WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

— In amusement of the forthcoming English translation of Giorgio Agamben’s book, Che cos’è la filosofia? (What is Philosophy?).

PART 1 of X

*

Last week, in Grado, Italy, I was lucky to find myself, after a day of two two-hour-long seminar sessions, in the evening, at a table with Giorgio Agamben.  One of the day’s seminar presenters had been a paramount disappointment.  The organizing principle in what he’d said was a feint to which he’d assign a generic name, and then under it write proper ones.  He called the first, POSITIONS, and wrote proper names under them based on his analyses of what he took for their “PRO-POSITIONS”.  For example, the paradoxico-critical position, the analytic abstract, the naïve realistic, the outlandish radical, the LA angelic, the rubbernecking, the towheads.  Under these: Badiou, McTavish, Derrida, Gretzky, Lemieux, Hegel, Mingus etcetera.  I couldn’t believe it.  Giorgio could.  When I mentioned this to him, naturally, he leaned forward over his orange and pineapple fruit smoothie far enough to steal a scent off my vino bianco’s gorgeous bouquet, and disclosed, “That’s not philosophy.  That’s making good opinions.”  I was satisfied – naturally.  For the time being…

*

The next evening, after he’d instructed the waiter to bring plates of various cheeses, cold cuts, breads, wine and delicious vegetables, among their manifestations, he pulled a cigar from his breast pocket, the one in which he keeps his Elegante-Brand watch, and, through the tobacco-smoke, illuminated an inquirer.  I paraphrase: “Theory’s a response to an illness.  You leave theories as the illness responds.”  I was confirmed: naturally…

*

Giorgio Agamben: Grown-Up Real-Life Kool-Aid Wino…

 

***

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

PART 2 of X

 

“Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.”

 

You’ll find this sentence in the second paragraph of Henry David Thoreau’s space opera, which he deliberately entitled, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods.  This is fundamental: Philosophy does not consist in saying what one might have it in oneself to say, but in taking a first step toward the establishment of one’s right to say it.  For Thoreau, this meant the establishment of himself as distanced, becoming (a) stranger.  Socrates, as recounted in The Apology, establishes himself as a foreigner.

In our world, what one has to say, said, is as useful as it is not literalized.  In the vocabulary Agamben developed in his seminar: it’s as useful as it has deactivated the grammar that otherwise holds life captive.

We make up a different language for poetry

And for the heart – ungrammatical.

–Jack Spicer, from “Transformations II,”Language

Philosophy: Difference and repetition of the first step toward the establishment of one’s right to say it: “Patience and patience, we shall win at the last” (Emerson “Experience”).

 

***

 

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

 

PART 3 of X

 

The love (philo-) of wisdom (-sophy).  What the heck is “wisdom”?  We get this from Aristotle:

 

Just as we call free the person who exists for himself and not another, in the same way we say that wisdom is the only free science.

Metaphysics 982b 25

 

Then more recently we get Charles Olson’s essay, “Against Wisdom as Such.”  His direction here is against the separation of wisdom from “the man” such that from the outside it functions after the act to disguise its proper measure in decorum and reduce the man to symbol: “Light is reductive.  Fire isn’t.  …I said to Duncan, ‘heat, all but heat, is symbolic, and thus all but heat is reductive.’”  Whatever wisdom may get into a poem got there not due to the poet’s prejudice but solely as record of the creation’s moment in which there might happen to be widsoms:

 

/ whatever is born or done this moment of time, has

the qualities of

this moment of

time /

Against wisdom as such: against the promise of a science that exists for itself only, and not another.  There, though, for sure, is wisdom, if it’s sought – there, mixed up in and indistinguishable from what it is not, yet not, for that, become other than exactly itself, “…just as, according to Benjamin, shards of messianic time are present in history in possibly infamous and risible forms” (Agamben The Use of Bodies 94).

“Wisdom” could mean the use of these shards, such that, using, their language and one’s life coincide, revealing, “in the complete sense of the word, a wisdom: a knowledge of ‘life’ and its language” (Roland Barthes, The Grain of The Voice 194).  It could mean that.  As such wisdom is indistinguishable from what it is not.  It is im/potent, an im/potentiality.  It’s for use, love.

*

The love (philo-) of wisdom (-sophy).  What the heck is “love”?

***