Friday, May 29, 2009


There is a wonderful passage in Glenn Most's article on collecting philosophical fragments[1] which I think is worth sharing. It was pointed out to me by a graduate student earlier in the year, but I've just got hold of a copy of the volume and found it again.
[T]here is a seduction to working on fragments which is often neglected in scholarly discussions of the subject but which nevertheless seems to exercize a powerful subliminal fascination, especially upon scholars. Closed, finished texts can sometimes seem to rebuff us. They are already perfect: what can we add to them besides our own misunderstandings? But a text upon which time and fortune have unleashed all their destructive fury can present itself to us in the form of fragments: wounded, incomplete, crying out for out help if it is to speak once more its words which have almost been silenced. Curiosity, and even a kind of piety, urge that we gather such relics; but so too does a deeper, more mysterious urge, which makes us want to render less incomplete the many imperfections of our own experience and to redeem to some degree the dominion that chance and disappointment have over our own lives. Perhaps, if we can succeed in rescuing the broken fragments of some long dead Greek philosopher, then might not the shattered hopes of our own existence somehow be restored? (Most 1998, p.14)

Does this ring true for anyone?

[1] G. W. Most, 'À la recherche du texte perdu: on collecting philosophical fragments', in W. Burkert, L. Gemelli Marciano, E. Matelli and L. Orelli (eds.) Fragmentsammlungen philosophischer texter der Antike / Le raccolte dei frammenti di filosofi antichi (Aporemata 3), Göttingen, 1998, 1-15.


Mr. Jones said...

Thank you for posting this.

Incredible, poetic and gives one pause.
I've missed you James.

I read your blog, in awe, but rarely comment.
Forgive me.
I will always be grateful for your helping my brother
when he was dying from pancreatic cancer--
giving him something to read and ponder;
your words stirred and inspired his mind
which is something Scott yearned for.

I hope this finds you well.

Sheri Swaner

Keith Seddon said...

I am very grateful that you have posted this wonderful passage from Most, which for me coincidentally has arrived whilst I am preparing a little edition of my own translations of Epictetus' Fragments to which will be added short commentaries.

My clumsy attempt at a short preface would be greatly enhanced by including this quotation. Would it be appropriate for me to simply lift it from your blog? Tracking down a copy of the source volume would be both difficult and, I presume, unnecessary.

Keith Seddon

JIW said...

Sheri: many thanks for your good wishes.

Keith: I don't think there's anything to stop you lifting the quotation, but I do encourage you to try to get hold of the whole essay.

Monte said...

Thanks a lot for the reference, James. It seems to me that the same psychological motive has caused certain philosophers, among them Nietzsche, to compose new "fragments" ("aphorisms") of philosophical work. These can never really be collected together and made into a cogent single piece, but they are still a fascinating form of philosophy.


Georgia Mouroutsou said...

Thank you for this text James.

Best regards,