Twenty Random Questions with Philosopher Extraordinaire Mark Kingwell.

Mark Kingwell was kind enough to agree to answer twenty random questions, posed by yours truly. If you aren’t familiar with the Professor, please check out his bio at the end of this post. I have an innocent and platonic fascination with his mind. He’s my Glenn Gould. Mark will get that, and so will those of you familiar with his books. If you haven’t read Kingwell’s work, I promise once you do you’ll be just as intrigued. As an aside, Mark will on my podcast La Literati on Jan. 12th. You can find the details at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/laliteraticarpelibrum We’re excited to speak with him. In the meantime, check out his insightful and humorous answers to total randomness.

1. If you were Alice, would you rather stay in Wonderland on the other side of the mirror, or come back to the real world to share your story?

Well, it’s a psychedelic trip, isn’t it? So I would come back, but I wouldn’t tell anybody about it. And I’d figure out a way to get back there at some point.

2. If you were going to write an article about yourself, what would the headline be?

“Everyone hates a sad professor.” (Yes, I stole that.)

3. If you were a drink, what would you be? Why?

That’s easy, because I once published a book about cocktails and I like to mix them for friends. So I’d say I am a dry gin martini, served straight up, with one of those big olives stuffed with a piece of blue cheese. Cold and clear, then some salt and pungency waiting for the right moment to show itself.

4. What childhood fear do you still have as an adult?

Failure. And since you ask, I’m still not too crazy about wasps. Also frozen hockey pucks to the face.

5. If you could choose just one thing to change about the world, what would it be?

No religious zealotry, thank you.

6. What’s your favorite poem?

John Donne, “The Ecstasy.”

7. Does darkness soothe you or frighten you?

Very soothing stuff, darkness. Except when it isn’t. You know, that noise that doesn’t immediately make sense…

8. If you ruled your own country, who would you get to write your national anthem?

Cole Porter. Or maybe Hal David.

9. What makes you nostalgic?

This will sound weird if you aren’t, like me, an air force brat: seeing any military airplane. They make me think of the bases where I grew up, the funny houses with the same floorplan no matter where you were in the country, the kids you knew for a few months before their fathers got posted somewhere else. Games of Post Office in somebody’s garage. Sandlot baseball. Soundtrack by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grand Funk Railroad, and Alice Cooper.

10. Clowns., creepy or cool?

You’re not seriously asking that, are you? Creepy of course. Creepy creepy creepy. Also, see Question 7. Bart Simpson had it right: “Can’t sleep. Clowns will eat me.”

11. Do you remember your dreams?

About once a week. They are usually extremely violent, David Cronenberg or Quentin Tarantino violent. I have no idea why.

12. What’s your favorite song?

That’s easy: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” any version, but maybe especially the Platters (1958) and Keith Jarrett (2009). I’m going to cheat and add that my favourite album of all time is Glenn Gould’s “A Consort of Musick Bye William Byrde And Orlando Gibbons” (1984); this just edges out Keith Jarrett’s sublime “Köln Concert” (1975) and “Armed Forces” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions (1979).

13. What’s your favorite season?

Autumn. Especially here in Ontario, where everything looks better when the leaves begin to change colour. Also: playoff baseball.

14. Does pressure motivate you?

Absolutely. The self-applied kind is the best, though.

15. To what extent do you shape your own destiny, and how much is down to fate?

I will quote Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise: “There is no fate but what we make.”

16. What published book do you secretly wish you had written?

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Also, The Republic.

17. Are you the paranoid type or calm, cool and collected?

I’m not paranoid, but I usually disguise my intense misanthropy under a facade of easygoing amiability. Does that answer the question? Maybe not… Might make sense of Question 11, though.

18. What would qualify as the afternoon of your dreams?

Well, there has to be sex with my sweetie in there somewhere, plus music, and art, and then cocktails at some point before dinner. Also a baseball game or a walk in the woods or some fly fishing. Hmm – I guess it matters whether I’m alone or not. Am I alone? Oh no…

19. Are you more like fire or the earth?

Can’t I be both? And also wind? I always wanted to play in the horn section on “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

20. Do you hear voices?

Just my own, incessant and various, about deadlines and ideas, quotations and turns of phrase, things to say and things I wish I’d said. Wouldn’t want it otherwise.

Bonus question:
What are you currently working on?

