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Shadow Play
29 November 2007 @ 02:12 am
Hopping on the bus at 11pm sharp tonight, after a Toronto Secular Alliance meeting, carrying my new computer upgrade with me (the first, in seven years?), and a bottle of apple juice I just bought, the bus driver abruptly spoke out to me, and said to me, "save that for later," which I instinctively supposed to mean that I should not drink this apple juice on the bus (as I have in fact been told before by some miserable others--can you believe it?  the audacity!).  And no sooner than I--for the sake of avoiding confrontation, saving powers for a greater fight, I thought--acquiesced, replying back to him, "ok.  I'll have it later then," and began to get my bus ticket, this small, moustached, dark-haired Eastern-European-looking man--in perfect Canadian accent, whom I've seen on many occasions--actually barred my hand with his, gently pushing my hand aside, said to me again.  "Save it for later."  This event came so suddenly and unexpected, that I simply asked him, in disbelief, "Are you sure?"  To which he replied, more directly this time: "Save your ticket for tomorrow."  I simply said "Thanks."  And quickly found a seat at the very back.  Sure, I'll let him believe he's done some good deed, I thought.  Like that little proud Chinese girl, several years ago, whom, upon watching her parents buying our family's used furniture one day from an ad, proudly stayed, remained, immovably silent, beside her gleeful parents, proud and seemingly cold, ashamed to receive in such a manner!   But perhaps a little bit like her, I imagine, I let him grant me the favour.  It was my little grace.  Perhaps he's getting in 'touch' with his humanity, maybe he's inspired by someone lately.  Maybe he too, has lately found the beauty of the world uncontainably beautiful as well, as such ...

But, reflected to myself, sure, in this brittle, winter weather, especially, surely I can't afford to look my best.  I wear the rugged, functional, outerwear found on discount racks, imported from struggling nations; and besides, I have no intent with the kind of wages I earn to look fashionably as others do.  But I couldn't help wondering to myself: sure, pretty girls may not in fact look at me, but do I really look so destitute and impoverished, and pathetic, on the street, that this gracious bus driver had to refuse my bus fare tonight?  This bizarre thought made me smile brightly, warmly inside, sitting, listening to Explosions in the Sky, blaring on my headphones, wondering... looking at all the ghosts riding with me on the bus: does anyone ever feel this cool warmth, gentle burning from the inside, confounding their inner organs, ever, except me, actually?.  And so I began to write this episode in my trusty Palm IIIC organizer I bought for $50 seven years ago (it was $450 when it first was released--and I've 'downgraded' from a less trusty Pocket PC a few years ago, since this Palm IIIC is the only portable computer I found I really need, and which works as it's supposed to, besides my mp3 player), immediately.  Then as the bus stopped at my stop, before the bus crosses the highways just north of the city limits, I gestured to him, "Thanks again.  Take care, have a good night."  I remembered just then how I said "See you later" also to the hot dog vendor who just previously to the ride sold me the apple juice, the same one who always used to scorch my hot dogs, all the time in the immoderate cold, and who once tried to hand me over a burnt hot dog wiener, without a bun, on a napkin, in incomprehensible English, with sincere eyes of hospitality.  I think I just looked at him with scorn, that time, and walked away furiously.  But tonight, he gave me such a knowing smile, for the very first time, and seems to have learned English so much better since that other time.  He would speak little pleasantries in between tasks tonight, like "yes"  "sure."  "no problem", "here you go"  and "you're welcome", as though he'd just warmed up to this new job in a strange country, and that he actually understood every word I said.  That he was actually accustomed to this work now, and that he actually incorporated it as his own already, finally, by now.  Maybe like I've been getting accustomed to the follies of my recent job lately, and have been finding them laughably ridiculous, so trivial that they do not, and cannot bother me anymore.

I forgave the bus driver, walking the last steps to my door, for having pity on me tonight.  Yet I found myself in thanks to him, in my innermost heart, not for having pity on me, or for saving me a bus ticket for tomorrow--which I could hardly care about--but that he'd do this for someone he thought I was, which could be anyone--who by either a curse or fate, happened to resemble me.  As I thought this, a song, a joyful dirge, on electric guitars, screamed and wailed, without reserve, through my ears, and my eyes welled for a moment, coated by saline that diffracted what I thought were street lights, blinding me for a bare instant.  It was the headlights of a parked car, I realized, and kept walking, with my hood on, looking like the poor man I must look like to others, which reminded me of how Clark Kent, just by putting on his ugly glasses, looks like the most pathetic creature of the world at times, and is dejected by the one he loves for it.  Moments like these, I think I can actually like these ugly, scratched-up, intentionally unfashionable eyeglasses that remain still, for the time being, irreplaceably mine.
 
