When ideas mattered…

Graham writes at OOP:

As unfortunate as it may be to read of Christian vs. Christian persecutions over such issues as the exact status of the Son, and as much as I would hate to live under the threat of persecution for my philosophical opinions, isn’t there also something enviable about a period that took its ideas that seriously?


So, I hate to make my first cross post on Graham a bit critical, since I usually agree with him. But this time, not so much. I don’t understand this mythology that we entered in an age of play in which no one took anything seriously. The culture wars were serious and while I know Graham has no love for some of the po-mo culture warriors, the effect of the 80s on the academy, I would argue, has been for the better. Would we want to return to the way English departments were run in the 70s? Would we want the intellectual exclusion of vast areas of knowledge simply because they didn’t come from the west or they were deemed feminine? I’m not saying that at times there weren’t excesses, but surely if it had Bill Bennett upset and stepping away from the slot machines long enough to decry the death of the American Academy, then it couldn’t have been all bad. (I’m letting my snark there get ahead of decent logic.) In any event, whatever one might think, this was not an era where people didn’t take their ideas seriously, and in fact that was often the complaint: people were too serious and everything became too political. Anyway, we still live in an era of Christian-on-Christian exclusions and violence, so it’s a myth to think that anywhere in the culture–the academy, the school boards of Kansas, or the churches of the Midwest, for example–that ideas aren’t taken seriously.

This reminds me, FYI, about the arguments over realism. As I noted to Graham once in an email, it’s not as if there are anti-realists. I just don’t know how that way of framing the debate is helpful. I mean, even if you think we live in a world of simulacra where the map is on the same ontological level as the landscape, then you are very much taking simulacra seriously. And you are very much taking it as “real.” Just as Hegel took ideas as “real.” Just as Husserl took the lifeworld as “real.” Just as Foucault took discursive power formations to be “real.” What matters, then, is the question of materialism: what do you take to be real and does this “real” have the correlationist effect of cutting out broad swaths of that real from philosophical consideration?

Stiegler and the Art of Syllabi

Taking note of the Heidegger conference posted below makes me return to a problem I had putting together my syllabus this semester for a general continental philosophy course. I try to teach a completely different syllabus each year (a rule that I apply for all of my courses). I had to put in my book order before I could do my syllabus, which means I ordered too many books for what I could cover. In the end, it came down to whether I would work through Stiegler’s Time and Technics II or Foucault’s Birth of Bio-Politics. Yeah, those are sometimes the weird choices of syllabus writing. I like Foucault’s book since it allows me to teach him without spending forever on disciplinary power, which while important, is not the most interesting to teach. I also like this course since he talks quite a bit about his method and he’s also working through contemporary problems directly. Of course, the lacuna in the work is that he is describing what we could just call the ideology of a period (using that in the Enlightenment sense given Foucault’s critique of Marxian ideology analysis) and thus what may or may not be productive of given subjectivities in the neo-liberal period. Of course, this leads one easily to take up the entire problem of all of his genealogies, since it’s not always to consider the difference between those works productive of ideas (and thus not indicative of operative techniques of power) and those that are; the seeming test often in Foucault is that its simply a work that’s older. I imagine that if these neo-liberal texts were not modern but more dated, Foucault would be much more likely to identify them with a given technique of power, rather than hesitate as he does, which of course, points out a problem of his choice of any of his sources, however helpful his work often is. 

In any event, sourcing is also a problem in Stiegler’s work. First, I think the second volume of TT is better in the sense that it begins with a nice introduction of the first volume, Stephen Barker has really done a really flowing translation, and he takes up what I think would be issues more “relevant” to students. But I also worry that he relies on really outdated scientific ideas on biology and evolution, though ultimately if one is thinking of a “deconstructive materialism” or somesuch, as I often am, it’s a bit less than helpful than, say, Jean-Luc Nancy’s work, which while less interested in technology as such, offers better general discussions on differance and the real and the excess of sense of each thing. But if you have different ideas on this, let me know since there’s still time to switch things on the syllabus…