The big little things…

The Love of Helen and Paris by Jacques-Louis David (oil on canvas, 1788, Louvre, Paris)

It’s the little things. A penetrating glance. A stream of light. Preparing a meal. Writing a blog. A child’s smile. The joy experienced is owed not to the glance, the streaming light, the meal or the child’s smile. For just as words can fall on deaf ears, so too can sights fall out of focus. Everything that is anything is something because we make it so. You see beauty in the creases of the rose-pedal, are mesmerized by the droplets that like a suspended bubble sit indifferent to the raging wind on a leaf, are overcome by the lines that delicately caress your lover’s eyes, watch as a child’s hand slowly fastens the outreaching arm of his mother. The world suddenly slows down and grows quiet. It is as with the reverence spoken in silent humility upon entry into the House of the Lord.

Beauty, joy, happiness don’t belong to the world for they can not be discerned by the spectator’s lens. I do not stand and face the world. I am always in-the-world. Here I become intermingled with the being of the “objectively present” not related as two separate and distinct entities, but affectively I take in the world with caring attention and personal investedness and I see everything that’s anything!

Yet, the joy of living is also in the big things! Propose marriage. Call in the name of an inspiring mentor to a popular radio show. Organize rallies to celebrate great teachers. Call an employee and remind them of their invaluable work. Throw a surprise birthday party! Pay it forward. Launch a thousand ships, whatever it takes, for that face, his face! Menelaus launched his fleet of 1000 strong to reclaim the beautiful Helen of Troy, but I suspect the minutiae of the everyday was deadly silent. So though grand gestures sometimes do speak louder than everyday micro-gestures; micro-gestures are often discerned, creeping into and antagonistically fraternizing with, what doesn’t get said leaving the other to agonize in the known unknown. So sure, launch a thousand ships, send me a care package when I’m sick from the other side of the Atlantic, reach out despite circumstance of uncertainty and restraint, be there unconventionally but be here everyday. Nothing is ever totally in step, but frequent and unatoned disharmony leaves everyone dis-synchronized and essentially out of reach, rendering grand gestures disingenuous and pitiful. Be what you say, say what you do.



My Little Girl…

Kalianna is a “silent force” (σιωπηλή δύναμη) to reckon with. She is no nonsense, quite deliberate in making her disposition known. Young still – she can get it wrong – she stands as a mirror, kind and sincere to the caring, and brutal to the rude and pretentious! Look out world! Complicated, my little girl…transfixed in her vision of how things ought to be, temporarily “out of order” when the world stubbornly refuses her. Protector, advocate, nonconformist, ruthlessly loyal, and yet surprisingly thoughtful.

We are more than mother-and-daughter, we are girl-friends. We share clothes, watch our girlie shows together, sing, dance, share …..share a lot …. She is more like me than I’d like, for I know she will toil and despair. And enduring your child’s suffering is nothing any parent does gracefully. I know I don’t. Not always self-assured, and stumbling as she finds her way, it is my hope that she will see all that I see in her. (tears)

Today 15, happy birthday my beautiful child! The world, my world, is richer by far with you in it!


A Psalm of Life

Here’s Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life. “Life is something more than an idle dream”, said he. “Be a hero in the strife,” had my thoughts linger to Heraclitus. But also to Joseph Campbell: “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

Version 2


Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


A Pig Satisfied

article-2013514-0016b93b00000258-413_468x310People constantly say that happiness is just a state of mind. But happiness derived from heinous acts, says you’re psychotic; hence sick. Experiencing love and kindness in Auschwitz amidst all the vile tortuous acts, says you’re hallucinating; hence sick. Living with hope that never comes, says you’re delusional; hence sick. Clearly there’s a line one is not to cross. Is this because of metaphysical constructs regarding reality, or is it rather with the psychological state of the experiencing subject. In the first scenario experiencing happiness with a false perception of the world, or “false” or “questionable evaluations” of events in the world, implies that happiness is not real. The truth is in the pudding: if said individual were suddenly to see things as they really are, this person would experience unhappiness. So if Giosue, Guido Orefice’s son in the film Life is Beautiful, were to see the calamity of humanity, he would experience unhappiness. Indeed, this is precisely why his father went to such lengths to conceal what was truly going on from him. And yet, can we say that Giosue wasn’t actually experiencing happiness, but was, in fact, unhappy? That doesn’t seem to follow. Again the truth is in the pudding: the boy shall carry on being happy until he comes to see things otherwise. But there’s another issue here: what of the psychopath serial killer? He’s not delusional. But his emotional world is deplete. This person does not have the expected emotional reaction to events in the world. In effect, this person should not be experiencing “happiness” but does (it is, of course, debatable in patients suffering from psychosis whether they experience happiness as such, but you get my point. 🙂 ) And in the previous scenario, the son would not experience happiness (if he knew the truth) but does!

