Algis Mickūnas: Judging Civilizations by Integral Beauty

pagal | 2011 07 07

Pristatome profesoriaus Algio Mickūno tekstą „Judging Civilizations by Integral Beauty“ („Vertinant civilizacijas pagal integralų grožį“), kuris publikuojamas pirmą kartą. Teksto pabaigoje rasite įžangos vertimą į lietuvių kalbą.

 I N T R O D U C T I O N

Many ways have been and will be offered to understand and judge what is beautiful, what are the images to which artists, literatures, advertisers, and beauty salons must aspire. Young boys and girls strive to emulate the looks of their heroes and starlets, the poses and styles of attire, the diets, exercises, and modes of comportment required to be at least acceptable if not a pure embodiment of an image; middle aged men and women are offered various “rejuvenation” treatments, enhanced by the new priestly caste of psychologists and psychiatrists, empowered to hear the confessions of their clients about the sins of eating a piece of cake, and all designed to makes them look “beautiful.” All of these efforts, the images posted, the descriptions proposed are variations of the founder of Western metaphysics – Plato. There must be, according to him, “beauty in itself” that allows us to recognize the various degrees and levels of advancement we have reached of embodying what is the ultimate – men with their Olympic bodies and women with the grace of Aphrodite. Even Socrates, according to Thomas Mann, was lured not by truth, but by the athletically sculpted bodies of young men, despite the lessons Socrates received from Diotima. Here we find eros confronted by libido, a confrontation that still haunts contemporary world.

Then there is the other story, accepted globally although devised by Western modern and postmodern rhetoric: all standards, including those of beauty, are cultural, discursive constructs whose longevity hardly lasts till the next invented style, or an introduction of some image from an “exotic other.” In brief, standards are not only relative, but even relativity is relative. If you wish, ask any postmodern writer, even philosophy is no longer a search for such boring things as truth, but a competition to construct something more interesting than what is being offered as “the latest.” Would it not be beautiful if we all could become bugs per Deleuze? After all, Castaneda constructed an entire anthropological industry while sitting in a library, describing how an exotic tribe had a secret wisdom, enhanced by mushrooms and meditation that allowed one to become a bird. “Come and fly away with me.” The shamans of such a little tribe would be television stars and great teachers – an epitomy of postmodern philosophy, where even Kafka could not rival. This means then, that every constructed image is as interesting or boring as the next, and no one can tell anyone else which new standard to follow. In brief, despite the joyous proclamation that the subject is dead, there appears a more virulent psychological subject with numerous biological “desires” in the guise of “cultural unconscious.” This is to say a real modern scientized subject, valued for its subjection to and aspiration to reach the ever changing standards. What could one hope to add to this plethora of all possible possibilities?

R A R E   E N C O U N T E R S

Across the street from Posada de los Proceres, The Tenth Zone of Guatemala City, she sits all day on an edge of a sidewalk, with a playful child, perhaps three years old. She is attired in someone’s discarded skirt and old woolen sweater – found most likely in a dumpster of some middle class neighborhood – otherwise barefoot, although her hair is combed and face – clean, with obvious Mayan features. She has a shoebox next to her for “donations” but she does not beg. For society she is of no value and for the passing public even a nuisance. What is remarkable about her is the way she regards the passing public: there is not a hint of subservience, self degradation, of being beneath the rest of humanity. Her look is “dignified” and proud, open and honest. The donations that are placed in her box are received with a slight nod of recognition but without a look of gratitude or subjection: noble to the core, she never extended a begging hand to the “rich” foreigner, smoking a cigar, across the street next to the Posada. Through all her povery and complete lack of social value, living on the border of civilization, she was the most beautiful person in her city. After all, there were graceful Spanish dancers attired in exotic costumes, in sumptuous clubs, fine ladies at receptions of important persons, and even swaying, exotic young women parading their body parts for consumers – all valuable members of civilized society, but none of them could match this discarded silent woman’s beauty. Her dignity, nobility and self respect was a reminder of human worth beyond the price of social value. To speak with Kant, she was an “esthetic thing in itself” that would provide a standard of human beauty for a fleeting, although eternal moment.

This beauty of self worth, as a discovered given, appears not only through degradations and oppressions, but also through actions demanding mutual recognition of self and other. And it appears irrespective of culture, historical period, or social standing. Gandhi angered colonial rulers by his bearing, his dignity, his dignifying those who were at the lowest social rung, his demand that the colonial rulers have truthfulness and honor and thus made them recognize their own worth and not merely their value for the empire. Gandhi reminded all that the life world of an empire is illegitimate because it does not allow the fulfillment of the lived awareness of human worth. Hence he asked for legitimation of his own value in such a life world and whether he must rise to a transcendental level and reveal a crisis in his own life and that of the empire based on recognition of what is the ground of final human self awareness and all the values. While being an object of derision and quixotic depictions, he took the blows with dignity, demanding dignity from those who administered the blows. It is to be noted that he did not claim human self worth as a value of a specific culture, but as an unconditional and absolute ground that raises the question of legitimation of any life world and demands the fulfillment of transcendental awareness that correlates to self worth. Einstein once pondered the phenomenon of Gandhi by wondering that such a person could have walked among us. In face of the intrinsic self worth of this slight person, the British empire lost all of its moral, political, and military superiority. As angry Churchill fumed, how is it that a naked fakir could defeat the British empire. This slight person, placed at the limit of a vast empire, no athletic star, no stage personality, still appears as the true beauty of what a human is beyond all value.

