It’s funny how language conjures emotions quite unexpectedly. I say “mummy,” and my eyes swell with tears, and yet “mom,” “mother,” sit in chambers of detachment, leaving me quite prepared to deal with loss.
August, 13, 2018 10:45 am mom passed. She had been ill for quite some time, and I’d hoped for her suffering to end sooner rather than later. Ratiocinated comportment never prepares you for loss, however. One simply learns to live with it.
Mom had her demons, and not always the easiest life. She did, however, teach my brother and I compassion, especially for the “underdog.” She was an exceptionally beautiful woman – turquoise eyes, deep black hair, and a figure to die for (she was often confused for Elizabeth Taylor, in fact). Strangely, she never owned it. Like most things mom had an air of confidence somehow intermingled with a palpable sense of self-doubt. She was the greatest mom for a teen, for though she had a rather parochial and conservative upbringing, she pushed the envelope and was …well, counter-cultural!!!! She was especially sensitive to the plight of women and the first to introduce me to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. My mom, as most women in Greece of her generation, didn’t finish high school, so I was especially proud when she returned to university to complete her Bachelor’s in Music at Concordia Univeristy and her MA in teaching at McGill University. Later we’d relocate to Greece where she opened her own Music School and later acquired her certification in Music Therapy. She volunteered for decades at the Dafni Psychiatric ward in Athens and worked with addicts, and Down’s children whose lives were significantly altered. I’d, in fact, witnessed the results of a number of so-called “lost cases” she treated privately over many years, and again, I was left in a state of awe. She had an uncanny way of being able to enter the psychic world of intra-personal anguish and translate that musically. It was remarkable to witness.
My best memories are of mom with a guitar in her hands, and me sitting on the floor in front of her, listening and singing along. She’d teach me to sing the second voice to a song, and we’d practice, joyously, hours at a time. Often the convo turned cerebral and mom would play a classical piece, or one of her own, and she’d ask me to affix a narrative that matched the mood. We’d analyze the meaning and consider the human condition through music. It was a wonderful introspective exercise that brought us close.
I’m missing you before i go. There’s nothing quite as profound as the experience of loss in moments of completeness. i know you like to say that “everything happens for a reason,” and are disturbed when i bring an entourage of philosophical claims to dismantle your hopes, but know this: i often feel that everything that has happened in my life was so that I’d find you! Enduring life without you only makes sense when i remind myself that real love is not lived out in the everyday, trite and mundane. The Dionysian before the Apollonian – as my Dionysis reminds me! For all possible worlds…
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I feel grounded, at home again. Interesting how one’s physical space can sometimes speak to the architectural design of one’s life. It was a clean, functional space, but transitional. It never felt like a home. Just somewhere to hang my coat. But this?! This is not a space, it is a place, my place, our place. Already transformative in diagnostic form, its brief life is already constitutive of battles won, and a warm, endearing heart of restitution, and hope for tomorrows to come, and with anticipatory valour pre-emptively celebratory. A horizon vastly open is charming in its beauty and flattering in its almost childish faith. Not the angst-ridden, overwhelming variety of which Nietzsche speaks when he says: “At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge permitted again; the sea, OUR sea, lies open again, perhaps there has never yet been such an open sea.” No. For it is not in the groundlessness experienced as that unfreedom in open possibility that I find myself. Home is grounding. But not grave-like. Roots. Roots that grow and spread through the lands, simultaneously sprouting life above ground, moving as she does towards the warmth of the bright shining light of the sun. It is all I could have ever hoped for.
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’.
This is a fun exchange of views incited by a colleague and friend on Linkedin some time ago.
