Month: September 2009

Graveyard Fun and Big Names

OOP’s observation about the A list and lower is generally about true, namely that the bigger the name, the nicer they are. But I’m not sure if it’s simply that they know that they don’t have to bother. Sometimes I get the feeling with certain people that they don’t even know how big they are. I can think of a couple who genuinely seem surprised any fuss made over them, and I imagine that those I can think of are or were not good enough actors to pretend that well. I think part of it simply has to do with the fact that they often don’t hear good, genuine responses to their work or that the splitting up of disciplines means that they spend most of their time walking around campus and such where no one knows them. Of course, people like Rorty, Derrida, and Badiou would have to know, so that points against this thesis. And I must say this for Graham, he does have a better eye for these petty games than I do. Generally, I would think, using the example he gave about people making you wait, that they are really just busy. I write a lot about power but generally I’m quite naive about it.

As for his funeral hopping, it reminds me of when I was in Vienna and I had a friend pick me up who was going to show me the city. He took me for a really grim tour of some graveyards—no celebrities and such, just anonymous graveyards of prostitutes and others buried without names. I remember he specifically said it was one of my last days in Vienna and I should make sure I see some interesting stuff. I guess we might have had different things in mind.

Chicago State Faces Losing Accreditation

Well, they did hire me for a year…

Chicago State University’s accreditation is at risk due to “remarkably poor” graduation and retention rates, and other problems, according to a letter from the university’s accreditor obtained by the Chicago Tribune. “There are serious questions about whether Chicago State University continues or will continue to meet the commission’s criteria for accreditation,” wrote Karen Solomon, a vice president of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. It is rare for accreditors to strip a college of accreditation, and most of those cases involve small, financially struggling institutions. In contrast, Chicago State is a state university with 6,820 students. 

Anyone who has taught there knows the myriad problems that institution faces (not least a legacy of entrenched Chicago-style politics in the administration that serves itself more than the students). But it was also some of my most meaningful teaching I have had. The students were both the least prepared and yet the most engaged I’ve had in my teaching career. i recall teaching the same materials as for a course at DePaul University, and my CSU students were kicking butt in their readings of Aristotle’s Ethics.

Which reminds me of one of my best students, who asked a typical question when covering Aristotle. He asked if this meant Aristotle’s conception of habit formation meant that one couldn’t make sudden and drastic changes (I would be a sociology of philosophy courses would show this question is most dominant in the US). He then said he had made profound changes in his life when he was a South Side drug dealer. He said that just one day he was hit outside the head and wanted to change his life. I asked him what happened to him that made him change his mind. His response: that’s not a metaphor, I was hit outside of my head and decided that if I wanted to live I better do something else.

That should also tell you something about the need to keep CSU going, which may take a radical change top-down there. But it’s a necessary institution, since it is the path for too few to try to change their lives in the police state of south side Chicago.

Another from the Caputo Review: More Christ, Please…

And to be clear, I’m not trying to mock Caputo for his use of questions, since he does ultimately raise some good ones in relation to Zizek’s discussions of violence. I think Zizek is unclear about it (especially in his book explicitly on the topic), though I think Zizek could simply respond that while we should talk about the least violence, a “violent program” (which is what a fully worked-out answer would be) would unjust to the heterogeneous places in which strategic decisions need to be made. It’s in that vain that he discusses Benjamin’s divine violence. In any event, I shouldn’t leave Caputo’s review behind without citing this:

Truth to tell, I think Jesus (who does not even make the index in this book) would have been utterly dumbfounded by this polemic about the metaphysics of Christ.

How Many Questions Can I ask? Caputo Reviews Žižek

It wouldn’t surprise anyone that John Caputo would find something amiss in reading Zizek on theology, but I think he may set a record for number of rhetorical questions asked in a short space:

Žižek doesn’t think there is a God himself who dies. Never was. The treatment is over when we realize that. I am also overwhelmed by a compelling sense of how uncompelling is either view. What exactly is the compelling need we are under to agree with either one of these positions or to choose between them? Why do we have to love either one of these monsters? Why do we need the notion that at the metaphysical base of things there lies either a primordial peace or a primordial violence — or a primordial anything, at least one that we could ever get our hands on? Why do the multiple repetitions of which our lives are woven need to be cast either as a downbeat and futile search that will be always frustrated or as underwritten by an uplifting metaphysics of participation? Why inscribe either absolute contradiction or absolute peace at the heart of things instead of ambience and ambiguity? Why chaos instead of the unsteady chaosmotic process of unprogrammed becoming? Why not see life as a joyful but risky business that may turn out well or badly, a repetition forwards in which I produce what I am repeating, in which I invent what I am discovering, but in which I am divested of any assurances about what lies up ahead — let alone deep down at the metaphysical base of things? Žižek’s notion of the contingency of necessity is close to this insight, but he insists on treating the Deep Trauma like some Metaphysical Meteor that cratered downtown Ljubljana. Is this not just the search for a transcendental signifier all over again? Why do we have to believe that something deep is out there but alas it is lost and we are hopelessly searching for it? That is repetition as reproduction. Why not rather say that by searching for it, it is there, produced by the repetition? The repetition is generative, engendering, positing something not merely as a dream but by the dream, the active dreaming of the dream, the dreaming up, which gathers momentum as we dream, repeat, desire, pray and weep, over the coming of something whose coming we are engendering, or is being engendered, as the very structure of desire. Dreaming is the pharmakon, a risky supplement, a joy that flows through our veins that is liable to poison us if we are not careful. Nothing is lost from which we have been traumatically cut off. This is just desire desiring, what desire does, how it works, its happy work, and if  

