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Radical Subjectivity in Philosophic Gonzo Journalism

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[Editor's intro- Trevor. Since we started the site we've toyed with the idea of using a ski hill rating system to indicate the difficulty level of a given piece. On ski hills in Canada, a green circle is for an easy run (smooth ridin), a blue square for an intermediate level, and a black diamond for the most difficult. In that system, the following article is probably a black diamond. But the diamond metaphor works on another level for this piece, as it has a sparkling density too that has only unfolded and opened for me over the weeks I've now been able to sit with it. It's great to have Eugene's voice in the mix here at Beams, and I look forward to more of his work over time, here and elsewhere. Now, into these exquisite moguls!]

 

I am sitting in my chair and feeling the weight of an ergonomic keyboard on my lap. I think, therefore Itransmetropolitan-collection02 am, and the content of the thoughts is fulfilled with the idea that it would be honest to start a reportage on radical subjectivity in philosophic journalism precisely with describing what I, the author, am experiencing in the moment of writing these words. Some gloomy gothic music reaches me through my headphones; and in front of me, on the writing desk, there is a piece of paper with a chaotically ordered mindmap of the key ideas that are going to pour into the space of my text. A flow of associations turns me towards the image of Spider Jerusalem, the anarchic gonzo journalist from the postcyberpunk comic book series Transmetropolitan, whose dubious reputation has to be recognized by everyone, for his reportages are capable of influencing the horizons of history. [1]

That which I want to call philosophic gonzo journalism transcends—but includes—the radical subjectivity of “gonzo journalism", which may be based on the pure empiricism of the great American psychologist William James. For a friend of James, the brilliant pragmaticist Charles Peirce thoroughly trashed the stance of mere pure empiricism (pure empiricism is grounded in the requirement to impartially register phenomena of experiential perception) with the phrase “Perception is semiotic.” In other words, as the contemporary thinker Ken Wilber explains Peirce’s position, any perception is always already an interpretation. [2] Wilhelm Dilthey pronounced this idea in quite a simple way: “Not through introspection but only through history do we come to know ourselves.” [3]

If we want to light people’s hearts with the fire of our reportage, we ought to invest our soul in it. It means assuming radical subjectivity not in terms of a lack of pure empiricism and a mismatch of statements with the data of phenomenological facts, but in terms of an existential intensity of the authoring subject’s experiencing of being-in-the-world, which involves his living and breathing, always already embodied self-consciousness. An unsurpassed example of existential intensity was and still is offered by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. With his texts, his soul-opening sermons, he passionately and dispassionately reflected, brought forth to our awareness, the moral depth of aesthetic experience of both the non-historical realm and at the same time the relevant social reality. [4]

As I looked carefully into two existing translations of the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas—the Russian and the English ones—I found one important detail which may possibly lay a foundation stone for philosophic gonzo journalism. Namely, I saw that in the Russian text Matthew’s words to Jesus uttered in response to His question are translated as “Thou art like a wise philosopher” while the English translation says “Thou art like a philosopher of the heart.” [5] When I write about philosophy I do not mean the philosophy of merely mind alone: In my understanding an authentic gonzo philosopher, in all his or her manifestations, lives in and breathes with the wisdom of the heart.

In my vision an integral philosophy of the heart lies upon the three pillars of Plato: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. The Beautiful manifests today in the iconic turn [6] from deformity to the formed imagery of radical subjectivity. The Beautiful is born in the name of itself but also in the name of all life’s Goodness: In philosophic gonzo journalism aesthetic experience allows us to transform both actual multidimensional goodness and timeless grace. [7] And, finally, truths are being born in genealogical diggings of archaeological remains of the history of individual and social self-consciousness that is being rhizomatically created by us and through us. And yet, thanks to Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Judgment, we understand that both truth and goodness are reflected within the radical subjectivity of aesthetic experience, that is through my touching the Beautiful and the Sublime that occurs in the present. [8]

In this context the individually generated newsfeed at the Russian online social network VK.com appropriately delivers me a quotation from Henry Miller posted there by some unknown person: “To spit on the past is not enough. To proclaim the future is not enough. One must act as if the past were dead and the future unrealizable.” Ultimately, what do we have besides the present and real? [9]

December 4, 2011

(Edited for the English publication on February 10, 2012)

 

Footnotes

[1] See the Wikipedia article “Transmetropolitan.” I also recommend reading the article on “gonzo journalism.”

