Posts Tagged ‘rarefaction’

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Three biblical stories, two in the Old Testament ——specifically in Genesis—— and one in the New Testament, might aid us in trying to understand, however imperfectly and sketchily, the issue of brotherhood in the Bible. The first story is the well-known story of Cain and Abel; the second, the well-known story of Joseph; and finally, the third story, the well-known story of the parable by Jesus of the Lost Son. All three will be presented solely by way of puzzles and questions. In this regard we ask hesitantly: Could it be that the possibility of friendship according to the Bible is very limited in the case of brothers for some very precise reasons? But, why would this be so? Don’t citizen parents actually put all their conjoined strengths into bringing up their children to be good to each other, to love each other?

Story 1: Cain and Abel, Genesis 4

Why provide a second fall immediately following the most foundational of all falls by Adam and Eve? Why indeed are the primary models of brotherhood Cain and Abel? Why is the story so astonishingly short? Why did God not accept Cain’s offering even if it was the first? Why is Cain so wronged and upset by God’s not accepting his gift? Is it because he is the first born? But, what is it that the first born feels entitled to that feeds such angry responses? Moreover, why does he seek to kill his brother? Why not simply punch him a few times? What is the nature of such blinding rage? What is the fundamental importance of Abel’s being a “keeper of flocks” as against Cain’s being “a tiller of the ground”? Is there something about nomadic lives that is more akin to the nature of the divine? Would it be its greater independence from the earthly? Or is it that nomads are much more in need of the presence of the divine as they move around a “homeless” world? Does it have to do with the fact the Abel deals with animals and their care? But then again, why can’t Cain see that God himself actually speaks to him in the story and not to Abel? In the same vein, why is the story about Cain and much less about Abel? Why does it matter so little to know what Abel’s life was like? And furthermore, why does Cain lie to make things even worse? But if Cain knows he is a sinner, and the worst at that as a fratricidal kind of being, why continue to punish Cain with a permanent eternal sign that will mark him permanently to all on the earth? Why punish him beyond his own consciousness of his knowing he has done a terrible, spiritually self-destructive, deed? (See Appendix 1 below.) And dramatically for political philosophy as defended by Athens, why is Cain the one who actually founds the first city of the Bible, the city of Enoch? Why is the Bible so pessimistic about the political from the very start?

Story 2: Joseph, Genesis 37-50

Why is the love of Joseph by his father so connected to the varicolored tunic he gave him in his old age? Does this shed light into the relation of the beautiful and the divine? Why is it also so intimately connected to his actually accompanying his father in old age as the younger one? Does this shed some light into the commandment regarding the honoring of our parents? Is honoring our parents primarily being able to accompany and prepare them for death? But if so, wouldn’t believers also learn much from Socrates for whom philosophy is a constant preparation for dying? And, why does the Bible see it fit to show that now it is not only one brother, but many, who hate Joseph? Moreover, why does Joseph so naively express such complex dreams to his brothers? Didn’t he surmise he would be in trouble? Must faith be necessarily naive (see Ricoeur’s Freud and Philosophy)? And besides, what is so special about dreams and our connection to the divine in the Bible? How to contrast these presence with Aristotle’s own consideration in his prudential text on dreams? And his brothers, why can’t they appreciate Joseph’s honesty? Would they have rather Joseph not tell them anything at all, that is, not prepare them at all for God’s presence? And very polemically, does Joseph’s being selected by God shed some light on our modern democratic families? And still, why in this occasion do the brothers decide only to fake Joseph’s death? Is it because they are thinking of their father with a certain sympathy? Surely not, for their father would still think Joseph to be dead, wouldn’t he? What is so particularly appalling about Judah’s idea of selling and wreaking profit from his brother’s enslavement? What is it about our desire to have and posses material things than makes Judah lead his own family into utter dislike by God? His future generations, the creations of his creations, are somehow condemned by his avarice, aren’t they? Is this part of the basis as well for Aquinas’ powerful condemnation of usury which speaks little to us nowadays? And what precisely could anger brothers and sisters about one of their own actually being chosen by God? Why wouldn’t this be an occasion for joy? What are brothers particularly so much in competition about? Could it be that at the bottom of their hearts lies a desire to become god-like and to be recognized as such by their kin? Wouldn’t this be what Aristophanes tells us as well in the Symposium? And moving closer to our times, why did Thomas Mann rewrite the story of Joseph in so many pages in our modern context of war? And very importantly, perhaps most importantly, how to understand Joseph’s final words to his fearing brothers:

“But Joseph said to them, “do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore do not be afraid: I will provide for you and your little ones” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis, 50: 20-21)

What exactly does Joseph mean by saying that God “meant it for good”? Was Joseph at all times aware that things would end so? Wouldn’t one apply the words “all ‘s well that ends well “ here? Is this last question simply a reflection of one’s pride? And why does he not suffer as much as Job does? What is it about Joseph that gives him such strength?

Story 3: Parable of the Lost Son, Luke 15: 11-32

Why does this parable follow the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin? Why are they so ordered? Why one must speak of losing oneself in parables? Is it because we are moving in a particular direction? And crucially, why does the lost son wish to become a migrant risking his own life? Is it because he is more like Abel than Cain, the tiller of the land? Why wish to get lost? For surely, we know what is at stake in leaving our families, don’t we? And once again, why does the brother get so angry? Why is the love of his own recognition so important to him if he has lived right beside his father all his life? Wasn’t that enough? What more could he be looking for? And again, who would be envious of one’s brother’s having suffered and despaired in solitude? Which of these two brothers would actually be better prepared to honor his parents, as is our duty according to the 10 Commandments? Would the adequate honoring of one’s parents be a compromise between the two? But wouldn’t such a compromise involve a certain strange kind of anger that is not to be seen in the noblest of honorings and loves?

Appendix 1:

For a much more developed puzzling presentation of the Bible, one can turn to Professor Thomas Pangle’s difficult, yet engaging and puzzle-creating, Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham where he touches on the life of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son Isaac. In particular, see pages 93-96 ‘The Puzzle of Divine Foreknowledge” which are three complete pages made up only of puzzles and questions. Or later on, in the chapter on “Guilt and Punishment” where Pangle writes in crucial relation to the above questions:

“But this last formulation brings close to us a final troubling question. However we are to understand criminal responsibility, what are the intelligible grounds for the overwhelming conviction that the guilty deserve to suffer for what they have done; and what are the intelligible grounds for the concomitant hope that they –that even we ourselves— will suffer the punishment that they, and we, deserve. For guilt betokens sin or vice; and sin or vice are either genuinely and severely harmful, in the most important respect, to the very soul of the criminal; or else they betoken an alienation of the criminal from the source of meaning for him as a being designed to devotion. Why, then, is it appropriate, why is it sensible, that such a crippled and or alienated being receive, in addition to and as a consequence of his corruption or alienation, further harm or suffering. Why is it so terribly important for us that to the suffering and mutilation of the spirit that is entailed in being unjust there be added extrinsic bad consequences for the perpetrator?” (PPGA, p. 101)

Pangle keeps alive, in critical contrast to modernity, the enriching yet tense debate between Athens and Jerusalem.

