After The Plague

•August 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

On bleachphilosophy we deal in the night of the soul with the conceptual tools of the owl and sometimes the reverse, use a lens of the soul to bound a theoretical conception. Through Bernard Rieux, among other things, the book asserts the value of healing over that of teaching and supports that assertion in a number of ways which include an existentialist justification. I point to the genealogy of this theoretical conception in an attempt to bound its range to a psychological contingency.

At the end of The Plague Camus hints at Rieux’s failing love relationship. Bernard Rieux and his wife are said to have „blindly groped for that pact, so slow and hard to come by, that in the long run binds together ill-assorted lovers”. The lesson of healing over teaching is one I have taken. But lest it engulfs too much of man, I try to bound that lesson to its genealogy. If the bounding succeeds, then I shall keep Rieux’s practical philosophy as a way of coping with historical ends, a sense of an absence of history or the expectation thereof, but not as my universal personal ethics.

The opposition between paternalistic teaching and the existentialist philosophy of healing lay down different assumptions about the future. One justification for healing – call this the existentialist justification – views the future as closed, ultimately equates future with death, and draws the conclusion that teaching is a waste of time. One should acquire a taste of the present as present if one does not yet have it. When do teachers fail? Teachers assume responsibility for trading off another person’s present for that person’s future. Since the future cannot be tasted as present, their only recourse is faith or a taste of the future as future. But if there is no future, the teachers’ is the losing bet. When could healers fail, if ever? When futures are possible but healers repress their capacity to build them.

The dispute is thus being referred to a conception of the future. A distinction between time and history may help shape that conception. Personal time is continuous from birth to death. Histories, of which there can be many in succession during one lifetime, are narratives one builds for oneself, personal narratives that structure personal past, present and expected meanings. The death of history is the death of meaning. The birth of a new history is the rebirth of meaning. Alain de Botton’s metaphor for past love relationships is the folded accordion. We can borrow that metaphor here. Multiple histories are tied in the line of personal time like accordions. At the end of one of the histories during one’s lifetime, but before a new accordion starts playing, one is deafened by the ending note of the past accordion. The din is sometimes reeling. One literally lives the death of history with an intensity that leaves no room for experiencing anything else. But as another accordion forms and extends, the old one will fold.

According to the one-time-multiple-histories view the closing notes of past accordions plague future life with their death. The existentialist is right about that. However, once the new accordion plays, he would be forced to admit that personal time proves supportive of a new history. If new personal histories are possible, then there is also room for hope.

The distinction between time and history brings together healing and teaching, by putting their complementarity in perspective: a healer insulates from wounds of past history. A teachers shows the way to a yet unwounded one. Together they make the fertile transgression to a new history.

The distinction also makes justice at the same time to the validity of the Epicurean argument for the irrelevance of death (I cannot experience the end of my personal time, because by hypothesis I won’t be there anymore to experience it) and to some people’s cognitive immunity to that validity (because fearing the experience of the death of history is indeed reasonable).

The single-time-multiple-histories view has an anti-sisyphic implication. (Remember Grand’s book within the book, an existentialist metaphor of human projects: cyclical, fragile, meaningless.) If a personal project survives the death of all personal histories, to be only ended by death proper, the death of personal time, that project will have been with me for all the relevant eternity, which is personal eternity. If the unavoidable death is irrelevant and the relevant deaths are avoidable then nothing inevitably closes my personal future. My future is open.

The one-time-multiple-histories view shows a possible alternative to the existentialist notion of happiness, the notion of being continuously tuned to the ghastly din of the past and future historical deaths: the hope in a future happiness whose expectation brings present nourishment. Surely this is no refutation of existentialism, only an alternative way of seeing things. Genealogical relativization of the existentialist philosophy behind healing to a personal historical death is a metaphilosophical argument, which means it is philosophicaly non-compelling.

But that doesn’t make genealogical relativization illegitimate for purposes other than strictly conceptual. A genealogy of Rieux’s healing-philosophy-as-backed-by-existentialism may tie its range and domain to contingent psychological origins for humanistic purposes. This is a philosophy of post-destructiveness and the problem with post-destructive movements is that they still incorporate too much destructiveness. Sometimes to the point at which healing itself becomes sisyphic. Bounding that destructiveness is not a philosophical purpose but it is a legitimate purpose.

