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Subject: Percy-L: Literary, Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Discussion on Walker Percy

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  • From: DMT Philosophy <dmtphilosophy AT>
  • To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: Re: [percy-l] Chimps, Yorkies, words and autism.
  • Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 07:33:38 -0400

I am a long time lurker on this list who rarely contributes, but I would like to respond to your interesting theory. Prof. Greene
certainly seems to be on to something... I have a few points and questions.
The notion of linear time - that things have a beginning, middle, and end - is not an invention of Renaissance Man but
what Thomas Cahill calls "The Gift of the Jews." The Jews are the real source of the notion of history. What makes history? No one has history as long as he views one event as no more significant than another. Since every human act is no more significant than any other, as long as the world is constituted by merely human acts it has no absolute beginning, middle or end, since to posit such would be to elevate one human act above all others. A merely human world is necessarily a cyclical world. But if Almighty God intervenes in the world, then a singular event has taken place, and an absolute reference for history is established; we have "linear history." The history of the Jews is the history of God's singular acts in history that constitute absolute points of reference and give it a beginning, a middle, and (presumably) an end. The Old Testament can even be read as a novel, as some writers have attempted to do. The New Testament, of course, takes linear history to a new level, with the Incarnation as the Absolute Reference Point of history; thus the dating of our calendar with the birth of Christ.
When you write that "The problem is that human beings do not see in this manner" that seems a bit strong. Reason is part of man's endowment, and through reason he uses technology to extend or enhance his natural abilities. It is in a sense not natural for man to transport himself in cars and planes rather than with his legs, but it is natural for man to use his mind to find technical solutions to the problem of transportation. Greene is absolutely right that the genius of the modern world was to create a technical invention that provided a unique perspective on the world, a perspective that allowed the development of modern science. The problem is that we have concluded that this perspective is the only legitimate perspective on the world, in other words, scientism. It is as if, after the invention of the automobile, we decreed that legs were no longer legitimate means of transportation. I would qualify your statement by saying "The problem is that human beings do not only see in this manner."
Which brings me to the question of Prof. Greene's theory itself. It seems that the theory is itself an example of the "linear thinking" he criticizes. Prof. Greene does not use multiple perspectives or an existential approach in the theory. He propounds it like any other Western, linear theory. Nothing wrong with this, but it seems to indicate that the Western theoretical approach is not merely one perspective among many, because it is the perspective through which the distinction between singular and multiple perspectives itself becomes known. Ancient Egyptians may have thought in multiple perspectives, but they didn't know they were thinking this way in distinction to a singular perspective.
David Tye

From: tfa AT
To: percy-l AT
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2008 20:41:50 -0400
Subject: Re: [percy-l] Chimps, Yorkies, words and autism.

I am not by any stretch of the imagination a “deep old file” as Patrick O’Brian –my  equally favourite novelist with WP-described Stephen Maturin in his Aubrey Maturin Series. POB was also a  Roman Catholic and Stephen was one also . I am not sure why my two favourite authors are RC when I am a pretty confirmed Protestant. Anyway a comparison between the two would make for a good dissertation or two for an academic type.


What I would like to discuss is the theory of a very learned professor I had when I went back to school to finally get my degree, a one David Greene. I am wondering if in this learned group anyone else has seen this theory published or thought about it. I took a strange course called Beethoven and Revolution in which we studied among other things, Renaissance painting and sculpture and the subsequent Enlightenment, Beethoven symphonies and quartets and Napoleons’ influences on their structure, Chinese philosophy and Chinese scroll painting, Matisse, and Sartre, and a  smattering of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, if I remember correctly.


The theme that brought them all together was perspective. Specifically the discovery or invention of single point perspective by Filippo Brunelleschi in the year 1415. It was with this discovery of linear perspective that science and essentially “Western” thought as we know it began. For when on sees in perspective, one can visualize “complex” systems that can be measured, it made possible Newton’s calculus and Decartes coordinate system and his vision of the world. It changed imagery as we knew it forever. And within 200 years was so engrained into the Western mind that it was considered to be the “normal and natural way” of seeing the world. Egyptian, Chinese and African art was now considered to be “primitive”.  Plotting the orbits of the planets was now possible with this new way of seeing. The novel itself was born, being a linear invention  as was the symphony, with a beginning, middle and end. We in the Western world became “linear”. Cause and effect is a linear or what I think of as a dyadic concept.


