Sunday, 11 January 2009

A Terrible Beauty

Wow - finally finished this monster!! Despite obvious criticism that this book doesn't cover all the important people and ideas of the twentieth century I really enjoyed it - very well written and now I think at least I have some sort of overview!

Bookmarked a lot - in chronological order that I thought was relevant, so here it is *bitesize*!

Freud's psychological ideas direct influence on Andre Breton (1896-1966). During WW1 was an orderly at psychiatric centre - first encountered analysis of dreams - groundwork for surrealism, route to art. Surrealism owed more to what its practitioners thought Freud meant than to what he actually wrote as few French and Spanish surrealists could read the texts as only available in German. More mystical, metaphysical state, started with poets - typical! Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte.

The Divided Self - Ronald D Laing (1960) important not just for leading school of thought that mental illness represented a patient's private response to the environment but for attempting to align existential philosophy with Freudian psychology, important crossover 1948 to mid 60s. Gilbert Ryle Concept of Mind (1949) (student of Wittgenstein?) attacked traditional idea that theres a difference between mental and physical events - behaviourist view. Ludwig Wittgenstein - limits of language, do not need the concept of mind as separate. Burrhus F. Skinner Science and Human Behaviour - same gist.

Attack on Freud growing by late 50s. Treatments only 50% 'working' people 'cured'. Other analysis of Oedipus complex etc showing not true. We need REM sleep where we mostly dream is necessary for well-being, shouldn't wake up then. Dreams are naturally evanescent. Increasing Freud and Jung attacked for being unscientific. (Further reading: added bk to UAL bookbag).

Jacques Monrod - proteins and nucleic acids (all life is made from) spontaneously adopt 3d forms. (interesting).

Jacques Lacan - think I wrote about him already - intro to Psychoanalysis and art post.
First book Ecrits (1966) major revisions of Freudianism, including that there is no such thing as the ego. Leading on from Laing and Wittgenstein - attention to language, psychoanalysts job to listen to and question the language used (more/or less meaning to each person) of 'desire'. Unconscious is not a private region inside us but the underlying and unknown pattern of our relations with one another, mediated by language. His writings are obscure, difficult to read but the reader is supposed to get their own meanings. Lots of opposition - eccentric, confused etc

Michel Foucault - shared belief with Lacan and Laing that mental illness was a social construct. Societies control people by subverting classical order of political rule based on sovereignty and rights and replaced it with 'norms' of human behaviour. Believed there is no normal condition of nature. Liberal humanism is a sham, revealed itself as an instrument of class power and the socially privileged.

Jean Piaget - Swiss Psychologist. Structuralism (1971) Mental structures that exist midway between nervous system and conscious behaviour (wherever that might be). Partly inherited, partly achieved, like learning grammar - maybe. Very hard for English speaking Europe to understand!

In 60s Claude Levi-Strauss, not merely an anthropologist but as a philosopher, guru and his structuralist views embracing psychology, philosophy, literary criticism and architecture. He came up with the 'human sciences'. Jean-Paul Sartre and Ferdinand de Saussure - attacked by Levi-Strauss, subjective bias of existentialism, arguing that a philosophy based on personal experience 'can never tell us anything essential either about society or humanity.' Being an anthropologist, he also attacked the ethnocentric nature of much European thought, saying it was too culture-bound to be truly universal.

Backlash from Jacques Derrida in Tristes Tropiques attacked Levi-Strauss for making generalisations about primitive tribes, logical inconsistencies in arguments (Strauss saying no development/Derrida saying words seen as historically less reliable than speech, imprecisions and contradictions but lots of other decorations in the culture that could be seen as 'writing'). Derrida (same as Lacan, Foucault and Piaget) language is the most important mental construct, something that sets man apart from animals. Basic tool of thought and therefore essential to reason. Once we doubt language as an accurate representation, words mean both more and less than they appear to, either to the person producing them or someone hearing or reading them. The gap in meaning he labelled the differance and led on to deconstruction.

Deconstruction - Important to Post-modernism - people's words have unconscious elements, and also the words themselves have a history that is greater than any one person's experience of those words, and so anything anyone says is almost bound to mean more than that person means. (extended common sense!) but more controversial when he argues that the speaker has no authority over the words - everything is undecided, forever - depressing?!

Scepticism about language, related to knowledge and its links with power in the search for meaning structuralism and deconstruction are the kin of cultural studies as outlined by Raymond Williams, with Marx in the background. Together amounting to a criticism of both capitalist/materialist society and the forms of knowledge produced by the natural sciences.

Roland Barthes - Poststructuralist critic. Short books 1953 onwards that by 70s became prevailing orthodoxy in literary studies, some sense of equivalent to Raymond Williams at Cambridge. More to modern culture than met the eye - examining specific phenomena of contemporary culture. Hated bourgeoisie, his success in the analysis of signs and symbols of everyday modern life (Semiology, Semiotics- invented) turned him against the scientific stance of the Structuralists. Fortified by Lacan's ideas about the unconscious he was on the side of humanistic interpretation of literature, film and music. Most famous essay The Death of the Author (1968) - the intentions of an author do not matter in interpreting it, we have all read different thing previously therefore everyone will get subtly different meanings from it. An author cannot predict the meaning of his work for others. Liberating language.

More attacks on Freud
Jeffrey Masson - Against Therapy attacking Freud's work (1988). Ernest Gellner - The Psychoanalytic Movement (1985) - witty.

Sir Peter Medawar (1972) '[...Psychoanalysis is] one of the saddest and strangest of all landmakrs in the history of twentieth-century thought'.

Robert Wright (1998) - evolutionary thinking casts doubt over Freud's theories.

Judith Rich Harris (1998) The Nuture Assumption - parents have much less influence on their children than thought. What matters is the child's peer group.

Thomas Nagel - American philosopher (b. 1937 -) professor at New York University. Taking intuition seriously, objectivity and science is not a test of reality, just one way of understanding reality. The brain is more than neurons, no universal theory can explain it all. British equivalent Bernard Williams (1929-2003).

Should try and read this book I found at Tate B, although mixed reviews on Amazon - The Wayward Mind, History of the Unconscious.

Consciousness studies naturally overlap with neurological studies. Some people think that consciousness is an 'emergent property' that just happens when you put a bag of neurons together. John Searle - good example, water - the behaviour of the H2O molecules explains liquidity but the individual molecules are not liquid. Our understanding of consciousness is so rudimentary that we don't even know how to talk about it.

'Decade of the Brain' adopted by US Congress 1/01/90, brought about many innovations, meetings, fashionable - consciousness studies. First symposium about the science of consciousness - University of Arizona 1994, 1,000 delegates. New journals and articles:

Gerald Edelman - Biological theory of consciousness, Neural Darwinism.
Roger Penrose - Connections between fundamental physics and consciousness.
Daniel Dennett - How evolution can explain aspects of our brains, Neural Darwinism.
Colin McGinn - Human mind incapable of seeing itself entirely.
Francis Crick - The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994) Neurophilosophy.
David Chalmers - Dualist thinks the mind extends beyond the skull etc.

Basically four camps:

  • Consciousness cannot be explained in principle, for ever - Colin McGinn.
  • Consciousness cannot be explained now as science cannot account for qualia or first person experience - Thomas Nagel, Hilary Putnam.
  • Hard Reductionist - everything can be explained by science and AI is not far off, Daniel Dennett.
  • Soft Reductionist - Everything can eventually be explained by science but AI is nowhere near solving these things, John Searle.
  • Roger Penrose - Dualist, whole new set of physical laws applied inside the brain. Quantum physics - not proved anything :( - shame sounds good.

Latin America - Magic realism in writing (1960ish? not sure). Aims to describe the universal human condition in Latin American context in a way that could be understood internationally. Invented planets, changes in time within a sentence to show the shifting nature of time and experience etc Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, Miguel Angel Asturias and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

FILM - For the first 3 decades after WW2, most interesting creative work in film was not in Hollywood. Foreign films developing the role of the Director as Author.

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