‘Authentic love must be founded on reciprocal recognition of two freedoms; each lover would then experience himself as himself and as the other: neither would abdicate his transcendence, they would not mutilate themselves; together they would both reveal values and ends in the world’. – Simone de Beauvoir, ‘Le Deuxième Sexe’, (‘The Second Sex’), 1949. [‘L’Amante inquiète’, Jean Antoine Watteau, c. 1715-1717]:-
My Reply: Though, of course, negotiating that is a challenging and arduous affair, and one that is truly inspiring and unifying, rather than dividing, only between discursive equals. And though it is a HUGE risk to come out and say this on a public forum, I have yet to meet a man that can endure alongside his discursive equal. Men tend (I did say tend!!!) to gravitate to easy, convenient, malleable. And when that occurs they too are malleable. Go figure!!! I’m being facetious…sort of… 😉
Linkedin Member1: you bring up equality here. I think this is important. either you find your discursive equal (difficult 😉 ) – or you must (both) create conditions in which discourse is especially save. I think as long as people are afraid of humiliation, they will not seriously discuss and look for solutions together. I understand that from another area: I am really horrible when it comes to mechanics, for instance. And if someone wants me to deal with a mechanic problem I need to feel very, very safe – otherwise I throw it away.
My reply to LM1: You raise the issue within the context of knowledge acquisition and the psychological role that low self-esteem and the like may play in its transference. However, I raise the issue of freedom as existential equals. That is, with a discursive partner that in essence is of like discursive calibre and rooted in dialogical complexities, nuances, that calibrate the interchange such that one’s sense of affirmation is negotiated in a context of unrest. I should add that this is often determined by behaviouristic models of interaction (sadly) so by definition, is pretty much already a violation of existential freedom. Putting your foot down and establishing boundaries is certainly a way of affirming freedom, but this is more in keeping with new relations which have not acquired any real history yet. In those that may last the process alters, so that those initial boundaries are (hopefully) negotiated and renegotiated occasioned by new contextual situations, and evolving beings working side-by-side.
Linkedin Member2: Well, I always think French philosophers sound great. But what does she mean by “freedom” – let alone two freedoms?
Linkedin Member3 to LM2: Well, there are various kinds of freedom. Leaving aside political freedom, which is obviously not what is meant here, there is psychological freedom, and moral freedom. Although underlying any freedom is the identification of ourselves with a conceived end, good or bad, and which is freely chosen and realized (I know using the word ‘freely’ there makes it look a bit circular, but I leave aside the question of whether there is such a thing as free will or not). And so, having the capacity to follow out our purpose, that is psychological freedom. But then, if we leave out the moral quality of the purpose, how free am I really if, for example, my purpose is to keep myself drunk all the time? Does not harbouring a low ideal put us in a kind of bondage? Moral freedom, on the other hand, implies a higher purpose, some ideal that is actually worth pursuing.
Linkedin Member3 to LM2: And yet, Sartre does say, in ‘Being and Nothingness’: ‘it amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations. If one of these activities takes precedence over the other, this will not be because of its real goal but because of the degree of consciousness which it possesses of its ideal goal; and in this case it will be the quietism of the solitary drunkard which will take precedence over the vain agitation of the leader of nations’. So maybe he wouldn’t accept the distinction just outlined.
Linkedin Member2: Would that imply that for authentic love the lovers need to recognize each other’s wills – for instance the will to serve God or the will to change the political system or the will to breed bees? But she does not suggest that you have to share the will (the ideals, the perceptions…) of the other, does it?
My reply to ML3: Hmmmm this way of formulating the issue of freedom for de Beauvoir tends to favour a political reading of freedom. And though she is certainly speaking in and for a socio-political context, the more Sartrean or existential undertow, adds a dimension to the discussion that can more properly address the inter-relatedness in the context of love-relations.
My reply to LM2: No. Sartre argues that “hell is other people” and that all inter-human relations are inherently and inescapably frustrating. So we may just have a skewed, wrong-headed, set of expectations from inter-human and inter-romantic relations.
Linkedin Member4: Yes, beautiful…and the ideal to strive for, always! Because without this freedom to be one’s real self in a loving partnership, one or the other will make compromises they are unhappy with which will ultimately create resentment, which will lead to anger.
My reply LM4: See I don’t think that this is a universal paradigm that all inter-human and/or inter-romantic relations can strive for or realize. For it is essential (ugh) that in the dialogical or discursive encounter with the other that a “common language” be spoken. Of course, you can have loving and happy relations with the other of deficient (or distinct) discursive propensity, but it will not be of equal intensity, depth and connect-ability/relatedness. 🙂
Alas the ephemeral nature of such things has goal-directed lives win the day. Not me, not today, not any day!
