A Philosophical Love Poem: In Memoriam, Netta Scimecca 1924-2012

This philosophical poem is my attempt to do honor, in my own voice, in my own medium, to a love of which it is beyond the ability of words to describe. What follows is an attempt to describe, portray, and give rise to hope in a darkest hour, that of the loss of my beloved Grandma, Netta Scimecca, a wonderful woman who changed my whole life, and whose love will live with me for all eternity. This love will inspire me for the rest of my life, and serve as a model, one which I can only hope to honor by my life in the future.

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the taoist value of “wu wei,” often translated as “inaction,” is often misunderstood to mean doing nothing, but really it means doing no unnecessary action, and not failing to do anything necessary. It really means sync with yourself and your contexts, and “sync” is really just another word for “tao,” often translated as “the way.” In physics, this is the concept of “least action,” the smallest expenditure of energy (often measured in spacetime distance) needed to harmonize changes in situation and context. we humans have very limited knowledge of ourselves and contexts, and so there is nothing harder than figuring out which action is in sync, which is why learning about self and context is a perpetual project to find wu wei, the action at each moment that is freely chosen from a set of fuzzy options, yet which manifests the maximal sync between location and context, and hence, the best option, with an internal necessity to it if the best possible, or the way, is to be maximally preserved. here the taoists are very similar to the greco-roman stoics, and spinoza their inheritor. for both, there is no freedom, all is already determined, but our knowledge is limited, so we always act as if free. and yet there is indeterminacy at each step, part of which is in us as well, so all is free going forward, though necessary looking backwards, the paradox of which is precisely the lived experience of time. the tao is balancing this, trying to find the action that deviates the least from the best, which is the path that brings best into sync what is needed in yourself and your world and their coming together to preserve the best, which is precisely this sync.

one could argue that whatever happens is according to “the way,” whether it is good or bad, destructive or constructive. in a sense, this is true, because whatever happens becomes a necessary stage to building the potential for the best that can come from it. but in another sense, the best is this perpetual potential for the better within what is. the way is hence simply what was in the past, but also the hope for the better and even the best in the future. it is both of these things, and the tension between hope in the future and fatalism in regard to the past is the tension we always feel in the present, what Nietzsche, quoting the stoics, would call “the love of fate,” amor fati. to love one’s fate is to transform whatever terrors strike us, whatever catastrophes occur, from the deepest horror to the hope for new birth. nothing feels more blasephemous, but nothing is more necessary. this is why t.s. eliot famously stole the notion that “april is the cruelist month,” because rebirth builds upon death. and nothing, nothing is crueler.

and yet it is our duty, our ethical duty, to look for the potential for the future in the ruins of the past, and from this to try to find the best path in the present. this ever moving goal is the way, and to sync with it is to take the least action from it, to depart from it the least, either by passivity or activity, and this is wu wei.

a pop culture summary of this notion in nice, tidy, maxim form was actually supplied by the voice of The Oracle in the wachowski brother’s ‘Matrix II,’ when she turns to Neo, as is on the cusp of a crucial decision, and she says, “You’ve already made your decision . . . now you need to understand why.” Understanding the necessities that lead to the ways in which ourselves and our contexts formed less destructive forms of sync in the past is the key to learning how to make more constructive forms of sync in the future.

why must sync be constructive? it doesn’t. things often come together in destructive and tragic ways, and horror and pain result. these are less perfect forms of sync, sync that is less in sync with itself, the tao that is less intensely the tao. for the tao is most intensely itself, the way most truly the way, when it increases its potential for increasing its intensity. this is when it is most in sync with itself, through the intertwining of its various aspects and their contexts within itthis is how the tao can be both a general and bare description of all that is, as well as an ethical duty, one which calls on us to know and know better so as to act and act better, even as we are realistic about the limits of any knowledge of the many types of larger contexts that surround us. we are always bound to act on partial information, partial understanding, and this is why we need to try to get an intuitive understanding of the forces which come to points of balance within us and through us. social forces, biological forces, each site of change in the universe is a fulcrum between networks of forces, each acting on each other, and each change indicates a potential fulcrum point emerging into actuality. wu wei is understanding what sort of fulcrum point one is within the forces which converge upon you, and what sort of fulcrum you can become. and to learn how to turn whatever happened in the past into a potential. no matter how hard this is.

