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-appropriation becomes self-appropriation 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!


Spinning Top

I would never have pegged myself for the self-indulgent. But there you have it: I am. Not self-centred or selfish, mind you. In fact, on Aristotle’s scale I’d come out on the excessively self-sacrificing and accommodating side, and we all know those are vices that tamper with your well-being. But today I shall leave Aristotle at the door. Sorry dude! Today’s lesson kids (hehehehe) is about the desire to be understood. You’d think it a noncontroversial desire, right? For anyone whose composure isn’t being threatened by your all-too-innocent – angelic? saintly? (hehehehe) – insistence, sure! And there you are following him around from room to room to make your point, and as you do, his steps accelerate – I never knew he could walk so damn fast! – and eventually running out of places to go, the same rooms are visited …ad infinitum…. Okay so we did eventually get off the merry-go-round but even then the house still felt as if it were spinning. Funny how I never even noticed he was silent in all of this! WHAT?! Well, he w885e39de89d01b0452da242742484522as there, right? It’s not like he said: Shut up, lay off, leave me alone, go away, take your little spinning top and vamos!!!! Secretly I knew he knew I was right! (I know he did!!! 🙂 )and his silent “presence” seemed to confirm it to my little mind! ELEOS, Pirocacos, moutzes afthones! But not everyone wants their “world” shattered by the truth, and so however important understanding is, it is not….yes, Pirocacos…NOT….everyone’s priority. Truth does not always trump composure. Truth does not always take a front seat to serenity. Truth is not always his truth. (Notice mine is capitalized…NO, I’m not self-indulgent at all, and I take offencedog-chasing-tail-ocd-2-510x600.jpg at the suggestion!) And so that cute, adorable, feisty, little spinning top looks slightly more like a dog chasing its own tail! Nuts, right!!!? The truth is (OMG, still I seek understanding from my anonymous audience…there is just no salvation for this woman!) …what was I saying? Oh ya, the truth is that “the truth” is never really an isolated state of affairs, and so stuck within the confines of one’s own comportment is not only illusory and self-indulgent, but it’s never quite experienced as truth until it is understood by your dialogical counterpart. So cut her some slack, people!

Get Outta Your Mundane

The calamity of life is boredom. Kierkegaard said so. His linguistic elocutions had better gait, of course, but his point was the same. As he too warns,  idleness is not boredom. Inertia is different. It is kinda like passive aggression, it never quite poses for itself. Newton’s Law of Inertia basically speaks to the “inability of a physical body to change from a state of rest or of uniform motion, unless it is acted upon by an external force”. But it was Dostoevsky that understood the existential crisis brought on by this state. Inertia figures in Dostoevsky’s work Krotkaja (“The Gentle One” or sometimes translated “The Meek One”) where the running theme tragically narrated concerns a context, indeed that human-made context, of human understanding which is a coolly, mechanistic world determinate of laws of causation. Here then, inertia is not properly understood as actual inactivity, but activity determinant of a causal network of relations which are taken to define human activity. Much in the same way that objects are subject to laws of nature that determine motion, humankind self-identifies – well not consciously, people!!!!! – as a well greased machine, well at least when performative capacity is optimal. The suggestion is that the laws of nature in the physical world operate in precisely the same way with regards to humanity. Though the threat of determinism is imminent, suppose that this could be surpassed, it leaves free will at the mercy of a modus operandi that seeks out those governing laws of human nature according to which, or for which, any judgement should properly comply. Of course, the point would be that agency is tied up with goals, and the means by which these are fulfilled reflect the modus operandi.

The lucky ones – or maybe not so damn lucky!!! – discover this inertia that has seeped in and corroded all that is human, and despairing look to break out of their mundane. Don’t be fooled, the mundane is actively ( 😉 ) at work in the mosthuman-inertia sprightly, successful, and assertive lives! Was not the lives of the Greeks – Aristotle (though I will argue in my upcoming book that there is room here to manoeuvre) and notably the Stoics – aimed at virtue-building in accordance with nature, whereby one could learn to address all of those contaminates of the proper ordering of human activity, and live an active, prosperous, fulfilling life? The natural forces do not bend under the human will, mind you, rather it is the human will that learns to adapt and bend to the governing Will of the universe. As a result one would not futilely suffer over the events of one’s life but rather learn to live in accordance with them. As Epictetus famously says: Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.

