Empty Days

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Wittgenstein as psychopomp

Now, here's a vitriolic chapter from W.W.Bartley's bio of L.W., which is partly intended as a big pile of shit to fly in the face of Wittgenstein-as-a-cult-figure - and to some extent this is perhaps a laudable endeavor. However it is also, and mostly, a rather over-the-top response to the huge wave of criticism that Bartley's speculations about L.W.'s homosexuality initially met with. And, Bartley being a disciple of Popper, there's probably also an echo of those Popper-Wittgenstein wars in academia of which I don't know very much. Judge for yourself, as they say (I must wonder if this is a good way to use C.G.Jung's ideas, but anyway). There are more footnotes than text in this chapter, but I will only transcribe those that directly supplement text rather than expand on scholarship. And be warned - Bartley is a master of quoting out of context, I've rarely seen anything like that.


Afterword, 1985
IV. Wittgenstein as psychopomp
pp.192- 197 of the second edition of the said biography.

"Much of his life will remain forever unknown to his closest friends." - Fania Pascal

I have rebutted or cast doubt on various attempts to link Wittgenstein's homosexuality and his thought. Now I must return to explain the important connection which I do see between the homosexuality and the man and his influence - a connection which some might not expect.
The connection that I see relates to the fact that Wittgenstein, althought not a thinker of great originality, exerted, and continues to exert, immense influence. If one wanted his ideas, one could go to any number of other, clearer, writers. Those who have been influenced by him, particularly those who were close to him (two of his literary executors and several of his closest students are converts to Roman Catholicism; several other of his closest students are Anglicans), have responded to him as if to a psychopomp, to an anima mundi, a spiritual guide of almost supernatural character, to a shaman, priest, and medicine man, to a hermetic figure or spitirus mercurialis - a spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter. Wittgenstein fascinates.[62]
Thus J.N. Findlay expresses this mood when he writes of Wittgenstein:
At the age of 40 he looked like a youth of 20, with a godlike beauty, always an important feature at Cambridge,...awesome in its unearthly purity... The God received him... in an ascetic room, beautiful in its almost total emptiness, where a wooden bowl of fruit on a table made the one note of colour... The God was all he had been described as being: he looked like Apollo who had bounded into life out of his own statue, or perhaps like the Norse God Baldur, blue-eyed and fair-hared, with a beauty that had nothing sensual about it, but simply breathed the four Greek cardinal virtues, to which was added a very exquisite kindness and graciousness that bathed one like remote, slightly wintry sunshine... what Wittgenstein himself was thinking was of little importance, only much superior to the confusions and half-lights in which most philosophers of his acquaintance lived, despite their very great excellence as men... There was... an extraordinary atmosphere that surrounded him, something philosophically saintly that was also very distant and impersonal: he was the philosophe Soleil. One had walked in his sunlight but one had not at all been singled out by the Sun... the tea one drank with him tasted like nectar.
[63 - J.N. Findlay, "My Encounters with Wittgenstein"]
For our purposes, three things are important in connection with such responses to Wittgenstein. First, such a response seems to work on the instinctual level; it is archaic, and what C.G.Jung calls archetypal, independant of individual training. Second, in the Pythagorean tradition, and in the alchemical and hermetic writings which probe this response, such a shamanic figure is seen as a sufferer, "the sufferer who takes away suffering", "the wounded wounder who is the agent of healing." Third, in these same ancient traditions and writings - and elsewhere, as in Plato's myth of lost androgynous unity - such a figure is frequently hermaphroditic. Thus for the Neopythagoreans, hermaphroditism is an attribute of deity; so Hermes Trismegistus is said to incorporate the masculine-spiritual with the feminine corporeal, and Hermes Psychopompos is the filius hermaphroditus. One could also mention the divine bisexuality often attributed to Brahma and Siva, to Adam, to Baal and Mithras, to Dionysus and Apollo. Thus what are seen as the two great powers of nature, the masculine and the feminine, are combined in one being. [64]
For a human figure, such as Wittgenstein, to have such traits and powers projected on him by his admirers, it is necessary that the homosexuality be there; that it be known or sensed subconsciously by his followers; but that it not be admitted consciously. Indefiniteness is essential: the taboo and the temptation must be there together; both must be exploited. Thus what Drury and Pascal both sensed and recorded - Wittgenstein's noli me tangere and foreignness to sensuality (and his intense suffering from this) - must be there: so far they told the truth. As did Julian Bell, when he rhymed, in 1930:
I pity Ludwig while I disagree,
The cause of his opinions all can see
In that ascetic life, intent to shun
The common pleasures known to everyone.
But equally required, in order for the mystique to hold, is the subconscious awareness that that is not the whole story. [66]
The indefiniteness must also be present in the message of such a figure, particularly in that aspect of it which relates most closely to issues of morality. So it is not surprising that Wittgenstein's doctrine of ethics is so hard to state: that there is so much weighty controversy about what he said - or meant - in saying that what is said in these matters is meaningless... and yet of immense importance. As Wittgenstein wrote to Ficker: "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." [67] This, of course, concerned ethics.
Where everything is obscure - the personality, the sexuality, the content of the thought - anything may be projected. [68] And thus, from his friends and disciples, Wittgenstein rejected all overtures: interpretations of his thinking were rejected emphatically and even cruelly. And similarly, noli me tangere ruled out in advance most overture-interpretations of his sexuality.
Nothing more is needed to explain the response to the first edition of my book. [69] Thus - as discussed in the first section above - the bluff and coverup, the projection, the naiveté. And the pain, affront, and shock. For when this preserve of unnamable privacy was breached, when the details of Wittgenstein's sexuality were reported - however "neutrally" - the mystery was gone. Then it was "just sex".
I wonder then whether eagerness to prevent such aspects of Wittgenstein's life from being explored does not stem from some source such as this? With unconscious prudence and savvy [70], the "unnamability" of this area is kept safe in order to preserve the power and appeal, the magic, of the man.


62. - Thus note the ancient, metaphorical meaning of fascinem as membrum virile. Incidentally, it is not only close disciples of Wittgenstein who respond to him in this way: all sorts of persons claim to be followers of Wittgenstein and to do the "sort" of things that he was doing - though they rarely can state what he was doing.
64. - ...C.G.Jung...One shoud also, in this connection, study the libertine tradition in early Christianity, the understanding of which has been greatly aided by the discovery of the "secret gospel" of Mark (Morton Smith)... John Boswell...
66. - My colleague Theodore Roszak has pointed out to me, after reading this Afterword, an interesting connection to Iris Murdoch, herself one of Wittgenstein's students. One of her novels, Nuns and Soldiers, opens with the name "Wittgenstein", and references to him crop up occasionally elsewhere in her work as well. An important image recurring throughout Murdoch's novels is that of the enchanter, obscure but tentalizing, who transforms the lives of those about him. Often there is a vaguely sexual fascination and an elusiveness masking this figure. Did Wittgenstein inspire the image?
68. - I do not believe that such construction of Wittgenstein is at all restricted to his later disciples in Britain. A similar process seems to have been at work in Vienna with the members of the Vienna Circle. Thus Heinrich Neider writes of "Wittgenstein... the half-mythical 'patron-saint' of the Vienna Circle... I remember that even two years later, during an animated discussion at the philosophers' congress in Prague, a German participant said: 'Herr Wittgenstein, should he be a real person or rather, as I believe, a synthetic figure invented by the Vienna Circle as a mouthpiece for their theses?...' ". [references]
In his biography of G.E.Moore, p.9, Paul Levy suggests that Wittgenstein's followers may provide a comparatively rare instance of the "cult of personality" operating within philosophy. See also J.N. Findlay, who writes of Wittgenstein's "magic of personality" and "personal enchantment" in his "My Encounters with Wittgenstein".
69. - There is of course more to the explanation that this. Thus any great thinker or artist tends to be romanticized by his followers. Every several years, with remarkable regularity, some outraged doctor or other writes an article denying that Beethoven or Schubert suffered from venereal disease. [references]
It seems that a heroic effort is made to overcome one's basic distrust of intellectual and artistic effort by making it into a "higher" calling in which the artist must take an elevated role, not prone to the temptations of ordinary mortals. The reverse of the coin here is the tendency to see all artists as libertines.
70. - I say "unconscious" prudence; and so it no doubt would have to be. It could not have worked better to the advantage of Wittgenstein's posthumous reputation had it been conscious and deliberate. For by preserving silence about these things, one could avoid affronting the extensive repressed homosexuality and homophobia of American professional academics, and at once titillate and influence them. Hence Wittgenstein's extraordinary influence throughout the arts subjects of American academia. This is not surprising: American children have for years been schooled on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test, which can assign one a higher "femininity quotient" if one prefers going to the museum or reading a book to playing football or selling brushes door to door. In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that many American professors in the arts live with the not quite irradicable fear that they may be not simply homosexual but downright queer.


Luke 7:47

This one came out of the blue but it's an old trail of thought in any case.

I see everywhere the motto those who have been forgiven much love much - and it's supposed to be a quote from the Gospel of Luke. But I've given some thought to this passage before and, even at the cost of going against the whole world, I must declare the above motto a corruption and a misunderstanding (who cares indeed - well, I do). And first of all - it is not a quote, and not even a paraphrase. Perhaps the really interesting fact is that such a motto *had* to be invented to circumvent the actual meaning of the passage. First here's the whole bit:

Luke 7:36-50
Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman
36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner."
40Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, teacher," he said.
41"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[4] and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
48Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
50Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Exactly. Here's a notorious prostitute - and in the parlance of the day we'd better mean it: a whore - and of course the guests are nonplussed. Picture this: the kind of brod they probably used on occasion and would not share a table with, and now she barges in and not only does she make a spectacle of herself by getting all of Rabbi's attention, but he actually singles her out and makes a point of having a spiritual episode with her - absolving her sins and everything. And on what grounds? Because she loved much. When you say that of a notorious whore, what can you mean here exactly?
Tentative interpretations:
1. she put a lot of heart into attending to Jesus during this scene
2. she put a lot of heart into fucking while she exercised her sins, against all odds
3. she loved much in the sense that she put all her faith in Jesus on this occasion
4. her sins, while many, have always been forgiven, since she always put love into her sinful life - were it otherwise, her sins would never be forgiven.

And I am sure there is more that can be said, but that's all I could come up with here. And in the light of this how then to understand he who has been forgiven little loves little? On its own it may mean quite a lot of things - but in this particular context it looks somewhat paradoxical. So back to the parable of the forgiven debt and which debt was bigger. From that perspective, it's only gratitude - the bigger the debt forgiven, the more grateful you'll be. But with the sinful woman it's a bit different - in fact, the reason for her absolution is given ambiguously: she was forgiven either *because* her debt was huge (and then "she loved much" really means "she fucked a lot") or because, despite this huge debt, she still trusted she'd be forgiven ("your faith has saved you"). But then we have a paradox somewhere here - if her faith had been lesser, then she'd not be forgiven. Or worse still: if her sins were lesser, then she couldn't love or have as much faith, and she'd not be forgiven.
Whichever way, this is not at all a clear-cut and obvious passage.
In this strange context, the motto of those who have been forgiven much love much is in fact an attempt at making sense of all this and, what's more, bring out a *message* that is perhaps not really there. The only meaning I can finally arrive at from this passage is this, and it is extremely amoral if anything - that the woman's faith *prefigured* her forgiveness, and the more she sinned the more her faith grew, and here it is called love - she was forgiven "for she loved much" and "your faith has saved you". And this kind of love or faith is not at all a matter of gratitude.

He who has been forgiven little loves little - he who thinks (as Simon and his friends think of themselves as opposed to "that whore") that he has not much to be forgiven, such a man does not feel the need to carry on with such faith or love. And the really drastic and notable thing here is that the measure of sinfulness is not expressed in terms of "objective" sins, but in terms of how you yourself evaluate your measure of sins - and the forgiveness that is *prefigured* by this valuation will be (is) greater or lesser according to your own valuation, and so will be (is) your "love-faith" or lack of it. The esoteric moment is in forgiveness as prefigured by faith. It is not a reward - and faith is not based on gratitude.