the past is damned to necessity, and the future always blessed to be free, but the present is always tension between these, and sync is the most intense when it balances these for the best from any particular location within it. altering the past isn’t possible, but altering its meaning is, and in the interplay between fact and interpretation of the past lies the hope for the future that lies within every present. finding the tao in all this, means to take the course of action which is least in deviation from it, or which is in accord with “wu wei.” this is why there is an ethics of listening here. listening to oneself, gauging how one reacts, and learning oneself like one learns a musical instrument, so you learn how to better play oneself. and one’s context is the orchestra, one needs to learn to sync instrument and orchestra. and sync doesn’t mean that one should conform, for the most dissonant harmonies might produce the most vitally intense music. only the deepest understanding of the relation between oneself and one’s context, in the fullest sense, including various layers of contexts in past, future, and present, can get a sense of what that might be. and since we can never get a sense of this larger context from our limited perspective within it, we are always left to produce educated guesses. ethics, epistemology, and ontology come together here, as duty, learning, and the world, intertwined as networks within networks. the duty to learn what could be best from within what is, and to keep trying to learn this.

in network ethics, this is the fundamental maxim: let all your networks operate at maximum robustness.” All your networks are all your contexts, to the degree they are relevant to each other, and maximum robustness is the best, the most constructive, form of sync with these contexts. the links between greco-roman stoicism, spinozist pantheism, and classical taoism are the fountains from which network ethics tries to drink, in its attempt to speak to the situation of networks in our locations in spacetime, namely, ourselvesor just me. a philosopher is a person who describes how the whole looks, even if from the limited perspective of just right here, in the hope that their needs might sync with that of others. the language needs to be general enough to apply to others, but specific enough to speak from a location, the location one is at in time, culture, history, society, biology, etc. a philosopher is someone who tries to productively blur the ability to tell the difference between their own perspective and that of the whole. the result is a hybrid of the impossibility of ever seeing the whole, and the hope of acheiving this impossible task from where one is. the result is always partial, yet speaking in a voice that attempts to see, even just in some little way, a universal, even if one which is of the universality of partiality. the paradoxical task of the philosopher is similar in this way to that of each one of us. for we all try to find wu wei, least action, sync, by acting based on our best interpretations of what the whole might look like, even as we know we only see right here.

in this sense we are all philosophers, and philosophers who write their thoughts down are simply those who try to become a voice for something larger than themselves, what Deleuze channelling Kafka would call “a people yet to be born.” an “us” who could see the world a certain way, from a certain location, such that this understanding could help us make the world one tiny bit better, more instensely and constructively in sync with itself, and us in relation to it, from right here and now. this is hope in the face of terror, the most terrible embrace of the darkest in its merciless necessity, the attempt to find a pull of love and hope, one hopes, from within this.

in the darkest hour, when all light has gone, when all meaning has fled, there is the memory of love past that is a reservoir for the production of the new. philosophers have always asked the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and in many ways, this is the same question as whether or not life is worth living. these questions can only be answered circularly, with each circle also part of a spiral, with a direction. life is worth living because should be, for life is a gift of something rather than nothing, and any value we derive has to come from this, because from where else could it come? love must win, because it has won, and we know this because, in the darkest moment, there is memory of it that can give birth to love again, through the pain that come about whenever sync falls out of sync with itself. love is the gift of hope within the universe, and it is our duty, ethically speaking, to believe in it, and believe in it more intensely by searching for it even when it seems gone, because only this search can give hope to the possibility of its return, and in the process, lead to the the possibility of this itself. and this, in a sense, is how we love ourselves and our world, even when things are darkest. a cold, difficult task, but one that slowly we must do, must let ourselves do, so that life will not die out forever each time a sun goes out. and each sun that goes out takes with it a whole world. love cherishes each one, caresses the past, while cruelly looking forwards. and one day, we will be caressed in this way as well, after having hopefully done our part within the orchestra as well.

