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.


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9 responses

19 01 2011
Ron Pavellas

Hello,

I happened across your blog by researching an article I intend to write on Ficino. I’ve subscribed by email. Although I more and more resist labels, finding them limiting, I agree with one commenter here that your essay on rejoicing in the moment appears in consonance with what I think I know about Buddhism. I will forward the article to someone I know who is suffering from painful remembrances and future fears.

Best wishes,

Ron Pavellas

2 01 2011
The Three Stages of Philosophy in Miniature « Sancrucensis

[…] I said to myself). But it was when I found that he had first tried to be a Thomist and that he is presently moving from Neoplatonism back to his original dialectical materialism that I really began to wonder (Das […]

15 12 2010
Carl

I’ve studied some Nishida. He definitely took a strong influence from Meister Eckhart and other Western mystics.

14 12 2010
R H

are you still Catholic?

13 12 2010
Henry Karlson

I have a weird position, one which seems to run counter to what it should be: I’m Buddhistic in my Platonism. And yet, I think this is where the truth lies; the best example of someone who tried to follow this route is Kitaro Nishida, though I think I would turn him upside down if I were to do what he did. Have you studied any of his works?

13 12 2010
KarlH

“Religion and culture seem to be represented by a catholic belief that
something is lacking which must be found, but as to what the something
is, the keys of heaven, the missing heir, genius, the smells of childhood, or
a sense of humor, why it is lacking, whether it has been deliberately
stolen, or accidentally lost or just hidden for a lark, and who is
responsible, our ancestors, ourselves, the social structure, or mysterious
wicked powers, there are as many faiths as there are searchers, and clues
can be found behind every clock, under every stone, and in every hollow
tree to support all of them.” (Auden: CP 440-41)

13 12 2010
KarlH

Concerning your analysis of nostalgia, I can’t really confirm/deny it based upon personal experience. I’ve never been a very nostalgic person. I like the past, but I’ve never really missed it.

Perhaps you’re becoming a Buddhist. 😛

13 12 2010
KarlH

I second this. I’m not sure how one can remain a Catholic and throw away /all/ Neoplatonic philosophy.

13 12 2010
Francis

Perhaps you might indulge me in sharing what your current “Three Pillars” might look like with this move away from Neo-Platonic thought?

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