Would Camus of The Plague support the approach of genealogical bounding of existentialism-behind-healing? At least the mentioning of Bernard Rieux failing relationship and that saving piece called Rambert are indication that he would. With Rambert’s help, both Camus and Rieux seem to tie the practical philosophy of looking failure in the eyes to their personal unlucky histories. When Rieux says to Rambert, „Courage!, it is up to you now to prove you’re right.”, they are both handing on the torch to the love relationship, hope, and luck that rest with that character.

I tried to bound the philosophy of healing as backed by the existentialist justification to contingent historical stages and contingent personal histories and found that it is a way of coping with the absence of history. That is its strength but also its weakness because to look failure in the eyes means not to raise anchors from a past dead history. If future histories are possible, and personal future is open, then this is not a universal ethics. If we accept the distinction between time and histories, salvation could come from death itself. The plague imperils everything, but the plague itself is imperiled by its own ending.

I read The Plague with a legitimate fear of death, the fear that by the time I finish it, my present history ends. I was right. By that time the vines of my love relationship had been cut off: intimacy, passion, commitment. I read the second half in brief evening episodes after exhausting days, each time reprising an experience whelmed in tears of loneliness and abandonment. Yet some were tears of realization and fulfillment. It is now Rambert’s turn.

Separation from Zangetsu

•June 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The following is a meditation on Ichigo’s wise choice to shut off interaction with attachment figure Zangetsu while still retaining him at the core of his soul.

Ichigo learns that old man Zangetsu (Fake-Zangetsu but hereon called “Zangetsu” for convenience) has been Juha Bach’s seed, branch and vehicle all along their history together. Zangetsu confirms his quincy nature and that he is not Ichigo’s true zanpakuto or “personal blade”. He then steps down and begins separation. Ichigo will now be deprived of Zangetsu’s precious formative dialogue, of a most valuable companionship and of a main attachment figure.

That separation from attachment figures is difficult is an understatement, and especially so if one is finally ready to process affects rather than block them. The coming out to light of Hollow-Ichigo, Ichigo taking him by the hand and giving him recognition as his “true Zanpakuto” (Ch. 541) is a sign that Ichigo has reached the stage of processing affects.

Separation is difficult but detachment from figures proven unreliable not unwise. If Zangetsu is unable to disacknowledge Juha Bach (the quincy source), then, on pain of being weakened by Juha Bach’s destructive influence through Zangetsu as interface, Ichigo must detach from the person Zangetsu. Inspired by recent readings from John Bowlby I formulated an argument from detachment to personal development to guide me through an akin process. The argument applies to Ichigo.

1. Personal development is proportional with psychological investment in „exploring” the world.
2. Psychological resources are unconsciously dedicated to first securing a psychological „base”, such that only after a base is secured are one’s psychological resources freed to be invested in exploration.
3. Attachments and secure bases are typically monotropic over reasonably long intervals, meaning that one’s secure base is typically represented by, or built around one attachment figure only.
4. But sustained positive interaction with an attachment figure tends to conserve patterns of psychological investment in securing one’s base around that particular figure regardless of that figure’s proven unreliability / rejective character.
5. But 3 and 4 mean that constant contact / sustained partnership with an old attachment figure typically delays the formation of new attachments.
6. And since new secure bases are more likely (quicker) to form than old attachment figures are likely to reform,
7. Then constant contact / sustained partnership with an unreliable / rejective attachment figure is more likely to delay personal development.

Ichigo’s words to Zangetsu “I’ll never ask you again to lend me your power… And I won’t tell you ‘let’s fight together” are sign that he commits to taking this wise advice.

However, as expected from an integrative character like Ichigo, after discovering that his authentic zanpakuto is Hollow-Ichigo and that Zangetsu is unreliable, Ichigo decides that Hollow-Ichigo and old Zangetsu are ‘both’ his authentic zanpakuto. Ichigo admirably commits to retain in his soul all of his personal history with Zangetsu and all of Zangetsu’s substance, the only Zangetsu aspect disowned being Juha Bach’s path of destruction.

Therefore, if corroborated with Ichigo’s decision to keep Zangetsu as his zanpakuto, Ichigo’s whole message in the last Chapter (significantly titled “The blade is me”) reflects the resolution to shut off dialogue with Zangetsu and at the same time retain Zangetsu at the core of his soul: “I’ll never ask you again to lend me your power… And I won’t tell you ‘let’s fight together’…. I will fight on my own… Thank you, Zangetsu .”

