What is Stand Up Philosophy

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This blog charts my attempts, in whatever way I can, and whenever I can, and as honestly as possible, to stand up for thinking - real thinking, whether in philosophy or politics, or maths - Because thinking needs standing up for!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Different Thinking

Assumptions and simplification are of course the mainstays of thought. It is so difficult to get thinking for oneself, or to make one's own point, if one has to assume another's argument is ever more subtle... How can one argue with real thought as it is actually thinking? One can only argue, if one can find a neat place to disagree. To hack one's own way into thinking is therefore invariably to clear  space in an actually shifting argument, a space in which one can define and nail down another argument; in order to be able to start thinking or at least arguing, for oneself.
   Now in a sense this simplification does make sense. Actions are, after all, done (or not): They are events, which have ramifications and open out histories, but do happen (in some form). To argue for oneself is therefore to treat other thinkers and their arguments as if they were events, which might cast long shadows, but whose form is knowable, and effects traceable. But of course the effect of such simplification on a discipline such as philosophy, which is all about the argument, is that all great thinkers become, for all but their exponents (and sometimes antagonists) mere caricatures of themselves. Even more than that, their arguments become simplified and distinct. Once you are part of a canon, the byways that led to the argument become very unimportant, as everyone wants to get to the real deal.
    More than that, the philosophical extras, the playful texts, and weird essays that mark the careers of the great writers risk being lost. The problem being, that in these texts, one often as not meets 'another writer', and a very different one, from the one that one thought one knew. And to lose sight altogether of these texts is such a pity. For what makes a great thinker is surely the capacity to think many things, argue differently, and sometimes mischievously or oddly or obscurely or maybe even to change one's mind and change it back again: What is greatness but the capacity to experiment and think many things? So much so, that I might argue that it is in the oddities, and byroads of their thought, and not in their 'royal roads' that you real feel a great thinker at work. More than that, it is often these playful essays that reveal deep things about the way in which a great thinker works, and the way that their arguments are crafted. It is also these texts that are often the easiest to read for the non-philosopher. It is therefore such a pity that in the rage to teach, to learn and to argue, that they can become so obscured.
It is these more playful or sometimes frankly weird works, that my new sequence of performance pieces will aim to explore. I will endeavour to take thinkers who often seem difficult and remote to general audiences, and through performing their minor works, their little essays turn them into playful friends, whose arguments fairly rip off the page, make immediate sense, and are even fun. The aim being to show what for me is such a cardinal truth: That thinking, however difficult the process is so much Fun!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Fun and the Privilege

One of the things I think I love most about performing thought, is how fun it is. I mean, of course it is wacky, and you need to be careful, not to confuse the audience or pastiche the thinkers. But it is fun, taking ideas, turning them into muses with boots on, and introducing those muses to people who have never met them before. It makes the ideas into living entities once again: Thoughts with their own power, their own passion, their own ability to take over or to stimulate minds. What is more, if you are careful the audience will hear and enjoy ideas that are really on the printed page fairly tricky and abstract; but which are, as living word-creatures, vital, real and palpable.
  What | hope the show opens up for people, is another way to think about their own ideas, and ideas in general. I mean we tend to think of ideas as something very page-based, and so potentially abstract and removed form vibrancy. By returning then the ideas to their intense roots, I hope I show that what makes a great idea, and what gives it its simple urgency, and defines it as genius, is its ability to live beyond a page. A great idea in a sense is very like a human. They are easy to grasp and see, and even relate to, and yet they are full of infinite subtlety, and surprise, and it is this human (but also strangely monstrous) element, I feel that the show articulates so well, and which the audience tell me afterwards, moves them and makes them think.

But see what you think - this playlist takes you through most of my latest show in Bristol:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

keeping the show moving onwards

There is nothing more important, when you are doing stand up thought, than working out the rhythm of the audience. I mean the exact level the audience will work at together, to enjoy the show: That is, how they will react together, and catch each mood, and how this dynamic element is effecting what they are thinking and (hopefully) enjoying about the show.
 This element really matters, and it is this feeling the audience generates which I think makes or mars the show. The problem is of course that the audience are alway rather apprehensive when the performance starts. They are worried, about what the show will involve (what after all is stand up philosophy?), but also they are always worried about whether they will understand the pieces, a fear that is so real, and very understandable. As the performer one has to break into this fear, and make 
Everything ok. But one can never do it alone from the front of the house, so one needs to get everyone on board, together as soon as possible.
 In recent shows I have sought to do this in three ways. Firstly I make sure the most intense pieces are right at the beginning of the show. These pieces are the poetic and multi-layered works of Foucault and Deleuze. These are the pieces, which are for me as a philosopher so critical, and yet which could be fairly challenging for those (the majority) who are encountering these thinkers for the first time. By presenting them at the start, I deliberately worry the audience, while intriguing them with the language of these pieces, which is highly polished and rhythmic. The pieces serve then, I hope to get the audience's ear into the show, but you must be careful, because it scares them too . So the third piece I do is one of my storytelling philosophical classics complete with audience participation, and irreverent humour. The relief is palpable...what is more as it is integral to this story that philosophy often difficult when it is trivial, the audience kind of feel included ( I hope)- their  fear has been reflected back at them, and they have laughed at it....
My second main strategy revolves around powerful one liners, the kind of things one will remember and do so long after the show is over. These one liners, memorable phrases abound in the kind of thinker I deal with, and I design the show to make them shine out. The audience then know they are getting something, will keep something in memory, and that is a lot of the battle.
Finally one does need to crack on with the show. It is a fatal mistake to tarry, the audience must not tire.So I crack on at a pace, keeping the rhythm of explanation and performance tight and carefully measured, so that the show does not feel at all long, which would be fatal to it.

