On resilience and postulates

Living by making postulates has helped me, even in the darker moments, not to fall into despair. Individuals in failing marriages despair that their lives could go otherwise. Institutions in free fall have lost the capacity to wonder whether they could be organized in some other, more robust fashion.

Despair marks a defect in logic and imagination. In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant offers that the scientist who wishes to investigate nature must postulate that it is organized in a such and such a way despite the fact that he does not know (yet) whether it is organized in such and such a way. The logical point seems to be that in order to inquire seriously we must first posit some hitherto unknown possibility that is as good as, if not better than the reality we are living through. Do we have reason to think that there is some better embodiable possibility? Certainly not if we draw our reasons only from the fund of past experience, history, and the current evidence of the senses. Certainly yes if we dare to imagine that there must be something, if only we look in the right way.

Accordingly, a postulate is inquiry-guiding yet, importantly and as the inquiry gets underway, it does not run contrary to the mounting evidence. A postulate thus dares us to think seriously even while it cautions us to keep our eyes on the evidence of the senses. It provides us with two kinds of ‘looks’: the well beyond and the right here.

It is fashionable today in social entrepreneurship circles to speak about resilience. What, it is asked, is involved in a system’s being resilient in the face of change and uncertainty? Or–to change the scale–what explains why one person can sail through the end of a marriage while another is brought low and is inconsolable unto death? Is it constitution or general temperament? Possibly. Luck (tuche)? Quite possibly. But it could also be that one has cultivated his imagination and a lived logic and, by means of both, has become adept at formulating postulates. Even though he does not know that a new life is possible, he sets his course according to the ‘must’–and then feels his way through to the end, wherever the path should take him.

On the art of longing for a radiant way of being

The truth of metaphysics is revealed in the question, “Can this [way of life] be all?” (Adorno, Negative Dialectics). My longing is a longing for another way of life beyond the one I inhabit.

The truth of the perdurance of the soul is that of a being that leaves behind one way of life but without that being also being left behind within that way of life. I want my soul to turn over in its turning toward another. My soul longs for transformation in a heaven just over yonder but not beyond my reach, the heaven of radiant human existence.

I want my soul to be radiant, want for nothing apart from this because there is no-thing apart from this, this experience of radiance.

The truth of god’s divinity is the mystery of existence, one to which my soul longs to be ever attuned, longs whenever it meditates not on this entity or that one but on being qua being: being being the source of entities, the wellspring of all transient beings, all transient because coming into existence and go out of existence. Being is the ever-unfolding of all transience existence. Being, thusly, is not the tree, being is not ‘behind’ the tree, being is the tree’s life expressed fully in the tree’s becoming with the rest of existence. Being is visible fully in (but not as) the mountain if only we are properly attuned.

Being is the indwelling spirit of all earthly existence.

I speak of being.

I speak of my soul’s longing to be attuned to the mystery of existence evident in all myriad beings, in the trees’ unfolding and the child’s unfolding, in the unfolding of my words into yours, in the unfolding of the lives of my beloveds, lives folding, unfolding into mine in myriad lovings.

Being is loving and insofar as I am loving I too am being.

I want my longing for radiance to be more than a longing for radiance. I want to be at one with being, being thoroughgoingly radiant myself.

I hear “Can this be all?” and I fret.

Shall I renounce the question or shall I listen? I hear renounce but if I listen, then I may be horrified and attracted, both at once, to the sense that there could be an otherwise than the way I live now, than the way I have lived for so long.

(For too long? For too long the nights?)

I long.

Horrified because this way of life has been good, was what I had wanted, was what I said I wanted, wanted from this life of mine, wanted when I was young and wounded. Was but young and wounded.

And I do not want.

(I rage against myself. Rage violently. Feel cheated by the injustice. Rage at myself. How can I be so brittle, so uncommitted, so unfaithful to this way of life? And how can I be so ungrateful for what I have? What is the matter with me? Are my demands those of the dissenter, as when Milton’s Lucifer denies God’s authority and is banished? I rage, I gnash and rage. I prowl, enraged, Medea.)

I hate myself.

(Or am I looking for light, the light I already feel if in loving intimations? And why cannot I not dwell there, among kindred others? I have felt their touch and I love them, their touch.)

I hear, Renounce the question. I hear, be reasonable by god. I hear, Ask for less from this life.

I am tempted to turn away from the question, perhaps out of a sense of guilt, perhaps out of a sense of shame, perhaps because I am weak and cannot bear the interregnum.

If I suffer my longing, will not others suffer my following my longing? Can I bear?

How could what I have not be enough? How come? Why not? Because, yes, because having is not the same as being. Yes, because I want not to have but to be, to be in the light of being, radiantly. And if I reject the question, “Can this be all?,” then I can only claim that this way of life has to be final, so has to be the rest of my life, my staling breaths before me.

Get tough, I say. Get used to it. Become hard so that my longing can be ignored, disavowed, renounced for good.

My god.

My longing must go away. I must make it go away.

But the longing, just because it is a longing, returns, returns doubly and triply, in manifold ways, and, returning, will not go away. (Why won’t it leave me be? How shall I ask my longing to go?)

But if I follow it, so seduced, how will I not become MacBeth, how not be afraid to think of what I will have done?

I am stuck. For if I reject the question, then it seems as if I must hold to a ‘final picture’ of this way of life–this still frame that haunts me, taking what air remains from out of my lungs–how to go on in this way of life that, I know, cannot ultimately satisfy? How to go on. How to live.

(But why won’t it satisfy?!? I rage, Medea.)

I am niggled by despair, now quiet, now heavy, because this way of life has ceased its unfolding, having stopped at its end. This way of life has gone but goes on in being gone so long as I remain. It persists with me, without me, ensnaring me.

It is and I am not. It is not and I am.

I exclaim, My God! Where is the air? Where is my air, the air meant for me? The airless air unholds me, depletes me, draws in around me, staling me. I think, this way of life must be ‘final’, must be ‘over.’ I think this must be it. I think, but still, still there is this stirring intimation of an otherwise, of a life’s going otherwise, of my life going otherwise.

Leave me, O longing. Or, if you must stay, then let me long with you, O my longing for an otherwise.

(How can this be, this longing like a friend unnamed, uncalled, called? What is the matter with me that this is not enough, this way I had wanted, a way that would end my sufferings? And yet why do I despair that this way of life would be ‘all there is’? Why can’t I hold my longings ‘in check,’ why not hold them at bay, why not put them off to one side? And why do these longings, despite my No’s, despite my ruthless will and protestations, persist, persist in spite of me, persist like a hunger within me, throughout me?)

Is it enough that I let my longing long with me? That I cease fighting my longing and listen? Then will I cease and see?

O let me hear you, O this longing. When I do, when I attune myself to you, to your question, “Could there be an otherwise to the way of being now?,” then I know I am inviting self-transformation (metanoia). It is not temptation, seduction. For it may seem, once seemed, as if I could simply add in the otherwise as if to say that I have A + B + C and here D, come here, D. Thus: A + B + C + D. I want that: to just ‘add in’ the longing on my own terms. Add one piece to the puzzle, one ingredient to the recipe, one window to the house, one more item to the list.

No, that may never be, because so long as I try to add you in, I misunderstand you, my longing, I mangle you in summing things up with you. When I sum things up with you, I lose you in the calculations.

Instead, it may happen that the ‘otherwise’ may not be that way, may not come my way that way, may, simply, not make itself available to ‘simply being added in.’ I fear it will be that way, that this is another way of being not ‘combinable’ with this the way I lived so far. I fear, I fear what this longing may be saying, may be asking of me. But also I do not fear but I hope.

I fear my longing, it is true, because it asks me to be otherwise. I long to be otherwise, long to be whole but I also fear it.

I long to be whole, this longing my hope of being whole. And so I hope.

My longing, a bare intimation, asks me to bear being otherwise than I am now and have been. You ask much of me, O my longing, and I do not know if, being infinite, it is ‘too much.’

You ask me to stay.

I stay. I hold fast. We are gentle now. I listen to you my longing, hear you saying that there is not something the matter with me, that there never has been. You my longing ask only, for now, that I stop turning away from you, asks only that I dwell with you, within you. You my longing invite me to see you as longing rather than as an other to be denied or refused.

You ask me to stay and I stay with you.

I must be patient, with you, must acknowledge that I my longing is neither good nor bad in itself but a wellspring of life, an intimation on the way to further self-understanding, a blessing therefore. A blessing therefore, not a curse. Therefore, a holy of holies: could it be that I am being called, by my longing, to face you, to listen to you, to be graced and touched by you? And could my longing, you seeming darkness, become a question rather than a mere craving? Could your question open itself to me, allow itself, you yourself, to be answered? Wonder of wonders, this light out of darkness, you.

Wonder of wonders that I could live you my longing and my longing you lead me forth into the land without longing.

The longing that is mine, you, the longing I take in and therefore let be my own, you are y dissatisfaction but not my pain. I cannot be to blame for my longing’s calling me to being. Longing, you urge upon me to hold myself to your very long note, to dwell within this discord and your promise, this darkness and your light. My longing, you imply that the last question (what is to be done? better: how must my life unfold?) is coming too soon, coming out of a sense of fear of my having to give up everything I have for the sake of a way I know not fully. My longing, you are listening to me and I must listen to you, must attune myself to you in hopes that I can understand better what you are asking.

My longing, you beg me to enfold you in beautiful words: in true words touched by beauty, in true others bathed in beauty.

My longing, I know, I know that you are a question asking to be asked, not an answer to be forced. I will not force you, neither force nor deny you. As a question asking to be asked, you are also my hoping for an answer to be lived, an answer I can live, will live, live. Live and live radiantly, now, such living putting me in touch with your aim: the radiance that is never at arm’s length but ever in my hands and breaths and children and everywhere I ever am. Longing, you long to carry me through and then, after, once there, here, you mean to let me go.

On the meaning of sighs: A philosophical conversation followed by a lullaby

The following is a short excerpt from a philosophical conversation I had recently with one conversation partner. Afterward: an afterthought, an extra thought, a lullaby of a kind.
She wrote,
I sigh.
Yes I sigh.
The cosmic breath, of all men, of all women
Of more creation, loss and love to come.
 
I replied,
First, “I sigh”: The sigh is the quiet laugh of the tragic:
I.e., it is an acknowledgement of a life and a death that is no one else’s but mine.
It follows that no one else can take my death from me.
 
Second, “the cosmic breath”: The sigh is a mark of my stepping back from the brink.
The sigh implies that I am viewing life as if from above.
It follows that the sigh is sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”).
 
Third, the puzzle: How can the sigh be at once above me (infinitude) and about me (finitude)?
The solution: The sigh is a sign that the life of which I am a part I am not, finally, apart.
Conclusion: With the sigh, I have overcome despair. Whence the wise final line re: “loss and love to come.”

*

A Memory, a Lullaby

December 25, 2009. I sighed, yes I sighed. I was busy making the world’s shittiest hot chocolate. There was no milk in the refrigerator, the stove was half-warm and wouldn’t heat up, and I was in a fucking hurry. The end result was a chalky mess which I rushed out to hand to my former girlfriend–a beautiful woman, with dark hair and dark eyes, “nothing like the sun”–who stood forlornly beside her Mini. It had been a miracle, I suppose, that the SUV that had crunched the right front fender hadn’t also collected my right femur, tibia, and ankle in the bargain. The car was fucking mangled, and, what’s worse, the hot chocolate was undrinkable. (I drank it later.) Because I could walk, I could still make shitty hot chocolate. She turned from me, my dark lady. Here–Exhibit A–was salvation, light amusement for the mischievous gods.

I nudged (if that’s the word) the Mini onto the side road. Then, I slowly unloaded my boxes back into my old apartment. A dingy place I’d subletted–yes–from a writing friend who was away in South America working on the next great American novel. (We live our cliches, don’t we?) Luckily, I didn’t have much to haul. Half the boxes were filled with books. The other half with a wasted life.

Later that evening, I bought a one-day unlimited Metro card. It was 12 subway rides there and back before I’d managed to stack all the boxes in the Park Slope apartment I’d end up sharing for 3 months with a hipster bartender and a guy working for a start-up (This, of course, was before we got kicked out by the new landlord named Joe.) That night and for the next 3 months, I would sleep on an air mattress next to my philosophy books. The air mattress had a pin-sized hole in it. A memory of lost time: Alone walking home.

Home now. 2 years later. Upper East Side. Here I type beside the morning light, the birdsong, the birch trees, the church bells which should be set to ring in about an hour. Home now, my god. Omphalos. Now I laugh, yes I laugh. To me, life is sweet.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “The Latest Version of my Short Public Bio”