The Consolation Prize of Philosophy
One’s worldview is a kited check, though people normally die before some Socrates or other tries to cash it and it becomes clear that there are insufficient funds in the account. I’m keenly aware of this problem and I write, not to change anybody’s mind—like that’s going to happen—but in an attempt to find out what I think about things. I’m trying to be my own private Socrates. Until my words appear in front of me on a page, I’m living on faith, subscribing to the vague religion whose one discernible tenet its that I actually have a creed. On the evidence to date, there isn’t much in there, but I still want to know.
Writing in this sense is an ordeal rather like psychoanalysis or interrogation under torture, though it is thankfully much cheaper than the former and somewhat less painful than the latter. The analyst says nothing; the tormentor refuses to tell the prisoner what he is supposed to confess. That’s how you wring water—or blood—from the stone. It’s also why some of the most powerful books were written in prison and repressive regimes would be well advised not to imprison rebels if they aren’t going to kill them outright. Protracted solitude is unnatural and therefore the appropriate scene for the unnatural act of thinking as a individual, which is to say writing. Anyhow, writers or at least the philosophical kind of writer are close kin to criminals—you can ask ‘em about that—and criminals belong in prison.Fortunately, there is a sensible alternative if you insist on writing, but don’t want to come across as a Dostoyevsky character. You can practice reverse plagiarism, saying whatever you like while convincing yourself and everybody else that you’re speaking in the name of a revered ancestor. A tremendous amount of human creativity takes place under the cover of fraudulent discipleship. We just don’t accord enough respect to the emancipatory potential of pedantry.