coromandal


perpetual Cimmerian darkness
November 19, 2013, 9:57 pm
Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: , , , ,


Have you ever read a more beautiful description of being, of our days?

Those who have compared our lives to a dream are right—perhaps more right than they realized. When we are dreaming our soul lives, acts and exercises all her faculties neither more nor less than when we are awake, but she does it much more slackly and darkly; the difference is definitely not so great as between night and the living day: more like that between night and twilight. In one case the soul is sleeping, in the other more or less slumbering; but there is always darkness, perpetual Cimmerian darkness. We wake asleep: we sleep awake. When I am asleep I do see things less clearly but I never find my waking pure enough or cloudless. Deep sleep can even put dreams to sleep; but our waking is never so wide awake that it can cure and purge those raving lunacies, those waking dreams that are worse than the real ones.”

Michel de Montaigne


managerialism and audit culture
February 19, 2013, 11:25 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

2012windrushHere is philosopher and professor Lars Iyer on what’s happening in the UK in education:  bad news, more or less:  high cost, market based, run by ‘the American MBA’ (who seems to have taken over the world), analytic, training has replaced learning.

From an interview with Lars Iyer:

How do you see the future of philosophy & academia? Is it as bleak as it seems to be in the book?

In the last couple of years, we have adopted the U.S. model of higher education in Britain, effectively privatising the university, and vastly increasing fees. Graduates will be burdened with huge debt, and people from poorer backgrounds have been discouraged from academic study. In Britain, there’s another twist, which Mark Fisher has called ‘market Stalinism’. Bureaucracy and managerialism are rife, and audit-culture has spread throughout the academy. Older models of teaching are being abandoned in favour of a kind of professional training. These are desperate times! End times!

From Lars Iyer’s blog Spurious



you can be delivered from a state of disquiet

greek marketplacePhilosophy isn’t an esoteric inaccessible pursuit; it is lessons that can have a very real affect on life.  Often philosophers write about simple reactions and observations to life’s problems.  Montaigne for instance – I just learned – wrote mostly about everyday almost pedantic and sometimes domestic topics.

In his book Exercices Spirituel, and excerpted below, the writer Hadot tells us how philosophy is a spiritual exercise.  How with practice it can turn isolated unhappy wrecks into reflective, meditative, flourishing souls.

From Exercices Spirituel:

[Ancient philosophy schools]

agree that man, before his philosophical conversion, is in a state of unhappy disquiet [un état d’inquiétude malhereuse]. Consumed by worries, torn by passions, he does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself [il n’est pas lui-même]. All schools also agree that man can be delivered from this state. He can accede to genuine life, improve himself, transform himself, and attain a state of perfection [un état de perfection].

[…]

we have forgotten how to read: how to pause, liberate ourselves from our worries, return into ourselves, and leave aside our search for subtlety and originality, in order to meditate calmly, ruminate, and let the texts speak to us. This, too, is a spiritual exercise, and one of the most difficult.

Pierre Hadot, Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique (Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault)



six stories

In autumn the surface water in lakes begins to cool and grow heavy.  Eventually the heavy top water sinks and displaces the lighter water at the bottom of the lake; and the lake turns.

History can be like a lake.  Take for example how we see class, particularly the members of the upper and lower ones.  Alain de Botton, in his book Status Anxiety, uses three stories to illustrate how we used to see the rich and poor, until about the middle of the 18th century, and three more stories to show how that perception of class has literally flipped.

We used to believe the labour of the poor drove wealth creation, that there was no shame in poverty, and that the riches of the upper echelons were generally ill gotten.  Now we believe the opposite.

Arguments can be made about the relative truthfulness of each of the two antipodal visions of society.  It’s much harder to argue that the radical shift in perspective has not had a profound effect on our lives.  To claim we’re not worse off, for instance.  Among many other things, it’s quite clear we have become uncompromisingly and unapologetically uncharitable.

From Status Anxiety:  the first three stories are the old vision, and the second three are what we believe today.  The old view of class:

Three useful old stories about failure:

From approximately 30 AD, when Jesus began his ministry, to the latter half of the twentieth century, the lowest in Western societies had to had three stories about their significance, which, while they could be believed, must have worked a profoundly consoling, anxiety-reducing effect on their listeners.

First Story:  The Poor Are Not Responsible for Their Condition and Are the Most Useful in Society

Continue reading



love not possession
January 24, 2011, 4:41 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here is a definition of philosophy by Critchley which is quite democratic.  It wrestles the discipline out of the iron grip of the intelligentsia of the day – sophistry – and presents it transparently for anyone and everyone who will have it.  It says it can’t be owned or quantified, and rather it is a quest, a procession toward friendship and knowledge and truth.

Last month I was sitting in the office of a dean of a school, pitching a new course.  I was making a case for a connection between high energy consumption and outdated property development ideas, and I happened to mention blogs among other media as a source for my observations.  And got a wrinkled nose from the university administrator.

He’s in his 50s and has a PhD in history and a blog simply isn’t a good source of information.  His retiscence protects quality; and it also commodifies and controls sources of knowledge.  The new media tends toward democracy, shattering that block between the academy and people.  Maybe like the church replacing it’s Latin liturgy for the peasant lingua franca.  The sudden new knowledge is a flush of love.

From the book:

So philosophy begins with a critique of the Sophists; the Sophists are those people who claim to know and offer to exchange knowledge for a fee.  Philosophy begins with a critique of Sophistry and its claims to knowledge.  In place of the sophistical pretensions to wisdom, philosophy offers a love of wisdom, a philia, an orientation of the soul towards the true, which is not the possession of the true.  So philosophy begins with love in a non-erotic sense:  a kind of friendship, usually between men, usually between an older man and a younger man.

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, Simon Critchley



beasts and lunatics
September 19, 2009, 11:15 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Here is a quotation from Critchley’s Continental Philosophy in which he gives a kind of primer description of each of a half dozen or so significant 20th C European (non British) philosophers.

Critchley establishes a dialectic:  that an emphasis on knowledge leads to scientism and turns us into beasts and conversely an emphasis on wisdom rejects scientism, introduces obscurantism and turns us into lunatics.  But his broader point is that the Continental philosophers instruct us to return to searching for the meaning of life – by way of wisdom – and conversely to resist the reductive nature of mere knowledge.

My contention is that what philosophy should be thinking through at present is this dilemma which on the one side threatens to turn us into beasts, and on the other side into lunatics.  This means that the question of wisdom, and its related question of the meaning of life, should at the very least move closer to the centre of philosophical activity and not be treated with indifference, embarrassment, or even contempt.  The appeal of much that goes under the name of Continental philosophy, in my view, is that it attempts to unify or at least move closer together questions of knowledge and wisdom, of philosophical truth and existential meaning.  Examples are legion here, whether one thinks of Hegel on the life and death struggle for recognition as part and parcel of the ascent to absolute knowing; Nietzsche on the death of God and the need for a revaluation of values; Karl Marx on the alienation of human beings under conditions of capitalism and the requirement for an emancipatory and equitable social transformation; Freud on the unconscious repression at work in dreams, jokes, and slips of the tongue and what that reveals about the irrationality at the heart of mental life; Heidegger on anxiety, the deadening indifference of inauthentic social life, and the need for an authentic existence; Sartre on bad faith, nausea, and the useless but necessary passion of human freedom; Albert Camus on the question of suicide in a universe rendered absurd by the death of God; Emmanuel Levinas on the trauma of our infinite responsibilities to others.  This list could be extended.

-Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford



continental abyss

This is from Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction which describes the differences and similarities between continental and British – also called analytic – systems of thought.

I’m just back from a trip to London and Paris and found the two cities to be radically different; I am convinced the forms of the cities derive directly from their philosophies.

