Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Call for Papers: Public Ethics after Humanism




 
Public ethics after humanism

 

 

Call for papers

 

During the twentieth century, a number of thinkers positioned themselves against the humanist tendency which reigned in philosophy and the human sciences. Their “antihumanism” was not a return to traditional, pre-humanist values, nor did not pit them against the human per se – far from it. Rather, they took issue with the methodological elevation of “man” to the organizing, centring principle of science and ethics. It is precisely for the human good, they argued, that we must decentre “man” and concentrate on what enmeshes and sustains the human; that is to say, we must shift our methodological orientation to the environment, to our relationships with other living beings (nonhuman animals, for example), and to that through which and by which we live (the various “structures” supportive of human lifeworlds, such as languages, cultures and economies). The structuralism of Lévi-Strauss and Althusser, and the (post)structuralism of Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Lyotard, Nancy and others attempted to effect this “antihumanist” decentring, underscoring that such a gesture is necessary for human survival in our (post)modern condition. When, at the end of his book Les mots et les choses, Foucault declared the death of “man”, he had in mind the human as privileged object of the social sciences, calling for a new science that would truly do justice to the human beings that we are.

 

In connection with ethics, this post-humanist current was above all critical of moralization, the ethical attitude which concentrates on the goodness of the moral agent as opposed to concrete struggles against evil. Taking up Hegel’s critique of the beautiful soul, the antihumanists defended the thesis according to which the good does not find its seat in the human itself, but rather in what human beings accomplish. Think here of Levinas, for whom a truly ethical action is “for the other” and, consequently, at the expense of the ego (or, as he puts it, the Economy of the Same). 

 

Does this antihumanist tradition of the twentieth century still claim an influence and an importance for contemporary ethical thinking? And if so, what are the implications of this tradition for concrete problems in the domain of public ethics?

 

The conference “Antihumanism and Public Ethics” will take place March 5, 2015 and is organized by the Research Centre in Public Ethics and Governance. The conference will be held at Saint Paul University (Ottawa, Canada) on Friday March 5th, 2015. The organizers invite papers on any topic connecting the themes of antihumanism and public ethics, including but not limited to: structuralism; post-structuralism; gender, sexual difference and humanism; race and humanism; psychoanalysis; Peter Singer, “personism” and the erosion of the sanctity of life ethic; biocentrism and deep ecology; critical animal studies; Alain Badiou and contemporary antihumanism; the future of human rights. 

The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2014. Please provide a one-page abstract of your proposed talk.

 

 

Prof. Dr. Marc De Kesel – mdekesel@ustpaul.ca

Prof. Dr. Matthew R. McLennan – mmclennan@ustpaul.ca

 



 

Après l’humanisme : l’enjeu de l’éthique publique

 

 

appel à contributions

 

Au cours du vingtième siècle, plusieurs penseurs ont pris position contre la tendance ‘humaniste’ qui à l’époque régnait dans la philosophie et les sciences de l’homme. Cette réserve critique vis-à-vis de l’humanisme n’implique nullement une position contre l’homme en tant que tel, loin de là, mais ces penseurs critiquaient, dans l’approche de la réalité humaine, l’accent méthodique trop étroit sur l’homme même. C’est pour le bien de l’humain, ils argumentaient, qu’il faut centrer cet accent humaniste et se concentrer sur ce qui est autour de l’homme : sur son environnement, sur les autres vivants avec qui il vit (les animaux par exemple) et sur ce par quoi il vit (sa condition linguistique, les ‘structures’ qui le supportent, ses économies).  Le structuralisme  de Lévi-Strauss et d’Althusser, le (post)structuralisme de Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Lyotard, Nancy et d’autres ont essayé de réaliser cette décentration ‘anti-humaniste’, tout en accentuant qu’elle est un geste nécessaire pour sauver l’humain dans le contexte de notre condition (post)moderne. Lorsqu’à la fin de son livre Les mots et les choses, Foucault déclare ‘l’homme’ mort, il vise l’homme comme objet des sciences humaines, appelant ainsi à une nouvelle science qui approche les humains que nous sommes avec plus de véracité et de justesse.

 

Sur le plan éthique, ce courant critique envers l’humanisme prend surtout position contre la moralisation, c’est-à-dire contre l’attitude éthique qui se concentre sur la bonté de l’agent moral à l’instar d’une attention sur le mal réel contre lequel il faut lutter. Tout en répétant la critique hégélienne de la belle âme, ils défendent la thèse que le bien n’a pas son siège dans l’homme lui-même, mais dans ce qu’il réalise de bien dans les faits. Pensez à Lévinas selon qui une action vraiment éthique est ‘pour l’autre’ et par conséquent, fait l’économie du moi ou, comme il le dit, l’économie du Même.

 

Cette tradition antihumaniste du vingtième siècle, a-t-elle encore une influence et une importance dans la pensée éthique contemporaine. Et si oui, quel est l’impact sur les questions et les problèmes qui s’imposent dans le domaine de l’éthique publique ?

 

Voilà le thème de la  conférence « Après l’humanisme : l’enjeu de l’éthique publique » organisée par le Centre de recherche en éthique publique et gouvernance. La conférence se tiendra à l’Université Saint-Paul (Ottawa, Canada) le vendredi 5 mars 2015. Les organisateurs invitent les contributions sur des sujets abordant la problématique de l’éthique publique après l’humanisme, incluant des thèmes comme : le structuralisme; le poststructuralisme; le genre, la différence sexuelle et l’humanisme; race et humanisme; la psychanalyse; Peter Singer, le « personism » et l’érosion de l’éthique de la sainteté de la vie humaine; le biocentrisme et l’écologie profonde; « critical animal studies »; Alain Badiou et l’antihumanisme contemporain; l’avenir des droits humains.

La date limite pour le résumé de communication d’une page est le 15 décembre 2014.

 

 

Prof. dr. Marc De Kesel – mdekesel@ustpaul.ca

Prof. dr. Matthew R. McLennan – mmclennan@ustpaul.ca

 


Monday, February 24, 2014

Ranciere, Greenberg, Whitman

I’m currently working on the third chapter of my book on Rancière and philosophy, part of which was recently delivered at the Aesthetic Experience conference here in Ottawa. As often happens, the final paper didn’t sound too much like the abstract. While I promised a reconsideration of Schiller, I ended up spending much more time on a reconsideration of Greenberg’s modernism—contrasted, at different points, with Baudelaire, Benjamin, Rancière, and Schiller (I also spend more time on Greenberg because, as it turns out, I'll be developing a reading of Schiller that responds to Kant, Fichte, and finally Schelling's concerns as I've outlined them in F&NSPA). The space I’ve dedicated to Greenberg in the third chapter (it’s about 2000 words or so) is warranted because Rancière claims, in a recent interview in Ranciere Now, that ‘the dominant modernist paradigm (the Greenbergian theorization of the avant-garde) is in fact a liquidation of the dominant tendency of the aesthetic regime, which is to abolish the boundaries between “mediums,” between high art and popular art, and ultimately between art and life.’

Untitled, 1957

In developing an interpretation of Greenberg, I found a passage that lends support to Rancière’s opposition between Whitman and Greenberg. (Not to mention that Greenberg is criticizing Clyfford Still, who was one of the first abstract artists I really appreciated--for reasons that might be entirely contingent, because several of Still's works are exhibited in the SFMOMA). In Aisthesis, Rancière argues that Greenberg’s modernism repudiates the ‘cultural democracy [of art] stemming from Whitman,’ and while the case is strong, he does not cite an explicit case where Greenberg castigates Whitman for being, at least in part, kitsch (though note that in ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch,’ Greenberg singles out John Steinbeck’s work as a hybrid of modern art and kitsch). However, later, in ‘“American-Type” Painting,’ Greenberg praises Still’s work, with the caveat that
Still’s uncompromising art has its own affinity with popular or bad taste. It is the first body of painting I know of that asks to be called Whitmanesque in the worst as well as the best sense, indulging as it does in loose and sweeping gestures, and defying certain conventions…in the same gauche way that Whitman defied meter. And just as Whitman’s verse assimilated to itself qualities of stale journalistic and oratorical prose, Still’s painting assimilates to itself some of the stalest and most prosaic painting of our time…the kind of open-air painting in autumnal colors…which has spread among half-trained painters only since Impressionism became popular.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Aesthetic Experience Conference

UPDATED 10 February, schedule changes in italics, including the time of my presentation

I will be participating in the Aesthetic Experience Conference at the University of Ottawa this month. My talk will be a rough draft of the first half of Chapter 3 of my book on Rancière. The abstract:
The modernist concept of art, as explicitly formulated by Clement Greenberg, is modeled on an analogy with Kantian critique: just as critical philosophy engages in the self-interrogation of the capacities and limits of reason, modern art engages in the interrogation of the particular medium of each art. I will argue that Rancière’s claim that we can better understand the history of the last two centuries of art by reference to what he calls the “aesthetic regime of art” entails an important reconsideration of Schiller, whose work is often seen as derivatively Kantian. Schiller, Rancière argues, is the first major figure to articulate what is at stake in the aesthetic regime of art: a persistent tension between free play and free appearance, between art becoming life and life becoming art.
The full conference schedule (Location is Simard Room 129): 

February 19 février: The Status of Aesthetic Experience/ Le status de l’expérience esthétique

9h00-9h30: Breakfast/déjeuner
9h30-9h45: Introduction

9h45-11h15: Allen Carlson – The Dilemma of Everyday Aesthetic Experience

11h15-11h30: Coffee break/pause café

11h30-12h15: Veronika Huta and Keith Pearce – Findings From Psychology Research on Aesthetic Experience

12h15-13h45: Lunch/diner

13h45-14h30: Susan Douglas -– AestheSis and/as Aesthetics

14h30-15h15: Bertrand Labasse – L’art ou le mouchoir ? Sur l’interaction des facteurs cognitifs et sociaux dans l’appréciation esthétique

15h15-16h00 Jason Saunders – An integral theory of aesthetics

16h00-16h15 Coffee break/pause café


16h15-17h00 Devin Zane Shaw – Aesthetics and Emancipation: Rancière’s Reconsideration of Schiller


17h00-17h45 Christopher McGrath - Aesthetic Experience as the Meansfor Becoming Human: Romantic Aesthetics in Schleiermacher and Dilthey


18h00-20h00 : Reception/Réception

February 20 février Art and Aeshetic Experience/Art et expérience esthétique
9h00-9h30 : Breakfast/déjeuner
9h30-9h45: Introduction

9h45-11h15: Daniel Dumouchel – L’esthétique introuvable. Considérations historiques sur la genèse de l’expérience ‘esthétique’ de l’art

11h15-11h30: Coffee break/pause café

11h30-12h15: Mélissa Thériault – Ces expériences que nous ne « vivons pas »: l'expérience de la fiction

12h15-13h45: Lunch/diner

13h45-15h15 Noel Carroll - Defending the Content Theory of Aesthetic Experience

15h15-15h30 Coffee break/pause café


15h30-16h15 Louise Boisclair – Particularités de l’expérience perceptuelle interactive


16h15-17h00 Jakub Zdebik – The Line as Aesthetic Experience: Orientation in Thinking in Kant, Deleuze and Kuitca


17h00-17h45 Dave Kemp - An Uncertain Experience: the Production and Viewing of Photographic Documentation from Performance Art Events

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Vitalist Senghor

Reviewing the few entries for this year, it seems that I've thus far neglected to post a link to my review essay on "The Vitalist Senghor: On Diagne's African Art as Philosophy," published by Comparative and Continental Philosophy in May 2013. It's available here (for subscribers). Here is the abstract:
In this essay, I examine Diagne’s claim that the fundamental intuition of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s thought is this: African art is philosophy. Diagne argues that it is from an experience of African art and an encounter with Bergson’s philosophy that Senghor comes to formulate his philosophical thought, which is better understood as vitalist rather than essentialist. I conclude by arguing that Senghor’s vitalism is a philosophy of becoming which nevertheless lacks an account of radical political change.
And here is a photo of Robespierre obstructing my work: 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Writing on Schelling, Again

I recently completed an essay on Schelling's philosophy of art for an anthology that will be published as the Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism, edited by Matthew C. Altman.

The most difficult part of writing an essay on the topic is that I've already written and published a book about it. My files show that I spent a few days working on it in April of this year, two in August, and then most of the paper--probably around 8000 words of it--was written just a few weeks ago in late October. The rest of the time was spent with writer's block (more specifically writer's block concerning the topic of Schelling's philosophy of art).

I'm pretty sure everything on this page was eventually cut
That's correct. Writer's block, about a topic I had already written a book about. And I think that's the reason it happened. It took some time to figure out how to re-organize the material into a shorter format. The book cuts Schelling's philosophy into chronological chunks: Chapter 1 runs 1795-1796, Chapter 2 through 1798, Chapter 3 through 1800, Chapter 4 through 1804, and Chapter 5 through 1810 (through the often neglected Stuttgart Seminars). The chronological organization allowed me to introduce the principles of Schelling's system, as their significance shifts over time, and to relate them back to the philosophy of art.

For the essay, I decided to tackle his philosophy of art thematically. After introducing the topic, I use the first section to argue that Schelling introduces his philosophy of art to subvert the primacy of practical reason in transcendental idealism. I tackled this issue in the third chapter of my book, but the essay version has allowed me to correct an oversight in Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art. For whatever reason, I neglected to mention that Kant calls freedom, "insofar as its reality is proved by an apodictic law of practical reason," the "keystone" of the system. In the System of Transcendental Idealism, Schelling refers to the philosophy of art as the "keystone" of the system. In the essay, I make it clearer that Schelling was deliberately appropriating the metaphor. I also reference Coleridge's observation that Fichte introduces activity, rather than a substance, as the "key-stone" of the system.

In the next section, I discuss the systematic importance of the power of imagination. Again, this is familiar ground, as I argue that Schelling does not dismiss the philosophy of art once he announces the system of identity-philosophy or absolute idealism. Instead, he maintains that art is important because it is produced by the power of the imagination (Einbildungskraft), which is the power of esemplasy (as Coleridge translated it) or forming-into-one (Ineinsbildung). A thematic presentation, rather than the chronological presentation, of this claim seems to be much stronger. I feel that all the work it took to write this essay is justified by the results of this section. Hopefully future readers will appreciate it as well.

I also used this essay as an opportunity to reconsider the status of Schelling's idea of a new mythology. In F&NSPA, I argue that Schelling ends up mythologizing politics, and a few readers have seemed to think this is a kind of Marxist imposture on his work. Maybe it is. Admittedly, I'll always appreciate the egalitarianism of the new mythology of the "System Program" over the statism of the 1804 Wurzburg Lectures (partially translated in Idealism and the Endgame of Theory, ed. Thomas Pfau). This time, I introduce what other readers may someday think is another imposture, interpreting the idea of a new mythology in light of Ranciere's work on aesthetics. The general idea is that the politics of the new mythology, were it to be realized as a concrete community, would foreclose on both politics and the politics of aesthetics. Or, to paraphrase Schelling's discussion of creativity in the Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism, were the community to be realized as community, it would cease to be creative and it would become an instrument of its creation.

Finally, a spoiler. The last sentence is: 'If anything, his willingness to relentlessly interrogate the very ground of philosophical thinking demonstrates Schelling’s abiding fidelity to, as the anonymous author of the “System Program” once phrased it, the "polytheism of the imagination"'.

Now, you'll need to read the essay to find out how I get there.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Barbarian Principle

Take note that SUNY Press is publishing The Barbarian Principle: Merleau-Ponty, Schelling, and the Question of Nature, edited by Jason M. Wirth and Patrick Burke, in August 2013. As the blurb says,
The Barbarian Principle is an excellent contribution to the study of Schelling and Merleau-Ponty. For the Schelling scholar or student, it opens a new horizon for reconsidering Schelling’s influence on twentieth-century continental philosophy in general, and phenomenology in particular (where much interest has been paid to Heidegger). For the Merleau-Ponty scholar or student, this volume demonstrates that Merleau-Ponty’s engagement with German idealism extends well beyond the interrogation of Hegel or Kant.”
The link has a table of contents and it also reveals who wrote the blurb.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Vacation Finds

On occasion of my participation in the 2013 meeting of the EPTC, I recently spent three weeks traveling in British Columbia. Having visited Seattle last fall, I had expected the opportunity to go on a British Columbian microbrew 'tour,' and we weren't disappointed. Like many of the other breweries in the Northwest, BC breweries are producing a variety of excellent IPAs; standouts include Nelson Brewing Company's Double IPA, Phillips' Amnesiac (which is also a double), and Mt. Begbie's Nasty Habit (although I might like it because I associate 'Begbie' with a particular sociopath who haunts Irvine Welsh's novels). Cannery Brewing's Blackberry Porter and Philipps' ginger beer are also notable, though this list could keep going...

The Tom Vickery Trio (and guests), playing standards, at Hermann's in Victoria, June 6th
We also spent a considerable amount of time bookshopping, fueled by the idea that it is possible to find rare tomes in the Holzwege of British Columbia, making stops in towns we wouldn't have otherwise visited, for instance, Kingfisher Books in Creston, where I found Allan Antliff's Anarchy and Art stashed in the basement 'esoteric' section. The most surprising finds came in Mission, which we passed through en route on the search for a well-hidden campground (there where once found we couldn't stay), at Better Buy Books. It seems that they discovered a time capsule full of remaindered books from the 1970s, a great majority being published by Grove and Evergreen. On this topic, I'll let a picture speak (and the Brautigan title is a first edition):


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Impossible Identifications" at the EPTC

If you want to know where I've been during 2013, I've been working on a book on Jacques Rancière and philosophy. In Part I, I focus on Rancière's account of political subjectification, and I argue that we could get a better sense of his account if we consider his work in relation to Descartes, Beauvoir, and Sartre (and vice versa). In terms of the overall architecture of the book, my paper on Cartesian egalitarianism should be Chapter 1, and this paper on Sartre and Being and Nothingness is half of Chapter 2. I will be presenting a rough draft of the second half of Chapter 2 at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture (EPTC) in the first week of June. Here's a link to the program, and I am looking forward to the fact that Jason Wirth, who reviewed my Schelling book, will be giving the commentary on my more recent work.

Here's the abstract:
"Impossible Identifications: Rancière as Reader and Critic of Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason"
In this presentation, I examine the influence of Sartre, especially the Critique of Dialectical Reason and several contemporaneous essays on anti-colonialism, on the political thought of Jacques Rancière. A reconsideration of Sartre is in order for two interrelated reasons: first, both Sartre and Rancière propose accounts of emancipatory political subjectification in which subjective praxis emerges as a radical break with a given set of oppressive and exploitative social relations; and second, both Sartre and Rancière conceptualize identity as a function or operation of oppressive or exploitative social relations, and thus political praxis involves a disidentification with one’s previous identifications and interests.
But I'd like to note that Rancière critiques how Sartre hyper-instrumentalizes political praxis. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the paper:
An important difference between Sartre and Rancière turns on how they conceptualize this dynamic of disidentification. I will argue that Rancière, in his landmark Disagreement (1995), thinks politics as a paradoxical and non-instrumental praxis, an activity with neither end nor interest other than the disruptive and transformative effects of the supposition of equality, meaning “the open set of practices driven by the assumption of equality between any and every speaking being and by the concern to test this equality” (Disagreement, 30). In this sense, Rancière is consistent with his earlier criticisms of Sartre found in The Philosopher and His Poor (1983), where he argues that Sartre’s account of activity results in the hyper-instrumentalization of praxis: “if the world’s matter is to bear the history of liberation, it must be traversed entirely by technique” (Philosopher and His Poor, 155). Freedom becomes a “super technique,” always turned to an ultimate end which forecloses on “the elastic intervals of autodidact freedom…in the disoriented space of pathways and dead ends where people searched not long ago for what rebellious workers and dreamers called ‘emancipation’” (156, 147). This hyper-instrumentalized praxis never escapes from either internal or external exigencies—whether Sartre is discussing the exigencies of the practico-inert, the pledged group, the organization, or ultimately, the party (140, 154).
I will argue that Rancière’s claim that politics involves an “impossible identification” is proposed as an alternative to Sartre’s account of praxis. In short, Rancière’s paradoxical politics involves a political subjectification that undermines previous identities by momentarily identifying with a part of society that has no part, with this dynamic introducing new and more egalitarian ways of speaking, being, and doing into a given set of social relations (or what he calls a “distribution of the sensible”).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo, Globalectics

I've occassionally mentioned my interest in Negritude, existentialism, and postcolonial theory. Over a decade ago, I was floored when I first read Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism, and over the last few years I've taught Césaire, W.E.B. Du Bois, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Frantz Fanon in my introductory philosophy courses--they've often been taught under the rubric of "Great Philosophers," as a challenge to the traditional Western canon. This spring, I can add two publications on the topic of African/Africana philosophy and aesthetics.

The first is my review of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Globalectics, which has been published by Society and Space, available here

Later in the spring, a review essay on Souleymane Bachir Diagne's African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Negritude (Seagull Books, 2011) will appear in Comparative and Continental Philosophy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Film Fail: On the Road

One of my first literary loves was the Beat Generation. While I don't read nearly as much Ginsberg, Burroughs, or Kerouac as I once did, I still have fond--maybe even protective--feelings toward them. Protective feelings, that is, when it comes to film adaptations.

It turns out that On the Road, directed by Walter Salles, is a terrible movie. It jumps from scene to scene without much narrative direction except that Sal Paradise and his entourage (or is it more appropriate to call them Dean Moriarty's entourage?) are probably driving somewhere, and the characters never develop or feel much concern for things beyond petty jealousies. There are some well-shot landscapes, but you've got to endure the characters to appreciate those shots. In brief:

The book: Stream of consciousness type introspection concerning an automotive bildung; maybe Schiller's aesthetic education were he driving across the United States. Occasionally Sal is too exuberant or exclaims 'this is America' in the face of injustice in a way that reads too sincerely, but that can probably be forgiven.

The movie: Manages to make the Beats a handful of unsympathetic dilettantes who can't hold a conversation for longer than two minutes. It also makes booze, drugs, and sex look tedious. Though I've never shared the Beats' obsession with Neal Cassidy, at least in their writing I could understand it. In the movie the Cassidy-persona is almost completely one dimensional. Except for a brief moment where he wants to find his father, Dean Moriarty can be summed up quite well by Jimmy McNulty:


We almost walked out after the first hour, but stayed because that was about the time Sal et al. show up at Old Bull Lee's house. That didn't help the film. We did walk out right after Sal and Dean arrive in Mexico, meaning that we left with less than 15 minutes remaining. I'm not sure which is more insulting. Save yourself some time and walk out before you buy a ticket.