“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of the good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness.”
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“…I was finishing a PhD in philosophy at Emory University. The obvious path before me was to drift into a full-time position at a decent institution, work my dissertation into a book, zero in on a specialty, publish some articles and reviews, and lick the necessary wingtips to get tenure. But some sense of destiny (I would have never called it that then) kept me from ever taking such a path seriously. Though I’d proven myself capable of publishing articles and giving papers in the world of philosophy, I rebelled against the prospect of a microspecialty and the bureaucracy of tenure. Moreover, I hadn’t gotten into philosophy in order to become a scholar of philosophy, however wonderful and necessary the work of scholarship can be.
“When my mother called me from Iowa saying that she’d read in the local classified that Kirkwood Community College had a full-time philosophy position open, it seemed a reasonable way to get health insurance. The saying ‘a job is a job’ is particularly poignant for philosophers. Diogenes of Sinope, one of our profession’s early practitioners, used to beg money from statues. When asked why, he replied, ‘In order to get used to being refused.’ But he didn’t have a pregnant wife. And neither my wife nor I really wanted to live in a barrel and relieve ourselves outside, as were Diogenes’s customs.”
—Scott Samuelson, community college professor, journalist, and occasional chef at the beginning of The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone (2014)
“The life-style of belated bohemianism forced on the non-academic philosopher is itself enough to give him a fatal affinity to the world of arts-and-crafts, crackpot religion and half-educated sectarianism.”
—Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1951)
“The beard, being a half-mask, should be forbidden by the police. It is, moreover, as a sexual symbol in the middle of the face, obscene: that is why it pleases women.”
Related reading: Have we reached peak beard?
In an interview about his latest book, McKenzie Wark discusses his preference for “low theory”:
The American university is where so-called ‘French theory’ was actually invented, and not in philosophy departments but via comparative literature, other literature departments, sometimes media studies, and various other places. So you couldn’t quite call it philosophy—it got called ‘theory’ and sometimes ‘high theory’. You end up with this construct, based essentially around the reception of Derrida into the Anglophone world through these centres of intellectual power in the US. And this is interesting, but it occupies a certain kind of terrain, a certain space. It requires a certain training.
I’ve always been much more interested in something else: The self-conscious attempt to construct conceptual practices outside of formal settings. That is what Marx did, it’s what Freud did, it’s what Benjamin did; I’d even say it’s what Nietzsche did, because of course he’s on ‘permanent leave’ when he’s writing all these amazing books, when he’s already losing it. Somehow, these guys are all now ‘high theory’, but that’s not where they came from whatsoever. Marx is not a philosopher, Freud is not a philosopher, Benjamin is not a philosopher; I’d even say Nietzsche is not a philosopher. They’re all doing ‘low theory’, and I’m trying to tell stories that fit into that tradition, maybe not at that level, but as a whole other way of thinking about the practice of knowledge in everyday life. This puts on the table the question of the politics of knowledge in a way that can’t be directly asked, or answered, in the space of the university.
Yeah, me too.
As my buddy Austin Kleon is fond of pointing out, some comedians are philosophers.
“I have met a number of philosophers. They were real philosophers. Their minds were wonderful minds. But they did not take baths, and they did not change their socks and it almost turned one’s stomach to sit at table with them.”
—Jack London, 1915
Genuine philosophers, being of necessity people of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, have always found themselves, and had to find themselves, in contradiction to their today: their enemy was ever the ideal of today.
“Wittgenstein was always disgusted with what he had said and with himself. Often he would rush off to a cinema immediately after the class ended. As the members of the class began to move their chairs out of the room he might look imploringly at a friend and say in a low tone, “Could you go to a flick?” On the way to the cinema Wittgenstein would buy a bun or a cold pork pie and munch it while he watched the film. He insisted on sitting in the very first row of seats, so that the screen would occupy his entire field of vision, and his mind would be turned away from the thoughts of the lecture and his feelings of revulsion. Once he whispered to me, “This is like a shower bath.” His observation of the film was not relaxed or detached. He leaned tensely forward in his seat and rarely took his eyes off the screen. He hardly ever uttered comments on the episodes of the film and did not like his companion to do so. He wished to become totally absorbed into the film no matter how trivial or artificial it was, in order to free his mind temporarily from the philosophical thoughts that tortured and exhausted him. He liked American films and detested English ones. He was inclined to think that there could not be a decent English film. This was connected with a great distaste he had with English culture and mental habits in general. He was fond of the film stars Carmen Miranda and Betty Hutton. Before he came to visit me in America he demanded in jest that I should introduce him to Miss Hutton.”
—Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir
Not to see many things, not to hear many things, not to permit many things to come close – first imperative of prudence, first proof that one is no mere accident but a necessity. The usual word for this instinct of self-defense is taste. It commands us not only to say No when Yes would be ‘selfless’ but also to say No as rarely as possible. To detach oneself, to separate oneself from anything that would make it necessary to keep saying No. The reason in this is that when defensive expenditures, be they ever so small, become the rule and a habit, they entail an extraordinary and entirely superfluous impoverishment. Our great expenses are composed of the most frequent small ones. Warding off, not letting things come close, involves an expenditure – let nobody deceive himself about this – energy wasted on negative ends. Merely through the constant need to ward off, one can become weak enough to be unable to defend oneself any longer.