Remember the West?

As I was reading Catherine Keller’s Cloud of the Impossible for our upcoming book event, I was reminded of Deleuze and Guattari’s claim from What is Philosophy? that philosophy is about the creation of concepts. That is clear enough in the early fragmentary efforts of the pre-Socratics, who often wear their poiesis on their sleeve by adopting a poetic form for their conceptual inventions. Almost immediately, however, the creative element is covered over or denied in the Socratic-Platonic claim that we only ever remember what we most authentically know. Socrates covers over the construction of his arguments by insisting at each step of the way that what he’s arguing is what his interlocutor somehow already knows — most astoundingly in the Meno, where he presses the uneducated slave into service to prove what he already knew all along. Knowledge always has the structure of a prequel, which comes after and yet claims to be coming before.

In the excellent article on Shimer College that I’ve been relentlessly linking, our approach is characterized as “Socratic.” In the sense that our classes proceed via dialogue, this is true. It may also be true in other senses, as certain faculty members make a point of disrupting any consensus or conclusion, in the spirit of the early Platonic dialogues.

What worries me, though, is the thought that we may be Socratic in the sense of creating “the Western tradition” as its own prequel. A curriculum based in the classics often legitimates itself by reference to seemingly neutral criteria like “influence” — how could we ignore Plato or Augustine or Descartes, given how influential they’ve been? Whatever the merits of what came after, they can only be fully understood once we’ve grasped the sources that make them possible!

In this view, the task of the curriculm is one of remembrance: of our heritage, of our sources, of our roots. Yet the primary outcome of any curriculum is not to reflect influence but to create it. We may gesture vaguely at all the other exciting texts that our classics will enable them to grasp more fully, but we are not requiring them to read those things. What we are actively producing is a group of students who will take certain texts as a point of reference, who will read other texts as part of a tradition in dialogue with those supposed “sources.” The very act of requiring these “classics” enshrines them as authoritative, as definitionally more important that the other texts that we don’t have time for — the course is already packed!

What we’re increasingly finding is that the tradition that the “Western” elements of our curriculum help to construct is not welcoming to all the people we want and need to welcome. And what I hope we’ll be able to do in the coming years — what we’ve already begun to do by revising the Humanities capstone course, which is now arguably the most diverse course in the curriculum — is to shift from a mode of remembrance to a mode of open, avowed creation. We need to create a tradition for the kind of community we want to be, in order to produce the kind of student we want to send into the world.

That may mean reimagining a lot about how we construct our courses — by theme instead of by historical genealogy, for instance, so that Machiavelli can talk with Sun Tzu and Lenin without any presumption of “influence.” In some ways, this would represent a return to the more ambitious construction of the Great Books as a “great conversation” about the big questions rather than a historical sequence. We’d have to recognize that some of the authors had not previously been in conversation with each other — but what’s to stop us from bringing them into conversation and making them talk to each other as they talk to us? The risk is an easy eclecticism, but perhaps the Great Books model needs a swing of the pendulum in that direction to counteract its exclusivist tendencies.

It will certainly mean letting go of certain treasured texts to make room for other voices. And it may mean selecting texts that from a Western perspective seem more secondary, for the sake of creating more productive dialogue with other traditions. It’s hard for me to imagine ditching Augustine’s Confessions, for instance, since it is such a uniquely polyvalent text standing at the crossroads of multiple genres and traditions. Yet the reason for retaining it is not that “it’s been influential,” but because its intrinsic properties make it a convenient relay for dialogue with many other texts.

Admittedly, in some areas of the curriculum a more or less traditional Western framing may be the only pedagogically practical method. I’m thinking in particular of the classical traditions of Western art and music, which have the virtues of being relatively continuous and more or less finished — but the point of that focus wouldn’t be simply to highlight the “all time greats,” but to think systematically about what a tradition is and can be, and what it looks like for a tradition to be spent. This is only a speculative example, but the principle I’m trying to get at is that the Western framing can never be regarded as the default, but must be positively justified, with an open admission of the limitations that it imposes.

There is a utopian element in Shimer’s pedagogical model, and I think that the curriculum could be shaped in a more utopian direction as well. In a certain sense, the naysayers to my more inclusive vision are correct — there is no global, inclusive tradition, and that lack must be acknowledged. Yet an inclusive community of collaborative learning can serve as a testing ground for a global, inclusive tradition to come, an experiment in constructing a new and more hopeful tradition of and for the future, rich with surprising connections, in which the past is precisely not as we remember it, but has become new.

Deleuze and the Naming of God Now Available

This is just a quick announcement that my book, Deleuze and the Naming of God: Postsecularism and the Future of Immanence, is now out. Which is to say that physical copies have appeared, that it’s available on Amazon (at least in the US and the UK), and so on.

