…is officially recognised by the Oxford Dictionary Online (as are ‘truthiness’ and ‘muggle’ if you were quavering on me*).

Recognised: so often we wish our meaning to be given proper attention, often by either institutional authorities or those wielding power over us in the moment, able to largely determine our significance.  This is all too telling of academic performance, but it de-scribes plenty of other situations as well (e.g. the upcoming biathlon which is the NFL Scouting Combine**).  We ‘re searching in such moments to have our work legitimated.

It was in such a spirit that the all too young Nietzsche submitted the work translated as ‘The Birth of Tragedy, a work not well met by scholars of the field of study at the time.  Another young scholar sought to raise his credentials by trashing this work.  I won’t mention his name for I have already forgotten it.  He has only come across my radar because I am rereading through the Nietzschian corpus (or what of it I possess) and stopped to grasp Peter Gay and Walter Kaufmann’s remarks.

Nietzsche’s work was n’t recognised at first.  Kaufmann lists his class sizes during Nietzsche’s years as chair of philology: they were generally between six and ten (the worst being two!) so there was little legitimation to be found amongst Nietzsche’s student followership.  He became something of a gnat to the up-and-coming Germany of his day, an opponent to its narcissisms.  So the opportunity to support his work was missed.

After Hitler’s rise to power (and yes, we ‘ve skipped a World War), many of Nietzsche’s statements were deliberately taken out of context so that he was read as an anti-Semite, when in many cases he was anti-anti-Semitic (though certainly not a Semitophile).  Here I lean on Kaufmann’s expertise and what I can recall of my former readings.  I can at least defend that Nietzsche is n’t the source if you ‘re looking for pro-Aryan material (that is n’t what the Ubermensch is really about, only what it’s too often misunderstood to mean).  So he was n’t recognised at first, and his writings were then assimilated into an agenda he (at least on the whole) would n’t have supported (he criticised Germany as a ‘true European’).  ‘Understanding’ can all too easily be one of the most dangerous forms of misunderstanding.

But let ‘s bring it back around.  I ‘m very much inclined to agree with Peter Gay when he claims that Nietzsche suffered from writing too well.  While the older Nietzsche adequately critiqued the youthful mistakes of his younger self (in An Attempt At Self-Criticism): [‘that voice should have sung and not spoken’ is the gist], he still was searching out the questions which drove Birth of Tragedy.  For example: 

“Is the resolve to be so scientific about everything perhaps a kind of fear of, an escape from, pessimism?”

~Nietzsche, Attempt at Self Criticism, an   trans. Walter Kaufmann in Basic Writings of Nietzsche (2000): Modern Library, NY

These are the sort of questions which ought to have circulated throughout the popular and academic discourse, but instead (as they say in ‘the Wire’) ‘everybody has a career’.  At the time this is all most scholars could think about.  Kaufmann had to do a great deal of work rehabilitating Nietzsche’s image from his greatest mis-readings within academia.  Ironic that now such names are all too forgotten.  Those names which endure are those which pose the questions, even if they do so too eloquently.

By contradistinction, two loquacious but un-academic figures who have significantly shaped Western thought, Socrates and Jesus, left no directly recorded material.  They were not illiterate, but were so decidedly in the moment that they could n’t be bothered.  They also were not recognised in a manner similar to how we legitimate them today.  The fire of their influences is barely captured by their respective followers (perhaps the generally poor manners of their transcribers best reveal how great were their lives).

The short of it is that too often those from whom we would seek affirmation, professional or personal, are either unwilling to give it when warranted or unable to see what should be granted.  I do n’t deny that you may have legitimate reasons for rejecting Nietzsche, or for that matter Jesus or Socrates, but you should fully daemonstrate what you have to say.  You too may have something which ought to be given space in the greater discourse, but who is to say that currently the right minds are those self-appraised ‘academic’?  These too may swiftly be forgotten — what is left to consider is how will you and I chose to be forgotten: as ‘lettered’ or ‘illiterate’?








*quaver is, I ‘m disappointed to mention, actually a word attested by Middle English ‘quaveren’ meaning ‘quiver’…my usage as a variant of ‘waver’ is n’t attested….yet

**’bi’ because many scouts will be tempted to determine the quality of the applicants by (1) how physically impressive the player looks in a track suit and (2) how quickly the potential player sprints 40 yards in said track suit.  Meanwhile, I have yet to see a professional football player sprint out of a track stance whilst protected by naught but a layer of spandex; it seems an un-explored strategy.


Intros to European Philosophy: Nietzsche


Previously read: Birth of Tragedy, the, ‘Seventy-Five Aphorisms from Five Volumes’, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Case of Wagner, the, Ecce Homo.  But, I have n’t read him in awhile: the last time was the gap-year between undergrad and masters.  Also, when the title is European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (ed. M. Beardsley), you ‘re a bit happy to finally have arrived at the end. Of the philosophers to be found therein, I feel most familiar with Nietzsche.  You could accuse me of starting this blog as a place to exercise (probably not exorcise) Nietzsche and Kierkegaard’s stirrings.

Key texts: Beyond Good and Evil (abr.)

Overall impression: Nietzsche was n’t an unfamiliar subject, but I was for once able to locate him against (often) Kant, Schopenhauer, and Hegel.


**’^`’ *


Abstrusest im-pulses


“Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: ‘What morality do they (or does he) aim at?’  Accordingly, I do not believe that an ‘impulse to knowledge’ is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse here as elsewhere, has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument. (European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche ed. M. Beardsley, p. 808)”

I ‘m quite partial to these sentiments regarding the ‘true vital germ’ of philosophers; they are not chosen for knowledge’s sake but in view to accomplishing some other aim, an aim which is all too often contrary to the means of communicating it.  Beware the one who is elusive in this matter.


Begging the Faculty and Opiates


“But let us reflect for a moment – it is high time to do so.  ‘How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?’  Kant asks himself – and what is really his answer? ‘By means of a means (faculty)’ – but unfortunately not in five words, but so circumstantially, imposingly, and wish such a display of German profundity and verbal flourishes, that one altogether loses sight of the comical niaiserie allemande involved in such an answer… One can do no greater wrong to the whole of this exuberant and eccentric movement…than to take it seriously, or even treat it with moral indignation… But is that – an answer?  An explanation? Or is it not merely begging the question?  How does opium induce sleep?  ‘By means of a means (faculty),’ namely the virtus dormitiva, replies the doctor in Moliere,

Quia est in eo virtus dormitiva,

Cujus est natura sensus assoupire.

[Because it contains a soporific power,

Whose nature is to dull the senses. ~ trans. Monroe Beardsley] (p. 811)”

We should expect scalding remarks from Nietzsche; it is our weakness then to be surprised and reflect little on the content therein.  Opium induces sleep because it has a ‘soporific effect’, just as any other physical explanation fails to explain the phenomena in absence of the physical relation – the same could be said for our explanations of gravity: things fall because the smaller mass experiences the pull exerted by the greater.  We still have no idea why.  Why then we should agree with Kant, if he has ‘explained’ nothing – it does not matter, for Nietzsche, as they are in our mouths only false judgments (p. 812).


Who exactly is doing the thinking here?

“With regard to the superstitions of the logicians, I shall never tire of emphasizing a small, terse fact, which these credulous minds are unwilling to recognize – namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wishes and, not when ‘I’ wish; so that it is aperversion of the facts of the case to say that the subject ‘I’ is the condition of the predicate ‘think.’  Something thinks; but that this ‘something’ is precisely the famous old ‘ego,’ is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion, and assuredly not an ‘immediate certainty.’ (European Philosophers, p. 815)”

Even the something which thinks is imposed by the observer.  So much for Descartes, but then, this is what happens when Nietzsche is allowed the last word: he relishes it.


