Myth and Metaphysics

Being human is being a maker.  We make ourselves, and in so doing we make our world; and we make our world, and in so doing we make ourselves.  There is a reciprocity between self and world, an interdependency rooted in the nature of the human being as a maker.  You cannot understand self without world, and you cannot understand world without self.  The key is always self-knowledge.

But by human being, I do not mean the individual per se; I do not mean the human being qua individual, but the human being as intertwined with humanity: both the ones who are dead, and the ones who are living.  We make ourselves, not “I make myself”; and in that distinction we can see what is distinctive about speculative philosophy, and how it is opposed to its alternative, the philosophy of reflection.

Reflection sets one off from the world; reflection isolates; reflection is rooted in the activity of the isolated subject in a world of objects.  Reflect comes from reflectare: a beam of light shot out bends back, reflects, from the surface.  Reflective philosophy sends out its thought-beams from the isolated subject, like a radar beam out into the darkness; it bounces off the outsides, and never reaches into the insides: it just bounces off, and returns its echo to the solitary thinker, who is a subject in a world of objects— a world of  surfaces with no depth.  And what’s oddest of all is that the subject itself becomes an object to itself: the beams flash inward, too, only to bounce off as well.  The self becomes another object to reflect on, in a kind of schizoid delusion that is taken to be the paradigm of normality. And that sums up for us the main division in modern philosophy.  Analytic, or Anglo-American philosophy shoots its beams outward, while Continental, or post-modern philosophy, shoots its beams of reflection inward: but the result is the same: a solitary subject in a world of objects: a spectator-consciousness.

Speculation comes from the Latin speculari, to reconnoiter, to spy out; so a speculator was a spy, one who spied out things, explored, reconnoitered, and moved around in the world to find things out; in speculation you go out into the world, out exploring the interconnections; speculation is also related to the Latin speculum, or mirror; but this is the mirror not of individual reflection, self-reflection, but of self-knowledge.  The self you know, then, is not that of an isolated subject in  a world of objects, but of the self formed in reciprocity and interdependence with all the other humans, living and dead, whose makings form the world and self.  And this means we need memory, imagination, and ingenuity, as we meditate the great commonalities of humanity, and narrate them to ourself and others with eloquence and prudence.  Some key topics: memory, imagination, ingenuity, eloquence, and prudence.

By memory I do not mean the psychological power of recall–recalling to mind the traces of past sense experience.  That is just a view of the human mind as a reflector: we recall the reflections of sense experience, etc. By memory I mean the power we have to re-make meaning: to remake past meaning, say, as present in our lives; through memory we re-collect, re-make the things that other humans have made in making themselves and their world, and in this way can learn what it means to be human now, through a return to the roots of our common humanity.  These roots are points of origin that structure the interdependent growth of humanity, and make us who we are.  Speculative philosophy returns to these origin points, spies them out, enters into them, and remakes them through the imaginative powers of the human mind.  And when you remake them, imagine them, in this way, you join yourself to these origins, you remake yourself as well.  And since the true is the made–you can only really know what you can make–you can have self-knowledge.  Memory in this  sense, then,  is an aspect of imagination, which is not the psychological  power to manipulate reflected and recalled images, but the very heart of the power to make: the maker’s imagination, which creates our world and ourself reciprocally. And this must be done with ingenuity, with the ingenious weaving together of past into present in a story of the whole.

To be eloquent is to talk about the whole of things, and not to get hung up reflecting on the parts.  And what you spy out is that there are no parts, really, but a play of opposites out of which a sense of the whole emerges.  Eloquence then avoids theory, which is a kind of bad story, a kind of unreal story that refuses to face the universe head on, but retreats into abstraction.

A prime aspect of what we can call  categorical thinking is that it longs for a single unreal story to tell about the world–a single, unambiguous story that is above all, consistent.  It is the consistency that makes the story unreal.  It is also the refusal of the story to acknowledge it is a story–the refusal to root itself in image and narration.

But in speculative philosophy, the universe is viewed as full of opposites that refuse to be made categorically consistent; in such a view,  the world cannot be made consistent: the world seems incredibly beautiful and incredibly ugly; made up all of wonder and all of terror; people seem all good and all bad–the world is both yes and no at the same time.  And a good story acknowledges this, says yes and no, seeks not consistency but balance in the play of light and shadow.  In reaching down, you have to reach up; in reaching up, you have to reach down.  No theory can cover this.

Categorical thinking fears this, though, and has a classic move to hide from the oppositional nature of reality: pick one side of the opposition, make it primary, and obliterate from consciousness the awareness of the opposite through a theory that explains away all the differences.  You might be a misanthrope: there is no love in the world–the world is loveless, then, and your theory explains away any apparent loving action (friend on parent and child); or, you might be one of these sentimentalists: any loveless action is really misguided love.  In both cases a theory gives us a bad story, a theory cursed by consistency.

But in speculative philosophy you do not seek a categorical synthesis, in which the difference of the opposites is made to disappear into the privileged category; instead you follow the play of the opposites and seek the point of view of balance.  Eloquence is the voice of this balance.  Prudence is the living out of the consequences of eloquence: it is to have the balance of wisdom, which is a kind of harmony with how things are, insofar as a human being can achieve such a thing. You imagine the whole, and you speak it out, and in doing so you make a life.  You achieve self-knowledge. We remember who we are. We do philosophy and myth. We must learn to do both myth and metaphysics.


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