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.