Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Readings: Simone Weil, Notebooks Vol. 2

The following two excerpts appear on the same page (p. 616) of the second volume of Simone Weil's Notebooks:

"We see either the dust on the window-pane or the landscape beyond, but never the window-pane."

"We are unable to love anything otherwise than in God, or rather through the mediation of the divine love."

It would seem that the two are connected; that the second follows, somehow, from the first. But how so?

Included in the intervening text is: "The intelligence exercises itself in obedience by coming up against the unintelligible. "

Think Zen. Think koan.

Monday, July 30, 2007

from the Notebooks: the Authentic Life

To live an authentic life is to walk the talk. Among 20th century individuals, I so much admire Simone Weil because she spent--literally spent--her short life in the attempt to do just that. I have long thought that there are only three human types whose lives are potentially fully authentic; men or women who are what they do: the saint; the outlaw; the artist.
The saint, being Goodness personified, transcends the rules that the rest of us fail so miserably to live by; he has no need of them. The outlaw steals his freedom from the rule-bound herd of humanity; he is all eros and libido; he does that which he wants to do. The outlaw, therefore, is to evil what the saint is goodness. The artist combines elements of each of these types. His erotic pursuit of Truth and Beauty is analogous to the saint's loving quest of God. But his refusal to take a number; his refusal to patiently wait on line; his refusal to don the monkey suit, is definitive. In the violent power of his all-consuming creative urge, the artist claims a freedom that is analogous to the outlaw's.
Of these three types, which fascinates us the most? Billy the Kid? Vincent Van Gogh? Mother Teresa? With which type do we have the most in common?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Readings: The Good Argument

I am currently reading a very interesting, and I think, well-constructed novel, entitled The Mind-Body Problem, by the American philosopher and writer of fiction Rebecca Goldstein. The protagonist of the novel is a hypo-confident female graduate student in philosophy at Princeton University who marries a world-class mathematical genius and member of the faculty. Through the acquisition of this “trophy husband,” the protagonist, who is as physically beautiful as she is intellectually insecure, is afforded the status within the Princeton community that she has been unable to acquire through her own efforts. That’s the plot.

What I want to write about here, however, is a passage in which the proper attitude to take towards argument is portrayed. Noam, the math genius husband, has engaged in stormy philosophical arguments with the protagonist’s good friend, Ava, a graduate student in physics—a field which Noam, who lives his intellectual life somewhere out in Plato’s heaven of Ideas, feels to be inferior since, unlike mathematics, it deals with the empirical and the material. Renee, our heroine, is made extremely uncomfortable by these heated shouting matches between her husband and her friend and confidante, Ava:

"The first few times when Noam called some statement of Ava’s idiotic, her view nonsense, I suffered on my friend’s behalf. Until I noticed that the insults didn’t bother her in the least. Both of them have the same impersonal attitude toward ideas, whether their own or others’. It’s the validity that matters, not the person incidentally attached."

Deeply felt arguments can become whipped up to the emotional level when occurring face-to-face. In a comment box duel, where there is no danger of being answered with a stiff left jab to the jaw, this is even more likely. We should, therefore, always try to remember that it is ideas, and not personalities, that we visit blogs to wrangle over. With regard to our interlocutors and intellectual adversaries, along with Ava we should say: “The only thing I feel towards Noam is grateful that he takes me seriously enough to call me dumb.” A little humility is good for the soul.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

from the Notebooks: Proportion

The only thing that's eternal is the Truth. But that's what we're all frantically trying to dance away from. It's under our feet always, like red hot coals.

It is impossible to say anything new. But there is always the possibility that one might convey some old idea to somebody who hasn't previously encountered it.

It does no good to want very little if every little thing you don't get becomes magnified thereby into something huge.

Even light could travel faster, if it had courage.

As you are, your essential self is defined by that which will keep you out of heaven; that which will get you in is a minimum expectation.

The Truth is a rough and awkward thing. It is jagged with splinters and spiked with nails. You'd therefore best not pick it up, if you're a lover of smooth things.

All the grand palaces of my youth are seen today as drafty shacks.

The choices you make in life don't necessarily decide your fate; but they inevitably justify it.

I am an American, and I truly believe that I could have been anything that I wanted to be. But I didn't want to be anything. Now, here I am: a complete success.

Not the priest, but the saint; not the criminal, but the revolutionary; not the technician, but the artist; not the doer, but the maker.

Why I am Here

I enjoy being a disembodied consciousness. I like to express what is in my mind, and on my mind, without having my thought-words colored and reworked by the perceptions, opinions, or preconceptions of who I am that may develop in the minds or emotions of my interlocutors, based on how I look and sound--my style, my body language, my physical beauty, or lack thereof--or upon any relationship that is on-going in the material world.

It has been my habit for some time to rise at 4:00 a.m. in order to read and think, while most of the world sleeps silently in the darkness without. Not long after instituting this practice, I began taking notes on my readings, jotting down those things which resonated, or harmonized, with something already intellectually, or spiritually, internalized, and thus perceived as partaking of Truth. I now plan to incorporate some of that material here. In this way, I will slowly sketch in the outlines of the self-portrait of a mind.

Should any other cognitive entity somehow stumble across this site and wish to visit for the purpose of discussing what is posted here, such discourse will be welcomed:

[The master of dialectic] must be able to distinguish the essential nature of Goodness, isolating it from all other Forms; he must fight his way through all criticisms, determined to examine every step by the standard, not of appearances and opinions, but of reality and truth, and win through to the end without sustaining a fall. If he cannot do this, he will know neither Goodness itself nor any good thing; if he does lay hold upon some semblance of good, it will be only a matter of belief, not of knowledge; and he will dream away his life in a sleep which has no awakening on this side of that world of Death where he will sleep at last for ever.
--The Republic of Plato, chapter XXVII