The NEW Philosoflicks 5: Appearing, Disappearing, and Reappearing — Visual Philosophizing With Hannah Arendt, Part 1.
The OLD Philosoflicks was a series of seven experimental works in philosophy that were published online in the edgy, radical philosophy blog Against Professional Philosophy between July 2015 and May 2016:
OK. So what’s a “philosoflick”?
Here’s what the author of The OLD Philosoflicks said —
In “Let’s Make More Movies,” the epistemological anarchist Paul Feyerabend wrote this:
The separation of subjects that is such a pronounced characteristic of modern philosophy is … not altogether undesirable. It is a step on the way to a more satisfactory type of myth. What is needed to proceed further is not the return to harmony and stability as too many critics of the status quo, Marxists included, seem to think, but a form of life in which the constituents of older myths — theories, books, images, emotions, sounds, institutions — enter as interacting but antagonistic elements. Brecht’s theatre was an attempt to create such a form of life. He did not entirely succeed. I suggest we try movies instead. (P. Feyerabend, “Let’s Make more Movies,” in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, Ch. J. Bontempo and S. J. Odell (eds), McGraw-Hill: New York 1975, pp. 201–210.)
By cine-phenomenology, I mean the direct expression of philosophical ideas in cinematic, visual terms, from a first-person point of view.
Intertitles are printed texts inserted into (especially silent) films in order to convey dialogue, descriptions, or expository material directly relevant to but not necessarily covered by the filmed material, e.g.,
And montage is the cinematic technique, discovered by Sergei Eisenstein, of combining, juxtaposing, ordering, and sequencing (more generally, synthesizing) visual images for the production of various kinds of aesthetic and emotional effect.
A philosoflick is an experiment in visual philosophy, blending text and images–employing cine-phenomenology, intertitles, and montage–inspired by Feyerabend and Eisenstein, by Chris Marker’s La Jetée, and by W.G. Sebald’s pictorial novels.
I think that The OLD Philosoflicks were very cool; but I also think that their author barely scratched the surface of what can done with this experiment in visual philosophy.
So that’s why I’ve undertaken a new series of philosoflicks here on Medium — hence The NEW Philosoflicks.
The first in that series was about Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics, the nature of reality, and the profundity of movies, Nietzsche Does Hollywood.
The second was about human unhappiness, poetic empathy, and the minds, lives, and deaths of non-human animals, Death of Hedgehog.
The third was about our own lives and deaths, What Makes Life Worth Dying For?
The fourth was about what, if anything, might transcend rational human existence, and what we should be doing about it, Pascal Does Vegas.
And this one, the fifth, by Snaut, is the first in a tetralogy that visuo-philosophically explores themes in the work of Hannah Arendt.
Part 1: APPEARING
How to begin? No. Scratch that. Starting from scratch. Again. Try again. What should the starting point look like? — It should appear as a question wearing a question mark like a burglar wearing a pair of gloves in order not to leave any finger prints on the smooth surfaces of things he cannot but touch while breaking in. Where then? That is the question: Where to begin then?
A DARK ROOM.
– John Locke, the 18th century British empiricist, used the metaphor to convey his conception of the human understanding. According to this picture, “sensation” or sense perception, both external and internal, is the only “window” or opening by which some light could come to fill the dark room of the understanding, not that the light would be seen, of course, but things in the light. What kind of things? you might wonder. — The representational content of perceptual states, a professionally trained philosopher would be inclined to answer. If you pet the cat sitting on the mat then the cat of course is not literally “in” your mind but on your mind at most. Something, however, according to traditional theories of perception, has to literally be “in” your mind in order for you to perceive the cat on the mat “out there.” A clear borderline. The border between the inside and the outside. Clear-cut antagonal or even antagonistic. The old model of the inner and the outer world. The dark and the light. Do you like it?
MY FACE IS A DARK ROOM. MY FACE IS A DARK ROOM.
Why extending the worn out metaphor, you might say, and sigh. Why not simply say what you mean, without using / abusing any dead or living metaphor to obfuscate the fact that you cannot properly express yourself?