desire is a fault, it is a happy fault. Why not adopt the post-metaphysical idea that gives up searching for all such primordial underlying somethings or other? Why must we posit either a primordial loss or a primordial gain? Is there some reason we get only two choices, either God as an illusion spun by the objet petit a or God as the Alpha and Omega, the really real and really Big A? Is this not simply metaphysics spinning its wheels all over again, a point Milbank supports when he says neither of these views can be proven (153)? All that is truly given is a promise/risk, what Derrida calls a “perhaps” not reducible to one or the other. Why must we believe that underneath it all is something profoundly productive or destructive? Why not simply confess that the “matter” that really matters is the risky matter of life, life marked by an unknowable and fundamental undecidability, an ineradicable secret or mystery which reminds us that we do not know who we are, that we do not know what is (deeply) what or what we truly want, yet to make this confession without nostalgia and without despair and without theological triumphalism but with a joyful sense of discovery? I readily agree that something important is contracted in the name of Jesus, that this name harbors a marvelous mysterious event, a monstrous monstration, a perplexing paradoxical poetics. All this I locate in the reversals that mark the Kingdom of God, where the first are last, the outsiders are in and the insiders are out. But I do not see that this marvel must amount to either Žižek’s void or Milbank’s metaphysics of participation. Rather the marvel is the promise/risk of mercy and love, of compassion and forgiveness, and that is all we know on earth and all we need to know. Does anyone really think the Sermon on the Mount has anything to do with any of this bombastic metaphysical tilting and jousting?

Well, do you? 

From Žižek to Badiou to Benedict XVI…

Saw this sentence in The New Republic’s Review (a bit delayed) of the Pope’s Caritas in Veritate:

According to Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, we are in the midst of a “late capitalist . . . countdown to social dissolution and the triumph of infinite exchangeability and timeless, atomized desire.” The only way to interrupt this countdown, he suggests, is for all of us to pattern our actions on divine love. A number of intellectuals–ranging from former Maoists such as Alain Badiou to dialectical materialists such as Slavoj Žižek–have made similar diagnoses, and proposed similar solutions. And to their company must now be added the pope.

I suppose I’m used to seeing combination that move ideologically from far right to anarchist left, but if we’re getting down to a range of Badiou to Žižek, maybe that’s an ideological field on which we can play. And FYI, I stand with all those protesting the fact that this is the first papal encyclical not published in Latin. When I was in Rome, though, I did pick up an English copy for my dad, putting the two book marks I got him on particularly “lefty” sentiments. Also, I don’t think Badiou is a “former” Maoist.



Conference in Ghana * February 3-5, 2010

The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy-West Africa is
coordinating a conference on *Intercultural Philosophy in Africa* with
The Department of Classics and Philosophy, University of Cape Coast,
Ghana on February 3-5, 2010.

Please contact Professors J. C.A Agbakoba:  and
Raymond N. Osei: and for related issues (see the

More from Posner

I think this says all we need to know, beyond the arguments from Krugman on “fresh water” free-marketers, about the plight of the economic profession:
[Keyne’s The General Theory] is an especially difficult read for present-day academic economists, because it is based on a conception of economics remote from theirs. This is what made the book seem “outdated” to Mankiw–and has made it, indeed, a largely unread classic. (Another very distinguished macroeconomist, Robert Lucas, writing a few years after Mankiw, dismissed The General Theory as “an ideological event.”) The dominant conception of economics today, and one that has guided my own academic work in the economics of law, is that economics is the study of rational choice.

Neuroenhancement, or Prosthesis at the Origin

I borrow that title’s Stiegler formulation more to ask a question. Now, there’s finally been some work (Malabou’s work comes to mind, so to speak) on neurophysiology and its connection to various strands in Continental philosophy. Malabou’s work is expressly a neurotransmitter_homestarting point, not a fully developed theory. And I’ve seen some people moving in Stiegler’s direction in terms of a technics, but on the other hand, I’m not sure what to make of the new market in neuroehancers and I’d be happy if anyone pointed me in the direction of good philosophical replies to the subject. A recent article explain Michael Sandel’s position, which we can take to be the rudimentary and non-surprising default position of current common sense:

Biomedical technologies hold out the prospect that we can make our children taller, more musical, or faster on the athletics field. But it’s a drive towards perfectionism that Sandel urges us to resist. He wants us to appreciate what he calls the “gifted” character of human powers and achievements. It’s hubristic, he says, to try to exert dominion over all of nature, including human nature. Parents love their offspring for who they are. There’s a contingency to how children turn out, a fact that’s integral to the sort of parental love we admire.

