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Greetings,

After 25 years adjunct teaching at the college level, I was done. I enjoyed teaching public speaking and freshman composition. I loved the in class discussion over essays read. Teaching how to conduct research, and write a reasoned argument, as well as how to evaluate sources became more difficult each passing year. The shift to seeing students as customers is real. I do miss the student willing to put in the effort, though they became few and far between. I have written a few pieces and perhaps will do more. My love of reading keeps me happy and content. I found your writing by way of your piece on the voynich manuscript. Looking after my 2 ferrets has made my life most pleasurable. Looking forward to your writing! 🌻

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Aug 7, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

But don't the songs of innocence come *after* the songs of experience? The beginner's mind, isn't that an aim to *become* a child again?

Interesting, Justin, but I think this has to be juxtaposed with capitalism's attempt at infantilization. More relevantly, perhaps, isn't there always a tendency to want to go 'back' because the world, time, and language are seen as a 'fall'? As if we could or should go back to a supposedly pre-conceptual and 'intuitive' way of being (J. Zerzan).

Not sure, but for us the Fall was never a fall. Yes, a recovery of our 'fitrah' (true nature) is paramount, but one that avoids all the tensions between simplicity & sophistication (of the mind), childish innocence and maturity, because the world, time and nature- the cosmos (to go back to your earlier essay) - are "signs".

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Aug 7, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

Hello. I couldn't make a choice on your first poll question. The essays I enjoy the least are the argument and issues-based ones, but sometimes those are interesting. I loved "The Transmutean Hypothesis," and "Gone Bad, Come to Life." History and memoir are tied for faves, but I've also enjoyed reading some of your fiction. "Boogaloo" was a fun and interesting story, for instance. On the question of whether your writing is fresh or repetitive, I also couldn't make a choice. It's maybe a little bit of both? I know that's a contradiction, but it comes from the gut. And just because a thing is repetitive, doesn't mean that it's bad.

Thanks for your work. I enjoy it.

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Justin are you by any chance a fan of WG Sebald, because that's what your writing reminds me of most for some reason, in a good way :)

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author

I read Austerlitz Rings of Saturn a long time ago, and hope to read more Sebald again -- I like him a great deal but wouldn't, at least for now, think of him as a guiding light. Whenever I go into a fluorescent-lighted fast-food place and order at the counter I think of the scene in Austerlitz where Sebald's hero orders at a McDonald's and says it felt like he was “under interrogation”. So relatable!

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Aug 11, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

The lack of enthusiasm for experimental metafiction is truly dismaying as it's some of the best I've read anywhere. I believe the word I used at one point was Borgesian.

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I'm a bit disappointed by the poll results there as well. I try to take the long view though, and will just keep doing what I'm doing no less assuredly than if the poll had said 99% rather than like 12%. And thanks for the encouragement!

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Aug 6, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

Hello Justin,

After my 75th birthday and some panic/downs-and-manic/up type cycles (i.e. my serious-psyche trying to avoid letting me open up to speak 'naively' of the map/model I've been developing for ’40 odd’ years) I found myself with the form of conundrum you mention.

I took the leap and am writing a new way as you seek to do.

Of note, I would link that 'child-like' or childish renewal you address to what is called Beginner's Mind in meditative practice...

What I see from many years of seeing people as a psychotherapist is the reality that there is a subterranean/non-obvious big uptick in Consciousness going on… It leads to many 'layerings' of schismogenesis – individuallly plus collectively.

I only took one course in Philosophy in 1966 which I flunked for how little it held me... same as the Hon BSc in Physics I'd started but dropped after a month being bored! Moved to psychology and thankfully got dumped out of a doctorate as being too metaphysical/mystical etc.

My work is on articulating a Daoist/Psychosynethetic Way, a crossing of Eastern and Western forms to address value, purpose, pain and joy. Thus particularly the craziness of ego stuff – i.e. of how self vs. other is entangled metaphysically with Inner self vs. Outer self – Yin-ish vs. Yang-ish... which 'echoes' out into our global and cultural institutions. Psych diagnosis I see as the silliness of seeing People as either more Introverted or Extraverted...(for Monel, of course!) Poor or Rich, Traumatized or supposedly Not... just more This or That etc. etc... Wholeness be Damned as an Aim, it's too complicated....

All as we sit waiting for Chi or child-like innocence to arrive and lead us on 'home' when We Are/Have Both Those... as in Jean Gabser's EPO...

Once I’m closer to publishing (late this year/early next) you are exactly the kind of person I’d cherish to give me feedback.

Thanks for your article Justn and reading me.

Many Blessings, Barry

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Aug 18, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

On the childishness stuff: it was Schlick, in an essay titled 'On the Meaning of Life', of all things! A lovely essay. Read contemporary analytic philosophy on meaning of/in life, you won't find it discussed. Alas.

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Oh wonderful, thank you! I am immensely grateful for this reference.

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Keep up the good work dude!

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I need to change my vote. I couldn't see the full categories on my phone so for the first question I pressed "memoiristic and subjective essays" when my actual choice is "experimental metafiction." I'm dismayed to see this category only at 12%! The post last week (if experimental metafiction is indeed the correct category for it) was sublime, as were the chrono-swooping ones from last year.

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Aug 7, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

The poll might have been the most nerve-racking thing I have ever participated in. I love the guest-posts because I like seeing exciting writing by authors new to me, and whose Substacks I cannot afford to subscribe to, but only if they supplement the Smith-Ruiu content instead of replacing it! And one post per week is enough, but additional posts are more than welcome!

I was also surprised by how few people seem to like the metafiction. Ever since I learned about the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which I am hoping one day to get to visit, I have been fascinated by these artistic takes on scientific curiosity, or whatever it should be called. When it is done right, it really makes one think. I just received the Weschler book on Zohars, and I am looking forward to reading it. Once I have managed to get through J R that is. (I am glad to have finally had a good enough excuse to start.)

