Monday, August 30, 2010

Intro to Philosophy

In the spring it looks like I will be able to teach Intro to Philosophy. I am pretty excited about it, and have several ideas about what to put in the course (particularly expanding it outside of its traditional Western comportment). However, I was curious if anyone had suggestions. If anyone wanted to send me their syllabus, suggest preferred texts and textbooks, particularly awesome or smart assignments. I think Adam once said he didn't know why we didn't spend more time talking about teaching on these things, and I agree with him. Crowdsourcing classes makes a lot of sense, so please, would love any suggestions.

Oh, I am also probably going to be teaching argumentation in the spring. Most of you probably have never taught or taken that course, but any suggestions on that front would also be appreciated.

Go crowdsourcing, go crowdsourcing, go!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Levi has organized a reading group around DeLanda's A New Philosophy of Society. I had thought of joining, but I'm a little worried of over-extending myself. However, it looks to be really interesting. I read DeLanda's book when it first came out, and I will probably occasionally add things to the discussion. A very early encounter of DeLanda's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (I read it either the summer before my junior year, or the summer before my senior year of undergrad) was part of a weird mixture of things I was reading as an undergrad that really lent itself to my general anti-anthropocentric realism. DeLanda is also the reason I read Braudel's Capitalism and Civilization series, which are a lot of fun and very useful.

This also reminds me that there is a DeLanda book I haven't read yet, Deleuze: History and Science. If anyone here has already read it, I'd be interested in hearing feedback. I'd also be interested in a table of contents... . Also, at one point DeLanda was writing a book on the phenomenology of animals (what I saw looked very inspired by Uexkull), anyone know any updates on that front?

Speaking of Uexkull, Wolfe's Posthumanities series is going to be releasing shortly his A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans with his A Theory of Meaning. Both of them have already been translated and released into English, but it will still be nice to have them together in one affordable and in print volume. I've said it before, Uexkull is important and interesting, but I also would like for philosophers to maybe know something about the more contemporary scientific work, rather than going back a century for basis of their thought.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I've joined the dark side

For the last couple of years I have resisted adding a site counter for, I dunno, fear of being neurotic about it or having my blog be in danger of audience capture (as if I have enough of an audience for me to worry about that). However, tonight I randomly decided to add in a counter. I probably should have asked for suggestions. Right now I am using

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Post of Links

First up, if you haven't already heard, Jeremy Crampton has a new blog, Open Geographies. He also has this cfp for Philip K. Dick and Philosophy. I'm really tempted to submit an abstract, but the time frame is worrisome to me.

Peter has a good post on Derrida and difference of animals. His position is the one I basically agree with, but I am far more sympathetic to those that just wants to render inoperative such divisions in the first place. I would also like to point out the constant refrain Derrida makes about the impossibility of ever creating a rational division between what we call the human and what we call the animal.

Rodolfo has a new blog post up on disability, the animal, and the question of 'lack.' It's really interesting, and this is my favorite part of blogging. I say some random, ill-defined thoughts, and someone else comes along and writes a wonderfully insightful blog post on mine.

Do you all think I link to Prodigies & Monsters too often? Well, I think you all don't read them often enough. HJM has a wonderful post up on Hardt and Negri's third task of identity politics (the dissolution of identity). Her reading is, shall we say, kinder than mine. Though really I don't think we disagree that much. Also, MLA has two smart posts up on Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee on the issue of Secession. See here, and here. I know I should have more to add, but I don't really. Deleuze use to talk about the importance of stammering for writing and thinking. I sometimes think that political action requires us to learn stumbling. The awkward movements that don't always go together of a plurality of plans and actions. Stumbling, like stammering, is hard to do when you are trying to go somewhere. But maybe necessary.

Tim Morton has a post on OOO and buddhism. This may sound weird to a lot of you, but I use to have a lot of hostility towards buddhism. Since that time I've been working to figure out what, exactly, I think about distinct sects of buddhism.

Here is an interesting post from PaleoVeganology on if our earliest known human ancestors ate animal flesh or not, and if we should even care.

Over at Ezra Klein's place, he's on vacation and several interesting posts on private prisons sprung up. Read here and here. Also, here is a post about how prisons produce bad citizens.

For our musical ending, I've chosen Reverend Horton Heat's It's a Dark Day. It fits the rainyness of the day where I am living.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Clarifying on immunity (or, It's never Lupus)

Levi has a good post up on immunity, which ends this way:
Am I missing something? I’m not quite clear as to why Scu sees the necessity of distinguishing between immunity and autoimmunity and why he thinks Derrida is insufficient here. If anything, I think Luhmann comes up short here in not sufficiently exploring the possibility of systems auto-destructing or devouring themselves from within (which isn’t to say that a Luhmannian account of this couldn’t be developed, only that he doesn’t seem to explore this phenomenon very closely).

This caused me to reread my last post, and it made it me realize, uhm, how rambling and unclear it was. So, once more. A lot of this will be repetitive for many of you (including Levi), but it should help me being clearer.

An autoimmune disease is when the body's immune system cannot recognize part of its self as self, and therefore responds to healthy cells and tissues as if they were harmful (allergies are distinct from autoimmune diseases, but are similar and the treatment tends to be similar as well). You can see why this is such an important trope for understanding the ways that protective systems in society can actually be harmful. Levi gives the example of the Patriot Act, but let's take another example, the invasion of Iraq. In this case America is attacked. There are any number of proper immune responses, but invading Iraq is certainly not one of them. This entails a fundamental confusion, unable to tell one set of Muslims apart from another set in much the same way our own immune system gets confused. And like any allergic or autoimmune response, this caused a great deal of harm. (And I think we can all see why this goes to the heart of questions of biopolitics, no?).
Now, my argument isn't against the importance of thinking about autoimmunity, but against the particular way that Derrida talks about these issues. There is a way for which the immune for Derrida slips so easily into the autoimmune. Thus, if you look at "Faith and Knowledge" where Derrida introduces this concept he repeats "once immunity and auto-immune" at least twice, and then goes on and argues:
But the auto-immunitary haunts the community and its system of immunitary survival like the hyperbole of its own possibility. Nothing in common, nothing immune, safe and sound, heilig and holy, nothing unscathed in the most autonomous living present without a risk of autoimmunity. (p. 81 and p. 82 in Acts of Religion).

And that is all true, and important, and unarguable against, and yet....
Yet, this doesn't provide a way to think the immune without it seeming to always slip into the autoimmune. And that worries me, it worries me that people will see every action of immunitary logic as autoimmunitary. The immune system is, well, important. While autoimmune disorders and allergies are important threats, only an idiot would get rid of their immune system in order to cure themselves of those threats. When I talked about Haraway's comments on the obsession with autoimmune diseases distracting us from global distributions of health and the problem of, say, parasites, I think this has important implications for the model of immune system for society. Think about the Zapatistas for a minute. They went to war against the Mexican government on January 1, 1994, the same day as NAFTA went into effect. If you read "A Storm and a Prophecy" neo-liberalism is expressed in exactly the terms of a parasite, set to destroy the indigenous peoples of Chiapas. The actions of the EZLN, including the early direct military actions, are understandable as an immunitary response to the parasites of neo-liberalism. If the figure of the immune system is going to be useful, then that means we need to be able to think both immunitary response and the threat of autoimmune diseases which is just one threat among others. If our fear of the autoimmune becomes hegemonic, then we will have trouble taking appropriate immunitary responses. This becomes all the more true, because it is the immune system that makes you feel bad. So, for example, many patients in late stage AIDS don't feel sick. Because the feeling of sickness comes from the immune system, not from those infections and cancers and parasites that are killing you. Thus, we end up with the issue of Immune Reconstitution Syndrome, where a person's immune system starts working again and paradoxically makes the patient feel much, much worse. The reactions of the immune system are both necessary and uncomfortable, at best. If this holds true socially (and indeed, that should be one of the questions for those eager to extend the logic of immunity to sociality) then there is already a great impetus for people to oppose the immune reactions. To always see them as dangerous and unnecessary.
Another note here, the hemoglobins that attack parasites are also the hemoglobins that are behind allergies. There is a theory that allergies are so much worse in the developed world because of the fact that parasites is a significantly less of a problem here, and therefore the bored hemoglobins engage in hyper-immune responses. I think the focus on autoimmunity in our social theory might also be a question of perspective, of a people that do not as directly feel the parasites.
So, I agree that autoimmune diseases are bad things, both socially and physically. But they aren't the only problem, and we need to be able to think immunity broadly and usefully. Otherwise, the insight of autoimmunity will become a bit like how Virno has characterized the concept of biopolitics:
my fear, is that the biopolitical can be transformed into a word that hides, covers problems instead of being an instrument for confronting them. A fetish word, an "open doors" word, a word with an exclamation point, a word that carries the risk of blocking critical thought instead of helping it. Then, my fear is of fetish words in politics because it seems like the cries of a child that is afraid of the dark..., the child that says "mama, mama!", "biopolitics, biopolitics!". I don't negate that there can be a serious content in the term, however I see that the use of the term biopolitics sometimes is a consolatory use, like the cry of a child, when what serves us are, in all cases, instruments of work and not propaganda words.

The last thing we need is for autoimmune to function that way. For every time we see an immunitary action we automatically assume it is an autoimmune response that needs to be avoided. Remember, it's never lupus.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The metalepsis of immunity and autoimmunity

Levi has a nice post in response to my post on Luhmann. It does a good job of explaining a bit more of the back ground on issues like risk, systems/environment, immunity, etc. However, it has also made me think that a longer post on immunity and autoimmunity might be needed over here.

