Friday, April 13, 2007

Thinking in Dark Times

'When I die, do not scream and weep at my grave, I'm not there.... I sleep' -Else Lasker-Schüler

'But we, my beloved companion, have life, useless hope, true friends and fire consuming our souls... the most important thing I learnt from you and that has brought me much peace is: contradictions are the only way we can understand life' -[...]

'I know that unrest, it decomposes everything... I believe it's that which feeds one with so much urgency in life, but if one doesn't tend it properly, it does kill' - [...]

Thinking empowers one with the freedom of the self, namely, by observating the whole of the universe and the totality of eternity with only two human eyes, one life and a few minutes; that's why for the Greeks the activity of thinking becomes the foundational principle of all models for political life, no matter the theoretical discrepancies between the social environment and the support tended to it by the theoretical considerations - and hereby one should never forget that for the Greeks the word 'theoria' meant 'to view something from the perspective of the Gods' but this viewing unlike other types of seeing is surprisingly unlinked to light or uncovering, unconcealing like in 'fainomai' (bring forth) or 'fainetai' (appear as); speculation is in a way blind. It was this blindness of death what provided the Greek philosopher with the position of authority to speak, because he was speaking from the authority of death (one that doesn't necessarily need view things) against the 'sightedness' of the living, who if not the blind to recognize the colours in their fullest intensity. But however, the Greek didn't attempt to predict the future, and hence the accuracy of the oracles to foresee the events that do not necessarily stand in the future, because in the eternal return of history there's hardly a need to engage in such far-sighted calculations. The prophets were not predicting the future either, but totalizing the present - breaking the time apart.

The 'speculation' about the 'future' is possible only within the 'eschaton', the time leading to a certain specific destination within a range of possibilities available. Not only human freedom but also predictions over its course became the domain of political thinking since the rise of Christianity in its Roman version, and altogether Christianity and future might mean exactly the same, dettachment from the 'no longer' and an orientation toward the 'not yet'. The 'nunc stans' of Plotinus is then deprived of its mystical qualities (and therefore of the characteristic of 'ascent' typical of ancient philosophy, especially with the concept of the soul that very slowly progressed from the empiricist speculations of all philosophy before Socrates toward the irreducible concept of the mature philosophy) and gains a historical dimension, no willy-nilly remarks Shakespeare, 'The time is out of joint! O cursed spite that I was born to set it aright!'. Time however, doesn't gain such a pivotal role in the classical metaphysics, be they realist and nominalist, and under the spell of the Greek philosophy we come to understand in metaphysics that 'the soul is everything' and the main concern of the old discipline is to keep together the pieces that make up 'Being', but the space then becomes immutable, unchangeable and irreplaceable because this ontological construct occupies everything and with St. Anselm and Duns Scottus (but never in Augustine) the questions of God and the Trinity gain an philosophical dimension, the ontological argument of God (even when ontology despite hearkening back to Plato, is an unheard-of terminology until the metaphysics of Wolff and his critique of Leibniz that eventually would grow into the philosophy of Kant).

In the struggle of Renaissance philosophy against Scholasticism there's a slight confusion in between metaphysics and logic (not unlike that in between metaphysics and phenomenology in the early 20th century or between metaphysics and hermeneutics in our age) out of which logic would vanquish victoriously the old science and by no means incidentally, mark indefinitely the subsequent chapters in history of philosophy since Kant. It is curious to realize that in fact the 'science of logic' even in its analytical fashion, would not be enthroned until well into modern times. Reason did constitute the 'ratio aeterna' of a great majority of medieval philosophy and beyond, but this concept fell under the jurisdiction of metaphysics and, its mathematical foundations, albeit Aristotelian, would not be clearly laid out until the struggle of empiricism and rationalism that Kant set out to correct by elaborating a correlation between the external world and the mind with a philosophy out of the sources of consciousness rather than of object-subject relationships as in Descartes and Spinoza -the beginning of the long exodus from securities into the full-fledged age of doubt. This coincided with the astronomical revolutions that broke the immanence of the cosmos into the trascendent-orientation of theoretical physics that mark its history over the course of Modernity and the old picture of the cosmos inherited from ancient science and significantly improved upon by Christianity under the protection of metaphysics could be never again restaurated.

With Hegel's philosophy of history the first break-through in hermeneutics since its Hellenistic beginnings with Philo and the philological traditions, by looking at the whole of philosophy from the perspective of the individual and gaining through the self, a view of the whole of philosophy that would become its history and the activity of philosophizing itself. In the failure of this process (evident in the gaps left by this philosophy in the realms of the social and the political theorizing about man) the bridges in between the continuum of the Western tradition broke loose and ever since then the ancient philosophy became the only reliable model for theoretical work, an inclination that hermeneutic philosophy has lived up to in the very extreme, as in the philosophies of Heidegger and Gadamer... in its immediate concern with history and the past, all philosophy became in a way theology of the future, something not entirely foreign to eschatology but rather alien to classical metaphysics. From this confusion springs the noble concern with the ancient characterization of reason, that divested of the futuristic character endowed upon it in modern times seems to hearken to a more sincere and self-determinate way of engaging in the 'bios theoretikos', that the age of identity politics makes no longer possible. The philosopher is often a politican or at least a political person, a tax payer and dies a death similar to that of his contemporaries.