A new collection of essays about democracy and culture, to be published next year

About Mark kingwell:

Mark Kingwell is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine in New York. He is the author or co-author of seventeen books of political, cultural and aesthetic theory, including the bestsellers Better Living (1998), The World We Want (2000), Concrete Reveries (2008), and Glenn Gould (2009). His articles on politics, architecture and art have appeared in many academic journals, including the Journal of Philosophy and the Harvard Design Magazine, and in more than 40 mainstream publications, among them Harper’s, the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Utne Reader, BookForum, the Toronto Star, and Queen’s Quarterly; he is also a former columnist for Adbusters, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail.

Mr. Kingwell has lectured extensively in Canada, the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia on philosophical subjects and had held visiting posts at Cambridge University, the University of California at Berkeley, and at the City University of New York, where he was the Weissman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Humanities in 2002. Mr. Kingwell is the recipient of the Spitz Prize in political theory, National Magazine Awards for both essays and columns, the Outstanding Teaching Award and President’s Teaching Award at the University of Toronto, a research fellowship at the Jackman Humanities Institute, and in 2000 was awarded an honorary DFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design for contributions to theory and criticism. His most recent book is a collection of political essays, Unruly Voices (2012); he has also recently published two illustrated pamphlets, Frank’s Motel (2013) and Democracy’s Gift (2014).

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The Music in Me.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Victor Hugo

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”
Victor Hugo

Music is my safe haven and my sanity. Ergo, shameless plug time. I know. “Plug off.” “Go plug yourself” “Plug YOU.”
Now that we have that out of the way. If you’re so inclined, please check out my Soundcloud account.

 https://soundcloud.com/tosha-michelle-woody

Friedrich A Kittler: Essays: Literature Media and Systems: A Review by Tosha Michelle

Friedrich Kittler’s work describes a ‘post modern Tower of Babel’ which is paradoxically,
organized, or unleashed, by fractal theory which demonstrates that we, or society, do not
control technology but in fact technology totally controls and maneuvers us.

Kittler uses an iconic movement, or moment, from popular culture to define what he means
when he quotes Mick Jagger’s’ words: we can’t always get what we want but we get what we need. Meaning that the Frankenstein machine like monster that society has become gives us only what we need to exist.

Kittler is more or less saying that a fractal-army of techno-vampires has sucked the life
blood out of the human spirit and now that we, society, have been bitten there is no going
back: or undoing the processing of the fracturnally evolving system.

Kittler argues that the only problem that this Transylvanian system of  technology has in completing it conquering of the human spirit totally is in how this system is to hide from us, or what is left of us, the fact that we the subjects have lost, or are losing, our identity.

We might argue that Herbert Marcue’s One Dimensional Man: 1964: offered humankind the chance of more possibities against the unfreedom of technological systems.

It seems for Kittler, as for Michael Focault, an authentic opportunity for individuals to
escape for humankind from becoming zombified, cyborgs, or vampires who line dance before the throwns of the technological systems is not even a remote possibility. The classic popular cultural movie Night of the Living Dead gives us a vivid and nightmarish aesthetic look at the phenomena of today’s society but we might say that their is a mocking humor in the directors cut.

Perhaps then the block buster, The Matrix is closer to the reality or non-reality that Kittler is arguing. The government originally banned this film for one reason or another?

However, we might argue that the development of fractal philosophy, or fractal theory, has other potential, and possible, and more optimistic ways of taking humankind forward in the 21st Century. Medicine and treatment along side the mapping of genes for instance.

Antonio Gramci said pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will is the way forward and even though the Frankfurt School seemed full of doom in some of its arguments of objectivity it did offer that people were political and that a great refusal was also possible if we in society took a critical distance and a gave our self the chance to imagine alternatives from other perspectives.

Walter Benjamin’s work without doubt influenced Marshal Berman’s extraordinary book of
hope: All That Is Solid Melts into Air: 1983: which certainly challenges the arguments of the system and fractal totalities of Foucault and Kittler. We might argue then that Gramci’s optimism of the will is a spirited challenge arguing that people in society can change society.

Gramsci said that culture means the exercise of thought, the acquisition of general
ideas, and the habit of connecting causes and effects together. He argued that culture
means thinking well, whatever one thinks, and therefore acting well, in whatever one does:
optimism of the will once more.

When Gramsci wrote the words pessimism of the intellect optimism of the will he wrote it
from inside a prison cell and he wrote it as a message of hope for others. Gramsci argued that we must speak of a new struggle for a new culture which is intuitive to a new way of feeling and seeing reality.

Gramsci’s cultural words of optimism challenged the hegemony of totalities and the grip of
power that systems of totality have on society. Gramsci argued that hegemony was active in all realms of culture and social organization Gramsci’s optimism of the will can be seen as a direct argument against Kittler’s argument that the human spirit is no more.

Gramsci argued that a development of the will, or freedom of the will, was not beyond the individual to achieve.

Stewart Hall’s understanding of political activism, alongside academic theory, as an
essential way forward is hopeful also. For example, the Popular Cultural movement of the
Punk Rock phenomena of the 70s and 80s demonstrated how politics and aesthetics are fundamentally linked together by the relationship between performer and audience. The performer is not beyond the reach of the the person in audience just as those who dwell in the academic ivory tower also have to get their hands dirty.

Kittler offers no hope to a society of free will through popular culture, and just as Foucault does, Kittler turns each and every possibility of a developing universal imagination of Milky Ways, somewhere over the rainbows, and Never Lands into cul de sacs. The magical
spirit of humanity and looking through the looking glass from either way is shaped into a mind bending barbed wire matrix from which there is no escape: or no freedom of thought.
Marshal Berman makes this kind of argument in the introduction of All That Is Solid.

Stewart Hall talks about the potential of global citizenship and the possibility of freedom in a way that is lost under the fixed ideas that there is one space, one globe, one citizenship, and one morality, but that the reality is that otherness is the way forward.

Hall argues that the interconnectivity of popular Friedrich A Kittler: Essays: Literature Media and Systems:and globalization acts as structures of power that creates conflict instead of the possibility a universal vision. Hall’s argument on popular culture is one that demonstrates how the interconnectivity of globalization is used in the dimensions that Kittler argues but Hall argues that such totalization does not prescribe humankind a definitive future under such a pessimistic cloud.

In support of Kittler theory someone quoting Einstein said that God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Einstein also said that those who think that they know what the true is are getting shipwrecked on the laughter of the Gods.

Friedrich A Kittler:
Friedrich A Kittler: Essays: Literature Media and Systems: ISBN 90-5701-071-2

Answers.com: Dictionary: A Dictionary which is a Part of Popular Cultural Phenomena:
Fractal: A geometric pattern that is repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular

shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry. Fractals are used

especially in computer modeling of irregular patterns and structures in nature

Antonio Gramsci:
Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from cultural writings. London (Lawrence & Wishart) 1985

Stewerert Hall:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBfPtRaGZPM
Interview of the sociologist and social thinker Stuart Hall:
by Pnina Werbner.Feb. 01. 2008:

Sublime Ends by Tosha Michelle

 

Sublime Ends

Remember at the station, waiting

On the train, on that sultry summer day?

We stood lost in an embrace, breathing in

each other that way. that awful, terrible,

perfect mad and delicious way that took us

to the shrouded place.

Remember at the station that day, waiting

on the train, as the wind hummed a lovers tune?

She sang of sublime ends, from supple beginnings.

the alluring medley of serenity in a war of rhyme

on the sharp bloody edge of Neverland and Narnia,

the peaceful enchanting interlude of rage & myth.

Remember at the station, that day, as

the train churned closer and we cussed goodbye

His steam a prelude to our eternal kiss, the sun

soaked, never ending fuel of light, of love, of

heat. Basking and bathing,

merged and emerged and submerged,

Dancing and swaying in time

with golden chariot and the huntress.

Remember at the station that day, as

the train tugged away, on a endless track?

We gazed as it came — as it came — as it went

through the crossroads. We did not know,

our own separate, distant destinations,. Our own

rail-less wild paths cut into unimagined mountainsides

You to the west, me to the east.

Remember the station that day as

the train, conducted our last kiss?

That gaping wound where our lips met. Where

we learned cruel fate is hot love and all love is

the calamity of UN-armored battle. We all go under

wrong or right. Each of us blankets miles and the ground

is nothing but a shifting litter with irascible iridescent hope

and hurt-dulled dreams, unfulfilled plans and schemes.

Remember the station that day, waiting

in twilight until we forgot and traveled on, and on

alone, with only prayers of new Twilight to set

in stony slumber with hard solace of old loves loss

then found again.

-Tosha Michelle

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Mark Kingwell-The People’s Philosopher

One of my favorite contemporary philosophers is the University of Toronto professor, author, essayist, and critic Mark Kingwell. He apparently has quite the following in Canada, but we Americans haven’t caught on yet. I discovered his work by accident last year while doing research for an interview with New York Times bestselling author Sylvain Reynard. Reynard who writes under a pen name, is an anonymous Canadian author who is shrouded in mystery. If you’re curious about him, click here.http://http://www.sylvainreynard.com/ He’s a brilliant guy, kind to a flaw, and his proses are effortless. No one aside from Jesus does redemption better.

