“. . . Loneliness is my profession . . .”
— Merab Konstantinovič Mamardašvili (1930–1990)
‘‘Analysis of Consciousness in the Works of Marx,’’ Studies in Soviet Thought, vol. 32, 1986, pp. 101–120.
“The Civil Society: An Interview With Merab Mamardashvili,” The Civic Arts
Review, Vol. 2, no. 3, Summer 1989.
Begin by reading this interview. This is an instructive example of how an intellectual under repression attempts to clear a space for thinking. In this case, there was a world of difference between the repressed Marxist intellectual in the West and the repressed non-Marxist or Marxist independent intellectual in the USSR, in terms of their relationship to intellectual cultures and traditions. The USSR, having inherited the oppressive habitus of peasant society under despotism, never cleared a space where thought could breathe freely (though there some leeway and much creativity through the 1920s, though still under restrictions). What matters to us about Mamardashvili may be not so much his approach to philosophy, which is quite different from the standpoint of critique in Western democracies, but his need to create a space around his solitude in order to enter the psychological state of philosophizing. A comparison of subjective experiences of repression is in order.
The Mind of Mamardashvili, interview by Bernard Murchland. Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation, 1991. 24 pp. (An occasional paper of the Kettering Foundation)
Althusser, Louis. Letter to Merab Mamardachvili, January 16, 1978.
Lettre ŕ Merab, Multitudes, Décembre 1993.
Merab Mamardashvili - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
ISFP Gallery of Russian Thinkers: Merab Mamardashvili
“Mamardashvili, Merab” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol.
6., general ed. Edward Craig (London; New York: Routledge, 1998), pp. 66-70(?).
Article mostly viewable at Google books:
Berekashvili, Bakar. "Foreword: In Memory of Merab Mamardashvili,"
A Different View, no. 21, March 2008, p. 4-5.
Shatirishvili, Zaza. ‘"Old" Intelligentsia and "New" Intellectuals:
The Georgian Experience’, Eurozine, 2003-06-26.
Tirons, Uldis. "I come to you from my solitude", Eurozine,
Stafecka, Mara. “Where Does Meaning Come From?” in The Visible and the Invisible
in the Interplay Between Philosophy, Literature, And Reality, edited by
Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer, 2002), pp. 63-69. ((Analecta
Van der Zweerde, Evert. “Philosophy in the Act: The Socio-Political Relevance of Mamardašvili’s Philosophizing,” Studies in East European Thought (2006) 58: 179–203.
‘Loneliness is my profession,’ is the title of an interview the Latvian philosopher Uldis Tirons conducted with Mamardašvili in 1990. In this interview, Mamardašvili pointed out that his loneliness was of a personal character – ‘‘I am a chronic specialist in loneliness since early childhood’’ – as well as of a professional nature: ‘‘And then, loneliness is my profession ... (OMP, p. 69)’’ Leaving the first form to biographers, we can, I think, distinguish two senses of this professional loneliness of the philosopher, one structural, the other contextual. In the first sense, intended by Mamardašvili himself, philosophy is a ‘lonely activity’ in any case, as some of his definitions of philosophy make clear: ‘‘Philosophy is just a fragment of the smashed mirror of universal harmony that has fallen into an eye or a soul (OMP, p. 64).’’ And: ‘‘... philosophy is a reaction of the dignity of life in the face of anti-life. That’s it. And if there is a pathos of life, then man cannot be a non-philosopher (OMP, p. 67).’’
In a second sense, his was a lonely position because, unlike most of his colleagues, he did not actively deal with the problem of Marxist–Leninist dogmatics or with Marxism as the official ideology in the Soviet Union.
Mamardašvili declared that he was not a Marxist, but he also said he was not an anti-Marxist either. Van der Zweerde endeavors to explain the unique position of this philosopher within Soviet philosophical culture. He sets out to explain two things: the philosophical culture in which M. was active, and his central concepts—form, thought, and culture. First, van der Zweerde demystifies Western presuppositions about Soviet philosophy, and he provides a biographical summary of M., who indeed became a hero of Soviet intellectuals seeking autonomy and integrity. M. himself commented on the changing role of the intelligentsia, drawing on Gramsci, while rejecting the conceit of the intelligentsia as arbiters of enlightenment. M. also selectively engaged Marx, in a non-trivial fashion. For M., the role of the intellectual in society was to claim a presence for thought in culture and society. There must be conditions for thought to be able to take place—a public space.
M. criticized Russian culture for a neglect of form, for example of the formal character of legal systems and of democracy, though his position did not devolve into a pure formalism. M.'s second preoccupation is the process of thinking—when thinking becomes alive and a presence in the world, not just closed up in itself. Engaging the past of philosophy is to make its thoughts come alive again, not that past philosophies are absolutes in themselves, but that they create spaces in which a thinking being 'reconstitutes' itself.
