My in-box has been flooded, and I know Bert’s has too, with e-mails from readers of All Things Shining. It’s wonderful! I only wish we could respond to each of you individually. Unfortunately, that would be a full-time job, and we’ve already got those. Instead, then, I’ll try to use this space occasionally to take up some of the more thought-provoking or difficult or perspicuous notes. Or just the ones about which I think I might have something to say.
Let me start, then, with a difficult one from a reader named Gary, writing from Juba, South Sudan. Gary says,
After reading your wonderful book, I have a question: Might you give us on the “All Things Shining” blog examples of how you and Dr. Dreyfus and others practice in daily life the navigation between nihilism and fanaticism?
Well, the first thing to say is that there’s nothing particularly special about my life or Bert’s. Both of us make mistakes, get unhappy, worry about what to do in various circumstances, and so on. Our goal is not in any way to hold ourselves up as models. But we do think there are models available, and one of the points of ATS is to read some of the great works in such a way as to reveal these aspects of what their characters are about. In the case of navigating between nihilism and fanaticism, I think that Moby Dick’s Ishmael is a key one. (Another character who would be good to look at in this context is Alyosha, from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. We don’t talk about Dostoevsky in ATS, but if we write a follow-up then The Brothers K will almost certainly play a central role.)
For the time being, then, let’s take Ishmael. The beginning of Moby Dick has Ishmael in a desperate state. In the opening paragraph of the book he explains that he is suffering from “a damp, drizzly November in my soul”. Now, we don’t get too much of an explanation here. We don’t know in any great detail, for example, what Ishmael is unhappy about, or what form his unhappiness takes. But in the context of the broader issues of the book it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think of this state as one in which the world has started to look, for Ishmael, as if it is lacking distinctions of worth. Certainly, in any case, it is lacking shining things. There aren’t too many of those in a damp, drizzly November. So let’s take it as a working assumption that Ishmael’s opening state is one in which nihilism is threatening. What is his response?
I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
Now, going to sea here could be read, and perhaps it should be read, as a metaphor. On such an account going to sea is unmooring yourself from the background presuppositions by which you have always been held, the presuppositions of your culture or society or upbringing that are so close to you that you don’t even notice you’re committed to them. You do this not by focusing on yourself, though, but by focusing on others. One of Ishmael’s goals in going to sea is find ways of life that don’t have the problem he is now encountering, ways of life that he can get in sync with, resonate with, and from which he can see meaningful aspects of the world to which his former way of life had closed him off. Ishmael does this by literally going to sea, of course. But one could just as well immerse oneself in literary worlds.
At sea Ishmael meets the hale and hearty pagan Queequeg. Queequeg’s way of life seems to justify itself in the scene in which he lies on his deathbed, “nigh to his endless end”. (He doesn’t actually die here, but it looks to everyone, including Queequeg, as if he will.)
But as all else in him thinned, and his cheek-bones grew sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller; they became of a strange softness of lustre; and mildly but deeply looked out at you there from his sickness, a wondrous testimony to that immortal health in him which could not die, or be weakened.
There are other indications in the novel that Queequeg’s way of life is in some way or another worth emulating. And one of the things Ishmael does is genuinely to emulate it. That is to say, he involves himself in the very ritual practices of idol worship that Queequeg finds so central to his life. Now, Ishmael doesn’t end up getting a whole lot out those particular practices. But he does seem to learn from Queequeg that you need to embody your way of life rather than simply to think about it. And Ishmael commits himself to writing an understanding of the universe on his own body, the way Queequeg has one tattooed on his.
So what are we to make of this? I take it that Ishmael’s way out of nihilism is to learn to share the various moods of his companions that reveal the world as meaningful. This is one of the things that Ishmael is great at – he can get caught up in almost any mood. Moods are interesting because they reveal things about the world that matter, things that if you weren’t caught up in the mood you wouldn’t be able to notice. Ishmael gets caught up in the mood of agapic Christian love, for example, when he works together with his community to some rather trivial end (squeezing the sperm), and in that mood he experiences a joy that is like that of “the angels in paradise”; and he gets caught up in the isolated mood of Father Mapple’s Lutheranism when he listens to his sermon at the Whaleman’s chapel. In various circumstances he finds himself caught up in Queequeg’s moods. All these moods reveal different aspects of the way the world matters. Getting in sync with revealing moods is a guarantor against nihilism, on Melville’s account.
But it is dangerous, too. For some moods are maniacal, demoniacal, fanatical. Some moods reveal a way the world matters only by closing you off to all the other meanings, only by making you narrow-minded and fanatical and joyless. That is Ahab’s monomaniacal mood. As Ahab says about himself, “I lack the low, enjoying power”. (Perhaps one should be reminded here of Amy Chua, the Tiger Mama, whose extreme parenting techniques may be tied up with the fact that she is, by her own account, “not good at enjoying life.” This actually feels wrong to me, but I’m not sure why. Discuss.)
In any case, Ishmael even gets in sync with Ahab’s fanatical mood for a while. “Ahab’s quenchless feud was mine,” he says, and he is caught up in that totalizing mood that organizes his understanding of everything that is. Somehow, though, Ishmael manages to leave this mood behind.
I’ve written a lot already, so I won’t go on here. But there is a serious question how Ishmael can leave himself open to moods that reveal the way the world matters without getting caught in a monomaniacal or fanatical mood, one that closes him off to all the others. If getting caught up in revealing moods is a way to resist nihilism, then how does one resist the fanatical moods? I’ll try to return to that question later, but for the time being I’d love to hear what people think.
Ahab’s mood seems like a special case, being driven by the trauma of the real. In B&T, Heidegger comments how natural forces can break in and destroy us, and I can’t help but feel that’s what happened to Ahab. He wants to close off, or cork, the disruption the whale caused in his worldview; however, as we find out, it’s impossible and insane to attempt, as it cannot be totalized. In the Polyphemus episode, Homer recognizes the power of raw nature, and, like Odysseus, in these situations, our receptive/responsiveness to moods falters. The real, the noumenal object=x, the inscrutable thing, can unravel and shatter us. For example, the trauma of when a loved one is lost, to lets say an illness, can cause people to become fanatical and obsessive, barring them from other things in life. This even occurs when a loved one is inflicted by an illness for which, at the moment, lacks a cure, like in the film Lorenzo’s Oil. These are just quick examples (an endless amount of disruptions would fit, perhaps even cultural) of when the real exerts itself, violently crossing the threshold of the lebenswelt, holding us host-age.
