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RonPrice

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About RonPrice

  • Birthday 07/23/1944

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  1. I just joined this site and am finding my way around.

  2. NIETZSCHE, THE PROBLEM OF VALUES and THE COUNTER-CULTURE Part 1: What has made, and what now makes, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche(1844-1900) so important, is that he recognized with great force, clarity and impressive foresight the most troubling and persistent problem of modernity: the problem of values. His writings, though, at least for millions in the last century or more, lack a simplicity for readers. For millions of others, of course, they know nothing of Nietzsche and, like so many things in our knowledge explosion, they will not miss what they don’t know. As a student and teacher, a lecturer and adult educator with an interest in philosophy over more than half a century, 1963-2015, first in the classroom and lecture-hall, and then in cyberspace, I have found that Nietzsche’s writings have kept both me, my students, and my many contacts in cyberspace, busy unraveling what is often the obscure and enigmatic literary idiom of this 19th century philosopher. Nietzsche uncovered many of the depths and complexities of value-issues, and these value-issues have defeated generations of the best efforts of philosophers and social scientists to articulate for modern man, a basis for both the individual and community rooted in a coherent set of relevant values. Part 1.1: Nietzsche saw modern man’s values as an incoherent pastiche of bits and pieces from a hundred sources. He called this collection of values that most people possess “a multi-colored cow”. The smorgasbord of faiths and value systems on offer in the West today wonderfully illustrates what Nietzsche foresaw: values as mix-and-match consumer goods, a type of marketplace for the consumer society. The mix on offer, however ingenious it often is in the internet marketplace, is an absurd collection of stuff, and the results are pitifully anaemic for a mass society in search of a central survival core, in search of a map for the human journey ahead. Just how and where human beings are to find the set of values on which to base a life of meaning and coherence is still an enigma, a dilemma. In some ways our global society is a victim of over-choice. We have so much information, at least those with WWW access, but what is the big-picture in which we are to place this plethora of wisdoms, this vast soup of knowledge. Vague sentiments of good will, however genuine, are not enough. Some explicit agreement on principles is required for any co-ordinated progress. And principles are often ify-things. Part 2: Nietzsche’s dilemma is our dilemma. His analysis of our modern situation has become an explicit dilemma, a conundrum, for modern humanity, just as he predicted. Nietzsche is the author of the expression God Is Dead. What he meant by these words is that Western culture no longer places God at the centre of things. The death of God has knocked the pins out from under Western value systems, and revealed an abyss below. The values we have continued to live by, that we have put in the place of tradition, in the place of those values that have lost their meaning, result in our being cast adrift, whether we realize it or not. The question is, what do we do now? Since 1900 we have done many things in our state of being cast adrift. One thing we have done, that western society has put in the place of that tradition, can be seen in the expression: be yourself.1 It is an absurd dream of contemporary culture that people, just by being themselves, can try to live according to what Nietzsche calls their own values. The values people choose are usually not their own values: they are bits and pieces picked up in the bazaar of modernity, and they usually have no idea where these values come from and, even when they do, the package is pastiche and panorama, a panoply of pluralism. Nothing is more obvious to Nietzsche than the fact that people don’t generally know how to create values. Due to this fact, they fall back on tradition. Fundamentalism in all its forms afflicts a beleaguered humanity. There have been many values and meaning systems in the last century or more that have had great power to move great numbers of people. Modern 20th and 21st century history is littered with the results of these values. To Nietzsche, values have power and they spring from power: like works of art, their greatness is in their power to move us. The plethora of schools of philosophy and art, literature and culture, music and medicine, are a testimony to some of these powerful systems of ideas. Part 3: There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The world has long been struggling with enormous new social and material forces. The context for this struggle increasingly is pointing toward the necessity of unity in diversity or the