In a name, prejudice lurks


“But it seems to me again that in this case Schopenhauer also only did what philosophers are in the habit of doing – he seems to have adopted a popular prejudice and exaggerated it.  Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only in name – and it is precisely in a name that popular prejudice lurks, which has got the mastery over the inadequate precautions of philosophers in all ages. (p. 816)”

The will is certainly an important matter for both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, a matter too much neglected in many prominent philosophical systems (Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and to some extent Hegel), but it is certainly a complex matter.  It is not simply enough to know that the will to power or the will to action are the reason for which we think and discuss matters, we must not make the mistake of Descartes in allowing it to be simple.


The escape into normalcy


“That the various philosophical ideas do not evolve randomly or autonomously, but in connection and relationship with each other; that, however suddenly and arbitrarily they seem to appear in the history of thought, they nevertheless belong just as much to a system as the members of the fauna of a continent – is betrayed in the end by the circumstance: how unfailingly the most diverse philosophers always fill in again a definite fundamental scheme of possible philosophies.  Under an invisible spell, they always revolve once more in the same orbit; however independent of each other they may feel themselves with their critical or systematic wills, something within them leads them, something impels them in definite order, the one after the other – to wit, the innate methodology and relationship of their ideas. (pp. 817-818)”

Leave it to Nietzsche or Foucault to say a lot in two sentences, with a lot of Nietzschian/Foucauldian asides to mark their respective streams of consciousness, but still to wander on their way.  It makes for interesting reading and it is n’t ‘clean’ in the manner of some philosophers.  That ideas operate within a discourse and are essentially all reactions to each other (and necessarily they are always in response to some finite series of former reactions) is a point which needs making (even as a reaction, it still needs to be said again as the counterreaction is sure to come back).


“[O]ne should use ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and mutual understanding –not for explanation. (pp. 818-819)”

I love considering causality, and alternatives to causal explanations, but prefer to note that ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ are useful in day to day discourse as language conventions; but ought to not be thought of formally as useful descriptors.  For Nietzsche, the only helpful causality is the causality of will (because any who wills certainly expects to make a specific change – to will this thing) (p. 823) and for Ghazali it is most important that causality not limit God’s freedom.

  • This is only an aside, but in speaking of experience Nietzsche leaves this: “[E]xperience, as it seems to me, always implies unfortunate experience? (p. 833)”


Fear of the known

“Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood.  The latter perhaps wounds his vanity; but the former wounds his heart, his sympathy, which always say: ‘Ah why would you also have as hard a time of it as I have?’ (p. 849)”

I have elsewhere remarked on this passage, so I only here would say that understanding, as truth or knowledge, is power-language and can so be deemed abusive by one who feels experience has given her a right to speak thusly.

the Will to Mis-Understanding

290.  Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood.  The latter perhaps wounds his vanity; but the former wounds his heart, his sympathy, which always says: “Ah, why would you also have as hard a time of it as I have?”

~Beyond Good and Evil (trans. Helen Zimmern) from the European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (2002) the Modern Library, NY. ed. Monroe Beardsley: p. 849

If I had to make a guess where the concept (which I still can neither nail down, nor wish to by giving it a definite origin and limit its applications) of trying-to-be-misunderstood originates, my guess would be that the language of it at least sounds Nietzschian at first pass.  But then, what do I know? or so what?

Nietzsche put his finger on the psychology of introspective thinking.  There’s a strong tendency for me to not only believe that certain thoughts are ‘mine’ but further, to guard them as if they were.  Perhaps we should wonder why intellectual property is so closely guarded in Western societies.  It’s because we thinkers also want to have some say concerning how our ideas are appropriated – and sometimes with good reason!

But I’ll move past this thought to consider why any deep thinker would prefer being misunderstood to understanding.  Nietzsche here asserts that the psychological impulse rejects another’s claim to understand because a solitary thinker resists the assertion that her experience is common.  How can anyone else have suffered as I have suffered; this is worth far more to me for I have waited here in the damp cold for enlightenment, but what have you done?  Why should you be paid for the whole day’s work when I arrived before the dawn – when I have not rested!  That she is indignant is easy to grasp in theory, but her tears have been her own and we must not claim them.

