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.