Friday, July 11, 2008

The Neverending Store-ree!

a.k.a. eν οίδα ότι ουδέν οίδα. "I know that I know nothing," says Socrates, according to Plato ("I know nothing," said Sergeant Schultz, meaning the same thing, being as he was a acknowledged Sophist). Thankfully, I too find myself in that position. But what is that nothing that I know?

By a Lacanian twist, the idea of the real, i.e. the Thing itself, springs to mind. But you can't know that. In other words, you can't know the Thing - it is not a thing at all: no-thing (these Continental punsters!). Or what about Heidegger's Nothing, with which we come into contact through the experience of anxiety? I know that feeling; that's what life is about, isn't it (putting aside joy for the moment)? When the world of Fantastica is devastated by the Nothing in the stab in the groin when you conceive a child, or less fatally, in the summons from the IRD or some other tug of your string by the faceless masters.

But seriously, this confession of ignorance is the premise of maieutics: the craft of intellectual midwifery, for want of a better word (from the Greek μαιευτικός [maieutikos]: pertaining to midwifery). The Socratic method is premised on the idea that the truth is latent in every reasonable human being but has to be "given birth" in response to questions or problems ( Or to put it better, on the idea that truth doesn't reside in the entrails - or bowels - of the teacher (only to be read once they're dead - or in their carefully guarded excretions).

Such a confession returns us to the mystery with which Heidegger believes philosophy begins (which he takes from Leibniz): "Why is there something rather than nothing?" (see his essay "What is Metaphysics?," which title is his own sly in-joke: Who knows? I know that I don't. I'm not the Taxman: "Let me tell you how it will be . . ."

No comments: