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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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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

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Worlds That Might Have Been The Case

Posted by John Holbo on 09/25/05 at 11:54 AM

A month ago a Zizek LRB piece appeared; a review of What Might Have Been - Leading Historians on 12 "What If's" of History. Zizek complains:

Why is the flourishing genre of ‘what if?’ histories the preserve of conservative historians? The introduction to such volumes typically begins with an attack on Marxists, who allegedly believe in historical determinism. Take this latest instalment, edited by Andrew Roberts, who has himself contributed an essay on the bright prospects that would have faced Russia in the 20th century had Lenin been shot on arriving at the Finland Station. One of Roberts’s arguments in favour of this kind of history is that ‘anything that has been condemned by Carr, Thompson and Hobsbawm must have something to recommend it.’ He believes that the ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité ‘have time and again been shown to be completely mutually exclusive’. ‘If,’ he continues, ‘we accept that there is no such thing as historical inevitability and that nothing is preordained, political lethargy – one of the scourges of our day – should be banished, since it means that in human affairs anything is possible.’

How could I not write about something about Slavoj Zizek AND David Frum? (Frum contributes to the volume in question - a what-if Gore had been President on 9/11 shocker ripped from the might-have-been headlines.) A kind reader - an academic historian - even emailed to draw my attention. But I don't feel especially informed or opinionated about the genre of alternate history. Still, I've lately fortified myself (see below).

Isn't Zizek off the mark with this 'right-wing historian's preserve' notion?

First, there's Philip Roth's The Plot Against  America, lately discussed here at the Valve; which I haven't read, but I know it's a counter-example. Here is a review of Roth by Ross Douthat for Policy Review. Douthat is a conservative appreciative of the quality but provoked by the lefty politics. Moving along, Philip K. Dick, The Man in High Castle. PKD is politically eccentric, hardly right-wing boilerplate. These are the two that Zizek surely has to be aware of, denting his thesis.

I'll quote a bit of Douthat, since he makes the obvious PKD link:

The fantasy could have been pulled off, perhaps, had Roth chosen to play it as such — to cultivate, for instance, the dreamlike atmosphere that pervades The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick’s classic World War ii what-if novel. Dick offers up an entirely implausible scenario — Germany and Japan victorious, and the continental U.S. partitioned between them — but he makes the implausibility a strength, using it to create a sense of hallucinatory misery among the characters, a sense of a world gone so far off its axis that reality itself may no longer be real. Or Roth might have pursued the careful realism of weaker alternative-history works like Robert Harris’s mid-’90s thriller Fatherland, which takes a reasonable “what-if” — the Germans winning the Battle of Britain — and spins an all-too-plausible scenario of a world divided by a U.S.-German Cold War, with an ongoing guerrilla conflict in the Urals and the Holocaust a carefully guarded Nazi state secret. Harris isn’t a tenth the writer Roth is, but his alternative history works in a way that Roth’s doesn’t, because his history works. With different tactics, and a few fortuitous accidents, the Nazis might have conquered Britain, might have taken Moscow, might have established mastery of Europe before the U.S. entered the war.

In the event, Roth’s novel ends up stranded somewhere in the middle ground between Dick and Harris, trapped by its combination of sharp realism and utter implausibility, and by the reader’s constant awareness that there is almost no conceivable series of events, from June of 1940 (when the path of Roth’s history diverges from ours) until November of that year, that would have resulted in the elevation of Charles Lindbergh to the Oval Office.

Wikipedia has quite a full page devoted to alternative history fiction. Zizek is right that there is a bit of a vogue. The book he is bothered about is part of a series. There are yards of Turtledove & co. between the SF and the fantasy shelves at my local bookstore. But apart from the manifest military history/RPG geekery of it - what if Rasputin's high constitution had allowed him to make his final saving throw against poison? [UPDATE: Oops. Obviously he DID make his saving throw. He died of hit point loss from knives or whatever it was] - I'm not aware of an especial correlation with right-wingery. Kim Stanley Robinson writes the stuff. He's not right wing. Looking at author lists for familiar names, I'm not seeing it. Any opinions on this strictly empirical question? Is 'what if' history the province of right-wing historians?

The question of the literary value of the genre is also interesting. I guess the obvious thing to say is that if there is value to the intellectual exercise of constructing the alternative, then the novelistic specificity of character and so forth that must be frosted on top of the counterfactual cake to make it a novel ends up looking a bit thick and distracting. I know I prefer to don my Watcher toga only if there is an element of SF or fantasy in the offing. Maybe my favorite is David Brin, "Thor Meets Captain America" - usually available online, but down for the moment. Susannah Clark's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is technically alternative history, including Napoleonic battles around the edges. I've just been rereading Arrowsmith, So Smart in Their Fine Uniforms. Which is light good fun. But I guess magical routes to identical results - British victory at Waterloo; nasty trench warfare in W.W. I - don't count as 'alternative'. You need different winners? It has to be like wargaming?

I bothered to write this post mostly because I just read a dead awful Harry Turtledove short story, "The Daimon". It's in Worlds That Weren't. This time Sokrates accompanies Alkibiades on the Sicilian expedition, inadvertently advises him in a way that causes him to figure out how not to get recalled to Athens to stand trial for the unfortunate episode with the herms. The expedition is a glorious success. Alkibiades' troops (and Socrates) sack Sparta itself on their way home. Alkibiades ends up tyrant of Athens, allied with Sparta and plotting war against Persia. Sokrates ends up facing the hemlock, same as ever. But this time (cue Kirk fighting the Gorn music: da-da-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-da-ta-ta-ta) it's the 'when philosophers attack' version. (Not heard of since that line of action figures came out.)

But, when he got within a couple paces of Alkibiades, he shouted out, "Eleleu!" and flung himself at the younger man. The jar of hemlock smashed on the hard dirt of the courtyard. Alkibiades knew at once he was fighting for his life. Sokrates gave away twenty years, but his stocky, broad-shouldered frame seemed nothing but rock-hard muscle.

But not discernably right-wing.

I liked this bit of incorrigible, over-the-top geekery from early on: "But the pass that led to Sparta was visible even from the beach. Alkibiades vaulted onto his horse's back, disdaining a leg up. Like any horseman, he wished there were some better way to mount and to stay on a beast's back. But there wasn't, or nobody had ever found one, and so, like any horseman, he made the best of things."

Oh go play another game of Civilization already. I understand that Turtledove has a high reputation in certain quarters but this story was a whole lumberyard worth of woodenness.



Comments

John, I think there’s a difference between those Zizek describes “conservative historians” and Right-wing politics.  The conservative historian hasn’t historically always favored social or political changes that have tilted the world to the Right—cuz the whole point of being a conservative historian is to question the supposedly progressive nature of any and all change.  (Not that he’s an historian, but Henry James is a great example of a conservative who sounds a lot like modernist era Marxists like Adorno and Benjamin—compare James’ take on hotels and popular culture in *The American Scene* to Frankfurt School work.)

I do think there’s something inherently conservative in a lot of counterfactual history.  By following through on a series of worse-case scenarios, such novels and historical narratives make us all too happy that things turned out just the way they did.  Which means that we forgive FDR his sins because at least he wasn’t Lindburgh, and we pat ourselves on the back over the firebombing of Germany and the atomic attack on Japan because at least America never was partitioned by victorious Axis powers.

Even a powerful work like Steve Erickson’s *Arc d’x*, which begins with the Hemings/Jefferson affair and takes off on counterfactual flights once Sally murders Jefferson, paints such a horrifying portrait of an America abandoned by Jefferson that the reader can only be glad that those raped slaves never rose up in mass against their exploiters. 

Is there potential for the counterfactual history to reveal the lack of inevitability in the past?  Sure.  But I’ll take Benjaminian history over what passes for counterfactual history any day: recover from the past what was lost, what could be useful for the future, what manifested in the past in a distorted form but what has utopian potential.  Here, we confront the “real” past, but from a perspective that “makes it new,” that denaturalizes it.

By on 09/25/05 at 02:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You decided that I should do no work for a while, eh?  Where to start.

In inverse order, Turtledove—I don’t know what quarters he has a high reputation in.  He’s a dreadful, hack author.  It takes special hackery to write a fantasy series that one realizes is explicitly modelled on WW II, except that the Jews have been given some fantasy name, and in the book *people hate them because they once were conquerors* or something.  Yes, in this fantasy, the cognate of anti-Semitism has a pseudo-rational basis, divorced from any religious history.  Isn’t that special?

_Jonathan Smith & Mr. Norrell_ had really odd economics and tactics.  In the Napoleonic scenes, Smith is engaged in creating magical roads that appears in front of all British armies (a good “war is mostly logistics bit”, I thought), plus moving around cities and so on at will.  Yet he is tasked to spend a lot of effort, and to distress himself, in order to avoid having the army pay out a bribe of a few hundred pounds to some deserters.  Why doesn’t he just move Paris to America until the war is over?  Susannah Clark was trying too hard to be whimsical and historical at the same time.

Brin is ordinary, and I still don’t know why you like him so much.

I agree with Douthat, but don’t see why he thinks that PKD’s book is quite so implausible.  Germany was divided among the victors of WW II, after all.

The article by Zizek was one of his least annoying that I’ve read, although he does do his usual bit of USSR nostalgia apologia.  What’s more interesting is that he totally missed the Marxist / leftist alternative histories.  They are written by authors like China Mieville, whose _Iron Council_ deals directly with themes of how things might have been different, or by Iain Banks, whose Culture universe is the triumph of anarcho-socialism, one of whose agents wanders about the Earth in _The State of the Art_ in the 1970s wondering whether people know that the future, in their terms, is bright, bright red.  Alternative history, in the hands of a sophisticated writer, doesn’t have to look like alternative history.

So back to the original question.  Why should alternate history be dominated by right-wingers, if it is?  Because history is too painful for left-wing writers to fantasize about, because it looks, right now, like they’ve lost.  The right-wingers quoted all are doing triumphialist pieces that are like “Well, things are going good—but if the one thing had changed, things could have gone even better!” Or “Things are going good, and they might not have if this one thing had changed.” Left-wingers, if they really do alternate history rather than the Mieville/Banks kind of brilliant pieces, have to start with “Well we’ve lost, but we might not have” which is pathetic.

Roth is a non-right-winger who did alternate history because he’s fascinated by himself, and it was an excuse to write about him and his boyhood and his special fears.  PKD could do alternate history because he was already a horrifed writer, and because he had basically premodern fascinations and wasn’t surprised that history didn’t seem to be working out progressively.

By on 09/25/05 at 03:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m with Rich on the rich vein of left wing alternative histories. This new book by Russell Jacoby looks like a great theoretical resource on the ‘negative utopia’ which describes well, I think, what China and others are trying to do. I’ve a piece on the New Crobuzon series coming out on N+1 in 2 weeks or so, which talks to some of this. Two other great alternative histories. Keith Roberts’ _Pavane_, where the Reformation doesn’t happen - but if it’s conservative it’s a very odd sort of conservatism. The world doesn’t get Dachau and Buchenwald - there’s an implication that the Guardians of the World have chosen to wrench history from its course to limit the extent of human misery - but the heroes are still those who struggle against the forces of conservatism. And a papal bull entitled Petroleum Veto too. Then there’s John Crowley’s novella, “Great Work of Time,” which argues, I think, that there’s a fundamental conservatism, a desire for stasis, in the urge to remake history. A secret society which uses time-travel to extend the grip of a kinder British Empire, one which matches Santayana’s eulogic description, across history. But which has at its heart a desire for peace and stability that reduces to a world in which nothing happens, a forest seeing its reflection in the water forever.

By Henry Farrell on 09/25/05 at 04:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think you’re confusing two genres. 

The PKD, the Roth and the others you cite are essentially conventional novels, concerned with the psychological and moral issues facing a (fictional) individual.  They are predicated upon a counterfactual, but then all novels are predicated upon counterfactuals:  there wasn’t a Fitzwilliam Darcy with 10,000 a year running around England in 1811/12.  If there would have been, someone would have noticed.

The genre that Zizek is talking about comprises for the most part conventional political historical narratives, concerned with matters of state, great persons and wars.  But entirely counterfactual, while most such narratives are not (at least not intentionally).

