No misdeed, no crime, no tragedy fills the op-ed pages of top American newspapers quicker than an elite college admissions scandal. Injustices surely more heinous happen every day, such that a cynic might begin to wonder if all those deeply personal expressions of indignation are less about systematic assaults on equality than they are about stolen valor.
Fallacies Left and Right
Having watched some of the Cohen testimony this week and more importantly the reaction of congressional Republicans to it, I’m reminded of an apothegm that I’ve rehearsed in my head for years nearly certain that I didn’t come up with it myself:
We’ve seen from the coffeehouse commissars in the West in the time of Stalin that the fallacy of the Left is thinking that the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
But the Right has its own enduring fallacy: that godless men can do God’s work. That’s what they thought in 1930s Europe. It’s what they thought in 1970-80s Latin America. And it’s what they’re fooling themselves into thinking today.
If you can’t persuade your MAGA family or friends to come over to your side (and you probably cannot), it’s worth it at least to remind them that you know the song their singing.
Lakes are people, my friend
Pride in place came a little too late. Kudos to my former home!
In general, it’s an interesting response to the abdication of regulatory authority by the governmental agencies responsible for environmental, labor, and consumer protection. If, under neoliberal governance, the only right respected is the right to private ownership, then everything should be made a private owner.
The eyes have hills
Bergson famously pointed out that we’re almost totally incapable of speaking about time without the language of space. And in order to do so, Bergson found that he had to bracket time altogether, imagining a language of duration. What’s presupposed here is that thought without language is nearly impossible. In order to go further into the metaphysics of change and integrity, we have to go back through the linguistic maze by another entrance.
The other day, for the first time in ages, I put on contact lenses. What I saw in the mirror was the equivalent of looking underneath my skin. I saw what I had very quietly assumed but never needed to think about because I have either been too blind to see it in detail or else it was obscured by the frames of my glasses: there’s a topography to my eyes. Noticing a few scattered bits of gray on my temples or chin is nothing like the sudden appearance of crescent valleys, bulging peaks, and dried up river beds stretching over my very own ocular cavities. Ageing is no longer just something my peers have been up to.
I’m sure that’s why my dreams of late have been about present problems and problem figures invading the sanctuary of my youth. Worries and regrets invert the careful set design of my adolescent plays, and I can’t remember any of my blocking.
All of this–I think–is also tied into the realization that in a few short months it’ll have been a year living in another country. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been dwelling so much lately on Tommy Saxondale’s (Steve Coogan’s greatest creation) eloquent quotation of Hartley: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
Bergson said that when time calls, it’s space that answers. But I think that’s only true when we’re trying to articulate the present as a device taking in the past and spitting out the future, like the endless strip of tape on a Turing machine. Or, more to the point, the Turing tape may be what time has to be in language. But whether you think of the ontology of time as Bergsonian duration or, as Heidegger would have it, the pulse of a present arrangement, I think that when it comes to time, there’s a third mediating term between language and reality. When when we look at time, it’s place that looks back. Yes, the past is a foreign country, a place distant from the place we presently stand. But as a place (actually, manifold places), the past is also relational distances, distances between those which inhabit that place. Which means that it cannot be condensed and replicated as a file in some world hard drive.
–To hastily conclude because I’ve run out of time and am unlikely to return to this post soon–
Presumably the same is true of the future. From this, we can take a couple things. First, the space-place contrast suggests that there is indeed non-representational, non-symbolic thought. Thought mediates itself. Second, aesthetics has to be at the root of anticipatory practices about the future. I’m currently thinking about the possible anticipatory practices of embodied machines, and that second point is going to be tricky. But we’ve got to start there. More ideas about that to come.
New article in Open Philosophy
My last post was all of those months ago when I was at the brainstorming stages of this article, which eventually became “How to be a Realist about Similarity: Towards a Theory of Features in Object-Oriented Philosophy.” You can see it here.
There are also many other amazing pieces published in this inaugural issue. I’m making my way through them and would encourage you to do the same.
Having another go at epistemology in OOO
I remember reading an interview somewhere with Ray Brassier where he referred to his big work, Nihil Unbound, as a “botched job.” I can’t recall why he thought that (it’s a fantastic work) or what he thought he needed to get right for next time, but I really admired him for saying it. Scholars and artists put so much of themselves into their work that it’s hard not to over-identify with it. It’s hard not to stand by your work, even if there’s something incomplete or perhaps wrong about it. Part of that is ego, but part of it is ethos. And ethos is real. It belongs to audience just as much as it does to the speaker/writer. If you’re publicly honest about the shortcomings of your previous work, you might get some points for that honesty–but how can you expect anyone to invest their time and trust into the next one?
With that in mind, I’m on the road to completing (or rectifying) that which was incomplete (or wrong) about my past work on OOO and epistemology. This includes my book and a recent article that never survived the editing process. Much of the inspiration for revising my thinking comes from the second of my blog-mediated conversations with Eric Taxier, whose sharp insights into object-quality tensions led me to a very different reading of ontography. I’ve never really put much stock into academic conferences but, man, critical engagement does matter.
Anyway, here’s a very rough introduction to a new essay I’m writing in which will attempt to apply a more systematic treatment of the matter. I submit it here not to illicit feedback (not just yet, anyway), but to thumbtack it onto the wall, to try to stay within the bounds of the few basic tasks I’ve laid out for myself:
Why Don’t Objects Have Properties? (subtitle forthcoming)
There is a perfectly efficient answer to the titular question of this essay: People in the analytical tradition tend to talk about ‘properties,’ whereas those in the phenomenological tradition like to talk about ‘qualities,’ even though they’re all essentially dealing with the same thing. Object-Oriented Ontology speaks with a phenomenological accent, so it uses qualities.
Europe Bookends with Antiziganism
In recent weeks, Italian minister and Lega Nord leader Matteo Salvini has moved to expel as many Roma as possible from Italy, and put the rest on a registry. Comparisons to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy seem to be the order of the day in our current political discourse (and they’re often entirely justified (re: Trump’s “summer camps” for refugee children)), but this one requires no explicit comparison. This isn’t just something out of the fascists’ playbook–it’s straight out of the fascists’ biography. Romani people endure violence from fringe groups and governments alike every day, but, sadly, it takes an act like this one–an act whose evocation of the Holocaust is all but impossible to ignore–for people to utter the phrase, “Never again.” This has to change. The fate of Europe depends on it.
The importance of antiziganism is lost on Americans, partly because Roma are much less visible in North America and because Holocaust education is incomplete, and because, let’s face it, Gypsies are far more likely to appear in Disney cartoons than history documentaries. The importance of antiziganism is not so much lost on Europeans as it is conveniently hidden. Either way, I would argue that Europe as a political entity is bound to antiziganism. Antiziganism bookends Europe.
Global Warming and the Poetics of Experience; or WHINGE is my Factory Setting.
First, a personal whinge: In the months leading to my move to Sweden, I followed the local weather pretty closely in order to get a baseline. It seems that they had a late start on winter, but when the snow did arrive, it kept coming. All the way to April. As the months before my departure became weeks and days, I became far more concerned with what still needed be done in Toledo. And by the time I got on the plane, I had no specific idea about what kind of ground conditions to expect when I landed. But I had heard that things stayed pretty wet and cool until July, so I happily packed my rain jacket into my backpack with a near certainty that I’d have to pull it out as soon as I stepped out of baggage claim.
When I say “I happily packed my rain jacket,” I mean just that. I was happy. Not just that I’d be prepared, but because I like cool, dreary days. I always have. Mind you, I don’t walk around with black eyeliner and I’m not at all displeased that Friday I’m in Love is only Cure song most people know. And yes, there is a point of diminishing returns if it stays dreary for too long. But I generally like my days in grey tone.
For one, the heat is not a good look for me. I sweat a lot. And excessive sweat does ugly things to curly hair and a ruddy complexion. Ugly things. Imagine Dylan Thomas in a sauna. Or don’t.
For another, the sun has always seemed to me a sort of luciferian figure. Yes it illuminates the world for us; but when you actually walk around in the sunshine, your head is forever bowed. When it’s too bright, the ground in front of you is all there really is to look at. But on a grey day, light is less homogeneous. It breaks for the turn of a single leaf and the whole cityscape alike. The world is less illuminated, but the things in it are more vibrant.
The castle down the street (personal update)
It’s been about five months since the last entry. There are a few reasons for this, first and foremost being that we have recently relocated to Örebro, Sweden, where I’ve taken up a post as Senior Lecturer in Rhetoric (Örebro Universitet). That meant working through a heavy spring semester at Lourdes, making all of the arrangements for an overseas move, and learning Swedish as quickly as I possibly could (still a work in progress). The wheels left the ground three days after final grades were due.
I’m super stoked about being here; however, I started work pretty much as soon as we arrived a few weeks ago, so I am looking forward to being able to catch my breath. Despite the intensity of the past couple of months, the move does mean (fingers crossed) that I’ll get a bit more time and resources for research in the coming months and years. Also, Sweden.
Heidegger and The Last Jedi
Before I get into it, here’s a relevant passage from Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art in which he describes one of Van Gogh’s studies of peasant shoes (One finds oneself in a dangerously forgiving mood when reading philosophy written this beautifully.) :
A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more. And yet…From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles stretches the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quite gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field. The equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining worry as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending childbed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. This equipment belongs to the earth, and it is protected in the world of the peasant woman. From out of this protected belonging the equipment itself rises to its resting-withing-self.
This passage was on my mind as I left the movie theater last week, having finally given Star Wars: The Last Jedi a go. It’s hard to overestimate the impact Star Wars has had on the worldview of what is now three generations of Americans, including my own. Unlike many of my compatriots, however, it’s never been a religion for me. Or at any rate, I’m an apostate. I, for one, thought the prequel movies were jolly good fun. I had no real expectations of those movies, nor for The Force Awakens. But since I was such a fan of Rian Johnson’s Brick and Looper, I’ll admit I might have set the bar a little too high for The Last Jedi. In the end, it was no better or no worse than the last four movies. Nothing gained, nothing lost. But it was apparently a real let down for the faithful because the expectations of this one were that it would dig deeply into Jedi mythology and lay down some canonical law for any future fan fiction. For me, the film’s pronounced lack of substance was actually kind of thought-provoking. I couldn’t help but think about what fantasy tells us about the truth function of art about which Heidegger is speaking in his essay.