Life ITSELF

UPDATE Here's an idea for how to introducte ourselves.  Think about what word--some preposition--is missing between the words "life" and "itself".  Tell a brief story, make a comment, show a prop, that allows you to conclude with something like, "and that's how I understand Life {For/In/By/...} Itself."

_______________

"Life goes on" means one thing; "life itself goes on" means another.  Let's return to that distinction later.

I've just started reading Roger Ebert's memoir, Life Itself.  Now when the phrase occurred to me some weeks ago--what an interesting phrase...that would make a cool theme--I didn't know about the memoir.  Or so I believed, until I received a Meetup invitation to the documentary screening.  But for memory, we would not think of, be taunted by, origins.

So far the book seems like most memoirs (though I've read very few), a succession of images and facts about one life, punctuated by "moments."  So the expectations of drama, coherence, significance are diminished, in recognition of the unremarkable "realness" of any one life.  But I keep reading, ignoring my mind's protest that, nearing the end of his life, Ebert should know which bits of his life really make a story.  Which bits point to life itself and which are just his life.  He seems uninterested in transcendence.

But he shows how transcendent things are built from the mundane:  "Every single time my father beheld this sight [a tray of appetizers], he said exactly the same thing: 'They fill you up before you even get your meal.'  Then he would glance at me, to signal that he knew he said it every time.  That's how I gained a lifelong fondness for repeating certain phrases beyond the point of all reason."  Which made me LOL.  "These phrases are not tics, they are rituals in the continuity of life."  (That reminds me, I have to introduce a new ritual.)

The following chapter, "My Mother," lacks a comparable "moment," as if to say, "mothers (or the lack thereof) are a very big part of lives, regardless of whether they spice up the story, and this memoir is being written from the point of view of life itself, so even if I know this chapter does nothing for the later ones, it's not your (the reader's) interest that I'm serving here."  A transcendent viewpoint excuses tedium.

That's as far as I've gotten.  The point being, not that Ebert need ever be mentioned in our discussion, only that I would like to start out by exploring the phenomenon of life itself from the first-person perspective.  Though it would be neat if our scientific knowledge of the self-reproduction of carbon-based organisms played into it somehow!  And what better occasion to tie in "evidence" from well-known films?  "I was born inside the movie of my life.  The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily."  Ebert's "reality realigns itself" at various conventional moments, but also "when the Ride of the Valkyries played during the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now."

Don't we tend to say "life itself goes on" only when, in some way, or for some one, life doesn't go on?

Jeff


N.B.:  Oh dear.  This will never do.  Oh well, no one reads these anyhow.  We can use the follow-on meeting to recoup.  I've already got an idea.


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  • Jay C.

    As I survey this crowded bouquet of languiacity, one flower stands out, it is Albert the Alligator, smoking a stogie and striking a pose, as he says 

    "Don't take life so serious, son, it ain't nohow permanent".

    As Albert sees it, we are all elements of the great "What-if" experiment, each with a starring role, and each a bit player as well.  With and through us, the play goes on, and the play's the thing.  No reviews.  Just the play.  Break a leg.

    August 4

  • Jeff G

    I have posted an expanded edition of the meeting notes that puts forth a detailed interpretation of the meeting dynamics that unfolded in response to our transcendental, yet linguistically framed, theme: it may be like re-watching a film with a familiar critic by your side! But have a look at this overview first http://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/45991452#123500752. Also in the Afterword now is an account of what we covered in the first half of the session.

    August 2

  • Jeff G

    If at all possible, please arrive early. If you are late, be prepared to be (temporarily, possibly) somewhat confused! :-o

    July 29

  • Becky

    I wish I could make it but have a friends photo exhibit going to check out. The Roxie in SF is playing "Life Itself" documentary about Ebert's life on July 30 7pm if anyone is interested.

    July 28

  • Harlan L.

    I looked at some free clips of Ebert's book in Amazon. Doesn't sound like an inappropriate thing to do given Jeff's description of a book not well structured in a lineal fashion. Most books I don't read linearly anyway, I usually start with the last chapter, which upsets a lot of people who find out about it.
    I loved his final phrase, "and so it goes," which is a meme taken from Vonnegut, of course. Like when the alien in Slaughterhouse Five says that the way the universe ends is when a pilot turns on a spaceship engine with a new fuel system and that's the end of everything. "And so it goes." Though in the S-Five novel, the point was, that existence is eternal with no beginning and no end. (Vonnegut I would characterize as a 1950s engineer with the common Buddhist leanings of that era who had an exciting imagination and power with words).
    My takeaway from the Ebert squibs is that "life" has continuity from genes and memes. And for him the memes were his claim to limited immortality.

    July 27

    • Colin F.

