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How can I be educated?
From Illich to Babich and Nietzsche’s Schopenhauer to an Educator (as a) Friend
I’m a little short of breath because it’s been a long day and I have been breathing all the time. As I was breathing, I was thinking and writing. Would you care for a short, entertaining read? Yes? Too bad. In “The Flying Fish”, my writing below is the longest so far‚ the most in-depth, especially in contrast with the compact reads I published previously. Here, the Reader is looking at about 4,500 words, therefore it may turn out to be a 20-minute plough through.
At midlife, things had happened to me in consequence of which I decided that I must “educate myself”, as they say. I thought that reading books (tolle, lege) would be enough, but it wasn’t. How to be educate myself I didn’t know, but more things happened—and then I knew. Today, it is bothering me to keep what I discovered to myself, so may the Reader allow me a humble attempt at telling of what I found: a golden ticket to an adult person’s education ascended to new heights.
Professor Babette Babich told me that Friedrich Nietzsche told her that an educator is a taskmaster who brings another, the one being educated, to find himself. For Nietzsche, the will to find himself is the starting point which he sets out from only to discover who he discovers in Arthur Schopenhauer: a friend. I will write more about that in a moment. For telling me this thing precisely—discover your educator as a friend—I feel very grateful to Prof. Babich and my piece of writing here is dedicated to her generosity with sharing her wisdom for free, with a layman like me, on the internet.
My previous reading of other masters, such as Romano Amerio, Romano Guardini, and Ivan Illich, already made me aware of similar to Nietzsche’s places of departure and similar ways where and through which an educator and the one educated meet.
Amerio gave me a splendid explanation, albeit not practical due to my limited understanding perhaps, of what to avoid as well as what is what and who is who. On second thought, would I be correct to suspect that the theologian may have had taken for granted that I would know already that teacher of truth is sent by the Holy Ghost? (I ask myself genuinely, without irony.) Amerio wrote:
“The first error consists in denying and saying nothing about the fact that the mind of the educated depends on the principle that will educate it, and in supposing that truth is a result of personal creativity when it is actually a light the intellect does not create, but finds and indeed finds better the less it mixes its own experiences with the intuition of the truth. Experience is the means of access to the truth, but truth is not something lived, as they say today, but a pure seeing. The De magistro, whether of St. Augustine or St. Thomas, affirms that truth transcends both pupil and teacher and man does not produce it, but discovers it. Man can indeed read truth in reality of things without having a teacher. The teacher does not pour knowledge into a pupil, but rather rouses him to personal acts of knowledge. A teacher, already possessing actual knowledge, activates the learner’s potential and thus brings him to know things for himself. It is thus radically impossible for teaching to be really self-teaching and education self-education, just as it is metaphysically impossible for a potential being to bring itself into existence. St. Thomas explicitly lays down the thesis that: Non potest aliquis dici sui ipsius magister vel seipsum docere (“Nobody can be said to be his own teacher or to teach himself”—De Veritate, q.XI,a.2.).
As my Reader can surely see, the Luganese master of clarity didn’t provide me practical advice on how, if at all, the teacher finds me, or, if at all, I may be able to find the teacher, and if so, how to look for one, or how to choose one among many1.
Guardini told me that “knowing is a touching”, he spoke about knowing as “eating” or “a marrying”2.
From Illich, I knew that “You never know what will nurture the spirit of philia” (where philia is a fondness, a reciprocal friendship between one and another or others, similar to love understood as agape) and that philia’s spirit “emerges by surprise, and it’s a miracle when it abides”.3 He spoke as well of an aura, in which persons gathered together thrive, and that the aura has to do with the ‘scent’ those present contribute to their meeting. As Illich writes, and I feel strongly that it is worth quoting him here especially as we’re keeping in mind that we want to read him in relation to the idea of bringing an educator and the educated together as friends,
“To sense an aura, you need a nose. The nose, framed by the eyes, runs below the brain. What the nose inhales ends in the guts; every yogi and hesichast knows this. The nose curves down in the middle of the face. Pious Jews are conscious of the image because what Christians call “walking in the sight of God” the Hebrew expresses as “ambling under God’s nose and breath.” To savor the feel of a place, you trust your nose; to trust another, you must first smell him.
In its beginnings, western civic culture wavered between cultivated distrust and sympathetic trust. Plato believed it would be upsetting for Athenian citizens to allow their bowels to be affected by the passion of actors in the theater; he wanted the audience to go no further than reflecting on the words. Aristotle respectfully modified his teacher’s opinion. In Poetics, he asks the spectators to let gesture and mimicry, the rhythm and melody of breath, reach their very innards. Citizens should attend the theater, not just to understand, but to be affected by each other. For Aristotle, there could be no transformation, no purifying catharsis, without such gripping mimesis. Without gut-level experience of the other, without sharing his aura, you can't be saved from yourself.
Some of that sense of mimesis comes out in an old German adage, “Ich kann Dich gut riechen” (I can smell you well), which is still used and understood. But it’s something you don’t say to just anyone; it’s an expression that is permissible only when you feel close, count on trust, and are willing to be hurt. It presupposes the truth of another German saying, “Ich kann Dich gut leiden” (I can suffer [put up with] you [well]). You can see that nose words have not altogether disappeared from ordinary speech, even in the age of daily showers.
Only persons who face one another in trust can allow its emergence. The bouquet of friendship varies with each breath, but when it is there it needs no name.”
What I had taken away from Guardini and Illich is the importance, no, better—necessity, for an incarnated sharing of space, a sharing that has something profound to do with the flesh and bones of the body. The space is limited: there is a closeness of one to another in which stimuli constellate and thereby open those present to the realization that ‘contact’ is attainable; especially, if we take the essence of contact as a place where two meet so closely that no further closeness is possible—both are touching one another in whole and no distance at any place of contact remains.
But, in retrospect, I can see that as much as I was able to intellectually understand what I had been told by Guardini, Illich, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (in which arms I grew from boyhood to adolescence, and which taught me, among other things, of the Force present when two or more meet in Its name), and the like, I wasn’t able to put that understanding to use. However, and that is what I would very much like to write about today, certain further opportunities came to me probably because the seed had been planted. The seed: I must see my educator as a friend. But how can that seeing be done? Oh, man, how much I wanted to experience Nietzsche’s joy and amazement, which he describes from having “met” Schopenhauer:
“I sensed that in him I had discovered that educator and philosopher I had sought for so long. But I had discovered him only in the form of a book, and that was a great deficiency. So I strove all the harder to see through the book and to imagine the living man whose great testament I had to read and who promised to make his heirs only those who would and could be more than merely his readers: namely his sons and pupils.”4
Aha! Okay, Herr Nietzsche, I’m closely following what you’re telling me: The book isn’t enough, I must imagine the living man. What next? Nietzsche
“arrived at an answer to the question whether it is possible to pursue the great ideal of the Schopenhauerian man by means of practical activity.”
The answer was yes, it was possible. The ‘Schopenhauerian man’, as Nietzsche describes, is the one who’s “voluntarily taking upon himself the suffering involved in being truthful”, and he’s a product of Nietzsche’s own philosophical imagination.
Practical activity! Philosophical imagination! At that point, the puzzle was made complete. So I set out preparing a new alchemical concoction that will make a transmutation of lead into gold possible; I had a recipe in my hand: In order to make an educator my friend I must use my imagination and create “activity” so that I may see him, “be” with him, as if he is a living man.
I did that. I believe it is possible for anyone to do the same.
How can I explain the difference made by the use of that ‘imagination’, how did I translate that imagination to practical ‘activity’, and how exactly can you have your educator (as a) living friend?
First, I must go back in time a little bit, because to get the full pleasure from the taste of the fruit, one must remember to appreciate the nourishment of water and sunshine, the soil, roots, and trunk of the tree with its branches and leaves, as well as the gardener who may be present in the orchard. (If one wants to go directly to the fruit, one may skip reading the following few paragraphs and scroll down from here to the paragraph subtitled “The remedy”, below.)
How I came to the need of being educated
At midlife, I was dealt a trinity of important happenings, all three constellated into one inner experience: 1. A metanoia (in short, understood as a life-crisis), 2. An account of conscience, and 3. The question of “What’s next?”5. I emerged at the end of that experience, which itself ended with the question mark, with an answer as clear and gut-felt as a pang of hunger: I want to be educated.
