At the Cost of Sleeplessness

I think of Kierkegaard's sleepless man (in Fear and Trembling), the one who is hungering for answers yet is at least twice misled by the words of men who speak without knowing what they are talking about: sleeping comfortably, fearing to awaken the deep choices within man yet ridiculously proffering cheap editions of the edifying. This idea of the sleepless man ties into my recent reading of "The Ring of Gyges" (The Economy of Literature) by Marc Shell (via) addressing the value of philosophy and also responds to the sleeplessness one may suffer over the wish to learn that may be misunderstood by family.
According to Shell's reading of the myth of the ring of Gyges and of Plato, wage-earning is the tyrant's replacement for philosophy. The tyrant lacks the necessary intelligence to see the ἰδέη - though, as the perfect spy, as we shall see, he can try to kill it. According to Plato, the only currency should be wisdom and the goal of thought is to make the tyrant visible - remaining invisible through hiding himself so people think him better than he is and by making people always visible to him by spying on them (hence being the perfect spy).
When I think of the tyrant in Shell's essay, I consider both the mundanity of his behaviour (e.g. the vanity of worrying over how he is perceived and the mobbing of gossip) as well as the work done by him to cover up true meaning. This corresponds to one of Kierkegaard's thoughts in Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing (ch. 10): "it lies close enough to us even though frivolity and sensuousness, worldly cleverness and godlessness wish to remain ignorant of it".




Shell also emphasizes the many references in Plato to men who divide the whole into parts like coin changers. The metaphor can be applied to what is happening today in academe. In an interview from last year, East Asian scholar Wm Theodore de Bary said: " You have a Global Core and what is, in effect, a distribution requirement that goes off in any direction you want. It doesn’t bring people together on 'core' issues. The only way I could suggest they do it is to take the courses we designed for the Core". Describing the whole being divided into parts as the poverty of moneylenders is a rich metaphor. But if we have learned anything here, we know that the desired currency is above the politics of the tyrant and the monetary greed of the sophist. That is not just a sentence but a reality for those who lose sleep over criticism that their pay does not match their credentials.
We may think of Kierkegaard's "most precious thing" (from Fear and Trembling) that again is not demonstrated by material value but the ethical responsibility and fear of a father: it is most precious precisely because of responsibility and fear. The precious is valuable only where it is metaphorically linked to morals and the agony of standing up for them. (Kierkegaard, in his retelling of the parable of Abraham, suggests that people should be given the option to turn back before making the sacrifice: he also stresses the difference between the hero and the poet, but I will save that for perhaps another time.)
The metaphor also translates into the gold of globalism that cultures "exchange" without necessarily understanding each other better. To quote Bary again, "global centers contribute to the undergraduate learning process. Students go out to commercial centers in the rest of the world, and all they get exposed to is commercialism. They’re not going to learn the culture of those countries—they’ll take what’s immediately available in the current culture. It’s just academic tourism, and it doesn’t add up to anything."
To go outside of the commercial center, one runs the risk of being criticised by family. To remain in said culture warrants even more criticism and sleeplessness - though one has a chance of reaching some kind of core, the core of a culture, the core of ἰδέη - because if there is one thing one is not, it is a tyrant. And while one may "commit to the Eternal" to deal with the pain, as Kierkegaard writes in Purity, "the wish continues to pain" for "in the wish, the wound is kept open, in order that the Eternal may heal." The questioning never ceases where the whole of life teaches but can one get used to it or does one turn back.



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