Thursday, December 18, 2014

Late Additions: Teaching

More often than not, I receive courses for the Winter semester in December--it's happened enough times that I feel like I've written this post several times before. An early Xmas gift (the course, not the post), if you will. This year one of the professors at the University of Ottawa decided to retire for the new year, and that decision made his section of Great Philosophers available, and I ended up with it.

I tend to teach the course through contrasting the canon of Western philosophy with less traditional figures/critics of the canon. When I run the list past friends and colleagues, there always seems to be at least one name that produces the unconscious that's-not-a-great-philosopher facial tic. My reasoning is that the students don't know that. By including non-traditional figures, I'm staving off the eventual inculcation of biases about what makes a philosopher great or not. I'll admit that, given that I try to spend at least a week on each figure, the list isn't as diverse as it could be--but that's always balanced by the worry that if the student finds the non-traditional figures compelling, that he/she might not read them again in his/her philosophical training.

This year, the picks: 
  • The canon includes Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.
  • Each year, I don't know if Marx belongs in the canon or critics.
  • The non-canon includes Schiller, Du Bois, Bergson, and Beauvoir.
I've been emboldened regarding Schiller, having just written an extensive amount about him for Egalitarian Moments. Du Bois has become a fixture when I teach this course, as has Beauvoir. Sartre didn't make the cut this time around because I taught him in a third year course (Topics in European Philosophy) at Carleton this fall, and I've chosen Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity over The Second Sex for the same reason.

The big change for the next semester, then, is the addition of Bergson, who I've never taught and of whom I've admittedly read very little. Given that I've been critical of post-Bergsonian vitalism (via Senghor and Deleuze) I've figured that it's time to catch up on Bergson himself. The impetus, however, was finding his Introduction to Metaphysics in an affordable edition while browsing through Hackett's website. It will be just my luck that, after Descartes, Spinoza, and Schiller, the whole class will end up Bergsonian despite my efforts...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Study

We moved into our current apartment last May. One of its appealing features was a spare room that has become the study. Most of my books on philosophy and theory are stashed in here. Fiction, baseball, art history, and, until two days ago, animal rights—all of these subjects are filed in the living room. To the center-right of my desk, I can reach the Rancière shelf. Below it is the shelf of various secondary sources. Below that: Jean-Luc Nancy, Derrida, Bataille, Blanchot. The top shelf: Vonnegut. To my immediate right, the top two shelves hold existentialism, the middle two the Frankfurt School (including Benjamin and his Gesammelte Schriften) and select titles by Badiou, below that, Nietzsche and, as of last week, the Oxford King James Version of the Bible. The Nietzsche section seemed like the right place for the KJV. Some day, a publisher will bundle the Bible with Beyond Good and Evil/On the Genealogy of Morality.

I wrote almost all of what became Part II of Egalitarian Moments in the study. The placement of Rancière, Benjamin, or Badiou to my right isn’t some kind of ironic political statement, but rather done out of necessity. The shelves to my left are out of arm’s reach when I sit at the desk. My primary sources needed to be closer than that. Near the end, I had the last few titles I needed stacked on the desk. More Deleuze than I’d like to admit. Books by Oliver Davis and Samuel Chambers, Aisthesis in English and French, The Emancipated Spectator. While writing the conclusion, I’d repeatedly pull down Disagreement/La mésentente (it’s important to check both when citing passages from the English translation for reasons that Chambers elaborates at 91ff), although each time I’d return them to the shelf on the basis of the obstinate belief that I had covered that text in the Introduction and Part I.

