The Trauma of Philosophy

The entry from my philosophical journal reproduced below is a short one.  It stands alone between the entry posted yesterday,  which is a response to my reading political scientist Jenny Edkin’s Trauma and the Memory of Politics, and the entry for my next posting, which begins a series of entries in which my reflections are elicited by reading feminist scholar Ann Chetkovich’s An Archive of Feeling.   In contrast, the entry below stands on its own, rather than as evoked by any specific reading.  In it I very broadly and quickly sketch a critical reading of philosophy itself as the manifestation of a trauma–or, more specifically, of a mechanism to keep a trauma at bay.

In my mind, the critical sketch of philosophy from the entry below sets up rich resonances with another critical sketch of philosophy, by Franz Rosenzweig in the opening pages of The Star of Redemption, to which I refer the interested reader.   To give a brief summary,  in those great opening pages of his master-work Rosenzweig addresses the whole history of philosophy since Socrates, and contrasts it with the “New Thinking” Rosenzweig himself endorses, and sees as finally beginning to emerge only with Nietzsche, eventually to become more fully represented by Heidegger, especially in the latter’s famous disputation at Davos, Switzerland, in the 1920s with Ernst Cassirer about the interpretation Kant.  Rosenzweig presents philosophy from Socrates to Nietzsche as a sort of suicide.  As Rosenzweig interprets it, the Socratic philosopher chooses to negate flesh-and-blood life itself in favor of a bloodless projected Ideal reality, making that choice in order never to have to face the fear of deathhead on.  By Rosenzweig’s analysis, the “otherworldliness” of philosophy until Nietzsche manifests an attempt to avoid the fear of death by avoiding ever fully living.
The interpretation of which I  give a thumbnail sketch in the entry below should be seen as moving within the horizon first opened by Rosenzweig’s critique.

Sunday, February 2, 2008

From its inception philosophy has defined itself by a movement of exclusion–exclusion of that from which philosophy differentiates itself, and precisely [only] in such differentiation becomes itself.  Thus, in its founding movement philosophy gives priority to that against which it defines itself.  It can come to itself only as the negation of its opposite, as,  for Nietzsche, the “good” of the “good/evil” distinction [in the first of the three essays that make up his Genealogy of Morals] can come to itself only as the exclusion of its opposite, which has status independent of, and prior to, the “good,” which comes as a sort of afterthought, almost.

Hence the obsessiveness of philosophy’s return to defining itself [rather like the dog of the Christian gospel that returns to its own vomit, to use one of my favorite analogies], since that can never be accomplished  for  sure.  Only what needs no  movement of distinguishing itself from what it extrudes and excludes, in order to  come to  itself, can ever fully “accomplish”itself.  Or, rather, only what never needs to accomplish itself at all, but what simply is in its fullness, like the sun in the Prologue to [Thus SpokeZarathustra, can escape the excremental cycle–the cycle of excreting its own opposite and opposing itself to it in in obsessive retention–[Giorgio] Agamben’s [notion of] ban.

Since its inception in Plato, philosophy has bound itself to the ban of sophistry.  No wonder [then that] philosophy always reeks of solipsism, which is the shit of philosophy.

What would a thinking which was not under such an excremental ban be like?

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  1. I would like to defend the Socratic understanding of Philosophy as the love of knowledge in which ‘love’ and ‘knowledge’ are indistinguishable (the interpretation Heidegger elicits in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?).

    As such, loving knowledge is Being ‘in the know’ rather than anywhere apart from it. Knowing cannot be distanced from Being, and this, according to Socrates, is the very source of anything lovable, the fullness of all authentic living, eclipsing any mere sense experience. Which means that the true philosopher lives the most by entering the source, the essence, of experience – rendering the death of a body meaningless. Socrates at his own death, Plato shows us in the APOLOGY, demonstrates this fearlessness.

    For the authentic Socrates and the pre-Socratics, in my reading at least, Philosophy excludes any doctrine that smuggles in the false premise that consciousness is limited to the material (mortal) domain. Rosenzweig’s interpretation clearly contains this sort of fatalistic sophistry by privileging the ‘flesh-and-blood’ criterion! A thinking that does not identify with the human body (and yet does not censure it, either) is free to identify with Being in such a way that the concept of identity (the differential in post-Platonic Philosophy between love and knowledge) itself dissolves.


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