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Showing posts from October, 2007

Vita Renovatio


Before true philosophy can arise,
it is necessary that the old philosophy destroy itself.

I have had the pleasant company of construction workers hanging around the house for two weeks or so already. We are having some renovation work done; and these distractions--seeing different men in different dress pass by my study window, hearing different noises such as hammers on wood, spades mixing cement, drills on concrete walls, unnecessary chatting, the sudden silence of the noonday nap, etc.--have been more than welcome to spice up what have always been holy and solemn days.

They come in at 9am, work till noon, then work till 5pm. Nothing could be simpler. In contrast, my schedule for "work" is, to say the very least, a little more complicated--and certainly less productive.

That I envy them--like our artist of a gardener--deserves another story in another telling.

Yet what I want to tell you about now is what they have been doing.

A small gym is now being installed as an exten…

The Great Equalizer

It has been noted that capitalism not only has increased the cost of living but has also increased the cost of dying.

Death, like baptisms and weddings, inevitably requires ritual and there is no ritual without expenses. Guests come to christen a babe and shower a couple with rose petals; but they also come to shed soil upon a grave and say a prayer in a moment's silence. And whenever you have your distant aunt flying in from some unknown part of the earth or call on a priest who is more than willing to perform the dying sacrament of the dying, you will always have to take out some money from your pocket as you pour out tears from your eye socket.

Those who lived extravagantly are expected to die extravagantly: white coffins gilded with gold; a parade of Mass cards and funeral wreaths from sympathetic friends and apathetic colleagues; serving cocktails mocking the spirits of the dead; big sums of money donated to a popular cause in lieu of flowers and in the name of the generous but…

An Aside: A Sidetrip to a Rich Young Man's Place

New photos I took last night of an ideaforma renovation project. I asked the client--a man of my age who lived alone in this three-bedroom penthouse suite--what business he was into. After his response, I wondered the whole night why I became a teacher. No ressentiment here.












But I just have to say this: If so rich, why so poor and if so poor, why so rich?

Although last night, with only a hundred or two bucks in my pocket, I definitely wanted to be rich rather than poor. I can stand the loneliness anyway.

Absent Longing and Aimless Looking

Who has ever shown that longing is something merely human?
Who has ever completely dismissed the possibility with adequate reasons that what
we call "longing" and live within might ultimately be something other than we ourselves?
Is there not contained in longing something which we have no reason to limit to man,
something which rather gives us occasion to understand it as that in which we humans
are freed beyond ourselves? Is not longing precisely proof for the fact that man is something
other than only man?

Desire can also take the form of "longing."

The Old English form of the verb "to long" is langian. It literally means "to grow long" in the sense that something gains distance away from where it was before. The exact opposite obviously is "to grow near" which indicates the shortening of the distance as if in a slow approach towards the subject. Langian or "to grow long" eventually became the verb "to yearn,"…

The Selfishness of Philosophy

Plato and Aristotle pointing where
what we most desire can be found.

Philosophy begins and sustains itself with selfishness.

When Aristotle says in that immortal opening line of The Metaphysics that "All men by nature desire to know" (I 980a) he qualifies what this desire is composed of. Immediately after that line, he says "An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight" (Ibid.).

This desire to know is likened to the delight of the senses. How do they relate to each other--desire and knowledge, and delight and sensation?

The relationship of the second pair is immediately obvious: we desire because we wish to be sensually delighted. It does not make very good sense to desire what is not delightful more so to desire what is painful. And even if there are those that desire pain (sadomasochism), that pain itself is an inverted pleasure. Desire desires wh…

The Courage of Thought

Are there mysterious experiences at play which determine us to persevere in thinking
and to awaken a questioning? This can be true least of all in the realmsof thinking,
here where only boldness has a say.

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. I say this is only true if you have a very strong pen against a very weak sword.

How can a pen be mighty? Of course it is not the pen which matters but the steady hand which moves it which, in turn, is moved by the movement of thinking. Then how can thinking be mighty? Initially and for the most part, we call a thinking mighty because it is innovative, novel, in short , it gives birth to a new thought. Novel thinking points to an "advance of thought"; it pushes us towards discovery, brings us to unconquered territory, projects us to what had hitherto been unknown. Everywhere novel thinking is expected to lead to "progress." We hear this al…

Rockwell, God's Freedom and Man's Indecisiveness

Nothing which implies contradiction falls under the omnipotence of God. THOMAS AQUINAS

If Martin Heidegger had his hut in the Black Forest where he could read and write in isolation, take long walks along woodpaths (Holzwege) and wait reflectively in the clearing (Lichtung), I have a poor man's imitation of it in the form of a small condominium unit in Rockwell. I locked myself up there for the past few days.

My press release was that I was going to study and start writing; and that I couldn't do it with the "distractions" around me at home and in the city. And I did in fact succeed in the first but failed to reach the second goal; I am as slow in reading as I am as fast in writing; hence all these spelling mistakes, missing words, etc. But I prefer to call it a "retreat"--taking the word literally and divesting it of all "religious" or "spiritual" connotations. A retreat from the everyday, from the people, from my usual self.

I figured that …

The Coffee Shop Phenomenon

I thought I would be the last one alive to be caught in one. What with the nameless, faceless and thus uniform crowd; the pipe-in music instead of absolute silence; the pretentiousness of high-end computer notebooks in which low-end writing was done; its "see-and-be-seen" vibe; people buying one lousy drink and letting it become stale into the deadening night; and finally, the difficulty of finding a good seat--all these made me decide long ago that I would not be one of the many who study in coffee shops. Besides, I have better coffee in the house.

Nevertheless, I do not remember how it started but I've been making the rounds of the different coffee shops in the city for the past two months, searching for the perfect place to be able to read and to study. But what I do remember is why I started going out; it was because my study has turned into a war-room because of research work and writing, the manic book shopping and, to add clutter to an already cluttered house (and …

Retail Therapy


If it is true that there are different strokes for different folks, then we recover in various ways or forms of "therapies."

Scientific: psychologist, pills, exercise. Ordinary: talking with friends in between hating yourself and someone else. Extraordinary: extreme situations call for extreme measures. For those who can afford: shopping--"that most terrifying of ills."

Situation. A young bright businesswoman, successful as anyone can be at her age, finds that there is one thing she cannot manage: the pain of a failed relationship. The only relationship she has had in eight years, the only one she thought she will have in her lifetime. Boyfriend's crisis (broken relationships in the family, ordinary job for a passionate man, alcohol, girls all around him, etc.): "It's not you, it's me." How to cope? Trips to Hong Kong and Bangkok, a Louis Vuitton bag, parties till morning, buying gifts for friends she has not seen in a long while, a new phone…

Pinocchio's Nose

Secrets are like tiny seeds.

They are small, negligible at the beginning;
Easy to hide, hard to see, easy to sow. Like loose change
No one minds, no one uses, no one knows.

But seeds always grow. The more you keep it
The more it will show
By crawling its way to the light--

Attracted, hungry, angry--
Things alive are lovely
Things alive kill slowly.

Secrets, secrets are no fun
Secrets, secrets hurt someone


On Pens

Upon entering my favorite bar a few nights ago, the host casually asked why I had so many pens clipped on the front pocket of my small brown sling bag. Embarrassed and unable to answer--how do you answer a question like that anyway?--I said that I must look like such a nerd, like those scientists who have four pens hanging on their breast pocket with a plastic underlining to prevent ink stains--nifty, huh? When I was led to my favorite seat, I looked at the pens on my bag and really asked myself why do I bring so many?

Well, because nothing is worst than not having a pen when you need one, or when someone else needs one. Of course I exaggerate. But there have been a lot of times when having (or not having) the darn thing makes a difference. Situations: an idea that is forgotten and lost forever; the beautiful lady who asks "Do you have a pen?" and then you get her number using the same pen; a plane hijacker with his back turned to you--vulnerable after all--when the moment of…

Startled Dismay in the "Other" Beginning

For R.B.

To destroy, this is easy. But to build, Oh!

In Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), Martin Heidegger describes the new tonality (Stimmung) in the "other" beginning. He calls this "startled dismay" (Erschrecken).

Stimmung for Heidegger phenomenologically describes one's "mood" or "attunement." This does not, however, simply indicate one's emotions or feelings at this or that time; a mood fundamentally underlies or serves as the backdrop against which one feels a particular emotion, e.g. "ecstatic" and "excited," "worried" or "afraid." Emotions come and go one after another without at times meaningfully leading to each other; a mood, in contrast, not only "stays" longer but takes "hold" of the person. This is why in bygone times, melancholy men (what we call "depressed" nowadays) were thought to be possessed by spirits--as were the mad men. Melanc…

My Death

Men die; and they are unhappy.

I will die.

These three words are the only words which tell me the truth: "I"--and no one else--"will"--absolutely because inevitably--"die"--and end my life.

All other statements about myself, e.g., I am a man, right-handed, a doctor, a lover, a believer, they all reek with contingency, and thus, arbitrariness--it is but it could not have been. These are only facts; they just happen to be so but I could have been born a woman, can train my left hand to write, be a lawyer instead, end all love, fail to believe, etc. These are "information" we put on forms--supposed to be "data" of our lives. Yet there is no space or a blank line for the only truth we all share. A blank: it asks for an answer as there must be an answer--but precisely it is still a valid question when I will die. A valid question because it will happen necessarily. But I leave the line blank for now.

But that I, and I alone, will die: thi…