Saturday, 01 October 2005

The Consistency Fetish: The Per Serritslev Peterson on London & James Berger Edition on Sacks Edition Per Serritslev Peterson’s “Jack London’s Medusa of Truth” (Philosophy and Literature 26.1) challenges our ideas about the notoriously eclectic and idiosyncratic philosophical thought of Jack London, a.k.a. “The Boy Socialist,” a.k.a. “The Adolescent Nietzschean,” a.k.a. “The College Spencerian,” a.k.a. “The Middle-Aged Nietzschean Socialist,” a.k.a. “The Forty Year-Old Jungian.” Despite bouncing from one hermetically-sealed-but-internally-coherent philosophical system to another for the majority of his short life, Peterson insists that London’s critics misconstrue the nature of his philosophical questing. So he gathers London’s little truthlets and declares London as philosopher 1) was a Nietzschean dialectician who mastered and negotiated the juxtaposition of conflicting ideas, perspectives, and values in life (the Medusa-Maya dichotomy being a crucial case in point); and who consequently, 2) possessed philosophical authenticity and integrity, or what Nietzsche terms “intellectual conscience." I generally applaud counter-intuitive readings. When Peterson identifies his as being such a beast, stating that his “contentions must appear highly questionable in contemporary American academe,” he implicates his article in the storied tradition which, as just noted, I generally applaud. However, the second clause of that sentence baffles me: “seeing that very few London scholars or critics take the novelist’s philosophy seriously.” Most London scholars not only take one of his philosophical positions seriously, they construct elaborate channels through which they can safely navigate three or four of them. Peterson’s argument is counter-intuitive in an artificial and synthetic fashion...and in this sense resembles those London himself favored. In short, then, Peterson’s consistency fetish neatly doubles London’s own; furthermore, it blinds him to the inconsistencies of his work much as London’s blinded him to the inconsistencies in his. That said, Peterson’s performance easily outshines London’s clunky stabs at synthesis; it is, to be frank, a bravura performance on Peterson’s part. But I still don’t buy a word of it. Then there’s the case of James Berger, a man I treated unfairly in a brief post about what I (mistakenly) believed to be an (unintentionally) infelicitous pair of sentences. In “Falling Towers and Postmodern Wild Children: Oliver Sacks, Don DeLillo and Turns Against Language” (PMLA 120.2), Berger discusses the work of Oliver Sacks as a singular body of thought, consistent throughout, be he writing for a popular audience in The New York Review of Books or the scientific community in Neurology. (Now, I admit that Sacks is not the best example, since as I’ve skimmed some of his scientific writing he seems more consistent than someone like Steven Pinker. But bear with me, since I’m not here to bury Berger, but praise him.) For Berger, Sacks’ theory of a pre-linguistic subjectivity--accessible through interaction with highly acculturated aesthetic objects like symphonies and modernist poetry--exists in equal measure in his popular and scientific thought. I would argue that a savvy rhetorician like Sacks would recognize the ideological investments of his audience and pitch his presentations to them: hence his references to patients cured by Beethoven, pains ameliorated by Mahler and people reborn through Brahms. I doubt those staples of NPR appear as frequently...
BAVO! BAVO! BAVO! but Hold the Encore! Will someone please inform BAVO that the concept of BAVO--a two-man academic thinktank, a.k.a. "friendship," calling themselves what looks like (but from what I can tell isn't) an acronym--sounds terribly silly? While you're at it, let BAVO in on the secret that ending the title of every other article BAVO publishes with an exclamation point may lead people to believe BAVO really Really REALLY! enthusiastic or hysterical! Really! Unironic exclamation points destroy your credibility! Below the fold you can find the CFP which brought BAVO to my attention. Upon googling BAVO, some of the practical difficulties of being BAVO forced themselves upon me: when BAVO introduces a panel, which BAVO of BAVO does the speaking? Does BAVO alternate every other word with BAVO? Or does BAVO chant in unison? Does BAVO harmonize? Could BAVO harmonize? Because that would be the introductions to end all introductions. [I reserve the right to remove this post at my discretion. Currently, BAVO reminds me too much of BARJO or DEVO or some post-communist pro-socialist collective. If it turns out to be a reputable European thinktank which only seems forebodingly monolithic in translation, I'll admit to my mistake. Now, back to NERDT's Empire.] PSYCHOANALYSIS, URBAN THEORY AND THE CITY OF LATE CAPITALISM A three day international workshop Organized by BAVO & Lorenzo Chiesa Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, The Netherlands November 18th - 20th, 2005 Today, the long-held belief that urban culture is the engine par excellence for democratization and emancipation processes, has been dealt some lethal blows. If Marx and his avatars still dreamt of ‘the urban’ as the incubator and accelerator of universal solidarity and radical social change, today metropolitan areas are more often than not labelled as social time-bombs that threaten to draw its hinterland into a downward spiral of disintegration, segregation and mute violence. Similarly, if for Freud the metropolitan way of life provided the ‘humus’ for the modern hysterical subjectivity – endlessly questioning and ‘working through’ the traditional mores – today, in an environment in which individuals and communities redraw into technologically nurtured capsular environments, subjectivity seems to evaporate again into a generalized autism. In this conference we invite experts from the field of Marxist urban theory, radical political philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis to give presentations on topics relevant to understand the current post-metropolitan condition as well as ways to intervene or resist it. Day 1: Identifying the Urban Unconscious This day aims at the identification of the construct of the city of late capitalism. What are its basic procedures? How do they secure the city’s normal functioning? Or inversely, how is the city kept in a permanent "state of emergency." Of special interest here are studies of Marxist-oriented urban theorists and Lacanian inspired psychoanalysts that lay bare how the city of late capitalism depends more and more on psychosocial processes to generate the necessary increase in ‘return value’ or to secure control over its subjects. Think of the production of geographies of fear, the stimulation of a phantasmatic economy...

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