Appendix 2:

For a striking story of how Socrates views, at least minimally, the relation between brothers see Memorabilia 2.3 where one finds an astonishing conversation with Chaerecrates who has fought with his older brother. To begin to even try to understand this story, one would have to reconsider what Socrates considered to be a philosophical life and its relation to the citizens who inhabit the agora. Without such a perspective, the story seems merely to involve a strange naivety. And we know for certain that Xenophon, a general, was anything but naive.

But perhaps the true nature of brotherhood is best exemplified in The Republic where Glaucon and Adeimantus —both Plato’s brothers— encounter Socrates dialogically on the question of justice and reveal dramatically to the reader their unique and differing characteristics as regards the political and philosophical life. Perhaps it is by looking at the question of justice that at least some healthier brotherhoods may come about.

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This is simply a translation of Ingrid Betancourt’s letter to her mother. It was published today in El Tiempo newspaper of Bogotá. Why translate it? Because I know many do not speak Spanish and therefore the audience of her intimate and powerful letter can be increased by seeking more English-speaking readers. Others who know other languages may translate it for others, as well as place their translation within their blogs. Perhaps this will bring more attention to our plight as Colombians, and perhaps the prayers of more and more will give her —and all the other secuestrados— the necessary strength to live through her/their ordeal. Betancourt was kidnapped by the infamous FARC in 2002 and only recently was a video released which showed she was still alive. For her biography see: here . The letter itself in Spanish is here.

(Note: I translate it as I am an official translator both in Canada and in Colombia; But MUCH more importantly because I feel deeply for those who remain kidnapped in our dear Colombia. For my constant interest see some very basic tributes here and here. )

“We live dead here.”

“This is a difficult moment for me. They ask for proofs of survival and here I am writing this letter in which I spill my soul unto paper. I am physically in bad shape. I have not kept on eating, my appetite has left me, my hair falls off in great quantities.

I have lost the desire for everything. I think that that is the only thing that is right, I desire nothing because here in the jungle the answer to everything is no”. It is best, then, not to want anything so that one can at least free oneself from one’s desires. I have been asking for an encyclopedic dictionary to read something, to learn something, to keep intellectual curiosity going. I keep on waiting that perhaps out of compassion they will provide me with one, but it is best not to think about that.

From there on anything else is a miracle, even listening to you in the mornings because the radio I have is too old and broken down.

I want to ask you, dear mother, to tell the children that I want them to send three messages per week (…) nothing transcendental, but anything they can and which they can imagine … I need nothing more, but I need to be in contact with them, the rest does not matter anymore. (…)

As I said to you before, life here is not life, it is just a terrible waste of time. I live or merely survive in an hammock hanging from two posts, covered by a mosquito net and with a tent on top which serves as a roof. With this I can say I have a house.

I have a cabinet where I place my equipment, that is to say, my backpack with my clothes and the Bible which is my sole luxury. Everything ready if one has to start to run. Here nothing is one’s own, here nothing lasts. The only constant thing is uncertainty and precariousness. Any moment they can give the order to pack and to sleep in any hole, lying anywhere with any animal (…) my hands sweat and my mind becomes clouded and I end up doing things two times more slowly. Hikes are a torture because my equipment is too heavy and I can’t carry it (…) but everything is stressful, my things are lost or taken away, like the blue-jean that Mela had given me for Christmas, the one with which they caught me. The only thing I have been able to save is my jacket; that has been a blessing, because the nights are freezing cold and I have had nothing else to cover myself with.

Before I used to enjoy each bath in the river. As I am the only woman of the group, I had to bathe practically with all my clothes on; shorts, bra, t-shirt, boots. Before I used to like to swim in the river, today I do not even have the strength for that. I am weak and cold, I look like a cat approaching water. I, who have loved water so much, cannot even recognize myself. (…) But ever since they separated the groups, I have not had the energy for anything. I stretch a bit because stress blocks my neck and it hurts a lot.

With the stretching exercises, the split and others, I manage to alleviate the tension in my neck (…) I try to keep quiet, I speak very little so as to try to avoid problems. The presence of a woman amongst so many prisoners who have been held in captivity for 8 to 10 years is a problem (…) When one is searched they take away the things one loves the most. A letter that arrived from you they took away after the last proof of survival in 2003. The drawings by Natasha and Stanis, the photos of Mela and Loli, the prayer necklace of my father, a governing programme with 190 points; everything they took away. Everyday there is less of me left. Some details Pinchao has told you. Everything is tough.

It is important that you dedicate these lines to those people who are my oxygen and my life. Those who keep my head above the water, which help me not to drown in forgetfulness, in nothingness and in despair. They are you, my children, Astrica and my little ones, Fab, aunt Nancy and Juangui.

Everyday I am in contact with God, Jesus and the Virgin (…) here everything has two faces, happiness comes around and then pain. Happiness here is sad. Love alleviates but opens new injuries … it is to live and die again. For years I could not think about the children and the pain of my father’s death was almost the last straw. I cried thinking about them, I felt I was asphyxiating, that I could not breathe. I said to myself: “Fab is there, he is taking care of everything, you must not think about it nor think.” I almost went crazy with the death of my father. I never knew how it happened, who was there, if he left a message, a letter, a blessing. But that which has calmed this torment is to know that he left us trusting in God and that I will hug him there. Of that I am sure. Feeling your strength has been my strength. I never saw messages until I was united with Lucho, Luis Eladio Pérez, on the 22 of August 2003. We were true friends and were separated in August. But throughout all that time he was my shoulder, my shield and my brother. (…).

I carry with time the memory of the age of each of my children. Each birthday I sing their Happy Birthday. I always ask them to allow me to bake a cake. But for the last three years the reply has always been no. Nonetheless, if they bring a cookie or any rice or bean soup, which is usually what happens, I imagine it to be a cake and I celebrate their birthday in my heart.

To my Melelinga (Melanie); my spring sunshine, my princess from the constellation of the swan, to her whom I adore so much, I want to tell you that I am the proudest mother on earth (…) and if I had to die to day I would leave my life thanking God for my children. I am very happy with her Masters in NY. That is exactly what I would have advised (…) But take note, it is very important that she do her DOCTORATE. In the world today, even to breathe one must have credentials (…) I will not tire of insisting to Loli (Lorenzo) and Mela that they not stop until they have obtained their PhD . I wish Mela would promise me with that. (…).

I have always told you that you are the best, much better than I am, something like the best version of what I would like to be. That is why, with the experience that I have accumulated through life, I ask you my life to prepare yourself in order to reach the top.

To my Lorenzo, my Loli Pop, my angel of light, my king of blue waters, my head musician who sings and enchants me, the owner of my heart, I want to tell him that from the day of his birth up to today he has been a fountain of joy. Everything that comes from him soothes my soul. Everything comforts me, everything gives me peace. (…) I could finally hear his voice a few times this year. I trembled with emotion. It is the voice of my Loli, the voice of my boy, but there is another man now over the voice of my little boy. A deep voice of a real man, like that of my father (…)

Your life awaits you all, try to reach as high as possible, to learn is to grow, not only because of what one learns intellectually, but also because of the human experience, the people surrounding you which provides emotional sustenance to have greater control over oneself each day, and spiritually, to mold a greater character of service towards others, where ego is reduced to its most minimal expression and one grows in humility and moral fortitude. One goes with the other. That is to live, to grow up to serve. (…)

To my dearest Sebastian, my little prince of stellar and ancestral voyages. So much that I want to say to him! First, that I do not want to leave this world before he has the knowledge, the certainty and the confirmation that there are not 2, but 3 children of my soul (…) But for him I will have to un-knot years of silence which weigh upon me much since captivity. I have decided that my favourite colour is the blue of his eyes (…) Just in case I do not leave this place, I write it down so that you can keep it in your soul, m cherished Babon, and so that you might understand, that I understood when your brothers were born, and it is that I have always loved you as the son that you are and that God gave me. The rest are only formalities. .

