Preface to Unsleeping Philosophy by Wong Kwok Kui

The Hong Kong academic Wong Kwok Kui’s preface to the philosophy book Unsleeping Philosophy (Commercial Press, 2017) was removed after he refused to amend a passage referencing the Umbrella Movement (Hong Kong Free Press). Here, Cha presents the censored preface, below, translated into English by Chris Song, along with Wong’s Chinese original. (NOTE: Please do not reproduce the text—Chinese or English—without permission.)

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Preface to Unsleeping Philosophy

Wong Kwok Kui

When 01 Philosophy invited me to write a preface for their inaugural volume of Unsleeping Philosophy, I agreed without hesitation because it was completely in line with my idea of philosophy education.

This book collects more than thirty articles written by the team members of 01 Philosophy, each approximately 10,000 words long, introducing the works of some important figures and schools in the history of Western philosophy, including Plato, Medieval Philosophy, Rationalism, Empiricism, Kant, German Idealism and so forth. I admire the young team’s vast and solid scholarship, while at the same time grimacing at the thought of the scale this difficult and thankless endeavour!

When I was at university, I helped with editing a student newspaper. I wrote under a pseudonym introductory passages about Schopenhauer, Habermas, Husserl and more. One time I ran into a diligent classmate. He was forever in the library, gorging on journal articles that he had photocopied. He asked me, ‘Did you see the piece about Husserl written by some guy in Undergrad?’ I responded evasively. He didn’t know I was the author and he continued, ‘Those who understand Husserl don’t have to read it; those who don’t simply won’t even if they read it.’ I cast him an awkward, bitter smile, made my excuses and left.

Was he right? Were those articles really worthless? I thought about it a lot. Many years later, my conclusion is that we should keep writing.

(1) The history of philosophy is a must-read.

In an article I wrote for 01 Philosophy, I confessed that I have been a victim of a philosophy education that lacked the history of philosophy. Writing those introductory essays at the time was a vocation to make amends for such regret. Admittedly, rather than repeating what my predecessors had said, I found that philosophy has to come back to the question eventually. However, reading their works can provide stable and solid training for conceptualising those philosophical questions. Today’s so-called general education galvanises students to critique and comment. Without the good exercise of thinking, especially without knowing the historical transformation of the issues and concepts in questions, these critiques are no more than postures built on shifting sand. Certainly, not everyone can spend time struggling with Husserl’s original writings. Even if they do, they might not understand them. And so, for the students who don’t know where to start in this vast field, such introductory articles are necessary, regardless of whether or not they are well written.

(2) Do not dumb philosophy down to popularise it.

Many people working on popularising philosophy are mistaken in having underestimated the so-called masses. They lower themselves to level with the masses by sugar-coating philosophy with film, comic, pop-song references and so forth. However, those willing to buy books and go to talks about philosophy are no longer of the general mass. They are deeply interested; they have an expectation of you; they are prepared to study hard-core philosophy. The deliberate levelling and popularising might just end up a self-defeating exercise; philosophy is reduced to chit-chat; the eagerness of readers is thus wasted. In fact, readers are quite intelligent. They can easily see through your gimmicky philosophy. Wholehearted mass education needs neither to avoid philosophers’ thinking nor to fixate on popularisation. The right thing is always to write serious articles about philosophy and explain a philosophical question to readers so tirelessly that they will understand even if they have not previously had any philosophical training. The silent plough brings the harvest. This concludes all these years of writing Chinese books and articles about philosophy.

(3) Do not avoid jargon.

Some articles about philosophy are full of technical jargon, which has driven readers away. I fully understand their feeling, but the problem resides less with jargon than with writing that fails to gloss it, assuming prior knowledge on the part of the reader. As for readers, they will be frustrated by the first piece of jargon that they don’t know, and will give up reading when they encounter the next one. Such a sense of defeat is not necessary. In fact, jargon is a set of keys to philosophy. Jargon, clearly defined and rich in meaning, can be a useful tool for the exercise of thinking. However, one must write with a principal—the mention of jargon must be followed by an explanation. Without such preparation, you are only showing off your familiarity with the concepts in question. If this is only an unconscious habit, then jargon should be done away with. My conclusion is—do not avoid jargon but, rather, avoid the pedantry of overusing it. Every time you use it, you must not stop explicating it until it is thoroughly understood. If you can do this, you will have a clearer grasp of the question, as not just the author, but also reader too, is slowly entering the philosopher’s world of thinking.

