Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm back, what did I miss?

It was a busy and fun last two weeks. But I am back. Anyone want to tell me what interesting things I missed on the internet for the last two weeks?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Two weeks off, anyone want to blog?

My parents are in out of town visiting, and then I have a wedding to attend and will see a lot of my college friends, some of whom I haven't seen in a long while. Anyway, this blog will probably be basically dead for the next two weeks. Unless, someone wants to guest blog here. Great for people who read blogs but are not sure if they want to keep one up themselves. If so, drop me a line.

Anyway, take care blogosphere. See you in a few weeks. Don't implode while I am gone.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Moral schizophrenia and the power of affect in US v Stevens

I just got through reading the oral arguments (.pdf) in US v. Stevens. It was very interesting, to say the least. If you don't want to take the time to read around 70 pages of oral arguments, you can check out this summary from slate here (which is biased on the side opposite of mine, but entertaining to read). The oral arguments are certainly all over the place, but I wanted to highlight two interesting points from them.

(1) Gary Francione has often pointed out that most of us relate to animals in a mode of what he calls moral schizophrenia. We are willing to treat the family pet as a member of the family, while at the same time eating animal flesh on our dinner table. This moral schizophrenia is, in many ways, at the heart of the arguments made by the Justices against the law. Because we have a culture that has no real coherent way by which we determine something cruel or not (hunting, even the most vicious kind, in. Killing a cat though in the same way, probably illegal to sell images of that. Dog fighting and cockfighting, out! But bullfighting, specifically let in!). I have a lot of sympathy with the Justices on this one, it clearly is something very different from laws against depicting child pornography, which the present law is explicitly based off of. In child pornography we have an action whose exceptions are both narrow and fairly uncommon. Also, those exceptions have a certain degree of seeming coherency to them. In the case of the law about showing violence towards animals we have a law that is necessary has broad exceptions that are quite incoherent. I am not saying that the law should be overturned on this point (I really am not taking a stance on this issue), but I am pointing out that I think that advancing animal welfare legally will continue to face such issues.

(2) Another interesting part of the back and forth included two different times where there were discussions of banning speech that was not communicative. That rather than communicating to anything, appeal to something. Such as obscenity appealing to lust, or these images potentially appealing to sadism. While the term 'affect' was never used in these discussions, that is certainly what was under consideration. To what degree does the first amendment cover affect? What these backs and forths seemed to imply was that the State must not intervene on the question of content, but anything that simply advances affect can be regulated by the State.

The whole thing is pretty weird. For example, both lawyers seemed to agree that if there was a channel dedicated to broadcasting human sacrifices that were taking place outside of the US, Congress couldn't make such a channel illegal. The justices seemed all very bemused and confused by this stance, particularly this mutual stance.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kandinsky's trial by strength.

Levi has a new post up on what Latour means by trials of strength. I don't have anything to add one way or another, but I want to use it as an excuse to post one of my favorite quotations from Kandinsky, which seems to agree a great deal with this notion of trial by strength.

From On the Spiritual in Art:
In a mysterious, puzzling, and mystical way, the true work of art Your browser may not support display of this image. arises "from out of the artist." Once released from him, it assumes its own independent life, takes on a personality, and becomes a self-sufficient, spiritually breathing subject that also leads a real material life: it is a being. It is not, therefore an indifferent phenomenon arising from chance, living out an indifferent spiritual life, but rather possesses-- like every living being-- further creative, active forces. It lives and acts and plays a part in the creation of the spiritual atmosphere that we have discussed. It is also exclusively from this inner standpoint that one must answer the question whether the work is good or bad. If it is "bad" formally, or too weak, then this form is unsuitable or too weak to produce any kind of pure, spiritual vibration within the soul.

Will the supreme court gut the ability to produce animal rights legistlation?

Obviously there is a question about if we should be concerning ourselves with law and legislative purposes in pursuing liberation for animals. (The discussion on the last chapter of Calarco's book pursue some these questions over here). However, such a question could be rendered somewhat moot in a court case currently facing the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Stevens. Under considerations is a law banning the commercial sale of images and recordings of cruelty towards animals. You can get a good look at the case by reading this Chicago Tribune article and this NY Times article. The law was designed for stopping the selling of recordings of dog fights, and also crush videos. Crush videos are a sexual fetish videos in which women, either in high heels or bare feet, crush the bodies of living animals. There are certain free speech issues, and certain issues dealing with the present case itself and also potential for misuse of this law. None of those things do I really feel like going into.
However, also under consideration is if preventing animal cruelity constitutes a compelling state interest. When the Third Circuit court decided that the law was unconstitutional, it also determined that preventing animal cruelity was not a compelling state interest. The Supreme Court could rule without addressing this question at all, or it could rule in such a way that would set a precedent that could potentially gut the ability of the government to pass laws protecting animals unless it could also show that such laws also served some human interest.

If you are interested in pursuing the legal ramifications of all of this, I suggest you check out this post which contains links to oral arguments and an brief filed by animal law professors.

