Month: April 2018

Life: A Modern Invention, Reviewed at NDPR

Davide Tarizzo’s Life: A Modern Invention, tr. Mark William Epstein (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), is reviewed by Charles T. Wolfe (Ghent U.). The review marks out only “minor quibbles” and jumps, like the book, across so many figures as to lose any thread on what is meant by the “invention” of “life” (presumably one that is non-teleological). One would think this was more than a “minor quibble” below in the italicized sentence:

That Tarizzo thinks Darwin and Darwinism lead to Hitlerism is clear enough: “Darwinism, i.e., the theory of natural selection, is racist and discriminatory, as facts have demonstrated many times and unfortunately continue to demonstrate” (194). Why this is the case is a bit trickier to make out from his book [my emphasis]. Most basically, both raise life to the status of an ultimate value. But then, we (we moderns, we people of today, whoever the ‘we’ is) are just as bad! Indeed, “Worse still, we are the last racists, because we already embody the future, we embody human beings to come, we embody the eschatological Race that by definition and on principle cannot be followed by any other” (213).



Adorno’s Lectures on Aesthetics Reviewed

Culled from recordings in 1958/9 and published in German in 2009, the lectures (Polity: 2018) are reviewed by Lydia Goehr (Columbia University) in NDPR. Goehr notes:

[The lectures on aesthetics] are indispensable because they show the workings of aesthetic theory in philosophy more generally, when, whatever the topic, philosophy shows itself willing to submit to its own immanent critique against its positivistic tendency to discipline its thought through too pure an engagement of logic or reason. To discipline thought, for Adorno, is to erase what cannot be contained by the logic of achieved concepts: the mimetic trace or aesthetic movement that sustains the ongoing and open labor of thinking. When this movement is excluded, concepts tend to become closed off from all that gives thought its particularity, contingency, and historicity, even, we are told, its expressivity and life. He writes of the closure as a pyrrhic victory: the concepts seem clarified but dialectically they only affirm the tendencies toward complacency, rigidity, and regression in the society at large.

La fin de l’hospitalité reviewed in Critical Inquiry

Authored by Guillaume Le Blanc and Fabienne Brugère, La fin de l’hospitalité: Lampedusa, Lesbos, Calais . . . jusqu’où irons-nous? (Paris: Flammarion, 2017) and reviewed by Corina Stan. Here’s part of the take:

La fin de l’hospitalité was a prompt response to the mismanagement of the refugee crisis in 2015–2016 in Europe: the surveillance of the Mediterranean, the reinforcement of frontiers, the building of walls, camps, and centers where refugees were categorized, their life projects changed, their immigration plans directed elsewhere. These measures, Le Blanc and Brugère note, have made relevant again Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the denationalization of refugees in World War II; they also support Giorgio Agamben’s analyses of the camp as “the new biopolitical nomos of the planet” (p. 120). And the transformation of “hot spots” for migrants into centers of detention—places where the distinction between economic migrant and political refugee is operated—gives renewed significance, the authors show, to Michel Foucault’s hypothesis of the “carceral archipelago” in Discipline and Punish.[2] Europe no longer appears to heed old norms of hospitality that ensured that the foreigner from afar was received as the guest of an entire community; today he is turned away as a stranger who must be made invisible behind walls. Ironically, the authors note, nothing signals more explicitly the failure of the nation-state than the building of walls. “The migrant’s body becomes the expulsed threshold of the nation,” Brugère and Le Blanc write (p. 142), echoing psychoanalyst André Green’s reflection that “one can be a citizen or a stateless person, but it is very difficult to imagine oneself as a frontier.”[3]

An Interview with Paul Gilroy

I once had the privilege of putting together a panel on his work and haven’t kept up the last couple of years except for articles here and there, so this was a pleasant interview to come across, from the Johannesburg Review of Books. Here he discusses his relationship to the Struggle in South Africa, his worries about U.S.-style reifications of race, and so on. He affirms his long-held view that racism should be viewed less as an abstract structure than as local, complex practices that need to be studied in their specific “ecologies.” He notes, for example, that in South Africa, that race may be less of a question than relations to land:

 I consider myself a pelagic thinker—a humble practitioner of theory at sea-level. It’s probably banal to say that the issue of land is fundamental here [in South Africa] as it is in all of the world’s (slowly recovering) colonial nomoi. Only a transformed relation to the land can restore the evasive quality of dignity to your democracy. However, foregrounding the question of race will not assist you in that ambition. That can only lead to the reification and ontologisation of race in line with US habits and priorities that are now disseminated and enforced online. On the other hand, foregrounding the question of racism might release other more useful possibilities and potentials. Here, I will sound like a dinosaur to those who prefer to trade in concepts like ‘antiblackness’. I dislike that US rhetoric because it dissolves, in an instant, all the sticky engagements with particular histories and local ecologies of belonging. We fought for decades to place the focus upon how racism assembles racial actors in over-determined circumstances, situations that needed to be grasped in their complex particularity and then accounted for at a different level of abstraction as structural phenomena. I am not ready to see all of that flushed away because it demands a few trips to the dusty old library. This lazy, flattening jargon about black and brown bodies drives me nuts.

Philosophy Today Special Issue

Takes up the infamous Tuvel article on “transracialism,” along with other topics in phenomenology (Not open access).

Peg Birmingham
Chloë Taylor
On Intellectual Generosity – A Response to Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism”
In this response I compare Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In Defense of Transracialism,” to several other recent examples of philosophical and social justice scholarship in which authors (Eli Clare, Alexandre Baril, Cressida Heyes, Ladelle McWhorter, Judith Butler) draw comparisons between diverse identities and oppressions, and draw ethical and political conclusions about experiences that are not necessarily their own. I ask what methodological or authorial differences can explain the dramatically different reception of these works compared to Tuvel’s, and whether these differences in reception were justified. In this response I also challenge the often-heard claim that Tuvel failed to draw on the evidence of experience in her article, as well as the assumption that social justice scholars should always do so. Finally, I consider Tuvel’s motivations in writing her article and describe them as intellectually generous, and I call for more intellectual generosity in academia as it is transformed by social media.
Lewis R. Gordon
Thinking through Rejections and Defenses of Transracialism
This article explores several philosophical questions raised by Rebecca Tuvel’s controversial article, “In Defense of Transracialism.” Drawing upon work on the concept of bad faith, including its form as “disciplinary decadence,” this discussion raises concerns of constructivity and its implications and differences in intersections of race and gender.
Kris Sealey
Transracialism and White Allyship – A Response to Rebecca Tuvel
My reading of Tuvel’s defense of transracialism focuses on her critiques of three main objections to a transracial identity. Tuvel attempts to show how her defense of transracialism stands in the face of these objections. However, I argue that her position is not sufficiently immune to them. In other words, my response delineates the ways in which all three objections remain, and effectively undermine her argument in favor of transracial identities. Additionally, through the question of white allyship, I ask about the moral and political consequences of choosing to identify as transracial. I show that, without a clear account of what an existential choice of racial transitioning implies for allyship across race, Tuvel does not sufficiently establish the differences between the historical constitutions of racialized and sexualized identities. In failing to engage with these moral/political implications, Tuvel’s position does not address the complex relationship between individual agency and collective accountability.
Sabrina L. Hom
(Dis)Engaging with Race Theory – Feminist Philosophy’s Debate on “Transracialism” as a Case Study
Rebecca Tuvel’s controversial “In Defense of Transracialism” has been criticized for a lack of engagement with critical race theory. Disengagement with salient material on race is a consistent feature of the philosophical conversation out of which it arises. In this article, I trace the origins of feminist philosophy’s disengaged and distorted view of “transracialism” and racial passing through the work of Janice Raymond, Christine Overall, and Cressida Heyes, and consider some of the relevant work on passing that is omitted in the philosophy of “transracialism.” Finally, I offer methodological suggestions to avoid such distortions and omissions in feminist philosophy.
Tina Fernandes Botts
Race and Method – The Tuvel Affair
Methodological tools for doing philosophy that take into account the historical context of the phenomenon under consideration (such as are often used in the continental tradition) are arguably better suited for examining questions of race and gender than acontextual or ahistorical methodological tools (such as are often used often in the analytic tradition). Accordingly, Rebecca Tuvel’s “defense” of so-called transracialism (based largely on an analogy to the transgender experience) arguably veers off track to the extent that it relies on acontextual and ahistorical tools. While Tuvel argues, largely relying on such tools, that so-called transracialism is both metaphysically possible and ethically permissible, from a perspective that factors in context and history, so-called transracialism is arguably neither. Nonetheless, Tuvel’s ethical call to the effect that an individual right to racial self-definition should be acknowledged has its appeal. However, the lesson to be learned from the Tuvel affair arguably has less to do with the metaphysical or ethical status of so-called transracialism than with changes that arguably need to be made in the way mainstream/analytic professional philosophy goes about its business, particularly with regard to non-ideal topics like race and gender.
Rebecca Tuvel
Racial Transitions and Controversial Positions – Reply to Taylor, Gordon, Sealey, Hom, and Botts
In this essay, I reply to critiques of my article “In Defense of Transracialism.” Echoing Chloë Taylor and Lewis Gordon’s remarks on the controversy over my article, I first reflect on the lack of intellectual generosity displayed in response to my paper. In reply to Kris Sealey, I next argue that it is dangerous to hinge the moral acceptability of a particular identity or practice on what she calls a collective co-signing. In reply to Sabrina Hom, I suggest that relying on the language of passing to describe transracialism is potentially misleading. In reply to Tina Botts, I both defend analytic philosophy of race against her multiple criticisms and suggest that Botts’s remarks risk complicity with a form of transphobia that Talia Mae Bettcher calls the Basic Denial of Authenticity. I end by gesturing toward a more inclusive understanding of racial identity.
