Parrhesia

First instalment…

Parrhesia, an ancient Greek term, is frank-speech. Being frank is an act of forthrightness, as when one would say, “to be frank…” An utterance often quasi apologetically employed to signal unsavoury content; that is, something the listener is not prepared, or expecting to be clued in on. With this there is the risk of offence that may find oneself marginalized, (politically/socially) exiled and/or punished. The irregularity is not so much with the truth-value of the content, a point to which I shall return, but in “coming clean,” or explicitly exposing a truth which is contrary to acceptable form. Courage then is a fundamental virtue of the parrhesiastes. For she is not that chatterbox who feeds off the entrails of others, indiscriminately sharing wherever opportunity should veer her head. Such a gossip-whore is a sensationalist whose voice takes the form of entertainment at best, youtuber at worst!

The parrhesiastes does not chance upon potentially marginalizing acts, but diligently and with the virtues of courage, honesty and justice, push forward nonetheless. She must then ac-knowledge the irregularity and for the sake of some “higher” calling, and with veracity at her hip, share. Thereby vulnerable to public scrutiny – it is public both because it has been openly shared, and because it is subject to the regularizing force of public opinion – she’s made herself spokesperson for the truth. It is exhortative as it seeks to invite critical awareness where she is but the vehicle for its attainment. This finds the “offenders” apologoumenos before themselves and others, but always at the risk of the boomerang effect finding her the target of criticism.

Advertisements

Bogus Stoicism

The proliferation of ideas since the invention of the printer has aided the task of informing and moving people to action, but we are only now beginning to see the infectious dangers of bogus and hateful distortions of current affairs, philosophical ideas and the history of human understanding that the world-wide-web has brought.

There are thousands of websites on or related to Stoicism today, but not all are created equal. One in particular was brought to my attention by Pharos, Stoicschool.org (see Stoic School), which deploys Stoicism to insidiously moralize some of the most questionable views related to White Supremacy. My issue, Pharos’s issue, is not (at least not today) with White Supremacy per se, but with the exploitation, and distorted application of Stoic philosophy to support their agenda.

But you make up your own minds.

Here’s a link to Pharos’ post Stoic Philosophy Masking Hate

Telling the Tale – Perspectivism

p15392341_p_v8_aa.jpg

Jennifer Fox’s documentarian style drags our visceral intuitions (or, at least she did mine) from a safe distance, alert, transfixed into that intra-personal dialogical space, fluid, personalized. The space is translucent as it navigates between the phantasmal and the real, the past and the present, the child and the adult. It’s a story within a story embedded in a story; multiple perspectives drawn from this intra-personal dialogue resentful of those inter-personal inquisitions (mostly with her partner) seemingly standing objective privy to a clear sighting of sexual abuse. Nietzsche says, ‘perspectivity is the fundamental condition of life,’ and by this I suspect he meant more than just that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” We all see things, adopt or acquire a perspective from a relative vantage point.

BlindMenElephant-510x364

The parable of old tells a telling tale of its own. Blind men come to “see” this ‘elephant’ from their perspective, privy to only fragments of its physical instantiation in the world, and each goes away exclaiming what they had found: “it’s a spear!,” “it’s a fan,”, “it’s a wall,” “it’s a rope,” “it’s a tree,” “it’s a snake”! Self-limiting in our engagement, only a God’s eye view could ever become acquainted with the infinite possible perspectives from which it would be experienced. And yet, this is only part of the story ( 😉 ). The foreground alerts us not only to selectivity, but also to a modality of meaning, without which no thing ever experienced would be anything at all. Someone can be heard saying: “get things into perspective,” suggestive of a narrow stance, and with it the implicit accusation that “however things may come to be perceived relative to your engagement, some perspectives are better than others.” Optical perspectivism seems uncomplicated and only obviously true, except when one takes seriously the exclamatory claims: “it’s a snake!,” “it’s a tree!,” and so on. Indeed it is the very thing Plato would plant in our minds to have us question the relationship between what one says and how things are. After all, it is an elephant that each in her turn only fragmentarily perceives from her vantage point, coming to the mistaken viewpoint that the object that she has on her hands is a snake and not an elephant. The illustration is misleading, however. Any sensible object is tied to its background or context – there is no Godly view from which one could possibly take in all infinite perspectives – and the nexus of meaningful relations amongst other objects in the world, including oneself. Perceptual experience is always interpreted within a rich context of signs that signal a perspectival view of the the world. Why is breaking up frames of experience at the outlined periphery of said elephant more true of how the world is experienced than breaking it up at the outmost regions of one’s perceptible frame such that what you see in not an elephant at all but a landscape?

