At sixteen -- seventeen, maybe -- I first read Plato, and decided he was wrong. No further action required. Around the same time, I acquired a copy of Being and Nothingness. Maybe I even read it: I don't remember. But I decided all philosophy was wrong, or at least inapplicable. I remember thinking "what I need to learn I am not going to learn from these people," which was fair enough, at the time. There were more pressing things I had to learn: for example, "how do I stop being a repulsive jerk?" and "how do I make a living?" And also, I had Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Blake to read. I wasn't wasting time.
But that was fifty years ago, and now I meet a neo-Platonist for realz, and suddenly the summary judgements of a teenager no longer do for me. What if Plato was right? What if he was even kind of right? What if I'm not such a clever lad, after all, that I'm smarter than thousands of years of people trying to understand what we are doing?
It's too late to become a philosopher. I don't have the stamina now to do mountains of difficult reading. I'll have to accept -- as I never did, as a reader of literature -- secondary sources and summaries, watered-down versions adapted to the meanest understandings. Well, bring it, then. I'm not reading the complete works of Kant and Heidegger at this time of my life. But I may need to know something, at least, about what they meant. I don't aspire to be a figure of any sort, literary or philosophical -- which is all to the good -- but I still aspire to understand: I still aspire to live a life that might mean something. I still aspire to take a bit of the edge off my own suffering, and other people's, in whatever way I can.
It's not just reading, of course. It's practicing. It's meditation, contemplation, prayer, visualization. Mushrooms. Being a damned fool, or even a blessed one. And it's writing poetry, and possibly even making art.
I don't see what else I can do, honestly. It's not just that there's no other path forward. There's also no path back.
I am so with you on this. And yet…
I read a lot of the philosophy the first time around. DIdn't help much then, not sure it'd help me much now. For me, these days, it comes down to: how can I be of service in a way that aligns with what I have to give?
Mundane, yes, but what isn't these days?
Post a Comment