Success and Failure Turned Inside Out (5/10/13)

‘Success,’ as it is insufficiently or wrongly understood—and demotically esteemed by contemporary Americans—typically spells failure for the genuine philosopher, to put it bluntly. It is perhaps the most seductive—and destiny-aborting—obstacle standing in the path of the philosopher’s rightful development, since it elevates that which is essentially and qualitatively lower while implicitly demoting (through neglect) that which is inherently higher, nobler. Consequently, the authentic success—or coming to maturity—of the philosopher is all but invisible to the ordinary citizen today. The philosopher, in extricating him- or her-self from the inverted, counterfeit values and norms of today, has developed into an anomalous creature. Within the depths of his soul, he is at odds with the established order of things in the corrupted and debased ‘anti-culture’ of the present time, and yet he knows better than to squander his precious time and energy on an exhausting, protracted direct confrontation with that established order. He watches, sometimes cheerfully and composedly, but more often mournfully and helplessly, as one after another of his former companions are successively swallowed up by the ever-expanding swamp of ‘no-nos’ for the philosopher: wealth, notoriety, comfortable self-satisfaction, conjugal and familial engorgement, onerous duties that allow for no leisure, that most precious possession of the philosopher.

For all his scintillating brilliance and psychological penetration, I sometimes wonder if Nietzsche allowed this profoundly disturbing truth to fully sink in. Of course, he was very much the anomalous creature as I have described here. He was a genuine philosopher who had seen through and beyond his own time and place—at least to a considerable extent. Early on, he appears to have glimpsed what Plato perhaps more fully grasped many centuries ago—namely, that philosophical initiation entails a metanoia, or conversion experience, whereby the ‘world’ is turned inside out as the mind itself is turned outside-in.

Here I am speaking about this ‘inversion’ as if I’m some kind of authority—as if I’ve already got it licked—but the honest truth is that I am still digesting the experience and will continue to do so, no doubt, for years to come, like a python with a small elephant lodged in its gut. Nevertheless, I have learned something of great importance from my own metanoia. I see how it has put me ‘out of phase’ with the broadcast frequency that is propping up the ‘continually running TV show’ that is audibly and visibly underway in my culture. This, more than anything, renders me (and other ‘ghosts’) invisible and inaudible to those in my midst. Of course I have a persona—or masked ‘stand in’ for myself—that vibrates in sync with the regular broadcast signal—my ‘TV personality,’ if you like. And I am certainly aware of that crucial frequency difference that distinguishes the real (invisible) Paul from his projected image on the busy studio stage set.

The upshot? Virtually all that the majority of my fellow cast members ever see—ever hear—is Paul the persona: the mask, the spokesperson, the performer. My soul is invisible and inaudible to all mere actors. Maybe one or two of them can smell me. But, as for them: I can see and hear their souls—if, that is, they have bothered to step offstage from time to time and cultivate soul. I can see and hear their souls because it takes one to know one.

But what is this about ‘cultivating’ soul? Well, I hate to be the older kid on the playground who poops on the lie about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, but if a person hasn’t done some work—and I mean some serious work—reflecting upon and digesting and imaginatively cooking his/her ‘stage experiences,’ there isn’t likely to be anything but a hole or, at best, an undifferentiated ‘stem cell’ where his/her soul is supposed to be. This observation is sure to vex and disturb those innocent Christians who ‘believe’ that it is enough merely to ‘believe’ that a soul is automatically issued at birth (or baptism) and that it is guaranteed an eternal life span. Such ‘believers’ are not for me and I am not the man for them.

If I may be permitted another word about soul—for those who have dared to follow me this far: soul is the boat created from reflected meaning—the boat that carries the spiritual newborn who has just emerged from the fluid-oozing womb of metanoia. Because everything has been turned upside down and inside out, it is necessary to be carried for a while by the boat of soul before it is possible to walk with orientation on one’s own. The word metaphor means ‘to carry across.’ This is a hint for those nearing a certain readiness for transformation. The word ‘psyche’ in Greek also meant ‘butterfly.’ Another hint.

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