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April 9th, 2007

Emerson's Impersonality & Why I Dislike It

I've spoken time and again about the concept of impersonality in R. W. Emerson's writings to my professor, who finds the concept fascinating, and he has tried time and again to impress on us the importance of impersonality, coupled with the risks of getting too involved. Essentially, the key of impersonality is to become so selfless that the self can encompass anything - everything can be appreciated and loved equally because it all has inherent goodness.

There're, of course, several points where this simply is incommensurable - if you want to be impersonal, then how alive are you? The contemplative life has always been comparable to death - a state of complete stillness to comprehend the cosmos. It's an extremely Buddhistic concept, which I never reconciled myself with.

I don't believe the concept of impersonality helps make a person become a human being - if anything, it lends itself to the concepts of post-humanism with its question of "what is human? Can we be completely impersonal and still be human?" My simple answer is no. Human nature likes to find out about things, it likes to change things in its environment, it likes to experiment, and it doesn't just "let things be", because if we did that, we wouldn't really be any much different than animals.

Impersonality, I believe, also leads to the huge post-modern problem of alienation. We see this all the time, especially with the burgeoning technological advances we make. We don't have to go to the bank and see a real bank teller anymore, because we can do it online. We don't babysit our own kids, we make them sit in front of the television. We don't go out and make friends, we make them online.

Don't get me wrong, the Internet is wonderful. It helped me grow up as a person because I met so many types of people that I never would have met otherwise. But for some, it becomes a dependency because they become too afraid to go out and see who's in their immediate vicinity, and partake of emotional bonds safely behind a screen. (This doesn't include people who become very emotionally bonded to their online friends.) But do we really partake of life if we remain faceless beings behind a screen?

That, in itself, is a form of impersonality - we don't necessarily participate in other people's lives, we just sit back and observe. We oftimes don't pass judgement, because we're not there.

Simply put, impersonality can lead to alienation, a highly uncomfortable human state. There're people who achieve impersonality and are perfectly content with it (I won't say happy, because the word "happy" implies a certain extreme). They're content to just sit back and do nothing, and let the world unfold itself. But I don't think, for most part, that all humans are capable of this.

Alienation is a problem of mine and I know a lot of other people share this too. That is why, I think, it's a dangerous thing to tout impersonality as a good thing. So here's a song that depicts my sense of alienation - David Bowie's Space Oddity.


Ground control to Major Tom
Ground control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God's love be with you

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five,
Four, three, two, one, liftoff

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do

Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell me wife I love her very much, she knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you....

Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do.

Lit Geek Spree

I went on a nerdy spree today, and bought books AND magazines, of various types. I'm always proud of the variety of stuff I get, no matter whether I'm in a book store or a CD store.

From the Daily Grind, magazine store:
- Harper's - Notably for its cover story "How Shakespeare Conquered The World" and this gorgeous, heroic looking picture of The Bard in front.
- Room - feminist literary magazine. I presented a short story from one of its previous issues for class.
- Neo-Opsis - a science fiction magazine. It's fairly new: this is the 10th issue I got. It looks very shiney and feels really nice. It's got so much text that I shiver.
- Fantasy & Science Fiction - I shouldn't be buying this one, considering that I still haven't gotten through the last one I bought. I'm going to hit the the editorials first this time, I think.
- Ricepaper - The magazine for Asian-Canadians. It was really hard to find this time, because it's half the size that it used to be. It's actually a lot handier and easier to carry around, I think. I'm also guessing that it's starting to do REALLY well, because there're very few advertisements in between pages.

Then from its next door neighbour, Bookmark, pure drama:
- Aristophanes - Lysistrata, the Archanians, the Clouds
- The Plays of Oscar Wilde - Vera, the Duchess of Padua, Salome (read), Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband (read), the Importance of Being Earnest (read), La Sainte Courtisane, A Florentine Tragedy.
- August Strindberg - Miss Julie, The Father, A Dream Play, The Ghost Sonata, Dance of Death
- Eugene O'Neill: Collected Shorter Plays - Bound East for Cardiff, Fog, Thirst, The Long Voyage, Home, Ile, The Moon of the Caribbees, In the Zone, the Hairy Ape, Hughie
and finally, an interesting looking one: The Power of Ignorance: The Play


The latter batch is, of course, for perusal over the summer so that 100 Years of Drama @ SMU can be better encompassed by a wide variety of works. If the new SMUDS executives don't want to use these, then that's okay, they'll go straight into my personal collection.

Yeapyeap.

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