The prognosis was grim. I remember the precise moment when the truth of what was earlier known rudely pushed itself unto me. I was being dropped off at the hospital (a new tumour), irritability turned antagonistic as I fought to rejoin that blissful world of denial. Later tears met with accusations. Who greets tears with such animosity? Who harbours such disdain for “parading grief”? Strange how triggers work. That day we had our own grievances to address, and these shipwrecked any chance for ontic embrace. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Anguish, loss, death, comes to us all (the penultimate banality), but my grief is my own, viscerally experienced as if unique to me, resentful of dense propriety that arrogantly calls me to compose myself! But those moments, subtle as they were at the time, are like memories in a time capsule that ornately embellish the creative process of meaning-construct. For it is after all as I artfully engage life that the constituents of meaning find voice. Trepidation meets and enamours ruinous tranquility through life’s turnings.
Today Olymbia passed away. Three years into her grade 4 Glioblastoma brain cancer (GBM), outliving her prognosis by 2 years. It was Christmas 2014 when I noticed (we all did) Olymbia had changed – she seemed off, not herself. All of us gathered – a party of 40 – at Ket’s home in celebratory mode, Greek-style! Marc reconstructed the bird with his usual artistry. We girls busied ourselves with cooking, and serving, with chiding laughter accompanying us as we moved through the rooms. A row of generations set the table, finding Olymbia at the further end, tucked away in a corner, quiet. Quiet!? Well that was just not Olymbia! She was always centre-stage, dishing out orders, making sure that we girls, especially us, were on top of things! But not today, not ever again.
My hair follicles knew best of my mother’s discontent. Hair tightly pulled back into a ponytail bore the markings of slightly slanting eyes. A stop on the way to school at Olymbia’s – we all walked to school together – and that menacing ponytail was to become a swinging bush hanging long across my back. Thankful was I! It remained our secret, never shared with my mother. And as secrets do, endorsed a loving connection. Our families were one family. Our moms best friends, us kids roughly the same age, grew up as cousins, siblings really. Olymbia was the driving force behind this great, expansive family. She welcomed everyone, even if she did not always appear welcoming! 🙂 She was a mother to me.
Not versed in Stoic literature, Seneca, Rufus, Epictetus were no strangers to her. “Κόρη, that’s it”. Her meaning, however elliptical, is not far off from the words of Seneca: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” I can also hear these words echoing in my ear as she’d have occasion to frequent them: “᾽Αντε να γαμ… ο μαλάκας απο δω χάμω!” There’s something about the flamboyant Greek manner prone to such phraseologies that turn profanity endearing. In essence her meaning is reflected in Epictetus’ words repeatedly endorsed throughout the ages: “Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” And later in life, she’d realized, especially after becoming ill, what she perceived to be the narrowness of her youthful endeavours. I think this is nicely expressed by Rufus: “wealth is able to buy the pleasures of eating, drinking and other sensual pursuits – yet can never afford a cheerful spirit or freedom from sorrow.” She seemed eager that I see the foulness of such ways, that I’d invest in what truly matters: family. And so it is left to us, all the kids (Pits, Ket, Andro, Nico, me, Marc, Blaine, Meagan, Kristina, Nick, Mitchell, Mason, Thomas, Kalianna, Anthony, Kris and Kim)) no matter the distance that separates us, to keep the candle burning that shall always unite us as one family.
In our month together we’d sometimes burn the night oil. She’d become reflective, mellow, and her thoughts turned to her children. Of Andro, since I can remember remained constant was her wish that he find a “good woman” to care for him…like a Greek woman knows to! 😉 “Ketty…that one…she’s the sensitive one.” But she also endearingly spoke of her as “a little chatter-box” (πολυλογού), a quality that our lovely Kristina has inherited…perhaps upgraded! 😉 “Liza…well she is like me…if we don’t fight one day I think she doesn’t me love me.” She hardly spoke of her grandkids beyond the usual logistics. But what was there to say that her eyes did not. She adored those kids: they were her life! As the weekend rolled round she worried that my partner would feel neglected (Greek women are not to neglect their men! 😉 ) Άντε κόρη, που είναι ο καλαμαράς, ο μαλάκας; Πήγαινε τώρα να του φτιάξεις κανένα φαΐ! And we’d laugh, and laugh! But that’s how she was: caring, and brutally honest, but darkness would turn light, for sentimentalities were not to have the last say. Did I mention Marc and Blaine!? She’d say: “Those girls don’t deserve such men!” And again, we’d laugh and laugh. But she meant it too. Her son-in-laws were the absolute best men. But as I’m sure they’d agree, that’s a gesture of reciprocity that began with her. My bro! Well she had much to say about him too. “Kαλό παιδί ο Νίκος μας!” She wanted confirmation that he was loved and appreciated!
She is one of those people that affected many lives. So many people will have to seriously adjust to her passing. Resilient that woman was! But Stoic-like she appreciated and loved life, but was adamant not to bend to the tragedies that life had in store for her…though…she did suffer….as anyone who wants to live and has so much to lιve for does.
She would want us to be strong and live by example. For as Margaret Atwood said: “In the end, we’ll all become stories.”
Simone de Beauvoir, said as a young woman, “I would willingly consent to sacrifice everything for the one I loved, but I would never want to exist through him—the sentimental blackmail which pushes women to see in the one they love someone designated to carry the burden which they are too weak to bear…. The truest love is expressed by Goethe: ‘I love you, is it any of your concern?'” Ach, for an exquisite mind to be hijacked by a needy heart! Hence, “Beauvoir was very much of her own mind when she entered into her “pact” with Sartre, and those critics who would view her as a doormat are very much mistaken.” Sartre, her “grand intoxication”, did not muscle his way in, he didn’t even worm his way in – both would be demeaning to Sartre, as well as to Simone. Outward appearance muzzles truth, leaving the dynamic of the inter-personal comportment camouflaged, except, I suspect, from those closest to them, who likely would have witnessed an uncanny symbiosis of spirits. “They each discovered in the other the intellectual equal they had so sorely been missing”, a point often confiscated by that perennial patriarch that would have Simone’s so-called intellect take the backseat to her uncompromising love for Sartre. Intellectually in sync, engaged in gripping discursive mode to-gether, cultivating their voice in what might be described as a “spiritual conversion” (Foucault), they lay awakened to their comportment to their truth, the truth, naked, exposed, lucid, and always, viscerally exhilarated, ecstatic. There is no backseat here. There is discomforting comfort: home. Is it any wonder that the words “faithfully yours” applied to Simone and Sartre?
Familiar with their sexual experimentalism, fidelity here speaks to their camaraderie as sparring partners. No idealization is to be detected, not for any universal or normative use anyway. Simone has been dragged into commentary on what sometimes appears as a witch hunt to subvert anything anti-feminist, so much so that sometimes it tends to emasculate her, our, form in the process. Simone did not give up marriage and children for Sartre, that was an early-on realization. She did not put up with his affairs, neither were conventional, and their sexual escapades were no exception. She did not sacrifice her own work to editorialize his, even though I do recall a testimonial suggesting that she’d laboured over his work a great deal and he’d not read a single work of hers. (I could have this wrong, though). She did not love him more, he did not sacrifice less. To see it in this light is to see it as just another story held hostage to patriarchal statutes. Him versus her, acceptance versus rejection, more versus less, strength versus submissiveness, and more. These polarizations just won’t do because Simone was not a conventional mind, and her womanhood was not conventionally won. Indeed, it is a mark of her virility and incremental intrepidness that she grew into her womanhood in deference to The Other. Uncontested love is only a lowly inauthentic expression of agency when freedom is taken in absolute and often negative postulations of either being free (from) or not being free (from). Yet, Simone in her The Ambiguity of Ethics, narrates different types of unfreedoms, which move far beyond such banal either/or qualifiers of agency. I won’t elucidate them all here, but it is worth pointing out that she understood freedom in terms of taking ownership for one’s existence in the world. Basically her point, in agreement with Sartre, is that there is no essential nature of man, no universal features that define the nature of being human. We are all oriented in the world as the unique architects of our own lives, and the quality of our lives lies in the manner in which we engage with others in the pursuit of our freedom. The most authentic form is authored by the “passionate man” who though adventurous is not selfishly pursuant of life’s longings (my expression, likely not one she would endorse) “willfully ignorant” of how every undertaking unfolds in a human world affecting others. Don Juan would be such a man, for he (Where does he figure in Kierkegaard’s Seducer? 🙂 ) hunted for sport only to mobilize his ego-centric desire for conquest, caring not for the hurt inflicted upon his victims. Contrarily, the “passionate man” does not set her sights on the manifestation of said goals. It is, rather, in acknowledging the universe as a complex of means and obstructions along the path to the attainment of such ends, that she is to simultaneously keep her existential distance. ‘Love, happiness – freedom comes in recognizing there will always be a distance between us and these things yet aspiring to them anyway.’ “To be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given towards an open future; the existence of others as a freedom defines my situation and is even the condition of my own freedom. I am oppressed if I am thrown into prison, but not if I am kept from throwing my neighbor into prison.” Now though all of this is more socio-political than the original point of overture, I suspect Simone might concede that they are intertwined nonetheless.