Anxiety and boredom fit the description of moods that can close Dasein to other moods, each resulting in a type of existential death (the possible impossibility of existence). I think the trauma I described narrows the possibilities of Dasein because it leaves it wounded and hemorrhaging, like a pain, an otherness, that drowns out everything else. Each mood results in, or are resulted by, an obtrusion, a crisis. Beyond these special cases, I don’t think a mood, under which a person might live any type of meaningful life, could block Dasein from the solicitation of other moods, simply on the basis that the mood itself requires the “Da” of Dasein to be open. Bert would describe the special moods as breakdown cases, the very breaking down and damaging of this necessary “Da.”
I am curious about the contrast between “revealing” moods and “fanatical” ones. I don’t see why “fanatical” moods aren’t or can’t be revealing. People who are in sync with them certainly seem to be drawing distinctions of worth (at least worthwhile to them from the perspective of the moods). Why can’t we just say that some revealing moods are just bad or immoral or……?
I’m also curious about the idea that Melville’s account has a “guarantor against nihilism”. I’m not convinced there can be any such thing. I also wonder whether the search for such is one of the very things that can lead to nihilism when it can’t be found. I read ATS as a “best bet” way for evading nihilism, not a guarantee.
I agree. I have not read ATS, but on the face of it I find it rather pathetic that the only way to evade nihilism is to be “caught in a mood”. Is it all that philosophy has to offer? What mood? How can we know it is the “right mood”? How do we know it is not “fanaticism”? And what is fanaticism anyway? For fanatics, fanaticism is merely the “truth”, revealed or otherwise established.
Great questions. I am very bothered by the use of the word ‘mood.’ For me it’s a superficial way of understanding and relating to important experience. Moods are frequently divorced from rational thought. But rationality is part of being human and necessary in distinguishing fanaticisms.
I’m not sure we disagree, really. Fanatical moods are certainly revealing. The question is whether they reveal aspects of the world that are worth embracing or not. The position of the book is precisely that some moods are such that it’s worth allowing yourself to get caught up in them and others are more appropriately resisted. The question is how to recognize the distinction. If Melville is right, then it can be done. Ishmael is caught up in the mood of Ahab’s quenchless feud, but eventually gets out of it. How? Not, we think, by recognizing some criteria of goodness or morality that it fails to satisfy. Anymore than the woodworker recognizes the wood that is “doaty as a biscuit” by seeing that it satisfies some criteria of doatiness. We can get the skill of recognizing distinctions of worth – even distinctions of worth regarding the moods that are drawing us in – without this skill being a matter of following some rule or applying some set of interpretational criteria.
“We can get the skill of recognizing distinctions of worth – even distinctions of worth regarding the moods that are drawing us in”
We can as folks like yourself and Lingis have rightly said find out what is of value/worth and was is not in an activity like woodworking by practice and study, but what is the activity that one would engage in to become as intimate/knowing with moods? Certainly reading about other people will not do the trick. Whatever practice/phenomenology we might develop I think that the only check available is some kind of development of maturity, as Foucault gestured to in his last years, and the related kinds of developmental/social skills that equip one to have patience, concentration/mindfulness, negative-capability, compassion, etc. There are no guarantees that we are on the ‘right’ track, right side of history, but we know the price to be paid for having superficial relationships/experiences/commitments, and for some people this difference in quality will be one that makes a difference.
Insightful book. Taking the Gospel of John for the source of who Jesus was results in your failure to take into account current research in New Test. Studies. It is also the case that Jesus said Share with all, not love(agape) and there is a difference. But alot of important insights in your book.
Getting caught up in moods is almost synonymous with fanatical moods. Reminds of Christian evangelicals filled with the Holy Spirit during a Sunday service, hootin’ and howlin’, raising hands in the air, with passionate facial expressions…
Maybe, in existentialist(?) fashion, choose ahead of time what beliefs and experiences you’ll allow yourself to get caught up in….based on a ethics of…. No, that’s not gonna work. You tell us Sean, because I have no idea or at least certainly couldn’t think of a formula for avoiding going crazy that each and every one of us could follow. Seems you have to know yourself somehow.
I think the blog entries under the earlier subject: “the relationship between what’s right and what matters” start getting into this issue of how one practices; how one navigates.
It couldn’t be programmable nor prescribed, no rules, no formulas…it’s more like a radical phronesis.
With all due respect, are you are throwing the baby out with the bath water? Can’t the Enlightenment remain liberating and compatible with a conception of the sacred? Someone – Federer, Einstein – is doing the creating that we worship. Moreover, the Cartesian inner self, Kant’s “Copernican” revolution (“autonomy”) has lifted living standards for millions. Is there really anything more sacred?
And pillorying Nietzsche for what? Reclaiming Philosophy and our humanity? For me, the Philosophical mood itself is the shining example of human excellence. A way of life that can appreciate stoicism as well as whoosing. The greatest philosophers – Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche – transcend the Western tradition by reinforcing the sacred. There are examples of having it both ways in our modern age with Wittgenstein. We create our world with language, maybe it is the world, but it is shared.
Your book was inspirational, and I laud your case for balance. May its success combat nihilism!
“Moreover, the Cartesian inner self, Kant’s “Copernican” revolution (“autonomy”) has lifted living standards for millions.” I have never understood this confusion of the history of ideas with actual history, how exactly did the ideas of these rarely read (even less understood) writers change the lives of millions? In the past Bert has been clearer (after Kierkegaard) that making commitments to one’s callings/passions/conscience is a risky leap of faith (beyond ethics in the Greek/polis sense) and he seems to be hedging on this some now perhaps in deference to Sean. I think that by stretching “mood” to include anything/experience that one may be called/struck by, fall into/under, that we are well beyond Heidegger’s definition and closer to what the psychologist James Hillman called archetypal (as an adjective not a class/structure). This is an interesting review:
I was reacting to the broad tracing of modernity’s ills to the philosophical villains. Groundless secularization has also led to the manipulation of our environment for the good. The modern welfare state, globalization, are mixed bags and the “alienation” wrought by technology is only part of the story. There are nets in Asia to catch the suicidal stamping out iPhones, but Apple had a great quarter and the productivity enhancements lift living standards.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking dmf…as I would like to believe Philosophy is as powerful as the Greek gods or Christianity. I think Sean persuasively makes this case in contrasting ideologies and epochs. I’m at once more optimistic, thinking that godless industriousness has advanced the ball, and pessimistic, questioning transient meaning. Maybe I read the Myth of Sisyphus at an impressionable age. And I still find Schopenhauer’s honesty refreshing
See there just is no such thing as Philosophy or Christianity, unless one has a theological worldview where there is some guiding Spirit at work in history binding us together. I get the sense that this is not just a majority view in the world but also here on this blog, and then I have to wonder what all this talk of nihilism is about. In the KQED interview Sean backed away (wisely to my mind) from the idea of us being in a fallen/nihilistic age, and then this becomes more a question of making one’s way in a very tough world, finding resources/direction where one can.
For a more optimistic (than mine) view see: http://www.janushead.org/8-2/lingis.pdf
on the historical front:http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-06-11-rorty-en.html
Sean might deny viewing the current epoch as a Fall; however, implied in the philosophy of ATS is Heidegger’s eschaton.
First, thank you for your book. I tore through it like a thirsty beast coming upon a clear mountain stream. Further, it has inspired me to re-read much that we in the Western tradition deem worthy–Moby Dick first. There is much on mind here, but I pray at the alter of brevity, so in an effort to be succinct: To argue against Platonic ideals, universal t/Truth, dualism is not so difficult for many of us, as you well demonstrate. In doing so, we worry, one ends up staring into the abyss–or, equally dangerous, being swept up in a tidal wave of fanaticism. For me, the answer lies in the minefield of metaphysics (as philosophy defines and practices it). However, this is dubious territory for me, and a region I can explore only so far. How far? As one writer above suggests, as far as knowledge of the self can carry one. I turn to the Greeks for guidance. From Pythia, the goddess oracle at Delphi:
“Look into yourself, know yourself, keep to yourself; bring back your mind and your will, which are spending themselves elsewhere, into themselves. You are running out, you are scattering yourself; concentrate yourself, resist yourself; you are being betrayed, dispersed, and stolen away from yourself. Do you not see that this world keeps its sight all concentrated inward and its eyes open to contemplate itself? It is always vanity for you, within and without; but it is less vanity when it is less extensive. Except for you, O man, each thing studies itself first, and, according to its needs, has limits to its labors and desires. There is not a single thing as empty and needy as you, who embrace the universe: you are the investigator without knowledge, the magistrate without jurisdiction, and all in all, the fool of the farce.”
This is weighty stuff–and no one wants to be the fool of the farce. But where to start? Personally, the motivation to simplify my life cannot be ignored. To “bring my mind and my will…back to myself.” The answer–again, my personal response–is to attempt the Thoreauvian approach of reducing life to its core elements, that it might be lived fully. There is something about such simplicity that gives me warning against being swept up, as well as providing protection against the abyss.
Please excuse me and my pre-caffeinated random thoughts this morning. Thank you for your work.
@brittZ, might be wishful thinking on my part but I think that there is a tension here between our good authors, one which would make sense in terms of the generation gap between the modern and the post-modern. If the Heideggerian “eschaton” is the final word in ATS than it is a world well lost, but I think that there have been advances in (post)phenomenology that take us well beyond such backwards looking limits.
Interesting dmf…appreciate the Rorty link as I’m thoroughly enjoying the Consequences of Pragmatism. As noted, I am of two minds. Maybe my optimism is a disguised stoicism. It’s certainly easier to see universals. But taking up the Rorty’s point on the founders, is it not progress to declare inalienable rights? The jury is out human nature, but the evolution of rights – however fragile – is palpable. Further, borrowing a glib analogy from the animal kingdom, why do chimps naturally share their food? Back to our domain, can there be art if not Philosophy or Christianity in this anti-foundationalist soup? I would hate to go from all things sacred to none!
@charlie, sure there can even be significant parts of lives as works of art, as haunted and called as they have ever been, just no-thing Objective or Collective which will bring us closer to Truth or otherwise transcend our all-t00-human lives (by the way this isn’t a current event that has cut us off from the Source, there has never been such a connection/Way) or take us above the need for politics. This is only bad news for folks who find being-human to be too limited/poor, they are left with a fallen mythological world that only a God can save, the rest of us can make the most of our talents/capacities and relationships . Not sure if this makes the grade in your book as “sacred”, very few folks signed on for Dewey’s Common Faith.
Click to access Kelly.pdf
It’s always a major concern whenever a philosophical project applies Heidegger’s epochal distinctions, especially when its tagged with the claim that something has been lost or covered over. It almost always calls for the search for something primordial, which is Heidegger at his worst; it’s a very conservative path. Awhile back, in the discussions on history and the Geschick of being, I posted about focusing more on the liberal, freeing Es gibt, ridding any sense of destiny, fate, and saving power.
In addition, a reason I think ATS is bound to the notion of Geschick as destiny is Bert’s insistence on the movement of marginal practices. He gets it from Foucault, “the leap from the wings to center stage,” which is Foucault’s interpretation of Nietzschean forces. He then applies this to Heidegger’s reciprocal rejoinder (Erwiderung) in B&T (Derrida’s discussion on the inheritance of a promise offers an interesting analogy here) which then gets applied to the Ursprung in the Work of Art and again in the Four-Fold. It’s an interesting reading of Heidegger through Nietzsche, no doubt, but it would, I think, benefit from Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche, more than it has from Foucault’s reading.
In Deleuze, we can interpret destiny, if this is how we must interpret Geschick, in the eternal return, the play of forces, as a welcoming of chance. It is a game of throwing the dice, and to play well is to affirm chance. When Heidegger quotes Heraclitus, describing the Geschick as a child that plays, playing because it plays, this seems very close to Deleuze’s sense of throwing the dice just to throw the dice, never worrying about the number rolled. (Who could this child be but Dionysus?) It’s not a leap then to say that the being of becoming is simply the continual return of being differently, another roll. Foucault tries to “moralize” and contain the eruption of forces by placing a pattern on their emergence, even though Nietzsche makes clear that forces abide only by their own doing and willing.
I was replying to your earlier comment about “not formulaic.” I see now from this entry that you have me pegged as a blindered student of Dreyfus. So be it. Obviously he isn’t responsible for my errors but here they are:
I started this train of thought, with dmf, in blog entries here: “the relationship between what’s right and what matters.”
Here is as far as I have gotten. Yes, I agree, it can’t be formulaic. As I said, it reminds me of “virtue ethics” but, of course, that’s too ontic. Answering dmf, I said, you DO IT like you ride a bicycle: you practice. Practice what? You practice leading a virtuous life, guided by examples. One exchange from a Dreyfus lecture circa 1999 is over whether the examples of an ethical life have real feet and leave real footprints; that is, whether we pick a specific historical hero/role model and adjust that hero/role model for the contemporary situation or whether such role models are ideal types, “without real footprints.” While its too ontic for Heidegger’s project, it is my sense that that is the way one “does it.”
As you expect of the ontic story, there is something important missing and if we don’t identify that something I don’t think we can cash in on what Dreyfus/Kelly are up to. What is mostly behind their story is “later Heidegger” and his emanations. (An aside: I think an important dimension of the brilliance of what Bert and Sean have done is to develop their story and share it with the kind of audience that is reflected in ATS being on the NYT best sellers list with scarcely a mention of Heidegger’s ponderous framework! This is no mean feat. I scarcely thought it possible. It’s a Dreyfus forte and ATS shows that Kelly is carrying this tradition forward. Its one of the few ways that non-philosophers, like myself, can ever hope to have access to Heidegger’s powerful perspective. Without Bert’s and his students’ teaching/writing, Heidegger is mostly inaccessible. That said, perhaps some of their weirdness in the reviews I have seen might be attributable to too little attention to the Heidegger’s toolbox.)
I think Heidegger’s 4-fold, and his notion of the poet, combine into something I’ll call an ethical ontology (if that’s not oxymoronic, like I said, I am no philosopher). Heidegger teaches that we must ever learn to dwell. (On my reading, All Things Shining offers a reflective resource for learning to dwell and names the skill they hope to cultivate for dwelling: meta-poiesis.) DMF asks, “How do you DO it?” I take that question to have two parts: “How do you achieve the balance?” (a static analysis) and “How do you adjust the balance going forward?” (a dynamic analysis). (Maybe “going forward” is too teleological. Maybe, following Gadamer I think, the dynamic facet is adjusting the balance “going away” rather than “going to.”)
The static balance entails getting four ontological elements into balance. (At the ontic level, Aquinas had a system consisting of the blending of 7 primary virtues. At the ontological level it seems that Heidegger is trying to achieve a unity as well but, as we’ll see, unlike Aquinas, H sees the balance as subject to epochal change and renovation. Also he only has ontological categories to unite, not specific, ontic virtues.) There is a lot of discussion about what the 4 ontological elements are. On the face of it, there are divinities (my take: access to previous understandings of being), mortals (my take: our finite, place- and time-specific existence), earth (my take: moods and other cultural forces (language?) that resist rationalization, and sky (my take: rationality, the impulse and promise of getting clear).
Britt Z says “prudence” is important. No doubt but I think that’s a specific virtue, required for achieving balance but the balance, the unity, is the ontological claim — practices gather.
I read ATS to be covering all the bases of an ethical ontology, all four “folds,” if you will. But Heidegger’s poet also plays a critical part and I think w/o taking that into consideration a lot of the import of the book is lost. With it, some of the faults can be salvaged too. (I describe as “faults” aspect of ATS that … “enable?” …. “permit?” … as if its Dryfus/Kelly’s fault!… reviewers have glommed onto and in doing so distort the intention of ATS as I understand it: the focus on “whooshing” as feel good psychology; lots of attention to sports, or “arena culture,” as if it were the culmination of some tragic, mob, or otherwise degenerate manifestation of what we have come to; the preposterous notion that Dryfus/Kelly are parochial because they don’t feel the pull of monotheism, like almost everyone else. All these are pretty much beside the point and I guess maybe Dreyfus/Kelly could have helped readers goo off the rails by somehow presenting Heideggerian “tools” so that readers could see that these interpretations are incidental and maybe reflect the readers biases rather than the authors’ message).
Heidegger’s poet, too, is ontological. The poet is a demigod (surely an ontological claim) who grasps the thunderbolt, calls out or names a gathering of new practices. I don’t know if the poet is forward looking or is just moving away from the past and present. Maybe the poet is all three at once, somehow. The poet is a river. I don’t know if it makes a difference. I think the point to grasp in terms of the question of what we DO, an ethical ontic/ethical ontological issue, is that there is this dynamic function. Ontologically, the poet is watching and waiting. Ontically, perhaps the poet is “hopeful” (a virtue) but not eschatologically hopeful; but just has an appreciation that there is potentially something else over the horizon: another understanding of being that does not entail oblivion; some other sort of gathering. To bring it back to a Melville-like metaphor, the waves are there, ontologically; the river is there. It’s our job to catch them and ride them: a balancing act in motion.
In ATS, I think Dreyfus and Kelly are showing us ways in which we can, “travel to foreign lands;” how we can learn from the experience of other thinkers what it looks like to balance. But Dreyfus/Kelly are post-metaphysical thinkers. So they know there is no turning back and that if there is a way forward (or a way away from) — after a “turning” — it’s going to be a different way of gathering than anything previous. And so they tell us that we need to cultivate meta-poietic skills, balancing skills, and that the Homeric Greek appreciation of the whooshing up of gods provide us with static balancing skills worthy of emulation. And yet our balancing skills have to go beyond that; beyond mere static balancing (of the four fold, ontologically; of virtue ethics ontically) to a balancing in motion.
