This post is a response to Bharath Vallabha’s very interesting and very moving text « Waking from a Conceptual Dream« :
Hello Bharath, I was greatly moved by your post, and I felt that it described the basic structure of my life and explained its basic impasse. I too had (and still have, despite my attempts to dig myself out of it or to be rid of it) a grand project of unifying « spirituality » (philosophy as a spiritual or a psychoanalytically informed practice) and conceptuality (philosophy as a discursive practice). Like you this project filled up virtually all my life with tension and exhaustion, lostness and frustration.
I think you did a good job in your post of describing how this attempt is doomed to failure, and how it turns in on itself to show that its firm bases with which we began are built on sand, indeed are made of sand themselves). Such ambition and such sadness are attached to such a project. It seems better to just abandon it and to « live life » without it, but even this is not available to me, as the major part of my life has been given over to it. Without this project, there is not much left except going through the motions of what I have put in place.
However, paradoxically, I feel that never are you more « on mission » for your project than when you write this sort of post. One way of explaining this impression is to see that your project, like mine, is a deconstructive one, traversed by a pitiless impulse to undo all the « locks » and dissolve all the « essences » (your terms) in our minds and in our lives. This project is to combine conceptual deconstruction and self-deconstruction. I see this process continuing in you, and despite the shared sadness I am heartened. Yet, like you, like many, I feel that deconstruction is not enough, that something more is needed. As T.S. Eliot said « After such knowledge, what forgiveness? »
I can translate this question as « after such deconstruction what joy? » The fear is of a failed and joyless life. The hope is in the idea that the failure is not just the result of a badly defined project, but rather that the failure is part of the mission, that the failure is part of the success of the project.
« Try again. Fail again. Fail better … Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good » (Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho).
Another thing: if I think of this project as « mine », I am doomed to failure, always was, and always will be, there is no way out for me. But sometimes I think that I am just the « bearer », one of the bearers, of a project that is vaster than me, that is going on all over the place, in many different forms. I can see signs of this, not just in your blogs (I have followed your work over seven or eight years) but in other philosophers ( for the most part « Continental »). So I know it is possible to achieve some partial, provisional, better-than-nothing successes, as I have seen it in others, and felt its (mitigated) presence in some of my writing.
Somehow, referring back to Beckett’s talk of « try » and « fail », I feel that if this project is nothing but an individual thing (a private neurosis) the feeling of failure predominates. If this effort is part of a collective project, a large scale spiritual/conceptual experiment, then the positive feeling of trying and sharing and improving prevails. I didn’t make this up and I don’t have to succeed all by myself. Keeping the whole thing alive is already a degree of success.
I have no consolation to offer, neither for myself nor for others. « Keeping the whole thing alive » means also continuing to fail and to suffer in the hope of sporadic flashes of success and of joy. All I can offer is to deconstruct your title: « Waking from a Conceptual Dream ». There is nothing wrong with concepts, perhaps one of the problems with your father’s heritage is its one-sidedness – he did not have enough concepts (mine didn’t).
There is nothing wrong with dreaming, a project such as your is a dream that gets stuck (« locked »), and the best advice I have found for unlocking it is Jung’s « dream the dream onwards ». For me this maxim echoes Beckett’s, although the terms maybe scrambled (as happens in dreams), which I would reformulate as: Dream, wake, dream again, wake better, dream better etc.
To conclude, I am glad you wake up and write such deep and moving texts (despite the pain) and I hope you go on dreaming, ever more deeply and more movingly.
Friendly regards, Terence.