Taedium Vitae

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“. . . he had long since given up on Schopenhauer. He accused him of betraying his own great creation, a philosophy that in its negativity far outstripped Christianity, by lapsing in his later years into pseudo-mysticism and a stuffy, academic doctrine of individual salvation. At the moment, he was in search of a substitute for this German apostate, and had reason to believe he had found one in a dyed-in-the-wool Spanish mystic. He had resolved literally to delve into this new friend, sound out his meaning, and with every deciphered line to cover up the lie he was himself living, to wit: that he lacked the courage to do damage to his pitiful carcass by his own hand, and was thus under sentence of looking forward to a normal demise somewhere on a bed of straw.”

From The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen, (translated by Donald O. White)

Tragelaph?

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As far as I am concerned the sun can stay below sea level to all eternity, so long as I can scrape up enough money to stoke my coal stove and put some oil in my lamp. p.12

Inordinately shy and a stay-at-home possessed of Sitzfleisch in quantities enviable even among brothers, enabling me to become the long-distance translator that I am to this very day, I have made virtue out of necessity: whenever I am forced to enter the company of other people, something positive usually happens to me. Never enough, mind you, to suppress my congenital aversion to contact with the external world, but just enough to catch me up, as in a safety net, in my tumble from solitude.p.13

Within this breast of mine, as if by a miracle of Santa Maria del Pilar, my own and my tragelaph* Vigoleis’ heart keeps on pumping constantly and undauntedly . . . p.9

From The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen, (translated by Donald O. White)

*Tragelaph stumped me. While I enjoyed the Virgin Mary reference, to the only recorded instance of Mary mystically bilocating while still alive, tragelaph, I suppose draws on a figurative usage as something composed of incongruous elements, rather than a mythical creature which is part goat and part deer.

Battles Against Windmills

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“To clarify thought, to discredit the intrinsically meaningless words, and to define the use of others by precise analysis – to do this, strange though it may appear, might be a way of saving human lives.

Our age seems almost entirely unfitted for such a task. The glossy surface of our civilisation hides a real intellectual decadence. There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that   . . . or: There is capitalism in so far as . . . The use of expressions like ‘to the extent that’ is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.”

From The Power of Words, by Simone Weil, translated by Richard Rees.

The Wrong Turn

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‘When Plato manufactured the connection between the beginning of philosophy and its fulfilment, by projecting the Thales anecdote onto his Socrates, he neglected the discrepancy, which was supposed to have been so important to Socrates: the retreat from natural philosophy and his new definition of the theoretical task centred on humanity and its morality. Nietzsche has followed this line of Plato’s: his Thales of Miletus is the first opponent of myth in favour of the self-assertion of the Ionian cities, and his Socrates is the perfector of destroying myth, particularly in the form of tragedy. Thales, like Socrates, supposedly stood against myth, except that Socrates no longer understood what it was about when he did it—and even if he had understood, it would have been too late. Thus the death of Socrates no longer functions within the archaic reservoir of images as epigonal delay on completing a decision, which had been pronounced by Thales under the compulsion of naked self-assertion. The decision was philosophy; the historical consequence, science. Socrates pulled philosophy down to the bourgeois sphere, privatised its public spirit and prepared it to become an assisting organ in the long run for the realisation of Christianity.’

Hans Blumenberg, The Laughter of the Thracian Woman (Trans. Spencer Hawkins)

Is there anything quite like this book, in which Blumenberg details how a single anecdote can be distorted and reoccupied through the ages, narrating the prevailing sentiment toward speculative thinking?

End of Truth

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‘True philosophy, the wisdom of the ancients (sapienta veterum), was already lost by the time Thales turned away from the world too full of gods, instead of depleting and then renewing the wisdom hidden in mythical names and events. The original suspicion of all Romantics—the end of truth entered with the beginning of history—runs throughout modernity since modernity claims to know how to go about beginning anew.’

Hans Blumenberg, The Laughter of the Thracian Woman. (Trans. Spencer Hawkins)