There’s an anecdote about Sartre where, upon hearing about phenomenology and how it allowed you to philosophize about something as humble as a coffee cup, the blood drained from his face and he immediately left the party to seek out the work of Husserl. It seems to me that this is the philosophical dream: for anything, whether it be the ontology of critters, frittatas, the sonic powers of a concert hall, a chair, or a cup of coffee to become worthy of thought. Absolute philosophy would be a state where every event that transpires, everything that happens your way and surprises, but also the most mundane and crass, becomes an opportunity for thought. From the sublime to the crass, there would be something to think, to conceptualize. Everything would thereby be imbued with an aura of significance, of the riddle. You would become like Alice where the most ordinary things become the most perplexing.
In this regard, I recall the shock and fascination of Zizek in graduate school. I had read Derrida, Blanchot, Deleuze, and Lacan. They spoke of the sublime, of the great. Mallarme. Kafka. Bacon. Joyce. Great things, beautiful things. What made Zizek so astounding was that he spoke of crass things, philistine things, mundane things and filled them with philosophical significance. Suddenly a bad film, or merely a pop-culture film became the key to unlocking the most subtle dialectical points in Hegel. Angel Heart, a guilty pleasure perhaps, became the key to the secret of unlocking Lacan and Derrida. I saw a saccharine, trite film like Pleasantville in the theater and cried because despite its insipidness, its use of images were expressive of Spinoza and Deleuze’s account of immanence as a vector of emancipation. I could now watch an emotionally manipulative film like Saving Private Ryan and discern the ideology behind it. AI and Eyes Wide Shut became repetitions of Aeschylus. The ordinary guilty pleasure took on significance and became signs to be interpreted. The entire world glowed with an aura. Happy days. I dreamt of Zizek’s work.
And then along came Badiou. His message was different than that of Lacan’s, Zizek’s, or Deleuze’s. In a world filled with pragmatism, with resignation, he said “keep going; be real, demand the impossible.” He denied the wisdom of the pragmatic, of what is possible, in the name of committed struggle even where it seems impossible. He said “create the possible for it has not yet arrived and must be imagined and fought for to be possible.” And that too was another aura of thought that freed me of hermeneutics and semiotics, of tracing things back to a ground that rendered them possible, recognizing that occasionally the real happens in the form of the unprecedented. The philosophize about an orange and to imbue the orange with significance beyond itself, to trace all of its threads and folds, that is my philosophical dream.