Month: November 2011

Bad Student Writing

Via Leiter and some Facebook posts, there’s this blog for bad student writing. I tend not to like the politics of picking on certain students’ writing: it’s fine around the so-called water cooler, but are things really worse than during eras of huge illiteracy? Are we hearkening back to some era in which student writing was good?

Anyway, speaking of a previous era, when I was an undergraduate, there was supposedly an annual competition called the Dick Hart awards in the SUNY SB philosophy department for worst student writing (awarded anonymously). The story goes that a confused prof of modern philosophy was wondering who was this scholar Dick Hart that was cited numerous times in a lengthy student paper. You can see the punchline coming (it was Descartes) but yeah it’s important to read the texts you’re writing about.

Resigned to It…

This week has brought the American newscaster Keith Olbermann demanding the resignation of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, then we have Nathan Brown’s call for U.C. Chancellor Linda P. B.Katehi (last seen here being shamed while on a perp walk to her car) today.

I wonder about the history of resignations. One imagines it goes back to court courtesies, and the roots are in the the Latin resignare. But in these cases, it’s not like asking a CEO to resign (in lieu of firing); it’s an statement of one’s own powerlessness: I must ask you (a mayor or Chancellor) to resign since only you have the power to take you from that office–it won’t come from elsewhere. Thus instead of impeachment proceedings in New York or a similar move by the Regents of the UC system, you have to rely on someone to fall on his or her sword. In any case, there must be an interesting history of this technique since it’s akin to prompting a confession of one’s failure (as opposed to simply removing from office) as more powerful indication of that failure’s truth.

While I’m at it, Glenn Greenwald is up with a post that captures a lot of what I’ve been thinking about this–it’s all of a piece with the militarization of local police forces, including campus police–all in the name of the safety and security of a populace to be cowed into submission. Thus we have the state of sovereignty as it operates today.

Scu hates people

He posts the following:

I went to a lecture yesterday on Levinas, Kierkegaard, and Locke. I asked the speaker a question about potential limits of the phenomenological basis of Levinas’ ethics in regards to beings who are not yet (the ethics of fighting global warming for those who do not yet exist), and also I asked about what happens when there is a disagreement about being called by the face of the other, specifically about animals. The speaker began his response this way:

“A French philosopher, I don’t remember whom, once said that loving nature is really hatred of humanity.” And the answer went downhill from there. A few things: (1) I assumed the speaker was referring to Luc Ferry, but when I checked, I realized Luc Ferry is quoting Marcel Gauchet. (2) I am honestly shocked every time I run into an educated person who does not believe in global warming. (3) This seems like a good time to remind people about this post.

I can’t tell whether the person is reacting to the bit about global warming or, more likely to me, the discussion of animals. First, that’s a great rhetorical trick…just drag out the “Famous French philosopher said (whom I, uh, can’t remember right now)” as a way of a put-down.

But even weirder: this is standard fare for discussions of Levinas. He wants to say both that the Other as such is wholly other, unique, and non-subsumable under a form of knowledge, and he wants to say the other is human. But there is no a priori rule one can put into place, given his radical claims for alterity, that would have one always already identify otherness  as human, as non-animal, and so on.

This is a good time to raise a general hermeneutic point: if you want to see where a philosopher’s own discourse must efface itself, one usually can do no better than try to pin down where they place the human/animal distinction, which is one that they can make stick only by wounding the heart of their work.


Too Bad It Wasn’t Beyond Tolerance Tuesday…

As we’ve seen at Berkeley this week and now at U.C. Davis, we have administrators who both want to be liberal and also, you know, permit the police to pepper spray UC students. One pictures the following life itinerary: in the 60s/early 70s, you battled the man, then you got a teaching post, then worked your way up the administrative ladder, then wanted to still talk like you’re battling the man, even if you are the entrenched power calling in the police.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Kahtel’s most well known initiative to date was her “civility project,” which includes “Beyond Tolerance Tuesday” (that just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) The Wendy Brown critique just writes itself, doesn’t it?

But the bigger picture is this: we have seen in the “no touch torture” and water boarding discussions of the mid-aughts how American leaders talk like sadistic, abusive husbands: as long as it doesn’t leave a mark, it’s apparently okay. Thus we get the pepper spraying and then, of course, the protesters are “resisting” and out come the batons…


Society and Space posts on the Occupy Movement

Some prominent theorists have weighed in…

ANANYA ROY “Occupy the Future”

EDUARDO MENDIETA “Occupy: to dwell in the space of attentive solicitude”

JULIET FALL “Translations in the city”

DEBORAH BIRD ROSE “Convivial Activism”

CYNTHIA WEBER’S short film from the early days of Occupy Wall Street “Occupylujah”

More will be published soon at

Clojure Docs:

Usage: (/ x) (/ x y) (/ x y & more) 

If no denominators are supplied, returns 1/numerator, else returns numerator divided by all of the denominators.

Birmingham on Kahn’s book on Schmitt and Sovereignty

I’ll lift this from the comments since I didn’t notice it down there for a few days. Peg, from whom I’ll always be learning, sends this in about Paul Kahn’s comments (he had a response up at Immanent Frame over criticisms of his Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty ), to which I responded more or less viscerally, rather than, you know, on the actual merits:

I think you mischaracterize Kahn’s response to his critics. Yes, he begins with a critique of those who in his mind have misquoted him and thereby attribute to him positions that are not his. Fair enough. He also goes on to respond to those who in his view read him carefully and whose critical remarks he takes very seriously. He explicitly responds carefully to Ward Blanton and Peter Gordon. To my mind, Kahn’s response to his critics is a model of how this is done. I especially like his response to Blanton and his consideration of the role love might play in imagining a new political beginning. I have been allergic to love in politics, but Kahn’s response makes me willing to at least reconsider it. Certainly one can’t ignore it given the immense influence of Rousseau and the amour propre.

I have been following Kahn’s work for some time now and find it provocative, well-argued, insightful, and among the very best in grappling with the difficult issues of sovereignty, sacrifice, violence, international law, human rights, and so on. Kahn is a serious thinker and deserves to be taken seriously. I haven’t read the book yet, but expect to learn loads from it. Of previous books, I especially like “Putting Liberalism in Its Place.” I don’t agree with everything of course, but always learn a great deal.