I often wonder which language I should use. I used to be obsessed by the English language, trying to learn it as fast and as good as I could. Until I realised that whatever I would do, I would never be considered a native speaker, even when my command of that language would be well-above average. I even met native English speakers who were not pleased when I confronted them with their poor command of their own language. So, I decided to stop my obsession, and recognise my being Dutch above all. I even write plays in Dutch again. Who would have guessed!
But now I find myself writing my PhD in English. I actually prefer it over Dutch, my own native language, as it forces me to think more carefully. Dutch is still my high school language, anyone who tries to talk philosophy in Dutch, seems funny to me. Unless it is of course Heideggerian-language translated from German to Dutch. That can be considered the highest form of nonsense available in the Dutch philosophy circles, according to my humble opinion, of course.
So, I write in English. I translate my thoughts constantly. It makes my writing a little slower and more precise, if that is even possible in continental philosophical circles… And it makes me look up words that I write in the dictionary, words of which I don’t actually know the meaning, but seem to fit perfectly. So far, this has always been the case.
Writing in any language is problematic. Maurice Blanchot even says that language is killing the thing named (Work of Fire, chapter “Literature and the Right to Death”). But he was not the first. Plato’s agitation of focussing on the reflection on the Ideas on the wall of the cave and Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author play around with the same theme. And let’s not forget Walter Benjamin’s lovely reflection on translation.
Somehow I am still attracted by Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch, recently (2002) published in full (2 parts). It is extremely interesting even if just from the point of view of the use of language and translation. As she wrote her diaries only for herself, she writes an entry in the language that is most available. She does not translate. Greek quotes are commented upon in German. English entries become more frequent as Arendt resides longer in the US. Interesting how language works. But it would be extremely interesting how language works on thought. Exactly.
In the end it must be as it is and has always been: great things are for the great, abysses for the profound, shudders and delicacies for the refined and, in sum, all rare things for the rare…” Friedrich Nietzsche
This quote has stayed with me, for many years since I first read it. And it is applicable again today.
I am reading Alain Badiou’s Ethics. It is one of those books, that make me cry. Inside. Tremendously, as I feel the words connecting to what I call myself. It is incredible to read words that describe my own struggle with life so precisely and to the point, formally even, and put into syllables those things I have found exceptionally difficult to say. Without falling back into nihilism. Without closing an eye to the impossible. “Nothing dispenses with the need for courage.” (Verso, 2012, p.50)
Although there remain many things that I continue to be skeptical about. And some things Badiou has apparently not understood in the same way I do. But that makes it even more precious to continue reading this small, yet biblical book. After having struggled my way through ‘Being and Event’ and ‘Logics of Worlds‘, I can breathe his sentences and choice of words. It’s like take a lavender bath. It makes me cry.
And it also creates a longing in myself to find my own voice, to acknowledge myself and the courage I need, and take up my pen and stop quoting other people to give strength to my own arguments.
Let’s think the impossible.
Yesterday I visited the exposition on ‘The Big Change’, on Russian Art 1895-1917. As you might know by now, I’m obsessed by the idea of ‘change’ (well, it’s the topic of my PhD, so I’m rightfully obsessed by it) and as I am very fond of everything Russian ever since the great documentary-travel-televisionseries by Jelle Brand Corstius, I was curious what this had to offer.
What I liked about this exposition, was that it used all sorts of art, although it was still conventional enough for old people to visit it (they bring in the money, of course) in that it showed mostly paintings. But the little alcoves with music composed in that time and the rooms with moving images made it into a great experience.
But after having read Barthes’ Camera Lucida just the day before, and having some great discussions about it with some friends from the European Graduate School, the paintings gave me a very morbid impression. What Barthes is describing about himself as an observer, is something that is easily recognized: being enchanted by something, as if there if something in the artwork (or, photograph as Barthes is focusing on that specifically) that like an arrow pierces you, hits you, yes even wounds you. It is not something that can be searched for in the artwork, it is not something that is rationally approachable. No, it is not what Barthes calls the studium, something that I see in the artwork that I can relate to, and which therefore interests me. Instead, what is moving me, what makes art great, is the punctum.
I realized at this exposition, that although the topic interested me, and the technique and the movement of that time and place is interesting and concerns something that I am thinking about a lot, this didn’t make me experience something unique, which is what ‘true’ art is able to do, in my opinion. It was this punctum that was missing, that lightening that I was waiting for.