For me, as well as for many other thinkers, the issues of biopolitics are bound up with the issues of immunity. For example, in Foucault we are given schematics of power that correlate to responses of disease. So, Foucault explains that responses to leprosy elucidate sovereign power, responses to plague elucidate disciplinary power, and responses to smallpox elucidate governmentality and biopower.[1] But something else emerges in Derrida[2] and in Esposito[3], rather than responses to certain diseases being models or instances of different logics of power, immunity becomes a way of thinking the social itself, a metaphor or map for community and violence. Esposito warns us that in Derrida's formulation of immunity, there seems to be no space (or only an infinitesimal space) between immunity and autoimmunity. I think this is why Esposito turns more and more to Luhmann, for whom immunity provides both a positive and negative influence on a system.
However, as Miller points out (after prompting from Mitchell) in For Derrida, autoimmunity is a "figure of a figure" (p. 124), or a metalepsis. What does that mean? Well, it means that the concept of immunity isn't particularly a natural one, but already a metaphor used to understand the way particular systems of our bodies work. In this case, I really suggest Donna Haraway's "The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies"[4] and Ed Cohen's A Body Worth Defending. In Haraway's case you get an interesting story about the way certain discourses of the immune system work within the coordinates of a military-industrial complex. In Cohen you receive a longer work about how the very idea of immunity and self-defense (two different historical concepts, as Cohen points out) arise and go on to explain the notion of the way the body protects itself. This all means that certain societal arrangements became a figure for understanding the body, and that certain ways the body regulates itself has become a figure for understanding society.
This metalepsis of immunity is something we have to grapple with if we want to seriously understand the concept of immunity. This becomes all the more true if so much is suppose to depend on this issue of immunity; questions of killable and protected, of community and estrangement, of self and other.

[1] See Discipline and Punish and Abnormal for the first two examples. The smallpox example is in Security, Territory, Population.
[2] The major texts that Derrida deals with immunity are "Faith and Knowledge", in Philosophy in a Time of Terror, and in Rogues [Thanks to Matt for reminding me]. Hagglund's Radical Atheism is rightly mentioned as a great source on this concept, but I also suggest J. Hillis Miller's For Derrida and W.J. Thomas Mitchell's "Picturing Terror".
[3] Esposito's notions on immunity is worked out in his trilogy Immunitas, Communitas, and Bios. Also in his most recent book, Third Person.
[4] Haraway's work provides a nice contrast to Derrida, as well. Derrida's concern is the way that immunity slips into auto-immunity, but Haraway's essay is provoked by the death of a close friend who died of AIDS (immuno-suppression, not autoimmunity). Also, she has an interesting footnote where she observes that obsession with autoimmunity seems to come at the cost of concerns over things like parasites, which leads us to not "take responsibility for the differences and inequalities of sickness globally." (p. 252, n. 2)

I rather liked Inception

Over at Philosophy in a Time of Error, I suggested that Peter should read Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. It seems that several people are not particularly fond of those novels. Anyway, in that conversation Mikhail wrote:
I’ve only read The Baroque Cycle, so maybe I’m wrong on Stephenson as a whole, but I found the narrative to be oh-so-dull and I’m not even sure why I kept on reading. I think it was the same reason for why people keep on watching Inception for 2.5 hours trying to see if there’s a twist or something…

Okay, before we go any further, I plan to talk about the movie Inception as if you have already seen it. That means there are going to be spoilers. You are warned.
I rather liked Inception (I've seen it twice), so maybe Makhail is onto some sort of connection here. What he seems to be missing is that my enjoyment of that movie had nothing whatsoever to do with some sort of twist at the end (Christopher Nolan is not some sort of M. Night Shyamalan). First of all, I just thought it was a fun movie. Some of the fight scenes were a little long, and it isn't my favorite Nolan movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching the movie. Maybe Makhail just didn't enjoy watching it, nothing wrong with that. But there seems to be a push to want to say that the movie failed as an intellectual force by some of the reviewers I read (what a weird way to judge a movie). Many of them have compared it to the Matrix. They are wrong, and that wrongness is connected to the way that there was no twist at the end.
Any number of people have (rather smugly) declared that they figured out the ending before it ever happened. Good for you, you've seen a movie before. I think the ending of the movie was suppose to be foreseen, predicted. Think of it like a good joke. There are two ways (well, at least) of telling a joke. One is to tell someone a joke with an unexpected punchline, the surprise of the punchline is what causes laughter. But, that makes re-telling the joke problematic. Some of the best jokes are when the audience knows what is coming, and the comic manages to stretch things out. Nervous chuckles escape from the audiences lips as the tension builds. The climax's humor comes from fulfilling expectations, from releasing tension done through good timing. Inception was a bit like the second joke for me, where it seems many other people saw it and felt it was like a joke they had heard before.
This brings us to the ending. Everyone foresaw that the totem would not fall, that all of this was still just a dream. The movie isn't anything like Matrix, which argued that there was a real world and a fake world, and you get to the real world (and moreover, that the real world was the world that mattered). Inception, on the other hand, lives in ambiguity. It thrives on the fact that we can never really be sure which world is real or fake. That realness is never something we can sure of, and that indeed it becomes hard to tell if the real world is the world that matters. This explains the constant refrain of leaps of faith. The film doesn't deal with, "What if this isn't the real world?". but rather, "Never being able to be sure of something even as basic of reality, of love, of people, of self; how are to act and exist?" For me, the perfection of the ending isn't the fact that the totem hasn't fallen (and therefore, aha, it is a still a dream) but the wobble of the totem as the film ends. The fact that a measure of this ambiguity is preserved.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


EJ and his now wife Susan were wed this last Saturday. He has a beautiful and wonderful post about the wedding on his blog. Congratulations to you two!

Luhmann and Vulnerability

I have been thinking for a while that work on the question of vulnerability is second-order systems theory would be really valuable. And then I start going through my Luhmann books, getting trapped in that rabbit hole. So, at some point when I have enough time, I will try to really work this out. But a recent comment from Levi reminded me of some of my gut instincts on this question.

Levi writes:
Third, information is withdrawn from perturbations. In The Democracy of Objects I argue, following the autopoietic theorists, that objects are operationally closed. Within this framework, no object has a direct relationship to other objects in the world. Rather, each object is 1) selectively open to the world, and 2) relates to that field of the world to which it is selectively open in terms of its own organization. Selective openness to the world means that objects aren’t receptive to everything in the world. Neutrinos cannot interact with most matter because they have such a neutral charge. Dogs, unlike humans and other primates, cannot detect color in the red end of the spectrum. The utterance “I think therefore I am” resonates differently for a person trained in the history of philosophy than it does for someone who has never read any philosophy. Every object transforms those perturbations to which it is open in its own specific way according to its own particular organization. These perturbations are transformed into information or events that select system-states within an object, and that transformation, in its turn, produces a cascade of effects within the object.

Here Levi makes very important points about systems, but I wanted to point out the next part for Luhmann. Systems still have to interact, but they do so without being able to fully grasp another system. Luhmann doesn't use the term vulnerability particularly, but does employ the concepts of risk and trust in order to explain many of these interactions between systems. Trust is about the ways that systems interact with each other in ways that open the system up to risk. Risk isn't just calculated danger, but risk involves taking chances that exceed calculation, and therefore trust exceeds a system's calculation as well. Luhmann posits that systems that are more likely to trust tend to be ones that are more likely to thrive. Or, to put it another way, trust is "an attitude that allows for risk-taking decisions". This how links up with another of Luhmann's theories, which is the centrality of immunity to any systems function.
Immune systems function through a negation, not from determining what a system is, but by negating what it is not (through negative communication in the environment). An immune system cannot be brittle for proper functioning. "An immune system must be compatible with self-reproduction under changing conditions. It is not simply a mechanism for correcting deviations and re-establishing the status quo ante; it must manage this function selectively, namely, must be able also to accept useful changes." (Social Systems, p. 369) This is, of course, where biopolitics becomes a primary concern of systems theory and vulnerability. Esposito has already briefly taken up Luhmann in Bios, and a bit more extensively in Terza Persona (a book of which I will come back to in another post). As Esposito has wonderfully argued, immunity is necessary for community (this is basically true for Luhmann as well), a problem emerges with auto-immunity disorders (here is one of the key insights of much work in biopolitics. Not just Esposito; but Haraway, Derrida, and even to some degree in Foucault). When an immunity system over-reacts, cripples a system, starts killing itself in order to protect itself. A certain remainder of vulnerability, a certain attitude of trust, is necessary in order to strive off auto-immune.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Post of Links

First up, a few interesting conferences.

There is a conference on Zoosemiotics and Animal Representation, with submission of abstract deadline for Sept. 15th. I wish I could go, but I have no budget for travel.

Also, there is this really interesting conference entitled Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral. Abstracts are due by Oct. 15th. Btw, I don't spend enough time promoting In the Middle and particularly Karl Steel. I should, and I encourage everyone to check out the blog and look particularly into the work that Karl Steel does on animals.

Lastly, Vanderbilt is hosting an interesting looking conference on Continental Feminist Theory. Abstracts due the first of December.

Last time I made one of these, I talked about Marc Hauser's academic troubles. The NY Times article I link wasn't very clear about what he was accused of. This CHE article goes into more depth of the accusations. The article's tone makes it seem as if Hauser is already guilty, and while he may be, I would like to keep a bit more of an open mind. (h/t Feminist Philosophers). [update: Don't I look foolish now, it seems that that the CHE article had an update written after I read it, confirming from Harvard that Hauser was found guilty of academic misconduct. Thanks to Marce Goodman in comments for pointing this out to me. --Scu]

I missed this last time around, but Speculative Heresy and others are engaged in call for short submissions on the question of science and metaphysics. I won't be submitting anything personally, but I always want to see these succeed, and look forward to seeing what gets put together.

Prodigies & Monsters have an interesting and beautiful post on the question of identity and queer in-coherence, especially as dealt with in Hardt and Negri's Commonwealth. Of particular interest because my review of Commonwealth dealt mostly with their understanding of identity politics.

If you haven't heard or seen Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, well, you are missing out. Check out these songs performed for NPR's Tiny Desk Concert (though the number of people in the band certainly pushes the limit of the tiny desk space). Fun and amazing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Some random dissertation talk

So, I almost never talk about the dissertation on here, and I suddenly realized that many of you may have no clue what the work was looking like. Anyway, here is a brief description of the work, for any that are curious. (I just got through chatting with the philo department here on campus, and realized that I need practice talking about the dissertation project).

