Thinking Time, Drinking Time: A Beginner’s Thought (3)


Enlightenment is the realization that you’ve been enlightened all along, only didn’t know it.



You, most esteemed teacher, have brought everyone who travelled along under your leadership to the point of being confronted with the choice either to become a guardian of essential things, or to work against them. [. . . .] What let your leadership become what it is, is this: the content and style of your questioning directly compel us to face final confrontations and always demand the readiness for transformation or avoidance. None of us is ever certain whether it will be given him to find the way to where the model of your work—quite inconspicuously—constantly seeks to direct him: into the tranquility [Gelassenheit] to grow ripe for the problems.

—Heidegger, address at the formal Freiburg University celebration of his mentor Edmund Husserl’s 70th birthday on April 8, 1929 (in Gesamtausgbe 16)


The same year that I discovered philosophy, I also discovered alcohol. Together, those two discoveries would determine the entire subsequent course of my life to this day. They will continue to go on determining it for however many days I have left, though their two modes of determination will differ: philosophy determining me in my continuing to do it, alcohol determining me in my continuing to not-do it.

I discovered alcohol during the same trip to Europe I took with my parents when I was fifteen, described in my preceding post. After I made that discovery, it took twenty-five years of drinking to bring me to a point of final decision, where I at last was brought to face my own inner desolation, coupled with a matching lifelong lack of awareness that I had any option. Because I finally saw clearly that I had to do something, but had no idea at all of what that “something” might be, I sought help. Then, when help did in fact turn out to be available, I received it with gratitude—which is to say I availed myself of it.

Twenty-five years of pickling myself in philosophy no less than in alcohol helped teach me by that genuine gratitude for a gift consists of nothing other than accepting and receiving the gift fully, which means taking it up and using it. That is what I did when I was finally brought to that point of decision that made me ask, genuinely ask, for help, and was offered it.

I am not a slow learner. However, the school system, in league with a number of other systems into which I was thrown at my very birth, did everything it could to block me from learning what I most needed to learn, which I learned only by choosing to receive what I was given when I was brought to that final decision point. Given such bondage, the wonder is not that it took me more than forty years to learn my lesson. Rather, the wonder is that I was ever allowed to learn it at all. That it did was ultimately thanks to the conjunction of the two gifts that were given me when I was fifteen—the gifts of philosophy and alcohol—that I was finally permitted to learn, even despite all my schooling, how actually to live my own life, rather than just enduring it, waiting for it to end.

*     *     *     *     *     *

“My control disease.” That is how psychologist J. Keith Miller, a recovered alcoholic, refers to his alcoholism in his book A Hunger for Healing (San Francisco: Harper, 1991, p. 5). It is an apt description. As I wrote in my own book Addiction and Responsibility (originally published in New York by Crossroad in 1993, now available in a print-on-demand edition from CreateSpace) when I first cited Miller’s descriptive reference, “whatever else they may be addicted [to], all addicts are addicted to ‘control.’ ” That is, as I went on to explain, they are all addicted—which by its etymology and history of usage literally means “spoken over to,” precisely in the way a slave is spoken over to an owner—the experience of feeling “in control,” or “under control,” even if (indeed, especially if) in reality they are not. Addicts are people spoken over to, and owned by, the compulsive need to experience that very feeling, the feeling that they are in or under their own control.

As I suggested already in Addiction and Responsibility, that goes a long way toward explaining the correlation researchers have found between addiction and two interrelated psychological traits: “field dependency” and “external locus of control.” Both have the status of significant risk factors for addiction. “To be field dependent,” as I then explained, “means to take one’s cues for how to behave from outside oneself, such as from the reactions of others, rather than from one’s own desires, emotions, and autonomous motivations.” As for the second trait: “To have an external locus of control means to perceive oneself as largely at the mercy of powers beyond one’s own control, rather than largely able to control one’s own destiny (an ‘internal locus of control’).”

The rates of occurrence for the two traits, field dependency and external locus of control, tend to vary proportionately. That is, they tend to rise and fall with one another. That certainly makes sense. After all, when we experience our own lives as not really our own, but at the mercy of powers beyond us (“external locus of control”), it is hardly surprising that we become especially sensitive to the cues our environment delivers to us about how we need to behave to keep on the good side of those powers (“field dependency”).

Nor is it any more surprising that the stronger those two interconnected traits grow—that is, the more one experiences one’s own life as being under external control, and therefore requiring one to be ever more vigilant for cues about how one is expected to behave if one does not want to run afoul of the powers exercising that control—the more likely it becomes that one will seek relief from the constant pressure. In other words, the more one will crave the feeling of being in and under one’s own control.

For addicts, it is precisely the practice of their addictions, whatever those addictions may be, that gives them, however fleetingly, that very feeling. So it is no wonder they get hooked!

No wonder, either, that rates of addiction continue to skyrocket in our globalized system of ever more mass-produced needs and ever more mass-produced products that falsely promise to fulfill those needs. In such a world-less world—where no one is “in control,” really—it is no surprise that we all experience such a yen to “pick up and use,” as addicts say. When learning becomes no more than schooling to consume, and teaching no more than the tooling of consumers, nothing else can be expected than that more and more students, coercively conditioned not to think, will be driven to drink instead.

Then the only hope left is that such students may finally drink enough that their drinking itself will become their greatest teacher, driving them to a final decision point. Finding themselves at last at that point, they really have to choice, in one sense. Either they choose to go ahead and choose—that is, to enter into the tranquility wherein they can sooner or later come to perceive and then to do whatever they must, each in each one’s own situation, to take back ownership over their own lives, and then to maintain it, day by day. Or else they just turn away again, refusing to choose at all, instead just heading back into oblivion, “blotting out the consciousness of [their] intolerable situation as best [they] can,” to use a formulation from Alcoholics Anonymous, AA’s “Big Book.”



For it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself.

—Plato, 7th Letter (341 c-d)


Art in the technological world stands at a point of decision it has never faced before.

—Heidegger, “Art and Technology” (in Gesamtausgabe 76)

The first step in making a decision is coming to the realization that we have one to make. The more crucial the decision, the longer does the process of coming to such realization take. But however long it takes, the realization becomes fully clear only when the options themselves, between which we have to decide, have finally come to be clearly marked out before us. What exactly our options are has to be made clear to us. Only then are we truly at the decision point, where we must go one way or another. Then, at last, we are finally left with no choice but to choose, or to pull the blanket of oblivion back over our heads. Either we choose to choose, which means we go ahead to take up and do whatever it is that has been put before us to take up and do at that point. Or else we simply relinquish our own choice, and draw back, perhaps with a deep sense of relief, into the oblivion from which we had just emerged to come to that decision point in the first place.

Those who are brought to such final decision points in their lives are confronted, in fact, with the choice either to gain that life itself, accepting full ownership of their own singular lives, “owning up” to them, or to dis-own their own lives—and thereby lose them. Then, however much they might gain by refusing to choose to own up to their own lives—all the money, fame, or other forms the Biblical forty pieces of silver might take for them, even if they gain the whole world—they will truly have profited themselves nothing.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Capitalism [. . .] is the first socio-economic order which de-totalizes meaning: there is no global “capitalist worldview,” no “capitalist civilization” proper: the fundamental lesson of globalization is precisely that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East. Capitalism’s global dimension can only be formulated at the level of truth-without-meaning, as the “real” of the global market mechanism. This is why the famous Porto Allegre motto “Another world is possible!” is too simplistic; it fails to register that right now we already live less and less within what can be called a world, so that the task is no longer just to replace the old one with a new one, but . . . what? The first indications are given in art.

—Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (London & New York: Verso, 2010, p. 365)

What most impressed me about Boots Riley and The Coup when I attended their Shadowbox concert at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco in the summer of 2014 was how they created a space where they and others, including not only other musical and non-musical performance groups but also the audience, could come together as a single co-creative community, as it were. Above all, whatever else it created, the very coming together of such a diverse bunch of people created their very co-creative community itself. There was nothing really in common to all those participating, except for this, that they all did participate, and thereby built a community together.

To explain that a bit more fully:

As I wrote in this blog at the time (in a post I called, with intentional redundancy, “The Après-Coup After The Coup,” part of an episodic post-series entitled “Pulling Out of the Traffic,” namely, the traffic in trauma) one good way of describing The Coup is as “a group of musicians that goes out of its way, whenever and wherever it performs, to share the spotlight, whose shine its presence generates, with other, lesser-known, more ‘local’ groups.” As I went on to note: “Rather than laying claim to all the glory for itself, The Coup would seem to glory in sharing the glory with others.” Thus, I wrote, one vitally important way The Coup establishes its own uniqueness is by actively being “a group that builds up groups,” builds up groups—including itself—by joining together with others in one united yet richly diverse performance community.

It was not only fellow musical performance groups that The Coup invited to perform with and beside them. Rather, what could rightly be called the “co-performers” for that evening—each of whose participation Boots Riley and The Coup publicly recognized and honored—included a puppet troupe and a comedian, as well as the visual artist who created the striking wall-murals that surrounded the shared space for performers and audience, and the production designer. What is more, as I wrote in my post, the others whom The Coup welcomed into the community they opened up “also included all the members of the audience who attended the two sold-out premier performances on August 16.” All the members of that audience themselves literally “played along” by their participation. Each audience member was granted the space, not just physically but emotionally and socially, to participate in her or his own way. Most did so, as I wrote in that earlier post, “by dancing, hopping, jumping, writhing, gyrating, hand-lifting, gesticulating, waving, noise-making, and in other ways noticeably moving around physically.” However, those like me, “who just stood there pretty much immobile,” were no less “co-performers” of the community as a whole.  With each and every one of us taking part in her or his own way, all alone together, we all helped build what, “at least for that few hours, [was] a richly diverse community of our own.” All alone together, we co-created what I called in my post a “communizing space,” that is, “a space, an opening, where community c[ould]—and in one manner or another actually d[id]—occur.”

In what passes for a world today, for a civilization, the only way that anyone—artists most definitely included, but also all of us in their audiences—can survive at all, is by selling what they do or are for money. That’s just the way our world-less world works. But there is selling yourself, and then there is selling yourself out. The two are not the same, however difficult it may sometimes be to learn the difference.

Those who are truly graced are those who along their way encounter a teacher to let them learn how not to sell themselves out, even when they are forced into selling themselves. When that happens, it is quite a coup! After such a coup, all that remains—but it is everything—is to remain in the truth that has just struck.



Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail only confuses the issue.

—George Orwell, “Can Socialists Be Happy?” (1943), in All Art Is Propaganda


When tranquility toward things and openness toward mystery awaken in us, then we may find ourselves going along a way that leads to a new land and soil. The creation of lasting works could send down new roots into such soil.

—Heidegger, “Gelassenheit” (in GA 16)

Those lucky enough to encounter true teachers are eventually led to the point where they have no other choice but one. Either they open themselves to receive the gift that is offered to them there, entering into the serenity necessary to address essential things. Or they refuse that gift, and retreat into oblivion, drawing it back over themselves like children drawings blankets over their heads in order not to see or be seen.

If students whose teachers have brought them to that point fail that test, it is not their teachers’ fault. But if at that point such students honor their teachers by choosing to choose, rather than just abdicating all responsibility, then they may find themselves, like Abram becoming Abraham, going along a way that eventually leads to the Promised Land. Along the way they will encounter obstacles. In one fashion or another, they will have to wrestle with angels, as it were, just as Jacob did to become Israel (“He Who Struggles With God”). If they persevere in the journey, however, they will win the prize, as St. Paul assures them in one of his letters. They will find a new land and a new home, where they can at last settle down and begin to build—and thus art in the fullest sense will happen again.

