The bigger picture

Poltics and personal life, science and religion

Michael Steinberg

Michael Steinberg
Rochester, New York, US
June 20
I am a writer ("The fiction of a thinkable world: Body, meaning, and the culture of capitalism" [Monthly Review Press 2005]; "A new biology of religion: Spiritual practice and the life of the body" [Praeger, 2012]; "Enlightenment Interrupted: The lost moment of German Idealism and the reactionary present" [Zero Books, 2014]) and an attorney. I'm most interested in how we got into our present-day mess and how we can't separate our self-image from the experience of the world.


MAY 31, 2010 1:19PM

Things to come

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How does a blog start off? Mostly with promises, written or unwritten. I might begin with some guiding ideas, but most of the time those are either empty or misleading.  I could plunge in at the middle the way epic poets used to do and avoid the problem altogether, but that would leave you wondering why this blog and not another.

So I'll start with the title, The bigger picture. Not the Big Picture, which would suggest that I'm crazy enough to think I could explain Everything. I'm not that dumb or egotistical.

Besides, I know enough to realize that Everything isn't something that you can see or explain. It's so big that it includes whoever's doing the explaining or picturing and they can't get in the picture themselves. They're always going to be left out, not because they're not good enough at explaining or picturing but because explaining and picturing always depend on an explainer or artist who stands outside her work. They can show us only parts of reality, never reality itself.

All of our ideas, all of our theories, all of our images, everything that we take as a revelation (or reject), everything we can possibly say or imagine will always be nothing more than a chase after a reality that's forever beyond our grasp.

But just because reality escapes our words and images doesn't mean it's somewhere else. There's nothing unreal about our selves and our world. We make them unreal when we try to turn them into words and images--or when we mistake those words and images for the real life we're really living.

What I've come to think is that the strangeness of the modern world's crises start from a habit of substituting ideas for the life that those ideas try to explain. We're tied up in a straightjacket of words and thoughts--thoughts about humanity, about nature, about the universe, about religion, and everything else. As a result, we end up with a very narrow view of who we are and what we could and should be doing.

I am crazy enough to think that we can untie a few of those knots and step out to see a bigger picture, one that leads us beyond words or images. This wouldn't just be useful in a personal sense. One of the most frightening aspects of our frightening age is how few options we seem to have, how narrow our horizons are both personally and politically. We need a bigger picture; how else could we see if there are bigger possibilities?

My promise is to try to see past words, to untie a few of those knots, to look farther, and to try to find out how we might do that together.

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