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Miasma by John W. McGinley
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Plato and Aristotle: a never-ending story

First, the full title of this book is:

Miasma: 'Haecceitas' in Scotus, the Esoteric in Plato, and 'Other Related Matters' by John W. McGinley

Next, the Table of Contents:

Section A: Introduction. Statement of the Argument and of the Ancillary Arguments, 1;
Section B: Terms, Semantical Stipulations, and Conceptual Caveats. Guides to and for the Reader concerning This Study's Scotus., 15;
Section C: Context and Meaning of this Retrieval. (Reflections on the 'Derrida/Heidegger' Nexus and the Correlative 'Metaphysical' Bias of Post-Modernism), 89;

Some 'Other Related Matters', 129;

Section D: Contextualizing that which is to be Retrieved through said Retrieval. Reflections on the Plato/Aristotle Nexus and its Significance
Section E: 'Haecceitas' and Aristotelianism. Just what is that 'heteron ti' of Metaphysics VII-17(at 1141b, 17 and 19)? Presentation of Aristotle, Scotus, and Other Relevant Aristotelians
Section F: John Duns Scotus and Plato. How the Retrieval-of-'Haecceitas' Functions as the Re-covery-of-Plato Allowing, in Turn, the Re-Formulation of the Tradition's "Sens et Provenance."
Section G: Into, Around, and Out-of-'Haecceitas.' The Via Negativa, Judaism, and 'Other Related Matters.'

Works Cited and/or Used, 211;

Now, this is a book that is very difficult to characterize because the author (seemingly) intends this to be so. Take the table of contents above. It appears in this book (p. v) without any page numbers. When we finally finish Section C (page 128) we are greeted with page 129, which is titled: - Some 'Other Related Matters' - so, where did sections D-G go? This section (Some 'Other Related Matters') begins with these words:

"note to the reader

For Sections D through G you must now turn or return to my 'The Mystical Masochist'."

I have never seen this book offered anywhere and believe it was in fact never published. In the Bibliography to this book (i.e., Miasma, 1996, p. 215) we learn that 'The Mystical Masochist' is an unpublished five volume (!) Manuscript...

Haecceitas has to do with the specific 'thisness' (individuation) of an entity as opposed to its 'whatness'. This book is filled with interesting remarks, some quite interesting, about Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Scotus, Heidegger, Derrida, - but, thanks to the authors commitment to the Via Negativa, a ('neo'-)Platonic esotericism and (also) postmodern wordplay one is never certain that oneself (or the author) hasn't lost the thread. Apparently, the missing book (i.e., the unpublished 'Mystical Masochist') would have helped tie the disparate threads together...

It really is a shame; I am still looking for a decent discussion of Scotus above and beyond the textbook level.

Actually, my remarks thus far may have been a little too negative regarding this book. For instance, there really are some fine judgments scattered throughout this book. For example:

"Joseph Owens. Joseph Owens. Joseph Owens. What can be said?
It is and will continue to be obvious that I have benefitted immensely from his landmark publication on Aristotle of 1951. There are some flaws in that book. But so long as intelligent people are studying the texts of Aristotle, Owens book will be read as well." (p. 25)

Yes, exactly right. Owens may well be read as long as Aristotle is read. The book referred to, of course, is 'Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics', a little known (outside Catholic or scholastic circles) masterpiece of twentieth-century scholarly thought.

There are many such gems, but this book (i.e., Miasma) needs to be edited for coherence; one certainly has to be knowledgeable in many facets of philosophy (ancient, medieval, post/modern) in order to even begin to understand McGinley, but I myself had the most trouble with the mystical gestures and resonances that occasionally reverberate through this book...

Sigh. No one can be familiar with everything... However, I really do think that any reader would find himself (at times) at sea due to the missing Sections (D through G) that are in an unpublished work.

Aristotle is the lynchpin of the story McGinley wants to tell. All philosophy has been, according to our author, a series of footnotes to Aristotle. What is Aristotle 'guilty' of? "...the denial of and flight from [...] 'the play of difference' and which 'play of difference' [...] animated Plato's core philosophy." Thus the famous Plato/Aristotle Nexus of philosophy has really been, according to our author, an Aristotle/Aristotle Nexus all along.

