Illustrated Philosophy Essays

Kazimir Malevich, Artist Black Suprematism Circular.


Commentary on the book by Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho

Published, in its first edition, in 1987, perhaps only now these Illustrated Philosophy Essays, by Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho, can reveal all their finesse and brilliance. The immediately contemporary does not allow itself to be clearly seen: with the passage of time, certain mannerisms, some dogmas in the background, a veil of ideology dissolved, making the originality of these writings more visible. To get straight to our subject, it is not enough to read, it is necessary to reread – that is, to read at a distance that restores resistance to the writing, so that reading does not dissolve it in its more or less conscious expectations. That's what I learned by rereading this book and learning to read it as if it were the first time.

Nor is it another – now it becomes clear – the theme of the book or the common thread that runs through all the essays: the constant passage, always in metamorphosis, from writing to reading, from reading to writing. A hermeneutics? Perhaps that would be a good word, if twentieth-century philosophy had not imbued it with metaphysics and theology. Philology would perhaps be better, as long as it is not understood in its technical sense, as long as it is understood in its osmosis with philosophy: in an osmosis that modifies the scholarly meaning of both words. the love for Logos, the care with the writing, the constant interrogation for the meaning of the signification…

It is not out of modesty that the author places himself at a certain distance from the philosopher. One cannot enter philosophy without distancing oneself a little from it, as is clearer today than in the 1970s, when the ideology of structuralism prevailed, among others, or others that equally made philosophy a Strength Wissenschaft. It is the very univocity of philosophy – its identity – that is called into question right on the first page of the book, the beginning of the beautiful conference “The day of the hunt”, which I had the pleasure of attending (sitting, by the way, next to Gérard Lebrun , who could not contain, during the audition, the continued expression of his enthusiasm and admiration). Between ancient, medieval and eighteenth-century philosophy, in fact, there are chasms, and the figure of the philosopher is never the same. And we, who are separated from them by critical philosophy and German idealism, how can we identify ourselves? How to fit the sage's mask over our faces? She necessarily slips and falls.

Do we “mess” with philosophy? We certainly don't just want to be teachers, but we don't want to be professional philosophers either, as is the fashion. What is this strange contemporary figure – the technician of philosophy – if not the current replica of the philistine, as designed by the critics of the XNUMXth century? Already in the eighteenth century, Rameau's nephew was putting the philosopher sure of his task in difficulty, revealing a minimum of obscurity in the heart of the triumphant Lights.

But it is with Kant and Nietzsche – the reader should not be surprised by this unexpected connection – that we enter our atmosphere and discover the root of our instability, of our insecurity, but also of the new figure, if not of the truth, of the meaning that surrounds us and frame. “Vermöge eines Vermögens”, just a tautology? Was Kant the comic character of Molière? In the end, through Nietzsche (and perhaps despite him) Kant is placed, as is fair and necessary, beyond the alternative between dogmatism and skepticism.

But, above all, Kant is placed in history in a different way than indicated in the manuals, which allows an original and seminal reading of German idealism and romanticism. And the inclusion of the essay “Why do we study?”, which was not present in the first edition of the book, helps us to formulate our main question, slightly modifying its last sentence, to bring it closer to the first verse of “Hymns at night” : why, even today (at the beginning of the XNUMXst century), “must the reign of German Romanticism always return?”. Because it is in this horizon that the question emerges with all its strength: “This thing about reading and writing”.

A question beautifully examined at the crossroads between the philosophies of Fichte and Schelling, which are symmetrically opposed in the description of reading, as they are opposed finding e to invent, find and invent. It is thus, returning to “Hunting Day”, that we can find the philosophical root of the two inverse conceptions of what reading is in two different ideas of the essence of freedom. In Fichte's case, a pure freedom that allows establishing knowledge in rupture with the past; in Schelling, a freedom that is completed in the rediscovery and reconciliation with the past.

Two different relationships with the history of philosophy that are two different relationships with language. In Fichte's case, the text, in its objectivity, is reduced (as it will be reduced by Sartre) to the materiality of signs that the reader's freedom needs to revive and endow with meaning. In Schelling's case, the meaning of the text precedes the reading in the immanence of a so to speak pre-subjective language (as the sphere of expression will precede the I think reflective for Merleau-Ponty).

Nor would it be impossible to cross, in a productive way, this hermeneutics without metaphysics and without theology (or this philosophy) with the contemporary philosophy of language. An approach to language devoid of any reductionist or foundational ambition, whose method boils down to the Wittgensteinian imperative of “reading slowly” in order to be able (nothing else) to describe the “style” of meaning production.

This is how, dear reader, with the book by Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho, we have a privileged entry into the universe of philosophy, free from the prejudices of school and ideology, the opening of a path that, by multiplying the paradoxes to better dissolve them, may perhaps allow us to read, write and breathe freely again.

*Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of some essays (Peace and Earth).

Originally published in the newspaper Folha S Paulo, section “mais!”, on July 11, 2004.


Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho. Illustrated Philosophy Essays. São Paulo, Iluminuras, 2004, 192 pages.

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