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Aug 7, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

Very nice.

I see they haven't entirely killed off your soul and spirit.

Good. Do not let them.

Thumbs up icon.

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Hey thanks Jay!

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Aug 7, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

Wow, that was an inspiring read. As a one of the currently-cramped, still eking out an inflated salary in Wordle-Land (for now), I say go for it! "Half-measures availed us nothing..."

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Aug 6, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

"Do you think religious faith is prima facie ridiculous?" That doesn't seem fair. Alternatively (after Julian Bagini), "Do you think religious faith requires belief that supernatural events have occurred here on Earth?"

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Hey, wait a minute guys (Khalid too)! Questions aren't declarative statements. They don't even have a truth value! I know for a fact that many people in my broader milieu do in fact hold the view I'm asking about, and I want to know how many of these people are reading me. That's it. But even if it *had* been a declarative and not an interrogative, there is a significant strain of religious thinking that follows the “Credo quia absurdum” line, and in light of this I would not rush to suppose, from another person's claim that religious faith is prima facie ridiculous, that that person rejects religious faith.

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Aug 7, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

Is this a declarative statement:

"..[A]rthur Danto (one of my long-ago Columbia mentors and inspirations) could look at the work and calmly observe that its triptychal structure and other subtle visual cues placed the “pornographic” image in a long line of religious iconography. He made the same ingenious move with Andres Serrano’s notorious Piss Christ — what a moving and powerful work of Catholic devotional art! was the general tone of Danto’s review."

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Yes, two declarative statements!

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Aug 8, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

Each to their own, of course, but it's sad to see such an intelligent man write that. Think Rieff was closer to the mark!

I'd be surprised if any Muslim (in their right senses) saw that piece and wasn't sickened by its depravity. Then again, we're only "yahoos"!

More generally, Robert Hughes asks, for me, the relevant question: what happens when the shock of the new doesn't shock any more? Could it be that all this childish focus on transgression is really just the 'official style' of late capitalism? (to paraphrase Thomas Frank).

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Yes, all these efforts at transgression almost certainly are symptoms of late capitalism. That said, one of the core ideas of Christianity, as I understand it --and I'd be interested to know whether you find any approximations to this in Islam-- is that holiness may sometimes appear in a shroud of sinfulness. This is one of the reasons why Jesus frequents the thieves and prostitutes: not because they're the most urgent cases for conversion, or the furthest away from the blessed life --it's rather the self-righteous and prideful churchgoer is the furthest away!--, but because their suffering primes them for redemption. Simone Weil articulates this point on a number of occasions: she'd rather learn about faith from the tormented atheist than from the untormented believer. So yes, indeed, why not attempt to see the Christ in the Piss Christ? (Again, these considerations *might* be a particular development within the dialectic that Christianity has with those who fall away from it, and might not be relevant to the history of Islam, but something makes me suspect it's a general feature of the sociology of religious belief, to find artifacts of culture that seem to straddle the boundary between ultimate heretical impiety and ultimate devotion.)

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Aug 9, 2023·edited Aug 9, 2023Liked by Justin Smith-Ruiu

Have to say, Justin, that I haven't studied Islam so anything I say is really very speculative.

I completely agree with you on the scepticism towards the self-righteous (those who are full of themselves). I gather there is a strong "anti-clerical" sentiment at the popular level as well (though that term makes less sense because Islam is theocentric, not theocratic). The Church was probably, in some ways at least, the precursor to the state (Illich).

There is, generally, less emphasis on sinfulness. The overriding orientation is one of balance, equilibrium. A kind of pragmatic spirituality. Which is why Weil, for example, often seems too extreme to me (not saying anything about the substance of her writing, just the style, the underlying temperament). Human nature isn't "fallen" and there's *less* of a tension between the body and the spirit. I think there's more of a link between 'madness' and holiness in some Sufi traditions, if that's what you mean? Sinfulness? Not sure. Except, perhaps, one might cite the famous Hadith qudsi: " I am with those who are broken for My sake."

Let's put it this way- and putting to one side Islam's aniconism: the 'suffering Christ' comes much later in the history of pictorial representation (a fact that is perhaps related to the early development of humanism (A. Dixon). Theologically, suffering and torment play a much smaller role in Islam; it's central to the redemption story in your tradition. But the paintings by Mantegna, Grunewald and Holbein would be seen to be very odd as well by Muslims (I think) ((Kristeva's essay on the 'dead Christ' is excellent)). Perhaps by the Orthodox tradition too ( I think they would see that humanistic depiction as a 'fall': Ouspensky, 'Meaning of Icons', Volume 2). The problem seems to be that after the Council of Trent ( going by what I vaguely remember of A. Blunt's book on artistic theory) the West didn't have any regulative standards or norms when it came to representation. This opened the door to the unmoored imagination and an emphasis on the subjective "creativity" of the artist. The loss of a "common symbolic order" ( P. Fuller) is no insignificant matter.

We now live in a world in which "heresy" or carnival make no sense. Guenon's point. Whence the inability to discern between comics like Serrano and sacred art.

My tuppence worth.

p. s. It is perhaps not incidental that figures like Hallaj have exerted a fascination over some western thinkers (Massignon?). Could it be that they saw a similar blurring of the lines between impiety and devotion?

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I find the fact that Justin would even ask such a (ridiculous) question to be interesting. Perhaps 'bewildering' is a better word.

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Are you experiencing a mid-life crisis?

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I would recommend reading the piece itself for some fairly lengthy discussion of the question whether I am experiencing a mid-life crisis or not.

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As if we know anything.

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Why are you asking us?

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