Ethics and aesthetics are one (house sitting in Brooklyn)

The curtains are pulled back, and the magnolia stands in full bloom, its petals like painted seashells collecting below. It takes up the bedroom window, only softly. In the yard off to the right, bikes, baskets, handle bars lean against a chainlink-wooden fence. A pumpkin, small and orange, sits half-submerged in the spring marsh. Through the magnolia, part of a brown back bobs up and down: now shoulders, now spine. I just make out that it belongs to a man. He is jumping rope. Ah!

Beyond the courtyard, a street unseen and beyond that a city before brunch.

It is Easter Sunday, and I awoke to bird trills and fucking upstairs, and I am house sitting in a house I’ve never been before.

What would it mean to see things anew, to perceive each object lyrically, each book once opened and regarded, this row of flats and heels, this camera hanging, these crayon pictures by children, and these sleeping pictures of children? To take in and stay with this-here-now?

Follow me: I am walking about with my laptop and sitting down in odd corners. My first vantage point: the side of the bed. Then the living room table. Standing and typing in the kitchen, already in violation of my sitting principle. Now choosing to sit down in a children’s chair that slightly resembles one from Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey. But too cavalierly, too fatly, and it moves. The strangeness of firmness giving way to rocking. A rocking chair… A rocking chair!

What is it like to be a guest in another dwelling? And what did it mean for her to invite me in and then leave me here and then have her leave? (One comes, one goes, one returns, one goes.) How can one, so fragile yet so resilient, trust another this much and also this unconsciously? (“Here are the keys.”) And how can I touch things with the delicacy that is due each thing as if each, if held too firmly or just incorrectly, could break or collapse or fall or who knows?

Can we re-enchant the world, Adorno wondered aloud. My friend Richard wrote, “Aesthetics and ethics are one.” To live that way, if only we knew.

On my provisional conception of philosophical counseling

I think I’ve got the hang of philosophical counseling.

Through philosophical conversation, we clarify the model for living that you hitherto, and often unconsciously, adopted.

In the act of clarifying, we also discover the intrinsic structural unsoundness of this form of life: we honor the ways it can satisfy some of your desires while alighting on the ways it must, of necessity, lead to conflict and emotional turmoil. Hence, we do not analyze emotion for its own sake but only for the sake of seeing how emotions flow from the structural defects in such and such a form of life.

Seeing this form of life play out before us, we learn to practice the art of letting go at the same time that we practice the art of imagining otherwise. A new form of life, the one we’re imagining, cannot be structurally sound unless it promises to fulfill our demands for clarity, wholeness, and meaning.

This whole process, let me emphasize, is an art rather than a science. I am neither an expert nor a sage; I am a moral guide who has a better understanding of the layout of the land but who has been lost on more than one occasion. Together, in conversation, we stroll along; we don’t follow steps laid out before us in some recipe, instruction manual, or self-help tome. And yet, in strolling along, we certainly aim at something. And that something–clarity, meaning, and wholeness–is human flourishing.

John Armstrong on the life blood of civilization

J.E. Lendon favorably reviews John Armstrong’s In Search of Civilization. The upshot of Armstrong’s book, Lendon means to show, is that economic liberty entails artistic liberty. Here are a few highlights from the review:

The two imps of the ancient mind, that wealth is either irrelevant to the good life or its bane, still rule the world of higher thought today. And the second, grimmer goblin has given birth to monstrous modern offspring: first, the notion that others should be deprived of their wealth for the good of their souls; and second, that the height of human aspiration—the very perfection of the soul—consists exactly of high-mindedly depriving others of their means.

And also:

A laswegian [I think he means: Glaswegian–AT] contrarian in the tradition of Adam Smith, Armstrong scorns this deep-rooted suspicion of money. Civilization, says he, is essential for humans to flourish, and civilization consists of mutually vivifying material and spiritual prosperity. Beautiful things are essential to the good life, and so also the means to get them: There is nothing morally corrosive in comfort.

Kathryn Schulz on being wrong

I’d like to clarify Schulz’s otherwise fine lecture on the virtue of fallibility (I err, therefore I am). First, let’s distinguish between being wrong and going wrong. Being wrong entails self-loathing whereas going wrong suggests an error or lapse in judgment.

The same goes for being right and heading in the right direction. The former is self-righteousness, yet the latter is trying things out and seeing them through.