A mindful philosophy

“The artist is a seer, a becomer,” wrote the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the psychiatrist Félix Guattari in their book, What Is Philosophy?

I thought of this quote the other day, when a student of mine asked me, “What are you: a meditator or a philosopher?”

I’m not sure whether there is—or has to be—a difference, I told her, “I’m a philosopher who meditates. I guess like a carpenter, schoolteacher or football player sometimes does that, too.”

“So to philosophize is, in a way, to meditate,” she said.

“Yes.”

I’m certain that no one philosophizes without paying attention. The philosopher is a seer, I believe, or to put this in simpler, less romantic terms: To think requires us to be aware of what’s happening inside ourselves as well as outside in society.

Let me share a few thoughts from Deleuze that may show how philosophy is related to mindfulness or meditation. Let’s call it a mindful philosophy.

The writer as artist

The writer as artist has seen something—something that he or she passes on, in a way, that gives the reader enhanced access to this world.

For instance, a novel or a memoir is a communication of experiences that typically involve ethics and knowledge. A novel answers the question of how a person acts, reflects, thinks and feels during certain circumstances. This is why literature can be a way of gaining experiences that make us more mature, as it allows us to experience other forms of life.

Like the philosopher, the writer as artist is a seer and he or she confronts the reader with his or her ethical limitations. Deleuze states that “In the act of writing there’s an attempt to make life something more than personal, to free life from what imprisons it.” (from Negotiations)

To write is to resist

This means, among other things, resisting the urge to follow the dominant fantasies and ideas controlling our lives—just think of status anxiety. And yet, to resist means, first and foremost, to resist death.Report this ad

For this reason, you write to give the unborn a possibility to live freely; that is, to live a healthy life. The writer is affirming life when he or she sets free what lives.

“To affirm is to unburden: not to load life with the weight of higher values, but to create new values which are those of life, which make life light and active,” Deleuze stresses in Nietzsche & Philosophy (italics in original).

To release, set free and create values in life—this is why we want to spend time with certain writers. They extend our boundaries.

Writing and meditation

Now, let me be even more specific. I meditate so that my life can become meditative; that is, so I can let life pass through me while I try to pass on or affirm what lives.

The writer is generous when he or she passes on life. This idea also indicates that to produce art (or think philosophically), there has to be something at stake—a matter of life and death.

“A creator who isn’t grabbed around the throat by a set of impossibilities is no creator,” Deleuze says in Negotiations.

So, just imagine being grabbed by the throat. It’s not necessarily a nice image, but it’s essential. To breathe is to live. It’s basic.

Through meditation or writing (and perhaps other activities, as well), I confirm on a daily basis my intention to affirm what lives, to actualize that which is in the midst of becoming alive. And I do see this as a kind of resistance.

The capacity to pay attention

Today we live in a world in which people exploit themselves in their quest for status, prestige and power. We live in a world in which some repress and discriminate against others due to differences in race, gender, sexual preference and more.

Inequalities are growing. People are scared. The news is fake.

And yet, what I propose is that we, through meditation or philosophy, cultivate our capacity to pay attention to what we don’t want to pass on (for instance, discrimination), but also to what’s worth affirming (such as love and friendship).

Seeing means making contact with what happens and being connected with life. Becoming sensuous is also related to our capacity to be affected, which is crucial to experiencing, but also to experimenting and transforming—creating alternative ways of living, feeling and thinking.

Today, we need to do more than just address inequalities. We need to create lives that are lived beyond any rigid identities, whether we’re speaking of race, gender or some other identifier. It’s here that mindfulness can help people become more sensible and aware.

I don’t wish to claim that we, as artists, meditators or philosophers, are better than others—of course not. We can all learn to “see” and philosophize, with a little help from meditation and maybe some encounters with Kierkegaard along the way.

Once we begin paying attention, we also begin to question things, so it turns out the student questioning me was already ahead of me. That being said, I guess I’m just a student who’s occasionally disguised as a teacher!

First published in The Mindful Word

Quiero saber qué es el amor

“Quiero saber qué es el amor”, cantó la banda de rock británico-estadounidense Foreigner en los años ochenta. Estaban lejos de ser originales. Por el contrario, el amor ha sido elevado, cuestionado, estereotipado, usado y mal utilizado desde el comienzo de la existencia humana. En la cultura popular, el concepto de amor se ha trivializado hasta el punto de que podríamos sorprendernos cuando, a veces, nos enamoramos de todos los clichés y el sentimentalismo. Aunque la banda de rock puede no ser original, todavía plantea una pregunta universal.

Lee el resto de mi texto “Kierkegaard y el concepto del amor como fuerza política” que presenté en al Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Quito, Ecuador.

Kierkegaard: Love, literature & life

“Loving people is the only thing worth living for.” – Søren Kierkegaard

I will be participating in the “Ciclo de conferencias ‘Europa en la cultura'” held at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Ecuador.

The conference takes place next week.

Tuesday the 10th of December, I will be given a talk on “Kierkegaard and the concept of love as a political force.”

“Everything I do I do with love, and so I also love with love,” Kierkegaard writes in Either-Or.

***

The following two days, the 11th and 12th respectively, I will be organizing two seminars or lectures on “Philosophy, literature and a new therapeutical approach to life.

During these seminars, I will relate my thoughts to philosophers such as Deleuze, Weil, Murdoch and Wittgenstein to both problematize our current achievement society, as well as proposing possible escape routes. To strengthen my argument, I will–briefly–refer to artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Karl Ove Knausgård, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Roberto Bolaño.

If you happen to be in Quito, Ecuador, you’re welcome!

Luften i Catalonien

De catalanske seperatisters adfærd er sadistisk, mens de ekstreme højre-kræfter i Spanien er masochister. Og modsat , hvad nogen tror, så er sadisten ikke interesseret i masochisten og omvendt.

Drengen er ni år gammel. Når han synger, kan man se, at han mangler to tænder, og allerede har tre plomber. Jeg stirrer ind i den åbne mund, mens han brøler “som gent pacifica”, hvilket er catalansk, og betyder “vi er et pacifistisk folk.”

Drengen har, som så mange andre børn – også yngre – været til demonstrationer med sine forældre. Nogle gange kun den ene part, hvis den anden part ikke er separatist.

Sådan er dagligdagen i den spanske region Catalonien – både politiseret og polariseret. Flere lærere bærer synlige politiske symboler, og de lærere, som ikke ønsker at deltage i en demonstration, mister anseelse blandt de andre. Hele tiden dette mentale pres.

En lærer fra mine børns skole, hvor hovedparten af forældrene er tilhængere af uafhængighed, fortæller mig, at børnene i skolegården leger politi mod personer, en variant af politiet mod røverne. Blandt tilhængere af uafhængighed er politiet de slemme. Der er altid denne klare dikotomi i regionen. Intet er til debat, der er ingen tvivl eller usikkerhed. Spanien er de onde, mens selvstændighed er løsningen.

Læs resten af kronikken i Berlingske.

Kronikken var åbenbart mere end “la Generalitat de Catalunya” (Den nordiske delegation), kunne klare. De valgte i hvert fald, at kontakte Berlingske for at fortælle, at mine eksempler ikke bare var forkerte, simple og trivielle, men også, at de, selvfølgelig, kunne være avisen behjælpelige med de “rigtige” fakta. Et glimrende eksempel på, hvordan politiske institutioner prøver at manipulere, hvilket svarer til hvad filosoffen Gilles Deleuze kaldte “kontrolsamfundet.” Eller hvad mange blot vil kalde patetisk ynk!

Is this the right way?

Late one August evening in a small provincial town, a woman steps out her front door. In her hand, she holds a slim leather briefcase, probably containing a laptop. When she steps down from the small landing in front of the door, a mild breeze fills the air, gently tousling her long blond tresses. She tries to pull her hair back behind her ears without any luck. From the back pocket of her jeans she pulls out a bandeau and ties those unruly locks into a simple ponytail. Now, with no hair interrupting her vision, she looks first to the right and then to the left before turning around to lock the door behind her. After checking twice that the door really is locked, she rotates to face the street for the second time. 

