Again on rejoicing in the present

13 12 2010

I have begun to move away from Neoplatonic thought, mostly because I have concluded that my affinity to it is based on nostalgia and wishful thinking. In a real sense, the core of what I have always believed has been defined by dialectical materialism as a method of understanding the world. The “purely spiritual” for me is wishful thinking and a childish dream.

That being the case, I still think there is much that I take away from the period of Neoplatonic studies. I still admire Ficino, for example, if not for his metaphysics, at least for his “syncretic” approach to Christian monotheism that proves that it is, in Lacanian terms, a signifier without a signified. On the other hand, I can still rehabilitate his counsel, passed on from the ancient Academy, to “rejoice in the present”.

I am beginning to conclude that the main cause of nostalgia is not what we had, but what we lacked at any given moment. The only reason we can appreciate certain things now is because we have now what we once lacked: family, economic security, personal self-determination, and so forth. Those things for which we are nostalgic meant little to us then because we had no regard for them. It was almost as if they weren’t there. But since their meaning has shifted in our lives, we forget how much pain and suffering we have left behind, only concerned with the pain and suffering we face now. It is an absurd shell game; we are constantly picking the piece that has nothing under it.

In that sense, the ancient counsel to “rejoice in the present” should not be seen as saying that “this is the best time in your life”, just as Hegel’s “the real is rational, etc.” should not be read as an ipso facto justification of the current social and moral regime. It is, rather, a recognition of the unsettled nature of human desire. We are not happy because we are constantly looking somewhere else, when we should just realize that the nature of joy lies precisely in lack, or the threat of lack. It is because we clung to certain things in the face of lack that those things meant so much to us, at least in our current memory.