Is it not outrageous that we baffle over the transparent and innocuously purport to narrate the opaque?
To which I received the reply:
Elly, this is rather opaque.😌
And I thought; Perfect! It’s perfect because the surface reading of my post is accusatory in tone; specifically, exhortative with regards to those who are obscurantists, and yet, it is a species of it’s kind; i.e. it is itself opaque. The meaning of the fist part of the phrase then alters in meaning such that, in fact, no assertion is transparent; everything is subsequently a matter of interpretation. Accepting this, the original accusatory tone withers to make room to a host of multiple meanings negotiated for dialogical partners.
The larger picture tells the story of how “there are no facts, everything is interpretation,” leaving the transparent conspicuously opaque. What is it about linear, economized language, that suggests transparency; a single, objective rendering of truth? There is danger in this presumptive paradigm for unlike poetic verse that leaves unconcealed its opacity, begrudging those of simpler, more literal tastes, the scientific, fact-imploring, modality conceals its metaphysical landscape from view, as if unapologetic-like, truth is its proprietary alone. Is this exposition itself also evaluative, leaving therefore a resurgent relativism to contend with? There is a way in which ‘everything is relative,’ but that is only uninterestingly so; i.e with a spatial-temporal stamp. Everything that is anything is something because we make it so. What we see is not a mechanical representation of the world as is. This has been obvious to philosophers since Thales; I might even say it was obvious to my children by the time they were ready to talk; i.e. they were quite equipped to address the discrepancy between appearance and reality, believing and knowing. Still how we entertain this seemingly obvious set of binaries is where all the conversation is being had.
Philosophers are pretty much in agreement that the world out there as is, is beyond human understanding. I’ve gone over this debate in other posts, so I’ll resist repeating myself. Instead, I’d like to address the style of calibration defined by the word. I like the way Danto puts it in his analysis of Nietzsche – From Reading Nietzsche.
The psychology of the metaphorical address is, since metaphor is a rhetorician’s device, that the audience will itself supply the connection withheld by the metaphor, so that the rhetorician opens a kind of gap with the intention that the logical energies of his audience will arc it, with the consequence of having participated in the progression of argument, that audience convinces itself. There is another but comparable psychology of the aphorism, namely that once heard it is unlikely to pass from recollection, so its pointed terseness is a means of ensouling the messages it carries, and to counteract the predictable deteriorations of memory. So it is a natural instrument of the moralist.
Jennifer Fox’s documentarian style drags our visceral intuitions (or, at least she did mine) from a safe distance, alert, transfixed into that intra-personal dialogical space, fluid, personalized. The space is translucent as it navigates between the phantasmal and the real, the past and the present, the child and the adult. It’s a story within a story embedded in a story; multiple perspectives drawn from this intra-personal dialogue resentful of those inter-personal inquisitions (mostly with her partner) seemingly standing objective privy to a clear sighting of sexual abuse. Nietzsche says, ‘perspectivity is the fundamental condition of life,’ and by this I suspect he meant more than just that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” We all see things, adopt or acquire a perspective from a relative vantage point.
The parable of old tells a telling tale of its own. Blind men come to “see” this ‘elephant’ from their perspective, privy to only fragments of its physical instantiation in the world, and each goes away exclaiming what they had found: “it’s a spear!,” “it’s a fan,”, “it’s a wall,” “it’s a rope,” “it’s a tree,” “it’s a snake”! Self-limiting in our engagement, only a God’s eye view could ever become acquainted with the infinite possible perspectives from which it would be experienced. And yet, this is only part of the story ( 😉 ). The foreground alerts us not only to selectivity, but also to a modality of meaning, without which no thing ever experienced would be anything at all. Someone can be heard saying: “get things into perspective,” suggestive of a narrow stance, and with it the implicit accusation that “however things may come to be perceived relative to your engagement, some perspectives are better than others.” Optical perspectivism seems uncomplicated and only obviously true, except when one takes seriously the exclamatory claims: “it’s a snake!,” “it’s a tree!,” and so on. Indeed it is the very thing Plato would plant in our minds to have us question the relationship between what one says and how things are. After all, it is an elephant that each in her turn only fragmentarily perceives from her vantage point, coming to the mistaken viewpoint that the object that she has on her hands is a snake and not an elephant. The illustration is misleading, however. Any sensible object is tied to its background or context – there is no Godly view from which one could possibly take in all infinite perspectives – and the nexus of meaningful relations amongst other objects in the world, including oneself. Perceptual experience is always interpreted within a rich context of signs that signal a perspectival view of the the world. Why is breaking up frames of experience at the outlined periphery of said elephant more true of how the world is experienced than breaking it up at the outmost regions of one’s perceptible frame such that what you see in not an elephant at all but a landscape?