At some point, sundry items and all types of paperwork began to pile into the study. There aren’t only books to my right. There’s a pile of (in this case, more than two) guitars in cases, as well as several boxes of music equipment and electronics that I’ve basically ignored since we moved. When it got cooler during the fall, I added to my left the fan we no longer needed in the living room and piled every single last piece of paper on top of my filing bins. That pile included a few bills (since paid) and a variety of drafts of the book stacked in increasing disarray. When it got tenuous, the paperwork commandeered the left side of the desk. Books claimed the right. When I typed, my elbows touched both borders. But the book is due soon, I’d think, and I could ignore what amounted to a highly organized disorder. Did I mention that the desk also had the printer, a cactus, a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal and a Dan-Echo? What exactly were those doing there? Thankfully there’s a booze cart for the whiskey, because it would be tempting to drink to make space. Which means that there would be space to write without the necessary focus to do so. Few of us mere mortals could do with philosophy what Hunter S. Thompson did with journalism.

This is the point in the narrative where everything teetering is supposed to topple. I’m faced with the thankless task of reporting otherwise. I submitted the manuscript and, after a week of procrastinating, I finally filed or recycled almost all the paperwork.

I did try out a few alternate endings. In one scenario, I fell into what 19th century authors called dissipation, and used politically expedient broadsides to finance my debts from debauchery and gambling. However, Balzac wrote that one, unless it involved a portrait of rake that remained hidden through most of the narrative. That story is by Oscar Wilde.

In a different scenario, I will have been found four decades later, mummified beneath hundreds of drafts of my magnum opus. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to Wittgenstein.

In the current scenario, the moment during which I’m typing this piece, the same cat who obstructed my review of Diagne’s African Art as Philosophy and who napped on Descartes’s Philosophical Writings and Sartre’s Critiques littéraires is laying on my left arm, pinning my wrist against keyboard. That means that there must be more room on the desk.

At the moment, the quandary revolves around reorganizing the books to my right. I’ve read numerous authors describe their writing techniques: how many words to write per day, strategies for note-taking and revisions, daily schedules, and reflections on organizing material (Stuart Elden, for instance, is assiduous in his reports on his Foucault project). When I write, these techniques and strategies change. I hand write most of my material before typing, or at least I used to. That meant that everything I type is a second draft. At points, during Part II, this became counter-productive, so I had to type the first draft and revise later. At one point I was cutting and pasting drafts. With scissors and tape. While all these aspects were open to change, the shelving of primary sources remained the same. Now that the book is done, this shelving isn’t as convenient. For example, it might be a while before I revisit Walter Benjamin’s work, so it probably shouldn’t occupy the shelf to my direct right—though it was useful for an important part of Chapter 3. Nor do I really need the rest of the Frankfurt School or Badiou on the shelf below.

There’s no moral to this story. That’s where this was supposed to be heading. However, aside from an essay on the anthropocentricism of Schelling’s nature-philosophy, I don’t have any writing commitments for 2015. Yet. That means I don't have a clear idea about how to reorganize the shelves. Perhaps that is part of the writing process. That is, not writing is part of the writing process. I have a few rudimentary ideas about an essay on Rancière and Jean-Luc Nancy, and a more unconventional essay on humanism, but it’s probably more important, given that I’m less than two weeks removed from submitting the manuscript for Egalitarian Moments, to spend some time wasting time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Two Pictures (Bury the Lede)

I try to recycle paper. It comes with printing papers repeatedly, given that I feel like I edit more efficiently and with more focus when faced with the printed page. This page turned up when I was printing answer keys, but it never made it back into the stack. It's from a talk I gave on Rancière, Sartre, and seriality at the EPTC in 2013. The red ink was jotted before combining this talk and my article, 'The Nothingness of Equality' (published with Sartre Studies International) for the book. It turns out that those two sentences in red weren't added to what I had considered to be the final draft of Chapter 2. I suppose I had thought that they were redundant, given that the paragraph they're crowding was a quick synopsis of what I had already written for SSI--but they've been added to the final version. If my handwriting is cryptic, the passage underlines how Rancière opposes his egalitarian politics to the particular interests of sociological groups.

These are--were--the last two blank pages of a notebook I started on Rancière in November 2011. A large part of the book was handwritten in first draft in this notebook, though it did take three years to finally complete it. It being the notebook.

And the manuscript for Egalitarian Moments; it's done as well, and due to be published in July 2015.