Nasruddin Hodja—a master of the negative way

by Oscar Brenifier


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A—The negative way


"It is not doubt which makes one crazy, it is certitude" says Nietzsche. Even though the Nietzschean abrupt interpellation is definitely not the Socratic laborious questioning, they both agree on this idea that one's mind should not be jailed within its own thoughts. The thoughts we entertain necessarily stop us from having other thoughts, especially if those thoughts are the kind of general principles that determine what is acceptable and what is not. This has an echo in Heidegger, when he writes: "What gives the most to think in our time which gives us a lot to think is that we do not think yet." So we have to become a stranger to ourselves in order to think, we have to alienate ourselves in order to be.

And those hypotheses are at the heart of the philosophical function as we see it: they found our philosophical practice. Therefore negativity becomes a major part of our activity, of the activity we invite our interlocutor to get involved in. The work of negativity, in a more conceptual way, as Hegel and others define it, is the work of criticism, the crucial step that allows and conditions dialectical thinking. This is what the German philosopher defines as the moment following "A is A", when "A is not A". But the other form of negativity that concerns us here is more linked toward open-ended dialectics, when the synthetic moment that traces the path to the absolute is not definable, not even searched for. This is what we find in Heraclites, in Socrates, Kant and others: the aporetic perspective, the antinomy, the open ended tension that leads to the gap, to the abyss, leaving us with an intuitive and strong presence of the absolute, but an unspeakable one, the thought that Plato calls the unhypothetical, the unconditioned that conditions the conditioned, the indescribable vanishing point from which perspective every point can be described.

This general frame work might sound strange to the "reasonable", "rational", "down to earth" or "horse sense" practical person, for whom this looks irrational, unpractical, mysterious or even mystical. But it is indeed a very simple principle: it is more or less the reminiscence theory of Plato that operates. Everyone knows everything already, but one has to remember, a reminiscence that is the job of the philosopher in each one of us. We don't know because we forget, and especially because we don't want to know, we prefer not to know. So there is no use explaining something to someone when he does not want to know. There is only to attract his attention to his own attitude through some device that will surprise or seize him, and he will know by himself, unless the will to not know is very profound.


Page created: 12.10.05. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:36.