A taste of mastery

I have gradually come to realize what every great philosophy so far has been: a confession of faith on the part of its author, and a type of involuntary and unself-conscious memoir; in short, that the moral (or immoral) intentions in every philosophy constitute the true living seed from which the while plant has always grown.  Actually, to explain how the strangest metaphysical claims of a philosopher really come about, it is always good (and wise) to begin by asking: what morality is it (is he – ) getting at? . . . [E]very drive craves mastery, and this leads it to try philosophizing. – Nietzsche; Beyond Good and Evil

There remains a fundamental critique in this and, I think, there are two paths that follow when this is kept in mind.  One can remain delusional as though some access to a structure of meaningful (ethical) truth will irrefutably be discovered and articulated.  The other path is to see enough in advance the rabbit trails that philosophy will all inevitably lead down.  These trails are not bad, but they are trails.  No more, no less.  This tends to place an internal contradiction within the project of philosophy as many enter into this process because of a sense of enlightenment of something more and beyond; something does indeed seem to be discovered.  But the beyond can never be what was conceived at the first.  Because for many of us the enlightenment was actually (at least in part) a taste of mastery.

I always hated studying languages in grade school.  In high school French was the only subject I almost failed.  But in Bible college I took to learning biblical languages like it was a drug.  I was drawn intuitively to this discipline.  Why?  What was the difference?  French had no trackable position in the coding of meaning in high school.  What was it that helped to position myself in high school, what did have access to?  Sports, I guess.  I was pretty good at sports.  But by the end of high school I went through a conversion period in which I experienced faith and church as a site of different coding.  In church I found peers who expressed many of the same things I found otherwise but they also talked about meaningful and intimate parts of life.  This attracted me.  I began reading the Bible, here I began to see (not for the first time of course) that the Bible functioned in a central and authorizing position in this community.  It offered itself as the source for developing the codes and values of this expression.  So in Bible college I began to learn about the production of this text and tradition.  I began to see the esoteric allure of the ancient languages of the Bible, that, when handled by someone competent and creative the Bible could be wielded with a sort of authority I had not experienced.  I not only felt nourished by the Bible but I also got a buzz from it, perhaps even became intoxicated by it.

And so I set out over the next several years spending considerable time and energy learning Greek, Hebrew, and even Aramaic.  Like in high school, I was still by no means a natural but the drive behind it was strong.  In the process of studying biblical languages I was introduced to the field of hermeneutics.  With this process I experienced the conflict of interpretations.  Two experts in biblical language and history could and did disagree.  What informed their disagreement?  It depended on their theoretical and methodological orientation.  Some perspectives sounded more persuasive than others.  How could I navigate these questions and conflicts?  So I began to explore the field of philosophical hermeneutics and with the ‘linguistic turn’ in the philosophy of the last century this led me into philosophy more properly (at least a certain strain).  The truth of the Bible was not self-evident.  I searched again for the treasure that could establish and secure my own and my community’s value.  I now find myself engulfed in philosophical and psychological theory.  I am by no means an expert but I continue to find myself attracted to what might explain and give meaning to my (our) condition.

While I concede that this is a partial account and one that leaves out the sheer enjoyment I took in all these endeavors I am finding that, in retrospect, I have come to a sort of crossroads.  I have exhausted none of the above fields of study.  I remain significantly deficient in all of them and could be considered a ‘generalist’ at best.  The crossroads rather is now being unable to appeal to these pursuits as having some fundamental position in navigating truth and value.  I still find these disciplines fruitful for such navigation but the navigation is now on a different plane.  They did not lead to the treasure.  They did not discover first things.  To continue to use these disciplines in the sense that I once, I think unconsciously, did would be manipulative at best.

But that this Nietzsche’s point, in part.  What remains is the manipulation of values that are not grounded.  So we make choices and commitments and in time we change them on the basis of . . . what?  Is it enough to accept a Nietzschian position, a position of responsibility?  I find that once drawn into and, at least partially, inhabiting this logic it becomes difficult to see another alternative.  Sure I could return to a sort of orthodox grounding and orientation to theology but to do so would be making an self-conscious commitment that I would have to take responsibility for.  All of which leads back into this same insight.  I am not saying Nietzsche’s project is the way forward but I am also not sure we cannot responsibly move forward without first passing through it.  Thoughts?

And to paraphrase Nietzsche, do you disagree, do you have another interpretation?  Well, so much the better.


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