Being Human. Twelve Meditations and an Afterword on 'Boredom'

Elaboration 2014 60 Pages

Philosophy - Philosophy of the 20th century



1 Beginnings (In Medias Res, ‘after all’).

2 The ‘Eternal Present.’

3 Past and future (past experience).

4 Gift of Place/Place of Gift.

5 The ‘Cut’ /the Opening.

6 Incoming.

7 (Between) Subject and Object.

8 (Between) Inside and Outside.

9 Whole/hole: (Room/Architecture).

10 ‘Authenticity’.

11 Hidden Terrors (Eternity/Other/Sublime).

12 Ritual.

13 Exchanges.

Afterword: (By) Passing Time (Heidegger on Boredom).

1 Beginnings: In Medias Res/’after all’.

Of starting points in general… Questions are never asked at the beginning (at the beginning we cannot ask questions, we do not know how (we have no language)). By the time we ask the questions we are already in the midst of things. Everything is always (already) ‘in medias res’. Formed as we are; we are always ‘in the middle’, in mid-journey, in mid-stream… with no access to our origins (to our experience of our origins). The beginnings of the meaning of words, as of processes, can be found; but they too, after all, are a product of a cultural context, a nexus of processes themselves in medias res… So any starting point ‘in general’, whether based upon a supra-historical proposition or universal, or cast as a search for an ultimate foundation, is always, on examination, found to be, after all, already relying on a mass of material, a big chunk of received, and supporting, culture, on many kinds of understanding... of what is understood, of what is to be understood (what is implied). The after all of ‘after all’. The starting point of a list of instructions is a different genre to the search for first principles. We either know what something means ‘now’, in context, or we are liable to begin an infinite excavation of an entire culture and its history (for most purposes, not surprisingly, the former will do).

‘For most purposes’… yet what is it that lies beyond the perimeter of this set? Apart from as a branch of some arcane or specialized enquiry, does it have any use? After all, when all is said and done (which it never is, of course, and the problem with all pragmatism lies here, nothing just ends, has no after-effects, no after-shock or remaining trace: yet the chief virtue of pragmatism lies here too; a temporal realism, ‘after all’ means ‘now’) when all is said and done, it must have some implication for how we live our life. And yet… what has gone before may not be unitary, may speak with many voices, may indeed offer contradictory meanings. After all - we are ‘after all’…

Two senses of ‘after all’. The first, inclusive, literal, redundant, impossible (for us mortals) as without an end… ‘after everything’; but then we are no more, all is gone, including the self. The second ‘after all’, restricted, figural, suggests that ‘after all’ in reality means ‘after all that has gone before’… before the present moment (observing the tide-lines of a given event horizon). Begin now, and work back… if you really have to. (Have you tried working forwards…?)

Any attempt to restrict, chop-out or otherwise delimit or excise aspects of our experience to provide a tidy starting-point (Descartes, Husserl, early Wittgenstein), whether through phenomenology or logic, mathematical or empirical, will soon find the excluded returning to assert its rights, claim its portion, to taunt the pretentions of ‘the’ first principle, to haunt its upward steps… as it attempts to comprehend the world from the tightrope of its axioms. Undermining all claims to purity, unassailable ground, unshakable foundation, indispensible axioms, Immaculate Conception, whatever…

It is not a case of ‘anything goes’, the cry of every charlatan operating in the human fairground of desire and desperation; for example, in the case of popular superstition as in so many matters of belief or half-belief, it is not the truth value (reference) that counts, but rather function. The faculty and its desire may then be understood - which it never will if it’s (right to) existence is simply ignored.

And now, after this has been said, after all, what of our use of the restricted meaning of ‘after all’? For an incision has taken place: will it come back to haunt us? Inevitable. It will, for it is the future. The rest of the future, the rest of time, after us, after now, that is restricted, put aside – and this we cannot ignore. For it will come, it lies before us. And we can not avoid it. Just as to wait for its passing is clearly impossible. Useful answers are required before the end of time (whether our time or all time).

A necessary axiomatisation, then, as all, after all, requires axioms to permit us to function… and this temporal axiom is unavoidable, unless we really do play God and cast our favourite prejudices as so many universals. And also unnecessary… as to ask such questions of ‘all’ and of some, and of ‘outside’ and of self-reference, would themselves be impossible. So unrestricted reference is impossible and restricted reference is but a figure… (But Kant did this a long, long time ago).