Philosophy has no longer epistemological innocence, and has become so contaminated with the world that it doesn't just resemble it, but it is a functioning narrative part of it. The questions raised by philosophy are no longer her own, but rather the questions asked by human beings for which in its pool of wisdom, is expected to resort to and if not provide answers in the realm of praxis as it did in the times of its epistemological innocence, at least it is endowed with the function of providing a space for reflection on which the world might possibly make sense to all those who dare ask the questions, expecting only to refine the grounds of the reflection rather than entirely enable them. The Leibnizian 'best of all possible worlds' in its locus of Modernity is in fact the most philosophical of all enterprises ever since the motto of the French Revolution, a 'victory of reason over history'. The political history of our age has by far proven this reconciliation is not at all possible, but there's rather a third space in between the two, the space of tension... the neurosis that becomes the education of mankind by repressing violence and primal sexuality into education and philosophy themselves; this model of repression is found perhaps at its best in Goethe and slightly modified (at a great risk of failing) in Leibniz and Nietzsche. The repression degenerates into a trauma, this trauma is called 'Western memory' - what gives wholeness to our existence in terms of language first, and then in terms of whichever apparatus you might want to name: culture, religion, institutions, traditions, etc. The memory of the West is the history of trauma, the ability to grasp everything but the present moment - which altogether subjects the memory to narrative modifications. Culture is the key term here because of its lack of correspondence in the ancient philosophy (unless one would like to define culture as what religion meant for Greek and Roman) because it is the only link left in between people as a vehicle of communication; to a large degree most forms of Christianity today have more binding under the sphere of culture than standing on their own, because of the secular character of Christianity that would have been offensive to the Greeks - where religion, philosophy, legality, morality and art fell under the same space, that in which the individual didn't play a role in the same sense it does in modern life, unless one would like to look at the Greek tragedy, but its ability to keep the memory together didn't survive the spell of Socrates.

Hitherto we end our journey in the present and one dares think how is it possible to philosophize before the recognition of a world torn asunder, either into totalities or fragments, but nonetheless asunder. The world as it is lacks all possible self-understanding and other than poignantly delimiting the problem, philosophy is able to do little more. But considerations are that only from the ruins of dark times a honest philosophy that will look for an ascent like that of Greek philosophy, is possible. The philosopher is in charge of poetizing the commandments of civil society, the grief and sorrow of the inexorable demands of everyday life have become unsayable, so that the philosopher must turn to the poet for inspiration - in retaining the ability to see the world through the eyes of the poet the philosopher is enabling the language to come alive again, to speak not necessarily for modern experience but to find anew a voice for men, a voice that can be found only with a slight distancing from the technological imagination as to realize how 'to mind the gap'. There's no possible cure to the modern world, because anything that aims at curing its neurosis (like the totalitarian movements) will undoubtedly destroy it and turn history again in its upfront beligerancy against reason.

Dark times pose their odour over the desk of the thinker of the world, and leaves him unable to escape, only out of their cunning power the philosopher is able to live without sin by throwing himself over the world, handing himself over to it so entirely that he reaches the no-return point of the condemned to death - only there he can dare hope for anything at all, in the absolute present. Only in the broken middle, where one idea contradicts the other, can the philosopher meet his maiden and if so, just because the climax of this sought-for Gnosis is in the unsayable; it is not a matter of finding moral perfection but rather avoiding moral damage, and because the neurosis is a repression it still necessarily holds onto virtuosity as the climax, but unavoidably the broken middle is geared toward death and because this is so, it cannot patiently await for it as the saints did in the past, the heretical imperative of a world he's unable to reconstruct, must push him to throw himself upon death sincerely and only thus he can truly live and at that with the security that the world was there before him and will undoubtedly continue unmolested after his departure. The mark of Cain is the philosophical hammer, and not unlike the Rabbi who refused to enter heaven so that he could stay with the damnated in the fires of hell, the mark of Cain cannot provide comfort, at its best it can only be a witness... if he lets himself be consumed by the flames, this insignificant step points already a little bit into the eternity of the now, and the ironic laughter is the unsayable metaphysics of confronting reality in its irreality with the most absolute serenity; the serenity of the individual that can love the world enough as to make himself responsible for it in the face of the distancing and nearing God. No crucifixion is necessary here, only humanity and this humanity is not the Kantian humanitas but the mark of Cain again, living so that one unfalteringly leave salvation for others and in doing so, living as an end in himself - always opening a new beginning.


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