Apr 22, 2018


Often times when I get obsessed with a new author or thinker, and I find myself ripping through the majority of their big works in a short period of time, I'll also tend to notice places where they come back to the same points, where their logic or thread is basically a continuation of a previous point that someone else has made.

I don't know, maybe that's rude to discount an intellectual because their brain found a pattern and they didn't let go of it.

It's not endless repetition that I'm referring to, it's the sort of progress you'd expect from a truly deep thinker: a movement of building thought and connections to a prior thought that they'd had. By reading their works in chronological order, you can get a great understanding of how their thinking progressed, and how these different experiences that they've had in life have contributed and shaped their world view.

That being said, I can't help but find myself discounting them, or at least, feeling a bit disappointed that I'm only ever going to get one or maybe two interesting threads or viewpoints from a single thinker.

At the same time, when I find myself retreading old thoughts, there's a similar amount of dread. I feel like I'm committing a sin that I've condemned others for. It's a method of stifling, of self-abnegation driven by this need to continue to evolve as a world view, to bring forth something new and interesting not just for the invisible audience that I've built for myself (look, I know you're not invisible, the invisibility is the host of ideas that exist in my head and nowhere else; they're entirely internal thoughts that only I recognize as duplicates and yet, all the same, castigate myself for having had them anew).  There's nothing wrong with retreading past points, it's incredibly hard not to do but all the same I want to escape it.

I think that a lot of the self-castigation comes from an overwhelming sense of cowardice. It's cowardice that leaves me in the same place; it's cowardice that keeps me from accepting and embracing the things that I actually do want. The repetition may be the thoughts, but it's also, more generically a continual repetition of cowardice that keeps me from exploring the ideas that I have, that keeps me from executing, that keeps me stuck in the same world view.

It's fun and incredibly rare to find authors who manage to overcome, somewhat, their worldview problem. Arendt is probably of the highest order, but even with her, if you zoom out far enough you can still fit her thinking into 'historiological social interpretation of the human world order'. Well, sort of. You have to read both her Origins of Totalitarianism and the Human Condition to fully understand it, I think.

And even more broadly, as fresh and insightful that Arendt is, I still find a certain amount of 'datedness' in her writing, her context and her peers and the thoughts of others that surrounded her at the time of her writing that find their way into her work, inextricably, the same sort of contextualization that none of us are immune from. Philosophy aims to be universal, yet even it finds itself entrenched in an endless stream of context.  Kant, as Arendt points out, is incomprehensible without understanding Galileo.  Galileo makes little sense without a fuller understanding of the Catholic Church, which comes from Roman times and so on and so forth.

All worldviews are entwined, and you cannot escape if not the singular world view of your own, at least reflecting the worldview of your age.  The references and allusions that are made in work, the turns of phrase, the things that you mention as being 'worrysome' that all later become laughable or some inside joke for which later generations have lost all necessary context.

Context is king because it is the shape of your reality.

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