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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Philosophical Figments - A Few More Thoughts on Zizek as PF

Posted by John Holbo on 10/11/05 at 10:01 AM

This is the promised follow-up to my "Wallpaper Reveries" Zizek post. The promise is, among other things, to make Adam Kotsko a little less annoyed. (The post you see just below is part II to this post.)

Rereading "Wallpaper", there are problems with trying so hard to beat Zizek at his own game: philosophy as magical seven-league clown shoes, leaping from World-Spirit to Mary Sue and back. Partly I think it's poetic justice to treat Zizek this way: live by the rubber knife, die by the rubber knife.

But such performances, whether fair or not, send comment threads round the bend. In this post I'm going to attempt to be a bit less ... that way. (Not so much that it isn't any fun, mind you.) From you I request moderational symmetry: isosnarkism. No comment significantly snarkier than the post, if you please. Any comment that horrendously offends against this standard, even if it isn't outright trolling by our usual standards, will be babelfish gutted: translated into German, to be exact. (Yes, I'm lowering the bar slightly.) The spectacle of the usual suspects slanging each other is, at the very least, uninviting to other potential participants who might be lurking out there with something modest and sober to say. If you really want to say something snarky or angry, I commend to you one of those other threads. Use them as a cursewall. (They must have some function. Perhaps it is just this.) No arguing about the tone of previous threads in this thread. (The first rule of no fight club is: don't talk about fight club.) Clear?

Let's start with a look at Adam Kotsko's admirably clear "Slavoj Zizek's Materialist Trinitarianism". (Not a PDF, you can just click over.) This paper has that cardinal virtue of many a careful grad student production: it knows grad students are #2, so it tries harder. It allows itself no lazy gestures of confident authority, such as those higher up on the totem pole may indulge in. This means Adam helps me understand Zizek (I think); for which I am unironically grateful. It also means his paper shows me what it would take for me to accept what Zizek says, which is a lot.

Condensing, we get: an understanding of the Trinity (the mystery of 3 =1). This understanding is apparently to be in terms of a theory of personhood in terms of possibility of conversation or address (but maybe this isn't Zizek, but it helps us understand him?) This theory is allegedly rooted in an understanding of a (Kantian) trinity of selfhood: transcendental subject, empirical subject and the relation between (freedom). There is, additionally, an understanding of Lacan's theory of the nature of the psychic dynamic that molds human subjectivity: mother, child and (so-called) object a. There is a proposal to align and adjust (analogize? harmonize? firm up?) the three. The three trinities constitute a yet higher 3 = 1? 'Correctives' to various points of initial unfitnesses offered; the three trinities mutually adjusted to enable the higher trinity. (Have I got that right?)

Resting on all this a Zizekian-Lacanian ethical two-step program for "subjectivization and subjective destitution". This "consists largely in the subject depriving herself of the customary excuses, of realizing that she always gets what she wants, even if at bottom, she does not get to choose what to want." I am confused by the first part. Why does she always get what she wants? (I don't seem to.) But I understand the second.

Out of this two-step program arises an address to "the burning question of how we are to reformulate a leftist, anti-capitalist political project in our era of global capitalism and its ideological supplement, liberal-democratic multiculturalism" [that's Zizek talking, not Adam.] The bright idea is that "the truly free choice is a choice in which I do not merely choose between two or more options WITHIN a pre-given set of coordinates, but I choose to change this set of coordinates itself." This moment is the Truth-Event.

Still more trinities (or still the same ones?): the psychoanalytic cure comes from outside (courtesy of the analyst), just as salvation comes from God (and his actions are always trinitarian). Quite a number of striking claims, purportedly necessary to make this view materialistic: "Just as the unconscious is structured like a language, so is the Real, which leads Zizek to a view of the Real as a futile, circular motion, a kind of computation that can be deciphered by subjectivity, but into which subjectivity itself must ultimately be collapsed." And: "Drawing upon the insights of quantum physics, [Zizek] determines that the Real, and thus every level of reality, from quarks to dogs to humans to society itself, has the same "out of joint" character as the subject."

Severely condensing Adam's already quite condensed account risks arriving at a point where information stops escaping, which would be unfair to blame on Adam let alone Zizek. But the point is to give a sense of how broad the scope of your commitments is, if you accept Zizek. You have to believe many things. The premise set is hardly parsimonious.

I have read not just Adam's paper but a fair subset of original works and I think I object to every premise and every step. That is, I feel compelled by almost none of these elements independently, and combining them compounds the non-compulsion.

