Thursday, February 26, 2015

Antimanifesto for a Simulated World

Jean Baudrillard’s 1981 Simulacra and Simulation, translated by Sheila Faria Glaser in 1994, contains a four-page essay entitled “Hypermarket and Hypercommodity.” This short essay articulates the structure of the media in this way: “neither information nor communication, but referendum, perpetual test, circular response, verification of the code” (75).

For Baudrillard, this structure serves as the basis of not only the media but the economic, political, and artistic sectors as well. Instead of being able to achieve a depth of experience—by offering a true critique of the hegemonic system we have inherited and in which we find ourselves ensconced—we wind up merely floundering upon and among surface phenomena.

Politics no longer offers any real alternative. Ideological gridlock marches in lockstep, emulating the status quo of the shrillest of voices. This shrillness becomes the default language that says nothing new, nothing in-sightful. The left, defanged and anemic, treads water while the reactionary right wipes up the residue of liberty with the narrowest of Constitutional interpretations. The parameters of sight, of vision, of power, become all the more contracted and constrained.

Recently, NPR’s All Things Considered aired an article about new cancer research. It posed the nonproblem of the costs associated with a new treatment called Ibrance by Pfizer, which would cost $118,000 a year. Never once did the so-called journalist pose the question why? Why is it acceptable for any society or economic system to charge that much money in order to survive a cancer diagnosis? (This is only an example. Any news article published today could serve as my example.)

In such a system, why? becomes the very disruption the system seeks in its suicidal self-annihilation, because even the system itself does not want to limp along (in lockstep? Did I just mix my metaphors!) indefinitely. The proletariat wields the truncheon of interrogation, but the proletariat, in speaking the dominant language of the land (that is, Shrillish), never dares to use the radical rising intonation, the non-native mot de la résistance. Instead, the proletariat mouths the official credo, swearing allegiance to the self-perpetuating structures of oppression, ever tightening the screws. This is not highfalutin abstract thought. This is Ferguson goddamnit, this is Eric Garner.

NPR is often touted as America’s socialist media, but the sheer “objectivity” of this report evidences NPR’s buy-in into the right’s agenda and paradigmatic frame. I employ scare quotes around objectivity not only because objectivity shows itself always as an impossibility but also because the reporter, in “disinterestedly” relating this information, showed himself incapable of putting into question the very factuality of the story. Not is it true? but what is its truth?

In other words, there was never any question that the costs of cancer treatment should not be $118,000. In “reporting the facts,” he, like all journalists today, had already forfeited the profession of journalism, abdicating critical thought and choice.

There is nothing more political than claiming to be apolitical. Such claims are meant to close down debate, to obstruct questions, to impede discourse, to shackle thought.

The regime of repression necessitates the easy answer, the nonanswer, to a question never posed. Why? Discourse takes on the characteristics of the repetition, the reverberation of a fading echo lost to meaning, to significance and signification. All communication becomes retranscription, verification of the code within an encoded system in which something external, something exterior, cannot even come to presence, to cognition, because it remains so far outside the parameters of understanding. We lose all frames of reference when we rely on only one frame of thought, one frame in which to think toward a solution, an exit, an escape.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Two Lost Projects

Resistances: The Problem of Fascism
  • Walter Benjamin on fascism
  • George Bataille on fascism
  • Emmanuel Lévinas on fascism
  • Jan Patočka on resistance
  • Hannah Arendt on totalitarianism
  • Michel Foucault on resistance
  • Slavoj Žižek on violence and resistance
  • Giorgio Agamben on totalitarianism and biopolitics

Europe out of Bounds: Continuities of Continental Thought

Most of the English-speaking world understands Continental philosophy only from German and French sources. This collection investigates how that tradition is transformed if we trace the impact of Continental philosophy from further east. How does this expanded European context change how we understand what makes this philosophy “continental”? Of particular interest are essays that engage with the legacies of Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida (e.g., phenomenology, hermeneutics, and deconstruction) within what we typically understand as Central or Eastern Europe.

Is there an Eastern European understanding, practice, or experience of Continental philosophy? Who are the major figures? What are their critiques of and contributions to 20th-/21st-century thought? Is language the only obstacle to Anglophone acceptance of these thinkers and their texts?

