My New Diary, 12/12 to 12/13/2018

By Alan Carl Nicoll

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{12/12/18} Weight 219.2.


A disturbing dream last night.  I was in a courtyard before a building which I was to enter.  There was an elephant that was standing on three legs because one of its front legs was missing.  Also, it had only one very short and small, discolored tusk.  I entered the building.  When I exited some time later, the elephant was standing now on only two hind legs, part of its head was missing, and the skin—the remains of one missing leg—hung in folds like drapery where bones had been removed.  As I walked past, I saw a second elephant, which had even more parts removed.  I was fearful, thinking that these elephants must hate all human beings because of what we had done to them.  But the elephants were quiet and did not move other than to sway where they stood.  Then there was a third elephant, in still worse condition, and finally, a fourth, which was hardly recognizable as the remains of an elephant at all, still living, but little more than a heap of skin piled over a stick or perhaps a single remaining, standing leg.

When I woke and pondered this nightmare, I had the thought that the elephants represented stages in the decline of the Republican party.  But I felt no conviction about the matter.  I went back to sleep for another hour.

I also remember, or seem to remember, an earlier vision of a small dog walking briskly along or even running, apparently unconcerned or perhaps unaware that one hind leg was missing.  This memory is quite vague, yet I don’t think that I’m imagining it.

Yesterday, it seems, was even less productive than the day before, as I managed only to copy the quotes from one book, the Rod Judkins Art of Creative Thinking.  I added a “review” in my Collected Quotations:  “Best book I’ve seen on creativity, and I’ve looked at a lot of them.  Also, blissfully short of jargon and pseudoscience, just lots and lots of stories and suggestions, many very good.  Read more than once, last time in 2018.”

I printed two copies of the quotes to take with on Saturday—Writers Writing.


{12/13/18}  Weight 220.2.

I was working on entering quotes from William Barrett:  Irrational Man:  A Study of Existential Philosophy (Anchor Books Editions, Random House, New York, 1958, pb), and got disgusted with it.

Now I want to consider this statement from the book:  “But the worst and final form of alienation, toward which indeed the others tend, is man’s alienation from his own self.”  (p. 36, my italics).  There are many similar statements in this book, but, without reviewing the context and other such statements (which I may do later), I want to think about what “self” means there.

We are a single self; we cannot be alienated from that self in any literal sense, unless we have a pathological “split personality.”  But we do play different roles, and I think this is what Barrett is talking about, or should be talking about, because it is more explicit and less confusing.  Whether I am correct is a question I don’t need to face right now, I just want to consider this idea.

I have at least one, and probably several, public roles.  That is, I deliberately, though not deliberatively, withhold certain aspects of my personality from exposure to others in most situations.  I “put my best foot forward.”  I “behave,” even though I may “want to” act emotionally or rudely or whatever.  I “want to” violate norms of public discourse.  Who is it that does this “wanting,” that I must put in quotes because I don’t really want to do these things or I would do them.  I restrain myself because I don’t want to incur negative opinions of the others I’m with, or in the presence of.  This behavior is second nature to me; I do it without considering, “Should I slap this fool?”  Indeed, it happens probably less than once a day that I have an urge like that—though Twitter is an exception.

Now:  which is “my own self”?  The one who wants to slap, or the one who doesn’t?  Are these—can these sensibly be called—”different selves”?  Given that Barrett is describing and mulling over the words of others, and not necessarily giving his own opinions in his own words, it might be silly to complain about this expression.  Maybe it comes from Kierkegaard or Jaspers or any of the many existentialists that I have not read extensively, which is to say, all of them except Nietzsche, and to a lesser extent, Camus.  Neither of these writers uses the word “self” very much.

So, different selves?  I don’t like the usage, as I guess I’ve made plain.  How, then, am I to understand “man’s alienation from his own self”?  Because, although I dislike the wording, I do believe that there is something going on that can be called “alienation.”

Indeed, I am alienated, in the sense that I disapprove of, and even hate, many of the actions of the U.S. government and U.S. citizens.  It might be said, with some justice, that I am alienated from the world, because the U.S. and its people are most of “my world” outside of books.  But this “external world” is not “my self,” in any meaningful sense.  What is part of me is the picture or view I have of this external world.  I have grown up in that world, and I retain many of that world’s assumptions, premises, conclusions, data—whatever—in, let’s say, blissful ignorance of them.

One attempted example:  I prefer to live in a place of my own.  I follow, and rarely consider, my culture’s attitudes and practices regarding private property.  That I consider the issue shows that it’s on my mind, not part of the stuff of which I am blissfully ignorant.  Am I alienated from this part?  To a degree, yes; I believe that much of the world’s ills arise because of the existence of this cultural norm.  If I had been raised in a commune, where everything was considered “property of the group,” I would undoubtedly feel differently about things, and likely would consider the concept of “private property” to be an abomination.

Which doesn’t seem to be getting me much closer to an understanding of “man’s alienation from his own self.”

If my alienation is alienation from this culture, is that what Barrett is talking about?  I think (from having read the book, even studied it) that’s close to the truth.  If this counts as alienation from “my own self,” it is only to that part of my self that can be attributed to my culture, that came to me from my culture.  How much of that is me?  Or, how much of me is that?  My first inclination is to say, “virtually all.”  Virtually all of me is made up of bits and pieces of things from the external world, that I have taken in and assimilated, or taken in as introjects.  Almost nothing of me is original with me.  Maybe absolutely nothing.  Whatever I brought home from Viet Nam that came from Vietnamese culture, if anything, might be said to be alien to the culture I grew up in and live in.  But perhaps I am stretching the point in thinking that anything encountered in the United States is part of that “culture.”  I’m not an anthropologist, just a floundering layperson, I have no firm grasp on a definition of “culture.”  I read widely, or try to; what I got from Lin Yutang:  The Importance of Living, which is Chinese folk philosophy and culture, more or less, can I consider that as something other than “my culture” or “U.S. culture”?

I want breakfast.

Hours later.  After I wrote the above, I thought it a very poor thing indeed; now, on rereading it, I rather like it.  I came to no great insight, I think, but what if I decide to interpret “man’s alienation from his own self” as meaning “man’s alienation from his native culture”?  This might offer me a way to understand, or partially understand, what I have in the past more or less dismissed as “woolgathering”—in other words, nonsense.  Which is rather a useless conclusion, because I have no intention of rereading Barrett.

Now, I know that Barrett is no fool.  His introductions in the four volumes of Philosophy in the Twentieth Century seemed to me excellent work.  And it may be that he was essentially forced by his material to write nonsense, if he were to write sympathetically rather than critically.  Because, how would I talk about Sartre’s statement, which I am fond of quoting, that “existence precedes essence”?  Given that I have rejected the concept of “essence,” what can I do with that essential statement?  I would, first, have to come to some understanding of “essence” that I could live with.  And that understanding is something I came to a couple of days ago:  “essence,” in Homo sapiens, is “character.”  The essence of existentialism, to me, is that we choose our character by our actions.  I don’t think that this aphoristic summation does violence to what is ordinarily understood by “existentialism.”  On the contrary, it seems that all I have likely done is to bore my readers and explained things that they already understood better than I have done here.

Picked up three new followers to my blog in the past couple of hours, raising the number from 44 to 47.  Well I’m amazed.  Now, was it the elephant dream, or the long, inconclusive philosophical crap?  Both or neither?  (Fritz Perls said he divided talk into three types; “philosophizing” and “Gestalt Therapy” he ranked in the worst category, “elephant shit.”  Here’s a link to a quote.)

In considering “what it is like to be me,” there’s the Proust Questionnaire, which I just learned of via a hint from Rachel Maddow.  Link (to Wikipedia):  Proust Questionnaire.

Last check tonight, I’m at 48 followers.  Okay, it looks like people like my amateur philosophizing.  That’s good, because that’s what I like best, too.  At least, that had better be the answer, because I know of no way to have more vivid dreams!


Diary entries from 10/1 to 10/31 are available here:  link.

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All right reserved.

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