Thursday, December 8, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Part of the prison of politics is that it freezes philosophy. Philosophy, above all, is given to question and to include. To ask "what is a prison" is to look at all sorts of prisons, and to say, "this, too, is a prison", often against the urgency of a political agenda that is not so interested in such elaborate and free enumerations and explications. It is not so hard to start listing possible prisons. Likewise, it is possible to work to go through those various examples and draw from them a kind of average or "mean", which is the meaning of the word, what we mean by "prison". This leads to a kind of philosophical definition, something deeper and more essential than a dictionary definition. This philosophical definition aims at giving to language the matter of the essence of the thing in question. Aung Sang Suu Kyi's statement is a reduction: she reduces imprison to one thing: fear. But I won't spend much time in the philosophical moment to list the vast, nearly innumerable things that imprison us, only one of which is fear. Yet, it may be as well that it is one of the effects of fear that it forces reduction, but that only begs the question as to what it means to say "freedom from fear". For this would imply that the freedom from fear would be a freedom from letting fear give us to define that which imprisons as fear only.
I don't raise this question out of disrespect for the truly "noble", in the best sense of the word, Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Nor is it my intention to disrupt our respect for her and her people's struggle, by any means. But I am motivated by several perceptions or moments of understanding: that there are all sorts of prisons and that the reduction to fear as such is itself, potentially, a kind of prison. But also that to understand other meanings of "imprisonment" is of importance precisely to the causes of people like Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her friends in protest for the sake of democracy while in the grips of tyranny.
To realize that there are many prisons, prisons of inability, of disability, of lacks of skills, of lacks of means, of lacks of thought, of lacks of freedom, is to realize as well that there are countless doors that can open to vast ranges of empowerment that, each in its own way, can contribute to the struggle for freedom. The Arab Awakening has begun due to one chief element that is not a freedom from fear, even if imprisonment has been a constant threat in the tyranny of the Arab dictatorships. The Internet is the chief game changer in the region. It has surged in use throughout populations not through some transcendence of fear, although that has surely played a role at times. Its progress has been based on technology. The sheer engagement with the Internet has opened minds to a new reality and realized historical progress to the point that the very idea of the dictator as such has become obviously wrong to more and more of the masses.
In this regard, then, the democracy movement in Myanmar would do well to emphasize not simply the fear that enables some of the imprisonment taking place, with this taking place in a monolithic struggle, however good and noble, but the sheer and simple distribution of the Internet. As the grips of tyranny tighten, of course, fear and actual detention, and the latter is not itself fear but actual imprisonment which has its own, irreducible effects, become a kind of foremost problem, to be sure. But just as fear imprisons, one such imprisonment is the idea that fear itself is the sole and primary prison. It is, in a way, for those in the grips of the most extreme power and enforcement, which is surely the case in Myanmar. But even so, the hope for the democracy movement may lie in the subtle and incremental extension of the Internet, and by this one really refers to freer thought and the simple fact of a "clickable reality" rather than following the prescribed thought of the dictatorial state. The grim struggle for freedom can itself disable this other, more everyday and even joyous work of releasing, step by step, the Internet to the region. It is not reducible to an overcoming of fear, while the famous and often necessary struggle against fear itself can, unfortunately, render us blind to the nature of change and what is required for it. Is Aung Sang Suu Kyi still in prison?
Sunday, June 19, 2011
But then perhaps one of the biggest sins of postmodern philosophers, and here the sense of "postmodern" I use is simply a most general historical sense -- so let me say serious, in-depth philosophers of the last 75 years, say -- is something that is a bigger sin than meets the eye. It has to do with the problem of pedagogy and introduction. On the one hand, a recent I think here of an interview with Derrida on "the question" shows someone speaking quite in earnest and not trying to be difficult. On the other hand, there are things like Glas and, well, most all of what Derrida wrote.
The problem is that if you have thought and read enough you know very well that this material can be difficult yet can also "flow like oil" and be as rich and basically true as a Bach fugue. It points the way to one's own thinking and that, too, can be very rich indeed. But there seems to be hitherto undeveloped basic possibilities for building paths into understanding that are, well, just better than what one ordinarily finds. This problem makes me feel like a worm twisting on a hook, because I already know that there are real pains taken in someone like Heidegger to spell out some things and if you think them through you think, ok, this isn't so hard and this guy is really unpacking more than you think. But I also think, no, wait a minute, there is a great deal more that is possible in terms of building paths of understanding into thought.
The greater sin then pertains to intellectual capitalism and in particular the problem(atic) (should be a "problematic") of the capitalism of talent, performance, production, etc. This problematic is not given to thought. From this standpoint, writing has tended to conform pretty strictly to the demands of the milieus of production: the academy, what scholars/professionals can be expected to be up to speed on, the texts that are being intersected with and referenced, even a certain standing expectation and even demand that philosophy be "difficult".
This relates to general questions of ability and what sort of attributions might go along with it. It relates to conversations that are mere asides, had at professors' desks and in cafeterias or restaurants more than directly in the substantive progression of the work of thinkers.
The issue isn't that though should just be "simplified". I think it should be affirmed that it can, if one wants, be richly complex and involved. But there is the general possibility of building paths into such thinking. Such paths appear to me to differ from summarization, which is, if not quite an industry, a kind of genre and even a kind of emergent mode of thought.
There are a lot of summarizations of postmodernism. They tend to read very similarly. They are not hard to do, apparently, and even seem to establish a kind of space whose contours and conditions are themselves worthy of reflection; they are likely to be more and more numerous as time goes on.
