When life blooms

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, When life blooms – Breathe with Jeppe Hein will be released November 28th.

The publisher writes about the book:

“Danish artist Jeppe Hein soared to the top of the international art scene before the age of 35. His works were showcased at the world’s finest exhibitions and sold for sky-high prices. Then suddenly his body said stop. In 2009 Hein went down with stress.

In this book philosopher Finn Janning follows Jeppe Hein’s development from the tome immediately after his diagnosis with burn out and onward – a period where Hein underwent psychoanalysis and developed and interest in yoga, breathing exercises and spirituality.

Janning shows how spirituality has become more present in Hein’s works, and in the book, he develops an existential philosophy in continuation of the artists spirituality and art.”

I may add:

It’s a philosophical biography that describes the life of the artist Jeppe Hein. In doing so, I’ve tried to exemplify Gilles Deleuze’s idea that “life is not personal,” that is to say, each life is a case study.

I choose this approach as a way of addressing the narcissism of the artist without making the narrative confronting, or in anyway judgmental.

Instead, I illustrate how Jeppe is formed by the major cultural trends during the last 40 years, such as the growing accelerating and spirituality and social entrepreneurship. He is an artist of his time.

It’s a book that tests and nuances the popularity of today’s spirituality through a philosophical, primarily existential lens.


Whenlife blooms_cover

Last, although I’m glad to have a book of mine being translated into English (it was written in Danish), I’ve detected a few mistakes, see more here.

Philosophy as fiction

“For me, philosophy is a way of living and not an academic discipline that requires you to swallow a certain amount of information to pass. Most great novelists are philosophers. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said that literature in order to become philosophy must become fiction. I like that. It also shows that the distinction between philosophy and literature is rather new—perhaps stemming from Kant—but does it matter if Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, de Beauvoir, and all the others are classified as philosophers or writers?”

Read the rest of the interview in Under the Gum Tree.

We’re All Accountable

… From my essay on sexism, morality, identity politics, and compassion:

“I remember Rebecca Solnit saying something about men being the problem—not all men, but men. And she’s almost right. Because men, as philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said about women, aren’t born men; they become men. Weinstein didn’t come into this world as a sick misogynist. He, like all those like him, was formed by the culture in which he was brought up.

Luckily, I think, I spent a lot of time with my mother and my sister. Yet, many small boys spend time with their mothers, and less time with their fathers … or, at least, they used to. Does this mean that even women—some mothers—are favouring their sons? Encouraging them to see themselves as better than girls? Telling their daughters to passively obey?”

Read the entire essay here.

To Think Philosophically?

”If philosophy did not exist, we cannot guess the level of stupidity [there would be]. Philosophy prevents stupidity from being as enormous as it would be were there no philosophy. That’s philosophy’s splendor, we have no idea what things would be like … So when we say ”to create is to resist,” it’s effective, positive, I mean.” – Deleuze, L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze.

What does it means to think philosophically?

I don’t think that only philosophers think or reflect. Rather, philosophers do so in a distinctive way by creating concepts that can help us see things we weren’t aware of before. It can be the way Simone de Beauvoir made many readers aware of the problematic assumption that men were the first sex and women were merely a diversion. It reminds me of how Deleuze and Guattari, years later, said that for far too long, the hegemonic ideal has been a white, 33 year old heterosexual man called Jesus, which not only discriminates, but also hinders our thinking. In a broader sense, be open toward other ways of living. This is also why solely giving advice, potentially, takes away the responsibility from each of us to be accountable for our actions.

So while we all – or most of us – think daily about what to eat, wear, do, etc. (especially if you have children who need healthy lunches and clean clothes), thinking philosophically requires that we pay attention to the present moment — that we critically reflect on what is happening, including evaluating our own behavior. It emphasizes that philosophy can’t teach you what to think or give you clear steps to attaining peace of mind. However, it can nurture critical thinking that can help us evaluate various forms of thinking. Instead of telling us what to think, philosophers can help us clarify how thinking is possible and perhaps even show us what philosophical thinking looks like.

For example, today it seems rather convenient to say that people who voted for Brexit or Trump can’t think, but here we might just be showing our own arrogant tendency for moralizing, i.e., judging. Instead, differences in opinions are an invitation to confront our own possible lack of understanding. Why do they believe that this is right? Once we get a better grab of their life-situation and moral reasoning, then we might show how the arguments behind these votes exhibit incoherent thinking. Thus, empathy for difference is not a blind acceptance but an ongoing process of questioning.

Similar, Trump voters, for example, seem to fear women, blacks, Mexicans, homosexuals, etc. He discriminates and represses what scares him, but more importantly, he does so based on irrational feelings of fear. He acts stupid. Yet, we should still ask whether Trump is the main problem, or whether it’s the ideology created him and later put him in power. There is, of course, no evidence that shows that men, in general, are better than women at anything, no evidence that Caucasians are better than blacks, etc. His value judgments, therefore, are not based on facts, but ignorance. But how can ignorance seduce so many?

So, although philosophy should not be about giving advice, it can still be taught. People can learn to become more aware about their own unreasonable beliefs and recognize their blind spots, such as whether they unintentionally discriminate by how they use language, etc. Such teaching is not taking away personal responsibility, but instead giving responsibility back to the people so they can become informed citizens and think for themselves.

Another example may illustrate this. Today, the media talk a lot about “fake news.” (I wonder whether all this talk is true or an example of how the concept of fake news can be used strategically.) People seem to ask: Who is responsible? Who should control it? However, instead of blaming Facebook or any other medium, I think it is troubling that so few people apparently are capable of critically questioning the news they receive — the sources, motives, agendas, and how the news is framed. Also, it seems as if many believe that objective journalists exist, even though everything is subjective. The truth is not out there, but created through our engagement with the world. Even journalists who strive to deliver well-researched news are still colored by their career objectives, personal beliefs and ideas, editors’ input, etc.

Therefore, if people really can’t think for themselves, then teaching them how to think becomes a social responsibility for all of us — mostly through schools.

Luckily, I have seen a growing trend, which I embrace, in which philosophy is being taught to children. I think that going forward, teaching philosophy is the best way to combat future sexism, racism, and other discrimination, the sad consequences of not being able to think philosophically. I stress best way because teaching people how to think won’t necessarily guarantee that they don’t repress, discriminate or violate other human beings, still self-knowledge tend to minimize self-deception in most sane people.

Plato's Academy

Plato’s Academy, Athens: Philosophy was from the beginning open to the world, in direct relation with the world – in the streets, parks, etc. Philosophy for all!