Month: April 2010


Harman has this post up on the funniest (grim humor, I suppose) on the Middlesex problem. (I should say, though, that since Freelancer Extraordinaire has read the book of that title and talked it over with me, I’m really trying hard to find other ways to put that.) Someone wrote, “First Athens sins against philosophy; now Middlesex administration.

My analogy, however, is less to ancient Greece, but to modern Greece. Our problem in academia is that philosophy and the humanities in general are expected to have a tightfisted monetary policy like Germany, while other business-minded programs actually spend away like Greece (n.b., I’m not saying anything about Greece’s economic policy, just siting the common wisdom). Thus you have at many business schools in the US business assistant profs making more than full professors at other parts of the university. And the “profits” of the humanities programs goes to help fund just those type of programs. You’d think we were the ones living it up and partying like its 425 BCE, but it’s the grim tasks of the modern day Meletus to accuse us of both costing too much money even as we run profits that help fund these other programs.

We will always be a cheap bunch: Socrates just needed some sandals and somewhere to amble. We just need a decent salary and a room somewhere, and maybe some money to publish a journal. We don’t need labs, we don’t need fancy software and CEO-like salaries, and yet the tuition to be one of our majors is still the same.

On a Lighter Note

Harman discusses how much someone would pay to ride the NYC subway. Well, as a native New Yorker, I must say that this tells you how much things have changed. During the early 90s, NYC subways were horrific for all the usual reasons. One never left without the lingering smell of piss and grit. But that somehow gave NY character, like the smell of the stale pretzels from the sidewalk vendors and the NY Post blaring headlines never far from view on the local news stands. But pay for this experience? As a Disney… Disney! … ride? Things have changed. But not that much: take the IRT at 5:15 packed in like … well … like the sardines that the guy whose wet armpit your nose is pushed into smells like. Then add the fact that the train inexplicably stops for 15 minutes between stops with the lights off, just to give a push over the edge to the claustrophobes in the train. Then add in the wanna-be Wall Streeter on his cell phone yappin in your ear about how his Cousin Timmy from da Bronx just killed on that deal…

Sniff, I do miss that city…

Incidentally, JFK is a horrendous airport. But the newish JFK airtran is pretty good, and it’s better than the old days of switching three trains with luggage to get to the airport. Then there’s LaGuardia, which still lingers on long after its best days from the 60s are over.


Like everyone, I’m just utterly confused by the outrageous closure of an entire programme. We are used, in the Liberal Arts, to such double-handedness. Essentially, we’re told we’re out for value, but then, of course, you find out that other programmes (British spelling purposeful) end up being more costly, such as in Business, etc. And that means that what they really value is business and other professionalized programmes for their own sake. Such closures are a threat to us all, not just those, like me, who have gotten so much of that particular programme and the publications of its faculty.

On Vitalism

I guess I should quickly explain that I think that “vitalism” is often doing a lot more rhetorical work than conceptual work (this is not about Tim Morton, whom I just discussed, but about other vitalisms). In my interview with her, Jane Bennett pointed out well that she’s as much interested in the inorganic as the organic, and I think a fair reading of her book would easily pick that up. But in some strains of ecological thought, vitalism becomes a boundless supposition that glues it all together, a dubious and mysterious element that really means “it does things on its own.” I think Bennett’s tact is better: show, like Mario Perniola before her, the appeal (Perniola talks about “sex appeal” but that’s another conversation) of the inorganic and in particular the inorganic entities that we are.

Book Received

I just got a copy of Tim Morton’s The Ecological Thought. I think Harvard U.P.’s makes the book appear more “vitalistic” than it is, but Morton can correct me on this. I’m interested to see the connect made between this work and Morton’s discussions of “hyper-objects” (humanly created objects whose “lifespan” goes beyond the human, such as nuclear radiation, etc.), but also his first chapter is on Darwin and the strangeness of the object world. Looking forward to digging in.

Two Harman Responses… and then Nancy’s Fragments

First, I remember when this powerpoint first hit the news a few months ago and some commentator (I think Matty Yglesias) actually had a great point that this powerpoint of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was helpful, since it showed just how darned complicated it is. (Of course, that’s a great built-in excuse for any bad diagram…)

Second, I’m in a weird time reversal with my RSS newsfeed, since I hit refresh and it goes backwards in time. And incidentally, that’s really a strange way to read while also reading Amis’s Time’s Arrow (I’m teaching it today) and so part of me wants to mentally reverse the quotations, since that’s how one makes sense of conversations in Amis’s book. Anyway, this meant that I didn’t catch Harman’s response to my post on Nancy until after a bunch of other posts.  I’ll write on this at some point, but here’s what I’ll say quickly: this problem that Harman discusses is, I think, the right one to discuss. Don’t let people get away with pure multiplicity, since as Hegel pointed out, that’s just the One in disguise (if it’s pure, it’s undifferentiated…).

But Nancy specifically champions the “fragment” as a mode of being in the world, such that each fragment is in touch with the others, yet recedes… which is when he uses litanies. (Oh Graham, the anus is necessary…) I would have to say much more on this to be convincing, but it’s farther along the way to taking the real sense of the retreating singularities of things, and heck, you might even talk about Nancy’s “real” sense as something like an allure, but again, this is just opening a move I need to work on more  to show is in Nancy (I had a whole set of Nancy on realism ideas ready to go… with outlines and everything and then I just dropped them for something else… I’ll have to get back to them to make this point…).

I don’t have Sense of the World here (perhaps the only Nancy text I don’t have, which happens to have all my marked up quotes for this), but for those who like Nancy’s work and think Harman’s questions are somehow metaphysical (in the bad old sense of having a presupposition of one particular being), Nancy’s question in Being Singular Plural is put thusly: “this thinking is in no way anthropocentric… If existence is exposed [this term means a lot in Nancy] what is exposed there also holds for the rest of beings?” In a word: no. And he then unfolds the inorganic in the human, and then discusses “a stone” as the “exteriority of singularity in what would have to be called its mineral actuality” (18). I’ll cite more later, since this just the opening to (non-human) fragment… and I’d have to tease out what Nancy means when he writes (in full Latourian fashion) “reality is always in each instant [read: fragment], from place to place, each time in turn, which is exactly how the reality of the res cogitans [here he’s simply doing what Harman and Bogost do: extend the self-referentiality to each nonhuman X] attests to itself in each ‘ego sum.'” Then he concentrates on the relation of the “with”… and that self-differentiation of each thing is, I don’t think, so foreign (or rather is precisely the foreign under discussion) to the OOO peeps. Of course, the passage I cite happen to work through the human, but since the critique in the background is of the Heidegger’s Dasein, it’s going to have that kind of elaboration… Ok, time to head to do some other reading…