the UGA campus (oldest state college since it was founded just after Georgia statehood which was one of the first states to ratify the big C). He's a senior, playing lots of music and basically having fun being a slacker while taking the last fun courses. The only drawback to staying here is that his parking lot is on a hill and I was rolling off the bed until I turned the van around so that I roll against the wall now.
It's surprising to realize that I only talked to 6 profs during the week since I was averaging two a day after not getting a start until Tuesday (because of weather and because of not having picked my target interviewees off the internet yet). I spoke to most of the people that I really wanted to talk to which is in itself an impossible but necessary guessing task. Of the people whom I caught in their offices only one (a 7th) didn't warm to my approach. He was a guy in primate
cognition in the psych dept who answered no to a bunch of my questions to the point where I said that "I guess that we don't have much to talk to each other about." With this he smiled for the first time and I left.
But I did talk to 4 people in the philo dept, 1 in anthropology and 1 in ecology. They were all helpful in some way and were intrigued or supportive to some degree (2 were very supportive; 1 saying that there was a gap in epistemology that needed to be filled and the other saying that she wanted to be doing the same thing as I was doing in a van so that she didn't have to spend all her time defending her grant status to critics who wanted to misshape it anyway).
Let me give some particulars.
Richard Winfield - Hegel and epistemology, etc., read part of his book on The Just Economy before meeting him. His point in econ is that either a scientific view of economics or a psychologically driven economy (we all chase greed, e.g.) is a human-independent view of economics that does not allow for human value to enter into any economic equation. In person the discussion turned to a semi-debate on the role of third-person epistemology (we know about something else over there) versus a second-person epistemology (I know that you ... and you know that I...). A student had been waiting to see him so I suggested that I
cut it short but he seemed ready to have me come back another time which I never managed to do.
Clark Wolf - philo of politics, mind and a few other things. Jesse had had him in his freshman year and really liked him. He was young and very animated. He also was very enthusiastic about epistemology and the general direction that I was going, but he did start suggesting some works including Goldman's book on the social role in epistemology that is quite new. He also liked the epistemology department at the U of Arizona; so, he was glad that I had just read Lehrer's book who is also at U of A. When he had to go to a lecture, he suggested that I come with him to a talk by a supposedly famous Indian environmentalist. I've
wanted to get back with him too but haven't had time.
Randolph Clark - philo of free will, philo of mind. I have wanted to talk to someone to see how much complexity ideas and computer progress had affected the free will question. We laid out our positions (me for using lightly coupled sensory-action circuits as a way to build up the hypothetical going backwards and forwards in bifurcation zones and he for considering traditional conditions) without making any common ground. But he gave me some clues about externalism which I didn't know much about and need to.
Beth Preston - epistemology, philosophy of mind and of psychology - she liked what I was doing, got it immediately and when I asked why the feminist epistemology project and other reform directions had not arrived in full flower or been popularized, she suggested that I should do it. With her we agreed so much that we were caught without an axe to grind so the conversation got stalled in agreement. She did have one book suggestion, however, that is very striking. It is called "Being There" by Andy Clark (1999 from MIT). He makes very strong arguments for embodied knowledge, and I am really enjoying it.
Virginia Nazarea - anthropology in a department that is styled as "Ecological Anthropology" - I had heard of a book by her a few weeks ago called "Ethnoecology: Situated Knowledge/Located Lives" when I took off for a few afternoons from work to visit Yale (work was slow, I only found 2 people, Robert Adams the head of the dept, in his office and his secretary let me introduce myself as he was walking out to a meeting; so the encounter was useless and David Graeber of the anthropology department/cultural theory speciality who got all excited at my epistemological project but who was in conference with someone else at the time). Anyway Virginia was delightful. She got enthused about my project and told me about a few people she had known at UC Santa Cruz whom she thought I should talk to. Her work more catalogs how different cultural groups think differently (e.g. about the environment - preservation, aesthetics, exploitation, etc.) especially about plants. What was funny about her is that she got really enthused about my lifestyle because she is very frustrated with continually doing grant defense to people in USAID and the idea of doing her work while being "unbound" was intoxicating to her. I ran into her later and she got excited to know if the Express was parked outside.
