Archive for ‘Philosophy’

December 27, 2013

Bioshock: Infinite – an Attempt at a Philosophical Interpretation; or, a Grad Student Playing a Video Game

Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis est visio Dei.

St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses

My mind has yet to comprehend the extent of the narrative that Bioshock: Infinite has presented. It remains for me one of the most engaging and thought-provoking narratives in the game world (I have not yet played the Mass Effect franchise so I cannot determine with finality that Bioshock presents the most thought-provoking narrative). I say “one of the most” because in my opinion, Snake Eater and Knights of the Old Republic remain the best narrative-driven games I have ever played. Infinite, however, fares well, and I have immensely enjoyed the game itself. The ending was quite unexpected, to say the least, and I have been wracking my head, trying to understand the more-than-fifteen-minutes of nonstop revelations in the final sequence of the game.

(Since this is about the final scene of Infinite, and since this is an interpretation of the whole game based on the ending, it is obvious enough that this post contains spoilers. Play it first and enjoy!)

(I have seen as per the comments in sites offering interpretations on how the DLC “changes the whole equation.” As a disclaimer, I have not yet played the DLCs so this interpretation is strictly within the bounds of the original narrative.)

To have some sort of “skeletal structure” in this post, allow me to outline what I want to accomplish here. The first part will present my own interpretation of the ending, drawing some of the insights from other people in the internet. The second part will try to synthesize the aforementioned interpretation philosophically, i.e., using specific philosophical lenses in order to flesh out some highly interesting themes that run throughout the game and not just the ending.

I will begin with the final scene before the screen goes black (pre-credits, as the post-credits scene shows Booker in his apartment on the 8th of October 1893 [which will be significant later on]). Those that have played the game and who have tried to understand the ending know the story: that Booker Dewitt was actually Zach Comstock in an alternate universe where he chose to be baptized after the massacre at Wounded Knee. Lutece (I will refer to “them” as Lutece only because they’re not actually twins; Robert Lutece is an alternate-universe version of Rosalind in her frequent time-jumping), feeling remorse for the events that led to the creation of Columbia and the murder of Lady Comstock (and of course her/themselves) and the ensuing chaos with the Vox Populi, decides to craft a sort of master plan that will eventually “end” the timeline where Comstock rose to power by killing him “in his birth.” The period between Lutece’s decision to “kill off” Comstock right up to the very end of the game constitutes the whole “linear” narrative of the game. The final scene shows Elizabeth (who is revealed to be Anne Dewitt, Booker’s daughter whom he sold off to “pay off his debts”) smothering Booker/Comstock upon finally realizing that “he was both,” thus effectively ending the timeline where Comstock rose to power.

But did it really stop there?

Notice, that at the absolute final scene, the Elizabeths – time-space permutations of herself – started to disappear upon Booker’s death. This suggests that the timelines have been closed off because Comstock ceased to exist at the moment where he was “created” or reborn. But notice how the screen cuts to black before the final Elizabeth disappears. Now this for me is the real cliffhanger of the game – we are left to wonder if the timelines where Elizabeth is actually Elizabeth (that is to say, how we know her in Columbia) are closed off forever.

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Now this is where things get interesting. Before Booker gets smothered, the Elizabeths tell him: “You chose to walk away, but in other oceans you didn’t. You took the baptism and you were born again as a different man.” This is very telling: there was only one timeline where Booker chose to walk away. All the other timelines had him take on his “new life” as Comstock. Why is this interesting? – Well, it might be conjectural, but one is left to wonder if the final Elizabeth who does not disappear indeed stays there because that will be the only permutation of Elizabeth that Booker will meet and see through to the very end. Notice the dress (the “first” Elizabeth that Booker meets in the tower) – she disappears, except for the Elizabeth who wears Lady Comstock’s dress. This tells us one thing: that Elizabeth couldn’t have gone to that point without Booker choosing to reject the baptism. Notice, also, that Elizabeth changes her dress after she kills Daisy Fitzroy. Before she kills Fitzroy, remember that Elizabeth opens a Tear in order to “revive” Chen Lin. And they never go back to the original narrative (hence Elizabeth’s warning “are you sure?”). What does this have to do with the ending? – That the Elizabeth that wears lady Comstock’s dress couldn’t have lived to the very end without her opening the tear during Chen Lin’s revival, which naturally needed the intervention of the Booker that chose to reject the baptism.

This is where I think things get metaphysically “wonkers.” What do these events tell us? – that no one could have stopped Comstock, because the final scene tells us that things are in perpetual cycle – Elizabeth stays, because Booker in an alternate universe chose to reject baptism, which led him to Columbia to rescue Elizabeth, which led to that point where Comstock is “killed.” But that doesn’t really “kill” Comstock – remember Elizabeth’s matter-of-fact statement in the lighthouse, that killing someone doesn’t really “kill the timeline” but rather is just one of the infinite number of narratives possible. Yes, Elizabeth might have pointed she sees through all the Tears, which might imply that she knows that killing Comstock will end the whole cycle. But we are forgetting one thing: Rosalind/Robert Lutece.

Lest we forget, they were the brains behind the whole elaborate scheme. It is highly implausible that they couldn’t have seen the extent of Elizabeth’s powers. They would have anticipated it. I think this is not mere conjecture. In fact, we get a “clue” in the very first scene of the game, where Rosalind tells Robert that she “doesn’t believe in the entire thought experiment.” Throughout the game we see Rosalind losing out to bets with Robert, suggesting a linear kind of narrative and a success to the experiment (the scheme with Booker kills himself in the final scene). But in the end Rosalind was correct: she would have disturbed the time-space fabric enough to have made the whole scenario unstoppable, including the extent of Elizabeth’s powers. She anticipated Elizabeth realizing her powers, and for Rosalind, this wouldn’t have stopped anything (in the end Robert was just a distraction to the narrative, which makes it all the more mysterious, in my opinion), even her and Booker’s attempt to kill off Comstock before everything unfolded.

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This brings us (finally – my mind was beginning to ache) to the second part of this post. The unstoppability of the whole system – the warping of time-space – reflects what Columbia represented: a hypercapitalistic society. A friend pointed out that the fact that Columbia was “high above the clouds” represented capitalist society’s attempt to break free from the material conditions that determined the social class. Even the “highest abstractions” – represented by the clouds – aren’t enough to remove oneself from the material conditions of existence. It masks them, like the clouds that obscure vision. Marx himself talks about the shortening of turnover time (the time it takes for capital to become gains, in perpetua) as the driving force of the capitalist mode of production. This is represented by Lutece’s “tinkering” with the time-space fabric – the very attempt to become efficient produces its own contradiction: it becomes more and more uncontrollable. This, we learn, becomes the driving force of American exceptionalism – the post-credits scene has the date 8th of October 1893: in that same year, the world trade fair in Chicago was held. It was curiously named “the world’s Columbian Exposition.” The fair has had a profound impact in the globalization of the market – the flashpoint in Marx’s description of Capitalism, also mentioned in the Communist Manifesto:

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

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This brings us to the other interesting point in Infinite: the religious angle. A lot of people, understandably, have been offended by the caricature of religious fundamentalism in the game. I think that the portrayal of religion in the game revealed a deeper, more disturbing consequence of the unstoppable machine of capitalism: even “religious purity” is subsumed under the system. We need only to be reminded by Marx, again in the Manifesto, of the ruling class’ “simplification of class antagonisms.” We see this in Columbia itself, where Comstock disenfranchises the poor and the non-white, portraying them as “other.” But in the end, even Fitzroy is eaten by the system by playing into the class antagonism by the ruling class. And isn’t this the “hallmark” of fundamentalism? – the simplification of class antagonism. Liberalism has reacted to it by negating any antagonism (and I think a connection can be made with Rapture in the earlier Bioshock games), but does nothing to address it. “Religion” in this sense also functions as a literary device to represent this simplification of antagonisms. Worse, religion becomes the “opium” (read: vigors) by which this antagonism is enforced through the language of the pious.

It is furthermore interesting that the date in the post-credits scene – October 8 – also tells us that the events where Booker might have finally broken free from the grip of the system comes after the conclusion of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (which was also part of the Columbian Trade Fair) on the 30th of September. Scholars have pegged this event as the “birth” of interreligious dialogue, but also the beginning of the globalization of religion, i.e., the subsumption into the cultural logic of capitalism – how “Eastern” religion becomes a construction of the West, and in turn the “East” re-constructing itself vis-a-vis the Western construct. It is of no surprise that the Boxer Rebellion figures in the game: this also represents the fetishization of the East.

What can we learn from this whole exercise? – that human agency – represented by Lutece – can only go so far to attempt to stop the machination of capitalism. This doesn’t mean that nothing can be done; notice in the game that everything is structured according to human agency – time-space is multiplied infinitely according to human choices. Perhaps Infinite tells us that the answer lies not in the centrality of human agency. This jives in well with Marx’s conviction that human essence must not be conceived in terms of abstract sensuousness, but with social relations, as we see in the Theses on Feuerbach. If we look at The German Ideology, we in fact see a focus on the production of the conditions that will allow for revolution to take place. What does this tell us? – that human persons are still agents of change, and indeed they can change society – “to change the world” as with the Eleventh Thesis – but only after abandoning the idea that human flourishing in itself is the finality of action. We then understand Elizabeth’s and Booker’s exchange nearing the end (which is referenced in the beginning before the first scene begins) in a more profound manner: E: “are you afraid of God?” B: “I’m afraid of you.” That is to say, one should be afraid of putting human agency at the center of everything, because it leads to nothing but ruin.

What is it, then? – Here we begin the discourse on the relation between man/woman and nature, pointed out by Marx in the Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts. Even Irenaeus foresaw this: the glory of God is the living man, and the life of man is the vision of God. It is through vision that man becomes “aright,” but God precedes the vision. It is not merely about man that man becomes him/herself – it is for something other than him/her. It is in this that God is “fully alive” – when man is finally reconciled with him/herself in, with, and for others. Forgiveness (the high point of religious ecstasy in Infinite), then, is not about “having life anew,” but it is about possibilizing the irruptions of the divine, which man and his or her agency can never control.

It is with this thought that we finally end this long and arduous exercise.

September 21, 2013

Telling the Story of Philosophy: Reflections on Teaching and Research

A conversation with a friend over beer (but of course, philosophy cannot but be done in the midst of booze!) made me think of my experiences in teaching philosophy, much more with doing research on it. It also made me think of the reasons why I am still convinced that telling the story of philosophy is an essential activity (or, that “doing philosophy” is to tell its story, and “telling” can have a manifold of meanings here), and that this activity cannot but lead one to tell this story to others. So we can say, even provisionally, that part of doing philosophy is telling its story to others, and enjoining others to tell this story.

But first of all, why the story of philosophy? I am not one to essentialize but I think that one of the more fundamental human characteristics is the ability to tell stories. I was always amazed with how stories opened up vistas of lifeworlds. Trying to remember my childhood, I was never exposed to stories about knights, or about talking animals. My parents, however, would always buy me books about astronomy and the natural world, those of the D&K type. Deprived of the fantasy world, I dived in these books and was utterly amazed (I could still vividly remember the feeling of being awed at the sight of a nebula in the picture book) by the vastness of the universe. I was struggling to understand how, on the one hand, these stars hung above our foreheads, keeping everything safe and watching over all, and on the other hand, how these “gatekeepers” or “angels” as my grandfather used to call them, stand across some infinite distance, as if they themselves imposed that space between me and the stars. Of course I was not this eloquent before, and certainly I did not muse about the mystery of existence when I was a child, but I remember feeling a sense of “being enveloped” or the simple feeling of falling into silence every time I stared at the stars. They were there, and I was here, and it seemed that they were telling something important and fundamental to me.

And so I elected to want to become an astronaut, or to be one of those people in the picture books, who spent their whole day sitting by their telescopes, looking at the stars. But life (and conscious living) eventually caught up, and here I am trying to build a career in the academe, starting with philosophy.

What is it about the stars that made me think about the story of philosophy? Going back to what I said above, I was utterly amazed at how people had this craft of telling stories, and part of that is, of course, telling the story of why we are here. That was precisely the reason why every time I looked above, I could see the story of the stars, how these distances keep us alive in the first place, and how we might be able to understand this space between myself and whatever is outside myself. This was precisely the “story” that I encountered in philosophy: a story of how far humanity has come, and at the same time, a story of how far man has fallen. To speak the story of philosophy is to speak of a distance: of leaving, and of living; of starting a journey, to getting lost in medias res. For it is true, to tell a story is always done on the pretext that there is this distance between me and the listener, where somebody receives the story, i.e., listens to it. As one of my teachers put it (in epistemology class): it is a story of how we know, and how much we have yet to know.

And so I bring along this mindset whenever I teach or do research. I think conceptual learning can only go so far; one pedagogical technique that has been proven to be effective time and time again is none other than the telling of a story. People seem to remember better when people listen to stories (and I am not one to generalize; this is but an observation). As Paul Ricoeur puts it, our memories can be said to have some sort of a narrative structure, an “elusive unity” as a Thomist puts it (though he refers to another thing) – that which forms us, and that which is continually formed by an other. No wonder Ricoeur spoke of “oneself as another!” The greatest value of telling a story is that you are implicated in that telling; every narration is always an ethical decision, an event of appropriation, if you will (and here you get traces of Heidegger’s poetic thinking).

