Getting One Over On Ourselves

“Heaven preserve you from questions of origin.”
- Valéry (Notebooks, C. 21, p.275, 1938; as quoted by Derrida in Margins of Philosophy)

“The essence of scientific wisdom… lies in being tentative about what one takes to be… necessary.”
-Wilfred Sellars, “Is there a Synthetic a Priori?” (1953)

Metaphysics is always imaginative. Anyone who would practice metaphysics does well to remember that absolute statements of what reality IS are always expressive metaphors, similes, analogies, myths, and ciphers. It is a way of narrating a story in which we find ourselves in the middle without any certain stage direction.

Because imagination is so potent, even in the most uncreative personality, we do well to remind ourselves–maybe to the point of absurdity–that a story is just a story. Some make more sense than others. But any attempt by us to speak the whole is already bound for shipwreck before we have finished pronouncing our last partial syllable.

One of the first paths walked out of this habit, and one at which we are super adept, is anthropomorphizing. Whatever we experience can be interpreted as being like unto us. We reshape into the human form animals, gods, trees, elements, weather, etc et al.

The greatest of these re-imaginings is when we speak of “transcendent reality.” Because humans are animals that can often overcome their existential limits, there is a tendency to spread the process of going-beyond over the whole of reality. The truth that we can transcend ourselves becomes the doctrine of true being or a truer place over-yonder.

Such a description not only takes in most religious explanations of what is happening (e.g. Zoroastrianism or any of the Abrahamic faiths) but also many contemporary technoscientific attempts at explicating what is going on (e.g. string theory or the big bang).

In some historic situations, the use of such a narrative may have a pressing necessity. But most of the time, it just gets in the way of dealing more forthrightly with our being now-here in this very particular world.

Without imprisoning the breadth of the imagination, we will never shed ourselves of metaphysics. But we do not have to make ourselves the mark in our own con-game. [In a sense, Nietzsche should be credited not with the end of metaphysics but with what William S. Burroughs would call wising up the marks.]

Metaphysics, in our plain speak, is not about transcending the fullness of reality but is about comprehending how we transcend or get-over our situated limits by the very power of imagination.

This entry was posted in New Lexicon, Public Philosophizing, TechnoScience & Technoscientism, Transdisciplinarity. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Getting One Over On Ourselves

  1. Rocky Roberts says:

    Good article! I’ve always preferred creative or playful over imagination… but it’s all good.

    • Keith Brown says:

      I totally agree. I should work a little more on bringing-out imagination in its breadth as playfulness and in its depth as creativity. Thanks!

  2. Kelli Barr says:

    But what do you mean by ‘wising up the marks’? Even Google is stumped…

    • Keith Brown says:

      Well, William S. Burroughs was obsessed with “confidence men” and “grifters.” So you know that a confidence game is when one person (the grifter) tries to manipulate another person (the mark). If the grifter is successful, the mark gives up money, position, or power.

      So “wising up the mark” is when the grifter’s game is called out for what it is. Usually somebody tips off the mark as to what is “really” happening.

      For old Bill Burroughs–as well as for Umberto Eco, Nietztsche, Hume, Socrates, etc et al–the biggest of all con’s is when we convince our own selves by the explanations we give to justify our actions or to figure out the world. Of this kind of con-game, metaphysics is the most dangerous. Once you have grifted yourself into believing whatever explication sounds “right” about “reality”–no matter how outlandish–you leave yourself open to all sorts of other cons & grifts.

      In the STING that is “transcendental metaphysics”, once everything is related back to a superordinate reality over-yonder, the only wising up of the mark that is possible is to get-over how much you like your explication… or wise up the mark: the mark who is YOU.

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