What follows is a post by C. Thi Nguyen, which is cross-posted with The Splintered Mind.Continue reading
What follows is a guest post from Rebecca Scott, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harper College.
As a philosopher who thinks a lot about teaching and learning, I have a tendency to experiment wildly in my teaching methods. I’m always searching for ways to make my classes more joyful, meaningful, relevant, and fun. Sometimes, my pedagogical experiments fail miserably, and other times they lead to unexpected and delightful encounters that transform my students and me in unexpected ways. A few semesters ago, I embarked on my favorite teaching experiment yet—I played Dungeons and Dragons with my Ethics classes. And what I discovered is that role-playing games have a lot to teach us about the importance of community and playfulness in the classroom.
John Rawls said, famously, that the way to judge a society was to look at the condition of its worst-off.1 It doesn’t matter how rich or well-educated the people at the top are. The best society is the one that best treats the people at the bottom.
Let me suggest a corollary: the Rawlsian Theory of Food Culture. The Rawlsian Theory of Food Culture says that, if you want to judge the quality of a food culture, don’t look at its finest restaurants and best food. Look to its low-end. Look to its street carts, its gas-station snacks. Look to what you can get in the airport at 2 AM. Any community can spit up a few nice places to eat, if they throw enough money at it. What shows real love for food, and real caring, is when people make good food when they could get away with making crap.
Read enough cookbook reviews, and you’ll start to notice a curious gap. Cookbook reviews mostly focus on how the recipes turn out — how tasty the dishes are, or how authentic they are. Sometimes they’ll also talk about the quality of writing, or how much you learn about some region’s culinary history or food science or the author’s childhood or whatever. But usually they leave out what it feels like to actually cook the goddamn things. Continue reading
We are witnessing the birth of a new comedic form: satire by algorithm. You want to make fun of some category of thing, and show how empty and mechanical and simplistic all the examples of that thing are. So you make a bot that randomly generates new examples of that thing. And the entire point is that it’s a bot. And often, it’s utterly crucial that it’s a dumb and obvious bot. This is why isolated exposure to the only one or two bot-Tweets or bot-memes doesn’t get you the full package. The real sharp end of the joke hits when you start to catch on to the rules, when the raw and obviously algorithmic nature of the bot reveals the utter banal predictability of its target. Continue reading
One of the things I collect is people’s odd little invented aesthetic categories. They’re usually personal, often work-related, and usually arise from a human soul being endlessly confronted with the same set of relationships and experiences, in the work-grind, and trying to cope. I, for example, have a very private list of the most tragicomically overreaching introductory sentences from student papers. (“Since the time of the dinosaurs, man has yearned to define the Quest for Truth.” Etc.)
Here’s a particularly satisfying one I just collected, from a therapist friend who asked to remain anonymous.
(Photo credit: Peter Barker)
“Top ten facial tissue handling patterns by patients engaging in psychotherapy:
1. The relieved post-sobbing messy scrunch ball.
2. The careful triangle; unused.
3. The careful triangle, folded before crying; used for gentle dabbing at gentle tears.
4. The careful triangle, folded after crying to hide the snot.
5. Messy, self-conscious, post-sobbing squares.
6. The anxious rending.
7. The anxious and methodical balling-up into equally-sized tissue balls.
8. The careful pyramid of many tissue scrunch balls.
10. The anxious refraining from using any tissues at all; tears and snot akimbo.
11. The twisting into elegant, anxious tissue rods.”
I think I delight in these lists because they’re a place where people get to mess around with their own made-up aesthetic categories. They’re where we get to actually invent our categories for ourself.
They’re in this odd in-between space, for aesthetics. On the one hand, with Official Art Stuff, we tend to appreciate things in terms of historically established and very public categories, like “Grecian architecture” and “Impressionist art”. As Kendall Walton ultra-famously argued, aesthetic appreciation of an artwork crucially depends on which category you perceive it in. The category tells you which features to pay attention to, and which to ignore; it also tells you which features are standard for that category, and which stick out. Total flatness is unremarkable for a painting, but quite bold for a sculpture. On the other hand, for Totally Not Official Art Stuff, we can just ignore any standard and established categories. This is Yuriko Saito’s line, in Everyday Aesthetics – nobody tells us how to aesthetically appreciate housework, we just pay attention to whatever we please, and notice whatever we like.
These little personal categories are something halfway in-between, where we get to play around with the categories themselves, and try on for different ones for size. They’re aesthetic categories that we can tune to our own private interests, cut free from the requirements of art history. And a good one can be weirdly effective for interrogating other people’s aesthetic souls. For example: asking people to list the “best restaurants in the world” tends to yield dullness. But “favorite places to eat when depressed” yields, not only a deep insight into other people’s particular emotional relationship with food, but, when deployed regularly, the beginnings of an understanding of the differences between fine dining, and, say, comfort eating. And the list of “favorite things and places to eat alone” yields something even more interesting: an awareness of how place, eating habits, and socializing interact; an awareness of what kinds of food are convivial and which ones are deeply private pleasures, and what about them makes it so.