Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Against Dialectics

“I’m not convinced that debate ever advances thinking … Don’t you think you’re wasting your time when you engage in such a polemic? Since war is the most common thing in the world, it causes the indefinite repetition of the same gestures and the same ideas. Neither debate nor criticism makes any advances, except on the social chessboard and in the conquest of power. By what strange aberration were they believed to be fruitful, since they kill?

“What makes for advancement in philosophy, and also in science, is inventing concepts, and this invention always takes place in solitude, independence, and freedom — indeed, in silence. We have a surfeit of colloquia these days; what comes out of them? Collective repetitions. On the other hand, we are cruelly deprived of convents and quiet cells and the taciturn rules of the cenobites and anchorites.

“Debate brings pressure to bear, which always tends to confirm accepted ideas. It exacerbates them, vitrifies them, constructs and closes off lobbying groups. At the very most it sometimes chisels out clarifications, but it never makes discoveries. But unless philosophy is devoted to commentary, it ridicules retracing existing concepts.

“Discussion conserves; invention requires rapid intitution and being as light as weightlessness …

“Polemic never invents anything, because nothing is older, anthropologically, than war. The opposite notion has become conventional wisdom in the Anglo-Saxon world, which today holds sway. It is because it holds sway that this method is propagated. That’s always the strategy of victors. Reread Plato: Socrates always imposes the methodology by which he always wins. Dialectics is the logic of the masters. It’s necessary first of all to impose, in a manner defying discussion, the methodology for discussion.”

— Michel Serres, Conversations on Science, Culture and Time, trans. Roxanne Lapidus, 37-38