Friday, September 16, 2005

No Abstraction

This is the begining


Blogger Ken said...

Today is Monday, and I have ben told that I should make sure I mix in a few practical sugestions for local friends in this philo/medico blog as well as some more lofty philosophical ruminations on my condition.

A week ago I went into my doctor's to hear the result of an x-ray he had ordered to get to the bottom of a cough. After I sat down, he said, "Well, I thought it might be lung cancer, but it's worse." Oh?

Actually, if you know anything about cancer, it was actually better and worse. He had thought there might be a tiny spot of lung cancer hiding behind some pneumonia. In actuality, I have renal cell cancer (RCC), which has completely taken over my left kidney, now swollen to three times its normal size. A long thrombus (look it up) has exteneded out of the kidney and up my inferior vena cave and is knocking on the door of my heart. As well, there appear to be some RCC cells that have set up shop in my lower lungs.

Bleak? A bit, but unlike 30 years ago, there are lots of new chemotherapy tools for this thing coming on line. RCC is also a weird critter, that can pick up and leave all at once, and seems to sometimes repond to the effors of one's immune system. It is also pefectly capable of wiping you out.

The schedule right now is to go in and get the big bean cut out on Thursday, then in Arlington Hosp---I mean, Virginia Hospital Center, for a week (yeeesh), come home and heal for a few weeks, then tackle those orphaned colonies of RCC clowns.

I figure this is a great time to throw out a few thoughts and questions that I have been considering, now that my vision has been focused by this dark lesson my body is teaching me.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

A note on the title of the blog, chosen by Mark Hannah. In the first 24 hours after getting this med news, and in a bit of shock, I did think about the all of the philosophical stuff we try and teach our students, and that we perhaps convince ourselves we live by in some way.

I enjoy teaching existentialism, a survey of the usual suspects, to my high school students. I count it as a success if I can get them by the usual shallow thrill that adolescents feel from reading and discussing SK and Camus, and get them to at least glimpse what I always thought of as 'a distant light in the fog' , that sharp, enlivening flavor of human existing understood without all the gauzy narcotics we so efficiently feed ourselves, the encounter with one's mortality that somehow jump starts a move towards 'authenticity.'
Is it always a distant light for someone living a life full of bills and kids and schedules and neat plans for the next five years? So it seemed to me as I started to work out the implications of this condition... 'cause I felt like that light was all around me, like being in a space starkly lit by television lights from above, around, underneath.

I found myself thinking: how can this improve my presentation of Fear and Trembling and The Myth of Sisyphus? Then that perky thought disappears into the drowning light. Out of that light I am really trying to not pull any more words.

Could also be a negative picture. Is it better to say that it's a bit of real darkness you want your students to take in amidst the carnival of their shiny happy lives?

This is not some unique experience in the general scheme of things. Keeping that in mind does reveal one's vanities. Usefully humbling. But sharing news of this condition also has revealed to me how many people care. Thinking about that caring is something I plan to do on my back with those tubes in me, because right now I simply can't do anything with it know.

I gotta get an MRI tomorrow. More mapping.

8:48 PM  
Blogger HughTM said...

Ken - this is the first post I have made to any blog. Thanks for bringing me into the 21st century. The title of the blog is it "A Well Lit Room" (I assume - or is it "No Abstraction"?) My confusion may have philosophical ramifications. While entering a well-lit room is a shock (especially for those of us lucky enough to be caught up in bills, kids, and the daily grind) it does sober one up. In following along, I don't want my comments to turn into abstractions. I expect, however, that as you experience this entry into the medical roller coaster, the abstractions won't get in the way of reality. I am ready to learn more from you. Thanks for being my friend, and hope I can offer some support, humor, strength to this ride you are on.
Yours, Hugh
PS - I also appreciate "blogging etiquette advice".

5:52 AM  
Anonymous summer said...

I am your friend, and I'll be here, always willing to poke at you if you take yourself too seriously. Unfortunately, you've found a very effective way to make everyone take you seriously.

That light you're in sears out any shadows or fuzzy areas, doesn't it?

You can use it to help you find lost things... to discern true shades of color... even to make sure your students see your lessons.

But it can give you one hell of a headache. And a brightly lit room is, after all, still a room. Use it as a place to do your work. And go outside every once in a while.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

Got an MRI today....yes, I can see why some people panic in this tight tube. My 78 y.o. step mother, who has done it before, did suggest "not to think about it," "it" being in an enclosed space filled with intense magnetism and rhythmic banging. (has someone done some industrial music with the MRI sounds as the drum track?)

