Robin: “Maybe if we attack it, it will get confused, and make a mistake!”
Arthur: “Like what?”
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
One meaningful shortcoming will always be my inability to live philosophy. Took me a year-long intensive studying of the subject to apprehend this simple fact. Then I threw those books away. And pretty much all others. Like Buridan’s donkey – who died of hunger not being able to choose in between the two identical bales of hay – my self was divided by quite opposite poles: Spengler’s The Decline of the West, and Doors’ lyrics from The End: ‘The west is the best, the west is the best, get here, and we’ll do the rest’. How do you live through that divide? People do, by looking straight ahead, in front of them. That’s the arrow approach. I wanted something else, to live, as Kundera would say, jinde, or elsewhere. Attending philosophical studies had nothing to do with attaining acumen, or living the philosophical life. Students around me were regular disciples: they would open a Hegel and sigh with awe, as if Almighty jumped from a holy horse, his cheeks ruddy from the mountain chill. Ridiculous! Who needs a holy horse? What kind of holy are you if you can’t ride an average horse? But then again, how do you define an average horse? You see what I’m saying? Suddenly it doesn’t matter if you are idolatrous, as long as you can quote from Hegel. And Hegel you can only quote from anyway, you don’t grasp his domain, and neither do I. If you could, you wouldn’t be reading this; if I could, I’d be lecturing jinde. Which, basically, was the idea when I enrolled. The enrollment in itself was fine; I had just enrolled the wrong guy.
I should have gotten drunk and joined Kundera at La Rotonde, 105, Boul. Montparnasse, for a Saumon fume. Wasn’t good enough – I wanted to live philosophy. How do you do that anyway? Well, the general idea was stolen from Plato’s Akademia, a kind of philosophical heaven on Earth, where my girlfriends would be a year behind, or IQ behind, and I’d become their Plato, absent strict platonic connotations. My buddies were already philosophers, as long as a bottle was handy. A sharply naive vision from a slightly cross-eyed individual at not so naive age. Reminds me of a soldier who sends home a photo with the platoon’s mule, signing off with ‘I’m the one on the left’. In my case, I was the one in the middle, a book in one hand and a glass of slivovitz in the other. Blessed times!
As it turned out, my plan wasn’t illogical at all: the legendary Alexandre Kojeve, a lecturer on Hegel, allegedly achieved my dream (give or take) with two underaged fourteen year old girls, his apprentices. Those were the times when girls still had cogital brains in lieu of coital and philosophical appetite among other cravings, so Kandinsky’s nephew simply brought Hegel down to earth. In addition, he influenced Michel Foucault and his History of Sexuality. In a different realm, my aspirations eventually came to ignore the sexual consequences: I was after glory and delusion. And I took the task seriously, with a touch of an idiot savant. A short year later, at the verge of meningitis, I wasn’t talking to God, I was listening.
What I meant by living philosophy was to build a philosophical circle around me, and stay there for the rest of my intellectual life span. Soaked in hubris, I’d dismiss any opposing argument with a supercilious smile. To make things worse, I became dangerously good at dialects: I could argue any subject from both ends with the same penetration and credibility. The beauty of my thesis would find its equal in the charm of her sister, the antithesis: the two goddesses, hand-in-hand, glided down the catwalk where the Devil wore many faces, and Janus laughed incessantly.
Until one random week day I took the opposing argument, confronting the loud mouths of the class and the assistant professor. It was about – who else – Ludwig Wittgenstein, the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century, the man whose 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus brought the substance of philosophy to its climax, and its knees. Who, consequently, waved goodbye to classic philosophy in his masterpiece Philosophical Investigations, evolving into language and its games.
My claim was, and still is, that philosophy has to unfold into literature as sine qua non for its survival, slash continuation – otherwise it ends as self-contained Faberge egg. The bobbleheads just couldn’t swallow this somewhat cruel fact, i. e. its repercussions for their future studies. They stormed at me with a barrage of contra punches, arguing that I can’t have philosophy outside philosophy. ‘Why not’, I shot back, ‘that is called transcending, while you guys just reverberate thoughts of the world long gone and forgotten. You are already zombies of your academic careers yet to hypostatize.’
I walked my talk out of the class, closing another door behind me. Passing through the empty halls, for a brief moment I felt the corrosion of time crumbling before me, pictured their helpless looks begging mother hen for support, and almost threw up my sympathy on the sparkling marble floor called the Yugoslav academic system.
Obviously, I didn’t give up on philosophy for the sake of literature because of Wittgenstein, since the latter has been my lifelong obsession – I just drew the line for formally studying the former; and pushed my writing attempts even harder. At least I had a gift for throwing away the junk I wrote: Narcissus in me was thoroughly beaten up by a healthy peasant deep inside. Until one day in 1989 – caught without guard due to easy wins that never failed – the agricola shattered his fist on the hard cover of The Metaphysical Stories. Thank God that Narcissus already laid unconscious, covered in his own vomit. It was my time to turn the hourglass upside down, so I did it.
There was a literary evening devoted to this tiny book, held at a prestigious hall (my ego almost got stuck at the entrance). After a lengthy discourse by David Albahari, as well as Dane Mašić, the publisher, audience got to ask questions. Among others, there was a person I didn’t recognize at first, far in the back, who wanted to know if I still insist on death of philosophy, the field she held her PhD diploma.
‘Let me respond with a quote from Wittgenstein’, I said, ‘that philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. Literature, my dear, is a battle against the bewitchment of our language by means of lunacy. Less than a decade ago, you and I shared the same classroom: I walked out, you stayed. Today, you are an accomplished academic with deep knowledge of the subject by means of its history, and your own thoughts gave the subject much needed CPR. However, it is still a subject. In the meantime, I have done nothing measurable, I have no wagons to circle, no diploma to show for it. However, I reinvented literature in a microcosmic way, and I cleaned a slice of language from all of the gunk accumulated over the eons. At any university around the globe, you could easily head the acclaimed department of philosophy, while, if I’m lucky enough, they might hire me as a janitor. However, in the world of intangibles, my dear, I will always be the master of the game.’