Until I got the last room, in which one artist really made me boil inside. Pavel Filonov, ‘Entry into World Flowering’ 1914-1915. Amazing. I stood before it, for quite some time, not analyzing it, not trying to find out what this experience was. No meta-level. Just enjoying the amazing-ness. It was indescribable.
But something was still missing, that photography is a much more willing character for. Paintings are created, one brushstroke at the time. Photographs capture something fleeting that is now made to be there forever. The more the photographer is trying to bend reality in order for his picture to show what he has thought about, the more interesting the picture might become (in the studium sense of the word ‘interesting’), but the less force of capturing the observer it will have. Barthes describes this beautifully: “The Photographer’s ‘second sight’ does not consist in ‘seeing’ but in being there.” (Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1982, p. 47)
Then, to end this discussion, I’d like to share a quote which was written on one of the walls of the museum. It shows how artists have a feeling for the bigger picture, and try to put it in words in perhaps a beautiful way, but it also shows how naive this can be…
We ourselves are creating our own hypotheses anew and only upon them, as in our inventions, can we build our new life and new world view. Revolution in art has always predicted the breaking of the old public consciousness and the appearance of a new order in life. (Ljubov Pupova 1921)
Talking about philosophy can be a wonderful experience. But: it does matter with whom.
The joy of doing it with friends, who are right there beside you, struggling to get a grip on topics that go beyond them. Struggling, but not thinking they are in anyway inferior because they have not written the thought first, not thinking they should merely understand something passively and then repeat it as if it would give it some meaning by doing so.
No, instead, friends who actively consume philosophy, question the questions as they come, not taking anything for granted. The grounding of the ground is un-grounded. Time is timeless. The un-earthening of every drop of sand. Everything is considered. And everything is allowed, although it is also quite obvious what is not allowed. Perhaps we are very Western, perhaps we are much too educated to be really finding what we’re looking for. But sharing a paradigm, in which one can say the word and be understood in the devastation of the utter lost-ness of where one is. That is what it means to talk philosophy with friends. To me, at least 🙂
“Doing what you love is freedom. Loving what you do is happiness.”
Today I loved what I was doing.
Today I wrote a whole chapter on why philosophy needs to occupy itself with thinking the impossible. It feels good to finally have enough space in my life to just write down what needs to be written. Hopefully later on I will write a short version to post here… but for now, I’m just happy to be on the right track…
The right track… Right. On that note, I am happy to announce that I’ve started running. Seriously, who would have thought… I am really enjoying it, found a nice route through nature so I don’t get too bored. Hope to keep it up, running four times a week now, following a special program with podcasts and all.
On yet another note, I liked this article on how to get back to doing philosophy as a passion, something I’m trying to do as well (even tough I haven’t finished my PhD yet, but it’s never too early to think about what you want to do…) When in doubt, just try to have some *fun* (philosopherscocoon.typepad.com)
Let’s not be fooled by beauty. Some things are not going to be solved, and apologies are misplaced when you follow your principles. But what Ginger and Rosa (Sally Potter, 2012) does not show, is that sometimes principles can be wrong.
‘Ginger and Rosa’ gives us an interesting insight into the past without being just an historical situating of two girls growing up, but which is meaningful to us today. At least, it can be. Faced with a world that does not care, people react the same: they cling to whatever seems meaningful. The abandoned child reacts by entering into a fatal relationship with a father-figure. The child whose parents separate searches for something she can fix: the nuclear threat to wipe out humanity. The fact that these two similar reactions drive a friendship to a breaking point is due to circumstances. In a way the personalities are a distraction from what is really going on. Back then, just as it is now. Faced with nihilism, we need something to hold on to. Even when we know this substitution is a mere distraction.
The imagery in the film is absolutely stunning, as I expected from a Sally Potter movie (The Man Who Cried is still my favourite though). There is a certain slowness to the whole film, without it being obvious or annoying: it gives the whole a natural feeling. Ever seen anyone bite their fingernails in on the big screen, as if she was completely unaware of doing so?
What I would have liked, however, is the ending to have been different. The father is an important figure in the film, boasting about his principles and living by them, even when it hurts all the people around him. And although we might disagree with his principles, there is something heroic about this: choosing a difficult path by not going along with what is considered duty or normal. Then why, in the end, does he apologize for his behaviour? Faced with a world that does not care, he chose to care and be active, consciously. And apologies are totally misplaced when you’ve consciously made your decisions. What you could do in a situation in which you realize what you’ve done hurts others, is to change your principles. But don’t apologize for caring.
