For example, just what can we know? Are we really stuck inside of Kantville with the transcendental blues, or can we know stuff?
Well, first of all, Berdyaev -- proto-Raccoon that he is -- doesn't begin with being. Rather, he insists that Personality is prior to being. This follows from our understanding that God is above all else an irreducible "I."
In God's famous wisecrack -- some variant of I Am That I Am -- the accent is on the I rather than the AM. Or in other words, AM is a consequence of I, because the converse could never be true, for the same reason you can't get blood from a turnip. In a way, trying to derive persons from being is more than a little like trying to turn stones into bread.
Now, if there is something prior (meaning ontologically, not chronologically, prior) to person, it is freedom. You might say Berdyaev posits a third stance alongside existentialism and essentialism. Pardon the pedantry, but the former makes essence a function of existence, while the latter posits essence as prior to existence.
In practical terms, this means that, for the left, for example, who you are is a function of existential considerations such as race, or class, or sexual orientation. Or in other words, you're nobody 'til somebody hates you.
But for the essentialist-conservative, all the categories the leftist holds sacred are just accidents and contingencies. For the conservative liberal, the real purpose of life is to actualize our essence, not reduce ourselves to some fixed victim class of the left. The left's approach effaces identity and personhood as a necessary consequence.
But again, interestingly, Berdyaev posits freedom as even prior to essence. This makes perfect sense to me, in that it seems that real personal essence would be inconceivable in the absence of freedom.
Or other words, either we are free or we are not. If we are not free, then personal identity is just an illusion. We may imagine we are "choosing," but the choices are determined by our essence (or worse, existence).
Therefore, it seems to this Raccoon that personhood is really a dialectic -- or play, if you like -- of essence and freedom, or of I and Slack. Our essence is a mere abstraction until it encounters being in freedom, which results in our concrete I at any moment.
I mean, isn't this how it works? I think I'm being quite literal here, not at all distant from how it feels to be being someOne.
To make it even more concrete, it is exactly like jazz. Jazz, you might say, is America's gift to the world. But before that, it is God's gift to America. It is a kind of objective correlative to American-style freedom, or to the ordered liberty of the founders. Old white men indeed. Rather, the founders were funky old jazzers.
I realize this will sound offensive in the context of slavery, but the black experience in America is really a microcosm of the whole process, elevated to a plane of transcendental beauty. When we think of quintessential American music, what is it? Mostly jazz, blues, soul, rhythm & blues, gospel. Each of these, in its own way, is "the sound of freedom."
Now, why would a formerly enslaved people create such a beautiful sound? Perhaps for this very reason. Since physical -- i.e., horizontal -- freedom was restricted, blacks poured forth this longing on the vertical plane, via musical expression.
Furthermore, music was very much a way to express identity and personhood that were otherwise denied by cultural oppression. Take anyone, for example Louis Armstrong, or Duke Ellington, or Thelonious Monk. To a racist-existentialist, they are simply boy, or n-----, an anonymous designation determined by race, by existence. But the existential yoke is really on the racist, for each of these men not only expressed their unique identity via music, but created whole musical worlds that will endure and be explored forever, whereas the racist is buried in an anonymous grave that no decent person wants to visit.
So in his own way, the racist makes himself as unfree as his projected existential dunce partner. In other words, the racist needs the "inferior" race in order to imagine he is superior. The same dynamic exists in contemporary liberalism, since the white liberal's identity is thoroughly entangled in his sanctimonious and condescending attitude toward the blacks he presumes to pity.
Why more blacks aren't offended by liberal condescension is something of a mystery, but no more mysterious than the liberals who do the condescending. It takes two to engage in this freedom-denying dialectic of existence and accident, just as it takes three to engage in the trialectical spiral of freedom, person, and essence.
Returning the Berdyaev, "Personalism must recognize the primacy of freedom over being," for "the philosophy of primacy of being is a person-less philosophy." And the latter is also a deterministic philosophy, because it tries to make freedom a function of being, "which in the final analysis means that freedom is the child of necessity."
This leads to a rather controversial conclusion, radical in its implications, but no less radical than the Coonifesto. I can understand if one recoils from this conclusion, but I accept it wholeheadedly, for it makes sense of a great deal of nonsense (and vice versa):
"[F]reedom cannot be derived from being." Rather, it "is rooted in nothingness, in bottomlessness, in non-being, if we use ontological terminology. Freedom is without foundations; it is not determined, it is not born of being....
"The primacy of freedom over being is also the primacy of spirit over being. Being is static: spirit is dynamic.... spirit is subject and subjectivity: it is freedom and creative act."
And finally, "man faces, not abstract truth, but Truth as the way and the life. 'I am the truth, the way and the life.' This means that truth is concrete personality, its way and its life'.... Truth is dynamic in the highest degree.... It is given only in creative act" (Berdyaev).
Bottom line: I can imagine this on God's eternitable. At any rate, it's on mine: