I can’t take it anymore. The movie is too meaningful, too exhausting to watch; it’s been an hour and I’m barely 10 minutes in. I closed the TV and took refuge in my Real Analysis textbook. Art is so much more complicated than numbers, so much harder to understand.
A Strange Idea
The worst crime Zoom classes are committing against humanity is depriving kids those real-life serendipitous opportunities to fall in love; further, what if we try to optimize for kids falling-in-love, in whatever form, rather than pumping their brains with knowledge?
A Weird Thing
The more I watch a movie, the less I understand it. I write longer and longer notes, and the movie haunts me more and more. I’ve grown very careful about rewatching a movie I love, because it always sucks my entire day away and churns out some useless thing (e.g., this essay).
Is watching a movie any different to falling in love? How are they similar? Why are they both so meaningful? What does this mean?
“What is the Meaning of Life?”
We’ve already lost everything when we try, enthusiastically, to answer this question. Meaning, unlike what the questions suggests, is not a thing that we strive for, nor a set of actions which, when followed, spit out meaningfulness on the other side. Rather, meaning is a by-product of hermeneutical discovery.
Hermeneutical Discovery: An engagement with the mystery in front of me, where I—in my growing immersion within it—simultaneously rediscover and reconstitute myself. It is thus self-discovery in mutual exploration with the mysterious. In my reconstitution, HD does not resolve mysteries, but allows them to grow in their mysteriousness; this discovery is thus hermeneutical, for hermeneutics never ends, but only spirals outward.
Mystery: The World. Myself. Music. Life. Art. A primitive that cannot be defined but only given—as beauty, awe, wonder, as love, hope, nostalgia. Mystery simultaneously eludes understanding and radiates a phenomenology of importance—that sense that I am participating in something significant beyond my comprehension, in an Event. Mystery is when thought encounters a real paradox—Meno’s, or Euthyphro’s, for example—and tries to wrap itself around it, or when the world unfolds in front of us in luminous opacity; it’s that which confronts life and possesses it completely.
Love: The way of being when we enter a relationship with the mysterious, when it overwhelms and relieves me and affords my hermeneutical self-discovery. Love is Fearing and Trembling and Wondering and Loving. We can call this discovery in love, play; meaningfulness is what is given to us when we play with the mysterious.
The Mysterious: What Heidegger would call Das Ding, Plato, forms, and Levinas, the Infinite Other. It’s the entire world that Proust reconstructs in his imagination. It’s Nietzsche’s Art, Dostoevsky’s Silence, Arendt’s World, Deleuze’s Virtual, Meister Eckhart’s God, Aristotle’s Theoria. The mysterious is a question—a person, a problem, a thing—with such gravity and grace, such seriousness and playfulness, that I’d be happy for it, if it so chooses, to define my life.
In the mystery, my absolute understanding grows, but my relative understanding shrinks. Each new quantum of perspicuity provides me insight into more mysteries.
Here, paradoxes surface and takes off its cloak of intolerability; meaning and non-meaning become two sides of a mobius strip, infinitely close to each other. In the immensity of the night-sky, futility is given to me along with an overwhelming influx of meaning; in music, I tremble and cry, but in crying, I am relieved; in love, I hope and despair and hope and despair—only because I so love life, do I despair of living it, and my despair, only because it so despairs, inspires more my love. Here, questioning what the meaning of life is, is finally proven futile. For the mysterious, in confronting me with all that I am not, makes me insignificant, and in this insignificance—in this despair—do I find hope in the mysteries’ overflowing importance. Meaning is not something I pursuit, but a by-product of my hermeneutical discovery of myself and the mysterious as I play within it.
HD is already in the plural, within the context of uncovering the mystery of the mysterious. Mystery and wonder and love mutually grows within the discovery. The Hegelian World Spirit’s self-knowing is nothing more than our play in the mysterious—as I understand myself through art, art understands itself through me; as I get to know myself in my beloved, the beloved, in me. We have thus Borges’ Pierre Menard, the Author of Quixote—and note how much more mysteries the story unearths than the portions of the mysterious that it makes perspicuous.