That I am balking is hardly surprising. But let us try to work out why Zizek and I are so far apart. Let me clip two sentences from a comment by Anthony Paul Smith, complaining about my introduction of the category of PF [philosophy fiction]. "If Zizek is writing PF and using characters from Kierkegaard don’t you have to suggest that Kierkegaard’s work is PF. Also, you have failed to make the case that PF is bad (isn’t that the fact/value distinction that PF writers don’t care about?" Working back, I haven't made the case that PF is bad because I don't believe it NECESSARILY is. (I think, in my defense, at least that much should have been clear from my post. I don't denounce William Gibson, after all. And all I really commit to about PF is that it is potentially like him, but also potentially like bad fanfic.)

But the Kierkegaard point is key. If Zizek writes PF I most emphatically do NOT have to suggest that Kierkegaard does too, because Kierkegaard and Zizek are radically unlike in their philosophic styles.

Kierkegaard's arguments are, for the most part, quite straightforwardly and standardly deductive in form. Consider Fear and Trembling. It is constructed around a thought-experiment which is structurally indistinguishable from the sorts of arguments anglophone philosophers use to squabble about zombies and consciousness and women named Mary who have lived their lives in rather chromatically deprived circumstances. (I'm not saying Kierkegaard is an analytic philosopher, merely that in certain respects he argues like one.) You are given a scenario, and some theme and variations - some calculated twiddling with experimental parameters - and your intuitions are systematically pumped. Either Abraham has faith or he does not. (You decide.) If he does not, Hegel is refuted (because it turns out faith is nothing, not something 'lower' than Ethics.) If he does, Hegel is refuted (because it turns out faith is 'higher' than Ethics.) So Hegel is refuted. A two-tine reductio.

In response to Anthony, this is not PF - philosophy fiction - because the fiction is functioning as a thought-experiment within the framework of a deductive proof. It is not a threat to the proof if there were no Abraham - no more so that it is a threat to Galileo's thought-experiment about the two balls off the tower if he didn't really drop them (did he?) It is a conceptual point.

But isn't there more to Kierkegaard than some damn cold analytic intuition pump - what about the literary quality, spiritual force, fideism, wit, irony, the fact that it's a twisted break-up note to Regine! Of course! (If that weren't the case, how could I have written a limerick about it? QED.) Nevertheless, these elements work not despite, or apart from, the basic argumentative structure of the book, but as complements and counterpoints to it.

Zizek, to put it mildly, does not philosophize like Kierkegaard at all. He does not, for example, say that if you accept Lacan and if you accept a Kantian theory of the self and if you accept this particular account of how 3 can equal 1 and if you accept a theory of how personhood presupposes the capacity for address and if you grant these three trinities are one; if you grant that quantum mechanics entails ... I could go on. The result would be a final page that read something like this: 'in conclusion, there is an extremely small chance than you might now believe the following ...' 

Obviously it could be that Adam's paper is just too short, or not really accurate. If I were to turn to Zizek's fat books, perhaps I might find the ifs highlighted and nested. But I have turned, and I didn't. And to others who have: I call on you just to admit this isn't the ground on which to dig in your heels, defending Zizek; namely, by asserting that he is always careful either to leave a point suspended on an 'if you accept this'; or to defend it in a conventional, argumentative fashion.

You will not find in Zizek sober consideration of what follows if the set of required premises gives way at some point (two? three?) Can Zizek's view be salvaged, in weaker form, if this assumption is denied or refuted? He simply does not write in such a way as to open a space for dialectical give and take. He does not anticipate objections, let alone answer them. Conspicuously unconsidered are many questions concerned with the basic meanings of terms. Each if in fact dissolves into indefinitely ramifying cobwebs of smaller enchained ifs - if the claim is taken to mean this; or that; or the other thing. Most of these chains are patently broken at some point. (He can't mean that!) Are any fully intact? It would seem that inquiring minds would want to know. If they don't seem to want to know, can they truly be inquiring?

It isn't so pertinent, but I might further underscore the Kierkegaard/Zizek contrast by noting that the intensely personal, psychologistic elements of Kierkegaard's writings are absent from Zizek. Kierkegaard proceeds through an oscillation between socratic elenchus and personal confession (or dramatic expression). Zizek almost never does anything like either of these two things. What Kierkegaard and Zizek have in common, perhaps, is a root fideism - a shared preoccupation with a realm of sublimity or salvation beyond the ken of reason. But their modes of being preoccupied with this are utterly distinct; a veritable study in contrasts, in fact.

