Friday, May 26, 2017

"Are Millennials Self-centered Jackasses?"

Being interested in cohort effects, aware of the differences between Generation-X and Millennials, and stunned by the real-world results of disturbing online social trends (such as smartphone addiction, the phenomenon of Millennials getting fired in droves,etc.) in McSweeny's styled snark here is a post that borders "You know you're a Millennial if..." " to whit. Twenty theses that questions Millennials, taken from the Internet. 

I saw these and had to post them wondering if readers out there thought any sounded more or less true. And of course, just a note that these aren't directed at anyone personally - they're just so snarky that they make you think.  I guess it doesn't help that I'm Generation-X (believe me, I'm not a Millennial "hater"), but still...pretty interesting given what is out there in the headlines.

Luckily my students these days are Generation-Z who have an different personality from the Millennials, entirely.  It's abit too early to give the Z-ers a definitive personality, but it certainly is different than the Millennials. That's for sure. On to the post.


"Are Millennials Self-centered Jackasses?"

1. You've had your age 25 mid-life crisis and perceive anyone over 30 as old, even though you just turned 30.
2. You've traveled the world at least twice funding your coming-of-age journey through Kickstarter or various maxed out credit cards.
3. You didn't come of age because it is impossible for you to grow up, even though you are now 30 (I believe you already, you'll never get married or buy a house. You may as well be dead or retired when that happens.)
4. You are victimized by a world that mistreats you and affronts you with inappropriate and disrespectful interactions because you are expected to grow up but refuse to (see #3).
5. You believe you are profound, so profound in fact that other people can't understand you. So you ignore them.
6. You ignore people who complain about you or your bad manners.
7. It is impossible for you to get over yourself.
8. You were raised to think that you are special ("totes") and think that every criticism is an attack on you (because the world revolves around you, afterall).
9. The world is unfair and you are so depressed now. You are a victimized introvert. Reality never matches your expectations.
10. It's never your fault because the rest of the world simply doesn't realize that you are right.
11. You refuse to fix your terrible manners because #10. Ignoring DM's, emails, phone calls, or other common extensions of courtesy is due to your profundity (it couldn't be your terrible manners, right?)
12. Ignoring other people doesn't make you ignorantly indifferent and self-centered.
13. You are everything...because it is your "right."
14. You like to photograph...everything. Including yourself.
15. You're not glued to your phone like a drug-addicted lab rat, tap tap tapping your life away. (Texting, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter..."THEY ARE MY LIFE.")
16. It couldn't be that there is a rude awakening in store for you because of your childishly earnest optimism. But you have no money, no knowledge, and no real job.
17. You blame your terrible manners on "social awkwardness."
18. No, you are not a narcissist. You just practice "self-love."
19. You are not confused, lazy, selfish, or of the belief that only if people would coach your grandiose skills then you would finally be the star that you really are rather than an abject failure.
20. You don't need any gate-keeper's permission to go after those high goals because success will be yours on a plate.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Watch as the whale becomes itself: slowly, from land to sea, through deep time (Aeon video)

Watch as the whale becomes itself: slowly, slowly, from land to sea, through deep time.

Descending from creatures that were terrestrial and then amphibious before they were aquatic, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) possess some of the animal kingdom’s most fascinating evolutionary histories. This video from the UK artist Jordan Collver traces the evolution of the sperm whale from the amphibious Pakicetus to its present form. After depicting six distinct points in evolutionary history, Collver morphed his still illustrations into one another, incrementally, over ten minutes. The resulting animation, Whalevolution, emphasises that a single strand of evolutionary history isn’t characterised by a series of distinct species, but rather, as Charles Darwin put it, an ‘infinitude of connecting links’.

I embedded the 25 second version above, the full ten minute version is HERE.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Iain Grant, Ray Brassier, and Robin Mackay reflect on accelerationism and the CCRU

Because the article is part of The Guardian's "long read" series - in the interest of accelerating time - I'll include below what I thought were the most interesting parts and then link to the full article below. The title is "Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in," published back on May 11.  Also involving time (because I just haven't had any) is why it took me so long to publish this post.  But please do read, alot of interesting reflections.

At any one time, there have probably only been a few dozen accelerationists in the world. The label has only been in regular use since 2010, when it was borrowed from Zelazny’s novel by Benjamin Noys, a strong critic of the movement. Yet for decades longer than more orthodox contemporary thinkers, accelerationists have been focused on many of the central questions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the rise of China; the rise of artificial intelligence; what it means to be human in an era of addictive, intrusive electronic devices; the seemingly uncontrollable flows of global markets; the power of capitalism as a network of desires; the increasingly blurred boundary between the imaginary and the factual; the resetting of our minds and bodies by ever-faster music and films; and the complicity, revulsion and excitement so many of us feel about the speed of modern life. 
Noys says: “Accelerationists always seem to have an answer. If capitalism is going fast, they say it needs to go faster. If capitalism hits a bump in the road, and slows down” – as it has since the 2008 financial crisis – “they say it needs to be kickstarted.”...In recent years, Noys has noticed accelerationist ideas “resonating” and being “circulated” everywhere from pro-technology parts of the British left to wealthy libertarian and far-right circles in America.


Yet it was in France in the late 1960s that accelerationist ideas were first developed in a sustained way. Shaken by the failure of the leftwing revolt of 1968, and by the seemingly unending postwar economic boom in the west, some French Marxists decided that a new response to capitalism was needed. In 1972, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari published Anti-Oedipus. It was a restless, sprawling, appealingly ambiguous book, which suggested that, rather than simply oppose capitalism, the left should acknowledge its ability to liberate as well as oppress people, and should seek to strengthen these anarchic tendencies, “to go still further … in the movement of the market … to ‘accelerate the process’”. 
Two years later, another disillusioned French Marxist, Jean-François Lyotard, extended the argument even more provocatively. His 1974 book Libidinal Economy declared that even the oppressive aspects of capitalism were “enjoyed” by those whose lives the system reordered and accelerated. And besides, there was no alternative: “The system of capital is, when all’s said and done, natural.” 
In France, both books were controversial. Lyotard eventually disowned Libidinal Economy as his “evil book”, and moved on to other subjects. Deleuze and Guattari warned in their next book, A Thousand Plateaus, which was published in 1980 – as relatively benign postwar capitalism was being swept away by the wilder, harsher version of the Thatcher-Reagan era – that too much capitalist acceleration could suck society into “black holes” of fascism and nihilism. 
Yet in Britain, Anti-Oedipus and Libidinal Economy acquired a different status. Like much of postwar French philosophy, for decades they were ignored by the academic mainstream, as too foreign in all senses, and were not even translated into English until 1983 and 1993 respectively. But, for a tiny number of British philosophers, the two books were a revelation. Iain Hamilton Grant first came across Libidinal Economy as a master’s student at Warwick in the early 90s. “I couldn’t believe it! For a book by a Marxist to say, ‘There’s no way out of this’, meaning capitalism, and that we are all tiny pieces of engineered desire, that slot into a huge system – that’s a first, as far as I know.” Grant “got hooked”. Instead of writing his dissertation, he spent an obsessive six months producing the first English translation. 
By the early 90s Land had distilled his reading, which included Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard, into a set of ideas and a writing style that, to his students at least, were visionary and thrillingly dangerous. Land wrote in 1992 that capitalism had never been properly unleashed, but instead had always been held back by politics, “the last great sentimental indulgence of mankind”....He [Land] saw civilisation everywhere accelerating towards an apocalypse: “Disorder must increase... Any [human] organisation is ... a mere ... detour in the inexorable death-flow.”

Land gave strange, theatrical lectures: clambering over chairs as he spoke, or sitting hunched over, rocking back and forth. He also spiced his pronouncements with black humour. He would tell lecture audiences, “I work in the field of The Collapse of Western Civilisation Studies.” A quarter of a century on, some former Warwick philosophy students still talk about him with awe. Robin Mackay says, “I think he’s one of the most important philosophers of the last 50 years.”
At Warwick, however, the prophecies were darker. “One of our motives,” says Plant, “was precisely to undermine the cheery utopianism of the 90s, much of which seemed very conservative” – an old-fashioned male desire for salvation through gadgets, in her view. “We wanted a more open, convoluted, complicated world, not a shiny new order.”To observe the process, and help hasten it, in 1995 Plant, Fisher, Land, Mackay and two dozen other Warwick students and academics created a radical new institution: the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU). It would become one of the most mythologised groups in recent British intellectual history....For decades, tantalising references to the CCRU have flitted across political and cultural websites, music and art journals, and the more cerebral parts of the style press. “There are groups of students in their 20s who re-enact our practices,” says Robin Mackay. Since 2007, he has run a respected philosophy publishing house, Urbanomic, with limited editions of old CCRU publications and new collections of CCRU writings prominent among its products....These days, Iain Hamilton Grant is an affable, middle-aged professor who wears a waistcoat with a pen in the top pocket. Yet when I asked him to describe the CCRU, he said with sudden intensity: “We made up an arrow! There was almost no disharmony. There was no leisure. We tried not to be apart from each other. No one dared let the side down. When everyone is keeping up with everyone else, the collective element increased is speed.”....Grant explained: “Something would be introduced into the group. Neuromancer [William Gibson’s 1984 novel about the internet and artificial intelligence] got into the philosophy department, and it went viral. You’d find worn-out paperbacks all over the common room.” 
Even inside the permissive Warwick philosophy department, the CCRU’s ever more blatant disdain for standard academic practice became an issue. Ray Brassier watched it happen. Now an internationally known philosopher at the American University in Beirut, between 1995 and 2001 he was a part-time mature student at Warwick. 
“I was interested in the CCRU, but sceptical,” Brassier says. “I was a bit older than most of them. The CCRU felt they were plunging into something bigger than academia, and they did put their finger on a lot of things that had started to happen in the world. But their work was also frustrating. They would cheerfully acknowledge the thinness of their research: ‘It’s not about knowledge.’ Yet if thinking is just connecting things, of course it’s exciting, like taking amphetamines. But thinking is also about disconnecting things.” 
Brassier says that the CCRU became a “very divisive” presence in the philosophy department. “Most of the department really hated and despised Nick – and that hatred extended to his students.” There were increasingly blunt bureaucratic disputes about the CCRU’s research, and how, if at all, it should be externally regulated and assessed. In 1997, [Sadie] Plant resigned from the university. “The charged personal, political and philosophical dynamics of the CCRU were irresistible to many, but I felt stifled and had to get out,” she told me. 
After his [Land's] breakdown, Land left Britain. He moved to Taiwan “early in the new millennium”, he told me, then to Shanghai “a couple of years later”. He still lives there now. “Life as an outsider was a relief.” China was also thrilling. In a 2004 article for the Shanghai Star, an English-language paper, he described the modern Chinese fusion of Marxism and capitalism as “the greatest political engine of social and economic development the world has ever known”. At Warwick, he and the CCRU had often written excitedly, but with little actual detail, about what they called “neo-China”. Once he lived there, Land told me, he realised that “to a massive degree” China was already an accelerationist society: fixated by the future and changing at speed. Presented with the sweeping projects of the Chinese state, his previous, libertarian contempt for the capabilities of governments fell away. 
In 1970, the American writer Alvin Toffler, an exponent of accelerationism’s more playful intellectual cousin, futurology, published Future Shock, a book about the possibilities and dangers of new technology. Toffler predicted the imminent arrival of artificial intelligence, cryonics, cloning and robots working behind airline check-in desks. “The pace of change accelerates,” concluded a documentary version of the book, with a slightly hammy voiceover by Orson Welles. “We are living through one of the greatest revolutions in history – the birth of a new civilisation.” 
Shortly afterwards, the 1973 oil crisis struck. World capitalism did not accelerate again for almost a decade. For much of the “new civilisation” Toffler promised, we are still waiting. But Future Shock has sold millions of copies anyway. One day an accelerationist may do the same.

Link to the full article HERE.

Download the introduction to Avanessian's and Mackay's #Accelerationist Reader (.pdf)

On Avanessian's page HERE, or back-up link HERE.

Download the introduction to Quentin Meillassoux's Time without Becoming (.pdf)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ernst Jünger’s The Worker: Dominion and Form (new book)

Written in 1932, just before the fall of the Weimar Republic and on the eve of the Nazi accession to power, Ernst Jünger’s The Worker: Dominion and Form articulates a trenchant critique of bourgeois liberalism and seeks to identify the form characteristic of the modern age. Jünger’s analyses, written in critical dialogue with Marx, are inspired by a profound intuition of the movement of history and an insightful interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy. 
Martin Heidegger considered Jünger “the only genuine follower of Nietzsche,” singularly providing “an interpretation which took shape in the domain of that metaphysics which already determines our epoch, even against our knowledge; this metaphysics is Nietzsche's doctrine of the ‘will to power.’” In The Worker, Jünger examines some of the defining questions of that epoch: the nature of individuality, society, and the state; morality, justice, and law; and the relationships between freedom and power and between technology and nature. 
This work, appearing in its entirety in English translation for the first time, is an important contribution to debates on work, technology, and politics by one of the most controversial German intellectuals of the twentieth century. Not merely of historical interest, The Worker carries a vital message for contemporary debates about world economy, political stability, and equality in our own age, one marked by unsettling parallels to the 1930s.

Link HERE.

Ernst Jünger’s Philosophy of Technology: Heidegger and the Poetics of the Anthropocene (new book)

This book examines the work of Ernst Jünger and its effect on the development of Martin Heidegger’s influential philosophy of technology. Vincent Blok offers a unique treatment of Jünger’s philosophy and his conception of the age of technology, in which both world and man appear in terms of their functionality and efficiency. The primary objective of Jünger’s novels and essays is to make the transition from the totally mobilized world of the 20th century toward a world in which a new type of man represents the gestalt of the worker and is responsive to this new age. Blok proceeds to demonstrate Jünger’s influence on Heidegger’s analysis of the technological age in his later work, as well as Heidegger’s conceptions of will, work and gestalt at the beginning of the 1930s. At the same time, Blok evaluates Heidegger’s criticism of Jünger and provides a novel interpretation of the Jünger-Heidegger connection: that Jünger’s work in fact testifies to a transformation of our relationship to language and conceptualizes the future in terms of the Anthropocene. This book, which arrives alongside several new English-language translations of Jünger’s work, will interest scholars of 20th-century continental philosophy, Heidegger, and the history of philosophy of technology.

A hefty price tag but the eBook is obviously cheaper. Link HERE.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Christopher Roth's and Armen Avanessian's HYPERSTITION (video)

Happened to come across a trailer that I somehow missed last year for Roth's and Avanessian's Hyperstition (2016).  On their Vimeo page there is a fifteen minute excerpt of the hour and forty three minute film which can be streamed on demand for $4.99.  Unfortunately due to privacy settings I can't embed that here but I can embed the trailer.

Hyperstition Trailer Who? from Christopher Roth on Vimeo

Friday, May 19, 2017

On Ernst Junger and Yukio Mishima (Better than Food Book Reviews)

I recently discoverd a great YouTube channel called Better than Food: Book Reviews. The host (Clifford Lee Sargent) and I apparently have nearly identical tastes in literature - and so alot of the reviews are of books that I enjoy quite abit. He also had his first podcast with Greg Sadler (also quite famous from YouTube); Greg was a pleasure to speak with when I consulted him about possibly transitioning After Nature from blog to vlog.

Astonishingly, Clifford is also one of the few folks out there who appreciates in the German philosopher and literary figure, Ernst Juenger, what I do.  Namely, he does not so much look at Juenger as a mere conservative political figure as much as he does see him as a philosopher whose mode of operation is literature (perhaps like Bataille, another philosopher whom we both enjoy) and whose ideas are neither right nor left per se.  One may wish to consult Juenger's figure of the "anarch" in his science fiction masterpiece Eumeswil (1977) or even his political critique found in On the Marble Cliffs (1939) to see how this is the case.

