At the start of 2013 I left Finnegans Wake by my bedside; miraculously (helped in no small part by its dreamy narrative) this had the desired effect: I had read it, in small late-evening chunks, by mid-April. With that success in mind, I put Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in the same place 12 months ago (we’ll get to “why?” in a minute) but the outcome was not to be repeated: I’ve plodded through and picked at some of it; but most of the elephant has remained resolutely undevoured.
Why would this matter to me; indeed, why I would even attempt it in the first place? Well, my somewhat reflexive and tangled personal philosophy has, over the years, convoluted itself into the following:
1. If human experiences are going to be special in any way, part of that specialness comes from our reflection on them: we can query and critique them, in order to discuss fundamental meanings that they might hint at.
2. Establishing a personal philosophy, that one believes in as “valid” and consistent, provides at least a road map for being a human being, or maybe for “performing human-ness”.
3. Philosophy as a social, historical and practicable discipline is the “smartest” way of working all this damn stuff out.
—which, like most personal philosophies, is all well and good until you foolishly set out to actually live according to it. But this year has finally confirmed to me what I already suspected: that, when it comes to point 3, I’ve been (and will always be) at best a dilettante and at worst inept. I can read, but I can’t guarantee I’ll digest (bear in mind I professed, and still profess, to love Kant.)
This “failure to be interested” is not in itself a problem—it’s how most of us live, have to live, our lives—but… what then? What’s my next move? How do I conjure meaning from my own situation, drag a success out of a (quite honourable) failure?
Can I posit a fourth element to my “personal philosophy generator”:
4. Those not naturally skilled in philosophy have a duty to do “the best they can”, with others’ work and their own experiences as guidance: but no further duty than that.
And, in doing so, am I accomplishing anything more than a revelation of my own hierarchically Catholic upbringing? Even if I can do that, where does it get me? What do I do next? What can I put into this generator, so that when I turn the handle on it, more-than-nothing comes out? Where is meaning hiding from me?
… is, I suppose, a conundrum I’ve set myself for 2015. Beats detox and a diet, eh?