CPIC reopens

I just got this email:

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I have just received news from the Division of Research that CPIC will be re-opened, at least until April, 2010. The future of CPIC after that date is subject to some conditions I won't go into here, but that seem superable.

The Division of Research, moreover, has decided to enhance the CPIC budge.

This is, of course, wonderful news. I congratulate those who have worked with such steady and unflagging commitment to re-open CPIC.

I absolutely agree that the people who faught for CPIC deserve a lot of credit for this. If I was in Bing, I would totally buy you guys a drink, well done!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Negri, more on vitalism and humanism

Peter Gratton follows up my last post with this:
I think it’s a false choice, no? One can’t be both? I also think that though Negri is saying he’s not a vitalist that doesn’t end the point. I think Critical Animal is right, but let’s not pretend that Negri is the most consistent thinker on this and doesn’t often have confusing discussions on this point.

I think he's absolutely right that vitalist vs. humanist is a false choice. Sorry if I came across that way. And I am in now way trying to get onto anyone who has read Negri as a vitalist (including myself. I am sure if you searched through my various internet writing places you can come across some places where I described Negri as a materialist vitalist). Though I think, and I can in no way back this feeling up so thank god this is blogging, that the fault is not with Negri on this on. I would guess he has been pretty consistent on this issue, and our confusion rests with having read this position as being slightly closer to Deleuze's than it is in reality. But this has a pretty important implications for Negri's political ontology. The fact that I seem to create an obviously false contrast between vitalism and humanism is because I think the contrast is true for Negri. Vitalism destroys the power of humanism, for him. Not only does vitalism destroy the power of humanism, it opens the door for biopower (again, in his use of the term). A desire for a biopolitical humanism in a biopolitical enlightenment is absolutely essential for Negri's work, and there is no room for vitalism.

Now, I really can't prove it without combing through my Negri books (and right now my tendency would be to work a little backwards, starting with The Porcelain Workshop and In Praise of the Common and only later getting to A Savage Anomaly), which right now I am not inclined to do, but if there is real interest or a lot of discussion, who knows what will happen. So, if anyone wants to weigh in, feel free.

Negri, Humanism, Monstrosity

Jason Read has a review of Cesare Casarino and Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. (h/t Philosophy in a Time of Error). In it, Read argues:
Finally, Casarino's example of language as this relation between the virtual and actual, an example that is repeated numerous times throughout the discussions with Negri, underscores that as a philosophical problem the common focuses as much on the fundamental aspects of human subjectivity, on a philosophical anthropology, as it does on an ontology.

The turn towards philosophical anthropology, towards an examination of humanity through its fundamental activities and relations, differentiates Negri's work from the work of thinkers of a previous generation such as Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Louis Althusser. For Deleuze, and other "anti-humanist" thinkers, any discussion of human nature, of some commonality, was an effect of power or an ideological ruse. Negri's and Casarino's work has more in common (no pun intended) with the work of Giorgio Agamben, Etienne Balibar, and Paolo Virno, who have returned to the maligned field of philosophical anthropology, to a consideration of what makes us human, not as a generic essence, but as the interplay between abstract potential and singular differences. This is not to say that these conceptions are the same. In the interviews, and in the essay on the political monster, Negri distinguishes his understanding of humanity from Agamben's understanding of bare, or naked, life. For Agamben, bare life, the reduction of humanity to pure survival, is at the basis of the modern state. Such an understanding of humanity disavows the common, specifically the way in which the common as presupposition constitutes a kind of historicity. As Negri writes,

There is no naked life in ontology, much as there is no social structure without rules, or word without meaning. The universal is concrete. What precedes us in time, in history, always already presents itself as an ontological condition, and, as far as man is concerned, as (consistent, qualified, irreversible) anthropological figure (208).

This is, as I have argued before, absolutely correct. Negri is no vitalist, no matter how many times you read that people say he is a materialist vitalist in the same lineage as Deleuze. For Negri, it is not life that gives us the power to be, but rather the very being of humanity that gives us the unique power to be. This is, and always been, the flavor of humanism that always exists in Negri. Though a biopolitical (in the sense Negri uses that term) humanism, to be sure.

This collection, however, contains a particularly interesting essay that both goes the farthest at contesting the boundaries of the human while at the same time ultimately reterroritoralizing on the figure of the human. This is the essay "The Political Monster." I remember a little over a year ago, back when I first trying to blog, Shaviro had a series of posts up on the question of monstrosity that Hardt and Negri praise as the monstrous flesh of the multitude. Shaviro had argued at the time that such a moves ignores that for Marx, the monstrous was capitalism. At the time I argued that the monstrous was something I wanted to be on the side of. Anyway, in this essay Negri not only extends the analysis about why he is on the side of monsters, but also specifically deals with this change from capitalism as monster to multitude as monster.

