Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm back, what did I miss?

I spent most of the break in the mountains of north GA, without internet access. So, I am trying to catch up on emails and blog reading. If you tried to contact me, and you haven't heard anything from me in the next 12 hours or so, just email me again. It means your email got lost in the mix, sorry. Also, if there were any really interesting posts out there over the break, let me know. As always, self-promotion in encouraged.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stuff on comments

Two important things. (1) I just noticed that several legitimate comments to my blog were flagged as spam. Not sure why, but if you ever have problems with comments, drop me an email. (2) We are having troll issues here at Critical Animal. My immediate reaction has been to make all comments moderated. Which I don't enjoy. If anyone has better ideas about how to deal with trolls, let me know. (Also, the troll went on random rants against AUFS folks, so Adam, I blame you).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Post of Links

You might remember my reservations regarding the string of videos making fun of undergraduates who wanted to go on to secondary school. Well, Karl Steel shares this wonderful video of a professor and student seriously discussing graduate school. My only reservation is the idea of the life of the mind. Whatever else graduate school and being a professor is, it isn't the life of the mind. But nothing is, and I think that's okay. Click the link, watch the video.

Jason Read has a smart review of Simon Choat's Marx Through Post-Structuralism. This review came at a time I was having a series of discussions about the relationship of Marxism and poststructuralism with my colleagues in the communication studies department here. Now my only annoyance is the absurd prices that Continuum wants for this (and so many other) books.

Speaking of my colleagues here in the communication studies department, I have been wondering what would happen if I ended up in a tenure track job in a department of communication or rhetoric or something of the sort. I have sort had a lot psychologically built into this label of philosopher. Which is odd, because I freely admit that some of the best philosophy I read is from people not working in philosophy departments. Or, I should say that I read good philosophy both in and outside of philosophy programs. I say this, because whenever I see Brian Leiter get up on his tautological horse about how only people in philo departments are doing philosophy, I feel a lot better about being associated with any department that is doing interesting work. So, go here and go see comments on Leiter's ranking of Continental programs, and also read the comments to this post, where Leiter engages in his usual tautological comments. (h/t Tom Sparrow).

I guess this shouldn't come as a surprise, but it seems that South Carolina will soon be running the largest dairy farm in the state, by using prisoners. (h/t

[update] I forgot this link. Here is an interview with Catalin Avramescu about his book, The Intellectual History of Cannibalism. The interview was fairly interesting, and now I have to pick up the book.

Now, I know this song has been out for a while, but I have only recently been made aware of this wonderful performance by The Heavy on the Late Show, particularly the encore is just pure, unadulterated fun. (it seems the embedding isn't working right, but I don't know why. Anyway, if you can't see the video, click here).

Books that changed my mind

This post follows up on the meme I picked up from Joshua Miller.

The purpose is not to list books that made me think more deeply about a subject (that's most books), or to list books that made me think a new thought (less books, but still important). This are books that specifically changed my mind about something.

(1) Marx's German Ideology. I picked this up early in college, and it destroyed the humanist, idealist leftist I had been until then. Like many a good leftist out of high school, I was very concerned with individualism and with the power of ideas. Basically, I had read Thoreau's "On Civil Disobedience" too many times. Marx allowed me to think a radical thought outside of the liberal tradition of individualism, and also made me think of collective productions of society. In so doing, I also developed a strong materialist outlook, that also dethroned my "knowledge is power" outlook.

(2) Maria Lugones' Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions. It is hard to separate reading Maria's work from working with her. Either way, my early encounters with Maria and her work overturned a certain domination of a particular brand of poststructuralism on my thinking. In particular, I realized the violence inherent with the desire to get rid of identity, to leave behind all forms of identity politics. This, shall we say, nomadic desire for becoming-imperceptible ran into its own limitation. I was forced to confront how my desire to give up my name, history, and identity was strongly rooted in my desire of not being held accountable, of being able to think from what Haraway would call the god-trick. It also made me realize how vital identity, history, and names were for others. That demanding that people give that up or not be radical was the worst sort of reactionary claptrap.

(3) Subcomandante Marcos et al. Shadows of Tender Fury and William Haver's "The Ontological Priority of Violence". Again, I have trouble separating working with Bill Haver from reading Bill's work, but both of these works changed my mind on the issue of pacifism. I had considered myself to be a sort of generic pacifist, but I don't think I had ever really thought through the position. For example, I was convinced that the Zapatistas were already at war before the first gun had ever been picked up. I was convinced that there is an ontological relationship, that we need to pay attention to things like dignity and the need "to have been dangerous for a thousandth of a second" (see Haver's piece for commentary and citation). In other words, pacifism had become a way of delegitimizing certain survival strategies in genocidal cultures. Pacifism, as I had understood it, had become a way of furthering various forms of violences. This isn't really against pacifism, but rather against the sort of generic and default leftist position of something called pacifism.

