Empty Days

Saturday, December 27, 2003

On vanity

Wittgenstein spent a lot of time brooding over suicide, talking about it, threatening death, whining and raging. He thought his greatest vice was vanity (and not homosexuality, as some prim souls would like to believe) - I would vouch he was right.

Vanity is a well-known word but it has a lot of meanings, and I'd defy anyone to find their way through the mazes this word points to - all at once. Vanity implies insuperable ambition and thus a powerful yet uncontrollable will, but it also means weakness at its worst, a fatal flaw in character that makes a person viscerally dependant on the judgement of others - a bridle for the willful.
Vanity also suggests futility - the perpetual thrust to elevate oneself and the inevitable fall through too much dependancy of showmanship. The vain cannot uphold themselves on their own - and were they to try (and their ambition demands that they try to again and again) they quickly lose all measure of themselves. Vanity is the inability to take a measure of yourself and stick to it.

Wittgenstein's talk of suicide has always been that of a man ravaged by vanity - someone simultaneously convinced of his own futility and demanding greatness. While philosophical talent and palpable recognition of this talent did provide a much needed relief from self-perceived futility, it was still the life-long pursuit of love and human affection that proved the hardest challenge. The vain rarely kill themselves - but they do have serious reasons for wanting out so bad.

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas translated as dust to dust.

Browsed through something really quite refreshing (after all the philosophy) at Mistress Clarissa's little cheery dungeon:
I was a big goober and completely forgot about it until the last minute. I had a long session that involved me being a farm girl torturing a traveling salesman whose car had broken down! Talk about a unique scenario; it was so much fun, it's almost ineffable! In fact, I won't even talk about it.
As an aside to this, I do wonder sometimes why it is that sexual fantasies, translated on paper or otherwise "revealed", always seem to lose some of their appeal - to their owner, of course. The mere act of giving away something so outrageously private (and therefore unbounded - no judges to pass verdicts) somehow kills these little beasts that keep us cheery - no matter how boring one's actual sex-life might be. All this talk about "realizing one's fantasies"... pure bosh. Whatever you shall "realize" will happen in another world - very different from the world where fantasies arise and flourish, which is the exact opposite of everything real, tangible, and perpetually constricted by circumstances.
I must wonder about this travelling businessman - whatever he got in flesh was probably light-years removed from some of the scenes he must have lived through in his mind, while rolling down some interminable excrutiatingly familiar highway. Amen, folks.

Pansexual Sodomite blogs On Cowardice. Here's a memorable bit, about those almost half-conscious movements of will that actually change your life forever (something I've long wondered about: how exactly does this happen? the characteristic feature is that such movements can never be undone - this one is an instance of such a movement):
After I left home my timidities started dropping away. Simply being able to live as I wished uncramped my mind. One of the often-unperceived decisions some of us face is when we unknowingly decide to live for ourselves or in fear of others.

BuzzMachine said in a blog-interview:
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Today, anti-Semitism. It is a terrible chameleon that calls itself many things, but anti-Semitism is the evil of our age.
Wow. I'd understand if the guy was lost in Russia somewhere - but he's an American and a successful one at that. I do wonder where he got this idea from, for it is obviously *not* personal experience. An interesting question, that.

While down with flu: I formatted my disk, installed a new version of Windows, updated custom drivers - and voila: this "bad-cheap" computer is suddenly working about 40% faster, the video display improved both in quality and speed, the web experience has regained its high colors... and I am back at exploring the world of blogs, simply because it is much less of a chore now :-0

I don't know what it would be like if I had a cable connection - I'd rather not think about it.

If I were a normal, fast-living type, I'd post things like "what I did today" (and it would be two-page long and radiating activity), exuberant sketches about important people in my life or fleetingly memorable encounters, stuff about my many projects and plans for the future, and so on and so forth.

But I am just not that type - I am the very opposite of that type, and maybe I envy that type terribly, and it's absolutely irrelevant whether I do or not.

I can testify that cerebral people are not cerebral because they choose to be cerebral - it's a no-choice no-escape condition. Perhaps "affliction" would be the better word. More than a few fellow-sufferers have tried to find a different life, practicing manual work and moving to places where pen and paper are scarce. However there is no telling to what extent they were really able to prevent themselves from too much thinking (in the privacy of their head, so to speak). In the end, the solution is always the same - just live with it.

Friday, December 26, 2003

The boxed proposition is false

The liar's paradox elegantly framed and pinned down with a ribbon. Hohoho.

Virus metaphysicus

Bad flu and too much tv. I still like Mary Poppins though - even though I have to watch it pretty much every damn year. I like fairy tales in general, I think - Thousand and One Night, that kind of thing. Fairy tales only seem impossible. In fact, they're very convincing - everything has its own logic and things happen in a sort of a definitive and very real way. Like dreams - the logic of dreams, unquestionning, entirely absurd.

Most fairy tales are archetypal, like myths. And all myths are morally loaded. So in the end it is the logic of morals that gives them this uncanny reality. And yet this reality is also unreal. Does this mean our morals, the good and evil thing, are somehow absurd too - despite their overwhelming reality?

Take Beauty and the Beast. Hard to find a more moralizing tale. And this tale is manifestly impossible - yet, it is also perfectly convincing. Why are ideals so convincing even though entirely unreal?

I wonder what Plato meant by those shadows in the cave - and the light of supreme reality shining behind our backs. The way things are and the way they should be - the latter being manifestly impossible, a fairy tale par excellence, and yet, somehow, more real than reality.

A perfectly natural creature would have no use for ideals. What is good and evil - and how much of metaphysics is nothing but a glorified fairy tale?

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Apparently this is christmas time. Since I don't participate in it, it seems like something remote and happening in a parallel world - or maybe it is I who am living in a parallel world (more likely).

Evolving thoughts (or choosing death, as opposed to waiting for death - which we all do by default).

There is a profound difference between suicide by reason and suicide by despair. I saw the latter - I've only heard of the former. My earliest impressions of suicide by reason, which left a lasting memory despite my have only read about it in books: Roman suicide. A senator goes home and opens his veins - for reasons of honor.

Also, something I heard on the suicide group: a man fed up with life and a woman with an incurable desease met on the group, got together in a hotel in Holland and killed themselves - an act of solidarity.

At some point not very long ago I was standing on top of a 6-storey building, looking down, measuring whether it would be high enough and how it would feel to step down (not high enough anyhow). Joke: there was a parking and one car had "NO FEAR" written in large letters right on top, right under my feet. How very a propos.

There is a banality to things - and it is the measure of their reality. Whatever feels, or is thought to be, tragic or magnificent or extraordinary has not yet reached reality. So long as your own death seems horrible or impossible or glorious to you, you have not yet reached the reality of it.
The most extraordinary things occur as easily as the most common things - their occuring sets them into reality: and what was or will be thought of them is quite another matter.

A miracle, once it has occured, is no different from your taking up a glass and filling it with water - that simple, that real, that banal.

Monday, December 22, 2003

The great unspoken

Something I meant to quote for a while but forgot or were distracted every time. Now, this is what L.W. had to say about his first book, The Tractatus (his own original title for it was really more to the point but cryptic: "Der Satz" - The Proposition):
The book's point is an ethical one. I once meant to include in the preface a sentence which is not in fact there now but which I will write out for you here, because it will perhaps be a key to the work for you. What I meant to write, then, was this:
My work consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have *not* written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important one. My book draws limits to the sphere of the ethical from the inside, as it were, and I am convinced that this is the ONLY *rigorous* way of drawing those limits. In short, I believe that where *many* others today are just *gassing*, I have managed in my book to put everything firmly into place by being silent about it. And for that reason, unless I am very much mistaken, the book will say a great deal that you yourself want to say. Only perhaps you won't see that it is said in the book. For now, I would recommend you read the *preface* and the *conclusion*, because they contain the most direct expression of the point of the book.
[Letter to Ludwig von Ficker, a friend]
This is quite beautifully put and after all this can be said about quite a lot of other books where the actual and more important implications are not directly stated.When we talk this becomes even more obvious - what is said is always but the tip of the iceberg. But it is definitely the first time I see an author put this in such a straightforward manner and also explain *why* it should be so.

Imitating virtue

Why is it that only those authors who come closest to your own way of thinking are the ones who really contribute to your own thought? Shouldn't it be the other way around - that you are limited to a certain way of seeing things and exploring very different modes of thought should "expand" your views etc? But it is just not the way it happens in reality - and this seems to go against the conventional idea of universal knowledge and universality of reason.

We are constantly in search of like-minded others. As if it were not enough to know what you know, to be what you are - as if you also needed *confirmation* of what you know and how you are through others being and thinking that way.
Does this mean that if you can't find such others, and maybe don't even suspect that they might exist - that you will be brought to abandon your "true self" (whatever that means) and become more like those around you or closest to what you can imagine as being you - as "confirmed" by your entourage? Kind of vague.


I am finding that I tremendously enjoy imitating Wittgenstein - and I'll keep imitating him unashamedly as long as I enjoy it as much as I do. There is a liberating effect here: you can say the most incongruous and awkward things and not feel stupit for a bit.

Also, this simplicity does not require you to be too witty or superiorly ironic like it is when you fall for G.Orwell's style for instance - which is laconic, colloquial, seemingly naive but also extremely exacting in terms of wit. Imitating Orwell is a hopeless endeavor - there is too much ambition in his intelligence and this ambition is ruthlessly displayed in his ruthless irony. If you're really ruthless that way you don't need Orwell to show you how to be witty.

With Wittgenstein it's something else. There is the same striving for honesty but it is more "interior" - truthfulness of thought as method of investigation. Freedom to err. Unprepossessing. Truth over wit.

What I am learning from him has little to do with what he is generally held to have contributed to philosophy - I couldn't care less about Philosophy, or should I say "public philosophy"? Perhaps it's just that I don't need to care. And I am glad of it.
(This, after reading some Wittgenstein-related discussions on a newsgroup. Nothing - professors joggling ideas as kids play with dolls: my G.I.Joe is better than your G.I.Joe. But as an information-dustbin this too is useful.)

Reason and shame

Maybe I should learn to be concise - but I don't have a good enough reason to try. In fact, I often struggle to let myself say everything I feel like saying even though it might seem dubious or wrongly put at first.
Curiously though, it usually turns out that the decision to say it regardless was the right one - what seemed dubious was in fact a sort of intuition of something real (of how you think) but seemed either too "stupid" or too "clever" compared to what things are supposed to be (whatever that means).

This has something to do with "intelligent/stupid" as moral judgements. I blogged on this previously and the other day I found an echo in Wittgenstein (this is getting familiar by now):
366. Suppose I were forbidden to say "I know" and only allowed to say "I believe".

367. Isn't it the purpose of construing a word like "know" analogously to "believe" that then opprobrium attaches to the statement "I know" if the person who makes it is wrong?
As a result a mistake becomes something forbidden.
Well, obviously only a moral perspective could forbid or allow intellectual judgements in that way. Opprobrium (or more exactly shame) should have nothing to do in a purely logical discourse - making mistakes in maths, let's say. But when you say: this man is intelligent, you actually mean that he never makes gross mistakes in maths (let's say) and has no cause for shame. It's very close to saying of someone that he's reasonable/unreasonable. And it is this logic (which is a moral logic) that does not let you say what you would like to say - if it seems unreasonable or something else: anything that may lead to shame.

Unclear as this may sound it becomes very clear when you observe it in your own behavior - and the causes are not all that hard to figure out.

The call of beauty

At some point I stopped going to museums. There were a few episodal recurrences of course - quitting on fine art was never a decision of principle. As life changed, so did attitude, so did ideas, likes and dislikes, fine art came to lose all meaning - gradually.

The only time I actually had to return to museums was in Berlin - I had no idea where to spend my days (long cold days) so I went to museums, for free. There are tons of museums in Berlin and most are state-sponsored, so basically they only ask you to pay when there is some special exhibition - and I couldn't care less about special exhibitions.
Well, this circumstantially flawed return to high art actually sparked some nostalgia cum deja-vu effect: I re-experienced my youthful admirations, though this time it felt a bit stale and out of place. After all you can't very well fake belief when you've lost it once - it's gone and it's gone, not refundable.

Another thing I experienced rather glaringly then - the absurdity of this museum-going act. The truth is - you can perfectly well imagine that, "objectively", this is in fact something absurd, but you can't feel absurd at the same time if you still believe the whole thing. You either believe (and enjoy fine art and museum-going) or you don't (and then you can't truly participate in the ritual). It is a ritual of course. And culture in every possible sense is very much like religion - it is inspiring and you simply *must* buy into it to levitate accordingly.

Of course a vast majority of museum-goers are like church-goers: they don't really levitate in there and that's not why they're going - the pleasure comes from the sense of participation, being in a "high" place, furnishing your mental space with mental "objects of art" - and just like you display some such objects in your house (as a sign of your allegiance to "high places" mostly - because after a while you stop noticing them) so will you display the fact of having been to some famous exhibition in some future cultured conversation and that too will be mostly a sign: I belong in high places.

But what happens when you stop seeing the glamor in it? Actually the only thing that happens is that you don't feel you need to participate and "acquire" mental objects of art anymore - but these objects don't lose any of their beauty. The value is displaced from acquisition of beauty (the tiger's heart syndrom - if I eat it I shall be stronger) to beauty itself - but in a sad way, sort of.

The sadness comes from not knowing what to do with beauty anymore. If there is no more reason to worship it, then what does it do to you? Actually, there is this strange thing that is revealed: that beauty is not there to be worshipped, what it really wants from you is that you create beauty in your turn - and if you can't, it makes you sad, thwarts you, tells you to walk away. I suspect that worship is a way of circumventing that effect and not be defeated - but it is a hopelessly false attitude and most of "high culture" is false in that way. This is not what beauty wants from you.

Actually, I am very far from accusing anybody or anything of shallow response - what I am trying to say is that there is no other way, even if this way is false and slightly ridiculous. Most of the time and for most people there is just no other way. You either walk away or you stay - but on false pretenses. The true way is rarely realized but it is no less true for that matter.

I can't go to museums but this only means that I can't - there was a time when I could. I was happier then. But that's about all I can say for it.

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