Feeling panoptic

One of my favorite philosophical feelings is looking out on the world and seeing every relevant problem roughly settled. Unknowns and dangers remain, but everything is in its place, doing what it must do and ought to do.

I think this is the feeling happy old men have when they walk around on land they own and love.

It may be the ideal mood of introverted sensation (of the Jungian personality typology).


I’m calling this mood and this sense of things panopsis. (ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from Greek panoptos ‘seen by all,’ from panoptes ‘all-seeing’ + –ic .) The optical root of the word is key.

The kind visualizations I do, when successful, induces panopsis in regard to a problem and how to go about thinking about it.


Panopsis might be a gentle form of ideology, or it might be the worst kind of ideology in larval form. It might be fundamental to sanity, or it might be something more ominous. The morality around this state of mind is problematic for me.


According to Buber:

The Greeks established the hegemony of the sense of sight over the other senses, thus making the optical world into the world, into which the data of the other senses are now to be entered. Correspondingly, they also gave to philosophizing, which for the Indian was still only a bold attempt to catch hold of one’s own self, an optical character, that is, the character of the contemplation of particular objects.

According to Levinas:

In religions and even in theologies eschatology, like an oracle, does indeed seem to ‘complete’ philosophical evidences; its beliefs-conjectures mean to be more certain than the evidences – as though eschatology added information about the future by revealing the finality of being. But, when reduced to the evidences, eschatology would then already accept the ontology of totality issued from war. Its real import lies elsewhere. It does not introduce a teleological system into the totality; it does not consist in teaching the orientation of history. Eschatology institutes a relation with being beyond the totality or beyond history, and not with being beyond the past and the present. Not with the void that would surround the totality and where one could, arbitrarily, think what one likes, and thus promote the claims of a subjectivity free as the wind. It is a relationship with a surplus always exterior to the totality, as though the objective totality did not fill out the true measure of being, as though another concept, the concept of infinity, were needed to express this transcendence with regard to totality, non-encompassable within a totality and as primordial as totality…

The eschatological vision breaks with the totality of wars and empires in which one does not speak. It does not envisage the end of history within being understood as a totality, but institutes a relation with the infinity of being which exceeds the totality. The first ‘vision’ of eschatology (hereby distinguished from the revealed opinions of positive religions) reveals the very possibility of eschatology, that is, the breach of the totality, the possibility of a signification without a context. The experience of morality does not proceed from this vision – it consummates this vision; ethics is an optics. But it is a ‘vision’ without image, bereft of the synoptic and totalizing objectifying virtues of vision, a relation or an intentionality of a wholly different type – which this work seeks to describe.

I didn’t abandon Levina because I thought he was wrong.

But then, according to Nietzsche:

What is romanticism? – Every art, every philosophy may be viewed as a remedy and an aid in the service of growing and struggling life; they always presuppose suffering and sufferers. But there are two kinds of sufferers: first, those who suffer from the over-fulness of life – they want a Dionysian art and likewise a tragic view of life, a tragic insight – and then those who suffer from the impoverishment of life and who seek rest, stillness, calm seas, redemption from themselves through art and knowledge, or intoxication, convulsions, anesthesia, and madness. All romanticism in art and insight corresponds to the dual needs of the latter type, and that included (and includes) Schopenhauer as well as Richard Wagner, to name the two most famous and pronounced romantics whom I misunderstood at that time – not, incidentally, to their disadvantage, as one need not hesitate in all fairness to admit. He that is richest in the fullness of life, the Dionysian god and man, cannot only afford the sight of the terrible and questionable but even the terrible deed and any luxury of destruction, decomposition, and negation. In his case, what is evil, absurd, and ugly seems, as it were, permissible, owing to the excess of procreating, fertilizing energies that can still turn any desert into lush farmland. Conversely, those who suffer most and are poorest in life would need above all mildness, peacefulness, and goodness in thought as well as deed – if possible, also a god who would be truly a god for the sick, a healer and savior; also logic, the conceptual understandability of existence – for logic calms and gives confidence – in short, a certain warm narrowness that keeps away fear and encloses one in optimistic horizons.

Thus I gradually learned to understand Epicurus, the opposite of a Dionysian pessimist; also the “Christian” who is actually only a kind of Epicurean – both are essentially romantics – and my eye grew ever sharper for that most difficult and captious form of backward inference in which the most mistakes are made: the backward inference from the work to the maker, from the deed to the doer, from the ideal to those who need it, from every way of thinking and valuing to the commanding need behind it.

Regarding all aesthetic values I now avail myself of this main distinction: I ask in every instance, “is it hunger or super-abundance that has here become creative?” At first glance, another distinction may seem preferable – it is far more obvious – namely the question whether the desire to fix, to immortalize, the desire for being prompted creation, or the desire for destruction, for change, for future, for becoming. But both of these kinds of desire are seen to be ambiguous when one considers them more closely; they can be interpreted in accordance with the first scheme (which is, as it seems to me, preferable). The desire for destruction, change, becoming, can be an expression of an overflowing energy that is pregnant with the future (my term for this is, as known, “Dionysian”); but it can also be the hatred of the ill-constituted, disinherited, and underprivileged, who destroy, must destroy, because what exists, indeed all existence, all being, outrages and provokes them. To understand this feeling, consider our anarchists closely.

The will to immortalize also requires a dual interpretation. It can be prompted, first, by gratitude and love; art with this origin will always be an art of apotheosis, perhaps dithyrambic like Rubens, or blissfully mocking like Hafiz, or bright and gracious like Goethe, spreading a Homeric light and glory over all things. But it can also be the tyrannic will of one who suffers deeply, who struggles, is tormented, and would like to turn what is most personal, singular, and narrow, the real idiosyncrasy of his suffering, into a binding law and compulsion – one who, as it were, revenges himself on all things by forcing his own image, the image of his torture, on them, branding them with it. This last version is romantic pessimism in its most expressive form, whether it be Schopenhauer’s philosophy of will or Wagner’s music – romantic pessimism, the last great event in the fate of our culture.

(That there still could be an altogether different kind of pessimism, a classical type – this premonition and vision belongs to me as inseperable from me, as my proprium and ipsissimum; only the word “classical” offends my ears, it is far too trite and has become round and indistinct. I call this pessimism of the future – for it comes! I see it coming! – Dionysian pessimism.)


It might be possible to dismiss Levinas as a romantic pessimist if I view him through Nietzsche’s optic. However, this type of dismissive viewing is precisely what Levinas is calling into question in his work, and I cannot shake off that question. But hermeneutically engaging romantic-pessimist thought… is it dangerous or unhealthy? I think it probably is. I’ll return to Levinas when I have happiness to waste.

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