      Two other General Semantics fallacies to take into account: The map doesn't cover all the territory!
      The map reflects the map maker!

      July 28

    • Colin F.

      I found the first of those two especially pertinent to this situation.

      July 28

  • Dave R.

    Work demands will impinge my ability to participate in person this week.

    Sounds like I'm going to miss a taffy-pulling meeting of epic magnitude . . . I hope you guys get Life Itself figured out so I don't have to do all that heavy lifting for myself.

    I'm very much looking forward to the AfterWords on this one.

    1 · July 28

  • A former member
    A former member

    What is the conversation going to be about this Tuesday? I have not read the Life Itself book and am not interested in reading it, will the discussion focus on the book?

    July 27

    • Jeff G

      The extended thoughts on Ebert's book were intended as merely an example of how a philosopher thinks closely in response to some intellectual stimulus, be it a book, film, quote, prop, whatever. As noted in the announcement, it may never even come up (I've read only 60 pages of it). Now that you mention it, though, in a technical sense we *would* be able to say we had a good conversation about "Life Itself" if we talked about the book! :-) But I think we'll come up with something more creative than that.

      July 28

  • charlie

    Alas, I'm out of town on a short vacation and unable to join the group tomorrow. Instead, I'll share this thought from Hazlitt that may be apropos: "Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck by the difference between what things are and what they might have been."

    July 28

  • Jay C.

    I do too read your stuff !
    I can just sandwich the meeting in if our flight isn't delayed.
    Have been visiting relatives in Northern Minnesota, so I know all about the rituals of daily life,
    All ritual here.

    July 27

  • Charlie5

    Life itself, I wonder what it is, when I was a kid there were three branches - eukaryotes (plants and animals), bacteria, and archaea, and they were all supposed to be branches off the "progenote", whose will and intentions I contemplated for decades. Then I was dissapointed a few years ago when I realized that's no longer the going theory - now there are three branches of "life itself" on this planet, and we are all considered completely separate, like aliens. Too, I wonder the scope of this mystery called life (with no scientific explanation). When I was a kid the idea that the earth was a living entity was ridiculed, today "Gaia" is a common concept, so I have been waiting for the rest of the universe to come alive, cause personally I imagine the universe as a living thing, but I realize that's not too common, yet.
    And I always wondered why my dad, too, in 1970's NYC, repeated his favorite wierd facts over and over so much I can still repeat them, and yeah, I do it now too. -ch5

    July 23

    • Colin F.

      Here are two very good resources on autopoietic theory: (1)(http://www.oikos.org/...­), a very short, and admittedly not very descriptive, description of autopoietic theory; and (2) (http://www.autopoiesi...­), this is a FULL-ON BOOK about autopoietic theory by Maturana and Varela, and it is VERY, VERY good. It constitutes a text that is at once philosophical as it is scientific, in a similar way that Einstein's relativity theory could be considered philosophical. It may be considered a text on theoretical-systemic biology, as well as on ontology, epistemology, ecology, social sciences, linguistics, and pretty much anything that has to do with life.

      1 · July 24

    • Colin F.

      Oh, never-mind. Maybe another meetup could be started about it, if I could ever get anyone else to join besides you (ahaha).

      July 24

  • Jeff G

    Can't stop chuckling over very first sentence of Terry Eagleton's preface to The Meaning of Life: "Anyone rash enough to write a book with a title like this had better brace themselves for a postbag crammed with letters in erratic handwriting enclosing complex symbolic diagrams." 8^)

    July 24

  • Jeff G

    FWIW I just noticed that ITSELF is all-caps on the cover of Ebert's book.

    July 24

  • Janet K.

    Some reviewer filled out the statement: "The only thing Ebert loved more than movies was Life Itself." I think Ebert simply meant existence, or possibly the pleasure in an unconscious immanent relation to existence. He didn't intend to expound transcendently. (Haven't picked up the memoir.)

    July 24

    • Jeff G

      Ebert refrains from transcendental meditations; my point was, they arise despite this abstinence--and are all the more powerful for it. *** My guess is that the memoir's title refers to hackneyed compliments to the effect that watching a great film is like life itself. Ebert is saying, No, _this_ is life itself.

      July 24

  • denise f.

    For the bereaved, the disconsolate, the depressed, those for whom the story careened into an edge, a fragment that didn't fit, for those who had just long enough to step out of the river and per chance notice it, a pause before diving back in ... and then, and then I hear my aunt twanging "oh well, life goes on". Fuck you dear aunt.

    July 23

  • Harlan L.

    I couldn't resist posting this Beatles's version of Ob-la-di ob-la-da aka Life Goes On. Seems to me there's a lot of resonance between the essence of this song (even with the gender twist at the end) and Ebert's memoir, as you describe it. http://youtu.be/0fdPeXw3uAQ

    July 23

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