(4) Agamben's Homo Sacer and State of Exception. I had really inherited Foucault's belief that sovereign power was mostly a reactive and repressive mechanism. Agamben really returns sovereign power to its properly productive functions.

(5) Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster, and really Ranciere's work more generally. The same sort of individualism that conflicted with Marx had never entirely left me. In particular, I was often given to beliefs of elitism, especially when it came to students. Well, an early encounter in grad school with this text really finally changed my mind. I am a pretty strong believer in egalitarianism at this point. Also, it was Ranciere's article, "Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man", that brought me off the fence about the importance of rights. Until then, I basically shifted my position on the question of rights from whatever the last thinker I had read felt about the subject. (Deleuze is against it, must be bad. Foucault is for it, must be good. Etc.). This tends to put me in some level of conflict with most of the other continental or critical animal scholars, almost all of whom echo Derrida's belief that the idea of rights does more to hurt animals than help other animals. This is not to say that I don't think the question and issue of rights doesn't need some sort of critical intervention, but I don't think it can go on the dust heap of history.

(6) Peter Singer's Animal Liberation. This book didn't change my mind in any of the obvious ways. By the time I read it, I had long been on the same side when it came to the animal question. What it changed my mind on was the issue of utilitarianism. Like most good radicals, particularly of a poststructuralist stripe, I had long felt that utilitarianism was some sort of clownishly evil system of 'ethics'. I am sure there are probably people reading this blog who basically feel the same way. After reading Animal Liberation, I decided there was a lot more going on with utilitarianism than I had ever allowed for. This is not to say that I became an utilitarian, but I began to more seriously engage the work of consequentialism.

I am sure there are more, but these are ones I have been able to come up with over the last 24 hours or so. Most of the things that have changed my mind have not been books, but conversations. Just saying, comments always open. Also, I'd love to see this meme spread. What books have changed your mind?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler

Recently, I and Joshua Miller got into a discussion over the importance of Judith Butler over at his blog (bonus, see what books and essays actually changed his mind about something. Which is a great meme that I would like to see reproduced). One of the points he made was that he felt that much of what Judith Butler has been arguing about with precarity is secondary literature on Agamben. I don't think so, and I think this is a great opportunity to clarify the relationship of these two thinkers.

I think it is pretty clear that Agamben has long been an influence on Butler's work. However, I doubt you could call her work on precariousness as secondary literature. First of all, it has none of the form of that (no long textual exegesis, etc.). But the more substantial point is to distinguish Agamben's notion of bare life from Butler's notion of precarious life.

Much of Giorgio Agamben's work is centered around identifying and explicating a series of metaphysical machines that produce modernity. Thus, we have the state of exception in law, we have the anthropological machine in anthropology broadly construed, and we have the providential machine in theology. All of these machines operate in zones of indecision, and all of these machines are fundamentally empty, kenotic. What this means is that each iteration of the decisions of these machines are completely up for grabs each time. There is always a chance that what I do is interpreted as criminal even if it was interpreted as legal last time. The mundane example here is a speeding ticket, where one cop might decide that going 12 over is legal, and the next time the cop might decide it is illegal. The importance is that the machines produce their own justifications in these zones of indecision as if by fiat. Therefore, we all potentially can be seen as killable, we all exist within the nomos of the camp. This is what is meant by bare life-- life that is fundamentally confused between bios and zoe. [1]

Judith Butler's work on precarious life is very different from Agamben's work on bare life. First of all, there are not these monolithic metaphysical machines populating the work of Butler. Partially this is because Butler is far more interested in the nuances of how certain lives are considered livable and mournable than Agamben is. For Agamben, we all live in the nomos of the camp, and therefore you see Agamben taking up the idea of the archeologist from Foucault, and not the genealogist. To take up the mundane example from before of speeding, you would not see in Agamben any detailed discussions of the types of car your drive, or your race, or the part of town you are in as mattering for how the cop determines to pull you over or not. His metaphysical machines never seem weighted down by history, and their decisions never seem overdetermined by identity. For Butler, the frames by which we determine what gets to count as human, what gets to count as livable life, are all explored with a remarkable specificity. Gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc. all seem to play key roles in figuring out the protocols by which we determine which lives we mourn, and which lives we don't mourn.
The more important distinction, however, is that Butler does not seem to believe in bare life. As she has argued, the tasks you do to reproduce your biological existence (eating and finding food, creating shelter, etc) are all politically and culturally relevant. These are never the tasks of zoe, or of mere existence. This is why Butler talks of the bios of the non-human animal, an insight that I doubt you would ever see from Agamben. Thus, for Butler precariousness is not a condition to be overcome or critiqued, in the way that bare life would be for Agamben, rather precariousness becomes a place to think and organize from. Agamben is never a thinker of vulnerability as enabling, as productive. So, precariousness is not an ahistorical and legal condition, and it is actually something foundational to ontology, ethics, and sociality as such.

