A Goat Man’s Philosophy

“Could it be that wisdom appears on earth as a raven, attracted by a little whiff of carrion?” – Nietzsche

As I grow older  I realize just how little I know or will ever know now that time grows short in the cycle of days remaining. With all my vast learning I am still a beginner, a questioner, a creature who realizes that time alone does not give us answers or wisdom. When we are young we feel the world is ours to grasp, to hold onto, to make into our image; but, as we grow older we realize the foolishness of such things and begin each day with more questions than answers.

What is the one thing that I have learned in all my years of struggle? I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times. Oh sure I’ve made friendships, loved, and been loved, raised children, inhabited the world of life with gusto and resilience, but in the end I come back to the one thing that keeps me going: I want understand why, why all this magnificence? Why does this particular universe exists? Was it chance? Was it design? Science explicates it’s reasonable facts in a pattern of math and commentary for laymen. Are we accidents of time, just particles of matter spilled into the lucky mold of a planetary evolutionary niche that, too, will go the way of all things into oblivion. Or is there something else? Honestly we have no real answers to that question unless one subscribes to the atheist faith that this is all randomness, a happy accident with nothing more to say; or, if one is a religionist then it is the God, the Maker, who has formed and shaped us according to his own mysterious designs; or, if one follows the new feminist mythographers, we’re all children of the Great Goddess’s dance of particles, members of a magical dance of light and shadow that will never end but is the dance of life itself. Or, maybe one follows the Vedanta, Taoist, Shinto, Buddhist, etc. paths and has other answers… maybe religion is for those who need some final answer, some absolute answer and justification for all things. Maybe science is for those who realize there is no ultimate answer or justification for this universe. Is the war between religion and science to be forever?

But what of us who abide in the unknown, who seek neither some ultimate answer, nor subscribe to either atheism or religion in their recorded extremes? What of us? What of the questions, the endless abiding spirit of enquiry that realizes the human animal may have limits to its mental and physical abilities to know even the smallest or greatest details of the universe or itself? Why do we need some ultimate answer to things, why can’t we just abide in our pure ignorance and wonder? We tinker, we build, we battle each other over ideas and religious and political ideologies… we seem to be unable to enjoy each other, but continuously war with each other over territory, mental or real. With every child born the process starts anew with no end in site. Even our illusions that books and historical knowledge will help us remember the great defeats of humanity become deaf tones to those in a younger generation. The great culture of learning has become the dance of a minority, an elite that debates endlessly over the minutiae of details of our philosophical blight. Where is the wisdom in that?

Day by day I throw off the old illusions that I will ever come to a conclusion to the matter. I realize now that there is one thing that abides: my ignorance, my unknowing. Socrates! You old goat, you knew it all along, you told us the truth but we would not accept it. I hate you, you old frog! Yet, I cannot escape you! It was Nietzsche in a memorable moment of clarity said of this Goat Man from Athens:

“Socrates, the dialectical hero of the Platonic drama, reminds us of the kindred nature of the Euripidean hero who must defend his actions with arguments and counterarguments and in the process often risks the loss of our tragic pity; for who could mistake the optimistic element in the nature of the dialectic, which celebrates a triumph with every conclusion and can breathe only in cool clarity and consciousness.”

―     Friedrich Nietzsche,  The Birth of Tragedy/The Case of Wagner

Was Socrates just a little too optimistic? Have we lost the insight into the ancient view of the tragic world… have we all become a little too optimistic for our own good? One always remembers that on the great shield of the ancient Athenian warriors was the dark face of the Medusa, that dark queen of the earth cults with her serpentine hair and flaming eyes gazing into the stone eyes of all those who would presume to uncover her deep secrets. Is the universe in the end our Medusan Queen? Do not stare into the abyss too long, my friends, or it will stare back at you!

Untimely Thoughts

“The mind forged manacles I hear…”

– William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience

“The whole world is caught in the network of reason, but the question is: how did it get caught in the network of reason in the first place?”

