More on Abiding in Hope

Abiding in hope…

Ed Mooney, over at Mists on the Rivers, has been mulling over the Heidegger passage I posted yesterday, as have I.  The passage fascinates me in part because so many paths intersect in it:  one from Socrates and his avowal of ignorance, one from Eckhart and his working-out of contemplation, one from St. Thomas and his condemnation of curiositas as a form of cognitive intemperance, one from Neitzsche and his linking the will to knowledge to the will to power, one from Husserl and his plying of the reduction, one from Marcel and his ideal of secondary reflection, and one from Wittgenstein and his contrast of explanation and description.

I cannot rise to the level of Ed Mooney–but let me say a bit more about the line from Marcel.  Marcel distinguishes primary from secondary reflection by distinguishing between what we might call their ‘objects’, problems and mysteries.  There is a lot to say about that distinction, and I have toyed with it on the blog a time or two (here for example).  But a key idea is the idea of investigations that are, as it were, self-willed, where the investigator stands above, over and against, what he investigates, and one where the investigator is ‘object-willed’, moved to consideration of what she stands enmeshed in, alongside, and which calls out to her for consideration.  We might say that in the first case, the investigation proceeds in light produced by the investigator, in the second, in light produced by the ‘object’ investigated.  (Marcel works a far-reaching change on the popular understanding of mystery, which he regards, not as a darkness that overwhelms, but as a light that is blinding, –at first, but that becomes eventually the light in which we see light:  think of Christ on Mount Tabor.)  Heidegger seems to understand some things as worthy of thought, as calling out to us to think them, and to think in relationship to them.  Curiosity all-too-often is something that we project upon the world–we think about what we regard as worthy of thought, instead of what calls us out of ourselves and into thought.

There seems to me little doubt that Walden (to hook up with Ed’s reflections) is not only a book about but a book that exemplifies secondary reflection.  And I think that secondary reflection is at play too, albeit in different ways, in Socrates’ unknowledge, Echart’s contemplation, St. Thomas’ studiositas (the contrast to curiositas), Husserl’s reduction and Wittgenstein’s descriptions.  It seems likely true even in Nietzsche’s transvalued knowledge.  For all of these, the relationship between the investigator and the investigated transforms the investigation, and that must always already be on the mind of the investigator.  The world does not bumble around us, a flattened pother of objects indifferent to their investigation and that we investigate willy-nilly as we choose, but  instead structures and variegates itself around us, featuring objects that call us to thought and objects that do not.  And what they reveal to us is not a matter of what we take from them but of what they give us, sometimes only after we have earned it by abiding in hope before them, listening even to their silence, waiting for them to speak. What we ‘know’ of them in such moments is not something that we can commodify, something that we can learn by banking on our own conceptions of reasoning about them, our own ability to wring answers to our questions from them.

Didn’t Aristotle push us this way, too, long ago, when he noted that the problem of method is entirely (note that word) determined by the object?


It is Sarte’s birthday.  I find myself conflicted.

Coming of age philosophically in a department supersaturated by the methods and work of Chisholm and Gettier was difficult for me.  My sympathies were wider than that, and, even worse,  I had serious reservations about the Propose-a-Definition-Cast-about-for-a-Counterexample style of philosophizing I was being taught.  In those days, the president of Rochester was a philosopher, Dennis O’Brien.  O’Brien had written a dissertation on Wittgenstein (under Richard McKeon, believe it or not), taught at Princeton (where he wrote a book, Hegel on Reason in History), and served as president of Bucknell before coming to Rochester.  (Those familiar with the secondary literature on Wittgenstein may know O’Brien’s fine paper, “The Unity of Wittgenstein’s Thought”, one of the earliest papers challenging the Two Wittgensteins orthodoxy, and containing the exactly appropriate continuation of the famous Wittgensteinian advice, “Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use”–“And don’t ask for the use, either!”)  At Rochester, O’Brien discomfitted the faculty by teaching courses on Sartre.  The TA assignment for those courses was disrelished by graduate students:  after all, the courses were on Sartre, Sartre!—and they required a lot of preparation because O’Brien’s presidential duties could any week call him away leaving the grad student with a 3-hour lecture to give on some portion of Being and Nothingness.  Predictably, given the view in the department that I would read anything (not exactly a compliment), I got tabbed for the assignment. It was a lot of work, but I learnt a lot about Sartre and a lot about teaching from O’Brien.  I am in his debt.

