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.
Believe as you must that for which your mind is thwarted to perceive; but indulge not convenience, or first order interpretative paradigms which come unreservedly, easily, and conveniently. Brace yourself for the inertial overhaul and the voice of veridical certitude that springs from “knowing”your beliefs are always also utterly false!
Authenticity comes not for wanting it so. It comes not for those who wait. It comes with that intra-subjective comportment negotiated within a context that will surely threaten to outstrip you! LEAP!
“…could blessedness in a technical term, pleasure, ever be a proof of truth? So little is this true that it is almost a proof against truth when sensations of pleasure influence the answer to the question “What is true?” or, at all events, it is enough to make that “truth” highly suspicious. The proof by “pleasure” is a proof of “pleasure” nothing more; why in the world should it be assumed that true judgments give more pleasure than false ones, and that, in conformity to some pre established harmony, they necessarily bring agreeable feelings in their train? The experience of all disciplined and profound minds teaches the contrary. Man has had to fight for every atom of the truth, and has had to pay for it almost everything that the heart, that human love, that human trust cling to. Greatness of soul is needed for this business: the service of truth is the hardest of all services. What, then, is the meaning of integrity in things intellectual? It means that a man must be severe with his own heart, that he must scorn “beautiful feelings,” and that he makes every Yea and Nay a matter of conscience! Faith makes blessed: therefore, it lies.” (F. Nietzsche, The AntiChrist)
People often wonder about happiness and how they can get them some. Sure I could, and do, throw some Aristotle and Nietzsche, in the mix, but ultimately it tends to come in epiphanic jolts which come to alter and make one’s mode of being brighter and more purposively, and intently lived. Of course not a permanent state, but without these moments, these jolts, often despairingly won, a simple state of inertia cuddling with hedonism, is all there is. Happy to be in an epiphanic ascent.
An interesting interview that captures the inner toils that speak to the fervent authenticating experience of writing – eunoia. He writes: “A writer who is not in some way ill is for me almost automatically a writer of the second rank.” He shrank from philosophy in early life finding there was nothing of use to him to be found in their works. Eliade, had written scathingly of his first publication. Ceaselessly adept to crises of spirit, faith, or a crisis of faith, never found him as such. But it would not be arguments that would ever change his comportment, alter his ways, move him, but exhaustion.
He says: “I am actually less a passionate than a possessed type. In all things I must go to the end of possibility and it is not, finally, arguments that convince me to change my mind, but only exhaustion, that which is exhausted by passion. (This has connections with faith.) Because of this, personal encounters, seemingly small things in my life were full of decided significance. I was always very receptive to them; I have always, for example, spoken to strangers and many an encounter has given me a great deal. I have above all a weakness for people who are slightly disturbed. In Rumania, in Sibiu, a city with at least 60,000 inhabitants, I knew in one way or the other all the knocked-about people. The poets, too, who of course belong with them! The morbid attracts me, but morbid, what does that mean, anyway? ”
Failure, hopelessness, the disturbed, all seemed to come to his mortal wake not to console but to disrupt until all would fall to the hillside; negation then. And he speaks of that man, who had a tremendous impact on him: “He was not at all an evil man, no scoundrel, absolutely not, but someone to whom it was plainly impossible to have even the smallest illusion about anything whatsoever. This is also a form of knowing, for what is knowing finally but putting something in question? That kind of knowing, that understanding that pushes too far, is dangerous. Basically – I speak of life as it is and not of abstract philosophical constructs – life is only bearable because one does not go to the end; doing something is only possible when one has particular illusions and that holds also for friendships, for everything. The most perfect consciousness, absolute lucidity, is nothingness. And this fellow was driven to that point.”
It is then in that subterranean voice, negligent to the philosopher of abstract ideas, as well as formulae, and articulations of grand speaking truths. For he says: “As a rule, we know only the surface from our actions, only that which is formulated. But what is far more important is just that which cannot be formulated, the implicit, the secret behind an utterance, what is hidden therein. On that account, all judgments of others as well as those about the self are partially wrong. For the deepest part is hidden, but it is the more actual, the essential in humans and at the same time the most difficult of access. Novels often give one the best possibility to transpose oneself, to express without explaining oneself. The truly great writers are, in my view, those who have a feel for the subterranean; I am thinking above all of Dostoïevski. He is interested in everything that is deep and apparently lowly, though it is not lowly, but tragic. The great novelists are the true psychologists. I know many people who have written novels and have failed at it. Even Eliade wrote several novels and he failed. Why? Because he could only reproduce superficial phenomena, without translating them from the depths, from the source. The source of an emotion is very difficult to grasp, but it comes to just that. That holds for all phenomena, for faith, etc. Why did it begin, how did it develop? and so forth – only he who has the gift of divination can perceive where it really comes from. But it is not accessible to reflection. Dostoïevski is the only one who has pushed forward to the source of human dealings.” And further: “the psychoanalyst wants to heal, but I seek for something quite different. I want to grasp the daemonic in mankind. What the secret of one’s life is, one does not know oneself. This very secrecy, on the other hand, creates meaning in life, out of the communication between people. And if this were not the case, it would merely be a perpetual dialogue between marionettes. I would say that it revolves around the right tone; each person has a certain tone in everything that he does.”
