By Mari Ruti
Psychoanalytic point of view on what Western philosophers from Socrates to Foucault have referred to as "the artwork of living."
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Extra resources for A World of Fragile Things: Psychoanalysis and the Art of Living (Psychoanalysis and Culture)
The idea that one could free oneself of one’s passions—or of one’s fears and worries, for that matter—by the sheer exertion of one’s rational will implies the kind of self-mastery that is difficult to fathom from the contemporary perspective. I have already remarked that advancements in twentieth-century thought have made it awkward to take at face value either the idea that the self is (even potentially) a coherent entity or the idea that it is selfdetermining in the sense of being able to control its passions or psychic states.
We have seen that although the traditional art of living includes enclaves of sociality—such as the emphasis placed on informed intellectual exchange and debate—it for the most part regards social commitments as an obstacle to the actualization of the individual’s potentialities. Whether we consider Socrates’s distrust of conventional opinions, Nietzsche’s deep disdain for the complacency of collective life, or Sartre’s commentary on the existential malaise caused by the individual’s fall into bad faith, it appears that social life for these thinkers is an impediment to the subject’s ability to stay faithful to its inner directives.
30 Contemporary culture is vibrant, but at its worst it can scatter us in so many directions that we come to feel overwhelmingly disjointed. Paradoxically, we come to feel so frantically alive—agitated and overstimulated—that we die inside. This suggests that aliveness comes in various forms and that not all of these forms are equally conducive to psychic well-being. Taylor maintains that although the contemporary ideal of authenticity is frequently expressed in the flattened, debased, and trivialized terms of self-centered individualism, at its heart it is possible to discern a legitimate struggle to sustain forms of inner aliveness and self-connection that are increasingly under erasure in our achievement-driven society.