Merging the two under a single “alternate history” label isn’t helpful, I think.

I don’t know whether Zizek is right about the politics of those who write in his genre.  There are counterexamples:  Tom Wicker is in one of the “What If?” volumes, for example.  But one does get the impression of right-wingery.

By jim on 09/25/05 at 04:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

How many answers can there be to a question that begins, “Isn’t Zizek off the mark . . . “?  Would he be Zizek if he weren’t?

The wildest part of that essay comes when Zizek explains his own version of alternative history:

There is a much deeper commitment to alternative histories in the radical Marxist view. For a radical Marxist, the actual history that we live is itself the realisation of an alternative history: we have to live in it because, in the past, we failed to seize the moment. In an outstanding reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (which Benjamin never published), Eric Santner elaborated the notion that a present revolutionary intervention repeats/redeems failed attempts in the past. These attempts count as ‘symptoms’, and can be retroactively redeemed through the ‘miracle’ of the revolutionary act. They are ‘not so much forgotten deeds, but rather forgotten failures to act, failures to suspend the force of social bonds inhibiting acts of solidarity with society’s “others”’:

Symptoms register not only past failed revolutionary attempts but, more modestly, past failures to respond to calls for action or even for empathy on behalf of those whose suffering in some sense belongs to the form of life of which one is a part. They hold the place of something that is there, that insists in our life, though it has never achieved full ontological consistency. Symptoms are thus in some sense the virtual archives of voids – or, perhaps better, defences against voids – that persist in historical experience.

For Santner, these symptoms can also take the form of perturbations of ‘normal’ social life: participation, for example, in the obscene rituals of a reigning ideology. In this way of thinking, Kristallnacht – a half-organised, half-spontaneous outburst of violent attacks on homes, synagogues, businesses and individuals – becomes a Bakhtinian carnival, a symptom whose fury and violence revealed it as an attempt at ‘defence-formation’, a covering up of a previous failure to intervene effectively in Germany’s social crisis.

Did he really just say that Kristallnacht happened because anti-semites felt guilty about not making a revolution?  The ground above Bakhtin’s grave must be humming.

By on 09/25/05 at 10:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jim is right that I’m mixing genres, at least regarding the book Zizek was reading. I obviously haven’t read it. Looking again, I see that it is advertised as containing essays, not stories. Somehow I got myself assuming the contrary, while composing the post. Obviously the line between an essay that is basically a counterfactual narrative history and a what-if story is not perfectly bright. But clearly we have two genres. I stand corrected.

But I think the point about Zizek stands. He refers to ‘the flourishing genre of ‘what if’ histories’, which is most naturally construed to include not just essays but also fiction (even if we accept that this is two sub-genres of the genre of ‘what if’ history). I do appreciate that Zizek was just kicking off this convenient target, to take wing into one of his characteristic flights, hence was hardly inclined to pause and fuss about which pidgeonhole Turtledove belongs in.

Henry is right that the Russell Jacoby sounds very interesting.

Speaking of characteristic flights ...

Sean poses an interesting question: would Zizek be Zizek if he weren’t off the mark? Could we write a what-if story about Slavoj Zizek taking a different path in life and ending up sober and circumspect? Perhaps a professor of accounting law? How might the history of academia have been changed?

What if Derrida had been raised by analytic philosophers? No one writes these things because the genre belongs to the military historians. Sad, sad.

By John Holbo on 09/25/05 at 11:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean:

“felt guilty”????? Where does “felt” anything come into this at all?

No. He really didn’t say that.

And you say Matt’s a sloppy scholar…

By CR on 09/25/05 at 11:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think Sean’s reading is a reasonable one, CR. Zizek writes: “attempt at ‘defence-formation’, a covering up of a previous failure to intervene effectively in Germany’s social crisis.” The actors are plausibly characterized as anti-semites, since they are participating in a pogrom. Defense-formation is a function of anxiety which is a function of submerged feeling or impulse. Here is a googled up set of definitions for ‘reaction formation’ - same thing, in Freudian terms, no? unless I’m forgetting my Viennese lore. (Please do correct me if I’m wrong.) Most of the definitions contain the word ‘feeling’ or cognates. Zizek seems to be saying the submerged anxious impulse/feeling is to intervene in Germany’s social crisis in a manner opposite to the manner in which the actors are actually intervening. The opposite of participating in Kristallnacht would presumably be insurrection against the government, motivated either by philo-semitism or anti-Nazism (pro-communism, perhaps). What is your reading of that line?

By John Holbo on 09/25/05 at 11:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You guys are being heavyfooted with the benjaminian history / psychoanalysis analogies.

History / Society operates in a mode analogous to the psychological processes described by Freud. But it is not the case that the individual members of the Kristalnacht collectivity “feel guilty about not making a revolution.” Rather, their actions as a group are symptoms that arise from an underlying collective, hmm, “guilt”? No - more like a deficit, a blockage, an insistence. Hard to find le mot juste.

Like say I make a generalization like this one - one that relies upon a vernacular psychologization of culture as a whole: the US, the day after 9/11, breathed a collective sigh of relief that the wussy and directionless 90s were finally over. (And thus… the rest...)

I don’t mean that individual Americans woke up the next morning and said aloud to their Cheerios: “Whoohoo. Thank God the wussy and directionless 90s are finally over! Let’s roll!”

No - of course its much more complicated than that. Americans started to drool over firemen, sing along with “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch, become generally more tolerant of imperial escapades… etc… Nary a thought about the wussiness survived, the new economy blues… the end of history brought to an end or at least deferred…

Likewise, the Kristalnachters didn’t feel guilty about the failure of leftist revolution… Perhaps something like the collective unconscious (in Benjaminian terms: history, the archive, etc...) did.

See what I’m saying? There’s a huge disjunction, complication, between the Unconscious and the individual’s “feeling.” Can’t just drag and drop the contents of one folder into the other. (The definitions google provides, and that you link to, are heavyfooted too… As definitions tend to be...)

I was calling Sean on this reduction. I think he knows better.