But, Sartre.  Well, I never know what to say about him.  There’s so much I admire and so much I don’t.  Undoubtedly, the man could write–and there are many moments of profound phenomenological insight in his work.  Still, there is something wrong with it.  Marcel, I believe, has helpful things to say about that.  In an aside in “Testimony and Existentialism”, Marcel quotes Sartre’s B & N discussion of gifts and giving, which opens with “Gift is a primitive form of destruction…Generosity is, above all, a destructive function”.  Marcel responds:

I doubt if there exists a passage in Sartre’s work which is more revealing of his inability to grasp the genuine reality of what is meant by we or of what governs this reality, that is precisely the capacity to open ourselves to others.

I admit that seems right to me.  I have sometimes teased students in my classes by commenting that many forms of existentialism can be produced via a formula:  Choose one of the seven deadly sins.  Imagine someone held fast in the grip of the vice.  Now, treat that person as the norm of human existence, and the phenomenology of the vice as the phenomenology of existence per se.  Of course, I am teasing when I say this, but like most professorial humor it has a point, it is meant to shed some light.  In Henry Fairlie’s book, The Seven Deadly Sins Today, each chapter on a deadly sin is prefaced by a drawing by Vint Lawrence.  Here’s the drawing of envy.

Isn’t this a drawing of the Sartrean human?  Sideways keyhole spying, fingernail gnawing, distendly squatting, beingful of nothingness?

Of course, I could be wrong.

Experience, The Promised Land

Gabriel Marcel:

…I am convinced that I can be creative as a philosopher only for so long as my experience still contains unexploited and unchartered zones.  And this explains at last what I said earlier on about experience being like a promised land:  it has to become, as it were, its own beyond, inasmuch as it has to transmute itself and make its own conquest.  After all, the error of empiricism consists only in ignoring the part of invention and even of creative initiative involved in any genuine experience.  It might also be said that its error is to take experience for granted and to ignore its mystery; whereas what is amazing and miraculous is that there should be experience at all.  Does not the deepening of metaphysical knowledge consist essentially in the steps whereby experience, instead of evolving technics, turns inward towards the realization of itself?

Drama of the Soul in Exile: PI, (Yet) Again

Those who have been following the blog will recognize this as a both recapitulation and variation on earlier bits and pieces.  It is from the essay I am working on.

Soul in Exile

Hearing Voices in PI

[A thought connected to the paper I am working on today.]

Consider the interlocutory voices in PI. How am I, the reader, supposed to relate to them?

My surmise: I have to find my way to hearing all the voices as mine. I ought not simply choose one and denominate it my champion, or denominate it me. No, I must come to hear the voices as giving voice to different modulations of my existence; I find myself in each voice. To achieve this is to achieve a regrouping of my own mind. The best single term I know to use here is Gabriel Marcel’s: ingatheredness. I find my way to ingatheredness–and the ingatheredness is not achieved apart from the philosophical problems that confront the voices; rather the philosophical problems that confront the voices are themselves factors in the ingathering; they must play a role in my self-recollection because they play(ed) a role in my self-forgetfulness. (Finding myself in all the voices helps to make that clear.)

“But this means that the whole of PI is devoted to putting me back together? To finding in myself all these temptations, these corrections, these murks, these clarities?” –Yes. “So what do I take away from PI?” –Yourself. “I started with that.” –Did you?

To travel the length of PI, really to find yourself in all its voices, to achieve ingatheredness, is to have undergone ‘a change without change’. Marcel:

…[W]e must suppose that we are here in the presence of an act of inner creativity or transmutation, but also that this creative or transmuting act, though a paradox…also has the character of being a return–only a return in which what is given after the return is not identical with what was given before…The best analogy for this process of self-discovery which, though it is genuinely discovery, does also genuinely create something new, is the development of a musical composition; even if such a composition apparently ends with the very same phrases that it started with, they are not longer felt as being the same–they are, as it were, coloured by all the vicissitudes they have gone through and by which their final recapture, in their first form, has been accompanied.

[Footnote: N.B. the relationship between PI 1 and PI 693.]

I win and lose, win and lose ingatheredness: but this isn’t to toggle between the same two conditions again and again, but rather is the local shape of a globally ‘upward’, winning movement. And over and over, PI helps.

Clarity, Combative Clarity

Does philosophy have results?  –As I practice it (ahem!), I guess not.  Or at least it has no results that are not internal to philosophical investigation itself.  I am Wittgensteinian enough, or Kierkegaardian enough, or Marcelian enough to believe that what philosophy aims for is clarity.  But one is always becoming clear; one is never finally clear.

Clarity.  Clarity is internal to philosophical investigation:  it is not a separable result, isolable from the activity that realizes it and such that it confers value onto the activity because of a value it has independent of that activity.  If a result is separable, isolable and independent, then it has a career cut off in an important way from the process that realized it.  Indeed, in one sense its history only begins after the process that realizes it is finished.  The result can be seized and put to purposes quite different from anything that those involved in the process of realizing it intended or foresaw.

