Twitter is the perfect medium for today’s over-saturated media-soaked times.
We have been long tomfooled by the assumption that philosophical discourse must be dense and off-putting, as well as impenetrable, as if it was clumsily translated from the immortal language of some ancient alien into our totally inadequate language. The defender of traditional philosophical discourse claims that good and solid philosophy must be sophisticated, and sophistication in all its subtlety and complexity and precision and profundity require lengthy and challenging treatises. Indeed, no doubt true but then again, the history of philosophy is full of texts that contain fragmentary language (Lao Tzi, Heraclitus, Hippocrates).
A great writer like La Rochefoucauld successfully overcame this problem with a 60 page classic, Reflections – a collection of cutting and cynical observations about human nature that were mostly a sentence long, at most three. Such maxims emerged out of the intensively competitive conversation rooms hosted by the Marquise de Sable & the Comtesse de Lafayette.
Only the greatest writers and artists of the day were invited to these Parisian salons, where wit and spark were rewarded, and the dull and pompous ignored, and never invited again. in order to win over such listeners, La Rochefoucauld developed a new literary genre, the aphorism – a pithy statement that nailed some deep and often dark insight of human nature. The finest thoughts in the fewest words.
Such aphorisms had to deliver its point within seconds, and with enough force to distract listeners from the next round of tea and dessert. These Parisian salons were the ideal location for La Rochefoucauld to polish hundreds of aphorisms.
La Rochefoucauld had to win over people who had very little time and wouldn’t already be sympathetic to him. Philosophers assumed that they didn’t need to write with elegance or concision and wit because they thought that as long their ideas were important, the style was immaterial.
La Rochefoucauld knew better. We, just like the listeners at the salons, are in a permanent fog of distraction, and if someone wanted to pierce through that fog they must use everything at their disposal to capture our attention and mitigate our boredom for a limited time. Had philosophers imagined their audience to be impatient and non-professional, the entire history of philosophy would be different – and much shorter.
Today,Twitter is our digital salon, and philosophy has a second chance at becoming relevant. Yes, the backlash has become fashionable, that twitter is just another platform that expresses the rampant narcissism of our modern times. But then again, dating back to ancient history, when writing was a privilege, people memorized information and communicated it through brief and mnemonic bursts. The Bible contains twitter-sized prose. Poetry, or the blank verse, is ideal for Twitter. Twitter is indeed telegraphic, but it is no limitation of language. Forced in a Procrustean bed, language users become more creative and inventive in deciphering the code and fleshing it out with details. And philosophy has always flourished, no matter the conditions – be it censorship, orthodoxy, and including our ADHD styled society. 🙂
I’ve collected a series of tweets that constitute a potential philosophy here.