Thinking In Solitude (While Standing)


Dylan Trigg (of Side-Effects) has a couple of insightful posts on thinking (in solitude and while standing):

Quite unlike any other, philosophy is a form of writing that engenders itself toward a special form of awkwardness. This is the awkwardness of philosophy itself: of the grand gesture to turn inwards (Heraclitus: “I searched my nature”), breaking down all that culture and life has imposed upon the pre-reflective self, only to produce concepts with nothing more than a contingent relation to the everyday world.

Awkwardness that leads to inwardness? Inwardness to legitimacy? Dylan poses a number of questions that he does not really intend on answering, just sort of pronouncing them and leaving them be which propels me to address them somewhat tangentially. As I said before, I think that conceiving of solitude as anything philosophically interesting or potent is rather naive for a following reason: indeed awkwardness seems to be the force that pushes one into seclusion, therefore the brave self-imposed solitary philosopher is in fact a victim of his/her own social inadequacy, it seems. “I’m an island, I have my books” is not a real solitude, it’s an unfortunate consequence of being a nerd. How many can honestly say that their solitute is self-imposed or a sacrifice of some sort? And even then, I don’t think there’s anything specifically philosophical about solitude, is there?

Awkwardness produces an illusion of inwardness, it seems, and then an illusion of profundity – “he spends all his time alone, staring into the fog on the top of the mountain, he must be profound, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to spend so much time with himself” – fusing oneself with one’s writing then is a necessary coping mechanism, is it not?

The philosophy of Stoicism, practised in the public arena of the Stoa, is inextricably bound with the act of walking. And indeed Greek philosophy more broadly is surrounded by the halo of thinkers who walk. Yet this motion remains incomplete without attending to the gesture of standing after walking.

Thinkers who walk are sort of ideal philosophers as they seem to lack patience to stand/think in one place. I wonder where Socrates fits in here? He was known to suddently stop and stand for hours while being confronted by his “daimon” – is Socratic standing here an ultimate figure of philosophical stupor/block or is it a figure of profound philosophical insight? While reading Dylan’s post on standing and how often philosopher’s presence in the class/room “remains unaffected by their thoughts” I remembered a talk by Jean-Luc Nancy I had a chance to hear a couple of months ago – I swear to god it was the most boring talk by any person I have ever experienced in my entire life! In any case, I thought I’d just point out Dylan’s posts as I thought there were quite insightful.

2 thoughts on “Thinking In Solitude (While Standing)

  1. Lot’s of good stuff there. Heidegger has a quite a few quotes about just standing around and tarrying with no purpose in mind. It’s one of the ways, other than the tool breaking, that we can apprehend things in their Vorhandenheit mode. And his metaphor of truth being a “clearing” has to have comes from stopping during a Volksmarch in the black forest at a place where more of the sun is filtering down from above.

    I forget which book Heidegger wrote about boredom in (one of the ones with “metaphysics” in the title; it also talks about animals and was the last great thing he did before his writings become fatally compromised by the National Socialists (first from trying to justify them, then from being so terrified and self-censoring that the coherence wanders off)).

    Anyhow, there’s lots in reaction to Heidegger’s phenomenology of being bored (Levinas on insomnia is related), but I don’t think anyone’s written on the phenomenology of actually being boring.

    It can be a case of the aristocrat’s privilege (originally the privilege to sleep with your wife before you did, but also the privilege to be eccentric and to be rude in a way that guaranteed the boredom of others). This all gets infinitely worse when you have the phenomena of the cult of the eccentric genius, who acts so abnormal because he sees into the void (or something like that). Then you get people being jerks as a ploy; if you can get away with it then you must really be a genius.

    Of course there are all sorts of rumors about the relative amount of derriere received by Derrida and the average Parisian pay toilet. I don’t know if those are true, but something very much like the Droit de seigneur did seem hold for the baby boomer generation of academic superstars.

    Some boring people are pathologically shy, and I don’t intend to be talking about them here. Some boring people just don’t have anything interesting to say (i.e. most people’s facebook posts), and I don’t intend to be talking about them here.

    But when somebody is boring, every sentence works to communicate their superiority to their interlocutor. They are so much better that their interlocutors had better do the work to retain interest. Like the right to have sex with as many serfs as one wants (and give the a deadly disease, as in the case of Foucault), this too is one of the primary rights of the aristocrat.

    So I wonder if academics get more and more boring the more famous they become. I wonder if strivers are sometimes intentionally boring so that if they get away with it this will force others to think of them as stars.

    As usual, Iggy Pop deserves the last word: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGDb8X8limY .

  2. Heidegger has a long discussion of boredom in Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, it’s pretty interesting, you’re right.

    Do you think “being boring” in academic has anything to do with the kind of teaching they do? I mean if you are “famous” academic, you’re no longer required to “entertain” intro to philosophy students and you can teach those who are interested in the same boring issues (although it might not be true of Marion, I would have been bored even if I was all about “ze given” and “ze gift”).

    I like your approach that being boring is a privilege as most people who would be aware that they are boring others would feel the need to at least try to be better. It’s like being nice to people, if you do it because you have to, once you don’t have to anymore, you act like a jerk to compensate for all those years of being forced to be polite, you know?

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