THE GALIMATIAS INTERVIEW (PART THREE) – Can art save the world? Paradoxes and causes.

This is part three of an interview with Paul David Adkin carried out by the Spanish literary magazine “Galimatias” in March, 2015. We have translated it here into English.

GALIMATIAS: In your philosophical writings you point over and over again to the existence of paradoxes in the fabric of reality, and you say that truth can only be found by analysing these contradictions. Is that where the truth of the novel resides?

ADKIN: I don’t think that I’ve ever said that the truth can only be found by analysing paradoxes – but yes, it helps if we do … and novels are a great place to analyse truth in. It’s the ability of novels to rummage in logically impossible realms of juxtapositions and contradictions, or paradoxes, that can make them so important. But the uncovering and resolving of paradoxical contradictions is not unique to the form and identity of the novel: it can be a vital ingredient in short stories and plays; you see it used in good films and even in some good TV series now. However, it is probably true that this kind of narrative investigation and use of the impossible emerged because of, and was perhaps was even made possible by, the historical development of the novel, which is the king of all narratives.

GALIMATIAS: Is the novel an endangered species?

ADKIN: Humanity is an endangered species – so the novel must be as well.

GALIMATIAS: Can the novel save humanity?

ADKIN: Only if we take it seriously. That means that the novelists have to write well and choose their big questions intelligently. But, it also means that readers must read intelligently as well.

GALIMATIAS: And yet the novel has been around for some four hundred years … what has the novel achieved for humanity so far? Has it made the world a better place?

ADKIN: I think it’s helped civilisation not be a worse experience than it presently is. Art is the antithesis of ideology. It is a humanising force, interested in universals. Ideologies … and religions are ideologies too … separate humanity and retard real human progress for all of humanity. To some extent, art offers a balance against all the damage that ideologies do … But, at the moment at least, ideologies are more powerful than art.

GALIMATIAS: And ideologies use art for their own destructive purposes.

ADKIN: Yes, and I would include technology with the positive, progressive, humanising forces of art … it is obvious, when we think of technology, how easily it can be used for destructive rather than creative ends.

GALIMATIAS: Can Art save humanity?

ADKIN: No, only humanity can save humanity. But, yes, art could be a positive vehicle for a universalising process of humanity to move forward with. However, it is very hard to imagine an army of artistic crusaders conquering humanity with art … except in the most absurd kind of comedy.

GALIMATIAS: Nevertheless, we could try harder, couldn’t we?

ADKIN: We should try harder, but simply trying harder is not the place to start. Trying harder implies a simple continuation – a “keep doing whatever you’re doing but with a bit more effort.” The first thing we need to do is think more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The what and the why needs to come before the how can be possible in an enriching way.

GALIMATIAS: Finding the big question?

ADKIN: Yes, in phenomenological terms the big question is the eidos of the work, or what Aristotle called the formal cause. Applying Aristotle’s causes toward finding our reasons for things would be a good place to start.

Aristotle physics book cover

GALIMATIAS: Aristotle’s causes?

ADKIN: Yes … well, first we have to learn what those causes are. Reading Aristotle’s Physics would help.

GALIMATIAS: Can you really expect budding artists to read Aristotle?

ADKIN: I’m just suggesting good ideas.  Aristotle pointed out that there’s not just a singular cause for something, but everything has its different causes. Aristotle, I think, thought of five possibilities. Firstly, the material cause which is that which constitutes what a thing is. For example, the material cause of this table is wood and nails. The material cause of a novel is, in the first instance, paper and ink unless it’s a digital edition that makes it all binary numbers on a plasma screen. At a second level, it’s all words that flow into grammar and syntax.

GALIMATIAS: How does that knowledge help?

