Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We've got to go someplace, find something...

I'm reading You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, the first book I have read since graduate school, I think. It is a work of fiction about two 27 year old guys on a maniacal mission to give away $32,000 around the world in a week for some reason unbeknownst to the reader. It makes me tired, Eggers creatively manic prose. I yawn; I am manic no more. I read the energy with detachment as the boys bop and jump from one continent to another working out their ghosts.

I threw out a pair of pants yesterday because I had worn them out and didn't need them anymore. I rolled them up and folded them into the trashcan. I had been waiting for a while to finish them out. I bought three new sweaters, merino wool sweaters to replace my wool sweater ridden with moth holes (also retired into the trashcan), good for wearing outside and keeping warm in the rain and packing into rucksacks. But I have hung up my rucksack.

Do we outgrow adventure? Tell me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Assumption of Historical Existence

The genealogy of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke have as their goal the proof of a claim, that is, that Jesus of Nazareth is the historically anticipated Messiah. Because they are addressing two distinct audiences, the methods they employ differ. While Matthew relies on a lineage which shows Jesus’ connection to the throne of David, Luke uses such historical means to arrive at an ahistorical point of origin.

However, the question remains: in a postmodern age, can we trust sources which claim to be able to tell us where we came from, and who came before us? Can the same historically-based methodology used by the writers of Matthew and Luke to prove historical existence be applied in a paradigmatic sphere of postmodern skepticism?

To illustrate this difficulty with the certainty of historical existence, I propose to contrast the historical accounts of the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew and Luke with a modern day genealogy. To do this I consider my own family origins, but more specifically, the ontological character of my grandfather (my father’s father), who died before I was born. Such an investigation might even be inspired by those who lay claims to great lineages, including one man in Great Britain who claims to have traced his ancestry all the way back to the first parents! While such a genealogy may in fact be verified and affirmed by historical evidence as being possible, the inability to verify the authenticity of such historical accounts makes ontological certitude subject to skepticism; the longer the lineage, the higher the susceptibility to the problem of regress. This individual was most likely not as concerned with securing absolute ontological certitude in his proposition of being a blood relative of Adam and Eve as he was with simply tracing the historical family “lines” back to their source. And so the metaphysical question from the aforementioned scenario remains: How do I prove that my grandfather, who died before I was born, maintained a historical existence on earth between the years 1920-1971?

To begin, we could say that logical inference might support the claim based on genealogy:

I (N) am born from my mother (M) and my father (F).

Then:

My father (F) was born from my grandmother (F^m) and my grandfather (F^f).

Represented schematically, it might look like this (similar to a truncated family tree):

N
/ \
M F
/ \ / \
M^m M^f F^m F^f

Thus, there is a direct lineage between myself and my grandfather. This relationship is bound both historically and genetically.

There also exists an antithesis, which may be stated as follows:

If F^f did not exist in historical past
Then:
I would not exist at present.
Therefore:
Because I exist
Then:
F^f existed.

While this overly-simplified Cartesian method of deductive reasoning appears to “prove” the historical existence of a family member, how would one approach the problem of proving the existence of an un-related historical figure such as, for instance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? In such a scenario it becomes clear that the presuppositions of existence rest on an empiricism that is not immediately identifiable by sense-experience. Consider the proposition:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. existed.

Because there is not a direct lineage from myself to Dr. King, I am unable to appeal to direct experiential logic to verify this proposition; this is something that must take place a posteriori, since it expresses an empirical fact which is unable to be known by reason alone. But I have adequate resources to give clues as to his existence, such as television recordings of his speeches, copies of letters written by him, and possibly access to second or first-hand accounts from people who knew him personally or who had a relative who did. While all these historical “artifacts” give clues into the existence of this man the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and virtually every United States citizen would affirm his existence as a leading civil rights activist and historical figure, there is no way in which I can empirically “prove” his existence without, as Thomas said, “putting my finger in his side.”

Although a complete epistemological investigation into the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth is beyond the scope of this paper, a general theory of knowledge is necessary. I have used Descartes’ rational-foundationalist approach to illustrate how one could “prove” the existence of a historical ancestor using the coupling of genealogical history and the Cartesian “I” as the foundational starting point for such an investigation. This method corresponds with Matthew’s genealogical account of the ancestral lineage of Jesus to Abraham, sans the Cartesian epistemological component. It relies on third-person accounts and historical evidence to support the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Christ, the rightful heir to the throne of David and the fulfillment of the messianic promise.

In Matthew’s account, such a proposition can be inferred logically by historical evidence; the same can be said of Luke’s. However, because Luke’s account seeks to prove Jesus’ divine, rather than historical, lineage, he extends his genealogy all the way to the first man, Adam, “son of God.” The question one must ask, then, is itself foundational: was Adam a real person?

[from the paper The Assumption of Historical Existence: Kierkegaard and Newman on Faith and the Traditio non Scripta. by Rob Marco. All rights reserved.]


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Journals of Yore, Pt. II

Last scrap of journal I could find for this Kerouacian trip out west with Misha...

Sun. 1/7/01

i try to get misha to go to mass with me. 'i don't have any nice clothes' he says. 'you don't need nice clothes to go to mass' i say. 'well, i'm agnostic anyway...' i stare uncomfortably at tacky christmas lights adorning the walls while the old priest cracks bad jokes. we roar out of town and head west towards silver city, only to find it isn't all that matt a. had made it out to be. we decide to forgo a night there and instead buy some groceries and head up rt. 15 towards the Gila wilderness. after getting up into the mountains, i feel like dean-incarnate zipping down switchback roads on momentum that twist like a snake and cause you to turn sharp every two seconds. a tourist greets us at the top...'we've got it better than those injuns, don't you think?' as he climbs in his ford f-350. i ponder the question...a night in the back of the truck in an empty parkinglot, we wake up with ice everywhere on the inside windows and roar out on a breakfast of evaporated milk and dried apricots, forgoing our plans at a 10,000ft. mountain climb. for some reason i develop a real hatred for the cliff dwellings and deny them a visit just to spite them. we even miss the wilderness hot springs, though that was a regret i mulled over for miles.

there was a time when there was nothing i would rather do than take a backpacking trip in such an exotic state, but i made amends with myself that such wilderness excursions were neither necessary nor a source of enjoyment. this is not the first time i've felt like this. the only difference is that i abandoned any lingering feelings of guilt over my domestication. my relationship with the wild has become personified in recent years, the more i think about it the more similarities it holds to any human relationship. we fall in love, we fall out of love, going our separate ways, yet being molded by the people that come in and out of our lives.

we stop off at a park cafe to get warm and plot our next course over a cup of joe. our waitress informs us that there was an explosion in T or C the night before; apparently someone backed into a propane tank and set of a series of explosions that rocked that dreary little town. to add to this, seven escape cons are roaming new mexico after a recent bust-out and there is a state-wide manhunt going on as we speak. we snub our butts and decide to head west, not wanting to stick around for a brewing storm.

we pick up a couple of hitchhikers on rt. 10 near the state line, deciding to take our chances that they aren't one of the Texas 7. turns out they were kind folk from minnesota, but they didn't have anything of worth to offer conversation wise and reminded me of the dime-a-dozen 20 something AT. we spent most of the ride in respectful silence. misha and i wonder where all the deans-and-sals are these days.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Journals of Yore

A Kerouacian trip out west with Misha...
Sat. 1/6/01

leaving santa fe, what a trip-to-be. packed bags and loaded truck, a hug to our pseudo ma margaret, and we drift out. a cup of coffee outside the plaza and a glance of underspoken guffaws exchange in response to our lattee-sipping brethren taos bound for skiing and resorting and other spoiled endeavors; a feeling of freer-than-thou confidence, naive maybe...what with my two dollar lumberjack jacket and ripped t-shirt and misha with nothing but his beard, saddlebag, and rugged looks. drop in on ernesto in his gallery and we silently sympathize with his having to deal with camera-clad tourists who innocently wander into the true-blue outskirts of genuine art adobes.

settle in on 25 through albuquerque and bounce in our seats with excitement at the site of ten thousand ft. contours scattered around our destination for the day. shot arrow-straight across flat plains with nothing but land and shacks to our right and left, with nothing but wild-west peaks ahead for our carrot.

roll into forlorn Truth or Consequences near dusk, after stopping at a local gas-station where the teenage attendants are smoking inside and a dusty old hobo is holding up a penthouse to the window, we wonder where we have really ended up. another mutual glance and dumbfounded guffaw at the storybook shack of a hostel we've pulled into, stray dogs and a faded blue dr. pepper machine make us feel right at home for the first night on the road. check in and settle for a cheap dinner of steak and potatoes and coffee at the hilltop cafe, plotting how to best capture the day tomorrow. it's easy for US to come and go with the hand we are dealt...some cash in the bank and no responsibilities, a car, and an affluent hometown. but i look at the sullen face of a teenage waitress in the back, the high-school gas station attendant, and wonder how the fuck you ever get OUT of a town like this. returning, the highlight of our accommodations are the hot springs to soak in and the end of the day. we are joined by an overweight middle aged man doing God-knows-what in a town like this, and a reefer-chomping hippie past his prime, whose stoner laugh makes me cringe. michael, our portly Australian proprietor, is our prime entertainment while we soak, spinning our ears off about the loves and responsibilities of the hot tubs. Misha has me rolling with his to-a-T impersonation...'Uyaeye drayne em'... and we turn in warm, but wake up shivering all night....