Here’s kind of a fun thing. The theater writer and teacher Scott Walters has “tagged” me to take part in a “meme” originated by Laura Axelrod. This virally transmitted unit of cultural information comprises five questions and answers. Its irresistible quality comes from the pure pleasure of talking about oneself, so I predict it will spread far and wide. At the end, I’ve tagged some other bloggers to respond to the same questions, and look forward to their answers.
Name your area of expertise/interest: The intersection of culture, politics and spirituality.
How did you become interested in it?
I was born, and all the rest followed higgledy-piggledy. There is nothing like being the alienated, artistic child of socially marginal immigrants to awaken one to the urgent fact of culture, the heavy beat of political reality and the uncanny persistence of spirit. From the time I could talk, I said I was an artist, and as I grew older, the size and scope of that project grew with me.
How did you learn to do it?
I think I have learned everything useful in exactly the same way. First I wanted to do it, then I pretended to be capable, and when I had studied hard and faked it for long enough, I truly was.
Who has been your biggest influence?
Paul Goodman was nearly my first conscious intellectual influence. I still live by his response to people who told him he shouldn’t write about so many subjects, instead leaving them to the experts: “It is true that I don’t know much, but it is false that I write about many subjects. I have only one, the human beings I know in their man-made scene.” Paulo Freire had the greatest impact on my understanding of culture and the way that human beings internalize ideas and feelings that make us less than we are; and Isaiah Berlin taught me first and foremost that in relation to human beings in our infinite variety, the scientistic claims of our flatland culture are grotesque. These are the influences that never wear out.
What would you teach people about it?
More and more, I think the most important skill is learning to see deeply, both within and without. I would teach people to observe their own minds in action, and to practice reading the world with full attention. There is so much we miss because of our own habits of mind or underdeveloped observational skills.