An Objection

One often hears the objection that someone is close-minded, hostile to viewpoints other than their own, or not open to dialogue. Such an objection, however, doesn’t go anywhere — just as the supposed “endless conversation” it presupposes wouldn’t go anywhere. As so often happens, the person who is really opposed to dialogue is not the “asshole,” who after all takes the conversation seriously, but the “niceness police,” whose impoverished idea of conversation implies the indifferent “exchange” of hermetically sealed “viewpoints.” That is, the one objecting to an overly forceful argument is most often the really close-minded one, wanting their precious opinions to be treated gingerly, resentful of anyone carrying their logic to conclusions that seem “bad” or even just unexpected — being the “niceness police” is what being intolerant of the mere existence of other views actually looks like.

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206 Responses to “An Objection”

  1. Alex Says:

    As a signed up member of the niceness police, I just subscribe to the opinion that interesting debate works best when their is measure of control not in what is said, but in how it is said. You can be forceful, but you don’t have to be an asshole.

  2. Adam Says:

    You fucking moron!!! (Kidding.)

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Alex,

    I don’t think too many people would consider you a member of the niceness police. You fucking prick.

  4. Adam Says:

    In all seriousness, I think there is a tendency to read “forceful” as “mean.” In real life, people are often put off by forcefulness, and in virtual life, that effect is exaggerated to the point of feeling persecuted. So often you will find that someone who is “rude” or “brash” or “intolerant” in comment threads is actually just forcefully disagreeing with the complainant.

  5. Alex Says:

    Fuck you all, fuckers.

    But no, its just that online things are ramped up a lot, and this tends to cause tense scenes where as in flesh space it wouldn’t.

  6. Adam Says:

    The psychology of online communication really deserves more study. In my years of experience, I have started to get some idea of how the inherent problems could be addressed, but I think before we could really figure out how to make it “better,” we’d need to fully account for what happens when you remove the fleshly element — I think it’s even different from print, and not just because of the speed factor.

    Passive-aggressive blog posts trying to set up arbitrary rules (like “don’t recommend books to people unless they ask you too,” as Kugelmass recently did at The Valve, obviously in response to me) are not the solution in this regard.

  7. Alex Says:

    My friend did his undergrad dissertation on online communication, in particular IRC conversations. Not wanting to recommend journals when people don’t ask for them, but some of the stuff the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication does is interesting. This paper, the result of an experimental study, might be approaching addressing in some sense what happens when you remove the flesh, in the particular in context of political discussions.

  8. Adam Says:

    God, what a fucking jackass, showing me up as ignorant of the latest research in my own fucking comment thread. That’s rude, Alex.

  9. Alex Says:

    Not as rude as writing a whole blog post about how people who say you are rude are in fact ruder, in fact the rudest!

  10. Adam Says:

    Oh, so sorry to hurt your delicate ego by calling you “rude.” Grow a spine, Alex.

  11. Alex Says:

    No you grow a spine Mr Meta-Rude. A double sin – meta-post that is meta-rude!

  12. Adam Says:

    We were having a really productive conversation before you commented, Alex.

  13. Eric Lee Says:

    Not to be a fucking rude asshole, but didn’t Gabe & Tycho solve this one 3 years ago?

    John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory

  14. Adam Says:

    Eric, you douche-cock — that’s the exact fucking opposite of the problem I’m talking about.

  15. Wilson Says:

    I do not think the concern should be the short coming of being impolite, but, perhaps, unwise. See Plato’s Republic 539 b-d.
    (I suppose it is interesting, however, that in Boyarin’s new work he argues that it is precisely the mode of dialogue which chokes out other view points.)

  16. jholbo Says:

    Adam, I would amend one thing. You write: ‘”the “niceness police,” whose impoverished idea of conversation implies the indifferent “exchange” of hermetically sealed “viewpoints.”’

    This gets things exactly upside down and backwards.

    When viewpoints are hermetically sealed, then the gloves come off and people are free to say that x is totally wrong, y is flatly a mistake, etc. without offending anyone’s feelings intolerably. Because x is just a position, not a person, or even an irreplaceable personal heirloom. No one’s pride or sense of intellectual self-worth is then inextricably bound up with the fate of x. (Indeed, your own formulation implicitly shows why this is so. Once opinions become personally ‘indifferent’, there is no pressure to compel ‘niceness’ to them. Who cares if you slap around an ‘indifferent’ opinion, as vigorously as you like? It’s just an abstract object, after all.)

    The niceness police clamp down when positions are NOT hermetically sealed, when it is thought that they cannot be made abstract and impersonal in that way. Then, often, there is no way to have an argument without having a struggle for social dominance. There is no way to say that x is wrong without implying the owner of x is wrong, i.e. a bad sort of person. Argument becomes fundamentally Schmittian – friend and enemy. Every attack is perceived as an existential threat. So you need police to keep social order. What you need, you get. So you get niceness policing.

    This is not to say that positions always CAN be sealed off, hermetically. Let alone that it is always GOOD when they are. (Because, after all, that would falsify a good many things.) Often when opinions are sealed off, the debate becomes arid and scholastic. But arid, scholastic debates are seldom ‘nice’, in the sense you are complaining about. Typically they are severe and knock-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred. This is possible precisely because the issue is not conceived as ‘personal’, so the holds – however violent – aren’t personal. Two people can disrespect each others’ positions without disrespecting each other. No one is personally attacked (so, to repeat, there is no temptation to call in the niceness police.)

    In short: jumping out of the fry pan of philosophy as indifferent exchange of ‘hermetically sealed’ opinion is the swiftest rout into the fires of ‘niceness’. And to suppose resistance to the former is actually resistance to the latter is just an alternative mode of arrival at the latter.

    (I do hope this doesn’t look like thread-jacking. As you were. Didn’t mean to interrupt the conversation.)

  17. Adam Says:

    John, Yeah, this is a definite thread-jack — how dare you actually respond seriously to my post?!

    We seem to be dealing with different ideas of “hermetically sealed viewpoints.” I was taking for granted the idea that one’s opinions should be sealed off from one’s person — I was saying that sometimes people want to put forward their viewpoints as unchallengeable, internally perfect little snowflakes. But that stance could very well reflect the fact that their ideas are not hermetically sealed in the sense that you mean in your comment.

  18. jholbo Says:

    “I was taking for granted the idea that one’s opinions should be sealed off from one’s person.”

    Do you really take that for granted? (If so, it seems to me you should not. Because, after all, it is so rarely the case.)

    At any rate, it seems to me that, yes, people who put forward their viewpoints as unchallengeable and internally perfect are invariably utterly personally invested. They are claiming personal perfection by proxy.

    But this hardly fits with what you said. Because this approach hardly ‘implies’ a conception of philosophy based on indifferent exchange of opinions. No one could mistake it for that from 200 yards.

  19. Adam Says:

    As so often happens on this blog, I feel like I’ve somehow failed to make myself understood.

  20. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    No, Holbo just reads for obscurantism.

  21. jholbo Says:

    Adam, at the risk of inducing you to give offense to named individuals, could you perhaps offer some reportage on ‘niceness’ police actions, versus the actions of who ‘take things seriously’. To put it another way, on the one hand we’ve got the hermetically sealed, squeezed tight shut ones. On the other side, apparently, are the apparent assholes. I’m having trouble telling the difference.

    Anthony, I don’t understand what you mean. Are you saying that I am drawn to obscurantism, that I am the cause of it in others, or that I myself am obscure? Or some combination of the three? It makes a bit of a difference.

  22. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Thanks for the perfect example.

  23. Adam Kotsko Says:

    My main point of reference for this post was a discussion board from which I was removed. Since it was a private listserv, I can’t really give more detail, nor would you be able to track anything down to see what I’m talking about.

    The Valve is not, in my view, an offender in this particular regard (though of course it is a horrible offender in many other regards), if that’s what you were wondering at all.

    “Assholes” == people who are arguing too forcefully, breaking the tone of liberal niceness.

    “Niceness police” == those who use complaints about rudeness to clamp down on what is actually perfectly “polite” (i.e., not personally motivated) debate. Such tactics can often be more or less conscious attempts to silence uncongenial opinions indirectly, by attacking the person’s tone or character.

    I have often also been in online debates, primarily with regard to religion, where I have been accused of many slanderous things — being like a Nazi sympathizer, being a supporter of the religious right, etc. — but such sentiments were “okay” because they were expressed in a superficially “calm” manner. Meanwhile, I was “personally attacking” the other person by pursuing the argument too forcefully for their taste.

  24. Daniel Says:

    I can’t tell if this comment thread has shifted away from the “call each other asswipes” stage, or if it’s just mutated into a new form of asswipe-calls — perhaps a subtler, more invidious form.

    Also: What is up with the shifts from “Adam” to “Adam Kotsko” in comment threads? Are there actually two Adams?

    Also also: There is not one of you which is not an asshole. You assholes.

  25. Adam Says:

    Sorry — it’s all me.

  26. jholbo Says:

    “though of course it is a horrible offender in many other regards”

    I’ve long been curious about this. Everyone is always too polite to explain what they actually think is going wrong at the Valve. (Occasionally one reads things about lack of intellectual rigor, or simple wrongness, but I’m pretty sure those who make these complaints don’t actually believe this is it. So it must be something even worse.) Whatever we are doing must be pretty awful, if people can’t even bring themselves to say what it is. (Sometimes politeness can be taken too far, don’t you think?)

  27. Adam Says:

    It’s really too fargone at this point. The only solution is unilateral withdrawal.

  28. jholbo Says:

    Are you requesting it or offering it? (As I like to say: it makes a bit of a difference.)

  29. Alex Says:

    I would have thought what is wrong with The Valve is pretty clear, but I am willing to explain it to you, if you like.

  30. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘Whatever we are doing must be pretty awful, if people can’t even bring themselves to say what it is.’

    If anyone attempted to explain it you would just perpetuate the awfulness.

  31. jholbo Says:

    Very well, Alex. Explain.

  32. Alex Says:

    Okay, I am sure whatever I say you will pick it apart and try and get me to give you concrete examples etc, thus reducing what I am about to say to nothing.

    I’ve been lurking around on the blogs of an academic sort for a few years now, including The Valve back in the Theory’s Empire days, so I think as a reader of it like any other, I have a decent impression of what it is like. So in this capacity as someone who reads and is potentially the target market of your weblog, I would suggest the following, maybe as constructive criticism. I hope this doesn’t come across as being too heavily loaded with my own intellectual commitments, and is likely despite this to come across as being quite subjective and hence open to the “thats your opinion” shot.

    I think the problem with The Valve is two fold, from what I percieve. A problem of placement and target market, and drawn from this in part, a problem of style. In the first instance, I don’t know where it is trying to pitch itself. Is it a pseudo-journal online, where real decent articles are going to be placed and discussed, or is it, like this blog and others around, simply a place where people let off steam and just generally post any old crap they are thinking about right now. The Valve then, seems to have a problem of self-definition. On one hand, you are “editor” of The Valve, which implies the former, you have book events, with long articles about the books, substantial philosophical nitpicking and interviews with the authors of aforementioned books. Then again, one has Youtube posts, one shots linking to other sites, and certain rather annoying Dawkins shaped posts that seem to aim at parody. The latter case is a good example – I don’t actually know where to place it – is it a bit of fun and fluff which is mildly amusing, or is it a serious comment which deserves a serious response. This brings in the second point, because of the confusion about its purpose (journal/magazine versus informal blog), it seems to adopt a certain haughtiness of style and a self-importance that I find irksome. Often, in comment threads particularly, it seems that certain style comes out the “what me!” style of complaint. Eg this Zizek thread – http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/nobody_expects_the_anti_ms_word_revolution/ . Quoth Holbo:

    “Frankly, I don’t understand why you get so pissed off about these posts of mine. Seriously.”

    I guess, putting flesh on the bones its like this, and I should point out that The Valve is not the only perp in this regard. Maybe it is the fault of the medium. These kind of threads are, for all intents and purposes, seem to never, ever get beyond a cut above banter. They are never real hardcore, lets get the books out academic discussions, as perpetrated in journals across the land. But there is something about the style of you guys, also due to the confusion of purpose that seems to imply that such things are serious discussions and that people reputation and the reputation of the figures discussed are at stake. This is my impression anyway. Part of me feels that blog discussions are substitute for real work, which in my case they often are.

    All of this, might of course, be due to my inability to accept websites of hybrid style.

    But for the sake of argument compare http://alistapart.com/ with something like http://mashable.com – both tech/web 2.0 thingies, both written in different ways and in different styles. The former comes across as a magazine which in its boldest moments The Valve attempt, the latter like a blog of the traditional school. The Valve comes across as a weird hybird of passing thoughts, complaints and fancies and attempts to post online “serious academic work” TM, and seems to oscillate between the two, sometimes within the course of the same post. In a way, this is why I sometimes prefer other group blogs to the Valve (I’ll furnish with links as the discussion carries on – I have more important things to do).

    Hopefully, in the following discussion you will stick to my first point that is much more objective than the latter one, which could lead us down a whole path of wrongness.

    Hope this is all taken in the good humour it is intended in.

    Regards

    Me

  33. Alex Says:

    PS Other people, feel free to chip in with my attempts to get “what’s wrong with Teh Valve”.

  34. Adam Says:

    The Valve really started going downhill for me when it censored the Bill Benzon post that analyzed, in loving, creepy detail, a sexually-charged anime scene — complete with screen captures.

  35. Adam Says:

    Let me see if the Wayback Machine has it. I think everyone would enjoy that post.

  36. jholbo Says:

    Adam, lemme get this straight. You’ve been complaining loudly and angrily about the obscure horribleness of the Valve for months (years, I think), and strongly hinting that it has something, specifically to do with my anti-Theory/Derrida/Zizek posts … by way of sending Bill a message that you didn’t like his anime post?

    Wouldn’t it have been easier to send him an email?

    Alex, thanks for being civil.

  37. Adam Says:

    I guess I’ve just been reading too much Kierkegaard — the indirect communication has spiralled out of control.

  38. Daniel Says:

    Wait, Benzon really did post something about Azumanga Daioh and Osaka wanting to ride a dolphin? I thought that was just a bad dream I’d had.

    It was pretty creepy when I watched the show several months later and found out that there really was a scene where Osaka said she wanted to ride a dolphin. (Though there wasn’t anything sexual to it. Riding a dolphin just seems awesome. They are like living jet-skis that go underwater.)

    Man, I don’t know what to believe anymore.

  39. Adam Says:

    It was real! I e-mailed SEK about it, basically to ask “WTF?!” and he took it down — immediately afterward, I was kicking myself for not saving it. That thing was a real tour-de-force of creepiness.

  40. Adam Says:

    His close readings of the career of a Youtube webcam whore are still in the archives, however, along with everyone’s discussions of comic books, popular polemics against religion, etc. — you know, literature.

  41. jholbo Says:

    Adam, wouldn’t it be simpler just to admit that when you said we were horrible, you were saying something that you don’t actually believe? (Or are you going to tell me that the horribleness is due to the appalling fact of the discussion of comic books?)

    If you just admit that you don’t actually believe it, the question becomes more interesting: why, when discussing the Valve, does Adam not say what he believes? (When, presumably, he could as easily say what he believes.)

    I too have a Kierkegaardian theory of what is going on. But I’ll spare you that. (And still people think I have no mercy, in these discussions.)

  42. Alex Says:

    I think I probably articulated what he thinks, because I am psychically linked to Adam, as all Weblog regulars are.

  43. Adam Says:

    I’m just being difficult here. I do really think that the anti-Theory agenda of the “early” Valve, as well as the Zizek posts, were simply awful — though doubtless you will point out that I have failed to demonstrate to your satisfaction what is wrong with them.

    You have clearly failed in your goal of facilitating dialogue among scholars of literature, no doubt in large part because you tied in the lack of dialogue with your personal polemic against what many scholars of literature actually do.

    You drove away Ray Davis.

    You have minimal female readership, in large part because of the stupid boy’s club atmosphere produced by the “geeky” posts (comic books, anime, camwhores) and the smug Britishness of the whole thing — yet of course, this was revealed to be my fault after it was too late to do anything about it.

    The posts on religion are invariably ill-conceived, and their place within The Valve’s mandate is in any case unclear.

    There are good posts, and there are even literary posts, but the blog is too dominated by your own personal idiosyncrasies to do anything that it promised to do. So you end up with a handful of good, but basically unnoticed, posts, and a lot of posts that generate bitchy little comment threads. All in all, hardly a triumph — and in fact, a living demonstration of the correctness of my critique of academic blogging.

    Is that clear enough for you?

  44. Adam Says:

    For the sake of balance, I do think that your stuff on electronic publishing, and academic publishing more generally, is both good and relevant — you have good ideas in that regard, and The Valve is a good forum for putting them forward. (My favorite, however, remains your proposal for an online peer-review forum from Crooked Timber back in the day.)

  45. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘His close readings of the career of a Youtube webcam whore are still in the archives’

    Emmalina is not a whore! You asshole! Have you ever even watched her videos?! Fucking prick..

  46. jholbo Says:

    OK, I’ll say what I think. This is going to come out sort of harsh, so I’ll try not to be too snarky on top of that. Basically, I’m going to tell Adam K. that he projects his sins onto me. That is not usually a welcome message. But I’m quite serious. The main reason for mentioning it is that I’m sort of tired it.

    “I do really think that the anti-Theory agenda of the “early” Valve, as well as the Zizek posts, were simply awful — though doubtless you will point out that I have failed to demonstrate to your satisfaction what is wrong with them.”

    I would add only that you have failed to demonstrate to YOUR satisfaction what is wrong with them. We may as well pick Alex’s example. In that case, in the end you admitted that, not only was the joke funny, but the two minor points I argued were perfectly valid. You just hadn’t known it at the start because you didn’t know enough Dennett to realize that Zizek didn’t know enough Dennett. (Plus the MS-Word thing, which was just sort of obvious. So god knows why you tried to argue against it through scores of comments.) This did nothing to reconcile you to the tolerability of the existence of the post because – this is the point – your objection to it had nothing to do with its rightness or wrongness. You objected to its disrespectful tone. In short, quoting from your post, “the one objecting to an overly forceful argument is most often the really close-minded one, wanting their precious opinions to be treated gingerly, resentful of anyone carrying their logic to conclusions that seem “bad” or even just unexpected.” Your objection to my Zizek/Derrida/anti-Theory posts has never been that they are wrong- which not only have you not shown, you have rarely attempted to show. It is always this other thing – the ‘this is disrespectful, insufficiently deferential’ thing. Which I object to. For the reasons you object to niceness in your post. Also, your objection to academic blogging is, in effect, that it is impossible to see how the thing can ever be satisfactorily niceness policed. People will make unwelcome objections to your stuff – the sort of objection that you don’t want to consider. This is actually your official view, may I remind you. (That post about how you never want to post a paper for discussion on line because people might object to it in ways you would find intolerably irritating.)

    Take the whole “Theory’s Empire” thing. It is, again, telling that you complain about the ‘agenda’ – that is, the very fact of the book event. But there is nothing awful about a book event. At the time there were some concerted attempts to pretend it was a right-wing conspiracy, that there is no such thing as theory, etc. That it was anti-intellectual, anti-philosophy. These were the only real objects to the event, as a global phenomenon. But those are bad objections. And no one even pretends to think they were good ones anymore. Hell, after a while Long Sunday started doing ‘what is theory?’ posts. Yet you still object to the whole thing. Why? Well, I submit to you that, for a variety of reasons, you feel compelled to play ‘niceness’ cop on this beat. I think that is an inappropriate, borderline anti-intellectual attitude to take towards serious philosophical discussion.

    Not just you, of course. But your post sort of provokes me to leave this comment here.

    Moving on down:

    “You have minimal female readership, in large part because of the stupid boy’s club atmosphere produced by the “geeky” posts (comic books, anime, camwhores) and the smug Britishness of the whole thing — yet of course, this was revealed to be my fault after it was too late to do anything about it.”

    You can’t possibly actually believe this counts as an objection, even if you believe it’s true. You are blogmates with Anthony. When you are offended by the Valve, don’t pretend it is because we are a boy’s club, or rude, or smug, or any of that. You aren’t actually offended by that sort of thing.

    “… and a lot of posts that generate bitchy little comment threads. All in all, hardly a triumph — and in fact, a living demonstration of the correctness of my critique of academic blogging.”

