this is unfinished and largely unedited.
i am not a philosopher in the academic sense but i’ve spent a lot of time considering what some claim is the first question of philosophy : what is it to be?
the question ‘what am i?’ is, in sense, a variant of that but with this important difference : what i can know about myself is much more accessible to me than what i can know about what being is for others
the problem that arises, if not immediately then in the fullness of time, is how to be.
one day, i was on my way to see a man who wants to die, i thought : i should have a ‘philosophy’ link in the menu on my website. it would link to a page (which would be entirely fluid and evolving i.e. changeable — and unfinished) where i could write about some of the ideas that inform how i work, what i do and how i live.
zo gezegd zo gedaan…
i would have to begin by saying that although i’ve read a lot of philosophy (and i am influenced by philosophers, as well as a wide range of various kinds of writers and thinkers) and i have a doctorate of philosophy, i am not an academic and i’ve had little formal training in philosophy. my phd is what they call a ‘creative phd’, in fine art. so-called-real academics are sometimes (often) a little (or a lot) disdainful about creative doctorates, as well they might be. in my own case it was twice as much work as a ‘normal’ phd, so…
why am i writing this? as i’m writing i’m getting a strong sense of déjà vu — but this is more a case of déjà la1.
furthermore, as my thesis supervisor said kindly, this is much later, when i was doing a one year masters in theology (i am a postatheist … it’s a long story but i was briefly interested in the problem of
god) at the vrije universiteit in amsterdam : you are an associative thinker. in dutch there is a lovely phrase for that which is not intended as a compliment : van de hak op de tak springen which she could have used that but didn’t.
i could say : i still think and write like an artist.
i earned the right to call my-so-called-self an artist but i no longer make art and now i would never say ‘i am an artist’ — others might, but that’s not really my problem.
the point is : i am talking (or i imagine my-so-called-self talking) to non-artists — or at least, if i am talking to artists, not in their capacity as artists and i am not talking about the problem art, not really, or am i? perhaps the problem of being and the problem of art are not so different?
for susan sontag, (in ‘the aesthetics of silence’) art is, potentially at least, the way that the secular age does, or could do, spirituality. sontag says “spirituality” must be continually reinvented. i am squeamish about using the word spirituality and i rather wish i had come across her definition when i was briefly toying with theology :
(spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at the resolution of painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.)
and then you would say : oh my
god we need spirituality now more than ever.
i never met susan sontag but lauren berlant told me once that she sees no discontinuity at all between my current work and the work i did as an artist and a teacher of art. i had an intuitive feeling at the time that this was, and is, an especially interesting and intriguing reading of my work but i could not quite put my finger on it and i’ve been thinking about ever since.
so this is my philosophy, and it is not rigorous or scholarly. i am using the word casually which will annoy some philosophy academics in the same way as it annoys artists (especially those with a doctorate in art - but not me!) when people with no training in art refer to what they make as art and/or to themselves as artists.
perhaps it would be better to call it theology and annoy the theologians.
but i want to use a simple accessible language, a language which, if my parents — that is my mother and stepfather — who insult people by calling them communists (i mean really, sometimes it’s like a bad 50s sitcom and it’s so bad it’s funny) were remotely interested could, at least in theory, understand — or rather relate to it.
one : stof
let’s say we use the word stuff to stand for the psychic aspects of ‘the painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation’ (sontag). the dutch word ‘stof’ would be better because it contains an allusion to dust and it can also mean ‘matter’ but alas, i am writing in english.
you have ‘unworked out stuff’ in you that you should work out.
because this ‘unworked out stuff’ is causing you to feel bad and/or to act and make decisions which are not good. and we live in a world where things are organised by people with unworked our stuff. and many of them seem to insist on having children to whom they inevitably transmit a lot of this ‘stuff’.
thanks to the lovely people in wagga who seem(ed) to think i have something to say is interesting and/or useful, i was invited to present a keynote at their land… conference in 2016 — or was it 2015? i link to the unedited notes i riffed off there because although in some ways my thinking has moved on, it contains some ideas which not only remain relevant, but seem even more pertinent 3 or 4 years later. link
so should i begin with a long list of symptoms of this ‘stuff’?
bitterness anger sadness regret hate jealousy hubris malaise greed melancholia nostalgia depression psychosis narcissism despair nihilism boredom loneliness doubt…
what a list it would be!
the desire to profit from others
the desire to harm kill humiliate others
the desire to be harmed killed humiliated by others
and so on and on.
but making such a list would be exhausting.
and there are so many nuances and feelings and conditions and kinds of suffering which cannot be named, they do not have names. all you can really say is : it’s the dark night of the soul, or i am in the abyss.
but if you’re in the abyss you can properly see the need for the work.
amersfoort apeldoorn deventer almelo hengelo
no one has thrown themselves under the train yet. there is always the possibility on any long train journey that someone is going to do that. this is awful for at least two main reasons not counting the fact that a person is dead per se. however there are always people who are affected by the violent gruesome death of an other — even if no one cares about that particular person who throws themselves under the train there are other people, the train driver, the people who have to clean up the mess, the people on the train… once, after i had been to see someone who wants to die, we had talked at length about why it is not a good idea to throw yourself in front of a train, someone threw themselves in front of the train. it is a sound, and a feeling, i will not forget in a hurry. the train stops as fast as it can stop and then there is silence. where there was movement, there is none. and nothing happens for quite some time. no one says anything.
that was either a tree or a deer — or a human.
i recognise that there are people who find themselves in an impossible position who are ill, in pain, or whose situation is otherwise so dire that it is just not possible for them to continue. they are not interested in the unworked out stuff. they are suffering and it is unbearable and all they want, all they can think about, is for it to stop — and preferably right now. because such is the nature of pain and nausea and some forms of ongoing long term psychic suffering, i don’t know what they are. i have talked at length with people who experience it but i have not experienced it myself.
it is possible for each and every person who is, shall we say, mentally competent and without major physical problems, to end own their lives. it is legal to do so — and i say : let them go.
and if they need help, give it to them.
and if someone in genuine need, needs help to die and they ask me for help, and i am the only person who can help them, then i can only respond to that call — and if i have to go to jail for that then so be it.
but the man i saw today is not asking me — yet.