“If truth were a woman …” (& the seed of history)

There’s a world of difference between what people claim to be the subconscious and, well, what is the subconscious. Let’s not even get into semantics, we have — we must have — some intuition of the difference between the two. For us, it’s the difference between success and failure. The human mind is amazingly flexible and we are constantly underestimating it. Nietzsche’s opening to Beyond Good and Evil applies here: “What if truth were a woman? Can’t we assume that the philosophers of this age have been just as incapable with one as the other?..” It’s the anthropologists’s error, when he goes into the bushes or whatnot in order to observe tribesmen and emerges with the picture that they wanted him to have — when one ends up studying not the bushmen but their culture. There’s a big difference isn’t there! I’m not talking so much about the infinite possibility of the mind as the fact that it seems to absorb everything and seems to resist investigation.

Is consciousness even capable of truth — are the two terms even compatible? Isn’t “insincerity” the conscious condition, which is not to say that it is any more tolerable? Knowledge itself, or self-knowledge, is always knowledge of hypocrisy or knowledge of a performance. Why should we ever believe that, after just one more layer or one more inversion, that we can get at the truth of the mind? This is because, on the one hand — and this is the “existential” claim — we always want to know, and the tendency of the mind is to conform to suggestion. There is a conspiracy or a conformism between the knower and the known — and this is Nietzsche’s “feminine”, or maybe, even better, this property of the mind was already addressed in On Truth and Lie.

But, on the other hand, this conspiracy is not haphazard, it forms around some seed. This seed is related to the deathbed vision, where we reconceive of our life — Well, w only live one life, thus, it is inevitable that our life take on some order, that we come to know ourselves. If we each had many lives and many memories — well, there is still the possibility that we are able to find some intrinsic order to our lives, so that our self-knowledge is … Kantian, if you will, so that we are satisfied with some fundamental intrinsic law regarding ourselves and our desires. But the deathbed vision attempts to consider the seed, which is “external”, the external seed that organizes the conspiracy between the knower and the known.

That is, it is indeed true that, since knowledge is a conspiracy, we can never get beyond this condition, we can never get at some absolute truth of the self. Or, truth in this case can only be the universality of error or the knowledge that knowledge is a conspiracy, which of course is itself an interesting claim and certainly one that can (and should) guide the life of any intellectual. But there is also the knowing of how this conspiracy can form, the vision of the very beginnings of this conspiracy without ever reaching that late stage of “hypocrisy”, and this is the deathbed vision. Remember that we are talking about self-knowledge. The encounter with the past is universal but does not have a specific form — it’s not necessarily like the movies. But, for example, the last essay oriented itself decidedly against “Hollywood” or sentimentalism, emphasizing a form of self-encounter (or other-encounter, which is much the same thing) that would be based around a moment of “speaking with the past”, based on concepts rather than on … other things. Yet, we quickly stated that concepts themselves were merely the mnemonic aids: we said that we needed to use “complete sentences” because the only the complete sentences could give us that “vision of the past”, even if it were only a few seconds or a few minutes ago. The emphasis is on an experience that is quickly swept away by time, and where one instead relies on the in fact unreliable decoding of memory in order to encounter the past.

It is indeed the case, then, that the past is in fact constructed out of memory. And what is proficiency, what is our “work”? It is, of course, on the one hand, the work of responding to society, of helping myself and others, and so on. But on the other hand, it is simply the work of maintaining myself against a current that sweeps away every single moment. The machine of navigation, even if “accurate” in some sense, is only accurate because we have experiences that can be remembered!


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