Then we meet the founder of Western philosophy – Socrates – who walked the streets of Athens barefooted and owned one frayed robe. Although scholars locate Socrates as the relentless seeker of truth, i. e. categorical epistempologist, we must also recall that the first condition of the search for truth is honesty, dignity and respect for self and others, and honor, and a life world where a person can live in accordance with the demands of human worth. Only under these conditions can Socrates search for truth as a variant of self worth. After all, the search for truth was, for Socrates, a practical-existential commitment and activity of a good and truthful life. Thus Socrates, like many others, was an object of derision and caricatures. He accepted the Athenian verdict of death in order to show that his and others self worth demands a life world in which the search for truth cannot be forbidden. He placed his self worth as the good above his personal life and demanded that such a good should be a part of his life world. The decision by the jury to forbid Socrates his daimon, his eros, to “philosophize” was equivalent to a destruction of a life world in which his self worth once had a place. Socrates is compelled to face a crisis and reveal a crisis of his life world. He reaches and lives an awareness that places his entire life world into question and demands a decision: Is the life world, offered by Athenians, adequate to fulfill his self worth. In turn, have the Athenians, by their own action, degraded themselves to a level of social value where truth, dignity, honor, will have no place. After all, such a degradation to social value is obvious from the trial when Socrates is offered a chance to surrender his troublesome quest at the limit of Greek civilization and become a valuable citizen. Socrates offers, ironically, to accept a pension from the state for “whatever little services that he might render.” Here appears a depiction of the first crisis of democracy and Socrates reaches a lived awareness which demands a legitimation of the life world which is being offered to him. Can his lived awareness, correlated as it is to self worth, have any perceptual affirmation in such a life world? The latter, after all, demands self degradation and thus the denial of self worth. Socrates resolves the crisis by accepting the verdict of the Athenians with a warning: If you condemn me, my fame will spread far and wide; do not do this, because it will be forever a black mark on Athens. In other words, the splendor and beauty of Athens will be soiled, while Socrates will forever be beautiful. His life and death became a beacon across an entire Western civilization – forever on the edge, but also at the very center. Without beautiful Socrates humans might be subjected to a life of self degradation, living on their knees under a threat of punishments by sadistic divinities, their sons, and prophets. Socrates disclosed the beauty of human visage, bearing, and burdens in open light, and standing for all to see.

Great world literatures suggest this sort of beauty in the figures that are equally at the limit of civilizations – discarded but most troubling for lifeworlds full of grand and important personages. In many critical interpretations of literatures, judgments are offered as to the beauty of style, plot, linguistic mastery, psychological feelings and social standing of persons; but there is another dimension that warrants a second look. It is a way that some figures rise above the common standards and without any position or social value, without any voice among the power positions, they speak.

The struggle in Russian literature was and is between the immediately lived, but not thematized awareness of the “worth of the other,” expressed in sacral and secular modes of writing, and the world of traditional and Westernizing values. To understand this tension it is necessary to make a phenomenological distinction between constitution and construction. Constitutive awareness discloses a demand that either can or cannot be fulfilled in a given life world. The latter is a signitive interconnection of all events and objectivities, including a self interpretation of the subject as being in this life world. It is given as self evident and taken for granted that all events and objectivities in it are realities in their own right. Our economic, scientific and technical achievements are there for us because they are valuable. What is crucial is the recognition of “value” as an invariant in this type of life world and a separation of value from fact. Facts, for modern Western ontology, have no value. Hence, values are constructed and imposed by us on facts.

The great Russian literatures faced this Westernization and “modernization” and hence were written between two life worlds: one that was maintained as an established tradition, the other as a construct of Scientific and Political Enlightenments of the West. The former, the feudal-aristocratic was deemed to be decadent, corrupt by some and by others as spiritually superior although in need of revisions, specifically its serfdom. The West, while partially unknown and alien, was regarded as the bearer of ideas that would transform Russia and bring it into its proper place as a European nation. In this sense, the appearance in Russia of Western Enlightenment brought in various systems, from Romanticism to Materialism, but the ground of such systems is what has to be understood in order to disclose Russian challenge to Enlightenment and its own tradition. The Russian writers comprise a point of crisis between two worlds, such that the crisis transcends both and is a critique from a limit of that tradition.

For Russian writers the essence of the life world of enlightenment is centered on a process of valuation. Everything in the universe assumes a value to the extent that it serves human interests. The world, constructed by enlightenment, is full of values: labor theory of value (accepted and expounded by Radishchev), values for sale, values produced and to be produced, religious values, value of life and even calculated death. Persons are judged as to their value in the totality of these settings. Indeed, the basic mode of awareness is valuative selectivity. It has been argued that all these values are human and hence the primacy is placed on modern subject as the source of values and as a primary focus of fulfillment of needs.. This would hold if the human were a distinct and decisive category, wherein all other categories and processes were subservient to it. But this is not the case, since social values, from economy through politics make the human equivalent to the rest of values. Russian literature follows this trend as scientific modernization, expressed in writings of persons such as Turgenev, Chernichevski, Pisarov and others, where “objective” value constructs abound in the form of the new society. Lenin, of course, built an entire world on technical values and thus betrayed the genuine Russian revolution. But some writers, such as Herzen, and the anarchists such as Nechaev and Bakunin, have recognized the final ground of enlightenment: everything is a “temporal possibility” allowing the destruction of all constructed values and replacing them by an unlimited possible valuations beyond any social system. In principle, it is possible for us to be all that we will as valuable in time. This is enlightenment’s alpha and omega: empty temporal possibility and its temporal fulfillment by all that we value as our mode of finite being. Values are calculations of possible results realized solely as material. Thus Herzen and friends, and indeed Lenin, suspected that values signify instrumental interconnections – the totality seen by Levinas – but are not ends in themselves.

Realizing the vast sweep of scientific reification of all spheres of life, including, according to Khomyakov, Hegelian idealism, Russia is in a position to offer spiritual values. While the latter may stem from theological understanding, they are primarily found, according to Tolstoy and Kireyevsky, in the primacy of community of faithful whose tacit and intuitive awareness subtends the Western rationalistic abstractions. It is this constant reappearance of the background tacit awareness that escapes value construction and demands – without becoming thematic – an evaluation of all values, whether they are rationalistic or materialistic. There appears a lived awareness that traces a given, although not directly articulated presence, expressed in terms of Russian superiority in morality and spirituality and offered as a salvation for the decadent, materialist West. Tacitly lived, this “unintended presence” is central to the Russian crisis and offers a non-positional awareness illuminating and questioning the legitimation of two possible life worlds – Russian aristocratic tradition, and the sweep of enlightenment.

In Russian literature this “unintended presence” was seen as human intrinsic worth appearing as dignity, honor, truthfulness, self and other respect – an absolute. We should not despair while using the term absolute; after all, in all awareness there are such terms comprising a pregiven arche whose denial is its unavoidable inclusion. Any attempt to negate an arche is to include it in the very negation and hence to comprise its absolute affirmation. Confronted with the inadequacy of feudalism and aristocratic rule and the emergent iron age, Russian writers, beginning with figures such as Turgieniev and Chernichievski, moving through Kineyevsky, Belinsky, Herzen, Bakunin, Lavrov, Mikhailovsky Tolstoy and Dostoievski, Berdyaev, Shestov, Lossky, all the way to Gogol, had no choice but to place themselves between the two life worlds – the old and the new and thus to locate their writing as a point of crisis. The awareness of crises constitutes a unique reflective moment that, at the same time, allows a suspension of one’s participation in a given life world.