    Look, again I don’t believe that bitchy comment threads actually bother you. If they did, you wouldn’t be instrumental in constructing so many of them. You can’t blame the Valve for the bitchy comment threads. (I never leave bitchy comments, for example. Sarcastic coments in response to bitchy commments, yes. Bitchy comments, no.) Well, I guess we could put a stop to it. But that doesn’t exactly make us the responsible parties. We have bitchy threads, not because there is anything about the posts that merit bitchiness. Intellectually, they are on the whole perfectly respectable and would more appropriately be responded to in a non-bitchy way. But, again, the existence of the Valve upsets people, and so they feel the need to engage in recreational niceness policing. Bitching in comments is a way to do that. And then, when that fails – due to insufficient familiarity with Dennett, or a host of other reasons – you can always feign that the reason why it is appropriate to bitch is that, after all, the comments are always so bitchy. So the thing you say is a demonstration of the correctness of your view is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Begging the question. Call it what you will.

    Look, every six months or so I send you an email, asking why you are peeing in my shoes. And the answer is never: because I had a good reason to pee in your shoes. The answer is always: sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Please don’t start answering: because they smelled like pee. That’s even worse. Take responsible for your own intellectual approach. Own your bitchiness before you object to it.

    Again, I don’t suppose you find this very pleasant reading. But I actually am writing it because the unpleasant, borderline abusive tone you take in our exchanges strikes me as intellectually inappropriate. Don’t blame me for your own behavior. Don’t niceness police, when you could have a philosophical discussion instead. Seriously. Philosophy is more fun than bitching in Zizek comment threads.

  47. Adam Says:

    It’s awesome how the objection in the final paragraph of your comment is precisely to my tone. And yes, when my tone gets out of hand, as it too often does, I do apologize.

    But claiming that your “critique by a thousand cuts” of Zizek misconstrues his project or that your reading of Grammatology misconstrues Derrida’s relationship to the texts he is using — neither of those are anti-intellectual positions, nor are they intrinsically disrespectful to you. For example.

    I admitted to you that I overreached with the Dennett thing, which was part of a broader strategy of refusing to concede in advance that “continental figure X” (Zizek in this case, but often Foucault or others) has something wrong, but “it doesn’t matter because of their super-deep insights.” And even now I think, based on what was said about Dennett in that very thread, that Zizek’s take on Dennett is simply overly compressed, rather than outright wrong. Yet I did not push the issue because I knew I had undermined my credibility.

    Your “clever” reversal of my complaint is undermined by the fact that I actually think a charitable reading is necessary as a first step to understanding, and I actually think that your uncharitable stance toward certain “continental” figures is part of the reason you misread them. It’s not that I’m asking you to be “nicer” to Zizek or something — I’m asking you to understand what he’s saying before offering a critique. If that’s “niceness police,” then I’m the “niceness police” — but that’s obviously not what I meant in my post. Creating an idiosyncratic definition of the terms I use does not consistute critique.

    My incredible power over The Valve is amazing to me, though, overall.

  48. Adam Says:

    Also, your comment seems to presuppose that Anthony is some kind of horrible misogynist that I’m hypocritically tolerating, which is both unfair and frankly bizarre.

  49. jholbo Says:

    OK, one thing I just wrote in that comment is over the top. So I hereby retract the following: “Your objection to my Zizek/Derrida/anti-Theory posts has never been that they are wrong- which not only have you not shown, you have rarely attempted to show. It is always this other thing – the ‘this is disrespectful, insufficiently deferential’ thing.”

    To the contrary, you have often tried to show they are wrong. I am sure we can agree that sometimes you have succeed, sometimes failed. Because, often, the reason you think I am wrong is because you are confused, not me. But my present point is that you certainly do not find my posts ‘horrible’ because they contain intellectual errors. That’s the whole point of philosophical writing. To get things wrong, so you can get it right. (Or at least less wrong.) What you have never tried to show is that there is anything intellectually ‘horrible’ about what I do, in the global sense of ‘horrible’ that is the clear impetus for your comments. Your comments respond to the horribleness, never give reason to think it is actually there.

    The horribleness of what I do (as opposed to occasional wrongness) can only be a global lack of ‘niceness’ – a failure to be respectful and deferential to certain figures/ideas, etc. But it does not seem to me to be intellectually appropriate to demand that sort of ‘niceness’. Sometimes it is more helpful to be severely critical, even of figures that people very much want to think very highly of. You know that perfectly well, in the abstract. Otherwise you wouldn’t have written this post. I am simply asking you to acknowledge that you are on the wrong side of this acknowledged truth, in the case of your ongoing ventings against the Valve. Or, actually, I don’t care whether you acknowledge it. I want you to stop being on the wrong side. For the sake of the good discussions that might then take place.

  50. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘You are blogmates with Anthony.’

    The only person who has every complained to me that I was making women feel uncomfortable was SEK, who gets himself into far more trouble with his blog than I could ever dream. Last time I checked he was listed as male. I absolutely reject this notion that I’m somehow misogynistic and unless you can provide some evidence I think you should stop saying it. Not to mention that Adam’s point was that the boys club comes from the fact that you are all geeks meaning its the obsession with comic books and camwhores that alienates the female crowd.

    ‘I never leave bitchy comments, for example.’

    Comments about grammar are bitchy comments. Nerdy-bitch comments, but bitchy nonetheless.

    ‘Also, your objection to academic blogging is, in effect, that it is impossible to see how the thing can ever be satisfactorily niceness policed. People will make unwelcome objections to your stuff – the sort of objection that you don’t want to consider.’

    I’ve never been given helpful comments on drafts of conference papers I post. I’ve been put in contact with people and through email exchanges had some interesting conversations, but via the comments nothing good has ever come. It rarely moves out of the ‘can you teach me about concept X’ and when it does it usually moves into, ‘completely unrelated, but I was wondering if you’ve considered that you’re entire basis for your thesis is wrong’ which is hardly interesting or helpful. You are proof of that! You never respond well to these kinds of questions because you’ve already necessarily made a decision on the big questions surrounding the little one you happen to be dealing with.

    ‘Intellectually, they are on the whole perfectly respectable and would more appropriately be responded to in a non-bitchy way.’

    Umm… ‘on the whole’? The religion posts are always so bad though. A good deal of it doesn’t really interest me as the study of literature/comic books doesn’t really interest me (which isn’t to say it isn’t interesting, I know) so I can’t claim to have an opinion there. I find it very annoying that you claim the site is a philosophy blog though. Obviously the work you do fits under a general rubric of philosophy, but Kuegelmas? Benzon? This is a kind of unsexy critical theory or cultural criticism, whatever you want to call it. And it’s not that fun when everything has been decided ahead of time. I have never seen you relent, it’s mostly banter back and forth basically agreeing with one another and then extreme Holbonic passive-aggressive hostility when someone disagrees.

    I just don’t see why you come here though. If blogs are supposed to be communities can’t you just stick to yours? You have plenty of fans there it seems and nothing good ever comes of your coming on over and trying to give us one. Or maybe I’m wrong and this is really fun for you. dBut Jesus, don’t you have a comic book you could read instead?

  51. Adam Says:

    I’m all for being severely critical, but only after understanding a given thinker. For instance, I have an essay about Agamben coming out in a few months, and from reading it, you’d naturally assume that I think Agamben is an idiot. But no! I spent a couple years reading and rereading Agamben until I was confident I had a handle on what he was doing — then I wrote my critique.

    Your procedure on Zizek appears to have been nearly the opposite, and as a result, I really do think that your writings on Zizek, including the article, are intellectually irresponsible. They play well to the kind of person who wants to be reassured that Zizek is nonsense, but no one who has really engaged with Zizek has yet taken them very seriously as critiques. It’s not simply that you’re often incorrect, though the additional factor is not best characterized as “deference” in my mind. Charitable reading is not “niceness,” or at least that’s not how I’m using the terms.

  52. jholbo Says:

    Anthony, all I meant was that you are often quite ostentatiously rude and tend to take a smashmouth approach to online intellectual exchange. Further point in my defense: there was the time we almost had to kick you out for attacking pica. (I hadn’t been thinking about that, and only just remembered.) But I don’t think that was because she was a woman. I think it was because she was a person. You are a misanthrope, an equal opportunity hater. (I think you actually acknowledge as much. No?) So, no I didn’t mean to call you a misogynist, except insofar as misogyny is, as it were, a corollary of an axiom of universal hate. Is that fair? I withdraw any whisper of an implicature to the effect of inegalitarianism.

    Seriously, I was emphasizing that Adam does not have delicate rhetorical sensibilities – otherwise he would hardly associate with you, who are so, erm, blunt – so he shouldn’t pretend we have offended his sense of decorum. I was trying to clear up a red herring.

    Adam: “no one who has really engaged with Zizek has yet taken them [ my stuff] very seriously as critiques.” Well, I’ve gotten positive feedback on the P&L piece from lots of folks, including some apparently favorable to Zizek. I got invited to a conference Zizek panel and Zizekians asked questions, etc. No one has ever suggested that there’s anything wrong with what I said. OK, Jodi said in print that it was obviously completely wrong. But no one has ever specified anything wrong more closely than ‘everything’. (Seriously. No one has ever even hinted at specific criticism. Which is downright weird, actually, given how much it has been discussed, at least indirectly.) I wasn’t unfair to Zizek. I didn’t misunderstand or misrepresent his claims. I just showed that he didn’t understand Kierkegaard. (Or at least got K. wrong in this book.) And he mistook a point that was utterly familiar to liberals for an original, anti-liberal critique. That’s it.

    We don’t really need to keep harping on this. But it seems to me that if something is seriously intellectually irresponsible, it ought to be possible to specify the source of the problem more narrowly than ‘it’s completely irresponsibly wrong’. You say my writings might give comfort to people who want to think Zizek is nonsense. But a trenchant, valid critique of some prominent piece of analytic philosophy could reassure lazy continentals that analytic philosophy is all trash. There is no such thing as a text that a lazy reader cannot turn into an excuse to be lazy. So, by the only standard you have provided according to which my piece might be deemed irresponsible, every text ever written is irresponsible. That seems like setting the bar too high.

    And I do think you confuse charity with deference. The proof is that you consider some valid critiques to be ‘uncharitable’, and reject them on that grounds. You write: “It’s not that I’m asking you to be “nicer” to Zizek or something — I’m asking you to understand what he’s saying before offering a critique.” But you yourself don’t think I misunderstood Zizek. You yourself have, in fact, told me that you concede that the Kierkegaard point I make in the paper is perfectly sound and well-supported. You have also said you think “On Belief” is a bad book, by Zizek’s usual standards. But that is not a reason to exempt it from criticism. Writing a good book is not a ‘get out of critical thinking jail free card’ if you turn around and write a bad book.

    From the fact that you continue to insist that my paper is horribly irresponsible, while freely admitting that what the paper says is intellectually correct, I conclude that you are just asking me to be ‘nicer’. How can it be that charity demands a higher standard than correct understanding? The only thing that could possibly mandate higher standard is some demand for deference to Zizek’s high status as a Thinker. I know you will say that isn’t it. Well, what can I say?

    I’ll leave it at that. I’ve said my piece. Probably there’s too much bad blood over all this nonsense. Which is too bad. (I’ll take your advice and read a comic book, Anthony.) We should probably know better, somehow.

  53. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘Anthony, all I meant was that you are often quite ostentatiously rude and tend to take a smashmouth approach to online intellectual exchange. Further point in my defense: there was the time we almost had to kick you out for attacking pica. (I hadn’t been thinking about that, and only just remembered.) But I don’t think that was because she was a woman. I think it was because she was a person.’

    Pica is a bit of a sensitive soul. I “attacked” her (which is rather stupid way of putting it, but it works for your purposes) because she perpetuated a bit of stupidity regarding Deleuze that, of course, went unchallenged by the sweatered masses of Teh valve. She emailed me to say that I had hurt her and that she was sensitive. To my knowledge that email exchange went fine, we explained ourselves, I apologized for hurting her but said that I couldn’t apologize for being upset that she was propagating this particular fallacy, and said I would try to remember in the future that she was sensitive. Case closed. Though you didn’t have to ban me, the content did that for me.

    ‘You are a misanthrope, an equal opportunity hater. (I think you actually acknowledge as much. No?)’

    Only to the same degree you’ve acknowledged yourself as a prick. I try to be fair. If I read something and feel it is wrong then I say as such.

    ‘So, no I didn’t mean to call you a misogynist, except insofar as misogyny is, as it were, a corollary of an axiom of universal hate. Is that fair? I withdraw any whisper of an implicature to the effect of inegalitarianism.’

    So you’re calling me a misogynist with plausible deniability for calling me a misogynist. No, that’s not fair. I find it bizarre your ascribing to me universal hatred because I dislike intensely a small group of academic bloggers mainly centered around Teh valve. Its not as if I would be happy if one of you suffered a personal misfortune!

    Your constant refusal to see that Adam has given you a specific critique of your criticisms of Zizek and Derrida is mindblowing. Your saying it is true does not make it so, though your acolytes may believe via your repetition.

  54. Alex Says:

    John,

    You really are acting like a complete prick. Doubtless as I say it you will say “who me” and throw up your hands in disbelief.

    I think it is rather telling that you ignored the post I made regarding what is wrong with The Valve and went straight for Adam. I don’t see how what I said was hugely different to what he said. This is because, the plain fact is that you don’t like Adam or anything he stands for. This is fair enough, but don’t pretend you have some amazingly complex reason for this.

  55. Adam Says:

    This is amazing. I never said, “You’re right, the reading of Kierkegaard is total trash.” I noted that his goal in using Kierkegaard in On Belief was not to exegete him, but essentially to draw an analogy. Apparently that amounts to a concession that his stuff on Kierkegaard is straightforwardly wrong.

    This fantasy world you’ve constructed where I agree with you on everything but nevertheless continue to randomly bully you is really bizarre to me. The series of objections that I keep pointing to in this very thread apparently does nothing to shake the overall frame wherein we’ve somehow failed to have any “real” intellectual disagreements. It may be that you’ve simply decided that all my objections amount to an anti-intellectual insistence that you be deferential to certain thinkers, such that you just can’t hear anything I’m actually saying — and you always exaggerate any minor concession into total agreement (for instance, it’s supposed to be meaningful that I liked the joke in the title of that one post?!), because that provides further evidence to support your crackpot theory that all I care about is how “mean” you’re being to Zizek or something.

  56. jholbo Says:

    Alex, the difference between what you and Adam said is that you didn’t feign belief that there is something horrible about the Valve. I feel that Adam feigns horror as a way of dodging certain substantive intellectual exchanges, so I sort of kept to my straight line, pushing past your (admittedly constructive) contribution.

    I like Adam fine. He’s a very smart fellow. But, again, I feel that he is often quite unfair to me. So I said so. In the hopes that he would come to see that he was being unfair and, accordingly, stop. It annoys me to be made part of the whole anti-Valve kabuki dance thing. (I don’t demand realism. But there is such a thing as taking artificially too far, in the dramatic arts.)

    Speaking of which: Anthony has always been extremely insulting and abusive in his interactions with me. He adopted that tone early on, due to no provocation from me. I was quite forbearing for a time, then figured out it wasn’t going to do me any good. Anyway, that’s how I remember events unfolding. So now I don’t feel I owe him any great debt in the politeness department. And he’s got this sort of ‘hey, I’m a hater’ thing going. So I figured it was ok to play off that a bit by way of saying that I actually wasn’t calling him a woman-hater. Which, actually, I wasn’t. Hadn’t crossed my mind. I hope he doesn’t hate everyone, or women, and I of course don’t have any reason to suppose he does. And I hope that the ‘fuck you’ tone is just an online act. He’s probably a total sweetie offline. Again, I wouldn’t know. The fact that Anthony is always a jerk to me is just one of those things. Sometimes I route around. Sometimes I try to make him ashamed of himself. (I’m not made of stone, you know.)

    I don’t know whether this counts as simple or complex, but I feel that philosophical discussions tend to go needlessly badly on a certain subset of blogs, and that I’m sort of caught up in it; but it’s actually not my fault – nor the Valve’s fault – but other people’s fault. This is sort of a suspicious circumstance, I acknowledge: saying things are all other people’s fault and not one’s own. Maybe I’m delusional about my own subterranean rhetorical malice. I like to think I can turn the mock-socratic vulcanism of my passive-aggressivity on or off. Like a light. On. Off. (It’s on right now, for example.) The idea is that people will find it so annoying that they will give up, in despair, and be driven to sheer philosophy as a last resort. But, then again, that’s so psychologically unlikely that it’s probably just me expressing annoyance, paying out to people what I think they are owed, for being rude to me. When all I was doing was making posts about philosophy.

    That’s pretty much it.

  57. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Poor John. He just wants to write posts about philosophy. That are cutting. And show the lack of seriousness by a whole host of certain philosophers. Via irony. Poor John. He is so misunderstood.

  58. jholbo Says:

    Look, Adam (I see you’ve responded now). I never said that you said that the Zizek reading of Kierkegaard was total trash. (Obviously you wouldn’t say that.) I just said that you admitted my criticism was valid, which – at the time – you did. Z said K. said X. But K. didn’t say x. And of course Z is pushing a sort of analogy. But I pointed out how, if you see the analogy through, you end up with a choice between two piles of nonsense. Unapalatable either/or. Look, we definitely shouldn’t revisit all that. But if you did have an actual substantive problem with it, you could SAY what you think the problem is. Rather than evaporating globally about ‘irresponsibility’. You don’t actually think it was irresponsible. Saying so is an are-you-still-beating-your-wife gambit. A way of making me splutter ‘but I wasn’t being irresponsible’. This is no way to live the life of the mind. Cut it out.

    But we’re obviously both so annoyed that the best thing for me to do is go read a comicbook. I’m out of here. I’m sorry for causing offense when there was no point in doing so.

  59. Adam Says:

    A last remark: Good Lord! Why do you keep saying that I obviously don’t mean what I say?!

  60. Daniel Says:

    Didn’t Kotsko claim that “On Belief” was actually supposed to be read as, so to speak, a joke? The point being to show that leftists nowadays really do not want to go back to the “good ol’ days” of Stalinist purges, despite their nostalgic rhetoric, by writing enthusiastically about how things would really go better if we just were willing to line up all the bankers and shoot them in the head. An “A Modest Proposal” sort of thing. But Zizek didn’t pull the gambit off very well, so the book just ended up bad. (This in addition to a few other complaints, like Zizek confusing the virgin birth with the immaculate conception.)

    (I honestly am not sure if Kotsko said anything like this or not. I might be confusing him with someone else; the P&L paper has been around for awhile now. But if Kotsko really has said something of this sort, then it’s easier to see what he thinks is wrong with “Zizek and Trilling”: It reviews “A Modest Proposal” without noticing that, really, Swift does not want anyone to eat babies. Which means that specific criticisms made of Swift’s infantophagy policies are rather besides the point.)

  61. Adam Says:

    I don’t remember if I took that specific approach, but I do definitely maintain that Zizek is not in any sense advocating a return to Stalinism — not because it’s somehow “impossible” for anyone to do so, but because he explicitly says he isn’t. For instance, Stalinism is the key example of “perversion,” which for Zizek is the greatest possible ethical failure. The closest he comes to “advocating” Stalinism is saying that it is minimally “better” than Nazism, and surely that cannot be confused with a ringing endorsement. So throwing Stalin back in his face is idiotic: Zizek knows very well that Stalin was horrible.

  62. Adam Says:

    And I’ll also note that my opinion changed somewhat through the course of the on-going, years-long debate — something that an advocate of the Socratic “dialectical” method should not only approve of, but actively anticipate. For instance, I still think that On Belief is Zizek’s weakest book, but I’m no longer willing to throw it to the dogs entirely.

  63. Daniel Says:

    Yeah, I think it’s pretty obvious that Zizek does not think Stalinism 2.0 would be a good idea. (This interview has him laughing at the idea that he’s even recommending a return to Leninism; “Sorry, I’m not totally crazy”: http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/endconstruction/desublimation )

    Given how often people complain that Zizek lacks “real” “concrete” political advice, it’s surprising how many people still think he’s in favor of Stalinism. Stalinism was many things, but “abstract” was not one of them.

  64. Adam Says:

    Right — in the Lenin anthology (and numerous other places), it’s clear that he has a very particular thing in mind from Lenin and is well aware of the limitations of “actual existing Leninism.”

  65. jholbo Says:

    Well, that was a good comic book. I’ve decided my new superpower is going to be: not getting into blogfights about who has committed the worse rhetorical offenses in the past.

    Restricting myself to substantive matters, and cutting out the snark: it turns out Adam has misunderstood – or merely forgotten, over the years – what my P&L paper argues. Adam: “I do definitely maintain that Zizek is not in any sense advocating a return to Stalinism — not because it’s somehow “impossible” for anyone to do so, but because he explicitly says he isn’t.” Maintaining this is consistent with everything I say in the paper. “So throwing Stalin back in his face is idiotic: Zizek knows very well that Stalin was horrible.” Since throwing Stalin in Zizek’s face is perfectly consistent with that first thing, I suspect Adam has misunderstood the basic form of my argument. That is, his perception of ‘idiocy’ is just a function of having misunderstood me and, also, Zizek (that latter is more consequential, obviously.)

