I went for a walk with early Beatles songs in my head, and observed how those guys could really sing; was it George who hit the highest notes in harmonies? Now it’s sad that life has nothing like The Beatles to offer… Elsewhere, some people swear by the ideas of Kierkegaard and his stages of esthetic, ethical, and religious, but these have been a hangup for me for many years. Can you really typecast individuals according with these labels? Is it wise to do so? I’m on the point of throwing out existentialism completely. Existentialism is actually a form of moral philosophy. Some people use it to condemn the ones who disagree with the church; for instance, they think Camus is all about executing Meursault for his amorality. But The Stranger is only one of his books, and the picture is really more complex than that if you read The Fall and The Plague… I think I was summoned to jury duty three different times, and the last summons was while I still was working. And each time, I excused myself from doing it. My supervisor knew about it and said he wished he could be a juror. But you know, those who are the most eager to do it are usually the worst candidates. Also, the first people to point the finger are those with the biggest skeletons. I believe that this is the kind of thing that Camus wants us to be aware of, particularly when reading The Fall.
Quarter after four.
I’ve been doing an all nighter for some reason. I just don’t feel like sleeping tonight. I don’t believe it’s a symptom of mania, and if it is, then it doesn’t matter much. About an hour ago I bought an edition of Iris Murdoch, totally forgetting the alcoholism in a lot of her fiction. She was an important Christian existentialist of the last century and worth reading. I liked Under the Net and The Bell very much. There’s a lot of Christian mystery about her allegory, like the scene of skinny dipping in the Thames to symbolize baptism. But there’s no overlap of the real and the transcendent in her plots, and the endings are tragicomic… I read Under the Net in October 2004, when I’d been working for an optical business for almost a year. I thought I was on my way somewhere, but after a while the job became drudgery, and all the romance went out of the prospect. I sent my brother a copy of the same book for his birthday, but he misplaced it and never read it. He had no interest in philosophy; it wasn’t his style. In fact, I couldn’t interest anybody in Iris Murdoch because of her intellectual depth. So I was alone with my reading for a long time. Under the Net is also hilarious in some places, like the kidnapping of Mars, the Dog Star.
I feel good today for a couple of reasons. The first is that Gloria is coming to work this morning and I’ll have some company. The second is my birthday tomorrow, which I hadn’t really thought about until now. Usually around my birthday I consider the zodiac and my identity according to this old structure. But this time may be different somehow. Perhaps my birthday is not so significant, except for the fact that it’s when I came into existence. Another thing is the idea of willing your own existence as opposed to being born from your mother. The memories of my mother keep fading with the passing of time, so I feel that much more independent and like a free agent in the world. Thus the zodiac is one more piece of clutter to discard and be rid of: one more determining factor I don’t need in my life. I’d much rather be the one to determine my essence than be passively assigned my qualities by the planets and their corresponding myths. This will be a philosophical year for me, and I don’t care if philosophy is unpopular or misunderstood. It might be the year that I leave WordPress and find something new to do with my time. The only fate is what proceeds from my choices from moment to moment. Everything is up to me.
I slept in for a while. I’m putting off my road trip till noon or after that. Looking outside, it’s very foggy on my street. Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. Lately I’ve been thinking about the year I played with the disco band. It turned into a nasty business for nasty people and I was wise enough to leave the situation. I cite Robert Fripp again in saying that if you love music you should stay out of the business. Just now I have old Genesis songs in my head from Selling England by the Pound, mostly because I miss my parents. I remember getting a bunch of Genesis CDs one day from Circuit City, where many of them were only ten bucks apiece. I liked the band better with Peter Gabriel. If I listened to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway I’d get too emotional… I used to be very confident and cocky as a bass player but now I’m not so narcissistic. I’m happier being free to apply my knowledge. The sparrows are having a good time on my back porch: purely instinctive little birds, not like us. I reject psychodynamic theory and the unconscious. I don’t believe in fatalism as my dad did. The individual is an integrated whole, and free to choose among options from moment to moment.