Descartes is a prime example. Russian philosophy has systematically degraded Descartes and Kant. (190-1). But, taking a cue from Hegel, M. rejected "Robinsonades".
M.'s third central concept is 'culture', and here the cosmopolitan notion of 'transculture' (not 'multiculturalism'!) becomes important.
In the 1980s M. took on the issue of 'civil society', which became a big theme in late Soviet society. M., criticically discussing Hegel in 1968, had already broached this subject. Once again, M. is concerned with the live act of thought and its conditions of possibility.
In his conclusion van der Zweerde cautions against romanticizing dissenting heroes or demonizing the philosophical culture of the Soviet system, given that any social system tends toward rigidity and requires independent criticism. M. has been characterized as the Georgian Socrates, interestingly, since M. in his youth was lucky enough to circumvent the proscription of Socrates demonized at the hands of Stalinism.
Dobrenko, Evgeny. Political Economy of Socialist Realism, translated
by Jesse M. Savage. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. See esp. Chapter
1: ‘Socialism as Will and Representation’.
Dolidze, Mamuka. “Phenomenological Thinking in the Georgian Philosophy of XX
Century,” in: Phenomenology World-Wide: Foundations, Expanding Dynamisms,
Life-Engagements: A Guide for Research and Study; edited by Anna-Teresa
Tymieniecka (Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002), pp. 307-312.
(Analecta Husserliana; 80)
Mostly viewable at Google books:
Dumain, Ralph. Notes on Soviet & American Philosophical Cultures (31 December
2003 - 17 January 2004).
Grigorenko, Elena. “Is it possible to study intelligence without using the
concept of intelligence? An example from Soviet/Russian psychology,” in International
Handbook of Intelligence, edited by Robert J. Sternberg (Cambridge; New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 170-211.
Swiderski, Edward M. “Culture, Contexts, and Directions in Russian Post-Soviet Philosophy,” Studies in East European Thought 50 (1998): 283-328. Extract:
To look for that additional ingredient it is expedient to turn to what Russians have been calling ‘philosophizing’. Towards the end of the eighties, partly in connection with the official reforms underway in the institutionalized philosophical establishment and partly due to the preponderant influence of several free spirits most prominent among them at the time, Merab Mamardashvili and Vladimir Bibler it became fashionable to speak not simply of philosophy, but of philosophizing (filosovstvovanie). Depending on who used the term, it could mean something abstruse and rather mysterious or in fact quite concrete, if not altogether prosaic. For Mamardashvili, philosophizing is rooted primeavally in the ‘event’ (sobytie) of thinking (ŕ la Heidegger?), reflexively identical with itself throughout the history of philosophy, and enjoining ‘genuine’ philosophers, who are attuned to the event of thinking, to assume their responsibility as vessels of thinking. Thinking distilled into its philosophical essence is therefore for Mamardashvili not merely cultural, but ‘cosmic’ in a sense that, in certain of his texts, is suggestive of parallels with, among other ideas, the anthropic principle in modern cosmology. At the same time, philosophizing in his sense fits squarely into the Socratic tradition, wherein searching for truth is in itself a way of being, of living in (the) truth.
For Bibler, the essence of thinking is captured in and through an indefinite, unending cycle of questions and answers patterned now one way, now another, according to distinct ‘logics’ at the heart of past and present cultures, the constants of which can be brought to reflexive self-awareness in the practice of dialogue. Though less prone than Mamardashvili to bestow a cosmic dimension on thinking, Bibler does ground a philosophical anthropology on his conception of the dialogue of cultures. For him, philosophizing is intrinsic to what is dramatic, passionate in human engagement with the world, and is thus, by virtue of its uncompromising commitment to truth, morally charged. Finally, rendered transparent to itself in and through cultural dialogue, philosophizing is managing, at the end of the twentieth century, to institute the basis of a ‘society of culture’. Among other things, Bibler has devised a philosophy of education with concrete applications to pedagogical methods already in pre- and primary schools. In the last section below, I will return to ‘philosophizing’ in this constructive meaning, to present a position which explicitly ties it to contextual considerations, viz., the formation of post-Soviet philosophy.
More prosaically, when philosophizing was debated by leading members of Moscow’s Institute of philosophy even prior to 1991, the discussions had much to do with exhorting philosophers finally to assume responsibility for theoretical commitments without recourse first and last to political injunctions and/or canonical principles in the corpus of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine and/or virtually Aesopian techniques (recall Zinov’ev!) of hermeneutic subterfuge reserved for in-groups. As all of the last-named characteristics in fact indict a central pillar of Marxist-Leninist philosophizing, viz. party-mindedness (partijnost’)—that complex of attitudes enjoining submission to political authorities, declarations in favor of Weltanschauungen at the expense of critical inquiry, and rank and file collectivism to the detriment of personal initiative and authorial voice—the new talk about philosophizing, it can be inferred, was gesturing at one of the long repressed dialectical ‘others’ of Marxist-Leninist philosophizing, viz., open, free thinking grounded, in the last instance, in an individual’s personal integrity and skills.