The dissertation is basically divided into two sections. The first section is dedicated to understanding the way that raising and slaughtering of other animals have changed our mode of production. I want to be precise here, the argument isn't how a different mode of production has given rise to different slaughtering and raising methods, but actually the opposite argument. The way we have killed animals and raised animals has greatly shifted our modes of production. The first obvious way occurs with the invention of the assembly line at the Chicago stockyards (and of course, not just an assembly line, but everything that made Chicago possible. This involved the raise of trains, the invention of refrigerator cars, monocultural agriculture, disciplinary techniques of worker management, new accounting methods, barbed wire, vertical monopolies, feedlots and early genetic manipulations of animals, new advertising techniques, etc). So, the assembly line was birthed through a whole ecology of interactions that centered around and mutually interdependent with Chicago and the packers. In this case, the argument is against a sort of historical accident (though of course, it could have happened otherwise). But that it required a certain disavowal of the animal, a certain biopolitics, that really allowed for these new modes of production ('the machine', as Marx puts it) to develop.
The next major change obviously culminates in the 1970s with the birth of what we call factory farming. This of course brings in all sorts of biocapital changes in the mode of production. In this case the question of eugenics being rooted so strongly in the animal sciences, and the development of certain reproductive technologies really rises out of animal sciences. But what occurs is a certain molecular or genetic primitive accumulation, and again what begins with animals is now beginning to spread elsewhere.
What is important in all of this is to understand that the disavowal of the animal is not ancillary or even produced by these modes of production, but rather the disavowal of the animal is constitutive to these modes.
The second section of the dissertation focuses on the other end, rather than looking at what we are doing and have done to animals, this section looks at proposed solutions to the question of the animal. In this case I explore the concept of the person, Deleuze and Guattari's notion of becoming-animal, an ontology of vulnerability, and vegetarianism/veganism. I think the last two are the ones that I tend to post about the most on this blog, so I'll let that go for now. I have made some small moves on this blog to what I am interested about in the concept of the person, but it is mostly about how that concept is rooted in property ownership and legal obligations. As far as D&G are concerned, I think their work is pretty awesome, but I think there remains a nagging anthropocentrism to their work, a certain obsession with the human that remains in the notion of becoming-animal.

There was a lot more I wanted to do, but my committee and I agreed that the dissertation was going to be big enough as it was (which is why I don't deal the question of sacrifice or the question of rights in any real detail in the dissertation).

So, that's it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How do you organize your books?

So, I've recently been organizing my books into my new office at mercer, which has been really exciting. As comes with such moves, I am left wondering what are the best way to organize my books, and what are the ways other people organize them.

Currently, my books are divided into the following sections:

  • Animal & Food books.
  • Art and Oversized books
  • Classical Western Philosophy
  • French Philosophy
  • German Philosophy
  • Italian Philosophy
  • Literature
  • Other Philosophy & Theory books
  • Vicissitudes of Identity

Now, these book sections are listed by alpha, but are somewhat more haphazardly thrown together. Within each section they are organized alpha by author, and then by original publication date as much as possible (I really enjoy this, because for many authors it gives me a quick visual sense of when a work lines up with other works in that author's career). Now, I am beginning to question these categories. First of all, talk about eurocentric. I could try to organize my Vicissitudes of Identity books by a nation, but for good reason they are a lot harder to organize by geography than the Europeans (and the Europeans are hard enough, and often pretty random). But, for example, where do you put someone like Frantz Fanon? Does he belong with French philosophy, Caribbean philosophy, African philosophy? And notice how quickly we go from European nation, to a whole region, to a whole continent.

Anyway, looking for suggestions, but also just curious how other people organize their books.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Post of Links

I'm back from my college reunion. If there are any cool links out there I missed, please share. As always, self-promotion is encouraged. (Also, if I owe any of you emails, you might want to remind me). Here are some of the interesting things I know I didn't miss:

I'm really behind on this one, but Inside Higher Ed did an interview with Anthony Paul Smith and Daniel Whistler on their new collection, After the Postsecular. It looks to be an exciting collection, and it was an fun interview.

Prodigies & Monsters have continued their reading of Ernst Bloch, this time focusing on the question of anamnesis. HJM has a beautiful post on Bloch's critique of it, and MLA has a fascinating response up with Isabelle Stengers defense of anamnesis.

Marc Hauser, a best-selling moral psychologist who has questioned the strong dividing line between humans and other animals, is currently under investigation for academic misconduct. This is something to keep our eye on, because of how important his work has been for many people in animal studies. (h/t Feminist Philosophers).

Peter Gratton has an insightful review of Bernard Stiegler's Taking Care of Youth and the Generations. My summary of how the review makes Stiegler's book sound like, "The psychotechnological apparatuses of kids these days, are being systematically recoded by the MTV and the twitter. If we don’t start engaging in an ontology of care, they’ll never get off my lawn".

Adam has another of essay-length blog posts up on "Deconstructing Veganism: Commodity, Reciprocity, and the Killing Contract." Definitely worth the read.

William E. Connolly has a post up on The Fragility of Things. It's a good post pushing us to recognize the interwoven issues of non-human and human problems. What is the consensus about The Contemporary Condition's heavy use of pictures in their posts? I like them until I actually go to read the post, in which case I always find it a little annoying. But don't let that keep you from actually reading the blog and this post.