Joseph Rivera
Joseph S. O’Leary
Phenomenology and Theology – Respecting the Boundaries
Examining the ways in which two representatives of the “theological turn in French phenomenology” speak of the interrelationship between philosophy and theology, one may detect a number of tendencies which are deleterious both to philosophy and theology. The idea of an autonomous philosophy, pursued as an end in itself, needs to be defended against claims that philosophy can only flourish under theological tutelage. Again, the integrity of theology as a science of faith excludes any identification of theology as a kind of philosophy. Interaction between the two disciplines, especially in the border areas of apologetics, fundamental theology, religious philosophy, and philosophy of religion, can be fruitful only if a keen sense of their radical difference of orientation is sustained. Behind the swamping of phenomenology by theological concerns lies a series of misunderstandings of metaphysics and its overcoming as well as a misguided notion that phenomenology allows revealed theology to re-enter the French university under the rubric of philosophy.
Felix Ó Murchadha
The Passion of Grace – Love, Beauty, and the Theological Re-turn
This paper shows how turns in theology in early Modernity and in the last century framed the context of distinct philosophical understandings of the self. Focusing on the concept of “pure nature,” the foreshadowing of philosophical themes in theology is shown. It is further argued that while the modern self emerging from certain early Modern theological discourses from Suárez, through Descartes to Kant was deeply implicated in Stoic apatheia, the self which arises from a phenomenological rethinking (especially in Marion) of the place of love and beauty in the worldliness of being and appearance is one which is fundamentally passionate. At play here is a shift in the notion of will from that of sovereign indifference to desire.
Jeffrey Bloechl
Justice and Mercy – Phenomenological Explorations of Theological Space
To act mercifully is to do more than what is required for justice. The act appears as a positive exception to the rule of law, and thus exhibits an intentionality irreducible to consciousness of a social or political order. In this philosophy of Levinas, occasional references to mercy shed some light on the goodness of the good that is otherwise occluded by overt concentration on social or political justice. However, Levinas’s account of the act itself is not entirely convincing, and attempts to improve upon it lead toward a different conception of being and nature than one finds in his works.
Ian Leask
Was There a Theological Turn in Phenomenology?
This article examines the possibility that phenomenology was “always already” a theological enterprise, by outlining some of the foundational criticisms levelled by Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser. For both thinkers, the phenomenological stress on “lived experience” grants an undue primacy to the realm of “interiority”; as a result, subjectivity is left, not just reified, but also deified. By contrast, both Foucault and Althusser will argue for understanding the subject as constituted rather than constitutive; philosophy’s task, accordingly, is to delineate the broader structures (economic, ideological, discursive, linguistic, etc.) that create “lived experience,” rather than to hypostatize the subject as the privileged bearer of logos. As well as outlining the contours of this critique, however, the article indicates some of the shortcomings entailed in a total disavowal of “lived experience.”
Eileen Brennan
Paul Ricœur and the “Theological Turn” in French Phenomenology
Dominique Janicaud considered Paul Ricœur an ally in the dispute with those who, like Emmanuel Lévinas and Jean-Luc Marion, allegedly failed to keep phenomenology within its proper methodological limits. Janicaud also claimed to have been guided by Ricœur when it came to developing positive proposals for the future direction of phenomenology. This paper argues, however, that Janicaud misinterpreted key passages in works by Ricœur that address phenomenological issues. It also offers alternative readings which take account of the wider context. Thus, for example, Ricœur’s comments on Lévinasian phenomenology are shown to be appreciative rather than polemical. The paper also discusses Ricœur’s rarely commented upon oblique and indirect response to Janicaud, which establishes that Ricœur chose to align himself with phenomenologists who had taken “the theological turn.”
Joseph Rivera
The Myth of the Given? – The Future of Phenomenology’s Theological Turn
The theological turn in phenomenology continues to generate cross-disciplinary discussion among philosophers and theologians concerning the scope and boundaries of what counts as a “phenomenon.” This essay suggests that the very idea of the given, a term so important for Husserl, Heidegger, Henry and Marion, can be reassessed from the point of view of Wilifred Sellars’s discussion of the myth of the “immediate” given. Sometimes phenomenology is understood to involve the skill of unveiling immediate data that appear as “phenomena” to a conscious and wakeful ego. In conversation with Jean-Luc Marion’s volume Givenness and Revelation, I challenge the assumption that phenomena are immediate in their givenness. The final remarks concern the “how” of the givenness of theological data, and in particular, the phenomenon of the Trinity.
Lode Lauwaert
A Poststructuralist Interpretation of Art – Blanchot’s Reading of Sade
Among the French philosophers who discuss the literature of writer Marquis de Sade, Maurice Blanchot presents a unique interpretation. For Blanchot, literature is the theme par excellence on which his entire oeuvre has been built. It is not, however, the case that Blanchot reads several literary forms and invents new concepts to map out a certain form of literature. His thinking about literature is indeed accompanied by an ideal and his interest goes out to a particular kind of writer, namely the writer who feels closely related to revolution. This implies that Blanchot is interested in Sade because his literature is both an illustration of a certain ideal, and is stuck in the revolutionary moment of radical negation.
Michaela Fiserova
There’s No Regime beyond Representation – Deconstructing Rancière’s Antinomies
The paper invites a rethink of the political conception of Jacques Rancière, a philosopher who devoted considerable reflexion to the problem of the sharing of the sensible. Rancière proposes considering the aesthetic regime without the concept of representation. According to the author, this leads him to a paradox: on the one hand, he states that the aesthetic regime takes images for art; on the other hand, he doesn’t pay attention to the fact that it shouldn’t be possible to conceive of any regime of sharing without the concept of representation. Therefore, the author proposes a deconstructive reading of Rancière’s critique of representation, demonstrating that if the contemporary image is conceived and produced in order to be shared, it can’t be freed from representation. Finally, the author puts forth the notion of meta-representation as a solution avoiding Rancière’s antinomies.
Joshua M. Hall
Poetry as Dark Precursor – Nietzschean Poetics in Deleuze’s “Literature and Life”
The present article utilizes the Nietzschean “poetics” distilled from Nietzsche’s Gay Science as an interpretive strategy for considering Deleuze’s essay “Literature and Life” in Essays Critical and Clinical. The first section considers Deleuze’s overarching project in that essay, and then repositions his thought from literature in general to “poetry” (in Nietzsche’s sense) in particular, indicating both resonances between Deleuze’s understanding of “literature” and Nietzsche’s understanding of “poetry” as well as their dissonances. The second section focuses on the places in Deleuze’s analyses where he excludes poetry, and suggests that this exclusion is related to Nietzsche’s claim that lyric poetry is the birthplace of philosophy. Put differently, the being of lyric poetry threatens to disrupt Deleuze’s distinction between the respective roles and powers of philosophy and art, and thereby to disclose poets as, at least potentially (or “virtually”), philosophers, and vice versa. And the final section offers one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus as an exemplar of poetry’s philosophical potential, before concluding that a Nietzschean conception of poetry constitutes the “dark precursor” of “Literature in Life,” Essays Critical and Clinical, and Deleuze’s work in general.
Harris B. Bechtol
Event, Death, and Poetry – The Death of the Other in Derrida’s “Rams”
Since Heidegger, at least, the theme of the event has become a focal point of current debate in continental philosophy. While scholars recognize the important contributions that Jacques Derrida has made to this debate, the significance of his considerations of the death of the other for his conception of the event has not yet been fully appreciated. This essay focuses on Derrida’s efforts to develop the notion of the event in reference to the death of the other through his engagement with Paul Celan in “Rams—Between Two Infinities, The Poem.” I argue that Derrida’s approach results in a three-fold contribution to the debate about the character of the event. Derrida turns to one of Celan’s poems in an effort to find the kind of speech that attests to the event in its singularity, and in this turn, he develops not only the structure of the event’s appearance in the death of the world when the other dies but also the ethical impetus that accompanies this event of the death of the other, namely a call for workless mourning. Through Derrida’s contribution, we learn that the concern for the event not only includes novel approaches to ontology but also attempts to weave together ontological, ethical, as well as existential concerns.
Jorge Varela
Alexandre Kojève – Authority/Temporality/Community
This article approaches the political mythology of authority through an interpretation of Kojève’s reading of authority. The deployment of discourses directed at the creation of common meanings arises as the central vector of authority, shared temporalities being the foremost among them. At a time of the presence of authority´s absence the master narratives that aim at bringing together that which remains apart cannot be recognized as unified. What remains as the realm of commonality is the very absence of authority.
Larry Alan Busk
History as Chiasm, Chiasm as History
This paper connects Merleau-Ponty’s conception of chiasm with his philosophy of history. I argue that history gives us an exemplary form of a chiastic relation and that Merleau-Ponty presages his later ontology of flesh when he investigates the paradox of thinking history. In brief, the paradox is this: history takes on significance only in light of a given reflection on it (just as the world is disclosed only by means of a given body). At the same time, “the given reflection” is overlaid and shot through with historical meaning and is nothing but the result of a historical inheritance (just as the body is bound up with the world and is nothing apart from it). I claim that, for Merleau-Ponty, to think history is to think that which is external to oneself and that which one is, in a deferred simultaneity or “circularity” that can be called chiastic.