Month: July 2010

Don’t call me daughter…

Levi will sometimes make mention of his supposed 3-year-old daughter. (I sometimes will say that I have a son, and I’ve given him various names over the years—what a great trope!) This reminds me of the reverse of this.

I can’t say too much about the context of the writings, but I knew someone who needed on occasion to imagine terrible things happening for the sake of philosophical discussion. He would begin essays with such a terrible thing happening, and the names he would give these people were members of his family (though not identified as such). The stranger part was that he would then argue for ways in which this situation could be undone (don’t ask). He wouldn’t identify the people as belonging to his family, though you could know the names, and I think he didn’t see this as strange at all.

The Generations

Harman has a post up on the three best books of 20th century philosophy. He again makes a case for the Logical Investigations: Logical Investigations is the most underread and underrated of the three today. Husserl looks to some people like a relic, though I doubt he’s either more technical or less readable than Whitehead (who surrounded brilliant aphorisms with pages of blandness). But I would say that the real flaw of the book is reflected in (reflected in, not caused by) its parcelling out into six separate investigations: there are so many brilliant ideas in the book, but after finishing it you have to do a lot of organizational work in your mind to remember what Husserl has just shown you.

I’d have too crowded and esoteric a list to come up with the top three, but I know that one book not crowding the top three would be Logical Investigations. Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t imagine teaching it. It is simply numbing for hundreds of pages at a time, and I find that the people who came through Continental before me like the book mostly for where it points the way to Ideas I. And I guess people talk about the critique of psychologism. But I just couldn’t imagine, unless I was teaching a rabid bunch of Husserlians that I could ever pull off getting students through the sections, say, on color. It takes on so many debates (esoteric to the period and otherwise) that it’s hard to find a thread to hold onto by which to pull students along. (Telling students that it’s important because, as was told to me, it’s a “breakthrough” to the later work is really not enough: then why not just read the later stuff?)

That’s not to say I don’t have a soft spot for under-appreciated, supposedly long and tedious books. (I’ll see your Husserl’s LI and raise you Sartre’s CDR!)

Ennis on Heidegger and Time

Here. He quotes Harman, who basically notes that Heidegger is not, ultimately, a thinker of time, which given that I just wrote an article on this (which will come out when I’ve forgotten this whole discussion) makes me feel quite less original. But yes: Heidegger is not, for all that, a thinker of time. He’s a thinker of what time is not. Well, in that he’s not very original. If you go back to the 1920s, the big, vaunted critique (time is not the clock) was widely shared. In fact, if one were doing ideology critique, one could say it was a shared ideology of the time, from Bergson to Mumford to Whitehead to the Harlem Renaissance to (a bit later) Senghor, etc.

It’s well-known, of course, that Heidegger basically abandoned time as such (yes, yes, the event, etc.) after the 1920s, writing on history and then conflating the two. (I just finished up a chapter on this, so I won’t say much more.) In fact, Heidegger is strikingly repetitive on this (perhaps we all are). I don’t think it’s too much to say that you could just cut and paste the same passages from text to text and they’d be the same. What Heidegger provides is a narrative about how time got to be conceived this way, and what a narrative: the history of the West involves precisely a reduction of time to a non-problem.

But having just gone through Husserl’s early lectures on time-consciousness yesterday (I have student doing summer research on it), it’s positively striking the difference in the treatment. Of course, I’d be more critical of Husserl on many key points, but he deals with the whole problem, for example, of the temporality of “constitution,” which he later argues has to be atemporal. Heidegger sidesteps the whole problem, but not in a good way: the care structure itself is not given over to time. In any case, there is much in Heidegger, but for all that, the main lessons that people take away from Heidegger (time is not space; time is not clock-time; being itself is timely) was positively a truism in the 1920s.

Harman on Fire

Here… he discusses variants of trumpery. Then there’s this line:

“[Y]ou’re not a Fraternity Brother until you swim drunk across the pond with a burning candle wedged in your crotch.”

Let me stipulate that managing to keep a candle going while in water is perhaps a bit more difficult than making Heidegger pro-technology…

Meanwhile, Adam Kotsko reminds us that we just need to “read harder.”

Ah yes, the Senegal Negro

Here’s Harman, quoting Heidegger from 1919. At one point I collected Heidegger’s quotes on Africans (they span his career and this one may be the least cringe-inducing).

This reminds me of an egregious Heidegger quote that I still don’t know exists. I knew someone who quoted it in one book–really racist stuff. And I couldn’t find the quote. The footnote only referred me to another book by the same author. I then got that book, which referred me to the author’s journal article. I then went to the journal article… which referred me back to the book. A perfectly closed system of citations.

When I got to that last citation, I just had to smile: well, what did I expect when I was following crumbs like that?

One-Dimensional Women

In case you think we are getting brilliant analysis on our California Senate campaign, think again:

Public Policy Polling includes this circa-1957 question in its latest poll of the California Senate race:

Do you have a higher opinion of Barbara Boxer’s hair or Carly Fiorina’s hair?

Barbara Boxer’s hair………………………………… 19%
Carly Fiorina’s hair…………………………………… 14%
Not sure…………………………………………………. 67%

No questions on which candidate has the more dynamite body.

Were 67% really not sure? (Hopefully that’s a stand-in for “told pollster to shove it.”)