36246983_10213492343356931_6398836556131467264_n.jpg
“Things are not always exactly as they appear. This is not a deer crossing the road. It is a road crossing a mountain.”

Optical perspectivism is similar to perspectivism tout court which argues that there are many possible conceptual frameworks or perspectives from which judgments of truth or e-valuations can be made. In the absence of “objectivity” or any definitive way in which the world can be said to be, is there a measure of “truth”?

Nietzsche, as others that mount some relativistic or contextualized view,  argues both against all arrogant attempts at delineating what is objectively true, and in favour of more sophisticated, perspectival versions of the truth.

“Perspectivism.” It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm. (F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §481) 

The Tale is a narratival story that finds confident, successful, unorthodox Jennifer (played by Laura Dern) for years hibernating in a parable little Jenny (played by Isabelle Nelisse), her 13-year old intra-dialogical partner, schemed. She was one of 5 children, the eldest, and essentially invisible in a home wrecked with havoc. Bill (played by Jason Ritter) – her assailant – and Mrs. G (played by Elizabeth Debicki) – co-conspirator (?) – opportuned her rite of passage into womanhood, and at long last centre stage to her own life, she no longer experienced herself as a spectator inadvertently marginalized.

Jenny’s essay, tells the Tale that comes to unravel Jennifer who’d been left with an idyllic story of her first sexual experience with an older man. Later she’ll accuse little Jenny for leaving her to believe it was “a good thing”. Scenes of a caring man, Bill, patiently and lovingly (?) preparing little Jen for full penetration leave one feeling uneasy, especially when the face, the look, of this child and her tiny body are perceived underneath his full-figure. At first Jenny felt seen, visible for all the attention. She thought she’d been singled out; that she was special. They treated her like an adult, and she found strength and composure in that. Jennifer, reluctant, yet nonetheless discombobulated, turned suspecting when seeing the child-like figure of her 13-year old self was actually quite petite, still wearing the “innocence” of childhood. Jennifer looked to unravel the meaning of her Tale, for it was clear to her adult sensibilities that things were not quite as the story was told. Her mother was instrumental in moving Jen-nifer to face her assailant; but Jennifer wasn’t looking to accuse or condemn anyone. She wanted to understand why these people were so important to her, she wanted to unravel her story. For if there is one thing that rang true, it was that she was not a victim. She was not taken advantage of; she was not mistreated, she was not demeaned, she was not raped. When her mother asked, ill-heartedly but somehow prompted by the (seeming?) voluntary nature of her daughter’s sexual relation-ship, “did you enjoy it?,” Jennifer in a state of uneasiness, was clear that she did not. “I was a kid. I got something else. Love. I wanted to feel special,” she said. Her body knew first; her mind would only follow 30 years later. Hours of fornicating were followed by nights hanging over the toilet, vomiting through the night, until exhaustion would take her. Soon her wariness would turn existential nausea, and prompted by suspicions of a planned threesome, a weekend away together with Bill and Mrs. G, was cancelled. The day after we see Jenny, full-faced, serious, confident, talking directly into the camera: “I’ve made a decision. I am taking my life in my own hands.” She would end things with Bill. She called to inform him she wouldn’t be seeing him again, severing ties with both Bill and Mrs. G. She tells of how he begged her, cried, and she imagined that he’d never get over her, sending postcards to her deep into her adult years. This is the story she told herself. And so, the summer spent on the farm was described as heaven.

What did wee Jen have at her ready? What inventory of truths might Jennifer unravel to draw out the perspective she’d entertained? Jenny will come to tell Jennifer that the Tale was only a version of the truth. Premonitions voiced by adult Jennifer coming in as if a sage to caution her younger self could not be heard. Of course not. This was not Jenny’s truth, not even any of multiple intra-personal versions of her truth. For how could it be? Jenny’s horizon of meaning was indeed that of a precocious teen, self-affirming in her advocacy of self, yet emotionally starved.

“The claim that truth is found and that ignorance and error are at an end is one of the most potent seductions there is. Supposing it is believed, then the will to examination, investigation, caution, experiment is paralyzed…“Truth” is therefore more fateful than error and ignorance, because it cuts off the forces that work toward enlightenment and knowledge.” (F. Nietzsche. The Will to Power

Inexperienced Jenny, Jennifer would be heard saying, was a child of the 70s, a time sex was not moralized, “forced” penetration not demonized. The perspective coasts the waves of sexuality from within a fluid movement of self-expression, exploration, mind-expansiveness, openness, and contra-labeling attitudes. Bill would be patient and loving (I know this is not what readers will find easy to hear as they want to shout “Rapist!,” but it is not how Jenny experienced herself. It would be negligible, I suspect, even within the context of mental health and personal development, to impose an exhaustively simple narrative on Jenny) as he prepared her both emotionally and physically for intercourse. She would be the one to plead with her parents to spend weekends alone with her “assailants.” She’d experience herself as grown up and in charge of her life, for that is how Bill and Mrs. G would speak to her. Bill would entreat her to question the conventionalism of marriage and the like as a species of social tyranny (too strong?). She’d see herself as counter-cultural in her affairs, distinct, empowered, authorially driven. First vocalized in due difference to her family, and later as she severed ties with Bill, climaxing in The Tale she would tell – she would not experience herself as anything short of autonomous!

It is, as with all things, a matter of negotiation. For short of discursive fluidity, that beautiful, charming, magical force of energy coagulates, eventually becoming dense, hard matter that in time builds walls. “A lie is an outward expression of a falsehood one inwardly knows to be false, meaning the liar can still know the truth. A conviction, on the other hand, is an inward certainty one has attained the truth, and thus in many cases, gives way to an arrogance that enmeshes one in a web of delusion and falsehood, and cuts one off from the possibility of moving towards knowledge” (unknown source 😦 ). Was Jenny violated? Was she actually taken advantage of? Did she in her desperation to be seen confiscate autonomy to do her bidding? Of course, but also not at all! 13-year old Jenny’s perspective experiences herself within a paradigm of constructs that nurtured a sense of authentic emancipation from literally marginalizing and alienating circumstance. She did not, could not, experience herself as Jennifer now 30 years later could. We may certainly speak to the delicate age of Jenny, circumstance that made her vulnerable to the likes of Bill, but that would also only be to hear the story from Jennifer and our own adult, particularized sensibilities, leaving Jenny quite invisible all over again. An imposed silence upon her carefully crafted script is not to emancipate Jenny from extrinsic forces but to leave her quite without voice. To Jennifer. Does she now within her adult comportment experience herself, through this visceral reenactment of her youthful self, as violated? She’d struggle through the entire film with answering that question for herself.

In an aphorism entitled “To What Extent The Thinker Loves His Enemy,” from Dawn of Day, Nietzsche advised:

Make it a rule to withhold or conceal from yourself anything that may be thought against your own thoughts. Vow it! this is the essential requirement of honest thinking. You must undertake such a campaign against yourself every day.”

Tiny revelations contrary to that more idyllic picture would eventually come to canvass a grander/eur perspective and a Truth, a Tale, that could no longer be squandered, snuffed out by paradigms so inhospitable to what she’d seemingly known all-along.

Jennifer would finally piece the puzzle together. She’d find her assailant. Mrs. G, once a stunning woman of elegant composure and vibrancy, now a rag-doll of questionable lucidity, would tell her nothing. She’d have to put her journalistic expertise to the quest and extract the truth from detractors, restrainers, and oppressors of the truth. Clues brought her to a young woman recruited to enjoin the threesome, now turned preschool teacher, who would, herself shocked to know Jenny was but a child (the school age of her students) at the time, reveal the true dynamics of the affair. Mrs. G was the recruiter who’d bring conquests to Bill’s bed. Neither overtly criminal in demeanour. Both, in fact, ingratiating, mentoring, caring. It is only her adult sensibilities that see the sinister undertow enveloped in preying upon the gullibility of the emotionally frail. Bill’s warmth is chillingly experienced by adult viewers, but Jenny would not want to betray the respect they’d shown her by bowing out of this adult affair, and behaving, as it were, as a child!!!!!! This Jennifer would slowly, shrillingly, come to experience in herself, reaching a climax in a very public confrontational scene with Bill where, desperate for closure, would seek to understand how Bill (a grown man), with her present-day, now adult, sensibilities, could possibly prey upon the youthful innocence of a trusting little girl! Closure would not come as he’d insist, telling his own tale, that she was a willing participant! Shrunken and defeated, she would find no restitution in her tale.

