"Søren Kierkegaard wrote that Pietism is 'the one and only consequence of Christianity'. Praise of this sort - particularly when coupled with Kierkegaard's significant personal connections to the movement in Christian spirituality known as Pietism - would seem to demand thorough investigation. And yet, Kierkegaard's relation to Pietism has been largely neglected in the secondary literature." Christopher B. Barnett's Kierkegaard, Pietism and Holiness would thus seem to work over the same ground and back up the case of Daphne Hampson's superb Kierkegaard: Exposition & Critique, and James Rovira's paper Kierkegaard, Pietism, and Existentialism: Eighteenth-Century Pietism as the Origin of Twentieth-Century Existentialism.
Not only just Kierkegaard then, but Nietzsche (see e.g. Martin Pernet's paper Friedrich Nietzsche and Pietism; German Life and Letters, Volume 48, Issue 4, pages 474–486, October 1995) and Heidegger (see e.g. Heidegger's Religious Origins: Destruction and Authenticity by Benjamin D. Crowe) were also both heavily influenced by Pietism - but what is Pietism? I'm hoping An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe by Douglas H. Shantz sheds some fuller light...
“Unicorns exist, but the world does not.” Profesoor Markus Gabriel summarizes the argument of his recent German bestseller, Warum es die Welt nicht gibt - via Graham Harman.
Mark Rothko believed that the art of children and the work of modern painters were directly related. They were related because of their influence of “primitive” art. According to Rothko, it “transforms itself into primitivism, which is only the child producing a mimicry of himself.” (Jeffery Weiss 2000) He also observed that “the face that one usually begins with drawing is already academic. We start with color.” (Jeffery Weiss 2000) Modern artists like children who are influenced by the primitive both express a natural feeling in their best work through art that is created without mental interference. It is created out of a physical and emotional experience. It is free from intellect and no concern for the formal. He believes though that the composition itself portrays deep intellect. The research Rothko did toward this helped to move him into his development of “color field” paintings. These paintings incorporate elements from his earlier works as well as later pieces. They were greatly influenced by two important events in his life. One was the onset of World War II. The other was his reading of Friedrich Nietzsche’s, “The Birth of Tragedy”...
Read more: The Effect of Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy on Mark Rothko.
Nice set of books just out: Bloomsbury Academic Collections: Philosophy.
Includes The Tragic Philosopher: Friedrich Nietzsche by: F.A. Lea and Benedict de Spinoza: The Elements of His Philosophy by: H.F. Hallett.
"In his Lectures on Fine Art, delivered in Berlin in the 1820's, Hegel argued that art works involve a unique form of aesthetic intelligibility, and that what they rendered intelligible was the state of collective human self-knowledge across historical time. This approach to art works has been extremely influential in a number of different contexts. The question posed in this lecture is whether Hegel's approach might also be of any value in understanding the most radical revolution in the later history of art, modernism. Accordingly the attempt is to provide a Hegelian interpretation of the paintings of Éduard Manet." (Via)
Just noticed that issue 16 of PARRHESIA: A JOURNAL OF CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY (online journal "dedicated to publishing the latest work on continental philosophy, along with new translations and interviews with contemporary thinkers") is out.
Probably old news, but perhaps still worth passing along (the links below are all to PDFs)...
In the Footsteps of Hermes: The Meaning of Hermeneutics and Symbolism
Luis Garagalza, translated by Michael Marder
Crossing Ways of Thinking: On Graham Harman's System and My Own
Tristan Garcia, translated by Mark Allan Ohm
Tristan Garcia and the Thing-in-Itself
Badiou and Mallarmé: The Event and the Perhaps
Quentin Meillassoux, translated by Alyosha Edlebi
Strikes me that two big absences in current contemporary (continental) philosophy are Sartre and Althusser. Time was both occupied central roles in French thought, but the deaths of both saw their intellectual stock fall precipitously (actually, thinking about it, Althusser's stock had been falling for quite some time before he died). Sartre, I think, is due a reassessment (and note that is "reassessment" not revival; plenty to argue with and denounce in both these thinkers), as is Althusser. With big Al we do, at least, have this recently out from Verso:
Concept and Form is a two-volume monument to the work of the philosophy journal the Cahiers pour l’Analyse (1966–69), the most ambitious and radical collective project to emerge from French structuralism. Inspired by their teachers Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan, the editors of the Cahiers sought to sever philosophy from the interpretation of given meanings or experiences, focusing instead on the mechanisms that structure specific configurations of discourse, from the psychological and ideological to the literary, scientific, and political. Adequate analysis of the operations at work in these configurations, they argue, helps prepare the way for their revolutionary transformation.
The first volume comprises English translations of some of the most important theoretical texts published in the journal, written by thinkers who would soon be counted among the most inventive and influential of their generation.
The second volume collects newly commissioned essays on the journal, together with recent interviews with people who were either members of its editorial board or associated with its broader theoretical project.
Contributors include Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Edward Baring, Jacques Bouveresse, Yves Duroux, Alain Grosrichard, Peter Hallward, Adrian Johnston, Serge Leclaire, Patrice Maniglier, Tracy McNulty, Jacques-Alain Miller, Jean-Claude Milner, Knox Peden, Jacques Rancière, François Regnault, and Slavoj Žižek.
In No Medium, Craig Dworkin looks at works that are blank, erased, clear, or silent, writing critically and substantively about works for which there would seem to be not only nothing to see but nothing to say. Examined closely, these ostensibly contentless works of art, literature, and music point to a new understanding of media and the limits of the artistic object.
Its been noted elsewhere, I'm glad to say – a long review (which I need to read carefully) from Richard Marshall over on 3:AM and a nice mention over on THE magazine too ("What ... makes No Medium invaluable is that the author’s immersion in the field permits him to highlight the qualities distinguishing the works with a connoisseur’s appreciation."). And you can see Craig talking about, and reading from, his book in a lecture on vimeo...
I'll respond to the book – and to Marshall's review - anon (I hope!) In the meantime, take my word for it: it's a goody!
I would like to make clear right away that my thesis has been exaggerated by journalists and therefore misrepresented. Its title, ‘The Latin empire should start a counter-attack’, was supplied by the editors of Libération and was taken up by the German media. It’s not something I ever said. How could I counterpose Latin culture to German, when any intelligent European knows that Italian culture of the Renaissance or the culture of classical Greece is today completely part of German culture, which reconceived it and appropriated it! (More...)
If philosophy begins in wonder, then where does it end? What is its end? Aristotle said that while it begins in wondrous questioning, it ends with “the better state” of attaining answers, like an itch we get rid of with a good scratch or a childhood disease that, once gotten over, never returns. How depressing! Why can’t a good question continue being questionable or, in a more literal translation of the German, “question-worthy?” As Heidegger puts it, “philosophical questions are in principle never settled as if some day one could set them aside.” Couldn’t we learn from questions without trying to settle them, resolve ourselves to not resolving them? Couldn’t wisdom be found in reconciling ourselves to its perpetual love, and never its possession? Wittgenstein once wrote that “a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about,’” which was the symptom of the deep confusion that constituted philosophy for him. But Heidegger loved wandering aimlessly in the woods, following Holzwege or paths that lead nowhere, stumbling onto dead-ends which could also be clearings.
--Lee Braver, On Not Settling the Issue of Realism
I missed Kierkegaard's birthday (May 5th), but 2013 represents his 200th anniversary, so I've got the rest of the year to make up for being so remiss...
What may help me feel closer to the Danish master is A Short Life of Kierkegaard (new in paperback, much shorter than his 600 page Oxford University Press tome of the late 40s, and much shorter too than the recent massive Garff biography) by Walter Lowrie (which includes Lowrie's essay How Kierkegaard Got into English – Lowrie was SK's first English translator and he was very keen to establish SK as a thoroughly Christian theologian not simply an anti-Hegelian philosopher). Book comes with a new introduction by Alastair Hannay...
Lots of new stuff on the indispensable backdoorbroadcasting.net:
... starting with the 2013 Hayes Robinson lecture – which is an annual lecture from the department of History at Royal Holloway:
and the annual Hellenic Institute (also at Royal Holloway) chipped in with an interesting lecture on the Greek Diaspora:
And one more offering from the History department at Royal Holloway:
Lots more links the BBC news section.
Paul J. Ennis has compiled a useful bibliography of Quentin Meillassoux in English (hat tip to Steve).
Paul Virilio says the title of his book The Administration of Fear "sprang to mind right away as a direct echo of the title of Graham Greene's well-known book, The Ministry of Fear... I use the expression "administration of fear" to refer to two things. First, that fear is now an environment, a surrounding, a world. It occupies and preoccupies us... [it] also means that States are tempted to create policies for the orchestration and management of fear... When I read Graham Greene's book, I found the expression "ministry of fear" to be particularly well chosen because it carries the administrative aspect of fear and describes it like a State."
Fear, then, is a product of the State, part of the modern mood; something the State contributes to, sustains and extends through its activities - and often especially through the activities it pursues to counter fear's epiphenomena. The administration of fear, then, is the administration of fear that the State causes and makes perpetual by its actions. The administration of fear pace Graham Greene is a Catch-22 situation.
Asked by his interlocutor Bertrand Richard "isn't it inappropriate to use the same expression for both the tragic historical events of the Second World War and what we Westerners are experiencing today," Virilio replies that he does not think so. A brief discussion of Hannah Arendt and an overview of his dromology, his politics of speed, is followed by a fascinating thought: when "Henri Bergson, the theorist of duration, and Albert Einstein, the inventor of relativity" met in Paris (in April 1922) they were not able to understand one another - a unique rendez vous, a moment of fate, happened but did not take place. Science became part of the "military industrial complex" and philosophy failed to think a political economy of speed.
Dissident Trotskyists once argued that the Second World War never really ended, just morphed; certainly, today, war is ubiquitous. The war on terror was a response to fear that has created an ever-present climate of anxiety, the administration of which only makes more plain to its makers the need for it - and clearer to the rest of us that the situation is both manufactured and all too real: this is hell, nor are we out of it.
Virilio takes a novel to furnish him with a metaphor with which he can think about the present. This is one of art's tasks. Perhaps another, however, is the administration of fear itself. Art doesn't just provide metaphors. As a matter of actuality, it works with words to administer, to oversee, to organise fear. Fidelity to our metaphor must make us ask, however, whether, as with the homologous activity of the State, the very fact of this administration doesn't itself add to and extend the reign of the regime of fear art portrays itself as the antidote to. What if The Ministry of Fear ministers to fear, furthers fears aims and objectives? What if The Ministry of Fear is not only the name of a novel but a name for what novels are?
A novel organises material to augment itself, prove the worth of its story, prove the fact of its own requirement, prove the worth of its own solution (a novel is the answer to its own question). Or it subverts itself, shows the worthlessness of its form and instantiates, in that move, the humanity of its humility (refuses to answer the question it has itself posed). A novel administers fear, pretends lack away, narrates with hubris, brings up the bodies and declares that all shall be well - narration as order, as good governance - or it dismantles itself, not allowing itself ever to be itself, allowing itself only to be the motor of its own disruption: not to be the sum of its parts, and to have parts that disrupt its sum.
Crudely stated, Virilio thinks that speed equals terror: "the question of global finitude... the enclosure of consciousness is happening in a world limited by the immediacy of nano-chronology - the acceleration of reality is a significant mutation of History." The novel has always concerned itself with time. Virilio believes only a meeting of new Bergsons and new Einsteins can save us. Perhaps...
American poet Ben Lerner's overpraised debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, has its hero, Adam Gordon, an American poet on a year out in Madrid, wonder whether, on seeing someone weeping in front of a painting, he has ever himself had "a ‘profound experience of art’". In such a mediated world is an authentic, immediate, profound experience even really possible? At the beginning of Leaving the Atocha Station the thrill for the reader is whether Lerner can sustain this investigation into the administration of, the separation from, authentic feeling that Gordon is trying to work through, in his poems and his life, in the novel. But it soon becomes clear that the investigation - which if it is authentically to be a process of thought about the way thought can preclude authentic feeling - has to fail to succeed. Sadly, it only succumbs to its own logic. After a promising start, Leaving the Atocha Station becomes a dull book about a rather precious young American poet abroad. The question, at whatever 'meta' level it is pitched, of whether it is possible to have a profound experience of art was rightly joined, in the novel, to the question of how to make the art of having a profound experience of one's own life without becoming an alienated spectator of it. The novel fails, however, not because it sets that existential question against the backdrop of the profound and real tragedy and crime of the bombing of the Atocha Station, but because it loses its nerve and becomes merely a bildungsroman.
The fear that Adam Gordon - has he ever had a ‘profound experience of art’? - and our own experience of the novel are weakened by the inability of Lerner to communicate the alienation his hero feels because the novel he writes is itself so very sure of itself. In a world where a bombing like the one that killed 191 people and wounded 1,800 at the Atocha Station can occur, we're served badly by a novel that doesn't recognise that the disaster is not something a novel reports on - however well, however badly, however obliquely - but something that structures and disrupts its very being. To have a profound experience of art is not possible inside the administrative space of the contemporary novel of fear - most especially because the contemporary novel is not nearly afraid enough of what it can do, of what it is.
The Ministry of Fear could very well be the title of Kafka's collected works. For Graham Greene it was the title of a novel of war and faith - great narratives both. For Lerner, ennui and irony - late capitalism - stop Adam Gordon from feeling. But perhaps ennui and irony are already profound experiences of their own. Only a novel could explore that, but only if it didn't administer the answer.
How does Freud define the unheimlich (in his famous essay here)? The question is important – and we should be clear we know what it is asking: the question is not, what is Freud's definition, but rather how does he go about defining the word? What is his method? What needs noting is that Freud's process of (arriving at a) definition, his attempts at clarity, problematises the very idea of a fixed and final definition. And this paradox can be used to gain some insight into how a novel opens itself up to the problem of its own subject matter, how the novel deals with the self-undermining fact of itself.
The unheimlich – crudely, the uncanny, or the opposite of what is familiar – itself points at something beyond definition and suggests language – and the particular kind of conversation that psychoanalysis is – is always in excess of itself. As Bifo Berardi argues this excess is what makes (poetic) language (potentially) revolutionary. And it is what makes fetishising the mot juste a reactionary step. Freud's etymology is scientific or pedantic, depending on your sensibility, but quaint, dogged and laughable regardless – and it echoes in this essay in miniature the insightful purblindedness of his whole weltanschauung. The unheimlich essay (available in volume 14 of the old Penguin Freud Library, Art and Literature but not the new replacement to that volume; I hear the editor Adam Phillips didn't want it included for some reason) begins with an extensive trawl through many complimentary and contradictory dictionary definitions. We see the word pulled and pushed and extended and bent to move between meaning unhomely or undomestic to ghostly, haunted and on to secret, concealed. Page after page of yet more exact definition and one finds only that exactness and definition have proved illusory. Uncannily, unheimlich is a word that contains secret worlds and will not settle down. Uncannily, unheimlich names something that can just about be named but barely owns its own definition. In a sense – and we read in the essay its multiple senses – it is the word for what poetry is always concerned with: nomenclature – naming with absolute precision what absolutely has no precise meaning, naming what always wriggles free of being named and held down, naming what is always beyond language in language, naming what is left behind, unsaid, unheimlich, after language has got close, moved nearby, danced around, scented, approached...
Once Freud has waded through a number of definitions of unheimlich, dissatisfied he walks us through several definitions of its antonym heimlich. He finds something deeply strange, something unheimlich, during this work: secretly, heimlich is not the antonym of unheimlich at all, but rather its sometime synonym; their secret sharing is that they secretly share the same meaning: "What interests us most in this long extract is to find that among its different shades of meaning the word heimlich exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, unheimlich... Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich." Heimlich shivers with an an unheimlich quality. Unheimlich finds in its opposite only itself. Specifity – a scientific trawl through the dictionaries – has led us back to an unheimlich place. Specifity has proved itself merely to be a mode of obscurity. The domestic is weird, very weird at root. Underneath the heimlich, the homely, the unheimlich is. It takes Freud a few pages of dictionary-sourced entries to prove this; it takes Karl Ove Knausgård a novel.
The finest novel of this year, A Death in the Family (the first volume of six, the series entitled My Struggle) is a novel of the unheimlich and an unheimlich novel. It was so far beyond anything else published this year because of its engagement with the fact that quotidian dreariness, everyday pain, and something numinous that lies just beyond sight, beneath grief, certainly lies always beyond language, is precisely what the novel at its best yearns to reach, knowing it will ever fail to reach there. This is not a typical bildungsroman – life's untaken paths are not the novel's concern. Cliche, commonplace and unremarkable constructions abound. Language's untrodden paths are not a concern either – the path language is always already taking, the path we're never not on, is suffused with the unheimlich: the yearned for mot juste doesn't get us any further than just our everyday yearning, The subject here is death – and whether writing/language has anything to say about this commonplace disaster that haunts and harries and shapes us everywhere we turn.
The novel begins, before it gets caught up in a sometimes pedestrian if always hypnotic retelling of a young man growing up, with the unheimlich. Knausgaard the author writes directly about death's ubiquity (the first line, in Don Bartlett's translation, is: "For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.") Knausgaard the boy is then described seeing, on the TV news, after a disaster, a face in the sea. Beneath the whole novel something is stirring, something unheimlich that can't be said. After Knausgaard's father dies, the key event in the novel, the huge, overwhelming presence he was in Karl Ove's life continues. As Knausgaard and his brother clean the filthy detritus his dead drunken father has left behind in a house become hovel, he realises that he has to write this, has to write of this, write out of this, write about the stink, the misery, the pain, the boredom, the embarrassment because the stink, the misery, the pain, the boredom, the embarrassment is never all there is – things are always in excess of themselves, and in this way things are like words, are like icebergs, and their excess isn't captured by words but mirrored by them.
If, uncannily, words, sometimes, mean the very opposite of themselves; if poetry, language at its most distilled, at its finest and most dense, is at the same time language freed from crude referentiality; if and when, as Freud shows us, unheimlich can mean heimlich – what can we make of words? And what, so labile, can words make? And why might this – call it porousness, call is slipperiness, call it irony – why might this unreliability of language be something either to celebrate or, more, even to find radical or potentially liberatory? Can we even agree with Bifo that it is? Doubtless, language, used instrumentally, used to pass along (messages about) value, used as info-exchange, is language as reaction, but is poetry really other to this? Millennia of poetry hasn't saved us – but perhaps millennia of poetry has prevented us finally from fully falling? Perhaps Knausgaard's struggle is our struggle – to see that the unheimlich is the heimlich, that the unfathomable death of a father might actually be, in reality, both the same as and at the same time the opposite of the clumsy symbol and actual tragedy it is in and out of a novel. And perhaps the separation of in and out of a novel finally fully collapses here – and collapses the only place where it can: in a novel.
Franco "Bifo" Berardi's The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (part of Semiotext(e)'s excellent Intervention Series) is a perplexing text – often perplexingly bad, it has to be said. But beneath the autonomist reworking of a post-Foucauldian politics, and amidst the ruinous post-poststructuralist neologisms, a truth is trying to fight its way out. Infuriatingly, in such an often wooden (and when not wooden, wooly) essay, that truth is about poetry – the poetry intrinsic to all language that isn't tied to instrumental use, the poetry we see when language unmoors itself from crude referentiality.
When language is reduced to information exchange it loses its ironic potential; when language tries to describe those things that lie beyond language – love, hope, another possible world – its failure to pin things down ambiguously reveals its human success:
Poetry is language's excess: poetry is what in language cannot be reduced to information, and is not exchangeable, but gives way to a new common ground of understanding, of shared meaning: the creation of a new world.
Poetry shows that language cannot be counted upon – not least that it can't be counted on simply to count. When it is showing, it is always telling: as language's excess, it can never quite account for itself. Language's imprecision, its limitless lability, is precisely what proves it is fit for purpose. Fit to indicate hope, fit to hint at what the dream meant or might mean. Language fails at simplicity, and by failing succeeds: a cast iron definition of love wouldn't help anyone make love or know they were in love. Poetry shows us language is defined by what it cannot quite name.
Somewhere in Bifo's book something like this is trying to be articulated. And for that reason alone (helped along by some nice riffs about capitalist time and precarity) I commend it to the House!
Some excellent heterodox marxism – much from the pen of the recently deceased Robert Kurz – can be found on exit-online.org (that link to some of the work in English translation). Worth a read.
In popular culture, the philosopher Nietzsche is usually associated with moral nihilism. We might define nihilism as the absence of the highest values. Associated with moral nihilism is moral relativism. Moral relativism is the belief that all values, precisely because there are no higher values, are merely the expression of personal preference. Ironically, however, is it exactly this kind of moral viewpoint that Nietzsche is criticising. Rather than being a nihilist he is an anti-nihilist. Nihilism is a diagnosis of the decadence of Western culture, rather than a position that Nietzsche wants, and still less, wants us to aspire to (more...)
