Philosophy as Biography?

It’s fairly well-known (I think??) that when asked about the life of Aristotle, Heidegger retorted that all we need to know is that Aristotle was born, he thought, he died.  That is to say, who cares about the life of Aristotle, it’s irrelevant to understanding what he wrote down on paper.  Derrida suggested (somewhere) that the “official” biography of anyone is problematic because it serves to freeze that person’s image, and in turn, produces a truth that give rise to a predominant perception of that particular person for, well, who knows how long.  Derrida counters such a view of biography (however successful) with a more fragmentary and “novel/radical/interesting” (whatever that means) reading of a philosopher’s writings that may actually contain and “reveal” a more more accurate biography than the “official-minded” biographies.  Yet, there may be a better way.  Osip Mandelstam wrote something to the effect that, “It is enough for us to tell of the books one has read, and his biography is done.” Emmanuel Levinas provides us with some sparse details–an “inventory” as he calls it– of his biography in “Signature,” and pauses to note that his biography was “dominated by the presentiment and the memory of the Nazi horror.” This business about philosophy and biography isn’t really new, Diogenes wrote a biography of a bunch of philosophers, and that was a while ago after all.  I recall some biography of Nietzsche suggesting he was a closeted homosexual and that’s why he was so filled with vitriol against Christianity and the conventional morality that goes along with it.  I don’t know, how much should we pay attention to philosophers lives as a way to illuminate their writing?  Here’s a rather odd answer in the form of a biographical reflection by Alain Badiou,”Philosophy as Biography,” which appears in the latest issue of The Symptom:

Nietzsche wrote that a philosophy is always the biography of the philosopher. Maybe a biography of the philosopher by the philosopher himself is a piece of philosophy. So I shall tell you nine stories taken of my private life, with their philosophical morality… Continue reading