marginalia || Breakfast with Socrates, by Robert Rowland Smith

In the 3.5 years I’ve had to study philosophy for school (it has nothing to do with my major, but it’s core curriculum), several times I’ve allowed a blasphemous thought to slide in: Duh. Especially in moments of great pressure. Aren’t philosophers just verbalizing very obvious things? All that I think, therefore I am crap? They just beat each other to it, or they said things in a way hat can’t possibly be matched by whatever inanity’s knocking around in my head. I’ve grumbled countless of times, “But isn’t that truth? Don’t we all think that?”

Fine, so it’s a concerted study, and it’s all dedicated to thinking. Then again, pay all my bills and I’ll go have a knack at this philosophy thing. Seems easy: pick a constant thought, talk about it in the most convoluted way—thinkthinkthink, writewritewrite—all the while maintaining the tone that this manner of thinking’s groundbreaking (haha).

Enter Breakfast with Socrates, by Robert Rowland Smith. Subtitled, An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day, it’s exactly that, but is exactly less hokey than it sounds. The book allows the reader to see various philosophical concepts and phenomena in the everyday—Nietzsche is with us when we commute to work, Foucault when we’re working out at the gym, Barthes when reading a book, and (of course) Freud when we’re having sexy times. It’s a book that makes us aware of what philosophers have gone on and one about, it’s a book that grounds usually lofty and hazy dogmas using the routines of our daily lives. It’s not just about a study (or studies) perpetuated, but the concepts behind them.

In effect, they’re mini-lectures on the fact that there are lectures as we move along with what we’d previously thought of as our un-philosophy-ed lives, and an elaboration on that. And—take the word of this chick who’s sat through semester of them—these lectures are definitely easier to swallow, to comprehend. To integrate. To say, Wow, you’re right, I’ve never thought about that before.

A word on the tone, though: it’s not that easy. Think of it as having coffee with a philosophy professor friend who can’t help but giddily share the supposed awesomeness of his day job, and what concepts it were that made him go wee. And, to take the comparison further, in these conversations you’ll most likely feel like you’re in over your head, but he’s a patient man: he explains, with good nature, what cool things Hobbes has been up to, and how there’s actually a significant amount of Hobbes in your life. (I know, though, that it helps that I paid attention to some of my classes.) These are not stuffy lectures; for one, they’re not graded (ha). I mean, I like philosophy despite all the grousing—and I really do think the classroom set-up takes a lot from that liking. Smith brings to home what I like about philo: that, when least expect it, the eureka moment is there, you’re living someone’s words. You’re freaking multi-dimensionally Being.

Holy cheesecake. I just dorked myself out.

I read this over a period of days—it’s not quite light reading that it’s easily devourable. But I was happy enough to enjoy the chapter or two I read closely per day. The book is basically one jam-packed guide on a number of subjects. It’s a survey, echoing the thoughts of great philosophers and psychologists and artists and other figures in other fields like religion, cinema, etc., and how they surprisingly apply to our humdrum, unexamined lives (see what I did there?). It’s a fascinating read, and I definitely wish that a fraction of my philo studies had been taught this way; I wouldn’t have hated it so much then, haha. Ha. Haa.

But, seriously. Everyone who’s been scarred by philosophy in the classroom should pick this book up and spend several afternoons with it. (I should send this post to the university’s Philosophy Department, harhar.)

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7 comments

  1. I don’t know that I agree with you when you state aren’t philosophers just verbalizing crap. I think they don’t just spew their random ideas out, but rather comment and describe the foundations of society, thought, existence.
    -Sea

    http://www.readingwithsea.wordpress.com

    1. Of course they do comment and describe phenomena. I was pointing out that occasionally (given the classroom setting) I’d think that this was all they did, to bring out the attention to the present. I was trying to verbalizing a student’s frustrations.

      I love philosophy, and I amended my initial statement in the course of my blog post. In fact, I expressed how glad I was that I read this book because it reminded me of that fondness. I’m sure this is a matter of misunderstanding about tone.

  2. No worries, merely a friendly discussion.

    1. No problem. :) Also, nice to “meet” you. :)

  3. The pleasure, I assure you, is all mine.
    -Sea

  4. FUUU. I want one.

    1. Heh. If you can’t get a copy (boo Philippines), I’ll lend my ARC to you when I see you next? If you don’t mind the marginalia, haha. The scribbles of, “OMG TRUE!”

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