This assessment of the intrinsic merits of unfettered ‘philosophizing’ sheds some light on Mamardashvili’s and Bibler’s success, despite the often hermetic quality of their pronouncements. In their many texts, published since the early nineties, it is only too obvious how they managed to find a style a discourse totally at odds with hitherto received ‘Soviet’ style. Moreover, both peppered their works with references to central figures in the history of Western thought (and literature) who, although they had certainly been central to research and teaching curricula in Soviet institutions, were hardly ‘interpreted’ in the way Mamardashvili and Bibler were reading them. Descartes, Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, even Marx, to mention only the philosophers each returned to time and again, were so many partners in dialogue conducted to get at pure thinking, the ground of philosophizing, and/or ‘living in culture’.
It is an open question, however, whether reflections like these, evocative, provocative, but also abstruse, and hermetic as they certainly are, have contributed to that renewal of philosophizing that is associated with ‘philosophical method’, thanks to which, in the right institutional circumstances, philosophers and their students sustain a ‘professional’ aspect and standing. To put it simply, to read Mamardashvili and to some extent Bibler, too, is not to learn ‘how’ to philosophize, how to acquire skills using analytic techniques and building arguments. Instead, one comes into the light of wisdom, in the manner of an initiation into a rite, which will bring illumination, Heideggerian aletheia. In fairness, however, one cannot forget their role as ‘inakomyshljashchie’, virtually as symbols of an alternative Denkstil. To say as much, however, is to intimate that contextual considerations take precedence in assessing philosophical discourse in Russia in the late Soviet and its current ‘post-Soviet’ phase.
With these remarks, however, my main point is to draw attention to fact that, in the wake of the collapse of Soviet institutions, concern for ‘philosophizing’ had to extend to the conditions of professional philosophy. It was a concern voiced less in fact by those directly affected by the sweeping institutional changes than by administrators charged with effectuating a full-scale overhaul of the curricula in the nation’s educational institutions. As of the early nineties, projects were set up, financially assisted by foreign benefactors, to design and implement new teaching and research programs in all the extant areas of the human and social sciences, as well as in those domains which, thanks to the passing of official Soviet culture, could now come into their own (e.g., political science, psychoanalysis). An initial objective in these programs was to sponsor a new generation of textbooks destined to provide, for each of the disciplines in question, a perspective on ‘world culture’ and Russia’s place therein. In the event, however, these undertakings became fertile ground for what was fast becoming a ‘culture syndrome’, precisely because few knew how, or had the personal authority, to keep ideological ‘overdrive’ as far as way as possible from educational reform and improved professional standards. All across the board, the leading issues for debate arose from the realities of the long and difficult ‘exit out of communism’, not only as a socio-economic and political, i.e. institutional, transition, but perhaps foremostly as a cultural process. The issues planners, publicists, politicians, self-styled cultural spokespersons, even the academic elite repeatedly had to contend with and in so doing endowed with political significance had to do with cultural continuity/discontinuity, new values/old values, what had been irretrievably lost/what can/must be recovered, the specificity (or not) of the Russian cultural-historical process as measured against the movement of world civilization, mentality and the constitutive features of the Russian mind, both ethnically and geo-politically (russkost’ vs. rossijskost’), to name only the salient standard bearers in these often bitter discussions.
In this context, the growing popularity of a generalized reflection about culture—so-called kul’turologija (German: Kulturwissenschaft) mixing what in Western academic terms is today called ‘culture theory’, ‘civilizational studies’ as well as doses of philosophy of history, history of mentalities, etc. has only added to the widespread acute sense that virtually everything (including the institutional transition) in Russia’s exit out of communism would depend on getting the nation’s cultural values and priorities right. Accusations were addressed to the government that it was neglecting culture in its resolve to implement institutional reforms. It was a failure of dramatic proportions to neglect what one kulturolog dubbed the “law of the priority of culture.” There can be no doubt, he explained, that “[t]here is only one exit for a nation out of a difficult economic and political situation, namely raising the level of culture (kul’turnost’) to that of global civilization.”
