The Driver and the Drunken Peasant

by Øyvind Olsholt


Discuss / diskuter

The consultation

On the very last day of the workshop The art of questioning held at La Chapelle St André July 7-13, 2008—a drowsy and picturesque village in the midst of Burgundy—the master mind, the chief questioner, the great manipulator and anti-democrat, the ever-bantering paper tiger, the self-appointed executioner, the French-Algerian Bodhisattva Oscar Brenifier expressed his usual wish to put himself under the knife, that is to say, he asked if one of the participants would like to facilitate a philosophical consultation with him as the subject. He had had consultations with us every evening for the last week, so it seemed right to change hats on the last day. There was some hesitation at first, which is typical whenever Oscar issues one of his “friendly requests,” but then a woman volunteered for the job. Following another request from Oscar she picked one of the other participants as her co-questioner or coach.

The consultation started off somewhat haphazardly. The facilitator tried for a while to investigate into the relationship between philosophy and psychology but was getting nowhere, being unsure how to move from Oscar’s answers to a productive follow-up question. Her knife was blunt. The subject, however, was not the cause of the difficulties. Oscar answered conscientiously every question put forward and waited patiently for the next question to emerge. Almost gone were the tongue-in-cheek, the metaphysical and metaphorical arabesques, the interrogation-style replies, the notorious hide-and-seek with his interlocutor. And yet, the facilitator and her coach were at their wits end and could do with a little help.

So, there was a proposal from one of the by-standers: “Ask Oscar why he arranges these philosophical workshops!” Voilà! Question accepted. Oscar too seemed to like the question and after some moments of deliberation he answered slowly: “Because it is fun.” Brilliant, here was some food at last. The follow-up question made use of one of Oscar’s favourite facilitation tools: “Now Oscar, if you go to the marketplace and tell the people that philosophical counselling is fun, would they say it sounds rather strange or not so strange?” In a tone as if admitting that he had been effectively framed Oscar confirmed pensively: “Yes, they would say it sounds strange.”

Strange indeed. Most people would probably say that philosophical counselling sounds like an ultimately serious and grave, even solemn undertaking. Philosophy, they would contend, deals with the most fundamental issues in the history of mankind and is therefore sooner a matter of life and death than a laughing matter. Besides, philosophy confronts us with unsolvable problems and difficulties that would cause uneasiness and pain were we to stay with them. Therefore, most people would say, philosophical practice cannot be fun. Interesting and rewarding, perhaps, but not fun. So, why does Oscar find it funny?

One reason could be that it is kind of fun to systematically claim the opposite of what is usually regarded as the correct answer. In his workshops Oscar often points out that an important task of the philosopher is to challenge conventional ways of thinking (PC-thinking) and to “constantly question everything.” Such an attitude is well in keeping with the Socratic ignorance that invites us to take nothing for granted, because if nothing is taken for granted then everything necessarily must be questioned. Oscar is unwavering in his allegiance to this crucial Socratic trait.

But no, that was not it. The reason for thinking that philosophical counselling is fun was “because it gives us pain.” What gives us pain is fun? Is he crazy? Or is he pulling our leg again? Apparently not. Unlike most other people he seems not to be afraid of pain. Not only that: he enjoys it so much that he actively seeks out opposition, controversy and contradiction, indeed, he thrives whenever problems and difficulties arise in a discussion and when a subject is “bewitched, bothered and bewildered” by his questions. The musically oriented reader will know that “Bewitched” is a show tune from the 1940 musical Pal Joey by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The lyrics depict the pain and agony in a love relationship between a man and a woman. And as everyone knows who has experienced such a relationship, the agony is always accompanied by a strange kind of pleasure, as if the torment releases energies that creates flows of thoughts and feelings that we never knew we were capable of. The agony makes new inner worlds possible, it is the cause of change and reorientation. So maybe this explains why Oscar finds the consultation business so funny: here he can be the pain, i.e. be the generator of change and reorientation in the subject. Here he can be the Socratic midwife, for better or for worse...

Page created: 11.03.09. Page last modified: 12.03.09 13:50.