Deleuze and Agamben

I was recently rereading the chapter "geophilosophy" from Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy? (the epigraph of this blog comes from that chapter). What struck me so strongly this time is how so much of this chapter resonates with Agamben's later work Homo Sacer (do I even need to point out that What is Philosophy? was published a mere four years before Homo Sacer?).

Probably the most notably and theoretical commonality between these two texts is Deleuze and Guattari's notion of zones of indiscernibility [zones d'indiscernibilite] with Agameben's notion of zones of indifference ([zona d'indifferenza] which Heller-Roazen translates as zones of indetermination). For Deleuze and Guattari, the term doesn't just appear in that chapter, but throughout the book (with occasional variations on the term). Indeed, the first time the term is introduced in the book, Deleuze and Guattari write, "These zones, thresholds[.]". That by itself would be a striking relationship. However, also in the chapter of geophilosophy Deleuze and Guattari turn briefly to the question of the camp, and in so doing turn to the work of Primo Levi, wherein they specifically bring up the gray zone. Also, in that chapter, you can see a sustained critique of the notion of human rights. This strange relationship of a zone of indiscernibility/indifference, is just a jumping off point.

We probably all know of the two most sustained engagements with Deleuze's thought in the work of Agamben. In the essay "Absolute Immanence" Agamben deals directly with Deleuze's thought (and anyone interested in exploring more on the relationship of bare life and the animal in Agamben's work should also turn to this essay). The other place is on Agamben's truly stunning essay "Bartleby, or On Contingency" which was published originally along with the Italian translation of Deleuze's "Bartleby, or The Formula." This latter essay by Agamben deals with Deleuze's work only tangentially, which seems to be the most common way that Agamben seems to ever deal with Deleuze.

This tangential way can perhaps be seen in two of the essays contained within the recent translation What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays. In "The Friend" Agamben writes in the opening paragraph:
It is certainly with a somewhat archaizing intent, then, that a contemporary philosopher-- when posing the extreme question "What is philosophy?"-- was able to write that this is a question to be discussed entre amis, between friends.

This philosopher was clearly Deleuze and Guattari (I never know what to about the turning of these plural thinkers into simply Deleuze, it always seems absurd to me). Perhaps even more oblique is the reference in "What is an Appuratus?". The title of that essay is, first of all, the same as a title of an essay by Deleuze on Foucault. Moreover, we see that strange sort of reference again in the second sentence of the essay, "As a philosopher for whom I have the greatest respect once said, terminology is the poetic moment of thought." This is also a clear reference to Deleuze, who made this claim in one way or another in several places. Including, again with Guattari in What is Philosophy?, "In each case there must be a strange necessity for these words and for their choice, like an element of style." And in this essay, which takes its name from Deleuze, and who is reference in the opening lines, is never mentioned.

Right now, I don't really have a point I am trying to make. Just some reflections.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

CPIC Reinstatement Petition

[Personal Note: I've been a member of CPIC, and have done lots of really great work because of the center. You can check out a slightly out of date webpage for CPIC here, and if you have any questions feel free to ask me in comments.]

Here is a petition to reinstate The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture (CPIC). I encourage you to sign the petition, and also to distribute it widely.

To: Binghamton University Administration/Binghamton Foundation

We, the undersigned, petition Binghamton University to reinstate the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture (CPIC) to its full standing.

CPIC is a research center devoted to non traditional scholarship, contributing to the attempt to decolonize subalternized knowledges at the tense intersection of multiple oppressions. These attempts emphasize recoveries of memory; ecological practices attentive to geopolitical differences; and knowledges and ways of thinking from various traditions. CPIC also recognizes the need for spaces where these attempts can enter into connections beyond disciplinary reductions and where our scholarship can come together with our concerns with social justice. Its mission is to provide institutional support and resources for ongoing trans-disciplinary research projects. CPIC supports attempts to disrupt recurrent distinctions between theory and practice, secular and sacred, thought and performance, knowledge and value, ethics and aesthetics, radical and self-critical forms of social understanding.

Binghamton University points to budgetary difficulties as one of the reasons for closing the center. The creation of a Humanities Center is also offered as a reason. The Administration implies that they are seen as exclusive of each other. CPIC was evaluated in 2006. The outside evaluators suggested that we are a unique research center, one that would be an original turn on a humanities center. We worry that the choice between CPIC and the Humanities Center follows a commitment to traditional, canonical, conceptions of the University and of research.

Collaborative research has been at the heart of the Center. The collaborations include scholars, activists, artists outside Binghamton University. We have established national and international networks. We organized twenty two events in the last three years: summer institutes, conferences, seminars, public talks that add to weekly or bi-weekly discussions. We publish regularly. For many people, including young researchers, this is a very hard blow to their careers, and it is a very hard blow for the collaborative research that we are doing nationally and internationally. In the bountiful years we receive $16,000 from Binghamton University [$3,000/year operating funds, and a half time secretary whose salary amounts to $13,000. Last year we only received five hours of secretarial service per week.]


The Undersigned