Will-o'-the-wisp

In one of the books by an author who was lauded like Tagore but who has fallen out of style not because his writing isn't lettered enough but because of the curious hazing of politics - which is called libel in most fields aside from literature - he writes about books themselves. He observes that civilization has got its priorities wrong if books are valued more than human lives.
Culture is supposed to cultivate man. But a worldly method of reaping harvest is to first make a sacrifice. Hegel writes of how, in making one's profession wholly one's concern, one is raised above the immediacy of existence - which includes one's will; what one would seek out oneself to do - and reaches a universality. By giving oneself over in this way, one gains a capacity. In this respect, culture, i.e. where it consists of learned men, requires the sacrifice of man.
Similarly, education ostensibly leads to attainment of universals, the cultivation of freedom designated to the virtuous citizen. Professor Thurman once outlined such education by explaining there are two paths to freedom: textual and practical. But what happens, I wonder, when texts are not tendered with higher currency or visibility.
There is a practical wisdom to be had: in Thurman's view it is ethical, wise, and cerebral. It is also concerned with knowing reality. But the textual involves discipline, discourse, and consideration of scientific, systematic texts. These texts are not left to the specialists, but are part of an individual's path to freedom.
I wrote above that the book is not to be valued above the man: as with all the makings of culture. We are now at one of those crossroads where ethics - which protect man - are laughed at in the marketplace. It doesn't make for much of an agora. "What man needs is not just the persistent posing of ultimate questions but the sense of what is feasible, possible, correct here and now," Gadamer writes in Truth and Method, which I'm enjoying. I'd guess the here and now is in want of a more visible display of morals, which oddly seem to go hand-in-hand with aesthetics: where chaos reigns and man kills man, the structure of art is violated as if by way of punishment.




But there are earlier trends that seem to lead up to these bigger wars, not least of which is the gap between Chomsky's 1970's call for intellectuals to not contribute their knowledge to the development of weapons and the papers that at the turn of the century lauded lab work as an exercise in ethical discipline. And to go further back, I am astounded to read in Truth and Method about the implications of Ockham in the development of science - a name I had not encountered enough to read up on, though perhaps people refer to him through 'nominalism.' Things are replaced by symbols; the science of things by variations of phenomena (as of Galileo); principles are replaced by laws (this is an attempt to summarise a passage in Julian Marias' History of Philosophy).
If one subscribes to the idea that the world around us can be understood like a text (meaning that contexts can be situations with their own symbolic hierarchy), Occamism has interesting implications, an obvious one being that principles of humanity are muted by laws based on measurements. Another earlier trend I find connected to our present horizon is the fragmentation of the Western Christian church, which I came back to as Luther had studied at an Occamist school. Occamism in Paris was apparently important to physics, but that's as much as I know about it.
The word I am coming to is fragmentation, demonstrated in literature by Forster's complaint that "The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him." Thus his description of the Primitive storyteller, and humorous (?) support of the modernist view of the story. We could discuss the fragment of the twitter, or the fragments that constitute the collection in a museum, divorced from concrete particulars. The fragment of being removed from a holistic context.
Davenport writes, "The imagination, like all things in time, is metamorphic. It is also rooted in a ground, a geography. The Latin word for sacredness of a place is cultus, the dwelling of a god, the place where a rite is valid. Cultus becomes our word culture ... [in a humble] sense. For ancient people the sacred was the vernacular of the ordinariness of thngs: the hearth, primarily; the bed" - which I cite also to contrast with Occam.




Often enough, I am asked why I care about what came before - why I express sadness at what seems to be getting lost. I am not sad like a curator, um, could be sad if a man didn't risk his life to save a rare Polack painting. What I'd say is that there seem to be many professors whose unique lives brought them to the lectern, who deliver with élan which quickly fades after a time, and the student realises that out of that enthusiasm, little can be built of sound structure.
Gadamer writes, "When science expands into a total technocracy and this brings on the 'cosmic night' of the forgetfulness of being that Nietzsche prophecied, then may one not gaze at the last fading light of the sun setting in the evening sky; instead of turning around to look for the first shimmer of its return?" (Technocracy, which hides sources and process.)
Yes, to talk to young people, they speak of this return, they see its embers promising the warmth of the archaic hearth. They do not want to feel the cold of the age - and sometimes I think this is the gift of youth, to be blind to what is missing, for the élan is needed, and in the end, is the spirit that inspires learning, which means that even if civilization loses itself of its own fault, it can be built again. This is called looking for creativity, which works beyond and over destruction.
And creativity is associated with the light Gadamer seeks: sight and vision. ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων is a Herclitian phrase Davenport proposes may mean, "that our moral nature is a daimon, or guiding spirit from among the purified souls of the dead. Or it may be utterly primitive and mean that the weather is prevailing wind. ... Novalis: Character is fate."
The last translation is in line with the Delphic warning: know thyself - which is part of the practical education Thurman outlined. "I'm Bobless" he said, explaining that one ought to be flexible, because the static self is delusional, a habit. An example he gives of "Boblessness" is not following the self when it is angry. If character is fate, then character building is a prescription - and the morals inherent to moral nature may indeed guide us.
They tell us that books are important, but not to be used against other men - as is ironically the case today when literary libel damns the genius loci of places that are politically unpopular.
And if it is those lights that guide us, surely we would want that analytical wisdom that discerns them from the will-o'-the-wisp. This is my defense in favour of the culture passed down in texts. And in his lecture, Thurman said that while the wisdom gained through learning doesn't change a person but is just academic, without it, no other discourse can be transformative either. The back-and-forth of analytical debate impacts the heart, energises verbalisation, energises the emotions "and get criticised that way and not freak out."



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