ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
Being and NothingnessA little while ago I picked up a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre's hefty philosophical tome Being and Nothingness at a used book store in Providence. I know, I have odd tastes, but there it was, and Sartre's one of the thinkers who's been on my get-to list for a long time. I also know that most people don't do well plunging headfirst into an 812-page doorstop of a book with no previous exposure to existentialism other than a few scraps in college thirty-five years ago, but that's also my style -- put it down to a youthful infatuation with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, but big books don't scare me, and I'd rather get the whole picture in a single massive lump than have to piece things together from more obviously accessible books. 

So I launched into Being and Nothingness, and as I got used to Sartre's technical language, which is fairly opaque -- he's a twentieth century philosopher, after all -- I noticed something very odd: a peculiar kind of déjà vu. 

It's not as though I've read Being and Nothingness before -- I'm quite sure I haven't. It's as though I'm encountering, for the first time, the systematic logic behind the way the world has always appeared to me. 

Sartre makes sense to me. The way he puts consciousness at the center of the human experience, rather than (say) the reasoning mind or the will; the way that he distinguishes between the ordinary engagement of consciousness in the details of everyday life, in which the big questions stay hidden, and the experience of disengagement through reflection, in which a dizzying gap opens up between consciousness and all its objects; the incisive way in which he shows that deterministic theories that reject the freedom of the will (as popular in his time as ours) are simply ways to try to evade the consequences of reflection, and try to be something the way a rock is a rock, which is the one thing consciousness can never do -- it all makes a very peculiar kind of intuitive sense, not as though I've thought these things before, but as though these things are implied by the way I naturally think, and I'd have known them if I'd followed things out systematically enough. 

It's an intriguing experience. I'm left wondering if I read the existentialists in my last lifetime -- I died around 1960 that time around, so the time factor works out nicely -- and they made enough of an impression on me that the habits of thought made the leap between lives. Or is it just that my mentality is the kind that fits an existentialist model unusually well? 

ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
drowned statue of libertyA while back, rather to my surprise, I fielded an invitation from philosophy professor (and retro technology aficionado) Richard Polt to submit an essay for an academic volume titled The Task of Philosophy in the Anthropocene. Some months thereafter, even more to my surprise, I heard that my essay, "The Coming of the Post-Axial Age," had been accepted for publication, alongside contributions by professors of philosophy in Europe and North America. To top it all off, my contributor's copy came in today's mail: a nicely produced and intellectually meaty volume. I'm sorry to say it's priced at current academic-press rates, which are absurdly high; if you work for a university library or have plenty of cash to spare, you can order a copy here. 

(No, this isn't the cover art, though it could very well have been. I couldn't find an online cover image in a format that Dreamwidth can handle.) 

The conventions of academic publishing (and the details of my contract) preclude my publishing the essay elsewhere for a while, but it was an interesting challenge to ask myself what I'd say to professional philosophers in the present day, when philosophy has lost the ample public interest it once had (as late as the 1950s, a new book by Sartre was a significant cultural event) and the institutional arrangements that support philosophy as an academic profession are cracking at the seams as western civilization settles deeper into decline. It was also interesting to take on Karl Jaspers' notion of the Axial Age and its consequences -- among the more widely accepted versions, among intellectuals these days, of the mythology of progress -- and to try to set the rise of philosophy itself into a historical framework that doesn't bow to progress and the stealth teleology that pervades it. 

I have no way of knowing if any similar opportunity will ever come my way again, but I hope it does -- and I hope this essay helps get philosophers thinking about what it means to pursue their craft in an age when faith in progress is canceling itself out. 
Page generated Apr. 25th, 2019 02:02 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios