I’m both gratified and pleased to be informed, by Micha Cárdenas, that the Public School of Los Angeles is devoting a course to Speculative Realism this Fall. This, I believe, will be the third or fourth course devoted to Speculative Realism in the country. Peter Gratton, of course, devoted a course to SR this last year. Jon Cogburn, also, I believe, has also devoted a course to SR or plans to. Finally, Joe Hughes tells me that he’s assigned SR texts in his courses. I’m honored to be included among the resourses for the PSLA course on SR and feel even more compelled to complete The Democracy of Objects as a result.
However, apart from my own personal gratification and Spinozist joy at seeing the power of SR to act in the world increased, I’m astonished at how the very nature of philosophy is changing as a consequence of new media. Blogs, discussion groups, new presses, and courses are a testament to how electronic media are changing the nature of academia. And in saying this, I am speaking beyond the domain of SR, and to philosophy, theory, and thought in general. At this time it has been nearly a decade since I last attended SPEP, the Society of Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, the largest academic conference in Continental philosophy. This is not due to lack of acceptance, as I presented two papers at SPEP previously and have since been asked to contribute. Rather, it arises from a deep sense that there is something terrifically wrong about venues like SPEP and the APA insofar as they are governed by gatekeepers that function to promote a sort of philosophical orthodoxy. This is not something I would necessarily recommend to emerging philosophers as it’s necessary to make your mark, but in the last decade, due to having landed a position such as it is and therefore having accomplished a degree of economic stability and job safety, and my publications, I haven’t had to bow to these institutions. And I do believe that these institutions are anathema to philosophy and in many respects quite contrary to the sort of audience I would like to have or to whom my thought is addressed.
What is interesting to me is the rise of far more egalitarian, multi-disciplinary (not to mention “multi-existential”) modes of discourse emerge that circumvent these centers of power and normalization. To be sure, the internet has its drawbacks, but nonetheless it does represent something of a dialectical synthesis between the Athenian agora and text. Any idiot gets to speak and participate in discussion, and audience is no longer an audience of fellow scholars within a discipline, but whoever comes along and has something interesting and intelligent (hopefully) to say. As a consequence, the sorts of dialogues that emerge in print are no longer determined by the gate-keepers of elite journals, conferences, or the pedigree of schools, but rather are the consequence of the formation of collectives that are borne of people that would like to talk a bit more with each other. Not only do we witness the emergence of electronic journals and presses devoted to rendering intellectual labor a dimension of “the common”, of that which is owned by no one, of that which is readily available to everyone who is able to click on a link, but all sorts of new possibilities emerge within this common as well.
At the risk of telling a story about how I had to trudge through two feet of snow uphill for ten miles to get to school, this medium has rendered available all sorts of possibilities for engagement that were unthinkable to me when I was dissertating. It is now possible for graduate students to engage with established thinkers one on one whether through email or through blogs. Moreover, graduate students now have far more leverage to write on issues of philosophical interest to them as a result of the dialogues they are capable of entering into, rather than strategizing what their dissertation should be on based on the statistical predominance of jobs advertised in the last JFP. Rather than passively conforming to a regime of attraction, it becomes possible to play a role in the formation of that regime of attraction. Likewise, those who are theoretically on the margins can now work at forming collectives through conferences, dialogues, and publications that allow them to play a role in defining regimes of attraction. Likewise, cross-fertilization occurs across disciplines, changing the audience to which practitioners of particular disciplines address themselves, leading theory of all sorts to trace a line of flight. Disciplines are no longer able to enact the narcissism of thinking themselves as the sole discipline, but must now, as Haraway would have it, engage with all sorts of local knowledges and the diffraction patterns they generate.
Like any shift, this shift comes with its own drawbacks, challenges, and deficits. We will have, as we did with Plato in the Phaedrus, those who discern these new modes of connectivity as the collapse of civilization. It is unclear what text will become in this new medium and within this new field of connectivity. Text, no doubt, will not disappear, but it will become different. Part of our task is to ensure that this new shift embodies its own form of eudaimonia and arete without being reactionaries.