“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jeffrey Bell on Sleep

Jeffrey Bell has a good post and an unusual video of Yogananda—whom I've never seen outside of photographs, though like all Yes fans I know his Autobiography of a Yogi.

Jeff makes the point that academics lack a culture of switching off from productivity or as Deleuze puts it, “becoming imperceptible.” I like this formula very much and it made me think about libraries, especially since I'm the system wide library rep. for UCD this year. We have a meeting coming up in Oakland.

I'm going to say that libraries aren't simply delivery services. They are huge piles of books that no one reads. And a good thing too.

1) We lack public spaces for introversion

2) OBJECTS lack spaces for introversion. There should be old things preserved from destruction, let alone new things like Ataris and Salman Rushdie's Amstrad computers (at Emory). New media is also fragile and ephemeral.

3) Imagine how we would feel if we realized that some head librarian at Oxford had decided, back in 1550, to convert all the manuscripts into printed books—and then burned the originals, in the name of space/progress/service/access/vomit.


Nick Guetti said...

What would a "public" space for "Introversion" look like? Am I wrong in thinking that the two factors cancel each other out?

I was standing in the middle of Pioneer Courthouse Square last night--a very public place in Portland, OR--and felt very free to sort of pace around and introvert like I usually do. I noticed, though, that out of maybe a hundred or more people, almost none of them were out in the middle of the Square like I was. Most of them, like organisms usually are, were gathered at the edge of the space...I was literally one of two or three, and I was probably the only one doing anything other than passing through the middle. There were people all around the edge of the square, I could see them and they could certainly see me, but I felt no inhibition to follow my own thought patterns, no fear of a social nature (perhaps due in part to my martial art practice), and very little distraction.

My suspicion is that there are actually very few people who are truly inclined to introvert. I tend to think it is less a matter of practice than of physical energy and neurological hardwiring. All other things being equal, a newly discovered island somewhere would be conquered my muscle-driven extraverts, but then mainly settled by the visceral, talkative and impressionable kind of extraverts (who do whatever the muscle-heads tell them and make up stories about why it's what they wanted to do anyway). The introverts generally show up last of all, too late to weigh in on the public aesthetic and ill disposed to argue with all the others in any case, except for the wealthy introverts (usually the only kind to survive and stay relatively sane), who can use their capital to build shells around them (monasteries, universities).

How do we turn that around? I have spent time in ecovillages and other intentional (mostly rural) communities that have intentionally re-introduced the concept of bowers: hollowed-out, coppiced thickets in the middle of open spaces, furnished with rain-shelter and cushions, all invisible from the outside; I think people mostly use them for sex. I've also walked up streets in ancient cities in Italy that get narrower and narrower as they spiral up, and all of a sudden I find myself in a kind of nowhere, a space (either open or closed) that feels like an exact copy of my mind, and everything is very quiet, & I do a big Wow.

But how do we create public places for introversion in places that are already established? And in cities, where Place is itself such an infernally political thing?
Keep in mind also that in terms of ecology, it may be worthwhile to introduce this concept as a part of a dismantling process. For people who are entering a time period of declining resources, cities as we know them and their growth & development are not practical endeavors, for anyone, introverted or not. The air conditioners require too much diesel, there are too many laws against urban agriculture (and the present infrastructural configurations generally prevent it), all capital and most secondary goods come from far away via petroleum, and there is usually no composting of human manure. In short, the ONLY useful product of a city is shit, and that is presently being used to pollute the oceans along with oil. Therefore it may be best to "carve out" places for introversion, rather than "build" them, and the resulting pile of materials can be reused to construct millions of dollars in high-density housing, perhaps influenced by architects like Paolo Soleri. Certainly a lot of Place could be made by eliminating the streets and reintroducing walkways. In the process of urban deconstruction, we can always preserve particular objects and leave Place for them to sit quietly. Having some of them sit quietly in the middle of a bustling crowd might illustrate that "Place" may be public, but "space" is within us.

John B-R said...

Dr Morton--

Besides being a fan of yours, and a follower of the whole "OOO thing", I am also a UC librarian, Humanities and Social Sciences Collection Coordinator at UC Riverside (I put my title in all caps because if I don't who will, and it strikes me as necessary, given how truly libraries and librarians are undervalued in universities, including the UCs, in spite of some rhetoric to the contrary)

This is a great post, but please don't think that librarians WANT to turn libraries into simple delivery services, or want to do the contemporary equivalent of "convert[ing] all the manuscripts into printed books—and then burn[ing] the originals ..." Far from it.

Though I now deal with contemporary material, print as well as e-, my background includes decades spent working in the Oxfords etc of the world with pre-1800 items, in all their physicality as well as their 'extractable' textual components. And I value that more than I can say here.

But what we are up against is this: how do we fulfill our mission to support current teaching and research, AND preserve the "space for introversion" (for objects to withdraw?) in a time of no staff, no money, no space, etc etc?

So, I ask you as a systemwide library rep to please make the case for all that you suggest here. Which translates into actual material help for libraries and librarians. We have enough faculty members who decry what you decry but never lift a finger to do anything but criticize us.

With your help, and with the help of your colleagues, we will have a much better chance of being able to keep? transform? libraries into such spaces as you - and we - desire. Without it, we don't have a chance.


Jeffrey Bell said...

Hi Tim, Nice point about libraries. We could probably list off traditional spaces for 'introversion,' as you nicely put it, and find a trend there as well for the delivery of services/entertainment (the multi-media megachurches come to mind).

I second as well your thoughts on how nice it was to meet up yesterday in Albuquerque.

Timothy Morton said...

Nick, I'd have to disagree on this. No doubt in our culture we don't have these spaces very much. But just think about a meditation hall. It's a crowd of people coexisting in introversion. To say that this is impossible to achieve in certain spaces (public) is a bit “ontotheological”--sort of saying that authenticity is only found in special pockets of the universe.

Timothy Morton said...

Hi John, yes, I know. I know you are on the same page. It's the admin who have forgotten what libraries do--preserve mountains of old things that hardly anybody uses. Surely we don't need a lot more money to do that--we just need to avoid some hairbrained scheme to junk it all in favor of the new.

Nick Guetti said...

No, I think I was saying that the ability or tendency to introvert in a crowd is a matter of personal inclination. But I was interested in the concept of "public places [specifically] for introversion". There are such places, not many of them here. How do they happen? Do most of them get built, or do they just kind of...well...happen?

No, ontotheology is definitely not my thing. Pioneer Square is great for spacing out. My favorites are old disused factories, mills and warehouses. And railroads! I hate that the old, dangerous and disused railroads in my home town have been replaced by ugly-pretty jogging trails.

I never went to the meditation room at my community much. Ectomorphic and somatotonic, I prefer meditation in actual solitude. Our meditation room had a really awesome landcsape painting in it, by the way. No religious images, just a landcsape.

John B-R said...

Dr Morton, unfortunately we **do** need more money if we are to simply preserve what we have. We need space, staff, etc, which we don't have.

As fore harebrained schemes, we're not luddites, but we hear those aplenty, and try to resist them.