ReReading Kaufmann

Today I decided to hide from distractions and read, I figured that the world could damn well exist a day without informing me about its constant trivialities and mundane aspirations. Seems I was right, since it seems to still be here.

As for my choice of reading material, it was an old (1958) book, I read along time ago, when my interest in philosophy was just beginning, Walter Kaufmann's Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Kaufmann is perhaps best known as the foremost Nietzshe scholar and translator Kaufmann was (and still is) rare among philosophers, in that he has a brilliant command of language, and frequently uses humor in his texts. This Critique is also interesting, since, in at least the first section, he attempts to underline what philosophy actually is, how it is written, and how it should be read. He underlines the still-existant problem of the divide between modern analytic (anglophone) and existentialism (continental), and proposes that is it rectified, becoming more whole. He compares each school to "half a Socrates", amusingly, and oddly accurately. Both are portrayed as essentially childish, and bullishly incomplete.

It is interesting to re-read this text years later, with much more experience and readings in philosophy, I uncover thoughts that I, today, take for granted but must have struck me as obscure years ago, when I had no knowledge of the disciplines founders or range. Today his book is oddly simplistic (which is a compliment), yet packs more nuance, and more ideas about the discipline itself. Allowing us on the inside to look back at ourselves, and those on the outside to see the noble goal of philosophy. I fully recommend it to all who read this, from the philosophically inclined, to those with an interest.

There are some strangely presaging moments in the first third of the text (that pertaining primarily to philosophy, language, and the arts), outside of his critique of the rift in contemporary thought (just now being rectified by people of the likes of Richard Rorty). His idea of the social source of emotional categories is strangely, and eerily familiar today, it could have been written yesterday...

"Today world literature with its infinite variety is being supplanted more and more by the relatively few, unsubtle stereotypes of Hollywood, the radio, and television; and millions of young people get their notions of love and valor, dread and wrath, from the undifferentiated, indifferent performances of ephemeral idols whose body measurements are widely considered more important than their patent lack of any talent to portray emotions."
It is amazing that this quote was written almost 50 years ago, and has not lost its edge, even if it hasn't had the dire consequences that Kaufmann predicted.

Also interesting is his alignment of philosophy and poetry (and art as a whole), something rare in contemporary American philosophers, this juxtaposition being more common in those odd continental types. He aligns philosophy, art, science, and poetry into one common axis, the axis of butterfly like flight, and escape from the dust that most mortals are doomed to inhabit.
"Men are so many larvae, crawling, wriggling, eating-- living in two dimensions. Many die while in this state. Some are transformed and take a single flight before they settle down to live as ants. Few become butterflies and revel in their new found talent, a delight to all."
He goes on to compare philosophy to rebellion from the norms of society, and what we take as common sense. Truth is freedom. Truth is rebellion. It is the constant war against convention, with the sad caveat that those who succeed in rebellion will become the new convention to be rebelled against. On and on, for eternity.
"...there can be no definitve philosophy that has a future. There is no definitive art or science either. These enterprises are their own reward."

Speaking of: I'm thinking of trying to start a philosophic-ish reading group. Nothing too heavy, but reading ligher books with decent content and discussing them. No Kant, more in the Camus, Kafka, and non-fiction arena. Nothing boring for those with moderate experience, and nothing to daunting for those merely interested in higher concepts, and questioning the preconceptions of life. Would anyone be interested?

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