Month: February 2011

NDPR Article on Sloterdijk’s Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation

The review is by Duane Davis (UNC-Asheville), one of the funniest people I’ve met in the academy and also a favorite of Freelancer Extraordinaire as well. I know many good people who get a lot out of Sloterdijk, but his reactionary politics makes it hard to muster the necessary sympathy, say, to get through lots of vacuous prose to see the outlines of his Spheres project, for example. (For some reason, some of his readers—probably only reading him in English—miss this, or even, as I’ve seen in person, simply deny it.) That’s not to say there isn’t much to be done with his work and at some point, I’ll do that. It’s just that the sympathy to follow him through his discussion of bubbles or whatever in Spheres is not going to be there when you read elsewhere his vacuous and armchair discussions of Marxism or political Islam. Let me start there in Duane’s review:

Sloterdijk concludes this [third] chapter by turning his attention to the threat of political Islam to be a “potential successor to communism.” (p. 220) He states that its alluring mission, its “grandiose worldview,” and its demographic field of recruitment make Islam as effective at fomenting discontent as Marxism. (pp. 220-1) Clearly Sloterdijk reduces the significance of political Islam to the same structures he has tendentiously imposed upon all other movements only to dismiss them. Yet he goes further — dangerously further — in his rebuke of political Islam. He states that the analogy with communism has its limits.

The coming adherents of the Islamic goal of expansion do not at all resemble a class of workers and employees who unite to seize governmental power in order to put an end to their misery. Rather, they embody an agitated subproletariat or, even worse, a desperate movement of economically superfluous and socially useless people for whom there are too few acceptable positions available in their own system, even if they should get to power through coup d’état or elections. (p. 223)

Obviously, Sloterdijk reduces all aspects of Islamic culture to a univocal economic agency — one which he goes on to say manifests “an antimodern disposition and dissynchronicity with the modern world.” Apparently the crux of the matter is that he thinks Islam will lack market appeal. . .

Well, let’s count the ways this analysis has been blown apart (almost literally) by recent events in the Middle East—these “days of rage.” As elsewhere in Sloterdijk’s work, it’s hard to tell how much distance he’s putting between himself and others’ (?) views that a “subproletariat” of “economically” and “socially superfluous” people wouldn’t even know what to do with power if they should get it (even democratically: “through coup d’état or elections”–it need not matter). And who could survive his depictions of what counts as “modern” anyway? Here’s the publisher’s synopsis of the overall book:

Tracing rage from its earliest Greek articulation as Thymos in the Iliad, Sloterdijk (Critique of Cynical Reason) argues for a notion of rage both as a motivating force in man’s struggle for reward and recognition and as a foundational feature of the human understanding of time. According to the author, modernity has downplayed the primacy of rage in favor of a Freudian focus on desire as more fundamental to psychic life. These claims provide the framework for a demonstration of how rage has operated in the development of the psychopolitical history of the West, a history characterized by various attempts to save and invest rage, utilizing its force to further particular ideological ends, primarily religious and revolutionary. Though frequently hampered by excessive academic jargon and a theoretically questionable oscillation between the non-equivalent notions of Thymos and rage, the book offers a fascinating account of the historical dynamics of social development, one capable of holding a vast array of phenomena, from Biblical psalms to the 2005 Paris riots, within its purview.

I’m sure scholars of Sloterdijk will be irritated with various infelicities in Davis’s rendering, but overall, at the least, it’s a review that really offers some great phrases (especially about Sloterdijk’s concept of the a “rage bank”): regarding a point Sloterdijk makes about Sartre, he writes, “This name-calling and provocation is somehow alluring while being distracting and vacuous.” That seems about right, at least for this book.

It might have done Sloterdijk a favor to publish this work after the forthcoming English translations of the three volumes of Spheres.

He just might be in Venezuela

I thought it wasn’t possible Gaddafi was in Venezuela, but then he came out and said:

“I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs,” Gaddafi told Libyan state TV…

Cogburn is rightly worried about what is transpiring in the east, not least because those closest to Gaddafi (or were closest before defecting) are using the word genocide.

And the Fourth Reason?

Scu has a post replying to Morton’s own post on the link between the new materialisms and speculative realism and Marxism. He presents three, the tantalizingly leaves the number “4),” which is left blank. No doubt, he meant me to fill this in:

4) The fourth thing to mention would be not that Marxists (whoever they are) and realists (same) and materialists (double same) may not even be crossing over. It’s not for reasons of allergies or what-have-you but simply that people in the academy (I know, this comes as a shock) may not read often what is new in other domains until it reaches a certain critical mass. But last year as I was discussing Jane Bennett’s work with some RPR peeps, there wasn’t an allergy, and I think the Duke University collection now out from Duke on the new materialisms will broaden the field.



Running Man

This post here on running and philosophy gives me an excuse to share some quick thoughts after running my first marathon in New Orleans last weekend. (I won’t say my time, but it wasn’t horrendous; I did finish; and I didn’t need to walk or call on an ambulance for assistance… Also New Orleaneans really bring it for a marathon: the sidelines not only provided water, but also beer and donuts at various distances)

1. Don’t do it. That’s my first advice. We’ll see if I follow it. I think I got all the health benefits out of training for a half-marathon run. On the days where I did 13 or 15 mile runs, I could come home and get back to work or simply never worry about being out of breath for any other physical training. But the full marathon is just a miserable experience and so does training for it: you come home wishing to hell motrin wasn’t banned for pain relief for runner since it threatens kidney shut-down. It’s over-training and your body is telling you something when your feet look like a podiatrist’s nightmare, your legs have a weird ache that is neither a strain nor a tear, but still keeps you up at night. Also, you gain a real sympathy for the elderly: watch anyone after a marathon trying to negotiate a stairs and you’ll see what I mean.

2. Second advice: real runners do half-marathons. My colleague who went with me did a half-marathon (mostly because previous marathons had caused knee injuries), but it was noticeable that at the split-0ff where those doing the full and those doing the half went in different directions, it was the people who looked like marathon runners who were doing the half (this is a generalization). Why? Because you can run half-marathons quite a bit and thus be in really good shape. Unless you’re a pro, that’s not happening with full marathons.

3. Remember those donuts? Don’t take those donuts! Don’t take anything they offer that you haven’t tried on all your training runs.

4. This can be my bad advice: let’s say you’re a lazy academic who missed quite a few runs due to a strained quadricep—you can still finish! Don’t be nervous! Also, it’s a big crowd and you’ll be surprised by how many people walk during a marathon. I expected I would be the gimpy runner in the back behind the various gazelles. That wasn’t true.

5. Do not mistake the marathon organization’s set of flags a mile before the end for the actual finish line in the back of the park and hidden from view. This was my cruel fate: I had my music set (if you must know, Radiohead’s “Fadeout”) and I was elevating myself to that feeling you’ll think you’ll have at the finish line of a 26.2 mile race (smile across my face, legs starting to feel a bit less than three hundred pounds…). Then I got closer and realized the columns on the building in the park and the flags were not the finish line (you’d have to see it to understand why this wasn’t just wishful thinking—I wasn’t the only one). The last 1.2 miles were not fun and when I got to the end, I did not have a warm fuzzy feeling.

6. I have no training advice that you can’t get in a million books on the subject. (Typical academic: I read three books on marathon running when I started to train in the fall.) But I will say: don’t plan for a local marathon if you can swing it. Having it in New Orleans where I wasn’t going for a conference or giving a paper and not having it in San Diego meant it was much harder to cancel. If it was in SD, I’m sure my injuries would have stopped me.

Lastly, if you could have your kid (Freelancer extraordinaire took care of this) put together a poster cheering you on and text you a pic holding it while you’re running, it’s worth an extra mile or two.

Unless that mile is the one after the finish line it turns out you didn’t cross…

Debating Continental Philosophy

On a longish flight back from the Midwest, I was next to a brilliant 14-year-old who was working on his translations of the Aeneid in between moments of prepping for a future career in engineering and for his debate team. We don’t have a debate team at USD, but a few of our students have (through holes in the rules that I can’t explain) debated for other schools in the area. One thing we don’t discuss in Continental is how these are the few students who come into the university who can cite Agamben or Derrida or Foucault or critical race theory.

(I’m on the SPEP advocacy commitee the next couple of years so this seems like this would be an area where one could advocate for Continental in a certain way, but I’m not sure how: by putting Continental in touch with debate prep coaches? By leading some of these students into Continental friendly programs?)

In fact, it’s telling that if a student mentions Agamben in particular, I know immediately they’ve had a debate background. Scu, who coaches debate, probably knows much more about this and it’d be nice if he had the time to discuss this. I’m not suggesting that I think all of the arguments being used as they’ve been explained to me would pass professional muster, but one thing that’s happening, as I understand it, is that the Continental approach is mostly used by under-dog teams taking on rich East Coast private high schools. Need to take on realist accounts of nuclear proliferation? Counter with a post-colonial critique of the creation of the global south or a feminist critique of phallo-centrism as represented in the use of missile technology (I’m not making either of these up). Apparently, it throws off the better profile teams used to more standard counterarguments, which seems to match Continental’s role in the academy in general.