01 Philosophy’s effort in promoting philosophy, in any case, is a heartening project worthy of encouragement and compliment. Somehow philosophy is catching on in Hong Kong. There have appeared not only a great many websites but also television programmes about philosophy, which would have been unthinkable in the past. For those of us who teach philosophy, this is very exciting. But the reason is confusing, even disturbing. Why is this? How to explain it? I am inclined to believe what Nietzsche says: A culture does not need philosophy when it is thriving; the popularisation of philosophy might be an omen of the culture’s crisis and decline. In the last decade, there has not been a day when Hong Kong did not suffer from political corruption, social chaos and absurd injustice. Especially after the Umbrella Movement, young people felt depressed and lost. It is only normal that they hope to find a way out through philosophy. I hope this is not just a fad. The answer that all this understanding, thinking and deepening will give is what Hong Kong’s historians expect the most.

As for the word ‘unsleeping’, according to the editor, it has something to do with his experience of reading books about philosophy: ‘I picked up a fascinating book which I couldn’t stop reading. When it was time to sleep, I was still reading it and became too enthusiastic, too excited to feel any sleepiness.’ It reminds me of my days as a university student. The night was deep and quiet. I liked to lie in my bed and read a little bit before sleeping. With the book in my hand, my eyes closed unknowingly. My roommate asked, ‘Don’t you want to read? Why are you nodding off?’ I answered, ‘Let me close my eyes and think for a while, will you?’ I had barely finished speaking before I actually fell asleep. Thinking about this, I cannot help saying to myself: young people nowadays take it more seriously!

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《無睡意哲學》序

黃國鉅

「01哲學」邀請我為《無睡意哲學》系列第一冊寫序,我一口答應了,因為這本書正符合了我一向對哲學教育的理念。

本書收集了「01哲學」團隊30多篇文章,每篇大概一萬字,重點介紹西方哲學史裡一些重要哲學家的思想,從柏拉圖、中古哲學、理性主義、經驗主義、康德、到德國觀念論等。我除了佩服01團隊這群年青人學問的廣博和紮實之外,更嘆一句:這絕對是吃力不討好的工作!

記得自己大學時期辦學生報,用筆名寫了一些文章介紹叔本華、哈伯馬斯、胡塞爾。有一次在圖書館碰到一個讀書非常用功、一天到晚影印學術期刊來刨的同學,他問我:「你有冇睇《學苑》嗰條友寫嗰篇胡塞爾?」我支吾以對,他不知道正是我寫的,還繼續說:「寫這種文,懂胡塞爾的,就不用看你,不懂的,看了也不懂。」我尷尬地苦笑一下,借故溜走。

他講得對嗎?這種文章真的沒有價值嗎?我反覆思量,多年之後,得出的結論是:文章還是要寫的。

(一) 一定要讀哲學史

正如我在「01哲學」的一篇文章所說,我是沒有哲學史的哲學教育的受害者(《沒有哲學史的哲學教育》),當年寫這些文章,也是一點使命,要填補這個缺陷。固然,哲學思考終歸要回到問題,而不是重複前人說過的話,但研讀前人的思想成果,能為問題思考提供穩固紮實的概念訓練。尤其今日推行的所謂通識教育,動不動就要學生批判、評論,但沒有經過好的思想訓練,尤其相關問題和概念的歷史沿革的知識,這種批判只是建築在浮沙上的姿態而已。當然,不是每個人都可以花時間研讀胡塞爾的原文,就算讀了,也未必懂,所以這種一萬幾千字的文章,對於一個在茫茫學海無從入手的學生,作為入門,還是需要的,寫得好不好則是另一回事。

(二) 不要勉強普及

很多搞普及哲學的人都有一個謬誤,以為要「遷就」大眾的程度,於是降低自己,用一些包裝來講哲學,如電影、漫畫、流行曲等。老實說,這太小看所謂的「大眾」了。一般願意花錢買哲學書、來聽哲學講座的人,已經不是普通的「大眾」,本身已經有濃厚興趣,對你也有期待,也準備學一些hardcore的哲學,刻意遷就,以為普及,反而可能弄巧反拙,結果高不成、低不就,哲學變成吹水,白白浪費了讀者學習的熱情。讀者其實是聰明的,玩gimmick、用哲學做噱頭,人家會看得出來。所以,有心教育大眾,不用迴避哲學家的思想,也不必時刻想著要普及化。認認真真寫作嚴謹的哲學文章,不厭其詳,把問題說得連一個從沒有受過任何哲學訓練的讀者也看得明白,永遠是正路。默默耕耘,必有迴響,這是我近年寫中文哲學書和文章的心得和結論。

