Excerpts & Passages, Part 2
In Man And His Symbols (1964, pp.48-49), Carl Jung offers this telling observation about the many people he had either known or counseled over the course of his life:
"I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. I was also surprised to find many intelligent and wide-awake people who lived (as far as one could make out) as if they had never learned to use their sense organs: They did not see the things before their eyes, hear the words sounding in their ears, or notice the things they touched or tasted. Some lived without being aware of the state of their own bodies.
"There are others who seemed to live in a most curious condition of consciousness, as if the state they had arrived at today were final, with no possibility of change, or as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever. They seemed devoid of all imagination, and they entirely and exclusively depended upon their sense-perception. Chances and possibilities did not exist in their world, and in 'today' there was no real 'tomorrow'. The future was just the repetition of the past."
"In the situation of the artist today there are both analogies to and differences from that of the scientist; but it is the differences which are the most striking and which raise the problems that touch most on the evil of our day.
"For the artist it is not enough that he communicate with others who are expert in his own art. Their fellowship, their understanding, and their appreciation may encourage him; but that is not the end of his work, nor its nature. The artist depends on a common sensibility and culture, on a common meaning of symbols, on a community of experience and common ways of describing and interpreting it. He need not write for everyone or paint or play for everyone. But his audience must be man; it must be man, and not a specialized set of experts among his fellows. Today that is very difficult. Often the artist has an aching sense of great loneliness, for the community to which he addresses himself is largely not there; the traditions and the culture, the symbols and the history, the myths and the common experience, which it is his function to illuminate, to harmonize, and to portray, have been dissolved in a changing world.
"There is, it is true, an artificial audience maintained to moderate between the artist and the world for which he works: the audience of the professional critics, popularizers, and advertisers of art. But though...the critic fulfills a necessary present function and introduces some order and some communication between the artist and the world, he cannot add to the intimacy and the directness and the depth with which the artist addresses his fellow men.
"To the artist's loneliness there is a complementary great and terrible barrenness in the lives of men. They are deprived of the illumination, the light and tenderness and insight of an intelligible interpretation, in contemporary terms, of the sorrows and wonders and gaieties and follies of man's life. This may be in part offset, and is, by the great growth of technical means for making the art of the past available. But these provide a record of past intimacies between art and life; even when they are applied to the writing and painting and composing of the day, they do not bridge the gulf between a society, too vast and too disordered, and the artist trying to give meaning and beauty to its parts."
--- J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Open Mind
"The older you become, the less you think about the connections you've already established. Table, cow, sky, stream, stone, tree, they've all been studied. Now they just get handled. Objects, the harmonic range of invention, completely unappreciated, no more truck with variation, deepening, gradation. You just try to work out the big connections. Suddenly you look into the macro-structure of the world, and you discover it: a vast ornament of space, nothing else. Humble backgrounds, vast replications -- you see you were always lost. As you get older, thinking becomes a tormenting reference mechanism. No merit to it. I say 'tree,' and I see huge forests. I say 'river,' and I see every river. I say 'house,' and I see cities with their seas of roofs. I say 'snow,' and I see oceans of it. A thought sets off the whole thing. Where it takes art is to think small as well as big, to be present on every scale."
--- From Thomas Bernhard's novel Frost
If there is no longer an ethic or theory of the meaning and value of life to which we can subscribe, what are we left with? The suggestibility of whatever is, the fads of culture, the presumed goodness of appearances. We are free to believe that the smiling anchorlady on TV is good; that the bright objects in the window-display are good; that a cold, desolate city block is good -- or, if we cannot bring ourselves to such a conclusion, those things simply are and we are condemned to live out our life alongside (and in addition to) them.
Walter Lippmann offers this thought in A Preface To Morals (1929):
...the modern man who has ceased to believe, without ceasing to be credulous, hangs, as it were, between heaven and earth, and is at rest nowhere. There is no theory of the meaning and value of events which he is compelled to accept, but he is none the less compelled to accept the events. There is no moral authority to which he must turn now, but there is coercion in opinions, fashions and fads. There is for him no inevitable purpose in the universe, but there are elaborate necessities, physical, political, economic. He does not feel himself to be an actor in a great and dramatic destiny, but he is subject to the massive powers of our civilization, forced to adopt their pace, bound to their routine, entangled in their conflicts. He can believe what he chooses about this civilization. He cannot, however, escape the compulsion of modern events.
"The state of our whole life is estrangement from others and ourselves, because we are estranged from the Ground of our being, because we are estranged from the origin and aim of our life. And we do not know where we have come from, or where we are going. We are separated from the mystery, the depth, and the greatness of our existence. We hear the voice of that depth; but our ears are closed. We feel that something radical, total, and unconditioned is demanded of us; but we rebel against it, try to escape its urgency, and will not accept its promise.
"We cannot escape, however. If that something is the Ground of our being, we are bound to it for all eternity, just as we are bound to ourselves and to all other life. We always remain in the power of that from which we are estranged. That fact brings us to the ultimate death of sin: separated and yet bound, estranged and yet belonging, destroyed and yet preserved, the state which is called despair. Despair means that there is no escape. Despair is the 'sickness unto death.' But the terrible thing about the sickness of despair is that we cannot be released, not even through open or hidden suicide. For we all know that we are bound eternally and inescapeably to the Ground of our being. The abyss of separation is not always visible. But it has become more visible to our generation than to the preceding generations, because of our feeling of meaninglessness, emptiness, doubt, and cynicism -- all expressions of despair, of our separation from the roots and the meaning of our life. Sin in its most profound sense, sin as despair, abounds amongst us."