This must be made clear: our awareness is always world oriented and our orientations, or intentional directions find, in their life world if not total, at least partial perceptual affirmation. This is an epistemic aspect which takes for granted the division of our life world into categories and the way they are concretized or given perceptual fulfillment. This is the “totality” of Levinas’ explication and it is rooted in the primacy of the quest for Being. But the fulfillment of our taken for granted intentions and the categories to which they correlate, including the numerous value gradations – the epistemic understanding – leave out the legitimating question given in live awareness that something is not fulfilled, something that no totality of values can account for: human intrinsic self worth. What is more interesting is that Russian writers do not demand some privileged treatment for themselves, but always find the inadequacies of the two life worlds with respect to the self worth of the other, whether she is a peasant, a worker or an aristocrat. While living between two life worlds, Russian writers suspend both and were compelled to explicate the ground on which they could accept either one as capable of fulfilling the demands of intrinsic self worth. If honor, honesty, dignity and respect cannot be fulfilled in my activities with respect to others, then the legitimacy of this life world is placed in absolute question, revealing at the same time the absolute self worth of the other. At this juncture Russian literature recognizes that the world of values, constructed by Enlightenment and the world of decadent aristocracy require evaluation as to their adequacy for human worth – for its own sake.

In Turgieniev’s Fathers and Sons a question is raised as to the legitimation of the traditional Russian life world in terms of the value of the world of enlightenment, and this very question places the questioner in a crisis situation. While we may think that this provides a comparison for choice, in lived awareness there appears tacit presence that connects to a question: which life world would provide actual fulfillment of intrinsic worth. In the most degraded figures and the most elevated rebels there appears an intimation of self worth. Dostoyevsky gives back the key to paradise because the ruler of paradise values equally an innocent child and a decadent master. For the master, a favorite dog is more valuable than a child, and in the life world of feudal lords this is an acceptable standard. Dostoyevsky’s rejection is an affirmation of human worth for its own sake. He will accept eternal damnation but will not accept a life world in which violations of children are permitted. He raises an absolute question: is life worth living in a world where such a degradation of human worth is a standard, sanctioned and accepted by divine authority. The same quest appears clearly in Brothers Karamazov where the hell raising Dimitri recognizes self worth and acts honorably by first recognizing the dignity and honor of the other, the captain. After all, the latter is impoverished, has no social value, and thus this recognition is “for its own sake.” Only this recognition compels the captain’s son to allow his father to forgive Dimitri’s insults. Here we already find a beautiful presence both of Dimitri and the captain. At this moment of encounter, Dimitri is transformed from a bearer of raging hormones to a person with self worth.

Across Russian literature there is a presence pervading awareness that is akin to Kant’s thing in itself that possesses no purpose and no value, but is to be respected unconditionally. While enlightenment opened up an entire level of constructs called values, announcing that the thing in itself is unknowable, Russian literature is intent in showing that any question of legitimation of a given life world discloses a presence of self worth as a beautiful thing in itself.

This is accepted both by the “rationalistic” Westernizers, from Belinsky through Herzen, wherein the human is irreducible to scientific explanations, and the writers who emphasize Russian spirituality. Both reject the materialistic-rationalistic West as decadent, purposeless and even nihilistic despite its technical sophistication and extol the Russian man as a model of salvation. This model is distinguished from Western and Asiatic types by its striving, despite the Russian cultural veneer, to exhibit dignity, honor, and truthfulness in action. Thus, Mikhailovsky makes a distinction between types and levels of civilization. West may have a higher level of material civilization but Russia is a superior type due to its intuitive understanding of the personal dignity. Even Herzen and Bakunin, while living as exiles, extolled the superiority of the Russian type of awareness of this dignity. Indeed, all the social degradations imposed by serfdom as a traditional value gradation merely cover over Russian recognition of the absolute worth of a person. We cannot degrade a creature who, in its life world, does not recognize a need to justify its deeds, to make a choice between two life worlds; in short, to call a dog – dog, is neither a degradation nor a negation of intrinsic worth. Only another person can be degraded on the basis of recognition of her intrinsic worth. This is to say, degradation, reduction, insult, are possible only when we recognize hers and our own intrinsic worth, honor, and dignity. The outcasts, the exiles to Siberia who have lost all social value, still strive to exhibit dignity, honor, respect and thus reveal the final human position for its own sake that cannot be abolished even when threatened by death. This is the Russian positive negativity: Even at the pain of death I shall say no to a life world that does not allow human self worth to be fulfilled. Here the constitution of self worth is beyond life and death.

The Russian writers have something in common with Socrates because he and they were not professional philosophers but persons who demanded the recognition not only of their own, but of everyone’s unconditional self worth. And just as Socrates, all of them (with an exception of Tolstoy who, nevertheless, was excommunicated) placed self worth above their own safety, wealth, security, social position and were exiled, imprisoned, persecuted, and censored. They placed self worth above their life and dared to say no to their own and that of enlightenment’s life worlds. In this sense the claims that various Russian writers, inclusive of Chernichevsky, Turgeniev, and even Dostoyevsky were nihilists are wrong. Nihilism rejects the world of values and meaning without offering anything positive in their place. Not so with the Russian writers whose awareness of human self worth as an ethical good is the only viable position from which life worlds can be illuminated in essence and disclosed as to what kind of activity cannot be fulfilled. No doubt, they toyed with democracy and equality of all persons, but they also realized from their experience in the West that democracy was in crisis. West in general has abolished the public domain, where autonomous citizens could rationally debate public issues, by reducing it to the clashing sum of private interests and power confrontations. The rationality of Western man, as Dostoyevsky noted, is a façade under which there lurk all sorts of irrational drives, such as greed, envy, aggression and incivility. Hence, the notion of freedom and above all self worth can no longer be offered by the West.