With Zangetsu ‘sealed’ inside, Ichigo’s struggle is now to become a better keeper of the quincy core than Juha Bach or Zangetsu himself for that matter. One may foresee a bitter fight between Juha Bach and Ichigo for the “imposition of a final interpretation upon” Zangetsu, if not even for person Zangetsu’s future. If I am right to say that Ichigo-Hollow-Zangetsu-One-Horned-Child represents the quincy seed purified of Juha Bach’s plans, then that is a portent of an envisioned Zangetsu renewal.

Relieved that zanpakutos are hollows

•June 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Snapshot after Bleach Chapter 541:

[13.06.2013 20:27:07] Ion Sterpan: don’t you feel relieved learning that zanpakutos are “in fact” (compositionally and functionally) hollows?
[13.06.2013 20:27:38] Ion Sterpan: there are good things to be expected from the hollow in us
[13.06.2013 20:27:42] Milosz Pawlowski: well, having a hollow inside is a good thing.
[13.06.2013 20:27:57] Ion Sterpan: not simply having one „inside”.
[13.06.2013 20:28:19] Ion Sterpan: but having one in one’s depth…
[13.06.2013 20:28:33] Ion Sterpan: the zanpakuto is the edge of your personal blade
[13.06.2013 20:28:44] Ion Sterpan: it is not a device, not a skill
[13.06.2013 20:29:06] Ion Sterpan: not an experience, not a lesson, not an acquired thing
[13.06.2013 20:29:34] Ion Sterpan: it is inextricably developed with oneself
[13.06.2013 20:29:48] Ion Sterpan: and it is so… free
[13.06.2013 20:29:57] Ion Sterpan: it wants you to be free.
[13.06.2013 20:30:09] Ion Sterpan: Zangetsu was an authority
[13.06.2013 20:30:21] Ion Sterpan: a parent, a wise man,
[13.06.2013 20:30:24] Ion Sterpan: a professor
[13.06.2013 20:30:31] Ion Sterpan: someone you had to listen to.
[13.06.2013 20:30:41] Ion Sterpan: but Hollow-Ichigo…
[13.06.2013 20:30:51] Ion Sterpan: is just the pure will!
[13.06.2013 20:31:02] Ion Sterpan: i mean Fake-Zangetsu (i.e. old man Zangetsu, Juha Bach’s seed pretending to be Ichigo’s authentic zanpakuto)
[13.06.2013 20:31:06] Ion Sterpan: was an authority.
[13.06.2013 20:31:11] Milosz Pawlowski: yes.
[13.06.2013 20:31:22] Ion Sterpan: so yesterday we learned that True-Zangetsu is Hollow-Ichigo
[13.06.2013 20:31:39] Ion Sterpan: i feel freer now, I think
[13.06.2013 20:31:54] Ion Sterpan: i see Ichigo’s liberation from Zangetsu as a good thing
[13.06.2013 20:32:07] Ion Sterpan: from Fake-Zangetsu, that is.
[13.06.2013 20:32:34] Ion Sterpan: think of Hollow-Ichigo-Zangetsu in the form of the one horned-child.
[13.06.2013 20:32:51] Ion Sterpan:  in fact, Ichigo also liberated Fake-Zangetsu from Fake-Zangetsu
[13.06.2013 20:32:53] Milosz Pawlowski: actually, Fake-Zangetsu stepped down by himself
[13.06.2013 20:33:03] Milosz Pawlowski: ?
[13.06.2013 20:33:09] Milosz Pawlowski: the last sentence
[13.06.2013 20:33:22] Ion Sterpan: yeah, the last sentence… think of the child, man.
[13.06.2013 20:33:54] Ion Sterpan: the one horned child is Fake-Zangetsu fused with Hollow-Ichigo in the one-horned-child form
[13.06.2013 20:34:06] Ion Sterpan: that kid / child is a purification of the quincy power coming from Juha Bach
[13.06.2013 20:34:40] Ion Sterpan: ok, Zangetsu stepped down, but he also said that he psychologically “could not but step down”
[13.06.2013 20:34:56] Ion Sterpan: because he was too happy to see his “son” growing so strong
[13.06.2013 20:35:05] Ion Sterpan: so in a sense he was defeated
[13.06.2013 20:35:20] Ion Sterpan: by being mollified.
[13.06.2013 20:35:28] Milosz Pawlowski: but what do you mean by „liberated from himself”?
[13.06.2013 20:35:42] Milosz Pawlowski: that he does not need to pretend to be Zangetsu anymore?
[13.06.2013 20:35:42] Ion Sterpan: i mean that the one horned kid, Ichigo-Getsuga… is the sign that Fake-Zangetsu was mollified
[13.06.2013 20:35:53] Ion Sterpan: at the sight of Ichigo growing
[13.06.2013 20:36:23] Ion Sterpan: and well, if Ichigo mollified Fake-Zangetsu….
[13.06.2013 20:36:49] Ion Sterpan: then Ichigo managed to liberate Fake-Zangetsu (i.e. Juha Bach) from his obsession – rule the world and destroy shinigami.
[13.06.2013 20:37:11] Ion Sterpan: liberated Juha Bach from his bad self
[13.06.2013 20:37:20] Ion Sterpan: by turning him for a moment into a child
[13.06.2013 20:37:34] Milosz Pawlowski: i see
[13.06.2013 20:38:04] Ion Sterpan: i am happy you don’t disagree
[13.06.2013 20:38:23] Ion Sterpan: because this interpretation is very satisfying for me at this point
[13.06.2013 20:38:37] Ion Sterpan: I now love the hollow inside.
[13.06.2013 20:38:49] Ion Sterpan: i can “hold” it, in the sense of hug. It is in this sense that I am relieved authentic zanpakutos have always been hollows.
[13.06.2013 20:38:52] Ion Sterpan: hugging… this is John Bowlby’s concept, it means psychological containment
[13.06.2013 20:38:57] Ion Sterpan: i can contain it
[13.06.2013 20:39:16] Ion Sterpan: by taking it in my arms
[13.06.2013 20:39:39] Ion Sterpan: can you imagine?
[13.06.2013 20:40:51] Ion Sterpan: in my case, and even in Juha Bach’s, Hollow-Ichigo managed to melt a heart of stone
[13.06.2013 20:40:59] Ion Sterpan: Juha Bach’s heart of stone
[13.06.2013 20:41:14] Milosz Pawlowski: :) that’s moving
[13.06.2013 20:41:17] Milosz Pawlowski: and
[13.06.2013 20:41:22] Milosz Pawlowski: i see two aspects
[13.06.2013 20:41:40] Milosz Pawlowski: one is care for the inner child
[13.06.2013 20:41:44] Milosz Pawlowski: but then,
[13.06.2013 20:41:49] Milosz Pawlowski: through that,
[13.06.2013 20:42:20] Milosz Pawlowski: you also may get into the position of “parent”
[13.06.2013 20:42:35] Milosz Pawlowski: and provide security
[13.06.2013 20:44:26] Ion Sterpan: aha. right…
[13.06.2013 20:44:29] Ion Sterpan: my own parent
[13.06.2013 20:44:54] Ion Sterpan: yes. I am starting to feel like one.
[13.06.2013 20:45:17] Ion Sterpan: Bowlby says one of the greatest gifts parents can give to children is to allow them to express their feelings of anger
[13.06.2013 20:45:47] Ion Sterpan: contain, and psychologically “hold” their angry children kicking them in the leg
[13.06.2013 20:46:40] Milosz Pawlowski: it strikes a chord
[13.06.2013 20:46:57] Milosz Pawlowski: hold’em while they’re kicking…
[13.06.2013 20:47:22] Milosz Pawlowski: that’s acceptance.

On the nature of Ichigo’s zanpakuto

•June 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Here are a few clarification questions and answers on the nature of Ichigo’s zanpakuto (after Bleach Chapter 540).

1. Has old man Zangetsu always been in fact Yhwach’s / Juha Bach’s Quincy “seed” in Ichigo?
2. Ichigo’s closest thing to zanpakuto /blade personification has been Hollow-Ichigo all along?
3. Was this hollow that fused with Ichigo originally created by Aizen (and only pulled out or awoken by Urahara during that controlled deprivation process)?
4. Ichigo’s closest thing to a zanpakuto is something compositionally and functionally similar to the real, original zanpakutos, i.e. the asauchi created by Oetsu Nimaiya?
5. Ichigo never had an authentic Asauchi (created by Nimaiya) to begin with?


Ad 1. Yes, this seems to be the case.

Ad 2. I guess…

But. Hollow-Ichigo says at the beginning that he and Zangetsu have been one and the same since the beginning. And that is the logic of the whole series… I guess there has been a fusion of quincy and hollow powers in Ichigo’s mother. So the power Ichigo was born with was Zangetsu-hollow from the beginning. Since hollow is the “substratum”/material for zanpaktou, I’m not sure if it’s correct to say that Zangetsu “pretended” to be a zanpaktou (in any case it explains how he could do it). But then, the whole Nimaiya episode made it totally unclear what a “true” zanpaktou is (also remember Arrancar’s blades were called zanpaktous).

Ad 3. Yes, except the fusion took place in Masashi (I think).

Ad 4. I guess, but that’s the most confusing point. Nimaiya says “white” hollows are composed of shinigami souls. And then he says they’re of the same composition as Asauchis. It follows that asauchi are composed of shinigami souls, but this makes no sense to me.

Ad 5. Yes.

Why children repeat their parents’ mistakes

•May 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Ichigo is now discovering “new roots” and I can’t help noticing how positively charged this process is. Well, not so in nonfiction: some roots are bad roots.

While sorting out my own roots I wondered why people reproduce their parents’ mistakes in the treatment they give to their own children and life partners, even though they remember judging that behavior as wrong from the beginning.

One explanation may be that while being subjects of a particular bad treatment from their parents, as they grow from children to adults, young people start retaliating equivalently to protect themselves from harm. This proves to be a more successful defense strategy than others in the interaction with their parents because parents don’t like the taste of their medicine anymore than their children do, and try to avoid it altogether. What’s more, when witnessing their children’s gradual accession to the equal status of adults, parents cannot but gradually allow them to respond in kind.

This first part of the explanation says that when some response is successful in a relevant setting, people adopt the behavior even when they recognize it as wrong from some moral point of view (a “moral” point of view being a point of view that takes into consideration some larger context of interaction).

A second part says that with constant repetition the strategy becomes habitual. In time, children become like their parents. The patterned behavior then resists change even when the context is different. What starts as a wrong but successful response in a particular setting will also trigger in settings where it is wrong, unsuccessful, and rather looking like an uncalled for initiation than a response.

My favorite examples of bad treatment offered to children or life partners are various ways of forcing them to follow one’s own rhythm of doing things, spacing out, awkwardly keeping silent, but you can think of more colorful behaviors too.

The term “defense strategies” can be taken in a wide enough sense to cover retaliation or pay-back, as well as cooperative strategies, such as attempts to coping with the situation by partnering with the parents. This reading allows us to explain not only the reproduction of bad treatments offered to others  but also the reproduction of bad conceptions of life. Think of an instance when the child is engaged in theoretical discussions by the parent, who already has a defined position on the matter. During discussions the child “proves” that she or he is on the same side with the parent. This is the successful strategy that efficiently protects one from the harm of long arguments in the context given. In time, those kinds of responses entrench into patterns of verbal interaction. With sufficient exercise they stimulates corresponding patterns of thinking, permeate related topics and shape an “approach to life”.

We may add an extension to the explanation sketched here that also accept the notion of repression. Even when an equivalent retaliation cannot be manifested (think of beating; at no stage of growth do parents allow their sons and daughters to beat them back), children may ‘repeatedly imagine’ responding in kind. The repressed response will later find an outlet.

But the essence of the explanation why children repeat their parents’ mistakes simply rests on recognizing that people adopt and reproduce successful behavior in spite of their moral objections, and that once a pattern of behavior is formed it becomes resistant to change.

Fantasies against the absurd

•March 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

In Suicide and the absurd Benjamin Laskar successfully makes the case that Stephen Donaldson’s psychodrama, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, is at the same time high fantasy and an existentialist piece of writing.

But isn’t high fantasy a projection of an ideal as “absolute truth”, immune to empirical refutation? How can high fantasy not be evidence of that “philosophical suicide” Camus deplored? For Donaldson, as for Tite Kubo, high fantasy is an internal struggle dramatized as external events. When one is honest about that struggle, fantasy is not escapism. This is the short answer. The long answer is below.

