introductions to continental texts

Here’s an observation  in the form of two questions:

When did it become the norm that texts in continental philosophy, especially translations, would be accompanied by a lengthy interpretive introductions? Do we like this practice?

[Update: I'll add that I realize, of course, that the introductions are prima facie meant to help the reader understand the text. But is there a political dimension to the introduction? Do the introduction do more harm than good by influencing the immediate reception of the book in question?]

raffoul on applied ethics

A point that cannot be made enough: “To understand ethics as an applied discipline forecloses the possibility of raising the indispensable prior question of the ethicality of ethics. The notion of application indeed assumes a ground for ethical precepts’ (Origins 6). Of course, the punchline  here is that this ground is groundless. The point is made by Raffoul in the light of Derrida, which brings me to another point of praise: Raffoul makes reading about Derrida tolerable, which is one of the virtues of Hagglund’s book, from what I can tell from all of the praise it’s received from folks otherwise distanced from Derrida and things deconstructive.

When I pick up something on Derrida, I’d actually be fine with a concise presentation of Derrida’s ideas. Get on with your own argument; you can skip the gymnastics and I’ll just take your word for it when it comes to your exposition. Raffoul does this, cutting right to the heart of the deconstruction without wringing you through all of the moves necessary to perform said deconstruction (of responsibility, undecidability, etc.). As a reader, I appreciate this.

this season of house

I don’t watch much TV. I don’t have cable, or even the basic channels. Everything I keep up with, mostly House and The Daily Show, I do online. This season of House has thus far failed to really grip me like the other seasons. The beauty of the show is that most seasons have an abundance of compelling, funny, and philosophically interesting stories. There are, apparently, philosophers on the writing team. I’ve used the show more than once in classes, and will certainly do so again.

raffoul, origins of responsibility

Francois Raffoul of LSU has a new book out called The Origins of Responsibility (Indiana 2010). I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it in this forum, but I’ve always had an attraction to ethics. My attraction stems from a deep skepticism about the project of ethics and a fascination with what seems to me to be the necessity of the project. If you will permit me a deconstructive moment, I’d say it’s the impossible necessity of ethics that I’m attracted to. Consequently I remain interested in all branches of ethics, some more than others, including what is sometimes referred to as ‘continental ethics’. From what I can tell, this term means very little and may or may not be instrumental in circumscribing, and ultimately quarantining, the very set of problems, figures, and methods that would define its scope. Whatever the fate of this field, Raffoul’s new book is just the kind of thing that we have needed for a while.

Comprised of chapters on Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, and Nancy, Origins lays out in clear, well-defined terms the landscape of continental ethics. Specifically, he focuses on how, after Nietzsche, the concept of responsibility is severed from the metaphysics of autonomous, willful, and ultimately accountable subjects and rearticulated in a number of new ways that share at least a common opponent. Need I speak its name? I’m still in the Introduction, but I can already tell that the discussions will be largely familiar and will likely draw some conclusions that have been drawn before. But the virtue of Raffoul’s book is that it gathers everyone together in one place and sets the terms of the discussion in a systematic, readable, and wonderfully transparent presentation. I suspect that this book will act as something of a launch pad for future work in continental ethics, simply due to its unified presentation of the theme.

More later.

upcoming reading

Pretty soon here I’ll be reading a couple books that I’m very excited about. Just as soon as I drop a few more applications in the mail. The first is Brett Buchanan’s Onto-Ethologies. The others is Matthew Calarco’s Zoographies, which The Inhumanities has already summarized neatly.

I have my own set of concerns when it comes to thinking about environments, so I’ll try to put some reading notes up when I get the reading underway.

the power of rubrics

Rubrics can seem both superfluous and bureaucratic. On one hand, they are these. On the other, they’re a great way to keep yourself honest and, most importantly, to clarify your expectations to your students, not to mention they provide something like a safety net for grading. If you can spell out precisely why your student has received a ‘D’ on their midterm paper, you feel confident delivering that ‘D’. All the better if you can point to the rubric to back you up. I’ve given in to the rubric and incorporated it into a guide I give to my students at the start of the semester, in which is spelled out everything they need to know about how to write and format a paper for my class. What I like best about it is that it has helped me clarify for myself precisely what I want to see in a paper. There’s comfort and accountability in that.

