Month: August 2010

Stuart Elden on Territory

Here’s his new article in Progress in Human Geography:

This paper outlines a way toward conceptual and historical clarity around the question of territory. The aim is not to define territory, in the sense of a single meaning; but rather to indicate the issues at stake in grasping how it has been understood in different historical and geographical contexts. It does so first by critically interrogating work on territoriality, suggesting that neither the biological nor the social uses of this term are particularly profitable ways to approach the historically more specific category of ‘territory’. Instead, ideas of ‘land’ and ‘terrain’ are examined, suggesting that these political-economic and political-strategic relations are essential to understanding ‘territory’, yet ultimately insufficient. Territory needs to be understood in terms of its relation to space, itself a calculative category that is dependent on the existence of a range of techniques. Ultimately this requires rethinking unproblematic definitions of territory as a ‘bounded space’ or the state as a ‘bordered power container’, because both presuppose the two things that should be most interrogated, space and boundaries. Rather than boundaries being the distinction between place and space, or land or terrain and territory, boundaries are a second-order problem founded upon a particular sense of calculation and concomitant grasp of space. Territory then can be understood as a political technology: it comprises techniques for measuring land and controlling terrain, and measure and control – the technical and the legal – must be thought alongside the economic and strategic.

(He says it’s available free online, though it doesn’t come up for me. I’ll have to try to grab it later on my library’s server.) As someone who just completed a book on sovereignty (or actually completed much of it some time ago), Elden’s work is really good on this. I had this really bad experience with Elden’s work: I had this bad habit of coming upon some article by him after I had finished a particular chapter: thus, for example, I saw only one of his articles on Foucault before I had completed that, but not the most relevant ones, and later on I found a handy article on the Greek demos well after I’d written about that.

If you’ve been following his blog, then you know Elden’s continuing work, which he began some time ago on early modern conceptions of territory, which, as any newspaper will tell you, are not exactly ideas of the past. Interestingly, though many have written about the use of “terror” in sovereignty (Hobbes, Spinoza, etc.), few connect that to the specific sources on territory, which has the same root. More pertinently for my concerns, Elden teases a Foucaultian (to simplify) genealogy and historical embedding of this concept, rather than relying on formalisms on loan from analytic (in the Kantian sense) teasing out of the definition of territory. This has happened for far too long with sovereignty, which is not wrong per se, but does feel rather airy and dried out of the politics.

In other words, my task as I took in my book on sovereignty (I’ll announce the release date when I get it) was not abandon the self-conceptualization of sovereignty, or simply give myself over to a vague historicism, but rather to follow  the conceptualization of the history of sovereignty in Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, and Rousseau (my chapter on Derrida is the shortest of the work). In other words, Arendt offers an archaeology of the Greek arche, Foucault offers various strands on the modern biopolitical state, and Agamben offers a history of homo sacer, and I follow them to the roots of these considerations, though Elden would more likely be found in the archives working on various less known proper names. And I think that’s largely right: in philosophy we tend to have a very neat history, as if Hobbes came from nowhere, etc. As Derrida rightly notes in his Beast and the Sovereign lectures, what we have are both philosophical texts about sovereignty and texts mounting strategic and polemical movements in the sovereignty of their day.

More on this at another time, but simple moral of the story: read Elden on territory.

This might come in handy when teaching Aristotle…

Or, you know, in life.

Money—even the thought of it—reduces satisfaction from life’s simple pleasures.

Studies have shown that a person’s ability to savor experiences predicts their degree of happiness. Savoring is defined as the emotions of joy, awe, excitement and gratitude derived during an experience. Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach of the University of Liège in Belgium and his colleagues divided 374 adults, ranging from custodians to senior administrators, into two randomly assigned groups. The first group was shown a picture of a stack of money; the control group was shown the same picture blurred beyond recognition. Then the participants were given psychological tests to measure their ability to savor pleasant experiences. The results showed that people who had been shown the money scored significantly lower.

The First Rule of Fight Club…

We’re taking a tour of Brad’s new school today with two of the students leading the way. One of the other kids peppers them with earnest questions along the way, e.g., “Where’s the library? Do they have a lot of books?”

Suddenly about halfway through, he stops them and asks, “what about the room where the kids have all of their fights?” The tour leaders looked at each other, then look back at the kid without an answer. He went at it again, “You know, where the kids beat up on each other? Where’s that?”

He didn’t get an answer, though obviously, my hope is that Fight Club is not one of the registered activities of the after school program (though, interestingly, Tae Kwon Do is). I just loved the earnest way he asked that question, like it was obvious that every school has to have a room for that…

Ennis Reviews Lee Braver’s Late Heidegger book

See here.

It is worth devoting some space here to Braver’s style. For one it is immensely difficult to discuss Heidegger in a clear style and without lapsing into Heideggerian jargon. The ability to render Heidegger’s concerns concisely, but without subtracting from the power of Heidegger’s ideas, is the key strength of this book. This strength is closely tailed by a sense of fairness to the subject matter and an ‘off-handedness’ that does not attempt to provide the reader with the author’s own interpretation. Although this would be an achievement in any work, it is an immense achievement in a work on the later Heidegger and I do not think that is a superlative claim—as anybody exposed to the later work can attest. Before looking at a representative commentary from this book there are a few small points worth mentioning. The first is the way that Braver structures the book. Braver hopes that his book can act as a “roadmap” rather than a simple translation of Heidegger from obscure to clear. The hope is that once the reader has been impelled to read the essays they can throw away the “ladder” and I will judge the book on whether this is
the result.5 Something that might easily be missed in this book is Braver’a footnotes which delve into the matters at hand in detail. The reason they are worth mentioning again is that although the book is clearly aimed at introducing new readers to the later Heidegger there is a lot that can be gained by the experienced reader via the footnotes and, of course, the book is also useful as a way to refresh one’s memory of the later Heidegger.

Kotsko on Online Journals

He thinks they can do better in terms of using the medium:

There is no conceivable advantage to publishing a huge mass of material every three months in an online format. In fact, given the reality of people’s online reading habits, that format undoubtedly makes people less likely to read the journal — they get overwhelmed by the amount of material that is there and wind up reading one article at best. Had the same material trickled out as it became available (i.e., once peer review was completed), odds are that interested readers would’ve read proportionately more articles, including articles not immediately in their area of interest (the first to go when the reader feels overwhelmed).

I’m not sure what he has in mind: The Philosopher’s Magazine already runs a site that updates quite frequently, and thus you’re talking more about an online magazine than a journal. The point of journal articles, even though they might only appear semi-annually, is that you know that there (hopefully!) were the result of a slower development of a line of thought, more so than a blog post, and certainly more than you can do in shorter, more accessible articles.

My idea would be that as more journals go online, we’ll have the best of both worlds: people who post blog items can link to quotes and articles that they like, which all would be publishing at different times. This would help bring attention to articles in a way that’s harder to do now that most journals are basically behind the pay walls of libraries…

Zizek on the Relation between Philosophy and Science

An interview here in the New Scientist:

Despite your critique, you are positive about science?

I have a very naive Enlightenment fascination with it. I have total admiration for science.

Should philosophers be helping scientists?

Yes. For the last few decades, at least in the humanities, big ontological questions – What is reality? What is the nature of the universe? – were considered too naive. It was meaningless to ask for objective truth. This prohibition on asking the big questions partly accounts for the explosion of popular science books. You read Stephen Hawking‘s books as a way to ask these fundamental, metaphysical questions. I think that era of relativism, where science was just another product of knowledge, is ending. We philosophers should join scientists asking those big metaphysical questions about quantum physics, about reality.

And what is your take on reality?

There is an old philosophical idea about God being stupid and crazy, not finishing his creation. The idea is that God (but the point is to think about this without invoking God), when he created the world, made a crucial mistake by saying, “Humans are too stupid to progress beyond the atom, so I will not specify both the position and the velocity of the atom.” What if reality itself is rather like a computer game where what goes on inside houses has not been programmed because it was not needed in the game? What if it is, in some sense, incomplete?