    The short version of what Adam is missing: saying you aren’t a Stalinist isn’t good enough. You also have to not avocate a view that implies that Stalinism is, in practice, politically ideal. Zizek passes the first test, fails the second. (Because Zizek passes the first test, Adam may neglect to run the second. But you have to run both tests. That’s what my paper does.)

    The slightly longer version: The plain implication of Z’s Leninist-Kierkegaardianism, if construed with a ounce of seriousness, is that the ideal political leader will necessarily behave exactly like Stalin. (With the caveat that we can never really know whether he is indeed a knight of political faith or just history’s worst pychotic madman.) So when Zizek says he is not advocating a return to Stalinism, he is being inconsistent. Because he IS advocating something that plainly implies a return to Stalin.

    But that’s not quite it, actually.

    Z’s rejection of Stalinism is less full than Adam thinks (this isn’t just about “On Belief”, obviously. This covers his other writings, too, although perhaps not the most recent. He seems to have moderated his views.) Of course he says Stalinism is the worst perversion. Just as Kierkegaard says murdering your son is the most horrible crime. But that doesn’t keep Abraham from being a Knight of Faith. Zizek defines his ideal of political action, in absurdist religious terms, in such a way that you can never have a good reason NOT to believe that your ideal revolutionary hero is NOT Stalin. Horrible, apparently senseless acts, etc. Just as Abraham is ideal for being willing to murder his son, even though it makes no sense and no conceivable good can come out of it. ‘No omelet can conceivably result from breaking this egg, nevertheless – on the strength of the absurd – I break the egg.’ So you grant that the old objection to Stalinism ‘breaking eggs, but no omelet’, is rationally sound. Yet you advocate breaking the eggs. This actually IS it. This is what Zizek is getting at. This is precisely what Abraham is doing to poor egg, Isaac. This IS the point.

    So this is actually the closest Zizek comes to ‘fear and trembling’, to give credit where due. The horror of being opposed to Stalinism yet absurdly committed to advocating something no thoughtful, ethical, politically responsible person would ever say is anything else BUT Stalinism.

    I prefer to take the ‘Z just isn’t taking his own views seriously’ line. His butterfingers, when it comes to handling Kierkegaard’s stages suggests to me that he’s just a wishy-washy utilitarian at heart. That’s the Leninism (plus wishing and a degree of white-washing).

    But you can, alternatively, read Z.’s Kierkegaardianism more ‘charitably’. That is, you can correct the lapses of his analogies (this is what I did in the paper, at least experimentally) and conclude that Z. is really advocating Stalinism, in exactly the complex sort of way that Kierkegaard really is advocating murder – i.e. for the sake of faith. That is, without saying murder is ethically acceptable. This position at least has the virtue of considerable originality.

    There. The basis for an actual argument one way or the other. Rather than just snarking about alleged rhetorical sins.

  66. Adam Says:

    Skipping over the meta-snarking about who has most unfairly alleged rhetorical sins, &c….

    You’re not using “perversion” in the technical sense that Zizek uses. In his terms, it means identifying with the big Other’s jouissance — i.e., discerning that the law “really” means to insight its own transgression, and therefore directly violating the law out of “obedience” to the law. This would be as if Abraham knew that all the ethical content of religion was bullshit and that God really was a sadistic bastard, and therefore he had to sacrifice Isaac for the greater glory of this malicious God. In terms of Stalin, it means justifying unspeakable cruelty in the service of the big Other of “historical necessity” (this is definitely already in place in Plague of Fantasies, which predates On Belief by like six years).

    Abraham, however, cannot speak, if I remember Kierkegaard correctly. It’s not like he can say to Sarah, Isaac, the head servant guy (what’s his name?), “I know this looks insane, but in the long run, it’s necessary for the greater glory of God.” Similarly, Lenin didn’t know that the revolution would work (this is in place in the Lenin anthology, which predates On Belief by a couple years) — that’s the whole point of his return to Lenin’s “gesture.” It’s not doing the stupidest thing just for the sake of it — it’s assessing the situation and taking a risk that is not “covered” by the big Other (in Lenin’s case, the big Other of Marxist theory/historical necessity). It’s seizing a moment in such a way as to radically change the very standards by which your act will be judged.

    I don’t think this idea of ethics really falls neatly (or even crudely) into the categories of “utilitarianism,” etc. It’s probably closest to existentialism — hence, you know, the Kierkegaard stuff.

    So I’m saying that you appear to misunderstand:
    1. What he takes Stalinism to be — if you’re going to offer a counter-idea of Stalinism, it seems fair to demand that you give an account of the Stalinism Zizek understands himself to be rejecting, right?
    2. What he thinks is important in Lenin
    3. What perversion is in Zizek’s theory

    And I think your analogy between Stalin and Abraham is incorrect, both in terms of Kierkegaard himself (abstracted from Zizek’s reading) and in terms of what Zizek is doing with Kierkegaard.

  67. jholbo Says:

    Look, Adam, I was doing what you said I should: namely, charitably work out how Zizek’s K. analogy could actually work. On the page, it is incoherent, but there are a couple of points of stability you can work towards. Two, specifically: wishy-washy utilitarianism, plus rhetorical excess. (This is not philosophically admirable, but lots of people lives their lives out as wishy-washy utilitarians and are loved by their kids and neighbors. It appears to work out ok.) The other possibility is what I said.

    The reason you think I don’t understand what ‘perversion is’, for Zizek, is that you don’t get what ‘faith’ is, for Kierkegaard. You say that if what I said were right, then maybe Abraham would be this ‘god is a bastard’ guy, or secretly reveling in the opportunity to be a bastard, that god’s monstrous commandment gives him. This actually IS what Kierkegaard says. So you’ve proved my point. Perversion in precisely this sense is a big part of the worry. Read “Preamble form the Heart”. Abraham is in Fear and Trembling not just because he can’t explain himself to others but because he can’t explain himself to himself. He can’t be sure he isn’t doing this because he’s secretly wants to, and has (presumably) just hallucinated this voice of Law to give him an excuse.

    “I don’t think this idea of ethics really falls neatly (or even crudely) into the categories of “utilitarianism,” etc. It’s probably closest to existentialism — hence, you know, the Kierkegaard stuff.” Lenin isn’t an existentialist. So either all the Leninism has to go. Or the existentialism has to go.

    And Kierkegaard isn’t about risk. Abraham isn’t willing to kill Isaac, while having faith that he will get Isaac back, because he’s a roll the dice, ‘papa needs a brand new son’ crazy gambler. (Kierkegaard didn’t think to put that particular false positive knight of faith case in the Preamble, or Problemata I. But if he’d thought about it he would have said: if Abraham was a gambler, he wasn’t the father of faith.) So if Zizek is advocating just a high risk strategy, then all the Kierkegaard stuff has to go. My reading is MORE charitable than that.

  68. Adam Says:

    No, for Zizek, Stalin is sure he has a direct line to “historical necessity.”

    Once again, you have such a reified notion of everything that it’s quickly becoming impossible to argue with you. Apparently you’re an expert in Lenin and Stalin and have (in the privacy of your own home) completely dispensed with Zizek’s own understanding of those two figures. Thus, “Lenin isn’t existentialist.” Awesome! Come to think of it, he does predate Being and Time…. But Zizek specifies the “moment” in Lenin he’s looking for, admittedly in a somewhat elliptical way, in the intro to the self-same book On Belief — the Lenin who has just been through the world-shattering betrayal of the workers’ capitulation to World War I and has to start from scratch. Zizek understands that his vision of Lenin (in that moment) is not what most people understand of Lenin — hence the anthology he puts out of the writings he’s talking about, together with a lengthy commentary. Apparently you can just dismiss that work with a gesture — in fact, you don’t even need to acknowledge it exists. You know Lenin, after all!

    The discussion of “faith” and “risk” in your comment is confused, in my opinion. Obviously I don’t mean “playing the odds” when I say risk. If you need to collapse Zizek into this reified category of “utilitarianism,” be my guest — I am not one to deny anyone their compulsive jouissance. Yet I think it’s fairly clear to most people reading this thread that your highly reified notions of ethical categories, of Kierkegaard, of Lenin and Stalin, etc., are not helping you to provide a compelling account of what Zizek is doing in On Belief.

    You’re skipping dozens of necessary steps, because of the little shortcuts you keep in your back pocket. If your critique is that Zizek (a) doesn’t say what a textbook would say about Kierkegaard but (b) if we substitute that textbook definition in, we end up with a textbook definition of Stalinism — well, you’re probably right. It remains difficult for me to take such an argument seriously as a critique, however.

  69. jholbo Says:

    “No, for Zizek, Stalin is sure he has a direct line to “historical necessity.””

    Adam, not to get all meta-rhetorical again, but I don’t think you are approaching the question in way that makes much sense. You are taking me as attempting to close down the question in a close-minded way. But what am I really doing. I am saying: ok, this Zizek stuff is pretty elliptical and if we sharpen it up – even to a moderate degree – we get stuff that certainly appears to be conspicuously nonsensical. Now YOU say: yes, but here’s what we need to do to make sense of it after all.

    Except that’s NOT what you actually say.

    What you actually do is dismiss my points, unconsidered, with a gesture, (falsely) accusing me of dismissing Zizek with a gesture. Whereas, in fact, I am done the only thing that seems to me serious: take an elliptical, gestural presentation by Zizek and sharpen it up, to see what it looks like. I say it looks bad. You say: it’s your fault for sharpening it up. But that’s an inappropriate come-back: if there is some other way of sharpening it up, which makes it look less bad, then YOU sharpen it up. But don’t complain about what I did either way, because I did you a favor either way. If I’m right, I’m right. If I’m wrong, I provoked you to say what is wrong with a perfectly straightforward way of reading Zizek, i.e. one that proceeds on the assumption that his Kierkegaardianism resembles the philosophy propounded by Kierkegaard, and that his Leninism bears a family resemblance to the philosophy of Lenin.

    I’m not skipping any steps. I’m making an objection, and giving my reasons. This is a completely normal thing to do, in philosophy. (My statement of the objection is compressed of course. This is a comment box. So you ask me for clarification of the steps you think are being left out. And I provide clarification. Would you regard the following as a remotely serious response: in defending Zizek “You’re skipping dozens of necessary steps, because of the little shortcuts you keep in your back pocket.” Therefore, your defense of Zizek is fundamentally irresponsible. It merely gives lazy comfort to those who want to think well of Zizek, and don’t want to bother their heads about awkward criticisms. No. That would be a grossly irresponsible thing for me to fling in your face. It would flagrantly sidestep the actual substance of Zizek’s philosophy. How is it not irresponsible for you to fling this very thing in my face, then? It seems to me you are avoiding the issue of whether what Zizek says makes any sense.

    Example: “Obviously I don’t mean “playing the odds” when I say risk.” Well, ‘playing the odds’ is, in fact, a standard understanding of what it means to take risk. I don’t really think it is malicious to take someone who says we need to take risks as saying ‘we need to play the long odds’. So you tell me: what is your understanding of risk?

  70. Adam Says:

    God, you are one passive-aggressive guy. I feel like you’ve thrown back in my face literally everything I’ve said in this thread. Your reading of Zizek is truly “charitable,” I’m the “niceness police,” I’m intellectually irresponsible…. Is there some rule where you win if you say, “I know you are but what am I” enough times?

  71. Adam Says:

    (I mean, it’s certainly acceptable to point out when I’m guilty of something I critique in others — and it is the case that I probably actually am guilty in some, or even many, cases. But when I am made out to be the most rigorous and thorough-going hypocrite in the history of the world, that makes me suspicious that something is going on other than simply a heated argument. That’s why I responded like I did.)

  72. jholbo Says:

    Your right, I do the ‘tu quoque’ too many times. But then again, it must have sort of annoyed Caesar to be stabbed so many times. I’ll bet that smarted. (Not that he didn’t ask for it. Still, I find it humanly understandable that he complained.)

    I should work to present the edifice of my thoughts without growing this particular species of rhetorical poison ivy all up and down the walls. Yes, I do see the point.

    It does seem to me a perfectly serious objection to what you have been saying that, if your criticisms of me were sound, they would score as heavily against your own position. Indeed, against all positions. If I am irresponsible, because my writings could comfort the lazy, it simply follows that all philosophy is horrible. Since you don’t believe that, you are encouraged to drop the first bit.

    So in answer to your query: “Is there some rule where you win if you say, “I know you are but what am I” enough times?” No. There is no such rule. But there is a maxim that says: if I say this a number of times, and am plausibly warranted in doing so, however whack-a-mole tedious the litany becomes, then you should change up stances so I can’t say it any more. I should probably stop whacking the mole either way. Yes, that it also true.

  73. Daniel Says:

    There’s no named “head servant guy” in Abraham’s story. Though he does take “two of his men” along with him to Moriah, presumably to help haul things since it was a three-day trip to get within sight of the place.

    I’m pretty sure I noticed a slip-up in a summarization from Holbo, of Kotsko: “You say that if what I said were right, then maybe Abraham would be this ‘god is a bastard’ guy, or secretly reveling in the opportunity to be a bastard, that god’s monstrous commandment gives him. This actually IS what Kierkegaard says.”

    I think Kotsko was saying that if what you said were right, then Abraham would be this “God is a bastard” guy. Because that’s what Stalin is for Zizek: He likes to violate “the law” for its own sake. He’s the poster-child for perversion. I think it’s pretty clear that this isn’t what Abraham is for Kierkegaard: If Abraham is really hallucinating the command and just likes burning children, then he’s not the father of faith. Of course part of Kierkegaard’s point is that this can’t be ruled out by Abraham. But this isn’t how things stand with Stalin; we are not simply unable to rule out the possibility that Stalin is wicked, but we already have a settled judgement: Stalin is wicked.

    I’m curious to hear what Kotsko will say to the “risk without odds” thing.

  74. jholbo Says:

    So let’s start with the risk thing. Define ‘taking a risk’ for me in such a way that it doesn’t turn out to mean, roughly, ‘taking a chance’. (I don’t insist on Platonic precision. I just want an intelligible elucidation.)

  75. Adam Says:

    John, You have “sharpened the edges” of On Belief in such a way that it completely fails to cohere with any of his other works. I’m trying to “sharpen the edges” so that Zizek will at least bear a family resemblance to himself — whereas you apparently give more weight to, say, your own preconceptions about Lenin than Zizek’s own statements about Lenin when trying to understand (which is still the first step before you can critique, right?) what Zizek is saying about Lenin. What you are saying about Stalin is, in terms of Zizek, flatly wrong. Your “application” of Stalin to Abraham is, again, flatly wrong. Yet you want to nitpick me on the concept of risk. This is dumb. Just stop.

  76. Adam Says:

    Daniel, With “head servant guy,” I was referring to the head of Abraham’s estate, who would be the substitute heir in the event that something “happened” to Isaac. His name begins with an E, and he’s named in Kierkegaard’s questions.

    I do have an answer to the risk thing, but I don’t want to venture it when there’s someone prowling around who will seize on the slightest imprecision in order to declare me guilty of something of which I at some time accused someone else.

  77. jholbo Says:

    Daniel, your post and mine crossed, but we ask the same question. Risk without chance. What’s that? Also, you’ve put your finger on the point I think Adam is missing, although you think I’ve missed it. Let me try to explain my side. You write:

    “I think Kotsko was saying that if what you said were right, then Abraham would be this “God is a bastard” guy. Because that’s what Stalin is for Zizek: He likes to violate “the law” for its own sake.”

    In both cases, Zizek and Kierkegaard, we have a true and a false knight. Kierkegaard makes the point in terms of the true knight – by hypothesis, Abraham. I made the parallel point, on behalf of Zizek, in terms of the false knight – by hypothesis, Stalin. But obviously we do not have to conclude that the true knight IS the false knight. Your coin can be analogous to mine, but mine is heads up, yours is tails up, for the moment. Both have two sides, that’s the thing to get.

    If we want to preserve the Kierkegaard parallelism, in terms of presentation as well as general framework, then we simply imagine a good, Abrahamic Stalin, exactly like the one we’ve got, who acts exactly the same way, but is good. Is politically perfect. Which is a weird thought to think, bringing me to the next point.

    Daniel: “Of course part of Kierkegaard’s point is that this can’t be ruled out by Abraham. But this isn’t how things stand with Stalin; we are not simply unable to rule out the possibility that Stalin is wicked, but we already have a settled judgement: Stalin is wicked.”

    In fact, I think Zizek is committed, by the terms of his position, to saying we can never know whether Stalin was a monster. We assume he was. Just like we assume Abraham was the father of faith. But in the nature of the case, it is impossible to know whether someone is an effective political leader, or history’s greatest monster, because what makes the difference is an intensely private, unknowable spiritual factor.

    Of course Zizek would say he does not want to imply THAT. Which is EVERY kind of crazy, rolled into one. But I don’t think he can block the implication, short of chucking all the Kierkegaard stuff, which is a lot of his stuff. So I take this to be an effective reductio on Zizek’s political philosophy. Such, such has been my argument.

    Adam will say this is just flatly wrong. But what I would like to hear is some reason for thinking it is wrong. To put it another way, I think Adam is mistaking trying to do something for succeeding. I am willing to grant that Zizek does not intend to be reductio-ed by a Stalin argument. (Who would want that?) So, to that extent, what I am saying about Stalin is, in Zizekian terms, flatly wrong. But it isn’t wrong in the other sense. Which is a pretty important sense.

    Think of it this way. Here is Goodman’s proof that P (from the philosophers proofs that P list): “Zabludowski has insinuated that my thesis that p is false, on the basis of alleged counterexamples. But these so-called “counterexamples” depend on construing my thesis that p in a way that it was obviously not intended – for I intended my thesis to have no counterexamples. Therefore p.”

    Substitute ‘Holbo’ for ‘Zabludowski’, ‘Zizek’s political philosophy for P, and you’ve got Kotsko’s argument. I submit this is not a valid argument.

    And on that note I am out of here. This time I swear it. Unless Adam can find something wrong with my argument short of its being ‘flatly wrong’.

  78. Adam Says:

    The “bad knight of faith” wouldn’t be a knight of faith at all — he would just be guilty of Schwärmerei (or, in Lacanian terms, “perversion”). No inverse version of the “knight of faith” is possible within Kierkegaard’s system, nor does Zizek give any indication that he thinks such a thing is possible. Nor, indeed, does he set up Stalin as a model of this thoroughly non-existent category.

    Abraham finds himself in a situation of radical uncertainty: God has both told him that Isaac is the child of the promise and that he must sacrifice him. The uncertainty goes deeper than just “was I hallucinating?” He is completely bereft of guarantees. Stalin basically has a direct line from God. The parallel is just not there.

    Zizek does think that the “knight of faith” position (with no guarantees) is incredibly anxiety producing and opens up the temptation of “perversion” (as represented by something like the reassertion of religion in a “fundamentalist” form after the advent of secularism). But he is pretty damn confident of his ability to identify perversion.

    Overall, then, I’m trying to say: your reductio doesn’t work because its premises are flawed. That is what I’ve thought all along, not something stupid like “Zizek can’t be wrong because he doesn’t claim to be wrong.” All your too-clever-by-half pedantry about “procedural” issues really needs to stop.

  79. Daniel Says:

    I think I’m missing the place where Zizek ends up being committed to skepticism about the evaluation of any particular political figure.

    I wouldn’t have thought the Kierkegaard stuff was enough to render judgement impossible like that; I don’t recall Johannes de Silentio ever expressing any doubts that Abraham was the father of faith, he just had difficulties finding a way to defend the point (eventually being forced to teleologically suspend the ethical to pull it off: With the philosophical payoff being that, purportedly, Hegel cannot allow for such a move, yet Hegel is committed to Abraham being the father of faith, hence Hegel is wrong). Judgement is impossible for Abraham, and for everyone around him (Isaac, Sarah, Eleazar of Damascus etc.), and so “the ethical” has to be suspended for Abraham to become the father of faith, but the suspension is “teleological” just because there is some intelligible grounding for it (for us, who count Abraham as the father of faith, but not for Abraham).

    Am I misunderstanding Kierkegaard, here?

    Otherwise, I’m not sure how the argument is supposed to go that Zizek is committed to leaving unsettled the issue of so-and-so’s monstrousness or lack thereof (due to it being reliant on some unknowably private mystery). Perhaps I am misremembering “Zizek and Trilling”; I recall it attributing horrible views to Zizek on the basis of things like the Brecht poem which seemed to be openly pro-Stalin (and so, charitably, treated as unserious — as jokes. Zizek likes Stalin jokes). I don’t recall any special trick being involved to get Zizek to be ladened with pro-Stalin views; it was more or less an incidental point made alongside the argument that Zizek’s “critique of liberalism” wasn’t anything that wasn’t already old hat by Trilling’s time. There was also the argument that Lenin does not make a good candidate for a “knight of faith”, since he was constantly calculating, hence Zizek’s “Kierkegaardo-Leninism” must be working with a flawed (utilitarian) version of Kierkegaard if “Lenin, Knight of Faith” appeared plausible. But I don’t see how either of these points is supposed to leave Zizek unable to say “Stalin was a monster, and Leninism sucked.”

