Journal 2: from August 2001 to March 2002
Work in Connecticut as consultant continued from mid-July until late August. Then came the following journal entry on August 30th:
Well, I'm back on the road and am I ever glad. Right now it's about 11 AM, and I'm sitting the Express with the shades still down. If I get this done now, then I can borrow a phone line up at the park entrance to get an internet connection and send it out. The park is the Parc d'Oka and it is a beautiful park with beach on a lake just NW of Montreal where the Ottawa river meets the St. Lawrence. Beautiful and very Canadianly well run. The only jolt besides the cute French expressions is that most of the squirrels are jet black.
Going backwards, I got loose from New England finally last week when the search to buy a condo for Analee in Boston collapsed. With that I was able to quickly pull out of my job in Connecticut, and after a two-day visit with I. to Baltimore to take Ariel to her new college (MICA - Maryland Institute College of Art), I could say goodbye to Lee and Vern at the inn and head out to God's Blessing's in Vermont for last weekend. I spent one day last week at Wesleyan U in Connecticut trying to contact Joseph Rouse whose article "Beyond Epistemic Sovereignty" really impressed me. But no luck probably as school had not really recommenced. I was able to use my new letterhead stationery to leave a note in his departmental mailbox, however. It's nice - natural bond with the E. Express thing up top plus the tag line "On the road jousting with the Platonic tradition" followed by my website URL. And then on Monday I finally got to Montreal after the border guards scratched their heads for awhile and then one of them said that he had a friend studying epistemology and was excited about telling him about it. The last two days have been at McGill which I really liked. Among other things I saw a sweatshirt that said "Harvard - America's McGill."
I got excited when I remembered that Charles Taylor teaches at McGill (author of "Overcoming Epistemology" and other important and singular works). I couldn't reach him but I was able to chat briefly with the department head, Phil Buckley who was really nice and accommodating. After that I can't say that I had much luck. One other guy, Rod Nelson, in the soc dept studying sociology of knowledge and culture was somewhat helpful but generally rushed. The net result is that I made a few "contacts" but they weren't really that great; they each gave some information and sources that still could pan out. And then last night at the McGill bookstore I met a woman radical artist going for her doctorate in philosophy (Gadamer) which made for a more relaxed conversation for a couple of hours. I also tried U de Montreal but when it appeared that it was more a polytechnical and commercial school while the parking was tough, I gave up on it.
And now because this park will be full on Saturday, I have to decamp today and head north into the Laurentians to find an open campground to spend the weekend reading and writing and hiking. "Come Monday" I will head to Ottawa and Toronto.
One good thing is that I am trying to do some advance warning/invitations to people before I get there. I have a letter out to Stan Salthe, a retired professor in biology with interests in epistemology in Binghamton, NY. And I am trying to reach Jane Jacobs, the author of "Systems of Survival" and "The Nature of Economies" and a real independent thinker who lives in Toronto.
Once again the positive side of the trip is less in people that I have made firm connections with and more in my own accelerated growth. It's disappointing in a sense because it does lead to a certain isolated feeling, but it is a growth that I hadn't expected and that is fast enough to promise rewards down the road. Academics does seem like a closed world in many respects. Puncturing it with new ideas could very well require a stronger offense than just the getting to know you approach. As inspiration for independent, good thinkers I picked up another book by the Canadian author of "Voltaire's Bastards" called "The Unconscious Civilization." His name is John Ralston Saul and he is quite the maverick against corporatism and rationality-cum-groupthink.
On September 10 came this report under the caption "Express is cranking":
Wow, things are going well and fast. It's been an amazing week. I'm in Willoughby, Ohio now at the home of Doris, my sister Mary Meurisse's mother in law technically but basically friendly member of the extended family. It's Monday morning and I'm about to leave for Ann Arbor and U of M as she gets ready to her retired teachers' assoc. meeting.
But last week I got to visit Ottawa for my first time, made some interesting contacts at York U and U of Toronto, met some interesting contacts at Cornell and then spent all day Saturday with Stanley Salthe near Binghamton, NY, a retired prof of biology from Columbia and Brooklyn College. He is the first person who I have met by contacting him in advance and scheduling a meeting. The week has been so fast; I have made so many miles and stayed at 5 different campgrounds; I have learned so much and met so many different viewpoints that I am still in overload after arriving at Doris' 24 hours ago for R&R here (including getting to Willoughby's Frontiers Day parade yesterday).
