The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

in brief

Dear Professor ———,

It was with great interest that I picked up a recent translation of one of your books, as I hoped that it would provide a fresh perspective on what could perhaps be called ‘the current moment’. Although your book failed to be helpful in this regard, it did provide food for thought. Because you appear to champion the use of politeness rather than ‘authenticity’ to govern the rules of human interaction, I will of course offer my thoughts wrapped in such terms as civility will allow.

I am curious to know what you mean by phrases such as ‘neoliberal psycho-politics’ or ‘the neoliberal regime’. I see these terms bandied about (in your book and elsewhere), but they are rarely defined with any clarity. Perhaps I should grant that you intend merely to indicate the dangers of market-oriented capitalism, but you nowhere state this in your text and it caused me some confusion, as such phrases seemed mainly to indicate all of the (unspecified) elements of modern life that you happen not to like. Although it might fix your book at a particular point in time (rather than addressing all time), more specific examples might clarify what, if anything, you mean. For what have you to tell all time but the specific instances of this time?

In reading your book I was led to wonder if you have ever encountered, much less spent time with, a person who did not claim to be or manage to present themselves as neurotypical (hideous word, pathological in itself). You seem to believe that conditions such as depression (a narcissistic self-obsession or absorption in the ‘object-libido’) and attention deficit disorder (‘a pathological intensification of serial perception’, p. 7) are mental states over which an individual could have perfect control; you do not exactly say that such a person should, in that impossible phrase, pull themselves up by their bootstraps (i.e., by simply paying concentrated attention to something outside of themselves), but this is strongly implied. I do not say that you should care whether or not the people you know are authentically mentally stable (or happy or content or feeling at home, as you so charmingly put it, in the world) – as this appears to be beyond the scope of your public persona – but I would suggest that additional attentive research on the matter would not be amiss and would enhance the aura of authority that you seem to crave. To be at home in the world one must be made welcome, and you, I think, will have noticed (as I have) that the world, as such, is not always welcoming to all of its guests.

You deprecate the flattening of communication and advocate ‘deep’ or layered interaction. This appears to be in line with your desire for more rigid hierarchy in human society, but who determines where an individual should be situated in that stratification? Do you believe that there are human solids and human surds – and some will naturally rise to the top while others sink below? Who chooses the priests you long for? (At this point I would like to note that your repeated statements on the importance of life-and-death games are, perhaps, ill-advised. Ritual human sacrifice is not necessarily something to hold up as an exemplar (and I write this shortly after Easter).)

In one of the few instances where you make use of a female pronoun in the book (indeed, the only one I could find), you state: ‘I can have someone else work for me by paying her, and this avoids entering into a personal relationship’ (43f.). First: is not engaging someone to work and paying them a personal relationship? If not, I pity your research assistant(s) and your graduate students. Also, why are your soldiers and priests and kings all given the masculine pronoun? Is there something peculiarly female about work or something particularly male about authority? Is this part of your natural hierarchy? Men kill each other for sport and women (preferably unpaid) prepare the food and do the laundry and take care of all the other trivial details that make possible vita contemplativa et vita activa?

In the main, I do not think your concern about social superficiality is wrong, but having presented your logical destination, you have chosen a peculiar and perhaps not wholly defensible route to get there. Certainly, ‘authenticity’ at the expense of meaning is not laudable (but it is not necessarily ‘pornographic’, either) – but isn’t this exactly the sort of social game you hold up for admiration, the courtly dance of politics and power? You say that people should read more poetry, that poetry is language at play – and this is not wrong, but it is not the whole; poetry is not the only or best game that language can play, though it is a pleasant one. That the rules of contemporary discourse are constantly shifting, that one cannot quite grasp them for more than a moment – does this not say something about one’s skills as a player of this particular game? If you do not like the game, why are you playing it, why are you commenting on it, why are you engaging with it at all? Perhaps it is not your game. I do not care for chess, so I do not play it; I do not therefore believe that chess is bad or a waste of time in general – although it is both to me. I mention this to you because, in some small way, I do care about the game of ideas and I think it has value and meaning – and I do not like to see the game thrown to satisfy one player’s hunger for a certainty that probably does not exist. There is always room for doubt – and it is perhaps in that room (which is not difficult to visit – the door is open, never barred) that the magic and ritual you say you long for may reside.

I remain your questionably sincere reader &c., &c.


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