Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reflections: Only the Lonely Know

The edition of Miguel de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life that I borrowed from the library includes a rather long prefatory introduction entitled “Unamuno Re-Read” by Salvador de Madariaga. This piece is definitely not hagiographic. It seems to be quite objective in its assessment of Unamuno’s beliefs, works, character, and personality. Of the latter, Madariaga has this to say:

The chief paradox of Unamuno’s life…may well be that this apostle of life, this eloquent advocate of irrationality and experience versus reason and intellectualism, lived mostly in the mind, gathered but little outward experience, and often mistook his thoughts on life for life itself.

I photocopied two pages of this introduction and brought them home. I did this because, for good or ill, I was recognizing myself in what I was reading.

Madariaga goes on to say:

His life was all within. His experience was inner experience. Not for him those excursions to foreign lands, those adventures in the realms of danger, passion, the strange, the unfamiliar, the irregular, the shocking, the crags, peaks, and abysses which surround, fascinate, attract, and repel other men, and out of which they form their thoughts fed with the sap of reality. Unamuno spoke and wrote about life far more than most, but he lived far less than most.

*sigh* It gets worse:

Could it be that this formidable man, the uncompromising stand, the proud uplifted head, the glaring eye, and the stubborn mouth, could it be that this challenger was deep down a shy man? Yes. It could be. In fact he was. The forbidding mask hid untold shyness and even tenderness within. His search for retreat, solitude, the quiet of the countryside, the reflective and inward looking contemplation, possibly even that negation of outer life and that wish to unamunize it… He will roam in the vast spaces of his inner self, whose dangers he knows well and he can face, rather than risk adventures in that outer reality he does not actually know and he prefers to deny. …In Unamuno’s works, details of time and place are seldom given. Everything happens in people’s minds rather than in their fields, backyards, rooms, or kitchens.

What Madariaga has done here is take his critical scalpel to the psychic anatomy of an extreme introvert. In the process of chopping up Unamuno, he has cut me to the quick. If you’ve ever wondered why nobody seems to be able to get it on with me for long, now you know: people grow resistant to being dakinized.

Yes, now you know…


wade-m said...

The sorts of observations that Madariaga makes concerning the apparent contradictions of Unamuno are more or less what I was getting at in my previous comment to the effect that it wasn't at all clear to me whether Unamuno's book was to be taken entirely at face value.

Rather than suppose that Unamuno was blind to the paradox, why not surmise that he intended the reader to take notice of it?

Having said that, I too know the predisposition toward the life of thought, the "inner" life--as opposed to the "outer", the life of action.

Yet the so-called inner life is *life* nonetheless.

How many people do you know and meet whose "inwardness" is undeveloped and dormant? Do you envy them their "outwardness"?

The tendency to uphold the life of praxis and to derogate the life of theoria we might term the "practicalist" bias. In any age--and perhaps especially in our democratic and utilitarian age--it is difficult to withstand.

Unamuno's book (on its face, anyway) is a plea for an antiquated, impractical way of being.

And what did the philosophers of antiquity uphold as the highest way of life? The *bios theoretikos*--the theoretic life.

Could it be that there is more to philosophy than is dreamt of in our heaven and earth..?

Rodak said...

I do not find myself being particularly drawn to Unamuno's extreme commitment to physical being. Madariaga seems to attribute this to Unamuno's Catholicism and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. I am too much of a Platonist (or Gnostic) to want to put my eggs in that basket.
As for the contradictions in his thought, those do not bother me. You may have noticed the quote from Simone Weil in the sidebar of my blog: "Contradiction is the lever of transcendence." I love that. It is quite true, I think, that once you think you've got a thing entirely sussed out, you stall right there. Our only hope of finding any meaning in existence is to keep going. The goal is unattainable, so only the striving can endow one's life with authenticity.

wade-m said...

"I do not find myself being particularly drawn to Unamuno's extreme commitment to physical being."

Yes--and my question is, "Might this not be precisely the effect that Unamuno intended to have on you?"

(Just a thought...)

"You may have noticed the quote from Simone Weil in the sidebar of my blog: 'Contradiction is the lever of transcendence.'"

Indeed I have. I've also noticed another quote from Weil in the sidebar which seems to me especially pertinent to the topic of this post:

"Everything which is inspired, heroic or saintly is derived from contemplation."