– F.W.J. Schelling

As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it in their article on the Principle of Sufficient Reason: “Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason or cause. This simple demand for thoroughgoing intelligibility yields some of the boldest and most challenging theses in the history of metaphysics and epistemology.” What if the universe is not intelligible? No master plan or plot, no Big Other with a guiding theme to enact for our benefit. What if the patterns we see in the skein are nothing more than the trivial mental aberrations of an overactive mind? What if there is no reason or cause behind all these subtle events that have lead us into the quagmire of our present philosophical and worldly predicaments? What if it is just mindless chaos behind the curtain? We all start in the midst of these blasted ruins of time, but only a few seem to rise above it and give form or shape to certain ineluctable ideas that shape our lives and destinies. Why? Some of us are eternal questioners, dissatisfied with the banal answers we find in the gamut of historical prejudice. Where is wisdom to be found in this age? Nietzsche in his Untimely Meditations gave us this pragmatic, if prudent, advice:

For since we are the outcome of earlier generations, we are also the outcomes of their aberrations, passions, error, and indeed of their crimes. It is not possible wholly to free oneself from this chain. If we condemn these aberrations and regard ourselves as free from them, this does not alter the fact that we originate in them.

The best we can do is to confront our inherited and hereditary nature with our knowledge of it, and through a new, stern discipline combat our inborn heritage and implant in ourselves a new habit, a new instinct, a second nature, so our first nature withers away.

It is an attempt to give ourselves, as it were a posteriori, a past in which one would like to originate in position to that in which one did originate – always a dangerous attempt because it is so hard to know the limit of the denial of the past and because second natures are usually weaker than the first.

Meditations and Reflections

Nietzsche in Untimely Meditations once described Leopardi as the perfect model of the modern philologist and the greatest prose writer of the century. But who in our age even knows of this 19th Century Italian Master anymore? His works which in English come few and far between in spurious translations at best do him no justice. If I meditate on his newly published English translation of the notebooks, Zibaldone (editors Michael Caesar and Franco D’Intino), it is not because I any longer agree with this monstrous poet of the solitudes. No. It is because I so mercilessly despise him yet know him for that monstrous part of my own self, a model of the destructive pessimism and melancholy, that has to be slayed over and over again. This man wracked by pessimism and melancholia all his life, this hunchback creature of solitary ways, who lived an endless ennui staving off the effects of that dark disease with and endless series of words, a slayer of that darkness within.

As a young man I was too busy getting my palms greased under the hood of old Chevys and Fords to worry about such matters, spending my time down at the race tracks running dirt rallies in old beaters, oblivious to both the world of culture and its formidable conclaves of learning. The truth be told I never cracked a book unless I was forced too, and even then most of what I read was neither comprehended nor worth the effort. I read to pass tests and that was about all. I wonder sometimes just what brought my life to the point of awakening, what finally lit the match and sparked my mind to begin seeking knowledge and wisdom in books to begin with? All that would come later after Viet Nam and my own deep disillusionment with life, country, and religion.

I came upon Leopardi’s works in High School (not even sure what translation) and for the first time felt that odd  sensation of someone who understood me, who held the key to some strange inner knowledge of life that I did not know existed. At the time this disturbed me and rather than pursuing it I ran from it, tried to hide in my grease monkey suit laughing and joking with the gang knowing full well that something had happened, something strange had entered my being and left its mark and that I would never again be quite the same. It was during these years of mindlessness that I would begin questioning things around me, wondering about life and art, philosophy and religion. But this would all come later, much later.

Why do I read Leopardi? What does he offer us that a thousand and one other writers, poets, philosophers, etc. could not do better? Why do we even read such authors to begin with? Reading is a guilty pleasure, its the most solitary act you’ll do in life. Reading is not some group activity even if one is sitting with others reading out loud in a park, or listening to someone else reading: this is not reading, this is listening to the otherness of voicing rather than the inner voice of one’s own incessant chattering mind. There is a subtle difference, and this is something that the aficionados of deconstructive theory have iterated to the nth degree. If there is a difference that makes a difference it is the one between the reader and the otherness of literature. Coming on something that is not one’s self, encountering the strangeness of an other is both frightening and exhilarating. Most never experience this strangeness. When your professors speak of the greatness of Shakespeare it is in those strange moments in his plays when an interlocutor suddenly for the first time awakens to the strangeness of their own otherness, when in moments of clarity they overhear their own thoughts coming back to them as other, as difference itself – an encounter that changes one forever.

