Check The Back Seat

We’re all after the truth. It’s programmatic to any inquiry. But it can often take a back seat to alter-narratives. Self-preservation is a basic instinct; inciting action often through a paralysis of comportment. This has become intrusively put to me as circumstance challenges my default mode…ad infinitum….

All is Truth.

 

O ME, man of slack faith so long!
Standing aloof—denying portions so long;
Only aware to-day of compact, all-diffused truth;
Discovering to-day there is no lie, or form of lie, and
can be none, but grows as inevitably upon itself
as the truth does upon itself,
Or as any law of the earth, or any natural production
of the earth does.
(This is curious, and may not be realized immediately
—But it must be realized;
I feel in myself that I represent falsehoods equally with
the rest,
And that the universe does.)
Where has fail’d a perfect return, indifferent of lies or
the truth?
Is it upon the ground, or in water or fire? or in the
spirit of man? or in the meat and blood?
Meditating among liars, and retreating sternly into
myself, I see that there are really no liars or lies
after all,
And that nothing fails its perfect return—And that
what are called lies are perfect returns,
And that each thing exactly represents itself, and what
has preceded it,
And that the truth includes all, and is compact, just as
much as space is compact,
And that there is no flaw or vacuum in the amount of
the truth—but that all is truth without excep-
tion;
And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or
am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.
– Walt Whitman
Advertisements

Resonance

I’d posted this on LinkedIn:

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.

 

 

Telling the Tale – Perspectivism

p15392341_p_v8_aa.jpg

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.

BlindMenElephant-510x364

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?

36246983_10213492343356931_6398836556131467264_n.jpg
“Things are not always exactly as they appear. This is not a deer crossing the road. It is a road crossing a mountain.”

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 understand why 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)

Find YOUR Truth

Version 2Death comes to us all.

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?

Maybe.

Maybe.

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!

What??!!! 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 Unfolding of Being – Parmenides

*Pirocacos, Elly. The Pedagogic Mission. Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Series, pp. 39-49.

Parmenides’s poem divides in three. Firstly, the proem[i] is a lengthy allegorized drama of cryptic literary references with philosophically substantive directives. Subsequent divisions consist of two related yet seemingly antithetical parts. The first, Alitheia[ii], is presented as the Way of “Truth”[iii]. Fragments 2-7 provide a preliminary conclusion, which is expanded in a series of deductive arguments throughout fragment 8 that ends with Being[iv]. The second, Doxa[v], depicts the Road of Opinion traversed by mortals, notably Parmenides and his reader. The antithetical structure of the poem is echoed in the words spoken by the unnamed goddess in the proem, which inaugurates the journey. She says:

It is no ill chance, but justice and right that has sent thee forth to travel on this way. Far indeed does it lie from the beaten track of men! Meet it thou shouldst learn all things, as well as the unshaken heart of persuasive truth, as the opinions of mortals in which there is no true reliance at all. Yet none the less shalt thou learn of these things also, since thou must judge approvedly of the things that seem to men as thou goest through all things in thy journey.[vi]