Optical perspectivism is similar to perspectivism tout court which argues that there are many possible conceptual frameworks or perspectives from which judgments of truth or e-valuations can be made. In the absence of “objectivity” or any definitive way in which the world can be said to be, is there a measure of “truth”?
Nietzsche, as others that mount some relativistic or contextualized view, argues both against all arrogant attempts at delineating what is objectively true, and in favour of more sophisticated, perspectival versions of the truth.
“Perspectivism.” It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm. (F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §481)
The Tale is a narratival story that finds confident, successful, unorthodox Jennifer (played by Laura Dern) for years hibernating in a parable little Jenny (played by Isabelle Nelisse), her 13-year old intra-dialogical partner, schemed. She was one of 5 children, the eldest, and essentially invisible in a home wrecked with havoc. Bill (played by Jason Ritter) – her assailant – and Mrs. G (played by Elizabeth Debicki) – co-conspirator (?) – opportuned her rite of passage into womanhood, and at long last centre stage to her own life, she no longer experienced herself as a spectator inadvertently marginalized.
Jenny’s essay, tells the Tale that comes to unravel Jennifer who’d been left with an idyllic story of her first sexual experience with an older man. Later she’ll accuse little Jenny for leaving her to believe it was “a good thing”. Scenes of a caring man, Bill, patiently and lovingly (?) preparing little Jen for full penetration leave one feeling uneasy, especially when the face, the look, of this child and her tiny body are perceived underneath his full-figure. At first Jenny felt seen, visible for all the attention. She thought she’d been singled out; that she was special. They treated her like an adult, and she found strength and composure in that. Jennifer, reluctant, yet nonetheless discombobulated, turned suspecting when seeing the child-like figure of her 13-year old self was actually quite petite, still wearing the “innocence” of childhood. Jennifer looked to unravel the meaning of her Tale, for it was clear to her adult sensibilities that things were not quite as the story was told. Her mother was instrumental in moving Jen-nifer to face her assailant; but Jennifer wasn’t looking to accuse or condemn anyone. She wanted to understandwhy these people were so important to her, she wanted to unravel her story. For if there is one thing that rang true, it was that she was not a victim. She was not taken advantage of; she was not mistreated, she was not demeaned, she was not raped. When her mother asked, ill-heartedly but somehow prompted by the (seeming?) voluntary nature of her daughter’s sexual relation-ship, “did you enjoy it?,” Jennifer in a state of uneasiness, was clear that she did not. “I was a kid. I got something else. Love. I wanted to feel special,” she said. Her body knew first; her mind would only follow 30 years later. Hours of fornicating were followed by nights hanging over the toilet, vomiting through the night, until exhaustion would take her. Soon her wariness would turn existential nausea, and prompted by suspicions of a planned threesome, a weekend away together with Bill and Mrs. G, was cancelled. The day after we see Jenny, full-faced, serious, confident, talking directly into the camera: “I’ve made a decision. I am taking my life in my own hands.” She would end things with Bill. She called to inform him she wouldn’t be seeing him again, severing ties with both Bill and Mrs. G. She tells of how he begged her, cried, and she imagined that he’d never get over her, sending postcards to her deep into her adult years. This is the story she told herself. And so, the summer spent on the farm was described as heaven.
What did wee Jen have at her ready? What inventory of truths might Jennifer unravel to draw out the perspective she’d entertained? Jenny will come to tell Jennifer that the Tale was only a version of the truth. Premonitions voiced by adult Jennifer coming in as if a sage to caution her younger self could not be heard. Of course not. This was not Jenny’s truth, not even any of multiple intra-personal versions of her truth. For how could it be? Jenny’s horizon of meaning was indeed that of a precocious teen, self-affirming in her advocacy of self, yet emotionally starved.