Ron Pulliam - theoretical ecology at UGA's famous ecology dept - he suggested lunch when I first introduced myself. He's in the middle of a book on niche construction; so, he was intrigued to compare notes which is where we got to. He did suggest that I talk to two other people including the director emeritus, Eugene Odum, in the dept which I haven't followed up on yet. He is at a point in his career he said where he can talk more freely without worrying about the politics such as tenure, but we both realized that his work on niche construction is very constrained when it comes to pulling out implications such as epistemological stuff. I was surprised to hear that even though he had barely started his book, he was getting pressure from the university press. Naively, I thought that academic writers wrote from supply and not from demand.
That sums up the week in more detail that I planned. But you can get the flavor of how different people respond. I'll try to cut it shorter in the future. Even though I didn't find that colleague to jump in with and go to work together, I do feel totally invigorated from it. I'm bubbling with new insights and new audience interests. And I'm loaded with only two new books, but both of them are pullers rather than pile-making have-to-reads. And oh, I found this wonderful late '80's
book at the library on the Cognitive Economy which shows how all knowledge forms an economy of costs, benefits, capital and efficiencies. To learn and keep in memory has costs to be balanced against the benefits whereas memory functions like capital and reason can be formed from efficiency considerations.
What can I say? I"ve got to keep busy. I really want to get my website out of the basement; so, I'm taking off a few days and have come over to this state park (Ft. Yargo) between Athens and Atlanta to do some collecting and hopefully writing. I'm also rethinking my strategy for the trip. My inclination now is to slow the trip down and visit fewer places. Just meeting two people in a day can be a full day. There is the picking them out of a crowd of other profs in the school's website, some preparation work in maybe getting to know their work through a book, article or web posting, the search across campus for the office, the several returns to catch them in the office. And afterwards there
is the follow-up to check out references that they gave or reminded me of.
It's now Sunday evening. I have my laptop on the table in the Express. The heater is on as it's supposed to get very cold tonight. I have some fresh asparagus among other things to cook tonight. I'm plugged into the 30 Amp service here at the park; so, no battery worries. When I arrived here this afternoon a park ranger came over to me excitedly with "You must be either a philosopher or a preacher since you have epistemology on your van." I'm parked about 50 feet from a fairly large lake and there are only few other campers around at this time of year. An African CD collection is playing and things are pretty cozy. You are right in that the trip is a bit lonely but so far it hasn't been too bad. Of course it made it easier while hanging out with Jesse, his roommate Stephanie and other friends.
Two weeks later came the next journal entry:
It's been a whirlwind of a week and a productive one. It's Friday afternoon, and I'm sitting in a cafe in Durham, NC a few blocks from the Duke East (the older part) campus.
It's been four hectic days at 2 campuses - Duke and U of NC over at Chapel Hill which are about as far apart as Berkeley and SF except that there are many roads in which to get lost between them rather than just one bridge. Do you remember my friend Tom H.? He remembers you, even remembering your last name. Anyway, I managed to find him and his wife and 8-year old kid on the outskirts of Chapel Hill. The 3 of them left the Bay Area in 1993 to settle down in the South and then after an RV trip around the South to pick Chapel Hill. They then joined a housing co-op that was forming in the twin city of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, which is even more alternative than Chapel Hill. The housing co op is now completely built up and gorgeous. Zy Sifransky (sp?), the publisher of The Sun magazine lives in it for example. And last night I found a friend of O'than's (Jonathan's) and mine, Alan, who is retired from being a Republican campaign manager in Virginia politics to be in Duke Divinity School. Seeing both of them has been fun.
