July 2016

300px-CuiVil3_2p204Whenever I search for Introduction to Philosophy textbooks I find myself distressed by what I find.  The norm– though there are exceptions –is anthologies where selections by various philosophers are two to four page texts, divorced from the broader work in which they occur.  Meno gets reduced to the sequence of argument where Plato attempts to demonstrate that knowledge is recollection.  Hume gets reduced to section II of the Enquiry, where he presents his arguments for the thesis that all knowledge arises from impressions, or to a brief portion of section IV where he critiques the concept of causality.  The thesis seems to be that the rest is unimportant, that why these arguments are deployed in a broader work is unimportant.  At this point I’m so frustrated with these anthologies– both their price and their content –that I don’t even assign textbooks in my Intro courses but instead find works online for my students.

I can’t escape the feeling that this practice reflects a deeply disturbing, wrong-headed, and destructive “philosophy of philosophy”; though I have difficulty articulating just what’s wrong here.  Works of philosophy, I think, form organic wholes.  Arguments about ethics refer back to metaphysical commitments.  We can’t really understand Aristotle’s conception of the good life without understanding his physics.  We can’t really understand Plato’s conception of the good life, without understanding his metaphysics and conception of human nature.  Metaphysical and epistemological reflections are often political interventions in the time.  It’s difficult to understand Descartes’s Meditations and why they’re important without understanding Post-Reformation Europe, the scientific revolution, and the wars waging during that time.  Similarly for Spinoza’s Ethics.  We speak as if we can set Kant and Aristotle side by side and decide between their ethical claims without knowing anything of how they conceived the being of rational beings; as if philosophy is a menu to be chosen from.  A great philosophical work is like a musical score where various notes are layered upon one another, creating the piece.  This practice of subtracting the isolated argument from the broader context of the work and its social setting is akin to drawing a single note out of Mozart and saying that that’s what his music really is.  Every argument is abstracted from its project, from the problems that animate the thought, and treated as if they can abstractly be set alongside one another.  “Here’s what Hume has to say about sense-data and here’s what Quine has to say!  Now decide between them!  Never mind all of that other stuff going on in the Treatise, it’s just chaff!”  It would never occur to people who conceive philosophy in this way to wonder whether or not Leibniz’s theory of compossibility, perspective, and truth was related to his work as a diplomat.  I have heard colleagues say that what defines philosophy is the presence of arguments.  A great weariness and sadness overtakes me with this; not because argument isn’t important in philosophy, but because this is such a reductive thesis that erases so much and that creates such tiresome types.

The idea of a philosophy as a project is entirely lost, and we get something like a deeply superficial fast food philosophy.  I can just imagine what sort of students such a curriculum would produce:  students that only know how to argue and that believe that argument constitutes the core and essence of philosophy, that delight in picking apart and nothing more.  Spinoza becomes nothing more than a set of arguments to be critically scrutinized and any sense that his work is a sort of therapy and a politics is entirely lost.  Such a vision of philosophy becomes the commodification of philosophy.  What is lost is the sense of philosophy:  of why someone is occupied with these arguments and issues at all, of the problems that led to the mobilization of these arguments and concepts.  Instead we approach these works in the most superficial way possible– “Who’s right about innate ideas?  Hume or Descartes!” –when we should instead be wondering why people argued so ferociously over what appears to be such an arid topic.

Lacan and the Nonhuman (collection of essays) Jonathan Michael Dickstein and Gautam Basu Thakur (Editors)

In today’s global landscape, the category of the “human” has assumed a principal position not simply in terms of its ontological centrality but also in relation to surrounding nonhuman worlds. At stake are questions ranging from the impact of humans on the biosphere (the Anthropocene) to their involvement in the virtual world (Knowledge Commons and Ergodicity) to their experiences of the “inner life” of things (Object-oriented ontology and Affect Theory) to the ethical politics over the Other (the terrorist, the refugee, the queer). Coming together at the intersection of these recent turns toward new speculative considerations, and the various epistemological and communitarian questions they raise in the context of twenty-first- century scholarship, this collection asks: how can Lacanian theory contribute to the continuing discussions about the nonhuman?

Psychoanalysis (specifically, the Lacanian strain) has made various attempts to formalize the relationship between the human and its radical (nonhuman) Other. As early as the unpublished “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (1895), Freud offered considerations concerning the Nebenmensch (neighbor) in terms of a distinct division between the familiar and what inhabits the familiar as its unknowable traumatic core. This idea recurs throughout most of Freud’s subsequent writings and thereafter with critical innovations in the Seminars of Jacques Lacan and, more recently, in Slavoj Žižek’s writings on late-capitalist culture.

