Month: September 2009

Levinas–Really?

I guess I should defend my early articles, which for some strange reason were on Heidegger and Levinas: I should say I don’t see what Graham is on to by rating Levinas one of the best reader of Heidegger in France:

LevinasThis is an article on Totality and Infinity and on what I see as three separate criticisms of Heidegger found there. Levinas is far from used up, he’s simply been viewed so far in a caricatured sort of way. I’ve always seen him as the most innovative of Heidegger’s readers in France, and yes I’d certainly rate him above Derrida in that respect. It’s still a minority view, but one I’m willing to bank on.

That makes me want to see the article, though I strangely realize that my first articles on this were probably published around the time OOP wrote his, so it’s like having a discussion five years too late. But for me Levinas represents the overwrought political readings of Heidegger, and I’m not sure how OOP can side with a reading that, in essence, says “Heidegger was not transcendental enough.” Now, I guess logically, this might be a better reading of Heidegger, since he would be less transcendental than Levinas, but that’s not where I think OOP is going. I agree that Levinas’s reading of Heidegger is not simple rejection—this was the point of one of my articles—but on the other hand, I’m not sure I see how Levinas is a more subtle reader than Derrida or Janicaud or other figures in France. That said, the Levinas of the late 40s did excellent phenomenology. Great discussion of time and Bergson in the lectures of the mid-70s. But, I guess I would say it’s still hard for me to get past all the Levinasians “that’s totality, that’s totality!” “I’m not hearing you…” maneuvers that come from Totality and Infinity. People doing epistemology are not Hitlerites, and Levinas, at least, deserves fault for TI‘s preface and all manner of writings later that were dismissive of non-mystical philosophical work.

Xenophon and Philosophy’s Practical Calling

I just caught this piece on Xenophon. For those who didn’t cut their teeth on Plato and Socratic philosophy, Xenophon is the poor man’s Plato–good for records of Socrates’ life and for Athenian views of the Persians (especially Cyrus), but certainly not for philosophy. But he was a much larger figure for the Greeks and even more so for the very practical Romans.

Xenophon is the one on the right--he even looks like a philosopher

Xenophon is the one on the right--he even looks like a philosopher

Whatever he was writing, Xenophon always had a moral and educational agenda; ancient authors were right to classify him more commonly as a philosopher than as a historian, and modern authors should no longer ignore him as a source for fourth-century philosophical thinking. He is a quiet thinker; he doesn’t trumpet his views, but a great deal of careful thought underpins his work.

I wonder how many of us this would be fitting for: “doesn’t trumpet his views…” Anyway, this also should lead us to question the historicity of our treatment of certain figures. For example, I love reading Cicero, though I don’t have much sympathy for his pedantic asides and his natural law theories. Why? Because philosophy was well earned by him: he knew from what he spoke when talked about virtue. More importantly, he was eminently practical in his assessments. Just compare his Republic with Plato’s. But yet he’s not read anymore. Neither is Xenophon. In Continental philosophy, it’s the Romans’ fault for sending us through translations of Greek terms in our finals moves to the hells of onto-theology, so I guess that might be why you don’t read much on the Romans. But if I had the time, I’d write a work showing why if, as Agamben says, we’re to put philosophy back on its practical calling, it might be best not to ignore these figures. But before that, of course, there’s a few other articles and books to write…

British vs. American Recommendations

I remember last year talking with someone about British-style recommendations, which have tripped up more than a few Brits applying for jobs in the US. The upshot is that British recommendations are honest: this student is average, with good teaching but relatively mediocre writing. In the American version, this would be: this student is an exemplary teacher, whose focus on his/her pedagogy is not something that will show under research on a CV, but is something that should, given his/her ability to bring to bear her research to students going on in the discipline….

Apparently, Brits applying to US jobs will get passed up since the above review, which can actually mean you’re the best candidate at a given institution, sounds like you’re the worst to apply in a number of years. The way the Brits find out about this is when they hire one of those stupendous Americans—according to their recommendations—only to find out that they are good teachers with mediocre writing…

Which is something I’m thinking about today as I’m writing a recommendation, trying to find some new way to say that this is really a great and good student…

“One Small Step for Man, One Giant Step for Lying”

The general reaction to pieces where you find out some newspaper has published some Onionstory as true is to think, well, it would be nice to live in a world in which media outlets could not be so easily fooled.

Skyen-onionfailBut let me say that I would rather live in a world where people still live with some sense of wonder, which may mean that they’ll believe Neil Armstrong would finally confess to the fake moon landing, but that at least there are some surprises left. It’s better than the cynical reporting we get here in the US, where there seems to be this writing style that nothing can ever be new. And I dare say that there are quite a few Onion stories that I wouldn’t mind being true…

Horowitz “Banned” from St. Louis U.; University said to No Longer Exist

You read something like this and you realize someone doesn’t have an ear for how Horowitz works. For those who don’t know, it’s Horowitz who has been working to get various profs fired for so-called deviant views, despite Horowitz’s utter lack of any scholarly bona fides. Which of course makes his protests about ever getting blocked from a university to give his pencil-in-eye inducing lectures a touch of …irony? contradiction? Anyway, it seems clear that when Horowitz was invited by the college republicans, the administration only wanted to modify the event, which is in its rights to do. And it did so only that there was more, not less discussion. In other words, it only wanted to ensure that Horowitz’s hate speech (look, whatever you think, the guy hates Muslims) was balanced by somebody not so evidently crazy. And then you get this from the AAUP:

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, issued a statement on the association’s Web site, denouncing the university in harsh terms.

“Now that Saint Louis University has cancelled a scheduled October speech by conservative activist David Horowitz, it joins the small group of campuses that are universities in name only,” Nelson wrote.

God bless the AAUP, which is always on call for helping to expand the rights of professors and their academic freedom. But here, this is a bit over the top—and is rhetoric best saved when there are real attacks on academic freedom. For example, when Horowitz and his minions attempt at various universities to have alumni pull funding if profs of certain political views get tenure….

Wow, how horrible: the university suggested to the college republicans that they get input from scholars as they put together the event. The horror. The horror:
Among the suggestions was that the students engage scholars with expertise on historical and theological aspects of Islam to help prepare their program.

Also notable, I guess, is that the university couched this in terms of its Catholic mission, which is probably what drove the AAUP to speak up. But isn’t Horowitz one of those who claims that religion is under attack at American universities? (Yes, I did spend a rather humorous afternoon at a Border’s looking at his 100 Most Dangerous Professors in America, or whatever the title is…)

Shaviro on Communism, Hegel

I suppose today’s theme of the day is Marxism. Wear the appropriate red clothing. In any case, Shaviro has a nice post up on economism, critiquing Hardt and Negri’s reworking of Marx. Here’s where he ends up:

I think that the whole subjective/objective opposition, which Hardt/Negri retain as a legacy of Hegelianism, needs to be questioned in the light of speculative realism’s attack on correlationism. The point would not be to get rid of the strong sense that economic arrangements are matters of concern for human beings in particular, but to understand the workings of such arrangements in a different way. I do not think that Marxist capital logic needs to be confined to the Hegelian framework, even if this framework is where he started out from. …

Hegel, here wearing what should be the philosopher's uniform.

Hegel, here wearing what should be the philosopher's uniform.

I think that overall Shaviro is right in his critique of H&N, whose work can often be critiqued as he does here: “H&N then take a rhetorical slide…” (Which, fyi, is also a terrible dance move. Ba da bum…) But I would just say: can we give Hegel his due? The subject/object split is so Phenomenology of Spirit, when all the cool kids read the Science of Logic. By which I mean, we need to put an end to readings of Hegel that see him as offering oppositions that often are just moments in the dialectic he’s describing. Usually you get renditions (not in Shaviro) that Subject = Spirt, and that’s bad, though it’s not the subject of subject/object. You often saw this in the heyday of po-mo theory, with the usual upshot that Hegel was a totalitarian or something. But Hegel is always best thought as someone who has speculatively (yes, speculative, so respect has to be made for giving part of the name to Speculative Realism) thought out every move you can try, and then you need see what precipitate is left for rethinking him from there.

But this does remind me of Schopenhauer’s GIbbon-esque takedown of Hegel, which is what makes Schopenauer always a good read (thanks for some of my colleagues, including Michelle Grier, for turning me on to Schopenhauer after a long absence from his work…). This is from World as Will and Representation:

Hegel offers the “greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with the result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument to German stupidity.

Badiou on Sartre

I linked to this essay below, but I like anytime Badiou talks about Sartre. And he quotes from several of Sartre’s better known Marxist jibes. For those Randians who keep coming up on my blog: it’s not good to be worth less than scum.

In another interview, the same Sartre says, in such terms, I quote; “If the Communist hypothesis is not right, if it is not applicable, this means that humanity is not in itself something very different from ants or ferrets.”

What he is saying there is that if competition, free markets, the search for little jouissance and the walls that protect you from the desires of the weak are collectivified, the human being is not worth scum.


Alas, for those keeping track—still not as good as Gibbon, but serviceable. (Speaking of Gibbon, if you think this is esoteric, I happened to come across a few books last weekend on the latter days of the Roman empire(s). Three of the books at the Border’s location had prefaces that explicitly quoted and went over Gibbon’s hold over that field. I must say, despite Gibbon’s idiosyncracies, it’s hard to think of other authors whom you would need to cite in a preface to a major area of historical events.)