Subtle Egomania

I think the best examples of egomania are not the obvious “illusions of grandeur” that are easy to spot, but subtle intonations that suggest something like this: “I am doing X, I find X to be interesting and I am excited to do X, therefore everyone must be doing X and if, in fact, they are not doing X or think X is lame, there’s something really wrong with them, because, since I find X to be interesting, I can’t comprehend why they don’t.”

In philosophy this annoying characteristic is most often seen in people who project their own personal likes and dislikes onto the general field of philosophy and claim that because they are really into something and their friends are really into it as well, it is the latest most important idea in philosophy while any sensible person knows that it cannot be the case, because every single graduate student group, either online or offline, thinks its ideas are the freshest and the most exciting. But to cite an obscure early Christian writer, “When I was a graduate student, I thought like a graduate student, every book I read was the best book ever, every conversation I had was the most insightful and promising. But when I grew up, I realize how huge the world really is and how insignificant and banal my little observations are. I realized that there are people out there who neither agree nor disagree with me, because they are doing their own things and are not easily moved by my project.”

To think that just because you find online interactions productive for philosophy, they are the future of philosophy is foolish, especially since the blogs were around for many years and nothing philosophically interesting really came out of it.

On a sad personal note, my old iPod died today and I was going to go and try to get it fixed at the Apple store or get a new one, but guess what? I cannot, because tomorrow is the day iPad is out and there are already lines outside of the store. Damn it!

38 thoughts on “Subtle Egomania

  1. I don’t know.

    Isn’t one of the core lessons of existentialism that any human activity looks absurd and without meaning if one distances oneself enough from it?

    Aging really rubs this in. I remember when I was younger there was a period when I was interested in just about any conversation I overheard in a coffee house. There was a feeling of unraveling the mystery of being.

    But now that I’ve heard those same conversations so many times, they just seem kind of ritualistic, like birds chirping at each other. Increasingly the only kind of meaning that seems real is not screwing up being a human being too bad (I think all the attendant terrors of having offspring keeps you from becoming a total existentialist).

    But I can’t go all the way with respect to the coffee house conversations either. In my heart of hearts I have to believe that the kind of chirping when adolescents talk about philosophy or radical politics is somehow more important than the kind of chirping when they talk about sports, the various beastly things they get up to when drunk, or engage in the kind cruel humor and bitching they get from Fox News. . . And it’s hard for me to think that this is a difference that makes a difference if I don’t hope that philosophical study can still unravel a bit of the mystery of being.

    And so we try to pull ourselves up by our own hair, which as you note does look pretty silly (especially when in black and white and with a piano playing too fast ragtime alongside).

  2. I don’t think we are disagreeing here, Jon. Certainly, the insight that any activity/interest without me is perceived as meaningless or as insignificant. But I think to suggest the opposite, that is, that any activity that I am involved in is therefore the most important activity ever is only fair if you mean it without suggesting that everyone should also do what I do.

    I think conversations in coffee shops, of bars (for me, for the most part graduate school = bars, now = mostly coffee shops) are important, but they demonstrate my point exactly – a good conversation shows how many various ways of being there are (including how many various philosophical approaches there are). Of course, as one matures, one settles down – you can’t study everything. Graduate school is great fun because you can explore, but once you settled on a topic, it’s silly to imagine that somehow you chose the most important one, right?

    I’ve been reading a lot of musicological lit lately and most of the books are fascinating combinations of history and theory, but not too much philosophy, and I’m not sure why. As a philosophically inclined reader, I have all sorts of ideas, but it would be “egomaniac” for me to assume that my take on the subject matter somehow constitute the truth of the matter – and if I went around telling everyone that whatever it is I’m doing is the latest best thing in philosophy, people would laugh at me, wouldn’t they?

  3. Yeah, I think we’re not disagreeing about any propositions here.

    There’s a slight difference in temperament I think though. . . An example might be an issue with me and my wife. She tends to get really, really irritated with people who display any signs of arrogance, whereas I tend to excuse it in terms of inner insecurity or just something the person needs to go through while individuating themselves (it’s usually students at issue).

    I think part of it is my sort of Schopenhaurian pessimism coloring all this too. I kind of feel that hats should be off to anyone who can get enthused about philosophy. But to gin up enthusiasm you sometimes have to feel that what you’re doing is the most important thing in the world. Does that make sense?

    • It does. I think I take your correction to be the following: we must allow for a kind of hidden dimension to what appears to us as egomania/arrogance being in fact a kind of engine of progress or a kind of conscious or unconscious motivator of one’s progress. I suppose then that a “subtle egomaniac” would quite redeem him/herself if we were to witness a moment of weakness and thus understand that it was all just “psyching oneself up”?

  4. ‘To think that just because you find online interactions productive for philosophy, they are the future of philosophy is foolish, especially since the blogs were around for many years and nothing philosophically interesting really came out of it.’

    Yes, online interactions have occasionally produced good writing, though. Because they are more ‘writing’ than they are ‘conversations’, except the chat rooms, and that’s never good writing.

    ‘On a sad personal note, my old iPod died today ‘

    Does that mean it was Age 3?

    “(I think all the attendant terrors of having offspring keeps you from becoming a total existentialist).”

    Yes, I’ve heard that before, and it’s usually considered a ‘safe haven’ even when thought of cynically. I’ve heard such things as ‘how can you talk about Apocalypse and also take care of important things’, which always means things pertaining to offspring. If it’s just a childless couple, you often have the worst of all possible worlds, what with the inability to either become a ‘total existentialist’ or the charm of being forced to consider the kids no matter how you’d like to skip the domesticities on a somewhat prolonged basis. And those of us who sometimes do face the sensation of ‘total existentialism’ may resort to occasional discomforts, but we are fully aware that ‘the terrors of having offspring’ really are terrors, despite the animal warmth.

    “In my heart of hearts I have to believe that the kind of chirping when adolescents talk about philosophy or radical politics is somehow more important than the kind of chirping when they talk about sports, the various beastly things they get up to when drunk, or engage in the kind cruel humor and bitching they get from Fox News. . ”

    Whatever. Anything that gets you off.

    “I’ve been reading a lot of musicological lit lately and most of the books are fascinating combinations of history and theory, but not too much philosophy, and I’m not sure why.”

    Well, I’m sure of it, although not all of it. But it need be said that musicologists are often very minor musicians and very rarely artists, unless they are doing it as a secondary pursuit. But, given that, both musicologists and art historians often do see the limits of philosophy, just as do performing artists and creative artists. That’s one of the reasons why, even if you like many of these double-professional or ‘avocation musician who also philosophe’, you have not yet brought a single one who was a great musician. You may like the music, but we all know more about what Nietzsche said about Wagner (and how he obviously was too close to it to continue valuing it, which it deserves, quite obviously–even if you don’t like it, there’s really no more arguing with Wagner than there is with Bach or Beethoven) than we do about his own music, and some of us did not run to hear the latest Adorno of which you informed us, despite our joy at knowing ‘Moses and Aaron’ fairly well (amusing piece, the ‘golden calf’ part is the only section that anyone wants to listen to, there’s something unexpected about Schoenberg succeeding at a sensual sound). Since I’ve read a lot of philosophy for an amateur, and upon doing a concert in 2002, my hostess, an art historian, said ‘I’m really not attracted to philosophy, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything important’. Well, I hadn’t expected to hear anything so blunt about psychology, although she was coarse and heavy-handed about almost everything else as well, so I don’t know why I shouldn’t have.

    The fact that you haven’t been able to find any important composers among philosophers, none that would interest anyone but themselves, is part of it. The other part is that art really doesn’t have that much to do with philosophy per se, it has had something to do with religion and therefore philosophy, since they are so related that Heidegger is divided into his ‘theological period’ and his ‘whatever the second one was period’. Philosophers always definitely think they are pursuing something more profound than artists, and they pronounce upon art very freely. Sometimes they say worthwhile things, as all of the Heidegger book on art is excellent, if limited to ‘great art only’, which is almost as tedious as Adorno’s silly stuff about ‘the popular light cinema’, a theory about which nobody cares and nobody should care, as it’s not especially ‘arrogant’, just arid and musty and like some fusty old German professor’s cluttered office. In having engaged with many philosophers on the internet (the ones I could stand), I have found that they are either of a very flexible and open sensibility (like John Doyle) without having explored classical music too much, although he had seen some Wagner, etc.), like Mikhail (who really does know classical music, and areas that I don’t myself know), like Nick Land (who knows philosophy very comprehensively and independently, but has a ‘working class’ identification with the ‘popular arts’, and a cynical attitude toward ‘elitist art’, calling even Shakespeare ‘pulp’, which is total bullshit, and he has no intention of ever correcting this, not seeing it as a fault); and most of the internet philosophers are like this, they know NOTHING about the serious arts, have only the tiniest dillettante’s knowledge, while yet knowing all about Kant and Hegel and Marx, and then what the fuck do they do? Talk about Radiohead and Lady Gaga. Arpege Chabert is an exception, but then she’s an independent person like me, and does know opera, and reads a lot more voraciously than I do.

    But that’s why I think you’re juxtaposition of philosophers and musicologists is very illuminating: Artists and philosophers very rarely overlap except as dillettantes to each other, and one of the things Arpege pointed out so astutely, is that I mistakenly assumed that all these people going on about Latour and Jameson and Heidegger and Adorno and Kant and Hegel and Kierkegaard and ZIZEK (!) would know something about real music and painting and theater. Well, most of them don’t. But what doesn’t really follow is what they DO want to talk about when they’re not going on endlessly about Marx: They want to talk about the latest trendy movies, and they wish to do this ad infinitum, and they then do this. And they claim that they are finding the truth today’s philosophy reflected in these shit products. We surely find all the great philosophers’ works coalescing perfectly in ‘Antichrist’ and ‘Inglourious Basterds’, don’t we? It’s truly so ridiculous.

    I don’t know, Mikhail, maybe you’re lucky for being Russian in that way, you were going to get something of the classical arts no matter what. Otherwise, you are the exception, like me, from a totally remote and backward culturally part of the U.S., but who had some talent. But Arpege’s point was excellent: These philosophers want seriousness to be paid to their circumscribed discipline, I think they think philosophy and literature are okay because they come in ‘cheap form’, i.e., reading material, but pop/rock music are no less expensive than opera/ballet/concerts.

    Long ramble, I know, maybe there are a few things in that impromptu, but mainly that musicologists, even on the most prosaic level, know how little philosophers as such have had effect on musical evolution, and this holds with artistic production in general. I suppose Soviet art does stem directly from Marx, though, and don’t we all just love it?

    • Thanks for these reflections, however rambling (isn’t rambling just an old word for blogging anyway?) I have to process it now. I do agree with your observation that “artists and philosophers very rarely overlap except as dillettantes to each other” and I wonder why that is. I agree with your explanations and I grow more and more frustrated with my inability to really penetrate this rather mysterious issue. Not that I would consider myself to be anything but a dilettante in music and philosophy (regardless of some educational background and a diploma) – I think when I do think about it and realize that I would have been more than happy to have become a conductor, I know that it’s most likely a kind of “grass is greener on the other side” thought. I’m glad I’ve studied music when younger, I’m glad to be able to nod understandingly when I hear about harmony or tonality or any other technical aspect of music, but I think becoming a professional in any area almost necessarily closes off a number of avenues – it’s obvious, for example, that philosophers would not care for, say, technical knowledge of non-philosophical disciplines, but one would think that, holding themselves to be a sort of cultural elite, they would at the very least attempt at something better than a dilettante discourse on everything art-related?

  5. One small correction “Quantity”- It doesn’t “get me off.” The bit you quoted is something that as far as I can tell should be found to be nearly unbearably depressing to any sensitive human being. So I really have no idea what you are getting at with that point of snark (and I’m *not* complaining about snark per se, this being an otherwise excellent blog where snark also comes to die- I just don’t get that bit of it in “Quantity’s missive).

    Another more significant point though with respect to Mikhail’s claims- I think dilettantism is a pretty good thing on the whole, and fear of it can be pretty destructive. I mean I’m happy to be a philosophical dilettante. I don’t think professional training could reliably produce anything different. Being a big P philosopher is just too sui generis–which relates to Mikhail’s original point about humility.

    This in fact is I think the one nice thing about analytic philosophy, is that it reliably trains people to achieve slightly better than mediocre results (via the article system and fixation on soundness of arguments). But to think one could devise a teaching algorithm for anything else is hubris.

    • I certainly am not against “dilettantism” as such – I mean I take the distinction between dilettantes and professionals as it is already used, but without a necessary attachment of judgment (dilettantism = bad, professionalism = good). And do like the tradition that, instead of producing a small number of superstars (and, let’s be honest, creating a “make it big or die” kind of mentality among the doctoral students where everyone’s trying to become a next big scholar), produces a large number of competent teachers (which is what it’s suppose to be doing anyway).

      At the end of the day, I wonder if academy and its “professionalism” among philosophers killed the sort of dilettante spirit of constant exploration and curiosity? And if there’s anything that could be done about it? Certainly, if someone doesn’t care for music, for example, it’s almost impossible to persuade them that it is worth their effort to get into it, because most of, say, contemporary kinds of music require much effort (I’m reminded of our exchange, Jon, on training ourselves to enjoy music of type X etc etc). I think I have only recently gotten to a point where, instead of doing it just to fulfill some intellectual duty, I really do enjoy an occasional quiet moment with a long and subtle piece by someone like Luigi Nono or Xenakis – that is to say, my auditory skills finally developed to a point of really hearing the subtleties and it only took, I don’t know, 20 years, right?

      This might not be connected to the topic, but I wonder if art/music in the US (or maybe any capitalist society) tends to be of secondary important because it is perceived not as something valuable in itself, but as something supplementary to other activities?

      • Mikhail, you are simply not a philosophy nerd and I guess you are also don’t like role playing games?

        You show little interested in upgrading your magic Heideggerian sword in order to defeat the mighty Kantians who have stolen the philosophers stone and are allied with all sorts of dubious folks, including the powerful scientfic materialists which look the opposite but are idealists in disguise. In order to enter the adversary Kantian territory you have to pass the Latourian ridge but be aware not to fall into the Abyss of Relationism. On your journey there are false friends, former allies, who have to be demasked as Crypto-Kantians, like some of the speculative realists…

        Like other nerd folks with their trolls, elves, wizards and hobbits, you can endlessly tinker around in the philosophical role playing world, add new figures, properties and locations and suspend others and a new game or new constellation, leading to a good match, is what the next-big-thing is about.

      • But I want to play with other kids! Don’t you see? All this attention, all this constant blogging about objectology is nothing but a cry for help, a cry for attention, it’s a plea to be accepted! How can I be more clear about it?

  6. The ‘snark’ was not very serious, if at all. I guess I’m just ready to get into my ‘heart of hearts’ about what young people’s idealistic moments are as opposed to their crude ones. After all, now that we’re talking about the problems of the Arts and philosophy and how the twain meets at best in a kind of Illumined Dillettantism, I could say the same thing about music or opera or dance, which they might well be more disposed to do with passion than they might Husserl, albeit only more so when drunk. But I just don’t care what they do if they do their job, I was recently in a hilarious Louis XIV style discussion about a top ballerina on Twitter and some were just incensed that she would Twitter between acts (even if not immediately onstage), that that made their ‘lofty impression’ sink. I told them that Ms. Bouder thinks of her perfect balances in the Rose Adagio of Sleeping Beauty as prosaic and mundane after a certain point of mastery, and is only really involved with them when she’s making she that she, like perhaps 3 or 4 others in the world, is really giving everything to them. I also said, well, if you don’t like Ashley to Twitter backstage in her dressing room, then why don’t you ‘keep artistic religiosity sustained’ by meditating throughout the intermissions and requesting that the entire audience be silent instead of pissing, shitting and/or eating overpriced sandwiches.

    But as for correcting me, you cannot do that! You may, however, chastise me…I’m quite sure I deserve it, I just wanted the opportunity to use ‘what-evah’…oh well, I have been corrected on my misspelling, and I do know where that fault originated now.

    Like this discussion of ‘dilettantism’, and just last night I read a marvelous short story by Louis Auchincloss about a dilettante New Yorker, who’d grown up in Italy and had developed highly refined tastes in art although was not terribly good at any one particular skill himself. The marvelous irony was that he wanted to write a memorial to his dead son’s truly outstanding poetry, but could not get past the fact that he found them dull. This is one of the funniest ideas I ever heard. This was early 20th century New York, when ‘dilettante’ meant something more specific. I like this opened-up definition of dilettante, because, in fact, even a painter who loves music can be a thoroughgoing dilettante when it comes to music. I do have a fair amount of knowledge of dance, but I am definitely a dilettante, but knowledgeable enough to write without any fear at all on the world’s best ballet board–which I did not know when I first got my feet wet there in spring, 2006, or I might not have become so outspoken there–and without worrying that I’m going to say something ‘wrong’. Because I do all the time, and told someone recently I think it very American to worry about making a fool of oneself, and that I have completely gotten over that, which is why I’ve learned so much, and why they all really do like my contributions there. But I am NEVER going to know certain secrets that the dancers themselves know (and plenty write there too), nor will I have encyclopedic knowledge of dance and its grammar the way even non-dancers like the Wall St. Journal dance critic have (he writes snooty little posts on the board and posts rare photos, as you might imagine, but this adds character). Then there’s one on there so fanatical a balletomane that I’ve been inspired to write a final chapter that begins with meeting her at a recent performance: We were meeting for the first time, and even afterward, at a cafe, she was unable to acknowledge that either of US existed, only the dancers and the works they were in, until I forced myself, at least, let her tits do what they wanted (and she DID use them to demonstrate something ‘bad’ in the choreography, and I am telling you, I didn’t ‘get it’ and it did NOT work! Well, this kind of totally religious fan is also not a dilettante like me, although she was definitely one who’s ‘deep satisfatction’ in the performance ‘sank’ upon reading Miss Bouder’s ‘intermission Twitter. I told her ‘I’m much more interested in what I think about miss Bouder’s performance than I am in what SHE thinks! After I’ve figured that out, then what she thinks, even it’s on some Twitter vapid thing, it adds to it, which her Twitter’s about her dog do not.’ (the balletomane woman had found it ‘wonderful’ to hear about ‘Ashley’s dog Scout’).

    In addition, there is a woman on the board who knows far more about movie history than I do, even though I’ve published work about film, which does have large bows to theory and even a few to philosophy, and I’ve finally had to accept that about studio history and encyclopedic knowledge of old film (including filmed Shakespeare), she really does know more facts a lot of the time. But I like my ‘old dandy dilettante’s taste’ for Garbo movies and Alain Resnais a lot more than her love of Julie Andrews and nearly got kicked off the board for it.

    So that ‘dilettante’ used to have more to do with over-refined taste in an amateur (I do some of this, as I’ve just explained, while not being a dilettante when it comes to music, so I am what is called an Emancipated Dilettante, Out & Proud!), now here I think we are talking about substantial amount of knowledge of other disciplines, but not yet to the point of technical knowledge. Now this woman that I’m writing the piece ‘The Balletomane’ about, DOES have enormous technical knowledge of ballet, although she did also prove to me by her demonstration of Aurora in a public cafe that she DOES NOT DANCE.

    Also, I’d act that Nick Land has vast knowledge of pop and rock music, and even some music theory that’s not to scoff at either. So that’s much more than the usual ‘dilettante overlap’, like yours in music, Mikhail, and mine in ballet: These are all three forms of really taking something seriously that we don’t practice professionally. What I objected to in him is his ‘allergy to classical music’, and his refusal to correct this, rather to call me a ‘faux-aristo balletophile’ and ‘paleo curio’ and also that High Modernist Serialism was a ‘fad’, nevermind it has been a highly esteemed technique for at least 80 years, and is probably the most innovative musical technique of the 20th century. Also, the composers most involved in it were not aristocrats themselves, who would have thought all that much too much work, as when Boulez was first coming into prominence, a clever Parisian society lady said ‘there was Boulez, small, fat, a real peasant, and this made such a marvelous impression’. And he liked to hang out with these bitches as time went on–I think he wrote of being at the Duchess of Argyle’s castle in Scotland and hearing some uncanny flute music being played by a ‘changeling’ type (in the sense of a kind of insane idiot savant).

    So my own dilettantism in philosophy is all right too, I don’t mind saying dumb things if I’ve read at least something. If it’s Ranciere or Spinoza (that last is an especial omission, I’ve only read a few pages, but that’s that), I won’t say much if anything, because I know nothing. And even the ones I’ve read fairly extensively as an amateur, as Heidegger, I don’t usually think I have anything special to offer, except what I might have noticed from the artistic perspective, which is to say in the Heidegger book, I picked up a lot of nooks and crannies, although others would have too, especially loved his description of the linguistic switch from the Greeks to the Romans which he points to as having changed an entire ethos of Western culture (I would never have guessed it was that far back, and it makes it VERY hard, at least for me, to focus on Ancient Rome, more than any other period, and yet I always try to, becuase I know there’s a lot there, and maybe about some of those things Heidegger was a dilettante himself, you know. What he said about the Greek statue was the best, though, much better than his Van Gogh Chinese Peasant Shoes thing, you could have found that in Art Journal, or in a press release at a gallery. But he said ‘the sculpture is ITSELF the god’. Now that was HOT. I wouldn’t have thought that schmuck able to enter into something that sexy. And I’ve never forgotten it. It’s been pointed out a number of times how little he’s ever said about music, though.

    • Is dilettante the same as amateur? Clearly, the idea that one has no technical knowledge of area X and therefore cannot say anything about it is rather new, isn’t it? My intuition is that it has to do with division of labor and general professionalization in our capitalist society. I mean take this really annoying notion that only those who are experts in philosophy (i.e. published many essays/books) are allowed to share their observations or critique other philosophers – where is that coming from? Does it mean that if someone played a piano piece in a way I find to be dull, I can’t say anything about because I don’t play piano at all? Have to run – more later.

  7. This requires an elaborate answer, I have little time! But basically, sometimes yes, they are the same thing, and sometimes no. Sometimes ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ are even the same thing, but that’ even more highly specialized.

    Does it mean that if someone played a piano piece in a way I find to be dull, I can’t say anything about because I don’t play piano at all?

    Oh please, YOU of all people asking something like that, after I told you about the woman with huge bust imitating an exquisite ballerina in a public cafe at Lincoln Center. And I say anything about the dancers I want to on the ballet board, recently I wrote that the Prince Florimund in Sleeping Beauty had ‘little Prince to speak of’. Now that was even lewd, of course, but I got away with it because of seniority. You can get away with anything with senionty.

    A toute a l’heure.

    • I used the example to show the absurdity of an assertion that is becoming very popular among blogophilosophers, that is, that only those who do philosophy professionally (teach it and/or published it, see Harman’s Principle of Allowable Criticism) can express views on philosophy, especially when it comes to pointing out flows or inconsistencies.

      If you ever get some free time, observe the way certain bloggers react to the appearance of new commenters – first you probe their institutional affiliation, then you are nice to them in case they are “big shots” then you probe their views on important keywords, then once you discovered they are nobody important, you lower your tone and trash them and their views – I could give you a number of classic examples of the strategy. Our very own Alexei (who’s been away for a while) experienced it first hand while commenting under a pseudonym over at Objectology Central.

  8. I guess so, almost didn’t see this one from today. Many academics do posture as though it didn’t have much to do with their ego and need for acceptance and attention–except when they then do want to just talk about themselves and such things as their psychiatry sessions. There are all sorts of degrees in this, and marked differences in sincerity–sincerity which is almost always claimed in one way or another, as in following the ‘correct politics’ and ‘being more adult’. Some of the bloggers just aren’t much fun, and some don’t really know much of anything, and the blogging becomes too prominent in their persona. Some play very subtle games, and you have to learn what their rules are, if you think they’re worth playing with. And so forth. I don’t know about ‘cry for help’, though. It’s legitimate, if you’re not getting much attention elsewhere, to try to get it online, but I don’t find it satisfying as such in that way. I like to talk to people about things, but don’t like to get involved with fictional personas unless it leads to the real person. That’s why I left that blog for good, it wasn’t going to ever change from making little ‘playlets’ about relationships between bloggers that they don’t really have, and saying it’s that form of psychoanalysis. I can’t believe I did it as long as I did. Maybe it was my delayed ‘mid-life crisis’, but now that I’ve recovered from the inflammation, I still feel pretty young (even though I’m not.) Just throwing out a few ideas here. I do tend to pick out the ones who I find the most outstanding in specific ways, and I guess everybody else does too; it’s just I don’t know how to find Harman and Levi interesting, they just bore the fucking hell out of me, no matter their reputations (good for them, they’ve got plenty of people entranced, it looks like to me, however inexplicably it seems to me.)

    I just realized you really do have one of the nicest blog designs, it is easy to read, always works, I don’t know, do you pay more than other people. John’s is nice, except it doesn’t list the posts. I do like the Reply function, which a number have added in the last year or so.

    I’d imagine my ‘state of grace’, while having been shameless, is because I don’t have much literal investment in a reputation among these bloggers, so that k-punk and his merrie men all think I’m disgusting and a laughingstock. But I know what they don’t know too. Those London Socialists aren’t all that sharp, and Arpege paid no attention to k-punk doing his number about her being an ‘opera goeur’, and yet all his little followers thought it was a huge coup. It was nothing of the kind. Maybe he has some talent, but I never have remembered to read him regularly.

    • What I learned from “philosophy blogging” is that everything gets soon very personal, catty and offensive. I didn’t like it at the school ground but as I grow older the rude and boyish: “first we beat each other and then we can be friends” starts to make more sense to me.

      A few short criticisms.

      OOO. It lacks the virtue of a systematic approach which might be part of the game though. Once you start appraising “irreductions” it is not clear what you can derive? Anti-logical thinking, intentional violation of the identity principle and the modus ponens … aren’t new aspects of philosophical discourse but I do find they shall be reflected on a meta-level, just like the criticism of “reductionism”. Instead we notice a re-iteration of claims, which are linked to personal remarks, spread over numerous blog articles. Maybe this works after all, but only within a small blogospheric circle.

      k-punk. “Capitalist Realism” has a good chance to become yet another buzzword linked to arbitrary associations. Marks reflections on the simulative “nu bureaucracy” in his latest book are interesting, but ironically the most coherent account to defeat it can be found in pro-capitalist, “libertarian” management theories i.e. management theories surrounding start ups, the new economy, agility, leanness etc. They are decidedly anti-managerialist and about empowerment, entrepreneurship, teamwork … They are known to scale down well, but it is not known much about scaling up. Successful instantiations on the large scale are now under suspect of “digital maoism” ( Jaron Lanier ). Not sure if this is the new collective Big Other k-punk is dreaming about? I guess not.

      • I have never read k-punk much, I tried but never really found it interesting. For all their alleged flows, objectologists (at least early on, before they all bunched up into a tight group hug) are talking philosophy and I can distinguish some familiar words and attempt to make sense. K-punk reads as a sort of wanna be cultural critic without anything really thought-provoking to say (plus I find it hard to take all that “grey vampire” and “troll” and “energy sucking” bullshit seriously). Of course, I haven’t read “the book” – I don’t have an access to it here in the East Jesus Land, but I probably would read it if it crossed my way. I’m all about reading new things and buzzwords, but I suppose it’s not as magical anymore as when I was younger – “ahhh, speculative bananology” or “ooh, materialist ontocrapology” – who gives a damn about sexy titles? Eventually these graduate students will get their PhD and spread around – some will get jobs, most will end up doing something else (if the market is the same) – and new acolytes will have to be recruited etc etc. I’m yet to hear/read any significant piece of philosophical reaction to objectology that is not coming from their own inner group, and it’s probably good for them. But you’re right, at this point the echo effect has reached the next level – now there’s no need for actual philosophical argumentation or logic, it’s all just a matter of “I’ve wrote about it before in my post on onticology” (I’m waiting for someone to finally point out how fucking ridiculous the term “onticology” is both from linguistic and philosophical perspective), you know?

      • The absence of logics goes deeper than the inevitable social gaming and is the reason why “occasionalist” philosophies are not given more treatment as a side note in the history of philosophy – at least not so far. For the last 2.500 years all intellectual endeavour was directed towards finding relevant and intellectually transparent connectives. Now it is about disposing them. What has been allocated, must be deallocated.

        Formal causality, logics, abstractions, noise reductions, … have all failed. What is left than is the “real”. First it was the real of the language and the absence of meaning ( i.e. any higher level than that of occasional structure and the infamous significant ), now it is the reality of objects which escapes any scientific model and grasp. I don’t think objectology comes by accident, but is a relocation of poststructuralism with different topics set on the agenda. Like it or not, Harmann is the new Derrida, which doesn’t of course mean they have much in common in appearance, interest and style, which is good thing in my opinion.

        Just look at the semantic apparatus. Real objects are objects withdrawn from their qualities for Harman or they are hysterical accumulations of “generic mechanisms, virtualities, potentialities” and what not for Levi. After all it is the negativity, the absolute difference the non A = A which defines them and we have to perform a speculative jump to acknowledge that there is something.

        Why is the objectologists discourse so monotonous?

        In mathematics there is the concept of an “affine space”. The difference between the affine space and a “vector space” is that a vector space has a definite origin which enables coordinates while an affine space has none. So equipping an affine space with an arbitrary origin turns it into a vector space which is the useful concept for algebraic computations. The difference between the affine space and the vector space is analogue to that of the difference between the real and a representation or that between “smooth spaces” and “marked spaces” for Deleuze. The real never becomes a representation and the representation is different from a representation of a representation and so on. So everything exists in a deferred state for everything else, which access it by making differences and this is also true for self-representation. There is no axiology involved yet: what makes one representation “better” than another one, what lets one translation fail, while another succeeds, why does this scheme of things works out while another grossly fails?

        Objectologists still seek for connectives and Harman came up with “vicarious causation” which no one understands how it can possibly work. kvond blamed Harman for establishing a Ponzi scheme on it but I do think it’s inevitable to come up with a funny solution like that when starting from the real and trying to avoid falling back into representations and it is not a preliminary solution. Same goes with Levis virtualities and potentialities and their infinite and arbitrary degrees of freedom. All of this explains nothing but provides some appeal of connectivity and this is probably also sufficient for an audience which likes metaphors and analogies more than strict thinking. Who said that Foucaults famous premodern episteme has ever vanished?

        The socio-technical background of this philosophy is one in which current stems from a power-socket for anyone but an engineer who has to ask deeper and needs better representations than “generic mechanisms” or “vicarious causation”. But somehow the engineer has still to be topped by the philosopher who doesn’t know much about current at all, can’t do any non-trivial computations, but acknowledges the hidden secret of current, hidden forever from the engineer: current is real, more real even than anyone of us, even the engineer with his scientifically trained brain will ever grasp. Socrates has to finally triumph, not only about the Sophist but also the doctor and the carpenter.

      • Thanks, Kay. If this was some other blog, I would immediately pen a response post with long quotations from your comment and an opening sentence like this:

        “In a recent beautifully formulated paragraph, that is also deliciously insightful and awesomely thought-provoking, my best friend Kay is making some great points. I am presently very buys grading and/or I am running out of the door but I would like to respond to it (very schematically).”

        Which would be followed by 10,000 word post about everything I know and don’t know.

        Speaking of currents – almost got shocked (probably to death) recently while unplugging my laptop at a hotel – my first thought was not, of course, “Man, was that real?” but “Who the fuck built this socket this way?!”

        This socio-technical angle of approach always fascinated me – I’ve stopped bothering with reading much of objectological lit, but if you look at anything Levi writes in terms of “why is this a new and more interesting approach” you’ll inevitably get a paragraph like this one:

        “My thesis is that we know not by looking or passively gazing, but by acting on things and seeing how they respond to these actions. It’s only in this way that we discover the powers of objects. Knowledge is about what objects do and can do, not about what properties an object might present to vision. This thesis, I believe, is consistent both with the findings of developmental psychology and laboratory science. The whole point of laboratory science, for example, is to manipulate objects, to act on objects to discover what powers they have under specific conditions.”

        Awesome, right? But notice the rhetorical strategy here: a) dismiss all the others as idiots looking at objects (say, any serious philosopher since Aristotle), b) propose to act on them and claim it’s a new approach everyone was missing all this time (people were just staring at water until objectologists came and started boiling it), c) imply that philosophy is useless (cf. “leisurely class” in the same comment thread) and we need to get cracking on this “laboratory science” business, d) stay a philosopher, collect a paycheck from a college, don’t become a scientist, forever moan about how philosophers are too passive and how they need to get with objects.

        Well, then get off your goddamn philosophical ass and do something about it! Quit your job and go work at the lab and write your objectological treatises at night, no?

      • Yes, it was the ‘current’ which struck me to in Kay’s comment–it’s power, which in its unarguable ‘realness’, has to be worked with, cooperated with, not ‘manipulated’ or ‘acted on’ except in exceptional cases like the socket design, etc. If the current is the ‘more real’ even than the engineer’s knowledge, it’s the only thing that’s really interesting unless and until it’s destroyed. Material phenomena that still prove to be unmanipulable, various diseases or even death (I got yet another email about the movie of ‘The Singularity is Near’, from Ray Kurzweil, even though I’d unsubscribed a month ago, sick of the stuff, in which there was talk of ‘curing death’)…well, death ought to be another object like the current that you are just going to have to work with and around before this ‘acting on’ is all that convincing. Because it’s more powerful than anybody else has become yet.

        “My thesis is that we know not by looking or passively gazing, but by acting on things and seeing how they respond to these actions. It’s only in this way that we discover the powers of objects.”

        No, that is not awesome. We know both by ‘passively gazing’ AND by ‘acting on things’ what their powers are, because whether or not you act on it determines something different about what you know. You have to know when NOT to act on something. And if that is too ‘obvious’, then the stuff really is useless. The minute you bring up something like ‘current’, which really is more powerful than just working with it actively, as the engineer, or passively, as the light-switch operator spoiled-bitch, etc., of the other kind of ‘leisure class’, then you are talking about things that are not just inside the discipline.

        Well, I would probably be more likely to award the Derrida Prize to Harman than Mikhail, who would both value Derrida more and know him more. I’ve read a fair amount of Derrida for an amateur dilettante, and I do not find him worthwhile for me any further. This is not how I feel about Deleuze, for example. One thing Harman is NOT is the ‘new Deleuze’. Just think how impossible that would have been to say even preceded by the ‘like it or not’. One doesn’t even have to muse on such a ridiculous formulation. And whether Derrida is ‘someone you like or not’ as I don’t, then you surely must know that people have very frequently gotten sick of him, finding him a waste of time. Find them ignorant or not (including me), they are just not going to spend any more time with him on pain of n’importe quoi, critique ou autrement. The concerns begin to seem so small and inconsequential, so impotent. Levi’s paragraph is anything but awesome, in fact it doesn’t even come across as ‘complicated enough to seem fearsome’. It just seems bland. Maybe if there’s not a total ‘end of history’, which has always suggested an amusing sort of ‘blockage’, still there are probably scattered versions of people knocking their heads up against that impossible ‘end’ all over the place. They’re just going to have to get with the new programme at some point, or find one of the old ones that is not just another bloodless turnip.

      • Without trying to outdo Outis’ claim concerning the lack of any engagement with the history of philosophy, but the passivity of vision has been a dead dog since the 60’s. See Martin Jay’s With Downcast Eyes

        It seems a little strange that thinkers immersed in precisely this tradition are now claiming that it has been too concerned with the passivity of vision.

      • They need enemies, they need to prove to everyone that this is a new philosophy – pointing out that it’s all been done before is the most irritating thing to them, if you read the comments.

      • Has the “history of enemies” superseded “the history of problems” and “the history of concepts” then?

      • It seems that it did, doesn’t it? I mean it’s not that unusual to set yourself up against those you think are in need of correction, it’s just that in this case it’s not clear what exactly is being corrected. Take the issue of “access” – it’s not resolved, it’s simply brushed aside (“We don’t want to worry about epistemology, we’re doing ontology”). When Harman claims that it is not “nonsense” to speak of objects related to each other without a subject, he is correct, but it’s also not “nonsense” to speak of dragons and tooth fairies, yet it doesn’t mean they exist. It’s a nonfictional fiction (as John Doyle called it, I think) and it’s great that it exists, but I was under the impression that philosophy (especially its ontological efforts) were concerned with more than just empty speculations…

    • “Do you pay more than other people?”

      No, we don’t pay at all, it’s all free – just tweaked a few things here and there to please the masses. I think even the Reply button was added automatically with the design – it gets confusing sometimes when “Reply” comments go with a different comment and so on. Honestly, I’ve mostly used the blog as a kind of collection of links and recent information (books to remember to read, article to look up and such) and sometimes some ideas to throw around to see what they look like next day when I read them, and if they are dumb, I leave them anyway, it’s good for the soul (I think).

      Picking on objectologists is fun, because it is easy, but I also feel bad sometimes because what is usually meant as light-hearted ridicule is taken as horrible destructive attacks – like it really matter what I write here, right?

      • Mikhail,

        First, I insist you “google” yourself everyday and then post something like: “here’s a website, it’s in Farsi, but I’m mentioned. While I don’t read Farsi all that well, it looks good.”

        Second, whenever faced with a critique dismiss the criticism because (1) it’s coming from a person who isn’t old enough to understand what in the world he/she is talking about, but at the same time, be sure to vigorously insist that the “democracy” of the interwebs is awesome for philosophy or (2) it’s coming from someone you’ve deemed as a troll that sucks your precious energy or (3) appear to address the criticism by clinging tenaciously to whatever blog post or slogan you’ve come up with recently or (4) admit it’s a decent (and surprisingly fair) critique (if it’s from one of the “good” ones–see 1 and 2), but note that you either don’t have time to address it at the moment because you’re too busy exercising your mediocre sense of humor or you will address it in a future article/blog post/book chapter/public presentation. Also, with regards to 1-4, it’s very important to always be sure to lecture others on various topics, encourage networks, assemblages and relations, but balk whenever somebody criticizes you (return to 1 above).

        Third, I’m waiting anxiously for our interviews to be published by our new open-access press. What’s going on?

      • Ha, that one Russian website he linked to actually bashed him in the comments (I didn’t want to say anything because it was funny).

        Yeah, about the interviews, I actually just needed money for booze, so that “initial investment” conversation we had was a desperate move to get some cash. Sorry about that.

  9. Oh sorry, I meant to Reply to your today’s last note, and obviously forgot to push the Reply button.

  10. I interrupt this thread to mention that I will not be receiving the Nobel Prize, at least not this year. Some people have been wondering and sending me emails, but please don’t jump the gun. One day, for sure, there are so many of them these days anyway, not sure whether I will win one or two, whether in literature or chemistry or peace or economics. But not quite yet. And I won’t be like Sartre and turn it down in some sort of high-minded gesture of false humility — no, I’m going to go on stage and denounce all of those people who ever doubted me and my world-historical ontology. If that’s what I win the prize for — I haven’t decided yet. Just to let you know.

  11. (plus I find it hard to take all that “grey vampire” and “troll” and “energy sucking” bullshit seriously).

    Aha. I’m glad you brought it up, it’s for me less whether I take it seriously or not, than that he presented it in this ‘official’ way, so that it seemed like he had the authority to say it. He doesn’t.

  12. The wheel they’re reinventing this week – knowledge requires acting on things – is at least 200 years old (Chapters B and C of the Phaenomenologie). But hey, I wouldn’t want to sap their energy by pointing that out.

    • If you do, they might hit you back with as much power as they have (and feel no remorse, since it’s your fault for antagonizing them). Damn, moratorium on not making fun of objectologists is not working – must…get…my…own…project…

  13. Well it strikes me that the explicit stance of the Objectology crowd is that it doesn’t need to correct anything at all — hence the animosity towards traditional scholarship. If I’m not mistaken, K-Punk’s whole theory behind Zer0 books is that one doesn’t have to engage in research before one starts theorizing a subject, and hence this theorizing is patently not about the history of a given problem or about a specific set of concepts or about anything at all. Funnily enough, it’s a form of intellectual production that only makes sense within the constraints of a capitalist economy (there’s an intelligent op-ed from a year ago here that discusses precisely the problem. It strikes me that the recent surge in vanity presses and journals is simply the natural outgrowth of our present medium and the pressures it places upon time, depth of research and sophistication of thinking, and ultimately the significance of theory in general. the surest way to become a dilettante or a fanatic is to start blogging. and both are the death of philosophy. Perhas that explains the move towards a “history of enemies”…..

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