Tuesday, November 13, 2007

III. The Importance of Style – Play and Seriousness in Conflict

Not only do the sciences need to be reunited with art and literature, but ways of writing – as ways of knowing – need to be reunited too. Writing can act as a form of discovery – if one treats writing as a process rather than a mere conveying of ideas one has already made up one’s mind about. While Nietzsche set out to bring rhetoric to philosophy, that insight appears to have been mostly lost on philosophers since him. I say this in apparent contradiction to much of what passes for “philosophy” at the present time, but which is more often than not mere rhetoric, lacking the substance of philosophy (and there are some out there who engage in something that lacks the positive attributes of both rhetoric and philosophy, but too often manages to take on what is worse in each – what is often called “theory,” which should not be confused with the theories found in science). Too often all one finds is the writer playing with words, but giving the reader very little substance. They have no unity in their diversity, variety, plurality, informed as they are by the deconstructionist, postmodern, postcolonial view of the world. At the same time, those who do write philosophy seem to think they have to be as boring and tedious as Kant. They take the world altogether too seriously. I reject both views, and side with Nietzsche in believing that there should be unity in plurality, play and seriousness – one must have beauty. The best works would be those that combined art and thought, unity and variety, Being with Becoming, scholarly knowledge and artistic wisdom. Any works that could do all of these things would be the most beautiful.

It may seem odd to end this chapter by discussing rhetoric and philosophy, since I began it by laying out a metaphysics. I started the chapter by laying a foundation, and I am ending it with a subject – rhetoric – typically understood as antifoundational. Foundational and antifoundational approaches to philosophy (or theory) are generally thought to be in conflict. But I, like Nietzsche, take an agonal view (though, again, my agonal view is one with just the slightest touch of Hegelian synthesis mixed in, since I see agon as giving us emergent properties, while each part maintains its identity, and remains in agon). If it seems as though I contradict myself at times, I very likely do – and, at the same time, I definitely do not. All conflicts/contradictions are only apparent. What I am proposing here is a form of writing that acts as a dissipative structure, has order (is serious), but lies on the edge of chaos (is playful). It would contain at the same time constructive, meaningful, angelic seriousness, and de(con)structive, meaningless, demonic laughter. As such, it would be the most creative, meaningful, and beautiful.

This is why I wish to talk about play in discussing the issues of rhetoric and philosophy. But why make a distinction between play and seriousness? This distinction, I would argue, is made more by philosophers than myself – my position is more reflective of Huizinga’s definition of play as something nonserious done seriously (5-6), which is itself a playful, agonal, rhetorical definition. Mihai Spariosu observes in God of Many Faces that it is the philosophers who wish to separate play from seriousness:

Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle not only convert the violent and arbitrary play of Becoming into the rational and orderly play of Being, but also turn heroic and tragic poetry into a nonserious, simulative, and mendacious discourse, subordinating it to the serious, truthful, and moral discourse of philosophy. (Spariosu, xiv).

If by definition play is nonserious (even if done seriously), then philosophy will have nothing to do with play – nothing is or takes itself more seriously than philosophy. Rhetoric, on the other hand, (and the much more rhetorical, playful pre-Socratics – Parmenides, Zeno, and their like excluded, but more on them later) as exemplified by Gorgias, is the very epitome of play. Gorgias’ On Non-Being is a perfect example of this, the rhetorical loops he throws together, making fun of those who are busying themselves with such silliness. By playing, he destroys “one’s adversaries’ seriousness with laughter, and their laughter with seriousness” (Spariosu, 93n), something which Nietzsche himself attempted to take up in his critique of Western philosophy in general, and Christianity in particular.

The question may now arise: why is rhetoric necessarily more playful than (Parmenidean and post-Socratic) philosophy? Gorgias is interested more in the words he uses – playing with the words in On Non-Being, playing with the possibilities in Encomium on Helen. The words themselves enact the argument. Plato, through his mouthpiece Socrates, is, in Phaedrus, more interested in using rhetoric to argue for the truths of philosophy; and not just any rhetoric – speech is more serious (less playful) than writing, which is why Socrates expresses a preference for speech over writing (with which the reader can play, through interpretation; with which the writer can play, through revision). As Spariosu says, “the poet becomes the ‘man who writes,’ engaged in trivial play, whereas the philosopher becomes, like Socrates, the ‘man who does not write’ (in Nietzsche’s phrase), engaged in a serious pursuit” (167). We see in Ecce Homo how great an attack this is on Socrates, since, for Nietzsche, writing is affirmation of life – it is, in one of Nietzsche’s favorite phrases “how one becomes what one is.”

In this conflict between rhetoric and philosophy, between play and seriousness, we see two general possibilities for engaging with the world: the way we deal with the world during times of leisure (leisure-thinking), and the way we deal with the world in times of crisis (crisis-thinking). The rhetoricians and most of the pre-Socratics were writing and speaking mostly during times of peace. The story of Heraclitus being visited by other thinkers and scholars shows a man without worries, with time and leisure to think complex thoughts. No one wants to hear grand speeches with complex arguments except when very little is at stake (remember that Socrates was executed after the Peloponnesian War and the plague that hit Athens). The rhetoricians and pre-Socratics could make maximum use of the language – language having origins likely rooted in play, playing with communication through the narrative-rules of grammar and syntax, making the rhetoricians and many of the pre-Socratics closer to the language than those who did not play with it and who wanted to restrict the use of language. I am, of course, talking about Plato, who, as stated above, wanted to restrict rhetoric to the uses of philosophy. But from whence did the philosophical thinking of Plato and Aristotle (and, before them, Parmenides and Zeno) come?

The philosophies of Plato and Aristotle are examples of crisis-thinking. Crisis thinking is default thinking. When one finds oneself in a crisis, it is best to see the world as black and white, fight or flight, good or bad, Us and Them. Rhetoric is for times of leisurely thinking; philosophy is for times of action. Nietzsche observes in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks that Parmenides both “flourished approximately during the outbreak of the Ionian Revolt” and gave up a somewhat Heraclitean, complex world view for “the rigor mortis of the coldest emptiest concept of all, the concept of being” (80-1). It is no coincidence his ideas simplified, indeed, calcified, during this time of crisis. We see this again with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates and Plato were philosophizing during Athens’ war with and defeat by Sparta – it is, indeed, during the aftermath of Athens’ defeat that Socrates is executed. No doubt this put Plato into crisis mode, being a follower of Socrates, not to mention his living through the war with Sparta. Aristotle, too, lived through general upheaval, tutoring Alexander the Great, who went on to create more upheaval in the world. Thus we should not be surprised to see both Plato and Aristotle emphasizing balance – the very antithesis of play.

Why is balance the antithesis of play? What kind of game could one play where everything was flattened out, made perfectly balanced? Balance is both seriousness and simplicity, one and the same. Play is complex. Thinking that is playful, as opposed to serious, is more complex. Nietzsche goes on further when he says in Ecce Homo, “I know of no other way of dealing with great tasks than that of play: this is, as a sign of greatness, an essential precondition” (37). Great thinking is playful thinking, complex thinking. It is based on rules, which create complexity. Philosophy as we have come to know it, based on and in perpetual dialogue with Plato and Aristotle, is Law-based, which is restrictive, and is therefore designed to decrease complexity.

This brings us to the question of what distinguishes Rules from Laws. The questioning of distinctions, as such, will come later. For now, we will take a somewhat more philosophical stance and say there is a distinction between the two (more later on the bringing of philosophy to rhetoric, in contradistinction to Plato/Socrates’ desire to bring rhetoric to philosophy). Both Rules and Laws are used to delineate what one does. For my purposes, however, I want to make the following distinctions. Rules are flexible, which means they can be bent; they are prescriptive, which means they say what you can do (as, say, the rules of chess) and, as such, are positive in nature; they act as strange attractors, meaning they are dynamic, they deepen and grow more complex over time, and they increase your degrees of freedom, giving you more possibilities. Action is impossible without rules; rules create actions, possibilities of and for actions. Laws, on the other hand, are inflexible and cannot be bent, but only broken; and they are broken under threat of punishment (laws can be changed – but in the sense that they are changed, they no longer exist as laws and other laws now exist); thus, they are restrictive, saying what you cannot do; they are static, unchanging (especially in philosophy), they decrease your freedom by being restrictive, and give you fewer possibilities. Action is cut off with Laws; laws prevent actions, possibilities of and for actions. Even before such ideas were around, philosophic laws took on a Newtonian sense of Being, of Laws of Nature (or Heaven), while rhetorical rules more closely resemble contemporary chaos theory, with its rules of nature, which are always in a state of Becoming (Big Bang theory says even the so-called Laws of Nature evolved from previously-existing laws; even the constants may be changing, albeit slowly). An example is perhaps in order.

Saying it is always wrong to prejudge is an ethical statement – it is philosophical and stated as Law. It prevents you from doing something: prejudge people. On the other hand, saying it makes sense to prejudge people in a tribal situation, where day-to-day survival is at stake, and making a mistake regarding who your friend or your enemy is will almost certainly get you killed, while in an increasingly globalized, interconnected world where we can get to know one another and our daily survival is not always at stake (we do not have to kill off other countries to feed ourselves or to have enough water), it makes more sense to see more people as part of the larger tribe of humanity and, therefore, not prejudge them – though in a crisis it can, again, make sense to return to more primitive, tribal thinking, keeping in mind that when the crisis is over, it is best to return to more complex thinking – is a rhetorical statement, and is stated as rules that can change under changing circumstances (though it is also not a completely rhetorical, completely contingent statement where no standards of any kind exist). The simultaneous needs of social bonds and personal survival (which are intimately tied together – not at odds) are the rules that structure our negotiation between these apparently opposite poles of prejudging as being either good or bad. Such a rule as “it is wrong to prejudge” is contingent – but it is contingent based on these two basic human needs of strong social bonds and personal survival, both rules of human nature. This sort of rhetorical ethics meets “the definition of play as an activity occurring within certain limits of space, time and meaning, according to fixed rules” (Huizinga, 203) – the rules of human nature. In Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Nietzsche points out that “the concept of greatness is changeable, in the realm of morality as well as in that of esthetics. And so philosophy starts by legislating greatness” (43). Rhetoric is much more dense than philosophy, but that is because rhetorical thinking is far more complex, requiring much more interpretation than philosophical thinking, where propositions can be stated simply and exhaustively (making it too often dry and wordy), because the proposition itself is terribly simple. With rhetoric, repetitions are used to create the difference that defines the terms; with philosophy, each term is explained at length. But we can also see here that rhetorical, complex, thinking is not quite either-or. As such, neither is Rules versus Laws really an either-or choice. Both contain elements of each other (as do the arguments made above) – both are restrictive and permissive to different degrees – so there is more a gradient between Rules and Laws, some delineations of actions more Rule-like, others more Law-like. Each, as Derrida famously says (taking the idea from the Taoist idea of yin-yang), contains elements of the other.

Another distinction between default-thinking and leisure-thinking is the apparent contradiction that default thinking tends to take a mechanistic approach and break things down into categories and disciplines, while leisure-thinking is more holistic. I say this is an apparent contradiction, because most people would see more categories as more complex, and holistic thinking as simpler. Huizinga sees it that way too when he says “the grouping of scholars into nationes, the divisions and subdivisions, the schisms, the unbridgeable gulfs – all these are phenomena belonging to the sphere of competition and play-rules” (156). But what we actually see in the creation of these categories (a further extension of primitive, dualistic thinking) in Plato and others is an extreme reductionism, an attempt to make things simpler by clearly delineating them. To understand the interrelatedness of things is much more complex thinking – one sees the poetry in molecular biology, and understands how molecular biology can help us to understand poetry. This does not mean I am against the use of said categories. What I propose is, through the leisure-thinking of rhetoric, we take these disciplines and turn them into strange attractors, around which our understandings of them, and ourselves through them, will deepen – and, thus, bring them together into a more holistic knowledge through an agonal dialectic. Knowledge would act to create the strange attractors of a wiser wisdom.

Another distinction between leisure-thinking and default-thinking is the tendency to turn the latter into a system – something nearly impossible to do with the former. It is easier to turn Socrates/Plato and Aristotle into systems than it is to do so to Heraclitus or Nietzsche (despite efforts to do so – efforts which necessitated leaving out much of what Nietzsche said, not to mention ignoring his admonitions not to turn his thought into a system). Nietzsche observed that this tendency of philosophy to become a system when Plato and other philosophers became

founders of sects, and that sectarianism with its institutions and counterinstitutions was opposed to Hellenic culture and its previous unity of style. Such philosophers too sought salvation in their own way, but only for the individual or for a small inside group of friends and disciples. The activity of the older philosophers, on the other hand (though they were quite unconscious of it) tended toward the healing and the purification of the whole. (PTAG, 35)

From Plato on philosophy became more tribal and therefore more primitive (it became crisis-philosophy), in contradistinction to the more complex pre-Socratics’ leisure-philosophy.“From Plato on there is something essentially amiss with philosophers when one compares them to that ‘republic of creative minds’ from Thales to Socrates” (PTAG 34). This “something amiss” is the calcification of the world into Laws – a distinction of religions – in opposition to the world of play that constituted pre-Socratic, poetic, and rhetorical thinking. This is why Nietzsche said, “There are people who are opposed to all philosophy and one does well to listen to them” (27).

Perhaps as much amiss is Plato’s attitude toward play. Huizinga says that:

For Plato, mimesis is a general term descriptive of the mental attitude of the artist. The imitator – mimetes – that is to say the creative as well as the executive artist, knows not himself whether the thing he imitates is good or bad; mimesis is mere play to him, not serious work. This is true even of the tragic poets, he says; they too are only mimetikoi – imitators. We must leave on one side the question of what this somewhat depreciatory definition of creative work really means . . . (162)

I, however, will not leave it to one side. While Huizinga uses this to point out “that Plato understood creativity as play” (162), the very fact that Plato treats it depreciatively tells us a great deal about his attitude toward imitative play – and seriousness. Plato, as with contemporary “Sport and athletics showed us play stiffening into seriousness but still being felt as play” (Huizinga, 199). This is why Plato sometimes feels playful when we read him, while the play-element is much more obviously absent in his successors. Further, Huizinga points out:

In order to establish for all time the fundamental errors of the sophists, their logical and ethical deficiencies, Plato was not above borrowing their loose, easy manner of dialogue. For, as much as he deepened philosophy, he still saw it as a noble game. If both he and Aristotle deemed the fallacious arguments and quibbles of the sophists worthy of so serious and so elaborate a refutation, it could only be because their own philosophic thought had not yet broken loose from the archaic sphere of play. But, we may ask, can philosophy ever do this? (151)

I have suggested not only that it can, but that to a great extent it has (can anyone, in all honesty, think of anyone more serious and less playful than Kant?) – something Huizinga does not seem to disagree with when he comments that “Some of Nietzsche’s biographers blame him for having re-adopted the old agonistic attitude of philosophy. If indeed he did so he has led philosophy back to its antique origins” (152), despite his own observation that “all knowledge – and this naturally includes philosophy – is polemical by nature, and polemics cannot be divorced from agonistics. Epochs in which great new treasures of the mind come to light are generally epochs of violent controversy” (156). I cannot disagree with either position. But how often can we really say that “great new treasures of the mind” have truly “come to light” rather than being mere (and all too often, poor) repetition of what has already come before? It is one thing to go back to bring forth something new – it is another to go back just to return to the old way of doing things. Nietzsche does the first when he goes back to the pre-Socratics. Kant does the latter when he tries to rescue philosophy for religion (specifically, Christianity).

Perhaps I should now say a word on the origins of leisure-thinking and crisis-thinking. The former is more playful and, therefore, closer to language – thus the proposed primacy of rhetoric. The latter is nonlinguistic and more primally-rooted. We see such activities in all social animals, and in all higher vertebrates – this Us versus Them mentality, this tendency to be in a constant state of fight or flight, something found in bugs and fish. Play, or complex thinking, is also found in animals, but it is restricted to birds and mammals, and thus is an activity of a higher order. We can understand language as human play with oral communication and symbolic thinking – communication made a game, with the rules of grammar and syntax. This is why I say language is closer to play than to dualistic thinking – it has its origins in play. There is, indeed, a tension between our more complex, playful thinking that gave rise to language and the dualistic thinking one finds in most religious and philosophic thinking – a tension that can be either playfully or seriously engaged in, depending on whether one wishes to take a rhetorical or a philosophical stance. The philosophic thinking of the crisis-philosophers is one that wants to bring rhetorical skills to what they conceive of as nonlinguistic thinking on philosophical issues. It wants to bring rhetoric down to more primitive ways of thinking. But “In the philosopher, activities are carried out by means of metaphor” (PT 90), which is to say, through language, through unifying dissimilar things. Thinkers such as Nietzsche may sometimes give the appearance of being Us-versus-Them thinkers, but I challenge anyone to tell me who the “Us” or the “Them” is for Nietzsche. Is he for or against German culture? Is he for or against either Schopenhauer or Wagner? Is he for or against Jesus? (The answer is not as clear as scholars have made it out to be.) Nietzsche praises and criticizes the Jews. He praises and criticizes Socrates, Plato, and Arisotole. If Nietzsche is against anything, he is against those who would calcify the world into Law – the Socialists, the nationalists, and anti-Semites, Kant, Hegel, Christians (not Jesus) – and thus try to divide us. Emerson is an even more obvious example. Read “Self-Reliance” of “Frienship” or “The Over-Soul” and tell me who is “Us” and who is “Them”? People like Nietzsche and Emerson want to bring philosophy up to more complex ways of thinking and acting, those more distinctly human, having their origins in language.

