N.Pepperell, over at Rough Theory, has written a spectacular post on questions of immanence and self-reflexivity that has generated a nice discussion about different senses of immanence and critical inquiry. As she articulates the conceptual knot,

One of the questions that comes up often in the reading group discussion of my project is why I don’t simply treat core concepts like immanence and self-reflexivity as something like a prioris – as posited starting points, from which the other theoretical moves can then be derived. Everyone involved in the reading group discussion presumably understands the logical contradiction involved in doing this: immanence posits that there is no “outside” to context, and therefore logically rules out the existence of “objective” grounds from which other trusted propositions can then be derived; self-reflexivity follows from immanence, and posits that the theorist remains embedded within the context they are analysing.

Both of these positions carry implications for the form of a theoretical argument, as well as for its content: to be consistent with the principles of immanence and self-reflexivity, the theorist must find the analytical categories that apply to a context, within that context itself. This is sometimes phrased in the form “categories of subjectivity are also categories of objectivity”: the theoretical categories in terms of which the theorist apprehends a context, are generated by the determinate properties of the context itself. Treating concepts like immanence or self-reflexivity as a prioris is an intrinsically asymmetrical approach, which deploys theoretical concepts whose determinate relationship to the context they grasp has not been explained. This asymmetrical move is therefore a performative contradiction, undermining the very concepts whose importance it seeks to assert.

The rest of the post is well worth reading for both the richness of its questions and concepts, but also the clarity with which the problematic is developed. It has been very exciting to watch N.Pepperell develop this line of thought in recent months, even if I don’t agree with all of it.

Read on

In my own case I’m almost embarrassed by my comments. My own thought has been undergoing a good deal of transformation lately, as have I, and I often feel as if it is very thin or insubstantial. My goals, both in writing and life have been changing as well. I think differently about what philosophy is supposed to do than I might have a year ago. Recently I ceased analysis and practicing as an analyst. While I continue to value Lacanian theory deeply, I have come to feel that its practice functions as a sort of symptomatic supplement or stop-gap to a series of problems characterizing contemporary life. I felt that I had gone as far as I could go and that it was time to move on. This, of course, does not delegitimate that practice or undermine the benefits that can be drawn from that practice. It could be that we live in an age that is structured in such a way that these supplements are necessary. The Lacanian can be among the first to point this out. After all, it is significant that the clinic emerged when it did.

Much of my thought and writing lately has been an attempt to speak honestly about what I value and am committed to. That is, I’ve tried to imagine a writing that might transform how I feel or relate to the world, or a writing that might be addressed to a close friend or loved one, summing up what I feel to be of particular value and truth. It seems to me that theory as it is often practiced today is split between a surface theory that is published and a shadow theory that the theorist genuinely advocates. For instance, a theorist might publicly claim that all is signifiers and then go to the doctor to get checked for cancer. There seems to be a disadequation between what the theorist proclaims and what he really advocates. This is a banal and unfair example. I want form of thought that is more honest and true to how I actually encounter the world.

After I failed to land the job for my last interview, I began to think very seriously about whether I even desire a tenure track position. However, after I read this post and the ensuing comments over at Bitch PhD, I began to have serious reservations about pursuing such a position. I simply don’t want the sort of life described by the people in this thread.

And let’s be honest… The only real reason I would pursue such a position is to overcome my insecurities. Somehow if I were a professor at a major institution, I would earn more respect than what I do now as a professor at a community college. I constantly feel as if I have to apologize for where I am, as if my remarks and thoughts won’t be taken seriously if I’m not affiliated with a major research institution. Certainly it is not money (I’m paid well here), nor job security. Were I to land a position at one of these institutions, I think I would undergo significant restrictions on my academic freedom. I would have to be the “Continental professor”, or something else, and would have to publish and do work in that area. In order to publish and do work in that area I would have to follow various linguistic codes that don’t deviate too much from what “Continental guys” are supposed to say. Here I enjoy absolute academic freedom. I can pursue whatever I see fit and produce whatever monsters I desire. I enjoy this in the classroom as well. Thus, I can assign whatever material I see fit to my students. Next semester I will be teaching what we call a “learning community” with a professor from the anthropology department, entitled “Signs of Empire”. We will be reading Negri and Hardt, Wallerstein, Benedict Anderson, DeLanda, Appadurai, Goffman, and a fascinating ethnography of a matrilineal group called the “Na”, that have no marriage. Outside of the college I have a reading group with the University of Texas at Arlington, devoted to structuralist and post-structuralist theory. Next year we will be hosting a conference on psychoanalysis and religion, that will host Ken Reinhard and Ellie Ragland. We are now finishing seminar 7 and will soon be moving on to seminar 17.

I suppose I’m trying to say there are a number of good things going on here. Perhaps I’m rationalizing and trying to make myself feel better. But I wonder if my life would really be improved were I to take a position elsewhere. I’ve earned the esteem of my students and of my colleagues. This year I was nominated to be faculty council president (not bad after only being here three years… the election is still being decided) and am up for the chair of communications and humanities (again, not bad after three years). I believe our college is unique in the nation for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here. Yes, it would be nice to have graduate students; but somehow I feel that institutionalized philosophy practiced for the sake of tenure has the effect of destroying philosophy (I say this with all due respect to those who might read me and have such positions). I worry that when writing in such a context you begin to worry more about making a move in a series of academic debates then about writing in a way that directly engages the world. I worry that you end up writing in a way that is more addressed to other academics than to the world or to oneself. All of this, I guess, is an elaborate way of explaining why I’ve been all over the place lately. I’m a little embarrassed to write about it publicly at all. If I’ve been a bit testy and thin lately then this is because I’m going through some pretty monumental decisions and things have been exceedingly hectic.