The didactic import of this journey pivots on the dialectal context here evoked and the promise that the neophyte shall learn many things. In the care of an unnamed goddess—anyone amongst the numerous temptresses of Olympus—the neophyte’s travel does not preclude the opinions of his fellowman. Ascending to the heights of the gods the neophyte shall learn two things: both alitheia as well as the opinions of mortals for which ‘he must judge approvedly’. The view advocating a rigid division between the two worlds and the implicit rejection of all empirical beliefs is not reflected in this passage. It is not that the conclusion is counter-intuitive but, in as much as the journey of enlightenment is a possibility at all, it involves being addressing itself constitutively and concretely. The parody of Being as some insular, intellectualized entity, distinct from the act of understanding, falls outside of the ontological landscape. The journey is a human voyage of existential import that relays a passage from a state of being in and amongst the comforts of one’s ordinary life to a state of being more fully cognizant of one’s predicament. The break commonly attributed to the epistemological status of the objects of inquiry (i.e. truth attends upon being all by itself in virtue of itself versus sensory perceptions attending upon being and not-being) confuses what is, in fact, a manifest ontological rupture where the neophyte is ripped from a set of structures informed by the activities in which his daily interactions are embedded. This set of structures for the most part remains unaccompanied by a subjective state actively involved in the specificity of the activities. The absence of purposive self-awareness synchronizes with the words of admonition Heraclitus embroiders into sayings such as “every beast is driven to pasture by blows”[vii] and “fools when they do hear are like the deaf, of them, does the saying bear witness that they are absent when present”.[viii] An altered state of being involves the unfolding of being as a process of self-appropriation. This works well with Parmenides when interpretation is careful to recognize that the traveller is not simply relaying the story of truth aimed at establishing the underlying essence of reality or the principles of human understanding. It is not a question of either looking outward or inward, for this fundamental break between what can be disclosed to or is internally related to the subject and what is not in the subject or exists and is understood independently of any disclosure to the subject is anachronistic at best.[ix] Any kind of separation that readers discern is not one where the thinking subject transcends his concrete experience of himself, though certainly the ascent motions to self-conscious awareness of his concrete experience of himself. If this is a journey of enlightenment, then the expression “self-transparency” aptly relays what common forms of self-transcendence misconstrue. This is not an emancipatory project where one becomes free from the bondage of a world or state of being in the world that one can comfortably step in and out of. The place of ascent is the familiar land of anthropomorphic gods and the journey is a turbulent struggle that finds the neophyte adrift from familiar comforts. Embedded in activities defined by one’s surroundings one is lost to self, invisible, except through the social roles and practices dictated by one’s surroundings. The ascent therefore motions to a reflective awareness of one’s being not distinct from the so-called foreign world of sensory perception but from that which is beyond, which requires the reassembly of the self through an act of disruption.

Agreeing with Heidegger, alitheia is badly translated as “truth” for, in effect, it conceals the Greek experience replacing it with a contending history. Heidegger traces the etymology of the term, and though I will not reiterate or completely endorse his view, two points are particularly deserving of attention: truth is unconcealedness and the character of unconcealedness is conflictual.[x] The word Alitheia is comprised of the prefix α, equivelant to the English un, and according to the Lidell-Scott dictionary[xi] the word λήθη is derived from λήθω or λανθάνω meaning “to escape notice, to be unknown, or forgotten”, ultimately a kind of concealedness. From this Heidegger composes the somewhat awkward but insightful unconcealedness. Unconcealedness implies a prior state of concealedness insinuating semantic hues foreign to the discordant “truth” inclusive of ‘veiling, masking, covering as well as conserving, preserving, holding back, entrusting and appropriating’. The prefix “un” also implies a privatio, or deprivation as Heidegger calls it, suggesting a further nuance that finds concealedness as that which is taken away, cancelled, evicted or banned. The truth as a-litheia is ultimately something negative: the absence of concealment. Unconcealedness is therefore in some sort of oppositional relation to concealment, which is unlike the word “truth” that bears no relationship to its counter word “falsehood”. Truths correspond to how things really are and falsehoods do not; something is either true or false (The Law of Non-contradiction and the Law of the Excluded Middle). Heidegger puts it best when he says, “un-concealedness belongs to the realm where concealment and concealing occur” and yet, “on the other hand, un-concealedness makes manifest a conflictual essence; i.e. it is unconcealing when in it something comes to pass that is in conflict with concealment”.[xii] The negation, as it were, of Alitheia, is of course, λαθόν, and λανθάνομαι but also ψεῦδος. Heidegger’s analysis offers an interesting analytic twist. Though ψεῦδος has an etymologically distinct root, the counter essence of alitheia, unconcealnedness, is juxtaposed with “the concealed” and hence must be seen alongside that word in Greek which indicates falsity, or the untrue: ψεῦδος. However, the usage of the term ψεῦδος as the counter essence of alitheia must also contend with its obvious semantic opposite: ἀψευδές, the true. In turn λανθάνω or concealedness must be determined on the basis of ψεῦδος or falsity, in which case if concealedness permeates the essence of unconcealedness, then the enigma—what I have called the analytic twist—arises such that the Greek essence of truth receives it character from the essence of falsity.[xiii] From this, the second instructional point is revealed as a form of struggle for “the truth is never “in itself”, “available by itself”, but instead must be gained by struggle. Unconcealedness must be wrested from concealment”.[xiv] Returning for a moment to the meaning of λανθάνω, “to escape notice”, Heidegger draws attention to the usage of the term in Homer where the meaning suggests that “‘being concealed’ is an essential feature of the appearances of being”[xv] which he suggests is expressed with greater clarity in the well known Epicurean proverb “λάθε βιώσσας” meaning “be concealed in the way you conduct your life”.[xvi] This is a particularly important move since it implicates humankind such that the concealed and unconcealed show up as characters of the very being itself rather than as characteristics of the noticing or apprehending. Clearly, the distinction pivots on understanding something escaping someone’s notice versus being concealed to others as something-or-other.[xvii] Finally, Heidegger returns to the common Greek saying λανθάνομαι which now translates as “I am concealed from myself in relation to something which would otherwise be unconcealed to me.” The idea bears a similarity to the notion of “forgetting” when one considers that “the being sinks away into concealment in such a manner that with this concealment of the being I remain concealed from myself. Moreover, this concealment is itself concealed”.[xviii] Forgetting involves something slipping us. But because this something also falls into concealment, we also fall into concealedness in relation to the forgotten. And hence we are rendered invisible unto self. This invisibility brought on as a kind of forgetting Heidegger calls “the oblivion of Being” which he says may remain forever unbreached or perhaps

It could be with a view to this forgottenness of Being a remembering might awaken, one thinking of Being itself and nothing else, considering Being in its truth, and thinking the truth of Being and not only, as in all metaphysics, beings with respect to their Being. For this there would be required, before all else, an experience of the essence of forgetting, of that which is concealed on the essence of ἀλήθεια. The Greeks experienced forgetting as a coming to pass of concealment.[xix]

This reference to the “oblivion of being” is expounded in Heidegger’s Being and Time. The phraseology adopted rests on a negative moment in the history of philosophy or metaphysics—beginning with Plato and Aristotle—whereupon the fundamental difference between Being and beings is eroded into forgottenness or more precisely the “forgottenness of being”. At least since the time of Plato epistemology and metaphysics has moved comfortably within the understanding that the thinking subject and the objects of the world belong to two distinct realms. Being, for instance Plato’s Forms, shows up as the basic ontological constituents of the world in and of themselves, or in virtue of themselves entirely abstracted, distinct from the thinking subject. Indeed, according to certain interpretations, Plato believed these Ideas to reside in the World of Intelligibility beyond the World of Appearance. This left him the task of explaining how the thinking subject could become acquainted with these Forms and hence be said to have knowledge. This divide has been past down through the history of philosophy having acquired numerous variations, but the separation in whatever form, prompts the need for a bridge—between the subject and object—to accommodate the possibility of human knowledge of the external world. It is to this divide that Heidegger speaks as the beginning of the end of metaphysics or the “oblivion of being”. The divide has been at the cost of Being, specifically as what Heidegger calls Dasein—the term he uses for the kind of being humans are—so that all efforts have been transposed to the act of forgetting, literally removing, abstracting, the presence of Being. Reverting back to the PreSocratics, and most particularly Parmenides, a process of remembering when this divide was not entertained is recollected.

Though it is certainly possible to objectify the entities that make up the tapestry of “reality” this attitude that finds the thinking subject looking in at the world as something distinct from Being is not primordial. We are, as it were, primordially beings-in-the-world-with-others; we are, in effect, coping beings. Prior to any categories of reflection making their way into our thinking, Heidegger’s carefully articulated and exceedingly complex exegesis can be simplified. As with all cases of simplification, important nuances will be lost in my treatment of Heidegger, which I hope readers will forgive on account of my desire to make a specific point. That point is that we are already in the world, oriented towards it unreflectively, living our roles in the world in a manner of investedness or “care”. The danger of this unreflective life, of course, is also described as a kind of forgetfulness, which conforms to what I take Parmenides’s men of doxa to suffer from. This state is described as the “unownedness of being”. It is essentially what sociologists describe as conformism, but which here shows up more starkly than a mere social phenomenon; it is constitutively and concretely, or inescapably part of the human experience. Still this kind of default absorption, when understood in counter distinction to “ownedness”, marks an important distinction in the disclosedness of ‘Dasein as the being that comports itself towards entities as entities’. The vocabulary, though dense, can be helpful to the novice in the context of our discussion: the disclosure of unownedness is publicness whereas ownedness is resoluteness. In this default mode Heidegger speaks of disclosure to an already structured world to which we unreflectively respond as “anyone”. By this I take him to mean that Dasein is acclimatized to the world, even if unthinkingly. So one employs the complex hyper-hyphenated neologisms because that is what one who writes within the Heideggerian tradition does, I wear black at a funeral because that is what one does, I talk in front of the classroom to address my students because that is what one does. Yet in this mode of being it is easy to discern a sense of invisibility of self, comported towards the world as if everything fits into some functional, pre-defined order into which one “falls”, as it were, or follows, as if an automaton. Like a wheel finding its place on the axle of a carriage, Dasein falls in line, follows suit, and assumes one’s place on an axis of social living. Publicly disclosed thus, the mode of Dasein is unownedness. Even though Dasein is inescapably mine—simply because each person’s life belongs to oneself. We say: this is my life, my responsibility, my decision—it is only in the mode of ownedness that one breaks with this routine of public ownership. If I’m permitted a wordplay, Dasein comes to be resolutely or authentically defined. Anxiety or angst is the word Heidegger employs to talk about this mood of dis-ease felt in the realization that there is no preordained manner of living, no way of comporting oneself in the world that is more valuable than any other. Put simply, there is no right way of living. The investedness of all one’s activities comes to a grinding halt as one struggles with the realization that in the absence of any “right” way, nothing makes sense or means anything anymore. Yet with this despair and profound rupture in the way one lives, one experiences the overwhelming meaningfulness of the meaninglessness of being. As Heidegger puts it, “Anticipation utterly individualizes Dasein, and allows it, in this individualization of itself, to become certain of the totality of its potentiality-for-Being”[xx]. Herman Philipse puts it succinctly:

