Asceticism without end: Stiegler’s call to Philosophy

I just picked up Acting Out by Bernard Stiegler.  In the first of two essays, Stiegler recalls how he was “called” to philosophy while serving a five year prison sentence.  However, while Stiegler continually mentions and discusses an “act” that led to his incarceration and then eventually, his philosophical “acting out,” he never really spends any time discussing his crime.   Though, the blurb on the back of the book tells us that Stiegler was serving a five year sentence for armed robbery (I wonder if that helped sell some copies).   The essay is a wonderfully written account of how he became a philosopher.  Stiegler details his incarceration: when deprived of exteriority (and I suppose one might argue that this means one is possibly deprived of interiority as well), he put together a rigorous schedule of reading (slowly reading Mallarme every morning, working through Plato, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida) and writing in order to produce “signifying practices” that would allow him to (continue to) individuate  while in prison.  Continue reading

To Read Or To Non-Read: On Pierre Bayard

Again, returning to the subject of Pierre Bayard’s book – How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read – I must say that this is ironically the only book I’ve read with such interest in some months, but then again did I really read it? Bayard’s playful title and amusing chapter headings predispose one to believe that the book is going to be some smart ass and sarcastic diatribe against reading which will turn out (down deep) to be a celebration of reading.  In fact, the book does exactly what it promises in the very title, that is, explain how it is possible to talk about books one has not read. Of course, and here’s the trick, it also challenges some general assumptions about the nature of reading and the value of reading, and it does so in a very matter-of-factly way of asking very simple questions like: Does it really count as a “read” book if you’ve read the book but then forgot parts or all of it? For example, in philosophical circles one assumes that everyone “read” Plato, even if a specific dialogue is difficult to recall for a non-specialist, we all “know” what Plato is about and all, the problem, however, if it is a real problem (and it is not for Bayard), is that we talk about Plato as “readers” of Plato when in fact we actually do not remember much of Plato’s texts but only secondary references to them, references of various kinds such as other people’s lectures, our own vague memories, certain “important” sections etc etc. Reading, argues Bayard, turns out to be a kind of creative non-reading where even the books we’ve read from cover to cover (and how often does that happen, I ask) are not really “read” because by “reading” we generally mean a process of familiarizing oneself with the content of a specific book. Non-reading is a way to engage books, says Bayard, that, if one listens to Oscar Wilde, is as important as so-called “reading” – in fact, Wilde’s suggestion that one does not spend more than 10 mins with a book is a guiding principle throughout…

One reviewer (The Guardian) claims that “Bayard’s approach is Derridean: Continue reading

Reading The Book of Disquiet

Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is one of those books I keep coming back to. When I first bought it I sat down and read it straight through and I have found that over the years I will, from time to time, pick it up and either flip through it reading random passages or get lost in the aphorisms and burn through the whole text all over again. It’s an autobiography in the form of journal entries by Pessoa’s “semiheteronym” Bernardo Soares, because as Pessoa describes it, “his personality is not different from mine, rather a simple mutilation of it.” I don’t know what grabbed me early on, perhaps the musings of the everyday (“the quotidian is maternal”), the utter and hopeless solitude, and the periodic fits of frustration and failure that mark many of the pages. Or maybe its the moments of what seems to be a series of transforming realizations that Pessoa dutifully reports throughout. Yet, most of all is the constant wrestling with what Benjamin Kunkel calls–in an excellent reflection about reading The Book of Disquiet— “a kudzu Cartesianism: a crazy interior multiplication of egos, each thought or feeling producing a separate spectator self, a subject then made into the object of a brand new subject, and so on indefinitely.” It is this seductive solitariness, the complete withdrawal into dream life and at other times, more mildly, a vacillation between waking and dream life that always jumped out at me. Regardless, this passage caught my eye this evening, having picked up the book on a complete whim:

We should arrange our lives so that for others they are a mystery, so that the people who know us best don’t know us from closer range than the rest. I shaped my life that way, almost without thinking of it, but I put so much instinctive art into doing it that for myself I have become a no to all my clear and sharp individuality.

Kunkel’s article in The Believer is well worth taking a look at. [There, that should fulfill my pretentious post quota for the month, and not a day too soon!] Aces…