While I was gone I got to see Arcade Fire perform. I've seen them before, but I am always impressed how much of an experience, an event, it is to see them live. An affective, religious conversion seems to occur. I'm going to link to one of my favorite songs (off the first album, rather than the new one), but it doesn't prepare you for seeing them live (it also features David Bowie for extra awesomeness).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An amazing looking conference coming up.

I'm currently at a college reunion, so I am missing what is going on in the internet (please save the best for me). Regardless, I wanted to share this conference coming up that I had intended to go to, but no longer can.

Commonalities: Theorizing the Common in Contemporary Italian Thought

a diacritics conference : 9/24 – 9/25/10 Cornell University, Ithaca, New York


  • Franco (“Bifo”) Berardi
  • Remo Bodei, “Goodbye to Community: Exile and Separation”
  • Cesare Casarino, “Universalisms of the Common”
  • Ida Dominijanni, “Wounds of the Common”
  • Roberto Esposito, “Community and Violence”
  • Michael Hardt, “Pasolini Discovers Love Outside”
  • Antonio Negri (via video conference)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Vegan Weddings

There is a recent article from the NYTimes on vegan and vegetarian weddings. It would hardly be worth commenting on if, you know, I wasn't currently planning my own vegan wedding. The whole article is a little confusing to me. Why would anyone expect vegans and vegetarians to serve flesh at their wedding? The line that bothered me the most wasn't a quotation, but from the article itself:
Which decision a couple makes depends largely on their philosophy of weddings: Is it really all about you, or does the comfort of your guests come first?

Wtf? The biggest single price item for our wedding, by far, is paying for the food. We spent a lot of time finding a dynamic, creative, and talented caterer to make the food. The food is going to be good, and plentiful. We have spent a lot of time thinking about the comfort of our guests. Just because we don't want a time of love and celebration to be tainted by the flesh and juices of other animals, doesn't mean we aren't doing everything in power to put on an awesome party for our friends and family. As a matter of fact, why would an amazing meal that just happens to be free of animals and animal products somehow be at the expense of our guests? Why would an amazing meal without flesh be a discomfort for the guest, unless of course, they are addicts? In which case this is the same as choosing a venue where they would have to smoke outside.

Though in other good wedding news, we recently chose to have a 17 piece big band play at our wedding. Here is a video with them performing and some stills of the band and singer.

Once more to the Derrida, dear friends, once more.

There have been any number of new posts on the Derrida question since I last posted on it. For sanity's sake, I'm not going to try and link to all of them.

Instead, I want to talk about two really funny things that have occurred because of this discussion. (1) The revival of this video, and the even cooler discovery of a freakin' sequel!!! All of the name callings, the misunderstanding, the pettiness and territorial pissings might be worth it, just for how funny those videos are.

(2) The other funny thing comes from the Why Can't I Quit You: Derrida Edition. Any number of people have repeated some version of they don't know how they ended up in the middle of drama drama derrida, and also they have constantly repeated to end this ceaseless and unending debate. It's funny, because it's the practice of deconstruction, just taken the viral form of social networking. Or a Kafka novel, which are pretty funny, too. Either way, you get drawn in, and you can never, ever, get off.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Derrida Question, or, The Question of the Derrida

For those that don't know what I am talking about, here are a bunch of links. Make sure to read comments, for that is where a lot of the action is taking place: here, here, here, here, here, and here. Whew. As you can see there is a lot of meta-discussion going on here: about tone, about accusations, about all sorts of very personal things. This is among people I generally like and respect in my interactions with them. So, I hope you all forgive me (particularly those involved) if I ignore the questions of tone and rudeness and the whatnot that occurred in the virtual vacuum (devoid of vocal and body expressions). I'll just try to talk about the philosophy.