"Without abstraction?" Never abstract? Is abstraction employed unwisely to escape something else? When? (When you are seriously ill?) is habitual abstraction the cause of that awful loss of... something that pervades APA meetings?

I had started a good fantasy inside the tube--and I call it that because betwen my state of mind, the warmth and the hypnotic sounds of the electricity snapping though the magnets around me, I could really zone out and imagine--about a show with some philosophers of the past. Not so much an ND type show, but more of a action adventure thing. I pulled in loveable David Hume, clear -eyed Locke, that irrepressible Jonathan Swift, and Kant, who I assume we had to translate for, so we got John Stuart Mill, who either knew German or who could learn it for the show in a hurry. The first episode started with all of us running down a well-polished floor at the newly buily University of Berlin to hear Hegel lecturing...why? I didn't get that far. What was he about to give away?

I have assumed that the Great (or grating) Philosophers, the usual susepcts of the past, were cool because they toiled at some kind of edge or boundary, boldly cutting holes in the old fabric, intently weaving new bits at the edge. (yes, yes, along with musicians and poets and printmakers and other creative agents). I wish I could focus again and listen to an ale-stoked conversation of Hume, Swift, Locke and Co., somehow knowing they are out of their time, but not bedazzled too much by the passing strangeness of it. Maybe my brain doesn't have enough of their writings online to build decent interactive profiles...
Could we without fraud write a script for them that embodied someething useful and philosophical--and not abstract? We've done some work watching 'philosophers' talk to each's really only scratched the surface. Maybe we need to produce 'Desperate Philosophers', locked in a room (a tube?) until they come up with something. Or lowering a cage of them into a lake of fire, or a pit of undergraduates, with the studio audience voting on thier efforts...


Pre-Op tomorrow. EKG, blod tap, picking a flavor for the anesthesia gas, something minty, I think. (the term "anesthesia" was coined by Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr, in the lated 1840s)

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Ken, We're thinking of you. Know that you are important to many. (Maybe you can afford to be self-focused now and just let the issues of pedagogical improvement flow over you as they arise.) You've been an inspiration to anyone who'd like to see some good thinking get exposed -- and shared -- in these U.States. Jack

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Bruce said...

I'm with Jack and Summer and Hugh.

"Well lit" isn't "harshly lit," of course. Sounds like more of an Aristotelian "lit-in-the-way-a-virtuous-room-lighter-would-light-it-that-is-not-excessively-and-not-deficiently" sort of thing. To abstract, tangentially.

Staying tuned ... (and waiting for Ken's main posts to turn up on the front page at rather than in comments, seriatim).

7:57 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Wednesday night....well, tomorrow I will lose this kinked kidney. See you on the other side.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous summer said...

It's Thursday evening, a little after 5:00 PM, Sept. 22, and Ken has joined the ranks of the uni-Kidneyed.

His operation lasted a little over four hours. Most of this time was spent removing the thrombus (Did you look up "thrombus?" Basically a clot of cells, in a blood vessel...) Removing the kidney was the easy part; it only took 45 minutes.

The good things:

The thrombus came out without opening up Ken's breastbone - they could get to it through his abdomen - so he will have a much easier recovery.

The doctors did not have to put a stent into Ken's vena cava - the damage to this blood vessel was not too severe - again meaning easier recovery, lower odds of complications like clots and infections.

He is "stable" now.

The scary things:

Ken will need to stay sedated for a day; they won't allow him to "wake up" until sometime tomorrow.

Complications from the surgery are still a really freakin big threat.

The good/scary thing:

Ken has bought some time with this operation. Now he will still need to decide how to survive and prosper. Ultimately, I guess this is the same good/scary thing we all do, every day.

Leslie will be calling me again with any updates. I'll keep posting here. Survive and prosper, everyone...

2:57 PM  
Anonymous summer said...

Ken is awake!

Today is Friday, Sept 23, a little after 3:00 PM.

An anonymous source close (very close) to Ken reports that the first thing he did upon waking was "test his brain." He said "Ask me questions so I can see if I can still think." He then proceeded to think of as many things as he could, to do a systems check on his processing.

He's been moved from ICU into a stepdown unit... a "not-quite-so-intersive-care unit..." and he has been set up with a self-regulated pain medication rig on his IV. He's sleeping now.

Ken should be able to come home in a few days!

12:30 PM  
Anonymous summer said...

I feel the need to write:

"This is Thursday, September 29, 1:42 AM, and this is the end."

I don't know who else comes to this blog; Ken only even mentioned it to a few people. I'm not sure why I keep coming back to check it. Maybe I hope that someone has posted something that will make me feel... "better"... an abstract concept if there ever was one.

Maybe I keep coming back, three days after Ken died, because this is a conversation he started and I wish to keep it going.

Tagging along behind Ken, over the past 23 years, I got to share in some great conversations... in cabs in Richmond... production stages in Maryland... bars in Philly... and my mind stayed quick and strong even though the rest of me grew plump and lazy.

My friend Ken made me think. When I met him, I told him "my brain hurts after talking with you." He started a lot of conversations with No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed... got a lot of brains to exercise.

I come back here because some conversations, some ideas, really deserve to continue, even when the person who started them... ends.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only knew Ken through a taping of No Dogs in March of this year, but in that day, I was left with a powerful impression of this incredible person. May you be in peace, Ken, and let's hope that you are still somewhere, posing those deep questions to an otherworldly audience of eager minds.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous JD Wright said...

damn it ken.

i'm pissed that i can't talk with you again.

i can hear your laughing at me as i write this, with that laugh i loved so much.

miss ya buddy,
john d. wright

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do any of Ken's family or friends read this blog anymore? I am trying to get into contact with anyone he knew, as I am considering writing an article about him and his work. Please contact me at

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

I just found this blog, linked from another, and I'm glad I did. One problem finding it is that Ken's last name is spelled wrong on his profile. What's up with that? Was that a way to make this more private for him?

I had known Ken since we were 10, and we dated in high school and some of college. We had only been in touch sporadically these last few years. It looks like he had been very happy until this sudden illness, and I'm very, very glad of that.

Word is slowly passing through his friends from high school. We had been planning a 30th reunion recently and I just got news of this last Tuesday evening, October 11th. I had sent him a note asking him if he were going just that day.

This hurts. It doesn't feel like something that was supposed to happen.

Some of us that knew him and loved him long ago will be there on the 26th.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Raymond said...

Barbara, I would be very interested in contacting you for some information or comments about Ken, as I am in the process of putting together an article about him and his life.

Contact me at

5:26 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I would like to express my gratefulness for this sequence of posts. As a student of Ken's it was a great gift for me to discover it. Please visit my reflections upon discovering this at my site, The Row Boat.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Erik Fiks said...

I'm so sorry that you've left us so suddenly.
I know we haven't been in contact in many years (I'm a Dairy person and knew him from there 22 years ago. I also built the sets & props for him & NDOPA when they were on Blab TV in Richmond).
My only consolation is knowing that right now you're vigorously and passionatly debating philosophy where ever you are.
Although your life was cut terribly short, your reach (I'm talking about you affecting peoples lives in a really positive way by engauging us to ask ourselves difficult important questions about our world).You've touched my life in a good way just as you've done to the many, many people you've engauged over the last 20 years. You're touch is here now with all of us in this well lit room.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous summer said...

Dammit... I still miss you.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes if the truth be known, in some moments I can phrase that I jibe consent to with you, but you may be considering other options.
to the article there is still a question as you did in the go over like a lead balloon a fall in love with efflux of this beg video convert ?
I noticed the catch-phrase you have in the offing not used. Or you functioning the dreary methods of development of the resource. I take a week and do necheg

6:09 AM  
Blogger Ben Handy said...

I met Ken in 7th grade. He came to my school to teach a Philosophy class, and a handful of students were sent in. I was chosen to take the class (I think Ken did the choosing, but I was never 100% on that).

I took a weekly class with him and some others for 3 years, worked on some symposiums some episodes of NDOPA, and generally enjoyed his presence. He always wanted to make a commercial for the Handy Hat with me(A baseball hat with an adjustable hand that could hold a beer) it never happened.

For about 30 years now Ken has been a constant companion in my mind. I always remember him telling me that the tool of the philosopher was the hammer: First you test it as in a tuning fork, then, if it is broken you try to fix it, then if it cannot be fixed you destroy it.

I always thought Ken and I would meet again. I assumed I would have another chance to speak with him, and I truly regret not seeking him out when I had the chance.

I have not seen Ken for 20 years, but I will always remember him. He had more impact on my life than any person outside my family, and I am glad that he was born.

I'm sorry that this has been so much about me. I assume people far closer to Ken will read this, and since it has been 20 years and I still am hurt by the loss I can only assume you hurt all the more. I wish I had soothing things to say, but this has been sort of stream of thought writing, and I've never been good at soothing words. I am glad Ken had a child (or is it 2?). Hopefully they will know something of their father that they can take with them through life.

1:42 PM  

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