Actually I should start with last weekend which I don't think made my last journal report. It was really nice to go up for 4 whole days and 5 nights camping in the small campground on the Riviere Rouge at the Camping de la Plage in the Laurentians with a bunch of Quebecers for the long Labor Day weekend which they do too. Saturday night was especially cool as they had a corn boiling/bonfire/karaoke party for everyone and I managed to sing myself hoarse with all the great songs and singing with various combinations of singers in the group. For English songs they had a choice of Shania Twain, Celine Deion or some old Frank Sinatra songs. But the French Canadian songs were hilarious, very country like.
The traffic was horrible on Monday as apparently it was the worst year they can remember because no Canadians can really afford to go to the States because of the bad exchange rate for the Canadian dollar for them. So, after the traffic jam cleared during the night, I left on Tuesday for Ottawa and Toronto. Ottawa is gorgeous. Besides being another city like D.C. that spans two sections of the country where it sits right across the river from Quebec, I hadn't realized that the site was determined because of a canal built after the War of 1812 as a defensive measure against the US to allow boats to go from Lake Ontario to Montreal without passing the common border on the St. Lawrence along the stretch that Canada shares with NY State.
Anyway, Wednesday was at York University which I was really taken with. There are a lot of great, renowned people there, and the grounds are great and relatively new (only founded in 1959), and the kids are a fresh Toronto-like, healthy multi-ethnic mixture. Anyway, I was excited because I finally found the latest book by Lorraine Code, probably the best known feminist epistemologist, and then met her on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it is that time of year where she had just arrived, had tons of meetings and catch up she needed to do, but she was very welcoming and interested in what I was doing. She was the only person I
met that day, but I have started leaving behind my new business cards when I miss someone rather than leaving nothing. You would definitely like the new ones. The front is simple with E. Express and my name and website and only the enigmatic but hopefully inviting little tag line "Knowledge--a biology of gift, love and separation." And on the back of the card I have a longer explication which reads:
"The Epistemology Express is a cross-continent odyssey interested in dialogue on--
Knowledge--keystone concept adrift--the social friction and the possibilities:
Probing the envelope of biological naturalization of knowledge,
Probing the metaphor of union as opposed to idea,
Promoting dialogue between social reformers & philosophers,
Embodiment–terms of satisfaction other than rational exchange,
Epistemics–use of rhetorical strategies to improve inter-field discourses,
Probing an epistemology/economics of objects-in-transition,
Exploring the spiritual avenue of the how vs. the what of knowing,
And generally excited about what’s beyond a moribund epistemology!"
What was also new for me and satisfying was that I left a thank you note at the office of a professor emeritus, John O'Neill whose book I had appreciated years ago. He wrote a book The Communicative Body essentially about the Merleau Ponty position in philosophy and it left an impression on me. One of the checks that I do at each school is review the books at the bookstore section of local authors. Having my new stationary makes it more pleasant for me to leave someone like that a note.
Next day at U of Toronto I only met one person, Cheryl Misak, of the philo dept who was startled by me but somehow enlivened it seemed although that too was all too quick. She had claimed that she worked in epistemology and American pragmatism. She gave me a copy of her new book from Routledge which was promoting the use of pragmatic type truth in politics and morals.
After stopping at Niagara Falls for my first time on Thursday afternoon, I spent all day Friday at Cornell. Huge, beautiful, above-the-lake campus. I had a nice 15 minute chat with Nicholas Sturgeon of the philo dept where I found out that a lot of the dept is "naturalistic" which means in their terms that their epistemologists are interested in using biological and psychological explanations of knowledge. His recommendation to me was to stop the many quick contacts and stop and
work with one person for an extended period. I agreed that that would be good if I could find the right person and if I weren't currently having so much fun/learning with my current program. Next I met two people over at Cornell's Human Ecology College which is the first dept of that type that I have seen even thought I had heard they existed (at U of Minn, e.g.). It was a very friendly place to be in. The students and the profs appeared to have a real easy excitement in the air there. It's primarily all the old groups of home economics, nutrition, child
raising, clothing, house design kinds of homey studies brought together under the aegis of ecology for humans. The associate dean (Kay R.?) was very helpful and enthused. And one prof, Steven Robertson, was interested, receptive but busy. The people at the school were more receptive and seemed less hectic than at some big city schools but it was my fault for only having about 5 hours to spend there since I needed to get down to Binghamton for my appointment on Saturday.
Stan Salthe is someone whom you would really like. First of all he is a Brooklynite, not too much older than you and comes from working class roots from a family of Norwegian fishermen. Salt of the earth personality but only interested in theoretical biology from the grand perspective that seemingly only the older profs have. We spent all day Saturday discussing my stuff, his stuff, connections, ways to put my epistemology into biological terms, etc. His wife, Barbara, either got us lunch, listened in or did her stuff around the yard and house. Generally even though he is headed in another direction of trying to
unify biology under a more unified form of science (he decries the lack of unity of the sciences today), he agreed or understood where I was heading with my various probes. It was exciting for me and a first to have someone knowledgeable be able to relate to my explorations of knowledge as a form of life beyond the physical boundaries of the organism. It was not until after Chinese take out dinner that night that I got away to finally turn west. But I can tell that I will probably stay in touch with him.
|Meeting Stan Salthe (l.), near Binghamton, NY|
But the speed has its drawbacks. Too much too quick. I find myself reading things very fast and trying to talk intelligently about them or absorb them and it is just too much. This is especially so when I am jumping from philosophy to anthropology to biology and so forth. But I am going to try and keep the pace up until I reach the West Coast because of the early winter in the Rockies threat. I am just going to try to meet fewer, more selected people along the way.
And oh, the Express is doing great. Even Cochise would be impressed how well she is running. I got new tires this summer. I have had no problems except one little lock breaking on my generator cover which started flapping and which I could fix. But cooking, keeping the refrigerator going, turning off all the switches and picking up all the things that could fall while I'm moving, getting it in and out of cities, campgrounds, etc. have all been working really well. Yesterday I got her washed in Doris' driveway to remove a serious coat of bugs. And now she's ready to roll, I believe.
A week later and 6 days after anger struck America (9/11) came this journal entry:
It's not quite the same mood that framed my travels and questing before. But as most of the energy rushes toward retribution and as my own mood ranges from fearful to unsettled, I am more into my own business of seeking reform through how we handle and conceive knowledge. I am at my friends Dick and Mary Carrigan from Notre Dame days in Chicago now on Monday morning as Mary and I listen to the news report of the opening of the stock market. As our world trundles on and as you guys are probably doing, so am I.
It's been a very slow week with a couple of really nice contacts interspersed. It started in Ann Arbor where I spent Monday and Tuesday and where I got the news Tuesday morning in a campground when Lee called from Connecticut. A bunch of us campers sat in the office and watched the transfixing news. I loved Ann Arbor but made no contacts there from my all too brief foray during a time when the school was closed.
Wednesday and Thursday I was in South Bend to visit my old alma mater at Notre Dame and as it turned out to get a plumbing leak fixed. That's a good place to have an RV problem since Indiana is covered with RV and trailer production places. Two of the people that are still at ND that I had wanted to see are away on sabbatical this year which was a disappointment but I did have a really nice, invigorating talk for an hour or more with Ted Warfield in the philo department. He also turned me onto an article in the journal Analysis called "The Extended Mind" that argues similar to me that the mind should be considered as extended into the external world where its calculations are mixed in with the processes of the physical world. The whole talk was refreshing and
By Thursday I was at the U of Chicago on the south side. There again I made no contacts but I was there only a few hours given my fast schedule and the somber, sluggish mood of the week. I did briefly meet Leon Kass who is one of my favorites because of his book The Hungry Soul and he was pleasant but obviously way pressed for time. At least I could thank him for his work. Later I found out that he has just been appointed to some commission of President Bush related to stem cell research.