And yet, often pride of place is given not to happiness, but to reality. We want to free that woman of false hope, we want to give the delusional drugs to free her from a false depiction of reality, we beseech the self-deluded to see things as they are! The truth may (may!!!!) set you free, but it won’t necessarily make you happy. platos-allegory-of-the-caveAnd yet Plato had a different take on this. Cave-dwellers are hedonic beasts that feed off of the ephemeral objects of desire, and hence are, in effect, addicts whose sustenance is characteristically one of dependence, it is outwardly directed, and speaks to the lowly, instinctive part of humanity. True and enduring happiness (eudaimonia not hedonia) is found when one is emancipated from the cavernous walls (they are not exactly delusional, or entirely false) which impede human development. For Plato this meant to cultivate the distinctively human aspects of self that go beyond the merely hedonic and involve a more inwardly directed movement with the development of reflective (philosophical) thought. The process of reflection would set one on the task of inquiring into questions of reality and truth, to in turn draw out further corollary positions and implications. One such implication concerns happiness.

Such a person would ultimately find herself outside of the cave. This person would no longer confuse the sensible objects of perception with the objects (or reality) themselves. Plato manages to vividly portray the inter-relatedness of the physical/metaphysical, cognitive and moral. A cave-dweller is depicted behind physical walls that are more reminiscent of a prison-cell than anything else. Yet, this is (to some extent) self-inflicted, and commonly considered the natural state of nonhuman creatures. The natural inclination once this phantasmal world is exposed for its illusoriness is to seek emancipation; to look beyond the walls. Interestingly, with this realization comes human suffering. Namely, once she lifts her head to see the walls that surround, and the chains that shackled, she becomes overwhelmed with despair, but not before. Can it be that despair is inextricably entangled in the experience of human happiness? Even Plato’s take on the matter is unclear. After all Socrates is portrayed as that lonely individual who transcends the boundaries of sensory experience entering thereby the Intelligible World of Ideas, and eager to return and enlighten his fellow citizens is treated with disdain and accused of being insane (literally out of touch with reality! Irony??!!!) So what’s the story? Is it their ignorance that commits them to this ephemeral life comprised of shadows?Would knowledge then be the cure? And to what end? Are they not after all happy?

You’d think it would be easy to see the walls of the cavern, right? I mean sight is something that just happens when we open our eyes. And yet, as ancient Greek thinkers have contended since as early as Thales, but quite clearly with Heraclitus and Parmenides, appearances are deceiving. To see beyond what is presented to the senses requires that one begin to question the truth of sensory objects. So in Plato’s paradigm, seeing sensible objects – chairs, tables, humans, etc. – doesn’t give us any sense ( 😉 ) of what chairs, humans and the like are. Problems arise when we begin to make assertions about these items. The chair is solid, brown, and is used to sit on. What of that object that is also brown and solid, and which one could also use to sit on (FYI it’s a table), is it a chair? After all, we’d only be able to properly praise a carpenter for making a good chair, if it exhibited all of the properties of a chair, making it an optimal or perfect chair, therefore. The best of its kind, you might say. Cave-dwellers see chairs, name them often enough with success, but have no concrete understanding of what chairs are. For this reason, a cave-dweller would often employ inconsistent beliefs about the his world (taking tables, sandy beaches and the like for chairs!!!). Identified contradictions of mind are useful in that they force the inquiring subject to flesh out those doxastic culprits responsible for abominations of thought. On this path of inquiry one would be looking to uncover what characteristics are necessary and sufficient: the necessary condition for something to be a chair would be any characteristic short of which no object could ever be a chair. Clearly a necessary condition is that it can be sat on. After all, if a chair has all of the physical properties of a chair, but collapses as soon as anyone tries to sit on it, we might say something like, ‘it looks like a chair, but its not actually a chair’. What then of the sufficient conditions. Well these concern what characteristics are enough to make an object a chair. That an object can be sat on is necessary, as we’ve said, but it isn’t actually sufficient since there are many objects one could sit on that aren’t chairs – like a rock, sandy beach, table, bed, floor, and more. A sufficient condition would require more than just this necessary one. Together with the condition that it is a piece of furniture with a back, we have a set of conditions that together are sufficient for a chair. Notice the process of inquiry takes us further adrift from the concrete physical object with which inquiry began. Seeing what a chair is, involves a mental kind of sight, which is itself constitutive of the very process of its realization. Now you might ask, who the hell cares about tables and chairs??!!!! The carpenter would,GABRIELLA-ASZTALOS-HUG-CHAIR-.jpg as would his mentor, and anyone out shopping for furniture! This postmodern world of design may leave Plato feeling quite at a loss, however! Poor, Plato! 🙂

