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A Postliberal Theory of Consciousness for the Starbucks Habitué

by ANIS SHIVANI

–“The freedom that one may take to say more extensively in a book what one may not say before a live audience is founded on many sound reasons.”–Pierre Bayle, “Clarification: On Obscenities.”

–Nothing works, everything’s dysfunctional. We are now all peasants of the third world, dressed in Nikes and driving Beemers. Is there a brain drain for laid-off dot-com workers with Wesleyan history degrees to somewhere? History spins in cycles, never letting us get anything done before noon.

–One manifestation of the Golden Age: California in the seventies when therapists were still a minority among social workers. Today: the meritocracy of the Ivy League bubble that doesn’t let you opt out altogether without a crushing sense of guilt.

–Politics as the highest form of art today. The only art. Because not translatable.

–But if we would shut up government within the narrowest practical limits, we must beware how we let it loose in the field of opinion. Opinion is the castle, or rather the temple, of human nature; and, if it be polluted, there is no longer anything sacred or venerable in sublunary existence. –William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice.

–Every calamity outside us frightens. Why should it?

–If we all agree to disagree, then the tyrants take over with guns and bombs. If we all really disagree, then we all become tyrants. In any event, the age of innocence can only be captured in ornate books.

–One hopes to be found dead at the end of the holocaust and not one among the survivors.

–A Man is allowed sufficient Freedom of Thought, provided he knows how to chuse his Subject properly. You may criticize freely upon the Chinese Constitution, and observe with as much Severity as you please upon the Absurd Tricks, or destructive Bigotry of the Bonzees. But the Scene is changed as you come homeward, and Atheism or Treason may be the Names given in Britain, to what would be Reason and Truth if asserted of China. –Edmund Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society.

–When now I march to feel like I have a stake in the watersheds of history, I leave behind doubt and certainty in equal measure: I can only carry on when I suspend belief in what it means to be human. Afterwards, at home, empty and alone, I calculate the hours lost.

–In Monterey in 1969 there used to be a retired professor of philosophy with a thing for skinning cats alive. His neighbors trusted him without stint. His VW Bug had anticipated counterculture by a good half-decade.

–Despite abstractions to the contrary, it is not true that dying alone happens all the time.

–Printing presses shall be subject to no other restraint than liableness to legal prosecution for false facts printed and published. –Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Constitution for Virginia (June 1783).

–Countless hours of reading. Afterwards, crying in my pillow to make the point to myself that I can still feel. Writing copiously in the margins of books, pretending that someday I’ll go back and review the classics for obscure literary journals. Fearing the greatest fear of never being able to say anything new. Catching myself in mid-flow.

–We used to get sunburned after too much surfing, and we laughed at each other’s corny jokes over milkshakes. That was the high point of our lives.

–If you know you’ve blundered, don’t talk it all out.

–When a nation changes its opinion and habits of thinking, it is no longer to be governed as before; but it would not only be wrong, but bad policy, to attempt by force what ought to be accomplished by reason. –Thomas Paine, Rights of Man.

–Forster said, Only connect. How? It presumes commonality of interest and we live in an age of false self-sufficiency, the worst of all worlds. I’d rather hang out my sins for the world to see, and hope to be called one so callous as to be unforgivable. Hence, the invisible pursuit of art (invisible, that is, to those who persist in seeing in me a reflection of themselves).

–Even the oceans look and smell different after years of absence.

–Like water in a stream when it’s almost dried out, there is a time in our lives when we can still yearn for youth without feeling shame.

–Freedom embodies a twofold determination. The first concerns the content of freedom, its objectivity–i.e., the thing itself; the second concerns the form of freedom, in which the subject knows itself as active; for the requirement of freedom is that the subject should know that it possesses it and is playing its part, for it is in the subject’s own interest that the thing itself should be realized. –G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History.

–If I don’t answer mail, I feel ashamed. If I don’t pick up the phone when it rings, I get scared. If I don’t read the paper in the morning, I feel adrift. If I lack the right degree of responsiveness and sensitivity to my lover’s night-time leanings, I question my human status.

–A quantity of guns lies embedded in the collective unconscious of the average suburban teenager. And I have known some of them myself.

–Leave the question of peace among peoples alone, after cursory investigation.

–In a population where the indispensable cooperation of individuals in public order can no longer be achieved by the voluntary and moral assent accorded by each to a common social doctrine, there remains no other expedient for maintaining any kind of harmony than the sad choice between force and corruption. Auguste Comte, Considerations on the Spiritual Power.

–I’m afraid of the time when the gap between my public and private personas may be completely bridged. At that point I shall know whether the lies people told about me behind my back were really flattering or humiliating. I shall not need a sixth sense about these things.

–Justice consists of equal distribution of pleasant feelings–we grew up together and recognize each other now by the slant of sunlight on our fading hair.

–Please obey the authorities only after you’ve made sure to notify your next of kin.

–If in observing the course of history one detaches the beliefs of a ruling class from the ruling class itself; if one renders them independent; if one is persuaded that in a certain epoch these and those thoughts have dominated, without concerning oneself with the conditions of production and with the producers of these thoughts; if, in short, one leaves out of consideration the individuals and the world conditions that underlie these thoughts, then one can say, e.g. that under the rule of the aristocracy the concepts of honor, loyalty, etc. dominated, while under the rule of the bourgeoisie it is the concepts of freedom, equality, etc. Usually the dominant class persuades itself of this. –Karl Marx, The German Ideology.

–If I met Thomas Pynchon on the street–perhaps vacationing in Maine, perhaps window-shopping in London–I wouldn’t know what to say to him. I wouldn’t know him. I wouldn’t know that I had seen him but hadn’t known him. I wouldn’t know the depths of my own ignorance after twenty years of auto-didacticism. For it is not true that the writer is separate from his biography.

–We learned to skateboard dangerously, ferociously, and we’re glad we injured ourselves when it only meant a thrill.

–We have allowed ourselves the merest pause of a moment to gather our thoughts.

–Hence, the paralysis induced by thinking is twofold: it is inherent in the stop and think, the interruption of all other activities–psychologically, one may indeed define a “problem” as a “situation which for some reason appreciably holds up an organism in its effort to reach a goal”–and it also may have a dazing after-effect, when you come out of it, feeling unsure of what seemed to you beyond doubt while you were unthinkingly engaged in whatever you were doing.–Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind.

–Resistance is a word I deeply censure; it can occur as an occasional rebuke to my own lassitude, but that’s as far as it can go. I often don’t fully cooperate with my need to define others aesthetically, even in the trivial details of their person.

–We yearned for evacuations, school shutdowns, epidemics, mass hysteria.

–Can we ask forgiveness of anyone but the most irrelevant?

ANIS SHIVANI studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at: Anis_Shivani_ab92@post.harvard.edu

 

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