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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
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Amardeep Singh
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Joseph Kugelmass
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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About Joseph Kugelmass

Joseph Kugelmass blogs at The Kugelmass Episodes. He is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. He joined the Valve in September, 2006.

Email Address: kugelmass@me.com
Website: http://kugelmass.wordpress.com/


Posts by Joseph Kugelmass

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Assault on Hedonism, Part 2: Nietzsche, Pater, Marcus

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 05/13/07 at 10:20 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

At the end of my last post on hedonism, I wrote: “At least, since we have to start somewhere, to start by tackling the relationship between consumption and pleasure, and the silent withdrawal of the festival from daily life.” Consumerism is not a process of enjoyment, to be resisted through sacrifice and Grecian discipline. It is a betrayal of enjoyment, a form of usurpation. The imposition of new political guilt, justified through the fantasy of a non-existent Leninist vanguard, piling sacrifice upon sacrifice, drives me to the same sorts of questions expressed so eloquently at Larval Subjects:

When I hear calls to give up enjoyment such as they are issuing from Jodi Dean or Zizek, I hear the thesis that somehow social change should consist in rendering our living conditions even more intolerable than they currently are. Why is this a form of social transformation that anyone should desire? To put it in crude and less than trendy-jargonistic terms, if social transformation does not lead to better work and living conditions, better, more equitable, more just, more satisfying, and more meaningful ways of relating to one another, more freedom to pursue our desires and cultivate ourselves, why should these forms of social transformation be desired at all?

So, for me, the return to the Greeks will be a search for pleasure. Rather than asking why people aren’t more disciplined, I am interested in why they should be so miserable. It is not enough just to accuse consumers of being insatiable; one has to trace the losses of solidarity and vision that accompany the crippling of pleasure.

Continue reading "The Assault on Hedonism, Part 2: Nietzsche, Pater, Marcus"

The Assault on Hedonism, Part 1: Plutarch

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 05/13/07 at 03:59 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

This morning, as I was rummaging in my fridge for celery, tomato juice, and raw eggs, it occurred to me that an all-out attack on the “permissive hedonism” of our society has begun. For conservatives, the theme is already familiar and exhausted; it derives from a particular interpretation of Christian moralism, and takes the rhetorical form of a defense of values, and a return to values. It is a shelter for homophobia, panopticism, evangelism—and sexism, since the threat of pleasure frequently comes in the tempting form of a woman. It is also a bait-and-switch. Conservative politicians with primarily economic agendas pay lip service to values, and the worrisome decline of values.

For liberals, however, criticizing hedonism is an innovation. In a recent post at Long Sunday, CR reminded us of a question W. J. T. Mitchell asked back in 2003, in an introduction to the “Future of Criticism” special issue of Critical Inquiry:

It has been suggested that theory now has backed off from its earlier sociopolitical engagements and its sense of revolutionary possibility and has undergone a “therapeutic turn” to concerns with ethics, aesthetics, and care of the self, a turn of which Lacan is the major theoretical symptom. True?

The phrase “care of the self” is a nod to Michel Foucault, who popularized the phrase in his multi-volume History of Sexuality. Foucault, who conceived The History of Sexuality as an attack on the dogma of sexual liberation, helped dissociate political theory from the old counterculture view that personal freedom was politically valuable. In other words, the “therapeutic turn” is inaccurately named. What really turned, taking ethics and aesthetics along with it, were the attitudes towards discipline and pleasure.

Therefore, Slavoj Zizek’s review of the film 300 is not, contra the claims of his apologists, an aberration or a falling-off. Zizek’s calls for discipline are a fundamental articulation of the dominant fantasies of contemporary theory. Since this conversation, about pleasure and about ancient Greece, is over-determined by the studies of the pleasures of the Greeks, that is where we have to look. Here, I’ll be framing the triangle of culture, pleasure, and politics using Plutarch’s comparison between Spartan and Roman rule. In my next post, I’ll draw on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy and Walter Pater’s The Renaissance to understand the problem discipline is trying to solve. Ultimately, I will argue that we have to decide between the futile discipline that opposes itself to pleasure, and the spontaneous discipline of aesthetics, which is constructed by pleasure.

Continue reading "The Assault on Hedonism, Part 1: Plutarch"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Porn, Dracula, Lynch, Lebowski

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 05/10/07 at 07:44 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

In a marvelous post at Is There No Sin In It?, A White Bear (AWB) gives us her definition of pornography:

I’d like for [my students] to see pornography as a rhetorical mode. Porn, according to the definition I use in class, is a text whose protagonist is relatively empty of defining personality traits, and whose sensory experiences are described or represented in great detail. The point of this definition of porn is that it has nothing to do with the relative effects on various vasodilating organs, but instead has qualities intrinsic to the text itself.

She then proceeds to give an example of pornographic writing, which, surprisingly, is from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I disagree with her about Stoker, but I agree that pornography can be defined, and it’s worth investigating why Dracula evades the category and challenges the above definition. From there, I’ll look at two films, The Big Lebowski and Mulholland Drive, both of which comment on pornography. The goal is not to discover the limits of acceptable art, but rather to understand what porn discloses about eroticism, why it is so consistently associated with violence, and how it redounds on the very theoretical devices we might use to understand it.

Continue reading "Porn, Dracula, Lynch, Lebowski"

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Chaucer’s Prioress: Ignorance and Religious Violence

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 05/01/07 at 02:25 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Who’s up for a little Chaucer?

Thanks to Eileen Joy’s new post, over at In The Middle, about “The Prioress’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales, I’ve been thinking about Chaucer again, and the accusations of anti-Semitism that continue to haunt him. I’ve also been thinking about how religious institutions produce internal conflicts, after following the furious argument about Christianity taking place between LarvalSubjects and the writers at An und für sich. These internal conflicts are not unlike the debates within academia, or the “autoimmunity” of democratic states, a Derridean thesis I explored in an earlier post. They have never been outside of the church, as Chaucer himself was not; instead, such tensions create an institutional conscience.

My argument is simple. The Prioress’s tale is a subtle and virulent attack on religious violence. It does condemn the murder that forms its centerpiece, the murder of a Christian child by the Jews; it condemns much more harshly the reception of that crime in the Christian community, and the acts of anti-Semitic violence that follow. The idea that it is primarily anti-Semitic is absurd.

The Tale’s implications go much further, of course. It is about acts of bloody and excessive reprisal, occasioned by ignorance. As Thomas Pynchon is fond of saying, “No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.”

Continue reading "Chaucer’s Prioress: Ignorance and Religious Violence"

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Debunking Andrew Scull: Michel Foucault’s History of Madness

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/29/07 at 06:44 AM

(cross-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

It is time, at last, for me to confront Andrew Scull’s recent review (now a little less so) of Michel Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization. The book has come out in an expanded and newly translated edition.

I will be brief. Scull’s review is a disaster, and the worst of it is that some of his criticisms are undoubtedly just. Furthermore, some of what has been written against Scull is useless.

This post follows up on Scott Eric Kaufman’s two excellent posts on the subject, here (1) and here (2). I’m indebted to Scott for the links below. Though I disagree with him about the value of Foucault’s book, I think his comparison of “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” with Madness and Civilization is very helpful.

I am not merely aiming to pick apart Scull’s response to Foucault; my real target is Scull’s blithe cynicism about the 1960s. That decade, which already signifies an irresponsible utopianism in most public discourse, is now slowly being rejected by academia as an embarrassment. We literally run the risk of losing works like Madness and Civilization, Eros and Civilization, and Life Against Death to this smug and unreasoning process of expulsion.

Continue reading "Debunking Andrew Scull: Michel Foucault’s History of Madness"

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Plato and Derrida on Democracy: States of Desire

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/28/07 at 02:51 AM

(cross-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

In a recent post at the Lacanian blog Larval Subjects, the eponymous author (we’ll call him LS) writes:

Is it truly possible, I wonder, to ever desire the difference of the Other, or is this simply impressive sounding talk?

I was reminded of a marvelous paraphrase of The Republic, from Jacques Derrida’s book on democratic states, Rogues:

[In a democracy one finds] all sorts of people, a greater variety than anywhere else. Whence the multicolored beauty of democracy. Plato insists as much on the beauty as on the medley of colors. Democracy seems—and this is its appearing, if not its appearance and its simulacrum—the most beautiful, the most seductive of constitutions. Its beauty resembles that of a multi- and brightly colored garment. The seduction matters here; it provokes; it is provocative in this “milieu” of sexual difference, where roués and voyous roam about. (26)

In his own roundabout fashion, Derrida follows Plato’s example, but inverts him: Derrida will desire the presence of rogues and vagabonds, will insist roguishly on seduction and shiftlessness, and will hint at debaucheries and even at insurrections. All of which confirms, for us, that democracy is, in LS’s apt phrase, a process of desiring the difference of the Other.

I wonder whether it is reasonable to establish a democracy on these grounds; or whether, in fact, democracy is a best understood as a matter of indifference.

