Friday, May 21, 2010
Andrew Goffey on Cassin on sophistry and politics.
Cassin's `sophist history of philosophy' is a detailed philosophical and philological examination of the relationship between philosophy and sophistry, primarily based on the first and second sophistries, those of Ancient Greece and Imperial Rome, but extending to the present day, through a consideration of the resonances of sophistry with the work of certain contemporary writers. It suggests that the major obstacle to thinking the political is, in fact, philosophy; more specifically, ontology. For Cassin this implies the need to confront the Heideggerian interpretation of the Presocratics, on the assumption that it is the predominance of Heideggerian motifs in much continental - particularly French - philosophy which accounts for the absence of any serious consideration of sophistry.

Whilst it is certainly the case, as Deleuze and Guattari suggest in What is Philosophy? that it is difficult to be Heideggerian these days, it is also the case that the German master's philosophy forms, as Badiou has put it, a `commonplace' of contemporary thought and a pervasive interpretation of philosophy's distant past. A persistent emphasis on `authenticity' and on poetry qua Dichtung as privileged vector of experience, for example, provides a convenient and easily mobilized framework for deterring attempts to think the history of philosophy otherwise. One cannot shift responsibility for a contemporary reluctance or inability to rethink the history of philosophy entirely onto Heidegger, and Cassin's work gives us little reason so to do. But it remains the case that it is difficult to mention the word `ontology' without recalling Heidegger's strictures about the meaning of Being.
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