Of poets and thinkers: A conversation on philosophy, literature and the rebuilding of the world

Costica Bradatan, Simon Critchley, Giuseppe Mazzotta, Alexander Nehamas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Sometimes there can be something supremely seductive about the unclear and the indistinct. On one occasion the ancient Chinese sage Chuang Chou made this disturbing confession, which must have left his disciples utterly perplexed: "Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn't know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou'' (trans. Burton Watson). The distinct philosophical charm of the situation Chuang Chou found himself in seems to come precisely out of the structural indistinctness on which it is based. Any attempt to pin it down would certainly spoil it; this charm exists only insofar as it remains related to the corresponding ambiguity. The only appropriate way to deal with such a situation consists precisely in "letting it be'' and taking its indistinction as a given. In many respects, the relationship between philosophy and literature is not unlike that between Chuang Chou and the butterfly he was dreaming he was: its intense attractiveness comes precisely from the indistinctness on which it relies, and which, needless to say, is in itself a philosophical problem worthy of the most serious consideration. To discuss the charmingly ambiguous relationships between philosophy and literature I have invited three distinguished scholars of philosophy and literature: Simon Critchley, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research, Giuseppe Mazzotta, Sterling Professor in the Humanities for Italian at Yale University, and Alexander Nehamas, Carpenter Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University. (C. B.).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy as a Literary Art
Subtitle of host publicationMaking Things Up
PublisherTaylor and Francis Inc.
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781317647089
ISBN (Print)9781138792449
StatePublished - Apr 14 2016


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