Mr. Philosophos

Mr. PhilosophosI am the way.

Knowledge

beyond the knowing

not

–       wisdom

–                       as such

for learning is love

but loving its possession–

–       sophos

–                     self

the search yearns

breathes and breeds but

possession

–                   9/10s

–                               nothing

We are on the way

or we, drifting in the ripples

are nothing but

flavored

–               answers

–                               drunk.

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Breaking Down Camus

 

Albert Camus, Nobel prize winner, half-length ...

Albert Camus. (Photo credit: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection)

Today is (or was, depending on where you live) the birthday of a personal favorite of mine, both in the literary and philosophic sphere. A hundred years ago, on November 7, 1913, French writer-philosopher Albert Camus was born to a poor family in what was then French Algeria.

Best known for his novels — The Stranger, which depicts a senseless murder on the Mediterranean and The Plague, with its haunted scenes of a quarantined city — Camus was a controversial, but also incredibly inspirational figure. When I say breaking down I mean demystifying and cataloguing a bit of the man: to take some of the eyebrow quirking out of many people’s interactions with him.

You see, there are essentially two Camus figures we tend to look at. The first is the intellectual—an existentialist and an absurdist, as well as a Nobel Prize winner that had that rare gift for being not only to engage the great thoughts with logic and with poise, but to translate those thoughts into a language and vision wherein we could not only see them displayed, but be enthralled by how they did so. Then there is the other figure, the controversial figure, who sees little play or knowledge outside of France and his native land—a figure viewed as at once rebellious, conforming, or downright traitorous depending on the viewer.

You see, though Camus was born in Algeria, he is not particularly loved there; yet he is a darling of France. This is because, at a time when Algeria was warring for its independence from a colonial overlord, this great mind made a conscious decision to take what he no doubt saw as a sort of middle ground—he supported real political rights for the oppressed Arabs of the region, and yet took a step back when it came to nationality. While he was pro-political rights, he was against an independent Algeria.

For my fellow Americans, allow me to provide this summary: It would be like one of our own great writers, in the time of the American Revolution, stepping up and saying, “Well I believe in more rights for the non-British afoot here…but start out on our own? Are you batty?”

That said, in true form, he was horrified by the violence that arose—in particular, from the French forces who, as the war dragged on, resorted to horrific and barbaric acts of torture. He spat at the French for doing “more harm than a hundred enemy guerrillas” with their tactics, while denouncing the National Liberation Front of Algeria for their own use of violence. Bringing blood onto one’s hands was never right, he saw, no matter the cause. It was a “casuistry of blood” which he could not bear—not even for the sake of his homeland’s independence. Some have named him coward for it. Or traitor.

Like I said: controversial.

Which seems odd, when one considers Camus. He did, after all, love his homeland. Both of his most famous works are set there. He was, is, and ever shall be one of the foremost voices against violence and extremism, while fighting for the individual’s freedom. But the key lies in his birth. You see, Camus was a French citizen born abroad, a part of a culture then known as the pieds-noirs, or black feet—the name given to Europeans living in that slice of North Africa.

If you need another reference, think of the more recent South African apartheid. Two worlds, one roof. The ruling European colonials and the native Arab majority.

His experience was not the same. He came into the world groomed along a different line. Is that an excuse? No. It’s simply a fact. His failure to support full independence seems off the mark today, but in the context of time, space, and the ever powerful nurture?

Well, for all the nature of his birth, he was not a wealthy man. His father died a year after his birth and his deaf mother raised him through work as a cleaning lady. He is an inspiration in other regards precisely because of his brilliance and his pen—these are what inevitably delivered him from poverty, and raised him up, thus making his opinions so potent, and mattering so dearly to both sides of the earlier equation. He could, perhaps—yes, indeed should have been—more connected to the Arab world around him there, but the simple fact is he was removed from it. He saw a side of Algeria that was a uniquely different experience from those fighting for its independence.

Yet even as I say this: he did believe in fights for independence, obviously, in different ways. After all, he fought for the French Resistance in WWII, publishing an underground newspaper for them that could have seen him butchered by the occupying Nazis.

He believed in the collective humanity of man, of rights for all; but he denounced communism at a time when many of his fellows on the left were embracing its call.

Camus himself died in a car accident at the age of 46, in 1960, leaving us with his legacy, an unfinished manuscript and notes, and a great deal more on which to think.

So, when you have it laid out before you, what do you think?

A little less angelic kite, a little more moderation, good sir.

Was he simply practicing Benjamin Franklin’s old adage? “Moderation in all things, even moderation.” Was he a man that simply lacked courage of conviction? Or was it something else? In truth, it’s something only the individual can answer for oneself: either way, Camus was unapologetic in his views. Yet I caution a remembrance: it is eternally difficult, when such things are mixed up in issues that can never be without emotion.

Death will out. Death will always out.

Willpower

Affirmation of the Day: Lies are what we tell ourselves in the mirror at night. Truth is the mirror’s reply.

Will to power. Willpower. Do I have the will to achieve power? You must be the change you wish to see in the world. It would be hypocritical to have it any other way, yet the hypocritical is what we excel at. I should know. I’m just as human as anyone else.

It may be true, but can the truth be handled? The truth always has the potential for deeper harm than lies. Lies can be dismissed. Yet the truth, once known–inescapable, all-encompassing. Man comes to the crossroads: do I have the will? I have the longing–the dream, he thinks, but the will, well, I could say yes and the world would never be the wiser, I could say yes but I do think I would be lying. I would know that I was lying, even if the world doesn’t know.

History, after all, points to the contrary.

Man stands longing at the crossroads, mired in the wait, for a lack of perseverance to press forward. The easiest path is often the path that leads nowhere at all–the circular trail to nowhere.

I depend on my perceptions of reality–on the pre-conceived boundaries as set by society. Dwelling on this issue, no matter–trying to come to terms. I really on the work of others. I profess independence, yet I hide amidst the foundations of cozy uniformity. Go with the flow. Don’t think too hard, it will come in time.

Waiting, what is with all the waiting? Man can but shake his head.

Good things come to those who wait.

How cruel is that? Untrue as well–the world must be moved, and someone must take the courage to move it. So it always goes. The waiting is merely waiting for someone else to do what you might have done. Such a notion! Surely man recoils at the insinuation. Yet reality looms: I call myself free, he whispers, yet I am content to submissive docility, waiting for the changes I wish to see, writing about them, idolizing them, but never once myself for the doing.

Waiting on the world to change. Still waiting. As the song says, one day this generation is going to rule the population…and what changes?

The ultimate question put before man at that crossroads comes not long after this thought: am I weak, than? Is it a factor of strength and weakness, or do some people simply have this capability–this fortitude for change–and others inherently don’t?

All answers lie in the self. But how does one strengthen the self? Through will. How does one strengthen their will, their resolve? A much more difficult prospect altogether. The first step to believing, after all, is having the will to do so.

On Temporality

Warning: philosophic rant ahead. You have been advised.

Temporality–what is temporality? Time. What is time? A series of nows. Yet man is perpetually obsessed with the future. What is future? Projection–what we, of the present, will the nows of the next moments to be. This projection is built on the frame of past experiences. What is the past? Nows that have come before. Before what? Now.

No death penalty

Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

Death is a product of the now. Many argue death can be a long time coming, a drawn out torture of months, weeks, years. It is the end of age, the end of sickness. This is the wrong way to view it. Dying is a series of moments, of nows, that lead to the conclusion, a separate entity: Death. Death is not a state, a product, a condition. It is simply another now. It is, and the being to which it transpires is not. The being is gone. What remains is a corpse–another being.

As it is said, death doesn’t happen to us. Death is a certainty, but it simply happens, and we are no longer. We are beings toward death, always toward death, but when death comes, we are not there to experience it. The we that makes the beings of ourselves are dead. This dead being replaces the being that was. Death is the cessation of our existence, and thus the end of being. An entity remains behind but that entity is no longer our being.

The real question that dominates the world, then, is whether the being-that-is-we becomes another being when this state of being ends. Obviously the entity of the body remains–dead–but the question is whether our being becomes another being, or every trace of all that once constituted our being ceases, infinitely. The end of time–for us, at any rate.

Theological questions–joy.

When there is nothing

Before abyss come the clock-tower.

The little boy by midnight asks—

her look, lost in the candlelight—

the nature of empty books lain dormant,

the moonless night above a bridge

when there is nothing left to lose—

in sedimentary smiles she sighs:

when there is nothing

there is love.

Life and Purpose

Albert Camus, care of Wikimedia Commons.

“To lose one’s life is no great matter; when the time comes I’ll have the courage to lose mine. But what’s intolerable is to see one’s life being drained of meaning, to be told there’s no reason for existing. A man can’t live without some reason for living.”
~ Albert Camus

Quotes of the Week

This week’s theme: Responsibility. Can you dig it?

“A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life.”
~James Allen

‘”It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on.  “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.”‘
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943, translated from French by Richard Howard

“Most of us can read the writing on the wall; we just assume it’s addressed to someone else.
~Ivern Ball

And, for a touch of humor on the matter:

“Responsibility:  A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor.  In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star.
~Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary