Saturday, March 27, 2010

Final Preliminary Hermeneutic for Early Existentialism

This will be a preliminary hermeneutic of note 1052 of The Will to Power. What we find here is one of Nietzsche’s greatest dichotomies: “Dionysus and the Crucified.” They represent two types of people. Both of these types are “religious” types, though antithetical to each other in their piety. The former is the pagan, and the latter is the Christian. Dionysus represents “a form of thanksgiving and affirmation of life,” whereas, Christ dead (or dying) on the Cross, represents “an objection to this life, as a formula for its condemnation.” The dichotomy is hence one of life-affirmation (the enhancement of life) versus life-abnegation (the denial of life). Nietzsche uses this antithesis to get to the psychology behind both of them, especially the hidden meaning behind the Crucifix, because the influence of its religiosity has been far too great, and, for Nietzsche, far too fascinating, to be ignored. The meaning of both ends up to be the expression of either strength (as with Dionysus) or weakness (as with the “Crucified”). The former is an abundance of vitality and strength to the point where no matter how much hardship the Dionysian spirit comes into contact with, life is perpetually affirmed, embraced and celebrated with an exuberant soul. This is amor fati: the love of fate.

Because “life itself” reoccurs in all “its eternal fruitfulness,” the Dionysian spirit feels him/herself affirmed within it, as within a whole, in which everything is a part of that whole as what must be, and so feels whole – feels complete. And so the Dionysian revels in life, with all its “torment, destruction,” and perpetual “will to annihilation.” The Dionysian’s inexorable exuberance of spirit demands this. All suffering can be for it is the constant tweaking and sedimentary use of it through creativity and destruction (even creativity in destruction). This is the joy of such a spirit (indeed life cannot help but be a joy for such a spirit). It is its overflowing will-to-power. And if such a type is not satisfied with meanings given to him or her from the outside, then (s)he creates new meanings, and justifies the whole of life through them, until the time comes to even destroy them, and create newer, even more profound meanings and values, and uses them to enter a new life-affirming stage. Perhaps they are even the expression of that new, wondrous stage, whatever it may be. Life is the Dionysian’s journey and adventure to be had. Hence, Dionysus represents the glorification and exaltation of life.

And then, on the antipodal side of this, with all its morbidity and castration of life, is the Crucifix: the glorification and exaltation of death, misery and suffering, and not as a justification of them in life, but as a confounding and eternal charge against life. People wear this symbol around their necks. But would they wear an aborted foetus around their neck? Would they nail one on top of their doorstep so it can bless them as they walk in and out of their home? Of course not. But the Crucifix is an abortion, where God has his son sadistically brought to his death. Comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce most astutely quipped in the 1960s that “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” “One will see,” Nietzsche says, “that the problem is that of the meaning of suffering.” Here, as the innocent writhes in pain on two slabs of wood, suffering is no longer affirmed, it becomes a weapon, and through it the type of life-sapped weakling, whom is exalted by this imagery, has a nihilistic mouthpiece, which says that all of life is nothing but suffering, and even denies joy as something that can only lead to more suffering, instead of the inverse of this, which is played out by the Dionysian. In this way, the only thing this paltry image justifies is its type’s incapacity to feel the joy of life, and, hence, his/her sloth, hypocrisy and cowardice in refusing to even try and justify it.

The Christian,” whom Nietzsche believed to be a world-weary calumniator of the earth, “denies even the happiest lot on earth: he is sufficiently weak, poor, disinherited to suffer from life in whatever form he meets it,” even if that be joy and happiness. His constitution is too weak and fragile to handle it, as with any other potency which life may come in. The Dionysian, on the other hand, is a person of eternally durable, sound, self-empowered constitution, which can not only handle such potencies of life, in whatever form they may come, but embraces them, and affirms him/herself, and all the contingencies of life, through them and his/her actions. There is no being overwhelmed for the Dionysian. This is why Nietzsche writes that “the god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life; Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life: it will be eternally reborn and return again from destruction.” That is, such a spirit lives as if each moment - is for eternity.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

(First) Preliminary-Hermeneutic Presentation on Heidegger (April 2009)

This preliminary hermeneutic will be an attempt to gain clarity, and a more concise understanding of paragraph one of page 163 of our text of Being and Time. What Heidegger offers us here is the problem and dilemma of empathy, and its association with Dasein and Being-with-one-another. He says that “the special hermeneutic of empathy will have to show how Being-with-one-another and Dasein’s knowing of itself are led astray and obstructed by the various possibilities of Being which Dasein itself possesses so that a genuine ‘understanding’ gets suppressed and Dasein takes refuge in substitutes.” This is one of many of Heidegger’s calls for authenticity. In better understanding the subtle expressions and instances of empathy we may come to a better understanding as to why and how it is that we mask ourselves with so much conviction towards others and even to our own eyes. However, the question is then: why empathy as the bridge to reach this goal of understanding?

In the previous paragraph he wrote that “only on the basis of Being-with does ‘empathy’ become possible: it gets its motivation from the unsociability of the dominant modes of Being-with.” That is, empathy can only show its kind smile, in the muck and swamp of human disingenuousness and callousness, which is human interaction with subjects for the most part. Especially when others are treated as mere “subjects,” or “numerals,” as Heidegger puts it. One could easily get the idea that perhaps all this talk of “Others” is a direct precursor to Sartre’s famous, dark words in No Exit: “Hell is other people.” But I digress. The point is that to suddenly feel empathy is to allow one’s Being-with to be a vulnerable state and openness towards others. It is also a break and relaxation from the frivolous expending of Dasein’s energy on Being-with-one-another as something other than oneself, and in convincing oneself that this inauthentic display and phoniness is actually the real self – the real Being of one’s self.

In coming to know why empathy is suddenly felt, we may come to know what the instances are to bring about this species of feeling, and why, for the most part, we have a sense of selfish apathy towards others to the point where we have to fog our constant inward glance, so that we see a person other than the one we actually are. For the actual image of ourselves could very well be a revolting sight to our very Dasein if it stood there bare, clad in nothing but clarity. He states that “the possibility of understanding the stranger correctly presupposes such a hermeneutic as its positive existential condition.” Meaning, the legitimate and honest-eyed taking of this task is also a will-to-authenticity and embrace of the Being-with and Dasein-with of another. In this way, a positive, genuine Being-with-one-another can be achieved, and in the process, our actual Being can possibly be realized.

All this coupled with his further claim that “so far as Dasein is at all, it has Being-with-one-another as its kind of Being” reminds me a great deal of the arguments for existentialism, ethics and freedom laid forth by Simone De Beauvoir in The Ethics of Ambiguity, that isolation of any kind is counter to freedom and is in fact a form of slavery. We need others to feel and truly experience our freedom. In the ebb and flow of our reactions between each other - in the gifts, benevolence and echoes of truth we grant each other - we are truly free. “To will oneself free is also to will others free,” she said. Our very presence grants people the ability to choose how to manoeuvre and exist around us. Without others and objects there is no choice to be made and, therefore, no actual liberty of movement and reaction. We cannot act on our freedom if there is nothing to express it for and fulfill it with. She explains that being imprisoned is the worst kind of punishment because one merely exists, and cannot contribute to an outside world. The prisoner lives only as a “for-itself.”

And so with Heidegger, an “‘inconsiderate’ Being-with ‘reckons’ with the Others without seriously ‘counting on them’, or without even wanting to ‘have anything to do’ with them.” Yet, as he warns in the following paragraph, “One’s own Dasein, like the Dasein-with of Others, is encountered proximally and for the most part in terms of the with-world with which we are environmentally concerned.” And so, in a life without a concern for the world or the people around us, or even a life in complete isolation, for that matter, we offer our Dasein no assistance whatsoever in knowing, finding or understanding our essence, our Being. The Being of our Dasein, therefore, becomes the sham and facade of a base, shallow, inauthentic existence.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Preliminary-Hermeneutic Presentation on Merleau-Ponty (Existence and Sexuality)

This will be a preliminary-hermeneutic of page 169 of our translation of Phenomenology of Perception. Here, Merleau-Ponty explains that sexuality “can underlie and guide specified forms of” our experience, “without being the object of any intended act of consciousness.” This makes sexuality “co-extensive with life.” Meaning, it is so heavily and richly intertwined with human actions and lifestyles, that ambiguity is, in fact, “the essence of human existence,” granting the dynamically colourful nature of “everything we live or think,” hence our lives always having “several meanings.” It is for this reason that it is impossible to untie the two – existence and sexuality – in order to understand the preconscious sexual undertones of any given situation, making a purely Freudian attempt quite futile. All of our human motives and motility could be “perhaps a generalized expression of a certain state of sexuality,” which makes figuring out the precise source of “so many rationally based decisions” impossible for seeing where one begins and one ends, for the simple reason that it is not merely about one beginning and one ending. They are both concomitantly working together as sublimated sexuality by virtue of being in the world.

The framework of sexuality” and “the framework of existence,” due to being “so loaded with the passage of time,” have become completely inextricable. As Merleau-Ponty puts it, “There is an interfusion between sexuality and existence, which means that existence permeates sexuality and vice versa, so that it is impossible to determine, in a given decision or action, the proportion of sexual to other motivations, impossible to label a decision or act ‘sexual ‘or ‘non-sexual’.” Hence the hidden acts of sexuality when walking to our car, when riding a bicycle, when going grocery shopping, when buying a movie ticket, when catching a Frisbee and the possibility of having a preconscious orgasm when we finish washing the dishes. “The fact remains that this existence is the act of taking up and making explicit a sexual situation, and that in this way it has always at least a double sense.”

This could, in fact, make sense within a lock-and-key understanding of what Merleau-Ponty is trying to say. It makes sense within his philosophical framework of phenomenology that our sexuality be, in fact, located not only throughout our very limbs, but also in the things we encounter in our day-to-day lives. They are what bring out our “sexuality” in its generalized form. They unlock a specific amount and type of our sexuality in a given, particular scenario, in a way that no other particularity could at that moment or with another person. The experience becomes the key to unlocking a specific, transformed sexual movement. Hence why a given person’s sexual energy might be more vibrant when going to see a travel agent, than when going to a job interview for a job he or she has no desire of being employed in. The way we bend our arm to go for a glass of wine could be sexually charged quite differently than the way we bend it for a glass of grape juice. However, to say it again, we have no way of determining which act has more sexual content in it than another.

This sublimation of our sexuality by our very existence, Merleau-Ponty calls “transcendence,” and is a “tension which is essential to it” – existence, that is. An asexual drive, then, would be the essence of a very different type of existence than a sexually driven one. Our sexuality must, then, be one of the forming factors of our habits, and part of the fixation which expels itself through them with subtle variability in different moments throughout our lives. However, with or without habits, the sexual fixation is always there. Except, it is not that it is behind our thoughts, it is our thoughts, irrelevant that they may not be explicitly, or even implicitly, sexual in nature. And it cannot be determined how our sexuality will expel itself in our daily lives, based on how it might have in the past, due 1) to the fact that we do not know exactly how it has done so in the first place, as our sexuality has been so finely fused with us as a whole, and 2) to the indeterminacy of existence itself.