Leopardi is a monster. Shocking, but true. All true solitaires are monstrous for they have taken the way from humanity to find their inner strangeness and difference. One does not need to rehearse the litanies of his bare life to know that this melancholic sought the way from man not to him, and that society – if such a world still exists – had nothing to offer him. No. He agreed with Rousseau that there may have been a pristine almost pure society in the past, but that today such a return was impossible, an ideal that was both spurious and an illusion to repeal rather than exalt. What was needed was more breaking of the vessels, the illusions that held humans in their ill-fated prisons. Humanity was enslaved by their human systems of social myth making and would not be free till they could shake off and de-naturalize the time honored worlds they’d build over eons of tradition.

One enters the Zibaldone as into a giant omnibus, a series of notes of an ongoing project, a mind endlessly pursuing something both tangible and intangible. “In literature, one passes from nothing to the middle and to truth, then to refinement. There is no example of a return from refinement to truth. The Greeks. Italians writing in Latin. Fine taste among the generality of men of letters can exist only while it is still uncorrupted.”1 Yet, we are all corrupted now. Therefore literature no longer exists. We instead have something else, something of the bitter excess of our age. If we choose the apocalyptic and chaotic over the refinements of the uncorrupted it is because this is all that is left to us.

We are all monsters now, we seek to strengthen the self rather than to slay it, we forage the arsenal of ancient books seeking weapons to help us survive in this time of madness and mayhem. Yet, we no longer have the luxury of a Leopardi, there is no solace in a private world of solitude. We belong to each other now, we roam the zombie lands of the post-apocalyptic age of conspiracy mongers and carnival barkers who would gainsay at our expense and lead us down the path of destruction in a Hall of Mirrors without outlet. “To avoid the vices and corruption of writing, we now need endless study and intense imitation of the Classics to a much much greater extent than the ancient writers needed . If one does not have these things, one cannot be an eminent writer, and if one does, it is not possible to become as great as the great models (Kindle Locations 2177-2179).” We have all become corrupted by writing, the Classics hold nothing for us any longer, and eminence is the last thing we would seek for ourselves at this point in time: no more great models, we have destroyed the models and the makers. What is left to us?

Can we build something out of the ruins of this pile of corruption? Is there still strength in these filthy hands to build a life? Maybe the only way out of corruption is the way in, to dig deeper into this pit of hellishness, seek the nugget in the dark depths, rather than spin airy nothings out of the dead past? “Two truths that men will generally never believe: one, that we know nothing, the other, that we are nothing. Add the third, which depends a lot on the second: that there is nothing to hope for after death  (Kindle Locations 58153-58154).”  Maybe this knowledge is our only salvation. But who of us really believes in salvation anymore?

1. Leopardi, Giacomo (2013-07-16). Zibaldone. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

City of Ruins

There’s a blood red circle
On the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church doors blown open
I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregations gone.

Come on rise up!
Come on rise up!
Rise up!

———- Bruce Springsteen, My City of Ruins

When one thinks the day after the apocalypse one usually imagines such a scene as above in which everything we have known and loved is now just a giant nightmare of crunched metal: cars strewn along decayed highways, fallen skyscrapers, mashed bridges, impassable routes both in and out of the city. Faced with such a world as this what be your first thought? Survival? Death? Food? Water? Is anyone else alive? Am I alone? Is help coming? Will someone kill me for the little I have? One could run through the post-apocalyptic litany of themes and anti-themes, enough to fill volumes of madness and mayhem for even the hardened aficionado. Yet, what would one truly do?

Would you begin picking through the ruble and scattered remnants for survivors? Or, instead would you join the gangs of hoodlums running rampant stealing everything in site? And, what do they think they’ll do with all that loot anyway? Do we have a philosophy today that could help us to understand what is going on in such a moment of disaster? Or is the academic philosopher so busy with its own internal squabbles and refinements over process or objects that it has lost the true appraisal of just how bad things truly are out there in front of their eyes?  Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to someone like Slavoj Zizek who seems to be looking around him and repeating a song or melody about our present predicaments over and over again. Yes, he is redundant, repurposing his essential ideas and thoughts in new ways, asking questions that keep one looking around to see if reality is truly such a tragic affair. Yes, he returns to the dreamers of the nineteenth century to deidealize the Idealists and turn their dreams toward more material concerns. Is this not the mark of a great philosopher, not that he has the answers, but that he keeps asking the right questions? His is an action philosophy not some contemplative Platonic dream theory. One must embody one’s ideas not stand back and bask in the sun of their abstract light. Ideas are not independent mirrors or lamps, they are living movements and happenings of a collective action that we all share in the sociality of our lifeworld. No one exists in a vacumn, we do not withdraw in isolated solipsistic delight; no, we all share in this real planetary realm as members of one another who need each others broken and fragmented lives.

