Monday 8 November 2010

How to read philosophy

Yesterday morning I was reading stories by Borges, and then in the afternoon I read Giorgio Agamben's delightful new book, Nudities (Stanford UP 2010). This gave me a new intuition about Agamben's work: if you read it like a Borges story, it all makes perfect sense.

It's often helpful to read a book that way, against the grain of its own purported genre. Borges' own stories – perhaps the most purely fantastic fictional inventions ever written – are best read as history or philosophy. In an extraordinary book on fashion, Caroline Evans reads Marx "as gothic fiction rather than political economy". David Kelsey has noted that Karl Barth tends to read the Bible like "a vast, loosely structured non-fictional novel" – and I've often pondered whether Barth's own dogmatics is best read as an enormous digressive epic novel, more akin to Melville's Moby-Dick than to Aquinas' Summa.

So anyway, this got me thinking about the best genre in which to read various modern philosophers. Here are some suggestions:

  • Kant: an anatomy manual
  • Hegel: a darkly thrilling opera
  • Heidegger: a gothic novel of romantic horror
  • Early Wittgenstein: simple yet impossible IKEA assembly instructions
  • Later Wittgenstein: an immersive TV series on HBO
  • Simone Weil: a play by Samuel Beckett
  • Walter Benjamin: an aphoristic Twitter feed
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: a 1960s surfing film
  • Simone de Beauvoir: a Marquis de Sade novel
  • Carl Schmitt: a World of Warcraft quest
  • Emmanuel Levinas: a blind date
  • J. L. Austin: a rap album
  • Jean Baudrillard: a sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick
  • Michel Foucault: a historical murder mystery
  • Jacques Derrida: a crossword puzzle
  • Judith Butler: a season of The Wire
  • Alasdair MacIntyre: a Jane Austen novel
  • Giorgio Agamben: a Borges story
  • Alain Badiou: a terrorist handbook
  • Slavoj Žižek: a sitcom
This would also make a fun party game for nerdy intellectuals, let's call it Musical Genres: the names of various writers (philosophers, novelists, theologians, writers of cookbooks) are placed in one hat, and the names of various genres (poetry, history, science fiction, pornography) are placed in another hat. Each person gets a random writer and a random genre, and has to describe the person's work in terms of that genre. For example: "In one of Plato's celebrated cookbooks, we read of a delicious but unexpectedly potent cocktail, fatefully sampled by Socrates, whose last words were, 'I think it needs more lime', and 'Ooo I feel all tingly'."

Note: On a more serious note, at the moment I can't seem to upload any pictures on to Blogger. Does anyone know how to fix this? Or better still, does anyone out there want to help me move the blog to its own domain?


Nathan said...

Hey Ben,

Happy to help move you from blogger to (your own installation of Wordpress) - all you need is a domain name and some hosting space. And I can either run you through the process of importing your blogger posts and comments, or help out. It's pretty easy. I did it a couple of years ago.

Nathan said...

Just shoot me an email on nm(dot) if you want a hand.

Anonymous said...

I particularly like:
"Jean Baudrillard: a sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick
Alain Badiou: a terrorist handbook
Slavoj Žižek: a sitcom"

very humorous.

Ben said...

Ben, you play WoW? What's your main?

Ben Myers said...

No, I've never played, though it looks like fun. I have a brother who plays, so he's told me all about it. I'm afraid I already waste way too much time reading novels — so I can't afford another huge time commitment like online gaming!

kim fabricius said...

Ha! Clever, funny stuff.

Ben Myers: The Temple as Peanuts cartoons

David said...

Hi Ben,

I'd be willing to help - I freelance in web design whilst being a Theology and German student, so I'm hopefully pretty on the ball.

Cabe Matthews said...

I've recently come to think that Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations is basically just a collection of blog posts.

Andy Browne said...

I think moving to your own site would be great. Unfortunately I have no clue how that works, but I do hope it happens.

The Charger said...

Funny. I'll try it. Maybe you should flesh this out into some kind of interesting way for the reading boring textbooks.

byron smith said...

Nieztsche: a nasty lover's tiff with the gloves off (all insults and personal attacks are on the table).

Does anyone know if it is possible to shift to Wordpress (or elsewhere) and still maintain all internal links? I have long desired to be rid of Blogger, but really don't want to lose all internal links (which I find a helpful of noting the connections and development of my thoughts).

Adam Kotsko said...

One way to go is just to leave the Blogger page in place and start a new Wordpress page, linking back to the Blogger archives. I found that too much data was lost when I tried to import posts to Wordpress -- most importantly the actual author of the post. That might not be as big an issue for Ben, though. But I don't see why it's a big deal to leave the old site in place as an archive rather than importing it.

Joseph said...

This post, like many similar posts, put me in mind of a distantly related quote from a recent Michel Barnes article:

'Second Moderns tend to think that the time of metaphysics is long passed—and here Kant
counts as “metaphysics”—and that theology now has to be constructed upon this new
“fact.” Unfortunately, the theologians who most fervently announce the death of metaphysics
are almost always people with no scholarly authority or credibility in the field of
philosophy. It is one thing to build a theology on a hypothesis—e.g., “this theology will be
articulated as if metaphysics were dead”—but it is something quite different to base one’s
theology upon one’s own impersonation of a philosopher. The proper question to ask
whenever judgments about philosophy are integral to a theology are mooted is, “Why
should I value your opinion on the field of philosophy?”'

Ebion at the Barricades, n. 21.

Ben Myers said...

A belated thanks for the technical advice and offers for help. I've emailed Nathan about switching to WP. David, if you're still out there, could you send me an email? I'd love to get some further help with some design features.

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