However, while providing these resources, psychoanalysis goes almost unmentioned in today’s scholarship on the “nonhuman.” Given this serious critical lacuna, the present collection has two related aims: firstly, to engage in active interpretative intervention of the terms human and nonhuman and thereby, secondly, to inaugurate dialogues between nonhuman/materialist turns and Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis. Contrasted with terms like inhuman, unhuman, and antihuman in existing scholarship, “nonhuman” entails a relationship to its stem word not in terms of inferiority, exclusive disjunction, or mere conflict, but rather according to its independence from, yet engagement with it. As the essays in this collection variously illustrate, a Lacanian approach to the nonhuman therefore affords us the ability to deem it, along with the human, normative (rather than normal) and while not fixed still representative, affective, and real.

We are interested in essays that explore questions and issues related to Lacan/psychoanalytic theory and the nonhuman (broadly defined), including:

  • Biological concepts in Freud’s writings
  • The object, the thing, the apparatus, the matheme in Lacan’s work
  • Freud, Lacan, Žižek and the primitive, subaltern, Third World (Lévi-Strauss,

    Descola, Spivak, Bhabha)

  • Freud,Lacan,Žižekandbiopolotics,affects,counterpublics,barelife,thequeer

    (Foucault, Agamben, Butler, Berlant, Ahmed, Leys)

  • Freud, Lacan, Žižek and constructivism, Actor-Network Theory, systems

    theory (Deleuze/Guattari, Latour, Luhmann)

  • Freud,Lacan,Žižekandfilm,newmedia,apparatustheory,narratology,genre

    studies, aesthetic politics, digital humanities, knowledge commons

  • Freud,Lacan,ŽižekandthelegacyofGermanIdealism
  • Freud,Lacan,Žižekandtheethics/politicsofSpeculativerealism(Meillassoux,

    Harman, Bryant, Brassier)

  • Post-psychoanalyticconceptionsoftheNeighbor,alien,Event,computation,

    monotheism/polytheism (Levinas, Althusser, Badiou)

  • Lacan and Ecocriticism and animal studies

Please submit short (250- to 350-word) abstracts to lacanandnonhuman@gmail.com by July 22, 2016. Questions concerning the project may be sent via email to this same address.

Paul_SchreberResponding to a post I wrote on Lacan’s discourse of the capitalist a couple years ago, Robert asks:

How would you describe racism according to the discourse of the capitalist (vs. the discourse of the master)?

I’m grateful for Robert’s question and find that it comes at a timely moment, as it just so happens that I’ve been thinking a great deal about the discourse of the capitalist as a result of the seminar I’m currently teaching on Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and an on again off again I’ve been having with my friend Orpheus.

I don’t yet have a theoretically well defined answer to Robert’s question– and recently I’ve come to discover that my true love is not evaluating things, nor proposing how to solve them, but rather in understanding the why of things and how they function –however, I do have the beginnings of a hypothesis that might lead in the direction of an answer to such questions.  My thoughts here are impressionistic, so be gentle!

discourse-of-the-capitalistMy hypothesis is that today we are living in the age of schizophrenia, as opposed to neurosis.  In fact, I’m inclined to argue that the very reason that Freud could recognize neurosis as a clinical entity at all was because the age of neurosis– the age of the discourse of the master –was in a state of decline or disappearance.  Here I hasten to add that in referring to schizophrenia, I’m not referring to the clinical entity, but rather to a form that social structure and relations take.  Following Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Guattari, other names for “schizophrenia” would be “the death of God” and “capitalism”.  There’s a lot here that I need to say and develop, but I’ll save that for another occasion.

read on!


vomitsThere was a time when philosophers used to write treatises on friendship.  One translation of the “philia” of “philosophy” is friendship.  Aristotle devotes two chapters of the Nichomachean Ethics to friendship.  Friendship is a key concept in Epicureanism; so much so that a life without friendship is not a life that’s not worth living.  Just imagine the loneliness of the protagonist in Cast Away.  It is not a lover that he imagines on the Island, but Wilson that allows him to go on.  I won’t write a treatise on friendship here– though I believe it is an essential concept in philosophy; both friendship to the concept and friendship to the other –but a few things do come to mind as to why friendship is so crucial.  There is, of course, the obvious dimension of friendship, especially in our alienated time where it seems that all relationships of sociality have collapsed:  The world is a little less lonely, a little less dark, in friendship.  In our alienated times, friendship is a space against the darkness and the nothingness; a space where there is a little bit of light.

00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000005558877875123We often speak of friendship as a certain sort of closeness or proximity, but it seems to me that the best friendships are those of distance or difference.  A friendship where one heard only what is the same as oneself would be rather stale.  “Malkovich!  Malkovich!  Malkovich!”  No.  A good friendship cracks your world, so that you discover the earth.  A good friendship is one in which you have an encounter with alterity, difference, distance…  That your world is not all that there is, that there is difference.  Around that sand of difference, something accretes or comes into being that was unanticipated.  A friendship is a repetition of difference, not the same.  It produces something that neither could have expected out of that difference.  It is an accretion-point where something else comes into being; a swirling vortex that generates an aleatory pattern.

And in friendship you find out who you yourself are.  Every subject is ex-centric, decentered, other to itself.  In the alterity of friendship, across that distance, you discover the values or teloi that animated you, that you didn’t even know were you, as a result of that difference or distance that somehow you surmount through dialogue and laughter and tears.  Who was I?  I never knew until I encountered the strangeness of my friends!  And in encountering that strangeness of my friends I encountered the strangeness of myself; that what I took as obvious and for granted was itself a distance or a new continent or extraterrestrial.  I came to myself through this encounter with alterity, through this distance, through this difference and could only know what it was across distance.

Of myself, this I know:  that without dialogue, which is another name for difference, I am unable to think and that my thought unfolds in the dimension of friendship or that difference with others with whom I talk.  I come to know that even in my soliloquies, I am talking with an-other in friendship or across a difference.


DeLanda’s latest with Edinburgh University Press.

Manuel DeLanda provides the first detailed overview of the assemblage theory found in germ in Deleuze and Guattari’s writings. Through a series of case studies DeLanda shows how the concept can be applied to economic, linguistic and military history as well as to metaphysics, science and mathematics.
DeLanda then presents the real power of assemblage theory by advancing it beyond its original formulation – allowing for the integration of communities, institutional organisations, cities and urban regions. And he challenges Marxist orthodoxy with a Leftist politics of assemblages.

Manuel DeLanda accomplishes what few thinkers ever manage to achieve: he renders the world interesting and thoroughly transforms our perception of what it is and how it came to be. This new book is destined to generate much debate and discussion, reconfiguring the way we pose social and political questions and the coordinates of legitimate ontological thinking. After reading this work, the world never quite looks the same and things that seemed to have only marginal importance take on an entirely new significance.
– Levi R. Bryant, Collin College
Assemblage Theory, the culmination of 25 years’ work, presents for the first time in one text a unified realist ontology spanning sub-atomic physics, chemistry, biology and social history. Simultaneously DeLanda has reoriented European philosophy, and given a remarkably lucid interpretation of Deleuze and Guattari. An extraordinary achievement.
– Alistair Welchman, University of Texas at San Antonio

Issue 30 of  Rhizomes, devoted to Karen Barad, is now available here.  I have a highly sympathetic article in there that’s probably somewhat dated now as I wrote it a few years ago and have moved on to an ontology of folds that puts me much closer to her thought.  The article is entitled “Phenomenon and Thing:  Karen Barad’s Performative Ontology.”  Many thanks to  Karen Sellberg and Petra Hinton for all the hard work they’ve put into this!

Natural_transformationLet’s play a game.  You give me a number and I’ll give you another in response.  We start.  You say 7, I respond with 9.  You say 132, and I respond with 134.  You say 3, and I say 5.  Now I give you a number.  I say 23, and you respond 25.  We’re now beginning to get bored, for we’ve deciphered to rule behind the game.  We can even formalize it mathematically:

f(x) = x + 2

“For any number x, add 2.”  Of course, we could come up with other mathematical descriptions or theories of this game, but regardless, it’s a simple game.  It’s a peculiar game, for it really isn’t so much a game that you might win.  While it is indeed played with someone, it is not played against someone.  If this game has any allure at all, it consists in discovering the law, rule, essence, or pattern behind the game.  That is, the object of this game consists of the theory of the game.  The theory of the game is the discovery of the rule or law behind the game.

read on!


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