Chapter 3: The slavery of Romeo and Juliet. What comes first, the line or the dots?

Even done unwillingly, even done as a ‘failure’ in the system, we will burst out of the custom we ourselves have made to fit in.

Advertisements

In the previous parts, I briefly presented the argument that romantic love is a necessity for our society and how this is coupled with the notion of love as a knowledge system, as sharing information. In plain words, you need Cubic to spare you from choosing between a million people and you invite him in, by sharing things you don’t share with anyone else.

Despite the fact that what brought the partners together may be a social or biological mechanism, they are at least free to exchange personal information about themselves so as to create a unique system with the other person. Not really, says Mr. Gell:

“If the structural essential, but individually arbitrary, relations between modern couples repose on mutual confidences and shared indiscretions, what are the raw materials for these histories? Are they as individual and personal as they seem to participants? Here we have to introduce a fresh scheme […]. This is the fictionalization of love, the fact that the confidences that couples exchange are provided for them structurally, because it is structurally necessary that this confidences be exchanged. Modern love would be unthinkable without fiction, romantic fiction in particular. [..] Each modern couple has to device for itself a history that will justify its existence as a couple on the basis of zero personal experience.” (emphasis added)

And he goes on to say:

“It is not a condemnation of modern society to remark, as often has been done, that popular fiction proceeds and guides the actions of real-life lovers, rather than representing real life after the fact. […] Fiction is, where modern societies are concerned, what genealogy is in those societies which have marriage rules, i.e. the means of producing relationships on which social life depends. […] Thus, despite the apparent arbitrariness of modern love, and the theoretical substitutability of lovers, in the end modern love is no more generated at the level of individual and the personal than marriage is in Umeda.” (emphasis added)

Ouch. And to think that our society praises the freedom of the individual. It is harsh, isn’t it? To say that all we do when we think we are pouring ourselves out to a person so special to us, that has shaken our soul, is nothing but playing a role, reading a script that someone else has given us. Be aware, we are prone to defend any attack to romantic love’s sacred nature, because as Roberto Unger has remarked, the ideal of romantic love ‘is the most influential moral vision of our culture’. Personally I recognize that I have a tendency to defend it too, a personal interest if you like. However, I will pose that this view of love is limited because of real life, and not because some idealistic dogma dictates so.

It is true that our ideals and fantasies about love are largely shaped by fiction: novels, movies, poetry, you name it. When two people first meet, it is their fantasies that meet. These ideal prototypes haunt us and determine by a great extent how we play our part in romantic interactions. But what this analysis fails to show is that during our exchange of fluids, information, experiences, we can’t adhere to a prototype role perfectly, even if we wanted to. Finally our own truth, our own self emerges. For some this takes days, for others takes years. Even done unwillingly, even done as a ‘failure’ in the system, we will burst out of the custom we ourselves have made to fit in. If we are to see love as a knowledge system, then this moment of ‘bursting’ is of the essence. Even when people are not aware of this as a system failure, they see that they need to change, or adapt to something that doesn’t fit. In this way our own experience in romantic love may lead us to change: our perceptions, our hopes, our image for the other, our self-image. So that the next time we fall in love, we are not quite the same anymore – or are we?

Easier said than done.

Needless to say, we are far from capturing love in all its aspects here. There are many other notions for love: love as power, love as a means to perfect ourselves, love as surrender and sacrifice, love as a disease, an agonizing painful emotion and so forth. However, there is some light shed I think in considering love as knowledge, as secret sharing of information. There’s a final point I want to make in this view. In the end of the first part, I mentioned the hypothesis that as two people:

spend more time together and they get to know each other, they grow – if they’re lucky enough – another kind of love, more grounded on the ‘real’ qualities of their partner, more informed, more knowledge-based. Now their actions- maintaining the relationship or not – is based on rationally evaluating the other person according to the information they receive.

Capture

Imagine now that there are two kinds of love-growing processes. The first would be the Cubid one, where people flirt, exchange secret information about themselves, create the history to base their choice upon etc., as discussed. The other end is the love-after-marriage. Many couples, from couples in India to my parents, never got the time to fall in love before marring. Nevertheless, they grew love for each other, as they share their lives, kids, experiences, and the unique fact that each one is the partner of the other in this. Lots of couples have a mix of this two love growing processes, starting with the first and moving on to other.

Returning to the aforementioned hypothesis, is moving from one into the other and maintaining a relationship really a decision based on rationally evaluating the information received about the other person? In both cases, pre- and after-marriage love, we find a process of sharing and exchanging, though it’s about very different things, done in different ways. Maybe what matters for generating and sustaining love is not really the experiences themselves, the information and bits of knowledge people share, but the very flow of it. The bond lies not at the ends, on what the lines connect; rather it’s the line itself.

But is it that the line connects the dots, or the dots that draw the line? Do we share therefore we love or the other way around? Perhaps both..go figure.

Chapter 2: Romeo & Juliet University – Love as knowledge

E. Hopper, Summer Evening
E. Hopper, Summer Evening

 

Mr. Alfred Gell’s analysis (see part 1 first) is based on the notion that love is interlinked with, or grounded on, a secret, private sharing of information between the two partners. He starts way back, from chimpanzees:

“The exchange of these [precopulatory] messages (which consist of physical gestures, furtive genital displays etc.) must be covertly done, or more dominant animals will intervene. Here we do not just have communication between partners, but exclusive, ‘confidential’ communication. Then the copulation itself is conducted out of sight, a second type of socially strategic information control, and of course the phylogenetic origin of human unwillingness to indulge in public copulation except in special circumstances”

In any society, says Gell, ‘there is the stock of information everybody has, that most have, that only a few have, and that only one or two have’. It may be argued that there is an increasing value in information known by lesser people, and that a tie is formed between those people sharing it. In the case of Umedas who, as discussed, experience romantic love in adultery relations:

“Love consisted of the generation, at the margins of society (in the bush, away from other people) of lethal knowledge, and the creation of pacts between those who generated and exchanged this knowledge, to preserve secrecy and discretion.”

This may also be the case for adultery, or otherwise prohibited relationships in our society. The lovers are bonded, if anything else, by the very secret of their relationship. But what about standard, ‘lawful’ romantic love?

“In Umeda as Strathern (1990) has suggested in relation to Melanesian societies more generally, who you marry is part of your personal make up, just as much as your red hair or snub nose, or the fact that you have a brother called Amasu. [..] In the absence of this structural predestination, modern couples have to convert abstract, generic relations between categories of persons into specific, grounded, historically embedded relations which will bear the structural loadings that will be imposed on them. Courting and falling in love provide the means for endowing relationships with histories which make subsequent commitment to their consequences more or less secure. They obviate the spectrum of opportunity costs that choice of partners implies. A married B, while C and D were also possible partners. A must have access to a kind of knowledge that, in retrospect, shows that C and D were not really possible at all, were only generically possible, but not specifically possible. Through the reciprocal exchange of a graded series of indiscretions, the courting couple converts a relation for whose existence no particular reason exist, into one which must be preserved because knowledge has come into existence which necessitates the lover’s pact, not to be incontinent, sexually or verbally.”

If you ask me, so far so good. On  comparison, we Westerners have it much better than the Umedas. We get to create our own personal stories, our own histories to base our romantic relationships on. Despite randomness, despite the fact that B could as well have been C, given Romeo happened to be there first, we are at least then free to create a secret A-B universe that is unique. In other words, namely Lincoln’s words, A and B build a knowledge system of, by and for A and B.

Well, not so fast..says Mr. Gell. I’m not so sure I’m gonna agree with him this time though.

Coming up, the slavery of Romeo and Juliet.

Oh, and I almost forgot: (some) light in the tunnel.

 

Chapter 1: Shakespeare’s Fabrizio and Juliet

Shakespeare’s most famous play could well have been entitled ‘Fabrizio and Juliet’ if Fabrizio had showed up a minute before Romeo.

large

We all pursue our own goals, our own ideas of happiness, of ‘our best self’, or just follow our obsessions if you like. People we meet and fall in love just happen to be at the right place, the right time (or wrong, you pick the word): the place and time we need to fall in love.

By no means do I intend to underestimate Romeo, but in order to be realistic, one has to acknowledge that chances are there were many other bold, handsome young men whose noble families were keen to eliminate other noble families. Randomness plays a big role in defining what the name next to Juliet’s will be, and it is only our a posteriori deterministic need that makes us neglect this, the need to find meaning through idealization. Quoting from one of Mr. Pamuk’s books:

‘Many people know that no life is predetermined and that, in reality, every story is a sequence of coincidences. Despite the big number of those who know this, when, at some point in their lives, they turn and look back, they reach the conclusion that the situations they lived through as coincidental, they were -in their present view- nothing but necessities.’

Indeed. What love would be like if Juliet was all: ‘Oh Romeo I love you! But in case you don’t make it tonight, I’ll call one of the other 999 Romeos out there’. No, no. It is a fact that the person is randomly picked in that sense, and it is a necessity to neglect this fact. Unless…well, unless things don’t go well, in which case we suddenly remember the randomness factor. But doesn’t this switch make us look fool or at least inconsistent with our very ideal of love that we were so keen to follow to begin with?

According to many, romantic love in modern Western world is what we use to make a once-in-a-lifetime choice, a choice that it’s too risky to make without Cubic’s help. Alfred Gell makes an interesting analysis on his article ‘On love‘. Take for instance this tribe in New Guinea, called Umeda. They live in villages of max. 750 persons. The Umedas marry cross-cousins, i.e. the person whom they will marry is pretty much predetermined, often before they hit puberty. There are really no ‘singles’ available to mess around and fall in love. Yet they do. Mostly through extramarital relationships of women with younger unmarried men, that must remain secret at all costs. Pure Umedas, you think, what a lack of freedom…Well, not so fast…Let’s move to ‘our’ society, shall we?

“Here people are taught to believe that one day they will discover, through elective affinity, out of the indefinite number of social others of whom they have generic knowledge, some particular one to love, with whom they will live in predestined harmony, have children and so on. I do not need to say that this idea is as arbitrary, as fantastic, as anything Umedas believe on the subject of sorcery. It is, however, necessary, given the fact that in modern society choice of mates is not institutionalized at the level of individual (though it is highly institutionalized in other ways, i.e. class, locality etc.)”

And he goes on to say:

“Because, pecuniary advantage aside, there are no really good reasons for committing oneself to one person rather than another, and very good reasons for fearing the worst, the essentially arbitrary choice is rationalized as fixed in advance by the wiles of the love-god, whose intervention relieves us from the burden of responsibility for our actions, which, in fact, is necessary for us to act at all, rather than hover interminably in a state of radical indecision. Whereas in Umeda love is outside the social system, in our society love has license and is supposed to make the world turn around, to be the very principle upon which society rests’.

I find this ‘functionalistic’ view to be quite grounded. However, one could as well argue that this only applies to the initial stages of a romantic relationship, when two people first meet, flirt and grow intense feelings without really knowing the object of their affection. As they spend more time together and they get to know each other, they grow – if they’re lucky enough – another kind of love, more grounded on the ‘real’ qualities of their partner, more informed, more knowledge-based. Now their actions- maintaining the relationship or not – is based on rationally evaluating the other person according to the information they receive. This must be the real thing then.

Well, not so fast…Coming up next, love as a system of knowledge.

Oliver Twist’s twist

When I was a child books were like candy: there were not in abundance and I took a lot of joy in them. Each one uncovered a new world, far beyond the walls of my small bedroom: Duma’s Black Tulip, Verne’s Mysterious Island, Tolstoy’s War and Peace and so forth. After my mother would turn the lights off because ‘that’s enough, you have to sleep now’, I would read below the blanket with a torch. Stubborn little bastard.

A few decades later, reading again I was, this time about the real world. European history, in particular Britain’s industrialization. The working class (not yet recognizing themselves as class) was not having the best of time. Packed in the cities, no decent houses to live in, no toilets, no running water (a tap for a whole neighborhood), all kinds of diseases and safety at work standards summed up at ‘no one can fit inside the factory’s machinery to clean it? Let’s have a child do it!’.

In contrast to the liberal theorists of the time supporting the economic developments and helping cleanse the consciousness of the bourgeoisie, critical voices were raising. Cited among the latter, there was Mr. Dickens.

