Charisma, Obama and Weber: A Discussion

Two things.  Here’s an interesting conversation between Paul Price and Craig Calhoun over at Societas:

In another conversation with Paul Price, Craig Calhoun continues his analysis of supposedly irrational factors at play in electoral politics. This time they focus on charisma: to what extent is Barack Obama’s unique mix of political passion and a cool demeanor the source of his political appeal? Referring to Max Weber’s model of charismatic leadership, Calhoun notes that Obama has the gift of making us see him as someone who stands outside the traditional structures of government-and therefore someone who can help Americans break the “iron cage” of bureaucracy, politics-as-usual and dominant social roles.

Click here to listen to the discussion.  Also, here’s a CFP for the Lighthearted Philosophers Society. Continue reading

Derrida and the Professors.

In his famous pronouncement against the future professors who will inevitably take interest in his journals, Kierkegaard writes:


That I shall acquire a certain renown, surely not even my bitterest enemy will deny. But I begin now to wonder whether I shan’t become famous in a genre quite different from the one I had envisaged, whether I shan’t become famous as a naturalist, in that I have made discoveries or at least delivered a very considerable contribution to the natural history of parasites. The parasites I have in mind are priests and professors, these greedy and virulently self-reproductive parasites which even have the shamelessness (which is more than other parasites have) to want to be of service to those they live off. (XI 2 A 277)

Not very nice, yet ultimately a prophetic observation that is cited by professors as a proof of the greatness of their subject, cited sometimes with a kind of self-depreciation that is considered to be a good enough penance for the thankless job of studying such an ungrateful thinker – here we are editing, collecting, and publishing his multiple journals, essays and books, and yet he dares to accuse us of being parasites and useless idlers! However abusive Kierkegaard is, especially at the end of his life, the image of a parasite is hard to dismiss in light of all the secondary literature on Kierkegaard…  Take the old discussion of the status of the secondary literature – is it really fair to the thinker to write a commentary after commentary when he himself explicitly mocks the idea and takes it to be a gross misrepresentation of his work? On one hand, one could claim that the very title of an “expert” on Kierkegaard should be so ironic and disconcerting that various reports of suicides among Kierkegaard professors should be a norm in the news. On the other hand, so what if Kierkegaard ridiculed his future experts – we don’t have to listen to his judgments, because he clearly wanted to be studied, wanted to be the object of future admiration and here is the proof from his writings etc etc. Think about someone closer to our time, someone like Derrida – can we think of his “disciples” as betraying the thought of the Master by producing a stream of secondary literature I have previously described as “derridalogy”? Continue reading

Philosophical Fanaticism: Reading Meillassoux Part 2

There is a strange little section in The Star of Redemption where Rosenzweig talks a bit about the fanatic and the pagan.  Here’s Rosenzweig:

The fanatic, the sectarian, in short all the tyrants of the kingdom of heaven, far from hastening the advent of the kingdom, only delay it…The ground prematurely cultivated by the fanatic yields no fruit. It does that only when its time has come. And its time too, will come. But then all the work of cultivation will have to be undertaken afresh. The first seeding has by then rotted, and to assert that these rotten remnants are “already” or “in reality” the same as that which later ripens into fruit is but the willful foolishness of pedants. Time and the hour are the mightier the less man knows them (Star of Redemption,  272)

In the closing section of the second chapter of After Finitude, “Metaphysics, Fideism, Speculation,” Meillassoux comments:

We are trying to grasp the sense of the following paradox: the more thought arms itself against dogmatism, the more defenseless it becomes before fanaticism. Even as it forces metaphysical dogmatism to retreat, sceptico-fideism reinforces religious obscurantism (48-emphasis mine-SO).

This is quite a statement, and I do like reading the Rosenzweig and Meillassoux quotes side by side, but as well shall see, Meillassoux has a good deal to say about the rotted out seeds of metaphysics. Continue reading

Codex Sinaiticus Online

I guess the theologians are abuzz with excitement over the news of the Codex Sinaiticus, or as I call it, “the oldest Bible,” being available online here. I always had a weakness for all things old and Greek, so I am sort of excited too, not that I think this is better then a nice facsimile edition in print or on a CD, but free access on the web is great too – reminds me a bit of google.maps… What will come of it? One thing is for sure, now every amateur theologian and/or first year seminarian can go look at some passage for themselves and the level of pretesion will go through the roof: “But it’s covered over with a coffee stain in Codex Sinaiticus, Nigel! How do you know if it’s “peace” or “piss”? [insert great theological controversy here]

Well, I’m off to reread my favorite sections of 1 Chronicles and smite me some unbelievers…

CFP: Perspectives on Zombies

Here’s a CFP that just flew across my proverbial desk.  I figure the editors would appreciate some publicity and what’s more, the deadline is OCT 31st, how apropos!

Call for Papers: An Interdisciplinary Collection of Essays on the Zombie

We are seeking proposals for an interdisciplinary edited volume discussing the zombie from a wide variety of perspectives and within a wide range of contexts. We encourage submissions from any discipline, including but not limited to English literature, film studies, media studies, cultural studies, gender studies, queer studies, philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, history, psychology, economics, and political science. We especially welcome new approaches to the study of zombies. In addition to theoretical essays on zombies, we also welcome critical discussions of specific zombie films, novels, and graphic novels, including those both pre- and post-Romero. Continue reading

Columbia Postdocs 2009-2010




THE COLUMBIA SOCIETY OF FELLOWS IN THE HUMANITIES, with grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the William R. Kenan Trust, will appoint a number of post-doctoral fellows in the humanities for the academic year 2009-2010. We invite applications from qualified candidates who have received the Ph.D. between 1 January 2005 and 1 July 2009. Fellows are appointed as Lecturers in appropriate departments at Columbia University and as postdoctoral research fellows. The fellowship is renewable for a second and third year. In the first year, Fellows teach one course per semester: at least one of these courses will be in the undergraduate general education program of the University. In years two and three, Fellows teach one course per year. In addition to teaching and research, the duties of Fellows include attendance at the Society’s lectures and events as well as active participation in the intellectual life of the Society and of the department with which the Fellow is affiliated. The annual stipend will be $55,000. Each Fellow will also receive a research allowance of $4,000 per annum.

Our ONLINE APPLICATION FORM can be accessed at

DEADLINE for receipt of completed applications is 6 October 2008.

Grasping (at?) the in-itself: Reading Meillassoux

I picked up Quentin Meillassoux’s newly translated book, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, a while back and have finally gotten around to cracking open the cover.  I’ve only read the first chapter, but I was struck by the direct and succinct presentation of his quarrel with Kant and post-Kantian critical philosophy.  Even the title is somewhat striking.  For someone like myself, who has read and invested in a great deal of the usual 20th century phenomenological suspects: Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida etc., human being/human finitude is the passageway from which all serious philosophical work emerges.  This is what Graham Harman has described as the philosophy of access and it has been a bit of a rallying cry up until this point in such circles.  An objective world in itself?  Hmmm—–impossibly un-graspable since Kant’s critique.  The title suggests (promises) a whole other story.  On the final page of the first chapter, Meillassoux writes:

The virtue of transcendentalism does not lie in rendering realism illusory, but in rendering it astonishing, i.e. apparently unthinkable, yet true, and hence eminently problematic (27).

It’s hard, given my phenomenological background, not to find this passage more than a bit jolting. Continue reading