Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lessing's Choice

I have been ignored for what I have to say is my whole life. I am ignored amongst family, friends and business colleagues. No one gives a shit what I have to say. So encountering blogosphere shunning should not come as a surprise.

I used to contribute posts to a blog that took its starting point the films of Brian De Palma. This was no ordinary fansite. It included film students, critics, and all sort of sundry film makers. The conversations extended beyond the apparent disconnected facts and data regarding particular De Palma films. It also avoided the typical issues of the life of celebrity film maker Brian De Palma. Instead it dealt with the craft, the themes, the issues of film making that Brian De Palma and his movies had raised. In a relatively intelligent manner, this web page brought up issues of philosophy, politics, history, ethics, aesthetics as these issues emerged in the films of De Palma (and ultimately elsewhere). Yes there were plenty of analyses of predecessors and epigoni. However, the site dealt with all sorts of issues that could really carry on the conversation (as an Oakeschott or a Rorty) could appreciate. When I first contributed, I found thoughtful and appreciative respondents to what I wrote. However, as time went on, I became more irascible, and I found myself in pariah status with the web site monitors as well as with the other contributors. Perhaps I made excessive statements. Perhaps I picked fights. Nonetheless, I found myself alone in my own comments. Other contributors began regularly ignoring my remarks, and I found that what I had to say became simple reactive inanities to what was not said. I found myself in a cyber world of solipsistic criticism that made impossible the necessary friendly criticism of me that allowed me to see myself. What I wrote became so distasteful to others that I was no longer worth acknowledging.

This is a tend with other sites I attend. Whether it is the Leo Strauss group or the Postmodern Conservative blog, my career as a writer has followed a similar trajectory. First, I am one of the most interesting an scintillating of respondents (even if I exaggerate my excellence). Then I become a writer to whom others refer. I become a benchmark of sorts for those who wish to offer a dissenting opinion. Then comes the remarks that "Presnall" sounds like something of a crank. Which is followed by complete disregard by the other writers and respondents, concluding in a complete silence to anything I write. All this leads me talking to myself.

I suppose my utter disregard for following the arguments of others in the name of what I consider where the truth leads me inevitably leaves me in my own solipsism. This of course makes it sound like I defend the radical questioning of convention. This is not necessarily true. Instead, I am a radical critic of such radical critique. This double critique confuses many as they naively wish to say something worthwhile in the surety of their own opinion. However, I tend to wish to deflate such ambitions to speak what is worthwhile. My own standards are ridiculously high, and these standards make me hated by those who speak persuasively to others in the terms that most can accept. In the best of rhetorical traditions, my friends and I--whether on the De Palma page, the Strauss page, or the PomoCon page--share a concern with the same questions. What motivates us to thought, wonder, or questioning is the same. We share a sense of the general parameters of the human problem--socially, politically, theologically, culturally politically. Not to sound like a sociologist of a Dilthey or Mannheim type, but we share the same content in terms of what is at stake in our questions. We are all Gadamerians here. Nonetheless, given what I write, they just don't care for what I have to say in response to these fundamental issues.

I used to think my shunning was due to my lack of learning. There are some huge big brains and some of the most erudite and thoughtful human beings writing on these pages. It is intimidating to find myself writing in such company. However, I came to realize that I am quite erudite and learned too--if not as much as or even moreso than some of the others writers frequenting these web pages. Hence, I judged that the shunning had less to with erudition than a judgment of my character. In this view I am not only ignorant but distasteful. I tend to state things wrongly or in a way that is not fitting. So it was all a personal criticism of me and my character.

What do you do in such a situation? Do I embrace myself and say 'fuck you" to all your shit-for-brains (SFB) accounts of the way you alll don't understand me? This seems too extreme and beyond my own sense of self-uncertainty. Do I try to figure out why I don't fit in and try to remediate the problem? I have given up on trying to fit in since I was in high school--at the earliest. I have never fit in and so I don't care for that. Perhaps all this is the problem, but it seems to me overly simplistic. I myself have no problem following the law, adhering to conventional morality, and performing the duties of family, career and country--in fact I have excelled in these things on several occasions.

I am only left to conclude that it is my opinions which are nefarious. I will admit that I cannot articulate my opinions in the best manner possible in every argument. I am not the best writer, wordsmith or rhetorician in the world. Perhaps I need more study more in order to speak my mind, since I do not know everything in literature, history and politics. Maybe I need to specialize more and then I could have a basis of particular authority from which I could speak to a more general audience. But I am pretty well knowledgeable of all sorts of specifics--much more than many people I know. I am too specialized. So, to state it again, it is my opinions that are dubious. Perhaps I'm specialized in the wrong things, but this assumes that there are specialists who can truly take their knowledge and translate it to the truth of the whole for what is needed to know. As if there were an important statement that could be made in a way that way others could assent to. I doubt it. Others simply don't like what I have to say.