I know that Fab has suffered because of me (…) Tell Fab that in him I rest, over his shoulders I cry, in him I lean so that can continue smiling out of sadness, his love makes me strong. Because he is there for the necessities of my children, I can cease breathing without life hurting so much (…)

To my Astrica, so many things that I do not know where to begin. Perhaps to tell her that her “little resume” saved me during the first year I was kidnapped, during the year in which I grieved for my father. (…) I need to talk to her about all these moments and to hug her and cry until I run clear out of tears in my body. In everything that I do she is there as a reference. I always think, “We did that with Astrid when we were small” or “Astrid did this better than I did” (…) I have heard her several times on radio. I feel great admiration for her impeccable manner of expression, for the quality of her reflections, for the control over her emotions, for the elegance of her sentiments. I hear her and think: “I want to be like that.” (…) I imagine how they enjoy things with Anastasia and Stanis (Ingrid’s niece and nephew) . How it hurt me that they took away their drawings. The poem by Anastasia read: “through a lucky touch, through a magical touch or a touch by God, in three years or three days you will be again with us.” And the drawing by Stanis was a rescue through helicopters, I sleeping in a confined space (caleta) just like the ones here, and he was my Saviour.

Mom, there are so many people to thank for remembering us, for not abandoning us. For a long time we have been like the leppars who make every dance an ugly event, us captives are not a “politically correct” topic, it is much better to say that one has to be strong with the guerrillas without sacrificing some human lives. Before these ideas, silence. Only time can open consciousness and elevate the spirit. I think about the grandeur of the United States, for example. That greatness is not due to the richness of lands or raw materials, etc., but the result of the spiritual greatness of the leaders who molded their Nation. When Lincoln defended the right to life and liberty of the enslaved blacks of America, he also confronted many Floridas and Praderas…. But Lincoln won and there remained impressed in the collective of that country the priority of human life over any other interest.

In Colombia we still have to think where we come from, who we are and where we want to head. I wish one day we will feel that thirst fro grandeur which allows peoples to surge from nothing to the very sun. When we will be much less conditional towards the defense of the life and the liberty of those who are ours, that is to say, when we are less individualistic and more solidarious, less indifferent and more committed, less intolerant and more compassionate. Then, that day, we will be that great country we all wish we were. That greatness is lying asleep in our hearts. But our hearts have hardened and they weigh so much they do not allow for higher sentiments. But there are a lot of people I wish to thank because they are contributing to awaken the spirit and grandeur of Colombia…

For many years I have thought than as long as I am alive, as long as I keep on breathing, I must always keep hope. I no longer have the same strength, it is much more difficult for me to believe, but I wanted you to feel that what you all have done has made the difference. We have felt human (…) Dear mother, I still would have many other things to tell you. Explain to you that for a long time I have not had news from Clara and her baby (…) Alright, mommy. God help us, guide us, give us patience and embrace us. Forever and ever.”


The original letter in Spanish reads; (more…)

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Horses 1

Some time has passed since my father’s untimely death. Since then an epitaph has been chosen to be placed near his resting place deep inside a uniquely beautiful natural area within the Andean mountains of our dear Colombia. Surrounded by the nature he loved, he will surely rest in peace. The epitaph chosen, translated into English reads something like this: ”We will always have you in our hearts.” My mother, who spent most of her life beside him even when separated, approved those words. This alone speaks of their great importance.

Although this is quite a nice and simple epitaph, and in fact shows the importance of remembering the love one carries within for those who depart, I think it has some limitations. Perhaps by looking at its limitations we can become more aware of what an epitaph is for and what are the hidden possibilities within for diverse epitaphs. Maybe then we will be better prepared to engage in the reflective process which is behind the selection of those epitaphs with which we will honor the passing through life of those close to us. Perhaps it will even allow us to set out what epitaph will appear above our very own gravestones someday.

The three limitations to this epitaph are as follows: 1. it speaks more of “us” than the person who has died, namely, our father (it says “we” and “our hearts”, instead of “him” and “his heart”); 2. it is the kind of epitaph that could be placed in many tombs, so that the particularity and uniqueness of my father (and he was quite unique, I tell you!) is quite lost, and finally, 3. it tries to convince us that the aim of an epitaph is to touch our emotions primarily and only secondarily our capacity for reflection and creative imagination which are among the highest faculties we possess as human beings. In contrast, I think an epitaph should: 1. speak primarily about the person him/herself who has died, 2. reveal him or her in a special light using the expressive power of language, and finally, 3. should not primarily focus on the emotions, specially if these have not been articulated in the life of the members of these families, but should point towards reflection and the need we have of such reflection in order to guarantee a certain true and honest legacy of the person who has died. How could one come up with such an epitaph?

First off, by looking at the many famous ones which many others have used to remind us of those who were found to be memorable. One can in turn try to relate some of them to the close loved person who has died. In the case of my father two such realms come to mind. On the one hand, the serious type of epitaphs which are usually used for those who have dedicated their lives to the political or public life. The single most famous example of this type of epitaph can be seen in the words found at Thermopylae, words recently beautifully and powerfully recovered in the movie the 300:

“Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.”

At the very least these soldiers asked of their kin not to forget the sacrifice they endured in order to try to secure the lawful freedom of those intimately close they left behind. Another such powerful example of an epitaph that in its simplicity touches us like few can, is the one found at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. It reads: “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Its power lies precisely in that usually we bury those who are known to us, here the words remind us that many die in anonymity. This epitaph stands against the injustice of such anonymous deaths.

A second realm which could apply to my father would be a more ironic and fun-spirited one. Usually it is artists who have the strength to come up with such kinds of epitaphs. Given my father’s unique sense of humor, one could eventually think of an epitaph such as one which Hemingway once proposed and which reads:

“Pardon me for not getting up”

My father would have laughed.

In this respect, by letting ourselves be touched by what others have decided to lay down as their final resting words ——those few limited marks which will attempt to break us free from our mortal demise and now obvious finitude—— we would be more able to decide which words to choose for those we love and even for ourselves upon, better yet, before (!) our departure. (more…)

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T and Ω: a critical stance on our dangerous desire for overspecialization

I have written elsewhere on the deep need that our overspecialized western societies —–which find themselves in a serious ecological crisis, in confusion regarding the question of the divine and in the presence of multiple deep political tensions—– have for T-type kind of people. I myself am part of those few who try to consider themselves “T-minded” individuals. My resume is a “T-kind” of resume. Although this post intended to show both some of the obstacles for the actual generation of T-minded people, as well as some of the essential and more deeply clarified characteristics of such individuals and their complex narratives, the length itself of these reflections has limited me in this post to a more basic goal. This post will merely reflect and puzzle as to why the letter T might be both the best and the worst candidate to graphically represent what I have called “T-minded people” are all about. Subsequent posts will hopefully deal with the very important issues regarding the obstacles themselves which T-people face given their decision both to be seriously critical of overspecialization and its blind, powerful and utilitarian defenders, and also to fight the generalized and very real obstacles which make the creation of reflective-oriented T-people in our hyper-specialized societies almost, and tragically so, impossible. Our reflective path here will lead us from the letter T to the Greek letter omega (Ω). Both letters, as you will see, may provide the graphical basis for a serious critical stance on our dangerous desire for overspecialization.

