18th January

In it they anticipate the philosopher's death. Applause. Bravo, bravo. But now to ourselves the world! A good and great old man. After him greater and better ones are coming and we, the young, will be there with them. The gigantic hall empties."

I have witnessed this syndrome in people who rush to hear and see a great thinker because they think s/he might be fatally ill. There's something insulting in such morbid sentiments: "Must get to see X because it might be the last chance". This is the equivalent of behaving badly at a funeral except the person whose death is anticipated is standing there before the audience at the lectern. I recall a writer's bewildered comment that every time he speaks in public he is filmed or recorded. Curiously he has never received copies of the recordings; they were evidently not intended for him. Rather, they are taken for a future that does not include him, except as a ghostly ornament embalmed with digital fidelity.

In another way, Sartre's acolytes might think that he belongs exclusively to them. To say you have 'grown up with a thinker' is to make a privileged claim to their ideas. There are many people who act like this with regard to great thinkers like Bourdieu or Foucault, but such claims miss another twist. All books are spectral dossiers, time-lapsed thoughts that have been written down. As a consequence, reading is a kind of possession, as the words inhabit us as much as we inhabit them.


Literary work is secure because it outlives not only its authors but also its students. There are no readers beyond the time of a book. Books and the thoughts contained within them are not the exclusive property of any generation. This is perhaps the writer's ultimate reprisal.

"You can't steal a gift... if you can hear it you can have it."
Dizzy Gillespie

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WINTER - 2001

2 February