Review in Frontiers of Philosophy in China

I was very pleased to see a review of my Levinas book (which is only very loosely connected to things Chinese), Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling, in the most recent edition of the excellent Frontiers of Philosophy in China. The link is here. It is a thoughtful and thorough review, by German phenomenologist Annette Hilt, who seems to have enjoyed the book, whilst taking me to task very gently for not saying more about the ‘saying’ and the ‘said’ (which is a fair point, I think). Anyway, have a look at the review if you have a subscription to FPC.

In the Moominhouse

Just a quick post this, to round off the year. I’m busy at the moment trying to get a book chapter finished by the first of January. It is about Moomins, flat ontology, Levinas, and other important matters of the day; and if it is taking longer than I had hoped, it is partly because I’m finding some rich philosophical seams to mine. Anyway, the deadline is looming, and it would be good not to start 2014 with a missed deadline, so at the moment I’m holed up with the cat and a pot of coffee,  ploughing through ]Totality and Infinity, Moominland Midwinter and other great philosophical classics.  Read more

What do you want to talk about?

It is always interesting to get reviews, even if they are not entirely favourable — or perhaps particularly if they are not entirely favourable — and so I was pleased this morning to see that my book [amazon_link id=”1441124152″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling[/amazon_link]  (the original title, incidentally, was the much nicer Troubled Tales, but Bloomsbury, alas, overruled me!), has had received an interesting, although somewhat ambivalent, review from Jeffrey Di Leo, over on the excellent Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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Philosophers and Dinner Dates

My goodness, two posts in two days… But don’t assume that this is going to be the way of things from here on in: I just thought I’d post to say that there’s a little interview with me over on the Bloomsbury philosophy blog, about Levinas, philosophy, which philosopher I’d like to have over for dinner, and my forthcoming book [amazon_link id=”1441124152″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling[/amazon_link]. It’s a chatty, breezy kind of interview. There’s an extract below the fold: Read more

Snorghs, Sailors, Philosophy and Mood

With apologies for cross-posting from my personal website; but I’m very pleased to have received this morning two copies of the Spring Issue of Interdisciplinary Humanities journal, which includes my essay on “What the Snorgh Taught me about Emmanuel Levinas”. It’s a fairly personal essay/paper about the questions around children’s literature, creative writing, research and philosophy. The paper started out when I began to realise that the process of writing my children’s book, [amazon_link id=”1407116525″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Snorgh and the Sailor[/amazon_link] was (whatever Martin Amis might say about children’s literature) one that fed back into my philosophical writing, opening up new questions and lines of inquiry.

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Philosophers, Cleverness and Storytelling

I’m very happy to have just signed a contract with Bloomsbury for a book about Levinas and storytelling called Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling. The book comes out some time early next year, all being well, and it’s been a long time in the making. It aims to read Emmanuel Levinas, the French-Lithuanian philosopher of ethics, both as a storyteller of ethics, and as somebody who calls storytelling to ethical account. There is an intriguing tension here. On the one hand Levinas talks about ethics (almost despite himself) by recourse to the telling of stories; but on the other hand he raises all kinds of interesting questions about the ethical dangers of certain kinds of storytelling. Read more

On the Dangers of Philosophical Spaghettification

Well, it has been a large job, but the philosophy book is now drafted and ready, more or less, to be sent off to the publishers; and I’m relieved that it is done. The book, which is to be called Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling, and which will appear some time next year, takes up some of the themes in my earlier Finding Our Sea-Legs, but perhaps in a rather less free-wheeling fashion. Much of the book is a somewhat close reading of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (who was a huge influence on Sea-Legs) as a storyteller and as, at the same time, an anti-storyteller, a thinker who set himself against the telling of stories. It is the closest to a monograph that I’ll ever get, despite a few very un-monograph-like jokes along the way.

As a book, this one will probably be for enthusiasts only (what I like to think of as the abridged version, The Snorgh and the Sailor, is more suited to a general audience); but despite the small potential audience, this is material that I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a decade, and throughout this time I’ve found thinking about Levinas immensely enriching and illuminating. My interest in Levinas has not just been an intellectual interest, but something that has had an enormous impact on how I go about leading my own life, not just how I have gone about thinking, but also how I have gone about acting; and for this, I am extraordinarily grateful.

Nevertheless, I’m glad in the end to be moving on to new territories. In many ways, the book feels more like a farewell note to Levinas (and to some of his fellow phenomenologists) than it feels like the initiation into a life of faithful Levinas scholarship. But this always seems the way with me: I’ve followed a curious kind of trajectory over the years from the study of art and art history, to anthropology, to a long engagement that never quite led to a marriage with Buddhism, to phenomenology, to Chinese thought, with large doses of fiction and storytelling along the way; and I’ve never quite persuaded myself to settle down.

I suppose, in the end, that when it comes to thinking, I fear ploughing one single furrow. And it occurs to me now that I am more interested in where I am going to move to next than I am in going over old ground. Particularly when it comes to philosophy, it seems to me that often philosophers are like black holes. They have an enormous gravitational pull. If they argue consistently and determinedly and with a degree of panache, it is hard to resist them. I know people, for example, who have wandered into the depths of the Schwarzwald that is Heidegger’s thinking and who have found themselves still wandering those maze-like Holzwege ten or more years later. I have met courteous, diffident Husserlians who have become so preoccupied with practising their eidetic reductions that it is astonishing that they manage to get dressed in the morning, or eat breakfast, or keep appointments at the opticians. I have stumbled across Levinas scholars who have gone so far beyond the event-horizon that is Otherwise than Being that they emit no further information, only surges of radiation.

I have always feared getting sucked in to any one system of thought, and the philosophical spaghettification that inevitably follows. This is, no doubt, consistent with my fear of weight and my love of lightness. And if philosophers are like black holes, it seems to me that the trick of navigating through philosophical space is finding a course by means of which you can come just close enough to use the gravity-well of any one philosopher to impart further momentum to your travels, but not so close that you fall into the well entirely, never to emerge again. For me, philosophy is at its most exciting, in other words, when it can hurl you outwards on new trajectories, or can precipitate you in new directions…

Image:  Giorgio Conrad (1827-1889): Spaghetti-eater. Wikimedia Commons

Lightness, and Editing for Pleasure

I probably shouldn’t be writing this, as I have a deadline on the philosophy book manuscript, which needs to be sent off by the end of the month; but there’s time for a quick post on the subject of writing and pleasure.

The philosophy book I’m working on has been through more drafts than I can possibly count; and it is good to see it close to completion. In terms of editing, I am now in the final edit, which I consider to be a kind of ‘editing for pleasure’. Editing, I think, is always a process of editing for something or other: editing for consistency, for factual accuracy, for coherence or argument, for sentence construction and so on. This is one reason that for me at least, things need multiple edits, because each time you are looking for something different. Read more

Cheese, Chinese and Chauvinism

Recently I’ve been watching some philosophy programmes from Beijing Open University. It’s a slow process—transcribing as I go—but good as a way of practising my Chinese. I have realised that when it comes to language learning, you need to make use of materials that are themselves interesting. So when I bought Harry Potter (or Hali Bote 哈利波特) in Chinese because I thought it might be a good, easy read, I forgot that I’d never had the slightest desire to read more than three pages of the English version, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised when trying to read the book in Chinese did not improve the experience for me. You’d think that reading five pages of philosophy in Chinese would be more arduous than reading five pages of Harry Potter; but in Chinese, as in English, I find that the reverse is true. Read more


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