[2] Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 2006, p. 286.

[3] This means that every percept has a semiotic history, if we interpret all events in the Kosmos as semiotic. Cited in: Ibid., p. 124.

[4] In my opinion, Dostoevsky wasn’t a naive empiricist, for he was a spiritual being who actively lived in society, an impartial existential journalist who was making sense of oceans of publicism on a day-to-day basis, a transpersonal psychologist who regularly attended lectures of such advanced thinkers as the great Russian mystic Vladimir Solovyov. One of the best interpretations of Dostoevsky from the standpoint of phenomenological existentialism was conducted by another contemporary of ours, the prominent British thinker Colin Wilson, who is being undeservedly, thoroughly, and stubbornly ignored by “intelligentsia” which often doesn’t see beyond the nose of immediately perceived data of their genealogies and archaeologies. See Colin Wilson, The Outsider, 1956.

[5] The Russian translation of the Gospel of Thomas was done by M. K. Trofimova and published in the book Apocrypha of Ancient Christians (Apokrify Drevnikh Khristian, 1989). The English translation that I refer to can be accessed here: http://www.metalog.org/files/thomas.html. The passage in question is on page 251 of the former and in the item #13 of the latter.

[6] A. I. Ivanenko, a philosopher from St. Petersburg, in his book Models of Being (Modeli Bytiya, 2011) refers to V. V. Savchuk’s Philosophy of Photography and explains the iconic turn as follows: “the ‘iconic turn’ consists of the shift of attention towards ‘an analysis of visual images’” (p. 17). For me the “iconic turn” is a useful metaphor, especially if by image we understand not only and mainly a visual image but rather synesthesia—as well as if we take into account the research on postformal stages of cognition in adult developmental psychology (e.g., works of such scholars as Robert Kegan, Jane Loevinger and Susanne Cook-Greuter, Ken Wilber and others. See also the term vision-logic coined by Wilber). I discussed in a personal conversation (Fall 2008) with Susanne Cook-Greuter the meaning of the term vision-logic and how it can be translated into Russian. She pointed out that the word vision is likely not pointing strictly to sight and the use of visual imagery (and, I personally would add, visual cortex). I could argue that it rather refers to something which can be known as an intuition of the whole organism (which could be accompanied by an integrative activity in multiple brain areas, for instance). In my own translations I used the words visionary logic in an attempt to emphasize this synesthetic nature of this cognition.

[7] The sentence points to a close interrelationship of ethics and aesthetics. Some Jazz musicians speak of their music, when they are able to channel spiritual energy, as the ultimate goodness-in-the-moment. The article was originally written in Russian and subsequently translated into English with minor changes. In the Russian text the words blago and blagodat’ are used for “goodness” and “grace.” They share the same root; and blagodat’ is a compound word that literally means “the given grace.”

[8] This paragraph emphasizes the importance of developed aesthetics for both ethics and science, the importance of an aesthetic perception, in addition to the importance of the history of the construction of this perception. For a detailed discussion of the relation of Immanuel Kant’s Critiques with the Platonic Big Three (Beauty, Truth, Goodness) in the interpretation of Ken Wilber see his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998).

[9] The concluding words “the present and real”— nastoyascheye i real’noye—in Russian have an ambiguous sounding, for depending on the context the word nastoyascheye (“the present” in this text) may signify both the present tense and something that is real. Pun intended.

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12 comments

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Thursday, 23 February 2012 21:40 posted by Brian McConnell

    Perhaps it's because I regard Eugene as one of my more articulate and better informed intellectual acquaintances, and that as a neophyte 'journalist' myself, I find his article so ingratiating.

    For me, there's a certain irony at play here, similar to my contention in a friendly discussion two nights ago, that to claim the perception of 'Beauty' as an objective reality, constituted an arrogant lack of appreciation for the subjective realm of reality . . . a heretical form of grandiosity from my own vantage point.

    Consequently, and like so much of life I suppose, from where I sit, it appears Eugene is already in on the joke.

    This is simply a great piece of writing, my friend. Congratulations.

