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

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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.

Counselling, Distinctively Philosophical?

I suppose that the usual way of responding to this quandary is to talk about what is not philosophical, or more precisely what is not philosophical about psychology and the like.

Psychology is a science (even if in its origin it was itself philosophical, or born out of philosophical discourse and reflection). As such, it aims to ground the understanding of the human mind and behaviour in methods that yield measurable results.

Despite controversies even amongst psychologists/therapists, their treatment hinges on a therapeutic paradigm that rests on a clear understanding of health and unhealth. On the basis of this understanding, unhealthy mental and behavioural patterns are detected, classified, and causally determined with diagnostic, prognostic and treatments to boot. Sessions then aim to first diagnose a patient (methods may vary), elucidate causes (either exclusively by the therapists or in conjunction with the patient), and then proceed to implementing treatment.

Sessions conducted by philosophers do not follow this pattern at all. Philosophical counselling draws clients into an intra-personal and inter-personal dialogue that aims to elevate counselees from a static, or stagnant state of thinking and behaving to a self-reflective state invested in a deeper, more synthetic and analytic understanding of self and the world.

Opa!

So at the pub (yes, the pub! 😉 ) amidst Heavy Metal rockers dressed in ink, conversation almost always gets interesting. Why be happy when you’re not? Teasing superficialities of positivity speak to the simple American way, he announced. Ugh!!! We all have our stereotypes, and this is pretty much a constant. Anyway…. It’s the simplicity of the claim that irks me. I’m all for being positive, happy, pleasantly disposed, and whatever peripheral artillery this includes. What I’m opposed to, what my dialogical counterpart underscored, however impervious to self-criticism, is the naivety of the view. Sure we all want to be happy. I know I do. And it would seem that there are plenty of people that stack their chips with reason. Such is the plight of instrumental reasoning. You set your sights on some object and reason your way to the means of its acquisition, being careful to factor in along the way conditions for its realization, what might be lost in the process, and timelines. Timelines, schedules, planning, strategizing, and more timelines….again…repeat.

My pub mate did not consider this living. Jesus, he’d shout, these foreigners just don’t know how to live like a Greek! “We might not have as much money, or big houses, and closets of clothes to wear, but we have this, right here, right now.” I doubt he meant that Americans and Canadians (these happened to be the people he had on his mind) don’t go out to pubs and drink. In fact, they drink a great deal and certainly more than the average Greek. But they’d drink to get drunk, making sure to have had ample before heading out to assure success. Now though I have witnessed this for myself on frequent occasion, and often commented on how this is so foreign to my Greek propensities, I don’t think this is the point. It’s this visceral comportment that is distinctively Greek which knows no rhyme or reason. It has no agenda, and waits not for plans to opportune adventure. Life is not on a schedule, and throwing caution to the wind is not feigned in reaction to oppressive externalities, but is a simple way of being. Whether at a taverna, with modest decor, overlooking the Mediterranean eating Greek salad and saganaki cheese with local wine, or enjoying a meal at Lykavitos, it is the laissez-faire attitude which is both unrestrained and yet lacking in pretence that speaks to the Greek way. Perhaps this is what is seen with anticipated melancholy with Zorba the Greek,  “the man I had sought so long in vain”, which is so beautifully captured in this dance. Opa!

 

Oh, to See with Wide-Eyes

I use to think that a state of indifference was equivalent to a state of non-existence. And yet there is great power to be had. Not over the object of one’s past affections, for clearly to speak of it in such vein would only deny its actual instantiation; i.e. it rests in focused attention to that object as defiant rejection, and that, is still an act of care. It’s more like a flickering flame that simply and quite uneventfully goes out. The power is grounded in the resurrection of self. For immersed in the object of one’s affection there is always the threat of self-annihilation that is only properly protected within the art of diabolical negotiation. Where it withers, the flame breathes no more. I’ve never wanted to be cremated prematurely, and so the state of indifference has been welcomed with a sense of anticipation. Still, moving forward, the lens of my concentration seems in wide-angle viewing to see things quite distinctly. I won’t say more clearly, for what is to be said of the quality of sight poised narrowly or widely that cannot be captured by a simple – yet painful – change in focus? The vantage from which the world is now screened only opens endless possibilities previously undisclosed; alitheia, which is really a process that motions from a state of unconcealedness to a state where all that was priorly in oblivion is disclosed, or if you like, becomes visible. There is celebration in this.

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