Zeteo believes in the generalist intellectual. S/he may be what Kant called a focus imaginarius, an idea lying outside the bounds of possible experience, but nonetheless helping us organize and extend our thinking. S/he—you?—is a person of insatiable curiosity, interested in subjects far beyond the fields in which s/he makes a living. A person who enjoys what Nabokov called the freedom of reading. Likely you are a writer, too—be it of blog posts, poetry, academic articles, case notes, devilishly creative sexts or decorously decorated to-do lists.
Each issue of Zeteo is put together with you in mind. It is not an easy process. It involves pushing writers and scholars, often intensely focused on a particular subject, to recast their work and translate technical terminology so that the work speaks to generalists. The result, we hope and trust, is a set of pieces that you will enjoy reading, and which may lead you to wish to be involved in contributing to the Zeteo project in the future.
For this Spring 2013 issue, what do we have for you?
- Richard Berrong shows how Gauguin’s Tahitian canvases were in quite direct dialogue with a bestselling French novel of the time, Pierre Loti’s Le Mariage de Loti.
- Lama Zuhair Khouri, an Arab-American mother and psychotherapist, responds to the Boston Marathon tragedy, writing about what it feels like to be viewed as the enemy.
- Jennifer Polish writes about improving community housing for people with developmental disabilities, addressing heteronormative ableism and the limits confronting both queer and non-queer residents.
- Jeffrey Allen Nall presents two major reasons for not giving in to fatalism, for continuing, no matter the odds, to take action to address moral problems.
- Aaron Botwick argues that we should not give Hitler posthumous victories by leaving Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice solely in the hands of post-Holocaust interpretations.
As for my own piece, in each Zeteo issue I try to explore new and different ways that we might write for you, our generalist intellectual readers. This issue’s piece was inspired by Wittgenstein and a question posed on a Darwinian sandwich line: “Do you know, is the crab soup vegetarian?”
Yours in reading and writing,
Zeteo Editorial Adviser
PS: Kant’s “focus imaginarius,” itself a fiction, a “mere idea,” was apparently derived from a passage in Newton’s Opticks which discusses the optical illusion involved in mirror vision, “whereby an object that lies behind one’s back, and thus outside one’s visual field, appears to be in front, just as it would be if the lines of light reflected in the mirror actually proceeded in a straight course.” (I am quoting not from Newton, but from the Kant scholar Henry Allison[*]) In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant proposes that, like objects in a mirror leading to a point behind us that we cannot see, transcendental ideas (the soul, the world, and God) should not be treated as real, but as “directing the understanding to a certain aim, towards which all the lines of its rules converge”.[†]
Kant uses this as an argument for the systematizing of knowledge—for seeing human understanding as converging on one, however imaginary or unknowable, point. While I have, in my turn, used this concept for championing Zeteo’s generalist intellectual, I would note that Zeteo, beginning in interdisciplinarity, is committed to escaping systematization. We might take as our motto an observation of Mikhail Bakhtin’s:
The world of culture and literature is essentially as boundless as the universe. We are speaking not about its geographical breadth (this is limited), but about its semantic depths, which are as bottomless as the depths of matter. The infinite diversity of interpretations, images, figurative semantic combinations, materials and their interpretations, and so forth. We have narrowed it terribly by selecting and by modernizing what has been selected. We impoverish the past and do not enrich ourselves. We are suffocating in the captivity of narrow and homogeneous interpretations.[‡]
(But, we hope, not in the pages and posts of Zeteo!)
[*] Henry E. Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 425-26.
[‡] M.M. Bakhtin, “From Notes Made in 1970-71,” in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, translated by Vern W. McGee (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 140.
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