Sidenotes on Philosophy

(Francis Bacon, Crucifixion 1933)

I. If we have believed for quite some time now that man is the philosopher, and the philosopher is a man, we have been kidding ourselves. There should not be anything idealist in pronouncing that in philosophy, we do not think abstractions, we think with abstractions, or rather, they think with us; much in the way that one sees with the aid of a telescope, spectacles, or even eyes. But the metaphor of the lens should be stretched even more, because we also see with the image, the object, the gazed-upon: I do not see you, I see with you, I do not see an ocean, I see with the ocean. And the ocean sees with me, with my eyes. There is a complicity between the gaze and the gazed-upon that runs deeper than duplicity, where the two are implicated in a seeing that belongs to neither, and to no one. So it is with philosophy and the abstraction.

II. The abstraction thinks with me, I think with it. Yet what am I if not an abstraction, a scission in this fleshy density, the calamatous coordination of tiny creatures – brain creatures and blood creatures, yes the organs are living things as much as they are home to ever telescoping populations of anonymous monsters. I am traversed by all manner of dense jungles and harsh deserts, deeper and stranger than I will ever visit. Or rather, ‘I’ traverses these wound up geographies without pity or care, at times with the leveling force of an earthquake or hurricane, at times with the ominous rumble of unknown horrors on the horizon.

III. It is in my name – or yours – that great violence is done to the world to which we desperately cling, parasites holding on by the teeth. Not even a world ‘inside’ – the bottomless host of creatures do not know the walls of skin, the skeletal architecture, the fragility of their biosphere. The flesh is forced by the gravity of the name to uproot from its stupid helplessness, if not without resistances to be tamed and silenced.

IV. The abstraction I am, or that it is, that makes me into the subject of this statement, this is what I cannot do without. It is this horrific prosthetic that I find closer than the vast depths of alien life teeming within me.

V. It is not man who thinks, and one wonders whether there was ever any man at all, whether – exposed to the disseminating force of science – he will give way into the fictional conspiracy of his anonymous insides. What thinks with man is the machine. Not a machine of metal or silicon, but a machine that uses and abuses those materials as much as this flesh, blood, and brain. Strange machines cut through so many layers of this world, plug into so many organs, animate the most unlikely regions and things. They have no program, no natural or artificial end, but nor are they blind mechanisms. They are, however, blind, and always groping in the dark, testing the waters, carefully and carelessly beckoning uncertain fates.

VI. Thought, the philosopher’s thought, is the machine as a thinking-with, a human brain thinking with a body, a computer, a telescope, a language… Or a language thinking with some flesh, some animals, some equations. It belongs not to man, no more than to someone or something else, it is the very uncertain and improper happening without end or reason, but no more endless, and instead taking aim into dark corridors of this world and reveling in the strange and terrifying consequences. Thought is but the echo of uncertain gropings, carrying uncertainty through to bitter ends.

VII. That abstraction thinks with me, through me, mortifying me for what? Nothing. That it is real, that it has real parts, there is no question: parts of this brain, parts of some languages, parts of capital, parts of my family, my clothing, my possessions and ‘my’ life, and parts of you right now, your computer and my computer, parts of anything. It uses whatever comes into view without permission or justification. It is what I am, but I am not everything to it, I am nothing to it, to this thought that thinks with me.

VIII. Love of wisdom? Only if love is the affect which forecloses the possibility of possession, of ownership, of control – in love, I give up and give away what I love, I give up on having it, owning it, I am castrated in love, as they say: I cannot have it all. And who would want to have wisdom, to know all and see all? It would be unspeakable, grotesque, shattering. Shattering, in realizing there is no all, that wisdom is a dupe. And yet I love it, you and I love it, not erotically – or not always – but we follow it and care about it, insofar as we cannot have it and do not want anyone else to have it. The philosopher’s love is jealous and protective, but less out of possessiveness than out of fear for what might happen to the reckless fool who think he can have it. For wisdom is nothing, it is the total loss of the fictional consistency I am, it is utter dissemination into the reasonless consequences of being-there. We love it, but we cannot have it, lest we lose ourselves and it at once: death. Socrates: “The fact is, those who tackle philosophy aright are simply and solely practising dying, practising death, all the time, but nobody sees it.”

IX. Upon fleeing the cave, one finds not the glorious light of the Ideas, but only scorched earth, littered with the starved and sunbaked carcasses of wise men.

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7 Responses to Sidenotes on Philosophy

  1. kvond says:

    Planomenology: X. Upon fleeing the cave, one finds not the glorious light of the Ideas, but only scorched earth, littered with the starved and sunbaked carcasses of wise men.

    Kvond: How ex-static, to have been starved and burnt by the Sun. How many seeds are made from these bones? The dragon’s teeth of the Sewn Men.

  2. Gary Smih says:

    I agree with almost nothing of what you have said here because it is that ancient mead and vatic truth that high poetry has always given us. Still, you have written it so beautifully that I almost agree. But no. Sing some more.

  3. Adam says:

    Stellar. Spellbinding.

  4. Kate says:

    Finally a description of philosophy that makes sense. And I’ve always wondered, though, why doesn’t philosophy simply admit its goal is death, rather than uselessly seeking its own perpetuation? But it can’t stop, can it?

  5. Pingback: Black Sun « Naught Thought

  6. Sam says:

    “What I write’s not mine, not mine . . .
    Whom do I owe it to?
    Whose herald was I born to be?
    How was I fooled
    Into thinking that what I had was mine?
    Who gave it to me?
    Whatever the case, if my destiny
    Is to be the death
    Of another life that lives in me,
    Then I, who was
    By some illusion this entire
    Ostensible life,
    Am grateful to the One who lifted me
    From the dust I am–
    The One for whom I, this unpraised dust,
    Am just a symbol.”

    Came across this Fernando Pessoa poem a few hours after reading this post; thought it beautifully intersected with your notes here.

  7. Pingback: Not for want of trying: Por un vitalismo oscuro « La Ciudad TecniColor

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