2 The ‘Eternal Present’…

The space in-between. An opening onto… an inside, or an outside, or … something in-between. A cut in the surface of matter. (The ‘the’ from the first sentence indicates ‘the’ view from inside and further indicates only one, ’our’ as ‘my’. The ‘a’ of ‘a cut’ suggests a view from outside, as many, ‘our’ as ‘they’? But the use of ‘my’ is in many ways redundant, as we are ‘in medias res’ and do not assume, or begin with solipsism, only our situation (perception and memory, with the projection of the latter ahead of ourselves that we call the future) as part of a body, as embodied, our situatedness as our natural starting point… (and because any act of communication, writing if you like, assumes others…). To say ‘the cut in the surface of matter’, is terrifying, suggesting a radical solipsism. Otherwise, ‘the cut in the surface of matter’, would suggest all human culture – perhaps the best reading of the field of operations of Hegel and the German Idealists).

The space in-between. An opening… Our experience of our self; as so much stuff flowing in (perception), including our feelings and responses (our awareness of them)… spurts of internal monologue, even the effects of dialogue, as our inner divisions become apparent (in effect only)…

A cut in the surface of matter’: our species being (Feuerbach). Imagined as such.

Species-being before (or after) our individual selves, our collective community and historical affiliations… nor our linguistic history; just something about the way we are made, our physiology, but our experience too (what we do with it is our cultural relativism’s domain). Beginning with experience.

Experience… which we receive, directly (for this is what we feel about our perception, regardless of what we know about preconscious operations) a showing, present to ourselves in the present, or indirectly, as a kind of telling to ourselves by ourselves (memory) or others (communication) or the combination of both (the memory of a communication), as information (a perception which refers elsewhere). All according to our species-being, as well as our cultural codes, our learnt languages; all according to a given combination of our species-being with our cultural codes and learnt languages. A species-being that includes our notion of ‘is’, and of how things ‘are’, how they ‘exist’ in time and in space, and of how to measure them, model them (our ability to construct, second order or artificial, formal languages). In short any object-hood will be a product of ourselves (for ourselves, indeed for our-self, for present use, as in the celebrated example of which degree of measure to choose; how long is the table, yards, feet, inches, centimeters, millimeters, molecules or atoms… where to halt the numbers after the decimal point)?

Of being before something, always intentional, at one with the object (so to speak). The cup of human consciousness is only rarely empty. In meditation… a minimal awareness remains: in sleep, dreams; otherwise… nothing (whence Sartre’s infamous identification of self with Nothingness). An awareness which calls out a response. An ‘at one with the object’ which is tested in questioning, copying, making. Expression, when we are most ‘ourselves’: at its best as the product of a full life, creativity as a response to being; otherwise, the minimal reactive growlings of a hungry (or sleeping) dog disturbed…

That place, always at that place, forever, eternally present in that place, before that place, where subject and object meet; as they inevitably must, we being what we are… Before, perhaps, objects as such; even before us, subjects, as to comment, even to be aware (of ourselves) to perceive, would be to make us objects of ourselves. A third place, in-between…we on one edge, one rim, one lip: the rest on the other… And what can we make of what is in-between… Of our relation to the world. That we have whilst we live (that we manufacture whilst we dream). No secret ‘out there’. No, the ’Truth is out there’, hiding somewhere behind ‘is’ (or its linguistic history). Rather in our understanding of this experience as utterly our own. A product at once of ourselves and of the stimuli we receive; and of ourselves as the memory and influence of the stimuli we have received… What we see hear and feel, and what we have learnt.

The moods or modalities of reception of this experience (us): gift, curse; epiphanaic, abyssal; yet our mood is also ‘given’, so also a gift… or a curse. Felt as such as we arrive at self-awareness of this experience as a state and take up ‘our’ attitude towards it. A regress to infinity (bad infinities here are good infinities, they indicate a real… repetition as ‘shape’ of self, the ‘shape of our pocket’, our inner architecture, itself forming -the meanings of- the architecture outside). As in the case of our reliance on personification for comprehension (who is it that ‘gives’, immortals, ‘other’ beings or… something beyond even these… beyond personification, perhaps our favourite trope of coping with, for ‘imagining’ the ‘unimaginable’, a ‘beyond’ that leaves us with our relationship to our experience exposed… a beyond that re-values our relation to this (‘this’) ‘over’ and … ‘above’, so ‘beyond’ what it otherwise might be…).

And the ultimate act of personification, an endless performance, a performative (whilst we believe, continually re-state it, it is so), the performance of ourselves, the assumption of our own person… Assumption which makes the person (joining awareness to the personification that is the perception of others).The personification of self and other.