Continue reading "Plato and Derrida on Democracy: States of Desire"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Amanda Claybaugh, Part 2: The Comedy of Defamiliarization

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/15/07 at 11:28 PM

In my first post on Amanda Claybaugh’s book The Novel of Purpose, I suggested that she preferred collectivist organizations to the fictions of individual identity and national identity. I also argued that Claybaugh understands literary categories such as “realism” and “temperance narratives” similarly, as purposive, arbitrary umbrellas, rather than as organic wholes.

I ended with Claybaugh’s discussion of Henry James, and suggested that her admiration for James was related to James’s own embrace of the 19th Century literary tradition in France. In this post, I will explore the critical questions that haunt Claybaugh’s text:

• What about the figure of the author in France, as analyzed and codified by Pierre Bourdieu, appeals to Claybaugh?

• How does Claybaugh reconcile her own social conscience, and her concerns about the status of women, colonized subjects, and the poor, with her mistrust of reformist narratives that seek to help? Why is she drawn to comic writers like Twain and Dickens, who parody reform, and to novels like Felix Holt that ironize it somberly?

• What, exactly, does Claybaugh think the novel ought to do, and how does this relate to the strange recurrence of Don Quixote (as, of all things, the realist novel par excellence) at the beginning and end of her book? How does it explain her epilogue about Twain’s successfully reformist pamphlet on the plight of the Congolese?

My answer, confirmed again in Claybaugh’s marvelous comment here, is that Claybaugh wishes to substitute the ironic novel of defamiliarization for the earnest novel of purpose. This is how she marks the transition from the novel of purpose to the modernist novel, and it is why she admires the self-otherness of cosmopolitan writers like James.

Continue reading "Amanda Claybaugh, Part 2: The Comedy of Defamiliarization"

Amanda Claybaugh, Part 1: The Fiction of the Thing

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/15/07 at 04:27 AM

Those of you interested in the social and political functions of literature should seek out Amanda Claybaugh’s new study, The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World.

Because Claybaugh’s text is so crucially informed by the history of her period (the 19th Century), it is natural to describe her accomplishment in terms of the literary specializations with which it overlaps (19th Century American studies, Victorian literary studies), and which it seeks to challenge. It is also natural to describe Claybaugh’s project as “fundamentally historicizing,” as Paul Giles has done in his illuminating post.

For my part, I have no wish to confine The Novel of Purpose within a disciplinary frame, even one re-imagined more generously; to do so seems to me to fall short of a text that challenges boundaries and limits wherever it finds them. If Claybaugh’s book is historically grounded—and it is, brilliantly so—it historicizes in a fashion that allows Giles to quote relevant examples from Alexander Pope and Chaucer.

Furthermore, I am afraid that Ms. Claybaugh’s decision to cite historians and primary documents exclusively, without citing any theorists besides Georg Lukacs, may create the impression of a historicism that ranges itself “against theory.” For me, the most exciting feature of The Novel of Purpose consists in its challenging appropriations of Continental philosophy.

Continue reading "Amanda Claybaugh, Part 1: The Fiction of the Thing"

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Cat Is Not On The Mat

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/09/07 at 03:30 PM

Our own John Holbo, in his most recent post on Jacques Derrida (to which I also referred in my previous post), added in the comments section a wonderful and amusing aside:

For example, the thought most reliably caused by utterances of ‘the cat is on the mat’ is ‘why do analytic philosophers always use that sentence as an example?’ All the same, the sentence does not REPRESENT this thought.

Let’s look again at the phrase “the cat is on the mat,” which, as Holbo observes, has become ubiquitous wherever philosophy tackles the problem of language.

I’m convinced that explaining why that cat is on that mat will help us explain why literary critics turn so frequently to the likes of Sigmund Freud and Derrida. After all, we need some alternative to the pejorative explanations – for example, the idea that English professors like Freud because they don’t understand science and neither did he.

Continue reading "The Cat Is Not On The Mat"

The Specter of the Name (For Jacques Derrida)

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 04/09/07 at 12:15 AM

(x-posted at The Kugelmass Episodes)

Since we’re on the subject of Derrida, I thought I’d cross-post this new tangent on Derrida’s work Archive Fever. What follows here is a reflection on the analogies between Derrida’s “Freudian impression” and parts of my own experience, in an effort to read both successfully.

It is indulgent to write about one’s own particulars, and to use them as material for speculation; I hope that you will find analogies of your own, and thus be able to forgive me. I might add that the self-reflection at work here is, in my view, somewhat necessary as a response to Walter Benn Michaels’s critique of identity (or “heritage"), which I encountered through Michaels’s text The Trouble With Diversity. In that book, Michaels continually proffers and retracts clues about his own heritage, while refusing to allow it any meaning in the present. The point here is partly to examine how absences of meaning can themselves be a function of heritage. Interested readers should check out both John Holbo’s new post on Derrida and our book event on The Trouble With Diversity.

