TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: theirvision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has…

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TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame?  A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion.  Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours.  True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events.  To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely).  But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.

As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship.  It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying.  About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone.  All ideology is narrative.  Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity.  Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world.  All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).

What follows is my review of the past twelve months.  It is necessarily my own perspective.  A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman).  Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith.  Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.).  Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog.  Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry.  There follows a full bibliography and an appendix.  Ma gavte la nata.

Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016

Continue reading “TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW”

WITTGENSTEIN’S LADDER

“It was the greatest library in Christendom,” William said. “Now,” he added, “the Antichrist is truly at hand, because no learning will hinder him any more. For that matter, we have seen his face tonight.”

“Whose face?” I asked, dazed.

“Jorge, I mean. In that face, deformed by hatred of philosophy, I saw for the first time the portrait of the Antichrist, who does not come from the tribe of Judas, as his heralds have it, or from a far country. The Antichrist can be born from piety itself, from excessive love of God or of the truth, as the heretic is born from the saint and the possessed from the seer. Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often be-fore them, at times instead of them. Jorge did a diabolical thing because he loved his truth so lewdly that he dared anything in order to destroy falsehood. Jorge feared the second book of Aristotle because it perhaps really did teach how to distort the face of every truth, so that we would not become slaves of our ghosts. Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.”

“But, master,” I ventured, sorrowfully, “you speak like this now because you are wounded in the depths of your spirit. There is one truth, however, that you discovered tonight, the one you reached by interpreting the clues you read over the past few days. Jorge has won, but you have defeated Jorge because you exposed his plot. …”

“There was no plot,” William said, “and I discovered it by mistake.”

The assertion was self-contradictory, and I couldn’t decide whether William really wanted it to be. “But it was true that the tracks in the snow led to Brunellus,” I said, “it was true that Adelmo committed suicide, it was true that Venantius did not drown in the jar, it was true that the labyrinth was laid out the way you imagined it, it was true that one entered the finis Africae by touching the word ‘quatuor,’ it was true that the mysterious book was by Aristotle. … I could go on listing all the true things you discovered with the help of your learning …”

“I have never doubted the truth of signs, Adso; they are the only things man has with which to orient himself in the world. What I did not understand was the relation among signs. I arrived at Jorge through an apocalyptic pattern that seemed to underlie all the crimes, and yet it was accidental. I arrived at Jorge seeking one criminal for all the crimes and we discovered that each crime was committed by a different person, or by no one. I arrived at Jorge pursuing the plan of a perverse and rational mind, and there was no plan, or, rather, Jorge himself was overcome by his own initial design and there began a sequence of causes, and concauses, and of causes contradicting one another, which proceeded on their own, creating relations that did not stem from any plan. Where is all my wisdom, then? I behaved, stubbornly, pursuing a semblance of order, when I should have known well that there is no order in the universe.” Continue reading “WITTGENSTEIN’S LADDER”

BACON

…how can I discover the universal bond that orders all things if I cannot lift a finger without creating an infinity of new entities? For with such a movement all the relations of position between my finger and all other objects change. The relations are the ways in which my mind perceives the connections between single entities, but what is the guarantee that this is universal and stable?”

“But you know that a certain thickness of glass corresponds to a certain power of vision, and it is because you know this that now you can make lenses like the ones you have lost: otherwise how could you?”

“An acute reply, Adso. In fact, I have worked out this proposition: equal thickness corresponds necessarily to equal power of vision. I have posited it because on other occasions I have had individual insights of the same type. To be sure, anyone who tests the curative property of herbs knows that individual herbs of the same species have equal effects of the same nature on the patient, and therefore the investigator formulates the proposition that every herb of a given type helps the feverish, or that every lens of such a type magnifies the eye’s vision to the same degree. The science Bacon spoke of rests unquestionably on these propositions. You understand, Adso, I must believe that my proposition works, because I learned it by experience; but to believe it I must assume there are universal laws. Yet I cannot speak of them, because the very concept that universal laws and an established order exist would imply that God is their prisoner, whereas God is something absolutely free, so that if He wanted, with a single act of His will He could make the world different.”

“And so, if I understand you correctly, you act, and you know why you act, but you don’t know why you know that you know what you do?”

I must say with pride that William gave me a look of admiration. “Perhaps that’s it. In any case, this tells you why I feel so uncertain of my truth, even if I believe in it.”

