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Showing posts from October, 2006

Can't You See?

For all her passion, La Perichole did not have love in her eyes.
There can be none so blind who will not see.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey





Three Poems by Louise Gluck in Vita Nova


U n w r i t t e n L a w



Interesting how we fall in love:
in my case, absolutely. Absolutely, and, alas, often--
so it was in my youth.
And always with rather boyish men--
informed, sullen, or shyly kicking the dead leaves:
in the manner of Balanchine.
Nor did I see them as versions of the same thing.
I, with my inflexible Platonism,
my fierce seeing of only one thing at a time:
I ruled against the indefinite article.
And yet, the mistakes of my youth
made me hopeless, because they repeated themselves,
as is commonly true.
But in you I felt something beyond the archetype--
a true expansiveness, a buoyance and love of the earth
utterly alien to my nature. To my credit,
I blessed my good fortune in you.
Blessed it absolutely, in the manner of those years.
And you in your wisdom and cruelty
gradually taught me the mean…

A Grief Observed (On Memory)

Remember, remember the eleventh of July
lest you turn around and quickly forget





How can I begin to forget if I still remember everything?

The awkward beginnings and the uncertainty of what it was leading to. Sharing fries and a sundae on a bench watching people pass by. Waiting together like two strangers waiting for the train to arrive. The drinks to celebrate a finished day. The long naps while the world worked on. The beach, the water, the sun. The plans and the dreams. The love gambled, consumed and spent.

As well as the fights, the anger and the pain.

But most of all it is the pain that remains, it is the pain which sticks to the mind. The mind seems to love that kind of suffering. It relishes the memory of what hurts it the most. It is a kind of suicide, too, you know. It produces the knife by which it strikes itself with. It finds too heavy the burden it creates and takes as one's own. And it does not want to stop at it -- like the song that continuously plays in your head with…

The Dark Night

Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights

Thoreau




What kept me alive and sane during those past few months was the sole belief that I was being formed.

To form something is to take the matter into one's hands and play with it as one plays with clay. The clay is de-formed as one crushes it and kneads it; the old form gives way to an indistinguishable shape: what was once you and you alone reverts back to a mass of matter without characteristics, that is, without character. It is a painful process -- to lose the old form and to go through the kneading.

At times, it felt like the hand was too heavy, the pressure too immense; at other times it felt like the clay--unfinished--was left out to dry without shape.

The clay cannot see what it is to become, it can only feel its way through it, it can only trust the hand that molds it. It can never do anything on its own for it cannot give shape to itself. It can only receive from the other the weight of its hands so that it may change it…

The Second Aporia: What is Man? (The Abyss) IV

The abyss in me cries out to the abyss in God
Tell me which may deeper be?

Angelus Silesius



The landscape lies far and fair within
and the deepest thinker is the farthest traveled.

Thoreau






The Privilege of Unknowing


The perplexity of answering the question on man now reveals behind it its true face: man is a nothing, that means, he is un-determinable and un-limited where to determine and to limit him would be to circumscribe him into a this or that, a thing, an object, and finally a concept. Spinoza said, "figura non aliud quam determinatio, et terminatio negatio est" ("figure is nothing but limitation, and limitation is negation"). This is why man is yet to be figured out. He escapes the bounds, limits, figures and forms which are imposed on him by his sheer incomprehensibility, by his sheer excess. As the case when each time one tries to grasp himself -- Who am I? -- what one finds is an abyss where one can never hold on to something, one can never be secure. And the d…

The Second Aporia: What is Man? (The Abyss) III

What is man in the infinite?

Pascal



Man is something to be overcome.

Nietzsche





Sartre: The Existential Turn


To be sure, philsophers before and since Kant have tried to ask and answer the question on man. Yet what perhaps has proven to be the difficulty of properly answering the question has been the dialectical tension between man in general and man in particular. If I am to answer what man is, I would have a lot to say in the same way that philosophers have repeatedly albeit redundantly tried to figure out or trace the figure of man in a thousand and one ways: that he is the sojourner in a foreign land (Plato), the animal rationale (Aristotle), the grande profundum (Augustine), "the horizon and the dividing line of spiritual and physical nature" (Aquinas), the subject (Descartes), the transcendental ego (Kant), and Spirit (Hegel).

Yet what suffers from the generality of such concepts about man -- even if they be true or at least be relevant -- is that they can never exhaust my es…

The Second Aporia: What is Man? (The Abyss) II

When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars that you set in place —
What is man that you are mindful of them,
mere mortals that you care for them?

Psalm 8: 4-5



Factus eram ipse mihi magna quaestio

I had become to myself a huge question

Augustine




Kant: A Question to Himself

It was Immanuel Kant who first with earnest seriousness systematically framed the question of man. In the introduction to philosophy he wrote for his students called Logic, Kant lays the foundation of what he saw was the new field and horizon of philosophy and philosophizing during his time. He presents us with a guide or a map so as to navigate what used to be a very confusing landscape and a rocky terrain against which and in which philosophers had to ask their fundamental questions.He says:The field of philosophy in this cosmopolitan meaning may be summed up in the following questions: 1)What can I know?—
2)What ought I to do?
3)What may I hope?
4)What is man?
The system-builder that he is, Kant…

The Second Aporia: What is Man? (The Abyss)

You could not in your going find the ends of the soul,
though you traveled the whole way:
so deep is its logos.


I searched into myself.

Heraclitus, Fragments 45 and 101





Man has known that above all the beings in this world man is the being which is most worthy of man's knowledge. Malebranche says, "Of all human knowledge the knowledge of man is the most deserving of his study." Gifted with all the splendors of the world and of all the varieties of life or otherwise, man's unique and burdensome ability to know finds itself challenged not by the grandeur of the knowable world but by the task of knowing man himself.

Yet this challenge to know man himself presents the most difficult task and heaviest cross. To know man is to know not merely a part or an aspect of man; epistemeseeks to know as a whole, that is, to know man as man or man's wholeness. And this is the difficultyas such. As Rabi von Prysucha once said, "I decided to write a book called Adam, which would b…

On Suicide (The Leap) III

Suicide is not beholden to an evening's promise,
nor does it always hearken to plans drawn up in lucid moments
and banked in good intentions.

Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast





But Socrates himself did not stain his own hands with blood. It was his beloved polis which sentenced him to death. He even waited for a few days before it was time to enter the Underworld. And during that 'grace period' as seen in the Phaedo, he continued to philosophize, even about death. While his companions and followers were weeping, the philosopher stared death down at the face. Like a good soldier, Socrates knew how to follow that last order when his number was called without fear in his heart. What did he have to be afraid of anyway?

In the Apology, after learning about the verdict of the Athenians, Socrates says that there was no reason for a reasonable man to fear death. For if it were like a peaceful sleep on the one hand, then it would have been the greatest gift to be given to man; it w…