Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Category Archives: Philosophy

Gucci Director, Alessandro Michele, on creating ourselves



“It’s like a laboratory, you know?” he says. “Your life can be like a laboratory. In the past, the idea of being human was what the earth and nature gave to you.” That’s not so anymore. He calls this era “post-human”, explaining that “you can really manipulate everything. It’s pretty scary, but it’s also pretty interesting. You can lead different lives. You can decide to be different things.” 

I’ve always been drawn to the existential idea that our lives are what we make of them and that it’s up to us to define ourselves. I think this point brought up by Gucci Director Alessandro Michele in The New York Times Style Magazine is a poignant testament of how true this is particularly in our day and age. It has never been easier to create and recreate ourselves with ever-changing fashion trends, the re-emergence of old fashion trends, the urge to be individuals, the ability to present a curated version of ourselves on social media and present a different side of ourselves over and over again through these social media outlets. I think there is something interesting and exciting about this prospect, but it’s definitely also unnerving because not only does it make it hard for others to know who we really are, we can become completely unaware of who we are as well. It can even allow one to not truly be anything because it’s so easy to be a multitude of things.


“But Beautiful” – Hanya Yanagihara


As an art lover, the question of what beauty is often crosses my mind in the context of admiring art. I took a philosophy of art class in college, which allowed me to explore this question further. The primal question of whether or not beauty can even be defined in  is perplexing enough, let alone attempting to assess the level or quality of beauty. I found this Editor’s Letter by Hanya Yanagihara, the Editor-in-Chief for the The New York Times Style Magazine, very insightful. I thought her whole letter was thought-provoking, but especially the bit below.

But of all the ways in which art and design test our understanding of the world, one of the most important is how they make us question what exactly beauty is. Great art and design remind us of two things: first, that what is beautiful is not necessarily what is pleasant or pretty; and second, that the search for beauty, in all its forms, is elemental to the human condition. Every person in every culture, no matter how impoverished or restrictive, tries to ornament her life. This desire — to stimulate the senses, to remind ourselves of the wildness of the imagination — is not an indulgence or a luxury, but an instinct, one that defines us as human. What, after all, is the entire arc of history but a compendium of things — the pottery, cloaks, jewelry, houses, furniture, vessels and tapestries that humankind has always made (and will always make) to assert its presence in the world?

…to find and reveal and present beauty in all its forms, even if sometimes those forms don’t resemble what we understand as beauty at all. Beauty might be something ephemeral, made more potent for the brevity of its life…

I think Yanagihara perfectly captures that beauty is not simply an aesthetic characteristic we assign to things, but that it’s actually present in virtually all that the human race brings forth in the world. We have this drive to create something for ourselves or for others in an effort to exercise our creativity and imagination not only for a useful purpose, but also to simply satisfy our instinct to surround ourselves with what feels good.


The connections between


Every motion in the world taken separately was calculated and purposeful, but, taken together, they were spontaneously intoxicated with the general stream of life which united them all.

Doctor Zhivago

I’ve had a special place in my heart for Russian literature ever since I took a Russian literature class my freshman year of college, which I kind of fell into by accident and it turned out to be one of the best things that’s happened to me. I needed to fulfill a writing credit, as well as a philosophy credit, and there happened to be two classes taught in tandem, an introduction to philosophy and Russian literature (which fulfilled the writing credit), so I took advantage of killing two birds with one stone. They were both taught by incredibly smart, kind, and genuine women who I admire dearly. I also happen to have known them since I was a child because they were friends with my parents, which made having them as professors extra special. It was because of this class and how inspired I was by the philosophy professor that I went on to major in philosophy and took most of my classes with her. She really became like a mentor to me.

In the Russian literature portion of the class we read Fathers & Sons by Ivan Turgenev, short stories by Nikolai Gogol, A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and of course Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. We didn’t read Doctor Zhivago, but it’s something I’ve been reading on my own after watching the 2002 TV Mini-series and loving it. It’s definitely become one of my favorite things to watch around Christmas time; not that it’s particular festive, but there’s something about the wintry atmosphere that it makes it feel appropriate to watch around the holidays. I don’t read nearly enough anymore, but thinking back on these classes inspires me to cuddle up on a cold day and get lost in a book for the afternoon.

