In circles


“Never to speak about oneself is a very noble piece of hypocrisy.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Man and his Philosophy

If I depend on you, but you depend on her and she depends on me, we form what can be called a circle of dependency. Replace me, you, her with the variables x, y, z and you give mathematicians/programmers a splitting headache. Such a shuffle makes this a circular logic. They go on to call it a ‘vicious circle’.

The term seems to have appeared first in 1792. I am unsure of its etymology, but from what I gather, it has mathematical/logical, medical/medicinal, and to some the most obvious – societal and philosophical connotations.

Today it takes me back in my day.

I remember my time at R.K. Puram vaguely. I can sketch a broad-ish picture. Didn’t study much but somehow did well. Was never going national at sport but established a position wherever I tried. Never conceived myself an expert, but strived hard to be one. Perfection was an obsession. The resolve was strong, the approach unimaginative. My perception of what was perfect of course needed some perspective, but I salvaged what I could and went with what I thought was ‘right’ (not unlike most of us I presume). Safe to say I was big on morality. Also, the idea of being a ‘model’ anything was so beguiling. Somehow that’s what felt right at the time. Never got around to determining a model ‘what’, but ostensibly it drove me. I just wanted to have it all – equal part work equal part play, be both – bookish and popular (as if that were possible), and master it all. As is often the case under parallel circumstances, one has to make peace with just being Jack. It’s not an easy balancing act; model success in one – let’s say work, is usually concomitant with ignorance of and therefore mediocrity in the other – play.

The days are hazy, some tenets though still resonate.

The ambition I speak of above and curiosity, I remember vividly. Trying anything, knowing everything was always the agenda. Questions haunted me even then. First how, then why; how does the world work? Why does it work that way? How do people think and why not that way? I realise now, I was barking up the wrong trees. The world was never quite listening son; the answers were always lying within. If you don’t understand how you work, how do you expect any answers of the world?

Such cognizance has to be what spawned my existentialism and therefrom the inexorable accompanying crisis.

A model what is one question, a model ‘for whom’ completely another. Is it myself? How can I dismiss the foreign forces at play here? Haven’t I always been a people person? I’m pensive sure, a partial introvert maybe, but certainly not indifferent. While my ambition arises from how I want ‘people’ to perceive me (call me self-conscious), my curiosity has led me to question why I want to be that which I want to be (call me contemplative). So it follows; I want to be perceived as a model (something) by others, while I constantly examine the morality of such perception, and therefore my ambition.

Soon I recognise I’m not entirely comfortable with my perception of me or this ambition. Why be concerned with what others perceive of me? If I don’t do whatever I do only for myself, how do I expect to be a model anything? Does being such model even have meaning anymore? Is this the answer I really seek to find?

My tenets lead to dichotomous paths. I think I walked into my vicious circle.

I seek out some philosophy to find perspective. As philosophised by eminent European intellectuals such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus in mid-19th and 20th centuries, existentialism is heavily debated world over in philosophical echelons even today.

That philosophy begins with the human subject – the thinking, acting, feeling, and living human individual is one tenet of existentialism; that each individual is responsible for giving meaning to his/her own life is another7.

‘Meaning’ of course is tricky. Some find meaning in providence, religion or morality; nihilists believe there is no meaning while others find the whole concept of meaning absurd.

Kierkegaard postulated that individuals pass through three spheres of existence during the course of their lives: aesthetic, ethical and religious. In the aesthetic sphere of existence, individuals live only for short term pleasure. Eventually they have to choose between losing themselves in the crowd and committing to the next stage. At the next, ethical stage of existence individuals pledge allegiance to a code which could be religious – say Christian code or non-religious – say Doctor’s code. Commitment is internalised at this stage. The next stage, the religious stage of existence entails contentment and fulfilment by a full commitment to God. An individual may or may not move to this stage.1

So I am, in all likelihood, smack in the middle of Stage I and II.

Nietzsche’s body of work contains innumerable references to his concept of ‘Perspectivism’. In ‘Will to Power’ he states, “In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable: but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings.” 2 In ‘Human, all too Human’ he goes on to say “this world has gradually become so marvelously [sic] variegated, frightful, meaningful, soulful, it has acquired color – but we have been the colorists.”3 His theory suggests what constitutes as ‘truth’ (or I can say meaning) is merely based on many possible human perspectives and that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitively true.

There is no one true meaning of life. What do I make of mine?