Part of the reason I call this the Derrida question is this discussion has rapidly very little to do with Derrida (look at how many people cite any passages by Derrida). It has far more to do with a philosophical assemblage that seems to be going by the name Derrida and derridians. By which I mean there seems to be a way that Derrida and derridians (which just aren't the same thing) have effected different people engaging in this discussion in very different ways. Derrida has been a source of joy (in a very Deleuze's Spinoza sense of that term), and a source of sadness for others. There are also two Derrida's here: The first is Derrida the actual writer and philosopher. For some of us this Derrida has been a wonderful intellectual provocateur. I have both new thoughts and more rigorous thoughts because of my interactions with Derrida's work. The second Derrida is institutional, and has very little to do with Derrida the philosopher or Derrida the person. In both Levi's and Harman's cases, I think this Derrida was suffocating for them. Both of them have talked about the sort of push back to doing work that wasn't commentaries from their pro-Derrida grad programs. In one of these posts Harman even talks about how derridians didn't exactly support his book Tool-Being. I can't speak for Matt on this one, but for me Derrida's talking the animal question seriously has allowed far more freedom for me to take the animal question seriously. This became particularly true after the English translation of The Animal that Therefore I Am came out. This isn't because I have had to do any commentaries on Derrida (though occasionally I've been pressured to do so), or because I (or hell, most other people in the animal studies community) use Derrida as some sort of trump card. Rather, it is because a certain level of institutional legitimacy has been conferred on doing animal studies from a continental perspective. I have several stories of the times I have been laughed at when people found out I writing about animals, as if that wasn't a proper topic for philosophy. Those incidents have decreased significantly in the last three years. A good part of that is the work of Derrida coming into translation. Another big part of that is the efforts, rigor, and passion of people like Matt.
So, there are people who have found Derrida intellectually provocative, and people who have been bored or drained by reading Derrida. There are people who have found Derrida institutionally enabling, and people who have found Derrida institutionally stifling. And if we are able to engage in assemblages with either Derrida that allow for joy has only very little to do with if we are reading Derrida 'correctly' or not. When we come to Derrida, the context of those who have read Derrida around, the types of Derrida works we start by reading and what we are writing at that time. All of that is going to play a far greater role into defining our relationship to a thinker like Derrida than, you know, what Derrida actually did or did not believe.
But all of this is why debates over Derrida somewhat boring to me. Sure, I might role my eyes a bit at Levi's attacks on Derrida (sorry Levi), but I find Levi's work useful. And I have no doubt that Levi's polemical relationship to Derrida has contributed to Levi's philosophy that I have found enabling. Levi might roll his eyes when I find Derrida for thinking outside of anthropocentrism, but my hope is that he judges my work outside of the citational apparatus (and I'm pretty sure he does).
With that said, on the questions raised here, my reading of Derrida is the same as Matt's (he and I disagree elsewhere). And as Peter points out, there are plenty of people engaging seriously with Derrida that do not feel he is a correlationist (or always one, anyway).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Arguments for Eating Animals: Bad Faith, Disavowal, and Addiction

This post is immediately inspired by a comment Tim Morton made in this post by Levi, but I've been planning on writing something like this for a bit.

Those of us who argue for vegetarianism and veganism hear a wide plethora of arguments for eating animals (or against vegetarianism and veganism). Frequently they are delivered in the form of questions. Occasionally there are questions given by the genuinely curious, but usually these are questions meant to delegitimatize the veg position. These questions tend toward gray areas, morally complex areas, in order to legitimate a whole host of behaviors that are not particularly morally complex. It is like if I said I'm against killing people, and someone goes, "Well, what about to protect yourself from immediate harm?" And then I go, "Okay, I mean against killing people who aren't attacking you." Then the person responds, "Well, what about Hitler? Wouldn't you have killed Hitler?" And then you go, "Okay, I am against killing people who aren't mass murders". And then the person goes, "Well, say you have a chance to kill Hitler before he became Hitler, wouldn't you kill Hitler." And then, with all those exceptions, the other person goes out and kills the first person they run into. This whole argument is bollocks, and obviously bollocks. The philosophical argument is less about if you should or shouldn't be vegetarians and vegans, and more about why people don't buy the arguments. This is a major point made by Bill Martin in his Ethical Marxism, and I am in full agreement. So, what drives these arguments for eating animals?

Well, one argument is that these arguments are based in bad faith, in the way that Sartre describes in Anti-Semite and Jew. However, rather than anti-semitism, we are dealing instead with speciesism. John Sanbonmatsu makes almost this exact argument in his paper he delivered at ICAS. In this case, the same fears that drive one to hate the Jew also drives one to hate the Animal. It is an argument that comes out of a great deal of insecurity, a great deal of personal hatred turned outward against animals, and it is by destroying animals that the one with bad faith manages to reassure oneself.

A related but different argument can come from the psychoanalytic concept of Verleugnung, of disavowal. This is a major argument advanced by Derrida in The Animal That Therefore I Am. In this case there are two major disseminations of disavowal. The first is a disavowal of that there is no such thing Man on one side of the line, and Animal on the other side. The second disavowal is of the violence we do to other animals. As Derrida puts it,
Neither can one seriously deny the disavowal that this involves. No one can deny seriously any more, or for very long, that men do all they can in order to dissimulate this cruelty or to hide it from themselves; in order to organize on a global scale the forgetting or misunderstanding of this violence, which some would compare to the worst cases of genocide[.] (pp. 25-26)

This passage also hints at a third disavowal, a disavowal of disavowal. A forgetting of forgetting. We'll return to this point.

I've gone rather quickly over the issues of bad faith and disavowal. There are long and complicated philosophical histories and theoretical nuances I've jumped over. But I wanted to move into another point, one that doesn't seem to be out there. This is something I've been thinking about for a while, but the way that Morton/Bryant say the following point is nice:
Moreover, as Morton likes to put it, the Big Mac is not comfort food (a semiotic determination), but rather the Big Mack is comfort. That is, the Big Mac interacts physiologically with our bodies in a variety of ways that produce particular Stimmung.

