Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Matt McLennan Reviews "Molecular Revolution in Brazil"

Matt McLennan, for many years a regular contributor to The Notes Taken, has published a review of Félix Guattari and Suely Rolnik's Molecular Revolution in Brazil in Symposium. He writes:
Guattari and Rolnik’s 1986 collection of texts, interviews, and transcripts, recently available for the first time in English translation from Semiotext(e), presents a comprehensive look into the comparatively rare phenomenon of a philosopher in the field, gathering information and commenting in real time on unprecedented social upheavals. Far from being a quaint, exoticizing travelogue, and quite unlike Michel Foucault’s more controversial and politically problematic flirtation with the Iranian Revolution, Molecular Revolution in Brazil finds Guattari testing and retesting his concepts in more or less fertile, receptive ground, via situations of collective political discussion and engagement.
Go read it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Symposium Reviews

The most recent review to be published on the CSCP website is Nikolay Karkov's review of Maurizio Lazzarato's The Making of Indebted Man. Karkov writes:
Central to the text, which reads more like a manifesto than a footnote-heavy monograph, is an examination of the problematic of debt, or, more generally, of what Lazzarato would call the “creditor-debtor relationship.” Lazzarato reads that relationship as both an anthropological invariant (where, following Nietzsche, he suggests that the paradigm of the social lies in credit, rather than exchange or even production), and as a historically specific phenomenon (which, in his reading, defines the neoliberal condition). Still, the book’s focus is on the latter, the historical specificity of the debt and the “debt economy,” which Lazzarato examines in much detail and with impressive insight. In his view, the debt economy has recently absorbed the “new economy,” the knowledge and information economy, or what some on the left have also called “cognitive capitalism.” It is also inseparable from the production of a new subjective figure, that of the “indebted man.” Blurring the divide between workers and the unemployed, consumers and producers, and retirees and welfare recipients, the indebted man cuts a transversal subjective figure that has come to occupy “the entirety of public space.” (7–8)
Now, I've alway realized that I've been remiss in posting links to a few other reviews, and so that they don't get lost in the mix, I've also added links to these previous reviews.

Symposium 16.2 includes a review essay by Maxwell Kennell, who examines Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala's Hermeneutic Communism, Alain Badiou's Communist Hypothesis, and Boris Groy's Communist Postscript. Kennel writes:
For the authors of Hermeneutic Communism it is only the weakness of both communism and hermeneutics that can lead to their joint emancipation from both the violence of capitalism in the political sphere, and from the violence of metaphysics in the philosophical sphere. Rather than communising hermeneutics or hermeneuticising communism the authors of Hermeneutic Communism seek to bring light to the present “lack of emergency” and “the increasing homologizing of the political, economic, and social structures of power.” (HC, 2) Against the all too modern theories and social practices representing the status quo, Vattimo and Zabala proclaim that “politics cannot be founded on scientific and rational grounds but only on interpretation, history, and event.” (HC, 2) The weakness of hermeneutics, found in the plurality of interpretive truths that it affirms, stands opposed to the rationalistic violence of the aforementioned politics of truth. Following from the weakness of hermeneutics, the weakness of communism can also be located in its failure, a failure which (as it is said) fails again and fails better (Beckett).
Symposium 16.2 also contains Bryan Smyth's review of Georg Lukács Reconsidered: Critical Essays in Politics, Philosophy and Aesthetics and Georg Lukács: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence. Aesthetics, Politics, Literature. Smyth writes:
The two volumes share a general basic aim, which is to re-examine Lukács’ work in the light of more recent political and theoretical developments in order to show that it is still productively relevant to many contemporary issues. Related to this general aim, both volumes tend to reject as unhelpful and obsolete the standard periodisation of Lukács’ work in terms of (a) his early Romantic neo-Kantianism (e.g., Soul and Form, Theory of the Novel), the tragic utopianism of which was supposed to be resolved by (b) his euphoric revolutionary Hegelian-Marxism (i.e., History and Class Consciousness), which is by and large his principal claim to fame, but which itself however ultimately collapsed into (c) his inglorious decades as, seemingly at any rate, a Stalinist philosophical hack (e.g., The Destruction of Reason, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism). Although significant breaks and turns do exist within Lukács’ development, in the post-1989 context it becomes clear that this threefold scheme is overly simplistic. For in retrospectively viewing it as pivoting around a failed revolutionary engagement, it effectively reduces Lukács’ long career to a blind alley of dialectical errors in a way that occludes the innovative insights that belong to the deeper core of his work. The idea, then, is to salvage the latter from the historical vicissitudes with which Lukács’ intellectual life was interwoven. In this sense, the common goal of the volumes—and this is what sets them apart from those earlier collections—is to push Lukács beyond himself, or, as expressed in the blurb to the Bewes and Hall volume, to “liberate [his] thought from its formal and historical limitations.”
Finally, in 16.2, Yves Laberge reviews A Companion to the Works of Walter Benjamin. Laberge writes: 
Il faut ici féliciter le professeur Rolf J. Goebel du choix des auteurs ayant participé à ce livre; bien qu’ils soient inconnus, tous sont des spécialistes de la pensée de Walter Benjamin et ils parviennent à illuminer ses idées principales ou à en donner des prolongements souvent rigoureux. J’ai rarement lu un ouvrage aussi précis quant aux citations et aux sources convoquées : les ouvrages de Benjamin mentionnés par les différents auteurs sont d’une grande diversité et les extraits sont toujours appropriés et très pertinents pour alimenter l’argumentation. Fidèles à la méthode même de Walter Benjamin, la plupart des chapitres adoptent des perspectives résolument transdisciplinaires, ce qui mérite d’être souligné.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Better To Be A Contrarian than Vapid

Nothing like the recent election in the United States to give me a reason to discuss Slavoj Zizek and Bernard-Henri Levy in the same post. 

The contrarian weighs in, arguing that Obama is more than Bush with a human face:
 So should we write Obama off? Is he nothing more than Bush with a human face? There are signs which point beyond this pessimistic vision. Although his healthcare reforms were mired in so many compromises they amounted to almost nothing, the debate triggered was of huge importance. A great art of politics is to insist on a particular demand that, while thoroughly realist, feasible and legitimate, disturbs the core of the hegemonic ideology. The healthcare reforms were a step in this direction – how else to explain the panic and fury they triggered in the Republican camp? They touched a nerve at the core of America's ideological edifice: freedom of choice.
So today, it's ideology critique. Maybe tomorrow it will be the hyperbolic Leninism, and he'll remind us that nobody is quite as revolutionary as himself.

Sure, that's a cynical reading of Zizek, which I think is a product of reading far too much of his work. But Zizek is also far more engaging than our vapid French "intellectual". BHL declares the election--the outcome of which he so foresightedly "predicted"--a great day for America. Why?
It is a victory for a moderate man, whose charisma remains intact.
That's the first reason: a man's got to have him his charisma. That's so important that it overshadows whatever else makes the election great.

Perhaps we can get more specific:
It is a victory for his strategy of government intervention that has allowed the United States to weather the storm for four years.
The the second aspect of this victory strikes me as ambiguous. It seems to be commending Obama's mild commitment to using government to blunt the effects of the economic downturn. But when I hear "intervention" from BHL, I think Libya, meaning that he could also be commending Obama's continued commitment to the "war on terror" or whatever it's called now.

This is followed with a bit of non-self-reflexive pundit scolding, so that BHL can reinforce  his view of what makes the election such an event. I know you're waiting for it:
It is a historic victory.
It is a great day for America and for the world.
Sometimes great nations have a rendezvous with greatness, and such is the case today.
So bold! So declarative! So historic that it can be encapsulated, if we leave out the blathering about pundits, in the most profound 262 words you'll ever read.

Or, perhaps, BHL dashed it off while nursing a wicked hangover.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Post-Kantian Poe: Introduction and TOC

Forthcoming in late Fall 2012:

From the Guest Editors 

“Theory Mad Beyond Redemption”: The Post-Kantian Poe 

Sean Moreland, Jonathan Murphy and Devin Zane Shaw

Early in “The Poetic Principle” (1850), Poe warns his readers that, despite his attempt to articulate the principle of poetry, he has no “design to be either thorough or profound.”  He mocks both those who overestimate the power of epic poetry (that “epic mania” cherished by German Romanticism) and those Bostonian didacts who would confuse “Poetic dignity and force” with the severity of Truth, writing that one “must be theory-mad beyond redemption who […] shall still persist in attempting to reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and Truth.”  Yet, as the essays in this collection attest, Poe himself was, in his various engagements with Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy, as “theory-mad ” as those writers he sought to distance himself from.

This special issue of the Edgar Allan Poe Review is primarily intended to address these multifaceted engagements. A secondary impetus behind this collection has been to reconcile two competing tendencies in Poe scholarship:  the antagonism between materially- and theoretically-oriented approaches to the author and his work.  While the pitfalls of historically disengaged theoretical criticism are widely acknowledged, the dangers of totally abandoning a philosophically informed approach are as great, especially in the case of a writer as metaphysically invested as Edgar Allan Poe.

As guest editors, we have sought to gather together a collection of essays that bridge the disciplinary divide between historiography and philosophy with the underlying belief that informed Poe criticism needs to address the author and his works in their entirety.  Our aim in this volume is, therefore, not so much to pit “The Purloined Poe” against his “American Face” as it is to emphasize the transatlantic influences that indelibly shaped Poe’s writing and to do so in a manner that responds to the rich body of historicist scholarship that has dominated the field as of late.    The organization of the essays in this issue roughly reflects the chronology of the texts they treat, providing for the reader a historical cross-section of Poe’s adoptions and perversions of Kantian and post-Kantian thought throughout his career.  

In “The American Dream Elucidated by Edgar Allan Poe,” Jonathan Murphy addresses the author’s contentious relations with the nationalist politics of his day.  By offering an overview of the evolution of Poe’s career and by drawing a historical link between the political thought of Kant, Coleridge, Lacan, Derrida, and Žižek, Murphy demonstrates that Poe’s metaphysics amount to a romantic profession of faith in America grounded in a universalist poetics of desire.  

Stephanie Sommerfeld’s contribution, “Post-Kantian Sublimity and Mediacy in Poe’s Blackwood Tales,” explores the ways in which Poe’s investment in the discourse of the sublime, particularly in its Kantian conception, is played out in his parodic Blackwood tales of the 1830s.  She argues that Poe’s narratives undermine the Emersonian appropriation of Kant, which remained largely silent on the negative moments of the Kantian sublime.  

In “‘As Urged by Schelling’: Coleridge, Poe, and the Schellingian Refrain,” Sean Moreland and Devin Zane Shaw consider Poe’s adaptation of Schelling’s philosophy of art and his interpretation of mythology, which Poe assimilated primarily by way of Coleridge.  Shaw and Moreland show that Poe, in his critical and literary practice, adapted Schelling’s and Coleridge’s critiques of allegory while deflating what he considered to be their metaphysical pretensions. They conclude with a brief consideration of the role these critiques play in both Poe’s critical writings and his composition of “The Raven” (1845).  

Sean Kelly, in “Penning Perversion in Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’,” offers a Kantian analysis of Poe’s theory of perversion as it is evidenced in his late fiction and especially in “The Black Cat” (1843).  He contends that the narrator of this story is representative of the onanistic madman that was the subject of much medical controversy in mid-nineteenth century discourses on the etiological linkage between masculinity, masturbation, and madness.  

Courtney Fugate brings our special issue to a close with his contribution of “From the German Cosmological Tradition to Poe’s Eureka.”  He argues for the importance of Poe’s Eureka (1848) not merely as a literary hoax or aesthetic manifesto but as a vital contribution to the genre of cosmological speculation.  Fugate provides a useful introduction to this fascinating intellectual tradition, in which Kant and Schelling were also deeply invested.

We owe Barbara Cantalupo a debt of gratitude for inviting us to guest-edit this special issue of her journal and for continuing to make The Edgar Allan Poe Review a welcome home for historically-grounded and theoretically-engaged scholarship.  We would also like to thank our contributors for their hard work and cooperation in meeting our pressing deadlines.  To all of those scholars who submitted abstracts for our consideration, please know that the plenitude and interest of your submissions made our editorial decisions difficult.  Finally, we are very grateful to the editorial board of this journal for their insightful comments and selection suggestions. 

Table of Contents 

Jonathan Murphy, “The American Dream Elucidated by Edgar Allan Poe” 

Stephanie Sommerfeld, “Post-Kantian Sublimity and Mediacy in Poe’s Blackwood Tales”

Sean Moreland and Devin Zane Shaw, “‘As Urged by Schelling’: Coleridge, Poe, and the Schellingian Refrain” 

Sean Kelly, “Penning Perversion in Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’”  

Courtney Fugate, From the German Cosmological Tradition to Poe’s Eureka

The original call for papers is available here.