’This’ (or better, ’this…’) as opposed to ‘that’, experience - for there is no other. ’That’ as a different (temporal) order, as already memory, done, finished, or future… ‘that’ experience is no longer, is gone (or to come) is past, is : ‘this’ is ‘…–ing’; ‘that’ is ‘…–ed’ (which is how we can imagine a future perfect); not only different orders grammatically (continuous and perfective), but also experientially, dividing experience (-ing) from the recall of memory (‘that’ experience is an experience no longer, or better, is an experience of an experience… ‘that’ experience). Temporally we too are divided into ‘this’ and ‘that’ - into two. And so it is correct to say: ‘What was that?’ And no longer possible to say… ‘ That gift has been lost forever…’ to be replaced by this one… For if the events are (appear) discontinuous, then the underlying propensity to experience is not.

The eternal present.

This (experience); experienced as gift. Certainly unasked for (so implying an awareness of debt). Leaving us to choose our modality and degree of thankfulness. Leaving us to choose the apportionment of value. Our return of gift (the payment of debt); the gift of value - so far as we (can) know, only humans can do this.

Or our choice to repudiate… (and by so doing, to de-value).

3 Past and Future/ Past Experience

As we perceive… what there is to perceive… as we perceive ourselves, so we know we are in time; from the slipping away of the immediate past… to the (very different experience of) memory of what has gone… (before). As what has gone, is gone: is brought back before (us); the imagined, the retained, the learnt descriptions; and on the basis of this return, this repetition (the perception of this repetition), the abstracted… all the rhythms and returns of life as constituting our social rituals (from minimal meeting and recognition to festivals of renewal and collective community recognition, social time; remembered collective time as history). But for now; we have only our present, our memories and our prognostications; the high tide of our present emotions, the tide mark of the previous (time) receding, and other associations brought on by our present setting, or compulsive return of memory (theme or task, or un-mourned loss). Unresolved anxiety turns this memory ‘forwards’, the window opening out onto the future; not the same as the approach of perception with its longeurs and surprises… proof of this edge’s (the edge of our present’s) difference with the imagined future…

Our defense against the instability of this: having a home, room, place of ones own, furnished to taste, or anyway familiar, confirming; a context which does not change nor challenge (is free from fear or unwelcome distraction).

Or our desire for instability: the search for novelty, challenge, refreshment, fresh stimuli – in wait for a ‘surprise’; the self out for a stroll in life’s unpredictable byways, ‘a walk on the wild side’.

Of being in time, or more precisely, in the eternal present… time, as we experience it, our temporality, our being a part of this (time being, apart from this, a question of measure, narrative or external, third person perspective). Implications: everything (ultimately) takes place inside, within the eternal present, including (as reframed within this) our ‘sense’ of past and future - and our notion of an ‘outside’, also strangely eternal, mirror image of our interior state, assumed, indeed needed, for stability to be felt as such… ideals and foundations, beginnings, all are placed ‘there’ (all placed nowhere, so, in reality, in our imaginations alone) an admission that otherwise they would be open to contingency...

Finitude. Not a question of authenticity, but of a built-in agon; experience of the eternal present opposed to our (experience of) knowledge; that we are finite creatures. Which we know only through others, part of our unavoidable accretion of sediments from the past which make us what we are, and which -thanks to the arrow of time- we can not undo. Not a question of authenticity; but of shape, of form… (an aesthetic made of passing generations) for finitude looses the endless line implied by the eternal present, and suggests a form; how will we be our own artist and draw this line, elicit this form? What shape will we give it… give ourselves?

‘After all’ (again). Helpless though we are in the face of the past (we can not change it – only reinterpret it, have the last word) we are, after all, its last laugh. Our perception even, its latest thought, rendering it always one step ahead of itself, because… one step before. (Or better, we are always one step behind). Living all our yesterdays; after all (all that came before). We are… (that which comes) after all. (That which is given) after all.

After all (a cut, opening, in the all). Our thought, an after-thought. Our awareness, a late-comer, a late-coming, uninvited, accidental, a gate-crasher arriving after midnight. Taking all as our gift. As our right. Without thanks. So leading a thankless existence. Unburdened by responsibility (debt).

Possibly to be superseded (or otherwise absorbed) by another kind of cut, a parallel and very different form of thought, one we have manufactured ourselves. Rendering our experience transitory, a passage between organic and inorganic intelligence, or stages in intelligence. Unwitting parents to a second attempt at matter with awareness. (Stages of Spirit).

Inseparable as we are from the future. As every registered perception, every thought, word or image, bidden or not, arrives not on virgin land, but one touched by the past which… informs us that our every registered perception, every thought word or image (bidden or not) implies a future… has implications for our future. A future that, in one sense, never comes (like ‘tomorrow’) because it comes… after all.

