Month: August 2009

Nostradamus and other philosophers…

A student sent this along to me today…

I think you will enjoy this: I went to a (new) dentist yesterday, and after a stream of quite routine (dentisty) questions, it came out that I was studying philosophy. As he slowly withdrew his utensils in grave surprise, breaking out in an almost naive flick of earnestness, his first response, of all things, went: “Oh, great! So you’ve read Nostradamus, of course!”

Which leads me to wonder what the strangest reply has been that people have gotten. I should say that most times when I say the word philosophy—and it doesn’t matter what language I’m working in or where—I’m often asked to repeat it two or three times before the person goes, oh, philosophy! Of course, when I’m in Europe, i can say, “I teach philosophy, as in Descartes, Plato, and so on.” That dropping of names to help doesn’t work so well in the U.S.

Until, of course, I get Glenn Beck to read my new book. Then it will all come together…

Decomposition of Philosophy

I always watch in amazement at Graham’s Composition of Philosophy updates. First, he’s far more organized than I am, if only for the simple fact that he knows what he is working on in a given time period, let alone being able to time it. Plus, he’s got that focus to keep tabs on it since he starts up his Itunes and then times it by the amount of music played, which for me, would measure both my composition and my time for various distractions.

More importantly, though, of course, is the service it really does for up and coming philosophers who often told to degrade production as some form of selling-out.

But, second, that put me in a mind for listing my advice on how not to compose philosophy, which I’ll make an ongoing series investigating the modes, technologies, practices—in short, what Foucault called dispositifs—for the de-composition of philosophy. Feel free to add your own… First entry:

1.  I was going to be snarky and begin with “Have a family.” I had a son throughout my grad years and that certainly took a lot of time from studying and writing. And this would suggest that successful composers of philosophy (henceforward COPs, because, you know, these are the dominant order coming down on us de-composers. Or for short, “posers.”) do not have families, loved ones—in short, a life. Alas, COPs are sometimes known to have lives, though of course we know to put “lives” in quotation marks.

But there’s a lesson here for posers even if we can’t say “have a family”: have your excuses ready. The New York Times ran an article ran an article in May on successful posers of all sorts; these people make excuses ahead of time. So, step one: before entering grad school or taking that tenure track job, have a son or daughter. Or adopt one. The point is, this will be an ongoing excuse. Try it (I have!). You not only can have a ready-made excuse for any and all deadlines, but more importantly, you will actually produce sympathy in those to whom you give the excuse. In fact, they will remark, “I don’t know how you get anything done.” And for the poser sympathy is the ultimate goal, not diligent work. With a child—they’re available everywhere!—people will even suggest that any work you get done is somehow miraculous. This, of course, doubles, triples, and so on, with additional children. Though studies show the sympathy effect lessens after five. The seventh doesn’t even count.

Except if you’re a woman in the profession. Then none of them do.

Humans and Other Objects

Larval Subjects has a great post up responding to Paul Ennis’s thought experiment on the future of speculative realism, namely that there will be the eventual reactionary insight that somehow humans have been forgotten, thus offering a desolation akin to the one on offer in ecological catastrophe:

Setting that aside, I think an additional point worth making is that today we simply cannot talk about the human without talking about objects. As Latour tirelessly argues, the great sin of modernity was to try and produce a schism between the world of nature entirely independent of humans and the world of the cultural entirely independent of nature. The problem is that the world in which we live is a world in which we’re constantly enmeshed in imbroglios with objects of all sorts. To understand ourselves is, in part, to understand these imbroglios with objects. Yet what do we in fact find in so much cultural and critical theory? We find a bracketing of objects so as to get at that which is specifically human– norms, cultural significations, ethics, politics, and so on. 

Agreed. Writing as someone whose work at times has been deeply embedded in those “bracketers,” I can say that killing off the beast of humanism hasn’t worked out all that well. Surely there is someone dusting off their old attacks on the anti-humanism of Derrida, et al., and simply finding and replacing “Derrida, Foucault,…” with “Meillassoux, Harman…” I would only add that Meillassoux’s notion of the subject, for example, is rather classical (a point I make with a bit more subtlety in my recent Pli article). But more importantly, what SR offers  is a thinking that would call on us to avert the very catastrophes that would make up the moral blackmail no doubt coming soon.

Call it the argument from catastrophe, in which you cite the real possibility of global environmental devastation (in a previous era it would have been the nuclear holocaust) and then accuse X figure of basically wanting that through some theoretical apparatus. In any event, what is exciting about the work in SR is how it meets up with work in environmental studies and animal ethics, to name but two areas, which have long argued for getting out of the human as a part of a larger normative project, part of which would be finding means for averting the very catastrophe in question. This is where, in a sense, I see SR going, namely connecting up with these other movements in such a way as to bolder SR’s normative accounts (such as they are). Or at least, I see these connections whenever I’m at an environmental philosophy conference.

A Heideggerian’s Advice for Grad Students

I saw this as I was working through a portion of Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics in order to discuss his notion of violence:

Heidegger’s own story is quite different. Its backdrop, which often remains implicit, is very traditional and Aristotelian. Although in the final analysis Heidegger “undid” that tradition, he first took care to master it, and he recommended that Heideggerians do the same. “You would be well advised,” he told his students in 1952, “to put off reading Nietzsche for the time being and first study Aristotle for ten to fifteen years” — the way Heidegger himself did. 


Except, well, that he didn’t.

Rules of Engagement: Different Heroes, Please

If I’ve been reading my Continental political philosophy right over the past few years, I really must have gone wrong somewhere in my political upbringing. Because I really don’t want to read another article or another major writer that tells me the radical politics of two particular people (and I’m sure I’ll think of more later on):

1. Bartleby: Deleuze, Agamben, Zizek, and I’m sure I’m missing a few people who have held up Melville’s Scrivener as the go-to for emancipatory politics. First, I don’t think “I prefer not” really disrupts the traditional binary of actuality and possibility, but let’s leave that aside. He prefers not … to do work. With you on that one. He prefers not … to be bossed around. Still there. He prefers not to …turn on the heat. Well, I’ve been through a NY winter, but sure, if it’s also getting him out of work…

But finally the man brings him down and forces him out. And he still prefers not. Some time later, he finally dies, preferring not … to eat. And this, Zizek notes, could be the greatest violence of all. And I love that work by Zizek, but, um, no. This is, in fact, a great story about the self-abdication of a certain part of the left, which Zizek is often so good at taking down (for example, in critiquing Critchley’s infinite demands for finite demands). We are so cynical about the whole of politics, and for good reason, that we take our distance from the state, we practice a micro-politics of the local, and then we just circle up and prefer not…to engage. 

2. Paul: I’ll pop this one in to spike my blog numbers. Now Paul preferred a lot: the kairos, the universalism of humanity, and, right, the conversion of the heathens. Paul is great for thinking of the universal, if that means all others have to agree with you in order to be part of that universal. He also tells a lovely story of our saving at the hands of a messiah. Great story. But while I’m waiting, preferring not along the way, can I still be deconstructing ontotheology?

Ah this sounds cranky but I’ll post it anyway….