Posts Tagged ‘time’


(For the nature of the sections see the “General Introduction”, here.)

Abbreviations: Ar. = Aristotle, AQ= Aquinas, NE = Nicomachean Ethics, EE= Eudemian Ethics




“Should one, then, not deem happy any human being for so long as he is alive; but must one look instead, as Solon has it, to his end? But if it indeed it is necessary to posit such a thesis, then is in fact a person happy when he is dead? Or is this, at least, altogether strange, specially for us who say that happiness is a certain activity? But if we do not say that the dead person is happy —and this is not what Solon means either —- but say rather than someone might safely deem a human being blessed only once he is already removed from bad things and misfortunes, this too admits of some dispute. For it is held that both something bad and something good can befall the dead person, if in fact they can befall the living person who does not perceive it —-for example, honors and dishonors, and the faring well or the misfortunes of his offspring and descendants generally.

But these things too are perplexing; for someone who has lived blessedly until old age and come to this end accordingly, it is possible that many reversals may occur involving his descendants just as some of these descendants may be good and attain the life that accords with their merit, but others the contrary. Yet it is clear that it is possible for these descendants to be of varying degrees of remove from their ancestors. Indeed,  it would be strange if even the dead person should share in the reversals and become now happy, now wretched again. But it would be strange too if nothing of the affairs of the descendants should reach the ancestors, not even for a certain time.

But one must return to the perplexity previously mentioned, for perhaps what is now being sought might also be contemplated on the basis of it. If indeed one does have to see a person´s end and at that time deem each person blessed, not as being blessed [now] but as having been such previously —how is this not strange if, when he is happy, what belongs to him will not be truly attributed to him? [This strange consequence] arises on account of our wish not to call the living happy, given the reversals that may happen, and of our supposition that happiness is something lasting and by no means easily subject to reversals, while fortunes often revolve for the same people. For it is clear that if we should follow someone’s fortunes, we will often say that the same person is happy and then again wretched, declaring that the happy person is a sort of chameleon and on unsound footing.

Or is it not at all correct to follow someone’s fortunes? For it is not in these that doing well or badly consists. Rather, human life requires these fortunes in addition, just as we said; yet it is these activities in accord with virtue that have authoritative control over happiness, and the contrary activities on the contrary.

The perplexity just now raised also bears witness to the argument, since in none of the human works is anything so secure as what pertains to the activities that accord with virtue. For such activities seem to be more lasting than even the sciences; and the most honored of them seem to be more lasting, because those who are blessed live out their lives engaged, to the greatest degree and most continuously, in these activities. This seems to be the cause of our not forgetting such activities. Indeed, what is being sought will be available to the happy person, and he will be such throughout life. For he will always, or most of all act on and contemplate what accords with virtue, and he —- and least he who is truly good and “four-square, without blame” — he will bear fortunes altogether nobly and suitably in every way.

Now, many things occur by chance, and they differ in how great or small they are.  The small instances of good fortune, and similarly of its opposite, clearly do not tip the balance of one´s life, whereas the great and numerous ones that occur will, make life more blessed (since these naturally help adorn life, and dealing with them is noble and serious). But those fortunes that turn out in the contrary way restrict and even ruin one´s blessedness, for they both inflict pain and impede many activities. Nevertheless, even in the midst of these, nobility shines through, whenever someone bears up calmly under many misfortunes, not because of any insensitivity to pain but because he is well-born and great souled.

And if the activities have authoritative control over life, just as we said, then no one who is blessed would become wretched, since he will never do things that are hateful and base. For we suppose that someone who is truly good and sensible bears up under all fortunes in a becoming way and always does what is noblest given the circumstances, just as a good general makes use, with the greatest military skill, of the army he has and a shoemaker makes the most beautiful shoe out of leather given him. It holds in same manner with all the other experts as well. And if this is so, then the happy person would never become wretched —nor indeed would he be blessed, it is true, if he encounters the fortunes of Priam. He would not be unstable and subject to reversals either, for he will not be easily moved from happiness, and then not by any random misfortunes but only great and numerous ones. And as a result of such things he would not become happy again in a short time; but, if in fact he does, he will do so in the completion of some lengthy time during which he comes to attain great and noble things.

What, then, prevents one from calling happy someone who is active in accord with complete virtue and who is adequately equipped with external goods, not for any chance time but in a complete life? Or must one posit in addition that he will both live in this way and meet his end accordingly —- since the future is in immanifest to us, and we posit happiness, wholly and in every way, as an end and as complete? And if this is so, we will say that those among the living who have and will have available to them the things stated are blessed —-but blessed human beings.

Let what pertains to these things too be defined up to this point.”

(NE, 1100a10-1101a22; Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics, Bartlett, Robert, and Collins, Susan; University of Chicago, Chicago, 2011)

1) What are we to make of this striking subsection? What is its argumentative “spirit”? Isn’t it in its ENTIRETY extremely odd and perplexing? For instance, isn’t it surprising to find Ar. begin AND end a subsection by asking so many questions himself? Is he pushing us in this direction, after having set the “rules of the game” by means of his three crucial previous digressions? Could he be starting to TEACH us to puzzle? For isn’t a QUESTION, rather more active than a STATEMENT? And isn’t Aristotelian happiness a kind of ACTIVITY? Doesn’t a QUESTION allow us the freedom to, in the end, think for ourselves? In similar fashion, didn’t Socrates question so that he did NOT have to write? Isn’t the QUESTION, the foundation of classical philosophical dialectics (and thus conceived in a crucially different sense than that found in the ontological structure of Heidegger’s Dasein and its capacity to question; Introduction to Being and Time)? But WHAT are we puzzling about here that makes this subsection so STRANGE? Isn’t it about the most difficult of topics, namely our temporal finitude and ultimate DEATH? Indeed, how CAN we be happy as humans if we are mortal and MUST die? In this respect, won’t this subsection turn out to be KEY for Aristotelians intent on challenging the APOLITICAL Heideggerian conception of finitude? And in this regard, why are we here SO concerned with the temporality (QUANTITY) of our lives (somehow reaching old age unscathed), rather than with the QUALITY of our lives? For, isn’t the WHOLE ethical point “HOW we live our lives”, rather then “HOW LONG we live our lives”? And, don’t TYRANTS live really really long (see below)? Is this part of the troubling political fact surrounding the question of temporality and finitude (pace Heidegger´s own dramatically apolitical notion of time in Being and Time)? Just recently, didn’t Mubarak outlast many? And, ethically speaking, surely HITLER outlived many much more righteous men, didn’t he? So, under this perplexing view, are we to count a life as worthwhile ONLY until we reach 40 or 50 or 60 or 90 (like Abraham who only until THAT advanced age was given forth his promise)? Or put yet another way, were previous cultures less happy because their average life expectancy was much less then ours? Are WE moderns happier because “we” —–well, really only those in developed countries—- DO in fact last much longer (even if connected to all sorts of medical machines)? Haven’t we, ironically, simply given greater chance to chance to act upon us as Ar. had pointed out in our previous commentary?

