Empty Days

Saturday, January 24, 2004

A little venom

Sometimes I wonder whether it is important to give an account of one's reading (of Wittgenstein z.B.). It depends, I think. Somebody comes up with a paper on Kierkegaard-'n-Wittgenstein (I've referenced it somewhere here) and it's an interesting read in itself but, ultimately - what do you do with it? Most such endeavors, which generally come to us from academically minded folks, are aimed at public discussion. Basically, it's all destined for chatter. And I don't doubt for a second that this chatter can be really brilliant and even gripping, but after you've thrown off some of that steam, what remains? Maybe I am exceptionally stupid and uncurious but for me nothing ever remains from this sort of reads - it's as good as background noise in a crowded cafe. Table talk. And yet that is what "reading of" is supposed to lead to, eventually. The evolution of ideas through debate, or something like that.

Well, I'd like to wonder about that for a minute. Because I am not sure this is why people actually read philosophy. Let's be fair and presume that the vast majority of philosophy readers are not terribly intelligent - by which I mean that we can't really make sense of what it is we're dealing with. Were it otherwise, every other reader would be a Wittgenstein (or whoever) in his own right, and of course that doesn't happen that way. Yet, potentially, reading philosophy does imply an effort in personal thinking - and the fact that this effort remains paltry and inarticulate does not detract from the impetus to philosophize.

Perhaps there are people who read philosophy for entirely different reasons (at least that's what those many articles and papers seem to suggest) but I would contend that this is only the public face of philosophy-reading, and that every one of those humble (or not so humble) article-writers also derives something from his readings which he never mentions in print and does not dare talk about. That's the philosophizing part in him that "does not dare speak its name". And yet this is the only valuable part, the one that bears directly on philosophy rather than chatter. Is this a grand paradox or what?

I am not speaking in vain - I know exactly what I am talking about here. The uncanny fact that I've observed so many times is the impossibility of actually philosophizing with somebody engaged in article-writing, or to put it otherwise, somebody who is ashamed of his paltry personal thought and intends to cover it up with the fig-leaf of public philosophy-chatter. To this day I am profoundly amazed and dismayed by the fact that I have no idea (and no means of finding out) what this thought might be in my oldest friend who currently holds a Ph.D. in philosophy. It is indeed a paradox. All I can do is try and discover why it has to be this way.

And as an illustration I would recall something of a traumatizing and eye-opening event in my early encounter with academic inanity. I was then a great lover of literature, was good at and liked to do literary analysis and wrote insightful little papers on this and that, was much praised by various professors etc etc. And then it happened. At some point I discovered a direct quote in a modern writer from a Latin poet and the value of this discovery apparently resided in the fact that previously there was no evidence that this writer (poor guy) had read classical poets in the original. So I announced this to some of my profs and they all said: you should write a paper about this; and you should publish it too. I went away thinking how I might pull it off - and then it occured to me that there was absolutely and literally nothing to write about here. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. It had no importance, and to elevate it into importance would involve grand cheatery and stretching things to an incredible extent. This was a traumatic realisation because with it I saw the futility of all these miserable comings and goings and comparings and relatings and explainings that so many people, including myself, were engaged in - on the back of a really good writer, who never intended any of this awful-to-God futility to happen.

After all this time, I still shudder from the thought of it. May God forgive the academics.




Wittgenstein's "language-games" and "forms of life". Only a man who's been seriously divorced from humanity at some point could have come up with such a vision of things. There is something poignant about this philosophy - perhaps because it doesn't grow from pure intellect. Maybe I am crazy but I found myself gnashing my teeth over certain parts of "On Certainty". Why? Isn't it just a mind playing with ideas? Nops.




I can't allow myself to do anything I can do. I used to draw and was good at it (for my own intents and purposes). And most importantly - I enjoyed doing it. The act was always purely gratuitous and did not involve any value judgment or the need for it. As a matter of fact, I'd actually hide most of my stuff to keep it entirely clean from unwanted appreciation. What happened since? The fact is - I cannot allow myself to enjoy the act of drawing anymore. I really wish I knew why. What is this incredible taboo doing here all of a sudden.

