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Ovi Symposium; Seventy-Seventh Meeting Ovi Symposium; Seventy-Seventh Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2017-02-16 11:00:00
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

Between Professors Emanuel Paparella, Ernesto Paolozzi, Michael Newman and Azly Rahman
Seventy-seventh Meeting: 15 February 2017

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Symposium's regular participants

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

 

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

newmanProf. Michael Newman received his Master’s of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Eastern Michigan University.  He discovered his love for teaching English as a Second Language while living abroad. He moved to South Florida and began his journey for a tenure track position at Broward College where he has recently earned a tenured position teaching English for Academic Purposes.  Another great passion of his is that of philosophical writing and discussion.  

azlyDr. Azly Rahman holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University, and multiple Masters Degrees in the fields of International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, and Education. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. He has edited and authored seven books. He resides in the US where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural and American Studies, and Political Science. His interest in research and writing lies in the cultural interplay between Cybernetics, Hegemony, and Existentialism.

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Subtheme of session 77: The Search for the Self—Part III: Honor and Guilt in Western Civilization.

Indirect Participants within the Great Imaginary Conversation across the ages: Homer, Herodotus, Vico, Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Mapplethorpe, Kant, Rosseau, Joyce, Jung, Razak, Marx.

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Table of Contents for the 76th Session of the Ovi Symposium

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

First Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella: “Honor, Ethics, Shame, Guilt and Civilization”

Second Presentation by Azly Rahman: “Grandpa’s Kite: Memories of the Colony”

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Coordinator’s Preamble to the 77th Meeting

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In this 77th issue of the Ovi Symposium we continue to develop the sub-theme of the exploration of the Self. Within a civilization the self is always a construct of its culture which can be traced back historically to certain customs, modes of thinking, mores, attitudes toward one’s neighbors, toward nature, toward divinities. That in turn necessitates originative thinking as Edward Said in our times and Vico, as father of modern historicism in the 18th century, have well taught us.

So, we open this issue with an essay in a Vichian key by Emanuel L. Paparella. I explore the role of shame and guilt in Western society, and he traces it all the way back to Homer in an attempt to elucidate Vico’s insight that the loss of shame and guilt always implies a loss of honor and ethics in a civilization. Hence the cyclical eras of the gods, of the heroes, of men, to arrive at an age characterized by extreme rationality coupled with moral decay and shamelessness.

In the second presentation Azly Rahman follows up with a concrete example from his own life. This too is Vichian in as much as Vico was convinced that the history of mankind (the macrocosm) and the history of the individual partake of the same paradigm within history. Dr. Rahman shares with us some wonderful reminiscences of his grandfather teaching him how to make kites. He retrieves those memories in a Junghian mode, as if from a dream in search of an archetype, then he delves into the concrete Western history of colonization, the exploitation and colonization of indigenous people by the colonizing Western powers, and how one’s self gets constructed by those colonizing realities; by what is more generally known as cultural and mental colonization. Implicitly he seems to arrive at the same Vichian insight that when knowledge becomes power and the end justifies the means, when blogging and polls determine elections in the era of the internet, then, the loss of shame and honor is sure to follow.

At this point the question arises: is ethics something that arises spontaneously in a society or civilization within its cultural milieu, almost  as a condition for there existing a civilization, or is it something more universal, something that is integral part of being human, independent of one’s culture and one’s customs. The issue is still hotly argued among philosophers and anthropologists; it is ultimately the issue of relative changing values vs. universal unchanging ones; that is to say, Kant’s distinction between categorical moral imperative (always universal and based on free will), and the hypothetical imperative based on the necessities of science and reason. We hope that with this issue of the symposium we have made a small contribution to its ongoing clarification, for indeed much confusion continues to prevail on this subject.

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1
Honor, Ethics, Shame, Guilt and Civilization

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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A shame culture, as the dictionary defines it, involves a society putting “high emphasis on preserving honor” and not being publicly disgraced.” People conform to societal norms, independent form the fact that those norms may be just social customs having little to do with ethics, for the mere fear of being shamed or dishonored publicly.

In contrast to that we have a guilt culture which the dictionary defines as “the internalization of a moral code.” This conformity to a moral code occurs through the free will of man rather than by the public approval of society.

For example, in Homer’s epic The Iliad, what is most valued is honor. To obtain it and the honor that goes with it one must do glorious deeds (such as fighting as a great warrior would), or, more intellectually, be a great orator, speaking well in the assembly and being highly skilled with words; or being a great philosopher like Socrates or Plato or Aristotle. Thus one acquires goods and rewards that publicly signify and represent the honor conferred: medals, certificates, diplomas, honorary titles, etc., attesting to the merits and the superiority of one individual man over another.

In contrast we can observe that in The Histories of Herodotus the social world is less dominated by aspects of shame; more emphasis is placed on guilt. Instead of being publicly shamed into following certain social norms, the individual compels a code of conduct or morality on him/herself, motivated by the guilt she/he feels for not observing society’s condoned behaviors. He may even observe such a code even were he living in isolation from any kind of organized governed society, even absent punishments by the police and the justice system for infractions of the law.

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This difference can even be easily observed in the depictions of the gods within those two disparate societies: one based on shame and honor, the other based on guilt and duty to oneself and one’s human nature. For example, in Homer’s Iliad the gods are present everywhere anthropomorphically, with all the weaknesses and defects of men, to be sure, albeit their powers and virtues are superior to man, idealized, so to speak. It’s the modern Nietzchean “Uberman” or the Freudian “Superego” being actualized mythically and poetically. The gods are almost “beyond good and evil,” above moral norms, transcending mere human customs and behavior. Hence the famous Platonic question: are the gods good because they observe the law, or are they good because they are above the law; are they obliged by the law and morality as humans are? But in Herodotus’ Histories, the gods appear very rarely and, rather than being depicted as humans with extraordinary superpowers, are strangely portrayed in ways that would suggest human behavioral norms.

Jumping now to modern times, Giambattista Vico in his New Science (1725) teaches us that a sign of a decaying civilization is the degradation and impoverishment of language, language being a sine qua non of any sort of civilization and indeed an integral part of being human. But there are two other important characteristics which are also part of human nature: the ability to laugh and the ability to feel shame. Here too, when those two characteristics wane, so does civilization.

I’d like to reflect briefly on the latter within the context of our present cultural predicaments. The initial inquiry is this: is shame natural to man or is it something acquired with culture? The answer to that question is crucial since it determines whether or not it is shamelessness that is the acquired trait. To put it another way: could it be that the beauty that we humans are capable of as we live with each other derives from the fact that man is naturally a blushing creature; the only creature in fact capable of blushing?

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Plato for one, saw a connection between self-restraint and self-government or democracy, and therefore he saw a political danger in promoting the fullest self-expression or indulgence. That may explain his suspicions of artists in general. For Plato, to live together requires rules and a governing of the passions. Those who live without shame are unruly and unrulable. That is to say, they have lost the ability to restrain themselves by the observation of the rules they collectively have given themselves. One can easily extrapolate from The Republic that tyranny is the natural mode of government for the shameless and the self-indulgent; the government of those who have carried liberty beyond any sort of restraint, be it natural or conventional.

What the ancient Greeks were saying basically, was that democracy, more than any other form of government requires self-restraint to be inculcated through moral education and imposed through laws. Those laws include the manner of public amusement. Indeed, it would be enough to think of Rome under such tyrannical emperors as Caligula or Nero. Those emperors allowed the people to freely indulge themselves with bread and circus, for indulgence did not threaten their rule which did not depend on citizens of good character. The formula is here inverted: the more debased the citizenry, the more they are distracted by pleasurable activities, the safer the tyrant’s rule is.

And here we come to what is obscene and offensive. What are we to make of the obscenity employed by some of the greatest of our poets, the likes of Aristophanes, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Swift, never mind the Marquis de Sade, just to mention a few. They wrote a good deal of obscenity. How do we account for that? Aristotle in his Poetics hints at a plausible answer: comedy makes us laugh at what is ludicrous in ugliness, and its purpose is to teach, just as tragedy teaches by making us cry before what is destructive in nobility. For Aristotle they are equally serious and Shakespeare would agree, for he was both a comic and a tragic poet. Which is not to imply that both Aristotle and Shakespeare were unable to discern the emperor wearing no clothes, and performing unnatural acts to boot. Nowadays we have an emperor who goes around naked of any moral sensibilities but wants us to believe that he is wearing splendid clothes. A few people, the more courageous among us, have dared to yell “the emperor is naked,”

What artists such as Mapplethorpe have attempted in the brave new world of present day Western civilization is to aestheticize the obscene by deliberately choosing subjects that shock the normal sense of decency. Those artists count on and exploit a dual reaction: to create tension in the viewer so that what is indecent and immoral becomes beautiful and therefore especially disturbing. The pretension is that the emperor is not naked, that obscenity is not there; that it resides only in the dirty minds of the viewers who are unable to appreciate beauty. What those artists are doing in effect is to deny the viewers their right to be shocked when they try hard to do exactly that. It’s having the cake and eating it too.

The “enlightened” modern art connoisseur and practitioner will of course retort: but this is art and art is free of any constraints! Indeed, it is but let us be honest with ourselves and admit that indeed great art may be used immorally for the furtherance of an ideology or for propaganda purposes (remember the documentary film about Hitler “Triumph of the Will”?), just as a saint may produce banal art, for as Emmanuel Kant has taught us in his The Critique of Judgment there is no strict nexus between the moral and the aesthetic and there is no need for morality to slavishly submit to the claims of Art. The public ought to remain free to subsidize or not to subsidize those “enlightened” modern artist without being branded “cultural philistines” by those who think that anything goes in art.

The ancient Greeks were also aware that those aspects of the soul that makes man truly human require political life. Man’s virtues and their counterparts, man’s vices, require that he be governed and to govern. But the poet knows with Rousseau and the romantics that there is a beauty beyond the polity, the beauty of the natural order. The world of convention is not the only world. Here obscenity may play a part. Obscenity can indeed be used to ridicule the conventional. In the hands of a poet obscenity can serve to elevate above the conventional order in which most of us are forced to live our mundane lives full of quite desperation; lives who never dare ask that dreadful existential question: what is the point of it all, which the Greeks rendered with one word: the Logos. Which is to say, in the hands of a poet, obscenity’s purpose becomes that of teaching what is truly beautiful, not what convention holds to be beautiful.

How to express a distinction between the justified and the unjustified use of obscenity in a rule of law is easier said than done. Certainly children are not capable of the distinction, they cannot grasp irony, and need to be protected. One thing is sure though, there are dire consequences resulting from he inability to distinguish between the proper and the improper use of obscenity. When the distinction is forgotten, when we conclude that shame itself is unnatural, that we must get rid of our hang ups and give up the conventions devised by hypocrites, that there are no judgments to be made, that nothing that is appropriate in one place is inappropriate in another place (for just as a dog is not prevented from copulating in the market place, so it is unnatural to deprive men of the same pleasure were it only that of the voyeur in a theater) we will then also have forgotten the distinction between art and trash; that is to say, we will have made ourselves shameless.

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2
Grandpa's Kite: Memories of the Colony

A Presentation by Azly Rahman

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Sometime, in March 2008. En route from Amsterdam to London for an Oxford Roundtable Discussion on Culture, on board a British Airways Boeing 737, my mind scanned memories of my childhood as the plane ascended.

Memories of my beloved grandfather who died more than 30 years ago took shape in my "mind's eye", as Jungian psychologists would say.

Like Irish novelist James Joyce's "stream of consciousness" these images played out like a slide-show at intervals of several minutes – images in surrealistic mode of production flowing across the time and space of my in-between REM and non-REM sleep. Like those long Joycean sentences in the novel Ulysses

My grandfather, a British-made bicycle-riding government messenger for the royal court of Sir Sultan Ibrahim, taught us how to make kites. Born in the British Military Hospital in Alexandra Road in Singapore and growing up in a kampong/village in Johor Bahru in the late 1960s, my activities, besides spinning tops, chasing chickens, climbing trees, and hanging out with my grandmother included kite-making.

Yes, making kites -- and seeing it take off and making sure it stays flying. Grandfather would patiently and meticulously guide me through the process: how to cut bamboo, trim it into long, thin, and smooth spokes, make the frame, carefully refine its shape with special paper, and finally put designs on it. The final touch was preparing the strings and lacing it with finely crushed glass neatly glued onto the string, This is done if one is to have "kite-fights-in-flight". The goal is to have the kites duel up in the sky and the glassed-string will do the job of cutting each other's string. One's battle is lost when one's kite fly off, when there was no more string attached.

Grandpa was skilled in the art, science, and techniques of kite-making, kite-flying, and kite-fighting. He was a man, though without much material wealth, imbued with good 'ol Johorean ethics which he passed down to his children and grandchildren.

He was a man who wept for hours beside his radio-gram the day a man named Tun Abdul Razak died Tun Razak was the second prime minister of Malaysia and was instrumental in charting the course of the country’s modernization agenda, especially after the May 13, 1969 bloody riots between the Chinese and the Malays. More than 2000 people died in that difficult period of race reconciliation post-Independence.

I could feel the deep sadness in him. He grew up with Chinese friends, our home was almost weekly frequented by Chinese people, and grandpa's beloved daughter was also Chinese he adopted during the Japanese times. When the Japanese army were hunting down the overseas Chinese and killing babies. My beloved aunt was only three weeks old when she was given away to grandma and grandpa; when news of the Japanese approaching Johor -- from Kelantan-- broke out. That was the human consequence of the Sino-Japanese war and the rise of fascism in Asia. What could have happened to my aunt, had the morning she was hastily brought to grandpa that morning -- did not come?

And grandfather was a witness to that dark moment of " essentially Malays slaughtering the Chinese" in the darkest Malaysian history of 1969. Perhaps the Bawean and Bugis blood in him saw the connection between the leader and the commoner in a time when life was not yet complicated - a time when you did not hear of the murder of a Mongolian model and translator involving C4 explosives. A murder committed by Malaysians closely aligned to the powerful political-pariah-untouchables. This was a time when the Internet was not yet supreme.

'Sir' Sultan Ibrahim, like 'Sir' Sultan Abu Bakar, were Malay knights of the British Empire as much as Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney are English knights.

The Malay knights had their own army - Askar Timbalan Setia - maintained with the taxpayer's money. Sir Ibrahim, reportedly one of the richest individuals in the world, did not believe that the Malays could govern themselves.

Why did the British inscribe foreign titles onto the ruler of natives thousands of miles from the center of the colonial empire? Perhaps this was a strategy of psychological colonialism that went well with material and physical colonialism.

But knighthoods as hegemonic tools are no longer necessary these days. Installations of McDonalds and Starbucks, British-style boarding schools, American-style MARA Junior Science Colleges, and 100-channel Astro TVs from satellites owned by Malaysian billionaires are what a nation need to create little 'sirs' and 'madams', mad-dogs and Englishmen, or little brown Yankees who pay taxes in an international and hidden system of 'taxation without representation' of the post-colonial empires.

A good system of hegemony - from physical to the psychological, from inscriptions to institutions - is what is needed to give the natives their daily "bread and circus".

Colonialism is pervasive and cancerous. It is an ideology that legitimizes colonization, slavery, dependency, and imperialism. Different epochs of colonialism style themselves differently.

Colonialism shapes the mind and consciousness and turns the body into mini-temples of colonialism - turning what the Algerian thinker and psychiatrist Albert Memmi called "the colonised into becoming like the colonizer", in taste, language and disposition.

'Colonialism as process'

The process of turning the colonized into colonizers is a complex yet discernible one. This is how is goes.

First, the Empire must study the resource-rich area to be colonized. Second, use power and knowledge to catalogue all aspects of the lives of the natives. Next, study the local chieftains, sultans, kapitan , rajah or any leader of the natives. Study their strengths and weaknesses by going into their psyche and the system of social dominance they have created to sustain their power. Next, know what these local leaders want and how to create more 'wants'.

Patrol their waters in a display of military might. If possible, as in the historical account of Kuala Batu (Qualla Batoo) off Sumatra in the mid-1700s, use the word "terrorists" to describe the pirates of the Malacca Sultanate, and crush them in order to create more inroads into the area to be colonized.

Use "economic terms" to describe the areas to be colonized. For example, 'Spice Islands' (The Nusantara) 'Cape Horn' (Africa), Gold Coast (Africa) Ivory Coast (Africa), Silicon Valley (California), Multimedia Super Corridor (Malaysia) and the latest 'Iskandar Development Region' (Johor) and perhaps the Johor Disneyland, should it come into being to complement Singapore's casinos.

When these areas are earmarked for conquest, make early contact with warring factions in order to make alliances.

Divide and conquer is the strategy - then, now, and forever. Create maps that will define who will own what. In politics it is called gerrymandering. Refine the map as colonies are created. The natives, including the sultan, rajah, kapitan and village chiefs will not understand maps as these artifacts of power are of a different literacy genre. The natives are used to literacy of the Oral tradition. Maps are of Print Literacy.

Even the concept of space and time between the colonizer and the colonized are different. It depends on the concept of 'the clock', alien to the natives. Technology of 'time-telling' and 'time-keeping' varies among nations. 'Chronos' is a subjective concept. Whoever controls the more modern concept of 'chronos' controls the means of defining which native is the laziest. It all boils down to the mode of production and reproduction. All these must be done with one's mastery of the political philosophy of Machiavelli.

Finally, when the natives are colonized, turn them into images of the colonizer through indoctrination, education and the ideology of consumerism. Write history for them or, in the case of Africa, get Hollywood to create Tarzan movies to be shown to Africans and to tell them why they cannot govern themselves. Let them learn that only the diamond dealer Cecil Rhodes can perform miracles for Africa such as calling a nation 'Rhodesia'.

Back to the story of my kite. I cannot remember any other design I would make except one - the Union Jack! It was one of the most glorious feelings to 'fly' my Union Jack. That beautiful blue and red striped flag of a nation thousands of miles from where I live - a nation that I came to be obsessed with in my study of the human condition years later.

'Mental colonization'

In the story of the boy with the 'British' kite, lies the archeology of knowledge, the genealogy of things and the nature of "psychological inscriptions" we all subjected to as "cultural beings constructed out of the invented reality of others".

Herein lies the hegemony of colonialism of all sorts - shackles that the human mind wishes to be liberated from. In my case, the feeling of wanting to constantly analyze myself as that "culturally constructed" being is always there - especially when my senses interact with the "installations and institutions" that exist around me, those that are "inscribed" onto the landscape and forces humanity to become "objects of history".

What makes one a "culturally-constructed" being?

What makes us become the colonialist, the colonized; the imperialist, the imperialized; the racist, the humanist; the nationalist, the communist; the democrat, the technocrat; the dictator, the freedom fighter? All these perceptions are contingent upon the way we see ourselves as 'beings' being constructed by history as written by others.

This is an interesting notion of history - that the history of an epoch is the history of the ruling class. But the age of the bloggers might change this notion and prove Marx wrong. History marches on - from Pax Brittanica, Pax Nipponica and Pax Americana to Pax Barisan Nasionalisma and Pax Malaysian Bloggeria.

How we evolve out of these constructions and contradiction is a more interesting notion of history - that history is an enterprise that must undergo deconstruction.

How do we interrogate ourselves as active beings reduced to become objects of history by those who write history - the history of sirs and sultans, of colonizers and their consorts?

But beyond these questions lie my little no-guilt glory of a fond memory: flying my Union Jack kite and thinking of grandpa and how he engineered the organic cultural construction of my reality.

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 END  OF 77th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (15/02/2017)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

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70th Meeting -71st Meeting - 72nd Meeting - 73rd Meeting - 74th Meeting - 75th Meeting -

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Emanuel Paparella2017-02-16 12:58:39
A relevant post-reflection by Emanuel L. Paparella: there are individual psychological aberrations, and there are collective ones when alas, within a Democracy, a deranged person gets elected by millions of voters exhibiting political psychosis, usually based on some deranged ideology.

Psychologist Andy Frances is writing a book titled “Trump is not Crazy, We are,” In it he will make the point that to call Trump mentally ill is to put all the mentally ill people in a bad light. He is not mentally but is ethically challenged, he has no sympathy for others, he lies and feels no guilt about it, he has no clue what truth is, but we elected him any way and feel no guilt about it, thus we have compromised our own future and the future of our children. It goes without saying that when that happens, honor goes out the window too together with democracy.

Perhaps that collective phenomenon deserves more attention and reflection on a daily basis. It is perhaps more crucial than palm reading or the daily horoscope or the daily reading of the Stock Market. Not all issues are equally important. Fair and balance merely means giving issues the importance they deserve, no more no less.


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