Shared Weltanschauung?


Bubbles are beautiful. They reflect light, yet you can see through them. They are colorful and also translucent. They are created and contained by the pressure of the air and maintained by the strength of the structure of itself. The physical science of the bubble is that “it is the shape that minimizes ​the surface area of the structure, which makes it the shape that requires the least energy to achieve.” Scientifically, its beauty lies in the economy of its geometry. And then, it pops as fast as it was made and ceases to exist.

Once that structure *pops* one can always make a new bubble with soap, water, and a ring which gives you enough time to blow or pull some air through. The sight of a sphere or form floating, contained, yet free and angelic in its lightness, speaks to us from childhood and into adulthood as somehow connected to our own lives – as if we were also spherical in our being somehow. Maybe we see a reflection of the blue marble we live upon, the eyes in our heads, perhaps, in the very conception of ourselves in the sphere of the womb.

The above frame grab from Honey We Shrunk Ourselves (1997, Dir. Dean Cundey) presents an entirely different take on the bubble – that within the bubble is a horrifying containment. If one were to imagine sharing a single bubble with another being, you’d probably feel like the characters from that unfortunate straight-to-video film. You’d be sure that your existence together would last so briefly before the inevitable pop. You’d live in fear of each other’s movements, of each other’s voices, of each other’s slightest miscalculations, knowing that the structure that contains you both cannot by its very nature last long. You’d be hoping beyond hope that by the hand of Providence (forgive me this anachronism) your lives would be spared and you’d never have to share another moment like that with someone again. The film was a comedy but the situation isn’t funny.

This prolonged parable about you-and-the-bubble-from-the-outside being so dissimilar from us-and-the-bubble-from-the-inside is an attempt to visualize more completely an observation about differing world-views between oneself and others. While we can admire, lawfully explain, or observe other world-views, we don’t share our own Weltanschauung (Ger. “overall philosophy of life or worldview”) without running the risk of popping theirs. When we are fast becoming adults, first beginning to form a worldview, the risk and hazard that comes with searching for one is a necessity for our lives and its growth. We first seek in others what we wish for ourselves, usually by imitation. This feeds a strange void of dialogue between generations, political affiliations, religious dogmas, and ways of living because of the risk of difference when imitation ends and our own worldview develops. Regardless, we require challenges to keep from falling back into the hypnotic sleep which seems to blanket the planet, to become a little more awake and conscious of our behaviors and actions, and to maintain our worldview when we find ourselves in it. When it becomes our world, we define ourselves by it and with the others who inhabit it.

When we do share the same worldview with someone else, when we find ourselves in the bubble we’ve been admiring and seeking to experience, an alarming expectation arises: to continue to have consistent and reliable behaviors and reactions in order to keep one’s new bubble from popping. The tension which maintains the surface area of a shared worldview is also a tension which maintains the limits of its horizon. You can’t challenge the horizon – you accept its limitations, or, *pop* – it disappears. It becomes better to respond in-kind and make certain to yourself and to others which side of the bubble you’re on. Otherwise, argument, dissent, division – *pop*.

This parable is much too simplified and falls far short of the kind of synthesis of philosophical history/history of ideas which Peter Sloterdijk’s Spheres volumes addresses (one review at Huenemanniac). This brief parable-essay is trying to reach for something that keeps eluding this mind when thoughts are stretched over a topic or issue. My concern (to be transparent) is with the incompatibility of differing world-views as well as the difficulty of sharing a worldview with another. As a nation, it does not seem to me to be true that the facts of an event or person are anchored in the material knowns of the world. The laws without are not the laws within – that takes an extra step, a kind of world-maintenance. We can’t make a beautiful and good worldview and expect that once a person inhabits it they will do everything they can to maintain it. We are constantly challenging our horizons. Look at the history of the assembly of the Space Station or the recently completed solo trek across Antarctica by Colin O’Brady. Bubbles pop and new ones are formed – we ought to take comfort in this instead of fearing the inevitable loss of a structure that is only formed because it “requires the least energy to achieve.” A worldview that demands to be maintained neglects the fact that there are other bubbles, and other worlds, each with their singular, unknown interiors. Some as big as a globe or as numerous as sea foam.