But returning to the tone/spirit of the subsection, isn’t it ALL kind of spooky? I mean, aren’t we sort of dealing with communications with, or at the very least, referring to the dead (albeit, close kin in particular) and similar issues? And that it IS so, is shown in the even STRANGER subsection XI (“Do the fortunes of the living affect the dead”) which follows immediately? Doesn’t Ostwald allow us to see how far he misses precisely the tone of the whole passage in his footnote 44 and his reference to Burnet´s interpretation of Aristotle? But, how are WE, specially we moderns born out of the secular transfiguration, to take this in (see quote Professor Taylor below)? For surely there seems to be not a single expression of irony or laughter in Ar.’s presentation, is there? Could we not say, that indeed it is HERE, more than anywhere else in the NE, that we actually find one of the most valuable and explicit examples of Ar.’s philosophical generosity towards the life of the noblest of citizens (as is clear by the example given here of Solon)? For isn’t Ar. truly going out of his way in his attentive respect for the beliefs held by traditional leading citizens and THEIR concerns about temporality and happiness? How so? Because isn’t the concern for temporality of great IMPORT to the serious citizens of a political community? Isn’t it the case that for THEM the family, specially, is the locus of an endurance and immortality beyond the ephemeral appearance of any of its individual members (contrast, Diotima´s “The Ladder of Love” speech in Plato’s Symposium)? For wouldn’t a Solon ask: what of a long life WITHOUT a family? What could that be FOR? Mustn’t the individual see beyond him/herself in order to truly achieve happiness?  And moreover, aren’t great leaders, the greatest of leaders, truly thus remembered by all for the SACRIFICES they make in dedicating themselves whole-heartedly to the PUBLIC good? Isn’t this PRECISELY why Solon, the lawgiver, is remembered till this day even beyond the boundaries of his native Athens?  And aren’t those who give up their lives for US in battle, in the crucial defense of our divergent REGIMES, thus remembered as well for exemplifying the virtue of courage by giving themselves for a greater cause than mere life? Isn’t this, in part, why Ar., as we shall see, also refers to Simonides the poet in this very subsection by referencing his appearance in Plato´s dialogue Protagoras (which deals precisely with the question of courage and sophistry; 339b)? For isn’t Simonides famous for his elegies to the fallen dead in the greatest of Greek battles, the most famous being that written as remembrance of the Battle at Thermopylae, and which reads:


Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε

κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

“Stranger, announce to the Spartans that here

We lie, having fulfilled their orders.”

(see below)? And we know quite well that elegies and eulogies are far from being the same, don’t we? Actually, in terms of eudaimonia, don’t they stand at extremes?

And so that we may be believed, isn’t the example of Solon here central in THIS regard? Don’t we find precisely THIS concern in Herodotus´s account of Solon —made reference to by Ar. himself? Doesn’t Herodotus allow us to share in the context of Solon’s words? For, we come to know how Solon, in one of his “voyages” outside Athens, came to be questioned/confronted by a tyrant named Croesus? And, doesn’t Croesus indeed know that Solon´s international fame was such as to be considered one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity? But, what does the Tyrant ask in relation to the topic of the NE? Isn’t the question precisely that of the NE as a whole? Doesn’t the TYRANT ask WHO is the happiest human known to be so by Solon himself? And, before dwelling more intimately in the dialogue that ensues between law-giver and TYRANT, mustn’t we mention also that we see in Plutarch’s “Life of Solon” the radically opposite un-Aristotelian tone and sense of fundamental respect by a philosopher towards traditional concerns and beliefs? Don’t we have to contrast here Ar.´s way of proceeding prudently, with Thales outright (effective, yes), but shocking (mocking?) “unveiling” of Solon’s beliefs as regards the possibility of a serious interconnection between one´s  having a family and reaching the highest human happiness available to us?  Isn’t Thales’s’ trick truly outrageous from a much more moderate Aristotelian perspective, namely telling Solon that one of his children has DIED, when in fact it is simply a TEST:

“Thus every answer heightened Solon’s fears, and at last, in great distress of soul, he told his name to the stranger and asked him if it was Solon’s son that was dead. The man said it was; whereupon Solon began to beat his head and to do and say everything else that betokens a transport of grief. But Thales took him by the hand and said, with a smile, “This it is, O Solon, which keeps me from marriage and the getting of children; it overwhelms even thee, who art the most stout-hearted of men. But be not dismayed at this story, for it is not true.”

(my emphasis; p. 419; http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Solon*.html; not to mention Thales’s own inconsistencies on the topic.)

