Month: December 2011

Final Exams Questions

At Crooked Timber and now at APPS, there’s an ongoing discussion about the use of final exams versus papers. For most upper level courses, I give final papers, though if the class looks like it’s not keeping up with the readings early on, I will switch it to a final. Michael Bérubé notes that it’s less fair to those who have disabilities to give them final exams, but this is a problem easily solved. My son has his own adjustments for his school exams, so it’s something about which I’m unaware, but it’s a problem easily solved: I tell all students they have all the time they need, even if we have to move to another room when the exam period ends. And I mean it: I used to bring long books–now my Kindle—and prepare for a long day of gentle reading. The record stands at a 6.5 hours for a 2-hour exam…

This is for one reason: I get too many papers with various levels of plagiarism and if the paper is meant to test something, then a test it will be. Many students with disabilities will not tell you, so that’s why I tell the whole class they have all the time they need; almost all universities now have disability service offices where students can take their exams anyway. It’s also a system I developed when teaching many, many more students a semester, so certainly papers were out of the question just to have my sanity. And for lower level courses, I get far better essays written in class anyway than if they did them at home; at home it’s the same (generally low) quality, but without the pages of philosopher biographies and “In the history of the world, philosophers have always wondered about the soul” long introductions to read through.

Hitchens the Angry Drunk

I was waiting for a piece like this (and yes, too many posts on the web about Hitchens anyway), just because there were way too many references to him pulling off being, well, a bit of a drinker and a prolific writer. I just couldn’t buy the romantic version of this–that image we have from Joyce and other writers that says it somehow improves one’s writing. (I find academics tend to hold this myth pretty close to heart.) Most drunks are angry drunks (I, on the other hand, dear reader, tend to get really mellow and effusive with any drinks in me—I was the “I love you, man” drinker). Here’s Katha Pollitt:

So many people have praised Christopher so effusively, I want to complicate the picture even at the risk of seeming churlish. His drinking was not something to admire, and it was not a charming foible. Maybe sometimes it made him warm and expansive, but I never saw that side of it. What I saw was that drinking made him angry and combative and bullying, often toward people who were way out of his league—elderly guests on the Nation cruise, interns (especially female interns). Drinking didn’t make him a better writer either—that’s another myth. Christopher was such a practiced hand, with a style that was so patented, so integrally an expression of his personality, he was so sure he was right about whatever the subject, he could meet his deadlines even when he was totally sozzled. But those passages of pointless linguistic pirouetting? The arguments that don’t track if you look beneath the bravura phrasing? Forgive the cliché: that was the booze talking. And so, I’m betting, were the cruder manifestations of his famously pugilistic nature: as F Scott Fitzgerald said of his own alcoholism: “When drunk I make them all pay and pay and pay.” It makes me sad to see young writers cherishing their drinking bouts with him, and even his alcohol-fuelled displays of contempt for them (see Dave Zirin’s fond reminiscence of having Christopher spit at him) as if drink is what makes a great writer, and what makes a great writer a real man.

ADDITION: Here’s Cogburn suggesting it’s too soon. I agree with Cogburn that Hitchens was almost always well worth reading, and also agree with his point that philosophers are too little read in recent literature.

Reading Course Help Request

I put this up on Facebook, but rightly I get much better responses when I post about Brad than anything else. Memorial’s grad program (henceforth on this blog: MUN for Memorial University of Newfoundland) requires students in the second semester of the first year to do a “reading” course, which I think is uncommon in the U.S., but more common elsewhere. Students choose a topic and then spend a semester reading a series of work with a prof of their choosing.

I’m excited by two of the topics students have chosen, but could use some help with articles/books/book chapters that might not be coming to mind right now.

1. One student is working on the concept of self-Other relation in 20th-century Continental Jewish philosophy (quite a lot of adjectives there, huh?), ending with selections from feminist responses/readings of this tradition. The three main figures we’ll be reading in the first part of the course will be Buber, Rosenzweig, and Levinas. I have Levinas well covered in terms of feminist responses (readings from Chanter, Irigaray, and Butler). But suggestions on Buber and Rosenzweig would be appreciated.

2. Spinoza and biopolitics: this started out as a project on Spinoza and contemporary feminism then Spinoza and race and finally just Spinoza and the biopolitical. This meets up with Hardt and Negri’s reading of him, but we’ll be reading closely the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (with reference, of course, to the metaphysics of the Ethics). There’s been a lot on biopolitics, but a critical analysis of Spinozism would be helpful.


