Quora answer: Why is it that so many of the answers on Quora are written over the average person’s head?

Feb 04 2012

I write long complex answers tending toward incomprehensibility on purpose. I put a graphic of the words I am using before them so people can get a general idea what they are getting into using Worldle.net. Some people like long complex intricate writings that are decidedly esoteric. I am writing for them. But mostly for myself, because I use the question as an opportunity to learn something through the writing not just to regurgitate what I already know. That is the wonder of writing, you can actually learn things doing it. Normally I write articles or working papers and just put them on my website without regard to who might see them or what they might think. Occasionally here I get some feedback, and that is great whenever it occurs. Because like all so called ‘experts’ I am just making things up, waiting for someone to way wait a minute, why are you saying that? That makes it interesting. And sometimes it makes me realize what I was saying was not so great, and I get to improve my thinking a little.

For instance, Zizek (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavoj_%C5%BDi%C5%BEek) spoke at the Occupy Wallstreet gathering (http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/videos/occupy-wall-street/). Probably no one there knew what he was talking about. I just happened to spend a year reading most of his books on Lacan, and he was basically saying what he does in his books. Best part of his books is always the old communist jokes he uses to make a point or two. Zizek (http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/biography/) really does not care if anyone understands him. But he will go on for hours at the drop of a hat, because he has something to say, and it is normally provacative, or funny, so people like to listen. But he is not talking really to his audience, but his true interloquters, the philosophers he has read, and the living ones he knows like Badiou (http://www.egs.edu/faculty/alain-badiou/biography/).
Zizek with Badiou listening. What else can he do?

I have come to more or less agree with Deleuze (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_Deleuze), that conversations are useless and attempting to communicate with others is probably a waste of time. Here is the reason. Education in this country is not so great to start with. And most people have an anti-intellectual bent here. And even if you find someone who has read a few books there is little common ground on which to base communication that is really significant. And so everyone ends up talking past each other, and the conversations go nowhere ultimately.

Nietzsche in his books was mostly talking to himself. He sold just a few copies of his books while he was alive. But if he had not continued to talk to himself up to his madness we would have been culturally must poorer, and postmodernists would really have nothing to talk about.

For instance, if you read Kant commentaries you realize that almost no one understandings what he is saying so they try to make something out of it for themselves, in order to back up their own ideas. The commentaries on Kant are almost universally poor, the best being Patton who is the only one I know who is actually trying to figure out what Kant is saying, sentence by sentence. But on the other hand commentaries on Plato are great. They really shed new light on his thought and for the most part have something to add to our understanding of what he is saying.

But when you come right down to it how many people are going to spend years reading philosophy. I spent almost ten years sitting in the British Museum near where Marx sat and wrote Capital and just read and read and read. And since returning to the USA long ago I have about quadrupled my bibliography. The number of books I have put in the bibliography of my dissertation is about a quarter of my real bibliography. But then I marvel at Zizek who seems to have read everything, twice.

So all the years I have spent reading, and writing is nothing to his output. And because he is interpreting Lacan who is impossible to understand in the light of Hegel with reference to Kant, and making sene of it, he is really writing some very complex works that go way past what most scholars are churning out. Think of it 99 percent of what is produced in the publish or perish world of academia is worthless, and ultimately there are only a few books really worth reading and they are normally the ones in the Canon, most other secondary works are mildly interesting but that is all. So I figure that if I spew out some incomprehensible gibberish that attempts to posit what i think I have learned from a life of reading philosophy, then perhaps someone who really knows something will come along and see my answers and decide to set the record straight. For instance, if Zizek was on Quora and he got going he would produce much more esoteric bullshit than I ever could. He is just far more intelligent than I am and he also has a much greater reading capacity, and he understands lots of things like Lacan and Hegel that I never really understood too well. And the fact he can relate that to Hitchcock movies just makes it all so much more fun.

But take heart, there are really much more boring and esoteric writers than I am, for instance Michel Henry who wrote Essence of Manifestation, which I read must be the most boring writer that I have ever read. And Badiou is right up there with him. But despite not being very exciting you have to hand it to them they do have something worth while to say. And even though it is very painful it is worth while reading them because they can change he way you look at things fundamentally.

There are certain books I would say are a must for those who want to stretch their imaginations concerning what is thinkable. One I like better than most is Bateson’s Steps to the Ecology of the Mind. Now there is a really great book full of ideas, and seemingly inexhaustible as a source of inspiration. It always helps to read just a little of the Canon just to make sure that you can still understand complex things, occasionally. I suggest Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, or Deleuze. But if you are not up to that perhaps you will like a grand tour like the ones I provide that start on one side of the universe of discourse and end up on the other, somehow, almost magically . . . I really don’t know how it happens, suddenly we have arrived somewhere we did not intend to go, and we see things in a different way, all of a sudden. And then we have to remember what the question was that sent us there.




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