Sunday, July 20, 2008

The New Metaphysics

If, on a whim, as Laura did all those years ago, you look at me and declare: ‘say something profound’, I might have very little to offer. I tend to freeze and flail when asked to perform to order. Of course, on the other hand, if pushed I might do one party trick I know and rattle off a certain Ronald Grimsley quote I love. I read it first while taking refuge in my temporary lodgings the evening before my doomed interview at Oxford, on account of which I was banished to Durham. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon was playing in the background.

When I read this:

‘The movement which began as a vigorous attack on Hegelian Metaphysics is, therefore, metaphysical in another sense, since the dethronement of an essentially conceptualising rationalism in favour of a more existential approach which accords greater importance to the testimony of affective human experience, is intended mainly as a way of compelling man towards a new awareness of being.’*

I burst out in fits of laughter, which entirely destroyed the amorphous ambience Waters had intended to convey. I think I found, and find, it as funny as I do, for three reasons. Firstly it is long and complex, and dextrous as a cobra on heat. Secondly, its metre is jaunty and springy, yet tight as leather trousers. While thirdly, it is actually brilliant, not at all verbose, even though it will be considered to be. On the contrary, every single word is necessary. What it says is also fascinating, besides: that existentialism, so often associated with atheism and materialism, can in fact be understood as metaphysical in a new way, and the reason why. I think it's possibly a strange thing about me that I will often laugh at something uproariously precisely because I admire it, or think it brilliant. I like to think this laughter might have been similar to, or the same as, what Nietzsche called ‘Golden laughter’. It is the opposite of derisory laughter, cynical laughter, the laughter of the vengeful. It is a little orgasm of the soul, as it encounters something that must be celebrated, now, and with more than just words.

And yet when people hear me laugh in this way they sometimes think my attitude is to mock, as opposed to take delight. This disjunction can be confusing and embarrassing.

* Apologies to the friends, families and associates of Professor Ronald Grimsley (RIP) if I quote him incorectly. I am recalling from memory.


Selena Dreamy said...

Excellent post. Well crafted. Though I still think the quotation risible. But, then, of course, this is the verdict of a woman (who are seldom noted for great Hegelian constructions)!

Jonathan said...

Well I agree that the quote is laughable, if by risible you mean that one is liable to laugh because of it. That was my whole point, though!

But to me, as I say, laughter is often (not always I grant) a compliment, as from me it would be in this case, though I suspect not from you.

Women, I agree, are less given to abstraction and metaphysics than are men. This I explain by referring them to the enhanced earthiness of their bodies, and that greater closeness to nature (and the moon?), which I don't imagine too many women would deny that they have (given their monthly reminders?).

Thing to note, though, Selena, is that this was, if anything, an anti-Hegelian construction, since it is referring, as I understand it, to the great 20th century war against systematised contructs of Metaphysics formerly associated with Hegel and German Idealism, that was waged in the UK by logical positivism and then Wittgenstein, and on the continent by Existentialism, most popularly mediated through Sartre and Camus, but finding its deepest expression in Heidegger.

Grimsely, I am supposing, is pointing to a freer, less rigid, less concept bound, more embodied, more subjectively rendered metaphysics.

Interestingly, though (and to me sadly), most existentialists are atheists, so one could say that they are denying, or missing out on, the opportunity to wrest heaven back from the abstract systematisers of the world, for whom the Universe, alas, is a matrix, mediated by our most fallible thought forms and systems of knowledge.

Does this make sense?

Selena Dreamy said...


...and you're right. Girls are much closer to the secrets of the universe. I think they live on another time scale.

Jonathan said...

You remind me of what Nietzsche wrote somewhere. Beyond Good and Evil, I think. That men and women are not different, but that their emotional lives are set to run on different tempos.

Er...funny the way you imagine I was saying that about Girls, Selena:)!

Well, unless we are to believe, that the Earth is at the center of the universe, and that the moon, as its kind of centre of gravity, is at the heart of what makes it tick?

Much as I love he/she whom I once referred to on an Aldeburgh beach as 'the glistening fool', while looking aloft to the vault, I cannot, alas, find within me sufficient depths of love for our loyal satellite to grant to it such significance.

Guess I've always been more of a Sun man. Incidentally, on that theme, I was reading today about Akhenaten. Are you familiar with the Pharoah?

Seriously, though, you should check out What Gurdjieff had to say about the moon. Interesting stuff!

Hows the weather in blighty btw? Here its the same as ever: To be hidden from.

Anonymous said...

Nice quote. i dismissed it as Andrew-talk at first but looking closer i see it is actually, as you say, rhythmic and terse rather than all knotty and clenched.