On the Question of Solitude and Letting Things Be (4/11/12)

After deriving very little satisfaction from the books I have recently been reading, I picked back up with Jung’s Psychological Types yesterday—a text I can always rely upon to re-excite my keen interest. I was reading from the Definitions (of his key terms) and I was once again powerfully impressed by the subtlety and scope of Jung’s mind.

In paragraph 758 he writes:

As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation.

The passage caught my attention because recently I have wondered if my ‘individual’ ideas and my unusual way of life have not succeeded in isolating me to some extent from my fellows. It is true, though—and certainly worth mentioning—that I feel much less antagonistic towards ‘the herd’ or the collective than I used to. I may not yet have attained the Christ-like attitude that can say, in sincerest compassion, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,’ but I am slowly beginning to move in that direction.

My dear friend C— often likes to call attention to the outward resemblance between our quiet, solitary, and retreating personal lives—but I am not altogether comfortable with the comparison. Since I have slowly and reluctantly become convinced that the ideas I’m working with can be of some benefit to a few others besides myself, I will not remain forever content to keep them hidden, along with myself, away from the world. C— is not inwardly moved by such concerns and pressures, so far as I can see, so, for her, it is a somewhat simpler matter to retreat into anonymity. I love my solitude as much as any monk out there, but I don’t want to be so tyrannically governed by this love that I avoid the world altogether and miss out on opportunities to be of some service to those who stand to benefit in any way from my modest reflections and observations.

Of course, ‘moving out of my individual isolation’ can certainly be understood to mean something other than attending convivial social events. Interestingly, I find many of these ardent socializers and heavy investors in their personal relationships to be mentally, culturally, and emotionally isolated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is precisely this interior poverty and isolation that often drives such persons outwards into superficial or merely sentimental relationships with other inwardly blinkered and impoverished souls. I must confess that the company of my own thoughts or the impressions from a good book provide more than adequate protection against the needy isolation that many are consigned to because of their lack of inner/outer exploration.

Therefore, it is not for lack of trying that my social and interpersonal dealings have withered almost to a stalk. Although I often find ostensibly serious conversations quite superficial and tepid, I persist in my attempts to deepen and extend my connections with others. Is it solely my fault if they don’t show more enthusiasm and interest in the ideas and themes that supply my life with meaning and with spiritual passion? Throwing aside such edifying and transformative passions for the sake of campfire conviviality and glutinous ties of schmaltzy affection is no longer a viable option for me. I’m afraid that my unpopular passions and compelling interests are constitutional and ineradicable, and I should not—and dare not—suppress or conceal them. If these passionate interests have not inspired others in my midst to seek my company for the sake of lively dialectics—or for the spark that may kindle a kindred fire—I don’t know what more I can do. I am becoming less and less inclined to proselytize as I get older—less and less eager to seek or inspire ‘converts’ to the contemplative life.

Friendship and Our Individual Natures (5/3/13)

Earlier, I read an account by Franz Overbeck where it was noted that virtually all of Nietzsche’s friendships were lop-sided—where he projected far more significance and assumed that there was far more intimacy than the other parties did. Overbeck proposes Nietzsche’s pungent and irrefragable differentness from all other human beings as the likely source of this disparity of friendly love and affection. As ‘hunger is the best sauce,’ Nietzsche’s loneliness must certainly have been a great flavor enhancer—functioning like a walloping dose of MSG in his links with some comparatively insipid souls, judging from their letters and accounts. The recollection by Overbeck triggered personal feelings of estrangement (from others)—feelings that are never far from the surface in me. The more I grow into myself—the admittedly strange (and strangely driven, strangely oriented) human being that I appear to be, the more differentiated from those around me I progressively become. It is perhaps true that I could make greater efforts to accommodate myself to others, to look for things in common, and perhaps such efforts would be rewarded with a greater degree of solidarity and kinship with others. But, aaagh!! To speak truthfully: something has been holding me back from such efforts—and, for the moment, at least—I trust whatever it is that’s holding me back. (I am reminded of Socrates’ daimon here: it never told him to do this or that—only what not to do.)

And perhaps there is no need to invoke ‘daimonic’ influences here—although I would not rule them out. Perhaps it is enough to chalk this reticence up to ‘dog smarts’ in my case. Lord knows I have devoted an enormous amount of energy and attention, care and concern, to my numerous friendships throughout the past—but, alas, with slender dividends to show for all that I have invested.  Do I want too much from persons who, for one reason or another, cannot or will not deliver? Is my pride too swollen for me to condescend any further in order to prop up relationships with persons who can scarcely hold up their end? Have I merely had the misfortune of being thrown together with singularly unsuitable candidates for true friendship with me? I don’t think so. I am fairly sure that a proper candidate for the sort of friendship I have always hungered for is going to be as hard to come by as I am. Pride and arrogance have nothing to do with what I just wrote. Rather, it has everything to do with consciousness of difference—of what is ineradicably and irrepressibly individual about me. When something just is, there is little room for compromise or for concessions. Compromises and concessions apply to things and conditions that are negotiable, mutable, relative, and not yet essential, as the dark depths of my individuality seems to be. We are fortunate if we come to know and to express our individual, inimitable nature—but we are also stuck with what we uncover, are we not?

On the Artist’s Life (11/27/13-Eureka Springs, Ark.)

