Month: January 2011

The “Fox Geezer” Syndrome

Just to throw something rather silly into the mix in the middle of some heady days politically, here’s this post on how Fox news has made your parents impossible to talk to. (Oh Dad, why can’t you stop watching it? I’m afraid to bring up the weather without hearing about the hoax of global warming…)

Back home, I mentioned to a friend over beers how much Fox my mom and dad watched, and how angry they now were about politics.

“Yours too?!” he said. “I’ve noticed the same thing with mine. They weren’t always like this, but since they retired, they’ve gotten into Fox, and you can’t even talk to them anymore without hearing them read the riot act about Obama.”

I started to wonder how common this Fox Geezer Syndrome was.

Dark Chemistry on Capitalist Realism

For those who don’t know either the blog (Dark Chemistry) or the book (Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism), that will surely be a strange title. In any case, Dark Chemistry, who seems to post about 4000 words daily, is up with a semi-review. Devin Shaw had a review here on Mark Fisher’s book. (I made comments about Capitalist Realism here.) Mark Fisher discusses it on mp3 here:


Hatred of Democracy

Since I’m teaching that text by Rancière later in the semester, it’s really nice of American political commentators providing me such ample samples of “worry” and “caution” over people flooding the streets of Egypt to demand an end to tyranny. Also, really brilliant of the American cable networks to focus on the color of Obama’s tie or whatever, instead of getting some of the most gripping political footage since 1989.

Aljazeera English live stream here.

Meanwhile, protests are back on throughout the UK over tuition cuts.

As thousands of people joined student rallies in Manchester and London today to protest against public spending cuts and the rise in tuition fees, the National Union of Students leader Aaron Porter had to be escorted by police away from angry crowds calling for his resignation.

Critical Review of Straussian Book

In his review in the NDPR of Richard G. Stevens, Political Philosophy: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, 2011, 309pp., $27.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780521169011, Peter Simpson takes Stevens to task for his Straussianism. There are lots of good reasons (some mentioned by Stevens) for taking on the claims of Strauss vis-a-vis Plato and much else, but this is not one of them:

Stevens is repeating old wives’ tales, specifically Diotima’s old wife’s tale from Plato’s Symposium. The Symposium is about eros, not philia, and if either of these words connotes the desiring of something one does not yet have, it is eros and not philiaEros means erotic love, which is very often a longing for what one does not have; philia means friendship and is the enjoyment of what one already has. Friendship also betokens equality, so a philosopher is literally someone who is equal friends with wisdom, or someone who is wise and is not merely longing for it (Aristotle, Metaphysics1.2). In the Symposium Plato is engaging in a sort of joke, making it seem as if ‘philosophy’ has been misspelled for ‘erosophy’. He makes the joke clearer at the end by introducing an erosopher, Alcibiades, someone who had eros for wisdom or at least for a wise man, and could never get it or him, and who was, as a result, no philosopher. Has Stevens missed the joke? Or is he, à la Heidegger perhaps, translating Greek terms the way he wants (because meaning is no more unchanging than being)?

Mainly, this is by way of claiming that if philosophy is about seeking wisdom, but not having it, then Strauss has set us adrift on a sea of relativism.

My point: one should not cite Aristotelian distinctions (for example, among sophia, nous, epistemê, etc., or philia and eros) when reading back into Plato, and then claim someone else doesn’t get the joke. There’s an irony here, deeper than the irony of trying to get the last word on all the levels of irony in the Symposium, and thus to claim the final say on its final punch line. What’s notable is that the reviewer says this right after critiquing Heidegger’s notion of historicity, since whatever one thinks of Heidegger, what’s left out of this discussion is a sense of history: Plato’s and particularly the Socratic discourses on the meaning of philosophy is different from Aristotle’s (or indeed with later views that might indeed define philosophia differently). I wish not to defend the Straussians—far from it—but I don’t like mocking another’s reading of a text that shows itself to miss the point: is sophia in Plato or Socrates simply about having knowledge? Is Plato not, as Pierre Hadot among many others, claiming that the task of philosophy in these early-ish works is a performance related to certain virtue (not knowledge, since one would miss how Plato uses sophia, which, again, is not the same as Aristotle—not least because he didn’t set out his terms as well as Aristotle does in, say, Book VI of the Ethics).

If philo-sophia is about having or being with knowledge, then how to make any sense of the Apology (knowing what one doesn’t know)? How to make sense of the central relation between aretê and sophia in Socrates, as given to us especially in Plato’s early works (since the reviewer’s definition would connect to a very theoretical and less practical understanding of sophia)? If you are going to cite Plato’s Seventh Letter, as this author does to support his contention of the implication of philosophy and theology, how can one leave aside claims made there by Plato about the doing and the practice of philosophy—the so-called “wonderful path”?

In other words, the reviewer wants to make the claim that holding to the belief—which he describes as Nietzschean—that philosophy as a seeking of wisdom, without necessarily having it, is somehow “Heideggerian” or “Straussian,” though his reading means that one would have to ignore the trajectory of Plato’s thought and the play within the text he cites (the Symposium) back and forth between the use of philia and eros. That is, one should not argue that for a long time, indeed for the longest time, in what gets dubbed Western philosophy, wisdom has meant having a certain knowledge, and then scorn others who would “believe” the Diotima myth, the latter of which is indeed is in line with the practice of Socrates’ dialogical method and the claims he makes in Plato’s early dialogues; this reviewer would have it be that one is able to declare, once and for all, that philosophy has always been the same (Plato, Aristotle–what’s the difference?), with the upshot that it must remain so (in a very limited definition as being with knowledge, with knowledge understood not as know-how). (Thus, I suppose, Leiter’s approving link to the review.)