The simplest explanation: since I have to brand myself as a total failure in every aspect of life, then naturally I cannot possibly let myself not be a failure in something that has no value. It is the old "you haven't done your lesson, you can't play - go to your room and learn the fucking lesson". Whether this "lesson" consists in creating a major corporation or obtaining a Ph.D. or starting a family or whatever else might be the case - it's still the same pattern: you can't play, go back to square one and try again. Fucking monopoly.

***

That makes me think of Marquis de Sade in jail. The old creep spent something like a total of 20 years in utter confinement. And that's where he created his opus magnus which makes for such a lively and enjoyable read you'd think he wrote it not in a dungeon but in a libertine palazzo. That's called "playing despite all odds".

Strangely enough, I must admit that discovering the actual writings of Marquis de Sade was once as much of a breakthrough as discovering Nietzsche (in youth) or Wittgenstein (today). I regret not being able to read Nietzsche in German - if only because I know the vast difference between de Sade's French prose and its various translations. A lot of that juice is lost on the way and you get hard porn with brains, but without that pinch of derisive elegance concealed in French rhetorical style of the period which smacks both of Voltaire, Roberspierre and ultimately Cicero. Too bad you were drooling over the wrong thing.




Quoting from Wittgenstein is like a game of musical chairs - he openly produces masses of pure drivel in the hope of occasionally chancing on something truly valuable. How do you separate chaff from wheat when one cannot have arisen without the other? The stamp "Wittgenstein" on every quote is like the stamp "Levi Strauss" on jeans made in a cheap malaysian factory because it is also produced in american factories. Brand overtakes value. The argument of authority is always something of a slight of hand.

***

Why do we rumage through a famous man's life, painstakingly collecting minute personal details. What are we trying to achieve? The man is dead, his words are transmitted in print. When he was alive people who met him and got the word directly from the man did not find it necessary to probe his life and personality in this way. Where is the difference?
When you are in the presence of a human being you figure out things about him from the way he acts and speaks. You get a sense of his personality from his mere presence. He might already be an important and valuable man - but still, you do not probe into every corner of his life. Does it mean you take his words at their face value and it is enough?

The chief difference between a man dead and a man alive is that you cannot debate a dead man - all you have is the dead letter of his words. He cannot tell you: I was wrong here, but here I was right "because", and then come up with an explanation perhaps based on some personal experience that did not transpire in his writings. Actual human dialogue is like that - not much of it can be accounted for ("quoted").

In the face of dead words we are perpetually at a loss as to why they were thought and written that way. During life nothing is ever really finished - something is always left unsaid and can still be said. This light is lost when death puts an end to thought.
Biographical research, even in its most absurd details, is essentially oriented towards recreating the simple presence of a living man, that lost light. It always fails of course, because no man is ever entirely resolved as only he himself knows.

As time goes by words take on their own life and drift away from the man who thought them up for reasons of his own.




A Russian ex-con once delivered this foul tirade which came to him so naturally, I figured it was high poetry for all its violence. Free translation: "I'll chop his dick into thin slices like a fucking zuccini."

Friday, January 23, 2004



This is my blog-it-all day, it seems. No matter. I think I frequently contradict myself in here. Is this "the art of holding two vastly conflicting opinions at the same time"? No - it's just the way my mind works, nothing artful about it.


Para normal trooper

Stumbled into raging blogosphere life via Emptybottle blog. However the link I ended up at was some uk e-zine where I had to witness yet again the mind-boggling fact of official (?) science staunchly denying any existence to telepathy. Yes, that one again. Every time I run into something that obtuse (and this is the face of science today, speaking of which) I just... I don't even know how to say this. I mean, anybody home? - knock knock.
Sheldrake, who moved beyond the scientific pale in the early 1980s by claiming that ideas and forms can spread by a mysterious force he called morphic resonance, kicked off the debate. (...) "Billions of perfectly rational people believe that they have had these experiences," he said.
...
Wolpert countered that telepathy was "pathological science", based on tiny, unrepeatable effects backed up by fantastic theories and an ad hoc response to criticism. "The blunt fact is that there's no persuasive evidence for it," he said. "An open mind is a very bad thing - everything falls out."
Whatever. Actually, there is a word for it and it's called *stone-walling*. It's when you stare at something pretty blatant and you say: hmm, well, too bad but I can't deal with it, I'm outta here, and btw - it doesn't exist because I can't explain it :-0

And then you realize that this is what science and the vulgar scientific Weltanschauung permeating much of our public world is all about - it's about creating a picture of the world that is picture-perfect. I.e. something that fits a certain designated frame, no matter how narrow that frame might be. The important thing is not to discover and understand, the important thing is to preserve the freaking frame. It's a mentality based on fear, quite simply.

