Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Need

Sometimes it does. It just so happens that one needs to. You feel it in your arms. Your chest. Your hands. You have to go beyond. You cannot, simply cannot, sit down and wait. You need to write. You need to speak. You need. One needs.

And here it comes, once again, the fabulous game with and against grammar. Full sentences, incomplete sentences, nice-looking sentences, ill-formed sentences, non-sentences. It does matter, however, how well it is done. Not all ill-formed structures are equally ill-formed. Some are better than others. And even then, yes then, we get it.

So there is the need: to be heard, to be read, to be looked at, to be noticed, to be hugged, to be the object of someone’s relation with something. It is that need of recognition, I take it, that forces us to write all the time, no matter what, no matter how.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Los Dolores de la Memoria

Recurrentes. Ineludibles. Determinantes. Así son, sin lugar a dudas. Y uno piensa que andar este camino es meramente hacerlo, no recordarlo, dejarlo, ni pensarlo. Y uno piensa que pasar este tiempo será como alejarse del mar. Hacia las montañas. Pero por más que uno piense, por más Cartesiano que uno quisiera al mundo que fuera, la memoria es recurrente, ineludible, determinante.

A veces pienso que está ahí, en mi cabeza, esa caja de Pandora. Ese saturado e incansable archivo que no lleva a buen lugar. Pienso, por ejemplo, que parasita mis vísceras, mis tejidos, emociones, pasiones. Compruebo día con día cómo consume mi energía, cómo se alimenta de mí con su lento e incesante registro. Cada instante, cada frase, cada rostro, cada mirada, cada recuerdo grabado con fuerza, guardado con llave para no perderlo más. Veo, sufro, la falta de control sobre ella. Recomiendo a los que se acercan hablar con cuidado y medir sus palabras. Porque esta caja lo registra todo. Porque estos ojos que ahora no ven lo verán. Porque este torso que ahora no siente sentirá. Porque estas manos que ahora no escriben escribirán.

Porque están, sí que lo están, estos dolores de la memoria. El camino se repite constantemente. El tiempo vuelve a pasar. Desgarrando lentamente mi pecho. Por dentro. Dejando restos de mí en el pavimento. En el viento. Las lágrimas. Los ojos. Las manos. Los pies. No hay quien pueda librarlo. Pienso. Porque la memoria es insaciable. Porque para pensar hace falta sentir y para sentir llorar. Porque duele recordar. Cada minuto. Antes y después. Durante. Recurrentes. Vuelven como un golpe en el rostro. Como un mazo en el abdomen. Como una mirada perdida que nunca verá más.

¿Para qué caminar si el camino no cesa? Si recurre insaciablemente a masticar una vez más. ¿Para qué tener memoria, para qué ser alguien, para qué? Si nunca dejará de volver. ¿Cómo olvidarla en el bolsillo de alguien más? ¿Cómo entregarla a manos llenas, en un profundo abrazo, perderse y ya?

¡Qué pesada la memoria! Y qué dolorosa sin necesidad. ¡Qué manera tan contundente de existir!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Best

Anglo-Saxon philosophers seem to be pretty keen on rankings. They rank everything: the best x-year graduate student, the best x-term paper, the best graduate project, the best faculty teaching, the best student-teaching, the best junior, the best senior, the best x-area department, the best department, the best area, the best student, the best philosopher. But that’s not all. The ranking is not useless. A great number of philosophers guide their behavior according to the rankings.

This attitude seems surprising once we sit down and think about it. Rankings are based on opinions, perhaps well-thought-of opinions; but still, opinions. There is, I believe, only one reason why one would take these opinions as trustworthy evidence: they are the experts’ opinions. But even that, to my mind, is very poor evidence to let one’s behavior be directed by it.

There is, to begin with, the peculiar fact that the set of “experts” is determined itself by the rankings that the experts are meant to fix. This, to my mind, already shows that the evidence is not trustworthy. Imagine a political party claiming to be the best party based on its own rankings.

But suppose this is not a problem. Let us grant that there are “experts” without a doubt. Why should we trust their opinion about their own discipline? Why should we be so Cartesian? Given the way things are, these “experts” will surely be properly said to be experts in a given field, which means, I take it, that they know a lot about the things that are included in that field. But philosophy is not the field they are experts on. Philosophy is a human social (believe it or not) activity. One would have thought that the real experts on this are, say, sociologists, not philosophers. Why should we simply accept that counting votes is all there is to determining what philosophy is? Once again, why should we be so Cartesian? We need some humility here.

Philosophy, I take it, is a matter of theory construction. The “best” philosophers are those capable of producing the “best” theories. But, may I ask, how is it that we pick among theories? Because they work or because those who produce them take them to be “the best”? I take the latter to be unacceptable. So we are left picking among philosophers in virtue of their theories being the right ones to pick. And how do the right philosophical theories end up being distinguished? The answer, I think, is simple: through time. It is not before a great deal of evidence and discussion has taken place that some or other theory is highlighted. And by “time” and “a great deal of evidence” I’m thinking of decades, if not centuries. Things that term by term, or even year by year, rankings simply cannot compute.

What are we left with, then? There’s something rankings do seem to be sensitive to: the current state of opinions of the humans constituting the relevant group. Things might look a little bit better if we modify what we take “the best” to mean. Perhaps once we form our beliefs upon rankings all we are doing, and all we claim to be doing, is to be aiming at “what the voting group elected upon”. This seems less controversial: “the best philosopher” seems to mean little more than “the person that the voting elite voted for.” That seems fine, but still fails to be good enough to guide my actions and planning, unless, of course, I am drawn into behaving aristocratically.

One should be careful even here. In less than a week I have had the unfortunate opportunity to personally meet two of “the best” philosophers. One of them wanted to do some metaphysics after some ethical pushups. He ended up claiming there was nothing particularly explanatory about normative reasons. The other one decided that his conjectures and hunches about a field he claims to ignore where interesting enough for him to lecture a group of professional philosophers that included experts in the field. After an hour-long literature survey only one thing was clear: he was not an expert in the field.

Philosophers should stop worrying about being “the best” philosophers and focus on doing the best they can to come up with serious, rigorous, properly supported theories. Doing otherwise seems to me to be little more than another vanity fair. I am afraid, however, that these “rankings” are atheistic props, allowing academics to satisfy that well-known human need to believe in gods and other super-humans.