But clarity is valuable because of the process of philosophical investigation that realizes it.  And there is no clarity in isolation from the philosophical investigation that realizes it.  Philosophical investigation does not realize a clarity that someone could hope to enjoy who is no longer involved in philosophical investigation.  (“I got clear, you see; and now I am enjoying my clarity, although, thank God!, I am no longer involved in the travails of philosophical investigation.”)  –Kierkegaard’s Climacus talks about the true Christian, the subjective Christian, as “combatively certain” of Christianity, as certain in a way that requires that the certainty be daily won anew.  “Eternal certainty” (his contrast-term) is not something that the subjective Christian can enjoy on this side of the blue.  Similarly, the clarity realized by philosophical investigation is combative clarity, not eternal clarity.

It was once fashionable to charge that clarity is not enough. Someone (Austin, I believe) rejoined that we could decide whether clarity was enough once we’d gotten clear about something.  I worry that both the charge and the rejoinder treat clarity too much as if it were a separable result.

Sufficient unto the day is the clarity thereof, I reckon–the combative clarity thereof.

Marcel on ‘Performatives’ and the Self (Kierkegaardian Subjectivity and Austinian Performatives 2)

When I say that my act commits me, it seems to me that it means just this:  what is characteristic of my act is that it can later be claimed by me as mine; at bottom, it is as though I signed a confession in advance:  when the day comes when I will be confronted by my act, whether through my own agency or that of another…I must say:  yes, it is I who acted in this way, ego sum qui fecit; what is more:  I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape, I am guilty of a disownment.  Let us take a specific example.  The clearest, the most impressive example, is doubtless that of promising, to the extent that promising is not “mere words,” just words.  I promise someone that I will help him if he gets into difficulty.  This amounts to saying:  “I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape when these circumstances occur, in thereby disavowing myself I create a cleavage within myself which is destructive of my own reality.”

Marcel’s Table of Categories (Phillipians 4:8)

For the rest, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things have honor, whatever things are upright, whatever things are holy, whatever things are beautiful, whatever things are of value, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, give thought to these things.

No Show, Again

I was re-reading today F. R. Leavis’ “Memories of Wittgenstein”, and came across the following story.  Leavis and Wittgenstein hired a boat and, after Wittgenstein had paddled for a while, he stopped and got out, saying that he and Leavis should get out and walk.  The walk takes them a fair distance and quite a bit of time.  Eventually, Leavis reminds Wittgenstein that they hired the boat, have a long trek back (both by foot and by boat) and that the man from whom they hired the boat must still be waiting for them to return.  They go back, arriving at the boathouse at about midnight.

The man came forward and held our canoe as we got out.  Wittgenstein, who insisted imperiously on paying, didn’t, I deduced from the man’s protest, give him any tip.  I, in my effort to get in first with the payment, had my hand on some money in my trousers pocket and pulling it out, I slipped a couple of coins to the man.  As we went away, Wittgenstein asked:  “How much did you give him?”  I told him, and Wittgenstein said:  “I hope that is not going to be a precedent.”  Not, this time, suppressing the impatience I felt [Leavis had been impatient with Wittgenstein for a good part of the evening], I returned:  “The man told you that he had been waiting for us for a couple of hours—for us alone, and there is every reason for believing that he spoke the truth.”  “I, ” said Wittgenstein, “always associate the man with the boathouse.”  “You may, ” I retorted, “but you know that he is separable and has a life apart from it.”  Wittgenstein said nothing.

Wittgenstein on this occasion provides an example of the sort of thing that Marcel is trying to prevent in himself in the remark I quoted a few days ago:  “I am not watching a show.”  What Marcel wants to prevent in himself is, put one way, a failure of moral imagination, a failure of negative capability.  Wittgenstein gives in to the impulse to see the world (to see the man at the boathouse) as (part of) a closed, rational system oriented on his own desires and habits and needs, as two-dimensional.  The man at the boathouse becomes, slightly alarmingly, somewhat like the owner of the house in PI 398c:

Think of a picture of a landscape, an imaginary landscape with a house in it.–Someone asks “Whose house is that?”–The answer, by the way, might be “It belongs to the farmer who is sitting on the bench in front of it”. But then he cannot for example enter his house.

Wittgenstein’s boatman cannot leave the boathouse; he cannot return to his own home, to his life that is separate and apart from the boathouse.  –We all give in to this impulse from time to time.  That is why Marcel calls the no-show-ness of the world in which he finds himself “a fundamental spiritual fact”.  Like all spiritual facts, ignorance of it counts not as being ill-informed, but as a refusal to know.

One reason this story struck me was because I was again re-pondering Marcel’s remark due to reflections Lowe provides on her blog.

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