Damn it. Wittgenstein again (and he had every reason to reflect on that issue): "science is conservative". Is it so hard to see? And yet we are under the illusion that science means progress. There's a big misunderstanding here somewhere :-0

***

From the same e-zine, on how we think during sleep:
The discovery lends credence to the popular maxim that sleep stimulates lateral thinking, says Jan Born of the University of Lübeck, Germany, who led the project.
Lateral thinking? I said it better (hehe).




Saw a tv report on CBC about a guy in Edmonton who's helping teens get off the street/drug life. Quite an amazing fellow. The striking thing about him is that he's entirely beyond and over moralizing discourse - and this is his freedom. He's unafraid - and has no need to judge.
In his spare time he paints and his art is dark and tortured. I'd say he sees to the bottom of what life really is - that it's not your peach-'n-cream variety, and that pursuit of happiness is actually pursuit of that inner freedom, a life-long struggle for liberation.
At 60 he is as young as a 20-yr old - plus all the wisdom of having gotten over himself for good.

One of the teens he rescued is now living a meaningful life. Her mother killed herself and the girl ended up on the streets at 14. It's that Oliver Twist story all over again. There is just no end to it, is there...



Fania Pascal on Wittgenstein

From the vivid and unassuming recollections of Wittgenstein by Fania Pascal. Some of the bits I found intriguing:
I think I should say at the outset that I know next to nothing about Wittgenstein's philosophy. Only the Tractatus has been published when I knew him. I tried to read it but soon abandoned the effort. My ignorance was a feather in my cap as far as Wittgenstein was concerned. In the Philosophical Investigations I can browse; I can read it as a collection of aphorisms. Some time in our acquaintance - and he must have been in an exceptionally amiable mood for me to ask and for him to answer patiently - I did say: "Why are you so sure your work is no earthly good for me?" He said, as far as I can remember: "Suppose you were trying to draw a chart of the progress of a hospital sister walking round her ward, then of another doing likewise on another floor, and finally, to produce *one* chart which would combine and illustrate their joint progress...?" I cried out: "Oh, I could never grasp it!"
(p.27)

His moral and practical influence on those around him strikes one as at least as significant as his work. Was it his fault that he left an imprint on the character and manner of speech of some, so that a decade after his death Roy and I recognized it in a new acquaintance, a non-philosopher? I left Roy talking to the visitor and went to make some coffee. When I came back I heard them talking about a picture in the National Gallery. The young man was saying: "You mean the one that hangs in room number so-and-so, on the left as you enter the door. Its size about..." We pricked up our ears. Soon it transpired that, yes, he had been a friend of Wittgenstein's. In spite of his stern and difficult character he had innumerable friends in unexpected places. (p.37)

Before leaving for Norway [1936] he made a tour of Brittany by car with (as he told me) a newly-acquired friend who knew the area well and was an excellent driver. Wittgenstein had evidently enjoyed the trip. "My friend is a cripple", he added, "lame in one leg." I remember this detail of a second lame friend, for it struck me as odd. (p.45)
Btw, Mrs.Pascal got a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Berlin. Amusing :-0


Death Rover

Saw a film on tv yesterday Living with the dead - well, actually it's a two-part mini-series and it stars Ted Danson (he's mustered some memorable performance in it, surprisingly enough). It's a really gripping paranormal drama and the gripping effect is due in no small measure to the ingenious cinematography of this tv flick - I would say that it's vastly better than "The Matrix", because The Matrix is a huge humbug in terms of its philosophical content and no amount of special effects can hide that fact. I haven't seen "The Sixth Sense" - but I am pretty sure it's only nominally similar to this one here (just like The Exorcist stuff etc).

So what it is about death that makes such films credible? Of course, the thing here is that it's not just a film scripted by some money-hungry hollywood fool - it refers to real-life experiences and it would be a sign of opiniated ignorance to pretend that it's anything new or that "it doesn't exist". It's not new and it does exist - it's an ancient phenomenon that keeps repeating itself in various people. Science or no science, rare or not so rare. The facts about death are this: that we don't know anything about it, beyond the fact that the body goes cold at a certain point. Everything else about death is uncharted territory and you can't very well send a Mars rover there. A Death Rover? Sure - bring on the budget.