He is not a puppet to positivity and whatever trending, consoling, modalities sought to explain away human suffering. He marvelled at the exasperating destitute of lived life, perhaps a marvel is more fitting, for he feared not to look without complacencies into that ontic mirror that might restore him from inevitable self-destruction. He is not for or of the feeble simple-minded, nor still the seekers of Truth in composure, quietude, and self-containment. It is the whirly winds of Aeolus that twist, garble, and undercut the Word from which we, as with Sisyphus, shall crawl out from beneath bearing a weight of perpetual struggle.
“A person who tells me that music means nothing to him is straight-away liquidated for me. It is something very serious for me, for music stirs that most intimate region in human beings.Bach is a god to me. Someone who does not understand Bach is lost; it is actually unimaginable, though it does happen. I believe that music is the only branch of art that has the capacity to construct a deep complicity between two human beings. Not poetry, only music. Someone who is insensitive to music suffers from an enormous handicap. That is simply the case and it is completely normal for music to construct a bond between people. It is unthinkable that they hear anything by Schumann or Bach, anything that they love, without being stirred. But I can understand how someone might dislike this or that poet.”
My mother, as a music therapist, would have appreciated this. That inter-dialogical affair mobilized musically amidst kindred spirits verbosely denied is omnipresent when heard.
Nietzsche might have been heard saying that! But what of it? It’s not the kind of proverbial bullshit one can include in a 5-step program (or 6 or 7 or however many, dude!) towards happiness or enlightenment or authenticity, or whatever trending name it is given to cushion itself nicely in your little paradigm of meaning. It’s fucking hard work, an on-going, subversive and necessarily disruptive process. Is it quietude you seek? Is it a quiet life you want? (not the same as quietude, dude!) Is it a simple life you want? Is it a life that makes sense, you seek? Is it order and communitarianism, that will appease you? Is it a moralized life, set against unflinching standards you have come to call universal and your own, that you speak to you? Awesome. I almost envy the tyranny of your heart! See the “sense” in it all; I do! But what a pandemic that underlays the cowardice, the fear, the disenchanted, the cave-dwellers, the politically correct, the straight and narrow! Hallelujah, I shall sing and praise you to every corner of the Earth, if you should so as much as risk yourself, at the peril of your existential abyss; if you should choose it so, knowing it, in that moment of concretized singularity, as precarious as any other ventured choice you could have made!
Nothing appears as it is; nothing is as it appears. There is “nothing” within the region of human understanding. Nothing, not designed by or fashioned after that very understanding, that is. Is it any wonder that solipsism is often the only comfort to placate mis-construal and mis-understanding when one ventures beyond her walls of introspective comportment? Becoming aware of myself I am immediately struck by the multi-dimensionality of my being. I am not who or how I appear; though I am not wholly other either. And yet, I am other unto self in moments of self-confrontation where I seek to evaporate, if only momentarily, that gnawing feeling that I am not as I am. Mostly in the inertial flow of circumstance, I indulge that fanciful tale that I am just as I am, and a tranquil lucidity called happiness overtakes me. Disrupted from my inertial state calls me back from what in truth is a tragic state of isolation. It is Liza Knapp’s wonderful work on the force of inertia in Dostoevsky’s works I have in mind.
As Epictetus says, ‘I may not be able to control what others say and do, but I can certainly control what I say and do.’ I doubt anyone would disagree. And yet it is rehearsed again and again, as if it speaks to some otherwise hidden insight. As is often the case words are meaningful not for their veridicality, but for insights into one’s own concretized comportment in the world. The truth is a truth of self, concerned and taken up meaningfully as oneself. Suddenly the otherwise banal motto transports me ontically and opportunes what Foucault refers to as askesis, a modifying test of oneself. The purpose of engaged philosophical activity is not to elaborate, and nuance existing systems of thought that order, stratify, ratify and edify one’s comportment (and even that’s on a good day! 😉 ) Finding truth is an excavation of self. A conversion that comes only to those “wicked” enough to fall apart, (A leap of faith dressed as Superman (Übermensch) (a)waits… 😉 ) with a willingness to detach oneself from paradigms of comfort, pivotal to one’s existential sanctuary. It is, a critique, which is “the art of voluntary inservitude, of reflective indocility”. (Foucault: “What is Critique?”) It is existentially risqué. The “value of losing oneself is the price one pays for self-transformation.” For me, today, Nussbaum says it best: “Tragedy happens only to those who seek to live well.”
Today’s askesis finds me adrift. An uninvited intrusion permitted voice, abruptly morphs without notice: “No Entrance.” Nomadic in my aretic predilections neither happenstance, nor pre-dated, and now out-dated moral paradigms – if only by virtue of now standing in mere abstraction, inert, from me in my present, potentially individuating circumstance – will do. I can’t promise to be Foucauldian in my philosophical exercise, but in demeanour I hope not to disappoint. Power relations, as Foucault understands it, are ubiquitous. I don’t just mean political, economic, tribal, global and the like. I don’t even refer to open inter-personal warfare. It’s the insidious, inaudible, formless, inertial confrontation experienced in silence that finds me twisted. Silenced through silence! HA! He who hath the last word, hath my soul! Vanquished, disturbed, abandoned, dis-engaged, quite literally silenced! Thrust out, ousted, kicked to the curb; that uneasy state of dominion overwhelms. Whispers of Epictetus now buzzing in my ear annoy, but Gadfly to me, incites action. He says, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them,” and that “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”. He’d say “take the high” road. Render him pervasively silent by a simple exercise. His silence is experienced as dominion only because you presume it is done in strength, over you, when in reality it is an act of cowardice. A powerful act of courage is founded in gestures of integrity with acknowledged risk. Cowardice has him recoil into the flow of life to be taken by the current of his present circumstance. A virtual parade of authenticating proverbial bullshit finds his neologism, enecstasis, sitting at his bedside, self-soothing to an ultimately failing ego. He has no power over me; indeed, he is impotent to empower himself. He is not an adversary of worth, but a rat clothed in a King’s garment, hoping to elude suspicion. Diseased rodents are averse to our sensibilities but not for fear of a lion’s prowess. That would be something to reckon with! Ignore. Delete. Forget. Poof, he is now oblivion. (Sounds angry! 😉 Seneca, oh Seneca, where art though Seneca!!! 🙂 ) Orrrrrrrr ( 🙂 🙂 ), maybe he’s silent because he cares not for you at all. Ouch! ( 😥 ) Your confoundment is not triggered by his silence, but a discursive modality reignited and shared over many years. How many times did tenderness of tongue reach your ears? How many times was the encounter so intense that it seeped into the visceral? Did he not envelop you in his gaze and say: “There is something very deep here”, only two fortnights ago? How many times did he ask: “M’agapas, e?” Did smiles not betray his delight when each time I confirmed his hopes and suspicions? Words hollowed. A momentary track blinded by vulnerability, nostalgia, and grief. Orrrrrrrrr ( 🙂 🙂 ), my dearest, maybe you matter too much that it is in courage and resolve that he has found the strength to silence himself. Why burden myself, when truly whatever scenario one might choose, none hath anything to do with me but each speak to his psychical limitation; these are his own, and rest solidly in his lap, to be endured by his partner in life. But I have said my peace. For though his heart, his lips betrayed her first, leaving him comprised and of “two minds,” his cowardice will be called to measure and he shall not disappoint in his narratival creativity and she shall acquiesce (*I’ve found solace in extending the narratival fold to include her. Twas her demise that would seek comfort in his whirling manner to which her will would be vanquished.). As for my own, it flows not from any extrinsic form but is designed by that voice from within that calls one back to oneself, and there self-composure, self-governance, self-fashioning like a ball of yarn shall slowly create something of substance. Tis I, and I alone, that has power over me. (*Seneca and Epictetus have some interesting exercises in the form of self-examination to cleanse one of vicious habits responsible for ataraxia.) A great exercise for those versed in that impersonalized, ratiocinated form of self-comportment. I just don’t see it this way; well not exactly.
