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Awkwardness: An Essay by Adam Kotsko

By Adam Kotsko

Argues that the awkwardness of our age is a key to knowing human adventure.

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Awkwardness: An Essay

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Extra info for Awkwardness: An Essay

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This self can see itself as invulnerable, as master of the meanings of things for it. These two descriptions get at, respectively, the two important facets of this contrast. First, the porous self is vulnerable, to spirits, demons, cosmic forces. And along with this go certain fears which can grip it in certain circumstances. The buffered self has been taken out of the world of this kind of fear. For instance, the kind of thing vividly portrayed in some of the paintings of Bosch. True, something analogous can take its place.

See the contrast. A modern is feeling depressed, melancholy. He is told: it’s just your body chemistry, you’re hungry, or there is a hormone malfunction, or whatever. Straightaway, he feels relieved. He can take a distance from this feeling, which is ipso facto declared not justified. Things don’t really have this meaning; it just feels this way, which is the result of a causal action utterly unrelated to the meanings of things. This step of disengagement depends on our modern mind/body distinction, and the relegation of the physical to being “just” a contingent cause of the psychic.

Along with vulnerability to malevolence goes the need to propitiate, action to buy or win the friendship, or at least de-activate the enmity of these forces. And connected to this are notions of what it is normal to do to propitiate, hence notions of ought, debt; hence notions of guilt and punishment; which thus play a large part in this world. Of course, talk of gods and spirits can be grasped on the analogy of human amity/enmity. But this doesn’t capture the whole of the pre-modern world view, as I pointed out above.

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