It might have been a couple years ago, and I hear a couple of students talking. And one says you know some people believe the pyramids were built by aliens and that’s where human life comes from. And the other guy says, sort of pedantic like, well, that’s one theory. And I go to myself, for god’s sake and Jesus H. fucking Christ who the hell are these people that I am supposed to be teaching.
I wanted to grab the pedantic sounding guy by the neck and say, the idea that aliens built the pyramids, aside from being a statement based on profound ignorance, is not a fucking theory, but goddamn untrammeled and uncontrolled speculation of the most rampant kind. Not that I am opposed to speculation, mind you. The power and importance of what some people call speculative philosophy, meaning mostly continental philosophy since Kant, is under-rated by the master knit-pickers of English analytic philosophy, who have added nothing to the philosophical tradition except picked nits.
But something I did get out of college—and it goes along with ambiguity tolerance—is the importance of the fact/value, belief/fact distinctions. Now I know these distinctions, arising as they do from empiricism, instrumentalize reason and make anything like wisdom, as a combo pack of knowledge and value, in the practical world impossible. But that said, it alarms me to feel that many of my students today don’t know or care about these distinctions. Marx—he too, is just another theory, and so is Freud, or Darwin for that matter; and because they are, like the question of the aliens and the Egyptians, just another fucking theory, it is pretty easy just to blow them all off.
But the real problem as I see it isn’t so much that students blow off scientific theories as theories but they don’t use these theories to think about themselves or to look into their own interiors in different ways. While I stupidly set “The Truth” as the goal of my studies, I came with time to see the “Truth” is NOT OUT THERE. No, it’s in here; or rather the determination to seek the truth is in here. My goal was to have the strength to acknowledge that truth, whatever the fuck it was.
For example, looking inside myself I realized that homosexuality made me uncomfortable. Well, why not, when I went away to college, I knew what homosexuality was but in a completely abstract way. I hadn’t knowingly seen a gay person till I got to college, and there was this one guy who hung out with the girls and had no hair on his legs. So I mentioned the hairless legs to some guy as a matter of speculative interest and he said the guy with the hairless legs was a faggot. Oh! Like things started clicking into place.
But during my seven years in the hole, during which I much doubted my own masculinity, I decided to look at the truth and did what I do on such occasions. Read all I could get my hands on that had been written by gay guys. I read Gide first and then Genet, and I’ve got to say the guy had me in the palm of his hand when he started out Our Lady of the Flowers, I think it was, observing how people hated other people’s farts but loved their own. Real prison literature, from a guy who had nothing better to do than lie in his bunk with his blanket over this head smelling his own farts!