Given my double passion for science and philosophy, the problem of clarifying the links between the two and between what I refer to as local orabstract modes of thought (such as the sciences, the arts and politics) has always been of utmost importance to me. To treat this problem, I wished to challenge both the solutions that subject these different modes to philosophical authority (be it ontological, transcendental, epistemological, encyclopedic or other), and the solutions which – inversely – subject philosophy to the model furnished by one of these modes, to the detriment of the others (as, for example, Husserl’s conception of philosophy as archi-science, Heidegger’s conception of philosophy as archi-poetry, or Levinas’s conception of philosophy as archi-ethics). In Benjamin’s theory of translation, I found a solution capable of satisfying two presumably irreconcilable constraints: 1) that of not yielding on the delocalized or transversal nature of philosophical work compared to different local modes of thought – and thus avoiding any potential identification with one of these modes; and 2) that of refusing any dominant position of philosophy toward said modes of thought. In short, Benjamin’s text allowed me to construe the connections between local modes of thought and philosophy by following the model offered by the connection between national languages and the regulatory idea of a delocalized and voluntarily impure language produced by the work of transposition and transfer undertaken by “translation”. To translate, it’s not enough to flit through the space of languages: you must master each of the languages involved by giving yourself over to their irreducible sovereignty. The conception of philosophy that results is that of an organon of composition between the different local modes of thought – an organon which, rather than speaking about these modes, must make possible free circulation between them. In this way, the philosopher’s task is to compose the “untranslatables” within a vaster linguistic space in which each language finds its place and time. The philosopher is the stalker of this space. In Lacanian terms, we might say that philosophical love alone is able to supplement the non-relationship between the different modes of thought – that is, to potentiate their connectedness while affirming their irreducible “untranslatability”. Philosophy alone is able to construct mediators – herein lies its truly angelic dimension – capable of probing the interzones that separate and connect the various modes of thought, in order to incessantly build what I refer to as a musaic language, following on from Benjamin.
Sad to hear of the death of critical theorist Mark Poster:
It is with deep sadness that we share the news that our esteemed colleague Mark Poster, Emeritus Professor of History and Film & Media Studies, passed away in the hospital earlier this morning. Mark Poster was a vital member of the School of Humanities, and for decades one of its most widely read and cited researchers. He made crucial contributions to two different departments, History and Film & Media Studies, and played a central role in UCI's emergence as a leading center for work in Critical Theory...
Mark Poster was a major figure in the rapid development of media studies and theory in the USA and internationally. While as an intellectual historian he could draw on Frankfurt School thought as well as on cybernetics, he was particularly interested in the potential of poststructuralism for media studies. From his translations of Baudrillard to his dissemination of Foucault, Poster played a highly influential role in the study of media culture, including television, databases, computing, and the Internet; he continued to offer crucial commentary on the relevance to technology and media of cultural theory, and his numerous articles and books have been translated into a number of different languages. Reflective of the breadth of his interests and expertise, Poster held courtesy appointments in the Department of Information and Computer Science and in the Department of Comparative Literature. First hired at UCI in 1968, Poster had recently retired after 40 years of service to the School and the Campus (more...)
But how did Agamben get here, to this radicalized nihilism, where he swims delighting in the fact he has overcome (or concluded) Heidegger’s project? He has come across a long journey that is articulated in two directions: one a truly political-judicial critique, the other an archeological one (a theological-political dig). Carl Schmitt is at the center of this journey: he guides the two directions, the one that leads to qualifying power as exception and therefore as force and destiny, an absolute instrumentation without any technical quality and the sadism of finality; on the other hand, one that leads to the qualification of potency as theological illusion, i.e. impotency, in the sense of the impossibility of relying on its effectiveness. Therefore, he incites unproductiveness, thus denouncing the necessary frustration of will, of the masochism of duty. The two go together. It is nearly impossible, recovering the actuality of the Schmittian concepts of the “state of exception” and the “theological-political”, to understand if they represent the biggest danger or instead if they are simply an opening to their truth. Metaphysics and political diagnostics surrender to indistinctness. But that would be irrelevant if this indistinctness didn’t drown any possible resistance. Let’s go back to the two identified lines: the whole journey that follows Homo Sacer develops on this double track. The second track is summarized in The Kingdom and the Glory...
The sacred dilemma of inoperosity. On Giorgio Agamben’s Opus Dei by Antonio Negri.
Graham Harman with his new ontology proposes a veritable semantic descent (or we could call it an “objectal descent”), to reverse the linguistic turn, and to replace it with an ontological turn... My thesis is that much of OOO is a badly flawed epistemology masquerading as an ontology...
Provocative critique of Harman's OOO from Terence Blake. Blake picks up on a fear of mine that, having offered us the really real world, OOO seems to renege on the promise and simply re-instate, at a different level of abstraction, the Kantian distinction between phenomenon and noumenon...
In other words, I think I’m giving an even stronger critique of authorial intention than is usually the case. Not only do authors fail to master the infinite dissemination of their texts, they probably don’t even put the text in the right shape in the first place. Most of them should have written better texts. Just as social surroundings fail to exhaust a literary work, the exact written form of a literary work fails to exhaust the deeper spirit of that work...
Graham Harman responds to Dan Green (who in turn was writing in response to Harman's The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism [pdf]).
Speculative Realism and OOO have much of interest to say on literature and literary criticism. In particularly, Harman's concept of a withdrawing ontology, of objects that can't be fully known, has some potentially interesting literary critical applications. The conversation between Green and Harman opens up some interesting avenues, but I think there is yet a lot more to say on this...
Speculations: A Journal of Speculative Realism is "an open-access, peer-reviewed journal published by punctum books (online and in print-on-demand and e-reader editions) that provides a forum for the exploration of speculative realism and post-continental philosophy. Our aim is to facilitate discussion abut ongoing developments within speculative realism." The current issue (Speculations III) is just out.
Worth saying, too, that I bought all three print-on-demand volumes via lulu.com and for print-on-demand books these are very handsome volumes...
"Celebrating the 90th anniversary of Presses Universitaires de France (PUF) Multimedia Institute and Institut Français Zagreb coorganized a 2-day meeting in Zagreb (June 22-23, 2012 / net.culture club MaMa), presenting the series MétaphysiqueS." And here is Graham Harman on the philosophy of Tristan Garcia...
Slavoj Žižek in Conversation with Jonathan Derbyshire at Central Saint Martins (I've seen Žižek a few times 'live' now – and this is him at his best, at his most philosophical, I think.)
Simon Critchley discusses his new book, The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology, with Dave True of Political Theology.
"Along the way Critchley touches on an array of topics: his respect for religion, the experimental nature of free thought, what love has to do with a politics of resistance, the genius of the Occupy Movement, nonviolence and its limits, the wisdom of Antonio Gramsci, and the illusions of Marxism."
Earlier responses to the book can be accessed via politicaltheology.com/blog.
Good stuff: Claire Colebrook on Happiness, Death and the Meaning of Life (pdf).
In this essay I will argue that Nussbaum’s affirmation of literature and narrative as crucial to the function of a sympathetic, flourishing and ethical life is typical of western philosophy’s normative definition of happiness, where happiness has always been aligned with a specific image of autopoietic life and meaning. That is, human life makes sense of itself, gives form to itself and engages in a style of praxis whereby its ends are internal to itself. From this image of life one thereby passes to an ethics. There ought to be no techne that is disengaged from life, and life’s proper techne – the art of life – is nothing other than making meaning of, or narrating of, one’s life. Literature would, therefore, not be one praxis among others that is added on to life. Rather, life in all its forms is self-creation, while human life renders this self-creation explicit to itself through narrative; human life is that one praxis that discloses the logic of praxis in general.
Derrida, by contrast, offers a genuine alternative to the image of selfforming life, and he does this through his textualism. There are, however, two crucial features of Derrida’s concept of text. First, considered rigorously, textuality is not a feature of language or writing; it characterises life as such. Second, textuality installs death in life. Life is not a trajectory of striving towards presentation, fulfilment and realisation. On the contrary, in order for life to be – for one to think that life is – there must already have been a non-living, counter-actualising potentiality. If this is so, then we will need to read literature not as a form of life-realisation but as a process of mourning...
"A refusal to think philosophy as simply content..."
I want to argue that works of art are machinic rather than hermeneutic. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari say that the unconscious is a factory, not a theater. By this they mean that the unconscious does not represent or mean, but that it produces. I want to say that works of arts are factories or machines, not theaters. They don’t have meanings, but are powers of producing differences in the world. They are real actors. They do not represent, even in the tradition of realism, but make. I read Proust, for example, and his exquisite discussion of various emotional states has the power to actually create new forms of affect in me that I never before had. I begin to love as Proust’s characters do. The work of art is thus a factory that both transforms the artist that creates it (artists tell me that they become something else as a result of their work) and that transforms the audiences that encounter the work. Works of art are difference engines that circulate throughout the world and that transform the people and things that encounter them. Picasso’s Guernica does not represent the bombing of Guernica, but both transforms the event of that bombing, giving it a new sense, and creates an affect for the slaughter of the innocents everywhere....
On 29 and 30 August 2012, the UK Kant Society (UKKS) and the Centre for Idealism and the New Liberalism at the University of Hull (CINL) will host a joint conference entitled ‘Kant and the British idealists’. The conference seeks to explore the relationship between any aspect of the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Kantians and the British idealists.
OMG, there is a UK Kant Society (this might be the worst website in the world, mind you)! Aims here; oh, and they publish the Kantian Review, btw. The conference will be held at Cave Castle Hotel, South Cave, near Hull, which looks very posh!
The Kierkegaard Library "is a special collection that serves anyone interested in the writings and ideas of Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher, and related thinkers. The collection includes approximately 11,000 book volumes, some of which are a collection of editions matching those owned by Kierkegaard himself... The library also publishes the Søren Kierkegaard Newsletter, an independent publication started by Robert Perkins in 1978. Issues are produced twice a year and include articles on subjects of interest to Kierkegaard studies and book reviews of recent Kierkegaard-related publications" and they are all online!
O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies is a peer-reviewed, open-access, and post-disciplinary journal devoted to object-oriented studies, both situated within and traversing the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and the arts. The journal aims to cultivate current streams of thought already established within object-oriented studies, while also providing space for new pathways along which disparate voices and bodies of object-oriented knowledges might encounter, influence, perturb, and motivate one another.
Located within a post-Kantian philosophical outlook, where everything in the world, from the smallest quarks to lynxes to humans to wheat fields to machines and beyond exist on an equal ontological footing, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies invites new work that explores the weird realism, thingliness, and life-worlds of objects. Possible methodological approaches and critical modes might include: actor-networks, unit operations, alien phenomenology, agentic drift, onticology, guerrilla metaphysics, carnal phenomenology, ontography, agential realism, cosmopolitics, panpsychism, insect media, posthumanism, flat ontology, dark vitalism, prosthetics, territorial assemblage, vibrant materialism, dorsality, distributed intelligence, dark ecology, hyperobjects, realist magic, post-continuity, and other paradigms for object-oriented thought still coming into being and yet to be articulated.
Thought and emotion also of course come to know themselves, achieve material clarity through things in the world – a ruined abbey, a peaceful river, the jumpy energy of a crowd in a foreign city. These things will (so to speak) explicate our thoughts and feelings for us, they will act as a ‘voiceless language’, in which the unconscious domain mentioned previously will come to rest, disclose itself..
Thought and feeling articulate themselves through that constellation of examples and figures that the world provides for us.It is not that we project emotion or thought outward onto these things. For that implies that the thoughts are already fashioned and require only to be transferred onto an object. Rather do we receive from them, the realm of objects, what it is we are thinking and feeling. ‘What we are thinking and feeling’ is therefore something that emerges retroactively, post 'expression'.
A "new blog mostly on philosophy and literature and the relation between the two" – welcome piccolorium.net.
Fifteen years before the ‘i-doser’ reports hit the mainstream press a group of renegade academics at the University of Warwick were challenging their own experiences of cyberspace as an addictive substance. These explorations were both theoretical and more importantly practical.
The experimentation was led by philosophy lecturer Nick Land, an academic who took great pleasure in introducing himself as ‘working in the field of The Collapse of Western Civilisation Studies.’
Following the release of his collected works, for the first time in over 15 years the audio performance of Nick Land’s seminal paper Meltdown is available to listen to on the web [over at virtualfutures].
One never knows what to expect from the up-and-coming French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux. I certainly didn’t expect his second book-length work to be a “decipherment” of Stéphane Mallarmé’s enigmatic final poem, Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish Chance). Still less did I expect it to be so absorbing and thrilling. The Number and the Siren is an erudite work of literary criticism, tackling one of the most difficult of modern poets...
Meillassoux’s study, breaking from the general studies and understandings of Mallarmé’s brilliant poem, posits that the poem itself can literally be deciphered, that meaning exists not exclusively in the blatant language or form of the poem itself, but rather that meaning is embedded, coded, within the work.
Also, an excellent take over on speculativeheresy:
First, though, I would like to reflect on the strangeness of the book. Adam and others have already remarked that the trajectory of Meillassoux’s work has been anything but predictable. Perhaps this should be less surprising than it is, since the thesis concerning absolute contingency put forward in After Finitude was taken very seriously by Meillassoux. There is no sufficient reason for anything and so why should we have expected his nihilism to play out as every other nihilism has? Indeed, this term, though seemingly embraced in The Number and the Siren, may not really be apt for a description of Meillassoux’s work. While there is a certain void lying at the center of his philosophy and while the privileging of primary qualities in After Finitude seemed to suggest a kind of scienticism, already we could see there a certain humanism at work. Limiting the law-like powers of Nature (with the capital-N intended) in order to make room for human salvation.
Me, or is there a fair bit of Mallarmé about at the moment?
A new edition of Stéphane Mallarmé: The Poems in Verse (from Miami University Press), Ranciere's Mallarme: The Politics of the Siren (from Continuum) and Roger Pearson's Stéphane Mallarmé: "blending a biographical account of the poet’s life with a detailed analysis of his evolving poetic theory and practice" (Reaktion).
So, that batch of good stuff, and now (Continental) philosophy's most favoured young Turk, Quentin Meillassoux, has entered the fray with The Number and the Siren (Urbanomic, the good folk who brought you Nick Land's collected effusions):
A meticulous literary study, a detective story à la Edgar Allan Poe, a treasure-hunt worthy of an adventure novel - such is the register in which can be deciphered the hidden secrets of a poem like no other. Quentin Meillassoux, author of After Finitude, continues his philosophical interrogation of the concepts of chance, contingency, infinity and eternity through a concentrated study of Mallarmé's poem Un Coup de Dés, patiently deciphering its enigmatic meaning on the basis of a dazzlingly simple and lucid insight with regard to that 'unique Number that cannot be another'.
We are pleased to be working with Verso to present History is made at night: a special event over 24 hours to launch Less Than Nothing, the new book by the radical philosopher, polymath, film star and cult icon, Slavoj Žižek.
The event will start with a seminar introducing the thought of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel given by philosopher and writer Iain Hamilton Grant. Žižek will then give a talk, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions and have books signed during a break after the talk...
During a recent trip to the London Review Bookshop, I spotted a copy of Iain Sinclair's Blake's London: The Topographic Sublime in a gorgeous, limited edition, little grey hardback. I have mixed feelings about Sinclair's work to say the least, but considerable interest in Blake. And some degree of interest in Swedenborg too...
Back in 2006, Richard Lines wrote a lovely piece here on RSB about Swedenborg – Henry Sutton: Poet, Journalist and New Church Man, and he was mentioned on the blog, again in 2006, when Lars Bergquist's definitive biography came out.
Nice list here of writers influenced by Swedenborg (including Borges) on The Swedenborg Society website.
I have always tended to work obsessively on one topic at a time to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t consider this a virtue. For the past 6 months, that topic has been ancient tragedy: its nature, its savage and troubling beauty, its conflict with and superiority to philosophy, and its massive and unacknowledged relevance to the contemporary psychical and political situation. This is why my cultural ingestion has been a little Cyclopean of late, with one or two exceptions, like belatedly watching all five seasons of The Wire for hours at a time over the holidays. Of course, I turned that into a Greek tragedy too...
New Simon Critchley book just out:
The remarkable resurgence of interest in religion has become one of the defining issues of our time. Whether approached from a “post-secular” perspective, or fanatically affirmed/denied by fundamentalists of both religious and atheistic persuasions, we are living in a moment where religion and a wider constellation of its concerns have an inescapable hold over us.
Simon Critchley's new book The Faith of the Faithless attempts to philosophically re-frame the nature of the current debates over the role of religion in the 21st century. In the book, out today, Critchley proposes a new perspective on belief – one that attempts to avoid the obstacles that have increasingly hobbled serious reflection and constructive dialogue about religion in our world.
Together with the book's release, Critchley will be speaking at the New York Public Library tomorrow night with Mark Mazower, where he hosts the next installment of his ongoing conversation series On Truth (and Lies). The topic of the conversation is The Historian's Truth. Next Tuesday, February 7th at 7pm, Critchley will appear at BAM with the ever profound and provocative brother Cornel West, where the two will discuss the concept of religion and faith in secular society (more over at VersoBooks.com...)
Albert Camus, who died an atheist at 46, had – according to Robert Zaretsky writing in The Tablet – surprisingly deep ties to Judaism in his life, his political activity, and his philosophical thought:
The question of whether Albert Camus was Jewish is, of course, absurd. Born in French Algeria 98 years ago today, he was the second child of Lucien Camus, a farm worker raised in a Protestant orphanage, and Catherine Sintes, the illiterate child of Catholic peasants from Minorca, Spain. He was given communion at the age of 11 and died an atheist at the age of 46.
Camus understood, however, that the absurd reveals deep truths about the world and our own selves. Cradled between the semi-centenary of his death in 1960 and the centenary of his birth in 1913, we might take a moment to consider the question of Camus’ ties to Judaism. They are surprisingly deep and broad, encompassing not just his own life but his political and philosophical thought as well (more...)
Called the most rapidly ascendant philosopher since Jacques Derrida, Quentin Meillassoux, the star pupil of Alain Badiou, has achieved something akin to cultish sainthood since the 2006 publication of his of his first book, After Finitude. And rightly so, given that his ideas inform the basis of speculative realism, one of the most hotly debated theoretical strains of the 21st century.
Yet, Meillassoux's theses—including his critique of 'correlationism', or the post-Kantian notion that being and thought are perpetually and inescapably intertwined—can be difficult to unpack. Helping us do that is Paul Ennis, editor of the journal Speculations and a recently graduated doctor of philosophy, whose explications of Meillassoux have been sanctioned by no less than the thinker himself.
Q: In Post-Continental Voices, you interview a number of post-Continental theorists about their intellectual and professional development, and their feelings about emergent philosophical strains. So, let me turn your own question back on you: What have been some of the formative influences on your academic maturation, and how did you become involved with speculative realism?
PE: When I started my Ph.D in 2007, I was treading a quite familiar path as far as my department was concerned (University College, Dublin). The plan was to write a thesis on Heidegger and ecological thinking, with a side-line in spatial/topological issues. For roughly two years, I was carrying out this project dutifully and was heavily influenced by the phenomenologists around me. For the most part, I was exposed to the Heideggerian version of phenomenology as ontology, as well as related offshoots of this tradition that stretch into Derrida and the weak theology of Caputo and others. Hermeneutics was also in the background, and I suspect my writing will always have something of this nexus in it.
The names that grabbed my attention during this time were Ed Casey, Stuart Elden, and Lee Braver. These are the kinds of thinkers I aspire to be like. Ed Casey revealed to me that phenomenology could still be carried out as method, rather than historical exegesis. Elden and Braver are master readers of other thinkers, and they are absolutely meticulous when doing so. I'm trying to get back to that way of writing after undergoing a bout of excitement that came with being released from a mental quagmire; more on this release in a moment.
In a more historical sense, I was fond of reading Dilthey and dipped into (the Heideggerian version of) Schelling. Hegel, due to the great respect he had amongst my peers, became quite important toward the tail end of my thesis. My thesis has its speculative crescendo, but the first two chapters lean heavily on Kant and Hegel. I'm not a Kantian or a Hegelian, but I know that the two form the broad hermeneutical horizon for what I do (more...)
The above via Fractured Politics. Paul Ennis received his doctorate from University College, Dublin in 2011. He is the author of Post-Continental Voices (2010) and Continental Realism (2011), as well as the editor of Speculations, a journal of speculative realism. Follow his blog at Another Heidegger Blog and on Twitter at twitter.com/lordwhatever.
