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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wisdom of The Bloodlands.



Been  wondering lately if the real trove of the world's wisdom will prove to lie in Eastern Europe. That is, if it can be demonstrated that suffering brings about wisdom. In the short term, no doubt, it brings about a lot of stupidity. But I think excessive suffering, in the long run, galvinizes the mind, opens your eyes.  Surely it must. There is, after all, a difference between wisdom and philosophy. Philosophy is only the love of wisdom- it is not necessarily wisdom. I think the British-Ameriocan tradtion of analytical philsophy is perfect example of a neat clever empiricist philosophy based on science, mathematics and the analysis of language and mostly without widsom;  wisdom, among other things lies in the sense of a system's actual limitiations as Wittgenstein, the only wise logical positivist demonstrated when he said, "Whereof we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence." He was referring to the ineffable- what lies beyond, something which wisdom always keeps an eye on.

What brought this about, for me anyway, was firstly a reflection on Romania, about which I admit I know little, but which has produced more than its share of intellectuals and artists- Ionesco, Mircea Eliade, EM Cioran,  for example, out of a terrible, stunted and impoverished history. Moreover Eliade and Cioran, among others had flirted with Romania's fascistic Iron Guard in the interwar years before moving to the west where it was easier to breathe and to write; older and wiser, they repented of their youthful insanity. From what I understand, these were genuine repentances, rejections of earlier belief, and to their credit, not sheepish conversions to anything else. It seems to me that while many people can get a philosophy degree,  no one can obain true wisdom wiithout having gone through hell and done something which they regret. Emarrassment and shame are indeed great teachers.  So I don't see much of that in Betrand Russell, despite my admiration for his beauitiful, simple style and his wonderful History of Western Philsophy. I know Wittgenstein less well, but am not surprised that they parted ways, Wittgenstein -having had a horrible life- toward wisdom.

The second thing that got me to thinking about this was a relatively new view of World War Two (new in the West at any rate) portraying the real fulcrum of the conflict as Eastern Europe- reversing the Western view in which the war hinges on Germany and Italy so that now western Europe as actually an action "behind the lines," the brunt being borne by Russia in the East. The Eastern Front passed back and forth over what have come to be called the Bloodlands, where Poles, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Jews, Kulaks, Polish Officers etc. are overrun and killed en masse so often by Russians and Germans, Nazis and Communists that to the inhabitants they all appear to be a single enemy with the Jews portrayed as everyone's enemy and getting the worst of it.

Comparing suffering is a mug's game, and I don;t know how you would compare this to Rawanda, the Eastern Congo,  Cambodia, China during the state induced famine of 1960- but one thing is prominent: Many of those who experienced the horrors of Eastern Europe were highly educated and I wonder if high education combined with an awful history provides something for the rest of us, which philosophy born at Berkeley, Oxford and the Sorbonne can't.

Third, and finally, is the case of EM Cioran, apparently an unjustly neglected philosopher, whom I confess I have not  read, though I plan to- and here I will only mention a couple of things from a bare outline of his life. He was constitutionally unhappy before living through the ideological upheavals of  Eastern Europe. Osclilating between cosmic despair and political fanaticism, he was eerily self-aware and given, at times, to a healthy self-hatred. Absolutely open about his love of fanaticism and his simultaneous recognition that fanaticism is a sterile dead end, he seemes to have written on a  procrustean bed of his own making. And out of that came a rejection of all idealism, left or right, and a reflection on the human condition itself. Would you llisten to such a man?

You might remark that another European sufferer, Hannah Arendt wrote a book called The Human Condition. The human condition is out of fashion as a philosophical subject now. Sometimes I fear it's because queasy western philosophers are afraid that reflection on the human condition will lead to fascism or something nihilistic and terrifying.  But all wisdom is a confrontation with nihilism and despair and if you take refuge in technical jargon, doctrines and logic chopping about democracy and language you'll always remain a desiccated virgin. Suffering surely lies at the heart of wisdom and knoweldge.

The two greatest wisdom books of the  Bible, Job and Ecclesiastes came out of a people who lived too often on the brink of annihilation.
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