By focusing on balance, don’t you get the feeling that you’re eliminating risks? Risks require a disjunction and imbalance; a lack of harmony. In the paper “Notes on Embodiment in Homer: Reading Homer on moods and action in the light of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty,” Sean and Bert try to distance themselves from Derrida’s Kierkegaard-influenced “leap of faith” ; however, when pressed on the dangers of physis, in the kqed interview, they’re forced to concur that abdicating autonomy to moods entails risks, making them closer to Derrida’s “risk ethics” than they want to acknowledge. ATS is on the fence with regards to this issue because it brings in the early Heidegger’s innovative readings of Nicomachean Ethics, but it’s debatable whether or not this works well with the later Heidegger’s notion of Gelassenheit (a letting-be, a dramatic openness, equating to the loss of autonomous decision, instead focusing on the phenomenon of being overwhelmed, solicited — the drawing out of responses). Is the expert, the phronimos, really as open as the position of Gelassenheit demands?
The issue becomes this: if the phronimos operates by reading the subtleties of the current situation by means of applying the formula, the schema, that works best in the here and now — having trained for the skill of insight –for the nimbleness to take on the singular that evades the universal, then is he not attempting to restrain the confronted anomaly into a type of Grundplan, reigning it into the enclosure of the will, by only bending the rules, never truly breaking them, as the machine-like repetition of skill acquisition results in mastery and safety? The expert is still placing a type of schema, though its very loose and fluid, and intense training has considerably narrowed the risks. The mark is placed on the situation by the phronimos, instead of him/her being open enough to allow the situation, the event, to mark them. It’s still caught up in the realm of the subject and representation. Gelassenheit would appear to require such an openness as to allow the event to come over me, mark me, and lead me, allowing it to blossom on its own grounds, which is a huge risk because it might be something monstrous, but so it goes. If we’re not open to threatening risks, then we cannot lead meaningful lives.
The result of life without risks is sedimentation, leading to the lack of a pulse and invention; a congealed, stifling banality resulting in death. If the practices tend to gather, then greatness occurs when the radical phronimos (the knight of faith/the real) ruptures the gathered mold, offering something new, something other, than conventions, the gathered practices, allocated as possible; it’s literally manifesting the impossible, shattering the horizons of possibility (not simply bending the rules, but outright breaking them!).
Not sure I replied so as to get this reply in the right place (under your January 25 post). Sorry.
I don’t see balance as riskless. Also, there are two parts to what I am proposing: the 4-fold and the poet. The phronimos, on the ontological account, is trying to achieve balance in situations. Situations change by definition and the balance — 1>4, 3>2 — are always in flux. Striving to get the balance right for the situation is surely not riskless. The phronimos as learned by doing, and at least in my experience one learns best through error. (I admit to being slow on the uptake. There must be a better way of learning but not for someone like me.)
But lets stipulate that there is something conservative about the balancing act of Aristotle’s phronimos and of early Heidegger’s renovation of it. Enter the poet. The Heideggerian poet, is precisely open to anomalies. And there risk there too, in spades.
The discussion of the entrepreneur, in Disclosing New Worlds, seems to get the phenomenon right. (I would argue, however, that the entrepreneur is in large part a “preserver” of our world — a world whose “work of art” is the market — rather than a “discloser” of new worlds.) Their (ontic) entrepreneur (my ontological poet) is specially tuned to anomalies in the situation. They don’t refer to the 4-fold as a structure as I recall but it wouldn’t surprise me if the aspects of their “ontological good” were similar. Julian Young’s “ethics of dwelling” surely takes the later Heidegger into account.
Anyway, I don’t think that my notion of an ethical ontology (4-fold + poet) is completely out of step with the mature Heidegger. Building the case for it (or, better, finding it already made by someone more skilled at such things) seems complementary to the goals of ATS and it would give us some sort of handle on the problem of navigating between nihilism and fanaticism.
By coincidence, I read your book and an article in The American Scholar entitled ‘Leadership and Solitude” by William Deresiewicz. It is an address to cadets at West Point and I think it gave me some glimpse how to internalize some of the messages in “All Things Shining.” Deresiewicz draws from Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkeness” to find internally what exists apart from the whooshing we experience externally. Notably, the benefit of work — or skill — noted in your book’s last chapter is duplicated with similar force in this article.
The link to the article is: http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/
I am still thinking about the lessons from these but thought others may find this interesting.
Thanks for this link. Great article.
I’ve been curious about what Kelly and Dreyfus would have to say about a number of books.
“The Inward Morning: A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form” by Henry Bugbee just came to mind and, by the way, if anybody out there is familiar with this book I’m all ears.
Their analysis of Moby Dick is fascinating. Also Kelly on David Foster Wallace…mind blowing stuff for your humble poster here. I’ve got a lot to think about.
J, if you look thru the blog I have posted a couple of essays by Ed Mooney who is the caretaker, and intellectual heir, of Bugbee’s fine work, they can be found@: http://thecollege.syr.edu/profiles/pages/mooney-edward.html
I also am curious about to what extent Robert Solomon’s work is in agreement with Kelly and Dreyfus.
“Moods are interesting because they reveal things about the world that matter, things that if you weren’t caught up in the mood you wouldn’t be able to notice.”
Yes, in the pit of hell I have been able to experience a love for all being that is completely unconditional, completely free from the need for transcendent meaning. Hell, as long as I don’t fall all the way in, is a small price to pay for this experience, for this ability to get out of myself and take a deep interest in the other.
Thank you for the link. Wow, what I resource. I will be taking a look at Ed Mooney and Bugbee.
my pleasure, Ed is an excellent/timely thinker and intentionally quite readable. David Farrell Krell , Alexander Nehamas, and Graham Parkes are probably closer to this line/generation of thinking than Solomon. If you don’t share the German archeological fever for a Greek revival and are looking for a literally more modern source check out Branka Arsic’s On Leaving.
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Bert knew Henry Bugbee quite well during his years at Harvard/MIT. He also gave the following lecture honoring Henry:
May 7 “Motorcycles, Feasts and Highway Bridges: Pirsig, Borgman and Heidegger on How to Affirm Technology,” The 1996 Bugbee Lecture, Philosophy Department, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.
Genevieve, as an avid motorcycle collector that sounds like an excellent lecture. I couldn’t find it on the web…might you have a link? Thx
charlie, if you google “1996 bugbee lecture” you will find some online chapters based on the lecture, really a tribute to Borgman and not Bugbee (who had a wonderful way of showing vs saying) and not such a good substitute for the Pirsig book in terms of bike-life.
I found this article on the web, a slightly modified (ie improved) version of the Bugbee lecture – there are no motorcycles unfortunately !
Thank you genevieve! Perhaps it’s the snow on the East coast darkening my mood, but I find the premise questionable…that technology is disturbing a natural state of grace. We do need to navigate between nihilism and fanaticism, which might include appreciating the grandest of pessimists. Perhaps this is not the worst of all possible worlds, and life is slightly more than an unquenchable thirst, but maybe nothingness itself is the only objective element in time, and technology an ideal diversionary tonic. To borrow the motorcycle analogy, my riding is not dissimilar from a dog sticking its head out of an automobile window. Maybe if I could see the grass and feel the sun today I would coin it a Brahman refuge. But the point (of the piece and ATS) is the importance of striking a balance. For me, technology contributes to a healthy and artistic asceticism
A technical question for the masses – if I buy the ebook version of ATS from Google or the publisher, is it downloaded in pdf or epub (or some other format)? I’ve got the hardcover, but the pdf would be incredibly useful for searching as I’m currently prepping a lecture on the book. Thanks in advance for any help that might be offered!
I doubt that the text will come as a .pdf file, more likely in whatever format the particular publisher uses. On my Kindle, there are a slew of commands I can use to search, highlight, bookmark, etc. the text.
My concern with epub (or any non-pdf format, really) is the lack of standardized pagination. It’s much easier to cite something when the page numbers match the paper version. Hopefully the publishers will sort this out someday!
What are revealing moods supposed to reveal? What makes what is revealed worth seeing anyway? If I am in a bad mood, and think that someone else is being “revealed” as an idiot, is that really any kind of knowledge at all? If I am in a good mood, and perceive that all nature is singing for joy, what kind of revelation is that? And what difference does it make when the next mood comes along?
Good questions. I appreciate this post because I’m unclear on this “revealing mood” stuff as well. I hope someone can help me to better understand this since it is absolutely central to what this book is all about.
While I appreciate an individual’s need for a psychological defense against nihilistic meaninglessness on the one hand and absolutist monomania on the other, and while I think a recommendation to enjoy the little things in life deeply and to explore a multiplicity of perspectives is quite useful for an individual: In the meantime, aren’t there gigantic fundamental moral questions about our collective habits we should be definitively answering first? Before we figure out how to sustain a satisfying personal relationship with existence, shouldn’t we figure out if, for example, slaughtering sentient beings and eating them is wrong? Wallace was obviously concerned with our personal psyches, but in CTL he also left us, perhaps too subtly, with the nagging question of whether eating animals is a justifiable life-enhancing habit or an all-time horrific abomination. Take the trendy hobby of “cleaving”. ATS would seem to sanctify it as just one of many whoosh-producing practices to invest energy in perfecting. Y/N?
Cleaving is a trendy hobby? Does the book sanctify it? I’m thinking that is not the right word to use, but maybe it does… I’m not sure the book has anything of substance whatsoever concerning moral issues like meat eating or take your pick, at least in terms of what positions to take. Comes across as almost amoral. It is, needless to say, opposed to nihilism and is offered as a defense against it. It advocates having values but leaves open what your values must be.
Sean (and all) if we are going to read Moby Dick as academics seeking logically establish a taxonomy of moods than Heidegger might be a good guide but if we are trying to read this work to change our lives than we might better follow Wittgenstein’s example (this via Victor Krebs) what if we took the different moods/people/scenes that Sean outlines above as
“pictures that placed besides one another invite the mind to intuitively establish new relationships and connections-new forms of meaning. In the same way that I ‘come to see’ that ‘this man can be terrible’ from noticing his ‘tone of voice and facial expressions’, his general gestures, I come to discern the significance of a ritual practice or of an ethical utterance, not by means of definitions, but in the impressions that these ‘pictures’-their tone, their expression, their synonymous affinity, etc-make on my imagination. The impression (Eindruck) that I receive here is so ‘deep and extraordinarily serious’ that it transforms the significance of what I see…to vicariously experience them…not from any form of intellectual deliberation-but, as Wittgenstein puts it, ‘from inner experience’. immediately and imaginatively. ”
For Krebs’ Wittgenstein’s “imagination” has all of the fleshy implications that one would find in M-Ponty.
This looks like a friendly amendment to me. I think the “fleshy implications” are all over Melville, and indeed we try to bring these out in the chapter on Moby Dick in ATS. Did you think somehow that I would be unsympathetic?
sdk, no when I read your other works (and Bert on our non-conceptual grasping and such) I see strong parallels to this line of thinking. I was just responding to your question above as to how Ishmael works/finds his way through various encounters/moods (I still wonder about including all of these examples as moods, is Queequeg’s presence/way-of-being-in-the-world a mood or is this more a matter of a family of resemblances?) and was suggesting that perhaps Melville is trying to show us (give us a virtual experience of) what may not be sayable (not as limit of vocabulary but in terms of creating an ethical impact/e(a)ffect, and as we have said elsewhere here a way other than rules/principles). thanks for your reply and for hosting this conversation, dmf.
Click to access Stengers157.pdf
Sean, in you academic work have you looked into and or written about aspect dawning?
On the possibilities of relationships between resonating blocks, charged terminals, and conceptual personae in experimental writing see:
Click to access Emerson%27s%20Adjacencies.pdf
As always dmf, very interesting stuff. The radical empiricism is a novel way of refining or reformulating the traditional transcendental/synthetic description. As it relates to Scripture, where I’m no expert, I think the Spinoza reference brought home the point on direct experience. Sorry to zag on you, based on my latest reading, but the relational notions and references to Lucretius’ atomism reminded me of Brian Greene’s latest reductionist speculations (the Hidden Reality). Not sure if you enjoy his work, or whether his materialism is frowned upon in these circles, but perhaps more is better and we can have numerous original relation(s) in the multiverse
charlie, I’m afraid that I don’t know Greene’s work so can’t follow your zag, I liked Grimstad’s “mosaic” approach in relation to the Krebs quote above, this is a view (mine, don’t know about Krebs/Grimstad) that is evolutionary/materialist (but not vitalist/pantheist like Emerson/Spinoza/Deleuze) but not reductionist (for example persons not brains make decisions) and not instrumentalist/calculating. We need to acknowledge that the ir-rational, the non-conceptual, play vital roles in our lives, sometimes pathological sometimes productive. I think that on its own Emerson’s experimental writing style (per Grimstad) fails (which is why Grimstad has to play critic/guide) but I am sympathetic to the attempt since academic writing is largely ruled by a quasi-scientific/reason-giving mode of justification/explanation. Differing modes/styles for differing desires/relationships is the goal if you will, its a complex world…
I would highly recommend his latest book. Speculations galore. Science has come full circle back to the pre-Socratics with modern physics at the intersection with Philosophy – taking up the charge? I do find the experimental writing valuable…and it again raises questions about the nature of the discipline (prompted for me by your Rorty references). This Radical Empiricism is a phenomenological description as much as an inversion of Kant’s project. Is it a theory or just effability per se? If Emerson is topical is that a good or bad sign?! Maybe Philosophy has becomes Rorty’s philosophy – it’s like Latin or math in the modern world – merely framing or conditioning one’s thinking. Maybe we leave the theory of everything to the clumsy physicists (further from Nietzsche’s purview). I think the practical exception would be in the ethical domain. Ironically, for instance, perhaps Philosophers will soon certify death by lobbying for less end of life care which is bankrupting the medical system. Or maybe Sean’s book is the best example – of how the “classics” can serve as a general counterpoint to myth, pseudo-science, fundamentalism and that pesky nihilism. Leaving us the more nuanced world. Check out the book…the mosaic is also playing out at quantum and cosmological levels
thanks, I’ll give it a look, certainly complexity and emergence are better models than posting that different things are really all one (or become unified/whole) or that there must be structures (or invisible hands) behind the scenes, I’m always skeptical of any attempts to find an ought in an is so as fascinating as our developing understandings of the cosmos are I’m more interested in what how and what matters to us, calls us, has a grip on us, and this kind of sorge ethics may be a ‘field’ of study but there isn’t grounds for a unified theory of ethics. The ‘classics’ may strike a cord with some people, may give rise to some spark/spur of re-cognition, but by and large their author-ity belongs to another era of institutions (the looming fate of dated modes of the humanities education is everywhere in the news now and I say let it go, philosophy as Cavell says is for grownups).
Click to access Lingis.pdf
transmitting from the tower on top of the tower:
Sean it seems to me that in these PR moments explaining the “bootstrapping” aspects of the book will be vital to speaking to the religious/spiritual majority.
I think Colbert was an interesting media event, much to my surprise. I had earlier written to Sean that, ex ante, I thought the subtitle to the interview could be “navigating between nihilism and fanaticism.” Ex post, I agree completely that “bootstrapping” was an inspired sound bite. Too, I was completely surprised — maybe Sean was too — that Colbert showed apparently genuine interest and respect, granting Sean a wide berth. My take on these book reviews/interviews Colbert was that the authors are usually trivialized (except that he cares enough to plug a book, etc. at all) and made lite of, not so here. Sure there was some humor, and it is mass media, but much to my surprise, the questions were engaging and quite good (the fact that it is a comedy show with only a few minutes allocated notwithstanding).
Great exposure; perhaps evidence — along with the NYT best seller status — that the issues the book addresses matter to a wider demographic than I ever expected (perhaps because I have come at them via Heidegger-Dreyfus-Kelly and, until ATS, that’s not been a road very well traveled by non-specialists); and Colbert got notched up a bit for me.
I have learned much from the folks that you mentioned but my sense is that unfortunately very little of this philosophy/world-view is coming through in the interviews/reviews and so the book is sounding all too familiar, too easily reduced to familiar categories. Colbert’s pointed questions raised many of the worries that I have tried to bring up here and for me the bootstrapping needs unpacking/fleshing-out in these forums.
I think I have said above, its seems there is a trade off between providing access to the fragrance of “flower” that the philosophy grounds (a way of reading the Western canon) — access to which is very difficult, certainly for non-specialists like me — and understanding the plants roots and chemistry of the fragrance.
What Computers Can’t Do presented an alternative way of thinking about what it is to be a human and therefore what it would take to “design” a replica. It was rooted in a philosophy but one didn’t need to grasp that, initially at any rate, to see that the computational model was insufficient.
There is a lot of navigating to be done. But I have “faith” in Dreyfus and Kelly; that their approach has the balance right. Time will tell.
I’m getting started reading, “All Things Shining.” Want to share a reaction to the discussion of David Foster Wallace’s unpublished novel, “The Pale King.” Wallace seems to be rediscovering a kind of Buddhism. I could imagine the IRS tax reviewers as monks learning and growing in the practice of sitting meditation. Early on, many of them must have rather similar experiences of boredom and discontent. The goal is to ultimately find bliss in this practice. One of the characteristics that may distinguish a monk from the tax reviewers is the monk’s belief that the ‘shining’ available in this experience has been attested to by a long tradition of practioners. Wallace was perhaps much too young – and much too divorced from cultural roots that could nourish him – to have the wisdom and experience to speak to others about this kind of bliss. I wonder what might have happened if Wallace had met Ken Wilbur. I frankly don’t have much patience with nihilism. I want to say: ‘stop navel gazing and do something – use talents, give of self, explore traditions. So, my question is, is nihilism a perhaps fanatical way of severing the roots of human thinking and experience from a past that is much more life-giving than contemporary writers are willing to acknowledge?
If Wallace had met Ken Wilbur? Or read him? Would a personal meeting be different? Interesting thought though. He might go away feeling a bit like John Horgan did after his meeting (“Rational Mystic”). Wallace’s academic training in philosophy leads me to suspect Wallace would have some pretty critical things to say about Wilbur’s project.
I’m curious what Kelly and Dreyfus would say about Wilbur. And about popular figures such as the mythologist Joesph Campbell and religious scholar Houston Smith. Come to think of it, I’d love for Bill Moyers to do a show with Dreyfus and Kelly. All these figures are concerned with with problem of nihilism in our society and with showing people how to have more meaningful, richer lives.
You can find a discussion of Wilbur here:
See Dreyfus’ response closer to the end of the volume.