This time she looks to the left first. Actually, at this point, her whole body shifts as she evaluates the possibility of going in that direction. 

Is this the right way? 

Read the rest of the essay in Terse Journal.

Nietzsche and Psychotherapy

It looks like the 21st century will become one of philosophical therapy.

Philosophy has moved out of the ivory tower and back into the public sphere from where it began. At times, this trend enhances the public debate and, at others, only populates philosophy to make it more marketable. The latter is often disguised self-help literature.

Another, more important reason for the awakening of philosophy is that many of today’s illness cannot be graphed using psychology. Stress, burnout, borderline, and depression can no longer be regarded as individual diagnoses. Rather, they are symptoms of a sick society. Among the philosophers who are often used in philosophical therapy, is the late Wittgenstein and his mantra “meaning is use,” or existentialist, especially when they are dealing with a pallet of powerful concepts, such as false belief, anxiety, authenticity, responsibility, freedom, and perhaps most popular, stoicism, which some used to overcome their vulnerabilities and attain peace of mind. For example, the stoic tries to eliminate the passions that cause a person to suffer. Stoicism is closely related to religious or spiritual thinkers in that they operate based on a kind of salvation, a stage in which they no longer suffer from pain or loss.

Then, there is Nietzsche.

Psychotherapist Manu Bazzano has written Nietzsche and Psychotherapy. Unlike the stoic, Nietzsche saw suffering and loss as a part of what makes a life worth living. A full and flourishing life has something at stake. For example, my love for my wife and our children makes me vulnerable because I could lose them.

Nietzsche and Psychotherapy can be read as a Nietzschean experiment that brings some of the German thinker’s concept, including joy, becoming, will to power, etc., into psychotherapy.

Bazzano shows how radical and powerful a thinker Nietzsche is, as well as how psychotherapists can learn or be inspired by his thoughts.

 For example, he tries to compare the life-affirming and life-denying approach by taking what works from psychotherapy and adding a dose of Nietzsche where these practices do not work. “In person-centered therapy it is assumed—rightly, I think—that the person receiving therapy is in a states of incongruence… It is also generally assumed—wrongly, I think—that ‘successful’ therapy means the coming together of organism and self-concept” (p. 31).

The first is right, according to the author, because those who suffer from a crisis indirectly are inviting creative experimentation into their lives. However, they do not do so to find themselves but to overcome. The self is not found; rather, it is achieved or created.

According to Nietzsche, philosophy starts in fear. For example, fear in today’s performance or achievement society has reduced education and therapy into punishment. Here, Bazzano tries to liberate psychotherapy so it becomes more creative and less judgmental. “Therapeia means, after all, healing…The nihilistic, life-denying influence of our culture has made sure that psychotherapy replicates these principles, thus functioning as a mouthpiece for a pervasive ideology of resentment” (p. 134). Instead of a passive nihilistic approach to life, Bazzano suggests the adoption of an “active nihilism” that turns therapy into a kind of entertainment, a term that originally means  “holding together” (p. 150).

Holding what together, we might ask. A myriad of interpretations of what it is that actually is holding life together (or potentially might hold it together), and how intense it is doing so, etc. The approach related to Nietzsche goes against a mechanical, teleological or strictly normative approach; instead it opens for a more intuitive, poetic and liberating relationship to and with life. “Where you can guess, there you hate to deduce,” Nietzsche is quoted for saying. Bazzano call it “therapy without prejudice” (p. 82).

In a psychotherapeutic setting it “means that the criteria of true and false no longer have primacy and are superseded by new criteria of high and low, noble and mean. What begins to matter more is the sense and value of what one thinks, feels and says” (p. 165). In his book on Nietzsche, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze said something like that we have the thoughts and feeling we have due to our form of life.

Reading Nietzsche and Psychotherapy, you instantly notice that Bazzano is a man with an agenda. He exemplifies Nietzsche, where the German said: “Every talent must unfold itself in fighting” (p. 50).