Continue reading "The Specter of the Name (For Jacques Derrida)"

Friday, March 16, 2007

Betrayers: The full text of the talk on Genet, Joyce, Wilde, and Dylan

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 03/16/07 at 08:19 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

I’ve reproduced below the full text of my talk at UC Irvine on crime and political conscience in modern art ("The artist and la bête humaine in European Modernism"). The talk is designed to give an overview of a massive reading project (100+ books), so it is unavoidably gestural in a few places.


Continue reading "Betrayers: The full text of the talk on Genet, Joyce, Wilde, and Dylan"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

On The Accusation Of Totalitarianism

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 02/22/07 at 02:33 AM

It has become commonplace, these days, to associate numerous kinds of thought with totalitarianism. This, in itself, is remarkable, considering the legacy of totalitarianism. To call a thinker totalitarian is to suggest a close sympathy between their work and the history of genocide and bloody repression that includes the Holocaust and the Stalinist gulags.

Truly totalitarian writing is an accessory to violence, to murder, and to every other kind of misery that a governed people can undergo. If a substantial allegation of this kind were made about my writing, I would have no choice except to submit to the most painful and unrelenting kind of self-scrutiny, in the face of the possibility that I had turned out to be the monstrous inverse of my hopes and values. Do not imagine that this kind of anguish has anything to do with ordinary self-awareness: we are talking about a slim chance of escaping lifelong purgatory.

Instead, the accusation is becoming devalued, as if it was a coin minted too plentifully, and distributed too widely. It is nothing besides a standard tool for winning academic arguments. That does not mean that it is ineffectual, however. The cheap, inflated form of the argument about totalitarianism has very successfully undermined the academy’s ability to create functional alternatives to violence and oppression.

Continue reading "On The Accusation Of Totalitarianism"

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Invitations and Promises, or Irony vs. Irony

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 02/13/07 at 09:46 PM

This piece is a response to a series of posts at Oublié Sur La Carte that send up ("roast" was his term) my essay on Paul de Man. It is possible to understand what follows without reading them, but to do so would be a shame, because they are fiercely and marvelously argued.

In his first post, surlacarte argues that my rhetorical reading of Paul de Man is illegitimate because of de Man’s explicit opposition to the rhetoric of persuasion. It is also about bad puns.

In his second post, surlacarte compares my hypothetical versions of authorship, selfhood, and meaning, to Pascal’s wager on the question of belief. It is also about poker.

I’m writing here about the way language works, the relationship between uncertainty and irony, and the role of the reader in the interpretation of texts. It is also about Mother Night and a birthday disaster. You can find an extended dialogue with surlacarte on de Man’s analysis of Pascal’s geometry in the comments thread here.

Continue reading "Invitations and Promises, or Irony vs. Irony"

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

2-for-1: Do We Do Theory?, and The Debate Between Balibar And Badiou

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 02/06/07 at 01:55 PM

Of late, there has been a great deal of discussion here and at Long Sunday (Post #1 and Post #2) about whether it is permissible to generalize about “doing theory” in the academy. In this post, I’ll explain why I think the debate has taken its current form, what it means to do theory while fully aware that one is doing so, and how all this relates to blogging and the blogosphere ideal of good faith.

As you might expect, this issue will force me into a consideration of pop musicians Daniel Johnston and Bjork, particularly the question of Johnston’s obsession with Casper The Friendly Ghost. I will end by offering a few observations on the recent dialogue at Irvine between Alain Badiou and Étienne Balibar.

Continue reading "2-for-1: Do We Do Theory?, and The Debate Between Balibar And Badiou"

Monday, February 05, 2007

Love Poem XIV: Neruda’s Sublime

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 02/05/07 at 04:24 AM

ATTENTION ALL READERS: The web now has a bad case of Pablo Neruda. The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum was affected first; among other notables to catch the fever was Petitpoussin at Truly Outrageous, and she has links to a number of sites getting in on the game (actually, this post is coming quite late).

For most people, everything you need can be found right around your house, since Neruda is the kind of writer whose readership extends far beyond avid consumers of poetry. (He has this in common with other writers of sexy, elemental verse, including Rainer Maria Rilke and Mary Oliver. Every copy of Rilke you find in used bookstores has been inscribed to someone.) Yet Neruda is plagued by a curious indexicality, by which I mean our tendency (at least in the English-speaking world of my experience) to share him ("read this!") without necessarily discussing him.

The poem I’m discussing below is Poem #14 from 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Who knows how many times I’ve read it over the years. This is nonetheless my first attempt to articulate its passions, and make it speak.

Continue reading "Love Poem XIV: Neruda’s Sublime"
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