Classical liberal education stands as a counterweight to such overspecialization. This can even be seen in the way we educate our bodies. Physical education has become an option for those who want to “specialize” in it. In contrast, the classical practice of a liberal education had a central physical component in the area of “physical education”; it was a very important part of a more holistic understanding of what it means to be fully human. Now, in several highly-specialized countries, this “education” appears as an optional goal given our radical tendency to over-specialize our children. This is a tendency for which we are paying the price in terms of our children’s very own physical and mental health. What is the over-specialized society’s solution? Well, seek a health specialist! And moving from specialization to specialization we move farther and farther from another type of understanding of things, a healthier and a happier (in the Aristotelian sense) mode of being. In contrast, a liberally educated society sees that a “physical education program is designed to cultivate physical fitness, basic athletic skills, and an appreciation of the value of recreational physical activity”. Link

What holistic “physical education” allows is an education in moderation as well as in the beauty of the whole. It also prepares the mind for play and the value of leisurely activity. Over-specialization is founded upon a certain immoderation and the partialized beauty of dissection. One could even go so far as to say that overspecialization rarely knows of leisure, for it must constantly seek further specialization in order to gain the upper hand. Its endless desires know of little rest. Many modern athletes, with their dramatic stories of excess pressure and unwise decisions, are a prime example of such differences. Professional cycling, as in the Tour de France,is only one of many such examples. Our athletes are, regrettably,no longer liberally educated.

In a similar vein, it is Aristotle ——a T-type philosopher—- who expresses beautifully this kind of awareness in the culminating reflections as they appear in the Politics. These reflections can be seen as the most developed words on what are the very foundations of a truly liberal education. For instance, there he writes concerning the best possible education regarding drawing as it relates to generating the conditions for a free and virtuous citizenry:

“Similarly they should be educated in drawing not so that they may not make errors in their private purchases and avoid being deceived in the buying and selling of wares, but rather because it makes them experts at studying the beauty connected with bodies. To seek everywhere the element of utility is least of all fitting for those who are magnanimous and free.” (Aristotle Politics VIII *3, 11138a40-1338b3)

For if there is to be specialization, as there must be, it must be of a very different kind. Drawing and learning to see the beauty of our bodily condition go hand-in-hand for Aristotle. Seeing beauty and becoming a nobler and freer type of citizen also go hand-in-hand. In contrast,for us overspecialization goes hand-in-hand with increased utility; the more you specialize the more “you’ll get out of it”. Just think of the way our athletes are recruited nowadays. Or just ask your family doctor. We have thus lost view of a different form of magnanimity and public freedom which stands as a powerful and necessary corrective. And to such type of Aristotelian drawing we shall try to return when looking at the way we draw in our minds the letter T, letter which stands against such dangerous and self-destructive tendencies towards overspecialization.

Or put another way. Shaw is said to have said: “More and more, we know more of less; until there will come a time when we will know much of nothing, and nothing of the whole.” Our informational age gathers and reproduces very specialized know-how endlessly; just think of the hundreds of blogs posted daily on the web. And one hears, first condition for your blog to be successful and be read by many, specialize it! Or think of the important yet endless publications on the most minute issues which are disconnected from all other types of understanding. Our age specializes in specialization. We are knowers indeed; and yet,paused reflection on the serious limitations surrounding this kind of specialized and self-reproductive knowing is mostly lacking. So much so, that of our age it is perhaps true to say that because it sees only the trees it fails to see the forest. In fact, to see the trees without seeing the forest is certainly what has endangered our dwelling in this our planet currently in critical ecological indeterminacy. In contrast, T-minded people seek to see the forest and traverse the changing paths of the forest to have a clearer grasp, if ever incomplete, of the whole. T-people are forest dwellers, rather than merely tree analyzers. Murdered nun Dorothy Stang, who sought to protect Brazil’s rainforest,was one such forest dweller. And if they in fact decide to “analyze” trees, which T-people can, then they do so with a different grounding, a grounding in the poetic. I have looked at one such form of analysis here: Link

But let us return to our privileged letter, the letter T. Why use this letter as a mode of self-understanding? Please look carefully at the letter itself:


Nothing special, right? We know it and know how to use it.

But I must stop. I am truly sorry for so many delays. We haven’t even started, and yet we already encounter our first puzzle. Why? Precisely because I believe only “T”-minded kind of people will actually seek to stop,see and reflect on the letter itself beyond its utility. I might be very wrong, but I think few ofus have actually looked at the letters we use in our daily lives as the pragmatic specialists that we are. We simply use such letters to write, to speak, to designate, to express. Such letters are not ends-in-themselves, they are simply means to other human things and goals. But, what if what is deeply required of us in our “never-ending progressivist age”, were reflection on the basics themselves? We have become so accustomed to using these letters that we have forgotten that once they did not play a central role in our self-understanding as humans. What I mean is, in part, something like this.

Anne Carson’s beautiful Eros the Bittersweet, a short and poetic study of the Greek alphabet in connection to the erotic poems of Sappho and the dialogues in which Socrates’ life is portrayed,recalls how an illiterate man reported seeing some strange figures which for the literate were obviously letters. But he himself could not recognize ——let alone understand—– them as they were foreign to his self-understanding. Here is what the illiterate man, that same one who abounds in our developing countries,reports:

“I am not skilled at letters but I will explain the shapes

and clear symbols to you.

There is a circle marked out as it were with a compass

And it has a clear sign in the middle.

The second one is first of all two strokes

And then another one keeping them apart in the


The third is curly like a lock of hair

And the fourth is one line going straight up

And three crosswise ones attached to it

The fifth is not easy to describe:

There are two strokes which run together from

separate points

To one support.

