haven’t a clew
Like anyone who is capable of some introspection, I had early taken it for granted that the split in my personality was my own purely personal affair and responsibility.
—Carl Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, p. 234)
1. Things that I liked about David Kishik’s Self Study: the form, the idiosyncratic organization of topics (i.e., the combination of autobiographical detail with belletristic philosophizing), the sneaky incorporation of pop culture buzzwords (spark joy, etc.).
The aphorism, the paragraph, the gobbet – oh how I admire these pleasant chunks of text that are, if not digestible, at least of a size for chawing.1 Kishik uses the daily approach (clearly with the hope of not appearing too quotidian) in much the same way Dylan Riley does in Microverses, another collection (to call it a book is to ascribe it a coherence it does not [quite] possess) that sparks an uneasy combination of interest, appreciation, and truculence. There is something sticky about these volumes, something that implicates the reader and makes the audience complicit in the author’s project, such as it is2; this stickiness is perhaps the source of the interest – and the irritation.3
I requested a waiter who had been staring at the coach like a man who had never seen such a thing in his life, to show us a private sitting-room. Upon that, he pulled out a napkin, as if it were a magic clue without which he couldn’t find the way upstairs, and led us to the black hole of the establishment, fitted up with a diminishing mirror…
—Dickens (Great Expectations, ch. 33)
2. Things that I did not like: the overall tone, including the navel-gazing, the whining, the lack of humor, and lack of humility (or perhaps the presence of a soft-pedaled arrogance); the idiosyncratic organization of topics (sign-posting was weak, so one experiences occasional whiplash at the turn in subject matter if one is reading it all in one go); the name-dropping (or perhaps merely the unctuous bowing at the shrine of Agamben); the misrepresentation of Stoicism (§26f.); the joyless fornication; the uninstructive discontent.
Kishik notes most of these faults himself – for which, bravo; however, he takes no responsibility for them and is content to pathologize them – for which, boo. Overall, it reminded me of one of the things that stood out in, for example, L.S. Dugdale’s rather charming book The Lost Art of Dying, which is the increasing medicalization and pathologization of normal experiences: for Dugdale, dying; for Kishik, living. A diagnosis is not the answer: it is an answer – but there are also other questions.4 The cold fish of your mind sometimes needs to make peace with the soft animal of your body. But I guess you feed the wolf (or fish) you want to win. Silly goose.
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
3. Key takeaway: Using Sesame Street’s version of the fort/da problem as an illustration of your reason for getting into philosophy (§82) is kind of weird. Walling yourself off from meaningful human connections (fort) to protect against the possibilities of parenthood (da) due to inter-generational trauma (passim) is also deeply weird, if more understandable. As has long been suggested, however, character may perhaps be destiny.5
- The spirit of my response here is perhaps in line with the following familiar quotation: ‘At the same minute came Portrait of a Lady, which the author kindly sent me. It’s very nice, and charming things in it, but I’m ageing fast and prefer what Sir Walter called the “big bow-wow style.” I shall suggest to Mr. James to name his next novel “Ann Eliza.” It’s not that he “bites off more than he can chaw,” as T.G. Appleton said of Nathan, but he chaws more than he bites off.’ —Marian ‘Clover’ Adams, letter to her father, December 4, 1881. There is something to be said for the ‘big bow-wow style’, but ‘but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me’ (Scott’s Journals, March 14, 1826). [↩]
- What, after all, is a project but a Brocken spectre on the slopes of time? [↩]
- It also makes me curious about (and wary of) Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes, which appears to settle into a similar genre. [↩]
- Being born, after all, is invariably fatal, so one must do the best one can with the time available, and being proud of being a Gloomy Gus – or constantly airing one’s psychic wounds – is not the choice I would like to think that I would make, but to each their own. Analytical philosophy might be contraindicated for certain ills. [↩]
- One is at once Minotaur, labyrinth, Ariadne, and Theseus – and there is no contradiction in this, but one still needs to get a clew (see esp. OED entries 3 & 4). [↩]