Villanova Philosophy Conference: New Encounters in French and Italian Thought

Philly-area people may be interested in the upcoming Villanova Philosophy Conference taking place on March 13th and 14th. The schedule and other relevant information may be found on the flyer.

Villanova conference

Black Religion in America: Resource Request

I have proposed to my head of department a course for next Fall with the somewhat sterile title “Black Religion in America”. I am very excited to teach the course for a number of reasons. Since coming to this post, I have been trying to correct my lack of learning from black scholars and organic intellectuals. My experience in Philadelphia brought home to me that, if I was to be anything like an effective teacher and a teacher that aimed for something transgressive (à la bell hooks) in my pedagogy, I had to bring myself under the conditions for theory set by the blackamerican experience and blackness as such. I do not mean this in an instrumentalist way, I mean very seriously that the immanent conditions for thinking through some of the most important aspects of reality for me required that I listen to this particular manifestation and that my work had to be shaped by it without in anyway seeking to speak for or even about that experience. So, as one should, I’ve read a lot of really important theoretical work in the black tradition. I am, as in all my intellectual pursuits, utterly amateurish here and I have noticed that the few times I have come across professionals in Black Studies they are unimpressed with the sources I have found inspiring. Importantly there is no single black tradition, there are debates there, and there is reality but no necessity. All of this I take to be important philosophical conditions.

Much of what I have been reading, unsurprisingly, relates to questions of religion. And, while I am very aware of the trap I may have set for myself in terms of falling into unconscious forms of white supremacy, it seemed in our current environment that putting this research to use in a classroom setting would be good for our students. As a campus we are, relative to national averages, very diverse in terms of our students. We do not quite reflect the demographics our city, something that some of us continue to push for, but we are far closer than many of the other universities. We have a lot of work to do to make the faculty reflect even our student body, to say nothing of our city, but until we are given the resources to hire a black scholar I feel like risking failure may be worth it. Especially as I have cultivated a pedagogical method that helps get me out of the way and, if students are willing to take the lead, may be student directed in a way that would offer a corrective to any mistakes I may call into. My hope is that if I can’t reflect for our students what having a black professor would, I can at least provide the framework and platform to engage with the work of important black thinkers, communities, and problematics.

I have a number of ideas for how to organize the course, specifically with regard to readings, but I am hoping to tap into the hive mind of our readers for their thoughts regarding 1) texts they have used or think would be good for a course like this and 2) pedagogical methods for disempowering as much as possible the whiteness of the professor.

Some remarks on how I want to present the class. I think it is vital to spend some class sessions on the religious/theological construction of race, specifically with regards to the Slave subjectivity that both conditioned and was reciprocally underpinned by the middle passage (I am very curious about suggestions here). I want then to look at ways in which resistance via religion manifested. So obviously discussions of mainstream forms of black religion will be there (Black Christianity and the move to Sunni Islam), but I want to look at those other inventive, syncretic forms of resistance and survival. Blackamerican Islam strikes me as particularly important there as it plays out from the Temple Moorish Science to the Five Percenters, but I may also include those groups that push the identity of religion like MOVE.

What thoughts do you all have?

Un-reconciled Relation: atonement, attunement, and fumbling the notes – Cloud of the Impossible Book Event

This is a guest post from Karen Bray. She is a PhD student in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University.

The other day at that most holy of New York City rituals, Sunday brunch, a friend from a wealthy Episcopalian Church was discussing her frustration over the small turn-out for a Justice and Reconciliation service planned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. We shared stories of struggles we’d experienced working on issues of privilege and justice within majority white and wealthy congregations (hers Episcopalian, mine Unitarian Universalist). Quickly we came to an issue larger than turnout: why reconciliation? Why Justice and Reconciliation instead of Justice then Reconciliation? Further whom exactly was being reconciled? And with whom? And by whom? While my brunch-mate’s responses contained many more references to Jesus than my own, we both agreed that now seemed like an awkward time to be speaking of reconciliation, as though there was a conciliatory or agreed upon togetherness to which we could return. Further, who had told any of us, those of us in primarily White congregations, that it was with us whom they wanted to be reconciled? As though being in good relation was a gift we had to offer and which they wanted to receive. Perhaps, and this was so for my friend, Justice and Reconciliation meant in part that only through works of justice would one become reconciled with one’s God. Still God was not enough of an answer. We finished our eggs before coming to be reconciled with reconciliation.

In the wake of reading Catherine Keller’s The Cloud of the Impossible at this time of great and necessary unrest I am left wondering if we can think relation without reconciliation. And if we can, whether apophatic entanglement, when viewed not as an ethical end-point, but rather as a theo-ethical method (what Keller might call our way of “doing God”), will help us to do so. Indeed, might apophatic entanglement as method help us to read Keller against Keller? By reading Cloud through such a relational unknowing we might resist Keller’s tendencies to side with connection over disconnection and to hope over fear in our attunement to our entanglement. In other words we might uncover from within the Cloud those tangles that offer a more radical form of relation as non-relation, as disruption, and as resistance to what we might call the totalitarianism of togetherness. Read the rest of this entry »

Letting Go: On Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Normally Adam posts something in recognition of MLK day. In the past he’s linked to his remarks from his radical work often covered over in today’s official celebrations or to the remarks in Letter from a Birmingham Jail concerning the threat of the white moderate. Remarks often repressed in white consciousness even as they celebrate the supposed victory that MLK lead the nation towards. On today’s MLK day I invite you to read Chris Lebron’s piece in the NYT: “What, to the Black American, Is Martin Luther King Jr. Day?“.

Many on my various social media timelines have shared this powerful line, “I want to say there is also some distance between black and white Americans today, between “you” and “I,” as it were, and that this day has increasingly become “yours,” not mine.” The sorrow at the ways in which white Americans have co-opted MLK, and this day in particular, as a symbol of a job already done is a sorrow brought on in part by the way it erases the responsibility of white Americans to either answer the call of MLK and other radical Black leaders or be honest about their apathy and hatred for their Black neighbors. As he goes on to write, “While he indeed fought for the security of a full schedule of rights for black Americans, he was in fact fighting for something greater and more difficult to articulate — the hope that white Americans could extend a hand of brotherly and sisterly love to blacks.” As whites tarnish MLK’s legacy through ad campaigns or as a figure of respectability politics, then they continue not in the tradition of MLK (as they may fantasize they are), but of Bull Connor and George Wallace. Only now they–a “we” for some of us–are laden with artifacts of Black culture they use as new modes of repression. Repression both of Black demands for justice (“MLK was peaceful, but you’re out here blocking shoppers!”) and their own repression of the shame of being white (“MLK’s dream is fulfilled today because I don’t see race!”).

Today is a day to celebrate one of many important Black leaders. But anytime the same state and culture invites you to worship a human being they tried to kill, we should be suspicious of the ways they want us to remember. Many Black americans already know this and it is something that white Americans, including myself, need to learn from them. Whites need to let go of the fantasy of Martin Luther King Jr. if they are going to be part of his being reclaimed.

CFP: Workshop on Transcendental Materialism

Workshop on Transcendental Materialism
April 24-24, 2015
Loyola University Maryland
Baltimore

CALL FOR PAPERS

‘Transcendental Materialism: Anthropology, Nature, and the Political’
Keynote Speaker: Adrian Johnston, University of New Mexico

Since the publication of 2008’s Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity, the work of Adrian Johnston has aimed at the development of a contemporary materialist ontology which accounts for the emergence of a more-than-material form of subjectivity from a wholly material grounds. Utilizing the intellectual resources of German idealist philosophy, Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, Marxist political theory, and the natural sciences, Johnston’s transcendental materialism aims at the development of an atheist, naturalist, and materialist ontology and theory of subjectivity that rivals the work of figures such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mapping European Anxiety Between Conversion and Submission

“Look, the Enlightenment is dead, may it rest in peace.”

An interview with Michel Houellebecq made its way into my twitter timeline. While I am tempted to read this new book I will admit at the outset that so far I’ve never finished a Houellebecq novel. I tried Atomised (or The Elementary Particles in the US translation), but it just felt a bit like sub-Vonnegut, self-indulgent gloominess. Of course there is plenty to be gloomy about, though I suspect Houellebecq is one of those contrarian types who in the drive to stake out their own purity shit on everyone else, especially those who are already not counted or are counted as less by the hegemonic forces in whatever society. So, in France that would of course include feminists (to a certain extent, for there is a form of feminism determined by the Enlightenment tradition that is rather reactionary) and immigrants (specifically postcolonial immigrants from North Africa). Reading the interview I felt more secure in my intuitions regarding Houellebecq, but in the midst of his clear trolling there was something like an insight. While there are moments of insight in Houellebecq’s own words, like the rather blunt pronouncement on the mainstream Enlightenment undergirding contemporary French identity, mostly I saw his remarks as simply manifesting a symptom that tells us something about European anxiety today. Read the rest of this entry »

Recent My Name Is My Name Podcasts

So I’ve been very busy over the past six months, but as some projects have recently come to a conclusion I have been able to get a few podcasts up. Consider subscribing to the podcast, which you can do by simply searching “My Name Is My Name” on iTunes and other podcast apps. If you’re really lazy, you can use this link to subscribe via iTunes.

The three recent episodes are a conversation with Alice Rekab about art practice, non-philosophy, and her experience straddling two different post-colonial identities as a mixed-race Irish woman with roots in Sierra Leon. This was followed up by a conversation with philosopher George Yancy about how he became a philosopher, his work in critical whiteness studies, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement responding to recent racist police murders of black men and women. And then most recently a lecture by Joshua Ramey on neoliberal economics in the light of his studies on contingency and divination.

I hope these interesting and critical conversations help you get through the holidays! If you like them please pass the word on.

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