Sages and witches and minstrels and gods. Plato found it overwhelmingly obvious that philosophy is something that occurs between dramatic personae. It wasn’t a private activity, nor one that could be inscribed in marks to be re-awoken by some reader in the future. It was an event, and an event where the positions and the arguments and the personalities all merge. The Eleatic Stranger. What if philosophy’s abandonment of the dramatic form is only in appearance? One thinks here of the function of the proper name, or of the ideal advocate of the system; the Hegel, the Habermas, the Utilitarian, the Error Theorist. Perhaps philosophy is always carried out under the auspices of a talkative visitor. A talkative visitor who imposes himself, that is, who forces us to justify ourselves, who feels uncomfortable and ‘too much’ and introduces fissures where we least expected them. If truth has a revelatory character, isn’t it something that appears on our doorstep only to transform our cozy living rooms into something like a stage, an interrogation room, and maybe even a crime scene? Philosophy’s “What is?” perhaps always hiding a “Who’s that?”.
If so, then what happens to thought when we actively seek out visitors? Philosophizing with the witch and the minstrel and the god of paths and lost crops? Do we not do that just to invoke new ways of being, previously unknown to us, because of how they have become suppressed, forgotten, forbidden? If what is to separate philosophy from mysticism is that the former must be spun in language, then philosophy must always take the form of talk, always hungry for interlocutors. And, thought, then, becomes anchored to figures, figures who may lend their productive energies. One may philosophize with a plant, just so long as one can think of the ‘vegetative’ response.
Sad news for the anti-social philosopher, who believes the best thought is to be had on the edge of a mountain. Philosophy as the clamor of talk, of markets and Agora, or at least strange encounters in the woods. But this is not discussion. Plato never thought to think in discussions, but instead he thought in dialectics, which mustn’t be confused with a back-and-forth, but instead is a mode of the development of the idea that has its own conditions setting it apart from chatter, and sociability. In the dialectic, the other is a space in which concepts are tested and deployed. To think with another is not to chatter, but to attempt to unfold a map on a foreign table, to plant in strange soils. Witches, minstrels, sages, and gods. How thought transforms itself in these myriad environments! But let it never be forgotten, if we are in another, then thought doubly so is something carried out alongside and along with. Lest the philosophers forget that an encounter is always a risk, and a potentially deadly one.