time capsule #20: unlocked

There are beings to whom—in order that they may become great—anything even faintly resembling happiness and sunshine must be forbidden. Karoline once wrote of Friedrich Schlegel: "Some thrive under oppression, and Friedrich is one of them—if he were to enjoy the fully glory of success even once, it would destroy what is finest in him." [...]

Perhaps Kierkegaard knew this, or perhaps he sensed it. Perhaps his violently creative instinct, released by the pain he felt immediately after the break with Regine, had already claimed in advance this only possible release. Perhaps something inside him knew that happiness—if it was attainable—would have made him lame and sterile for the rest of his life. Perhaps he was afraid that happiness might not be unobtainable, that Regine's lightness might after all have redeemed his melancholy and that both might have been happy. But what would have become of him without his melancholy? Kierkegaard is the sentimental Socrates. "Loving is the only thing I'm an expert in," he said. But Socrates wanted only to recognize, to understand human beings who loved, and therefore the central problem in Kierkegaard's life was no problem for Socrates. "Loving is the only thing I'm and expert in," said Kierkegaard, "just give me an object for my love, only an object. But here I stand like an archer whose bow is stretched to the uttermost limit and who is asked to shoot at a target five paces ahead of him. This I cannot do, says the archer, but put the target two or three hundred paces further away and you will see!" György Lukács, Soul and Form.

The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice. Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach.

I know, in any case, that the most crucial time in my own development came when I was forced to recognize that I was a kind of bastard of the West; when I followed the line of my past I did not find myself in Europe but in Africa. And this meant that in some subtle way, in a really profound way, I brought to Shakespeare, Bach, Rembrandt, to the stones of Paris, to the cathedral at Chartres, and to the Empire State Building, a special attitude. These were not really my creations, they did not contain my history; I might search in them in vain forever for any reflection of myself. [But at the same time, do not forget Walter Benjamin: "There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism."] I was an interloper; this was not my heritage. At the same time I had no other heritage which I could possibly hope to use—I had certainly been unfitted for the jungle or the tribe. I would have to appropriate these white centuries; I would have to make them mine—I would have to accept my special attitude, my special place in this scheme—otherwise I would have no place in any scheme. James Baldwin, Autobiographical Notes.


Where are the philosophers today? I can tell you that you'll have a hard time finding one at a university. Go and take a look for yourself if you don't believe me. You'll meet plenty of scholars of philosophy—that is, archeologists of thought; who've taken it upon themselves to methodically plumb through the depths of intellectual history, making measured, concise connections between one concept or thinker and another. Each idea they excavate is treated with the greatest care; the danger of misinterpretation like that of the air of fragility exuded by a Ming vase; this is certainly a worthy effort. But archeology is not philosophy.
The philosopher is a tyrant; the philosopher is the Mongols marching toward Baghdad, is a field of bombs over the Dresden Cathedral, is Red Guards approaching the grave of Confucius. Under the philosopher's imperious gaze, the old narratives are violently relativized, their essential particularities revealed. What is inessential in history melts away, clearing the way for a tyrannical reinterpretation: spurious connections made necessary, irruptions of latent concepts, old ideas forgotten. By force of will, one revolutionizes the old—only to clear new ground for the archeologists. 11/26/2022

At the end of the epic which bears his name, Odysseus is still not home. Yes, he has arrived in his beloved Ithaka, and yes, he has set his house in order; slaying the suitors with one arm and embracing Penelope in the other. Yet all the while, Odysseus must duitifully remind himself that he

must take an oar and trudge the mainland, going from town to town, until I discover men who have never known the salt blue sea, nor flavor of salt meat—strangers to painted prows, to watercraft and oars like wings, dipping across the water. The moment of revelation he foretold was this, for you may share the prophecy: some traveller falling in with me will say: "A winnowing fan, that on your shoulder, sir?" There I must plant my oar, on the very spot, with burnt offerings to Poseidon of the Waters: a ram, a bull, a great buck boar. Thereafter when I come home again, I am to slay full hekatombs to the gods who own broad heaven, one by one. Then death will drift upon me from seaward, mild as air, mild as your hand, in my well-tended weariness of age, contented folk around me on our island. He said all this must come.

Is this not the great drama of Western thought? That the development of its singular, great contribution to world literature—human freedom as the ultimate value—came at the price of that same value becoming totally homeless in Western history; that the writings of Aristotle, Rousseau, and Marx were ransomed on the backs of the exploited and colonized. And so we must say: Western thought is homeless, so long as one considers only the West as a home. To fulfill the prophecy, Odysseus must once again travel the world, and to propritiate the gods, he must go so far as to become misrecognized. So we can say: Western thought is homeless until it finds itself in the embrace of the foreigner, the oppressed, the exploited; only then will its great, Messianic promise be fulfilled. 12/25/2022 P.S. I've been reading a lot of Benjamin, can you tell?