Reflections from seven years ago


“The individual subject was an empty entity, an intersection of discourses”. --
--Foucault abbreviated.

I don’t think anyone afflicted with the ideology which allows one to spirit oneself out of the material world – decentering, this process calls itself – can understand the fearful, almost tragic (at times superlatively tragic) dimensions of an embedded material existence. If choice gives you the capacity to disappear, still that is you who self-erases, and it is your affluent situation which actually bequests to thee its power. Not all of us have that power. Not all of use would wish to.

I am now able to pin down the meaning of a phenomenon, which caused me great distress for thousands of days (actually about 15 years all up). I still get tripped up now and then by this which I take to be a cultural difference. In my more relaxed moments, which is to say, when I am feeling most culturally normal, I am inclined to relate to others on the basis of the phenomena I see, which I take to be neutral, at least in the first instance. It is far from me to rush to judge any phenomena without a great deal of first exploration. I then will slowly draw my conclusions.

 When I first came to the West from Zimbabwe, I found that all of my language – can you believe it? Language itself! – was morally loaded, and I could not speak without being reprimanded and beginning to splutter. I could not point something out without some meaning entirely different from what I had intended being understood. I could not, as I had intended, point to something on the horizon, and say, “Hey look at that!” (implying that I cannot make sense of it and I wonder what it means), without it being said that I was pointing something out to relate myself to it in superior or inferior mode.

 It appeared to me the Western way of relating to me always has a loaded moral sense to it – even when my interests were mainly intellectually detached and phenomenological. I would take this difference as being a fundamental one between what I have continually found to be the Western way of seeing things, and the way I was brought up to approach the world. It’s not that my cultural conditioning had no moral emphasis. It certainly had a very strong moral emphasis.

Now, it seems to me that perhaps the Western way of doing life is to make moral judgments primary, based upon words alone. The phenomena which actually entailed in speaking the words – which is to say, the contexts, level of awareness, and other emotionally mitigating factors leading words expressed – are rarely considered relevant in a fast paced Western society. It really is as if the words have meanings completely independent of their contexts.

Once I was censured for my cultural lack not having a moral map of language. Nowadays I’m sure I can still be dismissed for watching without judging, not drawing conclusions in an immediate way, and failing to find moral meanings in the verbal utterances alone, of others. I seem to lack the sense of what these mean. They carry evidence, but words alone are not primarily significant to me, and assuredly never have been.  A person’s actions can hold a higher level of meaning, in my estimation,than their words can.

And this, of course, is what makes it hard to write with any sense of narrative continuity. One loses oneself within the mechanisms. Stuff happens but the stuff that happens means little. This is a way of becoming spirit, ephemeral, smoke. As if detached, one’s spirit floats “above it all”. One is released, superficially, from superego demands by one’s ontological skepticism. “Perhaps I do not exist at all?”

It was just that I was more embroiled in the phenomenological world than my western peers, having been taught to see it, indeed even to be able to make moral judgments. I could not (and still find I cannot) make moral judgments about people and their situations on the basis of the meanings of their words alone, and what they are reckoned to objectively signify, vis-à-vis other words and indeed a world of nothing but words.

Perhaps this makes me out of step or seem to be without self-certainty in those situations where I’m supposed to judge the other’s words and not the actions. I rarely think that words are worth judging a person by. Their actions are always far more telling.

Those who think they can tell what I mean by a preliminary glance are simply narrow-minded, simply presumptuous. There is no possible way that I can convey what I mean simply by words: I’d have to show you!


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