So basically that's what's disturbing about this kind of films - it speculates about things nobody knows shit about and that keep happening regardless. What do you say to this? Suppose you accept the hypothesis - yet you can't really build any sort of theory out of it, or a solid vision of the world. All you can say is - I don't know. Is it evidence? Of what then? Impossible to say. You can't verify it, because most likely than not you're not a medium. And even if you actually encounter one such guy and see for yourself, it still won't bring you anywhere because the guy himself has no theory to go with it - you can't build theory out of evidence that can't be reproduced in any controlled experiments. You don't know the laws of such evidence - laws and theories are constituted through repeated experience, not through experience happening wildly and out of the blue. Gather a bunch of mediums in a room and you still won't figure out shit. That's the gripping phenomenology of it.

Or something worse: suppose you *are* a medium. Suppose this is happening to you, wildly and out of the blue. What happens now? You're on your own. You are dealing with evidence you can't properly deny and it's entirely up to your own dim wits to make any sense of it all.The body of knowledge is absent, or if it exists somewhere in recondite form it's really hard to come by. You're your own scientist and discoverer. You're the Death rover and you're probbing really strange rock out there. And there is no NASA to stand by you. The proper name for this film should be - Alone with the dead.

Meantime, I am still engrossed in Wittgenstein's On Certainty. I can't think why they classified this flick as "science fiction" :-0


Forms of life

I clearly realized the other day that, at this point, it is entirely impossible for me to *meet* people - there is no ground between me and the world for another person to stand on. I can create ad-hoc "platforms" to bridge the gap from time to time, but this sort of construction is so flimsy it can't really take the weight of another adult.

What I am trying to say is that there's almost no common space left in my mind where I could come and find other people living there. Whatever there is, is just way too nebulous.

In French there's an old word for madness - alienation. It has the same meaning in English, and it is the perfect definition for what I am observing here. The chief feature of madness is *mental* alienation from the rest of humanity. Between the world as you see (live) it and the world as seen (lived) by others there must be some common space left - and it is this space that allows whatever communication. That's where you meet people - in this mental space - not in a supermarket or a bookstore or internet or on the train or whatever.

When Wittgenstein speaks of "forms of life" I certainly have a direct understanding of what he means here.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Life on two wheels

One of my long-standing longings (I can't call it a project) is to go cross-country on a solo bicycle tour. Originally I wanted to get myself a motor bike, but this doesn't look feasible - it costs too much and needs too much care, and I like to keep things simple. If I don't go on that tour either this year or the next, I'll never go - time is beginning to take its toll and I am getting out of shape. The truth is though - I don't really care if I go or not. And yet, I won't be surprised if it comes about somehow - probably in a crazy "happen-what-may" style, which is my preferred modus operandi - whenever I try to plan anything it always turns horribly wrong, planning is just something I shouldn't do.

Normally, good planning is supposed to make one feel more confident and better prepared for eventualities. That's not how it works with me. The more I plan the less I believe in whatever it is I am planning - and all my preparations have a tendency to miss the array of eventualities that tend to actually befall me. Relying on my good (or bad) star is always the best thing to do in the end. And not expect anything to go in any particular way, because it won't. Never.


Maher Arar

Today there was also some more news of the Maher Arar story - the Syrian-born Canadian who got wrongfully arrested as an alleged terrorist on a transit flight in the USA, and instead of being brought home to Canada (as he hasn't been charged with anything) was deported directly to Syria where they jailed him and served him some mighty torture for over a year. Now this is a landmark story - a clear-cut case of wholesale abuse of human rights through those new homeland security laws, both in US and in Canada (that's very important - it's not just a US-based problem at all at this point). In other words, this is what happens when you are all too willing to overlook the innocent while rounding up the guilty.

The striking thing about Arar's case is that it brought home a few things to a lot of people:
1) that *all* naturalized Canadians (Arar came here as a teen with his family and is a software engineer, an obvious middle-class geek) are not *really* Canadian - so you get deported to your country of birth, and Canada is slow to see anything wrong with it (Arar's wife freezed her ass in front on the Parliament for weeks, trying to bring attention to the fate of her hubby while he was being mangled in a Syrian jail). Somehow I always knew that but hoped it wasn't true.
2) that when you pass laws that prohibit any sort of independant examination in case of accusations by a government body (police of whatever denomination), you are effectively and terminally depriving the individual of any sort of meaningful defense against - get this - mere administrative error. There was a bad interpretation of intelligence in Arar's case, as is quite obvious at this stage. As a result the man underwent a year in hell, and is now effectively deprived of any means to defend his good-name - because current laws prevent discovery of these *unfortunate errors* by police. No, you can't go around yelling "3000 innocents died on 9/11" and thus why not sacrifice some other innocents so we might grab the guilty? That's a wrong frame of mind to dismiss this "difficulty".

It's good that they aired this on CBS (the 60 minutes II) - the story has been making waves in Canada of course, and for journalists on both sides of the border this is now a joint entreprise, which is important because it is a known fact that Canadian media have virtually no access to some of the stuff American media are able to get to through their sources. The one advantage Canada has though is that we can air almost whatever controversial story we want - and not be wantonly branded anti-patriotic or anti-semitic or you name it.
Case in point: a wife of an American military engineer in Iraq was interviewed by CBC recently where she told interesting things - that her husband got desillusioned with the mission in Iraq when he worked to restore the shattered tv transmitters in Baghdad only to see american military propaganda hit the waves instead of the promised free-speech environment; that because of her own vocal opposition to the war she had been on international tv programs but no american station would have her (or anybody like her); that when finally some of the current military come home from Iraq and are able to speak freely again, the truth about the situation over there will come out one way or another (though much too late of course), etc etc.

It is all very interesting. And kind of absurd too - that we should be able to hear this woman out here in Canada, while she wished she could say all this to an American audience. But it's impossible - and in some sense american tv does bring to mind radio Rwanda: the impact of what is said on tv might be too great, so it's either pro-war angle throughout, or they'll have to pull out the troops from Iraq right now.
A black-and-white mentality.
Perhaps, if dissenting opinions could be heard on american tv, some correctives could be made to the american policies in Iraq - and things might even turn out for the better? But this is really hard to imagine. Television just doesn't work that way at all.

There was also an interview with some reservist who went awol so as not to be sent to Iraq. He said something sensible: before becoming a soldier you were a moral being and you don't just forsake your moral convictions because you're a soldier - you still have to do what is right. So if you don't agree with the actions of your army, it is better to avoid service than serve a cause that is wrong.

In other words, the question of Iraq remains questionable.


The Ambiguity of Good

Caught another interview with general Romeo Dallaire (not Dellaire, as I misspelled in some earlier entry). This time on some really obscure and extremely local community channel - this man has perfect humility in terms of where to spread the word. And basically, while it's supposed to be about Rwanda, it's actually just as much about the man himself - this single man literally incorporated the whole of this genocide, in the way it crushed his mind and in the way he can't get over it and doesn't want to. That's what makes his interviews so compelling - that it's all lived and suffered over 100%, the politics of the whole thing literally pale in comparison. It's easier to forget politics than to disregard a personal account of events. Politics are a construct - a human story is not.

Strangely enough, this is very close to a Holocaust-survivor experience here. Even though Dallaire wasn't the one getting killed etc. In the Nazi final solution there was a certain SS officer, a Catholic, who developped the same syndrom - of the helpless witness getting crushed by the situation and running around and waving his arms and trying to bring attention to the fact. That was Kurt Gerstein. An account of his efforts was published in 1967 by Saul Friedlander (The Ambiguity of Good), and I happen to have the book which has on the blurb: The full story of the S.S. officer who daily risked his life to alert the Pope and the neutral countries to Hitler's extermination drive. Somehow this is very similar to Dallaire's efforts to alert the UN about the impending genocide in Rwanda - not succeeding, and nearly losing his mind in the process.