world will tear itself apart in its attachment to sectarian, political, nationalistic, and racial loyalties of the past. This it is doing with greater and greater efficiency. The values of materialism are built on the enormous power of science. I take a deep satisfaction and personal meaning in the advances that society has made in the last century or more, and particularly from the processes that have knit together the earth’s peoples and nations through science and technology. But humanity yearns desperately, and it has all my life, for its Soul, for the God that Nietzsche said so presciently had died. Part 3.1: I was born in July 1944, in the midst of a war that saw the death of some 60 million people. I came to believe, by the 1960s, that the one Power which could fulfill the ultimate longing of the peoples of the world for peace and unity, was to find God again. But in our pluralistic secular and sacred world individuals and societies had gradually come to find many gods. The print and electronic media presented modern man with a cornucopia of values and beliefs, gods and ultimate meaning systems. Nietzsche saw the media as a manipulator of popular sentiment and as possessing the power to create all sorts of values and meanings. The result, at least for that 19th century philosopher, was that almost everybody merely became a member of the herd or the proponent of an individualism that got in the way of any genuine sense of community and, more importantly, a community of communities. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Eric Walther, Nietzsche, Our Contemporary, Philosophy Now, November/December 2012. Eric Walther taught philosophy from 1967, and computer science from 1983, at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University; he retired in 2003. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from Yale University, and an MS in Computer Science from Polytechnic University.Part 4: As I was studying history & philosophy in the fall of ’63 & ‘64, the counter- culture began to be felt in my North American home in both the USA & Canada,1 & quite visibly at Berkeley with what was then called the free-speech movement.2 I got caught-up in this student movement & got my picture on the front-page of the newspaper.3 But I could not be identified with the counter-culture because of my religion which was the main source of my worldview, my physical and social reality; namely, that the world was but one country, and humankind, mankind, were its world citizens,4 and that without a centre mere anarchy was to be loosed upon the world, and that blood- dimmed tide. Everywhere, too, the ceremony of innocence is and would be drowned. And the best lacked all conviction, while the worst were and still are full of passionate intensity.5 1 The term counterculture is attributed to professor emeritus of history at California Theodore Roszak(1903-2011), author of The Making of a Counter Culture. The term became prominent in the news media amid the social revolution that swept North and South America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand during the 1960s and early 1970s. In North America the counterculture of the 1960s became identified with the rejection of conventional social norms of the 1950s. 2 Gary North, Robert Nisbet: Conservative Sociologist, LewRockwell.com, 2002. 3 The Civil Rights Act of July 1964 prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education. It outlawed racial segregation in public facilities. In the summer of 1964, over forty Freedom Schools opened in Mississippi. These schools were part of Freedom Summer, a project of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, with the goal to empower African Americans in Mississippi to become active citizens and agents of social change. In the late summer and early autumn of 1964 and into the first months of 1965 I was associated with the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee which, at the time, had a philosophy of nonviolence. But after the mid-1960s that philosophy migrated to one of greater militancy. In October of 1964 Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, by the end of the spring semester in April 1965, I had ceased my participation in that movement. 4 As a student of sociology both at university as a student, after university as a teacher, and on retirement, I came to read: Toqueville, Nisbet, Durkheim, Bell, and many other social theorists. They each and all reinforced the views I had begun university with as a Baha’i. See Robert Nisbet, Dogma and Democracy, The Sociological Tradition, Heinemann, London, 1966, pp. 232-237. 5 W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming. Ron Price 4/11/’12 to 19/6/’15. COUNTER-CULTURE Part 1: A counterculture movement expresses the ethos and aspirations of a specific population during a well-defined era. When oppositional forces reach critical mass countercultures can trigger dramatic cultural changes. Prominent examples of countercultures in Europe and North America include Romanticism (1790–1840), Bohemianism (1850–1910), the more fragmentary counterculture of the Beat Generation (1944–1964) and perhaps, most prominently, the counterculture of the 1960s (1964–1974), usually associated with the hippie subculture. My life from 1964 to 1974 straddled the edges of the counter-culture but never fully identified with it. By the 1970s I had left Canada and my years at university when I had got as close as I ever would to the many sources and influences of the counter-culture. In 1971 I was in Australia where the “Rainbow Region” of northern NSW was the focus of Australia’s counterculture. Its capital was Nimbin. There were the 1971 and 1973 Aquarius Festivals in Nimbin. Part 1.1: In May 2013 a two-day conference titled “Aquarius and Beyond: 40 years on…” was held at Southern Cross University(SCU). SCU is a research intensive Australian public university with some 15,000 internal and external students. This conference marked the 40th anniversary of the Festival which was one of, if not the, defining countercultural event in Australia. In 1971 I had just arrived in Australia and was a teacher in Whyalla South Australia. In 1972, as Australia was moving to the height of the counter-culture movement, I was the secretary of the local Baha’i community of Whyalla and its 30 Baha’is, mostly youth. Part 2: The term counterculture is attributed to Theodore Roszak author of The Making of a Counter Culture. I do not want to confine my exploration of the counterculture to that period, nor do I want to leave the concept far behind in that epi-centre of Nimbin in the early 1970s. I am interested in the specific structure of feeling that is now generally associated with the term, counter-culture. Those '60s and early ‘70s have long ago cooled enough to become the raw material for dissertations, monographs, PhD theses, & all sorts of retrospectives which, together, have reduced the protest movement of the Vietnam era to the phrase: "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."…Perhaps it’s just part of that conservative backlash which brought us Ronald Reagan, 2 George Bushes, and our vast global, inter-connected economy. In the 1960s the world in which I lived came to realize that the country which they thought they lived in: peaceful, generous, honorable—did not exist and never had.1 Was it the sex, drugs, and rock-‘n-roll which woke us up from our day-dream of Mr Clean, Doris Day, General Ike, luxury without stress, Negroes or genitalia? Was this the original source of those mass movements which generated in their adherents a readiness to die?1 1D.T. Miller and M. Nowak, The Fifties: The Way We Really Were, Doubleday and Co., NY, 1977. Ron Price 19/6/’15. 1 Theodore Rozak, “When the counterculture counted,” in SFGate, December 23, 2001 Ron Price 19/6/’15.
  3. THANKING E.L. DOCTOROW Part 1: The acclaimed American novelist and playwright E. L. Doctorow has given writers like myself many writing tips. He died two weeks ago, on 21 July 2015, in Manhattan at the age of 84 due to complications from lung cancer. I write the following out of appreciation for a writer who, for the most part, remained far out on the periphery of my reading experience in the last 60 years. I have followed his life, as I have followed my own, in the paragraphs below. Edgar Lawrence "E. L." Doctorow was born in 1931 and became an American author, editor, and professor, best known internationally for his works of historical fiction. He has been described as one of the most important American novelists of the 20th century. He’s America's "very own Charles Dickens", wrote a reviewer of his work in The Guardian.1 He came into my reading life in the mid-1980s when I was an adult educator and lecturer in a college of technical and further education in Australia. I must confess, though, that it was not until his death two weeks ago, as I write this quasi-eulogy, that I really came to know much about his life and his literary work, his epic oeuvre. He authored twelve novels, three volumes of short fiction and a stage drama. They included the award-winning novels Ragtime (1975, Billy Bathgate (1989), and The March (2005). These, like many of his other works, placed fictional characters in recognizable historical contexts, with known historical figures, and often used different narrative styles. His stories were recognized for their originality and versatility, and Doctorow was praised for his audacity and imagination.2 When asked how he decided to become a writer, he said, "I was a child who read everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, I asked of a story not only what was to happen next, but how was this done? How is it that I am made to live, to experience another world, from just words on a page? And so I became a writer. I knew at the age of 9 that I wanted to be a writer."-Ron Price with thanks to: 1Alison Flood, 17/4/’14, The Guardian; and 2Wikipedia, 3 August 2015. Part 2: I, too, have been asked how I became a writer. At the age of 9 I wanted to be a baseball player, having decided against being a brick-layer. But, by the age of 18, I knew I could not make a career out of baseball. At the age of 18 writing had become more important to me than sport and having fun. I have answered the question of how I became a writer in many ways. I became a writer, by sensible and insensible degrees, beginning in my childhood and adolescence, and ending when I retired, also be degrees, from a 50 year life of paid employment, FT, PT and casual in the years 1953 to 2003. I have now been on an old-age pension, and writing FT for a dozen years: 2004 to 2015. Doctorow has not been part of my literary life in the more than 60 years since I began to spend a great deal of my time with printed matter, and in his career which spans 50 years. I have one book in my possession which he had published in 1984: Lives of the Poets. But it is a book I have yet to read along with literally 100s of other books that are waiting for me to read as I go through my 70s and 80s, if I last that long. He published his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, in 1960 following a stint as a script reader for movie studio Columbia Pictures. In 1960 I was just starting to take an interest in writing, but sport and girls, having fun and my studies in grade 11 took priority. In 1960 I was 16, and had just joined the Baha’i Faith. In 1969, Doctorow left publishing to pursue a writing career. He accepted a position as Visiting Writer at the University of California, Irvine, where he completed The Book of Daniel (1971). As he was beginning his writing career, I was beginning my teaching career in Canada. When his The Book of Daniel was published in 1971, I was beginning my teaching career in Australia, and helping to form the first locally elected Baha’i administrative body in Whyalla South Australia, the first such body outside the capital cities of western and central Australia. This 1971 book was widely acclaimed, called a "masterpiece" by The Guardian, and by The New York Times a book to launch the author into "the first rank of American writers." I knew nothing of Doctorow at the time occupied, as I was, with 60 to 70 hours a week of teaching and community responsibilities, to say nothing of the demands of my personal and family life in a new country far from my home and hearth. Part 3: Doctorow’s work depicts various eras and personalities in American history and has been published in 30 languages. In most of his novels he demonstrated "that the past is very much alive, but that it's not easily accessed," writes Jay Parini(1948-), an American writer and academic also known for novels and poetry, biography and criticism. "We tell and retell stories”, Parini continued, “and these stories illuminate our daily lives. Doctorow has shown us again and again that our past is our present, and that those not willing to grapple with 'what happened' will be condemned to repeat its worst errors." "History is the present," the author once said, "that's why every generation writes it anew." American history was "not a conscious decision, but somewhere along the line I must have realized a slice of time was as valid an organizing principle for a novel as a bit of acreage, a place."1 “If you are writing well what you need is things that come to you like you are a magnet, and just when you need something you find it somehow. The idea of being a historian just doesn’t interest me.”2 Yes, all of the above seems to be my experience as well, at least in these last 50-plus years, and especially since I first began to publish what I wrote in the 1970s and 1980s. In an interview back in the early 1990s, Doctorow made the following point: “Nietzsche said there can be no facts without meaning, so what facts does the historian choose to put together to create his picture, his understanding, his interpretation, and what facts does he leave out? This is also true of the autobiographer. There are no facts which I write about my life “without meaning.” In some ways I feel that I am autobiographer and historian, poet and publisher, online blogger and journalist in this, the evening of my life. An obituary in The New York Times by Bruce Weber on 21/7/’15 emphasized Doctorow’s myriad storytelling strategies, strategies which deployed, in different books, the unreliable narrator, the stream-of-consciousness narrator, the omniscient narrator and multiple narrators, Mr. Doctorow was one of contemporary fiction’s most restless experimenters. Part 4: “Storytelling is the most ancient system of knowledge we have,” said Doctorow in an interview, “and the storytellers in the oral, in the Bronze Age, whether it was Homer or the people who essentially eventually put The Bible--The Old Testament--together, worked under a system, the only system they had. Their science was religious illumination. They didn't separate the functions of language the way we do; we have science and we have religion and we have daily communication; we have poetry, we have all these things, but in the Bronze Age, they were fused; there were no differences among these things. And so it was that they able to pass along information, to educate the young, to connect the visible to the invisible, the past to the present, and to distribute the suffering so something new could be born. The very act of telling a story had a presumption of truth. The very act of telling a story meant it was the truth, but then along came the Enlightenment and Galileo, and Bacon said, "You have to make observations and prove things to make them true." At that point, storytelling lost its authority, and today, it's only children who believe the act of telling a story carries with it a presumption of truth. Children and fundamentalists. Part 5: “At a certain point, the difference between music in music, and music in words became elided in my mind," Doctorow says. "I became attentive to the sound of words and the rhythm of sentences in some way that I'm not even aware of." That has certainly been true of my experience of writing as it developed over the years. The connection between music and words has fuelled much of my writing and the writing of E.L. Doctorow as well. These days, he listens to less music than before. "I seem to appreciate quiet," he says. "When I'm writing, I like to seal everything off and face the wall, not to look outside the window. The only way out of the silence and the solitude is through the sentences." I could not have put my own experience, now as I go through my 70s, more accurately. F. O. Matthiessen(1902-1950) was an educator, scholar and literary critic influential in the fields of American literature and American studies. He quoted what George Santayana called "the genteel tradition." George Santayana(1863-1952), was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. Santayana said that the result of this genteel tradition "has been to make art an adornment rather than an organic expression of life, to confuse it with politeness and delicacy . . . and to think of literature as somehow dependent upon the better born groups of richer standing."3 I’m not so sure this is still true but, whatever the case, E.L. Doctorow’s work stands outside this tradition. “Doctorow was one of America's greatest novelists. –Ron Price with thanks to:1Alison Flood, The Guardian, 17/4/’14; 2 Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 29/7/’15, The Guardian; and 3Jack London, Hemingway and the Constitution, reviewed by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in The New York Times, November 4, 1993.Part 6: Doctorow described, admiringly, the true poet as follows: “what defined a poet was that he didn't stop being a poet between poems. Poetry was not something one practiced but a state of being in which every moment of one's existence was amplified." This state of being grew on me slowly as the decades advanced and, by my 60s, that state of being stayed with me. Doctorow is a writer whose style and vision remain too cerebral, too lyrical -- too writerly -- to survive translation into a series of images. Making his novels into films is, therefore, not easy. ''The literary experience that is the act of reading or writing a novel extends visual impressions into discourse. It flowers to thought with nouns, verbs, objects. It thinks. Film implodes discourse, it deliterates thought, it shrinks it to the compacted meaning of the preverbal impression or intuition or understanding.1-Ron Price with thanks to 1The New York Times, 5/3/’00, a review of Doctorow’s The City of God by A.O. Scott. Often, Doctorow argues “a famous person often composes a fiction about himself or herself, which he or she tries to present to the world before the writer even gets to him, and my little joke is that if you want to read real fiction about JP Morgan, read his authorised biography. Henry Kissinger has written several volumes of self-justification, which he claims to be accurate and objective about his sometime unsavoury accomplishments,” he chuckled.”1-Ron Price with thanks to 1 Saeed Kamali Dehghan, op.cit. Doctorow explained why writers are often at odds with politicians. “When you pick up a novel, you know it’s fiction. When you hear a politician speaking, he claims it’s not fiction. Politicians, like novelists, know that reality is amenable, politicians know that, writers know that, which is why writers are usually in trouble with politicians,” he said. “In order to see on to the unseen, you may have to change some things around, but the truth is there, the truth is not totally attainable by facts. That’s the novelists’s point of view, that there are greater truths to be reached. It is literature, “intuitive, metaphysical, mythic”, which takes us to the heart of the social reality of life. When you construct a sentence not obligated to the factual endowments, your intuition and imagination define the greater truth.”2-idem. Part 7: His books taught me much, and he will be missed.--President Obama, 22/7/’15.
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