“The claim that truth is found and that ignorance and error are at an end is one of the most potent seductions there is. Supposing it is believed, then the will to examination, investigation, caution, experiment is paralyzed…“Truth” is therefore more fateful than error and ignorance, because it cuts off the forces that work toward enlightenment and knowledge.” (F. Nietzsche. The Will to Power
Inexperienced Jenny, Jennifer would be heard saying, was a child of the 70s, a time sex was not moralized, “forced” penetration not demonized. The perspective coasts the waves of sexuality from within a fluid movement of self-expression, exploration, mind-expansiveness, openness, and contra-labeling attitudes. Bill would be patient and loving (I know this is not what readers will find easy to hear as they want to shout “Rapist!,” but it is not how Jenny experienced herself. It would be negligible, I suspect, even within the context of mental health and personal development, to impose an exhaustively simple narrative on Jenny) as he prepared her both emotionally and physically for intercourse. She would be the one to plead with her parents to spend weekends alone with her “assailants.” She’d experience herself as grown up and in charge of her life, for that is how Bill and Mrs. G would speak to her. Bill would entreat her to question the conventionalism of marriage and the like as a species of social tyranny (too strong?). She’d see herself as counter-cultural in her affairs, distinct, empowered, authorially driven. First vocalized in due difference to her family, and later as she severed ties with Bill, climaxing in The Tale she would tell – she would not experience herself as anything short of autonomous!
It is, as with all things, a matter of negotiation. For short of discursive fluidity, that beautiful, charming, magical force of energy coagulates, eventually becoming dense, hard matter that in time builds walls. “A lie is an outward expression of a falsehood one inwardly knows to be false, meaning the liar can still know the truth. A conviction, on the other hand, is an inward certainty one has attained the truth, and thus in many cases, gives way to an arrogance that enmeshes one in a web of delusion and falsehood, and cuts one off from the possibility of moving towards knowledge” (unknown source 😦 ). Was Jenny violated? Was she actually taken advantage of? Did she in her desperation to be seen confiscate autonomy to do her bidding? Of course, but also not at all! 13-year old Jenny’s perspective experiences herself within a paradigm of constructs that nurtured a sense of authentic emancipation from literally marginalizing and alienating circumstance. She did not, could not, experience herself as Jennifer now 30 years later could. We may certainly speak to the delicate age of Jenny, circumstance that made her vulnerable to the likes of Bill, but that would also only be to hear the story from Jennifer and our own adult, particularized sensibilities, leaving Jenny quite invisible all over again. An imposed silence upon her carefully crafted script is not to emancipate Jenny from extrinsic forces but to leave her quite without voice. To Jennifer. Does she now within her adult comportment experience herself, through this visceral reenactment of her youthful self, as violated? She’d struggle through the entire film with answering that question for herself.
In an aphorism entitled “To What Extent The Thinker Loves His Enemy,” from Dawn of Day, Nietzsche advised:
Make it a rule to withhold or conceal from yourself anything that may be thought against your own thoughts. Vow it! this is the essential requirement of honest thinking. You must undertake such a campaign against yourself every day.”
Tiny revelations contrary to that more idyllic picture would eventually come to canvass a grander/eur perspective and a Truth, a Tale, that could no longer be squandered, snuffed out by paradigms so inhospitable to what she’d seemingly known all-along.
