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Breakdowns

If you want to get the kernel, you have to break the shell!
MEISTER ECKHART



Situation. A young woman, a few weeks before getting married, decides to change all the plans: the place, the dresses, the food--everything except the dashing husband-to-be. She had been preparing for close to a year and everything seemed set for the beach wedding of her dreams. She planned on making it an intimate event by only inviting close family and friends; fifty people max. Then the politics of weddings kicks in slowly and the guest list grows to a hundred-fifty. Relatives and friends flying in; beautiful seashells on the bridesmaids' dresses; a cool and off-the-city church ready. She drops everything: let's have a civil wedding instead. The indifferent husband says, "Whatever you want, baby."


Situation. At the fiftieth birthday of his husband, a wife brings home not cakes and presents but a dead husband. Heart attack. At the pink of his health, at the height of success (construction, many clients), with two children just about to get their college degrees and planning on joining the company. She does not speak in the wake; no one speaks to her. She was not grieving. Blank stares, empty smiles--"Thank you for coming, let's lunch together some time soon"--and a white casket to gaze at all day. Later, she folds up the company, abandons current projects, lays off everyone, and goes to a country of new beginnings. Children, left, now have to work their way up in companies they were not trained for. They wait for their mother to return. They are still waiting.


Kierkegaard:
A Situation. A man wished to write a novel in which one of the characters goes mad; while working on it he himself goes mad by degrees, and finishes it in the first person.

***


I like the word breakdown.

I like it because it is a strong word. Other words are weak: crisis, difficulty, slowdown, depression, insanity, emotional instability, etc. They do not describe what happens as it really happens but are only like tangent synonyms.

Other strong words are collapse and crumble. Like breakdown, they tell you faithfully--without malice or prudence--what it looks like and what it feels like. These words are honest.

While it is true that machines and cars also breakdown literally, human breakdowns are of the spirit or intellect--hence, they are figures. Figures that collapse and crumble in such breakdowns. It is not the body--this machine--that breaks, it is the bond between body and spirit that is broken. The body is left to its ugly space-occupying self; the mind is eclipsed and takes a vacation. Now you are in pieces.

Where to begin when all has ended? How to collect the pieces when you do not even know where you left them, when the crumbling started, what was lost?

Breakdown: missing pieces.

***


The philosopher Karl Jaspers called such experiences 'limit' or 'boundary' situations. Examples: guilt, despair, and death. 'Limit' because you get to the edge. Edge of what? Of what you thought you knew, of what you thought you understood. That is another strong image: to stand at the edge of what you understand.

The abyss calls you. (It is not the height, Nietzsche says, that matters but the depth!) And you have to decide: to leap into the unknown or stay within the safety of the little that you know.

Boundaries and limits--the edges. The edge of the cliff from which you jump to fly or fall crashing (breaking) down to the ground. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

Pieces.

***
On the 'double breakdown' of Schelling and Nietzsche, Heidegger says:
Schelling had to get stranded in his work because his manner of questioning didn't allow an inner center in the standpoint of philosophy at that time. The only essential thinker after Schelling, Nietzsche, broke down in the middle of his real work, The Will to Power, for the same reason. But this double, great breakdown of great thinkers is not a failure and nothing negative at all--on the contrary. It is the sign of the advent of something completely different, the heat lightning of a new beginning. Whoever really knew the reason for this breakdown and could conquer it intelligently would have to become the founder of the new beginning in Western philosophy.
***


My own unintelligent experience of a breakdown: to be in a fetal position.

If to breakdown is to crumble into pieces, it is only then can you begin.

Transform, transform. Like the transformation of a fetus before being born.

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