On François Jullien’s The Philosophy of Living. London: Seagull, 2016 [2011]

(I do not mean to write a review, just some comments that might at least contextualize, since I have appropriated François Jullien’s notion of infraphilosophyso shamelessly for my blog.  The following notes are intentionally fragmentary and they have no pretensions, they merely pick up on what I found most interesting in The Philosophy of Living.  Jullien has written many books I have not read, but never mind: paying attention to what he names infraphilosophy, which belongs in life rather than to books, is what matters. He would agree.)  

Heraclitus’s definition of fools: being present, they are absent.  Jullien says: “they do not encounter” (14).  A prototype is the guy who goes to a mountain top or to a cathedral and takes a picture of it instead of looking at what is in front of him. If there is to be any look, it would be for the picture.  To calculate how it would post on Instagram.  The absent fool, nevertheless there, a pain in the neck for everyone else, lives in perpetual deferral.  His goal for Instagram is to have many likes, or whatever it is in that network.  He pretends nothing else.  It is a curious enjoyment, the pleasure of a true life that is measured by the anxious glory of peer recognition.  There is no encounter, they do not encounter.  How to move towards an awakening?  An awakening into the upsurgence of the present, into the fact that presence emerges, and it is there.   If something is to happen, you must be there.  

First, a resolution not to defer, not to postpone things.  There is no “I will return to it” that does not make a fool out of you. There will never be time.  

But are we not all fools? There is a basic non-coincidence that runs our lives–we are never there, we can never be there.  

Imagine that you resist being a fool, living a fool, dying a fool.  What is to be done?  

The mistake, a common one: you prepare for the true life, that is, the life of the end, life at the end.  You will return to it, to life, at the end. Hoping to collect.  You live your life hoping to collect, at some point, the end. Or beyond the end.  You write your books so that at the end you will have written books.  You plant trees so that you will have planted trees.  You withhold expenses so that you die rich.  Will have saved.  Or you think politics, your heroic militancy, your true convictions, your astute acumen will eventually save you and your comrades.  Or your comrades and then perhaps you.  Tomorrow, or the next day.  After all is said and done.  After you win if you do.  

Montaigne would say “Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live in a timely way.”  The marrano secret, the immense joy of thorough disillusionment.  Do not construct, do not discourse: live in timeliness.  Against every metaphysics.  

Infraphilosophy: merely an attempt to see what remains when philosophy is removed, when it is destroyed, when you take out your two eyes, like Oedipus, and only the third eye will let you see, “this more elementary and fundamental living which lies upstream from the constructions of thought” but has nothing to do with ontology, with identity, with naming.  But still calls for destruction, because we are never only there, we are only almost there.  Asymptote.  

Hegel: he tried.  He understood there was no self-certainty not already cracked, no living not already exposed to death.  Dialectics is the great construction of metaphysics to secure a possible living in death, the greatest attempt to capture life in absolute knowledge, which is also to capture absolute knowledge into life.  At the end, the foam of the infinite.  But only at the end.  “Since it is not there at the beginning, this work of mediation, located from the outset between the self and the world and which language deploys, has to take that very long road (the only one there is) by which consciousness is conquered, passing through negation and suffering, leading to completion and teleologically to the adequacy in which one is reconciled in the other (in ‘absolute knowledge’)?” (240).  

What is to be done?  Must we wait until the end?  

Jullien calls both for literature, as a privileged space of the between, as a site of possible interruption of the long discourse of the ends (metaphysics); and links the possible literary illumination to zen.  Zen is only ever access to the presenting presence, to time as event. Like poetry can be. 

An awakening without conversion: Heraclitus’ oi egerthentes leave foolishness behind. It takes work.  But then again it also takes fear away.  We can only try.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s