The problem is that human beings do not see in this manner. It is artificial for us-an invention.  We do not see as the camera sees, but rather from ever changing points of view and we do this unconsciously. Think about the simple act of walking into a room—and see how many times one changes not only the angle of view but the focus. Think about the difference of scanning a picture of a room and actually scanning the room. It is pretty evident that we do not see as the camera does. But not only is our seeing but our thinking is not linear—except when with exertion we try and force it to be.


When man begins, according to this theory, to treat himself from this linear point of view which we think endemic in our thought processes-but is really not, one loses what Dr. Green referred to as “My Ownness”—The so called Cartesian Dualism is only made possible and can only be explained through linear thinking. Much like what I think of Percy railing against the giving away of ones self to the “experts”. When one essentially delegates his life to the so called experts, one loses “My Ownness”. A particular state brought on by using an artificial perspective and particular perhaps to a Post Renaissance Western culture.  That is of course until Post Reanissance Western Culture became the de facto world culture.


Matisse for example understood this and came up with a “new” but really an old way of looking at the world—a world where ones view was not constrained from a single point but from a multiplicity of view points all at once and in no linear progression. Matisse saw the constraining nature that art had taken on and wanted to create a new are more in tune with human perceptions and therefore one that did not delete the My Ownness of the viewer. Stream of consciousness writing  was a reaction to this constraining system. Picasso tried to depict the world from multiple points of view on a single two dimensional canvas. Sartre and existentialism is a reaction to the Cartesian world view.


When we got to China and Chinese Scroll painting we found an art that was multipoint perspective—for the viewpoint of the viewer was constantly moving as the scroll was unrolled. One did not lose his “myowness” in the viewing because he was not being directed by the mathematical Cartesian constraining laws.  In many ways a much more humanly way of depicting the world. But a viewpoint that did not give rise to calculus, high technology, etc. But did give us Lao Tzu.


Perhaps what I am trying to get at is that perhaps our perspective is clouding reality. We are so engrained with this perspective of things that we believe it to be correct. But it has only existed in human consciousness and culture for a fraction of our existence on the earth.  It brings a certain kind of reality into focus, but only a single type-and to try to interpret human beings with this perspective is patently flawed—even in trying to interpret pre-perspective art and writing one must be cognizant of this viewpoint. Kind of like the Uncertainty principle—where the presence of the viewer makes it impossible to actually view the subject being studied.


 Film-an invention of the past century-in many ways is multipoint and perhaps is the reason for it being the popular art form of today—Why was Binx such a moviegoer?  


This is of course a bit of a disjointed and perhaps flawed view, but I throw it out for discussion.  




Tommy Armstrong

PO Box 484

Lillington, NC   27546


“If you are a big enough fool to climb a tree and like a cat refuse to come down, then someone who loves you has to make as big a fool of himself to rescue you”

Walker Percy


From: percy-l-bounces AT [mailto:percy-l-bounces AT] On Behalf Of Nikkibar AT
Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 5:10 PM
To: percy-l AT
Subject: Re: [percy-l] Chimps, Yorkies, words and autism.


Dear Rhonda,


At the time of our conversations about animal communication we were not focused on CSP and his triadic/dyadic distinctions. Just words. Nor did we ever discuss animals' abilities to understand words (you should see what my Yorkie does at the mention of steak!) as opposed to their abilities to communicate back ( surely his response is of a positive nature at that mention of steak). My impression is that WP would be negative on both issues -- or would have been then. It would be interesting to hear his response to Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation and Thinking in Pictures, neither of which had been published in his lifetime. For that matter, it would be interesting to hear his reflection on CSP's views and the problems of deep autism generally...



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