Month: February 2011

Any word on those headless mummies?

Last month I noted that I was skeptical about reports chaotic Egyptian crowds had stolen from the Egyptian Museum the heads off of mummies. There’s this NYT article and the damage was caused not, apparently, by crowds but by professional thieves. Also, I don’t see any mention of the mummies.

Running Man

This post here on running and philosophy gives me an excuse to share some quick thoughts after running my first marathon in New Orleans last weekend. (I won’t say my time, but it wasn’t horrendous; I did finish; and I didn’t need to walk or call on an ambulance for assistance… Also New Orleaneans really bring it for a marathon: the sidelines not only provided water, but also beer and donuts at various distances)

1. Don’t do it. That’s my first advice. We’ll see if I follow it. I think I got all the health benefits out of training for a half-marathon run. On the days where I did 13 or 15 mile runs, I could come home and get back to work or simply never worry about being out of breath for any other physical training. But the full marathon is just a miserable experience and so does training for it: you come home wishing to hell motrin wasn’t banned for pain relief for runner since it threatens kidney shut-down. It’s over-training and your body is telling you something when your feet look like a podiatrist’s nightmare, your legs have a weird ache that is neither a strain nor a tear, but still keeps you up at night. Also, you gain a real sympathy for the elderly: watch anyone after a marathon trying to negotiate a stairs and you’ll see what I mean.

2. Second advice: real runners do half-marathons. My colleague who went with me did a half-marathon (mostly because previous marathons had caused knee injuries), but it was noticeable that at the split-0ff where those doing the full and those doing the half went in different directions, it was the people who looked like marathon runners who were doing the half (this is a generalization). Why? Because you can run half-marathons quite a bit and thus be in really good shape. Unless you’re a pro, that’s not happening with full marathons.

3. Remember those donuts? Don’t take those donuts! Don’t take anything they offer that you haven’t tried on all your training runs.

4. This can be my bad advice: let’s say you’re a lazy academic who missed quite a few runs due to a strained quadricep—you can still finish! Don’t be nervous! Also, it’s a big crowd and you’ll be surprised by how many people walk during a marathon. I expected I would be the gimpy runner in the back behind the various gazelles. That wasn’t true.

5. Do not mistake the marathon organization’s set of flags a mile before the end for the actual finish line in the back of the park and hidden from view. This was my cruel fate: I had my music set (if you must know, Radiohead’s “Fadeout”) and I was elevating myself to that feeling you’ll think you’ll have at the finish line of a 26.2 mile race (smile across my face, legs starting to feel a bit less than three hundred pounds…). Then I got closer and realized the columns on the building in the park and the flags were not the finish line (you’d have to see it to understand why this wasn’t just wishful thinking—I wasn’t the only one). The last 1.2 miles were not fun and when I got to the end, I did not have a warm fuzzy feeling.

6. I have no training advice that you can’t get in a million books on the subject. (Typical academic: I read three books on marathon running when I started to train in the fall.) But I will say: don’t plan for a local marathon if you can swing it. Having it in New Orleans where I wasn’t going for a conference or giving a paper and not having it in San Diego meant it was much harder to cancel. If it was in SD, I’m sure my injuries would have stopped me.

Lastly, if you could have your kid (Freelancer extraordinaire took care of this) put together a poster cheering you on and text you a pic holding it while you’re running, it’s worth an extra mile or two.

Unless that mile is the one after the finish line it turns out you didn’t cross…

Debating Continental Philosophy

On a longish flight back from the Midwest, I was next to a brilliant 14-year-old who was working on his translations of the Aeneid in between moments of prepping for a future career in engineering and for his debate team. We don’t have a debate team at USD, but a few of our students have (through holes in the rules that I can’t explain) debated for other schools in the area. One thing we don’t discuss in Continental is how these are the few students who come into the university who can cite Agamben or Derrida or Foucault or critical race theory.

(I’m on the SPEP advocacy commitee the next couple of years so this seems like this would be an area where one could advocate for Continental in a certain way, but I’m not sure how: by putting Continental in touch with debate prep coaches? By leading some of these students into Continental friendly programs?)

In fact, it’s telling that if a student mentions Agamben in particular, I know immediately they’ve had a debate background. Scu, who coaches debate, probably knows much more about this and it’d be nice if he had the time to discuss this. I’m not suggesting that I think all of the arguments being used as they’ve been explained to me would pass professional muster, but one thing that’s happening, as I understand it, is that the Continental approach is mostly used by under-dog teams taking on rich East Coast private high schools. Need to take on realist accounts of nuclear proliferation? Counter with a post-colonial critique of the creation of the global south or a feminist critique of phallo-centrism as represented in the use of missile technology (I’m not making either of these up). Apparently, it throws off the better profile teams used to more standard counterarguments, which seems to match Continental’s role in the academy in general.

Quick notes on Xu Changfu’s Monday Talk

Above: Xu Chungfu (Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China)

For the benefit of my students who attended, I wanted to make a couple of notes: Changu’s main argument was that working out of Marxist framework, we must work to recognize a right to cross borders for the sake of work whenever and wherever neoliberal policies assert such a right for the movement of capital. His points were premised on two claims:

(1) The first is normative: the place of one’s birth should no longer mark the material benefits one can assume during a lifetime. (Hence his discussion of Rawls and Kant).

