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Thursday, 05 April 2007


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Adam Kotsko

As I read this post (and related ones), I can't help but think back to the many times I was attacked for maintaining simultaneously that (1) Zizek's On Belief and selected other works weren't very good, but (2) Zizek is not a total charlatan.

For some reason, this was thought to be an incoherent position -- indeed, a feeble attempt to isolate Zizek from criticism and set myself up as the arbiter of true Zizekianism. Various psychological explanations were proposed for this behavior.

The parallelism between these situations does not, however, incline me to sympathize very strongly with Craig's position.


What can I say, I'm a changed man. (Even though I don't think I was the one of the ones going on about that bit, but if I was, you're 100 percent in the right.)


I do not think it is within the power of any reasonable person to sympathize with Craig's position, Adam. With so much I concur. But I hope you were no more glancing my way than at Scott, with this 1) + 2) equals contradiction complaint. (That's alright. You don't have to say anything. Apology accepted.)


I kid. But seriously: I don't think anyone actually made this mistake you remember them making.

Anthony Paul Smith

It's interesting that Craig can be so wrong about defending Foucault, and that this position is of course so vulgar and lacking in nuance, but yet there is a kind of cult of The Valve where it is assumed no one who posts there can do wrong. I'm sure if we were to take the time and trouble into finding a few quotes where, in fact, people did make these kinds of complaints against Adam they would be written off as saying something else, something more nuanced about Adam's wrongness.

I don’t see in Craig’s post the kind of deceit you are suggesting, but I’m guessing this has more to do with your particular context for reading (that is you really dislike Craig).

Adam Kotsko

I was mainly thinking of Rich. Do you guys just not read his comments?

Rich Puchalsky

Adam, I clearly saw that your semi-month cycle had come around and that you were spoiling for a flamewar once again. But, you know, I don't think that starting it off of Scott right now is such a good thing to do.

If it matters, it's fully possible to hold both that a couple of Zizek's books weren't very good and that he is a charlatan without claiming that holding to one but not the other is a logical inconsistency. Rather, it could be a specific case of, as you say, insulating a Great Man from problems while setting oneself up as an authority. It is also possible to claim any or none of these things and have them not mean much about Foucault.

I do think that Zizek, as a charlatan, is both smarter and more interesting than those of his readers who don't think he's a charlatan.

Anthony Paul Smith

"I don't think anyone actually made this mistake you remember them making."

Now that Rich has posted we must ask - can we remember the future?


Oddly, I have a post about to go up about Zizek, inspired by the Zize-riffi-k commentary and extras on the Children of Men DVD. So I'll tackle Zizek there.

Anyhow, Anthony, I don't think my personal loathing of Craig is responsible for what I'm seeing here. He's undertaken a rear-guard action, defending Foucault from Madness and Civilization when he knows that the errors pointed out are, in fact, systemic. That he refuses to acknowledge them -- and that he would dismiss their significance if he did -- speaks to the particular mind-blindness I'm describing here. It's possible to say that the archaeological/genealogical methods are sound, but that Foucault wasn't the best practitioner of them; it's also eminently sane to ask whether they're not as sound as they seem because Foucault wasn't the best practitioner of them, and if so, whether they can be improved by X, Y or Z. Which, when it comes down to it, is all that I'm saying.

Anthony Paul Smith

Right, but, and I didn't see Craig saying that any of that wasn't valid. His post was pretty specific in focus, I thought. I don't really want to get in the middle of this though, so I'll shut up.

I do think that if you or John Holbo were to post some 'take down' of Deleuze I would ignore it. Not because I think they are impervious to critique (in fact I have my own! and have tried to take very seriously others), but because I don't see why I should listen to you on figures that you are not experts in. Figures that, dare I say, are dabbled in more than studied. I mean, and not to be rude, you are doing literary criticism and your own expertise is in... something having to do with literature and evolutionary theory. That's cool, really, but do you get what I mean?

Anthony Paul Smith

I should point out by "I didn't see Craig saying that any of that wasn't valid" wasn't mean to say that "Craig agreed with you" but that those points were not the subject of his post at all, which was rather specific in approach. Blah blah blah.

Adam Kotsko

Rich, To use one of the classic locutions of blog comments, your post has made my point for me. In light of this fact and of Scott's current fragile state, further discussion of this point seems unwarranted.

Rich Puchalsky

Adam, referring to "Scott's fragile state" rather than the particular situation that he's in only proves that my impression of you was correct from the start.

Adam Kotsko

Yeah, well, there's a picture of you with a pony tail, so there.


Adam, I'm afraid Rich holds the hermeneutic high ground on this one. He correctly points out that, although it is obviously not a contradiction to assert 1 + 2 - so it is doubtful you can point to someone asserting that it is - yet it is possible to deny 1 + 2, without denying them on the grounds that the conjunction would be an inconsistency (key logical distinction!!) Finally, he correctly hints that there is reason to doubt, in any given case in which someone has written a very bad book, that they are brilliant in their other work. It is reasonable to take the quality of a given book as a presumptive index of the writer's intellectual capacity generally. Turning the point around, any attempt to insulate one work's faults may presumptively be suspected as defensiveness. The separation asserts a kind of independence where, in the ordinary run of things authorial, one presumes one will find connections. That is, this separation strategy is not logically but psychologically suspect. Of course, being creatures in whose bosoms the milk of interpretative charity flows free, we should be prepared to have our presumptions fairly defeated by later evidence. Yet it is not unreasonable to make them. This, too, Rich will surely grant.

I assume we are all very grateful that I have tidied this up so nicely. [Passive-aggressive advantage: Holbo!]

Adam Kotsko

You're right, John -- I'm so fucking unjust to Rich.

Adam Kotsko

We need someone to adjudicate now whether I surpassed John in passive-aggressiveness or whether I was too crass. (Bitch PhD?)


Anthony writes: "there is a kind of cult of The Valve where it is assumed no one who posts there can do wrong." Rather, I think we are not willing to assume THAT we are wrong. That is a bit different.

Speaking of which, I was a bit surprised, just yesterday, to stumble on this comment by you: "I think the option they [critics of Theory] want to give us is a kind of version of the end of philosophy meaning we are only left with history. I should point out that I think the distinction is artificial, but that it has always been the questions of institutional power that bother me. This is why I’ve been known to fly into a rage with Holbo a “analytic” who I have at times seen as threatening my chances for survival as a “continental”. Holbo has a pretty idiosyncratic approach to his work and so he can’t really be called analytic in a meaningful sense. but in terms of a kind of power relation these terms seem to make sense to me. That’s what makes it very difficult. While I do get somewhat nervous about a kind of scholasticism that could choke out the constructive nature of philosophy, I actually share many of the concerns that Holbo, et al do (I just wouldn’t call lump it together as he does under the name Theory), but my worry is that such a criticism coming from that ‘camp’ (vulgar I know) only serves to hurt the other ‘camp’. It makes things very difficult to discuss."

Contrary to your comments upstream in this thread, your tendency to ignore what Scott and I say does not seem to have much to do with judgments of our expertise or lack thereof. It's the 'camp' thing, the us-them thing, which I think needs to be Aufgehoben as soon as possible. It isn't useful to think in terms of camps since, as you yourself see, the distinctions are artificial hereabouts. You would presumably ignore what we had to say about Deleuze, or deny that our criticisms are valid, even if privately you saw some merit to them. Because you see this not as a debate - in which there will be an attempt to exchange reasons and arguments - but as a turf war. I honestly don't get this. I don't see why you are interested in philosophy, if you see it as just a turf war. (This is not to say that things don't get competitive. But you shouldn't treat it as a PURE turf war. There needs to be something else.) But getting back to my starting point: you are frustated that we don't take your criticisms seriously. But, in fact, this is a function of the fact that we have correctly perceived that YOU don't take your criticisms seriously. You see yourself as taking the other side: my country, right or wrong - even though there isn't even a country. And you see this.

Quoting the rest of that other comment: "He [Holbo] makes the claim that Husserl’s phenomenology is an outgrowth of post-Kantian German romanticism (which is why Frege starts analytic philosophy, presumably not being influence post-Kantian German romanticism). I think this patently wrong and isn’t a very faithful reading of Husserl or even a rigorous historical inquiry into Husserl’s main influences (Brentano, Hume, Descartes, and Kant). We kind of decided to let it go, but I’m curious what you think." Now, if you recall, that debate ended because you asserted that only a narrow-minded analytic philosopher could think that continental philosophy was somehow defined by its Kantian-Romantic roots. You accused me of mindless pidgeon-holing. But you yourself obviously don't  even think I'm a narrow-minded analytic philosopher. (And there were several other people there, agreeing with me, none of whom were analytic philosophers either. If no one who holds the position even seems to be an analytic philosopher, it can hardly be that ONLY analytic philosophers hold it, therefore it can be dismissed - even if one granted that it is always reasonable to dismiss the opinions of analytic philosophers out of hand, which is also doubtful.) You do worse than pidgeon-hole, Anthony. You willfully stick people in pidgeon-holes where you KNOW they don't belong, just so you won't have to consider whether what they say might have merit. Even when you yourself admit that the questions they are asking might be interesting and even valuable. I don't think - to put it mildly - that refusing to listen to interesting questions is a healthy intellectual impulse.

Anthony, if you adopt a more reasonable, open critical attitude - if you are willing to take criticism, for example - then I will start to take what you have to say more seriously. I don't think you are an idiot. But I find your attitude simply unengageable. I make fun of you, and that annoys you. But given your attitude, what are my alternatives? Seriously. Just accept what you have to say about me, even though you yourself don't believe it - and I know it; and you know that I know it?

Your view that we irrationally assume we can do no wrong looks to me like just a distorted projection of your own determination to conclude that we can do no right. Let it go - let the friend/enemy thing cease to define the interaction - and the discussion will get better.

For example, I didn't exactly say that "Husserl’s phenomenology is an outgrowth of post-Kantian German romanticism". Rather, I said that Husserl's position as one of the fathers of continental philosophy - whereas Frege is one of the fathers of analytic philosophy - is a function of his position in the post-Kantian, German romantic stream. His relations to his teachers and students align him one way, whereas Frege goes another, even though technically speaking they are rather similar minds. (But if you are not willing to listen to what I have to say - even approximately - then what I meant exactly hardly matters.)


For the record: Adam's comment did not surpass mine in passive-aggressiveness, but equalled it in aggressiveness. Work on that passivity, Adam!

Rich Puchalsky

JH: "Turning the point around, any attempt to insulate one work's faults may presumptively be suspected as defensiveness. The separation asserts a kind of independence where, in the ordinary run of things authorial, one presumes one will find connections. That is, this separation strategy is not logically but psychologically suspect."

This is really what I read Scott as writing in the whole Foucault series. He's been criticizing people who are saying something like "Madness and Civilization is unrepresentative of Foucault's mature work" in favor of something like "Foucault has still written great works even though they have this particular flaw, which appears to run through all of them". And there has been plenty of saying the same kind of thing about investments in expertise and consequent protective refusal to consider shortcomings. So the theory involved is hardly mine alone, although its application to this particular case may be.

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