The Mountain Path: On a Lesson of Fred Moten’s


by M. Munro

Blackness is the nonexcluded middle with a right to (refuse) philosophy.[1]
—Fred Moten

All Fred Moten’s books – from his first monograph, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, up to and including the final volume of the trilogy consent not to be a single being, The Universal Machine – feature a seemingly marginal detail an examination of the recurrence of which might prove telling. No more than a few times in the course of each book, and each time in passing, Moten uses Edmund Husserl’s curious and striking phrase, “transcendental clue” (Transzendentaler Leitfaden).[2] Now, it may be true that the transcendental, following Kant, is not the transcendent: it is not what exceeds any (all) possible experience, but rather describes the boundary that shapes experience as its condition of possibility.[3] It may also be true, following Carlo Ginzburg, that a clue is a detail that, while “apparently insignificant,” suggests “a complex reality that could not be experienced directly.”[4] It nonetheless remains to be asked: How does “transcendental” modify “clue”? How does Moten modify Husserl? And according to what perspective, attendant on what perception, might these two questions be seen to be linked?

Ginzburg, after the definition of “clue” cited above, goes on in the next sentence to note that “the data,” curiously, “is always arranged by the observer in such a way as to produce a narrative.”[5] The narrative that follows is a Sufi teaching tale collected by Idries Shah. It recounts a journey made by way of a series of apposite crossings: truth with falsity, ease with difficulty, blindness with insight. But beneath these, or in addition to them, alongside them, perhaps another crossing may be discerned, if one altogether less certain. By what criterion – what demarcation – subsequent to what passage or pursuant to what possible experience can you tell a story apart from a clue—and the clue given (the lie) in or by the story from philosophy? “An intelligent man, a scholar with a trained mind, came one day to a village. He wanted to compare, as an exercise and a

study, the different points of view which might be represented there.

He went to the caravanserai and asked for the most truthful inhabitant and also the greatest liar of the village. The people who were there agreed unanimously that the man called Kazzab was their greatest liar; and that Rastgu was the truthful one. In turn he visited them, asking each a simple question: ‘What is the best way to the next village?’

Rastgu the Truthful said: ‘The mountain path.’

Kazzab the Liar also said: ‘The mountain path.’

Not unnaturally, this puzzled the traveller a great deal.

So he asked a few others, ordinary citizens.

Some said: ‘The river;’ others: ‘Across the fields.’

And others again said: ‘The mountain path.’

He took the mountain path, but in addition to the matter of the goal of his journey, the problem of the truthful and the liars of the village troubled him.

When he got to the next village, and related his story at the rest-house, he ended: ‘I evidently made the basic logical mistake of asking the wrong people for the names of the Truthful and the Liar. I arrived here quite easily, by the mountain path.’

A wise man who was present spoke. ‘Logicians, it must be admitted, tend to be blind, and have to ask others to help them. But the matter here is otherwise. The facts are thus: The river is the easiest route, so the liar suggested the mountain. But the truthful man

“‘was not only truthful. He noticed that you had a donkey, which made the journey easy enough. The liar happened to be unobservant of the fact that you had no boat: otherwise he would have suggested the river.’”[6]


[1] Fred Moten, Stolen Life (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018), 108.

[2] See Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 96, 97, 163. See also the three volumes of consent not to be a single being, as well as Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, trans. W. R. Boyce Gibson (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2012), and, for the German, Jacob Rump, “Kant, Husserl, and the Case for Non-Conceptual Content,” in Husserl and Classical German Philosophy (Phaenomenologica 212), ed. Faustino Fabbianelli and Sebastian Luft (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014), 293 [293-308].

[3] “If what is given with respect to the formation of any field is the strength of the forces involved in its production, then what is given is precisely the producing of that field, so that, once again, what is given determines the transcendental as the transcendental of what is given. What is given but never available is, in every case, what cannot be apperceptively reproduced because it exceeds this as its source. In this sense what is given is formless production.” Iain Hamilton Grant, “Movements of the World: The Sources of Transcendental Philosophy,” in Analecta Hermeneutica 3 (2011), 16 [1-17]. All emphasis author’s. 17: “The transcendental,” in other words, “is the in itself formless form of all forms.”

[4] Carlo Ginzburg, “Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm,” in Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, trans. John and Anne C. Tedeschi (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 103 [87-114].

[5] Ginzburg, “Clues,” 103.

[6] Idries Shah, “The Mountain Path,” in Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 134 [134-135].

About the Author:

M. Munro is author of the open access chapbook, Philosophy for Militants (punctum books, 2017).