Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flying Backward

Yesterday Professor Fisher asked us to wrap our heads around the question: Why are we doing this? Why even read the Norton Anthology? Why criticize literature? 

If progress does not exist, what are we doing here? 

"Our great human adventure is the evolution of consciousness. We are in this life to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain." 

Tom Robbins (Wild Ducks Flying Backward)

Might the "evolution of consciousness" over time, regardless of what it evolves into, be progress in itself? Is it possible that the building of human ideas over time represents a type of progress by default? 


  1. I think that is a good question. I believe it is possible that we are moving forward, even if at a crawl and interrupted by periods of moving backward. The question also reminds me of a book (the name escapes me, sorry) recently written claiming that mankind is steadily moving towards a more just society and higher consciousness, a view and presentation of said view that an Atlantic reviewer slammed. The way I see it, out of adversity comes opportunity; in periods of stasis or even regression, such as the Middle Ages, developments do occur, or important lessons are learned (ie Scholasticism forming a base for Humanism in some ways, artistic achievements reached even if through the autonomy of the restrictive Church of the time). So despair not, maybe we will indeed come to a better healthcare system and economic structure from the recent debacles :D

  2. Ah, but remember that the consciousness is, arguably, socially constructed. Thus, how can we ever know when/if we are evolving? And now we are back to the classic Marxist dilemma: How will we know when the revolution comes? How will we be able to know for sure when our false consciousness has been lifted?

    Also, it's important to note that Lyotard argues that confidence in notions of progress is waning in the postmodern era. Therefore, it might be overstating the point to argue that progress does not exist at all. Then again, I could be wrong.

  3. When all else fails, just quote some literature.

    I remember the first time I read Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun," and there was one scene when Beneatha, who is in college studying to be a doctor, was talking to Asagai, a student from Nigeria, about progress in terms of race and rights. Beneatha is very pessimistic about the entire thing, and could recognize no exisiting progress, saying we all just go in a circle, not realizing we are doing so.

    Asagi, however, insists that we just march in a long line, so long that we can't see where we started or where we're going to end. So, yes, I believe that the "evolution of consciousness" is a step toward progress, though as we live it and experience it, it is difficult to recognize... perhaps it only in retrospect we can classify something as progressive.

  4. I think that is is difficult to recognize progress when you're living in it. We can never know when or if we are evolving until the next generation is born. It is for that reason we see such great succession between past history and present time i.e. the abolition of slavery, greater equality and human rights, etc. In 50, maybe even 100 years from now, living cultures will analyze the changes made in the world from when we were alive.

    It's funny that we're talking about this because my friends and I joke a lot about how in the year 2060 homosexuality will be abolished. I'm going to try and explain this:

    So basically our evidence for this claim is the past. When we look at the 1950's being gay was not socially accepted, but as time went on gays acquired more and more rights. If we look at 2009, gays are not completely on an equal playing field to heterosexual couples, but their rights have upwardly progressed. It is okay for a gay man to be friends with a fratty heterosexual guy these days, something that was not socially and outwardly accepted in the past. Therefore, by the year 2060, sexuality will not be an issue whatsoever. Everyone will love and be loved and it will not matter, gay, straight, black, white, etc.

    I understand this is an EXTREMELY extreme case but I just thought it was relevant and kind of funny in response to this post.