Recall what “philosophical suicide” is for Camus: the abdication from reason involved in the refusal to recognize “the absurd” for what it is. The absurd is the gap between the human need for meaning and the world’s fundamental lack thereof. The two terms upon which the absurd emerges are one’s own thirst for meaning and the world’s silence. A heroic existentialist attitude recommends both terms to be continuously kept active in one’s mind and acknowledged by reason. Reason (understood much like ‘perception’) should not be suspended even for one moment.

W. Senior (in Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Variations on the fantasy tradition) cites Egoff’s distinction between Actual life and Life in Truth (Actual life and “Life in Lie” in the existentialist terminology): “Actual Life is not perfectly ordered. It is in fact most often immoral and amoral. Issues are seldom clear cut. Judgement is as capricious as justice. Endings are sometimes happy and sometimes sad.” On the other hand, Life in Truth is a depiction of the world as it should be and a training on how one should live one’s life. It makes issues clear, based on two great opposing forces.

Uncontroversial examples of fantasies: everything ends well; anything that happens ‘has’ to happen’; the desktop picture of someone in a promising pose that reigns supreme over the bitter experience of repeated rejection; the image of an authority that reigns supreme; the firm belief that future will certainly bring some particular ‘us’ together. These are projections, idols, obsessive projects and statements of faith that are held immune to the criticism of experience. Call all of these “strategies of escape from empirical refutations” and take “strategy” in a large sense covering psychological behavior triggered unconsciously. Interesting examples of fantasies include narcissic attitudes: the firm belief that I can ‘always’ find a better partner; the firm belief that those who do not love me are blind or otherwise lacking; the firm belief that nature will always be there to be enjoyed; the firm belief that I will ‘always’, have my body to enjoy and be enjoyed by others. Controversial examples of fantasies include absurdist attitudes such as the firm belief that everything ‚must’ end badly; that ‘everything’ is pointless; the firm belief that future will certainly bring ‘us’ apart. Absurdist attitudes differ from the heroic existentialist in that they project the absurd rather than confront an already manifest absurd. But this will become clear later on; for now concentrate on the uncontroversial examples.

Are escape strategies guilty of the running away from the world, guilty of cowardice in the face of the manifest absurd?

Evaluating two attitudes against one another requires an impartial arbiter

In defending the legitimacy of fantasy against charges of escapism Tolkien insists on its practical character: “escape is as a rule very practical and may even be heroic” says he in Fairy stories. “In real life it is difficult to blame it unless it fails; in criticism it seems to be the worse, the better it succeeds.” What Tolkien proposes is to look at how effective or practical the attitudes turn out to be the test of life.

In doing so, Tolkien makes philosophical progress. He realizes that in judging two contending attitudes (here escapism versus heroic existentialism, the permanent conscious confrontation with the absurd) we need a third neutral standard, (not necessarily “higher”, but neutral). When choosing between lying or telling the truth — when judging a mendacious attitude against an honest one — one must find a third neutral arbiter, say, their relative utility, or some other third standard. Merely denoucing lies as un-truthful would beg the question.

A second suggestion I derive from Tolkien’s proposition is that if we wish to be precise in our evaluations (escape versus recognition and confrontation with the absurd), we should circumscribe judgement to particular contexts of life and defer talk about what works better “in general”, or “as a rule” for later. This observation forces us to criticize the term “philosophical suicide”, in that it implies permanence. A temporary suppression or warding off of the absurd, even if irrational, is more like sleeping than death.

Getting back to the first point, that of impartial arbiters, think of situations in which escapism may do better than an open confrontation of the absurd. I can think of two, one is that of conflictual encounters and the other is the sense of or the promotion of community.