I love this quote because for me it summarizes how I feel about the string of events that make up our lives. I don’t think of these events as isolated from one another, but rather very connected in a way that we might not be able to grasp. I often wonder why related things seem to pop up around the same time and I find it hard to believe that it’s just a coincidence. So I have to believe that the way things line up in life is tremendously important and somewhat out of our hands.


“Life pushes us forward”


Nothing is an end in itself and therefore nothing is a source of complete rest. Everything is a stimulus to new wishes, a source of new uneasiness which longs for new satisfaction in the next and again the next thing. Life pushes us forward. 

Hugo Munsterberg

Hugo Munsterberg was a German-American psychologist active in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s who also contributed to film theory, which is how I know him. I studied film in graduate school and we read his book, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study, in a history of cinema class. In looking at this quote, it can obviously apply to life more broadly and not specifically only to film. In fact, not knowing that it’s part of film theory, one probably wouldn’t even relate it to film at all. Either way, I loooooveeee this quote and identify with it so deeply because of my attachment to existentialism. If this isn’t the most fundamental truth of our existence, I don’t know what is. It’s so true though, right? We never seem to be happy or satisfied with our current situation. And even when we are, we worry about what we’re missing – like if we’re too happy or when it might end because it can’t possibly last forever…we can’t possibly be that happy. On the other hand, when we are dissatisfied, we have no choice but to move forward, even if we’re not necessarily moving in a direction that brings us more satisfaction. We’re always looking forward with both skepticism and hope.



An experiment with Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy


As a Philosophy major as an undergrad, I read a little bit of Simone de Beauvoir, so when I saw this article about someone recounting their journey in her footsteps, I was definitely inspired. I’m not sure I could hike in the Alps for seven days in espadrilles…but this just proves how much of a badass she was. The author explains Beauvoir’s philosophy of not letting “her ideas succumb to reality” and that we can create what we want for ourselves and actually make it happen. She doesn’t agree with Beauvoir entirely in this respect, but she does acknowledge that it’s an interesting way of life to try for a short time:

It is a delusion to think that life has no wills but your own, or that you can thrive without the care and concern of others. But sometimes you can engineer a temporary condition, and produce a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance that uplifts you.

The ever elusive search for authenticity


As a graduate of the University of Chicago, I receive the University of Chicago magazine, and there was an interesting read about authenticity in the latest Fall 2016 issue. The quest for authenticity, or even just trying to decipher what authenticity is and means, has been a recurring struggle for me, as I think it is for most people. It’s really at the helm of why we are on this planet and I think it’s something that we are continually striving for. Perhaps we will never achieve this authentic status that we picture for ourselves, and maybe that’s ok. Maybe we just need to realize that the constant pursuit of authenticity is an authentic state in and of itself.


According to David Grazian, “authenticity is a figment of our collective imagination.” So maybe this notion of authenticity that we so eagerly chase after isn’t even a real thing at all. The article spanned from his love for penguins and the manufacturing of authenticity in zoos, to his research on blues clubs in Chicago. In regards to blues clubs, he thinks: “The authentic blues club of his dreams was full of tourists who were chasing the authentic blues club of their dreams.” If we look at it this way the quest for authenticity is essentially a never-ending game of cat-and-mouse. So chase away!



One has to wonder if life is nothing but phases of interests that come and go, or if there is a constant driving force that propels us forward. Lately, as I’ve noticed my interests changing pretty drastically over time, I’m worried that the former might be the case, at least for me. And if that is so, how are we to ever know when we can commit to something without being concerned that we’ll soon move past that phase? I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, as I do believe an ever-evolving, ever-growing nature is healthy and should be cultivated, but it does make it awfully hard to know when we are ready to commit to something…

Film meets philosophy


Jean-Luc Godard

What a wonderful combination of one of my favorite directors and a female philosopher I greatly admire. Jean-Luc Godard reads Hannah Arendt’s “On the Nature of Totalitarianism.”


Enjoy it here!

