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It is usually nice to arrive some place new, but equally important to acknowledge when the experience has run its course and that it is time to move on. For some reason, this tends to be rather difficult to do. 

Those who do stay behind typically share a common fate: they offer their whole being over to comfort and being comfortable, and eventually, they stop thinking and creating. Nothing saps the larger desires more than the desire for comfort.


When I am in deep sleep, I often dream, and in this altered state I usually experience sensory-images, visions, sensations and feelings of various sorts. Sometimes, I occupy my dream as I do the visual field in wakefulness, and the experience is wholly subjective, in other dreams I occupy the periphery of some event I stand to observe. In any event, these experiences also occur in the waking-state, except that we don’t call them ‘dream phenomena’. Wakefulness has a fair share of images, sensations and feelings which parade before my mind’s eye, and which, like dreams, are not amenable to explanation: I ‘dream’ in sleep; why shouldn’t it happen in wakefulness?

In the waking-state, I am completely conscious, and mentally perceptive. Communication, ingestion, ambulation and procreation are activities typical of this state. But, I often experience images and sensations seemingly unconnected with these activities. They materialize on a wing not of my own making.  Like dream phenomena, they sometimes tell or narrate something, as though they are fragments of a story which I cannot fully explain.

We define ‘being awake’ as the opposite of ‘sleep’, and unwittingly make of each a discrete realm of consciounsess (wakefulness and sleep) to be contrasted with the other. This polarization of the two states of consciousness may yet conceal the more ‘dream-like’ features of waking existence.

Anyone who understands Mozart or Beethoven hears consonance in their music. This is expressed primarily in tonality and rhythmical order. In tonal compositions there is an ordered progression of related tonalities (typically tertian sonorities) that finds its purpose and resolution in the home key. When the home key is reached, there is a sense of rest, of purpose attained. Consonance is the analogue of a rationally meaningful world.

My experience of living abroad in Taiwan, of living in an environment radically different from New Zealand is not like this. It is more like an atonal composition. In atonal compositions there is no home key, and therefore little sense of purpose or resolution. This is an exageration no doubt, but it illustrates a point. If you are so miserable, why bother staying? – What is ‘home’, anyway?

Whatever else it means, and I am able to offer no more than a furtive sidelong glance at it, I think it can be compared fruitfully with aesthetic appreciation. Wittgenstein discusses this in a remark published in Culture & Value, p. 58e. There he talks about art and how it is thought to convey a ‘feeling’. Wittgenstein partially agrees with this traditional characterization:

You really could call it, not exactly the expression of a feeling, but a least an expression of feeling, or a felt expression. And you could say too that insofar as people understand it, they ‘resonate’ in harmony with it, responds to it. You might say: the work of art does not aim to convey something else, just itself.

Is home a feeling? I am not referring to a single dwelling by ‘home’, which merely occupies the foreground of a much larger picture. I am attempting to capture something about the picture itself, of the whole. Wittgenstein’s term ‘felt expression’ suggests that the relation of art to the world is appreciative, art is appreciated for being important. This suggests a method of knowing through feeling, which is global rather than mundane in nature. Is there a unique kind of knowing proper to feelings?

Let’s look at Wittgenstein’s simile of ‘harmony’, or, as he says, art that resonates. The word ‘resonate’ is a verb meaning ‘to sound again’.  One who understands art ‘resonates’ in harmony with it. How? Wittgenstein says: one ‘responds to it’. This suggests that art is understood by a spontaneous act of perception, and not by diagnosis. One who responds to art may therefore convey his understanding by an answering expression or gesture as by some appropriate gesture in words (consider understanding facial expressions). I think that home is like this.

I do not ‘resonate’ in harmony with Taiwan. Is that clear enough to me? The person who lives here and ‘understands’ life in this country, is like someone whose total experience of Taiwan reverberates within him simultaneously as his own or as the music of Mozart does for millions, or as a piston fits into a cylinder, and so on. All the tonalities that sound off in a person and in the environment that exist in harmony form chordal structures, and stacked together they blend into one and sound off simultaneously, without effort or transition to something else.  

Experiences resonate within a person in sequence. Taken individually, they form melodies and play out in the course of a person’s life. The world is played out in a person just as a musical chord is played out in sequence or individual notes are played out in sequence to form melodies. A person ‘at home’ in a place anywhere in the world is like an harmonic progression, it seems to me, and one who is not, is nothing more than a dissonant interval. It is therefore up to this person to resolve the tension that wars within him.

It would be difficult to be at home in a world whose sum total musical experience consisted of Richard Clayderman, or Karlheinz Stockhausen.  Imagine what such a life would be like. Clearly, a question of balance between consonant and dissonant forces is necessary if home is to take root.

84. We all have ‘baggage’, as they say. And it can be loosed away and shaken off for good through our own efforts, which is certainly a liberating experience make no mistake, but the problem is that the emotional gloom within us is not entirely expelled – actually, never expelled – and now what remains of it rattles all the more obnoxiously against the cage of our understanding, vying for our undivided attention. Oh, great joy! And, what more can a person do in this situation? He simply sighs to the fact that his inner life is replete with an endless gallery of portraits of faces and eyes that leer, stare and provoke, and while these millions clamour within unceaslessly, there is almost nothing he can do about any of it, except to struggle against the temptation to give in.


83. Don’t worry if you spend all your time pottering about here and there, and never just always in one place. Fiddling about may contain great prospects, and someone may inherit the result of your tinkering and do something useful with it. 

At the same time, it is disappointing when a bright person continually maneuvers about on the outskirts of his or her potential (I am thinking of the character Todd Hayes in the movie Lions For Lambs).  He is transparent and it is clear to us what he should do with his talent. We forget here that there is room for error in self-knowledge and that more is required to rehabilitate the injured will of a person than simply reiterating what we think he should do with his life. We must lead a person to his potential so that he may grasp it with his own two hands. But, when he is disinclined even to go this way with his teacher – what then?

82. There are cracks concealing dead water in any level extent. A person is the same: up close, you can see the blemishes on his face.

81. What ‘being responsible’ means is given in the paradigm of the parent-child relationship. I think it really is the standard case. A child teaches the parent what it is to be necessary to someone, not in some speculative abstract sense, but in the meaning of it as reinforced by sheer experience day in, day out in the care and upbringing of the child. ‘The child is totally dependent on me’, the parent observes. And there it is: necessity. The whole gravity of it as contained in the face of the infant, who now looks at me.

To be necessary to someone is to live a meaningful life. To choose to be necessary to someone is something yet greater and more powerful.

A person may expend all of his energy on himself, on his daily woes and have none remaining for others. Such persons are merely ‘normal’. They are legion.  

80. East and West. Collective and Individual. Group geometry.

Western persons are interruptions in the undifferentiated continuity: we bob up and down like buoys in rough water seeking attention, vying to be received as individuals. There is no pattern apart from this continual seesaw, and the rough conditions are generated not by nature, but by us. Our movement is self-chosen. ‘What about me?’ is our battlecry.

Eastern persons (e.g., Taiwanese) are rather different. They do not bob or wobble individually, but tend to flow into each other like water in water. There is no leader, no collective ‘flock mind’, or ‘information center’. Distinguish behavioral qualities in university students in the USA and university students in Taiwan. A different paradigm is at play.

Compare the behavior of persons with the flock behavior of starlings when it returns to roost at dusk. Thinkers since Pliny the Elder have contemplated the synchronous movements of flocking birds. Let’s identify Taiwanese people as forming a class of persons akin to the starling flock, in terms of group behavior, and let’s contrast this arrangement with the behavior of western persons, caricatured above.

A prejudice in the West concerning Asia is that Eastern persons flock together because they are weak as individuals. This assumes that collectivism affords protection from hostiles or, to continue the analogy with starlings, ‘predators’. It is true that many flocking birds are weak fliers, and that they are not strong enough individually to escape from a hawk (compare mountain bluebirds who don’t forage in flocks, and are able as solitary fliers to outmaneuver hawks or falcons). Further, starling flocks also tend to ‘ball-up’ when attacked in flight. By contrast, when starling flocks return home to roost, they will spend an hour or more wheeling or turning before they land. If flocking is to avoid predation, then the longer they stay in the air, the more vulnerable they are to predators. Moreover, if Taiwanese flock for protection, who is the feared hostile? The PRC? This may have been the case during foreign occupation in Taiwan, but now?

But this question is wrong. There is no predator, for this flocking behavior is not directed at anything or anyone. It is undirected (like depression). I think it is largely expressive of unreflective continuity with the past, or rather, unchanging attitudes toward the past in Taiwan, which remain traditional and reproductive, and which simply have not been subjected to strong enough a challenge to change. No single stimulus is currently available which makes a direct appeal to reflect on the need to preserve the past in behavior and ways of living and acting. Can one say: the stimulus to reflect on the whole has yet to take root in Taiwan?

79.  Why does a person believe that a thought occurs to him in his head? He doesn’t believe it; he lives it.

He holds his head when this happens, shuts his eyes to converge upon his thought, and makes a gesture to ward off outside interruptions. These actions are important.

Similarly, to ask of a piece of music the intention of the composer when he wrote it seems inappropriate. Music, like religion, doesn’t ask to be believed in; it is simply there. One only has to decide whether to live it, or not. In this context, ‘living it’ means a kind of resonation with what is perceived, an uninterrupted continuity.

Music isn’t an interruption in life, but continuous with life’s unceasing flow. We, who are its listeners, are not also interruptions, but merge with music like water in water. But, we are inclined to ask questions like, ‘Why do you believe in God?’ or, ‘Does music express a thought?’, and so on. The seal encasing our understanding of human perception is broken, and lies idle.

The tool that digs into the earth. He who holds the tool. Subject and object. The agricultural revolution changed forever our relation to the world. Before the invention of the tool, primitive humans existed as continuous with all the items in the natural world. Is music any different? Is it a tool that ploughs forth thoughts, ideas and intentions? And, are we who listen to music now interruptions – is music a mere tool? What of God?

The Conversion on the Way to Damascus,
Caravaggio, 1600-1601 

78. I am currently reading Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough. Fascinating stuff. Here is a snippet:

One could say ‘every view has it charm’, but that would be false. The correct thing to say is that every view is significant for the one who sees it as significant (but that does not mean, sees it other than it is). Indeed, in this sense, every view is equally significant (p. 135).

Changing a view or intellectual orientation is difficult to effect in someone else, and may be impossible in cases where the view is interwoven with a person’s intellectual identity or Weltanschauung (e.g., could we imagine changing Frege’s mind that number-words must stand for things?).

On the other hand, it seems natural to want to engage a person in this project of persuasion. We may invite someone to view things differently, and he may succeed in this achieving this task. We may effect a change in the view of a single person, or we may effect a change in the view of many people, or even an entire generation. A view or way of seeing something is therefore always someone’s view or way of seeing something, and if we change a view we change the life of a person.

This is what I take from Wittgenstein’s remark above that ‘every view is significant for the one who sees it as significant’ (I think it may find some common ground with what Gordon Baker has written about Wittgenstein).

May 2018
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