Day: September 6, 2010

Jane Bennett on Bilgrami’s essay in Varieties of Secularism

Enchantment or not?:

In Akeel Bilgrami’s contribution to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, “enchantment” refers to the historical belief that God or his divine expression is accessible to the everyday world of “matter and nature and human community and perception.” Correspondingly, “disenchantment” refers to that shift in perspective (encouraged by early modern science and its mechanistic model of nature) by which God was exiled from nature. Bilgrami’s ultimate aim is to “reenchant” the secular age by affirming the “callings” of a world laden with “value elements.” … [cutting some context here] This is the approach I took in The Enchantment of Modern Life (and developed in Vibrant Matter), where enchantment is associated with the feeling of being simultaneously fascinated and unnerved in the presence of something truly wild or Other. The point here is that enchantment is not so much a belief as it is an energetic current produced by the encounter between two sets of active materialities, one set congealed into a “self” and one into what is often called the “objects of experience” but is better described, I think, as a set of nonhuman “actants.” Following Bruno Latour, I say actants rather than objects in order to acknowledge the extent to which these external bodies are lively and active forces rather than passive or brute matter. These vibrant animals, plants, viruses, hurricanes, storms, pharmaceuticals, and other technological artifacts vie with, make demands upon, and impede and enable human agency. They make their presence known to us, or, to extend Bilgrami’s use of the term, make “calls” to which we are continually responding….

Nothing much to add at this point, though I do really have an allergy to the word “reenchantment.” I always wonder when things were so enchanted in the first place, let alone the whole problem of “enchantment” and its incantational history int the first place. Count me, I guess, as disenchanted…

UPDATE: Bilgrami replies to Bennett’s post here.

Elden goes in for the rankings…

I share Stuart Elden’s hesitation for ranking philosophers, though I could get pulled into that conversation pretty easily. He also answers a follow-up question I was going to have about Leibniz—what biography would someone recommend, though there aren’t that many out. In any case, here’s his ranking:

I’m a little reluctant (and/or unqualified) to rank philosophers across time and space – and there are lots of criteria, including ‘best’, most important, most influential, etc. – but if pushed I’d say Aristotle for the ancient world; and Kant for the moderns. I think medieval thought is hugely important, and Aquinas has to be the standout figure there. After that it’s much more open to question. But I think you could make a strong case for Leibniz being the most accomplished thinker of his time, and it was a pretty remarkable time – Descartes just before him, and Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Pufendorf, Newton as contemporaries. I think Graham nails it with the comment that Leibniz is “quite staggering in his integration of Modern with Scholastic philosophy”; at the very least he’s a hugely important transitional figure.

Here’s a perhaps naive question, but isn’t it generally the case that there are really quite few political philosophy classes that include this period for anything other than the English? Certainly, as a political theory student, it was as if the continent didn’t exist—which is perhaps the most enduring Continental/Anglo-American split.

Delanda Reading Group

Levi Bryant covers the introduction here. I’m not sure of the schedule for the rest of the book, though I am listed as covering the last chapter, which apparently is about geometry.

1. Assemblages against Totalities
Larval Subjects (Levi)

2. Assemblages against Essences
Digital Digs (Alex)

3. Persons and Networks
Archive Fire (michael)

4. Organizations and Governments
struggles with philosophy (Mark)

5. Cities and Nations
Philosophy in a Time of Error (Gratton)
Circling Squares

Harman on Leibniz

He picks up on Elden’s discussion here. I think much of Harman’s points are right, especially that Leibniz is most likely to be mocked. He then writes:

And then there was that horrible book, The Courtier and the Heretic, a simple ripoff of Amadeus, with Leibniz cast as a “nerd” version of Salieri: a gawky, resentful, physically repugnant hater who pathetically demanded recognition from Spinoza even while plotting his downfall (indeed, perhaps even murdering Spinoza, according to the wildest innuendo in the book, with the baseless sexual speculations a distant second).

It’s certainly true that Spinoza comes off better in that book, though I really don’t recall the innuendo about murder, or much speculation about sex. (There is anti-speculation speculation: there is no “evidence” that Leibniz ever had a sexual partner, if I recall one sentence.) But yes, a simplistic book, but typical of certain genre.

Elden on Leibniz

I think he’s right: perhaps not as a philosopher, but certainly as a political philosopher, he’s really under-appreciated. I look forward to seeing what he writes on Leibniz’s theory of sovereignty.

That said, it’s hard not to underrate someone who co-invented calculus, worked out perhaps the most strictly metaphysical system of any philosopher, etc. etc. all while managing to get a paid position with the Hapsburgs for work he wasn’t doing…