Perhaps 90-95 per cent of what I directly know of happiness, well-being, and spiritual enthusiasm has occurred while I was walking, thinking, or writing in solitude. Is this a good thing? Is this a not-so-good thing? I do not even feel tempted to answer such a silly-schizoid pair of questions. You hear people say, ‘If you really want to succeed as a musician, as a poet or a philosopher, you’ve got to pour yourself into it one hundred per cent. I’m not so sure about what they mean by this. When I was young—still in my teens—I opened myself to the creative or artistic spirit inside of me and it seized me. Since then, it has never really released me for more than a brief vacation or a temporary leave of absence before abruptly reeling me back in. If any pouring was going on, it was not me doing the pouring. It has done all the pouring. Over the years it has poured out nearly every bit of me that it cannot use, or that does not suit its tastes or interests. Am I resentful or outraged by this? Can’t say that I am. I defer to its higher tastes and standards. I can only suppose those parts needed to go.

I know a few miserable persons who have a hole where their souls ought to be. Before long, there is likely to be a hole where ‘Paul’ used to be. Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? I reckon that when this process is finished, there won’t be anybody left to care about it one way or the other—and it has always looked after me, so I’m good with that. Do I even know what it is? In all honesty, I do not. But I surely know when it is present—and when it is not.

A Note on Personal Friendship and the Urgency of Leisure (9/8/14)

One way of looking at the ‘personal’ tension that has emerged between J. and me is to view it as an outgrown ‘philosophical’ friendship. I can no longer find any genuine nourishment or stimulation from our conversations. I seem to have moved in a direction with my thinking that does not speak to him or really interest him. Actually, this has been the case for some time, but because I had no one else with whom I could share my new, deeper interests, I continued to invest time and effort in that ‘tapped out’ conversation relationship. I recognized at some point that any sentiment or natural affection I may have developed for J. over the twenty-year span of our friendship is insufficient, in itself, to sustain my interest in him personally. I have discussed this before, so I won’t go further into this here. What all of this ticklish-prickly business with J. has taught me is that a conventional ‘buddy’ type relationship makes very minimal appeal to me at this stage in my life. I had that sort of male friendship in my youth and later, as an adult, with P. and J.—and to a lesser extent with S. But, as with passionate-erotic-romantic involvements with women, which I also enjoyed/suffered in abundance, I feel I can no longer justify significant investments of time and energy in such pursuits. And yet I still want the sort of spiritual-intellectual companionship I described earlier.

Perhaps all this analysis—and these careful discriminations—will help me to put these outgrown relationships to rest, once and for all—thus, clearing the way for the new sort of philosophical friendship I am looking for.

I suspect that anyone who is a proper candidate for the sort of philosophical-spiritual-dialectical friendship I’m seeking will probably be master of more or less the same amount of leisure that I presently have at my disposal. The ‘busy-ness’ that afflicts the lives of virtually all of my conscripted friends’ lives is a definite obstacle—if not a complete deal-breaker—when it comes to philosophy and the spiritual life. Lots of leisure time for study and contemplation and meditation is needed if we are to be tamed and properly conditioned for the careful, unrushed and uncompelled creative-destructive work that is essential to the philosophic life. This sort of leisure—which also keeps mere ‘entertainment’ down to a bare minimum—is almost impossible to come by these days. Lots of smart, decent persons with promising potentials seem to be unaware of just how much injury they are doing to their souls by conforming to this busy, harried tempo of modern life in the city. And once they’ve become accustomed to this unnatural, frenetic tempo, they gradually lose their capacity for appreciating stillness, silence, lento, and true leisure. They fear they must keep moving or else they will lose their place and, in one sense, they are absolutely right. They will draw negative or critical attention to themselves. They may become objects of concern and of gossip. Fear of these alarming possibilities only bolsters their commitment to the busy, competitive pattern of modern professional, academic, and social life. Little by little, they are reduced to servitude to these rule-bound systems—so that life outside of these conventional, social, corporate, and ideological systems becomes all but unimaginable—unthinkable—a terrifying prospect. Of course this is precisely what the ‘higher ups’ who design, tweak, and exploit these various systems are banking on—literally! They want their servants and functionaries to feel so fortunate to have been chosen—to have been ‘welcomed onto the team’—that they cannot help but look upon persons like me (who have remained aloof from the system) with a peculiar mixture of derision and (perhaps) perplexed envy. At any event, once they’ve become fully inducted and they have acquired a stake in the system (and a measure of leadership over the incoming recruits who will need to be properly assessed and broken in for optimal exploitation—with all the appropriate salary and promotion enticements that come with subservience to the system), their life-trajectories are set. Soon they are so thoroughly dependent upon the hive-like structure of duties and benefits that life outside this hive, though unprotected by the hive’s enclosing walls and by the collective spirit of one’s fellow drones, will occasionally seem as tempting as the Serpent’s apple, but a hundred times scarier because of the ‘fall’ that will almost assuredly take place once the first bite is taken. What happens after these system-servers have spent years adapting themselves to the comforts and the benefits provided by this ‘Great Mother’? Doesn’t it become harder and harder to imagine having one’s nakedness exposed in the garden beyond the protective walls—with those ample, milk-oozing, mama-tits waiting around every corner if and when you need a little ‘pick-me-up’ to restore your ever-flagging strength within the buzzing, drone-packed hive—serving the big fat fertile mama-queen lying at the heart of the whole shebang?