Chitter-chatter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End!

 

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Oh, to See with Wide-Eyes

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

Your Ataraxia is Disquieting3

Even amongst aretic thinkers as divergent as the Stoics and Epicureans, the linchpin to their philosophies is the pursuit of happiness. Where they differ is what happiness is, and hence the phronetic comportment to its achievement. Each in turn will speak to the virtues of the good life and their appropriation. Not at all unlike Nietzsche! Surprised? Well don’t get too excited before we knock down some artefacts of uncongenial thinking. Virtues are those of strength not humility, or weakness and the like, and the means of their appropriation are devised through a delicate but painful process of deconstruction, forcefully destructive, and aims not at happiness as any of these Greek philosophers imagined it. Instead the “happy life” is not one of “good sense”, but valorized, heroic conduct amidst all that is impenetrably unattainable. Wretched is that seductress ‘causality’ that would feign the life of happiness as one aimed to nullify externalities of no consequent or beyond our hailing hand. Such is it to confuse the cause with the effect, Nietzsche poignantly pointed out. It is not that a life, a good life, cannot withstand such annotations, but rather that having already been impoverished by the mechanization of life via nay sayers and the corruptors of life, that the virtues of humility and the like are adopted. The “original sin of reason” which is a case of the error of cause and effect is put to work to explain this phenomenon. Though this is the stranglehold of religious and moral paradigms, it is illustrated concisely in the example of Cornaro’s diet. Nietzsche says:

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 09.37.13It is not the diet, as assumed by Readership of Cornaro’s illustration, that is the cause of good health, but rather an underlying condition that caused or, otherwise, gave rise to the success of this diet, and hence the longevity of this man. The parallel to morality runs the usual aretic formula to the ground, whereby tis not the virtues that are understood to lead (cause) to the good life, but rather a degenerate state of being  – weak, compromised – that has caused, given rise to, the propagation of these virtues and hence the good life. Virtue is not the consequence of happiness, but ‘happiness’ the consequent of virtue. In his own words: “Instead, virtue [as it came to be construed] is itself that slowing down of the metabolism which among other things also brings a long life, numerous progeny, in short Cornarism in its wake.—The church and morality say: ‘a race, a people is destroyed by vice and extravagance.’ My restored reason says: if a people is destroyed, if it physiologically degenerates, then this is followed by vice and extravagance (i.e. the need for ever stronger and more frequent stimuli, familiar to every exhausted type). This young man grows prematurely pale and listless. His friends say: such and such an illness is to blame. I say: the fact that he fell ill, the fact that he could not withstand the illness, was already the consequence of an impoverished life, of hereditary exhaustion.” (Twilight of the Idols, The Four Great Errors – my italics).

In his Genealogy Nietzsche traces the origin of morality not in an attempt to get behind the contextual framework that is constitutive of all human understanding, but rather to identify those frameworks that have come to be constitutive of that very framework but which sneaked in, and were thereby ordained as the bestowers of life itself. They came to have a life of their own, not of the doing of humankind, but of some Omnipotent Power that deifies these; humankind is thereby tussled from her thrown and the Lord’s drones follow in her stead. It is now Goodness itself, or the verse of Nature herself, that define aspirations worthy of any man deserving of happiness.

Specifically, Nietzsche says of the Stoics, in Beyond Good and Evil:

