8.11.2012

Philosophy as World

When I read philosophy — which is pretty much all I read — I feel my way through it. I let it play in me, through me, in my head and my loins, my tongue and my gut, my fingers and my duodenum. I wanted to write duodenum. And now I have, twice.

I reach for the character of the philosophy — and let it reach through me. I lend it my body as I become its dummy of a sort. Only I'm not a very good dummy (ok, ok, yes, there are many jokes here) as I am not readily manhandled. I parry, hedge, steer, stipulate, and grope back.

Each philosopher takes me up differently: Hegel is a masochistic comedy of errors, as I slip and slide through murky waters; Derrida, a playful pedant who, like Hegel, loves the comedy of slipping and sliding; Bergson, so seriously and methodically trying to intuit the endless flow of everything; Merleau-Ponty's serious poetics, a chiasmatic erotics, that leave me a silky web; and so on. 

My point, among others, is this: I don't read for the logic of ideas alone. Yes, I read for and with the logic. But I could not, nor would not, ever reduce any philosopher to his — yes, usually his — logic or concepts.

I am, alas, not a philosopher. Not in that sense. I don't read the history of philosophy as different efforts to answer the big questions — What is self? What is mind? What is being? What is language?  Forget those questions. They are (almost) always the wrong question. Just because someone asks a question, doesn't mean you need to answer it. 

I follow Deleuze and Guattari's conception of philosophy: it is the creation of concepts. Some say this is not philosophy. I don't care. In this world view, each philosopher asks a different question, proffers different answers, creates a different cosmos. Does this mean Socrates and Hegel have nothing in common? Does it mean I can't put Derrida next to Bergson just to see what happens (I think nothing would happen)? Of course not. Philosophers create lines, worlds that steal and borrow and live with other philosophers — as well with novelists, architects, artists, fashion designers. Jean Paul Gaultier, from one angle, is one of the great philosophers of our times — identity is a put on, the world all surface and oozing through itself all the time. And Deleuze and Guattari are leading architects. What is the rhizome if not an architecture — of experience, of being, of becoming, of thinking, of the social, of space?

I am a rhetorician, a sophist. I have never taken a philosophy class. I am a rhetorician through and through.  I see difference, love difference, read for difference. I don't try and see how the books I read add up to anything. Together, they coalesce in me and what I think and say is how they have worked themselves out — in me, of me, through me, with me. And while there is a certain pleasure to the proof, it is not the thing that makes or breaks a philosophy to me.

One of my favorite moves in philosophy — no, in anything — is the opening two propositions of Leibniz's Monadology:

1. The Monad, of which we shall here speak, is nothing but a simple substance, which enters into compounds. By 'simple' is meant 'without parts.'

2. And there must be simple substances, since there are compounds; for a compound is nothing but a collection or aggregatum of simple thing.

Why do I love it? Because it is thoroughly tautological: the first principle is "proven" by the second which itself is proffered as self-evident. I love the way The Monadology moves from the simplicity of the monad to the infinite complexity of the cosmos under God's perfect rule, all from this self-starting point. And, in the middle, we discover the infinity of matter: another pond in every drop of the pond ad infinitum. These 90 propositions, these 11 pages or so, give us this glorious, melodious vision of mind boggling, harmonious, infinite complexity. He creates an entire world as if from scratch.

When I read Leibniz, when I consider Liebniz, I dwell in his beautiful world. I have no need, no will, no desire to question his logic, find fault or even complicity with another philosopher. To do so seems repugnant, at best. I just want to be drunk on Leibniz, delirious on Leibniz, swirling with Leibniz.

Other times, I crave something else. I want to dwell in Bataille's cooky extremities. I want to wander with his generous nastiness.  Bataille functions as a counterpoint to Leibniz — a counterpoint, not the counterpoint. There is no opposition, not here. My philosophers, at times, form a Calder mobile. But then Calder joins the mix as another voice, the whole structure involutes, and comes out somewhere else, as something else entirely. 

Philosophy does not give answers. It poses questions and proffers worlds. To each his or her or their own logic. And the more the merrier. 

3 comments:

Linz said...

It's like the philosophers you read are all your different lovers, and you enjoy intimate, yet open relationships with them all.

I like the idea of text as body a lot. It implies a certain code of ethics for handling a text. Like, for the most mutually beneficial relationship, don't "use" a text. Not because doing so is wrong, but because doing so isn't as enjoyable as moving with a text - letting it move you, and gently moving it. Also because if you can use something, then you can use it up, so maybe you get more out of a text when you ask less of it.

ayşegül said...

Thank you! Really, I so want to thank you. I have just one thing to ask: why do you always have the need to say that you are not a philosopher? No philosopher would call himself as philosopher anyway but he wouldn't be pointing that out all the time too. What you do IS philosophy, problematising life in a very nice way, going all the way through. I just want to know what kind of an audience do you have in mind while saying you are not a philosopher? Because that audience doesn't involve me. Maybe I am missing something here. Will you enlighten me?

Daniel Coffeen said...

Well, sometimes I run into philosophers and I find our conversations quickly derail: we have fundamentally different wills, different desires, different foci.

And because, sometimes, I believe there is something productive about maintaining the distinction between what I do — sophistry & rhetoric — and what they do, ie, philosophy. There are clearly two different practices. Can I call mine philosophy, as well? Sure. But I am proud of my sophistry and want to maintain my connection with that beautiful history.

So sometimes I call myself a philosopher. And sometimes I call myself a sophist. And this, alas, makes me a sophist.