Nasruddin Hodja—a master of the negative way

by Oscar Brenifier


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A—The negative way


The way Socrates operated this cognitive shock was through questioning, provoking the interlocutor into discovering his own incoherency and ignorance, a process which allowed the person to give birth to new concepts: maïeutics. For Heraclites, the struggle of contraries engenders being, so the emergence of those contraries allowed us to think and to be. For the cynics, man is so deeply entrenched in conventions that the only way to get him to think is to behave in the most abrupt fashion toward him: by fornicating in public, eating with the hands, going around naked or living in barrel, by pretending men are not men, etc. All these theatrics should affect the individual mind more than any speech should do. In the Far East, the master would produce a strange paradox, or act in a strange way, and the student should by himself meditate on the meaning of it, without any explanations ever given to him. And in some schools, the master would not hesitate to become violent in order to produce the desired "pedagogical" effect. A rather rash perspective which comes as a repellent for those that think philosophical practice is geared at making one feel at ease or happy! And a very "unethical" posture indeed since the individual does not constitute his own end anymore: he is the mere instrument of truth. In a more subdued and formal fashion, Kant's antinomies are a conceptual reduction from the same inspiration. In order to think, you have to know that you operate from a biased partial perspective, from a limited postulate that could be totally inversed without any problem. For example the hypothesis that the universe is finite is not less valid than its opposite, the hypothesis that the universe is infinite.

To conclude this rather long preamble, let us add a few words on our own practice, in order to establish briefly how it inscribes itself in this current of "negative way". Our postulate is that most questions we ask ourselves, most problem that haunt us, have their solution in our own selves, at least more than anywhere else. Thus our main task, with the person we engage in a philosophical dialogue with, is to become conscious of herself. First by asking her to be conscious of her own question: through analysis, conceptualization, explanation, and other forms of deepening the signification and implications of it. Second through inviting this person to observe carefully her own thought and behaviors and pass judgments on herself. Thirdly by periodically asking to take the counterpoint of her own ideas and dwelling in depth this counter perspective. Fourthly to accept and enjoy the "unthinkable" that she has necessarily produced in the process, which most likely deal in a profound fashion to her own problem or question. But this particular way of working implies much resistance from our interlocutor, often stunned at her own ideas, and we therefore have to devise a battery of "tricks" in order to accomplish the described task and overcome the intense desire to tell oneself lies and stories of delusion, to avoid the denial. Some observers watching this practice criticize the fact that we work very closely with the words, just like if the words had a reality of their own. And we agree with this observation, since this is the way for us to talk about a practice. The words are not any more what we want, but they constitute an objective substance that oblige us to confront a "material" reality, what specifies a practice and distinguishes it from theory. The harsh relationship to the words makes the being visible, including its own tremendous capacity of self-denial capacity. Therefore we show and act, rather that say and describe, even though our work constitute primarily of words and ideas.


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