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Taking a hammer to this paradigm of thinking, Nietzsche identifies the basic tenet of Stoicism in a longing to cement the good life in living according to Nature, as if there is a determined way and reliable manner in which to ascertain that way. Nietzsche rejects both the naturalism and the rationalism of the Stoics, as I have sketched above. He calls them ‘self-deluders” because they read their philosophy into an understanding of nature allowing themselves to be tyrannized through the oppression of the otherwise natural proclivity for power, by tailoring the passions for a life free of anything “unnecessarily” disquieting. Of course, the general accusation applies to all moralized paradigms which, he says, ‘as soon as ever a philosophy comes to believe in itself, it always creates the world in its own image’. Allowing oneself to rest content with any perspective of the world involves, in some shape or form, the deification or the objectification or ossification of that perspective as if it were to speak now and for always for all things! And yet, this is only to delude oneself that the world is how it has been shaped by the mind; and though everything is interpretation (beware those who sit in smug assurances of their perspective! 🙂 ) and hence there is no getting behind or before it, one can adopt an attitude of the diagnostician (for some reason “House” comes to mind both in his method and demeanour – “everybody lies” mostly, delusionally to themselves – looking at all perspectives, from multiple angles – psychological, symptomatic/physiological, social) who looks unnervingly, and unrelentingly from multiple perspectives searching for motives that huddle over pre-conceived perspectives, hammering away at assumptions, presuppositions, and everything that might cunningly conceal these from view (language, habits, fears, desires). The process is itself a state of unrest, of ataraxia, that requires courage for ‘in all desire for knowledge there is a drop of cruelty’.

So you say, “unhinge me”, Pirocacos! Stoics might retort that I have misconstrued and misrepresented the philosophy of their forefathers in that living a eudaimonic life free from unnecessary and irrational preoccupations does not speak to indifference, a rather inhumane attitude to invest in after all. It is rather in acknowledging the causal workings of the universe through attentive rational scrutiny that one is well positioned to deal with unrealized goals, negotiate misfortunes, and endure ensuing suffering. The point is that there is a rational order to the unfolding of Nature that one is well advised to address when engaged in the practice of living life. After all we do live in this natural world and it is constitutive of laws of nature (you wouldn’t cajole someone to jump from the 6th floor because it is the fastest route to the College cafe because you know that he’d meet with his death!) and causal forces that one can with varying degree of probability determine in order to better secure the ends. Of course, as I hope I have in outline already made clear, this is to miss the point.

So though the process of deconstruction may appear neurotic and outwardly in disarray, in fact, it is only so perceived by the ill-tempered with a mind to what is apprehended by ageless paradigms and/or those that one holds dear to their heart!

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A Leap of Faith

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Constant retrieval and upheaval. Landmines are everywhere. Why must they be invisible, though? Sometimes it’s as if immobilized standing before this incredulous land field of death; other times it’s as if I’m surrounded crouched small in the middle of it all. As I survey the spot adjacent to me I pivot looking to uncover, as if by some miracle, the least invasive terrain. Nothing stands out for attention and so I pivot on the axis of my being hoping I might just launch myself into the stratosphere without ever setting foot on the ground. If you’re looking for clearness stick to Descartes in servitude to that ailing cogito, but it shall be with a chuckle from the universe! I’ve made my bed with Faith, and though seemingly unkind, her existential nobility allows for streams of light to penetrate the darkness which gives her voice.

Disheveled Peace

 

*Photo from ArtofAmerica site by Angie Bechanan

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! 🙂

 

 

It’s my Birthday

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It’s my birthday today. 52 years! Last year I composed a list of 51 virtues; but this year I’m interested in becoming wise to one virtue: self-disclosure. It’s been quite a journey. Nothing terribly bad, mind you. But it has been a life quite turbulent even when everything seemed quite still.

 

Still.

.

.

.

Stillness.

 

A lapse in time.

A forgettable state. And then just like that time arrives as the world awakens beneath my feet and I can walk again. The ground, my ground, was never complacent. Grumbling sounds could also be heard, almost like thunder far off in the distance, only its below me, under me. I’m reminded: I’m here! Cause everything is here with me. I’m not alone. Think and magically appear! But where’d everything go?! (God damn, Descartes!) There! There stillness waits for me…again. And again, I’d disappear.

