Fotis Marangou: Saying Good Bye

Even amongst the more cooly deliberative, death has been a force to reckon with. Ultimately, though, it seems questions always moralize our vexed concern with life, and not death. Somehow we all accept with no great ado that we all shall die. It is with how to live that aporia turns angst-faced. I cannot speak to Foti’s appropriation except within that horizon of meaning contained within my memories spanning over near 50 years.

Our families lived only a faint walk away from each other in Pierrefonds. We on Gascon, the Marangous on Chaumont street. I was only 3 at the time, so I feel I was pretty much born into the family. The families were inseparable; our mothers best friends, we kids like siblings…weekend BBQ’s, sleep overs, hide-and-seek, music, singing, and everything Greek! Foti, always the designated barbecuer, would sneak privileged morsels to us, with words of cheer and a sparkle in his eyes. Always bright and engaging, I can hardly recall a time I’d seen him angry, or outta sorts, or raise his voice even. I’m sure he did, but it is to his disposition I speak: kind and generous. And what words can possibly describe how, when at 16 I refused to return to Athens, he and Olymbia took me in?! Just like that! Foti routinely brought the kids chocolate bars home from work; he never discriminated, always got me and my bro one…oh, did I mention we were all living there. Foti, Olymbia, Andro (“And”), Lisa (“Pits”), Cathy (“Ket”), Nico (“Neek”), and aunty Koula. But it was never just us. Friends, and partners would rally over, especially at supper-time, notably on the weekends. Needless to say it was pretty busy! It must have also been financially taxing. That’s something I only fully appreciate as a middle-aged woman with children myself.

Foti never flinched; everyone was always welcome! But he was, as my father reminded me the other day, always hard at work burning the midnight oil each and every night. Downstairs he’d sit before his elongated, white desk, nuts at hand, maybe a scotch (I might have this wrong….), and lots and lots of paperwork. His job? For us kids it was iconic cause everyday, or what seemed like every day to us kids, he’d park a different car in the driveway. And they weren’t the regular cars visible throughout the neighbourhoods. Nope these were Jags! Gorgeous, elegant, shiny Jaguars! He was proud. Foti had really made something of his life, and he was justified in his boastfulness. I think it’s easy to forget how tough things were for immigrants in the 60s who came over with essentially nothing. It is hard because they made it, life, easy for us.

During the year I spent in the Marangou home Foti must have realized, in a way that really no one else seemed to (just Pits), that I was lost and scared. I was often home on the weekends as the house slowly emptied each rushing to some planned outing. Foti was there, downstairs at his white desk. I too sat there and Foti would put some old Greek movie on with Aliki Vougiouklaki, Tzeni Karezi, Melina Mercouri, Lambros Konstantaras, Dimitri Papamichael, Rena Vlahopoulou, and others! We’d converse in Greek, laugh and joke about these Greek dramas, and share a bit of current gossip about the actors’ sorted affairs! But he made me feel at home. Home! A place of untold treasure. For what is it to be home than to feel accepted, safe, unconditionally loved and cared for!! So to me Foti was like a father; he was my 2nd dad. And who is ever lucky enough to have two great dads!

 

Good bye Foti mou! I love you so damn much!

Καλή αντάμωση!

 

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Foti and baby Kristina

 

 

 

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My Big Brother

Nope. Sorry. No one has had a big brother like mine. Though at times overly zealous in his big brother role, everyone knew Elly was Nick’s little sister. Translation? DO NOT MESS WITH NICK’S LITTLE SISTER! It helped that my bro was a tough-guy (with a tender heart…but only the few knew that); wrestler, all-round athlete, and strength that would catapult his adversary into the stratosphere! Not a bully!!! Not by any stretch of the imagination. Fair. Loyal. Compassionate. Adversary to the encumbered. To me, he was Neek, and he had my back…always. It didn’t much matter, as it is with loyalty, the circumstances of actual or potential harm. My bro is black and white that way. His mind, like a bull locked unto his target, seeks retributive justice. “No one harms my little sister and gets away with it; PERIOD!” Younger he’d once made one boy eat grass, and on other occasions, when first we moved to Greece, his efforts were doubled and tripled to frantically deal with the reality of “kamaki” – that’s the Greek term for “hitting on”. I’d get off the school bus and he’d say, spitting words lightning fast: “walk in front of me, walk in front of me.” I would acquiesce, and as I walked he’d survey from all sides. One time I recall a cute (!!!!) guy stopped to chat me up. My bro rushed to my side and in broken Greek asked, “what the f%$# do you think you’re doing?” Long story short, the guy apologizes saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know she was your sister.” WELL SHE’S SOMEONE’S SISTER!!!!,” came the reply. Smiles, and laughter collide as these memories are rehearsed. Truth is that I grew up feeling pretty much like the ugly duckling, for the stories I recount mostly took place without my knowledge. So I figured I was the repellent to these boys who seemed quite eager to chat up and “go steady” (hahahaha, that’s what it was called back then) with literally all my friends. But…BUT…there is no price not worth paying for the love and devotion of a brother.