(三) 不用迴避術語

坊間有一些哲學文章,裡面有一大堆術語,十分趕客。我個人完全理解讀者這種感受,但問題可能不在術語,而是寫的時候不加解釋,假設讀者明白,讀者第一個術語不懂,已經有點沮喪,看到第二個又不懂,慢慢就不想看下去,造成不必要的挫敗感。其實術語是理解一套哲學的鑰匙,一個好的術語、定義清楚、內容含意豐富,更可以為作為思想訓練的好工具。只是寫作時一定要有一個原則:每次提到一個術語時,一定要解釋其意義,如果沒有這個準備,而只是表示你熟悉那套哲學,或是不自覺的習慣,那就不要提術語。我的結論是:不必迴避術語,但也不要拋書包,搬弄術語,而是要不厭其煩,每次提到一個術語,一定要解釋到連自己也看得懂、看得通為止,能做到這點,你會發現,你自己會把問題理解得更清楚、更通,而不止讀者,作者自己也慢慢進入了哲學家的思想世界。

「01哲學」努力推廣哲學,無論如何,都是可喜的事,值得鼓勵和嘉許。不知道什麼原因,香港近年吹起哲學風,除了大量出現哲學媒體網站之外,更有電視台節目談哲學,這是以前難以想象的。對於教哲學的人,當然令人鼓舞,但究其原因,卻又令人費解,甚至擔憂:究竟這現象原因何在?如何解釋?我自己比較相信尼采的說法:一個文化興盛的時候,不需要哲學,哲學流行,可能是文化出現危機或衰敗的徵兆。香港近十年政治敗壞、社會紛亂、荒謬不義之事無日無之,尤其雨傘革命後,年青人感覺到沮喪迷茫,希望在哲學中尋找出路,也是正常之事。唯希望這不只是一時之間的潮流,在認知、思考、沈澱之後,得出什麼的答案,才是讓香港歷史學家最期待的。

至於「無睡意」一詞,根據編輯所說,是來自讀哲學書的一些經歷:「倘若讀到一本寫得精彩絕倫的哲學書,直教人手不釋卷,到了睡覺前還在讀,因為讀得太起勁、太興奮了[……],以至於睡意全無……。」卻又令我想起讀書時代的事:記得讀大學的時候,夜闌人靜,喜歡在臨睡前抱著書看,看著看著,不自覺閉上了眼睛,室友看到,問:「你不是說要看書嗎?怎麼去睡覺了?」我答:「讓我閉上眼思考一下嘛!」話音未落,就已經呼呼大睡。想到這裡,不禁又要說:現在的年青人還是比較認真!

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Wong Kwok KuiWong Kwok Kui (author) received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from University of Tübingen, Germany, and M. Phil. in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. His research interests are Nietzsche, Schelling, hermeneutics, the problem of time and poetics, theatre aesthetics. His latest publications include a book on Nietzsche,《尼采﹕從酒神到超人》﹐(香港﹕中華書局﹐2014), and articles like “Hegel’s Criticism of Laozi and Its Implications” in Philosophy East and West, “Schelling’s Criticism of Kant’s Theory of Time” in Idealistic Studies, etc. As a playwright he has also staged more than ten plays in the last seven years, which are collected in《經典新篇—從希臘悲劇到布萊希特的本土重寫》, (香港: 國際演藝評論家協會,2013). He is an Associate Professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

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Chris Song (translator) is Executive Director of the International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong, Editor-in-Chief of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, and Associate Series-editor of the Association of Stories in Macao (ASM). Song was poet/translator in residence at Bundanon NSW 2010-2011. In 2013 he won Nosside International Poetry Prize (Italy), Extraordinary Mention. He has published two books of poems and twenty-some books of poetry translation. Now Song works at the Centre for Humanities Research of Lingnan University (Hong Kong) as Assistant Editor of Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese, and is completing his part-time Ph.D. in Translation Studies at the same university.

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