Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Connecting "categories of thought and social experience"

One of Loyola’s Jesuit ideals is this concept of reflection—taking a step back from our daily lives and looking inward in order to discover deeper meanings in our experiences.  Whether a student goes to Loyola University Maryland or any other Jesuit school, part of a Jesuit education is all about being reflective so we, as products of a Jesuit school, can identify our place in the world and where/ how we can best use our education productively for the betterment of society.  On our own campus, reflection is stressed as part of Campus Ministry, CCSJ, and ALANA, along with several other clubs on campus.  “Reflection” often seems to imply that a person is sitting in a chair, looking thoughtful and pondering life’s questions.  However, if we were to synthesize all of the stories we read for today, it becomes apparent that reflection can take several forms. 

We can reflect either on a specific issue or on our own lives by serving others (like CCSJ and the woman in Plan B), on retreats (like Campus Ministry), by travelling (like Embarkation), by being part of a play (in Anti-Temporality) or by laughing (like Douglas describes in “Jokes”).  Our Jesuit education and the readings all combine thought with social experiences because to have one without the other would render many life events meaningless.  This combination of thought and social experiences teaches us that we cannot just analyze the “social structures,” but we should analyze "thoughts systems",  our response to the existing social order, to challenge our own thinking (146 Douglas).  Douglas’ whole point in “Jokes” is that humor confronts social patterns by first amusing, then shocking, but ultimately there is a deeper meaning to be found and examined (158 Douglas).  Douglas writes how the form of a joke depends on the social experience; to have a joke form without the social context puts the attempted joker at risk of obscenity and offense.  However, the only way to recognize the joke is by being aware of both the social context and then the joke which is the opposite of that context, so a joke requires reflection/ awareness, as well as it grants us an opportunity to reflect upon the deeper meaning (as we’ve discussed with Tales of the Tikongs and Candide having a broader social point that we are supposed to think about).   

The woman in “Plan B” completely mirrors Douglas’ thoughts on humor and reflection, but she reflects in being of service to someone else.  Douglas wrote in his essay that a joke “represents a temporary suspension of the social structure,” the same social structure that the woman was losing her mind over.  It took the intrusion of another character in “Plan B” to be that temporary suspension for the main character.  While the story is not necessarily funny, this interruption was much needed for this woman because it caused her to disengage from the chaotic and overwhelming social order that “set about killing the desperately poor on behalf of the obscenely rich” (4-5 La Mott).  Similarly, we see the same trend in “Embarkation,” when the man meets and Icelander and he forces himself to stop and think “why am I so attracted to high altitude, barren places?”  While he is not as overwhelmed as the woman in “Plan B”, he asks himself this question and realizes where he fits among Erik Erikson and all of these great Vikings in history. 

Lastly, Victor Turner mentions in the end of his speech that theater creates dualism and distancing which creates “the possibility of critique” (255 Turner).  In other words, we, as the audience, can objectively say whether the play was awful or not because we are removed from the actors on stage.  Turner uses this example to support his claim that liminality—a phase in time where no rank or status exists-- permits us to “play with the factors of sociocultural experience, to disengage what is mundanely connected” and to simply realize, if not try to explain, the disarticulated parts of life. 

                These readings remind me of a video called “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace which is an excerpt of a commencement speech Wallace gave at Kenyon College about realizing this is water—that all of the tedium and mundaneness of everyday life is water and we can choose how to respond to this by looking at life objectively.  Like our authors for today, Wallace poses two options: by disengaging and stepping outside of ourselves, we can embrace this monotony or we can remain unconscious, what he calls “our default setting”.  While Wallace focuses on disengaging from ourselves and our own egos, our authors for today focus on stepping back from the social structures and analyzing our responses to these structures, and this is the difference between Douglas’ “analysis of social structures” versus the “structural analysis of thought systems”.

The major take-away from all four readings is that this reflection is necessary.  Detachment and self-reflection in these essays, at Loyola, and in Wallace’s speech, are crucial in order to see the contrast between form and formlessness, control and lack of control, superiority and inferiority, and the sacred and sacrilegious.  However, the only way to recognize these contrasts is by detaching ourselves, using reflection in this case.  Whatever form this reflection takes, whether it’s in the form of a joke, service, meditation, travelling, an interaction with another person, or going to a theater—all of these events allow us to disengage from the social structures we are all inherently part of.  Analyzing social structures alone will give us an opportunity for a joke, but we will miss “the full human experience of the joke” that Douglas urges us to exploit fully.  “The structural analysis of thought systems,” on the other hand, will give us the social experience and the joke form to fully exploit the joke; realizing our own thought systems is the only way social change is possible, or else we would just be looking at social structures for what they are and maintaining the status quo. It is only when we see both sides of the coin in our thought systems that we realize incongruity in jokes, but more importantly how to be fully and independently human, and not just a product of our social structures. 

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