And after that I have had fun reconnecting to many of my old ND undergrad buddies. I was with T. Figel and Nancy and high school kids in Evanston for two days; I was with McPartlin and Pat and kid and wife out on the west side on Saturday; and now I am back up on the north side getting ready to go over to Northwestern to try to meet Charles Taylor again (at McGill usually but spending a year/semester here). It's been fun to see all my old buddies and to see that they're doing well and have a bunch of great kids. Chicago is a cool town; it really has a good feel to it. Most of the "kids" are not kids of course but are grown, married, travelled, and/or parents.
|Reunion in Chicago with ND undergrad buddies Weyer, McPartlin, Gibbs, Sheila G. and me - 3 of us being ex-rugby team members and McPartlin my ex-roomate.|
Last Friday I went down to a luncheon that Tom Figel was giving for an informal group loosely associated with his public relations firm where besides getting to see more buddies I met a friend of his, Ron May, who has a philo background, who knows most of the people whom I was trying to see at U of Chicago and who now has his own tech newsletter. Well Ron gave me a nice little gruff check on what I was up to and that too gave me a boost.
And then yesterday I had an afternoon appointment with Don Marshall from UIC (U of I at Chicago). We had met in the spring at a symposium at Yale. He's in the English department. Anyway we went around the corner from UIC to Greektown, as he called it, and had a nice afternoon running our minds around between Plato, Rousseau and current events and trends.
It hasn't been great, but I'm feeling pretty strong. I still want to move fast to Madison today and to U of Minnesota and then quickly out to the West Coast which makes my contacting much too slipshod. I'm looking forward a lot to slowing down when I get to the West Coast and doing a big regrouping about my methods and goals. But for now it's time to keep on trucking despite the news and the new mood in the country.
On September 23rd came the following:
Ooh, too many miles driving and too much upsetness still with the dangers shaping up in our new world. And besides that I'm tired as it's 8:30 and I'm just getting settled in for the night after the fourth full day of driving to get here. But then my campsite here in Vancouver is really the marvel of RV living. There are high hedges between each RV. There is an indoor pool with upstairs deck. There is even a huge RV carwash machine that costs 1 dollar for three minutes. Can't wait to use it since I'm thickly covered with bugs that I don't want to ruin the finish on the remaining luster on the Express. And this place is not far from downtown Vancouver but in the Burnaby area and only minutes from Simon Fraser University. And the prices up here in Canada are a bunch of budgetary fresh air. I get a weekly deal on this place of $130 Canadian which is only about $75 US - way cheaper than most sites in the US.
The week was slow for epistemology but fast for the Express. Tuesday was at Madison, Wisconsin but I could not contact anyone. Yep, Dick, Madison is still beautiful. Of course it did help that I ran into something Dave's barbeque on the way into town which featured Georgia chopped pork sandwiches. Yum, yum. Madison too has grown beyond the small capital/university town.
Wednesday I was in Minneapolis to visit U of Minn. Helen Longino, another renown feminist epistemologist is there, but when I abruptly found her in her office I felt as if I was intruding and given that she seemed to feel that way too in addition to having no time to talk and leaving town the next day I missed out with her. But then she mentioned her colleague, Naomi Scheman, whom I had already planned to visit, and I called to try to arrange a meeting. She agreed to meet that afternoon and we ended up having one of my best meetings that I have had. Her
trip with epis. is also unique. Because of her interest in epistemology and especially in "socially constituted subject positions" she decided to try to apply it. Although still in the philo department, she applied to and got a position in the university administration where she is involved in all sorts of projects external to the university and where they are all involved in bringing crossing external concerns of knowledge with internal university concerns. She is also part of a
burgeoning movement in applied epistemology. Another professor friend of hers has used epistemological concerns to critique the various volunteer service plans that students do while in college as part of their credit. Apparently he found that students volunteer for some sort of AmeriCorps type work maybe in the inner city or somewhere but just go through it without really learning anything or without the needs of that external community's being injected into them or into the university.
She in turn got excited about the fact that I was so excited about epistemology ("on your own") and even lightly encouraged me to stay in the Twin Cities area to imbibe and work on some of the applied epistemology stuff. That was heartwarming.
And on my own directions she got them pretty quickly and was intrigued but was careful to ask me to work with my stuff about knowledge being an incorporation of the environment as a "narrative" rather than a literal interpretation. That was no great obstacle for me and generally the talk was a real boost in an otherwise dead week.
One thing I realize very much is that I have to both slow down my contacting and probably also change how I am going about this. I have been toying with new ideas and the one that titillates me the most is to slowly attempt to offer to give talks/"lectures" at the philo departments. Yep, you read right; and yep, I'm scared about it; but there's not much to lose and a lot to gain. We'll see. I'm into a slowing down/regrouping mood and am very much looking forward to it.
The trip across the country, even still gasping for normalcy, was gorgeous. I was enjoying Minnesota and the Dakotas until everything from central Montana onwards just became spectacular. I didn't do any interstates except for the middle two-thirds of Montana. That section of Idaho over the Lolo Pass was really beautiful except it had the odd intermingling of historical markers to Lewis & Clark plus early 1840's missionaries plus the war against the Nez Perce in 1877. At one point I thought about hanging out somewhere out in some forest to do my reflecting and regrouping and I picked some RV parks near the Univ of Idaho in Moscow and Wash State in Pullman which are less than 10 miles apart, but when I got there it wasn't what I wanted, so I kept coming.
The Canadians seem to be having a hard time with the aftermath of Terrible Tuesday as well as us. There's a big issue up about some anger at their Prime Minister Chretien because they think that he hasn't backed up the US enough. And there is an interesting discussion about how Canada profits from America's stance in the world without reaping the ire of the rest of the world as we do. And there seems to be an interesting mixture of support plus caution/criticism of how Bush is proceeding.
Oh, check this out. For $7 Canadian a week I get my own phone hookup plus a phone loaner. I can send this out tonight from the Express without carrying my laptop up to some office and undoing all their plugs to get my e-mail. I'm going to send this out now and then finish reading MacLean's magazine which is totally dedicated to the Terrorist Day for the first time that an issue has ever been about just one issue.
Yes, it's very nice to be back on the West Coast and I am looking forward to it. Vancouver skyline is really pretty and there was a San Francisco-like fog lightly rolling around it on an otherwise gorgeous sunny day while there are snow covered mountains visible to the East. The combination of realizing that my ideas were hatched out here on this coast and getting ready to slow down while planning to push in new directions has me lightly excited. That means that I am as excited as I can be while being lonely, as you warned, on this trip.
On October 17th:
It's been awhile which is probably because things feel bogged down. I'm in Olympia, Washington today and will probably head to Portland tomorrow. I have definitely been concentrating on writing and taking my
ideas to the next level as opposed to interviewing as usual. And the writing/reading/thinking stuff is definitely not what I want to write about or what you want to hear about.
I have been working on writing two short pieces that I could use for a pass-out in the hoped-for eventuality that I attempt to give a lecture somewhere. The first piece is tentatively called "Why Can't Context be
Considered part of the Extended Organism?" and the second piece turns my work from talking about knowledge as a richer living structure than truth flatly and universalistically conceived to talking about truth
reframed as healthy collectivities.
It's been a growth time and it's been a beautiful 3 and half weeks since reaching the West Coast. Basically 11 days apiece in Vancouver and Seattle. In Vancouver I had little luck at U of British Columbia or at
Simon Fraser U; in fact I had two disappointing attempts at contact. Nice but no connection and not worth dwelling on. Just before I left I went to a talk about truth at a meeting of a very active Philosophy Cafe
group in Vancouver (meeting was actually out at Ft. Langley). They got a big kick of the Express, of course, and my excitement at being around a group of people who were so hungry for some kind of philosophical
clarity surprised and touched me. I had a brief but very sympathetic contact with the two group leaders (Larry Green and Don Nelson (!, yep)). Larry recommended that I talk to a few other people, but I
failed to reach them before it was time for me to leave on a calendar that I had attached to by then.
