Bruce Holsinger, “Object-Oriented Mythography”

April 24, 2013

From the title, I had assumed it would be a fairly critical piece, but it’s actually warm and positive. It mentions a number of relevant authors, but deals in most detail with Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter and my own Circus Philosophicus.

Holsinger mentions a possible tension between myth on the one hand and both secularism and realism on the other. I don’t see it that way. The point of myth and metaphor (for me at least) is not to move towards the realm of theology or of creative inner ideas at the expense of reality, but to indicate that reality itself fundamentally cannot be expressed in discursive terms. This is no artsy-fartsy turn away from mathematism and scientism, but simply an attempt to revive Socrates, who adamantly resisted both claims to wisdom and claims to reduce virtue, friendship, whatever to bundles of discursively accessible qualities. (“But Meno, how can I know the qualities of virtue before I know what virtue is?”)

This is why I find the present fashion for rationalism in continental thought to be both regrettable and transient. Too many philosophical difficulties result from thinking that objects can be dissolved downward into their natural underpinnings or dissolved upward into their formalizability, and double the difficulties arise when the attempt is made to do both of these simultaneously (“duomining,” as I call it, which is perhaps a  bigger problem in the history of Western philosophy than is the “presence” that Heidegger disdains– and Derrida in a way that is completely different from Heidegger’s, though too often conflated with it).

Plato wrote myths because Plato like his teacher was a lover of wisdom (not primarily a mathematician, a knower). There is a cognitive value to myth that is too often overlooked. It is ironic that, as Holsinger mentions, analytic philosophy has done a much better job of producing myths in recent decades than the continental tradition, since one might have expected precisely the opposite.

Anyway, I enjoyed Holsinger’s piece, and look forward to reading some of the others in the new issue of The Minnesota Review.


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