Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Schelling's Philosophy of Art in a Nutshell

Or, the most recent draft of the cover copy of my book:

Schelling is often thought to be a protean thinker whose work is difficult to approach or interpret. In Freedom and Nature in Schelling’s Philosophy of Art, Devin Zane Shaw shows that the philosophy of art is the guiding thread to understanding the relationships between three of Schelling’s original contributions to philosophy as they are expressed in his work from 1795-1810: his idea of freedom, his philosophy of nature, and his philosophy of art. Schelling’s idea of freedom is developed through a critique of the formalism of Kant’s and Fichte’s practical philosophies, and his nature-philosophy is developed to show how subjectivity and objectivity emerge from a common source in nature. The philosophy of art plays a dual role in the system. First, Schelling argues that artistic activity produces through the artwork a sensible realization of the ideas of philosophy. Second, he argues that artistic production creates the possibility of a new mythology that can overcome the socio-political divisions that structure the relationships between individuals and society. Shaw’s careful analysis shows how art, for Schelling, is the highest expression of human freedom.

Any suggestions? I'm sending it off by the end of the week. The final draft, which differs somewhat from this version, is here. See my posts on Schelling here (part one and part two).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

When Afghanistan Was On the Side of God and Freedom

People educated about Cold War politics know that the US supported Afghanistan (or certain groups opposed to communism in Afghanistan) in its struggle against the 1979 Soviet invasion of their country. It is still surreal to observe the way US leaders portrayed the war. Watching President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski tell Afghan resistance fighters that God is on their side remains ironic. President Ronald Reagan championing Afghan freedom juxtaposed to the advances of science and technology appears curious to viewers living in 2010. This seems unbelievable given the language that has emerged from the US government since the time of it invading Afghanistan in 2001. These videos reveal the meaninglessness behind politicians rhetoric in regards to wars and military occupations.

(I should mention that whoever edited the the clip with Zbigniew Brzezinski addresses the Afghans at the beginning as the Taliban. Most likely these are not Taliban fighters because the Taliban formed later in the 1990s.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On The Second Sex

"There is a good principle which has created order, light, and man, and a bad principle which has created chaos, darkness, and woman." ~Pythagoras

"All that has been written about women by men should be suspect, for men are both judges and interested parties."  ~Poullain de la Barre

So run the two epigrams to The Second Sex, which do not appear in H.M. Parshley's translation. Just as "It is clear that no woman can claim, without bad faith, to situate herself beyond her sex" is deleted from its rightful place after this passage:
Surely woman is, like man, a human being; but such a declaration is abstract. The fact is that every concrete human being is always a singular, separate individual. To decline to accept such notions as the eternal feminine, the black soul, the Jewish character, is not to deny that Jews, Negroes, women exist today – this denial does not represent a liberation for those concerned, but rather a flight from reality (p. xx).  
These omissions, and others (about 15% of the book by Toril Moi's estimation), along with Parshley's lack of command over the 'existentialist' vocabulary detract from such an important work of philosophy. Which is why many de Beauvoir scholars demanded a new, complete translation. In 2007, after years of resistance, the publishers of the English translation announced that a new translation would be forthcoming, and it appears that the news was received with caution. As Toril Moi writes, before the translation  had appeared, "The translators, Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevalier, are best known as cookery book writers. Let's hope they do justice to Beauvoir's masterpiece."

Now, in the London Review of Books, in an article entitled "The Adulteress Wife," Moi renders the verdict:
The best I can say about the new translation of The Second Sex is that it is unabridged, that some of the philosophical vocabulary is more consistent than in Parshley’s version, and that some sections (parts of ‘Myths’, for example), are better than others. The translators claim that their aim was to bring ‘into English the closest version possible of Simone de Beauvoir’s voice, expression and mind’. The ambition is laudable, but the result is what Nabokov, a great champion of literal translation, called ‘false literalism’ (as opposed to ‘absolute accuracy’). The obsessive literalism and countless errors make it no more reliable, and far less readable than Parshley.
Whenever I try to read Borde and Malovany-Chevallier’s translation like an ordinary reader, without constantly checking against the French, I feel as if I were reading underwater. Beauvoir’s French is lucid, powerful and elegantly phrased. Even in Parshley’s translation young women would devour The Second Sex, reading it night and day. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that with this version.
In her article, she proceeds through a long list of problems with the translation, which I will leave to the reader to explore (they still make me panic about my own translations that I rendered above on the fly...).

Why my interest? I teach de Beauvoir in my "Great Philosophers" class, and this task is rendered a bit more difficult by having to reconstruct her argument, and her philosophical terminology against Parshley's translation. It's not heartening to hear that the trade off of the new translation is that it renders this vocabulary more consistent at the price of readability. It's too bad, because the discussion of de Beauvoir's work often brings the class to life a bit, due to its relevance to contemporary life (which is both good and bad: good because her criticisms remain lively, astute, and, for some, empowering, but bad because many of the problems faced by women-- and others-- sixty years ago are still problems for women today).

I've been thinking of switching to a different text, from the "Introduction" to The Second Sex to something else, more than likely the Ethics of Ambiguity. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yukio Mishima, "Runaway Horses"

(Vintage International, 1990)

Runaway Horses is the second book of Mishima's "Sea of Fertility" tetralogy, in which a single character, over the course of his life, is confronted with three incarnations of a dead school friend. Mishima is generally regarded as one of twentieth century Japan's greatest authors, but his legacy has been troubled. It's well known that he formed a cartoonish ultranationalist militia bent on protecting the emperor, and that he met his end committing seppuku after a failed attempt to rouse a military garrison into a rightist coup. It's also well known that he practiced kendo, lifted weights, frequented gay bars, and liked to have glamour shots of himself taken in which, among other things, he posed as St. Sebastien. When Runaway Horses was written in 1969, Mishima was increasingly viewed as an embarrassing anachronism, if not a dangerous figure of the extreme right.

Let's call a spade a spade: Mishima was a fascist author, or at least he would have liked to have been one. In this respect, Runaway Horses reads at times as Mishima's political manifesto. The context of the novel is Japan in 1931-32. The main character is a young kendoist who forms an ultrnationalist league with his schoolmates. They plot to assassinate the country's leading capitalists and then commit seppuku, in a bid to restore full legislative and executive powers to the emperor. The young men are very "pure". In fact the word "purity" appears so many times in the novel that it becomes annoying and almost meaningless (though it's interesting to note that at times it seems to mean something like Dostoevsky's Underground Man's notion of gratuitousness). In fact, purity in the hands of the league seems to pass over into pure vanity. I never realized how boring, mincing and petty fascism can be.

The novel is still somewhat interesting, however, because in the end the main character passes over from ultranationalism to nihilism. I won't ruin it for you, but anyone with an interest in Mishima's own bizarre biography can look to Runaway Horses for a clue. As I've already suggested, Mishima would have liked to have been a fascist. But one senses that when marching around in military garb he was not being honest with himself, that there's really something else going on. Though the novel is long and largely boring, it does speak to the possibility of believing in things, of purity even, in late modernity. And I think its assessment is profoundly negative.

Happy reading?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Not in Our Name: Who are We? Who is Obama?

Today I'm tired and somewhat annoyed. US President Obama campaigned that he would bring change. Can we all agree he is a catastrophic disappointment? He did once talk about change in a convincing way, it looks like he changed his mind. The anti-war movement needs to come at Obama with the same anger that was meted out on former President George W. Bush. Obama's health care "reform," if it passes, will be making uninsured Americans forced to buy health insurance? Instead of better health care and greater access we will me under an even tighter grip by the insurance industry. The US government's problems go far beyond individuals in power. Corporate interests rule. I thought a short clip of the slam poet Saul Williams giving a "Pledge of Resistance" would be appropriate. It just needs to be updated.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Immanence and Atheism

I've been preparing, over the last month, for a talk I am giving at the University of Toledo on Deleuze and Spinoza. After finishing the penultimate draft of my MA thesis at the aforementioned university (in 2002; I defended in March 2003), I spent some time reading some of the more contemporary figures in French and Italian philosophy, which included Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and What is Philosophy? by Deleuze and Guattari. I thought it would be appropriate to return to some of them when I return to give a talk in Toledo.

The talk I am giving next week deals in part with what Deleuze* calls the 'plane of immanence.' He argues that philosophy is the creation of concepts, which has become somewhat of a motto for some Deleuzians, but what is more difficult is figuring out what he means by setting out, instituting, or tracing, a plane of immanence. There are several problems with the proliferation of his 'modes', as it were, of explaining immanence but I am going to leave them aside just to mention one of the compelling reasons in favor of his argument.

The third example of What is Philosophy? reorders the history of philosophy from the point of view of the institution of the plane of immanence. Much of this history becomes a refusal of thinking immanence in favor of contemplation (of the Object), reflection (of the Subject) and communication ('with' the Other); each of those capitalized nouns representing a figure of transcendence. According to Deleuze, these transcendent figures are  reappear in philosophy because they are illusions that arise on the plane of immanence. The decisive move is to attach the problem of immanence to the problem of the revaluation of values. The conceptual link gives us a clear way to assess why immanence has been rejected by so many philosophers,  and why so many have attacked the naturalism of Spinoza to 'save' freedom, because from the standpoint of transcendent values, all other values appear nihilistic, while from the standpoint of immanence, all transcendent values are illusory.

My question is whether or not 'immanence' is the best approach to talking about the philosophical commitments of atheism. An atheist cannot have recourse to supernatural or transcendent explanations or values, and I think immanence captures this. Nevertheless, it seems that Deleuze's plane of immanence neutralizes the divine name while keeping the image of the One-All. It's not even clear if Deleuze maintains a materialist position (this is something like Hallward's critique), so even Spinoza's naturalism might be more strict and more minimal that Deleuze's philosophy. Atheism and materialism reject transcendence, but which concepts are required to think immanence if the One-All won't work? While I can't go into it here, there are at least two options: contingency and inconsistency. Or even possibly the often rejected concepts of necessity or determination. In addition, no matter which concepts 'work', so to speak, there remains the question of relinking these conceptual questions to historical materialism.

*I am leaving aside Guattari, not because I think his approach should be separated from Deleuze's, but because I am also going to critique Deleuze's work on Spinoza. François Dosse's Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari, biographie croisée also claims that much of What is Philosophy? was written only by Deleuze (pp. 538-539).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Catharine Grant, "The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights"

(Between the Lines, 2006)

This May I'll be teaching a mini-university enrichment course to Ontario and Quebec students from grades 8 to 11. The course I've designed is called "Philosophy and Animal Rights". The students will be introduced to some basic questions and themes of philosophy by thinking about animals. Roughly, we'll look at metaphysics (is there an ontological disctinction between humans and animals? Is there an evolutionary ladder?), epistemology (how do we know what animals are thinking and feeling, if anything? How do we know what other people are thinking and feeling, for that matter?), and of course, ethics (where do right and wrong come from? Are there moral limits to what we can do to an animal? Are animals inherently valuable, valuable relative to human concerns, or both?). It should be said that I'm a vegan (with some freegan tendencies, to be sure!), so there is certainly a danger that this introduction to philosophy will turn into animal rights propaganda. But then I expect the students who chose this course over the others offered are already to some extent curious about or even committed to questions of animal rights. It should be interesting to see how these dynamics play themselves out.