Heidegger claims that in confronting one’s Self in Angst, we do not reveal ourselves in our reliance on our cultural world, but, on the contrary, in a radical individuality (Vereinzelung). Because of the very fact that in Angst the meaningful world collapses, we cannot flee from ourselves into this world and into the They anymore, and our Dasein stands naked, as it were. We realize that we are “thrown” into existence and that we have freely to construct our existence by ourselves and to choose our course in life. …Authenticity then consists in a radical affirmation of our existential solitude. …authenticity at first sight seems to consist in a complete autonomy of Self, in which the individual does not rely on his cultural background except in the sense that he freely chooses the possibilities he wants to realize.[xxi]

Taking responsibility for all that one is, owning up to who one is without recourse to contingencies that befall everyone and anyone, one must now struggle to reaffirm oneself as one’s ownmost possibility. Emphasis is not on the “factical” circumstances external and internal to one’s being, but to the manner of negotiating these circumstances. “One” circumvents the structural order that in default mode meaningfully transcribes how “one” is to respond to a particular circumstance.

This Hero’s journey is something of an experience of forgetting, at least insofar as the movement gestures to the youthful hero’s passage from his socially acquired niche into a demonic world of unknown darkness that presses in on her inner most human concern over her fate in the world. Everyday life could be described as “uneventful”, or what Heidegger calls ‘a steady flow of skillful activity’ where one is unreflectingly oriented in response to one’s sense of the situation. When coping is uninterrupted one is completely absorbed by the situation—experience flows as it were—so that one has no experience of a self causing the activity. This passage, what I call an ontological rupture, interrupts this flow and sets the hero well on his way to an authentic—Heidegger’s “ownedness”—and “resolute” re-instantiation of self in the world.

The inaugural words of the proem are echoed in the preliminaries found in fragments 2 and 6. Of the three ways only the third, the way of not-being, is rejected as utterly unspeakable, unknowable and hence unviable. The way of mortals, misleadingly delineated the Way of Appearance, we are forewarned not to travel because—and Parmenides’s point is conditional:

with wandering thought in their breasts, men are bourn along stupefied like men deaf and blind. Undiscerning crowds, in whose eyes the same and not the same is and is not, and all things travel in opposite directions!

We can speculate that the world here described is altering and, according to what I have referred to as the Orthodox interpretation, involves thinking in contradiction, which is simply rejected as false. Instead, the descriptor seems to make a point about mortals and not the so-called objects of thought or even the formulation of thought. “With wandering in their breasts”; “stupefied like men deaf and blind”; “undiscerning crowds”; “in whose eyes the same and not the same is and is not”—these all consistently make the point that their Being and the being of beings is lost on them. They are in a state of oblivion; unreflectively wandering amid the crowds without conscious directedness. And even though this may be a default state of being, it is nonetheless neither a permanent nor the desirable state of being. Of them Heidegger states,

mortals accept whatever is immediately, abruptly, and first of all offered to them. They never concern themselves about preparing a path for thought. They never really hear the call of the disclosure of the duality. They keep to what is unfolded in the twofold, and only to that aspect which immediately makes a claim upon mortals; that is, they keep to what is present without considering presencing”. They take this to be what is unconcealed, ἀληθή (VIII, 39), or it really does appear to them and is thus something revealed.[xxii]

This, thinking ahead to Campbell’s Monomyth, I understand as presence-to-self in and amongst the ordinary and commonplace. As if severed from a pseudo sense of ontological permanence, as a child to his mother, one pushes forward, which implies a sense of futurity, to face what was previously unrevealed, masked, unattainable, or simply beyond one’s reach. This sense of transition resembles a rite of passage, which Campbell documents as involving a Call to Adventure where the comfort of the neophyte’s banal existence is left behind as she prods into the clutches of the unknown where she must confront great challenges. This is not merely a reflection of social patterns of human behavior. These movements, this rite of passage, reflect something fundamental to human experience.

Footnotes

[i] Barnes recognizes only the obvious aspect of the proem, namely that it proposes a journey of enlightenment, and argues that the only further aspect of philosophical importance in the proem occupies lines 30-32 where the goddess promises to teach Parmenides both the well-rounded way of truth, and the unreliable opinions of mortals. For Barnes’ viewpoint see Barnes, Presocratic Philosophers, 155-175. However, for readings which favor the view that the proem is rich in philosophical content, see Burnet, Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Plato; Mackenzie “Parmenides’s Dilemma”; Kahn, “The Thesis of Parmenides.”

[ii] For an explicit exposition of the view that Parmenides’s poem is concerned with the problem of knowledge, and specifically the problem of the search for knowledge, rather than cosmogony; and that this is made lucidly clear from the start, namely in the proem, see Kahn, op. cit., 704-6.

[iii] Since Heidegger’s deconstruction of the term Alitheia, its translation as “truth” is said to already imply an entire tradition of philosophical discourse which Heidegger rejects. Accepting this, commentators often either leave Alitheia untranslated or transliterated, as with dis-closure or unconcealedness, which is supposed to announce its etymology.

[iv] Radical monism is the acknowledged position inferred at the end of fragment 8. It is, however, controversial whether Parmenides actually argued for numerical—this is the view which is traditionally provided in introductory texts—predicative, or material monism, or indeed a combination of any of these. For a discussion outlining these three kinds of monistic possibilities see Curd, “Parmenidean Monism”. See also Gomperz, Greek thinkers: A History of Ancient Philosophy, where he argues that the implied material monism of preceding cosmologists is extended by Parmenides by logical argument to include predicative monism as well.

[v] It has been argued from antiquity (see Plutarch and Simplicius in his Physics 38.248) until the present day that the Way of Opinion or Doxa corresponds to the second of the two promised things that the goddess will teach, namely the “deceitful opinions of mortal men”. As a result the second part of Parmenides’s poem, The Way of Opinion, is often thought to represent the Way of Falsity. Those who understand the fruitfulness of taking such a journey argue instead that it is the Way of Plausibility.

[vi] Parmenides, On Nature, trans. John Burnet, original Greek text Diels. Source http://philoctetes.free.fr/parmenides.htm.

Compare Heidegger’s translation: For it is no ill fate that has sent you ahead to travel on this way—and truly this way is apart from  men, outside their (trodden) path-but, rather, rule and order. There is, however, a need that you experience everything, both the stable heart of well-enclosing unconcealment, as well as the appearing, in its appearance to mortals, where there is no relying on the unconcealed. Also this, however, you will learn to experience: how the appearing (in the need) remains called upon to be apparent, while it shines through everything and (hence) in that way brings everything to perfection.

[vii] Fragment 11.

[viii] Fragment 34.

[ix] Ibid., 4.

[x] Heidegger, Parmenides, especially 1-28.

[xi] Lidell and Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon.

[xii] Heidegger, 1992, op cit., 18.

[xiii] Heidegger, 1991, 20.

[xiv] Ibid., 17.

[xv] Ibid., 23.

[xvi] Ibid., 24.

[xvii] Heidegger cites a passage alongside its most regular translation and the more accurate intent of its meaning. ἐνθ᾽ ἄλλους μἐν πἀντας ἐλἀνθανε δἀκρυα λεἰβων, Ἀλκίνοος δέ μιν οῖος ἐπεφράσατ ἠδ᾽ένόησενἤμενος ἄγχ᾽αὐτοῦ,Commonly translated “To all the guests he concealed his flowing tears”, replaced by Heidegger’s “but then in relation to all others he was concealed as the one shedding tears”. More in line with naturally linguistic forms of expression he says, it would be more correct to say: “Odysseus, unnoticed by the others, she tears”. But in Greek this is reversed where the sentence pivots on being concealed rather than others not noticing. Op cit., 1992, 23.