Two Conferences of Note

MUN grad student Sarah Kizuk passed along to me two conferences of note coming up:



Breaking Bars, Building Bridges:

Challenging the Prison System & Fostering Communities of Support



Friday February 10 – Sunday February 12, 2012



In spite of widespread opposition, the statement made by two provinces (Ontario and Quebec) that they will refuse to pay – and even the warnings of the state of Texas – Canada’s Bill C-10, the Conservative Omnibus Crime Bill, is poised to become law by March 16, 2012. The bill will institute sweeping changes that will produce more crime and more prisoners, just in time to fill the super-prisons scheduled for construction across the country.


Meanwhile, grassroots activists continue to be criminalized in their fight for justice. After 18 months living under severely restrictive bail conditions, six anti-G20 activists from communities across the province were sentenced on November 22nd, 2011 to serve time in jail. Their charges stemmed from their political organizing. Still yet, marginalized communities continue to be targeted on a daily basis by the policing and prison apparatus. Police murders continue across the continent with impunity, and police brutality remains a daily reality within and outside prison walls.


As we struggle for a just world, one without oppression or inhumanity, where the earth is respected and all are free, we must realize that the context of our work is changing. Harper’s agenda will see an escalation in the criminalization of dissent, activism, and direct action. As social supports for the poor continue to evaporate under neoliberal attacks, more members of our community will end up behind bars, even as global resistance to the austerity agenda continues to mount. And while the government and corporations continue to pillage indigenous lands and suppress community self-determination, Aboriginal people make up a massively disproportionate segment of the prison population.


In the spirit of solidarity, WPIRG invites all community-based activists, people impacted by the prison system, communities and supporters of prisoners, and anyone who sees value in gathering to resist the institution, to join us in our 2012 School of Public Interest, which will focus on challenging criminalization, supporting prisoners, and building alternatives.


Our goal is to provide a space for in-depth conversation of prison justice and abolition, opportunities for networking and strategizing, and a radical education venue geared towards sharing knowledge, skills, and tools to further our everyday activism and integrate prison justice into our different struggles. We especially hope to strengthen a southern Ontario network that can effectively coordinate local grassroots mobilizations against prison expansion and criminalization over the coming years. Travel subsidies are available. Please contact us for more information on them.


We welcome individuals and organizations to submit proposals for workshops, discussions, and trainings. We are very interested in disseminating practical skills and tools, and also encourage non-expert driven discussions which ask questions to stimulate discussion – this means we value the voices and experiences of prisoners, their families, friends, and communities, and refuse to limit ourselves to a narrow definition of “activist” or “expert.” In your proposal, please include a paragraph explaining the topic, a brief description of the format (lecture, participatory workshop, facilitated discussion, etc), and the desired outcome or goal of your session.


Please submit proposals to by Thursday January 5, 2012. And please stay tuned for more information!


Possible Discussion Themes:

  • the impact of bill C-10 and harper’s criminal agenda
  • strategies for resistance to prison expansion
  • the criminalization of dissent
  • supporting prisoner activism
  • political prisoners on turtle island/north america
  • criminalization of people without status and refugees
  • intersections between the struggle against the prison-industrial complex and fighting other systems of oppression (e.g. feminism; anti-racism; indigenous sovereignty/decolonization; migrant justice; disability justice; environmental justice; anti-poverty)
  • restorative justice / transformative justice / alternatives to incarceration
  • political vs. social incarceration
  • sharing skills and organizational models (e.g. copwatching, letter-writing, book drives, noise demos, campaigning)
  • police/prison abuses and seeking justice
  • working for reform from an analysis of abolition
  • prisoner support & solidarity
  • social construction of crime
  • radical, or anarchist, criminology
  • prison expansion & capitalism
  • gender-based experiences of incarceration
  • “mainstreaming” and engaging the public on prison justice and abolition
  • creative expressions of resistance


A Conference on Struggles Within and Beyond the Neoliberal University
April 27-29, 2012
Toronto, Ontario

This conference is organized by the edu-factory collective in collaboration with the University of Toronto General Assembly.


The university belongs to us, those who teach, learn, research, council, clean, and create community. Together we can and do make the university work.

But today this university is in crisis. The neoliberal restructuring of post-secondary education seeks to further embed market logic and corporate-style management into the academy, killing consultation, autonomy and collective decision-making. The salaries of university presidents and the ranks of administrators swell, but the people the university is supposed to serve — students — are offered assembly-line education as class sizes grow, faculty is over-worked, andteaching positions become increasingly precarious. International students and scholars seeking post-secondary or graduate education are treated as cash cows rather than as people who might contribute to both research and society. Debt-burdened students are seen as captive markets by administrators, while faculty is encouraged to leverage public funds for private research on behalf of corporate sponsors.

The attack on what remains of public education has been total. Over the last year we have witnessed the closure of humanities programmes, further tuition hikes, the replacement of financial support with loans, union lockouts, and the accelerated development of private, for-profit universities. Yet at the same time we have seen growing waves of struggle against these incursions, as students, staff and faculty in Europe, Latin America, and across the Middle East organize, occupy and resist the transformation.

Our struggles are not limited to the university, but are a part the widespread resistance against the neoliberal market logic subsuming all sectors of our society. The university is a key battleground in this struggle, and a point of conjuncture for the various labour, economic and social justice struggles that face all of us – workers and students alike. Crucially, these struggles occur on stolen indigenous lands and manifest through colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ablism and other forms of oppression that hurt and divide us and that shape what sorts of knowledge are considered valuable.

We cannot cede the ideal of the university as a site for struggle and debate. We cannot permit the dissolution of proliferating research, ideas and innovations free from the demands and control of the market. We cannot watch as universities are degraded into a mere site for corporate or state-sponsored research and marketing. The time to mobilize is now!

This conference will connect and chart the varied struggles against neoliberal restructuring of the university in North America and beyond. We envision a series of debriefings on experiences of resistance, the creation of a cartography of local and global struggles, and a strategizing session for students, teachers, workers and activists. We aim to develop a North American network of struggles.

We encourage presentations that raise questions and generate dialogue among the rest of the participants. Ideally, submissions will indicate the specific outcomes they hope will emerge from the discussion. We encourage participation from those with first-hand experience of these crises, and those engaged in the fight for free and public post-secondary education, especially student groups and trade unions.

For a better future for all – join us!


  • mapping the terrain of campus struggle in Canada and North America
  • connecting with and learning from global struggles
  • waged and unwaged labour in the university
  • abolition of student debt
  • the university and the occupy movement
  • the cultural politics of the neoliberal university
  • the death of the humanities
  • militarization of the university
  • intersections of university struggles other fights against oppression
  • environmental justice
  • beyond public education
  • radical pedagogy
  • academic freedom
  • the politics of research funding
  • the economics of the neoliberal university
  • university and student governance
  • the undergraduate experience of neoliberalism
  • alternative/free/autonomous universities
  • organizing the education factory
  • the suppression of on-campus dissent and organization

Please email submissions to by January 16th. Also,if you would like to attend the conference, please RSVP to the same address so organizers can plan for numbers.

Protevi on the Philosophical Gourmet Report

He notes the heavy emphasis on German thinkers, with little coverage of French philosophers (especially French feminists). Noelle MacCaffee made similar points last year (I can’t find the link where she revisited the point, with responses by Brian Leiter).For those not in philosophy, these rankings mean a lot to those applying for grad school and certainly come up in discussions by top departments about recruitment (will it help us go up in the rankings?) and others when seeking funding.

Devin Shaw on Stiegler’s Critique of Political Economy

He has a review on Symposium‘s web site (and to be published in its pages). Here’s his conclusion:

Stiegler is emblematic of a conservative French republicanism masquerading as radical theory: political questions, on his account, are subordinated to technological questions, and reformism replaces popular struggle. In sum, for Stiegler, the system carries risks, but these can be corrected if we just care enough, that is, if we create the proper institutions to handle our investments, libidinal and otherwise. When Stiegler argues that “new apparatuses of production of libidinal energy must be conceived and instituted” his examples are, embarrassingly enough, “the ecclesiastical institution and its care-ful [curieux] inhabitant, the curé [and] the school and its master, the teacher.” (108) If this is a new critique of political economy, then long live the ‘old’ critique! Combating capitalism today requires analysing how neoliberalism is a project of re-entrenching capitalist class power, as well as conceptualising how the techniques of this project (expropriation, privatisation, financialisation, accumulation by dispossession, and the uneven deployment of production across the global north and south) serve to reinforce that goal. For this task, there are more tools in Marx’s contributions than in Stiegler’s.

Re: Stiegler, Devin and I seem to be in a battle to see who can introduce the most philosophically appropriate snark about Stiegler’s epochal claims and republican solutions. I give this round to Devin, though I thing I deserve points for going point by point through Stiegler’s empirical claims and showing them false.

(Also, I would think Devin would question some of the Marxian categories he introduces–the task of some of his current work–but I think he’s brings them up not to say Stiegler is wrong because he’s fallen afoul of doctrinaire Marxism, but simply that if you’re going to critique Marx, you better get him right.)