Saturday, February 11, 2012

Old post, unpublished: Superstition, Luck

At the beginning of the Theologico-Political Treatise (1670), Spinoza writes that if humans could control the conditions of their lives, they would not perceive the vicissitudes and triumphs as the result of merit or penalty. I have found this comment, along with others by the same author, to bear a deeply therapeutic force in my own life, especially when I am given, by the proximity of several misfortunes to reflect and wonder what I've done wrong.

For example, the day of the move from Yana's apartment in Brooklyn to our new place in Inwood, I managed to get two traffic tickets. The first was for talking on the cellphone while driving (I had to call Yana to tell her that I was going to be late arriving in the Uhaul truck because commercial vehicles were forbidden from the Harlem River Drive); the second was for double parking outside our apartment to bring a few things in (I depart from the car for less than a minute to give the dogs a chance to miterate and turn around and the man in blue is already writing me up). Later Yana would say of these things, "today was not an auspicious day for moving."

My capacity for reflection and my profound irritation at the second ticket ($150) made me start to wonder what these things meant. On this point, this post intersects, at least obliquely, with the concerns that Dr. J raises in a recent entry. I have to say, as an autobiographical aside, that this question about what things meant turned me to philosophy after literature. To be more precise, I think throughout high school (where I fondly recall writing several drafts of an interpretation of W.H. Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening") to college (interpreting Ellison's Invisible Man, Rushdie's Satanic Verses and Genet's (auto)biographical novels) to graduate school (explicating Schelling's Freiheitsschrift), all of my thinking has been engaged in or probing into interpretation. In the capacity of reading these texts which themselves demand interpretation, I think I have had more than a little bit of luck (haha) or perhaps even some aptitude thereto.

But what really perplexes me is reading experience. Experience presents a unique problem for interpretation, because unlike the work of art, it does not demand interpretation. Or does it? Maybe the real question is, what does demand interpretation?

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