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Beyond Agreeing & Disagreeing

Photo: Still from "Winter Light" (1963), Ingmar Bergman

"Each of us is so ashamed of his own helplessness and ignorance that he considers it appropriate to communicate only what he thinks others will understand. There are, however, times when somehow we slowly divest ourselves of that shame and begin to speak openly about all the things we do not understand. If I am not wise, then why must I pretend to be? If I am lost, why must I pretend to have ready counsel for my contemporaries? But perhaps the value of communication depends on the acknowledgment of one’s own limits, which, mysteriously, are also limits common to many others; and aren’t these the same limits of a hundred thousand years ago? And when the air is filled with the clamor of analysis and conclusion, would it be entirely useless to admit you do not understand?" - "My Intention", Czeslaw Milosz

Milosz's "My Intention" is an essay that I discovered years ago, and that I always return to. For some reason, it has become a comfortable place to visit when I would become too tired & exhausted of my own desire to understand. In my own irony, I also always deemed interacting with the world, asserting one's self into it, and bringing viable, and effective change into it was superior to know about the world - but then another voice would come and say: "In order to be efficient in the world, you must first understand it". The fire was in the veins, the world that was inside demanded of me to take it out, yet the one who wanted to understand would tell: "No, you still do not have information in the world. How can you be competent in a game you do not even understand the rules of?" - and on it went, and went, only to be met with a shame. What comes to my mind is a quote from Kazantzakis's "Zorba the Greek": "Human is a wild beast and wild beasts do not read."

In the same essay, Milosz says: "I have read many books, but to place all those volumes on top of one another and stand on them would not add a cubit to my stature. Their learned terms are of little use when I attempt to seize naked experience, which eludes all accepted ideas. To borrow their language can be helpful in many ways, but it also leads imperceptibly into a self-contained labyrinth, leaving us in alien corridors which allow no exit. And so I must offer resistance, check every moment to be sure I am not departing from what I have actually experienced on my own, what I myself have touched. I cannot invent a new language and I use the one I was first taught, but I can distinguish, I hope, between what is mine and what is merely fashionable. I cannot expel from memory the books I have read, their contending theories and philosophies, but I am free to be suspicious and to ask naïve questions instead of joining the chorus which affirms and denies."

I was to say that one could hypothetise that all human activity, from the very beginning, was an attempt to understand, and give answers to questions, but then I caught my own thought, thinking: "There is nothing to hypothetise, as you are not proving anything or looking for evidence for anything. You want to talk and communicate. Exchange experience." - and yet, so often this urge to communicate, and exchange experience, to save the world through Beauty as Dostoevsky prophetised, gets lost in the need to assert one's perspective as the most educated, most established, and most informed.

As Milosz said - we are so afraid of not understanding, so afraid of reading all the books, studying all the subjects only to come to that adage of: "I know nothing" or "I understand nothing". Probably in this statement, as cliché as it is, there is a seed of the freedom that can develop out of it - the freedom from the logical mind that always wants to make sense, always wants to build external or internal systems of reference, and always desires predictability from the world. Everyone of analytical nature is often at the mercy of this logical mind - it is not enough to grasp things intuitively, you want to make sense of things, and eventually, find away to speak them into the world, but how to translate into language of logic that which the logic does not have the word or even concept for?

Being in the world, and acting in the world, and making impact, big or small, is probably the most meaningful way for a human being to live. Yet, pure experience is often the characteristics of the very naïve or of a human who seeks nothing more but to live from today until tomorrow. Knowledge, then, seems to come as part of competence - to know is to be competent, to withdraw from the world in order to observe it, and understand it is necessary for anyone who actually wants to effectively be in the world. Pure assertion will burn out easily, and nobody is as easy as prey as the one who thinks he is invincible, who runs towards some aim, while, a calm, observant arm is looking at him from the mountains, aiming his arrow to shoot.

A lot of human existence seems to dwell in oxymoron, or it perhaps seems so only to the logical mind - that is the mind that can perceive things only through dualities, and opposites. Maybe this mind mistakes things for being in opposition, and let's call it for sake of talking, intuitive mind is the one that brings about snythesis - it is the mind that notices the seemingly invisible connections between the oppositions or contradictions. To truly experience life as a human - as a being that has not only consciousness, but self-consciousness, as a being that has within its inner linguistics the subject "I", human must be aware of life. To be aware of life, people, humans, often means, studying people, life, humans, from a slightly detached perspective. To truly experience, and perceive, it seems, one must escape from the pure experience into the mind, only to return into experience, and then feel it with an essence that not only experiences through senses, but experiences through perception.

As I write this, I can hear the demon of the logical mind speaking: "Check it, see, look if there is logical coherence there. Do not expose yourself as a mediocre thinker", but I shall ignore to obey it today. I shall not reread, I shall not correct or paraphrase, I shall leave it as it is, with the original intent - the intent to communicate, not agree or disagree. I shall finish with another excerpt from the essay: "In any case, my consolation lies not so much in the role I have been called upon to play as in the great mosaic-like whole which is composed of the fragments of various people’s efforts, whether successful or not. I am here – and everyone is in some ‘here’ – and the only thing we can do is try to communicate with one another."


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