So, I began to re-read some of the great books which I had read in my, as Shakespeare calls them, “salad days when I was green in judgment”, as well as read some new-to-me books written by “the greatest minds of all time”, as educated people call them. The reading didn’t go well.6
I remember the words of an observant master: I never read, and even if I read, I cannot finish; even if I finish, I cannot understand; even if I understand—I forget.7
That observation wholly applies to the history of my personal study. You see, for a long time I wasn’t yet aware of the pressing need and desire to be educated, but, instead, I was wanting to “educate myself”; looking back, I see that as a clear error on my part, because how could I educate myself if I am uneducated? Oh, the foolish man that I was.
As educating myself was largely dependent on the reading of texts, I couldn’t help but eventually notice that the above observation of the master applied to me: I read, but didn’t always finish; what I understood—I quickly forgot.
To remedy the situation, I tried to take notes. But the note-taking greatly slowed down my ability to do the study with the sense of urgency which certainly takes one over, as it should, when one takes what he’s doing personally, when one takes it to heart. Therefore, the note-taking, while useful, had to be reduced to the necessary, hasty, and un-careful minimum.
Next came a brief, but very unpleasant to me, time of frustration. Since I kept forgetting the little that I understood from what I read, and the taking of notes was minimal, and, since at my advanced age of fifty time is not on my side, so to speak—I felt exasperated, wasteful of time, useless, not making any progress at all. Out of the exasperation came the change in terminology, where I went from “I’m going to educate myself” to saying to myself: “I want to be educated”. Immediately, to ease my affliction medicine arrived in the same way as in the wise saying: When the student is ready, a teacher arrives.
A few words of warning
—Here I must digress in order to do some throat clearing. I’m hopeful that you will be reading further, even if in a moment you find yourself hesitant to believe that what I’m telling you is not only possible but actually works. It works like a charm—I invite you to try it for yourself. I realize that the paradoxically small-and-huge difference that comes with imagination, the rather irrational difference, may be surprising. It certainly surprised me, too! Therefore, if you find yourself thinking that what I talk about is unreasonable, you will be correct—it is. But because the previous reasonable method of my study (reading books) had led me to a plateau, it is reasonable for me to go beyond the limits of reason.
The medicine arrived in a splendid case of synchronicity.8 At the exact time of what in retrospect I can see as the time of the flatlined self-education and the ensuing frustration, I watched and listened to a recorded lecture of a professor of philosophy at Fordham University in New York. In the lecture titled Who Do You Think You Are?9 Professor Babette Babich (who I mentioned at the beginning) tells of Nietzsche’s reading his voluntarily-chosen educator, Schopenhauer, upon which Nietzsche discovers the educator as a friend. Hearing that, I experienced a true epiphany. What great medicine! Ambrosia from the gods! Manna from heaven! Eureka! Long live the internet! The lecture was exactly what I needed to hear in order for my exasperation to be eased. From that moment on, I decided to imagine my educator as my friend and treat him10 as such.
I began by inviting my educator to come to my home and sit in the room with me. In my imagination, of course. Instead of just reading his work, I’d invite my guest to tell me. Oh, no matter if my guest is dead. Well, that could be a problem since most of my educators are dead. This unfortunate obstacle I overcame by placing a photo of my educator at my side so that I can glance at his face. Since instead of reading his work with my eyes as I used to, now I’d still read—but this time I’d simply imagine that I am being told and I listen. I listen with both ears to him telling me things that I need to hear. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”11
I know now that the seemingly small difference which comes from the applied imagination, the rather irrational difference, can do magic. There can be an “immersion”; I want to immerse myself in the presence of the one who comes to visit. Not only do I invite my educator to my room and find him a nice place to rest his weary bones, not only am I able now to see my educator’s face as he speaks to me, not only do I imagine myself listening carefully to what he is telling me when I’m reading him—I can listen to the sound of his voice for real.
The internet may have his audio recorded, oftentimes there may have been a clip of a filmed conversation recorded. Whether there are copious or scarce amounts of recorded material (lectures, speeches, interviews, conversations, documentaries, etceteras) available online, just a mere minute or two will do, in any language (including a language that I don’t have!). I can get access to a magnificent well of clear water to draw from to nourish my imagination. Obviously, gaining access to audio and video recordings of those long-dead (such as Thomas of Aquinas or William Blake) is impossible, but that obstacle I have been able to overcome, too, by reading into biographies, even if a little.
Reading a short or long biography, or even better an autobiography if available, may greatly increase my winnings in the game of imagining the educator being present with me in person. In other words, the stakes invested are only slightly higher on the account of having to spend additional time reading, but the pay-off is worth it.
