Cultural Intertia, Spirals of Rage


A good friend of mine has been a working artist for many years and is now in the process of applying to MFA programs. Of course, such applications involve a portfolio of one’s work and the usual personal statements. Today, he sent me this question posed by the U of Berkeley (most egregious aspects are in bold):

In an essay, discuss how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how you might contribute to social or cultural diversity within your chosen field; and/or how you might serve educationally underrepresented segments of society with your degree.

You may place a maximum of 8000 characters in the text box below.

Good grief! For some reason this question has sent me into a spiral of rage! Continue reading

Russia in UEFA 2008!


This is a bit of old news, but still very very exciting – Russia is one of the 14 teams to come out of the qualifying round (England did not make it out of Group E – in your face!) – the games will be played in June 2008! Go distant Fatherland!

This is from UEFA website:  

Russia coach Guus Hiddink admitted his surprise at qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008™ after a dramatic conclusion to Group E last night.Russia coach Guus Hiddink celebrates his side's qualification

Unexpected
England needed only to draw with Croatia at Wembley to join the Balkan side in next summer’s tournament, but a 3-2 defeat unexpectedly opened the door for Russia who squeezed through by the narrowest of margins, winning 1-0 in Andorra. It was an outcome even Hiddink had given up on. “I said we had to be realistic and I didn’t believe it would end like that,” Hiddink said.

‘Russian roulette’
“Now we know why Russian roulette is called Russian. We saw that in football, sporting spirit is decisive. Israel battled hard against us without holding anything back, and Croatia did the same at Wembley. I would like to pay a compliment to the players and coaches of that team, because they showed they are true professionals.” Continue reading

The Annapolis Conference–Contextualized (Now with Updates)


For those that are interested in such matters, I’ve been following the Annapolis conference (and its aftermath) with a healthy and robust amount of skepticism, but remain secretly–if not naively–optimistic. Anyway, if you are interested in reading some excellent material about the Annapolis conference, Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel have assembled on their home page an array of analyses (there are more to be sure), think tank pieces, and speeches that pertain. Now, for a little history and silliness (a winning combination to be sure):

November and the “7s” in modern Israeli history:

November 1897 – Three months after first Zionist Congress
November 1917 – The Balfour Declaration – HMG sanctions Jewish home
November 1947 – The UN Partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states
November 1967 – UN Resolution 242 – framework for future A-I negotiations
November 1977 – Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem
November 2007 – Annapolis – a two state solution is the common ‘horizon’

UPDATES:  See also this, this from the BBC today and Jewcy’s coverage of the whole thing here,  Perhaps it would have been better to have Alan Partridge mediate the whole thing.

The Awesomeness of Students: Part III


Another dispatch from the front lines of teaching my wacky (but mostly endearing) students (see also here and here and here). I had an email exchange with a student in my Logic and Critical Thinking course today. This student, it should be known, had kept up with the material, showed up for class regularly until right before the midterm. I have not seen her since the midterm, an exam she failed miserably. Since then, no student. This morning I got out of bed, grabbed my coffee and opened my email (half expecting news that Condi Rice got herself blown up) to an email from this student, “Dr. Shahar, are you using the same text next semester?” I responded most likely, but added that I will be adding another text to the required reading list. I also expressed concern that I hadn’t seen her, asked if everything was ok etc. Oh yes, she responded, “I decided months ago that I was going to retake the class. Thanks for your response!” Out of a sickening morbid curiosity I checked the roster for my Logic class next semester and guess what, she’s taking the class…again…with me. Why do students think this is a good idea? In fact, even with her excellent attendance for the first 4 weeks she was on the whole, not a good student: aside from being combative she didn’t take any of my suggestions, never attempted to redo any of her failing assignments after I offered, never showed up at office hours, scheduled appointments with me 3 times never to show up and continued to sign all her email correspondence with me “Still confused.” I mean really: what the fuck?

Badiou and Performance Art: Some Notes


Since some on this blog have been on a “Badiou kick” recently (ahem…Shahar), I thought I’d post some thoughts on an article Alain Badiou wrote a while back for Lacanian Ink. In “Fifteen Theses for Contemporary Art,” Badiou suggests that contemporary art must embrace the slogan “something else is possible.” This position mediates what at first appears as the two extremes that drive art, “everything is possible” and “everything is impossible.” Badiou ultimately decides that the two are the same thing, or at the very least, two sides of the same coin; the desire for endless variation within a closed operative system. As Nico Baumbach explains in his essay in Polygraph (17:2005), “To say that everything is possible—there is no end to novelty, variation, the realization of latent consumer fantasies—means only that everything is impossible—there is no new thing that is not made up of a series of effects that cannot be calculated or assimilated to a certain conception of the world that remains fundamentally unaltered.” This assimilation of both positions is also clear in terms of the body, the first position, “everything is possible,” gestures to experimentation with the utmost limits of the body. Such experimentation includes body modification, such as piercing and tattoos, but also extends to the extremes of Chris Burden’s performance and conceptual art. Burden often used his own body as an art object in sometimes shocking acts such as being shot, crucified and electrocuted, in order to confront and destabilize both the artist-observer relationship and the very production of art. Burden’s performance pieces confront the limits of the possible by risking death; the limit of the body is the exhibition itself.

