Tuesday, March 27, 2012

German Idealism: Legacies and Controversies

If you're in the Ottawa region, this promises to be a good conference...and I believe that you will recognize Friday's plenary speaker. 

German Idealism: Legacies and Controversies
L’idéalisme allemand : héritages et enjeux

April 6-7/6-7 avril

University of Ottawa/Université d’Ottawa

Conference Program/ Programme de la conférence

April 6/6 avril

Location: Arts Building (70 Laurier Av. Est.) Room 509 (5th Floor)

12:00-12:30     Welcome, Opening Remarks and Refreshments
                        Accueil, introduction et rafraîchissements

12:30-13:30    Vedran Grahovac (University of Guelph)—The Necessity of Mutual
                       Conditioning in Kant and Husserl: Circularity in the Judgment of Taste
                       and the Whole-Part Relationship

13:30-14:30   Blandine Parchemal (Université de Montréal)—Fichte : un
                      achèvement de l’idéalisme transcendantal kantien ou une initiation à
                      l’idéalisme absolu hégélien ?

14:30-14:45    Coffee Break/Pause café

14:45-15:45    Patti Nyman (York University)—The Necessity and Necessary
                       Overcoming of Revealed Religion in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

15:45-16:45    G. Anthony Bruno (University of Toronto)—Schelling and the Unsung
                       Role of Death in German Idealism

16:45-17:00    Coffee Break/Pause café

17:00-18:00    Plenary Speaker: Devin Zane Shaw (University of Ottawa)—Into the
                       Void: Schelling on Religion and Absolute Idealism 

April 7/7 avril

Location: Arts Building (70 Laurier Av. Est.) Room 509 (5th Floor)

Morning Session/ Matin

9:00-9:15     Opening Remarks/Introduction

9:15-10:15    Olivier Huot-Beaulieu (Université de Montréal)—Heidegger, lecteur de
                     Hegel : la négativité en litige

10:15-11:15    Ryan Krahn (University of Guelph)—Derrida, Bataille, and the Victory of
                       the Slave in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit 

11:15-11:30    Coffee Break/Pause café

11:30-12:30    Ardevan Yaghoubi (University of Chicago)—Contemporary Theories of
                       Normativity and the Revitalization of German Idealism

12:30-14:00    Lunch Break/Dîner

Afternoon Session/Après-midi

14:00-15:00    Matthias Peter Lorenz (Université de Montréal—on exchange from
                       Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität of Munich)—Hegelian Marxism and
                       Negative Dialectics: A Comparison of Lukács' and Adorno's Dialectical
                       Approaches in Relation to their Hegelian Heritage

15:00-16:00    Claire Pagès (ATER, Université Nancy 2—Archives Poincaré)—
                       Le principe d’historicité : de Hegel à Herder

16:00-16:30    Coffee Break/Pause café

16:30-18:00    Keynote Speaker: Iain Macdonald (Université de Montréal)—
                       How Soon is Now? Hegel’s Futures

18:00-18:15    Closing Remarks/Fermeture

Monday, March 19, 2012

Portrait of the philosopher as an old man

I've always been drawn to the concept of a late work, and have acquired an arguably counter-productive tendency to start from the end - that is, to approach a thinker via his or her final words and then work my way backwards. I don't know why I do this, but I've found it to be highly rewarding, at least in certain cases.

Aside from a brief and fairly underwhelming flirtation with his novels and plays as an undergraduate, my reading of Sartre has been almost entirely informed by the essays surrounding May 68 and the role of the engaged intellectual (collected by Verso as Between Existentialism and Marxism). There being a lot to read (!), I have to admit to an ongoing deficit as regards some of the classic texts of existentialism. I've always been more interested in Sartre's project in the Critique than with what I've admittedly pre-judged as his petit-bourgeois disengagement in Being and Nothingness.

In this respect, Sartre's final 1980 interviews with his longtime secretary and former Maoist turned orthodox Jew Benny Levy - published as Hope Now - have proved enlightening. At least, that is, to the extent that the final Sartre, totally dependent and not always lucid, can be said to provide a plausible retrospective. Arguably bullied and harangued by Levy (I'll admit, whose bookends to the interviews are nigh incomprehensible to me), Sartre dispassionately assesses the demise of the organized Left and sketches notes for a future ethical grounding of the Left more broadly construed. In context, this makes perfect sense, since by 1980 French intellectual life had undergone a massive shift "from revolution to ethics" (Bourg). Like other French thinkers seeking a way out of the revolutionary impasse, Sartre opens his (still secular, Left-wing) thought to the resources of Jewish messianism. The interviews created a scandal, and many among Sartre's inner circle dismissed them as Levy's manipulation of a helpless old man. Sartre, tellingly, describes his old age as something lived by him, but only felt by others - a variation of "hell is other people", to be sure.

Let's give the older Sartre the benefit of the doubt, as does Ronald Aronson in his excellent introduction to Columbia's edition of the text. What Sartre reads back into his early existentialism is jarring; he claims to never have felt anguish or despair (devoting considerable attention to these because Kierkegaard and Heidegger were the order of the day), and locates the main philosophical shortcomings of Being and Nothingness in his having missed the inescapable ethical dimension of obligation constitutive of subjectivity. In a word, reading Being and Nothingness in light of the failure of the Critique of Dialectical Reason. Does starting here render a proper understanding of Sartre impossible? Or does a proper understanding of Sartre require facing up to the fundamental incompleteness of his work? Meditating on the fact that Sartre, at death's door and totally dependent on others to do intellectual work, sketched notes for the future, has at least this virtue: it unsettles received ideas of author and corpus and reminds us of what I take to be one of Marx's most important lessons: that thought worthy of the name is never completed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Middle Eastern Christians in Politics: They've Loved Jesus, the French, Saddam Hussein, Bush and Anti-Imperialist Revolution

The title of my blog may sound like I'm insulting Middle Eastern Christians. I know that every Middle Eastern Christian has not been deeply religious, pro-Saddam Hussein, or supportive of the US invasion of Iraq. General statements about any group are false. My desire is to show that indigenous Christians have been active in Middle East politics. I will admit that I hope the title grabs readers' attention. I would make the title "Middle Eastern Christians in Middle East Politics," but I think many would not care to take a look. The Middle East is associated with Muslims and then Jews even though the very term "Christian" originated in Syria. The New Testament (Acts 11:26, NIV) reads, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." It is true that currently Christians are a minority in the Middle East, yet they have played an active role in shaping the region. This blog will highlight brief notes on what may be considered unexpected roles of Middle Eastern Christians. (I plan on doing more blogs covering unexpected roles of Middle Eastern pagans, Jews, and heterodox Muslims in the future.)

Under Islamic Law (Shariah), Christians and Jews are considered "people of the Book" (Ahl al-kitab). This means Muslims view Jews and Christians as theologically linked to Islam (even if in a misguided way). When Muslims say "the Book" they mean the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospel. Due to this, both groups have been "protected peoples"(dhimmis). As any minority experiences, being a minority often results in marginalization, discrimination and outright oppression. Although, this is not always the case.

In the eighth-century the Christian Theophilus of Edessa was astrologer of the Muslim Abbasid court located in Baghdad . In the ninth-century Ḥunayn ibn Isḥaq, a Nestorian/Church of the East Christian, became one of the greatest translators of Greek texts into Syriac and Arabic. He was even appointed head of Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun's famous "House of Wisdom". This was an institution that focused on translating Greek texts to be made accessible to scholars.

In more recent centuries Middle Eastern Christians have taken on new positions of power as the Ottoman Empire fell and European governments reshaped the political landscape. In 1989 the New York Times published an article by Youssef M. Ibrahim. He wrote about the role of France in relation to Christians in Lebanon and Syria. His history follows:
France first went into Lebanon to protect Maronite Catholics from attacks by the Druse in the latter half of the 19th century. After the First World War, France occupied the Levant, split it into Syria and Lebanon and created a republic in Lebanon with a power-sharing arrangement in which the Maronites had an edge.
Lebanese Christians hold much of the political and economic power in Lebanon. Syrian Christians (unlike the Sunni Muslims) have fared much better in Syria as well. Why?

Alexandra Zavis from the Los Angeles Times recently published an interesting article in the Ottawa Citizen entitled "Syrian Christians worry about life after Bashar Assad." She explains how, despite the horrors the international community sees taking place in Syria enacted by the Syrian government, Syrian Christians fear Sunni Muslim reprisals. She states:
Assad has portrayed himself as the defender of the nation's religious minorities, including Christians and his Alawite Muslim sect, against foreign-backed Islamic extremists. Opposition activists scoff at that notion, saying he has deliberately exploited sectarian fear to stay in power.
But warnings of a bloodbath if Assad leaves office resonate with Christians, who have seen their brethren driven away by sectarian violence since the overthrow of longtime strongmen in Iraq and in Egypt, and before that by a 15-year civil war in neighboring Lebanon.
The Syrian regime is dominated by the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath Party was also the party of Saddam Hussein's Iraq prior to the US invasion and occupation. Michel Aflaq (1910-1989), founder the Ba'ath Party, was not only a Syrian philosopher but he was also a Greek Antiochian Orthodox Christian. Ba'ath Party ideology is secular and has focused on "Arabism" as opposed to religious centered policies. Tariq Aziz, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq from 1979 to 2003 (currently imprisoned) is Chaldean Catholic. His birth name is Mikhail Yuhanna. He was also a close adviser to Saddam Hussein. At the same time many Assyrian Christians suffered under Saddam's rule and consider Tariq Aziz a traitor not to his religion but his ethnicity. Despite this, in US media Bush's build up to war against Iraq and now Obama's threatening Syria appears as a US government response to the Islamic World. As pointed out in this blog, Iraq and Syria have long been an Islamic-Christian World.

It is true that Christians in the Middle East live precariously. There are western groups that point out the plight of Christians in the Middle East as justification for western intervention. Some Muslim groups point out characters such as Tariq Aziz and Christan friendly Bashar Assad to show Christians as enemies of Islam. Sometimes Muslims also consider Christians as a "fifth column" in the face of US-European intervention. In other cases Muslims and Christians have tremendous solidarity. Many Palestinians actually see their plight as a Palestinian cause not a religious one (The West Bank has a significant Palestinian Christan population). In regards to my agenda, I simply want to show that the Middle East is more complex and nuanced than an oversimplification of Islam vs. "Us over here in the Christian West."

Here is a youtube video of the famous Lebanese Christian Fairuz singing her celebrated Arab nationalist song about Jerusalem (al-Quds). In this song she unifies the interests of Muslims and Christians in the battle for Arab sovereignty.

Very significant is the recent death of the Egyptian Coptic Pope Shenouda

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lumpen City: Discourses of Marginality / Marginalizing Discourses

(Red Quill Books, 2011)
In spring of 2009 I travelled to York University to participate in an international sociology conference. The conference concerned problems of representation and research into the 21st Century Lumpenproletariat. I was impressed by the breadth and quality of the talks delivered, cheered by the considerable time and scholarly attention devoted to urban margins all over the world. My own contribution concerned my time as a volunteer with the Ottawa Panhandlers' Union, delivered as an avowedly partisan report and largely bracketing the usual methodological self-reflexivity that can be expected in such conferences. Discussion was high quality and the conference very well organized.

The conference proceedings have been boiled down into an impressive volume recently published by Red Quill Books (http://redquillbooks.com/Lumpencity.html). I'm happy to announce that my paper, amended to include a short section on methodology and research ethics, has been included. I'm particularly pleased that the editors have included a thematically broad array of interventions, from nuts-and-bolts practical matters to literary theory (on this count, I especially like "Samuel Delany’s Lumpen Worlds and the Problem of Representing Marginality" by Lisa Estreich). I hope this text will find a wide audience.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rosebell Kagumire (Ugandan Blogger) and Her Thoughts On Kony2012

I have so many thoughts about this overnight craze with the Kony2012 campaign created by the organization Invisible Children (I will not even post a link to the Kony2012 video). I think it is time that we Westerners start hearing Ugandans speak for themselves. They really don't need us (contributing more conflict to their conflicts). The world should know more about people like Rosebell Kagumire in this Youtube video than war-criminals like Joseph Kony.

CFP: RPA Deadline Extended

Raul Martinez, La Isla, 1970

The deadline for submissions of abstracts for the tenth biennial Radical Philosophy Association conference has been extended to April 16th, 2012.

For the now updated CFP (more specifically, the call for abstracts) see here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art Reviewed (again)

Paul Bishop reviews Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art in the Journal of European Studies (behind a pay wall here). In large part the review is a summary of the main points in the book. Bishop concludes:
One might recall Schiller’s irritated response to Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism in his letter to Goethe of 27 March 1801; even if he disagreed with Schelling, he recognized that something important was at stake. Shaw’s dense, but rewarding study reminds us why, two centuries on, the issues at the heart of Schelling’s philosophy still matter − indeed, more so than ever before.
Continuum tells me that the paperback will be available by July 26th, 2012, which should make the book available to a wider audience. Now I'm off to find Schiller's letter.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Patrik Ourednik, Case Closed

It all began with a late night hyperlink clicking session, and it ended with reviews of all of Patrik Ourednik's books that have been translated into English: The Opportune Moment (here), Europeana (here), and now Case Closed (Dalkey Archive, 2010).

In a letter to his friend Philip Pendleton Cooke, dated August 9th, 1846, Edgar Allan Poe commented on the popularity of his Dupin stories, such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue":
These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say that they are not ingenious — but people think them more ingenious than they are — on account of their method and air of method. In the “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, for instance, where is the ingenuity of unravelling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the express purpose of unravelling? The reader is made to confound the ingenuity of the supposititious Dupin with that of the writer of the story.
Passages such as these serve as important reminders of the rules of the detective story genre. For a detective novel to work qua genre, the author must be able to deploy a series of devices to maintain not only suspense, but she must also be able to give good reasons as to why the mystery unravels. As much fun as the reader might have in the process, the author must have all the loose ends tied up. That is, if we're talking about the genre.

In Case Closed, Patrik Ourednik seemingly takes up Poe's gauntlet, and writes a detective story in which the author/narrator (if we can equate them--or am I falling into Poe's trap?) doesn't know how the web unravels, leaving several intrigues to begin only to be left in suspense by the end of the novel. The story--at least most of it--follows the convergence of two characters, Viktor Dyk, a retiree and failed novelist, and Vilém Lebeda, a police inspector in Prague, who not only is charged with following up on a suicide with a few suspicious circumstances, but also pursues with extra-curricular interest a forty-year old murder case that, while out of Lebeda's jurisdiction, seems to have ties to the members of Dyk's retiree's club.

Ourednik drops a few hints about how the suspicious death and the forty-year old murder case tie together, but he's mostly interested in undermining the expectations of the reader who might just get lured into the intrigues--there's also an abundance of red herrings, if it's even possible to separate between lures and leads. And, given that a group of retirees are at the center of the non-action, there's lots of curmudgeonly behavior, as if Ourednik were attempting to master the aches, pains, and casual bigotry of a cynical post-communist generation. At one point, Viktor Dyk reflects on adolescence:
Adolescents were the worst. Formerly known as youth, the vanguard of our society, striding forth in the footsteps of their fathers, who themselves had only managed to make it as far as the rearguard (13).
Though amidst some pointless retiree-banter (and some of that aforementioned casual bigotry), Dyk leaves us a clue:
"Don't you have something to say, Mr. Dyk?"
"Silence is a form of speech," replied Mr. Dyk.
Mrs. Prochazka looked puzzled.
"And the reverse." He couldn't resist.
"The reverse?"
"Speaking is just another form of silence."
It's the first indication that for all the talk and narration, the mysteries and intrigues may never be unraveled.* By the time we get to Chapter 37:
We are born into a novel whose meaning escapes us, and depart from a novel we have never once understood. Now or never! The author has established with his customary skill that he is equally at home in any genre; he has piled plot twist upon plot twist without so much as a second thought; stacked varying styles side by side; stung readers with bitingly sarcastic asides and trenchant social critique; and generously tossed in a thumbnail psychological sketch. Now or never! No one's understood a thing, and even if they had...
When I read passages like these, I want to point out Simone de Beauvoir's distinction between absurdity and ambiguity. I'll let it pass for now, because this passage--especially the part surrounding what I've quoted--seems to be the master key for interpreting the story. Detective novels have long relied on the ingenuity of the author to unravel the case. And while this is hardly going to sound like praise, in subverting expectations in the genre, Case Closed requires the ingenuity of the reader** to follow the clues.


** This might sound like I'm complimenting myself, but I'm not. It's just that you've got to build your own case, which is why I placed the first footnote--given that it's a spoiler--below.
* We'll call this the SPOILER asterisk: I think the statement is also revealing of the failed author Dyk and his role in the intrigues.