 
Shadow Play
28 November 2007 @ 04:19 am
The hiddenness of things--do things not remain hidden for us, fractured from cohesion, yet so seemingly real, insofar as we are wont to believe, and hope, and  stake the most important realities of our personal existence upon promises? 

Lips that promise fear the worst--tongue so sharp, the bubble bursts.  Just into unjust.

But who is it who promises, and what necessity have they to speak so openly of them, as such?  The edifier?  Then it is weakness and poverty that believes.  The one who raises up?  Still, it is weakness and poverty, nevertheless.  The great chasm of being is not yet surpassed.  It is at best recognized, through edification, through the raising of hopes, of hands, in belief.  But weakness is natural--it belongs to youth, yet still, infancy.  Hence beliefs are not sufficient for the great noon awaiting a maturity of mind ready for the unequaled responsibility of giving birth to, and raising, future humanity.  And youth may turn out to be the test of patience, the spring of life, the human, for which the inhuman must become a strong, accomodating bridge, crossing over the general wasteland of humanity into unknown futurity.  As in the vain hopes of a blind lover, blinded to what great love can be, blinded by the mad eruption of a new love itself, where there was previously nothing--nature, hidden where love is young, vain, yet innocent of scorn--(unless it is boastful of its general subjectivity and overfilled with conceit!  then, scorn is perhaps justified, within limits, always within bounds of care and abundant love, always acting, 'touching from a distance').

Only in maturity, when new and patient eyes have seen many things, do we seem to see and love, coheringly--which does not mean cogent, and which thereby does not necessarily always mean understood, but entertaining, perhaps desiring their possibility.  Only in old love, or by a fortuitous stroke of good breeding and fortune, does there appear a seeing of nature, but there is acceptance of nature too, but more difficultly, and rarely, the willing of it, with seeing.  Nature is willed, and examined, at last, because seen, but also loved in all its forms (because love, a heat for things, like temperature, is by way of degrees).  Consciousness bears fruit at last to spirit, through love that is not blind, but is a condition for the purest seeing, the spring of youth at last having found the horizon of the sea, the sky, the purest blue of being, and the infinity of shades comprising their radiance, their hiddenness, their gleam.  Only eyes that understand hiding will ever see or understand hiddenness. 
 
 
Shadow Play
24 November 2007 @ 01:43 am
I just wrote an immense blog on this, which began with my previously secret encounter with the wondrous eyes of a modestly dressed, aged woman on the subway in a lavender coat (she could have been a gradeschool teacher of mine from nearly two decades ago), whose eyes beneath her authentically vintage glasses--because everything about her exuded an era, an aura, still mysteriously alive, breathing, yet secretly dying, whereas their exhuming by popular culture had long since begun--seemed to be transfixed in space, glancing heavenward, a perfect picture of humanity, and finitude, interlocked with the infinite, hands folded neatly in her lap as though in prayer, in perfect relation with that which remains inhuman in a hidden perfection of silence and the pedestrian.  Myspace just lost it though in one of its fits of browser errors.

I will however leave this quote, by one of my most regarded thinkers, as a reminder that I should rewrite this soon when I can't contain it anymore.

But for now I should catch up on sleep which I haven't had in several days so I can work tomorrow as I did yesterday and the day before.

Now, seemingly completely out of context, the quote to raise eyebrows and make people think random suspicious things (but are they true?), by Nietzsche of course.  I swear, my blog made some sense of this, or perhaps, it was an unconscious admission on my part that I too much perish.  And rightfully yes perhaps, not literally, but figuratively, I'd been fancying.  To change form, I was thinking, as I've been coming out of hibernation very lately, as the dead cold of winter now fast approaches, less fashionably than late, out of season, untimely, as I've always felt throughout my vacant days.

