What is Stand Up Philosophy

My photo
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, January 14, 2013

Standing up for Freedom

Where does an idea as strange as Freedom come from? And how can one praise it, when we are as caught up in it as we are? How indeed? Perhaps the only way is to watch that idea decompose before us - to hear and see where many of its aspects come from, and to think then for ourselves how the ideas are then used: In short a backwards history of thought, where ideas fall apart, and are reworked - a history that we can then in our own minds, run forwards for ourselves, as we decide how we might also be free. A history must start with the very modern paradox of how one lives in a society where if one is not necessarily free to do something, the thing is either illegal or the topic of anxiety; and then work backwards to re-find the potency of freedom itself. The first piece tonight looks at Foucault's argument, which seeks to understand how society captures you without you being aware of it, and how that makes freedom so hard. The second piece is Deleuze's counter argument, and is a poetic conjuration of how the moment might set you free. Full playlist The Four Minute Foucault Or the History of Sexuality, in an Introduction, three Arguments, and a Conclusion. In his scintillatingly intense study, 'The History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will to Know', Foucault not only attempts to persuade you that your sexuality is really not what you have been told it is, but also that even as you desire, you are plugged into a wider complex web of power, that defines our society. Foucault thereby turns our inmost feelings into a battleground of regulation and resistance. Freedom becomes then, if not about setting your mind free, then a matter of managing the exact way that the Power-Desire locus, defines what one is, and what one can think. In this short piece the critical argument here, is turned into an intense performance, which summarises both the complexity, and includes the good humour of the original work. Deleuze, - Becoming Heaccity: This vivid piece is an adaptation of one short essay from Deleuze and Guattari's great ragbag of a book 'A Thousand Plateaus'. The study, uses art and imagery to try to show you how you might set yourself free in each and every moment, if only you have the courage to see it, and the commitment to live it. This brief, and beautiful piece of writing needs to be understood as as much an invocation to freedom, as it is an argument. Deleuze is trying to show you how you are free, and not merely to tell that you are, a move which I attempt to capture in the performance. Having set out the modern problem, we start to go back in time. First a hundered years (or so) ago, but this basic duality of freedom remains the same - but understood now in relation to the demise of god, and what it means to be 'from hope and fear set free'. Neitzche: Kant, and how to 'think the thought that has Ne'ar been Thunk before'. This piece was inspired by Nietzsche's hilarious deconstruction of Kant in 'Beyond Good and Evil'. Here he dismisses Kantian philosophy as mere word play, and theological smoke and mirrors. I have taken it as my inspiration, and blended it with famous details from Kant's life, to make this rumbustious story. So is it time to Think the thought that ne'ar been Thunk?' or even 'Plunder that ponder thats ne'ar been plumbed?' On a different and far darker tack, is Marx's version of a similar problem. What does it really mean, he asks, to live beyond God in a world of science? The Three Minute Marx: Or The dream of Marx in 3 thesis and a panic attack This short piece attempts the impossible! Not only is it a short succinct summary of Marx's great work 'Das Capital', but also it attempts to make Marx radical and powerful again. We then move back only a generation, and yet so much changes. God is still in heaven (just), and there is the argument that not only can one reconcile personal and political freedom, but it is necessary for both that one does so. An argument that will infuse the work of the next three philosophers. Hegel: Or how Culture will Set you Free. Hegel presents, albeit it a slightly idiosyncratic way, the clearest, and perhaps most persuasive argument, that only society can set you free. This argument is perhaps best made in the philosophy of Right, whose introduction is presented here. The performance attempts to recapture something of Hegel's unique lecture style, part introverted thinker, part messianic prophet. Kant: What is Enlightment? This is Kant at his critical and yet belligerent best. In the cause of freedom he argues, one must both question everything, but ultimately to conform the norms of one's day. To fail in either of these, Kant claims, is to risk that very freedom that we should cherish. Kant is therefore both the greatest of revolutionaries but also the most extreme of reactionaries: As modern audiences can find this position uncomfortable, please feel free to heckle - Kant will love it! Rousseau, and the dark symphony for Freedom: The first two books of the Social Contract. This is one of those books, whose first opening, like certain pieces of music, we all know so well. And yet like a big symphony, the introduction, the first lines, are actually at odds with a lot of the rest of the argument in the work; an argument that takes one on a very strange journey, through freedom, to oppression. It is therefore a book that writes the history of so many revolutions, and yet does so before the revolutions have happened... It is a study which, like good music, is at once dark and light, and has gathered new power and new meaning across the two and half centuries since it was written. Why Must One Worthy of Living in the Best of all Possible Worlds? The next piece, is one of my favourites. It is from my second favourite philosopher, Leibniz, and amounts to a thesis defence of an idea which Voltaire hooted out of history, namely that this is the Best of all Possible Worlds. And yet, this mockery is so unjust - for the argument behind this doctrine is very subtle and carefully nuanced. In this piece I update Leibniz for modern ears, and give him a chance to answer Voltaire, and to try to invigorate an idea he held very dear. We now jump back past the Reformation, to a world of fixed theologically sanctioned monarchy, and a somewhat surprising argument which appears to critique that world. Thomas Moore and the pathway to Utopia. The first book of 'Utopia' In this very witty and radical text Moore, appears to question not just the assumptions of his day, but also of the ages that have followed it, as he sends up not only monarchs, and their desire for land, but also the Novo Homo, desire for wealth. He can do this by presenting the critique as traveller's tales, and putting it into the mind of a speaker whose position in society is unclear and complex. I attempt to capture that complexity, and the very modern alternative style comedy that infuses it, by performing this piece in two voices, that of Moore and the traveller Raphael, through whose interactions so much can still be said. Now we jump a millennia and a half, over so much that could be said by Aquinas, Augustine and Ibn Sina. But for reasons of time, we will next pick up the story of freedom in a lament, written in Ancient Rome to the passing of its Republic, a lament that then formed the backdrop for so much that was then thought about freedom and the state. The Valediction to Freedom Or Cicero's 'Republic' as a speech This piece seeks to present Cicero's central argument, in his book 'The Republic', as he might have best understood it, a speech made by his ghost. In his address Cicero will, not only present a summary of his book, but will also relate it to his own tragic end, and seeing both as precedents, make a direct appeal to us today. For he argues that we too, stand upon the fork of Fate, and on one side lies fear, and on the other only hope. The final two pieces go right back to the origin of philosophy in Plato, and looks from a different perspective at the idea of personal freedom, and its consequences. That is all very well for you Scocrates Or Alcibiades' lament for love This intense performance attempt to recapture something of one of the great moments in philosophy, but also in the history of freedom. Its inspiration lies in Plato's 'Symposium', the book that invented the word Philosophy. The highlight of that book might have been Socrates' great speech, where he attempts to show how love can set the lovers free. But just at the moment of Socrates' great appeal, his erstwhile friend Alcibiades, enters and is persuaded to give this very different account of their relationship. An account that is at once sobering and powerful, for reminds us that the freedom of one, is so easily another's dark prison. The final piece for tonight is where one always needs to start and end in Philosophy. It is from Plato's Apology - and starts with the moment that Socrates stands up to make an appeal for his life, against trumped up charges. It is a moment of high drama, for no-one really knows whether, like so any others, Socrates will plea bargain, or whether he will fight, and if so how. A drama that caught the spirit of Plato, and which infuses so much of his writing and all the philosophical debates that have followed it. It is therefore one of the great Events, in whose light the Western Philosophical tradition of freedom was forged. There is also a major role for the audience in this piece, so feel free to bury yourself in the part of the People of Athens.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hegel - to Mock or to Think?

It is one of the oddities of philosophy - how an idea can really grab you, and do so in spite of yourself. I am currently working on a piece on Hegel, who is never a philosopher I feel happy with - he is too verbose and too much the archetypical clever fool - the one people mean when they laugh at philosophy or think it pointless. All of which is true - and to read Hegel is to be perplexed and slightly annoyed - one wishes he says things more clearly (the really annoying thing is that he can - the start of the phenomenology of mind is wonderful, it is just a pity about how it then carries on though). And yet, and yet there is something also wonderful about Hegel. Even as one dismisses his ideas, and laughs at his made up universal histories, and bizarre pompous formulas, something in him grabs you. He has a power to make you step out beyond yourself, and your normal experience, and challenges you to re-examine yourself and your life. You laugh at him at your peril therefore, for you might very well become the object of fun.... The game therefore of performance I think ought to be to capture something of this movement. The audience ought to start laughing at him, and then wonder if it is he that is laughing at them... To see if I manage to pull it off come along to Taking the Mike on wednesday - or, alternatively there will be a video coming soon!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why Going Backwards is the way Forwards!

Why are the Stand up Shows a backwards read through time? In a sense because for me philosophy is at its best at its cutting edge. What the show does is to attempt to get the moment of elation that is a good idea. More than that seeing that moment makes even very well known ideas feel exciting again, and vibrant. It also opens up strange links between ideas. Foucault might be habitually seen as opposed to the modern liberal consensus, but that does mean he is fundamentally opposed to Kant, upon whom that consensus bases its foundation, and with whom Foucault shares so very very much. It is this loop of Foucault-kant that presenting them in their moment of thought capture, and which is so much clearer if heard Foucault before Kant. To go back in time, is to know where the ideas lead to, even as you are presented with them in their power and passion. It is therefore to be and feel the bitter sweetness of the history of philosophy - where ideas that promise so much, lead to odd places, and never were the thinker hoped. And yet it is the power of thought that these odd journeys do not matter. Indeed they is the point, ideas should open out to who knows what, for it is it that opening the world replies to them, and they are made what they then become. and it is reply to the immediate power of the idea, the structure of the show, the running backwards though time, tries to get at.