Reassessing Philosophical Borders and The History of (My)Self

Every now and again I look underneath my bookshelf-slash-work-desk where an old beat up MaxiPad box full of ragged journals and loose leaf pages that I’ve had since the fifth grade sits, and I read through the aphorisms, poems, songs, and essays that I’ve written and I study (from-a-distance) the history of myself. What has come to amaze me is how little I’ve changed, how inquisitive I’ve been my entire life, and how the same issues and concerns have followed me all the way until now philosophically. From my early theories of love at the age of sixteen (when I wrote, “Love and its pain is the world’s biggest enigma,”) to my preconscious acknowledgement at thirteen of what I later will discover to be crucial to the theoretical apparatus of afropessmism (when I wrote “I’ve been known as an abomination put through discrimination I’ve been emancipated but I still feel locked in cages,”) to even the theodicy-laced inquiry of my eleven year old lyric (when I wrote, “Dear God, How am I to make through life with everyone doing wrong it’s hard to do right?”) these questions of affect theory, blackness, and theodicies have always seemed to follow me. The fact that this is true, that these concerns have followed me all the way until now, that the rhythmic hip hop lyrics that used to accompany my inquisitions had simply been replaced by the technical terminology of academic scholarship, that the emphasis on cultural artifacts and “dope” similes had been replaced by the emphasis of memorization of persons and the concepts that these persons created (or the name that the person gave to that concept) had led me to begin to question briefly metaphilosophically, meaning, it made me wonder: What is philosophy? Now I most certainly can’t answer such a huge question in one blog post, and I’m not sure if I necessarily want to. But what I’m more interested in is sharing how or why this genealogical exploration of myself brought me to this question in the first place.

Recently one of my most pressing issues I have had with myself has been my past. The buildup of an existential angst derived from the fact that I had “not engaged in philosophy earlier.” The self-consciousness recycled itself with new names each time. I’d say to myself, “I wish I would have studied: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Hegel, Nietzsche, etc . . . sooner!” My robust for affinity for black studies (which I usually just consider black philosophy) would make me aware of my double consciousness,  and I’d add, “I wish I would have studied: Equiano, Douglass, Jacobs, Truth, Du Bois, Washington, Wells, etc . . . sooner!” My philosophical project rested on, not only knowing these people, but reading and being able to quote extensively their work when I needed to and when I wanted to. Because that’s what philosophy is right? Philosophy is the study of other people’s concepts, other people’s thoughts, other people’s contribution in order to take a little from one person’s thought and a little from another person’s thought in hopes of forging your own identity within the philosophical “mainstream” (which is indubitably connected to institutions of power). Knowing in philosophy meant knowing the philosophers. Nevertheless, being a finite being the task of writing, reading, and memorizing all the above person’s concepts and all the above person’s thoughts had brought about a grave anxiety. I had become a philosophical failure prior to even engaging on the philosophical path. I had spent to long with hip hop, poetry, images and stories to even begin to place my name in the upper echelons of philosophical “greatness” (whatever that even is).

Nonetheless, my adolescent journals made me recognize the foolishness of this thought. Not only had I understood a lot of these thinkers, but why did understanding the writing of most of these thinkers qualify one as a “philosopher?” Why was it necessary to know about Leibniz’s monadology? Or Du Bois’ double consciousness, if you were capable of coming up what they did on your own? What made philosophy so crucially tied to technicality that the only way to be a philosopher was to read all the philosophers who came before you? What made philosophy more about the study of the old than the creation of the new? I think this tendency reflects more than just a “joy of knowing what others before you have said,” but a technicalization of philosophy itself.  I am not saying we shouldn’t read these thinkers, but what I did end up asking is: Why is whatever philosophy is or whatever a philosopher does inextricably tied to the study of past philosopher’s concepts? And who decides the canonical philosophers and their concepts? And [why] is there a sort-of “normal philosophy” that takes place in philosophy (in Kuhnian sense) where philosopher’s generally sit back and study other philosopher’s versus a striving for in an incessant “revolutionary philosophy?” If a fifth grader is capable of describing in song what is a considerably major philosophical concept without citing any other philosopher other than his own thoughts, are they or are they not a philosopher? Why might someone who studies philosophers of the past be more a “philosopher” than the kid who is asking his own questions and finding his own answers through his own introspection? What makes someone “a great philosopher?”

Demarcating what is and what is not philosophy, or what is “proper” and what is “improper” philosophy is one of the various things that constitutes the professionalization of philosophy.  This brings me to my conclusion, but I would like to urge philosophy (and this may be one of my major projects in the fallout of this investigation) to begin a much needed sociology of philosophy which would investigate the society of philosophers, the oppression within that society, the institutions that contribute to the maintenance of these oppressive structures (i.e. the silencing of other voices, the exclusion of black thinkers, the emphasis on academic style writing over more other styles, etc.), and the creators of what constitutes what is/what is not philosophy. Because currently there are boundaries everywhere, and as I said at sixteen, “Boundaries are created by power.”

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