The problem is more along the lines of the "in depth reading". But I am pointing to something other than precisely that scholarly enterprise that one might find either in classes (typically of graduate students) or reading groups who accept the basic conditions and give a given text a go. So and so says that...what do you think the second chapter is up to?...how does this relate to so and so's other work...how does this concept operate in the text, etc.? All fine and good.
But there might be another kind of introduction. In fact, I'm pretty sure another kind is possible, but one that releases itself from immediately plunging into the text proper, yet which at the same time unfolds a given concept or conceptuality in a very step by step way, introducing something, but instead of just plowing forward and saddling the reader with still more concepts, footnotes, references to still more and vast literatures, traditions, etc. -- all of which would lead to the "aside" conversations at a desk or as an aside; "well, it's hard, yeah, but you gotta read so and so" and that's about it -- it might develop some thinking with another kind of goal, of simply "getting on one's feet" in a certain way, to the point of coming out the other side of such an introduction with a bit more of a real understanding that is not immediately knocked down by overwhelming demands.
It is as if (but not just as if) one faces a conversation in which very able people are busy at at, and one is tugging at their sleeve like a child, wanting to understand what is going on, and is shushed and told to just keep one's place and deal with it. It's also interesting that some of these "children" are people like Chomsky who really should know a little better and who might be expected to affirm that they understand at least something of a very large tradition and enterprise, rather than reduce it all to being incomprehensible.
It's not, by any means, a question of staying with "ordinary language" (hah). Try reading Andscombe's Intentions or Donald Davidson. No, I'm talking about another kind of writing/reading altogether. I think this general rubric has barely occurred to people, and this relates to that "greater sin" and a great unthought throughout the traditions: the question of performative (the performance of real understanding/reading/thinking) capability.
A number of preliminary questions could be discerned in the prima facies accompanying this space which I suspect are just stomped over and ignored.
Perhaps one clue for such thinking, paths in thinking, is that, just as Heidegger is able to take "this Dasein that has Being as an issue for itself" as an ongoing datum and entry into the unfolding of his Analytic in Being and Time, it is possible to take the issue and question of are you understanding, do you understand as itself a kind of ongoing basic datum. Going in and riding along with the question "do you understand me, are you worried about understanding this?" it is possible to establish a ground of understanding. "Ok, thus far we understand that we do not understand". This is fully of a piece with Chomsky's discourse on the matter; his reflections on Continental thought are not hard to understand, in the main.
It is possible then to begin to insinuate into such a progression more an more concepts that give power to that question. This might be a good strategy. As the person dealing with the problem of dealing with in general enters into such meditations, they are then introduced to concepts that are experienced quite fully and effectively as empowering, enabling, illuminating, clear, definite, effective, and formed well enough. This, in turn could do two things: point to ways that such conceptuality could be further developed, indicating a kind of writing, even giving an example that from a certain "from here" could be seen as both opaque and yet something to be desired, and it could then also give preliminary intersections with the more traditional literatre. "From here, you can see how it would be possible to develop more concepts that would basically have you thinking this 'question of understanding Judith Butler' in very 'Butlerian' terms indeed, and without the sense that there is some sleight of hand going on".
There are broader implications for this as well, since such "introductory, transformative dicsourse" also has some fundamental things to say about "thought, everyday thought", as such.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
In this complex, a number of associated thoughts: the Satrean ideal of the "active man", politically resolute and got it together ala Che Guevera, say. This linked with the business of the "presentation of philosophy" as "the book" (leaving aside, if it is possible, the issues of the death of the author and whatever massive capitalized enterprises there are long those lines), and dialogue.
With some interactions on reddit, I am finding that on the on hand as usual, dialogue doesn't go that far, on the other hand, it does, occasionally, go somewhere. But the issues what would it mean for there to emerge a more substantial "philosphical" trajectory that really does arise in dialogue? And perhaps this could like with the idea of the opening of thought in the likewise disruption of the notion of the book as such and the whole business of "thinking through being only to enter right back into it 'whole'" ala, again, the Satrean idea. Or a Foucauldian one, etc.
Rather, I favor a concept of thoughtaction that can never fully "return to the world" whole, and which has an inherent critique of that very "wholeness", holisim, "completeness" and the manners in which the sense of the "arena of being" is constituted. This includes the "post-postmodern" questions of how and nonviolence.
This makes so much sense to me, and feels at the same time to a tremendous "assault on", or divergence from, so many of the major assumptions of the world. And yet so right...
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
When moralence and errolence are used to obviate anything that get in their way, it is needful to always do something slightly wrong and make the work that of dealing with the "consequences" of this. That is, deal with the seizures, unbridled attacks, using the "wrongness" as the "excuse" to do anything, get rid of anything, ignore everything, etc. Why? Because that is what happens, that's why. It is the major source of what is wrong; it is the major thing that is wrong, plain and simple.
For me, this goes way back. Sometime in 6th grade, I got the sense that my friends were going into a kind of "ganging up" thing that I knew had something wrong in it. I told a story to my friends, of putting a penny on the railroad tracks. It stretched the penny (flattened it) a bit. I was going on to say how far it stretched it. Right then, in my mind, I felt a strong impulse to exaggerate this because of the reaction I knew was waiting around the corner were I to do so. I remember this moment as clear as day. I said it was about 3 inches or something, which is too big for a stretched penny on RR tracks, I think. They seized on this, which I knew they would do. I felt there was something wrong with this seizure. There was.
What was wrong goes very deep. Deeper, indeed, than I could have imagined. And my insight was spot on.