--- Paul Tillich, quoted in J.A.T. Robinson, Honest To God (1963)
a childhood, limitless and without
The one bent becomes the bender,
then alone in cold, light, open space,
Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke (found at "Uncollected Poems")
"...[L]onely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness -- in fact there exist today support- and social groups for persons with precisely these attributes. Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly. Let's call the average U.S. lonely person Joe Briefcase. Joe Briefcase fears and loathes the strain of the special self-consciousness which seems to afflict him only when other real human beings are around, staring, their human sense-antennae abristle. Joe B. fears how he might appear, come across, to watchers. He chooses to sit out the enormously stressful U.S. game of appearance poker."
--- David Foster Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram: Television & U.S. Fiction," in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (1997)
Isn't it sometimes the case -- maybe often the case -- that we decide to do something and then later act in a way that is at odds with the decision? Or maybe we decide to do something but for whatever reason can't or won't do it. Sometimes behavior does not follow the orders of thinking; the two can be quite at odds with one another. This conflict is described very well by Bernhard Schlink in his acclaimed novel The Reader (1997; translated by Carol Brown Janeway):
...I think, I reach a conclusion, I turn the conclusion into a decision, and then I discover that acting on the decision is something else entirely, and that doing so may proceed from the decision, but then again it may not. Often enough in my life I have done things I had not decided to do. Something -- whatever that may be -- goes into action; "it" goes to the woman I don't want to see anymore, "it" makes the remark to the boss that costs me my head, "it" keeps on smoking although I have decided to quit, and then quits smoking just when I've accepted the fact that I'm a smoker and always will be. I don't mean to say that thinking and reaching decisions have no influence on behavior. But behavior does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behavior, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.
Below is an excerpt from the last chapter of Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1952, trans. by H.M. Parshley):
"The advantage man enjoys, which makes itself felt from his childhood, is that his vocation as a human being in no way runs counter to his destiny as a male. Through the identification of phallus and transcendence, it turns out that his social and spiritual successes endow him with a virile prestige. He is not divided. Whereas it is required of woman that in order to realize her femininity she must make herself object and prey, which is to say that she must renounce her claims as sovereign subject. It is this conflict that especially marks the situation of the emancipated woman. She refuses to confine herself to her role as female, because she will not accept mutilation; but it would also be a mutilation to repudiate her sex. Man is a human being with sexuality; woman is a complete individual, equal to the male, only if she too is a human being with sexuality. To renounce her femininity is to renounce a part of her humanity...
"In order to be a complete individual, on an equality with man, woman must have access to the masculine world as does the male to the feminine world, she must have access to the other; but the demands of the other are not symmetrical in the two symmetrical cases. Once attained, fame and fortune, appearing like immanent qualities, may increase woman's sexual attractiveness; but the fact that she is a being of independent activity wars against her femininity, and this she is aware of. The independent woman -- and above all the intellectual, who thinks about her situation -- will suffer, as a female, from an inferiority complex; she lacks leisure for such minute beauty care as that of the coquette whose sole aim in life is to be seductive; follow the specialists' advice as she may, she will never be more than an amateur in the domain of elegance. Feminine charm demands that transcendence, degraded into immanence, appear no longer as anything more than a subtle quivering of the flesh; it is necessary to be spontaneously offered prey...
"If [the intelligent woman] has trouble in pleasing, it is because she is not, like her slavish little sisters, pure will to please; the desire to seduce, lively as it may be, has not penetrated to the marrow of her bones. As soon as she feels awkward, she becomes vexed at her abjectness; she wants to take revenge by playing the game with masculine weapons: she talks instead of listening, she displays subtle thoughts, strange emotions; she contradicts the man instead of agreeing with him, she tries to get the best of him...But the challenging attitude, very common among American women, for example, irritates men more often than it conquers them; and there are some men, besides, who bring it upon themselves by their own defiant air. If they would be willing to love an equal instead of a slave -- as, it must be added, do those among them who are at once free from arrogance and without an inferiority complex -- women would not be as haunted as they are by concern for their femininity; they would gain in naturalness, in simplicity, and they would find themselves women again without taking so much pains, since, after all, that is what they are."
"...once upon a time we felt a need to worship something which lay beyond the visible world. Beginning in the seventeenth century we tried to substitute a love of truth for a love of God, treating the world described by science as a quasi divinity. Beginning at the end of the eighteenth century we tried to substitute a love of ourselves for a love of scientific truth, a worship of our own deep spiritual or poetic nature, treated as one more quasi divinity...[perhaps we are getting to] the point where we no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi divinity, where we treat everything -- our language, our conscience, our community -- as a product of time and chance."
-- Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
"There is no doubt, it seems to me, that there have been profound changes in the experience of man in the last thousand years. In some ways this is more evident than changes in the patterns of his behavior. There is everything to suggest that man experienced God. Faith was never a matter of believing. He existed, but of trusting, in the presence that was experienced and known to exist as a self-validating datum. It seems likely that far more people in our time experience neither the presence of God, nor the presence of his absence, but the absence of his presence."