(2) The second is historical (in the Marxian sense): in a rather literal reading of Marx, he argues that if one charts the move from industrial capitalism to communism in Marx’s work, one should insert an intermediary stage in which not just capital (as Marx argued would lead to the contradictions resulting in the collapse of capitalism) but also labor must be globalized.

Changfu ended by noted resources within traditional Chinese philosophy for this approach. This talk is in line with a move within Chinese Marxism to turn from Mao to Confucianism as a source for political claims. But, to cut to the discussion afterwards, Rodney Peffer’s and my concern was that the globalization of labor mirrors neoliberal moves also taking place inside (and beyond) China. Peffer’s comments were, I think, clear, and I pointed to studies done in the European Union as a place to look for what happens when borders for labor are lowered. These studies, I think, would suggest, contra Changfu, that labor mobility does not do the work he thinks it would accomplish in terms of ameliorating poverty.

More broadly, I then discussed how this does mirror one aspect of Marxist legacy, which looks to the local (cultures, traditions, etc.) as something to be overcome. In other words, in a world in which labor is globalized (as it is for the wealthier classes) may do many things, but one has to ask why people value these local conditions to such an extent the economic migration takes place only under the most onerous conditions. He was kind enough to take on all of these questions and more from us, and we’ll talk much more about many of the points he raised when we study Marx later this semester.

For those in the San Diego area

Tonight, there will be a lecture and informal discussion with Xu Chungfu (Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China):

Dr. Xu Changfu
and Discussion with
Rodney Peffer and Peter Gratton
MONDAY, 2/7 7:00PM
University of San Diego

Democracy in What State?

Elden also links to the following book, which I read in French last year. Here is the description from Columbia U.P.:

“Is it meaningful to call oneself a democrat? And if so, how do you interpret the word?”

In responding to this question, eight iconoclastic thinkers prove the rich potential of democracy, along with its critical weaknesses, and reconceive the practice to accommodate new political and cultural realities. Giorgio Agamben traces the tense history of constitutions and their coexistence with various governments. Alain Badiou contrasts current democratic practice with democratic communism. Daniel Bensaid ponders the institutionalization of democracy, while Wendy Brown discusses the democratization of society under neoliberalism. Jean-Luc Nancy measures the difference between democracy as a form of rule and as a human end, and Jacques Rancière highlights its egalitarian nature. Kristin Ross identifies hierarchical relationships within democratic practice, and Slavoj Zizek complicates the distinction between those who desire to own the state and those who wish to do without it.

Concentrating on the classical roots of democracy and its changing meaning over time and within different contexts, these essays uniquely defend what is left of the left-wing tradition after the fall of Soviet communism. They confront disincentives to active democratic participation that have caused voter turnout to decline in western countries, and they address electoral indifference by invoking and reviving the tradition of citizen involvement. Passionately written and theoretically rich, this collection speaks to all facets of modern political and democratic debate.


Congrats to Society and Space

Since this is about work done before I came on as a Co-Editor, I can offer that congratulations. Here’s Stuart Elden:

Vol 29 No 1 of Society and Space is now available – here. It also has news of an award the publisher, Pion, has received from the Association of American Geographers. Here’s the bit on Society and Space:

Environment and Planning Series D: Society and Space was to be the journal of social theory in geography. Very quickly it became clear that it was not only geographers that were interested in issues of space and social theory – a whole raft of social sciences and humanities were keen to join the conversation too. Environment and Planning Series D has become a pre-eminent site for interdisciplinary discussions around space and theory and involving among others philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, political scientists, and cultural and science-studies theorists.
Over the last couple of decades, there have been lots of banal conversations about what inter-disciplinary means, and I often discuss my own work as inter-disciplinary. Society and Space truly deserves this reputation, which, for those in philosophy, is well known and greatly respected in disciplines like geography. If you submit an article, look for comments back that reflect this inter-disciplinary outlook, and the work the previous co-editors and editors have done on this is both daunting and inspiring. Checking my inbox each day, despite the amount of S&S mail, I fall to the latter.

Links and such

1.Benjamin Noys’ review in TPM of Rancière’s The Aesthetic Unconscious (London: Polity, 2011). Also, Adam Guy’s review of The Politics of Literature by Jacques Rancière, trans. Julie Rose (Polity, 2010) is here.

2. Via Paul Gilroy, an electronic copy of Dussel’s Invention of the Americas.

3. Andrew Kolin: How the U.S. Became a Police State.

4. Peter Hallward on the “will of the people” and democratic change in the Middle East.

5. Well, this is one way not to deal with a pesky colleague.

6. Freelancer Extraordinaire is right: Ukraine does need some help in the tourism department.

7. Waleed Hazbun cites Bill Connolly’s book on speed (no, not that speed) and his corrective to Virilio:

Watching Al Jazeera English in the living room of my Beirut apartment on the evening of January 14, 2011, I was mesmerized by the thrilling pace of change in Tunisia. Since December I had been aware of ongoing protests, but as I followed minute by minute the unfolding of events in cinematic fashion, on a parallel track in my mind I was remembering the words of my friend and former colleague Bill Connolly. In the last chapter of his book Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed offers a corrective of Paul Virilio who argues that speed short-circuits democratic deliberations and diminishes our capacity to think with concepts in relation to images. Connolly argues “Virilio remains transfixed by a model of politics insufficiently attuned to the positive role of speed in transtate democracy and cross-state cosmopolitanism.”