Whenever I teach, I always start with a story, present the lesson as a story, and if time and opportunity will have it, narrate my own stories and enjoin others to tell their story. As I have said, teaching philosophy is telling a story of how far humanity has come, and how far we have also fallen. Teaching in the mode of narrating “our contemporary situation,” or showing that “not everything is crystal clear,” or, as Wittgenstein puts it “how our thinking is surrounded with a haze” not only implicates me, the story-teller, in this big, heterogenous gamut of narratives we conveniently call history, but it also implicates the students. To be sure, I am certainly against the idea that to teach philosophy is to merely “see it in my own life,” or worse, “finally know how I feel or who I am,” or what have you. To teach philosophy is to implicate myself with the Other, for it is the Other that has spoken first.

And what does this implication mean? Of course it is not always a happy ending; one has to confront, for example, the Holocaust, or closer to home, the Martial Law. One has to confront that our modes of appropriating knowledge are not as “neutral” as some of us would like to think. In this sense, to teach philosophy is always being-late: I teach only in retrospect. But it also means that this implication opens one up to the working-through of myself. So as much as my students learn from me (or so I think!), the more I learn from them. To tell the story of philosophy, is in the final analysis, to be told the story myself – to be reminded of it, like that small note inscribed on the walls of Auschwitz: “never forget!” So telling a story is essentially a movement “to the Other,” because you have already been oriented toward it, by the Other. That is why I think, for instance, that one cannot do philosophy or theology without taking the Holocaust into account.

So the same goes for research. Every moment of inscription of writing is always an ethical move; one implicates the storehouses of knowledge, of possibilities still unthought of, and of course, the possibility of being-wrong. And one never writes for oneself, it is always, again, to the Other. And one will never stop writing, just as the Other never stops irrupting.

Of course you would say that we are falling into deep disquietudes, and worse, into platitudes that eventually amount to nothing. For what can words “do” in the midst of extreme suffering (in Zamboanga, for example), but assume the simple and silent act of narrating? I think this is the core of teaching: when your words do amount to something, when it pushes other people to act, and in the final analysis, pushes you to act. Teaching and research are never neutral things. A stake to the good (one can debate on it later) is what happens in teaching and research. The least one can do is to enjoin others to also speak of this story. This demonstrates, I think, the most important instance in a student’s learning, for it is in telling stories that one can even begin to think of the possibilities of action.

Even now, when I look up the sky, and see a world getting farther and farther away from those that hold us together, I still see faint stars. The overpopulation of lights and man-made stars have made it difficult to cultivate and share this wonder to other people. But there the stars remain. At the end of the day, one has to commit oneself to a memory of them. The word “remember” really brings it home, so to speak: to commit oneself to memory is to re-member, i.e., rejoin and retie and repair what has been broken, or at the very least, what has been found wanting. There is no end in sight, like the stars that populated my childhood.

As Rimbaud eloquently puts it, “[True] life is elsewhere. we are not in the world.” So long as we are in this incessant movement of leaving and of living, teaching never ends. Or should we say, our stories never end. And so that distance between I and the Other is infinitely preserved. The stars, no matter how few or how dim, still fill me with awe.

Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.

Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.

My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.

My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.

I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,

since I myself stand in my own way.

Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,

then labor heavily so that they may seem light.

 

– Wisława Szymborska, excerpt from Under One Small Star

 

December 29, 2012

My Journey with Philosophy: Thoughts

Suffice to say, much has changed since I’ve started graduate studies. Some of my previous posts here muse on the ideas that I would have wanted to pursue in the long run, but acknowledged that things can very well change.

Not the subject matter, of course; for philosophy and religion still lie at the heart of anything that I am committed to doing or writing in the future. Exposing oneself to the literature of the field really changes one’s perspective: for instance, some of what I’ve already read led me to deconstruction, while others have led me to more “analytic” (though I disdain the distinction, as if continental philosophy is not analytical in itself) means. Still others have also led me outside the contours of what is generally considered “conventional” philosophy, well into sociology and anthropology, specifically cultural studies, memory studies and systems theory.

Well and good, I think, so much so that I consider these excursions to be very beneficial to how I can articulate what interests me at this time. Some observations:

(1) It seems that, over and against critics pouncing on the perceived “uselessness” and the “aloofness” of it, philosophy still holds a very prominent (I daresay essential) place in any kind of thinking, whether it be “pure” philosophy or even in the social sciences. I guess tracing the contours of the philosophical core of any kind of thinking about society and social relations has to take into account the frame that philosophical discourse provides, or, to put it plainly, why we say what we say. The mere rejection of philosophy and philosophical discourse is tantamount to the very exclusivism that enlightenment-era science perpetuates. Philosophical discourse provides the frame of reference for any data, for example, that is laid out against the problematic, and how that data fits in the background theory of any problem. Philosophical discourse, simply put, is an ordering of data in a coherent manner, over against the backdrop of a larger context. I think the cardinal problem with philosophy starts when we have a preconception of philosophy (that it is “high up in the clouds,” or that it does not concern itself with the empirical), and then proceed to cast that conception of philosophy as a blanket concept, handy for criticism.

(2) Which leads me to my second point: that of the horrendous misuse of language and the forgetfulness of the context in which words are uttered. I cannot reiterate Wittgenstein’s point here more forcefully: that (philosophical) problems arise when language “goes on holiday.” This concern, I can even say obsession, with context has led me to love linguistics and language studies, which I think figures in quite well with what I want to do in the future. For I think that problems, personal and social, stem from the grave misrepresentation of language, how we use language, and ultimately, how we receive whatever is uttered to us. To be sure, contexts and background ontologies are hardly evident in ordinary discourse; what I man to say here is that in the configuration of the public space where interlocutors are able to present their stands in a way that implies communicability, people tend to forget the irreducibility of concepts and instead use words as “blanket concepts.” What I am concerned with is not the normativity of public discourse, but the awareness of the radical incommensurability of discourses that allow for the multiplicity of rationalities to come to the fore. Can discourse – especially in the realm of policy-making – allow for a space where incommensurability is safeguarded? I understand that I am broaching upon liberal multiculturalism here; I intend to avoid that pitfall by stating that what I am concerned with is the semantic construction of rationalities that are made evident in the public sphere, and how “language going on holiday” negates this semantic construction by immediately proposing a normative discourse, such as multiculturalism. This, more properly, is my “philosophical frame:” a frame that looks into the semantic construction of culture and society in order to take into account the radical alterity of our interlocutors. Thus, translation and cultural criticism arise as categories of study, how cultures and societies are constructed and reconstructed according to how they use language – that is, an endless hermeneutic.

