Where did you come from, intellectually speaking? Have you ever considered your mental lineages, or your conceptual pre-existence? There’s more to this inquiry than you might think, and more to thinking than you might ever have inquired about.
This is the second of two linked posts. Excerpted material, once again, is taken from my 2008 monograph, Thinking About Film (Allyn & Bacon/Longman).
Exercise two: genealogy
Analyzing the criteria we use to pick the movies we see is helpful, and not just for the specific information it provides us. As the questions listed in the previous post make clear, this inquiry is also a more general exercise in critical thinking, and critical self-analysis. As with much intellectual life, as with many of the challenges that scholars specifically, and adults generally encounter, this exercise reminds us how many important things we take for granted, and the kind of change that more careful attention can provide, or demand.
We could be a little more thoughtful or careful in the way we choose our entertainment. We could also be more thoughtful or careful about things that are even more basic and important.
Do you know about genealogy? Genealogy is concerned with lineage, and with questions of origin. It is concerned with where we came from, and at least implicitly with the ways that descent forms and affects us. For the purposes of this exercise, the genealogical project is adapted somewhat. In addition to familial questions, we are concerned with intellectual and aesthetic lineage. Where did your brain come from? From whence your opinions, and preferences? How do you think, and why?
In the same way that we have actual ancestors, so too are there ancestral events and elements that have helped form you, and the way you relate to and see your world. Have you ever thought about this? How did you come to feel and think the way you do? Who were your most influential philosophical forebears? What experiences formed your tastes, and how? What affect have geography, ethnicity, vocation, denomination, class, colour or anything else had on your approach to life, to the arts and, if you like, to film specifically? Have you ever actually thought about any of these things?
One might spend a very great deal of time on this, and that profitably. Consider actually doing so. Make some lists, have some conversations, and add some notes about what you remember, what you have felt and thought about these things: favourite authors, athletes, painters, poets, pets, singers, Sunday School teachers, musicians, mascots; most influential grand/parent, brother/sister, boyfriend/girlfriend, birth/death, art/craft, book/film, sport/team, employment/unemployment, interest/obsession, success/failure, reward/punishment, desire/fear. Is there a certain idea that somehow embodies you, or that you wish embodied you? With what event, or person, or character, do you most identify? What are you most proud, or ashamed of?
An obvious next step would be to take this information about yourself and introduce it into your interactions with friends and family and loved ones generally. Where did they come from, intellectually or philosophically speaking? What is most important to them? Have they actually asked themselves or thought about these things? Do we really understand each other?
These are the some of the questions that biographers ask, the things that take them beyond mere chronologies, or the mere recitation of events. These are some of the questions that facilitate analysis, and lead to understanding. In our own lives we should do more than just think about ourselves, or pursue our own interests. We should know ourselves. This is precisely the end of exercises like these: an increased self-knowledge, and probably a desire to forge and strengthen more substantial connections.