– But what if there is no way of expressing your thoughts without metaphors?
“…ich unterstelle, daß alles Denken, das sich außerhalb des Mathematischen bewegt, seinem Wesen nach metaphorisch ist und daß jeder philosophische Begriff seine Evidenz dem metaphorischen Gehalt verdankt, den er gleichsam verkürzt ausspricht…” (Hannah Arendt, Vita activa, p. 286)
What about the dark room then, the interior of your face? — The very old model of the mind as being interior and accessible exclusively to its “owner”. You are the owner of your mind, just as you are the owner of your car or your cat, the fact that you can meaningfully say “mine” opposed to “yours” or “ours” seems to be sufficient evidence for any language user or at least for any ordinary-language philosopher, with only the difference that you have an exclusive and privileged access to that room of yours, from the “inside,” as it were, unlike anyone else who has access merely from the “outside,” or no access at all, ACCESS DENIED. No security clearance, no allowance. Sorry. — Also, it has this strong Christian-metaphysical tinge that becomes immediately apparent if you consider the following line from Anselm of Canterbury: “Enter the chamber of your mind, exclude everything except God… and after closing the door, go look for him” (Anselm, Proslogion). Man is made in the image of God, Christian thinkers thought for centuries. And they conceived of this in terms of a structural similarity. Think of the trinity God-Son-Holy Spirit, and then you structure the mind accordingly into Mind itself-Knowledge-Love as Augustine did, the punchline being that any self-knowledge, that is, knowledge of your mind automatically becomes knowledge of the divine, due to the structural similarity between mind and god.
What if the question of self-knowledge does no longer concern the “what-it-is” or “essence” of the — immaterial — mind, but rather the “who someone is?”
– Immaterial because the Christian idea of the soul’s being immortal seems to presuppose its immateriality / buy your favorite metaphysics NOW ONLINE, 24 hours a day, just two-clicks away from paradise, where paradise very much sounds like cyber space, but I am not going to go into that now, I am already at loss, without being anywhere… I am perhaps about to disappear –
WHO ARE YOU?
What if you are no longer willing to accept this or any derivative model inherited from the Christian ancestors of Western philosophy?
Where to begin then? In the dark room which is no longer inhabited by a privileged subject made in the image of the one and only God. A room completely deserted since the old gentleman, the former owner of the world left while not even leaving his old hat behind.
To find out, I invite you to break in that room like a burglar minding his own business in the unfamiliar dark.
As if it were not one’s own darkness. Each of us has his or her own darkness, you know that.
I am sure you do. Not much to see then in the dark unless you turn on the light, of course; but the problem that pops up the very moment you do so is this: even if that light be only a little round spotlight, isolating small islands of material objects inhabiting the dark, like infinitely remote spots of starlight indicating dead or living cosmic bodies in the depths of the universe, people could see the spotlight or even you, the burglar, carrying the spotlight, trying to tell valuables from trash by applying small portions of light to the dark. And note that it is not a question of perspective, that is, of first-person vs. third-person perspective, as other philosophers like to put it: both of you, you the burglar and the vigilant neighbor ready to call the police at the outrageous sight of wandering spotlights in the middle of the night would have the same view on something from the outside, from the third-person perspective in this case, since this is a question of mere distance or remoteness, not of perspective. No privileged access, then? Otherwise, you would not have to break in like an ordinary burglar, would you?
Does the alleged answer — “the deserted room” — to the question of “where to begin” then turns out to be a dead end? Appearances notwithstanding, this is not so. Let me explain while explaining it to myself. Before I start, however, I must remind you:
DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING I AM SAYING LITERALLY.
Thinking, of course, is not the same as talking or speaking, in general. However, it seems that in most cases people try to express their thoughts by using words. Words are the means to attain the end of expressing one’s thoughts. That is, even if it might not be necessary to actually use words while thinking, that is, while it might not be necessary to conceive of thinking as a kind of mute, inner monologue, it is not possible to express one’s thoughts without using words.
