How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time … Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
Like his contemporary Jean-Paul Sartre, Lacan was interested in the lack — the encroaching nothingness — that gnaws at the foundations of human life; he was interested in the feeling of emptiness that often permeates our being even when things are in principle going fine. His explanation for why we feel this way was developmental. He hypothesized that the void at the heart of human subjectivity is an inevitable byproduct of the process of socialization that molds an infant — who is initially a creature of unorganized bodily functions — into a culturally viable being, into a child who understands the basic codes of behavior that she’s expected to adhere to. This process is necessary because it allows the child to become a member of her society.
But it comes at a price: it forces the child to encounter a symbolic world of meanings that she has had no part in devising; it throws her into a vast universe of complex (and often enigmatic or inscrutable) signifiers, including language, in relation to which she’s asked to find her bearings. This experience, according to Lacan, is intrinsically humbling, bound to make the child feel inadequate to the task. Because children can’t always fully process the signifiers that surround them, including what adults are saying to them (or around them) — because they can’t always figure out what adults want from them or why adults want certain things done in a certain way — they’re never able to feel completely in control of the universe they inhabit. This feeling of failure lingers into adulthood, making each newly minted human being feel like it has lost something precious, like a piece of its being is missing.
I was reminded of the well-known story of Alexander the Great and the Dervish who refused to prostrate himself as the King of Kings went by. Alexander sent for him and asked why he had failed to show respect. He answered:
“I TOO AM A KING OF KINGS”
“Then where is your army? There is no king without an army.”
“I HAVE NO ENEMIES AND I NEED NO ARMY.”
“Then where is your treasury? Every king has a treasury.”
“I HAVE NO WANTS, SO I NEED NO TREASURY.”
This story shoes in an exaggerated opposition the two aspects of freedom: the freedom of having everything, and the freedom of wanting nothing.
— J.G. Bennett, from Gentry Magazine Number Eight, Fall 1953 (via Ben Pieratt)
‘We live in a world where “good” is a value dependent on whether we want it. In the world as it is, the solution of each problem inevitably creates a new one. In the world as it is there are no permanent happy or sad endings. Such endings belong to the world of fantasy, the world as we would like it to be, the world of childrens fairy tales where “they lived happily ever after.” In the world as it is, the stream of events surges endlessly onward with death as the only terminus. One never reaches the horizon; it is always just beyond, ever beckoning onward; it is the pursuit of life itself. This is the world as it is. This is where you start.’
— Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom… is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.
— Anthony Bourdain