Highsmith and Wittgenstein

Diary 4/12 to 4/17/22; US hypocrisy; an emotional crisis survived through self-indulgence; “shrunt” defined; neurosis? Wittgenstein and Highsmith quotes; the essential essence.

Patricia Highsmith in 1942 by Rolf Tietgens

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{4/12/22} Continued.

Good piece from Caitlin Johnstone in my email this morning; here’s a link to her substack account.  The title:  “US Suddenly Pretends To Care About Rights Abuses In India.”  Just confirms what has been apparent all along, but the words from Brian Hook to Rex Tillerson (when he was Sec’y of State under the former turd) are worth reading.  We don’t care about our own hypocrisy, clearly.  Too bad.

Just for the record, I often disagree with Caitlin Johnstone.  IF I remember correctly!


I seem to have gone through some kind of emotional crisis over the past few days, and I seem to have come out the other side.  I could almost trivialize the experience by saying that I was for a while more sad than usual, and now, I am no more sad than usual.  I could put this in different words and say that I had suffered from one mood, and am no longer suffering from that mood.

What was behind it all I think was well described in the blog post, “Doom, Camus, and Breakfast.”  At the end of one day’s diary entry there, I said, “Giving up is so much easier.  Not thinking about it is so much less painful.”  So it seems that I have “given up” and am “not thinking about it” any more.  I want to decide whether this conclusion is correct.

On Thursday I paid a required visit to Dr. Hill and told her about “Doom…”; she raised the possibility of medication for depression.  I had told her, and had experienced, that I had lost interest in the things that usually interested me.  I could not find anything to do.  I told her about the 800 books, 300 DVDs, and 250 CDs on my shelves, and that I didn’t want to use any of them.  I had then gotten hungry and had breakfast, concluding the trio of Doom, Camus, and Breakfast.  As Hume put it, “…since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose…”—or in my case, I heeded the call of Breakfast.  That was a mere two days ago, during which time I wrote nothing, solved many Ken Ken puzzles, watched endless episodes of Family Guy, and ate whatever I felt like eating.  In other words, I had abandoned all my self-imposed tasks, thus relieving myself of a significant emotional burden, been very self-indulgent, and so felt much better.

But of course nothing is solved:  the end of civilization is two days closer (if it can be thought of like that).

If most of what I need to do is to give up on writing fiction, give up on some self-imposed dietary restrictions, and give up watching the news, being content to “waste time,” then I guess I don’t need a pill, because I can “always” do that.  Right?


That’s defined as the combination of a shrug and a grunt, a la Homer Simpson; it amounts to “I don’t know, and I don’t much care.”

If I want to take a step back, and I do, I could say that my “concern” is neurotic; or perhaps more accurately, my reaction to that concern was neurotic.  The concern is well-grounded; the reaction was, in most senses of the word, not helpful.  I turned to an emotional crutch instead of a chemical crutch, perhaps.  It is not apparent which is more damaging, or “healthier.”  Indeed, it’s the lack of an obvious healthful, helpful turn that is the problem behind the emotion.

I’m just stating what has been obvious all along:  “the end is near.”  Alas, it’s a problem we all face, and I’d guess that most of us are aware of it on some level.  I think, indeed, I have “given up” and am no longer “thinking about it”—the latter, however, clearly is false.

It is not obvious whether I will keep on with my diary and blog; sitting down to write this much was not something I was eager to do, and I may abandon the effort.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

In other, more encouraging news, I have begun “studying” (i.e., reading) Ludwig Wittgenstein:  Philosophical Investigations.  I noted this on 4/8/22.  So it’s not news.  This evening I was dozing more than reading, but I did find the famous statement where he says, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”  (Section 109).  I’m highlighting as I go, which more or less means that I’ll never have to read the whole thing a second time (of course, few people “have to” read Wittgenstein, and I don’t either).

I thought Section 114 was interesting:  “(Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 4.5):  ‘The general form of propositions is:  This is how things are.’—That is the kind of proposition that one repeats to oneself countless times.  One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing’s nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it.”

I underlined “nature” in the book, and in the margin I wrote “nature = essence.”  Philosophers are, it seems, forever talking of “the essence” of something; I take it as decided that things don’t have “an essence” in the sense meant.  Rather, “the essence of an apple” is “how it helps or hinders me in this relevant goal.”  That is, if I’m hungry, the essence of an apple is that it’s food.  If I’m angry at someone, the essence of an apple is its potential as a projectile.  If I’m a grocer, the essence of an apple is how much I can get for it.  Only the philosophically-minded ask, “Yes, but what’s the overall essence?  The essential essence?”

And Wittgenstein says in Section 116, “What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.”  At this point, at least, he doesn’t relate “everyday use” to our goals, but for me that’s the point.  Find the goal and you’ll see “the essence.”

I think the important point is to consider this insight in relation to “the meaning of life.”  In other words, stop asking.


An interesting morning.  I woke around 4:15, peed, returned to bed to sleep more, but failed.  At 5:30 comes six quick, loud knocks on my door.  It’s still dark outside, so I’m reluctant to open the door [I live in a very poor neighborhood].  After thinking a moment, I look out my bedroom window.  The porch light is on, as always when I remember to turn it on—if anyone were on the porch, I’d see their shadow.  They’re gone.

So I get back in bed and turn on the light.  It takes some time for the light to warm up to the point where I can read—this is normal for this lamp—and I pick up Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995, Anna Von Planta (ed), Liveright Publishing Corporation, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2021.  Page 402 starts with an astonishing entry, which begins, “9/17/47.  Why so like death?  Why do the worms crawl?  They crawl because I am two, three days dead.”  It’s a bit long to copy here, yet if I don’t…here it is:


Why so like death?  Why do the worms crawl?  They crawl because I am two, three days dead. Man is all love, man can never die, he is reborn in each new love, he is alive always in the Love of God, his eternal spouse, but in the death of an earthly love each man dies too, and in two or three days, the worms have at him. O, do not think to bury yourself deep enough to escape them! There is no escape. I walk the streets and feel anointed. I walk the streets like the walking dead. I feel on the brink of physical death. I do not wish to die, by stoppage of heart or by being hit by a truck. I am with death, he knows I do not fear him. But I am not ready for him yet. I have work to do: I am the anointed.

The next six pages are amazing, incredibly interesting if not always understandable.  It rekindled my interest in writing my own novel, but I lay in bed, continuing reading, until it became too much—too rich, like eating yesterday’s cinnamon roll “an inch thick” in frosting, at Panera Bread.

It was [time?] for the Hemlock Club meeting, but nobody showed, so I left after an hour.  Later received a text from TC that Peanut had arrived after I left.  I came home and went to bed soon, for a two-hour-plus nap.  Today I’m supposed to meet Nog at Panera again; he was selling his plasma yesterday, the one way he has presently to earn money.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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