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Legion. An amalgamated journal.

Against the Manifesto

Demosthenes, the fifth-century Athenian orator, was widely recognized for the fire and power of his rhetoric. Standing before the assembly, he would thunder away on topics of great import. Listeners might be persuaded by his arguments, but if not, the sheer spectacle would wash away any lingering doubts. His manner of speaking was characterized by a beautiful violence, an aesthetic of authority and virtuosity that inspired awe in nearly everyone who listened to him.

Bloggers often do the same. Especially the ones here. Legion is unique and valuable precisely because of the force and confidence of its authors.

I take the opposite approach in life, and will do so here too. Instead of declaring and declaiming, I ask. The commitment to an interrogative and deliberative form of criticism is important to me for several reasons. The most basic one is this: modernity is messy. For me, one of the defining conditions of modernity is the plurality of worldviews and perspectives one finds. They are all up for grabs and they all compete with each other. The orientation that everyone starts out with, at least the orientation of people who are reflective, is an orientation of trying to sort through everything. Eventually, each of us develops a set of beliefs and ethical commitments that mean more to us than other values. But more importantly, the process teaches us that meaning, and perhaps truth, is really pluralistic.

This is all to say that people must be given the benefit of the doubt. This is why I object to the literary form of the manifesto. While it serves as a catalyst to dialogue, a manifesto is by definition opposed to dialogue. It simply states what its authors hold to be true. This method of approach not only conceals the process of reflection and internal dialogue necessary to form substantive beliefs, it also tacitly (or not so tacitly) rejects the possibility of alternative ideas.

Approaching issues of politics, culture, aesthetics, identity (yes, identity) should at minimum strike a balance between a manifesto and a dialogue. Because ultimately, I don’t know if I’m right! And the extent to which I do know I’m right will depend upon the conclusions I can draw from conversing with someone else.

So my voice here will not be one modelled after Demosthenes, but instead Socrates. I flatter myself by supposing I could fulfill such a role, but I’ll at least try. On the other hand, being a Socrates doesn’t actually mean much, because he didn’t really know anything. Yes, he wisely recognized his own ignorance and therefore the importance of the “search” for wisdom, but it still doesn’t seem admirable that this man simply spent all his time questioning people in order to poke holes in their arguments. I hope not to imitate the destructive and sophistic side of Socrates too much. But I feel strongly about the need for an open approach, one that emphasizes discovery and explicitly reveals the process of formulating and refomulating ideas. I remain suspicious of anyone who puports to offer certainity.

Forthcoming:
Theses of modernity reconsidered (a series!)
Trees
Ambition and Integrity
Culture = Education(?)

Darius Weil

May 26th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

But perhaps you disagree

No responses so far

The room is, as yet, filled with smoke and apprehension.