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About phlogma.com

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“causing pain since 3000 BCE”

Elizabeth Brownrigg

Why 3000 BCE? …because Bianco Luno believes the truth he so often refers to—“the one no one wants to hear”—first made its appearance about that time as recounted in the ancient Gilgamesh epic, among the oldest stories in world literature. He locates it precisely in the dying words of Enkidu… but that is a long, long story which should gradually emerge on this site. You probably want to know who or what motivates these online lamentations.

This is where Luno, a contemporary philosopher, tries out his ideas before they make it into more stable (but often more sibylline) form in his Philosophical Notebooks. Even there they are apt to be revised, but here they may be glimpsed at an earlier stage of development, often in contention with other thinkers or the times—virtually all times and all thinkers.

Luno’s work has focused in recent years on moral theory. In a nutshell, he thinks he has uncovered “a unified theory of human morality” or, rather, a bifurcated one. Sparked by his reading of the much maligned Austrian philosopher, Otto Weininger, and many feminist thinkers against a background of the traditional Western canon in moral philosophy, specifically, the work of Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Mill, he has come to believe that “there are two and only two” genuine moral theories. (A “theory” has explanatory value and answers foundational questions. But, strictly speaking, “theory” may not be the correct word: rather, something closer to what Wittgenstein was up to: something that stops the conversation because controverting it would be self-disqualification from rationality and hence philosophical discourse. “Too close to the bone [of truth] for chewing,” as Luno puts it.) The rest are techniques or strategies or rules of thumb, at best. And this is so because the species is, perhaps incurably, gonochoristic, viz, split into two sexes. He is, of course, well aware of the enormity of the claim and what venerable institutions must come down before the implications of this account of ethics. Certain notions of equality or the moral interchangeability of human beings, for example, long considered the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment, will suffer, at least as applied to gender. Almost every ethical (and, perforce, political) question one might ask will thus have two answers, not one, as we may have come to expect in progressive and conservative circles alike… (See “Cockroaches and Balloons” for a fuller and lively impromptu account of where he takes this idea.)

Notwithstanding Luno’s focus on moral theory, there is a more far reaching claim undergirding his work. It is that the totality of human experience is not generic, but proprietary. Even at the most abstract level of logic and metaphysics, it is inaccurate to posit a human perspective that is not partitioned by gender. The view entails that feminine and masculine are natural kinds that set conditions for knowing and understanding the world. These are two irreducible universes of experience and discourse. It is a metaphysical dualism founded on one of the most contingent but patent of human traits, sexual division. Not just human value but the very objects that are candidates for evaluation and the methods used are thus conditioned. It is not difficult to see how feminist theory and Weininger, in perhaps unappreciated concert, have acted as stepping stones to this conclusion.

Though perhaps not its original intent, it appears that this blog is rapidly becoming Luno’s long rumored Notes and Meditations on Otto Weininger in which he threatens to turn our notion of ethics, if not the whole of philosophy, upside down…

Much of contemporary philosophical scholarship on Otto Weininger remains timid in addressing the central themes of Sex and Character. Attention has fairly been directed at the more subtle and cryptic insights in his posthumous On Last Things. While the depth and richness of the latter certainly deserves the attention it has garnered, the prima facie misogyny and anti-Semitism in the first book continues to be a source of unquestioned embarrassment for scholars wishing to rehabilitate something of Weininger, a task that has seemed to some of them necessary given his influence on so many leading cultural figures in the century since his death. Among philosophers, Wittgenstein, in particular, has had to be absolved of consorting with the likes of Weininger, but there are also Karl Popper, Nikolai Berdyaev, Henri Bergson, Nishida Kitaro, and others. In the literary world, tainted are Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, to give only a very short list, and in music there was at least Arnold Schoenberg and Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine)… (An attempt at a more exhaustive accounting, “Weininger’s List,” is in preparation.)

Bianco Luno has no compunctions about addressing and defending an interpretation of Weininger centered on precisely those touchy issues. Let’s be clear here, since the question will no doubt occur to some, that Luno is not a misogynist or anti-Semite in any common sense of those terms. But he enjoys baiting his reader with the possibility that he is indeed those things in a special sense circumscribed in these writings. Given his general misanthropy, if he were asked if he was a misogynist, he would probably smirk and offer some quip to the effect that it would be par for the course. Luno, who claims some Sephardic Jewish ancestry, not only defends but recommends, as a great cultural and moral refinement in the best Jewish tradition, a form of Jewish self-excoriation. He writes that we could all learn or thing or two from the courage of a people willing to take itself to task even, and especially, when victimized. A state, he adds, we, all of us, will need to get used to.

The following, taken from his aborted attempt to write a formal introduction to these writings, may serve, still, in some measure, to explain them:

Otto Weininger has been nice and dead now for over a hundred years. I say “nice” as a warning to the reader that I am well aware of his notoriety. If a thinker should be judged not by his or her intentions or motivations but by the consequences of her or his expressions, then certainly Weininger would have much to answer for. If what he wrote offered consolation to great acts of immorality, if it has been used to justify the past and present oppression of women and Jews and anyone not an Aryan male, there will have to be some explaining to do by anyone, such as myself, who seeks to rehabilitate his name. I will have more to say about this in due course.

But I say “nice,” too, because, however successful or unsuccessful I will be in Weininger’s defense, I believe the truth as to Weininger’s legacy will require that aspersions be cast across a very wide field of those who have interpreted him, enemies and friends alike. The truth is on no one’s side. I perceive it to have an agenda all its own. In the case of Weininger, I believe the truth reared its ugly head in a rare event to teach us something that it seems it may take us centuries to learn. The first century is over. Here I begin.

Finally, it may be helpful to know—for those compelled to place him—that despite Luno’s formal training in analytic philosophy, his deepest affinities lie outside that tradition, with the “literary moralists” as he calls them, most notably, Diogenes, Montaigne, Pascal, Hamann, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Weil, Wittgenstein and Cioran and their characteristic impatience with “dogma not rooted in a cry of pain”.

Commentary, criticism, and related work by Iaia Gombrowicz, Jürgen Pessoa, and myself (editor of the site), and perhaps others may on occasion appear.

Victor Muñoz

 

Pareillement j’ay en general cecy que, de toutes les opinions que l’ancienneté a eues de l’homme en gros, celles que j’embrasse plus volontiers et ausquelles je m’attache le plus, ce sont celles qui nous mesprisent, avilissent et aneantissent le plus. La philosophie ne me semble jamais avoir si beau jeu que quand elle combat nostre presomption et vanité, quand elle reconnoit de bonne foy son irresolution, sa foiblesse et son ignorance. Il me semble que la mere nourrisse des plus fauces opinions et publiques et particulieres, c’est la trop bonne opinion que l’homme a de soy.

(Likewise this is generally true of me, that of all the opinions antiquity has held of man as a whole, the ones I embrace most willingly and adhere to most firmly are those that despise, humiliate, and nullify us most. Philosophy seems to me never to have such an easy game as when she combats our presumption and vanity, when she honestly admits her uncertainty, weakness, and ignorance. It seems to me that the nursing mother of the falsest opinions, public and private, is the over-good opinion man has of himself.)

—Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Les Essais [1595], ed. P. Villey et Saulnier, Verdun L., 634. [livre II, chapitre 17, “De la Praesumption”] (English: The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald M. Frame, (Stanford University Press, 1957), 480-1.)

Das moralische Urtheil ist insofern nie wörtlich zu nehmen: als solches enthält es immer nur Widersinn. Aber es bleibt als Semiotik unschätzbar: es offenbart, für den Wissenden wenigstens, die werthvollsten Realitäten von Culturen und Innerlichkeiten, die nicht genug wussten, um sich selbst zu “verstehn.” Moral ist bloss Zeichenrede, bloss Symptomatologie: man muss bereits wissen, worum es sich handelt, um von ihr Nutzen zu ziehen.

(Moral judgments therefore are never to be taken literally: so understood they always contain mere absurdity. Semeiotically, however, they remain invaluable: they reveal, at least for those who know, the most valuable realities of cultures and inwardnesses which did not know enough to “understand” themselves. Morality is mere sign language, mere symptomology; one must know what it is all about to be able to profit from it.)

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung, “Die Verbesserer” der Menschheit. (English: “Twilight of the Idols” from The Portable Nietzsche, edited by Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Viking Press, 1954), 501.)

Posted by vmunoz in General (Tuesday July 19, 2005 at 8:20 pm)
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