user_mobilelogo

L.Degėsys is a professor of philosophy at Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences. His research areas are Philosophy of Art, Social Philosophy, Business philosophy, Philosophy of Education, Philosophy for Children. He is a member of the Board of Lithuanian Writers Union, also a member of a Board of LATGA - Lithuanian collective copyright management association.
L.Degėsys has got the Lithuanian Republic Government Culture and Art Award (2013) for poetry  and Twice - Awards of Ministry of Culture (2010, 2017) for the essays and non-fiction writing.
Degėsys has published 8 books of poetry, 4 books of philosophical essays and 2 novels.

reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Comics

vr banner17

by Elžbieta Banytė

 

Liutauras Degesys review 02

Liutauras Degėsys (born 1953) is a particular case within the Lithuanian cultural scene. Therefore, I have chosen not only to review the collection of essays Apatiniai gyvenimo drabužiai (Underclothes of Life) published by the Lithuanian Writers Union Publishing House earlier this year, but also to mention more of the author's activities: these essays only summarize and outline what Degėsys discusses in other areas of his work, namely giving philosophy lectures at university, taking part in the European Council’s educational projects as an expert, leading seminars for people of all occupations, and finally, apart from essays, writing poetry, scientific studies and textbooks on the topics of civil society and civic spirit in general, as well as translating. A few years ago, Degėsys presented cultural reviews on the National Radio, and his texts can be found both online and in print media. Having chaired the Department of Philosophy at Lithuania's Educational University for many years, Degėsys developed a distinct worldview and ideas, while his works of fiction only somewhat expand and contemporize it.

This is precisely why the entire corpus of Degėsys’s texts can be considered partially coherent, connected both in its ideas and form. Genre-wise Apatiniai gyvenimo drabužiai is a collection of those type of essays that foreign readers are most used to. I'm pointing this out because many examples from Lithuania's essay tradition (what we know as personal essays) are reminiscent of autobiographical short stories, where authors are not afraid to philosophize, discuss social reality, debate, or openly tackle different issues. The majority of those essays were published in the media before the book was released, with some heard by attendees of Degėsys’s lectures and seminars (this can be deduced from how he addresses the audience with a plural “you” and the fact that the same crucial ideas are repeated in many essays). Due to the inclusion of repeated ideas, the book can be read in any order. You can even choose which to read first according to title—there are no strict compositional constraints and the links are merely thematic.

The main title is chosen accurately: this book attempts to reveal what lies beneath banal everyday phrases, boredom, idleness, anger, accusations—in other words, the mundane routine into which a person becomes entangled like a fly in a spiderweb, which is easier to do than maintain personal identity and utilize critical thinking. He explores the idea that a person submerged in everyday life stops taking responsibility: consciously or not (and most often not) they choose to do nothing, to avoid change. This kind of person hopes that the qualities they have developed will remain the same, positive change will come by itself (or the status quo will effortlessly be maintained), and that endlessly “searching for oneself” is fine, although you might as well never find it this way. Just like muscles that won’t develop without exercise, intellectual and spiritual qualities won't flourish without exposure to art, culture, and self-cognition, that is, the mechanisms of self-creation. Hence there are two ways to experiment: set goals and try to change or conduct the experiment of doing nothing. The latter is understood by the author as a choice not to choose, to let everything happen without you or your effort. This way it's very easy to go and shout: “Look what they have done to me” (p. 6). It's important to understand that we are constantly making choices. It is inevitable, and not choosing is an illusion.

A large part of this collection's problematic threads join up with the advice to “start from yourself,” “take responsibility” and “resist the mundane.” Degėsys criticizes orderly, trite thinking, the “rational mind” that is afraid to develop any complex relationship with the world. Written in some other tone and in a different way the book could be irritating with its moralization and imposition of a specific system of values. This risk is bypassed due to Degėsys's beloved irony, which sometimes grows into light sarcasm. These two qualities make the moralizing aspect fun and, according to the author, create a balance for the banalities he criticizes (p. 88). Life is actually being undressed until it's left in its underwear: as it is joked about in the book, we assume that everyone wears underclothes, but when we see them, we feel like looking away or alerting the person to the fact that their underwear is showing (it is spirituality that should be demonstrated in church, and interest in banks, not underwear [p. 67]). Therefore, it is natural that we act out of convention without even thinking about why we're acting this way and what lies underneath it all. And underneath “it all,” what is called “the simple life,” doesn't necessarily lie humanity's deep wisdom or morality. It can also be fear, foolishness, conformism, the search for simplicity, or avoidance of thought, which appear in the most unwanted situations, and then you think to yourself, “I'd rather not have seen this” (p. 68).

