Cynicism in the 90s and today

In Saul Bellow’s novel, Seize the Day, the protagonist Tommy Wilhelm remarked that “cynicism was bread and meat to everyone. And irony too. Maybe it couldn’t be helped.” Irony became entrenched in the fifties, where the American economy flourished under the shadow of a potential nuclear war. Once the Cold War and the economic boom ended, the national self-definition was subverted until irony became the cultural currency. While irony served a valuable purpose in the works of great American writers like Barth, Coover, Burroughs, Nabokov and Pynchon, the commercial culture of the US filtered that into the national aesthetic as postmodern irony, resulting in David Letterman, The Simpsons, and rap, among other things. Continue reading Cynicism in the 90s and today

The Hipster and Cynical Reason

hipster-glasses21

Smoke clove cigarettes? Wear ironic trucker hats? Skinny jeans? Horn-rimmed glasses with bug-eyed lenses? Graduated with a liberal arts major? Carry a shoulder-strap messenger bag? Soi disant exceptionally cultured, with at least one pop vice? Have at least one Republican friend, and describe him/her as your “one Republican friend?” Unwashed hair, but position said head on pillow at night to maximize cowlick? Yes, you’re a hipster. Continue reading The Hipster and Cynical Reason

Leopardi and pessimism

 

Leopardi, wondering if he left the TV on....
Leopardi, wondering if he left the TV on….

 

Giacomo Leopardi is one of the greatest secrets of 19th century poetry. Despite being heralded by luminaries like Schopenhauer1 and Nietzsche, his fame remains scattered in Europe and hardly extends to the American hemisphere. Leopardi’s Zibaldone di pensieri2 was read by every school kid but they barely cracked open his Operette Morali.3 The likely culprit is an irredeemable pessimism that was too difficult for interpreters to connect it to contemporary issues. Leopardi wrote mostly moral essays, parables, fables, and dialogues – painting life as a joke of the gods – a darkly comic view of world and its inhabitants. However, instead of leaving the reader sad and pathetic, they are actually funny.  Continue reading Leopardi and pessimism

Irony and philosophy as remedy for politics

First, go read the blog titled “Philosophy and Remedy” @ thekindlyones.org.  I originally posted the following blog in the comments section.

If this blog relies on a distinction between the public & private role of the intellectual then I think irony can serve as the secret that avoids merging them both and forcing the philosopher to act as a politician every time he speaks.

screen-shot-2014-05-12-at-12-33-26-amThe dream of a single life that fuses the private and the public sphere dates back to Plato’s efforts to answer why one should be just and Christianity’s moral imperative that one can reach self-realization through serving others. All of these relies on the assumption of a common human nature, that both private life and human solidarity are one and same. Continue reading Irony and philosophy as remedy for politics

History according to pessimism

Marvin, the pessimistic android

After hearing about Fukuyama’s End of History thesis, I began to wonder:

Were there truly an “end” of history, a post-history, the possibility of all events coming to an end, who would be a competent historian to observe this end of all cycles?

This does not refer to theoreticians of the “end of history,” but of a different type – a true historian looking back after all histories had ended, a post-historian observing that there are no more events to record, except perhaps the act of recording for the unknown readers of the future. The end of history is the end of the fall into time – when man became historical after being exiled from paradise. Continue reading History according to pessimism

Strategy of thought

History teaches us that the mode of philosophical thought predetermines its results. Philosophy, conceived as either a reflective, a contemplative or a communicative discipline – where philosophizing is the act of reflection, contemplation or communication – contains the impulse towards a system. What often entrenches the mind is dogma, in the form of worthless first principles, the advocacy of degenerating metaphysics, and the required lip-service to distinguished intellectuals. In order to resist this solidification of the mind, drop the abstract play of abstractions and return back to the present moment and rethink the situation, the problem, the concept under question. Moreover, a rigorous and honest self-criticism will help avoid the repetition of ineffective methods. Perhaps new directions, even if they are risky, are called for, since by giving up in comfort and security, one gains new ground by boldness. When the mind makes itself fluid and mobile – call the concept into question – war is declared against slothfulness, the inertia of thought, and static views and isolated idee fixes are condemned. Continue reading Strategy of thought

The irony of the Enlightenment

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby

The irony of the Enlightenment: Immanuel Kant, the late 18th century thinker, was indisputably the greatest philosopher of Enlightenment. But it is also interesting to note that his critical philosophy project resulted in a devastating blow to the foundation of Enlightenment itself- our trust in reason. The faculty of reason is essentially an impulse for the unconditioned condition, and constantly urges our understanding on. Kant made it clear that man will never know the true nature of reality, and is limited to mere appearances. Despite being championed as the great icon of Enlightenment, with his transcendentalism he set the ball rolling down the mountain of truth and shattered the ideals of the gilded age at the bottom, in the gulch of the 20th century.

We are picking among the remnants for whatever remains salvageable. The consequences of such absurd praise of reason or rationalism in Enlightenment resulted in two great wars in the 20th century, which were committed at the source of naturalistic humanism. Reason and rationalism, secular reasoning especially never achieved its vast promise of transforming a superstitious culture into a rational utopia. At least some of us realize that within this massive failure, liberation is never of the human, but always and only in a negatory manner: from the human. Where does that leave us? The ghost of a lost innocence haunts the age in the form of postmodernist reflections.