What does that mean? Well, it means that particular kinds of food don't make you feel better just by nostalgia or magic. Rather, it chemically alters your mood, like coffee in the morning. Particular foods are remarkably addictive. It is from this perspective I can understand that I can understand something from Pollan that has never made sense. At one point he argues that saying we can eat without animal flesh is like saying we can reproduce without sex. That has always floored me, because who in their right mind believes that eating an animal is the same as having sex? Well, an addict would go there. That gives the particular logic of the flesh eater an entirely other dimension: these aren't the domination of the speciesist acting in bad faith, this isn't the psychoanalytical disavowal, rather this is the incoherent, and rather lame, excuses that one hears from addicts all the time. Anyone who has ever hung out with people who feel the pressure to stop their addiction has probably heard variations of these excuses. "You aren't so pure yourself", "I play the lottery to help the schools and children", etc. Now, there are some draw backs that some people might have with the rhetoric of addiction to talk about flesh eaters. One is that it seems to turn the flesh eater into victim. Not only are animals victimized, but those who eat animals are also victimized in their eating of them. The reductio ad absurdum of this is something like, "Why do you make me eat you by tasting so good?". Of course, part of the issue is taste has nothing to do this (whatever you may feel now; coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol didn't taste so good the first time. And parenting advice often features long discussions and how to get children to eat flesh). But the other point is that oppression and domination are seldom so easily one sided. While the animal is not oppressing the addict, the addiction certainly is. And like with many addictions, this one is certainly causes us all sorts of harms. Do I really need to engage the long laundry list of the ways that cheap animal flesh and products are causing rampant health issues and environmental issues? This shit (often literally) is killing us, but very few of us are even willing to cut back, much less get off the sauce entirely. Another objection in talking about addiction is it makes veganism sound like a hard thing to do. Many of you have read or heard Francione make the arguments that we need to present veganism and simple and easy step. Except... you know... it usually isn't for most people. Many people have trouble going vegan, and many of them relapse again and again (just like addicts). I'm not sure which is strategically a better idea, presenting veganism as a hard but important thing, or presenting it as an easy thing. But the truth is that for most people going vegan won't be easy. Lastly, an objection in talking in terms of addiction, it lets many people off the hook. They can say, "I can't help it, I'm an addict." Well, that just sounds like another lame excuse. More importantly, if it is an addiction then that means different steps need to be taken to combat this issue.

Now, I'm not sure it is addiction. And I am certainly not sure if it is addiction over bad faith and disavowal (it's probably all three and then some). Earlier Derrida hinted at the disavowal of disavowal. In many ways that is what we are stuck with in the present discussion. Vegetarians and vegans are forced to basically take arguments for eating animals as legitimate. Any discussion on what propels to keep eating meat is taken as an illegitimate discourse because it assumes that vegetarianism and veganism are won arguments. That means that the sort of theoretical discourses that exam other forms of systematic violence are not usually or publicly brought to the issue of other animals. However, I find this discussion to be both more useful and philosophically rewarding than to deal with the "So, if you were a life boat and you had a Picasso, a horse, and your mother..." one more time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Is there some rule that wedding photography websites have to (a) Basically be unnavigable and (b) play really loud, terrible music?
Because I haven't found one yet that doesn't. Seriously, the first website without music and laid out so I can use it, I'm going to hire from.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Post of Links

I linked to this is my Dark Animal Studies post, but Levi has a very interesting post up engaging Morton's work. I've recently been reading Morton's earlier work on the Romantic inception of vegetarianism, and the sort of ambiguity of Romantic vegetarianism. All very interesting, expect more on that at some point.

In very exciting news, the first volume of Speculations is here. Paul has the details.

This post by HJM on reading Bloch's The Principle of Hope is great. Bloch is a really great and interesting thinker who has mostly been ignored recently. His engagement with Thomas M√ľntzer, for example, helps present a revolutionary conception of time at least as profound (if not more so) than Negri's work on this subject. HJM, keep us updated on how The Principle of Hope goes.

I recently made a post about how prisons lacked air conditions, and it seems that Mother Jones has a short article recently on this very problem. I can understand that people may not agree with my abolitionist stance when it comes to prisons, but that prisoners need to be treated substantially better should be the sort of thing we can all get behind. Sadly, that doesn't seem the case.

EJ has a post on Haraway's When Species Meet. I would agree that many of the classic texts on animal rights seems to be tried in absentia. Not just with Haraway, but with any number of people on the poststructuralist and continental side of things. Even as strong a reader as Derrida never cites any particular text to say that animal rights is trapped in Cartesianism. Of course, it might be, and I don't defend in toto Singer, Regan, Adams, etc. However, it is absurd to me that people tend to condemn with so little engagement. It makes one feels that there is more bias going on then philosophical work. To return to Haraway, it is also striking to compare her most recent two texts on animals with her earlier work. Issues and questions about animals continue throughout her work, but they don't obviously mesh. For example, take her discussion of hunting from Primate Visions and compare it to the discussion of hunting wild boar in When Species Meet.

Ian Bogost recently has made an argument for what he calls tiny ontology. I'm generally in agreement with his feelings that we need minimal ontological commitments for our work, that ontology should be tiny, should be able to turn into a slogan. I'm not sure if Ian's and my slogans would be the same (though they might be), but I agree with the slogan of tiny ontology.

I recently found that Nick Cave (Nick Cave!!!) will be writing the screenplay for the new Crow. In honor of that, here is a video whose title could be the title of this blog. I am speaking, of course, of "Abattoir Blues."