So I learn that as a child he had to work in factories and his father was arrested for debt. He grew a strong sense of the precariousness of life and a big compassion for its victims. His ambition was to educate society about its failings via an entertaining way. His strategy was to grow sympathy in the people who had the power to change things towards people who were suffering. That’s why he sends Oliver Twist to an orphanage who actually belongs to a well to do family from which he was separated by a series of tragic accidents. To say: hey wealthy guy, this could be you.

I use my memory and go back in my bedroom, under the blanket with the torch, reading Oliver Twist. I remember two things: First, I am feeling a great sympathy for the boy’s suffering. The injustice of life is penetrating my childish mind. Then, I remember the happy ending of someone poor suddenly discovering he comes from a wealthy family. Now everything is great, all is good. Because we are rich.

So Mr. Dickens unwillingly plants a seed in my head: anyone can become rich at the blink of an eye.  What is more, for me, a child from a lower class family, being rich becomes the definition of the fairy tale, becomes the happy ending. It is a concept so often found in fairy tales, movies and literature.

del-reves-emociones_658228635

 

For better or for worse, this seed did not grow. But the first one did. Among all other influences, Mr. Dickens contributed -by a very small percentage, still he did – to me wanting to make things better, to ‘change the world’, to make it less injustice. And it is mind-blowing for me that this same seed led me to study history, to rediscover him, find out his intentions and understand why Oliver had to be rich in the end.

Cheers, Mr. Dickens.

Treating Tractatus

What’s the difference in climbing the ladder? Do we have to abandon philosophy since we don’t understand it or precisely because we do?

I didn’t enjoy reading Tractatus. It’s a pain in the a**, especially for someone like me with no strong background in logic. But how can one neglect a piece of writing that concludes that logic has limits, such that it cannot be used to say what is ethical, or to solve the problem of life?

I don’t consider myself to be dogmatic in general, but I do have a dogma regarding books. I *never* whatsoever read the introduction, the back cover or anything of the like before reading the actual text of the writer. The dogma lies in the belief that any such ‘pre-treatment’ will put glasses on me, through which I am bound to interact with the text, it will predispose me in a certain direction. And who needs another pair of glasses?

If you are now expecting to read ‘But..’, you got it right.

But.. when I started reading Tractatus, I got stuck right from the first two sentences.

“1 The world is all that is the case.”

“1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.”

Ha?

I don’t think of myself as philosophical literate, but c’ mon! Where did this come from? Why the world does not consist of things, or why not of little atoms, or of blue butterflies? Is it an axiom?

So I cheated, admittedly. I browsed all the way to the end, to see where he is getting at.

“6.54 My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps- to climb up beyond them. (He must, show to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed on it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

7. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

That’s seems promising, I thought, and rolled up my sleeves (well, there are no sleeves in fact, it’s like 40 degrees in Athens now).

[Teaser: In the next paragraphs I’m going to attempt describing an oversimplified version of climbing on the ladder. For anyone who is not interested in the procedure, yet is interested in the outcome, I suggest to scroll down. ]

p1010117
Kadinsky, Yellow Red Blue

 

In Tractatus, Wittgenstein constructs a theory based on logical concepts to explore the relation between the world, language and thought. He starts by defining what makes up the world. What are the ultimate constituents?

For Plato these are the forms. For Russel these are the sense data, the very small bits of experience. For Wittgenstein these are the facts, which he defines as relationships (existing states of affairs) between objects.

To completely describe the world, we need to list all the facts (which are probably infinite) and also at some point we need to say: that’s all the facts. So the world is made up by all the facts plus the fact that these are all the facts there are.

Nowhere in the Tractatus does Wittgenstein defines what objects really are. For the shake of discussion, I suggest to think of them as just elementary bricks, which, by relating to one another, they form reality (the world). ‘Objects’ is an abstract concept of what constitutes the world, in order to pose the question: can we explore the world through logic?

So he says…

2.02 Objects are simple.

2.0201 Every statement about complexes can be resolved into a statement about their constituents and into the propositions that describe the complexes completely.

2.021 Objects make up the substance of the world. That is why they cannot be composite.

2.0211 If the world had no substance, then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true.

2.0212 In that case we could not sketch any picture of the world (true or false).

Wittgenstein uses sense with the meaning of determinate sense. For a proposition to have sense (i.e. definite sense) it needs to have one -and only one- truth pole and one -and only one- falsity pole.

Suppose A is composite object, composed by simple object c in an R-relationship with simple object d. Then A = c R d.

Suppose now proposition A R b, A bears a relationship R with b.

  • Truth pole: A does R b
  • False pole: A does not exist (c does not R d) OR A does not R b.

The proposition leaves something indeterminate, because if you know it’s false, you don’t know whether it’s because c does not R d or because A exists but does not R b. For this proposition to have sense, it depends on the truth of proposition c R d.

If there were only complex objects, then anything we could say about them would depend on something else been true, and this on something else and so on. So, he says, in order for us to be able to say anything (a proposition with sense about the world, a picture about the world with sense whether true or false), this loop must end somewhere, and in order for it to end there must be simple objects, since a proposition containing only simple objects would not depend on other propositions – end of loop.

So since we are able to make propositions with sense, there must be simple objects, and we then are able to construct ‘atomic’ propositions and then built up using logical operations to more complex ones with sense. And indeed, Wittgenstein shows the logical method of constructing all other propositions given the atomic propositions.

 

So far so good, so what’s the problem? Well, there are actually two.

 First, Wittgenstein claims there is no way to speak about the totality of things. There is no way to speak about ‘objects’ (remember, their relations to one another is the fundamental element of the world) as a totality. Russel says another way to put this, is to say that object is a pseudo-concept. If we are to speak about objects, we need to assign them a property, e.g. all objects that are green, or objects that relate to other objects in X way. A proposition like ‘I love objects’ would not bare any sense (and, in my case, would also lack truth :)). It follows that we can’t speak (make propositions) of the world as a whole, we are bound to say something only about a part of it, only for a part of the objects and their affairs.

The second limitation refers to the relationship between language and the world. When we form a logical sentence in a language, we draw a picture. “The elements of the picture are the representatives of objects” and the relationship between the elements in the picture depicts the relationship of the objects, the fact in the world.  For language (the proposition) to be able to depict the world (the fact), they must have something in common, they must have the same logical structure. But here comes the limitation:

2.174 A picture cannot, however, place itself outside its representational form.

Language cannot ‘speak’ about its own structure, so we cannot use it to actually say what we want to say about the world. We can only show it, the structure can only manifest, but it can never be said, we cannot ‘say the structure is such and such’.

Hence, there are limits to what we can say in strict, accurate logical terms and:

“What we can’t speak about we must pass over in silence.”

and my personal favorite:

“The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem.”

That is pretty much in line with the legend that Wittgenstein in a philosophy conference turned his back on the speakers and started reading poetry.

So, where does this leaves us? How are we to just vanish the problem of life? I find Alan Watts view on this very enlightening. He says that there is an astonishing similarity of it to Buddhism in general and zenism in particular.

“The idea of throwing the ladder after having climbed up on it parallels the Buddhist doctrine to be a raft to cross a river from the shore of life lived as a vicious circle to the life of liberation. The whole task of philosophy is to get rid of itself, like a doctor.

There was an old master called Goso and one of his students came to him and said ‘how am I getting in my study of Zen?’  ‘You’re alright, but you ‘ve talked too much of it.’ ‘Isn’t it that natural, when one studies Zen to talk about it?’  ‘Yes. But when it’s like an ordinary conversation is somewhat better.’

If the most spiritual discourse that one can have is ‘Good morning, how do you do, nice day, isn’t’..doesn’t that reduce all the great speculations of human intellect, all the great quests to everyday matters?

The man who has been through all the philosophy quests, the whole wisdom, ends up deceptively like a stupid man who has heard nothing of philosophy. When I knew nothing of Buddhism mountains were mountains and waters were waters, but when I had studied them a great deal, mountains were no longer mountains and waters were no longer waters, but when I had thoroughly understood the whole thing, and arrived at peace, mountains were again mountains and waters once again waters.”

Oh, I love that..but then, what about progress? What about change?

 

I see others trying to understand every word in Tractatus and I’m thinking ‘come on, you are now just puzzling over something for no reason’. But there is someone else reading this right now and thinking the very same thing for me. Each one’s ladder is different. Does it make any difference? What’s more, does it make any difference at all to climb it if at the end you are gonna end up at the ground again?

Oh horror of horrors, I am afraid it does for one. If one can see the ladder in the first place, if the ladder exists for one, one can’t help but climbing it.

 

 

Islam, my mother and e-bay

If we started from the same point, how did we grow so apart?

street-art-banksy-banksy-graffiti

 

My mother, a traditional woman of the Mediterranean Greece, tried to raise me to be a good Christian, however somewhere along the way her efforts failed. See, as I was growing up, it felt liberating to reject what seemed to me as narrow-minded, ‘all-donts’ rules of an unproved (or even unprovable) concept. No wonder I was far from excited when, while studying for a class, I came across a text by Roger Arnaldez describing the history of religions in the Mediterranean.  ‘Oh this b/s again’. I began reluctantly browsing the pages. Damn, it got interesting.

 

In an all too simplified and known sequence: first came polytheism, then Judaism, Christianity, Islam – three of world’s most popular religions were born and raised in a small part of the Mediterranean. I was aware that each one built on the previous ones, blending and mixing concepts, dogmas, symbols. However, I was not aware that they relate to one another in the following ways.

# interesting_fact1: Islam’s God is the Christian God, same as the Christian God is the Jewish God. That’s not to mean that the Gods have the same ‘features’, rather that each religion when newly introduced claimed to have a better view of the already ‘existing’ God, and further that the previous religion had failed because of division, moral decline etc. Saint Paul preached that the real Jew is the Christian. In the same manner later on, the Quran would dictate: the real Jew, or the real Christian, is the Muslim.

 

# interesting_fact2: Islam came about as a religion with radical views on the status quo, same as Christianity is considered to have opposed conventional power institutions and ideologies when first introduced. In fact, when Islam began preaching equality and justice in a simple manner, people turned to it, being largely frustrated with the Christian Byzantine Empire because of its dogmatic quarrels, the continuous fighting of bishops over thrones and all these nice things that come with power.

 

# interesting_fact3: In order for Islam to continue spreading, it had to incorporate pre-existing religious practices and symbols, much like Christian churches were built on ancient temples’ sites.  In the pre-islamic era, the Kaaba, the building inside Islam’s most sacred mosque and center of the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, was a holy site for the various Bedouin tribes in the area. Once every lunar year, the Bedouin tribes would make a pilgrimage to Mecca and worship their pagan gods in the Kaaba.

 

Why my attention was focused on the Islam/Christianity relation? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps because I was born in a Christian region. Since Christianity was a reform of Judaism, many things of their interface are familiar to me. More probably though, there is something else: the value in exploring things that connect the now politically divided world into terrorist and non-terrorist countries. The Islamic Middle-East region of the world is almost solely represented in the Western media through photos of victims after a bomb attack, videos of men holding up guns and yelling ‘allahu akbar’, caged women in burqa and bad dictators. Does that affect our view of this region and its people and how? Many acknowledge that religion is used nowadays, same as in the past, as a pretext in the political and economic power arena. Yet, even having this awareness, the lesser we know someone, the more susceptible we are to adopt any opinion about them which is already formed and given to us: there is nothing else there to contradict it.

 

# hopeful_fact1andonly: In Baghdad, The House of Wisdom was a major intellectual center during the Islamic Golden Age, bringing together many well-known scholars to share information, ideas, and culture. Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophers met there to translate the Greek texts. According to Abu Hayan al  Tawhidi, during their night meetings the most distinguished intellectuals would discuss about the big problems, without faith discrimination and on equal terms. While contemplating on God, they were led to describe experiences and define life values with many common points, despite their dogmatic differences.

If we could only order a House of Wisdom on e-bay..

On intellectual sympathy – or a blog’s raison d’être

Mina Mimbu. New Zealand.

Intellectual sympathy is one – among many – of Henri Bergson’s attempts to explain what he meant by the methodological approach of intuition (not to be confused with the common meaning of intuition). For Bergson, there are two ways of knowing: the relative, partial knowledge and the absolute, complete knowledge. When we follow the method of analysis, we approach the object in question from outside, we move around it, and observe it from specific position(s). We are bound therefore to see only a part of it, and degrade the object to the aspects accessible to us. Intuition, on the contrary, is ‘entering’ the object itself, participating in it, sympathizing with all its aspects, without separating them, but in their unity. The analysis gives us only relative knowledge, while intuition provides us with absolute knowledge of the object in question:

It follows that an absolute can only be given in an intuition, while all the rest has to do with analysis. We call intuition here the sympathy by which one is transported into the interior of an object in order to coincide with what there is unique and consequently inexpressible in it. Analysis, on the  contrary,  is  the  operation  which  reduces  the  object  to  elements already known, that is, common to that object and to others. [H. Bergson, The Creative Mind: An introduction to metaphysics]

It is not within my intentions (and competence) to provide an accurate description of Mr. Bergson’s philosophy. Nor to defend it as the source of absolute truth – although I have to admit my positive predisposition. Rather, it serves me, in a quite remarkable coincidence with its content, as a point of unity. For I see in this notion an intersection of my wanderings, interests and questionings that have troubled my mind – severely – during the last years. Let me give you a brief idea on these wanderings.

First, there is anthropology. Anthropology is the one mostly to be blamed for the birth of this blog. I came across it by chance, while, unsatisfied by the natural sciences, I was looking for answers elsewhere, and fell in love. For those unfamiliar with it, what differentiates Anthropology from other fields like sociology is the methodological approach of participatory observation. For an anthropologist to study a group of people must, by and large, live with them for a considerable amount of time. He must participate in their lives as one of them, do the things they do, try to see the world as they see it. Not insignificant problems arise when actually trying to accomplish that, but for the moment let’s stick to the intention of ‘entering’ into the insides of the study object. Does that ring a Bergsonian bell?

Now I would like to dig a little deeper on the aforementioned un-satisfaction with the natural sciences. To set the record straight, I need to state this: science is among the greatest achievements of human intellect. Science has given us a valuable way of understanding things.  However, as many before, from the Romanticists to the postmodernists, I have grown a skepticism for the limits of knowledge, especially in relation to the dominant place that science has in our lives.  Is our intellect alone capable of providing the meaning of life? If phenomenologists are right, and there is no meaning a priori to find out there, then isn’t it concluded that science, in the sense of trying to discover the truth, is merely one of many ways to signify our lives? And here come the questions on the limitations of intellect..and again, Bergson*.

Intellectual sympathy, however, in the context of this blog, stands also for sympathy for intellectuals. Not in the elitist sense of an Illuminati class, rather in the struggle of human spirit to understand, and make sense of its existence. With that, with them, I sympathize.

And then, as always, love and death and our internal struggle to understand them, incorporate them, live with them. I find Bergson’s intuition again relative in many ways, but I will just draw on a brief remark by Mr. Derrida on love and the difference between a person as a singularity and its qualities:

Does my heart move because I love someone who is an absolute singularity, or because I love the way that someone is? Often love starts with some type of seduction. One is attracted because the other is like this or like that. Inversely, love is disappointed and dies when one comes to realize the other person doesn’t merit our love. The other person isn’t like this or that. So at the death of love, it appears that one stops loving another not because of who they are but because they are such and such. That is to say, the history of love, the heart of love, is divided between the who and what. The question of being, to return to philosophy, because the first question of philosophy is: What is it to be? What is “being”? The question of being is itself always already divided between who and what. Is “Being” someone or something? I speak of it abstractly, but I think that whoever starts to love, is in love or stops loving, is caught between this division of the who and the what. One wants to be true to someone—singularly, irreplaceably—and one perceives that this someone isn’t x or y. They didn’t have the properties, the images that I thought I’d loved. So fidelity is threatened by the difference between the who and the what. [extract from interview]

So, there you have it. The unity and the part. The intellect and something beyond intellect. If you didn’t find any answers in this introduction, you got it right. If you keep reading this blog, I cannot guarantee you’ll find any answers, but questions, this I can promise.

* Although criticized by Russel and others as irrational and anti-intellectualist, Bergson’s intuition does not necessarily contradict intellect. See a well-presented view on this by Mr. M.D. Bolsover.