To sum up, the imagination translated into practical activity turns out only to be the means through which a new bridge between an educator and me, the educated, is built. I want to get to philia, the friendship flowing from me to my taskmaster and vice versa. Out of philia, a relationship is born, out of the relationship comes education. I believe I may have found the ticket to the face-to-face, heart-to-heart closeness: the “contact”, in which Plato was with Socrates, Aristotle with Plato, Nietzsche with Schopenhauer, Jung with Carus, von Franz with Jung, Guardini with Pascal, Dalí with Raphael, Gould with Bach, Hofstadter with Gödel, Rubinstein with Chopin, or Illich with Hugh of St. Victor. That is how I am now with Illich—in contact.
The new way of imagining, no, better to say having, an educator as a loving and loved friend, has taken me to being educated the way it should be: I read and I finish; I understand and I remember.
The educator and his educated coming together into completeness in order to bring together what belongs together may turn out to have something essential to do with how St. Augustine’s longing to become whole with his Creator was fulfilled, I think. And that is yet for me to discover. Until then, may I invoke Nietzsche one last time, in a lengthy quote, but his words carry, perhaps, the Holy Grail that would dispel modern man’s alienation and anxiety in (non-, or hardly-existing?) adult education, and beyond:
“I see above me something higher and more human than I am; let everyone help me to attain it, as I will help everyone who knows and suffers as I do: so that at last the man may appear who feels himself perfect and boundless in knowledge and love, perception and power, and who in his completeness is at one with nature, the judge and evaluator of things. It is hard to create in any one this condition of intrepid self-knowledge because it is impossible to teach love; for it is love alone that can bestow on the soul, not only a clear, discriminating and self-contemptuous view of itself, but also the desire to look beyond itself and to seek with all its might for a higher self as yet still concealed from it. Thus only he who has attached his heart to some great man receives thereby the first consecration to culture; the sign of that consecration is that one is ashamed of oneself without any accompanying feeling of distress, that one comes to hate one’s own narrowness and shrivelled nature, that one has a feeling of sympathy for the genius who again and again drags himself up out of our dryness and apathy and the same feeling in anticipation for all those who are still struggling and evolving, with the profoundest conviction that almost everywhere we encounter nature pressing towards man and again and again failing to achieve him, yet everywhere succeeding in producing the most marvellous beginnings, individual traits and forms: so that the men we live among resemble a field over which is scattered the most precious fragments of sculpture where everything calls to us: come, assist, complete, bring together what belongs together, we have an immeasurable longing to become whole.”
Thanks for reading my stuff. I have written such a long post because I have been busy being educated and haven’t had time to make it shorter.
I kiss you on the mouth.
25 January, AD 2022
Amerio, R., IOTA UNUM: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, (1996), translated by Rev. Fr. John P. Parsons, p. 291
I’m paraphrasing a bit from memory and another bit from my notes which are without a reference. Romano Guardini, probably in Pascal for Our Time, (1966). Or Guardini’s book on St. Augustine
All Friedrich Nietzsche’s quotes which I’m bringing to this writing are from Untimely Meditations, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press (1997)
Metanoia: where we commonly speak of life-crisis, Herr Doktor Jung spoke of metanoia (where meta means “after” or “beyond” and noia means “mind”, “perception”, or “understanding”), an unprompted attempt of the psyche to heal itself of an unbearable to it conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a new form. Jung, and afterward Laing, considered that episode an existential crisis.
An account of conscience: where “conscience” is understood as the ability to recognize or sense what is right and wrong, along with the inner urge to follow the good, “an account of conscience” is, to me, a poor expression in the English language, because it sounds too impersonal and economic, as if conscience can be separated from the body and quantified. Other expressions for what I want to say include self-examination or soul searching—but in neither of those two do I sense the moral and religious connotation which I’m looking for—the former sounds too clinical and the latter too theosophical or “New Agey”. In Polish, we have a better-sounding phrase: rachunek sumienia, which indicates a moral evaluation of one’s own actions, thoughts, and words. (Traditionally, rachunek sumienia takes place before entering the sacrament of reconciliation, the first of the conditions for a good confession in accordance with the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church.)
