Saturday, August 1, 2015

On Kierkegaardian Absurdity and Insanity

On Kierkegaardian Absurdity and Insanity: On October 16, 1843, Kierkegaard published three separate works. One was a book titled Repetition, which he authored under the pseudonym "Constantin Constantius" (in classic Kierkegaardian fashion). A second book published on that same date was Fear and Trembling, which is perhaps Kierkegaard's most well-known (and widely read) work. In many respects, neither book has much in common, except when referencing ideas like absurdity and insanity. If when Abraham took Isaac up Mount Moriah to be sacrificed (at God's command) can be considered a definition of absurdity, then Fear and Trembling was spot-on with its discourse. And if repeating the same process/steps (as the Young Man did) while expecting different results is a definition of insanity, then Repetition has certainly made an indelible philosophical mark. For Kierkegaard, who's trying to determine whether repetition actually exists in the world, the process of repeating something serves as a vehicle to "eternalize" what would otherwise be temporal or mundane. One Kierkegaardian character or concept which made an explicit appearance in Fear and Trembling (followed by an implicit surfacing in Repetition) was the Knight of Faith. Because Kierkegaard's conception of Faith is partially rooted in both absurdity and insanity, it only seems fitting that Abraham and the Young Man act as Knights of Faith in their respective books.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why James K. Polk Mattered BIG TIME

Why James K. Polk Mattered BIG TIME: As perhaps one of the most overlooked and/or underrated Presidents in American history, Polk presided over the admission of two vitally important states into the Union: Florida and Texas. Elected in 1844, he served when the idea of "Manifest Destiny" (white America's God-given right to conquer the West) hit a fever pitch. With members of Congress such as David Wilmot (Pro-Free Soil) and John C. Calhoun (Pro-Slavery) choosing sides over how westward expansion should proceed, Polk remarkably managed to maintain a pragmatic, down-the-middle approach. He (intentionally) provoked a war with Mexico in 1846 by stationing/quartering troops along the Rio Grande, which permitted Texas to consolidate its newly acquired statehood. And when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, Polk had expanded U.S. territory by two-fifths (from Texas to what would eventually become California). Indeed, it would be another half-century before much of this territory achieved statehood, but Polk clearly left his mark.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad: Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1822, not far from where famed African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born in 1818, Tubman had a rough childhood. Her mother "Rit" struggled to keep the family together, especially since she worked as a house servant on a large plantation while Harriet (and her brothers) frequently worked in the fields. Having been "hired out" to other plantation owners of numerous occasions, even after contracting the measles and suffering a serious head injury, Tubman vowed either to become free or die trying. Thus, on a September night in 1849, she embarked on a 90-mile journey northward along the Choptank River through Delaware and into Pennsylvania. The following year, Congress passed an infamous Fugitive Slave Law (as part of the 1850 Compromise), which allowed slave-owners to search for and forcibly retrieve their "runaway slaves" (stolen property) in any part of the country. Brushing aside the implicit danger of this new law to her freedom, Tubman sought to expand usage of the Underground Railroad (UR) for Southern slaves who wished to escape to the North. Although not literally an "Underground Railroad," the term referred to a network of safe houses or "stations" that harbored runaway slaves on their journey northward. In fact, slaves would often use the North Star as a navigational guide during their trips.

Monday, June 15, 2015

On the Jazz Age

On the Jazz Age: Although the term "Jazz Age" can be credited to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote a 1922 book called Tales of the Jazz Age, the birth of jazz music can be attributed to the African-American community in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the early 1900s. Given New Orleans' diverse urban history, jazz can be considered the product of various cultural heritages, especially Creole and French. After World War I, however, when the United States was attempting a "return to normalcy," jazz came to symbolize a laid-back and almost-whimsical attitude toward major events of the period such as prohibition (1919), women's suffrage (1920), and even immigration restriction (1924). But by the mid-1920s, jazz's popularity began to stretch across both ethno-racial and social-class lines, as upper-class whites like Cole Porter and lower-class blacks like Louis Armstrong each produced their own versions of "jazz" music. As a genre of musical fusion (drums, pianos, trumpets, etc.), jazz became particularly popular in underground "speakeasies," which served alcohol during prohibition. These speakeasies were generally patronized by artists, intellectuals, and mobsters alike. Perhaps the greatest congregation of speakeasies occurred in New York City during the 1920s, when alcohol, jazz, poetry, and painting went hand-in-hand to help fashion the Harlem Renaissance.

Monday, June 1, 2015

On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile"

On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile": Perhaps Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writings (along with Voltaire's and Diderot's) were the intellectual underpinnings of the entire French Revolution (particularly for the Jacobin faction). His work is also considered the inspiration behind the phrase "pursuit of happiness" in the American Declaration of Independence. Needless to say, Rousseau's influence on Enlightenment thinking in the late eighteenth century was very trans-Atlantic. But it was his novel Emile, which Rousseau thought of as his finest work, that can be viewed as one of the first educational philosophies in the Western world. And because Rousseau maintained such a cynical view of human nature, he felt that everything mankind built or touched would eventually succumb to degenerative forces like corruption and greed. Thus, schooling and teaching ought to be focused on undoing whatever "evils" society instilled in its members, not helping children to conform to the status quo. At times, Rousseau got very specific when mentioning topics such as "breast-feeding" and "swaddling," but on the whole, he kept his commentary generalized regarding Emile's continuous development. In short, Rousseau's educational philosophy largely downplayed "book-learning" while emphasizing the importance of everyday "experiences" and "interactions" with the physical world.