-- R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
Can the stage of not seeing anything as a "quasi divinity" be itself substituted by a still less exalted stage? As Rorty suggests, there has been in modern times a sort of downgrading of the objects of our reverence: first there was God; then there was truth; then there were humanistic ideals; today many of us live in a state of agnostic apathy, perhaps a little too aware of the inadequateness of all belief systems, be they religious, political or philosophical. Perhaps there is very little vivacity in us, and we turn perpetually to the goings-on of culture to feel alive or a little less alone.
How then is this "movement toward the less exalted" continued? Or to put it in Laingian terms, is there an absence even starker than the "absence of God's presence"? Has the nihilism Nietzsche wrote about passed on its genes -- is there a nihilism on the horizon that will make the earlier forms seem charming by comparison?
-- Tim Ruggiero, 4/1/09
A young poet once wrote Virginia Woolf despairing of the era in which he found himself, unsure of his aim at a time when certain experts -- "necrophilists," Woolf described them -- had proclaimed the death of poetry. Woolf advised the young man to avoid a brooding introspection, to look out at the world with fresh and interested eyes, and most importantly of all, to see his life's work as a vital continuation of the efforts of his predecessors and as an example and inspiration for those who would follow him. Men like Shakespeare, Donne, Keats, Hopkins, and Wordsworth had run an excellent relay race, handing the baton of thoughtfulness off to their successors; those like this young man, Woolf suggested, were similarly obliged to hand the baton off to the next group of men. (The suggestion calls to mind Camus' excellent thought that the absurd man is someone who does nothing for the eternal.) Here is a smidgen of the advice she dispensed in "Letter to a Young Poet":
"...as it is of the utmost importance that readers should be amused, writers acquiesce. They dress themselves up. They act their parts. One leads; the other follows. One is romantic, the other realist. One is advanced, the other out of date. There is no harm in it, so long as you take it as a joke, but once you believe in it, once you begin to take yourself seriously as a leader or as a follower, as a modern or as a conservative, then you become a self-conscious, biting, and scratching little animal whose work is not of the slighest value or importance to anybody. Think of yourself rather as something much humbler and less spectacular, but to my mind far more interesting -- a poet in whom live all the poets of the past, from whom all poets in time to come will spring...
"As for fame, look I implore you at famous people; see how the waters of dullness spread around them as they enter; observe their pomposity, their prophetic airs; reflect that the greatest poets were anonymous; think how Shakespeare cared nothing for fame; how Donne tossed his poems into the wastepaper basket; write an essay giving a single instance of any modern English writer who has survived the disciples and the admirers, the autograph hunters and the interviewers, the dinners and the luncheons, the celebrations and the commemorations with which English society so effectively stops the mouths of its singers and silences their songs."
A friend of George Santayana's once confided to the philosopher that he had long been burdened by the suspicion that life may not be worthwhile after all. He asked Santayana to consider life from "the viewpoint of the grave." This is what Santayana wrote in reply:
What you call the point of view of the grave is what I should call the point of view of the easy chair. [That is, the point of view of detached philosophic contemplation.] From that the universal joke is indeed very funny. But a man in his grave is not only apathetic, but also invulnerable. That is what you forget. Your dead man is not merely amused, he is also brave, and if his having nothing to gain makes him impartial his having nothing to lose makes him free. "Is it worth while after all?" you ask. What a simple-hearted question. Of course it isn't worth while. Do you suppose when God made up his mind to create this world after his own image, he thought it was worth while? I wouldn't make such an imputation on his intelligence. Do you suppose he existed there in his uncaused loneliness because it was worth while? Did Nothing ask God before God existed, whether he thought it would be worth while to try life for a while? or did Nothing have to decide the question? Do you suppose the slow, painful, nasty, bloody process, by which things in this world grow, is worth having for the sake of the perfection of a moment? Did you come into the world because you thought it worth while? No more do you stay in it because you do. The idea of demanding that things should be worth doing is a human impertinence.
Santayana's friend broaches the subject again in a later letter, and Santayana has this to say:
The world may have little in it that is good: granted. But that little is really and inalienably good. Its value cannot be destroyed because of the surrounding evil.
These passages (and title) are taken from an essay Lionel Trilling once wrote about Santayana, "That Smile of Parmenides Made Me Think." In it Trilling notes that while Santayana's thinking is apt to strike us moderns as cold and remote, and his preference for solitude and detachment one even philosophers might find difficult to share, his philosophy does not at all lead to a devaluation of life; quite the opposite, in fact. As Trilling writes,
Whatever his materialism leads Santayana to, it does not lead him to a radical relativism pointing to an ultimate nihilism. It does not lead him to a devaluation of life, to the devaluation of anything that might be valued. On the contrary -- it is the basis of his intense valuation. Here indeed, we might almost say, it is one intention of his materialism, that it should lead to a high valuation of what might be valued at all. If we are in a balloon over an abyss, let us at least value the balloon. If night is all around, then what light we have is precious. If there is no life to be seen in the great emptiness, our companions are to be cherished; so are we ourselves.
The respected Cambridge physicist Brian Pippard (1920-2008) wrote an article for the Times Literary Supplement in May 1986 titled "God and the Physical Scientist." In it he noted that the "classic dichotomy of Mind and Matter remains as absolute as ever, and much of the controversy between religion and science could have been avoided if both sides agreed on this." Scientists, however, "have thoughtlessly extended their arguments into the mental and spiritual domains," where they lack jurisdiction to weigh in on matters.
