Post-Academics


On Being Postacademic: Kenneth Mostern (excerpt h/t I Cite)

The scariest thing a young faculty member experiences is not, as is conventionally supposed, the “need to produce” and therefore her/his experience is not aided by the “mentorship” of an experienced scholar. Rather, the young scholar’s fear stems from the fact that no one in the department is talking to each other about scholarship. Faculty are socializing, going out, schmoozing all the time, and the ideas that supposedly drive the work they do are not being discussed. The mentor, if assigned, will try to teach the young faculty member how to navigate the minefield of the department, but that is exactly what is alienating. ..

The mentor, especially when well-intentioned, may be the model for what is wrong, not an aid in coping. Indeed, if the mentor is really similar to the young faculty member in terms of ideology or social identity, the mentor may be a model for what the young faculty member does not wish to become. The one conversation everyone is having incessantly is the one about the micropolitical maneuvers within the department. This conversation is, of course always done with armor on, with an eye toward alliances and enemies already made, with everyone watching to find out which camp the new faculty member will join. And while there is a relationship between micropolitics and geopolitics, it is far more tenuous, far more mediated by local institutional conditions, than the new faculty first imagines. Because no one is talking about substance, only alliances, and because alienation is general, a vacuum exists at the center of institutional power which is not filled by talent or argument, but by those who feel most comfortable or justified taking advantage of it. For those in power, and for those who hope to attain power, the arrival of a new junior faculty member is to be watched closely for his/her schmoozing choices. As a result, it is not simply the case that junior faculty fear senior faculty, but that the senior faculty fear the junior faculty, walking around wondering whether this new person will contribute to their already hatched plan to take over the curriculum. The fact that the new person was hired with accomplishments and expectations much higher than so many senior faculty members does not help this form of fear, of course. While it remains true that the power differential between tenured and untenured faculty makes the ubiquity of fear particularly threatening to the careers of junior faculty members, the longer one stays the more one discovers that one’s unhappiness is simply an example of the larger misery of faculty members. Senior faculty don’t exactly help or support one another either. Tenure might lead to a sense of security; it surely does not breed happiness. The net that academics are ultimately caught in, regardless of the structure or the “progressiveness” of the specific department, is the net of personal power. Within the capitalist professional class, the criteria by which alliances are formed and judgments made is generally limited by an abstract and objective, rather than personal, question: did you make money for the shareholders? Even where personality or group dynamics dictates one or another poor relationship, there is some criteria of performance evaluation outside of academia’s twin criteria: personal alliance and ideology. In truth, it takes an incredible number of hours to evaluate adequately any individual’s research. For all but a handful of us, the number of people who have given our work that kind of attention is miniscule. We are tied to those individuals not the way a consultant is tied to a client’s account books, but the way we are tied to lovers and friends — and ex-lovers and enemies. Obviously, I am aware that markets create winners and losers, and also, that there is no “free market” unconstructed by the intervention of human psyches. Yet at least within the bourgeoisie the existence of a monetary reference point provides some resistance to personal power, while the structure of institutionalized intellectual work permits no such outside reference point — not community service, not ethics, not, in light of the inability of humanities scholars to agree about what such a concept might mean, truth. Academia has neither capitalist forms of abstraction nor socialist forms of solidarity to recommend it.

71 thoughts on “Post-Academics

  1. M.E. (quoting): “Tenure might lead to a sense of security; it surely does not breed happiness. The net that academics are ultimately caught in, regardless of the structure or the “progressiveness” of the specific department, is the net of personal power.”

    Kvond: Such is the birthplace of our “ideas”.

  2. I have to add that I cannot tell you how acutely, and bodily this description touches me. There is an odd disjunction in the academic. I have never encountered so many supposed-to-be-happy sad persons, all working in a rather lively youth-embued enivornment. To put it to a polemical extreme, it is as if Kafka has written about how Disneyland is run. In my brief time in academia I encountered people largely disappointed with themselves, frustrated with their position, or happy to the meager degree that they were able to exercise a very small measure of local power (however benignly thought of). It seems an industry of personal unhappiness in the most banal of senses, very much for the reasons the author above describes. A Tantalus world of well-intentioned, ideal, intelligent people.

    • And as far as the supposed to be happy people. I see it too, but don’t forget about the rationalizations, e.g. “I live in the middle of South Carolina in a town with one stop sign, but it’s really only 6 hours to drive to Atlanta (or Florida)!” I think in retrospect, having gone through graduate school, made the requisite sacrifices (I moved OUT of NYC for Christ sakes–he he) and the debt (even with grants etc all the way through), the overarching question that should guide one’s pursuit should be oriented towards “happiness,” not simply “getting a job.” I know that sounds quaint, and I certainly wasn’t like that. My diss. adivsor told me to write about something I was interested in and be damned with the “market.” That’s not good advice, really, even if the sentiment is correct. Even earlier, one of my college profs had told me point blank that getting a PHD was like taking a lousy bet and I’d probably end up living in a horrible place, unmarried, saddled with debt and pissed off. If you land a FT TT job. Now, there is something to be said for taking a job one feels connected to/invested in etc etc, but one has to ask at what cost. Now so far, it’s all worked out for me so I shouldn’t bitch about anything, but still…

      • I think it’s absolutely essential to continue to raise these issues even if “it’s all worked out” and so on – that’s the message one needs to be able to communicate clearly and often to let the graduate students know what the stakes are, not write idiotic “you will all make it, I’m sure” posts implying that if you don’t, it’s all your fault and the system is blameless. I also like the point about capitalism/socialism – not knowing the subtleties, for most “capitalism” stands for “exploitation” (which in academic terms means teaching a time slot one explicitly implied one did not want to teach – oh the cruelty of life – or something minuscule like that) without a real understanding of how and why this “exploitation” comes about.

  3. Damn M.E., I thought you had seen the light.

    Shahar, thanks for posting this (and sorry for never looking up at the author typeset). Its good sometimes to read the grasp of the causes of socio-emotional states, and the author does a beautiful job.

    • Yup. I thought it was a rather powerful piece of writing. A bit overblown at times, but it painted a fairly accurate picture of the fear and loathing that saturates academia. My favorite part: academia has neither the abstraction of capitalism nor the solidarity of socialism, although it makes claims on each! Tee hee.

      or happy to the meager degree that they were able to exercise a very small measure of local power (however benignly thought of).

      This made me laugh out loud. Yes. That’s why I have to squash my free floating blood lust when I go to all of the committee meetings that accomplish very little or worse, participate in the faculty senate. I’ve said it before, but ultimately, pushing all the logic of self-declared, self-important “projects” along with the self-serving “global” ethics of the profession aside (eating berries in Zagreb and all that), at the end of the day the best we can do is fuck with our students and cook up interesting paths for thinking. And I mean that in the best of ways.

    • Yes, I quite liked this quote (again playing around with the watered down socialism/capitalism binary that permeate academia):

      On the one hand, successful academics are unusually bad at doing anything except arguing that their own position is correct. On the other, the practical inability to convince anyone except your four closest allies of your position produces the everyday experience of ambivalence. And right now, in the US academy ambivalence is the excuse for any and all personal unethical behavior that the middle class careerist engages in. After all, the paths of desire lead surprising places, and what were you expecting anyway, purity?

  4. Having spent several years as a gypsy professor and adjunct instructor, applying for tenure-track jobs and never getting an offer, I find a bitter consolation in reading such an account of the career that I failed to attain. I once said to another failed academic, “Have you noticed that most academics seem either to consider themselves failures or else to be sour about not having gotten the recognition that they think they deserve?” My interlocutor replied, “Yes, and have you noticed how often those two groups are the same people?”

    • Of course. I was simply wondering if our kind (philosophers) is more, well, philosophical about their predicaments than, say, creative poetic types in the English departments (excuse my stereotyping)?

      • Actually, I used to think that the tendency of philosophy professors not to discuss their own subject with their departmental colleagues was peculiar to philosophy, perhaps because of its inherent combativeness. But it’s probably just as common in other disciplines.

  5. Shahar: “I think in retrospect, having gone through graduate school, made the requisite sacrifices (I moved OUT of NYC for Christ sakes–he he) and the debt (even with grants etc all the way through), the overarching question that should guide one’s pursuit should be oriented towards “happiness,” not simply “getting a job.”

    Kvond: This is the crazy thing. Philosophy, in its historical core, even in its most skeptical outreach, is supposed to be the path to the “Good Life”. Thinking about things, discussing them, making them clear, is really supposed to make you (and other people) HAPPY, or happier. It is insance that the profession of philosophy is a profession of personal (banal) unhappiness. It is as if by instutionalizing philosophy the very acme of Late Capitalist ennui of personal rejection and local alliance-building expresses itself in utmost purity. Professional philosopher have largely become the “Lawyers of the Mind’, in a law firm that forever puts its employees onto menial tasks and will never go to trial. The irony is really bitter/hilarious.

    Shahar: “Even earlier, one of my college profs had told me point blank that getting a PHD was like taking a lousy bet and I’d probably end up living in a horrible place, unmarried, saddled with debt and pissed off. If you land a FT TT job. Now, there is something to be said for taking a job one feels connected to/invested in etc etc, but one has to ask at what cost.”

    Kvond: I had the Dean of Students at a reputable college tell me, in all honesty and behind-the-curtains admission (when I have having difficulty with the inane mentality of certain professors)…

    “Just go get your PhD. Once you have it you can just piss off a flag pole if you want, and no one can tell you otherwise.”

    Though highly inaccurate, it reveals something of the very dream-thought of a very accomplished academic administrator: flag-pole-pissing, the height of academic freedom.

    There is the odd sort of promise: Once you sacrifice quite a bit, leverage yourself in debt, move to a part of the country you would never move, you will be awarded a tiny little space that is ALL yours. Your own little flag pole, and you can do whatever you want there, piss off it if you want to, and no one will tell you different.

    What no one will tell you is that your little flag pole is in a field of flag poles and isn’t worth nearly as much as you paid for it. And while you are freely pissing off it however you wish, NO ONE (not even your students, unless you bully them, or seduce them) is paying attention to you. Your pissing is pretty much meaningless, and people see it for it what it is.

  6. I’m sure my comments aren’t welcome here, but this discussion strikes me as very interesting, even ironic, because Perverse Egalitiarnism has often struck me as so identified with academia and the prestige system it embodies. Often the posts I see here– and the participation of its members elsewhere –strike me as defending the model of scholarship, power, and the history of philosophy that underlie much of this academic system. That academic system not only seems to breed a lot of mediocrity, but also seems bent on actively preventing any thought. So here we are, all going into philosophy because we’d like to engage in interesting discussion and thought, and we end up becoming morticians of dead thought simply perpetuating a system of scholarship that makes a small comment on some unexplored essay by a philosopher recognized by the cannon.

    Why not buck the entire system and circumvent it altogether? Why accept it at all? Are the folks you meet at SPEP really the sorts of philosophers you admire? Are they people you would genuinely like to spend your time with and think with? Are you genuinely impressed or, more importantly, enlightened by the person who can tell you all the intricacies of some out of the way article by Husserl? Why? Was that really why you entered philosophy? I can understand Shahar’s observation about making the choice to live in a one stop light town– that sucks –but I honestly have a very difficult time understanding why anyone would want to align themselves or aspire to most of what takes place in academia in the humanities. Kvond has it right there. Most of it is a miserable and highly unproductive system. I purposefully took myself out of the academic game for that very reason. What I don’t understand is why anyone would defend it or identify with it. Here we have this technology that offers the opportunity to participate in a way much closer to the Greek Agora, yet still, somehow, a bullshit, unread article in a prestigious journal is seen as more important and valuable. To what end? All I can say is that I’m far happier now publishing where I want, researching what I want without having to be the guy that “does x”, and writing whatever the hell I want. While it doesn’t advance my career– and I’m not particularly interested in “advancing my career” –I think ultimately all of these discussions will prove to be more important because not only are they read by far more people than any article you might publish in a journal and on a day by day basis, but they influence dozens of other journals and dissertations. Perhaps that’s just a fantasy on my part. I suppose I just wonder why anyone would play the game at all, when there are so much more fulfilling and interesting options available. Then again, Plato complained about writing.

    • I purposefully took myself out of the academic game for that very reason.

      no offense, Levi, but this is either a lie or you are delusional – teaching philosophy full-time at a college, writing books, making networking connections and complaining (as you did until a short time ago) how even though you have published a book you can’t get a decent interview is not “taking yourself out of the game” – don’t tell me that if a good offer comes along you won’t accept a position at a large research university? C’mmon man, I get your point about academia, but you are as much a part of it as any of us – the point is not to take yourself out but to try to change the situation in the profession we all love (and that’s why we are miserable in it) – most people’s jobs are miserable, they only do it for the money – your “publish what I want” and “research what I want” is a privileged position of a middle-class professor who gets paid to think and talk and blog – don’t tell me you would just give it all up?

    • Hi, Levi.

      While I think I may understand why you prefaced your comment that way, we welcome anyone’s comments, really.

      this discussion strikes me as very interesting, even ironic, because Perverse Egalitiarnism has often struck me as so identified with academia and the prestige system it embodies. Often the posts I see here– and the participation of its members elsewhere –strike me as defending the model of scholarship, power, and the history of philosophy that underlie much of this academic system.

      Hmm…interesting. And I don’t know where this combative and accusatory tone comes from (did anybody you hear at SPEP really get you off? Did that journal article on minutia really do it for you? etc) and I pretty much agree with Kevin’s observations, that’s why I threw up Mostern’s article. Now, as far as the first two, scholarship and power of the academy, I’ve been rather critical of it for some time. No matter, really. Perhaps things look different from your perspecitive. I don’t know. Not really worth getting into a pissing match over.

      Now, I think I understand where your charge re: history of philosophy as the way philosophy has been done, or as you have called it, correctly at times I think, “book reports” is coming from. Now, I see your point here. I really do. Anyone who spends time writing a dissertation knows how much craptastic academic drek there is out there. Especially with regards to many of the “continentals,” monotonous introductions regarding each thinker’s style and “wild” use of vocabulary/terminology. Endless equivocation on utter minutiae. The recirculation of boring and unoriginal or uninspired ideas. However, I would suggest that the historical approach has it’s place, should it be the model for academic work? No. I was amused to see some of the comments on LS a while back when you declared the silliness of the history of philosophy approach and a number of comments where “Dude, those crusty philosophy profs made me read Aristotle, Descartes and Kant! Ha, I did comp lit and read Deleuze and Guattari.” That seems to be exactly the opposite of what you are saying, or better, the opposite side of the same history of philosophy coin. Many students I’ve encountered want to skip Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant and go straight to Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze. I fail to see how one can understand the latter set without reading the former with some degree of rigor. Sorry. Now, if you want to “shift” the conversation by engaging ideas/concepts rather than “names” that’s fine. That’s how they do it in math, I think.

      It’s the way the problem is set up as either/or, it seems like a false choice to me. Either stay in academia and do book reports or take a job elsewhere and do your own thing. I get this, I do. However, you have to know that your insistence that you took a job at a 2 year to refuse the game is still coming from a privileged place. That’s not your fault at all, but you must know that the demands of the “PHD market” are extending to cc’s. It’s not like it’s so easy to land such jobs at this point. I told somebody just the other day that it’s probably better not to get a PHD and instead earn two MA’s in different disciplines in order to jockey for an increasingly competitive, but growing demand for a cc job.

      I’m glad you’re happier, that was my point. So, I’m surprised to read your comment in which you admit feeling a certain amount of irony on your part (ok, fine) and then goes on to repeat, or better, confirm what I had already been suggesting (with some rhetorical flair–e.g. I don’t think I ever claimed to be impressed with SPEP or the system that drives it, but fine).

      As for the medium of blogging, I like your optimism. I’m far too cynical and find it to very often mirror the exact thing I find myself annoyed with at meetings, conferences and other aspects of academia. Of late I’ve been feeling wary about blogs/blogging because some blogs and some interactions I’ve had simply verge on the desperate, or are just rather mean-spirited. I think that a good many blogs have become so transparent in their obnoxious validity seeking or hope that somebody important will “discover” them. Ironically, many of these types of blogs fall victim to the very same thing they claim to hate about academia. From my perspective, many blogs are reproducing some of the same things (whether power dynamics, insecurities, and nepotism) I find frustrating in the academy or don’t want to deal with b/c I already deal with such things in my day to day life. Ack.

      What I like about blogs is that I don’t have to write in a real formal way, though my style tends to go there regardless, and I can post quick “what if” posts or jot down some undeveloped thoughts. That’s good. As are the productive types of interactions/discussions, which, I must admit, are rare. I find in blogging the same type of fearful and predatory thinkers we come across in the journals and conferences, you know, those who tend to shroud “arguments” in long winded supra-referential posts/comments, or misleading and impenetrable prose, or worse, rely on status to shroud the fact that there is nothing behind the curtain. It’s fine to feel oppressed by the academy, it is oppressive on many levels, as we’ve both pointed out, but it doesn’t mean we should mock the historical approach. Why not try to change the game? Perhaps it’s too entrenched and solidified by this point, but I worry that it’s reactionary, as in “capitalism sucks, but it’s here to stay.”

      • Shahar,

        Of course I’m not suggesting that history of philosophy should be thrown out. I do, however, disagree with the Gadamerian thesis that one has to read Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc., in order to understand Deleuze or Foucault. Let me try to be clear as to what I mean by this. Pace Derrida’s arguments about context in “Signature Event Context”, I simply don’t buy the thesis that texts are defined by their context. Rather, contexts get produced, but aren’t there at the outset. When you have a strong background in the history of philosophy, Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition will resonate in a particular way. When you don’t, it will resonate in another way. I do not think the former way is superior to the latter way. What’s important is that something come to function. As always, I draw on a biological analogy. Every genome contains the history of the past species from which it emerged. Birds contain the genes of dinosaurs. Yet birds do not go back through that history to function as bird. It’s similar with texts. One way of approaching texts is going back through all of those lineages through which the text came to be, another is simply to begin with the contemporary text and allow all of that to fall into the shadow. In a lot of ways this seems to be one of the major differences between Anglo-American thought and Continental thought. The former tends to restrict itself to local history (surrounding texts in its tradition) and largely allows the global history of philosophy to fall into the shadows. The latter seems to focus primarily on figures and that global history. As someone who has proceed generally in the Continental way, my objection is not to the history of philosophy– I’ve benefited from it a great deal –but rather from the organization of an institution that seems to force us into doing philosophy on figures rather than questions and problems.

        I am indeed very fortunate to have the position I have, but I think there’s a very real sense in which I took myself out of the academic game by taking the position that I took. I literally have no academic requirements I have to fulfill in this position beyond the educational requirements it took to get the job. I am not required to publish, I am not required to present, etc. All I’m asked to do is to teach my classes and contribute to the functioning of the college. Any publishing and presenting I do is entirely up to me and does little to advance my position within the college. Were I to choose to do so, I could cease publishing and presenting altogether and my position would not be imperiled in any way. Indeed, where the “professional development” portion of my contract is concerned, I get the sense that administration would actually prefer for us to go to teaching seminars and whatnot, not conferences pertaining to our academic discipline. Would I take a swanky university position if it came along? That very much depends on what they wanted from me and where it was located. If I was expected to be the Deleuze or French post-structuralism guy, it would be a very difficult decision to make, especially if it was in an undesirable location. The reason for this is that significant restrictions would be placed on my research. I was pretty miserable back in the day when I was doing that kind of work and wouldn’t want to put myself back into that psychological landscape. As insignificant as my work is now, at least its my work and at least I enjoy it and am doing something that’s important to me. Back when I was working primarily on Deleuze, Zizek, Lacan, etc., I just didn’t feel that way. It was hard for me to see what possible value yet another article on Deleuze, for example, could have beyond being a line on my CV.

        Kevin is right that a lot of the nastiness of the academy is transferred to the blogosphere, but I think it’s also the case that there’s never a transportation that doesn’t involve a difference. On the one hand, the medium leads to the development or invention of new norms and new types of status. The blogger cannot rely any longer on her academic credentials. Every once in a while, a highly successful academic starts a blog. The results are interesting to watch. Often their blogs fail or generate little interest because they continue to write in the way they write articles, rely on their identity in academia, do not participate in cross-blog discussions, and so on. While we still get hierarchies in the blogosphere, things are nonetheless flattened out. You can no longer rely on cloistered academic communities where people speak the same lingo surrounding a master-thinker as you do in academia because you’re interacting with people from very different intellectual backgrounds. This leads to the development of new ways of talking because those participating just aren’t that interested in focusing on a single figure (they’re either attached to their own figures or working in some field largely unrelated to that figure: anthropology, history, sociology, and so on and so on).

        Kevin misrepresents my point about publishing. I was not making the claim that blogging has a tremendous effect on articles. What I said was that a single blog post tends to get read by more people in a single day than ever read an article in a prestigious journal. This is bound to have effects of some sort or other. Lurking about are all sorts of graduate students working on their dissertations. The discussions they have here influence the direction their dissertations take. Intellectuals encounter one another and influence each others work and the sorts of questions that they are asking. And finally, people develop publication projects together or put together conferences with one another. These are encounters that would not have occurred without this medium and are, I think, important.

        Given that I’m one of the ones that tends to give compliments to others, I feel compelled to respond to the denigration of this sort of practice. I am not sure why this is seen as a negative thing. When someone takes the time to respond to me in a thoughtful way, I am genuinely grateful for their response and often benefit from it insofar as it helps to spur my own thoughts. It is not “schmoozing” or seeking to curry favor.

      • It’s similar with texts.

        No it is not. Levi, I know you’re on your biology kick and all, but texts are not birds – that’s a problem with much of your thinking recently, you compare things because you think such comparisons would produce interesting combinations (which they do sometimes), but then you build your “argument” on such comparisons and before you know it something that has been assumed to be true for the sake of an illustration (what if texts are like birds, what follows?) becomes a true statement (taking that texts are like birds, it follows that X, Y, and Z)…

        Try this:

        Levi: “Text are like birds”
        Mikhail: “No, they are not”
        Levi: “Yes, they are because I have been reading books about biology”
        Mikhail: “No, they are not because I have been reading books about geography and texts are like boats”
        Levi: “No, they are not”

        I am indeed very fortunate to have the position I have, but I think there’s a very real sense in which I took myself out of the academic game by taking the position that I took.

        You need to write down one version of your autobiography and stick to it since in the past you have told everyone that you got some interviews in the first year on the market but due to your poor performance you didn’t land any of the jobs you wanted and you then settled for your present position. It’s fine if you’ve grown to love it there and that you later realized that it was not so bad after all, but please stop rationalizing your failure to get a job you really wanted as any sort of a choice – it reminds me of that guy who yells at a girl that just broke up with him: “Well, I was going to break up with you anyway” and actually believes it.

      • The point is that I could have chosen to stick it out and take one or two year positions eventually landing a tt position, but took the two year position instead. The sorts of considerations I’ve outlined were a part of that decision. Was I ambivalent? Sure. I wanted the prestige and time that a great research position would confer, but was also very dissatisfied with the institutional structure they embodied. Although I don’t think it’s true now, at the time I believed that taking a two year position basically amounted to destroying your chances at getting one of those other positions, so it was experienced as a pretty high stakes decision on my part.

        Anyway, on to the substantive point. All analogies are imperfect. If you don’t like the comparison of birds and texts, that’s fine. You can drop it. The point, however, is that texts can function just fine without the reader having to know all that history of philosophy. This is the way it is with scientific texts, for example. Reading texts in terms of the history of philosophy is illuminating and often productive, but it simply isn’t true that texts need to be read in this way or that this is the only productive way of engaging with them. The Enlightenment thinkers, for example, largely severed their texts from the history out of which they emerged. Yet that is exactly how our institutions behave.

      • I take your point about the need to know or not to know history to be a valid one, despite PE being a hub for “book reports” and “academic hegemony” – yet by dismissing my type of philosophical engagement (which you often do, regardless of what you say about equality) you are putting yours above it – how is it different from claiming that only by reading Hume you can get where Kant is coming from? Of course there are millions of ways of approaching texts, but there is such things as disciplinary rigor – sounds oppressive? You bet, but without discipline there is no learning – it’s all that Simpsons episode where they divide the school into boy’s school and girl’s school and at the latter they study math by asking questions like “But how does the number 6 make you feel?” Are there many ways of doing philosophy? Sure, but there must be a standard by which you can tell “philosophy” from “making shit up” – what is that standard?

        As for analogies – your analogies are not just imperfect, they are random (or rather based on whatever it is you are into at the moment), that was my point. You don’t show how “text are like birds” you simply posit it and then mine the analogy for all sorts of cool stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally fine to make strange connections like when you have a beer with friends (“I think texts are like strippers” – “How so?” – [long lively talk]), but not in terms of making a philosophical argument. Honestly, I think that by preaching all that crap about “academic hegemony” and so on you are just trying to escape the established rules of philosophical engagement which include things like logic – are rules restricting and annoying? Sure, without rules there is no way to engage in any sort of philosophical conversation, without rules it’s anything goes, whatever you think up is then philosophy – yay, we are finally free! As much as I hate to say it, that’s why there is peer-review process (that ultimately breeds conformity), it’s not perfect and we need to work on it, but throwing it and other institutional practices out of the window because you don’t like them is childish – the easiest way out is just to “take yourself out of the academic game” – that’s pulling a sarah palin…

      • What’s interesting, Mikhail, is that despite your appeal to rules I never really see any philosophy coming from you. I see a lot of policing and sophistry, as well as overwhelming bitterness, but seldom any argument or philosophical thought. How’s that working out for you?

        My point wasn’t that there aren’t any rules or norms of philosophy or that anything should go. That’s a mischaracterization of my claim. My criticism was directed at a form of philosophy that restricts the practice of philosophy to comments on figures and an engagement with the history of philosophy.

      • And, of course, it might just be that the absence of philosophy in your engagement here might just be a matter of how you use your blog. But even when it comes to discussing Kant, the quality of engagement surrounding your preferred hermeneutic methodology is extremely thin.

      • Great – first you preach “live and let live” attitude and then you point out that my observations about philosophy are not as profound as yours – who is being hegemonic now? Don’t you see how pathetically inconsistent you are? You tell me that there are many ways to do philosophy and then turn around and tell me that my way of doing philosophy is not philosophical enough (based, of course, solely on reading my blogposts, not my writings) – thanks!

      • And just to make sure I say it openly – Harman’s logic of “put yourself on the line if you are going to criticize me” that you have adopted is idiotic and highly defensive (in addition to probably revealing a very insecure individual) – it’s like saying: “You can’t criticize my film unless you put out a better film” – there go film critics then (and food critics and literary critics).

      • I can’t seem to get this comment in the correct spot, but before this discussion devolves any more let me add one thing.

        Ok. I think I see. Look, I don’t think Levi is at all incorrect to insist that modern forms of inquiry have been characterized by a disciplinary ghetto. That is, we make sense of the world through particular, specialized and (possibly) enforced borders of disciplines. And if the rigid boundaries between disciplines have characterized, I don’t know, by a certain triumphalism of being modern or “post-modern” or whatever, I really think it’s uncontroversial to say that at this point in history there is a different picture in which the invested and coarse boundaries between the disciplines are ever so slowly breaking down. So, then there is far more fluidity. Here’s the question: if we take up “transdisciplinarity” does it create new kinds of knowledge? Most likely, such knowledge would be found at the transitional/transformational apex of several disciplines. If this is the case then why insist on “Philosophy” and why not try to create a place for such transdisciplinary work? Yes, if we want to move past disciplinary boundaries then we need to understand the limitations of the discourse and institutions of modernity (Levi alluded to this at the end of his response to me I think). If it’s true that the solidification of the boundaries or compartmentalization of knowledge in our day to day life can be traced back to say, the “logic of modernity” (or whatever), then moving past such borders on the way to creating knowledge and a new mode of relationship must necessarily involve some serious critiques of modernity and find ways out of it. Such is the problem: how are we to arrest the dual process of immanence and transcendence involved in a more transdiciplanary process of knowledge?

        Interesting question, but I wonder if it’s not too overblown, at best?

      • Shahar,

        This was what was so interesting (at least for me) about Rorty’s confirmed desire to treat philosophy as a genre of literature, and I believe, to hold the title of Professor of Comparitive Literature at Stanford.

      • M.E.,

        Personally, even though I almost always found myself in agreement with Levi on the criticism of Kant, it is when your approach to Kant is taken to be deficient (either too textual, or not creative enough), that I part company. Hell, you love Kant. If you want to talk about how great Kant is, or all the good things you can pull out of Kant, why not. And though you like to stay within the interpretive traditions in thinking about Kant, I never found this to be a professorial restriction, rather, simply the pleasure of coloring within the lines, so to speak.

      • Where have I ever preached a live and let live attitude? If anything, my picture of the world is one characterized by antagonism and struggle. It’s not a kumbaya “hey let’s just let everyone get along and say whatever the hell they want”. I am not claiming that your observations of philosophy are not as profound as mine, but rather that I’ve never seen you do any philosophy at all. I’ve never seen you attempt to theorize or develop anything. If I don’t engage in debate with you, this is not on the grounds of the Harmanian principle, but simply because I don’t believe you approach dispute in an honest and committed way and are mostly out to stir the pot to validate your own spiteful and inconsequential little existence by getting some attention. There are diminishing returns in such discussion so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Again I evoke the analogy to the protesters at the healthcare rallies. One doesn’t engage in debate with far right activists because you’re not going to get anywhere in such a discussion and you know that they’re going to constantly mischaracterize your position and attribute really ugly motives to you without any change or modification taking place in the discussion. That’s what discussion with you is like. Just like the wingnut Rush Limbaugh equating Obama and the democrats with the Nazis yesterday, you first begin by attributing the most obnoxious things to the person you’re entering into discussion with and then characterize their position in the most absurd terms. It never gets anywhere and always ends up going “meta” into a second order discussion of people’s rhetorical tactics. And I can’t help but feel that all of this has to do with a lot of bitterness and insecurity on your part. On the one hand there are the emails you send to Harman every time he publishes something or goes on a trip, berating him and saying he’s giving your students the wrong idea, while on the other hand you pop up on my blog whenever I accomplish something. You seem very frustrated with where you’re at and take it out on others. This, very likely, is why you’re so focused on normativity. If you’re obsessed with rules, norms, laws, and morality and so on, then this is because you secretly wish to stack the deck in your favor, excluding everything else. This would certainly account for the wild inconsistencies in your application of Kant’s categorical imperative which you claim to covet so much.

      • Nice one, Levi, I really have nothing to say in response – you’ve nailed me and my miserable existence, I am going to go cry now if you don’t mind. I will have to retire from blogging now, I’m devastated by your acute observations, I might even have to get some pills now to calm myself down from all of this truth you’ve just revealed to me, but I’m sure in the end, it’s all for my own good.

      • Take it easy Rush Limbaugh, those oxycontin can be habit forming.

        My goodness, if you’re type is a blue Minotaur, what the hell is Levi’s troll type? The Brain that Ate the World?

      • Well, two can play this game – I don’t see much philosophy coming from you either, despite the enormous output of your compulsive blogging. Oh wait, you published a book and took a picture with it, there must be a lot of philosophical thought there. I am sorry I have disappointed you vis-a-vis my lack of productivity and my forgetfulness, I didn’t realize I needed to inform you every time I managed to produce a philosophical thought.

        My criticism was directed at a form of philosophy that restricts the practice of philosophy to comments on figures and an engagement with the history of philosophy.

        Stop with this bullshit already, you say it like it’s some sort of personal mantra for you and those like you – no one, I repeat, no one is restricting anyone, if you were oppressed and abused in your program, it’s sad but stop projecting your personal experience on others and create monsters for everyone to fear. As for figures versus ideas – you wrote a book about Deleuze and Kant, you’re constantly posting about philosophical figures, your newly adopted father figure just published a book about Latour (a person, a figure) which fits with the model you dismiss and criticize so often. Seriously, Levi, you’ve been bitching about this alleged restriction for some years now all the while you can do whatever you please as you yourself wrote already – are you also trying to become a Robin Hood figure who will protect graduate students from horrible disciplinary hegemony? Let it go already and do your thing, it’s annoying that you and others need to create these enemies that you then successfully confront and feel good about it. For someone who preaches freedom and ability to philosophize in any way one feels like, you spend a lot of time whining about imaginary oppressors.

      • Well I guess I just don’t understand what philosophy is, Mikhail. In my view, philosophy involves theorization and explanation. I’ve never seen you develop a single bit of theory, formulate a single concept, or make a single philosophical claim. Instead, all you do is attack things or discuss why they won’t work or give rather uncharitable interpretations of claims. Like I said, this could all just be the nature of your engagement here online and your professional work might be glowing. No one knows who you are so we’re unable to evaluate your real work outside of the net. What you do here in relation to philosophy resembles celebrity news shows that talk about the work and lives of celebrities, without doing any acting or directing of their own. You talk (kinda) about philosophers, waxing poetic about the latest book you received in the mail (one senses you don’t read them but just sniff them with pleasure), but do not do any philosophy I can readily discern. I suspect this is why you are so abusive to the work of others and seem unable to engage in any civil discussion. You can, of course, denigrate my work all you want and characterize it as some sort of chaotic free for all with no rules and whatnot, but I can’t say this bothers me much coming from you as you don’t do much of anything at all and frankly seem a lot of stupid a lot of the time when it comes to your questions, observations and criticisms. Meanwhile, I’m out there publishing and producing things and working through ideas, having interesting discussions with others doing the same, and so on. Honestly, you sound like these protesters at the health care meetings, screaming endlessly, mischaracterizing the healthcare plans, and refusing to believe it when the politicians point out that they have no desire to do the sorts of things the protesters are accusing them of doing. You are the philosophical equivalent of a teabagger and about as relevant.

      • First of all, plenty of people know who I am and I believe you do as well, don’t play coy here. Again, I’m tired of saying it but “doctor, heal thyself” – you yourself was very secretive about your real name until very recently, I distinctly remember you asking me not to use your full name as you were afraid that people would google you and find out you are “Larval Subjects” – so please, spare me your lecture. Clearly, you are unable to see how contradictory your remarks are, especially since you are the defender of civility and politeness, and yet you come to my blog and you rudely dismiss me and my work without having to know anything about either of those.

        Second, I am glad that you are such an attentive reader of our blog in which case I’m interested to know where exactly did you read that it is a philosophy blog? Unlike you, we post about whatever it is we are interested in, including some philosophy, but not exclusively. I’m sure that people who read your blog expect only philosophy and your feeble attempts at other topics (cooking or gardening) are rather pathetic, as you clearly have no other real interests but philosophy. As for you “publishing and producing things” – awesome, maybe one day you will finally be able to look at yourself in the mirror and finally feel good about yourself, you know? “You’ve made, Levi” you will say, “They all told you that you will never make it, but you have made it!” By then, of course, you will be older and slightly heavier, you will have no wife or kids but you will have philosophical success and some dignity. As for screaming endlessly, you are again projecting your issues onto me (as a “psychoanalyst” you should know, right? or is your knowledge and skill in psychoanalysis on the same level as your knowledge and skill in philosophy?) – I’m quite happy with what I do, even if I see some problems in the system. I find your way of doing philosophy a bad example for those who are learning philosophy – you jumble together every single idea you’ve read about before you went to bed and present it some new and original philosophy, you give it new names and you write more and more, and yet you often cannot answer the simplest questions. In any case, thanks for stopping by, don’t come again, follow father Harman’s advice and ignore “trolls” and other such creatures.

      • As someone who has proceed generally in the Continental way, my objection is not to the history of philosophy– I’ve benefited from it a great deal –but rather from the organization of an institution that seems to force us into doing philosophy on figures rather than questions and problems.

        Yes, Levi. I get it. I was only using “history of philosophy” as shorthand for such institutional organization.

        When you have a strong background in the history of philosophy, Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition will resonate in a particular way. When you don’t, it will resonate in another way. I do not think the former way is superior to the latter way.

        Sure, of course. I’m not going to argue against receptive pluralism, nor would I argue against pluralism in philosophy. Your problem simply seems to be with academic disciplines. As someone who works across disciplines I understand this, as do I understand the straight-jacketing that tends to go along with disciplining. However, it seems dubious to me to simply force a choice between “disciplinarity” and “freedom from such disciplinarity,” the bottom line is that there are “rules” to each of the games we play however porous the disciplinary boundary is. That’s the game…otherwise we’re adrift on an open sea pathetically grasping at whichever concepts we find floating…

  7. The problem (Levi) is that people who get trained by the academic system (and suffer from it), having learned how to behave, when they enter into the webbed space bring with them some of the worst elements of academic quibbling. Classroom is simply set up in the ethersphere (imagined to be immune from the politics of the instution). Here, in the univocal dictation space, petty alliances are built through excessive and sometimes outright obsequious compliment-paying, the osctracization of others though the identifying them with unthinking “types” in order to give the impression to your relatively passive students (readers) that you are fully engaged with all REAL questioners, and in fine academic fashion this often leads to long winded lectures on 101 positions, filling “classroom time” with the general theatre of professor-like knowledge; or when in discussion, others are accused of simply being ill-read, or even not understanding in the least the most basic elements of a philosopher they may have studied for years. In other words, its just academic culture taken into a free environment. It can be like putting bacteria in a moist, very warm environment.

    And yes, one might fantasize that your are affecting countless journals through your posts (why not?), but is this not just Academic dreaming taken to an absurd limit? Levi imagines that he is influencing journal discussion from a great distance, Graham thinks/dreams that he is writing philosophy that will be taught in classrooms in 500 years. Come on now, doesn’t anyone just have the idea/pleasure of thinking about things, inviting different perspectives, and that is about it?

    Why all the ass-kissing, aggrandizement, reference dropping, and accusation? This is what happens sometimes when you give professor-types, or at least the professorial, a keyboard. You get the faculty lounge, writ large.

    • Re: reproduction of professorial types and attitudes played out all over the interwebs. Well put, Kevin, but don’t forget about the desperation, fear and loathing…”blogging” is very often nothing less than a perverse egalitarianism, at best. In fact, I’m sure I fall into those types/attitudes at times as well, particularly when I’m being provincial about one thinker or another and feel the need to correct someone or “set the record straight.” Oh well.

      • Shahar,

        Its just that its not enough to say, when you leave an oppressive system – and I don’t want to over-dramatize the oppression of academic shaping, the building of the ideal text-producing worker – “Hey, we’re finally free!” or “Now we can write all we want and no one can tell us otherwise!”. Academia works, or begins with the professors that taught you. And what they taught you was not “This is how Kant’s imperative relates to Sade”, but rather, and REALLY, “This is how a person who has the authority of REAL knowledge acts and treats others”. Even if you don’t go onto professorial positions, and have had attended colleges or universities, you have already been inculcated in this behaviorial culture of “authority”. (And if you have gravitated to the profession there is at least some element in you that feels either an affinity for this, or at least an immunity.)

        I think philosophy professors have it the worst. They are supposed to be paid for almost sheerly being “intelligent” in a field which is nearly of no obvious social consequence, in which there is no right or wrong, no proof of their excellence. They have to practically invent their status, and a great deal of this is done by RESTRICTING the kinds of questions or objections they have to respond to. They are in the most banal senses, priests of a religion very few people believe in or take seriously. And this probably is the reason why faculty professors don’t talk to each other much about REAL philosophy. There is a sense, “I won’t expose you if you don’t expose me”. This entire artifice of authority, coupled with the usual bullying of students through the minimizing of the kinds of knowledge/questions they might have, all gets rolled into one great professorial act. And when a person who has learned these traits and defenses then gets “freedom”, it CAN BE the freedom to just be professorial.

        I’m not say that this is ALL that academic refugees can produce, but only that the idea that we can just shrug off academia by writing blogs, thinking through blogs, really has to be questioned. There is a “culture” to intellectual authority.

      • I don’t know why this won’t appear in the right spot. It’s in response to Kevin’s note to me above from 10:52am.

        Yes, and clearly here Bourdieu notion of habitus is useful here, if it’s not already behind or driving your observations about the “sociology of academia.” As you note, the habitus of academics includes a good many assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors surrounding the question of precisely what scholarly “activity” and “authority” means. On the one hand, the habitus of academics can restrict many of their responses to “new” situations. So, naturally habitus is what forms faculty opinions about what represents “legitimate” expectations for lowly tiered entry level scholars, the length of time appropriate to spend developing a “project,” prospects for promotion and so forth. I think that in the academy habitus becomes rather important in conditions that are involved with substantial change, and as we have seen from this discussion, is generally invoked in any discussion of scholarly communication systems (journals vs blogs, etc).

        Interestingly, one of the major ways in which Bourdieu organizes the tension or opposition in academia is between faculty that maintain “orthodox” institutionally approved intellectual viewpoints and those faculty who hold “heretical” views. Unsurprisingly, such heretics face marginalization. However, Bourdieu traces out some cases in which such heretics can gain enough followers that they become “consecrated heretics.” That is, once their heretical views become accepted in some fancy pants prestigious groups, a newly risen class of heretic enjoys a large measure of independence and autonomy from the usual academic systemic pressures. Such heretics contribute to the inevitable discussion of scholarly communication systems.

        If I recall correctly, Bourdieu thinks that change in academia, “real” change, is cooked up by changes in student demographics and the economic demands of the broader society. Bourdieu, of course, focuses on the change instantiated in the 70’s that came to a head during May ‘68. Anyway, here’s my point. Instead of simply refusing the “system” which seems to reproduce itself in the refugee culture, perhaps we should look closely at the tensions that are pushing the academy in new trajectories which in turn will cause many changes in the system of scholarly communication that it makes use of. We’d have to look closely at all of this making use of Bourdieu’s central category, cultural capital. Now, from my view, what with the economy and bottom line minded administrators, it seems rather hopeless, but again, it’s reactionary not to try to think otherwise…

  8. Levi: “The point, however, is that texts can function just fine without the reader having to know all that history of philosophy.”

    Kvond: I heard that ‘Being and Time’ makes a very good doorstop.

  9. M.E.: “Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally fine to make strange connections like when you have a beer with friends (”I think texts are like strippers” – “How so?” – [long lively talk]), but not in terms of making a philosophical argument.”

    Kvond: I like this line of thinking quite a bit. Sartre said that a stripper is the most clothed person of all. She wears her nudity as clothing, as guard. Just think of the “nudity” of the text, or the way that exegesis exposes what was supposedly underneath. Think of the dollar bills, (or 50s) one slips into every g-string place where the thinker latches onto something both attractive and concealing. Think of those intellectuals who go to da club to “make it rain” before a famous text…ah, possibilities, possibilities.

  10. M.E.: “And just to make sure I say it openly – Harman’s logic of “put yourself on the line if you are going to criticize me” that you have adopted is idiotic and highly defensive (in addition to probably revealing a very insecure individual) – it’s like saying: “You can’t criticize my film unless you put out a better film” – there go film critics then (and food critics and literary critics).

    Kvond: Is Harman even “on the line”?

    • Indeed! Texts are also like texts – all that biology stuff is cool and all, but I better get back to my books and try (yet again) to produce one decent philosophical thought that I would be proud to post on the blog so that I can see it attacked by trolls and blue minotaurs and hit them up with ad hominem attacks all the while complaining that their attacks are ad hominem. I do need an online father figure though, desperately – anyone know of a good scholar in need of some ass-kissing?

  11. M.E.: ” I do need an online father figure though, desperately – anyone know of a good scholar in need of some ass-kissing?”

    Kvond: A good scholar, no. But have you tried Craig’s List? Or how about starting all your posts in reference to someone else’s post, “As x sublimely argues…” or, “With his usual brilliance…”.

  12. Levi: “Well I guess I just don’t understand what philosophy is, Mikhail. In my view, philosophy involves theorization and explanation. I’ve never seen you develop a single bit of theory, formulate a single concept, or make a single philosophical claim.”

    Kvond: Apparently Socrates does not qualify as a “philosopher” to Larvus.

    Aside from the theorize-or-die approach, while I do not have a distinct sense of Mikhail’s “position” (I don’t have one of Levi’s either, as he changes it every five minutes, depending upon what he has just read), I have to say that I find his blog *philosophi-cal*, which I almost always find him engaged in Ideas, and he gives the pleasureable sense that he is contemplating what others are saying, weighing those thoughts, and even incorporating them into his world-view, if only perspectively. While Levi makes up countless “Fallacies” of questionable foundational logic, Mikhail does not “formulate a single concept”. I’m not sure which one is less philosophical. But in terms of how criticisms and disagreements are welcomed, it seems a bit more clear which one is more “philosophical”. Perhaps it is because Mikhail is not going around trying to police “fallacies” he can be more generous with the heretical, undead thinkers, but he does seem the more philosophical in spirit, (though certainly less the Professor of Philosophy).

  13. Levi Bryant [to Mikhail]: “Just like the wingnut Rush Limbaugh equating Obama and the democrats with the Nazis yesterday, you first begin by attributing the most obnoxious things to the person you’re entering into discussion with and then characterize their position in the most absurd terms…Honestly, you sound like these protesters at the health care meetings, screaming endlessly, mischaracterizing the healthcare plans, and refusing to believe it when the politicians point out that they have no desire to do the sorts of things the protesters are accusing them of doing. You are the philosophical equivalent of a teabagger and about as relevant.

    Levi Bryant: [Things I hate]: ” Racists, jilted white men, insecure nationalists, misogynists and homophobes, trolls, Christianists and religious zealots of all sorts that are convinced they’re victims, gossips, etc., etc., etc. ”

    Mikhail, the Rush Limbaugh of Internet Philosophy…

    Hilarious.

    • Not of “philosophy” because apparently I know nothing of philosophy, just “the Rush Limbaugh of Internet” please – clearly Levi is in one of his famous pissy moods (no one’s safe from those, even close friends, so I’m okay with this outpouring of truth), let’s just all take a deep breath and wait for it to pass.

