Goldstone Report, Israel, and the Call for More Debate on Just War Theory

This is I think the longest response of any I’ve seen in the US to the UN Golstone report released last week on the Israeli activities in Gaza. It is, alas, as critical as anything you’ll see in an American newspaper. The whole article follows on from the questions the report doesn’t ask. The mind reels:

When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?

But that is the point — and it should have been the focus of the investigation. Judge Goldstone’s real mandate was, or should have been, to bring Israel to confront this fundamental question, a question inherent in the waging of war by all civilized societies against irregular armed groups. Are widespread civilian casualties inevitable when a modern army pounds terrorist targets in a heavily populated area with purportedly smart ordnance? Are they acceptable? Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law?

Goldstone Report: Who knew it was supposed to facilitate just war discussions?

Goldstone Report: Who knew it was supposed to facilitate just war discussions?

These were precisely the questions that Israeli politicians and generals wrestled with in Gaza, as others do today in Afghanistan. It is possible, and certainly arguable, that the Israeli policymakers, or individual Israeli field commanders in isolated instances, pushed the line out too far.

But Judge Goldstone has thwarted any such honest debate — within Israel or concerning Israel. His fundamental premise, that the Israelis went after civilians, shut down the argument before it began.

via Op-Ed Contributor – The Gaza Report’s Wasted Opportunity – NYTimes.com.

None of this is news, of course, but this is ridiculous in the extreme. Should not op-ed writers be made to read the reports they cite? Goldstone’s report is valuable for raising exactly these questions—and answering them. These are not open questions. These are settled aspects of international law. If you want to have that debate, go ahead. If Israelis want to have that debate, let them. In fact, they did not need this report to have this debate and what’s mysterious about the whole conceit of this editorial is to claim that Goldstone’s report “should have been” about producing an internal debate in Israel. Just let that wander around the mind for a minute: the death, starvation, and mass internment of Palestineans is still for this author a matter of internal debate in Israel—a debate, by the way, that is ongoing and far more livelier than in the US.  UN reports are not there to open debate, but to help settle them. And there is no debate in this Op-Ed about these facts, unless suggesting that the report prove the unprovable is really taking issue with it. I mean, no one can prove intentions more than detailing minutely and patiently sets of facts that would result from such supposed intentions.

But according to this Op-Ed, this isn’t what the Goldstone report should do. No, by condemning this activity, by patiently setting out what every NGO that has looked into the same set of facts has agreed, Goldstone has “thwarted …honest debate.” If such a debate can’t begin with the set of facts that he lays out, how pray tell, could it be “honest”? You can deny this report only by deliberately responding to the set of fact it displaying, not by suggesting that it was not supposed to make any factual claims, but merely start a philosophical conversation on just war theory—a debate that outside of this context finds generally agreed answers. Because for the Palestineans, it matters little whether there is “deliberate disregard for innocent human life” or simply “disregard for innocent human life.” And isn’t that enough to condemn it? Or is this really about keeping a debate going on in Israel while the lives it takes in its untenable apartheid structure (one ultimately destructive to the Israeli state) continue to mount? These are great questions for a philosophy class. For a UN report, not so much.

Nostalgia for the 1940s and 50s


For David Brooks, 1950s America remains a time of peace and civility and unity. Except it wasn't.

For David Brooks, 1940s America remains a time of peace and civility and unity. Except it wasn't.

I was making this point in class earlier today and I had missed David Brooks’ eulogy for the lost era of unity and common purpose and modesty in today’s New York Times, so it’s good to see a nice post on it. I’ve never understood how anyone can be so lacking in historical knowledge as to make any claims about the by-gone eras of the US. The only way you can make any claims about the greatness of the past is if you literally block out I’m-not-hearing-you style the history of oppression—still ongoing—in this country. (Of course, it was the bad old days of the 90% upper income tax rates, so I’m not sure how Brooks think that so-called unity came about with all that class warfare [for those who can’t read snark, like the Randians writing me from yesterday, that’s sarcasm].)


David Brooks on the decline of the West:

When you look from today back to 1945, you are looking into a different cultural epoch, across a sort of narcissism line. Humility, the sense that nobody is that different from anybody else, was a large part of the culture then.

Now Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing on the Atlantic Monthly site:

Part of this is Brooks critique of the past half-century, or rather half-critique. From Brooks’ perspective, the problem is that Sonia Sotomayor didn’t go to school in 50s or early 60s, not that her chosen school didn’t admit women in the 50s and 60s. …
That’s because the conditions are, themselves, built on American immodesty. I’m thinking of Jack Johnson winning the championship, and modest Americans launching pogroms against their fellow immodest Americans. I’m thinking about Birth of a Nation’s defense of treason, and a sitting president offering his immodest endorsement. I’m thinking about a country, circa 1850, whose politicians lorded over one of the last slave societies in the known world, and immodestly argued that it was a gift from God.

Even Brooks view of the “Greatest Generation” is myopic. In 1948 Strom Thurmond authored the segregationist Dixiecrat charter, while immodestly fathering a daughter with a black women. In 1946, Isaac Woodward, a veteran of World War II, was beaten and blinded–while in uniform–by South Carolina police. The police were prosecuted, but the jury acquitted them, and a court-room full of Americans broke out in immodest applause.

This is history through the veil, again. It’s virtually impossible to be a black person and believe that Americans were somehow more humble in the past. Our very existence springs from an act of immodesty. I can’t even begin to imagine the Native American read on this one.

Adam Kotsko, meet Mark Lilla

Is this man on your syllabus?

Is this man on your syllabus? (Psst. It's Bill Buckley, Jr. He loved McCarthy, Southern segregationists, and Nixon. He should be.)


Adam Kotsko has a nice rendering of a widespread logic employed in conservative thinking. It just so happened that I recently heard a rendition of this.

This was in my mind when I read another one of those contrarians in one of those contrarian moods, in this case Mark Lilla , about how the left has thought conservatism as a pathology, not as a tradition,  so I had my own more pathological response. FIrst, I love the observational powers of Mark Lilla, who begins with this bit about the wonders of America’s conservative movement—which is not to be confused with the fascists of Le Pen et al. in Europe:

Our conservatives accept the legitimacy of constitutional self-government, even when they hate the legislation and court decisions resulting from it; they play by the rules. The same cannot be said of the European right, which has always been suspicious of parliamentary politics.

I wonder just where Lilla has been living these past few months, if not the past several decades. Did he not witness the Bush years? And the conservative non-response to it? “They play by the rules”? 

I say this because at the least, if you’re going to argue that idiot members of the left are unfair and ignore the great ideas of the right, you should do so without suggesting that leftists like me can’t or won’t read. Perhaps Lilla himself can’t read, if one were to look just at his examples: Allan Bloom (agreed), Edmund Burke (great stuff there), Whitaker Chambers (really? really?, uh, ok), Irving Kristol (better than his son…a hack, but I can see for pointing out the history of conservative politics), Ayn Rand (well not at all like the others, really heading south quickly), and William Buckley, Jr. (the worst of the bunch–had a great prof who said his trick was just to speak really slow, which is about right).

I’m wondering if Lilla is not practicing a bit of leftist jujitsu here: convince others that these are the conservative tradition in order to carve it up. These are some of the worst writers of recent memory. My bet is that they wouldn’t have been published if not for the fact that they were conservative. Is Rand known for her subtlety with language? And Buckley is exactly one of the Le Pen nationalists that Lilla cites. Maybe I don’t read conservatives as well as he supposes he does, but I did read Buckley on the segregationist South, and all through his later career. And not one, but two of his spy “novels.” His son, Christopher Buckley, can be a great comic writer; the father is simply a joke.

As in this article by Lilla, which pretends that the left doesn’t know—like he does—about the “think tanks” in Washington that have so much influence, while we parse out so many supposed subdivisions of postcolonial feminist critical race theory. Or whatever. But I do know all of those groups (having learned it from some leftist or other), I have read a number of their policy papers, and I dare say anyone paying attention to Washington politics does know them. But at least do the conservatives a favor: read them. As in real decent ones, like everyone I know who takes political theory seriously has: not just Burke, but all those who fit loosely into a better tradition than the apparently ill-read Lilla can: Scruton, Eliot, Heidegger, Strauss, Tocqueville, Arendt, Schmitt, and on and on. I’m not saying these figures fit easily, but you can’t tell me Ayn Rand is a political thinker that we must read and then ignore the fact that her pedantic egoism isn’t covered in most ethics books I see. And then rightly ripped to shreds as self-defeating, with her novels as the worst tripe. No matter how many decided to go carve out their libertarian mountain hideaway (it’s a Rand thing, don’t ask) after last year. But as Lilla says, if only we’d read these figures, we’d be….well, he doesn’t say what would happen. (I realize that reading Lilla after the early 90s Derrida affair at the NYRB on “intellectual diversity” is a hilarious exercise.):

They read selections from Burke, Maistre, Hayek, Buckley, Ayn Rand, Irving Kristol, Allan Bloom, and many others, including Lyons’s personal favorite, Peter Viereck. (Now, answer honestly, dear reader of The Chronicle Review: How many of these authors have you yourself read?)

