Getting to the Styx

"Finding one's way around" and "following one's own path does not come easily," Gadamer writes at the end of the Beginning of Philosophy. He is referring to finding one's way in the atmosphere that emerged with Heidegger, where metaphysics becomes one of the forgetfulness of being. This Being comes across in Heidegger's writings collected in Language, Poetry, and Thought as the ability to perceive higher-level metaphors, by which I mean those prompted by a feeling for mortality. He writes of the importance of such poetry to convey something other than usual, something extraordinary, alien, and that when art becomes familiar and a matter of connoisseurship, it has become business and reveals a lack of precision in the thought that meets it. When art is met by everyday language "it no longer responds to the call". Has Heidegger become familiar? At the end of Gadamer's Beginning, he concludes, "just as Plato was no Platonist, neither can Heidegger be held responsible for the Heideggerians." I have yet to be entirely sure of what Gadamer means by this, but as suggested in this paragraph, I wonder if he is not  addressing the difference of those who "respond to the call" and those who do not, though all ostensibly gathered around the same name (Plato, Heidegger).
We are urged to engage with texts, to think for ourselves, and what is more, as per Heidegger, to be venturesome, "more daring than life" and remove our nature from the realm of "procurement and production" i.e., "things that can be utilised and defended". To will more strongly than self-assertiveness - which thinks it is possible to channel the energies of physical nature to make man happy in all respects and brings a peace that is really "the undisturbed ... relentlessness of the fury of self-assertion". Self-assertive man lives by risking his nature in the vibration of money and currency of values, without knowing the true weight of things. Only "one who stands aside from actuality and  ... the collective" can see that man's dwelling is essentially and foremost poetic. Only those open to the widest orbit, to acknowledgement, to death, can reach the interior of uncustomary consciousness, beyond the arithmetic of calculation.


Speaking of calculation, Heidegger writes that measuring something unknown with rods confines this thing within a quantity and order that can always be determined. A more essential measuring is a sketch of something known indirectly only or a conflict of measure and unmeasure, illustrated by a disclosing that reveals what conceals, such as God appearing through the sky. This measure-taking gauges the in-between, which brings heaven and earth together; the rift, which carries opposites to the source of their unity due to their common ground. This is "inconvenient to the cheap omniscience of everyday opinion which likes to claim that it is the standard for all thinking".
This kind of measuring also comes up in Gadamer's Truth and Method. Similar to the "confinement" of a predetermined "order", he writes of the horizon of meaning of the statement being concealed by methodical exactness: "meaning thus reduced to what is stated is always distorted meaning". There is an aspect in "saying what one means" that is connected to "an infinity of what is not said in one unified meaning" which can be seen by comparing this to someone merely repeating what is said, or someone who takes down statements, who will invariably change the meaning of what is said, without consciously distorting it. He uses this as the premise for his argument that hermeneutics is necessary, drawing us into an event of truth. Like Heidegger, he proposes that man is first addressed before he speaks. 
Man learns to live in the speaking of language that presences through his speaking, that uses him to sound out silence, Heidegger writes. Man's home is in a disclosing that reveals what conceals it, a rift that carries opponents to the source of their unity, something alien in the sight of something familiar, a nothing that presences. Poetic projection comes from a nothing that nonetheless contains the withheld vocation of the historical man himself. Man can only truly speak if he is ready for a command that he is to be already waiting to hear.
So "finding one's way" seems to point to an attentiveness disinterested in trade, unafraid of travelling the Styx for nothing more than an anticipated command of the familiarity of life in the alien underworld. Heidegger cannot be held responsible for this conclusion.


Brush: ~surfing-ant at DeviantART. 
Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern.

非禮勿...