Though even these kinds of beliefs can incite inquiry of the kind illustrated above, and there are times when such inquires are relevant and fruitful, they are not as directly pertinent to the issue of happiness. This process of inquiry becomes troubling when it comes to making life decisions. These decisions take us beyond the corporeal world to that mysterious world of human understanding.

So far the suggestion has been that knowledge pertains to a mind-independent world out there, which is  ascertained when mental processes are properly engaged. You might say that there is a mapping out between sensible objects and mental ideas. In the case of Plato, mental Ideas (if indeed these are mental and not real…there is considerable debate over this issue) cease to resemble shabby instances (copies) of these! For Plato. these mental Ideas are more real (or are really, real, as he liked to say) and hence knowledge must attend upon these objects. So what does all this have to do with happiness? Well let’s reconsider the aforementioned examples. The case of Guido Orefice’s son is fairly straight forward. In a way reminiscent of Plato’s cave, the young lad’s perceptions are being filtered and hence controlled by his “meddling” father. Hence, what he sees only partially mirrors reality. The case of that woman who lives with false hope, is more complex as it is self-inflicted, and not the product of externalities. And yet, one might ask, as the Platonic Socrates might ask, “what is hope?”. Consider the hope that “I shall never die” with the hope that “I shall not die young”. The first is unachievable, whereas the latter is achievable. The first rests in erroneous beliefs with regards to organic life, or at the very least continuity of personal identity. The latter, however, rests in the understanding both that no one actually knows when she will die (hence being hopeful) and yet astute in her belief that we can exercise a degree of control over the longevity of our lives (i.e. by living healthy – nutrition, exercise, non-toxic environments, etc.). Clearly, the first scenario would cultivate decision making practices and life patterns that would endanger one’s life, and compromise one’s ability to live a happy life. The latter scenario contrarily, would be conducive to valid decision making practices, that would promote human happiness (or especially flourishing as it was properly understood by ancient Greek thinkers at the time). The final case is one where Plato would find the serial killer mentally unwell – his soul would be characteristically misaligned! This assessment in part requires an understanding of Plato’s tripartite division of the soul, as well as his understanding of virtue.

Well even Plato worried over the source of these Ideas. Where did they come from, or wherefrom did one ever acquire them? He presents the Theory of Recollection to argue that in a pre-corporeal earthly state of being we were acquainted with the Ideas which upon our birth are forgotten and reside in our minds in a latent state awaiting recovery via experience, rigorous and appropriate questioning/inquiry. Even our ability to properly understand and make sense of sensible objects of experience is parasitic on the pre-existence of these latent Ideas, which are themselves not derivable from experience itself. Knowledge then is shaped by these Ideas. One wonders then, whether this world is merely a construct of human understanding! I doubt Plato would see it this way, given that these Ideas are not structures of the mind, or integral to the mind as such but rather Ideas with which one is born having previously, in a non-corporeal state, acquired them. On this view the relationship between knowledge and virtue is tightly held together, and the corollary happiness follows from there.

Well, in a way it is, isn’t it? Since as early as Descartes (well earlier) the activity of the mind has not been negligible. But with Kant comes the explicit understanding of mis-matching the “real” world and mental life. The mind is actively part of the construction of “reality” as we know it. Kant demonstrated, in response to Hume’s  serious threat to human knowledge, that the mind is actively involved in the act of experience; that indeed, the mind organizes sensory data, as is the case with time and and space. The point basically is that time and space cannot actually be experienced as such but are rather innate intuitions of the mind, without which temporal-spatial experience would be impossible. He then went on to also argue that the mind is already equipped with categories of judgment without which the aforementioned would also be impossible. (we can’t derive these from experience itself, and given that we indeed engage in acts of judgment, there must be certain categories innate to the mind that make this possible). Uh oh, the world out there is now off limits; it is beyond human understanding. That world, the world Kant calls the noumenal world, is comprised of the things themselves, and we can’t ever know these. Human knowledge is always and inescapable taken up with the phenomenal world of human experience, and is therefore, constitutive of human understanding. Kant didn’t leave it at that, of course. He did after all write some lengthy, heavy books  – The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Judgment, The Critique of Practical Reason – and more.

Heidegger called this way of thinking about the world presence-at-hand and he considered this modality to be at fault for corrupting the possibility of being altogether ( 😉 ….those who know Heidegger will get me!) It is the ready-at-hand that is the most comfortable and common modality of everyday being in the world. It is what I call (Dostoyevsky uses the express as well…damn it!) active inertia. Happiness as it will turn out on a Heideggerian reading will be intense but nothing even close to Plato’s understanding and far, far away from the world of hedonism, but at least brushing shoulders with the concrete co-inhabitants of this world again! (Only just a little hammered – funny how hammers seem to work their way into philosophical discourse…Greetings Nietzsche, Heil Heidegger!)

More to say about this…and how it all hangs together…and falls apart….

I Love My Life!!!!

Household Lies

tumblr_o3mkkrNPgB1vnyo60o1_1280Stumbling in, he falls unconscious. All around there’s scrambling commotion. Foot steps rushing urgently, scattered whispers enjoining like a choir of nymphs, the hissing lodging a hole through my ear. Strokes of regret enamour hope and the foot steps become more decisive and directed. The drawer opens, and a syringe is drawn from deep inside. Breathing resumes. From further afar I see his chest expand and deflate. The stench of relief is palpable.

We’re all breathing now.

There’s no talk of the events that transpired as the house slowly comes back to life. The household routine is resurrected. Each to their quarters and little lives. Everything is as it was. I begin to wonder if it happened at all. After all this couldn’t be happening, not to us. We did everything right.

Impenetrable mind-schemes!



Chitter-chatter aka talking trivialities; worse trivializing. Anathema to a philosopher! A colleague of late was reminder of the delicate nature of engaged discourse in absentia. He says: “Philosophy as the art of living doesn’t mean philosophy as endless navel-gazing (chatter aka blogging). It means exercising judgment in a “personal” relation to what one deems significant or ultimate.” The retort essentially implies a lack of discursive engagement, characteristically self-indulgent, bordering on narcissism. Hence, engaged discourse without the engagement! And yes, it was levied at me. As I have said elsewhere in anticipation of this blog entry: “Criticism, as much as praise, is such a welcome part of engaged philosophical discourse that I shall make a blog entry addressing the finer points raised by my colleague. After all, it is always within the context of esteem that even criticism is raised; otherwise, indeed, why bother at all.” (quoting myself!!! Maybe he’s right!!!! A case of narcissistic navel-gazing…maybe….just maybe… 😉 )

Philosophers spend their time toiling over coming to a proper understanding of things, and this really means coming to an understanding of human understanding. For indeed, there seems no way to stand outside of the nebulous centre from which the question itself springs. Indeed, the question is self-referentially designed, designating both the arbitrator of its indulgence and the object thereof. The narcissistic (aka navel-gazing) invite seems inevitable if indeed all knowledge springs from the well of the human subject herself. This is not a simple claim to subjectivism; indeed, it doesn’t imply that whatever any thinking subject happens to think is automatically true. The history that informs the position is both long and convoluted. But Kant might be a good place to start since he is responsible for setting the stage within both the Analytic and Continental philosophical traditions (if, of course, it is even a useful distinction to make).

There is a way in which this can and is posed in the abstract with its own methodological artillery and assumptions, and another which seeks that primordial starting place in the concrete ontic subject. The first makes human understanding the terrain of investigative inquiry and seeks out its conditions. Kant, for instance, famously sought to determine the fundamental conditions of human experience and understanding through what is called the Transcendental Deduction. It seemed clear since Hume that certain fundamental concepts, for instance causality,  could not have come from experience itself. To which Hume concluded, so much the worse for experience – the pursuit of knowledge then is a colossal waste of time and that which we inescapably refer to in the context of human judgement is “simply” the result of habit. Awoken thereby from his “dogmatic slumbers” Kant turned the question round (known as the Copernican Turn) so that concepts were not sought in experience – he conceded to Hume – instead he considered how sensory objects are objects of experience at all.  Neither space nor time are concepts that could have been derived from experience because indeed the possibility of experience presupposes it. Kant adopts the same strategy when it comes to the faculty of understanding, where concepts, what he calls categories, here include causality, plurality, and unity, are the basic conditions for the possibility of understanding. Put simply, these are features of the mind without which intuitions would be empty (as Kant puts it). Now I have no intention of offering a 2-minute run down on the history of philosophy; my intent was rather to establish the fundamental “gap” introduced by this Kantian view. The world out there is beyond human understanding; knowledge is limited to human experience, the phenomenal world, and this because it is always filtered, or as Critchley puts it, it is the “human subject who understands, that is, who unifies the blooming, buzzing confusion of perceptual experience under concepts.” (Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short History, p. 17) Hence, the world, the things-in-themselves, lies beyond human understanding.

So, as I began, all understanding is understanding of human understanding. How is it then that solipsism, bedfellow to narcissism, is escapable? How is it that we are not, each of us, stuck in our own heads? Kant argues that though the things-in-themselves are beyond human understanding, that still there are rules and principles that judgement must heed to, and according to which questions of fidelity can be established. Heidegger, however, argued that the primordial staring point of all human understanding does not begin with working out the conditions of human understanding abstracted from that being who takes issue with being itself. For Heidegger then who it is that answers to the call for answers to such questions is the basic starting point for an understanding of human understanding. This Being that answers to this calling then is unique amongst all other beings, or entities, in that it is the precondition for the possibility of inquiry at all. To denote the uniqueness of this being and to detract those that may want or unwittingly read old traditional metaphysical assumptions into this inquiry, Heidegger introduces a neologism as a placeholder term for Being. Dasein is the name he gives this Being, the human being. In answering to this calling, we become conscious of our existence as separate from our essence. As such, we are primordially caring beings that take up our Being in the world with others within a preexisting complex web of meaning. Working out the conditions of human understanding then would not Kantian-like seek out conditions that are stripped from being-in-the-world-with-others. Analyses such as these are already abstracted from this more fundamental way of being, and so Heidegger sought to work out the structures that make possible the various ways or modes of being. This he called the Existential Analytic. It is a very complex system, but I think I can try to simplify in order to draw out the most basic and relevant points.

We are, as it were, thrown into the world. Namely into a set of circumstances that already constitute a world of meaning amidst others. Our situation is just a brute fact that we have no control over, and for which there is no rhyme or reason.  As situated beings the world shows up as mattering to us. That is, it is already within a pre-conceptual a priori state of being that the world is a “world” at all; namely, as a meaningful complex unity of interconnected relations. So you might think of it along these lines; things in the world show up as threatening, useful, attractive and so on because we are already predisposed or attuned (what Heidegger calls mood) to the world in a particular way, which is itself constitutive of that very framework of meaning. So, there is, as it were, no subject cast off and separate from the world and others out there. Sure we can delve into various scientific and abstract inquiries, but these are not primordial. These have distinct paradigms of meaning constitutive of a subject matter delineated by questions and methods of inquiry specific to the standards of evaluative assessment. We are, however, fundamentally beings-in-the-world-with-others, and hence already engaged social, invested beings divested in practices that often are only ever dimly noticed. So, we go about our lives as “one does” and for the most part habitually comport ourselves in the world with others.

