Friday, 07 October 2005

On "The Kind of Critical, Obliquely Ontological Investigation of Some Sort of Self" [cross-posted to The Valve] Two long posts, both concerning theory, both beginning with a quotation of a previous discussion. Serendipity? The constitutional inability to resist having the last word? Doesn’t matter. Also unimportant: the experiment I concocted whereby I would post this here and ask Mark to post it on Long Sunday to see whether the two crowds would treat the material differently in some meaningful way. But I digress. (Despite not even having started yet.) Ahem: I accused Mark Kaplan of reading Foucault’s account of historical interest naively. I quoted this bit as proof: So, for example, the sexual practices of ancient Greece – were these not, for Foucault, partly a way of thinking his way outside modern notions of ‘sexuality’ and the historically ingrained ‘regime’ supporting them. And followed with this assessment: I think Mark’s severely underestimating Foucault’s congenital pessimism, both about historical change and, more importantly, the idea that we can understand the discourses which saturate our lives in the moment that we live them. He responded, quite rightly, that I glossed over Foucault’s notion of “the critical ontology of the self,” the practice he identifies with Kant’s Aufklärung, which my Oxford Duden German Dictionary tells me means something along the lines of “clearing up,” “solution,” “elucidation,” “explanation,” “a reconnaissance plane” or “the Enlightentment.” Some of these things are not like the others. I’ve wondered why the English translation of the essay—"What is Enlightenment?"—failed to capture the reference there both in Kant’s German ("Was ist Aufklärung?") and Foucault’s French ("Qu’est-ce que les Lumières?"). Might this slight tick in the English be indicative of some abstractive impulse at the heart of Anglo-American Theory? (Yes, I capitalized it, but for reasons which will eventually become apparent.) I’m not too inclined (yet) to attribute such a thing to American Theory because Kant’s work, as well as Foucault’s gloss of it, speaks directly to the problem of philosophical thought reflecting on the present moment: I have been seeking, on the one hand, to emphasize the extent to which a type of philosophical interrogation—one that simultaneously problematizes man’s relation to the present, man’s historical mode of being, and the constitution of the self as an autonomous subject—is rooted in the Enlightenment. On the other hand, I have been seeking to stress that the thread that may connect us with the Enlightenment is not faithfulness to doctrinal elements, but rather the permanent reactivation of an attitude—that is, of a philosophical ethos that could be described as a permanent critique of our historical era. This permanent critique of our historical era should entail “the analysis of ourselves as beings who are historically determined, to a certain extent, by the Enlightenment” and “‘the contemporary limits of the necessary,’” i.e. “what is not or is no longer indispensible for the constitution of ourselves as autonomous subjects.” All that emphasis are belong to us. We, er, I’ve empahsized those passages not because I’m being excessively pedantic about hedging key philosophical claims: I’ve emphasized them because in the...
I Am Become Ubiquitous So the good people of Long Sunday have decided to take the Kaufman Challenge and post my little series on Foucault over there as well. That means the same post now appears below, on the Valve and on Londay Sunday. (Well, almost the same post, since I tweaked it between the time I posted it here and sent it to Matt, and have tweaked the version on the Valve a few times since.) This is no Brucian scheme to drive more traffic my way, however. (What do I care for anonymous traffic when all you lovely people are already here?) I'm interested in watching how the same ideas are considered in two different forums. (I resisted the urge to pluralize fancifully.) And in creating peace between our two peoples. As CR noted in the amusing comic-book-cum-indie-rock thread last Monday: I appreciated yr initial comment, Scott. And I’ll take it further in the hokeyness line… There’s actually a bond between those that blog… Those that take this seriously… A bond deeper than the differences that divide us on the “matters fundamental.” I think, anyway. The very fact that we’re here. That we care to discuss or even have it out. It’s the others, off-line, that are going through the motions… Ever talk blog to outsiders? Meet with that blank stare? “But why? Why do you feel the need to do that?” And it seems so obvious to those of us in this bidness of torching each other, daily… Like a restoration of something that should’ve been going on all along... His account jives with my experience: blank stares or unsubtle hints of time wasted. I've also received a fair amount of genuine inquiry. One of my dissertation advisors, for example, pulled me aside after a lecture series he'd organized to ask me about both Acephalous and the Valve. He had read over them and was intrigued by their potential as a scholarly venue. Another faculty member (contra Bruce and Tribble) said that in his discussions about my blog with other faculty members, they had all noted that if they knew a candidate had a blog on which he or she discussed matters academic, the first two things they would think are: 1) this candidate is a committed writer, which bodes well for his or her academic career, and 2) this writer thinks about academia when he or she isn't required to, and would therefore be far less likely to coast once he or she acquired tenure. Dangers certainly abound. (Some have already been hysterically catalogued by people with no insight into the hiring process.) But many of them can be avoided if only we could stop behaving like we're on the internet and start acting more like Adam Roberts. (Yes, this post received vital compositional assistance from an over-the-counter cold remedy. Can't you tell? Look at all the parentheses.)

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