Naysayers, be gone…

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra: The Dance Song

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!

 

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Is it any wonder?

george-digalakis-surreal-nature-photography-2Nothing 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.

 

…to be continued…

Pride of Place

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A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope to be free. – Kazantzakis

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 partners in life. 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. 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’.

 

A Bad Rap

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Self-love: shrilling embrace

Laying bear one’s existential plight is neither a self-indulgent exercise in victimization, nor is it beholden to pessimistic world views. It is a concrete aestheticized rehearsal of lived life, a subversive form of entry into the human condition. It bears the merits, and indulgencies, of artful communication, advocating and yet simultaneously subverting through the cultivation of clairvoyant intercourse. Intimacy of readership is quintessential to extrapolating the truth.

Says Nietzsche in the 2nd Preface to his Gay Science:

It seems to be written in the language of the wind that brings a thaw: it contains high spirits, unrest, contradiction, and April weather, so that one is constantly reminded of winter’s nearness as well as of the triumph over winter that is coming, must come, perhaps has already come…Gratitude flows forth incessantly, as if that which was most unexpected had just happened – the gratitude of a convalescent – for recovery was what was most unexpected. ‘Gay Science’: this signifies the saturnalia1 of a mind that has patiently resisted a terrible, long pressure – patiently, severely, coldly, without yielding, but also without hope – and is now all of a sudden attacked by hope, by hope for health, by the intoxication of recovery.

 

Mankind’s problem, “was not [is not] suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, ‘why do I suffer?’…The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind”. Hence, one could argue it is suffering over suffering that is unique to the human condition. Does this invite existential melancholy as the default state? Is the Gay Science a parody of gaiety? Shall we lay in wait as that patient lion ready to pounce upon her prey: happiness? Does the meaninglessness of life divine a life more wretched than death? Are we left to choke on our pessimism, faithlessness, cynicism, and despair? Don’t despair ( 😉 ), probably not…but certainly also, yes.

It has so often been levied as a criticism that Nietzsche’s philosophy, not just the man himself, suffers from melancholy. That ultimately the world is a callous, uncaring, unwelcoming place. Well might as well add “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, since this echoes the state of nature as described by Hobbes more than anything Nietzsche had to say.

I don’t smooch with positivity. He’s just not my type. But I will be damned if ever I lay with negativity either. Both bastard children, twins actually, to Narcissus. You know… the one transfixed by his own beauty and died enslaved to the indulgencies of self-love! Cripple! Had he only looked out beyond the riverbed to discover himself in the eyes of his beloved he might have limited hell on earth to other people (insert Sartre here).

 

 

…to be continued….

Alarmed? Annoyed? Appalled? Indignant? Read on: Why the Long Face, by Adam Roberts

 

“And it feels so good to feel so bad. And suffer just enough to sing the blues”

A Psalm of Life

Here’s Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life. “Life is something more than an idle dream”, said he. “Be a hero in the strife,” had my thoughts linger to Heraclitus. But also to Joseph Campbell: “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

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Hope

 

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

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

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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 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!

 

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

She Died Today

She died today but no one noticed

Her airy personality like a drone hovered

They came and took her body

Bagged her, and threw her onto her transporter

But she remained the same

 

She died today but no one noticed

Words like bricks bruised precious egos

And ravenous retorts dug her grave

But before her final departure waved a virtual adieu

 

She died today but no one noticed

Listen…those who despair…

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