Abel Gholaerts

Amateuristic translation below.

"Het leven is geen boek. Nergens begint het. Het is hier en daar en ginder, en alles gebeurt tegelijk. Een boek is anders. Dit boek begint in het huis der Van Geemen waar het altijd stil is, waar het riekt naar papier en inkt.
De Van Geemen verkiezen de stilte. Niet omdat die hun lief is. In werkelijkheid hongeren zij ergens diep in hun wezelhart naar den daver van het leven, maar zijn er bang voor."
Louis-Paul Boon, Abel Gholaerts (Manteau, 1944), Chapter 1, Paddenhoek, p. 1.


'Abel Gholaerts' is one of the first books I ever read. I guess I was barely 16. Looking for the quote I automatically started rereading it; sublime even when read without the spleen of somebody too young to read such a book (nothing good comes from reading books at a young age, life will never be able to fill in what is pointed to in such books, life simply is too coincidental, too spread out and too everywhere, life does not just begin nowhere, it also lacks the pointe and ends nowhere in particular).

Books are bigger than life. Much misery, melancholy and spleen results from a life not able to live up to expectations expressed in even the most miserable of the big stories. That's what language does in general; it creates a world in which everything seems to be like the real world but in which nothing real has a place. The great stories - those of Flaubert, Joyce, Boon, Faulkner (and not so many more) - come closest to providing a sense of the senselessness of it all. But they still provide a sense and are therefore very much unlike life.

Language is not life. It is not even life-like. Sure, it influences your reality but that does not mean it expresses any reality. Language is not here, not there, it is not anywhere at all in this world. A lot of good would come from a general acceptance of this. People would not lock others up because of a conflict that is only linguistic (any religious conflict for instance, God is eminently linguistic). Maybe people would not avoid life - sitting quietly in their language-knit little corners - when they would realize that the fears they have are, for the most part, purely linguistic fears. There's nothing wrong with purely linguistic fears or desires, as sexual imagination clearly shows, but one has to understand it for what it is: something that borders on but is not interchangeable with life, as some sexual imagination clearly shows.

From the end of the book: "When he boasts that he could still write good books, but does not do it anymore because the world is not worth it, he says. The world does not understand me. Yes - and Germain forgets that it is he who does not understand the world." Books have little to do with the world. Only a very few words have to do anything specific with the world. This is something that is to be understood - hard to understand maybe and almost impossible to explain for sure - if one wants to understand a world in which there is a phenomenon like language.

And when one wants to understand a book or a thought one needs to see it will always have a beginning and an end. When something is said, something is invariably also meant. This meaning one can try to confront with the world - in some always chronically incomplete way - and the confrontation can lead to other thoughts and other books that impact life in a more beneficial way (but beware, the benefit will always have to be put in words again). But there is a sense in which the book or the thought can be appreciated regardless of this confrontation. Maybe this is the artistic sense and maybe all art is - indeed - quite useless.

The irony is that you can even make a gospel out of Louis-Paul Boon ;-) What I wrote is much too deep but I stand by the thought: the universe of words is a completely different universe that that of actions and events. When they do touch - something they undoubtedly do - it is never straightforward. Many of our issues come from oversimplifying the relation between our language and our world. The recency of language probably explains why we have not been able to come to terms with it. The recency of "I" probably explains why we do tend to associate it as referring to a physical rather than to a linguistic item - more late, I guess.


"Life is not a book. It begins nowhere. It's here and there and yonder, and everything happens at the same time. This book begins in the house of the Van Geems where it's always quiet, where it reeks of paper and ink.
The Van Geems prefer the silence. Not because they like it. In reality they hunger somewhere deep in their cowardly hearts after the buzz of life, but they are afraid of it."


17:45 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, dynamics, boon |  Facebook |


Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective

"Nothing in the world would count as a sentence, and the concept of truth would therefore have no application, if there were not creatures that used sentences by uttering or inscribing tokens of them. Any complete account of truth must therefore relate it to actual linguistic intercourse." Donald Davidson, "Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective" (Clarendon Press, 2001), Chapter 12 (Epistemology and Truth), p. 181.

Not exactly a popular writer, Davidson is not even a writer whom people refer to in order to give themselves a more intellectual image. That's for the best, it is rather comforting to know that people can make their way - without making a string of concessions along that way. His impact is substantial and will grow as more people understand how he brought together what did seem doomed to diverge forever. Davidson is a fin de siecle thinker of sorts - more modest if compared to those of more than a century ago but, then again, the future will turn out to be rather more modest than most would anticipate.

The great schism in philosophy is a product from the previous fin de siecle. On one hand Anglo-Saxon philosophy oriented itself to logic, mathematics and an initially rather pristine concept of truth - in fine to the objective. On the other, continental philosophy meandered through various quasi-religious territories, trying to find big answers to the traditional big human questions - in fine to a rather subjective inclination. Far from me to suggest that both paths were as productive, most of the continental tradition was a waste of time - some of it is annoying at its best, plain dangerous at its worst. The logico-mathematical and analytic/linguistic path were, and still are, extremely productive.

But Wittgenstein quickly discovered that - as productive as the early him may have been - there was more to it and that this required a late him as well. He must have understood this, even if he could never have expressed it - lacking as he did the time to reflect on the writings of the late Wittgenstein. Which is why from the outside we see an early W on truth almost completely split from a late W on language use. The late W moreover lacked any formal apparatus to discuss what he needed to discuss leading to a very specific style (with the unfortunate side effect many can now insultingly claim to see him as mystical), it took the better part of a century to bring his point home.

