All posts filed under: Occasional Cafe

Play: A Sociological Approach

In their recent essay ‘Heterophony and Hyper-Responsibility’, Åkerstrøm Anderson and Knudsen present a sociological approach to play that is worth recording: A Gregory Bateson suggests that play is a special form of communication in which the message is that ‘these actions in which we now engage do not denote what those actions for which they stand would denote’ (2000: 180). When children play-fight, they continually draw up a distinction between play-fighting and fighting. Thereby, they establish that a marked strike signifies the strike but does not signify that which a strike would signify. Bateson’s final and more precise formulation is, ‘These actions in which we now engage do not denote what would be denoted by those actions which these actions denote’ (2000: 180). Thus, play represents a distinct communicative doubling machine. Play doubles the world so that we have a world of play and a real world, and the doubling takes place on the side of the play. Dirk Baecker (1999: 103) formulates it in this way: ‘In play, socialness is constituted by ways of …

Paradox of the Word

Literature devoted to the medieval paradox is a fount of creativity and wit. This short piece considers two paradoxes of religious orthodoxy that have inspired writers through the ages, from medieval theologians, to seventeenth century Englishmen, to modern poets like Eliot interested in the metaphysical tradition. Both examples show the enjoyment their authors derived from the paradoxical nature of much religious dogma. Both dramatise the Incarnation, the teaching that ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’. St Thomas Acquinas presents this core doctrine of Christianity as a couplet in the vesper humn Pange Lingua: ‘Verbum caro panem verum Verbo carnem effict’ [Word became flesh and bread, Word made flesh] With this conceit we are presented with the self-referential autopoiesis at the heart of Christian teaching: the paradox of the Incarnation of the Word of God. Here we do not speak of God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, but the ‘second person’ God the Word. The Catholic mass still employs the words of God the Word (the reported speech of Christ from St …

Popper’s Theology Paradox

Having read as a teenager, and on his father’s advice, Spinoza’s Ethics and Principles According to Descartes, Popper concludes they are both: ‘… full of definitions which seemed to me arbitrary, pointless, and question-begging, so far as there was any question at all. It gave me a lifetime’s dislike of theorizing about God. (Theology, I still think, is due to lack of faith.)’ In Popper’s view, then, true faith stands alone. A commitment to theology, usually associated with only the most devout, has other connotations. A commitment to theology far from denoting the presence of true faith actually illustrates an element of doubt, of wavering of faithlessness. A References Popper, Karl Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography (London: Routledge Classics, 2005) p. 14.

Richard Flanagan on the Autology of Literature

Novelist Richard Flanagan says English-language culture tends to see literature as a moral guide. If that were true, literature would issue from an external vantage point – a God-like perch from which it observes and describes us and offers us guidance on how to live: “But literature cannot do that, it doesn’t do that. It is of life, and part of life. And therefore it cannot escape life, and all it can do is remind us of the chaos at the heart of things, and in that chaos remind us that we’re not alone.” A Source: Bausells, M. ‘Richard Flanagan on Love, Life and Writing’, The Guardian, 26 September 2015.