Different Types of Books • ~ by larvalsubjects on April 19, 2007
It seems to me that there are different types of works of philosophy that do very different types of things. Some works, like those of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, or Spinoza are almost like user manuals. They were written to produce a transformation in oneself, in ones values, how one feels, how one sees, and how one lives, as well as a transformation in one’s readers. Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, for instance, is a poem written to his friend Memmius. You pick up Epictetus or Spinoza to figure out how to weather this world and perhaps even prosper in life. When you come out the other side you have a different set of values. You might end up doing little more than tending to your garden and taking pleasure in the study of the stars or flowers or the creatures that swim about in tidal pools.
Other books are like weapons or bombs. They target the social space or a configuration of common thought, a sensus communis, and shatter a set of conceptions. These are books like Hume’s Enquiry, Voltaire’s Candide, de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Three Essays, Civilization and Its Discontents, Nietzsche’s Geneaology of Morals, Marx’s Das Kapital, Foucault’s Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, etc. These books do something. They explode conceptions. They change configurations of human bodies, generating new collectives and groups. They reverberate.
Yet other books are like moves in a game of chess in long discussions that span thousands of years. These are the academic books, addressed to other scholars, like Brandom’s Making it Explicit, or Searle’s Construction of Social Reality, or Gadamer’s Truth and Method. I tend to feel these books are cancerous, even though I’ve written such a book and such books often contribute something. Nonetheless, I can’t help but have suspicions about the whole publishing industry attached to universities and what it produces.
This is not an exhaustive catalogue, just a stab. I often wonder what sort of book I would write were I not bound up with the academy and if I had no intention of ever publishing. Is there a book that I would like to rewrite, to repeat, today? What would such a book be for? What would it seek to do (to me, not to any readers)? What would it mean to write in a way that forgets all scholarly debates and options and simply attempts to distill the essence of something (which is very different from suggesting something outside history)? Is it possible to write such a book today? What would it be to write a book that wasn’t a move in the game of chess, that like Spinoza, refrained from any such engagement in the world of letters, and strove simply to transform oneself in and through the act of writing? What would it be like to spend ten, twenty, thirty years writing, without the intention of ever releasing such a work, of ever being recognized for such a work, and without worrying over such debates? What book would you repeat or rewrite?
Spinoza Quote of the Day BOOK III, PROP. III. The activities of the mind arise solely from adequate ideas; the passive states of the mind depend solely on inadequate ideas. Note.–Thus we see, that passive states are not attributed to the mind, except in so far as it contains something involving negation, or in so far as it is regarded as a part of nature, which cannot be clearly and distinctly perceived through itself without other parts: I could thus show, that passive states are attributed to individual things in the same way that they are attributed to the mind, and that they cannot otherwise be perceived, but my purpose is solely to treat of the human mind.