The untheorized (and untheorizable) 'thisness' -haecceitas- in Scotus points us towards the exit from the History of Philosophy; and through the door of the exit we glimpse ...Plato, the first postmodern!

McGinley addresses the unconventional nature of his book by saying:

"... this book is (quite obviously) not an exercise in scholarship with a view towards 'getting it right', so to speak, with regard to an articulation of what the Medievalists said about individuation. [...] readers understand that I have a most idiosyncratic motivation for engaging the 'haecceity' issue."

Yes indeed! But the 'skipping and jumping procedure' that McGinley here employs will leave everyone, except the most advanced students, quite often in the dust. So, if you are fully conversant in Plato, Aristotle, the Medieval Aristotelians and also Heidegger and Derrida - dive right in! Otherwise, be careful, you could drown...

I will begin to conclude with some remarks (or the gist of those remarks) that McGinley made to a friend about his understanding of Scotus:

"-Please understand. I have become neither an Aristotelian nor a Medieval Aristotelian. If I count Scotus as the most radical and most consistent of them all and if I likewise count it important to expose and conceptually "unpack" the most extreme (but internally consistent) expression of Aristotelianism (i.e., Scotus) it is with a most idiosyncratic agendum. I am seeking out the "inner logic" (especially in its most radical and internally consistent representative) of Aristotelianism as a kind of lever for arriving at an understanding of Plato. ((In a sense, a kind of long and involved "via negativa" analysis in the service of revealing what Plato is not doing -- in order to approach with some precision what Plato in fact is doing.)) But this Plato is not the Plato of the tradition. He is not a predecessor of Aristotle, Aristotle's account of Plato notwithstanding. By exhibiting this "inner logic" of Aristotelianism I hope to show that Plato -at least in his theory of the forms- is doing something heterogeneously different from any form of Aristotelianism. To use Aristotelian terminology for a moment, I hope to show that Plato and Aristotle -in their respective undertakings- are not even in the same genus. In other words, they are not doing the same thing differently. Rather, they are not even doing the same thing." (p. 11)

So you see, we use Scotus to get to Aristotle. And Aristotle, not Plato, is now to be held responsible for the Tradition. Plato now emerges as the first postmodern. But hasn't 'Postmodernism' repudiated Plato ("Since at least Plato...") over and over again? Yes, but not always and not entirely. Deleuze, for instance, says:

"The task of modern philosophy has been defined: to overturn Platonism. That this overturning should conserve many Platonic characteristics is not only inevitable but desirable. It is true that Platonism already represents the subordination of difference to the powers of the One, the Analogous, the Similar and even the Negative. It is like an animal in the process of being tamed, whose final resistant movements bear witness better than they would in a state of freedom to a nature soon to be lost: the Heraclitan world still growls in Plato. (Difference & Repetition, p. 59)

Deleuze hears the old untamed beast growling in Plato; McGinley says he hears it howling. For Deleuze Plato is only in part 'official' philosophy; for McGinley, not at all.

Now, if this sort of thing is your cup of meat, do tear into it. There is much to chew on. As the postmodern continues to implode around us I find myself wondering if the history of philosophy itself is a series of 'most idiosyncratic agendas' (each a singularity) that have been hammered into 'consistency' for the sake of - what? ...Social Peace? Truth? Play?... I give this book four stars; it is a wild ride, do not expect to understand all that he is saying on a first read. It is a book that repays rereading; whether you agree with it or not. ( )
  pomonomo2003 | Jul 7, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0761804536, Hardcover)

This book explains how Duns Scotus's concept of 'Haecceitas'--thisness, or individuation--represents an insufficiently recognized yet central aspect of Aristotelianism, namely its denial of and flight from 'the play of difference' that was a core aspect of Plato's philosophy. The difficulty, the author asserts, is that there has been historically an all too common tendency to read Plato through the distorting lens of Aristotle's view of him. The author further asserts that Aristotelianism has informed Neo-Platonism to the extent that it too becomes a corruption of Plato's thought, because of their common flight from Plato's 'difference-oriented' theory of forms. Throughout this work is a concern with the thinking of Derrida and Heidegger, especially in terms of their readings of the classical and medieval traditions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:50 -0400)

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