Philosophy. Book after book after book. The usual suspects read and reread. And looking for what? For answers, for sure, but more: for better questions, different questions, more penetrating questions. Looking to see what questions have been asked previously, trying to emulate them, trying to learn to be able to ask them. To ask them of an object, a phenomenon, a text. Feeling inadequate in front of them – the questions and the books – but seeking out their company regardless, both dwarfed and stretched by it. Feeling immoderate by the scale of one's exposure. Looking to learn to read, again, and with yet more care, more rigour, with eyes less wide, benevolent yet untrusting.
But what, then, of literature? Of fiction and its questions? Of its registers? What it knows, what it claims, what it questions, and what its questions are?
Can one only seek literature by avoiding literature? For how long must one walk away from literature in the hope of one day finding it again? And when one returns, one returns knowing so little, antipathetic to its arcane workings. Astonished, actually, by its arrogance. What can it know!? How can it proceed knowing it knows so little, claiming so much so solipsistically, flaunting its limitations?
What is this thing literature that knows but only through a perpetual process of disavowal? How must one approach it? How can one question it appropriately? How can one learn what it knows? What does it know? How can one listen more carefully?
There are strategies: a careful reading pays heed. Content and contradiction can be explained, complications approached and untangled, tensions revealed – and revealed to be essential or accidental. But after this, what does one know? Only what is overt: structure and narrative; nuts and bolts.
Or become a humanist! Either our author or the work's characters, or both, are there to teach. Claims for veracity, for three-dimensionality, are made. Lessons should or could be learnt from the behaviours on show. Mimetics is ethics, or could be.
But this rings false. The vivisection fails – the thing is dead. We ripped out the beating heart to see what made it beat. We learned little in the process except for our might and our clumsiness.
Blanchot asks: how is literature possible? We are presented with an aporia: its presence and its impossiblity. (It reminds one of love, or God.) Language oscillates between the commonplace - the communicable - and the private. But neither banality or cliche nor the neologistic is de facto literary. Literature is not a presentation we can account for. Literature is a singularity.
Literature makes sense only in and of itself. Its solipsism is its self-grounding: it is the story it tells about itself. It is the answer to the question it has set itself about itself. Literature, in this sense, is always after Kant. It is always Modern. And it is as ancient as modernity has to be. Pace Socrates, it knows nothing, and that is a very great deal, of very great value. It proceeds not knowing; one reads approaching this loss.
The strength of this biography lies in placing Levinas’ life and philosophy in context: the context of his life as a naturalised French citizen, the context of living as a Jew in Europe before, during and after the Holocaust, the context of the phenomenological movement and the various intellectual circles in which Levinas participated, and finally the context of a dialogue between Judaism and philosophy. Malka’s research is both extensive and penetrating, and his firsthand accounts of engagements with Levinas demonstrate his perspicacity. The weakness of the book, however, stems from the very thing that makes it strong. Malka sometimes, particularly in the first section, gets bogged down in details. The first couple of chapters are a dry mass of facts about Levinas’ early life and the environment into which he was born. So much is squeezed into this early part that attention is not always paid to drawing out the essentials of a particular historical event or making explicit the relevance of a comment in a particular testimony. There are also stretches of the text that read more like working notes than a woven, fluid narrative (e.g., Chapter 5, where one finds a catalogue of testimonials without any real transition between them). This greatly improves as the book goes on, however, particularly in chapters that deal with a single testimony such as the wonderful interview with Derrida in the chapter on his relationship with Levinas. The dryness of the early chapters is a small price to pay for the whole of the work. The picture that Malka paints of Levinas throughout the course of the book is made vivid by the varying and plentiful testimonials that he pulls together, and the connections he draws between the different events in Levinas’ life provide depth to the account of his character.
While a sophisticated reader unfamiliar with Levinas’ writing could no doubt profitably read this biography, it is likely more rewarding for the familiar reader. Malka assumes acquaintance with Levinas’ work and builds from there. He very occasionally makes explicit reference to Levinasian philosophical terms and for the most part is concerned with making the picture of the man whole. In this Malka is extremely successful and it, of course, has direct bearing on our understanding of Levinas’ philosophy. As Malka notes, when Levinas’ children speak about him, his work and life bleed together as if “these were inextricably mingled and one of them could not be mentioned without the other one being automatically evoked.” This harmony of movement is characteristic of Levinas. What becomes clear throughout the book is the necessity of Levinas’ Judaism for his philosophy and of his philosophy for his Judaism. As Malka writes, this is an “infinite dialogue” in which “the two worlds touch and sustain each other without merging.”
Cathy Maloney reviews Salomon Malka's Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy over on the Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy blog (review from back in January 2010; book has just landed with me and looks excellent.)
In a certain way, generosity comes down to Nagel’s famous question “what is it like to be a bat?” This is my whole problem. I’m a bit promiscuous where theory is concerned. I like it all. I can see plausibility in all of it. I love Plato, Aristotle, Scotus, Ockham, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Whitehead, Heidegger, Russell, Pierce, Luhmann, Bhaskar, Latour, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. I love all of them. And just as I’m fascinated by how bees or snakes or bats or great white sharks or various humans sense the world, I’m fascinated by the truths that various theories are able to encounter in the world through their “transcendental sensibilities”. I like hearing how the world looks when viewed through the lens of Badiou and how the world looks when viewed through the lens of Wittgenstein and how the world looks when viewed through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari. And the great thing about theory is that where I’ll never fully understand what it is like to encounter the world like a bat or great white shark (though Ian Bogost is making great strides here), I can, at least, occupy the worlds of these various theories and comprehend things in these terms. I don’t need to demolish those other lenses. They all certainly have their blind spots (this is the fundamental teaching of Maturana and Varela, Luhmann, and Lacan), but there is no view from nowhere (the fundamental teaching of OOO). And if that’s the case there’s really not a whole lot of a reason to demolish. No, it’s better to occupy these various lenses, to practice the savage and the wilderness, and find what is of value in these various lenses. That, I think, is generosity. There’s just not enough promiscuity in the academy.
It’s hard not to simultaneously feel crushed and filled with wonder and joy when reading Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, all morons. I jest, of course, but truly, in De Rerum Natura, it’s all there. Beautiful poetry, a profound understanding of nature, a beautiful ethical vision and project of emancipation, an account of emergence, a thoroughgoing posthumanism, a [rather misguided] sex manual replete with meditations on love; it’s all there. All too often we get the sense that many philosophers are civil servants acting on behalf of the state, superstition, and ideology, yet with Lucretius we get the sense that we are before truth – or at least the germinal hypothesis that would lead us truth – and the seeds of a genuinely emancipatory project. That emancipatory project unfolds at the psychological level striving to free us from fear and to lead us to peace of mind, that unfolds at the social level, emancipating us from superstition and ideology, and that unfolds at the political level emancipating us from despots and unjust systems (more...)
Slavoj Žižek on the meaning of the recent UK riots:
Repetition, according to Hegel, plays a crucial role in history: when something happens just once, it may be dismissed as an accident, something that might have been avoided if the situation had been handled differently; but when the same event repeats itself, it is a sign that a deeper historical process is unfolding. When Napoleon lost at Leipzig in 1813, it looked like bad luck; when he lost again at Waterloo, it was clear that his time was over. The same holds for the continuing financial crisis. In September 2008, it was presented by some as an anomaly that could be corrected through better regulations etc; now that signs of a repeated financial meltdown are gathering it is clear that we are dealing with a structural phenomenon (more...)
Love this: Totality for Kids – excellent website by McKenzie Wark author of The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International.
Riots have their own logic. Both those who celebrate and decry them tend to think of riots as irrational outbursts, which can be channeled back towards order either by offering a few concessions or by sending in more police. There is invariably some moralizing that goes along with all this, none of it terribly helpful for understanding why riots are a constant of modern urban life rather than some inexplicable exception (more...)
There are two moments in negative theology. One is to discover and to say as accurately as possible the right names and descriptions of the Divine. Paradoxically, the second is to show that these names are inadequate. For example, one must say 'God is just'; it is blasphemy to say otherwise. Nevertheless, once that is established, it is also true that the sentence is inadequate; from the point of view of a claim to have said the complete and final truth, it is untrue. For, we only know what justice is by using our own justice as a reference point. However, God's justice surpasses ours, so much so that it is inadequate to use the same name for it. Thus one must also say, 'God is not just' -- but readers must take care how they read what looks like a simple denial of God's justice. The negative theologian recognizes the absolute necessity of speaking about God... He worries, however, that our theology may give us the impression that we are now done with thinking about God; we may believe, at least implicitly, that our knowledge has encompassed the infinite. So the negative theologian reminds us of God's infinity by showing us the failure of our affirmative theology...
Via In Media Res.
Back in 2003 when I started ReadySteadyBook the Booker Prize was something I had a modicum of interest in. Whilst the books on the list were never quite my cup of tea they did, I thought, represent a fairly good place to start with what was out there that was deemed a contemporary meaty read. With some scepticism, I bought the line that the Booker prize was a decent guide to the modern British novel.
Over the past eight or so years, my opinions on lots of things have modified and changed, but Booker fiction (which I've since rather pejoratively called Establishment Literary Fiction) continues, for me, to be the fairly "decent guide to the contemporary British novel" that I thought it was back in the day. And it is for that reason that I have so very little interest engaging with it here.
ReadySteadyBook has changed considerably over the last few years. I started it thinking I could maintain a kind of mini-Amazon – offering short reviews of lots of books across numerous genres. Very quickly I realised that I couldn't keep up with the slew of new books that get published each week and, moreover, that I didn't have anythig like the energy or commitment to review even a tiny percentage of them. So my focus sharpened and I began – as the site's tagline still declares – 'reviewing the very best books in literary fiction, poetry, history and philosophy.'
Not long after, I added a blog to the site and my 'online literary journal' started to have a relationship to and with the burgeoning blogosphere. And for a while I really enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow book bloggers. ReadySteadyBook grew, I loved the feedback, got a little bit better at blogging, and began to articulate a little more clearly my feeling that 'literary fiction', whilst an often hugely entertaining genre, was not what I meant by – or required from – literature.
Recently (indeed almost since Lee did such a great job on RSB's facelift), I've allowed RSB's blog to become almost like a Tumblr: a place where I record the occasional apposite quote or link. ReadySteadyBook as an online 'journal' has continued to thrive (with excellent recent highlights including David Winters' review of Gary Gutting's Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960, David Auerbach's excellent essay on Hans Blumenberg, Barry Baldwin's review of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Life of Merlin: A New Verse Translation and Dai Vaughan's breathtaking essay on Jean-Pierre Melville). But as blog I'm not sure it is cutting the mustard. And, you know, that is ok. It is ok because I no longer want the RSB blog even to be a "literary blog"...
When Gabriel Josipovici's What Ever Happened to Modernism? landed I was pretty taken aback by the bile directed towards it by many reviewers. But I was also amazed by their ignorance of the philosophical underpinnings of Josipovici's astonishing essay. After reading countless reviews, one couldn't help but be shocked by how many reviewers simply hadn't understood what Josipovici was trying to do. Now, Josipovici wears his philosophical learning pretty lightly, so it is only right not to read his work as an academic treatise, but philosophers like Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, critics like Blanchot, historians like Eamon Duffy, haunt his work. What Ever Happened to Modernism? engages with an argument that has been raging at least since Max Weber first articulated his notion of the "disenchantment of the world" and uses that as a rubric to see what is so exceptional in the work of writers as widely geographically and temporally separated as Cervantes and Beckett, Wordsworth and Borges, and works out what sensibilities they shared in the literature they produced. But the reviewers of What Ever Happened to Modernism? just didn't seem to have any idea about this.
The book's reception made me, again, realise that my own interest in literature is really what it does philosophically and is philosophically. Actually, I'm deeply uncomfortable with that phrasing – not least because I think that the thing that literature does (and is philosophically) is... literature. But the point is that that argument needs unpicking. And it needs unpicking slowly and methodically.
So all of this no more than a preamble to say that I'm currently working on a long paper, a paper that might become something more than that, that attempts at length rigorously to work through a problem that the idiot reception of Josipovici's finest work has made me want to contemplate much more fully. And some bits of that contemplation are going to end up here. Here on a blog that categorically has no interest whatsoever in the Booker furore, but as fervent an interest as ever in literature and what it means and what it is.
Hegel is the first to argue that philosophy has an historical and a diagnostic task. A traditional understanding of philosophy is distinguished by two central, normative questions, and its conviction that these questions can be answered by the exercise of pure human reason: What ought we to think, and what ought we to do? To Hegel, this conception of philosophy is insufficient and, in the Kantian sense, un-critical—that is, not aware of the conditions of its own possibility. Instead, Hegel argues that philosophy’s task is the comprehension of its own time in thought. That’s an extremely powerful and influential formulation, although it is not at all clear exactly what it means.
After Hegel: An Interview with Robert Pippin (conducted by Omair Hussain of Platypus collective on March 14, 2011 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago).
My post on depression got me thinking once again about the difference between the psychoanalytic conception of the symptom and what might be called the psychotherapeutic conception of the symptom. In what I am here calling psychotherapeutic orientations the symptom is an impediment to enjoyment to be eradicated. Here my symptom is something from which I suffer, something alien that plagues me, something that prevents me from attaining satisfaction or that stands in the way of my satisfaction. While it is indeed true that we suffer from our symptoms, within a psychoanalytic framework my symptom is the source of my jouissance or enjoyment, and is constitutive of my being (in the case of neurosis and perversion; remember there is no “normal” for psychoanalysis) as a subject. In this regard, the eradication of my symptom would amount to my destruction, my disappearance, as a subject.
The Symptom and the symptom over on larvalsubjects.
By now most people are familiar with the concept of Heidegger Kitsch: the aping of Heidegger’s verbal mannerisms without the soul of the thing being there. At times Heidegger himself even seems to lapse into this, such as in portions of the Beiträge and even more in lesser texts in the same vein such as Besinnung.
This is probably the fate of any important philosophy. In order to recapture the soul of the thing, a new philosophy needs to be created from scratch that borrows from some of the more recent important ones. This is why I never sympathize with people who chuckle about “the next new thing.” I don’t see what harm is done by next new things. They are candidates for long-term durability, and nothing more. You have to consider a number of candidates if you want to get a few live ones, and there are generally only a handful of live ones per century.
We’ve been familiar with Derrida Kitsch for 20 years; in fact, in Derrida’s case some of it was simultaneous with the high point of the movement, perhaps because he is so verbally mannered that imitation is naturally encouraged.
In the past several years we’ve begun to see Deleuze Kitsch. By this I mean certain decisions of Deleuze that are automatically followed even though their liberating power is already somewhat expended. For example, the tendency to prefer Deleuze’s own line of “minor” thinkers: the Stoics, Spinoza, Hume, Bergson, etc. Whenever this sort of thing goes too far, it’s better to shift emphasis to the other side, whose defects are inevitably being exaggerated. It’s one of the reasons I think a time is ripe for a return not to “minor” but to the “major” thinkers with whom Deleuze doesn’t do enough: Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz...
Via Graham Harman's Object-Oriented Philosophy blog.
Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy is an electronic, open access, peer-reviewed academic journal devoted to the study of French and Francophone thought. Though rooted in the discipline of philosophy, the journal invites interdisciplinary extensions and explorations in a theoretical register. We accept and publish manuscripts written in either French or English.
Thanks to wood s lot for bringing my attention to this excellent looking resource.
Two interesting bits of audio: Simon Critchley on Critical Theory Today (originally via continental-philosophy.org):
Details below of two new research monographs that both look fascinating, via the Continuum Philosophy blog. Markus Gabriel's name is familiar to me as one of the authors of Mythology, Madness and Laughter: Subjectivity in German Idealism which he co-wrote with Slavoj Žižek a couple of years ago. If that book is anything to go by, then this latest should be a fascinating read.
The first is Transcendental Ontology by Markus Gabriel (Chair in Epistemology and Modern and Contemporary Philosophy at the University of Bonn, Germany), in which the author re-assesses the contributions of Hegel and Schelling to post-Kantian metaphysics and the contributions of these great German Idealist thinkers to contemporary thought.The book shows how far we still have to go in mining the thought of Hegel and Schelling and how exciting, as a result, we can expect twenty-first century philosophy to be.
The second new title is Subjectivity After Wittgenstein... by Chantal Bax (Visiting Postdoc at John Hopkins University and the New School for Social Research, USA), which explores Wittgenstein's contribution to continental philosophical debates about the 'death of man' and constructs and defends a positive Wittgensteinian account of human being, and about which Simon Glendinning said the following:
'Wittgenstein is widely acknowledged to have mounted a sustained and, if successful, devastating challenge to the view of human subjectivity that belongs to the traditional discourse of European modernity: the broadly 'Cartesian' view of Man as a rational thinking subject. But at what cost? Can we make sense of concepts central to contemporary ethics and politics – concepts of rights, of autonomy, and of responsibility in particular – if we do not retain that conception. Rejecting it can seem tantamount to a rejection of those central concepts. In this important new study Chantal Bax offers a compelling account of why a Wittgensteinian understanding of the fundamental sociality of the human subject encourages rather than discourages us to engage with questions at the heart of our ethical and political lives.'
The current NYRB has an article on Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism?, said article being written by Eliot Weinberger. I’d been expecting an inspired reaction to an inspired book, but that is not what I found.
Weinberger clearly did not like the book, but I cannot figure out quite why. He jumps from an attack on its title (based a strangely literal reading of it) to a bunch of random, nitpicky-type arguments... I don’t mean to imply that Josipovici’s argument is beyond critique or even that I agree with it completely; I only mean to say that it’s disappointing to see someone of Weinberger’s reputation completely fail to engage with one of the more interesting and accessible critical books to be published last year.
This via Scott over at Conversational Reading. "Disappointing" is the very least of it. Do we have no literary critics able to deal with the philosophical arguments that Josipovici makes in his book? It would seem not.
To me, the animus displayed by most critics to Josipovici's book stems from a misunderstanding of his project. I wonder would the book have been received more fairly if reviewed in the philosophy pages?
Addendum: Steve has responded fully to Weinberger over on This Space.
Great to see that Love’s Work, by my old teacher Gillian Rose, has just been reissued by NRYB Classics (with a short introduction by Michael Wood, and with Geoffrey Hill's In Memoriam: Gillian Rose as postscript):
Love’s Work is at once a memoir and a work of philosophy. Written by the English philosopher Gillian Rose as she was dying of cancer, it is a book about both the fallibility and the endurance of love, love that becomes real and lasting through an ongoing reckoning with its own limitations. Rose looks back on her childhood, the complications of her parents’ divorce and her dyslexia, and her deep and divided feelings about what it means to be Jewish. She tells the stories of several friends also laboring under the sentence of death. From the sometimes conflicting vantage points of her own and her friends’ tales, she seeks to work out (seeks, because the work can never be complete – to be alive means to be incomplete) a distinctive outlook on life, one that will do justice to our yearning both for autonomy and for connection to others. With droll self-knowledge (“I am highly qualified in unhappy love affairs,” Rose writes, “My earliest unhappy love affair was with Roy Rogers”) and with unsettling wisdom (“To live, to love, is to be failed”), Rose has written a beautiful, tender, tough, and intricately wrought survival kit packed with necessary but unanswerable questions.
Lukács first published the Hungarian version of Soul and Form in 1910, so this is its centennial. In the hundred years since the first edition, consider how vastly the world has changed; even Lukács’s own thinking went though profound transformation after penning these essays. Yet the essays still speak to us powerfully: of the difficulty of meaningful communication and the forms though which it can be achieved, of the need to criticize forms of authority without taking on the mantle of authoritarianism, of the sort of suffering that characterizes human alienation and of its honest assessment. In other words, these essays engage ideas that continue to trouble and encourage us, not merely as topics in aesthetic or political theory, but as matters of binding human concern. In a way, one wants to insist that these essays are searching, evocative, and often downright beautiful, simply in themselves. Yet Lukács also addresses a diverse set of thinkers, including his favorite author-heroes, among them Plato, Novalis, Kierkegaard, and Stephan George. And as he does, Lukács inaugurates a unique approach to aesthetics and literary criticism. From the perspective of our distance from that inauguration, we can appreciate where the thought presented here indicates a serious challenge to well-known readings of Lukács as well as to common approaches of our contemporary literary criticism. So, for us personally, when we began rereading these essays we were struck by the perspective they allowed on Lukács’s thinking and on subsequent developments in criticism as well as by their contemporary relevance...
