Monday, October 31, 2005
(4:00 PM) | Ben Wolfson:
The Open: Uexküll
I agree with Adam when he calls the sections on Uexküll among the coolest parts of The Open (but then, I would), but I also think that they're fairly straightforward. So, I'll limit myself to making one point that I don't think comes through quite clearly in the Agamben, asking a question about Agamben, and quibbling with him.
The first point is that Uexküll, unlike, say, Cassirer, who disagreed with him on precisely this point, thinks that the same sort of thing happens in all living things (or so it would seem; he gives an example describing the Umwelt of a paramecium but never mentions vegetation explicitly, though it would be easy enough to fit movement in response to the sun, for example, into his framework), up to and including humans . The difference is one of degree alone. This is even a little obscured by Agamben's focus on the tick in explicating the framework; it's easy to think, based on that example, and statements like "the tick is this relationship; she lives only in and for it", both that there's no place in Uexküll for individuals, as opposed to instances of the species, and that his model of the tick is purely functionalistic: tick as complicated state machine.
I believe this would be wrong in two ways, though: first, even though the tick's actions are completely constrained by its receptors and effectors, Uexküll believes it still has an inner world; it must do something like perceiving the stimulus, which has a particular kind of "tonality". (Why exactly he thinks this is not clear to me based on what I've read so far.) For instance, to a dog who has been taught to sit on a (human's) chair, objects similar to the chair acquire a "sitting tone", and will be sat upon in response to the command that was used to train the dog to sit on the original chair. Second, if one abstracted from the description of the tick to a framework for all animals, a fairly static picture of an Umwelt develops, for ticks seem fairly fungible. However, Uexküll writes in A Stroll through the World of Animals and Men that "as the number of an animal's performances grows, the number of objects that populate its Umwelt increases. It grows within the individual life span of every animal that is able to gather experiences" (p 49), where such animals include not only humans (Uexküll has a rather unfortunate example here) but also dogs and birds. In Theoretical Biology, he gives a not very helpful diagram and explanation of the mechanism by which this is supposed to happen, but it remains unclear where the cutoff between "the highest animals", which can gather experiences and in some cases even use implements, and other animals is drawn, and how the difference is grounded. At some point in the ascent from less to more complicated Umwelten, this new capacity appears, but it is not, on his account, unique to humans, nor does it in any important way free those animals which have it from the basic receptor/effector system.
My question about Agamben: at the end of §11, he refers to the experiment in Rostock in which a tick was kept alive for eighteen years, and, saying that Uexküll gives "no explanation for this peculiar fact", and goes on to ask a series of questions unanswerered in the text. I take it that those questions are motivated by interests and thoughts of his own, and if anyone wants to discuss them, that'd be peachy.
This is also the area in which I quibble. I'm not sure to what extent Agamben's quite correct that Uexküll gives no explanation; there is a footnote at that point in the text in which he states
The tick is built for a long period of starvation … The perfect fitting of the tick to her prey-object, which she finally seizes, contrasts strikingly with the extremely low probability that this will actually ensue … An optimal Umwelt, that is, one as favorable as possible, and a pessimal environment may be considered the general rule. (A Stroll through the World of Animals and Men, p 12)That is, the "absolute isolation from its environment" is not taken to be the relevant factor in the tick's survival, so much as it is merely how it is that the duration of its survival was ascertained: this long isolation from any Merkmalträger is something that happens in the wild as well, but (and this may not be justified) it seems to me that there's a definite emphasis on the laboratory conditions, the artificial removal of the tick from any possible encounter with butyric acid. Further, his question "what sense does it make to speak of 'waiting' without time and without world?" seems to rely on an equivocation. "Umwelt" is not the animal's subjective world, which we can never know, but merely what we can observe the animal to interact with. This is made explicit in Theoretical Biology:
Since we are not in a position to investigate the appearance-world [Erscheinungswelt] of another subject, but only that part of our appearance-world surrounding it, we had better speak of the surrounding-world [Umwelt] of the animal … The observer's chief task consists in determing the number and nature of his own qualities appearing in the surrounding-world of the other subject … We can divide up the surrounding-world of every other subject into two halves, as will be explained fully later on. The one contains those of the observer's indications [Merkmale] that affect the animal as such; … (Theoretical Biology, p 79–80)The divisions here don't matter as much as the construction of the Umwelt out of the observer's own experience. In the laboratory the tick was no more deprived of its world, then, than it is when a day passes without a mammal passing under it, something which, apparently, has a rather high probability.
There's an introduction to Uexküll, with a prodigious bibliography, here; it's from an issue of Semiotica devoted to him, but I don't think that issue is available online.
 I suppose this might actually be a somewhat contentious thing to say, given the contrast Uexküll attempts to make between "goal" (which humans are at least accustomed to thinking that they have) and "plan" (which determines animals). But since he does actually give examples involving people in explicating principles for animals, it seems justifiable.
(9:12 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Open: Introduction; Man and OvermanThis is the inaugural post of The Weblog's reading group over Giorgio Agamben's The Open: Man and Animal. The week's tentative schedule, along with Amazon and Powell's links to the book itself, is available here. If members of other blogs would like to participate, they can alert me of their posts either by a trackback to this post (and/or another specific post they are responding to) or a personal e-mail to me. For all Weblog-based participants, it would be great if you would label your posts as I have done, prefixing your own title with the title of the book. On Friday, I will compile all of the posts here (as well as any from other blogs), just as I did for St. Paul Week and Sovereignty Week.
Here begins my actual contribution: I have been taking a seminar on Nietzsche during the period when I have been reading the most Agamben, and I am continually struck by the relationships I see between the two figures, even though Agamben doesn't explicitly cite Nietzsche very often. This is especially true in the second essay of Genealogy of Morals (which is fast becoming the obsessive focus of my understanding of Nietzsche and of life as a whole), where many of Nietzsche's ideas about the origin of law and state strongly parallel ideas in Homo Sacer -- for instance, Nietzsche's claim that the ban is more originary than other discrete forms of punishment. Nietzsche's approach is more speculative and less "scholarly" than Agamben's, but as a classical scholar, Nietzsche would implicitly have been drawing on many of the same sources as Agamben. Then of course there is Agamben's very lengthy citation of (coincidentally?) Genealogy of Morals in Man without Content.
In any case, I found some of the same parallels in The Open. I am still doing the archeological work in Agamben's earlier works ("before he was cool"), so the exact intellectual genealogy is still up in the air as far as I can see. The level of rigor we're looking at here is therefore, "Wow, that sounds kind of the same -- I wonder if there's something to it?" At the very least, however, this will give me the opportunity to put some very central quotations from the Agamben out there:
Perhaps not only theology and philosophy but also politics, ethics, and jurisprudence are drawn and suspended in the difference between man and animal. The cognitive experiment at issue isn this difference ultimately concerns the nature of man--or, more precisely, the production and definition of this nature; it is an experiment de hominis natura. When the difference vanishes and the two terms collapse upon each other--as seems to be happening today--the difference between being and the nothing, licit and illicit, divine and demonic also fades away, and in its place something appears for which we seem to lack even a name. Perhaps concentration and extermination camps are also an experiment of this sort, an extreme and monstrous attempt to decide between the human and the inhuman, which has ended up dragging the very possibility of the distinction to its ruin. (Agamben, The Open, pg 22)That is perhaps enough quoting: so, for Agamben, we see that there is an "anthropological machine" that operates on bare human life to produce the human. The operation of this machine has varied over time, and at the moment, the will to operate this machine seems to be waning. The most suitable goal, however, is to suspend the operation of this machine altogether. (This is a pattern in Agamben -- the goal is stoppage or exhaustion.)
Homo sapiens, then, is neither a clearly defined species nor a substance; it is, rather, a machine or device for producing the recognition of the human.... Homo is a constitutively "anthropomorphous" animal (that is, "resembling man"...), who must recognize himself in a non-man in order to be human. (Ibid., 26-27)
If, in the [anthropological] machine of the moderns, the outside is produced through the exclusion of an inside and the inhuman produced by animalizing the human, here the inside is obtained through the inclusion of an outside, and the non-man is produced by the humanization of an animal....
Both machines are able to function only by establishing a zone of indifference at their centers, within which--like a "missing link" which is always lacking because it is already virtually present--the articulation between human and animal, man and non-man, speaking being and living being, must take place. Like every space of exception, this zone is, in truth, perfectly empty, and the truly human being who should occur there is only the place of the ceaselessly updated decision in which the caesurae and their rearticulations are always dislocated and displaced anew. What would thus be obtained, however, is neither an animal life nor a human life, but only a life that is separated and excluded from itself--only a bare life.
And faced with this extreme figure of the human and the inhuman, it is not so much a matter of asking which of the two machines (or of the two variants of the same machine) is better or more effective--or, rather, less lethal and bloody--as it is of understanding how they work so that we might, eventually, be able to stop them. (Ibid., 37-38)
In some respects, one would expect Nietzsche to be very different in his analysis and particularly in the ethos of his works, but I see definite and even surprising similarities. Obviously this is not the place to fully elaborate my understanding of Nietzsche, but I will venture to say that the production of "man" out of the difference between man and animal is central to Nietzsche's intellectual project and his deepest hopes are tied to a change in our relationship to that difference. First, there is the declaration at the very beginning of Zarathustra (part 1, Prologue, para. 4): "Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman--a rope over an abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping." The introspective bad conscious is a step along the route to the overman -- it is a terrible assault on the animal, but also opens up the possibility for humanity to become interesting (Genealogy of Morals, essay 2, section 16): "as if man were not a goal but only a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise.--"
A promise of what? It's not clear -- the overman is obviously a polyvalent concept, and in any case, as a hope for the future, it must necessarily be allowed to remain surprising. Yet at the end of the second essay of Genealogy of Morals, he gives some indication of a direction that could be taken in the quest to undo the machinery whose operations he has laid out in such detail (Ibid., section 24):
We modern men are the heirs of the conscience-vivisection and self-torture [Kaufmann's note: Selbsttierquälerei: Tierquälerei really means cruelty to animals or, literally, animal torture; hence Nietzsche's coinage suggests that this kind of self-torture involves mortification of the animal nature of man] of milenia: this is what we have practices longest, it is our distinctive art perhaps, and in any case our subtlety in which we have acquired a refined taste. Man has all too long had ann "evil eye" for his natural inclinations, so that they have finally become inseparable from his "bad conscience." An attempt at the reverse would in itself be possible--but who is strong enough for it?--that is, to wed the bad conscience to all the unnatural inclinations, all those aspirations to the beyond, to that which runs counter to sense, instinct, nature, animal, in short, all ideals hitherto, which are one and all hostile to life and ideals that slander the world.(I didn't even remember that footnote when I was planning on using the passage in this post -- a little too perfect.) I don't know if this solution is the best one to the problem Nietzsche outlines -- but then, I don't think that Nietzsche knows either. The important thing to note here is that if you grant me the parallel between Nietzsche's diagnosis of "bad conscience" and something like Agamben's "anthropological machine," then Nietzsche seems to be in the business precisely of understanding how the machine works so that it can be stopped -- in this case, throwing a wrench into the works, turning the machine against itself.
[As in so many other things, Agamben -- and he's not the only one -- seems to be answering very specifically to what one might term the "Nietzschean call." I'm thinking in particular of Derrida's account of Nietzsche in Politics of Friendship, with the long footnotes on Bataille, Blanchot, and Nancy's work on community -- Agamben would obviously be part of that general trajectory, even if the genealogy isn't as clear as in the case Nietzsche-Bataille-Nancy. A final question, too big and too off the topic: Are the philosophers of (Nietzsche's) future here? Has the Nietzschean impulse been substantially absorbed? Are the members of this latest generation of good Europeans among the "friends" whom Nietzsche was continually addressing, even if they aren't the only friends? (One of the members of my seminar, in response to another student's question about who these friends are, said indignantly, "I'll be his friend!"]
(7:47 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Cliopatria Awards ComethCliopatria is accepting nominations for the Cliopatria Awards, which will be awarded to history blogs in the following categories: Best Group Blog, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Post, Best Series of Posts, and Best Writing. (I am on the committee for Best Individual Blog and Best Post.) I encourage you to submit your nominations.
On an unrelated note, Ralph Luker has sent me this amusing post about a theory flame war:
One day I was sitting around the office with my friend (and fellow PhD candidate) Mike, and we were grousing about the theory flamewar currently going on. What we found especially annoying was that it was clear to anyone who had actually studied the theorists that the participants did not know what they were talking about, and were simply throwing around the names of the Theorists of the Week Club as buzzwords. That's when we came up with the idea for a prank.
We invented a fake theorist by the name of Pierre Mourier, and started a flamewar between the two of us regarding his work. We would make up fake texts and long quotes that he supposedly said, and argue aggressively about them. We thought that after a week or so, some enterprising MA student would try to look up Mourier and discover the joke.
But, no ... instead, they started arguing with us! People who were not in on the joke would write things like: "Well, my reading of Mourier is..." implying that they had read these non-existent texts. When the other PhD students saw what we were up to, they began to create (and quote extensively from) their own fake theorists, such as Gillaume de Slopard, Simone Mourier (his wife), and Jorge Jesus Castillo. The works by and about these theorists included "The Rational Irrational," "Language and Determined History: Some Thoughts on the Book of Job," "Baudelaire's Blue Lobster: The Genesis of the Psychocultural Image and the Return to Hermeticism," "The Syphlitic Eye," "Murmurs in the Cabaret: Finding Language through Noise," and "The Suffering of Memory" (which, in a brilliant post, one of my colleagues argued should be better translated as "The Ache of Memory").
Sunday, October 30, 2005
(3:21 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Reflections on Seeking EmploymentI just put in an application at Border's, online. It was an intense emotional inventory -- they repeatedly asked if I was prone to criticize people (certainly not to their face), if I'm a "leader" (yeah, that's exactly what they fucking want is a leader), etc. Perhaps I stand a better chance of getting hired since it's coming up on the all-important Christmas Money Worship Season. I did put that I wanted $10.00 an hour, so they'll probably throw my application in the trash. One of Anthony's friends was used to the kinds of wages that prevail in small-town areas, and she put down $6.00 an hour on her application -- they were very happy to give her her desired wage.
I don't want to have to call the temp agency constantly, but then, I don't really want to work, at all, at least not in anything that will distract me from my PhD work. I'm sure I'm fully capable of doing some kind of management or program director or whatever, but I never even look at job listings that have those kinds of titles.
Does it ever seem like Craigslist has nothing but really shitty jobs with really shitty wages? I saw one that was for legal research and thought there was an off-chance I might be qualified for it. They wanted a recent law school grad or a third-year -- and the wage was $10.00/hr. Yes, I'm going to go to law school so that I can get $10.00/hr. Coming from the other direction, even with just a normal office job, it strikes me as unethical to pay anything less than $10.00 in Chicago -- most people have student loans, don't want to live in absolute squalor, have various nutritional requirements they need to meet throughout the day, etc.
I've never once heard anything back from a resume I've sent to Craigslist, though -- for those rare jobs that seemed like they could fit my schedule and my own unique skillset. I've probably sent over 60 at this point, some of them on the very same day the listing is posted, and no one has contacted me whatsoever. Perhaps I need to take the old MA off the resume.
Back when I lived in Bourbonnais, I always saw these signs outside of every Family Video store -- "management opportunities available, $30K/yr., must be willing to relocate." I always thought that in the worst-case scenario in which the academic system does to me what it does to most of its devotees, I could easily take up an opportunity like that -- with my extreme frugality, honed in the fires of grad student penury, I could easily pay off my student loans within three or four years. Then I'd be 35 or so, the debt-free holder of a by then quite comical PhD -- and managing a Family Video in Buttfuck, Iowa. Having discharged all my duties to society, then, I could quietly hang myself. Or else I'm sure the market for mail-order brides will be even more active by then.
One of the questions on the Border's application was "You often feel optimistic about your future." I put "agree," rather than "strongly agree."
(12:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Hegemonic NormsAs is my custom while Ogged is on hiatus, I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that The Weblog would be a suitable replacement for Unfogged. The underlying software here is fully capable of supporting rapid-fire comment threads, for example. It's an idea whose time has come, as opposed to the last time I mentioned this, at which point the idea's time had not yet come -- but now it has come.
(9:52 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
ContinuancySome have requested a fresh thread to continue the conversation in comments to Dave's "Theology and the Arts" post. That request is granted.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
(7:02 PM) | John Emerson:
College of my dreams: response to comments
Several people noted that the ideal college I recently described was pretty similiar to existing liberal arts colleges such as Swarthmore and Reed, and especially St. John's. The difference from St. John's is that my school wouldn't be organized around The Great Books, and thus would be less past-oriented.
The suggestion that the mathematical part of the program should stress statistics rather than calculus strikes me as a good one.
The six-year program (starting at age sixteen) was my way of dealing with the well-known weaknesses of even the best American high schools. In my opinion, some of the excessive specialization of American higher education comes from the fact that a lot of very bright students, even in elite schools, start their serious education only at the age of eighteen -- and yet are expected to enter PhD programs at age 24 or so. Just to get students like this up to competence in a specialty is tough enough in itself, and general education is the thing that suffers. (A particular motive of mine would be to provide a place in the humanities for very ambitious students. Science-oriented students already have MIT and Cal Tech -- schools which, as I understand, have maintained their standards in part by recruiting students from abroad.)
A third feature of my school, not commented on by anyone, was an attempt to disengage undergraduate humanities education from the graduate school system, and to produce humanities graduates who are able to get decent jobs outside the university. My proposal here was vague, but teaching all students a wide variety of midlevel software applications usable in IT, publishing, data-management, etc., should keep them out of the coffeeshop jobs, and partnerships with professional schools in journalism, education, etc. might lead them to careers in which their educations will actually be valuable.
If the BA degree amounts only to "cultural enrichment", it is a reasonable choice only for those with plenty of family money, and by and large it will attract mostly slackers and personal liberationists. Idealistic professors who scorn "vocational training" almost always have pretty good tenured jobs, and they do a disservice both to their students and to the humanities. (This problem is particularly vivid for non-college families which must make sacrifices to send their first member to college).
It all comes down to money. The humanities in the university are a vestige of an aristocratic era when a general education grounded on Latin and Greek (or on Classical Chinese in China, or on Koranic and Vedic studies in the worlds of Islam and India) was required for those aspiring to positions of power. Those days are gone. Very few today are able to live on family money, and jobs normally go to people with technical training in a specialty of some kind.
The humanities BA is now useful only as a stepping-stone to something else -- usually either a PhD or a law degree. A humanities PhD, in turn, is useful only when it leads to a tenure-track position. Adjunct positions aren't something to aim for, and PhD's can't even work as newspaper reporters or as high school teachers without additional schooling.
When you lump all post-secondary education together, it's unquestionably a good investment, but when you separate out humanities education, the case is not good at all. (I've read that in the UK, people with arts degrees actually do less well than HS graduates without college). The humanities BA has been undercut by other, more technical forms of post-secondary education (often enough in the same schools). A four-year nursing, education, or social work degree is worth far more than a BA, even if the holder of the BA is brighter and harder-working than the holder of the technical degree.
My piece was more of a thought experiment than a serious proposal for change. I'm not sure that the demand would be there from students and their families, nor do I think that anyone in the education biz is really interested in the kind of thing I proposed. In any case, the educational world looks ready to shrink, and in a deflationary world people tend to hold on to what they've got and refrain from new ventures. Dissatisfaction with university career tracks in the humanities is pretty widespread, but (as with the lottery) as long as there's any reward at all to be hoped for, people will keep trying to chase it despite the odds. So the most reasonable thing to expect is an increasingly grumbly and mopey humanities world.
(10:22 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
My Political FantasyMy first basic presupposition here is that Bush is essentially a front man -- not necessarily an outright "puppet," but clearly not running the show in any important sense of the word. (This article apparently makes the argument that the supreme screw-up of the Meiers nomination proves that, but I've only read the excerpt from wood s lot.) My second basic presupposition is that Bush still deserves to suffer in some way.
With those fundamental commitments in mind, then, this would be my fantasy outcome for the Fitzgerald investigation. Over the course of the next two years, Fitzgerald's investigation implicates everyone of any importance in the administration, for very serious crimes that carry significant jail sentences, and basically everyone is convicted. However, precisely because Bush is such a dumbass, his hands are clean. None of the significant figures in Republican politics will touch Bush at this point, so he spends his remaining year or so as quite literally the smartest person in a high-level executive post. He would be the ultimate lame duck -- continuing to be president after all his advisors are gone would be the most appropriate punishment at that point. At his final State of the Union speech, bipartisan scornful laughter erupts, more than once. Then Laura divorces him, after revealing that the twins are actually the result of a dalliance with the "extremely virile" Bill Clinton.
Friday, October 28, 2005
(10:48 AM) | John Emerson:
The College of My DreamsOver the years I’ve weighed in with my opinion on the state of liberal arts education in this country. I am a disaffiliated free-lancer and many think I'm a crank, but an increasing number of people in the biz have similar doubts about the system. (Links below, because Blogger is being an asshole again).
What would I do if someone gave me a few million dollars to start a new college?
- The new school would be a liberal arts college specializing in the humanities. Majors would be philosophy, history, and literature; majors in each field would be required to have some courses in the other two. Social science would be divided between philosophy and history; theology would be in philosophy. There would be no science majors, but all students would be required to be literate in basic math and science (including actual science and math work, not just “History and Philosophy of Science”). The arts would be extracurricular, with an emphasis on music. Every graduate should be expected to have a usable command of two foreign or classical languages.
- Bright, motivated students would enter after tenth grade and attend for six years. The length of the program should make it easier for students from inferior programs to catch up with the others, and there should be full scholarships to make it possible for students to attend regardless of their family situation. Everything reasonable should be done to flatten out and suppress the distracting influences of youth culture, commercial pop culture, pop psychology, political fads, and family wealth. Counseling should be available, and the environment should be congenial, but making students feel good about themselves should not be a primary purpose of the school.
- Talented graduates should not have to work in coffee shops or as temps: everyone who graduates from the school should be able to earn $15/hr (2005 dollars). This will not be vocational school, but it can’t be oriented primarily to preparation for grad school, given the problems with humanities graduate education. (There are a number of academic areas and useful academic skills which do prepare you for actual jobs, and these should be stressed; statistics, database, writing, etc.)
- Because of the narrowness of the offering, cooperative relationships with neighboring schools should be established for students with special interests, as well as for those who decide not to finish the six-year program.
- The weight of the program should be past-oriented more than present-oriented. No real effort should be made to directly address the issues of the day, though it should be assumed that many or most students will have an interest in politics.
My specific concerns about education can be deduced from the kinds of solutions I have proposed -- obviously this is a highly-specialized school, and not an answer to all the problems of post-secondary education. It can be seen that I belong to the “reactionary leftist” category, and that the program I describe is basically old-fashioned and elitist. But while my proposal does conflict with contemporary trends, there is really nothing unusual, extreme, or impractical about it. All I need is a few million.
A. THE POSTS I'M RESPONDING TO:
Ian Welsh at BOP News:
B. MY EARLIER OPINIONS:
"Can I afford a PhD?":
"The Purpose of the Humanities in the Modern University":
C. OTHER BLOGS DISCUSSING THE TOPIC:
Invisible Adjunct (defunct):
(12:13 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Classic Friday Afternoon Confessional
I confess that I have come up with a pretty good post topic for the book group over The Open: Man and Animal by Giorgio Agamben, starting Monday and extending throughout the week. Aside from my post on Monday, here is the expected line-up:
Monday: Ben WolfsonAs mentioned before, the book is only 90 pages long, so if you were hoping to join in the discussions, there is probably still enough time to read it, assuming you can get a copy within the next couple days. Even if a couple days of the reading group week have passed by, I doubt that will be a big deal, because I'm sure the discussion of each post will be spread throughout the week to some extent.
Tuesday: Matt Christie
Wednesday: Jodi Dean
Thursday: Good Ol' Doug Johnson
Friday: Scott Eric Kaufman
I confess that yesterday, I was waiting for a Blue Line train at the Jackson station, and there were some CTA employees down on the tracks picking up papers. I thought that I heard a train coming, but the guys weren't getting out of the way (turns out they can just stand up against the wall; I thought they'd have to climb up onto the platform). I began to consider what it would be like if they were hit and, most likely, killed. First of all, the O'Hare side of the Blue Line would not be going anywhere for a while -- depending on how fast the train was going, some kind of clean-up process would be involved. I thought, "Man, that would suck. I guess I could just go take the Brown Line." Then I thought, "Well, no, because I need a transfer when I get off the train" (I had already taken the bus up from Hyde Park) -- "oh, but wait -- this is a Red Line transfer, so I could just walk across." I was kind of pissed because I would then have to take the Fullerton bus and walk eight blocks south, or else pay for a whole other trip just to take the Kimball bus those eight blocks.... Luckily for me the guys were not hit by the train, allowing my trip to proceed as planned, without requiring any excessive walking.
I confess that I've been watching too many old Seinfeld reruns, and it's likely making me into a bad person, or actually just moreso.
I confess that when I got home, I completely rearranged my books, going back to a strict-alphabetical system. This was not at random: on Tuesday, Hayley had purchased a new bookshelf, which we assembled together as a fun family project and which seriously alleviated their book-storage problems. I was particularly jealous that they were able to avoid having books vertically stacked, either in front of the normally stacked books or on top of them -- both of those were problems I was currently facing. I calculated that by reclaiming some space on top of my nice bookshelf (the shitty one already had a makeshift new top shelf on it), I could fit everything in -- and when I was done, I found much to my surprise that I had ample room at the end of the row to put any library books, etc. Vertical stacking: eliminated. I also went back to a more or less strict alphabetical by author scheme, having been unsatisfied with my previous attempt to sort them by topic.
I confess that my emotional breakdown on Monday was really helpful in terms of getting some things out of my system.
I confess that I am envious that Scott McLemee was able to shop at a store with the following display table:
I confess that the jazz on Chicago Public Radio at night makes me feel really lazy.
I confess that I wish Blogger had a feature where if you assigned a post a date and time in the future, it would wait and then automatically publish it at that particular time.