Years later not much has changed. My bro still has my back. And though he now internalizes his strength to keep his wrath from finding an offender’s jaw, the line needs little provocation to occasion its release. SO WATCH IT, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!!! 😉 A role model of strength, loyalty, compassion, care, commitment, and courage! He’s much like our father! Proud to be his little sister. Proud to call him my big brother. Comforted by his watchful eye. A reminder that there is good in this world. No one has yet to match his generosity of spirit…he deserves love, devotion, and care of equal measure! I’ve got you back, big brother!

Happy birthday big brother. I love you!

 

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My bro with the boys: Nick, Thomas, Anthony, Nico (my BB), Kris

A write of passage…

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Writing is a bit like sailing. There are days that you’re coasting, the waters are calm and uneventful, but the life underneath appears as miracles do. Other times winds conjure travesty and all is now opaque, yet scandalously alive! Sometimes it feels like a rite of passage, as if, oh faithless one gather your tears, God has made it so. Believe and all is won, doubt and all is cherished. Writing is neither. For with each stroke the arrogance of pernicious truth finds the page, doubly entreating for the faint of heart lamenting as the ink dries and false idols appear.

Reading In-artistically

Lingering thoughts….

He lacks style; he lacks the sophistication and generosity of spirit to discern the motifs of multiple genres of expression. He reads one-dimensionally, flatly, and ultimately flat-lines all manner of form. Reading; all becomes dead; dead weight that burdens and corrupts, simultaneously doing damage in the hopes of regaining an ego-foothold that would pull him up as if a puppet, a-straight, horizontal, amidst blaring criticism. Coolly calculative and yet steamingly emotive, bearing existential hazard in its wake. His manner, ill form, obfuscates through obscurant modes, leaving the ill-read, philosophically marginalized, unduly impressed. Himself.

 

*Inspired by Danto, Nehamas, Solomon and others

John Cleese: APA Spokesperson!

If you doubted the role and relevance of philosophy….have a quick listen to John Cleese and a quick read of the accompanying write-up.

John Cleese APA Spokesperson

The most common question seems to be: what is it that philosophers do!? Quite a lot…. They work in corporations, labour unions, medical centres and hospitals, and of course, every day they provoke thinking….

Remember that it was philosophy that inspired men like Martin Luther King to fight against racism, formed the basis for Jane Addams efforts to create a better life for the poor, and also fired up Simone de Beauvoir to fight for equality for women! Philosophy is the starting point for making society more just!

The 21st century belongs to philosophy more than it does to psychology or religion! Philosophy is neither of these things; it begins in wonder and works against confusion! Today there is much to wonder about and there is a lot of confusion.

Some say that the quality of life trumps the length of life; others say the longer the better! Who’s right? A long time ago a philosopher named Socrates said that philosophy is the study that helps us learn how to die, which also means that philosophy can teach us how to live!

 

 

 

Critical Self-Awareness in Philosophical Counselling

Clients invariably seek out philosophical counselling to address or resolve a problem that seems to arise from a sense of inner tension with their existing life situation. In other words, clients or counsellees come not because they have been diagnosed with a panic disorder, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or because they have been perceived to be in unhealthy relationships, are under-achievers and the like. Rather, it is their subjective experience of themselves living such life-circumstances that impresses upon them the awareness that they are not living as they should or as they would like.

The unsettled nature of this form and level of self-awareness, of course, motions to the opacity of this subjective experience and the perceived quandary which typically leaves clients feeling overwhelmed. A Socratic lesson long quoted amongst pedagogic enthusiasts concerns this point of self-awareness – Socrates would pose directed questions about matters personally relevant to the interlocutor’s moral standing with the intent to publicly expose inconsistencies which would throw him into an aporetic state. Prior to the subjective experience of one’s own shortcomings and their social – and for some existential – import, discourse would be disingenuous.

Of course, this does not suggest that those intrinsically motivated are not genuinely interested in the object of inquiry. Rather, the suggestion is that the subjective or self-conscious experience of their own understanding is lost to them since their inquiry is disengaged, and thereby factors the subjective experience out of the equation.

Philosophical counseling, as I have argued previously, is a transformative art, that aims to open up creative forms of thoughtful and self-critical reflection. Neither the relayed knowledge of one’s predicament by others (as with those who are diagnosed by others), nor the intellectualized awareness of oneself (as one intrinsically motivated) suffering from certain acknowledged limitations could charter a path to self-understanding. The client would, if you will, have to be in “crisis” mode which is attainable as a subjective experience of one’s understanding of one’s predicament.