In a conflictual encounter with Medusa, Perseus can get a real grip of her only because he is able to evade visual direct confrontation. The myth talks powerfully that strategies of direct confrontation are sometimes ineffective and fatal. Perseus understands that. As a fathers of existentialism, Nietzsche would probably not glorify such non-confrontational victories. But he should at least acknowledge them as victories when they are so. Could it be that history does not provide any famous examples of “superhumans” precisely because permanent confrontation with and facing of the absurd (continue looking when it hurts) makes one too weary in the long run of life to make history? History seems rather to be made of acts of faith and the clashing of “ideals”, all of which would be probably described by Camus as “great escapes”. My favorite example is the struggle between Pope Gregory and Henry. Pope Gregory’s great fantasy, religion, may be a reaction to reality but instead of being “facile wish fulfillment” in isolation, it is highly creative of the actual world to the point of making civilization. If it is a matter of fact, not of value, we can imagine Nietzsche acknowledging the extent of that creativity. A dilemma for a Nietzschean existentialist rests elsewhere: if in a conflict between superhumans, the will to power and dominion is more effectively served by the “escape” strategy, should one employ it? The answer is simple: in situations when escapist moves and avoidance strategies are more successful, those who afford to be avoidant, escapist, to take leaps of faith, or to shield the uncomfortable by looking away, will supersede the others. Whether “humans” will supersede “superhumans”, or whether “superhumans” can be non-confrontational and take a “philosophical nap” are merely semantic quarrels.

A second impartial standard against which we can evaluate the relative effectiveness of escape and of the continuous facing of the absurd is one that both Camus and high fantasy writers find worthwhile: the sense of community. Laskar cites Camus in Nuptials says that “meaning, love, and happiness are awakened in man when he becomes exposed to Nature and that “realizing the importance of nature also causes him to realize the importance of others”. Fantasy and escape strategies in general foster a sense of belonging to the world, and try to universalize responsibility. Camus had his own historical context to react to, but zooming out history, he must have acknowledged that some communities are successful, peaceful, prosperous and sometimes fantasies are precisely what knits them together.

Thus, the two impartial standards suggest that escape may sometimes be a successful practical strategy of dealing with the absurd.

This is at best a partial response to the existentialist. The existentialist cares about winning certain conflicts and promoting certain communities, but not as much as to accept the cost, even if for a brief interval, of dishonesty and untruthfulness.

But what if escape strategies were possible without the suspension of reason?

Escape strategies do not deny the absurd; they refuse to be affected by it

Egoff’s distinction between actual life and life in fantasy suggests that the upholding of fantasies is not a cognitive statement of what is actually the case, but a moral statement about what should be the case. To work effectively, escape strategies must render cognitive queries inactive, block out the perception of a world devoid of meaning and project the wish in the real world. Projection is an engagement of what Wittgenstein calls “religious belief”. Unlike opinions about matters of fact, which operate at the cognitive level, Wittgenstein suspects religious beliefs are active standards of what should be, operating at the performative level. Unlike opinions about public facts — opinions that, if we are reasonable, are somehow forced into us by their passing some public standards of cognitive acceptability — religious beliefs are normative standards born and grounded in one’s own private emotional experience and from there forced out into the world. In the same vein, Eric Rabkin in Descent of Fantasy notes that believability of our fantasies is not a matter of truth of one’s assertions but of one’s place in the social fabric, a place defined by one’s own experience and attested to by one’s own life story (apud W. Senior, Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Variations on the fantasy tradition).

If we accept that fantasy works at a different level than the cognitive, then engaging escape strategies is possible without the suspension of reason. A temporary suppression of the perception of the absurd should not be seen as philosophical suicide, and neither as philosophical sleep. Following the metaphor reason – perception, we don’t die and neither do we sleep when we choose to look away. I may acknowledge a piece of reality as real and absurd, but fend it off. If I choose to look away from a naked piece of the absurd, I know exactly what I look away from. I am not denying the existence of the phenomenon at the cognitive level. Looking away is a performative move. Perseus could say to Medusa: “the reason I do not speak to you is that you do not exist“. There is no cognitive error involved. Neither is there an attempt at isolating oneself from the belief that Medusa actually exists the way she does. On the contrary, it is a forceful imposition of a normative standard, a “strike with the shield” as it were, which counts as performative rejection but cognitive recognition and authentic interaction with the source of the absurd. There is no escapism in active blocking moves during fights, only cognitive and performative discipline.

The plot of the first book of Donaldson’s Chronicles wraps around the objective of reclaiming (the staff of) Law from (a puppet of) the great Despiser. What could an existentialist Despiser despise the most? Escape strategies. Camus, as humanist, is not a despiser of people’s strategies of coping with things, but, if he cares about humans, can he recommend looking at the Medusa? Is not heroic existentialism personally damaging? Someone like Camus can dispense with escape strategies safely as long as nature — with the order and beauty it brings along — is there for him, available to be enjoyed. Laskar cites Camus in the Myth of Sisyphus asserting that nature offers man a key to the belief that life is worth living: “and here are the trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes – how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel?” “Being able to appreciate Beauty is one way to resist despite” says a fantastic character in Lord Foul’s Bane; Camus would agree and add that beauty is in nature.