Isn’t this example, in part, what makes us clear as to why Thales is considered a Pre-Socratic? For didn’t’ the Socratic revolution, as told to us by Cicero, BRING philosophy back to “earth” via its political concerns? And in parallel fashion, don’t we see Ar. living up to the presuppositions of the founder of Political Philosophy, Socrates, who already knew of his Second Voyage as the KEY to a certain departure from philosophers such as Thales and Anaxagoras? Moreover, leaving aside the fact that a similar “outrageous” test appears as well in the Bible (young Isaacs divinely commanded sacrifice by Abraham at the age of 90+!), don’t we sense as we read this subsection that is it specially the spoudaios who would find Thales’s un-Aristotelian attitude quite “distasteful”, to put it mildly? Or put yet another way, in striking relation to the beginning of Plato’s Republic, don’t we find here Ar.’s bowing to elder citizens such as Cephalus —whose name actually means “head”, as in the expression, “head of the family”—– rather than seeking their direct questioning? And in this regard, don’t we need also recall that THIS more prudential tone is precisely the tone set by the elder Plato in his much more mature, and politically realistic, dialogue, The Laws? For isn’t THAT political dialogue undertaken by a stranger (obviously Socrates, though it is striking that Plato feels the need to cover up such obviousness), and two elder citizens who are quite advanced in their lives and thus closer to death? And isn’t this TONE, that which characterizes the forgotten yet masterful work of Xenophon? Are we surprised then NOT to find Xenophon being read in current Academia?


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Remembering Dalí: An Analysis of Two Paintings

Towards the end of the 1980’s The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts held an exhibition of the complex, enigmatic and harrowing work by Dalí. I must confess I was unconsciously frightened; it was this fundamental anguish which opened Dalí forever to me. As I remember it, Dalí struck me from the start; the first sketch which opened the exhibition was entitled “Painted with the right hand while masturbating with the left.” (Many years later, in 1973, Dalí was to paint Hitler Masturbating). And in the same room, hundreds of small ink drawings repeating themselves differently. Dalí’s Cape Creus populated by skeletal figures; bones and sea gathered upon the shore. The mountains of Cataluña —mountains also to be found in the Persistence of Memory— providing the distant background. And within the exhibition in surreal Montreal, strange watches I had never seen before; Dalí’s now too famous, now too obvious, soft-watches.

This Journal inquires about what may lie behind two of his paintings. It therefore continues my decision to try to make Journals in DA much more philosophical and critical than they are. The two paintings in question are: Persistence of Memory (1931) and its 20-year-older kin Disintegration of Persistence of Memory (1954). The ideas were first presented in a PhD seminar on Heidegger’s views on time held in my Colombia. (Heidegger’s difficult vocabulary has obviously been altered.)

Remembering the “Persistence of Memory” (1931)

The space which is this canvas opens human temporality in a truly enigmatic manner. The surroundings bring us close to our endangered earth. A blue horizon recovers for us the daily appearance of the natural clock which dates our days in continuous cycles of sunrises and sunsets. What does the sunshine bring forth? The mountains of Dalí’s childhood; more generally, the very space of our own childhood. In this sunset —which is simultaneously a sunrise— sunrays provide the light which allows for the appearance of the painter’s head itself anchored in placid sleep. Dalí himself appears anchored as a fetus is anchored before life unto the womb. Resting almost faceless, he lies over the hills of his youth.

Nature’s abundant vegetation makes its appearance as a lonely tree devoid of life which emerges from an overconfident cubic structure which does not realize it is itself made out from the deadening wood which it supports. And it is on this leafless-lifeless tree that a clinging soft-watch appears. Arising out of thin air, amoeba-like, it signals our time. We realize more soft-watches have been hung by Dalí for us to see. And yet we need ask: why only four? Why not five or six? Why not an infinity of soft- watches reminding us our own finitude? Perhaps four have been carefully chosen by Dalí to remind us of the three-dimensional temporal structuring provided to us humans by our natural understanding of present, past and future tenses. “Was”, “is” and “will be”; a triad which conforms our daily perception of ordinary time. Still, the fourth watch remains a mystery.

The first soft-watch lies projected upwards hanging from the leafless tree. It signals with its only pointer a continuous now at around 6:00; the hour of dusk, the hour of dawn. Time seems to have been forever immobilized by Dalí. Yet it is so far from being a regular watch, that its mechanism has failed. Melting softly, it has ceased to be the watch of our ordinary lives. Its pointer has ceased to point as it should. It signals instead another time, the future time when trees will be no more for our lack of understanding our own temporality. This futuristic watch lies covered by the sky’s bluish reflection which brings us back to the natural time of our natural surroundings.