Hey, thanks for your comments. I do think meeting is more important in some cases than just reading. Jos. Campbell and Krishnamurti, for example. Something takes place in dialogue that may be missed in just reading. I read the review of Rational Mysticism and decided not to get it because the author is a journalist. Now that I know he’s included Ken Wilbur, I will probably read at least some parts. Thanks for the tip.
I’d recommend that book. I do not hold journalists -generally speaking- in too high a regard myself, but… John Horgan is an award winning writer that has written best sellers and had pieces in the NYT, etc. major media. And he wrote for Scientific American. So I like I journalist with this background tackling the subject of mysticism. Side note: I thought it was WilbEr and it is but I went with u. Same guy. “All Quadrants All Levels”.
Jermaine, I didn’t see specific mention of Wilber but I’ll look again. I want to read that book now.
The more substantial commentary on Wilber starts at page 146 🙂
I’m still puzzled by the historical assertion that there were times when people all shared an experience/understanding/appreciation of what was sacred/meaningful, as opposed to the inevitable diversity that comes with socialization? How would such uniformity have been achieved, what means of transmission (or is it ‘in’ the events/persons/artifacts themselves?) would have such G0d-like powers?
Click to access learning_religion.pdf
Bulls-eye, God as interlocutor or confidante is learned, created…synthesized. But this is banal – Kierkegaard’s leap in the face of the Paradox is the most eloquent expression of faith as absurdity. But more to the point dmf, you raise the question of how the sacred baseball game – rising feet in unison watching the arc of the ball – is substantially different (modern). I think you are spot on in terms of suggesting the experience is now dispersed through socialization. Where we might disagree is that I think the sharing is valid, with now many fetishes. Maximizing the sacred experiences can still be living the “best” life. Sorry to bring up Schopenhauer again, but he suggested card playing was a great example of our bankrupt human condition. To the contrary, the manifold nature of sharing is the essence of our humanity
hi charlie, I think that socialization/communication is (and always has been) a process, by nature (ours not “Language’s”, language only has uses), of “dispersal” of perhaps better yet
mis-communication, sometime productive often not (I’ll try and find a readable article on Cavell like skepticism), so there is no common sense/experience per say just public events (sometimes rituals). Kierkegaard tried to re-mind his readers that faith (not justifiable beliefs), is a matter of, relationship to, the Absurd not the rational, which is a related sense of our finitude and yet availiability to conversion experiences, being called. Sharing as social practices are essential to our development but it allows only for degrees of coordination (plus related feelings of connection/likeness) not for some kind of participation mystique or other foundational grounding/Law/Spirit.
Hi, I think your article accurately reflects the past and present cultures of the majority. The past was based upon a very ordered and defined universe, whereas today is based on a much more open and multi-facetted one.
That being said, I would encourage you to take a deeper look at the history of midieval Europe and the philosophy of Catholicism. One would make a grave mistake to assume that Catholicism, (particularly in the middle ages, but still aspiring thus today) is anything but a secular power disguised as a religion. Catholicism was the result of Constantines attempt to unite the Roman Empire under one religion for the sake of strengthening his rule. He made Christianity the official state religion. It was warped patriotism and greed for power that led to the religious attrocities, not the Christian religion itself: it was obviously missused.
Lets not forget that the earliest Christians were non-violent and refused to even serve in the military. They were the ones thrown to the lions by the polytheists who you extoll in your article.
If one compares Catholicism with the New Testament presentation of Christianity, you find that they have little to nothing in common. It is true that many human rulers and governments have used monotheism as a means of control; but we must never forget that polytheism was used that way as well. Not all monotheists that believe in absolute truth are fanatics as you describe. Consider this possibility:
A person who believes in one God and one truth but also allows for the fact that God is personnally experienced and that we are not to impose our experience on others. Thus you have an absolute truth that is not bigotted and narrow but wide and full of possibility. God has a personal plan for each life: Who are you to judge another master’s servant?, said the apostle Paul.
The idea of a personal God is the defining difference between Biblical Christianity and all other monotheistic religions.
Also, consider a monotheism that believes that God’s law simply constitutes 10 rules voiced as negatives. (Thou Shalt not). There are only two positive commandments: Remember the Sabbath, and Honor your parents. That’s it. This leaves a ton of possible admirable lives!
Finally, consider a monotheism that believes that since God is personal, he can access people even in the midst of religions that teach errors about him. His spirit can transcend doctrine and practice. This does not make all religions equally true, but rather, it makes religion secondary to the personal intimate union with God.
Such a monotheism exists: It’s called Seventh-Day Adventism: A protestant, evangelical, Bible believing faith that is non-the-less, surprisingly tolerant. Non violent, defenders of religious liberty for non-Christians and Christians alike for over 150 years. Strong proponents of the separation of church and state: search Alonzo T. Jones, he was central in preventing a «Christian America» back in the 1880s, 90s, with the full support of the SDA denomination.
We insist that there are many who are Adventist who won’t be in heaven, and many non-Adventists who will, because God judges the heart. Finally, we know that we have the truth, and are unnapologetic about it. The truth is that God is personnal, His law is simple and minimal, and His character is love. The good news is that we don’t have to settle for this inferior happiness you talk about. We can have the kind our soul really thirsts for.
What about the idea of noble nihilism?
I believe the following is true 1) the universe is random and is not concerned with us 2) There is no meaning or ethics outside the “skull sized kingdom” to use DFW’s phrase. 3) That there are some things that make humans happy and in that human realm, there are some rules we kind of agree on . Be nice to one another. Treat your children well. 4) This is a kind of happy nihilsm, but it takes work 5) It is not possible for everyone to be a happy nihilist (it’s hard work), and the attempt to “recruit” could do damage to the fragile fabric of society.
Nietzsche felt an “experiment in truth” would lead to destruction and he seemed not to care. When faced with nihilism, he laughed. But this is a kind of pose, like a teenager looking for attention. Can’t there be a sunny Nietzsche. Why not have an ethics and way of life created ex nihilo? This is what we prefer. It means something to us. There is no transcendent foundation, it’s just the way we live.
Can’t nihilists love their children too?
I read this paragraph fully on the topic of the comparison of most recent and previous
technologies, it’s awesome article.