So what is it I have to say? I doubt the things that people in my position think are important. I'm not stupid. I recognize the need to mask one's own opinions. In fact I do it all the time. I recognize that I don't hold the absolute truth in absolute knowledge. I qualify what I say--even if I am a student of Hegel. I may recognize that knowledge in the modern world resorts to knowledge or education in a circle--encyclopedia. But I never state it as such. I like to be an empiricist too. I stick to the facts like everyone else.

I think I become anathema because I call out the truth of all empiricism which is the dog philosophy of cynicism. This at least explains the basis of my rhetoric. However, the first thing I aim my cynicism towards is cynicism itself. I hate deflationary, self-spirited rhetoric for its own sake. This gets me into trouble because I like to prick the balloons of any and every cynic.

So I have no positive teaching. I am all negative. Admittedly I am no reformer. I cannot tell you how to lead your life. To be sure, I have standards. They are true and right too. But I have no way of making you live become what is the true and right life. I try to persuade toward what is called philosophy. In contrast to philosophy, coercion leads to an ignorant lawlessness which is lawful on the basis of the fear of punishment--but there is a tradition that one is dragged by the scruff of one's neck out of the cave. Is coercion itself the basis of philosophy? But who drags anyway?

Lacking someone to drag us out of the cave, or lacking the insight of one's own that images are images, it seems that we need a god who metes reward and punishment. Perhaps such fear--including fear of divine punishment--is our lot. I suspect a lot of our current moralizers (on the one hand) and philosophers (on the other) just simply want to keep fear of divine punishment in its place. I have no desire to destroy this belief either, but when I call out others of their obfuscating this issue, they get angry and then they ignore me.

So I will continue to think and write what I say, and I won't pretend to speak frankly of philosophy and god is dead while at the same time pretending that god is the ultimate judgment of one's particular and personal sense of life. Why not just say say--fideistically--that god is judgment? Why come up with so many sophisticated arguments in a post-theistic age?Don't worry about it. The cat is out of the bag. God is dead, and no matter what kind of rhetoric is deployed cannot cover the fact--this deadly truth as Nietzsche puts it.

So we should return to first questions. Reason and revelation. Ancients and moderns. Philosophy and poetry. Law and life. Rule and discretion. Theory and practice. Public and private. Individual and community. Progress and return. Transmission of the past and rejection of the future. Athens and Jerusalem--or Rome? or Mecca!

Lessing posed the question of God with two hands. Long before the red or green pill of the poplar movie The Matrix, Lessing picked up on the ancient myth of God offering two hands. One hand was the life of eternal questioning--the joy and adventure of seeking after that which can be known even to the point of never knowing it. This mode seeks after newness and is interminably unsatisfied. It maybe happiness, but it is unsatisfied in its answer. It thinks honesty, probity, redlicheit is what the best way of life is for a noble and true human life. One should never rest certain anything. In this hand, the knife edge of continual questioning the most fundamental things must be one's fate.

The other hand of God holds the answer to every deep question that stems from the deepest erotic longing. These are the answers to the kinds of longings that plague you in even in the midst of your own most self satisfaction. These answers provide relief to such an unspeakable longing that it is satisfaction in such a way that one need not nor ever wish to seek beyond what already is (or what has been given). Such knowledge provides the confidence of facing up to the challenges of this world because there is nothing that can challenge the ultimate truth of what one already has. This is not smugness, but clarity regarding what is truth. It is true enlightenment.

This is an eternal dispute between unbelief and belief.

Given the response to what I write, I guess I have an ineradicable unbelief. An ineradicable, ontological unbelief. I am not happy with such a situation, but that should be expected in such a mode of life. So be it. It makes no friends even if friends are what I desire. My probity says there are no friends even if my desire wishes for them to be. Derrida in his lectures of friendship liked to quote Montaigne quoting an old saw, "My friends, there are no friends." I guess this is where I am. Derrida in the same lectures then examines the question of the enemy in Carl Schmitt. Unfortunately, this is my position. I don't endorse Schmittian politics, and I whish to choose Socrates over Polemarchus, but I have no friends nonetheless.

The typical response is like a pop song, "You only give what you get."

This is my giving.

All of this navel gazing certainly explains my anathematic position regarding the De Palma, Strauss, or PomoCon blogs. Who would want to read such a self indulgent asshole as me?