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.

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