So how does Zizek's philosophy function? Adam concludes: "There is a very strange kind of movement to Zizek's work, a movement that can be described as trinitary. It is perhaps from this movement in his work itself, beyond the compatibility of his conceptual apparatus with specific Christian doctrines, that the theologian can learn the most." To say to someone that they should learn from conceptual apparatus x about subject matter y, even though x is plausibly incompatible with the existing conceptual framework of y, amounts to one (or perhaps both) of the following: either the learning is to be non-conceptual; or conceptual framework y is to be overthrown and summarily replaced with this new thing x. But why, in the former case, should studying conceptual apparatus x, to learn about incompatible conceptual apparatus y, lead me to have improved non-conceptual understanding of conceptual apparatus y? On the other hand, why should I overthrow y and x's behalf? What showing has been made that x is preferable?

I think it will be admitted that all this eithering, oring and ifing sounds profoundly un-Zizekian.

One might say: in theology, all things are possible. But, in the context of a philosophical argument, where talking presumably has a point, this 'get out of logic jail free' card isn't plausibly played except in (say) a Kierkegaardian context, where all the rational cards have ostensibly been taken beforehand. Also, we aren't just talking about theology. We are talking politics and psychology and matters material, where 'all things are possible' seems to stand in need of substantial warrant.

What are we to make of Adam's praise of 'a strange kind of movement'? I note the phrase, not to niggle about Adam's every phrase, but by way of connecting it with Harpham's phrase, quoted in my earlier post.

Perhaps the most immediately apparent quality of Zizek's discourse is its breathtaking rapidity. He seems to bound over the tops of peaks others have laboriously scaled one at a time, seizing complex arguments in a masterly and synthetic manner that diagnoses others' hard-won conclusions as symptoms of a common failure to grasp the truth, a failure he immediately rectifies. His texts blast through the discursive version of the sound barrier, passing the point at which they might be considered simply accelerated versions of ordinary discourse and becoming something else altogether.

I think this sounds about right, and Adam seems to agree. That makes three of us who are one. To repeat: what to make of it?

Let me propose a passage from Nietzsche, "Schopenhauer as Educator", §3. I think admiration for Zizek, as philosopher, only makes sense on the model proposed here, more or less:

His greatness lies in having set up before him a picture of life as a whole, in order to interpret it as a whole ... he pursues this picture as Hamlet pursues the ghost, without letting himself be led aside, as scholars are, or becoming enmeshed in abstract scholasticism, as is the fate of rabid dialecticians. The study of quarter-philosophers is enticing only so as to recognize that they make at once for the places in the edifices of great philosophies where scholarly for and against, where brooding, doubting, contradicting are permitted, and that they thereby elude the challenge of every great philosophy, which as a whole always says only: this is the picture of all life, and learn from it the meaning of your own life. And the reverse: only read your own life and comprehend from it the hieroglyphics of universal life.

As Thomas Mann observes, Schopenhauer is an artist's philosopher. I don't think there is any way to defend Zizek as anything else. He is not one to divide right and wrong in half, let alone into quarters. Where he is for, there is no room for against, and vice versa. (If any of these claims were false, he would care about the word if more than he does. That is the best proof I can offer.)

The very specific (very Platonic) axiom that microcosm must mirror macrocosm fits very well here. (To make it more recognizable, it is really a trinity, for there is also 'the relation between'.) Go back to Adam's paper: why would it sound plausible to seek 'correctives' so that psychoanalytic theories of child development become isomorphic with theories of personhood, which become isomorphic with theories of the Trinity; which turn out to fit the findings of quantum physics? Why should tweaking these things into mutual harmony be a philosophicaly significant activity? Why should we believe Zizek? Isn't there room for technical slippage here?

Back to William Gibson from my previous post:

I'm looking for images that supply a certain atmosphere. Right now science and technology seem to be very useful sources. But I'm more interested in the language of, say, computers, than I am in the technicalities. On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I'm interested in the hows and whys of memory, the way it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision. When I was writing Neuromancer, it was wonderful to be able to tie a lot of these interests into the computer metaphor.

Gibson fits Nietzsche's definition of a philosophical educator perfectly. Computers are just hieroglyphics of the self, so he is freed from any obligation to study technical details. I say that Zizek is like Gibson. He writes PF, philosophy fiction. This is not obviously the worst fate, but it is a fate that demands serious consideration.

