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.