Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Thursday, January 31, 2019


This year SCT will be one decade old. It is likely to be a year of scant posting here, but I am not closing shop. My aim is to finalize plans for a (small) book and to have made a significant beginning on the material therein. I will occasionally post some drafts that will perhaps be more rough than my usual work here.

Daniel Dennett says, I think in an interview, that he resents every moment he must devote to politics because it is time stolen from projects he'd rather be working on -- presumably the philosophy of consciousness. A friend who is pretty solidly rooted in the Straussian tradition held up this remark as a sort of smoking gun for the apparent bankruptcy (my words, not his) of the analytic scientism (ditto) he sees in Dennett. "Politics has to be where we start," he said. My own stance is far closer to my friend's than to Dennett's, but I have to say I see Dennett's point. The last several posts I wrote here feel far removed from my own immediate concerns; they are my way of trying to ward off the siren-call that "everybody's shouting," now as in 1965 when Dylan sang about it: "Which side are you on?" I will of course have more to say on this -- it is not so easily exorcised -- but I truly hope to spend more time on the questions that the crises of the day distract from. This is not to say that they are not crises. And if any one wants to say that it is from a "position of privilege" that one may put one's attention elsewhere, well, how could I demur? I am not in a refugee camp or fleeing from civil war or criminal cartels, and (so far) I am spared the worst effects of ecological catastrophe and the Ponzi scheme we call the national (or global) economy. But I take with absolute seriousness the claim of philosophy, the examined life, to be the life worth living.

We are told in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana, that when Musonius Rufus was sentenced under the Emperor Nero to hard labor, digging a canal across the isthmus of Corinth, he was met by Demetrius, a fellow philosopher, who was dismayed to see him in such a state. Musonius responded to him:
"You are distraught, Demetrius, to find me digging across the isthmus for Greece? But what, I wonder, would you have thought, if you saw me playing the cithara like Nero?"
Or, if one wants a testimony from some less remote era:

When Jacques Lusseyran was imprisoned at Buchenwald, he discovered that reciting poetry kept him and his fellow inmates alive. In his essay Poetry in Buchenwald, Lusseyran is emphatic that "this is not just a manner of speaking;"
for us these were sensations ... poetry was completely lived by us, and not simply evaluated[.] We didn’t say, “It’s beautiful,” an expression which only has meaning for those who are happy, the sated. We said, “You see how much good it does!”

I hear skeptics growling, “He’s not going to tell us that they were
fed by poetry.” Of course not. We were nourished by a watery soup and a bitter bread. And by hope. Let skeptics not forget this! It was precisely in this matter of hope that poetry acted upon us. And it was in the thick of these most completely physical, material circumstances which I endured even to the point of suffocation, that I understood how utterly tangible are these things without weight which we call hope, poetry, life. ... To nourish the desire to live, to make it burn: only this counted. Because it was this that deportation threatened with death. It was essential to keep reminding oneself that it is always the soul which dies first – even if its departure goes unnoticed – and it always carries the body along with it. It was the soul which first had to be nourished. Morality was powerless. All moralities. As if they had been created by artificial conditions of existence: provisional peace, provisional social equilibrium. Ideas, knowledge, could do nothing either: they left despair intact. Only religion nourished. And next to it, the sensation of human warmth, the physical presence of other human beings. And poetry.
It is incidental that Lusseyran does not name "philosophy" here, though the secret ongoing trysts between Poetry and Philosophy in the course of their ancient lovers' quarrel are beyond the scope of this post. (Part of what esotericism means is playing liaison between them.) The crucial thing is to note that the life worth living can be lived in a prison as well as in a gated community. Maybe -- though one should not say such things breezily -- even better.