It looks to me as though the 'movement' Adam talks about - and Harpham talks about - is just what I talked about in my previous post:

Zizek's philosophy functions, to the extent it does, by providing a very vivid, aesthetic sense of how it seems to function - leaping from peak to peak, laughing, doing what no one else can, staying up and up on gust after gust without visible means of support.

The movement's the thing, as Adam and Harpham and I agree. But since the movement is indifferent to technical objections, it amounts to 'talking philosophers' talk' as opposed to doing philosophy, in any sense that Plato or Kierkegaard would acknowledge (though the young Nietzsche can still be claimed as a potential partisan, though we will try to peel him off presently.) Zizek provides us with a fictional vision - a dramatic experience - of what philosophical tremendousness would be, were one to encounter it.

The alternative is simply to claim that Zizek is an authentic visionary. That is, he has some privileged, secure access to deep metaphysical truth not vouchsafed to ordinary mortals, compelled to plod over the surface of the earth, minding our ifs. His books do not establish that he is this visionary; some spectral glimmer - some hint of impossible movement, just outside our field of vision - convinces us. Or it does not.

Obviously this is not a simple, clean opposition: fiction writers vs. authentic visionaries. You can be both, I should expect. Something more will be said about this in the second part of this post, which is here.


The concluding thought on the “movement” is an afterthought; it is not the burden of my paper—just trying to “make nice” between Zizek and academic theologians. 

Here is what I intended to be the main points of my paper:
1. Robert Jenson puts the doctrine of the Trinity into dialogue with the Kantian structure of subjectivity, but he needs to critique and change that Kantian structure in order to make the analogy work.  (What prompts him to do this is Augustine’s “psychological analogy” for the Trinity, which is in poor repute among Barthian theologians who think there should be no analogy at all.)
2. Zizek—working through his particular reading of Lacan—makes the same alterations in the theory of subjectivity that Jenson proposes, thus making the “Lacanian subject” an appropriate analogy for the Trinity.
3. The rest of the paper does some stuff on the ethics that might follow from this theory of the subject (according to Zizek), under the assumption that theologically informed readers will be able to pick up how close or how far they are from an orthodox/Trinitarian Christian practice.  (This part should have included more explicit dialogue with theology, but the fact that it didn’t is probably what made it appealling to the coordinators of the conference where I presented it.  _O felix culpa!_)

I wasn’t just casting about looking for threes, and I certainly didn’t intend to fashion a kind of meta-trinity.  The goal—which I didn’t make clear and which I don’t blame you for not getting, since you don’t know anything about contemporary theology and probably shouldn’t—was to rehabilitate the “modern concept of the subject” by bringing the latest serious theological critique of that concept (Jenson) into dialogue with the latest philosophical development of the concept (Zizek) and showing that what (certain) theologians disliked about subjectivity, (certain) philosophers are now getting past. 

Room for dialogue, happiness and fun—you know how that goes, perhaps.  And I wanted to do this “Dialogue between Zizek and Theology” through the back door, by discussing the parts where Zizek doesn’t explicitly mention Christianity, because too often theologians are really lazy and skim philosophers for the “religious bits.”

Finally, I should point out that I don’t find the question of “3 in 1” _as such_ to be interesting at all, nor to be the most interesting thing about the doctrine of the Trinity.  What is more interesting is that ways in which each person of the Trinity relates to each other person (Son is _begotten_ by the Father; Spirit _proceeds_ from the Father and the Son [in the Western version, which I accept]—in each case, a theological technical term that denotes the different ways in which each relates to the other)—that’s what I was saying was analogous in Zizek’s account of the subject, not simply the fact that there are “three things.” And the reason I didn’t just reach for “three things” is because in the section in which Barth rejects all available analogies for the Trinity, he says that if you really interrogate them, the only analogy is the number three, which is not a very serious analogy at all, because threeness _as such_ isn’t “the thing.”

Now again—the purpose of dragging all of this out there isn’t to say that you should have figured this stuff out for yourself, should have dragged out your copy of _Church Dogmatics_, but to say that I don’t think you’re really dealing with the actual burden of my paper (the three main points, which I think should have been relatively clear).  I don’t think that you can seriously claim that I did all that work, only to assert, without any proof, that Zizek’s style is the most important thing.  I could just delete that sentence altogether and my paper’s argument would be completely the same—in fact, in a future version of this paper (wherein I make explicit everything I’ve said in this comment), I absolutely _will not_ include that sentence. 