Jennifer would finally piece the puzzle together. She’d find her assailant. Mrs. G, once a stunning woman of elegant composure and vibrancy, now a rag-doll of questionable lucidity, would tell her nothing. She’d have to put her journalistic expertise to the quest and extract the truth from detractors, restrainers, and oppressors of the truth. Clues brought her to a young woman recruited to enjoin the threesome, now turned preschool teacher, who would, herself shocked to know Jenny was but a child (the school age of her students) at the time, reveal the true dynamics of the affair. Mrs. G was the recruiter who’d bring conquests to Bill’s bed. Neither overtly criminal in demeanour. Both, in fact, ingratiating, mentoring, caring. It is only her adult sensibilities that see the sinister undertow enveloped in preying upon the gullibility of the emotionally frail. Bill’s warmth is chillingly experienced by adult viewers, but Jenny would not want to betray the respect they’d shown her by bowing out of this adult affair, and behaving, as it were, as a child!!!!!! This Jennifer would slowly, shrillingly, come to experience in herself, reaching a climax in a very public confrontational scene with Bill where, desperate for closure, would seek to understand how Bill (a grown man), with her present-day, now adult, sensibilities, could possibly prey upon the youthful innocence of a trusting little girl! Closure would not come as he’d insist, telling his own tale, that she was a willing participant! Shrunken and defeated, she would find no restitution in her tale.
My take away is that we all hibernate in perspectives weaved into our living lives, making it our Truth, our Tale. Glimmers of light sneaking in illuminating what lies beneath seems inescapable, even when repressive impulses may continue to win the day. For Jennifer it was her mother, The Tale, penned by her younger self, that awoke her to the fable she’d learned to call home. I suspect, the Tale, shall be retold many times over, when life experience occasions retrieval and renegotiation in that lifelong process of recalibration!
I stand with a cast-away heart and a delicate psychical world firmly in the act of incertitude that everything is a miracle. The standard price for authenticity? Inner turmoil! I’ll take it! To Nietzsche: I shall ‘make it a rule never to withhold or conceal from myself anything that may be thought against my own thoughts. I vow it! This is the essential requirement of honest thinking. I aim to undertake such a campaign against myself every day.’ (F. Nietzsche, Dawn of Day)
As news feeds fill with the demise of Robin Williams the realization that even the most humorous suffer the toils of life overwhelms. I cannot know the preponderance of misery that befell this man, but I know of human suffering.
Have I had a bad life?
Has Robin Williams?
Money? Fame? Success? Family?
All of this wasn’t enough?
Maybe he suffered great trauma as a child?
But perhaps not. I believe it was Charlie Chaplin who said, “to truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it,” but I could be wrong. I think his point is that life is tragically comical. We invest time trying to answer the whys and hows, as if we could arrest the twists and turns of life events.
If somehow they could be contained by human – oh, so human – understanding, I could rest…peacefully.
What a great equalizer human understanding can be. To generate a playing field so ripe in reason must be the most laughable invention known to man! Accepting that things happen, happen to me, with no rhyme, or reason; that’s simply unacceptable!
He didn’t just leave me.
I didn’t just quit my job.
She was not just tragically taken (from me).
War zones don’t just occur.
Droughts don’t just happen.
Earthquakes don’t just take millions.
There are reasons for all of this!
There is the scientific variety.
There is the religious variety.
There is the psychological variety.
Whichever paradigm one gravitates to reasons are by default the method by which human understanding explains, justifies (category mistake!) the freak of circumstance that is otherwise unfathomable.
Why is this unfathomable?
Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche et al. They knew why.
If not for reason, then for what?
The answer? For NOTHING!
Where does this leave us?
The paradox? With human understanding!
What is the meaning of this?!
Finally a good question.
Immersed in self-doubt over this narrative, self-awareness is raw with potential.
God is dead, exclaimed Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. But you suspected this all along.
If God is dead who, what, will keep everything from falling a part? Will causal events no longer be ordered by His will? Is there no agenda albeit hidden from humanity upon which we can hang our moral hat?
Don’t despair. Well actually do. For in despair there is abundance!
No longer looking outwardly for cause and reason, the journey is inwardly enveloped.
No longer enslaved by reason – for some personified as God’s will, for others as the modern God, Science and yet others it appears as Justice – the freedom felt is both frightening and exhilarating.
For now there is an infinite stream of waters to traverse. Do not worry that the wind shall be your master. Cast your sails and chart you course. And on this voyage do not endeavor to look beyond what the eyes can see.
A passage from Blindness –by Jose Saramago – (fitting, you say?) comes to mind: “If you can see, look. If can look, observe.” (Yes, yes, this is out of context!)
And what then of human suffering?
