Quora answer: In what order would Kent Palmer recommend I read ALL of his work to truly understand it?

Dec 09 2015

Interesting Question.

I guess I should just admit outright that my works are a mess. Therefore, I don’t think there is a privileged order for reading them. They cover a vast range of subjects many of which are not going to be of interest to any given reader. The other problem is that the vast majority of what I have written is unpublished so what has been given out on the internet is really the tip of the iceberg. So you are not going to be able to read ALL of my works by definition unless I get busy and try to get the rest of them edited, which probably is not going to happen soon.

I just don’t think it is feasible to read all of my works to truly understand them. And even if you read all of them there is no guarantee that you would “truly understand” what I am saying, not the least because I am a speculative philosopher and thus I try things out to see what happens, and many of my experiments fail. So truly understanding would be to confront the meaning of my many failures to understand things myself. Essentially I am saying that what you seek is impossible to obtain even for me. Do I really understand myself what I have written? Point is that over the years I have changed my opinion many times. What I understand now is more in someways than what I understood before after a lot of experience reading and writing and living in the world. But in some ways when I wrote my studies in England for my dissertation I understood more than I do now, because I was totally immersed in it, which I have not been for years. I have published some of these studies and hope to publish the rest of them, but they are almost unreadable for me. So if I have a hard time grasping what I once wrote when I was utterly absorbed in coming to terms with philosophy, then how would you understand it completely, or truly.

This brings me back to a theme you can see in my posts here and at Thinknet and in many of my writings that identifies the different aspects of Being as Truth, Reality, Identity and Presence. Because these are the aspects of Being, and because Being is not a universal, but a peculiarity of the Western worldview that are glosses over Existence in some sense which change at the different meta-levels of Being, then when you say you want to understand TRULY you are entering into these aspects. And the thing I have learned about that is that these aspects are fundamentally different at the different meta-levels of Being. And so understanding Truly at the level of Process Being is different from the what it is at the level of Pure Being, and the same goes for Hyper, Wild and Process Being. As Nietzsche said Truth is a convenient lie that we use to kid ourselves into thinking that we understand things in the world. So in some sense truly understanding is a doubtful enterprise.

But what goes for me, also goes for you. In other words can you really truly understand yourself, less well anyone else, like me for instance. I don’t claim to be able to understand myself, so how are you going to truly understand me. Anyway these are the lingering doubts I have about the project of “Truly Understanding” me and what I have written.

So what is a better path? The better path is to try to set out as I have done to understand our worldview, and go exploring yourself that vast realm which conditions everything we are and do. Understanding that is way more worth while than understanding me and my writings. This is because there are various real advantages to that project. First of all we have a philosophical tradition that stretches back a long ways to Thales and it is well commented, So you can read the originals in that tradition and then you can read many commentaries that are excellent that help you to understand those works. In other words, that is what I do. I read the works of the philosophers that interest me then I read the commentaries. And thus there is plenty of help to understand these major figures in our philosophy tradition. The point is that if you put your effort into that then you will truly be doing something worthwhile in my opinion because the more you understand our tradition the more you will understand yourself, and that is really the goal, but of course it is a goal at an infinite limit because the tradition is vast.

For myself I have taken the Continental philosophical tradition as something I wanted to understand because it gives me a better view of our worldview as far as I can see. What I write is like other commentators just my various insights I have gathered along the way concerning that tradition. One should always put the primary texts before the commentaries. So it is much better to read Husserl for instance than to read what I have to say about him. Our tradition is made up of a series of geniuses who have found new ways of looking at the worldview, and they build on each others work. So if you read say Husserl, then Heidegger, then Derrida, and others like Foucault, Deleuze, Zizek, and then go back to Kant, Hegel, Plato etc you will come to understand our tradition much better than you would if you did not spend the time reading them. I participate in a reading group that is local to me in which we have done just that, we have gone back and followed the itinerary mapped out by Lee Braver in Amazon.com: A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism (Topics in Historical Philosophy) (9780810123809): Lee Braver: Books and attempted to read the originals that he talks about. In my own reading of the tradition, I never really went back before and tried to re-read the things I read in England, because there was always another book to read in the tradition that fascinated me. But through this reading group I am going back and learning a lot that I missed the first time through with two other philosophers who are teaching me about analytical philosophy along the way. And one of our great interests is the split between Analytical and Continental Philosophy. And I have been reading some of the books about that split and some of the books that I never got around to reading on the Analytical side and this is giving me a new appreciation for many things I had not understood before about the tradition. Not that I like Analytical Philosophy and more, but now I at least know better what is good about it, and why I don’t find it as uplifting as I find Continental Philosophy. The difference is that Continental Philosophy gives us more insight into the nature of the Western worldview because it is much more wide ranging in its concerns. It is not a specialized discipline, but an attempt to understand everything from all angles, instead of just being a handmaiden to Western Science.

In our study we have read together Being and Time, then Basic Writings, and after that the Order of Things, and then read Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations and Krisis as a prelude to reading Derrida and we are now caught up in reading Introduction to the Origin of Geometry, Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena, and of Grammatology. And I am going on to read more of Derrida, for instance Archive Fever which I had not read before. In this process I have become fascinated with Genetic Phenomenology developed by Husserl and its impact on the later tradition. That is definitely something worth trying to understand. Much more significant than anything I have written. Try to understand that. Then lets talk. That is something that is really profound and has had an amazing impact on Western philosophy that I just did not appreciate before. And now there is a lot of material about it such as Derrida’s own book reviewing Genetic Phenomenology in Husserl’s Philosophy.

See The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy – Kindle edition by Jacques Derrida, Marian Hobson. Politics & Social Sciences Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com. See also Amazon.com: Genesis and Trace: Derrida Reading Husserl and Heidegger (Cultural Memory in the Present) (9780804739160): Paola Marrati, Simon Sparks: Books

The Other Husserl: The Horizons of Transcendental Phenomenology (Studies in Continental Thought): Donn Welton: 9780253215581: Amazon.com: Books

Key Book Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic (Husserliana: Edmund Husserl – Collected Works): Edmund Husserl, A.J. Steinbock: 9780792370666: Amazon.com: Books

Thus with this reading in our reading group my understanding of the tradition has changed fundamentally. By ideas about the meta-levels of Being were really just the tip of the iceberg, and that below that at a deeper level is the theme of Genetic Phenomenology. There is a thread of Genetic Phenomenology that stretches from Husserl to Heidegger to Merleau Ponty to Derrda to Deleuze and probably beyond that ties these philosophers together at a deeper level despite their exploring the different meta-levels of Being which is fascinating. And some commentators have picked up this thread and explored it.

For instance:

Deleuze and the Genesis of Representation (Continuum Studies in Continental Philosophy) – Kindle edition by Joe Hughes. Politics & Social Sciences Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

So on the one had the Continental Tradition was exploring the various meta-levels of Being (Pure, Process, Hyper, Wild and Ultra) but on the other hand there is a deeper thread tying them together which is genetic phenomenology. And if you understand that then you have a much deeper insight into the tradition than just concentrating on the differences between the meta-levels. Essentially the meta-levels of Being are what falls out when you go deeper and deeper into Genetic Phenomenology. I did not understand this before. Thus my understanding is itself transforming radically as a result of revisiting these texts I read long ago but did not completely understand before, there was much more in them than I appreciated at the time. And the only reason I am getting this benefit is that I found others who want to read these texts along with me and to discuss them. Which is a rare and wonderful thing. This secret about the tradition that is starting to come out in the commentaries on the Contentment Tradition, for instance Home and Beyond: Generative Phenomenology after Husserl (Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy): Anthony J. Steinbock: 9780810113206: Amazon.com: Books, is something quite amazing. That is something worth truly understanding because it tells us something deep about our worldview that we really did not understand before.

So I guess what I am trying to say, is that I am struggling to try to understand our worldview. The best thing you can do is to try to understand it yourself, not my meager contribution, except in passing and as a side note to a much broader attempt by others within our tradition to understand it better. The point is that much of my work because it is truly speculative, in other words I just try things out for the heck of it to see what might happen, is probably wrong. Not to mention that I am not a “real scholar” in the sense that I do not know the original languages in which much of this material is written. I take classes from someone who is local that does understand those languages and try to take guidance from him in my interpretations. There is just so much available in English that I have not been able to exhaust it and without a facility for language, it is just easier to keep reading in my native language. But everything I have written has this flaw or taint of ignorance of German, and French, and the other major languages that the originals of the tradition are written in. Truly understanding would demand that we went back to the originals in their own languages. And if that is true then I definitely don’t have True Understanding in that sense like Derrida does, for instance.

I am appreciating him more as I am reading him again these many years later. He has the capacity to completely understand who ever he happens to be studying and to say interesting things about them, for instance Husserl, or Freud, or Hegel. And as far as I can see he had not hint that Wild Being defined by Merleau-Ponty and explored by Deleuze, existed. Everything he writes is from the point of view of Hyper Being as far as I can see so far. But that is a good thing because by reading Derrida you can focus on Hyper Being, but then if you want to see things from the point of view of Wild Being you go to Deleuze, and if you want to explore Ultra Being you go to the work of Badiou and Zizek. In other words, it is a very good thing that each of these philosophers stick to the meta-level of Being that they are exploring as fully as they can. But to get an overview of what is happening in the tradition we need to understand these different meta-levels of Being and how they are related in the Western Worldview. Taken together they tell us something about our worldview, something deep about it which was always known in antiquity but which was later lost so that today we have a very flat view of the worldview, except in as much as Continental Philosophy has re-illuminated it for us.

For more on the meta-levels of Being see my recent summary Meta-levels of Being

So the upshot of all this is that the best thing you can do is not to try to understand my writings but to dive into the tradition and try to understand that for yourself with the help of reading the original works and the myriad good commentaries. My own work merely tries to give an overview of what I have learned by doing that myself. And it may help in some ways with the caveat that it is my own peculiar and idiosyncratic opinion. But the only thing really good about it is that I try to understand it as a whole, rather than just getting lost in the weeds as so many do. But of course trying to understand our philosophical tradition is a life times work and takes a very big commitment. So I don’t expect many will follow this advice. But what I can say is that it is extremely rewarding if you do make the effort, it affords you with an intellectual adventure that is difficult to match.

My works are way points on that journey. Probably the only thing worthwhile about them is that they signify the possibility of the journey toward an understanding of our tradition. But where anyone who takes that journey as so many have before us will end up is very different from anyone else who take that journey, and that is what drives the difference between the major philosophers in our tradition. They took the journey and they came to see it in fundamentally differently ways and thus shed more light on it from their different stances. Staking our your own stance toward the tradition as I have tried to do is a worth while project. But very demanding because the territory is so vast no one individual is going to encompass it all. Or at least after Hegel that has become fairly obvious. Hegel was perhaps the last philosopher who understood the whole tradition in his own way. Derrida’s works are a recognition of our limitations in that respect that have generally become recognized of late. If we cannot understand our tradition as a whole, then that means we cannot understand who we are completely, and thus we will never know ourselves truly, in reality, with any absolute identity, and we cannot bring ourselves to full presence ultimately. If that is the case then understanding each other truly is not going to be easy, and perhaps we need to recognize those limitations up front. Since my works have no intrinsic order, they just happened to be what I was interested at the time and my attempt to set down what I had gleaned from my reading, then that means that there is no order in which they should be read to gain a true understanding, if that were even possible.

However, there is an intrinsic order that you should read things in general which is to read what ever fascinates you the most first, and then after that what fascinates most now that you have a new perspective having read that. In other words, my works should be read only to the extent that I am the most fascinating thing you can read at a given time, and if I do not come up to that standard then my works should be passed over for what IS the most fascinating thing for you at the moment. To tell you the truth I don’t read my own works. That is why so many of them lie unedited. I always find something more fascinating written by someone else which I prioritize over my own editing and writing for the most part. So if I don’t read them how can I expect others to read them. But the only thing I will say is that I try to write things that do not appear in the literature, and I try to write things that I myself would like to see and read from others within the tradition. And if my works have any value it probably stems from that. I say to myself. I wish someone who actually knows something would write a book on Subject X. But then I do not find anything. So I say well perhaps I will try my hand at it and see what happens. Then I either publish the result to the internet or leave it to the side and forget about it and move on to what is most fascinating to me at a given moment. Perhaps there are others that wish there was a book on Subject X. Well they might find my attempt worth while, or at least they can see what I did wrong and try to do better, in which case I would like to read their attempt to treat the same subject which might be better than mine.

This only other thing I will say about this subject is that Order as Nomos is the nondual between Logos and Phusis, and is the first nondual. There is below that a whole series of nonduals which are Right, Good, Fate, Source and Root. Now in my writing I try to explore this hierarchy that is at the heart of the Western worldview. Thus your question deals with the Order that would allow you to truly understand my works and thought. But you might ask what is the Right thing to read within my ouvre, (which would obviously be what I have written concerning Special Systems Theory) or you might as what is the Good thing to read (The Fragmentation of Being and the Path Beyond the Void) thus the deepest thing to read. What I ask you to ask yourself is why start at the most superficial of these levels of nonduality within the tradition. Rather than my works lets talk about someone for whom this question can actually be answered, i.e. Plato. In the tradition the right thing to read is Plato’s Republic, because it has the topic of Justice and thus is about Right (Rta, Arte). If you want to read about Order then it is Plato’s Laws that should be read (this is the longest dialogue but also the least read work of Plato), which is the inland city as far away from the sea as possible. But if we want to read about Right we must go to the shore and deal with all the things that come from the outside world and thus take our decent into Hades as Socrates did (Amazon.com: Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues (9780253210715): John Sallis: Books) where he went to witness the emergent event of the introduction of a new foreign goddess into the city. The Republic is the right thing to read if you want to know about the structure of the Western worldview which is encapsulated in the Divided Line. But what is the Good thing to Read? In Plato the good thing to read is the Symposium. That is because each speech is related to the various Special Systems which appear throughout the works of Plato. And in it he is giving us a variety of viewpoints of different speakers and thus pointing to the necessary variety that is produced by human beings. Then we might ask what is the Fated thing to read and that would be Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito concerning the death of Socrates. But then we might ask what is the thing that will allow us the deepest insight into the Sources of thing. In that case we would want to study the dialogues in which Plato talks about the source forms such as Phaedo, Republic and Phaedrus.

Then again we might want to inquire into the Root or the deepest level of nonduality in which case we would have to read the seventh letter [Seventh Letter | Wikiwand] where he says that what he has written in the Dialogues is not what interests him most but what interests him most is something that travels like a spark between companions from soul to soul, i.e. spiritual transmission.

When you ask about the Order in which someones works should be read, one is merely at the highest most superficial level of their work. But Plato is the only one I know who actually writes works at all the different levels of nonduality within the Western tradition, and that is why Whitehead says that everyone elses works are a footnote to Plato. My own work is merely a footnote to those footnotes. Better to read the original and forget about the footnotes except for clarification on fine points that aid understanding that flows from thinking deeply about the original texts of the tradition. There are puddles beside the road but it is better to swim in truly deep oceans like the works of Plato, than to spend ones time on the works that everyone will have forgotten sooner rather than later as the tradition lumbers on and our understanding of it is transformed again and again by emergent events that well up from it unexpectedly producing the Epochs of Being (Heidegger), the Episteme Changes (Foucault), the Paradigm Changes (Kuhn) and the production of myriad theories that always happens and continually changes the tradition in fundamental ways.

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