Thursday, August 21, 2008


The word "thought" does nothing to define task of philosophy. The philosopher's task is not "to think". For, in that case, the philosopher would necessarily be thinking for others, and that is an absurdity.

We think for ourselves or not at all.

The philosopher brings us from the thought to the concept.

Likewise, it is not the task of the poet to feel. The poet brings us from the feeling to the emotion.

Thinking and feeling are not goals; they are experiences to be avoided. We are often forced to think and made to feel, that is true. But this is evidence only of the darkness of the world and the cruelty of history, our own confusion and the viciousness of others.

If our concepts and emotions were more precise, our thoughts would be clear and our feelings intense—at the limit, invisible, impalpable.

Feeling is a blockage in action, thought an obstruction in perception.

When you feel happy, your happiness is at an end.

When you think you are wise, you are not.

These are platitudes.

It is the task of philosophy, not to think for us, but to free us from thinking. It is the task of poetry, not to feel for us, but to free us from feeling.


Laura Carter said...

This is not terribly distant from T.S. Eliot! But I'm also reminded of a line of Kate Greenstreet's: "I only have my personality to work with."

Thomas Basbøll said...

Yes, very much something we can find in Eliot. Very "modern", I guess, as opposed to "romantic". (As always here at the Pangrammaticon.)

I only have my personality to work FROM, might be closer to my view of this.

But, for philosophy, add: I only have my things (perhaps my thinghood). This self, and these things lying around in plain view about me.

But the poem is not a description of these things, or prescriptions for my self, ("this is...", "I must...").

Rather, we work on our private experiences to bring out (edit) their public (their seemly) aspect.

Laura Carter said...

Public as "seemly"--I like that.

Presskorn said...

Ryle writes at some place that feelings are to emotion as a lightning is to a thunderstorm.

By this he means that feelings are real (mental) events, while an emotion "collects" such events, without it being an event itself.

Is it something similar which lies behind your distinction between "feeling" and "emotion"?

In any case, I should like the idea of poetry as "collecting" feelings.

Wittgenstein makes a similar distinction, but a bit different, since he applies the criteria of "genuine duration" - Unlike mental events like ‘perceivings’ (hearing a sound), and ‘occurring emotions’ (sudden anxiety), Wittgenstein argued that emotions such as “love” or “depression” are not candidates for events since they lack ‘genuine duration’. I.e. they cannot be clocked by a stop-watch; they cannot be spot-checked or observed continuously; they are not interrupted by a break of consciousness, neither do they endure continuously.

Now we might say: What poetry takes note of cannot be clocked by a stop-watch; cannot be spot-checked or observed continuously; is neither interrupted by a break of consciousness, nor continuously enduring?
(But of course it’s a bit unclear what this idea amounts to.)

Presskorn said...

To what degree is what you’re writing opposed to, say, this view?:

“…the merely descriptive literature of emotions is one of the most tedious parts of psychology. And not only it is tedious, but you feel that its subdivisions are to a great extent either fictitious or unimportant, and that its pretences to accuracy are a sham… As emotions are described in novels, they interest us, for we are made to share them. We have grown acquainted with the concrete objects and emergencies which call them forth, and any knowing touch of introspection which may grace the page meets with a quick and feeling response.” – William James, The Principles of Psychology, p. 1064.

Thomas Basbøll said...

The James quote, it seems to me, presents a view of emotion that jibes nicely with Eliot's "objective correlative". I'll write a post about that soon.

The challenge is not to describe the emotion (as James's psychologists do), nor the feeling, but to describe the action that calls forth, or occasions, the feeling.

Hemingway also said as much.

I'm not sure that a thunderstorm "collects" lightning events. If the thundstorm produced ONLY lightning as its manifestation, perhaps I could agree.

Thanks for keeping me thinking. Like I say, I'll write a post on James, Hemingway, Eliot ... and Mailer, soon.

Kirby Olson said...

I think you're saying that the task of philosophy is to make us robotic. That's ok.

How do you like Sarah Palin?

Thomas Basbøll said...

Or, perhaps more precisely, "allow us to be instruments of the Lord."

Allow something larger to "flow through" us. Something mystical like that. But we probably mean the same thing.

I'm sure I minconstrue them both but when Pound quotes Mussolini saying "Production is done by machines but consumption is still performed by human beings" I imagine a Paradiso of a new order...

McCain seems to have made a decision as perfect as Obama's speech. No one is making any mistakes. Interesting.

Kirby Olson said...

The news coverage this morning is all about Gustav -- a hurricane about to hit New Orleans. Tom Daschle was on CNN and said, "If anyone pays attention to politics this week while Gustav is smashing New Orleans, it's just wrong."

Of course, the Republican convention starts this evening.

They are talking about making it into a fundraiser for victims of Gustav, to counter the Democratic image of them as playing the fiddle while Rome burns.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I seem to have been wrong about Palin's perfection.