For the real gist of this passage goes against a certain vision of the world. Pharisees were strictly moral people - they believed that the measure of sin could be established objectively. And therefore that sin could be morally and objectively judged - which is why they found it so inconceivable that forgiveness could be put in such esoteric terms - amoral, in fact. A Pharisee, the moral man, understands reward and gratitude (and the parable of debts is within his grasp, and this is the language Jesus speaks to Simon) but the kernel of the story here is not that parable nor that understanding. Faith as love is not a moral obligation - it is not objective, and is not based on reward and gratitude. What's more, it has nothing to do with judgement. What Jesus really does here, what does he forgive and why? I would say he takes away the burden of judgement from the woman - the whore - he simply tells her: you are no whore anymore, all these judgements never meant anything, you are free from the burden of humiliating yourself with sin, you don't need to do that nomore. He simply tells her: "go in peace". And never adds: "and don't sin anymore". Because it doesn't matter.

In short, what Jesus really says is that moral sin does not really exist - what exists is the burden of moral judgement, of oneself and of others, and this judgment is the real sin, the one that kills love as faith. The whore of the story hoped for freedom from a burden and this was her faith (and btw a very important point here: this faith was not based on her idea that Jesus was God - to her, in those days, he was only a really impressive man of God - and this was enough) - while the Pharisees of the story did not hope for freedom but were content with their own judgment since according to it they had little to be forgiven. Jesus forgave the woman's *sins* - not sin. That's the key to the whole thing here.

Is it still necessary to expound on why the motto of those who have been forgiven much love much is superfluous and even misleading in respect to this passage? That it stresses the part of the story that Luke is trying to offset as insufficient or even wrong - which is the parable of the greater debt and love-as-gratitude, a parable tailored for the moral man, the Pharisee? Anyway - perhaps it is I who am wrong, but I particularly like this passage and that's because I see things in it that are liberating. And the suspect motto turns the tables on all this - it only seems profound, but it really is not. And I object to it.


Btw, this is also the chapter where my favorite bit is:

'We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.'

Empty-Days friends and acolytes

Here's some artistry in flash (click the pic) I found on the theme of 'empty days' and it's pretty depressing, I must warn you, but the art work is really kind of striking.
It's never a good idea to take art too literally, even when it wants to be so taken.


Other findings on the same theme - lyrics from After The Storm, a song:

I can't deal with it
I can't bear to feel this way
I can't deal with it
I can't fill these empty days.

Not that I agree, but apparently the protagonist is just starting out on his empty-days life, and it's no wonder he's panicking - it does take some time to settle in and get used to properly.


And then of course there are movies. French movies are very big on the empty-days theme, it's almost an obsession in a way. Here's something I haven't seen but found an enticing description off the internet and the title is really good - Rien à faire (eng. title "Empty Days") by Marion Vernoux. The review is rather to the point and here's just a small excerpt (and it's really important to mention that the whole thing takes place in a supermarket, a very scary place as portrayed in this film):
The film’s title, literally "nothing to do", refers to Marion Vernoux’ idea that two people with time on their hands through unemployment will tend to gravitate to each other simply to fill in for the boredom. So it is an exploration of the link between economic inactivity and romance, with the extra ingredient of class thrown in.
But since I haven't seen this one I can't really know if it's actually any good. What I do know is that I caught a totally uplifting little French flick on tv the other day - Inséparables by Michel Couvelard. Searching the net I realize it probably went entirely unknown in the English part of the world. Nevertheless, here's the synopsis though of course it doesn't express what this film is really about (and like in the one above, it all rests on the actors' performance to bring meaning to a bunch of meaningless situations):
This is a comedy about Robert who has just turned 40, is left by his lover and whose acting career is going nowhere. Trying to make ends-meet by working as a stain-resisting lotion salesman, Robert feels he is a complete failure. He decides to turn over a new leaf by moving back to his home town, Boulogne-sur-Mer, which he had left 20 years earlier. After arriving he finds his family has much changed.
The notable thing about the whole movie is the contained rage and self-directed humour of the main actor, Jean-Pierre Darroussin (never saw him before and will look for him again). Basically it's the always-popular story of a man struggling to overcome utter failure by finally submitting to it without reserve - don't try it at home, kids.


Surprisingly, I also found a bit of poetry that really hooked in - these days I am fairly impervious to the wistfully poetic, but this one somehow weaseled its way in (and for the life of me I don't know who Matthew R. Kerns is). Here's an unauthorized excerpt though it doesn't mean much on its own - the poem is a total whole and the flaw is paramount to meaning here - by which I am trying to say: if you don't find anything interesting about the excerpt you might just love the poem itself. That's the very ending:
Perhaps. Oh, how little it matters here,
With me alone, and you so near
That I could reach out my arm and touch
Your arm again. With any luck
These dreams will pass into memory
The way you seem to be
Fading from my mind more each day,
Most beautiful somehow finding a way
To become more beautiful the less I recall
Of where or when or if at all
It happened. It was you. You taught me to create
Such music out of empty days.