At what cost Dostoevsky? At what COST! The shrilling706x410q70ee9d94f4485e80f5f054a92f746730a5-470x260 sounds vibrate in my mind and arrest my feet. I stand motionless, I am inertia! A double paradox presents. Once there, there seems no where to go, and hence the overwhelming, indeed fossilizing, experienced as angst. Recovery finds its way in the 2nd paradoxical state as vexed resistance: resistance to change.

Zen is not an option. Serenity, αταραξία, is a self-annihilating state. But subliminal peace is too potent to resist and so back to the running wheel disguised as a road spanning over the vast and unyielding beauty of nature. Resist and condemn yourself. Yield and loose yourself. Troubled are the waters not for the Phelpses (Micheal Phelps was a US Olympic decorated swimmer) of the world, but the circus clown! 🙂



The Joy of Regret

More often than not people profess that one should not regret anything one has done because, after all, it got me to where I am now. And strangely even when ‘where one is now’ ain’t so great, bizarrely one draws inspiration from the idea that I would not be who I am were it not for everything that preceded, and I guess not profoundly embracing this notion is blasphemous dribble suggestive of self-annihilation. I don’t agree. I’m so totally with Kathryn.

Do you honestly believe that Biban Janković does not regret slamming his head against the goal post ( that caused his paralysis and premature death? What if the late Jyoti Singh (see India’s Daughter) could turn back the clock and not enter the bus from hell? Would she not have chosen to? You can be sure that Stanley Tookie Williams (( regrets his delinquent ways! Indeed, it was his regret that moved him to change his ways, and though from a prison cell, inspire young hooligans on the fast track to a life of crime, to learn from his mistakes! Regret implies agency  – Kathryn is right about this, no? We cannot regret what we cannot change. I can’t regret being born into a world bent on (still lingering) patriarchal sentiments, any more than I can regret the vicious tragedy that befell the lovely Jyoti Singh. These events were not within my power to effect. But this is not the same as decisions made under my watch, as I surveyed my life. The premise is fallaciously employed retroactively to suggest that because I cannot change the past, and therefore have no control over altering events already transpired, that regret is a futile occupation. Of course, I did have agential authority over events that, despite the initial suggestion, one quite naturally evokes a sense of regret for (“Damn I wish I hadn’t eaten that 2nd piece of cake!” or “Shit, I wish I hadn’t betrayed my wife and pissed my family away!”) which is obviously not the case with regards to those events over which I never had (or could have had) such authority over. Still, many might argue that what is done is done. The past cannot be undone. I cannot claim (or be assigned) agential authority over that. True enough. Except for one thing. Regret is an emotionally charged response to a situation which is perceived to have been under one’s control to effect. This is why often cries of self-admonition – “I wish I hadn’t!!!!”- can be heard over and over again. Sometimes regrets linger and are replayed ad nauseam as one wrestles with the emotional overtures of events one could (often easily) have altered….but didn’t. Regret does not reflect one’s impotency to change the past, but one’s weakness, ignorance, idiocy, delusion, to have acted in a way that one now understands to have been under  (or could have been) one’s control to do otherwise. That’s why I don’t regret what is perceived to have been beyond my control to act otherwise (eg. under coercive threat).

And we do actually believe this. Regret is the moral backdrop (perhaps) of all organized human life where moral culpability plays a fundamental role in the assignment of blame and incurring punishments and penalties. We don’t send sociopaths to jail because they are deemed ill-fit and devoid of the moral sentiments from which a sense of moral culpability is drawn. The point is twofold: (i) Iff one is sound in mind, is one assigned moral culpability (eg. mentally challenged, temporary insanity, psychoses, etc.) ; and (ii) only in cases such as these does one recognize in oneself acts of wrong doing and the ensuing predictable (and I dare say, expected) feeling of regret! The corollary of this view is that such individuals (especially those suffering from psychoses) are beyond rehabilitation because they are beyond redemption. Herein lies the crux of the matter: regret charges one with both the responsibility and motivation to alter one’s ways. It says, in effect, I could have acted differently, if only I had known x, believed y, was willing to see or accept z, and/or had the courage to act accordingly. With foresight in my grasp, I can now tend to these shortcomings in self, and begin my journey towards my own transvaluation of values (well not quite as Nietzsche might have hoped, but perhaps Derek Vineyard’s existential plight in American History X offers some insight – and the negotiation of self (so very unlike that more convenient idea with which this blog began where one embraces who one is just because this is how I happened to turn out!!! 🙂 ) more authentically and viscerally realized. It is as Kathryn says, regret only means that I acknowledge in myself the power to be better, the emotional stability to accept my fragility, and the desire to change and make past wrongs right.

Regret at will, I say! It is the healthy choice. And make no mistake, this too is a choice! 🙂

You Only Live Once

A parable exhaustively announced as if something novel and true. Yes, yes, unless you believe in the transmigration of the soul whereby identity remains in tact (I don’t know about you, but if I’m somehow assured an afterlife with a prelife I have no knowledge of, sign me up for cremation!) you only live once. Got it. Mostly people advocate (insert long heavy sigh) “you only live once” to make a point about doing their utmost to live this one life. It is one of those thoughtless motivational ploys to get people off their asses and really live! I get that. I do. But really? Is anyone ever really moved to live life to the fullest beyond a somewhat transient, flippant, arms flying in the air, “take me now’ mode of being when making such banal pronouncements? There is as much oomph, as much gumption in these words as there is in the goo goo ga ga of mothers’ first words to their (presumed idiot) offspring!

This does more to obfuscate than illumine insights into the human condition. Only the obtuse would enjoin the thoughtlessness that accompanies this prescriptive journey. The reflectiveness of the conscious, or perhaps as Sartre rightly suggests, self-conscious, more brightly sways placating anxieties to turn their wavering heads from indulgences – even those requiring some configured determination, usually of the more physical variety – to festering inner struggles wherein the Subjective looms. Living life to the fullest is not something one simply does, it is an orientation of life that is unsettling as much as it is motivating, disturbing as much as it is enlightening, defeating as much as it is empowering, painful as much as it is moving, crippling as much as it is igniting. It is not a simple task, a monochromatic way of being. It is polychromatic, strangely infused with a cacophony with harmonic hues, which fall deaf on unassuming ears. Being-towards-death is a nonrelational, hence intimately subjective, if lonely, experience, and most importantly it cannot be outstripped, for death is the “possibility of impossibility”. Do the work, if you’re going to make the talk!

Fragile Me Postscript

Fragile Me is not clinically depressed, nor is she unhappy. Fragile Me discovers the alienating and self-annihilating experience of addressing oneself as a kind. Whenever one speaks to helsewhereow anything is, one immediately speaks in terms of kinds. Elly is munificent describes Elly as the type of person that exhibits munificence; so if I wanted to know what kind of person she is, I could get a sense (since this is only a contingent claim…though, some have argued that it is a necessary one! 😉 ) of this, knowing what it is to be munificent. This is unavoidable. To evade such utterances is to end up saying nothing at all! (A case in point is the philosophy of Parmenides who deduced Esti as the only truth-preserving utterance, of which nothing can be said.) That won’t do, of course. Why is this self-annihilating and how can it be avoided?

It is self-annihilating because it asks that I turn in unto self (Sartre, of course, has argued that all consciousness is self-consciousness, but that complicated philosophical story for another day – unless you venture to read my Between Shock and Awe) adopting a spectatorial view as a disengaged rational subject as championed by science, but in this scenario I am both onlooker and specimen. I literally become an object unto self (a Cartesian problem which Sartre aimed to address and resolve), so that in an attempt to better understand myself, I think of myself in terms of ‘a human being in x, y, z circumstance’, and thereby circumvent all internal and external inhibitions blocking my ability to properly assess myself in my situation. In effect, I consider myself as anyone who could befall the selfsame predicament and offer consult to oneself as anyone might. So, Fragile Me argued that,

an objective onlooker could identify causes of both the extrinsic and intrinsic variety; a trained scientist of the human condition – a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, neuroscientist, even psychologist, take your pick – could tell you all sorts of objective facts about your suffering. A psychiatrist, along with the neuroscientist, may tell you that there is a chemical imbalance in your brain – something about the neurotransmitters found in depressed people. A psychotherapist may tell you that certain cognitive and emotional (in the case that the emotions are not considered cognitive states) states are the cause. And all of these objective assignments may accurately illustrate your state of being. But none of them, I repeat none of them, can capture what it is to be uniquely in the throws of despair. These facts mean absolutely nothing to one in despair. None of these facts address me; fragile me. Looking upon this state of being, or any other, as one who suffers despair, is literally to supersede and cast as irrelevant the experiencing subject!!!! When invited to look upon my own anguish objectively, scientifically, if you like, and dispassionately, I can not be aware of myself as an existing individual. Indeed, I am asked to be an object unto self, and in effect, to forget myself.