By CR on 09/26/05 at 12:30 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Until this very moment, I don’t think I’ve ever wondered even for a second what Lacan thought of Jung. Am I wrong in assuming that there’s probably a book-length study?

By Jonathan on 09/26/05 at 12:35 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jim is probably right about the mixing of genres—but this clearly is a case where writing about the issue at hand would involve writing about something that most of us probably aren’t interested in, so we change the subject.  Fiction with an alternative history counterfactual is fiction that has a good way of incorporating politics, a way that does not seem to be trying to be too heavy-handedly current.  Political historical narratives written by historians that are primarily about “matters of state, great persons and wars” are generally boring, because historians generally don’t have good theories about what might really cause history to have been changed in some important way, and because historians are not as good at writing, as a class, as fiction writers are.

Zizek’s Kristallnacht statement wasn’t even really unusual enough to be worth attacking, I thought.  It’s a commonplace of leftist theorists to desperately come up with a reason, any reason, why the twentieth century did not really go so badly for leftism.  Zizek’s “the very violence of the pogroms was proof of the possibility of an authentic proletarian revolution” is just another instance of such, with extra Godwin’s law added in an attempt to shock.  It’s really no different from “the very consumerism of the IPod craze is leading to the possibility of an authentic proletarian revolution” or “the loss of power of socialist parties is a necessary precursor to a.a.p.r”. 

I’m much more interested in how this is handled fictionally.  China Mieville’s _Iron Council_, which I’ve finally read, purports to be a sort of message of hope, of the ever-present possibility of a.a.p.r.  But it’s also a message of despair, in which a.a.p.r. is a frozen relic, and the post-revolution community can not really be imagined.  (Authors never used to have this problem.) As the last remnants of real-world Communism crumbled, Iain Banks’ Culture books grew darker, with the last (_Look To Windward_) being the first to present the Culture as being populated by disagreeable twits and their worn-out mentors, instead of the fulfilled hedonists and purposeful missionaries of the earlier books.  I think that there’s something important there about the limits of fiction to transcend the emotional fog of a particular time, even if intellectually certain beliefs are still in principle as possible as they ever were.

By on 09/26/05 at 12:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan - I kind of had the same thought as I was writing the post. Yes I did…

No Rich - it’s not just a reflexive left move. Benjamin’s talking mechanics, Zizek’s citing Santner citing Benjamin. Serious stuff that you can agree with or not but deserves more than what you’ve given it.

By CR on 09/26/05 at 12:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Look, CR, it’s very flattering that you want to hold us Valvesters up to higher standards than everyone else, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you are going to give Zizek a mile in terms in approximate usage - e.g. ‘defence-formation’, sort-of kind-of but don’t press it if it looks implausible, in an LRB review - you have to at least give Sean an inch in a comment box, when he simply says what the Zizek sentence appears to say, read straight according to standard definitions of the terms it contains. (Why assume that by using the word ‘feeling’ Sean was assuming you could just drag and drop from one folder to the other, thereby quite unnecessarily ensnaring his criticism of Zizek in hopeless naivete about the mind?)

Anyway, is it so clear we should give Zizek a mile, in this case. I think Rich is right. Zizek really is saying: “the very violence of the pogroms was proof of the possibility of an authentic proletarian revolution” That’s plausible or it isn’t, but it really does seem to be Zizek. You can quibble that it’s too blunt, fine. But, bluntly, this is what Zizek is saying.

In short, I’m calling CR for reduction in calling Sean for reduction. I think he knows he knows better. (It’s still Zeno’s arrow week, here in comments at the Valve! And if so, then necessarily so!)

Now I see that CR has just said Rich is wrong. I guess until I’ve read Santner, I can’t say. I don’t see that what CR is saying, by way of analogy, about there being an undercurrent of relief at the demise of the wussy 90’s, fits with what Zizek is saying. CR is saying for some people 9/11 was an excuse to express what they wanted all along, but couldn’t ask for: imperialism, etc. Formulated in a nuanced way, I’ll buy that. But Zizek isn’t proposing anything like that. He’s not saying Kristallnacht was an excuse to do what people wanted all along, i.e. bash. He’s saying it was a ‘defense-formation’ which must mean anxious suppression of the desire to do the opposite, i.e. empathize. Zizek is proposing that Kristallnacht was an expression of crypto-philosemitism, insofar as the Jews were ‘society’s others’, to whom emphathy had been uncomfortably forbidden for so long. People were trying to reassure themselves, through their own actions, that their forced refusal of empathy for the victims was OK. No? [typos corrected]

By John Holbo on 09/26/05 at 01:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The problem that we’re having is that we disagree on the subject of the verb (verbal noun… whatever) “attempt” in Zizek’s passage.

The answer is history. Or culture. The world-text. Or the collective unconscious. Or what you will.

The answer is not the Kristalnachters or the minds or consciences of the Kristalnachters. Or their unconsciouses.

Who makes the “attempt at ‘defence-formation’, a covering up of a previous failure to intervene effectively in Germany’s social crisis”?

That’s what’s at issue here. I guess you’re right - Zizek is assuming that you’ll know how to fill in the implicit “on the part of”...

By CR on 09/26/05 at 01:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

CR is saying for some people 9/11 was an excuse to express what they wanted all along, but couldn’t ask for: imperialism, etc.

No - see - that’s where we’re not clicking. I didn’t say “for some people.” I said for the “US.” I failed to specify any further than that. Deliberately. Where, exactly, the desire to restart history was located is a very, very, very complicated matter. And something that I’m at work on, somewhat indirectly…

By CR on 09/26/05 at 01:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. At least we’re isolating the disagreement.

No, CR, it doesn’t make any sense - so far as I can see - to read the passage as you propose. Nor does plausibility improve if we do so. Not unless we find it plausible to conceive of History as Mind, in a quite robustly clinical sense, i.e. to the point where it would make sense to lay History out on the couch or give it a Voight-Mein Kampf empathy test. “Tell me only the good things you remember - about the Jews.” Are you seriously proposing that Zizek proposes that History itself wants to feel empathy for Jews, but finds itself compelled to repress that impulse when it is tempted to the surface, lashing out by manifesting itself as Kristallnacht, etc.? It is much less implausible to regard the hypothesized reaction-formation as a culturally-inculcated shared psychological disposition of numerous actual human agents, so it seems to me. I really think that this level of anthropomorphizing of the Spirit of History you propose would be enough to give Hegel himself the heebie-jeebies.

By John Holbo on 09/26/05 at 02:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s not very difficult to figure out who is acting, in Zizek’s idea.  First, “the very violence of the pogroms was proof of the possibility of an authentic proletarian revolution”, which I quoted before, is not a paraphrase or a what-if, it’s a direct quote from Zizek in the LRB article.  Zizek also writes that “we have to live in it because, in the past, we failed to seize the moment.” Who is we?  By comparison of these two sentences, and the rest of the article, “we” is “the proletariat”.  And Zizek certainly compares his suggestion of communal psychological defense-formation to that of the individual:

“The post-Communist outbreaks of neo-Nazi violence can also be understood as symptomatic outbursts of rage, displaying an awareness of missed opportunities. A parallel can be drawn with the psychic life of the individual: in just the same way as the awareness of a missed private opportunity (of a fulfilling love affair, perhaps) often leaves its traces in the form of irrational anxieties, headaches and fits of rage, so the void of a missed revolutionary opportunity can result in irrational fits of destruction.”

So because Sean made the same kind of parallel as Zizek did, CR says he’s wrong and reductive because he shouldn’t have written that a group of people “feel guilty”, he should have written ... CR doesn’t know what, but it’s the mot juste.  This is pointless.

I should remind everyone that CR, by his own admission, knows little socialism, and is not really a socialist.  When CR attempts to correct people about leftist concepts, he doesn’t know what he is correcting people *to*.  It’s just an exercise of the spleen.

By on 09/26/05 at 09:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John Holbo: “What if Derrida had been raised by analytic philosophers? No one writes these things because the genre belongs to the military historians. Sad, sad.”

Many masters of the form are far from military historians or the right wing. None of the English ones I’ve read are, for example, or Terry Bisson or Howard Waldrop.

Waldrop in particular “writes these things”, taking up momentous questions such as “What if Mantan Moreland had starred in a parody of Nosferatu?”, “What if Thomas Wolfe had lived long enough to hear Fats Waller on a transatlantic blimp?”, and “What if Peter Lorre, Zero Mostel, and Shemp Howard had been trapped behind German lines and worked for Bertolt Brecht’s theater in communist Switzerland ?”

By Ray Davis on 09/26/05 at 09:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Color me fact-checked! Now I know what I did not: that I should read Bisson and Waldrop. (Those ideas are totally better than my boring Derrida one.)

By John Holbo on 09/26/05 at 09:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Listen, when demented Rich comes around, a bell always goes off in my head… Under that bell is a sign that says “To the doors, please.”

But I’ll persevere, just for a little bit longer.

I am far more interested in getting the Benjamin right than copy-editting Zizek. Sloppy, yes. I’m not really a fan, myself. But he’s still - especially because he’s offhandedly quoting Benjamin - not saying what Sean and you say he’s saying…

John, you know very well that nearly every instantiation, every inflection of “theory” relies upon a notion of the “impersonal” - yep, Hegel’s Spirit, Marx has capital sometimes and history sometimes, Lacan - the symbolic. Jung - sure, the collective unconscious. Butler’s got the norm. And derrida, of course, has the text - nothing beyond the. In Heidegger, persuasively, it sometimes takes the form of das man - very close to what we’re dealing with here…

The impersonal, what ever its guise, is what writes us. But is also (and this is very very important) itself written only by us, only in itty bitty pieces. We don’t have access to the whole of it. Nope, not even me.

If you want to argue that there are no ideas, processes, plot lines save for those which exist clearly and distinctly in the minds of individuals, go ahead. No such thing as mystification… Everyone knows exactly what they want and why they want it - are never confused, never “act out” on behalf of larger forces beyond their ken…

Fine… I disagree. Once again, not sure we can bridge this gap in this forum....

By CR on 09/26/05 at 12:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So, Sean criticized a statement by Zizek.  CR replied that he didn’t say that, and that Sean must be a sloppy scholar.  But when pressed, CR continues:

“I am far more interested in getting the Benjamin right than copy-editting Zizek. Sloppy, yes. I’m not really a fan, myself. But he’s still - especially because he’s offhandedly quoting Benjamin - not saying what Sean and you say he’s saying…”

Has Zizek even read Benjamin?  Well, perhaps:

“In an outstanding reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (which Benjamin never published), Eric Santner elaborated the notion that a present revolutionary intervention repeats/redeems failed attempts in the past.”

Of course, Benjamin and even Santner did not make the specific statement about Kristallnacht that Sean objected to.  Zizek did.

So, CR’s position appears to be that Sean is being sloppy if, in objecting to Zizek, he does not direct his remarks to an imaginary version of what Zizek wrote that is correct according to an better understanding of Zizek’s second-hand source material than Zizek apparently has.  Is that right?

I note that CR as well as Matt has now disavowed Zizek fandom.  Poor Zizek.

By on 09/26/05 at 01:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, Rich, it’s more complicated than that.  Santner cites Zizek’s take on Kristallnacht in an essay that, among other things, discusses Christa Wolf’s *A Model Childhood*.  Zizek, in his review essay, seems to be cribbing from previously published work—Santer quotes from Zizek’s *Welcome to the Desert of the Real* (2002).

For the Santner essay, see:

http://www.cjs.ucla./Mellon/Santner_Miracles_Happen.pdf

Here’s a quotations from Santner’s essay:

“One way we might think about such acts is in relation to the problem of guilt and
responsibility. Miracles happen when we find ourselves able to suspend a pattern—a
Kindheitsmuster, as Wolf might say--whereby one ‘culpabilizes’ the Other or, in more
Nietzschean terms, cultivates ressentiment, with respect to a fundamental dysfunction or
crisis within social reality. As Slavoj Zizek has put it apropos of the Kristallnacht
pogroms, one of the central points of reference in Wolf’s novel, ‘the furious rage of such
an outburst of violence makes it a symptom—the defense-formation covering up the void
of the failure to intervene effectively in the social crisis’” (14).

By on 09/26/05 at 09:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for the reference, Luther. That was quite helpful.

CR, first let me make a suggestion about tone. You roll in, snap a wet towel at Sean. Then, when it is snapped back that Sean is in the right, you complain about the locker room atmosphere. This will not do. Either: argue civilly. Or: be snarky. But if the latter: don’t whinge when a little flicks back your way. Honestly.

If you have indeed decided that the high road is best, after all, the best way to elevate the thread would be to apologize to Sean for having wrongly and rudely attacked him with your initial comment. That would go a long way towards clearing the air.

Speaking of which: if Rich is demented, it would seem to follow that a demented person is beating you on the merits in a rational argument. By admitting Zizek would need a copyeditor in order NOT to say what Sean says he says, you are conceding the only point at issue.

As to the point about Theory, you write:

John, you know very well that nearly every instantiation, every inflection of “theory” relies upon a notion of the “impersonal” - yep, Hegel’s Spirit, Marx has capital sometimes and history sometimes, Lacan - the symbolic. Jung - sure, the collective unconscious. Butler’s got the norm. And derrida, of course, has the text - nothing beyond the. In Heidegger, persuasively, it sometimes takes the form of das man - very close to what we’re dealing with here…

As you know CR, I don’t accept the weak inference ‘if something looks like Theory -> it must have something good about it’; no more than I accept the weak inference ‘if something looks like analytic philosophy -> it must have something good about it.’ (The accursed ambiguity of ‘theory is necessary’ drags us down, again and again.) You are proposing a view on which History itself, as opposed to its human inhabitants, is afflicted with clinical neurosis. I can see the analogy with Heidegger: History is neurotic THROUGH us. Or something. Fine, fine. But this analogy is not enough to establish any prima facie merit to the Zizek position.

Suppose I said ‘my argument has premises, and lots of good argument have premises, therefore my argument must have something good about it.’ No. That would be an invalid inference. Likewise, defending this proposed Zizek argument by saying ‘like Theory, it’s impersonal’ is simply not enough to show there is anything worthwhile about it.

Finally, you write:

If you want to argue that there are no ideas, processes, plot lines save for those which exist clearly and distinctly in the minds of individuals, go ahead. No such thing as mystification… Everyone knows exactly what they want and why they want it - are never confused, never “act out” on behalf of larger forces beyond their ken…

Because I propose a psychological explanation that attributes agency to human actors I must be asserting that all ideas are clear and distinct, in a Cartesian sense?

Because I propose a cultural explanation, i.e. one that makes reference to forces larger than individuals, I must be denying the existence of such forces?

Because I propose an expression in terms of ‘reaction formation’, i.e. one in terms of sub or unconscious impulses, I must be denying the existence of anything but the conscious mind?

CR, surely you can come up with less transparent sophistries than these. At best it adds up to one of the best refuted lines there is: that anyone who expresses skepticism about Theory can safely be assumed to be some sort of paleo-Cartesian foul beast from the foundational pit. (Come now, we aren’t children, to be frightened off by such bogeys.)

Actually, I was proposing something even more modest: that ZIZEK seems to be proposing a cultural/psychological explanation that attributes some degree of conscious/sub-conscious agency to human actors. He talks about the rage of those who engage in pogroms and offers a clinical diagnosis in psychological terms of ‘reaction formation’. Is it so unreasonable of me to assume that someone who talks about an event in terms of angry actors, rage and psychology, is considering an explanation of the event in these terms?

By John Holbo on 09/27/05 at 12:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks, John.

A definitional question: does Zizek’s theory, from whatever source (I’m sorry, Luther, I couldn’t quite follow your explanation of references back and forth between Zizek and Santner) really count as Theory?  It appears to be a straightforward theory of historical causality with nothing very Theoretical about it.  You know, historical opportunity missed causes pogrom later.  It appears to be modern rather than postmodern, single-valued rather than multivalued, with the promise of a single true interpretation of history that can explain and routinize outbursts of violence as reactions to lack of progress towards a historical goal.  The psychology involved is early-to-mid 20th century.  Is it Theory because Zizek is writing it?

By on 09/27/05 at 12:49 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I have no objection to towel-snapping, just Rich’s dementia.

I’ve made it a rule, actually, not to engage in any more meta-argument. “You’re being rude… Not listening to my point.” Far too much of that here. But I’m tired of wading through Rich’s stuff.

I should remind everyone that CR, by his own admission, knows little socialism, and is not really a socialist.  When CR attempts to correct people about leftist concepts, he doesn’t know what he is correcting people *to*.  It’s just an exercise of the spleen.

I mean seriously - what does that even mean? Does it mean anything at all? That was the bit that provoked my dementia line.

Ugh - this is degenerating the same way things always do around here. No more your fault than mine. Instead of sticking with the broader picture, we end up niggling. Or throwing mud.

You’ve shifted all this into an argument about the merits of Zizek’s argument, when it was never about that. I wasn’t ever arguing with you - or Sean in my initial snap - about the merits of Zizek’s claim. Just wanted to be clear about WHAT he’s claiming.

You don’t have to genuflect before the impersonal… You don’t have to accept what is is right in terms of theory. Just be clear about what Zizek is saying and what he’s not saying.

As you know CR, I don’t accept the weak inference ‘if something looks like Theory -> it must have something good about it’; no more than I accept the weak inference ‘if something looks like analytic philosophy -> it must have something good about it.’ (The accursed ambiguity of ‘theory is necessary’ drags us down, again and again.) You are proposing a view on which History itself, as opposed to its human inhabitants, is afflicted with clinical neurosis. I can see the analogy with Heidegger: History is neurotic THROUGH us. Or something. Fine, fine. But this analogy is not enough to establish any prima facie merit to the Zizek position.

Suppose I said ‘my argument has premises, and lots of good argument have premises, therefore my argument must have something good about it.’ No. That would be an invalid inference. Likewise, defending this proposed Zizek argument by saying ‘like Theory, it’s impersonal’ is simply not enough to show there is anything worthwhile about it.

Fine - good. Not talking merits here. I just wanted you (and Sean) to concede that this is what he’s talking about - the impersonal, history, weltgeist, the symbolic, whatever. Just wanted to be clear on the fact that he wasn’t saying that individual Nazi’s felt guilty about the failure of the proletarian revolution and therefore went Kristalnachting.

I’m not concerned (here) with whether it’s “worthwhile,” whether “theory is necessary,” whether das man is a valid concept - anything. Just wanted us to read Zizek in terms of what he really means and not a caricature of bad psychologism.

And it looks like, in your case, mission accomplished. You’re getting it…

CR, surely you can come up with less transparent sophistries than these.

No - not my sophistries. Thought they were yours… I just couldn’t figure out why you couldn’t see what Zizek is talking about. Figured there must have been something else afoot. But I guess not.

And no, of course I won’t apologize to Sean.

By CR on 09/27/05 at 01:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

One other thing.

That ZIZEK seems to be proposing a cultural/psychological explanation that attributes some degree of conscious/sub-conscious agency to human actors. He talks about the rage of those who engage in pogroms and offers a clinical diagnosis in psychological terms of ‘reaction formation’. Is it so unreasonable of me to assume that someone who talks about an event in terms of angry actors, rage and psychology, is considering an explanation of the event in these terms?

Yes, I can certain see where this misreading might have come from. The text is a bit slippery, yes… But I think it relies on some unconscious editing on your part. Editing in which this:

In this way of thinking, Kristallnacht – a half-organised, half-spontaneous outburst of violent attacks on homes, synagogues, businesses and individuals – becomes a Bakhtinian carnival, a symptom whose fury and violence revealed it as an attempt at ‘defence-formation’, a covering up of a previous failure to intervene effectively in Germany’s social crisis.

...becomes this:

In this way of thinking, Kristallnacht – a half-organised, half-spontaneous outburst of violent attacks on homes, synagogues, businesses and individuals – becomes a Bakhtinian carnival, a symptom whose fury and violence revealed it as a ‘defense-formation’ on the part of these individuals, a covering up of their previous failure to intervene effectively in Germany’s social crisis.

By CR on 09/27/05 at 01:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

CR, regarding the sophistries? If you don’t want them, I don’t want them. (But what is the point of pretending I said what you said?)

Moving on, you are saying that Sean was wrong to assume that when Zizek wrote ‘half-organised, half-spontaneous outburst of violent attacks on homes synagogues, businesses and individuals’ he meant that the attackers were PEOPLE. Really what he meant was that the attacker was HISTORY. It was uncharitable for Sean not to assume that Zizek was saying: History itself - as opposed to human beings - ran through the streets, smashing things.

This sounds like a wonderful new slogan for the NRA: guns don’t kill people, History kills people.

I’ve made this joke elsewhere, but it works even better this time, so pardon me as I recycle my comedy material: a Japanese-style monster movie. It starts with the Face of History (afflicted with a neurotic tic) moving over the waters, after it is awakened by deep, Ursprunglich phenomenological testing. The monster surfaces from the depths and moves in on Tokyo.

The anxious officer barks into his bulky field phone: ‘History is attacking the city!’ Guns fire. But the bullets bounce off History’s thick hide. Grooooonk!

Pause tape. CR, you have objected that you are just saying what Zizek really means, not trying to say whether it is plausible or not. But actually you suggest upstream that it is plausible - ‘deserves more credit than [we] are giving it’, so forth. That is, it has merit. This is important because the principle of interpretative charity, which you imply Sean has flouted, reads like so: if the words on the page are absurd, but some plausible thought is nearby, which looks to have been just temporary mislaid, attribute the plausible thought instead of pinning the absurd one.

Points at screen. Image of History smashing buildings. (It’s just a guy in a rubber suit, no?)

And so: ‘History rampaged through the streets’ is not plausible enough that Sean is to be faulted for missing it. Likewise, ‘History is neurotic through us’ is far-fetched enough that Sean was under no hermeneutic obligation to fetch it from afar. On the face of it, these propositions are wilder than what we’ve got on the page, wild as the page itself is (as Sean pointed out).

I think I’m done now. If you don’t hear from me again, consider me to have said my piece on this subject.

By John Holbo on 09/27/05 at 02:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

And so:

You mean because of your Godzilla set-piece? No, I don’t think that quite merits an “And so.” I’m not sure I’m quite ready to bin my Hegel, Marx, Freud, Heiddy, Benjamin, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Butler, Zizek because of your Godzilla analogy.

Which. is. not. very. clever.

Anyway, bye John. I won’t wait for a reply. I promise. That means I won, right? A rare unpyrrhic Valve victory. I’m just trying to figure out whether I count this as a KO or a TKO....

By CR on 09/27/05 at 02:53 AM | Permanent link to this comment

But in describing Theory as a monster, I thought I was just keeping up with the cool kids. Everyone thought it was funny when Mark said it. (Thereby inspiring me, incidentally.) And here I thought teratology was still totally Airwolf. Sigh. It seems I just cannot win ... as you say.

By John Holbo on 09/27/05 at 05:59 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m sorry to have missed all this.  It is fortunate for the amusement of all that, like Zizek, CR appears to be impervious to embarrassment.

I think Rich was right from the beginning, there’s nothing really noteworthy about Zizek’s absurd proclamation--except for the extreme oversimplification of its version of the collective unconscious (a new low in a not very illustrious history) and its embrace of a bizarre providentialism that brings Zizek’s pseudo-marxism into outright messianism.

CR would like to make the choice be between Zizek’s mysticism and an unwillingness to concede the basics of Sociology 101.  But, as John says, this is the lamest sophistry.  My objection isn’t that Zizek actually has a sociological imagination--i.e., recognizes the significance of non-personal causes. But that he doesn’t have a very good one at all. As an account of collective action and its causes, his interpetation of Kristallnacht is absurd.  And his apparent theory of revolution (implicit in the counterexample of “failures to act, failures to suspend the force of social bonds inhibiting acts of solidarity with society’s ‘others’") is ridiculous. The revolution is sentimentality.

But Luther’s point is the real killer.  Zizek attributes brilliance to someone quoting himself?!  Do I have that right?  The guy is a clown.  The amazing thing is that anyone takes him seriously and that the LRB gives him such prominence.

By on 09/27/05 at 06:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

In this way of thinking, Kristallnacht – a half-organised, half-spontaneous outburst of violent attacks on homes, synagogues, businesses and individuals – becomes a Bakhtinian carnival. Haven’t read the whole comments thread, so apologies. But firstly, isn’t it true that Zizek isn’t claiming the Kristallnacht=carnival argument as his own in the first instance - it’s the logic of a certain ‘way of thinking’ ascribed to Santner. Z. thereby creates a certain space for doubt. And yet ironically, the Santner argument is in fact based on Zizek’s. So there’s a curious disavowal going on here. As often with Z., he’s attracted to the ‘shape’ of the idea, I think.

On Sean’s because anti-semites felt guilty about not making a revolution, I’d perhaps make a minor emendation - isn’t it rather that the guilt took the form of violent anti-semitism?

By bob on 09/27/05 at 08:32 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John, that airwolf link made my day.  But I’m afraid I’m gonna have Borgnine nightmares tonight.

By on 09/27/05 at 08:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If someone wanted to point out what’s really wrong with Zizek’s statement, even according to his own frame of reference, they could start by quoting Benjamin, Zizek’s purported source:

“One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm.”

This would require someone who took socialism seriously and knew something about Benjamin.  Unfortunately, CR does not meet either of these conditions.  Does anyone else want to try it?

By on 09/27/05 at 08:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean is right that Luther’s point really is quite eyebrow-raising. My one sentence ‘thank you’ didn’t do justice to the curiosity of the implicit auto-citation.

The informal fallacy of citing someone else citing your claim, in support of your claim, shall be termed (with a Hegelian flourish) ’Münchhausen Aufhebung‘, after the good Baron’s trick of pulling himself and his horse out of the swamp by his own ponytail. A simpler, Anglo-friendly tag would then be: ‘and a ponytail’.

By John Holbo on 09/27/05 at 08:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John: In re Waldrop: Dream Factories and Radio Pictures is a good collection of his stuff that includes the Zero Mostel / Peter Lorre / Shemp Howard story. And, at the risk of sounding my own trumpet, the Thomas Wolfe / Fats Waller story is reprinted in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories. (Which also includes Ben Rosenbaum’s Hugo-nominated “Biographical Notes to ‘A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes’ by Benjamin Rosenbaum,” a rather philosophical and not at all right-wing alternate history that I think you might dig.)

By David Moles on 09/29/05 at 11:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

And I would give a kidney to get “History is Attacking the City!” onto the big screen.

By David Moles on 09/29/05 at 11:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Belatedly wanted to note: David M. is too modest to mention that he himself is the author of some fine alternate history stories, including his irrational histories series of short-shorts; also “Fetch," a sort of alternate history of the American space program.

See also the brilliant Hugo Award ceremony emcee speech from this year’s WorldCon.

Oh, and Ben’s “Biographical Notes...“ is available for free online, and it’s possibly my favorite alternate history story ever.

By Jed Hartman on 10/11/05 at 02:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’d just like to clarify the issue of Zizek using Santner as his “sock puppet”. The passage in question was this:

For a radical Marxist, the actual history that we live is itself the realisation of an alternative history: we have to live in it because, in the past, we failed to seize the moment. In an outstanding reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (which Benjamin never published), Eric Santner elaborated the notion that a present revolutionary intervention repeats/redeems failed attempts in the past. These attempts count as ‘symptoms’, and can be retroactively redeemed through the ‘miracle’ of the revolutionary act.

Luther then links to the actual Santner piece (2003, I think) which, it turns out, cites Zizek’s own Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002) as support for his argument. John refers to this referential circle as a ‘Munchausen’ tactic. But things are perhaps not quite as they seem. The offending passage, above, is basically something Zizek has cut and pasted straight from Revolution at the Gates (2002), where he is referring to an older unpublished version of Santner’s essay from 2001.

The fact that Zizek has simply pasted a 3 year old passage into his LRB essay unmodified is of course remarkable in itself. It’s lazy and frustrating, but readers of Zizek know this only too well. It’s become a signature of his journalism. Which is why, to repeat what Adam has been saying, those who want to engage with Zizek at his strongest
are advised to look elsewhere.

By Mark Kaplan on 10/13/05 at 05:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"CR, surely you can come up with less transparent sophistries than these. At best it adds up to one of the best refuted lines there is: that anyone who expresses skepticism about Theory can safely be assumed to be some sort of paleo-Cartesian foul beast from the foundational pit. (Come now, we aren’t children, to be frightened off by such bogeys.)”

Not all us foundationalists are monsters from the deep ya know.

By on 02/09/06 at 01:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Shhh, Timothy. I know that and you know that, but I didn’t want to, y’know, scare young CR.

By John Holbo on 02/09/06 at 01:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Why always with this “young” thing? Belies a little anxiety on yr part, methinks. Gray hairs to pluck? Trousers getting tight? Luv handles? Or just a case of dementia praecox?

By on 02/09/06 at 02:25 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I dunno. I think I always go with the ‘young’ thing because it seems funny on a couple different levels. Which is not to deny ‘anxiety’, if only for the prospect of good humor here as well. “When we consider the dialectical determinations of anxiety, it appears that exactly these have psychological ambiguity. Anxiety is a sympathetic antipathy, and an antipathetic sympathy.” (Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, p. 42). Don’t you feel that this characterizes our exchanges, friend CR?

By John Holbo on 02/09/06 at 03:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Of course it does. (Why do we always get here late at night EST / middle of the day in Singapore? My side makes sense. I’ve had my nightly concoction-that-comes-in-a-can. What’s your excuse, a nice lunch at the caf? Second cuppa of Thursday?)

But I think your anxiety is more like Heideggerian angst, old man.

By on 02/09/06 at 03:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Heideggerian angst makes my trousers feel tight. I had to swear off.

As to Time. In this case you’d have to ask Mr. Scriven, who wandered in, not knowing either of us I think, but setting me up nicely to tee off. It would be of some historical interest to dig in the archives and determine which of the two of us starts these things, as a rule.

By John Holbo on 02/09/06 at 03:32 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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