(3) This complicates my issue even further: what about religion? To be sure, religion operates with its own “language-game,” (and I am guilty of using this as a blanket concept) with the inclusion of the category of transcendence within the frame of discourse. Accentuated by more recent debates regarding the place of religion in the public sphere, I think religion deserves its sui generis category of study. Firstly, because religion as an area of study is becoming more and more of the “in thing” with the academia; secondly, (which is why the first reason is what it is) the power that religion exerts in the public sphere – and consequently, how we use and misuse language – is phenomenal, and in itself deserves our attention and study; thirdly, and this is a simple fact, I am a believer, and that my being part of the faith community compels me to affirm that communal solidarity by committing to its precepts. Through the years it has proven itself time and time again: religion forms the human person, whether for better or for worse. I am interested in how religion exerts its power on the semantic construction of culture and society, how the extensive symbolic constellation that religion employs allows for the flourishing of a culture, or its opposite. I understand that I might be committing to a functionalist treatment of religion; but at this level, there is no choice but to commit to it. Such is the consequence, I think, of an academic environment that is largely influenced by the enlightenment ideal of “no emotions allowed.”

(4) Which leads me to my final point: that of my own faith conviction. It is sad indeed that the academic world disdains the realm of feeling and faith, as I they can both be lumped together, depriving them of any objectivity and validity. I wholeheartedly disagree with the putative treatment of the academia towards feelings: I think it is the driving force behind any academic undertaking, let alone a study on religion, as if faith conviction can be separated from religious practice. I guess this is but another consequence of our misuse of language and how we lump concepts together to form what we think is a coherent network of ontologies. Which leads me back to my first point: this is where philosophy comes in, for it allows for such preconceptions to be included within the nexus of interpretation, namely, phenomenology. And I cannot deny my own indebtedness to the education that I have received from Ateneo, which is largely (though I have reservations of calling it as such for fear of committing something I am against) phenomenological, and for it I am more than grateful: “driving home the context,” as it were. That being said, I guess what I am trying to put forward is that I am operating within my own faith conviction, with all its joys and struggles, and that I am bringing all of these in what I love doing, namely research, not only for myself but for others. Whether I have succeeded in staying true to that commitment or not, I am sure I have, on countless occasions, failed. But that that is why, I think, I still believe, for in faith lies redemption.

Simply put, philosophy allows me to study religion in a way that does justice to the totality of the religious experience (that is, including my own faith commitment), and this commitment leads me outside the realm of “academic” or “formal” philosophy, well into its more sociological, i.e., linguistic implications. And how is this possible? – Only through the primacy of experience. Which is why I think philosophy cannot but branch out into the empirical side of experience, namely, more qualitative and quantitative methods. Wittgenstein, Quine, some Japanese thinkers, Ricoeur, Marion, and Levinas (and to a certain extent Derrida) all figure in my attempt to struggle with the reality of religious experience. These form a “core” that I hope could employ research methods that are measurable. This, in turn, would hopefully lead to a more nuanced understanding of our place in this world, and how we might live with and for others in just institutions, to quote Ricoeur. In this sense, philosophy now is actually the most grounded of all disciplines, because it looks at experience in the context of the totality, which it admits can never be known fully.

Some concluding notes:

(1) I have come to appreciate the empirical side of things, as it were, as necessary data in interpreting our experience of the world. We cannot avoid it. I think that the perceived disdain of so-called “theoreticians” of the importance of empirical data only shows their lack of critical thinking, and thus, an assent to the very distinction of the enlightenment (which in itself is also wrong; a caricature of the enlightenment at its best): that philosophy does not concern itself with the world, but with ideas, and that sciences are the “way to go.” Denying the importance of the empirical is just another rebellious tendency, I think, like that of a self-entitled, unappreciated teenager. If one is committed to understanding the world, one has to be open to the different ways of understanding it. Any exclusivism forgets the dynamism of human experience. I guess I have Ricoeur to thank for this attitude.

(2) Graduate studies is an exciting time; for you get to explore the multi-faceted dimension of human experience, and how people have tried understanding it, but always falling short of the ideal, as it were. Those who think that graduate studies is about proving that their theory is rock solid and perfect are missing the point. The learning process is like learning a language: you won’t know whether you are using words right until you are told they are wrong in their appropriate context. It is, in the final analysis, all about one’s wrongness in things. And, following Wittgenstein (this time the early Wittgenstein), “only then can one see the world aright.”

———-

And I’m just in the first year of my graduate studies. Oh, what exciting times. I am more than elated in thinking about the possibility of opening up to more disciplines and approaches. There is no earthly joy compared to learning new things. Only one joy surpasses everything: following Heidegger (surprisingly), that of the joy of being loved.

And this whole philosophical journey, as I am more than willing to commit to in all its unpredictability and possibility, is a product of that love, a love that never ends. And there can be no other appropriate response to that joy but praise and thanks.

May 13, 2012

Differing Worlds

It has been quite a while since I wrote for this blog. Work and deadlines have caught up, and I, insofar as the moral law dictates me, have been dutifully bound to these self-imposed attempts at orderliness.

In more ways than one, I have been witness to a sufficient amount of experiences, adequate enough in number to be shared. And now, I finally have the opportunity to sit this down and write them down.

The past weeks have been a hectic to-and-fro between the computer screen and field work. As I have said in earlier blogs entries, the work – an IPC (Institute of Philippine Culture) – headed project, funded by the World Bank, is a study on the relevance, importance, and the impact of the rice subsidy program of the Philippine Government. The outcome of the project will hopefully be passed on to the government, in order for them to somehow restructure the rice subsidy program.

In many ways, the Focus Group Discussions held with members of both the poor and the non-poor sector yielded very conclusive data regarding the relevance, importance, and the impact of these social protection programs here in the Philippines. But the most valuable data that were mined out of these FGDs were those that pertained to the perception of the government’s social protection initiatives, specifically the rice subsidy program.

Perception figures very importantly in the study, especially since the effectivity of these social protection programs are contingent to a particular class or group. Perception forms and informs the connexions and relations of data in a particular field. For example, if I perceive the program to be very ineffective because of corruption, I will only look at those data that pertain to the ineffectiveness of the program, or to the corrupt practices of the government, though at times these data are not really in the playing field, so to speak.