My take away is that we all hibernate in perspectives weaved into our living lives, making it our Truth, our Tale. Glimmers of light sneaking in illuminating what lies beneath seems inescapable, even when repressive impulses may continue to win the day. For Jennifer it was her mother, The Tale, penned by her younger self, that awoke her to the fable she’d learned to call home. I suspect, the Tale, shall be retold many times over, when life experience occasions retrieval and renegotiation in that lifelong process of recalibration!

I stand with a cast-away heart and a delicate psychical world firmly in the act of incertitude that everything is a miracle. The standard price for authenticity? Inner turmoil! I’ll take it! To Nietzsche: I shall ‘make it a rule never to withhold or conceal from myself anything that may be thought against my own thoughts. I vow it! This is the essential requirement of honest thinking. I aim to undertake such a campaign against myself every day.’ (F. Nietzsche, Dawn of Day)

Find YOUR Truth

Version 2Death comes to us all.

As news feeds fill with the demise of Robin Williams the realization that even the most humorous suffer the toils of life overwhelms. I cannot know the preponderance of misery that befell this man, but I know of human suffering.

Have I had a bad life?

Has Robin Williams?

Money? Fame? Success? Family?

All of this wasn’t enough?

Maybe he suffered great trauma as a child?

Maybe.

Maybe.

But perhaps not. I believe it was Charlie Chaplin who said, “to truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it,” but I could be wrong. I think his point is that life is tragically comical. We invest time trying to answer the whys and hows, as if we could arrest the twists and turns of life events.

If somehow they could be contained by human – oh, so human – understanding, I could rest…peacefully.

What a great equalizer human understanding can be. To generate a playing field so ripe in reason must be the most laughable invention known to man! Accepting that things happen, happen to me, with no rhyme, or reason; that’s simply unacceptable!

He didn’t just leave me.

I didn’t just quit my job.

She was not just tragically taken (from me).

War zones don’t just occur.

Droughts don’t just happen.

Earthquakes don’t just take millions.

There are reasons for all of this!

There is the scientific variety.

There is the religious variety.

There is the psychological variety.

Whichever paradigm one gravitates to reasons are by default the method by which human understanding explains, justifies (category mistake!) the freak of circumstance that is otherwise unfathomable.

Why is this unfathomable?

Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche et al. They knew why.

If not for reason, then for what?

The answer? For NOTHING!

What??!!! NOTHING!

Where does this leave us?

The paradox? With human understanding!

What is the meaning of this?!

Finally a good question.

Immersed in self-doubt over this narrative, self-awareness is raw with potential.

God is dead, exclaimed Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. But you suspected this all along.

If God is dead who, what, will keep everything from falling a part? Will causal events no longer be ordered by His will? Is there no agenda albeit hidden from humanity upon which we can hang our moral hat?

Don’t despair. Well actually do. For in despair there is abundance!

No longer looking outwardly for cause and reason, the journey is inwardly enveloped.

No longer enslaved by reason – for some personified as God’s will, for others as the modern God, Science and yet others it appears as Justice – the freedom felt is both frightening and exhilarating.

For now there is an infinite stream of waters to traverse. Do not worry that the wind shall be your master. Cast your sails and chart you course. And on this voyage do not endeavor to look beyond what the eyes can see.

A passage from Blindness –by Jose Saramago – (fitting, you say?) comes to mind: “If you can see, look. If can look, observe.” (Yes, yes, this is out of context!)

And what then of human suffering?

Were it not for the flood of feeds regarding the passing of the beloved Robin Williams, death, rather her contemplation, would not have reached my consciousness.

Contemplating death, the finality of life suddenly appears like a spoiled child demanding attention.

Why must she cry so?, banging her little fists against the ground. Why does the ground disappear with each sounding blow? Why does she look out onto the world demanding that her suffering be taken away?

Here lies the tragedy of human existence!

The ultimate life affirming force is in despairing over the understanding of ourselves as castaways who must conjure meaning by planting invisible roots.

Those who suffer greatly, live extra-ordinarily. They laugh laudably.

 

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

images

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 enecstatic 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 a personal relation to what one deems significant or ultimate.” I won’t presume to understand the meaning of his neologism – enecstasis –  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! 🙂

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: