The quivering haiku

‘The brevity of haiku,’ writes R.H. Blyth in Haiku: Volume III–Summer/Autumn, ‘is not something different from, but a part of the poetical life; it is not only a form of expression but a mode of living more immediately, more closely to life.’

Here is Arakida Moritake, a sixteenth century Japanese poet cited in Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen:


The haiku, as form, uniquely combines concision with precision, enjambs one-pointedness with a dilation of consciousness, turns the changing seasons into piquant quiverings.

My own, less beautiful than Moritake’s, from earlier this morning:


(One would, upon further reflection, have thought it better to have written: ‘by noon, a deck on fire.’) To live more immediately, more closely, more in the way of surprise.

E.F. Schumacher on the moral and the economic

I’ve been having some good conversations with people at the New Economics Institute, formerly the Schumacher Society, about alternative economic models and, in my searches, I came upon this remarkable essay by E.F. Schumacher, “Buddhist Economics” (reprinted in his very well-known book, Small is Beautiful). In lieu of summarizing the argument Schumacher makes, I would prefer to ask about the right relationship that would have to obtain between the moral and the economic. Is it possible to abstract from Schumacher’s Buddhist considerations to see how any sturdy conceptual framework would have to look in order to get this relationship right?

The first principle would be that a philosophical (or religious or spiritual) way of life would take priority over the economic. Understood rightly, the economic is meant to support, while bringing into being, the higher aims of those participating in a certain way of life. Schumacher believes that a Buddhist way of life would be supported by a Buddhist economics; he notes that our materialist way of life is buttressed by professional (classical, neoliberal, etc.) economics. Here, we are witnessing a profound inversion of priorities.

The second principle would be that work was not a necessary evil but rather the way in which each individuals realizes his gifts (Schumacher’s words: “a chance to utilise and develop his faculties”) and helps to achieve the common good. On this understanding, leisure would not be recompense for work but would instead be time for self-reflection and contemplation.

The final principle would distinguish “enoughness” from “too much” as well as their respective aims. As a philosopher, I need to have “just enough” in order to cultivate my moral and intellectual character whereas citizens of developed nations are primed to maximize unnecessary desires in order to encourage more economic growth and greater consumption.

Loving my body entirely

A few weeks ago, I asked what a body can do. I wanted to change the question from “What does a body look like when it is at rest?” to “What does a body feel like when it is functioning properly?” The latter question is a very good one, and yet it leaves hanging a more basic question of how one comes to love one’s body. My body may function properly, surely, but perhaps I do not love it. What, then, would cause me to love it? With a friend, I was writing further about this yesterday and came to see why it has come so naturally for me to love my body.

The reason I love my body fully, wholeheartedly, unquestionably is that it fits my philosophical form of life so seamlessly. It feels as though this kind of body is just the right kind of body for the life that is worth leading–namely, a philosophical life.

Two spiritual exercises (ascesis) led me to this conclusion. The first spiritual exercise–the ‘view from above’–called my attention to the various forms through which my body has passed on its way to philosophical life, with each form fitting for that way of life. My baseball-and-lifting body were fitting for a hyper-masculinized late 90s way of life: mildly hedonistic, showy, virile, cocksure. My climbing body, more lithe, more sinewy, lengthier, was fitting for the itinerant way of life embodied in climbing: the life of travel, the approach to the crag, the carrying of gear, the pensiveness of the boulder project, the steadiness of powerful movement.

In the above, what we are surveying are at one and the same time the fitting of form to way of life and the transformation of one form into another. Let us ask: what appeal did that kind of body have for that form of life? Let us consider: why did that kind of body pass away, passing into another, the following form? Let us say: the body thinks along the path of inquiry. The immediate aim of this long survey is to achieve a sense of gratitude for all one’s body has done.

The second spiritual exercise turns my attention to all the present alone. I am learning to take supreme joy in the mundane activities that make up my day: my typing these words; my dodging children while running around the Park yesterday; my hiking with a friend last week; my sitting on a park bench on Saturday and touching another friend’s shoulder; my… The joy I experience in these acts is immense and immeasurable. Oh words, you fail me.

The conclusion to this story, as I stated at the outset, is that my body is as fitting as it could possibly be for the life I lead. It feels rather as if there were a ‘pre-established harmony’ in the universe (this term a nod to Leibniz) such that my body were properly attuned to the cosmos. At 5 foot 9 or 10, I am not too tall or too short. Imagine me having a conversation with a conversation partner and being 6’6″ (domineering) or 4’5″ (diminutive). I am properly sized. I am also properly shaped: thin, flowing, rather Pleistocene looking, if I had to summon forth a couple word description. In my movements, I am firm yet flexible; subtle, light and graceful; quiet, soft-stepping, never loud or heavy or sharp. I feel Daoist.

The one word I’ve heard constantly over the past two years is that I have a ‘calming’ presence. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting body for my philosophical life. Because of this, I feel entirely in my body. Indeed, I love my body entirely for however long it is my body; for however long this is, I desire to have no other.

Friends as fellow travelers; or, the art of saying farewell

The following is a spiritual exercise (ascesis) in the art of saying farewell. The former friend whom I’m addressing in the letter has an extensive background in music, physics, and philosophy, has a prestigious academic pedigree, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in philosophy. We first met only days after I moved to NYC, a little over 2 1/2 years ago. At the time, I had already finished my Ph.D., had Great Gatsby’ed my way to New York, was subletting a filthy apartment in Brooklyn, and was sitting in a graduate-level Hegel course for fun. M. and I had gotten together on occasion since and at one time were in a small reading group on Montaigne’s Essays. (Guess whose idea that was?) At the end of the summer of 2010, I attended his wedding; it was beautiful.

My intention in the letter, which was penned at the beginning of the week, is to frame the leave-taking in terms of a Romantic metaphysic. For the Romantics, organic life begins in being, becomes severed by means of conflict and consciousness, and–at least for Holderlin and Hegel–seeks out higher forms of reconciliation. I imply, below, that the pain of separation is an appropriately metaphysical construal of the end of this relationship. (This is not necessarily true, of course, of the end of other relationships.) Consequently, no one is ‘at fault,’ no one is ‘to blame,’ and no ‘apologies’ or ‘reparations’ need be made.

Not all severances can be re-unified. Leading a philosophical life–what David E. Cooper has called the Practical Vision of philosophy–is rather like metanoia, very akin to a conversion experience. (I hope the reader isn’t pulling out her hair. The New Atheist is scoffing, snorting and scoffing, but no matter.) After metanoia, the philosopher sees himself, as one conversation partner elegantly put it this week, on a different path than the one the other is still on. (Here, the other is beholden still to a Theoretical Vision of philosophy.) It is not that there is a measurable distance between one and the other, between life and life. It is rather that the gulf becomes immeasurable, infinite, heterodoxical. I recall who I was then, I realize why I was drawn to him, I enjoyed the time I spent with him, but I can’t see how, because of who I am now, we can go on together. It is difficult not to sound cavalier or uncaring to say that there is nothing wrong with the thought that one way of life could be incommensurable with another, nor is it easy to avoid sounding hubristic when one asserts that there is everything decent and good about the idea of a human life being the activity of unfolding, growing, radiating, dying and living again. Perhaps the point to make is that I have given up asserting and defending, in some eristical fashion, and given myself up to elucidating and showing.

It’s a good question, M., and, no, you’ve not harmed or offended me. I think we met when I was slowly, ever so slowly saying goodbye to one way of life, one that had placed the university as its keystone, and when I was just then greeting, quite gingerly and tentatively, a new way of life that was about to unfold. Then, I believed that friends were those whom you held onto, those to whom you held fast. Now, I believe that friends are fellow travelers for a time: they come into your life and, on the exhalation, they go out of your life. To me, that’s all right. [I nearly wrote: “To me, that is as it should be.”] Now, most of my time is spent thinking in public and working in my philosophy practice.

My days are full**, I have found my place. Yesterday, I had lunch with a beautiful woman–an artist and recent divorcee–whom I’ve been working with for a little over a year. Her 4 yr. old son sat on my lap, calling it “cozy.” Earlier this morning, I spoke with a woman based in Berlin; she reminded me of geese. Later this afternoon, I’ll speak, as I often do around this time, with a woman I adore who’s living on the West Coast. I don’t know whether this conversation–whether any–will be the last. When I do things right, I give her the last words.


In the evening, I received a reply. It contained a quizzical accusation.

End Note

** The line is a quote without proper attribution. In a letter I received from another, the original reads: “My days are full of life.” This strikes me, iambs and all, as a radiant example of completeness.

Further Reading

I speak about category mistakes with respect to apologies in “Most Americans are Highly Apologetic.” In the latter, I try to show that many of our mistakes are best regarded as follies or as errors in judgment. I have begun thinking that errors in judgment, of which I have made plenty, long for amends-making. I draw attention to the lived importance of first lines and final words in this piece on love and death.

Public lectures on philosophy as a way of life

Peter Adamson, a professor of ancient philosophy at Kings College London, is in the midst of recording an extensive number of 20-25 minute lectures addressed to the generally educated person on the “history of philosophy without any gaps.” His lectures on Aristotle’s ethics are fine and lucid as are his talks on the Cynics and the Cyrenaics.

To his credit, Adamson emphasizes the fact that Hellenistic philosophers, those philosophers who flourished from the time of Alexander to around the 2nd C. AD, were oriented toward the vision of philosophy as a way of life. His delivery, be it said however, is much like Jerry’s in the early Seinfeld episodes. Eloquent he is not.