Monday, August 27, 2012

philosophy considered as one of the fine arts

She Spits Melancholy at Him, by artist Janet Snell


When I stand back a-ways from a particular philosopher's work or from philosophy in general, a curious thing happens inside my head. Instead of conception and argument, philosophy begins to look sort of like an art form to me, maybe in these terms:

  • Form, color, texture
  • Melody, harmony, rhythm
  • Evocation, mood, astonishment

Most actual philosophers will look at me, scratch their heads, and then say, "You're stupid." Nietzsche, though, might give me a wink and a smile of sanction from inside his asylum.

A thing is being built up, a shape materializing, a vision offered during the philosopher's movement into his or her intuition about the mysteriousness of reality. That vision is expressed through words colored with an implicit emotional energy -- an abstract or meta-luminous feeling about the world. And the text becomes textured with a desire to brood in bohemian precincts of contrast to phenomenal stupefaction (normality).

In a way, a philosopher's vision is also a sonata. Principle lines of saying sound in the personal region of thinking. Those lines go through development and recapitulation. Layered into those lines are others, raised or lowered to complementary pitches -- echoes of precedent forming a coherent harmony of other timbres to plead subtly into the "score." And one is swept along, as if on eccentric rhythms, to the dark music dancing  toward the horizon of World.

Even the driest of Analytic philosophers evoke in their readers a wonderfully disturbing thing -- the ghost of  meaning that hides within our language. Even they can haunt us with a sense of the not-to-be-taken-for-granted. The others -- the Continentals -- are the true poets of philosophy. They are pulled along on currents of inspiration, and their paeans to the Mystery are written with flair, enriched with metaphor. And with a sensitivity to daemonic moods behind representation and thing-in-itself, between essence and existence. These moods of world and being flow into their thinking about world and being. The rational pulse of a philosopher's questioning and assertion sparks darkly with wonder, arcing unspoken feelings into the atmospheres of ideas.

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