In preparing for the course, I've found an invaluable resource in Toronto scholar and activist Catharine Grant's "The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights". The No-Nonsense Guides comprise a series which, though I haven't read them all, gives me an overall positive impression. Grant's contribution in particular is wonderfully succinct and, true to its title, no-nonsense. She gives a basic understanding of the distinction between animal welfare and animal rights views, the main moral arguments surrounding animal rights (i.e. Singer and Regan), and provides a wealth of information about the true costs, to animals, humans, and the environment, of the various animal industries. She also gives organic husbandry its due, though she flags it as problematic. Best of all, she argues that animal rights activism is neither necessarily the province of affluent Northerners, nor ignorant of interlocking systems of oppression. She takes an anti-corporate, arguably anti-capitalist stand against animal industries, and thereby situates the struggle against them with respect to wider struggles for social justice.

In short, Grant's book is excellent. Those who are curious about animal rights, but who don't have the time or energy to pore over such paving stone sized volumes as Regan's The Case for Animal Rights, need look no further.

Teaching Marx, Part 2

As I mentioned before, I spent a few days teaching Marx to my Great Philosophers class. The first day was dedicated to a bit of intended disorientation for them, while on the second, we looked at the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (here). I will spare you my notes, but I discussed how this text has an ambivalent place in many interpretations of Marx; while it provides a concise statement on historical materialism, it seems to veer toward a deterministic account of social change. The voluntarist side of Marxism, to which I incline, is often forced to reject Marx's strict distinction between base and superstructure, or to reject passages such as
No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the tasks itself arises only when the material conditions of its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.
Now, I feel fairly ambivalent about these kinds of passages, because while they seem to endorse an economic determinism, they also seem to support Marx's argument that changes that do not affect the base will not lead to liberation. However, by removing the subjective aspect of social struggle, they seem to describe better the transitions from one capitalist superpower to another: once one economic center's productive forces are fully developed and become an impediment to further development, another economic center takes its place. 

I have, nevertheless, started rethinking my take on the distinction between the base and the superstructure. This division is often criticized for making the superstructure (political, intellectual and social life) dependent on the economic base.

Unlike many of the other approaches that historicize social forms, historical materialism requires that these forms must be understood as embedded in capitalist and imperialist forms of social relationships. Furthermore, we ought to look at how the financialization of capitalism produces a failure of meaning in the transition from economic forms to forms of political struggle. By this I mean that radical political struggle, and radical philosophy, has not yet 'mapped' these new social relations and organized clear political demands to change these relationships, which is why so much of the critique of finance capitalism has focused on bankers or has demanded administrative solutions to financial crises. This is not enough.  As Christian Marazzi points out, in The Violence of Financial Capitalism, reform must start at the base. This means questioning assumptions about consumption, production, and investment in new ways. Marazzi argues that reform at the base ought to return the right of social ownership to the forefront of criticism. His specific example is the right to housing as a social right rather than a private right, but we could also add better financial access to education and intellectual commons, amongst other things.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reminder: CFP: The Future of Sartre's Critique

Just a reminder that the deadline for our call for papers for "The Futures of Sartre's Critique" is coming up. Here's the information (with an extended deadline):
In April 2010, The Notes Taken will be publishing a series of short reflections dedicated to the futures of Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason, to begin with the date of publication (for the first volume) given by Contat and Rybalka's Les écrits de Sartre, 6 April 1960. Being that we have a small set of dedicated writers, we have decided both to invite contributions and to extend a call for papers to our readership.
We are looking for contributions that focus on the later work of Sartre, including his work on colonialism, politics, Flaubert and, of course, the two volumes of the Critique of Dialectical Reason. The papers need not be formal, they need only to show clearly how Sartre's philosophy can contribute to rethinking radical and emancipatory politics.
The deadline is March 24th, 2010.
Authors are invited to send short papers (of no more than 1500 words) or proposals to Devin Zane Shaw (here) or The Notes Taken Review (here) The links are to the bio pages, which contain the email addresses). Please include a short contributor's bio.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nazim Hikmet: Marxist Turkish Poet Set to Music