To abstain from joining others in a litany of complaint can feel like a form of ostracism, but also raises the question of training, or the lack thereof. Illustrative of the latter, I heard someone say recently that they did not deem philosophy helpful, I have also been directed to polemics that "dead white males" should not be read. I cannot help but feel sorry for what I think is the ultimate form of ostracism: when a man is dangerous to his own liberty through never having considered it. Reading Plato teaches that the idea that liberty (and other virtues) are glimpsed through a process of questioning, which can be taught, as virtue is multifaceted.
In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that the man who has been taught his trade (acquiring genuine mastery through techne, in this post posited as proficiency in dialectics, not readymade answers) will have more "luck" at his trade (VI.4.5). The trade is life, and connected with the idea of happiness is moral knowledge. This idea features in Plato's Republic, where all the voices unbelieving of justice are parodied, as if Plato is "smiling at himself" while he forwards his techne, which has to do with justice. This same work also suggests that mankind would get too caught up in the everyday, unable to reach happiness, if it weren't for dialectics. Paul Shorey writes, "Man is a social and political animal, and nothing but abstract dialectics can come of the attempt to isolate his psychology and ethics from the political and social environment that shapes them."
There is no fixed eidos of moral knowledge in the way that an artist has command of such before making a work of art, which is determined for a use. Gadamer makes this point in Truth and Method, noting, "what is right ... cannot be fully determined independently of the situation that requires right". Aristotle writes that the good is reached through phronesis - and Gadamer wonders that the work of a judge would be considered phronesis and not techne. But what I find fascinating about this passage in Aristotle (VI.4.1-5) is how much it 'prefigures'* Heidegger's "The Origin of the Work of Art" and the concept of art bringing something into existence. Elements of art framing, illustrating, or leading up to arguments (elements of art) on virtue can be found in Plato and also Confucius.




While needless disparaging remarks are made of certain thinkers, the latter usefully outline the dangers of corrupting justice. In Confucius' Annalects, caprice is critiqued (12:10): "Zi Chang asked how to increase virtue and dispel confusion. Confucius said, 'Base yourself in loyalty and trust and permeate yourself with fairness, and your virtue will be paramount. We want life for the things we love, and death for the things we hate. But if we have already desired life for something and now we want it to die, we are confused.' Really, it was not for wealth.  Just for a change."
Both Plato and Confucius share an imagination, conception, striving towards human unity: Plato in the Republic, and Confucius in 12:5 and his world-view in which, in A. C. Muller's words, the world does not comprise "isolated monads" but is much more "transparent, unified, and connected". The related passage reads: "To completely overcome selfishness and keep to propriety is humaneness. If for a full day you can overcome selfishness and keep to propriety, everyone in the world will return to humaneness."
Which leads us to a passage on propriety - and to the initial subject of this post: "'Do not watch what is improper; do not listen to what is improper; do not speak improperly and do not act improperly.'" The Chinese is: 非禮勿視、非禮勿聽、非禮勿言、非禮勿動。You can see the same first three characters: what is opposite to propriety (proper social behaviour - see reference to human unity above) do not... And to meditate on the third, "speak not what is contrary to propriety", one may consider another "dead white male philosopher" Marcus Aurelius, who writes (to himself, iv.24): "Most of the things we say or do are not necessary; get rid of them, and you will gain time and tranquility."


Time and tranquility - to be moral. But why, some would ask, the kind who ostracize themselves, and cite the example of Aristides, who is inextricably bound to the word ostracize, which means potsherd or tile - on which Athenians wrote the names of those deemed dangerous to the people. Plutarch, in Volume II of his Lives (from pp. 280), writes of this Athenian, and how his moral stance made him sound quite witty (which reminds us of techne and also Confucius' point that refinement is substance; essence is function (12:8)). Those who ostracize themselves would possibly consider Aristides guilty of the same, for it was he who wrote his own name on the potsherd - for a man who wanted to accuse him without knowing who he was. But that was not the end to his story: he returned to positions of prominence and accomplished great things - earning mention in two of Plato's works as a model of justice (Gorgias 526b, Meno 94a).
It could be said, then, that the alternative to the heavy, accusatory potsherd is something as light as a feather: intent - from the story surrounding the phrase: 千里送鹅毛,礼轻情意重, meaning a goose feather sent from afar, a trifling present with a weighty thought behind it. To "speak not" hopefully opens one up to such light, and witty, inspiration - of art or phronesis. “The noble man develops people's good points, not their bad points. The inferior man does the opposite” (12.16).
As a coda, I might add that the techne of knowledge in 12:22 of the Analects is that one is to "know others". This was explained to partly mean knowing the example of others worthy of emulation. I think that to discount philosophers is to reduce one's chance of luck in life.


