Conversation with a friend today:

Her: I don’t really understand philosophers.

Me: Why’s that?

Her: Well I was in a conversation with a friend and I mentioned Heidegger. He said “I don’t like Heidegger!” I said, “Why’s that?” He said, “I think he’s wrong.” I just can’t even begin to understand what that might mean. What would it mean to say that a philosopher is wrong?”

Me: Quite right.

I agree, what would it mean to say a philosopher is wrong? Assuming that my friend’s interlocutor was critiquing Heidegger in the register of truth, it’s difficult to see how such a remark isn’t a profound category mistake. Truth in its most ordinary connotation refers to the correspondence between a statement and the world, yet philosophy is something that precedes any such correspondence. Philosophy is less a set of statements like “the cat is on the mat”, than a frame through which features of the world are encountered at all.

Read on!

What philosophy interrogates or investigates is not what appears in the frame, but rather the frame which allows something to manifest at all. And in this respect, philosophy will be a battle of the frames, not a battle of truths. The great debates among philosophers are about something that precedes truthful or veridical statements. The great debates of philosophy are questions of how existence should be framed. See the issue is that existence is overwhelming. As Laruelle teaches, we can never take it all in at once. It is for this reason that frames are needed. Frames make a selection from the infinity of existence, and in doing so draw attention to these features of being rather than those features of being. A frame is an imperative that says attend to or notice this type of existence. And once the frame has been formulated, it then becomes possible to make veridical statements about what appears in the frame. In this respect, a frame is closer to grammar than semantics.

Heidegger– for whom I have great misgivings but with whom I first started my forays into philosophy –taught us a great deal about frames in his concept of truth as aletheia. Heidegger argued that there’s a truth that precedes veridical or correspondence truth: the manifestation of the world. Prior to making statements that correspond to or that fail to correspond to the world, the world, Heidegger argued, must first manifest or show itself. Yet in order for the world to manifest itself– and here Derrida’s article “Parergon” in Truth in Painting is indispensable –it must be framed. While Heidegger doesn’t use the language of framing himself, this is certainly what he seemed to be thinking about at the structural level.

And at this structural level, Heidegger taught us something profound: He taught us that to the same degree that every frame allows something to manifest or reveal itself, every frame also conceals. There is no revealing without concealing. And this is a very literal point. If every frame conceals as much as it reveals, then this is because there is always something that falls outside the field of the window opened up by the frame. There must have been something in the air. For a few decades later, the mathematician and logician G. Spencer-Brown would make a very similar point, arguing that veridical statements are only possible on the basis of a prior distinction that allows things to be indicated in the world and that every distinction contains a blind spot of that which falls outside the distinction. Spencer-Brown’s work amounts to a formalization of Heidegger’s concept of aletheia.

In my view, this meditation on frames are the core of philosophical praxis. On the one hand, philosophers propose frames. Wittgenstein says “attend to language games”, Lacan says “attend to the signifier and the real”, Descartes says “attend to the cogito and the ideas found within the cogito“, Hume says “attend to impressions and how mind relates them”, Marx says “attend to labor and production”, Husserl says “attend to lived experience”, Bergson says “attend to duration”. Every great philosopher proposes a frame, a new window through which to encounter the world. And every frame generates its own problems that haunt the thinker for the remainder of her adventure.

But this is not all, for frames also conceal. In proposing a frame, there is no philosopher that doesn’t simultaneously point out how other frames conceal and conceal in a way that is– within the scope of a particular problem (in the Deleuzian sense of “problems”) –undesirable or destructive. Every frame brings something into view, but every frame also withdraws other things from view. And if this is a matter of concern or care, then this is because a frame, in philosophy, is never simply a statement about the world, but is also always a praxis and methodology (at least if the philosophy is worthwhile and valuable).

If the remarks of my friend’s interlocutor are those of a cretin, then this is because they ask the wrong sort of questions. The question should never be “is the philosophy true or false”, and this for the very simple reason that every philosophy is able to produce truths. No philosophy has ever suffered from an inability to produce truths. Rather, on the one hand, philosophy should be approached like a machine. The question posed to a philosophy should not be “is it true?”, but rather “what does it allow me to do?”, “can it do any work?”, etc. Just as we don’t ask whether or not a lawn mower is true or false, but rather “what does it do?”, we shouldn’t ask “is the philosophy true or false?”, but rather: what does this frame allow us to do? how does it allow us to remake ourselves? how does it allow us to remake the world in which we find ourselves? how does it allow us to relate to each other differently, etc?

But on the other hand, we should ask “what does this frame conceal, hide, or veil?” A critique of a philosophy shouldn’t be based on whether it’s internally consistent or whether it is veridical, but on whether or not it conceals or veils things that are unacceptable to veil. And here I’m inclined to say that the problems that motivate a philosophy never come from within philosophy. If, for example, you find yourself obsessed with the problem of how to refute the skeptic when developing your philosophy of mind, I’m inclined to think you’re a cretin that lacks a single important thought in your head. This is an academic, intra-philosophical problem that can only be posed by a person who’s never been seized by a world. The problems of philosophy, the problems that lead philosophers to formulate frames, always come from outside of philosophy. Problems of philosophy never come from Kant, Berkeley, Plato, Wittgenstein, etc. It is never a question of refuting another thinker. All of that is derivative. Problems of philosophy always come from elsewhere: love, politics, history, startling scientific discoveries, science, suffering, disease, gregariousness. It is these things that call a thinker to pull something into relief through a frame, never the idiocy of responding to something like Wittgenstein’s “rule follow problem” or “refuting Plato”. We no less frame selections of the world than we are seized by selections of the world.