Month: August 2009

The Hiring Process

Here’s an inside view of one philosophy dept.’s hiring process (600 applications…bad math from there)…. Sadly as depressing as it is, it’s obviously worse when you cut out the earnestness here. I obviously take to heart the seriousness that the people described took with the process, but the give-away of what happens is the move from the specific (we took care with each application…) to the general (we got a good idea, not of individual files, but of the next generation) is swift and, sadly, what applicants are in for: the sheer volume of reading deprived us of the leisure to contemplate each and every writing sample as deeply as we might have liked, overall we got a very good sense of what the next generation of philosophers is up to.

Chicago State–you just got a new campus!

I taught at Chicago State for a year and it taught me about teaching in the belt of Chicago-style politics. Now I hear that they’re getting a new campus, that they didn’t even ask for: Chicago State Gets $40M to Add Campus It Didn’t Request

Think of that next time you look at your stipend or flat salary…


Now Wikipedia is going to color code  entries soon based upon trustwortiness:

To appease critics and combat bias, Wikipedia will institute an optional feature called WikiTrust, which according to Wired Magazine “will color code every word of the encyclopedia based on the reliability of its author and the length of time it has persisted on the page.”  

To which I reply (a) all trustworthy text from this blog will be in your browser’s default color, (b) it’s good to see Homeland Security’s still-in-use color coding system is migrating to wiki, and (c) I can’t wait for this to come to philosophy journals…

Question for G.H. at OOP

And the object is?

(That is, for the CRESC conference we are to choose an object as part of the display.)

I haven’t finished choosing mine. I might use my father as the stand-in, since he is something I have around the house now and again and that would upset the normal discussion of what an object is. Plus, I’ve carted him all over Scotland now and it would seem a waste not to use him. Though, I do worry he won’t want to stay in the exhibit all that long. He’s a challenge, he is…

In the original language

G.H.’s post on style and original language reminded the geek in me about that great line from one of the Star Trek movies about loving Shakespeare in the original Klingon. Apparently, someone took that quite seriously:


Also, I take it that (a) style is untranslatable, that (b) the French writers post-Sartre have translations that only sound pedantic and thus have formula that get oft-repeated in translation, and (c) I don’t know whether or not to hope, from his description, I can be translated well. I had to think of this once when a friend was translating something of mine into French and asked me if that was what I meant, and I thought, well actually that’s even more subtle in the French and better.

And speaking of Graham, I want to thank him for pointing out Gibbon’s use of “insensibly.” Now when I’m driving through the Scottish countryside, I hear it each time. And, yes, if you want to know, I have a great, sharp reader of Gibbon, who uses every word of Germanic origin in the English language and has taught me that I know nothing in the art of the put-down. I mean his formula of X is as Y (vain or whatever) as he was Z (negation move). Graham’s offered several examples of it.

Great Scot

The Thin Red Line–the famed Scottish Brigage–thankfully took down, as I read at their museum today, those “uncivilized Indian revolutionaries” who were taking on the British crown for their independence.

Then I learned that thank God for Robert the Bruce, who took on the British crown for their independence.

Humans and other Animals

Renee at Womanist Musings and Feministe had a post up on the perhaps perverse effect of the animal rights’ movement on the politics of decolonization. Critical Animal, I think, replies a bit hastily but sets up the problem well. The reason I say hastily is because I think politics is always a question of strategy and at moments I think the rhetoric of a certain humanism is useful, as long as at the end we continue to recognize that we have to stop treating animals like animals, too:

So much of the struggles of the colonized and persons of color have come from a commitment to being human, too. 
There always exists a politics when a non-paradigmatic human being claims the title of human. This is as true for when the colonized claim to be humans, as when the Great Ape Projects argue for the personhood of Great Apes. However, in a fine Ranciere-ian fashion (a Ranciere devoid of his anthropocentrism, so therefore a Ranciere beyond Ranciere), while the claim to be human may be political, it does not remain political. For those of us on the critical animal studies side of the process, these political moments of demands for the right to claim humanness or personhood are also moments to continue the political. That is to say, to forward our argument that the human/animal distinction cannot stand. To say, “If you got this one wrong, maybe you very ordering system is wrong.” In this way we hope to not just change the count, but change the very logic of counting through this moment of tort. This is where I don’t know how to make common cause. For me, it is obvious that the wrong done to the non-paradigmatic human beings is based upon the ability to do wrong to animals. If we end the ability draw lines between the human on one side and all animals on the otherside, if we embrace the monstrosity of the human animal, then we end the ability to continue to do harm to people of color by calling them animals. That loses the power of justification. But it seems to me that for many people of color that such a move jeopardizes their lives instead of enriching their lives.

I realize I’ve just quoted a bit much of CA’s post. But here Derrida’s work in his lectures The Animal that Therefore I am is quite helpful. His critique of continuinism and so on don’t really advance much in this area, but his crucial point that in the history of philosophy just about every philosopher can be undone based upon where he (and it was a patriarchal he) put the human/animal distinction. Pedagogically, this is far more useful than, say, having to point out the metaphysics of presence or some such. But more to the point: it has the upshot of being right. And once this is destabilized, so does the dichotomy that soon follows in the modern period through to Hegel and beyond between the European and its dark other. Emmanuel Eze made a similar point in his last book on Enlightenment reason. So ultimately, I don’t think either hold, and in fact, pulling the thread on the first unspools the second rather quickly, since as we all too well know, the racialized other is invariably the animal other. All one needs to do is listen to the biopolitical rancor for a few minutes in any discussion of immigration in San Diego and beyond.

But Renee’s point is well taken, since we must recall how certain notions of human dignity are and continue to be crucial in decolonizing movements.


Clovis became for some reason a figure of mine–he was great in working on sovereignty: barbarian and Latinized, pagan and Christian…but most of all are the stories: the bashing of the head of the man who broke his vase, thus doing the same to him as he did to the vase; the use of his double-side battle-axe at a moment’s notice… and of course, his very sincere baptism. He is likely neither the first nor the last to claim God’s hand in winning a battle, and surely his example is there every Sunday during the football season when God is thanked for some victory, because, you know, He does choose sides. From Gregory of Tours (by the way, if you like Gibbons, Gregory of Tours’s Historia Francorum is …well, I don’t know what the word would be: interesting?)

The queen did not cease to urge him to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis’s army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: “Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the 1iving God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries.” And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis, saying: “Let not the people perish further, we pray; we are yours now.” And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, retired in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign.

Small side note: when Clovis first presented to his troops the idea of converting, they  are said to have literally turned their backs on him. It was only this victory–thank God–that gave him the ability to get baptized and then later baptize en masse his troops.

Digging Maoism

In a short review of Amiri Baraka’s collection of essays on jazz music and American culture, Digging, which I do very much recommend, there are these highlights:

Digging collects eighty-four essays and reviews in which the poet, playwright, and critic Amiri Baraka makes an impassioned case for jazz as a central achievement of American culture… Diggingoffers a generous selection of recent writing undertaken in the same spirit of intellectual engagement, political advocacy, and ardent fandom. … His sentences reverberate with puns and allusions, echoing the structure and style of jazz itself. He also displays impressive intellectual range-in an essay titled “The Blues Aesthetic and the Black Aesthetic,” he makes reference to Nietzsche, Michael Jordan, and Arthur Murray as part of a single argument. …Baraka’s outspoken and unconventional politics might also serve as a stumbling block for some readers. Although his commitment to Marxism lends him a powerful lens for examining the socio-cultural circumstances under which jazz music has been produced, his unfortunate penchant for quoting Mao Zedong sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of his criticism.

And here I would want to have a contest for any book worth reviewing: Can one not use that same sentence and insert another thinker to the same effect. Try this game with the home edition! ” … “Heidegger’s unfortunate penchant for quoting Aristotle sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of his criticism…” Or more the point, perhaps, to reverse the dig at Digging’s maoism: “X, Y, and Z’s work on jazz has an unfortunate penchant for quoting record sales as a mark of value, like a latter day Adam Smith, which sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of their criticism…” And why the use of “sometimes” here? I would love to read, then, the part of Baraka’s book where his quoting of Mao Zedong for this author did not detract from the perceptiveness of his criticism…

Death and Taxes

I should first stipulate the following post has nothing to do with my own trip with my father (not least because, alas, there is no inheritance to speak of, especially after his trips to various distilleries in Scotland yesterday). Here’s a part of a short article on the end of the estate taxes later this year, which will give people of a certain income a dangerous incentive before the end of the year…

As economists will tell you, when you tax something less, you get more of it. Various studies have shown that this logic applies to life and death as well as to more modest behavioral choices. In a 2001 paper titled “Dying To Save Taxes,” Wojciech Kopczuk and Joel Slemrod examined 13 tax changes since 1917 and concluded that “for individuals dying within two weeks of a tax reform, a $10,000 potential tax savings … increases the probability of dying in the lower-tax regime by 1.6 percent.” A 2006 study done in Australia, which abolished its inheritance tax in 1979, reached the same conclusion: “a statistically significant effect of the abolition of inheritance taxes on the number of deaths.” More than half the people who, according to statistics, ordinarily would have paid the Aussie inheritance tax in its final week managed to evade it by living a bit longer. Here, Congress has created an incentive for Grandma to stick around through Jan. 1, 2010, then snuff it before the end of next year. … I do not wish to alarm older, wealthier readers, but you may find family gatherings becoming increasingly tense over the next year. Do not be surprised if your heirs and assigns try to sit you down for a “conversation.” You may want to have a witness or security guard present. 

This murderous strain, of course, is but the logic of capitalism at its best. We are told often that we can’t have single payer health insurance since doctors, apparently, would rather let people die than take a pay cut. Now, off to have a convo with dad…