30 December 2015

A Certain Kind of Insanity

(A Character Sketch)

Simon had a hard time in college.  He spent part of his time cultivating academic ambitions, part of his time trying to distract himself from work by socializing, part of his time attempting to accommodate the peculiar intellectual habits of his peers, and find a way to be himself around them, part of his time bitter and angry, and much of his time exhausted.  He was exhausted from living so close to so many people his own age, from the difficulty of finding privacy, and from perpetually failing to complete his assignments for class.  He was bitter because he was convinced of his own intellectual inadequacy, and at the same time because he was convinced of the absurdity of the surrounding environment.

What were the dominant forces in Simon's life?  Loneliness, Ambition, and Despair.  But that's not all.  It's really hard to explain what was going on with Simon, because Simon was as much of a person as you or I, and had just as much self-awareness and just as much desire to be self-critical and reasonable and to find a good footing.  In this way, perhaps it is impossible to describe what Simon was like, what his interior life and personal orientation were in those years.  Too much like trying to draw the limits of a cloud as it billows through the sky.

But I want us to think about Simon's loneliness.  Simon had friends, to be sure.  He had people he talked to on a daily basis, from back home and at school, and he got along well with these people.  But even if he got along well with them, there was always a sense of separation from them— a sense that they were not really trustworthy, and could not really know him as he was.  This became a theme with Simon in those years, one that had not existed with him previously.  He was very much pre-occupied with being really known, possibly because he so meticulously regulated his own self-expression.

One of the things Simon talked about and thought about incessantly during his first years of college was the problem of being really known as a person, and the concomitant problem of being loved.  How is it possible to love someone as they really are, when who someone is is unavailable, because of their interiority. And Simon gradually became convinced that it was impossible to be known, and impossible to be loved, or to really love others, except in some mystical/transcendental way, based on a total suspension of judgment in the face of the unknown.  And that sort of love would hang on a kind of choice, a leap of faith, which happened beyond the bounds of reason or objective fact.  The more Simon thought about this set of issues, the more convinced he was that knowing other people was all based on a radical openness to the Other, and a blind choice based on faith and groundless good will.

Simon's loneliness stemmed from these two things: first a sense of ideological and intellectual separation from his peers, which made him uncomfortable being free with them, and created a certain degree of internal tension.  (The reasons for this sense of separation are too complicated to catalogue.)  Second, his peculiar understanding of intersubjectivity and the requirements for friendship.  It seemed impossible for Simon ever not to be alone, because he was manifestly alone in his college life with his peers, and because it seemed like any alternative to that was basically impossible.