Ernst Bloch is most famous for some standard phrases which have gone into the German language but which are very rarely, if at all, attributed to him. Der aufrechte Gang (the upright gait), die konkrete Utopie (concrete utopia), das Prinzip Hoffnung (the Principle of Hope - also the title of his three volume magnum opus, published in the 1950s) are just three of the concepts which demonstrate his commitment to rescuing political, historical and philosophical change back from the dogmatists of stasis and to putting individual human concerns and rights back at the centre of philosophical considerations. Behind all of his work is a both a documentation of, but also a contribution to the optimistic drive forward into new philosophical territories. From his early Nietzschean and expressionist work Geist der Utopie (spirit of utopia), via his studies of the relationship between Religion and History (Atheismus im Christentum) through to his analysis of human dignity and natural law (Naturrecht und menschliche Würde - written after his experience of having lived under Stalinist rule in the GDR), his constant concern was with demonstrating that we are not human beings but human becomings. His thoughts on these issues have been decisive inspirations for many writers and thinkers in the past decades and, in particular, his ideas about the role of religion in society are becoming increasingly pertinent in the post-secular age...
From the Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies homepage.
In Berger's kitchen is an etching of the angel announcing to the shepherds the birth of Christ, which he made when he was a teenage militant left-wing activist. He says he has never practised any religion but over the years has had close friendships with many people who do, including the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's brother, who was a monk in a nearby monastery in France. "And from about the age of 14 two things have coexisted within me. On the one hand a kind of materialism, which includes the Marxist view of history. On the other a sense of the sacred, the religious if you like. This duality never felt contradictory to me, but most other people thought it was. It is beautifully resolved by Spinoza, who shows that it is not a duality, but in fact an essential unity."
As ever, Žižek was discursive, endearing, funny and incisive. I never fail to be impressed that he pulls of that mix so effortlessly. (I had the pleasure of meeting him before the talk, and he was exactly the same talking with a group of friends and colleagues as he is up on stage.)
At the end of his talk he mentioned that he was perhaps coming to the end of his tether with playing the role of philosophy's clown (a role he accepted he invented and perpetuated in dialogue and tension with the media) and has almost finished writing a big, boring book on Hegel. I can't wait! Žižek suggested it was going to be six or seven hundred pages long, with the first hundred pages about Plato, and the next hundred or so discussing Fichte.
You heard it here first!
What are grey vampires and how do they retard the insurrectionary potential of digital discourse? How does Derrida’s notion of hauntology contribute to an understanding of dubstep artist Burial? Is Basic Instinct 2, routinely derided as a cine-atrocity, a Lacanian reworking of Ballard, Baudrillard and Bataille in service of the creation of a “phantasmatic, cybergothic London”? What is interpassivity and in what ways has it come to define the corporatized incarceration of modern academia?2 Talks by Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism
As some of you have no doubt noticed, I've been on a major Hegel kick lately. This, of course, is always a dangerous thing where French theory is concerned, as Hegel as so often treated as the Enemy or culmination of all things wicked in the tradition of onto-theology (assuming his thought can be characterized as "onto-theological"). This is especially dangerous for me as a good deal of my research revolves around Deleuze, and one can hardly mention the name "Hegel" in Deleuzian circles without faces turning red, spittle appearing on lips, and curses being made. After all, isn't Hegel the ultimate thinker of mediation, where everything is subordinated to identity, the whole, and the concept. Yet when I turn to Hegel's Science of Logic and the doctrine of essence, I find it difficult to endorse this reading. At any rate, Žižek seems to present a reading of Hegel strongly at odds with this picture. As Žižek writes in The Sublime Object of Ideology:My thesis... is that the most consistent model of such an acknowledgement of antagonism is offered by Hegelian dialectics: far from being a story of its progressive overcoming, dialectics is for Hegel a systematic notation of the failure of all such attempts – 'absolute knowledge' denotes a subjective position which finally accepts 'contradiction' as an internal condition of every identity. In other words, Hegelian 'reconciliation' is not a 'panlogicist' sublation of all reality in the Concept but a final consent to the fact that the Concept is 'not-all' (to use this Lacanian term). In this sense we can repeat the thesis of Hegel as the first post-Marxist: he opened up the field of a certain fissure subsequently 'sutured' by Marxism.
Yup! I'm on a Hegel kick myself at the moment, and this rings true to me.
This quote is from a useful discussion over on the Larval Subjects blog from about four years back. (Žižek's take on Hegel seems sympathetic to what I understand is Jean-Luc Nancy's reading in Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative.)
The difference between my position and Žižek’s is a very complex question. Sometimes I am very near to Žižek, sometimes I am not exactly in agreement. I think, in fact, that our projects are not the same.
I think that the brilliant work of Žižek is something like the creation of a conceptual matrix that has the power to shed new light on a great field of cultural facts: movies, books, sexual differences, sexual practices, psychoanalysis, and so on. And so I read Žižek as a strange and completely new composition, the composition of a conceptual nucleus between Lacan and German Idealism. He is an absolutely singular unification of Lacan and Kant, Schelling, and Hegel. With this sort of conceptual nucleus, with this conceptual matrix, Žižek can interpret anything in the world. You can ask him, ‘What do you think about this horrible movie?’ And he will have a brilliant interpretation that is much better than the actual movie because his conceptual matrix is very strong and very convincing.
That is, in my opinion, why Žižek is not exactly in the field of philosophy, but in the field of a new topology, a new topology for the interpretation of concrete facts in a situation, political events and so on. Though, here, I mean interpretation not in the hermeneutic sense, but in the psychoanalytic sense. Žižek offers us something like a general psychoanalysis, a psychoanalysis that exceeds the question of clinics and becomes an absolutely general psychoanalysis. This is the first time that anyone has proposed to psychoanalyze our whole world.
My work is ultimately much more classical. It belongs to the field of philosophy, to the field of ontological propositions, and concerns a theory of the relation between truth and the subject. So my fundamental concerns are things like being qua being, the event, the subject, truth, and the distinction between constructed multiplicities and generic multiplicities. My work is systematic philosophy in the great tradition of systematic philosophy that stretches from Plato to today.
Alain Badiou on his friend Slavoj Žižek in an interview with Alain Badiou, Universal Truths & the Question of Religion, conducted (and translated) by Adam S. Miller, Journal of Philosophy and Scripture, back in 2006.
On the 4th of May, at the ICA in London, in a talk entitled Screening Thought - The Media's Philosophical Problem, Slavoj Žižek and RSB interviewee Paul A. Taylor (author of Žižek and The Media) explore the difficulty of conveying philosophical ideas within today's media:
Increasingly, intelligence is only tolerated in pre-approved and reassuringly non-challenging forms - deprecatory humour (Stephen Fry), decaffeinated reasoning (Alain de Botton), or suspiciously grand narratives (Simon Schama). Žižek himself is constantly pigeonholed by such media clichés as 'the Elvis of cultural theory' and 'the Marx Brother'. This event sets out to question 'what can be done?' by serious thought in a culture of sound bites. Is the best that media philosophers can hope for to 'Try again, fail again, fail better'?
Established in 2006, PARRHESIA: A JOURNAL OF CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY is dedicated to publishing the latest work on continental philosophy, along with new translations and interviews with contemporary thinkers:
PARRHESIA is a part of the Open Humanities Press, an international open access publishing collective whose mission is to make leading works of contemporary critical thought freely available worldwide.
PARRHESIA is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License... The contents... are free for any and all to use in educational and non-commercial settings as long as their source is properly attributed.
My reading this evening shall be: Friendship, Asymmetry, Sacrifice: Bataille and Blanchot (PDF) by Patrick ffrench.
London-based readers might be interested in this forthcoming talk:
Politics of the Useless: The Work of Art in Benjamin and Heidegger on Tuesday 8 March, 12.30 – 2pm Graham Wallas Room (A550), Fifth Floor, Old building, LSE (please note this is a lunchtime seminar).
In this talk, David Ferris will examine the use and uselessness of art with respect to its political significance. The talk will focus on two almost contemporary works, Benjamin’s The Work of art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility, and Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art, including the different, evolving versions of each of these works.
David Ferris is Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature, University of Colorado at Boulder.
In a paper entitled Outlines of a world coming into existence: Pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting (running an argument you may be familiar with from Viktor Mayer-Schönberger's book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age), Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin examine (sometimes in horrid academese, it must be admitted) "the potential of pervasive computing to create widespread sousveillance, that will complement surveillance, through the development of life-logs; socio-spatial archives that document every action, every event, every conversation, and every material expression of an individual’s life":
Reflecting on emerging technologies, life-log projects and artistic critiques of sousveillance we explore the potential social, political and ethical implications of machines that never forget. We suggest, given that life-logs have the potential to convert exterior generated oligopticons to an interior panopticon, that an ethics of forgetting needs to be developed and built into the development of life-logging technologies. Rather than seeing forgetting as a weakness or a fallibility we argue that it is an emancipatory process that will free pervasive computing from burdensome and pernicious disciplinary effects (more...)
These interviews with Hélène Cixous offer invaluable insight into her philosophy and criticism. Culled from newspapers, journals, and books, White Ink collects the best of these conversations, which address the major concerns of Cixous’s critical work and features two dialogues with twentieth-century intellectuals Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. The interviews in White Ink span more than three decades and include a new conversation with Susan Sellers, the book’s editor and a leading Cixous scholar and translator. Cixous discusses her work and writing process. She shares her views on literature, feminism, theater, autobiography, philosophy, politics, aesthetics, religion, ethics, and human relations, and she reflects on her roles as poet, playwright, professor, woman, Jew, and, her most famous, “French feminist theorist.” Sellers organizes White Ink in such a way that readers can grasp the development of Cixous’s commentary on a series of vital questions. Taken together, the revealing performances in White Ink provide an excellent introduction this thinker’s brave and vital work-each one an event in language and thought that epitomizes Cixous’s intellectual and poetic force.
Readers of Cixous should also be reminded that Zero's Neighbour: Sam Beckett is out next week with Polity: "In this unabashedly personal odyssey through a sizeable range of his novels, plays and poems, Cixous celebrates Beckett’s linguistic flair and the poignant, powerful thrust of his stylistic terseness, and passionately declares her love for his unrivalled expression of the meaningless ‘precious little’ of life, its unfathomable banality ending in chaos and death."
The nature of film is such that it is difficult to feel that one takes it in completely; no sooner is one frame mentally captured than it is succeeded – in a process that could be called ‘jaillissement’ – by another. Film moves too fast for even the cinematographer to be in full control of the things that it throws up (over and above the way in which any kind of text may be uncontrollable by its author). Directors and editors can choose to minimise these characteristics of the medium, manipulating both images and audience so as to create a final sense of semiotic order and unambiguous declaration: such, according to a somewhat sweeping and antagonistic Tarkovsky, was the practice of Eisenstein, who ‘makes thought into a despot’. But Tarkovsky himself does his best to accentuate the life of its own that film, with its density and speed, possesses. And often, as in The Sacrifice, it is the very profusion and inexhaustibility of the sequence of images and the possible implications and offshoots of narrative that give hope to an otherwise generally bleak set of representations of human existence.
Here, then, there is an obvious starting point for the uneasy project of comparing Levinas with Tarkovsky (or indeed with anyone): both make the most of the resources of their respective media to speak distinctively but with a kind of self-undermining. The saying of the philosophical essay of the moment, and the unrolling of time, both in simulacrum and in the real time of the audience, in film, are both held up as somehow redemptive and transcendent in their resistance to reduction and control.
Tarkovsky and Levinas: Cuts, Mirrors, Triangulations [PDF] by Dominic Michael Rainsford (via wood s lot).
Pinch, punch, first of the month... And thus the first day in the 38 Plays: 38 Days challenge to read a Shakespeare play every day for the next thirty-eight days (or thirty-nine if we read on and bag The Reign of King Edward III).
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1590 or 1591. It is considered by some to be Shakespeare's first play, and is often seen as his first tentative steps in laying out some of the themes and tropes with which he would later deal in more detail; for example, it is the first of his plays in which a heroine dresses as a boy. Two Gentlemen also has the smallest cast of any of Shakespeare's plays.
The play deals with the themes of friendship and infidelity, the conflict between friendship and love, and the foolish behaviour of people in love. The highlight of the play is considered by some to be Launce, the clownish servant of Proteus, and his dog Crab, to whom "the most scene-stealing non-speaking role in the canon" has been attributed.
A question suggests itself -- and I'm certainly not the first to ask it: why in a book ostensibly about Karl Marx does Jacques Derrida divert himself, and us, at such considerable length, considering 'Hamlet'? If we choose not to accuse Derrida of bad faith or wilful obscurantism -- which, anyway, would only show our own bad faith, or an obscure lack of understanding concerning his project -- then we must take him absolutely at his word. We read Spectres of Marx and note that 'Hamlet' allows Derrida to think, and to think of Marx. 'Hamlet' supplies him with the metaphors that allow him to unpack Marx's own metaphors and allow us to see how these metaphors structure Marx, structure 'Hamlet' and could deconstruct (unstructure) our idea both of Marxism and the destructive reality of our capitalist present.
But is something more happening here? Should we ask: can the political only be thought about via/with fictional narrative and the metaphors it lends? Further, can we only think progressively about our collective present and other possible futures if the metaphors we use are deeply embedded in our collective life? Jacques Ranciere, in The Aesthetic Unconscious, problematises our understanding of Freud's use of the Oedipus myth. Did Freud use the Oedipus myth as a metaphor for the unconscious, or was the unconscious already shaped by Oedipus's story? Did Freud use the story or did the story use Freud? Bluntly, I don't think we can think without literature. I don't think we do think without literature. Further, I don't think we can possibly think ourselves out of our current impasse, and the impasse of our thinking, without it.
One of the very many obtuse things about David Shields' obtuse "manifesto" Reality Hunger -- an obtuse book which contains many wonderful quotes about literature and life and which could have been simply a very fine commonplace book -- is its obtuse and strident assertion that the line between the real and the fictive was in any way ever absolute and that the commingling of these two supposedly separate realms will save literature from redundancy.
Mark Fisher describes the foreclosing of (political) thought that could envision different (social) futures as Capitalist Realism. His short book is highly recommended: not least to someone like Shields who seems to think that reality is a given rather than a perpetually socially constructed fiction which we half-wittingly recreate each and every day of our lives.
If the recent banking crisis showed us anything it was that the make-believe is at the heart of what we tell ourselves is real -- and that fiction becomes fact when we have faith enough, or fear, in the (empty) lies that keep us in our places. Those who rule our world kill to maintain the presence of this absence every single day. Every day thousands starve or go cold, kids are bombarded in Iraq whilst neoliberal bloggers cheer, countless bore themselves stupid in offices -- all so that bankers in Saville Row suits are maintained and preserved, and maintain the fiction that thinking beyond a system predicated on their maintainance and preservation is an impossibility.
What is deconstruction? Or, perhaps, that better question from earlier: what was Derrida saying it was when he wrote a book about Marx that was actually much about 'Hamlet'? He was, surely, demonstrating -- more than that, he instantiated it in the very weft and warp of his argument -- that the political is structured by the fictive; is, indeed, always fictive, and needs to be read and understood like this to be undermined and disbelieved.
Things are ever not right here in the 'state of Denmark'. The palace stinks of corruption. The need for change haunts Elsinore; a ghost harrows the corridors and halls. And a spectre is haunting Europe, too: it is called fiction. It is reality's own bad faith. Pace Shields, there is no need to mash-up the fictive and the real to reinvigorate narrative, but there is certainly a need to read the real as always already fictional and thus detonate reality's murderous presumptions.
The Forward has a good article -- and some very interesting book news -- on Emmanuel Levinas:
Lithuanian-born French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, has grown in fame and stature since his death in 1995. Acclaimed for his philosophy of the “other,” which recognizes morality — and behavior toward others — as the basis for any philosophical thought, Levinas offers a decisive break with his onetime teacher Martin Heidegger’s comparatively individualist obsession with “being.”
In the murderous schoolyard of 20th-century politics, Levinas’s focus on playing well with others seems all the more crucial in retrospect. Moreover, as opposed to Heidegger’s notorious wartime embrace of Nazism, Levinas wrote of Judaism, and the Talmud in particular, as central subjects in the main stream of world philosophy.
This spring, a flood of admiring new books on Levinas will appear: Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption from Columbia University Press; Other Others: Levinas, Literature, Transcultural Studies from SUNY Press; Levinasian Meditations from Duquesne University Press; and A Covenant of Creatures: Levinas’s Philosophy of Judaism from Stanford University Press. Yet none is as startlingly, indeed stunningly, revelatory as a new book from Grasset-IMEC Publishers in France containing Levinas’s previously unpublished Notebooks in Captivity (Carnets de captivité) the first volume of a planned series of his complete writings (more...)
An excellent post at Lenin's Tomb, on Channel 4's recent, dreadful commentary on the Royal Mail, and on the response of the pseudonymous postal worker Roy Mayall to the progamme. As Lenin points out, Mayall's book Dear Granny Smith is a wonderful read. It's a great companion piece to Capitalist Realism, in fact, and anyone who has enjoyed Capitalist Realism's account of the immiseration of public service labour will get a lot from Dear Granny Smith.
Actually, another dimension of capitalist realism came into focus after reading Roy Mayall's response to the Dispatches documentary, and his reply to the producer's defence of the documentary. This kind of "undercover filming"-style documentary is one version capitalist realism. It presents us with an apparently unmediated, ostensibly depoliticised "reality", our perception of which is in fact shaped by the (misleading) "context" provided by "experts" (more...)
Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with Raoul Vaneigem over at Info Exchange:
HUO: Today, more than forty years after May ‘68, how do you feel life and society have evolved?
RV: We are witnessing the collapse of financial capitalism. This was easily predictable. Even among economists, where one finds even more idiots than in the political sphere, a number had been sounding the alarm for a decade or so. Our situation is paradoxical: never in Europe have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive. Still, insurrectional consciousness always sleeps with one eye open. The arrogance, incompetence, and powerlessness of the governing classes will eventually rouse it from its slumber, as will the progression in hearts and minds of what was most radical about May 1968 (more...)
The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force—not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity. The bigots, the hysterics, the destroyers of the self—these are the writers who bear witness to the fearful polite time in which we live. It is mostly a matter of tone: it is hardly possible to give credence to ideas uttered in the impersonal tones of sanity. There are certain eras which are too complex, too deafened by contradictory historical and intellectual experiences, to hear the voice of sanity. Sanity becomes compromise, evasion, a lie. Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness. The truths we respect are those born of affliction. We measure truth in terms of the cost to the writer in suffering—rather than by the standard of an objective truth to which a writer's words correspond. Each of our truths must have a martyr.
What revolted the mature Goethe in the young Kleist, who submitted his work to the elder statesman of German letters "on the knees of his heart"—the morbid, the hysterical, the sense of the unhealthy, the enormous indulgence in suffering out of which Kliest's plays and tales were mined—is just what we value today. Today Kleist gives pleasure, Goethe is to some a duty. In the same way, such writers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Genet—and Simone Weil—have their authority with us because of their air of unhealthiness. Their unhealthiness is their soundness, and is what carries conviction. Little Bookroom / Savoir Fare London
Perhaps there are certain ages which do not need truth as much as they need a deepening of the sense of reality, a widening of the imagination. I, for one, do not doubt that the sane view of the world is the true one. But is that what is always wanted, truth? The need for truth is not constant; no more than is the need for repose. An idea which is a distortion may have a greater intellectual thrust than the truth; it may better serve the needs of the spirit, which vary. The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.
Thus I do not mean to decry a fashion, but to underscore the motive behind the contemporary taste for the extreme in art and thought. All that is necessary is that we not be hypocritical, that we recognize why we read and admire writers like Simone Weil. I cannot believe that more than a handful of the tens of thousands of readers she has won since the posthumous publication of her books and essays really share her ideas. Nor is it necessary—necessary to share Simone Weil's anguished and unconsummated love affair with the Catholic Church, or accept her gnostic theology of divine absence, or espouse her ideals of body denial, or concur in her violently unfair hatred of Roman civilization and the Jews. Similarly, with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche; most of their modern admirers could not, and do not embrace their ideas. We read writers of such scathing originality for their personal authority, for the example of their seriousness, for their manifest willingness to sacrifice themselves for their truths, and—only piecemeal—for their "views." As the corrupt Alcibiades followed Socrates, unable and unwilling to change his own life, but moved, enriched, and full of love; so the sensitive modern reader pays his respect to a level of spiritual reality which is not, could not, be his own.
Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of exemplary lives, there are those which invite us to imitate them, and those which we regard from a distance with a mixture of revulsion, pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the difference between the hero and the saint (if one may use the latter term in an aesthetic, rather than a religious sense). Such a life, absurd in its exaggerations and degree of self-mutilation—like Kleist's, like Kierkegaard's—was Simone Weil's. I am thinking of the fanatical asceticism of Simone Weil's life, her contempt for pleasure and for happiness, her noble and ridiculous political gestures, her elaborate self-denials, her tireless courting of affliction; and I do not exclude her homeliness, her physical clumsiness, her migraines, her tuberculosis. No one who loves life would wish to imitate her dedication to martyrdom nor would wish it for his children nor for anyone else whom he loves. Yet so far as we love seriousness, as well as life, we are moved by it, nourished by it. In the respect we pay to such lives, we acknowledge the presence of mystery in the world—and mystery is just what the secure possession of the truth, an objective truth, denies. In this sense, all truth is superficial; and some (but not all) distortions of the truth, some (but not all) insanity, some (but not all) unhealthiness, some (but not all) denials of life are truth-giving, sanity-producing, health-creating, and life-enhancing.
I'm off out tonight to hear (and, hopefully, participate in) a debate between, on the one side, Archbishop John Onaiyekan (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria) and Ann Widdecombe MP (Conservative MP) and, on t'other side, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry. The proposal is: "The Catholic church is a force for good in the world." I suspect "a plague on both their houses" will be my considered view at the end of the affair, but it looks like it might be an interesting event nonetheless. Run by Intelligence Squared who seem to have quite a lot of decent looking events coming up.
I have little idea where last week went. Apologies. I'm still trying to get used to the slightly mad rhythm of my new London life...
Back in May, I wrote a blog post called Like What You Like. In one of the comments, I said:
Liking whatever you like is a relativistic point about liking -- plenty of stuff out there, enjoy what you will. But my second point is a separate point, not an extension of my first, and it is an almost essentialist point noting that literature itself asks what literature is, and only literature can answer.
I wanted to come back to this again because it seems to me that (at least) two types of reading are being carried out by most readers most of the time. And only one of them is likely to allow readers to find what new literature might be out there now. I'm tempted to suggest that the two categories of reading could be called "reading for pleasure" and "reading seriously", but even to suggest as much strikes me as utterly absurd. I don't read for anything other than pleasure (although a deeper pleasure as opposed to a sugar-high might have to be conceded!) I wondered if "reading philosophically" versus "reading non-philosophically" might perhaps be the distinction, but that crumbles as soon as it is invoked. The suggestion that any reading is non-philosophical is risible. We've surely all got whiff of enough cultural studies to know that it is now widely recognised -- and bleedin' obvious -- that when folk are slumped in front of the telly watching some soap opera or other they are engaging with it on many different levels, and use it later to negotiate conversations about ethics, morals, narrative; same when they are reading an airport thriller. Both these attempts at describing these two types of reading also come perilously close to the idea that one type of reading is better than the other. Again, that strikes me as plainly daft.
In their excellent introduction to Maurice Blanchot, Ullrich Haase and William Large suggest that, particularly on the back of the thinking of Hegel (via Alexandre Kojève), Heidegger, and Nietzsche, and in (often silent) dialogue throughout his life with Bataille, Nancy, Derrida and Levinas, Blanchot has inherited a question...
... namely that of the finitude of our existence, expressing itself in a new, disturbing and seemingly meaningless experience of death. Here it is no longer the powerful subject that gives meaning to its world, but a passive human voice that listens to the anonymous voice of the other.
This means that the question of literature, in which at least for Blanchot this anonymity has its greatest force, is no longer a parochial question about values and tastes, but a directly philosophical question about the status of the human being, and that this question has a broader ethical and political significance.
This is the greatest impact of Blanchot's writings: to think about literature, to struggle with the question of literature, is to face the fundamental questions of our age.
The demand of literature, then. There is, thus, only one type of reading: reading! Something else is happening when we consume books, even if we think about them very seriously (our newspaper 'critics', our synopsis-writing friends in the blogosphere, myself often) or think about them hardly at all (our stereotype of a commuter reading his 'Dan Brown'). The continuum between active-passive, engaged-unengaged, is not where the demand is responded to. But it is that response, a response that should not need to be called anything other than reading, but is so much more than what we have begun to think reading merely need be, that is demanded of us if we want to begin to want "to think about literature, to struggle with the question of literature [and] to face the fundamental questions of our age."
Doubtless, there is sometimes a fearsome intelligence to the dinner-party guest who can hold forth about the latest Booker shortlist and their associated merits and demerits. And then there is someone, somewhere else, quietly reading in a corner, really reading, wowed and unnerved and silenced by the poetry of Celan. I've been impressed by that dinner-guest on many occasions (I think I may well have sometimes been a boorish version of that dinner-guest myself) and I have no doubt that s/he reads carefully, deeply, in an engaged and serious way. Equally, I have no doubt that, very often, they entirely miss the point not only of what they are reading at any particular time, but of what reading means and what a reader could or should be in response to Blanchot's demand -- or, rather, Blanchot's recognition of the demand of literature -- and away from the need either to see consuming texts as a legitimate leisure activity or a way to impress life's Greek chorus about your putative intelligence.
From Nietzsche's preface to The Dawn (published 1881; this translation by J.M. Kennedy):
... we are friends of the lento, I and my book. I have not been a philologist in vain -- perhaps I am one yet: a teacher of slow reading. I even come to write slowly. At present it is not only my habit, but even my taste -- a perverted taste, maybe -- to write nothing but what will drive to despair every one who is "in a hurry." For philology is that venerable art which exacts from its followers one thing above all -- to step to one side, to leave themselves spare moments, to grow silent, to become slow -- the leisurely art of the goldsmith applied to language: an art which must carry out slow, fine work, and attains nothing if not lento. For this very reason philology is now more desirable than ever before; for this very reason it is the highest attraction and incitement in an age of "work": that is to say, of haste, of unseemly and immoderate hurry-skurry, which is intent upon "getting things done "at once, even every book, whether old or new. Philology itself, perhaps, will not "get things done" so hurriedly: it teaches how to read well: i.e. slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, with delicate fingers and eyes... my patient friends, this book appeals only to perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well!
From The Mole:
Nietzsche Source is a web site devoted to the publication of scholarly content on the work and life of Friedrich Nietzsche. The contents of the site and its internet addresses are stable and can be freely consulted and used for scholarly purposes. Two editions are currently being published in Nietzsche Source: the digital version of the standard critical edition and the facsimile edition of the entire Nietzsche estate.
The genetic editions of two of Nietzsche’s works The Wanderer and his Shadow and Dawn, including the reproduction of all related manuscripts, are in preparation. The website is managed by the Nietzsche Source Organization (formerly, the Association HyperNietzsche), a non-profit organisation hosted at the École normale supérieure in Paris. Its main purpose is to continue work on the edition, commentary and interpretation of Nietzsche's work.
The latest Guardian blog article by Simon Critchley on Heidegger concerns itself with anxiety. Rhys has all the links to this and the other previous articles in the series. Of course, anxiety can't be understood if you don't understand the centrality of mood to Heidegger's thought, something Simon tackled nicely in the preceding article:
Furthermore, I am always found in a mood, a Stimmung. This is mood is the strong Aristotelian sense of pathos, a passion of the soul or an affect, something befalls us and in which we find ourselves. The passions are not, for Heidegger, psychological colouring for an essentially rational agent. They are rather the fundamental ways in which we are attuned to the world. Indeed, musicologically, Stimmung is linked to tuning and pitch: one is attuned to the world firstly and mostly through moods. One of the compelling aspects of Heidegger's work is his attempt to provide a phenomenology of moods, of the affects that make up our everyday life in the world. (More...)
I'm certainly not the person to write anything insightful on Michael Jackson, but k-punk has stepped up to the plate:
The death of this King - "my brother, the Legendary King Of Pop", as Jermaine Jackson described him in his press conference, as if giving Michael his formal title - recalls not the Diana carcrash, but the sad slump of Elvis from catatonic narcosis into the long good night. Perhaps it was only Elvis who managed to insinuate himself into practically every living human being's body and dreams to the same degree that Jackson did, at the microphysical level of enjoyment as well as at the macro-level of spectacular memeplex. Michael Jackson: a figure so subsumed and consumed by the videodrome that it's scarely possible to think of him as an individual human being at all... because he wasn't of course... becoming videoflesh was the price of immortality, and that meant being dead while still alive, and no-one knew that more than Michael (more...)
Via the Booksurfer blog:
Jeff Klooger who runs the occasional Castoriadis blog has written a critical exploration of the "underpinnings and implications of Cornelius Castoriadis’ reflections on Being, society and the self [Castoriadis: Psyche, Society, Autonomy.] The book introduces the reader to the main concepts of Castoriadis’ work, but goes further to uncover the fundamental philosophical issues addressed by Castoriadis, and to critically examine the issues his work opens up."
Never an easy read, but always rewarding, Castoriadis' work deserves to be better known in the UK. My introduction was by those wonderful pamphlets run off on an old duplicator by the Soldiarity group many years ago - which somehow still seem more appropriate for the subversive spirit that lays at the heart of Castioradis' writing.
RSB-interviewee Simon Critchley is writing in the Guardian's Comment is Free blog on Heidegger's Being and Time. I link here to what is promised to be the first of eight articles that Critchley hopes will "give a taste of the book and offer some signposts for readers who would like to explore further."
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was the most important and influential philosopher in the continental tradition in the 20th century. Being and Time, first published in 1927, was his magnum opus. There is no way of understanding what took place in continental philosophy after Heidegger without coming to terms with Being and Time. Furthermore, unlike many Anglo-American philosophers, Heidegger has exerted a huge influence outside philosophy, in areas as diverse as architecture, contemporary art, social and political theory, psychotherapy, psychiatry and theology... the basic idea of Being and Time is extremely simple: being is time. That is, what it means for a human being to be is to exist temporally in the stretch between birth and death. Being is time and time is finite, it comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death, what Heidegger calls "being-towards-death". (More...)
Clavdia writes that she grows "weary of the 'philosophy' and the 'teaching' I do here. It breaks my spirit. Maybe I would like it better if it masqueraded under a different name -- but it is both too close and far too far from the philosophy and the teaching I have done elsewhere..."
There are little lights though -- the light today when reading Koffka's strange Gestalt theories -- a hybrid of Whitehead and Leibniz. The light reading Spinoza last week and speaking of his creation -- learning what it was he had done, and how little it is understood. The light reading these small, simple books -- books about love and friendship and communication and understanding. The light that comes from thinking about a paper project -- a paper on perception and beauty that turns outward to understand the inward. But the greatest light comes from remembering to be strange and to be open and to be sensitive and to remember laughter and make-believe and finding voices and understanding in the places that others have forgotten to look. (More.)
I'm enjoying the BBC poetry season in a fairly uncommitted, pretty kneejerk and vague kinda way. I'm glad that they are doing it, I suppose, and I've been happy to see Owen Sheers talking about Sylvia Plath and (some of) Simon Schama talking about John Donne, and I'm looking forward to Armando Iannucci's progamme on Milton. But I'm afraid that the opinons of Griff Rhys Jones, Michelle Ryan, Alex James, John Sergeant and Cerys Matthews on matters poetical are not something I can bring myself to care very much about, and the whole event has the kind of middlebrow, middle class feel that always seems to surround poetry and will put off as many people as it will, doubtless, inspire. GRJ's wide-eyed enthusiasms and his constant gurning particularly annoy me; is there no room at all, across the whole network, for some serious academics to talk seriously about serious poetry? No? Just the gurning? Right, there you are then!
Nonetheless, poetry is in the air, and my current re-reading of Plath, Eliot, Wallace Stevens and naughty Ruth Padel's useful 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem has, I'm sure, been stimulated by the Beeb's propaganda. Whilst it is right for the Beeb to remind us that poetry can be fun and that poems aren't difficult and dense puzzles that only initiates can fathom and unlock, the programmes have also correctly highlighted the fact that poets pay especial care to and with the language they use, how they place one word against another, and how they go about achieving, in such a concentrated form, a maximum of meaning and emotional punch. Whilst it is good, then, to remember how enjoyable and entertaining poetry can be, we're also being reminded that to get the most out of a poem you need to read it carefully.
This has led me to think: what does it mean to read carefully, to read with care? And what would it mean to read prose is such a way? What would we gain from reading prose as we should read poetry, from reading prose poetically?
The word care comes from the Old English caru or cearu meaning "sorrow, anxiety, grief", but to care for someone or something is to shield them from such, or to accept that they are in such a state, in their "bed of sickness" afflicted by "mental suffering" and requiring our solicitous "protection, preservation or guidance." Being full of cares has morphed, in the word carefully, to being full of care for (care for those who are themselves full of cares). To read carefully is, then, to read solicitously, painstakingly (taking on board the pain, taking on its weight, taking it away from the poem and into our own care), slowly, anxiously desirous of understanding the full weight of meaning of each word. It is the opposite of reading instrumentally, as a means to an end, as merely the means to get to the end of the book, to find the answer but not to observe, to respect, to hold in view and to care for the question that the text always is and is always posing.
Reading carefully is awareness of the cares of words; our habitual carelessness, when reading, shows us that reading's ethical dimension is one that poetry's own intricacy can help to highlight. Reading poetry can help us become better readers especially, perhaps, when and if we remember to read prose poetically. Maybe, then, it is just about worth enduring Gryf's gormless gurning to be reminded of this.
Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate is an engaging, witty, and largely successful critique of the new atheists, especially Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great) and Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion), whose delusional grandiosity earns them the hybrid nickname Ditchkens. The text of his Terry Lectures at Yale, Eagleton’s book has received smart, generally warm reviews in recent days from Andrew O’Hehir at Salon and from Stanley Fish on his NY Times blog, Think Again. The book certainly merits our attention both for its hilarious send-up of the pompous Ditchkens and for its less successful attempt to infuse revolutionary politics with the spirit of the gospel (more...)
Whilst Bridget Riley's Op Art looks to be utterly abstract it was, for Riley, grounded in real life. Following John Lancaster, Wikipedia defines Optical Art as "a method of painting concerning the interaction between illusion and picture plane, between understanding and seeing", but for Riley the first "picture plane" was the eye and it was immediately offered illusions by the world itself. Bend close to -- and concentrate hard on -- grass bending in the wind and, to be honest to reality, to paint what you actually see, you'll have to create something that looks a bit like Orphean Elegy I. It would be merely an amusing taxonomical gesture to rebrand Op Art as Realism, but it would perhaps be a useful reminder that the concomitant gesture, that of refusing to see Realism merely as Ideology, is an absurd taxonomical rigidity we'd do best to overturn. To think Realism is real -- or even a particularly good representation of it -- is a very major category error.
All art, sometimes despite itself, is symbolic, but mistaking the real for Realism is madness. In Wallace Stevens' Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself a sound is heard, "a scrawny cry from outside / Seemed like a sound in his mind." There is a dialectic between inside and outside, a dialogue, a tension: art negotiates that, plays with it. What a piece of artwork is, or represents, always ends up representing something more than itself: a picture of lines is really a picture of grass is really about nature or the world or perhaps something more political like "women and nature" or "women and nature and the world" -- this is an almost inevitable critical drift, one that we should be aware of and very cautious about. Note the way the drift occurs: seamlessly, what a picture is, or could be, becomes what it is about; representation is always already symbolism (as they'd no doubt say in the University seminar room). The smallest part -- that blade of grass, Whitman's or Riley's -- can refer to, can stand for, the whole; but, in truth, the pressure is too much to bear: it can't be the whole, and the whole itself can never be represented, so the urge to create is the certainty of failure, but also the very reason to carry on creating.
Writing in the Guardian, Damon Wise called Charlie Kaufman's new film, Synecdoche, New York, "an epic, wilfully obscure, splurge of surrealism." Central to the film is its meditation on art. After winning a MacArthur 'Genius' Grant, playwright Caden Cotard hires a huge, empty warehouse and begins to recreate in the minutest detail his own life (fans of Tom McCarthy's Remainder will, of course, be struck by how close Kaufmann's film is to that novel). What we are shown is that, taken too literally, mimetic realism slides fairly quickly into the surrealism that Wise bemoans. Indeed, what is noteworthy is that Cotard's re-creative drive, by being so devoted to Realism, loses all realism and cannot ever satisfy him of its truth. His attempt to get at the raw truth of things (too much Kant, not enough Nietzsche; arguably the opposite of the film's director!) by staging as event what happens to him in his life as accident makes his art -- and this film -- peculiarly preoccupied with death. Cotard's Realism produces non-realistic art that ruins his increasing unreal life. In the film, Samantha Morton's plays Hazel, the most important woman in his life. She lives in a house which is perpetually on fire. The symbolism is heavy-handed, but ambiguous -- like the film itself.
Coincidentally, Morton's directorial debut, The Unloved (a "film that gives a child's eye view of the U.K.'s government-run care system for orphans and children in danger") was on the television last night. It is a wonderfully moving drama (and great to see the gorgeous music of Colleen used to such brilliant effect) set, mostly, in the realist mode. Indeed, at times it was filmed to look like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. What made the film far more affecting than the usual "bleak, powerful, truthful, brave" (insert adjective of choice) drama of this type, and such programmes have a history going back forty years to the landmark screening of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home, was its willingness regularly to slow the pace of the narrative right down and focus on a face, a tacky statuette of the virgin Mary, dust motes shining in a shaft of sunlight. (Morton is surely taking a directorial lead here from Lynne Ramsay in whose film of Morvern Callar she appeared in 2002.) The narrative of The Unloved was itself wilfully told only from the central character Lucy's perspective, so that much of what happened -- as it would have been to 11-year-old Lucy herself -- was ambiguous, odd, inexplicable. The film, then, was at its strongest when its realism was at its weakest and thus when the Real, in all its strangeness, was allowed room to show itself for what it was.
It is a parody of Catholicism to suggest that you can sin all your life, but as long as you get a final confession in before the final curtain is drawn for the last time you'll be alright, and then the Big Guy will let St. P let you in through the Pearly gates. But, saying that, it's not that much of a parody! The basic pattern here is: sin - repentance - forgiveness (... and repeat). The assurance, of course, is there that you will always be forgiven (if your piety is genuine). I've always thought, however, that the certainty of forgiveness, in this scenario, rather cedes power to the sin and to the sinner: they are both considered to be given, presumed as a constant, elemental, essential, even vital. We are the Fallen, after all, so sin is what we do, what we are mired in, what we are. Asking for forgiveness, then, is something of a PR stunt: future sins are in the pipeline, probably already being planned and certain to happen, forgiveness for them will be asked at the appropriate time, after the sin has been enacted and, no doubt, thoroughly enjoyed.
Now, that might all be rather slipshod theology, but it seems to me to be a pretty useful analogy for what is going on in our society right now. Saying sorry has reached epidemic (or should that be pandemic) proportions. Politicians do it all the time: bomb a country because of a lie they've concocted, then say sorry for the lie once it has done the work required of it. Journalists keep pressing those in the City whose greed and stupidity precipitated the credit crunc at least to beg pardon for what they have done. And now even the London Evening Standard is getting in on the act: "Buses and tubes will carry a series of messages throughout the week that begin with the word "sorry." The first says "Sorry for losing touch". Subsequent slogans say sorry for being negative, for taking you for granted, for being complacent and for being predictable."
This then, I portentously proclaim, is the era of Catholic capitalism: just as nasty as capitalism has ever been, but now with deathbed confessions, pious apologies and the desperate need for absolution. "Forgive us our sins," say the politicians, the bankers, the media and the generals, for, in some dreadful parody of Nietzsche's concept of eternal return, "we shall certainly commit them again and again and again."
Jacques Rancière and Indisciplinarity, an interview conducted with Rancière by Marie-Aude Baronian and Mireille Rosello from the University of Amsterdam and ASCA, translated by Gregory Elliott (via wood s lot; this being just one of the excellent essays on Rancière in Art and Research):
I try to problematise the categories that structure diagnoses of our present and debates about it. Thus, I’ve attempted to rethink democracy by refusing both its official identification with the state forms and lifestyles of rich societies and denunciation of it as a form that masks the realities of domination. Official apologists and Marxist critics basically concur in characterising democracy as a mode of government built on a society defined as a society of consumers. In opposition to this dominant view I’ve reactivated the real scandal of democracy – which is that it reveals the ultimate absence of legitimacy of any government. As the foundation of politics it asserts the equal capacity of anyone and everyone to be either governor or governed. I’ve thus been led to conceive democracy as the deployment of forms of action that activate anyone’s equality with anyone else, and not as a form of state or a kind of society. As regards aesthetics (more...)
The Nicolas Bourriaud curated Tate Triennial, Altermodern, has been generating plenty of discussion – much of it negative. I’m the first to get grumpy with contemporary art, but to my surprise I enjoyed a lot of the Tate’s exhibition. Much of the criticism, such as Rachel Campbell-Johnston in the Times, Jackie Wullschager in the FT and Waldemar Janusczek in the Sunday Times, has been pitched very much against the artists’ and Bourriaud’s use of theory. In one sense one should be used to this with the mainstream press – they’ve always been scared of intellectuals that go beyond the merely middlebrow. But surely their art critics should be obliged to be at least a little up-to-date with the cutting edge in contemporary thought? Doesn’t that kind of come with the job description?