Professor Pippard believed, like others before him, that if God does exist, it must be within a realm that is unintelligible to the scientific model of the universe -- a realm, that is, of no-where and no-when. Here are a few excerpts from his article:
I am a physicist and an agnostic, neither believing nor disbelieving in a supreme being, lacking indeed any personal experience which might allow me to attach a meaning to the idea. To make this state of ignorance an excuse or even an incentive to attack the beliefs of others, as some do, seems to me indefensible. It is as if a tone-deaf man were to deride the pretensions of those who find in music an expression of realities which lie beyond the power of words. When the scientist can explain convincingly to a musician the origin and mechanism of musical feeling he may care to try his hand at religious belief. The true believer, however, need not fear -- his citadel is impregnable to scientific assault because it occupies territory which is closed to science...
Whatever the ultimate reality is that underlies the sensory impressions we interpret as material objects, and explain in terms of fundamental particles and mathematical equations, it has so far eluded imagination; we must not expect to discover or deny God by comparing any model we have managed to construct for ourselves with a futile preconception of what it ought to have been.
All the same, the search for evidence of God's existence in the material world is not lightly abandoned. Why does the universe exist at all, if it was not created? The evidence that it all started with a Big Bang hangs together pretty well, better than any other hypothesis. The trouble is that we can talk about the beginning but not of a time before the beginning; nor, when we imagine the start as an inconceivably hot fireball, are we allowed to picture it situated somewhere in space. Space and time as we know them are aspects of the universe itself, not, as Newton supposed, a divine absolute framework and a divine clock within which our universe came into being at God's command. It is hard enough to imagine space and time as linked in the way demanded by relativity theory, let alone anything that transcends these primary concepts. No human meaning can be attached to the idea of God "outside the universe" nor, in a timeless nowhere, to words like "act of creation" or "God's purpose."
To labor the point once again, our notion of the universe is part of the model we have built, and if we are to find God it will not be by looking within the model, or outside it, but in the no-place and no-time where we cannot look, the reality beyond our grasp. I think the majority of scientists accept that no explicit revelation of God's presence is to be expected in the faultless mechanics of the lifeless material world.
The following is an excerpt from Marjorie Grene's essay "Martin Heidegger" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ms. Grene passed away in March; she wrote some two dozen books, among which are works on Sartre and Heidegger.
The "darkening of the world" is Heidegger's constant theme. So, for example, in Holzwege ("Woodpaths," 1950), he tells us that we live in the age of research, of the planned, systematic coordination of intellectual tasks. And what sort of tasks can be planned and coordinated? Neat, limited, manageable tasks -- tasks, primarily, that demand inventiveness rather than understanding, tasks for engineering know-how rather than theoretical insight. Heidegger draws no line between pure and applied science. Science for him is research, and research is a procedure for solving well-packaged problems. Such problems are, in general, those of manufacture, of inventing new and better gadgets. According to Heidegger, das Herstellbare, the collection of gadgets, is what we are after; that is what specialization, the rigid departmental structure of expertise in our society, amounts to. And all this vast proliferation of technical skills nevertheless has its inner unity -- that is, its historical and metaphysical unity. It had to happen this way. It had to happen this way because we are fallen out of Being. We are more concerned with beings, from genes to space ships, than with our true calling, which is to be shepherds and watchers of Being. So it is that we are lost, and Being itself has become a haze and an error -- nothing.
"Out of this world; out of Vanity Fair; out of the market place. Put the mind out of business. Words are to be redeemed; to be taken out of the market place; to cease to be a commodity; to be removed from circulation. To be taken out of circulation, out of the flow of currency, out of the universe of discourse, into the immovable prajna, the perfectly still mirror. To condense, to crystallize, to become a parable. Words taken out of time into eternity: aphorism the form of eternity.
"From this world to the next; from utility to creation. Instead of words as market-place utilities, brand names to advertise established items, the creative words which make it new. Words made new again, as on the first day of creation; eternity's sunrise. Words used not to interpret the world but to change it; not to advertise this world but to find another. To pass from this world to the next; from ordinary to extraordinary language...
"To see is to see through. Political organization is theatrical organization, the public realm, where 'appearance -- something that is being seen and heard by others as well as by ourselves -- constitutes reality.' To see through this show; to see the invisible reality; to put an end to politics."
--- Norman O. Brown, Love's Body (1966, pp. 234-235)
"The first common mistake to get rid of is that mankind consists of a great mass of religious people and a few eccentric atheists. It consists of a huge mass of worldly people, and a small percentage of persons deeply interested in religion and concerned about their own souls and other peoples'; and this section consists mostly of those who are passionately affirming the established religion and those who are passionately attacking it, the genuine philosophers being very few. Thus you never have a nation of millions of Wesleys and one Tom Paine. You have a million Mr. Worldly Wisemans, one Wesley, with his small congregation, and one Tom Paine, with his smaller congregation. The passionately religious are a people apart; and if they were not hopelessly outnumbered by the worldly, they would turn the world upside down, as St. Paul was reproached, quite justly, for wanting to do. Few people can number among their personal acquaintances a single atheist or a single Plymouth Brother.
