David Carl will be giving a lecture on truth, philosophy and poetry through an examination of the metaphysical foundations of the poetry of William Blake on Tuesday at Bakersfield College.
"Truth, philosophy and poetry." Did we leave anything out?
Carl, director of the Graduate Institute of St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M., has a BA and MA in philosophy and received his Ph.D. in comparative literature from UC Davis.
I emailed Carl the following questions.
What is your favorite passage in all of philosophy?
Carl: A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that is unlocked and opens inwards, as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than to push it. -- Wittgenstein
As a philosopher, what is your favorite TV show?
Carl: "House"-- a spinoff of the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. Both "heroes" are antisocial drug addicts with an obsession with the truth and a hard time fitting in with "normal" society. They are versions of the Socratic philosopher -- uncompromising commitment to learning the truth even if it ends in their own destruction. Detectives are always caught up in some sort of philosophic quest.
Television, like fiction or music, can create thought-provoking, insightful, exploratory and questioning works of art.
Just because there is terrible television is no reason to condemn television as a medium. The distinction between "high" and "low" (or popular) culture is probably an illusion, but the distinction between works of high and low quality is true.
How can you make philosophy interesting?
Carl: Philosophy asks fundamental questions about what it means to live a good life. Philosophy is not a form of entertainment -- its job is not to make itself accessible to people, but rather to challenge people to stretch and challenge themselves. Philosophy, like works of art, demand more from us than we're accustomed to giving.
What did you want to be when you grew up? It couldn't have been this, or maybe it was.
Carl: I used to tell my parents I wanted to be a garbage man. The garbage truck would come around in the mornings and a guy in a sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off would be hanging onto the side of the truck, and he'd jump down, empty the can into the jaws of the truck and then run alongside the moving truck and jump back on (after carelessly throwing the empty can into the street behind him). As a kid, that seemed like the greatest job ever.
I was also an obsessive reader from a young age. I spent so much time reading by the time I was in my 20s there wasn't much else I was suited for except to go into teaching. Most of us hope we'll find a way of getting paid to do what we enjoy doing, and reading was it for me.
Why should people come to this lecture and discussion? Will there be a raffle midway through?
Carl: I would encourage people to come to this lecture who suspect their lives may not encompass everything that a human life is capable of containing. If you are content, self-fulfilled and feel as if you are living the best life possible, this lecture will probably be a waste of time.
When you are at a party, do you tell people what you do or do you lie, figuring that normally the truth will set you free, but in this case the truth may isolate you, throwing you into an existential crisis?
Carl: I usually tell people I teach math, which is true -- I do teach math -- but I also teach poetry, philosophy and literature. Saying "math" is the quickest way to stop people from asking further questions. At parties, people are usually asking questions to be polite.
Can philosophy be a good pickup line?
Carl: Not for anyone you'd want to pick up.
Rank your top five poets:
Carl: The unknown author of the "Bhagavadgita," Milton, Blake, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens.
Your favorite passage from Blake?
Carl: "Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish'd at me.
"Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task!
"To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
"Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
"Ever expanding in the Bosom of God. The Human Imagination (Jerusalem Plate 5)
Why do I get tired and want to lie down when I hear the word "metaphysics?"
Carl: Metaphysical questions demands the best, and most difficult, from us. There's nothing easy about struggling to understand ourselves, the world we live in, and what the best life might be. It's exhausting to try to be better and easier to accept who we are without question.
Which philosopher do you wish was never born?
Carl: Ayn Rand. If she even counts as a philosopher.
If you had to choose between reality and imagination, which one would you choose?
Carl: In my lecture I will argue that there is no difference between them.