Radical Subjectivity in Philosophic Gonzo Journalism

Eugene Pustoshkin

I am sitting in my chair and feeling the weight of an ergonomic keyboard on my lap. I think, therefore I am, and the content of the thoughts is fulfilled with the idea that it would be honest to start a reportage on radical subjectivity in philosophic journalism precisely with describing what I, the author, am experiencing in the moment of writing these words. Some gloomy gothic music reaches me through my headphones; and in front of me, on the writing desk, there is a piece of paper with a chaotically ordered mindmap of the key ideas that are going to pour into the space of my text. A flow of associations turns me towards the image of Spider Jerusalem, the anarchic gonzo journalist from the postcyberpunk comic book series Transmetropolitan, whose dubious reputation has to be recognized by everyone, for his reportages are capable of influencing the horizons of history. [1]


That which I want to call philosophic gonzo journalism transcends—but includes—the radical subjectivity of “gonzo journalism», which may be based on the pure empiricism of the great American psychologist William James. For a friend of James, the brilliant pragmaticist Charles Peirce thoroughly trashed the stance of mere pure empiricism (pure empiricism is grounded in the requirement to impartially register phenomena of experiential perception) with the phrase “Perception is semiotic.” In other words, as the contemporary thinker Ken Wilber explains Peirce’s position, any perception is always already an interpretation. [2] Wilhelm Dilthey pronounced this idea in quite a simple way: “Not through introspection but only through history do we come to know ourselves.” [3]

If we want to light people’s hearts with the fire of our reportage, we ought to invest our soul in it. It means assuming radical subjectivity not in terms of a lack of pure empiricism and a mismatch of statements with the data of phenomenological facts, but in terms of an existential intensity of the authoring subject’s experiencing of being-in-the-world, which involves his living and breathing, always already embodied self-consciousness. An unsurpassed example of existential intensity was and still is offered by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. With his texts, his soul-opening sermons, he passionately and dispassionately reflected, brought forth to our awareness, the moral depth of aesthetic experience of both the non-historical realm and at the same time the relevant social reality. [4]

As I looked carefully into two existing translations of the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas—the Russian and the English ones—I found one important detail which may possibly lay a foundation stone for philosophic gonzo journalism. Namely, I saw that in the Russian text Matthew’s words to Jesus uttered in response to His question are translated as “Thou art like a wise philosopher” while the English translation says “Thou art like a philosopher of the heart.” [5] When I write about philosophy I do not mean the philosophy of merely mind alone: In my understanding an authentic gonzo philosopher, in all his or her manifestations, lives in and breathes with the wisdom of the heart.

In my vision an integral philosophy of the heart lies upon the three pillars of Plato: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. The Beautiful manifests today in the iconic turn [6] from deformity to the formed imagery of radical subjectivity. The Beautiful is born in the name of itself but also in the name of all life’s Goodness: In philosophic gonzo journalism aesthetic experience allows us to transform both actual multidimensional goodness and timeless grace. [7] And, finally, truths are being born in genealogical diggings of archaeological remains of the history of individual and social self-consciousness that is being rhizomatically created by us and through us. And yet, thanks to Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Judgment, we understand that both truth and goodness are reflected within the radical subjectivity of aesthetic experience, that is through my touching the Beautiful and the Sublime that occurs in the present. [8]

In this context the individually generated newsfeed at the Russian online social network VK.com appropriately delivers me a quotation from Henry Miller posted there by some unknown person: “To spit on the past is not enough. To proclaim the future is not enough. One must act as if the past were dead and the future unrealizable.” Ultimately, what do we have besides the present and real? [9]

December 4, 2011

(Edited for the English publication on February 10, 2012; thanks to the Beams and Struts crew for assisting with the editorial process.)


[1] See the Wikipedia article “Transmetropolitan.” I also recommend reading the article on “gonzo journalism.”

[2] Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 2006, p. 286.

[3] This means that every percept has a semiotic history, if we interpret all events in the Kosmos as semiotic. Cited in: Ibid., p. 124.

[4] In my opinion, Dostoevsky wasn’t a naive empiricist, for he was a spiritual being who actively lived in society, an impartial existential journalist who was making sense of oceans of publicism on a day-to-day basis, a transpersonal psychologist who regularly attended lectures of such advanced thinkers as the great Russian mystic Vladimir Solovyov. One of the best interpretations of Dostoevsky from the standpoint of phenomenological existentialism was conducted by another contemporary of ours, the prominent British thinker Colin Wilson, who is being undeservedly, thoroughly, and stubbornly ignored by “intelligentsia” which often doesn’t see beyond the nose of immediately perceived data of their genealogies and archaeologies. See Colin Wilson, The Outsider, 1956.

[5] The Russian translation of the Gospel of Thomas was done by M. K. Trofimova and published in the book Apocrypha of Ancient Christians (Apokrify Drevnikh Khristian, 1989). The English translation that I refer to can be accessed here: http://www.metalog.org/files/thomas.html. The passage in question is on page 251 of the former and in the item #13 of the latter.

[6] A. I. Ivanenko, a philosopher from St. Petersburg, in his book Models of Being (Modeli Bytiya, 2011) refers to V. V. Savchuk’s Philosophy of Photography and explains the iconic turn as follows: “the ‘iconic turn’ consists of the shift of attention towards ‘an analysis of visual images’” (p. 17). For me the “iconic turn” is a useful metaphor, especially if by image we understand not only and mainly a visual image but rather synesthesia—as well as if we take into account the research on postformal stages of cognition in adult developmental psychology (e.g., works of such scholars as Robert Kegan, Jane Loevinger and Susanne Cook-Greuter, Ken Wilber and others. See also the term vision-logic coined by Wilber). I discussed in a personal conversation (Fall 2008) with Susanne Cook-Greuter the meaning of the term vision-logic and how it can be translated into Russian. She pointed out that the word vision is likely not pointing strictly to sight and the use of visual imagery (and, I personally would add, visual cortex). I could argue that it rather refers to something which can be known as an intuition of the whole organism (which could be accompanied by an integrative activity in multiple brain areas, for instance). In my own translations I used the words visionary logic in an attempt to emphasize this synesthetic nature of this cognition.

[7] The sentence points to a close interrelationship of ethics and aesthetics. Some Jazz musicians speak of their music, when they are able to channel spiritual energy, as the ultimate goodness-in-the-moment. The article was originally written in Russian and subsequently translated into English with minor changes. In the Russian text the words blago and blagodat’ are used for “goodness” and “grace.” They share the same root; and blagodat’ is a compound word that literally means “the given grace.”

[8] This paragraph emphasizes the importance of developed aesthetics for both ethics and science, the importance of an aesthetic perception, in addition to the importance of the history of the construction of this perception. For a detailed discussion of the relation of Immanuel Kant’s Critiques with the Platonic Big Three (Beauty, Truth, Goodness) in the interpretation of Ken Wilber see his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998).

[9] The concluding words “the present and real”— nastoyascheye i real’noye—in Russian have an ambiguous sounding, for depending on the context the word nastoyascheye (“the present” in this text) may signify both the present tense and something that is real. Pun intended.