According to Albert Camus “you will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life”4 rendering such ‘meaning’ sort of meaningless. What is the point of finding such meaning; especially if such search never allows one to live? The ‘Absurd’ refers exactly to this disharmony between the individual’s search for the meaning of life and meaninglessness of this, his universe. Camus goes on to state that “from the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all. But whether or not one can live with one’s passions …that is the whole question.”5 Camus embraced this Absurd and found his meaning (or what he calls passion) in the wholehearted experiencing of life. How people embrace life and its absurdity is the question his philosophy posits.

Life may or may not have meaning, what am I going to do about it?

There are some associated concepts that existentialism either breeds or abnegates.

‘Authenticity’ is a concept that entails finding one’s ‘self’ and living in accordance with this self. It is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures and influences. Essentially, how true are we to ourselves? Sartre wrote extensively on what he described as ‘bad faith’ or ‘inauthentic’.  He states, “As far as men go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become.” 6 Bad faith according to Sartre is the habit that people have of deceiving themselves into thinking that they do not have the freedom to make choices for fear of the potential consequences of making a choice6. His example of the waiter best explains this point. A waiter displays exaggerated behaviour (eagerness to please, quick and precise movements, etc.) in his act to be a waiter. However, in order to play-act at being a waiter, the waiter must at some level be aware that he is not in fact a waiter, but a conscious human being who is deceiving himself that he is a waiter6.

Do I want to be true to myself and my meaning or not?

What I find most intriguing and profound though is the concept of the ‘Other’ and the ‘Look’. Sartre’s example of a man peeping at someone through a keyhole (into a room) can help clarify this: at first, this man is entirely caught up in the situation he is in; he is in a pre-reflexive state where his entire consciousness is directed at what goes on in the room (as viewed by his act of peeping through the keyhole). Suddenly, he hears a creaking floorboard behind him, and he becomes aware of himself as seen by the Other. He is thus filled with shame for he perceives himself as he would perceive someone else doing what he was doing, as a Peeping Tom (so in a sense he judges himself). This perception is what can be termed the ‘Look’. Another characteristic feature of the Look is that no Other really needs to have been there: It is quite possible that the creaking floorboard was nothing but the movement of an old house. It is only one’s perception of the way another might perceive him7.

How do I perceive myself?

See what I mean by circles? Reducing such discourse to the term ‘vicious’ is doing it a favour, for it is ‘contiguously vicious’.

Whenever I’m trying to interpret such philosophical rhetoric in totality I am reminded of Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom. Tedious, arduous, unrelenting! The one thing I’ve learnt from whatever little I know of philosophy is that it allows a lot of room for interpretation due to its subjective nature. One philosopher constructs an increasingly intricate, mostly convoluted argument based on his or her perceptions of the ‘world’ or the ‘self’ or both, only to have it dissected, denounced and renounced by other eminent philosophers. Rarely it is accepted then adopted and even then it is subject to elaborate interpretations, commentaries and critique.

Coming a full circle.

What I’m trying to say is that these concepts, albeit complex and circular, make tremendous sense, for they have stood the test of time and their share of criticism. Take Perspectivism for instance; applying Nietzsche’s view to the validity of philosophical concepts implies I can make what I want of them, since truth is subjective and only a matter of perspective. Further, I can infer that the meaning of my life is subject to that very same concept and therefore life is what I make of it, meaning is what I see fit. Whether I needed to spend countless sleepless nights to come to this trite conclusion is now the only matter worth considering it seems. Ha!

So what can I really take from all this? There may or may not be any meaning to my existence but the beauty of life is that I can define and construct my own meaning. If I am true to this meaning, to myself, I am authentic. But I don’t have to be. I may even think the whole concept absurd and attach no value to meaning, and therefore its search, at all. A lot many don’t. With respect to my ambition of being a model for others, it is unclear to me whether this ‘Other’ is in fact other people or just my own perception of how others might perceive me, which is to say I don’t exactly know whether I want to be a ‘model’ for other people or for myself!? Just the fact that it could be either ‘Other’ is enough to drive me however. When I tire from trying for other people, I am impelled to try for myself. When I’m sick of living up to myself, I am compelled to try for the sake of others (people) – for it is the way I’ve embraced life’s absurdity, it is the meaning I have constructed for myself, it is how I fuel my passion. Self-fulfilling circular logic to the rescue! This cycle of motivation I think I can live with; my circle doesn’t appear so vicious.

Curiosity redefined ambition for me. I just managed a modus vivendi.

Before I forget, if I depend on you, you should depend on me, please forget her; I don’t like vicious circles. And why was ‘I’ the subject today? Well, I’m not a fan of hypocrisy.

Being Jack has held me in good stead, but now back to – a model ‘what’? FML


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