Monday, April 28, 2008

I do think that these sorts of stylistic practices are things best not continued

traxus4420 Says: April 27, 2008 at 3:18 pm
“That is, if truth has collapsed, if there’s no longer a world “out there” that could be an arbiter of different claims about that world, what is left but to talk about texts about the world rather than the world itself?”
i agree that this is a conclusion that could be drawn from reading this type of writing (and material from other humanities departments like literature that rely on the continental tradition for their conceptual/metaphysical framework), and my usual response has been the same. but lately i’ve been thinking, these people (people like us) may read the news with a high degree of suspicion, but it’s not likely to be metaphysical suspicion, i.e. “fools! talking about this fantastical ‘world out there’ again!”
that is, i think there may be something of the useful fiction to this collapse of truth theory. it’s professionally and institutionally useful because it’s not rigorously articulated or maintained, just assumed in order to do certain kinds of writing and thinking. it can be drawn on when needed.
this is why brassier’s book can cause a stir, when it’s core claims are really just the logical extension of commonsense attitudes about science (that it describes things that exist independently of human consciousness).
re: the originality/genius issue, isn’t there a kind of disavowal going on here? we’ve learned from the geniuses themselves that the genius-phallus doesn’t exist, and continue to act as if it did. i think it’s a mistake to blame the problem on institutional factors insofar as they’re conceived as purely external impositions, nothing do with our own activity. this is what blogs are good for, we really can write whatever we want.
traxus4420 Says: April 27, 2008 at 3:24 pm
“really can write whatever we want”
and become accustomed to it, such that the absurdity of more institutionally accepted techniques and styles becomes impossible to ignore (or partake in).
larvalsubjects Says: April 27, 2008 at 3:33 pm
And should you decide to respond again, maybe you could find a way to be more condescending. “The book had to be written”? It’s not as if I picked up a book by Hegel or Deleuze yesterday and am suddenly suffering shock at what I’m encountering. I’ve studied these figures for going on twenty years now and have made exactly the arguments about style in defense of these thinkers you and others are making throughout the thread. In other words, yes, yes, yes, I’m familiar with these arguments. I also know that a number of Deleuze’s works are exceptionally clear, as are some of Hegel’s and much of Adorno. This suggests that something is going on.
Something is amiss when days, sometimes months are eaten up trying to figure out just what claim if any someone is making. Shouldn’t we minimally be entitled to know a person’s claims if they’re asking for an investment of our time, which is our life, and which is connected to our labor? I’ve been willing to make a sacrifice of my time and life and trudge through these stylistic fogs because I believe these thinkers articulate things that are extremely valuable and are therefore worth the trouble. But I do not believe that things have to be this way and I do think that a rather insidious form of power and set of interpellative devices does accompany these types of stylistics. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from all these thinkers, but I’m sorry I’m just not buying the arguments about the necessity of these styles. I would never suggest that these thinkers should be ignored or dismissed, but I do think that these sorts of stylistic practices are things best not continued, and I do think that many things that are very important and dear to me at the level of the social and political and clinical practice in psychotherapy have been set back, in part, decades because of stylistic self-indulgence. I also think it’s absurd to suggest that what Hegel or Adorno or Derrida or Deleuze or Lacan is trying to think is any more complex than what Freud or Spinoza or Darwin or Marx or Foucault or Husserl or Burke or Badiou was trying to think. In short, I think a number of these thinkers have a rather misguided idea of the relationship between a certain sort of style and the content of their philosophy. Judging by the some of the responses to this post and the quickness with which people have trotted out standard form/content arguments taught to every first year philosophy student studying Heidegger or various post-structuralist thinkers, all the while ignoring what the post argued about the transferential effects of this style, you would think I’d shot someone. I certainly must have hit a nerve or symptom, which, I suspect, is a function of the very thing I was thematizing in the original post.
Dominic Says: April 27, 2008 at 6:01 pm
a rather misguided idea
A different idea, to be sure.
I seem to remember that Geoffrey Bennington’s book on/with Derrida explicitly raised the question of whether Bennington could rewrite Derrida in a way that neutralised the stylistic driftwork whilst preserving the concepts - with Derrida’s “Circonfession” running along the bottom margin doing its best to upset the applecart. I wouldn’t say that the gambit represented by Derrida’s “horizontal vertigo” fails exactly, but it might be useful to see it as a move in a game (against a neutralising, systematising antagonist) in which there is always a counter-move.
Recently I’ve been entertaining the conceit that some of the fuzzier notions in de Man might have been more clearly expressible in mathematical terms. There’s more than one way to seduce the reader away from the colloquial (that is, away from “folk” psychology, politics, economics, literary appreciation etc.). Badiou opts for mathematics as the ultimate seduction: the mind “subjectivating” a proof is as far as can be from the mind captivated by opinion.
I think it’s correct to see stylistic “difficulty” as having a relationship to seduction, captivation, transference and so on; but one should perhaps at the same time see this seduction as intrinsic to thinking, to the transmission of a thought. If thinking is to be opposed to opinion, to the circulation of received ideas, then the comforts of opinion must be overcome through the pleasure-pain of seduction. Textual “style” is just one of the possible strategies in the seducer’s repertoire.
On this point, permit me to quote what is already no doubt very well known, from Badiou’s “Philosophy as Biography”: “The question of love is necessarily at the heart of philosophy, because it governs the question of its power, the question of its address to its public, the question of its seductive strength”.
larvalsubjects Says: April 27, 2008 at 7:11 pm
Dominic, I know that in my own case I might as well not read a text at all if I am not in a state of transference or seduced by that text. It’s as if nothing will stick or provoke thought unless I already encounter the text as containing something. I forget all of the text. It seems that learning in general necessarily requires some sort of transference. The question, perhaps, is whether or not a textual strategy actively promotes the dissolution of the transference. Time will tell with Badiou, I think. Already we’ve seen a good deal of philosophical innovation from Brassier and Meillassoux, who I understand to be deeply influenced by Badiou, though independent thinkers in their own right. Is there perhaps something in Badiou’s textual strategy that encourages this? Perhaps something to do with the emphasis on the mathematical as opposed to the interpretive? I don’t know.
Dominic Says: April 27, 2008 at 7:34 pm
I have been reading the same mathematical text now - Robert Goldblatt’s introduction to topos theory - for several months, albeit mostly for half an hour at a time on the train to and from work. The language of the text doesn’t seduce me at all; moreover, I find it very difficult to keep even the most basic constructions in my mind, and when more complex constructions are introduced I am almost always sent scurrying back to the earliest chapters of the book to refresh my memory.
Nevertheless, over time, some of it has started to sink in and I have begun to gain confidence in reasoning about categories, attempting the exercises and succeeding with some of them. As is often the way with mathematical texts, it seems that the exercises are key: one must rehearse the concepts, apply them, make use of them oneself, otherwise they will not “stick”.
So I suppose it might be the case that the mathematical emphasis in Badiou encourages a sort of “use it or lose it” approach where you have to see what you can do with Badiou’s notions for yourself. But is the relationship between Meillassoux and Badiou so much different from that between, say, DeLanda and Deleuze?
parodycenter Says: April 27, 2008 at 8:43 pm
Badiou opts for mathematics as the ultimate seduction: the mind “subjectivating” a proof is as far as can be from the mind captivated by opinion.
Dominique getting off on mathematics is so nerdy that it inevitably leads to a certain form of subjectivation more commonly known as a hand job. I think you better stick to your musical performances, darling, because they’re really great! » Conversations on Textual Strategy Says: April 27, 2008 at 11:11 pm
[...] but I thought I would belatedly post a pointer to an energetic discussion still unfolding over at Larval Subjects on the question of the necessity of “difficult writing” in certain kinds of [...]

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