Brush: Ewansim at DevniatART.
*Brought into a new context, but there are lexical similarities.

Experience, Experiment

In Truth and Method, Gadamer writes about a "dialectic of experience" which requires an openness to experience, which is in opposition to knowledge. "In experience all dogmatism which proceeds from the soaring desires of the human heart reaches an absolute barrier." The experienced person acquires new openness to new experiences, which does not mean that the experience has ceased and a higher form of knowledge is reached (as per Hegel) but that for the first time, experience really and truly is. What does this "experience" look like? I think a picture of it can be found in Plato's Protagoras, which as a whole - i.e. through the sum of caution, genre, misappropriation, joking refutation and mimicry, and dialectics - shows (to quote Gadamer, on a general point about Plato) "there is no argumentatively adequate criterion by which to distinguish between truly philosophical and sophistic discourse" (i.e., just because something can be disproved does not necessarily exclude its being true). In the Protagoras, Socrates asks Protagoras the famous sophist to speak more concisely and stick to the matter at hand - and satirically goes on to imitate those very traits in a rather funny way (ridiculous specious argument, absurd claims) and as the dialogue unfolds, takes Protagoras' view at the start of the dialogue (and Protagoras, Socrates'). Answers to this unusual drama light up in flashes, suggested, not dogmatic, something is experienced to do with the impasse of words and reason - something I have been feeling of late, which has reduced me to silence.


I. Dramatic Contrasts: Education vs. "Education"
By way of makeshift summary, Protagoras begins with a warning about choosing teachers, for one chooses physical trainers with deliberation, and learning is more consequential than that, the effects of it left on the soul. Socrates goes with his young friend wanting to study under Protagoras to visit the man, and Socrates asks what a student may expect from him: the answer being, to better run affairs (of self, city) and to become better daily. Socrates wonders if it is indeed true that virtue can be taught because some parents fail to make their children better. Protagoras answers in a fable - about Epimetheus and Prometheus, ending with Zeus sending Hermes to end squabbling among men by distributing the civic art equally among men. That men believe virtue can be taught, Protagoras says, is proved by the fact that men get angry when justice is not upheld.
An ensuing discussion examines the "parts" of virtue (justice, temperance, holiness, courage), with the sophist being vague and Socrates pushing for precision (333d). He is met by Protagoras flip-flopping the argument, by maintaining an opposite opinion not necessarily relevant to the conversation (334a). Here, Socrates asks Protagoras to speak in shorter answers (since after all he claims to be an expert on form, 335b); Socrates says he is pressed for time and motions to leave but the audience does not let him.
On resuming the discussion, Protagoras begins not by giving his own thoughts on the matter but by citing a verse by Simonides, which he claims contradicts itself. This stymies Socrates, who involves an audience member in a ridiculous claim (341c) that he retracts and then faux-analyses (342b-) the poem by giving faux-arguments (that Simonides is content with what isn't evil so wouldn't have criticised the poet Pittacus' lines in his poem if what he had written wasn't such a great lie, or, the dogmatic stance that the poet meant there is a difference between being and becoming good - it seems to me this is fooling) longwindedly, with glimmers of truth (e.g. the abstract idea of that being/becoming idea when removed from the context of parody, or the concept that a good man withholds negative comment on things close to him).
This whole thing is ironic, because it is standing on the principle of education, the educated meant to know poetry, yet this knowledge is abused by the contrarian approach taken to it. Socrates then says that they should stop talking about poetry, which is like the flute girls used by common folk at wine parties to cover up for what they do not have to say: and since Socrates and Protagoras are "thorough gentlemen who have had a proper education ... men of culture" (347d-e). Socrates prevails upon Protagoras to speak for himself what he means (and this is where he ends up speaking the opposite to what he meant at the beginning). "Uncover more of your thoughts," Socrates significantly asks (352b).
The question of whether knowledge can govern a man is raised, given the problem of people who know better following their passions and doing harmful things. The problem is also raised that most people, who take the generally held view, would not be able to follow the conversation that ensues between these two interlocutors (e.g. 352b, 354e). I think the culmination is at 356d, where a distinction is drawn between measurement and appearance, which is why it is so significant that men err through a "defect of knowledge" 357b, because so much of what looks like measurement is actually appearance, appearance being acted out in this dialogue.


To end this summary, some lines from Jowett's introduction to the dialogue, which informed my understanding: In Protagoras, "There are dramatic contrasts and interests, threads of philosophy broken and resumed, satirical reflections on mankind, veils thrown over truths which are lightly suggested, and all woven together in a single design, and moving towards one end. ... The opposition between [Protagoras] and Socrates is not the opposition of good and bad, true and false, but of the old art of rhetoric and the new science of interrogation and argument; also of the irony of Socrates and the self-assertion of the Sophists. There is quite as much truth on the side of Protagoras as of Socrates; but the truth of Protagoras is based on common sense and common maxims of morality, while that of Socrates is paradoxical or transcendental, and though full of meaning and insight, hardly intelligible to the rest of mankind. ... to a great extent Protagoras has the best of the argument and represents the better mind of man. ...  The force of argument, therefore, and not Socrates or Protagoras, has won the day.  ... Plato means to say that virtue is not brought to a man, but must be drawn out of him; and cannot be taught by rhetorical discourses or citations from the poets."


II. An Experiment Lending Experience
So it is that this dialogue may be considered the "dialectic of experience" as opposed to knowledge because of the form in which it is presented. Any dogmatism of Protagoras (like of taking opposite stands) reaches the impasse of Socrates' imitation. Imitation is again flipped, the horizon of inquiry flashes, as Socrates proposes he and Protagoras imitate "thorough gentlemen who have a proper education", where, interestingly, Protagoras now imitates Socrates.
But it is not just a dialogue of opposites; not just about how (like Zeno's Eleatic dialectic) things change and become their opposite as one consistently thinks them through, but presents a hermeneutical experience, a happening. Problems with statements are revealed: they hide the horizon of meaning. (I cite Gadamer in this paragraph.)
While something is learned in Protagoras, it is far from dogmatic. It is forwarded that knowledge can be measurement, estimation of what is good, yet it is also forwarded that there is much appearance that leads to error. Can discernment be taught? The dialogue is not explicit so encourages interpretation, which is "necessary when the meaning of the text cannot be immediately understood where one is not prepared to trust what phenomenon is immediately present to us" to quote Gadamer. We are drawn into the dialectic, "the art of forming concepts through working out the common meaning" which is what the sum of Protagoras and Socrates (and all the other speakers in the dialogue present).
In contrast to the shallow analysis of Simonides' poem (it seemed more of a joke than serious to me, though I defer to Jowett who said it is uncertain how much of it is foolery), we are drawn into the experience of the dialogue and to "question the horizon of the question ... must go behind what is said" to arrive at meaning. The search for the meaning of a text, Gadamer writes, the hermeneutical undertaking, differs from reconstructing what an author had in mind (what Protagoras and Socrates did), which is a "limited undertaking".
It is significant that this experience of the process of the attempt to understand comes via dialogue. Gadamer writes of conversation that every conversation presupposes or creates a common language: something must be placed in the center they both share (this is taken to an extreme in Protagoras). In this way, ideas may be exchanged. Like Jowett wrote, the force of the argument, not the interlocutors, "wins the day" - this is because, to quote Gadamer, "in successful conversation they both come under the influence of the truth of the object and thus bound to one another in new community" and are transformed. A conversation is like interpretation because it is a circle closed by the dialectic of question and answer.
In this way, the four square man in Simonides' poem is met by a circle into which we are drawn. An experience of Plato's experiment. I have more to say about all this, in connection with Anne Carson's reading of the dialogue, but I am not sure if I should post more.


Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees; brush: Ewansim at DeviantART.
 

Digging for Stars

I recently read through a series of posts on the NYC 1970's music scene, written by an author who has just passed away. One of the luminous tangents of the series deals with the question of why some dedicated musicians become stars and others do not. The series also takes as its refrain the concept of parallel lives in the Euclidean sense of parallel lines (from Debby Harry's album Parallel Lines): that which is parallel never meets; lives that are parallel never intersect (might we also invoke Plutarch at this point? But we cannot; here, we are speaking in Baudelairian correspondences of subjectivities and not universals). In this universe, these parallel lines seek visible constellations, not all of them constellating one. The claim is made that lesser-known artists create the backdrop or scene that makes it possible for others to shine.
The writer of the series in one digression suggests that Freud is one to be read as fiction, so in this way (and I went back to some Freud last week) Freud is a constellation that may be dug up just as Freud posits to Rat Man that Pompeii is to be dug up (although Pompeii had been preserved before it had been dug up, his argument, in response to his patient's misgivings, posits that it is better to be discovered than preserved). It is a fascinating passage, one can imagine Freud surrounded by this aesthetic plunder. He presents a star of dichotomy: preservation vs. discovery. An artist bringing the inner life to the fore.
The internal constellation is described by Marcus Aurelius in his first chapter in terms of how it becomes manifest through others' actions (who, for example, "could either enjoy or leave things which most find themselves too weak to abstain from, and too self-indulgent to enjoy"; have "an eye to the actual need, rather than to ... popularity"; possess "disinterestedness of purpose"); implied through his thanks for such examples is that he has internalised these lessons of self.
Parallels in that universe can be measured in terms of models. Today, there is less of a tendency to think in terms of models than "correspondences" of "colours" (to cite Baudelaire and Rimbaud). Like what Guy Davenport wrote about art, except it has to do with words: the modern is primitive. An archaeology of knowledge that also sources the unintelligible. We are permitted to write in symbols, like <<< or >. I learned from the music posts that rock and roll was initially about the energy of the end to segregation. Only the form of the star remains, we have no eyes for what is behind it.




I once learned from an appraiser, also departed, that just because an item is antique does not mean it is, which is to say was, not trash. A series of fine lines, visible through knowledge and insight, informs where things that look the same are actually different. For example, John O'Donohue suggests that biography is not the same as identity, which might be quite liberating particularly for architects of the cult of self seeking stardom.
In a NYT article by Oliver Sacks that has parallels with Aurelius' To Himself, Sacks departs from that similarity to become similar to the song of self of this age by appendaging a eulogy for his own generation, writing that its members will leave empty spaces behind them that cannot be filled. Philip Larkin also wrote of the "new absence" in the first day after a death - but he was not talking about his own. Perhaps those moments when one is less concerned with digging up one's inner Pompeii one thereby truly possesses it, finding an identity behind biography, wherein "each task [is performed] as though it were [one's] last, free from all waywardness, from passions averse to the dictates of reason, from insincerity, self-love, and discontent with destiny" as Aurelius wrote.
Larkin's poem indicates a star people might really be wanting to dig for. The empty space emerges because something was loved that is no longer there. While each life may be separate, that is what Sacks writes, one life can learn from another, which saves the trouble of some personal exhumation. There are other lines that may be grasped. To emulate selected aesthetics of the dead circumvents the necessity of the ugly spectacle we all know is there, attempting to garner our attention but wandering eyes are fated to be chastised: "There, ye wretches, take your fill of the fine spectacle!" (439e-440). Aurelius suggests that questions be asked of that which makes impressions on us: "of what is it compounded? how long has it to last? on what virtue does it make demand? gentleness, courage, truth, good faith, simplicity, self-help, or what?" What, indeed, lines and stars.



Magazine in background: Mairie Claire Idees. Brush: ~PStoGIMP at deviantART.

