The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own --Goethe
Many of the Readers of these Pages will remember how I love to be surprised by mountains. It is probably mainly because I am from the desert-- and in the dry desert air of Los Angeles, the mountains never move. They are ever present-- standing in allurement. Similarly up in the very high plateau of the Himalaya, where the air is crystal clear and it’s quite simply too high up to rain or snow, so too are the mountains always visible, beckening.
In contrast-- here in Japan, where they are often hidden behind clouds, mist and haze, you could forget the mountains are even there for a great part of the year. On particularly clear days however-- like yesterday--- suddenly you are taken completely aback. Wow! Was that mountain always there?
I have been re-reading Mark Lilla's superb article--written in 1999 for the NYRB-- on the publication of the collected letters between Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt (thanks Carl). Their correspondance is incomplete with over 3/4 of the letters written by Heidegger, still- as Lilla expertly points out--there is so much of interest in them. Probably more than anything in his article, I appreciated what was a very illuminating discussion of the concept of passionate thinking (where knowing is being or thinking as an end in itself?). It was this commitment to the life of the spirit, says Lilla, that served as the foundation for Heidegger and Arendt's unique and long-lasting friendship.
She called Heidegger a "hidden King"-- and without a doubt, it was his philosophy which drew her to him and it was also that which would create such strong ties as to be almost hard to really understand-- given the circumstances.
Lilla asks, "What does philosophy have to do with love?" and without skipping a beat answers:
"If Plato is to be believed, everything. While not all lovers are philosophers, all philosophers are, for him, lover-- indeed they are the only true lovers because they alone understand what lovers blindly seek."
I agree. And I also like to think of this spiritual place in which love and passionate thinking come together to create bonds between people. This "intellectual passion" perhaps is more than anything pure Hannah Arendt:
"What was experienced was that thinking as pure activity-- and this means impelled neither by the thirst for knowledge nor the drive for cognition-- can become a passion which not so much rules and oppresses all other capacities and gifts, as it orders them and prevails through them. We are so accustomed to the old opposition of reason versus passion, spirit versus life, that the idea of passionate thinking, in which thinking and aliveness become one, takes us somewhat aback."
"Thinking" as an end in itself; "thinking" as passion and life-invigorating-- that this could form the most extraordinary kinds of bonds between people should come as no surprise. And yet, in today's world, maybe it does come as a surprise (so accustomed are we for searching out emotional intimacy based on emotional intimacy...?) What do you think?
Still, no matter how much one may understand the basis of their friendship, that it survived the realities of Heidegger's turn to Nazism is not as easy to grasp, it it? For it has become clear that he was in fact an active participant (and not just swept along with the tide of the times in Germany). Jaspers cut off ties for years with "the King," but Arendt-- for whatever reason-- remained loyal to him in many ways right till the very end of her life.
Heidegger was not the only Nazi with a Jewish lover.
In January, I received a comment from Ken Thomas to my old Hannah Arendt post which included the detail that the infamous Nazi "architect" Eichmann also had a Jewish lover. It is something that has stuck in my mind for months. How do such moral blindspots come about? (Namit emails me this morning to say, "people compartmentalize.")
Many of you will remember our conversations here and here concerning Confucian Virture as "Really Looking." Perhaps you will recall that I tried to argue that, rather than being some kind of internal inward-looking (where outer actions are aimed to be harmonious with internalized moral convictions) that in fact, virtue should always be based firmly on-- indeed, it demands-- a kind of "other-focused" aesthetic seeing. I quote from Ken Thomas' comment here:
What Arendt claimed-- which she underlines with the fact that Eichmann had a Jewish lover-- was that Eichman was incapable of "seeing things from the other person's point of view"-- of imagining what it was like-- of putting himself into another's mind or experience-- a capacity necessary for political action and the existence of the political realm itself. He-- his flaw, perhaps a modern flaw, or the consequence of totalarianism, or (this is not Arendt:) just a vicissitude of history-- was the banality of his lack of vision, his self-ishness, the cognitive flaw that meant he could not think in a particular way--
The banality of his lack of vision.
Interestingly, Heidegger too warns us against this kind of banality (or habitus). A friend reminds me hat it is the lack of vision that is our undoing (ie "dasein only understands itself in the LIGHT of possibility").
For whatever reason, it seems to me that human ethics require this kind of Other-oriented vision or Other-looking. Heidegger-- ironically-- called for the same thing when he posited that ethical action needs to be based on embodied temporality-- otherwise the dangers of "selective seeing" (totalitarianism or blindspots in our vision) would be inevitable.
Engaged, embodied seeing...Interestingly, it is something shared by both Heidegger's existentialist concept of "care" (maybe gotten from Kierkegaard's "truth which cannot be objectified but only experienced in relationshp") and Confucian ethics (authentic being found in our everyday relationships).
At this point, I turned to the great Gialbo for help. And, he sent along a very interesting paper written by Chenyang Li in which Li argues that the foundation of Confucian normative action as jen 仁 is nothing but a commitment to "caring" 愛 for Other. And, just like with Heidegger, "other" is not just any other (or a universal other); nor is it an other with whom one enters a kind of contract (of mutual benefit, etc.) but rather it is a commitment to caring for those other people who come into our lives. Parents and children, neighbors, friends-- basically all the people who crash into us. (And, I would like to posit that if there is emotion, then this can be a "virtual embodiment" as well).
In Confucian normative ethics, then, this concept of "care" is mapped on to jen 仁, however, this is unfortunate as jen 仁 is signifying more the person who has achieved "care," whereby care is 愛 (love, affection→ care) for Significant Other-- and again, I cannot stress enough, from Heidegger to the Feminist philosophers who made the ethics of care famous to the Confucian philosophers, this Other was not those people we pick and choose but rather treating with care those people who are part of our world. (and it is "the world that decides," he says).
The ethics of care, then, stands in very direct contrast to Kantian and utilitarian ethics. As Li points out, while the Confucians saw this in filial piety, the feminists saw this in a mother's love for a child:
"Relations between mothers and children should be thought of as primary, and the sort of human relation all other human relations should resemble or reflect." --Virginia Held
And with this idea, I enter a beautiful garden.
I have been reading-- and have been overwhelmed by-- Robert Harrison's book, Gardens and the Human Condition. The book significantly (to me) starts off with a chapter titled, "The Vocation of Care."
If the perfection of human happiness is glimpsed in the vision of an exquisite garden-- if paradise is a garden, which of course I am sure it is-- then what is required of us more than care? Care as feeling (significance) and care as embodied cultivation. I had never thought about this before reading his book, but Harrison's words in fact echoed deeply within my heart: for no matter what kind of garden-- no matter how fertile the soil may be-- in the end, the cultivation of a garden requires one to be committed to giving more than they receive. Indeed, most successful endeavors in life-- even things like writing a book, or a love affair, marriage; true friendship, or philosophy; all kinds of passionate thinking-- I think (actually, I am sure) that all these things have a similar commitment of giving more than you expect to receive. The cultivation is an end in itself-- the flowers being perhaps just a reward....That is to say, I realized "last night as I was sleeping" that it is Ithaka itself which is the garden.
Top painting "Going Home" by Le Thanh Son and one of my favorite images of paradise-- again-- below.