Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blogs as an aleatory encounter, a chance encounter, with the outside and the non-philosopher

Dan Says: September 19, 2007 at 12:55 am
In response to “sixfoot’s” question: “Should the job be left to artists, novelists, and filmmakers?” I would say “Yes!” but I do not think this is a prospective idea only. I think that continental philosophy has demonstrated again and again — in both form and content — exactly the notion that its philosophical “revelations” are not just directed at or akin to artistic endeavors but are, in Nietzsche sense, always already artistic.
However, I do not think this makes things any easier any more than complex physical phenomena make it easy to understand physical complexity theory though it may be more palatable to some. Still, I think this request/demand may be ideologically informed. You do not, I suspect, make the same requests of easy lucidity of those in set theory or genetics: you expect their expertise to have a methodology and nomenclature which is largely inaccessible to the novice. You do not — I expect — dream that “Mr. Wizard” is giving you the full story or will appear on a doctoral exam. So why do you make the demand here?
I think the request is prejudicial in at least two ways: it implies that language or the human sciences are not rocket science so it devalues as is popular the demands of these disciplines and it upholds an Aristotelian concepts of lucidity, taxonomy, and structure which are not the paradigms of the field you wish to examine. Anyone who has been in theory for long is used to taking such questions while watching the deference and reverential submission paid the natural sciences. This can get quite old. However, I will try to make a practical observation. Theory is at the end of a very long and twisted intersection of various roads. Unlike the sciences which have a deductive mother and an experimental method of simulation as a father, theory is filled with vestiges and contradictions that make a hard nexus harder.
Further, I would say that “common sense” or ideological norms make what is done in theory abhorrent and “self evidently” non-sensible. So, to expect that this latest set of tangles in the web could or should be intelligible quickly seems not just unlikely but as impossible as acquiring a culture — not just a language — in an equivalently short time. I will admit that the pre-socratics still challenge me, but if I wanted a better sense of Deleuze, I might start there and use – a little later – someone like Benson Mates on Stoic logic: he’s pretty lucid and this alternative logic gets one closer – I think at least – to the D&G project but then I am pretty dumb and ignorant.
larvalsubjects Says: September 19, 2007 at 1:38 am
Sixfoot, thanks for the comment. I think you raise a number of extremely difficult questions. I do not know that my comments about academia are obligatory remarks in the world of theory. For myself, at least, I experience these as extremely personal questions pertaining to the meaning of my academic work. Often I find myself losing my resolve, and feeling as if it is all meaningless. What could be the purpose of engaging in arcane academic questions that only seem address to other academics. I wrote about this a long while back, here:
I sympathize with a number of Dan’s observations regarding the nature of specialized language; though, perhaps, would add that I suspect the reason people feel frustrated with academic jargon in philosophy, political theory, ethics, etc., is not simply the result of the hard science/soft theory distinction, but the way in which these subjects deal with issues that are of collective or general concern to everyone. A person doesn’t feel alienated if they can’t find there way into set theory or category theory or quantum mechanics, but in the case of vital subjects that pertain to how we should live, how the social should be organized, what we can hope for, etc., it is very easy to feel that theorists that work on these questions are denying those outside these fields entrance to something that rightfully belongs to everyone.
When I complain about academic specialization, in part, I am complaining about questions and issues that no longer seem directed to the world, but seem to be creations of a discipline that has become isolated from the world and generated its own “puzzles” or riddles to entertain itself. I say this cautiously, because I think these forms of engagement can also be productive in their own right. However, in my own ongoing philosophical development, I have also found again and again that I need to perform a sort of “archeology” of philosophical thought, where I trace concepts and questions back to living social and political contexts that might have motivated them and gotten these philosophers all worked up. This is the difference between approaching, say, Plato’s Theatetus and saying it asks the question “what is knowledge?” (a very abstract question that can be posed independent of context, trans-historically), and asking “why did Plato and the Greeks get all worked up by the question ‘what is knowledge?’ what problem were they living that necessitated these questions? what was the crises that precipitated these conceptual compositions?” In this way I find a little bit of life in philosophy, where before I experienced none (or experienced dead academic amusements or games).
I do believe that philosophy somehow needs to communicate with its outside or become open to “our historical moment”. I do not think this is primarily an issue of clear language, but rather of grappling with a field of problems present in the historical moment. Nonetheless, I do think there’s a powerful lesson in the form of Plato’s dialogues. Socrates had to be prepared to talk to anyone, anywhere in a constant renewal of philosophy regardless of whether the interlocutor is herself a philosopher. I believe the blogs go part of the way towards renewing this conception of philosophy as an aleatory encounter, a chance encounter, with the outside and the non-philosopher, and that as a result philosophy becomes something other than what it has been under the book system. Whether that tendency will follow through and whether it will produce interesting results is another question entirely.

1 comment:

  1. I find blogs endlessly fascinating, especially the ones that in one way or another link into this site. Most of which are of a left-liberal persuasion and are really trying to find a lighted way beyond the dismal reductionism of the current world.
    I like their good humour and their ecumenism.

    By contrast all the blogs on the "right" side of the culture wars are full of spiteful self-righteous nastiness, bad feeling,and just plain awfulness. And full of the scape-goating politics of binary exclusions.
    And ultimately of totalitarian politics too. One blog with the word cosmos in it comes to mind.