"Unless a religious turn in ourselves has led us to seek the little Societies to which these rare birds belong, we pass our lives among people who, whatever creeds they may repeat, and in whatever temples they may avouch their respectability and wear their Sunday clothes...hunger and thirst, not for righteousness, but for rich feeding and comfort and social position and attractive mates and ease and pleasure and respect and consideration: in short, for love and money."
--- George Bernard Shaw, Preface to Androcles and the Lion
From the second chapter of Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution (2009), a book that takes aim at certain misbegotten ideas about religion, particularly those flourishing in popular atheistic treatises in recent years.
"Apart from the signal instance of Stalinism, it's hard to think of a historical movement which has more squalidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins [than Christianity].
"Christianity long ago shifted from the side of the poor and dispossessed to that of the rich and aggressive. The liberal establishment really has nothing whatsoever to fear from it and everything to gain. For the most part, it's become the creed of the suburban well-to-do, not the astonishing promise offered to the rifraff and undercover anti-colonial militants with whom Jesus himself hung out. The suburbanite response to the anawim, a term which can be roughly translated into American English as 'loser,' is for the most part to flush them off the streets.
"This brand of piety is horrified by the sight of the female breast, but considerably less appalled by the obscene inequalities between rich and poor. It laments the death of a fetus, but is apparently undisturbed by the burning to death of children in Iraq or Afghanistan in the name of U.S. global dominion. By and large, it worships a God fashioned blasphemously in its own image -- a clean-shaven, short-haired, gun-toting, sexually obsessed God with a special regard for that ontologically privileged piece of the globe just south of Canada and just north of Mexico, rather than the Yahweh who is homeless, faceless, stateless, and imageless, who prods his people out of their comfortable settlement into the tractless terrors of the desert, and who brusquely informs them that their burnt offerings stink in his nostrils...Far from refusing to conform to the powers of this world, Christianity has become the nauseating cant of lying politicians, corrupt bankers, and fanatical neo-cons, as well as an immensely profitable industry in its own right...
"The Christian church has tortured and disemboweled in the name of Jesus, gagging dissent and burning its critics alive. It has been oily, santimonious, brutally oppressive, and vilely bigoted. Morality for this brand of belief is a matter of the bedroom rather than the boardroom. It supports murderous dictatorships in the name of God, views both criticism and pessimism as unpatriotic, and imagines that being a Christian means maintaining a glazed grin, a substantial bank balance, and a mouthful of pious platitudes. It denounces terrorism, but excludes from its strictures such kidnapping, torturing, murdering outfits as the CIA...
"This brand of faith fails to see that the only cure for terrorism is justice. It also fails to grasp to what extent the hideous, disfigured thing clamoring at its gates is its own monstrous creation. It is unable to acknowledge this thing of darkness as in part its own, unable to find its own reflection in its distorted visage...It is hard to avoid the feeling that a God as bright, resourceful, and imaginative as the one that might just possibly exist could not have hit on some more agreeable way of saving the world than religion.
"I am talking, then, about the distinction between what seems to me a scriptural and an ideological kind of Christian faith -- a distinction which can never simply be assumed but must be interminably argued. One name for this thankless exercise is what Nietzsche, who held that churches were the tombs and sepulchres of God, called in Kierkegaardian phrase saving Christianity from Christendom. Any preaching of the Gospel which fails to constitute a scandal and affront to the political state is in my view effectively worthless. It is not a project which at present holds out much promise of success."
"That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul. Art and religion, carnivals and saturnalia, dancing and listening to oratory -- all these have served, in H.G. Wells's phrase, as Doors in the Wall. And for private, for everyday use there have always been chemical intoxicants. All the vegetable sedatives and narcotics, all the euphorics that grow on trees, the hallucinogens that ripen in berries or can be squeezed from roots -- all, without exception, have been known and systematically used by human beings from time immemorial...
"The universal and ever-present urge to self-transcendence is not to be abolished by slamming the currently popular Doors in the Wall. The only reasonable policy is to open other, better doors in the hope of inducing men and women to exchange their old bad habits for new and less harmful ones. Some of these other, better doors will be social and technological in nature, others religious or psychological, others dietetic, educational, athletic. But the need for frequent chemical variations from intolerable selfhood and repulsive surroundings will undoubtedly remain."
--- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (1956, pp.62-64)
Below is part of an interview that the artist Mr. Fish conducted with Noam Chomsky in June 2008. The whole interview can be found on Truthdig.
MF: Something that we’ve lost as a culture...over the last 30 years is our willingness to invite nonpolitical perspectives into our political discussions. Let me give you an example. I was at a Nation [magazine] event a few months ago -- it was a panel moderated by Bob Scheer called “Eight Years of Bush: What Do We Do Now?” -- and much of the conversation was about how Obama was going to get into office and how innumerable social programs were going to be reinvigorated, race relations would be improved, the war [in Iraq] would be ended and that this was a time of celebration, and so on. Everybody was happy and the mood of the room was very high, and then came the Q&A part of the night and dread started to seep in. People started to realize that their intellects were being stimulated, but their souls were still wanting -- you could feel it in your chest. Eventually, the question came from somebody, spoken in a shaky voice, “The panel is called ‘Eight Years of Bush: What Do We Do Now?’ so…what do we do now?” And that’s the rub always with events like that, and political rallies, and talks from people like you, there’s always an underlying feeling of frustration, of disempowerment, because so much of political debate, at least publicly, is about theory and not direct experience. The best analogy I can give is that listening to pundits and journalists strategizing over how best to move the ball down the field is like watching ESPN guys talk about sports. Where is the person on the panel to question the folly of the game? This, I think, was the most outstanding strength of the counterculture [of the mid-20th century] -- there was always somebody at the table to discuss the virtues of non-athleticism. There was somebody to provide a bigger picture and to offer an alternative other than either honoring the glory of the game or, at the very least, legitimizing the rules of the game...Without a philosopher to offer a philosophical perspective of politics, people don’t even know that they can take one step back and consider the [larger reality] and attack politics as a logic problem.
