Learning the Art of Coming to Be and Passing Away

“It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.” Seneca

Upon reading this quote, my initial thoughts relate to the competing processes of enculturation and creativity. More exactly, conforming and proforming. I use proforming, a neologism, rather than dissent only because dissent seems to breed thoughts of destructive opposition rather than constructive opposition. Creativity is a glamorized form of dissent which society embraces, usually only after it has been deemed innocuous.

But what could Seneca  have meant? I believe that, much like Plato’s representation of Socrates’ philosophy, enlightenment is a process of dying to one’s old beliefs and biases. In the Phaedo, Plato describes Socratic philosophy as preparation for death. More specifically, philosophy’s critical thinking works to reveal our ignorance and produce a greater understanding of truth, or the form of the Good, which in turn purifies the soul, preparing it for its final resting place. This may sound obtuse but the message is very clear: we must detach ourselves from the worldly meanings and beliefs we accept unquestionably as an adequate guide to understanding if we are to attain truth and understanding.

As it specifically relates to Seneca’s quote, the first half of our life is spent acquiring inherited habits of thought that supposedly teach us how to live and flourish, while the second half of our life is learning how to shed these habits of thought and escape the limitations contained within them. Fyodor Dostoevsky highlights this situation, almost satirically, saying  “It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing, but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.”

In order to make any worthwhile contribution to “progress” an individual must upset the old order of things, overturn the status quo and spoil convention, but this is impossible if he possesses no original contribution of his own.  Originality can only be achieved by shedding the old and adopting the new. This means recreating your being through the assertion of your sovereign will-to-power in order to establish a wholly novel identity totally independent from the existing powers of worldly trappings.

Of course, I have also read this quote to mean the process of acquainting oneself with the world, of growing attached to all its eidetic sumblimations that ligature the soul and body, only to discover that age furtively attenuates these impressions, and it is the world that first begins dying to us before we die to the world.

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I’m additionally drawn to the writing’s of Louis Althusser and Pierre Bourdieu; specifically to Althusser’s ideological state apparatus and Bourdieu’s concepts of doxa and habitus. Other concepts I loosely associate with these two is nomos and plausibility structures derived from Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociology of Religion which deals with the individual’s metaphysical necessity for affirming cosmological order in the face of chaos. Put concisely, this necessity gives rise to a reflexive dialectical process of internalisation and externalisation among self-denied values and the absorbed collective values which establishes a “psychological constellation” of legitimization. This constellation in turn serves as an indispensable substratum for all future social institutions and their structures (nomos) which effectively “locates the individual’s life in an all-embracing fabric of meaning”. (Berger) His first book The Social Construction of Reality addresses the subject of social construction wholesale.

 

Dure

What’s wrong with our country? Our economy, our politics, our propaganda, our values, our media, our individuals: our culture: a fabricated fortress of rhetoric that keeps more in than it keeps out. We are at the pinnacle of our glory. It could be argued that we’ve been improving along the way, but I don’t think we’re any further along than the Romans or Greeks or Egyptians once were. We’re proud and gluttonous and utterly facile. We’ve built a society that takes care of the harder tasks of life and we’ve grown grotesquely dependent on it. We seek to escape the struggle to survive as if we were above it, as if we were gods and not crawling creatures and defacating animals. Every culture seeks to mimic the glorified, be it Christ or Buddha or Caesar or America or celebrities or politicians or businessmen. I’m not convinced we’re free or further along at all. In the struggle for survival it seems humans quite naturally seek to rob themselves of the very skills to survive until they are at the mercy of a machine of influence and power that they claim is a true reflection of their wants and wishes. Somewhere along the line this towering confluence of congenial compromise conquers its makers it a brash and booming way. And I think we’ll all be around to see it happen. I read that scientists believe that the first person that will live to 150 years of age has already been born, and within the next fifty years the first person to live to 1,000 years of age will be born. Man is obsessed with conquering. It’s the heroism that bolsters the ego out of its wormy condition. The ultimate obstruction for man to surmount is death. I do not think we’ll accomplish this feat. I believe we’re terribly blinded to the realities of our physical nature. The economy, the government, the science- it’s all supported by a delicate web of beliefs built purely on faith. And once the pacification is jarred and we’re confronted with our frailty? it will unravel and crash. Until then, the media and government and society- the culture- will continue perpetuating it’s childish myths as fact and not fiction. It serves the utility of contemporaneousness community and comfort.

I feel like history repeats itself. I watched Doctor Zhivago this evening (If you didn’t know already, the novel is amazing, and the 1965 is equally riveting and moving).  While I was watching the movie a particular quote struck me quite profoundly and I kept it in the back of my mind until now:

In bourgeois terms, it was a war between the Allies and Germany. In Bolshevik terms, it was a war between the Allied and German upper classes – and which of them won was of total indifference. My task was to organize defeat, so as to hasten the onset of revolution. I enlisted under the name of Petrov. The party looked to the peasant conscript soldiers – many of whom were wearing their first real pair of boots. When the boots had worn out, they’d be ready to listen. When the time came, I was able to take three whole battalions out of the front lines with me – the best day’s work I ever did. But for now, there was nothing to be done. There were too many volunteers. Most of it was mere hysteria.

This quote made me think of our current situation. Wars all across the globe, on foreign fronts where the massacre and murder can be fed to us second hand at a safe distance. Who makes the decisions for our country? Our government, almost synonymous with the lobby powers of business and political influence, our modern bourgeois. They speak and the masses listen with hysterical enthusiasm to whatever call that strokes their insecurities and passions.

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I made music tonight. It felt good. I went to Vladik’s this evening to celebrate his completion of the DAT examination. We conversed while drinking shots of Silver Tequila and smoking cigarillos. I played guitar and he produced beats and rhythm on the keyboard and computer. We got about a minute of music and lyrics down. It sounds good. I’ll post when we’re finished.

 

Anything to Anyone

(Unfinished excerpt)

“…There’s a point in everyone’s life when they realize their talent. For some this occasion arrives sooner than later, but nevertheless it arrives. If you were to ask me how I it is I came to acquire this talent, I might begin by giving you a breezy account of my upbringing, of the tumultuous transitions that marked my meandering life; or I might start off with a detailed account of my fascination with self mastery; or I might illustrate the parental influences that indelibly pressed upon my conscious. Whatever story I end up telling is more myth than fact. It may serve to inspire you,  kindle your fascination with me, feed your imagination; in the end they all serve an act of false generosity. False in the sense that it is the very talent in question that renders these myths.

To say my talent is people would be a gross underestimate. The more accurate telling would capture something supernatural and transient. You see, I am amorphous. I have no character that stolidly weathers the winds of time and the tides of change. But I am much more than my nebulous nature. I am a mimicking mirror: reflective, to a greater or lesser degree, of your exacting desires. There are no constraints, no guidelines, no rules, no method to this madness. It is a poetic perversion, a pantomime of subtle revelations mixed with mystery and madness, and nothing regular.

I work out of curiosity, out of the competitive challenge of can’t. I overcome these hurdles by moving myself towards a suit of interests. And when interests cannot be uncovered, it is my job to sow them.

You see, I can be anything to anyone. But surely, you say, this is manipulation, a farce of fabricated facades. I may disagree with fabricated facades, for they are surely fabricated and surer still facades, but I am by no means manipulative. On the contrary, my interests lie in you and you alone. There is no one else I hold in higher esteem. Your well-being is my well-being.

My vocation may be untraditional, but it is nonetheless legitimate and requires respect. It is not easy being other people. It demands constant work and attention, for people and their tastes are always changing. Fickle people. Fickle and flaky, but nonetheless predictable. If you do the thinking for them, that is. People begged to be swooned, to be lulled into a comfortable complacency. Defenses are an exhausting expenditure if there is no threat to counter or reward to reap. These walls always come down in time. Persistence is the key. Persistence and planning. If success is to be secured, you must increase probability with planning. Memorizing the mechanistic behaviors of man is just half of it. You must understand context, conventions, values, motives. Where are they from? With who do they acquaint? How do they behave? What do they value? Why do they act? To understand these is to understand the harrowing heart.

First and foremost, keep their best interest in mind, always. This must never escape the attention of your work. To absolutely achieve this, you must deny the self. You have no self. Subjugate whatever ego that sits at the window of your consciousness. He must observe from a far, with patience in mind. Every action is calculated for its long term returns, not the short term satisfactions. In this way the ego must sit idle and wait. His opportunities to whittle a path come at night, in solitude, under deep reflection.

A smile is the most disarming gesture you can offer. Let it

When you are something to someone, you become them. Their desires must be sought as if they are your own. More accurately, they are your own.”