    (Zizek is able to hate Leninism while saying nice things about Lenin because he has in mind only a very specific bit of Lenin when he says good things, like Kotsko mentioned above. To cut off what appears to be a rather glaring problem in the above two sentences.)

    Also, in case it wasn’t clear: I’m not sure that a sensible answer couldn’t be given to what “risks without odds” was supposed to mean. I’m just not sure what Kotsko had in mind, here. Though it appears I’ll just have to remain in suspense on this point.

  80. Daniel Says:

    I had apparently had this tab open for over two hours before I finished that comment. Huh. Should remember to F5 before posting.

    Kotsko: I don’t think the “false knight” (not “bad knight”; “false”) was supposed to be a “knight of faith, just the false version”; it’s a merely apparent knight. A bloodthirsty Abraham who’d just been waiting for an excuse to kill Isaac.

  81. jholbo Says:

    Adam: “The “bad knight of faith” wouldn’t be a knight
    of faith at all — he would just be guilty of Schwärmerei (or, in Lacanian terms, “perversion”). No inverse version of the “knight of faith” is possible within Kierkegaard’s system.”

    By false knight I just meant apparent, as Daniel surmises. But the term is Kierkegaardian and he likes to play off it. From F&T: “As for the knight of faith, he is assigned to himself alone. He has the pain of being unable to make himself intelligible for others … The false knight readily betrays himself by this instantly acquired proficiency”; “the true knight of faith is always absolute isolation, the false knight is sectarian.” It was particularly the idea of partisanship that I had in mind.

    Also, Abraham HAS a direct line to God. God spoke to him. Of course there was anxiety, but is there any reason why Stalin couldn’t have felt the same, even if he had a direct line to History? (Surely the Abraham case shows that anxiety is consistent with having a direct line.) I would point out that you are, in effect, conceding a major aspect of my point: that the decision will have to be a function of Stalin’s private spiritual state, and that is what seems absurd. Not to count consequences but only to consider private spirituality.

    Also: I know Zizek didn’t intend to use Stalin as an example. We’re back to that problem again. In a sense, this makes my discussion un-Zizekian, because Z. doesn’t intend to face any counter-examples, let alone Stalinist ones. But that doesn’t mean Stalin isn’t a good test case. (Stalin is a very natural point of discussion, if you are worried about how Leninism might go bad.) I know you know that hoping a view doesn’t have bad implications doesn’t make it so. But it seems like you keep ending up on the wrong side of this basic point, defense-wise.

    Daniel, you are right that I’m pushing the implications a bit thick and fast. Probably I should just cut it out and say: look, either Zizek is going to have to push this K. think to absurd lengths, or – like Lenin – he is basically going to cop to a utilitarian philosophy, according to which the end justifies the means. (And then we have to bring in the notion of risk, which is key, because either we understand it as meaning chance, or we find some other weird sense. But it seems to me the reading of risk-as-chance is pretty presumptively dominant.)

    It’s a simple, tight problem and I really see no way out. The only sense that we can make is a kind of utilitarian suspension of a lower ethical duty for a higher one. But that’s not Kierkegaard (or Zizek). Or a suspension of the ethical for a spiritual thing. But that way likes political madness (which may be Zizek, but doesn’t look like a good thing).

    One final point. Daniel: “I don’t recall Johannes de Silentio ever expressing any doubts that Abraham was the father of faith.” I think you are misremembering. He belabors the ‘if’. Always must remember the ‘if’, because it gives us OUR dose of fear and trembling, albeit smaller than Abraham’s own. We can’t be sure there is such a thing as faith. That’s why the story should have such an effect on us, if we understand it right. It shouldn’t be a comforting reassurance of even the possibility of faith. There is no such reassurance.

  82. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Holbo seems to be reading a different Fear and Trembling then I’ve read. That’s strange though because I’ve read both the Penguin and the Princeton editions. Maybe he’s reading the malay version.

    He also has a very thin understanding of Lenin’s political philosophy. Utilitarian? Granted Holbo’s strange non-analytic way of doing philosophy (and here I’m thinking in the same way of Laruelle’s non-philosophy) moves via reifications (reifications all the way down!). Still, reading Lenin’s biographies and a few philosophical pieces on his thought, his isn’t mere utilitarianism. There are elements of truth to Zizek’s work on him and there are also Kantian aspects (see Bill Martin’s recent work).

    But at the end of the day we know that Holbo is really the one who created his theory to have no counterexamples. It’s merely another clever send-up when he reverses this.

    In short, isn’t it obvious to everyone that Holbo isn’t serious?

  83. jholbo Says:

    Anthony: “Holbo seems to be reading a different Fear and Trembling then I’ve read.”

    That’s alright, Anthony, a lot of my students don’t make it past Problema I either. The quotes are from the end of Problema II, so that’s why you missed them. From p. 106 and 107, respectively. In my old Penguin. There may be others.

    I challenge you to give a one-sentence summary of Leninism that could not be faulted as ‘thin’. If you fail, it will be true if you that you have a very thin understanding of Lenin’s political philosophy. (You grant this will be a sound argument, I trust.) After we have established our rough equality as complete idiots, Leninistically speaking, we can perhaps put our heads together and argue as equals. Wouldn’t that be fun, for a change?

  84. Adam Says:

    John, You don’t think it’s significant that Abraham got two directly contradictory messages from God? That just doesn’t matter for the sake of this discussion?

  85. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    John,

    I’m not the one who wrote an article that in part depended on a very thin understanding of Lenin’s political philosophy. So, no thanks. My point is that you should work harder, not write shorter sentences.

    You’re really still reading from the Penguin? You haven’t read the journal entries? Come on John! A little fucking rigor!

  86. Adam Says:

    Anthony, You’re undermining The Cause here — Zizek doesn’t generally quote the Princeton editions either!

  87. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    No that serves my point. If Zizek isn’t serious neither is Holbo.

  88. jholbo Says:

    Anthony: “I’m not the one who wrote an article that in part depended on a very thin understanding of Lenin’s political philosophy.” That poor person! Was he (or she – it could have been a she) ever found?

    Adam, you don’t think it’s possible that Stalin ever felt he was getting mixed messages from History? (How the hell would I know he didn’t have a long dark night of the soul?) Then that would be relevant as well.

    Re: editions. I keep the Penguin at home, for early morning and late night reading, and the Princeton at school. I like the Penguin better. I don’t trust anyone who could think “Preliminary Expectoration” is a better translation than “Preamble From the Heart”. (Why not just call it ‘spitting it out’?) With that sort of language, God only knows that I’ll find, and maybe before I finished my first cup of coffee. (Also, “Upbuilding Discourses” is silly, when ‘edifying’ would actually have the same etymology. So that’s Hong for you. But that’s a tale for another day.) Thanks, no. I’m with Zizek on this one.

  89. jholbo Says:

    “Embiggening Discourses” would be another possibility.

  90. jholbo Says:

    Because the Danish is ‘opbyggelig’.

  91. Adam Says:

    I have a friend who owns the complete works of Kierkegaard in Danish. That’s when you know you’re not fucking around.

    I really think this “we don’t know if Stalin was a knight of faith” thing is a blind alley. Whatever uncertainties he might have dealt with in the secret recesses of his soul, I’m pretty sure Stalin never got a message from historical necessity saying he needed to become an entrepreneur or that he needed to reprivatize agriculture or anything at all equivalent to “go kill the child of the promise.” In actual fact, the messages he got seem to be pretty uniformly biased toward brutality, even if he shifted the direction of his efforts from time to time (trying to avoid left-wing and right-wing deviations, etc.).

    So your reading of Stalin seems to be based entirely on hallucinations — which itself seems to be based in a reading of Kierkegaard that presupposes that the important thing is that God is talking to Abraham. But within the narrative frame of Genesis, God talks to people all the time.

  92. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘That poor person! Was he (or she – it could have been a she) ever found?’

    Found him! Have you spotted him yet?

    Regarding the translation bits, John, don’t be thick, it was a fucking joke! I don’t remember there being many major differences that would lead to major misunderstandings between the two translations (granted I don’t read Fear and Trembling every morning and night, but I suspect you don’t really do that and you’re just trying to show that your scholarcock is much, much bigger). That said I can’t believe you are now going to go on and turn this into a translation pissing contest when the problem is that you’re making this into just a pissing contest.

  93. jholbo Says:

    Well He’s never talked to ME, so I still think it’s pretty special.

    Seriously, this is another one of those things Kierkegaard anticipates. If this is just one of those things that was perfectly normal way back when – however that might have been – then Abraham wasn’t the father of faith.

    But I withdraw the ‘how do we know Stalin wasn’t a knight of faith’ thing as not especially important. The important thing is that, if we’ve transcended the Ethical, we’ve transcended the ethical. No more messing about with the good, or helping people or equality of any of that stuff. And if we haven’t transcended the ethical, then what’s all this Kierkegaard racket I’m hearing?

    (I’m not sure about the hallucinations thing because you could be taking either of two unwarranted swipes at me. Either you are saying I’m hallucinating, or you are saying that I’m saying that Stalin had hallucinations. I am at a loss, because in each case I can accuse you of being guilty of what you say I’m guilty of. But I can’t decide which you meant! So maybe that’s not so important.)

  94. jholbo Says:

    Anthony, I was kidding about ‘embiggening’ being a good translation.

    Re: Lenin. If you think you have found a problem with my argument, don’t be all ‘where’s Waldo?’ about it. To paraphrase Hong, just spit it out. Example: if you think it is not just a simplification but a complete falsification to say that Lenin was, broadly, utilitarian his outlook, then say so, and say why you think so. (If it’s just a simplification – which it obviously is – then I’m in clover, conceptually. If it’s a total falsification, I’ve got some apologizing to do.)

  95. Adam Says:

    [This comment belongs chronologically after Anthony's comment about a pissing contest, but my computer had an "incident" (which fortunately still allowed me to save the comment in a text file). I see that it fits well with what Holbo has posted since then.]

    To formalize Kierkegaard in Zizek’s terms, first Abraham has the “pro-family” God — the one who is going to make him a great nation, etc. This God lines up with the general cultural expectations, but is going to make Abraham (despite present appearances to the contrary) especially successful in that regard. This God is basically in harmony with the shared cultural big Other of the time — Sittlichkeit, let’s say (the “universal,” which Kierkegaard is drawing from Hegel). Then he gets a second message that doesn’t make sense in terms of the big Other — kill Isaac.

    So okay. Then we have Lenin. By 1917, the entire world has collapsed around him. His big Other is Marxist theory, but the situation no longer seems to cohere with it — but despite the fact that Marxism says revolution can’t happen in a place like Russia, etc., he is convinced that the time for revolution is now and that not seizing it will mean delaying it for decades. So he steps out and does it — which not only creates a massive change in the overall geopolitical situation, but also introduces a qualitative change into Marxist theory itself. This change having been made, I would argue that Lenin himself collapses into perversion, such that Marxism-Leninism becomes the new big Other or Sittlichkeit, and then Stalin continues this degradation all the more. Marxist-Leninist theory underwrites the “historical necessity” through which Stalin justifies his horrible crimes — he has no comparable “Kierkegaardian” moment. (If you think he does, then be my guest — but you are going to end up more sympathetic toward Stalin than Zizek is, and you’re going to have to be clear that Zizek is somehow underwriting your idiosyncratic Stalin.)

    You’re, again, placing too much emphasis on the bare fact that “God” is talking to people. In Zizek’s terms, we all get messages from “God” (the big Other), we all believe in that God — the teleological suspension of the ethical means discarding the God we previously knew.

    It’s a risk, but if the odds were known or even knowable ahead of time, it would still be “covered” by some overarching scheme or big Other. The risk here is worse than “long odds” — it is 100% guaranteed to be wrong in terms of the given situation. (For instance, it’s not like there was only a 10% chance that revolution could happen in Russia in Marxist terms — it had to be an advanced capitalist country. Or there’s the more obvious example of killing your son.)

    It doesn’t make sense to me to claim that Abraham had, say, a 50/50 chance of being right about this whole “sacrifice Isaac” thing — risk is the only word I can think of for that situation, but the connotations of “playing the odds” are not appropriate. If you can’t deal with that kind of ambiguity, then for your own good, stop reading Kierkegaard!

  96. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘Seriously, this is another one of those things Kierkegaard anticipates. If this is just one of those things that was perfectly normal way back when – however that might have been – then Abraham wasn’t the father of faith.’

    No! It’s not the fact that God communicates with Abraham that makes him the father of faith. What is not perfectly normal about Abraham is his response to God. Read Genesis, as Kierkegaard did, and you’ll see that God is talking to people from the get go way up until the end (though it gets more and more indirect).

    It’s also not clear to me you understand the ethical in Kierkegaard. It’s not that you’re free from having to mess about with the good or concrete acts of charity. In non-Kierkegaardian terms you are confusing what is called for by a transcendental, “the good”, with the infinite demand of a radical transcendence. This is much clearer in Practice in Christianity than in Fear and Trembling. And of course the Postscript is helpful here too. This is all a bit off topic with regard to Zizek though since I’m not at all sure he has read either of those texts, though he really should just for his own upbuilding if he is really committed to this whole Protestant secular theology thing.

    Re: Lenin. I think it is a gross oversimplification that leads one to total falsification. At the very least you aren’t going to convince anyone who is sympathetic with Lenin and read him, though you will certainly get a lot of head-nods from others who are unsympathetic. To be quite fair I can’t really take you to task for not knowing your Lenin better; you’re a liberal who initially supported the Iraq war. And your Lenin = utilitarian is certainly supported by other liberal critiques of Lenin (like Service, though his is a more complete picture than you have, even as you hide it under ‘broadly’).

    For me, and this isn’t a majority view and you certainly are not going to change your mind becuase of me, all philosophical taxidermy is repugnant falsification of actual philosophical thought. I just don’t find them helpful and very, very unpersuasive. In the ecosystem of thought I’m a Gleasonian. Still, I know it is not a popular view, but if you come back at me with some bullshit about how I don’t actually believe this I’ll ban you from the site.

  97. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘This change having been made, I would argue that Lenin himself collapses into perversion, such that Marxism-Leninism becomes the new big Other or Sittlichkeit, and then Stalin continues this degradation all the more.’

    To be fair Lenin never considered himself a Leninist of the grand order. But this is still an open debate about how much of the blame of Stalinism can be laid at the feet of Lenin and hardliners of both sides really grasp at straws here.

  98. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Actually if I remember correctly it was Stalin who coined the term Leninism in a pamphlet by the same name.

  99. Adam Says:

    100!

    I think that, all things considered, the substantive aspect of the conversation is going moderately well.

  100. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Yes, if you bracket that no one’s position will have changed at the end.

  101. Adam Says:

    Mine is at least getting clarified and nuanced. Turns out the reading of Kierkegaard in On Belief isn’t actually that bad!

  102. scotterickaufman Says:

    The only person who has every complained to me that I was making women feel uncomfortable was SEK, who gets himself into far more trouble with his blog than I could ever dream.

    I’m not sure what the second clause of this sentence has to do with the first. Also, I think I’m going to quote this thread at the ALSC. (Don’t try and sexy dolphin it, Adam. It’s too late. This baby’s been saved.) But what will I quote? There’s so much to choose from!

    Also, regarding the ownership of that article: if the owner can’t be found, I’m just going to claim it. A line is a line is a line, after all.

    (Yes, perhaps this comment is just to prove a point.)

  103. Adam Says:

    I’m glad to see that SEK is getting in on the “indirect communication” now, too.

    Did you save the sexy dolphin post? I’d just like to have it, for my own private use.

  104. scotterickaufman Says:

    No, no sir, I communicate directly, with force and also.

    Did you save the sexy dolphin post? I’d just like to have it, for my own private use.

    Would you care to rephrase that final sentence. It doesn’t sound like I think you want it to. As for the post: I didn’t save it. (Surprisingly, however, a site search for Bill and dolphin generates more than one hit. But wait, this comment must be about me, so let me add: a site search for “Scott and dolphin also generates five hits. You may not like the Valve, but damn it, we have dolphins.

  105. Alex Says:

    I hope someone is going to film the punchup between Adam and Teh Valve. It can go on Youtube.

    But seriously, I hope someone is filming the debate.

  106. scotterickaufman Says:

    Also, vis-a-vis this:

    The thread threatens Adam. John inserts Adam opposite the pose. Adam condenses an arch with the remote fool. The perfect youth bays within the pretend coin. When can John trail with Adam? A leaflet flutes an awkward adviser. When will Adam cry? Adam untidies John. Can an endless spirit starve? John suffers my dependence within the fortunate outrage. Over Adam sneaks John.

    The battle rages!

  107. scotterickaufman Says:

    Alex, I believe someone will be. These things, however, tend not to be too exciting. I fully expect John, Adam and I to have a lovely conversation, then drink tea and play a subversive game of Monopoly.

  108. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I love how people who never comment here do so when they feel the slightest hint that they are being criticized. Fair-weather enemies.

  109. Adam Says:

    I hope John wakes up soon so that we can talk about Kierkegaard. That’s actually the kind of thing for which I started this blog — along with attempting to get away from the eternal self-propagating fights. The latter prong of my strategy has met with little success thus far.

  110. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I don’t want to shit on anything Adam, but isn’t talking about Kierkegaard co-extensive with eternal self-propagating blog fights? It’s gotten better towards the end of the thread, I agree, but still.

  111. Adam Says:

    We’re at least not working at the meta-level anymore in the later comments. Probably just a flash in the pan, ultimately, but still — closer to what I had in mind.

  112. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Fair enough. It is better, that’s for sure.

  113. Daniel Says:

    A bit that struck me as odd, from Kotsko: Is it really right to call “Leave the land of your fathers and I will make you father of many nations” a “pro-family” message? That doesn’t strike me as the right way to draw a contrast between the two messages Abraham receives; as I understand it, leaving the land of one’s fathers would already be a pretty huge violation of the sittlichkeit-norms of Terah & kin. One simply didn’t leave the land one already had in favor of becoming an itinerant.

    Also, the Wayback Machine needs to allow you to search through the copies of whatever page you’ve brought up. I don’t have the foggiest idea what date the sexy dolphin post is from, so I’m not having any luck looking for it.

  114. Adam Says:

    I have the date of that post due to the e-mail I sent Scott — the Wayback Machine doesn’t cover the brief period it was up.

  115. Adam Says:

    On the more substantive point: God is still offering Abraham something that conforms with his society’s understanding of success, to a superlative degree (“I will make you a great nation”). Initially leaving Ur of the Chaldeans could perhaps be understood under the heading of a calculated risk — i.e., he has to gamble that God is trustworthy and powerful enough to fulfill the promise. Once he’s told to sacrifice Isaac, though, all bets are off.

  116. scotterickaufman Says:

    I love how people who never comment here do so when they feel the slightest hint that they are being criticized. Fair-weather enemies.

    Anthony, are you determined to make me dislike you? If so, why?

  117. Daniel Says:

    I suppose that’s fair enough. Though it seems to be in tension with Hebrews 11:19 (where Abraham is said to have offered Isaac while reckoning that God would be able to raise him from the dead), but such intercanonical concerns may be out of place here. Your reading seems to me generally plausible when limited to the text of Genesis alone, but I’m not sure if the interpretation given in Hebrews can be bracketed out when we’re looking at a self-consciously Christian account of Abraham, which is what Johannes de Silentio is concerned with. (Was the Hebrews passage ever mentioned in “Fear & Trembling”?)

  118. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’m not too bothered over whether or not you dislike me. It’s not at issue here.

  119. scotterickaufman Says:

    Note to self: No more sarcastic rhetorical questions.

  120. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Why can never be a rhetorical question.

  121. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘If so, why?’

    This can never be a rhetorical question. I apologize, I was unaware you were such a poor reader.

  122. scotterickaufman Says:

    Why does Anthony insist on answering my rhetorical questions?

  123. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Likely for the same reason you come around here when you have nothing to add.

    So, Kierkegaard?

  124. Daniel Says:

    Why should there need to be strict rules as to what can or cannot count as a rhetorical question?

  125. scotterickaufman Says:

    Likely for the same reason you come around here when you have nothing to add.

    That makes no sense. Still, I can tell when I’m not wanted.

  126. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I concede that there doesn’t. Though, obviously, ‘If so, why?’ is not a rhetorical question.

  127. jholbo Says:

    Anthony: “It’s also not clear to me you understand the ethical in Kierkegaard. It’s not that you’re free from having to mess about with the good or concrete acts of charity. In non-Kierkegaardian terms you are confusing what is called for by a transcendental, “the good”, with the infinite demand of a radical transcendence.”

    I think the problem is that you are misinderstanding the distinction between the ethical and faith – religiousness-B, in Postscript terms. I was talking about faith, which is indeed not a matter of pursuing the good or concrete acts of charity – at least insofar as these are ethically motivated actions. It hardly follows that ethics is not a matter of these things, just because faith is not. (Alternatively, you might have misunderstood that I was talking about faith, but I think that was clear enough. I think my understanding of ethics is pretty orthodox, Kierkegaard-wise.)

    Anthony: “And your Lenin = utilitarian is certainly supported by other liberal critiques of Lenin (like Service, though his is a more complete picture than you have, even as you hide it under ‘broadly’).” How do you know what my broad picture of Lenin IS, based just on a sentence? Look, if I say ‘Spinoza is a rationalist’ – or ‘Wittgenstein is a Kantian’ – would you be absolutely sure that I had to have a ‘thin’ view of these thinkers, merely because I only uttered a single sentence? It hardly even matters that ‘Wittgenstein is a Kantian’ is rather debatable. It’s a pefectly standard line to take, and no one is going to deny there is some truth to it. It would be wrong to spike discussion by feigning that there is something awful about a single, patently acceptable sentence. You let a sentence like that pass. If you want to start an argument, request more sentences.

    “All philosophical taxidermy is repugnant falsification of actual philosophical thought. I just don’t find them helpful and very, very unpersuasive. In the ecosystem of thought I’m a Gleasonian.”

    That reminds me. It seems I saw a stuffed Gleasonian under glass just yesterday, at a second-hand store. Needless to say, I didn’t buy it. Look, Anthony: you can’t denounce all ‘taxidermy’ – i.e. in effect, give yourself free rein to ignore anyone’s attempts to get clear about anything – and THEN turn around and start putting little labels on everything in the ecosystem. The tightness of your performative self-contradiction is such that the head spins. (Talk about Terrifying Tales From The Cryptonormative. Anthony is the Crypto-Keeper! Gotta get an EC horror comics joke in here, to raise the tone.) In general, the problem is that your strategy for attacking me is to feign offense at things I do which are, transparently, perfectly inoffensive, indeed necessary parts of doing philosophy – in anybody’s sense of philosophy. This is unproductive.

    OK, Adam, Lenin. (Snark off. Ah, that’s better.) I don’t see that it’s a problem for what I said that God spoke to Abraham twice. I even nodded to the fact a bit myself with ‘poppa needs a brand new son.’ Because, after all, that is part of the bizarreness of the story. Not just the murder, but the faith that he will get Isacc back, because – after all – it was promised.

    I think my Stalin example, although sound for argument purposes, has distracted attention from the real issue, which is whether Zizek is, in effect, guilty of cryptonormative self-contradiction, in Habermasian terms. (And to make this a theme for this comment.) What do I mean by that? The issue isn’t really whether Lenin was a utilitarian, although it seems to me this is so obvious (taken very broadly) that there is no use kicking against the pricks. Suppose he is not a utilitarian (I grant this only for the argument.) Then he has some other ethical conception of why he is waging revolution. Perhaps a tinge of Kantianism in the picture. He has the idea that revolution is right, plus the end would be good – sufficiently so to justify it. Now this is where the lines get crossed. Because if there is anything about right OR good involved, anything at all, the Kierkegaard stuff falls apart. Or rather, the teleological suspension of the ethical we were hearing about turns out to be plain vanilla suspension of a lower ethical duty for a higher one.

    Now the question becomes: on what conception of the ethical does it make sense? And what Zizek loses, now, is the figleaf of a sense that ‘On the strength of the absurd’ is going to be an appropriate comeback. In short, the function of Kierkegaardian rhetoric is SIMPLY to mask Zizek’s distaste for defending an ethics. When he has patently got an ethics. So he should defend it. At lest say what it is.

    Adam writes: “It’s a risk, but if the odds were known or even knowable ahead of time, it would still be “covered” by some overarching scheme or big Other. The risk here is worse than “long odds” — it is 100% guaranteed to be wrong in terms of the given situation. (For instance, it’s not like there was only a 10% chance that revolution could happen in Russia in Marxist terms — it had to be an advanced capitalist country. Or there’s the more obvious example of killing your son.)”

    It seems to me a more appropriate way to put it would be: Lenin thought, ‘I don’t know how it could possibly work, but we’ve got to make it work.’ This is not at all the same as being convinced you are %100 wrong. It is not remotely analogous to Abraham on the mountain. It is, rather, a case of setting to a practical problem, in an optimistic, or at least stubborn, dogged spirit, in the absence of any idea what the solution could be. (Alternatively, Lenin was sort of mad. But let’s assume he was sane.) It isn’t exactly like being a crazy gambler either, I concede. The main point is that it is totally unlike what Kierkegaard calls faith. It’s like Bentham looking arond and saying, ‘damnit, there must be a way to get more happiness than this. I refuse to believe there isn’t. Let’s find a way.’ That’s not a Kierkegaardian attitude.

    The simple proof that it can’t be Kierkegaard is that Lenin (like Bentham) would certainly admit that he is to be ‘judged by the consequences’ – justified by how it turns out. This can induce a certain fear and trembling, because (as Kierkegaard says) life is lived in a forward direction. But, Kierkegaard emphasizes, this still has nothing to do with faith in his sense. It’s a form of the Ethical. So: prof. Zizek, how do you define and defend your conception of ethics? (Cut the Kierkegaard.)

  128. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    John, there is a real difference between clarity and reification. It would do you well to learn that difference. I also think you need to read the Practice in Christianity text, because you are confused about what the ethical is in Kierkegaard and it may be that this confusion lies with a deeper confusion of what faith is.

    ‘How do you know what my broad picture of Lenin IS, based just on a sentence?’

    I’m construing it from a host of sentences in your essay, comments you’ve written here and there over the past few years, and what I know of you personally. So this is, as you so like to bring up, a case of when I’ll stop beating my wife.

    But thank you for showing me once again how great it is to deal with you. Such a joy to constantly hear how correct you think you are.

  129. jholbo Says:

    Yes, I know what the difference is, Anthony: ‘I have clarity, you have a certain tendency to oversimplify, he is guilty of reification’. It’s an in-group/out-group relation. To put it a little differently. You regard me as the enemy, ergo I am guilty of reification. I get it, I get it. What I dislike is the fighting.

    Again, and again and again: if you think I am confused, you should just say why you think I am confused. That is the only acceptable, philosophical way to proceed. Don’t just say ‘I think you’re wrong’ or ‘on the basis of several sentences you have written over the years I think you are wrong,’ or ‘There’s this book that you’ve actually read and I think it shows you’re wrong.’ Because what am I supposed to even say to that?

  130. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘Because what am I supposed to even say to that?’

    The same thing you’d say if I wasted a few hours spelling out why I think you’re wrong.

    Now I am sure some of my thinking you are guilty of reification is in part that I think you’re generally against things I am for. I accept that to a point. I just wonder if you really believe your innocence in this matter.

  131. Adam Says:

    It could be — and I’m just throwing out a hypothetical here — but it could be that Anthony and I both sincerely think that you are guilty of reification in a variety of ways. Neither of us has posed “clarity vs. reification” as a binary opposition, as far as I remember. It could be that part of the reason we so consistently disagree with you is precisely that your tendency toward reification (i.e., Kierkegaard, Lenin, etc., can plausibly mean one and only one thing) actively makes you wrong. As I said — total hypothetical here. The more likely situation is that we secretly agree with you and just want to make you suffer out of sheer spite. But let’s entertain this counterfactual notion that we substantively object to an actual tendency you exhibit, and see where that goes.

  132. jholbo Says:

    Anthony: “The same thing you’d say if I wasted a few hours spelling out why I think you’re wrong.”

    Snark on.

    Anthony, at the risk of telling you I don’t believe you believe what you say you believe: I don’t believe that the reason you have behaved the way you have in this thread (to pick a conspicuous occasion), was expressly TO AVOID WASTING A FEW HOURS. As psychologically plausible reasons for participation in this thread, ‘avoiding wasting hours’ is way down the list. It’s below, ‘God told me to.’ Because that would at least make SOME sense. It would mean God is a crazy Lurker. Which, looking at the universe, makes a crazy sense. What you have said, by contrast, is just crazy.

    You say that you are sure that if you made a serious, considered, reason-backed critique of my arguments you are SURE I would simply ignore it. So it’s ok to preemptively strike with a fuck-off, in effect.

    How could you know a thing like that? How could you even think you had a reason to suspect a thing like that? It has never – you won’t a case – happened that someone has made a serious, reason-backed critique of something I wrote and I just fired back with a signature, Anthony-style proof that-P. ‘Fuck off. Therefore, P.’ Because I don’t regard fuck off as a valid proof form. It’s also rude.

    (I have this image of Anthony’s dissertation, like that scene from season 1 of the “Wire” where they’re reinvestigating the cold case crime scene and for five minutes they say nothing but ‘fuck’ or ‘fuck me’, while picking up and examining and scrutinizing and so forth. That is, I have no way of knowing that Anthony is not thinking smart, even professional thoughts, but – since all I have to work from is his textual output – I’m not able to make anything of it.)

    So again, at the risk of telling you I don’t believe you believe what you say you believe, I think you probably know perfectly well that if someone makes a serious criticism of something I have tried to argue, I take it seriously, respond respectfully, in good faith, all that good stuff. I’m a big sweety, unless someone just walks up to me and says ‘fuck off’. So here we are.

    Snark off.

    Adam, I don’t deny that you might sincerely think I am guilty of reification. Hell, I don’t deny that I sincerely think that I might be guilty of reification. (No one ever has been innocent in this regard, why should I be the godlike exception?) But you have to give me something more to work with, in responding to this as a blanket charge. I have to be told what I have said that you think is unacceptably reified, and (this is REALLY it) why you think so. You always say: I’ve given you tons of reasons. But, actually, I think you haven’t. You’ve said I’m flatly wrong a lot a lot of times. To be fair, we have negotiated a few points substantively, above. I am grateful for that, but I don’t think any of these negotiations have shown I was wrong, after all. Do you? If so, why?

    Let me attempt to accentuate the positive. There is one thing I do, which is perfectly standard in my tribe – is not considered a hostile gesture among my people – which may be misconstrued as a hostile gesture among your people. In discussing Zizek, I try to sharpen up Zizek’s position into something bad. That is because I have, after much reading and considered reflection, concluded this is actually the direction in which his philosophy tends. You think. Why the evil eye? Why not try to think how it is right? Must we always be sounding out idols as hollow? Aren’t you closing down discussion? And the answer, at least to the last question, is: no. Because now you come back and say: I see how you think it’s all gone pear-shaped, but we firm it up like-so. And then you show how the line I sketched can be blocked, worked around, etc. And I say … well, I haven’t said anything yet because we aren’t there yet.

    The bottom line is: saying Zizek is totally wrong is not supposed to be a conversation-stopper. I’m just not being malicious that way, if you read me right. Even reifying him into something wrong, if you insist on calling it that, isn’t a conversation stopper, because it is, in effect, an invitation to de-reify him back again. To show that he can be de-reified. Because I’ve shown my work. So you can work with that.

    To put it one last way: you read me as assuming that “Kierkegaard, Lenin, etc., can plausibly mean one and only one thing.” No. My style of critiquing Zizek does not hint in that direction at all, let alone commit to it. I provide a candidate meaning, without stating it is the only possible one. Without, therefore, implying it is. (Because, after all, giving a reading is not implying no other reading is possible.) You say ‘but maybe there are other readings’. I don’t deny it. But until I see one, I’m dancing with the one what brung me.

  133. jholbo Says:

    OK, believe it or not, that came out as too harsh to Anthony. I didn’t mean to imply that his dissertation is likely to be a Jack in the Overlook Hotel affair. What I meant is that, for all I know, he’s Jekyll and Hyde. That is, he is doing all this perfectly commendable, professional philosophy work offline, but whenever he interacts with me, all I get is the verbal fumes or concentrated waste product residue of whatever the hell that might be. He is clearly annoyed that I give him no credit whatsoever. But … well, maybe he can see where I’m coming from. I would be nothing but happy to just drop it.

    Speaking of Jekyll and Hyde, this snark on/ snark off conceit is probably psychically unhealthy, not to mention conspicuously affected. So I’ll let that go.

    Adam, here is the executive summary of what I just wrote: I say Zizek is wrong. You say: maybe there is another way of looking at it. I don’t respond favorably. You infer that I am not willing to consider alternatives. But from where I am sitting ‘maybe you are wrong’ is not yet an objection.

  134. Adam Says:

    You’re misconstruing my objection. Of course Zizek might be wrong, but before we can decide that, we need to be clear on what Zizek is actually saying. I’m sure that if, by some magic spell or something, I could somehow get through to you what I think a better reading of Zizek is, a reading more faithful to what he actually writes in On Belief and elsewhere, you would still think it was wrong. In this conversation, I’m bracketting the question of whether he’s “right” or “wrong” in terms of providing a compelling ethics, etc. — I’m just trying to get closer to the right interpretation. If, once we arrive at something like that right interpretation, you find that you don’t want to espouse Zizek’s philosophy — well, fine, I don’t really care. I’m well aware that there are a million reasons not to. My concern in this thread is simply to make sure that you’re rejecting Zizek’s philosophy.

  135. jholbo Says:

    Well, I’m prepared to hear what Zizek’s actually saying, then. What’s your response to my point, above, about how Lenin’s determination that revolution should be attempted, even though Marx said it was impossible under the circumstances, was more pragmatic and bull-headed stubborn-utilitarian than Kierkegaardian?

  136. Adam Says:

    I have already responded to that question.

  137. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    There are lots of places in his personal writings where Lenin is convinced that Russia is the worst possible place for revolution and yet he believes it must happen there. It is pretty hard to determine more or less here, but Zizek’s reading is very plausible given the evidence.

  138. jholbo Says:

    Adam, there are no comments by you, responding to my question, in the space between when I posed question and when you declared it responded to. Is there somewhere besides this thread I should look? If so, where is it? If not, in what sense is my question responded to?

    But what I really want to hear about is not the ‘let’s psychanalyze Stalin’ stuff but how you makes sense of how Lenin is NOT aiming at doing something that is either right or good, by his own lights, YET we should regard this as admirable politically. How is that supposed to work?

  139. Adam Says:

    I have already substantially explained how Lenin is Kierkegaardian above. You may want to use your web browser’s search function to find the comment in which I did so.

  140. jholbo Says:

    No, I know about that bit. Obviously otherwise I wouldn’t have made an objection to it. What I want is your response, if any, to my objection to that bit.

  141. Adam Says:

    For Zizek, the most truly ethical act is one that changes the very standard by which we measure the ethical. If we regard Marxist theory as Lenin’s ethical frame, then it seems that there is a strong case that Lenin did that. The fact that he was calculating when he planned the revolution is no counter-argument — after all, Abraham was very attentive to the practical questions surrounding how to get to Mount Moriah, how to go about sacrificing Isaac, etc. (Silentio is particularly fascinated by this aspect — it takes time and planning to get to Mount Moriah!)

    If you reject this as a measure of ethical value, then you reject it — fair enough. As I’ve said, my stake here is in understanding Zizek properly, not getting you to espouse his philosophy. Critique all you want — I’m just trying to push you to make sure that Zizek’s actual philosophy is presupposed by your critiques. What you have done with Abraham/Stalin, etc., leads me to believe — and has always led me to believe — that a misunderstanding of Zizek’s ethics underlay your critique. There are plenty of valid critiques of Zizek’s ethics; your argument in “Zizek and Trilling” does not seem to me to be among them, because it rests on a faulty understanding of what he’s saying.

  142. jholbo Says:

    Are you really arguing that, if you asked Lenin ‘why should it be right or good to stage a communist revolution’, Lenin would have answered that he couldn’t answer that question. That anything he said about why revolution was good would be repugnant to any decent, rational person? And if you are not arguing this, then how is the Kierkegaard parallel not going to fall through? Killing Isaac = revolution.

    “For Zizek, the most truly ethical act is one that changes the very standard by which we measure the ethical.” Look, I get this. But it seems to me a glib koan. It seems to me the function of the Kierkegaard stuff is to figleaf it. It certainly isn’t Kierkegaardian. So what am I misunderstanding?

    “… It rests on a faulty understanding of what he’s saying.” In general, I understand that you think I have a faulty understanding. I get that part. But there has to be something you can say to me about what makes it faulty beyond: it’s faulty. You are basically taking as a premise that my understanding is faulty. I am willing to grant, for what it is worth, that if I am wrong, then I am wrong. What I won’t grant, however, is that I am wrong.

  143. Adam Says:

    What exactly do you think I’m trying to do when I explain what I think is the better reading of On Belief? Surely you agree that what I’m saying about On Belief and about Zizek’s ethics in general is different from what you are saying. What more am I supposed to do? I honestly don’t know what you’re looking for.

  144. Adam Says:

    As for the Lenin thing, of course he thinks that establishing the communist society is a good thing — the best thing. What you are not getting, however, is that the framework within which he is working is Marxist theory, not “universal ethics in general.” If you asked Lenin to explain, in terms of Marxist theory, why starting the revolution in Russia was a good idea, then (as Anthony has said), he would have to remain silent. Because in Marxist terms, what is “good” for Russia (or any backward country) is for it to become capitalist first — Marx himself is quite explicit on this point in his writings on India, for instance.

    Why is this Kierkegaardian? Because Kierkegaard does not think that there is a “universal ethics in general”. His concept of the “ethical,” as seen in Fear and Trembling, is based on the Hegelian “objective spirit,” which is particular to the society in which one lives — hence the continual reference to how it’s “okay” to sacrifice one’s child for the good of the state (Agamemnon, I think he might also mention Brutus). “This is nonsense in terms of the ethical frame within which I find myself, but nevertheless I trust that good will result — on the strength of the absurd.” Having goodness as a goal does not undermine the Kierkegaardianness. (Kierkegaardianity? Kierkegaardianism?) Everyone has “good” as a goal, that’s just tautological.

  145. jholbo Says:

    I guess it seems that this Lenin comparison just trivializes Kierkegaard. For example: is Scotty, on Star Trek, a ‘knight of faith’, because he says the engines canna take it nah more. But then Kirk tells him they need warp power now. So they get it. This doesn’t seem spiritual to me. (I also acknowledge that it isn’t true. It’s fiction. I see that.) But it doesn’t seem as though someone would say: Scotty is like Abraham. He doesn’t think it can work, but he makes it happen, because Kirk commands it. No. Scotty is an ideal engineer. He has a can-do, resourceful attitude towards machinery. Lenin, likewise, is a can-do kind of guy. Not an Abraham. I’m being serious. It just seems to me that if Lenin fits the bill, then it turns out the whole ‘faith’ thing was sort of embarrassing, as categories go. I guess I would prefer to think that Kierkegaard doesn’t admit of this awkward extension. (Maybe I’m not being uncharitable to Zizek but too charitable to Kierkegaard, in guarding his philosophic legacy in this way.)

  146. Adam Says:

    The “knight of faith” as Kierkegaard describes him is far more trivial even than Scotty. (He actually kind of reminds me of Joyce’s Bloom.)

  147. abb1 Says:

    Ethical-schmetical. To a Bolshevik only one thing is ethical – class struggle.

    John Holbo has become a downright renegade and a lackey of the bourgeoisie!

    …we must do our utmost to expose renegades like Holbo, thereby supporting the revolutionary groups of genuine internationalist workers, who are to be found in all countries. The proletariat will very soon turn away from the traitors and renegades and follow these groups, drawing and training leaders from their midst. No wonder the bourgeoisie of all countries are howling about “world Bolshevism”.

    World Bolshevism will conquer the world bourgeoisie!

    [sorry. ignore me]

  148. jholbo Says:

    Well, I guess I can buy that. The guy who is sure there will be dinner on the table, even though there isn’t. (K.s example.) But if we decide that K. applies to Z. because, after all, it’s pretty trivial, how does that help Z?

  149. Adam Says:

    It helps Zizek because faith is concerned with the finite — “he makes the moves of infinity, and keeps getting the finite — on the strength of the absurd.” The religious is a different way of being in the world, arguably even more intensely in the world than is possible in any other stance.

    One strand of my argument you are consistently ignoring: the big Other or objective spirit. Your argument presupposes a universal frame of ethics that is foreign to both Kierkegaard and Zizek. (Kierkegaard uses the term “universal,” but means by it the Hegelian “concrete universal” — ethics is always particular.)

  150. jholbo Says:

    abb1! Thanks for dropping by.

    Yeah, ok, concrete universal. It’s sort of complicated, but let it be as you say. Now what’s the problem for me? How have I presupposed the contrary? (I hadn’t thought I was.)

