Articles of Interest

Clovis

Clovis became for some reason a figure of mine–he was great in working on sovereignty: barbarian and Latinized, pagan and Christian…but most of all are the stories: the bashing of the head of the man who broke his vase, thus doing the same to him as he did to the vase; the use of his double-side battle-axe at a moment’s notice… and of course, his very sincere baptism. He is likely neither the first nor the last to claim God’s hand in winning a battle, and surely his example is there every Sunday during the football season when God is thanked for some victory, because, you know, He does choose sides. From Gregory of Tours (by the way, if you like Gibbons, Gregory of Tours’s Historia Francorum is …well, I don’t know what the word would be: interesting?)

The queen did not cease to urge him to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis’s army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: “Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the 1iving God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries.” And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis, saying: “Let not the people perish further, we pray; we are yours now.” And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, retired in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign.

Small side note: when Clovis first presented to his troops the idea of converting, they  are said to have literally turned their backs on him. It was only this victory–thank God–that gave him the ability to get baptized and then later baptize en masse his troops.

Digging Maoism

In a short review of Amiri Baraka’s collection of essays on jazz music and American culture, Digging, which I do very much recommend, there are these highlights:

Digging collects eighty-four essays and reviews in which the poet, playwright, and critic Amiri Baraka makes an impassioned case for jazz as a central achievement of American culture… Diggingoffers a generous selection of recent writing undertaken in the same spirit of intellectual engagement, political advocacy, and ardent fandom. … His sentences reverberate with puns and allusions, echoing the structure and style of jazz itself. He also displays impressive intellectual range-in an essay titled “The Blues Aesthetic and the Black Aesthetic,” he makes reference to Nietzsche, Michael Jordan, and Arthur Murray as part of a single argument. …Baraka’s outspoken and unconventional politics might also serve as a stumbling block for some readers. Although his commitment to Marxism lends him a powerful lens for examining the socio-cultural circumstances under which jazz music has been produced, his unfortunate penchant for quoting Mao Zedong sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of his criticism.

And here I would want to have a contest for any book worth reviewing: Can one not use that same sentence and insert another thinker to the same effect. Try this game with the home edition! ” … “Heidegger’s unfortunate penchant for quoting Aristotle sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of his criticism…” Or more the point, perhaps, to reverse the dig at Digging’s maoism: “X, Y, and Z’s work on jazz has an unfortunate penchant for quoting record sales as a mark of value, like a latter day Adam Smith, which sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of their criticism…” And why the use of “sometimes” here? I would love to read, then, the part of Baraka’s book where his quoting of Mao Zedong for this author did not detract from the perceptiveness of his criticism…

Humans and Other Objects

Larval Subjects has a great post up responding to Paul Ennis’s thought experiment on the future of speculative realism, namely that there will be the eventual reactionary insight that somehow humans have been forgotten, thus offering a desolation akin to the one on offer in ecological catastrophe:

Setting that aside, I think an additional point worth making is that today we simply cannot talk about the human without talking about objects. As Latour tirelessly argues, the great sin of modernity was to try and produce a schism between the world of nature entirely independent of humans and the world of the cultural entirely independent of nature. The problem is that the world in which we live is a world in which we’re constantly enmeshed in imbroglios with objects of all sorts. To understand ourselves is, in part, to understand these imbroglios with objects. Yet what do we in fact find in so much cultural and critical theory? We find a bracketing of objects so as to get at that which is specifically human– norms, cultural significations, ethics, politics, and so on. 

Agreed. Writing as someone whose work at times has been deeply embedded in those “bracketers,” I can say that killing off the beast of humanism hasn’t worked out all that well. Surely there is someone dusting off their old attacks on the anti-humanism of Derrida, et al., and simply finding and replacing “Derrida, Foucault,…” with “Meillassoux, Harman…” I would only add that Meillassoux’s notion of the subject, for example, is rather classical (a point I make with a bit more subtlety in my recent Pli article). But more importantly, what SR offers  is a thinking that would call on us to avert the very catastrophes that would make up the moral blackmail no doubt coming soon.

Call it the argument from catastrophe, in which you cite the real possibility of global environmental devastation (in a previous era it would have been the nuclear holocaust) and then accuse X figure of basically wanting that through some theoretical apparatus. In any event, what is exciting about the work in SR is how it meets up with work in environmental studies and animal ethics, to name but two areas, which have long argued for getting out of the human as a part of a larger normative project, part of which would be finding means for averting the very catastrophe in question. This is where, in a sense, I see SR going, namely connecting up with these other movements in such a way as to bolder SR’s normative accounts (such as they are). Or at least, I see these connections whenever I’m at an environmental philosophy conference.