or PURE POSSIBILITY
Chantal Delsol makes this feature of modern life a central theme of her incisive analyses of “late-modernity”. And our Carl Scott has written on it in an issue of Perspectives on Political Science (the world’s BEST journal, some might say), as well as an essay in Lucid Mind, Intrepid Spirit: Essays on the Thought of Chantal Delsol. The musicologist-political philosopher Carl deftly employs David Bowie to illustrate the phenomenon.
Paul reminds me: I never got my free copy of the Lucid book. And Paul is right on Carl’s essay and the Delsol woman.
I don’t think most of us are lacking in limits. For every one of us who even a few options, there are thousands of us chained to an office cubicle, pushing off endless numbers of CRT inputs to make and e-mails to answer, sitting in interminable committee meetings being abused by the small number of bent people who actually enjoy them, answering incoherent telephone calls, and returning home too exhausted by chronic worry and stress to do anything more than pop a frozen dinner into the microwave and sit in an absurdly overstuffed recliner.
“Sonny, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“An overtime worker with a 401k, Daddy, just like you.”
Only one of the great philosophic thinkers of our time, who happens to be our friend and a pretty good election-analyst, could describe one of the other great philosophic thinkers of our time as “the Delsol woman.”
(Yeah, for the hard-core Straussians out there, I avoided using the word “philosopher.” Ralph Hancock might not approve of that courtesy.)
Anyhow, it was the strange convergence of Plato and Pascal(the latter channeled through Tocqueville) that made me realize the symbolic importance of Bowie’s Change-laden example to our times.
I.e., the first hint I know of in the world’s literature about the hell of pure possibility, of living for Change, comes in Plato’s description of the Democratic Man (Republic, Bk. VIII) living day by day trying out a different way of life. This also means that the secret fire behind the attraction to tyranny is not Eros per se, nor pleasure-seeking, but the eventual hatred of the life of pure possibility, a dangerous hatred to arrive at, since it can feel a lot like a hatred of human life and possibility itself. I.e., after you’ve tried out and exhausted the ultra-democratic “Bowie,” you’re far more open to trying out something like the Dark Knight’s “Joker.” Serious hellishness…
Delsol woman approximates the soul man, of course. And the next portion of the blog would be all about tocqueville on democracy and marx on communism etc.
And everyone should read Carl’s big dissertation on the above, which he will doubtless soon make easy by putting it out as a book.
Hegel saw this “bad” form of possibility as a characteristic of modern society and life; he coined a nice phrase, “bad infinity,” to describe it. He had in mind two things: the “infinite” number of varieties of the same thing produced by capitalism, e.g., all the brands of toothpaste we pass by at Rite Aide; the “endless” career options that a young person (he said, “young man”) has to consider as he enters into life in civil society. He had a good deal of sympathy for this anxiety-inducing latitude yawning before a young person. His solution, of course, was some sort of “concrete universal”, e.g., being a married professor of political philosophy in a still great-to-good liberal democracy.
… and, of course, a philosophic Protestant.
Hat tip to Mr. Seaton for turning my attention to this thread, albeit so late. Thrilled to find out that Delsol has such an influence here.
One thought for Peter. By quoting Sarte did you not consider the irony that the man celebrated the condition of unlimited possibility you aptly refer to as hell as an exilerating form of existential liberty or as he put it metaphysical liberty.
Okay one more observation. I often get the sense from many posts on this site that there are numerous points of contact with the ideas of Kierkegaard, yet his name virtually never comes up. Is there a bias here against depressive Lutheran thinkers?
To see what I mean refer to David Walsh’s book Modern Philosophical Revolution’s chapter on Kierkegaard’s treatment of this topic in his books The Concept of Anxiety and Sickness unto Death. I sometimes think our modern era is really the imagined concoction of Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky.
Apologies Peter. I meant Metaphysical Freedom not Metaphysical Liberty.
I think Soren’s little book (actually half of a longer review), The Present Age, is great; very Tocquevillian, very insightful. I think his criticisms of Hegel are worth considering, especially if taken to envisage Hegelianism rather than the real thinker. Like most Catholics, I find his characterization of the life of faith too Protestant, i.e., individualistic. He also is somewhat too contemptuous of bourgeois society. Almost always stimulating. As a Catholic Socratic, I feel some kinship with a Lutheran Socratic, but our Socrates’s are different (Strauss intervened), as are our ecclesial communions.
Call me “Paul,” all my friends do.
Pseudo, Thanks for all your fine posts and bringing K. in. That is the irony I was thinking about when bring Sartre in–but also Percy’s fascination w S.
Mail (will not be published) (required)