Month: September 2011

Line of the Day

Graham Harman:

The other strategy that I disagree with is the Leiteresque strategy of saying that analytic philosophy doesn’t exist, which is kind of like Darth Vader saying that “the Empire doesn’t exist.”

Graham’s point, in response to the abstract of this article by Robrecht Vanderbeeken, who argues for a continued “agon” between continental and analytic philosophy is not to pretend we are a big happy family. I generally agree. If asked, of course I’ll answer that we need to overcome the divide, that I read broadly, etc., but what that really means is “I’m well read! Some of my best friends are analytic philosophers!” Or better put, I would talk about overcoming the divide so as not to appear a Continental ideologue, or worse an idiot who couldn’t pass a third year course in analytic epistemology. And what this means in turn is that when I’m working on the concept of time, for example, I’ll read the various Anglo American philosophers on the topic, not least because I’ll get asked to respond to their take, either in my own department or at some conference, but I shouldn’t pretend I’ve overcome the divide, since whatever I write will be labeled continental and shelved acccordingly.

Elden, Lithwick on the Killing of Troy Davis

Elden has a nice rundown of the issues involved. I think Dahlia Lithwick notes well that there are two sides talking past one another: those who are horrified not just at judicial killing but also at the idea that someone who may be innocent is given the death penalty (and thus see the other side, perhaps, as adhering to too few strands of supposed evidence to justify the execution), and those who

care, as [Andrew] Cohen explains, principally about finality. That’s why supporters of [Texas Governor Rick] Perry (who claims never to have lost a night’s sleep over an execution) and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (who wrote in 2009 that “this Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent”) believe that for the process to work, it must eventually end—and that in order to achieve that end, some error is inevitable.

Read that quote again from Scalia–lovely way he outdoes the worst so-called postmodernist with his scare quotes around “actually”–which I think outlines well how sovereign fiat is its own end and must remain unquestioned, even when what is at stake is so grave and the judgment itself is so questionable.

Texas ends last meals for Death Row Inmates

Walter Burkert, the German scholar of ancient sacrfice, provides a line I think that would fit sources as diverse at Durkheim and Freud, Agamben and Derrida: “Civilized life endures only by giving ritual form to the brute force that lurks in men” (Homo Necans [University of Cal Press, 2004]), before turning, in a footnote, to the ritual of providing a last meal to those to be executed, calling it a “comedy of innocence” in the hope of goodwill (148). He sides with those who argue that the ritual of last meals began as an attempt to avoid the dreaded miasma, a play of forgiveness by the soon to be dead, mirroring the gift of food one would provide a guest in one’s home. This “play” also occurs between the damned and the sacred, between the sovereign choice of what one will eat at the very point where sovereign imposition is to put one to death–though I realize my choice of words here is anachronistic–a final hospitality to those about to depart.

And so, those in Texas who lecture us endlessly on Christ–leaving aside all the complexities of the staging of the Last Supper and its replication in the forgiveness of trespasses to all of the damned–have now ended this rite for Texas’s death row inmates. As the state senator (I won’t dignify him with a name) largely responsible for the change puts it, in less careful phrasing of Burket’s dictum above, “We’re fixing to execute the guy and maybe it makes the system feel good about what they’re fixing to do.” What becomes, then, a state when it can’t no longer even bother with giving ritual form to such sovereign violence?

Protests on Wall Street

And if no one covered it, does it exist?

It turns out I get better access to news about it (or we all do, via the Intertubes), four days in, with scores of arrests, in the media capital of the world (TM). I got alerted that Keith Olberman had a piece about the lack of coverage on his still-little-watched nightly news program on Current. In any case, given the number of unemployed (or “underemployed and overeducated”) just in the tri-state New York region, it will be interesting to see if these protests grow as the days go on.

Bell on the Arche of the Analytic-Continental Divide

Jeff Bell is up with a post arguing that arguments between Husserl and Frege over the status of mathematics:

The usual story as I would tell it, simplified as it is, was that one could mark the bifurcation with Frege’s critique of Husserl’s habilitation dissertation, On the Concept of Number. In his critique, Frege rejected Husserl’s strong psychologistic tendencies. On this telling, we begin with shared concerns and problems in the foundations of mathematics but then divergence arises as Frege and Husserl set out addressing these problems and concerns, with Husserl taking up the issue  along Brentano’s psychologistic lines, and Frege (and subsequently Russell) rejecting this approach and moving in a decidedly realist direction.

Interestingly, of course, Husserl will himself critique this more “psychologistic” tendency, though his theory of intentionality anchors philosophy in investigations of subjectivity. I think Bell’s way of telling the story is the dominant I heard when first studying Continental, with Continentals providing diachronic analyses of concepts and analytics providing ahistorical conceptual schemes–at least as the story goes. This story leaves out, of course, what was dominant at the time in the UK and across much of the Continent, namely British idealism’s rereadings of Hegel and Bergsonism.

MLA Report: Jobs Up in 2010-11

I wish the APA would release similar figures; all we have to go with are anecdotes on a yearly basis. (It looks thinner than last year, right?)

The Modern Language Association has released some moderately good news about the job market. In January, the MLA projected (in an improvement from recent years) that job listings would be relatively level for 2010-11. Now the association has released a detailed analysis of the year’s findings. According to a new report, the number of jobs listed with the MLA in 2010-11 rose by 8.2 percent in English and by 7.1 percent in foreign languages. Still, however, the number of jobs listed in 2010-11 remains below the peak in 2007-8.

Stuart Hall on the NeoLiberal Revolution

The shorter version is in the Guardian; the longer (h/t Paul Gilroy) is here in PDF. Here, he argues (rightly) for the pertinence of the term “neoliberalism,” even if it seems to capture everything and nothing:

The term ‘neoliberal’ is not a satisfactory one. Its reference to the shaping influence of capitalism on modern life sounds recidivist to contemporary ears. Intellectual critics say the term lumps together too many things to merit a single identity; it is reductive, sacrificing attention to internal complexities and geohistorical specificity. I sympathise with this critique. However, I think there are enough common features to warrant giving it a provisional conceptual identity, provided this is understood as a first approximation. Even Marx argued that analysis yields understanding at different levels of abstraction, and critical thought often begins with a ‘chaotic’ abstraction – though we then need to add ‘further determinations’ in order to ‘reproduce the concrete in thought’. I would also argue that naming neoliberalism is politically necessary, to give resistance content, focus and a cutting edge…