The question of “What’s next?” needs no explanation. I suppose I had already asked and answered that question numerous times, for instance at the end of puberty when I left home, then on the morning of the day when I was getting married, on the evening of the day when I was deciding to separate from my wife, and on the day when I considered a big change from working in casinos to teaching yoga for a living. At midlife, the answer was “back to school for you, my dear”.
Truth be told, I was presented with two problems simultaneously, only one of which I choose to write about above (namely, my failure in “educating myself”), I must let the other be for now. But since the latter is difficult for me to leave unmentioned at all, or “un-burped” at all in its advanced stage of fermentation, I’d like to let some pressure out: please forgive me if I sound impolite or hubristic, but I need to call a spade a spade. Not only do I believe we have gone too far in being polite to illusion-spreading sages (certain philosophers [especially of the so-called ‘analytical’ sort], scientists, theologians, psychologists, and such), but I am also at risk of sounding uncouth by calling some of those sages “wise guys” and “goodfellas” in a Martin Scorsese kind of way. When one wise guy proves that I cannot be sure whether I am sitting at my desk at the moment; when a second wise guy writes that the world does not exist, or that it exists only in my head, and a bunch of goodfellas instructs me that I have neither conscience nor consciousness or feelings—well, if you’ll excuse me, I call all this a bamboozle. That is my opinion. For once it is time to put an end to it, I say to myself, to distinguish between scientific hypothesis and a sophist’s caprice, between science and demagogue’s manipulation, between honest philosophical inquiry and psychotic mumbo jumbo. This is all the more so because, unfortunately, this bamboozling may have tragic consequences: just think of Hegel (Schopenhauer called Hegel “a commonplace, inane, loathsome, repulsive, and ignorant charlatan, who with unparalleled effrontery compiled a system of crazy nonsense that […] resulted in the mental ruin of a whole generation of scholars” and Meister Arthur didn’t even know at the time how right he was). Think of Hegel’s dialectics and the murders that were committed in its name, or of Adolf Eichmann’s monstrous distortion of Kant’s ethics. Or, if one wants to look back in time first, one may think of the dreadful mental nightmare of the paradigm established by Galileo, Descartes, and Bacon—with its severely inhumane consequences which it has been bringing down on the heads of any persons whose experience isn’t compatible with that paradigm—persons who we label as ‘mentally ill’, ‘deluded’, ‘insane’. Alas, writing about the discernment necessary to tell what is good and true, what is hogwash, and what is dangerous demagoguery may be beyond my powers and even if it weren’t, it is off-subject to what I want to write about today, therefore I must save it for another occasion or keep shtum, time will tell which. Phew, I feel better now. Thanks.
My paraphrase of Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006), the genius Polish writer and philosopher. The original: “Nikt nic nie czyta, a jeśli czyta, to nic nie rozumie, a jeśli nawet rozumie, to nic nie pamięta.” (Nobody reads, and even if he reads, he understands nothing, and even if he understands, he forgets.) Taken from my notes, without a reference.
Synchronicity: the kind of irregular and unpredictable—but meaningful—coincidence that tends to occur when powerful psychic components are activated, where and when “The connection between the inner event (…) and the outer event appears not to be a causal one, that of cause and effect, but rather of a relative simultaneity of the same meaning for the individual who has the experience. Such synchronistic phenomena appear with special frequency in certain situations in which an archetype is activated in the unconscious of the individual concerned (that is, when he is in ‘an excited state’, as the physicist would say.” Franz, von, M.-L., C. G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time, (1998). However, as the phenomenon of synchronicity probably should be defined as an acausal connecting principle, it is highly debatable—there is no evidence of its existence.
Prof. Babette Babich’s recorded lecture video Who Do You Think You Are? since the time of my viewing seems to have disappeared from the internet or I’m unable to find it again. If the Reader would like to watch it, a copy I luckily saved can be found in my Dropbox here (I hope that Professor doesn’t mind me sharing that). In addition, a note-worthy related text by Prof. Babich—Nietzsche’s Spiritual Exercises, (2016)—can be obtained here.
“Him”? To deal with the pronoun problem, I’m avoiding “him or her” and similar constructions that distract the Reader’s eye; also avoiding “they” and “them” as neuter singulars. Rather, I use the nonexclusive “he” and “him” to mean ‘educator’ while I keep in my heart my female educators: Professor Babette Babich, Simone Weil, Marie-Louise von Franz, and Hannah Arendt, among others.
Revelation 2:17, The Holy Bible, King James Version