I hear those grumbling sounds again, but they’re not coming from underneath me, but reside inside me. I should have known! HA! But over the years I discovered a cure: one long swig of kykeon and unsettle everything. As with Sartre’s Roquentin, the disturbing stillness of all that surrounds left me feeling detached and very much a spectator of a life, only it was my life. The world often felt like a row of Platonic forms, quite inert, separate, but nonetheless imposing. Awakening, or being awoken by this ubiquitous grumbling amidst all of this only intensified my angst. Alas, nothing really is as it is; as it presents itself. I took solace in this, in the realization that those darned chestnut roots aren’t just defiantly as they are. So I took to invading the world; decomposing ( 😉 ) anything that presented as itself. Disquietude pervaded my life. But it was all I could do to keep from disappearing. Life choices rarely spoke to the phronetic, and so as I survey my life today, a double narrative appears. Bored and disturbed by constancy, stability, regularity, invariability, and routine, irregularity, unreliability, instability, and the erratic always found me. With gushing reverence I’d collide and abide with unyielding loyalty – but this was no Aristotelean virtue. We speak of being loyal to friends, lovers, family, but also to country, as well as, beliefs, and ideologies. Bonds intimately tied up in the realization of self with and amidst such relations is what cements these. These are relations of mutuality, and are characteristically exclusionist. Aha! The unreliable, the erratic is friend to no one, for there are no abiding standards to cement and bond such a union. Desirous of the ephemeral and irregular, existential crises were inevitable.

Self-disclosure is a psychically arduous task. Happy birthday, Elly mou.

 

 

Lost in the Clouds!

imagesThe beaten path is the one of least resistance. Everyone knows that! Now philosophers may meander, often taking the arduous route only to come out the same end. The straight and narrow, the black-and-white, the clear and distinct (sorry Descartes), the pragmatic (sorry, Dewey) the convenient, the cost-efficient (sorry Bentham), the salient, the reasonable, the acceptable, all conscripted notions that fall heavily on the heads of the masses. Socrates was gadfly to Athens – a pestering annoyance, an epithet few philosophers have not managed to have thrown at their feet as they squabble over the fine print, getting lost in abstractions on a cerebral high only they seem to enjoy.

The Greeks may not have been right that knowledge will necessarily bequeath the happiest life, but it certainly makes it more intro-passionately lived…and though existentially taxing, sublimely meaningful. Sometimes setting life as the outward working of a phronetic plan seems to miss the target (sorry, Aristotle) altogether, though. I don’t question the role of practical wisdom, nor still reason (that would be unreasonable!!! 😉 ), but I do question the universal application of this paradigm. Life is not something that can be put under one’s thumb and lived as a postscript to reason and whatever principles or biotic axioms might be espoused from it. Mostly life speaks to the aesthetic in which one is enraptured in the beauty awaiting discovery and this requires not developing only one’s rational propensity, but one’s sensibilities which are best cultivated through the arts. It involves sensitizing oneself to the transient and evolving beauty that surrounds and creating in oneself a relationship of mutuality.

Postscript: No. I’m not contra-Aristotle. But I come at the aretic view  from a different ultimate standpoint. I have existential leanings that loosely argue that there are no objective standards to ground all judgment. Does that mean that judgment is subjective and anything issued in earnest by the subject is true and right, and thereby impervious to judgment? Actually, no. That would be a rather naive view of subjectivism which owes many confusions to it’s presumed dichotomous relation to the objective. Inter-subjectivity probably best describes the proper rendering of the type of subjectivity defended, and it begins with the primordial positioning of the humankind already in-the-world-with-others and working out structures within which existence can be authenticated. Still, I do not reject aretic thinking, anymore than I reject the advice my physician gives me when I seek out medical advice. Rather within a particular paradigm of meaning prescripts are meaningful and “true”. 