The psychiatrist is no more in error regarding neurotransmitters (well maybe since no one is infallible, right?! 🙂 ) than the physician is regarding death, or even the psychologist might be with regards to the human experience of death. But nothing the psychiatrist or the psychologist has to say captures the existential relevance of despair or death for me. These are interesting assessments of kinds, namely kinds of experiences and probable causes (insofar as this causal framework adheres to accepted laws of movement and human understanding thereof). Indeed, as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross writes in her 1969 book On Death and Dyinghumankind can be described as negotiating death in 5 stages of mourning. I may even find myself somewhere amidst these stages. This too, speaks to death – my death, your death, John, Mary, and Jane’s deaths, indeed anyone’s death – as something that we all experience similarly or in common. But can we experience death by proxy? Isn’t it always quite distinctly my death which washes over me with utter confoundment and surprise! Do I lack rational understanding of death? Did I not know of my own mortality?  Rhetorical questions to be sure! “How could this be happening?  Why now? “, we ask. We look for reasons, but none are forthcoming! There is no reason that we should die, and that we should die when we do. There are causal events that lead up to this ultimate event, as with all others, but there is no ultimate reason for it – for any of it! It is in this primordial state of abandonment, and self-doubt that I comport myself to self in an existentially meaningful way. And it is thus that I may find myself in the throws of despair as described by Fragile Me. But though this despair is an inescapable mode of being towards authenticity, it is not without great reward.

In another blog It’s the Little Things, Fragile Me, says:

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, 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!

These little things are sensory data to which I am causally related; but they are only merely sensory data to which I am causally related when all that comprises my world is existentially irrelevant. Poetry, any art form really, may communicate the incommunicable individuality of that concretely individual experience that was my own, not science.

Fragile Me is a troubled being, but for all her trouble, she is finely attuned, and fully immersed in her world with others. Or more colloquially: all is good in her world! 🙂

Fragile Me

Fragility is not always esteemed a virtuous quality. We value strength. We tire of people harping on their loss. Deplore public displayselsewhere.jpg of existential anguish. Though we’re sensitive to external forces – natural, socio-economic and political disasters – that can ravage lives. Some of us even practice charity. Some reach out to their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram people to sensitize them to the travesties of others. And we may weep for them. Yet, those inner turmoils, especially in the absence of identifiable forces, are entertained only so long as they sync with that invisible timeline of respectable comportment. “Get over it.” “Move on.” “Get a grip.” If you absolutely have to suffer, do it quietly, with composure. Have some self-respect. Be Stoic-like and turn that rational propensity for clarity unto self and address your life, your life-circumstance, as one emancipated from wildly unrestrained emotions that govern your anguish. This onerous and ubiquitous sighting of objective vision asks that we suppress, oppress, obliterate, annihilate what is uniquely, and concretely you. For sure an objective onlooker could identify causes of both the extrinsic and intrinsic variety; a trained scientist of the human condition – a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, neuroscientist, even psychologist, take your pick – could tell you all sorts of objective facts about your suffering. A psychiatrist, along with the neuroscientist, may tell you that there is a chemical imbalance in your brain – something about the neurotransmitters found in depressed people. A psychotherapist may tell you that certain cognitive and emotional (in the case that the emotions are not considered cognitive states) states are the cause. And all of these objective assignments may accurately illustrate your state of being. But none of them, I repeat none of them, can capture what it is to be uniquely in the throws of despair. These facts mean absolutely nothing to one in despair. None of these facts address me; fragile me. Looking upon this state of being, or any other, as one who suffers despair, is literally to supersede and cast as irrelevant the experiencing subject!!!! When invited to look upon my own anguish objectively, scientifically, if you like, and dispassionately, I can not be aware of myself as an existing individual. Indeed, I am asked to be an object unto self, and in effect, to forget myself.

And yet fragility is not weakness. One must be strong to actually endure the psychic upheaval of a fragile spirit. Something acutely experienced when one is subjectivity. And yet, even in subjectivity, most also anguish over being understood. Often this never comes as time is arrested in the fragmentary distillations formulated by those distant, and not so distant, others.

*At the recommendation of my daughter “13 Reasons Why” has been part of my days. I’ll admit to being a little like Clay.  Hannah killed herself. She was a fragile soul; hypersensitive to the goings-on in the world and the manner in which her being was implicated, compromised, by others. Again, fragile me got missed. Careful you/we don’t end up on Hannah’s tapes.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram  – they’ve made us a society of stalkers, and some eagerly turn their little lives into a reality show! Basta! More than ever before, privately lived moments are all the more real, all the more authentic, all the more precious. There is something especially disingenuous and shallow about shouting to the virtual rooftops!

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