Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
In general those who disagree with my assertions do what Sachs and Mobus do — slide (without acknowledgment or awareness) back and forth between the precincts of academia (which, to make the point again, are the precincts where the dispute is located) to the precincts, often larger, of some other enterprise. When I declare that the humanities are of no use whatsoever, I am talking about humanities departments (“the humanities” is an academic, not a cultural category), not about poets and philosophers and the effects they do or do not have in the world and on those who read them. The funding of the humanities in colleges and universities cannot be justified by pointing to the fact that poems and philosophical arguments have changed lives and started movements. (I was surprised that no one mentioned “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a book Lincoln is said to have credited with the starting of the Civil War.) The pertinent question is, Do humanities courses change lives and start movements? Does one teach with that purpose, and if one did could it be realized?
If the answers to these questions are (as I contend) “no” – one teaches the subject matter and any delayed effect of what happens in a classroom is contingent and cannot be aimed at – then the route of external justification of the humanities, of a justification that depends on the calculation of measurable results, is closed down. The fact that some commentators, including a few of my former students, report life-changing experiences as a result of their studies is heartening (although I am sure that the vast majority would report something quite different), but it hardly amounts to a reason for supporting the entire apparatus of departments, degrees, colloquia etc. that has grown up around the academic study of humanistic texts...
Of course, this does not mean that anyone will pay for them. In fact, as several posters observed, my argument (and it isn’t only mine) that the humanities are their own good and aren’t much good for anything else can be used to justify turning humanities departments into service departments and cutting funding for humanities research.
Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
"When sounds fall back on (se rabattent sur) bodies and become the actions and passions of mixed bodies, they are no more than the bearers of agonized nonsense" (p. 134).
"world of incorporeal effects or surface effects which makes language possible" (p. 166).Bodies and sense, depths and surfaces are mutually exclusive. Mixing only pertains to bodies. To even think that language might have several conditions of possibility is to bring the question of language down to the level of the body where it is splintered, where it can only be noise and passionate nonsense.
The most general operation of sense is this: it brings that which expresses it into existence; and from that point on, as pure inherence, it brings itself to exist within that which expresses it. It rests therefore with the Aion, as the milieu of surface effects or events, to trace a frontier between things and propostitions; and the Aion traces it with its entire straight line [the labyrinth of the straight line, the eternal return: it's all here]. Without it, sounds would fall back on bodies, and propositions themselves would not be "possible." Language is rendered possible by the frontier which separates it from things and from bodies (including those which speak). (p. 166)
[T]he straight line which extends simultaneously in two directions traces the frontier between bodies and language, states of affairs and propositions. Language, or the system of propositions, would not exist without this frontier which renders it possible. (p. 167)
"Language is rendered possible by that which distinguishes it. What separates sounds from bodies makes sounds into the elements of a language" (p. 186).Or, again,
"What renders language possible is that which separates sounds from bodies and organizes them into propositions, freeing them for the expressive function" (p. 181).This is not a poet's sensibility, which is somewhat ironic because there is a poetic quality to some of Deleuze's thinking, about the Aion for instance. Perhaps we might leave it at that. However I will reach this one conclusion: in the wake of Deleuze (and given the sentiments of the Deleuzians) the body and each and every one of its entailments must be philosophically defended.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Biolinguistics has been able to maintain some distance from topics that are traditionally thought to be central to the study of language: meaning, concepts, truth-conditions, and communication. From the perspective of familiar notions of language, this could be viewed as a shortcoming of the biolinguistics programme. From the point of view of biolinguistics, however, it is just a fact. Against the current perhaps, I take the isolation of this rather austere object to be the central contribution of Noam Chomsky; its significance lies in its frugality. This is not to suggest that what currently falls under the non-grammatical aspects of language will never be a part of grammatical theory:
‘No one familiar with the field has any illusion today that the horizons of inquiry are even visible, let alone at hand, in any domain’ (Chomsky 2005).As we will see, there are constant attempts to enlarge the scope of grammatical theory to incorporate other aspects of language and its use. But, as with matured sciences, the chances are that each such incorporation will be hard-fought, since it will have to be formulated, not due to pressures from ‘outside,’ but from within the evolving framework of biolinguistics. This restriction to grammar, so delinked from ‘language,’ opens the possibility that the computational system of human language maybe involved in each cognitive system that requires similar computational resources. A mixture of analytical argumentation, varieties of empirical (including introspective) evidence, and some speculation suggests a picture in which a computational system consisting of very specific principles and operations is likely to be centrally involved in each articulatory symbol system that manifests unboundedness. In this restricted sense, the object of biolinguistics exemplifies the Cartesian picture of a united mind. In other words, the suggestion is that the following things converge:
From this perspective, the real gain of the biolinguistic approach to cognitive phenomena is that the approach may have identified, after thousands of years of inquiry, a specific structure of the human mind, perhaps a real joint of nature.
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Delhi University, Delhi 110007, India
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Wednesday, January 09, 2008
“Although it is constitutive it is not, for all that, active. It is not carried out by the mind, but occurs in the mind…” (71).Sensation or sensibility is not supplemented from above by categories (as in Kant) that would hold for all possible universes, but instead have their own immanent logos or structure of relations pertaining to the field of engagement characterizing the being in question. If we are led to miss this domain of the transcendental aesthetic, then this is because in our engagement with the world, this domain of the transcendental is surpassed in favor of the signs constituted by the pre-individual field out of which sensibility becomes capable of sensing. Deleuze is not, of course, reducing all sensibility to the domain of “vital sensibility” or the biological. As he puts it,
“We must therefore distinguish not only the forms of repetition in relation to passive synthesis but also the levels of passive synthesis and the combinations of these levels with one another” (73).These levels would include the biological (as understood by contemporary evolutionary theory), the life of the individual in its ongoing individuation or unfurling, and in relation to the social, political, and historical milieu in which the individual is individuated or comes to be. For instance, in Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari take great pains to show how the Oedipal structure is always open to a much broader social, political, and historical milieu wherein parents function as conduits or “transistors” in relation to the developing child. There is nothing, for example, that is specifically familial about language. The question of aesthetics thus turns out to be far broader than that of art. Aesthetics has tended to be treated as a marginal or “ghetto” discipline within philosophy, remote from the “big questions” of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Yet, prior to any inquiry into these fields, the objects of these fields must first be given. Traditionally aesthetics has been understood to refer to the theory of the beautiful and, more recently, questions of what constitutes art.
No wonder… that aesthetics should be divided into two irreducible domains: that of the theory of the sensible which captures only the real’s conformity with possible experience; and that of the theory of the beautiful, which deals with the reality of the real in so far as it is thought. Everything changes once we determine the conditions of real experience, which are not larger than the conditioned and which differ in kind from the categories: the two senses of the aesthetic become one, to the point where the being of the sensible reveals itself in the work of art, while at the same time the work of art appears as experimentation. (68)Sensibility itself becomes a field of artistic creation and experimentation. Following Ranciere, such a thesis invites us to examine the distribution of the sensible in the social field, investigating what is visible and invisible in terms of public discourse, various social identities, and so on. These are all questions of social and political individuation. The question becomes one of how new individuations that depart from the police order might be strategized and produced. In the domain of epistemology and metaphysics, the question is no longer that of the ultimate nature of reality, but rather of the distribution of the sensible within which we find ourselves immersed. In their attention to how scientific objects are produced or generated, the work of Stengers, Latour, Foucault, and Kuhn come to mind. Why is it, for example, that such and such a field of objectivity becomes visible at such and such a time? Here also the work of Kittler and Ong are especially relevant by virtue of their attentiveness to how new writing and communications technologies impact social individuation, allowing new possibilities of thought without determining what is thought. In all of these cases the question is one of the genesis of sensibility with its own immanent logos, not one of mere receptivity. Of special importance here are questions of the space and time of these fields of sensibility, and the forms of embodiment they produce along with their accompanying fields of objectivity. by larvalsubjects
Monday, January 07, 2008
I’ve been reading Jeff Warren’s The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness, basically on the recommendation of Erik Davis.
Another way to put this is to say that Warren writes as if we could separate the states (or formal structures) of attentiveness, awareness, relaxation, concern, focus, self-reflection, and so on, from the contents that inhabit these states or structures. This is more or less equivalent to the idea — common in old-style AI research — that we can separate syntactics from semantics, and simply ignore the latter. Such a separation has never worked out in practice: it has entirely failed in AI research and elsewhere. And we may well say that this separation is absurd and impossible in principle. Yet we make this kind of separation implicitly, and nearly all the time; it strikes us as almost axiomatic. We may well be conscious of “having” certain emotions; but we cannot help conceiving how we have these emotions as something entirely separate from the emotions themselves. It may be that consciousness studies and affect studies are too different as approaches to the mind (or, as I’d rather say, to experience) to be integrated at all easily). Indeed, in this discussion I have simply elided the difference between “affect” and “emotion”: the terms are sometimes used more or less interchangeably, but I think any sort of coherent explanation requires a distinction between the two. Brian Massumi uses “affect” to refer to the pre-personal aspects (both physical and mental) of feelings, the ways that these forces form and impel us; he reserves “emotion” to designate feelings to the extent that we experience them as already-constituted conscious selves or subjects. By this account, affects are the grounds of conscious experience, even though they may not themselves be conscious. Crucial here is James’ sense of how what he calls “emotions” are visceral before they are mental: my stomach doesn’t start churning because I feel afraid; rather, I feel afraid because my stomach has started churning (as a pre-conscious reaction to some encounter with the outside world, or to some internally generated apprehension).
Harris is pessimistic in a way that the Enlightenment thinkers were not. He takes a Darwinian view of the struggle between clashing cultures, criticizing the West for an ethos of selfishness, and he follows Hegel in asserting that where the interest of the individual collides with that of the state, it is the state that should prevail. This is why he attributes such strength to Islamic fanaticism. The collectivity of the umma elevates the communal interest above that of the individual believer. Each Muslim is a slave, first of God, then of the caliphate. Although Harris does not condone this extreme subversion of the self, still a note of admiration seems to creep into his descriptions of Islam’s fierce solidarity, its adherence to tradition and the willingness of individual Muslims to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good. In addition, Harris extols American exceptionalism together with Hegel as if there were no contradiction between the two. But what makes America unique, especially in contrast to Europe, is its resistance to the philosophy of Hegel with its concept of a unifying world spirit. It is the individual that matters most in the United States. And more generally, it is individuals who make cultures and who break them. Social and cultural evolution has always relied on individuals — to reform, persuade, cajole or force. Culture is formed by the collective agreement of individuals. At the same time, it is crucial that we not fall into the trap of assuming that the survival tactics of individuals living in tribal societies — like lying, hypocrisy, secrecy, violence, intimidation, and so forth — are in the interest of the modern individual or his culture.
I was not born in the West. I was raised with the code of Islam, and from birth I was indoctrinated into a tribal mind-set. Yet I have changed, I have adopted the values of the Enlightenment, and as a result I have to live with the rejection of my native clan as well as the Islamic tribe. Why have I done so? Because in a tribal society, life is cruel and terrible. And I am not alone. Muslims have been migrating to the West in droves for decades now. They are in search of a better life. Yet their tribal and cultural constraints have traveled with them. And the multiculturalism and moral relativism that reign in the West have accommodated this. Harris is correct, I believe, that many Western leaders are terribly confused about the Islamic world. They are woefully uninformed and often unwilling to confront the tribal nature of Islam. The problem, however, is not too much reason but too little. Harris also fails to address the enemies of reason within the West: religion and the Romantic movement. It is out of rejection of religion that the Enlightenment emerged; Romanticism was a revolt against reason.
Both the Romantic movement and organized religion have contributed a great deal to the arts and to the spirituality of the Western mind, but they share a hostility to modernity. Moral and cultural relativism (and their popular manifestation, multiculturalism) are the hallmarks of the Romantics. To argue that reason is the mother of the current mess the West is in is to miss the major impact this movement has had, first in the West and perhaps even more profoundly outside the West, particularly in Muslim lands.
Thus, it is not reason that accommodates and encourages the persistent segregation and tribalism of immigrant Muslim populations in the West. It is Romanticism. Multiculturalism and moral relativism promote an idealization of tribal life and have shown themselves to be impervious to empirical criticism.