Introductions to philosophical works are curious things. Speaking from a vantage point of sovereignty, they seem to easily pull together the strings that a philosopher has spent weaving for decades. In their simplifying language, they seem to break down complexities that turn out to be merely the marks of a struggling mind. If the ‘complete works’ wedge the work of a lifetime between two covers, then an introductory book — or essay — can boast about an even greater efficiency.
Still, we feel like there are introductions and then there are introductions. The difference is not one of quality, or even explanatory value; we’d even say that introductions that merely offer explanations are often the most unusable ones.
We feel that it’s a question of speed. There are introductions that slow down the movements of thought, movements that have more often than not overwhelmed the discussed philosopher, thereby taming and contextualising their wilder ideas. Introductions that introduce order.
There are also introductions that use their abbreviated nature to speed up. We feel that in doing so, they hold on to a fundamental intuition: namely that you can’t change the speed of thought without changing its nature. In that sense, the formulation above is imprecise: such introductions only seem to speed up the movement of thought, because they are essentially shorter than the works they discuss, because they pull together strings that are normally very far apart. Instead of pulling together, they stretch.
In that sense, the latter type of introduction is not a summary, it is a repetition. It is nevertheless not redundant: in its apparent acceleration of thought, it uncovers the revolutionary, the liberating aspects of whatever it is repeating; and it that sense, it creates value.