Today I received the following thing from Amazon in the mail.  It was addressed to me, yet I didn’t order it.  It didn’t appear in my order history, nor was I charged for it.  When I opened it I had no idea what it was.  I had to look it up by it’s ISBN number.  Apparently it has something to do with synthetic rope.  Perhaps mountain climbing?

It is strange, even uncanny, when such things happen.  They create a minor rupture in your world.  My thoughts were led to Heidegger.  Heidegger challenged a very long-running tradition of conceiving our relationship to the world in terms of representational knowledge.  That tradition assumed the position of the passive observer or the scientist who wishes to know the truth; to know reality.  In division one of Being and Time, Heidegger said “no, we are not passive observers of the world, but rather engaged, concerned agents!”  We are people that engage in tasks for the sake of this or that.  We live in a world of “meaning”, structured by projects.  And in engaging with that world, we do so through equipment.  There is not an equipment, said Heidegger, because equipment always belongs to relations, to a network, with other bits of equipment for the sake of some task.  The stove refers to the pan which refers to the food to be cooked, which ultimately refers to sustenance.  When equipment is functioning correctly, when it’s doing its task, it’s invisible.  However, when something breaks or doesn’t work, the network suddenly becomes visible and we notice how all of these things relate to one another and rely on one another in our concernful dealings.

Well the appearance of this thing in my world is an experience like that broken tool.  Yet phenomenologically it’s different.  It’s the appearance of something uncanny.  Like the broken tool, it has the effect of mildly decomposing a world and bringing that network into relief or visibility.  Yet unlike the broken tool, it seems to speak to alterity as something that perpetually haunts worldhood.  Something can always strike from without.  This strange thing appeared in my world from nowhere, challenging the meaningfulness of that world.  Was it sent by a friend as a gift, meant to express some sort of message?  What would that message be?  Perhaps that I should climb mountains?  Was it merely a mistake on the part of Amazon?  How does that happen?  Has a mountain climber stolen my identity and made a mistake when ordering things under my name?  This thing that has appeared in my world is something without a place, something that doesn’t belong, something that isn’t of the regime of appearance that governs my world, yet here it is.  It arrived nonetheless.  And in appearing in my world– in the fullness of its senselessness or mysteryit performs the difference between the world and the earth, bringing the earth as that which is other than the world into relief, causing the ground to rise to the surface, revealing that the systems of meaning that constitute the worldhood of the world is not all…  That there is this fundamental alterity at the heart of the meaning of being that might be called existence.  What I encountered in this strange little bit of postage– and I can’t help but think of Derrida’s Glas here –was a little bit of the real in its subtle uncanniness.  I encountered something that called my own identity and world into question.

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I apologize to my readers about this post as I realize no one wants to talk about it anymore.  However, the only way to navigate a trauma is to talk about it.  That’s the only way you bleed off the real.  You do so through the agency of the symbolic.  There’s a lot of the real that I still need to bleed off.  I wish I were done with it.

It is hard to fully express and put into words my grief over the last election.  For me, above all, the last election meant game over for the planet earth.  I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s the thought I can’t escape.  I think the single greatest threat facing us is climate change.  I believe that we have a very narrow window for having any hope of addressing this issue.  With the election of Trump, a Republican senate and congress, and a right-leaning supreme court, I believe that we have lost that window of action– America is among the highest for carbon emissions –and that our daughter can look forward to a future akin to the world of Mad Max.  I really don’t think people appreciate the gravity of the effects of climate change at the level of the atmosphere, its economic effect, and the very possibility of having anything like a society.  It’s not one issue among others.  The others matter, but it is the foundation of all the rest.  I can’t shake this thought and I am despondent over it.

Read on!

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As Cecily and I made our pasta this evening, we noticed something different.  The recipe was the same as always.  One cup semolina, one cup all purpose flour, a teaspoon of salt, and three eggs.  Then you let it rest for an hour in the refrigerator.  The recipe is always the same, though we vary the sorts of flour from time to time; or the proportions.  Yet tonight, as I worked the dough, things were different.  Where usually the dough starts rather stiff and flaky, only gradually becoming silky and integrated– often requiring a bit of water to be added –this evening the dough was soft and pliant from the start, moving to the age of silkiness or integration very quickly without need for small amounts of water to be added along the way.  Why this difference?  The recipe was the same, yet the qualities of the dough were very different.  A mystery.  Today it is incredibly humid in the Dallas area.  Our hair was full of glorious and frustrating curls.  This, perhaps, is the essence of an ontology of the fold.  The field in which something emerges, its conditions, impacts the qualities that the thing will possess.  In this case we were rewarded with silky, pliant pasta dough and big hair.  The field was folded into the thing, giving rise to surprising qualities or properties.

A standard centrist criticism of economic politics is to point out that racism, religious mania, nationalism, and other forms of hatred and bigotry don’t arise from economics.  The inference to be made is obvious:  if economics is not the cause of these things, then addressing economic injustice will have no impact on various forms of hatred.  Therefore, the argument runs– in its more extreme versions, anyway –there’s no good reason to address economic injustice.  Indeed, some even contend, addressing economic injustice is even dangerous in that it diverts attention away from the various struggles against hatred.

In other words, the liberal or centrist– the two are the same –wants to treat the domain of economics and the domain of various hatreds as entirely distinct.  Expressed this starkly, I’m sure we’ll hear some voices that rise up in protest; yet everywhere we’ve seen this line of argument.  Of course, the centrists are not entirely wrong.  Regardless of the degree of prosperity, there are religious manias, forms of hatred, and subtle nationalisms that haunt the social field.  However, they do so in a far more subtle– one could say virtual –state than they do in other circumstances.  The question, really, is that of the circumstances under which these phenomena intensify?  What is it that brings the transition of the low level anti-Semitism of the Germans prior to the rise of the Nazis– an anti-Semitism that certainly treated Jews and other minorities differently, that was far from equal, and that was pervaded by all sorts of low-level hate speech –to the open violence against these groups that came the rise of the Nazis?…  A violence that included people being rounded up, brutal violence on the streets, the theft of property, and all the worse.  Why did they transition from one form to another?

Deleuze provides a helpful way of thinking about this in his account of actualization.  In Difference and Repetition he writes that,

[t]he world can be regarded as a “remainder”, and the real in the world understood in terms of fractional or even incommensurable numbers.  Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason.  Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of difference:  differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, differences of intensity.  (DR, 222)

Elsewhere Deleuze refers to these intensive factors, to these inequalities, as “singularities” (I know many strive to distinguish singularities and intensities– including myself –but Deleuze is often inconsistent in his use of terminology).  In the Logic of Sense he writes, “[s]ingularities are turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion and condensation, and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points” (63).  It would appear, then, that there are two sorts of intensities or singularities, two sorts of differences:  there are physical singularities or differentials such as pressure and temperature, and then there are affective intensities or singularities like intense emotional states of joy or terror or horror.

read on!

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The other day I wrote the following on Facebook:

The job of a president or presidential candidate is not that of an administrator or manager. It is not to provide a detailed policy platform or function as a bureaucrat. The job of a president or candidate is to be a rhetor or orator; to provide a vision and constitutive a people or group in solidarity. I’m not sure why democrats endlessly fail to understand this: Gore, Kerry, Clinton. Managers, each. Candidates that all failed to understand the audience they were competing for and their duties. Political malpractice. Read my book? Check out my website? I have the most detailed policy platform in American history? Are you fucking kidding me? You chose an ethos/logos based campaign after the financial downturn? What’s wrong with these people? We have 2500 years of outstanding rhetorical theory. Drop the consultants and start talking to the rhetoricians. One thing has been true my entire life: the better rhetor always wins in presidential elections. The “qualifications” argument is complete nonsense and a rationalization. This qualification is not optional: ethos, pathos, logos.

In response, a good friend of mine– a cultural anthropologist or ethnographer, no less –responded,

Not convincing. The day after the election everything changes. That day mere rhetoric will fail. Surely vision helps. But you have to know how to move money, people and other sorts of tangible material or what you’ve proposed is exactly what we see now. No offense meant, I hope none taken.
What I find so striking in this remark is the description of rhetoric as something that is merely something.  Early in my intellectual education I was fortunate to encounter two rhetoricians:  Timothy Richardson and Carlton Clark.  I met Tim in graduate school and he was interesting in that he desired to be a philosopher whereas I wished to be a rhetorician.  Our discussions endlessly revolved around the intersection of rhetoric and philosophy.  When I landed my position here at Collin, I met Carl, another rhetorician, and we quickly became fast friends; though our friendship, as in the case of all friendships, has often been fraught with debate.  My first year here– it’s 14 years, now, this year –we had an epic, and sometimes painful, discussion about the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric.
read on!

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Without endorsing his particular picture of the good life, I have always taken delight in the opening pages of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.  Aristotle begins by remarking that, “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit,  is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”  According to Aristotle, we are teleological through and through.  Our action is goal oriented.  I am not now sitting in this chair on my patio because I was blown here by the wind.  No, I am here for the sake of writing.  It is a goal that governs my activity now.  In the next paragraph he continues,

If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?

Aristotle here draws a distinction between what we could call relative ends and absolute ends.  A relative end is something that we do and value for the sake of something else.  For example, cooking is not a valuable activity in and of itself– though I think it is –but is rather valuable for the sake of the meal that it produces, and the meal that it produces is not valuable in and of itself, but is valuable for the nutrients it gives us and, above all, the companionship we enjoy in a proper meal with friends, lovers and family.  Indeed, the telos of the meal, its purpose, its end might not be nutrition at all, but rather the forging and continuance of our relationship with others.  We break bread with others and share our lives together as we eat the meal.  There seems to be something deficient in a meal eaten alone.

On the other hand, absolute ends would be things that are valued for their own sake, rather than for the sake of anything else.  They are not for something else, but valuable for themselves.  The relative ends are done for the sake of these absolute ends.  And these absolute ends, whatever they might be, would be those things that make a life worth living or a life excellent.  Absolute ends would be things like friendship, love, health, beauty, knowledge and a variety of other things.  These are things that we value not because they serve some other function like creating profit or improving society, but because they are intrinsically valuable and are enjoyed for their own sake.  My friendship with my dog Zoe is not valuable because she guards my house or me hunt (I don’t hunt) or because she pulls my sled, but it is valuable in and of itself just as a friendship is valuable in and of itself.  Zoe brings many inconveniences with her.  The money that I must spend on food.  The fact that she wakes me up around four or five in the morning, licking my face or crawling on my back to sleep, so I’ll take her outside.  She sometimes barks at people passing by or beings a crazy dog in play.  Yet these inconveniences are not inconveniences.  They are part of life with my companion; a life that would be deficient without her.

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I am incredibly excited to be involved in the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research into the Anthropocene founded by David Cole, Karen Malone, and McKenzie Wark.  I look forward to seeing where all of this goes.