The introduction is available online. The cost of the book is rather prohibitive, as it’s being published now only in hardback. If you’re able, though, it’d be great if you could ask your library to order a copy. This might aid the eventual publishing of a paperback version. Also, EUP would no doubt distribute review copies.

radical alternatives to radical empiricism: an InterCcECT mini seminar with Joshua Kates

From systems theory to object oriented ontology, the post-human to the multitude, empiricism and its latent historicism underlie the most orthodox (and most contentious) questions and methods in the humanities today. In Historicity and Holism,  Joshua Kates plumbs the depths of this radical empiricism, proffering an experimental absolutism as its most resourceful alternative. InterCcECT is delighted to host a mini-seminar with Professor Kates, focusing on “Radical Empiricism Revisited,” an excerpt from that project.

Join us Friday 22 November, 3pm, at our frequent host The Newberry Library, room B-91.

Contact us to request the reading.
Abstract:
“Radical Empiricism Revisited” stages a major invention in contemporary theory, by grouping together work around Deleuze, Latour, Luhmann and others as a form of empiricism inflected by Kant, and contrasting this to a more innovative and experimental relation to the absolute found in Derrida and the early Foucault. My treatment is an outgrowth of possibilities opened up by my current project, Historicity and Holism (parts of which have appeared or about to appear in differences and diacritics), as well as those I explored in my previous two books on Derrida and phenomenology, history of science, and philosophy of language.

As always, write us to propose or announce events, check out our calendar for recommendations like Hegel’s Critique of Kant,  and connect with us on Facebook for frequent links and commentary.

past dialectics and future destructions: Malabou’s plasticity

Catherine Malabou has rapidly elasticized possible futures for Continental Philosophy by reorienting our understanding of Hegelian thought around the notion of plasticity, “a capacity to receive form and a capacity to produce form.”

In her recent short work Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction, Malabou considers writing as a scene of plasticity and model of political and ethical action. Join InterCcECT for a reading group on these crepuscular illuminations of Derrida, Hegel, Heidegger, Freud, Levi-Strauss, and Levinas.

Thursday 17 October
3-5pm
Department of English conference room
UIC, 2028 University Hall
601 S Morgan St, 60607 (Blue Line: UIC Halsted)

Text available to Chicagoans upon request.

Mark your calendars now for our upcoming miniseminar with Joshua Kates, “Radical Empiricism Revisited,” at which we’ll explore the Kantian inflections of empiricism in Deleuze, Latour, and Luhmann as they oppose Derrida and early Foucault. Friday 22 November, 3-5pm, location TBA; paper to be pre-circulated.

What’s happening in theory this fall?  Send us your event proposals and announcements (interccect at gmail), check out our calendar for recommended events, and connect with us on  Facebook for frequent links and commentary.

Posted in blog posts, Deleuze, Derrida, Hegel, Heidegger, Interccect, Malabou. Comments Off

Forthcoming Book

Just a quick announcement that a book of mine — on Deleuze, in connection with many things, including Adorno, religion/secularism, and metaphilosophy/nonphilosophy — is coming out with Edinburgh UP in December. I’m happy to be able to post the cover at this point. Read the rest of this entry »

Clayton Crockett on Deleuze

I wanted to bring to the attention of readers a new book by AUFS affiliate, Clayton Crockett. As the title suggests, Deleuze Beyond Badiou presents an account of Deleuze’s philosophy by taking as its occasion Badiou’s polemical reading of Deleuze. The account that emerges will be very useful to many readers of Deleuze. Though I am not here offering anything like a proper review, I should say that I found particularly compelling the way that Crockett emphasized certain concepts or themes — most notably the interstice, the three syntheses of time, and the time-image. Read the rest of this entry »

the material real

In his forthcoming Lacan and the Concept of the Real, Tom Eyers argues that “by rooting our understanding of the Real within the logic of the signifier we may begin to recognise the materiality of the immaterial, and the stubborn opacity of the material itself. Lacan’s claim that it is through the signifier that this materiality is revealed to us should not be taken as a concession to any standard brand of anti-realism or hyper-textualism; on the contrary, Lacan’s aim is to render superfluous any neat separation of the ideal from the material, from the representative to that to which it ostensibly refers.” Psychoanalysis thus makes it possible, in a different idiom than deconstruction, to question philosophical binaries like material / ideal and subject / object.

Eyers puts this “weird materialism” to work in his project to rethink the opposition life / structure in contemporary French thought. “Living Structures: Canguilhem, Deleuze, and the Question of Life”, tomorrow 6pm, Gallery 400.

InterCcECT puts it to work in our ongoing Lacan reading group on Seminar 3: The Psychoses. Next up: Chapters 3 and 4, 5pm 14 June, at our salon in Bucktown.

Questions? Proposals? Other materials? Write us!

Be sure to check our calendar on a regular basis for upcoming events like the 16 July book discussion of Adam Kotsko’s Why We Love Sociopaths.

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