I took a year off from the AAR this time around. What did I miss?
I took a year off from the AAR this time around. What did I miss?
My course over Being and Time is nearly complete. On our last remaining day, we will be reviewing the introduction as a way of reviewing the whole — this week, we finished the final chapter and did one last “review day” over the last two chapters. Overall, I think it went well. Though Being and Time hardly ends with a bang, there’s no substitute for working your way through a major work of philosophy in its entirety. I’m now hoping that I’ll be able to offer a “big book in philosophy”-style elective every couple years or so, both because I think students should have the opportunity to do that kind of intensive study and because it really benefits me as well — at this point, I’ve read Being and Time more thoroughly than I’ve ever read almost any single book before (including reading it all the way through in the original).
I could have probably tweaked the pacing somewhat. Most notably, I included “review days” after every second chapter, which worked well in Division One but was a little more artificial in Division Two — perhaps going by threes would have been better in that case. I may have also considered going a little more quickly in Division One, which is more intuitive and accessible, so that I could have slowed down a bit in Division Two. But in general, the concept of a “slow and steady” crawl through the whole thing was sound, and I think it could be duplicated even with more difficult works like the Phenomenology of Spirit.
Over the last few days, I’ve started to think of it almost as a language class, where there normally aren’t huge epiphanies — just a slow build. The students did get good enough at Heideggerese to make successful jokes, which is a crucial step. More than that, though, I think there’s a sense in which Heidegger is gradually teaching his reader how to read the book, and by the time you get to Division Two, that provides a crucial grounding for his more esoteric investigations of authenticity.
In many ways, my students replicated the history of Heidegger’s reception, finding Division One the most convincing and the discussion of authenticity the most fascinating. We were still working through questions surrounding authenticity during our discussions of the later chapters on temporality, which seem dry and dull by comparison. Thankfully, though, on our review day over the final two chapters, we were able to “buckle down” on the temporality issues in a way that advanced my understanding at the very least. It was far from the first time I walked out of class feeling I’d grasped something more firmly — while I always learn from my students, the kind of sustained and detailed attention we were giving to the text allowed for many more opportunities for that.
It’s the diagrams that stand out to me the most, though. I’m an inveterate underliner, but I normally don’t draw up diagrams or tables when I read a work of philosophy myself. In the classroom, though, it proved invaluable to chart the ways Heidegger’s concepts fit together, because that really showed how tightly argued the book is. I made several attempts to map out the whole project (up to the point we had reached), including one “review day” where I created a truly imposing diagram with arrows crossing over each other from multiple directions. Looking back, I regret not asking the students to take responsibility for drawing on the board sometimes, though they did often argue against my presentation and tell me what should go where. And of course, the fact that our most carefully constructed diagrams could be erased at any moment by the next group to use our classroom was a great metaphor for Being-toward-death.
In the fifth chapter of Division Two of Being and Time, Heidegger addresses the question of Dasein’s historicity and how it relates to the academic discipline of history. He argues that authentic historical study must not content itself with a cataloguing of past factual events or even with an “aesthetic” appreciation of weird historical life-worlds long since past, but that it must somehow connect with the whole existential situation facing the once-but-no-longer Dasein of that era. In other words, it must somehow get at the possibilities that Dasein faced in past historical moments and the stakes of those possibilities for the people who, after all, had their one life to live in that historical world.
In class, I contrasted this with a “historical tourism,” which marvels at the weirdness of past eras’ customs without ever really getting “inside” them and understanding them as something with the people of the past could take seriously and stake their lives on. One might also think of the kind of “contextualizing” history that excuses past racism and sexism as simple facts of that historical era — “Of course Kant was a racist, everyone was back then!” As a counter-example, I put forward Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, where we get a palpable sense of Nietzsche’s investment in the history he’s recounting, his genuine outrage that it didn’t turn out another way — and his hope that we might be able to “repeat” what was most promising in that historical moment today. More recently, one might think of Zizek’s reckoning with the October Revolution and Stalinism.
On a less philosophical level, however, I think Mad Men may be the best popular example of the kind of authentic history Heidegger is calling for. Read the rest of this entry »
Francophone Philosophy Today
A Dialogue between Diogo Sardinha and Gabriel Rockhi
Date: December 6th, 2013
Time: 4-6 p.m.
Location: Bartley Hall 1001, Villanova University, 800 Lancaster Ave, Villanova, PA 19085
Sponsor: Philosophy Department, Villanova University
After the towering figures of the postwar generation, as well as the more recent prominence of philosophers like Badiou, Balibar and Rancière, how can we best describe the current intellectual landscape in the Francophone world? Are there recognizable trends and tendencies in the younger generation of thinkers? What are the most significant or promising developments in Francophone philosophy at the dawn of the 21st century?
Join us for a wide-ranging discussion that takes as its point of departure the iconic figures of the Anglophone translation regime in order to explore the voices that it excludes and the patterns of intellectual development that cannot be readily assimilated into the linear trajectory of Existentialism, Structuralism, Poststructuralism and beyond.
Diogo Sardinha is the President of the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris, where he also heads the research program “Violence and Politics” (2010-2016). He is also a full member of the Center for Philosophy of Science of the University of Lisbon. His main books are Ordre et temps dans la philosophie de Foucault (L’Harmattan, 2011) and L’Émancipation de Kant à Deleuze (Editions Hermann2013), and he also co-edited Vivre en Europe. Philosophie, politique et science aujourd’hui (L’Harmattan, 2010). He is currently a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, where he is working on a research project entitled “Anthropology After The ‘End of Man’: Kant, Foucault, and the Contemporary Renewal of the Reflection on Human Beings.”
Gabriel Rockhill is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University, Directeur de programme at the Collège International de Philosophie, and Director of the Critical Theory Workshop in Paris, France. He is the author of Logique de l’histoire: Pour une analytique des pratiques philosophiques (Editions Hermann, 2010) and Radical History and the Politics of Art (Columbia University Press, 2014). He co-edited and contributed to Politics of Culture and the Spirit of Critique: Dialogues (Columbia University Press, 2011), Jacques Rancière: History, Politics, Aesthetics (Duke University Press, 2009) and Technologies de contrôle dans la mondialisation: Enjeux politiques, éthiques et esthétiques (Editions Kimé, 2009). He also edited and co-translated Cornelius Castoriadis’s Postscript on Insignificance (Continuum Books, 2011), as well as Jacques Rancière’s The Politics of Aesthetics (Continuum Books, 2004).
During my recent trips I took along Hollis Phelps’ relatively new book Alain Badiou: Between Theology and Anti-Theology. Phelps’ thesis is that “Badiou’s philosophy contains an anti-philosophical core that coincides with theology (85).” Phelps’ book enters into a debate between those who, like Badiou himself, see Badiou’s philosophy as one of radical secularization and those who think that religion, specifically Christianity, is an important part of his philosophy. These groups could be grouped into two distinct camps: those like Žižek who argue for the importance of this religion from a largely outsider perspective and those like Paul J Griffths who argue from a Christian supremacist position that “the recent interest in Christianity, particularly Paul, among certain critical theorists and philosophers is best understood as ‘a pagan yearning for Christian intellectual gold [since...] our intellectual tradition is long-lived, rich, and subtle, and any attempt by European thinkers to do without it is not likely to last” (125).’ Phelps’ contribution engages with the arguments of each of these respective interpretations but deftly avoids the pitfalls of each, arguing for a much more subtle understanding of the theological aspect of Badiou’s philosophy. Phelps clearly has very little sympathy for positions such as Giffths or the crocodile tears for Judaism deployed by Daniel W. Bell Jr. in his criticism of Badiou’s St. Paul book as Marcionite (a criticism made in a far more convincing and less supremacist way by Adam Kotsko as Phelps notes) and so his reading cannot easily be tossed aside by those, like Hallward, who want to see in Badiou a kind of secular purity. His reading instead moves forward by creating a link between Badiou’s conception of anti-philosophy and theology. As anti-philosophy is part of the dialectical construction of philosophy it is necessary and acts like an engine for Badiou’s thought. Read the rest of this entry »
When I was growing up, environmentalist propaganda efforts were in full swing. I learned about environmental problems in school. I watched Captain Planet at home. Recycling programs were rolling out in local communities for the first time. My father, an ardent Republican and Rush Limbaugh listener, dutifully peeled the labels off of cans and rinsed out milk cartons, doing his part. As the Cold War wound down, US and Soviet authorities collaborated on environmental measures, and MacGyver went from being a spy to being an environmental activist. George Bush, Sr., had pioneered a cap-and-trade program that significantly mitigated acid rain, and other leading Republicans such as John McCain were happy to work with Democrats on similar measures. And finally, in 2000, the Democratic presidential candidate was Al Gore, a man who had published a book on the environment characterizing the automobile as the most destructive technology ever devised.
I didn’t give it a lot of thought at the time, but if you’d asked me when I was 16, I probably would have guessed that by the time I was an adult, progress on the environment would be so far advanced as to be unrecognizable. What we got instead was tax subsidies for SUVs (a class of vehicle virtually no one needed), along with a housing boom based on even more intensive suburban and exurban expansionism (which is extremely wasteful of energy in essentially every way), an end to all US participation in international environmental treaties, growing distrust of public recycling programs, and the emergence of environmentally sound products as a luxury niche for the wealthy and aspiring. My local grocery store, in a pretty progressive neighborhood famous for its lesbian population, doesn’t even bother to carry recycled paper towels. The effects of global warming are undeniable in the increased number of unprecedented natural disasters and even in the uncanny disruption in weather patterns that we experience every day, and no serious action is being taken or even discussed — or indeed, even imagined as a live possibility. Meanwhile, the market forces that were supposed to make alternative energy competitive have instead made it profitable to drill for oil reserves that would have been economically infeasible a generation ago, so that the US has reemerged as a major oil and natural gas producer.
In the light of such an absolute and irretrievable failure, I think we need to revise the slogan about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. It’s as though we collectively were given a choice of which we would choose, and we chose to end the world. The decisive victory of liberal-democratic capitalism really was the end of history, just not in the sense intended.