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Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought

Lysaker examines the relationship between philosophical thought and the act of writing to explore how this dynamic shapes the field of philosophy.

Philosophy’s relation to the act of writing is John T. Lysaker’s main concern in Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought. Whether in Plato, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, or Derrida, philosophy has come in many forms, and those forms—the concrete shape philosophizing takes in writing—matter. Much more than mere adornment, the style in which a given philosopher writes is often of crucial importance to the point he or she is making, part and parcel of the philosophy itself.

Considering how writing influences philosophy, Lysaker explores genres like aphorism, dialogue, and essay, as well as logical-rhetorical operations like the example, irony, and quotation. At the same time, he shows us the effects of these rhetorical devices through his own literary experimentation. In dialogue with such authors as Benjamin, Cavell, Emerson, and Lukács, he aims to revitalize philosophical writing, arguing that philosophy cannot fulfill its intellectual and cultural promise if it keeps to professional articles and academic prose. Instead, philosophy must embrace writing as an essential, creative activity, and deliberately reform how it approaches its subject matter, readership, and the evolving social practices of reading and reflection.

224 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2018 

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Aesthetics, General Philosophy, Logic and Philosophy of Language


"Lysaker is attempting something very difficult, maybe impossible, in philosophy: a revitalization of the discipline by returning to its most vibrant (but also most confusing) expressions — fragments, aphorisms, quotations, confessions, essays, ironies, rhetorical questions. His book is, unapologetically, a stylistic mash-up. A reader accustomed to, if not delighted by, straightforward argumentation will find it to be a maddening journey of switchbacks and dead ends. Yet someone bored by contemporary philosophy’s hidebound method of analysis will find it a joyful intellectual jaunt."

Los Angeles Review of Books

"Lysaker provides a tour de force self-examination and analysis of philosophical writing and philosophical purpose. He addresses multiple facets of the nature of philosophical writing: what is written, how it is written, why it is written, by and to whom it is written. Lysaker engages with these concerns thoughtfully and honestly, so the book is far more than a survey. . . . Summing Up: Essential."


"Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought is a bold and courageous book. John Lysaker, at the level of form and in the substance of his powerful writing, shows us what philosophy can be and what it can do."

Eddie Glaude, Princeton University

“This is one of the best books I have read in a while. Powerful and original, it is about writing and not knowing how to write. It is about displacement, and being uprooted, and disorientation. About stuttering, about not knowing one’s way in an argument or how to say it, so that it is to the height of what it is being expressed. It is about how philosophy is homeless, and how just as it has no mother tongue, it also has no distinct or owned, sovereign, genre. This is a book about how to philosophize that requires that we create new ways, forms, genres, “styles,” gestures, of writing and communicating. But, the book is more than that; it is also a reflection on how thought is impacted by its mode of delivery. The thought is its own expression, or mode of presentation.”

Eduardo Mendieta, Pennsylvania State University

“This book is a profound meditation on what it means to write philosophy in all the remarkable diversity of ways in which this has happened. Examples abound from a rich tapestry composed of figures from Plato through Emerson and Thoreau, into Heidegger, Cavell, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein. Lysaker’s own text defies all standard genres—it is itself sui generis—as it creates its own original unique mixture of reflection and critique. Showing how philosophy must move beyond traditional aims of demonstration and validity, it concerns itself not just with the relationship between the philosophical text and the reader but also, and especially, with the times in which it exists: it must be ‘equal to the moment.’ Lysaker shows that philosophy at its best is an experimentation and a provocation; and his own text, at once learned and wry, humorous and dead serious, eloquent and forceful, is both of these at once.”

Edward S. Casey, State University of New York at Stony Brook

"[Lysaker's] writing is scholarly, to be sure, but never merely so; he takes philosophy as we all should—personally. His prose is full of personality, wit, self-awareness, even self-doubt, and always good will."

Scott F. Parker | Rain Taxi

Table of Contents

Gambits and Gambles
Iron Filings
Pardon the Interruption
Content and Form
Form and Content
In the Beginning Was the Deed
Reworking Making
Deliberate Writing
Mistaking Instrumental Reason
Fits and Starts
A Cultivar
Quotation beyond Quotas
For Examples
In Nuce
Message in a Bottle
The Hour of the Wolf
It’s the Gesture That Counts
Furnishing the Space of Reasons
A Struggle with Ourselves
Who’s on First
Every One Is Everybody
The Secret Addressee
When We Undo Things with Words
Unknown Friends
Resoundingly Reticent
Among the Pros (and Cons)
A: “O my friend, there are no friends.” B: “At least we’ve got each other.”
Then Came History
Equal to the Moment
Unequal to the Moment
After Beauvoir
Property Is Theft
Strange Alchemy
Public Commitment
Propagation without Propaganda
Bit by Bit
Taking Stances
Character Studies
Where Do We Find Ourselves


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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