In the quote there is truth, their are language users and the necessity of the combination of both. There even is an almost passionate continental word as 'intercourse'. The intersubjective is an invention of continental philosophy. It's a term crucial to the moral and political philosophy of for instance Habermas & Rawls, one of the few real contributions continental philosophy has made to a better understanding of the world (or, more simply, to a better world). Donald Davidson brings these things together. Far from solving all problems, or trying to create a definitive philosophy, he definitely puts philosophy in a direction in a way that only a Kant or Socrates did before him. From here on we may well ignore many things that are plain wrong (and, if well written, reserve them for reading some poetical truth into them) but we can also combine many things that were thought before to be too far apart to enter into a same argument.

This could be our project (or rather unfortunately, my project): to understand these connections, to extract from analytical thought the moral conclusions. I did not get to what I probably needed to say about the quote itself but that's as well. The idea of the site is not to have to hurry, not to have to conlude in a format that is socially recognized for its 'impact' so another day and another quote. At least I hope I have made it clear where I find the basis - if it proves to be a basis - for quoting from both the philosophical left and right in search of a truth that lives up to the staunchest and clearest criteria whilst having a direct relevance to the everyday personal and social life.

In closing (on rethinking the above), the staunchest and clearest criteria have been left unmentioned. That's certainly a pity if not a crime, because this way one might be tempted to read into the above truth as relative to this or that - nothing is farther from my mind. The reference to language users does not do that: it does not relativize truth (as in your truth is yours and mine is mine, or ours is ours - one of the worst outcomes of continental philosophy is the type of post-modernism that prefixed a word to another word because it could not come to an understanding of that last word), it allows to understand it. But it is best I stop here as the argument for that is embryonically present in above quote and as nobody was ever served by redoing an argument using another terminology (discounting the beneficiaries of plagiarism, that is).


If you're interested: whilst writing this I was listening to "Dmitri Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues op. 87, by Keith Jarrett (ECM New Series)".

16:08 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: convergence, davidson, language |  Facebook |


De l´amitié

"Il les laisse heritiers de cette sienne liberalité, qui consiste à leur mettre en main les moyens de luy bien-faire." Michel de Montaigne, Essais Livre 1 (Flammarion 1969), Chapitre XXVIII (amateuristic translation below).

I'm not sure I get it. It's not pure coincidence that I start with something I'm not sure of. A good quote is never a slam-dunk type of argument but always leads to an element of wonder. This element of wonder fuels your creativity, and hence your thought.

I did not reread the entire chapter. I guess it does not make a romantic plea for altruistic friendship of the kind that makes people forget themselves in an attempt to improve the fate of others. Friendship, as specifically human trait, cannot be a matter of a couple of individuals. Friendship, understood as pure reciprocal relationship, is nothing but a romanticized version of the economic quid pro quo. Human acts and feelings of friendship can therefore not be just - or mainly - a matter of reciprocal acts of benevolence. At heart we know for sure that friendship is of another kind than what makes economic sense.

At least, that much was the fruit of my first wonder. If somehow in the  right direction, we need not just look for a relationship between individuals but for a relationship tying befriended individuals to something they hold in common (do not take my words too literally, if one could mean things with an isolated sentence or word one would not experience wonder at them). Now, the only thing I can think of that individuals can really hold in common is an intention. If so friendship shows by commitment to a common intention rather than by a commitment to a friend. It then allows for quite some egotism, insofar such an intention has its source in a single individual. This may be the way to come to the quote above, he/she who creates an intention that can commonly be held creates friendship. Not just regardless of whether he/she benefits of it; but precisely because he/she allows for something where others can share in the creation of some benefit.

True, this is still a quite foggy notion. As all words, 'friendship' is also a messy word and it is a characteristic of pre-modern thought to rap on words without noticing that the wrap put around words is a clear show of the insuffiencies of the word itself. Modernity however doesn't rescue us from pre-modern reflex, we are not just language analyzed.

As per the above the easiest common intention is the well-being of a specific individual. People not interested in their own well-being are mostly just lousy friends, they tend to care little about anybody else's well-being and want to subjugate us to some overriding abstract concept. Not because they intend to reach something but because they believe (and want to make us believe) that we should humble ourselves in the light of Greater Things. It is the proud whom we love. From this simple intention it is not too difficult to generate the more complex actions and events of the social world - not that everything is friendship but it seems that at least a lot of social interaction rests on notion of friendship (at least it seems like that to me now).

Emotional friendship, material friendship based on intention of one's financial security, monogamy based on the intention of sexual security; those having  time and the virtue of lengthy undivided attention can analyze forever. We're misplaced to denounce as "false" friends those who help the rich feel well as long as that help originates before the economic advantage (economy is not something we will avoid here just as little as we can avoid nature elsewhere) that springs from it came to mind. We're as misplaced to denounce the rich to accept that help on the basis of friendship since friendship only degenerates to an economic concept when we demand reciprocity in the actions borne out by friendship.

A final note on a most special kind of friendship: intellectual friendship where the common intention is intellectial in nature. A creation, a thought, invention or whatever other fascination; not of the kind already described desiring us to be put under some abstract notion standing loftily outside of us (that's a religion and religions are never good in themselves but at best only good as far as they promote something good inside of us) but of the kind that springs from within someone of us. That friendship is the most difficult to attain, but the most beneficial to all of us because of the creative power it can unleash. Diificult to attain because this type of friendship is not just gift but also, and very explicitly, a service delivered towards an idea of somebody else. Pride is often an insurmountable hurdle for intellectual friendship. Intelligence is only possible in the proud but pride about one's ideas is for the weak enough not to assist in helping along somebody else's ideas.

Jealousy will be for another time but rest assured, jealousy is based on mere fallacy, to wit: the notion that the idea-space is finite and that the laws of our economy apply within that space.

"He makes them heirs to his liberalism, which consists in giving them a means to treat him well."

14:38 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: montaigne, intention, friendship |  Facebook |