Thursday, October 1, 2009

Explanation of Speleology

Having a blog with as pretentious a title which I have given my own, and having to deal with a topic as general but as utterly relevant as the shadows on the wall, is a task more than which I think I am capable. So why bother? But one must give a title to one's task, and this is it.

I will accept the burden (even if the title was chosen randomly in a moment of inspiration as I was trying to choose names on blogspot that had not yet been named). So let me explain the title and the the initial posts I have made as far as I am able.

The first question is speleology. Yes, I am thinking of Plato's Republic, but I do not see myself in that league. Nonetheless, there is a cave and Plato is correct about that. One of the several ways in which his image is correct consists in Augustinian terms--that of being born and having to die. This is the cave of my own and anyone's own life. Now this will surely make my assorted assertions lack any authority, insofar as they are true of or for anyone. Between the poles of birth and death there remains a compulsion to say something. It is impossible shut up about it. Whatever is said under Tocquevillian equality of conditions has as much authority as anything else, but it must be said. Such is the world we live in.

In such circumstances, I'm not trying to be anyone from the perspective of anywhere, but rather I wish at least to clarify the point of someone from somewhere. This perspective is ordinary in that it accepts much of the wisdom handed down from the past to the present, and kept in trusteeship for the future. But it is also ordinary insofar as it is the point of view of exurban Houston, Texas. That is to say, I live in League City, Texas.

League City is a sort of non-entity. Neither league nor city it exists equidistant between the urban megalopolitan sprawl of Houston and the older charm of Galveston. All the folly, excess, and childishness of contemporary American life is in ample supply, but folk around here try to lead decent lives and they more or less succeed at doing it.

I assume anyone can understand this perspective insofar as it is an opinion regarding what is available as an image on the wall for any and all to see. This image is politics, film, literature, etc. You know--the things of the culture as we say. This will be the content of this blog. At times I may render judgment upon Roman Polanski (I mean his films), at others I will indulge pretensions toward philosophy.

To be sure, philosophy is knowledge of that which is beyond the image of the things that are everywhere omnipresent, and it seeks knowledge of nature of all things as they are themselves. So philosophy may be impertinent. That being said, I will remain in the realm of opinion, rumor, and innuendo. I have no problem with reporting knowledge based on gossip, but I'll try to avoid the kind of hearsay that only seeks to be contentious for contentiousness' sake. I'm philosophic enough to desire wisdom, even if I question whether I'm incapable of such heights, and even if I encounter situations in the present whereby I must make decisions regarding right and wrong despite the lack of wisdom. While I may pretend to philosophy, I have no desire to further the agenda of social science which claims that if one can relate all of the facts, one need not make a choice since the facts speak for themselves.

While I seek a degree of public anonymity in this blog, I also do not wish to be labelled by others as being that which I am not. No doubt, I will inevitably be labelled abstract and full of shit. I can live with that, but I at least want to give content of such accusations because I hope that there is more to such abstraction and bullshit than the simple ornament on a life that is said to be merely interesting. For with the ordinary experience of my own mortality, I have discovered the extraordinary fact that I am not at all complacent with it. It makes me uneasy that I am a being born to die. So at times I will turn to Augustine, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and others as philosophers/thinkers who address this issue with acuity.

I can't help but be astonished by this mortal fact of my life, and so I can't help but wonder what this is all about. So I will write what could be considered a self-indulgent blog--but it hopefully has a view toward toward the question regarding what is living the best life. This will be a perennial question--i.e., the good life--instead of mere morbid introspection. Furthermore, I hope to be able to draw some conclusions--I wish to avoid the question as the ultimate point of questioning, let alone avoid the life whose sole end is irony. I may be postmodern, but not in that way.

Now it seems that this is too heavy a topic for an explanation. So let me begin again. In fact, to avoid such navel-gazing is one reason for focusing on the shadows on the wall. These things on the wall are not me, but they somehow signify something important about me and everyone else. The emphasis on the shadows is an attempt to keep me grounded in a way that is outside of myself, and if I can see them and say something that means something to someone else, then it means that I have not been too blinded by the light outside the cave as it were.

Like you, I cannot help but be fascinated by (as well as enmeshed in) the concerns of family, career, religion, and politics. I'm just like anyone else--I have a history of which I am simultaneously proud and ashamed. I have been thrown into a situation within which I have no special insight, but with which I must deal on a day to day basis with whatever wits I have available to me. In this way, the cave seems to be a proper image for this situation--even as Plato presents it with chains and all. Yes, I too desire to break out to the Isles of the Blessed, but I wonder about being forced back into the cave in order to rule it too. I have never been to the Isles, nor do I have any claim to rule the cave. Nonetheless, this is the issue at hand--the freedom of the Isles or the necessity of rule in the cave.

But--with all this hifalutin talk--you may be wondering why I place a popular actor like Al Pacino from a mediocre movie like Carlito's Way as the central icon to this blog. Well, in this film Carlito Brigante (Pacino) is literally dying just after he escaped from his death in prison. One can cheat death only so many times, and the film shows this. Here was a man who lived according to what the available image he knew provided for him, and it led him to prison. Upon release, he had found a new way of life, but the images--the movie as a whole--wouldn't let him leave his old life. He dies at the beginning of the film just to let us know that the images of the movie are themselves in control. Carlito's continuous refashioning of his own ambition has its limits--even for someone as brilliant in the ways of the street as he is. This is the definition of tragedy.

There is a scene in which any decent viewer knows that Carlito can escape his past. His girlfriend Gayle tells him so, and we all know this to be true too. His friend David Kleinfeld asks him, "Are you in?" Is Carlito in on the break-out of the mobster from Riker's Island Prison? Carlito could easily say no, but he owes a debt of obligation to his friend David. Saying no is easier said than done. David asks, "Are you in?" and we the audience hear "R-U-N." We know what Carlito should do--he should run from this--but we know he cannot hear what we hear. We see what Carlito sees, viz. Paradise as a new life with his new wife and future baby, but his vision is clouded by debt. A debt we all perhaps fell as well.

Unfortunately, the film only let's us see the possibility of running as a dream that does not exist. In Carlito's saying wish for an escape which no one else believes, we can only wish it for him and Gayle in the future. This is not to be. The film is ruthless in that it lets us have no idea what happens beyond the scope of Carlito's own subjective narrative of the tale. This is a typically death haunted, locked in my head, solipsistic narrative that nonetheless speaks to the way we live now.

So if I discuss shadows on the wall of the cave, I recognize the trap in doing so. Yet, in these shadows there may be rumors of something else. I hope in this blog to be able to verify a few of them.

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