Degenaar Part Four: What Remains?

Johan Degenaar died on 22 July 2015, at the age of eighty-nine. He had withdrawn from public life a decade or more before. This withdrawal was probably not a conscious decision on his part, but the result of his increasing frailty and deteriorating eyesight, and the increasing frailty of his wife Jetty, to whom he was devoted.


Degenaar continued to publish academic and popular articles regularly until 2000, engaging vigorously with a range of contemporary issues. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Stellenbosch University In 2002. He took part in a biographical interview with Pieter Duvenage in 2005. In what may have been his final public contribution in his own voice, he did a short interview with Anton van Niekerk in 2006, looking back on his career on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.


In 2007, the Degenaars moved from their house in Stellenbosch, where they had lived for more than fifty years, to a retirement village in Somerset West, the town where their children and grandchildren lived... READ MORE

Degenaar Part Three: The Art of Dialogue

From the beginning of his academic career, and probably even before that, Degenaar was committed to dialogue. What drew him to philosophy, and away from theology, was the figure of Socrates and the practice of Socratic dialogue. Dialogue was thwarted at times, but not his commitment to it. His unsettling prayers, in the first years of his appointment, may have seemed to his students to be provoking God; but it’s just as likely he was seeking a response from pious, but anxious, admissante.


This commitment to dialogue set Degenaar apart as a teacher. His lectures were not intended to provide a one-way transmission of established knowledge. He was seeking to invite, stimulate or provoke some kind of response and then to engage with that response.


Just as he was in dialogue with his students when his prayers in the classroom provoked them, he was in dialogue with readers of the Herdenkingsblad in his essay on a theology of dance... READ MORE

Degenaar Part Two: Challenged To Conform

In the early years of his appointment as a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, Johan Degenaar was by all accounts conspicuously challenging established conventions. He was doing so not through open confrontation, but rather through wit, suggestion and questioning, and it must have been hard for the establishment of the time to know whether to call him to order, and how to do that.


I believe, however, that there was at least one moment during the early years of Degenaar’s academic career, when he was more or less explicitly challenged to move in one direction or the other: either to conform in a more definite way to dominant norms and beliefs, or to openly refuse to conform and suffer the consequences. There may have been other such moments, but the one I have in mind is both vivid and well-documented. This moment provides a view of Degenaar, at a crucial moment of his formation, that is sharply focused, although also partly obscured, in ways I’ll describe.


The event I have in mind took place in 1954, when Degenaar was invited to contribute a short essay to a... READ MORE

Degenaar Part One: Apprentice Philosopher

There is an ancient Chinese story of a young man who approaches his father, a master burglar, and asks to become his apprentice. The son wishes to be taught the art of burglary, before his father’s skills deteriorate with advancing age. The master burglar agrees, and that very night father and son set out together to commit burglary


They go to a wealthy area, and decide which house to burgle. Later that night, they gain entry to the house and look around.The father notices a large wooden chest in a prominent place in the main room, and asks his son to look inside it. As his son leans forward to look inside, the father suddenly forces him into the chest. He then bolts the chest from the outside, and begins to shout at the top of his voice, waking up the sleeping household. The father then makes his escape, leaving his son behind, locked in the chest


Some hours later, just before daybreak, the apprentice burglar returns home, angry, demanding to know what his father thought he was doing, and why he had put his son in such danger... READ MORE

Ways of Contradiction

An Introduction to the Practice of Dialectic

In dialectical thought, definitions are often a problem. Definitions imply that terms have a single, stable meaning. Dialectical thought focuses on change, including changes in the meaning of the terms we use and the instability that makes such change possible.


At the same time, preliminary definitions are clearly helpful for anyone encountering the field of dialectic forthe first time. Even for those familiar with the field, definitions indicate how terms are to be understood in a specific text. So, I begin with a few basic definitions, and a warning that they serve as no more than starting points, or as points of orientation in a landscape that changes as we travel through it.


First, a dialectical process is a process characterized by the movement of contradictions... READ MORE