The basic facts about Dallaire are these: he was a proud and successful military commander with a shiny glory path to the top-brass just ahead of him, he was sent to Rwanda on a seemingly routine UN peace-keeping mission, instead he found himself in the middle of overt preparations for mass-murder, he tried to do something about it and appealed to his UN commanders for help, nothing came out of it, he stayed in Rwanda through the killings (800 000 people in 90 days) doing whatever he could to save the few thousands he could rescue and not being able to do anything at all for most, after which he was recalled back home a broken man, was declared unfit for army service and went down a spiral of PTSD, drinking and suicide intentions. Only after 7 years of this wrestling with guilt and nightmares was he finally able to do something about it - that is, talk publicly and vocally about what happened in Rwanda.
Kurt Gerstein never got that chance - he killed himself in the Allied prison in 1945, after writing down confessions of what he had seen. Apparently he was not entirely in his right mind at the time - Dallaire would understand that.

Something Dallaire explained in this interview, about the power of radio in African countries - "it's like the word of God to them". Immesurably more powerful than TV in the West. Or perhaps it is just that we cannot imagine blatant appeals on tv to kill our neighbours - try to imagine something like that, what would happen if Dan Rather personally and persuasively asked you to kill those of your relatives who don't belong to the right party or something? Nops, too much of a stretch. Not in Africa though.
Dallaire wanted UN to help knock down the radio transmitters in Rwanda before it was too late - and was answered that Rwanda was a sovereign country and had the freedom to use its air waves to discretion. And so they did. Of course - Rwanda is no different from France, it can use its air waves - and so on and so forth.

So basically the moral of the story is this: it takes one really mangled man to go around and knock on your door to bring home the basic facts of life - that this world is full of the most horrible things and all you can do is stand up to whatever befalls you, even if there's no UN or law or anybody to back you up. It works on grand political scale, and it works on small-time personal scale. Or it doesn't work at all.

[Interesting details: Dallaire's mother is from Holland, and though he grew up in French Canada, he spent such a long time in the military - which is largely anglo - that he speaks a hesitant French with an english accent. His moral sense is much more Dutch than anglo-saxon - no room for compromise whatsoever.]

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Gone and going

There are beautiful sights sometimes - just moments where things look so beautiful. And every time I know I will not remember, the moment will pass and nothing will remain - no matter how beautiful. I could say such experience of beauty is not enriching and doesn't reach very deep, it will not sustain you when you need to think of something with some light in it.
These moments are nothing but water under the bridge - and so is much of my life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

How to make Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee is one of the oldest ways of preparing coffee.

For 2 cups:

Put two soupspoons of very fine grind in an ibrik or other recipient. Add two soupspoons of sugar, 2 grains of cardamon and two cups of cold water. Put the mixture on the stove and, as soon as it starts to boil, remove from heat. Put aside and let stand for one or two minutes, repeat process three times. Before serving, add a few drops of cold water to allow all the grounds to settle at the bottom of the coffee- pot.

The coffee is ready to drink. When you are done, you can proceed to discover your future in the coffee grind.


The truth about cafes

There are things I don't mention in this blog - mostly because it doesn't really matter whether I mention them or not.

On the other hand, talking as I do provides a strange release. I don't know how this works. But the mere act of expounding certain ideas that float around in my mind, taking up space, clears the way for something else. And I don't know what that else is.

In a way I created this blog as a world where I can exist somehow. It's a place I go to. Years ago I used to go to cafes and sit there and watch the crowd, just be. I don't do that anymore - and not because I stopped liking coffee. I still do, though I don't brew it at home: it's never as good as in cafes and it's too much trouble, so I just do the Turkish coffee thing and never wash the pot afterwards, which is the great advantage here. I do it all wrong too, because I pour boiling water in the pot and let the coffee sit for a few minutes. Apparently, this is bad for me:
When preparing Turkish coffee, the water is heated but it not boiled. Not boiling coffee stops the caffeine from dissolving into the coffee.
Well, I've tried to do it the right way, but the benefits are minimal and the coffee runs over all the time (and I am absent-minded enough that it's been a constant problem), and I drink coffee for caffeine, so what do you expect.

Actually, on the subject of going to cafes. I know exactly what it is - and it's not an innocent endeavor, nops. A friend of mine, a budding philosopher at the time, used to go to cafes a lot and it meant a whole world to her. In fact, that cafe she went to acquired a profound symbolic meaning that later catapulted her into the higher realms of academia - a cafe is a a trampoline for conquering the world, you sit there and you brew your half-conscious plan for world-domination, it's an experience of personal power-in-waiting, and people stop going to cafes for two reasons only: because they've made it or because they've dropped the towel.