But let me now give an example of the kind of thinking that can arise through play and leisure by showing the exact thinking I went through, that evolved as I filled it out through writing into what I have stated so far (which I can do since I wrote it all down as I thought it). I thought all this while sitting one day outside at a Starbucks drinking a caramel apple cider. The sky was blue and cloudless, the air cool, the sun warm, a perfect October (I know this sounds like sections of Ecce Homo – is it any wonder?). I had glanced over the Introduction to Spariosu’s God of Many Faces, which I had just received that day in the mail, and ideas began coming to me as in a torrent. I wrote nonstop for five pages. I will not include the entire five pages, but only a fragment, to show what playful thinking can look like:

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In dialogue one cannot play in the way one can through writing. In dialogue, the words come as they come. In writing, one can look at what one has written and question the word choices, changing them as one wishes, playing with the words to enhance clarity, musicality, and to restate. Further, in writing, the writer invites the reader to interpret, which is to say, play with, the written text. By being able to question who you are speaking with, one engages in dialogue more seriously than when one reads, since one can only ask questions of a text by answering the questions one asks oneself. This is a more playful form of engagement than questioning and answering, which can become something resembling interrogation. Were one to ask questions of a text with the seriousness one questions a person, it is questionable how far one would get – whereas with playful interpretation, we see texts constantly revealing themselves anew.

There is a competitive element of all play. In Solitaire, one is competing – against oneself. And yet, this form of competition is not necessarily one that emphasizes power or dominance. When one plays Solitaire, where is the power shift? One may feel satisfied if one wins; one may feel anything from frustration to indifference if one loses. But there is in neither case a question of dominance nor of power over someone else. The same can be said of literature or philosophy. Part of the play that is either one is in relation to one’s predecessors. Nietzsche is playing the particular rhetorical-philosophical game he is playing in relation to Socrates/Plato, Jesus, Kant, Schopenhauer, Wagner, and the Pre-Socratics, some in more direct competition than others. This is why Nietzsche says he only attacks people who are strong (EH, 272). How can one assert one’s dominance or claim one plays a superior game unless one plays it with the best players? Who would claim to play a superior game of chess and refuse to play Kasparov?

Play is non-serious, but done seriously. Rhetoric is play. Rhetoric is non-serious (but, to be done well, done seriously). Philosophy is serious. Rhetoric is more complex than philosophy. Philosophy attempts to make rhetoric simple. Rhetoric attempts to make philosophy more complex. More complex, because more ways to interpret it. Philosophy does not want to be interpreted – it wants to be understood. Clarity is simplicity – black and white – default position of human thinking. Why, then, do we move from more complex (pre-Socratic) thinking to simpler (Socratic/Platonic) thinking? Leisure allows for more complex thinking (and play). Crisis pushes us toward simpler (black and white) thinking. Pre-Socratic Greece more stable than Greece of Socrates and Plato. Serious times (crisis) calls for serious thinking. Socrates scapegoated and killed because of crisis situation in Athens. Why continue to think simply after the crisis is over? It is easier to think simply than complexly. The tiniest crisis pushes us into simple thinking. Christianity is in a constant state of crisis – this is its very nature – it helps maintain simple thinking. This is why Nietzsche is anti-Christian and anti-Socrates – both are simple and serious in their thinking. Nietzsche likes the pre-Socratics because their thinking is, like his, more complex and playful. Philosophy wants good and evil – clear, simple choices. Rhetoric sees so many shades of gray, it goes beyond good and evil. Rhetoric goes beyond clear categories. Socrates/Plato separates the world into philosophy, science, politics, etc. The pre-Socratics and Rhetoricians see the different categories as different aspects of the same thing – are more complex in relation to one another, because the categories are unclear (Spariosu, xiv). Rules of rhetoric – be persuasive; rules of grammar. Laws of philosophy – philosophy interested in Truth, or Laws. No Truth in rhetoric, though rhetoric can uncover truths (contingent truths). Rules increase complexity – more degrees of freedom. Laws decrease complexity – try to restrict freedom. Some Laws act as Rules – law against murder gives more freedom of action, possibilities. Laws that increase freedom act as rules – Rule-Laws. Rhetoric increases freedom, possibilities. Philosophy decreases freedom, possibilities to the extent its Laws act as Laws and not as Rule-Laws. In the Phaedrus, Socrates wants to engage rhetoric to the uses of philosophy – he wants a rhetoric of philosophy and, as such, a less playful rhetoric. Nietzsche, on the other hand, wants a philosophy that more closely resembles rhetoric in its play and freedom – a philosophy more similar in form to that of the pre-Socratics – a philosophy of play-rules rather than of serious Laws. He wants to turn the Laws of philosophy to rules, or eliminate the Laws. Laws as Being – Rules as a method of Becoming. Philosophy as interested in Being. Rhetoric (and the pre-Socratics) as interested in Becoming (Spariosu, xiv). Rhetoric reflects man better than philosophy, since rhetoric reflects Becoming, and man is constantly changing, or Becoming. In order to be alive, one must be in a constant state of change, or Becoming. Only nonliving things do not change (also not true – only no-thing does not change). To cease changing as a person, one must die (physically or mentally/spiritually). To be in a state of Being is to cease changing. Therefore, Being is death (or nothingness, as Heidegger says). Rhetoric is Becoming – therefore is alive. Philosophy is Being – therefore is not alive, is death, is nothingness. Rhetoric is affirmation – Yes to life (Nietzsche). Philosophy is nihilism – No to life. Philosophy is interested in the unchanging – the Forms, the Noumenal World, Will, Being. Rhetoric is interested in the changing – Becoming. In chaos theory, rules deepen over time, with increased complexity – this means people can become more ethical over time, with increased complexity – rhetoric therefore can lead to more ethical behavior. In philosophy, Laws are fixed, unchanging – therefore people cannot become more ethical than is allowed by the philosophical system – and the ethics cannot change. Ethics changeable and dynamic with rhetoric – though not infinitely changeable (as per the rules of human nature/behavior/needs as both individuals and as social creatures). Rhetorical thinking allows us to move from tribal racist thinking to nontribal-nonracist thinking, when it no longer makes sense to think that way. Philosophy says we always need one way of thinking.

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There are many problems with several of the things I have above – the separation of the world into distinct categories was a necessary separation for the historical development of the sciences, leading to the scientific and technological development in the West. The reemergence of rhetoric could give us many of the developments of 20th Century science, including information, game, chaos, and dissipative structures theory, which all show how integrated and complex the world really is, only when the groundwork was laid for these sciences of complexity by the reductionist sciences of the previous centuries. These problems is why Nietzsche recommends that one only shows one’s thoughts and now the thinking of those thoughts – as it can create the appearance of being in an untenable position. These thoughts only become tenable when they are developed more in narrative structures, as I do in the rest of this work. Still, I said above that philosophy is death, is nothingness. What else would one expect of something that, as Schopenhauer said, came out of our obsession with death? Rhetoric is interested in life. It argues for life, for Becoming, recognizes change and argues for it – argues for itself, as it argues for itself here, through this work (is it philosophy or rhetoric?). It is play. It, like play, “lies outside the reasonableness of practical life; has nothing to do with necessity or utility, duty or truth” (Huizinga, 158). Play is like Gorgias’ On Non-Being, which he wrote in response to those philosophers who were taking themselves too seriously. As Huizinga states, “The sophists themselves were perfectly well aware of the playful character of their art. Gorgias called his Encomium on Helen a game . . . and his treatise On Nature has been termed a play-study on rhetoric” (147). The last, I would argue, is a bit redundant.

But I am not calling for the death of philosophy (who could call for the death of death?) – I am for life and, as I have said above, I wish to harness philosophy for rhetoric. Why? Death is part – a necessary part – of life. “There are good instances, to be sure, of a type of health which can exist altogether without philosophy, or with but a very moderate, almost playful, exercise of it” (Nietzsche, PTAG, 27). The way to bring philosophy back to play is to bring it to the uses of rhetoric, which makes use of all the various sources of knowledge to make its arguments – it does not exclude, as does philosophy – it is all-inclusive. Rhetoric will make a “playful exercise” of it.

The judgement of those philosophers (the pre-Socratics) as to life and existence in general means so much more than any modern judgement, for they had life in lavish perfection before their eyes, whereas the feeling of our thinkers is confused by our split desire for freedom, beauty and greatness on the one hand and our drive toward truth on the other, a drive which asks merely, “And what is life worth, after all?” (Nietzsche, PTAG, 33)

If this is all the (serious) drive toward truth is, how can we choose it over “freedom, beauty, and greatness,” as exists through play? Of course, truth does not have to be this way. Nietzsche says that truth is a woman, that life is a woman – thus is truth equated to life for Nietzsche. This freedom, beauty, and greatness is what rhetoric promises – and not just the restrictive view of rhetoric that would only include such people as Gorgias, but thinkers such as Heraclitus and Nietzsche, poets and novelists, all mending what the Platonists rent asunder, seeing the re-creation of culture through the collisions and marriages of the various disciplines and cultures, since

Nothing would be sillier than to claim an autochthonous development for the Greeks. On the contrary, they inevitably observed other living cultures. The very reason they got so far is that they knew how to pick up the spear and throw it onward from the point where others had left it. Their skill in the art of fruitful learning was admirable. We ought to be learning from our neighbors precisely as the Greeks learned from theirs. (PTAG, 30)

It will bring us the world Nietzsche claimed Heraclitus wanted:

In this world only play, play as artists and children engage in it, exhibits coming-to-be and passing away, structuring and destroying, without any moral additive, in forever equal innocence. And as children and artists play, so plays the ever-living fire. It constructs and destroys, all in innocence. Such is the same that the aeon plays with itself. Transforming itself into water and earth, it builds towers of sand like a child at the seashore, piles them up and tramples them down. From time to time it starts the game anew. An instant of satiety – and again it is seized by its need, as the artist is seized by his need to create. Not hybris but the ever self-renewing impulse to play calls new worlds into being. . . .Only aesthetic man can look thus at the world, a man who has experienced in artists and in the birth of art objects how the struggle of the many can yet carry rules and laws inherent in itself, how the artist stands contemplatively above and at the same time actively within his work, now necessity and random play, oppositional tension and harmony, must pair to create a work of art. (PTAG, 62)

Struggle and tension – agon – is what Nietzsche sees as the soul of physis, culture, and of play. He sees himself an artist-soldier in battle. War – for Huizinga, another form of play. So we should not be surprised that Nietzsche is so interested in war (war as metaphor), as he is so interested in, and (in)formed by, play. But Nietzsche’s war is one without losers. A defeated contestant cannot continue to play. Listing Huizinga’s chapters almost gives an outline of Nietzsche’s concerns: culture, language, war, knowing, poetry, mythopoiesis, philosophy, and art (particularly music). And when Huizinga says “All true ritual is sung, danced and played. We moderns have lost the sense for ritual and sacred play. Our civilization is worn with age and too sophisticated” (158), sounding more like Nietzsche than Nietzsche, is there better evidence of Nietzsche’s underlying concern with play?

Poetry and fiction, art and other visual media (visual rhetoric). Nietzsche says in Philosophy and Truth that one comes closest to truth through art – and that to the extent that philosophy is the search for truth, it is wasting its time. Only when philosophy is brought to the service of rhetoric – whether it be arguments or art – will we see a renewing of culture and a rebirth of knowledge. Only when we have embraced the life of (non-teleological, non-eschatological) Becoming and rejected the “rigor mortis” of Being (Nietzsche contra Heidegger and the Existentialists; Nietzsche as the answer to them) will culture be reborn (do not forget: “The way up and down are the same.”). This is the argument of Nietzsche – and I certainly concur. Through rhetoric – rhetoric as I have defined it above, including the rhetoric of fiction, poetry, art, and the sciences – we will see a renewed richness not only of culture, but of knowledge itself – and of philosophy, among the other disciplines (all the other disciplines, contra the theorists masquerading as rhetoricians who are against certain disciplines, such as science and history, and scholarship in general), each enriched by the other through a renewed integration. For “speech based on knowledge is teaching” (Aristotle, Rhetoric, 34). And we are sorely lacking in teachers. Aristotle says further that “Rhetoric is an antistrophos to dialectic” (Rhetoric, 28), meaning it is like the Greek choral lyric, where the “strophe or stanza, is repeated with different words in the antistrophe to philosophy’s strophe. Aristotle also equates rhetoric to ethics when he says that “rhetoric is a certain kind of offshoot of dialectic and of ethical studies” (39) – one cannot have good rhetoric unless both the style and the subject are good. The reason I suggest rhetoric should be preferred to philosophy is that rhetoric deals with probability, not truth (42-3), and Gorgias and Timias “Are not ignorant that probability is superior to truth” (Plato, Phaedrus, 80) – and neither is Plato ignorant of this fact, as he shows in the very structure of Phaedrus, which shows that truth cannot be reached, only approximated. When we use rhetoric, we acknowledge the fact that we can only ever approximate truth, not reach it, as philosophy can too easily make the mistake of claiming. But even this is an inaccurate view. The way up and down are the same. Rhetoric is an antistrophos to philosophy. And more, poetry is made akin to philosophy by Aristotle when he prefers poetry to history because poetry shows us how things could and ought to be, while history only shows us how things were. One could thus oppose poetry-rhetoric-philosophy to history. Except that Hegel brought history in service for philosophy, suggesting that there is a connection between what ought to be and what is. No “ought” is of any value unless it can be made an “is” – and every “ought” should be judged by its service to life, which is to say, whether or not it will make the world more complex (as this is service to life). Many postmodernists have tried to contrast a possible poetry-rhetoric-philosophy-history to science, but this too is a mistake (especially insofar as they have to remove natural philosophy from philosophy to do it). Science must remain in play – a tool among tools with hsihc we can play. We need a poetry-rhetoric-philosophy-history-science. Only when we begin again to see philosophy as the mind at play – when we begin again to see philosophy, like play, is not meant to be taken seriously, even if it is meant, like play, to be done seriously – will philosophy, and culture, encounter, through the play of rhetoric, a true rebirth.

3 comments:

99 said...

I like very much this post. It´s an invitation to a good discussion. I wish we were having a coffee on a terrace while I tell you how much I agree with you.
Since holographic internet doesn´t exist yet I´ll have use a couple of badly translated words (sorry for my English).

I´m not so sure that play and seriousness are that opposite. I rather imagine them as two sides of a coin or the two sides of a brain. As you pointed seriousness is a matter of survival and we´re lucky to have that tool in our bag. But I agree that it has to be put aside after the crisis is over... although it takes a lot of neurons to recognize when it´s really over.

I also definitely agree with you that the only creative and deep thoughts come in a playful mode. To be actually understood and transmitted they have to be written in the form of a fable, a tale, a poem, an allegory, a song, in colors. They should include art in any possible form. The more art included in writing the shortest the path to your neighbor folk´s mind.
Can I rephrase you? I would say "knowledge and art as an attractor".

Here´s where I have to apologize.
I have to disagree with you about conversations and coffees...
I embrace conversational exchange. I don´t see it as a competition (well, it can always turn into some ego contest). I like to spin up and curl in a spiral cooperation with a good conversation partner. It can be a positive feedback for an idea towards an unpredicted direction. And voilá, you can reach together the unicity of your souls.
I adore to talk. I feel conspirative when I talk.

I believe that as children we knew better. Somewhere along the line we forgot the knowledge and unicity we came with to this world. Then the rest of our lives is devoted to relearn.
Maybe I´m too influenced by science fiction readings or it could be my Southamerican baggage of magic realism... maybe by studies in physics or biology...
No, I´m going to blame my father, that´s easier!

See you around. I really really had a great time talking to you and sorry for the large comment.

Dr. T said...

Do not apologize about length when you have so much good to say.

You are right to observe that play and seriousness are not in fact opposites -- or are not mere opposites. I do agree with Milan Kundera that there is nothing more serious than a child playing -- and that we grow more frivolous as adults. You will see as I go along that I unify and separate these dualities.

Along those lines, we are not so much in disagreement as you think when it comes to conversation. Can one communicate without community? Competition does not have to involve the clash of egos. When a soccer team is at its competitive best, the egos have melted away and they work together -- cooperate -- as a team. To best compete, they must first cooperate. Think again of the two as strange attractors which work together to create things ranging from good economies to good conversations and good soccer matches.

99 said...

That´s what I say...
Great work. I trully like you blog.
Read you around!