Perhaps - you bet. I guess I am trying to create a community here - of empty people. The main feature of such a community would be one thing, really - that members be unknown to each other. And that's how the freemason movement started out :-0

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The art of falconry

Saw a documentary about the art of falconry. The guy in the film took a falcon chick home, nurished it and cared for it, and when it came of age taught it to hunt etc. For me the highlight was how he described their relationship: a bird of prey can't give you affection, instead it gives you its trust - and that trust between wild animal and man takes the place of affection and forms a certain unblinking relationship, a relation based on truthfulness.

You can see how trust does not form any dependancy, and how affection makes one dependant. The falcon-owner is dependant on his bird through his 'affection' while the bird is free and not bound to stay - the falcon may choose to fly away at any moment, but it doesn't. As long as trust survives, the falcon will not leave its caretaker.

Somehow all this casts a harsh light on what affection really is - as opposed to trust - in respect to courage.


Speaking of which, I remember once visiting a SPCA outfit, where I saw a dog with the kind of gaze I never knew was possible in an animal - a mixture of bitter contempt, hurt, and intelligence which clearly expressed something like 'yeah, sure, fuck off already'. It was explained to me that the dog had been badly abused by his original master and that the many adoption attempts have failed ever since - the dog would turn on the gentlest people and scare away kids.
In short, the dog has lost all of its affection for humanity along with all of its trust and naiveté. That is to say, it acquired near-human intelligence. In other words, he would never let himself be treated like a dog again.

Wild animals don't run into such emotional problems on account of affection.

"As I please" brought to mind a blog of the same name where the author strives to imitate Orwell in producing vigorously dismissive, offensive, morally-loaded and jocular columns - all this with regular quoting from his preferred author.

Now, I must admit that this guy does have a knack for putting things forcibly and elegantly, but I object to so much appealing to authority (Orwell, in this case) - it defies the purpose of the exercise, unless he believes imitatio pia is the way to go about being blasphemous.


The chief feature of the Quoter is his manifest cowardice and inability to outline in his own words that which he believes. (Ouch! Richard Rose, The Albigen Papers)

Now this is a bit harsh, we all do that, right - but I can't disagree with this statement :-0

I would like to mention that wbloggar is back on track with Blogger and I can thus make my posts as short as I please since it's so damn easy to shoot it directly to the page. Nice!

Been reading some stuff on differences between men and women. God - it's already hard enough to figure out what 'human' is supposed to be, let alone worry about all these gender embroglios. I guess gender-gap discussions have an utilitarian role - if you're not too concerned with jumping somebody of the opposite sex or making your way in the world, the problem loses some of its importance.


Another interesting thing about sleep - it seems I think best and see things much more clearly when I am asleep. This is not a speculative statement. All too often, when I had just woken, there occurs a terribly focused and precise realisation of how things stand on a certain problem (do I need to mention that most of my life is one big lump of problems I endlessly rumage upon, day and night, quite literally) - and what is particularly significant is that at such moments I am actually able to face these realisations directly and without fear - something I absolutely cannot do when I am in possession of all my reason.

And of course I am quite unable to keep to this sort of direct vision - it's too close to skin, too hard to bear. As soon as my day-time reason regains ground, I have to turn away and pretend I never saw what I just saw. I fall back into my usual rationalizing mode and it all scatters away. What was the point? Only a vague memory remains. But this way I know I keep my deepest thinking to my deepest sleep. And this casts a wisened light upon my day-time thoughts - there are things I prefer not to know, and what I don't want to know has to be literally 'revealed' to me in this forcible manner, catching me off-guard, making me see where my mind really is while I think I am directing it some place else.

I don't even know if I can call this sleep-think unconscious. In some ways it is actually much more conscious than the day-time process. And the fact that it reveals itself in such a blatant manner also speaks for it. 'Uncoscious' would mean unacknowledged. But of that part I can't really say much except that I don't know what's in it - since I never get to glimpse any of it.


I can't really argue anything here but I definitely remember the episode of some scientist I've known who said the solution of an extremely complicated equation finally came to him in a dream, quite literally - he woke up in cold sweat and hurried to write it all down before he forgot how it looked on that blackboard in his dream.
So what was it - a divine vision or his mind really went to task while he was taking an anxious nap? I really don't think it was a mathematical elf who wrote it all down for him :-0

I don't know what happened - slept something like 28 hours straight, with brief in-betweens, during one of which I realized I just had a perfectly hilarious dream where I and Wittgenstein were visiting some chic eatery in Amsterdam... This also featured a strange elevator that went up and then made a sort of revolution that brought you to a floor that was actually perpendicular to the plane you strarted from. And so on. The fact that I was accompagnied by Wittgenstein cannot be disputed - it was clearly he, with his hair cropped short on this occasion, and a bourlesque sense of humour. He was really very unprepossessing - we didn't talk much, just walked a lot, starting out from some sea-side marshland, perhaps in Irland or Norway, and ending up right on the streets of Amsterdam - and don't ask me how I know it was Amsterdam and not some English university town blown out of proportion.

Of course none of this makes sense, because I can't really describe the rest of the dream - it had to do with people I knew once upon a time, what they meant to me, and somehow Wittgenstein saved me from them - or their lingering influence - by just appearing in the dream and making me walk with him away, away, far into the world.

And I just discovered an image-hosting server, so here's something I like to look at sometimes - a picture. [In fact, no - that image-server was unsuitable for this part of the world.]

Read back some of my blog and nearly laughed my head off. It's not that it's purposefully funny - but that's exactly what makes it funny - the me thing. There is this margin of difference, a sort of gap, between what you say and what you know of yourself. A lot of stuff falls through that gap - which is the comic effect here, for me, the author and the authoree.

A friend of mine who likes to fictionalize people, created a rather hilarious character based on my most obvious flaws - and I must admit, it's really funny. He never admitted it was based on me, but I guess this is just part of the game, and gives him the liberty to really kill me whenever and whichever way he likes - under the pretense that it's got nothing to do with my poor person. I wish I were paranoid here - but nops. Too obvious to miss.

Normally I don't have a very big sense of humour, self-importance is just too important most of the time, but there are light moments when it really hits me, the funny aspect that is. I wish I had more of it, life'd be a 1000 times easier, but in this I was definitely not very blessed, so I am basically condemned to take myself seriously and take the brunt.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


It's becoming almost eerie - wherever I go in this blogworld I find people talking about how they went to see Lord of the Rings (LOTR will be a new addition to the acronyms dictionary soon, mark my word), with commentary.

I've yet to see a short write-off dismissing the whole bonanza. So I'll do it here: I am not gonna watch the damn movie. Voila.

Down with calembour

Since I live in this French part of the world, there is this specific French vice I must expose and condemn, because it really gets on my nerves but is so popular it's going to stay around for another 100 years, it seems. And this vice is - word play.

Yes. Word play. In newspaper articles and in anything that wants to appear witty. The dreaded calembour. It used to be tediously popular in the court of Louis the XIV, where wit was a form of back-rubbing and ass-kissing. I have no idea what it's doing being back in fashion - perhaps because this type of pseudo-literary wit is really easy to muster, and we like things to be as easy as possible? Or is it once again more important to be witty than actually intelligent? I just don't know. In any case, it seriously offends my good taste (whatever that is). And when I see a title with a word play in it I can safely skip that article because I already know it's not gonna say anything intelligent - and perhaps I developped such a distaste for this whole calembour thing precisely because of the unfailing correlation between lack of depth and cheap wit.

Perhaps I need to give examples. Perhaps I should also note that this particular fad is not to be found in English - word play is used with moderation, and that's the best way to use it. And I am not gonna give examples after all - too boring to cite, really.

Monday, January 12, 2004

And speaking of M.Mihajlov - the article in question was originally published in Russian (though M.M. is a Serb, but in 1974 it didn't matter as much). And I could not find it on the Russian internet. Same thing for Vygotsky - much more is available in English and very little in Russian.

I don't really mind having to read all this in translation. That's just another example of why it is best to know as many languages as possible - the original might not be famous enough where it should be.

(LIkewise some interesting things originally written in English can only be found in Russian. And it's really too bad I don't know German - I am sure I am missing some really recondite stuff just from the fact I can't read the damn script. By this I mostly mean East Germany - they have no respect for common law and proprieties, which is an old tradition in the Soviet block countries.)

Dead Poets Society

I like private opinions - and by that I mean people who just say it, whatever it is they have to say, without any pretense at sounding universal or learned or knowledgeable or smart or... Of course blogs are particularly propitious for this type of expression - but not always, and not only blogs.

Just found this private page about Eric Voegelin. I've come across this name a couple of times before but in a cursory and vague manner, so basically this is the first time I got to take a closer look at what exactly this name implies. Found this page entirely by accident - when searching for anamnesis on Google. Excerpt:
The human condition. We do not exist in a void. We are restless, always seeking, feeling ourselves drawn to the good, the true and the beautiful. We realize we are finite beings and that what we seek is not a finite goal. Not everyone understands this equally well; it requires an openness of mind and heart, and efforts of meditation and study. Developments in understanding have occurred in many places and times; Voegelin has written extensively about the revelation of the ancient Hebrews, the origin of philosophy with the Greeks, and the Christian apostles' experience of the Incarnation. He says that these are all experiences of the same type of event, understood and described differently by the participants.

How do you know? Very often I would read Voegelin's account of the human condition and ask "How does he know that [some proposition] is true?" But the critical question of "How do you know?" does not properly apply to the experience of reality. When someone drops a brick on his foot it is obtuse to ask "How do you know you are in pain?" What applies to sensation also applies to movements of the soul. These are not propositions to be argued, but direct experiences. What I was actually saying was "You say you have this experience. I don't, so why should I believe that your experience and description are valid or somehow applicable to me?" That is a different problem.

In the same manner, happened on this article by Mihajlo Mihajlov that seems to make a lot of sense, at least to me. Not everything he says is on the dot (I think he overstates himself quite a few times though trying very hard not to) but the main idea sounds very close to fact, not fiction - it's very hard to say these things simply and without falling into far-reaching theories, and by my ear he comes within an inch of saying it exactly right.
As Wittgenstein aptly put it of himself: pretensions are a mortgage which burdens a philosopher's capacity to think. (and of course the guy from the Voegelin page practically quotes L.W. as well - it is all starting to look like some sort of a secret society of like-minded people, and the biggest secret is that you can only find them at random). Excerpt:
When the individual threw everything physical aside and decided to follow the internal voice - which in itself is faith - he suddenly saw and felt in himself, quite empirically with joy, horror, and trepidation, this mysterious but at the same time real and powerful force which acted both in his body and in the external world. And simultaneously with this came the realization that he is not the owner of this force, i.e., that it is not his prerogative to direct it according to his own judgment, but on the contrary, that everything in life - and life itself - is completely dependent upon this spiritual and mysterious force (mistikos - which is, mystic) and, in the language of religion, it is called God.

The best things I find at random. It is almost uncanny that whenever I do a directed search (not only on the net but in whatever life situations) I rarely ever find anything - at least not what I whish I could find. This is such a pervasive characteristic of most of my searches that I am almost forced to conclude that the best thing is *not* to look but to wait for things to come my way in a totally chaotic and unexpected manner. This way it might be just the very thing.

Of course, directed search is still a favorite occupation - and it is most satisfactory when I don't expect too much from it. Which is perhaps just another way of saying the same thing: that things come my way when they want to, and there is just no use fretting about it.

I live in blindness. And when I am certain I know what I am doing and why - I am just as blind as ever and maybe even more so. Blindness as to what really guides my life, inner and outer - and this I call fate. I cannot know anything about fate and will never find out - the whole concept is itself only an inkling. This sole fact makes everything about my understanding of life, especially what I say and think and do - a dreadful pack of lies. Being so utterly limited and yet claiming understanding. But I have no other choice than to temporary indulge in these lies, with the everlasting caveat that it is all profoundly perishable - some day my deepest convictions may turn to ashes and my most sacred gods may fall to dust, and maybe this is the only glimmer of hope amidst general self-satisfaction and inexorable narrow-mindedness.

The talking ape is no less an ape for all its talk. Some truths are glimpsed in silence - and flicker out. It's kind of dark in here.

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