Last week’s post, “Philosophy’s Exclusion of Literary Writings,” asked whether philosophy could be done in the form of fiction or myth or poetry. Around the same time, I learned of a book whose description from the publisher included this question: “Given that poetry is about alternative forms of knowing, and philosophy the universal address of logos, then can the two think like each other?” The book is Dear Alain by poet Katy Bohinc. Bohinc, who studied math, comparative literature, and French “heard a rumor ‘bout this guy Badiou did set theory… he was French & Left”—Alain Badiou—and wrote a series of letters to him, variously loving, political, erotic, angry, humorous, and philosophical (with some letters to her diary and a couple to Slavoj Žižek, too).
In the author’s note at the end of the book, Bohinc writes, “In some sense, poetry’s and philosophy’s irresistible urge to discuss each other for thousands of years is like the longest love affair in history since, well, Philosophy was born.”
This is a bit outside my bailiwick, but I did look through the book (its publisher, Tender Buttons Press—which itself is interesting—is advertising it here at DN). In one of the letters, she says, “My father told me my project to write you love letters was creepy.” I kind of agree—creepy in a compelling way such that if you imagine yourself the object of the letters it is alternately flattering and terrifying. The style of discrete letters building up to a whole picture reminded me of books like Speedboat by Renata Adler and Snake by Kate Jennings, though I would not describe the writing style as spare. (I am sure people more literate than I am could come up with more suitable and informative comparisons.)
Some excerpts are below.
I’m not here to elaborate on your experience, I’m here to remind you of your soul.
Well, as you know I’m a juvenile stuck on the problem of naming. So I’ve gone to the source, addicted to sex and obsessed with sounds, sensations, feelings. You claim naming was solved by some anti-naming mechanism. Theorizing the naming into some other system. But I’m done with concrete! Eww. Put it in a bottle throw it out to sea. Your systems don’t give a damn for psyche. I want them destroyed completely. I want to drown. What do you say of philosophy to a Chinese woman who has never used a personal pronoun but who knows her master’s name, with glee! She giggles!
I’m going under now – come with me…
How can you talk about these things mechanically? As if philosophy were as binary and blameless as a lightswitch? These are human beings and their thoughts their hearts their messy souls. Multiplicity is generous but are you God? Do you judge? Oh I could scream! I just want to save them all, all 7.22 Billion from your arrogance.
Oh but you poor baby, you do, you work. It’s born of generosity and you have seen the source, it’s the events of Robespierre, not Kant’s assessment. Laundry clean smelling despite the shit stains. Perhaps because. You try. I understand. But I would commit suicide before I would write a single word of, for, and, about, under, within, on top, above, below or anywhere around a human mind, I wouldn’t name a single one thing – it claims too much! And yet I dare do exactly that to you – you are just as guilty of your fate as any! And pain, you must know pain, who doesn’t? And if you don’t, god bless you!
Oh human being, my beloved human being!
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME ALAIN? LOOK YOU FUCKING TOAD, I TOOK ABSTRACT ALGEBRA. I HAVE A DEGREE IN PURE MATHEMATICS, AND I’M FUCKING TELLING YOU, LOGIC ISN’T EVERYTHING. DON’T TELL ME IM BEING BLOODY IRRATIONAL, YOU GODDAMN DENSE ACADEMIC. I’M LEAVING. DOES IT HURT NOW? IS THAT REAL? WHERE IS THE TIMELESS HEART IS IN YOUR STUPID FUCKING SET THEORY? CIRCUBSCRIBE THAT YOU FRENCH TOAD.
YOU COULD ONLY LOVE A SQUARE.
I’m not saying you’re not the set of all sets Alain. Just go up a field. It’s ok to be a subset!
The key is to understand that no one will ever “get” you. It’s impossible. To remember that, hurts, a lot. So we lie to ourselves or, if we’re smart, we take affection where we can get it. It’s just mirrors and smoke dancing around a big void. If we’re lucky, we have a lot of mirrors and plenty of smoke and even get a glimpse of the black hole once or twice to remind us to keep smiling, because, we can.