"I believe I have guessed some of the things in the soul of the highest man; perhaps anyone who unriddles him must perish; but whoever has seen him must help to make him possible."  (1884)
 
 
Shadow Play
10 October 2007 @ 06:20 am

There is an affinity between philosophy and madness far beyond the scope of Nietzsche's tragic acquaintance with brain cancer, that can at least be traced with Socrates, and possibly Thales (a case could be made too with Empedocles, who claimed he is a god and reportedly tossed himself into a volcano to prove his immortality, and possibly Pythagoras, who created elaborate taboos about eating certain beans).  In Plato's Republic, the comparison is made between the philosopher and the vagrant, but also the dreamer, he who studies the stars, the divine planets, impractical things as it were - whereas everyone else is busy scuffling over who is fit to guide the ship of fools, a metaphor of life in the city-state.  In such a case, it's a question of which madness is better fit to steer the helm, since they all are possibly mad, even the astronomer (who were often philosophers in those days, i.e., Thales, who reportedly always walked about with his head in the clouds or studying the stars, famously falling headlong into a well). 

In the second case, madness is expressed as the way of choosing paradox over common sense.  If, as Parmenides taught, the way of truth (aletheia: uncovering/un-forgetting) is fundamentally opposed that of seeming (doxa: belief/seeming), then one ought to distrust the senses, and rely on something purely non-sensical, such as the notion of pure thought, originally conceived as inseparable with intuition (cognition/intellection).

Pure thought -- as the empiricists such as Hume and Hobbes would have it -- what non-sense, such a thing as pure thought!  Kant would arrive not too late (probably not a second later than the previous day) to critique such Pure Thought, in the Critique of Pure Reason, basing all knowledge upon that pertaining to experience and the senses.  Rationalism and madness are so far aligned.  But there is a more fundamental manner in which all philosophy shares with madness, the kind of delirium which especially produces talking to oneself (an exercise the Stoics particularly embraced).  Dialectic, as Socrates thought of it, would be a way of approaching truth made possible only by conversation.  And when the other wasn't present, then one would have to argue against oneself, a method the Skeptics perfected, as when Arcesilaus of the Second Academy would conceal his own opinions purposively, laying down a powerful and victorious argument, only to shatter it even more victoriously just one moment later by playing the Devil's advocate, a method he espoused for the sake of accustoming his listeners to trusting in their own reason rather than his authority.

And such is the way all good philosophy might proceed -- by contradicting itself (speaking against) -- like the notion of Nietzsche's hammer, not to destroy but to test and see if hollow (a method he calls "perspectivism", and which owes to Epicurus' practice of entertaining multiple hypotheses for the same phenomena).  Which explains in part why philosophy often appears to practical and sensible people as madness.  The other reason, and much rarer at that, is that philosophy possibly is born of madness, a kind of madness Socrates describes in the Phaedrus..  Among the forms of madness, he says: prophecy, mystic relief from hardships, poetry, but also love.  Interestingly, philosophy is not born of the madnesses of prophecy, mysticism, nor poetry, for him.  But it is born especially of love.  And yet that madness that desires to be united with the Good is none other than the Greek word, "mania," - literally a "god-inspired passion" - a word whose manifestation today we treat not with philosophy but much sooner fix with mood pills and interminable counseling.  What is clear from this, we see, is an attitude in which madness was not conceived of as an impractical social ill, but the divine necessity through which essentially human capacities would flourish and persist to find their meanings (this is incidentally the view that is shared by Jung on neuroses).  Platonism and madness therefore, in combination of these forms, can be often seen to go hand in hand, and perhaps it can be said for our part we have lived in very anti-Platonic times, even while madness prevailed.  The distrust of madness and the distrust of intuition (and perhaps also the distrust in love?) find their culmination and instant remedy in the twilight of the modern era.  In the words of Nietzsche's Zarathustra: " It is true we love life; not because we are wont to live, but because we are wont to love."

 
 
Shadow Play
10 October 2007 @ 04:21 am

Such a strange word, "prayer."  Entreaty, questioning, imploring, etc.

(Skt. prasna-, Avestan frashna- "question;")

In contrasting the difference between genuine relations between persons versus relations with objects, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says: "The essence of discourse is prayer (prière). What distinguishes thought aiming at an object from the tie with a person is that the latter is articulated in the vocative: what is named is at the same time that which is called." (Is Ontology Fundamental? - 1951)

I couldn't agree more. That's the difference between discourse and a lecture, I suppose, and perhaps.. very possibly the difference between philosophy (as a theoretical activity) and pedantry (dogma).  Philosophy qua philosophy cannot assume what it needs to prove in order to persuade another being.  It should be the antidote and not the origin of self-apologetics or bigotry, which is often unfortunately only an unconscious affair, sadly erupting to self-awareness only obliquely through an aftermath of the alienating consequence of zealotry. 

Which is probably also a reason why lectures are inherently boring (which is to say, innately non-philosophical), and especially self-marketeering, and last but not least, the arrogance and arrogation of a "Truth" through which one assumes the role of godhead, a beyond being whose panoptical perspective they arrogate (beyond which there is probably no greater blasphemy or haughtiness), but upon whose role they impute the anthropomorphic quality of judgment.  To judge subjectively is one matter, a matter fundamentally of taste and of aesthetics--yet not only to masquerade in the role of Objective Being, but to subjectively judge the world by it.    Would such not be a travesty which seeks, subterraneously, to engulf all reality?  According to the popular religion is such not the sin against the Spirit that cannot be redeemed--not even by the blood of Calvary?  For it creates a false god in the image of a man, and thereby adds only to the destruction of faith itself on earth, the destruction of the temple, a fracturing of the very expression of God's body on earth, a fading of the vital illusion he once may have been.  A paradox whereby all believers who believe and aspire too strongly beyond limit are judged in turn by their own non-reflexive judgment - the fate embedded in the stars exemplified especially by that of Robespierre and the bloody Jacobins (devotees of Reason par excellence), but especially all the totalizers masquerading as philosophers in the comedy that doubles as tragedy, as universal history.  And all because a particular hate has been stunted in its development towards love.  Such is an aesthetic critique an absence of prayer entails.  In the words of Maurice Blanchot:

"The Terrorists are those who desire absolute freedom and are fully conscious that this constitutes a desire for their own death, they are conscious of the freedom they affirm, as they are conscious of their death, which they realise, and consequently they behave during their  lifetimes not like people living among other living people but like beings deprived of being, like universal thoughts, pure abstractions beyond history, judging and deciding in the name of all history. Death as an event no longer has any importance...But the terror they personify does not come from the death they inflict on others but from the death they inflict on themselves. They bear its features, they do their thinking and make their decisions with death sitting on their shoulders, and this is why their thinking is cold, implacable; it has the freedom of a decapitated head."

Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right to Death, The Work of Fire, Stanford University Press, 1995.

and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing:

"The value of man does not consist in the truth which he possesses, or means to possess, but in the sincere pain which he hath taken to find it out. For his powers do not augment by possessing truth, but by investigating it, wherein consists his only perfectibility. Possession lulls the energy of man, and makes him idle and proud. If God held inclosed in his right hand absolute truth, and in his left only the inward lively impulse toward truth, and if He said to me: Choose! even at the risk of exposing mankind to continual erring, I most humbly would seize His left hand, and say: Father, give! absolute truth belongs to Thee alone."

<hr>

A Prayer

By Jorge Luis Borges

Thousands of times, and in both the langages that are a part of me, my lips have pronounced, and shall go on pronouncing, the Paternoster, yet I only partly understand it.  This morning--July 1, 1969--I want to attempt a prayer that is personal, not inherited.  I know that such an undertaking demands a sincerity that is more than human.  First of all, obviously I am barred from asking for anything.  Asking that my eyes not be filled with night would be madness; I know of thousands of people who can see, yet who are not particularly happy, just, or wise.  Time's march is a web of causes and effects, and asking for any gift of mercy, however tiny it might be, is to ask that a link be broken in that web of iron, ask that it be already broken.  No one deserves such a miracle.  Nor can I plead that my trespasses be forgiven; forgiveness is the act of another, and only I myself can save me.  Forgiveness purifies the offended party, not the offender, who is virtually untouched by it.  The freeness of my "free will" is perhaps illusory, but I am able to give, or to dream that I give.  I can give courage, which I do not possess; I can give hope, which does not lie within me; I can teach a willingness to learn that which I hardly know myself, or merely glimpse.  I want to be remembered less as poet than as friend; I want someone to repeat a cadence from Dunbar or Frost or that man who, at midnight, looked upon that tree that bleeds, the Cross, and to reflect that he heard those words for the first time from my lips.  None of the rest matters to me; I hope that oblivion will not long delay.  The designs of the universe are unknown to us, but we do know that to think with lucidity and to act with fairness is to aid those designs (which shall never be revealed to us).
    I want to die completely; I want to die with this body, my companion.

(1969)