Anyway, the epistemological week. I talked to 2 people in the philo department at UNC, 1 in biology and 1 in sociology. At Duke I talked to 2 people in philo and 2 in biology. It is interesting to know that on both campuses there is a very noticeable touchiness and polarization around the issue of constructivism versus foundationalism or postmodernism versus traditionalism. Many of the people I talked to were wary of me because they perceived me as belonging to one camp or the other and they were interested in defining themselves on this issue. Apparently Duke was involved in producing or busting that scandal a few years back when two science profs managed to get published a fake article professing to analyze scientific practice from a postmodern perspective in Stanley Fish's magazine. The scientists are still laughing about that one.
The people whom I talked to who were only marginally helpful were: Judith Blau (UNC sociology), Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (UNC epistemology) Robert Podolsky (UNC zoology), Alex Rosenberg (Duke epistemology) and Stephen Nowicki (Duke evolution of behavior). But even among these guys Judith was very encouraging and she Robert and Stephen gave me quite a few contacts or suggested sources. And the other two, Alex and Geoffrey, still were helpful with suggestions even though they bowed out of interest due to a quickly perceived difference of style.
But I'd rather just tell you about the ones who were more noticeably helpful. First there was Bill Lycan from UNC philosophy of mind. Geoffrey had already said that I should talk to him since he knows everyone and everything about epistemology. Well, even though we only talked for maybe 20 minutes before he had to go to the dentist (with the memorable line that "I'd rather stay here and chat with you", the humor of which in comparison to the dentist I missed when he first said it), he followed me through a series of characterizations of the field and of my theory to either agree or add names and books of similar work. Most noticeable was when I characterized epistemology as a rotten field, with dwindling to non-existent foundations, which no one seems to notice and he assented that that was not too far off. When I asked him if anyone noticed this debacle at the heart of our foundations, he said "No, except for surprisingly lawyers." He said that he had recently been invited to a conference by lawyers about epistemology. Apparently there are a number of lawyers, who because of the debacle of expert witness testimony where one can purchase any expert to say anything, are very interested in and up on epistemology. And they're concerned. The feeling for me this week after that and after reading a particular article characterizing the epis situation equally dismally is that of coming onto a scene that is equivalent to finding a tree in the forest which is rotten at its base and hanging limply but still standing because the other trees won't let it fall. It's eerie. Everyone goes about the business in academics of using truth and chasing truth, while the truth tree is a rotten shambles that can't even fall over from inertia. Some epistemologists don't talk about justification any more but just worry about giving other people "epistemic advice." The rest are involved in cognitive psychology while maintaining that epistemology must add some normative values to an otherwise merely descriptive enterprise.
And yesterday afternoon I met Daniel McShea of Duke zoology and evolution. He was great. He was really fun to talk to for about an hour. He got everything quickly and almost always had a name for me to talk to somewhere in the country. A couple of them sound really interesting. A lot of the people we both knew and had similar hits on. A couple of people in the area had already told me that I should talk to him before I met him and seemed to respect him a lot. He had spent a year or so at the Santa Fe Institute and mentioned the name of someone there who is interested in an I-Thou perspective as well as the conventional talking-about perspective. He was the closest that I've gotten to feeling as if his suggestions for contacts would be people that I would really have something in common with. He had lots.
And then today I talked to a guy in Duke philo of mind named Guven Guzeldere (with 2 umlauts over the u's) that was really fun and confirming. He has a graduate student who is much older and who is working on organism-environment coupling and whom he really wants me to meet.