And the last one is like the third.“ (Carson, pp. 57-58)

And Carson goes on to “solve” the riddle which for us literate ones is no riddle at all: “The man has spelled out the six letters of the name Theseus: ΘΗΣΕΥΣ (note: letters in Greek)”.And that is not all, this is a fragment of a tragedy which Euripides himself entitled with the very same letters, the tragedy whose name is Theseus. (Have you ever thought about the letters of YOUR name? Do you remember how difficult it was to actually learn to write it down? How much satisfaction accompanied this act! Have you ever seen your name written down in another language and felt the overwhelming surprise?) Describing them so, we recall that each letter goes beyond its function, each has a form and a unique beauty. A letter hides a mystery, one such letter is “curly like a beautiful lock of hair”. Letters can be ends-in-themselves, even in their simplicity. (I have argued something similar for prepositions here , and for basic lines here )

And we come to realize as well, that uniqueness is not universally shared. So much so that we marvel at the form underpinning the drawing of this Arabic letter: ى .. Do you see its curvy beauty? Do you see its elongated bird-like being? Or else, I once tried to learn Hebrew (the things one does for love!), and I recall I had to see, among many others, this Hebrew letter: ש. I am indeed prejudiced as I have come to love lines given my decision to become a T-oriented person myself; but can you see the perceptual possibilities here? Can you see the musicality, the natural growth, the candle-like presence, the ascending spirituality? Can we for one moment be surprised as the illiterate man was? Can we still learn to draw as Aristotle bids, namely, in wonderment? Or are we immune to such surprises given that we cannot get hold of our own global ignorance given our radical knowledge in what are only individual, localized, self-enclosed and disconnected realms? (more…)

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Prepositions are funny and usually very short linguistic creatures. We all know them and had to learn them growing up. They include such minute samples as: in, on, up, down, over, under, through, among many others. Many of us remember learning them from children’s TV shows such as Sesame Street and the like. There we would see funny puppets moving all over the place to try to make us understand by actually visualizing what each of these little particles meant. And somehow we did learn them, but we are now so focused on actually using them both in speech and in our daily actions that we rarely stop to think about their important role in opening up for us the structure of our very own being. For it would be unbelievable if such little words could open up such deep dimensions, wouldn’t it? Perhaps reflecting on prepositions might be a clear way of learning to position ourselves before ourselves with greater resolve. For indeed prepositions are quite unique in that they might just reveal how ignorant we are of ourselves and the possible conditions underlying who we are.

But first a story, for many puzzles come to our lives unexpectedly if only we are open to their appearance. How did I in fact come to see their importance? It was only made possible because of the fact that I became by chance a language teacher and had to actually teach these little words to many students who knew how to use them in their own language but —–through a wicked twist of fate—– had to learn them once again in another one! So when I started teaching them I would just simply give some visual examples of how they worked and tried to explain, as best I could, how they worked. I would say things like: “See that dog there? Well, it is jumping OVER the fence. Can everyone repeat that!” And I would hear them repeating this and congratulate myself on being such a good teacher. How little did I know.

If you have been a language teacher, or taken language courses, you know prepositions are some of the first linguistic elements taught. I assume it is so because we think they are just so easy to grasp. However, the more I taught them, the more I was puzzled by different aspects regarding their nature. The more I tried to teach them, the more I came to realize how little I understood them. Besides, some students really had a tough time seeing how they were used and what they were for. And furthermore, many students would ask some tough questions for which I knew the correct answer ——namely, use such and such a preposition in this case—– but I did not know why! And yet all of us, teacher and students, had already learned them many years ago in our own languages when we were just kids. This is a truly odd state of affairs; knowing one knows and hardly being able to express what it is one knows and how one can be sure of actually knowing it. It was somehow as if by growing up we had misplaced ourselves, losing a kind of understanding which was once quite open even if now remote.

What were these difficulties? Well, they went something like this. Have you ever thought about how to explain what is the difference between being “under” a tree and “below” a tree? Or, more dramatically: it is certainly quite different to say that “John is resting under the tree”, than to say “John is resting peacefully below the tree”. Now, I know you know which is which if you are an English-speaker, but tell me what is the difference, how to explain it to a student and why is there such a profound difference in meaning? For, in one, John is actually alive; in the other, John has departed the living! I will help you out a bit, in a similar way we usually say we are “under” the umbrella and not “below” it. Or, think about this case. Do you know what is the difference between the basic spatial prepositions “in” and “into”? I mean, why do we say “Natalia is in her house “, in contrast to, “Natalia is going into her house”. I will help you out; just look at the verbs. Prepositions are quite strange creatures: some of them go hand in hand with what are called static verbs, others only make their appearance with movement verbs.

But it gets specially worse in English because in this language prepositions sometimes go hand in hand with verbs so that together they create what are know as “phrasal verbs”. These are easily used by English-speakers, once again, on a daily basis. But for English students ——those immigrants you come across on your daily moving through the positions of your life—— they are a very deep and prolonged nightmare! In this respect, perhaps if one knew one’s prepositions one would be more readily positioned as regards immigrants themselves. For immigrants truly become displaced, they lose their known positions and headings and must have the strength to learn these new prepositions which assume a different kind of ordering. Immigrants know what it is to become a stranger in not always welcoming lands. To this type of disorientation we shall return, but for now back to the grammar of things. Let me try to exemplify: can you imagine what it is to try to learn what is the difference in meanings between: put up a wall, put up for sale, put up with someone, put up a fight, put through (on a phone), put on a sweater, put out (a fire), put in a good word, put off (as in ‘postpone’), be put off (by my friend), put forth (an idea), put money towards, put a terrible event behind you, put away (for life), put your point across, etcetera …? And all this just with changes in one verb! And did you know that there are actually complete dictionaries ONLY dedicated to these type of verbs? I guess you start to get the idea, but I just wanted to put it down in this blog.

But that is not all; the puzzle to which I am alluding is not merely one dealing with writing, it enters the domain of speech and thus can open or close dialogue itself. In English prepositions do not have a marked accent when said. Thus, for instance, when you speak you usually do not say: “He went INTO his room”, placing a heavy stress on the preposition itself. On the contrary, prepositions in English do not normally have a stress to them. No wonder students from other countries have such a tough time listening to them; they are actually almost invisible and only faintly noticeable! This is why for non-English speakers trying to understand the difference between: “He walked in his room” and “He walked into his room”, is like noticing the difference between two very similar birds for those of us who know very little of birds. Of course, we as teachers actually emphasize the preposition itself and say: “He walked INTO his room” placing ALL the emphasis/stress on the preposition itself. And we congratulate ourselves on helping out so much. But here is the problem, no English speaker actually speaks like that! So remember, when you come across an immigrant in your daily life, just try to remember that your impatience with his/her speaking abilities may result also from a lack of self-understanding on your part. Just maybe, if we knew more about our own language, we would appreciate the difficulties in learning it for others. This type of understanding would allow for greater patience and shared activity.

But even if interesting, all these are only the secondary reasons for my interest in prepositions. What these previous experiences reveal is something which has been known for a long time, that we use language without actually being conscious of it. I find this simply amazing, that we as humans are so bright and yet hardly reflect upon how amazing these capacities are. Why would this be so? One reason could be a certain kind of fear, a fear of wonder. For we might think that if we reflect upon the obvious, suddenly what we were used to doing without question comes to a halt and strange uncomfortable puzzles arise. However that may be, the main point about prepositions is that they function in a very special way. They provide us with a certain orientation in the world in which we make our lives; they provide, in a sense, a connection with the world we inhabit. In this respect they are indeed the most spatial elements of language. Prepositions allows us to find the where of our motions, allowing us the possibility for locating who we are in the context in which we move. To end this post I will provide you with four examples of the reflective possibilities underlying such a discussion:

A) Elsewhere I have argued for a reconsideration of the family by using five of these prepositions: 1.the “downward view” of the family, 2. the “upward view” of the family, 3. the “outward view” of the family, 4. the “inward view” of the family, and finally using spatial imagination, the 5. ‘roundward view” of the family. You can find this discussion here: Link

B) It is philosophers who have seriously taken up the issue of our spatial structuring of the world. It is perhaps professor Charles Taylor who brings to light the issue of our orientation and the use of spatial metaphors better than anyone else. In his Sources of the Self he writes regarding the self and its constant use of spatial metaphors in the construction of its narrative identity:

“what this brings to light is the essential link between identity and a kind of orientation. To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not. I feel myself drawn here to use a spatial metaphor; but I believe this to be more than a personal predilection. There are signs that the link with spatial orientation lies very deep in our the human psyche. In some extreme cases of what are described as “narcissistic personality disorders”, which take the form of a radical uncertainty about oneself and about what is of value to oneself, patients show signs of spatial disorientation as well as moments of acute crisis. The disorientation and uncertainty about where one stands as a person seems to spill over into a loss of grip on one’s stance in physical space.” (SotS. p. 28)

In our everyday dealing with things we move along; but then things happen. For instance, we feel our friend has utterly betrayed us. And then what was taken for granted, namely, that we were moving along just fine, comes to a halt. It is here that the normal structures of orientation are radically undermined, those structures which previously were truly out of sight. It is here that the spatial metaphors come to the fore: we are truly set off course, we feel that the rug has been pulled from right under our feet, we really feel that we have no direction to our lives, we have no North, we say that we are stumbling as we go, we confess we can’t get “over” it, we feel paralyzed, we perceive going outdoors as threatening, among many others. The spatial self-understandings, including our prepositions, which once gave us no thought suddenly must be reconsidered and given a new and deeper understanding so that we can reorient ourselves by means of this new insight. To not be able to reorient ourselves thus is excruciating for many. Perhaps by coming to see how prepositions open up the world of our interactions will allow us to more easily find new pathways and meadows in which to be. Perhaps you can allow those immigrants we spoke of above to find these new pastures much more readily. Help them with their prepositions so that they may position themselves much more readily within your unquestioned coordinates.

C) And then there is the case of maps, which I have discussed in another post as well. link As in the use of prepositions we use them and move in and through them without seeking or apparently needing any kind of reflective guidance. We know where we are going and, if in doubt, we also know we know how to use them. So, how could one go about seeing what is behind these maps, if in fact we move through our spaces as fish move through water? I once asked a young boy how fish took a shower if there were already in water. He was puzzled. I laughed a bit, but I feel the same way with regards to our notion of space. In this respect I laugh a bit at myself. If we are “immersed” in our spatial being in the world, how to find a way to surprise ourselves? Here, recourse to history is one fundamental possibility.

You look and find everything all too familiar. THAT is part of the problem. But do you have a sense that there is something very limiting about this representation of space? “Well, “ you could reply, “how else can one go around places then?” And I wonder worried, “so you do not see it”. Well, I must not give up and try to allow you to see what is so strange here. Take a look at another period in time in which other types of relations to space existed. Take a look at some early medieval maps:

Paris Map 1250


Chronicles of St. Denis 1364-1372


Now you at least see that OUR maps are profoundly different. You look a bit startled. And of course you laugh a bit and say to yourself: “Poor people they were so ignorant then, they just simply did not have the technology to map out correctly their maps.” And I agree, in part: I mean, look at those little houses, well, was that drawn by children? Did artist Paul Klee draw these maps?

But maybe, you might just start to ponder whether it is YOU who does not see what those maps take for granted. A bit worried, you start to realize that the medieval maps were not guided by the x-y coordinates of the Cartesian grid. In contrast, early medieval maps represent the world in terms of the world’s significance to the inhabitants of these spaces. What mattered was not the distance between the houses, but the houses; and if a given place had a special significance, well, it was actually drawn to stand out. The church, the castle, Prince amelo14’s retreat, were much larger than they actually were in reality. And besides, you might just start to see how your modern eyes are connected to a secular way of seeing the world. The Chronicle of St. Denis is a mapping which involves the stages of the life of a Saint. Remember what we said at the start of the Muslim pilgrimage? Our maps certainly have no sense of any pilgrimage whatsoever; their function is to get us around as quickly and efficiently as possible. Harvey summarizes well the issue: “Maps stripped of all fantasy and religious belief, as well as any sign of the experiences involved in their production, had become abstract and strictly functional systems for the factual pondering of phenomena in space” (249). Charles Taylor, the architectonic foundation of my Ph.D. thesis, adds: “A way is essentially something you go through in time. The map on the other hand, lays out everything simultaneously, and relates every point to every point without discrimination”. (176)

And we wonder how come we have never seen this before. What else might we not be seeing? What else might we not even want to open ourselves to seeing? A firm conviction of the Socratic uneasiness which sets itself up against those who simply know they know, motivates me to write this post, to face up to my own ignorance of myself and of the spatial world I inhabit daily.

And finally,

D) we now turn to perhaps the single most famous philosophical example of the attempt to understand what lies behind our everyday use of prepositions, that of Heidegger’s famous expression “Being-in-the-world”. In his preliminary sketch regarding the spatiality of Dasein he allows us to regain a certain understanding of prepositions and the type of primordial understanding of spatiality which our technologically-oriented world lacks. He writes:

“Nor does the term “Being-in” mean a spatial “in-one-another-ness” of things present at hand, anymore than the word ‘in’ primordially signifies a spatial relationship of this kind. (1) ‘In’ is derived from “innan” —“to reside”, “habitare” , “to dwell”. ‘An’ signifies “I am accustomed”. “I am familiar with”, “I look after something”. Being in is different from being alongside the world as primordial structure of Dasein’s Being.” (BT, Part I , II , 12; pp. 79-80)

For what is revealed to us in coming to a primordial understanding of the minute preposition “in” is that what we thought was primary, namely that it allowed us to represent the world of objects around which we moved, is merely a secondary function. To “be-in-the-world” goes beyond a representational organization of things out there; properly understood, “to-be-in-a-place” is to open said place to its always recoverable presence. To be in a place allows us to dwell there beyond the mathematical configuration itself. We all sense this when we speak of the difference between being “in a house” and being finally “at home”. For surely there is much more to being at home than the walls. In this respect, inhabiting a space goes beyond our physical presence in certain coordinates; surely we can use our GPS technology to move around coordinates, but hardly to inhabit the world in which alone we can be. Space is in this sense liberated from the mathematical, and recovered in its most profound dimension, that which links it directly to our mode of Being. Such liberation can only come about by coming to a realization that geometry and architecture and even linguistic grammar are only made possible because of the spatial structure of our “Being-in-the-world” itself.

An architectural example of such spatial liberation can be seen in Louis Kahn’s astonishing conversation with a brick:

“And if you think of Brick, for instance,
and you say to Brick,
“What do you want Brick?”
And Brick says to you
“I like an Arch.”
And if you say to Brick
“Look, arches are expensive,
and I can use a concrete lentil over you.
What do you think of that?”
Brick says:
… I like an Arch”

I like arches too. Prepositions might be a bit like those bricks who want to be arches. Prepositions want to be poems and essays and letters, and even blogs! But you might wonder, “How could so simple a thing as a brick speak?” But then again, haven’t we come to realize together how simple prepositions seemed to us at first? And just as Kahn spoke of a spirituality to bricks, we can speak of a more important spirituality to prepositions. For surely they are closer to us, closer to our spirit. We truly may find ourselves “in’ and ‘through’ them. Recovering our lost connection to such simple words will hopefully allow us to reorient ourselves more decisively. Maybe, just maybe, now prepositions can better speak to us.