And in any case, I don’t see that my account of the important things about Zizek’s style is parallel to Harpham’s—_even if_ we agree that “the movement’s the thing,” we have different ideas about what that movement is, even incompatible ones.  The fact that I am drawing a parallel with the Trinity does not indicate that I’m gesturing toward some kind of completely ineffable mystery—I spent several pages describing, in some detail, the doctrine of the Trinity, in a way that I take to be basically comprehensible, even if you don’t have to “believe” it or whatever. 

And finally, I should make it clear that Zizek is not at all invested in the doctrine of the Trinity—this parallel between Lacanian subjectivity and Trinity is something I came up with on my own.  On the few occasions I’ve seen where Zizek addresses the issue of the Trinity, he doesn’t seem to me to “get it,” and that’s because he’s a philosopher, not a theologian—understanding the Trinity is my job, not his.

By Adam Kotsko on 10/11/05 at 12:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Why are you posts so god-damn long?  I am a laborer, not an academic, and have little time to commit to reading such a long post (thereby taking out one more person in your war against theory).  That’s fine though.

Not that I was able to read it as carefully as I would like, but your point about Kierkegaard arguing like an analytic philosopher is kind of interesting.  Except then you go on to make the case that he and Zizek are very different and that the argument he makes is only helped by his style when in the Postscript he has JC say explicitly that the most important matter of truth is the how of what is said rather than than the what.  But, then again, I don’t really want to argue with you about Kierkegaard (and it really kind of annoys me that you don’t take into account the way Kierkegaard asks us to read him, that is by not attributing to his person the ideas in the psy. works.  Fear and Trembling may not be a good faith account of faith.), only to say I am further annoyed that you are just arguing for the analytic tradition being rational and all others being irrational.

By on 10/11/05 at 01:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Anthony, I would defend myself by saying: the post didn’t attempt to explain the role of K’s various pseudonyms and personalities. So unless you can point out how I am duty-bound to take them into account, then this is just something I didn’t discuss. (I refer you to your own first sentence for a reason not to err on the side of greater inclusiveness.) I don’t think I am arguing for the analytic tradition being rational and all others irrational, not unless you are taking as a premise: ‘Kierkegaard is an analytic philosopher.’ And if you are taking that premise, what is your objection to analytic philosophy on grounds of narrowness, insensitiveness to the big issues, so forth? Surely Kierkegaard - if not Quine - engages with them.

What I would really like would be someone to push back against my attacks by arging that Zizek in fact has fairly conventional arguments socked away somewhere that I’m just missing. I want Zizek explained, not by turning him into geometry or backwards E’s and upside down A’s, but as a kind of argument with premises I might accept and a sense of why those premises would cause you to accept conclusions. That’s pretty minimal, and I really don’t get it from Zizek, reading even his longer (better than “On Belief") books. It is highly likely that I am missing things about those books. Perhaps I am missing the arguments. Well, then, someone show me what they are.

Glad you are feeling better, Adam. I think your paper is good and you should try to publish it.

By John Holbo on 10/11/05 at 10:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I retract anything I’ve said about Kierkegaard.

I guess I simply don’t understand how one could prove that.  I know that in his book on totalitarianism his thesis is contra that of Arendt’s, so Stalin and Hitler are not “essentially” the same.  He makes the arguement that the use of the word totalitarianism is used in liberal socities to scare off any radical political movements.  He then gives some examples taken from popular culture and the culture war.  It seems to me like an arguement one can either accept or reject.  And that book may even be considered one of his more shitty ones.

By on 10/12/05 at 12:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Anthony, I would be willing to consider that as an argument. The problem with it, I would probably say, is that it’s too ordinary, in the sense that it’s an intuitive argument that could be made - with a few examples to support it - in an op-ed. So the problem isn’t that it is bad but that its nature does not warrant the elaborate Hegelian apparatus that (I am guessing) accompanies it. In Kierkegaard’s case, I think I can explain both the argument AND why the argument is complemented by the sorts of literary and psychological accompaniments we get. It might be that the argument is you are citing doesn’t get so much Hegelian fanfare, fore or aft. But if so, then it isn’t really a route into what distinctive thing about Zizek’s philosophy warrants his distinctive writings, if you see what I mean.

What I just said is, incidentally, the same thing that Nussbaum says about Butler: namely, that when her arguments make sense, it turns out they are really rather humble things. Not necessarily bad, therefore, but the attempt to robe them in ineffable atmospherics is suspect, because it looks like desire to avoid arguing about a humble thing in a humble way.

By John Holbo on 10/12/05 at 03:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

(I have decided to end my time on the internet to devote more time to study, still I want to finish this conversation so this or maybe the next will be my final comment.)

The argument for the reality of the situation may be humble in many of these figures (I’ve never had an interest in Butler, or in lit crit, and my defense of what goes by the name Theory here is a defense of those philosophers and thinkers I do care about and who I see lumped in among these “irrational” ones), at least in Zizek, that is only one aspect of his project.  He attempts to do the whole Platonic/Heidegarrian thing of making the familiar strange in political and academic discourse and then attempts to show that there is a kind of radical cure (which is why I think a lot of his work is in the spirit of Kierkegaard’s corpus, and the theses on Feuerbach of Marx, even if he undertakes bizzare readings of particular texts) through a Lacanian-Hegelian understanding of the self.  In so far as we don’t live in a world of upside down A’s, and where commonsense and rational discourse do not and possible may not be able to hold court, I find this compelling even if I don’t agree with it (philosophically I’m becoming closer to Deleuze’s work and via him that of Spinoza and Bergson, though my principle philosopher of religion in a man by the name of Philip Goodchild).

All of that rambling is just to say that perhaps our disagreement on the work of some of these figures (again, who I see lumped in among the theorists that are despised so much here) has to do with our disagreement over the role of philosophy.  I think it is fair, though likely inadequate to sum up your position in a sentence, to say you see it is a purely descriptive field where one makes an arguement about the reality of a given situation or phenomena that is then backed up through some kind of arguement.  While folks like Zizek and others in Europe see philosophy as more, though perhaps not purely, prescriptive.  This may lead to rhetorical excess and surely it is not a perfect system, but I only wish to have its validity as a discourse recognized. 

For Rich, who I am sure will say I’ve only attacked you and have not responded to the arguements you put forth, let me summarize: You say the arguements are ordinary in the way they describe rather intutitive arguements.  By suggesting that these are not arguements meant to give a description of the world, but to set the stage for describing the radical cure for whatever is percieved a problem I am saying that they are not ordinary in the prescriptive sense.  Further, I think also think that this disagreement over the role of philosophy (and, indeed, all critical thinking) is at the heart of many disagreements here.  As a corallary to the bulk of this post, I don’t think that means we need to take up a debate over whether or not either side is correct, as they are the axioms that each thinker or ‘side’ begins with and as such basically outside of debate (but rather subject to belief, no?).

By on 10/12/05 at 09:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks Anthony, since I’m busy grading tonight I’ll actually be brief: the problem with your one sentence summation is that if I see philosophy as ‘a purely descriptive field,’ etc., and if I see Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as doing philosophy, then ... well, how are we going to finish this? Are Kierkegaard and Nietzsche analytic philosophers in the Frege-Russell tradition? That hardly seems plausible. Am I just being obnoxious and artificially cultivating an inauthentic taste for them - but drawing the line at 20th Century continental philosophy - perhaps to be a pest when people like you say I am narrow? Am I schizophrenic? Possibly, possibly. We’ll take it up later when I have some free time.

By John Holbo on 10/12/05 at 09:24 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Just to be clear while you take your break, though my attitude is often a bit over the top I don’t want you to think I don’t respect your taste for either Kierkegaard or Nietzsche and of course I recognize that we all have multiple commitments, so while your primary orientation may be analytic I also recognize that you find validity in other thinkers.  I only want to suggest where the root of these disagreements is over and see if we can move to mutual respect from there (and it may turn out that we can’t on some issues).  Also, as a final word of parting, I hope my dislike of some others associated with you has not tarnished anyone else’s image of Adam as I’m associated with him.  Though I disagree with your views I’ve always respected the civil way you went about expressing them.  My biggest pet peeve in academia is the smugness and you have never struck me as smug, and I think that is a really good thing.  Thanks again for the responses and best of luck.

By on 10/12/05 at 09:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Anthony, I’ll also reply briefly, since you mention my name.  You write:

“While folks like Zizek and others in Europe see philosophy as more, though perhaps not purely, prescriptive.”

A prescriptive philosophy in the comtemporary context that you’re referring to is a political philosophy, rather than a moral or ethical one.  My political interest is generally grounded in my work, which indirectly concerns people for whom the familiar has suddenly been made strange: a family member has come down with cancer, say, or their housing project has been flooded.  So while John’s main concern is philosophy, I’m more concerned with the supposed “radical cure”, which unlike most previous radicalisms does not actually exist.

So when you see people disagreeing with Zizek’s mode of thought, not all of them are analytic philosophers.

By on 10/12/05 at 10:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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