Basically I've had another watershed turn this week. I seemed to have succeeded in making myself understandable to and understood by epistemologically trained philosophers so that I am now losing interest in epis per se. And I have kind of set up a 3 way goal at this time. I would like to argue that truth is a concept-myth that is injurious to society; I would like to argue that there is a great need for a kind of interactive social knowledge in a second- and first-person kind of living knowledge way; and I would like to argue that I can somehow operationalize my thesis of incorporation epistemology in behavioral-interactionist terms of chemical and perceptual loops. The first of these I am already very strongly cognizant of. The second is categorically a difficulty for academics to study except in areas like conversational analysis or in some of the feminist situated knowledge areas, and it is also a strong point for me since my work is formed from 1st and 2nd person interactions. But basically I've realized that is time for me to work on the biological side of the formulation again. And so, I'm back interested in behavioral and artificial-intelligence arguments for embedding. And I've started working on the dualism aspects of agency. So far most of the behavioral stuff seems framed from kind of central model of the agent or organism managing to carry out certain actions and reactions. It builds up complications rather than reducing them (how gulls distinguish shell colors, range and evolution of behaviors, etc.). But in the '90's and late '90's particularly there seem to be some more sources that take the embedding of the knower and coupling of the environment seriously. I have to get into that literature more seriously now.
And it's good that I have a task since this phase of the Epis Express is basically over for a short while unfortunately. I have agreed to be back at work in Connecticut next Wednesday the 7th. And I'm going to drive the Express up there I've decided. They think that they will need me for most of the next 5 or 6 weeks. Hopefully, I'll be able to absorb this material and get myself ready for another round by the time that the work there is over.
What I've realized that this trip so far has just been an incredibly fast learning trip. I'm not sure what the factors are. Having 6 new faculty advisors a week of my own choosing while testing out my latest formulations of a theory that keeps pulling me forward and while having extremely good library resources on hand is probably very good basis to keep the thinking going. Today I'm worn out, but I'm sure that I'll be raring to go again in a few days or weeks of absorbing and getting primed again.
|In March at the Captain Stannard House in Westbrook, CT where I live with Lee and Vern while working for Balfour-Beatty (thanks, Mark (Hitchin) for the photo)|
In early came the following journal report:
Well, I've gotten back to the business of the Express, but it's been a week of mixed results. I had two good days at Yale last Friday and Saturday and then I've been puttering around Boston for the last week. I made one good contact at a conference at Yale who was one of the panel members for the conference about the humanities in the world today and in light of Yale's 300th anniversary. He's from U of Illinois at Chicago and has invited me to participate in Chicago's Humanities festival this November which I mention to give a flavor of emerging possibilities rather than something that I might do.
Harvard and MIT on Wednesday and Thursday were mostly a few contacts who seemed interesting but who were in a terrible hurry. Yesterday, Friday, I went out to Wellesley which seemed from the internet descriptions to have one of the more interesting philosophy departments around. I met two people out there who were wonderfully interested in the problems I'm addressing and they had time and plenty of intelligence to discuss them. In fact they laughed about their Harvard and MIT friends who didn't have any time because of all the demands of their jobs.
I think that you saw that my website got an immense improvement as of last weekend when my friend Mary in Washington took it on herself to redo it. Unfortunately I don't like completely the more playful direction that she gave it. So, I've got the task now of learning another web software program (FrontPage as I was using NetObjects Fusion) as well as rewriting it to get it in a respectable state. I say this because the state of my website influences how well my contacts with live people go. I would rather start doing advance e-mail introductions and meeting requests in order to give them a better chance to prepare and get an idea of who I am beyond the person knocking on the door. But this is hampered by the weak website. And improving it is hampered by my not really getting a handle on web design. And then I need to spend more time reading and writing rather than just dropping in on folks. And so on.
Even if the contacting was a bit discouraging this week there are other developments that keep the project seeming promising. First, Marilyn at U of F has been consistently helpful and prodding along lines that are very helpful. She got me to try working on a more practical or applied side of a new epistemology. When I sketched in that portion that is now the "Practical Side" page of the website, she is pushing back with some other ideas and getting me to read a book by John Dewey, Reconstruction of Philosophy. I've always liked the American Pragmatists including Dewey, but have never been able to make an exact fit. In this book from 75 years ago he is very strongly and cogently making a case that reconstruction in philosophy is both drastically needed and very possible by turning moral intelligence to specific situations so that moral philosophy doesn't just get caught in global categories of goodness, meaning and tradition.
