Friday, October 09, 2015

Affective Images

Smith explores the power of narrative in media (as well as narrative in advertising, in ”iconic” representations at a mall) as ”affective images,” which, in turn, affect our telos, the direction of our desire. (58) Further, habits are trained by ritual, precognitive actions of the body. He states:
Over time, rituals and practices--often in tandem with aesthetic phenomena like pictures and stories--mold and shape our precognitive disposition by training our desires. (59)
Interestingly, Smith suggests that, thinking back to Christian education, if the religious academy is concerned with "worldview," it might also want to be concerned with the "unconscious" (residing close to the sites of desire), which informs it. (61)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Precognitive Engine

How does our desire get pointed in the right direction--the right version--of human flourishing? Smith concludes:
a desire for and orientation to a particular vision of the good life (the kingdom) becomes operative in us (motivating actions, decisions, etc.) by becoming an integral part of the fabric of our dispositions--our precognitive tendencies to act in certain ways and toward certain ends. Philosophers like Aristotle, Aquinas, and MacIntyre describe such dispositions as "habits." (55)
They can be so intrinsic to our existence that we might think that they are natural (not unlike ideologies or Barthes' myths). It is this "precognitive engine," as Smith calls it, that directs us to do either the right thing or the wrong thing (perhaps simplified a little too much here). (56) But this "precognitive engine" is made, not necessarily given to us. But this doesn't yet answer the question: where does the "precognitive engine" get made? How is it modified?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Human Flourishing

Each of us have a picture in our minds of what it means to flourish, what Smith calls a “social vision.” (53) The vision includes almost inherently elements of intersubjectivity; this picture then informs how we act. He states:
It’s not so much that intellectually convinced and then muster the willpower to pursue what we ought; rather, at a precognitive level, we are attracted to a visionof the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons. (54)
So, for Smith, the ultimate question is what shapes that vision of the good life, and how can that be modified? He calls this site of human flourishing “the kingdom.” (54-55) This “kingdom,” or picture of what it means to flourish, is constantly contested. How do we point our telos to good things?

Monday, October 05, 2015

Being Involved in the World

Smith suggests that we, as humans, don't spend the day simply thinking about and perceiving actions, but rather, we act. That is, we are involved in the world. He states, "We are primordially and essentially agents of love, whihch takes the structure of desire or longing." (50) And, furthermore, what we love defines who we are, that which "ultimately governs our vision of the good life, what shapes and molds our being-in-the-world." (51) This last bit has the same sort of urgency that is in Virilio's work, where he wants to know "Where is being-in-the-world in the era where speed it at the limit?" (Virilio 56) Being-in-the-world is an active state, a way that one negotiates with the world around them. Things matter in ways that we cannot always articulate (what an interesting concept that Smith brings up). (51) So, this desiring--the active state of being-in-the-world--is directed at a certain target, which, in turn, defines who we are. This is fascinating stuff.

Note that the Paul Virilio quote is from The Administration of Fear, Ames Hodges, trans. (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012).

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Loving Animals

I didn't realize that today is the Feast of Saint Francis. With that in mind, the title of this blog entry is appropriate. But I'm actually referring to humanity as "animals that love." This is supposed to continue the tradition of "[whatever] animals" as titles, after Smith. Just so you know. Happy Feast of Saint Francis, nonetheless.

Smith decides, then, that humans are loving animals, rather than simply thinking or believing:
This Augustinian model of human persons resists the rationalism and quasi-rationalism of the earlier models by shifting the center of gravity of human identity, as it were, down from the heady regions of mind closer to the central regions of our bodies, in particular, our kardia--our gut or heart. (47)
Fundamentally, we are desiring creatures, a particularly compelling model (for me, at least). Further, Smith suggests that a model of intentionality is more appropriate to the human journey: human identity is formed over time (he calls this "unfolding and developing" in a "process of formation"). (47) The intentionality, or aim, of our selves is through the process of desire toward a target. He deftly states, "I can never just 'think'; I will necessarily be thinking of ... something." (48) This intentionality then takes on different modes: thinking; perceiving; remembering; having hope for; being afraid of; and having love for, to name only a few. Perception is not the fundamental mode, but rather, according to Heidegger, care. (49)

I seem not to care so much (about things I don't care about; what I mean is that my fundamental mode is selfishness, a sort of intentionality for myself), but I look forward to more of Smith's musing.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Believing Animals

Smith suggests that the Reformed tradition has formulated an alternative anthropology that pounts to humans as “believing” first, since all thought is based on some set of values, or, in my own words, based on ideology. Thus, humanity is made up if believing animals, nit just thinking ones. (43) But he goes on to reject this view (not completely, though) as just the same as "human-as-thinker," though somewhat more subtle. But it is a step in the right direction: Smith acknowledges that belief exists before and informs thought. But even before belief comes love. (46)

Friday, October 02, 2015

Cognitive Centricity

Smith goes first to Descartes (and Modernity) for the idea that a human is a thinking thing rather than a being "of the heart." When Descartes famously decides that "I think, therefore I am," the next question should be (according to Smith), "What am I?" But Smith suggests that Descartes has already concluded that this is all, as the physical senses can deceive. Thus, "what nourishes the 'I' is a steady diet of ideas, fed somewhat intravenously into the mind through the lines of propositions and information." (42) And, much to our chagrin, this model was accepted readily by Protestant Christianity (thus the stress on messages one might receive from the world around them, and a latent anti-intellectualism). (42)

These are scathing views of the cognitive centricity of the Protestant Church. He goes on right at the start of the next section to suggest that the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity has contested this view as reductionist. If they've got it right, that's good.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Liturgical Animals

James K. A. Smith begins his book in earnest with the following axiom: “We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends.” (40) And for Smith, we need to understand this philosophical anthropology before we can consider what the purpose of a Christian education, and how it might be informed by liturgical practices. Furthermore, he wishes to ponder the link between the Church and the Christian educational institution: it has been conceived as a link of ideas, a site of the conflation of world views, between the secular and the sacred: this leads to multiple (and seemingly endless) discussions of the “integration of faith and learning.” But, again, Smith returns to the premise that humans are not primarily thinkers, but, rather, they’re lovers. (41)

I think this is a useful idea; I continue to be interested in this very idea, and I appreciate the sort of phenomenological approach that I think Smith is (at least in part) taking. We desire, and what of this desire, or these desires? How have they come about and how do we change them? And what does this mean for curricula in the Christian academy?