What does it mean to really love someone?


What does it mean to really love someone? This is not an easy topic to talk about, and it is harder still to define exactly what love means. Having just finished a class on precisely this topic, I am left unsatisfied with the conclusion, or lack thereof, at which we arrived. Though various scholars have tried to shed some light on love, it still does not seem like we are able to have a firm, concrete grasp on the concept of love. However, it is worth trying to spell out some of what has been theorized about the topic.

In Plato’s dialogue, the Phaedrus, we get a picture of love as madness that takes hold of us and is beyond our reason. In the Symposium, we get a picture of love in which we love the forms, or the highest ideal of reality, but we must love another person in order to do so; that is, we have to love another person in order to reach the level of recognizing the forms and of being able to love the forms. In Diotima’s famous speech on love there is an ascent of love that we are to attempt to follow, beginning with appreciating the beauty of one body, then moving up to the beauty of bodes in general, then the beauty of the soul, then the beauty of customs, laws, and activities of society, then the beauty of particular types of knowledge, and finally beauty itself, which we can appreciate, or attain, once we have mastered an appreciation for the previous kinds of beauty.

Hegel believes in an optimistic, ideal kind of love in which two people become one and love together, not separately. Two people become one entity and whatever one person does for the other, that person is doing for oneself, and whatever one does for oneself, one is doing for the other. Achieving this kind of completely unified relationship is not easy though. The two people have to overcome shame of their most inward selves; that is, selfish preoccupations that one might have, the banality of everyday life that one endures, one’s potential ineptness, etc. One needs to be willing to share all of these fundamental qualities that make up who one is in order to approach the relationship with one’s whole being. These include qualities that one might not want to share, and would not otherwise share with someone whom one is not trying to form a complete, unified relationship with. While Hegel does not say this explicitly, one would have to assume that maintaining this kind of unified relationship is a constant struggle between the two people involved, and is not a state that simply exists once it is achieved. It seems as though the two people have to continually work to maintain the unity.

Roland Barthes gives us yet a different concept of love in A Lover’s Discourse, which brings to light the asymmetrical dynamic in a loving relationship in which there is no equal sense of commitment, investment, or love between two people. It seems as though there is always a power dynamic in relationships where there is one person who is more committed, invested or in love than the other, and this dynamic can shift back and forth between the two people throughout the relationship. It seems that it is very hard, if possible at all, to achieve an equal playing field, as it were, where both people are equally committed, invested, and in love. Barthes would probably consider hoping for this kind of equality in love a fantasy. In this kind of model, we are more concerned with the love we are giving than the love we are receiving, and it is more ego-centered than say, Hegel’s model.

In thinking about which of these models of love I identify with the most, I think I find Barthes account most accurate, in my experience at least. Hegel’s model is the most ideal of course, but it is hard to say if that model is truly achievable. In looking at certain relationships from an outside perspective, I think it is easy to say, “That couple has a completely unified relationship.” But without being inside their heads or hearts and knowing exactly how they feel, we cannot know if that is really the kind of love that they share. On the other hand, perhaps some people are in unified relationships like the one Hegel describes, and to that I say, “Kudos to them.” It is truly an achievement. Furthermore, perhaps there are some of us who have been in a unified relationship but did not recognized it when we were.

All this is to say that love is a very complicated notion that is so very difficult to grapple with, which makes loving relationships the challenge that they are. If they are not a challenge, then the people involved are missing the point.



How exactly do coincidences work? What if you think that something is a coincidence, but it’s not? How would you even know whether or not it really is a coincidence? The conundrum between fate and coincidence is long-standing and everyone has their opinion in support of one or the other as being the way that the world works. I think oftentimes we hope that fate plays a role in our lives and so when things happen, when random coincidences occur, we so badly want to say, “Ohhh, it’s fate!” But what if it’s not? What if we’re lying to ourselves? I can’t say one way or the other – if things happen by coincidence or fate. Although I’m amazed by people who can feel so certain one way or the other. But I can keep wondering and speculating as to what the nature of occurrences really is, because I don’t think we can ever know for certain. And that’s just what I’ll do.