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Comentario a Eduardo Escobar Octubre 29 de 2007 – CONTRAVÍA “La suerte está echada”

Si bien encuentro en sus columnas una fuente que permite siempre recordar la posibilidad critica de la poesía y la literatura, en muchas ocasiones debo confesarle que me muevo en contravía con las últimas palabras de esta columna, prefiero “no ser justo y gritar un poco”. Sin duda su pesimista presentación de lo político en el ámbito colombiano invita a que quienes nos dedicamos a la filosofía política reconsideremos los fundamentos de lo político. En eso estamos de acuerdo. Situaciones de caos generan caóticas aproximaciones, pero la pregunta prudente es considerar si dichas aproximaciones agilizan el desorden generalizado. Y así nos movemos entre el desorden y el orden gracias a sus agudas pero sesgadas aproximaciones. Desafortunadamente hasta ahí llega el camino que caminamos conjuntamente; sobretodo porque el camino que pareciera usted recorrer hace de ciertos caminos con una poderosa tradición histórica una simple ilusión. Caminando el camino de lo político se nos revela que tal vez era mejor ni arrancar. Pero bien, ¿cuáles son los puntos centrales en los que difiero frente a su argumento y su poder poético-retórico (en el buen sentido del término)?

1. En su columna encuentro una confusión fundamental que hace que las palabras pierdan mucha de su fortaleza critica. Hay una confusión elemental entre la visión moderna de lo político —–tal y como aparece desde Hobbes (y de cierta manera en Maquiavelo)—— y la visión de lo político tal y como aparece formulada en la filosofía política clásica, en particular en la obra de Aristóteles, pero también en Platón, Jenofonte y Cicerón. Es por ello que usted puede indicar con demasiada facilidad que “Es extraño que este antiguo arte de lobos, la política, goce de tanta reputación de cosa buena.”

No podemos entrar aquí en detalles, pero la política como un “arte de lobos” aparece así formulada en el Leviatán de Hobbes. Ese mismo proceder, que gira alrededor de un supuesto realismo político, puede verse también en la obra de Maquiavelo El Príncipe (aun cuando la posición de sus Discursos es mucho más compleja.) Y es de anotar que el gran contrincante intelectual tanto de Hobbes como de Maquiavelo es precisamente Aristóteles. Al igual que usted, los modernos Hobbes y Maquiavelo ven en la idea de la política “como cosa buena”, algo irreal y utópico.

Ahora bien, es claro que Aristóteles y el pensamiento político clásico ven en lo político no simplemente la posibilidad de un bien realizable, sino además la condición misma de nuestra naturaleza como humanos que por naturaleza somos seres políticos. Y dicha postura Aristotélica está alejada tanto de un realismo político como el de Hobbes que permite lo que sea, como de un utopismo radical que retóricamente incita a lo que sea. La recuperación de lo político desde los clásicos permite considerar la profunda necesidad de lo político para los humanos, y a la vez, permite visualizar las peligrosas limitaciones que dicho ámbito posee. En la filosofía política aristotélica encontramos el camino para una recuperación de la real honorabilidad de lo político y, a la vez, una cierta trascendencia de lo político por medio de la filosofía política. Confundir esta compleja opción con el simplista modelo de Hobbes le permite a usted “ganar” la partida con mayor facilidad.

2. Y añadido a este primer punto se encuentra en su columna una actitud ambivalente que resulta perniciosa tanto para la educación reflexiva de una ciudadanía política fuerte que cree en lo público, como para la generación de una acción moderada interesada en la sanación de la realidad política misma que a lo largo de la historia ha caído muy por debajo de sus reales posibilidades. Es así como, por un lado la columna parece invitar a los ciudadanos comunes y corrientes —–como usted y como yo—— a seguir luchando por la democracia y por el honor: “Y con filosofía o sin filosofía, a los ciudadanos comunes como usted y como yo solo nos resta seguir en la brega de sobrevivirnos creyendo, para no perder por completo el honor, que no todo es desvergüenza. Hay aquí un impulso hacia lo virtuoso en lo político, hacia el bien político fundacional, a saber, el honor. Es por ello que los representantes políticos se denominan en todas las democracias como honorables (así, como usted nos recuerda una y otra vez, muchos no alcancen la altura de dicha designación).

Pero por otro lado, el balance de la columna parece dejar a los ciudadanos con la sensación de que esta honorable frase realmente sobra. Usted resume este otro polo pesimista con su fortaleza poética de esta manera:

“Y en los muros de la esquina bajo el aguacero se deshacen sus retratos.”

Pero lo que dichas palabras desconocen es precisamente una comprensión más profunda, más sentida, y más amiga de lo político. ¿Por qué? En primer lugar, porque el deseo fundamental que motiva al ser humano político, el deseo de su inmortalización a través del reconocimiento público, es sin más, hecho trizas. El aguacero deshace toda cara política; deshace todo recuerdo de los grandes líderes. No quedan retratos. Además el aguacero parece deshacer toda acción publica ya que ninguna acción pública dejaría huella.

Pero por el contrario, algunos ciudadanos sí recordamos ciertos retratos con absoluta admiración; recordamos que sí hay Churchills y sí hay Abraham Lincolns, y sí hay Bolívares, y sí hay Lara Bonillas. (Y recordamos también que Bolívar “el hombre político”, y Bolívar “el personaje de Gabo” no son, afortunadamente, el mismo). E igualmente las reglas mismas de lo político en nuestras democracias hacen evidente que al menos una parte de la ciudadanía sí cree que hay retratos dignos de reseñar y honrar. Tal vez nuestro país ha olvidado esto, pero otros países tienen ceremonias con este único objetivo. En este sentido, desde el lenguaje y la realidad de lo político, es claro que en medio de aguaceros surgen –—y pueden y deben surgir—- quienes tienen la cara para enfrentar la tempestad y así ser recordados. Tal vez desde otros lenguajes todo eso parezca mera ilusión.

En segundo lugar, se da en su columna una crítica, ligada a la anterior, que hace de la opción de la sabiduría practica —-virtud aristotélica fundamental que caracteriza a los grandes líderes políticos—- algo nuevamente ilusorio. Dedicar la vida a la consecución de dicha virtud parece ser una gran pérdida de tiempo:

“Todos tienen una propuesta para salvar el presente, y sienten sus derechos para aliviar los desórdenes del futuro financiados con los huevos de oro de la gallina suculenta del presupuesto.”

La única sabiduría que nos queda es la de la astucia guiada por el dinero, motivada por el poder, limitada al ahora y gozada en lo privado. Sus palabras reducen así la posibilidad de considerar que, dada una educación política adecuada, en efecto sí hay y puede haber algunos entre nosotros que en efecto estén mejor capacitados para tomar la decisiones políticas requeridas.

Pero lo que es más pernicioso aún; estos dos puntos que he mencionado, en su conjunto parecen hacer imposible el crear las condiciones educativas de motivación tanto para generar líderes políticos honorables guiados por cierto amor crítico al bien público, como para generar una ciudadanía que crea seriamente en las posibilidades de lo político. En cierta medida, podría uno decir que, si así son las cosas, no resulta extraño encontrar que Platón en la República busca exiliar —–bajo una interpretación—– a los poetas de la discusión de lo político!

(Un tercer punto a considerar es su alusión a la idea de la muerte de Dios en nuestra época, sobretodo gracias a la impresionante obra de Nietzsche: “Pero el hombre moderno está condenado a confiar en los políticos, a resignarse a lo imperfecto, porque Dios ha muerto.” Al respecto cabe preguntarse si Nietzsche ofrece una respuesta coherente a la noción clásica de una religión cívica a la base de una república saludable. Pero debido a la extensión ya vergonzosa de esta respuesta, tendrá que dejarse esta pregunta para otra ocasión.)

Espero que estos puntos hayan sido expuestos de tal manera que inviten a cierta moderación política en su concepción que parece ser radicalmente apolítica.




La columna de Eduardo Escobar Octubre 29 de 2007 – CONTRAVÍA “La suerte está echada”, dice así:

“A los ciudadanos como usted y yo nos queda seguir en la brega de sobrevivir. (more…)

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Almost everyone knows Socrates did not write anything. But knowing this fact makes it even more difficult to be surprised by it, and much less to seek, however partially, to understand its implications for us. For what does not surprise, rarely forces us to open ourselves to its unexpected appearance. This is primarily so in our culture where writing has become the hallmark of recognition. To be illiterate —— a form of quantifiable statistics of crucial importance in measuring the educational state of a nation———– is defined as being unable to read and write. Take for instance the shame of those who do not learn to write, it is so overwhelming that they prefer to live secluded lives. Take as well the assumed superiority of our culture to that of oral traditions (Rousseau saw this early on in his precious Essay on the Origin of Language).

In a similar vein, it is particularly in academia —–specially but not exclusively in the Humanities—- that the requirement to publish is not only the hallmark of assured creativity and proof of continued reflection, but also the avenue for institutional success. To rise academically one must publish. Nothing seems more obvious and normal to us than this. I remember once a professor speaking mockingly of some PhD candidates who had not published anything yet. Although I was rather young, I still remember even then being a bit surprised by the whole thing.

This is why I think Socrates’ decision not to write might be considered, at the very least, as a necessary corrective and counter-balancing presence. Does this mean we can do without publishing? Of course not, it just simply means that we might look at what Socrates did. That is all, or mostly all. And this is why for those of us who see in Socrates the model of the philosophic life, it makes sense to ask: Why would Socrates not write anything? Would he not be seriously considered as an odd figure among us because of this, exactly as he was seen in his very own time? (See Alcibiades’ description in the Symposium.) Socrates seems to remain a stinging ray! And moreover, and please bear with me, did Plato and Xenophon not commit a terrible injustice to Socrates in writing about him? But then again, who would have Socrates written about if HE was the one worth recording? For surely the whole thing was not simply because Socrates did not have the time to write; he himself confesses he only dedicated himself to oral dialectics, so he could have found the time! He chose not to do so, in contradistinction to our contemporaries who choose to do so. And of course, if Plato and Xenophon did commit an injustice, we are thankful for it, and understand that some such injustices must be pardoned for our very own sake and well-being. To this idea we shall return.

Why then would Socrates proceed in this strange way? The single most important aspect of Socrates’ refusal to write is his constant reminder that philosophy is primarily a way of life. A way of life can be written about, but the person living it, well, she just lives it! Socrates at one point in Xenophon’s writing, simply dances alone. The only exception would be if such a person decided to write his own autobiography; and Socrates, contrary to, for instance Churchill, chose not to. Our modern way of philosophizing, in contrast, sees writing as precisely THE way of life for the humanist; writing is of the essence. Of course, we teach courses, but once again the courses are primarily on written material themselves. In this respect, it is clear that what Plato and Xenophon and Aristophanes saw in the Socratic experience was fundamentally an ergon (that is, an activity; deeds or action) AND a logos (a discursive account carried out in dialogue with other diverse interlocutors). (more…)

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Susan Sontag, the metaphors of illness and the militaristic understanding of the ill. (On Illness 17)

It is not easy to find readings regarding illness by patients who are humanists and ill themselves. This is easy to explain, in a sense. First, one must have been involved in the humanities for many years. Second, one must have fallen seriously ill. Third, and very importantly, during that period of illness one must have had enough physical and mental energy to be able to reflect and to write about the process of illness itself. The latter is no easy task; just try writing when you have some kind of physical pain. Or think of this common occurrence which, now that I have been seriously ill, makes me smile. When one reads the biography of many famous and important people such biographies usually end something like this,

“and then, quite unfortunately, such and such illness came suddenly into his life and suddenly he lost all his genius and his creative powers, and then the most brilliant mind became totally lost ..…, and then died in the year such and such ……” .

Why do I smile? Because such a narrative is highly incomplete, untrue, oversimplified and dangerous. Why is this so? Primarily because this kind of narrative seems to me to be a bit like the story of the monster that lives under our beds. But more importantly, it continues separating creativity and the most fundamental elements of our unique human condition, including our suffering, our physical fragility and our mortality.

Don’t you think it is odd to actually believe that somehow one produces less and becomes less creative and thoughtful PRECISELY when one comes to learn first-hand of the vulnerabilities which lie at the core of our humanity! For surely the greatest writers did not write about such topics by having simply READ about them (though reading about them will prepare us like no other exercise once they become present in our lives, or in the lives of those around us.) On the contrary, it is —-in part—- by living such moments that one’s creativity is energized and one’s potential reflection actualized more deeply. “But I have never gotten ill”, you might respond. “Good for you!” I say, “just do not forget that if this is so, those around you who fall ill will need even more of your help and practical wisdom when dealing with situations of crisis.” Hearing such narratives makes me think that in our world we are in constant fear of illness for we can only see it as the beginning of the end, rather than the end of a shallow beginning. Suffering makes no sense to us, and the sufferers much less so.

However that may be, the fortunate appearance of these three conditions is the main reasons why Susan Sontag’s Illness as metaphor is such a unique and precious book. It is a book for those seeking to make somewhat articulate that which is mostly held as unspeakable; particularly so in our age which sees in death and in the immobility of illness “the other” against which we must continually fight and guard ourselves from.

In this post, I will merely point to some of the reasons why this confluence is so unique. At least four elements stand out: 1. Sontag allows for insight into what it is for an ill person to write DURING illness itself; 2. Sontag points out the dangers underlying the kinds of metaphors we use when dealing with illness, metaphors which are unavoidable given our nature as self-interpreting animals (on this, see Charles Taylor who has also had great impact in the area of nursing); 3. She crucially reveals the most damaging of these metaphors, namely, the military metaphor as it is applied to illness in such a way that ironically who I am and my body become sworn enemies leading, in turn, to a dangerous dualistic tendency which emphasizes a separation from myself, demeaning me silently; and finally, 4. she points to one crucial interest in the connection created by political thinkers between the illness of the body and the illness of the body politic. I will briefly point to each of these dimensions. (more…)

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