This is the fragility of time: that we are scared shitless, that we pretend with ourselves that everything is going to be alright, that the future holds promise, that if we just all work together it will turn out just fine. But, my friend, it’s no so easy as that. Things may not turn out at all. We may even now be facing unknown possibilities that even the troubadours of the apocalypse never imagined. But one thing for sure if we don’t begin to open our fragile hearts toward each other and begin to communicate and work together things will end badly for all. Wake up my friends the apocalypse is before you, behind you, all around you. How will you face it? Here’s my suggestion: take out a pin and pop that bubble of idiocy for good. Take off you rose tinted glasses and look into the abyss around you. Begin the long road of healing both yourself and the earth of this disease of dead civilization in your midst.  Rise up from the ruins of your personal life and seek one other person to walk into not out of that terrible city of ruins.

Urban Futures?

The idea that cities have a future is almost quaint in this age of decline and fiscal bankruptcy, yet there are those who ‘keep the aspidistras flying’ – as that indefatigable commentator of the body social, George Orwell, in diaries, letters, essays, novels, stories, etc. so aptly coined that sense of keeping with a positive hope even in the midst of decay and ruin. For as my friend Arran James from attempts at living and synthetic zero  puts it:

…as survivors, we shouldn’t be looking for ways to prevent the catastrophe but to mitigate it; we shouldn’t be looking for means of preventing the destruction but of building already from the ruins about us. The positing of the catastrophe into any kind of futurity is already a disavowal of the catastrophic real. Indeed, this might well be part of the development of a distinctly postnihilist ethics: like the survivors we are, shifting the terms of our thought from survival to rebuilding. Yet this rebuilding is not a question of a return to the pre-catastrophic world, and this is precisely where the importance of the post-apocalyptic comes into play.

—————  The Catastrophic and the Post-apocalyptic

As a part of this process a group of architects, artists, science fiction writers, thinkers, etc. met at MU in Eindhoven to investigate this process of rebuilding cities out of the ruins of ruins. Under Tomorrow’s Sky is a fictional, future city. Speculative architect Liam Young of the London based Tomorrows Thoughts Today has assembled a think tank of scientists, technologists, futurists, illustrators, science fiction authors and special effects artists to collectively develop this imaginary place, the landscapes that surround it and the stories it contains.

I commend their efforts, yet wonder if the utopic possibilities overreach the mark? Are we still dreaming of some technological monstrosity that will pull us out of our present predicament in such efforts? Oh sure the art and concepts are all fine and wonderful, yet as I  pondered the videos and the marshalling of ideas I came away thinking that this was all a pipe dream, the sort of effort that dreamers love to dream but that engineers would stand back and just say “humph… what a crock of shit!” The truth is that it’s going to take one step at a time and a lot of innovative and persistent work from a broad spectrum of pragmatic workers to get this job done if it ever is. As a thinker I too get a little too dreamy eyed sometimes and have to put my thoughts back down into the soil and realize nothing is got from nothing, there is no easy path to rebuilding a world fit for life on planet earth. As in all things there want be some jubilee of happy campers to sing in the greatness of this future, not in our lifetime nor in an semblance of generations ahead. No. It’s going to take several lifetimes of collective social endeavor and a lot of dedicated persistence by a myriad of individuals to carve out of niche in this dark world of ruins. Yet, I still believe it will be done. What else is there to believe: the only alternative is oblivion, the end of the human species. Is this what we truly want?

