I read I am the world By Jan Warndorf At Once, On the Train to Work. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a boy sniffing at a cappuccino and an older man typing frantically on his laptop. Every now and then the older man makes a loud phone call. Moreover, the landscape is flaring up from me on my side, as if I was being shot down the track by a bullet. Meanwhile, the words I’ve just read translate into images and sound in my head, which I let sink in a little.
Warrendorf’s book (1965) is a plea to do just that: pay more attention to your immediate experience, the experience of the present now. In this little book, the self-proclaimed common sense criticizes the naturalistic philosopher of the rational scientific view of the world, which has been tearing apart subject matter and object for far too long. It calls for a re-evaluation of the phenomenological view, in which lived thinking is central. Heidegger passes by Sartre.
In particular, Warndorff denounces the way of thinking with which man encounters the world, which considers it exclusively as an object to be known and used. Such an instrumental Western position leads to an exploitative way of dealing with the environment, he believes, as if it were to be occupied. What Warndorf adds to the traditional phenomenological narrative, or rather what it confirms, is that our experience is part of a much larger whole. We are the world, Say.
Penicillin and the Internet
This book, which is actually more of a handbook, is clearly written with a deep commitment to the fate of the earth. The significance of Warrendorf’s argument is made clear when he writes: “I believe that the future of mankind depends on the extent to which we can once again recognize the mystery of our existence and more and more appreciate its wonder and splendor.”
Well, but it’s not entirely clear how a new appreciation of the secret of life will help solve the world’s biggest problems. It may really be true that a rational scientific view has led to a harsh relationship with our environment, but it has also given us penicillin and the Internet. To say: science is wrong, personal experience is correct, and there is something naive about it. Furthermore, you may wonder if an excessive one-sided focus on personal experience won’t turn into a form of navel stare.
I am the world It is a monument to the daily life of man as a unique fact in itself. It is a call to re-evaluate the experience of the present and reality as a flowing reality, with a constant focus on the fact that individual experience and the world as a whole cannot be seen in isolation from one another. This makes the book a bit Taoist, a bit Buddhist, and John Lennon will stop, but it’s mostly Jan Warndorf. I can see him sitting there as he describes how he is sitting behind his computer working on his manuscript. I imagine it’s getting late, and he’s turning down the radio a little more. At the end of the book, he summarizes everything for us once again: “We are now aware of how man and the world are constantly intertwined, intertwined and fused into a dynamic duality.” I don’t think it’s an entirely new message, but it’s a good idea to think about it again, especially on the train before you start a long work day.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on November 12, 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of November 12, 2021
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