Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Vitalist Senghor

Reviewing the few entries for this year, it seems that I've thus far neglected to post a link to my review essay on "The Vitalist Senghor: On Diagne's African Art as Philosophy," published by Comparative and Continental Philosophy in May 2013. It's available here (for subscribers). Here is the abstract:
In this essay, I examine Diagne’s claim that the fundamental intuition of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s thought is this: African art is philosophy. Diagne argues that it is from an experience of African art and an encounter with Bergson’s philosophy that Senghor comes to formulate his philosophical thought, which is better understood as vitalist rather than essentialist. I conclude by arguing that Senghor’s vitalism is a philosophy of becoming which nevertheless lacks an account of radical political change.
And here is a photo of Robespierre obstructing my work: 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Writing on Schelling, Again

I recently completed an essay on Schelling's philosophy of art for an anthology that will be published as the Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism, edited by Matthew C. Altman.

The most difficult part of writing an essay on the topic is that I've already written and published a book about it. My files show that I spent a few days working on it in April of this year, two in August, and then most of the paper--probably around 8000 words of it--was written just a few weeks ago in late October. The rest of the time was spent with writer's block (more specifically writer's block concerning the topic of Schelling's philosophy of art).

I'm pretty sure everything on this page was eventually cut
That's correct. Writer's block, about a topic I had already written a book about. And I think that's the reason it happened. It took some time to figure out how to re-organize the material into a shorter format. The book cuts Schelling's philosophy into chronological chunks: Chapter 1 runs 1795-1796, Chapter 2 through 1798, Chapter 3 through 1800, Chapter 4 through 1804, and Chapter 5 through 1810 (through the often neglected Stuttgart Seminars). The chronological organization allowed me to introduce the principles of Schelling's system, as their significance shifts over time, and to relate them back to the philosophy of art.

For the essay, I decided to tackle his philosophy of art thematically. After introducing the topic, I use the first section to argue that Schelling introduces his philosophy of art to subvert the primacy of practical reason in transcendental idealism. I tackled this issue in the third chapter of my book, but the essay version has allowed me to correct an oversight in Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art. For whatever reason, I neglected to mention that Kant calls freedom, "insofar as its reality is proved by an apodictic law of practical reason," the "keystone" of the system. In the System of Transcendental Idealism, Schelling refers to the philosophy of art as the "keystone" of the system. In the essay, I make it clearer that Schelling was deliberately appropriating the metaphor. I also reference Coleridge's observation that Fichte introduces activity, rather than a substance, as the "key-stone" of the system.

In the next section, I discuss the systematic importance of the power of imagination. Again, this is familiar ground, as I argue that Schelling does not dismiss the philosophy of art once he announces the system of identity-philosophy or absolute idealism. Instead, he maintains that art is important because it is produced by the power of the imagination (Einbildungskraft), which is the power of esemplasy (as Coleridge translated it) or forming-into-one (Ineinsbildung). A thematic presentation, rather than the chronological presentation, of this claim seems to be much stronger. I feel that all the work it took to write this essay is justified by the results of this section. Hopefully future readers will appreciate it as well.

I also used this essay as an opportunity to reconsider the status of Schelling's idea of a new mythology. In F&NSPA, I argue that Schelling ends up mythologizing politics, and a few readers have seemed to think this is a kind of Marxist imposture on his work. Maybe it is. Admittedly, I'll always appreciate the egalitarianism of the new mythology of the "System Program" over the statism of the 1804 Wurzburg Lectures (partially translated in Idealism and the Endgame of Theory, ed. Thomas Pfau). This time, I introduce what other readers may someday think is another imposture, interpreting the idea of a new mythology in light of Ranciere's work on aesthetics. The general idea is that the politics of the new mythology, were it to be realized as a concrete community, would foreclose on both politics and the politics of aesthetics. Or, to paraphrase Schelling's discussion of creativity in the Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism, were the community to be realized as community, it would cease to be creative and it would become an instrument of its creation.

Finally, a spoiler. The last sentence is: 'If anything, his willingness to relentlessly interrogate the very ground of philosophical thinking demonstrates Schelling’s abiding fidelity to, as the anonymous author of the “System Program” once phrased it, the "polytheism of the imagination"'.

