Month: March 2010

American In Paris…

Tonight it’s off to see some Gershwin with my dad and my son. I should say that one of my joys of parenting is somehow getting my son to agree to go what he just calls “opera,” which he just wants to avoid. I’ve been taking him since he was relatively young, not least because babysitting costs made it a “get him or ticket or don’t go” approach. His favorite was when he was seven and my dad insisted on driving out to Ohio for the Wooster College Light Opera company’s summer doings: basically, a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan and early 20th century stuff like the Music Man, all smooshed in over three days. Brad was doing two shows a day with us–he really liked the Music Man—and I’m sure he’s going to present me with a therapist bill for this one day. But if I can’t bring him to cultural events (however “culture” is relative here) and have him say “but…Dad!” then really, what kind of parent am I?

The Pope and the Step Too Far

There’s an Op-ed in the Times today by John Allen about Ratzinger’s place in the pedophilia scandals: “Nobody at the Vatican did more to confront abuse than the future pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.” Given the nature of the charges, I’m loathe to say anything without looking at this quite a bit more. (It is notable how this is seen in Europe as a great crisis for the Pope, but it’s not much of a conversation thus far in the U.S.) But one can say that Allen goes a bit too far that somehow the pope was someone braving the tide of history around him and thus should be congratulated for his role. Invariably there was bound to be an article like this, but then you end up with quite unCatholic paragraphs like this:

What we are left with are two distinct views of the scandal. The outside world is outraged, rightly, at the church’s decades of ignoring the problem. But those who understand the glacial pace at which change occurs in the Vatican understand that Benedict, admittedly late in the game but more than any other high-ranking official, saw the gravity of the situation and tried to steer a new course.

“Those who understand”–what a classic phrase for ethical relativists. Why not just say “everyone was doing it”? Or “he was just following orders?” Also, why not confront that common surmise is that the Pope reacted only once the “glacial pace” was being outpaced by public outrage–and his “new course” was reaction less to moral duty than public relations? I raise this because as the crisis deepens in the coming weeks, we’ll see this strange dynamic at work: writers like Allen will have to suggest (implicitly)–the glacial pace that no one expects in the face of our moral duties–that the structure of the church was rotten to its core in order to begin to absolve the current Pope.  I don’t have much to say about the particular cases involved in the current crisis and Ratzinger’s own responsibility, but I do know what “responsibility” means and it isn’t the case that one can claim one was good simply since one wasn’t the worst of the bunch. Hopefully, we’ll see writers on this who do much better.

Fight Clubbing

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but when I did see Fight Club, I thought it was pretty darn good. (This is a great post that reminded me of this.) I remember one of my friends in grad school said they thought it was “fascist,” which then turned out to be something people said often enough about the film. If this was a movie about the wonders of fighting as such, and how the men of our time had to become vigilantes, then I could begin to see its problematic plot (though not that it would fascist, which is just a way of saying “I’ve given up on my political tools for analysis”). But generations now of my students have really liked the movie, so it’s better to address how it does depict marshall values as a form of insanity.

Larval Two-Step

Larval is up with a post responding to the use of narratives in works of realism. This is great time to raise this question, since it’s come up in my SR class and after Harman, we turn to some of Levi’s work. For what it’s worth, I have other arguments that I would use regarding the question of language and I find Levi’s argument here (but not elsewhere) less than convincing. Correlationism isn’t using a two-step, but actually has a more complicated dance with reality. That doesn’t mean I agree, but one can’t just make correlationists into magical thinkers. Levi writes:

This two-step consists of 1) pointing out that x is a necessary condition for y (the signifier, narrative, signs, etc), and that therefore 2) there is no y (in the ontological sense), without x. Move 1 is perfectly legitimate. It’s move 2 where all the problems begin.

