Parrhesia, an ancient Greek term, is frank-speech. Being frank is an act of forthrightness, as when one would say, “to be frank…” An utterance often quasi apologetically employed to signal unsavoury content; that is, something the listener is not prepared, or expecting to be clued in on. With this there is the risk of offence that may find oneself marginalized, (politically/socially) exiled and/or punished. The irregularity is not so much with the truth-value of the content, a point to which I shall return, but in “coming clean,” or explicitly exposing a truth which is contrary to acceptable form. Courage then is a fundamental virtue of the parrhesiastes. For she is not that chatterbox who feeds off the entrails of others, indiscriminately sharing wherever opportunity should veer her head. Such a gossip-whore is a sensationalist whose voice takes the form of entertainment at best, youtuber at worst!
The parrhesiastes does not chance upon potentially marginalizing acts, but diligently and with the virtues of courage, honesty and justice, push forward nonetheless. She must then ac-knowledge the irregularity and for the sake of some “higher” calling, and with veracity at her hip, share. Thereby vulnerable to public scrutiny – it is public both because it has been openly shared, and because it is subject to the regularizing force of public opinion – she’s made herself spokesperson for the truth. It is exhortative as it seeks to invite critical awareness where she is but the vehicle for its attainment. This finds the “offenders” apologoumenos before themselves and others, but always at the risk of the boomerang effect finding her the target of criticism.
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)
An interesting interview that captures the inner toils that speak to the fervent authenticating experience of writing – eunoia. He writes: “A writer who is not in some way ill is for me almost automatically a writer of the second rank.” He shrank from philosophy in early life finding there was nothing of use to him to be found in their works. Eliade, had written scathingly of his first publication. Ceaselessly adept to crises of spirit, faith, or a crisis of faith, never found him as such. But it would not be arguments that would ever change his comportment, alter his ways, move him, but exhaustion.
He says: “I am actually less a passionate than a possessed type. In all things I must go to the end of possibility and it is not, finally, arguments that convince me to change my mind, but only exhaustion, that which is exhausted by passion. (This has connections with faith.) Because of this, personal encounters, seemingly small things in my life were full of decided significance. I was always very receptive to them; I have always, for example, spoken to strangers and many an encounter has given me a great deal. I have above all a weakness for people who are slightly disturbed. In Rumania, in Sibiu, a city with at least 60,000 inhabitants, I knew in one way or the other all the knocked-about people. The poets, too, who of course belong with them! The morbid attracts me, but morbid, what does that mean, anyway? ”
Failure, hopelessness, the disturbed, all seemed to come to his mortal wake not to console but to disrupt until all would fall to the hillside; negation then. And he speaks of that man, who had a tremendous impact on him: “He was not at all an evil man, no scoundrel, absolutely not, but someone to whom it was plainly impossible to have even the smallest illusion about anything whatsoever. This is also a form of knowing, for what is knowing finally but putting something in question? That kind of knowing, that understanding that pushes too far, is dangerous. Basically – I speak of life as it is and not of abstract philosophical constructs – life is only bearable because one does not go to the end; doing something is only possible when one has particular illusions and that holds also for friendships, for everything. The most perfect consciousness, absolute lucidity, is nothingness. And this fellow was driven to that point.”
It is then in that subterranean voice, negligent to the philosopher of abstract ideas, as well as formulae, and articulations of grand speaking truths. For he says: “As a rule, we know only the surface from our actions, only that which is formulated. But what is far more important is just that which cannot be formulated, the implicit, the secret behind an utterance, what is hidden therein. On that account, all judgments of others as well as those about the self are partially wrong. For the deepest part is hidden, but it is the more actual, the essential in humans and at the same time the most difficult of access. Novels often give one the best possibility to transpose oneself, to express without explaining oneself. The truly great writers are, in my view, those who have a feel for the subterranean; I am thinking above all of Dostoïevski. He is interested in everything that is deep and apparently lowly, though it is not lowly, but tragic. The great novelists are the true psychologists. I know many people who have written novels and have failed at it. Even Eliade wrote several novels and he failed. Why? Because he could only reproduce superficial phenomena, without translating them from the depths, from the source. The source of an emotion is very difficult to grasp, but it comes to just that. That holds for all phenomena, for faith, etc. Why did it begin, how did it develop? and so forth – only he who has the gift of divination can perceive where it really comes from. But it is not accessible to reflection. Dostoïevski is the only one who has pushed forward to the source of human dealings.” And further: “the psychoanalyst wants to heal, but I seek for something quite different. I want to grasp the daemonic in mankind. What the secret of one’s life is, one does not know oneself. This very secrecy, on the other hand, creates meaning in life, out of the communication between people. And if this were not the case, it would merely be a perpetual dialogue between marionettes. I would say that it revolves around the right tone; each person has a certain tone in everything that he does.”
He is not a puppet to positivity and whatever trending, consoling, modalities sought to explain away human suffering. He marvelled at the exasperating destitute of lived life, perhaps a marvel is more fitting, for he feared not to look without complacencies into that ontic mirror that might restore him from inevitable self-destruction. He is not for or of the feeble simple-minded, nor still the seekers of Truth in composure, quietude, and self-containment. It is the whirly winds of Aeolus that twist, garble, and undercut the Word from which we, as with Sisyphus, shall crawl out from beneath bearing a weight of perpetual struggle.
“A person who tells me that music means nothing to him is straight-away liquidated for me. It is something very serious for me, for music stirs that most intimate region in human beings.Bach is a god to me. Someone who does not understand Bach is lost; it is actually unimaginable, though it does happen. I believe that music is the only branch of art that has the capacity to construct a deep complicity between two human beings. Not poetry, only music. Someone who is insensitive to music suffers from an enormous handicap. That is simply the case and it is completely normal for music to construct a bond between people. It is unthinkable that they hear anything by Schumann or Bach, anything that they love, without being stirred. But I can understand how someone might dislike this or that poet.”
My mother, as a music therapist, would have appreciated this. That inter-dialogical affair mobilized musically amidst kindred spirits verbosely denied is omnipresent when heard.
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.
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!