Perception also becomes important with the whole question of class: class consciousness – widely perceived to be, in the most real sense of the word, dead, with the advent of “the end of history,” in the words of Francis Fukuyama – still retains some epistemological worth, especially with the whole problematic that contemporary interpretation theory has put forward: historicity and temporality. The structural reality of class is more than the materialist dialectic: it is a way of looking at the world, what other philosophers have called weltanschauung. If for Amartya Sen, the problem is how much freedom one is accorded with, I think the whole question of class is just a political consequence of a basic epistemological datum: we perceive the world according to some filter, and that this “filter” is formed by the community that affirms a particular connexion of data in the playing field, as manifested in their language; some kind of hermeneutic circle.

So in summary, perception figures in two very important ways: (1) perception helps us focus on specific data – which are not necessarily true – that other forms of perception are blind with; and (2) perception shows us the world – and subsequently the location in the social stratum – of a particular individual or group. Perception, thus, gains some qualitative worth because it helps us delineate groups within a social structure that may not be clear at the beginning, from pure observation. In other words, perception is the bridge between language and world; language creates a space for perception to have qualitative worth in research, and that language is the most tangible form of data pertaining to perception. One may even argue that it has quantitative worth, from the volume of words, to the number of times a word repeats in a particular FGD. But this maybe stretching it too far.

Of the numerous FGDs held, I was fortunate enough to be included in both poor and non-poor sectors of the society. Indeed, it was an opportune time to witness different worlds in action. The poor sector perceives the need of a subsidy program very differently than that of the non-poor sector: the former figuring rice subsidy and other social protection programs into their hierarchy of needs, while the latter having no knowledge of these social protection programs. The former also sees different connexions of data than the latter group: the poor sector sees the clear connection between “daily need” and rice subsidy, as opposed to the lack of connection between “daily need” and rice subsidy in the latter.

For all its worth, these FGD also yielded a lot of similar perceptions: both groups agree that corruption in the government is taking its toll on the society, and that the quality of the government-sponsored rice, NFA Rice, is really bad and that they are willing to spend more, just for the sake of good quality rice.

A couple of peculiar observations, though: (1) the poor really saw themselves as poor and needing the assistance of the government (but that their distrust towards the government has forced them to rely on NGOs), while the non-poor did not have a sense of class identity; the non-poor sector, however, viewed the poor as needing the government, and that the government needed to restructure its program because dole-out options have been proven ineffective. (2) Religion, or at least the Church, figures negatively in the whole debate on social responsibility: the poor view the Church as being too elitist and exclusive, while the non-poor view the Church as being too corrupt and being too mired in problems to even start social protection programs.

Form the trove of data extracted from these FGDs, it seems to me that the only conclusion one can really get from these data, at least at this point, is the reality that the society is composed of different worlds; different needs and capabilities, not to mention different agendas and interests. This is, of course, self-evident data, but from the experience, we can say that the idea of difference is more than just the other end of the dual opposition between difference and similarity, as we are wont to assume: difference, in the most Derridaean sense of the word, is a world that seeks to dislodge itself from the illusion of identity and staticity, something that is entirely beheaded from the idea of the standpoint of absolute truth and interpretation. It is, in the words of Wittgenstein, going “back to the rough ground.”

So it seems that I have learned something more than rice subsidy.

April 29, 2012

(More) Thoughts on Graduate Studies

Recently I have had the opportunity to go back to my old readings and books, and in so doing, I have rediscovered Aristotle and this contemporary political thinker named Chantal Mouffe. Of some of the benefits of going back to one’s old readings is the privilege of reading them with new eyes, with novel conceptual tools, borne out of lively discussions not only with professors but also with friends. In short: it is indeed a privilege to see the old as new.

During the course of reading Aristotle, I realized that I resonated more with his style and his thought than with his also-famous “contemporary” (if one may call it at that), Plato. Despite his rather dry and unentertaining prose, I found him to be more precise and more organized, as opposed to Plato’s dialectical method, rooted in the dialogue between Socrates and, well, the lot of Athens. There was something peculiar with his style that makes me want to read him more, and now, I am re-reading Metaphysics (oh how I love that reading) and Categories, after which I will hopefully move on to De Interpretatione, , and then Poetics, and then the Politics, and finally, Nicomachaean Ethics. It might even be nice to do this “Aristotle month” annually, that I may forever be grounded in his thought.

Going back to these texts have also indeed informed my ideas for my planned research for graduate studies (the results of which are about to be revealed, by the way. Woohoo!), especially with Mouffe’s idea of “agonistic pluralism.” I was thinking of using Mouffe’s paradigm of agonistic pluralism – democracy rooted not only in difference but, in conflict, not in the sense of being an enemy to one another, but by being adversaries (co-equal interlocutors) – as a framework to inquire into the possibility of interreligious dialogue. I say “into the possibility” since it seems fitting to suspend my own predisposed assumptions on its possibility and, in the process of bracketing, arrive at critical points for discussion, such as, say, the presuppositions of absolutes and universals, the tenability of policy-making in lieu of religious dogma, the possibility of understanding cultural difference through the “margins” of religion, so to speak, and a whole lot more. I also thought that it would be fitting since Mouffe herself bases her theory on Wittgenstein’s language-games, something I am really interested in studying in a more in-depth manner.

We can ask a number of interesting questions once we look at the whole question of interreligious dialogue from the viewpoint of Mouffe’s democratic theory: (1) how does religious language figure in the debate, or, is language a condition of possibility for being adversaries, in the Mouffian sense of the word? (2) Can agonistic pluralism in fact jive well with religious thinking? – It presupposes that the ground is conflict, i.e., being adversaries, and isn’t this a contradiction in the realm of religious language? (3) what role does cultural rootedness play in the whole question of dialogue-through-difference? (4) What of the presuppositions of universals and absolutes – isn’t this the very possibility of an agonistic pluralism, for the fact that it is impossible to attain consensus between religions? – Is the very impossibility for dialogue the very possibility for true dialogue? (5) Is the Mouffian framework an adequate response to current strands of interfaith dialogue, as opposed to the centrality of reason in discourse? – Is the horizon for interfaith dialogue culture and language, not reason alone?

To these questions I most definitely have no answer. But I would gladly wrestle with them when the time comes.

April 10, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes

How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.

– Wittgenstein

Another of Tractatus’ rather esoteric claims, also known as proposition 6.432. The quote above would throw a theologian in a fit. But perhaps before exploding in anger and claiming that Wittgenstein didn’t understand what he said, we could contextualize it in his own language (we’re too arrogant, we tend to interpret things according to our language).

