Houses may vary. We've a House of Culture, public houses, we even had a House of Polish-Soviet Friendship. You could visit them for various reasons, but they've one thing in common – no one lives there. Thus, let’s ask a basic question: what makes a house a home? Can you have a place to live and yet not have a home? Home is made for living, true, but it's so easy to destroy or lose it in one way or another. Additionally, can one retrieve a lost home? Is a return to Ithaca possible? Is a home found anew the same home which one left? Who lives there now?
When we think of a philosopher that personifies the virtue of mastering one's desires, Immanuel Kant comes immediately to our minds. He lived such a measured and rational life, that he turned into town's clock, which told time by his regular, regenerating strolls. Thus, he displayed how to exert power over desires. Yet, one day, when his faithful servant who worked for Kant for many years, due to doctors’ prescriptions refused him his favorite cheese – and Kant was crazy about cheese – the old philosopher lost all measure and fired the man. Our critical thinking, all what's human and noble in us fades away when confronted with the brutal power of taste. Our taste marks the beginning and the end of both, thinking and action – said Nietzsche – and sooner or later it reveals itself as our deepest truth. Thus, I confess, I’m a Kantian – Cheese uber alles! But only a mature one, hard, saturated and deep, serious and composed.
Children live in between two worlds: the boring world of adults and the incredible world of tales, wonders and magic. Only they, maybe along with witches and philosophers, are able to mediate between the two. All myths about childhood display a puzzling paradox: on the one hand, a harmless child is threatened by powerful enemies, is in a constant danger of destruction, on the other, it possesses powers surpassing man’s capacities. In myths and tales, a child is negligible and insignificant, is only a child. At the same time, animals and demons listen to it. God speaks to a child and grants it his power. So, do we lose something with growing up, or on the contrary, only is it then that we finally leave that dark and terrible state of ignorance?
Friendship is a domain of man – as someone rightly said – it’s their romanticism. Most lasting friendships begin before we turn 30, for neither in mature, nor in old age do we look for pleasures of friendship, but instead we look for profit. And friendship is a business you constantly invest in. Every friendship begins and ends. It ends usually when both sides expect more than they get, when selflessness falls prey to the virus of profit. It also ends when we don’t feel as we used to feel about our old friends. What can you do… the world changed, we changed, and so did our friends, and if so, then it's time to change our friends.
For free man this place isn’t a geographic region. Astolphe de Custine thought he entered Siberia when he had crossed a bridge on Vistula river. For Poles Siberia begins at the swamps around Smolensk, where Józef Czapski saw and described evils of “The Inhumane Land”. “Will you return some day? Who of you? What of you?” – asks Norwid - “From deadly toils, back to Siberia, of money, of work and the pit destined free men”. For the poet, Siberia is everywhere, is around us, constantly present, by the corner, lurking in cracks of false allure and deceitful beauty. Thus, it’s not just geography, but a spiritual condition, endless oppression, cold, a lack of hope and a lack of good ways out.
Where's Europe? What Europe is? How to grasp its spiritual form, its ‘eidos’? Europe possesses an allure that makes other continents look up to her and wish they might be alike. Husserl wrote that Europeans are endowed with ‘logos’, a language of a free and civilized men, who're characterized by a theoretical approach, that is, by striving to grasp and master the whole of the world, until they gain an ultimate power over its matter. For a European's nature is to conquer and to subdue everything that opposes him, remains alien and unknown. Thus, colonialism seems to define the best European’s attitude towards others. Europe is a dream of a better world that came true.
In a little tractate “On Virtues and Vices” by Aristotle I read that greed is a miserliness and an excessive want of profit. A greedy man is mean, petty and lacks measure. Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, writes that a miser won’t even share bread with his guests and adds water to wine he’s about to sell. Is credit a proper answer to greed, which is, after all, such a common deformation of man’s character? Or is it a refined instrument of depriving men of their freedom? If, that is, they’re creditworthy and are able to renounce their freedom.
They say that one must work in order to live. Does a lion chasing an antelope work? Do bees work in their hives? Not really. Work, therefore, has to involve other values and different aims than simply survival. In short, it has to be the source of sense, otherwise it’ll either make us unhappy, or – if we refuse it - useless. Thus, we shouldn’t reduce the sense of work to a narrowminded utilitarianism. It has to encompass something else, that no theory of utility or profit can describe.
The fact, that still today some books are banned is a reminder of a view, that a text contains true opinions of it’s author, who in consequence may be subject to the death penalty, censorship or persecution. It implies, that the author writes consciously, that he always knows, what he wants to say, and always says, or doesn't say only that which he wishes. But isn't such a masquerade, such a camouflage of one's ideas before the reader and the censor rather an exception from a rule? Does the author really know, what he means in each and every one of his sentences? Does a writer conscious of his revolutionary ideas always write with - an internal, or external - censor in mind? Finally, is there anything that we haven't said already? Is there, in the era of encyclopedias and free media, anything that would require a special care and protection from a censor?
In ancient Greek ‘language’ is ‘logos’, that is, ‘reason’ and ‘thinking’. Thus, it's an ability to express one’s own being. Man always grasps himself in language. With it, he understands his past, and hopes to be understood by those, he happens to encounter. Indeed, there is no other way to understand oneself or the world. There's no non-discursive path. Intuitions are usually vague and uncertain. Yet, language, even one’s own mother tongue, tends to be too difficult for the many. I picked up a phone yesterday and I heard: “Hell… how…, what’s…. damn, Darek speaking”. Another time a clerk was instructing me about a product I was looking for by pointing with his finger and saying: “…well, it’s there, behind this, you know, that thing”. Are these bits of sentences even language? And if so, does it serve understanding, or is it a sign of a difference between men, that cannot be bridged?
Hope, radical and ultimate, appears when we expect a happy ending, yet we don’t know from where it might come. It’s radical because the crisis of culture embodied in its most important representatives: poets, statesman and inspired prophets, is heading towards a still absent, yet positive solution. It’s not an optimistic hope of cheap social ideologies, because chances of being and not being saved are equal. In a sense such hope creates a new type of courage that one takes up a risk in a situation when there’s no certainty what should be done, when every choice might turn out a tragic one. It’s a model of weak courage founded on the ruins of the long-gone world and on the consciousness of a lost cause.
‘Everybody is fuckin’ high!’ says Polish rapper Goss. If drugs are really so popular, if it is really true that yesterday I was diagnosed by a doctor who is a heroin addict, an alcoholic policeman intervened in my case, if little kids who are not able to stand the presence of adults resort to increasingly strong drugs, then maybe the time has come to admit that the contemporary world is a madhouse! More and more actions that not so long ago wouldn’t be considered normal become the norm. Let’s imagine for a moment that it is really the truth, that new standards are set by freaks and weirdos. What then? Won’t we be forced to admit that not only man’s environment, but himself and his nature has changed, and that there is no going back from drugs? I keep on meeting people who say that men need to be high on something: be it sex, weed or internet, to be able to survive the pressure of the speeding train of civilization. Should I believe them?
I have read that pioneers of mathematics presented a pragmatic attitude towards its foundations. This brought conclusions, calculation methods and results. These were taken over by physicists searching for new results. Eventually technicians emerged and by using only end results added new calculations. This way machines were created. When everything was in full swing, mathematicians suddenly realized there was something at the foundations that did not fit well with the rest. They looked at the very bottom and found out that the whole structure hung in mid-air. But the machines worked! We should therefore accept that the whole of our modern existence is based on the madness of machines and a human error, and perhaps wouldn't be possible without them.
Ancient Greeks lived as if they were asleep. The sobriety and toughness that characterized them was weakened by a serious and inspiring experience of a myth. Events like those when a god kidnaps Europe, Athena moves Paris from the battlefield to a safe place and Diomedes hurts her in a battle frenzy, belonged to the present time and occurred before the eyes of men and gods. Greeks didn't have to believe in reality of these events, they saw them with their own eyes. But even though they identified themselves completely with everything that happen to them, they felt that the source of existence lay somewhere else, somewhere beyond these revelations. They also knew that man was meant for things higher then self-satisfaction. Man has to become an artist, an athlete of existence, because beauty – beautiful life and life in beauty, is for him the last and final justification. There is no other. There is nothing more important.
In the face of death we are like children. We deny its experience, we carve pumpkins to minimize its terrifying magic. We wish to finish death out with laughter, but first of all, we pretend that it’s not here, so its permanent presence doesn’t bother us anymore. Death has been enchanted in polyclinics, pharmaceutical corporations into a mere ailment. Indeed, one difficult to treat now, but in the long run completely curable. Today we pass away not among our close ones, but in hospitals and hospices. It became almost a rule. Thus, the curse of our modern culture is a vaudeville-like and obsessive concentration on life with an exclusion of the phenomenon of death and dying. We want to be immortal. We want to be like gods.
University of the old type was a place where the past related to the future via the contemporary and the present. Today it is neither necessary, nor possible because university is supposed to relate only to the present, mainly to suit the requirements of the market with its narrow, material needs. The university of today is not run by scholars, but by business and administration. Unquestionable submission, efficiency, perfection, and internationalization are a valuable merit here. Managers of the university try to meet the challenges of our civilization not knowing, or not admitting it even before themselves, that it’s impossible. Material reality is always a few steps ahead of them. They forgot, or perhaps they never remembered in the first place, that the most sacred duty of academia is thinking, which is free of any utilitarian obligations.
Theatre is composed of actors, directors and the audience. First ones speak from the stage the greatest, often unsurpassable words like those of Sophocles, Shakespeare, or Molière, and sometimes they fall prey to an illusion that they themselves are as wise as authors of Antigone or of Measure for Measure. Taking as theirs what doesn’t belong to them they begin to talk nonsense about current politics or their private lives. They do that in an authoritative and irrevocable way. The same goes for today’s directors, who rarely produce plays by great writers, and if they do, they play them against their authors and deceive the audience, who grows less and less competent. And being left on its own, abandoned and helpless, the audience falls prey to impostors and swindlers and is not able to stand up against their overwhelming acts.
The Apocalypse, the non-historical element of history, abolishes chronology. It undermines the concepts of progress and of development. Irreversibly all leans towards the end, which gives history its meaning. With the question about eschaton history surpasses its own limits and thus becomes visible and acquires sense to itself. Not all are able to grasp this. Those who cannot are caught in the present moment as if in a cage, they always have time to decide and are never in a hurry. The cycle of their lives turns their decision into an empty gesture. Immersed in the natural sequence of events they are completely indifferent to the act of decision making and to history. There will be no Apocalypse for them.
Up until the 18th century, before Napoleon took over, the results of wars did not concern civilians. Subjects of a German or an Italian prince often did not know, that their lord was at war. They might have observed the movements of armies, but understood very little of it. War concerned brave men. It was a matter of courage, honour and of an ability to risk one's life in the name of non-utilitarian values.
Pain is a deaf and numb language of the body. It’s an animal feature. Ants suffer, pelicans suffer and so does man, but only man gets sick. Illness is a human answer to an inhuman, unbearable and long-lasting pain. Illness is created by man, pain is inflicted by nature that he is a part of. We understand this relation less and less and we barely recognize it at all. We multiply illnesses and invent even less effective cures. Only pain is doing well, only pain does not want to go away.