Now, resolving some philosophical debate that is not so important, but nonetheless interesting.
Both Nihilism and Fundamentalism are wrong. They’re all too self-certain, too serious and grave, sans play and grace. Fundamentalism offers all the answers, but it only makes life not worth living in its transparency, for I will not continue to watch a movie that I’ve understood and whose content is absolutely clear to me. Nihilism, similarly, is much too self-certain. It ignores, like Fundamentalism, mystery—that basic unit of our humanity; how—this I’ve never understood—does a nihilist remain nihilistic when confronted with friendship, love, courage, and sacrifice?
But back to the important stuff, to the movie.
My Experience Watching The Movie As An Example of The Hermeneutical Discovery Within the Mysterious that Keeps the Whole Human Enterprise Going
Despite its pretentious English name, Ashes of Time has become really important for me. Proper to the mysterious, it grows only the more incomprehensible—the type that only draws one more in—the more I watch it. Rather than providing answers, it overwhelms me with questions, and what little answer I can provide to its questioning only provokes it to offer more of its mysteries, with harder, more important, more vital, more vitally important and overwhelmingly meaningful, questions. The movie, as art, is eminently open, ontologically inexhaustible, much like the square root operation which constantly opens up new forms of understanding.
In my play within its mysteries, Ashes of Time has become a central node in my life, an encyclopedia of myself that knows me better than I do—a Library of Babel for me alone. I turn to its refuge when I want to ask meaningful questions and when I try to provide meaningful answers. It is there as my other self, challenging and supporting me.
Another self. Is that not Aristotle’s classic definition of friendship? And may I supplement Aristotle with, Love?—only when I and the mysterious possess a non-homogeneous similarity, could I enter a relationship of play with it that allows the greatest difference. And romantic love and friendship are the two intersubjective, and perhaps most fundamental, permutations of the mysterious.
Now, we’re ready to head back to Zoom.
My most meaningful experiences in school has never been the content in the class, but the friendships and loves that I made and fell into by accident—through a random seating plan, some chance conversation in the corridor, or even just a glimpse of an unfamiliar person that allows the imagination to venture into the mysterious. Only recently have I came to (painfully) realize how much I am in debt to these early experiences of the mysterious for all the important things that I’ve done and am doing.
We don’t need knowledge in kids’ brains. We need to allow them to acquaint themselves with Mystery, to give them the opportunity of finding some mysterious thing that justifies their being. It is their capacity to experience the mysterious that we should educate—in its proper etymological sense of leading out—for out of one’s relationship with mystery, everything else follows. The problem with Zoom is the loss of those small, seemingly insignificant exchanges that allows the fostering of mystery, since our encounterings with another in their unfiltered, strange, real-life being is our first course in hermeneutical discovery.
It is not an optional first course, but a gateway (drug), so to speak, into the realm of Mysteries as such. For once we enter a relationship with the mysterious, we are only destined, through mysterious’ natural overflowing, to recognize more mystery and more mysterious things. This only makes Zoom class all the more disastrous—it is only because of the friendships and loves that I’ve had, that I can recognize the mysteriousness of the movie. How many great poets, philosophers, even mathematicians, have we lost—speaking from my male perspective—from the boys who have never fallen in love?
Thus, a crazy proposal in educational policy—what if we try to optimize for the chances of kids falling in love, and celebrate it as a wonderful fact, and foster them through this love into greater relationships with the mysterious? Teaching Shakespeare to kids will not work, unless it’s Romeo and Juliet and kids-in-love; nor will kids voluntarily write anything, unless it is bad love poetry.
At least there is one thing we all know which may serve as a basis for this (intentionally absurd, but somewhat serious) policy. People really wonderful at a certain thing is not someone who knows the textbook inside out, but one who has entered a playful relationship with the mysterious, whatever it may be. And we, in our appreciation, call those people “interesting”, and others, “bores.”
Now, do we want a society of bores, or do we want to make life interesting?