Articulating Positions (Updated) from Roughtheory.org by N Pepperell
In the throes of writing over the weekend, but I wanted to put up a quick pointer to a post from Carl at Dead Voles, who is reflecting on the conversation Daniel and I had here, over the meaning of some of the terms I used when trying to contrast Lukács and Marx...I’m conscious that the nature of this kind of theory asks quite a lot from readers’ patience, I struggle a great deal over how to minimise this problem when I write, and I’m always somewhat sympathetic to others’ frustrations over why I can’t say what I mean more concisely. In any event, Carl’s post manages to transpose what I often experience as a personal frustration, onto the more general terrain of the difficulties of communication across two broad approaches to philosophy:
The conversation between N. Pepperell and Daniel strikes me as a classic sort of contrast between two very different ways of thinking about things, which I’ve tried to capture in my title for this post by hijacking Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as a rough analogy. Daniel is an excellent philosopher, and he is oriented toward position. N. Pepperell is also a outstanding philosopher, oriented toward movement. The uncertainty principle tells us that we can know either position or movement, but not both.
This is a lovely framing for Carl’s analysis, which I’m almost tempted to quote here in full - instead, I’ll point readers to the original.
Carl’s observations reminded me of another recent discussion of the issue of communicating across broad approaches to philosophy - the conversation sparked by Roman Altshuler’s Do Continental Philosophers Have Arguments?, to which I responded in this post. The focus wasn’t quite the same (I was concentrating on the issue of “embedding”, rather than “refutation”, as a form of critique), but there are still interesting points of contact between the two sets of reflections.
Just a quick update that Daniel has responded over at Dead Voles...
Identifying with your captor from An und für sich by Adam
I have some reservations about the recent Larval Subjects post about “difficult” books, but I think that, in part, it points toward a real phenomenon — one that I call “academic Stockholm Syndrome.” We’ve all seen it before: an academic invests great energy and undergoes profound suffering in the attempt to grasp a particularly difficult thinker and, upon succeeding, spends the rest of his or her career thoroughly identified with that thinker.
The most prominent victim is undoubtedly Zizek, who was taken hostage by both Lacan and Hegel, but even Sinthome himself appears to have a very difficult case, with his combination of Deleuze and Lacan.
Possibly related posts: More Thoughts Worth Preserving and Repeating
The Plain Truth, Please! 47 Responses to “Style”
Floyd Says: April 25, 2008 at 4:28 am
If I understand you correctly, you are alleging that the style of, Derrida for example, not only adds nothing to the ‘content’ of his thought, but actually obscures it? If so, I can’t reconcile that with your point about “subverting the metaphysics of presence”. I have always read Derrida at least to completely depend on what you seem to consider as ‘mere style’ to articulate his thinking. Far from being a coincidence, isn’t it evident throughout all of these thinkers that there is a profound struggle to find words that are true to these concepts? I am quite surprised to hear you arguing otherwise–I thought this was widely accepted in continental philosophy. On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, since there seems to be almost no regard given for even the possibility of serious ontological force of hermeneutics.
On the other side, I am highly suspicious of contemporary physics and mathematics in their more speculative forms. Sure their ideas might be clearly stated, but to my admittedly amateur scientific sensibilities, I am confused about their material significance. That is, while coherent within a clearly defined (as opposed to differential) terminological structure, involving all sorts of fancy flights of calculative intelligence, I see no compelling connection to lived world. Although one physicist at Northwestern did curtly tell me quantum physics was “the reason why my VCR worked” when asked for a basic response to Einstein’s old objection. My touchstone for this is the Nussbaum-Butler “debate”, where, accused by the former of precisely the politically charged obscurantism you seem to be invoking here, Butler responded (paraphrasing) ‘clarity has its own things to obscure’.
larvalsubjects Says: April 25, 2008 at 4:31 am
Yes, I’ve made the arguments quite often myself in the past. Perhaps you missed my point about how they enact another form of power and identification?
larvalsubjects Says: April 25, 2008 at 4:32 am
That is, I’ve made the argument you make in your first paragraph quite often in the past.
larvalsubjects Says: April 25, 2008 at 4:39 am
And I confess, I do think of it is a lot of unnecessary stylistics. I’ve spent years, for instance, working on Lacan, having worked through nearly all his seminars now. Most of that work on Lacan, has been despite his style. I understand his points about what happened with Freud and the need to enact the unconscious as a sort of pedagogical device. However, despite Lacan’s heroic efforts to avoid the fate of Freud among his followers, I can’t say that anything different has happened with Lacanian communities. In some respects its been worse, generating the worse sort of hagiography in explicit contrast to his teachings. I simply don’t accept that talking well about the unconscious entails enacting the play of the unconscious. The same point would follow mutatis mutandis for a thinker like Derrida.
Mikhail Emelianov Says: April 25, 2008 at 4:48 am
I’m not sure if I am reading you correctly, but are you assuming that the ‘difficult’ style is a result of intentional act of obscuring the simple? “Intellectual terrorism” implies that for example Derrida writes a first draft which is clear and simple and then in order to achieve a certain goal, he complicates it with strange style. Does complexity come from an intentional stylistic strategy or is it a result of trying to express complex thoughts?
larvalsubjects Says: April 25, 2008 at 4:54 am
I do think there has been an intentional development of style among certain continental thinkers that isn’t simply a function of the complexity of their thought. Here I have in mind especially Hegel, Adorno, Lacan, Heidegger, and Derrida where there was also a great meditation on style and the relationship between style and content. I would not make the claim that there was first a draft that was simple and then one that was complex, which would be absurd. However, I think it’s equally absurd to claim that somehow Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Marx, Merleau-Ponty, Zizek, or Simondon aren’t complex which accounts for the greater degree of accessibility in their work.
larvalsubjects Says: April 25, 2008 at 4:56 am
Which isn’t, of course, to say that Marx or Kant, or Merleau-Ponty are easy or clear as day. I’d certainly concede that complexity of a matter makes for difficulties in expression, but Freud seemed working out exceedingly complex material in beautiful prose.
Naxos Says: April 25, 2008 at 7:26 am
“I confess that I harbor some resentment of the hours of my life penetrating a text, navigating the stylistic gymnastics of some thinker, to grasp a concept that is really rather simple and which could have been articulated far more directly.”
I kind of lament what you are saying here. I think that you are not considering the fact that the resentment you identify its just an evidence that you have sucesfully incorporated the knowlegde that is implicated in the text, and the sign -or the synthom if you like- that you have hopefully embodied the point of view that is registered in those “stylistic gymnastics” too. This allows u to think and not only to reproduce the implications of the concepts you are willing to clear. Remember that when you embody those concept you will never forget them, they will be part of your experienced composites.
The resentment you are reffering to is not about the time you spent reading the book, is about a confrontation you have inside and that is related to the author and the books that you have considered as a “must read”. I can understand the resentment you have in the case of the authors that u have read and that do not compose with the singularities you are, but if your idea of reading philo its not mererly academical, you have to admit that its not an obligation to read authors such like Nietzsche or Deleuze -which philosophy confronts with Kant or Hegel´s point of view- if you think that your philosophical path is rather kantian or hegelian.
Well, this is just what I sincererly think about what you have written, I must say that it took me quite a good lapse of time to express it, since I am not an english native speaker. I cannot be able to sustain a debate with you about this, althought i can try or at least read about your concerns, but i just wanted to let u know that your denying the labour that exercises thought itself, and that gives u the chance to activate the way you think. May be Kant, Hegel or Heidegger and Derrida wont help too much about it, because they were in fact pretty mistagoges, but Nietzsche, Deleuze, Foucault Spinoza gave everything they had, even with their stylistic gymanastics.
ok, please forgive my so broken english and cheers