In 2001 the famous Turkish pianist Fazil Say composed an orchestra piece titled "Nazim." Nazim Hikmet Ran was a Marxist Turkish poet that suffered much for his politics that he infused into his poetry. In 1938 he was arrested for inciting the Turkish military to revolt. Hikmet's sentence was twenty-eight years in prison. Turkish authorities stated that his poetry was inspiring subversion. By 1949 Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, and Jean-Paul Sartre, along with others, campaigned for Hikmet's release from prison. In 1950 Hikmet was set free. ( See Poems of Nazim Hikmet trans. Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk, New York: Persea Books, 2002, xiv,xv) Before his death Hikmet's life remained dangerous and turbulent while his poetry became more influential.

I have two clips from Say's "Nazim." The first is a powerful rendition of Hikmet's ability to have used art against US Imperialism and a corrupt Turkish state. The second video is from his internationally celebrated Kız Çocuğu (The Little Girl), otherwise known as "Hiroshima Child/Girl." This poem is about a dead girl after the atom-bomb that dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. The musical accompaniments Fazil Say uses make these powerful poems come to life.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teaching Marx

On Thursday morning, I start teaching Marx to my Great Philosophers course (I posted part of my introduction to the course here). Up to this point, we've covered Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Rousseau, but with Marx there is an important rupture. As Marx states in the 11th thesis on Feuerbach, "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it." Now, this doesn't tell the complete story of philosophy, because, to be fair, the German idealists recognized the changes and crises that accompanied industrialization. Nevertheless, if they did not view these crises as spiritual crises, they gave only an incomplete picture of what the historical determinations of thought were. As Marx states in the 'Introduction' to his Toward a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, the criticism of theology must become the criticism of politics. This turn had yet to be fully realized in either Schelling or Hegel.

More importantly, however, there are a series of questions that become comprehensible within philosophy only after Marx. These are the kind of questions that I start my first lecture with, and I am writing them out here because this format is allowing me to overcome the writer's block I was experiencing (and then I found the page in Michel Beaud's A History of Capitalism that I was searching for, that has a few of these questions). Usually I just ask these questions as I think of them, as I lecture, but I haven't been so sharp in the morning classes. Hence I need to write them down. Often I wonder if this are the first time that some of my students have thought about them, even if this won't be the last, because after Marx I teach de Beauvoir and, this semester, I've added Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism.

These are things we ought to be thinking about, and we ought to be seeking their cause in the capitalist relations of production, not in what I've called Anything But Capitalism (culture, modernity, etc.). These are questions of economic justice (so "Is it fair" = economic justice). 1a, 2a, and 3 are adapted from Michel Beaud, A History of Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2001: p. 310).

1a. Is it fair that the most important resources and effort of the world populace are directed toward the satisfaction of a minority of the planet's inhabitants (which I will call the global north, which includes the US, Canada, and Europe-- although China and India are very rapidly joining the most economically advanced part of the world economy), while a large majority lives tenuously and in destitution?

1b. Is it fair that the richest part of the world commands the social organization of a majority of the world's population, who often labor as providers of raw materials and producers of commercial goods at wages far below any acceptable standard in the Global North?

2a. Is it fair that satisfying the needs, for a few generations, of that proportion of humanity who possess purchasing power should threaten the resources and stability of our planet (its geopolitics and its ecology), to the point where interests of future generations are irreversibly harmed?

2b. Is it fair that the Global South must bear much of the cost of the industrial production already developed in the North?

3. Is it fair that choices which involve the future of the earth and human society should be abandoned to agencies that possess either a very restricted vision (a market or a slice of market) or a shortsighted vision (the expectation of a more or less short-term profit)?

4. Is it fair that just as the world gets smaller for us (travel is more available and less expensive) that the majority of the world's population is confined, for various reasons (poverty or legal restriction on travel), to their local areas? Does not the influx of tourist dollars reproduce the dependency of these economies on the post-colonial metropoles?

5. Finally, a local question for us. Is it fair that our institutionally established public goods are being privatized (or, forced to join the market) when it shifts the cost from society as a whole to individuals, and the benefit to private companies? Should public goods like health care or education be organized according to profit motive rather than toward generating social wealth?

Of course, I'm not going to answer these questions in my class, but I am going to show how Marx proposes that we can only grasp these questions by interpreting them through the lens of social antagonism.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sartre: "Between Existentialism and Marxism"

Though my areas of specialization are French philosophy, political philosophy and ethics, Sartre has until recently been something of an embarassing omission for me. After a few attempts with his literary works in undergrad, I neglected his thought until relatively recently. Hanging out with Devin and reading his Sartre-related blog entries has lit a fire under me, and I'm finally discovering the joys of Sartre - specifically, and because this is where my interests lie, I've flirted with the early stuff but have begun to engage in earnest with the Sartre of the Critique of Dialectical Reason. Depending on how you roll, the Critique is either Sartre's greatest work, a timely contribution to the question of praxis; or, you might agree with Foucault, Althusser, and other contemporaries who read it as an anachronistic and arguably "tailist" theoretical statement (to use an awkward but favourite Lenin neologism). Right or wrong, my initial impression is that Sartre has produced an essential reading in 20th century political thought, and I should not have put off reading it for so long.

Now, because I'm trying to wrap up a PhD thesis this year, work on the later Sartre has been a low priority and therefore slow going. Which is why I have found Verso's (2008) edition of Between Existentialism and Marxism to be a great primer or entering wedge. The question of introductions has come up numerous times on this blog, and here I'll reiterate that a good introduction is worth its weight in gold. The book in question is a collection of interviews, talks and essays that try to bridge Sartre's autonomous/literary/existentialist projects and concerns to his more engaged, Marx-inspired side. It's commonly known that Sartre both wanted communist approval, but could never bring himself to join the party; that he called for political engagement from intellectuals, but devoted perhaps an inordinate amount of time to literary biographies and the like; that finally, his very conception of an intellectual was to become troubled. All of that is here, and one gets a good sense of how these concerns developed. For would-be readers of the Critique, it's also nice to see Sartre moving towards, and in the wake of, the language and concepts of that greater work. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Between is the way in which Sartre, especially post-68, was able to articulate (but not solve!) some of the most important questions concerning spontaneity and party organization in late capitalism. As with any introduction, however, Between does not replace the work it introduces; ideally, it will help you get your bearings as regards the Critique. And once you've got a handle on that greater work, the introduction itself will likely appear to you in a new light.

If your curiosity has been piqued, I should mention that Verso's edition of the book is in the third set of their relatively affordable "Radical Thinkers" series. This is a good thing, if you're the consumer; by round three, Verso figured out how to make affordable books that don't fall apart in your hands on the first read.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Israel/Palestine Conflict in Music

Many Palestinian activists have made March 1st the start of "Israel Apartheid Week." Some critics of Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (along with horror regarding the siege of Gaza) are often uncomfortable referring to Israel as an Apartheid government. At times the South African Apartheid era is compared to what takes place within Israel against its non-Jewish citizens. However the comparison holds up, it is hard to argue that the Israeli government does not discriminate based on racial/ethnic/religious lines.

Interestingly, Israeli society produces cultural fusions that get played out in the conflict in unexpected ways. Israeli musicians consist of Jewish and Arab artists that can articulate their politcal concerns in Hebrew and Arabic. At times Jewish Israeli rappers use Arabic and Arab Israeli rappers use Hebrew. The Palestinian-Israeli hip hop artists from the group DAM grew up in Israel's town of Lod. DAM rapper Mahmoud Jreri addressed the irony of Israeli Arab life when he stated in an interview, "I speak better Hebrew than most Israelis and they [the Jewish Israeli right-wing] call to kick me out and we are native people." Jewish Israeli rapper Subliminal is known for ultra-nationalist lyrics and his total commitment to Jewish causes. He views Israel as a safe haven for Jews and feels they are under an existential threat from internal terrorism and hostile neighbors.

I am putting up two video's that are accompanied by English subtitles: One from DAM and the other from Subliminal. Both use a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic. DAM's piece is titled "Born Here" written in Hebrew and Subliminal's is "My Land/Country" writtin in Arabic. These songs are mainly in the Hebrew language.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Talking with Sartre

It's not often that somebody will recommend a philosophy book because it is "a lot of fun," but that's exactly how Bill Martin piqued my interest in John Gerassi's Talking with Sartre (Yale, 2009). And I must say that I agree with his verdict.

The book is comprised of a series of interviews from November 1970 to November 1974 that were intended to provide the basis for Gerassi's authorized biography. The first (and only) volume of the biography, Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century, got as far as the 1940s, and then stopped, leaving, of course, the rest of Sartre's century.

Talking with Sartre returns to the sources of the biography, which are Sartre's often unguarded conversations with Gerassi, who is the son of Fernando Gerassi, a militant, painter, and friend of Sartre. It begins with Sartre's recollections from his childhood and adolescent years, but quickly becomes a long conversation about politics, as Gerassi challenges and prods Sartre to explain the relationship between his work and his activism (and a few asides about Sartre's personal relationships with the various women around him). Gerassi, we can see, has a good time needling Sartre on his interminable work on the Flaubert volumes, and they argue repeatedly as to whether de Gaulle is the reactionary charlatan that Sartre says he is. Not surprisingly, for somebody who will eventually call Sartre the hated conscience of his century, Gerassi focuses on how Sartre's philosophy became politically committed toward collective organization. However, the discussion is less about theory than it is about activism. The book does not delve to far into Sartre's theory and its variations over time, but rather his biography. While I certainly enjoyed the book and found it fun, it is a bit short on the theory side.

The loosely chronological organization of the book takes on a narrative quality as the interviews draw to a close. I don't know how much this has to do with the editing (Gerassi mentions that he has moved some of the discussions around and omitted parts; it's an edited volume and not a critical edition...), but it is nevertheless of some interest. When the interviews begin, we see a post-1968 Sartre with full confidence in political change, that it is not so far in the future, but by the final interviews in late 1973 and 1974, both Gerassi and Sartre are much more prepared to take the long view of revolution rather than the immediate one. They start talking about theory again, about the coup in Chile, about the professionalization and the 'career oriented' transformation of the 1968 generation (and Gerassi voices repeated reservations about Benny Lévy/Pierre Victor). In general, they are trying to address the retreat of the left as a political force, which, in many ways, remains our own horizon. Gerassi's wager is that Sartre still has something to say to us as we seek to revive radicalism in order to confront the constant destruction of capitalism.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Off to Continuum...

Last week, I announced that Continuum is publishing a revised version of my dissertation as Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art, and today, I sent the penultimate draft to them. Two months of writing and revising, done. Now I've got another view months of clarifications and copy editing (and three conference presentations to write over the rest of 2010; but that's another story). However, at this moment, it's time for some rituals of closure. It's time to discard all the previous drafts, all those sheets of printer paper littering the apartment. It's time to take all the library books back to the office.

And then it's time to get back to the blog. I've haven't been writing much lately, which is probably understandable. But I've been keeping up, and watching the readership grow along with the work of Jason Smith (here's his latest review), Matt McLennan (his latest) and the occasional piece by Sean Moreland (one more link for his essay on Salinger). Last week, Joshua began posting choice youtube videos, a feature that I hope he will continue, putting one of his favorite hobbies to work. Before getting back to blogging in the next few days, however, I just wanted to say thanks to the other contributors for the quality work.