The book is not a critical inquiry into Nietzsche, but one using Nietzsche to conduct a critical inquiry into psychotherapy, yet always trying to do so in an affirmative way. I would not recommend the book to readers with no knowledge of either Nietzsche or psychotherapy. However, if the reader has some experience in these areas, the book is inspiring. Furthermore, the book is full of illuminating quotes by Nietzsche and Deleuze, which actually make it archaeological.

The writer ends, “We go on digging. The conversation is infinite.”

Review published in Metapsychology, Volume 23, Issue 24

Michel Serres

I first crossed paths with Michel Serres in the late 90s. I was studying philosophy at that time in Copenhagen when I overheard someone speaking about a French writer and philosopher who had a “poetic style.” Shortly afterward, I found a book written by Serres called Genèse published in 1982. The volume marks a shift in his oeuvre from a more traditional academic style to a more poetical tone. For example, from Genèse onwards Serres rarely used footnotes. It was the beginning of the kind of love affair that philosophy is full of—illustrating that philosophical thinking begins with a vital force like loving friendship.

Michel Serres was born in Agen, France in 1930 and died Saturday, June 1st, 2019.

He was the son of a sailor—a path he too followed by entering the École Navale in 1949. In 1952, he began studying at Ècole Normale Supériere. Significant for a multidisciplinary thinker like Serres, he was a licentiate in three disciplines: mathematics, philosophy, and classical philology. After graduation, he returned to sea, working as a naval officer until 1958. Following this period he began teaching, and his philosophical opus began with his doctoral thesis on Leibniz in 1968. Still, the sea never left him. For example, on several occasions, he described philosophy as a journey through an archipelago, where the philosopher connects what is being separated. For a time, Serres was a professor at Stanford in the US, and in 1990, he became a member of the French Academy.

Read the rest of the essay in Erracticus.

We play to survive

We play to survive.

Play refers to our engagement in an activity, either as participants or active observers. It is normally regarded as a fun endeavor that often results in anger and frustration when interrupted. However, I argue that playing is a matter of life and death. Unlike games, which have a competitive element, play is a joyous activity—and when we get bored, we stop or invent new aspects or dimensions of play. Games, of course, can also be joyful, but they differ from playing in the sense that they stimulate an extrinsic motivation, whereas playing is much more intrinsic. We play because we like to play.

Unfortunately, we tend to play less as we age, perhaps because we lose some of the imagination that makes the play worth playing, and we forget the implicit existential lesson within it. 

Play is a metaphysical activity.

Read the rest of the “Play Is the Metaphysics of Becoming” in Erraticus

Spain: between two extremes

Albert Camus once described a nationalist as someone who loves their country too much.

I recently wrote a small reflection on Catalonia based on my experiences of living in Barcelona for more than ten years. This reflection was not – contrary to what some might think – motivated by a certain political position. I think all political positions are legal, but not all are equally reasonable.

Instead, I wrote it because I am professionally interested in how a group of people finds ways to feel superior to another group of people. It happens everywhere, not just in politics, not just in Spain. This, for me, is the lowest part of what makes us human: the need to discriminate, to find someone else to put down.

It’s a tendency practiced by Catalan separatists – not by all Catalans as such. That is to say – with emphasis – Catalonia does not have a problem with Spain, but some people in Catalonia do.

The Catalan separatists or nationalists, however, are not alone. There exist at least two extreme groups in Spain. On one side, you have the Catalan separatists, who see themselves as victims superior to the rest of Spain. They operate with one logic: regardless of the problem, it’s always Spain’s fault, and independence is always the solution.

Such logic is convenient because it hinders any kind of critical self-reflection.

One the other side, the extremists are Spanish nationalists, who use more or less the same rhetorical strategy: an emotional, almost sentimental tone, self-victimization, and self-righteousness.

In between the two extremes exist many critical, nuanced, reflective voices full of compassion and respect. They exist in Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Unfortunately, many journalists tend to focus on the drama of the extremes – perhaps myself included in my previous opinion.