To think is to question everything, including thought, and question, and the process. To question requires that something happens that reason has not yet known.
Non-Western traditions of thought have a quite different attitude. What counts in their manner of questioning is not at all to determine the reply as soon as possible, to seize and exhibit some object which will count as the cause of the phenomenon in question. But to be and remain questioned by it, to stay through meditation responsive to it, without neutralizing by explanation its power of disquiet.
~ Lyotard, The Inhuman, p. 74.
Defying what is said in this article, I am going to quote a part I especially liked, as it is so very true that I feel it in my bones…
“…Which might well be why Nietzsche warned us: beware of your followers. Not so much that they may betray you (it didn’t hurt the legacy of the Nazarene too badly), nor even attempt to take over (otherwise the notion of dynasties would long have fallen), but that they may cite you, borrow your voice, echo you.
Speak in your voice. Speak as you.”
See the full article: http://www.berfrois.com/2013/05/jeremy-fernando-lee-kuan-yews-death-has-already-taken-place/
With beautiful art by Yanyun Chen (http://www.yanyunchen.com/)
Upheaval in Turkey. Government responding to peaceful protest. Tear gas. People died and are still dying. At this moment it is unclear what is actually happening, but at least it is clear that something is going on.
What am I to do, far away, in my comfortable home? I can share my thoughts. Not regarding what is right and what is wrong. Not regarding what should be done, who is to blame. Any remarks adding to the polarization of the situation seems meaningless in a situation in which the power structure of a country is turning against its citizens.
“Democracy”, an Illusion
Interesting is how this clash is almost immediately put in the context of ‘democracy’. According to news reports, PM Erdogan said that when people disagree with something, they can let it know by voting during the elections. From a theoretical point of view, I must agree with him on this point. ‘Democracy’ as we know it nowadays, is explained to the masses as a manner in which everybody gets a say as to what will be decided for the public arena. In practise this is limited to elections, and influencing politicians for instance through political parties.
But calling the present political system in Western countries, including Turkey, the United States and the Netherlands, a ‘democracy’ is extremely misleading. In reality, people have hardly any say in public affairs. Even when one party is exchanged for the next one after an election, policy is made by people in ‘power’, and power corrupts, and creates its own reality.
What People Actually Want
The problem with current ‘revolutions’ is that there is no alternative. This has been seen over and over again, from Egypt to Libya, Syria, Iran and probably now again in Turkey. Dissatisfaction makes people revolt against an oppressive system. That system breaks down, and once the rubble is taken away, people realise the space created thus is already filled with a system that is surprisingly similar to the one just overthrown. Surprisingly only for those who are involved with a breaking down without understanding that without a system to take over that creates an equal opportunity for everyone to be heard in matters related to their own being, there is no hope.
But there is hope. Technology and social media is nowadays supporting the people more and more. In doing so, it creates its own power structure. Everybody can shout whatever he wants. But what is picked up upon on Twitter, is not the tweet of the lunatic, but precise analyses and arguments – that are spreading across the world in a way that is truly revolutionary. I am hopeful that this will turn into a system to support something that is actually a constructive answer to cases of oppression: a deliberative system in which legitimacy is created by a procedure that creates a shared understanding of reality and translates this into policy. Bottom-up instead of top-down. In which governments realise their original role of parent of the nation: to educate and promote the interests of all by letting the people see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears.
- Turkey PM defiant as clashes rage (bbc.co.uk)
Why is the idea of a possible future in which non-humans are capable of doing what humans can (referring not to the enormous amount of unbelievable irrelevant things, but: reflexive thought) so frightening?
Shouldn’t I be just as frightened about my human neighbour when it comes to my being, my ability to ‘earn a living’?
Isn’t every newborn baby a much bigger threat?
But this is a non-issue. Robots who have human capabilities are to be considered humans, a new breed of humans. The fact they are not born as human beings are born nowadays, that they are not confined to nutrients as we are, does that make it impossible to call them humans?
According to Lyotard, accomplishing these kinds of robots is the ultimate goal for human beings, as it secures human thought even after the Pure Event, after the solar explosion. Interesting thoughts, on a Friday afternoon…