Locker-Room Sexism

Locker-room banter is not just about Trump – it’s men everywhere

Men excuse themselves of this (Trump-like behaviour: Read the article!!!) suggesting that it’s innocent man-talk (oh, God, man up then!) whilst others refuse to admit they do it. I once dated a man who would send emails to male friends with pics of females (several were mine!!!!) saying things like: Look what I’m going out with tonight! What are we: trophies!!!?? Well, yes, my dear! Of course, to her face he’d say things like: “All I see is you!”. The hilarity might be more genuinely felt, were it not so tragic! Thing is, he’s not the exception, but the rule. (I mean no offense to this man should he happen to be reading along and recognize himself in my words.) I’d argue that it is the ugly and/or insecure who adopt this narrative, but that would fail to acknowledge the obvious. In the cock-pit of the extended male ego, prime place is often given those who firmly demonstrate their masculinity via these, otherwise, deplorable narratives (OMG, the innuendo is just flowing today! 😉 ). Now most men know that in today’s day the chances of getting some requires that they at least play along, and adapt their narrative, or feminize it, if you will. I’d say that that is a matter of demonstrating respect, and in some ways, to a certain extent that holds true often enough, but mostly it speaks to the poeticized verse of that former acquaintance of mine; i.e. “All I see is you!”.

Women are suffering from starvation these days. Men lack the equipment – oh, my!! – I mean the intellectual and linguistic equipment to seduce a woman, to woo her, so that guy (ugly or not) who adopts such ploys (and not always with the intent of a Don Juan who has become a Mastery at the Game of seduction, but quite accidentally, perhaps seemingly genuinely to his mind) is gonna get him some. Okay, okay, if you ain’t got the gift of the gab, just take her out for dinner, spoil her, and at least pretend you’re paying focused attention to her! Thing is, women know this! Thing is, men in the locker room, also know this. There is a sub-narrative, that subtext that no one is ignorant of. Women know how men talk behind her back. She knows that once the brotherhood is in full swing (Sheesh! 😉 ), poetry takes a backseat to pleasantries of respect! And men know how men talk; they know that if anything they mean to compliment (not always the case,  of course) the physical attractiveness of said woman (after all he’s not going to send pictures of ugly women!!!) and women should get this. Indeed, some women do! They are forgiving; indeed, some are secretly flattered! And herein lies part of the problem. Women have become enablers of this narrative.

It’s disturbing to me that my teenage daughter and her friends have already learned that boys will go through a crowd of girls, complimenting each (they often start with the most worthy and slowly make their way through the pack), until one (or more) succumbs to his flirtations whims. This quickly circulates, and though some may indeed succumb, feeling ahead of the pack for this, others may be hurt and offended and quiver in a corner, and yet others may with indignation call it ( 😉 ) as she sees it (funny how the male organ can be used in such a derogatory fashion, no!? 🙂 ). But she’ll still moan about her breasts being too small, and perhaps plan ahead for future implants; and more often than not she will feel secretly jealous of those girls who got all the stock men are looking for! There are some that will try to rise totally above this, but few will be made of that stock that finds them immune, and their sense of self-esteem still in tact. And those few that do will certainly recognize in themselves that they stand outside of the narrative at this look-out point very much as an outsider. So, girls begin to see themselves, value themselves, through the eyes…not the adoring eyes…of her predator! She admires herself, for those qualities that attract, and deplores herself for those qualities that repulse. She sees herself, as Simone de Beauvoir said all those years ago, as The Other. This is internalized and by adulthood seamlessly becomes the protagonist narrative.

So are Trump’s indecent remarks, only indecent because they were publicly and unapologetically voiced? Does he only suffer from stupidity? Is he merely socially inept? Well, not merely!! Until girls learn not to enable these boys and acknowledge themselves as uniquely oriented beings who must negotiate their inter-sexual and inter-personal relations dynamically, boys will grow up to be these men. We’re almost all-too-attentive and mindful of sexism today, and though it is no small victory that our forerunners won for us women today, we really need to get behind the momentum of this process (that one was unintentionally, promise! 😉 ) and provide the means by which our girls can readdress (sometimes biologically described as an otherwise instinctive drive…but we are not instinct alone!!!) the urges of boys before it becomes part of the fabric of social life.

Over and out!

No Blank Slate

There’s no Locke-down ( 😉 ) on personal history, people. There’s no blank slate! Don’t gripe and complain that your partner has hang-ups, concerns, issues, and expectations! What did you think you were getting into? A vegetable garden? Cause if you’re asking for my histoire to be left at the door, I might as well be a vegetable! Look, it’s like this. If you’ve picked me out of a crowd, there’s something about how I hold myself, how I wear my being, that you’ve spotted. Now I didn’t get here just from popping out of my mother’s womb. I crawled, walked, digressed, walked some more, ran (in my case A LOT), took a couple of pit stops, got slapped down, crawled some friggen more (but now as a full-grown adult!!!), learned to walk all over again and maybe in between there might have been some singing and dancing! But ultimately I have a walk, a stride all my own. It’s what you saw. It’s what elated you in my presence, it’s what drew you in. Now maybe you might not stay long. Maybe my run now looks more like a trot, and my gait now makes you think; Purina Dog Chow. But that wasn’t always the case.

What’s my point? We are all historical and existential beings, and that’s just a fancy way of saying that life experiences are the material from which each of us gives shape to our being. Who we are is neither given, nor entirely a social construct. We are intimately preoccupied with the “who” of our being; it keeps us awake at night, and causes us to anguish over how to respond to life’s callings. We are inescapably arrested by that inward pull into ourselves as we wrestle to understand through a process of self-understanding. We are uniquely oriented to the world with others in this way. We don’t just make decisions that can be deemed rational, valid, quirky or stupid. We don’t simply (well, maybe not that simple) speak to a set of claims organized according to logic specs. For even when decisions ascertained are strictly valid, there remain residual concerns of conscience. I can reason my way out of a situation and still find myself startled by the lack of insight and agential restitute that follows. How can this be?

Well, it would seem the who of our being is not constituted by rationality alone. Decisions made do not speak authentically to my sense of being for their excogitations but rather for the unique way that I am the experiencing subject of a life. Again this boils down to the act of understanding as self-understanding that is always concrete, individual and which cannot be outstripped. People come with all sorts of baggage but the #1 slot goes to betrayal! We’ve all experienced it even if the conditions and circumstances that occasioned it were radically dissimilar. So Aleena, a thoughtful, lovely young woman spent the better part of her adult life with Damian ( 😉 ). Damian, though not overtly abusive; in fact, one might say, to the contrary; he was outwardly caring, thoughtful and tremendously supportive. But he had this one teensy, itsy-bitsy quirk, you might say. He was an insatiable womanizer. Blindly committed, Aleena was in the dark…well, until she wasn’t. But that came some 20 odd years later. Those that knew her, knew her to be a true Kantian, and hence, autonomy was non-negotiable. There’s no way Damian could not have known this. So the news of his compulsive infidelity came like a tsunami! Resilient, but now single, Aleena carried on, and as luck would have it, met Stergios. Now Stergios, as his name suggests, was a caring, reliable and dependable man. You might say, Aleena had found her Kantianpart ( 😉 ). So when Aleena would find herself expressly agitated by what were for Stergios perfectly innocent liaisons with other women, he first appealed to reason – her reason, his reason, the selfsame Reason inherent to all human thinking God damn it!!!! –  but that was to no avail. Aleena seemed unappeased, and hence to his mind, irrational, unreasonable, and quite frankly, exhausting. It seemed unfair that he should have to pay for the wrongful ways of Damian! After all, Stergios is the guy! He’s the one that has his shit together, is decent, caring, a man of integrity, and committed to building a life, his future, with Aleena. Shouldn’t she be expected to transcend her past, her life experiences? Shouldn’t she be able to attend to the situation at hand, and with reason guiding her breast, conclude that her reactions are nothing more than displaced emotive energies?