This makes us sound like agentless zombies, and Heidegger would consider such a life to be inauthentic, but there is a way of being whereby one can emerge from this otherwise seemingly amorphous public self. Interestingly enough this speaks to that uneasiness which we are all occasionally, vaguely aware of regarding the meaninglessness of our own lives in this frantic, colliding world of events. It is in owning up to this uneasiness, what he calls anxiety or angst, that we acknowledge the groundlessness of our being. This unsettling disposition is our response to that fundamental unsettling character of Dasein, which one can flee from and re-submerge into that amorphous public self, or authentically embrace this anxiety. The essence of Dasein, then, lies in its existence, meaning that the Being of Dasein is constitutive of the various modes of its existence in the world. This is, as the term suggests – ex-sistence – a “standing-out” of the essence of one’s being which signals to the openness of future projects as one’s ownmost possibility of being. What does this mean? On the one hand, it means that the essence of Dasein, is in, immersed or constitutive of what has been described as being-in-the-world-with-others. Hence, the reference to agentless zombie-like beings. Yet, we are not simply the product of our situation. Hence, on the other hand, recall that our uniqueness is in answering to the call of Being (conscience). We are therefore, also the kinds of beings that stand outside of the situation in those moments of anxiety such that we no longer simply engage in the world as “one does”, but for this angst-driven being engagement becomes intimately personalized as I take up my projects in acknowledged concern for my concretized positioning in the world. In this calling Dasein is calling to itself, which is a moment of existential crisis, whereupon one is called back from this inauthentic mode of being, living, if you will, lost in the busy, “chatter” (recall my colleague’s contempt for my so-called chatter! 😉 ) of everyday life. It is in this experience that one is called back from the immersed banality of the seamless flow of the everyday whereupon one becomes self-aware which is experienced as freedom. As such it comes as a tsunami of guilt! It is a guilt that is more like that irking, invading, sense of unrest. It is the sense that things, I, am not quite as I “should” be. It is in this mode (the queen of all moods) that one can regain one’s authentic comportment in the world.

Now to my colleague in the hopes that I manage to in some measure address his concerns. Again, he objected that “Philosophy as the art of living doesn’t mean philosophy as endless navel-gazing (chatter aka blogging). It means exercising judgment in “personal” relation to what one deems significant or ultimate.” I won’t presume to understand the meaning of his neologism – here replaced with the more colloquial and potentially misleading term, “personal” (he wishes to remain anonymous), but he has offered some clues elsewhere. If my understanding of him is correct, he places himself in the tradition of Heidegger re ex-istence (ek-stasis), Foucault re self-care and Derrida re deconstruction. For Heidegger, we are beings-in-the-world-with-others answering to the calling of Being, which in moments of anxiety provide for our personalized self-comportment in and amongst others in the world. What Foucault seems to add is his explicit reference to philosophy as the art of living. Foucault is especially important given his 1981-2 Lectures at the College de France, on The Hermeneutics of the Subject, where he distinguishes between the practice of philosophical discourse simpliciter from the practice of philosophical discourse as a spiritual activity. By traditional accounts the Delphic inscription “Know Thyself” laid focus on, even through Socrates, arriving at true moral propositions. Yet, Foucault argues that self-care is primordial or more basic to self-knowledge, that indeed self-knowledge was the means by which one cared for oneself. So, Socrates has been misconstrued, as has the Delphic inscription! Socratic discourse (as I have argued in my book The Pedagogic Mission) was not the mere exchange of opinions amongst able-minded rational beings, looking to align their beliefs in accordance to logical form. Socratic discourse was dialectic, contextually rich, and almost intrusively personal. Philosophical discourse was then not a process ripped from lived life and agential involvement, but rather presupposed it as the bedrest from which meaningful personalized understanding would lend itself to existential re-alignment. Put simply, the personal beliefs of the interlocutor would be put on trial whereby poor reflective consideration of these would reveal how as people their engagement in life was devoid of true, substantive commitment. As a result, existential crisis should evoke a sense of personal despair over contesting to a life via practices that lacked their self-appropriation. ‘Am I really the ethical subject of the truths I know’?’ Now these are not the words that Foucault would use, but I do think that it captures both the relationship between “knowing oneself” and caring for oneself” and how emphasis on the first with disregard to the latter would evolve into the practice of a philosophical discourse emptied of any “spirituality”, and hence disconnected, disjointed, out of sorts, and disengaged. For Foucault philosophy as a spiritual (spiritual for Foucault referred to an ethical, cosmic sense of self) exercise, what I will call philosophy as the art of living, would argue that the relationship between the subject and truth involves a way of “reflecting on our relations to the truth” which involves ethical transformation. He says, “What is philosophy if not a way of reflecting, not so much on what is true and what is false, as on our relationship to truth? … The movement by which, not without effort and uncertainty, dreams and illusions, one detaches oneself from what is accepted as true and seeks other rules – that is philosophy.” “How to be an active subject of true discourse, and how to transform true discourse into an ethos of life, into an ethics of life, is essentially what Foucault considers the art of living.” This suggests that the philosopher’s task is an arduous one of beating down those assumptions that petrified are like walls standing erect concealing the need for a barricade at all. So, insidious, yet ubiquitous, that it is only with persistence that these can be overtaken. But it also suggests that this is accomplished by delving into how the truth is situated in relation to our own self-appropriation given our historical involvement. (It operates like a dam, a barricade, damning self-appropriation and eliciting foul judgement, as an act of bereavement. Damn, dam to hell! Inside joke! 😉 ) “The care of the self is the ethical transformation of the self in light of the truth, which is to say the transformation of the self into a truthful existence.” Foucault also talked about “frank-speech” or parrhesia which is the courageous act of telling the truth without embellishment or concealment (see his lecture courses at the College de France, The Government of Self and Others and The Courage of Truth). As a relative newcomer to the details of Foucault’s philosophy I shall allow the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy to furnish a summary of parrhesia, hoping that I have not thereby done a disservice to the basic form of his argument.

