Monthly Archives: April 2013

Wonder

Both Plato and Aristotle famously said that philosophy begins in wonder [1]. Rather than being a pursuit that we are driven to undertake by reason or logical inquiry, the origin of philosophy is in this feeling of wonder in the face of what is. A kind of awe or amazement at the world in which we find ourselves. Descartes considered wonder the first of the passions, because it is the passion that has no opposite [2]. While love is opposed to hate, joy opposed to sadness, wonder has no opposite. It is the original feeling that corresponds to our relation with the world, and that drives the pursuit to understand the world and our relation to it that we call philosophy. 

In English, we not only have the noun ‘wonder,’ but also the verb ‘to wonder.’ I use the word ‘wonder’ in such everday contexts as “I wonder if it will be sunny today.” In French, the verb translated as ‘to wonder’ is se demander, or to ask oneself. In French, for me to wonder if it will be sunny today would be for me to ask myself if it will be sunny today. I like that the English version forecloses this reflexivity, this circular self-relation. I like that ‘to wonder,’ unlike to ask myself, leaves us open to the world, gestures outward, recognizes the way that I am always open to and affected by the world around me even as I wonder at it. 

I’ve been teaching feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray in class this week. She talks a lot about wonder. She emphasizes that wonder is both passive and active, and that it leaves open a place for otherness. It doesn’t try and make everything reducible, comprehensible, digestible to myself. And she says this about it:

“Wonder is the appetite for knowledge of who or what awakens our appetite.” [3]

We also, in English, have the adjective ‘wonderful.’ When I say, “That’s wonderful!” what I literally mean is That fills me with wonder. Wonder is something that, if I really allow it to fill me, leaves me open to a constant, ecstatic appreciation of the miraculous nature of everyday life.

I wonder if wondering more about wonder will make life more wonderful.

I have a feeling that it will. Continue reading

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Reflecting on Reflection: Me, Myself, and I

You know what’s weird?

I will never see my own face.

Sure, I see my face every day, looking in the mirror. But seeing my own face always requires mediation, through a mirror or camera. When I was in college, a philosophy professor teaching phenomenology–the careful description of experience– asked our class, “Right now, how do you know you have a head?” Through inference only. I cannot see my own head. I might be able to touch my head and feel that it is a round shape at the top of my body, but I would never know what it looked like if I never saw it in a mirror. Right now, I can see the edges of my glasses around my face, and feel the tip of my ponytail grazing my back: those are my only indications that I have a head. I can alter my field of vision by looking to the left or to the right, up or down, but I can never look directly at my own head doing this looking. 

And my head is not the only place on my body that I can never see (even on the surface of my body!). What about my back? What about my neck? They simply do not exist in my field of immediate vision.

A mirror is needed to reveal these things to me. I think this is a metaphor for reflection in general, for our relation to ourselves not only for perception of our bodies but also when it comes to knowledge of our thoughts, feelings, and the like. When I reflect on my thoughts and feelings, what is being reflected? What is doing the reflecting? There is never an unmediated relation to myself. Nietzsche speaks of the person as being made up of a “multiplicity of souls.” Aren’t we all such a multiplicity? And don’t I need to objectify one “part” of myself in order to be able to “see,” let alone, “work on,” another part of myself? In relating to oneself, there is always mediation that occurs: I am not an individual in the sense of being indivisible. And reflection on any dimension of my life, including on my life as such, always requires this doubling of self: the one looking at the face in the mirror, and the face being looked at.

Image

A mirror selfie seemed the appropriate visual accompaniment.

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