Auto-Didacticus Philosophicus

Four years ago I decided to take matters (my life, my thoughts, my world?) in my own hand. Frustrated with unanswered questions, irrational belief and the fear of averages, I found my way to the library at Haifa University, Israel. A library in which half of the books were in languages I could not read. But in which the philosophy bookshelves held some real treasures.

Four years later, I still don’t read Arabic, Russian or Hebrew. But I continue drawing on the books I read in that period. My own crash course in philosophy proved very fruitful. And especially as I read them without any prejudices (mind you, I didn’t even know the difference between analytic and continental philosophy), without any greater scheme in mind… I could form my own thoughts. I could decide who to befriend and who to shun.

In the year that followed this first visit to that library I continued this self-education. In February 2010 this free-floating was brought to a stop, when I started a master in (political) philosophy, when teachers started to fill my time with required reading list. But that first year and the books I choose – why did I pick these specific books? – continue to be the basis of all my present thought.

I started with reading Michel Foucault‘s “The Order of Things”. Still my favourite philosophical musing, perhaps also because it was the first book I ever read to make me realise there are things that are bigger than anything I can ever understand. My notes from that time are priceless to me. My trying to figure out these strange words like ‘episteme’ remind me of this struggle that brought me back to life at a time I was really in one of the worst places I’ve ever been. Needless to say, the notion of ‘episteme’ is so dear to me, that it’s pretty much the topic of my PhD now…

I continued reading all of Nietzsche, and a biography on Nietzsche by Walter Kaufman. Again, I don’t know why. But it appealed to me, as it still does. It has become part of me, this notion of the death of the church, the need to face what one is despite human structures… “One should only speak where one cannot remain silent, and only speak of what one has conquered—the rest is all chatter, “literature,” bad breeding.” (Opening lines of “Human, all too human”)

And I read Kojéve‘s Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Karl Jasper‘s “Origin and Goal of History”. Martin Buber‘s “I and Thou”.

Although I still linger within these texts, there is also much more. I’ve made more friends I could have ever realised, Sartre, Heidegger and Arendt amongst others. Lately Badiou and Benjamin should be added to the list. But I am still young, and it’s never too late to make new friends…

Fortunately, now at the European Graduate School, I’m having the opportunity to float within texts while finding my own voice…  And to meet living thinking friends, from all over the world…

Priorities and costs

Lately I’ve been reconsidering my priorities. There was a time I was mostly focussed on efficiency, trying to not waste time, fulfilling goals in optimal curves. But it started to bother me, realising that whatever I would try to accomplish, no-body would care whether it was done optimally or not. Graduating within the prescribed time-frame doesn’t give me a better job (or any job at all, for that matter).

“I had this vague idea that I would try to get the most pro-capitalist job ever and try to screw the system from the inside. But these places know better than to employ philosophy graduates.” (p.307 in my present ‘fun lit’, the amazing “PopCo” written by Scarlett Thomas)

So, I’ve be re-considering my priorities. With regards to whom to call and treat as friends, with regards how to spend my productive moments.

Priority etymologically refers to that what is prior in time, first. Only later on it became a first-in-rank-business. Perhaps it is the same. I have the inclination to believe that originally, we as human beings, as a race, but also us individually, know very well who we are and what we can and cannot do. Unfortunately this is distorted over time, through media, friends, everything they call education. We stopped listening. The knowing that was prior, disappeared. We all give in to the yoke of mediocracy – by stopping to question all the influences form the outside.

That’s why we should always give priority to what was original and is still originally what and who we are. At least, I feel this duty – as a human being. And I cannot but see other human beings as also having this duty.

All we do is the result of a choice. (If not – then why bother with education, public discourse and the likes?) I choose priorities. Even though it has and will continue to cost me. Friends and relationships. 

But it costs them much, much more.

popco close up
popco close up (Photo credit: naufragoenlasopa)

 

Holi-days in the Summer in an Atheist World

View Mountains of Saas Fee, EGS 2012

It’s that time of the year again, when people ask you – after a remark about the weather – about your plans for the holidays. At first, I found myself a bit perplexed as to how to answer this utterly irrelevant question. But I guess most people do not notice the obvious etymology of the word – holy-day, and being uttered by atheists it does sound a bit weird.

Or, perhaps not. In this day the word ‘holiday’ applied to the period when work ceases might be very appropriate. In this capitalist age, isn’t that what we all work for, this period of time in which we are ‘free’? In which we can worship those values that are still left to value – travel, alcohol, and yes: the weather.

I celebrate holy-days throughout the year. I try to worship my most precious possession, in a capitalist way of speaking, my most precious gift: life. Funny, how I take my life to be a gift, in a way in which the word ‘gift’ still retains some of its German meaning (Gift = poison); life is a very dangerous and deadly adventure.

This summer I will celebrate this gift once more with some very interesting and exciting – and obnoxious and irritating – group of people at the European Graduate School. In my opinion, one of the best ways to spend my summer. Although the intensity of those days will probably make it less of an holiday than one would suppose.

Fortunately, I have the rest of the year to continue to celebrate my holidays.