Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Danzig Winter Solstice

There you were at Glenn Danzig's abode. You had finished the feast, and had been outside to observe his pet wolves. After numerous goblets of his beer, wine, and mead, which were brewed according to his favorite medieval recipes, the conversation plunged into a moment of silence. You were going to ask about a reference in one of your favorite songs--despite recalling that Samhain celebration when Riki Rachtman was banished for questioning the merits of the cinematic namesake of "Astro Zombies"--when Danzig invited you into his hallowed library.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On Not Apologizing for Christopher Hitchens

Before we pen any number of tributes to the late Christopher Hitchens, let us not forget that he spent at least the last decade fighting, often in the guise of atheistic polemics, for the spirit of American imperialism. Let us not forget that he could write on why women aren't funny while demonstrating that he didn't have much of a sense of humor, that he could write The Trial of Henry Kissenger but not notice that many of his arguments applied to Bush or Cheney, or that he made a big show about volunteering to be waterboarded just about the time he decided to jump ship on the Iraq War, rather than admitting that he had been wrong all along. A few years ago, I wrote:
It's a lot of work to recreate yourself from something like a Marxist, to G.W.Bush and war on terror advocate, to 'shoot-from-the-hip' atheist.
And if I was wrong about that characterization, I was mistaken on the part about effort: it was easier for Hitchens to recreate himself than it was for him to admit that he might have made an error in judgment concerning his stout endorsement of imperialism. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Travel Reading: Holiday Edition

(Or, 'On Convincing Myself to Travel Lightly')

I've written a few times on travel reading. Last time, I discussed a number of constraints involved:
there are numerous external limitations to what one can plan on reading: the size of one's luggage or carry on bag, the size of the books, the time of the flight, layovers, etc. Each has their own specific challenge. I find that if I fly early in the morning, or red-eye, novels are probably the best, but no James Joyce or David Foster Wallace. 
That post was for a trip to a conference. Since we're going to visit family, I would say that there are a few additional constraints, like the expected amount of time that family members will not be vying for your attention, subtracted by time visiting friends. Or, more importantly, the number of books on departure in relation to the number of books expected to be acquired at destination (or, at least in this case, in Berkeley and San Francisco). Due primarily to that latter point, I've narrowed this trip's selection to four books and on photocopied essay:
  • David Mitchell, Black Swan Green. Still working my way through Mitchell's novels, still not sure what I think about them, except that they are worthwhile enough that I will have read three of five.
  • Jacques Rancière, Short Voyages to the Land of the People. As you know, I'm writing a book on JR. If you're wondering why I chose this book for this trip, check the physical dimensions: 4.5 x 7 x .5 inches.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It's the Oxford World's Classics edition, so A Vindication of the Rights of Men and An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution are included as well. I'll be teaching MW in my 'Great Philosophers' course next semester, so I am brushing up on her work now (or so I hope).
  • Finally, two research selections for my paper with Sean Moreland, "Urged by Schelling": Edgar Allan Poe's Eureka (a critical edition),
  • and, a photocopy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "On the Prometheus of Aeschylus." I was writing about this essay this evening, and then I hit a wall, and now I'm blogging. If I don't get around to discussing it on a subsequent post, I'd like to underline that this essay deserves a place among the best of short essays in/on German idealism. It's not immediately clear, but on a second read, one discovers that Coleridge is continuing his conversation with Schelling's work, this time with the often-neglected Deities of Samothrace (1815).

A Stiegler Follow Up Post

Peter Gratton links to my review of Stiegler's For a New Critique of Political Economy and notes:
I would think Devin would question some of the Marxian categories he introduces–the task of some of his current work–but I think he brings them up not to say Stiegler is wrong because he’s fallen afoul of doctrinaire Marxism, but simply that if you’re going to critique Marx, you better get him right.
Discussing Marx--without becoming mired in the numerous debates over Marx and Marxist theory--in the forum of a book review can be challenging, especially in discussions of political economy, where it is quite easy to come off as dogmatic. Peter thankfully points out that this is not what I am doing. And yet, unfortunately, my recent work on Rancière and Marx has yet to see the light of day in published form, which means the reader sees the results of the work, and not the process of critique behind it. 

What I am trying to do, in the review of Stiegler, is discuss his work in relation to those aspects of Marx's thought that I think have (or should have) bearing on contemporary debates. If we're going to talk about political economy, then I think we have to talk about expropriation and class within capitalism, and if we're going to talk about neoliberalism, then--following David Harvey--I think it is necessary to discuss aspects of what he calls accumulation by dispossession. Especially if you're going to pay tribute the to the 150th anniversary of Marx's Contributions to a Critique of Political Economy (1859).

But I'm doing more in other parts of the review than using Marx as a heuristic device for criticizing Stiegler. So, when I bring up the distinction between objectification (Vergegenständlichung) and alienation or externalization (Entfremdung or Entäußerung) from the 1844 manuscripts, I'm taking the point very seriously. If you read Marx through French debates (post-Althusser or post-Foucault), the difference between objectification and alienation will not be on your map, as Althusser dismisses, as we all know, much of the early Marx as too humanist--not to mention that Marx's work was dismissed by Foucault as an anthropologizing discourse--think The Order of Things, the sand on the beach, etc. But I came to this problem through Lukacs, or I used to come at these problems after Althusser and Foucault, until Lukacs (and, since he doesn't get enough credit, Karl Korsch) convinced me otherwise.

That aside, I think one of the central problems of the Stiegler's and Agamben's of contemporary philosophy is to mistake the fact that humans produce things with alienation. That is, you make something, or, in Agamben's more extreme moments, use language, then you're already captured in an apparatus, and thus ultimately alienated. The distinction between objectification and alienation is to differentiate between humans mediating, through making things, their relations with each other and with nature, and a historically situated mode of production, capitalism, which expropriates so much of human activity. If you don't, you run the risk of bemoaning cellular phones as the worst and most ubiquitous of apparatuses.

But it's not just the Heideggerian approach that runs into trouble, there's a Sartrean version of the same problem, which causes trouble for Rancière: the question turns on what it means to activate and maintain egalitarian practices without them reifying into inegalitarian institutions. I'm still working this out, but I can say this question is the reason that the problem of objectification and alienation has become one of my concerns.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Review of Stiegler's "New" Critique of Political Economy

My review of Bernard Stiegler's For a New Critique of Political Economy is up on the CSCP website. I argue that
Despite his claim of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Marx’s Contributions to a Critique of Political Economy (1859), Stiegler does little more than replace Marx’s class analysis and revolutionary critique of capitalism with an analysis of how technology leads to short-term thinking.
While you are brushing up on Stiegler, don't forget to revisit a classic piece of criticism, Peter Gratton's review of Taking Care of Youth and the Generations on the NDPR.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Memo: The "S" Word

To: Joshua and all other interested parties
re: The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism (Verso, 2011)

Not so long ago-- before the #occupy movement, but still it was July-- you posted a short piece called "Every time the Left Sins God Sends Another Working-class American to the Tea Party." You argued that the American Left needed to appropriate the American history of radicalism and socialism without leaving it to the right:
Many Leftists articulate American working-class needs by using overly intellectual rhetoric. The Left does not need to dumb down information, just break it down. Many Leftists use other countries' revolutionaries and revolutions as symbols of liberation and outright ignore American equivalents. What about heroes of struggle such as Thomas Paine,John Brown, and Mary Harris "Mother" Jones? What about celebrating movements such as the BOSTON TEA PARTY?
Particular aspects of this kind of discussion always worry me, especially appeals to the War of Independence and the Tea Party. I wrote, in a comment:
We cannot, and should not, attempt to out-jingoize the Right (which isn't your point, but the issue could be lurking there). The radical left has a much stronger history with abolitionism, the IWW and union activism (Eugene V. Debs, anybody?), and the Harlem Renaissance, than the transfer of power from the British to American bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the symbolic reference points take on gravity from organization rather than the reverse.
Like I said, things were different then. While I never took the Tea Party seriously (which is much easier to do when you're not surrounded by it), that astro-turf bus tour has been quickly forgotten behind the strength of the Occupy movement. But that doesn't mean that our discussion has  become academic. What of the American history of socialism and radicalism?

It turns out we're not the only people thinking about it. John Nichols' The "S" Word  is an important re-examination of American socialism. The book is structured chronologically, with Chapter 2 dealing with Tom Paine, Chapter 3 with the abolitionism of Abraham Lincoln, Chapter 4 with the successes of socialist governance in Milwaukee, Chapter 5 with the anti-war movement during World War I, and Chapter 6 on the contributions of socialist thought and practice on the civil rights movement.

But let's not make any mistake. Chronological or not, the book opens with two chapters that ought to shame Republicans for their (mis-) appropriations of Thomas Paine or Abe Lincoln, who were much more open minded than contemporary Fox News conservatives, who proposed and considered ideas that were much more socialist than most Democrats would mull over today.

From there Nichols turns to the local electoral successes of socialists, primarily in Milwaukee. But his larger point is that many of the ideals we on the left work with have a much longer history than is commonly assumed.
There is nothing new, nothing "modern," about this understanding of the need to cross lines of race, creed, ethnicity and gender in order to make a fundamental change. Joseph Weydemeyer, the follower of Marx and Engels who advocated "true socialism," organized the American Workers League in 1853 with the stated purpose of uniting workers "without respect to occupation, language, color or sex" (179).
You read the number correctly: 1853. Nichols argues that avowed socialists have worked for over a century and a half toward transforming the lives of Americans against some of the most fierce political opposition (see the chapter on the opposition to World War I).

I don't want to carry on too long, given that this was supposed to be a short memo. Let me say a few more things in shorthand. The primary weakness of Nichols's book can be summarized like this: too much love for Edward Bernstein's followers, and not enough for John Brown. Meaning that Nichols heavily favors electoral action, and does not discuss what the historical significance of revolutionary violence, or non-statist political organization, might mean (which is in part understandable given that the right currently holds a monopoly on extra-state violence). Also, he makes numerous appeals to American socialism as an  American tradition and not just a foreign imposition--but we really need to be careful with this kind of rhetoric, for it appeals to many of the shared assumptions of a country built on settler colonialism (though Nichols does not ignore this issue; see p. 70).

However, these criticisms should not overshadow the merits of The "S" Word. Given that the first chapter and the afterword situate the history of socialism within contemporary debates, the book might just be the general starting point for reconsidering the history of American radicalism. Given that the Democrats have largely abandoned many of the concerns that allied them with the working class and the civil rights movement, in favor of a politics of progressive verbiage, it may well be, as Nichols writes, "that the only word of the left that still has any meaning is 'socialism.'"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two Unrelated Notes: Twitter and Radio

First, after holding out for however many years, I've created a twitter account, @devinzshaw, where you are sure to find concise observations on the ridiculous and the sublime in 140 characters.

Second, I will be spinning and talking jazz with Ed Staples on the Bew Cocky Salsa show on CKCU at 11pm tonight (update: EST, or here on the web). Timing is important because, from what I can tell, CKCU doesn't archive their shows.

CFP: German Idealism: Legacies and Controversies

Call for Abstracts


8th Annual De Philosophia Graduate Student Conference
University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario

6 - 7 April 2012

Keynote Speaker: Iain Macdonald, Université de Montréal

The conference organizers and the Graduate Philosophy Student Association at the University of Ottawa invite submissions relating to any aspect of German Idealism and its major representatives (Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, etc.). We are particularly interested in projects that explore various appropriations and critiques of this tradition since its height in the early nineteenth century. Our goal is to open up a space for creative engagement with key issues in German Idealism from a wide array of critical (and potentially divergent) perspectives. 

Possible approaches include (but are not limited to):
  • The historical and philosophical foundations of German Idealism
  • The status of Romanticism 
  • Marxian critiques of Hegel and the Left Hegelians 
  • Nietzschean rejections of ‘systematicity’ and dialectics 
  • Existentialism on freedom and transcendence  
  • Phenomenological concerns with corporeity and subjectivity 
  • Language, ideology, and ‘the ontological turn’ in hermeneutics  
  • The Frankfurt School critique of ‘identity philosophy’ 
  • Pragmatist, naturalist, and anti-metaphysical readings  
- French and English submissions welcome.
- Abstracts should be no longer than 350 words, prepared for blind review in .DOC or .PDF format.
- In a separate document, authors must include their name, institutional affiliation, e-mail address and the title of their submission.

Successful applicants must provide their completed essays (12-15 double-spaced pages for a 25-30 minute presentation) no later than 6 March 2012.

Deadline for Abstracts: 30 January 2012

Please send abstracts/inquiries to:


Appel à communications


8ième colloque annuel De Philosophia
Université d’Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario

Le 6 et 7 avril 2012

Conférencier plénier : Iain Macdonald, Université de Montréal

Pour son 8ième colloque annuel, les organisateurs de la conférence avec l’appui de l’Association des étudiants diplômés de l’Université d’Ottawa invitent la communauté estudiantine à une réflexion générale sur l’idéalisme allemand et ses représentants (Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, etc.). L’objectif est d’ouvrir un espace propice à une discussion sur les points marquants de cette tradition. Nous sommes particulièrement intéressés aux problèmes philosophiques touchant les appropriations et les critiques de la tradition de l’idéalisme allemand.

Est bienvenue toute proposition de communication abordant l’un ou l’autre des thèmes mentionnés ici.
  • Les fondements historiques et philosophiques de l’idéalisme allemand
  • Le mouvement romantique relativement à l’idéalisme allemand 
  • La critique marxiste 
  • La critique nietzschéenne des systèmes et de la dialectique 
  • L’existentialisme, la liberté et la transcendance 
  • Le problème phénoménologique de la subjectivité et du corps 
  • Langage, idéologie et le ‘tournant ontologique’ en herméneutique 
  • La critique de l’école de Francfort  
  • Les perspectives pragmatiques, naturalistes et anti-métaphysiques
- Les propositions sont acceptées en français ou en anglais.
- Aux fins d’évaluation, un résumé de 350 mots est nécessaire en format .DOC ou .PDF.
- Veuillez joindre un document dans lequel est inscrit le nom de l’auteur, l’affiliation institutionnelle, l’adresse courriel et le titre de la communication. 

