Philosophy's Curse

It leaves you breathless on a cloudy afternoon
It silences you whenever you’re supposed to talk
It distances you from everything sane and sound
Philosophy’s curse
Of course there are times when you can relate
When you nihilistically existentially circumspect
When red is just an ordinary colour – no Wittgenstein
Until it hits you – philosophy’s curse
It creates endless shudders and abysses alike
It focusses on what was previously obviously general
It is like American spell check on the British Isles
Philosophy’s curse
Let us revolt and deem unnecessary this ‘thinking’ business
Let us fall prey to the economic and practical alike
Let us be slaves of the system that cannot be undone
But then, there is no way out – philosophy’s curse
It leaves us no other option, to think or to perish
It makes us skeptical about our own existence – and humble
It takes us beyond the so-called freedom of choice, popular mauvaise foi
Philosophy’s blessing
[With thanks to Gabriel Yoran and Kat Mandeville]

The Act of Writing

Some days seem to revolve around a certain topic. Although many things might have come up, there is this one insistence that doesn’t escape even the most feeble mind. Today this concerned writing.
Writing. Also known as vomiting, editing, pausing, spitting it out, a bridging of the void. It still seems weird to me that some refer to people who write as writers – as if not everyone is involved in the translation of reality into the fantastic state of language, before forgetting everything and starting from scratch once more.
The style of what one writes should reflect what is being said. I always think of Ovid and his metamorphisms that I once had to translate from the Latin. The teacher forced me to undo, to translate this beautiful Latin rhythm, in which the human turned into the frog, the quam qua quem qua etc turned into a song. The part of me that is a poet still has this secret desire to write a poem like that, in which you can hear the river flow, unrelated to what is signified by the same words.
I guess it is at this moment also relevant to mention I’ll be leaving to go to Venice, just for one day, to visit that city that cannot be separated from language. Thomas Mann, Hemingway, Goethe, Proust. If I do not return, please look for me in the Inferno, as I’ll be going to the Arsenale…
“In the 21st canto of the Inferno, Dante describes Venice’s Arsenale, at the time the greatest “industrial complex” in the world: “Quale ne l’arzanà dei viniziani, bolle d’inverno la tenace pece…” (As in the Arsenal of the Venetians, In wintertime they boil the viscous pitch).”

Positive Notes

Perhaps it is a necessary part of any great piece of music, the moment of despair right before you find yourself not in a different position, but definitely back on the ‘right’ track. Right being a feeling. Track being the long and windy road ahead. The same one that looked unbearable the day before.
Sometimes, one just needs constructive feedback. Somebody who tells you sweet loving things even when you are definitely impossible. Somebody telling you they like you most of the time, but also very annoying.
Or, a supervisor who turns out to be very enthusiastic about the project you’ve been working on for a whole year, encourages you to pursue the impossibility that is implied by the thoughts and who understands the value of undertaking the project. To see its place within philosophy. And within society.
Amazing! I couldn’t believe it at first. I’ve been walking around with a smile on my face ever since, being more annoying and obnoxious to friends who happen to be around. It’s for the sheer fact that my throat is really not well, and that most probably I still have a fever, otherwise I would have organized a party tonight, and invited everyone to come dance, until the break of dawn.

The Intrinsic Paradox of Life

There is something intrinsically paradoxical in life. Probably there are more paradoxes, but lately I’ve been struggling with this one, and that is definitely enough for now.
It has to do with this wanting to live. I truly don’t understand where this will comes from. Especially if you live in a world like ours, in which the most one can do to create meaning, is to be helpful, supportive, or any such other rather positive things, for someone else. Someone who is just as average and whose life is just as meaningless as your own. Then what is the reason to help this other person? (Or, for that matter, to bring someone new into this world. Although I get how cute children can be, it is really just another mass of cells waiting to die, and to suffer this meaninglessness in the meantime.)
Of course, the people who really are thinking things through and cannot settle for the enjoying-life-principle as a sufficient reason to live, those people have already taken the one exit-option available. The ones that are still walking around the earth are the optimists, or the pessimist who have settled for the next best thing. It is the Darwinian principle that makes the settlers to continue living, and in a sense it makes the enjoying-life-as-meaning the correct theory.
But this is only the case when life itself has value. And this cannot be proven. Still, it seems wrong to live life merely as a way to fasten the way to Death.
If there is any reason for art to exist – besides the process of making art I mean – than it must be to heal the souls of anyone who is facing this fundamental paradox in life.
Time for some Canto Ostinato, by Simeon ten Holt.

Reflecting on EGS part 1

Being in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, to attend the seminars and evening lectures of people that are on the inside of things, is not very easy when you are in the periphery. It feels as you are thrown around between realizing something enormous that is probably going to change your life, and before you’re able to fully grasp it, along comes someone who either makes you want to die or kill. Of course, metaphorically.

There seems to be only one bibliography, one set of books that everybody passes around, that partly I’ve actually read, and partially I’ve never even heard of. There seems to be mostly Jewish thinkers. There seems to be no heterosexual female thinkers. There seems to be thoughts that get rephrased every two hours, minutes, seconds. There seem to be extremely ignorant people. There seems to be the fact that either I am naive or I will be able to write books until I die. There seems to be the continued recurrence of the same words, creating a living genealogy walking around in bodily form.

Most precious are the meetings with people who share my state of anxiety. In life, in thought, in becoming. Who understand that we’re in a place beyond asking questions that primarily focus on our own ego. Who understand that imposing never makes sense, nor as a teacher, nor as a student. Who understand creating is not a singular process but one that needs to be shared in order to be fulfilling.

And in the meantime I continue thinking my own thoughts, in as far as that is possible. I am in constant fear of creating something that smothers my being, and continuously searching for something that does precisely that. Happy for the struggle made present, at breakfast and when taking a bath. Happy for moments in which one can shout out, in which one understands one’s position in regard to the Other. Happy to become filled with becoming. Happy when greatness of a name does not stop you from limiting the influence of that seeming greatness, to stop fallaciousness to influence on a basic level.

For now, let’s see where this leads us. Me. There is something going on. I am not sure whether I am part of it, and whether I want to be. But for now, let’s trace the untraceable.

Holi-days in the Summer in an Atheist World

View Mountains of Saas Fee, EGS 2012

It’s that time of the year again, when people ask you – after a remark about the weather – about your plans for the holidays. At first, I found myself a bit perplexed as to how to answer this utterly irrelevant question. But I guess most people do not notice the obvious etymology of the word – holy-day, and being uttered by atheists it does sound a bit weird.
Or, perhaps not. In this day the word ‘holiday’ applied to the period when work ceases might be very appropriate. In this capitalist age, isn’t that what we all work for, this period of time in which we are ‘free’? In which we can worship those values that are still left to value – travel, alcohol, and yes: the weather.
I celebrate holy-days throughout the year. I try to worship my most precious possession, in a capitalist way of speaking, my most precious gift: life. Funny, how I take my life to be a gift, in a way in which the word ‘gift’ still retains some of its German meaning (Gift = poison); life is a very dangerous and deadly adventure.
This summer I will celebrate this gift once more with some very interesting and exciting – and obnoxious and irritating – group of people at the European Graduate School. In my opinion, one of the best ways to spend my summer. Although the intensity of those days will probably make it less of an holiday than one would suppose.
Fortunately, I have the rest of the year to continue to celebrate my holidays.

Experience Philosophy By Letting Go

Attempting to read Deleuze, I hit upon this quote, of someone trying to explain why one should read Deleuze: “…do not bother trying to comprehend or understand the text.  A desire for that level of control will only hinder your ability to experience it, use it, think it, and become it.” (Christopher Higgs)
From experience, I can say I totally agree. There are philosophies I have absorbed over the years, that have become an inalienable part of me. Which is frightening sometimes. It is as if you’re walking around with invisible bracelets saying “What would Heidegger do?” (Or: What would Martin do? Or Michel? Alain? Immanuel? After getting acquainted with someone over a long period of time, sometimes you reach that point that you are on a first name basis…)
When I was first starting to ‘study’ Heidegger, I was warned by my teacher (Chris Bremmers) that once I got it, it would be impossible to stop looking at the world as a phenomenologist. He was right. This is nothing exceptional, as everyone if formed by his or her education and/or bringing-up. But to notice it changing in a relatively short period of time, is an extra-ordinary experience which I recommend everyone. Even if it is just to realise the depth as to the level of influence a paradigm has on your own thinking.
But reaching this ‘change’ is not an easy accomplishment. It involves something that is beyond any type of comprehension. Studying can be seen as repeating the same thought / word / concept over and over again until it is fixed to memory. This never worked for me. Or studying can be a thinking about why something is as it is, why a cat pretty much always falls to the floor feet down, wrapping your mind about it until you figure it out. This works for me sometimes, but most of the times leaves me utterly confused, as I ask the why-question too often with things that cannot be understood. (Why is there gravity?!)
Studying for me is about taking a leap into the world of another person or group, be it a cultural world (learning another language works like this, for me) or a thought-system (like phenomenology). It is about letting go of preconceptions, one’s ‘own’ knowledge or experiences. It is about diving in, head-last. It is about breathing the words, getting it tattooed in you skin. It is a poetic process. It is very personal. And it is extremely universal.
Perhaps this is why it is frustrating to hear others ask questions about Heidegger or other philosophers who are part of me, that are focussed on understanding with their mind. They continue asking ‘why’, when it is clear that some things are incredible merely for the fact that they ‘are’ and can be thought as such. This is an experience these kind of people do not get. They continue to actively link the ‘new’ to their own ‘old’. Therefore they never transcend the limits of their own paradigm, they might stretch their limits, but they will not uncover new territories.
Still, as I dive into a new world, the deep blue frightens me. Which is good, as it means that my own ocean is valuable to me.

Consequence of Writing in English

Stamp Hannah Arendt
Stamp Hannah Arendt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Talking Philosophy – Reflecting on Reflecting

Hangout Meeting II

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 🙂


Love Freedom Happiness

“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* (