The value of contingency does not just apply to one’s offspring. Among Sandel’s illustrations is sport. It might, for a time, be enthralling to watch a biologically souped-up baseball player whack every pitch for a home run but, predicts Sandel, we’d soon tire of it as “our admiration for the achievement shifts from the player to the pharmacist.” And underlying this shift is our desire to see the display of “natural” human gifts that might involve hard work and training but not the short cut of an injection or a gene manipulation.

Obviously we need a more robust thinking on this, one that takes into account all the ways in which we enhance ourselves, or perhaps “always already” do. (My beverage of choice, coffee, comes to mind.) What is the limit at which is becomes acceptable to perform such enhancements? Let’s face it, this stuff is already all over the place at our universities, though adderallthere hasn’t been all that much discussion among faculties about it. I’m not the only one, I’m sure, who comes upon strange discussions of non-ADHD students on Adderall. And that’s only one of the drugs now and soon on the market. My worry is the new norm will be the wide acceptance of this once these students are older. I know law students who use this stuff to prep for coursework and I worry PhD students won’t be far behind in taking it (if not already, I guess). There are already studies on the change in the way one “thinks” while using these medications (less creative, more “robotic”) but I don’t have much more to say than that I don’t have much more to say. But we do need to think, well, more creatively about this, so that our analogies can do better than baseball analogies that really don’t help us think through the problematic. This is not a critique of Sandel, though I’m not a huge fan of his work, since he’s alas called on to talk about a range of topics beyond what he knows about. Besides, it seems to me that someone who could address less the normative aspects of this (don’t do it!) than its relation to other work on cyborg culture, etc., would provide more robust thinking on this, or at least more of what I’m looking for.

Why don’t Conservatives Read Liberals?

This is to switch up Mark Lilla’s complaint, which I addressed last week several times, that the left in academia doesn’t read conservatives. (I’m inclined sometimes to think that all we read are conservatives, but that’s another point.) But maybe I’ll ask what Richard Posner is doing writing at all on economics. He has written early and often on the topic, but he never picked up, let alone read the most famous book of the 20th century on the topic. And having read it, he’s converted from his Friedmanism. Note–he literally hadn’t even picked up the Keynesbook (since he had no idea what was in it, including whether or not it included a lot of mathematical formulae). Now, you’ll say to me, Philosophy in a Time of Error, he works on microeconomic theory, to which I’d say, bolderdash. If you’ve read Posner, he makes a lot of macro-economic claims:

Until last September, when the banking industry came crashing down and depression loomed for the first time in my lifetime, I had never thought to read The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, despite my interest in economics. I knew that John Maynard Keynes was widely considered the greatest economist of the twentieth century, and I knew of his book’s extraordinary reputation. But it was a work of macroeconomics–the study of economy-wide phenomena such as inflation, the business cycle, and economic growth. Law, and hence the economics of law–my academic field–did not figure largely in the regulation of those phenomena [Hi, it’s me, Philosophy in a Time of Error: what else is one to make of an economic “theory of the state”? This was central to two of his major works. What about the “minimal Homeric state”? This is well beyond what is covered in microeconomics]. And I had heard that it was a very difficult book, which I assumed meant it was heavily mathematical; and that Keynes was an old-fashioned liberal, who believed in controlling business ups and downs through heavy-handed fiscal policy (taxing, borrowing, spending); and that the book had been refuted by Milton Friedman, though he admired Keynes’s earlier work on monetarism. I would not have been surprised by, or inclined to challenge, the claim made in 1992 by Gregory Mankiw, a prominent macroeconomist at Harvard, that “after fifty years of additional progress in economic science, The General Theory is an outdated book. . . . We are in a much better position than Keynes was to figure out how the economy works.”

I love that perfect ideological formulation: “I had heard that… it had been refuted…” No one who has read Posner, I think, could doubt his acumen and ability to get through Keyne’s work. Needless to say, whatever leftists may want to critique in Keynes (a far right winger by other standards), he’s a far better choice of predictive value than Mankiw (whose writings on this are on his blog) has been on the current crisis. I know that I’m supposed to finish this with the “we argue in good faith” line about its gracious of Posner to admit, well, just what a poser he’s been on economics, but what am I to make of someone who spends a career making vast arguments about political economics (what else is liberatarianism but macro-economic in many of its central claims?) without having at least going beyond what he had heard? Does this change his views on using market-based approaches to ethics? What is one to make now about his past ouevre on philosophy of law as it pertains to economics? What is one to make that he heard that it didn’t follow his own political views and thus he simply ignored it?

I think it’s time we had a panel discussion, lead by Mark Lilla, on why conservative jurists don’t read liberals.