Tag: Nietzsche

Becoming a Philosopher

Posted August 11, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Philosophy / 2 Comments

Friedrich NietzscheWhile watching videos from the School of Life YouTube channel recently, in particular the video on Friedrich Nietzsche. I found myself feeling so envious towards people like Nietzsche and Alain de Botton (who was a founder of School of Life) because they are so smart, talented and make me feel like I have so much to learn. This is interesting, since Nietzsche believes envy is an important part of life; it is useful for understanding what we want to achieve and what we are working towards. In his 1887 book On the Genealogy of Morality (Zur Genealogie der Moral) Nietzsche theorises that the concepts of morality are controlled by the powerful (in his time, the clergy), therefore the concept of good and evil is subjective. While he never talks directly about envy, Nietzsche has often criticised the church for portraying envy as a sin and something we should feel guilty about. This is not the current teaching of the church regarding the seven deadly sins, these are just gateways we should be wary about because they can lead to sin. However this misconception can lead to an emphasis on envy which is leading people to feel insufficient with themselves, and that tends to leads to guilt rather than driving ambition.

Luckily in my case, my envy towards people like Friedrich Nietzsche is making me feel ambitious. I was thinking about life, and I asked Twitter how to become a philosopher and the first response I got back was “Be a dick to Plato”. This may not sound helpful but it really does cut to the core purpose of philosophy. If you look up philosopher in the dictionary you get something along the lines of “a person who offers views or theories on profound questions in ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields.” Critically questioning ideas and theories, even the ones Plato wrote about, in essence would make you a philosopher.

My wife, in all her wisdom, said without thinking that everyone should be a philosopher. The ideas behind philosophy are to think about life and the world around us and to assess, accept, reject or expand on the ideas that have been presented to us. Granted, I have not worked out a way to make a career out of philosophy but the reason I started this blog was to story my thoughts and ideas in the one location. Literature has been a huge part of my life and has helped me to critically question the ideas I am faced with.

I have no formal background but I do believe academia does not have all the answers when it comes to philosophy. In the past education was the job of the clergy and the church. Universities were originally created during the decline of religion as a place for people to find meaning to life, ask questions, share ideas and be part of a community. However if you look at the state of today’s universities, you may not even find anything close to this idea. Rather, it feels like a place to tell people what they need to do in order to be qualified for the degree they are pursuing.  I have been in many classes where there is no questioning, no sharing of ideas and no community; you are given a print out and you get assessed on how well you align to the ideas found on the page. Can you imagine going to university in the hopes to become a teacher and then being taught how to teach a class with methods that are never recommended for a classroom setting?

While it is true that you’ll learn something by reading a piece of paper and writing about it (that is essentially what I do here), academia does not seem to be promoting a philosophical lifestyle. My autodidactic journey feels like it aligns with what I want to achieve more than academia does. I question what I read but when it comes to writing about it, I am doing so for myself. I am not being assessed on how well I align to the teacher’s ideas. Rather, I write to practise expressing my opinions and document my learning process.

Granted, if you want to make a living in philosophy, then working in academia would be useful but I often question the way academic papers are written. Reading some philosophical ideas that are written in an academic format can be very difficult, it makes me feel stupid and question my own intellect. I know I have a lot to learn but I think academic writing is more designed to sound smart so people will think the author knows what they are talking about. If I was to say “God is a woman” you might agree or reject my statement without any thought. However if I say “God is a woman and I have a hundred page academic paper to back that up”, your reaction might be a little different. You may think I am still wrong but it might take longer to reach that conclusion. If you disagreed with me but still chose to read the hundred pages, things could be different once again; you might question your own beliefs before accepting or rejecting mine. The purpose of a paper like this would be to express opinions and challenge ideas, however I prefer a more casual approach to writing.

I believe we can start a conversation about ideas without the need to alienate people with overly complex academic papers. If people are willing to share and exchange ideas there are people willing to listen and challenge. I call myself a philosopher because I like to question ideas and explore my thoughts via my writing. Also my twitter bio says I am a philosopher so it must be true. I hope to continue to learn and explore ideas, to question and challenge my way of thinking and if needed, I will be a dick to Plato.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Posted February 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan KunderaTitle: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Goodreads)
Author: Milan Kundera
Translator: Michael Henry Heim
Published: Faber & Faber, 1984
Pages: 314
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an existential novel about two men, two women, a dog and their lives. The book takes place in Prague in the 1960s and 1970s and explores the artistic/intellectual life of Czechoslovakian society during this Communist period. Tomáš is a womanising surgeon and intellectual, his wife Tereza is a photographer struggling with all her husband’s infidelities. Sabina a free spirited artist and Tomáš’s mistress and Franz is a professor and also a lover or Sabina. Then there is Karenin, the dog with an extreme disliking to change.

I know the synopsis doesn’t really do much to make this novel interesting but that’s just the basics of it. Really, this is a novel challenging Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence. A concept which hypothesizes that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur. This book explores the idea that people only have one life to live and what occurs will only occur once and never again. The book also explores love and sex and whether the two are connected; for Tomáš they are not but for Tereza they are.

There is a lot more philosophical aspects to understand but as I don’t have much knowledge in those areas lets focus on the novel. This was surprisingly easy to read and lyrical and almost dreamlike feel to it but then there is a lot of emotional devastation as well. Not just with Tomáš’s actions but with the communist control over everyone.

From the very start you while see the gorgeous poetic prose within Milan Kundera’s writing and the unique plot concept will initially drive this book for the reader. Then you will continue reading it for the devastating beauty of love, sex, jealously, politics and existence. Once you finish, you might reflect on the philosophical and existential nature of this book. In the end it’s just one of those books that sounds a little weird and unappealing but is really worth reading.

The Artist as Mystic by Yahia Lababidi and Alex Stein

Posted December 20, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

The Artist as Mystic by Yahia Lababidi and Alex SteinTitle: The Artist as Mystic (Goodreads)
Author: Alex Stein, Yahia Lababidi
Published: Onesuch, 2012
Pages: 86
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Author

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I’m going to have to borrow the blurb for this book, because I think it best summarises this book. The Artist as Mystic is a set of lyric conversations between aphorists Yahia Lababidi and Alex Stein. These conversations constitute what Australians call a ‘Songline’ — a set of sacred songs that allow the reader/listener to navigate through an unknown terrain, in this case, populated by tortured and ecstatic souls: Kafka, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Rilke, Kierkegaard and Ekelund.

I’ve never really read something like this, blending biographical elements with literary criticism, but then it takes it a bit further by documenting conversations between Yahia Lababidi and Alex Stein and adding a reflective poem to each essay by Lababidi. It’s like being a fly on the wall and listening to two very intelligent people bounce thoughts and ideas off each other about literary ideas.

While it often felt more like an interview rather than a conversation, I never felt bothered by it; Yahia Lababidi has a lot of insight and knowledge and I think Alex Stein made a very strategic move by stepping back and letting Lababidi run free with his thoughts. While this may come across as very dense book, I found the book very accessible.

The Artist as Mystic is a thought provoking look at people I’ve had a real interest in understanding better; Kafka, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard as well as an insight into a few new ones I need to learn about. I’m not a very intellectual person, I do try but what I got out of this book was just how well it helped me understand the ideas it wanted to get across. Yahia Lababidi never talked down but rather mentored the reader along, making this the most impressive aspect of the whole book. I felt inspired by this book and plan to read this book with a highlighter and a notepad sometimes in the future.