[1] I have so far treated Agamben's earlier work in Homo Sacer and State of Exception as being consistent with his later work in The Kingdom and the Glory. I have done so for some conceptual ease. However, these various works exist in some tension. Peter Gratton makes this argument frequently on his blog, and will be part of his chapter on Agamben in his The State of Sovereignty (SUNY Sometime).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Some More Thoughts On Cheating

I assume most of you have seen this CHE story (h/t Joey) written by someone who writes custom papers for students who pay for it (and they pay a lot). It's interesting, if not terribly noteworthy (except for how much he and the company he worked for gets paid. Particularly the company, which seems to be extracting close to a 100% profit). However, certain responses to the story are worth noting. Take this one, for example (h/t Craig). There seems to be a general argument from both the author of the CHE story and the author of the blog post that rampant cheating is somehow the fault of the faculty. But I don't care about that, here is what I care about: That in a desire to better police cheating, many educators seem willing to decrease the effectiveness or excitement of their pedagogical assignments. I have before taken a stance for anti-cheating measures, but only because they allowed me to become less of a cop and more of an educator. However, many educators admit to going to only in-class writing assignments or in-class tests in order to deal with such for-hire plagiarism services. Other educators admit to moving toward smaller and more narrow focused assignments in order to thwart such cheating.
Now, there are surely many appropriate times and places for tests, in class writing assignments, and certainly for narrow focused assignments. However, it seems many professors are moving to these assignments, and almost exclusively toward these assignments, not because of any pedagogical demand, but because of a policing demand. I am tempted, at this point, to write something cliche, like: If you assign this the cheaters have already won!
What really galls me from the CHE article is how the author seems oblivious to how his work and his stated goals are at cross-purposes. It is exactly the sort of assignments that the CHE author claims he supports, open-ended assignments that allow for the maximum creative and academic freedom, that are the most vulnerable to the sorts of services he provides. Most professors do not read the CHE article and feel that an effective response is to provide more academic freedom to students. I don't think anyone here believes that students are willing to pay $2000 (!) for an assignment simply because they felt it was too restrictive.
Anyway, if I am ever going to have to choose between being an educator or a cop, I am going to choose educator every single damn time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Post of Links

I've been very negligent in keeping up with the various blogs and discussions, so I am sure I am going to miss a lot of important stuff. If it seems I have missed some things, let me know.

I just saw this cool looking conference over at SUNY-Buffalo, Animal.Machine.Sovereign. If I still lived nearby, I would have to be going. As it is, you still might want to think about going. (h/t Complete Lies).

Here is Levi on Hyperobjects and OOO. Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy? was the first book of theirs I read from cover to cover as well, I also read it my first year in undergrad. Jason Wirth called it their deceptively simple book, and I have always agreed with that assessment.

At this year's ASLE, the panels on "The Vegan Challenge to Posthumanism" looks pretty awesome. Two abstracts have been posted, Craig on CAS & OOO, and Eric on Derrida, Hospitality, and Veganism. I really wish I could be at this conference, but I will be on my honeymoon. So, maybe I don't wish it that much...

Speaking of awesome conferences I wish I would be at, Devin is getting ready for the Radical Philosophy Association Conference. You can follow that link to get a link for what is going on at that conference. I really don't know why I didn't my act together in time to try and go, but I will make going to the next one a priority.

Lastly, here is Henry Salt on the ridicule of vegetarians. Still mostly true.

The band Dark Dark Dark have a new album out, and it is completely gorgeous. They seriously have one of the best sounds around. Here is the 'single' off that new album Wild Go, "Daydreaming". You will not regret listening to it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How states raise revenues: something of a rant.

I haven't posted in a while. October was a rough month, and then I got sick. Also, once I fall out of the habit of posting, it is hard to get myself back into it.

Recently my fiance got a speeding ticket. In general, most speeding tickets annoy me. They tend to be rather obvious attempts to raise revenue, rather than promote any sort of general welfare. But, whatever, we paid the absurd $245 fine. However, I just got another notice, this one from the state, which feels my fiance is a super speeder, and therefore we also have to pay the state $200. This is for going less than 20 miles over the speed limit on the interstate, and not in any sort of construction area or other high danger place. The state law went into effect January 1st, 2010. Despite all the sound and fury over sticking it to speeders, the law is clearly about raising revenues.
This is what happens when the state is suffering from falling revenues and yet won't raise taxes. This is one of the practical problems that emerges when you demand that states continue the same level of services while cutting taxes. And the sad thing is that I am pretty sure that many people would still support more fines and fees over a regulated progressive tax structure. Oh well, rant over. And here is music video for how all of this makes me feel.