So if thinking — “outside the realm of mathematics” — is essentially metaphorical, how could expressing one’s thoughts by means of language be non-metaphorical? By putting your thoughts into words you are dressing the thoughts up with linguistic expressions without thereby ever eliminating the metaphorical imprint of the thoughts’ flesh and bones.
I am trying to talk to you, as to myself, or rather, to myself, as to another person, namely to you. — It seems that by talking to myself, I cannot but address myself to someone, and if no one else is around, I end up with addressing myself to myself. –
Perhaps the use of language is essentially dialogical, without having a — material or immaterial Aristotelian-style– essence. Thus if you have the ability to use language, then you have an essentially dialogical ability which is why, it seems, you cannot but talk to someone as soon as you start talking, whether mutely or by putting your speech organs into motion.
Yes. Clear your throat first. This is what I have been doing until now. Nothing but throat clearing, sentence after sentence, stuttering and stumbling… picking up examples of meaningful verbal expressions foreign to me:
“YOU SHOULDN’T TALK WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL” (especially British).
Dictionaries are very useful, especially when you do not master a language, but the language masters you, while you are stumbling over the foreign and unwonted expressions crumbling in your mouth “like mushrooms”.
So how to tell the valuables from trash then, from the very “inside,” in the wandering spot-light, during the short period of time before you are seen and perhaps arrested by the security guards?
The point, quite paradoxical, is that you cannot see yourself, that is, neither your valuable self nor your trashy self as clearly and distinctly as all others actually can, including neighbors and police. That is a question of change in the very perspective. The privilege no longer is with the first-person, from the “inside”, since
“das Selbst, mit dem ich in der Einsamkeit allein bin, [kann] niemals dieselbe klar umrissene und einzigartige Form annehmen, welche alle anderen Menschen für mich haben; es bleibt vielmehr stets veränderlich und ein wenig ambivalent” (Hannah Arendt, Sokrates. Apologie der Pluralität, pp. 60–61)
Although you can talk to yourself as to another person, where this is perhaps the only way of talking at all — whether to yourself or to another person, you thereby get only a very vague idea of that “self” you conceive yourself to be… some floating, indecisive form in the dark… it could be a duck or a rabbit, you cannot tell.
It is only by talking and acting under the watchful eyes of your fellow human beings that in fact you are appearing — in full day light and in the light of your own self, as the person you are. So do not cease to talk. Do not cease to act. Use your lights. Your own words. There is no flight possible “from the world into self-consciousness” (Hannah Arendt, Vita activa, p. 15), since there is no self-consciousness without potential dialogue. You are a plurality. At least you are „two-in-one“ (Arendt, Apologie des Sokrates, p. 59). Maybe you are becoming me. Or I am becoming you. Maybe both. Let us see where we re-appear. The place they call “the world.”
 “These alone [e.g. external and internal Sensation],…, are the Windows by which light is let into this Dark Room. For, methinks, the Understanding is not much unlike a Closet wholly shut from light, with only some little openings left, to let in external visible Resemblances, or Ideas of things without; …” (J. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II, 12, §17).
 … Tritt ein in das Kämmerlein deines Geistes, schließe alles aus, außer Gott, … und nachdem die Tür geschlossen ist, suche ihn.”
 “Die Formen menschlicher Erkenntnis sind anwendbar auf alles, was “natürliche” Eigenschaften hat, und somit auch auf uns selbst, insofern die Menschen Exemplare der höchst entwickelten Gattung organischen Lebens sind; aber diese gleichen Erkenntnisformen versagen, sobald wir nicht mehr fragen: Was sind wir, sondern: Wer sind wir? Dies Versagen ist der eigentliche Grund, warum die Versuche, das Wesen des Menschen zu bestimmen, zumeist mit irgendwelchen Konstruktionen des Göttlichen enden, eines Philosophengottes, der si ch bei näherem Zusehen immer als eine Art Urmodell oder platonische Idee vom Menschen enthüllt” (Hannah Arendt, Vita activa, p. 21).