Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Philosophy as Spiritual Ordeal

For any philosophers, academic or otherwise, who have bracketed or repressed the category and practice of “spirituality” from their thinking, I would strongly suggest that you consider looking at Joshua Ramey’s new book The Hermetic Deleuze. I won’t try and summarise a book that I haven’t read in its entirety yet, but there are an excellent series of discussions of the book at An und für sich here, here and here (and also here, here and here). In part the book is concerned with the hidden role of hermeticism and, more broadly, esoterica and spirituality in Deleuze’s philosophical oeuvre. But the scope is certainly broader than this, extending to an all too frequent awkwardness with and denial, erasure or suppression of the “spiritual” in much philosophical discourse and practice.

Suffice it to say that I have found this provocative and troubling. Why? Because I have certainly engaged in such a process of self-censure with regard to spirituality myself. While a lot of my earlier years were spent reading esotericism, gnosticism, hermeticism and occultism, I have been incrementally distancing my philosophical self from such potential contaminants to reason for twenty years now. And this is despite teaching both philosophy and contemporary incarnations of such esoteric traditions at university. I only started to forcefully question the viability and value of this bracketing quite recently: first when I started to revisit and then teach Daoism after a long absence, then when I came across Isabelle Stengers surprising, pragmatic Marxist and pro-Deleuzean engagement with feminist witchcraft, and also when I was called out on the issue in a book review of my Goddess as Nature by Sarah Penicka-Smith. I’ve been dodging my discomfiture with “spirituality” and its relation with philosophy for too long, and Ramey’s evocation and prescription of philosophy as spiritual ordeal may be an idea that I can accept.


Joshua Ramey said...


I'm glad to hear I've provoked you a little. It sounds like you and I occupy a similar crossroads. I was just teaching Daoism yesterday (and tomorrow), and actually evoke Chuang-tzu in my final missive for the blog conference, and I can see why that would disturb the settlement, as well. Looking forward to hearing more from you and to digging into your stuff, as well.

Paul Reid-Bowen said...

Thanks for this. I'm slowly working my way through The Hermetic Deleuze at the moment, interspersed, unfortunately, with much necessary reading for teaching and other projects. It's proving very rewarding and challenging as I'm fairly weak on Deleuze, but quite strong on the esoterica and hermeticism (albeit a little out of touch). I noted that you mentioned Stengers and 'Capitalist Sorcery' in the Introduction, so that was another useful affinity for me. I agree that we may occupy similar crossroads, or trajectories, but after staring at contemporary 'spiritualities' for quite some time, I'm perhaps a little more ambivalent and jaded about the term - especially its current mass appeal, propagation and vagueness - although less so about what it may potentially encompass and signify. I seem to remember APS mentioning we should talk at the Liverpool Hope Thinking the Absolute conference and I read your An und Fur Sich account of your Glastonbury encounter and subsequent friendship with great interest. I certainly suspect there is some fruitful ground for dialogue. I'm teaching Chuang-Tzu (Zhuangzi) this Thursday, so Butterfly dreams, the happiness of fish, ziran and other aspects of the inner chapters will be the order of the day.