[xviii] Op. cit., 24.

[xix] Op cit., p. 28. The following footnote is offered: “Being and Time is the first attempt to think Being itself out of the basic experience of the oblivion of Being. I.e., it is an attempt to prepare this thinking, to pave the way for it, even at risk of remaining on a “path leading nowhere” [“Holzweg”].”

[xx] Heidegger, Being and Time, 310.

[xxi] Philipse, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation, 28.

[xxii] Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking, 99.

A Bad Rap

813c1c51563dfe06198d57c0ac40980e--drawing-art-art-drawings
Self-love: shrilling embrace

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).

 

 

…to be continued….

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

 

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

A write of passage…

images

Writing is a bit like sailing. There are days that you’re coasting, the waters are calm and uneventful, but the life underneath appears as miracles do. Other times winds conjure travesty and all is now opaque, yet scandalously alive! Sometimes it feels like a rite of passage, as if, oh faithless one gather your tears, God has made it so. Believe and all is won, doubt and all is cherished. Writing is neither. For with each stroke the arrogance of pernicious truth finds the page, doubly entreating for the faint of heart lamenting as the ink dries and false idols appear.

Oh, to See with Wide-Eyes

I use to think that a state of indifference was equivalent to a state of non-existence. And yet there is great power to be had. Not over the object of one’s past affections, for clearly to speak of it in such vein would only deny its actual instantiation; i.e. it rests in focused attention to that object as defiant rejection, and that, is still an act of care. It’s more like a flickering flame that simply and quite uneventfully goes out. The power is grounded in the resurrection of self. For immersed in the object of one’s affection there is always the threat of self-annihilation that is only properly protected within the art of diabolical negotiation. Where it withers, the flame breathes no more. I’ve never wanted to be cremated prematurely, and so the state of indifference has been welcomed with a sense of anticipation. Still, moving forward, the lens of my concentration seems in wide-angle viewing to see things quite distinctly. I won’t say more clearly, for what is to be said of the quality of sight poised narrowly or widely that cannot be captured by a simple – yet painful – change in focus? The vantage from which the world is now screened only opens endless possibilities previously undisclosed; alitheia, which is really a process that motions from a state of unconcealedness to a state where all that was priorly in oblivion is disclosed, or if you like, becomes visible. There is celebration in this.

Philosophical Confessions

I decided to rename my blog Philosophical Confessions in light of new formalized sensibilities informed by both experience and my philosophical propensities. My original motivation for this blog has not changed.

It is still:

Home to philosophical reflections on life issues. These will vary from philosophically dense scholarly-type papers, to quibbles, annotations, critiques, self-help guides, and problematics. It was the university, first as a student and later as a Professor of Philosophy, that was once home to my philosophical engagement with life issues. Initially this was an ideal forum for an interactive, passionate exchange of commonly entrenched concerns but as education came to suffer the ills of institutionalization more and more, and standardized policies replaced the creative, and biophilous dialectical flux that characterized the inter and intra-human exchange amongst practitioners of philosophy, this became an ever alienating experience. Yet the yearning for meaningful reflection has not waned and the practical application dating back to the Greeks has finally found new footing in Philosophical Counselling. Putting philosophy back on the streets and employing philosophical methods as a form of counselling constitute the two-tier structure of this blog. Negotiating the “truth” in all facets of life and living will be the driving force that both defines the parameters and implications of all philosophical reflections.

I am now enriched from years of  ‘agitation’ that has both deepened and contoured my philosophical preoccupations. Not unlike Socrates, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir and even might I daringly add, Veronica Franco (16th-century Venetian courtesan and poet), seeking the truth, the mainstay of all philosophical ventures, is sought not somewhere aloof, rigidly outside, beyond, over-and-against, or cast off from its visceral incarnation.  For it is in how one lives one’s life that the truth is revealed. Writing brings truth to bear in a social domain which often goes amiss, creating havoc wherever misunderstanding perturbs interpretation. Confessionals add context; they are personalized moments in which the truth is disclosed or dislodged from the abundance that purveys life. Not then to be read like a map plotting life denotatively, but more like music rich in notational instructions which only properly comes to life when played …symphonically. I like to think of these confessionals as a symphony of sorts – however badly written, for I am no musician.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: