Expelling the Demos

If dramatic inequality and profound immiseration are the phenomenological appearance of the manifold contemporary economic technologies for extracting surplus value and enacting surplus populations, these ever more primitive accumulations require thinking beyond the usual terms of “injustice” and “poverty.”  Saskia Sassen has recently proposed the paradigm of “expulsion” to understand today’s plutocratic brutality. In the domain of politics, Wendy Brown has similarly suggested that “the demos” has been expelled from democracy.  What are the interrelations of these dynamics?  InterCcECT is delighted to host a mini-seminar on these questions with Professor Ignacio Sanchez Prado, who will guide us through the first chapters of Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution and Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy.

4pm, 4 May, Institute for the Humanities, UIC

request readings from interccect at gmail dot com

While he’s in town, Professor Sanchez Prado will also give a talk at the University of Chicago on 5 May, “The Golden Age Otherwise: Cosmopolitanism and Mexican Cinema, circa 1950″

My all-time favorite Star Trek episodes

For the last several years, as many of you know, I have been watching a metric shit-ton of Star Trek. I have finally hit the point of diminishing returns where watching more Star Trek no longer seems very realistic in the near term, and this has led me to reflect on what I’ve most enjoyed about the experience. Hence I share with you my personal favorite episodes, which often don’t tend to make it onto the all-time best lists, but which made an impression on me. I’ll limit myself to one from each series.

The Original Series: “All Our Yesterdays.” I’ve written about this one here before, and I don’t have much to add to that post other than to reaffirm that I find the premise of a society attempting to disappear into its own past very compelling. The fact that Spock, of all people, is the one who gets most drawn in makes this an especial treat, because it allows Leonard Nimoy to show much greater range.

The Animated Series: “Yesteryear.” I am hesitant to endorse conventional wisdom, but in this particular case, we are dealing with an episode that is clearly superior to anything else TAS did — an exploration of Spock’s past, written by arguably the greatest creative force behind Star Trek other than Roddenberry, namely Dorothy Fontana. Here again, time travel provides a poignant premise: Spock must return to his own childhood to save himself and give himself necessary counsel. Since I’m such a fan of the Animated Series, though, I’ll add a couple honorary mentions: “The Lorelai Signal” (in which Uhura takes command when the male crewmembers are disabled by a Siren-like species) and “The Terratin Incident” (which takes full advantage of the animated format to explore what would happen if the crew started shrinking).

Next Generation: “The Most Toys.” Of all the many Data-oriented episodes, this one pushes things to the limit. He is kidnapped by a galactic collector and exhausts all avenues for resistence — until a last-minute rescue prevents him from carrying out his logical decision that murder is the only answer.

Deep Space Nine: “Melora.” I have literally never seen this episode highlighted in any best-of list, and it does come early in the show’s second season, before it started becoming the more ambitious series that contemporary Trekkies know and love. To me, this is the very darkest episode in all of Trek, as Dr. Bashir falls in love with his patient — and then shows that he really fell in love with his own self-image as her savior. The final scene is truly chilling. (I hesitate to say more because this lesser-known episode arguably remains spoilable.)

Voyager: “Infinite Regress.” I’ve confessed before how much I identify with Seven of Nine, and I’m tempted to choose an episode that I highlighted in that post. Instead, though, I want to put forward Jeri Ryan’s true tour-de-force performance, which challenges the best of the Data “multiple personality” episodes. Truly, Voyager was not worthy of the character — or the actress.

Enterprise: “Carbon Creek.” Star Trek returns to its roots with a true Twilight Zone plot as a crew of Vulcans finds itself stranded in small town America. It’s a cool reversal in many ways, above all in dealing with the question: What would it look like for another species to try to navigate the Prime Directive with us?

Chewing the pedagogical cud

One problem I have perceived in Shimer’s general approach to course design is that there is not much room for students to fully “digest” all the difficult texts that they’re working through. In part, this is due to the Iron Law of Curriculum Design — namely, that it is possible only to add to a curriculum, never to subtract, so that the reading burden will tend to grow over time. Papers provide one solution to this problem, but they necessarily only apply to a limited number of texts (usually two max), and the paper writing process itself would surely benefit from more digestion time for all the texts.

In the senior capstone class, the major writing comes in the form of “protokolls” (summary papers), which primarily summarize and respond to the previous day’s discussion. I am thinking that for my next upper-level class, I will partly adapt this model. Instead of summaries of the discussion, students will write brief summaries of a given day’s reading, with the goal being for the students to collaboratively generate a summary of all the course readings. The course would then be divided into two or three distinct units, and at the end of each unit, there would be no new reading except to review all the summaries for that unit, so that we could talk about how they fit together, etc.

I’m undecided on exactly how to implement the summary papers. My current thinking is that an initial draft of the summary will be due before class the day the reading is first discussed, and then they will be required to rewrite it in light of the class discussion and my comments. They will then present the summary in the following class to provide a review of the previous reading and hopefully create greater continuity. If there are still serious problems with the summary, a further rewrite could be generated and then distributed to the class (or stored in a Google Drive folder accessible to everyone).

Another issue I’ve been grappling with is how to change their habits in paper-writing to get them away from last-minute all-nighter type strategies. Currently the reading load militates against that, especially for working students (i.e., virtually all but the very most privileged students). In my current course, it has worked out pretty organically that the final text we read is both easier to read and very conducive to bringing together a lot of themes from the previous readings — so perhaps after the discussion of the final “unit,” we could discuss a text like that (no longer doing summaries as we go) and also build in a few writing steps (an outline or summary, an annotated collection of salient quotes, etc.) prior to the final deadline. Including peer review at some stage could be helpful, not just intrinsically but as a way of introducing “positive peer pressure” into the mix and making sure the students actually do the steps required.

There are many possible drawbacks. Above all, a lot hangs on making sure students provide summaries of passable quality — or even provide them at all. This doesn’t seem to be a problem with the capstone course, but then their entire writing grade depends on the “protokols,” whereas I am still including a traditional paper as well. I can think of punitive measures, but I don’t want to create that kind of atmosphere. Every other measure I can think of (such as letting others do a missed summary for extra credit or letting other students edit an inadequate summary) would seem to have hierarchy-generating effects that cut against the collaborative approach. I don’t know. Maybe you do.

Digesting the Cross

What if the Gospel writers didn’t know why the crucifixion happened? What if the Gospels are all an attempt to cover over this fact by making it seem increasingly predicted, inevitable, mysterious? Making the cross something that promises meaningfulness, without a concrete meaning?

The basic strategy is twofold. First, establish Jesus’ authority. He’s the messiah (though he kept this fact secret for most of his career, according to Mark), he’s the one who was predicted by certain decontextualized fragments of the Hebrew Scriptures — it’s all right there in front of your face! And once we have that established, we primarily rely on his authority to establish the necessity of the crucifixion. He reaches a turning point in his ministry and begins mysteriously invoking this paradoxical event. He knows it’s coming and meets it with calm assurance. It’s the culmination of his mission on earth.

It’s often said that the Gospels are all Passion Narratives with introductory materials. Clearly the crucifixion is central to all their accounts. Yet I am beginning to suspect that the mountain of detail is meant to distract from the fact that they don’t know why it’s happening. It’s persuasion through repetition and ritualization — “Do this in memory of me!” Why? Because I said so. And if you don’t understand, you can take comfort that the original apostles, almost uniformly portrayed as bumbling dolts, didn’t understand either.

The most meaning we get is that it sets the apocalyptic sequence in motion by inaugurating the resurrection of the dead. But why this specific event? Paul begins to develop some ideas about its relationship to law and justice and human divisions — but for the Gospel writers, it basically happened because it happened. We have to trust that it’s the right thing because Jesus is the messiah and he knew what he was doing.

CFP: The Challenge of God: Continental Philosophy and the Catholic Intellectual Heritage

Colby Dickinson of Loyola University Chicago reports the following:

I’m very happy to announce an interdisciplinary conference, ‘The Challenge of God: Continental Philosophy and the Catholic Intellectual Heritage’, set to take place 14-16 April 2016 at Loyola University Chicago. Please see the attached flyer for more details.

Our conference is designed to explore and celebrate the mutual enrichment between the Catholic tradition and continental thought, and brings together some of the most important figures in this ongoing dialogue, including Julia Kristeva, Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Luc Nancy, Richard Kearney, John Caputo and Adriaan Peperzak.

For further information and updates about the conference, and the Call for Papers, please visit our page on facebook, and/or follow us via any of the other links included on the Call for Papers.

If you are so inclined, we would greatly appreciate your circulating the attached flyer to any and all interested parties. Thanks.

The gender dyad in the Qur’an

Repeatedly in the Qur’an, we read that God has created humanity male and female. This duality plays a directly theological role: in contrast to God, who is absolutely One and eternal, who has no partners or offspring, humanity is dual and reproductive. It seems that the gender dyad is so fundamental to the Qur’an’s teaching as to leave no room for either homosexuality or for more fluid definitions of gender (as in trans experience). Indeed, the latter possibility never seems to come up, while several tellings of the Sodom story not only make it much clearer than the Bible does that homosexuality is the big problem — but that such a practice was literally unthinkable before the Sodomites invented it.

I wonder, though, if there may still be room to maneuver within Qur’anic terms toward a more open attitude to non-binary gender experiences and expressions. I have a sense that the purely negative theological role of the gender dyad may be the opening — the point of such declarations is to clarify humanity’s radical difference from God, rather than to make normative claims about human character. Presumably if humanity was more polymorphous, its difference from God would be even more strongly highlighted.

Further, we can see evidence that God views variety (beyond duality) to be a positive benefit to humanity, as in 49:13, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” As with the gender dyad, the multiplicity of nations is not a curse or a failing (as in the Biblical narrative of Babel), but a positive opportunity for growth and communion. Could the same not be true of a more expansive view of gender experience and expression?

(Perhaps this is a stretch, and I am after all an outsider — but I am committed to the project of finding liberatory readings of scriptural traditions generally.)

Absolute Economics is Back

After a year on hiatus, as Indradeep Ghosh and I have gone through career and life transitions, we are once again actively posting up at Absolute Economics.  I’ve put up a couple of things over the weekend, some notes on The Merchant of Venice and a few more on the extraordinary Museo del Oro in San Jose, Costa Rica.  See you there.

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