Just a note that Juenger's philosophical observations were well, well ahead of his time, especially concerning his predictions about scientific technology, which is what makes him so important for NrX or "right accelerationism" (he predicted the iPhone, which he called the "phonophore," the internet which he called the "datasphere," and so on). I am going to post below a link to a documentary about Juenger where this is discussed in the second half. It is really worth watching and is actually the best documentary about Juenger that I have come across so far.  I should mention that in the documentary according to Juenger we will move from the age of the Titans to the gods by the 2200's - which for him means a union of humans and machine, accelerating intelligence, singularity, and encounter with extra-human forms of intelligence. Very interesting to hear.

Clifford also reviewed Yukio Mishima's Sun and Steel (1968) - which was great - as recently I've been obsessed with Mishima, and so I'll include some videos embedded below about him as well.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Of the Wand and the Moon "A Cancer Called Love"

Exclusive and unreleased track care of Kim Larsen. Also check out his new project called White Chamber which is, in Kim's words, "Dark electronic music inspired by the 80's, John Carpenter and more." First, though, is a great track by his long-term project Of the Wand and the Moon - with a great song called "A Cancer Called Love" recorded at The Lone Descent album sessions back from 2011.

Of the Wand and the Moon "A Cancer Called Love" lyrics

I used to make long speeches to you after you left.
I used to talk to you all the time, even though I was alone.
I walked around for months talking to you.
Now I don't know what to say.
It was easier when I just imagined you.
I even imagined you talking back to me.
We'd have long conversations, the two of us.
lt was almost like you were there.
I could hear you, I could see you, smell you.
I could hear your voice. Sometimes your voice would wake me up.
It would wake me up in the middle of the night, just like you were in the room with me.
Then... it slowly faded.
I couldn't picture you anymore.
I tried to talk out loud to you like I used to, but there was nothing there.
I couldn't hear you.
Then... I just gave it up.
Everything stopped.
You just... disappeared.
And now I'm working here.
I hear your voice all the time.

Jägerblut "Hunting"

Jägerblut "Hunting" lyrics, from the album 1896-1906 (UMB label, CD released 2007)

Leave concrete, mortar, brick behind
We are naked, two of one kind
We touch the dirty ground beneath
Worm and beetle greet us: we breathe

Into forest, up the trees
Down the lake and into seas
Burn the fire, eat the ground
Walk in spirals round and round
Talk to spirits, trapped and bound

Into forest, up the trees
Down the lake and into seas
Eat the fire, burn the ground
Walk in spirals round and round

Far from cities people, hate
The dawn is near, the hour late
The moon is grinning in the sky
We come to run, we come to fly
We come to hunt, we come to die

Mist is rising, come and see
Come my darling, lie with me

Soon we'll be rotting in the earth
We'll be free: I'll be you and you'll be me
A brilliant feast for wolf and snake
A monstrous wind the woods shall shake
A monstrous wind the world will take
A hunter in the forest wake

Rain is falling endlessly
Come my darling hunt with me

You hunt me: I will be you

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bataille’s Revenge

Craig H. blogs about Bataille and much more, as linked below. Recently I've been reading quite abit of Bataille, actually - due to my recent foray into the accelerationist philosophy of Nick Land. Bataille's Nietzschean aesthetics of intensity reminds me very much of the 20th century German literatur Ernst Juenger, and as I've mentioned before Juenger's thought - mostly in essays such as "Total Mobilization" but moreso his treatise The Worker: Dominion and Form - could very well be a hidden gem of so-called "right" accelerationist philosophy, whatever that might mean. 

Bataille's Revenge
// Technocommercium

In truth, Bataille seems to me far less an intellectual predicament than a sexual and religious one, transecting the lethargic suicide upon which we are all embarked. To accept his writings is an impossibility, to resist them an irrelevance. One is excited abnormally, appalled, but without refuge. Nausea perhaps? —Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation … Continue reading Bataille's Revenge

Technosphere Magazine

“Exploring the amorphous fabric of technologies, environments, and humans shaping Earth’s critical future. 
The technosphere is the defining matrix and main driver behind the ongoing transition of this planet into the new geological epoch of humankind, the Anthropocene. Stemming from the ubiquity of human culture and global technologies, it forms a new and highly dynamic component of the Earth system, amorphous in its gestalt yet powerful in altering the history of this planet and the conditions for life on it. Mobilizing and transforming massive amounts of materials and energy, it is comparable in scale and function to other terrestrial spheres such as the bio- and hydrosphere, with which it connects and intersects. Put differently, it constitutes a form of a higher ecology generated by the cumulative interweaving of technologies and natural environments to the point where both become inseparable. 
Manifest since at least the mid-twentieth century with the onset of the “Great Acceleration,” the technosphere has now reached an enormous, not yet determinate potential to alter the surface of the Earth as well as its great depths – from the orbital level to the deep sea. Owing to the capability of a single species to actuate technics that radically transform our planet, the technosphere thus represents a steep rupture and a qualitative shift in the way our planet has functioned for millions of years. How does the technosphere operate? How does it reorganize and re-functionalize the physicality and chemistry of living and non-living matter? And how does it change the ways we perceive the world?” 
Technosphere Magazine maps out specific dimensions, condensations, aggregations, “apparatuses,” problematics, conflict zones, ruptures, and operational failures, through and by which the technosphere becomes visible.” (from Editorial)
Editors-in-chief: Katrin Klingan, Christoph Rosol
Editorial team: Nick Houde, Anna Luhn (-2016), Christoph Rosol, Johanna Schindler, Mira Witte
Illustrations: Nina Jäger
Publisher Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, 2016-19
Open access

Monoskop link HERE.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Nature as Event: The Lure of the Possible

This looks amazing. Very, very excited for this book (Amazon link HERE for pre-ordering).

Nature as Event: The Lure of the Possible by Didier Debaise. I would love to review this.  Wow!

UPDATE: To After Nature readers who wrote in: No, this is not the book published through the Edinburgh University Press Speculative Realism series.  Thankfully Debaise had enough sense to publish this through Duke University Press which is eminently more respectable and legitimate given that Duke's editors actually are consummate professionals (as editors should be).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Saito's Everyday Aesthetics revisited

For those interested in aesthetics, the below post from Aesthetics Today blog discusses Saito's influential book (as well as some pretty important connections to philosophers such as John Dewey in an "aesthetics of the everyday.")

Saito's Everyday Aesthetics revisited: call for the in-between
// Aesthetics Today

So it has been ten years since Yuriko Saito's Everyday Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2007) came out, a seminal work in the burgeoning new field of everyday aesthetics.  She will be having a new book on the topic coming out soon.  But perhaps now is a time to revisit some of the issues raised especially in the first chapter of Everyday Aesthetics with the understanding that this is not necessarily her current position.  The chapter is titled "Neglect of Everyday Aesthetics."  It is available here.  Most of what Saito says in this chapter I agree with and it should be understood that the purpose of this post is simply to use her piece as a jumping off point for reflection, as I have in the past.  Saito makes a strong distinction between two kinds of experience in everyday aesthetics. One kind is the "stand out" experience, roughly similar to Dewey's idea of "an experience."  The second is another set of reactions we might and often do have to sensuous and/or design qualities of objects.  These would include the reaction of seeing an object as dirty and wishing to clean it up.

I accept Saito's expansion of the concept of the aesthetic to include these kinds of responses.  There is a dialogue going on here since Saito may have been partly inspired in this by an early article of mine on neatness and messiness as aesthetic qualities. "Everyday Surface Aesthetic Qualities:  'Neat,' 'Messy,' 'Clean,' 'Dirty'," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism53:3 (1995) 259-268.  Reprinted in The Aesthetics of Human Environments  ed Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant (:  Broadview Press, 2007).  What I currently want to push is an in-between dimension of aesthetic experience, something between the two extremes Saito posits:  a domain that I believe is fundamentally important not only for everyday aesthetics but for aesthetics in general.  In the tradition of Karl Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts and John Dewey in Art as Experience, but also of Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness, I want to call for expansion of this in-between domain, one that overcomes the alienation (usually based on exploitation as Marx would put it, or inadequate social arrangements as Dewey would put it) that characterizes experience at the low or "practical" end of the aesthetic spectrum.  I also see the three levels of aesthetic experience,  (1) the practical, (3) what I will call, after Buddhist thought, the mindful, and (4) the special/extraordinary, as dynamically inter-related.   So, whereas Saito favors a dichotomy between spectator-like experiences and experiences that "prompt us toward actions, such as cleaning, discarding, purchasing..."  I posit this, the middle "mindfulness," realm.  Following Nhat Hanh in his discussion of washing dishes with mindfulness and Marx in his notion of non-alienated labor, I think that there is a problem at the lowest level of the aesthetic:  a problem if the cleaning or discarding is not mindful, the purchasing is based on false consciousness in a society of consumerism (as critical theorist followers of Marx argued), and so on.  Low level activities of the sort that happen when one cleans for entirely functional purposes or purchases clothes just for comfort, usefulness, or getting ahead, become enhanced when they are are mindful of aesthetic qualities. This means that I favor a notion of low-level contemplation, for example contemplative as opposed to mindless shopping. Whereas Saito associates the idea of contemplation only with the high level experience of fine art experience or contemplation of natural beauty, I think that mindful washing of dishes, for example, is contemplative in its own way.  