Was Simone the lesser of the two? Only if she denied her existential comportment alongside Sartre in the negotiation of her pursuits, and failed to see for fear of acknowledging her precariousness in the world and take ownership of it. Her anti-conventionalism, political activism, sexual flamboyance, and scholarship speak in her favour. Did she perhaps get lost in the idolization of external constructs, could this have been her idolatry of Sartre or love? If you’ve read the Second Sex the nausea might overcome you before you utter your first objection. Still, we don’t all live as we purport to, and no one lives their lives quite as poised as our dictates. And yet, the vulnerability, the personalized comportment of Simone’s literary works may suggest that she lives as she earlier wrote: “I accept the great adventure of being me.” Perhaps then, only she and Sartre can really know of the intricacies that drove their spirited intermingling as deeply connected, sparring adversaries, and who, if ever, was the more….or lesser of the two.
My boy with the golden heart! The one constant throughout these 18 years has been your incredible good nature. And though Kant might not value utmost one naturally inclined to goodness, I suspect he’d never met the likes of you to be confounded daily by the mysterious beauty of such a disposition. I continue to be amazed by your unflinching sense of justice and good will. Through the years the stark divide separating right from wrong has given way to the more grey, but never overwhelmed or overturned, for you all remains as delightfully colourful. I admire and envy this in you, Thoma mou! May all your days find your disposition unchecked.
A wonderful young man of intelligence, strength, and yes, all the markings of a spirited 18-year old seeking adventure, checking your limits (and sometimes ours!!! 😉 ), still looking, searching for that which will stir you into an awakening of sorts. For though more adept to this world than our Kalianna and myself, you too are as viscerally and intellectually intense; the banal, the everyday, the plain and regular, will not suffice. You shall settle not for the ordinary. Don’t! Don’t settle my son! You deserve the extraordinary.
December 18th, 1999 you were born and changed my life forever! From This Moment became our song. Happy birthday Thoma mou! (κσσμμ) Και στα 150!
From this moment, as long as I live
I will love you, I promise you this
There is nothing, I wouldn’t give
From this moment on
Kalianna is a “silent force” (σιωπηλή δύναμη) to reckon with. She is no nonsense, quite deliberate in making her disposition known. Young still – she can get it wrong – she stands as a mirror, kind and sincere to the caring, and brutal to the rude and pretentious! Look out world! Complicated, my little girl…transfixed in her vision of how things ought to be, temporarily “out of order” when the world stubbornly refuses her. Protector, advocate, nonconformist, ruthlessly loyal, and yet surprisingly thoughtful.
We are more than mother-and-daughter, we are girl-friends. We share clothes, watch our girlie shows together, sing, dance, share …..share a lot …. She is more like me than I’d like, for I know she will toil and despair. And enduring your child’s suffering is nothing any parent does gracefully. I know I don’t. Not always self-assured, and stumbling as she finds her way, it is my hope that she will see all that I see in her. (tears)
Today 15, happy birthday my beautiful child! The world, my world, is richer by far with you in it!