Could Stergios be asking that Aleena leave her history at the door? Could his expectation be that Aleena turn back the clock and undo all that has been done? Reason most certainly can guide thought processes, and this is essential insofar as clarity of thought, and precision of speech can put quandaries and paradoxes to rest that might otherwise be the source of aporia. However, Aleena has not become a suspicious, and infuriatingly sensitized woman alone, she has also become that magnanimous, deeply caring and vulnerable woman. That woman, in fact, who Stergios found to be exquisitely endearing and authentic. It is through an active process of self-understanding that often arises in moments of rupture that we come to renegotiate ourselves, to redefine, and realign ourselves in the world with others. Who we are is always on its way, for as Sartre would say, we are inescapably free and in this life practice we must (re)invent ourselves. But none of this is ever accomplished in a vacuum (well Sartre got pretty damn close…) and hence Aleena is who she is (e.g. magnanimous  and fragile) only because of the manner in which she experienced herself as the subject of betrayal and the meaning that that came to have for her. It would do little good to speak to her of betrayal as something commonly experienced and walk her through the 5 stages of grief (Kubler Ross’s account has been adapted to speak beyond the scope of death). This can often do no more than demoralize, deflate, and decay Aleena’s sense of person. It will create a disconnect; one where I – in Aleena’s voice – feel misunderstood. I am not anyone of those people that have experienced betrayal. Even if there are commonalities that one can discern in the narration of my story, the particular experience is existentially relevant to me because only I can experience myself as the experiencing subject of said betrayal and come to an understanding of myself within such dimensions of life. It is not to be discerned dispassionately, as a spectator, by Stergios, himself unaffected, living life at a frequency of sound unheard, though nonetheless relayed by word and deed.

So that’s it? Case closed? Should Stergios just accept Aleena’s hyper sensitivity? Well no, of course not. For we are also not just the product of our experiences, even those existentially realized experiences of self. We are always on our way, and who Aleena is can and will be renegotiated within a backdrop of openness and care with Stergios, who critically but un-judgingly will indulge Aleena looking to uncover that narrative which speaks to the way in which she has come to see herself (she may experience herself as more vulnerable and yet open, or intolerant and closed…) and others (she may now experience others with suspicion or with greater insight into the human condition), the values she has picked up along the way (she may now reject her Kantian ways!!!), and the opportunities that her relations with Stergios have now occasioned. The conversation is not conducted by two rationally disposed, self-contained beings, bridged by their mutual adherence to basic principles of reasoning. Instead, engagement is characterized by mutually, amongst inter-historical beings who share an inward process of self-understanding within a context of openness (open to the possibilities of becoming through the activity seeking joint understanding). Stergios then does not begin from a position of superiority as if to suggest that his leanings are impervious to historicity, and hence he is called upon to also expose his existential, and hence, personalized investedness in his paradigm of meaning. Suddenly, engaging in liaisons with other women is neither abstractly and hence absolutely innocent or suspect, and manners of being-with-(female)-others need be renegotiated. Mutuality suggests, therefore, that a paradigm of meaning shall be negotiated amongst two historical existential beings.

Relations?! It’s a l o n g, convoluted, often treacherous road. Negotiating these can be taxing, yet rewarding, as each time it takes partners to deeper levels of intimacy, connectedness and mutual understanding. When left unnegotiated or when they are beyond negotiation (the reasons are endless, but high on the list is an existential disconnect) it’s time to sever ties, but WOW, when those ties are restructured, rekindled, that twisted, messy webbed tangle, is gloriously fulfilling, and unmatched. Hold on to those, people!

Song  – the arts in general – have this incredible way of communicating the non-transferable and utterly subjective character of human experience. Have a listen (my Greek readers will understand best!)! 🙂 ❤

 

FYI – None of the characters in this story are historical figures, rather they are a semblance of many – of you, me, mom and dad, distant strangers and more.

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