Challenge to Myself

I am giving a challenge to myself: To live my life, understand the world and blog without talking about the institution of academic philosophy. I have spent a lot of time highlighting some of academic philosophy’s difficulties. But I am now outside academia. Whatever I am going to contribute to is, first and foremost, outside academia.

And for that contribution only two things are necessary: that i try to understand to world and live my life accordingly.

This doesn’t mean I won’t think or talk about philosophy and philosophers. I cannot image a life like that. I see the world through the categories I have internalized through my reading of Plato, Descartes, Wittgenstein, Aurobindo, and so on. It is no more possible for me to not think about them than it is possible for me to not think about my family or the city I live in. But it is possible to engage with philosophers and philosophical texts without the structures of academic philosophy. That is what I will do.

I sense within myself the greatest fear in this challenge. Even after I left academic philosophy, I still oriented myself with respect to it, telling myself where I was and where I was going in relation to those structures. Why? In part out of habit. But also because orienting myself with regard to academic philosophy made me feel like a philosopher, as someone who has some standing in society, even if it is the standing of reacting against something.

If I don’t orient myself with respect to academic philosophy, it seems as if I am just a thinker, one among the billions thinking. If I orient myself with respect to academic philosophy, even in terms of why I left it, I feel like a philosopher, one among the initiated few.

That has been the tension in my thinking, and blogging. I physically left academic philosophy, but I didn’t leave it mentally. So I was in a no-man’s-land: no longer an academic, but also not ready to accept the implication that when I now think, my thinking doesn’t have any institutional backing. No one has to listen to me. Here is the root of why I have been so focused on writing about the issues in academic philosophy: if you say an institution is problematic, then they ought to listen to you, even if they don’t. I lived within the enticing hope of that ought, as if it implied a community and a solidarity. But it is a funny kind of ought. For, after all, I am the one who walked away. And who is still walking away.

Not because academic philosophy is so bad. But because there is something else, new, beckoning. And to embrace that new thing, I have to leave academic philosophy not just physically, but mentally.

At least for some time. For the next six months or a year. To think anew, to feel anew, to live anew. To learn what it is to think and to understand the world without coming back, in my mind, to the institution of academic philosophy, and its pitfalls and its possibilities. To accept that I think just because I am a thinker, whether anyone hears me or not, whether it makes any difference or not. I think the way a spider makes a web. That is enough.

I don’t want to just understand Descartes. I want to do what he did. I envy and admire his ability to start afresh. The Meditations were published in 1641, when Descartes was 45. It begins this way:

Some years ago I was struck by how many false things I had believed, and by how doubtful was the structure of beliefs that I had based on them. I realized that if I wanted to establish anything in the sciences that was stable and likely to last, I needed – just once in my life – to demolish everything completely and start again from the foundations. It looked like an enormous task, and I decided to wait until I was old enough to be sure that there was nothing to be gained from putting it off any longer. I have now delayed it for so long that I have no excuse for going on planning to do it rather than getting to work. So today I have set all my worries aside and arranged for myself a clear stretch of free time. I am here quite alone, and at last I will devote myself, sincerely and without holding back, to demolishing my opinions.

Amen. Today is my 38th birthday. I have put off starting anew long enough as well. The new road lies ahead. Where it leads, I do not know. But this I know: there is no looking back, and the life I am to lead, and the world to be understood, is in front of me.

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