Cut the mooring ropes that bind you
to the misery of cynical existence.

Drift into the wonderment
of engaging, participation and living.

Cast aside regrets, desires,
insecurities and presumptions.

When spectating or attending a festival,
be outside yourself.

Allow the possibility to be
wholly with something else.

Something very important happens when we allow the other to fully present themselves without one’s self-consciousness or consciousness manipulating the potential possibilities of experience. Hans-Georg Gadamer described this development using the term “self-forgetfulness”. The spectator gives “oneself in self-forgetfulness to what one is watching… it arises from devoting one’s full attention to the matter at hand, and this is the spectator’s own positive accomplishment.”[1] 

If we dwell on this statement for a moment it is possible to see the full sense of Gadamer’s meaning. Giving one’s full attention to something should actually mean forgetting one’s self. One’s pre-occupations, regrets, desires, insecurities and presumptions should be cast from the forefront of one’s mind when attending as a spectator. Perhaps an easy example is provided by the phrase ‘lost in the music’ whereby we allow ourselves to be taken on a journey. This never happens when cynicism, interpretation, blunt ignorance, or a lack of openness acts as our guide.

There is a striking point to be made here regarding cynicism. In the throes of a party or festival how many times has your enjoyment of the proceedings been interrupted by the ‘witty comment’ of a friend who has your ear at a vital moment to remark upon the ‘obvious agenda’ behind a certain person’s behaviour/dress-sense/participation. At those moments one has the sense of being brought crashing back to reality and joy being killed. The reason being that the cynic has just slammed the door of openness that you were innocently holding open to imbibe the view. Cynics, witty commentators and killjoys never leave the comfort of their own misanthropy and internal musings to experience real life. Life’s rich pageant is purely something to be witnessed from behind their reinforced glass observation pane. My suggestion, in order to actually live, is for you to slip from their side and dare to step into the refreshing breeze of life with the spirit of Gadamer’s self-forgetfulness to keep you aloft. Cut the mooring ropes that bind you to the misery of cynical existence and drift into the wonderment of engaging, participation and living. It won’t always be pleasant; however, it will be authentic.

To elaborate his idea, Gadamer delved back into ancient history and recalled the Greek concept of theoria and articulated the particular meaning of theoros as “someone who takes part in a delegation to a festival.”[2] As he explained, this person “has no other distinction or function than to be there.”[3] The theoros is not there to interpret, record, or understand, but solely to participate and experience what is before them: “Theoria is a true participation, not as something active but something passive (pathos), namely being totally involved in and carried away by what one sees.”[4] Gadamer also understood the following: “Being present has the character of being outside oneself… In fact, being outside oneself is the positive possibility of being wholly with something else.”[5]

Gadamer also focused on the inclusive aspect of the spectator:

“If there is one thing that pertains to all festival experiences then it is surely the fact that they allow no separation between one person and another. A festival is an experience of community and represents community in its most perfect form.”[6]

The self-forgetting of theoros through experience now becomes a self-forgetting through community. A connection is brought about, through the festival, of one with another so that a genuine experience is lived through where one feels, rather than thinks, the connectedness of those around them.

[1] Gadamer, H-G. Truth and Method, second edition. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, Sheed and Ward, London, 2001, 126.

[2] Gadamer, H-G. Truth and Method, second edition. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, Sheed and Ward, London, 2001, 124.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 124-5.

[5] Ibid., 125-6.

[6] Gadamer, H-G. ‘The Relevance of the Beautiful’ included in The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays. Edited by Robert Bernasconi. Translated by Nicholas Walker, Cambridge University Press, 1994, 39.

Published by Dr Jim Walsh

CEO of Conway Hall Ethical Society and author of 'Ethics Starts With You'.

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