I could go on about specific tips from the week, or about what ideas I am entertaining to turn the Express into a collaborative project, or about ideas to start trying combinations of debate and improvisational theater to reward other ways of knowing other than the same old talking heads stuff. Mainly I need to work hard to improve my website because that is the best outlet and image for my contacting and networking goals. The day after tomorrow I have to be back at work in CT for a week or so before I can do any more epistemologizing. Tomorrow I will meet with my old friend Alan, the science writer from MIT, who has always been a big help.
It's been fun to show the Express off to friends here in Boston and to see everyone. I've seen all the old friends except that I haven't seen C primarily because of her choice at this point. Yet, as fun as it is to see everyone, I kind of feel pulled in two directions because I am thinking about the business of epistemology and don't really have time to get back into our lives together except briefly. It makes me feel more caught in my own mental ambitions than ever.
That's the story. I'm over at my friend I's and Ariel's right now in Brookline. Ariel (Snoopy) has to finish her homework to make sure that she graduates while I'm working on my website. Spring has come this week to Boston in bits and fits - a little sun and a lot of cold; I even slept in the Express last Sunday night while it snowed. I just have to get my own E Express spring going now.
Oh, I had dinner last Wednesday night with my sister Analee and her "boyfriend" Michael. He has been pushing me to contact his old friend who does documentary and personal movies to try to turn the Express into a film adventure. When I demurred that it was still just getting started, he said that for a film documentary it was more important to begin early so that the film could capture the curve of development of the whole trip. Who knows where this is going?
|Parked in front of the Yale gym (!, yes, gym - very Gothic there even at the court) in May, 2001.|
The next journal entry is from June 2nd:
The big news for me is that I did a major revision of the website and another shift in focus. That took longer to do than expected plus I have been working in Connecticut until two weeks ago. And then since I finished the web changes last Friday I have not had a good week of returning to interviewing during this last week of the shortened Memorial Day holiday until a great interview yesterday.
But I can tell you the major shift which is that I have dedicated the major portion of it to something I'm calling the "Knowledge Project" and which is meant to focus general attention on the concept and usage of knowledge. The primary tension that I would like to set up is between philosophical conceptions and social implications of how knowledge is used. It's a large undertaking that will no doubt take some time to develop, but it seems like fertile ground and it offers me the chance to pose the issue of how knowledge is understood and used without immediately trying to answer the question as I have done in my own work. It also offers the possibility of bringing together a lot of disparate threads in a very spread out arena in a way that should help foster dialogue. We'll see. Meanwhile I am feeling good enough about this provisional level of the website to use it more quickly as an introduction when meeting or attempting to meet someone. Having it behind me when I give out my card is encouraging me to try to set up appointments in advance or to leave my card behind when I stop by on someone and they are out. Also, I have gotten new business cards to go with this new look E Express. The new one has only the "Just say no to Plato" up top while underneath the main The Epistemology Express line there is the new phrase "On the road with a new and social-critique-inspired look at the old question--What is knowledge? -- a part of the Knowledge Project."
That's been exciting to get going. Meanwhile I went back to interviewing around the Boston area last week only to not be able to find anyone in their offices. Between commencement stuff and end of school year moves, I couldn't find anyone at Harvard, MIT, BU or Tufts. And then yesterday I met a guy, Steven Caton, in the Harvard social anthropology department that was right up my alley in background. Unfortunately he had little time as he was packing to return to Yemen, but he got enthused and spared an hour. Besides cultural studies (I have only tried to contact anthropologists occasionally and only if they are interested in culture theory) he was at UC Santa Cruz in the eighties and early nineties and had taken a personal and professional interest in the men's movement. He mainly knew about the Bly wing of the movement and had been fascinated by culture in the making just as anthropology was repudiating the heavy culture differences influence of the post Ruth Benedict years. But apparently he could never take his interest the next step into a men's group or more vulnerable setting because of the fear of conflict with his professional interest. Anyway, he was able to grok how someone like me could go from the men's movement to epistemology. He saw it in fact as my trying to set a new field that he called "critical epistemology." As you can tell it was very confirming for me which is what I needed after a dry stretch.