Eric Schliesser picks up on another “myth”:

This review is an instance of the common bashing of what I like to call “vulgar Strausianism.” But one line in the review caught my attention: “He [the author of the book under review–ES] does not mention that Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, thereby proving himself Son of God and Christ.” In context the reviewer might be interpreted as claiming that this is what Christians believe. But after repeated re-reading I am not so sure. Given that the Leitmotif of the review is Straussian myths, this may be a case of the kettle calling the pot…

I will stop myself now, since I have to get to a backlog of emails, though I could spend forever on the meaning of philosophia as it passes through the Platonic discourse. But lastly, the reviewer doesn’t get that philosophia should not be defined by looking at Aristotle’s discussion of friendship (philia), which he implicitly imports here, since the Greeks long had words involving philo- that related to areas of study or objects, not just people, which is the definition he cites: thus philotimia, which was a vain affection for and seeking of honors. And thus philosophia, understood in this latter sense, would indeed fit well with this meaning as a way of living or a being-without in the Symposium, which in turn fits with a usage common in the fifth century BCE.

Johnston Blogging


Two things:

1. First, there’s Dark Chemistry’s overview of Adrian’s contribution to the Speculative Turn:

[A]gainst Meillassoux’s anit-Zizekian tendencies in which “Žižek tries to smuggle atheism into Christianity via the immanent critique of a Hegelian dialectical interpretation of Christianity for the sake of a progressive radical leftist politics of Communism, Meillassoux, whether knowingly or unknowingly, smuggles idealist religiosity back into materialist atheism via a non-dialectical ‘materialism’” (113). Instead of an argument against religious ideologies Johnston tells us Meillassoux’s After Finitude with its “divinology and emergent life ex nihilo are rigorously consequent extensions of the speculative materialism” which it subtends within its stringent rationalistic speculations (113). In a final summation in which he praises Meillassoux for the many ” striking virtues, especially in terms of its crystalline clarity and ingenious creativeness, and deserves credit for having played a role in inspiring some much-needed discussions in contemporary Continental philosophy”, he dams the project of the book’s core argument as being unduly religious in intent “at least for any atheist materialism concerned with various modes of scientific and political praxis” (113). And, in one final admonition Johnston states that “sober vigilance is called for against the danger of dozing off into a speculative, but no less dogmatic, slumber.” (113).

It’s been a while since I’ve read Adrian’s contribution, but I recall that his major claim is that Meillassoux’s work should not be read as some return to science, since it’s a metaphysics that ignores any empirical claims about existence (thus the long discussion of Hume). Hägglund makes a similar claim, but from the side of biology. It’s also notable, too, that Meillassoux’s project is often a wonderful heuristic for getting at the problems of Badiou, since the lacunae in Meillassoux usually have an analogue in Badiou’s system, but in the latter’s work it’s harder to tell given the larger apparatus.

Also, when is someone going to finally write that paper connecting Meillassoux and Richard Kearney’s possible God? It’s just sitting out there…

2. Adrian Johnston also has a NDPR review up of Fabio Vighi’s On Žižek’s Dialectics: Surplus, Subtraction, Sublimation, Continuum, 2010, 189pp., $120.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780826464439.

At one point, he writes:

Furthermore, I wholeheartedly endorse Vighi’s diagnosis of the Left’s fatal failure to develop and deploy a “politics of jouissance” (pp. 142, 153). As I put it in this exact vein in the preface to Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations, “A perplexing, clumsy inability to master the affect-laden aesthetics of mass-media politics is merely one of many sad failings of today’s Left. Where is its Leni Riefenstahl?” In other words, Vighi and I, following in Žižek’s footsteps, agree that wholly ceding emotive and visceral aestheticizations of politics to the Right, hastily deeming any such gestures as unacceptably “(proto-)fascist,” is a grave mistake. An inability to grab people by their guts, to put it crudely, and mobilize their powerful feelings and impulses hobbles the publicly visible representatives of leftism in the late-capitalist universe…

I recall reading that in Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformation and while I’d be the first to complain about a number of problems in representations of leftism, I’m not sure what this references: am I missing a vast literature suggesting mixing politics and aesthetics, if not a certain affectivity, is inherently “(proto-)fascist”? I mean that question in a  genuine sense. Leaving aside the Rawlsian and Habermasian procedural dramas, are there really people out there saying, no, what we need is less affect, less attention to what Aristotle long ago claimed was missing from Plato’s polis, namely a certain hedonê arising from an affection (philein) of politics (II.i.15-18).

UPDATE: Johnson and Vighi previously went back and forth over Johnston’s Political Transformation in the International Journal of Zizek Studies:

On Practicing Theory: Some Remarks on Adrian Johnston’s Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations ENGLISH
Fabio Vighi
Meta-Dialectics and the Balancing Acts of Žižekianism: A Response to Fabio Vighi ENGLISH
Adrian Owen Johnston

And my own thoughts on Johnston’s book is here:

Change We Can’t Believe In: Adrian Johnston on Badiou, Žižek, & Political Transformation          ENGLISH