Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday Night with Chuck

From time to time, in my old age, I get an extra jolt of inspiration to take advantage of New York. The city is always taking advantage of me, so it’s only fair to level the playing field from time to time. In this spirit, I’ve devoted myself to doing something cultural or social or both every night this week. Tonight, that means going to see a band I like (they’re playing just a few blocks from my apartment, so it’s not a chore). Tomorrow night, it means catching a late-night movie/event, which I’ll write about more after I see it. Thursday and Friday, it means going to parties for political/literary magazines, which will be full of free drink (good), some people I’d like to see (good), and hordes of young, eager, status-seeking New Yorkers who will make me feel horribly splenetic and, at a bare minimum, 87 years old (bad).

Last night, the week started with a trip up to Columbia to see a lecture by Charles Taylor. Not this Charles Taylor. That would be scary. This one. Taylor is a Canadian philosopher, and the author of at least three lengthy books that I hope to read, probably in this order -- Hegel, Sources of the Self, and his most recent, A Secular Age.

There were about 200 people in attendance, on the 15th (and top) floor of a campus building, from which there’s an amazing view of Manhattan. (I took in the view in an anteroom; the window coverings in the lecture hall itself were pulled down, presumably to keep the glittering sight from upstaging the speaker.) I’m not sure more than four or five of us weren’t part of some graduate program or other (as student or faculty), but my fellow attendee and I felt disturbingly comfortable. Guess I should have continued studying, after all.

More than in the picture to the right, in person Taylor reminded me of actor Mike Farrell. He’s very tall and thin. He had an affable aspect, despite the fact that he had just flown in from Japan. His speech was about “disenchantment,” or the ways Westerners have moved past “magical thinking,” and ways the world might become re-enchanted (though not by a simple restitution of magical thinking). He’s a practicing Roman Catholic, and while his arguments are not always concerned explicitly with religion, they do stand generally opposed to the philosophy of Dawkins (who he engaged at one point during the talk) et al., in not believing that biological determinism is a sufficient provider of significance to humans. Most essentially, at least last night, Taylor was addressing how the way that we explain actions -- for instance, whether altruism is a Darwinistic advantage with payoffs or a balm to the ego or a social sacrifice of the ego -- has consequences for how we then value those actions.

The lecture became rambling and repetitive in the second half, but overall it was charming. Throughout the talk, when he would make a transition from one point to another, Taylor would purposefully lift his folded-up eyeglasses from the podium and set them down a few inches to the right or left, like he was physically marking off a completed section.

Monday down, four nights to go.

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Blogger Dezmond said...

I think I would be more interested in hearing from the other Charles Taylor.

7:56 PM  

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