Marble on Wood

John O'Donohue speaks of, "secret unattached places" beyond "'he does this, she says that'" where there is a "being together beyond professional banter". If it is so hard to get along, perhaps this place can be tendered through humour, because the whole point of this otherness is that it can only be offered and certainly not pushed, because (to interpret O'Donohue) fixed energy quickly becomes bland, "the bland intrusion of a thing which is fascist". Marble on wood: it's cool on warm, shiny on absorbent, a trick I learned from food meant for the imagination as much as for the blood stream (commentary on the phenomenon here deferred).This, in effect, is humour, a phenomenon upon which Edward de Bono is fascinatingly in agreement with Sufism. He writes (Mechanism of the Mind) that stories establish patterns of thought but that jokes, i.e. laughter, allow for new connections to be made in the brain, by taking a different route than normal. He also notes about jokes (I Am Right You Are Wrong) that while they rely on an established story to disrupt, once they have become as familiar as the story, they cease to be funny (I would add, unless the delivery is immaculate). What I am interested in here is in breaking a pattern - without just running away (patterns have a funny way of following a person, anyway).



There are a few lines I am not sure that I understand in Hamlet: "Tis danger when the baser nature comes Between the pass and fell incensed points Of mighty opposite". I have removed these lines from context, contemplating images of what they might mean (please do comment/send an email - above left if you might enlighten me). Without wanting to sound trite, I think that part of my job in life is to try to find metaphors to link disparate themes, uncouth clashing. And I suppose that the easiest way to do this is to abstract out, in the same way that many bridges rise up towards the sky: there is an incline. The Hamlet quote implies that other connections can be made that are not so noble, where 'opposite', instead of being seen as an invitation to the imagination, or to humour, is seen as a route to clash. Here I see Athena rise up: only warring when she really must. Otherwise, she uses wisdom. And I am beginning to surprise myself by thinking that an important dimension to wisdom (which I always imagined as curmudgeonly) is humour.
Because wisdom is not a popular attribute among contemporary thinkers, I will cite two thinkers from the past on this subject: John Chrysostom and Rumi. The former was known for "peppering" his sermons with humour, which does not mean that he thought it should be used unreservedly. He notes in Homily XV, On the Priesthood, that "laughter often gives birth to foul discourse" and that humour as "those things that are indifferent" can, if unchecked, lead to trouble, just like luxury, if immoderate, leads to all kinds of extremes. But as one not promoting extremities but Aristotle's golden mean, he sees a place for humour, and used it himself. In Homily XV, Hebrews ix, he writes, "There is no harm in laughter; the harm is when it is beyond measure, and out of season. ... Laughter has been implanted in our soul, that the soul may sometimes be refreshed, not that it may quite be relaxed."
This latter distinction is not something I have experience to write about; rather, I am interested in the point made about refreshment. Release from old patterns, making space for something new: creativity.




As for Rumi, his role in this discussion is made clear by the title of a book by Idries Shah, Special Illumination: The Sufi use of humour (wikipedia). In this book, which I read as far as the Google program would let me, Shah cites Plato, from Laws VII, where the Athenian says, "serious things cannot be understood without laughable things, nor opposites at all without opposites" (I am reminded of the Hamlet lines). Here, Shah speaks of the "humourless bully", which perhaps describes one's worst workplace nightmare, though, surely, few people are consistent extremes.
An example of one joke in Shah's book is as follows: "An oil-drilling millionaire went to a dentist who said, 'Which tooth do you want me to deal with?' 'Oh,' said the tycoon, 'drill away anywhere, I feel lucky today!'" This, Shah explains, is called putting the situation in another context (and corresponds with the definition of humour by de Bono at the incipit of this post).
What I found in Shah that I did not find elsewhere was the point that some people, who invest too much "capital" in their "exercises" fail to see humour in jokes like the one above. But people are seeking out food like marble on wood...
Tasteful humour ostensibly provides relief and is at the very least a personal offering for another route to be taken.


Brush: Ewansim at DeviantART.
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