What is Philosophy?

What is philosophy? There are so many definitions of philosophy. It is not altogether unlikely that the “What is…?” question is not the best way to approach a definition of philosophy. There are many other important questions for defining and describing philosophy. Who are philosophers? What do philosophers do? How does one become a philosopher? How, where, and when does philosophy happen? If you want to keep the question of being (ti esti, “What is”), maybe you could at least pluralize or verbalize philosophy, so that “What is philosophy?” becomes “What are philosophies?” or “What is philosophizing?” (“What are philosophizings?”). In any case, all of these questions hover around the same point. Whatever philosophy is/does, it seems particularly involved in defining itself, maintaining itself, like it has to keep turning on the engine in order to keep driving, continually initiating itself, bringing itself back to itself. In short, philosophizing maintains a constant connection to its own beginning. Philosophy is perpetually preparatory, programmatically provisional. Continue reading

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A Hegelian Laxative

I finally got around to attending to some of the wonderful essays in Hegel and the Infinite: Religion, Politics, and Dialectic, edited by Slavoj Žižek, Clayton Crockett, and Creston Davis (Columbia UP, 2011).  Incidentally, this is one of about four of Clayton Crockett’s books I’ve read in the last year.  I’ll have more to say about his work later.  For now, I’ll just say that this book on Hegel is a must-read…for Right-Hegelians, Left-Hegelians, post-Hegelians, anti-Hegelians, etc. 

For all of those who are stuck in an interpretation of Hegel as a totalizing thinker who appropriates and assimilates all difference and alterity into his own absolute knowledge, this book would be a great place to start loosening up—reopening your interpretation of Hegel and letting go of that overused straw man argument. 

It turns out that Hegel is not an extremely constipated thinker who appropriates reality into himself without remainder, nor a coprophagic thinker reappropriating that remainder.  Hegel is much more open-ended, radically affirming the irreducible contingencies of the real.  Žižek makes this abundantly clear in his chapter, “Hegel and Shitting: The Idea’s Constipation.” 

The matrix of the dialectical process is not that of excrementation-externalization followed up by swallowing up (reappropriation) of the externalized content, but, on the contrary, of appropriation followed up by the excremental move of dropping it, releasing it, letting go. (p. 231)

The move of letting go is like the movement of God, letting go of divinity in the process of incarnation, which is an act of emptying (kenosis).  This letting go opens a space for inquiring into religion and the complex political relationship between the sacred and the secular (where the secular is the sacred letting go of itself).  This movement of letting go (in the vernacular, “shitting”) also “opens up an unexpected space for ecological awareness,” a scatological ecology according to which nature is experienced “as something to be left to follow its inherent path.”

“What critics of Hegel’s voracity need is, perhaps, a dosage of good laxative.”  True as that may be, as I recall, William James let go of some anti-Hegelianism with a dosage of nitrous oxide, not laxative. …in any case, a dosage of good something…