The first time we talked about philosophy, we had a big fat fight. We’d been together for over a year, and so far I’d managed to escape serious conversations that had anything to do with philosophy. I’d told you from the start that I had left Holland in order to get away from philosophy and that I’d chosen Great Britain because, as far as I knew, the language didn’t allow any fallbacks. That was fine with you because you didn’t enjoy talking about matters that were beyond your capacity to change and put to good use anyway – aka philosophical conversations did your nut in.
But a couple of weeks ago, you introduced me to Charlie at the Portobello Gold. “Charlie’s writing a book,” you said. It turned out to be a book about how God spoke to Charlie when he was in prison, about how he saw Jesus when he got out, about Americans coming to London to look for Jesus, who would be ‘amongst Angels on Earth’, and about two skinned bears that were found in the snow in London in the winter of 1983 without any blood or foot prints in the vicinity. I was being playfully cynical, asking questions such as “are you sure those voices you heard had nothing to do with the brain injury you just mentioned?” , “and you think Jesus dumped those bears there?”, “oh, now I get it, you think Jesus is Bigfoot!”
When you told me, later that night, that Charlie used to be the head of the Essex Chapter of the Hells Angels, I said I felt like an idiot for being so cheeky towards possibly one of England’s most dangerous men.
"But at the same time, I know I would have felt just as foolish if I would have agreed with him. I mean, come on, it was a big load of bollocks.”
"It wasn’t all nonsense,” you said, “I think his philosophy was quite interesting.”
And that’s how it started. I said as far as I could tell his book in the making was very interesting, but not philosophical. You demanded a definition of philosophy.
“I can’t give you one, but I can assure you I didn’t spend six years in university studying pub talk and the ramblings of a retired Hells Angel with a brain injury. Thank you very much.”
“Very impressive, you spent six years in university studying something and you can’t even tell me what. At least Charlie’s trying to improve the world.”
“Yes, he is trying to make the world a better place, but that doesn’t make him a philosopher. So are you, but you’re an aerospace engineer. If anything, the fact that he’s trying to manipulate the world shows that he’s NOT a philosopher.”
“Well, then tell me what a philosopher does.”
I tried to explain that philosophers try to find words or truths that they can’t deny, and wonder why. But, as was to be expected, I failed to make you understand. I argued that I couldn’t show you what it’s like to discover a philosophical necessity in a language that wasn’t my mother tongue – because it’s all about finding nuances of words as they come naturally - not artificially (the way I learned it at school). When speaking English, I get it wrong all the time. Without making myself incomprehensible, I disobey the rules of British English all the time, in ways that are actually impossible for a native like yourself. You couldn’t make my mistakes, even if you tried.
That’s because you’re hardwired with the language, whilst I am not. I said I was hardwired with a language that was possibly more suitable for the deeper insights as well. But by neglecting Dutch, I was turning myself away from all that. So I didn’t want to talk about it.
You didn’t take my inability – interpreted as unwillingness – to explain what philosophy is well. We had a serious argument the other day, and you brought it up again. You called me a philosopher for being argumentative, for arguing for the sake of arguing – which I was, but that doesn’t make me a philosopher.
“Bloody philosophy,” you said, “it’s a waste of time. Doesn’t have a point.”
“It is,” I said, “it is useless. But that doesn’t make everything that’s useless philosophical.”
“I only said that to wind you up. It’s not useless.”
“NOW you’re winding me up. It bloody is.”
“I’ve asked a girl at Phoebe’s party for a definition of philosophy, and she agreed with me. And she was pretty smart too.”
“Was she English?”
“That’s beside the point. But yes, she was English, and she was doing a degree in Philosophy.”
“If some clever bird wants to do a degree in pub talk, that’s fine with me. Though personally, I think that art is much more enjoyable with a pint in a local. Without having to write an essay about it afterwards.”
But I love you and I don’t want you to think that I’m being selfish and just don’t want to share my background with you. So I promised to give it a go: I’ll attempt to write something that might give you a glimpse of what I’ve been doing in university for six years. I can’t promise I’ll manage. I never had any guarantee ‘philosophy would happen’ while I was in uni either. And even if, for a moment, I think my text opens up an insight, I can’t promise you’ll be capable of seeing it. I can’t do that for you. But I’ll do my best to show you that philosophy is taking place in Stairway to Heaven. If it is.
Continue readingWhere I come from 2: MA in Pedantry.