Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ignorance, or, paying attention to identity

This post is sorta prodded by a few other people's post. Namely Peter's write up on folk philosophy. But also Harman's and Peter's discussion on some of Heidegger's racist asides.

I think we need to pay attention to identity. I think it matters if the books we read, the people who we work with and who attend the conferences we go to, the people we think with, all tend to have the same identities. I am not trying to say we need to engage in some sort of B flat identity politics, but I am also saying that many of us tend to ignore the importance and insights that would be gained by a strong plurality in identities we engage with. If we find that a certain concept we are working on tends to be mostly or almost universally engaged by certain groups, and other groups tend to dismiss or ignore that work, I think it is important to figure out why. Let me be clear, this is not to say you have to abandon your project, or always say you are wrong if you find that your project has been dismissed by other social and cultural groups. However, I think it could enrich the presentation of your work, and it might even force you to exam your own work in ways that you haven't. So yes, there might be mistakes and faults that need to be seriously engaged that you have ignored and would be able to ignore if you don't pay attention to identities. For example, I believe that the concept of humanism is a vicious and violent concept. And yet, decolonial theorists have again and again tries to revive the concept while critiquing it-- think here of Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Sylvia Wynter, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, among others-- and that does and has to give me pause. I haven't changed my mind about humanism, but it has caused me to more attuned to problems in discourses about becoming-animal and getting rid of personhood. That there are limitations to the ways these ideas have presently been articulated and understood. I'm not saying that decolonial theorists have to be or will be convinced, I am saying their arguments cannot be ignored.

I think there is an ignorance here that is really important, and Heidegger is a good way to present this problem. Heidegger's Nazism remains something fiercely debated about. There is a certain argument, that I think is bullocks, that goes that Heidegger was somehow deeply ignorant about the stakes and reality of national socialism. And that this profound ignorance was manifested, at least partially, not because of the content of his philosophy but because of the practice of philosophy. As he himself argues in the infamous Der Spiegel interview:
I certainly followed the course of political events between January and March 1933 and occasionally talked about it with younger colleagues as well. But at the time I was working on an extensive interpretation of pre-Socratic thinking, and at the beginning of the summer semester I returned to Freiburg.

That indeed the research on Pre-Socratic thinking caused Heidegger to distracted from truly understanding the political movements of his day. As I said, I don't actually believe this excuse, or not entirely. But I want to posit it as true for a second. Here we have a man of deep and extensive intellect, who falls into one of the most vile political movements of all time. And he claims to fall in because of a certain ignorance, and an ignorance enabled and abetted by the practice of philosophy. Such an ignorance is a dangerous ignorance, if Heidegger is to be believed, there really is very little to keep any of us from becoming card carrying members of the national socialist party. Unless our practices of philosophy doesn't increase or ignorance, but rather helps us develop a certain attentiveness, a certain carefulness. This is not to posit the political or the identitarian as first philosophy, but is rather about developing practices of philosophy that are attentive and richer.