I did have some wonderful moments in Vancouver, however. I got to 6 film showings of the Vancouver Film Festival which was really a good festival. There was a big Middle Eastern showing of films which were,
of course, very well attended. There were also two magic moments that I will never forget. One afternoon I was walking out of downtown across the Granville Street bridge across a yacht basin heading south as a
magnificent sunset set across the western tip of Vancouver and lit up all the mountains of North Vancouver pink purple. It was gorgeous not only because of the magnificent setting of mountains around Vancouver
and the water but also because the bridge is so high. But then I turned and looked behind me and there was a rainbow set into a partly cloudy sky with the moon rising within the rainbow. The whole thing was like
that for about 2 minutes while all the different colors kept changing as in a kaleidoscope. The other magic moment was quite different. As I was leaving the city to go to Seattle and as I was crossing the bridge
across the Fraser river, a new song by Leonard Cohen came on the radio. And it was great. I've been waiting for something new from him for a few years, and I've hardly heard any of his good new stuff on the radio
anywhere including his native Canada.
And then Seattle was wonderful. This is mainly because I got to see a bunch of friends in addition to liking the city. I mainly stayed with friends Susan and Cam who live in a great neighborhood just north of
downtown before getting to the U of Wash and overlooking both lakes Washington and Union. She and I have an interesting connection. Her aunt with whom she was very close was the roommate of my aunt Jeanne in
Albany for 47 years. She and I are also about the same age and were both in the Peace Corps in West Africa. And then she and Cam and I have a lot in common besides that; so, it was fun to hang out with them.
He's a doctor, has had a men's group for years, has a cruising sailboat; and they have both done a lot of traveling. The last day that I was there we brought his sailboat from Seattle harbor at Elliott's Bay
around through the locks and through the lakes down to the southern portion of Lake Washington for the winter. And of course I also got to see your brother Jon which was great but which was for only one evening
since he was leaving town.
And then I spent three days out on Vashon Island with my friend Bill who I know because he dated Indichka for a couple of years. He's a puppet and animation artist who's got this great, on-the-water cottage
overlooking Calvos Passage, the western portion of Puget Sound that continues past Seattle to Tacoma and Olympia. He actually looks like me as well as has an oddly similar personality. That always makes for
doubly gregarious fun. And while with him with the Express parked right down on the water I had my Seattle magic moment. One late morning in a light drizzle I thought that I saw a kayaker heading along the coast
(the Passage is about three quarters of a mile to a mile wide there) but when I looked again there were about 4 of them which I realized were moving and were in fact whales. They were magnificent. The air blasts
were so strong that they came booming echo-like over to the shore. They were so big that they seemed to take forever to slowly make the plunge forward just like the movement of dolphins but much more huge and slow.
There were at least 15 or so with about 8 of them coming up in a row in unison at one point. One of them did a half breach so that I could see the white trademark signs of the orca and people on a nearby boat did
cheers. Very cool.
When I think about it, my contacting was 100% success in Seattle. This is because I only tried to contact one person, Ken Clatterbaugh, the head of the philo department at U of Washington and that turned out
really well. We met once and then I came back for a second talk a few days later. He is into modern and social philosophy which includes the activist stances that include Marxism. He also had a subspecialty in
issues of Masculinity. It turned out that he had corresponded quite a bit with Robert Bly (disagreeing with him) and has a book out called "Contemporary Perspectives in Masculinity." We converged quite a bit.
At one point he said that he could understand an individual's beliefs as a "living system." That seemed like a strong endorsement of the living character of knowledge. He said that this conception is not uncommon in
the subdiscipline of moral psychology. He listened well and understood all that I had to say and even seemed to agree with the merits of what I had to say in distinction to some other points of the view that we
disparaged together. That felt great. But then the feeling of endorsement never got translated into actual endorsement. That felt a little hollow. But he was encouraging.
Also, while I was at his office waiting to see him the first time, something really funny happened. A young graduate was sitting in line with me and tried to guess why I was waiting to see Ken. He thought
that I was a visiting prof, a potential applicant to grad school, a speaker, a friend, a business associate, Ken's psychologist, his architect, and on an on for about 20 minutes with the receptionist
occasionally helping or laughing. At one point I encouraged him to take the easier route and do eliminating questions like in 20 questions. Have you ever met him? No. Does it involve money? No. And so on.
But he never got it. It's both funny and a commentary on our lives if no one can be conceived as visiting a philosopher to talk about philosophy.