Were it not for the flood of feeds regarding the passing of the beloved Robin Williams, death, rather her contemplation, would not have reached my consciousness.
Contemplating death, the finality of life suddenly appears like a spoiled child demanding attention.
Why must she cry so?, banging her little fists against the ground. Why does the ground disappear with each sounding blow? Why does she look out onto the world demanding that her suffering be taken away?
Here lies the tragedy of human existence!
The ultimate life affirming force is in despairing over the understanding of ourselves as castaways who must conjure meaning by planting invisible roots.
Those who suffer greatly, live extra-ordinarily. They laugh laudably.
The high road is feigned the road of the righteous, the fair, the just, the good. The fair, the just, the good, in turn, are feigned the rational, the sound, the balanced, the temperate. What a wondrous uncompromising, and deliciously ordered world this must be. How delightful to walk the straight and narrow line where existential spillage is negligent. There is an abundance of metaphysics chiming in to plot the landscape to settle this path. Kant? Spinoza? Mill? Rand? Epictetus? Epicurus? Plato? Aristotle? Hobbes? Nietzsche? Sartre? de Beauvoir? Foucault? Levinas? Who shall we call upon? The Buddha? Christ? The Church Fathers? Zen Masters? No one; and everyone!
My way is often touted as nonconformist, counter-cultural, defiant, adversarial, non-compliant, dis-obedient; and yet, contrariety to commonplace, dominant paradigms is rarely received with such admiration when it is contrary, and indignantly contra your own! Yet, how one delights in the authenticating experience, shouting how often the debris leaves sufferers in the wake that seemingly aim to inauthenticate your existential expedition! Ach, my contrariety! My wake, my awaking, and ultimate demise! Nietzsche knew this. He also knew the process of ‘becoming who he really is’ involves shattering and shedding ambivalent suitors. In his case, Schopenhauer, Wagner, Montaigne, and without a doubt, Socrates. Nietzsche’s persistent love-hate relationship with Socrates may very well speak to pedagogic “ideals” as those that don’t simply, and narrowly inculcate contra-rational forms of living, or those that seek comportment in “self-mastery” or a self-legislating will, opening the flood-gates to the instincts, but to an unrest, dis-tranquilization of the spirit in resting too comfortably, whereby one’s concretized comportment gives way to that authorial chair of authority abstractly sitting overhead and delegating one’s will. It is, as Nietzsche has put it, “Those who do not wish to belong to the mass need only cease taking themselves easily (my italics); let them follow their conscience, which calls them: ‘Be yourself! All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring is not you yourself” (Untimely Meditations, III: I, I: 338). Giving style to one’s character involves not suppressing or dismissing (the instinct to) the rational, but recognizing the tyranny of reason as the supreme human instinct that would expunge, that would sooner castrate and de-aestheticized the human experience, than permit it loss to socio-political (and today industrialized) dictates. Socrates was a martyr of his time for his counter-establishment, counter-cultural method of turning the youth to those inherited moralized paradigms that tend to work in the service of extrinsic, political often, forms of oppression. But in Nietzsche’s view this was accomplished through idolizing reason, and demonizing the instincts. Though not in complete agreement with his rendering of Socrates, his life and method, the point is well taken. The stylistic process of becoming oneself is a process of “losing one’s way,” (insert Foucault) and with gaping mouth revert to unadulterated scripts that expunge the decadent, the toxic, but win no lottery of worth that is outwardly visible. Inwardly, epimeleia eautou (επιμέλεια εαυτού), is alarmingly settled! Finally, though not final.
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.
Laying bare 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).
He lacks style; he lacks the sophistication and generosity of spirit to discern the motifs of multiple genres of expression. He reads one-dimensionally, flatly, and ultimately flat-lines all manner of form. Reading; all becomes dead; dead weight that burdens and corrupts, simultaneously doing damage in the hopes of regaining an ego-foothold that would pull him up as if a puppet, a-straight, horizontal, amidst blaring criticism. Coolly calculative and yet steamingly emotive, bearing existential hazard in its wake. His manner, ill form, obfuscates through obscurant modes, leaving the ill-read, philosophically marginalized, unduly impressed. Himself.