Now, you'll need to read the essay to find out how I get there.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Barbarian Principle

Take note that SUNY Press is publishing The Barbarian Principle: Merleau-Ponty, Schelling, and the Question of Nature, edited by Jason M. Wirth and Patrick Burke, in August 2013. As the blurb says,
The Barbarian Principle is an excellent contribution to the study of Schelling and Merleau-Ponty. For the Schelling scholar or student, it opens a new horizon for reconsidering Schelling’s influence on twentieth-century continental philosophy in general, and phenomenology in particular (where much interest has been paid to Heidegger). For the Merleau-Ponty scholar or student, this volume demonstrates that Merleau-Ponty’s engagement with German idealism extends well beyond the interrogation of Hegel or Kant.”
The link has a table of contents and it also reveals who wrote the blurb.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Vacation Finds

On occasion of my participation in the 2013 meeting of the EPTC, I recently spent three weeks traveling in British Columbia. Having visited Seattle last fall, I had expected the opportunity to go on a British Columbian microbrew 'tour,' and we weren't disappointed. Like many of the other breweries in the Northwest, BC breweries are producing a variety of excellent IPAs; standouts include Nelson Brewing Company's Double IPA, Phillips' Amnesiac (which is also a double), and Mt. Begbie's Nasty Habit (although I might like it because I associate 'Begbie' with a particular sociopath who haunts Irvine Welsh's novels). Cannery Brewing's Blackberry Porter and Philipps' ginger beer are also notable, though this list could keep going...

The Tom Vickery Trio (and guests), playing standards, at Hermann's in Victoria, June 6th
We also spent a considerable amount of time bookshopping, fueled by the idea that it is possible to find rare tomes in the Holzwege of British Columbia, making stops in towns we wouldn't have otherwise visited, for instance, Kingfisher Books in Creston, where I found Allan Antliff's Anarchy and Art stashed in the basement 'esoteric' section. The most surprising finds came in Mission, which we passed through en route on the search for a well-hidden campground (there where once found we couldn't stay), at Better Buy Books. It seems that they discovered a time capsule full of remaindered books from the 1970s, a great majority being published by Grove and Evergreen. On this topic, I'll let a picture speak (and the Brautigan title is a first edition):

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Impossible Identifications" at the EPTC

If you want to know where I've been during 2013, I've been working on a book on Jacques Rancière and philosophy. In Part I, I focus on Rancière's account of political subjectification, and I argue that we could get a better sense of his account if we consider his work in relation to Descartes, Beauvoir, and Sartre (and vice versa). In terms of the overall architecture of the book, my paper on Cartesian egalitarianism should be Chapter 1, and this paper on Sartre and Being and Nothingness is half of Chapter 2. I will be presenting a rough draft of the second half of Chapter 2 at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture (EPTC) in the first week of June. Here's a link to the program, and I am looking forward to the fact that Jason Wirth, who reviewed my Schelling book, will be giving the commentary on my more recent work.

Here's the abstract:
"Impossible Identifications: Rancière as Reader and Critic of Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason"
In this presentation, I examine the influence of Sartre, especially the Critique of Dialectical Reason and several contemporaneous essays on anti-colonialism, on the political thought of Jacques Rancière. A reconsideration of Sartre is in order for two interrelated reasons: first, both Sartre and Rancière propose accounts of emancipatory political subjectification in which subjective praxis emerges as a radical break with a given set of oppressive and exploitative social relations; and second, both Sartre and Rancière conceptualize identity as a function or operation of oppressive or exploitative social relations, and thus political praxis involves a disidentification with one’s previous identifications and interests.
But I'd like to note that Rancière critiques how Sartre hyper-instrumentalizes political praxis. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the paper:
An important difference between Sartre and Rancière turns on how they conceptualize this dynamic of disidentification. I will argue that Rancière, in his landmark Disagreement (1995), thinks politics as a paradoxical and non-instrumental praxis, an activity with neither end nor interest other than the disruptive and transformative effects of the supposition of equality, meaning “the open set of practices driven by the assumption of equality between any and every speaking being and by the concern to test this equality” (Disagreement, 30). In this sense, Rancière is consistent with his earlier criticisms of Sartre found in The Philosopher and His Poor (1983), where he argues that Sartre’s account of activity results in the hyper-instrumentalization of praxis: “if the world’s matter is to bear the history of liberation, it must be traversed entirely by technique” (Philosopher and His Poor, 155). Freedom becomes a “super technique,” always turned to an ultimate end which forecloses on “the elastic intervals of autodidact freedom…in the disoriented space of pathways and dead ends where people searched not long ago for what rebellious workers and dreamers called ‘emancipation’” (156, 147). This hyper-instrumentalized praxis never escapes from either internal or external exigencies—whether Sartre is discussing the exigencies of the practico-inert, the pledged group, the organization, or ultimately, the party (140, 154).
I will argue that Rancière’s claim that politics involves an “impossible identification” is proposed as an alternative to Sartre’s account of praxis. In short, Rancière’s paradoxical politics involves a political subjectification that undermines previous identities by momentarily identifying with a part of society that has no part, with this dynamic introducing new and more egalitarian ways of speaking, being, and doing into a given set of social relations (or what he calls a “distribution of the sensible”).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo, Globalectics

I've occassionally mentioned my interest in Negritude, existentialism, and postcolonial theory. Over a decade ago, I was floored when I first read Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism, and over the last few years I've taught Césaire, W.E.B. Du Bois, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Frantz Fanon in my introductory philosophy courses--they've often been taught under the rubric of "Great Philosophers," as a challenge to the traditional Western canon. This spring, I can add two publications on the topic of African/Africana philosophy and aesthetics.

The first is my review of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Globalectics, which has been published by Society and Space, available here

Later in the spring, a review essay on Souleymane Bachir Diagne's African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Negritude (Seagull Books, 2011) will appear in Comparative and Continental Philosophy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Film Fail: On the Road

One of my first literary loves was the Beat Generation. While I don't read nearly as much Ginsberg, Burroughs, or Kerouac as I once did, I still have fond--maybe even protective--feelings toward them. Protective feelings, that is, when it comes to film adaptations.

It turns out that On the Road, directed by Walter Salles, is a terrible movie. It jumps from scene to scene without much narrative direction except that Sal Paradise and his entourage (or is it more appropriate to call them Dean Moriarty's entourage?) are probably driving somewhere, and the characters never develop or feel much concern for things beyond petty jealousies. There are some well-shot landscapes, but you've got to endure the characters to appreciate those shots. In brief:

The book: Stream of consciousness type introspection concerning an automotive bildung; maybe Schiller's aesthetic education were he driving across the United States. Occasionally Sal is too exuberant or exclaims 'this is America' in the face of injustice in a way that reads too sincerely, but that can probably be forgiven.

The movie: Manages to make the Beats a handful of unsympathetic dilettantes who can't hold a conversation for longer than two minutes. It also makes booze, drugs, and sex look tedious. Though I've never shared the Beats' obsession with Neal Cassidy, at least in their writing I could understand it. In the movie the Cassidy-persona is almost completely one dimensional. Except for a brief moment where he wants to find his father, Dean Moriarty can be summed up quite well by Jimmy McNulty:

We almost walked out after the first hour, but stayed because that was about the time Sal et al. show up at Old Bull Lee's house. That didn't help the film. We did walk out right after Sal and Dean arrive in Mexico, meaning that we left with less than 15 minutes remaining. I'm not sure which is more insulting. Save yourself some time and walk out before you buy a ticket.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2012 in Review

It turns out that 2012 ended up being a year of transition. For the blog, it meant that by the end of the year, all of the contributors, myself included, were wrapped up in enough projects and commitments so as to preclude blogging--as evidenced by the decline in posting. In fact, October 2012 was the first time since I started blogging that The Notes Taken had a month with no posts.

There should be some interesting things happening in 2013, and at the least we'll use the blog to keep you posted. But first, we'll take a look back at a few highlights from 2012.

First, several pieces of the puzzle that will become Part I my book on Jacques Rancière were published: "Cartesian Egalitarianism: From Poullain de la Barre to Rancière" was published in Phaenex 7.1, and "The Nothingness of Equality: The 'Sartrean Existentialism' of Jacques Rancière" was published in Sartre Studies International (it's behind a subscription wall). Both pieces were written in 2011, but mentioning them gives me a reason to post this photo:

Robespierre appreciating the works of Descartes and Sartre

Then, Sean Moreland, Jonathan Murphy, and I edited a special themed issue of The Edgar Allan Poe Review. We posted a draft of our introduction here and more information about the journal is available here. I don't yet have a cat-themed picture for this publication.

Finally, the book reviews. In mid-2012 I took over book review editor duties for Symposium. Prior to that, I had contributed two reviews to the journal, one concerning Miguel Abensour's Democracy Against the State (here). At the end of 2012, I ended up editing Matt McLennan's review of Félix Guattari and Suely Rolnik's Molecular Revolution in Brazil (here).

For The Notes Taken, we were apparently stingy with our time, posting only four reviews.