It always seems that we force our hands into the darkness, to war, famine, disease, chaos before we suddenly realize that there must be another way, a different path to take; yet, have we ever learned from our past mistakes. No. We continuously repeat mistakes over and over and over again. Yet, in the past people could migrate to another locale, find a new home to rebuild their world and lives. Not this time my friends. There is no place to go, no elsewhere, or utopic world of the future to escape into, instead we’re all staring each other in the face with no where to migrate but in the ruins of each others dark cities and rural catastrophes. So look around and think to yourself: “Just exactly what should I do with the rest of my life?” Do I want to leave this to my children? Is this what I worked so hard for all my bloody life? Our leaders have sold us down the river with grand schemes that enslave us rather than giving us happier lives.

Sure, I rant. My prerogative… if you don’t like it go dream in your pie dreams somewhere else. Here is a dark truth: there is no place else, the utopic lie is and has always been just a cop out, a grand scheme to escape reality instead of realizing that we need to face it straight on, take off the blinders and begin the hard work of building and rebuilding a world worth living in. So quit bitching and begin building…

Alain Badiou: The Subject of Art

The point is that the relation, the subjective relation between an event and the world cannot be a direct relation.
————– Alain Badiou: The Subject of Art

One often wonders what truly is going on in Badiou’s mind as he prepares for his lectures. Reading the lecture I quoted above in the link I sit back in wonderment at the childlike simplicity of his statements, as if the audience before him were all ten year old kids and he the master was trying his best to lead them through the intricate yet simple realms of Alice’s Wonderland. His voice is charming and eloquent, decisive and pure, yet one is tempted to smile and realize that the Master has gone over this track too many times, that it is all too confident, too precise and mathematical for our taste. It’s as if he is trying to convince not the audience but himself of the simplicity of his system, to make sure that each and every aspect of its labored precision still fits the measure of his tempered mind. And, does it? Is this trifold world of being qua being, being-in-the-word, and the event truly locked down in such a methodical fashion as to allow for no critical injunctions?

Badiou like Zizek always begins and ends with the Subject as that point in the world where something new happens:

The point is that the relation, the subjective relation between an event and the world cannot be a direct relation. Why? Because an event disappears on one side, and on the other side we never have a relation with the totality of the world. So when I say that the subject is a relation between an event and the world we have to understand that as an indirect relation between something of the event and something of the world. The relation, finally, is between a trace and the body. I call trace ‘what subsists in the world when the event disappears.’ It’s something of the event, but not the event as such; it is the trace, a mark, a symptom. And on the other side, the support of the subjectthe reality of the subject in the worldI call ‘a new body.’ So we can say that the subject is always a new relation between a trace and a body. It is the construction in a world, of a new body, and jurisdictionthe commitment of a trace; and the process of the relationship between the trace and the body is, properly, the new subject. (here)

When I saw that word ‘trace’ rise up in the above sentences I was reminded of another French philosopher, Jaques Derrida, for whom trace became a catch word. In the 1960s, Derrida used this word in two of his early books, namely “Writing and Difference” and “Of Grammatology”. Because the meaning of a sign is generated from the difference it has from other signs, especially the other half of its binary pairs, the sign itself contains a trace of what it does not mean. One cannot bring up the concepts of woman, normality, or speech without simultaneously evoking the concepts of man, abnormality, or writing. The trace is the nonmeaning that is inevitably brought to mind along with the meaning.” Is there a connection? I doubt it, only the connection in my own mind between two distinctly independent and intelligent philosophers that obviously with careful reading probably questioned each other to no end, yet read each other deeply and contentiously. Their thought converges and diverges on the concept of the event. I’d have to spend too much time to tease out the complexity of both philosophers conceptions to do that in a blog post so will end here. Read the above essay if you will for it lays down in a few words the basic architectural units of Badiou’s whole system of philosophy. One could do no better than read it and either follow it up with a deep reading of his major works Being and Event and The Logic of Worlds, or toss it into the trash and follow one’s own inclinations toward other climes. I leave that to the reader to choose. For me it is enough to realize that Badiou is someone you cannot pass over, but must confront with all the rigor that he brings to his own project. That there can be no direct relation between the event and the world to me seems to fit nicely into many of the strands of current philosophical speculation. This is a philosophy of movement, of happening, not of closure and stasis. The idea of indirect relation is processual in its dynamics, yet is also gathered into the net of mathematical precision as the intersection of relations defined as the movement between world and body, subject and its field of newness. Where does this take us? I’ll only leave you with one last tidbit from the lecture:

So the subject of art is not only the creation of a new process in its proper field, but it’s also a question of war and peace, because if we don’t find the new paradigm—the new subjective paradigm—the war will be endless.  And if we want peace—real peace—we have to find the possibility that subjectivity is really in infinite creation, infinite development, and not in the terrible choice between one form of the power of death (experimentation of the limits of pleasure) and another form of the power of death (which is sacrifice for an idea, for an abstract idea).  That is I think, the contemporary responsibility of artistic creation.

Transcript by Lydia Kerr – The Subject of Art

Fredric Jameson on Realism

“History… if it is anything at all, is at one with the dialectic, and can only be the problem of which it claims to be the solution.”

———– Fredric Jameson,  The Antinomies Of Realism

In Fredric Jameson’s version of the dialectical interplay of forces we call ‘Realism’ there is always a return to form and content and the antinomy between. If anything the master trope throughout Jameson’s career has been the ‘dialectic’ itself in all its antinomic power. Overhearing Jameson think is like a return to the great literary critics or close readers who have all entered that ancient mind-set to expound on the intricacies of literature and of the realist tradition in particular. The subtleties of his discourse could be off-putting to those who have not the formidable learning that comes so easily to one such as he. One sees Jameson as a composer, a man who has tempered his symphonic ear to the point of excess; yet, who also knows how to play each and every instrument within the delimited architecture that makes up the philosophical and literary cosmos that he so skillfully scores.

In exemplification of this fact he carefully distinguishes between the tale (récit) and the novel proper in his discussion of Jean-Paul Sartre:

The time of the récit is then a time of the preterite, of events completed, over and done with, events that have entered history once and for all. It will be clear enough what a philosophy of freedom must object to in such an inauthentic and reified temporality: it necessarily blocks out the freshness of the event happening, along with the agony of decision of its protagonists. It omits, in other words, the present of time and turns the future into a “dead future” (what this or that character anticipated in 1651 or in 1943). Clearly enough, then, what Sartre calls upon the novel to reestablish is the open present of freedom, the present of an open, undecided future, where the die has not yet been cast, to use one of his favorite expressions. The aesthetic of the existential novel will then bend its narrative instruments to the recreation of this open present, in which not even the past is set in stone, insofar as our acts in the present rewrite and modify it.1

And, of course, the key to his text is in that term ‘temporality’, for that is the underlying leitmotif that runs through his text. Maybe I return to Jameson not because I agree with everything he says, but because he teaches me subtle things about the craft I purport to engage in as a central form: about the novel, about writing as a form or mode and of the content that fills it chambers and ante-chambers. His new work covers a lot of territory and I’m still in process of reading it so offer only this small tidbit. “What we call realism will thus come into being in the symbiosis of this pure form of storytelling with impulses of scenic elaboration, description and above all affective investment, which allow it to develop towards a scenic present which in reality, but secretly, abhors the other temporalities which constitute the force of the tale or récit in the first place.”(p. 12)

1. Jameson, Fredric (2013-10-08). The Antinomies Of Realism (p. 18). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Zizek and Sloterdijk

” I believe that only through Christianity one can truly be an atheist.”
———— Slavoj Zizek

There’s a hidden tension between these two philosophers, as if there was a sort of comradeship below the surface, a friendship that tempers their differing views and struggles. We discover in Culture Magazine a dialogue between these two indefatigable troubadours of the contemporary scene. There comes a point when the interlocutor says: “To overcome the crisis, you, Sloterdijk, opt for the revival of individual spiritual exercises, while you, Zizek insists collective political mobilization and the reactivation of the emancipatory power of Christianity. Why such differences?”

Peter Sloterdijk:

I propose to introduce the study of pragmatism in the alleged religions: the pragmatic nature forces us to look more closely at what the religious do, to meet internal and external practices, which can be described as exercises that form a structure of personality. What I call the main subject of philosophy and psychology is the bearer of the series of exercises that make up personality. And some of the series of exercises that constitute the personality can be described as religious.

But what does this mean? Mental exercises are made to communicate with a partner invisible, are absolutely concrete things that can be described, there is nothing mysterious about that. I believe that until further notice, the term “financial system” is operating a thousand times that the term “religion” refers to the righteousness of the Roman state. We must not forget that the use of the terms “religion” “mercy” or “fidelity” was reserved in Roman times to the epithets that had the Roman legions stationed in the Rhine Valley and elsewhere. The highest privilege of a legion was carrying fedelis pia epithets, because it expressed a particular loyalty to the emperor in Rome. I think the Europeans simply forgot religious meaning. The word literally means “diligence.” Cicero gave the correct etymology: reading, legere, religere, that is, carefully consider organizing protocol for communication with higher beings. It is therefore a kind of diligence or in my terminology, a code of training. For that reason I think the “return of religion” would only be effective if it could lead to financial practices intensified. By contrast, our “new religious” are not, most times, more than lazy dreamers. But in the twentieth century, sport was imposed on Western civilization. He did not religion, sport reappeared, having been forgotten for nearly 1,500 years. It was fideism athletics but who came to the fore. Pierre de Coubertin wanted to create a religion of muscle in the early twentieth century. Failed as a founder of a religion, but succeeded as a creator of a new system of exercises.

Slavoj Zizek:

Consider religion as a set of embodied practices already existed in the Russian avant-garde. Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) wrote a very beautiful text on the Jesuit Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) as someone who systematized some spiritual exercises. My thesis about the return to Christianity is paradoxical: I believe that only through Christianity one can truly be an atheist.

Considering the great twentieth-century atheism, it is actually a completely different logic, that of a “credit” theological. The Danish physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962) one of the founders of quantum physics, received a visit from a friend at his dacha. This, however, refused to pass the gate of his house for a horseshoe was nailed-a superstition to keep out evil spirits. And the friend said to Bohr: “You’re a first-rate scientist, how can you believe in such superstitions?” “Do not believe it!” Said Niels Bohr. “But then why let that mule?” Insisted the friend. And Niels Bohr had this excellent response: “Someone told me that it works even if you do not believe.” It would be a pretty good picture of our current ideology. I think the death of Christ on the cross is the death of God and that is no longer the Big Other who pulls the strings. The only way to be a believer after the death of Christ is to participate in egalitarian collective ties. Christianity can be understood as a religion accompanying the order of the existing or a religion that says “no” and helps to resist. I think that Christianity and Marxism should fight together the new wave of spirituality and the capitalist gregariousness. I defend a religion without God, without love communism.

I must admit to identifying with Zizek’s statement: “I believe that only through Christianity one can truly be an atheist.” I came to my own form of atheism through Christianity after having truly begun as a convert and actual believer in the American sense of that term. So a religious view of life without a ‘God’, or Big Other, for me is appropriate. I agree with Sloterdijk in the need not to reject religious practice but to study it, understand the deep heritage and reason for its existence in the human world. Is there something of value there? Are there disciplines and unique exercises that can attune us to something of value and unique in our own lives and bring us toward a greater communal awakening that does not mean worship of some Big Other (God, Country, etc.)? Can we build political movements that will last beyond the current crisis and resolve many of out eras struggles?


Not sure if that last sentence by Zizek is translated aright. Seems she translated it using google… lol. Either way interesting discussion. From a recent interview, reprinted and translated by Nicolas Truong (and found on Amy M Denes site: click here and here in the original).

E.M. Cioran on Borges

“What is the use of celebrating him when the universities themselves are doing so?”
—— E. M. Cioran on Borges

One comes back to Cioran as to a friend who has seen too much death. His honesty in the face of the apocalypse and catastrophe, the abortion we term ‘The Twentieth Century’, is without doubt the record of a recording angel. Reading this small letter to a friend in Anathemas and Admirations on Jorge Luis Borges I’m reminded of Cioran himself:

The misfortune of being recognized has befallen him. He deserved better. He deserved to remain in obscurity, in the Imperceptible, to remain as ineffable and unpopular as nuance itself. There he was at home. Consecration is the worst of punishments – for a writer in general, and particularly for a writer of his kind. Once everyone starts quoting him, you must leave off; if you do not, you feel you are merely swelling the ranks of the “admirers,” of his enemies. Those who want to do him justice at all costs are merely hastening his downfall.”

I seem to return to those philosophers who tried to cast doubt on our illusions, who tried to strip us of our comforting mythologies, and magical, mystical view of life and the great unknown spheres of ‘being’. Why? I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times. Maybe it’s childhood and the darkness of awakening into the truth of war – having faced it in Viet Nam ages ago. Maybe it was my disillusionment with the easy answers that people seem to accept in religion – having grown up in the Bible Belt of Texas. Having actually experienced strange things that the priests and preachers had no answers too beyond the shibboleths of dogma and blind faith. Maybe it was nothing more than I have a need to question everything, a restless spirit that cannot abide in other people’s ideas or systems: be they of ancient or contemporary lineage. This is why Cioran is important to me, not because he had any answers, but because he didn’t; because he questioned everything, and was not satisfied with the easy solutions, but wanted to dig down into the pit of hell if need be for an intangible thing that remains ‘unnamed’ – and, probably never can be named. Most of all he wanted to return to paradise, and a newness forever outstripping the moment; that, like William Blake, we are condemned to walk this blasted earth with our own dark impulses leading us either to doom or some other strangeness…

That we continue is because of our stubbornness, our inability to let the elements keep us down, to strive after the only thing we find worth attaining: the prize of wonderment, the satisfaction of discovery, of opening up another door into reality that only the intrepid dare venture toward. Yes, we seek more…. we are the dissatisfied souls who hunger for something else. Not satisfied with the eternal circle of the same we keep walking out of the traps set for us, striving to free ourselves and others of the control mechanisms that would bind us and enslave us to lesser thoughts and goals. Cioran is one of those companions along the way who will remain a guidepost, a sign of battle, a member of that silent league who – as Herman Hesse once wrote in a parable of the paradox: “People of courage and character always seem sinister to the rest!” We know who we are, we need not spell it out, we do not need the vanity of fame or some title to announce our place in the fabric of the social. No! We are anonymous even to ourselves, living beyond the borders of that cave world of normalcy that keeps others tied to the prison house of the mind.

What led me to this passage was re-watching a video of Cioran himself, re-published by Arran James and crew on – synthetic zero – click here to see!

Thanks, Arran for reminding me… 🙂

Back to Philosophy

Well, I’ve been away too long! Writing is a difficult art by any standards. Novel writing is a world of nightmares for those who delve into its strange mysteries, yet at the end is something rewarding for those who plunge deeper and deeper into the mythical circles of its dark worlds. I’ve put my novel to sleep for a while and will come back to it with fresh eyes in a few months and begin revision. Oh the endless cycles of writing and rewriting passages seeking the perfect turn of phrase, the opportune metaphor and hyperbole, etc. But that is past and time to move back to my philosophical proclivities!

First things first: I’ve neglected reading many of my favorite blogs out there so need to do just that. I was in sleep mode, living in a secluded cabin in Montana while writing… so have had little exposure of late to the web chatter that goes on whether one is missed or not. The Philosophical community seems like any community full of its own gossips hounds and strange tales. One is never sure if philosophers are truly on about changing the world, or if it’s all some master game of GO in which the players are the pawns of a hidden agenda. No paranoia in philosophyville, just a bunch of angry citizens wanting a philosophy that actually meets our expectations. But as in anything there is never one fits all even in philosophy. Instead we have this thriving agora of competing minds seeking a greater voice in the center of the arena. Who is that voice in our time? What philosopher will emerge to take the Reign? Do we have our Hegel’s, our Socrates around in the raw? Is there a diamond out there in all the coal waiting to be heated up and refined by the dark fires of our age?

I look around me an do not see any single philosopher in our present era that actually meets those high criteria. I like Zizek, but even he would admit he is more of a questioner who has no answers: a Socratic progeny if there ever was one! Maybe the truth is just that, maybe that sly dog of a philosopher was on mark and there can only be more questions, and that the only answers come not in words but in actions and deeds. Does it come to that? Our leaders in the world today are in disarray, fumbling through existence taking us all over a precipice into troubled waters of war, feminine, depression, etc. What of our philosophers? Can they pretend to do better? Do they have moments of clarity that offer us a path forward? Who is up to that call? Who will awaken us from our stupor and unite us rather than pull us deeper into our stupidity?

Those are the sorts of questions on my mind as I come back and begin that strange search for an actual philosopher that may or may not exist, but who is truly needed even if we must re-invent him: give him a nudge, awaken him from his slumber and feed him with Ideas.