Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 in Reviews

Over 2010, we managed to post 51 book reviews, and of them six were books published in 2010. Which is a small number I suppose; I have that many books from 2010 on my current reading list.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of Medhi Belhaj Kacem's Inesthétique et mimèsis, Rancière's Dissensus, David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital, the Verso edition of Thomas Muntzer's Sermon to the Princes, William Gibson's Zero History, and Adam Levin's The Instructions. Nevertheless, if you missed these posts, I recommend checking them out.

Cindy Milstein, Anarchism and its Aspirations (AK Press)
Milstein, as Matt writes, "has situated contemporary anarchism in a proud historical continuum that puts it at the forefront of anti-capitalist struggle; she has also condensed a number of complex ideas into an easily understandable argument that dodges the anachronistic, frankly antiquated pitfalls of the bulk of anarchist literature. I am willing to entertain the idea that her book is a contender for the best contemporary anarchist primer out there."

Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (Verso)
This review has been responsible for quite a bit of our blog's traffic, so if you missed it, now is the time to check it out. Matt writes: "If I had to rate Žižek's latest offering as an elementary school teacher would rate his pupil, I would say that Living in the End Times must apply itself; it should "straighten up and fly right", "spend more time on philosophy 1102 and less time on cultural gossip 1101", etc. In short: this is a mess of a book, but it could very well have been a major philosophical statement on our times. It contains some great ideas and instances of ideology critique in action, but these are scattered almost as if at random in the course of its ungainly 402 pages."

Gideon Levy, The Punishment of Gaza (Verso)
'"Words," Gideon Levy writes, in The Punishment of Gaza (Verso, 2010), "do not kill; but words can ease the work of killing." Any number of misnomers and euphemisms can make the casualties of war less shocking, can turn the collective punishment of an entire population into a 'just war' against Hamas, can make the temporary cessation of state belligerence into a 'humanitarian' cease-fire.'

Marta Harnecker, Latin America and Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes (Monthly Review, v. 62, n. 3)
"The electoral capture of governmental power by the left across large parts of Latin America has not followed the revolutionary path of state seizure of 20th century socialism, and thus, as Harnecker argues, requires different metrics. First, 21st century socialism, of course, must learn from the mistakes of the 20th century version. And second, it must also learn from the diversification of the movements instead relying on the model of working class struggle to the exclusion of peasants, indigenous people, women, and others. Finally, it must focus on creating new forms of local and protagonistic democracy to decentralize state power."

Ivan E. Coyote, Missed Her (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Matt writes: "Despite its brevity, folksiness and humour, however, the book is not what I would call "light". I don't usually get weepy-eyed over prose, and those who follow me on this site will know that I have plenty of shit to cry over, knee-deep as I usually am in Cormac McCarthy and Yukio Mishima novels. Coyote's book is an exception to my usual reading experience. Though less "literary" in certain respects, I found much of it deeply moving and had to dab the corners of the ol' eyes now and then. She hits her targets, bang-on."

John Brandon, Citrus County (McSweeney's)
"If you're having trouble imagining what people do in that location [Citrus County], you're not alone. So do the protagonists. Which is where Brandon excels as a storyteller. He introduces you to the characters, lets them interact a bit, sets up an unlikely and troubling scenario from which it is difficult  to extract the narrative, and then...makes the reader wait. [...] On the long winding road to the finale, Citrus County is an intricate picture of small obsessions and quotidian detail, leaving the reader wondering how everyday life could be so enigmatically intriguing."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Reading, Part 2

Presents unwrapped, getting prepared for dinner, and I'm still chuckling to myself about a passage that I read yesterday from David Harvey's The New Imperialism. Discussing the rise of the 'Washington Consensus' and the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, he writes:
to top it all, the end of the Cold War suddenly removed a long-standing threat to the terrain of global capital accumulation. The collective bourgeoisie had indeed inherited the earth. Fukuyama prophesied that the end of history was at hand. It seemed, for a brief moment that Lenin was wrong and that Kautsky might be right-- an ultra-imperialism based on a 'peaceful' collaboration between all major capitalist powers (now symbolized by the grouping known as the G7, expanded to the G8 to incorporate Russia, albeit under the hegemony of US leadership) was possible...
We all know how well that peace turned out.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Reading

While most everybody is acclimating to holiday mode, I'm working on my presentation for the Society for Social and Political Philosophy's Roundtable on Marx's Capital (see here), at the end of February, though for which they want an advance draft in January. That still seems very possible, despite having to create course outlines for two courses starting in January. I'm also catching up on some light reading, including:
  • Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, (here) since I'm reading the early Walter Benjamin these days.
  • Jacques Rancière, Short Voyages to the Land of the People. (here) Do I need a reason?
  • Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically, (here) because he's the keynote for the conference.
  • Michael Löwy, The War of the Gods, (Verso) brushing up on Liberation Theology, probably again because I'm reading the early Benjamin.
  • And since it seems like the season, I might try to get to one of a few xmas presents: Verso's Revolutions! series edition of Thomas Muntzer's Sermon to the Princes, or, if I feel more ambitious, Henri Lefebvre's Critique of Everyday Life.
Quick Update: if the whole thing falls apart for some reason, I'll probably just push the books I haven't started off to next year and read William Gibson's Zero History.

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    The Late George Carlin On America and Social Stratification

    The late comedian George Carlin died in June 2008. Carlin was funny but also very political in his content. In his interviews he pulled no punches. Actually, one could argue that he gave punches in his interviews and debates. On mainstream media he even used the "C" word: class. May he rest in peace. May we all get some peace.

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    North American Sartre Society CFP Reminder

    Just a reminder: you've got all weekend to work on an abstract for the NASS conference in Montréal, April 27-29, 2011. They're due December 20th.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Teaching Fundamental Philosophical Questions

    I just found out that I will be teaching "Fundamental Philosophical Questions" in the winter semester, along with  my course in the Department of Visual Arts, "Art Theories." Local University of Ottawa lore has it that the philosophy department split what is usually "Introduction to Philosophy" into "Fundamental Questions" and "Great Philosophers" as a concession to the Analytic/Continental divide. I'm using the fundamental questions to add several figures that aren't usually included in the canon (I've done this before with Great Philosophers as well). Here's what I've got after a few hours of work:
    This course is an introduction to several of the fundamental questions of philosophy. We will be reading a variety of material dedicated to the search for the ‘good life.’ We will see that what the good life is has its own history, as we analyze texts ranging from Plato’s Republic to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. We will see how such a form of life is thought as an idea of harmony, religious devotion, a rational pursuit, a product of self-exploration and self-realization, and finally, as a mode of social involvement that seeks to appropriate and transform a way of life denied to historically marginalized groups and peoples.
    After the usual suspects like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, or Rousseau (culled from Charles Guignon's anthology The Good Life), we'll spend a significant amount of time working with the themes of existentialism and alienation as a way into Léopold Sédar Senghor's "Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century" and Fanon's "On National Culture." This will be a whole other way to ask what the good life is.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    The Book is the Medium

    Here is a post to ten examples of books becoming multimedia objects.

    An example from Brian Dettmer, which for some reason makes me think of Foucault's Les mots et les choses:


    And one, for the McLuhan fans, from Robert The:

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Sojourning in the Heart: Yi Sang’s and Ours


    A good friend of mine I met in Korea, and a well known artist here as well, recently recommended the book reviewed below. It turned out that the book is well known and taught throughout middle school and at the university level as well. I read it without knowing what was coming and nothing about the author making the visit into its story all the more dazzling. On this personal note, I will not be giving away any of the sordid details of this work of art. Before we set our feet upon the plain and begin our journey, I must say that this book reads like a sojourn in the self. It carried me to places within, I hadn’t visited in epics gone by in my heart. If you care the slightest about literature, you must spend time in these pages.

    Yi Sang’s The Wings, accompanied by the equally, if not more psychological Deathly Child, and Encounters and Departures, dances with realism, surrealism, and early twentieth century avant-garde while moving fluidly - though unexpectedly - between essay, dialogues within narrators' thoughts, poetry, and even song, in one seamless flow. Published by Jimoondang Publishing Company in 2001 and translated by Ahn Jung-hyo and James B. Lee from the original 1936 Korea Journal publication, this book has a history of thorough examination here in Korea. The book serves as seminal text in Korean literature for obvious reasons. The first two paragraphs alone made me put the book down to think about what the horizon had in store upon ascent. The allegories and metaphors pushed me forward on the trek and twists and turns came unexpectedly at each pass. While the term ‘twist’ gets thrown around too often, I haven’t felt this taken aback since the cliché of ‘becoming unplugged’ came into regrettable vogue after that unnameable movie was released some years back. But perhaps these short novels, three, topped even that cliché too.

    Given the release of numerous translated Korean works of famous literature by the Jimoondang Publishing Company, it is noteworthy that this book was published first in the series. Here, on this site, I’ve taken the privilege of discussing several of the books in this series, but I must say if you read only one of them, this is the one. To further praise these tales I add that I will actively seek out other works by the author in the immediate future.

    Yi Sang, in allusion, offers these stories as confessions of his own history. Though no doubt shaded by symbolism, they tell the history of a man who lived the sort of life I think most people fear they may live, perhaps secretly. For this reason the narrative all the more moves its readers' hearts. The characters, and the author lived, loved, and suffered as real humans do. He leaves no trace of his true character and his characters alone. He offers himself up in the form of his protagonist as an inveterate liar, with passages and tails within tails to back up the confessions of these and other personal defects.

    The characters read like friends we all have and they have their basis in his own. The allegories and allusions, though thick, barely cover our real lives, the pains of poisonous relationships, and the truths we hide from ourselves and others. Shocking is the discovery of this book only while living here in Korea. I think translations of these tales should/could have easily found there way into the classrooms of my own educational history. These remarkable journeys into this text made me burst out laughing in cafés in downtown Gwangju. And in the same sittings I all but wailed as well. What a strange sight I must have been while crossing these stories’ pages. What strange sights were seen in them too.

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    WikiLeaks: Iraq, War, and Information

    Before the US government and other various political elites flipped out over WikiLeaks sharing secretive diplomatic information, WikiLeaks shared leaked information on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who really cared that a video was released of humans being shot down excitedly on video by US soldiers? This exposed slaughter barely made a splash in US news media. WikiLeaks has revealed that which most people already knew: politicians lie and war kills people. Although, elites do not like feeling exposed so candidly. In a sense Big Brother is getting Big brother-ed. WikiLeaks makes the truth officially known. Not conspiracy theories, just raw reality. Truth can be stranger than fiction. WikiLeaks inspired something new. Governments and corporations now must battle with computers geeks over the security of data, the dawn of globalized Cyber Wars begins.


    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Schelling Book Available

    According to the Continuum website, today is the release date for Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art in the United Kingdom and the 'Rest of the World.' North and South Americans will have to wait until February 10, 2011. I received my author's copies a few weeks ago, so I can vouch for their hardcover existence.

    I first wrote Continuum with my proposal for the book on December 2, 2009, and I received my copies on November 18, 2010. That seems--this is only my first book--like a quick turn around. I've traveled from furious revising and excitement, to apprehension, to wanting to modify extravagantly the galley proofs, to apprehension and doubt, to, with the book in my hands, excitement.

    The hardcover price is prohibitive for most of my readers, I know. If you want to read a copy, I have two suggestions: 1) order it for your library, or, 2) if you've got a bit of background in Schelling, write a  philosophy or aesthetics journal and ask for a review copy. This could get you both a hardcover copy of the book and a line on your CV. The more critical interest, the more likely we see a paperback edition.

    Update: I forgot that I had yet to post Jeffrey Reid's blurb about the book. Now seems like the time:
    “Philosophy of art provides a privileged opening onto the complexities and metaphysical dimensions of Schelling's system, an amorphous construction that extends through the diverse productions of the philosopher's lifetime. Fittingly, Devin Shaw has adopted a genetic approach, following the philosopher’s virtually inchoate accounts of art in his early writings, through its explicit embodiment in his philosophy of identity, to the later writings on art, which, because of their apparently marginal character, are usually overlooked. Dr. Shaw’s original and important contribution shows how Schelling's philosophy of art is informed by his earlier philosophy of nature, while anticipating his later work on the metaphysics of freedom and his crepuscular writings on mythology.” – Jeffrey Reid, Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of Ottawa, Canada

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Stuart Elden's Terror and Territory

    While I was preparing my talk for the RPA (yeah, I'm going to stop talking about it pretty soon), I read Stuart Elden's Terror and Territory (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). As I've been revising the paper, it has become clear that I've left much of the sovereignty talk behind, which means I won't be discussing this book in that essay. I highly recommend reading Elden's book, and here's why...

    In general, much of this discussion of sovereignty, as it's been framed after Agamben has been, at least for me, has been conceptually suffocating. Too much sovereignty and theology, as if there weren't other important problems lurking behind the sovereign. Elden, to his credit, avoids this kind of talk. From my essay:
    Insofar as territorial integration is part of the globalization and intensification of capitalism, Stuart Elden’s Terror and Territory shows how an analysis of sovereignty (both its projection and its collapse of absence) can be compatible with a critique of capitalism, when he reconstructs both how the ‘logic of integration’ (as shared—or coerced— political, economic, or ideological commitments) has been gradually accepted within international law, and how the use of humanitarian and military intervention has been normalized as a technique to maintain territorial integrity.
    His account is more nuanced than Agamben's; Elden points out that Agamben’s incomplete account of the state “demonstrates a more significant weakness in account for the relation of sovereignty to territory." Because he proposes the camp as “the hidden paradigm of the political space of modernity,” Agamben’s analyses focus on the intensification of sovereignty, without pursuing the consequences of “the absence or weakness of sovereign power.”

    By contrast, Elden shows how the 'dialectic' of state sovereignty and its absence has lead to the contemporary 'logic' of intervention. He shows that intervention has been justified on three grounds. First, there is the inability of a state to protect its population from political and environmental catastrophe (including genocide, war, famine, and inability to protect refugees); these failures can result in humanitarian intervention. Second, a state may fail to exercise a monopoly of violence, which allows non-state actors (increasingly classified as terrorists) to operate within its territory. Third, a state may fail to control its borders, which leads to an increased threat of regional or global instability. Increasingly these distinctions have been collapsed through the “clumsy equivalence” (p. 172) of justifying intervention.

    I would give this a stronger political (neo-Marxist?) twist: that intervention has also been used to prevent or interrupt challenges to hegemonic powers through the transformation or, if a cumbersome turn of phrase can be pardoned, the trans-integration of political, economic, or ideological commitments, the redistribution of the means of production or the attempt to integrate within an alternate regional economic system of distribution. One need only think of how the US interferes in Latin America under so-called democratic pretenses. This geographical zone is beyond the limits of Elden's inquiry, but it might help provide a fuller picture of sovereign relations outside of the framework of the war on terror.

    I would suggest, for a reader with a background in philosophy, that you start with the fifth chapter, "Territorial Integrity and Contingent Sovereignty," to get the historical background on the problems raised by Elden's analysis, and then return to the start. You might also find the first chapter, analyzing the rhetoric of the Bush adminstration and other neo-cons a bit too historically close to home, for we are familiar with much of the details (though it's there to contrast with the territorial strategies of Islamism). However, historians and geographers will one day need to see what progressive thinkers thought about such rhetoric--and for those of you familiar with one of the talks at the RPA--it's better Elden than Bob Woodward.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    P.I.C. Annual Conference CFP

    The Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture Student Alliance at Binghamton University (S.U.N.Y.) Presents:

    The Revolution of Time and the Time of Revolution
    A conference

    The 25th – 26th of March, 2011

    Keynote Speaker: Dr. Peter Gratton, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    University of San Diego, CA

    What sense of time is produced through radical politics? Is the understanding of time as future part of a radical imagination? If the commitment to radical social change involves looking forward into the future, will that leave us with a sense of futurity that depends on the linearity of yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

    To interrogate the emergence of radical creations and socialities, we welcome submissions that theorize time as it relates broadly to politics, cultural conflicts, alternative imaginaries, and resistant practices. Time has historically been thought and inhabited through a variety of frameworks and styles of being. At times the present repeats or seems to repeat the past. There are actions that seem to take place outside of time, to be infinite or instantaneous. Theories of emergence view time as folding in on itself. Indigenous cosmologies and Buddhist philosophers put forward the possibility of no-time or of circular and cyclical time.

    The radical question of time is one around which the work of many scholars has revolved: Derrida on the to-come [a-venir] of democracy, Negri’s work on kairos, Agamben on kairology, Santos on the expansive notion of the present, Deleuze and Guattari on becoming. This heterological list is far from exhaustive, while hinting at the depth of the theme that our conference cultivates. A central political concern, time invokes our most careful attention and the PIC conference provides the setting for this endeavor. We must find the time for time.

    At its core, this conference seeks to explore the relationship between time and revolution. Time here may mean not just simple clock and calendar time but rather a way of seeing time as part of a material thread that can go this way and that, weaving together the fabric of political projects producing the world otherwise. Ultimately, the question of time fosters a critical engagement with potentiality, potency, and power; as well as with the virtual and the actual, of the to be and the always already.

    We seek papers, projects, and performances that add to the knowledge of time and revolution, but also ones that clear the way for new thinking, new alliances, new beings.

    Some possible topics might include:
    • Radical notions of futurity, historicity, or the expansive present.
    • Conceptions on the right moment of action.
    • The political reality of time as stasis or cyclical.
    • The colonial creation of universal time, and decolonial cosmologies of time.
    • Work on thinkers of time and revolution.
    • Work on potentiality, the virtual, and the actual.
    • Capital and labor time.

    In keeping with the interdisciplinary emphasis of Binghamton University’s Program in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture, we seek work that flourishes in the conjunction of multiple frames of epistemological inquiry, from fields including, but not limited to: postcolonial studies, decolonial studies, queer and gender studies, ethnic studies, media and visual culture studies, urban studies, science and technology studies, critical theory, critical animal studies, continental philosophy, and historiography.

    Workers/writers/thinkers of all different disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and non-disciplinary stripes welcome, whether academically affiliated or not. Submissions may be textual, performative, visual.

    Abstracts of 500 words maximum due by Feburary 1, 2011. In a separate paragraph state your name, address, telephone number, email and organizational or institutional affiliation, if any.

    Email proposals to: pic.conference2011@gmail.com with a cc: to clawren1@binghamton.edu. Or by surface mail to: Cecile Lawrence, 14 Alpine Drive, Apalachin, NY 13732. Emailed submissions strongly preferred.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    WikiLeaks: Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox

    I think all the coverage about WikiLeaks and the turmoil it is causing global elites speaks for itself. The 1975 poem "Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox" by the late Beat poet Allen Ginsburg is most fitting. This rendition by Rage Against the Machine has always been a favorite of mine:

    It had to be flashin' like the daily double
    It had to be playin' on TV
    It had to be loud mouthed on the comedy hour
    It had to be announced over loud speakers

    The CIA and the Mafia are in cahoots

    It had to be said in old ladies' language
    It had to be said in American headlines
    Kennedy stretched and smiled and got double crossed by lowlife goons and agents
    Rich bankers with criminal connections
    Dope pushers in CIA working with dope pushers from Cuba working with a
    big time syndicate from Tampa, Florida
    And it had to be said with a big mouth

    It had to be moaned over factory foghorns
    It had to be chattered on car radio news broadcasts
    It had to be screamed in the kitchen
    It had to be yelled in the basement where uncles were fighting

    It had to be howled on the streets by newsboys to bus conductors
    It had to be foghorned into New York harbor
    It had to echo onto hard hats
    It had to turn up the volume in university ballrooms

    It had to be written in library books, footnoted
    It had to be in the headlines of the Times and Le Monde
    It had to be barked on TV
    It had to be heard in alleys through ballroom doors

    It had to be played on wire services
    It had to be bells ringing
    Comedians stopped dead in the middle of a joke in Las Vegas

    It had to be FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Costello syndicate
    mouthpiece meeting in Central Park, New York weekends,
    reported Time magazine

    It had to be the Mafia and the CIA together starting war on Cuba,
    Bay of Pigs and poison assassination headlines

    It had to be dope cops in the Mafia
    Who sold all their heroin in America

    It had to be the FBI and organized crime working together
    in cahoots against the commies

    It had to be ringing on multinational cash registers
    A world-wide laundry for organized criminal money

    It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI together
    They were bigger than Nixon
    And they were bigger than war

    It had to be a large room full of murder
    It had to be a mounted ass- a solid mass of rage
    A red hot pen
    A scream in the back of the throat

    It had to be a kid that can breathe
    It had to be in Rockefellers' mouth
    It had to be central intelligence, the family, all of this, the agency Mafia
    It had to be organized crime

    One big set of gangs working together in cahoots

    Hitmen
    Murderers everywhere

    The secret
    The drunk
    The brutal
    The dirty rich

    On top of a slag heap of prisons
    Industrial cancer
    Plutonium smog
    Garbage cities

    Grandmas' bed soft from fathers' resentment

    It had to be the rulers
    They wanted law and order
    And they got rich on wanting protection for the status quo

    They wanted junkies
    They wanted Attica
    They wanted Kent State
    They wanted war in Indochina

    It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI

    Multinational capitalists
    Strong armed squads
    Private detective agencies for the rich
    And their armies and navies and their air force bombing planes

    It had to be capitalism
    The vortex of this rage
    This competition
    Man to man

    The horses head in a capitalists' bed
    The Cuban turf
    It rumbles in hitmen
    And gang wars across oceans

    Bombing Cambodia settled the score when Soviet pilots
    manned Egyptian fighter planes

    Chiles' red democracy
    Bumped off with White House pots and pans

    A warning to Mediterranean governments

    The secret police have been embraced for decades

    The NKPD and CIA keep each other's secrets
    The OGBU and DIA never hit their own
    The KGB and the FBI are one mind

    Brute force and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money

    It had to be rich and it had to be powerful
    They had to murder in Indonesia 500000
    They had to murder in Indochina 2000000
    They had to murder in Czechoslovakia
    They had to murder in Chile
    They had to murder in Russia

    And they had to murder in America

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    John Brandon's Citrus County

     Since the RPA conference, I've had more time to write on the blog, though I still find I'm a few entries behind. I've been kicking around several ideas, and they haven't yet crystallized. And I've wanted to review a few books, including John Brandon's Citrus County (McSweeney's, 2010). I haven't reviewed much fiction on The Notes Taken, and concerning the last novel (the only novel?) I remember reviewing, what I wrote doesn't quite portray what I liked about it (see what I get for trying to write a review of one of Roberto Bolano's novellas?).

    So I'm going to try again from a different angle. Citrus County is John Brandon's second novel; his debut is entitled Arkansas, and is also published by McSweeney's. It was, for the brief time I attempted such lists, one of my favorite novels of 2008. That being said, Citrus County has-- at least regarding my expectations-- a lot to live up to, so to speak.

    The novel gravitates toward the daily lives of two adolescents, Toby and Shelby, and one of their teachers, Mr. Hibma, in (I'm sure you guessed it) Citrus County, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. If you're having trouble imagining what people do in that location, you're not alone. So do the protagonists. Which is where Brandon excels as a storyteller. He introduces you to the characters, lets them interact a bit, sets up an unlikely and troubling scenario from which it is difficult  to extract the narrative, and then...makes the reader wait. And wait, as the characters negotiate their day to day lives in a tough situation.

    Which means Brandon sets for himself a tricky task. I thought Arkansas had it bad, but Citrus County has it worse. He seems to take to heart Vonnegut's advice that, when writing, one must be as sadistic as possible toward the characters to see what they're made of. (From here on out there might be spoilers...) In the long dull days of Citrus County Toby hatches a plan to take hold of his life and give it direction. Obsessed with a bunker he's discovered near his uncle's house, Toby decides to kidnap Kaley, the younger sister  of Shelby, who is the only girl who has shown interest in him. Not for any other particular interest other than a test to see if he can really pull off the deed. 

    And once he does, we wait. We wait through the brief media sensation of Kaley's kidnapping, through the adjustment period for Shelby and her father, we wait through the seasons of the various sports played in Citrus County, and we tarry as Mr. Hibma-- who found his way there through a map and throw of the dart-- tries to decide between integrating himself into the life of local teachers or murdering one of his retiring colleagues. Beyond this, the reader is confronted with the daily life of a place in which everybody assumes something better, or at least more interesting, is happening elsewhere. 

    My highschool years wasted away in a small suburb, so I know the feeling. Brandon's prose captures that ennui. Since two of the protagonists are adolescents ("They’re adolescents, which means they’re insane," he says in an interview with the NYT book blog), Mr. Hibma's charged with the task of reflecting on how exactly he ended up in that godforsaken part of Florida:
    Mr. Hibma missed his youth in general, he realized, back when the knowledge that he was different from other people filled him with pride, not dread. Mr. Hibma was almost thirty. His mind was growing stale, his body stiff, but mostly he was exhausted by the idea of remaining in his life for another fifty years, for another five. He wished his life were a terse novella. He wished he knew how long he was destined to live. He wished he knew whether he'd be murdered or killed by a venomous snake or just waste away of old age.
    In contrast to Toby, Mr. Hibma can't seem to hatch a plan and make it happen. However, this isn't always a good thing. Once Toby realizes the bunker and its hostage are a burden, that Shelby's interest is not so bad or invasive, he's got to solve the Kaley problem. But how? the reader is going to be asking, from about page thirty seven onward. Brandon can't seriously be thinking of a simple reconciliatory happy ending, can he? But then why would McSweeney's publish such a possibly sappy novel? Ultimately I can't spoil this part, but I can say that Brandon doesn't take the easy way out. 

    In any case, let's not rush to the door. On the long winding road to the finale, Citrus County is an intricate picture of small obsessions and quotidian detail, leaving the reader wondering how everyday life could be so enigmatically intriguing.

    Paulo Freire, Round One

    I'm going in to teach chapter two of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed in about twenty minutes. It's a challenge to myself and to the students-- all 170 of them, which is about 150 more than Freire recommends for dialogical problem-posing sessions. 

    The basic idea is fairly clear: that the banking concept of knowledge aims to produce a body of knowledge that integrates people into the status quo, and that problem-posing education aims to show that social relations (including knowledge) are transformed through our praxis. It's up to the students, however, to figure out what that means for their lives.

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Korea in Fiction and Reality


    Given the recent developments between the Koreas, my email inbox has been flooded by concerned friends internationally. As I sit in a café amidst largely nonchalant Koreans enjoying their coffees and sharing the latest Miss A tunes with their ipods and iphones, I wonder how people in the USA can possibly entertain the notion that they have any part of the US global empire? Or put in other words, given the warped media façade presented in the American states, how can it be possible for voters there to actually have any hand in the affairs here or anywhere else? Do Americans think their hand fed opinions are there own? The Korean coverage and the talk on the street over the events here don’t remotely resemble the media frenzy as seen on T.V.: in the USA. Given this thought, I see a good opportunity to review The Land of the Banished by Cho Chong-Rae, as translated by Chun Kyung-Ja and published by the Jimoondang Publishing Company in 2001. This book revolves around the life of a political and social outcast. Cheon Mahn-seok, our protagonist and perhaps antagonist too, lives a life of horrors; these are both afflicted from external circumstance and from his reactions to these as well.

    The character development alone make this book an extremely worthy read. Cho works by moving backward and forward through Cheon’s life, juxtaposing his predicament in the present with his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. At the time we meet our hero he has already climbed his way into his last days as a well aged man. The man came into his lot as an outcast from the town of his youth by participating in the killing of the former classes of power after the rise of the People‘s Army. But the author, Cho, does not simply leave his protagonist's life simply as that of a demented murderer of the former ruling and exploitative class. He instead fleshes our Cheon out by showing how he could have behaved so callously in the aftermath of his rise to rank. Cheon Mahn-seok describes himself as a serf and slave, and a failed one at that.

    Cheon lived a terrible life, feeling that even deigning to produce progeny would only bring another generation of slaves into the world to be exploited by the rich; this theme echoes itself by various names throughout the entire text. As a child, dependent as he was on his parents serfdom under a wealthy family’s heel, he scoured the forest in search of food, not for fun but out of necessity. After Mahn-seok saved a younger son of the Choe’s, his own family's lords, the older Choe brothers mistakenly took him as attacking their younger brother and attacked him only to lose due to their weak pampered lifestyles. After their defeat, Mahn-seok and his whole family were deprived of their status as even the serf’s of the Choe’s. He and his family were expelled from their duties as slaves and sent off with nothing. Thus, Cho builds a believable human narrative, even for our murderous anti-hero and protagonist.

    Later, Mahn-seok had participated in the murder of the former ruling class as a young man. He had gone far further than his superior Su-gil, a Chairman of the local People’s Committee in killing off the former landlords. As such, after the reprisal and rise of the South in the town of Mahn-seok’s youth, he became unable to return. Even before the town was retaken by the South’s forces he had too become an outcast among the People’s Army. He managed this feat by slaying his wife along with her lover, Mahn-seok’s superior commander in the army. Thus, our character was more than deeply flawed; he was totally abandoned by all sides politically, socially, and had lost much of his humanity as well. Cho Chong-Rae’s piece stretches the boundaries of personal narrative by illuminating the causality of this protagonist’s life and what a reader can expect too. The calculus of human action and reaction throughout this tragedy remains unbelievable and believable as well. It also illustrates the causality of inhumanity in humanity.

    The nuance of reason and counter reason on these pages demonstrates a Korea in self-reflection over its history and not the static Korea of Euro-American media representations. The authors in fiction demonstrate the same lucid contemplation over the political division as their political counterparts. The only simplistic analysis continue as ink on the pages of outsiders, largely in the US media. The recent events between the two Koreas should serve as a warning that the conducting of military exercises on contested seas between these severed families ought not to be taken lightly. Obviously, in point and fact, the North’s assault on civilian target was unacceptable. But the US media and her lover in arms, the US military, shouldn’t feed their audience in North America the message that the empire is needed here. Those who welcome US imperialism here are matched by those seeking its removal through protests which shame the anti-war movements in the US. Moreover, among those who desire the alliance’s continuance, many don’t want a provocative presence and less want permanent bases in the South.

    Rather than pushing the North into a corner, space should be allotted for continued ties that develop under better circumstances. The South has investments in the North and mature or educated people here I talk with seek eventual cultural and social reconciliation. The US empire only aggravates and perpetuates a painful division. The US should most certainly maintain its interest in protecting its ally here, but aggravation is another issue altogether. Cho Chong-Rae’s character development show the subtleties of action and reaction. They show the light and shadow of real life. What Americans do not see in the real daily life of Korea is everything gray, everything nuanced, everything indispensable to a clear analysis.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Pinkard's Translation of Hegel's Phänomenologie

    Last Thursday, we had our first meeting of our Hegel Reading Group for the first time in three weeks. There were two general results: first, we realized that you shouldn't tarry with the Phenomenology of Spirit after not reading it for that amount of time; and second, I decided that it was time to get serious about finding a copy of the German text to check some of A.V. Miller's translation. That's right, I'm one of those people who prefer their Begriff as a concept and not a notion. For the purposes of the reading group, and for anybody else who might interested, here's the link to  the webpage for Terry Pinkard's draft translation of the Phänomenologie des Geistes (which has been up for some time, so I'm not exactly reporting the news here), with parallel English/German text. One has to be prepared; this week we move on to 'self-consciousness.'


    Update (30 November): Stuart Elden posted a link to Freud2Lacan, which has bilingual texts from Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger.

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Bruce Cumings on North Korea Provocations 5-29-09

    The BBC wrote in regards the North and South Korean conflict:
    Tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world increased steadily again from late 2008 onwards, especially after the new South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, ended his predecessor's "sunshine policy" of rapprochement with the North.

    In April 2009 North Korea walked out of international talks aimed at ending its nuclear activities. The following month the country carried out its second ever underground nuclear test and announced that it no longer considered itself bound by the terms of the 1953 truce that ended the war between the two Koreas.

    Tensions reached a new high in spring 2010, when the South accused North Korea of being responsible for sinking one of its warships, the Cheonan, and cut off all cross-border trade. Pyongyang denied the claims, and in turn severed all ties with Seoul.

    After the US imposed tough sanctions in August, the North began to make overtures again. Kim Jong-il signalled a readiness to resume six-party nuclear talks during a visit to China, and indicated a willingness to accept Southern aid to cope with major flood damage.

    However, a serious cross-border clash in November 2010, in which two South Korean marines were killed, threatened to set relations back once more.
    This interview of Bruce Cumings from 2009 gives a little more insight and a lot more nuance. Nuance is altogether lacking in the current discussions taking place as the potential for war on the Korean peninsula increases.


    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Ivan E. Coyote, "Missed Her"

    (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010)

    Ivan E. Coyote is a queer Canadian author and spoken word performer of butch gender who retains the pronoun "she". Coyote was first brought to my attention thanks to my feminist theory prof in fall of 2008, but I've only begun to read her recently. I thought I would start with the collection reviewed here, since it comprises short and manageable autobiographical snippets. Despite its brevity, folksiness and humour, however, the book is not what I would call "light". I don't usually get weepy-eyed over prose, and those who follow me on this site will know that I have plenty of shit to cry over, knee-deep as I usually am in Cormac McCarthy and Yukio Mishima novels. Coyote's book is an exception to my usual reading experience. Though less "literary" in certain respects, I found much of it deeply moving and had to dab the corners of the ol' eyes now and then. She hits her targets, bang-on.

    Living as a gender-queer person forms the thematic core of the collection. I have a certain amount of empathy for Coyote due to my ongoing navigation of my own masculinity, but there's much here that I cannot claim to relate to because it is rooted in her own differently gendered experiences. But this is not to say that the things she talks about in her stories are utterly alien to me, or that they would be such to anyone in my gender/sexuality ballpark. Rather, the book also carries a universally human appeal in its treatment of subjects like love, sickness, aging, heartbreak, pets, the loss of loved ones, and so on. These then are the two virtues of the book, from my own vantage point: 1) As a hetero, masculine-identified biological male with my own hangups, limitations and so forth, engaging with the text is an awesome exercise in what Judith Butler calls "cultural translation", i.e. seeing how someone unique and differently gendered lives, with a view to learning, better understanding, and standing in solidarity; 2) the book is just flat-out wonderful in its humane, sparsely-delivered musings on things we all share, no matter our particulars. If Coyote's queerness is in some way constitutive of her identity as an author, then by the same token it doesn't appear thereby to shut others like me out (see in particular the story "Some of My Best Friends are Rednecks", wherein she challenges the exclusionary if not separatist attitudes of certain of her queer female readers). I feel in reading this book that I'm called by another human being to build links of understanding without thereby papering over the important differences between us. Therefore I think this is the kind of book that should be taught in middle schools and high schools across the country, unquestionably. Canada is not entirely undeserving of its claims to be relatively tolerant of difference, but it certainly has a long way to go. As Coyote reminds us, there are some out there who respond to her difference with murderous anger, and a vastly higher number still who make her feel unsafe, unwanted and uneasy in numerous subtler ways.

    The sense of familiarity I've gleaned from Coyote's work can of course be partly explained in another way. She originally hails from Whitehorse, and this gives her prose a certain hard-to-pin-down Western quality. I say this because I'm a Westerner myself, and there's something about her writing that makes me profoundly homesick; to get the full extent of what I'm talking about I suggest you check her out on youtube, where she can be seen reading some of the stories in the collection with her delightful Northwestern accent. Like her queerness, I don't think Coyote's regional qualities get in the way of what she has to tell us; they form part and parcel of what she wants to tell us, while also pointing beyond themselves.

    Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Opens Tomorrow

    The Vonnegut Library's hours will begin tomorrow 12-5pm Fridays and Saturdays, until switching to regular hours on January 29th, 2011. The hitch? The Library is in Indianapolis. I suppose its administrators wanted to make you work on that pilgrimage you were planning. From the NYT:
    The library items on display range from the ordinary to the intergalactic, many of them donated by his children. They include the author’s typewriter and an unopened box of his Pall Mall cigarettes, alongside a painting devoted to the Tralfamadorians, the green aliens Mr. Vonnegut wrote about in books including Slaughterhouse-Five.” Several of Mr. Vonnegut’s drawings are also displayed, including one of a gravestone that reads “Life is no way to treat an animal.”
    That drawing, entitled "Trout's Tomb," has been the wallpaper on my computer screen for over four years, and I've been waiting for an excuse to post it here:

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Why hasn't Baudrillard already disappeared?


    Recently Semiotext(e) has reissued several of the late Jean Baudrillard's pamphlets from the 70s and 80s as part of a series called "A History of the Present". I've read three of them over the past few months: Forget Foucault, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, and Fatal Strategies. Two things by way of beginning: first, generally speaking the introductions by commentators added much to my experience of reading the texts. Baudrillard's writing is notoriously allusive and mind-numbingly repetitive in places; a friend of mine recently commented that reading him was not unlike reading a mediocre first-year undergrad essay, since much of it is uncited vaguaries and unsupported claims in a froth of redundancy. Since I'm sympathetic to this view, I have to say that having a theoretical overview at the beginning of each text is much appreciated - though it appears, in my opinion, that the commentators are at times overly sympathetic. Second, I implore Semiotext(e) to get better copy editors. The reissued pamphlets are littered with typos, as well as asterisks on foreign language words which do not point to any explanations of the words. And I shit you not, the reissue of In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities contains a paragraph which just breaks off mid sentence.

    If publishing trends are any indication, Baudrillard still appears to command a fair bit of attention in North America. This despite his disappointing, confusing and to many people offensive weigh-in on the events of 9/11 (The Spirit of Terrorism, Verso), and, more importantly, the fact that nobody in France ever really bought much into him in the first place (Deleuze even once quipped that Baudrillard was "the shame of the profession"). So what gives?

    I think on some level Baudrillard speaks to a need that is deeply felt in North America. Theoretically speaking he's actually not that hard to crack; the problem is that he writes in a manner contemptuous of his audience. He assumes we all know a thing or two about Bataille, Mauss, Levi-Strauss, Freud, Jarry, Marx, symbolic exchange, pataphysics, and so on. To be fair, we should indeed have a good grasp of these if we want to engage seriously in so-called French Theory; casual readers, however, will be highly frustrated by what will appear to be pompous nonsense.

    So what, then, is the kernal of Baudrillard's later theory? What the pamphlets in question wager is that capitalism has reached a metastatic cancer stage of post- or trans-political administration. There being no alternative to capitalism (and in any case no revolutionary subject to usher in such a change), there is properly speaking no more critical theory. There is only the "fatal" theory that banks on things imploding under their own weight. Baudrillard takes the position of a theorist who ups the ante of late or "postmodern" capitalism and advances hypotheses about its own terminal logic. Speaking in terms of symbolic exchange - e.g. the agonistic ritual of potlach - he gives the gift of extreme theory by way of contributing to provoking the counter-gift of the system's own collapse (i.e. he is a kind of "terrorist" - cue his bizarre response to 9/11). There is a perverse kind of hope in Baudrillard: one which is attuned to the day after the apocalypse. Abandon Marxism all ye who enter.

    I think that this touches off something profound in a society that is sick with surplus value, but which sees no real alternative to capitalism. In a society that churns out apocalypse culture, it is easy to interpret Baudrillard's ideas as flirtations with the hope that the whole thing will just crumble, come what may. In the last two decades of his life, especially, he can be read as a kind of ironist of the apocalypse. Virtually any one of his books will provide a good enough entering wedge into what he is doing, since all he does at bottom is repeat that there is nothing to be done but ride out the end.

    So my advice: if interested, pick up any one of his books, see how he does it, and move on. Solidarity with emancipatory currents in the global South, for example, presupposes more than and in all likelihod rules out the fatal theory of disillusioned Marxists.

    Frank Kofsky's Jazz

    I thought it would be appropriate to use the time traveling to Oregon for the RPA to read Frank Kofsky's Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music (New York: Pathfinder, 1970), and it was time well spent. In retrospect, I am quite surprised that it took so long for me to read it (it's been sitting on my shelves for several years, unread beyond a few pages here and there). Which is too bad because Kofsky treats the world of jazz as a microcosm of the socio-political upheaval that showed so much promise in the 1960s and early 1970s. That Kofsky is not your typical jazz critic can be seen in the preface, when he acknowledges the importance of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and even Plehkanov to his approach.

    The book (note that I'm using the first edition rather than the more recent revised version) is broken into four parts: a critique of the critics, an analysis of black nationalism in post-bop jazz, the interviews or articles about selected members of Coltrane's so-called "classic" quartet (but, wait, where's the chapter on Jimmy Garrison?), and something like a coda on Malcolm X. The theme unifying these sections is that black nationalism is at the heart of the advances of jazz. Rather than a story of technical advances by a series of proficient players who seek to innovate for innovation's sake (which is the attitude Kofsky attributes to white musicians seeking to inscribe jazz in classical European musics), each qualitative leap in jazz is related to, and expresses, upheaval in the black community and advance in black nationalism, that is, the successive moments of black self-consciousness as a group oppressed in the United States. Instead of a straightforward review, I only want to register a few thoughts.

    First, Kofsky's critique of the critics is a first-rate analysis of the ways in which so-called criticism serves to domesticate and dismantle the political message of avant-garde jazz. He argues that the white establishment in criticism dismisses black nationalism because it is a challenge to the establishment's position of privilege (which, Kofsky adds, is an assertion of white privilege) within the jazz milieu. Rather than dismiss (reject, edit out, or accuse of reverse racism) the strains of black nationalism in avant-garde jazz so that the white critic can listen to his jazz records without a feeling of bad conscience, criticism ought to 1) "muckrake [and] lay bare the sordid conditions that prevail within the jazz milieu" (80) including the exploitation of black musicians in clubs and by record labels. 2) Critics could relate "the present revolution in jazz to the changes in society that have helped shape it" (81). Instead, Kofsky finds, the critics want jazz within what they have established as a set of aesthetically pleasing parameters, without the challenge to white supremacy (not that they don't see oppression-- as Kofsky points out Mike Zwerin never tired of pointing out oppression in the Soviet Union while ignoring it at home, and, I might add later ruined his book Swing under the Nazis with his egotistical and narrow-minded rants about how life has treated him unfairly). While I can't repeat it all here, the evidence, especially against Down Beat, is staggering.

    In the second and third parts Kofsky faces a more difficult challenge than he did in his critique of the critics. He seeks to establish the central role of John Coltrane in the advance of black nationalism in jazz. As we know, Coltrane, and many others, were quite reticent to discuss their political views, knowing that their more outspoken comrades, such as Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon, or Cecil Taylor could never find sustained gigs. Much of Part 2 is dedicated to showing how the white ownership of the means of production in jazz music penalizes those who speak out about the political status of black Americans; that is, Kofsky seeks to show how the reticence is tied to determinate socio-political conditions. 

    Admittedly, getting Coltrane or McCoy Tyner to speak on record about black nationalism was difficult. Nevertheless, one can see how they would approach the topics while refusing to use the terminology. One sees how they signal assent to many of Kofsky's radical claims without repeating  the rhetoric, noting that the black musician cannot escape a socially and economically segregated United States. Here's Tyner, after expressing some reticence to talk politics:
    Kofsky: Do you think in jazz white musicians get better treatment than blacks, on the whole?
    Tyner: In jazz? Well, to tell you the truth, I really couldn't be conclusive on that; but one thing I do feel: that being that society is the way it is, and white supremacy seems to be a dominant thing, it's only natural that a white musician, under certain circumstances, would get better treatment (212).
    And here is one of my favorite passages from the Coltrane interview:
    Kofsky: In particular, some of the people have said that jazz is opposed to poverty, to suffering, and to oppression; and, therefore, that jazz is opposed to what the United States is doing in Vietnam. [...]
    Coltrane: In my opinion I would say yes, because jazz-- if you want to call it that; we'll talk about that later-- to me, it is an expression; and that this music is an expression of higher ideals, to me. So therefore, brotherhood is there; and I believe with brotherhood, there would be no poverty. And also, with brotherhood, there would be no war (227-228). 
    Even though more scholarly treatments of avant-garde jazz have appeared in recent years, and despite the fact that Kofsky might have overcorrected at points against the criticism of his time, Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music remains a crucial reference for those interested in the politics of avant-garde jazz during its peak. Not to mention that Kofsky's book motivated me to give a new listen to records I hadn't listened to lately-- especially Albert Ayler.

    Within the next few weeks I plan on posting a review of Kofsky's more recent Black Music, White Business.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Samaritans: The Other Palestinians

    In the West Bank there are more indigenous groups other than Arab Palestinians and the tiny amount of pre-Zionist settler Jews. There is another Palestinian group, less than eight hundred in the world, known as Samaritans. Others live in Israel. This small ethnic-religious community descend from ancient Israelites. They broke away from the Judea Temple cult over two thousand years ago. The Samaritan Pentateuch (The Torah/first five books of the Bible: Genesis through Deuteronomy) is written in their script and contains around 6000 differences in the text compared to the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text. The Christian New Testament tells many stories of the tensions between Jews and Samaritans in the past. In the Gospel of John Chapter 4, Jesus is recorded as having a discussion with a Samaritan women. Jesus clearly saw himself possessing the greater religion:
    “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem...[Jesus then states]You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
    Despite this apparent prejudice, Jesus famous parable about the "Good Samaritan" seen in The Gospel of Luke 10:25-37 portrays a Samaritan as the best example of an exceedingly moral, caring, selfless, human being. This community is now nearly extinct and sandwiched in between the Israel/Palestine conflict (See here). Many may not know they still exist despite their iconic legacy on the theological philosophies and ethics of the Western World.

    One (More) Reason Unions Matter to Professors

    Inside Higher Ed reports that an arbitrator has ruled that Florida State University fired twelve tenured professors in violation of its contract with the faculty union, and ordered these jobs reinstated. In response the university also reinstated nine non-union tenured professors. This, of course, speaks to the importance of unions, and also tenure. The arbitrator's decision-making process should be of some interest, especially by those of us who have made such arguments:
    Further, the arbitrator touches on an issue that has angered many faculty members in traditional liberal arts departments in this era of budget cuts: the idea that their departments are somehow evaluated as less financially viable than others that attract outside grants. The arbitrator uses anthropology -- the target of cuts at Florida State -- to challenge this thinking by noting, as many faculty members have, that its tuition revenue makes it financially strong (running a surplus in fact).

    The finding compares anthropology (subject to deep cuts) with meteorology (which was protected), applying the administration's stated goal of focusing on departments with high costs. Anthropology's cost per degree awarded is $33,343, compared to more than $50,000 per meteorology degree. And anthropology's net tuition earned exceeds that of 14 of the 17 departments in arts and sciences at the university. "It made no sense to eliminate anthropology from a budget standpoint," the arbitrator writes.
    While I don't think that financial calculations should be at the forefront of reasons as to why humanities departments should not be cut, we shouldn't take that reason off the table. If the numbers lean in favor of such departments we should use them in order to shift the debate to ideological terrain: universities are going after the humanities because they (in better situations) engage students and challenge them to think critically about their place in society or within the university (so many of which are rapidly transforming into glorified business and tech schools).

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Thoughts on the RPA Conference

    I am finally caught up with most of the things I needed to do when I returned to Ottawa, so now I've got a chance to record a few impressions about the Radical Philosophy Association conference that took place last week at the University of Oregon, Eugene. 

    What I liked: The vibe is always welcoming. It's possible to converse and befriend other participants without, in most cases, observance of the distinctions that hold in most academic settings. It's possible to see some very sharp panels, such as the one Sean participated in, or 'The World as Concept,' which included presentations by Stuart Elden, Marie-Eve Morin, and Peter Gratton. If you look to the right, you will see that I've added Stuart's blog Progressive Geographies to our 'Friends, Comrades, Allies' links, and you might have noticed that Peter's blog Philosophy in a Time of Error has been there for a while. I'd add Marie-Eve as well if she blogged, but to my knowledge she does not. If you're not familiar with Stuart Elden's work, I'd highly recommend checking out  (aside from his books, obviously) his walkthrough of his recent project The Birth of Territory (see here). And for the moment, Peter has an account up about their panel. I finally had a chance to meet Peter in person, and there's a very strong likelihood that we will be co-authoring a paper in the future so that phrases like 'I agree completely with Peter...' and 'as Devin said about Rancière...' become redundant. Hell, after enough talk about Jean-Luc Nancy between Marie-Eve and Peter I even considered  working up a paper about Nancy, Coleridge, and Schelling on tautegory, myth, and being-in-common.

    What I didn't like: A majority of the panels I attended were above average, but I was taken aback by the plenary by Bat-Ami Bar On. Let's turn this one over to Peter for a moment because (see, here we go:) I agree completely with him:
    Her claim was that, while she felt at home with these “radicals,” she could do so while (1) arguing that leftists need to just understand how tough Obama has it in that darn war on terror, (2) leftists don’t engage in policy discussions (despite the fact that they, uh, do all the time and no link is even necessary), and (3) that she supposedly does, despite her only references being the widely read National Security Estimate and Bob Woodward’s recent book on Obama.
    What's worse is that several audience members expressed, during the Q & A, a general agreement with her. At the RADICAL PHILOSOPHY ASSOCIATION! It's one thing to be browbeaten everywhere else because we radicals "don't take anything seriously," but at the RPA? It's the last place I would expect the plenary to condescend to us about our so-called irresponsibility. Sorry, but anti-imperialism is not only a serious position, but it's also the only correct position. But, you might say, what about the "six to twelve" places that might explode at any moment across the world (the number grew as the talk went on)? Why not put down the Bob Woodward book and ask why these situations might explode? Isn't that why we were there?

    What I learned: I still have to work on my paper about Agamben and Benjamin. I now have a good idea of what I want to say (here), but I had the realization after presenting that I no longer have a paper about Agamben, rather it's a reinterpretation of Benjamin. Which means it has now moved from the Agamben section of my next project, to the section on Benjamin. Due to being over-prepared for a short panel, I had to skip much of the material, and I'm afraid I might have, from the audience's perspective, lost the thread. I received two or three very supportive comments, but also heard two serious misunderstandings, for which I am mostly willing to take the blame. By the time I get back to the RPA in 2012, I should be able to present something that actually fits in a twenty minute time slot.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Sunil Khilnani, "Arguing Revolution: The Intellectual Left in Postwar France"

    (Yale, 1993)

    Those of you in North America who study or dabble in so-called "French Theory" - roughly, French philosophy, sociology, feminism, anthropology, etc dating from approximately the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss to the ongoing interventions of Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière and others - may have noticed that the secondary literature on the subject is usually somewhat slanted and/or polemical. From opposite ends of the political spectrum, authors usually have an axe to grind (Cf. Cusset, French Theory from the Left, and Ferry/Renaut, La pensée 68 from the liberal centre/Right). When examining the subject, they also tend by turns to reduce the arguments and concepts in question to the particular French context that produced them, or by contrast, to focus mainly on the internal dynamics of the arguments themselves. The effect is either to lose French Theory in factual description, or to speak as though its arguments and concepts can be airlifted into North American intellectual space without losing anything important in the process.

    The virtue of Khilnani's relatively even-handed book is to provide context for understanding the major arguments, concepts and enjeux of the French intellectual Left while also taking apart and examining some of the major arguments themselves. He provides a concise breakdown of the postwar political climate within which the arguments emerged, highlighting the particularly French and historically-rooted meanings of "Left" and "intellectual", before examining in detail the attempts of Sartre and Althusser to give a satisfactory account of the role of the intellectual in the revolutionary movement. He goes on to describe the "exorcism" of revolutionary discourse and practice in the years 1968-1981 during which, paradoxically, the intellectual Left was all but evacuated by the time the Socialist Party rose to power. Finally, he examines the revisionist history of Francois Furet as regards the French Revolution - specifically, the argument that the legacy of the Revolution for France and the world is not one of iron Bolshevik-style discipline and terror, but rather of liberal pluralism and democracy.

    One of the main themes of the book is the definition of political community, and with respect to which, the tension between the universal and the particular - specifically, the Revolutionary idea of France's own national heritage, serving as a bastion and beacon of freedom and civilization to the rest of the world. Khilnani doesn't shy away from producing an image of a France awash in paradox, by turns high-mindedly cosmopolitan and narrowly provincial. The overall picture he draws is in some ways bleak for the Left, but he holds out hope that French intellectuals will have a continuing role to play in defining their political community - certainly an urgent task felt across the globe, as witnessed by the popularity of e.g. Hardt and Negri's otherwise disappointing Empire and Multitude.

    For those who are interested in post-structuralism and "postmodernism" in particular, Arguing Revolution should be required reading. For those still on the Left, moreover, I suspect it's a doubly good idea to engage in this text. It is highly artificial, if not downright idealistic to treat the arguments and concepts of e.g. a Derrida or a Lyotard as if they have no history; perhaps it is even highly damaging in some ways, since the emptying of ideas and arguments of their historical content and context is to succumb to an ecclecticism that cuts one off from the truly important events and historical currents of the day. Add Khilnani's Arguing Revolution to your reading list.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Schelling Book Preview

    I happened over to the Continuum page for my book, Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art, and discovered that the free preview is up, which includes the "Introduction" and the beginning of the first chapter, "Dogmatism, Criticism, and Art." Check it out, and once you're convinced of its merit (see what I did there?), please order the book for your university library.

    I'll be writing about my experience at the Radical Philosophy Association meeting later this week.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Helen Keller : Great American Woman Activist

    This post better get many hits and I mean it!!! I'm tired of how marginalized Helen Keller is by the Left (and everyone else for that matter). Let us be honest, Keller fits into a condescending role of cutesy survivore victim. Even this youtube has a somewhat childish aesthetic. No matter how great her legacy, she is never presented in the heroic way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Che Guevara would be. Helen Keller struggled for the rights of the disabled, she was an ardent Socialist, fluent in several languages, spoke live to the Japanese after the bombing of Hiroshima, and lashed out at Nazis for burning books. There are too many things to write and say about her. At least this documentary clip does give brief highlights of her incredible history. She deserves a special place for the American activist in particular. She belongs in posters on radical college students walls. If only she would have donned a beret instead of a bonnet.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Bush's Book on the Move

    Sounds like a good idea to me, although I don't know how many copies I'll find sitting around Powell's Books this weekend (and not because they're selling...):
    On Tuesday, November 9, George Bush’s memoir Decision Points comes out in bookstores around the country. Taking a cue from a movement in Britain that called for people to subversively move Tony Blair’s recently published memoir, A Journey, to the Crime section of bookstores, Waging Nonviolence is asking that in honor of the release of the Bush memoir, people reshelve Decision Points to the part of the bookstore where it really belongs: Crime.
    While I'm at it, remember this classic screen shot? It's too bad he didn't call Hurricane Katrina 'one of the worst disasters in the history of the world.'

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Getting Ready for the RPA: On Agamben and Benjamin

    I'll admit that I didn't write much for The Notes Taken over the month of October. Instead, most of my time, outside of teaching, that I would spend writing was consumed by preparing job applications and preparing my paper for the upcoming Radical Philosophy Association meeting at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Take a good look at the schedule (PDF), and you will see that our own Sean Moreland is giving a talk on "Visceral Re:Visions: Genre and the Syntax of Violence in Haneke's Funny Games and Laugier's Martyrs" (Friday's 2:00-3:30pm session) our friend Mark Raymond Brown will be presenting on "A Remedy for Violence: The Necessity of Healthcare Reform in the US" which I swear has something to do with Sartre (during Saturday's 10:30am-12:00pm session), and I will be giving a paper on Giorgio Agamben, Walter Benjamin, and the critique of violence (during Saturday's 2:00-3:30pm session). At the moment the paper doesn't have a title (I've changed it several times), but I'm leaning toward "Anomic Violence: Toward a Benjaminian Critique of Agamben."

    I read a less organized draft of my paper at the end of October at CSU Stanislaus. While it must have been confusing for the audience, as I jumped from Fredric Jameson to Agamben to Georges Sorel to Benjamin's "Critique of Violence," many of their questions helped me clarify why exactly (1) I was interested in this early essay of Benjamin's, and (2) why I need to cut the long sections on sovereignty and the state of exception out of the paper. 

    Let's start with (2): Agamben is best known for returning sovereignty to the forefront of political thought. I know, because the first article I managed to publish applied Agamben's critique of the state of exception to the war on terror and its localization in Guantanamo Bay. I started writing the paper in early 2003 and it finally saw the light of day as "The Absence of Evidence is Not the Evidence of Absence: Biopolitics and the State of Exception" in Philosophy Against Empire, Today, Vol. 4, edited by Tony Smith and Harry van der Linden (Philosophy Documentation Center, 2006). Since then I've found that Agamben's critique brings with it a large amount of philosophical "history of metaphysics" baggage that he inherited from Heidegger, not to mention his extensive use of Schmitt. Back in 2006, the last few pages of the article dealt with the absence of the concept of event or the act as a moment of subjectification in Homo Sacer. But I found I needed to say more about what I found so off-putting.

    To get the current paper down to a manageable size, I've cut all the exegetical talk about sovereignty and assumed that my audience will be familiar with it. The exegetical discussions were adding too much weight to the presentation. All you get now is my central problem with Homo Sacer: Agamben accepts from Schmitt that the sovereign has a monopoly on the capacity to decide and the capacity for violence. This is important because Agamben's State of Exception rejects the sovereign monopoly on violence (there are passages in HS that hint at this, but Agamben doesn't pursue the consequences); the whole of the 'gigantomachy concerning a void' that he stages between Schmitt and Benjamin turns on the possibility of anomic violence, or, since violence is a cipher for human action, praxis (and subjectification) with no relation to law.

    Which leads to (1): the task is now to show how Benjamin's concept of divine violence is one of the many figures he proposes for anomic praxis. Unlike Agamben, I think this kind of praxis and subjectification leads through Benjamin's work on aesthetics, as well as some of his theological debates with Gershom Scholem (which are really just debates about aesthetics and politics anyway).

    Thus I've found my way back to something like the framework of my Schelling book, when I didn't really expect to: investigating how artistic production is presented as an alternative to law (which for Schelling was Kant's and Fichte's categorical imperatives) as a model for free human praxis. With Benjamin, the problem will be very different, given that his work on aesthetics is so closely connected to anarcho-syndicalist  (Sorel again!) and Marxian politics, although for the moment, it sets the course for how I will be approaching his work in the future (although Marx's critique of 'creativity' as found in the "Critique of the Gotha Program" hangs over part of this investigation).

    And here we all thought I was joking when on my profile I wrote that I am "working on a book about the convergences and divergences of history, politics, and art in the work of Walter Benjamin, which is a loose sequel to Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art."

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Michael Moore on US Midterm Elections

    Documentary maker Michael Moore expressed his interpretation of US midterm elections on Democracy Now. For the most part he is spot on. I'm posting the first part.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    North American Sartre Society CFP 2011

    I've already talked about how much fun I had at the North American Sartre Society's 2009 meeting in Memphis, and now with a new call for papers, you might have a chance as well, and in Montreal no less. For updates, their website is here.

    18th Biennial Conference of the North American Sartre Society
    Hosted by TÉLUQ, Montréal – April 27-29, 2011

    CALL FOR PAPERS — APPEL À COMMUNICATIONS

    This year’s keynote speaker will be Régine Robin. Robin is Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM). She is an historian and sociologist who also writes novels and essays. In her work, she explores questions related to collective and individual memory, Jewishness, city dwelling, as well as relations between literature, culture and society. In 1987, she was awarded the prestigious Governor General of Canada’s prize for her book Le réalisme socialiste: une esthétique impossible. In 2001, she was awarded the City of Montreal’s Grand Prix du livre for Berlin chantiers. She has published more than twenty theoretical and critical essays including Le roman mémoriel : de l’histoire à l’écriture du hors-lieu (1989), Le Golem de l’écriture : de l’autofiction au cybersoi (1997), La mémoire saturée (2003), Mégapolis : les derniers pas du flâneur (2009), as well as La Québécoite (1983), considered to be one of the representative novels of what has been coined the migrant literature of Quebec.

    Papers in any area of Sartrean scholarship are welcome (philosophy, literature, psychology, politics, intellectual history). Reading time for a paper should be 25-30 minutes (to be followed by the respondent’s commentary (optional) and 10 minutes of discussion). In addition to individual papers, we would be most interested in receiving suggestions for panel topics. Panel topics that deal with any aspect of Sartre’s work; its relationship to other authors as well as those that deal with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir will be seriously considered. Graduate students are encouraged to submit papers. A limited number of stipends will be available to help defray the cost of travel and lodging. Graduate students whose paper has been accepted must apply for these stipends.

    DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION OF ABSTRACTS: DECEMBER 20, 2010.

    Please E-MAIL a 2 page abstract of your paper as an attachment to cdaigle[at]brocku.ca For panel submissions, please submit an abstract for the whole panel as well as abstracts for each individual paper. These will be forwarded to the Program Committee for blind refereeing.

    Le 18ième Colloque de la Société Sartrienne de l’Amérique du Nord sera accueilli par la TÉLUQ, Montréal du 27 au 29 Avril 2011

    Nous vous invitons à nous soumettre des propositions de communication d’une durée de 25 à 30 minutes ayant trait à tout aspect de la vie et de l’oeuvre de Jean-Paul Sartre (la littérature, la philosophie, l’engagement politique, la psychologie, la critique artistique etc.). Des suggestions de tables rondes sur tout aspect de l’oeuvre de Sartre ainsi que sur des thèmes tels que: ses rapports avec l’oeuvre d’autres auteurs et surtout sur ces rapports avec Simone de Beauvoir sont aussi les bienvenues. Nous apprécierons aussi des soumissions d’étudiants des cycles supérieurs. Un nombre limité de bourses leur seront réservées pour défrayer les frais de déplacement et de logement. Les étudiants dont les communications auront été acceptées par le comité organisateur du colloque devront soumettre une demande pour obtenir l’une de ces bourses.

    Les communications peuvent être présentées en français ou en anglais.

    DATE LIMITE POUR L’ENVOI DE VOS PROPOSITIONS: 20 DÉCEMBRE 2010.
    Veuillez envoyer une proposition de communication de 2 pages au maximum. Les propositions doivent être envoyées sous la forme d’un fichier attaché par courrier électronique à Madame Christine Daigle, à l’adresse suivante: cdaigle[at]brocku.ca. Pour les propositions de table-rondes, veuillez fournir un résumé de la thématique de la table-ronde ainsi qu’un résumé de chaque communication devant être incluse. Votre proposition sera ensuite transmise au comité organisateur du colloque pour un processus d’évaluation anonyme.

    Chaque année, la Société Sartrienne de l’Amérique du Nord invite un conférencier de renom. Cette année, notre conférencière invitée sera Régine Robin, qui est professeure émérite au Département de sociologie de l’Université du Québec à Montréal. Historienne, sociologue, romancière, essayiste et nouvelliste, Régine Robin explore dans ses ouvrages de théorie et de fiction des questions reliées à la mémoire collective et individuelle, à la judéité, à la ville et aux échanges entre littérature, culture et société. Elle reçut en 1987 le prestigieux Prix du Gouverneur général du Canada pour Le réalisme socialiste : une esthétique impossible chantiers et le Grand Prix du livre de la Ville de Montréal en 2001 pour Berlin. On lui doit en outre une vingtaine d’ouvrages de théorie et de critique parmi lesquels figurent Le roman mémoriel : de l’histoire à l’écriture du hors-lieu (1989), Le Golem de l’écriture : de l’autofiction au cybersoi (1997), La mémoire saturée (2003), Mégapolis : les derniers pas du flâneur (2009), ainsi que La Québécoite (1983), considéré comme l’un des romans phares de ce que l’on appelé l’écriture migrante du Québec.