Month: June 2010

Popular Companions…

This is nice description from a new Notre Dame Philosophical Review of the Cambridge Companion to Ancient Political Thought:

Here is an attempt to give a scholarly overview of thinking (not just philosophy) about politics all the way from Homeric Greece to the Stoicism of Rome, covering well over 1000 years of intellectual history.

I look forward to reading the work, but the gravity of pulling all of this together is one that I wouldn’t think I could pull off… We know the fetish, to use a loose word, Heidegger and especially Arendt had for the Greek polis. This is why Derrida  on the notion of the archive, despite the love/hate people writing me seem to have with him, is helpful, since too many think of the archive as this stable directive to the essays they write (no worry, dear reader, not you).

Two Things on Levi Bryant’s Post

Bryant has a post on normativity relating to a discussion of Bennett. But out of all that, I will note, he’s right that HBO’s Gasland is an excellent documentary.

(I also saw the Cove, which along with the ongoing news from the Gulf means that Freelancer Extraordinaire and I would love some good ecological news. Are polar bears bouncing back? Something? The Cove, inadvertently, is a more “ambiguous” project: it reports on efforts to shut down a “cove” where dolphins are slaughtered in the thousands each year. The efforts are led by Ric O’Barry, who tosses off questionable factoids and seems to have been driven a bit unhinged after years of work on behalf of dolphins. The movie has several problems—not least a cultural deaf ear—not least of which is a shift of focus from the undeniable suffering to mercury levels in dolphin meat. The whole analysis is based, at least on screen, from one test of one piece of meat found in one fish market. Not that mercury levels aren’t worrisome in seafood more generally, but I wanted to ask, well, hey I like the dolphins and don’t care about selfish reasons not to eat them, and, wait, forget the dolphins—maybe there’s a larger picture here of environmental devastation that has them swimming in toxic levels of mercury. In other words, it’s distracting to the ethical trust of the movie and it’s where it’s claims are most tangential.)

What was my other point again about Bryant? It was going to be something about Luhmann, but I realize that it would take me a bit long to formulate, but in a word, I’m not as convinced as Bryant, though it’s worth revisiting his work. Because looking at the stacks of books surrounding me, I’m thinking, that’s what I need: more reading.

Bennett and Ethics (Vibrant Matter Reading Group)

First, I haven’t seen Toy Story 3, but Scu mentions it, so I should note that I heard David Edelstein’s review of the movie on NPR’s Fresh Air, and it may be one of the first SR movie reviews, specifically talking relations to non-human things and the possibility of their relations beyond humans…

I don’t have the time to dive into all the questions Scu raises about normativity and the non-human world, but I did want to mention one thinker not brought into the mix of the reading group who is particularly interesting on this. I know Heidegger’s 29/30 course on animality would seem the last place to go—though there is a particular pleasure one can have reading his tortuous logic for why the animals has a not-having of the world—but he specifically discusses Driesch and von Uexküll, the first discussed more at length in Bennett. And his point is to try to conceive a non-mechanist description of nature, and non-behaviorist accounts of animality (even in their “disinhibiting ring.”) Finally, he needs to define “life”—which, let’s be honest, is the crucial normative question here—and writes, “Only something that is capable, and remains capable, is alive” (237/343). I guess, given his discussion of ethos early on in the book, this would be a capability ethics avant la lettre.

I wanted to bring him into the conversation, though I’m just going to leave it there for now. But I would only point out on thing further. These questions of Scu’s (in his post on all the ethical dilemmas) are non-living and inhuman in Heidegger’s precise sense: they render us incapable: all these disseminations of questions do not, however, paralyze us, but makes all such decisions possible. Where others want a deontology or a utilitarianism—an end to all the questions, a sovereign “having the last word”— opening up these questions is itself an ethos, a non-living, non-human ethos since it is the place of our own incapabilities… Where people want to mock and ask if I mourn for my salad, it’s bad faith in the Sartrean sense: we deny the fundamental decisions always made.

Scu, you surprise me…

Of course, I’m joking. Scu over at Critical Animal hasn’t has written about Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter and noted, rightly, that she makes a distinction between other matter and humans based on her own “conatus” driving her there. I read this, of course, as actually, an interesting “passive” description that she is attempting elsewhere… But Scu mentions he hasn’t solved this problem either… Which reminds me of the running joke that I yell out to Freelance Extraordinaire (who is usually typing somewhere near me doing here own writing/editing), yup, still haven’t discovered the key to X philosophical problem that has plagued us for millennia. (There is a specific topic, but I’ll introduce that to the blog when I’m much further along.) So, yup, Scu hasn’t figured out the human/non-human distinction in terms of values. After all, it’s an easy ontological claim, and obviously also less difficult on any supposed human/animal binary. But a flat ethics? (This is not to deny such a thing, but that articulating it, as Scu suggests, is not a minor project for a reading group post.)

Which brings me to the point: it happens that I was rereading Heidegger’s 29/30 course on boredom and the human/animal/rock distinction, and there he does cover Driesch, as does Bennett, and offer a longer critique of mechanism, while also trying to critique vitalism. This leads me to think that I’ll should just put something together on this, but Heidegger’s 29/30 course, which for all its problems, is really insightful on the question of “life” and its meaning, which is really what is under discussion here, along with life’s “capacity-to-be” and its “self-encircling” and “drive [Trieb],” in a word, its conatus, is dealt with there.

But enough, it’s late here, but it’s a quick way of shouting out to Scu (and Ivan as well) for great comments on this part–and to which I’ll return…