A second soft-watch, which again is no watch at all, makes is appearance. It is this watch which reflects the constant being thrown of human beings into their present existence. Thrown unto existence one finds Dalí’s fetus-like face over the sand which sustains him; the sand of the bony beaches of cape Creus. It is the very same dust to which we will return. Showing another hour, this soft-watch melts in time —not over a rotting tree —- but rather over the profile of the artist himself. The time of the watch attempts to become a body, and yet it cannot; it fails. The watch’s time does not, cannot, capture our own temporal nature. Dalí is thrown into deep sleep within the canvas present before us right now. Dreaming of what was, the persistence of our memories springs forth; at times liberating, at times torturing. The time of watches, even of soft-watches, points to a temporal dimension beyond their constant ticking. In contrast, the creator in dreaming of time recognizes the true foundation of our desire for everlasting timelessness. Watches melt so that our present time is not reduced to a mere ticking time-bomb. We owe this to Dalí. As we watch at this very moment Dalí’s painting, time redefined suddenly makes its appearance through us.

In a moment, now forever gone, the third angle of temporality is revealed; this one takes us back in time to what has been. It pushes us as in a fall over a solid cubic structure which will explode 20 years later in Dalí’s reworking of the original, a new painting entitled Disintegration of Persistence of Memory. The pointers in this third watch signal an impossible hour; an hour which is simultaneously before and after six. Fallen in time, each of us is present awaiting his inmost creative death. How can this be so? Because the twelve o’clock pointer signals a mortuary fly awaiting our demise. And yet memory persists, clinging overconfident to its ticking time frame. But it cannot remain so.

The threefold nature of our temporal existence –with a past, a present and a future—lies open before us who are set in motion by Dalí’s dreaming of the persistence of memory, But enigmatically there appears a fourth clock providing a new angle of vision; perhaps providing an original depth to all existing watches that are currently handcuffing our modern wrists. This watch alone seems oblivious to its own future disintegration in the mirror painting painted 20 years later. It alone is not a soft-watch. Under the “Persistence of Memory” the surrealist project still finds a certain security, a certain rest. Earth and sky may still cover the painter, comforting him.

With this fourth watch, a premonition of disaster. Lying mysterious in its own secluded corner, it does not even reveal its pointer. Perhaps it has none. We don’t know; we can never know for it is closed and will remain so forever in the painting. It lies there, mocking us in self-sufficiency. Not only is it not soft and melting, it also stands firmly entertaining itself. It appears enclosed upon itself as an erotic apple whose reddish tonality invites us constantly to try to open it, and at the same time warning us about the consequences of doing so. Bloody is this watch upon which insects gather as in a festive spirit. It is trodden by concentrating ants. They trod the watch as we trod the beaches lit by the movement of the sunlight covering Cataluña’s mountains and Dalí’s portrait. It takes twenty long years, it appears, for Dalí to open this fourth anomaly. This first painting’s persistence fails to understand the aquatic world of the womb from which we all arise in time. To even try to open this ant-ridden all-too-hard watch, there must first appear before us the “Disintegration of Persistence of Memory”.

Remembering the “Disintegration of Persistence of Memory” (1954)

The world of calming blues has left. It is now another time; two decades have gone by. And now fifty years have passed since then for us in 2005 still confronted daily with the mystery of our temporality. In Dalí’s later painting the world has become golden as a desert in which the temperature melts even soft-watches and the reality they have tried to safeguard. The force of the primordial dissolves everything present.

The same mountains appear as other, as foreign. Why? Not so much because of the different coloring, but rather because the land has broken away as if by a tectonic plaque. The mountains of youth, of innocence, have broken away from the security which previously allowed Dalí his placid dream. Properly speaking, the continent now appears there in the distance. It was once closest, now it remains inaccessible. We stand over water where once continental land ruled. The world has become a permanent becoming in which time itself becomes transformed. Memory disintegrated has nowhere now to anchor itself firmly. The solid ground has become liquid. Earth becomes once again marine; but not really, the world simply once again knows itself to have been marine. Memory must constantly forget this to remain as solid as can be.