  • Comment Link Victor Shiryaev Saturday, 25 February 2012 16:19 posted by Victor Shiryaev

    Hey, brother, I've read it in Russian, and now I find it here on B&S, awesome! :)

    You know my view on Dostoyevsky, for he might have been a mystic, but ethnocentric and wildly shadowy person, so not exactly my hero. "Existential intensity" is awesome, however, let us not forget that the state-stages progression, grounding in the radical subjectivity, should be balanced with the structure-stage progression which objectifies, as well as with the shadow work. Radical subjectivity can be really, really horrible.

    That is not to say I am against radical subjectivity, for it has this intensity, this ability to light hearts, that more integral accounts lack due to their more 'mind' orientation. And to light hearts, to seed Truth is already a lot, especially when this radicality comes from the centauric self! Well done, brother!

  • Comment Link Eugene Pustoshkin Monday, 27 February 2012 10:53 posted by Eugene Pustoshkin

    Brian, thank you, I deeply appreciate that you enjoyed this writing.

    Victor, I cannot make such a definitive statement regarding Dostoevsky, and I couldn’t agree with how you approach him. Dostoevsky went into shadows and, of course, he was full of conflict—so as everyone who awakens to the existential condition of human beings.

    In his novels, however, Dostoevsky demonstrated the ability for holding complex perspectives from what, in my opinion, could be an aperspectival space. Furthermore, he was at least aware of the concept of world citizenship (he mentions this notion in one of his novels, I think it was THE ADOLESCENT). Every page of his book is preceeded with enormous background research. Cognitively, he was a dialectician. The entire corpus of his work is the biggest shadow work one could possibly attempt, in my opinion.

    So these are my two cents in defense of Fyodor Dostoevsky. You might be right that there is an ethnocentric component in Dostoevsky’s worldview. But if there is, it never plays a central place in his writings (at least such writings as CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, IDIOT, and BROTHERS KARAMAZOV). It is, thus, unfair to label Dostoevsky as ethnocentric just because he lived in 19th-century Russia. Friedrich Nietzsche called Dostoevsky the greatest psychologist.

    So I would humbly request you to consider making more careful, evidence-grounded judgments regarding such a towering and exceptionally important for humanity figure as Fyodor Dostoevsky from you, my integral brother Victor.

  • Comment Link Jeffrey Slayton Monday, 27 February 2012 21:54 posted by Jeffrey Slayton

    Such a beautiful expression, Eugene. Your personal manifestion and synthesis of the good, the true, and the beautiful really resonates with my soul. Maybe it is due to your discipline of radical subjectivity combined with a deep facility with visionary logic, I don't know, but as I read the music of your words, there is never a sour note. I appreciate it and you so much. I feel empowered and inspired.

    Thank you,
    Jeffrey

  • Comment Link Eugene Pustoshkin Tuesday, 28 February 2012 22:19 posted by Eugene Pustoshkin

    That’s a very high praise Jeffrey. I am really encouraged that this writing empowers. In my own experience, it comes from the source of power and consciousness. If you resonated with the vibe, then the non-rational experiment succeeded.

  • Comment Link Victor Shiryaev Friday, 02 March 2012 03:31 posted by Victor Shiryaev

    Zhenya,

    again, I also believe Dostoyevsky is a genius psychologist, and he had many true deep insights into the nature of human soul and human suffering. All I was pointing at was the obvious fact that *only* the state-stage training is not enough for the integral development, and that it requires also shadow work, body work etc., and this is what can be seen throughout all Dostoyevsky's life as well - that getting deep insights and non-dual states only, and even the knowledge of human psychology, does not make you any more liberated in any regard - he was a passionate gambler, for example, never knew when to stop, always in debt, and still gambling, and neurotic, and, hmm, quite miserable, in my opinion. So what's the point of having all the beautiful insights and states and understandings, if you cannot apply it even to your own life? Feeling deep love to the whole world but make your wife suffer?

    Again, it does not reduce the value of the insights themselves, not slightest bit, but it shows that these insights are nothing when they are just that.

    All my own opinion and understanding, I am not trying to argue here. Just pointing to the fact that radical subjectivity is great and cuts deep yet extremely narrow.

  • Comment Link Eugene Pustoshkin Friday, 02 March 2012 18:43 posted by Eugene Pustoshkin

    Victor, I think, existentially, the point is in living your life. There is no such thing as a perfect life. That was his life. That’s essentially an existential understanding: That was his life, he lived it the way he could.