Askesis, the exercise,stoic-like, requires not just being in the moment. There is groundwork, preparatory engagement in life practices without which one cannot properly care for the self. The experience of inwardness, something of a subversive exercise, aimed to bring one into a state of awareness of one’s own needs, desires, and fears, and thereby cultivate the virtues of temperance, discipline, and courage. Fasting, even for Foucault was one such exercise; as was meditation and self-writing. Minimalism, and various forms of deprivation are mine. Oddly, my children often think, seemingly masochistic. Self-inflicted deprivation is an exercise in freedom, however. It morphs that strictly Kantian claim to autonomy grounded in Reason (epistemically heavy), to one calculatively negotiated within the rich fabric of life. Aforementioned exercises of self-examination adopted by Seneca, Epictetus and others, are examples of this. And though they have, could have, a role to play in the groundwork for self-examination, such exercises seem inefficient in their effectivity mostly for a rather stringently rationalized moral paradigm. But I digress. 🙂
This Epictetian psycho-biography may be a proximate elaboration of conceptual underpinnings (which one??!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 ) informing his silent retort, but in being merely proximal (at best) shall always itself be confined to paradigms of my own ingenuity. A nifty exercise (trick you might say) in emancipatory strategy building, it is, however, lacking in authenticity. Dominion has not evaporated for the will of my psychedelic fascinations, but it has caved and is now a path upon which my stride is purposeful. One could argue that I have totally misconstrued the Stoic annotation that would seek not counsel in the extrinsic aforementioned references to his comportment, and that insight rests in that disarming, potentially devastating, inward journey unto self. A modifying test for self-transformation! Right! Back on track! Why does his silence irk me so? Asking why he is silent is to ask the wrong question and to put all the power in his hands. Yet, my self-examination is not as it is with Epictetus who would ask: “Is it outside the province of the moral purpose, or inside?” For instance, when examining impressions, he counsels: “Go out of the house at early dawn, and no matter whom you see or whom you hear, examine him and then answer as you would to a question. What did you see? A handsome man or a handsome woman? Apply your rule. Is it outside the province of the moral purpose, or inside? Outside. Away with it. What did you see? A man in grief over the death of his child? Apply your rule. Death lies outside the province of the moral purpose. Out of the way with it. Did a Consul meet you? Apply your rule. What sort of thing is a consulship? Outside the province of the moral purpose, or inside? Outside. Away with it, too, it does not meet the test; throw it away, it does not concern you. If we had kept doing this and had exercised ourselves from dawn till dark with this principle in mind —by the gods, something would have been achieved!”
First, I seek a proper reckoning of the role silence plays in my subjective experience of the truth. Being silenced by anyone on some level is experienced as intrusive, offensive, an affront. It’s not only that abstractly, theoretically, if you will, that authorial freedom of speech is a basic and fundamental form of autonomy, it is that I experience myself as overridden. This is why there is some truth to Epictetus when he claims that ‘we are disturbed not by men and their actions but rather by our own view of them’. When I care not for the subject for which I have been silenced, or the person who silences me, I do not experience myself as unfree. It is relational then. It is in a modality of care that dominion can, however slight, take possession of me. My freedom is usurped because his silence is not silent at all. The language of silence is only a language at all when it is communicable, communicative. Had he not intrusively willed himself back into my life, silence would have weighed into oblivion. Instead, it drudged life back into the void, and there we lay vulnerable in discursive limbo as he sought to retreat without even a word: farewell. Vulnerability is the penultimate form of trust where one transcends all inhibitions, and is both absolutely free and yet at once unfree as one is totally at the mercy of the other. Cowardice? Diseased? An affront? Perhaps. It is left to me to be both voice and interpreter. It is left to me to delicately abandon my own comportment and delve into the psychical world of the other in search of motifs. Shall I be both counselee and counsellor enriching understanding as I go? And yet what a turbulent parade of voices that fight for the protagonistic role. And here is the essence of my disturbance: I am abandoned, my vulnerability betrayed, to that state of unknowing. Freedom is stretched so extravagantly that I find myself ricocheted back against an elastic band. Struggling to gain my footing, the experience of unfreedom becomes ever more pronounced, ever more deeply embedded, so that like a beggar I ask for his voice to give me rest; restitution. To the test, then. It is often said that “the truth shall set you free” and yet driven by the pursuit of truth is my very undoing; it is indeed, the form of dominion over me, where the other is sought to emancipate me from the burden of the unknown. Recalibration wants not to be in the know, but to accept that freedom rests in letting go. For truth is not in the asking for the why, but only in the how. To the Stoics then: habituated exercises inspecting the formulation of questions that guide me in my daily inquisitions shall work to recalibrate and destabilize that insidious paradigm that unbeknownst to me took hold of my comportment and unravelled me. As to justice…. 😉 It is not “the high road” I seek; for none is to be found. It is my road; a road of endless tribulation. Suffering is not anyone’s delight, but alas a life short of suffering in the delicate, messy, attachments I am intimately bound, is no life at all! 🙂 Existential flight is not the cure; it is a curse. It is not therein where freedom shall be recalibrated. Who shall speak for “me”, then? To the self, then! A self-reflective exercise such as this finds internal voices in dialogue as the hidden is sought out by that audible, often out-spoken voice, who poses for my-self. An authenticating process shall rip the episodic foundation from beneath my feet, and in the process, for now, help to resist those ‘projections which have changed the world into the replica of my own unknown face’.