Category Archives: Biography

First sixteen copies of Geomentric Meditations

Yesterday, despite UPS’s best efforts I managed to get both boxes of the printed spreads of Geometric Meditations. I unpacked and organized the components, and assembled the first sixteen copies. I gave the first three copies to Susan, Zoë and Helen. I put the fourth in my library, in the religion section with the Kabbalah books. This is a book I’ve wanted in my library for a long time.

The process of making these books is labor intensive. Here’s the process:

  1. Collate the signature from six separate stacks of spreads.
  2. Fold each sheet.
  3. Use template to punch three holes (for sewing) through the signature fold.
  4. Measure 14″ of red waxed linen thread and thread it through the bookbinding needle.
  5. Starting from the top hole in the spine sew the signature, using a figure-eight pattern.
  6. Tie off the top and trim the threads evenly.
  7. With a craft knife (#11 Olfa) trim top and bottom edges in .75″.
  8. Trim outer edge in .75″.
I’m working on methods to streamline production, but it is still time-consuming.

If you receive a copy of this book, please take care of it. In each book is fifteen years of intense thinking, hands-on use and iterative design, five years of obsessive writing, rewriting and editing, one year of final editing and design tweaking, two months of production work and about half an hour of handcraft.

I made everything as beautiful as I could, and I am uneasily pleased with how it turned out.

Design-Centered Human

Someone asked me, with respect to my work, what I call myself these days. If people understood 1) what design is, and that 2) all design, done competently, is, necessarily human-centered design, I’d want to be called simply a Designer. Because this is nowhere near the case, I call myself a Human-Centered Designer.

At that point my friend Tim called me Design-Centered Human. That’s pretty apt.

Anomalogue Press

I’m told I’m a descendent of publishers (Scribner’s Sons). I certainly do feel book-craft in my blood. I care intensely about the best ideas being given the form they deserve, from conceptualization to language, typesetting, page composition, printing, and binding. I cannot believe that I can buy a life-changing book for less than the cost of a luxury car.

I keep fantasizing about starting a press dedicated to publishing the heirloom thoughts of great contemporary thinkers. I am imagining art chapbooks of about 24-36 pages, each containing one essay written in a rigorous, non-scholarly style for an ideal reader — intelligent, informed and critically sympathetic. The essays would not be popularizations — and in fact might be even denser and harder to read than a full book — but would be streamlined to exclude footnotes and references to other works. The point is to immortalize the thinker’s best idea in the most compact, most beautiful words in the most perfectly designed and constructed physical form possible. They would be letterpress printed, of course, on cotton paper and sewn into chapbooks.

In exchange for the content, the author would get half the copies to give to loved ones, and I would keep half to sell.

I would definitely want the first author to be Richard J. Bernstein, whose Beyond Objectivism and Relativism changed the course of my life.

Shelved: “post-post”

Today I shelved a draft of a post about a shift I have detected in our culture. In the first post of my “Shelved” series, I will attempt to summarize that post:

I believe the period we called “postmodern” ended about ten years ago. The primary reason this event has not been publically noted is because the kind of reflection that detects and confidently notes shifts in zeitgeist itself belongs to postmodernism. I would call the period we are in postpostmodern, except that the adding of the “post-“ prefix also belongs to postmodernism, and it feels stale.

The shift can be characterized as a shift from first-person perspective to third-person perspective. With this shift comes new style preferences, and this one seems to like acronyms. So I’ll try to name this new worldview something that fits its own sensibilities by calling it 3PP, short for 3rd person perspective.

It is no accident that among the material-turn philosophies, the one that assumes a first-person view is called postphenomenology, and the ones that emphasize a third-person perspective are called ANT and OOO.

Part of this shift to 3PP is a very strong sense that all personal reflection is just an emergent phenomenon of objective processes, and unreliable until it is backed up with solid objective research. There is nothing wrong with this, and much right about it, unless it grows aggressive and attempts to discredit and devalue personal experience, even in the first-person’s own natural habitats, especially art.

Establishing objectivity is very expensive. Not all people can afford it! Politically speaking, a requirement to objectively prove every kind of reflection and objectively justify every moral intuition, even those of personal experience, excludes quite a few less advantaged voices from public discourse. Here I will quote my own shelved post:

If one aspires to be heard and taken seriously, much less believed, one has to have the right kind of hard-nosed factual disposition and soft-hearted moral disposition, the right kind of extensive training in evidence-gathering, the right kind of expertise in how to detect and neutralize one’s own biases and unconscious motivations, and the right kind of work ethic (and the time and resources to live up to its demands). In short, one has to belong to a certain qualified class of professional to have a valid opinion on what is really real and really good, and therefore to have the right to determine what voices ought to be permitted to speak, which voices should be amplified and “always believed”,  and which voices must be suppressed or “de-platformed”. The reason for this  is self-evident: anyone outside of this fastidiously self-aware class is almost certain to be unconsciously driven by a desire for collective power, and will almost automatically fail to notice the insidious ways power and privilege produce worldviews that justify one’s own right to oppress others who seem to deserve or even require it.

*

Just as I suspected: my summary is better than the original!

Publication of Geometric Meditations

I am sending Geometric Meditations to the printer this weekend. I have continued to tweak the layout in vanishingly minuscule ways. Just about every word, every punctuation mark and every line break has been inspected, varied, experimented with, obsessed over.