So here it is: the key to understanding that passage is the usage of the word “world,” which has a specific meaning in the Wittgensteinian corpus. The first proposition of the Tractatus states that “The world is all that is the case,” that is, that the world is the sum totality of all the states of affairs, and “states of affairs” for Wittgenstein means a connexion of things in a determinate relation to form facts. The world, thus, is the totality of all facts, which are empirical in nature.

Thus, we realize that Wittgenstein was merely stating a simple theological truth: that God, i.e., the transcendent, cannot be “seen,” properly speaking, in the world because it is only facts – things in determinate relations to each other – that we can comprehend. In short, one can say that Wittgenstein was trying to tell us that we can only comprehend what is comprehensible as real, i.e. factual, and thus, limited. The mind can only picture out what is in determinate relations to each other, and God transcends any possible empirical connexion.

There you go, Wittgenstein for theology isn’t such a bad idea after all.

April 9, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes

The procedure of induction consists in accepting as true the simplest law that can be reconciled with our experiences.

This procedure, however, has no logical justification but only a psychological one.
It is clear that there are no grounds in believing that the simplest eventuality will in fact be realized.

– Wittgenstein

Taken from TLP 6.363-6.3631, Wittgenstein perfectly encapsulates the scientific problem of induction first posed by Hume, which stated that there are no grounds in believing with certitude that an event will occur again, given the frequency of the event. Unfortunately, science, it seems, hasn’t listened to the criticism, which to this day hasn’t had an adequate answer to Hume and Wittgenstein (consequently, Russell).

I love the use of the category of psychology in describing the process in arriving at a justified belief borne out of induction – perfect, Mr. Ludwig!

April 8, 2012

Sunday Reflections with Jean-Luc Marion: Happy Easter!

For the night mass during the Easter Festivities, we will be hearing the Gospel of Luke, more particularly, the Emmaus event. I feel so incompetent in reflecting on the richness of the Scripture; I therefore feel obliged to share the reflection of Jean-Luc Marion on the Emmaus Event entitled They Recognized Him, and He Became Invisible to Them. This is a long reading, but I think it is definitely worth it. The work appeared in the journal Modern Theology (18) published last 2 April 2002, translated by Stephen E. Lewis. Here it is:

Why do we believe so badly in God, and so little in Christ? First of all (and doesn’t it go without saying?), we are indeed reduced, in their regard, to believing, since knowledge of them escapes us. We believe (and believe badly, miscreants that we are) precisely because we cannot enter into a scientific certainty, composed of clear and distinct ideas about God and Christ. What exactly, then, do we lack that prevents us from attaining such a scientific knowledge? The answer seems obvious: we believe, or at least we are reduced to having to believe (or not) because, while we have at our disposal many statements and concepts having to do with God (existence, properties, Trinity, creation, etc.) and with Christ (historical reality, death, resurrection, etc.), elaborated to high degrees of subtlety by centuries of tradition and theology, we decidedly lack intuitions that would allow us to validate some, and risk rejecting others. Only by recourse to faith can we fill this deficit of intuition with regard to the proliferation of concepts, unless we bury it in refusing such recourse. Faith, according to this way of thinking, would serve, for better or worse, to compensate faulty intuition, almost as a means to verify the concepts experimentally. I believe because, in spite of everything, I want to hold as true that which does not offer intuitive data sufficient to impose itself by itself. I believe in order to recapture the intuition, which God and Christ cannot or will not give to me, of their presence. Thus argues the majority of the credulous—by which I mean experts, scholars, philosophers, and even some theologians.

This argument nevertheless results in a blasphemy: first of all because it makes me, and only me, a “knight of the faith”—the singular actor, within the supposed “night” of the intelligence, of a faith without reason, who decides, by himself, on the existence of God and the truth of Christ, like a god deciding on God. Secondly, it is blasphemous because God and Christ become in this context either impotent (incapable in fact of fulfilling the Revelation that they promise), or perverse judges (who, in masking themselves, expose me to unbelief by condemning me to a faith without reason). These consequences alone should suffice to convince us of the inanity of such a definition of faith. It might be that faith does not consist in the compensation of a shortage—or, perhaps, that the shortage is an entirely differ- ent one from that of the intuition, one that would instead locate deficiency in the conceptual statements. It might be that we should believe not in order to recapture a lack in intuition, but rather to confront its excess in relation to a deficiency of statements and a dearth of concepts.

An episode from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13–25) illustrates this paradox. Let us attempt a reading. On the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, two disciples, or rather two former disciples of Jesus are walking and discussing together (in a word, homiloun v. 14); they chat in a desultory manner, they “exchange” (v. 17) conversation about everything that comes to mind, just to soothe their sadness. In fact, they chat about a specific, obsessive subject, “about all that has happened—peri pantôn tôn sumbêbêkotôn toutôn” (v. 14), about incidents that occurred just like that, without any apparent reason, without any foreseeable cause—what we sometimes call “the events” because we cannot or dare not say more. For it is a matter of pure facts, incontestable and confirmed without a doubt, known by all. Won’t they, in a moment, express astonishment, with involuntary comedy given the circumstances, that one could be ignorant of what everyone (everybody and anybody) knows—“Are you the only pilgrim to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (v. 18). Not know what? “What things (poia)?” (v. 19). Their response sounds like a police report: that Jesus of Nazareth, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” was condemned to death, then crucified by the authorities. Here is the accident, the incident, the “event”, in short the fact guaranteed by an intuition offered to all, to the public, and to which an entire city (and what a city!) can testify. Here is the intuition that they do not understand, that is to say, that they cannot contain, or take back [reprendre] into their concepts— whence the feeling of absurdity due to a deficit of concepts: “O foolish (anoetoi, without spirit) [men], slow to understand!” (v. 25).

Let us consider these two men and their obtuseness, for we are their counterparts, their brothers [leurs semblables, leurs frères—see the final line of Charles Baudelaire’s “Au Lecteur”]. We too walk and chat like them, rehash- ing and reconsidering confirmed facts from every angle (who today would contest the crucifixion of Jesus, especially if he could draw from it an argument for the end of his Revelation?), arriving, like them, only at absurdities (or bankrupt theologies, which attenuate the absurdities).

