What can a novel do? Deleuze, Spinoza, and the Practice of Literary Analysis
journal contributionposted on 17.05.2017 by Faye Brinsmead
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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in 1637 that, since emigrating from his native France to Holland, “I have been able to lead a life as solitary and withdrawn as if I were in the most remote desert …” After withdrawing from society, Descartes attempts to distance himself from his own younger self, the credulous child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.