Brinsmead, What can a novel do?.pdf (85.28 kB)

What can a novel do? Deleuze, Spinoza, and the Practice of Literary Analysis

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journal contribution
posted on 17.05.2017 by Faye Brinsmead
How does one do philosophy? What does it involve? Let us consider the most famous image of philosophising in the Western canon. It is a self-image, offered to us by Descartes. For Descartes, doing philosophy involves a high degree of both solitude and introspection. He writes in 1637 that, since emigrating from his native France to Holland, “I have been able to lead a life as solitary and withdrawn as if I were in the most remote desert …” After withdrawing from society, Descartes attempts to distance himself from his own younger self, the credulous child who had, he tells us, accepted a “large number of falsehoods” as true. Sitting alone by the fire in his dressing-gown, he asks himself: Of what can I be certain? The reality of fire, dressing-gown and embodiment itself disappear down the plughole of his reductivist cogitations, and at last he replies: “[T]hat absolutely nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except that I am a thinking thing.” After which he reluctantly consents to put his body and dressing-gown back on, insisting all the while that they are completely detachable from “this puzzling ‘I’.” Cartesian philosophising, then, is an extreme form of doing battle with illusion; it is about subtracting everything that’s even the least bit suspect in order to get to the truth, that evasive little kernel of certainty around which we can (perhaps) build a life, if and when we are brave enough to engage with the world again.


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