Like us, it is thus not the intuition of facts that they lack, but rather the intelligence (the concepts), as do we, today: well do they know, as do we, with scientific certainty, that Jesus died, and that one does not come back from the dead; we can deplore this fact, especially in this case, but in the end that’s how it is; we must stay reasonable and not lose our heads. They stick by this evidence no less than do we, to the point of no longer envisaging that the question might even be worth discussing. An unlikely paradox follows: Christ overtakes them on the road (“… drawing near, he began to travel with them”, v. 15); without any doubt, he walks faster than do they (he would have been able to continue on when they ask to stop, v. 29). Soon, we suppose, after some silence, he has them speak of their conversation, of their logoi without rational logos. And, walking along the same path, hearing the sound of his voice, nevertheless “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). By what, exactly? What concrete sign, what sensible perception, what intuition was lacking? None whatsoever, clearly. In fact, they kept them- selves from recognizing him. Why were they denying the evidence? Not because it was deficient—it wasn’t lacking in the slightest—but because it contradicts their entire comprehension (their miscomprehension, or at the least, their pre-comprehension) of a phenomenon that is nevertheless patently beneath their eyes, and in their ears. They do not recognize him because they cannot even imagine that this is really him, Him, who has rejoined them, so far do their poor, cobbled-together, honest-to-goodness concepts find themselves outstripped by “events” that leave them petrified within a matrix of irrefutable prejudices. Not that they would not want to believe: they simply do not even imagine the other hypothesis, it never crosses their minds, even for an instant. The dead man is dead, period. Every other possibility finds itself completely excluded, not even considerable. They see nothing—in the sense that one sees nothing in a game of chess if one does not know how to play; they hear nothing—in the sense that one hears nothing (except noise) in a conversation if one does not know the language in which it is being conducted. They don’t see anything happening on the field. Nothing knocks them out (unlike the brutes who come to arrest Christ at Gethsemani, John 18:6), because nothing strikes them—they don’t go off. Every intuition gives itself to them, but their concepts catch nothing of this. Indeed, “how true that it is not the eyes alone that are useful for recognizing Jesus Christ” (Claudel).

This situation—a phenomenon intuitively certified, yet missed conceptually —was already known to the disciples. On Mount Tabor, at the time of the Transfiguration, where the evidence of Christ’s divine glory shone forth so much that his clothes became “intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them”, when, that is, the intuition surpassed what the world permits and tolerates, they all “became exceedingly afraid”, so much so that Peter could only chatter about three booths, because “he did not know what to say” (Mark 9:3–4,7). Standing before the crucified, too, the intuition, this time without glory, but sinister and prosaic, nevertheless allowed no one to say anything appropriate—no one understood what they were nevertheless all seeing, to the point that, at the cry, “Elie, why have you abandoned me?” they recognized neither “my God!” nor the words of Psalm 22, but heard only the name of the prophet Elijah (Matthew 27:46sq., Mark 15:34sq., Luke 23:44sq.). But this nearly insurmountable difficulty of fixing in an appropriate concept the nevertheless patent intuition of the person of Christ already constituted the entire stake of Peter’s confession: “He asked his disciples, ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ They said, ‘For some, he is John the Baptist, for others Elijah, and for yet others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets’ ” (Matthew 16:13–14; see Mark 8:27–28, Luke 9:18–19). And, when Peter finally gives him the name (the concept) of Christ, Son of God, Jesus immediately points out to him that such a word, name and concept could come to him neither by “flesh, nor by blood”, but only by “revelation” from the Father himself (Matthew 16:17)—so much does man lack the ability to produce, from himself, the concept adequate to what the intuition nevertheless unceasingly gives him to see—precisely, the Christ. Standing before the Christ in glory, in agony, or resurrected, it is always words (and thus concepts) that we lack in order to say what we see, in short to see that with which intuition floods our eyes. When he comes among us—though he comes, or rather precisely because he comes—, we, who are his own people, cannot “grasp him, understand him” (John 1:11). God does not measure out stingily his intuitive manifestation, as if he wanted to mask himself at the moment of showing himself. But we do not offer concepts capable of handling a gift without measure and, overwhelmed, dazzled, and submerged by his glory, we no longer see anything. The light plunges us into blackness—with a luminous darkness. What is more, the miscomprehension even appears inevitable—so much does the inadequacy of our concepts to the factual intuition of Christ result directly from the incommensurability of the gift of God to the expectation of men. What is there to say?

So the Christ becomes a teacher. Since they lack concepts, he trains them to a concept. First he lets them again have their fill of chatting without saying anything: the powerful prophet, who was to restore Israel, but who was scandalously put to death on a cross by the leaders of the people and the priests, by his people. And all this talk remains, in a sense, true—at least, would remain true if they understood what they were saying. Why do they not understand? Because they do not recompose the significations from the starting point of the Passion as revelation of the charity of God, and thus also of the Resurrection as the fulfillment of this very charity. And yet, they had indeed received, even if only verbally, the key to such a hermeneutic. They avow this clearly, rendering even more patent their incomprehension: “Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened” (v. 21)— without for a moment thinking of the announcement of his resurrection after three days (Luke 9:22)! And there is no lack of intuitive indices to call to mind this announcement: “Moreover, some women of our company” (v. 22) went to the tomb and did not find the body; they even brought back the message of angels reporting him living; and some men “who were with us” (v. 24) have confirmed it. And nobody “has seen anything” (v. 25). No one sees anything, because no one understands the meaning of the intuitions— “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). They cannot, and they decidedly do not want to, understand; thus, while having intuitions, they see nothing.

So the Christ, at last, takes his turn to speak. He delivers the proper meanings and orders the intuitions according to the concepts missing up to this point. Which ones? Precisely those very concepts that the disciples stammered, stumbled over, and pulled to pieces without hearing anything— “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he made the hermeneutic for them of everything, which concerned him, in the Scriptures (diermeneusen ta peri autou)” (v. 27). Not that which concerned him, but all the Scriptures as they refer to Him alone—for everything in the Scriptures, absolutely every- thing without the exception of a single iota, concerns only him.7 Some will ask, by what right can he deliver to them such an absolute hermeneutic—the only true, absolute knowledge that we ought to desire, which makes that of our philosophy appear as nothing more than a destitute man’s phantasm? By right of the Logos, sole “exegete of God (ékeinos exêgêsato)” (John 1:18) to interpret the Scriptures that God inspired in order to announce Him to humans as the fulfillment of all his promises. We detect here, in a silence within this unheard of text (which doubtless protects us from that which we would be unable to bear hearing openly), the unsurpassable lesson of all exegesis and of every hermeneutic that wants to constitute itself truly as the science that would treat of the literal incarnation of the Word of life. The text will tell us nothing more of this exegesis, other than that it made the disciples understand that “it was fitting that the Christ should suffer in order to enter into his glory” (v. 26). For this fitness [convenance] (stronger even than a necessity) appears, in effect, to give by virtue of itself alone a meaning (its concept)—up to that point missing—to the superabundant, but still blind, intuition. And when the concept at last matches the intuition, the phenomenon bursts forth with its superabundant glory: “Did not our hearts [and thus our minds] burn within us while he talked to us on the road in such a way as to open to us the [concepts of the] Scriptures?” (v. 32). This fervor comes neither from the bare texts, nor from the obscured ideas of men, but from the perfect adaptation of the thoughts of God (recorded in the Scriptures) to the acts of God (gesta Christi offered to our intuition), which manifest in a perfect phenomenon “the mystery hidden for ages in God […] the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:9–10).

