Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Formal Blog #2

Many world conquerors to be, have attempted to bring down the Established Church and, if the state of the Established Church is used as evidence, they have failed miserably. Mao, Leo III, Constantine and Scientology provide a few examples of attacks on Christianity. The Established Church’s strength is an attribute of the beliefs of its followers. Because a strong conviction is so hard to sway, the Established Church stands strong regardless of the power, size and “intelligence” of the attacker. To bring attention to the word “intelligence,” is to emphasize that the opposing side will believe their attackers are ignorant of the truth. Attacks are often initiated because of opposing views that drastically contradict the others, Christianity and Scientology specifically.


Hank Morgan, from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, believes that he will be able to conquer the Established Church. “Rudimentary cleanliness among the nobility...would undermine the Church. I mean would be a step toward that. Next, education -- next, freedom -- and then she would begin to crumble. It being my conviction that any Established Church is an established crime, an established slave-pen, I had no scruples, but was willing to assail it in any way or with any weapon that promised to hurt it” (Twain 144-145).


Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard, a twentieth century philosopher, describes a reason that Hank Morgan will fail in his essay “Can Thought go on Without a Body.” “A field of perception has limits, but these limits are always beyond reach. While a visual object is presenting one side to the eye, there are always other sides, still unseen. A direct, focused vision is always surrounded by a curved area where visibility is held in reserve yet isn’t absent. Continuing vision preserves along with it what was seen an instant before from another angle. It anticipates what will be seen shortly. These syntheses result in identifications of objects, identifications that never are completed, syntheses that a subsequent sighting can always unsettle or undo” (Lyotard 17). “Perceptual ‘recognition’ never satisfies the logical demand for complete description” (Lyotard 16).


Hank Morgan thinks that he has his process for the destruction of the Established Church figured out. Confounding variables will be present that Hank will not be able to anticipate. These confounding variables will be the logical demand for complete description that can never be satisfied. No matter how Hank goes about looking at his possible scenarios, there will always be something that he will miss. Hank’s over confidence will lead to his inability to conquer his biggest foe. As interpreted from Lyotard, Hanks will never be able to conquer the Established Church because he will never be able to perceive all the variables.


Not all new world technologies that Hanks brings to the sixth century can be considered technologies in the sixth century. “Any material system is technological if it filters information useful to its survival, if it memorizes and processes that information useful to its survival, if it memorizes and processes that information and makes inferences based on the regulating effect of behavior, that is, if it intervenes on and impacts its environment so as to assure its perpetuation at least” (Lyotard 12).


“I took along a night-shift of monks, and taught them the mystery of the pump...To those monks that pump was a good deal of a miracle itself, and they were full of wonder over it; and of admiration, too, of the exceeding effectiveness of its performance” (Twain 214).


Because the technology Hanks brings to the people of the sixth century is not understood by the people who are using it, by Lyotard’s definition above, these would not be considered a technology. These monks that are in charge are unable to make the inferences needed to regulate and maintain this pump, therefore they will not be able to assure perpetuation. These monks see the pump as a miracle and most likely have no idea how this technology works.

After Hank is no longer able to be in the sixth century to repair the technologies that he has brought to them, the technology will begin to fail. Lyotard says that even if the hardware is present, the software must be perfected in order for the being to progress. The people that have been exposed to the technologies will not have the knowledge of how the technologies were developed; therefore, they will be disadvantaged in repairing and improving the technology.


Jean-Fran├žois Lyotrad’s essay “Can Thought go on Without a Body” provides information that gives a reader of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court the ability to interpret the book in different ways. The reader should do this because it can be understood that not all the things that Hank does for the people of the sixth century are beneficial to them; it may be possible to go as far as saying that he is wasting their time. It is possible to say this because as Lyotard describes in his essay, a good technology is hard to develop, and unless it is developed properly, the new technology will not be able to lead to new enlightenment. If Hank is able to cause the church to crumble, would this be a good thing to the people of the sixth century? The most likely outcome of the removal of the church would be chaos; caused by the lack of the morals that are taught by the church. Even in today’s society where science has become highly accepted, religious morals are still very important in the education of right and wrong.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Students typically complain about Lyotard, and understandably so - it's hard, dense reading by anyone's standards. You're a perfect example of why I'm stubborn and keep assigning it, though. The advantage of a dense, highly philosophical text is that different people can use it for different purposes: you're showing me a new side of Lyotard here, though it was a text I thought I know well.

There are some small things I could nitpick and various moments I could praise - I'll also complain that your introduction was rather tortured. But I'll get right to the point that interests me most: your claim that, from Lyotard's pov, 19th century technology doesn't really work in the 6th century.

Let me push your point a little farther, since you quote but then don't use (as much as you could) L's definition of technology. For Lyotard, technology does not need to be conscious - but it does need to filter information. So, ironically, ants and bees have technology, but the pump, for these monks, _still_ isn't technology, because they aren't using it to process information. Or are they? Hank's argument is that they probably don't know that it's being used to train and shape them - there are ways, in other words, you could have pushed the Lyotard a little harder here.