But I digress. Kingwell’s name came up an article on Reynard. There was speculation that perhaps Kingwell and Reynard were one in the same. Having read both their works, I don’t see it. Their literary voices are vastly different. Reynard seemingly is a strong man of faith. Hope and redemption are prominent themes in his books. Kingwell, from all accounts, is a  atheist. He refers to himself as a rehabilitated Catholic. There are other glaring differences, but we’ll save those for another time.

Kingwell has written twelve books. You can see a list of his work here.http://http://www.philosophy.utoronto.ca/directory/mark-kingwell/ Today I want to focus on two of my favorites. A Civil Tongue (1995) and In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac (2000).  In A Civil Tongue, he takes on political discourse and culture. He believes social justice can be achieved through an open and honest dialogue. He refers to this as “the talking cure.” He is a proponent of tolerance, reason and civility — how very Canadian of him. In a time when political discord is out of control, his ideas are refreshing. Imagine a world where we actually discuss our political views in a rational, sane way, where we offered up ways to make a difference, where the blame games were nonexistent, and we listen to the other side. Imagine if we not only listened but showed respect for others’ point of view. If we could change political discourse, we could change the world.

In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac (2000) explores the nature of happiness and human nature in an engaging and entertaining way. Pop culture references are found throughout — everything from The Simpsons to Pepperidge Farm goldfishes. Naturally the works of some of the greats in philosophy play a prominent role. Spoiler alert: Aristotle plays a leading role in the book. Kingwell is a fan. He also takes us into the New Age movement with a hilarious anecdote of his time at a happiness camp. He tried Prozac just to see what all the fuss was about.

Kingwell asserts that happiness isn’t a feeling. Happiness is not about “feeling” good all the time. “Sometimes good enough is enough.” Reflection and introspection about one’s life are crucial to peace of mind.
It is not enough to just be in the world; one must also feel connected to humanity and the collective good. This can be an arduous task in our modern society in which we are inundated with information. This constant stream of noise that can leave us feeling out of the loop Kingwell refers to as “upgrade anxiety” –the feeling that we have to catch up. This feeling can zap us of our energy and overwhelm us.

Paradoxically, no man is an island. Much emphasis is placed on intimate relationships as being fundamental to happiness, yet solitude has sparked some of the most creative minds in history. Kingwell also states the seemingly obvious, that material goods can’t buy happiness. Happiness is not about getting everything we want. In fact, having all of our heart’s desires can lead to unhappiness. It is in the striving that we find meaning.

A Civil Tongue (1995) and In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac (2000), are books everyone should read. Kingwell’s writing is flawless without being pretentious or preachy. His wit is a thing of wonder. He’s truly the “every man and woman’s philosopher.” He’s hip, snarky and smart. Who needs happiness camp or Prozac when you have a Kingwell book?

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My Lost Love.

Sleep, remember when we couldn’t get enough of each other?

When we were in perfect sync?

You were my sweet oblivion, my haven,

and all I wanted at the end of a long day.

I couldn’t get my fill of you..

You consumed my thoughts.

My body constantly longing for the sweet release,

I always found in you..

We’d come together every night in blissful harmony?

I’d lose myself in your sweet repose.

Do you recall .the days of satin and lavender, of dreams and peaceful slumber?

I do, and I miss you.

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The Promise of Pixie Dust

Being sensitive and in tune with the world can be very painful. There’s so much suffering. It’s hard not to drown in sorrow, in both our own and others. However, the only way to be is to feel, to give, to love. The challenge is not in the feeling. No, the test, is learning how to navigate the highs and lows of life’s tide, to understand, not only our frailties, but the frailties of others; to embrace the pain, but never lose sight of hope and the healing powers of love. #balance

Wearing our hearts on our sleeves, is dangerous. We run the risk of having them knocked off and broken, but I’d rather take that chance than keep my heart closed off from the world. I just want to feel, live and BE (and eat chocolate, hang out with Jon Stewart and listen to Justin Bieber tunes while solving math problem) Okay, well, maybe not those last two.

“I can’t help it,
I love the broken ones,
The ones who
Need the most patching up.
The ones who
Never been loved,
Never been loved,
Never been loved enough.
Maybe I see a part of me in them.
The missing piece always trying to fit in.
The shattered heart
Hungry for a home.
No, you’re not alone.
I love the broken ones.”