And not even that is true, for one sees not water, but rather a thin canvas supported by the weakened branch of a new minute, but still leafless tree, which carries upon itself all the weight of sanity. Our previous tree has given birth to itself, but dwarfed by the passage of time. Surprisingly it isn’t even held in place by the strength of the cubic form which supported it 2 decades ago. How, then, could it support the whole of the coetaneous canvas which it carries? It might be really supported instead by the very canvas which opens itself before our spectator’s eyes as a new skin awaiting our explorations. By watching Dalí’s watches unfold, we ourselves sustain that tree which stares at us in the anguish of one who knows himself soon to collapse. And yet the elder tree of decades past has sprout a sibling; disintegration seems to allow for the possibility of the rebirth of self-sufficient trees freed from the necessity of leaves.

What has happened to the watches we have watched? Quite a lot. The angle of future existence supported by the changed tree explodes. Its bluish tranquility gives way to the metallic color of lifeless minerals. The pointer is thrown in flight into pieces. It has imploded; only a natural shadow remains. This watch can no longer be winded. Time has undergone a further transformation from the one we found in the Persistence of memory. A deeper time, the foundational time of poetry, is glimpsed. Implosion has rid the previous soft-watches of numbers, leaving instead the shadow of their mathematics. Shadows which provide the key to our most human possibility, a glance into our mortality which lies hidden from us busying ourselves at all times without any temporal depth, relying constantly on watches which have remained dangerously overlooked.

But something rather different occurs below the watery surface with our second watch. The portrait of the artist as a young man lies now dissolved in the uncertainty of he who no longer governs his own time. Creativity gains control over our desire to control time. Dalí reveals our desire for immortality as the dangerous desire which possesses us. Opening itself to its most primordial temporal depth, each face looses its definite figures. Conscious of the body’s temporality, Dalí liberates the body from itself and its sufferings. It is only then that the dangerous liberation from the time of ticking watches takes place. The logic of numbers lies revealed; numerical data no longer dates.

Our third soft-watch —–which previously anchored itself firmly on the cubic structure— now appears fully submerged undergoing with certainty the process of its own unstoppable rusting. Void of life, it appears golden metallic much like king Midas’ attempt to govern the temporality of his loved ones. It has moved indicating 12 o’clock. Twenty years have gone by in only five minutes. The time of those who are ill, as ill as Hans Castorp —Thomas Mann’s wonderful hero from The Magic Mountain —– has appropriated our temporal existence. The time which reveals a never-ending afternoon is done away with; the canvas instead reveals the longest day ever recorded as the few last instants of the drowned man to whom his life is suddenly revealed.

And what has occurred to our enigmatic fourth soft-match? It has been displaced unto the depths of the canvas. Now it appears open, almost just as any other watch does; now we seem to know it. And yet, underneath the nuclear structures with which Dalí fell in love in his later years ––which were to include the marvelous mathematic of the rhinoceros— we humans can hardly even see. The grounding of what is, must remain forever unfathomable. This uncertainty, which persists even after the disintegration of memory, requires the dignity of a courage free of illusions. It is in the courage of humans such as Dalí —-and his compatriot Don Quixote—- that we today may at least take a glimpse of those depths which are denied to us ordinary temporal beings. In doing so they provide us with the possibility of disintegrating our morbid assurances. Perhaps in this way alone can there come into being the beautiful Venus of Milo whose body reveals the bullfighter who knows of his instantaneous temporality in confrontation with Nature. Herein lies the magic —-far from the persistent memory of Nordic experiences—- of Dalí’s beautiful painting entitled The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1970).

A) Three other related paintings with soft watches
Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion, 1954 [link] , The Garden of Hours, 1981, [link] , Wounded Soft Watch, 1974, [link] .

B) Dali on the Internet


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