Rubrics can be written out as paragraphs, as I have done, or put into a table. I describe what an ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, and ‘F’ paper contain, what they ‘look’ like. If I were to put this into a table, then students who are comfortable decoding tables–because they’re math/science people, or visual learners, or work with Excel a lot–will perhaps find my rubric more friendly to their style. Where the table rubric may be different in form, I don’t think the content is improved by charting it in a table. What does change when the rubric is put in table form is its authority. What may come across as a list of subjective expectations now appears with an aura of objectivity. The student can trace with their finger precisely where their paper falls on the table, and therefore pinpoint the exact location of their grade.  They are convinced that, yes, indeed, they deserve the ‘D’. This is the power of the rubric in table form.

explosive plasticity?

I’ve recently been thinking about a claim Malabou makes in her brain book. She says that plasticity entails explosiveness, as when we think of C-4 plastic explosives or similar material. The analogy is to the vitality of life, the creative way it bursts forth and strives beyond itself, its form. Nietzsche says in Ecce Homo, “I am no man, I am dynamite!” Life aims beyond preservation, natural kinds, sedimented forms. Such is will to power.

But is it plasticity that is explosive, or is it life? If life is plasticity, then it seems possible. I prefer to think of plasticity dispositionally, as a state of material rather than as the impulse of vital matter. Material objects take on form, hold form, succumb to and resist influence. It does not seem that they seek to explode their own form; or rather, they cannot do this on their own. Nietzsche would seem to agree: the will to power is not self-explosive unless it is hindered in its release, turned against itself. This, however, is a perversion of life–what gives birth to things like consciousness, conscience, moral reflection.

Perhaps we then have at least two versions of plasticity. Plasticity conceived as a disposition of matter, on the one hand, and plasticity conceived as the dual nature of vitality, of life, on the other. In the latter case plasticity is something like the impulse of life, which is at once a striving to preserve and a striving to surpass. In Spinoza, this latter would be the desire to unite with other bodies in friendship and create a more powerful composite body, along with the desire for self-preservation/desire to persevere in existence (conatus). Or, taking the first understanding of plasticity, it would be equivalent to the ratio of motion and rest, quickness and slowness that constitutes the integrity/identity of any composite body. Plasticity is in Spinoza, in one of these forms. I tend to think it’s ratio, rather than conatus.

speculative aesthetics

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working on the concept of sensation in phenomenology, particularly the texts of Levinas and Merleau-Ponty. In fact, I’ve got a manuscript complete. At this moment it’s called ‘Plastic Bodies: Rebuilding Sensation After Phenomenology’. Now, it’s part commentary and part original line of argumentation. It’s got affinities with the SR/OOO/OOP folks, although it is far from the kind of treatise we see appearing from the rest of the crew. That’s work I’m reserving for a later date.

However, if I had to give a name to what I’m up to, I’d be tempted to call its speculative aesthetics. I’m a fan of the reality of aesthetics properties, the autonomous and democratic life of sensations, the sensuous as the basic building block of experience, and the aesthetic write large as constitutive of identity (human, nonhuman, animate, inanimate bodies). What I’ve done in the manuscript is sketch the beginning of a metaphysics of sensation. Once there’s time and security, I’ll try to make good on that promise.

whitehead in bed

It happens sometimes that I tire of being upright. Standing, walking, sitting…I have too much. It’s not that I’m ready-to-sleep tired, but just weary of verticality. A few posts ago I asked what books you would like to be reading, but can’t seem to justify reading at the moment. Other obligations/burdens. I said Locke. I take that back. Now I say Whitehead, Process and Reality. I’m taking it to bed, if only to escape verticality and obligation. No, it’s more than that.

open season

Well, it’s job season again. The market does not seem any worse than last year, and there are a number of promising jobs for someone who does stuff like me. We’ll see what happens, although I remain cautiously pessimistic. If anyone would like to save me the trouble, and offer me a job directly, just leave the offer in the comments below.

This means that I’ll be traveling to Boston in December. And, as it turns out, to Minneapolis in March. I’ll be giving a paper at the latter on “The Necessity of Place in Spinoza and Merleau-Ponty.”