For somebody who defended his dissertation last November and who successfully landed a contract to turn it into a book, I probably over-scheduled the last academic year. In November, I presented a paper on Sartre at the North American Sartre Society, and just recently participated in a panel on Marx, Heidegger, and Benjamin at the CPA and gave a paper on Badiou and Heidegger at the EPTC. For the next academic year, I've already got an abstract under review for the Radical Philosophy Association's meeting, which, if accepted, would make it the fourth time I will have gone to one of their meetings.
Now, I don't have a very extensive report to give on the conference(s). I was in Montreal for two full days, Tuesday and Wednesday, and spent three hours each day participating; Tuesday at our panel, and at the EPTC for three papers the next day, each related to my participation or a friend's: Wes Furlotte commented on a paper, I went to see what Chris Nagel, professor at CSU Stanislaus, was up to lately, and then I gave my paper. So, in total, six hours at the Humanities conference. Which isn't very much. At the last NASS meeting, I think I spent a majority of my time watching papers, commenting, arguing, schoozing, etc.
From whence the question: why?
I've been thinking about this for a few days. There are a few answers I could possibly give, but I think it's related to the professional politics of large conferences. Nevertheless, I have two very different impressions of the CPA and the EPTC. Let's start with the CPA. I get the general impression that it's an analytic philosopher's game. It's difficult not to get that impression when reading the schedule; and it's even harder not to get that impression when you start your panel on Tuesday morning at 9am and nobody's there. Yes, you read that correctly: Matt, David and I had no audience until perhaps 9:30am (and only 3 people passed in or out). Now, it was raining on a Tuesday morning, which is a strong motivator for somebody not to jump up and rush to a conference, and other panels didn't seem to runneth over in attendance.
But let's put it this way: at some point you've got to make decisions about where to present your work, because these events cost money, and require a significant time commitment. So it's probably best to present work where you will get helpful commentary, suggestions, polemics, and contacts from people who have some familiarity with the subject matter (and you might learn a thing or two at other talks). Now, if the CPA is an analytic philosopher's game (and this might not be true in all cases), then it might not be the place for continental papers. However, even if it's not an analytic philosopher's game, the non-thematic orientation means that any response that you may get will be fairly broad. I didn't used to think like this because I was writing on Schelling, and almost anywhere you go, few people have any familiarity with his work.
However, I've started working on more contemporary figures, so my expectations have changed. Next year, at least, I will only be sending a paper to the EPTC. Not just on the response my paper received, but because I've had two good experiences with them. And rather than my rushed schedule this year, I can spend a few days at a few panels, participate a bit more. I know that this might not be the strongest reasoning, but it's the impression I've been trying to work out for the past few days.
So on to the Badiou paper: it was about the differences between Badiou and Heidegger on mathematics and technology. It's been a cursed paper. I wrote it about 3 and a half years ago, and the EPTC is the only group to take it; it was full of set theory formulas, and then it was intentionally polemical, talking about how Badiou's work disproves Heidegger's 'oracular proferring' on technology (the phrase is from J-L. Nancy). The commentator, Jonathan Blair, caught the rhetorical gambit behind the paper (the insistence on the opposition of Badiou and Heidegger), and pointed out how in some ways Badiou does not get beyond some possible Heideggerian objections, and that at some point, a decision is behind their differences. Which is the set up I expected. But this kind of objection leads us to a different set of problems (which we didn't actually get to because chaos broke out during the Q & A that had very little to do with my paper).
The most important problem, I think, is that if a decision is the basis of ontological procedure, then ontology itself is a strategic discourse, and is not 'first philosophy.' I think the very problem is the idea of first philosophy itself; that rather than fetishizing the 'proper' beginning as securing philosophical discourse, we need to return a method of thinking totality in media res (which is why I'm not doing something like Derrida; in addition, this is going to have something to say about political economy...), without collapsing the distinction between philosophy and politics. One of the strong points of Badiou's philosophy is how he organizes a way of thinking that seeks to avoid the "passion of the real," which distinguishes his work from the 'oracular proferring' of Heidegger.