Month: July 2011

Elden, Foucault on Writing

Elden links to this quote by Foucault on writing:

Does there exist a pleasure in writing? I don’t know. One thing is certain, that there is, I think, a very strong obligation to write. I don’t really know where this obligation to write comes from… You are made aware of it in a number of different ways. For example, by the fact that you feel extremely anxious and tense when you haven’t done your daily page of writing. In writing this page you give yourself and your existence a kind of absolution. This absolution is indispensable for the happiness of the day… How is it that that this gesture which is so vain, so fictitious, so narcissistic, so turned in on itself and which consists of sitting down every morning at one’s desk and scrawling over a certain number of blank pages can have this effect of benediction on the rest of the day?

You write so that the life you have around you, and outside, far from the sheet of paper, this life which is not much fun, but annoying and full of worries, exposed to others, can melt into the little rectangle before you and of which you are the master. But this absorption of swarming life into the immobile swarming of letters never happens.

Elden then discusses his own method (write everyday!). I’m not about to say more–with the move, an illness that took months to recover, etc., I’m just starting to get back into the swing of things, so no advice from me, though I do notice that if I don’t wish to write, I do my editorial projects. And if I’m really stuck, I pretend a paper is an editorial project that I’m reviewing–I tend to write more if I take the pressure off that it’s my work, and instead is just a note to others about some article and what it means.

As for Foucault: not enough is said about what a logical writer he was in an era in which the French tended to write more like improvisational musicians. Even his asides seem perfectly outlined. More daunting, though, are his write-ups for lectures, which don’t too often double with published materials, and in fact, augment his published work in impressive ways.

Getting to Know Your Hacker…An Open Letter to My New Friend

Since hacking is in the news, I’ll give a quick story that involved a bit of my day (I know–I still haven’t made it way back in my email–how dare I?):

About a month ago, I got a gmail alert saying my gmail had been accessed from Morocco. Since I wasn’t in Morocco at the time, I knew it wasn’t me and quickly changed my password. I’m not sure why a person would access my email account, but here’s the upshot: google tracks your web searches. (Go to your dashboard and scroll down and you’ll see the link.)

For reasons too boring, I had to go through this web search history and found this person had been accessing my account since November, 2010, until late June. (Oddly, I would have my own web searches intermixed with those searches–strange juxtapositions that were at times poetic [me looking up translation studies; he looking up how to say words in English].)

So here’s what I know about my hacker: he’s from Morocco, needed a hospital at one point, and is looking for a new apartment. He’s also given to really cheesy Mahgrebian music and does look up English phrases to drop into his email messages. (He favors hotmail.)

And he does have a girlfriend and he’s given to trying to impress her with French poetry. He is likely a university student (looking up a bit on Victor Hugo–did you need to get the summary?), but also likes to listen to French heavy metal (perish the thought!) when the mood strikes. (Surely, your considerations of Hugo’s deft work on the death penalty left you in a dark place…)

With this short bio out of the way, let me turn myself to you: Oh, we’re not, my friend, so different. Who doesn’t like French love poetry, as you searched just a day earlier? (When your girlfriend was using your–or can I still say my?—account, she was given to sites with unicorns, which clearly should be a worrisome sign given your apparent age and quite a juxtaposition with your own, shall we say, less innocent searches?)

On March 18, you ask this question of Google–showing you’re still a bit rough in French, though it’s a gem of a thought:

est ce que faucault est un philosophe

I wish we could have talked more than through our searches: what a great conversation to have! How would you define philosophy? How is Foucault received in Morocco universities? Is this why he may or may not be a philosopher? Did this question result from your recent interest in thinking with bodies and things? Why bodies and things? Is thinking with bodies or things philosophical? Or something else? Would the answer to relate to whether Foucault is or is not a philosopher?

And a day earlier, you found this link to an iPhone app (later he’ll be looking for a new camera and also iPhone accessories): a Foucauldian Term Generator. I can’t but think now that your question about Foucault was perhaps biting: maybe you found it easy to mock his terms and thought: surely he couldn’t be a philosopher…

And so we turn to the question that arrives (does a search ever arrive? What answer could be found for this search?) on March 18:

how we think with bodies and things

Did google–is google a thing that you were thinking with?–favor you with an answer?

And does this relate to the fact that this was a day after searching (in English) for

life lessons

Which was after looking for


Which, in turn, brought you to a site on gaining self-confidence. Can one be self-confident and need to hypnotize oneself? Does not telling oneself to be confident defeat the whole point? And doesn’t it it demonstrate a failed quest at self-confidence that you continued for months to use my online identity? Or am I missing some life’s lesson here? And under hypnosis, are you thinking as a body? As a thing?

I know I’m running this all Memento style, but I like to see how it all began with you; I want to unravel the mystery of a personality that passed through asking about life’s lessons and gaining self-confidence–all to devolve into simple searches for rap in Arabic.

Just a couple of days earlier–why did you pause on this crucial question for two days? Was your existential quest put on hold? and why?–you had started asking about life’s lessons, finding sites like this one. Did you learn anything? Did you learn how to live, finally?

On March 15, a day before, you opened a Facebook account—what questions came to you after entering this social network! (Is this how you met your love? Is this why you needed self-confidence? Or is this her account and I’ve gotten the plot all wrong?)

Some days your searches were poetically simple, such as one in English, on March 14, for “knocking.”

What did you hope to find with that search?

But my friend, I can’t help but mention–I hope our new intimacy allows me to share this–that, at this point, just a couple of weeks after our relationship became a constant refrain in my search history, you seemed to be start an interest in quite superficial erotic sites—the type of thing I can’t help but feel your future love will disapprove.

I must ask, why did you stop searching for video games, which had started just a few days earlier? Did having a girlfriend end one type of viewing and not the other? How strange it should be one, but not the other… And was this a transition from one to the other? And which was thinking with bodies and which with things?

But you weren’t all just late-teen superficiality: a few days earlier, while I was searching Al Jazeera in English, you were looking for its Arabic counterpart–on the same day, my friend. The Arab spring, no doubt, interested us both. But, working in reverse, what led this political interest to devolve later into worries about your own life’s meaning? You are a fascinating friend: you raise your eyes to the political, but this all ends when pornography and video games enter the picture. You never do look up political news again. Was this the day the Arab spring died–all to return to the society of the spectacle?

Finally, there is the day we met through our converging and diverging searches, on Nov. 23, 2010. But only for a moment–a couple of bland searches–and then you left me for four months. I wish I could read your Arabic, so I can understand this relationship much better: you searching one way; I searching for philosophers you are just beginning to understand. I wish you luck with answering those pesky questions about Foucault and also with your new love–had I not changed my password, I would have loved to have seen what had become of you both!–and I find I might even miss you, my silent companion through many months of searches, another fragmented story in a world searching for life’s lessons, and maybe something more. May we all learn how to think with things and bodies rather than about them (perhaps that is all thinking ever is), and may we all learn how to live, finally.

Stuart Elden on Foucault’s 70-71 lecture courses

Here is his Berfrois review of Leçons sur la volonté de savoir. These lectures come from a period of Foucault’s work that has generally interested me least–I never know what to make of Archaeology of Knowledge, though the Nietzsche and Genealogy essay is one of his best. Obviously, it’s important as a period of transition from the epistemology/structural accounts of the sixties to the ontological/power genealogies of the 70s. (Yes, I am one who reads a Foucault I and Foucault II, though not a radical a split as that sounds. Agamben, in his recent writings on dispositif, for example in The Sacrament of Language, just blows over any essential differences between archaeology and genealogy in Foucault.)

Devin Shaw follows up here on Elden’s review, and Elden elaborates here on Shaw’s attention to the fact that the lecture course as published is based entirely on Foucault’s MS, without tapes, etc., from students. Most interesting to me is how Foucault’s reading of the Greeks and Oedipus could be great pedagogically when I’m teaching History of Sexuality: Volume I for showing the differences from Freudian accounts. More interesting is the Foucaultian take on the rise of democracy in the Greek sense:

Perhaps most interestingly, Foucault suggests that the transition effectuated by Solon means that power is no longer “exclusively held by someone”; no longer “universally endured by others”; and no longer concentrated in time and space “in ritual gestures, words, commands or instances” (p. 153). Just as Foucault would argue for a time two millennia later, power should not be understood as a top-down model of domination, concentrated in a single source and exercised over those who do not have it; and it is not focused in spectacular bursts or displays but operates through what he would later call a micro-physics of small actions and continual operations.

A number of things stand out, but one way to read this is a counter to those who read modernity as having the crisis of legitimation (Habermas, Lyotard) or loss of authority (Arendt). If power since Solon was for thousands of years not top-down, then it stands to reason (as the problem of the Sophists demonstrates) that the crisis of modernity is endemic to democracy itself: the crisis is democracy itself, or the democratic element that circulates power, however much statist models wish to bring power/knowledge back within the fold of the sovereign.

My Take on the Pluralist’s Guide…

While I was away getting housing to work at an incipient Ph.D. program with an emphasis in Continental philosophy, but strengths in the history of philosophy, metaphysics, and non-Western philosophies, I find a bit of the controversy last week (about which I’ve barely caught up on) about the Pluralists Guide to graduate programs a bit mystifying.

1. The guide is here. It’s just a beginning and I think it should have some benefit of the doubt (it was first published as test site). Leiter’s reply appears hypocritical. I think he has important things to say about what may be problems with the PG (the category of “needs improvement” for the treatment of women is not too long, but too short–it seems arbitrary just for the reason that it looks like three programs were just picked out of the blue). I remember well that for a very long time in the 90s, Leiter’s report was attacked for having no transparency, having a vague methodology, and choices of rankings that were quizzical to people in the fields covered. And for these reasons, the Philosophical Gourmet Report–the go-to guide for most students looking at graduate studies in philosophy–is eminently more transparent. (Surely Leiter must hopefully be a bit worried about how it’s used, even if it does has many benefits: students looking at a seeming arbitrary scoring difference of .1 between two schools and using that to base a career decision.)

2. The response to the Guide–as far as I’ve seen–have actually been good about the state of the profession, and any time we get a discussion going about what counts as philosophy and how it’s to be done–it’s a good discussion to be had. I think Mark Lance’s post is particularly good, cited here in Jon Cogburn’s extended analysis. In particular, given my own work, this discussion by Dan Levine on African philosophy is particularly important. I was invited to give a paper at a conference in Melbourne a couple of years ago on the Continental/Analytic divide, and my paper was wholly on the mélange of various methods and approaches in African philosophy. From that vantage point, these fights over which kind of Western philosophy offers more profound methodologies seems rather parochial.

3. Finally, Cogburn (see above) takes up Lance’s post and tries to extend the conversation about what philosophy departments should cover. Let me come at it from another angle: this whole conversation is parochial because it’s besides the point for the vast majority of departments.

We can’t just cover history of phil or Continental, but rather most philosophy departments are service departments, and what this means is that even top tier programs–pluralist or not–better prepare their students to teach, especially ethics and applied ethics, given the job atmosphere. Some programs do this–I felt eminently prepared through DePaul–but many still act as if their graduates are going off to a research position.

We can have a discussion about Continental/Analytic divisions or the SPEP programs’ value to the profession, but this discussion takes place when philosophy itself is under attack in the UK and the US, when most departments survive by teaching applied courses and live and die on decisions about whether, for example, the business school can take over the business ethics requirement or not.

But as I often mentioned when people asked me about teaching at USD, where I the only Continental person in a department of sixteen, I was perfectly fine because among the mix of utilitarians, metaphysicians, philosophers of religion, philosophers of mind, analytic feminists, etc., I was just someone else the department didn’t quite understand when writing reviews. And while not happening at USD, fights happen elsewhere about how the environmental philosopher isn’t a philosopher, how philosophy of religion belongs in theology, and so on. Everyone thinks they are doing philosophy and the others are doing something … else. All the while, life goes on since at the end of the day, you’re not teaching metaphysics or environmental philosophy all that often, since of course, all those service courses need to be taught. And at that point, your AOS doesn’t come to bear nearly as much as your ability to reach your students on compelling, if introductory, philosophical topics.

This last line is quite sad…

Back from St. John’s, NL, securing housing there and getting immigration stuff in order. First up: here’s a nice catch from Feminist Philosophers:

Married men have better health than unmarried men.  Sounds like old news, but there’s an interesting new Canadian report on how married men with a heart attack on average get to the ER faster than any other group.  What’s the NY Times article call the better health of married men?  “The Nagging Effect.”

Married women with a heart attack do not get to the ER faster.

Sure it’s a terrible headline, but apparently men don’t seem to pay as much attention to their wives’ health. Honey, walk it off! I’m sure it’s just gas! Now, who’s playing the Knicks today?…

Reactionary republicanism in a nutshell

Here, from Herfried Münkler in today’s Der Spiegel:

In light of this failure of the elites, it is hardly surprising that we are hearing renewed calls for the democratization of Europe. Suddenly the people are expected to fix what the elites have botched. Because they are already being asked to pay for the problems caused by the elites, many believe that the people should have more say in how and by whom Europe is controlled.

As reasonable as this might sound, by no means does it make as much sense as it seems at first glance. Even after the democratization of Europe, the elites in Brussels and Strasbourg will still be in charge. The only option available to the European people, to the extent that they can be referred to as such, would be to react to obvious failure by voting their leaders out of office — and to vote an opposing elite to take their place. Whether this would fundamentally change anything is open to question. …

Pushing for the democratization of Europe is akin to playing a reckless game that can quickly lead to European disintegration. Those who see democratization as a logical reaction to the crisis may not even aware of this risk. They see democratization as an automatic reflex in response to the crisis. But democracy needs the kinds of conditions that do not exist in Europe today.

The realism is this: the elites will always be in charge, so don’t change anything. And democracy has its conditions, and of course, Europe doesn’t have them. (This is a wonderful reductio ad absurdam of the usual argument that non-Western and/or European countries don’t have the conditions for democracy.)