26 February 2007

The Moulton Journal: Leben ist L/leben

18 deg F, an inch or two of new snow, wooden HeadT skis, Extra Blue wax.

Mike or Paul groomed sometime over the weekend, probably Mike since the Yankee Boy trail was not groomed. It's hard to groom its steep ups & downs, sharp twists & turns.

It's that time of the season when skiing becomes like breathing. Creature of habit that I am, I wake, peek out the window to check for new snow, brew my coffee, drop four waffles in the toaster, and decide which skis are right. Then it's eat, read the paper, wax the skis, lace the boots, and go. Once on the trails, though, the routine falls away. You can't langlaufen on the same snow twice, as Heraclitus the great crosscountry skier put it.

During my year of living and researching in the Germanies, I often heard the expression "leben ist leben." In German, of course, the capital "L" in Leben would define the word as the noun or state of being "Life," whereas the lower case "l" would define the word as the verb or process "living." To the ear, especially in a bar surrounded by philosophers ("Bierplaudereien"), you can't tell "L" from "l."

And so have I often puzzled over this expression. That's probably the whole point of it--to make you puzzle, much like Heidegger's Being (Seing) and being (sein).

Life is Life. Living is Life. Life is living. Living is living. Hmmm....

Given that German is unlikely to put the verb first, we can eliminate "Living is Life" and "Living is living."

So that leaves us with "Life is Life" and "Life is living." My (ehemalige) East German friends decidedly came down on the side of "Life is living." Life is about doing (and being done to), experiencing, active engagement. I like this version. It emphasizes the process as opposed to the product. Life is about the zen of bobbing along in life's flow, if you will. Critics might argue that this version is the sort of life a dog leads, with little sense of planning, purpose, or intention.

Usually when the expression is written out, however, it is "Leben ist Leben," i.e. life is life. This could be interpreted to mean that life is about making (and being made), producing, final results. The critic in me would argue that this version is much too static; in dwelling on what the world (including life) is, we lose the sense of how the world is, we lose the sense of our active relationship with the world (including life).

This latter sense can lead us to live entirely too much within our own head. I have a friend like this. If he reads a book about skiing, then he believes that he "knows" skiing. His primary relationship to the world is through a sort of ongoing mental fanatasy. I'm not sure that actually doing something really matters to him. As long as he can imagine it, think about it, and hear others tell about it he seems satisfied. Living vicariously, but without any sense that it is a vicarious existence.

Very Platonic, this belief that by knowing the idea you know the thing or all actual instantiations of the thing. Life is Life--a sort of abstract supreme concept.

Well, time for the downhill run and I need to get into the flow. Leben is leben. Tschuss.

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