In the second position, the phrase “everything is impossible,” appears as consolation, it is a resignation towards death. From the Levinasian perspective, each position characterizes a “being-towards-death” that has the effect of constituting a subject not unlike Heidegger’s Dasein. In Badiou’s more precise vocabulary, the aggressive inventiveness of an artist like Chris Burden is nothing less than “formalism,” whereas the latter position, which posits death as the decisive statement of our experience, is “romanticism.” Beyond pathos, outside of formalistic novelty, “something else is possible.” Continue reading

Philosophy, and, Talmud, Best Session Ever?


Shamefully, I must admit that for various reasons, I found myself (for the third time in my life) at the American Academy of Religion in San Diego last week. Overall, I haven’t much liked the AAR over the years. Nothing personal, I just find that the Association for Jewish Studies and SPEP to hit closer to my own particular interests. However, on the upside, all of the “Study of Judaism” sessions I attended were quite good. Of particular interest was a panel on The Talmud and Philosophy that dealt with Solomon Maimon’s rather negative views of the Talmud, Levinas, the Talmud and translation and a fascinating paper by Serguei Dolgopolskii‘ entitled “Talmud, And, Philosophy.” Here’s the abstract (although the paper was quite different, as per usual):

This paper addresses the Talmud not only, nor even primarily, as a book or a historical object that for other disciplines to appropriate, but as an intellectual project coextensive in scope to those of philosophy and its significant other, rhetoric. By comparing the theory of Talmudic learning in the work of R. Yitzhak Canpanton (d. 1463) with R. Moses Chaim Luzzatto’s (d. 1746) view of the Talmud as an organon of a perfect rational thinking, this paper asks how the project of the Talmud and that of Enlightenment relate to each other. More specifically, the paper addresses the place of the Talmudic notion of disagreement (machloket) in these two thinkers, proposing to re-read Canpanton’s notion of disagreement in the broader context of the value of agreement that has hitherto been tacitly dominant in philosophy.

The paper was part of a larger project (most papers are) that deals with Rhetoric and Talmud. The presentation began with a rather Derridan problematization of “and” as either conjoining or severing the two terms/disciplines/lines of thought “philosophy” and “Talmud.” More broadly, the argument explored sophistics, which in the tradition of Western metaphysics is either wholly excluded from philosophy or minimally, allowed into it as a second-order discipline of philosophy. Dolgopolski suggested that in post-structuralism rhetoric/sophistics is at times considered the very “ground” for any philosophical approach. He then tied this instabilty to the instabilty of the reception of the Talmud–explored in the panel vis a vis Solomon Maimon and Emmanuel Levinas– explored in his presentation vis a vis the traditional Western dialogue between dialectics and rhetoric. At any rate, I will look forward to the complete forthcoming project: What Is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement (Fordham University Press). Continue reading

Concept of the Model, Silly Blurbs


Continuing with my Badiou kick, I noticed that Badiou’s The Concept of the Model was just recently published in English. Here is the book description from Amazon:

The Concept of Model is the first of Alain Badiou’s early books to be translated fully into English. With this publication English readers finally have access to a crucial work by one of the world’s greatest living philosophers. Written on the eve of the events of May 1968, The Concept of Model provides a solid mathematical basis for a rationalist materialism. Badiou’s concept of model distinguishes itself from both logical positivism and empiricism by introducing a new form of break into the hitherto implicated realms of science and ideology, and establishing a new way to understand their disjunctive relation. Readers coming to Badiou for the first time will be struck by the clarity and force of his presentation, and the key place that The Concept of Model enjoys in the overall development of Badiou’s thought will enable readers already familiar with his work to discern the lineaments of his later radical developments. This translation is accompanied by a stunning new interview with Badiou in which he elaborates on the connections between his early and most recent thought. “This book is indispensable for those seeking to understand Alain Badiou’s philosophical project, and for anyone interested in investigating real points of contact between the analytic and continental traditions.” – Ray Brassier, Middlesex University

Does that phrase in bold not seem like it was simply stuck in there at random? What, I naively ask, does May 1968 have to do with this particular text? Nothing on the face of it. I look forward to the next generation of French thinkers, to whom May ’68 is not such a “watershed” moment. It’s getting a bit monotonous.