Month: November 2010

Annals of Peer Review

Stuart Elden linked a couple of day ago to this discussion about peer review. Obviously as long time editor of journals, I am going to think it a duty for people to do their part and review articles. I do quite a few each year and I try to turn down only those articles that I clearly should not have been sent. Stuart writes:

I read this with disappointment and a feeling that it was asking the wrong questions. As an editor, the only time I feel ‘guilty’ about asking someone to review for us is if they are retired or a non-academic. As far as I’m concerned, any academic, at whatever stage of their career, should be willing to review for journals. And they should do this without any kind of need for recognition, reward, payment, credentials, etc. It’s a shared system where their work generates the need for reviewers; and they review in turn. It’s not generosity: if the system changes, someone will ‘pay’, and that someone will ultimately be the author. Unless authors and reviewers are separate groups of people, which of course they currently are not, this is self-defeating.

I agree with Stuart on this. Maybe because I’ve also organized conference panels and such where I was asking people not just to write a paper but travel to various places, I feel no guilt whatsoever asking someone for peer review. And at RPR and before that at Philosophia Africana, we were pretty lucky at getting good reviewers for articles, and if certain well known figures can find the time, I think the rest of us can. As for service, I know that most people I know keep a line on their CV naming the journals and/or book publishers they’ve reviewed manuscripts for. I know in reviewing colleagues, this helped me to get a better guess that they were considered experts in their area of philosophy and thus were called upon to review articles. Thus, there is somewhat of an incentive, beyond the golden rule, to doing them.

Lucius Outlaw, “Africana Philosophy”

His entry for the Stanford Encycl of Phil is here.

“Africana philosophy” is the name for an emergent and still developing field of ideas and idea-spaces, intellectual endeavors, discourses, and discursive networks within and beyond academic philosophy that was recognized as such by national and international organizations of professional philosophers, including the American Philosophical Association, starting in the 1980s. Thus, the name does not refer to a particular philosophy, philosophical system, method, or tradition. Rather, Africana philosophy is a third-order, metaphilosophical, umbrella-concept used to bring organizing oversight to various efforts of philosophizing—that is, activities of reflective, critical thinking and articulation and aesthetic expression—engaged in by persons and peoples African and of African descent who were and are indigenous residents of continental Africa and residents of the many African Diasporas worldwide. In all cases the point of much of the philosophizings has been to confer meaningful orderings on individual and shared living and on natural and social worlds while resolving recurrent, emergent, and radically disruptive challenges to existence so as to survive, endure, and flourish across successive generations.

Group Think…

Levi has a post ( up that touches on groups as the very stuff of the political:

There are, in my view, a number of advantages to speaking about groups rather than subjects. First, of course, we can seek the conditions under which groups emerge out of collectives or come into being. Sartre has an exquisite analysis of all of the conditions that led to the storming of the Bastille and the invention of a new unity and the broader conditions that occasioned that invention. However, the concept of group rather than subject brings into relief other valuable questions. With the concept of group we get the question of how praxis is coordinated among diverse individuals. In other words, we get all sorts of practical questions pertaining to how individuals invent a group or themselves or mediate their differences. Likewise, we are afforded with the opportunity to analyze the microfacisms that emerge within groups, how groups ossify and become collectives, and how invention becomes self-defeating and alienating dogma. The question of political theory is not a question of how subjects are possible, but of how groups are possible. The problem with the concept of subject in political theory is that it illicitly unifies that which must be produced or unified, foreclosing these sorts of questions. As a consequence, we should eradicate this term from our vocabulary when doing political theory, instead asking how a group is possible. It is groups, not individual subjects, that are the subject of political theory.

I agree, and I think Levi and I have gone back and forth on this on the blogs some months ago. In fact, I should collect various writings on Sartre I have for a mini-volume arguing for forms of group praxis. On the one hand, of course, someone reading this might think it ridiculous that discussing groups is an advance. What about the polis? What about Mitsein? What all the forms of solidarity that have long been discussed in political theory? But groups as such seem to be a vanishing mediator between the state functions and the subject. On this point, Sartre (as well as Peter Hallward and Nina Power more recently) have much to say, especially about the formation of groups involved in revolutionary praxis. I think Rousseau is also an excellent resource here.

The time has certainly ended when all forms of groups or communities or solidarity as such are labeled as bad faith forms of communalism and forced adhesion to a center. The strange aspect of groups, as Rousseau recognized, is how they have a directedness of their own beyond its parts, not by some mystical incantation, as is often suggested. The example I use in courses is banal: think of a party (easy enough for students). One adheres to a certain dynamic, following an immanent code, while no individual is the party and no one has to rule over the group. Yes, there can be revolutionary terror (as Sartre notes), but a party (in the non-political sense) is not formed by bashing others over the head as Schmittians would suggest (and as poststructuralist critiques would worry over), but has its own dynamic that has its only end the party itself. (This is analogous to Rousseau: the end of the general will is perfectly circular, since it wants nothing other than that which a general will can enact itself.)


1. Devin Shaw has a post up on last week’s RPA (I appreciate his kind comments), and I agree on his own paper being about Benjamin, not Agamben. His comments on Bat-Ami Bar On’s plenary are right on, though of course, he’s agreeing with me, so that seems a weird way of agreeing with myself. (I do!) There’s this strange tick that those who seem least prepared to talk about something go on and on about how others should do research in that area (one sees this with the sciences all the time). Maybe it’s that people take their own initial ignorance when they came across the topic—after all, they hadn’t heard of it—and think that this ignorance is widely shared. Of course, maybe you knew that already…

2. Levi Bryant has been energetically going into Sartre’s CDR, though I wonder if this long post doesn’t make too much of “antipraxis” (ok, but what of the inertness of the practico-inert? Calagno didn’t insert “experience” into Sartre’s account for little reason. But it’s good to push him in the other direction, and I look forward to Levi’s post on later sections).

3. Infinite Thought has a great set of pics up cheerfully taking the Evening Standard to task for its headline that said leftist professors were grading “Full Marks For Riots, Say Leftist Professors.” Just go see it and you’ll get the point. I think I’ll have to print some of them up for my door at work. (Will it go with my poster a student made of all the personages in Dante’s Inferno? Why not?)

4. Here’s a wishlist for changes to the APA-East. Some of the suggestions are good (can we stop dragging jobless students to the APA-east for interviews, costing at least $175 in hotel fees for the privilege? It just seems an extra kick to graduating Ph.D.s in this market…when the technology is easily available to avoid this [and would mean wider committees from the institutions themselves, since they wouldn’t be limited by who could be in Boston at such and such a time…])

5. Scu has a post of books that changed his mind. (I hope to change his mind on his belief that Foucault only held sovereign power to be reactive and deductive…)

6. Not good news out of my alma mater.

7. More bad news at an of U of C regents meeting, where police pulled a gun and pepper sprayed student protesters for being protestors or something…

8. And pulling it all together, here’s Protevi on “security theater.”

Annals of Backhanded Compliments…

Stuart Elden, whom I must stop linking to before he gets a restraining order, reels in this catch:

Many people will be aware of the ‘what is it like to be a woman in philosophy’ blog, which makes for very depressing reading. Here’s an example from history – both in time (from 1954) and the discipline… From the preface to an edited book:-

Lastly I must thank my wife… for what amounts to collaboration with me in the production of the book. As a scholar in a field allied to my own, she has always offered valuable criticism of everything I produce before anyone else sees it. As an expert in styling and arranging of manuscripts, she has saved both me, my collaborators, and the publisher much. In addition, she has typed the manuscript and prepared the index.

And just the man’s name appears as editor.

I actually know someone (not me!) who has his wife type up his work and edit it for him (I’m going to go out on a limb that this means he’s not likely to read this). But of course, as Stuart knows, editing is not a real job, nor typesetting, nor adjusting for style, ror doing indexes… the true thinker just delegates.

On Teaching Lear

H/T to Stuart Elden, who linked to J.J. Cohen’s thoughts on teaching King Lear. It is one of my favorite texts to teach (and read), and I’m often amazed how much, given work on sovereignty and bare life, the work has not been written on after the Agamben wave. (I mean, come on, the essay writes itself, given the Lear’s madness and reduction to “but a man” in the middle of the play.) This is beautifully written:

And so I ended by confiding that each time I teach the play I swear it will be my last. I asked my class, should I indeed take Lear off the syllabus? Should this be my last class on Lear? I was curious to hear what they would say. I feared they would tell me what I suspected: that I’d hurt them by making them face such darkness, such a void. They reacted viscerally, and with unity: NO. Lear must remain. They told me how the drama hurt but spoke to them, how despite the assumption that college years are the happiest and most free of care in life the play’s bleakness resonated with thoughts they had, with tragedies they had faced. No one claimed that they had been made better for the play; it isn’t medicine, and it isn’t a humanist’s bible. But something in the drama’s imagining of the worst and then the trapdoors that open and bring us even lower touched them profoundly.

Things We Don’t Need

Kotsko links to John Milbank’s longish take on Stephen Fry’s recent claim that women don’t enjoy sex. I will leave aside Milbank’s comments and concentrate on this one sentence:

“We need instead a more truly paradoxical mode of radical conservatism or conservative radicalism.”

No, this is what we don’t need. I sat through Bat-Ami Bar On’s plenary session at the RPA last Friday. Her claim was that, while she felt at home with these “radicals,” she could do so while (1) arguing that leftists need to just understand how tough Obama has it in that darn war on terror, (2) leftists don’t engage in policy discussions (despite the fact that they, uh, do all the time and no link is even necessary), and (3) that she supposedly does, despite her only references being the widely read National Security Estimate and Bob Woodward’s recent book on Obama.

(Seriously: if you ever hear me say something such as “what people need to do is X,” let me have it, since invariably it will be the case that I’ve missed half a library worth of books on the topic. And if I make such a claim while demonstrating, in front of a room full of scholars who have done just this type of work, no such research, please lead me safely from the dais before I hurt myself further.)

In other words, we seem to have a number of prominent intellectuals who use the word “radical” but then offer what can only be called a reactionary politics (in the literal sense—always reactive). Thus Kristeva’s claims about taking up the European culture of revolt, Stiegler’s contention that the radical move is to enhance France’s 19th century republic systems, and numerous other examples that seem to demonstrate (a) we’ve all learned that we really do need to be radical, (b) but, darn it, that can be tough and so I’ll say it’s a “paradoxical” conservative radicalism or something.

There’s a difference between a contentious, difficult, even aporetic politics, and the old-fashioned “it’s really a paradox because, you know, it’s completely illogical”–as in the claim made by Milbank. Wrap it and give it a bow all you like, but you’ve just given another crappy gift from the forces of dominance. So please, don’t do so and then act like we need to send you a thank you card for your deep efforts.

Michael Marder on Derrida and Alienation

From a review in NDPR of Simon Skempton’s Alienation after Derrida (Continuum: 2010), Marder argues against the fetish for the Other in recent Continental discourse:

It is no secret that contemporary philosophy is under the spell of the Other. A host of rather automatic, ethico-political associations follows the invocations of “otherness” like a comet-tail: hospitality, respect, tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism, etc. We are urged to come to terms with that which is alien, to learn to live with foreignness, to recognize the uncanny — in Freud’s vernacular, the “strangely familiar” — within us, to derive our very sense of identity from alterity. The approaches to alterity, in turn, may be broadly classified into those that are purely formal in their refusal to endow the Other with determinate features or objective characteristics and those that fill it with concrete, infinitely variable content, depending on the Other’s race, sex, gender, economic status, and so on. Still, regardless of the elected framework and of the qualifier “radical” often attached to it, “otherness” is domesticated not only as a hegemonic concept that, rather than awakening, brings critical thinking to a halt, but also as a bearer of intransigent humanism, willing to confer this title on no being other than human. Although the current theoretical interest in animal alterities goes a long way toward undoing such domestication, it is ultimately insufficient for the purpose of questioning the hegemonic status of the Other.

Given that I was just going over Marx’s concept of alienation in the Marx reading group last night, this reminds me to take a look at this book, for which Marder claims: “The anachronism of a return to alienation in the aftermath of its discrediting as a philosophical fiction is at the heart of this study, which wishes to carve out a niche for the concept already processed by the deconstructive machinery and, thus, purged of metaphysical overtones.”