Contemplation--one might as well say *introversion*, no?

Rodak said...

Introversion is not a habit that one can change by conscious effort, but rather it is an essentional disposition toward existence. The majority are outward-directed (so Jung would have us believe; and experience seems to confirm this), so the introvert is often misunderstood in his daily encounters with the Other. It is quite possible that Unamuno is playing mind games with regard to the primacy of physical existence; but to me it doesn't matter. I cannot be oriented outward, although I can understand that orientation in others, by internalizing it. The reverse (again, Jung), is not the case. Those who identify themselves with "the world," can see the Other only as an object.

wade-m said...

The introvert has the distinct capacity to put himself into the shoes of others, so to speak, which the extrovert lacks. Which is why, I would say, that introversion is an essentially higher form of life than extroversion, in the sense that it's a larger, more broad mode of existence which contains within itself the understanding of its counterpart and thus knows two dimensions rather than one.

While not all introverts are contemplative, I suppose, it seems to me that the contemplative life can only emerge from an introverted self. The practical man, the man of the world, isn't contemplative. And thus it might be said that everything which is contemplative is derived from introversion.

Rodak said...

I agree with what you say, but also acknowledge that the extraverted "man of action" is necessary in order to put food on the table, and roofs over our heads.
It is when the horizontally linear thought of the extravert is turned into action in its purist form--without the input of the introvert--that calamity is likely to result.

Ron King said...

I love the introvert and not just because I am an introvert but because of the freedom of thought naturally experienced within the psyche of that inner world. It took me 5 decades to correctly understand and gratefully accept being an introvert. Shyness is a label given to introverts by the extrovert because of ignorance of what it means to be an introvert. At an early age due to the sensitivity of the introvert to physical and emotional pain in human relationships there is a constant intrusion of distress related to the environment of interpersonal competition and conflict resulting in an internal conflict associated with an awareness that I(the introvert)do not fit in like the others. This may develop into what the analysts call the "basic fault" in which the belief is I am actually made defective and there is nothing that can be done to "cure" that. A whole lot of anxiety and rage accompany that belief. However, once the introvert can know that these feelings are the result of living in an environment that is created of imperfect and undeveloped love she or he will begin to see that these feelings serve as signals for oneself to initiate the creation of love where it only partially existed or did not exist at all. If the introvert can get to this level of awareness she or he will be mistaken for an extrovert because fear and rage are transformed into an outward passionate expression for the true meaning of human relationships. This is the beginning love integrating the hidden and protected self with the world of violent human relationships that were previously avoided. If an introvert does not move beyond this point then it may mean that one's life is left to artful expression of the truth which the introvert observes which keeps others and self in the realm of objects similar to the object relations of extroverts but expressed differently.

Rodak said...

The problem of introversion is that it is, in effect, a kind of psychic quarantine. Interaction with others comes with greater difficulty for the introvert, who still, in most cases, has to make his way in the world. It can be lonely.

Ron King said...

Jesus is an introvert. The problem for introverts is the early emotional conditioning of fear and rage due to the pain of being aware of not being validated by the primary caretakers and then the educational system. Consequently, the introvert is constantly under the intrusion of forces trying to make her/him into something she/he is not. This will cause a further retreat into self along with an ever increasing suffering.
Once the introvert has an awareness that being created in this way has a distinct spiritual purpose of exploring the dynamics of human suffering and the loss of love as the cause of suffering, then introverts can begin healing the false identity that has formed in reaction to a world that does not know how to love.
Loneliness begins to fade when the introvert begins to educate others about what it means to be an introvert. They can begin to teach extroverts what it means to be more sensitive. Every introvert I have known in my life has a passionate desire to be free to express their truth. The freedom is to be found internally and not externally. It is to be found face to face with extroverts, regardless of what they may say or do.

Rodak said...

That is masterful analysis, Ron King. I'm not even going to comment on it, but only thank you for writing it on my blog. I hope that others come and read it. Would you mind if I quoted this comment elsewhere?

Ron King said...

Rodak, Thank you for your comment. Being validated by you is an honor! Please feel free to use it anywhere.

Rodak said...

Thank you, Ron. I'd really like to share your thoughts. It's now an item high on my agenda.