Do you know the mental torture known as “the Socratic method”? It is the watered down version of the origin of all mental torture: the method of Socrates. Despite the likeness of naming, their commonality is limited to one party in conversation passive-aggressively expressing his superiority over the other. In the latter this is done by a person in power asking questions for which no definite answer exists and in the former the questioner’s power derives from asking a question to which he already knows the answer. The result is the same: answering is like a mouse trying to escape from a cat.
Leszek Kolakowski said: “There is one man with whom all European philosophers identify themselves, even if they dismiss his ideas altogether. This is Socrates – a philosopher who is unable to identify himself with this archetypal figure does not belong to this civilization.” in Metaphysical Horror, p. 1, Basil Blackwell.
I don’t know whether this means I am not civilized, not European, not a philosopher or a combination thereof. Maybe Socrates would have thought it a question worth exploring – so let me explore.
‘My dear parents,’ said the sister banging her hand on the table by way of an introduction, ‘things cannot go on any longer in this way. Maybe if you don’t understand that, well, I do. I will not utter my brother’s name in front of this monster, and thus I say only that we must try to get rid of it. We have tried what is humanly possible to take care of it and to be patient. I believe that no one can criticize us in the slightest.’, F. Kafka, The Metamorphosis.
Only when you’re heard does it make sense to say something.
Job only wants one thing: to be heard. His friends listen to him. They do not hear what he is saying. Gregor wanted one thing: that his sister might develop herself. She does and so stops listening to him.
It’s all right. Both get what they want in the end. Not justice or wisdom or payback for the observation of their duties. They get want they want. They’re heard. Job’s tabernacle will be blessed and Gregor’s family fairs well as well.
You can read both as criticism. That is what happens if you try to hear what is being said. Still, think a little harder when you are trying to hear something. Or a little less. Because, you know, literally both stories end on the up and up. Gregor and Job get what they want, they literally and exactly get what they want.
If you think they don’t then you didn’t hear what they said. Maybe because you were too busy still listening to what you want for them. Probably because you only hear what you want.
Try again (warning: full-on atheism ahead): Continue reading
Posted in JoB, Kafka
Tagged atheism, bible, cultural optimism, Hobbes, JoB, Kafka, Kierkegaard, learning, phoetry, phroesy, universals
“Your occupation is to keep your disguise intact and you succeed in it because your mask is the most puzzling of all; to wit you are nothing, you are constantly only in relation to others, and what you are you are only in virtue of that relation.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, own translation.
One word can make a world of difference. The word that makes the difference in the above quote is the word ‘only’. It is not a problem to be constantly in relation to others. Likewise it is not a problem to be yourself in virtue of that relation. The issue is when you are ‘only’ that. It is simply true that you are at least that and the sad truth is that in atomistic times that simple truth is swiftly swept under the rug. You can deny that what you are you are in virtue of your relation to others but the result of your denial is that you’re nothing because you add nothing; what remains of you is ‘only’ your mechanical relation to others.
It may be a stretch to go from Kierkegaard to mathematics. Still, there’s a sense in which it is improper to call the subset of all your relations a subset of all your relations. Somehow it is an impropriety shining through a most modern sense of self: by taking everything one is taking all that can be taken and this everything just ‘has to make do’. Well, it doesn’t and I will now rant a little on how this failure explains current political issues around identity as well as the intuition that personality-changing medication strikes us as ‘unreal’. It will be a rant that takes the Heisenberg principle as consequence – not cause! -of Kierkegaard’s above use of the word ‘only’. Call me crazy and just read on regardless. Crazy is fun.
“And as for the relationship of the subject to the truth when he comes to know it, the assumption is that if only the truth is brought to light, its appropriation is a relatively unimportant matter, something which follows as a matter of course. And in any case, what happens to the individual is in the last analysis a matter of indifference. Herein lies the lofty equanimity of the scholar, and the comic thoughtlessness of his parrot-like echo.”
S. Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Princeton 1968, p. 24.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 28-10-2009, oddly enough one of just a few Kierkegaard quotes (and a really bad quought)! I must already have been getting old ;-]
A friend of mine put my mind again on Kierkegaard. Although I won’t praise the lord for it, I’m thankful for reading him early on in my life. He cured me of many things (one of them trying to be too serious about anything for too long a time). Most notably he cured me of religious group-think (and, consequently but with quite a significant delay, of all and any religious – or with more modern terms: deep, sincere, authentic – sentiment (although not of sentiment as such, see later)). He also cured me of feeling compelled to what is commonly preferred sentence-wise: i.e. short sentences. And of the need to avoid starting sentences with the word “And”.
So I dug in. Continue reading