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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 realms of 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 all the time in scientific "breakthroughs," archaeological "findings," and "bullish" markets.

Courage of thought then usually means to advance bravely into the unknown and, thus known, to bravely name it, claim it and conquer it.

Yet in man's constant advance and frenetic projects, there is no longer time to think through these very advances and projects. Advance only knows one thing and that is to advance without letup or without conscience. Projects, too, only know one thing and that is to arrive at its completion, to commit suicide by ceasing its being a project and become terminated as a finished project. In this advance, all stopping or all dwelling and more so all looking back would contradict the very movement and vector of all advancing. Like a juggernaut or history's blind march, the advance of thinking must (and cannot but) remain-moving-forward. And since man's thinking is finite, such advance of thinking will always be an infinite task.

See the infinite innovations and infinite projects of tireless but weary man.

But if thinking can (and usually) moves by advancing, can it not also move backwards as in a regress or stop in a recess? To be sure, it can. Historiography is an excellent example of this kind of thinking taken at face value. Historiography as a science of the past, gazes backward and scrutinizes it like any other object of investigation. It does look back while it remains in the present; but it only does this in view of the further advancement of knowledge of the past as past, so that the future may contain and bear the past as new information.

Yet this backward-thinking is not the essential thinking-backward that man can do. We call this thinking-backward re-flection. Reflection is usually taken to mean as nostalgic reminiscing or mere savoring or wallowing of the past. But to reflect initially meant to flex back (re-flexio), to gain a distance from where one is standing in the way that one bends his back. Martin Heidegger call this the "step back." It is a backward step which contains no looking back; the eyes gaze at what it had been gazing at all along (from what is immediately before it to the horizon beyond it). It remains with its gaze in place but acquires a decisive difference: distance is gained and space is created.

To think backwardly does not necessarily mean thinking like an aboriginal man uninitiated with technology and the leaps and bounds of science. It is precisely to remain thinking of what comes from the horizon which all, including the thinker, nears to, but now no longer going along the mad rush to conquer the unknown by abandoning the present and its knowledge. It means to move slowly, that is, questioningly without the recklessness and restlessness of seeking for answers. "Questioning," Heidegger says after all, " is the piety of thought."

To be pious in questioning: to be just in thinking and not to just think. This means to proceed with caution not because one is afraid of the dangers which approach him but precisely because one is brave enough to remain in the steady movement in order to bear what is really there, to see what really shows itself without dismissing it for the next possible spectacle, to listen against the rush of leaves falling because of a suddenly strong wind. Running away from . . . is the real cowardice. Put simply, to think piously is to find the courage to remain when everyone else is running away and everything is proceeding abandonment. Like a fireman, the thinker goes and stays in that place everyone else flees from in terror.

Echoes. These can only be heard after the thunder of a saying that is now departed. Echoes repeat what was said, repeat it many times, as many times as necessary for the one who wishes to hear. Echoes are no longer the same as what was said in that brief moment long gone. Yet echoes stay and resonate for those who failed to listen and those who may never hear it again. They speak to those who stay and wait; they speak to those who listen still.

Heidegger on Echo:
Echo of the essential swaying of be-ing
out of the abandonment of being
through the distressing distress
of the forgottenness of be-ing [1].

Against the sound and fury of all advance in the machination of beings, the thinker is asked to stay and linger in that temporary and evasive giving of the echo. Amidst all forgetfulness, the thinker is asked to remember--to even just remember how it is that he forgot. From that remembering, he is then asked to summon all courage to stay in the present which summons him to re-flect, to stay against all abandonment, and to dwell anew in a changed, darker wood without the hope of an other light. You must learn how to befriend the night.

The courage of thinking does not merely mean going against the current as if to rebel or to repulse all movement. This is too easy. The courage of thinking is the courage to stay and listen while all else is marching to the thundering of the drums, to strike your sword on the ground--holding it, grasping it against the tide--and to let it be the mighty stake which clears that space where you can remain and finally build anew, think anew and speak anew in the hope that one day an other will hear the booming echoes of your now silent thoughts.


[1] Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), 50.
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  1. i bet you're also having bouts of insomnia once in a while... or is that an understatement of the year? hehe (=

  2. haha. then you know me. As I always say, "The difficulty is in the beginning and we get through the sleepless nights." That is why I drink almost every night... Wow, that doesn't sound good. :)

  3. yeah, that doesn't sound good for your health, esp. the smoking part... but then again, i probably won't fully grasp what you've been going through despite reading a number of your blog entries... i can only say God be with you in your journey...

  4. Thank you, yvaughn. Likewise.

    Yes, I know that I am not one of the healthiest guys you'd meet; actually all I hear nowadays is that I'm getting more and more out of shape and looking a older than before.

    Somewhere along the way, I just stopped caring--which is stupid, of course. But we do what we can. I am a man of vice; something which is a curse but at times, a blessing as well--though I can't see any blessings in the horizon for my bad vices. But there is something about excess which intoxicates me, not in the physical sense, to be sure, but in another sense--a sense I have yet to understand. Some call it a sickness.

    And yes, even though one can read a person in his words and works, these words will never describe him nor would his works ever catch him. Actually, I hide behind them.

    Take care and am always glad to hear from you.

    t h e s a i n t

  5. yeah, to stop caring is very much in contrast with human nature; i.e. to ensure one's survival... but then again, coping is very much inherent in every man (= it's either you cope or die (literally and figuratively)/stop living altogether...


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