William Irwin Thompson

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William Irwin Thompson (1995)

William Irwin Thompson (July 16 1938 - November 8 2020) was a social philosopher, cultural critic, poet, and the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.


  • The interface between an industrial economy and the biosphere is what the industrial nation state can’t handle. So the new culture isn't based on nation state turf; it's based on biological, ecological processes, so the atmosphere is more the model than the land. And the science that would describe the processes of the atmosphere are more the new complex dynamical sciences, chaotic systems of clouds, rather than the clods.
    • Interview with Thompson in Life, Lindisfarne, and Everything, from Alexandria 4: The Order and Beauty of Nature edited by David Fideler (1997).
  • In Europe, you do philosophy by performing discourse on another guy's text, and so Derrida will go over Heidegger, and Habermas will extend Marx's corpus; but in America you could never get away with kinky stuff like that, for you have to generate philosophy from real things—like computers or television. You need to look at Omni magazine to get a feel for this new kind of mail-order, Popular Mechanics science of mind. It's full of articles about meditation helmets and downloading the soul into computers so that when your body wears out you can live forever. What is completely missing in Europe is precisely what you will find in America: namely, an electronic Umwelt in which history is replaced with movies, education is replaced with entertainment, and nature is replaced with technology. This peculiar wedding of low kitsch and high tech generates a posthistoric world that no European literary intellectual can quite fathom.
    • Thompson (1991) Fast Foreword, from The American Replacement of Nature.
  • In the shift from direct democracy to representational democracy, the printed book became an embodiment of thought for the physically absent author; and so the popular art form of the popular book and the pamphlet re-presented ideas and contributed to the public space of political philosophies of the Enlightenment. Television, however, now brings forth this new kind of public space, and it calls into being this new world, not of the educated citizenry in a republic, but of the electropeasantry in the state of Entertainment. Recall how people stopped singing in pubs when they brought in the TV set, and you will appreciate the new passivity in which people stop voting for their representatives as TV takes over the electoral campaigns.
    • Thompson (1991) Play, from The American Replacement of Nature.
  • We are like flies crawling across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: we cannot see what angels and gods lie underneath the threshold of our perceptions. We do not live in reality; we live in our paradigms, our habituated perceptions, our illusions; the illusions we share through culture we call reality, but the true historical reality of our condition is invisible to us. How can you fix up history if you cannot see it? And what if history cannot be fixed from inside history? What if the attempt to fix human history is an effort to seek out the dark with a searchlight?
    • Thompson (1976) Evil and World Order, p. 81.

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