But what if at some point, nature ceases to provide beauty? Donaldson’s hero becomes a leper and is thus denied the enjoyment of nature. The existentialist out of all people should know that “leprosy” comes unexpectedly in many forms. Nature also denies the hero the enjoyment of his own body. Moving to more usual examples, what if the world repeatedly refuses to acknowledge just how beautiful the narcissist happens to be? Here is a quote from Ellis’s Imperial bedrooms: “I mean, you’re a nice-looking guy for your age,” Kit says to me, “but you don’t really have the clout.” Banks considers this. “I guess people find this out sooner or later, right?” “Yeah, but they’re always replaced, Banks,” Wayne says. “On a daily basis there’s a whole new army of the retarded eager to be defiled.” The narrator of Imperial bedrooms, a hollow exploitative narcissist, can always find others to share in his/ her own fantasy (himself / herself) for brief intervals. But no matter how good the path overall, it is a downward path. With age, some form of leprosy quietly installs. When the world repeatedly refuses to validate one’s fantasy, repeatedly refuses to “find” the narcissist as already beautiful enough, then the narcissist may be forced to recognize that beauty must be ‘built’ in some different way. One song in Lord Foul’s Bane plays “Beauty is not possible without discipline / and the Law which gave birth to Time / is the Land’s Creator’s self-control.” That ” Law gives birth to Time” means that the discipline required in building beauty is also capable of bridging the present to the future, a bridge over the chasm of the absurd.

Moving from esthetic to moral values, fantasies, including the myth of Perseus and Medusa, are instructive if read as dramatizing the parts of one’s own soul. When existentialists say freedom is absolute and morality relative, as humanists, they should surely relativize morality to the human subject, not to the parts of the human soul. If humanists care about the human psyche as a whole, then they should recognize that some kind of personal ethics – an ethics not below the personal level — is essential for the good life of the human being. Any personal ethics requires strength and self-discipline, and sometimes the imperative is to look away from one’s own Medusa.

Fantasies and escape strategies are legitimate precisely because they are useful in bridging over the absurd. In that authentic confrontation (albeit an “avoidant” one), the number of faithful believers required per particular fantasy – be it a particular religion, narcissism or love relationship — is typically greater than one. Certainly, it always matters which those fantasies and which those faithful believers are exactly. But deserting from a community of faith merely for heroic existentialist reasons would be a sad mistake. If one member in the community of faith defects, rather than „proving” the absurd, she brings it about. The hero in Donaldson’s fiction, called to build meanings (see Schmidtz’s Meanings of life), refuses that there is any such role at all. As if in an attempt to prove meaninglessness, he rapes a young woman. What the rape actually disproves though, is not the meaningful character of lives, but his previous diagnostic of sexual impotence. Potent enough to beget the absurd, he learns he has the power to build meanings over the absurd, meanings that, once created, allow him to walk upon.


•January 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Strength is a very complex thing, and there are many forms of strength – that’s one of the lessons from Bleach.
Hallibel is a “patron saint” of the phase of life when one struggles with Sacrifice. She is too honorable and too compassionate to sacrifice others. She does not want to sacrifice herself. But she cannot make progress and defend oneself and others without sacrifice… So she yearns for a world without sacrifice altogether. I think that under Aizen she comes to accept VOLUNTARY sacrifice of others for her sake. And I suppose she is able to voluntarily sacrifice herself . But her dream is still unrealistic.
Note that she is not defeated in battle, only by Aizen, whose role is to shatter illusions. BUT, one of the things that Aizen misses (and Ichigo does possess) is the power of self-sacrifice. This is for two reasons:

Aizen is lonely – has no one who would complement his being to sacrifice for
Aizen wants divinity (even if it is not a philosophical absolute, but perpetually surpassing others and perpetually reaching higher…). And this seems inconsistent with rejecting a part of one’s strength, with self-sacrifice, with needing others.

So, Aizen’s killing Hallibel may symbolize his rejection of self-sacrifice. And perhaps his killing Ichimaru symbolizes the two reasons for that rejection.