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July 13, 2012 / Wythe

Philosophy; the approach to ancient texts

I was talking to a friend recently who was amazed to learn I have read little and have little interest in reading Plato. Isn’t Plato something you have to read to do philosophy?

I said you should simply read the writers in whom you’re deeply interested, and then read the writers who inspired them; this genealogical approach will always lead you back to Plato, via certain bottlenecks (Derrida, Heidegger, Kant, Hegel).

For example, I read Bataille and Stiegler because I am interested in sex, the body, limits, the future, technology, and prehistory, especially early human cognition. This led me to need to understand much better Nietzsche (Bataille’s immediate precursor), Heidegger (Stiegler’s foundation), and, in the end, Plato.

I found nothing strange about starting from a point of sincere contemporary engagement (how will biotechnology change the “human,” whatever it is?) and moving backwards toward the first inklings of wonder that would concatenate to build the contemporary.

This is how, I think, DnD and other complex mental games may be approached: Play what you like, and then ask, how did we get to this point of complexity? How else have these issues (combat, magic/psi, skills, etc.) been addressed in the past?

I believe the teaching of history benefits from the same inversion: Proceed from situations backward via the contingencies that gave rise to them.

In this way, we maintain curiosity at every step instead of, working from an initial feeling of “I guess I should know this shit”-ness, losing steam halfway, just before some critical insight.

My high school reading of philosophy stopped here: I started with famous names and proceeded up—learning nothing, abandoning Wittgenstein and Nietzsche (whose words I loved) out of exhaustion. Who cared about this world picture stuff, or the Dionysian? I needed some type of hook to delve so deeply into abstraction.

Years later, in my last two years of college, I would find this hook in Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault, and even more strongly in Deleuze, who led me to Bataille. We come full circle.

Only after this journey was completed (and other journeys begun) did I resume playing DnD in earnest, with others engaged abstraction-delving.


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