and if we played our part, did we make it better? did we keep this love at the forefront, even when hardest? did we search for it, with tools intellectual and emotional, actual and imaginary, rational and paradoxical to whatever standards of these things we have? did we do our best, to find the best, in the worst? it is our duty to honor the best of the love of the past in our actions in the present that give rise to the future. a philosopher is any person who realizes this, and we are in this sense all philosophers. but a philosopher who writes these things down does so in the hope of being able to live up to their own words, and in the hope of finding the best words to instill the best hope in themselves and others, in the strange particular-universal, or what Hegel would call ‘concrete universal,’ that is the voice of the philosopher in language. how can we use language to do honor, to love the love that the past gave us, to do it honor, to caress it and care for it as purely as we can, without dying with it when it leaves and becomes past? for only by facing the future can we love ourselves the way the love of the past loved us. this is a difficult, painful lesson. but the love of the past loves us too deeply to let us remain only in the past. letting oneself see the future again in the face of the darkest, this is what the love of the past does for us in allowing us to hope again, and to begin to search for the best path in the present.

I write these words, in the strange voice of the way philosophers write, the particular-universal. so paradoxical, yet so necessary as a continually obsolete way to describe one’s search for sync. I write these words on the death of my dear grandma, who gave me love beyond bounds. I write these words in my pain at her loss. I write these words from the loss of meaning of the whole world from this loss. and I write these words in the knowledge that her love wants me to love life, here and now, and in the future. and this will sustain me to give meaning again to my world, even as it was robbed, brutally, by the mistakes of doctors and a broken system of care. can the voice of the philosopher do honor to the memory of a particular love that knew no bounds? only paradoxically so, it seems to me. my pain knows no bounds, because her love knew no bounds. a philosopher is one who tries to make meaning, meaning of the whole from where they are, right here and now. in the hope that this meaning can help themselves, and maybe others, and hence, the paradoxical voice of the particular-universal, of the “us” and the “we” in relation to the very limited “I” that actually speaks to, in, and through this potential “us” and “we.”

philosophers, as Deleuze says, are creators of concepts. what good can concepts do for a love so deep, and so particular, and yet is no more? concepts can extend this love, but at great cost, by making it into potential for oneself and others. this of course feels like giving back to this love while betraying it. any words that try to give meaning to the meaninglessness of pain and suffering will always do this. all attempts to create art from personal suffering always only succeed as art to the extent that they produce heresies that are true and yet false to what produced them. only if art made from suffering is untrue to its source can it speak to others who didn’t know this particular cause, and yet only if the particular is universalized can give rise to new life in this way. this is why good art comforts us so in these times. it speaks to the universality of the particular, and the particularlity of our universal, to put this in Hegelian terms. And yet, from a Nietzschian perspective, concepts are, like all language, like all expression, lies, and yet, the only hope for truth, deeper truth, produced from lies more true than the true. Science, art, philosophy, these are so many discourses of concepts, attempts to make meaning, to give rise to practices that can help us be in sync. If science is the most directly oriented to action, and art the most distant, infused with dreams and hopes of the possible both desired and terrible, then philosophy sits between these draws from these, neither art nor science, but a little of each, a method of infusing hope and fear within action, infusing ethics with knowledge of what is, and infusing what is into the language of our fears and dreams.

which is why each time I try, in this philosopher’s voice, to speak my personal pain in all its particularly, to do homage to this particular love, I betray it, and only in this way can it speak to others. I was there, giving a eulogy in front of my family, trying to weave together all the little details that will keep my grandmother alive in their memories. I have spoken to hundreds, and in so many venues, yet no speech was ever harder to compose, and no anxiety more deep than this. because I needed to deliver the words that could best help to heal a pain that cannot be healed, to which words will never be able to speak. the loss of each world is infinite, and words and deeds are finite. the task then was to speak the words that were most in sync with the needs of those in pain, in this context. a task that required an ethical relation to what is done and said, and required wu wei in relation to the horror of what was.

what can one who tries to be a philosopher or a therapist do in such a situation? when all attempts will fail, but some more than others? an infinite task for a limited person with limited knowledge in terrible circumstances.

a love that is infinite, that gives of itself until it is no more. how can one ever do justice to this? a love as imperfect as it is pure? so frail and human as eternal? each love like this is a star that shines to infinity, and yet, only for those finite expanses within its range in space and time. we will all become this. for the hope in the world, its gift to us, proceeds only by way of pain, and of death. evolution is the evilest of task masters, it produces what it feels best from piles of the dead. nature is as brutal and evil as it is beautiful and creative. even if it is one small bit more good than evil, there is hope, and from this, we must derive our call to make it better. this is the love that is infinite, the hope for us all in the darkest. we have been evolved to value this, because it is all that can be valued, and all human compassion and empathy, all animal and vegetable and mineral care, is a product of this. love gives rise to more love, but only in and through pain. likewise, pain gives rise to more pain, but only in and through love. a terrible calculus that plays with our lives and sufferings like boats tossed on the sea in a storm. evolution thinks in the aggregate, and we feel the pain in the particular. where can we find meaning in all this?

the passion of love is the hope. for if ever there was this sort of goodness in the world, it can be again, and must be. the memory of love gives hope that one can live up to the memory of this love, and shine a refraction of it on others. the memory will produce a standard of care for ourselves and those around us, provide a model of empathy for ourselves and our world. give rise to hope. and help us, in our darkest moments, to learn how to better love ourselves and others.

philosophers who write are those who write these words to produce models for themselves, and maybe others. we set tasks for ourselves, produce models that we then have to live up to, because we state them in public, and in this way, more deeply to ourselves. the model of love shown me by my grandmother, I can immortalize here in script, and set as a task for myself, and in that way, attempt to honor in my doings in life in the future. so that oneday, my love will inspire that of others, and I will know it is my way of giving my grandmother some small sense of worldly immortality, beyond my memory. Whitehead speaks of the “objective immortality” of all actions, the universe as a near infinite recording device, in which nothing is ever lost, but always contributes to whole in which no part is ever completely forgotten. but some are more forgotten than others. to remember, that is to inscribe something deeper. to do honor, that is to say that there was something here, some love, something of the best, that needs to increase, and to which our fidelity to the event, as Badiou would say, is the only ethical response which can produce a true relation to the world. To have fidelity to the event of a particular love, yet speak the language of bare, cold universality, this is part of the task of those philosophers who write. To pull meaning from meaninglessness. To do honor to love that shines infinitely from the past, and extend it in some small way in the future. To caress a love whose time has passed in the best way I know how.My grandma, my dear love of my life, light in my world, sun in my sky, apple of my eye. You never read philosophy. You never knew why it gave me so much joy, or why I needed it to make sense of life. But you understood human pain, because you felt it, and in your care for me, your unconditional giving and love, you showed an empathy so deep it changed my life. How can I ever repay this infinite debt? How can I ever express what you meant and mean to me? There is no way. But I’m no poet, nor painter, nor singer, at least not in the traditional ways. I can only give you an offering in the medium I know best. Words spoken in this strange, hybrid discourse, never pure and never false, yet always hoping to move from better to best, to strive for the tao in the terrible. I can speak best in the words of the philosopher who writes, and who writes in an attempt to be therapeautic. Nietzsche believed philosophers were cultural physicians, and in times of loss, one needs to heal oneself first. I can only do this, it seems, by speaking in language accessible to others, because that is how I make meaning of my world best.

And so here is my poem of memory, my paen, my song and picture of my grandma in the language I am best trained to speak. A philosophical therapeutics, which is the only type of each that it seems to me should matter, for all good therapeautics relies on learning, and all learning orients one towards the past and future and aims for sync and the best. All good philosophy is an act of love, and all acts of love have their implicit philosophy. I know none of this will bring my dear grandmother back, ease my family’s collective pain, or even properly do honor to her memory. I feel the guilt of betrayal simply by trying to speak to others of this, even though I’m speaking in some ways most to myself. But it is the way I know best to sing, to paint, to cry. This poem, this love song, is the best I can give to the best I’ve known. It is as imperfect and flawed as I am. It is an attempt to return flawed yet infinite love to flawed yet infinite love through the stark gate of the finite.

One cannot start or end a poem like this, for it only goes on. My love, my memorial, an attempt to extend and learn from the love of my grandma to me in the past. My life and my song, can only try to breathe this love from you into those around me in the future. In small acts of kindness, and sillinesses like these words. I knew where to start these words, but I feel I cannot end, because to end is to be finite, to come to a conclusion. And I don’t want to let you go. Just know, across the void, that I saw your gift. I received your gift of love. And I will try to live up to it for the rest of my life.

This philosophical poem is written as an attempt to produce meaning from the most meaningless, senseless tragedy. The silencing of a world. So many have been silenced before. This world was my grandmother’s, and it was the light in mine. I can hear her voice now, “I don’t want you to be too upset, don’t take it so hard, my Chris.” Only to those who knew this person so intimately is this loss so profound. And so I can only share it this pain with others by obscuring that which made it to personal. Even the details, like the food still in my house that she sent me, that reminds me of her with every bite, is mentioned here simply so that others can find analogues in their own life. We can only share pain, and love, by finding forms we can share, what T.S. Eliot called “objective correlatives,” though there is hardly anything objective about what is shared between limited beings who only share some parts of their worlds.

how can I give my grandma a gift, when even in my own words, it is her who keeps doing the giving? I can only try to channel what she showed me to others, and do it with “wu wei,” the attempt to deviate the least from the best of the best in what she showed me, what she revealed to me of the love that is possible in this world. that is fidelity, honor, to the event of love. to the best of the best that is within this world. the task I set for myself, to which I can only do my best.

within each aspect of our world, there is potential infinity. to believe in this, that is faith, for there is no proof, other that the hope that the potential for love, goodness, and the best within this world will always have more potential to grow. this is the faith in hope that love inspires. Kafka famously said, “there is hope, only not for us.” there is a deep truth here, for when things look darkest, this is how the world appears. but equally true is that “there is infinite hope, and only for us.” infinite hope that springs from the faith in what love showed us in the past is what can give rise to new love in the future, and the potential to increase love that this brings. Love can lead to an increase in love, infinitely, if we have faith in this love to give rise to hope anew.

within each world an infinity, and with each world, dies an infinity. our debt to these worlds is infinite, yet more infinite in the intensity of their love for us, from which the potential for more live springs more intensely. love and pain, construction and destruction, we each contribute in our way.

but our life changes when we see an event of love. an infinite infinitely more infinite than any we have yet to encounter. a new quality of quantity. one which gives us hope and faith in love to come.

My grandma, my dear, sweet grandma, my pain of my loss of you knows no bounds. My sorry words cannot properly sing your song. But I can only hope my life can. Your greatest gift to me was showing that a love like this was and is possible. Let me honor it all I can, with all I know how, with all my soul.

This philosophical poem is my attempt to do honor, in my own voice, in my own medium, to a love of which it is beyond the ability of words to describe. What follows is an attempt to describe, portray, and give rise to hope in a darkest hour, that of the loss of my beloved Grandma, Netta Scimecca, a wonderful woman who changed my whole life, and whose love will live with me for all eternity. This love will inspire me for the rest of my life, and serve as a model, one which I can only hope to honor by my life in the future.

Grandma Netta and I, around 2010


~ by chris on February 23, 2012.

One Response to “A Philosophical Love Poem: In Memoriam, Netta Scimecca 1924-2012”

  1. whose brilliance and depth of compassion emerges here? Yours? Hers?, Maybe all of us together as a single heart that beats itself out with love.

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