UPDATE: I confess that I've reactivated myself with three temp agencies, but I don't actually believe they're putting me on their lists at all.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
(10:13 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
New JCRTA new issue of the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory is out, including a review of Jean-Luc Nancy's Déclosion : Déconstruction du christianisme, 1. I think it's great that they're able to review important European philosophical work on religion before it's available in English translation.
(4:19 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
CongratulationsJesse and Carra Mau-Bridges have had a girl, whom they have named Adele.
Jesse was the fifth roommate of mine to get married (after Kyle Ireland, Adam Smith, Richard, and Justin), and the first to have a baby, aside from Tara, with whom I arguably never had a fully regularized roommate relationship. And I suppose that Jesse would be the seventh roommate of mine to "get married," since both Anthony and Hayley are in fact married, but I was thinking in terms of getting married after living with me. But by any reckoning, more of my former and current roommates are now married than unmarried, even if I count myself as one of my roommates. In fact, one would have grounds to theorize that marriage is in fact a disease, of which I am a carrier, and those who have lived with me without catching it were simply lucky -- or else now they're carriers, too.
In any case, Robb, m2, and Jared Sinclair are not currently married, nor do they have any (legitimate) children. Nor am I or do I.
All this was my incredibly self-involved way of saying: Congratulations Jesse and Carra on the birth of your daughter, Adele.
(8:56 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Best American Philosopher Now? Ever?UPDATE: Peirce is out in front by a good bit for best ever. Cavell gets honorable mention as best living, but since he's in his mid eighties he's not exactly what we're looking for as far as up-and-comers on the American scene go. I'd like that suggestion that we look at actual philosophy departments, but I don't care how many votes they get, analytic folks whose work has very little or no application to other fields in the humanities (especially politics) don't count. I'm looking for a philosopher, not a simple logician (Aristotle and Plato, for instance, at least wrote some obscure works on politics, ethics, rhetoric, and the like).
Perhaps I just feel as if I'm probably missing something. Who would you say is the best American philosopher currently writing? From the late seventies to the early or mid nineties that mantle might have been contested to a greater or lesser degree by a number of folks. Names come to mind such as Cornell West, Richard Rorty, Frederick Jameson, Stanley Fish, John Caputo, or, if you count someone who has been here a really long time even though not born here, Alasdair MacIntyre. Of course, all of these old timers are still living and breathing and even writing things now and then, but are any of them anything like the best right now? I guess I'm wondering what the names are, if any, in a new generation of U.S. philosophers. We at the weblog are fond of discussing contemporary philosophers (or anti-philosophers if you will) from France, Italy, Slovenia (any contemporary Germans?, don't know much about them either), but I really don't know of many U.S. figures under 65 that I feel like I am supposed to think that maybe I ought to consider reading.
Judith Butler, I suppose, and since Jodie has her assigned for a class, I'll be perusing Bodies That Matter soon. Also at Cal, Boyarin. But I don't really think of Boyarin as an original Philosopher. He's damned interesting to read and hear, but in a lecture at Duke he talked about reading until he found a theory that he liked and then figuring out what set of Jewish and Christian texts from the first four centuries he could use that theory to illuminate. We could propose someone like Michael Hardt, but I'm definitely convinced that he is not the source of the original ideas. Is Butler doing anything that she didn't learn almost directly from Foucault and Derrida? Really, I must be missing someone.
Maybe America is not capable of producing good, original philosophers. Maybe its like the whole Rome/Greece thing: pilfer and 'perfect'? Of course, it has produced some original philosophy in the past. Even if you exclude folks like Leo Strauss and Arendt who were born and trained elsewhere, you have folks from way back such as Emerson, Jefferson, and Jonathon Edwards who have to be considered philosophers of sort in their own various ways. It almost goes without saying that to crown the best philosopher of all time in the U.S., we have to look to the pragmatists.
While James, Peirce, or Dewey may be the obvious choices, I much prefer W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois' combination of pragmatism (from his teacher James) with Goethe/Romanticism and one of the very first sociological investigations earns my vote. The theory of double consciousness that structures The Souls of Black Folks is simply stunning. Miles ahead of time with respect to question of power and identity.
Who do you nominate? Now? Ever? Maybe later we'll have a vote, though I don't know how to do one of those fancy tabulation boxes.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
(2:19 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Perhaps the best used bookstore find everToday at the Powell's in Hyde Park, I saw a little boxed set off three volumes of Nietzsche, covering about the same percentage of Nietzsche's works as the Kaufmann Portable Nietzsche/Basic Writings difecta, perhaps more, in German, for only $19.95. It actually has many things that Kaufmann didn't include in his two volumes, like The Gay Science, and it doesn't include Genealogy of Morals, which is good from my perspective since I already have a German text of that. Overall, it was truly a grace-filled moment.
What is your best used bookstore find? I know that there are some readers with an even worse book-buying addiction than I have, so someone must have outdone me at some point.
(8:59 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Talking about God with Kids
In September of 2004, Jean-Luc Nancy published Au ciel et sur la terre : Parler de Dieu avec les enfants -- or, "In heaven and on earth: Talking about God with children." Here is the publisher's note, followed by my translation:
Dans le ciel, il y a des avions, des nuages, le soleil, des étoiles. Et pour bien des hommes, il y a aussi des dieux, ou un Dieu. Tout le monde n’y croit pas, mais tout le monde voit bien le mystère de l’existence. Alors, y a-t-il là-haut dans les cieux, quelqu’un, créateur de toutes choses ? Comment en parler ? Comment comprendre que cet être invisible, les hommes se le soient figuré de façons si différentes, et que pour d’autres, au contraire, les cieux soient vides ?I think that this is a great idea, and even though I think it's highly unlikely that this particular book will ever be translated and marketed to American children, there's no reason that we can't commission our favorite Anglophone philosophers to produce similar volumes: Richard Rorty's Guide to Religious Pluralism 4 Kidz!!! or Why Did Jesus Have to Die? My First Theology Chapter Book by Slavoj Žižek.
Jean-Luc Nancy parlera d’abord du ciel : on dit de Dieu qu’il est au ciel pour dire qu’il est nulle part, puis de la question en apparence cruciale : « Dieu existe-t-il ? » Et si Dieu voulait dire cette ouverture à autre chose, ce rapport à nulle part que tout homme peut expérimenter ?
In the heavens, there are birds, clouds, the sun, the stars. And for many men, there are also gods, or a God. Not everyone believes, but everyone sees the mystery of existence. Then, is there someone up there in the heavens, a creator of all things? How to talk about him? How to understand that men have represented this invisible being in such different ways, and that for others, on the contrary, the heavens are empty?
Jean-Luc Nancy will speak first about the heavens: one says of God that he is in heaven in order to say that he is nowhere, then of the apparently crucial question: "Does God exist?" And if God means that opening to something else, that relationship to nowhere that every man can experience?
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
(9:02 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
What is left to do this semesterFor Patristics, I have to read selected texts from Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen, then compile notes from which later lectures may be derived. This would bring my total reading in Patristics to the Apostolic Fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Barnabas, et al.), Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, and the three figures mentioned above. This seems to be a fairly decent start in historical theology.
For Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, I still have the entire Kierkegaard half of the class, comprising Fear and Trembling, The Sickness Unto Death, Either/Or, and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. My paper for the class is going to be on the use of Fear and Trembling and the second essay of Genealogy of Morals in Derrida's The Gift of Death. (After the class is over, I plan an additional section on Derrida's additions to Donner la mort in terms of his displacement of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in that later section. This whole project will be a "rewrite" of the original portion of my thesis in the same sense that the second edition of Barth's Romans was a rewrite of the first.) So I do need to re-read The Gift of Death, as well as pay special attention to Fear and Trembling; sadly, I don't have time to gain a useful reading knowledge of Danish, though I have a friend who, somewhat improbably, does have the complete works of Kierkegaard in the original.
For Hermeneutics, I have one in-class presentation next week, which will consist of guiding class discussion based on the reflection papers that the students will submit to me ahead of time. This is a week from Thursday, and I am somewhat ahead of schedule on the book for that session. After that, it's just a matter of keeping up with the reading (three more books) and writing reflection papers. Just as it was a blessing to have done a significant portion of the Patristics directed reading during the summer, it is a blessing that this class (a degree requirement) has a lower workload than I had expected.
For Nancy and Agamben, I need to read Agamben's Potentialities, at which point I plan on going through and taking notes based on my underlinings in all the Agamben books I'll have read thus far (Coming Community, Man Without Content, Means without Ends, Remnants of Auschwitz, State of Exception, and The Open) in order to do some consolidation and analysis before tackling Homo Sacer, after which I will take a look at the new edited volume on that work. I've probably mentioned before that a primary goal for this semester, to ensure that I am still worthy to be doing serious academic work, is to attain a rigorous grasp of the argument and the stakes of Homo Sacer. With Nancy, my reading has been somewhat haphazard so far, at first dictated by the need to write a review of Déclosion (i.e., reading through the other works looking for premonitions of the themes of that work), so now that I'm treating Nancy as such, I feel I need to reread Inoperative Community and Being Singular Plural. I have already read The Experience of Freedom post-review, and I am working on A Finite Thinking, albeit extremely slowly. I would like to read La création du monde: ou, la mondialisation as well (which to my knowledge has not been translated), and I have a book of Nancy interviews arriving in the mail sometime soon. I actually hope to do much of the work on Nancy in French, especially since the gods of translation have not shone as much on him as on some of his contemporaries (such as Agamben). You all are free to come to my house, look at my bookshelf under "N," and hate me. It's not yet clear what the written work for this particular directed study will be.
I'd also like to learn Latin before next semester, because I'll be taking a course on Augustine.
All of this seems manageable -- Hermeneutics will absolutely be over as soon as the semester is, and barring disaster, so will Patristics. We're doing Fear and Trembling in class a week from Wednesday, so starting some serious work on the paper for that class will naturally follow immediately on that, likely allowing me to finish the paper before the end of the semester. The only coursework that seems to be in real danger of stretching beyond the end of the semester is the Agamben and Nancy directed study, particularly if a paper topic really jumps out at me (I've proposed one, but it's fairly artificial).
One potential complicating factor would be employment. I've got enough cash on hand right now to cover basic expenses over the next two months (I think), but I was actually hoping to be working and saving up at this point. I'm grateful for the time off so far in that it has left me feeling like I'm on very solid footing right now, rather than experiencing the kind of stress that usually starts to set in toward the middle of the semester (followed by panic and despair at the end), but I'm not going to be pleasant to be around in January if I have to go through a repeat of this summer. To some extent, working might not end up producing a significant net loss in schoolwork time, since I find that it's often difficult to motivate myself when I feel like I have infinitely vast expanses of time in which to do all this stuff.
I've got some leads, and it's certainly not an urgent situation right now. I just hope that I can get my emotional shit together so that I can actually do the work I know I'm capable of doing right now, rather than moping around the house cursing the cold. Hayley and I made a joint declaration that The Heat Is Going On Because Man It's Cold In Here tonight (we have a veto-proof majority -- it doesn't matter what Anthony thinks), so that should help. I also bought this really cool space heater today, along with a snow shovel for my truck (always thinking ahead, that's Adam Kotsko for you!).
I'm still trying to figure out what exactly my declaration yesterday was supposed to mean. It definitely didn't mean that I am quitting or commiting blogicide. It was more a way of giving myself some freedom to step back the pace if I need to (along with getting some long-standing complaints about blogging in general off my chest). But obviously the rate of posting has been even higher than usual since then, so I don't know.
(8:36 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday HatredI hate how miserable the psycho/existential cat is when Hayley's not home. I hate it when he literally gets pissed off at me for walking.
I hate feeling moody and depressed because of a decision I made, then looking back to the couple weeks before the decision and realizing that I was moody and depressed then, too.
I hate how cold it is in our house, and I hate even more that the gas company is going to gouge us all winter long. I particularly hate how cold it is in my room all the time, due to the fact that my windows are apparently made out of Saran Wrap with holes in it, but I plan on buying a space heater today to remedy that. I hate that our toilet doesn't flush properly. I hate that the mail came at 7:30 last night. I hate that I don't have a proper winter coat.
I hate the way I feel, on every front, at this very moment.
Monday, October 24, 2005
(10:45 PM) | Brad:
A Silent Co-Conspirator
Life is pain, life is fear, and man is unhappy. Now all is pain and fear. Now man lives life because he loves pain and fear. That's how they've made it. Life now is given in exchange for pain and fear, and that is the whole deceit. Man now is not yet the right man. There will be a new man, happy and proud. He for whom it makes no difference whether he lives or does not live, he will be the new man. He who overcomes pain and fear will himself be God. And this God will not be. (Fyodor Dostoeyvsky, Demons, 115)
(8:26 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Theology and the ArtsSince I've been playing my guitar a lot more lately than I had for the past two or three years, I realized something: I really miss it. Let me contextualize for those who don't know me that well. I came to Olivet Nazarene University and the wintry north in order to study classical guitar; even though I couldn't stomach being a music major, I still took private lessons and performed a junior and a senior recital; I have been to Spain to play in masterclasses with guitarists from all over the world, including a class with Cuban composer, Leo Brouwer; when I made the decision to pursue a master's degree in theology, I was simultaneously making the decision not to hand in my already completed application for a master's degree in guitar; in other words, this is not simply a hobby I am picking up again. And for this reason, this love of mine asks more of me than I have been willing to give the past three years. The problem is, just as I didn't want to make the decision to give up the guitar for theology, I don't want to make the opposite decision now. I realize that the only way that I will be happy is if I can do both. And in fact--I have realized--that is exactly what I have wanted to do all along. But again, that problem: there just isn't a space for such a thing. While there are many programs in universities across the country for the study of "sacred music" or even programs in "theology and the arts," I have not found a program that actually fosters the mutual performance of philosophical/theological reflection and the performance of art (If you have, then please let me know!). It is no surprise to me that aesthetics is such a lacking discipline within theology (simply because of the placement of theological studies within an academy that increasingly grows afraid of "the arts"), but I want to find some way to fix that...or at least to create a space where I can play guitar theologically. Any suggestions?
(6:16 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Kotsko's Greatest HitsHere are some samples of my writing, from the period when this blog was good ("the past"):
- The Friday Afternoon Confessional (in which I announced that I hate God)
- Every Birth of Meaning
- Bohemian like you
- The Enduring Importance of My Pet Novelist
- Hegel can suck it
- Hills Hall: Gay Bath House?
- John Keats and Radiohead
- Why I hate... manly men
- Wasting Time
- These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins
- There is nothing outside the blog
- Is the world a board game? Perhaps
- Natural Theology Today
- Greater love hath no man than this
- The first-ever Friday Afternoon Confessional
- The Importance of Tradition in Developing a Worldview Relevant to Our Contemporary Postmodern Context
- The Universitization of Knowledge
- Wheels Within Wheels: The Dialectical Circumference of God
- I just want to walk around with you
- Given Time
- Pontifical Standing Committee for Continental Philosophy in the Liturgy: First Attempt
- So is it safe to assume (in which I claim Zizek stole some of my ideas)
- This is not a post
- The Culture Industry
- Morbid Fascination
- Epistle to the Americans
- Love and History
- The State of the Debt
- Peace (about my dad and work)
- Reading Moments
- Epistle to the Americans, pt. 2
- The first letter of Slavoj Žižek to the Corinthians
- I've got reservations
- A Moratorium Request
- The Institutionalization of Knowledge
- The Universitization of Knowledge, pt. 2
- How much do you forgive?
- Lenin's Birthday!
- Give me Pynchon and St. Paul
- Abortion and Obscurantism
- Irenaeus on the Great Reboot
- The Phenomenology of Unemployment
- Sick of the dualism, Manichean and otherwise
- That Dangerous Supplement 2
- The Piano
- Reality-based Community
- A Paradigm-Shattering Post of World-Historical Significance
- Agamben, with discussion of New Orleans
- No more masters
- No more sacrifice
(8:42 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
What calls for blogging?I don't know if I can keep posting every day, at least not if I want to maintain any kind of quality. Most days I am sure there are interesting pages I can link to, but that has never been a primary focus of this blog. Beyond that, I've started to perceive some of the conscious or unconscious reasons that I started this blog no longer being fulfilled.
First, I don't feel that I can do the ever-popular "bleeding-heart confessional" posts in this forum any longer. This is not because I have suddenly stopped feeling over-dramatic adolescent emotions, certainly, but because -- actually, I don't know why. I feel blocked, though. I start to write something with a little too much of myself behind it, and I delete it all.
Second, I don't want to talk at length about theology and philosophy in this format. I know that many people find blogging to be a breath of fresh air in this respect, but I've been doing it for a while, and I've had my breath. Now the shitty aspects stand out to me -- online discussion technologies combine the worst of both face-to-face encounters and the written word, encouraging one to dash off a quick response in order to keep up with a fast-paced conversation, then requiring one to stand by those words as if they were published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal.
The lack of communication of tone, etc., but even more importantly, the lack of the intimidation that restrains one's behavior in face-to-face conversation, virtually guarantee that some people will come off as bigger assholes than they are actually trying to be and that some people will actually be far more vicious and personal in their attacks than they would dream of doing in real life. For instance, I think that in real-life conversation, I can be very diplomatic. I have been known to diffuse tense situations with a well-placed joke. In the online format, where elements of tone and timing are completely gone, that simply does not work. In fact, often the only way to avoid ever-greater escalation is to walk away.
I know that I have advantages in this respect that others don't have -- I'm involved in a PhD program, and I have class time and pub time when I can discuss these matters, with students and professors. And then there's also the creeping suspicion that in the time I spent yelling at Rich Puchalsky in some triple-digit comment thread at The Valve (for example), I could have already learned Italian, or written several pages of a publishable article, or made something for dinner other than macaroni and cheese. The Valve example isn't the only one or even the worst; I have had many, many deeply frustrating online conversations where I looked back and thought, "I not only wasted my time, but I allowed myself to be baited into acting like a total asshole." (I basically quit the CRI forum, in which I had participated for seven years, because of precisely that problem.)
And then, of course, I've seen many posts here that have been very serious and nuanced philosophical and theological arguments that were passed over in silence. The only discussion-generators, it would seem, are thinly-veiled personal attacks on a particular figure and all those who admire him or her -- or else some stupid thing about what color my phlegm was when I woke up with a bad cough this morning. Political analysis on blogs is almost always repetitious and tedious in that the same arguments get trotted out again and again, as unquestionable dogma -- "See, this is yet another example of how incompetent Bush is...," "Big-media reporters are spineless sycophants who like to feel like they're friends with powerful people...," etc. Because both liberal and conservative blogs are like this, blog-readers are obviously going to tend to read only their "side," since one is only ever going to encounter the same arguments repeated endlessly, which becomes tedious and even infuriating when one is reading about political stances to which one is opposed. The goal is not to "expand the conversation," but rather to strengthen the fortifications, to provide the already-initiated with the formulae necessary to succeed in today's ideological market.
I have not read anything new on a political blog since 2002, which was when I read all the stock arguments for the first time -- with the exception of Alphonse van Worden, who was probably the first genuinely new voice the blogosphere had received in a long time.
So I suppose that's why I don't do as much political blogging nowadays.
In any case, I'm stuck. I'm not sure what I'm getting out of this blog currently -- neither the previous therapeutic purpose, nor the sense of overcoming intellectual isolation, nor the (illusory) feeling of being a part of the political process is really operative right now. I'm not going to make a dramatic declaration about the future frequency of posts here, but I don't think I can any longer be relied upon for a post every single day, like I've been doing for the past year or so.
Tuesday Hatred and Friday Confessional will of course continue to be posted without fail, and perhaps some members of the Seething Throng of Silent Co-Bloggers will attempt to consolidate hegemony over the blog while I'm slacking off.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
(3:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Non-blogging weekendIf it's not clear already, I don't have anything for you this weekend. I'm sorry.
Friday, October 21, 2005
(10:22 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Hate vs. DespiseObviously one hates George W. Bush. Does one despise him, though?
A working definition: hate is what you do with George W. Bush, despise is what you do with Joe Lieberman.
(8:07 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional
I confess that at one point I told Anthony that my goal for the Weblog was to reach 400 hits a day, at which point I would shut the site down immediately and without warning. Traffic peaked in the 380s later that week and has been heading downhill ever since, for reasons I can't quite discern -- the quality of my posts has been uniformly poor throughout the study period.
I confess that yesterday I killed some time by watching Strong Bad E-mails for the first time since Robb introduced me to the concept in late 2001.
I confess that I am almost done with the initial reading for the Agamben half of my Nancy and Agamben directed study -- all I need to read still are Potentialities, State of Exception, and Homo Sacer. Easy! No problem! I confess that I'm not quite sure what a contemporary Italian intellectual is doing making casual references to first century Gnosticism. I confess that the Nancy half of the directed study seems much more intimidating.
I confess that I'm thinking of setting aside Italian after a brief foray and picking up Latin instead, because I plan on taking a course on Augustine next semester. The only immediate use for Italian would be Agamben, but his writing style doesn't lead me to believe that there is this wealth of nuance and meaning that is incommunicable in English -- and probably, due to the geography of intellectual life, I can count on someone not writing things that are purposely partly untranslatable if they are writing in a language other than English, French, and German, because a person writing in a non-privileged language and who is as ambitious as Agamben is would know that his works would primarily be read in translation.
I haven't been sleeping very well. I haven't visited Kankakee in a while, and frankly I haven't driven or even gone to check on my truck for a while. For all I know, it's sitting in some tow yard somewhere.
I confess that I initially spelled it "toe."
Thursday, October 20, 2005
(4:49 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Mirabile Dictu!It is a cut-and-paste job to a certain extent, but Zizek's latest article for In These Times about Hurricane Kartina is actually coherent -- perhaps even defensible!
(I reserve the right not to defend this article in the event that a debate about its quality breaks out here or elsewhere.)
(2:08 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Reaching BackI suppose that I am not the only young thinker at the weblog who has already taken up and left behind serious committments to more than one figure or school of thought. Has anyone else experienced the phenomenon of wanting to reach back and make use of one of those figures to ward off some challenge, but not quite knowing how vigorous such use can be given the problematics which led to abandonment?
As those who have known me for some time (Discard, Jared W.) are aware, I was long a serious would-be champion of Alasdair MacIntyre. During my sophmore and junior years of college I cut my teeth philosophically on his major works from the 1980's, and I remained a serious MacIntyrean for a half decade or so. Somewhere along the line I found myself no longer committed to the Thomism into which MacIntrye finally settled. In all fairness, my current judaizing streak owes a good deal to ways of thinking I learned from MacIntyre. In short, I read MacIntyre as over and again concerned with advocating a particular way of creating real clash between competing intellectual schools, or to paraphrase a title from one of my papers of those days, reading rival narrative traditions against each other. In the end, my problem with MacIntyre is that while he is quite good when it comes to describing how this is best done and at noticing how dazzling a job Aquinas' accomplished in this regard with respect to Aristotle and Augustine, he is not all that great when he attempts to overcome a conflict of traditions himself. Liberal democracy gets nowhere near the fair shake in MacIntyre that Aristotle received from St. Thomas. MacIntyre is like a world class critic of poetry whose own verse is somewhat entrancing on first read, but finally quite forgettable.
Still, while I feel that I've left MacIntyre largely behind (now rarely citing his work or discussing his ideas), I've felt the urge to encourage Jodie to go MacIntryean in her Social Theory, Social History class. The prof. has set up a wonderful syllabus, but, it turns out, is seriously committed to Juergen Habermas. He likes Foucault a whole lot too, but apparently wants to bring the two together for the purpose of social history by reading some of Foucault's final work on governmentality back against his writings on prisons and sex. While I am quite interested to see how this reading works, I still can't imagine stomaching Habermas. My undergrad thesis adviser tried to make me incorporate Habermas into my project. I just didn't have the resources to do it at the time and still can't figure out a way to square Habermas' project (as I understand it) of recuperating liberal democracy via rational communicative practices with MacIntyre's persuasive argument that liberal democracy necessarily masks irreconcilable differences between competing rationalities.
Last week, Jodie went after Habermas, almost entirely on Foucauldian grounds. However, she'll be getting the professors unique take on how to bring Foucault and Habermas together this week. While Foucault is useful as a weapon against many forms of thought, the relationship between Foucault and Habermas is tricky for a variety reasons as briefly analyzed in the text and notes of James Millers' unsuperable biography of the former. It seems to me that it might be easier to dispense with the problems of Habermas by way of MacIntyre's more frank critique of enlightenment liberalism.
Anyone else ever want to go nostalgic in the course of a disagreement?
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
(2:52 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
SociopathI sat next to a sociopath on the train today. It was pretty full when I got on -- still room for everyone to sit down, but most seats would be full. This young man had apparently decided that he was going to get both seats to himself, claiming his territory by sitting with his legs spread wide apart. I sat down anyway, since it was the last open seat that I could see and the train was starting to move and -- he didn't even budge his legs, at all! I was speechless, and then of course, as time went on and on without me saying anything, it became more and more awkward to say anything, and it became more and more crucial to his continued male dominance that he not move his leg, that is, that he not admit that there was a problem here.
I guess it could be that he just has an incredibly huge cock and can't sit any other way without causing serious discomfort. In that case, my heart goes out to him, but he could have gotten up and then sat in the outside seat.
Overall, this man is not fit to live in human society.
(8:58 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
VocabularyIf you are trying to build your vocabulary in a foreign language, I highly recommend the Mastering [Language] Vocabulary series published by Barron's. I acquired the French version shortly after I finished my class, once I reached the point where I felt like the grammar was no longer an obstacle, but my limited vocabulary was really holding me back. Yesterday I went shopping for a similar book for German, having reached a similar point, and I did some comparison shopping at the Europa Bookstore, which you should all visit the next time you're in Chicago.
The other books all sucked in the same ways. First, the English word was listed first, followed by the German; in the Barron's, the order is reversed, which seems better to me in terms of getting you to think in the foreign language. In addition, the Barron's often groups together words that are etymologically related in the foreign language, which may well be the case in the other editions, but is de-emphasized through the use of English words as the organizational principle. Second, the "themes" were overly specified through excessive headings. The Barron's has many short sections with closely related words, but they are not labelled, forcing you to do the work of coming up with the common thread and, in my opinion, thereby allowing you to create your own mnemonic device.
Overall, the Barron's format seems less likely to lead to the common pitfall of American-style foreign language instruction -- still trying to speak English while using the other language's words. (A possible side-topic for discussion: Could one reasonably suspect that the American approach to foreign language instruction is specifically designed to prevent people from learning that particular language and to convince them that learning a foreign language is impossible?)
These Barron's vocabulary books are available for Spanish, French, German, and Italian -- collect 'em all!
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
(1:27 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Legislating from the BenchI have a question about "legislating from the bench": do judges sit on literal benches when they deliver their opinions? Or the more relevant seating situation might be when they are actually writing their opinions, since that is more "legislation"-like -- do they have benches in their offices, in front of the computer where they type it up? Or, since much of the writing is done by clerks, do they have measures in place that require all seats for clerks to be benches?
And then let's look at the actual legislators: do congressional representatives and senators have uniformly non-bench seating? Are all of the seats in the Capitol proper chairs, rather than benches? What if some representatives met in a park and sat on a bench to discuss some kind of controversy? That wouldn't be legislating, properly-so-called, but it would be a significant portion of the legislative process that was taking place on benches. Or what about in waiting areas? Don't people sometimes discuss things in waiting areas? What is the seating like? (I've never been.) Certainly we can't exclude the possibility that legislators would decide which way they were going to vote while sitting on a bench of some description -- a park bench, for instance, or a bench in the lobby of TGI Fridays. Does this somehow invalidate the legislative act?
What if we knew for a fact that judges were always sitting on chairs when they overturned acts of Congress -- would that solve the problem of legislating from the bench? Perhaps that's what "President" Bush needs to do: just eliminate the guesswork and make it a law that there are no benches allowed in our nation's courthouses, particularly where the judge sits to deliberate over, write, and/or deliver decisions. It could even be a bipartisan thing -- Barack Obama could co-sponsor a bill to eliminate the horrible practice of bench-based legislation on the part of judges, helping to end an acrimonious national debate that really ends up helping no one and thereby solidifying his support among the all-important "swing voters."
Then, to help streamline the electoral process and prevent politicians from compromising their positions in order to appeal to "swing voters," we could outlaw swing sets and porch swings.
(8:22 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday HatredI hate it when my spam filter is outwitted. I hate that the temperature of my bedroom during winter has no relation whatsoever to anything I do, at all. I hate that I can't remember what the hell I was thinking when I signed up to lead discussion in hermeneutics class. I hate realizing at ten o'clock at night that I haven't left the house all day, multiple days in a row.
I hate having recently reacquainted myself with the art of channel-surfing, but only because taking a study break by using the Internet (i.e., taking a break from reading in order to read something that produces even more eye strain) doesn't make as much sense as it once did. I hate our shitty cable plan, because there's no Cartoon Network, and therefore no Adult Swim, and therefore no Boondocks cartoon show when it starts in November.
I hate that I know that taking overly hot showers only dries out my skin and makes me itchy, but I do it anyway. A true "Romans 7"-style dilemma.
I hate that I had a dream with Bill Clinton in it. The part that I remember is that it was like one of those web sites where you could choose the clothes he was wearing, like a paper doll. I initially had him in a green sweater with a button-down shirt, but I decided it'd look better with a tie. When I clicked the tie option, it was hanging out, and no matter what I did, I could not get the program to keep the tie under the sweater. I think that this dream expresses my supressed wish to exploit young interns.
UPDATE: I hate that I don't know as much about web design as this guy.
UPDATE (2): Check out the Google Image Search results for "Saddam's penis".
Yeah, and overall, taking four PhD courses is kind of a lot of work.
And so -- dearly beloved, I invite you to hate.
Monday, October 17, 2005
(8:38 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tridentine MassI was searching for some biographical information on Athanasius and forgot that I had my search box in Firefox pointed toward Google News. As a result, I got this article objecting to a Vatican Synod on the Eucharist that had not considered the question of reinstating the traditional Tridentine mass:
For the two or three Sundays each month in which I am blessed to be able to attend the Traditional Latin Mass, I encounter very few who attend who lack belief in transubstantiation. I encounter very few who are receiving our Lord in a state of mortal sin or who consciously reject a dogma of the Faith, yet still receive Holy Communion.He repeats the "not a priority for the Synod" line throughout, in an apparent attempt to be poetic. Or perhaps he believes that if he says it enough times, the Synod will magically be convinced -- just like if the Catholic Church reinstates the Latin Mass, all the church's problems will magically be solved.
And at nearly every Traditional Latin Mass location I have attended around the United States, the priest is usually available for a set time ON SUNDAY prior to Holy Mass, to hear the confessions of the faithful—not at some extremely inconvenient time like 3 or 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. In other words, most priests who offer the Traditional Latin Mass, and most especially those who offer it exclusively, hear many confessions prior to every Mass they offer. One Traditional Priest in Rockford, Illinois hears confessions for a set time EVERY DAY prior to Holy Mass, with one and one half hours of confession on Saturday afternoon, and another 45 minutes prior to his Sunday Mass.
But the “Tridentine Mass” so-called, is “not a priority for the Synod,” according to the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
It's coincidental that I would find this article, because on Saturday night, as I was sitting and waiting for SNL to come on, I clicked to the Catholic Channel, where they were showing a televised Latin mass (Novus Ordo, however). I watched until communion, listened to the voice-over "spiritual communion" prayer, then slinked out the back.
I used to attend Latin mass at Oxford, at a church where there were constantly priests available for confession, three masses a day, etc., and I'll vouch for those people: they were very devout, as was I at the time. I'm skeptical as to whether the Latin as such was the real deciding issue -- though I do agree with the author that reception of Eucharist in the hand, in a standing position, is sub-par. Perhaps his argument would be more convincing if he focussed more on emphasizing confession, inspiring greater reverence for the Eucharist, etc., instead of the Tridentine mass as such. And that's if we accept his apparent premise that greater piety as such is a good in itself and is the most relevant measure of the success of the Church as an institution and of Vatican II in particular.
That's what you come here for: critiques of Catholic super-traditionalists from a convert-turned-lapsed Catholic.
(But maybe I would go to mass more if it was in Latin. As it stands, it's too easy -- I feel like they're insulting my intelligence. The stand-sit-kneel routine is hard to learn at first, but I want more of a challenge -- make me say the Lord's Prayer in Latin!)
(2:51 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Advocacy in the ClassroomI really consistently dislike Robert KC Johnson's posts at Cliopatria. It's all I can do to resist sarcastically responding to every one of them -- but then I realize that all my responses would necessarily be the same, since all his posts are exactly the same ("these damn academic leftists are spouting off and creating an atmosphere of persecution among conservative students!"). It was deeply refreshing, then, to read Hugo Schwyzer's post today in which he explicitly states that while teaching his women's studies classes, he is specifically trying to raise up young feminists (or male feminist allies), as per the goals of women's studies as a curriculum. One commenter complains that, in essence, posing as an advocate is at odds with the power differential in the classroom and that in any case, it ends up unfairly putting conservative students (or those who don't agree with the dreaded pedagogical "orthodoxy") in a position of disadvantage -- even though Hugo claims that he grades based on the quality of the work rather than on the specific opinions expressed, and even though he also claims that he welcomes lively debate in class.
I responded by asking why teachers shouldn't teach in a seductive way, hoping to lead others to embrace their own passionate beliefs. After all, what is the goal of instruction if not to change people's minds -- either to make them sharper and more rigorous in their reasoning or else to get them to discard certain beliefs in favor of others that come to appear superior?
Then I paused. I had been reading the Atlantic Monthly's college admissions section earlier this morning, so I was especially conscious of the fact that universities are often considered to be engines of economic opportunity -- in fact, lack of a college degree severely hampers one's economic chances. So it seems likely to me that behind all of this fuss about conservatives being made to feel uncomfortable in liberal arts colleges, there is an undercurrent of worry that this will unfairly disadvantage these students economically. I haven't seen anyone explicitly come out and say this, but it seems like the simplest way to make sense of the ways that people deploy the language of fairness, etc. -- and it also makes sense of the fact that so many of these people who are apparently advocating "neutrality" in education are basically advocating that we stop doing the "education" thing altogether. I mean, it seems disproportionate that one should give up one's deepest beliefs and convictions (or give the appearance of doing so), just so that one can get a decent middle-management job -- completely unfair!
If education was all just job training, there would be no trouble with any kind of advocacy at all, beyond the professional standards in each occupation -- for instance, insisting that students raised as pathological liars should instead use honest figures in their future work as accountants would not cause any controversy. These people could be made into good cogs in the economic machine, and their beliefs and convictions could escape unscathed. But in this situation, I would say that no meaningful education is taking place at all. Job training is valuable, and it's important for people to have satisfying jobs that they can do well, but it's not education, or at least that's a very impoverished concept of education.
I don't really know where to take this post from here, because I think that appealing to what "we as Americans" want -- whether we want the state to provide education for the full intellectual development of each person or to provide job training -- makes utterly no sense whatsoever in our current context. What we "want" doesn't matter, unless one of the two parties happens to put it in their platform and then follow through on it as well, and in any case, since many Americans are so poorly educated (even those with many degrees), I don't know that we can really trust what the public wants anyway. Treating political convictions as some kind of religious belief that must be respected and never challenged in the classroom, lest students feel persecuted, only makes the problem of inadequate education in America even worse.
(12:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Um, can I see a source on that?Athanasius, Against the Pagans (§ 9):
Others have distinguished individual parts of the body--the head or shoulder or hand or foot--and exalted them as gods and deified them, as if they were not satisfied with the worship of the body as a whole.Even if it's somewhat implausible in terms of idolatry critique, this would work great in one of those anti-Catholic pamphlets that lurk in the dark corners of Evangelical propaganda (in re: relics of the saints). Rabid anti-Catholics, take note!
UPDATE: Aside from Against the Pagans and On the Incarnation, Life of Anthony, and Letters on the Holy Spirit, what should I read of Athanasius? I've been instructed to browse and see if anything strikes me. Perhaps that process could be streamlined somewhat through the magic of the Internet.
(8:50 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Questions a Blogger Should Never Ask: #1So, is there anything interesting going on in national politics?
Sunday, October 16, 2005
(10:29 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Utilitarian BadiouianismFrom Little Girl: A Magazine of Tactical Thinking, an article on seduction (link via Political Theory, though Jared Woodard also linked this magazine a while back):
If Alain Badiou argues that the process of a truth always implies a “complex mixture of theory and practice,” the goal of this essay will be to find the nugget of such a possible truth in how-tos of seduction. My contention is that these accounts contain the seeds of what Little Girl refers to as a ‘tactical philosophy’: tactical because their goal is not the mere description of a state of affairs, but the delineation of a concrete set of principles by which a change can be produced in a material process; but philosophical in that they will bear upon, and therefore tell us something about, certain theoretical assumptions—in the case of sexual seduction, assumptions about the composition of the desiring subject. My goal will be making explicit the circuit between these two aspects.Now I resent the fact that my first exposure to philosophy was through the body-hating Plato and the syphilitic misogynist Nietzsche.
I will proceed in three steps:
First, I will develop an analysis of Kierkegaard’s narrative The Seducer’s Diary. My interest in this text will be the way that, on the one hand, it sets up a set of ‘tactical’ directives for the seducer, offering itself as a sort of 19th century Don Juan meets Dale Carnegie, while, on the other hand, rendering explicit the relationship of these directives to a philosophical structure, specifically Hegel’s account of Self-Consciousness in his Phenomenology of Spirit.
Second, my investigation will involve setting Kierkegaard’s theory of seduction alongside a contemporary article from the men’s magazine Maxim, “Take Her Home… Guaranteed.” 1 My thesis will ultimately be that Maxim presents something like an abstracted and distilled version of Kierkegaard’s theory of seduction, the adventure of the seducer’s labor boiled down to a pre-calculated form of knowledge. Understanding the philosophical presuppositions of “Take Her Home… Guaranteed” will therefore throw light on the nature of the contemporary “sexual fix.” 1
Third, passing through this analysis, in my conclusion I will be able to show how the relation established between these three reference points—Kierkegaard, Hegel, and Maxim—allows for an ethical appropriation of the concept of seduction. Here, a reflection upon Alain Badiou’s theory of the double temporality of truth will allow us to understand the way that the contemporary regime of seduction offers the key to understanding the deadlocks that love faces today. Traversing the manipulations of seduction, the goal will be to arrive at love.
UPDATE: Read Jodi Dean's interpretation of A History of Violence, the best movie of 2005.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
(8:21 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Still more pronunciationIf I am unable to roll my r's at age 25, what are the chances of my being able to pick up that skill in the future?
UPDATE: On an unrelated note, apparently Alphonse van Worden is done blogging. She will be missed.
(1:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Terry Eagleton on the Root Causes of TerrorTerry Eagleton in the New Statesman:
Ever since the London bombings, the question has never ceased to be asked. How could a group of well-educated, comfortably middle-class men perpetrate such atrocities? How could such fanaticism flourish in peaceful suburbia?
Perhaps we will never know what drove them to destroy Fallujah, set up torture camps and leave London so vulnerable to attack. What turned a nice young Harvard-educated failed oil executive into a child-killer? Was it envy of the east, one of the mighty birthplaces of science and medicine, in contrast to the barbarism of Burger King? Tony Blair seemed to have everything to live for - the prospect of a peerage, a wife with an enormous salary - and threw it all away. Did he have these hateful ideas hammered into him at Fettes or Oxford?
There are, to be sure, plenty of explanations to hand: oil, Israel, failing US hegemony, Oedipal vengeance and so on. But plenty of people run out of oil without feeling the need to attach electrodes to other people's genitals. Maybe giving explanations is just a devious way of seeking excuses. Perhaps we should simply accept that such bestial conduct is beyond the comprehension of civilised men and women, and concentrate instead on resisting this violence with all our might. Nobody wants to deport the entire cabinet. Even so, we have to ask some tough questions about whether their liberty is really compatible with our security.
(8:55 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Theological MethodAt CTS, the MDiv students who entered with me are now working on the dreaded "constructive paper." In this paper, they have to identify a particular context, method, and dialogue partner from the tradition, and then construct a theology out of that. Reportedly, most of the students chose either Calvin or Tillich (the UCC is still officially Calvinist after all these years, and a Tillich seminar is being offered this semester); I know of one person who picked Augustine, one who picked Barth (truly, a man after my own heart), and one particularly brave soul who picked Origen.
Since this is a big project, they have to turn in drafts of each section over the course of the semester -- first the context, and most recently the method. The question of method was an occasion of much self-mockery on my part: "My theological method is -- to read French philosophers!" "My theological method is -- not to do theology!" &c. Discussing that thorny question, I was glad that I was not an MDiv student, and not only for that reason.
If one had to characterize my theological method in one hyphenated phrase, it would have to be "God-avoidance." That is, I quite systematically avoid the question of God. If pressed, I will sign the dotted line beneath the Nicene Creed, but even that might be a way of putting the question aside -- and perhaps when I reject out of hand any question about really "believing" in a God other than the God of orthodoxy, I am doing it for my own benefit, for the sake of not having to think about God. "Orthodoxy works; let's move on to other questions." It doesn't carry much of a charge in itself -- I really could give a fuck whether all of these church fathers from before the "orthodox revolution" were incipiently orthodox or not. I enjoy their cultural critiques, the "strategies" that I anachronistically read into the actions they recommend, the creative readings of Scripture that would not be allowed under the present regime of biblical exegesis.
I think this "method" is at least interesting. It has potential. I'm not sure what the real-world applications would be of my attempt to read the underbelly of the Christian tradition, but I've been jumping too quickly to real-world applications, particularly applications sanctified by the word "political." I think of Deleuze, claiming that all those students out on the street could help the revolution more by finishing their dissertations.
This is what I'm doing for the revolution, or for the Kingdom. Or in any case, this is what I'm doing. I apologize that it doesn't live up to particular moral standards for "engagement." I apologize that I come off as arrogant due to the pleasure I derive from thought and from language. I don't intend it as a personal insult against you when I read Nietzsche in German.
And here the bitterness comes in: I don't want to be judged, because I always believe the judge. Even on trivial issues, the effect is the same -- after reading Jonathan's comment yesterday in the confessional about not defacing books, I went through a real, though minor, moral struggle about whether I should continue underlining in the book I was reading.
I've been thinking lately -- a lot lately -- that I just want to be left alone, by everyone, and I'm coming to understand that that's why. I don't want anyone to see me do anything, because then I'll open myself up to judgment. Writing about it is perhaps different, because I have more control over the presentation, unlike with someone randomly walking by -- but even there, I feel like I have become more reticent, less confessional. At the very least -- and perhaps I'm wrong here -- my emotions are not as much on display. And that's partly because I'm trying not to allow myself to experience such strong emotions, trying to keep everything on a more even keel.
Ultimately, this strategy would have me living in a cave, throwing rocks at the squirrels who were insistently watching me, mocking me.
But you can understand how bracketing the question of God really cuts down the possibilities of being under surveillance. I also figured that bracketing the question of Santa Claus was a good gamble, because all I ever want for Christmas anymore is underwear and sweaters anyway -- and then there's the emotional terrorism of the "true spirit of Christmas." Or "true love." Or "being on fire for God." I don't want my emotions to be judged anymore, tested for their purity and authenticity and moral worth. They're pretty damn pure already -- that's the problem.