Hurry up: A parable

Two men spend exactly two minutes looking at the cross section of a cutdown tree. Both men have the same sensory equipment (eyes, ears, tongues, etc.). Both have the same cognitive equipment (capacity for concentrating, attending,  inferring, etc.). Both are walking at the same rate and that rate is such as not to prove laborious for either man. Neither is out of breath or in a state of turmoil.

Yet one distinction makes all the difference: the first is in a hurry while the second takes his time. The second man has never heard of such word combinations as ‘hurry up,’ ‘hurry along,’ and ‘hurry away’ that the first man frequently employs, and thus only the second man’s life can be luxurious.


Photo credit: Alexandra Marcella Lauro

Loneliness and presentness

Yesterday, in the middle of a philosophical conversation about a conversation partner’s sense of loneliness, it occurred to me that loneliness just is the experience of not being present. Loneliness is the word we typically use to designate this nebulous feeling of lack: the other is not there, the past in which love was is now gone, and there is some other place I would rather be.

Contrariwise, to be there is to be genuinely attentive to what is around one. Attention requires focusing one’s concentration on the specific, significant features of some object. I pay attention to the particular way in which the white dove preens itself with a view to honoring its way of existing. In a second breath, reverence expands my vision from this white dove before me to the beautiful world in which this white dove fittingly exists.

Attention reveals itself within the rhythms of eternity, in the view from here, and loneliness has no time in eternity, no view but otherwise.

Unphilosophical and philosophical eternity

The Phenomenology of Exhaustion

1. Can one describe the lack or loss of eros? Of course. The experience would be felt as burdensome, pain-laden, leaden, tiresome, exhausted, a sense of separateness, of cleaving, of infinite matterlessness.

Eros and Temporality

2. The distinction between eros and its lack may come down to that between two differing conceptions of eternity. In philosophical life, eternity is totality; in non-philosophical life, it is the indefinite.

Philosophical Eternity

3. In Book I of the Ethics, Spinoza defines eternity as that which is without duration (a-duration). “By eternity I mean existence itself.” He explains that eternal existence cannot be “explained by duration or time, even if the duration is conceived to be without beginning or end.” So what is eternal simply is: it does not come into being or go out of being. It is being.

4. I take it philosophical life resides in the temporality of eternity. When, e.g., I really look at a flower, I exist in the temporality of eternity.

5. The long present–the Now of Eternity–says, “Here I am. Where else would/could I be?” Food is put in the mouth and savored; music is put in the ear and savored; inquiries are put into words and slowly savored; touching is put on the fingers and savored.

6. Time is not precious or urgent because it can go away. It is precious because in the long present we are.

7. The time of eternity is the time of love.

Non-philosophical Eternity

8. Non- and pre-philosophical others grasp eternity as indefiniteness. They want to live “n+1.” If they are 50 yrs. old, then what matters is to live 51 yrs. Then 52, 53…, 100, 101. Eternity is not ‘being here’ but ‘that which is one more, one beyond.’

9. The present is understood in punctual terms (i.e., the Now is a single point that passes in an instant). Additionally, life itself is cast as a Task writ large.

10. The (punctual) Now is to be negated. The Now is not. It must be devoured or conquered or overcome. The Now, rather like an affliction, must be obliterated or removed. The credit card transaction, like binge eating, like fucking, obliterates the Now and, in the case of the credit card especially, the human relation. It is intended to be through with the Now, to get over the Now. To be done with the Now, with Life.

11. The non-philosophical experience with most things–food is obliterated, fucking runs us past or through the Now into orgasm, insurance removes us from the idea of death, etc.–are throughways. It is deadness.

12. This experience of temporality is one of the No: the No first and last and forever. Killing the Now, one is killed by the Now. Without knowing it.

13. The desire for indefiniteness is a tacit acknowledgement that one is already dead.

On intimacy and infidelity

In her collection of short stories, Binocular Vision: New and Collected Stories, Edith Pearlman’s “Unravished bride” concerns a married man and married woman who, neither being married to each other, both nearly conclude that becoming intimate entails having sex. Their muddle is philosophical, having to do with the concepts they have inherited. Allow me some room to explain.

Marlene and Hugh, both middle-aged and happily married to their respective partners, first meet at a wedding and, months later, run into each other in Boston by accident. He asks her to have lunch, they have a nice time, and soon they begin having lunch once a week on Thursdays. On one Thursday, Marlene has the flu. She calls Hugh’s office, saying that she can’t make it. The narrator states, “Anyone hearing the conversation would have assumed that they were merely two friends canceling a luncheon appointment.”

The key word is “merely,” as the two get caught in a no man’s land between two clumsy categories, friend and lover. As they get to know each other better, the narrator starts likening their Thursday outings to dates. “They were like college boy and college girl on that outmoded, rule-bound thing: a date.” The reasoning goes that dating leads either to marriage or to a broken heart.

It is not surprising, then, that Marlene and Hugh should get pressed into a conceptual bind. If they become more intimate, this intimacy must lead to sex. But this is an act of betrayal, one especially devastating in light of the fact  that both very much love their spouses. However, if they deny their intimacy, then their sexual desire will go unfulfilled, doubtless with the result that they will become frustrated with each other and end up going their separate ways.

Initially, it looks as though Hugh and Marlene will opt for the first horn of the dilemma, only at the last minute they change their minds and opt for the second. Restraining themselves, they eat a dull lunch together at the hotel where they had planned the rendezvous. The story concludes,

No, they were not everybody else, she thought while pretending to eat her salad…. Everybody else [having affairs, excusing their peccadilloes, getting divorces] was up-to-date. But she and Hugh were throwbacks. They were bound to the code of their youth–self-denial and honor and fidelity–an inconvenient code that would keep them, she realized with a pang, forever chaste, and forever in love.

What is awry in this story is the vast savanna in human experience lying, namelessly, between “merely remaining” friends and “hungrily becoming” lovers. Marlene and Hugh do not see this vast savanna, not clearly anyway, and we neither see it nor honor it.


There’s a line in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics about the mean. If, Aristotle wonders, virtue is a mean between defect and excess, then how can it be that we don’t have any names for some particular virtues nor for some defects and excesses? Are we to conclude that the doctrine of the mean is inadequate, or might we surmise that our vocabulary is deficient in respect of our lived experiences?

In our experiences of intimacy, I incline toward the latter. We make an error in reasoning when we see the face to face as entailing sex, when we see friendship as less than or as leading necessarily onto erotic love. In fact, when our lives (our many loves) are going well, we are open to having all kinds, shades, varieties, and intensities of intimacies with things, with birds and trees, and with humans: all also too fine-grained to be captured by “gazer” or “friend” or “lover.” Far from being nonconceptual, however, these manifold experiences demand to be poeticized: demand to be described, shaped by metaphors, touched by images, made complete through words, brought closer by common understandings.

Pace the Freudian legacy, a legacy at once nasty, long, and brutish, our many intimacies needn’t be cast in terms of amuse-bouche for sex; there needn’t be anything wanting or lacking or deficient in careful words or in finely written letters; we needn’t regard a kiss on the cheek as an ellipsis for slunk-down underwear. All these intimacies may very contentedly be the beginnings and the ends of themselves. Any conversation–and I’ve had very intimate ones with persons I’ll never meet again–could be the all, the first, and the last.

What we seek in this all too human life is getting to know each other better. We seek self-acquaintance through acquaintance with intimate others. We want to become closer, to draw each other nearer. There is no harm in this, no fear of infidelity, no hotel key waiting swayingly on the peg. There is also no throwback to self-denial (that ugly Freudian term of art), no pangs of dissatisfaction. We eat our salads, share the bottle, and smile. Then the check arrives.