Other literatures, such as the writings of Cervantes, also explicate the beauty of the figures that are at the limit of a civilization. Don Quichote is a unique figure: he is located also between two worlds – one of past and another, just coming into being. The former is premised on chivalry, nobility, honor, and truthfulness, while the latter is the age of iron. Don Quichote is inserted at the limit of two civilizations and is a being who belongs to neither. He is inscenating a civilization whose manners are left behind and using such manners to illuminate another civilization – crude, base, greedy, debasing, degrading, where all is for sale – in brief, a world in which everything has a value price. In this world it is impossible to speak of truthfulness, nobility, honor, self and other respect. In this world there is nothing beautiful – unless it is vulgar and vulgarity can be sold. The peculiar characteristic of Don Quichote is his lack of interest in theories, ethics, or knowledge. The ontological, epistemological and the ethical questions are set aside; he is on a quest to disclose in himself and others a beauty that shines through the crude layer of the iron age.

T A C I T   A W A R E N E S S

The point has been reached where a question of awareness of self worth can be answered. First aspect of this awareness is the possibility to extricate oneself from a specific life world. Second, the resultant disattachment, from this immersion, is the awareness of self worth demanding the possibility of world orientation that would answer the question of absolute legitimation of fulfilling in practice and action what the awareness always tacitly maintained as self worth. Third, it is to be noted that such awareness transgresses any specific life world, since any life world may offer partial-perceptual or signitive fulfillment of intrinsic self worth. Under any other circumstance, intrinsic worth would be an intentionality of a given life world, interpreted, for example as value, equivalent to other values, and hence a self understood part of such a world. In this context, the persons who were mentioned, whether Turgenev or Gogol, or even Socrates, articulate phenomena that disclose intrinsic worth and demand of us to recognize our degraded state. As already stated, the recognition of other’s intrinsic worth is equivalent to the recognition of our own and conversely. For Levinas this is the challenge of the other who demands of us to answer with truth, honor and dignity. After all, even “professional” philosopher such as Berdyaev parted both with Marxists who completely disregarded concrete persons, and with Kant because beyond duty there is worth and dignity of persons. For Berdyaev Marxist ethics were different for each social-historical period without providing a criterion by which to judge their worth. Resultantly, there must be an absolute standard.

What is more important is that the question of legitimation of a life world leads to an awareness of singular commitment, to a question of ethical existence and not knowledge. To understand this shift toward requirements of active existence we need to specify the transformation from epistemic understanding that depends on second and third grammatical persons, to person’s other and self understanding and the recognition that the latter is not a narrowing down of the epistemic categorical field but has a very different logic. For example, if categorical language has truth in perceptual fulfillment of a proposition, existential proposition has truth as an honorable act of not lying. Categorical language is designed to open some general characteristics, while existential is singular and unique, and even non repeatable. This kind of requirement is what led Levinas to posit the other as being beyond any categories. Thus Tolstoy’s testament of peace, of no participation in state’s activities that are demeaning of anyone impacted Gandhi to challenge without violence an entire life world of an empire. It questions the claim of this life world to be the only legitimate reality. This claim to sole reality appears only when the self worth becomes a foreground, enacted by a singular being in quest for an authentic fulfillment of self worth in a life world that at one stroke is made inactive, placed out of play. It is equally important to note that since the disclosure of self worth revealed it to be solely as activity and not accessible through categorical intuition, then honor, dignity, nobility, truthfulness and justice appear only as ethical enactment and hence have validity to the extent of their enactment for their own sake.

From what has been said, it is obvious how Levinas came to an early conclusion concerning the priority of the ethical over the ontological. The latter, pervaded by valuations, cannot yield the thing in itself, while the former, depicted in Russian literatures transcends, in its presence, all involvement in any life world and comprises intentionally inaccessible challenge to all ontological value without any power at its disposal. For Levinas therefore, the other is not an object of any intention of the self, is not a limit of the self, since the other for the self is absolutely separate. As was noted, the presence of the other in prisons, in Siberian exile to the guards or functionaries, was not a challenge of power, but of powerless dignity, honor, respect, what Levinas called hauteur in contrast to besoin. In a world of values and power, one does not know how to respond to such a totally other, whose presence, ala Levinas, is “infinition.” The only recourse that the ontological powers have in the presence of this “face” is the denial in oneself of this “height of the other” and a requirement for its destruction. This “valuless” presence is the ethical “thing in itself” and hence demands a priority over the quest for Being. It seems that phenomenologically speaking we have reached an insight that allows Levinas to offer an equivalence between the self and the absolute other. The other and self, as radically transcendent and absolutely different are equivalent in that difference. After all, the claim that in face of the other I am interrogated, that his face requires that I justify myself, speak in my own name and answer for myself, also demands a reversal wherein the other in face of me would have to regard me as the other, as totally alien and infinite. In Russian literature there is a constant appearance of the value laden self in the totality of Being who, in face of the other, is demanded to admit to his own transcendence and hence act honorably and accept his dignity and self respect. In this sense a presence of the other as an “ethical thing in itself” implies the presence of the self as equally an ethical thing in itself in its treatment of others and self.

The face (visage) is already found in various texts, including Dostoievsky’s, where the face of the impoverished and socially valuless captain, speaks powerlessly to Dimitri in dignity, honor, and respect, rejects all monitary value, and as “the other” demands recognition of his and of Dimitri’s self worth. The face is removed from and transgresses all powers and values. The removal does not allow the reduction of the other to an object or an implement and comprises a resistance to my wants. The face of the other abolishes my powers. Among all objects it transcends the world and thus it cannot be fully determined. Infinity that shines from the face of the other comprises resistance not because of its power, but due to its disarmament and powerlessness. Such a disarmed resistance is an appearance of ethics in Russian literature. Just as for Russian writers, for Levinas the face is not an expression of some interior state but a direct presence of the other prior to theoretical or moralistic interventions. Precisely the disarmed powerlessness, the poverty that comprise the dignity, the height and the imperatives of the other also comprises a first transcendent step for the self to recognize the priority of ethics over Being.

It is, then, the task to unfold the lived awareness that is compelled to bracket, to place out of action, the life world of enlightenment and to note the presence of this lived awareness across diverse phenomena. All the intentional orientations toward a life world in which she has been immersed appear to be groundless constructs; the life world of public domain, which is no longer maintained, requires and recognizes a presence of intrinsic self worth even in its denial. In the most degraded figures that our age has produced there appears an intimation of self worth. Let us look at the logic of intrinsic worth. In the life world where everything is a trash bin of values, there emerge personal actions and expressions that demand honor, dignity, respect, truthfulness, not only of themselves but of others. Indeed, their actions are equally an indication of intrinsic self worth of others. It would be impossible to be a racist and degrade others without recognizing the other as a possessor of intrinsic self worth. We cannot degrade a creature who, in its life world, does not recognize a need to justify its deeds, to make a choice between two life worlds; in short, to call a dog – dog, is neither a degradation nor a negation of intrinsic worth. Only another person can be degraded on the basis of recognition of her intrinsic worth. This is to say, degradation, reduction, insult, are possible only when we recognize hers and our own intrinsic worth, honor, and dignity. This recognition is the ground of numerous events of our sophisticated age, among which is racism, nationalism, ethnocentrism and even homophobia and religions. Degrading of others in an effort to elevate oneself, is an indication of the worth of others, an indication of our anxiety in face of the other’s intrinsic self worth, her unavoidable height. Unable to withstand the other’s self worth, we condemn her to death and thus prove that we are unwilling to admit our own self degradation, our own crisis, and cannot withstand the dignity of the intrinsic self worth of another. Such an awareness is demonstrated by Viktor Frankel’s depictions of life in concentration camps. This is an extreme case where the officers who ran the camps would immediately condemn to death anyone who showed self and other respect, dignity and honor, thus revealing the lack of honor and dignity in the very officers – and all degraded to a mere value for the state. This logic calls to the others to recognize the crisis in their lives, to legitimate the life world in which they live and to ask whether such a life world fulfills their lived awareness of their intrinsic worth. This is to say, the very presence of the other who is aware of her intrinsic worth performs a tacit phenomenological bracketing and hence challenges a blind inherence in this life world. One can then raise a question whether such a life world is worthy of one’s intrinsic worth.

Literatures, in this search for intrinsic worth, do not lag behind philosophy. They too reveal figures that are in crises and are demanded to extricate themselves from their life worlds in order to ask the legitimating question: is such a world adequate for intrinsic worth. Let us look at one of the Spanish works, Don Quichote. The main figure, in this work, is at a juncture of two worlds. One vanishing and the other emerging, one of knighthood, and the other of a new iron age. The iron age – the modern – is characterized by degradation, aggressiveness, crudeness, greed, cunning and calculation, where everyone acts with purpose and is out to get all he can in riches at any price. Language is debased and splits up into numerous practical-technical jargons, full of curses and complaints. Quejana already lives in this life world, yet he is engaged in reading literatures about knighthood, thus giving him an awareness of another life world. This awareness disclosed his position as swinging between, as being in crisis, and demands of Quejana to legitimate the life world in which he already resides. In this world everything has value to the extent that it serves all sorts of base demands, such as greed, selfishness, power, but fails to address, indeed excludes, actions that would be honorable, noble, vision of others as having self worth, truthfulness, and justice. These actions are those that belong to intrinsic worth, and they have no place in the iron age. Thus Quejana reaches a living awareness, direct experience, although perceptually not fulfilled in the life world of iron age, of another world, a contrasting life world, containing self worth. The latter calls for legitimation of the iron age life world in which Quejana happens to live. Can my self worth be enacted and fulfilled in an iron age? Can others be regarded, and be asked to regard themselves as having intrinsic worth? And this is when Quejana takes on the name Don Kichote and sets out to demonstrate what the iron age is missing. What is significant is the way that the crude, the degraded, the dirty become transparent with a nobility, grandeur, and honor of self worth. Through the farm maid, Aldonsa Lorenzo, shines Dulcinea, his neighbor, Sanson Carrasco, is revealed as a noble knight, worthy of honorable battle. Having encountered a possibility of another life world, Quejana finds himself confronted with an option to release himself from his life world and at the same time compelled to raise a question of legitimation of such a life world, i.e. does his life world allow an enactment of intrinsic self worth. Once more it is to be emphasized that this question does not have any relative boundaries. Quejana does not ask whether this life world is worth for me, since he, as an actor in this world belongs to, and is bound by it. Thus he must ask whether this life world of iron age is worth being in absolutely, leading then to his own existential question: if I have only one life, is such a life an authentic representation of intrinsic worth, if I were to live this life in the life world of iron age.

A survey of depictions of the feminine beauty in the great texts of Western tradition reveals an absence of seriousness. This is not to say that such texts purport to treat the matter lightly; to the contrary, the galaxy of writings analyzing and dissecting this beauty is inordinate. And yet it is the analytical dissection that abolishes its presence and force. The analytic assault on it disarms and robs it of its terrible danger. Indeed, penetrating analyses may be the easiest way of covering over and disarming a given phenomenon. Yet precisely the preoccupation to cover and hide, to subject it to rules and prohibitions, is what reveals its presence.1 The most serious depictions, therefore, are an avoidance and hiding of the most troubling. This may be the case with the feminine beauty. Was there another beauty that she reflected so overpowering, so terrible, that it had to be hidden, purified, and subdued to the extreme? 2 Indeed, this essay contends that Western philosophy, from Plato through Kant, has been a way of depicting the feminine beauty not only one-sidedly, but also in ways that attempted to insure its timidity and „purity.” Could philosophy, as a matter of its strive to transcend the fleeting, the material, the phenomenal, and the erotic, ever concern itself seriously with the feminine beauty?

Given this question, feminine beauty can hardly be grasped without a set of complex cultural relationships. The latter will be seen as reflective constituents that manifest the very force of, and the efforts to hide, her terrible beauty. The notion of reflection will have to mesh more closely with the ways that it appears in cultures and not as it is constructed by a presumed external and unpolluted posture. The latter may be a culturally available mode designed either to cover over or to escape from the terrible beauty.

The articulation of the terrible beauty in the context of cultural reflectivity, calls for the limitations of our claims and prejudgments that locate reflection in the subject. No doubt this is valid for the modern West’s depiction of the subject. But not all traditions, and indeed not all periods within a specific tradition, maintain this conception. The task of this essay is to decipher major modes of reflection and the gender with which they are usually associated. The association will not be taken in any ontological sense, i.e. the gender will not be regarded as some natural source, causing a specific mode of reflection, and thus a designation of what is feminine beauty.

Cultural studies reveal that reflection, even modern Western type, assumes one event or activity as either supervening over or subtending-pervading other events. This means that such events are articulated in diverse ways and need not be anthropomorphic. If there are modes of reflection which reveal human shape, they will not be given any preeminence. We shall exclude metaphysical questions whether cultural modes of reflection are instituted consciously-deliberately or are founded on some adduced theories of psycho-physiological compulsion.3 The reason for the exclusion of such considerations is dictated by methodological requirements of strict adherence to cultural phenomena. The emphasis on such adherence is called for to point out that even explanations of reflection might be an aspect of a socio-culturally accepted mode of reflection, having no necessary universality. It would be theoretically and methodologically misleading if this essay took for granted uncritically the symbolic conceptions as if they were „trans-cultural.” They too are a part of a given culture and must be located within cultural parameters. Taking the claims of some of the more radical turns of text analyses, such as those of the „deconstructionists,” it becomes essential to show that even such radicalism has its cultural location. This placing of phenomena (including texts) as functions of a field, is one of the fundamental methodological principles employed both by phenomenology and hermeneutics. The difference between the two is that the former employs this methodological prerequisite explicitly while the latter implicitly. Within the context of this essay, even deconstructionism constitutes a specific mode of reflection in a specific cultural field.

S I G N S   O F   R E F L E C T I V E   S U B M E R S I O N

The most encompassing mode of this reflection consists of the signs of „return to the origin.” The return has a specific requirement: dissolution of the separated individual into life, the original maternal energy. As origin, she is the reflective dimension which does not function signitively as would a concept or an object, but exercises a magnetic pull, an all pervasive attraction against whose temptations the individual must guard. The pull to dissolution is commonly manifested by the feminine; as the queen of heavens and earth, she cannot be resisted. Most desired, she is also the most terrible. The hetare, loved and despised for her attraction, was enshrined; Samiramis, Kandake, Dido, Kleopatra, Verma, are manifestations of life giving forces. Her beauty is no longer one of appearance. The latter is a mere artifice of allurement, a momentary mask that some cultures would require either to milden or intensify the presence of her force. The latter is the very beauty of life giving and renewing, and may appear as procreative drive and erotic attraction.

All that she produced, nonetheless, she threatens to engulf, take back, devour and dissolve. All that attractive beauty, the promise of life and joy, is coupled with the terrible submersion. She is the cradle, the womb, and origin of all the formations and transformations – a sustenance. She carries the lust to birth, the fruitfulness, and the dark mystery which never yields itself to light.4 This mystery pervades the sacral fruitfulness, and the calls to song and rite, orgy and celebration. Whenever we attempt to decipher the ORIGIN, we encounter depths into which we are inextricably drawn. Here we meet the cults of creation and not salvation. Ancient Dionysian rites call for no salvation and no salvific oil. The signs are those of theatrics, superfluity, metaphor, disregard to norm, but there are no signs of distance, appeal, supplication, and non-participation. It is a pantheism in which all growth is a force of reverie. Eros is here divine and all divinities are erotic, with all their fatal attractions. In a fundamental sense, her fruitfulness as all life was and had to be intertwined with sacrality, and her beauty had to be celebrated in awe and reverence. Every act of fruition had to be of cosmic significance, a nexus with the powers of fruition of the world. Through the maternal, the human is an extension, prolongation and an enhancement of the vital forces; the exchange of powers between the human and the cosmic events is taken for granted. Thus the acts of eros and libido are not yet erotic or sexual in the modern sense, but participate in a cosmic vivifying. Here the sexual act is a self-dissolving sacrifice, designed to empower life and not to exhibit ascetic self-denial.

The reflectivity that is here present is one of rescendence, a pull of dissolution, and not of transcendence that promises an escape from the dangers of the terrible beauty. One’s sexuality here is not destined to make one separate, satisfied, singular, in the exclusivity of one’s singular partner, but is constituted by the submergence in the vital-living; this reflection yields no distance. This is how the signs of sexual self-emulation should be read, i.e. the orgiastic cults in which the priests or seers sacrifice their phallus. The loss is not an ascetic surrender for achieving transcending reflection, but is a vivification of the origin which pervades all fruitfulness. The rescending reflection is an identification with the origin into which one merges. For example, the great festival of Astare in Hieropolis, reveals rows of males castrating themselves in a wild reverie in honor of the goddess; the priests of Cybele did the same.5 And these were not ascetic performances where one felt guilty, where one had some kind of VULVA ENVY in face of the goddess of fertility. They were inner reflections of the vital-maternal attraction: a dissolution of any singular function was a convergence into, and a spread of strength across all living process.

What is peculiar about these and similar depictions is that the sacral was not only erotic, but more fundamentally, vital and anti-singular. Even the erotic was not privatized, attributed to a singular personality. The orgiastic reverie is, after all, a choiceless intermixture, an anonymity of personalities, enacting at random – prepersonal but not problematic. There is no search for individuality or individual salvation. The individual is only a reflective mode which, in its orgiastic engagement, comprises a way of communicating without a distance, of being one with. Thus a sin in the reverie is the ASKESIS, the loyalty to one person, the lack of vitality and fruitfulness. The holy appears as the URWHORE, rejected by Lutherine asceticism without understanding this phenomenon. The rule of this reflection is a nonposessive call for self abandonment: SURRENDER YOURSELVES TO ONE ANOTHER, WITH AS MANY AS POSSIBLE, AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. Woman should not belong to one and dry up; eroticism, here, is not love or libido, but a break down of limits of singularization and exclussivity. Every woman is hetaric and so is every man, when he serves sacral life, the power of SHAKTI. Her beauty is bewitching and pervaded with the deepest wisdom. The bewitching beauty which cannot be resisted and into which the singular dissolves, is not feared, not yet terrible, but most welcome and desired. Only when the individuating consciousness appears, cloaked in masculine signs, that this beauty becomes both irresistible and terrible.

The dissolution of personal individuation is visible in the Persian celebration of ANAITIS where for five days all civic services and duties are suspended and where each person is free to be with any person without restrictions. During the nocturnal tumult each woman is Anaitis and every man is her servant. At the end of the festival man is sacrificed symbolically; it is not his person that is sacrificed, but his power of fruition that is relevant here. There were races between naked men and women, and when one caught the other, the act of consumation in honor of the divinity was immediate. Customs such as giving up of virginity to the entire public and not to one person reflect the vital participation and inner reflection of life. It could be said with justification that at this depth marriage, which singularizes, is against the vital sacrality. In numerous places the bride had to atone for marriage by sleeping with every guest before she could consummate her marriage with the bridegroom. This reflective turn is the source of hetarism, where the maidens at the temples were signs of dissolution of all rules, individuality, and inhibition. Indeed, after years of temple service, they were sought as brides by kings and princes; they were regarded as most worthy. Even daughters of kings vied to be part of hetarism. Their beauty appears precisely with the erotic power, reflecting an exuberant turn of the singular toward a dissolution into the all pervasive pulse of mother life. 6

The striving toward the release from selfhood is reflected in melting reverie, and various functions are regarded as means for the attainment of dissolution: wine, dance, song. It is no accident that Dionysos is a divinity of wine, eroticism, and orgiastic reverie. The excitement brought about by wine, dance, has a disruptive effect, leading to dissolution. All such means are reflective upon the region of vitality. The characteristic state in this sacrality is an intoxication, a loss of senses and a shifting of consciousness away from self awareness. In the grip of ekstasis the word rises to chant and the step to dance. The eros of Dionysos originates with dance, music, and reverie, and has an accepted reflective power of dissolution of personality, and a breakdown of cohesion. At the erotic level, every singular act, every effort to maintain an individuality, flows, breaks up and leads on, i.e. becomes diacritical without a hold; but such erotic acts are not yet sufficient to reflect the hold of the vital, the pre-erotic, which does not break up into a debris of scattered and disconnected wallowings, but inevitably manifests a presence of positivity, of vitality that dissolves singularity. The very movement of dissolution is the terrible, reflecting, at the same time an inescapable beauty and power of attraction, an inability to assume an individuated consciousness. At this vital reflective juncture one finds a total positivity, a persistence, a sacral origination, a presence, an insistence.7 Although the postmodern tradition uses eroticism as signs of differentiation and deconstruction, it fails to grasp eroticism as a reflection upon a background of positivity without distance. This rescending reflection opens eroticism not as frustration, sublimation, lack of fulfillment, a cry signifying negativity as a difference from the signified; rather it reflects a presence of positivity where fulfillment is not a calculated gratification of singular desires to be savored and verbalized, but a yielding to a pull pervading the erotic. Such calculations would be a transcending reflection that opens a moment of negativity and an effort to deconstruct the feminine erotic. Yet such an effort is a constant failure in face of the pull of vital positivity. One may well suspect that the deconstructive practice is a last effort by patriarchy to purify the terrible beauty of the maternal domain. It is this transcending reflection that allows one to posit eroticism as a force of differentiation in a post modern West.8 The rescending reflection derails the transcending movement of negativity through music, rhythm, dance, eliciting the madness of pulsating powers. There is pervasive evidence suggesting that Indian music, appearing to Western ear as monotonous, is in fact MONOTONIC and manifests rescending reflection, showing a MONISM of immersion, melting and depersonalizing. Essentially speaking, erotic reflectivity, sacral ritual, musicality, intoxicatiion, show the melting presence of positivity and vitality. Shamanism is perhaps one of the more salient modes of this reflective intimacy with the secrets of the origin. At times it is expressed in terms of the classical Greek meaning of POIESIS as an active production but not as a leisurely occupation.9

Then come the beautiful ladies who set up entire worlds and demanded that persons within them live in accord with the tautogorical requirements. First, there is the divine Sapho, who establishes education for girls; the demand to live in accordance with erotic pride, passionate honesty, and creative truthfulness, makes her beautiful, sets her apart from the Greek world of strife and cunning. Between childhood and marriage, the girls are elevated to understand their worth not as future wives or lovers, but as “woman’s reality in itself” prior to any social value or function. Sapho’s own writings reveal her self regard as a way of illuminating and bringing to light the self regard of her young charges. She spreads her attitude and existential commitment across the lives of all she encounters and reveals the passionate beauty in all. This is to say, she does not offer a gift of things, but of a priceless world in whose light all things acquire luminescence. Hers is a cosmic destiny.

Not far behind Sapho, is Athene, the goddess who was born to follow the paternal lineage, but who challenges both – the primacy of the maternal and the paternal and, in an ansurpassed historical moment in humanity, she sets up a human world independent of earthly and heavenly powers – and becomes the image of this world. To solve all human issues, she demands that without any aid from external influences, from any legitimating sources, frail and erroneous as they are, humans must take charge of their own destiny and become responsible for their own deeds. The conditions for such responsibility is honor, dignity, truthfulness – all the way to Socratic search for truth, giving birth to great philosophical debates, and a daring to admit and correct mistakes. The beauty of Athena flashes at the moment when she illuminates human essence and demands that humans live in accordance with it – in self and other respect. Her city – Athens – is the symbol of light and beauty, commitment to freedom and free defense of human worth.

While India could boast many beautiful ladies, there is one that comprises a moment illuminating her beauty and the noble beauty of others – Mahabarata’s Draupadi. While being the conjunction of all the cosmic dimensions, from Shakti, through Kama, Lila, Kali, through Maya, Agni, and capable of making sport of and ruling men’s passions by her terrible beauty, she becomes an outcast, a helpless prize of gambling wherein the winners drag her before the royal assembly to be completely disrobed and degraded. From a position of royalty to an outcast – at the limit of civilization. Yet it is at this limit that her beauty illuminates the life world of India, depicted in Mahabarata. The ruling aristocracy is bound by honor to uphold dharma – the ultimate law of noble, truthful, respectful life, a life that is not of statements but of deeds – and yet these aristocrats fall prey to their own passions, greed for power and glory, jealousy and degradation of a person they swore to protect – Draupadi. She stands before them no longer as the fire of Kama, the irresistible force, but disheveled and soiled – and speaks not in her own name but in their name, in the name of the king and the aristocrats and tells them of their failure to be noble, honorable, and respectful. At that moment she becomes beautiful, rising above her cosmic dimensions that pervaded her life world and put that world and the world of India to silence. She revealed human frailty and grandeur and, from the very edge of her civilization, demanded the reestablishment of her and their honor.

E S S E N T I A L   A W A R E N E S S

The point has been reached where a question of awareness of self worth can be answered. First aspect of this worldly awareness is the possibility to extricate oneself from a specific life world. Second, the resultant disattachment, or bracketing of this immersion is the awareness of self worth demanding the possibility of world orientation that would answer the question of absolute legitimation of fulfilling in practice and action what the awareness always tacitly maintained as self worth. Third, it is to be noted that such awareness transgresses any specific life world, since any life world may offer partial-perceptual or signitive fulfillment of intrinsic self worth. Under any other circumstance, intrinsic worth would be an intentionality of a given life world, interpreted, for example as value, equivalent to other values, and hence a self understood part of such a world whose refusal would go counter to what is categorically self evident in such a world. At this level a refusal to participate in such a world would be impossible. In other words, intrinsic worth is not a perceptual given, but arises “perspectively” to the extent that we can regard our lived world as a total from the perspective of intrinsic worth. This perspectivity is the price for our freedom to survey any life world and ask the question of legitimation. In this context, the persons who were mentioned, whether Socrates, Gandhi, or Don Quichote become phenomena that disclose intrinsic worth and demand of us to recognize our degraded state. As already stated, the recognition of other’s intrinsic worth is equivalent to the recognition of our own and conversely.

The awareness, correlated to intrinsic self worth, is a transcendental background on which any life world, including that of world of values, must be legitimated concerning its adequacy for fulfilling such awareness in activity. Thus the transcendental background of intrinsic self worth was and is equally present and provides a limit concerning unrestricted valuations. The founders of enlightenment and its correlate – political democracy – were persons who extolled honor, dignity, respect, truthfulness and justice in their actions and demanded no less of their adversaries. This comprises the background on which the crises of democracy appears. At the founding just as well as now, there appears a first transcendental rule of awareness: maintainance of the permanence of self worth or, currently, its reclaiming. This rule, then demands an establishment of a first democratic institution – public domain – in which every person must fulfill her self worth, for its own sake. This very fulfillment demands, in turn, the second rule of awareness: permanent maintenance of the public domain for its own sake. Such maintainance requires the bracketing, exclusion, of arbitrary constructed valuations – such as economic, power, religious, ethnic, racist, that would promote the abolition of the public domain and self worth; indeed, such valuations do produce rhetorical means to obfuscate their degrading and disruptive tactics. Such oxymorons as “free enterprise,” “public leadership” and even “free expression” comprise some of the rhetorical means. It must be emphasized that self worth and the public domain are not objects of knowledge but are constituted in our active engagement. If we cease to act honorably, justly, nobly, respectfully, we shall not have self worth or public domain wherein self worth is enacted. It must be also noted that freedom of autonomy is a result of self worth on whose basis we extricate ourselves from our own and all life worlds and demand legitimation of any life world as to its adequacy for enactment of self worth. On this ground we select the life world that permits autonomy for its own sake. But autonomy, at this level, is valid only if it is correlated and subject to self worth. Without the latter, autonomy may become reduced to “free choice” among things and lose its legislative dignity.


Algis Mickūnas

V e r t i n a n t   c i v i l i z a c i j a s   p a g a l   i n t e g r a l ų   g r o ž į


Daug būdų buvo siūloma ir bus siūloma suprasti ir spręsti, kas yra gražu, kas yra tie įvaizdžiai, kurių turi siekti menininkai, literatai, reklamų kūrėjai ir grožio salonai. Jauni vaikinai ir merginos mėgina mėgdžioti savo herojų ir žvaigždžių išvaizdą, pozas ir aprangos stilių, dietas, pratimus, o elgesio būdai reikalauja, kad jie būtų mažų mažiausiai priimti, o gal net įkūnijami grynu įvaizdžiu. Vidutinio amžiaus vyrams ir moterims siūlomos įvairios „atjaunėjimo“ procedūros, sustiprinamos naujos kunigiškos psichologų ir psichiatrų kastos, įgalintos klausytis savo klientų nuodėmių išpažinčių apie suvalgytą pyrago gabalą, ir visa tai skirta tam, kad atrodyti „gražiai“. Visos šios pastangos, skelbiami įvaizdžiai, siūlomi apibūdinimai yra Vakarų metafizikos įkūrėjo Platono variacijos. Pasak jo, turi būti „grožis pačiame savyje“, mums leidžiantis atpažinti įvairius laipsnius ir lygius pažangos, kurią mes pasiekėme įkūnydami tai, kas yra pagrindas – vyrai su savo olimpiniais kūnais ir moterys su Afroditės grakštumu. Net Sokratas, pasak Thomo Manno, nepaisant pamokų, kurias gavo iš Diotimos, buvo viliojamas ne tiesos, bet atletiškai sudėtų jaunų vyrų kūnų. Čia mes aptinkame erosą, susiduriantį su libido, konfrontacija, kuris vis dar persekioja šiuolaikinį pasaulį.

Taipogi yra kita istorija, pripažinta globaliai, tačiau sugalvota Vakarų moderniosios ir postmoderniosios retorikos: visi standartai, įtraukiant ir tuos apie grožį, yra kultūriniai, diskursyvūs konstruktai, kurių ilgaamžiškumas vargiai tęsiasi iki kito išrasto stiliaus ar vaizdinių įvedimo iš „kažko egzotiškesnio“. Trumpai tariant, standartai yra ne tik reliatyvūs, bet net pats reliatyvumas yra reliatyvus. Jei norite, paklauskite bet kurio postmodernaus rašytojo, – net filosofija daugiau nebėra paieška tokių nuobodžių dalykų, kaip tiesa, tai greičiau rungtynės sumanyti kažką įdomiau nei tai, kas pateikiama kaip „paskutinis“. Ar nebūtų gražu, jei mes visi, sekant Deleuze’u, galėtume tapti vabalais? Pagaliau juk Castaneda, sėdėdamas bibliotekoje, sukonstravo visą antropologinę industriją ir apibūdino egzotiškos genties slaptą išmintį, sukeltą grybų ir meditacijos, kuri leido žmogui tapti paukščiu. „Ateik ir skriskime tolyn.“ Tokios mažos genties šamanai būtų televizijos žvaigždėmis ir didžiais mokytojais – postmodernios filosofijos reziumė, kur net Kafka negalėtų konkuruoti. Tai reiškia, kad kiekvienas sukurtas įvaizdis yra tiek įdomus ar nuobodus, kiek juo yra sekantis, ir niekas niekam kitam negali pasakyti, kuriuo nauju standartu sekti. Trumpai tariant, nepaisant džiaugsmingos deklaracijos, jog subjektas miręs, atsiranda tulžingesnis psichologinis subjektas su gausybe biologinių „troškimų“, „kultūrinės sąmonės“ pavidalu. Kitaip tariant, tikras modernus moksliškas subjektas yra vertinamas pagal jo priklausomybę ir siekį pasiekti nuolatos besikeičiančius standartus. Ką dar žmogus galėtų tikėtis pridėti prie šio visų galimų galimybių pertekliaus?

Vertė Dalia Tučkutė


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