Critchley seems to be saying – you know I don’t really know! – that there is a gap – a gaping one – between merely finding solutions – as Thatcher seems prone to do in the excerpt below – and finding a way toward a well lived life.  The British tradition tends to separate these ideas – with ultimately reductive results, whereas the Continental joins them in a kind of enriching critique of life.

Here is Simon Critchley –

On 5 October 1999, when pressed for her current views on the prospect of a European union, Margaret Thatcher remarked, ‘All the problems in my lifetime have come from Continental Europe, all the solutions have come from the English-speaking world.’  Despite its evident falsehood, this statement expresses a deep truth:  namely, that for many inhabitants of the English-speaking world, and indeed for some living outside it, there is a real divide between their world and the societies, languages, political systems, traditions, and geography of Continental Europe.  British politics, especially but by no means exclusively on the right, is defined in terms of the distinction between ‘Europhobes’ and ‘Europhiles,’ known to their opponents as ‘Eurosceptics’ and ‘Eurofanatics’ respectively.  That is, there is a cultural distinction, some would say a divide – perhaps even an abyss – between the ‘Continental’ and whatever opposes it, what Baroness Thatcher, in tones deliberately reminiscent of Winston Churchill, calls ‘the English-speaking world.’

/…/

There is a gap in much philosophy between theoretical questions of how one knows what one knows, and more practical or existential questions of what it might mean to lead a good or fulfilled life.

/…/

the cultural life in the English-speaking world is marked by a divide between science, on the one hand, and literature and humane understanding on the other.



without you i’m nothing
November 18, 2008, 12:03 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,


When I was in boarding school, we were required to write a letter home before we could sit down for Sunday tea.  It was our ticket in.  We wrote in large cursive and double spaced, repeating ideas, drew a picture, signed, ran downstairs licking postgrams and handed them to our dorm mother presiding over the mid afternoon ritual.

Instruction was given to make it into something more than an empty gesture.  I remember being told to begin each letter by acknowledging and asking after our parents.  It was good form to establish the relationship this way before rushing headlong into descriptions of our weeks as we were prone to do.

I am reading The Other, a short book of essays by Ryszard Kapuscinski a Polish journalist.  In a way the theme of the book is similar to the method we used to write our letters.  And, it’s about what Coromandal is about – crossing the threshold from one place into another, in this case from self to other people.

This quotation is in the introduction to the book.  It is a description of the thinking of one of Kapuscinski’s mentors, Levinas.  L. takes the classic statement of Descartes that has formed the foundation of western civilization – I think therefore I am – and radically subverts it:  in the immortal words of Sandra Bernhardt, without you I am nothing!

’The Other’ was his central topic.  Levinas considered that philosophers were wasting their time on metaphysics and epistemology.  Although he lived in France, the land of Descartes, he did not believe that ‘I think, therefore I am’, but that ‘the self is only possible through the recognition of the Other.’”

~Neal Ascherson, from the Introduction, The Other, Ryszard Kapuscinski



three hour work day
May 3, 2008, 1:48 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

(wilde | kierkegaard | sloths | sloth)

The line between sloth and doing nothing is very fine.  Sloth is loaded up as a sin whereas doing nothing can mean communing with people who matter, even God himself.

“Theories and polemics about sloth have figured widely in Western thought in the work of artists, philosophers, and cultural critics as diverse as Aquinas, Nietzsche, and Malevich, as well as Marx, Kierkegaard, and Wilde. In Dante’s Purgatorio, for example, sloth is described as being the “failure to love God with all one’s heart, all one’s mind, and all one’s soul.” A more secular viewpoint on sloth is provided by Paul LaFargue, Karl Marx’s son-in-law, who authored the influential The Right to be Lazy (1883) and tirelessly campaigned for a three-hour workday. Likewise, in his manifesto in praise of laziness (1993), Zagreb-based artist Mladen Stilinovic suggests that Western artists are too preoccupied with promotion and production, and are thus less artists than producers.”

~from the Slought Foundation website

“Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.”

– Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855), Either/Or, Vol. 1

“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.”

– Oscar Wilde, (1854-1900), The Critic as Artist