Well, honestly: all of them, but thanks for the presumption. (That list does seem to run out of steam quickly after Hayek, doesn’t it?) And Vierkeck has a couple of great essays on Buckley and Kristol (I’m sure you know this Mark Lilla, since you’ve read him) calling them “pseudo-conservatives” who have no intellectual heft, with the fear result by Viereck that they would come to stand for those truly fighting a battle of ideas, instead of defending McCarthy and others in the name of ideology. And if Lilla would read more on the left, he would note that Burke and Maistre and others he doesn’t mention are oft-cited in political theory. And I’ve taught Burke, Maistre, Bloom, Strauss, Heidegger, Arendt, and others he doesn’t cite, let alone all those who could be said to belong to a longer tradition going back to Plato.

I was going to say, does he think that we keep a censored list of writers? But then, yes, he does say that at the end. I guess that’s why I don’t teach Plato or Aristotle or Aquinas or anyone else who is not a postcolonial, postfeminist theorist. (Please don’t write me for including Arendt or whomever—I include them for the importance to other conservative writers.)

Ok, so what’s the upshot, Mark Lilla?

[David] Horowitz is an annoying man, and what’s most annoying about him is that … he has a point. Though we are no longer in the politically correct sauna of the 1980s and 1990s, and experiences vary from college to college, the picture he paints of the faculty and curriculum in American universities remains embarrassingly accurate, and it is foolish to deny what we all see before us.

It is obvious that Mark Lilla should not be running any curriculum. Horowitz is an annoying man because he has no point. Look at any youtube video of him getting questioned by students. He is a dolt. He is a self-important, egregiously unprincipled man who has students tape recording their professors (even yours truly) to publicize their “radical” agenda, only to find out (as in my case) that I’ve been teaching Homer. And Horowitz has never written anything that would be worthy to print. But Horowitz more that you, dear academic reader, knows better than you what should be taught in a university. David Horowitz. Because he knows what Mark Lilla knows:

Over the past decade, our universities have made serious efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity on the campus (economic diversity worries them less, for some reason). Well-paid deans work exclusively on the problem. But universities show not the slightest interest in intellectual diversity among faculty members. That wouldn’t matter if teachers could be counted on to introduce students to their adversaries’ books and views, but we know how rarely that happens.

Yes, whenever you read that a dean or a professor is “well paid” (unlike Horowitz, who has grown wealthy for his efforts, and has been accused by some of milking the whole thing for speaker’s fees), you know that something really ground-breaking is about to follow: a description what “we know” (always love that rhetorical trick, the non-evidential “we know”) that “rarely happens.” So let’s try a field trip in the coming week to our local university bookshops. He’s right that we won’t see Buckley, Jr. but I don’t recall his magnum opus—does his hagiography of Nixon count? He’s right we won’t see Irving Kristol—I’ll just have to assign my students his work defending the sovereignty of South Africa during Apartheid (neat trick for a Jew living in Manhattan). And he’s right, you won’t probably find Chamber’s red baiting. Or Rand’s embarrassing work. (Actually, you will—I have a colleague that teaches it.) But you’ll find all the others he mentions and more than all that. Now, I’ll have to get over to Columbia the next time I’m in New York and see what Lilla’s been teaching: maybe some Rancière or Foucault or Levi-Strauss or Judith Butler for “intellectual diversity”? Maybe some good SR stuff?

Or does diversity only count if you’re defending racist Apartheid states?

Foucault on Power

freedomI’m editing something of mine right now on Foucault. It seems suitable for here, since for now I’m leaving it blunt:

As such, in the remainder of this chapter, we take up Foucault’s work just where it operates on macro-physical developments, namely in the rise of nations and races in “Society Must Be Defended. In these lectures, Foucault lays out the macro-micro movements of power first in a society at war with itself and then in a society docile under disciplinary and bio-political regimes—all preceded by what he rightly calls the “administrative monarchy” that then becomes, after the nineteenth century, a more insidious racist sovereignty (G, 219; STP, 100; SD, 255-260). Thus I am quite comfortable with the supposed uncomfortablility of these broad claims, which have the much-feared consequence of showing productions of power everywhere, making any confrontation with power apparently pointless. Foucault’s work is thus said to lead to a political quietism given the inevitability that one is always imprisoned within these power formations.[1] This complaint is as old as Foucault’s first publications on madness. Indeed, critics of Foucault often measure their resistance to his work quasi-aesthetically, a problem not uncommon to Agamben as well. They contend less with his work and methodology than with what they take to be (wrongly) its distasteful consequence, namely that all resistance is futile. It is rather odd, though often the case, that this is what passes for serious rebuttals to Foucault’s work: his descriptions of power might mean that I’m less free than I would like to presuppose, thus I can counter the feared implications of his work with imbrications of age-old views of the sovereign self. As such, I can avoid the quintessential Foucaultian insight that power operates more than through coercion, and thus I can take a view that would return to a classical notion of power, one which has the upshot that it can be more easily resisted. This is theory as catharsis, a declaration of one’s fears while quieting oneself with having an identifiable enemy: a state, a class, a demanding family member. This is a teenage analysis of power that sees power as merely having to with the “problems of law and prohibition,” as finding one’s freedom by taking it on mom and dad (Foucault 2007: 156). Power would be localizable. It would have a position and a center and my freedom would be nothing other than marking myself as outside of that center.[2] This is, of course, the facile thinking behind all versions of negative freedom, where power is denied its productive force.

They write comments…

Occasionally, I’ll pull up comments that I see in my inbox from below the posts since I tend to miss them and others do, too.

Critical Animal writes regarding the Women and Philosophy post below:

The sciences, well, to be more exact, physics, chemistry, and math suffer from similar problems. A large number of women get BSs in those fields, and a large number of women start grad school in those fields. But after that, there is a large shift in the numbers. A lot don’t finish their PhDs, and those that do, there is a drop of those that go on to be university professors.

That claim is not to justify our lack in philosophy departments, which is larger by far than most humanities programs. I am just adding it as more information. (Also, both philosophy programs at Binghamton have quite a few female grad students, and we also have a number of women in both departments who are in positions of authority in the programs.

First thing to note is that when I went to check this comment, I noticed it said “Similar Posts You Might Like to Read”:

Yes, why do they? And I’m not sure how this relates to showering. Anyway, I’ll leave alone the fact of a whole history of feminist studies on “justif[ying] our lack” (that’s an ironic aside) and say, yes, it’s a widespread problem. But here’s where Critical Animal’s post helps: perhaps where phil departments see what they do as merely an add-on to science, then they see the problem as inexorable as the pretense in science departments. (Not that I don’t know good work being done at my own university and elsewhere to reverse this long-held trend.) Where you don’t necessarily see it that way and in fact are often critical, say, of some of the naturalist, patriarchal fantasies the are produced by and productive of some (read: not all) of what counts as science, then you don’t see people—at Binghamton, apparently, and DePaul—who see the problem as so inexorable. And in fact, like DuBois a hundred years ago in the Souls of Black Folk, probably want to disabuse us of the language of treating women as a problem anyway… So that we can get back to reminding them to check their cholesterol.

Women in Philosophy

I guess a day spent reading Beyond Good and Evil is not the best time to post on women and philosophy. But I caught this piece —thanks Infinite Thought!—on the dearth of women in the profession. Brooke Lewis, a freelance journalist, reports two views that she links together but are wholly different claims (by the way, having married a now-free lancer extraordinaire, I’m not dumping on Lewis, since I know this is how the piece could have been edited, or is simply a quick shift from one graf to the next):

Helen Beebee, a University of Birmingham lecturer and director of the British Philosophical Association (BPA) … says her impression is that there are roughly equal numbers of men and women graduating with good bachelor degrees in philosophy and that the numbers of women start to drop off at MA level and then again at PhD level. Beebee says this tapering off of women may be at least partly caused by a culture of aggressive argument that is particular to philosophy and which begins to become more prominent at postgraduate level. “I can remember being a PhD student and giving seminar papers and just being absolutely terrified that I was going to wind up intellectually beaten to a pulp by the audience,” she says. “I can easily imagine someone thinking, ‘this is just ridiculous, why would I want to pursue a career where I open myself up to having my work publicly trashed on a regular basis?’”

Jennifer Saul, a Sheffield University lecturer and president of the UK division of the Society of Women in Philosophy (SWIP), says that relative to post-graduate students, there is a significant drop in the number of women going on to become temporary lecturer….

Lewis also notes something that we, alas, all know if we’ve spent anytime in philosophy: the numbers are bad everywhere–not just the UK. But is this true of every part of philosophy? I see far more of a percentage of women at SPEP than at the APA, and it seems to me that one should not discount that certain types of work speak to people who might want work that speaks to them, given the disadvantages they face. It’s also the case, as we all also know, that if you’re a woman phenomenologist, that means you’re pigeon-holed as a feminist philosopher, whether or not you’ve ever worked in that area or not. I can’t even begin to hypothesize on the reasons for the low numbers of female philosophers now. But it’s also clear that philosophy does much worse at this than, say, other fields in the humanities. (And I should add, of course, that there are great female professors in other fields doing philosophy, which complicates this a bit.)

Two points to add: Helen Beebee, though I’m sure you’re a wonderful director of the BPA, please think of handing over the reigns. Unless you were wildly misquoted (again—freelancers of the world unite!—you probably weren’t) you don’t know the first thing about (a) the fallacious use of anecdotal evidence, (b) the problems of shitty causal inferences that (c) reinforce naturalist assumptions dominant in the culture. And (d) please tell me that you don’t think the problem is that women can’t cut it. Because men like getting their work trashed? 

Or better: maybe if we had more women in place at various universities, you know, getting hired, as Saul suggests, we could find someone to head the BPA (male or female or non-normed gender) who can “easily imagine” ways to work for different modes of philosophizing, say, as head of something like the BPA.

Excuse my tone for this evening, but this is the kind of BS that shouldn’t stand. It’s the same excuse trotted out for why people of color don’t make it through. Now instead of asking—from what you can “easily imagine”—what a PhD student would be thinking, how about asking about a culture that needs to be changed so you can “easily imagine” this?

I was lucky: I graduated from DePaul University, and the year I came in was the year that Tina Chanter was hired there from Memphis. Now here’s what I can “easily imagine”: I took something like five courses from Chanter over a few years and, believe me, Chanter did not tread lightly on anyone and thus I could say that perhaps I could “easily imagine” “just being absolutely terrified that I was going to wind up intellectually beaten to a pulp,” to borrow from Beebee again. I could imagine what she would do with a claim like Beebee’s. (Which was good for me. I did a terrible Kristeva paper for her. She gave me great comments. Later I reworked it based on that and got a publication. And later, just to finish that story, she was a great help to me and others when I was on the job market; that is, she helped me get my job) But I also took classes with Peg Birmingham—quite a different personality from Chanter and doing different work, which means it’s not just about doing feminist philosophy—who served on my committee and has been crucial in my career. And with those two, along with so many others in the DePaul Department, we had a thriving, diverse, and, more crucially, intellectually vibrant grad community. So putting women in power—beyond whatever crying you might hear about identity politics—matters. Just look at the Collegium this year, which Peg headed up. 

Of course, we have to graduate female PhDs to get professors like Birmingham and Chanter and Goswami (thanks for serving on that Gilroy panel of mine this year!) and, what, five other professors at DePaul? If you don’t think it matters, compare this list (DePaul faculty ) with this list (alumni ) and this list (grad students ). Sure, it’s a woolly-headed Continental program. (What is woolly-headed anyway?) But then what needs to be answered is why a continental program can do this and an analytic philosophy program can’t. And yes, it’s one program. But maybe now it’s easier to imagine.

On Sarcasm…

Rovati does mention this, which I take issue with:

When sarcasm becomes the systematic shortcut for analysis, I doubt that philosophy remains (as Negri writes in the opening of his pamphlet) ‘that critical activity that allows one to grasp one’s time and orientate oneself in it’

I wish I had a better, more sarcastic rejoinder to this. But bullshit. Sarcasm is wonderful–it often cuts to the core of something, devastates it, and leaves the scene before one has barely noticed. It’s the court joker to presumptions of philosophical sovereignty. There’s a lot written recently (Cindy Willet’s great book on this comes to mind) on politics and humor, and I think there’s a generation of people that think “snark” and “sarcasm” are inherently bad, rude even. Oh Onion and Daily Show–what would the Bush years have been like without you? This is often turned against various bloggers by mainstream editorialists in the states.  As if we have a philosophical or political of code of conduct that we all agreed to … and as if Nietzsche never picked up a pen and said, “truth is a woman.” Ok, not the best example. But if truth is a woman (and I, of course, dear reader, mean this in the fully post-Derrida’s Spurs sense), then sarcasm is the wonderful transvestite who reminds you that truth doesn’t always come in the mode of normalized codes of conduct… and then doesn’t just do the “critique” (since it’s not just Butlerian parody) but also has a living, breathing life beyond that…

And why no shortcuts? For me, one of Zizek’s best analyses is in the Parallax View. I don’t have it in front of me, but he has this great paragraph on Heidegger’s reading of Fug, which he spends forever on in the Introduction to Metaphysics, as a translation for the Greek dikê. He spends forever on the etymology, on how it means both way and harmony and so on… But as Zizek points out, it’s also the root of the word “fuck.” And so he concludes—and here’s a great shortcut to Zizek’s whole reading of Heidegger as wanting to cut out any notion of desire from ontology—why didn’t Heidegger just write about the “great fuck of being”? (I’m ruining the line.) Or better, the “poetic harmonizing engaged by the thinker in the face of the great fuck of being?”

Now that’s a great fuckin’ shortcut.

Response to Negri on Italian philosophy

Pier Rovati has a response to Negri’s pamphlet on Italian philosophy…

In spite of appearances, Antonio Negri’s obscure pamphlet ‘The Italian Difference’ does not really lend itself to a polemical discussion. It must be taken for what it is, a coup de théâtre dictated—as the author himself confesses—by a rather ingenuous moment of hubris. At the end of the day, it is a sparata, as we say in Italian. Such a blast would intend to strike at the entirety of Italian contemporary thought (and with particular violence against so-called ‘weak thought’) in its capacity as a philosophy of the master; at the same time, it positively exempts from this treatment three names—the old Gramsci, and the new Mario Tronti, the workerist, and Luisa Muraro, the feminist—in their capacity as, it would seem, philosophies that creatively resists the master by means of difference. Everything else is a desert.

True. But the next part (in itals) is best. One often seems a similar rhetoric in Agamben, which might explain why he and Negri are often writing at each other:

If there are no doubts about Gramsci, the two other names are—even for an Italian—quite unexpected. I wonder what those concerned by this bizarre ordering think about it (and then I ask myself: What status does he who arranges them arrogate to himself? Is he like the fourth man officiating at a football match?). …

This is a good point for anyone writing: the presumption to name the first, best, etc., of philosophy often comes with the notion (implicit or explicit) about how wonderful you are for being the first to recognize the first or the best. Not that one should always avoid this kind of rhetoric or can (obviously, we all have thoughts on various “firsts” and “bests”), but when it comes to infect one’s writing, then in the end you’re only writing your self-glorification as philosophy’s sovereign, always passing final judgement on the first and best, even though that presumption carries with it the idea that somehow you’ve read all of the archive of philosophy to say without a doubt that you haven’t missed some other writing that indeed would have been first or better on a particular topic. But I digress….

The next important point, though, turns to Vattimo’s so-called “weak thinking.” Now, I am not at all a Vattimo apologist and his work never had much influence on me. But every once in a while you’ll read an article from someone like Negri who thinks they’re making a brilliant suggestion that “weak thought” is just weakness or something. Why, that’s brilliant! As if Vattimo didn’t purposely take up the term with a certain irony, to oppose it to various philosophies that were too masterful, too hubristic. In fact, he wrote a lot on just this topic. Why, it’s even in the archive….

As for Negri’s intended targets, they revolve around the old motif, often used in reactionary terms, of the ‘poverty’ of Italian philosophy. I just want to say something about weak thought (‘the vilest point’ of the twentieth-century decline, as Negri delicately describes it), considering the fact that, at the beginning of the 1980s, I was its promoter together with Gianni Vattimo. Weak thought was an episode in the Italian philosophical debate that aroused considerable alarm in academia and whose effects (which also had significant international echoes) have yet to die out. These effects, which in part intersected with those of deconstruction, should induce some caution even in the worst-disposed of critics. I mean that, were he to exercise such caution, Negri would realize that what is at stake here is an issue of power [potere] that concerns the so-called metaphysical violence of philosophy, its administration of truth, and the elements of micro-government that follow from it, beginning with the real privileges that exist in the institutional circles of research.

I think Negri is well aware that there is a front of struggle within philosophy, related to the very way in which the scientificity of concepts is understood and knowledge as power [potere] is used. Negri’s sharp mind cannot overlook this Foucauldian inspiration of weak thought, unless he does so deliberately. As a matter of fact, his very strong thought could obviously fall into the critical horizon of weak thought itself.

I’m sorry to say this to a friend like Negri, but his pamphlet on the Italian difference is full of superficialities, that is, hurried verdicts which, as if wielding a machete, take the place of the reflection required by critical discourse. 

Humans and Other Objects

Larval Subjects has a great post up responding to Paul Ennis’s thought experiment on the future of speculative realism, namely that there will be the eventual reactionary insight that somehow humans have been forgotten, thus offering a desolation akin to the one on offer in ecological catastrophe:

Setting that aside, I think an additional point worth making is that today we simply cannot talk about the human without talking about objects. As Latour tirelessly argues, the great sin of modernity was to try and produce a schism between the world of nature entirely independent of humans and the world of the cultural entirely independent of nature. The problem is that the world in which we live is a world in which we’re constantly enmeshed in imbroglios with objects of all sorts. To understand ourselves is, in part, to understand these imbroglios with objects. Yet what do we in fact find in so much cultural and critical theory? We find a bracketing of objects so as to get at that which is specifically human– norms, cultural significations, ethics, politics, and so on. 

Agreed. Writing as someone whose work at times has been deeply embedded in those “bracketers,” I can say that killing off the beast of humanism hasn’t worked out all that well. Surely there is someone dusting off their old attacks on the anti-humanism of Derrida, et al., and simply finding and replacing “Derrida, Foucault,…” with “Meillassoux, Harman…” I would only add that Meillassoux’s notion of the subject, for example, is rather classical (a point I make with a bit more subtlety in my recent Pli article). But more importantly, what SR offers  is a thinking that would call on us to avert the very catastrophes that would make up the moral blackmail no doubt coming soon.

Call it the argument from catastrophe, in which you cite the real possibility of global environmental devastation (in a previous era it would have been the nuclear holocaust) and then accuse X figure of basically wanting that through some theoretical apparatus. In any event, what is exciting about the work in SR is how it meets up with work in environmental studies and animal ethics, to name but two areas, which have long argued for getting out of the human as a part of a larger normative project, part of which would be finding means for averting the very catastrophe in question. This is where, in a sense, I see SR going, namely connecting up with these other movements in such a way as to bolder SR’s normative accounts (such as they are). Or at least, I see these connections whenever I’m at an environmental philosophy conference.

Rules of Engagement: Different Heroes, Please

If I’ve been reading my Continental political philosophy right over the past few years, I really must have gone wrong somewhere in my political upbringing. Because I really don’t want to read another article or another major writer that tells me the radical politics of two particular people (and I’m sure I’ll think of more later on):

1. Bartleby: Deleuze, Agamben, Zizek, and I’m sure I’m missing a few people who have held up Melville’s Scrivener as the go-to for emancipatory politics. First, I don’t think “I prefer not” really disrupts the traditional binary of actuality and possibility, but let’s leave that aside. He prefers not … to do work. With you on that one. He prefers not … to be bossed around. Still there. He prefers not to …turn on the heat. Well, I’ve been through a NY winter, but sure, if it’s also getting him out of work…

But finally the man brings him down and forces him out. And he still prefers not. Some time later, he finally dies, preferring not … to eat. And this, Zizek notes, could be the greatest violence of all. And I love that work by Zizek, but, um, no. This is, in fact, a great story about the self-abdication of a certain part of the left, which Zizek is often so good at taking down (for example, in critiquing Critchley’s infinite demands for finite demands). We are so cynical about the whole of politics, and for good reason, that we take our distance from the state, we practice a micro-politics of the local, and then we just circle up and prefer not…to engage. 

2. Paul: I’ll pop this one in to spike my blog numbers. Now Paul preferred a lot: the kairos, the universalism of humanity, and, right, the conversion of the heathens. Paul is great for thinking of the universal, if that means all others have to agree with you in order to be part of that universal. He also tells a lovely story of our saving at the hands of a messiah. Great story. But while I’m waiting, preferring not along the way, can I still be deconstructing ontotheology?

Ah this sounds cranky but I’ll post it anyway….