NC: Well, I didn’t go to the panel, but what the panelists should have told [the audience] was to try to organize enough mass popular pressure so that whoever is in office will have to react to it.
MF: But, you see, that just sounds like more work to people.
NC: Well it is work. And it’s hard work.
MF: Sure it is, but I wasn’t inspired to become politically involved from somebody talking about work. I learned about humanitarianism and dissent from art and popular culture, which made it cool and sexy. I joined the movement because I wanted to grow my hair, to piss off intolerant people, to own myself.
NC: That’s just a personal statement. What really changed things in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was popular organization. I mean, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the environmental movement, the women’s movement, and so on, there were personal statements, but that was only a small part of it.
MF: The personal statement is what gets people involved.
It may get people involved, but the personal statements are all fine for
you, but when you want to organize an anti-nuclear movement or a
solidarity movement with
MF: But they’re indispensable with issues of sexism and racism and classism. They’re uniforms -- unifying ones.
NC: There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re, at most, a first step towards more serious commitments, but not always. Take the civil rights movement. It wasn’t about personal statements. It was SNCC workers riding Freedom buses.
MF: Well, you’re right about fashion sometimes being just fashion. Sometimes fashion can actually confuse a person into thinking that he or she is being politically active when he or she is really just posing. Maybe I’m talking about the personal statement more as a reflection of a public expression of dissent versus a private one. Let me make my point this way: As strong as the political satire is that comes out of Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” or Steve Colbert or Bill Maher, the experience of sharing their disdain for lousy politics is a private act -- it happens in the living room, behind closed doors, and never threatens to spill out onto the streets. Where in the ’50s and ’60s, with somebody like Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce or Bob Dylan, you had to leave your home to go into the community to really see them. You had to occupy a public space and to be seen with other people, communally. It was a physical act that required some small measure of bravery. It was, in fact, a political act because you were supporting something not sanctioned by the dominant culture, by decent society. Nowadays, with the co-opting of progressive and formerly dissident labels such as the peace sign and the anarchist “A,” and the privatizing of formerly public acts of anti-establishmentarianism, it’s very easy for people to trick themselves into believing that they’re being politically active or heavily engaged in social issues when really they’re not. Get a T-shirt from the Gap with a peace sign on it and, all of a sudden, you think you’re in the peace movement, when you haven’t done anything -- in fact, all you’ve done is given more money to a major corporation that actually functions as the antithesis to the values you believe you’re supporting. Buy the Lennon [CD] compilation for Darfur and you’re selflessly rescuing Darfurians, laugh at “Politically Incorrect” when you’re all alone in your bedroom -- you don’t even need to be wearing pants! -- and believe you’re shaming George Bush so severely that he won’t be able to look in the mirror the next morning. You have to ask yourself, what is the ultimate effect of a bunch of people who believe they’re progressives because they can parrot the language of the movement but aren’t actually engaged in any genuine political activity? People end up marginalizing themselves.
that in the first paragraph Fish offers some interesting insights into
the culture of political dissent in America, but rather than engage them Professor Chomsky turns them away
with his customary advice about organizing. For all of Chomsky’s
contributions to knowledge, his earnestness and commitment to a more
just social order, is there not something unyielding about his
intellectualism? Something closed off rather than open,
receptive, fluid, or malleable?
then in what spirit should an intellectual or scholar approach his
subject? How emotionally invested should he or she be? Professor Chomsky
begins with certain political convictions and defends them to the bloody
end. Is this steadfastness preferable to a kind of aloof, detached
objectivity? Perhaps both are valuable in their way, but wisdom consists
in never losing sight of the fact that one judges and analyzes things
from a particular vantage point and that no one vantage point is free
from built-in limitations. In one of his works of criticism George
Santayana makes the following observation:
“In so complex a world as this, there is room for a great number of cross-vistas: when all has been surveyed from one point of view and in one set of terms, nothing excludes the same reality from being surveyed from a different center and expressed in a different notation. To represent a man, sculpture is apparently exhaustive; yet it does not exclude painting, or the utterly disparate description of the man in words; surveys in which there need be no contradiction in the deliverance, though there is the widest diversity and even incommensurability in the methods. Each sort of net drawn through the same sea catches a different sort of fish; and the fishermen may quarrel about what the sea contained, if each regards his draught as exhaustive. Yet the sea contained all their catches, and also the residue, perhaps infinite, that escaped them all.”
The following is an excerpt from Martin Heidegger's essay "What Is Metaphysics?" The portion below can be found in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell Krell (London: HarperPerennial, 1993), p. 101.
In anxiety, we say, "one feels ill at ease." What is "it" that makes "one" feel ill at ease? We cannot say...All things and we ourselves sink into indifference...The receding of beings as a whole that closes in on us in anxiety oppresses us. We can get no hold on things. In the slipping away of beings only this "no hold on things" comes over us and remains.
Anxiety reveals the nothing.
We "hover" in anxiety. More precisely, anxiety leaves us hanging because it induces the slipping away of beings as a whole. This implies that we ourselves -- we humans who are in being -- in the midst of beings slip away from ourselves. At bottom therefore it is not as though "you" or "I" feel ill at ease; rather, it is this way for some "one." In the altogether unsettling experience of this hovering where there is nothing to hold onto, pure Da-sein is all that is still there.
Anxiety robs us of speech. Because beings as a whole slip away, so that just the nothing crowds round, in the face of anxiety all utterance of the "is" falls silent. That in the malaise of anxiety we often try to shatter the vacant stillness with compulsive talk only proves the presence of the nothing. That anxiety reveals the nothing man himself immediately demonstrates when anxiety has dissolved. In the lucid vision sustained by fresh remembrance we must say that that [sic] in the face of which and for which we were anxious was "properly" -- nothing. Indeed: the nothing itself -- as such -- was there.
The following passages have been excerpted from Raoul Vaneigem's work, The Revolution of Everyday Life. Vaneigem was one of the leading figures of the Situationist movement in the 1960s.
In an industrial society which confuses work and productivity, the necessity of producing has always been an enemy of the desire to create. What spark of humanity, of a possible creativity, can remain alive in a being dragged out of sleep at six every morning, jolted about in suburban trains, deafened by the racket of machinery, bleached and steamed by meaningless sounds and gestures, spun dry by statistical controls, and tossed out at the end of the day into the entrance halls of railway stations, those cathedrals of departure for the hell of weekdays and the nugatory paradise of weekends, where the crowd communes in weariness and boredom? From adolescence to retirement each 24-hour cycle repeats the same shattering bombardment, like bullets hitting a window: mechanical repetition, time-which-is-money, submission to bosses, boredom, exhaustion. From the butchering of youth's energy to the gaping wound of old age, life cracks in every direction under the blows of forced labour. Never before has a civilization reached such a degree of contempt for life; never before has a generation, drowned in mortification, felt such a rage to live...
The consciousness of our time oscillates between that of the walled-up man and that of the prisoner. For the individual, the oscillation takes the place of freedom; like a condemned man, he paces up and down between the blank wall of his cell and the barred window that represents the possibility of escape. If somebody knocks a hole in the cellar of isolation, hope filters in with the light. The good behaviour of the prisoner depends on the hope of escape which prisons foster. On the other hand, when he is trapped by a wall with no windows, a man can only feel the desperate rage to knock it down or break his head against it, which can only be seen as unfortunate from the point of view of efficient social organization...
The man who is walled up alive has nothing to lose; the prisoner still has hope. Hope is the leash of submission. When power's boiler is in danger of exploding, it uses its safety-valve to lower the pressure. It seems to change; in fact it only adapts itself and resolves its difficulties.
Below are passages from The Coming Insurrection (Semiotexte, 2009), a neo-situationist work that was banned in France and penned by The Invisible Committee, a group of anonymous intellectuals influenced by Guy Debord.
am what I am. This
is marketing’s latest offering to the world, the final stage in the
development of advertising, far beyond all the exhortations to be
different, to be oneself and drink Pepsi. Decades of concepts in order to
get where we are, to arrive at pure tautology. I = I. He’s running on a
treadmill in front of the mirror in his gym. She’s coming back from
work, behind the wheel of her Smart car. Will they meet?
am what I am.”
My body belongs to me. I am me, you are you, and something’s wrong.
Mass personalization. Individualization of all conditions -- life, work
and misery. Diffuse schizophrenia. Rampant depression. Atomization into
fine paranoiac particles. Hysterization of contact. The more I want to be
me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am
drained. The more I run after myself, the more tired I get. We cling to
our self like a coveted job title. We’ve become our own representatives
in a strange commerce, guarantors of a personalization that feels, in the
end, a lot more like an amputation. We insure our selves to the point of
bankruptcy, with a more or less disguised clumsiness.
Meanwhile, I manage. The quest for a self, my blog, my apartment, the latest fashionable crap, relationship dramas, who’s fucking who [sic]…whatever prosthesis it takes to hold onto an “I”!...
The injunction, everywhere, to “be someone” maintains the pathological state that makes this society necessary. The injunction to be strong produces the very weakness by which it maintains itself, so that everything seems to take on a therapeutic character, even working, even love. All those “how’s it goings?” that we exchange give the impression of a society composed of patients taking each other’s temperatures. Sociability is now made up of a thousand little niches, a thousand little refuges where you can take shelter. Where it’s always better than the bitter cold outside. Where everything’s false, since it’s all just a pretext for getting warmed up. Where nothing can happen since we’re all too busy shivering silently together. Soon this society will only be held together by the mere tension of all the social atoms straining towards an illusory cure. It’s a power plant that runs its turbines on a gigantic reservoir of unwept tears, always on the verge of spilling over...