But of course, from Kant on down, no one seriously argues this, and even Hegel can’t be brought in here, since there’s much more conceptually going on in terms of asking about the speculative movement itself. But no one argues “there is no y (in the ontological sense) without x.” Ok, maybe somebody at some point does, but the claim is that “there is no y (in the epistemological sense) without x.” That’s quite a more respectable move, and that’s why Larval is critiquing philosophies of access, and is ultimately right to do so. But they’re about “access,” and thus they’re not arguing that there is only y with some given x; they are saying that when we discuss y, how we access “y” inherently filters through the mode of access, just as I don’t expect the pasta to get through the drainer: I get only water. Now, we can then work through the moves that Nancy uses in Sense of the World in his essay on the “différance of the real,” or Meillassoux in After Finitude, to work from the fact of access itself to ontological statements about the real, but I don’t think we can simply be done by suggesting that correlationists think they are creating being by naming it, which is the worst form of nominalism and magical thinking. In the end, Meillassoux reifies the phenomenal realm (the “stability” thesis of After Finitude), but that’s another matter. But it’s the fact that the correlationist argues precisely that they are not making ontological statements (the in-itself is left alone) that allows Meillassoux’s project to begin.

Another way of putting all of this is that I don’t think the linguistic turn was a dead end in Continental theory (just ask Lacan). That’s not to say that we make, as simplistic thinkers leftover from that turn tend to do, the claim over and over that by talking about something, we disturb the fragile flower of the real. But when we introduce language, we introduce other relations (this is a Latourian point) and ultimately, the reason why there’s not “something more” in Latour’s work to each “thing” beyond its relation is his fear that it’s only in a relation to language that a thing is said to be a chair (instead of a set of relations) or something else. In other words, once you remove the signifying act (or the intentional act in Husserl for that matter) it needs to be made clear just what makes a thing a thing. It’s notable that Heidegger writes the Thing essay and quickly runs into this problem and throughout the 1950s works on ever great ways of saying “language is the house of being.” I don’t think we need to go there, but there’s no denying that there is a performative power to naming, that a thing unrelated previously gets related through and in language. This is Latour’s whole reasoning for Pasteur’s work on bacteria and its non-existence prior to his discovery. Now, I think that’s wrong (bacteria don’t just have a linguistic relation and obviously had relations prior to 1864), but in doing a realism, one must not dismiss language’s role (this is not pointed at Levi, who does exactly this in numerous places); otherwise you’re likely simply to have a descriptive physics.

Sentient

Scu asks, and he receives:

A. adj.

1. That feels or is capable of feeling; having the power or function of sensation or of perception by the senses.

1632 J. GUILLIM Heraldry III. xxiv. (ed. 2) 250 Forasmuch as God would that the faculties both intelligent and sentient should predominate in the head [etc.]. a1676 HALE Prim. Orig. Man. I. ii. (1677) 56 This acting of the sentient Phantasie is performed..by a presence of sense, as the Horse is under the sense of hunger, and that without any formal Syllogism presseth him to eat. 1733 CHEYNE Eng. Malady I. viii. §3 (1734) 71 The Nerves..propagate this Vibration..to the intelligent or sentient Principle in the Brain. 1846 GROTE Greece I. xiii. (1862) I. 197 [The legend] ascribes to the ship sentient powers. 1865 TYNDALL Fragm. Sci. (1879) I. ii. 73 Thus is sentient man acted on by Nature. 1879 LEWES Probl. Life & Mind Ser. III. I. 8 We can define it [the relation of Mind to Life] by analytically distinguishing certain functions as sentient from other functions as nutrient.1632 J. GUILLIM Heraldry III. xxiv. (ed. 2) 250 Forasmuch as God would that the faculties both intelligent and sentient should predominate in the head [etc.]. a1676 HALE Prim. Orig. Man. I. ii. (1677) 56 This acting of the sentient Phantasie is performed..by a presence of sense, as the Horse is under the sense of hunger, and that without any formal Syllogism presseth him to eat. 1733 CHEYNE Eng. Malady I. viii. §3 (1734) 71 The Nerves..propagate this Vibration..to the intelligent or sentient Principle in the Brain. 1846 GROTE Greece I. xiii. (1862) I. 197 [The legend] ascribes to the ship sentient powers. 1865 TYNDALL Fragm. Sci. (1879) I. ii. 73 Thus is sentient man acted on by Nature. 1879 LEWES Probl. Life & Mind Ser. III. I. 8 We can define it [the relation of Mind to Life] by analytically distinguishing certain functions as sentient from other functions as nutrient.

b. Conscious or percipient of something.

2. Phys. Of organs or tissues: Responsive to sensory stimuli.

3. Characterized by the exercise of the senses.

B. a. absol. That which has sensation or feeling. b. n. One who or something which has sensation.

Hence {sm}sentiently adv.