Possible Topics Include
  • The Role of Phenomenology in the Velvet Revolution
  • Deconstructing the Soviet Union
  • Authenticity and the Apparatchik
  • Roman Ingarden’s Phenomenology of the Work of Art
  • Reassessing Derrida’s Reading of Jan Patočka
  • Reception of Phenomenology Behind the Iron Curtain
  • Gustav Shpet’s (Unknown) Contributions to Continental Philosophy
  • Hermeneutic Problems of Translating Husserl
  • France Veber’s Theory of Aesthetics
  • Язык as the House of Being
  • Historicity qua/contra Historical Materialism
These two projects were texts I would have written had I had an academic career. There is an archive of all the lost books that never existed. I am its full-time underpaid archivist.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Taking Time

What is meant as a valiant stand against the decline of reading is actually a symptom of it, and then a cause. The fear of dumbing down leads to thinning out. We conspire in an unspoken agreement that our carefully considered choices are more a measure of students’ inadequacy than our hopes for them, so they increasingly stay home as the weeks, and the novels, fly by. Like a high-speed train through gorgeous countryside, a novel a week turns the lovely hinterland of literature into a meaningless blur. Slow down, and the landscape changes: tempting byways appear; curiosity is given a chance to supplant urgent strategy.
A novel idea: slow reading | General | Times Higher Education

After my last race I had to see an orthopedist for my injuries. The experience was a travesty. No less than ten television sets mounted on the various walls accosted me during the time of my appointment. My time with the M.D. was barely ten minutes, despite the fact that I spent approximately 45 minutes at the office surrounded by televisions screaming over one another. In the examining room, I quickly turned the tv off as soon as the nurse left.

I was struck how medical hermeneutics is one of speed and capital. The M.D. barely spends time with the "text"–the one who literally must be patient while being "read." While the Ph.D. invests time in her/his text, goes over it again, spends time reading supplemental sources, learns yet another language in order to get closer to the text. Time is everything in that it is nothing compared to the quality of the interpretation. To the M.D., however, the faster s/he sees the patient, the more money is to be "earned." The quicker the diagnosis, the quicker the payout. My diagnosis: the medical profession is sick.

No one is expected to read in the waiting room. In fact, the waiting room itself de-quantifies waiting, extending its domain, contaminating the patience of those who wait (the patients). All in the accelerated domain of medicine. Nietzsche's critique of modernity's profanation of time is still valid. Modernity qua time continually dissipating itself in order to sap one's very time, to sap one's very present/presence, while infecting the past and future with the disease of speed. This disease now serves as the basis of what passes itself off as education. In the same way that industrial time eclipsed agricultural time, we witness today the onslaught of corporate time, the time of simulation and of the hyperreal–that is, not the very real but that which does not even have the real as its analogue. There is no time for proper hermeneutics, for proper care for the text.

On my second "visit" to this nonplace, the orthopedist mentioned the matrix of intensity, duration, and frequency. Since I was already at the limit of the frequency parameter by working out five to six times per week, I didn't have enough wiggle room to ramp up the other factors. If I wanted to run faster, I had to work out fewer times. Let's call this the Quality/Quantity Spectrum. Also, let's politely ask the M.D. to understand his own profession in these terms. Dear doctor: diagnose thyself!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Errant Thought

The Humanities! The very name should call up something wild. From the moment Socrates started wandering the Greek market and driving Athenian aristocrats to their wits end, their place has always been out in the world, making connections between the business of living and the higher reaches of one’s own thought, and drawing out implications from all that life has to offer. The genius of the humanities lies in the errant thought, the wild supposition, the provocation — in Ginsburg’s howl at society. What this motley collection of disciplines is missing is an appreciation of the fact that the humanities have always been undisciplined, that they are essentially non-disciplinary in nature. And if we want to save them, they have to be de-disciplined and de-professionalized.
–excerpt from Humanities, Not Harvard by Chris Buczinsky & Robert Frodeman

The authors—like most people, both outside as well as inside academia or, more specifically, the field of philosophy—misunderstand phenomenology, which is not an attempt to ape the sciences. Rather, phenomenology is a critique of scientism–the use and belief in science as providing the sole or the highest standard of knowledge. Phenomenology goes so far as to reintroduce experience (which is always lived experience) back into knowledge! Science, on the other hand, abstracts knowledge from its lived aspect.

Regardless of their talking out their asses about the methodology of phenomenology, they do get to the crux of the problem in education in the above excerpt. I've been doing the work of de-disciplining myself for some time now. It's tediously difficult to push beyond the disciplinary parameters imposed by education, even when I have only ever studied in interdisciplinary programs. But interdisciplinarity has its own disciplining effect–a narrowing of vision for that which only the discipline (even that of interdisciplinarity) has eyes. If anything, phenomenology is the methodology par excellence to gain back an entire field of vision. Learning to see again, not merely with the eyes but with every sense the body/mind is capable of.