Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thinking, thinking 1.1

Future Tension in Past/present tense: Thoughts on the way to a posthumous memoir

In May 2014, I put pen to paper finally after mulling for some months, some years. For most of this year I have been out of the classroom. I was ‘owed’ some non-teaching time. I have three months to produce research outputs in order to maintain my position. In the second half of 2014, I will be taking long service leave, the first such time I’ve been in a job long enough to earn long service stripes. I will probably continue to write (I may visit Finland briefly).

I am a retiring academic. Or I am being retired. Basically, having reached fifty at the end of 2013, my race is run, I am no longer a bright young thing; I shall not qualify for ‘early-career research’ advantages. Indeed, given my research, I am no longer considered a research prospect. What I do is not worth supporting according to the researcher zeitgeist which determines these things.

What do I do? I teach, think and research in the area of northeast Asian security but not in ways that generate dollars, or yen. I think and I write about why it is human beings continue to make decisions about going to war. Those who fight—who do the actual combat— and return, it seems are overwhelmed by war’s futility. I’m trying to nut out that problem.

As these posts unfold, I shall discuss the ways and means I arrived at these questions. For many years now, my work has been about politics in all its dimensions. I find it a compelling and intriguing way to ask ourselves the big questions about life, the human condition and the universe. I’ve decided to put it all down now because I have reached a point I feel I must.

My thinking is influenced by many. In recent times, I’ve reached settlement on four key people: Immanuel Kant, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag and Hannah Arendt. These four are at the centre of a complex web of contributors however and over time, many other will appear in this two-dimensional stage play. My key themes are politics and education, thinking and political philosophy. The boundaries are very porous though and aspects of my other lives will weave their respective ways in and out of the main road. These might include, but not be limited to, music, art, photography, sport, politics (oops, mentioned that already), friends, life and death.

But to order the work in some way, I have opted to mimic the collection of essays by Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future. The essays in the volume she wrote are exercises in thinking and ‘their only aim is to gain experience in how to think’ (BPF, 14).
Arendt’s eight essays by and large resonate today and I have decided to follow most of these, but with perhaps a modern refurbishment. Most of these essays, as I read them, could have been written today. For me, this is one of the questions I keep returning to as I take a more philosophical route in my research…why do we continue to ask the same questions and seek the same answers…years, decades, centuries later? From the table of contents, her titles are:

Preface: The Gap Between Past and Future
1.     Tradition and the Modern Age
2.     The Concept of History: Ancient and Modern
3.     What is Authority?
4.     What is Freedom?
5.     The Crisis in Education
6.     The Crisis in Culture: Its Social and Political Significance
7.     Truth and Politics
8.     The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man

Arendt was a German/Jewish émigré in the United States having left European world war two began to emerge. My circumstances couldn’t be more different. I am Australian, I sit here in a Brisbane suburb having lived a reasonably fortunate life. And yet, I have been most affected by the very questions Arendt asked in her later years…these posts will be my responses.

From the point of view of 21st century Australia and the so-called Asian Century, I think I can address these broad topics as well. What follows will certainly be prognostications on History, Authority, Freedom, Education, Culture, Truth and Politics. Rather than Space, however, I think I need to think about War/Peace…I’m not sure if I will have a Modern Age to describe by the end…we shall see.

This is a slight change of direction for this blog, or perhaps this is where this blog was always going to go. Perhaps, in 2015, it will be a book. It will not rate at all next to the magnitude of Arendt’s works but it will nonetheless, be an exercise in practicing thinking, and I hope she might appreciate that.

It is the reason why I have sought to tentatively call this set of writings:

Future Tension in Past/present tense: Thoughts on the way to a posthumous memoir

Posthumous only in the sense that having been an ‘academic’, a professional thinker, for some years now, I ought to leave something behind, eventually. I’m not going anywhere just yet, nor will I die with a clean sheet of paper in my typewriter as Arendt allegedly did. One of my favourite little aphorisms in Japanese is the expression

‘There are too many things I want to say’

I shall explain this over the next few posts as well. I am at heart, a teacher and writer, challenging the present norm that your value can only be measured by the size of your grant…it’s time I wrote some more.

I am inspired by these writers and thinkers. I do not pretend to be like them. I do not pretend I will have their levels of philosophical sophistication. I just want to say some of the many things I need to say…