Month: September 2010

U.N. Office of Spacey Affairs

Well, at least when the aliens come, we can do better than having Will Smith punch them in the face:

The plan to make Unoosa [UN Office of Space Affairs] the co-ordinating body for dealing with alien encounters will be debated by UN scientific advisory committees and should eventually reach the body’s general assembly.

Opinion is divided about how future extraterrestrial visitors should be greeted. Under the Outer Space Treaty on 1967, which Unoosa oversees, UN members agreed to protect Earth against contamination by alien species by “sterilising” them.

So, we have Unoosa, which is news to me. And who knew we would be doing mass sterilizations of aliens? (What could go wrong?) And now we have an official person who is to meet the aliens upon arrival:

Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, is set to be tasked with co-ordinating humanity’s response if and when extraterrestrials make contact.

Aliens who landed on earth and asked: “Take me to your leader” would be directed to Mrs Othman.

New Biography of Derrida Due Out

The announcement for the book, by Benoît Peeters, is here. I don’t expect that this will be “Derrida once smoked pot, so his whole work is hallucinogenic” type of biography, given whose cooperation he had. And thankfully, Peeters begins by noting this won’t be an “intellectual biography,” which, as he notes, has led to a couple of books in recent years that claim to be biographies, but are really introductions to Derrida’s work framed by a chronology of publication dates.

Morton’s Rhetoric and Object Oriented Ontology Course

Check it here, as he moves through the history of (Western) philosophy.

First, excuse my obvious ignorance, but is it supposed to be Bennett in that last class?

Second, this gives me a chance to ask about the role of Plato and/or Socrates here. Harman has continually argued for Plato’s place in the OOO canon, which is better than simply being cannon fodder for all that’s wrong in philosophy. But,  not to sound like the most toolish reader of Ancient philosophy—sshh, don’t tell me students—but it seems to me that the Socratic move is precisely to a care for the self, an ethos that is different from (most) pre-Socratics. Now, part of Harman’s reading, as I take it, is of a “Levinasian” Plato–his notion of the Good, etc., points to the ultimate concealment of things.

But many of the arguments in Latour, Harman, and Bogost feel closer to the pre-Platonic traditions, especially given discussions of material monism, theories of change, etc. Yes, obviously, their work is meant to take on the Parmenedian equation of thought and being, though I’m never convinced of the full Hegelian reading of him, since Parmenides is simply saying that thought is a better guide than appearances (thus the place of judgment about distances, etc.), and that what is thought is, while doxa is not. And he simply takes this to its ontotheological extreme: since thought can’t account for change, it must not be. In any case, if we agree—and I think we do—that the pre-Socratics (even the Milesians) were not just bad naturalists, but attempting a non-mythological (if possible) account of on qua on that is not simply an extension of human politics and mythologemes, then this seems a better fit.

Sports Update

The strange thing about sports in San Diego is not that the team has rarely won (Chicago shared that), but that the Padres don’t even get the lovable loser type of fans. They’re winning this year and yet, they still always managed to get overshadowed:

Aroldis Chapman(notes) was summoned from the bullpen one batter too late to make a difference in the game. No matter. The 22-year-old Cincinnati Reds left-hander made do by making history Friday night, throwing the fastest pitch recorded in a major league game, a 105-mph fastball.

Ardolis Chapman’s 25 pitches on Friday night (each registering 100 mph or faster, including his record-breaking 105 mph heater) must have been a blur to Padres batters.

The blazing pitch pushed a white-hot pennant race to the back burner. Yes, the San Diego Padres won the game 4-3 to pull ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League wild-card race. … blah blah…

And the guy’s a lefty. I do miss playing ball. My brother and I used to throw pitches back and forth for hours when I was kid, working on curves and other junk balls. My curve got really good, and my brother just chucked the heat up there. I got so used to catching him, I got a lefty catcher’s glove one season and caught his games.

The Esoteric Plato

In the History of Ancient Phil class, we move to Plato starting Monday. (BTW, I’ve never been more impressed by the Eleatics as I have when teaching them these past two weeks. Surely, if anyone cares at that point, someone will dig this up for my retirement as the moment that I went in for Idealism.) In any case, it’s a good time to read the actual arguments that have been offered for the deep music within Plato’s corpus:

A new discovery has transformed our view of Plato and therefore of the origins of philosophy and science. It vindicates some ancient interpretations, but leads to major, unexpected revelations about Plato’s pioneering role in music, mathematics, and literary theory.

The quickest route to the core findings begins with some philosophical mysteries and then proceeds through certain little-known aspects of ancient book production.

First, the mysteries. Despite generations of intensive study, some issues surrounding Plato’s dialogues and their history remain stubbornly unresolved.

What was Plato’s positive philosophy? Plato depicted the brilliant talk of earlier philosophers, but never stepped forward to state his own views directly. Every reader wrestles with this problem of Platonic anonymity. Most of us form some opinion of Plato’s central agenda and philosophy but, strictly speaking, this is more or less conjecture. The range of possible views is illustrated by the minority, in both ancient and modern times, who concluded that Plato was a destructive sceptic with no positive views at all. For them, Plato was merely a brilliant provocateur. His final allegiance was to Socrates’ claim that we are altogether ignorant. …

Also up next week is Heidegger (if I ever can lure myself aware from Husserl’s work on time and the life-world) in the Continental course, and then a transition from Fanon to Gilroy in the Race course. (Each course is back-to-back, so it’s quite a mental move during Mon and Wed, though I’m not complaining, since it’s a great year of teaching.)


Book Review 101

Just a tip from an editor to those who might want to write book reviews. For academic reviews, yes, it’s great if you have an authorial voice and offer incisive analysis. But, first, (1) provide an overall picture of the author’s work. What’s he or she known for, if at all? Then, (2) summarize the book. You don’t need to do this with the “In the first chapter… Then in the second chapter… Then in the third chapter…” type of summary, but that’s better than no summary at all. (3) Make sure to leave behind crumbs to eat up later as you enter your critical section on what is promising or deflating about the work… Remember your readers: is this a Hegel journal? Then you can take some concepts for granted. But if it’s RPR, then we’re working across various venn diagrams of intersecting interest and so defining terms and concepts is important. It even helps when a person’s work is well known, since people might know parts, but you might be able to offer a savvy pass-key tying together that person’s disparate works.

Speaking of Journals…

I think someone mentioned recently the depressing thought that they don’t read journal articles. Obviously, please don’t tell me any such thing when I’m locked in editing and layout mode…it’s too depressing to countenance. But since I just mentioned book reviews, it is probably true that I’m probably do check out book reviews first in journals, and I’m happy that more and more journals (not ours, alas) are publishing reviews online…


I’m laying out RPR 13, no. 2 this week, and that means…well, it means I’m operating on my three levels (Editorial Committee, Managing Editor, and Book Review editor), thus laying out, thinking of the issue as a whole coming together, and right now, looking at the book reviews: Just a short thank you to those who responded to my previous posts here, where I’ve gotten some really great takes on major books published over the last year or so.