And now I'm at an Olympia campground. Yesterday I called a couple of profs at Evergreen State but didn't reach anyone, and today I am using to write rather than running around again. Evergreen State has the
extreme look of hemp and activism. It looked like it might be more interesting than my light blow-by managed to evoke especially with courses that were very specifically structured as a cross between theory
and practice, but in some ways it had a more extreme look of a university as a big undergraduate playpen. Impressions. So unfair.
|The odd trio at U of Oregon philo: me, Wang Jian Jiang and Shane Stroup, the bracing Montanan who could not ask often enough on the "meaning of Being" and who had to block out my "Just say No to Plato" for the picture.|
And on October 29th "along the Willamette":
Well, I'll see you pretty soon as I leave for Arcata, CA tomorrow morning. It's been a really nice week here in Eugene at the U of Oregon. I enjoyed Portland last week but I neither tried very hard nor
met anyone while there. I liked Portland State as a pleasant, downtown campus and Reed College had a feel of more tradition than Evergreen State probably because Reed is a much older school. But Reed was in
Fall Break while I was there and it was also not organized in the conventional departments like the big universities are.
For some reason I never realized that the central population focus of Oregon is along this Willamette River. Portland is more on the Willamette than the Columbia as the two come together. Salem, the
capital, is on it as are both U of Oregon and Oregon State at Eugene and Corvalis. Coming up from California I always noticed the Rogue River valley which is small by comparison as is the population along the
Eastern boundary at the Snake River. Sorry, but rivers really capture my imagination and I am presently in an RV park right on the Willamette in Eugene where there are big rapids all the way into the center of
town. It's beautiful, and I rode my bike every day along the river into the campus. And they also have striking fall foliage up here which is in its glory this week.
And the campus and the philo department were both to my liking. The U of O nickname is the Ducks, you probably know ("Once you go Quack, you never go back"), and it seems appropriate to the ecologically minded
place with its wet weather as it has been a lot this week.
It's been odd to me that this week of contacting people was so good even as I make plans, as I told you, to revamp my approach to how I go about this. My intention to print or self-publish or publish some articles or
a booklet collection of articles is pretty determined now. I have also realized that I can also begin to put up notices on departmental bulletin boards (not only philosophy but also anthropology, sociology,
humanities, poli. science, etc.) that I am in town and will be talking and selling/distributing articles at certain times and so forth.
Anyway, with these new plans and new confidence in mind I realized as soon as I arrived here that Mark Johnson, whom I believe you know from his books on the bodily basis of knowledge and metaphors - some of them co-written with George Lakoff, was in the department. Last week I first ran into Scott Pratt whom I had met briefly this summer at the SAAP conference in Burlington. It was funny when he saw me in the hall since
he recognized me but couldn't remember from where. When I gave him the hint of "Burlington," he smiled and said "Oh yeah, Epistemology Express." I had a nice talk with him which was more relaxed than my
usual interview because we had already met at the conference. As someone heavily influenced by William James and John Dewey, he found it very easy to understand and provisionally accept my thesis that
everything that we know in the world is part of our extended body. His surprising retort was that "to what upshot?" I kept trying to explain quickly how it would change communications and psychology tremendously
but he wasn't convinced in the time period we informally had. The direction that he and a number of philosophers have turned to is to embrace doing philosophy out in the community. Apparently a new growth
industry for philosophy is in bioethics where hospitals are hiring philosophers on staff to help doctors and administrators deal with all the new problems in ethics and medicine. His own applied project (I
believe that he and others don't really like the term "applied") is working with race relations and presumably the many places where stereotyping can occur. The theme that I began with him was to ask him
why he and other philosophers didn't want to work on how their own philosophical tradition is a possible constricting structure for the rest of society. Basically what I remember from him was a shrug to the
effect that this would be too large of an undertaking. He also reminded that teaching and this new applied work takes up more than all of his time. But he definitely supported me in my efforts and even added that
he wished that there were more independent voices like mine attempting to enrich the discussion.