You are what you believe.
Six thirty PM.
It was a blah kind of day for me. I felt tired from the restless night, and nothing seems to be going on around here; people are busy doing other things. So I scribbled stuff in my little diary today. It was better for my health to put poetry reading aside and shift my focus to analytic philosophy, whatever others feel about that. I want to be done with Christianity, just let it go and be left alone. It was especially harmful when Pastor preached about the devil and so many things that are not verifiable by observation. Just stupid stuff to scare us and control us. “A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.” At some point my poor brain went tilt and I had a minor nervous collapse; but since the start of the month I’ve done better with my mind. I can remember when I still read Dostoevsky to harmonize with what the church was saying, though now I’ve given up on that completely. A dead horse can’t run anymore. I retraced the history of philosophy to the place where existentialism and the analytic tradition separated from each other. The first is basically reactions for or against religion: saying, where do we go from here? The second allied itself with science and used logic for its epistemic tool and touchstone. One is very concerned with ethics and the other not so much: it wants to know the truth mostly in an ontological way. It deals with common sense realism and totally dispenses with metaphysics. But any Christian will immediately point out that ethics depends upon a metaphysical plane of existence and an absolute like a god to be the lawgiver for humankind.
I don’t have an answer to that objection yet. Is everything truly allowed if God doesn’t exist? Was it atheism that made Smerdyakov murder the old father in The Brothers Karamazov? These questions reopen the whole can of worms; so I agree that we can’t dispose of ethics, hence maybe metaphysics either.
Eleven thirty five at night.
It was a day of autumnal mildness and gentle breezes, the sky clear and a deep azure, while people in their cars came and went to visit friends in houses in my neighborhood. Also it was a time when I was visited by old memories of college, particularly 1989, the year I studied Joyce with an expert professor. What I remembered especially was the humor in Ulysses. And later, in the springtime, I had Chaucer with a hilarious teacher and we all laughed our brains out at the bawdy jokes in The Canterbury Tales. The following summer, I flew back to Michigan to see my brother and his pregnant wife, and he and I would watch the standup comics on HBO and likewise have hysterics. I was 23 and hadn’t been hit by real adversity yet; this would come in another year and a half. After that, it became harder to laugh at myself or at the absurdities of everyday life, thinking that a lot of humor is denial of what gives us pain. The boss of my job said, “If we weren’t laughing we’d be crying,” but I solved the problem by getting out of that situation.
I chose a life for myself that allowed me to go slower and easier, like the old song by CSN titled “You Don’t Have to Cry.” I went from a Type A personality to Type B, doing things at my own pace because there was no other way I could live. “You are living a reality / I left years ago / It quite nearly killed me… In the long run / It will make you cry / Make you crazy and old before your time.” The main thing I had to learn was how to manage the guilt and shame feelings, and basically tell my family to go to hell. The other thing was to teach myself a new language that liberated me from my family’s dynamics. Today they have no power over me whatsoever. What I did with my life was absolutely necessary to my sanity and relative happiness. And now I’m in the process of scraping the church off my shoe.
Everyone has options, more options than they acknowledge to themselves. It’s like when Michelle left her dead life in Eugene to take a job in Wyoming: a clean slate. She gave up the victim mentality and took control of the dice herself. The jaws of uncertainty lurked ahead of her, but she moved fearlessly forward.
I wonder what I’ll do after the church fiasco is blown over.
Psychology is slow to catch up with modern philosophy, which started with Descartes in the seventeenth century with his cogito ergo sum, or “I think therefore I am.” Freud modeled his theories on ancient philosophy and drama, mostly Plato and Sophocles, and the psychological tradition followed his lead. Psychology is just now beginning to admit the contributions of more recent philosophy such as existentialism. Sartre was essentially a Cartesian in the way he started from the point of view of subjectivity, of individual consciousness. The ramifications of his thinking were the condition of freedom for all individual human beings. He denied the determinism of nature in the case of humanity: humankind was an end in itself, determining its own meaning and essence. Humanity is something special, according to his beliefs.