Dates limites pour soumettre un résumé de sa proposition : Le 30 janvier 2012

Veuillez envoyer votre résumé (350 mots) à :

Les conférenciers sélectionnés devront soumettre le texte de leur communication (12 à 15 pages double interligne couvrant une communication de 25 à 30 minutes) au plus tard : Le 6 mars 2012.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dr.Strangelove, Iran, the US, and Israel

Today, Sunday December 4, Iran claims it has shot down a an unmanned American drone over its eastern territory. David Goldstein of McClatchy Newspapers reports:
The incident comes at a time of rising tension with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program. Tehran insists that the program will be only for domestic use, but Western nations and Israel, in particular, remain highly skeptical and worry that the true purpose is to develop nuclear weapons.
The real concern is not about Iran attacking the US or Israel. The issue is Iran being a nuclear big-shot just like Israel and the US. Israel is so concerned that they might attack Iran with or without US help or approval. The Israeli news source Haaretz shows how Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is drumming up for war. He publicly stated:
"Great statesmen as well as friends of the Jews and of Zionism" warned Ben-Gurion that declaring a Jewish state in 1948 would bring an invasion of Arab armies and a "grave and difficult battle", Netanyahu said.

"He understood full well the decision carried a heavy price, but he believed not making that decision had a heavier price," Netanyahu said. "We are all here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right moment.”
In other words, even though the US and some Israeli officials are telling him attacking Iran is a bad idea he still may do it. O what a dangerous political game. Who is advocating suicide bombing now?

Since US President Bush, several messages have been received by enemies of the US (and to some of its allies such as Israel). If a country does not possess weapons of mass destruction it can and will be invaded. Iraq knows best. If a country stops its nuclear program and cooperates with the US, along other Western powers, it can still get invaded and bombed. As Qaddafi of Libya learned the hard way. What Iran knows is that it may get attacked with or without nuclear weapons, but it most certainly will not get attacked if it does have them. This is why countries go nuclear. It is supposed to be a deterrent. It's a gamble. Every nation with these weapons of mass destruction play a risky game of "Russian" roulette. The ones that already have them can also get delusional. Netanyahu thinks he is Ben-Gurion ready to take risks and recreate Israel despite all odds. I refer him to Karl Marx's thoughts on Louis Bonaparte:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
Netanyahu is a farce. He acts as if he'll keep stability and peace in the region. It looks like he may set off another goddamned war.

I thought a clip from Stanley Kubrick's Dr.Strangelove(1964) would be quite fitting.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cartesian Egalitarianism: A Follow Up Post

In a comment on the previous post on Cartesian egalitarianism, Scu raised some important concerns, one that I address in the forthcoming essay, and one which was beyond the scope of the paper, but nevertheless important.

First, to the question of whether Cartesian egalitarianism has any value for anti-colonial or post-colonial theory and praxis, I cite a passage from Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism, which was in many ways the impetus for my reconsideration of Descartes. In this paper I only had a chance to mention this in passing:
Aimé Césaire, in his Discourse on Colonialism, invokes the principles of Cartesianism against the false universality of the colonial legacy (its science, politics, and sociology), which denigrates the non-European to the benefit and “glory” of Western bourgeois society. He argues that “the psychologists, sociologists et al., their views on ‘primitivism,’ their rigged investigations, their self-serving generalizations, their tendentious speculations, their insistence on the marginal, ‘separate’ character of non-whites” rest on “their barbaric repudiation, for the sake of the cause, of Descartes’s statement, the charter of universalism, that ‘reason…is found whole and entire in each man,’ and that ‘where individuals of the same species are concerned, there may be degrees in respect of their accidental qualities, but not in respect of their forms, or natures’” (56).
Second, about the problem of Descartes's account of animals. Here, I completely agree that Descartes is unhelpful and infuriating. But in reading through the replies and objections to the Meditations, I discovered that Pierre Gassendi might be a resource for considerations of the human/animal distinction (not just against Descartes, but against Aristotle as well):
You [Descartes] say that brutes lack reason. Well, of course they lack human reason, but they do not lack their own kind of reason. So it does not seem appropriate to call them ἄλογα [irrational] except by comparison with us or with our kind of reason; and in any case λόγος or reason seems to be a general term, which can be attributed to them no less than the cognitive faculty or internal sense (AT, VII: 270-271) .

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cartesian Egalitarianism

I am currently putting the finishing touches on an essay entitled "Cartesian Egalitarianism: From Poullain de la Barre to Rancière," which will be published in a forthcoming issue of Phaenex (their site). 

We do not typically consider Descartes an egalitarian. He is more often interpreted, in the post-Heideggerian tradition of philosophy, as an epochal figure of the modern destiny of metaphysics. On this account, Descartes introduces the metaphysical ground of technicity by dividing all beings between thinking subjects and objects of a calculable objective world. Or, following Antonio Negri, he is considered an architect of a “reasonable ideology” that expresses the class compromise constitutive of the formation of bourgeois class power after the 1620s: whereas Descartes formulates his philosophy as the production of human significance (and practical utility) in its separation from the world, the bourgeoisie affirms its position in civil society at the same time it accepts a temporary class compromise with absolutism (Negri, Political Descartes, 295-296).

I argue that Descartes's legacy cannot be reduced to either of these interpretations, that there is something more to his philosophy.

As of late, both Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek have laid claim to the legacy of the Cartesian subject, but their appropriation is largely programmatic (Zizek, in fact, is more interested in the Kantian/Hegelian subject; and Badiou the use of mathematics to reconceptualize ontology).

With Rancière (just as, I would argue, François Poullain de la Barre and Simone de Beauvoir), the discussion of the Cartesian subject has a specific content: equality. Cartesian egalitarianism pursues the consequences of Descartes's supposition, found in the Discourse on Method, that reason is equally distributed to all human beings (looking, of course, past the ironic posturing of the first sentence):
Good sense (bon sens) is the best distributed (partagée) thing in the world: for everyone thinks himself so well endowed with it that even those who are the hardest to please in everything else do not usually desire more of it than they possess. In this it is unlikely that everyone is mistaken. It indicates rather that the power of judging well and of distinguishing the true from the false—which is what we properly call ‘good sense’ or ‘reason’—is naturally equal in all men, and consequently that the diversity of our opinions does not arise because some of us are more reasonable than others but solely because we direct our thoughts along different paths and do not attend to the same things. (AT, VI: 1-2)
This claim, that good sense or reason is equal in all human beings, is fundamental to later Cartesian egalitarians, beginning with Poullain de la Barre. Here's Rancière's gloss of the way that Poullain and Jacotot take up this passage: “there are not several manners of being intelligent, no distribution between two forms of intelligence, and then between two forms of humanity. The equality of intelligences is first the equality of intelligence itself in all of its operations” ("L’actualité du Maître ignorant,” 412-413).

As I said, I'm still putting the finishing touches on the essay, so I can't get into all the details here (or else why would you read the article when it is finally published?). I can provide what I take to be the conditions necessary to count a thinker as a Cartesian egalitarian, as I've given them in the abstract (slightly edited here): 
I present an overview of what I call “Cartesian egalitarianism,” a current of political thought that runs from François Poullain de la Barre, through Simone de Beauvoir, to Jacques Rancière. The impetus for this egalitarianism, I argue, is derived from Descartes’s supposition that “good sense” or “reason” is equally distributed among all people. Although Descartes himself limits the egalitarian import of this supposition [restricting the import to the evaluation of epistemological and metaphysical claims], I claim that we can nevertheless identify three features of this subsequent tradition or tendency. First, Cartesian egalitarians think political agency as a practice of subjectivity. Second, they share the supposition that there is an equality of intelligences and abilities shared by all human beings. Third, these thinkers conceptualize politics as a processing of a wrong, meaning that politics initiates new practices through which those who were previously oppressed assert themselves as self-determining political subjects.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

No! Not THAT Other!

Scu (here) and Peter Gratton (here) have opened a discussion about Levinas' concept of the other, specifically regarding the problem of alterity and the human/animal distinction. Peter does a good job summarizing a basic problem with Levinas' account:
He wants to say both that the Other as such is wholly other, unique, and non-subsumable under a form of knowledge, and he wants to say the other is human. But there is no a priori rule one can put into place, given his radical claims for alterity, that would have one always already identify otherness as human, as non-animal, and so on.
In fact, I think it's surprising that more people working on the concept of the other don't acknowledge how conservative Levinas' account is (even after Beauvoir points out how he utilizes the 'Feminine is the other' trope...). Nor is enough attention paid to a very concrete ethical failure (included in The Levinas Reader, on page 294), Levinas' response to Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon. From an interview on September 28, 1982:
[Shlomo Malka]: Emmanuel Levinas, you are the philosopher of the 'other.' Isn't history, isn't politics the very site of the encounter with the 'other,' and for the Israeli, isn't the 'other' above all the Palestinian? 
[Levinas]: My definition of the other is completely different. The other is the neighbour, who is not necessarily kin, but who can be. And in that sense, if you're for the other, you're for the neighbour. But if your neighbour attacks another neighbour or treats him unjustly, what can you do? Then alterity takes on another character, in alterity we can find an enemy, or at least then we are faced with the problem of knowing who is right and who is wrong, who is just and who is unjust. There are people who are wrong.
That's a rather circuitous route to say, 'no, that's not the alterity I am talking about,' but I suppose that Levinas didn't want to admit that his concept of the other is not so radical after all. And to think that the volume's editor commends the interview for "its rigour and clarity."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Obama and US Military in Australia

Nobel Peace Prize winner US President Obama continues to rival former US President Bush in maintaining and expanding US Empire. The US will be committing it's military presence to Australia. According to the news agency Reuters:
The U.S. deployment to Australia, the largest since World War Two, will start next year with a company of 200-250 marines in Darwin...

A total of 2,500 U.S. troops would eventually rotate through the port city. The United States will bring in ships, aircraft and vehicles, as well as increase military training.
For what purpose? The Chinese see this as a provocation. What is certain is that the US views itself as the necessary leader to be involved in economic and political affairs throughout the region. The same article continues:
China claims the entire maritime region, a vital commercial shipping route rich in oil, minerals and fishery resources. It insists that any disputes be resolved through bilateral talks and says Washington has no business getting involved.

"The United States is also trying to get involved in a number of regional maritime disputes, some of which concern China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," a commentary from China's official Xinhua news agency said.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei hold rivals claims to at least parts of the sea and tension occasionally flares up into maritime stand-offs.

Obama will make an "anchor speech" outlining the U.S. vision for the Asia-Pacific to the Australian parliament on Thursday before a whistle stop in Darwin. He then flies to the Indonesian island of Bali for the East Asia summit.
So here we have it, the US is overtly the official policeman of the world. While the US economy sinks there will be plenty of US Navy ships keeping float: less bread for more iron and steel. I thought this kind of distorted sense of priorities is what the North Korean government has been accused of doing. I forgot, Kim Jong-il never got the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Derrida and Realism

We've been blogging here at The Notes Taken for several years now, and our contributors have yet to thematically discuss (as I discovered as I was tagging this post) either speculative realism or Jacques Derrida. Both subjects, in a way, have been outside of my range of concerns, even if I occasionally try to keep current on them (bloggingly speaking).* I did, at the recent CSCP conference, mention to Michael of Complete Lies that despite my interest in Quentin Meillassoux, I ultimately find QM to be too Althusserian for my tastes (though let me add: this may sound dismissive, but this a discussion I'd like to engage in more depth later). And I have not read any non-blog writings of the others: Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, or Tim Morton.

At some point last year, they circled the wagons during a period of a few days that many of us know as the Derrida Wars. And I don't want to rehash that debate, but I do want to mention that the issue--roughly, could Derrida be a realist?-- has resurfaced recently. Which leads me to an great post by Peter Gratton on Derrida's Of Grammatology. If you do the SR thing, then you might just find a strong challenge to the typical SR dismissal of Derrida, and if you don't, Peter has at least proposed a number of reasons as to why we should reconsider Derrida's work, in a way (this post has style, that's for sure) that makes Of Grammatology sound a little less forbidding than usual (I mean that as a compliment, since Peter's work on Derrida talked me in to rereading the latter). Here's the main point:
This isn’t to defend Derrida just for the sake of defending Derrida, but it’s to point out that if one wants to critique correlationism (the idea that what is real must be indexed back to the conscious subject, an argument that entails the correlate that what is most real is the consciousness of self, since in the self relation there is not even the distance of a correlation) or the political effects of an idea of nature, well Of Grammatology is a good place to begin.
The latter issue--the political effects of an idea of nature--my guess is that Peter's forthcoming The State of Sovereignty has something to say about that.

The Lone Footnote
*Since I wrote a book on Schelling, the reader might wonder how I would not be concerned with Iain Hamilton Grant's work. To which I respond: I don't consider Grant to be advocating realism alone but a type of Schellingian idealism-realism.

As for Derrida, I would like to work through the Beast and the Sovereign lectures someday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Democracy's Reconstruction

As part of my self-education in Africana philosophy, I've taken to teaching portions of W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk in my introductory courses in philosophy. Since I've been keeping  note of these things: in the NDPR, Frank M. Kirkland reviews Lawrie Balfour's Democracy's Reconstruction: Thinking Politically with W.E.B. Du Bois. Kirkland highlights the continuing relevance of Du Bois' political thought, including his critique of the "American Assumption":
Du Bois does not, for Balfour, historically retrieve the past for the sake of salvaging it, but does so for the sake of delivering it from a stupor and a void threatening to deprive it of any novel role it could assume in a future-oriented present. And she sees the expansion of democracy as requiring a future-oriented present that is at the same time historically redemptive of its past in the fashion just described.
Balfour's example for this point is Du Bois' critique of what he calls in his Black Reconstruction the "American Assumption." This "assumption" is the conviction that affluence is the successful outcome of one's hard work alone and can be the result of each and every one's own effort. It first emerged in conjunction with "King Cotton" predicated on slave labor. The assumption has, however, never been pertinent to the material lives of most Americans. But it subsequently grew steadily in the minds of most of them, steadily separating generations from the wrong of slavery and steadily affirmed that those who profited from that wrong bore no responsibility for it. In effect, Americans have carried this belief in the ethic of individualism and hard work to the current day, despite its longstanding irrelevance to their material lives and despite the fact that it was and continues to be sustained racially (notwithstanding the line of African-Americans running from Booker T. Washington through Herman Cain affirming it) as well as by class.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CFP: Radical Philosophy Association

  What is Radical Philosophy Today?
Canisius College, Buffalo, New York

October 11-14, 2012
Call for Papers
The Radical Philosophy Association Conference Program Committee invites submissions of talks, papers, workshops, roundtable discussions, posters, and other kinds of conference contributions for its tenth biennial conference, to be held at the Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, October 11-14, 2012.

In the spirit of collaboration, and in the recognition that radical philosophy is often done outside traditional philosophical settings, we invite submissions not only from philosophers inside and outside the academy, but also from those who engage in theoretical and/or activist work in other academic disciplines – such as ethnic studies, women’s studies, social sciences, and literary studies – and from those engaged in theoretical and/or activist work unconnected to the academy.