The weak, depressed, self-critical, virtual self is essentially that endlessly adaptable subject required by the ceaseless innovation of production, the accelerated obsolescence of technologies, the constant overturning of social norms, and generalized flexibility. It is at the same time the most voracious consumer and, paradoxically, the most productive self, the one that will most eagerly and energetically throw itself into the slightest project, only to return later to its original larval state.
am I, then?"
Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells,
stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas,
impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to
places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages,
memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are
not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that
constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a
thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence,
from which emerges -- at certain times and places -- that being which says
“I.” Our feeling of inconsistency is simply the consequence of this
foolish belief in the permanence of the self and of the little care we
give to what makes us what we are.
The passages below can be found in Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (London: Verso, 1974), pp.183-184.
Private relations between people seem modelled on the industrial bottleneck. In even the smallest community the level is determined by the most subaltern of its members. Anyone who, in conversation, talks over the head of even one person, is tactless. For the sake of humanity talk is restricted to the most obvious, dullest and tritest matters, if just one inhuman face is present.
Now that the world has made men speechless, not to be on speaking terms is to be in the right. The wordless need only stick immovably to their interests and their natures to get their way. It is enough that the other, vainly seeking contact, falls into a pleading or soliciting tone, for him to be at a disadvantage. Since the bottleneck knows of no court of appeal higher than that of fact, while thought and speech necessarily point to one, intelligence becomes naivety, and blockheads seize on this as irrefutable fact.
The common consent to the positive is a gravitational force that pulls all downwards. It shows itself superior to the opposing impulse by declining to engage it. The more complex personality, unwilling to be pulled down, has to observe the strictest consideration for the inconsiderate. The latter need no longer be plagued by the disquiet of consciousness. Intellectual debility, affirmed as a universal principle, appears as vital force. A formalistic, administrative way of settling problems, a compartmentalized separation of everything that is, by its meaning inseparable, hidebound insistence on arbitrary opinion in the absence of any proof, in short the practice of reifying every feature of an aborted, unformed self, withdrawing it from the process of experience and asserting it as the ultimate That's-the-way-I-am, suffices to overrun impregnable positions. Such people can be as sure of the assent of others, similarly deformed, as of their own advantage. The cynical trumpeting of their own defect betrays an awareness that at the present stage the objective spirit liquidates the subjective. They are down to earth like their zoological forbears, before they got up on their hind-legs.
NOTE: The following is an excerpt from "Lights, Camera, Democracy!," an essay written in August 1996 by Lewis Lapham, the former editor of Harper's Magazine. In it Lapham describes the somber mood at a dinner party he attended among the affluent months before the '96 presidential election. His dinner companions were disheartened at the vacuous state into which election campaigns had fallen and wished for a more reasonable and earnest politics. These members of the upper class, Lapham noted, "were reluctant to concede that the American political system grants parallel sovereignty to both a permanent and a provisional government, and that it is always a mistake to let them be seen as different entities."
"The permanent government, a secular oligarchy of which the company at dinner was representative, comprises the Fortune 500 companies and their attendant lobbyists, the big media and entertainment syndicates, the civil and military services, the large research universities and law firms. It is this government that hires the country's politicians and sets the terms and conditions under which the country's citizens can exercise their right -- God-given but increasingly expensive -- to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Obedient to the rule of men, not laws, the permanent government oversees the production of wealth, builds cities, manufactures goods, raises capital, fixes prices, shapes the landscape, and reserves the right to assume debt, poison rivers, cheat the customers, receive the gifts of federal subsidy, and speak to the American people in the language of low motive and base emotion.
"The provisional government is the spiritual democracy that comes and goes on the trend of a political season and oversees the production of pageants. It exemplifies the nation's moral aspirations, protects the citizenry from unworthy or unholy desires, and devotes itself to the mending of the American soul. The tribunes of the people mount the hustings to give voice to as many of the nation's conflicting ideals as can be recruited under the banners of freedom and fitted into the time allowed, ideals so at odds with one another that the American creed rests on the rock of contradiction -- a self-righteously Christian country that supports the world's largest market for pornography and cocaine; a nation of prophets and real estate developers that defines the wilderness as both spiritual retreat and cash advance; the pacifist outcries against the evils of the weapons industry offset by the patriotic demand for an invincible army; a land of rugged individualists quick to seek the safety of decision by committee.
"Positing a rule of laws instead of men, the provisional government must live within the cage of high-minded principle, addressing its remarks to the imaginary figure known as the informed citizen or the thinking man, a superior being who detests superficial reasoning and quack remedies, never looks at Playboy, remembers the lessons of history, trusts Bill Moyers, worries about political repression in Liberia, reads (and knows himself improved by) the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal...
"It is the provisional government that demands the breaking off of trade with China (on the ground that the Chinese shoot political prisoners and make copies of Tom Cruise movies); it is the permanent government that ignores the demand on the ground that too many American manufacturers have become dependent on cheap Chinese labor. The provisional government proposes a constitutional amendment to make abortion a crime against the state; the permanent government discounts the proposal as both foolish and impractical. The provisional government passes mandates for racial preference and affirmative action; the permanent government hires whom it chooses to hire. The provisional government undertakes to guarantee health insurance to every family in America; the permanent government decides the gesture is too expensive."
Lapham's essay can be found in his book Waiting for the Barbarians (Verso, 1997), pp.101-109.