So in the end it all comes down to just this: whether those students choose to start along the way their teachers have led them to, and then persevere in their journey along that way, one step at a time, day after day. It will do such students no good to huddle together at the parting point to which their teachers have led them—huddle together trying to imagine what the land at the end of the way will look like, or how they are to grapple with the difficulties they may encounter along their way. Such shilly-shallying is just one way of retreating back into oblivion. It is nothing but a security blanket to cling to in order to soothe oneself, like Linus in Peanuts—just another of all the childish things that, to rely on St. Paul’s teaching again, we must put aside when we grow up.

Nor is getting underway to a land where a new world might be built a matter of trying to plan the route, or trying to take charge of the means of conveyance. Trying to plan a route makes sense only when one knows in advance where one is going; but that is just what one does not know, when one starts off for an altogether new world. The example of Columbus and the still unremembered genocides his plans for journeying to India unleashed should be warning enough against such presumptuous planning. Similarly, to take charge of the vehicle that is taking us to somewhere, we know not where, presupposes at least minimal clarity about just what constitutes that vehicle. What looks like what will convey us to our unknown destination may turn out to be no transportation device at all, but just some useless widget being pushed on us for some huckster’s easy profit. If we don’t know where we’re going, we also don’t know what will take us there.

    *    *      *    *     *

When Viktor thought about just how the new theory had come to him, he was struck by something quite unexpected. There appeared to be absolutely no logical connection between the theory and the experiments. The tracks he was following suddenly broke off. He couldn’t understand what path he had taken. Previously he had always thought that theories arose from experience and were engendered by it. Contradictions between an existing theory and new experimental results naturally led to a new, broader theory. But it had all happened quite differently. Viktor was sure of this. He had succeeded at a time when he was in no way attempting to connect theory with experimental data, or vice versa. The new theory was not derived from experience. Viktor could see this quite clearly. It had arisen in absolute freedom; it had sprung from his own head. [. . .] The theory had sprung from the free play of thought. It was this free play of thought –which seemed quite detached from the world of experience –that had made it possible to explain the wealth of experimental data, both old and new. The experiments had been merely a jolt that had forced him to start thinking. They had not determined the content of his thoughts. All this was quite extraordinary . . .

–Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate (trans. Robert Chandler, New York Review Books, 2006, pp. 347-348)

If, when we are brought to a final decision point, we are not to avoid our responsibility by wasting our time speculating about where we’re going, planning the route, or getting our cars or other conveyances ready to roll, then just what is to be done? In fact, by just asking that question—at least if that is really what we are doing, and not just stalling for time by pretending to be asking, or maybe just back-sassing—we are already doing it. Really to ask a question is to give up the illusion of already knowing the answer, and to give up the sense of control that comes from such an illusion. It is to become, instead, open to learning, ready to be taught—already underway.

Thinking itself is not planning. Nor is it the manipulation of representations or symbols. It is not a compulsive drive to become secure. It does not aim at establishing any order, nor serve any will to dominion and control. It is not an extension of business as usual by other means. It is not a regular weekday practice.

Thinking is a sabbatical practice, the fruit of rest and not of restlessness. It begins only after we are set free to go home, to a place not of business but of tranquility, of serenity rather than drivenness.

Just by letting go and letting ourselves be drawn at last into a place of serenity, we become thoughtful, which is already to begin to think. Then, wherever we are, it is 3 o’clock, and school is over. Now at last, it is time to think. That’s all.

Today, all alone together, we need to find a serene place where we can  start to think. Only then might we find the way to a new land and soil, where art might again send down roots and flourish among us so that we all—artists and audiences alike—might once again build a world together. We cannot know in advance where thinking will eventually lead us. We can only find out by beginning to think.

Just think!




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