Letter to a young author, Or The Uses and the Abuses of Philosophy for Life

By Zsuzsa Baross | this text is also available in pdf

It is not without trepidation that I begin writing this letter, fearing that its lessons – for it must be about lessons of some sort, yours and mine – will be not be heard well or will be misread.

Let me begin with your lesson, or perhaps reminder would be better term for what your writing showed me as missing, since long, from so many text by peers, colleagues, and certainly by many of my students. Passion and energy are again not the most accurate words, although your writing is driven by both; they have been used up and have become clichés of praise precisely for weak, obligatory, dutiful writings. I should rather say that what in your text reminds me of youth – in the best sense, as a lived experience – is the act of writing itself, which gives expression and comes as response to something irresistible, is carried by an exuberance, and – yes – by a glorious arrogance.

I do not fault your piece for the latter and would hope that learning of one’s ignorance need not necessarily dull arrogance, one’s impatience with banal stupidity.

I’m reminded of a magnificent little piece in Deleuze épars. Approches et portraits (Hermann Éditeurs, 2005): Raymond Bellour is dreaming of Deleuze. In an amphitheater, Deleuze listens to someone defending her dissertation. She says odd things of Bergson. Suddenly, Deleuze grabs the microphone and exclaims in rage: “I wrote five books about Spinoza and I cannot let such things be said.” In a progressive furor he falls on his back to the floor. The image reminds the dreamer of Kafka’s overturned insect in Metamorphosis. I cannot tell you how often I felt the irresistible need to imitate this scene and express my impotent rage with legs and arms in the air rather than with words as does Kafka’s Gregory Samsa.

Although your piece is full of what must be considered as reductive misreadings, too fast formulations, not once did I feel to urge to repeat the scene described above.

So let me come to my lesson, which would have to be about the uses of philosophy for life. Or simply what philosophy is good for. I have mentioned your arrogance. On the one hand, it is an admirable quality: the geste of valuation/revaluation (of Nietzsche). On the other hand, it holds the danger of being simply a vehicle for judgment, for sitting in judgment – over life, the masses, society, the present. Doubtless, you remember how fondly Deleuze cites Artaud: “To have done with the Judgment of God.”

So what philosophy is not good for is to change the world, to give expression to one’s chagrin about the world. The philosophy of Deleuze especially does not address itself to “errors” of society, it does not legislate what desire is or is not, what life is or is not. It does not address itself to what is. The creation of concepts is a different sort of undertaking. For a concept is or corresponds with a possible world. Which is why it is so difficult to create one. It requires the act of creating a world.

So what does the concept say? It simply says, to think desire not as psychoanalysis does, as a lack, requires not another definition but a concept with the power to conjure up another world; to think life as not my life, but as that which passes through me, is to give life to another life. It is not the philosopher who judges life, it is rather life that judges itself, tastes itself. But letting this happen is not an easy task.

Zsuzsa Baross

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