  151. Adam Says:

    I believe that I have explained the concepts with the rigor appropriate to the setting. In any case, you seem to be presupposing a kind of ethical realm outside any given setting, such that Lenin is still being merely ethical because he has an idea of what is good and is trying his best to achieve it. Nevertheless, this idea of the good breaks with the big Other of his society (obviously communism is not desirable from the standpoint of bourgeois liberalism) and of his own particular movement (Marxism says that the “good” for non-capitalist countries is to become capitalist, because that’s a necessary step for achieving communism).

    You seem to be saying that because Lenin doesn’t seem to you to be sufficiently “gloriously insane” or something, it does not match the true depth of Kierkegaard — yet this seems to share in the general liberal position on faith, which is regarded as simultanesouly insane but admirable (“they have real conviction!”). Symptoms of this underlying presupposition include an overfixation on the bare fact that God is talking to Abraham, a denial that there is anything at all analogous in your own life to “hearing voices” (despite the fact that the voice of ideology tells you what is appropriate to do all the time), an insistence that the properly faithful thing has to be radically insane like the sacrifice of Isaac, etc. This my surprise you, but Kierkegaard does not share the secular liberal view of what “faith” is! Yet you seem to be unable to understand his view of faith as anything but that.

  152. jholbo Says:

    Why do you think I have this ‘liberal’ position on faith, rather than the Kierkegaard one? Or why do you think I have attributed it to Kierkegaard. I grant that K.’s faith is not just a romanticism of insanity. Yes yes. I have read his books. (I’m inclined to suspect some of your resistance to my points is due to a certain oversimplicity, on your part, about what liberalism is, but let’s just devoutly hope not, and proceed.)

    “In any case, you seem to be presupposing a kind of ethical realm outside any given setting, such that Lenin is still being merely ethical because he has an idea of what is good and is trying his best to achieve it.”

    I have no idea why I would seem to be presupposing that. So let us proceed to: how have I presupposed that? Show me that something I have said makes no sense except on the assumption that ethical demands are not situation relative, in some sense?

  153. Adam Says:

    I’m explaining an objection I’ve already made, and it should be pretty clear to you which objection that is. You keep asking me to repeat myself, and it’s annoying.

    I’ve laid out my understanding of Kierkegaard, of what Zizek is doing by bringing Kierkegaard and Lenin together, and of how Stalin does not fit within that framework. I have offered up an alterative position that seems to me to make more sense of Zizek’s text than yours does (though it is equally possible to object to Zizek’s actual position as it is to object to what you have, in my view incorrectly, presented as Zizek’s position). I honestly don’t know what more you need me to do to get you to stop asking me to repeat myself endlessly.

  154. Adam Says:

    Also: Show me that something I have said makes no sense except on the assumption that ethical demands are not situation relative, in some sense?

    You’re missing that I’m not talking about just a “situation” — I’m talking about a specific ideological configuration. You are, again, missing the element of the big Other, or at least what you’re saying does not give me any indication that you’re taking the notion of the big Other seriously. Yet it’s absolutely crucial to Zizek’s work (and, I’m arguing here, it’s analogue is also crucial to what Kierkegaard is doing in Fear and Trembling) — you can’t just make an end-run around that idea if you’re going to present what Zizek is doing. You haven’t addressed that notion at all, ever, in any comment you’ve made thus far.

  155. Craig Says:

    Holbo reminds me a student in my second year social theory class. She was confused why we couldn’t go for the Hobbes’ jugular right away because she found Hobbes to be counter-intuitive. She disagreed with me that the point of reading texts like The Leviathan in this context (i.e., a second year introduction to social theory course) was to understand what the writer was saying rather than to line up a bunch of ducks and shoot them down on the way to the ultimate (Holbonic?) truth.

    While APS’s complaint that the major contributors to The Valve are self-absorbed douchebags is certainly true (but the, anyone – especially a male with an academic blog – no doubt has the same tendencies), this isn’t the major problem with The Valve. (Afterall, we could say the same about, say, Larval Subjects or Crooked Timber – and they don’t raise ire in quite same way.) Rather, it is the approach to texts that is most off-putting – little more than nitpicking and a general refusal to consider the argument on its own terms and its own merits prior to raising objections.

    Of course, when you make an argument such as this you are instantly accused of destroying the internet, policing the discourse, and being a generally insufferable jackass.

    How about a new rule: comments are shut off on any post regardless of content when someone says, “Hey, one hundred comments!”?

  156. Alex Says:

    Craig, stop policing the discourse you little discourse policer you.

    “Rather, it is the approach to texts that is most off-putting – little more than nitpicking and a general refusal to consider the argument on its own terms and its own merits prior to raising objections.”

    Nail, head, hit.

  157. Daniel Says:

    Isn’t it a misunderstanding of Objective Spirit (in Hegel’s sense) to treat “Marxist Theory” as a suitable candidate for the shape of Objective Spirit within which Lenin lived & worked?

    There certainly is a sense in which Lenin thought that a revolution would be desirable, good, wherever it happened to take place. Presumably if there was a magical button which Lenin could push that would cause a worldwide revolution to take place, Lenin would push it. Lenin thinks people would be happier under communism; it would be an overcoming of alienation. But these sorts of “subjective” reckonings concerning the Good, human welfare, what is desirable and just or not etc. are for Hegel moments of Objective Spirit. “Objective” Spirit is not just what is in my society over and against me, but includes my own inclinations, valuations, and purposes. Conscience is not a part of “Subjective Spirit” but of Objective Spirit, and here Hegel is explicit that he means the “that which is most private to a man” sense of “conscience” and not some more restricted notion. So if there is any sense in which Lenin thinks a revolution would be “good”, then this is a moment of Objective Spirit; if treating “Marxist Theory” as the relevant moment of Objective Spirit leaves this fact incomprehensible, this would seem to be cause to not identify “Marxist Theory” and “Objective Spirit” in Lenin’s case.

    That one has some odd ideas regarding valuations, ones not shared by one’s contemporaries, does not show that one has left the realm of “Objective Spirit.” Objective Spirit can be at variance with itself; this would appear to be what Hegel understands to have happened during the French Revolution, where “liberte, equalite, fraternite” were upheld as abstract notions (which is not to say they are nothing) while the actual situation in France devolved into tyranny. (The fact, if it is a fact, that Lenin was alone in thinking that Russia was where the revolution would take place does not change anything; in principle Lenin’s odd opinion might have been shared by others. An idiosyncratic conscience is still a conscience.)

    A shape of “Objective Spirit” is particular to one’s own society, certainly, but this doesn’t entail that it excludes claims which are made out to be true in general; members of a particular society might hold certain universal claims to be true. If “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain Inalienable Rights, among these those of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” is not an aspect of Objective Spirit, then I don’t know what is meant by the term.

    I suspect that there may be some sliding, here, between “Objective Spirit”, “sittlichkeit“, and “the Big Other.” The three seem to me to be distinguishable. I suspect Zizek identifies the three; “Marxist Theory” seems to me plausible as a “Big Other” but not as a shape of Objective Spirit, so a slippage here would explain the slippage above.

    A further worry: It is not entirely clear that Kierkegaard’s “universal” is simply to be identified with Hegel’s “Objective Spirit.” Certainly there is a family resemblance. But in reading “Fear and Trembling” I always got the impression that Kierkegaard was not actually criticizing Hegel himself; I could see how the views he was criticizing might plausibly be held by “Hegelians”, but they didn’t strike me as the sort of views actually espoused by Hegel. (“Religion” comes after “Objective Spirit”, so there would appear to be a perfectly straightforward sense in which faith is “higher than the universal” in Hegel’s system. Though faith is also lower, when it is treated as basically being a matter of sentiment or inner feelings. We simply have two separate notions of “faith” in Hegel, but this strikes me as simply being faithful to the phenomena. There is a sense in which a simple-minded, unreflective religious piety may already be something sublime and exalted, I should think. “Not to the wise, but to infants have you revealed yourself” etc. Which does not preclude reflection as being something really worthwhile.)

    Holbo appears to read Kierkegaard as really opposing Hegel, here; thus the strong sense in which Abraham is acting without any hope of getting Isaac back, the strong rejection of “any good or right” as part of the “the Ethical” as inferior to the “the Religious” etc. But I have difficulty seeing Holbo’s Kierkegaard as a Christian thinker; if Holbo’s Kierkegaard has a correct understanding of Abraham, then I am mystified as to how Abraham could be the “father of faith” (in Paul’s sense, not Kierkegaard’s). Which would appear to be another way in which Abraham might be lost, so to speak. “If Paul cannot recognize Abraham as the father of faith, then Abraham is lost.”

  158. Adam Says:

    Daniel, You’re right that there may be some slippage occurring, probably due to the influence of Zizek on my understanding of Hegel. In defense of my reading, however, I would note that if we regard the revolutionary worker’s movement as the most relevant context for Lenin, it is the case that Marxist theory was the official philosophy of that movement and that framework within debates about the timing of the revolution, etc., took place. I’m not saying that one simply leaves the big Other altogether, since that would mean becoming psychotic — one leaves in order to come back, like how the Kierkegaardian knight of faith makes the movements of infinity in order to get the finite (or, you know, lame as it feels to say it: like in The Matrix).

  159. Daniel Says:

    Yeah, I can see that Lenin was undertaking a project that (officially) made no sense whatsoever, since Marxist theory was supposed to be The Voice Of Historical Reason. Lenin didn’t offer any criticism of Marxist theory on its own terms, but just ignored it and tried to get a “revolution” to go off in Russia, which as a good Marxist theorist he had every reason to regard as futile, impossible, a wasted effort etc. I think I even see some of what Zizek finds admirable in all this; there’s sort of mule-headedness to it that he thinks could be helpful to the current Left. (It reminds me of a Barth anecdote I’ve heard a few times: An interviewer asked Barth to give the deepest theological insight he knew, and Barth responded with “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Which clearly will not satisfy the interviewer. But in a way, it’s a good answer.)

    “In defense of my reading, however, I would note that if we regard the revolutionary worker’s movement as the most relevant context for Lenin,” — here I want to interrupt and note that the only correct “context for Lenin” would be: Everything about Lenin, his life and world, his person and history etc. We should not privilege Marxist theory above Lenin’s own sentiments, personal predilections, the “facts on the ground” in Lenin’s personal life or in the organizational politics of the worker’s movement (in a very everyday sense — quarrels and murmuring), facts about the world of nature, our notions of what could intelligibly follow from what, our notions about what Lenin though about all of these, etc. If we try to use any particular element of Lenin’s life to understand Lenin’s life as a whole, then we’re going to get a partial, limited view. We have to approach all of it together if we’re going to get a good view of any of it at all. Of course we will adjust various bits of our views about Lenin as we look at various aspects of his life, in good hermeneutical fashion. But there’s no privileged “context” for viewing Lenin in light of, such as would allow for other elements of Lenin to be out of view; any such approach is going to distort one’s attempt to understand the matter at hand. The “most relevant” context is only going to be a part of a broader context which would afford a better understanding; what counts as more or less relevant for understanding a particular subject at a particular time depends on what one’s motives are for investigating this subject rather than another in a particular case.

    This isn’t meant to be anything novel, of course. But I think it makes the attempt to view “Lenin and Marxist Theory” as an analogue for “the Knight of Faith and Objective Spirit” show up as a rather weak analogy: Lenin can’t be understood solely in terms of Marxist theory because there are other relevant considerations in understanding Lenin; the Knight of Faith can’t be understood by anyone at all, even by himself; it is his burden that he is unable to make himself understood tout court. If Lenin had said to one of his fellow Marxists (as I suppose he must have) that despite everything, Russia was going to be ripe for a revolution, then he might have found some agreement; both Lenin and his hearer understand things other than Marxist theory, after all. I think this is what Holbo was trying to say with his repeated “Zizek can’t use Kierkegaard here” claims.

    I’m not sure what to say about “leaving the Big Other” and becoming psychotic, but it occurs to me that this sort of thing couldn’t be said in terms of Objective Spirit — in Hegelese. It isn’t that one would be mentally unbalanced if one were outside the realm of Objective Spirit; outside of Objective Spirit, there isn’t anybody — to be a person at all is already to be a moment of Objective Spirit, and so to be a neurotic person is as well. “Evil” is something Hegel handles under the heading of “Conscience”, so to speak. I recall one of Lacan’s dictums being that “the Big Other does not exist”, that it’s (to put it poorly) mere ideology, mere custom. Hegel certainly would never say “Objective Spirit does not exist”, in any sense, and certainly not in this one. Objective Spirit doesn’t have the “gappiness” that, as I understand, the “Big Other” does. Even when there are world-historical subjects, like Alexander the Great, for Hegel these actors are within the purview of Objective Spirit (specifically, World History), despite the fact that as world-historical actors they are unable to be judged by any system of sittlichkeit, but only comprehended as part of the world-historical process by which Spirit comes to know itself in freedom. (I think it’s clear that Johannes de Silentio could have said that “If Abraham were an Alexander, then he was not the father of faith.”)

    On a perhaps related, perhaps irrelevant note: Shouldn’t that be “Makes the move to get the finite after making the movement of infinite resignation”? The move of infinite resignation isn’t to get the finite (which is why some knights can stop there, falling short of faith; infinite resignation is a complete “act” in itself). The move to get the finite, after making the movement of infinite resignation, is the act of faith, but I’m not sure why this should be regarded as another infinite act. I don’t know what you mean by the Matrix reference; perhaps that would make your sentence clearer.

    I mainly remember liking “The Matrix” because guys got blown up real good. There were gunfights and tight leather outfits, so it was $6 well-spent. I seem to have overlooked the knights of faith, among all this.

    In short: I suspect that Zizek may indeed be leading you to some slippage in understanding Hegel. Further, I suspect that the discussions with Holbo would go better if he’d talk about Hegel more.

    A meta-criticism: I’m not sure that it makes sense to strictly demarcate “Trying to understand X” and “Trying to decide if X was right”, as you seemed to say we needed to do; I am inclined to say that we don’t need to understand X before deciding whether to agree or disagree with them, but that we will do both together: Whether or not we think X is right will be a part of the background in our attempt to understand X, though like all parts of the background it might come up for revision in the course of inquiry. Of course one needs to be charitable in interpreting anyone, but this means one must read so as to make one’s subject mostly rational, i.e. not entirely crazy. Where one’s subject is taken to be mistaken, the mistakes must be intelligible as mistakes which they could reasonably have made, given what else they knew. I suspect that part of your hostility to Holbo has come from the fact that he’s always been forthright in saying he disagrees with Zizek at the start of any discussion of what Zizek held, when I don’t think this should actually be a reason for any prejudice against Holbo’s readings. (That Holbo seems to abstract all the Lacan-ish bits out of Zizek seems to me to be a better criticism; it would be odd if Zizek could be understood without discussing anything Lacanian, given how Zizek presents himself.)

    (It’s a Davidsonian point that our beliefs about what is the case, what is true, what the world is like, play an ineliminable role in any attempt to understand a speaker; one of Davidson’s formulations of the principle of charity is that the set of beliefs for any thinker must be largely true. Davidson rejects the idea that we must first come to understand what a speaker means by his or her words, and then we can compare what that speaker means by his or her words to reality; the attempt to understand the speaker as a speaker requires that the speaker and the interpreter share a massive background of true beliefs. Where there is disagreement between speaker and interpreter, there must be a background of agreement which makes the disagreement comprehensible as disagreement. This is all a bit rushed, but it seems worth noting. I’m not sure how much Davidson you’ve read, but I know Holbo is a fan.)

  160. jholbo Says:

    Alex: “Nail, head, hit.”

    If your only tool is Craig’s hammer, every thumb starts to look like a nail. So I’ll stay out of that vicinity, leaving Craig and Alex to twiddle.

    Daniel writes: “Lenin thinks people would be happier under communism; it would be an overcoming of alienation. But these sorts of “subjective” reckonings concerning the Good, human welfare, what is desirable and just or not etc. are for Hegel moments of Objective Spirit. “Objective” Spirit is not just what is in my society over and against me, but includes my own inclinations, valuations, and purposes. Conscience is not a part of “Subjective Spirit” but of Objective Spirit, and here Hegel is explicit that he means the “that which is most private to a man” sense of “conscience” and not some more restricted notion. So if there is any sense in which Lenin thinks a revolution would be “good”, then this is a moment of Objective Spirit.”

    Yes. I have more or less let the sense of ‘ethics’ float, because I thought that was actually the most generous thing to do under the circumstances. (Namely, my objection would go through pretty much no matter how you understand it, so take is as you like.) But it may be that the best thing to do is nail it down more precisely.

    Daniel’s last line says it, so I’ll quote it again: “So if there is any sense in which Lenin thinks a revolution would be “good”, then this is a moment of Objective Spirit.” This is really the problem with making Lenin a Kierkegaardian.

    Adam replies: “I’m not saying that one simply leaves the big Other altogether, since that would mean becoming psychotic — one leaves in order to come back, like how the Kierkegaardian knight of faith makes the movements of infinity in order to get the finite (or, you know, lame as it feels to say it: like in The Matrix).”

    I’m not saying this is wrong. I do get it. But there is a problem. Suppose someone now asks: why should it be right, or good, to leave and come back like that? Within Objective spirit, you can give an objective reason. But then it will just be like Scotty fixing the warp drive, even though the manual says it can’t possibly work. That is, it is just good old never-say-die, can-do spirit. If it is not like that, then why is it good? Now in Kierkegaard there is an answer. It has to do with the incarnation of Jesus. Infinity become finite. Eternity in time. This is why it is very important, for Kierkegaard, that Christianity is really the ONLY religion for one who is in despair – that is, in need of faith and salvation. And only the one in despair needs religion.. If it is not possible to believe that God became man, and died and lived, then the leap of faith is impossible. Because it is precisely this possibility of eternity in time (rather than just infinite expanses of the same, despair-filled stuff) that is what is needed. The leap of faith is an imitation of Christ. So you need Christ to be real. (Yes, I know this makes faith in the Old Testament sort of awkward. But take that up with K., not me.) But this particular role that the incarnation plays in Kierkegaard has no parallel in Zizek, it seems to me. What Zizek is after is more like paradigm shift. (That’s crude, you see the point, I trust.) But that is a completely different sort of craving – though I can grant it has it’s spiritual character.

    Daniel: “A meta-criticism: I’m not sure that it makes sense to strictly demarcate “Trying to understand X” and “Trying to decide if X was right”, as you seemed to say we needed to do; I am inclined to say that we don’t need to understand X before deciding whether to agree or disagree with them, but that we will do both together: Whether or not we think X is right will be a part of the background in our attempt to understand X, though like all parts of the background it might come up for revision in the course of inquiry.”

    I do think this is right as well. It’s a Davidsonian point, if you like. But it’s also sort of hermeneutic common sense. It does seem to me that Adam’s insistence on understanding prior to criticism tends to offend against it. There isn’t any hope that the two stages will be sharply, temporally delineated. (Adam will admit this, of course. Still, it seems to me his complaints about my approach only make sense on the sharp delineation view.)

    But forget the meta philosophy-of-charity stuff. Let’s talk about Eternity in Time, and what it means for Kierkegaard, and why it is crucual to his conception of faith, and whether there is anything parallel in Zizek.

    Finally, I try to leave the Lacan out because I think the Hegel is more interesting. I regard this as an act of charity. (That sounds snarky but I really do just think the Hegelian bits in Zizek are more interesting.)

  161. jholbo Says:

    Actually, here’s a good way to summarize my point: there is a big difference between ‘never say die, can-do spirit’ and ‘spirit overcoming despair through the possibility of eternity-in-time.’ The latter is a very different sense of ‘never say die’. Kierkegaard is the latter, Lenin is the former. So that’s the objection.

  162. John Emerson Says:

    Didn’t Cheech cover this? Or maybe Chong? You guys are all fucked.

    Otherwise, interesting thread, and sorry I missed it.

  163. Daniel Says:

    In Kierkegaard’s sense, one actually does want to say “Die.” The Infinite, the Absolute, the Eternal, dies. So it is a distinction between “Never say ‘Die’” and “Say ‘Die’”.

    I may just like the punning, here. But I do like the punning.

    (one of course has to go on and say other things along with “die”, but that mucks up the presentation of the pun.)

  164. Alex Says:

    I forget, why did you fall out with Craig again? Something to do with capitalisation?

  165. Adam Says:

    Daniel, Both Kierkegaard and Zizek would contend that there is a “leftover” of the subject that is not interpellated into objective spirit — “inwardness” in Kierkegaard, or objet petit a in Zizek. (Zizek would argue that this leftover element is also present in Hegel, so that what Kierkegaard is arguing against is a misappropriation of Hegel.) This is how it can make sense to “leave” objective spirit — you are contracted down to the leftover element. Abraham works well as an example because he is doing something that would cause him to be utterly rejected by his society — even before he actually sacrifices Isaac, therefore, he is alienated, he cannot speak.

    I think that Zizek’s terminology helps to clarify the formal structure of what Kierkegaard is doing in Fear and Trembling, but I think that partly because I am convinced by the link Zizek makes between Hegel and Lacan. Of course, as you point out, substantively addressing Lacan in these conversations is apparently forbidden, because Holbo is annoyed by Lacan (which, I will note, is a thoroughly justifiable reaction — Lacan’s style is fucking annoying).

  166. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘Of course, as you point out, substantively addressing Lacan in these conversations is apparently forbidden, because Holbo is annoyed by Lacan (which, I will note, is a thoroughly justifiable reaction — Lacan’s style is fucking annoying).’

    Right, fuck off therefore p.

  167. Adam Says:

    A quick search through the infamous “Zizek and Trilling” reveals that the name “Lacan” does not appear so much as once.

    I predict Holbo’s response: “But how does that make me wrong?” Oh, I don’t know — perhaps in most, if not all, of the ways that I’ve pointed out in this thread. Having Lacan’s concepts in mind might have helped you to see the difference between Lenin and Stalin in Zizek’s account, for instance, and avoid the error — which you dismiss as a minor distraction, but which really takes up a big chunk of your article — of conflating Abraham and Stalin.

  168. Alex Says:

    The elephant in the room is that Holbo ain’t read any Lenin.

  169. jholbo Says:

    Adam: “Of course, as you point out, substantively addressing Lacan in these conversations is apparently forbidden, because Holbo is annoyed by Lacan”

    OK, before we take another step: I am allowed to forbid things that annoy me in this thread? How does that work – I mean, procedurally? (This is a serious question. Because if I’m NOT allowed to forbid, etc., then appearances are deceiving. And that can be a very serious business.)

    Alex: “The elephant in the room is that Holbo ain’t read any Lenin.”

    Next we need to fan out and start looking for the room that Alex is in. I think he’s running out of oxygen.

    Later we meet back here.

  170. Adam Says:

    Accusations such as Alex’s do not help matters.

    The “forbidding” comment deployed a rhetorical trope known as “hyperbole.” I thought it would be easily identifiable as such to all readers, and now that I see that Holbo did not understand my intention, I humbly ask forgiveness for making my meaning so unclear.

    What I meant to say is that Holbo avoids discussing Lacan as much as he can, and that if someone brings up something from Lacan, he essentially ignores it. (I remember once, for example, when John was trying to understand a particular passage from Parallax View, and one of his first moves was to dismiss a concept from Lacan as a mere metaphor that was inessential to Zizek’s point. His misunderstanding of the passage directly resulted therefrom.) When dealing with a thinker who is saturated with Lacan (viz., Zizek), such a habit — though understandable enough in light of Lacan’s own horrid prose style, etc. — becomes a major impediment to the understanding of the text at hand.

    Addressing Daniel’s point: I do admit that “understanding” and “agreeing or disagreeing” cannot be rigorously distinguished, yet I do think that the distinction is a useful one on the procedural level. I do not think it is uncontroversial that, in an ideal world, I would wait until I was sure I knew what someone was saying before I issued a judgment of agreement or disagreement. Before achieving understanding, various other types of judgments are perfectly acceptable: this is overly complicated and unlikely to be worth my effort, this is probably just nonsense, etc. — being able to dismiss a text as not being a good use of one’s time is absolutely essential, and I do not begrudge anyone the right to do so. However, once one embarks on a critique of a thinker, then one tacitly accepts the burden of doing enough work to really understand said thinker — which in Zizek’s case would mean dealing seriously with the materials from Lacan. (Just as to understand Of Grammatology, you’d have to know structuralism, or to understand the New Testament, you’d have to have a passing familiarity with Judaism, etc.)

  171. scotterickaufman Says:

    I’ve been asked to not interact with Craig, so I won’t … instead I’ll respond to Alex’s comment: Nail, head, hit.

    That’s a mischaracterization of my participation on the Valve. In fact, I joined as a rabid critic of psychoanalysis, and now I’m someone who believes psychoanalysis a valid tool in the literary critical toolbox. To claim — or support the claim — that the Valve’s all about picking nits and never changing the substance of arguments is to embrace pure, unadulterated bullshit.

    Now, some people have a reason to embrace bullshit, as said substance (and its production) is their life’s work … but you, Alex, have never struck me as the sort who would, say, do something extremely petty, get caught doing it, then slander the person who caught you every chance he got. (I speak generally, of course, and desire no answer from anyone of that sort.)

    Another example, one which runs the other way, is my perspective on Foucault, who remains a general influence on my work, but whose work, down in the trenches, I’ve come to doubt. All well and good … so long as you don’t consider criticism a crusade to destroy all that is good in your world. Yes, there are problems with Foucault’s work. Yes, they should be pointed out. No, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, shouldn’t be studied, &c.

    This comment is intended as a corrective and needs no reply. Please continue with the the thread as if you never read it.

  172. Alex Says:

    Did I say it was a characterization of your contributions to The Valve?

    Maybe I should have been a little more clear on this one, I meant this was broadly my impression Holbo’s strategy – pick on a minor element to someones work – generally from an interview or marginal text, then use it as a lever to criticise the project as a whole without first taking the whole project and its spirit into account. Like in your Foucault example, you do the opposite of this, which is great.

  173. jholbo Says:

    Alex: “I meant this was broadly my impression Holbo’s strategy – pick on a minor element to someones work – generally from an interview or marginal text, then use it as a lever to criticise the project as a whole … ”

    I’ll thank you to take the whole spirit of my philosophy into account, before you try to lever such large criticisms from so few details as you have troubled to collect.

    Adam: “The “forbidding” comment deployed a rhetorical trope known as “hyperbole.” I thought it would be easily identifiable as such to all readers, and now that I see that Holbo did not understand my intention, I humbly ask forgiveness for making my meaning so unclear.”

    It wasn’t the hyperbole I objected to (confidentially: I love hyperbole) but the fact that this flourish facilitates the palming of the key card, while the audience admired the handsome indignation. I just wanted to invite attention to the mechanics of the trick.

    Let’s approach the point historically. (It is getting to the point where we can be historicists about this thread.)

    So far we’ve sorted out ONE Lacanian point, and it went like so, upstream. What you took to be my total ignorance of Lacan’s view of perversity turned out to be your own slight ignorance of Kierkegaard’s theology, just wearing a slightly funny hat. That is, you didn’t realize that Kierkegaard had expressly anticipated that the Abraham case might have a certain ‘perverse’ aspect. In discussing as I did, I was registering awareness of Lacan nuance, but you didn’t catch the reference. This is what I call progress. People learning things they didn’t know about things.

    Now, the next time our minds meet, it is quite likely to tip the other way. It will turn out that I have misunderstood something in Zizek, due to a failure to perceive the Lacanian contours. But the fact that this is quite likely to happen (inevitably it Will happen) does not, as it were, cause a deadly miasmal cloud of wrongness to descend avant la lettre on everything I have said. You can’t say ‘you’re probably wrong about Lacan stuff’, in a hyperbolic way, and rest your blanket case against me. Yes I am probably wrong. So are you, my boy, so are you.

    Also, trying to turn the bare fact that I don’t discuss Lacan in my P&L piece into an argument against the piece is just a terrible, terrible argument (and you should duly hang your hand for a moment in hermeneutic shame.) It’s a short piece. Ergo, I also don’t discuss the price of tea in China. The number of things I don’t discuss in that short piece is very great indeed. Furthermore, unlike the price of tea in China, many of the things I don’t discuss are plausibly highly relevant to the things I do discuss. Even so, I don’t discuss them. (Why do you suppose that is, in my short piece? Why would a short piece fail to discuss everything that might be relevant? It seems to me that there is some property of short pieces that causes them to tend not to discuss absolutely everything under the sun of relevance … now what could it be?)

    More formally: it is not a valid objection to my saying x that there is something else, y, that could have been added, unless the fact that y is not added can be shown to make some trouble for x. In the present case I am still angling for some hint as to what is supposed to be the trouble with my argument. You say that the lack of Lacan caused the trouble. But, before we start figuring out what CAUSED the trouble, we need to know what the trouble IS.

    As to my somewhat breezy comment about how I think Zizek’s Hegelianism is more interesting than his Lacanianism – well, I happen to know that you think the same, Adam, because you have told me so. That is, you like the Hegel stuff better. Of course that doesn’t mean you ignore Lacan. Nor do I, nor do I, my boy. That is, this thing I said that you have worked up a head of indignant steam against … could as easily have come from your own mouth, since it is in your own head. So just cool down.

    “However, once one embarks on a critique of a thinker, then one tacitly accepts the burden of doing enough work to really understand said thinker — which in Zizek’s case would mean dealing seriously with the materials from Lacan.”

    Turn this around: when one embarks on a critique of a thinker for not understanding a thinker one tacitly accepts the burden of doing enough work to understand the thinker who is supposed to have not understood the thinker – which in Holbo’s case, means dealing seriously with his possible reasons for not discussing Lacan in his short paper.

    Now that I have cleaned up at least a few of the appalling rhetorical messes around the place – enough that maybe we can sit down, in a friendly sort of way – can we discuss some philosophy?

    Specifically, Adam wrote the following above and – now that I have painstakingly unwrapped it from its native swaddling of hyperbolic fallacy – I would like to actually understand it:

    “Both Kierkegaard and Zizek would contend that there is a “leftover” of the subject that is not interpellated into objective spirit — “inwardness” in Kierkegaard, or objet petit a in Zizek. (Zizek would argue that this leftover element is also present in Hegel, so that what Kierkegaard is arguing against is a misappropriation of Hegel.) This is how it can make sense to “leave” objective spirit — you are contracted down to the leftover element. Abraham works well as an example because he is doing something that would cause him to be utterly rejected by his society — even before he actually sacrifices Isaac, therefore, he is alienated, he cannot speak.”

    I don’t get why inwardness should equal objet petit a in this way. I’m not saying this is wrong. I just don’t get what you are saying. Please explain again at greater length. And perhaps help me with the Lacan bits. Indeed, it is quite likely I have misunderstood Lacan.

  174. jholbo Says:

    I just tried to comment but no-go. Should I try again? Or is someone trying to tell me something.

  175. Adam Says:

    It was marked as spam, for reasons I can’t understand. Are spammers now trying to sell Lacanian analysis?

  176. jholbo Says:

    Oh never mind. There it is.

  177. Adam Says:

    As a point of order, I don’t concede that I have misunderstood Kierkegaard — I still maintain that you are misunderstanding the category of perversion.

    I’ll respond to the other points tomorrow.

  178. Daniel Says:

    Kotsko: “Both Kierkegaard and Zizek would contend that there is a “leftover” of the subject that is not interpellated into objective spirit… Zizek would argue that this leftover element is also present in Hegel… This is how it can make sense to “leave” objective spirit — you are contracted down to the leftover element.” Here I think the talk of “interpellating a subject into Objective Spirit” leads to a misrepresentation of Hegel’s views. For Hegel there is no “subject” outside of or prior to Objective Spirit; the subject is a moment of Objective Spirit. In “Subjective Spirit” Hegel deals only with a mind in general; ss482 of the Encyclopedia, which marks the transition-point to Objective from Subjective Spirit, notes that up to this point mind is only “abstract Idea” and “the rational will in general, or implicit Idea”. Objective Spirit just is the domain of the actuality of the Idea. It is not that Objective Spirit takes up some pre-existing matter and forms it (such that some of the matter could be “left over” by being unformed), but Objective Spirit is both the form and the matter of its moments; it is the actual development of what was merely abstract in Subjective Spirit, similar to the relation between Logic and Nature in the earlier parts of the system.

    I suspect that Zizek may be crossing “Objective Spirit” and sittlichkeit. Hegel does allow that (in some cases) there are individuals who act outside of the domain of sittlichkeit, primarily world-historical individuals, but also the “rabble” of modern civil society. In the latter case Hegel is clear that the rabble ought to be a part of the “ethical community” of sittlichkeit, though he despairs of finding a way of doing this; if he had been able to think of a way to integrate them in his picture of the state, then he would have done so, and there is no in-principle reason he could not have done so; he doesn’t shirk from propounding novel forms of social organization in other parts of the Rechtsphilosopie, as in his model of “corporations” as a mongrel-breed, formed half from “the antiquated guild system” and half from actual modern corporations. Hegel describes the rabble as being a problem for modern societies; overcoming the problem of wealth and poverty is, implicitly, left for future states, or at least future developments of modern states.

    In the case of world-historical individuals, we have actors who a) put themselves outside of sittlichkeit who b) lead to the formation of new shapes of sittlichkeit. That world-historical actors are outside the judgement of sittlichkeit (either the one they left or the one they cause to come into being) is made clear by Hegel’s scathing remarks about the schoolmasters who are always quick to point out that Alexander acted from a craving for conquest; the schoolmaster is thus superior to Alexander — the fact that he has not conquered Asia is more than made up for by the fact that he is willing to “live and let live.” That world-historical actors lead to new shapes of sittlichkeit is just what makes them “world-historical”; they cause the boundaries to be redrawn.

    I’ll quote Hegel, from the Introduction to the Lecture on World History (Rauch translation): “They can be called heroes, because they have drawn their aim and their vocation not merely from the calm and orderly system that is the sanctified course of things, but rather from a source whose content is hidden and has not yet matured into present existence. This source is the inner Spirit that is as yet hidden beneath the surface; it knocks at the outer world as though that were a shell, and shatters it because that inner Spirit is a kernel that is different from the kernel in the outer world’s shell. Thus, these men seem to create from within themselves….” (p. 32/33 in the Hackett edition) — I think that this is the sort of thing Zizek wants to talk about. World-historical actions. Something immanent to Objective Spirit, not a suspension of it. World-history is the substance of Objective Spirit, after all; the various shapes of Objective Spirit are the self-development of the Idea in history, and Objective Spirit is just the actuality of the Idea. History is the development of Objective Spirit from one shape to another.

    Note that World-History is the final stage in Objective Spirit, and not yet a transition to Absolute Spirit. Art, Religion, and Philosophy constitute the moments of Absolute Spirit; here we do not have something “beyond world-history”, but a deeper grasp of the development which was already canvassed under the heading of Objective Spirit. Thus Art, Religion, and Philosophy are all treated of historically, though history proper was a moment of Objective Spirit. Absolute Spirit does not break with Objective Spirit, but is the knowledge of Objective Spirit as it is in itself, as the self-development of the Idea. Again, this is similar to the earlier treatment of the relation between Nature and Spirit; Spirit is not a something beyond Nature, but is the development of “petrified Intelligence” into self-conscious Reason.

    I think that Kierkegaard really may want to oppose this entire system; this is certainly how Holbo reads him. I’m not sure that Kierkegaard’s criticisms of “The System” are aimed at Hegel himself, but I think he does hold to some ideas which are opposed to Hegel’s. And so if what Zizek really wants to talk about is world-historical suspension of sittlichkeit, then Zizek and Kierkegaard aren’t concerned with the same topics. (I’m not sure what to make of Kierkegaard, honestly. He sometimes seems quite likable, and sometimes is utterly baffling. I prefer Bultmann. I remember really liking “Jesus and The Word.”)

    Kotsko again: “Of course, as you point out, substantively addressing Lacan in these conversations is apparently forbidden, because Holbo is annoyed by Lacan.” I think you put the point a little too strongly, but you’ve already been jumped on for that. Holbo thinks he can address Zizek without handling the Lacan stuff, since he can handle the Hegel stuff instead, and Zizek (on this line of thought) holds to the identity “Lacan=Hegel”, so Holbo is not actually ignoring anything substantial in Zizek. I’m skeptical, but I don’t think Holbo has acted in bad faith. I have to confess, though, that I really would like to see Holbo address the “Imaginary, Symbolic, Real” triad head-on, specifically the latter two bits. I wouldn’t think it would be hard for him to leverage Wittgenstein & Davidson into an assault on Zizek-Lacan, here, based on some of what Holbo’s said about Derrida etc. (I know I take Davidsonian-Wittgensteinian issue with some of the things said about language when “the symbolic” comes up, so I’d be surprised if Holbo has never gotten annoyed by Zizek-Lacan in these parts.)

  179. Adam Says:

    Weirdly, the thing marked the second copy Holbo tried to post as spam as well. I don’t see what’s so spam-like about it.

    (I have to read a ton of Meister Eckhart tonight, or I seriously would respond now. This isn’t a “pasta boiling” type of thing.)

  180. Daniel Says:

    I have a paper to write for Property, and that didn’t stop me from commenting! Though it probably should have.

    I suspect I might be running entirely on caffeine tomorrow. ;_;

  181. Adam Says:

    Meister Eckhart didn’t take as long as I thought! (The Defense against Heresy is apparently mostly retreads of other stuff.)

    Daniel: I suppose it’s possible I’ve been confused about objective spirit. I hope I’m not too thoroughly confused about it, because I just had an essay come out that is based on Bonhoeffer’s use of the concept. In any case, I don’t have the Encyclopedia onhand and so can’t really carry this end of the conversation further.

    John: I didn’t read your comment in its entirety before putting it off, and now I see that it’s mostly you bitching about how unfair I am to you in light of the shortness of your article. I would note that being personally annoyed by the amount of Lacan in Zizek is not the same as saying that Lacan is unimportant to understanding Zizek. (I also don’t buy Daniel’s “Lacan == Hegel, ergo….” Zizek is doing a Lacanian read of Hegel, which differs from the traditional reception. And in any case, John has never defended himself in that way, only expressed an understandable preference for dealing with the Hegel stuff.)

    By “inwardness” I meant essentially that by means of which the subject stands in absolute relation to the absolute. (It may not be the exact terminology SK uses in Fear and Trembling, and if it’s not, I apologize.) Something incommunicable — “he cannot speak,” as I keep pointing out. In Zizek’s read of Lacan, there are two modalities of the subject — the “feminine,” which is the pure self-relating void, and the “masculine,” which is basically one’s “identity” as normally conceived (one’s social being). In Indivisible Remainder and some other places, Zizek claims that the “feminine” mode of subjectivity is ultimately identical to objet petit a — the traumatic kernel isn’t some solid “thing,” but is the subject’s “insane” eternal choice of character. In extreme situations — such as Abraham’s, I would argue — one is reduced to this incommunicable zero-level of subjectivity.

    He works out the feminine/masculine things in terms of Descartes: the feminine is the abyss of radical doubt that even doubts whether he exists, and the masculine is the cogito ergo sum that allows him to dig himself out and found some kind of intelligible system. I don’t know for sure what page it’s on, but in Parallax he draws a comparison between Descartes and Kierkegaard in this regard.

    I’m sure that’s still too compressed, but it’s something.

  182. jholbo Says:

    “Being personally annoyed by the amount of Lacan in Zizek is not the same as saying that Lacan is unimportant to understanding Zizek.”

    I never said – nor hinted – that Lacan was unimportant to Zizek, or to understanding Zizek. That would be a nutty thing to think. So I don’t see the fact that you don’t have this nutty opinion, and I don’t have this nutty opinion, as marking a clear line of distinction between our respective positions. I just said I tend to approve more, or disapprove less, of the bits that strike me as more Hegelian. (OK, I’m sorry to get exasperated. But just cut it out with saying the things that exasperate me.)

    I am entirely happy with Daniel’s exposition of Hegel on objective spirit and would be content for Adam to address that. If Adam can address Daniel, my questions will be largely answered. “If what Zizek really wants to talk about is world-historical suspension of sittlichkeit, then Zizek and Kierkegaard aren’t concerned with the same topics.” This is my suspicion. The main criterion that separates Kierk. from Hegel, in this regard, is the idea of retroactively making sense of what you have been doing. Hegel is big on this, to put it mildly. Kierkegaard is insistent that this isn’t faith. Faith isn’t having it make sense, looking back, after it’s done. This is important.

    Two minor points: I don’t insist that Hegel = Lacan. It is true that Zizek thinks that Hegelized Lacan and Lacanized Hegel makes for mutually reinforcing structures. So there is a certain heuristic value to Hegel = Lacan. Eh.

    Daniel writes: “I think that Kierkegaard really may want to oppose this entire system; this is certainly how Holbo reads him. I’m not sure that Kierkegaard’s criticisms of “The System” are aimed at Hegel himself, but I think he does hold to some ideas which are opposed to Hegel’s.”

    One thing that makes reading Kierkegaard against Hegel hard is that he is clearly addicted to the rhetoric of standing Hegel exactly on his head. This makes for wonderful jokes, which are spoiled by any attempt to come at Hegel at other than right angles. There isn’t any negotiation of ‘well, I sort of agree with Hegel about Ethics, but not about Faith.’ By way of exactly disagreeing about faith, K. has to pose as if he agrees perfectly about ethics, so as to throw the disagreement about faith into absolutely stark relief. So I just say ‘Ethics’ and let it float, not committing to the snap-to-grid 90 degree angles of the rhetorical frame. But it’s important that it isn’t going to float off that point that Daniel makes, above. Which is the main point.

    Adam, I’ll have to think about the ‘inwardness’ point. I still don’t really get it. Following up on a comment at the Weblog, I think “The Indivisible Remainder” should have been entitled “The Invisible Reminder” That makes more sense.

  183. Adam Says:

    You just seemed to be placing undue emphasis on my remark.

    All I can say is that Zizek doesn’t understand Hegel to be saying that objective spirit really is this universal all-encompassing thing — just that in order to work, it has to be regarded as such. Every historical era is “the end of history” from its own perspective and can’t help but view itself that way. Your reading of objective spirit is “Althusserian” — subjects are brought into existence by and for ideology. In Zizek’s Lacanian reading, the subject can always “opt out” in psychosis or in the self-directed negative act that Zizek calls the “properly ethical” — the social subject is the product of the primordial subject’s unconscious choice to submit to ideology (which includes basically all the things that Hegel classes under objective spirit).

    Daniel appears to have read The Indivisible Remainder — isn’t the account of the rise of the big Other “Hegelian” or dialectical in its approach? The big Other arises out of the mutual deadlock among subjects, but in order for it to function, it has to be posited as “eternal,” always-already there. I understand this to be compatible with what I have read of Hegel, though obviously not with the traditional reading of Hegel, and I unfortunately remain unable to engage you at the level of detail that you have given me — and I’m sorry about that. All I can say is that Zizek’s reading of Hegel on this point seems plausible to me.

  184. Daniel Says:

    The Encyclopedia is actually online: http://www.class.uidaho.edu/mickelsen/hegel310.htm
    It’s lacking the Zusatze, but Miller didn’t translate those for anything after about halfway through “Psychology” anyway; his thinking was that if you wanted detail on “Objective Spirit” you could check the “Philosophy of Right”, and if you wanted more on “Absolute Spirit” Hegel’s lectures on Art/Religion/History of Philosophy had been translated already.

    The tail-end of Holbo’s “Short Article is Short” rant actually did have some substance. He asked a question at the very end. Skipping the rest was probably an OK thing to do; Holbo seemed to be losing his temper, so it seems charitable to just let him get it out of his system and then go on.

    I have not read The Indivisible Remainder in its entirety. I had an evening to kill at a bookstore; catching up on Yotsuba&! volumes hadn’t taken as long as I thought it would. Barnes & Noble had a copy of “The Indivisible Remainder” for some reason (as its only Zizek book, even), so I figured I’d check it out, since you keep speaking so highly of it. I read several pages into the first part, hit an argument that struck me as bad in a particularly toxic way, and skipped to the second part, which I read most of, but don’t recall very well at this point. So, a half-step above skimming. Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t recall the origin of the “Big Other” given in that work; the summary you give sounds vaguely like something Hegel might say, but it also sounds like something Fichte might say, or even “social contract” theorists. One should not put too much weight on “sounds dialectical.”

    I do recall the argument which struck me so badly: It was attributed to Schelling. Zizek notes that a subject has a variety of beliefs, desires, and other mental states of various sorts at any given moment. But these are not sufficient to motivate action: Given all that I believe etc., I could still do either p or ~p. Thus Schelling claims that we must also appeal to “eternal Character” to explain action: So-and-so is the sort of person to do this in this case. What struck me was that Schelling-Zizek simply rushed to say that (for instance) “I should like a drink of water” is not sufficient motivation for my getting a drink of water (since I could opt not to satisfy my thirst). But this is not the case in all cases — when I do get a drink of water, I often do it because I wanted a drink of water. My belief that I should like a drink of water caused my action, the getting of a drink of water. (Or if you prefer, my desire for a drink of water caused me to get a drink; there is no reason we cannot say both.) My mental states can be sufficient to cause me to act. A given mental state does not necessitate any given action, is what Zizek-Schelling notice; they conclude that there must be some additional element in action. But this is to fail to canvass all possibilities. In effect, Schelling-Zizek notice that there are no natural laws which go from mental states to actions, and conclude that there must be additional elements which can be added to mental states to produce the needed laws: Mental State + Eternal Character -> Action.

    But there is another possibility: The anomalism of the mental. There are no laws of nature governing thought, because to use “law of nature” talk we must also use talk of mental states, and so mind-talk cannot be reduced to nature-talk, or replaced with it. And there is no reason for this to preclude the causal efficacy of mental states. Not all causal relations need to be instantiations of covering laws; the belief that they do is what McDowell calls (in “Functionalism and Anomalous Monism”) the “fourth dogma of empiricism”: “The Nomological Character of Causality.”

    Or, if you want to hang onto your fourth dogma (Davidson did, for reasons I haven’t been able to puzzle out), there is Davidson’s “anomalous monism.” Each mental event is token-token identical to a physical event, and there are covering laws governing all physical causal relations. Thus mental events are involved in causal relations, since the same event can be characterized in both physical-talk and in mental-talk. But mental events cannot be talked about in nomological terms; law-talk is not suited for the task demanded of it. We need talk of propositional attitudes as support for any talk of the objective world at all, and thus also for talk of natural laws. Thus an absence of strict psychological laws, yet the causal efficacy of the mental is retained. (The locus classicus for this doctrine is Davidson’s “Mental Events”; in “Three Varieties of Knowledge” he does a much better job in arguing for the anomalism of the mental. ME is in “Essays on Actions and Events” and also “The Essential Davidson”; “Three Varieties of Knowledge” is in “Objective, Subjective, Intersubjective”. McDowell’s “Functionalism and Anomalous Monism” is in his “Mind, Value, and Reality”.)

    I could go on about this longer, but you get the general idea. If you don’t, then this is probably a good thing to discuss.

    I regard the anomalism of the mental as something very important to take note of; missing it can cause one to produce a great deal of bad metaphysical speculation. It appears to me from what you’ve written above that this has likely happened in Zizek’s case (if not in Lacan’s): a second “subject” is posited to explain why there don’t appear to be any mental laws, just as with Schelling’s “Eternal Character”. But a proper understanding of the propositional attitudes, of the relations which hold between belief, action, reasons, causes, the world etc., leaves one without the compulsion to posit the additional entity. The ordinary subject doesn’t need to “withdraw” anywhere to be free from nomological constraints, because there is no point at which it is not already free of such imaginary shackles. Hegel speaks of the relation between will and freedom as being like the relation between a body and weight — an unfree will would be no will at all.

    Kotsko: “All I can say is that Zizek doesn’t understand Hegel to be saying that objective spirit really is this universal all-encompassing thing — just that in order to work, it has to be regarded as such. Every historical era is “the end of history” from its own perspective and can’t help but view itself that way.”– it occurs to me that any interpretation which leads to ascribing an “error view” of some sort to Hegel should be suspect. Hegel is not one to maintain a strong demarcation between what appears to us to be so and what simply is.

    More substantively, Hegel does not think that all ages regard themselves as the “end of history”. Philosophical world-history is a novel development in the development of historicizing; indeed, Hegel says it is so far only practiced in Germany during his own time. It is the distinctive mark of this “highest” form of historical reflection that it knows historical development as self-directed, as guided by an internal telos. Hegel argues that the only telos which can do the required work in guiding our understanding of history is freedom, as other notions would simply be external purposes; Hegel is a critic of all external teleology, following Kant. And freedom reaches its fullest development in the modern state. Hegel repeatedly says that the Greeks did not know freedom; this was the failure of Aristotle, simply that he was born in Ancient Greece rather than Lutheran Germany. The idea of freedom only comes into play with Christianity; even the Stoics still had a flawed notion of it, since for the Stoic man as such was not free, but only man insofar as he was a sage. After the rise of modern civil society and the spread of Protestantism in religion etc. there is no longer any in-principle reason for man to be alienated from nature or society, to not know himself as freedom. Any further “historical” development will be the working-out of the modern political ideal which is already known: Man is and ought to be free. Thus history, as the self-development of freedom, has ended with modern society.

    “Your reading of objective spirit is “Althusserian” — subjects are brought into existence by and for ideology.” — Here I think the assimilation of Hegel to a later figure has again caused a misunderstanding. As I understand the term, “Ideology” seems too rigid to do the work of Hegel’s “Objective Spirit.” Ideology is something basically static, given; I am born into an ideology, which governs me, moulds me, makes me who I am. But this again makes it seem as if it is something basically over and against me; whereas I am a novel moment of Objective Spirit, always with my own particular will, my own personal idiosyncrasies, my own novel familial and social relations etc. “Objective Spirit” is the actuality of the Idea, and the Idea is ever-active, ever unfolding itself out of itself; “The chalice of this realm of spirits/ flows forth to God his own infinity”, to quote the closing verse of the Phenomenology.

    As I understand it, “ideology” is something more or less constant: Thus ideology always attempts to continue itself, but sometimes fails to produce the subjects it intended, and in this way do ideologies rise and fall. Objective Spirit does not try to maintain its previous shape, but fail; it tries and succeeds to develop itself as concrete freedom. I may be misunderstanding you on “ideology”; I tend not to use the term, and so may be missing some subtleties to it.

    “In Zizek’s Lacanian reading, the subject can always “opt out” in psychosis or in the self-directed negative act that Zizek calls the “properly ethical” — the social subject is the product of the primordial subject’s unconscious choice to submit to ideology (which includes basically all the things that Hegel classes under objective spirit).” Here Zizek seems to be thinking of Hegel’s “infinite power of the negative”; the power of Spirit to abstract itself from all content that is given to it. (I don’t have my books on-hand at the moment, so I can’t place this more precisely.) But for Hegel this is not a way of escaping from Objective Spirit; it is a moment of it. The recoil from the “given” is part of the development of freedom, and Objective Spirit is the actuality of the Idea in its freedom. And of course I’ve already made another criticism above, that Zizek wouldn’t feel the need to talk this way if he took notice of the anomalous nature of the mental.

  185. Adam Says:

    Daniel, I’m not sure how different this “anomalous nature of the mental” is from what Zizek is doing. He’s not positing the primordial subject as some kind of homunculus — it’s the power of the negative. What is added between mental states and acts is just a gap, not a separate entity.

    We’re getting to the point of having such long comments that I’m tempted to just point you toward Zizek’s most detailed reading of Hegel, in For they know not, and ask you to get back to me once you’ve gotten a chance to read it. (If that doesn’t seem assholish.) And I’ll go do a more intensive reading of Hegel (in and for himself) while you’re getting around to that, and we can talk again. I’ve read a good chunk of Hegel and a few commentators other than Zizek, but I’m not yet at the point where I feel comfortable throwing around Hegel at the level of specificity you’re using.

  186. Daniel Says:

    The point of the anomalism of the mental is that there needn’t be any such gap to accommodate freedom, Hegel’s “infinite power of the negative”. The mental as such is already the space of freedom. There is no need for an addition, even the addition of a “gap.”

    Recommending we “hit the books” and get back to this stuff later doesn’t seem assholish at all at this point, though I have no idea when I’ll get around to reading any given thing; my backlog is legion.

    As for reading Hegel intensively: I’d recommend focusing more on the Encyclopedia Logic and the Philosophy of Spirit. Hegel wrote the Encyclopedia volumes for use as textbooks for his lectures, so they’re quite a bit more readable than the Science of Logic or the Phenomenology. The Encyclopedia Logic also has the advantage of having a fairly-recent Hackett translation, which means plenty of handy footnotes, annotations, etc.; I’ve never been able to understand why Miller was so stingy with footnotes. Hegel’s text benefits from having constant reminders about what terms were used in the German.

    (The translators’ introductions to the Encyclopedia Logic are great, too. Just reading their arguments over how to translate various terms does a lot to spell out how Hegel’s using them. It also explains how in the hell “ob-ject” was deemed fit for print.)

    Also, to be assholish, Davidson is seriously fantastic and you should read him if you haven’t already. “On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” is one of the best essays ever written. “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” is also terrific, and by the time I was through with it I was pretty much sold on all things Davidsonian. And I really do think it’s relevant to the sort of things you’re interested in.

  187. Adam Says:

    I’ve been eying the new edition of the Encyclopedia Logic for a while now. But I’ve heard that the other translations out of the Encyclopedia are pretty shitty — any idea whether this is the case? I don’t want to be a light-weight, after all: if I’m to read the Encyclopedia, I’m going to read the damn Philosophy of Nature, too.

    If you’re going to take a long time, though, maybe I will have the chance to “bone up” on German and just read it straight.

  188. abb1 Says:

    BTW, Russian revolution of 1917: to Lenin it wasn’t a Russian revolution, it was merely the beginning of a world revolution. Russia was the weakest link in the imperialist chain; break it and the whole thing falls apart. I’m not sure this is in contradiction with the original marxism. “Socialism in One Country” sure is, but that was Stalin’s thesis.

  189. Daniel Says:

    The Miller Philosophy of Spirit is readable, which is always a plus. And it’s the only one on the market; apparently someone translated the section on Subjective Spirit back in the ’80s, but it’s a rare book and runs about $150, last I checked. I remember Kenneth Westphal complained about the Miller translation in one of his articles, but all of his criticisms were fairly minor: basically, the Zusatze need updating.

    There are some really terrible older translations of the Encyclopedia Logic, at least; some of them are mentioned in the translators’ introduction to the Hackett. One of them translated most of Hegel’s technical vocabulary literally: Daseyn was “There-Being”. Given the sheer amount of technical vocabulary Hegel accumulates, you can guess how well this worked out.

    I have no idea if the translation of the Philosophy of Nature is any good, nor do I care. Nor does anyone. All of the the secondary stuff I’ve read on the PoN has fallen into one of two categories: 1) Utterly worthless dreck whose authors should be ashamed of themselves; 2) an article by Terry Pinkard about why the PoN is justly neglected, and what its irrelevance tells us about the relation between Nature and Spirit. Pinkard pointed out that Hegel’s attempts to unify mechanism, chemism, and organism went on a few years before the accidental distillation of urea, which rather revolutionized ideas about the relationship between “organic” and “inorganic” matters. This is just as well, since there are a few places in the PoN where Hegel just says “We still have a lot to learn about this subject” and moves on to the next heading. This is not a sign that Hegel’s strategy was going as planned.

    Good luck on learning German, though. I’ve done a piss-poor job at maintaining my Greek and Latin, so I’ve more or less resigned myself to reading works in translation. Luckily the German Idealists are pretty well-represented, here; the only Kantian works which still need translating are some lecture notes on random subjects and parts of his Reflexionen. The Cambridge edition of the Opus Postumum is actually said to be superior to any German edition, just because the Cambridge folk did better critical work on the manuscripts.

  190. Adam Says:

    I already “know” German — the problem is getting it up to speed so that I can read comfortably. I’ve already achieved that level in French, so I know it’s possible in principle.

    My readings in patristics have made me fond of outdated scientific schemes, but maybe an early modern one wouldn’t be different enough to be interesting. (Sometimes I’ve pondered becoming a crank who defends Plato’s Timaeus instead of creationism, just for the sake of generating controversy on blogs.)

  191. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I only have a, at best, passing interest in Hegel, but doesn’t Stephen Houlgate’s work make some hoopla about the philosophy of nature as an important neglected aspect? Isn’t he good?

    I could be way off since looking at his faculty page this information I thought I was remembering is not there. Still… is he one of the cranks?

  192. Daniel Says:

    Can’t say; haven’t read Houlgate. He does appear to be who you were thinking of: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/079144144X/ref=wl_it_dp/102-1784102-2436919?ie=UTF8&coliid=I32HUVU7T8K0OF&colid=IWZKF5KNXU12

    I’m not sure why this book isn’t on his faculty page. Must just be a “selected works” list rather than a CV. (Why do people do this? Is it that hard to throw up a CV if you’re going to throw up anything?)

    I suppose the PoN is bound to be better than it’s generally taken to be; it can’t possibly be worse. Though the Amazon description for Houlgate’s book does not fill me with hope; trying to develop Kant’s “Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science” in a positive way can’t end well. The “Metaphysical Foundations” is a trainwreck. (See Kenneth Westphal, “Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism” for an excellent analysis of just how badly Kant’s project goes here; Gordon Brittain tried to defend Kant’s book in “Kant’s Theory of Science”, but mainly succeeded in writing a fine book discussing a lot of Kantian themes in light of Quine. Brittain did not actually do much to dispel worries that Kant’s project in “Metaphysical Foundations” was a bad one from the get-go. Though again: “Kant’s Theory of Science” was a good book. The same can’t be said for the “Metaphysical Foundations.”)

  193. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Seeing as how I fancy myself a philosopher of nature I should probably read some of this old German stuff, but I just can’t and your descriptions really aren’t fostering any desire to do so either.

    I’ll just stick with my assumption that the real philosophy of nature starts in 1907.

    Scene points go to those who can figure out my reference.

  194. sputnik Says:

    Holbo:

    But then it will just be like Scotty fixing the warp drive, even though the manual says it can’t possibly work. That is, it is just good old never-say-die, can-do spirit. If it is not like that, then why is it good?

    there is a big difference between ‘never say die, can-do spirit’ and ’spirit overcoming despair through the possibility of eternity-in-time.’ The latter is a very different sense of ‘never say die’. Kierkegaard is the latter, Lenin is the former. So that’s the objection.

    Much more than Lacan’s nuance, the point is that if we assume the unconscious/real we can’t know the difference between ‘can-do spirit’ (?) and ‘spirit overcoming despair through the possibility of eternity-in-time.’ It means this even if the difference makes a BIG difference, which is Holbo’s claim. Even Kant thought that our ‘inner and outer experience’ were divided such that we can never know for sure the “purity” of the maxims of our own action, let alone the actions of anyone else. Holbo’s position assumes it is accurately/reliably possible to tell the difference (as he does between Stalin and Lenin), if not practically, at least in theory. In general, the main antagonism between Adamb and Holbo’s positions is that Holbo’s doesn’t take into account the concept of the unconscious, while Adam’s does (as does Zizek, of course) It is in this sense that Adam’s point about the big Other is valid, and why Holbo doesn’t respond. Simply put, Adam is considering Kierkegaard in light of the “Freudian Experience” and Holbo is not.

    Holbo:

    “I don’t get why inwardness should equal objet petit a in this way”

    Because he does take account of the unconscious. Psychoanalysis is very interesting. It is its own leap of faith in a way.

  195. jholbo Says:

    Sputnik, I think you are confusing two categories: reality and relevance. Something can be real without being relevant. (Your assumption about my assumptions depends on assuming this distinction away. I assume.)

    I approve Daniel’s points about objective spirit (and Davidson). Since he and Adam have, by mutual agreement, gone off to hit the books, so shall I.

  196. Joseph Kugelmass Says:

    Well, some things are the very soul and definition of dead threads, but I don’t care — at midnight on a Tuesday night, they provide so much entertainment that I’m even inspired to use the comment box.

    There are two levels here. There’s the level of the actual discussion about Derrida and Zizek, in which case, although it sounds funny to write it, I’ve said everything I could say over at the Valve.

    Then there’s the question about what, exactly, the Valve is supposed to be or be about. I wholly support John’s decision to perpetually make that undefined, although the Valve certainly dabbles in philosophy, cultural criticism, literary studies, comic book and other assorted geek studies, and so on.

    Really, Acephalous and the Weblog are every bit as miscellaneous, although they have fewer authors, more kinds of regular features, and more humorous pieces.

    Over at the Valve, we are frequently reminded that we’re either being too serious, or too unrigorous, or too geeky, or too poppy. The Valve seems capable of attracting more sniper fire than any of the other blogs I’ve seen, though I guess, in theory, it’s possible that the same sorts of volleys get lobbed at Long Sunday. My impression is that all of these criticisms are sound, even when you look at them altogether and they appear to be contradictory. I particularly liked Alex’s initial comment on the subject.

    What are we going to do? All pull together into one slick outfit, overcoming the huge differences between our hobbies, personalities, and academic positions and interests? Unlikely; nor am I necessarily even a fan of slick blogs.

    Perhaps, in the years to come, I’ll try to ripen into a sexier blogger, but somehow I doubt I’ll succeed or even try. It’s too exhausting to bring that kind of noise to the blogosphere, when I also have to be sexy all the time in real life.

    As for being a more rigorous blogger, well, no. I’m starting on a dissertation, and that will absorb all my capacity for rigor.

    Now I must go hit the books.

  197. Joseph Kugelmass Says:

    I felt better before I even started typing the comment! It was like magic!

  198. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    Is this a repost of the Sexy Dolphin Adventures Bill Benzon posted to the Valve years ago? I think it might be. It’s definitely the right subject-matter.


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