I am posting what I think will be the final version which will be printed. If anyone happens to look at it and finds a mistake or flaw, please alert me. I know it cannot be perfect, but I’m pushing it as far in that direction as I can.

Once Susan gives it the last pass on Saturday and approves it, I am bundling it up and sending it off. I’m told the printing takes about fifteen days. After that, I will be hand-sewing each copy, and giving them to the people who participated in the development of the concepts and the design of the book.

Continue reading Publication of Geometric Meditations

Dealing with offense

My process for dealing with offense:

  1. Allow myself to be angry. (Not that I have an alternative.)
  2. Harness the anger to analyze the offensive behavior and identify the essential personal offense (precisely what is bothering me).
  3. Depersonalize and expand the applicability of the essential personal offense by abstracting from it a more universal principle of offense (something that would bother most reasonable people).
  4. Assuming I’ve committed the same or an analogous offense against others, dig through my memories of times people have been upset with me, in search of cases where I can accuse myself of the same offense.
  5. Using my own memory of my experience and true intentions, defend myself against my self-accusations.
  6. Returning to the present offense, apply the same defense to the person who has offended me.
  7. Look for opportunities to reconcile with other people, because mutual reconciliation is the only thing that definitively repairs damage. (Insights only diminish symptomatic pain.)
  8. Remember principles and defenses for future similar offenses, to avoid unintentionally offending others and taking lasting offense at other’s actions.

Generally, this approach reduces pain, partially or completely repairs damage and produces valuable insights. It also helps prevent compulsively repeating thoughts from metastasizing into philosophies of resentment.

Salons

Our next Shabbat (and probably more after it) will be a Salon.

The Salon is a structured discussion designed to produce substantial conversations. Basically, everyone brings short passages on some theme determined ahead of time. Participants take turns reading passages, and the group converses on that theme.  Susan and I did our first one back in 2000, and we’ve been doing them sporadically since then.

Here are the rules in case you want to do one:

  • The purpose of the Salon is to generate dialogue. We want to make it possible to express ideas that cannot be expressed in normal, everyday conversation.
  • Quotes will be used to seed dialogue.
  • Please come to the Salon with one quote that is connected with the theme of the event.
  • Quotes play a central role in the Salon, but the purpose of the Salon is not sharing quotes. They are a means to stimulate dialogue. Dialogue should not be cut off or rushed in order to give everyone their turn to read. Not all quotes will be read.
  • This is an intellectual safe zone. No opinion is prohibited. The only rule is respect. If you find an idea offensive, please challenge it using reason and constrain your emotions and moral passions. Please do not self-censor out of fear of upsetting someone with your ideas.
  • We want to be sure people are given a chance to finish their thoughts even if the thoughts are complex. Interruptions can be vetoed by the current speaker, signaled by raising their hand.
  • Contributions to the discussion should always address the ideas of the previous speaker. Evolve the subject, don’t change the subject.
  • Dialogue should be kept thematically close to the quotes and should refer back to them explicitly whenever possible.
  • As conversation progresses and develops, new quotes can be introduced to feed the dialogue.
  • If a dialogue comes to an end, we will restart dialogue with a new quote.
  • The Salon has many modes of participation. Some participants will do more listening and others will do more speaking. Nobody should feel pressured to speak if they wish to listen, or to stay silent if they have something to say.

 

Teaching 14

Hannah Arendt taught me that what we call “politics” is in fact the betrayal of politics, and that political life both presupposes and pursues the plurality of persons — (as she put it, it is human beings, not humankind, who live in the world together) — and that if we aspire to be authentically political we must resist indulging that damnable solipsistic urge to reduce our fellow human beings to abstract categories we ourselves have imagined living out grand political dramas we ourselves have scripted, and instead encounter and contend with them as the stubbornly real beings with their own stories, self-conceptions, and worldviews.

Teaching 13

William James taught me the impossibly elegant (and deeply American!) Pragmatic Maxim — which I like to think of as instructions for the Pragmatic Move, which goes like this: when attempting to understand the meaning of an assertion, rather than focus in on the assertion itself, instead expand out the practical consequences (what James crassly called the “cash value”) of the assertion’s truth, and this synthesis will give you the assertion’s meaning much faster and more reliably than analysis can.

Teaching 11

Martin Heidegger taught me the difference between an emotion and a mood — that is, the difference between a feeling toward an object versus a feeling of a totality — and, in particular, that mood called anxiety which is the feeling of nullified totality, a mood toward subjective nothingness — which Heidegger associated with death, but which I see as the mortal response to infinity in any its myriad forms.

Teaching 10

Eric Voegelin showed me an image of time, of past and future dropping away into inexperienceable darkness dropping away into inexperienceable darkness in two directions, and gave me my first clear understanding of metaphysics (to which I have added dimensions of space and awareness in my own model of metaphysical situatedness in my spark symbol in the pamphlet I’m preparing to get printed).

Teaching 9

Clifford Geertz helped me see that understanding (or, empathy) is not an act of directly experiencing what another person experiences (which renders understanding impossible, if not essentially absurd), but rather the ability to participate in their symbol system, so that we can understand a proverb, a poem or a joke — or, as I like to add, design something for them that they love with head, hand and heart.