Amputation versus Askesis

On the one hand, you have the ephemeral symptoms of nihilism: tattoos, piercings, sex change operations, and soon no doubt random unmotivated pointless amputations of this or that. On the other, you have askesis, that cuts away everything that is not of the Truth.

The first rejects substance and meaning in favor of nothing. It deletes great hunks of being, at the same time complicating what remains – and not in a good way. The nihilists are hunted, harried, gloomy, weakened, fey.

The second abjures partiality for fullness, of being, significance, beauty. It clarifies and simplifies, as the dross falls away, leaving only the dense pure gold. The students of askesis are at peace, or on their way to it. They are hearty, quiet, relaxed, and hard to spot.

The first ends in crabbed miserable death, the second in life everlasting.

Then there is everyone in between, all of whom must sooner or later decide between these two options.

10 thoughts on “Amputation versus Askesis

  1. Pingback: Amputation versus Askesis | Reaction Times

  2. Kristor – I appreciate your jutxaposition of these distinct tendencies. I find myself “stuck” in the middle though most certainly seeking the direction of askesis.

    However, in a culture so imbued with sentimentalism and emotivism the practice of purposeful self-discipline is utterly alien and for those who seek to practice it in turn are alienated or meet with social obloquy.

    It would be a joy to see more self-restraint, self-discipline, less sentimentalism, more deliberateness, and quite frankly, more of a call to discriminate and distinguish between fruitful behaviors and actions and puerile inclinations and inane exhibitionism. We could start with all forms of media …social and mainstream…both platforms and ecosystems in their own ways seem to glorify what you have termed “amputation” as a proper form of individuality and expression…but what is in essence and practice simply self-loathing and childish impulsiveness.

  3. Of those who practice askesis, Kristor writes: “They are hearty, quiet, relaxed, and hard to spot.” I particularly like “hard to spot.” Somewhere, it might be in Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard writes that a Knight of Faith might have the appearance of an ordinary bourgeois gentleman.

  4. Pingback: The Thinking Housewife › Nihilism vs. Wholeness

  5. I just looked up the term “askesis”. It means to have self-control, nothing more. Of course the poster relates it to religious ideology. However, it is not necessary to subscribe to any religion in order to practice self-control and self-discipline. In any case, the poster is correct that having self-control does make for a more fulfilling life, not to mention a much longer, healthier life

  6. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, askesis is from the Greek:

    … asketes, “monk, hermit,” earlier “one who practices an art or trade,” from askein, “to exercise, train,” originally “to train for athletic competition, practice gymnastics, exercise.”

    In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Saint Paul draws a fit analogy between the self-control of an athlete in training and the spiritual work of the Christian. Focused attention to the discipline of any sort of work not essentially ordered to evil ends must eventually become an ascesis with spiritual overtones, and salutary effects. Viz., the Japanese Tea Ceremony, or bushido. I can tell you from experience that chopping wood properly involves the whole person, in every aspect of his relations to other beings. Saint Paul’s metaphor works because an athlete who trains properly cannot but find, sooner or later, that the ascesis involved therein leads to a more general focus of his attention on what is truly good and important; i.e., to contemplation of the Good. Confront the world carefully, and honestly, and diligently, and for long enough, and sooner or later you are going to find yourself face to face with him who, as transcending it, orders it.


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