Thursday, January 24, 2008

Formal Blog 2 (option 2)

In Lyotard’s article “Can Thought go on without a Body?”, there is an emphasis on the power that humans possess. We have thoughts, intelligence, and experiences that shape us and influence how we interact with the world. The way we interact with our surrounding environment influences how we progress technologically, politically, socially, etc. In “Can Thought go on without a Body?” Lyotard states that
“A human, in short, is a living organization that is not only complex but, so to speak, replex. It can grasp itself as a medium (as in medicine) or as an organ (as in goal-directed activity) or as an object (as in thought- I mean aesthetic as well as speculative thought).
It can even abstract itself from itself and take into account only its rules of processing, as in logic and mathematics.”
However, even though we do indeed possess these qualities and we are “very sophisticated software”, we do not have the ability to predict how society will react to future policies, creations, and conditions of life. This is what Hank Morgan in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court fails to realize. Morgan tries to apply his knowledge of 19th century America to 6th century England. “Men write many fine and plausible arguments in support of monarchy, but the fact remains that where every man in a State has a vote, brutal laws are impossible” (p.228). He wants to decrease the gap between the nobility and the poor, while undermine the power of the Church. However, the people from this century look up to the church and what it represents. If the Church was to be taken down and disappear from this society, its inhabitants would be lost. This would result because they have different experiences than Morgan. These people have not experienced democracy, freedom of speech, voting, or capitalism, so as a result these unheard of ideas would most likely be turned away.
Additionally, Morgan uses his knowledge of 19th century America to create products that may not necessarily be beneficial to this society. He teaches monks how to pump water from the well, creates underground telephone wires, and even sends Yankee missionaries around with soap. Certain technologies, such as telephone wires would be of no use to these people. They do not have the means by which to create or repair telephone wires, or have any idea of why they would use them or how for that matter. Technological inventions come with time, and develop when they are needed. This society may be given all sorts of technological advances from 19th century America, but without the same expectations, needs, desires, and influences that are present in America in the 19th century, these objects are unnecessary and have no use.
Chapter ten in A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court is named “Beginnings of Civilisation”. “I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sunday-schools the first thing; as a result, I now had an admirable system of graded schools in full blast in those places, and also a complete variety of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing condition. Everybody could be any kind of Christian he wanted to; there was perfect freedom in that matter. But I confined public religious teaching to the churches and the Sunday-schools, permitting nothing of it in my other educational buildings” (p.101-102). Hank is altering this society by separating church and state, which is a great idea in theory, but may ultimately not work at this particular time period, since these people rely heavily on the Church and its teachings. This Chapter is disturbingly named “Beginnings of Civilisation”, when it is not at all the beginning of civilization. Hank may refer to it as “civilization” because to him, telephone wires, soap, not teaching religion in schools, and well pumps are used in civilized areas. These people however, do not possess knowledge about the future like Hank does. They cannot be considered uncivilized based on the time period in which they are living. They are simply a product of their society. As Lyotard states, “The survival of a thinking- organization requires exchanges with that environment such that the human body can perpetuate itself there.” The people living in 6th century England are human beings capable of thought and interaction, and they interact with the surrounding environment, just not in the way Hank Morgan may like them to.


Courtney said...

Just to add a little bit, as you keep reading in the book into about chapter 33 and into 34, Twain continues to show how it really is hard to throw 19th century thinking into a 6th century world. Hank tries to explain to some people from a different part of the land that even though their wages are lower than that areas, they are still making more because their cost of living is cheaper. These people are so perplexed that they think he is a madman and he eventually gets sold into slavery.

Adam Johns said...

Courtney - nice response.

Noa - your emphasis on the chapter title "Beginnings of Civilisation" is very nice - it would have actually been very effective at the beginning of your post, maybe more than towards the ending. Hank's main operating notion, as you recognize, is that he (and he alone) has a clear, unalterable concept of what civilization _is_: he has a working definition which nobody else has.

Look at the line you quote: "the fact remains that where every man in a State has a vote, brutal laws are impossible." Hank's ongoing failure, to quote your quotation of Lyotard, is to be replex, to be really self-analytical. _Of course_ a democracy can enact brutal laws - as Courtney points out, he becomes deeply involved with slavery in Britain without every reflecting on the fact that slavery flourished in American _democracy_.

I quite like your approach - the one way in which you could have pushed yourself harder is by doing more to recognize and analyze the nature of Hank's contradictions.