VIEWS OF A GLIMPSE (1): On Stephen Mumford’s philo-fiction

I am reading Stephen Mumford’s recently published novel GLIMPSE OF LIGHT: NEW MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY, and I will be live-blogging my impressions here. So far I have read the first two chapters. The book is well-written and clear, both the framing story and the philosophical reflections are a pleasure to read.

Mumford’s GLIMPSE OF LIGHT can be regarded as a work of philo-fiction, describing a fictional philosopher’s retreat and meditations in a solitary cabin in Norway. French philosopher François Laruelle speaks of “philo-fiction” on the analogy with science fiction.

The framing concept recalls both Descartes MEDITATIONS and Wittgenstein’s Norwegian retreats. The fictional philosopher’s name, Benedict Chilwell, recalls Spinoza. It will be interesting to see which of this trinity of patrons prevails over the others.

I may be led to disagree with the author over this. In the second chapter Chilwell seems to arrive at some certainty over the foundational concept of “causation”, suggesting that Spinoza is accorded primacy. It may be that the form of the novel, its status as a linguistic artefact, and its inter-textuality undermine this primacy and favour a reading against the grain in which Wittgenstein prevails.

The fictional form and the narrative of solitary meditation serve to give both intellectual focus and existential intensity to the ideas and the arguments evoked. Explicit scholarly references are eliminated, conceptual and argumentative purity predominate. Yet the focus and intensity of this mise-en-scène may have the corresponding disadvantages of excessive abstraction and over-simplification.

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