This piece of writing pops because it also tries to make a bubble, to encapsulate some kind of idea or opinion about Weltanschauung, using the metaphor of bubbles to represent a person’s or a collective people’s conception of “worldview.” It tries to be the stroller in Grandville’s “Ring of Saturn” (1844), bridging one world to the next and the next. It gives the impression of worldview as fragile when they are in fact much stronger and are filled with much more than air. The causes and concerns that are shared in a worldview are not to be taken lightly. History proves this to be true – people battle or judge, die or execute, over a worldview…but it seems that since we live in a period that some call post-historical or post-truth, that we ought not to fear popping more of our world-views. Taken further, we could be our own worldview, with no need to *pop*.


Instagram and Poetry Month

This past April was National Poetry Month, as it has been every year in the U.S. since 1996. While I do sympathize in some part with the quiet criticisms of the celebration, a somewhat trivial designation for the public’s attention to turn toward poetry (the point being that after you’ve taken brief notice of the fact of its existence you can then continue with your general neglect of poetry), I decided to say Bernstein be damned and take on a reflective self-challenge.

I wrote a poem each day this April and posted it to my Instagram feed (not too far of a scroll away). Being my birth month, I associate the Spring and the re-awakening of the earth in this hemisphere with creative activity. But never have I forced myself to compose one poem, each day, for a month, as if I were manually breaking open seeds and thrusting them through to the surface prematurely. Most took in some light (and likes) amidst all the visual splendor of that medium. After week one I gained a steady pace of alternating between writing and posting, then took time to peruse the other poets at work through the convenience of Instagram’s self-making engine.

What I found was a strange mix. There was certainly cobwebs-upon-cobwebs of cliched and tired metaphors applauded with fan hearts and digital accolades, but there were also some authentic voices stringing together solid and resounding verse. In some cases, poets in either camp are making the leap from the app to bookstore shelves. My old employer of West Coast indie fame, Powell’s Books, has collected a number of such authors for your interest and support with handheld yet plug-less reading. Mostly self-published at first, these poets have made the successful transition to authors-with-contracts by the proving ground of Instagram – which saves the publisher most, if not all, publicity and marketing expenses upon the volume’s release.

Has this made poetry a well-read form again, as it once was in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century? Probably not as it once was, and perhaps “well-read” is a generous and not altogether substantial statement. The scrolling must continue on Instagram, indeed, it feeds off such motion which your twitching digits reinforce. What seemed so noble or profound in scant lines once jammed between the colorful plate of food before, and the glorious body come after, may not hold for much longer with its own spine. These are not uncharted waters, but the fog of short attention is always rolling in to obscure our appreciation of the beautiful, and the trash, alike. My only advice would be to read with a critical eye, not just for pleasure.


Sitting on the windowsill of another blooming summer day, Saturday opens its arms up to the weekenders in Catskill. The unhurried pace of parents or grandparents and their younger brood cast hovering shadows on the sidewalks. The shuffling of shoe soles halt for a moment with a quick look into the Exchange House space on Main Street. The owner is putting out some bikes, plants, chairs, and speaks a little to the visitors. It’s midday and the sun has already warmed the once cooler breezes of the morning. The trees which are maintained by Cultivate Catskill are briefly animated. Our visitors don’t seem to mind much at all beneath their large sun hats and baseball caps and after nodding the small business owner away, the attractive cool of The General Store of Catskill draws them inside. Further along our historic downtown strip lined with gaudy cat sculptures that merit a photo or two and a laugh, they disappear out of sight and return to their cars.

And then the week comes  – and with it, its relative peace and quiet. This is the gentle ebb I appreciate the most: slow enough to almost watch the plants grow. When you walk into a local pub after a day of work, you know who is here. We visit one another with the aim of burning some time away during long shifts and running errands. Small business owners, county office workers, police officers and locals strolling or sharing some shade, a cigarette, a little advice or a bit of gossip, create and augment the atmosphere of Catskill without its gawkers and gift buyers. With the farmers market on Friday evening, the whole cycle is begun again. Music from Carmen and Alison of Jumbo Bungalow emanates from the event to kick off a new summer weekend and lure citizens and visitors to the tables setup by farmers like Carol Clement of Heather Ridge Farm. Those who are willing to meet you and ask your name and get a sense of who you are, might be the very neighbor you live down the street from. We all have a tendency to self-isolate in our rigid routines, but opportunities abound when the weekend arrives. This double action, of the visitors coming in and the locals coming out, seems to grant us some kind of balance in a very, very chaotic country.