Also I took some new steps in bravery that might or might not pay off. I wrote introductory e-mails to two of my favorite people who are in the Boston area. One of them is Evelyn Fox Keller who wrote "Reflections on Gender and Science" in the mid-eighties and who is now in the Science, Technology and Society program at MIT. The other is Robert Kegan the author of "In Over Our Heads" a book about how relationship demands in management practice, child-raising and couples counseling exceed the culture's explicit accounts of these demands. He is at the Harvard School of Education. Evelyn wrote back but is unfortunately on leave this year. And I haven't heard back from him even though when I had stopped by his office earlier in the week and talked to his secretary, she had put my name down on a very long list of requests to see him. Even if I see neither, it made me glad that I am feeling ready to reach out and try to make contact with people who I really admire and think that I have a lot in common with.
Next week I plan to spend at Amherst, Dartmouth and maybe Brown doing contacting. I am reading a very exciting book "Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy" by Willard and continually want to improve the website now, but I need to do more contacting in the near future. The good news is that apparently the schools aren't completely emptied out in the summer.
And it's been fun hanging around with friends in Boston. Right now I am in Newton at my friend Jack (the Roofer's) house (and Priscilla's and Molly in high school and Lily, 12, who plays frisbee golf with me) and tonight will be at Bianca's in Brookline (with her 5 year old son, Jesse). Most often I have been staying at Funny Face's and Stuart's in Arlington (with 4 year old, Mason). And I have even seen C a couple of times which were really nice. We went once on a camping trip in the Express up to Vermont that was great and she even liked the crowded (and smelly, she claims) Express. Funny Face claims that it is the optimal way for me to spend my time, shuttling my house around between various friends, but I think she's exaggerating. It's very nice, but even I after a time feel like the proverbial smelly laundry in the house and then reproach myself for playing too much and not getting my work done enough.
The other thing that I am doing that takes time is that I am helping my sister, Analee, find a condo to purchase. She works more than full time, is a first time buyer and does not have a car; so, having me to help makes it the opportune time for her. That is keeping me around New England as well, but if I finish my epistemologizing, I will go ahead and leave and fly back later to help her move in when she finds a place later.
My plans now are to do New England next week, possibly go to Montreal the week after, go back to CT for 2 weeks of work and then head out to New York state and Toronto in early July. But then I still might not get away that early.
That's it. I'm feeling good about the whole trip as it takes yet another turn in defining itself. But now that I have raised the bar from wanting to meet a few like minds to wanting to generate some buzz and interest in reform epistemology, I still haven't found that kind of acceptance and interest. Only time will tell, but I am still excited.
Home, messy home and ugh, that color!
June went slowly when a brief foray to the schools around Amherst/Northampton, Mass revealed that many people had left for the summer and when I realized that I was still not able to arrange meetings in advance from leaving messages.
The next journal entry is from July 11th from the SAAP conference:
There's not a lot of time to send a long note since I want to get back up to the conference. But since my rule of thumb that I made with you is to drop a note every time I make a good connection, I should be sending you several at once.
This group, the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, is interesting. It definitely has the American pragmatists - Dewey, Peirce and William James - at its heart, but it collects strands of a few other traditions - American Indians, feminists and African-American thinkers among others - under its umbrella as well. Of course there was and is general amusement that the Express is parked out in front of the conference hall. And there is a sense that they have a club where their own discourse is the universe. And part of that universe is a sense of preserving an important tradition. I guess also that this Pragmatist is regaining popularity again since postmodernism is seen to be swimming downhill in its own vaporousness. But then they have individually been very open and helpful to me. There is one woman from Penn State who is doing work very similar to mine in what she calls transactional bodies in a book called Living Across and Through Skins.
Actually, I have just borrowed a copy and want to get back to reading it. The sessions are also going on right now and I would like to get back to them (I have a sneaky plan to go to the back of the room and half read and half listen). Oh, Burlington is really pretty up in small mountains on the side of Lake Champlain and the building where we are meeting is a really gorgeous old building with ornate, arched ceilings with the requisite gargoyles around.
Five days later came the conference summary journal entry:
Whooaa. It's been an intense week for me at the conference. Where to begin? At the end. I managed to get not only all kinds of encouragement and fascination with my project but also invitations to visit two universities. Yeah, they were asking me to come visit them now. Okay, the invitations were a bit off-hand but still - invitations to the Express! They were to Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State (Stillwater). And both of these had positive details. The guy who invited me to come to Vanderbilt is a heavy, John Lachs. He's on the "central committee" of the American Philosophical Association which is the big bad, now century old, mother of all 10,000 or so American academic philosophers. And the other guy from Oklahoma State, John Shook, wants me to if I come do an hour "spiel" for their graduate students who are tired of seminars from the same old faculty and need "fresh meat." Of course neither of these came on Department letterhead and both of them seemed proud of "their" grad students and therefore wished some kind of interesting experience for these needy minds as in the aforementioned "fresh meat." But still.
Anyway, it was very flattering for the upstart Express. But a lot more happened. Some background. This group, the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, is a splinter group from the APA above. Although John Dewey and the other Pragmatists such as William James, Charles Peirce and George Herbert Meade are their main staple, they include other strains such as American Indian ideas, Emerson/Thoreau, and a handful of other odd American figures such as Jane Addams. The conference is held in Burlington because it is the birthplace of John Dewey as well as where he is buried. I had not realized how radically the American Pragmatists had ceased to be popular. So, this group was aware of its marginal status within a philosophical wave that just does
Continental philosophy or Analytic philosophy (logical extraction of new truths). But they are not marginal enough to be a little taken aback that a van labelled Epistemology Express with various other odd words including the "Just say no to Plato" was parked out in front of the conference hall. "What is the Epistemology Express?" was heard several times. And of course it was nice that they got my name tag just right with Jake P. Keenan under the U of Vermont symbol and then under it all not any University of business but just "Epistemology Express." Too funny.
But let me give some specific connections that I made within this group of about 60 people that helps show this movement from outsiderness to acceptance. By the way there must have been about 10 graduate students among the 60 as well as one other non-academic like myself. He was someone from a library in Chicago who was a refusnik from philosophy graduate school. It seemed as if I did noticeably better with the professors especially the older ones which is more my own age group now. The younger professors in their 20s and 30s seemed less ready to risk their status by talking to someone like me other than in a curious and polite way.
There was a professor from Boston U, Victor Kastenbaum, I believe, who was very interested, intense in his devotion to heart of philosophy and wanted to send me his newest book when it came out. There was a prof from U of Dayton, Marilyn Fischer, with whom I had several talks, some long and who was really helpful and encouraging. There was a prof from the U. of Sevilla, Ramon Aguilera, with whom I spent a lot of interesting time. In fact there was another guy from Texas A&M who was Puerto Rican by culture, Gregory Pappas, with whom I got a lot about the possibility of embodiment in philosophical circles beyond just the talking heads thing. I was beginning to think that I had little to share with the graduate students. Oh, the first night there was a plenary session where about five grad students gave a synopsis of their theses to receive feedback from the group. After some trepidation I gave a shorter synopsis of the Epistemology Express, not prepared beforehand, to just lay it out there that I would like criticism/feedback. It was too short at the end of an already long session, but it did feed into my confidence and ongoing dialogue.
Anyway, I ended up having an exhilarating long talk with one grad student. He was from Fordham and was doing his thesis on the development of a morality based on Alfred North Whitehead. I forgot to add his name to the list that is of interest in American philosophy. I didn't realize it but after he did his work in mathematics in England with B. Russell and all, he went to Harvard for the last 25 years of his life; so, he is slightly included in the American tradition. Well, this grad student, Brian Henning, and I ended up taking a bike ride up the shore of Lake Champlain (including the bike ferry ride - donation $1) on the afternoon that was open from having sessions. We ended up spending most of the afternoon contrasting Whitehead's system with my work, and he liked my direction so well that it was gave me that uneasy vertigo of not trusting myself. At one point in talking about my project rather than the work itself, he ended up saying that he was sure that he would see me "on 60 minutes or something like that."
There were others. There was one prof from Beloit College (Wisconsin) (David but forget his last name) who specializes in Gadamer but still likes the American philosophers and who started dreaming of using his sabbatical next year to take off in an RV of the Gadamer Express variety.
But besides the confirmations there was just a lot to learn. Surprising to myself I really enjoyed 2 sessions on Emerson and Thoreau despite all the good critique that the guy was slipping away from Walden to have his mother do his laundry and mending. One of Emerson's essays on illusions (can be found at www.jjnet.com/emerson/illusions.htm if you don't know it already) was particularly inspiring even though it is usually not my cup of tea for style but more like something that I would think that C would like. There was a well-liked session on Pragmatism and psychoanalysis by Vincent Colapietro of Penn State that I only caught a little of. Many things that I already liked came into new focus. The Deweyians really like transactions in the sense of social actors mutually informing each other and they speak of bodies across individuals so that a social self is a nice bridge beyond the American individual trap, but they are woefully stuck in the talking heads game and have little sense of how to actually live embodiedly.
Vermont and Burlington are just too cute and healthy. Burlington has a really cool downtown street without traffic where everybody hangs on just to hang out with each other. Impressive. I passed an intertribal pow wow, a big Sunday horse show and 50 or so vintage cars just out for the day driving around like bugs released by a warm day. Right now I am at the picnic table at my campsite at a place in southwestern VT called Camping on the Battenkill where there is a racing and ice-cold river to go jump in.
Much to think about for me from here on. I do have to go back to work tomorrow in Connecticut for just a week. They promise me, though, that it won't be too much more time that I am needed. On the good side I need to earn the extra $; interviewing for the summer is going slow; and I get to get in a good humor again by hanging out with Vern and Creeg aka Craig.
A big decision for me now that I have latched onto is whether to add a journal section to the website. It would be something like this but on the website. The impetus comes from wanting to do a more embodied journey as well as to pull people into the journey as well as the project. There are several fears mostly centered on the fear of not being taken seriously. I'm mulling it over.
Toward the end of the conference many of them were asking me and encouraging me to come back next year which was nice especially since to a few of them I had let it be known that I was having some difficulty coming to terms with the gap to belonging in their "club." But an odder note to me came as they were discussing plans for next year and whether they should continue to come to Burlington. As they discussed these future plans and of who and what should be discussed, I realized that a year is so far off in terms of what I am likely to be doing that it is inconceivable what I will be doing even with ideas in comparison to most of them to whom philosophy moves on in a steady rhythm of publications and ideas.
When I came into the campground here last night the couple running the place wanted to know what "epistemology" is. Even with the explanation she said something to the effect that I was just travelling around. I said that no, I was going around trying to "cause trouble in philosophy." And she replied "Well, good; somebody sure needs to."
Anyway, that's a sense of the news. It feels as if something shifted in me, but it remains to be seen just what or how. But I definitely got my contact's worth for the week.
|In Vermont, near Woodstock in July at Howard and Betsy's near Margaret and God's Blessing's.|
To continue, go to Journal 2