Went to my usual Wednesday taiji class today. While driving to the health club and then around the parking lot looking for a space (what a surprise on January 3!), I realized that I had omitted an occasion where I will need to exercise my New Year’s resolution. Driving an automobile, such as getting stuck behind the idiot who waits when the light turns green just long enough for him to get through, but catching me with the red light. Good job!
Then, when I arrived home, I experienced another age-related occasion for my resolution as I searched frantically all over my person and the car looking for the entry card for the parking garage, which was right there on the passenger seat all along. Good job remembering where I put things!
Enough with anger management. I want to return to exploring why I’m feeling as though I’m entering a new figure in my dance with the music of time. As those who have been reading this blog for a while have heard over and over, I process much of what I experience through my reading. “Reading and scribbling” is how Laura summed up what I do when left to my own devices. As I mention in that post about “Reading and Scribbling,” finally getting through Emmanuel Levinas’ Totality and Infinity became an important part of the experience of my mother’s dying. When I was wrestling with the mystery of Laura’s death years later, I went back to his line: Le mourir est angoisse, parce que l’être en mourant ne se termine pas tout en se terminant. “Dying is agony because in dying a being does not come to an end while coming to an end.”
It took me four or five times to start Levinas before making it all the way through. I’m currently finishing a much shorter, but no less dense, work by a phenomenologist philosopher after about four starts since 2014: Edith Stein’s 1916 doctoral dissertation On the Problem of Empathy. Stein was a student and later an assistant of Edmund Husserl, who had a tremendous influence on Levinas, as well as Heidegger and Sartre, among others. As a woman, Stein was not recognized nor given the advancement that she certainly earned. Her feminist writings are collected in Die Frau. She was an atheist when she wrote her dissertation, but later converted to Roman Catholicism, becoming a contemplative nun. Her conversion did not save her from being murdered in Auschwitz. John Paul II canonized her under her religious name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, but I like the cognitive dissonance of calling her “Saint Edith Stein.”
I’ve been wanting to read Stein’s study on empathy because I was troubled by Elaine Scarry’s claim that we cannot know or imagine the pain of others. Her book The Body in Pain is widely cited, not just by literary scholars (which is her background), but even in the scientific literature on pain. She’s cited in the American Medical Association Guidelines on Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, precisely on her key statement that we can be in the presence of others and not know they are in pain. Stein’s book has provided insight into the category mistake that Scarry makes. But more on that another time.
Aside from the Husserlian jargon that the young academic employs in her dissertation, it is sometimes difficult not to make snarky comments in the margin on passages like this.
The function of expressing, through which I comprehend the expressed experience as the expression, is always fulfilled in the experience in which expression proceeds from what is expressed.
It’s worth working one’s way past passages like this to get to the person of the future saint who shines through in passages like the following.
“I do not ‘forget’ my friends when I am not thinking of them. They then belong to the unnoticed present horizon of my world. My love for them is living even when I am not living in it. It influences my actual feeling and conduct.”
Now, in the act of love we have a comprehending or an intending of the value of a person. This is not a valuing for any other sake. We do not love a person because he does good. His value is not that he does good, even if he comes to light for that reason. Rather, he himself is valuable and we love him ‘for his own sake.’
Pain over the loss of a loved one is not as deep as the love for this person, if the loss means that this person ceases to exist. As the personal value outlasts his existence and the love outlasts the joy over the loved one’s existence, so the personal value is also higher than the value of his reality, and this former feeling of value is more deeply rooted.