Aufhebung & Cynicism: Taxi Driver and the Morality of Emancipation

This post began as a reflection on Taxi Driver, then took on a greater scale.

Take a moment and think about this word: cynical. It seems to me the longer you think about it, the less clear your idea about its meaning. What is a cynic? How exactly would you describe the state of mind of someone being cynical? Is it about having a negative outlook on life, about looking for elements to critique, about highlighting the shortcomings and exacerbating them, and so on? But if everything is negative, why bother critiquing it or highlighting its shortcoming?.. It seems somewhat counter-productive or… contradictory.

It also sounds weirder the more you say it: “cynical”. Thankfully, the explanation for that is more straightforward: the word comes for the Greek word Κυνόσαργες (Kunósarges), first home of the Cynic school of philosophy in Athens. A well-known rep of that school is Diogenes, whose famous stories include using a lamp in daylight “looking for a man” (Wikipedia explains that “In his view, the unreasoning behavior of the people around him meant that they did not qualify as men”) and his meeting with Alexander the Great.

Story goes that Alexander had a very good opinion of himself and considered himself powerful, and while visiting Corinth (Diogenes had been captured by slavers and transported there) wanted to visit Diogenes who had a reputation for his very unusual way of life. Alexander found him and…

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