Don't think I am joking here. Everyone I ever knew who went to sit in cafes, did it along those lines. And should I mention that in France it is a real national disease? Especially in Paris - where you either make it or you don't (just like NYC, isn't it). And that's why there are so many cafes there.


Reality vs dreams

Waking up exhausted - that's a bad sign. It means things happen in dreams that are a thousand times worse that anything in real life. Perhaps something like anxiety. I am not an anxious type but that's because it all gets tucked away under the carpet. And then I pay the price in sleep. I feel like I've spent the night pushing a huge boulder up the hill and back again - all my muscles ache from the effort. I need a rest.

***

I think I should move from here as soon as possible. This is a bad environment, entirely hostile and getting worse by the year. Which means that I hate it more and more, and the more I hate it the harder it is to bear. I wish I could just not notice - and sometimes I do achieve that blissful state - but it can't be relied upon, I relapse, and it all collapses on me like a house of cards. Debris.

***

The curious thing is that there is absolutely nowhere to go. And this is an illusion. But this illusion is more powerful than reality - in fact, I don't know of any other reality than this. And it's an illusion. And how impossible it is to prove that it is nothing but.

***

Wittgenstein, who was a notorious freak by any measure, confirmed one of my personal observations - that it is impossible to understand people with whom you have nothing in common (and this simply means a different background). The necessary communicational understanding is reduced to bare essentials - it does not merit the name. Therefore everything exists superficially - friendships, actions, words. Because it's all so shallow it's entirely disposable. It's almost too easy to walk away. And then where do you go? And this is how the curious thing arises - that there's nowhere to go. Perhaps this is worse than a dream.

***

I think I found the difference between yourself-in-a-dream and yourself-in-reality. There is a subtle difference, so subtle it is frequently missed and dreaming is "equated" with reality. In fact, the difference is the same as between yourself-now and yourself-in-memory. Memory and dreaming have the same quality: something like imagination, where representation is self-observed throughout. In the now-reality you do not observe yourself - and therefore you do not imagine yourself. This is the only difference.

False memories are a related phenomenon - very little in the mind precludes the formation of false memories, because it's all imagination one way or another, and the criteria of authenticity are flimsy at best. The difference between false memories and actual memories is minimal. Which is why it is such a common-place occurence to remember a dream and take it to be a memory of real events.

This confusion between memory and reality-now can cause havoc on the witness stand - where people are easily accused by eye-witnesses and go to jail for murder or assault. It is extremely difficult to admit that all of your reality as it exists in memory becomes a matter of imagination. As such, reality-now is always gone forever.

It is this that I was trying to get at when I said that miracles as they occur in reality-now, are no different from you taking up a glass and filling it with water - that magnified appraisal of the miraculous happens post-factum and is based on memory, which is imagination. Reality-now, whatever it happens to be, is not observed.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Unified blogsearch engine

Read a big discussion in Delacour's blog about power-monging in the blogosphere and how blog communities are created and who gets popular or not etc etc. On the whole everything seems like it is in the big world out there - I didn't notice anything specific to blogging. So far my simple view of this is that if you want to be popular, you will apply the necessary effort and acquire the necessary tactics to get there - and if you don't really see this as a goal, you won't apply and you won't acquire. For instance, people with generous and active disposition tend to have a vastly bigger readership than those with opposite traits of character. I don't think this is unfair :-0

What I would like to see though (and maybe I am not looking hard enough) is a unified blog-search engine - a Google that would google blogs of all types and provenances and nothing else. Currently there are a lot of such engines, none of which looks very comprehensive. Technorati has a lot of blogs collected in its system, but it still can't do a search. Same for Blogger etc. I wonder - if there's something like weblog.com, which is a big enough collecting point, why can't there be a search based on that too?

Don't I sound like H.G.Wells here or what.


From late-night thoughts

In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, there is an interesting bit where Raskolnikov simultaneously agonizes about having to cowardly avoid his landlady because of unpaid rent, and being a "trembling creature" because he can't quite bring himself to go out and commit murder - in order to prove to himself that he is the master of his own will and a superior human being.

The blatant juxtaposition of these seemingly incompatible planes - the everyday fears of the mind and grand existential ideas - is almost too true to reality. Where's the truth of the matter: in the all-conquering dreams of the spirit or in the said spirit worrying about unpaid rent?





I keep thinking of this title I saw somewhere - The closing of the American mind. It's a really good title, especially if you take out "American" and put in something more specific and non-political.


The alternative would be unthinkable

In the film Awakenings, Robin Williams the doctor goes to see an older colleague (Max von Sudow) who's done some research into that particular kind of catatonia. And while they are viewing some old footage of these catatonic patients, Williams asks von Sudow: do you think they remain conscious while paralyzed? To which Sudow replies: of course not - the alternative would be unthinkable!

This is a striking phrase - the alternative would be unthinkable. Because in a very obvious sense the alternative is thinkable and is pretty much the basis of human condition as we know it - that we are conscious of our utter unfreedom in the face of physical laws of nature. There is nothing we can do about this state we are in, and yet we have the obnoxious luxury of appraising our condition in its full splendor.

You can avoid noticing it only for so long.


What is "spiritual"

It would be nice if I could take off my head and put it in storage somewhere.

Saw a tv program on schizophrenics. For once it wasn't about those "voices in my head" but a description of others symptoms - less picturesque yet more devastating. An interesting remark from a researcher. He said: I can't help believing that when we finally get to really understand the origins and workings of this disease, by the same token we will understand something fundamental about human consciousness - because schizophrenia impacts the very structure of personality, destroys the "self" in fact, and we have no clue how this occurs.

I've long been wondering about this from another angle. There is all this talk about spirituality, and how a human being has this superior capacity to get beyond the self and blah-blah. As a matter of fact, our whole view of what it means to be human rests on these ideas - they might be old but we still think in these terms, under various "modern" guises as well.
So my problem is this: what abou the crazy folks, to put it bluntly? Those whose rationality has been destroyed, who can't make any sort of sense of what's happening to them, of the world etc. How do all these nice ideas of spirituality and whatever higher or lower understanding apply to them?

It seems to me - none of this applies. Understanding doesn't apply - and where there is no understanding, there's no free-will, no morals, no road-to-God, no inner-search, nothing. The whole idea of "spirituality" goes to hell with these people - and it then appears that what we really mean by "spiritual" is nothing different from "mental" or "intellectual". Take away your mind, and suddenly you are not a spiritual being anymore - you're a piece of machinery in need of repare to restore its self-directional dellusions.

In the olden days, "spiritual" had a subtly and fundamentally different meaning, which had nothing to do with your mind or the lack of it - it meant that a Spirit could visit you somehow, not that you could reach out and grab the spiritual in yourself. Basically it meant something well outside the mind and not dependant on it. This also entailed that your mind was in fact manipulated by outside Spirit, or even spirits - so if you had lost your wits to some mental disease, it was thought that some spirits came and destroyed your wits. And from that it is easy to see why our meaning of "spiritual" has changed as it did - and became dependant on our rationality. Because we don't fathom nowdays that bad spirits are the cause of schizophrenia. But at the very same time we can't extricate what is mental from what is spiritual anymore - and in essence we are stuck with a bastardized meaning of "spiritual", which at this point effectively means something like "paranormal" or worse: a variety of mental experience (cf. W.James "The varieties of religious experience").

So what do we really mean by "spiritual" nowdays? Nothing at all, I'd say - it's a cover-word, a misnomer.

Basically we have no clue at all what we're talking about here, and this despite a huge history that comes with this word - but all this wealth of meaning doesn't help in the least. Like it or not, we can't make sense of science vs spirituality. And the more we try to reconcile the two, the more confused we get. In that particular battle, the scientific rationalistic view, insufficient as it is, gets the upper hand - and this is most obvious in the way such words as "spiritual" gradually change their meaning to accommodate our understanding of humanity: that to be human means to be rational, and nothing else.

Conclusion: this world is a nightmare.

***

Sure enough found a confirmation of this dilemma in TSO's post where he reports that:
Pope Pius XII wrote that "Christian sanctity in a soul is inconceivable if a man does not start out with a healthy mind, well balanced in its activities."
Better not lose your mind or you're going to hell, chap. This is unsurmountable, just like Aristotle's law of contradiction. And all those other 'spiritual laws'. And Christianity is so not alone in this.





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