As we can see, a dynamic world view is declared in the book. Reality is ever-changing, so a person must be flexible, wise, and able to adapt, but at the same time not give up their self, and not just run after the crowd. This tension between the self that we want to retain and the world that we can't change (we have to change ourselves) forms the core of the book's reflections. Individuality thrives within the area of thinking, while daily routine is a swamp seeking to suck you in. We're running like mice on a wheel, running daily errands and performing urgent chores, and no time is left for what is truly important. Or even worse, we're “looking for ourselves” for our whole lives, that is, looking for some kind of destiny, a destiny that, in the end, is only up to us to create. This wandering, this never-ending search is actually just running away from yourself. It's you who you have to change and improve. And that is what is most important.

So how do we start, and how do we realize it is worth starting? According to Degėsys, there are two antidotes against banality: books and people. Good books are dangerous in their lack of predictability, and good writers are so by being awkward, complicated, and irritating. The side effect of such an essay is the following: you feel like contemplating, creating, and understanding something. In other words, engaging in that self-cognition Degėsys emphasizes so much. But alongside writers, there are also “describers” who only describe the same old banalities they live with. Since they don't create anything, just describe, their books do not possess that transformational power characteristic of strong artwork. And though it seems that this strictly individualistic posture should be accompanied by detachment, it is not the case. No indifference or contempt to society is declared, rather the opposite—we realize after reading the book that only an individualist “in the best sense of the word” (not the one who doesn't care about anything, but the one who “lives an invented life,” and this, according to the author, means intense thinking and creation, invention of something new), only such a person can offer resources for society to change.

These ideas (of course, nuanced, adjusted to particular situations and connected to other thoughts that are always presented in a more or less ironic tone) are employed to explain different phenomena, from love and marriage to the educational system. For instance, falling in love and “devotion” based on intellectually unstimulating social inertia demonstrates the same sort of passivity: you just give yourself away and thus seemingly asking for someone else to do something with you. If later you don't like it, you can blame them and vindicate yourself. Likewise, the educational system stuffs children’s heads with an erratic jumble of knowledge—from Louis XIV to penguins and Alpha Centauri, and it is thought that now they will be ready for life. But nobody explains to those students that it is not penguins but yourself that you first must understand. It is impossible to make another person happy, and moreover, we don't have the right to, as this way we would be imposing our own model of happiness. Analogously, we can't tell students what is necessarily going to be “useful” for them. What is important is to explain and let them understand what is meaningful to them. The world is changing, scientific discoveries are made almost every day, and our model might become irrelevant in five years, so this knowledge cannot be compulsory for students. Thinking is more important than specific skills (although the book doesn't actually tell us how to acquire the depth of thought without developing skills and gaining factual knowledge).

Since some of the essays were clearly written for different publications, and some were probably born out of material for lectures or presentations, readers (listeners?) are addressed with a plural “you.” Concrete situations are discussed, although, of course, generalized, lifted to a more abstract level, just how it is supposed to be for popular and literary essays written by a philosopher. Degėsys’s ideas are to be agreed with or not (or, as in most cases, partially agreed with), but his ironic, sometimes even sarcastic writing style does make you reflect upon them more actively. The author himself would say that this is already not too bad, since a good piece of art, according to him, prompts a person's desire to understand something, to change, to “do something” with themselves (a phrase well-liked by the author). And readers, for their part, could “do something” with Degėsys’s essays. Ideally, of course, read them.

 

 

 Translated by Alexandra Bondarev

e-max.it: your social media marketing partner

Sponsors

Friends

logo lrsThe Lithuanian Culture Institutelogo lim

Write us