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May 30, 2007


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cynic librarian

As Kierkegaard noted, it's not what in the past you appropriate but how you appropriate it. The history of philosophy and theology has been a quest for origins, seeking the source of the current problem, the pure self once established and somehow lost. The past must be chosen not as past but as preparation for a future.

Kierkegaard was concerned that Hegel continued the metaphysical tradition begun with Plato in seeking the source of identity and being in the pure past. Does modernity go in the opposite direction and pose a future without a past (Lockeanism)? We must find liberation in the nothingness of the present that acknowledges both the death of the past and its resurrection in a just future.

The notion of the blogospher and the promise of infinite (impossible) identities is that nothingness that informs the basis of who we are. The play of potential selves is important but only as a tensioned antithesis to what must be. Without engaging the real world in its temporality, its finiteness, we end up being inauthentic selves.

khalid mir

Isn't the archive precisely a symptom of the sense that everything slipping away-as G.Steiner says in Grammars of creation?

In a simialr vein: googlebooks, "lifeblogging" and its accumulation of images, and the massive libraries in Washington, Paris, London (I feel a bit reluctant saying anything against the latter since it's a sort of Mecca for me).

cynic librarian

k, It's all that sense that the web is an infinite database in which you can lose your identity by not taking responsibility for real-time life.

khalid mir

True, Cynic. I hear what you're saying and the anonymity does add to the charm for some people, but I can't help think that there's something sad about bloggers in the sense that they want to get noticed, get attention.

all this emphasis on "the self" or the authentic self, rather than "being", rather than simply being in the world or , as you acutely put it, in real-time life, suggests (to me at least) that blogging is about some sort of serach for identity. I haven't worked it out to be honest.The day I do I'll stop blogging!

cynic librarian

Yes, search for idenitity without doubt. That's in response to the malaise caused by nihilism. Its political aspects are seen in the rise of fundamentalisms in the wake of the demise of the old USSR and the communist ideology.

But it runs deeper than that, and many thinkers see communism and hegemonic capitalism as symptoms of nihilism itself. The search for identity comes about in the ruins of all meaning-systems.

I am interested in what you mean by being as opposed to self-hood. It's my understanding that selfhood comes about through a realization of nothingness. This itself is something that occurs that I cannot be because I am a temporal being, always in the process of change, never accessing those eternal realms that Plato, say, posited.

khalid mir

Cynic, I like what you say about the search for identity coming about as a result of the lack of meaning (and its systems, culture). And this is really linked to the problem of whether we can have an identity if we are nothing but a series of images, "constantly moving happiness machines". This is the problem in "liquid times"

having just watched the very good 'Lives of Others' I have to comment on an interview with an East german who, when asked about her identity under communism said: "I know what it is as long as you don't ask me." (a bit like Augustine's famous saying on time!). Capitalism, on the other hand, is about us (constantly) *creating* our identites. And there is no going back to the "muddy centre". As Ghazali said: to want to go back to tradition shows that you are already out of tradition or, if you like: Kelvin in Tarkovsky's Solaris is told: there is no going back to the Cosmos)

Your point about being and eternal ideas is a profound one (which is why, I guess, some see the modern age as a second "fall", a new awareness of time and, ultimately, of death.

I only use the word being in a non-academic way. Being a person means living in a world; being itself is constituted by our relation with what is outside us and what is given: friends, family, the world (place), language. It is a complete overtuning of the cogito which commences with the "self"; instead, it would be: we are, therefore I can think.

So, I am not linking 'being' with the transcendent or the eternal(perhaps such an option is not readily available to the non-religious). I'm talking about somethign more grounded.

Reading Molly Hughes' 'London Child of the 1870's' I was struck by how relatively solid and stable the world of the bourgeois is/was. We may even look back at such an age of certainty with some nostalgia. Bauman, in society under siege, also talks about this as a stage of "having" and , therefore, still less fragmentary, fluid than our own times.

Modern happiness, on the other hand, always means us trying to "escape" reality (or at least increasingly so..modern freedoms morphing into compulsions). Modern happiness depends on us always being unhappy and for it to always lie just around the corner. It is pleasure unhinged from the world (as the previous Pope rightly saw: desire is now not connected with "the good"...that we desire something *makes* it good in standard economic theory. There is no such thing as "intrinsic worth")

cynic librarian

K, You watch and appreciate Tarkovsky, so there's the begiining of a collective consciousness right there! Identity--what I (following kierkegaard) call the self--is crucial to any future politics.

I think Jodi is wrestling with this notion in another posting. The Left, for many years, has tried to eradicate the individual from its vocabulary. The Right (as I read at a blog the other day) says that it's the basis of conservatism. In my book, they're both right and wrong. If I can put it overly simplistically: you can't have a true social identity until you know who you are.