If past and future are at once windows opening in the present, openings that we take as record or possibility, then they are also ordinal, coming from the past (even if we misremember) and moving towards the future, our (imaginary) arrow of time.

So into ‘the cut’ of ourselves, there can be seen to open other ‘wounds’, those of the past and future and branching out from these many routes and passages (our virtual, digital worlds are but an extension of this, a copy of this, but also a means by which we may in turn objectivise ‘this…’ understand ‘this…’

Learned habits, short-circuiting the self (re-wiring the self). Even ordering our perception … before it reaches us… All operations we suspect performed… elsewhere.

Made out of the (absent) past, or hidden, and an evaporating yet persistent present… What a porous, tenuous, yet tenacious thing, this self is… The frame of the present sustaining the illusion of ‘the self’, a frame reechoing with perception, thought and memory… the latter - all we really have apart from the eternal present - unreliable, blurred, second order, yet in so many ways the necessary scaffolding, invisible lines of association, that support the self in the on-rush of the eternal present (all outside of the self as dimly felt) as preconscious, our predispositions (linguistic and other cultural habits). No surprise then that animals are (relatively) unchanging, survival in the present is all, and our distant ancestors too developed very slowly, until the advent of written memory, stored memory: then exponential development – leaving less and less to the vagaries of personal memory, and more to socially stored memory, finally materialized memory and its specialized interpreters – in effect the repository of our culture. Without it we would quickly be back in the Paleolithic (but probably with better memories).

And so perception (the river) unidirectional, our arrow of time, moves past us (flows under the bridge) the frame which gives us our sense of position, our belief in a self (on which we stand), moves past us (current determined by forces activated elsewhere) in the past that was their origin, whether inside of us or outside of us (prior), from zones we intuit and infer, but can not immediately point to (assumed but not apparent).

The river flows under the bridge on which we stand, current determined by forces activated elsewhere, prior, assumed but not apparent.

4 Gift of Place/Place of Gift

So the eternal present gives it (a) self, a present, a gift. Gives itself a gift. The self. Imaginary (what else….?). Necessary, though. No sense of ‘world’ without a sense of ‘self’… The place (the time) where both happen. ‘This’, then, itself defined as (a) gift.

The eternal present…

together with its shadow text, invisible parallel, (the rhetoric of) eternity.

Of the eternal present (and its shadow) as giftIn these we see, we witness, we take part in the production (illegal in terms of logic, a self-reference to an element in a set in the process of its self definition) of self and meaning, of that which we need to survive, to persist, mentally; of that witch and her spell which sustains us (equal parts maternal and magical), the inevitable sleight of hand that sustains us over and above the more rarified tautologous world reserved for a minority (of operations). A reliance on logic alone (like ‘reason alone’) as a self-deception of the highest order… Caught between enchantments; that of logic and that of continually witnessing the emergence of reality ‘before our very eyes’. Gift we give ourselves as a species.

(Idealism) To say that reality, the world, is within us, is only assembled into a totality, a ‘world’ inside our heads, is not to say, with ‘idealism’, that the world is (only) idea, but that the world has entered us, and inhabits us, gives us our idea… I do not make the world, the world makes me… (but was this perhaps what ‘idealism’ anyway always meant?). The other sensible position attributable to ‘idealism‘ is that it is our linguistic, cultural, and physiological predispositions, what we have learnt as well as what we are, that give us a framework (to include perhaps, time, space and many other ‘fundamental’ co-ordinates, up/down, left/right, centre/margin, proximal/distant) in which to place and even recognize the things of the world.

Away from the simple binary of mind and matter, we witness a tug-of-war between the ‘opposing’ forces of the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’; the perceptions that our sensorium collects and sends ‘in’ and the predispositions, uneasy balance of learnt and inherited frames and propensities, language, culture and ‘transcendental’, psychological -perhaps physiological- givens, that rush ‘out’ to meet them; the result: our experience, the experience of the eternal ‘now’. A ‘tug-of-love’ whose child now is pulled this way, now that, like a point on a line between two teams. At times reason places the ‘weighting’ of this point on a line nearer one parent than another, nearer one pole or another. Nearer one definitive ‘last word’… or another. Nearer one point of origin. One asexual genesis. A putative one-parent family.

It is as if we had watched the parents struggle for influence over a child, a child which we all thought was the Object. But which turned out to be… ourselves; our…. Self (the … ‘Subject’). The disputed borderline of the meeting of these ‘opposite and equal’ forces (according to philosophy, religion or ideology, we might place it further ‘in’ or further ‘out’, nearer the ‘subject’ or nearer the ’object’, nearer ‘mind’ or nearer ‘matter’), is the membrane on which is etched the pattern of the ‘real’, the veil that receives the imprint of the world, the borderline on which the ’I’ is situated, the veil that is our inner face, our inter-face, ever-changing product of agon, of the conflict and resolution of these opposing armies, one (the ‘outer’) unrelenting, without limit, the other (the ‘inner’) although accumulating its forces over age, can nevertheless not defeat nor hinder the ingress of the former, only meet it in unequal combat. No quarter asked. No quarter given. Only ourselves as given. As the given outcome.

An outcome that takes place where?

(‘Behind the eyes’) The space of awareness (intuitive, behind the eyes, but fictional, un-measureable) the place of awareness (complete with the ‘spirit of the place’, the ‘genius’ that dwells in this impossible, uncanny, space, equally fictional)? So rendered sacred. The sacred grove whose inhabitant is ‘spirit’ (is its ‘soul’).

(In…‘Our Room’) In turn giving birth to the exterior sense of room as type of place, enclosed, personal and, multiplied, our urban womb… Gift of a reconstructed exterior.

And when?

(In the ‘Eternal Present’) So the time is ‘now’ (always now), is also the time of awareness, our sense of inhabiting an eternal present, relentless, persistent. (‘In Your Face’) Actually in our, or my, face… or just behind it… ‘now.’

An event horizon which, the further it looks, the further backwards it sees; product only of its past (how could it be a product of its un-arrived future), a time-lag, delayed effect, reliant upon its input (and any preordained modifications as required by the shape of the receiver or the form of unity…).

In perpetual receipt of gift…


5 The ‘Cut’/the Opening

(We are…) Most like an opening… Into what, we know not… But then again… we do… All experience of ‘that’ is third hand (even if some of it once was ‘this’, once was first hand experience), mediated by impossible entities and absent points of view – which does not prevent them from working for us… (from the un-certainties of modern mathematics and the sciences to the ‘certainties’ of cohesive religions and ideologies). And from out of the opening what it is that emerges… this we know not either… (even though ‘this’ is what we are…). Or often only when it happens (when we happen). So something unpredictable; not reducible to will or fantasy.

But what comes ‘in’ and what comes ‘out’ is often dependant on point of view – as when science (and ‘third person’ common sense) accords our ‘this’ the status of effect…

And what of our use of ‘our/we’ as part of what may appear as an otherwise solipsistic strategy (necessitating ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’). ‘Our’: the supposition that others like ‘me’ exist, those we perceive as human too (although occasionally, notoriously, disastrously, excluding some who clearly are human)… so therefore ‘we’. If we are, by the time we can think of this issue, already constituted inter-subjectively, meaning with a seemingly ‘innate’ sense of others (including ourselves as divided into speaker and listener, I of enunciation and ‘I’ of the enounced) and an ‘outside’ which we, with some little trembling, can extend to infinity, then to write with ‘we’ and of ‘our’ is more honest. ‘I’ as claiming the unique, sole, geo-temporal position of enunciation is something altogether too ‘heroic’ – autochthonous, self-formed, mythic… (God reading our enounced ‘I’ would use I, such being prior, all-encompassing, but we, can we abrogate this all-absorbing pronoun? Before whom else can we write ‘I’ and still expect to be understood? To what other may we address ourselves; to one so utterly other as to deny ‘we’ and ‘our’ and somehow to still comprehend… here we hear the faith in the voice of the mystic before his or her God, the supplicant in prayer, every believer with a personal ‘hotline’… every deluded fanatic, religious or political).

In the opening is our perception, our experience of all (‘after all’), including of our ’selves’, our feelings: out of it is all that is the ‘thing-in-itself’, including our self, as thing… as place, as object… (but as thing-for-others, and other-for-others, including for ourselves, unavoidable, always there, after all). We (therefore I can and indeed must use we) as constituted as such, as aware of self from an early age – indeed as the dawn of awareness (recognition); another fall into social life that is irreversible, indeed that has no prior being (‘we’, the ground of communication, of recognition). So… technically speaking at least, (the) deliberate ignorance of this priority, the priority of the ‘we’, of the other in the self, is itself naïf… an impossible ‘bracketing out’. A bracketing out of the past which would leave us less aware than any (other) animal… reactive only, memory-less, more like a plant…



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being human twelve meditations afterword boredom




Title: Being Human. Twelve Meditations and an Afterword on 'Boredom'