  14. Ouch, Emelianov takes one on the chin and in the crotch – it’s a knockout!

    Nothing like a good fight between bloggers, it happens so rarely on the internet – at least LS is not threatening to destroy our valued bitter old man like Harman would, although I’m sure he’ll be posting private emails from third parties pretty soon.

    • Christ, I take the dog for a walk and a bitter exchange ensues. “Philosophical equivalent of a teabagger?” Sorry, but since this conversation has already begun to scrape the bottom of the barrel I can’t help but read this two ways. Tee hee. Where is Dejan when you need him?

  15. Shahar: “Sorry, but since this conversation has already begun to scrape the bottom of the barrel…”

    Kvond: Do you see what happens when you scrape even the thinnest layer of a “philosopher”‘s surface off? There simply seems very little “philosophical” about professional philosophers, even those that claim to be in exile from the very confines that define such a profession.

    M.E.: “Well, at least I don’t post comments and later erase them when the conversation goes south to present myself in a better light.”

    Kvond: Thank you for that.

    • I did erase Levi’s two last comments, including the one about graffiti – I take my “welcome” back, we’ll just have to agree to disagree – I publicly announce that I will never comment on Levi’s blog again and I hope he has a courtesy of not unleashing his anger on me on my own blog. I have nothing against him personally, I’m sure he’s a great guy when not in one of his moods (the existence of which he often confirms, so I’m not making this up) – let’s part, shall we?

      I do like the reference to monuments though, I haven’t thought of that – Harman came up with this “graffiti” imagery – for fairness sake, comments that Levi erased were not graffiti and they raised some questions which he should have just disregarded, but he chose to answer them and apparently in a way that he did not later like, so he edited the comment string leaving some of my comments and erasing others, when I requested that he erase all of my comments on that particular thread, I heard nothing back. But hey it’s his blog, he can do whatever he wants, right?

  16. Levi: “Just cleaning up the graffiti.”

    Kvond: Yes, its funny how all those types keep spray painting on the monuments.

    Guys I think Levi has to go whole hog and join Harman and K-Punk in the blissful land of commentless dictation to the masses. There is only one way to keep those ivory towers white.

  17. It’s all probably for the best, you two have been at each other’s throats for a while – it’s surprising that LS would come here and attack you out of the blue for no apparent reason like that, but maybe he just needed an audience and a kind of self-affirmation that would help him get over some slump, you know? Create a bit of drama (which he loves, of course, as everyone knows), maybe? Or perhaps this character assassination was a way to get closer to Harman, to prove to him that LS is also a mean-spirited and cruel type that would not stop at anything, a kind of gang test? He passed it, I think, to tell poor Mikhail that he never produced a single philosophical thought is pretty low, regardless of whether it is true or not.

  18. Lou: “It’s all probably for the best, you two have been at each other’s throats for a while – it’s surprising that LS would come here and attack you out of the blue for no apparent reason like that, but maybe he just needed an audience and a kind of self-affirmation that would help him get over some slump, you know? Create a bit of drama (which he loves, of course, as everyone knows), maybe? Or perhaps this character assassination was a way to get closer to Harman, to prove to him that LS is also a mean-spirited and cruel type that would not stop at anything, a kind of gang test? He passed it, I think, to tell poor Mikhail that he never produced a single philosophical thought is pretty low, regardless of whether it is true or not.”

    Kvond: No. He just got attracted to all the anti-academia talk, something Mikhail wasn’t really all that interested in, and then when Mikhail called him on some of his shit, and he flipped, which is always the case with Levi. You can’t ever question his facade without him going a bit ballistic. What he was expected, innnocence Levi, was a bunch of guys (perhaps even gals), all agreeing “Yeah, academia sucks!” “Gee, it really sucks” “Damn it sucks” with him being some sort of anti-academic figure, showing the way for how a-academic thinking can be done. The last thing he expected was to be questioned, well, not the last thing because he was trending lightly feeling that his comments might not be welcome. What he hoped for was a kind of gang-agreement, a poolhall version of what he expects on his own blog.

  19. I’m sorry to see how this exchange ended. Sympathy for everyone involved.

    Rather than continue this ‘debate,’ I was wondering if maybe I could tease out something interesting, concerning a rather Benjaminian theme of ‘progress’ that’s floating around unidentified in the polemics. All this talk of ‘newness’ vs. the need to know the ‘history of philosophy’ (understood as a disciplinary regime, I suppose, as a discourse) presupposes a fundamental belief that intellectual developments in the humanities exhibit the same features as the development in the sciences — i.e. that what we call ‘progress’ exhibits cumulative and transitive properties. Said simply, the reason names and faulty positions aren’t important in math (which is about the only ‘science’ I’ve ever taken courses in — and honestly, I was a terrible math student), past knowing why a theorem is called the so-and-so theorem, is that the history of the discipline is ‘built-into’ the newer techniques and approaches. The only history one needs are the competences to manipulate (and the vision to project) certain techniques. One can’t worry about non-linear algebra if one can’t do algebra first. One can’t do number theory, unless one has a handle on mathematical logic and the methods of proof. One can’t make it very far in systems theory, if one doesn’t understand Sigma-notation. So there’s a sense in which the competences one needs in order to study a science supersede a historical overview of the discipline itself. But this presupposes, of course, that the history of a discipline is ‘sedimented’ in its techniques and practical competences, which are themselves only important as means to some modern-day newness.

    It would be insane, for instance, to teach mathematical logic out of either Frege’s Begriffschrift or Russell and Whitehead’s principia Mathematica, since what’s valuable (or at least arguably valuable) is contained in our present — streamlined, more or less contradiction free — first-order predicate calculi. Although these texts are interesting (and there’s something really, really neat about Frege’s notation, which you can’t get in FOPCAL) from a historical perspective, they are totally useless for our present purposes. They’ve been outmoded, their deep insights absorbed, and their problems resolved (or the wacky bits that produced them have been dumbed).

    But the question remains: what outmodes a philosophical approach? Under what conditions would we say that some approach exhibits a cumulative and transitive property, which renders previous thought redundant? I’m not convinced there is any such condition — especially since the only appeal one can make is to nebulous notions like probity or truth, both of which, however, exhibit a contextuality and value-relevance that undercuts the idea of cumulative advance.

    Anyway, I would be interested to here what others think. Does philosophy exhibit a progressive movement towards some ideal state? What would this state mean, and how would we identify whether we’re moving away or towards it?
    It strikes me that unless you’re willing to embrace some such thesis concerning progress in the humanities, there’s no legitimate way of bucking the system, since there’s no set of competences (‘rules’) that arguably supersede historical antecedents.

  20. Pingback: back to school special: on being postacademic « The Long Eighteenth

  21. Pingback: Thinking about Teaching « Enfilade

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