A truly collective (communal?) sense of being historical beings must come about on the basis of the individual's awareness of their historicality and this means beings in time, limited by their past but opened by the possibility of a future.

What does it mean to be a Self? That's the question that both the Left (in the articulations I've read here anyway) and the Right get wrong. The Left dissolves the individual in the collective. The Right atomizes the individual. Both, I think, may be committing the philosophical error of doing what Ernst Tugendhat says many theories of consciousness: make objects of self-consciousness.

khalid mir

Cynic, yes it would be the beginning-if I could understand Tarkovsky! :)
Just watched The Mirror yesterday. Still think Solaris is the best (so far)

I think you're right if you're talking about the Communist left (I think there's another left-or there was. Lesley Chamberlain's 'Motherland' is excellent on this, but I'm also thinking of Ruskin, Morris etc)

the problem or tension between freedom and solidarity *within* the mainstream political tradition remains problematic-perhaps liberalism would say that it *has* to remain unresolved. But I think it remains problematic for new reasons now: we have forgotten what community or fraternity means. There is no "tension" (as Bauman says).We live the life of the Eloi.

Your last point was profound. I haven't read this person but it reminded me of what Kerr has Wittgenstein say in his 'theology after Wittgenstein': how to maintain the balance between being determined by or embedded in the world (or more accurately: related to the other)on the one hand and the Cartesian 'I' that is prior to it and independent of it on the other hand.

(ibn Arabi's two hands; Blake's two eyes)

Making 'objects' . Hmm. I can see the danger in that in the sense that, to use an old religious phrase, God is not a concept. But I think that is only half the story. Don't we also need to see the world as an object, abstracted from us. Perhaps we might say: Zeus wants to and does not want to be named. without that gap, that absence, would we even be able to think at all?

To take up an image from Simone Weil: the sun is at just the right distance from us: if it was an inch the other way we would freeze from a lack of warmth and light; an inch closer and we would be blinded by its dazzling truth.

I guess you're using 'object' in a technical sense. sorry, haven't read Husserl yet and am still struggling to make my way through Macintyre's Edith Stein.

cynic librarian

K, You hit all the right chords... Wittgenstein, Stein, Weil, Tarkovsky indeed. We have indeed lost the sense of what it means for true fraternity. Capitalism does this, I think, and how it does it has several facets that you have to go to Heidegger, Marx, and Kierkegaard to get the full picture.

Heidegger talks about "resource" as being the main concept of modern technology--arguably a major component of capitalism. In this way of looking at things, everything and everybody is a resource. The world itself is arranged along the lines of maximizing and effectively organizing resources.

Obviously, you can't have much fraternity/sorority if you think someone is merely something to use or yourself as something to be used. But that might simply be a superficial reading. With the talk of transhumanists, perhaps this notion of bond is outmoded and they have discovered a more lasting bonding mechanism. Is that of the Borg, we are one, variety?

Marx, of course, talks about the way that capital dematerializes relationship sand turns everything into a commodity. Relationships themselves become something based on market values. Consumerism is perhaps the best example of this, wherein what brings people together are their use of various products that supposedly identify you with the other.

Kierkegaard identifies several factors indicative in the loss of fraternity. He has the Marxist view of the dematerialization of life in his understanding of reflection. But he also identifies envy as being the spring of all action and interaction between self and other. Envy here is an ethical and spiritual value that is expressed psychologically in the desire to be like the other, but when you can't immense reserves of resentment form. An example it the movie-star worship that occurs not only in the US but thruout the world.

Well, that is probably too much information for one comment. I better stop now, or Jodi will ban me for hogging bandwidth (jk).

khalid mir

Cynic, thanks for your reply. Could you recommend a (simple) reading of Heidegger on these matters? "resources" reminds me of Illich but also some verses of the Upanishads. It is not too surprising that we now talk in terms of "human cpaital" and "collateral damage".

What I understand of Marx-and perhaps Jodi can correct me here-is that the alienation is itself a *necessary* stage before the ideal is reached. But it really is, perhaps, too much to assume that we will just find our humanity again, without "bridges" , rituals, without common words for love and friendship (on this the Catholics were surely right).

Many people now like to think of themselves as nomads, as "searchers" and value the "open" or improvisation. But I can't help think that without a 'qibla' one is just wandering aimlessly in a desert. Kelvin (in solaris) is told: there's no going back to the cosmos. Perhaps this is true. There is no going back to myth.

I like what you say about Kierkegaard and rivalry. Reminds me of a fantastic programme I heard on Radio 4's 'In our time' about R. Girard and mimetic desire (I've posted excerpt's on my blog under Art: 'The death of Christ').

Anyway, thanks for the insights.

Best wishes,


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