During my stay in Spain, I have travelled around this beautiful country and spoken with people in different cities, such as Santiago Compostela, Vigo, Girona, Valencia, Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, and Madrid, and many small pueblos. I’ve seen the flourishing of ecological and feminist awareness. I’ve seen willingness to explore and reconcile with the country’s past.

Travelling around Spain, I have met people who are proud of the divergence and plurality of customs, languages, and cultures in their country. They are proud of being part of something richer than their own region. It’s something rather special. It recalls what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze aimed at when he spoke about how we can maintain our singularity and still be part of something bigger: not by reducing these differences, not by becoming the same, but by nurturing our differences with respect for others’ differences. There is something generous in this approach.

A possible road away from these two extremes might be to implement teaching of philosophy and critical thinking in public schools. Educate empathic, kind, critical citizens who respect different opinions but always question from where they emerge, while appealing to the good in your opponent’s human qualities. Make sure that future citizens have both the knowledge and the courage to use their minds. Today, many people tend to only listen to opinions that suit their own beliefs.

Another important element is to cultivate a more critical journalism that avoids being seduced by the populistic rhetoric of the Catalan separatist as well as the Spanish nationalist. Instead, journalists can try to unfold the plural voices guided not by resentment but by curiosity and compassion. Critical journalism can help us reflect by asking the right questions, not by giving solutions. Consensus never guarantees truth; instead, what I aim at is a pluralism that unfolds any given situation in various perspectives. Critical journalists can emphasize that being against Spain per se (or any other group of people) is literally being against everyone and everything but yourself. It’s discrimination. It’s narcissism even.

‘The problem is the big, fat ego,’ as the philosopher Iris Murdoch once said. Or, as I would put it: holders of all extreme positions are, by definition, either too lazy to think or too ignorant to do so!

I’ve seen all kinds of people living here, all forms of life. Spain is not a perfect democracy (if such a thing even exists), but between the two extremes, a generous and kind people emerges. They are the reason why I live here.

Finn Janning, PhD, is a writer and philosopher.

First published in Spain in English.

Does Santa exist?

Does Santa Claus exists; or as some prefer to put the question: Is the world an illusion?

Yes is the answer. I don’t necessarily understand the word illusion as being a false idea or belief, rather I claim that illusions are not false per se.

Allow me to clarify. I don’t believe that the world is given, I doubt that an unchangeable certainty exists, save that we shall all die one day. I don’t believe that empiricism can be reduced to what can be observed, that is to say something which can be weighed  (e.g. chairs or tables) or measured (e.g. the distance to a chair). Rather, like the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, I concur with the idea that what we call empirical might also be subjective, even illusionary, like a thought, a hallucination, or a picture. In that sense, an illusion can be seen as a force that works within the real, making the real more real or enhancing the world. 

Another way of saying this would be to claim that Harry Potter, Santa Claus, a unicorn or flying dragons are real. They all exist, not only in the sense that it makes sense for me to mention them here, but they can also serve as a way of understand or describing aspects of this world. Harry Potter is just as real as black holes! Or take money—a rather useless piece of paper or digital number in your account—many people believe in the value of money because it works. I can change a five Euro note into six beers or three red roses. Actually, money is just as real as Santa Claus! Just by writing and sending him a letter, many children experience that he works. Just by buying presents, many parents confirm his existence.

Whether the world is an illusion or not is a metaphysical question, a metaphysics of being versus one of becoming. According to Popper, metaphysical questions can’t be proved, only be more or less convincing answered based on our experiences—including one that takes illusions or hallucinations serious. Furthermore, there are also some practical consequences related to our metaphysical belief. For example, a too rigid belief in a given world architecture, easily leads to stubborn attitude toward being true or false, right or wrong. Perhaps what we witness in today’s  identity politics, exclusive moralism, and fanaticism? 

A metaphysic of becoming is more humble, when various potentials, movements, hallucinations, or illusions are actualized (and accepted) as real due to their capacity to change how we see and understand reality. If I’m right about this illusion, assuming that is even possible, then it confirms that life as such can never be owned or grasped fully. All we can do is make room for that which brings life—and here illusions are just as powerful as hardcore science.