In this context, the latest issue of Art Monthly (February 09; nothing available to read online, I’m afraid) is to be recommended, with no less than three excellent pieces that amount to a critical engagement with the issues surrounding the Tate’s Altermodern. There’s a wonderful interview with radical artist Francis Alys (not at the Tate, but one who could be indicated as an exemplary practitioner of Bourriaud’s earlier headline concept, Relational Aesthetics); a great piece by Dave Beech on the possibilities for critical art after Postmodernism, where he tackles Bourriaud’s concept of the Altermodern within a historical and theoretical context; and finally Maya and Reuben Fowkes on the relationship between art and theory, where they explore a curator’s relationship to art theory and how it can be used and abused.
Next Thursday, 19th February, 7.00-8.30pm, at the Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, South Kensington, SW7, London, Rupert Read of the University of East Anglia is giving a talk winningly entitled: Gramsci and ‘The Lord of the Rings’: Optimism and Pessimism at a Time of Crisis. The event, organised by the Forum For European Philosophy, is free and open to all without registration.
A friend of mine argues that the collapse of Cultural Studies as an academic discipline in the UK was because of its own omnipresence. It seems that every broadsheet supplement you pick up now has an article speculating on fandom, consumption, people at play, etc... But, sadly, they’re not written by anyone of the calibre of Raymond Williams.
Mind body spirit publisher O books have a courageous new imprint Zero Books. Novelist Tariq Goddard (author of Homage to a Firing Squad, Dynamo and The Morning Rides Behind Us) has been busy commissioning some excellent, unsung authors to write short books on contemporary culture: educated, informed by – but not in awe of – theory, and genuinely provocative. The first is Wire writer David Stubbs on Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko but Don’t Get Stockhausen which I’ll be fascinated to read as I’m sceptical of the middle classes newfound love of contemporary art (my own tastes tend to be the reverse: hate Rothko, love Aufgehoben) and suspect it has more to do with a pleasant afternoon in a white space. Elitist, moi? I digress...
With svelte prose, agile wit, and alarming erudition, Owen Hatherley pries open the prematurely closed case of early 20th Century modernism. This slim and shapely, ideas-packed and intensely-felt book is neither a misty-eyed memorial nor a dour inquest, but a verging-on-erotic mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Rediscovering the enchantment of demystification and the sexiness of severity, Hatherley harks forward to modernism's utopian spirit: critical, radically democratic, dedicated to the conscious transformation of everyday life, determined to build a better world.
They’re both out on the 24th April.
Why there is a close relationship between poetry and philosophy, or more generally between literature and philosophy? It’s because philosophy finds in literature some examples of completely new forms of the destiny of the human subject. And precisely new forms of the concrete becoming of the human subject when this subject is confronted to its proper truth.
I name figure this textual presentation of forms of the subjective truth. The figures are of great interest for a philosophical theory of the subject. My example today will be some figures that we discover in the novels of Samuel Beckett (more...)
Scars of Différance (which says its "project is to create an e-library for a Heideggerian philosophy and Bourdieuan sociology") provides a nice pile of Beckett links (thanks Steve).
... I find myself in an ever more hostile political and epistemological environment in which the backlash against theory has not only taken up its place in those ‘post-theoretical’ rhetorics of well known well-trodden high-profile debates (Eagleton, et al) but the backlash has become absolutely generalised: to theorise, it now seems, is to leave oneself open to the distinction of mere crass generalisation.
I am, to be sure, perplexed by the wholesale academic abandonment of theory in my own discipline. But it is not localised there, of course. My discipline’s falling out of love with theory is, inevitably, a falling out of love with the idea of thought as having a kind of ‘power’ as Simon Critchley has put it. For some, the decline of philosophy into theory is the beginning of the problem, but for me that moment marked a particular fecundity in the idea that the given-ness of the world is available to radical question (more...)
Philosopher Arne Næss (January 27th 1912 - January 12th 2009), who invented the concept of "deep ecology", has died (via The Norway Post, hence the crazy English):
The recognized Norwegian philosopher, author, environmentalist and mountain climber Arne Næss sr has died at the age of nearly 97. He died in his sleep on Monday night, VG reports. Arne Næss sr was born on January 27th 1912, and received his MA degree in 1933, as the youngest ever. Doctor of Philosophy in 1936. He became professor at the University of Oslo at the age of 27... Næss was an advocate of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non violence which he developed further (more...)
In the December 19th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education there was a Critical Mass column (annoyingly, full text is not online, you have to be a subscriber, but thanks Rowan for sending me the text of the article) on "cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek" which brought together a number of quotes from critics and bloggers "about the nature of Žižek's intellectual project".
The bloggers were responding to an article by Adam Kirsch in The New Republic:
The cover of its December 3 issue pronounces Žižek The Most Despicable Philosopher in the West. The inside essay is equally scathing. In what is ostensibly a review of two recent books by Žižek — Violence: Six Sideways Reflections and In Defense of Lost Causes — Adam Kirsch, a senior editor at the magazine, accuses Žižek of, among other things, being a fascist and flirting with anti-Semitism.
There is a name for the politics that glorifies risk, decision, and will; that yearns for the hero, the master, and the leader; that prefers death and the infinite to democracy and the pragmatic; that finds the only true freedom in the terror of violence. Its name is not communism. Its name is fascism, and in his most recent work Žižek has inarguably revealed himself as some sort of fascist...
My favourite response to Kirsch is this from Mark Scroggins (I'll respond myself later in the week):
An astonishing farrago of out-of-context quotations, superficial misreadings, and ad hominem attacks. Kirsch makes David Lehman on Paul de Man seem subtle.
Via wood s lot, a suggestive reading of Benjamin's Capitalism as Religion from Leniency. One of his commenters rightly suggests Philip Goodchild's Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety and Theology of Money as excellent follow-up reading:
Rather than the usual model of capital as abolishing or rationalising the sacred -- making everyday a workday -- Benjamin reverses this to argue that everyday is the feast day. What capitalism imposes is this unremitting requirement for its own worship without mercy. I'm reminded of Blanchot's quip that we have prisons to try to remind us that we are not all living in a prison (more...)
Scott McLemee on Negri (in BookForum):
Four new works by Negri appeared in English in 2008 — the year we all found ourselves well downstream from that era when debate over globalization and its discontents took the form of extrapolating long-term trends. The problem now is to find a way through the ruins. I have been studying the books in a state of heightened (indeed, strained) attention — with powers of concentration periodically stimulated and shattered by arteriosclerotic convulsions in the world’s financial markets — but also through tears in my eyes.
They are tears of perplexity and frustration. It is not that Negri’s most recent books pose difficulties, both conceptual and programmatic, that his earlier ones did not. The ambiguities have been there all along, as have the opacities. Still, they seemed poetic—not just in that terms like Empire and Multitude possessed a certain evocative, science-fictional luminosity, but also in something like the root sense of poesis. They did not simply name possibilities; they seemed to create a new thing in the world, if only by inciting the political imagination to new efforts. But the latest books do not have that quality. Negri’s analysis of the emerging system is itself a system — if not a world unto itself — and the movement of his thought is now largely centripetal (more...)
Last Saturday saw a great post from infinite thøught about films that reveal philosophical issues – and no, she doesn't mean the Matrix! We get a fantastic alternative must see film list where infinite mentions what sounds like an incredible Argentinian film called Mobius about a disappearing subway train. There then follows a great post about flimsiness. Flimsy is a word to be used more!
Rowlands was in his twenties when he bought Brenin, a hybrid wolf-dog puppy. It was the early 1990s and he was lecturing in philosophy at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In his spare time he hung out with the students, getting through a bottle or two of bourbon a night, playing rugby and lending Brenin to his team mates because, of all their big, bold dogs, Brenin was the best “chick magnet. In fact, they used a slightly different expression: more colourful, but not really repeatable”. There is a good deal more testosterone in this autobiography than an older cat-keeping lady can easily relate to.
More than a spitz-loving blogger can probably cope with too, then! (Fact-checking, my understanding is that Brenin, Rowlands' "dog", was actually pure wolf, or so Rowlands was assured. You can buy a wolf-dog hybrid in the States that is up to 96% wolf, but buying and selling pure wolves is illegal. Rowlands didn't know this when he bought Brenin, and says he wouldn't have cared that much anyway.)
Philosopher and psychoanalyst, Slavoj Žižek on the truth about "change":
Consequently, the main task of the ruling ideology is to impose a narrative that will not put the blame for the meltdown onto the global capitalist system as such, but on, say, lax legal regulations and the corruption of big financial institutions. Against this tendency, we should insist on the key question: which “flaw” of the system as such opens up the possibility for — and continuous outbreaks of — such crises and collapses?
The first thing to bear in mind is that the origin of the crisis is a “benevolent” one. After the dot-com bubble exploded in the first years of the new millennium, the decision across party lines was to facilitate real estate investments to keep the economy growing and prevent recession. Today’s meltdown is the price paid for the United States avoiding a prolonged recession five years ago.
The danger is that the predominant narrative of the meltdown will be the one that, instead of waking us from a dream, will enable us to continue to dream. And it is here that we should start to worry — not only about the economic consequences of the meltdown, but also about the obvious temptation to reinvigorate the “war on terror” and U.S. interventionism in order to keep the economy running (more...)
Infinite Thought, fast becoming my favourite blog, is currently running an occasional series of some of the finest philosophers/theorists on the financial crisis. Currently unearthed are Badiou, Virilio and Jacques Alain Miller.
Also IT has been attending numerous panels and discussions on the crisis and provides a handy digest of the of the views of the likes of Chris Harman, Peter Gowan, Alex Callinicos, Alan Freeman and Robin Blackburn.
I quite like Rowan Williams. Although I do wish he'd get his Church to stop obsessing about where consenting adults put their willies. Did Jesus ever even mention sexuality? I don't think he did. And maybe Paul mentioned it, like, once. As Chumbawamba once sang, "Homophobia ... The worst disease."
Anyway, the Archbishop has recently published a book entitled Dostoyevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction which looks decent enough. Via archbishopofcanterbury.org you can listen to the Archbishop talking to Susan Hitch nattering about the "conflicting ideas about spiritual regeneration and existentialism as embodied in the characters of his literary hero, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky."
Next Thursday (9th October) at 7pm at the Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, South Kensington, SW7, London, Daniel D. Hutto, Professor of Philosophical Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, is giving a talk entitled: Wittgenstein: The End of Philosophy?
Congratulations to Radical Philosophy for reaching their 150th issue! Since 1972 it's been expanding what is understood as philosophy, introducing a large number of continental theorists to the UK and, incredibly, maintaining a presence on the news stands. Among other things, the latest issue includes a fascinating interview with the photographer and artist Jeff Wall.
Here's to another 150 issues!
Via The Rock Blogger: "A quietly breathtaking video that features a reading of Schopenhauer's writings on noise and the determent of thought in the modern world. The audio is paired with stunning images from the film Koyaanisqatsi which uses time-lapse photography to reveal the almost computerized flow of bodies within a massive city." The excerpts are from Schopenhauer's Studies in Pessimism, read by D.E. Wittkower, with the soundtrack coming from Richard Wagner's Rheingold.
Along with Schopenhauer, Samuel Beckett was thought to be particularly influenced by Descartes (who y'all know well enough) and, also, Arnold Geulincx. Who? Well, a bit more information below which comes from the sadly rather bare Arnold Geulincx resource site which was put together by Professor Anthony Uhlmann (Beckett and the Philosophical Image and Beckett and Poststructuralism).
Arnold Geulincx and his Works by Professor J.P.N. LAND (1891; originally in MIND: a quarterly review of psychology and philosophy XVI):
Since Brucker’s time the name of Arnold Geulincx has been well known to every student of philosophy in connexion with the doctrine of Occasionalism... Within the last years, many monographs have appeared dealing with various points of his doctrine, and with his relations to Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. His writings, meanwhile, have long been so rare that hardly anyone can have seen them all together, and, till a short time ago, no more was known of the circumstances of his life than was contained in the meagre notice of Paquot (1768)... Something remained to be discovered as to Geulincx’ last years, during which he taught at Leyden and wrote his systematic works. This I have myself extracted from the archives of our town and university (more...)
The editors write, “there is much to be gained from working through and reassessing the differences that have kept these two thinkers’ works quarantined from each other for more than seven decades.” The book is, without a doubt, an important contribution to the field. However, the range of articles would have benefited from a more detailed introduction indicating the contents and interrelation of the various contributions (more...)
Via the New Left Review, Walter Benjamin's 1940 Survey of French Literature:
Paris, 23 March 1940
Dear Monsieur Horkheimer,
It is over a year since I sent you my last résumé of French literature. Unfortunately it is not in literary novelties that the past season has proved most fertile. The noxious seed that has sprouted here obscures the blossoming plant of belles-lettres with a sinister foliage. But I shall attempt in any case to make you a florilegium of it. And since the presentation that I offered you before did not displease, I would like to apologize in advance for the ways in which the form of the following remarks may differ (more...)
Apropos the publication of his play Conversation in the Mountains (which Pierre Joris described here on RSB as "absolute awful drivel"), TEV asks John Banville "What first inspired you to write about the meeting between Celan and Heidegger?"
Well, I’ve always been fascinated by the thought of these two extraordinary figures encountering each other—the philosopher who had been a Nazi, the poet whose parents had been destroyed in a Nazi work camp—at the famous “hut” in the Black Forest. The meeting took place on July 25th, 1967, the day after a reading by Celan in Freiburg which Heidegger had attended. The conversation in the hut was not recorded, and neither man gave an account of it. Hans-Georg Gadamer, the philosopher, later reported that Heidegger had told him that “in the Black Forest, Celan was better informed on plants and animals than he himself was.” Besides the flora and fauna, did they talk about the war, about Nazism and Heidegger’s refusal publicly to account for, much less apologise for, his membership of the Party? I could not resist speculating (more...)
For the tenth anniversary issue of The Philosophers' Magazine, the editors have put ten questions to ten leading thinkers. On the Talking Philosophy blog they list out how the chosen thinkers have answered just one of them: has philosophy responded adequately to the big events and debates of the last decade, such as climate change and the post-9/11 world?
Slavoj Žižek and Simon Critchley have been arguing! The Continental Philosophy site has the links (and a few interesting comments; I'm with Adam Proctor who says, "Žižek's inability to accept (or understand, as I take it) Critchley’s “infinite demand” lies with his total rejection to even begin to apprehend the thought of thinkers like Derrida and Levinas — and I might add, Heidegger is always looking on from within.")
The Mole is the Official Blog of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society. Lots of info on new Nietzsche-related books and conferences etc. I know I've linked to it before, but it deserves a second shout (you know, eternal return an' all!)
"My editor thought that a column on French theory would elicit a small number of responses from readers interested in continental philosophy. More than 600 comments later, it is clear that terms like deconstruction and postmodernism still have the capacity to produce excitement and outrage." Stanley Fish revisits his original French Theory in America post from last month and responds to commenters.
"Stanford University Press is pleased to announce that you can now search the full text of our books via Google Book Search. We are currently still in the process of uploading and scanning our backlist, but there are already over a thousand Stanford titles in Google Book Search. When the project is completed, all of our books will be searchable electronically" (via SUP Blog ...)
I'm back from the London Book Fair. I had an excellent time and met some lovely people, but right now I'm really, really shattered!
So, whilst I recover (drink lots of tea, cuddle the dogs), go read a piece about Simon Critchley (via wood s lot) for your edification -- Middle Spaces: Media and the Ethics of Infinitely Demanding by Daniel Punday:
The novel has long been associated with ethics. This link goes back to F.R. Leavis, but Andrew Gibson has shown that this tradition is alive and well today not only in the work of humanist critics like Wayne Booth, but among postmodernists like Richard Rorty and J. Hillis Miller. One way to interrogate Simon Critchley's theory of ethics and political resistance in Infinitely Demanding is to set it alongside of contemporary novels and to ask how they respond differently to the same cultural moment (more ...).
My recent post asking why fiction is (in response to James Wood's book How Fiction Works) prompted some interesting comments here on RSB and a very good discussion over on This Space, where I've attempted to elucidate my original post by writing, "the 'ontological status', then, of fiction is what I'm thinking about here. Blanchot and Heidegger guide the thinking. For sure, my question touches on the personal reasons as to why a writer might choose fiction to express themselves, but I wanted to draw attention to fiction's own being, to its own ground, to our assumptions about it before we approach or write or read it. These assumptions are rarely aired, but a strain of writing from Sterne through to Robbe-Grillet has attempted to grapple with them in their own fiction."
And now this excellent post from the No Answers blog:
... fiction itself is very much about its own response to this argument. More than representation, more than beauty, perceived or otherwise, more than didactic elucidation, it remains the very thing that rebuffs such questions, and it is within such a general rebuttal that it defines itself. Note that I don't mean by this that fiction is somehow inherently ambiguous, or contradictory, or disingenuous: fiction is simply this -- that which continues to escape.
I'm reliably informed that: "attendance is free, free car parking is available and everyone is welcome!" Which is nice.
Update: the Leeds website isn't entirely clear on this, but I've been assured that this event is fully open to the public. Yay!
In the last few years, there have been several books by writers urgently seeking to not only discredit religion, but also to advance the atheistic viewpoint and to defend "reason", or rationality, from the forces of darkness. Though I often agree with many of the basic points these authors tend to make, my essential position is that the focus on religion by these writers is misplaced. Indeed, if the elimination of religion or, more realistically, the lessening of its influence, especially the influence of its more extreme manifestations, is the goal, then they are taking exactly the wrong approach. But to these writers and others the matter is urgent: they are worried about the survival of the species. Well, let me tell you: in my view, there are numerous good reasons to be worried. But such concern, if genuine, should focus attention on our disastrous political and economic situation, yet it rarely does.
... against all expectations, I did recently read Christopher Hitchens’ god is Not Great: How Religlion Poisons Everything. My in-laws have a copy, so it was easily available, and I admit to having had a sort of mordant curiosity about it. I also admit I came into it not expecting much by way of argument, but in fact it's much worse than I imagined it would be. The book is quite terrible, for a variety of reasons. But the things that make it bad (and to my mind, virtually unpublishable) are not necessarily those elements that make up my main problems with it and with the popular so-called “atheist books” it exemplifies. It's bad not least because it's hard to figure what Hitchens really thinks he's doing with the book. He's said that, in effect, he's been writing the book his whole life (the link is to an interview, but he also says as much in the acknowledgments). You'd think he'd have taken more care with it. It's full of sloppy thinking, awkward writing, adolescent point-making, and of course, his stylistic trademarks: withering, sometimes glib scorn, and ostentatious displays of erudition (not to mention outright errors: he has Saddam Hussein invading Iran in 1979, rather than 1980). Occasionally he gets out of his own way long enough to tell us about an interesting historical event or figure, but these passages are the exception.
There is nothing in god is Not Great that can't be found elsewhere, other than the ubiquitous presence of Christopher Hitchens himself, with his rhetorical winks and nudges. The book is poorly argued, tonally inconsistent, and frankly childish, from the title and sub-title on down. The inconsistency in tone--as if he intended to destroy religion once and for all with the power of his scorn, but then occasionally realized that he needed to make a feint in the direction of persuasion, with disingenuous displays of humility thrown in for good measure--is part of what I mean when I say the book is sloppily written. For me, these qualities ought to mean that the book should have been sent back for considerable re-tooling before it got anywhere near being published. And yet it was not only a best-seller, but was nominated for a National Book Award. The latter in particular is another tiny sign of an intellectual culture in poor health. Hitchens may say that he'd been effectively writing the book his whole life, but it has the feel of something slapped together quickly in order to cash in on a trend.
And now go and read the whole of Richard's great piece!
Via Continental Philosophy -- "John Protevi has a new blog (John McCumber and Robin Durie are also contributors): Meta-Philosophy: Reflections on the Practices and Institutions of Philosophy."
John explains: "As the title indicates, we’d like to provide a forum for discussion of issues relative to philosophy in the world and in the university."
In Taking Sides: Jacques Rancière and Agonistic Literature (link via wood s lot; thankfully now available to me because of the wonder of Page2RSS) author Hector Kollias discusses:
... Jacques Rancière's theory of literature as centred on an agonistic concept of literature, where literature is seen as a ‘positive contradiction’. This positive contradiction arises from what Rancière sees as literature's origins in the ‘errant letter’, which is conceived as an intrinsically democratic principle that, for Rancière, also results in the tendency of literature to incarnate the word and to propose an extra-textual truth which would signal the end of literature as democratic errancy. Asking whether it is possible to identify Rancière as ‘taking sides’ in what he sets up as a struggle, the article analyses three examples of Rancière's engagement with literary texts (Balzac, Mallarmé, and Proust) in which he demonstrates the necessity for literature to maintain its constitutive contradiction, resulting in a conception of literature as an agonistic field and as a self-critical mode of writing.
Looks good (via Zembla):
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews is entirely devoted to publishing substantive, high-quality book reviews (normal length: 1500-2500 words). Our goal is to review a good majority of the scholarly philosophy books issued each year and to have the review appear within six to twelve months of the book's publication. The journal will be published only on-line (available free, both through e-mail subscription and on this website).
If you are looking for a Kierkegaard primer, you won't do better for an easy way in than Clare Carlisle's admirable Kierkegaard: A Guide for the Perplexed.
But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow. But the ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of the understanding to will the collision, although in one way or another the collision must become its downfall. This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.
Been a wee while since I linked to the splendid Spurious:
Many of my admired authors have a small pallette of concerns, of moods, of characterisation, of plot. A small palette, painting dark grey on black - but that is enough, for it is in the wearing away of plot, of character, in the exacerbation of mood that I find I can discover that kind of non-reading, the inward waterfall that draws me to its edge.
Bergman complained Tarkovsky came to make Tarkovsky films - but then the same can be said of Bergman, whose characters often have the same surname and run uneasily into one another. Bernhard writes Bernhard books, and Duras, and Blanchot ... they may seem to concentrate themselves into an idiom, making themselves dense, but it is rather a wearing away that they accomplish and that is their accomplishment: idioms worn out, idioms stretched finely over nothing.
In his discussion of finitude leading to the bad infinite and finally to the true infinite, Hegel was interested in articulating the continuity of discourse in the move from, in the words of Blanchot, "undeveloped interiority to the exteriorization that alienates it, and from this alienation that exteriorizes up to an accomplished and reinteriorized plenitude." It is here where many have been concerned with the possibility of the other being reduced to the same.
If this kinda thing makes you thrill with excitement -- and it does me! -- then get more via Aufhebung.
An essay over on Mike Duff's The Joyful Knowing blog entitled Blanchot and Hegel's abstract negativity that I'll respond to at the weekend. For now, the opening lines:
In Literature and the Right to Death, Maurice Blanchot invokes, like Bataille throughout his Inner Experience, the concept of pure nothing, (or, as a power, a becoming) abstract negativity, that Hegel defines early on in the Master-Slave dialectic in the Phenomenology of Spirit as well as in the beginning of the Science of Logic. The use for this is clear, and also aptly summarizes what I think Bataille thinks of it also, with respect to the work of literature. Blanchot says that "Literature professes to be important while at the same time considering itself an object of doubt," in the sense that it, "by its very activity, denies the substance of what it represents" and thus is "its own negation".
The philosopher André Gorz, 84, co-founder of the Nouvel Observateur weekly, has committed suicide together with his wife Dorine. More via AFP.
Wikipedia tells us:
Gorz was a theorist of workers' self-management. Later, he was also concerned with political ecology. His central theme is work: liberation from work, just distribution of work, alienated work, etc. He is also one of the advocates for Guaranteed basic income.
He also was a main theorist in New Left movement,inspired by the young Marx humanism and Alienation discussion and the liberation mankind,seeking a third way between communism and reform capitalism like his mentor, Jean Paul Sartre, but even in the same spirit as the people like C. Wright Mills and the people round him in the New Left Review, and Jurgen Habermas and the Frankfurter School. Gorz called him self an "revolutionary-reformist", a democratic socialist who wanted to see system changing reforms.
Via the (new to me; thanks Robin) Outside Philosophy blog:
Peter Hallward, the excellent philosopher working at Middlesex University in London -- also part of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective -- has written an outstanding article on the interests of the British press. He contrasts the blanket coverage of a missing child to the almost total overlooking of the death of 80 Haitians at sea, deaths for which British authorities are responsible due to their callous disregard of the lives of those they intercept fleeing the poverty of Haiti. Poverty for which, it should always be recalled, American policy bears great responsibility. The article appears on what looks to be an important resource, haitianalysis.com.
The Mole -- Official Blog of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society: tunnelling, mining and undermining since 2007.
An interesting article on Michel Onfray's atheism over at the New Humanist which contains this nice quote from Jonathan Rée:
Onfray is the kind of philosopher who is impressed by how much human beings can know with certainty, and he assumes that believers claim certainty too. I’m much more interested in the amount we have to take on trust, and in that respect I think everyone has a lot to learn from a certain kind of believer: not the dreadful dogmatist, but the shy doubter (eg Kierkegaard).
We also learn, from Onfray fan Douglas Ireland:
It’s just silly for English-speaking philosophers to criticise him for not having elaborated on his philosophical project simply because they are incapable of reading him or simply haven’t bothered. Among his 31 books, Onfray has published no less than seven in which he specifically unfolds in great and inventive detail his theory and philosophy of hedonism.
His most recent in this area, La puissance d’exister: Manifeste hédoniste (Grasset, 2006; soon to be translated into English by University of Melbourne Press), is a brilliant summing up of his unique philosophical approach and the constructs which flow from it.
Inkermen Press was Publisher of the Week over on The Book Depository the other week. Dan Watt's press have just released a fascinating looking title by Dan himself entitled Fragmentary Futures: Blanchot, Beckett, Coetzee:
Romanticism elaborates a model of fragmentation, different from the fragment as ruined part of a totality from which it is shorn. Rodolphe Gasché argues that the concept of the Romantic fragment would have to be ‘radically recast’ to be applied to contemporary literature. It is via Maurice Blanchot that the fragment is ‘recast’ into an event in which ‘all literature is the fragment’. This book investigates that turn, exploring its implications in the work of Blanchot, Samuel Beckett and J.M. Coetzee. Blanchot’s ‘recast’ fragment demands that literature become fragmentary whether it carries the form of the fragment or not.
Beckett’s prose work unfolds a part of fragmentary writing that appears to be degenerative, as words collide and syntactic structures are eroded. However, fragmentary writing allows the presentation of a damaged work, one under the threat of abandonment, as work in progress; being neither finished nor continued.
The work of Coetzee demonstrates the fragment’s relation to Levinasian ethics, inviting a responsiveness to the ‘other’: a situation that maintains the singularity of the work without reducing it to particular critical positions. The legacy of the fragment remains as much a responsibility for modern literature as for the event of the German Romantic fragment. Fragmentary Futures argues that the fragment points to an impossibility governing the generation of literature itself. The German Romantic fragment is still to come, haunting literature. The ‘recast’ fragment does not exorcise such a revenant but makes its future appearance more fascinating.
Nice podcast: Andrew Mitchell on Poetry and Thinking in Martin Heidegger's later work (via enowning).
The philosopher Richard Rorty died on Friday -- I've not seen anything much about his death, no obituaries as yet, so, for now, this is all I know. More information via Telos; nice appreciation over on Waggish.
Update: There are some useful Rorty links gathered together by Farhang over at continental-philosophy.org.
Following last year's successful initiating conference (March 23 2006) at the University of Hertfordshire, there will be a second in what is hoped will be an annual event. The obituaries of Marxism continue to appear but sightings have been reported all over the world. Whether it is in biographies of writers, analyses of epochs, explanations for the appearance of new forms and themes, critics persist in finding ways to connect writers and their works to the stresses and strains of the societies that nourished them.
Alan Gibbons and Michael Rosen will discuss critiques of government approaches to the teaching of children's literature. Authors Ann Turnbull, China Mieville, Jonathan Neale and Alan Gibbons will talk about their work.
Richard Duguid has good news over at The Penguin Blog:
There was much excitement in my department, Penguin Copy-Editorial (popularly known as Editorial 2), on Thursday, when final proofs of the new Penguin Classics translation of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) were signed off. First proofs of Kant's extraordinarily dense and difficult philosophical Meisterwerk arrived in the department on 27 March ... 2001. Yes, after a mere six years, one month and a bit we, along with translator Marcus Weigelt, have finally satisfied ourselves that all is well with the text and that printing can now commence (though in a fit of nervousness over when we might actually finish, the publication date was last year moved to November 2007, so you'll have to wait a while to get your hands on a copy).
Richard goes to to praise translator Weigelt's introduction:
While the text itself might be too much for most of us to stomach, the translator's introduction is a work of comic genius. The opening few pages are some of the funniest I've read. At least in a Classics introduction. Unlike most intros, this one tells it to you straight: 'You are not going to enjoy reading this book. No one ever has. Even professional philosophers can't hack it.' Which is strange, because of course it's hugely influential and significant.
Nobody has better thought through the question of what literature fundamentally is than this man: it's a non-space, a vanishing, a being-towards-death. Blanchot was lined up in front of a Nazi firing squad in 1944, but was reprieved at the last minute and lived, albeit as a virtual recluse, until 2003, endlessly narrating the unnameable disaster - of history, thought, writing itself.
For the radical thinkers of the Enlightenment, he was the first man to have lived and died as a true atheist. For others, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he provides perhaps the most profound conception of God to be found in Western philosophy. He was bold enough to defy the thinking of his time, yet too modest to accept the fame of public office, despite numerous offers, and he died, along with Socrates and Seneca, one of the three great deaths in philosophy. His name is Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch Jewish philosopher from the 17th century, who can claim influence on both the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century and great minds of the 19th, notably Hegel, and his ideas were so radical that they could only be fully published after his death.
I've just finished reading Simon Critchley's Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance which I would very warmly recommend. I'll write about it further soon. Critchley combines Levinassian ethics with a neo-anarchist politics: it's clearly and persuasively argued; one of the best political books I've read in ages. And I've also just read Ethics and Infinity, a book of conversations (ten short transcribed radio interviews) between Philippe Nemo and Emmanuel Levinas, which acts as a wonderful introduction to the latter's thinking, even if some of the translation leaves much to be desired. If you don't know Levinas's work (and I'm no expert): start here.
And in the post this week there have been more than a few interesting looking titles:
- Penguin Classics have a new translation of Henri Alain-Fournier The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) out on the 3rd May
- Anthony Rudolf's Menard Press has published its last ever book: two essays from Christopher Middleton entitled If From The Distance
- Anvil Press have just issued a new edition of Michael Hamburger's translations of The Poems of Paul Celan. They've also just issued a collection of The Poems of Georg Trakl
- OUP have sent on Robert Macfarlane's Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Janet Gezari's Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems
A favour: do any readers know of a good theological/philosophical book on the (Christian) concept of grace? Any tip-offs? Thanks so much!
I suppose, in a sense, this post is a kind of manifesto or, more modestly, the beginnings of a statement of intent about where I see ReadySteadyBook heading over the next couple of years.
As many of you know, I wear two hats: I'm editor here at ReadySteadyBook and I'm also, in my day-job, lucky enough to edit The Book Depository (TBD) website. As editor of TBD my role is to make sure that the frontlist titles that I choose to review and feature on TBD's pages, and the authors and publishers I interview, reflect in some modest way the astonishing range of books that TBD customers buy every day. The breadth of their purchases is amazing; I want TBD's homepage to be, in a small way, similarly catholic.
Here on RSB I have a different role. Certainly, it is one that I'm making up as I go along. I started RSB thinking of the site as an online literary journal that would reflect many opinions, air many voices, and I still think that that aspect of the site is important and needs growing (if you want to contribute, email me), but principally RSB is -- like it or loathe it -- me and my musings. My thinking about literature and books over the last three or four years has developed and, I hope, deepened. RSB facilitates that ongoing learning by forcing me to attempt to articulate what it is I think I feel about literature, and engaging with others in the blogosphere about those ideas.
When I talk to folk, especially publishers, about what kinds of books I like to feature on RSB, I often reach for the phrase Literary Fiction ... and then I quickly backtrack. Literary Fiction is one of the genres of fiction that I'm happy to feature on TBD's homepage, alongside a host of other types of books. And Literary Fiction is, undoubtedly, the genre that many of the books that have been reviewed on RSB in the past have belonged to. But, editorially -- and by that I mean, via the blog, and from my heart -- I'd actually like RSB to be seen as being anti-Literary Fiction. Indeed, what I've taken to calling Establishment Literary Fiction is, to me, the very antithesis of literature: it is hubristic, formulaic and trite; it is non- essential.
Literary Fiction is genre fiction; literature, art, is writing that deconstructs the very idea of genre. Proust's In Search of Lost Time isn't literary fiction, but a novel that destroys the idea of the novel in its very realisation. Beckett's famous lines from Worstward Ho -- Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. -- are in themselves a manifesto for writers and writing. If Literary Fiction is defined by its proud masterpieces, its smug perfections, literature should be known as a failed art that in its failing helps us to understand our own feeble inadequacies and helps us to fail better.
Simon Critchley writes (in Infinitely Demanding): "When I pull myself out of the slumber of my inauthentic existence and learn to approve the demand of conscience, which for Heidegger is the demand of my finitude confronted in being-towards-death, then I become authentic, I become who I really am." This "I" -- as Simon recognises -- is conflicted, multiple, but it is the demand of which he writes -- of ethics, of art -- in the face of finitude, of silence, that I'm interested in here. This demand, taken up by art, by literature, is infinite. Literature can approach, help negotiate, begin to articulate, that demand; Literary Fiction withers in the face of it, never having heard its call, deaf to it.
Not due out until June 13th, but certainly one to watch out for, is RSB interviewee Simon Critchley's latest book Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso). I'm a big fan of Critchley's writing, so I'm really looking forward to this, about which his publisher says:
Infinitely Demanding is the clearest, boldest and most systematic statement of Simon Critchley's influential views on philosophy, ethics, and politics. Part diagnosis of the times, part theoretical analysis of the impasses and possibilities of ethics and politics, part manifesto, Infinitely Demanding identifies a massive political disappointment at the heart of liberal democracy and argues that what is called for is an ethics of commitment that can inform a radical politics.
Exploring the problem of ethics in Kant, Levinas, Badiou, and Lacan that leads to a conception of subjectivity based on the infinite responsibility of an ethical demand, Critchley considers the possibility of political subjectivity and action after Marx and Marxism. Infinitely Demanding culminates in an argument for anarchism as an ethical practice and a remotivating means of political organization.
What is literature? Blanchot's A Voice From Elsewhere can help us to think about how to begin to think about this question. Of course, writing is merely the sum of words chosen by an author and then written down. On one level writing is mere craft: do I chose this word or that, this metaphor or that one? And analogous to writing, in this sense, is painting. Painting is an ordered response to the world: colours, shapes and textures are chosen by the artist in an attempt best to "say" what that artist wishes to say in paint by painting. Perhaps saying more than this, about art or literature, risks essentialising or mystifying it. But a painting is not merely an agglomeration of paint, it is not just an expression, however accomplished, of what the artist wants to say. Further, it is not even a form of thinking via the medium of paint. It is unarguably more than this.
Because it communicates obliquely, tangentially, and not using language, visual art (and music) also communicates both more and less than language does. But beyond what the painting says, and technically does, there is something else, and it is this essential quality beyond the mere facts of an artifact's creation, above and beyond the history and context of the work, that draws us back and holds our interest. The ineffable quality which we can certainly attempt to approach, use commentary to talk about and begin to decipher, partially understand by understanding the means of the work's production, the context of its creation, something about the artist and their world, remains. What is great in great art can't quite be pinned down, can't be entirely, adequately articulated.
And so too literature.
It isn't mystification on the part of Blanchot to focus, throughout his oeuvre, on the mysterious qualities that define (or, rather, prevent the definition of) literature. Literature is what remains unsayable yet said in great writing. However, there is a negative blankness: there is a vapidity and sterility to the technical expertise of a writer like Ian McEwan. What is unsaid in his work is merely arch. It is witheld information which only confirms his paranoid control of the text.
Writing is what the words on the page do to the white space that surrounds them; else is mere plot. The gap between the artist and that art that they create is worthy of our attention because the silence that the words have shaped, the picture that the painter hasn't drawn, pulls us in to the work and simultaneously back to our own silences.
We have writers like Blanchot because of how inarticulate an artist is, how confounded they can be, in the face of the irreducible in their own work.
Maurice Blanchot is a writer's reader.
This has the advantage of at least being quite comprehensive. Abbas Raza, over at 3Quarks, "found both sides to be remarkably honest, sincere, and free of glibness and antipathy for the other. Some of what Sullivan writes is surprisingly touching in a personal way ... It is worth reading in its entirety": "Best-selling atheist Sam Harris and pro-religion blogger Andrew Sullivan debate God, faith, and fundamentalism."
Via Patrick Kurp's Anecdotal Evidence, I note that a fascinating debate is taking place between Rebecca "Betraying Spinoza" Goldstein and Michael Weiss. The two writers are conducting "a sort of epistolary book review and kibitz on Spinoza’s life and philosophy" over at A Kibitz on Pure Reason.
I loved Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza -- a very special book indeed to my mind. And last night, with my growing affection for Spinoza happily spiralling out of all reasonable control, I started reading Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind (OUP):
At the heart of Spinoza's Heresy is a mystery: why was Baruch Spinoza so harshly excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community at the age of twenty-four?
In this philosophical sequel to his acclaimed, award-winning biography of the seventeenth-century thinker, Steven Nadler argues that Spinoza's main offence was a denial of the immortality of the soul. But this only deepens the mystery. For there is no specific Jewish dogma regarding immortality: there is nothing that a Jew is required to believe about the soul and the afterlife. It was, however, for various religious, historical and political reasons, simply the wrong issue to pick on in Amsterdam in the 1650s.
After considering the nature of the ban, or cherem, as a disciplinary tool in the Sephardic community, and a number of possible explanations for Spinoza's ban, Nadler turns to the variety of traditions in Jewish religious thought on the postmortem fate of a person's soul. This is followed by an examination of Spinoza's own views on the eternity of the mind and the role that that the denial of personal immortality plays in his overall philosophical project. Nadler argues that Spinoza's beliefs were not only an outgrowth of his own metaphysical principles, but also a culmination of an intellectualist trend in Jewish rationalism.
T'other week I read Rebecca Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza (Schocken; part of the excellent Jewish Encounters series co-published with Nextbook) which was an absolute joy -- if you have any interest at all in Spinoza, get yourself a copy. Today, I did a wee review of the book over at The Book Depository:
Rebecca Goldstein's quite wonderful Betraying Spinoza is an absolute delight. So, why does the author think she might be betraying the great philosopher? Well, as Wikipedia tells us: "Benedictus de Spinoza or Baruch de Spinoza (lived November 24, 1632 – February 21, 1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Jewish origin, considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy and, by virtue of his magnum opus the posthumous Ethics, one of the definitive ethicists." As a great rationalist Spinoza eschewed the biographical and the personal, but Goldstein thinks that that very silence in his work can be traced to his belonging to the embattled Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam (whose history Goldstein admirably and fluently traces). After first describing her own (Jewish) upbringing, and how she -- an analytic philosopher by training -- became entranced by Spinoza, Goldstein goes on to recount the fascinating history of the Jews who called themselves La Nacion, Spinoza's excommunication from them, and the studies he undertook to come to his positions on a post-Descartian philosophy. You will not read a better introduction to this still vital thinker; Goldstein's book is a triumph.
The sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard died this Tuesday in Paris, at 77 years of age. Born on July 20th 1929 in Rheims, a translator of Bertold Brecht, politically near to the Situationists and Guy Debord in the '60s, Baudrillard taught sociology at the University of Nanterre from 1966. More English-language details can be found at the NY Times and the NY Sun; French-language responses include Robert Maggiori's Jean Baudrillard au-delà du réel and Laurent Wolf's Le pourfendeur d'images (via the literary saloon).
I've always enjoyed reading Baudrillard's work. My favourite? Probably a book from 1978 called In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. What I got most clearly from this was the critique of the entirely erroneous idea that the Left could speak for -- or on behalf of -- "the people" in any way:
Written in 1978 and first published in English in 1983, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities was the first postmodern response to the delusional strategies of terrorism. At a time when European terrorists were taking politics into their own hands, Baudrillard was the first to announce that the "critical mass" had stopped being critical of anything. Rather, the "masses" had become a place of absorption and implosion; hence the ending of the possibility of politics as will and representation.
The book marked the end of an era when silent majorities still factored into the democratic political process and were expected to respond positively to revolutionary messages. With the masses no longer "alienated" as Marx had described, but rather indifferent, this phenomenon made revolutionary explosion impossible, says Baudrillard.
The other day, I noticed a snide and cretinous wee remark from pro-war leftist Norman "normblog" Geras concerning something Dylan Trigg had said in my recent interview with him. Far more interesting and noteworthy contributions to the debate about "postmodern relativism" and its attendant issues comes via Sign and Sight:
French philosopher Pascal Bruckner accused Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash of propagating a form of multiculturalism that amounts to legal apartheid. His fiery polemic unleashed an international debate (here). Buruma and Garton Ash were quick to answer. In a subsequent piece, Paul Cliteur criticises the "postmodern relativism" of Buruma and Stuart Sim. Sim answers [here].
Ooh, atheism! Who'd've thought it would become flavour of the month like this? Dawkins' blunt yet shrill The God Delusion didn't convince me at all, it just made me think Dawkins was a bit of a scary megalomaniac. As an atheist, it didn't convince me as a book, as an argument, but then neither have any of the religious responses to it that I've read. Often these argue well enough for the existence of something, i.e. something spiritual (we can't empirically prove or find love, but we know it exists), but none argue convincingly for the specificity of their own very particular brand of religion. Dawkins doesn't get out of the double-bind of needing a prime mover, but equally that is no justification for thinking e.g. that Christ is the way to salvation, nor that "we" need saving. It is a huge leap from arguing that there is "something out there" to being able to posit that your own version of faith is any kind of truth.
Anyway, just landed on the mat, we have AC Grayling's Against All Gods (published by Oberon Books who say: "World renowned philosopher A C Grayling tackles the question of religion head on in this series of bold, unsparing polemics on a topical and highly controversial subject.") Hopefully, I'll be interviewing ACG very soon.
After the announcement of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe's death three weeks ago, a friend of mine and I tried to find a way of remembering and publicly honoring him, and decided, for lack of a better solution, to put together a web site where his ex-students and friends can share memories and honor the exceptional philosopher, writer and teacher who was Philippe. We finally came up with something and we invite you to take a look at the site and, if you have anything to contribute, please do so; if not, maybe you can pass the information along to someone else. So far we have a text in French and one in English, and either language is acceptable for future contributions. Considering that this is a work in progress, any suggestion is welcome. Thank you.
Le philosophe Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe est mort dans la nuit du 27 au 28 janvier, à l'âge de 66 ans, à Paris, où il était hospitalisé. Ceux qui l'ont connu n'oublieront pas l'intensité de sa présence, de son regard, de son écoute, sa grande générosité, et cette manière qu'il avait de s'exposer sans réserve, comme si l'essentiel était en jeu à chaque fois.
Né le 6 mars 1940 à Tours, il étudie la philosophie à Bordeaux, tout en militant dans une mouvance d'extrême gauche proche des situationnistes.
Via the ever-excellent Literary Saloon this, so you may well have seen it: "In Representative Fictions in The Nation William Deresiewicz tackles the English-language version of Franco Moretti's The Novel [this link to vol.1] (pared down to two volumes, from the original Italian five) ... He does write: "for all its flaws, The Novel [this link to vol.2] is an impressive achievement" -- but also:
While some of these essays make useful points, and a couple of them interesting ones, they are distinguished, in general, by numbing banality and the use of methodologies that would make a statistician weep. (As one writer admits, "My data stop at precisely the point where one wants to know more.") Some of the charts aren't even properly proofread, though that problem is hardly unique to this section. The two volumes together contain well over a hundred typos and inconsistencies -- which, given the collection's price and publisher and prestigious editorial board (which includes Fredric Jameson and Mario Vargas Llosa), is nothing short of disgraceful. Also disgraceful is the quality of the translations. Many of these essays are from Italian and other originals, and if the editors were going to bother having them translated, they might as well have taken the trouble to have them translated into English.
To understand the enigma of the title, think of the way that stars burn. Stars are made of hot gas held together by gravity, and if the force of gravity were stronger than it is, stars would burn far more quickly and expire sooner. Our own Sun would have had a lifetime of only a few million years instead of the five billion it has already enjoyed, and life on our planet could never have had time to evolve. Equally, if gravity were weaker, then stars would burn too dimly, and their energy output would not support life. It seems that the strength of gravity, like Baby Bear's porridge, is "just right".
Dr William Large, author of Maurice Blanchot (Routledge; the best introduction to Blanchot you are ever likely to read is this) and Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot: Ethics and the Ambiguity of Writing (Clinamen), has a website which contains a number of his excellent essays, on aesthetics, Kant, phenomenology and, excitingly, Blanchot, all freely available to download.
Nietzsche's Features attempts "to collect ALL files we can find on the web, in English, that are directly related to Nietzsche's works, and archive them in what has become the Nietzsche's Features website."
In the About section of they site they bemoan "the experience we had over the last years that although several individuals invested a lot of time and effort in creating Nietzsche pages, after a while they somehow seemed to disappear from the web ... Of course that resulted in a lot of dead links and lost files." Sadly, I don't think the Nietzsche's Features folks have carried on with their good work ... The site was last updated January 1st, 2002. Still, full texts of a number of publications from The Birth Of Tragedy to The Will to Power make this a useful resource.
The two directors of the film, Alexandra Weltz and Andreas Pichler, explore the background of Antonio Negri. They research for biographical, theoretical and historical points of decision makings and portray an unusual life between philosophy and revolt. In meetings with Negri and its political fellows and friends the film shows continuities and breaks from the 60's to today.
Ooh, goodness, lots of signposting from me today. Well, anyway, this looks interesting (and I can't go!): from the Forum for European Philosophy on Thursday 12th October (6.30-8.00pm) at Borders, 120 Charing Cross Road, WC2, London, Rosi Braidotti (Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, Utrecht University) is to give a talk entitled The Ethical Accountability of Nomadic Subjects. On Thursday 2nd November RSB interviewee Tom McCarthy takes the stand, same time at the same venue, in the next Borderlines event.
I seem to be on a bit of an art kick at the moment. Jacques Ranciere's The Politics of Aesthetics (Continuum) arrived a few months back but, despite being such a slim volume, I've not yet got around to reading it. This review, from ArtNet by Ben Davis (via continental-philosophy.org), makes me think I should bother sooner rather than later:
The 66-year-old French philosopher Jacques Rancière is clearly the new go-to guy for hip art theorists ... Rancière has the undeniable virtue, for the esoterica-obsessed art world at least, of being something of an odd duck. A one-time fellow traveler of Marxist mandarin Louis Althusser, Rancière split with him after the May ’68 worker-student rebellion against the de Gaulle government, feeling that Althusser, a partisan of the Stalinized French Communist Party, left too little space in his theoretical edifice for spontaneous popular revolt. Against this background of disenchantment, Rancière set out to explore the relationships between philosophy and the worker, rethink ideas of history and try to construct a progressive theory of art.
From Yahoo!: "Unique Kierkegaard book on auction after 150-year search":
A book by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, featuring a handwritten dedication to Denmark's famed storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, is to be sold at auction after a 150-year search around the globe.
Newspaper Jyllands-Posten said the dedication in Either/Or was the only hard evidence of direct contact between two of Denmark's biggest literary figures, and described the sale of the highly sought-after copy as a cultural and historic sensation.
Jyllands-Posten itself goes on to say:
Although Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen were contemporaries - most likely rubbing shoulders in Copenhagen's intellectual circles during Denmark's Golden Age of the 1840s - their relationship had been merely speculative. At least until the discovery of the book.
Several years ago, scholars had discovered an effusive 'thank you' letter signed by Andersen among Kierkegaard's papers, but the book itself remained elusive.
Back in December, I mentioned Michel Onfray's Traité d'Athéologie (Grasset). Well, it seems that Serpent's Tail will be publishing what I understand is the first of Onfray's titles (he is only 46 and has already written thirty books!) to be translated into English.
A radical libertarian socialist, a self-described 'Nietzschian of the Left', Onfray's philosophical project is to define an ethical hedonism, a joyous utilitarianism, and a generalized aesthetic of sensual materialism that explores how to use the brain's and the body's capacities to their fullest extent - while restoring philosophy to a useful role in art, politics and everyday life and decisions. All this presupposes, in Onfray's philosophy, a militant atheism and the demasking of false gods.
One to note: Robert Hullot-Kentor's forthcoming book, Things Beyond Resemblance: Collected Essays on Theodor W. Adorno, is due out next month from Columbia University Press. I got this via Brian Sholis:
It comprises over twenty years' worth of the philosopher and translator's essays on Adorno's work. Word earlier this week from another friend, an artist who knows Adorno's writing very well, reminded me of its imminent publication, and, by coincidence, I came across a copy yesterday. (I love how things come into one's field of vision not long after one opens one's eyes.) I skimmed it before and after last night's lecture, and found much to make me want to plunge in earnest into Adorno's writings...
Moral philosophy's firebrand Ted Honderich was on the telly last night (on Five's Don't Get Me Started). The programme was entitled The Real Friends of Terror and it rehearsed the arguments in his recent Continuum title Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9-11, Iraq, 7-7. Honderich argued clearly and convincingly that Blair's moral barbarism is atrocious, and that the real cause of the 9-11 and 7-7 attacks is the ongoing situation in Palestine. The programme was good polemic and it is always nice to see Blair (and Bush) condemned so trenchantly. But Honderich's argument is maddening.
If you jettison politics in favour of "moral philosophy" and the (very questionable and hubristic) "principle of humanity" (the principle Honderich uses to ground his argument, a principle, in short, that everyone should have "good lives") you concede to politicians the very ground you should be fighting them on. Politicians aren't (just) morally stupid; they are also CEOs of countries that have political and strategic ends to follow by whatever means. Throwing politics out of the window, and blaming politicians for moral stupidity, means no questions are asked about oil and arms, about realpolitik. Engaging with Blair's arguments as a moral philosopher flatters a politician's spin as somehow worthy of being taken seriously. There is a spurious War on Terror and tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians because of oil, power and money. Moral failings may certainly stem from the hunger for these "resources", but they are not the cause of the wars fought to capture them.
Good pal of RSB, Blanchot translator Charlotte Mandell has been working her wonders again. Charlotte's translation of A Voice from Elsewhere (Lydia Davis says, "This welcome new volume, beautifully translated, is an essential addition to our library of Blanchot in English") is due out from SUNY Press in February. So, Valentine's Day gifts are not going to be a problem next year then!
A Voice from Elsewhere represents one of Maurice Blanchot’s most important reflections on the enigma and secret of “literature.” The essays here bear down on the necessity and impossibility of witnessing what literature transmits, and—like Beckett and Kafka—on what one might call the “default” of language, the tenuous border that binds writing and silence to each other. In addition to considerations of René Char, Paul Celan, and Michel Foucault, Blanchot offers reflections on Lyotard’s work, together with a sustained encounter with the poems of Louis-René des Forêts and, throughout, a unique and important concentration on music—on the lyre and the lyric, meter and measure—which poetry in particular brings before us.
If freedom is to be really desirable, then it must have a relation to something beyond what you happen to want – a relation, as I said, to something like reason, responsibility, even truth.
Widely linked to this, but certainly worth reading (and hence repeating the link): Fredric Jameson on Slavoj Žižek's Parallax View in the LRB.
The good folk at Pluto have kindly sent on Andrew Hemingway's Marxism and the History of Art which looks very decent. As there is a nasty storm overhead, and I don't intend to move for the rest of the day, I think I'll settle down with this right now. Publisher blurb reads:
This unique book is the first comprehensive introduction to Marxist approaches to art history. Although the aesthetic was a crucial part of Marx and Engels’s thought, they left no full statement on the arts. Although there is an abundant scholarship on Marxist approaches to literature, the historiography of the visual arts has been largely neglected. This book encompasses a range of influential thinkers and historians including William Morris, Mikhail Lifshits, Frederick Antal, Francis Klingender, Max Raphael, Meyer Schapiro, Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre and Arnold Hauser. It also addresses the heritage of the New Left. In the spirit of Marxism, the authors interpret the achievements and limitations of Marxist art history in relation to the historical and political circumstances of its production, providing an indispensable introduction to contemporary radical practices in the field.
Gabriel Josipovici is a prominent British critic and novelist who at a midpoint in his career became interested in the Bible and acquired a competence in Hebrew (he already knew Greek) in order to engage with it seriously. The Book of God is an imaginative overview, sensitive to narrative detail and to stylistic nuance, of both Testaments. Josipovici sees how the Bible constitutes a unique kind of literature--a book, as he says, meant to change your sense of reality--which is nevertheless linked with certain later writers. He proposes surprising comparisons with Proust, Kafka and other modernists. Some biblical passages, he observes, "bring us face to face with characters who can be neither interpreted nor deconstructed. They are emblems of the limits of comprehension."
The necessity to adapt to the surrounding environment for survival is an animal behavior. The primary human action consists in creating an environment that is favorable to the development of life.
Pierre says, "of the core Situationists, Vaneigem has always seemed to me at least as interesting and often more so than his ex-companion, Guy Debord". I can't agree. The vaguely hippy quality of each of the six stanzas that Pierre quotes is, for me, precisely why Vaneigem was never as interesting, insightful or essential as Debord. Good to know about the Journal Imaginaire, though. Its existence had quite passed me by.
Franco Moretti's The Novel, Volume 1: History, Geography, and Culture and The Novel, Volume 2: Forms and Themes arrived last week. With a thud. These are big, big boys. But, as I mentioned at the end of June, and as the Literary Saloon mentioned, these are not as big as they should be:
The American publishers -- a university press (non-profit, public interest, academic standards ...) -- was so afraid it wouldn't sell that they tossed half of it out. And the part they tossed out is the international part -- the part which Americans are most in need of information about. And to rub it in, there will be full translations into Korean and Portuguese, but not English.
I've asked Princeton UP why they didn't translate the whole shebang -- and I'll let you know their response when they get back to me. In the meantime, for more Moretti, see these articles from the New Left Review: Conjectures on World Literature and More Conjectures
I've just learned of the death of Philip Rieff (1922-2006). He died last Saturday in Philadelphia. "Rieff was a sociologist best known for his examination of the social consequences — especially the moral consequences — of the assimilation of the ideas of Freud into modern culture."
In 1989, the University of Chicago Press published a collection of Rieff's essays, The Feeling Intellect: Selected Writings, edited by Jonathan B. Imber. They also have two of Rieff's most influential works: Freud: The Mind of the Moralist and The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud.
...Rieff articulates a comprehensive, typological theory of Western culture. Using visual illustrations and unique juxtapositions, he displays remarkable erudition in drawing from such disciplines as sociology, history, literature, poetry, music, plastic arts, and film; he contrasts the changing modes of spiritual and social thought that have struggled for dominance throughout Western history. Our modern culture—to Rieff's mind only the "third" type in western history—is the object of his deepest scrutiny, described here as morally ruinous, death-affirming rather than life-affirming, and representing an unprecedented attempt to create a culture completely devoid of any concept of the sacred.
The strangeness of Stirner was immediate as I worked though the book: it read like an unhomely Hegel, adopting broadly the same structure as Hegel’s Phenomenology but radically inverting the content. If the ghost of Hegel was present in Stirner, then Stirner’s haunto-analytical work on his master generated its own “spooks.” Spooks, this is the term Stirner applies to the disruption of the ego project, made evident by certain meta-narratological myths which bind the human to a specious freedom. Stirner’s dialectical account of the emergence of “the moderns” in the first section of the book concludes with the image of possession and spirits.
The latest edition of the University of Leeds Centre for Cultural Studies magazine parallax (number 39) has just landed. Its a special Blanchot edition guest-edited by William Large (author of the very fine Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot: Ethics and the Ambiguity of Writing; Clinamen) and containing essays by RSB interviewees Simon Critchley (Forgetfulness Must: Politics and Filiation in Blanchot and Derrida) and Lars Iyer (There is Language: Speech and Writing in Blanchot). Also included is an essay by Thomas Carl Wall (Larvae) whose book Radical Passivity (SUNY Press) I keep hearing very good things about and must track down.
Good times! John Sellars' Stoicism (Acumen) has just landed. Billed as "the first introduction to Stoic philosophy for 30 years" the book is "aimed at readers new to Stoicism and to ancient philosophy, it outlines the central philosophical ideas of Stoicism and introduces the reader to the different ancient authors and sources that they will encounter when exploring Stoicism." I heard John talking not that long ago and he was brilliant. So, naturally, I'm very excited to read this. I wonder if being "excited" to read it is wrong though!?
The term "Stoicism" derives from the Greek word "stoa," referring to a colonnade, such as those built outside or inside temples, around dwelling-houses, gymnasia, and market-places. They were also set up separately as ornaments of the streets and open places. The simplest form is that of a roofed colonnade, with a wall on one side, which was often decorated with paintings. Thus in the market-place at Athens the stoa poikile (Painted Colonnade) was decorated with Polygnotus's representations of the destruction of Troy, the fight of the Athenians with the Amazons, and the battles of Marathon and Oenoe. Zeno of Citium taught in the stoa poikile in Athens, and his adherents accordingly obtained the name of Stoics. Zeno was followed by Cleanthes, and then by Chrysippus, as leaders of the school. The school attracted many adherents, and flourished for centuries, not only in Greece, but later in Rome, where the most thoughtful writers, such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, counted themselves among its followers. (via The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Unlike ‘epicurean,’ the sense of the English adjective ‘stoical’ is not utterly misleading with regard to its philosophical origins. The Stoics did, in fact, hold that emotions like fear or envy (or impassioned sexual attachments, or passionate love of anything whatsoever) either were, or arose from, false judgements and that the sage--a person who had attained moral and intellectual perfection--would not undergo them. The later Stoics of Roman Imperial times, Seneca and Epictetus, emphasise the doctrines (already central to the early Stoics' teachings) that the sage is utterly immune to misfortune and that virtue is sufficient for happiness. (via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Short notice, I know, but there is a special meeting of the Human Sciences Seminar today, at 5pm, in Room 335 of the Geoffrey Manton building of Manchester Metropolitan University. The speaker is Lisa Guenther from the University of Auckland, author of the forthcoming The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction (SUNY Press). Her paper is entitled The Ethical Animal: Levinas and the Limits of Humanism.
Nice piece by Professor Thomas Nagel on Bernard Williams, over at the London Review of Books, reviewing three recent collections of Williams' essays from Princeton University Press: The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy; In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument and Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline. (Also noted by the all-seeing-eye which is 3 Quarks.)
This year's Marx and Philosophy Society Annual Conference kicks off at 10.30 on Saturday 27th May (£10 waged, £5 unwaged, payable at the door; Room 728, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1). Speakers include Bob Cannon (Capitalism, Fetishism and Modernity), Drew Milne (Michel Henry's Marx) and Mark Neocleous (The Politics and Philosophy of Redemption: Marxism, National Socialism, and the Dead). To reserve a place in advance please email Martin McIvor.
Tonight, between 6-7.30pm, in room 335, Geoffrey Manton Building, Manchester Metropolitan University, the Forum for European Philosophy presents: Michael Dillon on Transformation: Politics of the Messianic. Michael Dillon is the author of Virtual Security in Millennium: Journal of International Studies and Intelligence Incarnate in Body and Society. For further information please contact: Catherine Lowe or Joanna Hodge.
Yesterday, I briefly mentioned Blanchot's Death Sentence: for those who want to read more about this work of Blanchot's there is an interesting essay online from Kevin Hart called The Gospel of L'Arrêt de mort (thanks Steve). (Hart, you'll note, is the editor, along with Geoffrey Hartman, of The Power of Contestation: Perspectives on Maurice Blanchot and the author of Dark Gaze: Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred.)
The proletariat are factory-farmed replicants who believe they are something called the working class. The task for telecommunism is to strip out the false memory chips binding them to the quasi-organic earth, in order to produce a New Earth for a 'people that do not yet exist'.
Also worth a read is Jon on Tronti, over at Long Sunday. Jon promises a "Tronti fest" to come: looking forward to that!
Of further interest may be the fact that I'll be posting Nick Dyer-Witherford's essay Cyber-Negr: General Intellect and Immaterial Labour (from The Philosophy of Antonio Negri: Resistance in Practice (Pluto) here on RSB within the next day or so.
The two latest titles from the excellent Clinamen Press are certainly worthy of a larger audience: Virtual Mathematics: the logic of difference, edited by Simon Duffy, and The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze: Encounters and Influences, by RSB-interviewee James Williams, are both well-produced, challenging works of modern philosophy. I'll be commenting more on both of these books over the coming weeks.
Something of a local institution, the Manchester-based Human Sciences Seminar has been running for about 25 years. All meetings begin at 5pm, on Thursdays, in the Geoffrey Manton Building, Room 3.35, in Manchester city centre. Last week Alison Stone, from Lancaster University, gave an excellent and well-attended talk entitled Are There Two Sexes? I'll be interviewing Alison later in the year about her forthcoming book Luce Irigaray and the Philosophy of Sexual Difference (CUP).