Thursday, January 06, 2011

Some unique people

Denis Dutton

If you've been to Arts and Letters Daily the past week, you'll notice a memoriam to co-founder Denis Dutton on the left side of the date banner. The American in New Zealand academic passed away just before the new year from cancer, and like many interesting minds, will probably now find just appreciation for his work.

One of his more fascinating projects was with the popular journal Philosophy and Literature which he co-edited with fellow philosophy professor, and jazz musician, Garry Hagberg. Known for exposing senseless academic pedantry, the journal's annual Bad Writing Contest came to an unfortunate end in 1998 after hurt feelings on the part of Western deconstructionist professor and political firebrand Judith Butler, who won the award with this steaming pile of intellectual babble:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Dutton's observation was priceless:

To ask what this means is to miss the point. This sentence beats readers into submission and instructs them that they are in the presence of a great and deep mind. Actual communication has nothing to do with it.

As a lifelong student of Kant, I know that philosophy is not always well-written. But when Kant or Aristotle or Wittgenstein are most obscure, it’s because they are honestly grappling with the most complex and difficult problems the human mind can encounter. How different from the desperate incantations of the Bad Writing Contest winners, who hope to persuade their readers not by argument but by obscurity that they too are the great minds of the age.

Here is Dutton giving a TED-talk on one of his favorite topics, beauty:




Ted Williams

Not quite a rags-to-riches, but a story maybe more heartwarming. Ted Williams was a homeless man who had taken to panning along a highway in Columbus, Ohio when someone noted his begging sign. It read that he had a 'god given gift of voice':



Perhaps unexpected was such a kind and amicable man behind the sign. So warm and welcoming, after making good on his claim, he was given an opportunity to communicate his story to the public. The video went viral and he has since tidied up, received numerous job offers, and has reunited with his mom. It's his personality as much as his voice that has propelled his story.




Phoenix Jones and the Rain City Superhero Movement

Walk the streets in peace good citizens of Seattle. There are superheroes among you, and they're not hard to spot:


Equipped with partial stab and bulletproof armor, tasers, mace, tear gas, as well as military and mixed martial arts backgrounds, they are as close to street-level superhero as it gets. A few more slick gadgets and an anonymous bankroller and Batman is realized.



Phoenix Jones and his cohorts are part of what has been a recent trend of superhero self-identification combined with civic samaritanism. Other groups like the Real Life Superheroes make a point of stating the intent and general harmlessness of their deeds, and though like Batman I'm sure more than a few aren't above quenching their street vigilante thirst, I don't think I see any harm other than their potential injury and possible police embarrassment.


Charlotte

Are you smarter than a 2 year old? Maybe not when it comes to U.S. presidents:




Not so much unique people, though they could be, but rather a unique situation: French kids trying to make sense of old technology.

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