Foucault stipulates that there are five features of the parrhesiastic act.  First, the speaker must express his own opinion directly; that is, he must express his opinion without (or by minimizing) rhetorical flourish and make it plain that it is his opinion.  Second, parrhesia requires that the speaker knows that he speaks the truth and that he speaks the truth because he knows what he says is in fact true.  His expressed opinion is verified by his sincerity and courage, which points to the third feature, namely, danger:  it is only when someone risks some kind of personal harm that his speech constitutes parrhesia.  Fourth, the function of parrhesia is not merely to state the truth, but to state it as an act of criticizing oneself (for example, an admission) or another.  Finally, the parrhesiastes speaks the truth as a duty to himself and others, which means he is free to keep silent but respects the truth by imposing upon himself the requirement to speak it as an act of freedom (FS 11-20; see also GSO 66-7).

My colleague may or may not assent to these details of Foucault’s argument, but where Derrida comes into the picture is with regards to the disruptive element of discourse. He says: “exercising judgment in a “personal” relation to what one deems significant or ultimate is about appropriating one’s voice. Depending on the discourse itself, that will vary. It’s a question of audience and relative judgment, self-construction, with regard to what is authentic, the unconditioned, in that discourse. It is closely related to Foucault’s souci de soi (self care). However, where Foucault will disconnect with a normative structure of relating the self to self, “personal engagement” allows for the possibility in disruptive (re)negotiation with tradition and what it values. In this regard, I’m closer to Derrida than Foucault.” His point seems to be (and I could be entirely wrong) that relative to the context of the dialogical partnership, self-appropriation is concerned with (a la Foucault) the personalized inter-discursive involvement alongside-the-other, as one fully, and authentically comported in a context of historical and existential openness, an exercise characteristically inter-confrontational in spirit allowing for the transcendent subject to emerge. Again, I could be wrong; probably am! 🙂