So too the friend who has consoled another in hard moments should know better than to utter those ill-fated words I’ve been there.  Pain has its own language and few are permitted to speak it.  The rest of us may sit with him until he should speak, but entrance to this club is bought dearly should we wish to offer our own experience.  While the suffering of the thinker – the travails of her exile – may not amount to the same, it is for her to decide; not us.

Another word on the psychology of being understood (though I hope it will be readily seen that the right to claim understanding is not to be taken up lightly – even if it is not entirely the mourner’s or the thinker’s (I’m tempted to write tinkerer here to show better what I mean for that better approximates the task of the deep thinker) to decide who can speak): We’re talking about power.  After all, we’re drawing from Nietzsche – how could we avoid power talk?

Understanding is about the right to speak – if we understand her, there’s not much left for her to explain.  But if we’re dealing with a deep thinker, not enough can be explained.  It is not that we are unable to offer feedback, it’s that she ought to retain some right to answer.  Otherwise we deny the Will to Power for which she toils.  She approximates, scrapes not only for language with which to construct but also to best communicate her thoughts, and at last presents it.  It may be premature even to assert that she understands her project in full.  Instead she misunderstands well – she has developed a point from which to approximate and communicate her vision, she has a unique misunderstanding.  We may reply to her from our own vantage points, but we should hesitate before we too quickly assert that we understand her.

  • Update: my friend, Jess L, responded with an interesting bit of language that might, I think, be offered instead of the dubious ‘I understand’ – ‘I dig’

Non-Working Title

The primary element which drew me to select the current title under which to pen these thoughts (if anything can truly bind them together other than the inexplicable unity I pretend to understand as pertaining to myself) was the expectations it was likely to generate. 

Previously I penned thoughts under my own name, but came to think there was too much cheek or pride or some such attached to it; too much permanence for someone who is convinced that one can’t step in the same river twice (or truly deliver the same lecture twice to channel that thought anew).  And worse: specifically using my own name suggests that you are becoming more familiar somehow with me, as if that were a significant part of why I read or research or ponder or do anything in the first place.  It ‘s mildly interesting for me, but it ‘s always secondary – I prefer learning from what I have been/done.  In the end I shall have little say over how I am to be viewed anyway, so far better to try learning to be someone than to defend a name I did n’t choose (though I ‘m no less than proud of the associations that come with my name for family’s sake).

So, when this title hit, I liked first that it interested me as a reader (though I do n’t think my writing to date is up to the level of the title’s originality or the interest-level I have with the image it evokes), but contemporaneously could see that dismissing the expectations of being understood relieved a great deal of tension.  Instead of dismissing my arguments and myself wholly in one go, this core concept allows for others to be conceived and dismissed in service of discourse.  I think of it much as though I am learning a language (for I am somewhat acquainted with this): one must make innumerable mistakes before one learns to speak meaningfully by means of such (and one cannot communicate without some linguistic medium). 


There seem to be two sorts of geniuses* generated by my mind in contradistinction: one who generates a new system which all others must take account therefrom or the one who readily understands how to summarize and apply each system of interest.  I suppose I cannot say with any conviction that either truly exists, but some certainly have an easier time of it than I do.  I should like then to think that what understanding (linguistic or otherwise) I attain to is then the result of much hard work and discipline, but in all cases I am trying to write a narrative in which I am special due to the perceived quality of my thoughts.  Here we are back at the name-formation issue.  I.e., I only know differentiate myself by seeing what is different in myself, and therefore my actions, from what I understand to be you and your actions. 

But honestly, I do n’t think thoughts, or systems of thought, truly attach themselves to people in such manner.  Instead that which we speak (for who can recount all that one thinks but does not say) reflects who we are…meaning it establishes a point of discourse which another can respond to.  But it does not tell us truly wherefrom we shall speak at the next moment, nor what points of discourse precede this one.  For that we require relational understanding to one another.  Friends speak another language to each other.  Although one might end up anywhere along the spectrum of possibilities allowed in language, such freedom is enacted in a way a good friend might learn to predict.  While we may never give precisely the same lecture again, we are likely to speak of the same subjects and to attach to them similar language patterns; all is not thoroughly randomized.