One difficulty here is that Saito associates contemplation and disinterestedness with rejection of the proximal senses of taste, smell, and touch.  This is not my approach:  I see contemplation as applicable to multi-sensory experience.  Contemplative aesthetic experience of sexual intimacy for example is the preferred mode. Thus, on my view, one can take an aesthetic attitude towards everyday phenomena, and that this can be a more valuable, actually is generally a more valuable, way to approach such phenomena, as long as it does not interfere with getting the job done.

Actually, then, I disagree with the notion that actions such as cleaning, discarding, and purchasing without any contemplative dimension are "typically the way in which aesthetics functions in everyday life."  They may in fact be typically the way in Western alienated capitalist society.  But they may not be in other societies, for example in Denmark or Bhutan.  Moreover, a better society would be one in which the contemplative or disinterested dimension of aesthetic experience of the everyday would be enhanced.  So, to put the point in another way, when Saito says that she wants to include not only aesthetic experiences of art, however broadly defined, but also "those responses that propel us toward everyday decisions and actions without any accompanying contemplative appreciation" (11) I would count this domain as, yes, aesthetic, but only at the very lowest level, and not something to be encouraged.  It is at the mid-level, where responses such as cleaning and choosing are not "almost automatic" as Saito puts it, but are mindful and at least minimally examples of contemplative appreciation because mindful of aesthetic qualities, that a happy life is constituted.  (I also think that other things that Saito says in her first chapter are actually more in accord with this position.) 

I understand the motive behind Saito's dichotomy: the need to move away from the hierarchy in which everything is seen in terms of Western fine art.  Saito eloquently demolishes that position. What I am offering is hopefully the dialectical next stage.  As with Saito, I also think my approach being more in accord with a multi-cultural, global viewpoint.  But this is because I think that in most traditional or tribal cultures, and in many other non-Western cultures, the middle, mindful, aesthetic domain, plays a more important role in life.  I agree with those people who believe that we should be more like the Navajo or the Bali people in their approaches to aesthetic experience, as much as we can given the Western-based world that surrounds us.  It is the Western mindset that promotes the dichotomy of humdrum practical vs. high art aesthetic.  I think that ultimately both Saito and I wish to undercut this dichotomy.

I also agree with Saito in attacking the tendency to see the aesthetic either as "highly specialized and isolated from our daily concerns, namely art, or else something trivial and frivolous, not essential to our lives, such as beautification and decoration" (12) and I agree that the low-level experiences that we are both interested in are important for practical purposes.  

However, although we both want to "restore aesthetics to its proper place in our everyday life" (12) and reclaim its status in shaping the world, I wish to do so by encouraging and enhancing mindful and contemplative approaches to the everyday, whereas Saito is concerned that these approaches are too associated with an art-centered approach to aesthetics.  I agree that art-centered aesthetics can "compromise the rich diversity of out aesthetic life" but am not convinced that it always does.  Nor am I convinced that what she calls "experience-oriented aesthetics" (12) is detrimental to a sound everyday aesthetics as long as "experience" is not just understood in such a way as to privilege the distal senses or extreme forms of disinterested approaches to aesthetic objects. 

I also agree with Saito that "art is almost always regarded [in Western aesthetic theory] as the quintessential model for an aesthetic object" (13) and I believe that she is absolutely right to pursue this line.  (This makes me consistent with her quote from my 1995 article in support of her position, thank goodness.)  Saito presents an excellent discussion of the problems of art-centered aesthetics in the section with that name.  

My only caveat would be a response to Korsmeyer's approach to the aesthetics of food. Saito quotes Korsmeyer with approval as saying "the addition of taste and food to the domain of established aesthetic theory presents problems:  both inevitably come off as distinctly second rate, trailing the distance senses and fine art."  I just cannot agree that it is never right to understand food in terms of fine art:  my own view that something like the El Bulli dining experience is at the same level of high art as the best example of Japanese tea ceremony, and for the same reasons.  We must not turn our Western prejudices against the proximal senses into a determination of what makes fine art:  i.e. that fine art must use the distant senses. 

Nor do we have to see all food preparation as fine art in order to concede that some really is.  Those who see the highest level Michelin star type dining experiences as somehow second-rate in relation to fine art painting for example are missing the point.   Saito further quotes Korsmeyer that "the concept of art, dominated as it is today by the idea of fine art, is a poor category to capture the nature of foods and their consumption." (17)  This just seems a category mistake since food as a category is broad like photography as a category.  Most photography is not art, and even less is fine art, and yet this does not mean that photography cannot be fine art. Similarly if we want to broadly capture the nature of foods and their consumption it would be best to focus not on El Bulli but on the vast number of practices involving food.  I would venture to say that virtually any social practice:  dance, food, music, video games, advertising, religious ritual, etc., can have a fine art manifestation (can be a product of genius, in Kant's sense).  But most dance, food, music, etc. is not fine art.  In any case, I would not want to, as Korsmeyer puts it, "divert attention from the interesting ways in which the aesthetic importance of foods diverges from parallel values in art." (18)  Of course one of the things that food as fine art does is focus our attention on such "interesting ways" just as dance as fine art focuses our attention on features of dance that differentiate it from other art forms.       

Saito further quotes Wolfgang Welsh as holding that sport, for example, "cannot substitute for Schonberg, Pollock, or Goddard" which, in my view, is just plain silly, since (1) no one is calling for substitution, and (2) the correct comparison class is master artists. It is not sports against Pollock, but Pollock compared to the El Bulli master chef, Adria. 

Saito is also excellent in his list of various things that are associated with the paradigms of classical Western art and which do not apply to everyday aesthetics.  Putting the point negatively, she says that there are various features that make certain everyday aesthetic phenomena non-art, like "absence of definite and identifiable object-hood and authorship, our literal engagement, transience and impermanence of the object, and the primacy of practical values of the object" (17) although I am somewhat concerned about the notion of "primacy of practical values" which can be interpreted in different ways.  

Saito's discussion of frames as unique to art as opposed to everyday aesthetics is of particular interest.  Ronald Hepburn had once noted that non-art objects are frame-less and that we then become the creator of the aesthetic object:  the frameless character can, as Saito puts it, "be compensated by exercising our imagination and creativity in constituting the aesthetic object as we see fit." (19)  I agree with this, but then I also think that this means that we are then virtually framing the object and thereby treating it as if it were a work of art at least in respect to being something that is now unified and has an imaginative/creative dimension, although this time introduced to some extent by ourselves as viewers.  This is why I say in my book that artists are the greatest experts in the aesthetics of everyday life.  They are constantly seeing landscapes for example as if they were works of art by framing them and exercising their imaginations in the process.  It is interesting in this regard that Saito's examples of such framing (a baseball game, the streets of New York, and drinking tea) read like a poet's appreciation of these things.  She has a fine poetic sensibility.  But poetry is an art form.  Moreover, when she says "in appreciating the smell and taste of green tea, I may incorporate the visual and tactile sensation of the tea bowl, as well as the sound of slurping" I note that this is exactly how one ought to appreciate tea in the setting of the Japanese tea ceremony, which Saito elsewhere recognizes to be an art form. (15)  

Saito admits that "In constructing the object of our aesthetic experience in these cases, we do select and specifically attend to certain ingredients in our perceptual field, just as we do when we appreciate art as art." (19)  The difference in her mind is that, in art, we determine this based on social convention and "institutional agreement" not on the basis of "our personal preference, taste, and inclination."  And she is right at least in that there is some greater degree of institutional agreement in the realm of art, but it strikes me that this is only a matter of degree and that there certainly a lot of relying on "our own imagination, judgment, and aesthetic taste as our guide" in art as much as in everyday life. Moreover, as Saito herself has described, there are some everyday practices that involve a lot of institutional agreement, for example sports and cat beauty contests.

