The hardness and the softness of philosophical practice

“Whitman’s central image, the leaves of grass, a form of life that perishes but rises again and again out of its own decay” (231).

–Lewis Hyde, The Gift

“Anything I have I bestow.”

–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

There is a hardness as well as a softness to the philosophical life. Like leaves of grass, your former life has perished; like leaves of grass, a new life is emerging. Your pain is the pain of transformation; your endurance is the endurance of ages; your patience that of millenia; your life the life of lives.

In the academy, there is none of this: no hardness but also no softness. Nobody says “I don’t know” in connection with life, and nothing is really up for grabs. Uncertainty, if there is any, is all of an intellectualized sort. The scholar is “interested in” such and such, does “research on” so and so,  is a “specialist in” the thus and so. His life is neat and tidy, or it is a mess. No matter.

For you and me, my friend, the blood runs freely in our hearts, onto our tongues, over our lips, into our touch. This is the hardness. The hardness:

a willingness to challenge your life-beliefs; a granting of the falling off of life-beliefs; the perception of a way of life as it is falling off; a resistance to the siren-return; a persistence in the mood of unknowing; a true longing for a life lived otherwise.

The softness is a giving in splendor. The softness:

an opening onto a clearing; the love of fresh thises; the bounteous welcoming of the other; the trying-out of life-ideas; the holding-fast to the loveliness of transience; the beatific vision of a life in harmony.

Putting life in order properly means: getting the proper measure of hardness and softness.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “Letter Writing as Spiritual Exercise,” Philosophical Practice, forthcoming November 2011.

Andrew Taggart, “Practicing Philosophy,” The Philosophers’ Magazine (TPM), forthcoming November 2011.