In my mind, philosophy as the art of living can be described in this light: writing is a therapeutic exercise and philosophizing is the mode in which it is negotiated. (see my Write of Passage, Reading In-artistically and Eunoia…ugh another example confirming my narcissism…there is just no hope for me at all!!! I may have to just end my life right here! Wouldn’t that be the ultimate narcissistic act!! 😉 ) I cannot speak – anathema after all that has been said here – to whether my colleague would object, reject, disrupt, redirect, my dialogical engagement with the philosophical underpinnings of his objection in this, my, style of “engaged discourse”. I’d submit that the disruptive (re)negotiation between (equal) “able minded” interlocutors can involve both a relationless relation to and with the other, as well as a relational relatedness to the other. Each involve rather distinct modes of relationality, the first reflects a discursive mode in absentia, and/or across from the abstracted Other as is the case when in dialogue with traditions, ideas, concepts, and representations of others. Each has its own set of structures that speak to both authentic and inauthentic modes of being. I’m not sure what it could mean to say, “I reserve the right to interpret the significance of my agency in relationless relation to and with the other”. Rights are moral and/or legal entitlements that elicit a respective obligation, which, in absentia, is meaningless. If, however, the sense is not moral but declarative, again, in absentia, it seems to imply “I refrain from entering into a process of (re)negotiation”, such that self-appropriate becomes self-appropriate of self, only lacking that transformative quality, the conversion, to which Foucault refers. In his The Hermeneutics of the Subject, he says,

Spirituality postulates that the truth is never given to the subject by right. Spirituality postulates that the subject as such does not have right of access to the truth and is not capable of having access to the truth. It postulates that the truth is not given to the subject by a simple act of knowledge (connaissance}, which would be founded and justified simply by the fact that he is the subject and because he possesses this or that structure of subjectivity. It postulates that for the subject to have right of access to the truth he must be changed, transformed, shifted, and become, to some extent and up to a certain point, other than himself. The truth is only given to the subject at a price that brings the subject’s being into play For as he is, the subject is not capable of truth. I think that this is the simplest but most fundamental formula by which spirituality can be defined. It follows that from this point of view there can be no truth without a conversion or a transformation of the subject. This conversion, this transformation of the subject—and this will be the second major aspect of spirituality—may take place in different forms. Very roughly we can say (and this is again a very schematic survey) that this conversion may take place in the form of a movement that removes the subject from his current status and condition (either an ascending movement of the subject himself, or else a movement by which the truth comes to him and enlightens him). – my emphasis

Sometimes the proof is in the pudding! So here I turn to the experience of some of my Readers whose testimonials suggest a personalized engagement all the more eventfully experienced for my own idiosyncratic style.

It’s probably because of my own journey in life right now. but the things You post and say, are creating more and more resonance in me. To me it seems You are getting ever deeper into what matters, and what life is about… Thanks!!! And please keep moving 🙂

I think I told You before (in a not very elegant way, just as now…) that to me, it seems that You are a very human being fighting Your own battles as You work… and THAT is exactly why You are so good and interesting (to me anyway) And then You are of course very bright too 😉

Όταν απόψεις καλού φίλου, περί ζωής, θανάτου και ευτυχισμένου βίου, σε βάζουν σε βαθιές σκέψεις μέχρι το ξημέρωμα, τί σημαίνει; Ότι έχεις φίλο φιλόσοφο. Μεγάλο δώρο! Δεν έχει σημασία αν συμφωνείς σε όλα. Συμφωνείς όμως στο γεγονός ότι ένας δυνατός νους, μια ευαίσθητη ψυχή καταπιάνεται με τα ουσιώδη ανθρώπινα ζητήματα αυτής της εφήμερης, αλλά σπαρακτικά μελαλειώδους ως προς την ύπαρξή της ζωής. Γεια σου Έλλη! Ευχαριστώ για την αφορμή μεγάλων σκέψεων και αισθημάτων που μας δίνεις! Συνέχισε το σπουδαίο έργο σου!

Με απόλυτη βεβαιότητα σε πληροφορώ ότι, πολλές φορές, ο μεστός φιλοσοφικού περιεχομένου λόγος σου με έχει βοηθήσει να κατανοήσω θέματα. Φιλοσοφία διδάσκεις, αλλά και από ό,τι αντιλαμβάνομαι, ως ευφυής άνθρωπος, αναζητάς συνεχώς την αλήθεια (φιλόσοφος γαρ). Έτσι, μάλλον θα επωφεληθώ από τα γραπτά σου. Να είσαι πάντα καλά!

The End!


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!


Foti and baby Kristina




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 your back, big brother!

Happy birthday big brother. I love you!


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

A write of passage…


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.

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