Friday, August 03, 2007

On TRUTH and BEAUTY (this will be a short post)

So, today we had an intern lunch. One of the mentors arranged a lunch at his place for all the writing interns (five plus a researcher) and the mentors (six total, including I., the host). We car-pooled out to his place and made and ate kabobs (yum).

The setting: older house, probably built in the 40s or 50s. Stacks and stacks of classical cds (Naxos included--I thought I was the only person who bought Naxos but evidently I was wrong), esoteric magazines littering the coffee table, books on philosophy and composers, and a giant wooden turtle in the bathtub.

The host: apparently I. has a PhD in (I want to say logic or logical reasoning or chess or something) from one of those famous Ivy League Universities (as opposed to one of the unknown Ivys, I suppose). I don't know. All I really know is that he is an avid tea drinker (loose leaf, no milk) and appears to prefer Baroque composers (though he did have some more modern composers... by which I mean Shostakovich). He also likes to use words that he thinks people won't know. He will use a word like offal or atoll, quit speaking, and wait to see how the listener responds.

The conversation: lunch ended, the dessert tray had been passed, and we (I., another intern and I) settled into our tea, and the conversation commenced. E., the other female intern, is currently working on a PhD in Critical Literary Theory and Gender Studies in a lesser-known (non-Ivy) University. She stated that she doesn't believe in truth. So I. and another mentor, J. (a PhD candidate--history of science--at a local Ivy) took issue with this and argued with her. And I (that is, me) could follow up to a point, but I got lost pretty quickly.

Anyway, I think the crux of the thing was that E. didn't believe in any truth, I. argued that you have to believe in SOME truth or you would be unable to even leave the house, and J. argued that you have to believe in truth because to not do so is to disrespect the people who have gone before and worked so hard to prove some truth. But I might be completely wrong. As I said, I wasn't following it (I was really enjoying the tea, though).

The conversation continues to the car and the ride back to work. At some point Beauty and Love enter the conversation, and right before we get to work, E. turns to me and says, "So, what do you think?"


I think I don't belong here, in this conversation, because I'm obviously not smart enough. I think I probably should have taken some philosophy classes at some point in my life--beyond Philo 101 at the local community college when I was 17. I wonder if I have allowed myself to be too intellectually lazy by not trying to puzzle through these things before because I always believed that philosophy wasn't practical and at the end of the day all that really matters is that the food is cooked and the clothes are clean. I think the trees are pretty but that the air-conditioning in the car is a little cold. I think I probably ate too much at lunch and should have stopped at the second--that's right, second--cannoli. I think, I think, I think...

"...Umm, I agree. Yeah."

My genius has been established. I now tower over the other interns with my subtle and nuanced depth of thought. I am an intellectual giant.

Post-script: actually, what I thought was that I., J., and E. were all making different arguments. E. was making a linguistic argument--about what the word truth represents and how it can be used to label anything and should therefore not be trusted. J. was making a scientific argument--using the argument that if two people have a design for a car and one design will obviously not work, then one person's truth is more valid that the other person's. And I. was making a logical/philosophical argument (which I more or less missed because I was noshing cannolis and drinking tea). So I think that the first part of the argument should have been to establish the relative meaning of the word truth (and beauty and love, when they entered the conversation) so that everyone wouldn't be stuck arguing circles in their own little hamster wheels with no way of making any connections with the other arguments.

But I'm probably wrong.


At 6:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're smarter than the lot of 'em. I wish you had pointed out the error of their ways. You'd look like even more the genius!

I'm with you: Philosophy can be mental masturbation--it doesn't accomplish any practical things. It's a luxury reserved for those who don't have to worry about being practical.


At 6:18 PM, Blogger Ovonia Red said...

Eh, whatever.

Anyway, I did have a very interesting cultural experience at the lunch. We got to skewer our own kabobs, so where were bowls of raw meat and raw veggies for us to use. Everyone there (and I mean everyone but me) was completely perplexed by this one long-ish green thing). Finally, I. comes in and someone asks him what it is. I. replys, "Oh, it's great, you have to try it. It's called okra."

The flip side of all this is that when they started passing around the chick peas--which were really good--I asked how one would go about preparing chick peas. The answer (from a somewhat surprised group) is that you take them out of the can and put them on the stove. Hm. There's that question answered.

As for the discussion--I think it is just a question of what each person latches on to. Each person latched on to the argument that their academic discipline makes. I latched on to the discourse aspect of the conversation because that is closest to what my interests.

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anna said...

He will use a word like offal or atoll, quit speaking, and wait to see how the listener responds.
Philosophy can be mental masturbation
Me wishing I could see "I."'s face when/if Deirdre stated the latter quote and paused for listener response. ;)

It took me way too long to understand that "I." and "I" had two separate referents.

You could probably re-open this can of okra w/ E., if you think it's worth it. Your logical dissection of their viewpoints is intelligent, and maybe you'd get some more tea out of the deal. :)


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