Archive for August, 2011

Liberal Arts and the Culture of Self-Examination

August 17, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure of a visit from one of my dearest friends from college (to whom I’ll refer as A.). Together we engaged in one of our favorite pastimes in all the world: trying to make sense of our experience at a small northeastern liberal arts college (via much conjecture and conversation).

For four years, our school truly made up our world—”bubble” culture at its most bourgeois-bohemian. But the truth is that our experience as liberal arts students, compared to those of the rest of the world, was unfathomably specific—and learning to reconcile that now (1.25 years out of college) seems to me so daunting a task that it’ll take up the remainder of our lives.

For us, the link between the liberal arts tradition and the pursuit of some greater consciousness of the self (à la Western Enlightenment—thanks A.) appeared to be rock-solid and pretty obvious (though, writing this now, I guess that doesn’t need to be the case).

Under that premise and with my undergraduate experience, endeavoring to write this blog is the most natural thing in the world. I’ve always a) prized the “Know thyself” mentality as valuable in almost every respect; b) shaken off any claims of corrupt narcissism with the self-reflection framework’s implied virtues; and c) lamented other people’s shortcomings when it’s clear that on this point we don’t agree.

How this exposes my own nearsightedness is perfectly ironic. We—A. and I, at the very least—assume that this sustained, unrelieved reflexivity is the highest, most evolved form of existence (placing value like it’s our job, almost as if we have something to compensate for). But is it really the road to happiness? Does less self-reflection really lead to a lower quality of life?

I haven’t changed my mind about it, but A. and I both decided it’s best to try as hard as possible to acknowledge a lifestyle of constant and critical self-examination as just that: a lifestyle, among many others, and not necessarily the best one.

A sketch that developed out of a nerdy mood a few weeks ago.

To follow up:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

cf. “The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.” Mark Twain

P.S.: I’m still stumbling around with the vocabulary of this topic, and am 100% sure that there’s many a scintillating essay about it out there. If you have any interesting reading on the aforementioned culture or the liberal arts tradition, I’d love it if you sent it my way! It doesn’t bear repeating that I navel-gaze like it’s the degree on my diploma.

Wisdom from Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

August 7, 2011

An excerpt from Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (my emphases added in red). I’m only 65 pages into it, but OH MY ALLAH IS IT FREAKING AWESOME. My new favorite book. Please go buy it now, and read it right away.

Quote: as excerpted from “Self-Reliance”

August 6, 2011

“My life is not an apology, but a life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Video: Dawah Addict’s “I’m Jealous of Hijab”

August 4, 2011

A friend posted this video on Facebook a few days ago. The guy is charming enough to watch:

A pleasant reminder of how my grass is greener, at least some of the time.

His predicament reminded me of a paradox that totally struck me when I came across it in college (before then, I was totally ignorant of the idea):

The context was one of those unsavory “who has it worse” conversations regarding microaggressions of homophobia and racism. While people who identify as gay constantly have to tackle (often painfully) others’ incorrect assumptions that they are straight, people of color find that the assumed stereotypes of their perceived race are often imposed (also incorrectly) upon them. Both ways, it’s a considerable discrepancy between how people think of themselves and how other people think of them (based on their appearance). The former struggle to distinguish themselves; the latter couldn’t “pass” if they tried.

Return from Summer Vacation

August 2, 2011

I’ve been feeling guilty about neglecting this blog; since I don’t have too much else in the way of creativity going on, this would be one worthy project to keep going with.

The problem—and there always is one—is that originally the whole idea was “to lay out the reasons principally for myself,” and then I went and turned it into something for other people to validate. Audience in mind, I focused a lot more energy in coming up with light, interesting, relevant and varied posts (rather than what was actually on my mind). But truthfully, it was also that the hijab (as a concept) just wasn’t ON my mind as often as three to four times a week; I didn’t have to justify it to myself quite that often, and so I had nothing to say.

Finally, the actual goal—laying out an explanation to encapsulate all my feelings on the subject—proved to be MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than I ever imagined, if not totally impossible.

With that challenge presented, though, I guess I’m resigning myself to keep trying for it. I just have to keep developing my vocabulary and the means to explain myself.