    Life of most people consists of addictions and attachments. It is simply too ignorant to judge Dostoevsky based on 21st-century standards. He lived before Freud.

    Also: Maybe, his wife had to suffer (if she really suffered that much) in order for Dostoevsky to help millions or maybe billions of people in the future. If she actually did (I simply don’t know all the facts), all thanks and gratitude to her.

    I agree with most of what you write regarding radical subjectivity not being enough. This was not what I proposed (you must have noticed the part where I refer to Dilthey and semiotics?). Radical subjectivity is necessary but not sufficient. 99,9% probably go without this radical subjectivity, flying in the clouds.

    Saying that “radical subjectivity is great and cuts deep yet extremely narrow” is not enough for me. This is like saying: being totally honest and transparent in your phenomenological space is great and cuts deep yet extremely narrow. Well, yeah, but, oh boy...

    Thanks for the comment and lively discussion. Even though, for the sake of fun I choose a polemic tone, I see our exchange as a simple ping pong session... even though this ping poing session has a lot of EXISTENTIAL value.

  • Comment Link Eugene Pustoshkin Friday, 02 March 2012 18:47 posted by Eugene Pustoshkin

    I think criticizing Dostoevsky’s way of life is missing the point of his sermons . . . and actually hiding from the confrontation with existential givens that he highlights. One has to transcend but include Dostoevsky, if it is possible. I used to say that if you want to save the world, still your mind enough to read Dostoevsky. He was master of highlighting relative bodhicitta. And his addiction has nothing to do with morality and moral imperative in this sense.

    here is also something on the topic, although not directly related
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wounded_healer

  • Comment Link Eugene Pustoshkin Friday, 02 March 2012 18:57 posted by Eugene Pustoshkin

    The last point I want to make is regarding the remark that Dostoevsky was miserable. He might have experienced a lot of misery. You know, in this sense Christ was miserable too. Liberation or spiritual realization is not about stopping feeling miserable. If misery has to persist, it will. If happiness has to persist, it will. So often spiritual journey is thought of as an end of misery. It is not. It is an end of duhkha. Misery, melancholia, and other things still may manifest very powerfully.

  • Comment Link Albert Klamt Saturday, 03 March 2012 06:18 posted by Albert Klamt

    Radical subjectivity is so comprehensive for me that its remarkable that none of the gurus, pundits and activists have expressed it up to now. Its at the cutting/Bleeding edge of literature and arts too. In literature f.e. we see right now a vacuum as much in fiction as in non fiction. Franzens novel FREEDOM is an example. It lacks RS. In the category film is slowly emerging. Aronovsky is engaged here. As we both have discussed Colin Wilson, Friedrich Nietzsche , Dostoevsky et al in length last year these guys were AND are pioneering this new dimension. One could add the fierce imagination of Haruki Marukami. I am mentioning literature as there always is a hidden connectivity between the many forms of the spoken and written word. Later more, many, many thanks for this piece.

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Saturday, 03 March 2012 15:42 posted by Brian McConnell

    Towards the end of my graduate program in Counseling Psychology, and having already detected postmodernism's Siren call via Michel Foucault's masterful view; I was subsequently introduced to the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. A Russian philologist who joined Odessa's local faculty in 1913, and practiced his critical analysis through an era of staunch Fascist repression until the early 70's, was a dedicated aficionado of Dostoyevsky's literary genius.

    For me then, having read and studied this subject (e.g. 'radical subjectivity') extensively, I'm inclined to think one can view what modern psychology might term a 'psychotic break', as an individual's personal, expressed response to authoritarian control or imposition. In other words, I believe this form of artistic self-expression is typically a creative response to suffering whose root cause is perceived as being externally inflicted. Consequently, but as a sort of defense mechanism, while this particular devise is somewhat crude in its utilization, it does nevertheless afford the analyst cause for some interesting reflection . . .

  • Comment Link Victor Shiryaev Monday, 19 March 2012 17:02 posted by Victor Shiryaev

    Hey Zhenya,

    sorry for missing the discussion here. Thank you for all your words in response to my comment. I have a tendency to objectify, so maybe entering radical subjectivity can be healing for me. Also, I already told you in private discussion, that I have to re-read Dostoevsky, that's for sure! Thank you.

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