ADKIN: Hardly at all. Material causes are involved with common sense, but the important thing is to think beyond the material causes. A lot of thinking stays there. If we think about the causes of society, for example, someone might say – for the people – because society is constituted of people. But that’s just like saying that the reason for this table is that there was some wood and nails around somewhere that needed to be put together. Sometimes you read a book and you think – the only thing that this author seems to want to show us is how clever he uses words and grammar. That of course is bad writing. And we see it in small talk, when we hear people talking because, we say, they like the sound of their own voice.

GALIMATIAS: Yes, although small talk has its social functions as well.

ADKIN: True, but at first that social function is not obvious. We have to look for it. We have to think a little harder to find it.

GALIMATIAS: Ok, so you are saying we have to question the most obvious.


GALIMATIAS: And what are Aristotle’s other causes?

ADKIN: The efficient cause.

GALIMATIAS: The builders.

ADKIN: Right. The artists themselves. Here we can start asking for the reasons why the builders decided to make tables, and why novelists bother writing novels. It helps if we can give quality answers to the question why do it? In our nihilist society the answers can very easily be: because I couldn’t think of anything better to do – or – because I was bored. If we are going to do something as important as write a novel, there have to be more qualitatively good reasons than because I want to, or because it might be fun and make me some money.

GALIMATIAS: Or someone might just have a good story to tell, or an interesting experience to relate.

ADKIN: Yes, but even those people will benefit as artists if they slide a big question under the framework of the story or the picture, or music, or whatever they’re creating. Involved in the causes of things are the eidos, which is the real essence of the thing, and the telos, the cause that is the finality. The final cause of a table is to have something that we can put things on, but … what is the telos of civilisation?

GALIMATIAS: Isn’t the final cause of a book to be read by someone?

ADKIN: Sure, but let’s give the answer a bit more quality.

GALIMATIAS: Ok, what is the telos of When Sirens Call?

ADKIN: It is in a Being which is always becoming.

GALIMATIAS: How is that a final cause?

ADKIN: It’s my final cause – the final cause of the artist. Like the big question, I don’t want it to be explicit. But if you look for it, you’ll find it.

GALIMATIAS: I’m not sure I understand what I’m looking for.

ADKIN: Then don’t look for it. Let it find you. I think there has to be an art in reading as well as in composition. For me the art of reading is knowing how to let the causes of a novel find you.

GALIMATIAS: Is there a methodology for that?

ADKIN: Not that I know of. I think I can do it, but I don’t know how. Not that I think that knowing how would be helpful at all.

GALIMATIAS: You’re starting to make this sound mystical.

ADKIN: Whenever we run into paradoxes things start to sound mystical. But that’s because the mystical can only be appreciated through paradox. The mystical is always paradoxical, but the paradoxical is not always mystical.


The Way Out of the Bubble


In order to effectively criticise, the critic needs to have an alternative to the operating model. Herein lies the great impotence of the bipartisan system. Criticism is carried out in a basically sterile way, concentrating on the usual way that organisation is carried out. In other words, criticism is infected with Habitus[i]. This infection prevents criticism from attacking the structures of the System itself, and makes it impossible for it to offer any real alternatives to the bubble it floats in. Any real alternative has to begin with pulling down the house, but this is such a radical step that hardly anyone, except the most extreme groups, would be prepared to advocate it. “How could we possibly survive without the body that we occupy?” think the Leviathan’s parasites.

The idea is scary and it sounds impossible. Scary and impossible enough to dissuade any serious thought from forming in that direction. Nevertheless, as more and more people find themselves being fooled and lied to by the System, or become direct victims of its imperialistic and dictatorial reality, the need for demolition becomes ever more apparent.

But once one decides that we need to escape, the great paradox embedded in Systemology raises its ugly head. We need to get out of the System, but we need the System to survive. We cannot escape the bubble we are imprisoned in without bursting it. If we do we will surely die, won’t we? Psychologically then, in order for us to be strong enough to burst the bubble we need to have assurances that the atmosphere outside of the bubble will not be toxic for us. The first question leading us to liberation from the System must therefore be: What kind of atmosphere will exist outside of the System?

Criticism on its own, without the assurance of an atmosphere within which the alternative may be liveable, is always ineffective. Just as alternatives that offer solutions within the System itself are basically impotent and therefore also ineffective.

To see through the masks and the Habitus created by the System we need to analyse the ineradicable evils of that System – its necessary evils, so often blamed on human nature – and explain why those necessary evils are not necessary at all.

The will to change will come out of the need to change, which will become more and more apparent as the consumer-will society falls into deeper and deeper conflict with the atmosphere that sustains it. The consciousness allowing us to break the bubble will be a deeper consciousness of the greater bubble of the world that encloses the System’s bubble of economy. By breaking the economic bubble we don’t die of suffocation, quite the contrary, we expose our lungs to clean air and breathe freely again for the first time.

[i] See our entry on Habitus:


pro818_hand Our relationship with the spiritual is also paradoxical. Whilst we seem to be destined to be searching for some kind of relationship with the without, the other that is without is incapable of satisfactorily confirming itself to us. The only thing that seems capable of solving this paradox is the concept of faith, which boils down to a belief in that which is impossible to confirm. Yet this is not just a spiritual problem. It also describes our political and social condition. The Other can be a God, can be the Universe, can be the World, or it can be the politico-economic System that we are immersed in. It is the big Other from our perspective but it is also the Subject with a capital S, which is the subject that is always there even when we are no longer around. Each one of us is a small subject, subjected to the Subject, but what must our subjection entail, especially if what the Subject claims to offer is freedom for the individual. The Subject must be freedom loving because that is the only way that we subjects could really feel comfortable with it. But in the idea of freedom within the Subject/System there resides another paradox: the individual can only become free by subjecting oneself to the discipline of the System. And, of course, subjection is the opposite of freedom. So, how can this be? The Subject/System liberates by providing the liberating infrastructures that satisfy needs. Thus God or the Universe has given us the World. As for the social Subject/System, that provides protection from the hostile elements in the world that the Subject-God-Universe failed to eradicate for us. The individual in the System therefore can free him or herself of a need for shelter by obtaining a dwelling made possible by the System’s infrastructure. But, in order to earn that entitlement one must make sacrifices. In order to obtain things from the System we must subject ourselves to the System’s mechanism of reward (money) obtained through the sacrifice of production (work). The simple idea of rewards given according to sacrifice is the basis (the basic contracted form) of the System. What is expected of the individual subject is his or her subjection to this contract. The governance of the System is therefore expected to design a relationship in which the interchange of reward and sacrifice is ensured and perpetuated. Governance falls down when it is unable to satisfy this expectation. Democracy should ensure an equitable relationship or an equilibrium in the design of this relationship so that anyone who is prepared to sacrifice for the System will be rewarded accordingly. But when this relationship breaks down, or is not attainable or simply dysfunctional, who is to blame? The System-Governance-Subject or the individual-subjected-subject? From the subject’s point of view the result is either self-criticism (a masochistic guilt complex) or a critical condemnation of Governance (rebellion). In either case the individual/subject finds him or herself unable to grasp the Subject/System which has become absurd through its dysfunction. The result is a feeling of alienation and absurdity caused by a fundamental disconnection with the System it lives and breathes in, that comes about because the subject is not allowed to sacrifice itself to the master in a truly productive way. The rewards that are necessary for the individual’s survival are either given reluctantly or withheld completely. Confusion sets in: “What does the Subject/System want of me?”; “Why has it forsaken me?”; “What can I do to win back its love?” Freud tells us that the ego will rebel when the demand of the master becomes too much to bear. Nevertheless, the ideology inherent in identity not only keeps us in our place through the sense of belonging or being part of the group, it helps make the unbearable bearable by making the alternative to belonging seem even more unbearable. The Subject has given us the World, and we cannot survive without it. It is through Identity that the individual is dominated by the Master-ideology. Submerged in Identity the individual is pulled away from that which her or she is not. In this way Identity has a double-edged gravity that draws us into a reality and pulls us away at the same time. Drawing us into a reality we are pulled away from the reality. By creating sense for us, identity also makes nonsense of our true relationship to the world.



The power and meaningfulness of paradox is embedded in the unity of its own greatest contradiction: Paradox is something that reveals and conceals at the same time. But this could also be a definition of reality itself. Reality is something that reveals and conceals and hence, reality has a paradoxical nature.

It is certainly true of the reality propagated by the System. The System reveals and conceals. Watch the nightly news and that which is unveiled is at the same time concealing just as much information, if not more. In the same way, at the same time that we discover things we also repress our awareness of other things. Concentration opens our eyes to minute details by blurring the forms around it. This is not a contradiction but rather a paradoxical reality.

To find another example let us examine the psychological or psycho-pathological state of our society and consider the existence of neurosis. At the subjective level, neurosis is a removal of the individual’s narrative from public communication. However, on the social or macro-psychological level, it is the public communication that has become senseless to the individual. Alienation is the cause of neurosis and an alienating society will breed neurotics. Nevertheless, in the case of neurotic illness quite the opposite takes place: society sees the neurotic as ill and the neurotics will see that “illness” in themselves because the  society reflects it at them. But whose fault is it when someone feels disconnected from society: the fault of the neurotic or of the system that creates neurosis? In our System, it is a neurotic splitting of discourse from meaning that alienates the individual, not a particular moral weakness or infirm nervous system in the neurotics themselves. Nevertheless, the fact that society creates neurotics is not considered an important criticism of the structure of society itself. There are no political party agendas dedicated to the eradication of neurosis, because, in order to do such a thing a complete rethinking and restructuring of the fabric of society would be required. The existence of neurotics condemns the failures of society and yet the condemnation is covered up and loaded upon the victim. The truth concerning neurosis is therefore embedded in the mystification of its paradoxical nature and only by looking for the paradox that encloses the problem are we really able to see it.

It is the discovery of the paradox that allows for the unveiling of the real. Always search for the paradoxical nature of things, even when, or especially when, things seem perfectly straight forward.



In his essay The Age of the World Picture, Martin Heidegger describes a series of paradoxes brought about by humanity becoming subiectum, or the subject, in “the midst of the world”. Heidegger’s paradoxes are these: firstly, the act of making humanity the central subject of concern is, in itself, an act of objectification by humanity itself (only by objectifying ourselves can we become the subject of our concerns); and secondly, the act of this objectified subjectification of humanity allows for the phenomenon of individualism to prosper and be resisted at the same time.

It is within the frame of this paradox that the great political conflicts and economic injustices of the last centuries have taken place. The struggle of the individual against the community-as-an-individual; of the community-individual against the state-individual; of the state-individual against another state-individual or against an individual unity of states.

The group individual struggle is seen clearly in the language we use around our team sports: when a club wins it is either we won or they beat us, although we did nothing except adopt some colours. The concept of the fan allows the individual to choose his or her own common identity, which is the large part denied us in the birth-right-condemnation of nationality.

Globalisation amplifies this paradoxical condition. The individual-community-subject suddenly finds itself made more vulnerable and isolated than ever before in a vast ocean of  competing individual-subject forms. No longer is one’s neighbour the principle competitor, the new enemies invade without even crossing the horizon.


Globalisation is a conquest, the ultimate conquest of the world, but a conquest by whom? The only positive and logical answer to that question is by humanity; by us as humanity. Any other conclusion is absurd, for it is an actual denial of the prize won. In order to escape the pernicious effects of Heidegger’s paradox we need to embrace it. Globalisation must imply, in its own definition of itself, the ultimate subjectification of humanity – simplifying and enlarging humanity at the same time into the first person singular of the plural. With globalisation the We are Humanity becomes I am Humanity or Humanity is Me. The individual-subject does not have to compete with the individual-object because it is subject and object at the same time. When we realise this, anti-human barriers start to collapse and the authentic human being begins to take form.