Monday, May 1, 2017

quote of the day

"That which is falling should also be pushed."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, April 28, 2017

Monologue: Thad, the Worst Student in Your Intro Class, Has Something to Say (McSweeney's post dedicated to Sparrow)

This is hilarious but also frighteningly accurate in more ways than one. Tom S. is a fellow traveler on the professorial road (age, status, career trajectory, etc.), and like many of us I think he'd be able to verify the accuracy of this. Therefore, this post goes out to Tom.

Just a note: This is tongue in cheek and doesn't refer to anyone in particular. Also, visit the original if you can (I do not want to steal traffic), but do pass on if you think it is accurate or funny (or both!) ...

Monologue: Thad, the Worst Student in Your Intro Class, Has Something to Say
// McSweeney's

I want to begin with a quote from Winston Churchill, and no I will not cite it, because I don't understand how that works, and I never will. "Some people's idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, it's an outrage." You may say that Churchill engineered a famine in India during WWI (or one of however many world wars there were) and his legacy is forever tarnished by the cruelty of colonialism, but he is absolutely right here. Interrupting my idolization of the old white men my parents have busts of with some boring discussion of 'colonialism' is an outrage. I demand the right the right to say whatever I want, whenever I want, without nasty remarks like "I think there were only two world wars" or "please stop calling other religions plots of Satan."

What would I say were I freed from such fetters? Well, my loose network of political beliefs is largely just what my parents what my parents and Chaz think. Why Chaz/Chaz Monster/C-Man? First of all, he has really nice hair, plus he's the number one reason I usually show up to your class hungover. And Chaz's worldview centers on the belief that 1954 was the best year of America, ever, bar none. You may said that you and many other Americans did not have full civil rights in 1954, that maybe you couldn't even have taught here in 1954, to which I reply, your hair is not nearly as nice as Chaz's.

This is not to say that I haven't faced persecution in my own life, however. As I loudly shout over other students, some have the temerity — would you believe it? — to keep talking, even when I have so clearly already interrupted them. This is an unfair attempt to silence me, to say nothing of professors grading me down solely because of my beliefs. There can be no other reason, as my grammar are perfect. I try to never split an infinitive. I never don't use contractions or double negatives, and yet I so often find my GPA is barely above the number of world wars you claim there were (wasn't there another one in the 1860s, though? My dad has a flag from it, right next to the ghost costume he wears every month except in October, for some reason.)

My main persecutor is the professor who broke a pen in half when I complained that the gays were too violent at their uprising, Stonehenge or whatever. How was I supposed to know he's one of them! I am the victim here, as you can see for yourself. "What citation format even is this," "why would you capitalize that," "this isn't Latin, it's just very misspelled," "please for the love of God just plagiarize someone, anyone, I beg of you." These are just a few of the horrible things this man has said to me, clearly singling me out as part of his agenda. I even obtained a copy of this agenda, which he tried to pass off as a 'syllabus,' and he said something about "those were the class readings" and "you were supposed to read all these things, did you not understand — actually this explains a lot." Well, I may not know 'syllabus' means, but what I do know is it sounds suspiciously like 'syphilis.' Are these the Christian values we want at one of the top ten colleges in the nation for repressing the free speech of minorities? I think not.

As an able-bodied white Protestant who was once thrown out of the Junior Republicans for being "above the threshold of racism we tolerate," I know a lot about what it's like to be persecuted. I feel for the downtrodden, like us straight guys who 'sexually harass' women — they take catcalling as a compliment! Besides, it's just biology, people! It's not a choice, like with the gays — what? Why are you looking at me like that? I read part of The Importance of Being Earnest in seventh grade once, so I'm not homophobic! Besides, one of the girls in my dorm has short hair, and I only glare at her suspiciously when I think she's NOT looking.

My point is, professors need to start treating me with the respect I deserve, rather than nitpicking my 'ideas' and 'arguments.' This undue emphasis on 'logic' and 'context' has really hurt my grades! Just because you "have a Ph.D. in political science" is no reason to tell me I need better support for my political beliefs and, quite frankly, that's a prejudiced opinion. Much as professors may want to, I won't let college change me. I am taking a brave stand against these confusing readings in "Keynesian economics" and "critical race theory" and something called "misogynoir," which, I can only assume, is one of those weird colognes daddy buys me sometimes. You may want to enlist me in your sinister agenda, but I'm not buying it. I resist your elitist talk of "mixed metaphor." I resist the oppressive demand to stop shouting over that girl with short hair just because "she actually did the readings" (I know you're all friends anyway, let's be honest here).

Say what you want, but your marriage is a sin, and I will die never learning to format footnotes. The only professor I still like is that spicy little Spanish professor — she's from somewhere exotic, like New Jersey! What's that? I shouldn't call her — well, you just can't win these days.


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iPhones and Student Attention Span

I think we all knew this, but recent studies have now shown direct correlation between iPhone use (or smartphone, etc.) and decreased attention span. For some students in my classes this has become a problem. For our school it is an epidemic.

On the one hand , the electromagnetic waves produced by browsing online enact alpha waves at cycles of 8-12 Hrz, the wave cycle when the brain is inattentive or wandering. The term is "cortical idling." Same as television of course, but worse. A pleasurable, relaxed nearly hypnotic state - but one in which the brain's attention/focus is pretty much gone. Any possibility for "learning" drops out. (Even if learning is more than information recall, which it is, learning is still not happening.)

On the other hand we now also know about the small hits of dopamine released as the brain goes out seeking novelty and getting it immediately while one browses online. Dopamine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, as it is involved with the seeking and reward system of our brain which we must use in order to survive. We must learn what is pleasurable in order to seek it out and obtain it. Dopamine reinforces that seek and reward behavior.

Smartphones capitalize on those small releases of dopamine during browsing (as observed in lab tests) but also during interactions such as "liking" or being retweeted on social media. The brain very quickly becomes addicted to these dopamine hits and the stimulation and immediate gratification associated with them. Soon the brain associates the device with dopamine and habitually and unconsciously one will reach for it expecting pleasure. As one then browses or interacts with social media, dopamine is released and the reward satisfied.

The danger is just how suggestive smartphone use actually can be. For example, dopamine is also associated with impulse control (as seen in methamphetamine addicts), as well as with emotional control and the ability to experience certain emotions. Dopamine (or addiction to it) directy affects emotions such as empathy.

Researchers are now looking into how smartphones (or here in this study daily internet use or the use of smartphones) have affected IQ and basic learning skills, in addition to affecting emotional and social intelligence (skills such as problem solving, but also basic reading and writing).

While stimulants release or act on dopamine to increase focus in children or adults with attention deficit disorder, here the brain is set to inattentive alpha wave mode first only to have its momentary bursts of attention from within lengthier cycles of inattention rewarded. And so attention becomes a fragmentary novelty-seeking pleasure mechanism, rather than a mechanism of focus which helps true, deep learning occur.

More info at the link below:

Mathematics of the Transcendental (NDPR review)

While I am not particularly "into" Badiou (I actually prefer Laruelle, as opaque as he is), my research this summer is drawing upon mathematics as ontology, and for mathematics as ontology Badiou is master.

This book - as far as I can tell from the review - offers an alternative to, and critique of, set theory.  Set theory and predicate logic have long been staples in the analytic philosophical diet.  Here a Continental figure has taken up mathematics in very different ways.  The same is true with Badiou's Plato.  There his interpretation is, well, like Badiou...but interesting nonetheless (I am referring to Badiou's rewriting of Plato's Republic. His choice for terms of translation says it all.)

Recently I heard the Badiou, as late as last summer, was working on category theory and the thought of C.S. Peirce.  Now that's interesting.

NDPR review of Badiou's Mathematics of the Transcendental HERE.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A who's who of realism today

The  list of names from the colloquium "Things in Themselves: Metaphysics and Realism Today" essentially has every philosopher you ought to know about if you are studying the moment of realism, metaphysics, and contemporary speculative philosophy today.

There are some papers in English (Brassier, among others) - as well as many questions - in English, for those of you who do not speak French.

Full playlist on YouTube HERE.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tense Bees and Shell-Shocked Crabs: Are Animals Conscious? (NDPR review)

Michael Tye, Tense Bees and Shell-Shocked Crabs: Are Animals Conscious?, Oxford University Press, 2017, 256pp., $29.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780190278014.
Reviewed by Colin Klein, Macquarie University

Most of us are willing to accept that some nonhuman animals are conscious. Primates and dogs are an easy sell. Once upon a time, it was also easy to draw the line at mammals. The past few decades have revealed surprising complexity and intelligence among vertebrates like fish and birds, however, and even the higher invertebrates such as the octopus. More recently, cautious claims have appeared on behalf of simpler invertebrates like insects and crabs. Yet does the cleverness of the honeybee really give us reason to think that it has phenomenal consciousness?

Michael Tye argues for the affirmative. Arguing from straightforward principles, he comes to the conclusion that consciousness is widespread. Along the way, he marshals an impressive array of empirical evidence,...

Friday, April 21, 2017

First review of Speculative Realism: An Epitome comes in

The review is objective in tone and very nicely summarizes what the books is about, what it does, and what its merits and shortfalls are. Overall a positive review, I am glad to report.

Review can be found HERE.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A humble attempt to introduce the philosophy of Nick Land...

Craig H. at Southern Nights blog (formerly Social Ecologies blog) has posted a very good collection of posts regarding a number of varied but centrally related topics concerning the philosophy of Nick Land. I am not sure how to pin a post, however even for my own personal interest I am going to make my way through all of the below posts (I've read closely just a few of them). It will take you (and me) some time to read and digest; although I must say that, oh, probably for the past month or so I've been curiously hovering around Land's ever-entertaining Twitter account, and his own blog Outside In (linked below) has been a long-time friend in my Feedly blog subscription app.

In what follows there is perhaps a gushing over Land's philosophy as much as an introduction, yet, it cannot go unsaid that at least in my humble opinion, his work is more enticingly interesting than anything going on today in contemporary Continental philosophy. This is not to say I take it all as true. But I do take it as absolutely fascinating and compelling. There are some very interesting ideas at work.

Let me also say this: in the posts below you'll read much about the CCRU, Accelerationism, as well as Nick Land (my favorite), and lots of other "intense" or "at the fringe things." It's justified, as that is what philosophy at its best does. But be prepared, because it all turns out to be philosophy-on-the-edges, probing time and what is real through "untimely meditations" so-to-speak, revealing an unknown as unknown. The Real. Call it what you want. What Land uncovers is not for the faint-hearted.  Thus, pretty dark stuff.

Land is indeed a genius of our time, though he is also "ahead" of our time (whatever "time" might mean - you'll see when you read the posts). Everything Craig has covered here is absolutely fascinating (again, reiterate: whether much of it is "true" is another story). Nonetheless, if one wants an education in Land's outlook, read closely the below.

So, over the next week or so I shall work my way through Craig's posts as a guide (no pressure, Craig). So far, though, if through these posts you want to know what's coming in discovering what Land is all about, imagine his philosophy something like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Cioran, Freud, Deleuze, and Bataille  mixed in a hyperstitious synthetic steroid cocktail of accelerationism, cyberpunk culture, NrX, Dark Enlightenment, CCRU, and discussion about something called "time wars" and "Studio Reality." Dizzying, but fun - we'll be dancing at the asylum, and that's a good thing .

The Awl blog puts everything rather succinctly:
Philosophically, the nineties iteration of Land was one of the most significant modern descendants of the sceptical and nihilist tradition in Western philosophy. Like his heroes, Nietzsche and Bataille, he was unremittingly hostile to the liberal Enlightenment philosophy of Immanuel Kant, which he saw as a failed attempt at replacing God with sacralized reason following the collapse of religion as source of philosophical certainty. Once set free from this religious cage, however, thought proceeded to demolish reason as well as any other claims to truth; for Land, Enlightenment notions of rationality, free will, and selfhood were naïve efforts to save human consciousness (what he called the “Human Security System”) from being overwhelmed by the senseless and inhuman chaos of the universe — Lovecraft’s “shadow-haunted Outside” — whose truth was accessible only through the communions of art, death, ritual, and intoxication (of which Land enthusiastically partook). 
Land’s greatest legacy was a philosophy now known as “Accelerationism,” a heady cocktail of nihilism, cybernetic Marxism, complexity theory, numerology, jungle music, and the dystopian sci-fi of William Gibson and Blade Runner. Land identified the critique that progressively dissolved all claims to truth as the philosophical correlate of a capitalist economic system locked in constant revolutionary expansion, moving upwards and outwards on a trajectory of technological and scientific intelligence-generation that would, at the limit, make the leap from its human biological hosts into the great beyond. For Land, as for Nietzsche, the death of God results ultimately in the desire to be destroyed, with capitalism the agent of this destruction.
To conclude, alongside Land one may wish to read his book on Bataille, something I am going to try to help me get at Land's core ideas - (and a decisive interpretation on my part of how exactly one ought to interpret and take away Bataille's conclusions determines what Land will look like for you; just like in Hegel, it depends what of Hegel one takes) - this seems to be in order for me, after I finish my re-read of Land's edited writings (1987-2007) within Fanged Noumena. Though, I may order his book on Bataille. We'll see.

(From a fellow blogger who understands how time consuming it is to produce such things, thanks to Craig for writing such lengthy detailed posts - some of which I'll put below.)

Link, link, link...cognitive labor...ugh...but work your way through and become amazed. Here we go:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Free-writing a pensive post (Part 3b of 3)

In the last post of this series, HERE, I discussed how things had been going for my health during the last few months.  If you've been following along Part 1 is HERE, Part 2 HERE, and Part 3a HERE. Ironic, maybe, that just recently, actually, I followed up with the heart doc three months after the cardiac ablation surgery. So far so good.  And I am feeling much better.  Now on to thinking about total hip replacement.

In this post I'd like to update my readers on my academic plans, specifically my teaching but also discuss some of this past year's research.

My first First Year Writing Seminar "Meaning of Life" proved interesting.  I've always enjoyed mentoring students and so when asked if I'd be interested to teach FYWS again for fall 2017 I of course agreed.  The theme I created is "An Inquiry into the Good" which seeks to answer the question, "What makes a life a good life?" My Chair was informed by the approving Dean of Humanities that the course sounded so interesting that even she'd like to sign up - so I must be doing something right!  Very excited to teach that.  Here is the course description:
What is “the good life?” Is it having money, success, fame, or power? What is “good,” anyway? Does goodness consist in being just or truthful, in partaking in acts of kindness and beauty? Or is goodness simply what is pleasurable and thus a material matter? What if it were argued that the good we all seek is, of course, happiness. This then begs the question: what is happiness? Is being happy always good, and does goodness necessarily involve happiness? This course explores two interrelated questions: “What makes for a good life?” and “What is happiness?” The course overall conceives of goodness and happiness – whatever those terms might mean – as first and foremost a matter of self-exploration and self-realization. That is, goodness and happiness are both ideals and states to be realized and achieved. Students will read, critically interpret, and write about a wide range of philosophers who have something to say about the nature of a good life and happiness – philosophers including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Seneca, Augustine, Montaigne, Pascal, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, to name a few. In the course of engaging the writings of these philosophers students will have the opportunity to develop critical thinking, research, and writing skills.
Next on the agenda for fall 2017 is Existential Philosophy.  I'll be using Solomon's Existentialism text like usual but am also adding my Speculative Realism text in order to read the chapter on subject-at-center metaphysics.  Given that I am slated to teach a seminar in Phenomenology in the spring of 2018 I am hoping to use the SR text for both classes to get the most use out of it.  And finally for fall is Introduction to Philosophy (one of my favorite classes to teach, actually).

