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!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Keeping up the pace

I have blogged before about that integral difficulty of standup philosophy: pace versus explication. That is go to quickly and the audience is lost, as you have said far far too little, but go too slowly, and you do the philosopher justice, but bore, then loose the audience. This dilemma is not only integral to the structure of each piece, but also unique to each performance. Take this piece. It was the end of a long evening of (very strong) performances. It was therefore far too late for most the audience to engage their brains. This meant there was no real point 'doing Plotinus' properly. It would not have worked. Plotinus is hard at the best of time to wrap your head around, even more so at the first hearing  and almost impossible if that hearing is past ten, and everyone is tired... The performance therefore had to not be about explanation, so must as impression. I wanted the audience to get the idea that there was an amazing theory of time, a theory which is similar and yet so different for todays conception of it, in the third century AD. What is more I wanted the audience to get the idea that this theory was linked to St John's gospel, and combines a theory of physics with outright mysticism. Hence the piece has lost some of the subtlety  of the original, and yet has I hoped kept much of its poetry and its power.
 But judge for yourselves:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jarring Time

One of the oldest theories in western thought, involves restitching ones notion of time, so that it is merely a participation within, or a mired reflection of being in something else. The reason why such an idea is so persistent  is easy to grasp: It is so hard to think of time in the first place; so hard indeed one cannot even be sure that the analogies one uses to encompass it (be it -rivers or fabric, or mirrors) are not in fact the actual reality of what is being described in the first place. To think of time, almost (but not quite) always involves grasping that time in, or as part of, something else.What is more philosophies are defined by the way they define this participation.
 The question therefore always becomes exactly how one understand this participation. Here there are perhaps three basic stratagems. The first one, which is usually attributed to Plato,  argues that time is some kind of reflection of an eternity, and imperfect one at that. It therefore attempts to capture of difficulty of thinking time, by blaming times imperfection itself.
 The second methodology was pioneered by Aristotle, and looks understand think time through something we all understand, and which necessarily involves it, namely movement. Time is the numbering number of movement - and so the way we grasp the difference it makes. So that while we cannot grasp time itself, we still understand what it is, and how it functions.
Finally one might understand time as participation in something other, something greater and enigmatic-  be it the fabric of space-time or the participation in a 'One' beyond all difference. This latter move was poineerd by Plotinus (a third century AD thinker), who saw time as the way we were part of, and part in, the eternity of being, which was itself an expression of the singularity of The One that existed beyond all being. The theory argues that our being in time is our being in something else, something we cannot understand or comprehend (which is why we find it hard to think), a mind numbing idea, but one that came back strong at the start of the twentieth century, in the form of relativity. It is therefore a theory which in a sense we now all know of (even if we do not understand it), and for that reason alone, one well worth performing.
 The problem of course then is how do you do it? how do you perform an enigma, that has confused two thousand years of thinkers? One could perform the confusion itself, but that never appeal to me. Far better to bring out the relationship with  Einstein, but also to link the idea also to a wider fin de siecle feeling that wants time to mysterious. Plotinus will therefore appear as half Einstein, an abstract thinker of genius, and half sub-lovecraft writer, obsessed with what lies beyond the curving of our universe: He needs to be half wooly  mystic, and half abstract thinker of great genius. A conjunction that is, I  think is very interesting, as it gives novel way to explore how all abstract thought, relates to, feeds upon, and yet critically remains distinct from profound imagination. In Plotinus one can really see being a mystic is not enough in itself to be a  scientist, a fact that might need relearning.
 The game with this performance, and what will make it succeed or not is the voice of Plotinus. He must feel like Einstein on acid, as so get the audience to 'feel' they know him, even as his ideas overwhelm with abstraction, and carry one on the strangest of journeys, that is bamboozling, and yet strangely beautiful and even fulfilling. In short I need to get poetry of the ideas, in all their vivid glory right. If I can this piece will move beyond the humour it has to start with and that must run through it, and which carries the audience along, and become truly a 'glittering shard of sepulcral majesty'...