What is philosophy?
In order to face such an infinite question, we need courage; or, even more so, a philosophical hubris. Let us evoke two companions who were amongst the first and most audacious of philosophers: Anaximander and Heraclitus.
What shall we say along with the mysterious philosopher of fire, the drifter who made possible the question of philosophy? How shall we nowadays follow his elder Ionian fellow who traversed the apeiron of Pontus and made possible the question about the world even before the future king-drifter Heraclitus came to be born and set his course out of Ephesus?
In order to face this perilous question – in times when we can no longer approach this wondrous nakedness of concepts that was available to Heraclitus, this Pygmalion, sculpting the conceptual fiery matter – we shall organize our discourse in fragments, last remnants of elemental intensity.
Philosophy aflame: the power of τέχνη
Philosophy is not just formulation of concepts: it is creation of conceptual forms. Thinking is a raw power, a fire swept away by the world’s hurricane. Yet, a fire capable of setting the world aflame.
Philosophy is a technique of fire. It is Hephaestus, not Prometheus, who was the very first philosopher.
What is raw fire, the fire prior to the sacrifice? Is Hephaestus the raw philosopher of matter, shaping it with force and flames? No: he is the one who invented the technique of fire, the rhythm of technique itself – his hammer cuts across the measure of fire, the pulsating flames – way before the Prometheus of Hesiod of Aeschylus. It is Hephaestus, not Prometheus, who was the very first philosopher. Heraclitus – an offspring of Hephaestus.
(I would but stop repeating: is it not in fact extremely wondrous that the first particular Aristotelian example of philosophy’s original affect, θαυμάζειν [wonderment, amazement, fascination], was none other than the wonderment at a technical creation, an automaton, similar to those invented by Hephaestus and described by Homer as automotive tripods.)
Therefore: there is no philosophy without τέχνη. As Heraclitus acquired the knowledge of Hephaestus, fire is τέχνη, ontological technique. Ontological technique means the following: the world emerges only via the modes of its becoming. Therefore, philosophy will emerge as a technique of a trans-modal ontological operation.
Philosophy is the force of technique.
Philosophy is an experiment of reflecting and sustaining thinking as potentiality of the force. Philosophy is thinking, which sustains the potentiality of thinking.
If philosophy is the effort of shaping thinking, it is because philosophy is thinking that persists – it is the form of persistence of thinking, of its per-sistence.
Philosophy is thinking, which sustains the potentiality of thinking without reducing it to impotence. Potentiality grows only by means of the act; energy is the obscure reservoir that maintains it, the dark matter of potentiality.
Philosophy commences to name the experiment of sustaining thinking as thinking: the perseverance of the force, which pro-jects a world by means of its persistence.
Persistence precedes existence just like resistance precedes trans-sistance (of power).
Persistence is the τέχνη of existence.
Philosophy is not the world upside-down, but the multitude of possible worlds, the experiment of sustaining possible worlds in the optimal intensity of the possible, in a state of pre-actuality. The modality of worlds: worlds at the threshold. Philosophy is an action, which not (only) operates within the world – it brings the world to the threshold. Philosophy establishes the potentiality of a possible world. The world of philosophy: potentiality plus one; actuality minus one.
The resisting persistence of thinking is a will to world.
Therefore: there is no philosophy without risk. Distinctly evidenced by his legendary biography, the philosopher of πόλεμος – Heraclitus – ran the risk of lapsing into στάσις, the philosopher of flaming intensity fell prey to stagnating liquids.
‘Finally, he became a hater of his kind and wandered on the mountains, and there he continued to live, making his diet of grass and herbs. However, when this gave him dropsy, he made his way back to the city and put this riddle to the physicians, whether they were competent to create a drought after heavy rain. They could make nothing of this, whereupon he buried himself in a cowshed, expecting that the noxious damp humour would be drawn out of him by the warmth of the manure. But, as even this was of no avail, he died at the age of sixty.
Hermippus, too, says that he asked the doctors whether anyone could by emptying the intestines draw off the moisture; and when they said it was impossible, he put himself in the sun and bade his servants plaster him over with cow-dung. Being thus stretched and prone, he died the next day and was buried in the market-place. Neanthes of Cyzicus states that, being unable to tear off the dung, he remained as he was and, being unrecognisable when so transformed, he was devoured by dogs.’
Horrific story. The inventor of philosophy, the one who ran the risk of leaving the polis, of becoming something more than ὑψίπολις, was overcome by the worst, monstrous death: he died not as ζῷον πoλιτικόν, but as ἄπολις, as monster. But he himself chose to be δεινός, a sort of beastly-technical creature, a monster of his own technique, long before Aristotle tempered the monstrosity of the human being by furnishing it with political fur.
Yes, Diogenes Laertius did attempt to reduce philosophy to stupidity, or at least to indicate the proximity between the two, their common origins, for which he was to be found not too far from stupidity himself. Yet, no, Heraclitus’ decision was not stupid. Or rather, his decision was not driven by a logic whereby risking was to be reduced to stupidity: he renounced the established rules, affirming an alterlogical order; an order of ‘savage’ thinking, which philosophy is yet to attempt taming.
His gesture was neither stupid, nor sacrificial. It is the persistency of decision, that is to say the persistency of an awareness that decision always presents a risk. Decision is a continuation of the concept, the persistence of the body as extension of the body, as disorganisation of the body – as ever increasing complexity. Yes, the death of Heraclitus was monstrous, yet his life was worthy. Even his death proved to be a technique of transformation – an experiment, a risky test of truth. Such is the risk of thinking. And this is the way the world flames in the concept.
Excerpts from Boyan Manchev, The New Athanor. Prolegomena to Philosophical Fantastic (Sofia: Metheor, 2019/2020), Book I: “The Perils of Philosophy”, p. 55, and Book III: “Fire”, p. 109-113.