Spring semester has me slated for Ancient Greek philosophy, Introduction to Philosophy, and the seminar in Phenomenology (which I am still debating how best that'd be run).

Speculative Realism: An Epitome is now published.  I am glad that that project is over, for a multitude of reasons.  Probably the most pressing was just how politicized the available literature was, in addition to the sheer paucity of available, but also reputable, literature (meaning, there was hardly any). This made the book tremendously difficult to write.  I saw authors making 90 degree right turns to avoid mentioning this person or that person, or editors of online journals (graduate-student run and reviewed, mind-you) behaving like jerks on Twitter and hence compromising even ever hoping to achieve any semblance of trustworthiness or respectability for whatever they did publish on SR, and overall just ridiculousness that was so laughably bad that I couldn't even believe it was published online to begin with (Figure/Ground was especially terrible with repeatedly interviewing the same people over and over and over again, and one other journal that shall not be named were guilty of this but with the same authors appearing in each and every single issue. But said unnamed journal is just so repetitive in who publishes in it - most articles are within the bubble, and there is nothing new or informative about it. But, I think Figure/Ground is run by undergraduate students which, well, are we now quoting "journals" online run by newly declared philosophy majors?)

One strong case in point was how one of the very few authors who did manage to publish a book on the subject intentionally appeared to avoid using at all costs my interview with Iain Hamilton Grant while simultaneously complaining on Twitter that he was unable to locate a woefully outdated interview with Grant published in PLI over a decade earlier which he was hoping to use for his book. This was perplexing. Further, bowdlerized histories weren't uncommon in the other two books on the subject which were published, and this further frustrated my research.  So, I did what I could.

I saw on Twitter Urbanomic liken the situation to a broken-down abomination clawing its way back to momentary attention just to remind everyone  how it had already come and gone.  True. But also maybe there is another way to put it.  First, perhaps it could be described that in writing the book it would be as if I were showing around curious onlookers the crash site and decade-old remains of a once fancy airliner that had taken off for a flight but immediately had exploded over the runway just as its wheels left ground. The second way to put it (and this is to my own detriment) would be that there once was a conversation occurring in an ornately adorned lecture hall that over a few years happened to empty out.  But yet a decade later there I am in that room, long since abandoned, mumbling to those looking in from the hallway who had become curious hearing me as they passed by. I think this analogy explains why I sometimes feel as though this publication could have been better supplanted by my own thinking on a new topic.

Ah, before I forget. There was yet another comparison which had come to mind in writing the book.  So from the viewpoint of those who adamantly pound on the table and shout "It still exists! It still exists!" I thought: These are the 48 year-olds and their friends who were once star high-school quarter backs, but show up to today's games and shout from the sidelines how the game should be played.  They even attempt to climb over that chain-link fence separating the team from the crowd.  The sad part is, they're not even at their own high-school team's game, as that high-school shut down about ten years ago.

I'm weird, I know.  I just couldn't think of any other way to describe the experience of writing that book.

Anyway, the book-writing process is done and over with - the story told, and I move on to bigger and better things.

Other publications: I wrote something much more fun - a book chapter on the philosophical ecology of John William Miller.  Over winter break one year we had a reading group dedicated to Miller (who I discovered incidentally by reading an essay that Corrington had written about him).  That essay will be published in a book called Nature's Transcendence and Immanence, edited by Oh and Lawrence.  Given that the SR book took up so much time, and also battling my health, those were the only two big projects I could find time to publish. Although, I'd say that I managed to be fairly productive enough all things considered, as a book is no small feat.  And with the Miller/ecology chapter I was glad I could turn it over on time, as I know as a former book editor myself how time is of the essence.

Teaching went very, very well this past fall and currently has been going great (one can read about this semester's classes in the second post of this series).  Actually, it is hard to believe that the spring semester is nearly over.  It feels as though it just began!  That's a good thing, I think.  Great students - and I managed to nab two philosopher majors! Very cool. I was in charge of our "Exceptional Promise in Philosophy Award" which honors undeclared non-majors who have performed very well in our current philosophy classes this semester. It is a confidence boost for them and a good recruitment strategy. But I am honored to give out the award to some outstanding students.  In particular, Continental Philosophy went very well this term, against my expectations. In fact, many students in the class were prone to volunteer excellent examples and other ways in which something might said so everyone could comprehend the theory we happened to be discussing for the day.  Same with Environmental Philosophy and Intro.  Excellent, wonderful students.  I am indeed blessed.

In any case, now I am at the fun part of the crossroads which is determining where I go from here for my next research project.  Classes are set for fall and spring of next year: An Inquiry into the Good, Intro to Philosophy, and Existential Philosophy for fall; and then Ancient Greek Philosophy, Intro, and Phenomenology for spring.

I just need to decide what I'd like to accomplish research-wise next year, or at least what topics I'd be interested in exploring.  I really need to set a new and fresh direction.  Blaze a trail.  I will discuss that in the last post of this series, part "3c."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

quote of the day

"Cosmic imbalance is the motor of reality."

- Nick Land

After Nature looks, nods in agreement, and gives a look of approval back to F.W.J. Schelling.

Friday, April 7, 2017

quote of the day

"Idealism is the soul of Philosophy; Realism is its body; only the two together constitute a living whole."

- F.W.J. Schelling

Thursday, April 6, 2017

quote of the day

"[W]e do not mean that metaphysics is one subordinate subject-matter within the subject-matter that is philosophy. The term 'metaphysics' is not analogous to the terms 'aesthetics'....'ethics' etc. It is not a subject-matter area...It is one of the functions of philosophy...."

- Justus Buchler, Metaphysics of Natural Complexes

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

music, music

Philadelphia dark-wave trio Blood Sound has an album "Too Much Sun and Not Enough Gloom" which is going to be the soundtrack for my writing/research this coming year.

Or, it's good to turn it up and dance alone to it in your bedroom during these dark times.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Land says it best yet again

Nick Land states, "First it collapses down to a partisan bubble with zero credibility beyond its own constituency. Then it dies."

Perfect. I am stealing this.

Comment section is awesome (note: at last count there were 160+ replies where most of what is said there is true).

Monday, April 3, 2017

Exceptional promise in philosophy

Each year our department awards to students a certificate of recognition for their hard work and demonstration of promise in a current philosophy class. So, if you are a student who is not a philosophy major but has performed extraordinarily well then you would be a candidate for this award.

We really don't have an official title for it yet - but last year it was called the "Excellence in Philosophy" certificate.  Each faculty member of our department selected the best non-majors in their classes and invited them to the ceremony/event to receive their award.

Receiving such an award that recognizes one's hard work, talent, and most of all "promise" boosts one's confidence.  My thought expressed to our department was that this was a good recruiting mechanism.  Student's who are told they have a talent for philosophy but are non-majors are more likely to major.  This in fact happened.

My thought this year was to re-title the award as the "Exceptional Promise in Philosophy Award."  It's a certificate,, but most of all it is recognition for that talent and promise that a non-major, or usually undeclared major freshmen/sophomore, would demonstrate in your class.  This would be the those one or two students who impress, who naturally seem to comprehend the ideas in play, and just through their academic excellence show promise in the field of philosophy.

I think it's nice too because when students receive the award it is indeed a big deal.  Their name is called, they come before a room full of people, and with a handshake we give them their certificate. It's a great moment for each student called, and it's a great moment for us faculty who are so proud of them.

Mathification (Galloway on Badiou + Updated)

Interesting post by Andrew Galloway. Visit his blog too, it's tremendous.

UPDATE: A former student of mine, now a graduate student at U of Memphis, mentioned he was using some mathematical proofs in his dissertation on - I want to say Badiou - but I know it is a critique of Meillassoux from a mathematical-ontological perspective.  In any case, the below by Galloway (again, please always visit the sites themselves, too) is remarkably clear.  If one does not know Badiou you'd get a very good general sense by reading Galloway's post. Wonderful.

// Alexander R. Galloway

I've been returning frequently in recent weeks to that momentous section from Being and Event where Alain Badiou marshals all his poetic and persuasive powers. I refer to the important meditations Twenty-Six and Twenty-Seven and the "impasse of ontology" described therein, the crux of the book if not the crux of Badiou's project overall, with page 278 in the English edition containing perhaps the single most important paragraph in all of Badiou.

Badiou testifies in this section that the impasse of ontology was triggered world-historically by what he calls the "Cantor-Gödel-Cohen-Easton symptom," referring to the four mathematicians who together, in Badiou's assessment, have revealed a condition within mathematics, and hence also within ontology, that forces a choice (280). Cantor primarily and Cohen secondarily are the two most important figures for Badiou, particularly in Being and Event. Gödel figures a bit as well and Easton less so. Nevertheless Badiou combines these four figures into a single event within the history of mathematics. Badiou defines the event as an "errancy" or "excess of the state" over the situation (282). Such errancy mandates a subjective choice.
By what path does Badiou arrive at the impasse? It all begins with a query. "[I]s being intrinsically quantifiable? ... Is there thus an essential numerosity of being?" (265). The query is innocent enough. Is it always possible to compare two things quantitatively? Is it always possible to say that there is something that is larger than something else? Is there a concept of "larger than" from which to construct quantity or numerosity, and, if so, is there a concept of "larger than" in thought overall? The path to the impasse begins just like that, because (as will be explained in a moment) the simple numerosity of being, the simple notion that everything is intrinsically quantifiable and therefore relatable via the operation of "larger than"--this simple reality collapsed under the weight of Cantor-Gödel-Cohen-Easton.

The impasse can be defined both in socio-political terms as well as in mathematical terms. First, in socio-political, "the state of a situation is quantitatively larger than the situation itself" (273); now again mathematically, the power set is quantitatively larger than the original set. Badiou's word is "quantitatively," but do not be mislead, the nub is that the state is immeasurably larger than the situation itself, and thus qualitatively larger. Likewise the fact that a power set will always be larger than its original set is a way of saying that the numerosity of the power set qualitatively or indeed immeasurably exceeds the numerosity of the original set. This observation is perhaps insignificant or even illegible when considering finite sets, but, as Cantor showed, it becomes terribly important when considering transfinite sets.

But such claims are already too abstract. So what are some actual sets that might allow us to explore these claims, and even to approach Badiou's impasse directly? Mathematicians have a particular interest in certain kinds of sets, certain types of numbers that are important within number theory. For instance, one might consider the set of simple counting numbers like 1, 2, or 3, collectively called the natural numbers. Or one might wish to talk about the integers: 1, 2, 3, and so on, but also including zero and negative numbers like -1, -2, and -3. Or one might discuss all the fractional values like 1/2 or 15/16, these being the numbers expressible via a ratio of integers and thus gaining the title of rational numbers. Or one might wish to discuss an even more capacious category of numbers called the real numbers, those being the sum total of all of the above--the natural integers and the fractional rationals--plus everything else on the continuous number line, all the so-called irrational numbers like π that can not be written as a ratio of integers. The real numbers thus include integers like -2, fractions like 3/4, but also irrationals like π. And it turns out there are quite a lot of irrational numbers, an innumerable number of them in fact, even though only a few of them are commonly used in calculation.
Such examples are not chosen at random, particularly the natural numbers and the real numbers. Indeed mathematicians have a special interested in these two particular sets. An examination of the cardinality of the two sets, that is, the size of the real numbers versus the size of the natural numbers, produces a startling result. Based on Cantor's innovations and his explorations into the size of infinite sets, mathematicians refer to the "infinite" size of the set of all natural numbers. But, at the same time, the set of all real numbers is also infinite. Cantor's startling discovery was that these two infinities are different. Even more astounding, Cantor showed that the two infinities are not simply different, they have a different size, that is, there is no way to map a one-to-one relationship between each natural number and each real number. The cardinality of the natural numbers is of a different magnitude than that of the real numbers. A seeming paradox ensues, for how can infinity exist in two different magnitudes? Nevertheless Cantor demonstrated that the infinite size of the natural numbers will always be smaller than the infinite size of the real numbers.

Of the many repercussions produced by Cantor's theory, consider just one, the simple act of counting. Since the natural numbers are by definition the counting numbers, natural infinity is, by extension, countable, at least in principle. Yet if real infinity has a larger cardinality than natural infinity, then real infinity is "larger than countable," or more simply uncountable, innumerable. In other words, there is no way--no practical way but no theoretical way either--of counting all of the real numbers. With what tools would they be countable, now that the natural numbers are exhausted? The real numbers are innumerable, and thus the two number sets are numerically incompatible.

As a consequence of these discoveries, Cantor proposed in 1878 what he called the Continuum Hypothesis. The Continuum Hypothesis says, in essence, that the cardinality of the natural numbers is different from the cardinality of the real numbers, with no other set of numbers between them. Thus the natural numbers have one kind of infinity, natural infinity, while the real numbers have a larger kind of infinity, real infinity. And these two different kinds of infinity have two different "sizes." (Although the question of size starts to lose its meaning in this context, which is one reason why Cantor preferred the notion of cardinality to that of size.) With the former, natural infinity, it is possible to make a one-to-one correspondence with the counting integers, and thus the former is "countable." With the latter, real infinity, such a correspondence is not possible, and thus real infinity is quite literally uncountable.

The Continuum Hypothesis gets its name from "the continuum," that more poetic monicker for the real number line. Still, the Continuum Hypothesis asserts an elemental dis-continuum, namely the insurmountable discontinuity between the natural and real numbers. According to the hypothesis no number exists between the cardinality of the natural numbers and the cardinality of the real numbers. According to Cantor, it is not possible to count continuously from the cardinality of the natural numbers "up" to the cardinality of the real numbers; a jump, is all, from one to the other. There exists a mathematical rift, as it were, a gap between numbers. (Cantor elegantly mapped this on to sets and their power sets, since the power set of the natural numbers will produce the real numbers, with an intermission between the two cardinalities.) More generally the hypothesis says--now following a looser interpretation--that there are two fundamental kinds of numbers, the natural kind and the real kind. These are not two different mathematics, as it were, but nevertheless two essentially different modes of number: natural and real with a fissure in between.

This impasse so captured Badiou's imagination that, as I have suggested, he structured Being and Event almost entirely around it, around what he called the errancy or the unmeasure of ontology. In Badiou's view Cantor unearthed "two regimes," mandating an "arbitrary decision" between them (278). In that momentous Meditation Twenty-Six, Badiou labeled this arbitrary decision a "wager" (pari) beyond the effectivity of known calculation. The English term wager does not entirely capture the meaning of Badiou's original pari. But the gist is that when calculation fails one is forced to gamble. One is obligated to make a choice, if not a leap of faith then a leap of faithfulness (fidélité). "A chasm opens" in the wake of Cantor, Badiou wrote, a chasm that requires "a conceptless choice" (280). If this sounds like existentialism, it should; Badiou is, in a sense, rewriting existentialism for a new age.

Yet, at this stage in Being and Event, Badiou has not yet turned to the work of Cohen in any real detail. Thus Badiou's "conceptless choice" is not a reference to the independence of the Continuum Hypothesis, at least not yet. There's something else, something within the hypothesis itself that provides Badiou with his initial fuel. The simple premise that the cardinality of the real numbers is qualitatively larger than the cardinality of the natural numbers--with no gradation between the two--this simple premise is enough to precipitate Badiou's "conceptless choice."

In the wake of the discoveries by these four mathematicians -- Cantor-Gödel-Cohen-Easton -- Badiou observed that " unfaithful to itself," and that, as a result, "quantity...lead[s] to pure subjectivity" (280). It is an astounding if not radical claim. Begin with quantity, with mathematical concepts; pursue their consequences far enough by following all the innovations of modern mathematics; and the result will be subjectivity. In other words, at some point Cantor's impasse will intrude, and one will encounter a point of decision, a point that is not quantifiable, a point that does not follow the succession of numbers. A yawning void will eventually open at the heart of mathematics, a void within mathematics, to be sure, but the consequence of mathematics nonetheless. And from out of this abyss, via the conceptless choice, the subject appears. The pursuit of quantity leads to subjectivity. In other words, math makes subjects. Such is the fundamental principle guiding all of Badiou's work as a philosopher. Its proper name shall be mathification.