By Mark Pettibone

Mark works in retail for food. He writes, reads, researches, thinks, organizes, produces, cultivates, and creates to live. Holding a graduate degree in liberal studies, he works primarily in the murky thresholds between politics, economics, the environment, and philosophy.

Truth and the Individual in Robert Musil’s Blackbird

In The Analysis of Sensations, physicist Ernst Mach at once shatters the realist’s conception of the world and the self. Polemicizing against Rene Descartes’ dualism, and classical rationalism in general, Mach reduces all of reality to localized, yet fully relativized complexes of sense data.[1] His universe is one in which the permanent is illusory and “facts” are mere descriptions of the relations between dynamic connections of sensations. There is no “I”, no ego, no Truth—at least not in any tangible sense. Robert Musil and his Austrian contemporaries warily absorbed Mach’s theory. It ripped the stable metaphysical rug from beneath their…

From Polythetic to Synthesized: Definitions of “Religious Daoism”

Carving a well-defined image of religious Daoism out of the block of ancient and medieval Chinese thought and tradition is a laborious task. The development of Daoist concepts from the Warring States period to the fall of the Han dynasty is amorphous—an ephemeral composite of figures, beliefs, scriptures, traditions, and communities. Reflecting this problematic and multivocal nature of Daoism, academia surrounding the religion is equally as variegated. Some academics propound a relatively boundless survey of the general concepts of Daoism, but ultimately fail to provide an efficacious definition by which to capture the religion’s distinguishing features. On the other hand,…

Shangqing: Individual’s Community

Community remains a central concept in religion and religious studies. Daoism is no exception to this rule. Many scholars of Daoism associate the religion’s birth with the emergence of the Celestial Masters (est. 142 C.E.), a hierarchically arranged community—or institution—that consisted of priests, libationers, and clerical members. Using the Celestial Masters as a comparative tool, one cannot ignore a conspicuous lack of community in the Shangqing (Supreme Purity) Daoist tradition. The materialism indicative of Ge Hong’s (ca. 280 – ca. 343) alchemy, adopted and internalized by the Shangqing school, renders the latter primarily individualistic and, therefore, problematically defined as an…

Filarete’s Conduits and the Production of Space

The Renaissance hospital constitutes a space in which rational organization confronts, conceals, and controls socially constructed objects of contamination and contagion. At the core of its architectonic function, Milan’s Ospedale Maggiore works to purify the impure body through a masquerading act, which disturbs and detaches the immaterial subject from its contaminated embodiment. Architects and humanists conceive of complex sanitary networks that permeate the building’s space, while remaining hidden, or closeted, behind porous walls. Extending the hydraulic metaphor to relations of bodies in space, one understands the hospital’s power relations as constituted by mechanisms that permit and block certain objects from…

Fast Trip, Long Drop as Video Support Group

You have to tell your own history to make it advance. And so the point, I think, of remembering is to reinvent ourselves. –Jean Carlomusto in Fast Trip, Long Drop   Video never blossomed into humanity’s emancipator. It did not connect people by their nervous systems, eclipsing modern woes with a collective “global village.” Instead, video in its “guerilla” form fell victim to the machinery of the capitalist system—the very monolith it vowed to tackle. At least, that’s the narrative underlying many writers’ works on the subject in the 1980s.[1] These authors, though varying in degree of pessimism, maintain a…

Psychological Solipsism and Salvation in Schnitzler

Vienna at the turn of the century witnessed a newly evolved variation on the old Protagorean mantra, “Man is the measure of all things.” As Carl E. Schorske explains in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, “psychological man” now occupied that central, precarious position in the age-old search for truth. Political and social dissonance, coupled with a new aesthetic and understanding of reality, spawned a movement inward—into the psyche—among the Viennese intelligentsia. Channeling much of its artistic and scientific energies inward, a generation of creative thinkers expressed the, often bleak, ramifications of “psychological man” in various ways. Arthur Schnitzler, the son of a bourgeois…

The Missing Voice in Bruce Lenthall’s Radio’s America

In Radio’s America, Bruce Lenthall uproots his reader from the 21st century, propelling her into the Depression era and the dawn of modern mass culture. Lenthall discusses the complex arena of American society during the 1930s and 1940s, an amorphous domain that continually blurs the once distinct lines of the public and private spheres. Radio, Lenthall claims, propagated and sustained a new mode of discussion—one that enabled a few voices to influence the masses at unprecedented levels. The reader gains insight into radio’s communicative implications through different key players: public intellectuals, political figures, students of communication, aural artists, and citizens…

Cloacal Imagery and the Development of Artist and Text in Joyce’s Portrait

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man contains an orgy of sensations. Writing in the early 20th century, Joyce touched a nerve in his readership through his liberal use of cloacal imagery. More than an exercise in inclusive realism, writing raw, seemingly unpleasant sensory facts into the bildungsroman serves to highlight a key aspect in Stephen Dedalus’ development as an artist. A crisis of identity afflicts the novel’s protagonist, as he struggles with various social institutions over ownership of his self, oscillating between extremes of mind and body to stake his claim. Stephen fixates on and…

The Pious Philosopher

Plato’s Apology and Crito provide complicated concepts regarding Socrates’ obligation to the Athenian polis and the democratic ideal of nomos. In both dialogues, the reader gleans instances in which Socrates professes condemnation of the majority, pitting it against the just and reasonable. Despite his distrust of Athenian democracy, Socrates accepts his fate at the hands of this very institution, thereby exemplifying an ultimate act of faith or piety. This willful leap into death, however, is more a redemption of the just philosopher than that of the pious citizen. Though he rarely explicitly chastises Athenian democracy, Socrates’ makes telling remarks in…

Bret Carroll’s Spiritualism in Antebellum America: A History Review

Bret E. Carroll’s Spiritualism in Antebellum America seeks to establish American Spiritualism as a unique, new religion of the 19th century. Though scholars often analyze the movement in relation to the cultural and economic changes of the time, Carroll argues for a more inclusive study of Spiritualists’ religious, theological, and ideological impetuses. The former approaches, he acknowledges, are equally crucial to understanding the movement in its full context, but ignoring the “religious and theological questions”—the ideological needs common to antebellum Americans in general—threatens to preclude defining Spiritualism as a “significant phenomenon in American culture”.1 Spiritualism, the author argues, was an important…