Saturday, June 27, 2015

Part 41: (Prometheus and the Contextual Self): Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

With this post Flora Sapio and I (and friends from time to time) continue an experiment in collaborative dialogue. The object is to approach the issue of philosophical inquiry from another, and perhaps more fundamentally ancient, manner. We begin, with this post, to develop a philosophy for the individual that itself is grounded on the negation of the isolated self as a basis for thought, and for elaboration. This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts. Your participation is encouraged. For ease of reading Flora Sapio is identified as (FS), and Larry Catá Backer as (LCB).

The friends continue their discussion in which Flora Sapio responds to Larry Catá Backer's point about language, and to the points raised by Ulisses Schwarz Viana and Betita Horm Pepulim.  

Contents: HERE.  

(FS): Betita is right. Defining independence, or freedom, is like putting a bird in a cage, or like forcing someone to be independent or free. If they are understood as ideas that can be defined, either universally or individually, the concepts of independence and freedom may well be myths, myths imposed on us. I don't think any of us or anyone else needs to have a myth imposed on them. This is even more so as different peoples and civilizations have different mythologies, and while myths are strikingly similar, some of the characters in mythology do play a different role across cultures.

For instance, I used to have a hard time making the Italians understand that the Chinese see the Dragon as a benevolent and auspicious creature. Upon hearing the word “dragon”, the serpent of Adam and Eve would come to their minds, while Chinese dragons are like Falkor in The Neverending Story, a creature that helps in the effort to stop the Nothing[ness] from swallowing up the World of Beauty. The problem is that if you show a dragon to the Italians they will jump up, and shout “The End of the World is Near!”... while we all know that dragons are just fantasy creatures.

Now when I was a little girl I wanted to be in the police diving unit, as I believed it would be the easiest way to practice underwater archaeology. I ended up doing something I would have never imagined myself doing but, in the meantime, I visited many temples, and read a lot of Greek mythology. Therefore, in reading the previous posts I thought about Prometheus the Titan. I will recount his story as I remember it. I don't have the book Prometheus Fire Bringer handy, so I am quoting from memory.

As soon as he had brutally killed his father Saturn (or Kronos), Zeus proclaimed himself “Father of all the Gods”, sat himself upon Saturn's throne and began distributing various attributes, privileges and talents to all the other Olympian deities to curry their favor. To men, Zeus gave nothing. He wanted to destroy the entire human race, to replace them with a superior race of perfect beings.

Prometheus, whose name means forethought, however anticipated Zeus' plot. Seeing that men had nowhere to live, he showed them how to construct houses. Seeing that men didn't have medicines, he showed them how to mix herbs to ward off their ailments. Then, he showed men the creative arts of the Muses, so they may amuse and enjoy themselves. Zeus was not really angry with Prometheus. After all, men still didn't know how to light fires, so they could not ward off wild animals, and had to substist on raw food. But when Prometeus gave men the gift of fire, bringing them a spark of fire hidden in a fennel stalk oh, did Zeus get agry! He had Prometheus chained to a pillar on the very top of Mount Elbrus, where each day an eagle would fly to him and eat his liver.

According to some, one day Hermes/Mercury appeared on Mount Elbrus. Being the trickster that he was, Hermes had been spying on Zeus (but for a good cause), and he knew that Zeus was extremely superstitious, and that he also feared being dethroned. And so he said to Prometheus:

“Look, you've been chained to this pillar for thirty years. You are not free! Bend your will to Jupiter, just make the prophecy he wants – that a certain woman so-and-so will beget him a son who will dethrone him, and he will set you free!”

Do you think that Prometheus, who had the welfare of mankind at heart, accepted this particular compromise? Well, he didn't. Now as it happened, Hercules, who was on a search for the apples of Hesperides, having no sense of direction lost his way and found himself wandering on Mount Elbrus. There, he found Prometheus chained to the pillar, with the long-winged eagle preying on his liver. Without thinking about it twice or wanting anything from Prometheus, he unleashed the Sagitta Arrow at the eagle, shot at the eagle, killed it, and then broke the chains that had bound Prometheus for thirty (some say thirty thousand) years.

Often, freedom can take unforeseeable paths.

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