Notice in the latter case, one may be self-critically aware of oneself and her limitations, but in such a scenario one is rendered an object or specimen of discourse quite detached from the matter of experiencing oneself as the subject of this mode of understanding. The art of philosophical counseling would require what Kierkegaard referred to as “Subjective Truth”. “Truth”, he argued, “is Subjectivity”. What I borrow from Kierkegaard is this understanding of the mode of inquiry as concrete, engaged and refined, rather than biased, via the subjective particularity of the subject who is both the agent of discourse and constitutive of its unfolding.

 

 

The Virtues of our Counsellees

My last reflection made a promise to return to the issue of suitable clientele or candidacy. The question was placed in the context of goals specific to philosophical counselling. Specifically, I had argued that “if philosophical counselling nurtures self-reflective understanding, then the aim of philosophical counselling must be an introspective exercise that aims to gauge, enhance and augment one’s understanding, a process integral to one’s interpretative framework orienting one in the world.”

Hence, I argued, “counselees looking for concrete solutions to their problems and/or decision-making are ill-suited to this cumbersome activity, as would individuals lacking mental sensibilities and certain dispositional traits of character including discipline, thoughtfulness and patience.” I now wish to be more explicit.

When speaking of concrete solutions and a decision making process, my point is that philosophical insights would remain at the periphery of any discussion or may be perceived as an unnecessary intrusion to the concrete exercise of providing a recipe for deciding “whether one should stay in an unhealthy relationship” or “5 steps to fighting procrastination” or “outlining research methods for a struggling PhD student”. Sure I could do that easily enough, and I could even accomplish it with the consensus of my client. However, there would be nothing particularly philosophical or personally insightful about the experience. The client would cash in on certain skills in practical reasoning, and adopt improved patterns of behavior.

What is philosophical about these otherwise practical questions? Someone who comes with relationship issues is bound to have a complex network of concepts that both defines his/her evaluative assessment and most importantly the particular issues that comprise his/her narrative. The same can be said of that individual that procrastinates. Indeed, someone who takes on a goal and consistently puts it on the back burning is involved in (unconscious) internal struggles that may vary from experience of self-worth, the value of the goal itself, orientations on life and more.

Once these are brought to the fore and the client is invited to explicitly negotiate the background of meanings from which his/her present stance is informed, the opportunity for rational self-reflective understanding is heightened. Notice the shift from outwardly oriented assessments often associated with practical judgments where one looks to the best means by which to acquire a goal, and an inwardly oriented experience of those concepts from which one gains insight into one’s own understanding of such matters.

This is a cumbersome and arduous process that may leave the client feelings as if s/he is taking many steps backwards, furthering him/herself from the attainment of the original goal that was in clear(er) proximity. Frustration, and a brewing sense of futility would alienate the client and hinder the cultivation of a personalized authentic dialogue of self-understanding. It is for this reason that certain traits of character seem pertinent, even if these may come in degrees and may also be strengthened by the philosophical counselling experience.

The Self-Understanding is Nurtured by Philosophy

So what is this rational self-reflective understanding that philosophical counselling nurtures? An answer, indeed the question itself, imposes a certain presumption about the goals of philosophical counselling, which also seems prescriptively biased as far the eligibility of the counsellee is concerned.

If philosophical counselling nurtures self-reflective understanding, then the aim of philosophical counselling must be an introspective exercise that aims to gauge, enhance and augment one’s understanding, a process integral to one’s interpretative framework orienting one in the world. Counsellees looking for concrete solutions to their problems and/or decision-making are ill-suited to this cumbersome activity, as would individuals lacking mental sensibilities and certain dispositional traits of character including discipline, thoughtfulness and patience. Leaving this latter issue for next week, the practice of engaging counselees here involves cognition of how existing thought processes evolve not as disengaged, but as subjective, that is, intra-personal dialogue taken up a visceral understanding of one’s own experience, a kind of self-understanding.

The Transformative Impact of Our Art

 Philosophical practice is neither diagnostic nor prognostic. Unlike counsellors of the psychological variety, we, as philosophers are firmly affixed to the transformative impact of our art.

Philosophy has always raised questions and offered venues for discussion that challenge ordinary assumptions on all matters of human understanding. And yet surprisingly this discipline has been perceived as abstract, uninviting, impractical and direly impenetrable. Philosophical practice, and philosophical counselling in particular, steps in to alter this skewed perspective and bring it back to the arena of everyday life and living. This dialectical counsellee-counsellor interchange is not fixed upon defining the “truth” as some abstract, impersonal depiction of reality now and forever. Rather it is a conversation that nurtures a rational self-reflective understanding of all contending value-laden beliefs that have taken hold of one’s consciousness.

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