In my last two shows this strategy appears to have paid off, as the audience have been very generous in their remarks afterward, but I will soon post up the shows, so you can judge for yourself.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Enter the hell's kitchen

Have you ever wondered what a philosophers mind sounds like? Tonight the standing up for freedom  edition will be the enter the hell's kitchen special. The noisy place of he philosophers mind, with all its stroppy muses will be recreated  for one night only. So come along to st Nicholas of Tolentino in Easton Bristol,and hear what that book of freedom might sound like !

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Crystalizing the Probelm

There is nothing like philosophy to make one rethink a problem or at least understand it in a different light. Take this piece on Heidegger. It takes the form of an ad-lib lecture, to a mixed audience at the end of night of poetry. The aim of the piece is to pose a problem, or better still shine a different light on a problem we all know so well. It introduces the idea of Being (as opposed to ideas such as identity or the Human Soul) and shows how that idea in itself  creates a modern imbalance in our understand of our own lived time. But also how that imbalance itself creates problems of responsibility to the future. It finally poses a partial solution to that problem, a solution that is at best partial and problematic.
 This second set of problems, are highlight about half way through, where I link arguments from Being and Time back to Fascism (an old argument). The point being then that the 'solution' to the problem of responsibility, like the original Heideggerian version, is at risk from fascism and eventual irrelevancy. This second problem is deliberately left implicit (it was the end of the evening and I did not want to depress anyone), and yet it makes the end this piece more open than perhaps the audience would have expected.
 The experience therefore allows one to understand a problem, poses a solution and then queries that solution, and does so in under  five minutes, and while leaving a lot room of arguments and different reactions. In short it is the kind of high velocity that philosophy does so well.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Standing up for Freedom - the incite remix!

  'Matthew Hammond jumps about the stage making theatre out of all those books you meant to read but never got around to...'

Where does the idea of freedom come from?
   It is after all, very much the word for our time. We are told, in the West, that we are the 'Free world', we feel ourselves to be free, and more than that, we expect, or demand, that others whatever the culture or nation, desire our kind of freedom. 'Freedom' has become then not only a political  maxim, but also the defining factor of identity for people and nations. So much so, that the history of our times, feels itself to be, at our time, the very history of freedom, and its triumph.
   And yet how did this happen? How did freedom reach this pivotal role in our minds and our world? What great dramas and great minds created this idea for our times? In a unique one man spoken word show,  I aim to take you back through the two thousand year history of the idea of freedom. Recreating with a mixture of intense poetic monologues, humourous tales, and dramatic stories, the minds and the moments that gave us our freedom, that made us the individuals we are today.
   History and thought has seldom felt so fun and engaging; But at the same moment current debates, and modern problems are seen not merely as are they in the here and now, but also as they are part of a  two millennia adventure, right into the heart of being human.

To see more about standup philosophy, see my video at: http://youtu.be/4hGZulSP4Yw

To see more about this show - see this promo at: http://youtu.be/APLah_qlWa8

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ranting for Modernity - A performance

A while ago I used to write many pieces like this one, which is on the recent death of Mrs. Thatcher. These pieces all had the same format. I started on the one hand, with a problem in philosophy, or perhaps a thinker, and on the other, with an event based on the week's news, and bought the two into sharp contrast and relief. The aim was to transform the ideas of philosophy into political commentary, while allowing the events of the week to infuse and explain abstract philosophical ideas. -  Well I wrote such pieces for a number of years (a series that included a history of justice, a number of which turned into my paperback book of essays 'Not What One Was; A Brief History of the Concept of Justice', and the Portraits of the Week series - you can see them all here: http://www.cartwheels-collective.co.uk/Dun_Rantin....html), but in the end felt the pieces to have run their course, and in its place developed my stand up show.
 The Stand Up Philosophy Show has up to this point tended to revolve around the history of philosophy, which is so rich and deep, it has provided (and will continue to provide), an endless source of material. And yet the events of recent times (well the death of Margret Thatcher), has put my mind back to thinking about my Rants, and how one might turn them into performance pieces. This is the first result of that process,  a brief essay, that is at once a study on Foucault, but also a genuine attempt to understand the difficulties which so-called Thatcherism poses to thought (and to politics). As it was performed on the day of her funeral, and to a mixed audience, I tried to be respectful throughout, and yet not to compromise on the point that really matters. Namely, that people live and die, and that is tragic (or happy). But what is really at issue in considering Thatcher's legacy, is something else - namely the apparent undead nature of Thatcherism itself. A nature that means in spite of the banking collapse, and global prolonged recession (which even if Thatcherism - aka deregulation -  did not directly cause, it was certainly caught up in), the 'Ism' is still very much around, still irreplaceable, and potentially as strong as ever...