(for Pat, after Don)
After the impish
twinkle in his eyes I think
I’ll remember most
The gate of his walk --
with such fond recall I find
I imitate it.
Day by day all those who used to give me advice get crazier and crazier.
Luckily, I paid no attention
and they took off for some other city
where they live together
swapping hats with each other.
They were praiseworthy types,
politically astute,so that all my ineptitude
caused them great suffering:
The got gray-haired and wrinkled,
wouldn’t stomach their chestnuts,
and finally an autumnal depression
left them delirious.
Now I don’t know which way to be-
absent-minded or respectful;
shall I yeild to advice
or tell them outright they’re hysterical?
Independence as such gets me nowhere,
I get lost in the underbrush,
I don’t know if I’m coming or going.
Shall I move on or stand put,
but tom-cats or tomatoes?
I’ll figure out as best I can
what I ought to do -
and then do it:
that way, I can make a good case
for the times I got lost on the way;
if I don’t make mistakes
who’ll have faith in my errors?
If I live like a savant
no one will be greatly impressed.
Well, I’ll try to change for the better:
greet them all circumspectly,
watch out for appearances,
be dedicated, enthusiastic-
till I’m just what they ordered,
being and un-being at will
till I’m totally otherwise.
Then if they let me alone,
I’ll change my whole person,
disagree with my skin,
get a new mouth,
change my shoes and my eyes-
then when I’m different
and nobody can recognize me
-since anything else is unthinkable-
I’ll go on as i was in the beginning.
(-- Poem by Pablo Neruda)... ... ...
Much of our talk circled, appropriately enough, around nothing. In speaking of the Zen conception of the self, Nishitani quoted his favorite saying of Saint Paul: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” “Who is speaking here?” is then his question -- one he has been asking himself for decades. It is evidently not the “I” or the “me”; nor does it appear to be Christ either. Who, then, is it? “Just who is this self?”
Later in the evening, the question recurred in a different form. Always in this room, it seems, there ids a single rose in a bamboo vase that stands on a shelf above a table. A piece of tape covering a crack in the bamboo contributes somehow to the “rightness” of the ensemble. Looking over at the rose, Nishitani asked in quiet puzzlement, “Where is the flower blooming? What about the locus of the unfolding of this rose? Where does it bloom from?” He went on to muse upon the notion of nature, especially in Spinoza’s sense of natura naturans.
(--from p.xxvi, Introduction by Graham Parkes to The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Keiji Nishitani, Setsuko Aihara, SUNY series, c.1990)The self-causing activity of nature obviates the notion of a separate self doing the looking at some objective thing from some subjective thing.
Let us pray --
Attend to the pleas of your people with heavenly care,
O Lord, we pray,
that they may see what must be done
and gain strength to do what they have seen.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(--prayer ending Office of Readings, Monday 13Jan2014)
So, does his interest in introducing ideas to people who might not know much about philosophy have something to do with this convoluted journey? It wasn’t easy for him to make his way into philosophy, so is he trying to make it easier for others?
“No, that’s just the nature of philosophy. It’s always difficult – though nothing like as difficult as theoretical physics. If you’re not having trouble then you probably don’t really understand what’s going on. Many people seem not to have trouble, but I know from doing these interviews that if you ask them direct questions in ordinary language some can’t answer without jargon and mystification.
“A lot of professional philosophers lack the imagination required to think about what it’s like not to understand something. Some have got into a complacent habit of speaking to each other in a kind of technical language, which is almost at times the avoidance of doing philosophy. They’re part of a culture of people who always say the same things and make the same moves: just making finer and finer discriminations between whether they’re a particular kind of materialist or a particular kind of functionalist. People stake out little claims. When faced with the need to explain what they’re doing and why it should be of interest to anyone at all outside of that culture, many flounder.
“Not the best ones, interestingly. The really significant philosophers are able to explain with superb clarity precisely what it is that matters about a topic. Not just for others with similar interests but for anybody who might be concerned with philosophy at all. Weaker philosophers hide behind a series of coded nods and winks to each other. This often betrays a lack of clarity of thought.”
Nigel Warburton, co-presenter of Philosophy Bites, is interviewed by TPM’s editor, James Garvey. This article appears in Issue 61 of The Philosophers’ Magazine. Posted May 28, 2013The way, I suspect, to teach philosophy is to think along with others -- carefully, with authentic interest, open mind, a playful humor at the turns, dead ends, rest areas, and engaged interaction along the journey.