Existentialism is basically very unscientific and non rational, a theory that grows purely out of arts and letters and standing independently of religion and science. It belongs to the no man’s land of philosophy, as Russell called it, though he avoided existentialism totally in his History of Western Philosophy. Perhaps he was wise to do so? His analytic tradition in philosophy is a completely different animal from the speculative tradition: more aligned with science and realism, which leads you back to determinism again. Maybe this perspective is more sane than the hyperbole of freedom and responsibility: more logical and consistent. The most convincing point of view will be consistent. And maybe the Cartesian approach was wrongheaded from the beginning? So that the absurdists didn’t know what they were talking about. Life is not absurd to a logical person, someone grounded in reality and in the laws of physics: in nature.
Quarter of ten.
We’re having a complete power outage right now, which means no Wi-Fi for talking with Sean this morning. I’ve reported the blackout to the utility company. I don’t know how long it will last… Now it’s back on. At the same time it’s beginning to rain. I was thinking a while ago that as long as consciousness remains a mystery, philosophy has a future if people have any interest for it. Modern neuroscience says consciousness is an emergent property of brain function, but it doesn’t say how this actually works, and how objectivity flips over to subjectivity. If science ever explains this phenomenon, then philosophy is probably doomed to perish. As it is, it’s nearly defunct as a discipline. Another thought I had was about my mother’s apparent madness, but I’m not qualified to diagnose her in hindsight. She needed to get an evaluation from a psychiatrist, which she was unwilling to do, so we’ll never know. The rain is coming down hard just now.
Eight twenty five (next day).
Still thinking on freedom, etc. The problem with existentialism is that it lacks common sense; it denies the world outside of your head in a kind of radical subjectivism only to prove a point. But the reality is that people need to eat.
I’ve seen Michelle a couple of times now and she seems to be doing okay. It’s good to see her back working again. The street sweeper just passed up and down my street: he needs to eat also.
Quarter of ten at night.
By now, church feels very far away from me, nor do I ever intend to go back. I feel pretty much like I used to when I was twenty years old, minus the alcohol I did daily. The booze only engulfed me when life got onerous and unrewarding; when my time was not my own and I couldn’t be its director. Feelings of guilt and shame contributed a great deal, although all I needed was to assert myself with the people who made life hell for me. And most of self assertion is the ability to say no when you mean no. Life runs away with you when you make inauthentic choices for the sake of being loved by others. It takes strength to let them down, but better than letting yourself down. Or does that sound rather Machiavellian?
Last night I read something interesting about the difference between Albert Camus and his French rivals including Sartre. He was a moralist and humanist above all, even though he was an atheist and said life is absurd and meaningless. He still believed in humanity. His lessons for us were often derived from the Bible, with the supernatural element taken out. He would not throw in with the existentialists because his humanity was ineradicable; because he wouldn’t be a Machiavellian. And these facts make me stop and think for a minute…
Eight thirty at night.
Where is it written that the truth shall set you free? Whether it does or not, the best policy seems to be honesty, though it’s not a law of nature. I remember a couple of Melville plots where the protagonist was damned no matter what he did or said. I guess it’s better to write your own plot as a free author and show some backbone. Courage is often rewarded by whatever powers be, while shrinking away and sniveling achieves nothing. It even takes being intrepid to open a book like Being and Nothingness and interpret it. All paper trails lead me to this book; even Cervantes points to Sartre, depending on the translation you read of the Quixote. If I say I’m not smart enough to tackle the task, then my philosophy professor from 34 years ago would say something about the intrinsic reward of learning. I can forecast the wages of doing nothing; without effort there’s no gain, and Being and Nothingness remains in its place gathering dust. Just another object, the being in itself. I need just a little push to motivate me. But would it really change my life to give it a read? Existence precedes essence: individual human beings create their own identity from a baseline of utter freedom. If that’s true, then you can’t go wrong with Sartre. And psychology has to move over to accommodate philosophy— which has always expressed the possibilities of human freedom, just by putting ink to paper.