Such eloquent pleas nothwithstanding, and despite the flow of publications consolidating the tasks of kul’turologija in the public sphere, few have been the strictly theoretical-analytical attempts to clarify the terms most often in use in the macro-visions of the cultural-historical process. Books like that by the late Lotman, Kul’tura i vzryv, or more recently by Moiseev Kagan, Filosofija kul’tury, remain the exception rather than the rule in an environment in which, from time to time usually before or after an election to Parliament or as a result of confrontations between the executive and parliament over economic issues, foreign policy, etc. someone harangues the public that the Russian’s first task is to agree on a ‘national idea’, an ‘integrative ideology’, and the like.
This then is (part of) the external context, the setting, in which ‘internal’ concerns about the reprofessionalization of philosophy of ‘philosophizing’ under altered institutional circumstances have run together with the “culture syndrome” to yield, in many quarters, a corresponding call for ‘authentic’ Russian philosophizing, and insofar, then, for reviving Russian ‘religious philosophy’. To reiterate: many in the academy (and not only they) have responded to this ‘concern’ by reediting classic texts from this tradition (e.g., the long-running but recently dormant series attached to Voprosy filosofii), by organizing meetings, research groups and ‘laboratoria’ dedicated to Russian religious philosophy. For all that, the impression remains, as I indicated, that ‘philosophizing’ in this mode, that is, roughly in a mode one would have to adduce from reconstructions of the kind proposed by Poltorackij, has yet to take form. For instance, Khoruzhji, who, as we saw, doubts that philosophizing in this vein has gained any purchase, has recommendations as to what it is entailed: philosophizing in an “ascetic” key, philosophizing as “man’s mystical penetration into his own predestination”, philosophizing for the sake of “overcoming death as a united conciliar deed” (edinoe sobornoe dejanie), and still more.
So we come back to the question raised at the outset on what does, can, or should the formation of post-Soviet philosophy philosophizing depend? [pp. 289-293]
Van der Zweerde, Evert. Soviet Historiography of Philosophy: Istoriko-filosofskaja Nauka Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997. (Sovietica; v. 57)
See also R. Dumain, “Soviet Historiography of Philosophy: Review Essay” (2003).
Van der Zweerde, Evert. "Soviet Philosophy Revisited—Why Joseph Bochenski Was Right While Being Wrong", Studies in East European Thought, vol. 55, no. 4, December 2003, pp. 315-342.
. . . in 1960 as in 1975, professional philosophers in the USSR were pretty much aware of what was wrong in their kingdom, and not because they accepted the critique of basic tenets of official dialectical and historical materialism by the philosophical sovietologists [of the West]. They knew that their work was being organized and supervised by party-philosophers like Fëdor Konstantinov, who reportedly could not “avoid mistakes in spelling even when silent,” they knew that heads of department were officers of the KGB, they knew that Mamardashvili and Il’enkov were silenced and not given the place they deserved, they knew that, in general, the development of free thought was not welcomed . . . . What was wrong with Soviet philosophy was not so much its untenable philosophical content, or the failing intellectual abilities of philosophers, but its form, the way it was organized, and the way in which it was reproduced ideologically. [p. 323]
Deyanov, Deyan. "Foucault and Mamardashvili:
The Critique of Modernity and the Heritage of the Enlightenment (Towards a Sociology
of the 21st Century)," Sociological Problems (XXXIV/2002), pp. 32-40.
Padgett, Andrew. "Dasein and the Philosopher: Responsibility in Heidegger
and Mamardashvili," Facta Universitatis: Series: Philosophy, Sociology
and Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2007, pp. 1 - 21.
Stafecka, Mara. “The Beauty of Thought: Heidegger, Gadamer, and Mamardashvili,”
in Mystery in Its Passions: Literary Explorations, edited by Anna-Teresa
Tymieniecka (Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), pp. 133-141.
(Analecta Husserliana; 82)
Stafecka, Mara. “Mamardashvili on Thinking and Sensitivity,” in Phenomenology
of life from the Animal Soul to the Human Mind, Part 1; edited by Anna-Teresa
Tymieniecka (New York: Springer, 2007), pp. 219-227. (Analecta Husserliana;
Most of this article is viewable at Google books:
Stafecka, Mara. “Understanding as Being: Heidegger and Mamardashvili,” in Phenomenology
and Existentialism in the Twentieth Century: Book I. New Waves of Philosophical
Inspirations; edited by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (New York: Springer, 2009),
pp. 423-432. (Analecta Husserliana; 103)
Most of this article is viewable at Google books:
лекции по философии,
Mamardashvili’s lectures on YouTube
Soviet Historiography of Philosophy: Review Essay by Ralph Dumain
Resolution: Exploring Philosophical Cultures (December 2003 - January 2004)
by R. Dumain
How to Integrate
Philosophy and Everyday Life: To Think Philosophically in Life, Or Reproduce
the Fragmentation of Knowledge?
by R. Dumain
by R. Dumain
Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)
Marx and Marxism Web Guide
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