Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to Answer the Question

"What happened was … somewhere along the line I realized that this question had to be addressed on the fundamental level of consciousness." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Truth, Beauty, Justice

The Pangrammaticon divides experience into two broad domains, the epistemic (or scientific) and the ethical (or political), separated and connected by imagination, which can perhaps be considered a domain in its own right, namely, the aesthetic (equally philosophical and poetical).

Philosophy cultivates the aesthetic of knowledge and is, in that sense, the "love of wisdom". Poetry, meanwhile, cultivates the aesthetic of power and is, to that end, the wisdom of love.

Perhaps there is a "pure art", a cultivation of imagination for its own sake, separate from any epistemic or ethical interest. This is the modernist fantasy. A science that just and only knows. A politics that just and only masters. A philosophy that just and only thinks. A poetry that just and only feels. And an "art for art's sake" that just and only imagines. It can't ever be this way of course. The hope, ultimately, is that these professions could spare us the trouble of knowing, mastering, thinking, feeling, and imagining. But each of us must do these things for them to happen. All these things.

Art recovers the beauty that remains between the truth and the justice we have accomplished. Another way to put it: art seeks happiness in the space between our honesty and our decency. That is why art is always being accused of indecency and dishonesty.

It's always hard times for an honest man. A decent one. Happiness lies in overcoming the difficulty. Beauty is difficult.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Path Dependency

It's the notion that "history matters". That the story of how you got here tells you (more exactly) where you are.

A man may feel he has arrived at a truth about the world in which he lives by way of a decade of critical thinking and self-doubt. He may now find, however, that he shares a belief with people who have held it with perfect self-assurance, as doctrine, for just as long.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Cramp

"Belief is a cramp, a paralysis, an atrophy of the mind in certain positions." (E.P.)

Something of a fundamental insight this morning.

Composure is the conquest of distraction. But what is distraction, really? It is what pulls us away from experience, the presence of things and people in our lives. How does this pulling-away work? Well, it draws us out of doubt and pain (which is part of life) and into moments of certainty and pleasure. That's why we let it happen.

But here's what occurred to me. Why do we come back to experience? Why do we compose ourselves? And why is this so difficult?

It is because we are drawn out of experience and into fixations on "truth" and "justice". We make a discovery and believe its truth. Or we make a decision and desire its justice. And these beliefs and desires can be so strong that we don't want to expose them to corrections by experience.

Truth and justice should always be thought of as temporary situations. But we let them hold on to us for too long. The meaning of a fact, its relative "truth", should always be determined in a corresponding act. And the passage from fact to act must always be experienced. But the meaning of an act, its relative "justice", is always determined in a corresponding act. Again, the passage is experienced.

We see that something is the case and we think, "Okay, what are we going to do about it?" Or we do something and must "see what happens".

But sometimes we experience a fact, a truth, and think there is nothing to do about it. Or we do "the only thing we could do" regardless of the consequences. We don't feed the fact or the act back through experience. We let it stand, as such.

This is how science and politics were born. They are distractions from the experience of truth and justice. They are fixations on one side or the other of the pangrammatical divide. Composure teaches us to return to experience.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Essence and Emergence

I think the answer to my riddle is emergence. Emergence is to essence as inspiration is to existence . . . as poetry is to philosophy.

In testing the analogy, I've been toying with a related matter. Is there a supplement for "accident"? In philosophy, we like to distinguish between the essential and "accidental" properties of things. At one point, I had the intuition that "accidence" is on the power (i.e., poetry) side of the pangrammatical divide. But I kept it on the knowledge (philosophy) side because accidents strike me as a property of things and facts, not people and acts. What then is to emergence, as accidence is to essence?

The answer, I think is transience. People are transient as things are accidental. These are important moments it the relationship between becoming and emergence, being and essence.

P.S. Surfaces are to emergence as appearances are to essence.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Inspiration and Existence

I may as well just face it head on. Sometimes I lose track of my analogies, which leads to the pangrammatical equivalent of a contradiction. In the last post, I explained that "essence" is to knowledge what "existence" is to power. But I have elsewhere suggested that existence (Dasein) is to philosophy what inspiration (duende) is to poetry. Since philosophy is to knowledge what poetry is to power, I have, I think, put "existence" on both sides of the pangrammatical divide. This is not good.

I think I will be resolving this problem in favor of keeping existence in the domain of philosophy, with, perhaps, the important qualification that this moves a lot of Heidegger's "existentialism" into the domain of poetry. This will leave us with an understanding only of the being of things, their facticity, not the being of people, which is always an activity, and therefore never actually being, but always (virtually!) becoming. There's reason to think Heidegger wouldn't mind. But I'm sure the philosopher's vanity is stung by being confined to the merely "extant". The point is that the subjective component of being, upon which all beings depend for their "existence", is not being at all, and Heidegger was perhaps right, therefore, to suggest that philosophers are consigned to gesturing at the creative force of becoming with the less impressive, if somewhat ominous, name of Nothing.

At the level of experience, like I said in my last post, I want to maintain the idea that standing (L. stare) is to knowledge what breathing (L. spire) is to power. Hold your breath and stare at something. Imagine. Then you might see what I mean.

So the problem now to be solved is: what is to power and poetry as essence is to knowledge and philosophy? What (in the domain of poetry) is to inspiration as existence is to essence (in the domain of philosophy)? Essence is to being as ___________ is to becoming.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Essence and Existence

"His true Penelope was Flaubert."

Thomas Presskorn raises an important point in his comment to my last post. I had cited Flaubert's "power is essentially stupid" and constructed its pangrammatical analogy as "knowledge is essentially cruel". But "essence" also has a supplement, namely, "existence". So, for example, when Russell says that "the essential business of language is to assert and deny facts", we supplement this, not by challenging this narrow specification of the essence of language, but by adding an existential "business", namely, to enjoin and denounce acts. This is what Thomas is reminding us of.

Charitably, he attributes the oversight to an imprecision in Flaubert's formula, not my analogy. It's a plausible excuse, since essence is to knowledge what existence is to power, and power could therefore be said not to have an essential nature at all, only its inexorably existential culture. But he might also have said that my sense of the supplement was off. Simply by carrying out the substitutions, I could have come up with "knowledge is existentially cruel", and this would actually be a better solution than to censure Flaubert (whose precision is presumably absolute!).

Consider: stupidity is also "essentially" on the knowledge side, not the power side, of the pangrammatical divide. And there is, in fact, nothing wrong with constructing statements across the divide (which is wholly, indeed purely, imaginary). The trick is to construct the supplement symmetrically. To recap, then, we'd have:

power is essentially stupid
knowledge is existentially cruel

The mistake was mine, not Flaubert's. One way to interpret all this is to say that when power pretends to have an essence it is being stupid. This happens when the tyrant invokes God as the source of his power, for example. But knowledge is cruel when it makes existential assumptions, which, perhaps, happens when the genius denies God as the aim of his knowing.

Like I say, pangrammatical analogies are only as true as their originals, and these in turn only ever as true as aphorism can be. We're just following out the consequences. I'd like to take this moment, also, to remind us that existence is to essence as inspiration is to extance. This is because power is to breathing what knowledge is to standing.