We especially welcome contributions from those often excluded from or marginalized in philosophy, including persons of Africana, Latin American (Americana), Indigenous, or Asian descent or traditions, glbt persons, persons with disabilities, poor and working class persons.

Conference Theme
What is Radical Philosophy Today? The adjective “radical” is used in many different ways politically and philosophically. It is especially important to explore some of these various meanings as the Radical Philosophy Association looks back on thirty years of intellectual and political activism and advocacy on behalf of justice and liberation and forward to the future through and beyond our current crises.

It seems to many that the world faces several deep problems. How does specifically “radical” philosophy help us to understand and address them? For example, capitalism demands and enforces increasing gaps between the wealthy and the middle class and the poor worldwide. Oppressive systems of class, race, gender, heteronormativity, and able-bodiedness continue to function, defining people and their lives in harmful and de-humanizing ways. Violence continues to deform people’s lives and possibilities by permeating our everyday experience and invading our consciousness, making us both less aware of it and thus more accepting of it. 

For these reasons and many more, we invite submissions that answer (or raise) questions about the nature of radical philosophy and its roles in understanding and responding to current crises. 
  • What is radical theory? How can radical theory be made more effective in responding to crises? What philosophies/philosophers are radical?
  • What is radical practice? What does one have to do/be to be radical? Is being radical important? Do some forms of radical practice need to be criticized?
  • What is radical identity? How does one think radically about identities of race, gender, nationality, citizenship, able-bodiedness, sexuality, etc.? What constitutes a radical identity? How do individuals in groups historically labeled or excluded by race, gender, nationality, etc., redefine, refute, or revolt against the western histories of those categories?
  • What radical responses are needed to address the crises in economics worldwide? What place does class (and class analysis) have in discussions of radical ideas, radical politics, or radical critiques of the political economy? How does one radically rethink the concept of class in light of current crises?
  • How does one think radically about democracy or statehood/nationhood? What is radical political engagement? What does radical philosophy have to say about current protest movements in the US and worldwide?
  • What is radical art, radical expression, a radical style? How can such aesthetic categories and concerns contribute to changing/transforming the world?
  • What is radical pedagogy? How can teachers help to radically change the world in positive ways?
We thus invite submissions for the Tenth Biennial Conference of the Radical Philosophy Association: “What is Radical Philosophy Today?”

In keeping with the spirit of radical thinking embodied by the RPA, we encourage submissions that employ formats and media that challenge the standard conference presentation. For instance, we urge presenters to use formats that allow for greater interaction between participants and audience (e.g. presenting an outline, rather than reading a paper) and that emphasize collective inquiry (e.g. organizing a workshop).

Please note that participants will be selected for at most one presentation (talk, workshop, poster session, etc.) during the conference; submissions should be presented with this in mind. (This limit does not include chairing sessions.)

Please submit all the information requested:

For an individual talk/paper/workshop/poster/performance or other type of individual presentation:
  1. Name, address, email, affiliation (independent scholar, activist, educator, etc.), of presenter
  2. Nature (talk, workshop, etc.) and title of proposal
  3. Abstract of 250-500 words
  4. Equipment needs
For a group panel/workshop/poster/performance or other type of group presentation (note: maximum three panel participants not including chair):
  1. Name, address, email, affiliation of the group’s contact person and of each participant
  2. Nature (panel, workshop, etc.) and title of proposal
  3. Abstract of 250-500 words for group proposal
  4. Titles and abstracts of 250-500 words for each paper (if applicable)
  5. Equipment needs
Panel chairs: If you would be willing to serve as a panel session chair, please indicate this on your submission form. Session chairs are responsible for introducing participants in panel sessions and ensuring that each presenter gets her or his fair share of the available time.

Mailing Address for Submissions:

Please submit paper, workshop, poster, and other proposals as an email attachment (.doc) to  NOTE: Please do NOT submit complete papers.


For further information, contact members of the Program Committee:
Melissa Burchard: mburchar[at] (chair)
Tommy Curry: t-curry[at]
Gertrude Postl postlg[at]
Devin Shaw: devinzshaw[at]
Sarah Tyson: sarah.tyson[at]
Scott Zeman: scott.zeman[at]

The local organizer of the conference is Tanya Loughead:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

War Veterans and the Occupy Wall Street Protest

I wanted to post the youtube covered by Reuters but the embed is disabled. I decided to post the clip's link. I think the war vets speak well for themselves. With much emotion a young man that served as a US soldier in Iraq chants with other vets: "This is the only occupation I believe in."

See this link:

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Occupy Movement and Property Damage

Voyou has a good post (here) on the so-called political consequences of property damage in Oakland (I've said my piece about property damage and police violence here):
Liberals complain about property damage during the various marches and actions, but they’re quick to add that it is not they themselves who are disturbed or offended; rather, they are concerned about the effect this property damage will have on others, particularly the cops who will react violently and the media who will focus on images of destruction to the exclusion of whatever else the demonstration achieved. The liberal’s position here is perverse in the Lacanian sense: it expresses itself not as an actual desire, but as a desire to be the instrument of the desire of some fantasized other. Part of what supports this disavowed desire is that the objection to property damage can present itself as neutral, even expert, strategic advice. It’s bad strategic advice, though, and I think in a revealing way...
See that ellipsis? Keep reading  HERE.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Left Field Line

As if one blog was not enough, I've started writing about baseball over at The Left Field Line--more specifically, the San Francisco Giants. Things won't exactly get started until March or April of 2012, but lately I've been recapping the 2011 season. When, over the summer, I wasn't working on my essay about what I've called "Cartesian egalitarianism," I was watching baseball. Next season, I'll be writing about it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Middle East and North African Revolutions Continued

There are many revolutionary events in the Middle East and North Africa. This year has seen the beginnings of what is often called the "Arab Spring." I am posting a 60 Minutes episode on the recap of the Tunisia revolution sparked by the self emulation of Mohamed Bouazizi. This also shows the role of Facebook in the Tunisia revolution. The second video is from Link TV and shows several news clips from various media outlets covering these regions. It starts with discussing the first historic elections in Tunisia since the overthrow of the dictatorship.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Death of Muammar Gaddafi and Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud: A Tale of Two Obituaries

Commentaries on the death of Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (of Saudi Arabia) sharply contrasts with that of the death of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. US/NATO just had to help the people of Libya against his evil rule. We all know how crazy Gaddafi was. He had virgin female body guards, funded international terrorism, claimed he was not the leader of Libya while functioning as absolute leader of Libya, killed his own people and constantly said outrageous statements. This is the standard analysis given regarding Gaddafi's legacy. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud was a wise monarch that prudently built up his country militarily: a good statesman in fact.

Even Al Jazeera favors the late crown prince over Gaddafi. I once read on my former professor As'ad AbuKhalil's blog site (the Angry Arab) an interesting observation. He pointed out that Al Jazeera generally has made severe statements about regimes facing revolutions in Arab republics and near silence, or less severe criticism, towards Arab monarchies. This makes sense understanding that Al Jazeera is located in monarchical Qatar. Al Jazeera wrote this a month ago:
Calling themselves the 'Friends of Libya,' 63 world leaders met in Paris on Thursday to discuss the country's future.

Among them, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Al-Thani admits that Muammar Gaddafi could not have been toppled without NATO, but he did point out the Arab League could have done more.

Qatar was the first Arab nation to support the allied forces and send its jets into Libya; a move praised by Western leaders who said the intervention was a turning point for the region.
Oh!I forgot to mention the Emir's monetary donations to Al Jazeera. This may have added a little bias.

It is notable that France, Britain and the US intervened to topple Gaddafi and simultaneously continue to sell so many weapons to Saudi Arabia. Trevor Mostyn of The Guardian writes:
Sultan created a massive military establishment in Saudi Arabia through arms purchases from the US, the UK and France. He built military cities, largely with US support. However, the massive British-supported defence programme was also crucial.
Telling is also the media silence about what Saudi Arabia does with their military aid in places such as Bahrain.

Was Gaddafi more "crazy" and tyrannical than the current Saudi Arabian Wahhabi rule overseen by the late Sultan? In 2002 The Guardian wrote a story on the more "sane" Saudi kingdom:
Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers...One witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".

The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".

The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.

"Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," the newspaper concluded.
I don't see US/NATO zooming in to help Saudi girls anytime soon. Of course it is not clear how NATO's "help" will really help the new Libya just yet. I send all my hopes and wishes to the Libyan people in this post-Qaddafi era and to the Saudis in their continued Wahhabist one.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rancière's Latest: "Aisthesis"

Many different factors play into how a person chooses his or her dissertation topic. When I began my PhD studies, I figured that I would be writing something on recent French philosophy. I had, in the previous few years, been reading lots of Badiou, Agamben, Lacan, and others. And then, in early 2005, I decided to write a dissertation on Schelling's philosophy of art. Not much had been written on the topic, nor, for that matter, on Schelling in general. I don't even know if I had thought about it in those terms--at most, I must have still been in that phase where reading Schelling was one of  the more unique (and sometimes more bizarre) experiences I had had in studying French and German philosophy (not to say that this experience no longer happens...). The project would also give me a chance to read up on Kant, Spinoza (and then, to my chagrin, Jacobi), Fichte, and Hegel, and work on my German.

Over the years, explaining my decision would remain a complex task (this ended, incidentally, when I published the book), especially if the person asking knew that I went in thinking about French philosophy. Eventually, I started telling these people that the best reason to work on a historical figure is that he or she would never publish anything new while you were trying to finish your dissertation: so if Schelling leapt out of his grave and presented a new system, we'd have bigger problems than my dissertation.

Since I've been working on Rancière, this joke was the first thing I thought of, when I discovered that he's recently published a new book on the aesthetic regime of art, entitled Aisthesis (Galilée, 2011).

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Nothingness of Equality

I've been putting the finishing touches on an essay that ought to see the light of day sometime in 2012 (it has already been accepted for publication). If you were in Montréal last April at the Sartre Society conference, you've already heard parts of it. If everything works like I want it to, it will eventually form part of a chapter in my book on Jacques Rancière. Here's an abstract of what you have to look forward to:

The Nothingness of Equality: The ‘Sartrean Existentialism’ of Jacques Rancière 

I propose a mutually constructive reading of the work of Jacques Rancière and Jean-Paul Sartre. On the one hand, I argue that Rancière’s egalitarian political thought owes several important conceptual debts to Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, especially in his use of the concepts of freedom, contingency, and facticity. These concepts play a dual role in Rancière’s thought. First, he appropriates them to show how the formation of subjectivity through freedom is a dynamic that introduces new ways of speaking, being, and doing, instead of being a mode of assuming an established identity. Second, Rancière uses these concepts to demonstrate the contingency of any situation or social order, a contingency that is the possibility of egalitarian praxis. On the other hand, I also argue that reading Sartre with Rancière makes possible the reconstruction of Sartre’s project within the horizon of freedom and equality rather than that of authenticity.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Does the Occupy Wall Street Movement Stand For?

There is this ridiculous chorus about how the Occupy Wall Street movement needs to define itself. For the sake of argument I'll define it right now. Know anyone out of work or underemployed? Know anyone that has lost a home or is struggling to pay their mortgage? Know anyone that is in debt over medical bills and college loans? Those of us lucky enough to still have work or a home may lose both soon. When we do, we know where to find our next residence. Some people talk about taking responsibility for our own actions. Translation: let everyone fend for themselves. Then fend we will! I think the reason some elites are lending public verbal sympathy to the protests is because they know the ironies that come with getting what you ask for.

Why aren't the Tea Party folks joining or lending support? They are the ones that claimed the bank bailouts were evil in songs and media clips early on. I challenge the Tea Party people to come join. If they don't like hippies and the smell of patchouli then let them set up separate camps with large flags and mediocre country musicians. While their at it they should ask the Koch brothers to fund rows of portable latrines. I also invite all the vets to come join. Bush and Obama ask/ed you to occupy other countries. It is time for you to occupy your own. After all you have been through (and I mean this sincerely with all my heart) I know it is wrong to ask you to mingle with not-so-talented musicians and rank patchouli smells, but your country needs you.

I am writing this while in a state of depression. So many things deep within my heart are burning inside me. I will admit that I have been staying at home and working. I have not went out in the streets yet. My own story is personal. The struggles of other individuals (especially in other countries) are worse. Some things are just subjective but others are not. The way our world "works" really does matter. I have a friend that has tried to kill himself twice due to what happened while he served in Afghanistan. He struggled to get health care and a steady job. The majority of people that will meet him will not know this part of his life. He knows many many comrades that also suffer in silence. The economic system and militaristic state of affairs is a state of international decay, spiritual decay. When I say "spiritual" I mean our sense of values about life.

So, what does the Occupy Wall Street movement stand for? The Occupy Wall Street movement stands for an elevated value of life.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

A CSCP Roundup

Over the previous weekend I attended this year's meeting of Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy in St. John's, Newfoundland. Which brought with it a number of firsts, including the first time I had participated in a CSCP conference, and first time I had traveled that far east--at one point I visited Cape Spear--in North America. I found the locals--the organizers and participants from Memorial University--and the CSCP committee to be a welcoming and hospitable bunch, and most importantly, I left the conference feeling that I wanted to dive into more:  more reading, more writing. A paper here, a book review there, and an abstract for the first annual SSNA meeting.

The conference ended, on Saturday night, with a panel on the 'Theological-Political Schelling,' featuring papers by Joseph Carew and myself with Sean McGrath and James Bradley of Memorial. Sean likes to say that one of the great benefits of Schelling research is that everybody has their own favored 'period' of his thought, which means a plurality of Schellings (Sean's comment is actually wittier), and this panel was no exception.

Nevertheless, it stands out in my mind as the first time that an important conference event (for instance, a concluding panel on a Saturday night) that I had participated in, at a big tent thing like the CSCP, was oriented around Schelling. It, of course, is not the first time for others, but it provided a stark contrast with those three years during which I was writing my dissertation and later book. During that time, I don't think I ever gave a paper at a conference that had more than one paper on Schelling. This sounds like a complaint, but I would like to stress that it seems that Schelling has slowly become a more prominent figure for those who are interested in German idealism in particular (recall that many of these scholars still say 'German idealism' and mean "Kant or Hegel maybe Fichte") and 'continental' philosophy in general. Until the CSCP I had never received that impression.

Before closing, I must thank Peter Gratton for his hospitality during my stay in St. John's, and also the APTPUO (the part-timer's union at the University of Ottawa) for funding my travel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

CFP: Schelling Society of North America



The SSNA is open to anyone who conducts research on Schelling and Schellingian philosophy in the English language. The SSNA mission is to (1) further research in English, both historical and systematic, on Schelling and related figures (eg., Boehme, Oetinger, Baader, Fichte, Novalis, Hölderlin, Schubert, early Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Oken, Fechner, Coleridge, Bradley, Peirce); (2) organize a stand-alone Schelling conference every other year at a North American University, with proceedings published online, and the best papers published every four years with an academic press; (3) gather data concerning current graduate research in English on Schelling; (4) coordinate translation projects of Schelling into English.

JASON WIRTH (wirthj[at] AND 
SEAN McGRATH (sjoseph.mcgrath[at] 
by 15 JANUARY 2012.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Malalai Joya on the Past Decade of War in Afghanistan

Since the events of 9/11, terrorism and women’s rights violations have been used to support a decade long war and occupation of Afghanistan. In this short video, Malalai Joya writer, activist and former parliamentarian in the national assembly of Afghanistan – successfully highlights the obscenity, greed and absurdity of the war in Afghanistan. Who can ignore that the human rights violations perpetrated by armed forces are motivated by economic gain and strategic foreign policy in Asia? Joya denounces the Obama administration for increasing the death tolls, heightening violence and violating the human rights of Afghans. On the 10th anniversary of NATO’s war in her country, she asks us to speak up to end the occupation of Afghanistan by military troops and to protest to grant Afghans the right to self-determination. In the words of Joya: “…democracy never comes by military invasion, democracy without independence and justice is meaningless.”

Long live freedom and down with occupation!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jason Wirth Reviews "Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art"

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has published a review by Jason M. Wirth of my Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art. Read it (HERE) and you will find that Wirth concludes:
Shaw has given us a thoughtful retrieval of the problem of art that invites us into the epicenter of Schelling's project.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Sci-Fi Flowchart

I've been working on my presentation for the CSCP over the past few days, at least when I'm not at that hourly wage job that I've got. It's a busy week, but I'm not about to let by the recently published SF Signal's flowchart guide for NPR's list of the Top 100 science fiction and fantasy books. From SF Signal (see here, and the interactive version is here):

Thanks to Caroline for pointing this out.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

President Eisenhower and Anwar al-Awlaki: The Death of the US Citizen

Anwar al-Awlaki, accused of terrorism, has recently been assassinated by the US government from a drone strike in Yemen. Unlike Osama bin Laden, al-Awlaki was a US citizen. Some say his annihilation was a blow to al-Qaeda, others say it was a blow to US democracy and civil rights. Obama has set a new standard for US presidents: The US president is now the judge, the jury and the executioner. But this is Obama, not Bush, so I guess I should feel better. Trials are tedious after all. We are safer now right? Ironically al-Awlaki became anti-American because he thought US foreign policy was terrorizing Muslims. This so-called war on terror has a way of keeping momentum on all sides.

I was contemplating what video clip I wanted to show. I thought a clip from Republican President Eisenhower's farewell speech would be appropriate. He warned of the abuse of power tied to the growth of the US military complex. This is no conspiracy theory. The only conspiracy is that more Americans have not seen or heard him say what he said. This is the same man that helped crush the US veterans protesting in front of the White House (1932) while Hoover was president, that fought the Germans in WWII, and set in motion the overthrowing of democracy in Iran (Operation Ajax: 1953). He was no peacenik and was not leery of using covert operations. Eisenhower's own legacy makes his parting words all the more eery.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Patrik Ourednik's "Europeana"

Patrik Ourednik's Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (Dalkey Archive, 2005) is an unusual book. It's not quite a brief history of the 20th century, and it's not quite a novel. However, it does discuss the 20th century, and it is told by an unreliable narrator, who sometimes jumbles disparate topics and misreports events.

In fact, this book is all about the narrator, and the rhetoric of the narrator, which is dispassionate, detached, and more concerned (if we could even say "concerned") with accounting for the century in statistics and numbers than recounting a story of the century. I think it's necessary as well to say "the narrator" rather than "Ourednik" because I don't think that the book provides any clue into Ourednik's own stance on the 20th century until the final sentence of the book. And, if I tell you what that sentence is, it will probably deflate the exercise or experience of reading it. 

And while you are reading it, you are going to wonder why you decided to. For the Europeana century is marked primarily by war, genocide, and body counts. And statistics. The first few sentences set the tone:
The Americans who fell in Normandy in 1944 were tall men measuring 173 centimeters on average, and if they were laid head to foot they would measure 38 kilometers. The Germans were tall too, while the tallest of all were the Senegalese fusiliers in the First World War who measured 176 centimeters, and so they were sent into battle on the front lines in order to scare the Germans. 
The next 120 pages continue in the same vein--the statistics, the quick leaps between events (in the above, how did we jump from the Second to the First World War?), and detached cynicism. The book is more than a criticism of the idea that human history is a story of progress, it's also a critique--or at least, I think, on the basis of the end of the book that I can't discuss, that it is a critique--of the attempt to "survey" or "look over" history from a standpoint that is able to definitively account for it. As Ourednik states in an interview with Context (also published by Dalkey Archive):
The primary question wasn’t to know what events, what episodes were characteristic of the twentieth century, but which syntax, which rhetoric, which expressiveness belonged to it, in what sense was it redundant, etc.  
Thus it strikes me the book is a critique of its own rhetoric and "expressiveness," an 'auto-reductio ad absurdum' of the attempt to quantify historical change and void the subjectivity of historical agents. Sure, your patience will be tested by the statistics, the body counts, and the repeated references to Nazism (which appears over and over and over in the narrative, sometimes leaving the reader feeling as if nothing happened in 20th century Europe other than World War II). Nevertheless, those final few pages, with their critique of the smug arrogance of late twentieth century chroniclers of political power, are edifying enough to warrant a trip through the 20th century of Europeana.

(See also my review of Ourednik's The Opportune Moment, 1855)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Amazon and Print on Demand

For all the night owls, like myself (via Scu at Critical Animal):

Carol J. Adams, who you might know as the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, has published a post on her blog about Amazon's print-on-demand "service." I've received a few of their reproductions, and of those, a couple have really stuck out due to  the cheap materials used, including the cover, the cover ink, the paper, and the binding (wait, what the hell else is there to a book [and I don't mean that in the Derrida 'question the oeuvre' kind of way--that's a topic for another post, perhaps]? Maybe the black ink isn't as glossy either...), and, of course, the barcode on the back page. Now, I'm not necessarily against print-on-demand, especially if it results in the handful of Routledge titles that I am interested in becoming affordable. But, as Adams, points out:
Apparently, it is common to have an agreement with publishers that they can produce copies of a book if it is out of stock. However, Amazon is apparently determining what being "out of stock" means in a very flexible, self-interested way. If they receive an order and they, Amazon, are out of stock of the book, they are producing their own rather than obtaining the book from the publisher's warehouse.
This sounds questionable at best, and as a published author, I would prefer that the copies of my book taking up space in Continuum's warehouses go first before anybody starts printing on demand, so that someday a more affordable paperback can replace the hardcover. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New APPS Interviews Ladelle McWhorter

If you work on Foucault, and you aren't familiar with Ladelle McWhorter's Bodies and Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Sexual Normalization (Indiana UP, 1999), you should be. It's one hell of a read, providing an interpretation of Foucault that is both personal and political (and it discusses, at one point, line dancing). An interview of her with John Protevi is now available at New APPS. After noting that she was a "queer child in every sense of that word," born in a northern Alabama town in 1960 (and don't forget about segregation), McWhorter states:
What I remember most about childhood was the sense that so many things had to go unspoken—because speaking them might destroy our world or because there just weren’t any words to speak them with. I know that one thing that drove me to philosophy was the deep need to find ways to speak, which involved critiquing how the world was put together so as to preclude speaking so much of what I half-perceived and felt. I had to find my way out of that world in order to survive.
Of course, the whole interview is worth reading. 

Now I've got to go to work.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Republicans and Class War

Today the New York Times published an article titled "Republicans Call Obama’s Tax Plan ‘Class Warfare’" by Brian Knowlton. He writes:
Representative Paul D. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a leading proponent of cutting spending on benefit programs like Medicare, said the proposal[Obama's current one]would weigh heavily on a stagnating economy.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Ryan said it would add “further instability to our system, more uncertainty, and it punishes job creation.”

“Class warfare,” he said, “may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics.”
It's funny that the only people that still talk about class war are the ones waging it. Class war is rotten economics and rotten politics. Everyone needs to get out their US history books and study how life was for workers in the US before the advances propelled by the labor movement. The class warrior elites want to reduce us to our slave status we had in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This Semester... the first semester during which I have no institutional affiliation as either a student or professor since I started my college studies in the mid-1990s. True, I had a year between my Master's and PhD studies, but even then I spent that time taking French and German courses to improve my language skills. I'm not unemployed, however. But I do have to figure out how to balance working 40 hours a week while completing several commitments (publications and conferences, such as the upcoming CSCP meeting) that I took on over the summer under the premise that I would be working at the University of Ottawa.

Just in case you were curious, I do have teaching for the Winter Semester, in the Department of Visual Arts, reprising my "Art Theories" course, although I will be changing up a lot of the material.

Finally, I have been reading Kevin B. Anderson's Marx at the Margins, which ought to be the handbook if you're reconsidering Marx's writings on nationalism, ethnicity, and non-western societies (yes, I pretty much cribbed that from the subtitle), as well as his works on the American Civil War or Ireland. There's a passage from Marx's ethnological notebooks (as cited by Anderson) that is just waiting for Zizek to turn it into a post-Marxist slogan. Marx writes:
the seemingly supreme independent existence of the state itself is only an illusion, since the state in all its forms [is] only an excresence [sic] of society.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 1, 1939 (WWII), September 11, 1973 (Chile), September 11, 2001 (USA)

Referring to the outbreak of World War II the Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden wrote a poem titled September 1, 1939. Here are some of the lines:
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night...

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
The poem invokes an understanding of how violence and war fit into the cycles of human civilization.

On September 11, 2001 when I received information on the news about the terrorist attacks life felt surreal. Never since the War of 1812 did the US suffer an attack on the mainland soil. Unlike the majority of the world, north Americans are not familiar with such experiences. We north Americans bonded with solidarity. There were vigils and touching conversations. There were also increased levels of hate. People of color were targeted for abuse by thugs. In my own Central Vally Californian town I saw, alongside US flags, large Civil War Confederate flags waving on large trucks. Subdued political tendencies became openly pronounced. There were calls for war and calls for peace. More war prevailed and the violent cycle of human civilization continues.

After September 11, 2001 I learned of September 11, 1973. A catastrophic event on the whole of American society. This American tragedy occurred further south in Chile. It deserves to be told on the same day because this September 11 bloodletting was linked to US "pragmatic" strategies of Cold War politics. I leave a clip from a youtube explaining this often overlooked event. To reflect on our own sufferings I invite the reader to merely turn on the news. The US media is covering it thoroughly. All the sad Septembers should be remembered.We should also ask ourselves what we remember them for.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Question of Palestinian Statehood: Why is it a Question?

After years of a failed peace policy the Palestinian Authority is unilaterally going to the UN and will apply for statehood. The US government, along with Israel of course, is livid. How dare the Palestinians get their own state without allowing Israel to steal more land under the benevolent approval of the US political establishment.Al Jazzera English reports:
The Palestinians will not be deterred from seeking UN membership, senior officials say in response to a report that the the US is trying to head off their bid.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the US has launched an attempt to persuade the Palestinians not to seek statehood at the annual UN General Assembly meeting beginning on September 20.

"When it comes to going to the United Nations, I think the train has left the station," Muhammad Shtayyeh, a member of the Fatah committee overseeing the UN bid, said on Sunday.

"We're already on the way to New York. We are very ready for this. All our papers are ready."

The New York Times, citing US officials and foreign diplomats, said the US has tried to restart peace talks with the Israelis in a bid to convince Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to drop the bid.

The Obama administration has made it clear to Abbas that it will veto any request to the UN Security Council to make a Palestinian state a new member outright, the newspaper said.

The US and Israel do not support a two-state solution despite their claims. The PA and many other observers are aware of this. Recall the tremendous flack Obama got for saying that Israel had to return to the 1967 borders. That was the "official" position of Israel and the US. When he said it out loud it made it sound like the US might commit to what it said.

The Palestinians must make such a bid. The Jewish settlers of pre-1948 wanted a state and claimed it; despite the fact it had the majority of the land occupied by Arabs. Palestine must become a state with a majority of Arabs in the land; despite the fact it has been ruled militarily by Israel and occupied by a minority of post-1967 Jewish settlers.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Descartes's Philosophy: "Made in Bavaria"

Over the last few days, I have been putting the finishing touches on a paper on what I call "Cartesian egalitarianism," which discusses the work of Descartes, Poullain de la Barre, Beauvoir, and Rancière. As you can imagine, getting the connections between these four into focus has been fairly time-consuming, especially the effort of keeping the paper right near the upper limits of the word count (9000 words, if you're curious). Which is why I haven't been posting much. 

At some point, while reading and writing about Descartes, I had the vague recollection that Schelling had made an odd 'nationalist in an imagined communities kind of way' comment about Descartes in his On the History of Modern Philosophy. These kind of comments are usually associated with Hegel, but Schelling was not inoculated against them. Turning to page 45, we discover that Descartes's philosophy was "made in Bavaria" (note that it also ends with a reference to Spinoza):
A special peculiarity lies for us in the fact that this beginning of completely free philosophy was, to all appearances, made in Bavaria, that, therefore, the foundation of modern philosophy was laid here. Descartes had, as he says himself in his essay De Methodo, which I take this opportunity to recommend to everyone as a splendid exercise, come to Germany in order to see the beginning of the Thirty Years' War; he had been present under Maximilian I at the battle on the white mountain and the capture of Prague, where, though, he primarily only made inquiries about Tycho Brahe and his unpublished work. In 1619, when he returned to the camp from Frankfurt, from the coronation of Ferdinand II, he had his winter quarters in a place on the Bavarian border, where he, as he says, found no one with whom he would have liked to converse, and there he conceived (aged twenty-three) the first ideas of his philosophy, which he, however, published much later. In the same way as Descartes began to philosophise in Bavaria, he later found in Princess Elisabeth, daughter of the unfortunate Elector of the Palatinate, Karl Friedrich, the so-called Winter King, a great and devoted admirer, just as it was later again a prince from the house of the Palatinate who became Spinoza's protector.
The irony of these kinds of statements is that they provide ample evidence for Marx's sarcastic remark that "we Germans have experienced our future history in thought, in philosophy. We are philosophical contemporaries without being historical ones. German philosophy is the ideal prolongation of German history."