I wasn't able to talk to Mark Johnson until after the weekend because he was directing a philosophy conference held here this weekend called Keeping the Tradition Vital. It was enjoyable and learning for me but
unfortunately not quite vital enough for my expectations. The first speaker was John Lachs of Vanderbilt, who had invited me earlier to Vanderbilt last summer and who is quite popular precisely because he is
so impassioned about philosophy. He made a speech that excoriated philosophy as it is now practiced as a departmental system with a knowledge factory image of what a university should be. But he also
made this pitch that philosophy might not only work from the tradition that it has but also should go into this "applied" direction. Afterwards we had a nice but short talk where I asked him why, if he
were looking for philosophical vitality, he didn't direct efforts to reform the tradition itself--question the whole thing. He seemed to not invalidate the idea so much as think that it is either too difficult or
over the heads of graduate students to have the cosmological picture opened up as up for grabs. We had to sort of agree to disagree as I reminded him that in this case this would have to be a goal, however
impossible the dream, for people like me to attack. Oh, he also liked the idea that I was thinking about starting to attempt to give lectures and talks.
Right after the conference Mark Johnson invited me to attend the final dinner banquet on Saturday night which was fun. I also gave John Lachs two presents. I had asked him earlier whether since he grew up in
Montreal he knew the music of Leonard Cohen. He said that yes, he knew Leonard but not his music since he went to school with Leonard but that he didn't like him since he remembered him as "prepossessing." I took
this to mean that he thought Leonard was too full of himself but I didn't press the question. In any case I gave him a Cohen CD of his latest best of songs which I thought he might like despite the problem
when they were kids. He seemed happy to get it. And then I offered him my paper on incorporation epistemology with the stipulation that he neither had to take the "present" nor read it. Even though earlier he
had said that his problem in life, other than justifying the philo. department to university reviewers, was time, he willingly took the paper and said that he would give me feedback. We'll see.
After the banquet two teachers I met there came out to the Express for late night tea. The two of them were funny and got a big kick of the Express. One of them, Wang, is from the People's Republic and has just
come over here to do research on aesthetics, and he really got a kick of this example of these crazy Americans. The other, Shane, teaches religious studies and Asian religious stuff but is more of a Montana
Heideggerian cowboy with a devilish and incessant love of possibilities under the blue sun and from the annoying question of 'What is Being?'.
And then this morning I met with Mark Johnson for over an hour. I must tell you that he has a new book out called Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought which is co-authored
with George Lakoff again. When I asked him about my weekend theme of the role of attacking those Western traditions, he downplayed a little the possibility of really changing those foundations in laughing. His
main thrust in his book is that cognitive science is already showing that most of knowing is handled by unconscious structures including sensorimotor systems that are all laden with their own basic level
metaphors such as containment or trajectories of moving from point A to B. When I asked him about my simplified and more radical thesis that we should in fact consider the world as we know it to be part of our
extended body, he readily saw the opening there and some of the advantages. He also was encouraging. I decided to test out some of my new plans. He nodded affirmatively that I should attempt to give talks,
lectures or colloquia/seminar type presentations. He also not unwillingly took a copy of my piece on incorporation epistemology (Epis Unleashed on the web). When I mentioned my plans to self-publish a book
quickly to be able to present my ideas in writing, he also cautioned that getting it published by a reputable publisher would get me a lot more acceptance in the academy than self-publishing. In any case it was
all invigorating and encouraging. And probably because all three of the people I spoke with were people whom I had at least met somewhere before (Mark just in the course of the conference), these meetings were all
more comfortable than my usual slightly invasive drop-in interviews.
That's the scoop in Eugene. Next stop is Humboldt State which is as much a stop to see my nephew Nathan as it is to see the school but maybe it will be surprising. I just finished laundry while typing this
and now I will heat up some fried rice and vegetarian pot stickers and broccoli and cheese and rice in the microwave for dinner. Life seems okay - when you don't think about the world news too long.
Since early November I have been back in the Bay Area where I will remain for several months to see friends and to prepare a series of writings for the next phase of the E. Express. Luckily for me my friends, God's Blessing and Margaret have given me a housesitting possibility in Marin County where I am busily writing and preparing the spring foray.
|Back in California: at Harbin Hot Springs (below) and at Barbara's in San Geronimo Valley in Marin (left).|
To continue, go to Journal 3