It never fails to surprise me when someone has read my work. It’s always a pleasant surprise, and I take more pleasure in it the more I can see someone has connected with me, recognised me, and seen what I’m trying to say. If Hegel was right about anything, it was the sheer structural importance of mutual recognition both personally and socially. To be read, and to be read well, is always a unique delight.
Skholiast over at Speculum Criticum Traditionis always reads me well, with the gentle care of someone trying to trace the shape of each and every thought, so that they may slot them into their appropriate space within the whole history of philosophical thinking. He has a deep intellectual charity that expresses itself in a sincere and amiable style. He is, in short, one of the best friends one could hope for, in precisely the sense of the word that he himself examines. Though we have never met, he has gifted me another unique delight. I can only say that the recognition is mutual.
It’s Christmas Eve, I’ve got a glass of whiskey, and I’ve finished prepping for cooking Christmas dinner tomorrow. I wrote Transcendental Blues in a bit of a fever over the last week. I failed to make the shortlist for another job on Monday, the first I’d applied to since my recovery began. This was for entirely understandable reasons, and it’s already water under the bridge. But it brought everything associated with the application process and the travails of academia back to the surface. It was also strangely liberating. I’d stopped applying for jobs, and this one was about as good a shot as I had at getting an interview. Having it over with, and being told promptly (a rare and welcome occurrence in my extensive experience of rejections), meant I could quickly move onto other things. So, for the first time in over a year, I started writing, just for the hell of it.
What I wrote was not Transcendental Blues. It was a first, sprawling attempt at articulating ideas that have been brewing for the last few years, ideas that weave together questions in the philosophies of logic, language, computation, and thereby mind/artificial intelligence. Ideas that are so strange and multi-faceted I often can’t fit them in my head. This means finding a way to interface my head with the page. Giving up on the thought that this has to be the thing that does it, along with the need to make it fit into the box, was like driving a forklift truck through writer’s block.
It started on Facebook, as a comment that spiralled until it could never possibly fit. Having returned to Mark’s writing recently, for obvious reasons, it became clear that I needed to stop being reactive, and become active again. I had to find a way to post it here. But the only way I could post it here was if I cleared the air. If I got rid of all the guilt, fear, and resentment holding me back. The accrued embarrassment of having not posted here in so long, and not having achieved what I’d aimed to achieve by retreating. It was an act of pure catharsis, designed to unburden myself of everything I needed to say, so I could say something I wanted to say. I did not expect it to get the response it has, and the kind comments, expressions of solidarity, and heartfelt overtures people have made towards me are the best Christmas present I could ever hope for. I cannot thank you enough. In the spirit of Spinoza, I say: more power to you all.
1. More Transcendental
It’s reasonably obvious that my thoughts about logic and computation ended up bleeding into my reflections on doing philosophy and my neurophenomenological musings on what is going on when we think. However, you might be surprised at how deep these threads go.
Liam Kofi Bright has written a generous post engaging with the way I describe my personal experience of philosophical problems, contrasting it with his own. This delights me no end. I’m a big believer in the prevalence of neurodiversity. By default, we assume other people experience the world in the same way we do, until we find out we don’t. It’s wonderful to have conversations about this that aren’t dissonant, but communicate and celebrate cognitive differences. I had a conversation about this with the incomparable Meredith L. Patterson, who seems to share similar spatial intuitions to me, and we coined the term ‘proprioceptive synaesthesia’ as a way to describe it. I’m quite happy with that. Regardless, Liam’s post gave me an occasion to say a little more about the philosophy of logic hiding behind my description of the tree of forking and looping paths. You’ll find a brief discussion of Girard’s ludics in a comment to his post.
If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, there are two secret sections of the Transcendental Blues post that I had to delete (between 4.1 and 4.2), because they got too technical, and interrupted the flow of the piece as a whole. They explore the way that computational asymmetries and the corresponding symmetries provide us with ways of thinking about communication, how this relates to Kant’s account of analytic/synthetic judgments, type theory, and the work of Per Martin-Löf and Jean-Yves Girard. Read them at your peril.
2. More Blues
In case you were wondering where the inspiration for the post came from.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or whatever you have to celebrate this year.
When I found out Mark Fisher had finally been cornered by the black dog, I was standing at a bus stop on a chill morning in Ryhope. I could see the sea from where I was, and I could hear the pain in my friend’s voice, but I couldn’t connect with either of them. I couldn’t connect with anything. My life had unravelled around me. I’d recently admitted to myself and others that I couldn’t return to my postdoctoral position in South Africa. I couldn’t write or read. I couldn’t even understand my own work. I couldn’t enjoy anything. Not music. Not food. Not the morning sea. I could barely stand to be in the same room as people who cared about me. All because I was being chased by the same black fucking beast.
I was dragging myself out of bed every morning and walking a tooth grinding forty-five minutes to the nearest swimming pool in order to get the thirty minutes of exercise that was supposed to keep the beast at bay. The path follows the route of an old colliery railway line, over a bridge my great-grandfather helped build more than a century ago. Every day, once on the way there, and once on the way back, I’d think about throwing myself off of that bridge. It would never quite rise to the level of volition. I could consider the burdens I’d lift from others, the anxieties I’d finally be free of, even the bleak poetry of it. What I couldn’t do was ignore it. This was the first time this had ever happened to me.
I couldn’t process the significance of Mark’s death. I was too numb. Deep depression washes all the colour out of the world, turning the contrast down until you can’t tell the difference between real loss and mundane misery. It’s leaked in slowly, bit by bit over the last year, as I regained enough sensitivity to properly feel it, and enough understanding to properly mourn it. It’s the sort of thing you get periodically reminded of, discovering new layers of response each time, be it wistful sadness or blistering anger. I don’t think this process is finished, it won’t be for a while, but I hope that writing this post will help it along. Back then, there was one meaningful signal that cut through the depressive noise: this fucking thing shouldn’t have been allowed to take him from us, and I shouldn’t let it take me too.