ABSTRACT

Writing philosophy raises many unresolved – indeed scarcely examined – issues about the relations between truth, argument and rhetoric. Most philosophers resolve them in practice by setting aside all pretensions to be producing literature. We think that, if we can produce prose that is clear, exact, free of ambiguity and of unnecessary embellishment, that is all it is appropriate to expect. Indeed, even the expectation of readability is often deemed unreasonable, in view of the supposed difficulty of philosophical subject matter. Yet there are conceptual issues – respectable philosophical issues – which philosophers would do well to address about the nature of philosophical writing and about the relations between philosophy and literature. I want to explore some of them by reflecting on some philosophical issues arising from Raimond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father (Gaita 1998). Romulus, My Father clearly falls into the literary category of memoir. Like its

close relative, autobiography, the genre itself gives rise to some philosophical issues. Autobiographical writing, after all, is concerned with the self; and the very idea of selves writing about themselves can stimulate philosophical reflection. The relations here between subject and object – between narrators and, as they are sometimes called in theory of autobiography, ‘antagonists’ – do raise some intriguing conceptual problems about self-knowledge and self-deception, and about the complex ways in which self-conscious beings relate to time. One of the differences between memoir and autobiography is that in

memoir the concern with self is more oblique; the focus is, not so much on the self as object, as on the world observed by the subject at a particular period. The difference can emerge when memoirs are filmed. In Romulus, My Father, the focus is mainly on the father; in the film version, it shifts to the child, offering a moving depiction of a young child confronting adult tragedy. Such shifts of focus are not a failing of the film; they are inevitable consequences of presenting from an outside perspective the child who, in the book, is seen only from the narrator’s perspective. Yet the categories of autobiography and memoir intersect and interact across whatever neat distinctions we may suggest. Even where the known self is not the primary concern of the narrative, the temporal location of the narrator can pose conceptual dilemmas, some of which come into clearer focus in memoirs and autobiographies written by philosophers.