From this moment on the teaching can fulfill itself by proposing the requisite significations, no longer only in words, but even in actions. Though they are already approaching their stopping place, the disciples do not yet dare to say anything; Christ waits for them to respond to him or to ask him something of themselves, the truth, for example. To provoke their decision, “he looked to be going further” (v. 28); caught unawares, at the first pretext (“ ‘it is towards evening and the day is now far spent’ ”) they at last dare to beg: “Stay with us” (v. 28). To stay with him—this is what the Samaritans (John 4:40) and the first future disciples (John 1:38sq.) had asked (and obtained) of Christ. This is above all what Christ had asked (and obtained) of Zacheus, but also what the disciples had denied Christ at Gethsemani (Matthew 26:38: “Stay here and watch with me”). In effect, the whole ques- tion of the coming of Christ and of faith in him comes down to this: “to have his logos abiding in us (menonta), or not” (John 5:38). For the first time since “the events”, the disciples ask Christ, and thus in fact the Logos himself and in person, to stay with them and they with him—that is, they ask to receive his logos, his interpretation of what has happened in the intuition and which they have nevertheless neither seen, nor caught, nor understood. They at last ask him his meaning, his concept, his interpretation of the public, yet unintelligible to spectators, intuition of Easter. So “he went in to stay with them” (v. 29), in order to give them, as a sign that cannot be missed, the signification that will at long last give meaning to all the intuitions that up to then had remained scattered and absurd. What signification? No word, no dis- course, no sound—except that of the blessing: “taking the bread, he said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” At once “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (v. 30)—because the signification was making visible its phenomenon. In other words, they saw that “this is my body which is given for you” and “in memory of me”, and that therefore, since he had promised not to “eat [this Passover], until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 22:19 and 15), precisely that very evening, in which he is again eating it, is already part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled in spirit and truth, the Resurrection. At once, “rising (anastantes)” (v. 31)—literally: reviving, they acknowledge their burning hearts, go back up to Jerusalem, and again do for the disciples the “exegesis” (êxegounto, v. 35) that they had received (v. 27)—the recognition in the sign (in the signification in action) of the breaking of the bread. Which the disciples accept as the strict equivalent of their own phenomenal experience: “the Lord has truly come back to life and has shown himself (ôphtê) to Simon” (v. 34). The phenomenalisation to Simon and the breaking of the bread with the two disciples amount to the same certitude—the Resurrection.

What we lack in order to believe is quite simply one with what we lack in order to see. Faith does not compensate, either here or anywhere else, for a defect of visibility: on the contrary, it allows reception of the intelligence of the phenomenon and the strength to bear the glare of its brilliance. Faith does not manage the deficit of evidence—it alone renders the gaze apt to see the excess of the pre-eminent saturated phenomenon, the Revelation. Thus we must not oppose the episode of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus to that of Christ’s manifestation to the Apostles, which immediately follows it. For, here again, the difficulty in believing is explicitly equivalent to a difficulty in believing what one sees already but does not admit (and it is not in the least a difficulty in imagining what one does not see): the disciples were “startled and frightened” by what they were seeing or “believed they were seeing (theôrein)” (v. 37); was it a “spirit”, a demon, an illusion? As to the easiest hypothesis, the most reasonable, indeed, the most evident—that it is Him—, it remained the most incredible, the most unthinkable, the only one inaccessible to their state of mind. The obstacle, then, is found here, too, in the deficiency of concepts and significations: they do not have the rational means to think that of which they have sensible intuition. Consequently Christ questions them on their thoughts: “what concepts (dialogismoi) rise in your hearts?” He thus does not undertake to give them a greater intuition of his corporeality, but to have them admit that this body, these hands, these feet and this pierced side are indeed his (“… mine”), that it is indeed “I who am the same” (v. 39). The very gesture of eating before their eyes aims, certainly, to give them proof of his flesh, but also to repeat the multiplication of the fish: for, here too, “… he gave them the remainder” (v. 43, variant), just as previously, “having taken the five loaves and two fish, raising his eyes to heaven, he blessed them, broke them and gave them to the disciples” (Luke 9:16). The goal is simply to have himself recognized as the one who he was among them, first of all through gestures, and then through words: “These are the [same] words (concepts, logoi) which I spoke to you while I was still with you” (v. 44). Indeed, they will not truly recognize him until his “words”, and thus his own significations and concepts allow them at last to constitute the intuition, maddening for as long as it remained bare, into a complete phenomenon. And here, as on the road to Emmaus, the point is to re-place all the intuitions into the significations of God; for all the intuitions that we receive from the gesta Christi can only be understood according to their final intention—“… it is fitting to fulfill [plêrôthênai, to fill, to saturate] everything that is written in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms—[all of this having been written solely in view] of me” (v. 44 = v. 27). The opening of the meaning, and thus of the mind (for noûs, v. 46, expresses both) is decided in and by “the Scriptures”, taken not as pure letters, but as the recording of significations established by God in order to constitute the intuitions of his incarnation in a full and wholly complete phenomenon of Revelation.

But if all of this is so, why does this phenomenon disappear at the very instant in which it finally becomes visible—visible because believable? First, because the issue now is not, or is not only, to see him, but to show him “to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (v. 47). In other words, to make it so that all receive the significations that allow them to see that which the intuition offers, without rendering it manifest again. Second, because such a phenomenon, pre-eminently saturated, cannot be touched (John 20:17), nor even contemplated in this world which, in this time, does not “have the space” to contain the significations that would have to be “written” (John 21:25).

April 8, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes

The philosophical problem has the form: I do not know my way about.

– Wittgenstein

Found in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein strives to disabuse us of the sublime order of understanding that traditional philosophy for all this time has encouraged us to do so. Wittgenstein tries to get us into the notion of the aporia as the starting point of any form of philosophical inquiry. As with life (at least I think), it should also be the case that we let go (or suspend) our predispositions to truly start questioning. Mr. Ludwig gives us the cue: we do not know our way about.

April 7, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes

If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.

– Wittgenstein

So I’ve been in Wittgenstein-fanboy-mode for about four months now. Having read the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus from propositions 1-4 and 7, and a quarter of Philosophical Investigations, there is still more to be done! I should do this Wittgenstein thing more often.