Wednesday, November 30, 2005
(8:55 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Truth Will Set You FreeScott McLemee has written a bullshitological analysis of the Bush administration, responding to Josh Marshall's invocation of Harry Frankfurt's celebrated analysis of the concept. To the explanatory trinity of "incompetence, dishonesty, and bullshit," Scott adds the possibility of being a True Believer, for whom the truth moves at a higher level than mere empirical facts. His final example of this is David Horowitz, who claimed to have been invited to speak at a particular university by the conservative kids rather than being an official guest of the university, when in point of fact that was not the case. Horowitz explains:
When I was asked if it wasn’t to Hamilton’s credit to have invited me, I had two seconds to decide whether I wanted to say, “Well, yes, in a sense, but actually I shamed them into it.” Isserman [the professor who invited him to speak in his class] had treated me decently. It seemed unkind to take that away from him. On the other hand, I thought that if I just say, yes, Hamilton should be praised, that would be a really big lie about the reality of my experience at Hamilton and on university campuses. So I said I was invited by conservative students, which was true of my most recent visit to Hamilton, but obviously not the whole truth.That university faculties are Marxist totalitarian regimes is a timeless ontological truth -- and although the accidental fact that a particular university might show occasional signs of not being a Marxist totalitarian regime participates in truthfulness to some degree (as Horowitz indicates by conceding that his falsification meant he missed the mark of saying "the whole truth"), the essence remains constant and truer.
Isserman has now decided to weigh in with an entire article about this trivia in order to discredit the academic freedom movement with which I am associated. This movement is about introducing a little intellectual diversity into the academy. Professors like Maurice Isserman ought to be concerned about the one-party culture they have created in institutions that once honored intellectual pluralism and fairness. Considering this, my only conclusion can be that Isserman must regret bringing David Horowitz to Hamilton. That’s the truth I was driving at. (emphasis added)
What is needed here, clearly, is a transubstantiation -- just as the bread and wine of the Eucharist become Christ in substance while maintaining the accidents of bread and wine, so also we need to change the substance of the university to render it an institution of free inquiry, while maintaining the accidents of professorship, coursework, libraries, etc. The emphasis here is on the idea of "freedom," which is of course best achieved and enjoyed when the market is allowed to do its work -- that is, when the university is run like a business, where debate is oriented toward a fundamental ground of being (bottom line) and thus prevented from veering into the dogmatism of mindless relativism. To that end, we need:
- accountability, produced by adherence to certain bureaucratic safeguards and consumer (student) expectations;
- competition for teaching positions, whereby holders of advanced degrees will not be lulled into the complacency of thinking that they are owed a career in the area in which they've trained, or indeed a basic level of subsistence;
- connections with the broader business community, to ensure that students are being equipped to engage in appropriate levels of free inquiry in the intellectual marketplace in which they will find themselves upon graduation.
When the day comes to implement regime change in the university, we will hear the same old liberal voices saying that the totalitarian monsters are severely weakened and basically contained, that the so-called "facts" indicate that radical English professors are not a threat to our way of life -- the same old tired lies dressed up in truth's clothing that hamper every quest for truth and freedom. Horowitz's "lie" about his invitation to speak shows that, at the most basic level, he "gets it" -- still, I can't see him as anything other than a John the Baptist figure in this particular spiritual revolution.
(5:29 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Kidnapped Christian Peacemaker TeamOne of the four Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members captured in Iraq is from our neighborhood here in Toronto. Jim Loney was leading the team that is currently being held. Jim co-founded and continues to live in the Catholic Worker houses that are clustered on the street right behind us and are owned by our landlord. We had not yet had a chance to meet Jim as he has been in Iraq, I believe, since we arrived. See CPT's statement on the situation which blames the U.S. and the U.K.'s illegal war for the kidnappings and affirms the team's conviction that 'violent force ... should not be used should they be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a conflict situation.'
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
(9:05 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: Vengeance
I hate it when the drain won't drain properly.
I hate having a toilet that won't flush reliably.
I hate buying stamps.
I hate it when a ton of stuff is in front of my milk in the fridge.
I hate the feeling that I'm living on credit and will never be able to pay it off, on many levels.
I hate having to work while doing my PhD, and I hate that I didn't make better use of my time when I wasn't working.
I hate that most outhouses smell better than the bathroom at work.
(12:26 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
More Violent CritiqueI have contributed to the "Critique of Violence" event, and Jodi has also weighed in. (I didn't end up doing the 2 Thessalonians thing -- maybe at a later date.)
Monday, November 28, 2005
(9:06 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Time that RemainsI'm finally reading The Time that Remains and will be doing that for much of the rest of the day. Already, only a third of the way through it, I can say with confidence that Agamben's book is qualitatively better than the recent crop of philosophical readings of Paul.
The only one that really comes close would obviously be Taubes, but the comparison seems unfair since Taubes's seminar was given as he was in the process of dying of cancer, whereas Agamben's seminar was given several times and he had time to reflect and reformat it into a polished written text.
Agamben has even read Origen's commentary on Romans -- so I'm not the only one.
Has anyone else gotten their hands on the book yet?
Sunday, November 27, 2005
(6:11 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Critique of Violence Event at Long SundayLong Sunday's event on "Critique of Violence" began today. I will be participating on Tuesday.
Long-time readers may remember that "Critique of Violence" was the topic for the first session of the now-defunct (or is it?!) University Without Condition. A lot has happened since that time. Maybe I've learned a lot -- or learned a lot about the extent of my ignorance. (It was also a significant point of reference for Sovereignty Week.)
It'd be awesome if I did mine as a comparison between Benjamin's essay and 2 Thessalonians or something. Agamben has already opened up the new rigorous academic discipline of "Paul and Benjamin Juxtaposition Studies," so I'd be right on time, even though 2 Thessalonians is probably not a real letter of Paul. But Schmitt liked it! (Bringing in Paul could also be significant in terms of the blog title "Long Sunday" itself -- but would that make me too religious? I'm nervous now.)
(1:06 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Academic fatigueI am tired of reading the following words:
- "the other"
- All forms of the verb "to other"
- Any word with a slash in the middle of it
- Any word that is hyphenated in order to emphasize its etymology, real or imagined
Perhaps I'm naive. Perhaps I have too much faith in the power of human empathy and imagination. All I know is that the identitarian scholarship that I've read has presumed to know a great deal about what it's like to be a white straight male, even though supposedly the experience of each group is utterly incommunicable. Way to go -- once again, you're reinscribing the white straight male figure as the identity-free zero category, the universal accessible to everyone. Part of the problem might be a confusion between the distinctive white straight male identity (which actually exists, as I'm noticing more and more as I live and work in a racially diverse city) and the Enlightenment ideal (or maybe even Christian ideal) of the universal human subject. Maybe it's giving the white man too much credit to claim that he was somehow able to colonize this attractive human ideal and keep it all to himself.
But who am I to say any of this? I'll just go back to quietly reading my Church Fathers and European philosophers.
(9:18 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Zizek and BadiouRobin Mackay has posted some mp3s of recent lectures by Badiou and Zizek in London, together with many pictures, including one of Alenka Zupancic.
In an effort to attain fairhood and balancedness, I also note that Le Colonel Chabert, who is in many respects similar to the much-beloved and much-mourned Alphonse van Worden, has posted a stinging rebuke of Zizek.
(8:11 AM) | John Emerson:
Empire and EschatonMaybe everyone else here knows about this, but Adam's "Empire and Eschaton" just got a plug in the "Political Theory Daily Review".
Friday, November 25, 2005
(8:39 AM) | Brad:
I confess that I am not Adam Kotsko.
I confess that, because I am not Adam, my ambitious translation project to translate Hölderlin's translation of Sophocles into Dutch (perhaps Danish) and then back into Greek has not yet materialized. I confess, moreover, that this is probably a good thing, because no publisher has shown any interest anyway.
I confess that I tend to prefer the company of old, nearly forgotten academics over the company of those academics whose friendship would undoubtedly be better for me professionally.
I confess that I've been reading up on tantric sex ever since (a) one of the above academics clearly had my wife's ear while addressing the subject, and (b) a friend recently tried a sexual potency spell while under the influence and became a sexual dynamo for about a week.
Not unlike filling the humidifier with whisky, I confess that I am drawn to ideas that I cannot always physically handle.
I confess that I hate the 'playa' as much as the 'game'.
I confess that the first time I read Agamben, I didn't see the point of having done so.
I confess that I was not especially thankful yesterday, and even overtly rolled my eyes at one who suggested she was.
I confess that I'm cold.
Such are my sins. Come unto the Weblog all ye who are heavy-burdened, confess below, and we will not so much make your load light as we will expose it to the rest of the world.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
(10:42 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
ThankfulnessI think we all need to hold hands and go around the table saying what we're thankful for. I'll start:
I'm thankful that I finally started a job yesterday and that it's not going to be a problem to get class nights off. I'm thankful that I am a student and therefore can more easily maintain some distance between my self-concept and my low-level job. I'm thankful that I have friends who are understanding when I'm on the verge of complete collapse.
I'm thankful that I stumbled across a cheap copy of Kafka's Brief an den Vater. I'm thankful that it's looking like I'll at least finish up my regular classes before the end of the semester and can definitely finish the directed studies before next semester starts. I'm thankful that my impending ten hours of driving within three days will give me plenty of time to do my German CDs.
I'm thankful that I'm going to see Andrew Bird Saturday.
Okay, Jodi, your turn. [UPDATE: Jodi apparently hasn't sat down yet. Let's just have a random cacophony instead of taking turns.]
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
(12:36 PM) | Scott Eric Kaufman:
Teaching Melville in MadrasasThe current issue of The New York Review of Books contains two jarringly complementary articles. The first is Frederick Crews' review [subscribers only] of Andrew Delbanco's critical biography of Melville. Delbanco treats Melville as "one of those writers whom Lionel Trilling described as 'repositories of the dialectics of their times' in the sense that they contain 'both the yes and no of their culture.'" Thus:
Respect for the past, in Delbanco's case, includes eschewing the revisionists' "gotcha!" approach to a dead author's limitations and instead trying to recreate the dilemmas that he faced. On the pivotal issue of abolitionism, for example, Delbanco doesn't buy the crude idea that Melville's reluctance to become an activist was motivated by a wish to avoid offending his benefactor and kin, Judge Shaw. No one in Melville's day could envision how the slaves might be emancipated without causing secession. Although the novelist made it plain that he detested slavery, he joined the great majority of his Northern compatriots in hoping to avoid the gruesome war that would soon cost over 600,000 American lives. To condemn him with the hindsight of 150 years, Delbanco would doubtless say, is simply to reveal one's own failure of historical imagination.This is not historicism for historicism's sake, according to Delbanco, but historicism in the service of moral and political complexity. Read in his original context, Melville should not be censured for his failure to condemn slavery because the experience of living in a tumultuous time includes "both the yes and no of [a] culture." Normally I find this quasi-æstheticist pose painfully insufficient—a flaccid defense of New Critical orthodoxy—but another article in the current NYRB suggests the insufficiency of my own pose.
William Dalrymple's "Inside the Madrasa" [free content] opens with the following anecdote:
Here, straddling the noisy, truck-thundering Islamabad highway, stands the Haqqania, one of the most radical of the religious schools called madrasas.This account of Pakistani madrasas squares with what I've read for the past four or five years; namely, that they're Saudi-financed fundamentalist schools in which the indoctrination of radical Islamic thought occurs daily. Then Dalrymple begins to hedge:
Many of the Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, were trained at this institution. If its teachings have been blamed for inspiring the brutal, ultra-conservative incarnation of Islamic law that that regime presided over, there is no sign that the Haqqania is ashamed of its former pupils: instead, the madrasa's director, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, still proudly boasts that whenever the Taliban put out a call for fighters, he would simply close down the madrasa and send his students off to fight. In many ways, then, Akora Khattack represents everything that US policymakers most fear and dislike in this region, a bastion of religious, intellectual, and sometimes—in the form of the Taliban—military resistance to Pax Americana and all it represents.
It is certainly true that many madrasas are fundamentalist and literalist in their approach to the scriptures and that many subscribe to the most hard-line strains of Islamic thought. Few make any effort to prepare their students to function in a modern, plural society. It is also true that some madrasas can be directly linked to Islamic radicalism and occasionally to outright civil violence.No only do high profile radicals "function in a modern, plural society," they do so with aplomb. Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's chief of staff, was a pediatric surgeon; the average madrasa student learns medicine from Galen. Mohammed Atta was an architect; the average madrasa student learns geometry from Euclid. (Did someone say something about a stalking-horse?) Dalrymple's point, Madrasas are not breeding grounds for fundamentals and terrorists, the Haqqania and its ilk notwithstanding. They are institutional bulwarks against radical textual interpretation, focusing on "the correct fulfillment of rituals, how to wash correctly before prayers, and the proper length to grow a beard." To wit:
[S]hortly after September 11, bin Laden told a group of visiting Saudis that the "youths who conducted the operations did not accept any fiqh [school of Islamic law] in the popular term, but they accepted the fiqh that the Prophet Muhammad brought." It is a telling quote: bin Laden showing his impatience with legal training and the inherited structures of Islamic authority. The hijackers, he implied, were taking effective practical action rather than sitting around discussing legal texts. As such he set himself up as a challenge to the madrasas and the ulema, bypassing traditional modes of religious study and looking directly to the Koran for guidance.Unlike Omar Sheikh, the London School of Economics graduate who kidnapped Daniel Pearl, the man who spends hours studying "the proper length to grow a beard" will not think to question the Koranic code taught to him at a madrasa. He will consider text and tradition inviolate elements of a culture of faith, whereas the Englishman who comes to Islam late in life will consider the text itself inviolate. Of course, the average Englishman lives a kingly life compared to that of the impoverished madrasa student. And with this I return to Melville and Deblanco and ask:
Should we advocate the modernization of Islamic culture or should we support a return to traditionalism?A century from now, the answer to this question will be obvious. It will possess the same clarity which encourages condemnations of historical figures for their "patent" moral or political "lapses." But for the life of me, I don't know what it is.
(8:11 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: The White Man's BurdenI hate violent mood swings.
Aside from that, the white man in the subtitle is me, and the burden that you all have to carry is the burden of hatred.
Monday, November 21, 2005
(2:06 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Wishes do come trueIn these hard economic times, I'm sure all of us are continually thinking, "Man, I sure hope someone unexpectedly sends me money in the mail." I'm here to testify today that this can happen: the phone company I was using back in Bourbonnais has informed me that I am entitled to a refund of $31.84 on my account.
Why, you might ask, am I only learning this ten months after I cancelled the account? I don't know, but that's not important -- the important thing is that I am sharing in the American Dream of getting a small amount of free money in the mail, which I actually paid out before and could have been earning at least some interest on this whole time.
(10:09 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Influences from A to Z[UPDATE: See Žižek's new articles on France.]
In my recent reading of Agamben, I noticed that there are two basic authorities for him: Aristotle and Benjamin. He might not always get them "right" in terms of the scholarly concensus, but if Agamben says that either Aristotle or Benjamin said it, then that is equivalent to Agamben saying it in his own name. Similarly, Žižek has two basic authorities, Hegel and Lacan. For all the differences between the two, they do share the trait of being unafraid of challenging even the loftiest authorities on their chosen figures. Agamben, for instance, only ever seems to bring up Scholem in order to disprove him, and Žižek has even challenged Jacques-Alain Miller a time or two.
In both cases, the basic pattern seems to have been that they first went through a more or less conventional philosophical education (picking up the Aristotle and Hegel, respectively), then later in their careers picked up the second figure in what at first might have seemed to be a radical shift away from their initial expertise -- but instead of dumping the old stuff, they integrated it. I wonder if it's possible to repeat this model on purpose, or if one of the conditions of its success is to just find oneself doing it.
Since we're on the "A to Z" topic, I will note that Agamben also repeats himself -- for instance, one of the little aleph-footnote sections in Homo Sacer is basically identical to an essay in Means without End -- but it doesn't become so egregious as in Žižek's case. This is first of all because Agamben is not publishing a ridiculous number of articles in any venue that will take him, but more importantly because Agamben is smooth. He has a seductive writing style, such that it doesn't seem so important that you've heard this before, whereas with Žižek, it's like your gregarious uncle who tells the same stories every Thanksgiving -- except that it's every two weeks.
(6:48 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Darwin, Race, CatholicismThe comments on John Emerson's post below include this exchange:
Old: ... and, it should be added, that not only was Bryan's opponent Darrow a
Social Darwinist, but also a full-fledged and prominent member of the American
Eugenics Society (along with almost every other big name 'liberal' of the time
-exceptions included John 'Jack' Ryan, a Roman Catholic theologian with two or
three close friends on the Supreme Court).
Scott: Old,All those terms you threw out there need to be separated:
eugenics from Darwinism first and foremost. It is easily possible to advocate
eugenics and not believe in Darwinian evolution; it's even easier to be a
Darwinian and abhor both the mythical beast of Social Darwinism and eugenic
programs. Huxley, for one, believed people had a moral responsibility to efface
the connection between the brute fact of natural selection and human society
anytime anyone mentioned it.
Yes, it is logically possible to be for eugenics and not be a Darwinist or to be for Darwin and against eugenics. It's just that it wasn't the case historically. The Huxley counterexample is nice, but not the dominant way things went down. The history of the British eugenic movement is especially telling in this regard as two of the most prominent early leaders (chairs of the British eugenic society) were relatives of Darwin (cousin Galton and grandson Darwin). It just is the case that the Eugenic movement worldwide (international conferences, national societies, etc.) was dominated by Scientists of the darwinist persuasion.
Now I don't think that the heavily racist tonality of late 19th and early 20th century Darwinism is a reason for rejecting evolution altogether. I am not a dyed in the wool young earther or anything; I have serious problems with both sides in 'science' v. 'fundamentalists' on evolution. I applaud the fact that Science, in recent books like Guns, Germs and Steel, is finally facing up to and trying to manuever around the history of evolutionary racism. It isn't enough yet, however. The whole history of paleo-anthropology, in the starkest instance, is dominated by a racist assumption that black folks are closer to the apes. Agamben's bit in The Open on theory preceeding the discovery of 'the facts' in actual bones is telling in this regard.
On the other side, I don't for a moment think that the Genesis account is about actual origins. It has long been established in rigorous biblical studies that the Genesis creation account is a Hebrew counter-narrative, meant precisely to fly in the face of the Babylonian account which was racist, hierarchical and a critical underpinning for the violence of the Babylonian empire. That creationists after Bryan have been all too willing to succumb to nationalism, racism, and the claims of Empire makes it utterly ridiculous that they should claim to be faithful to the Genesis account of creation.
It is for reasons such as these that I have a slightly more sanguine view of evolution than the good Cardinal of Austria who recently clarified his highly influential Catholic position on evolution. And this even though I think that Schoenborn's position as stated either meets Jared's standards of scientific rationalism, or at least comes as close as any believer possibly could.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
(10:49 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Pennies for the Homeless[D: approaching the southeast corner of Yonge and Bloor from the South]
:Pennies for the Homeless?!
D: What do you need, I'll get you something?
:A couple of dollars.
D: I'll get you a hamburger or coffee or something.
:But they might be closed, they closed at eight.
D: there's McDonalds or coffee shops that are always open right there.
:okay. let's see. they close at eight sometimes
[walking into Harvey's, one of a chain of fastfood burger joints]
D: what do you want to get?
:I'll have a hamburger with everything on it and a small coke
[D: gets in line while :sets up at a table nearby]
D [with the burgers and a pepsi, starting to sit]: oh, I'll get a straw for you.
:don't worry about it
D: so what's your name?
I [interrupting]: Iranee, it's the masculine form of Irene.
D: Iraneus is my favorite theologian, one of my favorite theologians.
I: ah, most people don't know it ...
D: so what brought you to Toronto [guessing from Montreal by the name and the accent]
I: The two race tracks. They're the best in the world.
I: If someone tells you races are fixed they don't know anything. It's not fixed. It's all logical. The riders can look at the lineup and tell you if they are going to win or not ... [more on horseracing] ... So what do you do in Toronto?
D: I just got a new job. Pastor. Started last week.
D: It's with the Mennonite Central Committee. Street Pastor. They have me starting with Sanctuary. Right up the street here, you probably know them.
I: A good place. They do good work for the homeless. I do the races ... I just stay out doors for the winter. Like the fresh air.
I [launching into a long, long lesson on picking winners]: ... There are four kinds of horses: Frontrunners, Closers, Man-of-War (they can do both), and followers ...
I [more on the lesson]: ... At the track 90 percent of people lose, 9% break even, 1% win. It's not fixed though. You gotta be smart. Study hard.
D: So are you in the 9% or the 1%.
[I: pauses, thinks for a second]. I just hurt my shoulder, my hand, gotta borrow money from my friend. You know.
I: [launches into another soliliquoy, this time on the track's superiority] ... best in the world ...
D: Better than Del Mar, I'm from Southern California.
I: Oh yeah ... [more on the track, now on its relation to picking the horses]
D [having finished his hamburger, cleans his place and siezes on a break in the lesson]: Gotta go, told my wife I'd be home by 8:30 and I'm late already.
I: But you learned something didn't you?
D: Yeah, if I ever go to the track ... [mutters something about not having enough knowledge yet as he heads toward the trash can]
I: Could teach you everything I know in a month and a half.
D: I'll probably see you again since I'll be at Sanctuary.
[D: heads out the door and makes mental note: next time I'll sieze control of the conversation at the start. It'll be all about Iraneus' recapitulatory Christology and political demonology]
(10:42 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Deconstruction of ChristianitySince it's Sunday, we might as well have some old-time religion here.
When I was reading the Church Fathers, I was really shocked by the fact that Clement of Alexandria knew about Buddhism and Hinduism, even if he might have had a distorted picture. No one else seems to have talked about those religions at such length, but others did know about them -- for instance, in his Against the Heathens/On the Incarnation, Athanasius uses an Indian firewalking practice as an illustration, and even refers to it a couple different times by (presumably) the Sanskrit term. (Even Athanasius!)
Even though I found Clement's project of placing the Hebrew Scriptures at the source of every cultural achievement of every nation quite dubious, I was convinced by the purely critical portion of his argument to abandon an unconscious assumption that I had long held and that I assume a significant proportion of educated people hold: that is, that something like the "Greek miracle" model was actually true, that the Greeks had just suddenly come up with all these amazing cultural achievements all by themselves with no outside input. And in reality, the "Greek miracle" model doesn't really fit with the Greeks' own self-presentation -- even a relatively late figure like Celsus describes the Greek achievement as being basically the most skilled adapters of the best aspects of every other culture. Indian religions/philosophies seemed to be at the source of some of their achievements (for instance, Pythagoras seems to have been heavily influenced by Indian sources, leading in part to Greek mystery religions and to philosophy); Egypt was another source; certainly Hebrew culture would be another source.
I read a book this weekend on postcolonial criticism that particularly reinforced the Indian aspect of this "multi-source theory" -- emphasizing the high level of cultural interchange between Rome and the East, showing how Buddhist models might have influenced interpretations of the resurrection, etc. "Cool," I thought. Then, inevitably, that one step too many was taken: all of a sudden, India was the privileged source of all religious traditions ever. (Perhaps I'm not being totally fair here -- the author himself didn't explicitly take this step, but he quoted with approval many Indian interpreters who did.) Finding a new privileged and originary site does not seem to me to be the answer -- first of all, because empirically it can't possibly be true; second of all, because presumably the whole goal was to deflate the West's self-perception as the source of all value and therefore as the rightful educators and rulers of the world. Is the goal really to find another "race" (and some of the figures in this book really did seem to be deploying concepts of race and claiming that they had some closer kinship to Jesus by virtue of being Asian) who can be the educators and rulers of the world?
Just as with Clement's argument, I find the critical, deflating half of the argument to be brilliant and productive and even liberating -- but then once cultural privilege is asserted anew, I'm completely turned off. With Clement, it was displaced somewhat because the Jewish cultural privilege was really deployed in order to assert that Christians (i.e., explicitly and stridently not a racial group, at least not at first -- although the anti-Semitic stuff really does start up a lot earlier than I wish it had) are privileged, thus leading to a kind of de-centering effect -- though not de-centered enough in practice. My goal would be a more thorough-going cosmopolitanism, where certain groups could be custodians of certain cultural artifacts without being sole proprietors -- and I would find the Pauline move of attempting to share the Jewish cultural heritage with the nations to be a model of this, despite the fact that the nations then imperiously tried to claim that heritage as "their own."
Now that Christianity has become a cultural heritage unto itself -- and, I must say, a fascinating and complex cultural heritage with a lot to share, more than enough to support many lifetimes of study -- I try to encourage and enact a dissemination of that heritage, through my study and advocacy of "secular" readings of Christian texts (even if those readings are not unprecedented and even if they do not always conform to the strictures laid out by the biblical studies establishment), for instance. I support and hope to participate in enacting a "deconstruction of Christianity" on all fronts -- through finding unacknowledged sources as much as unacknowledged potentialities. And even as I marginalize myself more and more in the eyes of the established arbiters of the Christian culture, I still arrogantly presume to to say that I hold out hope that "all the church will be saved."
(10:19 AM) | John Emerson:
Darwin in American LifeThe resident troll routinely accuses the Weblog crew of being a bunch of hicks from Kalamazoo, but Kalamazoo is a cosmopolitan paradise compared to the Lake Wobegonian farm town (only one step above 9-man football) where I presently reside.
As it happens, the most excitable boy this town has produced in recent memory had the given name of "Darwin", and I recently ran into another old guy from around here with that same name -- a farmer. And quite by chance, one of my cousins (who was visiting from an equally small town in a neighboring state) mentioned a distant relative of ours (another farmer) who also was named "Darwin". (Both these twons are very churchy).
I know the mother of one of the local Darwins, but I can't ask her how he got the name because she's a devout church lady and a friend of my mom's -- and beyond that, her son's pranks, though admired for miles around, are an embarassment to her.
However, I was at least able to find the statistics on the use of this name. If I'm reading this graph correctly, between 1910 and 1960 "Darwin" ranked between about #380 and about #500 among male given names. In 1970 the name plummeted to about #800, and then even lower, before recovering recently. For the year 2003 the name ranked #800; for males of all ages, in the 2000 census the name ranked #583.
I'm pretty sure that the given name "Darwin" was rare before Charles Darwin became prominent, so the name can be taken as a marker for free-thinking. Furthermore, since "Darwin" seems like a country-ish sort of name, it might even be a marker of hillbilly freethinking.
This is a bit anecdotal at the moment, but three anecdotes makes a trend. Further research might be necessary, but it won't be by me -- I'm an anecdotalist by trade. Based on what I've been told about my father's childhood (born 1914) I think that my guess is accurate. The fundamentalist domination of the countryside might be worse now than it was 90 years ago.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
(8:54 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Saturday Morning ConfessionalLast night, Anthony and Hayley went to see the new Harry Potter, leaving me with the house to myself. What did I do during that time? Did I
- really plow through some reading to make up for a somewhat lazy day?
- relax and watch a movie?
- call up some friends and have a blow-out three-hour party?
- fall asleep on the couch for two hours?
UPDATE: If you guys haven't used Amazon lately, they're apparently giving away a free four-month trial of Amazon Prime, meaning free two-day shipping.
UPDATE (2): Anthony visited Amazon, and apparently they're only offering the Amazon Prime thing to me.
On a closely related note, everyone's favorite joke on Family Guy is obviously the part where Peter skins his knee and spends five minutes doing the breathing patterns that are customary after a knee-skinning. Last week's episode contained a tribute to that greatest of all possible gags. My question is: In which episode did it originally appear? (It happened at random, which makes it difficult, but by our powers combined....)
UPDATE (3): Jared Woodard has responded to my failure to grasp the inner truth and greatness of science.
Friday, November 18, 2005
(11:36 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
VampiresPseudonymous Kid reminds me of a question I've had for a while. On the second Simpsons Halloween episode this season, a witch curses the residents of Springfield by turning them into whatever their costume is. Dr. Hibbard is Blackula, and Grandpa is a gorilla. At one point, Grandpa falls down, and Dr. Hibbard offers to "take him to the hospital," only to begin sucking his blood.
My question is this: According to the most authoritative sources of vampirical lore, could a gorilla become a vampire? (Sub-questions: Does it matter in this case that a gorilla is a primate? Could a dog or cat become a vampire? If so, is it only because dogs or cats are so closely associated with human society, or are all mammals capable of becoming vampires? All animals with blood?)
This is of course a continuation of the discussion of The Open.
(9:35 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Science: The Inner Truth and GreatnessIs Jared right?
The choice, since Plato, has been between rationalism and superstition. The better definition of science, it seems, is not that it is a collection of disciplines seeking a certain kind of explanation (natural), but that it is the practice of rationally seeking explanations for phenomena. Philosophy (as Husserl says: "a rigorous science") can fit in comfortably here, perhaps even achieve pride of place. But religion: well, on the one hand it is opposed to the exclusivist claim of reason, and would withdraw from even the friendliest rationalism; but on the other hand, modern religion cannot comfortably stylize itself as brazen superstition, since Descartes and Shakespeare let the cat out of the bag and now even the most pious parishoner still feels a right to demand some kind of answer to the hardest questions. This suggests that religious leaders do not derive their persecution complex from debates over evolution, or x or y legislative agenda, or from the success of French literary theory in the 1980s, or from the lasciviousness of television; no, it is ultimately that history did not stop around 1600 that induces the social alienation now on display in the fight over Intelligent Design.The question of mysticism, brought up in the comments to Jared's post, seems crucial to me -- and not at all because I am a practitioner of any form of mysticism. "Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical," as Wittgenstein says. Sticking with the common definition of science as the quest for naturalistic explanations for phenomena -- and I should be clear that I am not at all willing to concede the scientific model of experimentation the sole proprietary rights to the concept of "reason" and in fact would take any move or anything that smacks of such a move as a real impoverishment of human thought and life -- you're inevitably going to reach a point where there is no more possible explanation. Ultimately, let's say, the unexplainable is the Big Bang -- that this particular contingent universe came into existence at all. I'm not saying, "Oh goody this means I get to deploy 'God' to answer that question" -- that obviously just moves the question back a step. (To the question "Why God?" the only rigorous answer is "We're not allowed to ask that question" -- this is why the post-apostolic church had to reject Gnosticism, and that rejection seems to me to rescue Christianity from the charge of being simply a superstition.)
Now of course we could make the move of claiming that what we really want is science in the broad sense of Wissenschaft, but in point of fact, that's not what goes under the name of science nowadays. All that goes under the name of science is calculative reason -- which is important and wonderful. All praise to calculative reason! It's not the answer, though. From a pedagogical standpoint, the answer is probably to actually include philosophy classes in high school curricula, because if the Intelligent Designers (whom I loathe) have any good point at all, it's that a lot of questions simply aren't being raised. It's actually giving the science teachers too much credit to assume that they're propagating some kind of radical materialist atheism, and it's not going to work to say, "Because we have evidence that species evolved, God doesn't exist." That's stupid. The question of God's existence or non-existence isn't an empirical question that can be answered by digging into the ground and piecing together the bones we find. It's a subject for sustained rational inquiry, but it's not an empirical question. The short-circuit reasoning that claims that science has somehow demonstrated God's non-existence is the sign of a radical thoughtlessness on the part of our scientists -- an empiricist fundamentalism.
Something like "Intelligent Design" actually has a pretty long pedigree, although the more reputable advocates of the position were far above the petty "God of the gaps" nonsense of our current sordid set of pseudo-scientists. It's not self-evidently right, but the fact that it's found to be so satisfying by so many people might be taken as a symptom of the impoverishment of human inquiry by American scientism. Sartor resartus, one might say.
Thus in the "Science vs. Intelligent Design" debate, I would say that both are right. First, yes, absolutely -- the advocates of Intelligent Design are not arguing in good faith, but are instead simply deploying this convenient philosophical position as a counteroffensive in the culture wars. But also, yes, absolutely -- science as calculative reason (i.e., Actually Existing Science) does not provide the answers to the questions that Intelligent Design is raising on the literal level. So the solution, in my opinion, is to leave the science curriculum the way it is and to add a rigorous philosophical program alongside it. Just insisting on "science"'s monopoly on reason over against "religion" is not going to cut it -- that's just question-begging, and it ignores the fact that "science" has factually been reduced to mere calculative wisdom. The more radical solution is to take the Intelligent Designers at their word and promote rigorous rational inquiry into ultimate questions -- which would be much more dangerous to religious fundamentalisms than any kind of knee-jerk scientism could ever dream of being.
(7:48 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: True Crime
I confess that I missed class yesterday. If I don't make it to at least one of the two remaining class sessions for this particular course, I will fail. Hopefully I can manage. Yesterday we were discussing my favorite book that we've been assigned so far, sadly.
I confess that yesterday, for the first time in months, I actually spent less at the grocery store than I had expected. I confess that I gave into the temptation to buy cardboard pizzas. I confess that when I come home late at night, there's a parking spot right by my house that is almost always available, in large part because it doesn't seem to be a "real" parking spot -- but it is! I'm ticket-free after three or four nights parked there.
I confess that I was not pleased when I received a credit card in the mail (intended for balance transfers only) that had a $79.00 annual fee, something that must have been disclosed in small type printed in white ink, and only a $300.00 credit limit. I was almost a third of the way to the limit with the fee alone. Thankfully, they allowed me to cancel without paying the fee.
I confess that Richard's proposed Ramen feast was pretty good -- a little bland, but definitely filling.
You can confess, too.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
(3:51 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Literary AnalysisBen Wolfson has written perhaps the best literary analysis ever.
(Why is this not linked at The Valve?)
UPDATE: Infinite Thought has posted Negri's response to the situation in France, as promised.
(12:27 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
On Butler's 'Performativity as Citationality'When I asked a few weeks back about the best American philosopher under sixty-five, the only name that even came up was Judith Butler. I remained a bit skeptical, but had planned to check into her work a bit anyway since Jodie has to read her for a Cultural History, Cultural Theory class. I still suspect that there are good Foucauldian reasons for questioning the overdetermination of sexuality in her writings. Nevertheless, if my initial reading of Butler is anything like indicative (and I've only just read the 22 pp. intro to Bodies That Matter , making the mistake of reading it before bed last night), then not only is she the best young philosopher in America, but also quite original and, more importantly, onto something that nobody I've come across on the European scene really gets. Law matters. And it is inescapable, thought it may very well be 'cited', 'iterated', or echoed in quite subversive ways.
To be brief since many in this crowd are far more familiar with Butler: the section on 'Performativity as Citationality' really caught my attention. Butler understands that Law (constituted) is not simply prohibitive or restrictive. It is also educative, in her words it is capable of 'mobilizing' individuals. In fact, this is its main function. A law that simply commands without mobilizing is for all intents and purposes dead. Actors are caught up in the mobilization of legal regimes and cannot disentangle themselves from such regimes. There is, however, much that can be done to resist by way of iterating or citing Law in subversive ways. In other words, there is a way to perform the functions mobilized by the law in a way that repeats its grammar (as one always must), but in a way that undermines that very telos of such mobilizations. Brilliant. She turns such insights quickly against some of the very folks she is learning from, particularly Lacan-Zizek. Again brilliant.
So it is that I must read much more of Butler. Indeed law matters, it is inescapable, and citing or reiterating or echoing or recapitulating it subversively holds a good deal of political potential. Revolutionary obedience in Yoder's words. It must also be added, of course, that constitutive legal power from below, or allegiance to an alternative law, possesses at least as much potential.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
(4:03 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Between the timesThe Seminary Coop Bookstore, supposedly the best and most powerful academic bookstore in the History of Man, does not yet have Giorgio Agamben's The Time that Remains in stock. That means that my recent Agamben binge -- which included five hours of detailed note-taking over Homo Sacer today -- is presently on hiatus. I'm starting to get moody. Just now, one of the cats jumped up on my lap and I about snapped. I tossed her across the room. (Actually, I'm at school -- the cats are miles away and are incapable of jumping that far.) I'm getting a headache worse than the worst caffeine-withdrawal headache I've ever had.
I've... I've got the DTs, man! The DTs, which of course can be translated into math as dt, the time differential, the time -- shall we say it? -- that ... remains! How long O Lord?!
Okay. There are other books I haven't read. Admittedly, many of them are out of print. Or, God forbid, I could start working on that Mountain of Nancy that is bearing down on my very soul -- or even the few remaining church fathers. But that would be like drinking tea when what you really want is coffee -- inadequate.
This is pathetic.
(10:04 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Carl SchmittNot only is the translation of Schmitt into English woefully incomplete, but there seems to be no standard edition of his complete works in German. (I base this conclusion on the fact that I've never seen anyone cite his untranslated works in a Gesammelte Ausgabe [or any of the other dozen or so terms German seems to have to refer to this same thing -- I prefer the apparently more standardized French œuvres complètes, or to refer to yesterday's post on wine, the O. C.]). Does anyone know whether I am correct in this assumption? Failing such a standardized collection, I am not sure how much work would be involved in just reading the complete Schmitt -- is it more akin to reading the complete Rimbaud, or the complete von Balthasar?
I've considered taking a leave of absense from CTS in order to read the complete works of Benjamin, after which I would return as some kind of mutant. (Am I alone in instinctively thinking that to do really heavy-duty reading, one needs to take time off school?) This is probably due to the fact that Agamben gives one the distinct impression that Benjamin holds the keys to the secrets of the universe -- somewhere in one of his drafts, for instance, there must be an enigmatic phrasing that actually reveals how to construct a unified field theory. Reading Nancy, I got the distinct impression that one must read the O. C. of Bataille, but that plan fell through for two reasons:
- It's twelve volumes, presumably those thick volumes with the Bible-style pages. (Valéry is in two volumes, by contrast, but each of those volumes is over a thousand pages.)
- Both Nancy and Agamben give one the impression that Bataille finally isn't very useful in theorizing our current political situation.
This has been a faux-erudite shit and garbage post.
UPDATE: It would have been awesome during the reading group over The Open if someone (for example, "me") could have connected the animal-headed figures in the first chapter with the werewolf chapter of Homo Sacer. But no, I hadn't yet reread Homo Sacer. And now it's just too late.
(7:01 AM) | Dave Belcher:
GREIt's way too early for anyone to be awake, let alone writing a blog post...but I have to take the GRE today (a pathetic attempt to raise my even more pathetic prior score). And, as many of you know, you have to give the GRE testmakers not only the benefit of the doubt on each of their sly questions, but also an entire day of your time. Jodi has been studying non-stop for this thing--undoubtedly because she was told repeatedly by everyone that she needed upwards of a 700 comprehensive score to even be considered at Duke. I, on the other hand, have procrastinated my ass off. Since I decided to apply for guitar programs I have been quite aware that even though a school might "require acceptable GRE scores," this is nowhere near as bad as Duke's stringent requirements, especially since the audition pretty much counts for everything. At the same time, I want to make my chances of admission as high as possible (obviously, though, I am putting quite a bit of stock in hoping that the schools that do require GRE scores care more about the auditions), so I will take the damn GRE again...but I don't think it will help much.
I determined last night that even if I had studied the verbal section for an entire year, I would not be able to read passages the way that the testmakers want me to, let alone "comprehend" them. I truly wish that there were some way to completely dismantle the GRE and either replace it with something more consistent and realistic, or to request that schools actually do the work of checking out their applicants beyond "numbers," especially since some of the worst students in a graduate program are the ones with excellent GRE scores, while the ones who excel bombed it (this is of course not across the board...I refer to Adam and Josh, both who aced the GRE, including literally acing the special literature section--they seem to be doing pretty well in their respective graduate pursuits). Well, I guess this hope is a little much to ask for this morning, since I have to leave in a half-hour. Wish me luck, or pray for destruction of the computer systems, or something!
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
(4:10 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Knowing Stuff About WineI was reading this article about wine in the Atlantic Monthly, because I've heard that to succeed in the academic world, one must know about wine. The article presents many obstacles. First of all, he says that "Shinn Estate [the farm that is the topic of the article] Merlots are soft and inviting--as are California Merlots (and nothing more, the Giamatti character [in Sideways] might add)--but also structured and complex, like great wines." Structured and complex? This is a liquid that I'm drinking, right? It's starting to sound like we're moving from the initial crush to signing a mortgage together -- this is a Merlot you can really settle down with.
Even worse are the asides that have nothing to do with wine -- and really, I do feel competent enough to read a middle-brow literary magazine in most subject areas other than wine; in fact, I am competent in nothing more, the Giamatti character might add -- as in this sequence: "When Shinn and Page, who owned and ran a tiny and adored Greenwich Village restaurant, bought a farm, seven years ago, the land was just affordable. Page, who has the profile of a Founding Father and a gray ponytail to go with it, is from Wisconsin; Shinn, the kind of long-limbed, casual American beauty the designer Claire McCardell had in mind when she made American sportswear internationally popular, grew up in Ohio." I did catch the Founding Fathers reference, but despite the generous assitance of specifying that this Claire McCardell person is a "designer," I really doubt that that was the most economical way of describing Ms. Shinn's physique. Should I have The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fashion History on hand for situations like this?
Admittedly, there is a certain artfulness in comparing this American winery-ist to some homegrown American product that became internationally popular, but I wonder about the exact conventions here. If the Atlantic Monthly were sufficiently highbrow, it could afford to compare Ms. Shinn to a character from The O. C., which would have the value of being both self-consciously campy and actually helpful. A middle-brow publication does not have sufficient cred to stoop that low, however (and with the Atlantic we're dealing with a definite lower-middle brow situation). To be able to afford a reference to The O. C., you really need to have a reference to Walter Benjamin to balance it out -- here, we're dealing with the plane of resolutely middlebrow references (cf. Sideways).
At this point, I feel I've done enough work to establish my superiority to the Atlantic Monthly and therefore no longer feel bad that the idea of a "structured and complex" wine is only minimally comprehensible. One is reminded of what Walter Benjamin wrote in his Theses on the Philosophy of History: "Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim." Well said, Walt.
(7:51 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 3.1415926535898
[THIS JUST IN: Infinite Thought has posted a translation of a statement by Badiou's group L'Organisation politique regarding the riots in France. Translation of a statement by Negri is promised in the future.]
[UPDATE: I'm glad Bitch PhD posted this link, because I don't spend nearly enough time with cats.]
I hate that I once had a job boring enough that sometimes the only possible form of mental stimulation was to see how far I could get memorizing π. (I used to know it further out than that -- for instance, the last 8 that I have is "really" a 7 rounded up -- but you really have to keep up with it if you're serious about memorizing what might as well be a completely random string of numbers.) I also tried to do e, but my heart really wasn't in that one (2.718281828459... is as far as I got, and really, that's pretty easy).
I hate how time flies. I hate canned asparagus. I hate artificially induced melodrama, especially when it takes place over the Internet. I hate that fiscal austerity measures are going to have me eating a whole lot more Ramen over the next couple months.
I hate not seeming to have as much time to work on languages now that the end of the semester approaches. I hate how much I procrastinate. I hate the graffiti on the fence at our apartment building.
I wouldn't say I hate it, but I am a little nervous about having to settle down on some exam areas within the next few months for my course of study -- I know one will be Ancient and Medieval Christian Thought, but other than that it's kind of up in the air (I have to do three others of my own choosing, and currently a required exam each in 20th Century Theology and Methods and Models in the Human Sciences, though the latter is not necessarily an immutable feature of the PhD program at CTS). Reading Homo Sacer, I thought that something like "Theories of Totalitarianism and Empire" would work -- plus it would conveniently keep me from having to read any Anglo-American political philosophy, because they don't talk about that stuff! YES! But I think that about everything I read -- "Ooh, maybe this would make a good exam area."
I hate that Jean-Luc Marion has changed his one course at the Div School next semester from something that seemed like it could be very helpful to me (Intro to Phenomenology) to something that doesn't seem all that urgent (What is Onto-Theology?). He's also team-teaching a course with David Tracy in the spring on Augustine's On the Trinity -- I'm already registered for a course at CTS on "Augustine, Niebuhr, and Malcolm X," so by that time I'd presumably be done with the Augustine part of the course and have something of a decent overview so that I could start looking more closely at On the Trinity, which is relevant to a paper I'd like to rewrite. But two courses on Augustine in one semester? Perhaps I could look into something at DePaul, but I have yet to figure out where on their website they keep their current course listings. Alternatively, I could just sit back, relax, and take three courses instead of four. That would still put me halfway through the 14 required courses by the end of my first year, which is "on pace." So many crucial decisions.
[UPDATE: I hate that some bastard gave me a set of Schubert's last piano sonatas "as a gift" and then later "borrowed" them back from me, apparently for the rest of eternity. They're playing on the radio now, and each note is like a knife in my heart.]
Overall, though, I feel pretty happy.
Monday, November 14, 2005
(2:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Book Collecting as SicknessInexplicably, this story turned up on the top section of the New York Times website:
Rushing to evacuate her home as a forest fire lapped at the edges of this high-desert town in May 2000, Kathryn Gursky took with her just one book, a British edition of "The World of Pooh," by A. A. Milne, bought when she and her husband were vacationing in Dorset some 11 years earlier.[...]From the looks of the picture, her collection includes some of the "old style" Penguin editions, the ones that the solid black spine with a little strip of (apparently randomly chosen) color on the top, together with a pale yellow background for the front and back covers. Ms. Gursky has already been through a lot -- hopefully she can handle it emotionally when the spines start breaking and pages begin to fall out.
Thousands of scorched tree trunks still range up the hillside across the street from Ms. Gursky's new home here, but inside the house, her library is well on the way to recovery. In September, Ms. Gursky received a birthday gift from her husband that earned her the envy of her book-loving friends: the complete collection of the Penguin Classics Library, 1,082 books sold only by Amazon.com for nearly $8,000.
Penguin Classics, the paperback volumes with the familiar black spine and the orange and black penguin logo, are known to generations of former students who struggled through Dickens and dozed through Henry James in school. While plenty of competitors also sell collections of classics, including Random House (Modern Library, Everyman's Library and Bantam Classics), Oxford University Press (World Classics), the Library of America and Barnes & Noble, arguably none is as instantly recognizable or as renowned as the Penguin Classics.
"It's hard to think of a rival," said Harold Bloom, the author, professor and literary critic who extolled his love of literature in "The Western Canon" and "How to Read and Why." "The Penguin collection has enormous range and comprehensiveness."
Not since Penguin started the collection in 1946, however, has anyone been able to easily compile or purchase a complete set of the books, which range from ancient Greek poetry to the novels of Thomas Pynchon and include the complete works of Shakespeare, four translations of the "Iliad," 20 volumes each of the works of Henry James and Dickens.[...]
Ms. Gursky's collection arrived in mid-September packed in 25 boxes, shrink-wrapped on a pallet and weighing nearly 700 pounds. Since then, Ms. Gursky has spent countless hours unpacking, shelving, categorizing, alphabetizing and rearranging the books. Oh, yes - and reading; she said she had completed more than 30 of the books in the last eight weeks. Even at that rather remarkable pace, it would take her about six years to make her way through the entire collection.
Speaking of poorly bound books, one of my professors assigned a Verso book for class, and of course my copy already feels like it's about to fall apart -- but he had a much older copy, back before publishers started doing those fancy "flat" non-glossy covers (so probably early '90s), and it looked completely fine, even though he had assigned it for many different classes throughout the years. So perhaps Verso, too, is sharing in the much-bemoaned decline in quality of British academic presses.
This has been a shit and garbage post.
(10:28 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Capital crimesWhat is the likelihood that a prosecutor with a sufficient free hand and sufficiently unfettered access could convict a current high-ranking executive branch official of a capital crime?
If a high-ranking official were to be impeached, could he or she be tried for the same charges in criminal court, or is dismissal from office the highest punishment available once you reach a certain level?
Were the president to be impeached and then convicted of a capital crime, what would be the odds of the sentence being carried out before the next president (arguably the party would be irrelevant) pardoned them, thinking, "There but for the grace of God..."?
My theory would be that the head of state could only be convicted of petty crimes, of sullying the office through decadence -- but real crimes, never. I count Watergate here -- Nixon and Kissinger were guilty of indiscriminate mass murder, and Nixon was forced out of office because of a ... robbery. Similarly with Clinton: the bombing of the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, the random punitive bombings against Iraq -- and what nearly gets him kicked out of office is lying about a blow job. Even now, we're hoping for the Bush administration to be "taken down" over an offense that's relatively petty on the scale of all they've done.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
(8:26 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Barely LegalThe fear-mongering about legislating from the bench is a distraction from the real problem: legislating from the White House. The same people who think lunatic judges are enforcing a dictatorship of relativism, etc., don't seem to be bothered by the fact that "unlawful combatant" is not an actual category in international law, nor that the Bush administration has basically arbitrarily declared that the War on Terror is a "new kind of war" (despite the fact that we're still only ever invading other sovereign nations), nor that the president is somehow found to have arbitrary powers "inherent in himself," nor that we somehow have the sole prerogative of interpreting UN Security Council resolutions even when basically every other member of the Security Council thinks our interpretation is wrong -- I could go on.
I'm not saying this is completely unprecedented in US history -- we've had a trend toward greater concentration of power in the executive for quite some time now, and some of the abuses that are now running rampant (such as extraordinary rendition) were started under Clinton. Still, if anyone other than the Legislative branch is going to have the power to decide on the validity and application of laws, I'd really prefer that it be the powerless judges, rather than the branch of government that has direct control over the armed forces and intelligence agencies.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
(2:09 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Religion ConferenceDarren of Long Pauses suggests that we submit abstracts to the upcoming NEXUS Conference, with keynote address by none other than John D. Caputo.
The topic: "Religion and Nation."
The call for papers: here.
The location: Tennessee, unfortunately. But still.
(The site design for the conference is beautiful, as one would expect from Darren.)
(9:07 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
More on Unemploymentk-punk, whose blog I don't read often enough, has a good post on unemployment:
Lack of work amplified a feeling that I imagine many people have, but which was particularly pronounced in my own case: a sense that I was not quite real. There was no point getting a job interview, because, along with my 'incompetence', my fundamental fraudulence would be immediately evident to the panel. A magic circle was in place, a familiar closed loop: I would never work because of my inauthenticity; my inauthenticity would only be cured by working. I went to job interviews hoping that the interviewers would persuade ME that I could do the job, which isn't quite the right way round.(There's some good stuff on Kafka and Deleuze in the part of the post after what I quoted.) He's exactly right about the language of job ads. I browse through Craigslist and see things like:
The great benefit of eventually getting a long-term job is that it demystified and desublimated Work. Once inside the magic circle, the discrepancy between the language of job ads (which make it seem like only the most hyper-competent, self-motivated careerist automaton could hold down the most modest of positions) and the reality (of poor organization, routine incompetence) became apparent.
Good applicants will have outstanding interpersonal skills, ability to multitask, twenty years of experience in international diplomacy, and a Nobel Prize in literature. Hours: 20 hours per week. Compensation: $9-$11/hr. depending on qualifications.For me the problem is pride. I don't want a fulfilling job, because I'm quite fulfilled by the academic work that my hypothetical job would support. I want something simple and mindless that I can leave at the office -- I'll go as low as $10 an hour for a job with actual work, or $9 an hour for a job where they let me sit and read. Everyone can see that that's a pretty shitty job -- yet I feel like I would have to fellate twelve different temp coordinators and twenty HR people, in the hopes that one would consider thinking about hiring me. Have I mastered the art of the cover letter, a friend asks? Am I persistent? No, I'm not persistent -- I'm telling people, "Yes, I will answer your phones or enter your data for a paltry amount of money that I can only live off of because I'm a cheapskate who lives in a cruddy neighborhood." I don't feel I should have to say much more -- if some pathetic go-getter wants to "go get" $10 an hour for 20 hours a week, they can have it.
With this, I see that I have come to a position similar to that of k-punk's follow-up post:
Nothing defines the Right so thoroughly as their detestation of welfare. The spurious economic rationale for this denigration does little to conceal its real libidinal basis: namely, the sense that They - the scroungers, the 'bogus asylum seekers', the immigrants - have stolen 'our' enjoyment. Work is deemed to have an absolute value: routinized exertion of whatever kind, no matter how useless, demeaning or even malevolent, must be thought of intrinsically good (this superstition, sadly, is widespread in the working class, as it would have to be). In this respect, it is interesting to reflect that part of the back story of Blunkett's second 'resignation' is the Labour Party's plans to 'reform' incapacity benefit, memorably described by the Independent last week as akin to the ravings of a demented Emperor. Blair wants to cut benefit by twenty pounds a week and, ludicrously, 'name and shame' doctors who write sick notes.Isn't this why we blog? So that some stranger an ocean away will theorize our experience for us?
Weber famously speculated on the links between the Protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Whatever the causal linkage, capitalism clearly cannot operate without an 'ethic' of quantitative increase that is literally pointless.
Friday, November 11, 2005
(8:50 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Be Still and Know
I confess that I'm fairly confident that some kind of job situation will work out -- in the worst case, I'm prepared to go back into total Social Shutdown for a month or so. I confess that I'm toying with the idea of running an experiment to see how long a circular balance transfer scheme among all my credit cards would be sustainable without hurting my credit rating -- how long I could convince the credit card companies to exchange money among themselves (thereby meeting minimum payment obligations) without any input from me.
I confess that I'm not going to AAR, but I fully intend to submit a paper proposal of some kind for next year.
I confess that I'm doing fairly well in maintaining that delicate position whereby my dissatisfaction with my scholarly work provides sufficient motivation for me to get off my ass (figuratively speaking -- really rigorous scholarly work only occurs while one is seated), without reaching the point where healthy self-criticism shades into pathological self-loathing and creates a drag on said work.
I confess that The Idea of Prose is now my favorite Agamben book, precisely because it is inconceivable that I should ever be able to pulverize it into a suitable building material for my own work. In this respect, it is the most Agambenian of his books.
I confess that I've had some trouble concentrating lately. I confess that I sometimes prefer to wash the dishes over reading, even when there are like four dishes in the sink. I confess that I found the thorough sweeping and mopping on Sunday -- including such excesses as moving couches, etc. -- to be deeply satisfying in ways I can't fully communicate.
I confess that I take multiple people to the handful of good restaurants I know, so as to cultivate the impression that I have good taste in restaurants.
I confess that I feel that Kierkegaard is something I need to "deal with" -- almost every time I think of an idea for an article to write, Kierkegaard is involved. At the same time, I was more or less consciously putting off reading The Sickness Unto Death until the last minute for class this week.
Ah, my dear readers -- surely you have something you need to confess.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
(10:51 AM) | Brad:
A Field Trip to The Christian BookstoreI wish to submit here, though I realize it will not be taken as a scandalous or controversial talking point here, considering the background of many of you, that American Christian bookstores (and, yes, perhaps even those few British ones I never entered) operate with a kind of consistency that is itself the causa causans of its even more profound inconsistency. Christian bookstores, for example, are by and large undergirded by an evangelical / conservative Catholic faith whose paramount theme is the transcendence of God, and yet are kept in business by the production and selling of books and theological systems whose aim is nothing less than to reverse the course of Incarnation. God as Man? Please. Man as God. (Nietzsche would be well pleased.)
It hasn't been too long, I'm a little shocked to admit, since I was last in such a store. The reason eludes me, but you can be sure it was not a good one. Impious reasons for my visit notwithstanding, I found myself agog by all sorts of novel knickknacks near the door, specifically "Bible Pictionary" ("Oooo, oooo, I know, is it the rape of Tamar?" "No, duh, it's the sons of Noah wanting to rape him!") and the "Adam to Jesus Genealogical Chart". And then there was, of course, "The Wall O' Crosses", whose highlight is the stunning rendering of Jesus' final moments on the cross. The spear had pierced his side, and he was limp with the release of his spirit. A stunning moment, to be sure, made even more stunning by something the Gospel narratives seem to have missed: the garroting of Jesus by a price tag wrapped tightly around his vein-strained throat. Priceless.
And there was the one product I very nearly purchased, one that made me search frantically through the store in search of an available electrical outlet, stumbling over a child playing with a Noah's Ark action figure set in the process: a nightlight. I realize that doesn't sound interesting enough to interrupt a worldwide, cataclysmic flood, but be sure, my friends, this was by no means an ordinary nightlight. In fact, it too was a stunning icon of a religious subculture that has entirely too much money to spend. The nightlight itself was normal enough, but the cover was brilliant because of its incongruity with its function. The bulb was facing a disproportionately large stained glass inscribed with the characteristically biblical scene of a shepherd tending his flock, accompanied by the words of John 10:14-15: "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep." The sanctified function, one assumes anyway, is the colorful illumination of this image and verse for anyone who might need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Maybe this, after all, is the full Americanization of Blake's marriage of heaven and hell.
(8:00 AM) | Dominic:
"Still Life"Autobiographical Note
Hi, I'm Dominic Fox. You may remember me from such Weblog posts as "soundproofed bats", "I've read some Bonhoeffer, me", and "the goodwill and patient self-giving labour of the privileged". In real life I'm a software developer who in a previous - and neither more nor less real - life was a budding Oxford literary deconstructionist with a passing interest in "negative theology". I have a blog, "Poetix"; to which I post about Theo(log|r)y when I get drunk and/or nostalgic for the virtuous impecunity and bracing intellectual isolation of my former existence.
Adam asked me if I'd like to post something to the Weblog this Thursday, during old's absence. My hope is that readers who've been following the recent discussion of Agamben will find some of this pertinent, in a tangential sort of way.
Robert Smith introduces the term "still life" into his discussion of the "autobiographical apparatus" in Derrida and Autobiography (Cambridge: 1995), apparently as a punning anglicisation of Derrida's sur-vivre, "survival" or "living on" (hence "still living"). That which sur-vives is still life, even if its mode of survival is somewhat sepulchral: for instance, the way the recently deceased are said to "live on" in those who mourn them; confined in the case of "incomplete" mourning, demi-deuil, to a kind of crypt or cyst, resistent to assimilation.
"Still life" would also translate tableau vivant: the capture of "life" in a suspended moment, the snapshot portrait that is instantly a memoir. We might say of the snapshot what Derrida says about the name, that it is constitutively mortal and circulates in a system of (death-)masks; which is also what Paul de Man says about the trope of prosopopoeia, the "dominant trope" of autobiography: that it belongs to a "tropological system", an alien landscape, into which autobiography - yours or mine - falls at the very moment at which it seeks to capture its subject and make it lifelike.
Still life is life in suspension, life as a detour between deaths or crossing the terrain of death; and must be thought, Smith suggests, as "not two together, life and death, one plus one, but all at once, but not quite at once: life death". He adds that this "is hardly a theme conducive to truth or method". The autobiographical apparatus, by means of which an ostensibly living subject seeks to make a present of his life, does not in spite of appearances begin with the living presence of that subject and proceed as an expression of pure vitality, only accidentally subject to the vicissitudes of narration. In Smith's account, it is rather the case that my own life, everything that might occur to my renown, is at best a kind of car accident, a snarl-up in the triumphal procession of phantasms that Smith, following Joyce, calls the "funferal" of still life:
Funferal is therefore the very structure of my life, that which gives me my life, my life in the death of the other, to autobiographise with a uniquity that comes to me outside of any ontological predilection. It is thus that I find myself in an order of generation. Generation does not generate absolutely, however; inversely, life does not begin with generation, and there is a beginning, a structure, which starts things off without having any relation to unproblematic generation, beginning, inauguration, origin etc. The structure is not other than life death, a pressure of structurality, which is to say crypts, tombs, purses and even, in "Cartouches", matchboxes. (p.148)
It may seem that the burden of Smith's own procession of Derridean figures is to put to work a systematic confusion of life with death; to expose the preconditions under which the "autobiographical apparatus" must operate, to give an account of its structural genesis. "Autobiography" is to be drawn into an imbroglio, from which none of the predicates traditionally associated with it will be able to be drawn out unmangled. And this has a bearing on - surprise, surprise - "the human": "where autobiography is commonly considered to be an ordinarily human activity", establishing the value of the human as "the relation of being to its end", Smith's conceptual defacement of autobiography prompts a revaluation, or indicates one already in progress.
To speak of a "conceptual defacement" is of course to risk being accused of cheap metaphysics: such a revaluation would allegedly owe nothing to real life, and accomplish nothing within it. Not that real life does not admit plentiful confusion over the boundaries between life and death; not that this confusion is not already "conceptual" at least as much as it is "political" or "spiritual". But insofar as the empirical belongs to lived experience, to the récit in progress of an autobiographical subject, it is already subject to both the law and the chance of life death, the still life or funferal that the autobiographical apparatus gives to be read as an assemblage of phantasms, an effect of a structure it can neither realize nor control.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
(3:38 PM) | Brad:
Got a Dime for a Brotha?I learned today, for reasons that are beyond the miniscule levels of my understanding, that, sometime in late-April, just after my 31st birthday, I am supposed to begin paying back my catastrophic Stafford loan debt. I had kind of hoped, and partly expected, that I'd be able to sneak by until the summer; but for some reason my status as 'writing up' comes to an all-too abrupt halt in December, thus setting the wheels of change into motion, which will likely grind me, my marriage, and all manner of personal decorum & hygiene to a bloody halt. (The online 'exit interview' told me, I swear with a sneer, that I'd need a job that pays at least $160,000 p/year in order to not ultimately default. Thank God for 30-year consolidation loan plans. At least then I'm only likely to pay $160,000 after interest.) Needless to say, today, has not not been a good day.
The Stafford loan = means of making highly education people feel ridiculously stupid. Oh well ... the party that was my 20s had to end eventually.
(11:43 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
The Time That RemainsNow available from SUP. Barnes and Noble (for which I've long been saving a gift card) and Amazon, though, still list it as forthcoming. When's the reading group for this one?
(10:55 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
National Admit You're Wrong DayI declare today, November 9, to be National Admit You're Wrong Day. That's right -- today you don't have to make minor concessions to maintain the impression that you're debating in good faith while still refusing to budge on substantive issues; today you don't need to go through the acrobatics of saying that even though you must now, for example, withdraw your support for the Iraq War, you were still in fact right to support it at the time based on the information on hand, so that ultimately you were right the whole time even though you've held two contradictory opinions in succession; today you don't need to try to defuse a tense situation by deploying the "agree to disagree" thing; today you don't need to distract people from your idiocy by endlessly quibbling over procedural issues so as to endlessly defer the moment on which rightness or wrongness can be determined with any confidence (i.e. -- and I am hereby coining and claiming this phrase -- doing a comment-box fillibuster).
No, today you have it easy -- you can just admit you were wrong. Flat-out, factually wrong, on many different points, in error, deluded, blinded by hero worship and partisan rancor, lazy and uninterested in gathering facts -- whatever variation of "wrong" we're dealing with here, you can admit it, freely, openly, with admirable candor.
Right-wing bloggers and "liberal hawks" will probably find this to be an especially cathartic experience, having not admitted they were wrong for well over four years (Belle, of course, excepted), but honestly, everyone is wrong sometimes.
Except for me, of course -- that's why I can declare this day! Sovereign is the one who decides the state of exception -- which, incidentally, France is now in.
(8:24 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Credit where credit is dueAdmittedly, I have not seen any credible evidence that Dick Cheney is either a child molester or a cannibal.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
(10:36 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Most Important Blog Poll Ever (Concluded)As some of you may know, I have gotten some complaints from readers who perceive me as being too Christian. I'm up in the air about whether those charges are true, so I felt that I would ask you, the readers, to help me determine that, using this highly advanced blog-based polling technology.
UPDATE: The results are in!
Is Adam Kotsko a Christian?
Yes 57% 57
No 43% 43
total votes: 100
(8:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 367
I hate getting my picture taken. I hate Times Select. I hate people who have nicer apartments in better locations. I hate it when someone else is doing laundry at the time I had planned to do laundry. I hate feeling like I care about fewer and fewer things. I hate it when people believe that business is the best possible model for every area of human life. I hate having a high school crush on someone.
I hate that there are relationships that seem like they absolutely never change -- that every time some kind of hope arises that it will be different, it's just a prelude to an even more lock-step imposition of the same stupid pattern. I hate it when I start to suspect that maybe it's just me, that maybe if I just try hard enough things will change -- but then I realize that that too has been part of our pattern the whole time. How long do I "keep at it" without getting what I want? Do I even want it anymore? Do I keep at it because I enjoy being frustrated? Do I bring it to a certain point only to sabotage it, so that I can prove to myself that it was an inherent obstacle the whole time, rather than my own mistakes?
I hate when Richard doesn't see that he could have had me in checkmate several moves ago.
UPDATE: I hate dumb fucks who threaten bloggers with frivolous lawsuits. I hate that somehow some people still think that Amnesty International's comparison of our good old fashioned American torture/indefinite detention centers to the Soviet Gulags is still more worthy of our attention than the torture/indefinite detention themselves. In fact, I hate anyone who feigns agnosticism on the following:
- Whether the US military and intelligence agencies are engaged in torture and arbitrary detention as a matter of policy
- Whether we were led into Iraq based on lies
Monday, November 07, 2005
(12:52 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
An analysis of smackingIn scholarly usage, things that "smack" are always avoided, but they are avoided not in themselves, but for the sake of that of which they smack. In the formula "anything that smacks of X," the ultimate object of avoidance is X; the "anything" is avoided insofar as it participates in the essence of X. Not only is the smacker indifferent ("anything"), but the very nature of the smacking relationship is never specified. Thus, for instance, to nearly any statement, one could respond, "But my good sir, that smacks of fascism!" And indeed, to state that something can be smacked of instantly implies that the smackee is something negative: one could imagine saying, with whithering scorn, "That smacks of kittens and happiness," and thereafter reenvisioning the normally well-regarded objects ("kittens and happiness") as an insidious poison creeping through society.
If one can envision the smackee as a normally positive object, however, one cannot maintain that, qua smacked-of, it is desirable. It is linguistically impossible that one would "embrace anything that smacked of X," even if, as in the above example, X were "kittens and happiness." Or to use the fascism example, one would not even be able to say that, for instance, "Hitler embraced anything that smacked of fascism" (i.e., positing an embracer who would regard as positive something that is generally regarded as negative).
Smacking casts a cloud of suspicion on the object X and on any indifferent object that can be brought into any kind of relationship with it -- if we were to pursue a gustatory metaphor, one might liken the smacked-of object to an appetizer, the taste of which one cannot get out of one's mouth, such that it taints the rest of the meal. Perhaps, moving a step further, one could say that those who wish to avoid smacked-of elements lack a certain sophistocation of pallet, and therefore that if Scholar A characterizes Scholar B of "avoiding anything that smacks of X," Scholar A is attempting to claim that for Scholar B, everything tastes like X -- or, more broadly, that Scholar B's analysis smacks of smacking.
This is a highly effective rhetorical move: an argument based on the guilt of association with guilt by association arguments. (An indefinite regress is of course possible here.)
(10:03 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
WWŽS?Via Joshua Davis (JD), I learn that the situation in France is escalating. As with all current events, no responsible observer could possibly venture a definitive interpretation before Slavoj Žižek has rendered his judgment in one of his many public venues. Until then, however, we can do the next-best thing, which would be to try to answer the perennial question: What Would Žižek Say (WWŽS)?
I propose that we attempt to answer this question in comments.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
(11:59 AM) | Dave Belcher:
The Cross, lynching, and the exceptionJohn Milbank asks a hypothetical, but engaging, question in his essay on "Crucifixion" in Being Reconciled: Was Christ, crucified, homo sacer? Milbank comes to the conclusion that yes, indeed he was, but in a qualified sense from Agamben's understanding. Milbank highlights two major differences from his own account of "Christ as exception" and Agamben's homo sacer: the first is that it's not clear that one killed by the Roman sovereign was not sacrificed, or that that killing was not a "ritual." The second is that Christ was not executed by the sovereign, necessarily--or even by a direct executor of the sovereign's will--but by the angry mob. Thus, Milbank comes to the conclusion that instead of dying a death at the hands of the exceptional state, Christ dies at the hands of an angry mob--Christ died by "mob lynching." Milbank's point, here--that "Jesus was crucified only virtually even though this really killed him; for neither Jewish nor Roman law had succeeded in condemning him"--at once seems to miss the point. That Jesus died by mob lynching does not reveal that Christ escapes the exceptional state--that Christ is the exception to the exception--but in fact shows Christ's solidarity with those lynched by the exceptional "state." James Cone, in his Friday night lecture at the UofC said that white theology talks all the time about reconciliation, but it's afraid of retribution...and this, he said, is a result of not taking seriously the black bodies who died in the South, hanging on the lynchin' tree. Milbank's words, "But if only Christ reconciles us to each other...then this can only mean that the specific shape of Christ's body in his reconciled life and its continued renewal in the Church...provides for us the true aesthetic example for our reshaping of our social existence," thus completely misses the point insofar as Milbank's own admission that Christ died by "mob lynching" does not recognize that the black bodies hanging from the lynchin' trees in the south were crucified. In fact, it seems as though Milbank is attempting to explain away the power of Christ's death for those who have been terrorized under the exception, by claiming that Christ died "only virtually." The Cross, according to Cone, and the lynchin' tree in the South, must be understood as mutually interpreting one another; white theology will never understand the Cross until it learns to recognize the horror and beauty of black bodies hanging from the lynchin' tree. As Cone put it, "The crucifixion inverts our aesthetics by claiming that beauty is revealed in a lynched black body." Perhaps Cone's understanding of the Cross/lynching is much closer to Agamben's bare life...and perhaps Milbank will never fully understand what Agamben is getting at until he reads some James Cone, and reflects seriously on the black bodies "swaying from the lynchin' tree" as Billie Holiday sung about.
This fulfills my post on Agamben and my review post of Cone I promised Adam, but I reserve the right to say more.
(10:50 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Spamness of the SpamAs Gmail's spam filtering system has tended from localized breakdowns to outright crisis, I have been increasingly subjected to spam e-mails like the following:
Good afternoon,The proper name and the e-mail address are different each time. There is no link. There is no attachment. There is no indication of any telos for such a message -- and hence, I propose that this particular spam e-mail represents spam in and for itself, the very spamness of the spam.
You are very good, thank you!
It is not so much meta-spam as arche-spam, the fundamental ontological grounding of something like spamosity. Cut loose from any commercial or pornographic purpose, spam reveals its most basic properties -- the flattery and the mild agrammaticality. Although every other aspect is plausible as a human-generated e-mail message, no human writer would ever put "bye" after the signature. This is because spam fundamentally wants to be recognized as spam. (John Holbo has pursued this line of thought quite voluminously.)
The development of spam can be seen as an attempt on the part of spammers to push anti-spam filters toward ever more effective methods of recognizing spam and thus allowing genuine human communication to reach the user. In this sense, spam is necessary to the experience of e-mail in the Internet age -- seeing the vast number of messages summarily dispatched by the spam filter, we are reaffirmed in our belief that e-mail provides us always and only with desired communications: convenience-enhancing self-chosen bulletins and, more importantly, real human interaction.
The automated refusal of the false intimacy of penis enlargement, call girls, and debt consolidation underwrites and guarantees the real intimacy that electronic communication has always promised. Indeed, the very experience of the stray fugitive spam message as invasion serves to reinforce the illusion of the electronic medium as a privileged site of intimacy and privacy -- an illusion that is increasingly necessary as the model of security and surveillance comes to dominate what we once thought of as our public life. In this way, spam is the essence and condition of "cyberspace" itself as an adjunct of political control -- and, we may perhaps conjecture, as the possibility of future liberation.
(8:58 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Open Reading Group ArchiveThis post is for posterity.
- Adam Kotsko: Introduction; Man and Overman
- Ben Wolfson: Uexküll
- Adam Kotsko: Deleuze and Foucault
- Matt Christie: Profound Boredom
- Jodi Dean: Biopolitics
- Old - Doug Johnson: Essentialism, Experimental Knowledge, Poverty
- Scott Eric Kaufman: Big Overture, Little Show; or, On the Relative Importance of Animal Captivation in The Open