Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cogito Ergo Something Something

I'm auditing another class this semester over Tuesday and Thursday lunch hours, this time a survey of modern philosophy that starts with René Descartes and ends with Immanuel Kant. I hope this stays interesting; mostly this is to get some exposure to philosophy, which will help me if I turn out to be serious about academic editing work, though it also checks off one of the few remaining humanities I didn't catch on my undergraduate sojourn through the liberal arts.

Today was the second class I attended. The syllabus starts with Descartes' Meditations, and today included an exhilarating realization: watching a sport-jacketed and gray-haired professor stand at the front of a classroom, chalking "Cogito ergo sum" onto the blackboard and talking about its meaning, is the consummate stereotypical Ivy League experience. Wow! I thought, this is totally iconic.

After that I went back to feeling generally skeptical about whether drawing out fine-grained but likely incorrect arguments in 350-year-old writings is entirely relevant. Really what I wanted to know today was why my sweater and pants were suddenly so much more charged with static electricity than usual, and if there was anything I could do to fix this short of disrobing entirely.

The last really iconic experience I think I had was about a year and a half ago, watching the current incarnation of the Martha Graham Dance Company put on Appalachian Spring at the City Center in NYC. This felt like a genuine American cultural experience, and the degree of tenderness I felt about taking part in it as an American surprised me.


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