Returning then to how a reader may encounter a discourse in which misunderstanding is not only acknowledged as likely, but serves as the core expectation: what may be expected of the author is that for every thought marked in his discourse, others are being necessarily concealed.  So it is not unlikely that misunderstanding may arise due to stylistic choices, such as voice or mood.  Even the intonation and stresses with which a reader approaches this text shall lead to a different manner of misunderstanding (which is necessarily an understanding as well).  But a wholesale dismissal of such thoughts is much harder to express (aside from choosing to ignore completely what is posited).  Further, it admits that as the author I am not claiming to understand precisely what I mean to say (though I can dismiss many misunderstandings of purpose or minor foibles).


In fact, I am trying to learn what it is that I am saying.  This is the very reason I write: so that I may not only encounter thoughts but respond to them and learn their advantages.  By being informed of disadvantages for which I did not account, I may yet learn how to better locate such thoughts in the future.  Therefore writing as I would have it is an invitation to feedback; a chance not only to express thoughts so as to test my abilities to communicate them (and I am quite certain I miscommunicate with myself as well as with you, the reader) but to learn what faces such ideas have for those outside myself.  For that, I am truly interested.  And so, ironically hopefully, I yet am learning how to express that which is beyond me, perhaps to the benefit of those who may move well beyond me. 

Let us be less serious then in defending ourselves and our thoughts simultaneously as we pursue learning how to speak and act in better accord by the negation that is genial discursive opposition.





*or genii, if you will

(Every time I see Working Title Films’ logo, I admire their name choice)

The Ledge of Knowing: Foucault’s Indefinable Definition-by-way-of-Discourse

At last I ‘ve crested the next-to-final hillock in the Archaeology of Knowledge by Foucault.  And, finally I ‘m met with a definition of knowledge – so long as I ‘m willing to rearrange the idea of ‘definite’ that is.  Consequently, should I ever step over the ledge that is publishing, I’ll either begin my pagination at p. 182 or put off defining the most important elements of my discourse until the penultimate chapter.  But would n’t it be more properly in line with ‘holism without the whole’ to leave the definition nothing but a sketch, a series of examples?  Oh wait, that ‘s kind of what Foucault did.

This group of elements, formed in a regular manner by a discursive practice, and which are indispensable to the constitution of a science, although they are not necessarily destined to give rise to one, can be called knowledge.

~Archaeology (1972), Pantheon Books, New York (translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith) p. 182

Finally, whew – we ‘re done.  There ‘s nothing more to see here; we can all go home now and ponder how best to apply Foucault’s historical apparatus(es).  Or wait, maybe he ‘s not done.

Knowledge is that of which one can speak in a discursive practice, and which is specified by that fact:


And now we know where he ‘s going with this; knowledge is the product of discursive practices – many of which Foucault is sure to enumerate.  Oh, and ‘knowledge’ is n’t so much a product of discourse, but the limits made possible by discourse – the possible selections to be made within the pronounced and silent aspects of discourse.

…the domain constituted by the different objects that will or will not acquire a scientific status (the knowledge of psychiatry in the nineteenth century is not the sum of what was thought to be true, but the whole set of practices, singularities, and deviations of which one could speak in psychiatric discourse);


Okay, that ‘s a helpful illustration.  To possess knowledge in a given field of study is to know the language of study in which that field operates such that you recognize (as a grammarian) abusive or acceptable forms or facts within the realm of that knowledge.  And continue the expositio:

…knowledge is also the space in which one the subject may take up a position and speak of the objects with which he deals in his discourse (in this sense, the knowledge of clinical medicine is the whole group of functions of observation, interrogation, decipherment, recording, and decision that may be exercised by the subject of medical discourse); knowledge is also the field of coordination and subordination of statements in which concepts appear, and are defined, applied and transformed (at this level, the knowledge of Natural History, in the eighteenth century, is not the sum of what was said, but the whole set of modes and sites in accordance with which one can integrate each new statement with the already said);

~Ibidem, pp. 182-183

So knowledge is not merely passively seeing errors and regularities in discourse, but speaking in the locus of that discourse.  Those privileged enough to be recognized by society as having authority to speak in medical discourse then execute its judgments according not only to the facts but to the space that knowledge inhabits.  I.e. they exercise knowledge within that locus by way of interacting according to the discursive limits which constitute that knowledge.

Knowledge as the field of coordination/subordination would mean that knowledge is n’t simply the available possibilities within discourse, but knowledge is also that thing which limits/enables/categorizes such possibilities.  I.e., instead of describing points of discourse A or -A, knowledge specifically decides how what is said of A/-A is to be not only viewed but applied within the system of knowledge.

lastly, knowledge is defined by the possibilities of use and appropriation offered by discourse (thus, the knowledge of political economy, in the Classical period, is not the thesis of the different theses sustained, but the totality of its points of articulation on other discourses or on other practices that are not discursive).  There are bodies of knowledge that are independent of the sciences (which are neither their historical prototypes, nor their practical by-products), but there is no knowledge without a particular discursive practice; and any discursive practice may be defined by the knowledge that it forms.

~Ibidem, p. 183

We ‘ve already touched on how knowledge consists of the possible points of discourse, but also as the aspects of discursive practice which limits their possibility and application; the domain of possibility, the possibilities, and that which allows them to take part in knowledge.

I do n’t pretend to have understood this perfectly (and given the title of this blog, I should hope that such expectations would be diminished), but while I have some clue, having waded through the prior pages so that I can appreciate the embeddedness (to use a term I better understand when applied to Heidegger’s Ontology – Hermeneutics of Facticity) or perhaps better, what it means for Foucault to speak of something ‘discursive’.

Basically (so that my misunderstandings may remain small or forgivable), Foucault wishes to consider history without letting the historical project serve or lend itself to the ‘sovereignty of consciousness’.  Should we be able to extricate one history (either as the sum to which events and technologies at last lead or as the constant, unchangeable flow which those events serve), it will serve this telos.  Yes, writing histories is both political product and that which alters the political discourse by participating within it.  But if we can look at history as histories, as pieces of events as they relate to the other events and not to some Geist or theme, our results may perhaps avoid serving those ends.

So Foucault looks to encounter history as discourse through discourse, by not only entering the conversation to chronicle what was said, but as those mechanisms which limited the conversation, as those items which deviated from the conversation, and as those mechanisms which led to the conversation being held according to such determinations.  In doing so, the product should fail to serve the ends of the ‘sovereignty of consciousness’ because we cannot speak of one ‘product’ but rather the production, production mechanisms, and those items which could not have been produced.  Instead of ‘history’ we have ‘histories of’: histories not of thought but of that which led to thought and those thoughts excluded and the rationality that led to their exclusion.

It is in this sense that knowledge is neither to be spoken of as the object which history seeks to uncover, nor the sum of facts.  Instead, knowledge is the ways we speak about objects and the ways we are n’t allowed to speak.  Knowledge is that which tells us what is understanding and what is misunderstanding, the positions taken, the fields constituting those possibilities, and the mechanisms which change.


But the simplest thought to be extricated is simply that knowledge cannot be removed from discourse – for it both serves discourse and is its result (whose value is derived solely from the discourse which it adds or detracts from).  This ghastly ledge descries that horrifying limit which separates knowing from unknowing, but it also is that which exaggerates the dangerous verticality of the separation; the Separationist movement which excludes, but that which will lead one to at last construct a step-ladder with which one may explore the limit that gives knowledge its edge.

If we are to take Foucault seriously, to misunderstand him in the small sense by way of the best available misunderstandings, we will not be so caught in the eschatological vision that we forget that this reaching into the abyss not only will lead to the extension of knowledge in overcoming its limits but also the unseen return which shall yet constrain it in the unseen.  But the purpose here is not to discredit all attempts at understanding – rather it is to cause us to consider what understanding truly is so that we might avoid serving misunderstanding in the pursuit of attaining that knowledge.  Surely to reveal is also to re-veil, but that does not negate the value of seeking revelation.