“You are more mystical than Ubertino!” I said spitefully.

Umberto Eco, The Name of The Rose.

THE ENEMY


“So you want x to be destroyed, as OB does . . . I assume you know him.”

OB is a fanatic. He’s also an x. Better to keep away from him. I don’t want to destroy the x. I might even say the x are my best allies. I’m interested in the morale of the . . . people. It is my wish (and the wish of those I hope to please) that these people do not direct their discontent against the T. We therefore need an enemy. There’s no point looking for an enemy among, I don’t know, the y or the z, as despots have done in the past. For the enemy to be recognized and feared, he has to be in your home or on your doorstep. Hence the x. Divine providence has given them to us, and so, by God, let us use them, and pray there’s always some x to fear and to hate. We need an enemy to give people hope. Someone said that patriotism is the last refuge of cowards; those without moral principles usually wrap a flag around themselves, and the bastards always talk about the purity of the race. National identity is the last bastion of the dispossessed. But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, on hatred for those who are not the same. Hatred has to be cultivated as a civic passion. The enemy is the friend of the people. You always want someone to hate in order to feel justified in your own misery. Hatred is the true primordial passion. It is love that’s abnormal. That is why Christ was killed: he spoke against nature. You don’t love someone for your whole life — that impossible hope is the source of adultery, matricide, betrayal of friends . . . But you can hate someone for your whole life, provided he’s always there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred warms the heart.”

Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery

SHARKS

“When I spread the story about the sharks around Marseilles, all the resorts from Plage des Catalans as far as Prado were empty for weeks. The mayor said the sharks had definitely come from Corsica, following a ship that had been throwing the rotten remains of smoked meat into the sea. The municipal commission asked for a company of chassepotsto be sent out on a tugboat expedition, and a hundred of them actually arrived at General Espivent’s headquarters! And the story about Lake Geneva? Journalists arrived from every part of Europe! Word got around that the underwater city had been built during the time of Caesar’s D  bello gallico, when the lake was so narrow that the River Rhone could cross it without their waters merging. The local boatmen did good business carrying tourists to the middle of the lake, and used to pour oil on the water so they could see better . . .
A famous Polish archaeologist sent an article back home in which he described having seen a crossroads with an equestrian statue on the bed of the lake!  Man’s principal trait is a readiness to believe anything. Otherwise, how could the Church have survived for almost two thousand years in the absence of universal gullibility?”

(Léo Taxil) Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery

PENDULUM

“You’re innocent, Casaubon. You ran away instead of throwing stones, you got your degree, you didn’t shoot anybody. Yet a few years ago I felt you, too, were blackmailing me. Nothing personal, just generational cycles. And then last year, when I saw the Pendulum, I understood everything.”

“Everything?”

“Almost everything. You see, Casaubon, even the Pendulum is a false prophet. You look at it, you think it’s the only fixed point in the cosmos. but if you detach it from the ceiling of the Conservatoire and hang it in a brothel, it works just the same. And there are other pendulums: there’s one in New York, in the UN building, there’s one in the science museum in San Francisco, and God knows how many others. Wherever you put it, Foucault’s Pendulum swings from a motionless point while the earth rotates beneath it. Every point of the universe is a fixed point: all you have to do is hang the Pendulum from it.”

“God is everywhere.”

“In a sense, yes. That’s why the Pendulum disturbs me. It promises the infinite, but where to put the infinite is left to me. So it isn’t enough to worship the Pendulum; you still have to make a decision, you have to find the best point for it. And yet…”

“And yet?”

“And yet… You’re not taking me seriously by any chance, are you, Casaubon? No, I can rest easy; we’re not the type to take things seriously…. Well, as I was saying, the feeling you have is that you’ve spent a lifetime hanging the Pendulum in many places, and it’s never worked, but there, in the Conservatoire, it works…. Do you think there are special places in the universe? On the ceiling of this room, for example? No, nobody would believe that. You need atmosphere. I don’t know, maybe we’re always looking for the right place, maybe it’s within reach, but we don’t recognize it. Maybe, to recognize it, we have to believe in it. Well, let’s go see Signor Garamond.”

“To hang the Pendulum?”

“Ah, human folly! Now we have to be serious. If you are going to be paid, the boss must see you, touch you, sniff you, and say you’ll do. Come, let the boss touch you; the boss’s touch heals scrofula.”

Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum.