Rosenbaum on the New Agnosticism

Ron Rosenbaum has an article up on Slate.com that speaks to the possibility of a New Agnosticism (as a response to the New Atheism). Pretty much speaks to how I read Levinas, and why I was interested in his metaphysics. A highlight:

Humility in the face of mystery has been a recurrent theme of mine. I wrote most recently about the problem of consciousness and found myself allied with the agnostic group of philosophers known as the Mysterians, who argue that we are epistemically, flat-out unable to know the nature of consciousness while being within consciousness. I'm reluctant to call agnostics Mysterians, much as I like the proto-punk ballad "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians. But I do like that agnosticism, which in fact can be more combative than its image, does have a sort of punk, disruptive, troublemaker side.

Penny Arcade, Technology, and My Life

The following appeared on Penny Arcade today. Yup.

It is always dangerous to make assumptions about people's basic philosophies, and those assumptions tend to (quite conveniently) track with the way you, yourself see the world, so maybe I should limit the scope to myself purely for safety. I tend to think of technology as a force. It's not so much a physical object as it is a manifested capability. Having serviced technology, and having loved it for years beyond that, and now utterly dependent on it for both my livelihood and leisure, my relationship with it has an (ironically) pre-industrial quality. When I actually think about it, of all the ways it intersects with my being, I wouldn't know what else to call it but worship. I'm not trying to be a poet. I believe that statement to be accurate.

Of note: the same post also mentioned a "deck of many things." You get to add an extra pin to your dork vest if you can describe that one (hint: my vest has no more room for any more pins).


Levinas, Ethics and Infinity

I'm currently reading through Levinas's Ethics and Infinity, one of my summer reading books. I've still got a few chapters to go, but so far I appreciate Levinas's concision. I like this book for the same reason that I like Walter Ong's late essay "Writing is a Technology That Restructures Thought": its rare that a great thinker gives a survey of their entire career in a digestible (if reductive) form. This post focuses on Cohen's introduction and his attempt to define ethics and yet avoid essentialism. I'll put up a post Monday on how Cohen, Nemo, and Levinas each discuss the saying and the said (the transitive and substantive dimensions of being).

Cohen's translator's preface to the work is noteworthy, particularly this attempt at defining what isn't:

Ethics, in Levinas's view, occurs "prior" to essence and being, conditioning them. Not, however, because the good is installed in a Heaven above or an identity behind identities, for this would just take the ontological move one step back, would again fall into onto-theo-logy, once more confusing ethics with ontology, as if what "ought to be" somehow "is." What ethics is does not survive the end of metaphysics--but only because ethics never was anything. Ethics does not have an essence, its "essence," so to speak, is precisely not to have an essence, to unsettle essences. Its "identity" is precisely not to have an identity, to undo identities. Its "being" is not to be but to be better than being. Ethics is precisely ethics by disturbing the complacency of being (or of non-being, being's correlate). "To be or not to be," Levinas insists, is not the question. (9-10)

How does one designate what resists designation? Is it possible? Those familiar with Levinas know that these are the questions that haunt his first major work, Totality and Infinity. I really appreciate Cohen's grace and concision here. I think the framing of ethics as a disturbing shows up in many places in Totality and Infinity--particularly in the lines that I think best summarize the entire book: "we name this calling into the question of my spontaneity by the presence of the Other ethics" (T&I 43) and "the presence of the Other is equivalent to this calling into question of my joyous possession of the world" (T&I 75-76). The joyous possession here is in terms of essentialism, to reduce the world to substantive rather than transitive being--noun rather than verb--and to synthesize the alterity of the other into a similitude with the same. Being is/as to settle things. Ethics unsettles (note: Levinas's rejection of the later Heidegger can be reduced to the simple statement: it takes more than one to ask a question).

I also feel that Cohen risks under-reading (is that a thing?) Levinas's rejection of Hamlet. The question is not "to be or not to be" because we have no choice but to be. Being is the price all manifestation demands. And we cannot simply choose to abandon being or become otherwise or whatever wish we would will to the potential terror of the Il y a. There is not only no easy answer, or even no carefully concealed essential answer, there's no answer at all. Being, all the way down.


An Insignificant MyStory (Part 3)

In between posts with Casey today, I did manage to get some work done. Particularly, I'm working on prepping for my summer course. I will be teaching a 6 week upper-division expository writing course. Usually, I teach expository writing as digital citizenship (essentially a course in feminist research, digital ethics and social construction). This semester I am trying something new--Gregory Ulmer's Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. As the title intimates, Ulmer's pedagogy is not caught up in traditional interests with the thesis and the paragraph. Rather, it is a creative attempt to translate these kind of structural units into digital practice (they are respectively replaces by the assemblage and the image). It is very hard for me to summarize Ulmer's project with an justice to its philosophical ambitions and pedagogic invigorations in a sentence or two. So instead, a display. Although I am a bit suspicious of this work (across Levinasian lines, Ulmer is drawing on Heidegger and Derrida, and while Levinas and Heidegger-Derrida share an interest in interrupting hegemonic epistemologies, they also differ on the role of the other and the obligations of the self), I admire it.

The book's assignments all aim at designing what Ulmer dedicates a wide image, a kind of psycho-social cognitive map that helps a student recognize multiple (and likely hidden) elements of their identity. There's four primary lens through which students image-ine their identity (referred to as the Popcycle of the Mystory). These categories have resonance to literary modes articulated by Frederick Jameson. They are:

  • Literal = School "This history represetns the memory of the collectivity"
  • Allegory = Entertainment "The discourse learned is that of cultural mythology encountered in popular genres" [Ulmer notes in several places that this could be religion for some people. It is meant to target the locus of cultural identification--what teaches you who you are supposed to be?]
  • Moral = Family "The individual is considered in terms of his/her family upbringing, with the language being the one learned in the home (English, Spanish, Creole) and the discursive regime being the habits and customs specific to that family"
  • Anagogy = Career [Disciplinary knowledge] "The collective meaning of history is determined in mystory ... by the world view embodied wihtin the specialized knowledge that one acquires as an expert in some given career field... This knowledge is the means by which one earns one's livelihood (work), but the knowledge of an avocation may be used instead. (81-82)

In preparation for teaching the mystory, I have been creating one. Its quite fun--and exhilarating. My initial experiences emphasize that Ulmer has discovered an exteremly effective methodology for encouraging creativity.

Today I spent time on the third assingment:

Make a website documenting the details of a movie of TV narrative some part of which you still remember from your childhood years. (127)

Ulmer notes that books can be used in place of cinema and television. He also explains:

the first purpose of the documentation is to record the part of the story that you remember. Once you have inventoried the remains of the work in your memory, view it again and record what you notice in this fresh viewing. The memory is the site of a sting, in Barthes's sense [...] When reviewing the work, note especially the problem or conflict organizing the drama, and the way it is resolved. Memory tends to form around problems, whether the problems are large or small. All narratives are structured by conflict (the protagonist confronts a problem).

In preparing for my summer course, I work on my Mystory for an hour at a time. I also tend to break up my work into categories a bit as I go (I think this kind of genre/structure might be beneficial to undergrads). Here's what I produced in my first hour focus on Assignment 3. (Sorry, I lost the links in the cut and paste, Google Site's HTML function is hopelessly bloated).

What I remember

For my story, I choose an old cross-over series of Marvel comics: the mutant massacre. This story line crossed over several interrelated titles: X-Men, X-Factor and The New Mutants. I rarely read comics these days, although I'll pick through a few issues or a graphic novel every year. But I read quite a few comics during my youth--and whenever I think about all those comics, sitting in the bottom of my guest bedroom closet, this is the series that comes to mind.

In the story, many mutants have taken to living in the tunnels under New York City. Rejected by society-at-large, on account of their difference, they chose to withdraw themselves. While I forget the particularities of their motives, a group of mercenary mutants is contracted out to massacre the mutants living under the city.

The X-men work alongside other mutant heroes (X-Factor, The New Mutants) to stop the genocide. I remember particularly that Wolverine kills his nemesis Sabertooth in a very anti-climactic way. Unfortunately, there's very few other specific details I remember.

Why I Am Selecting It

For as long as I can remember, I have been haunted by genocide. It motivates my scholarship. It is what directed me to academic study. How could a group of people murder another group of people? How could they desire the extermination of an entire people? Such questions are amplified by the Nazi Holocaust. For here, it is not a simple matter of greed (at least, I don't think it is). It is not competition for resources or longstanding political conflict (such as what I understand of Riwanda). This is not to diminish the horror of other atrocities, which I realize it might. Rather, this is to amplify the cold, technical precision of Nazi death camps--more factories than camps. Places that manufacture death.

As an eleven year old, I was drawn to this story line. This was not Spider-Man beating an enemy set on world domination or on acquiring wealth. Those are simple human motives, motives, I speculate, that any eleven-year-old could understand. But hate at this intensity, hate as a motive, that is something that didn't show up in Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo, the Incredible Hulk or any of the other stories that I recall from my youth. Yet one of the pivotal moments of the 20th century was nothing but pure hate.

As I write this, I can think of other places where pure hate shows up in 20th century aesthetics. Tolkien's Sauron, for instance. Wikipedia offers up an interesting tidbit from Tolkien:

Tolkien noted that "it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall ...) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction." Thus "it was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him."

Order and coordination. Industrialized death. Efficiency. For as long as I can remember being alive, I have been suspicious of these terms. IBM and the Holocaust does nothing to sway me otherwise. Here, quite literally, accountability and efficiency are the servant of industrialized murder, all in the name of world order.

I will never forget the line by Wiesel in Night, reflecting on eating soup after watching the dreadfully prolonged hanging of an adolescent. "That night, the soup tasted of corpses." The taste lingers.

Further Research / Loose Notes

Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the storyline. I am going to hold off on reading it until after I have re-read the stories (mainly to avoid spoilers).

Unanticipated: Intentional vs. Functionalist perspectives on the Holocaust (found in Wikipedia while searching for Order as a theme of Mein Kampf). There is a separate page dedicated to the debate. The intentionalist argument, I would guess, is more well-known: that Hitler's intentions for killing the Jews traced back to his earlier writings/thoughts. Put simply, he always envisioned the genocide. This is referred to as the straight line to Auschwitz. The functionalist argument, which I had never heard before today, seems a bit more probable to me (it is also a more rhetorically-ecologically complex argument, which I find appealing). This argument is based off of evidence that Hitler originally envisioned a deportation of all Jews to Madagascar. Once the war on the Eastern front disrupted transportation, the "storage" of Jews began to pose a serious problem. Detainment facilities were short-term (ewww...) solutions. For functionalists, the idea for genocide developed after a few, localized massacres at these camps.

The final solution wasn't an initial plan, but rather an unfortunate, unanticipated, accident. This is referred to as the "twisted path" or the "crooked path" to genocide. This is also, unfortunately, an electrate model of creativity. Ulmer's work approaches composing in terms of linkage (assemblage, maintaining disorder) rather than linear Order (synthesis). But, in the word's of Shakespeare's Prince, "all are punish'd." Thinking tastes like corpses.


Harman on Latour, Socrates, and Sophistry

The first of my summer reading books have arrived from Amazon. Last night I read the first few chapters to Brooke's Lingua Fracta and the Pandora's Hope chapter of Harman's Bruno Latour: Prince of Networks. Both are really good, although Harman's book agitated me (and, yes, it was an affective response--quivering hands, underlining margins, restlessness). I slept on it, then re-read/drafted a response to Harman for my "Callicles, Latour, and Levinas" article. Here's the rough stuff.

What appear below is my initial reactions/notes to Harman's chapter. Many grammatical fragments and oddities likely follow. Please proceed with tolerance.

Harman, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. re.press: Melbourne, AU: 2009.

Latour's commitment to democracy is not a form of pandering to the spirit of our age, but is an intimate part of his metaphysical position. The universe is nothing but countless actors, who gain in reality through complex negotiations and associations with one another: not as one against a crowd but as one in the shape of a crowd of allies. We cannot appeal to some authority (geometry, power) lying outside the shifting alliance of networks. (88).


"For Latour all reality is political, not because human power inexorably shapes the truth, but because truth and reality are assembled through chains of actors in the same way that bills go through Congress: slightly transformed and translated at each step, and failing as often as they succeed. All reality is political, but not all politics is human" (89).

It might be difficult to appreciate how Latour's third position differs from that of the second--Plato's morally and intellectually bankrupt Callicles. I would offer this distinction: it is a matter of where we locate agency. Agency cannot be isolated in the rhetor, who through skillful manipulation, lies, and pandering molds the crowd. Rather, agency is located in the crowd, who through yea or nay determine a course of action (think of Consigny's robust definition of agonism, a game in which all participants agree to honor the contest's determination). In Harman's language, power cannot be located solely in the hands of the sophist who acts upon the crowd, but is dispersed throughout all the actors (rhetor, opponent, audience, scene, time, podium, screen, temperature, etc) composing the rhetorical ecology.

Harman citing Latour: "A politics that does not rely on experts citing impersonal law 'requires a disseminated knowledge as multifarious as the multitude itself. The knowledge of the whole needs the whole, not the few. But that would be a scandal for Callicles and Socrates, a scandal whose name has been the same at all periods:democracy" (89, Pandora's Hope 229).

Harman's rehabilitation of Socrates, particularly in light of Latour, is to stress "Socrates' contempt [not] for the mob, but to his contempt for power" (90). Thus wisdom for Socrates: "only wisdom governs these virtures in such a way that they always reach for the sake of which they act; and in the end only a god is wise, no human experts" (92). He concludes:

The power of a tyrant or rhetorician is insufficient, because these are merely superficial efforts at the mercy of a reality that only wisdom can probe, not power. The guiding insight of Socrates is the notion that reality is more than its current status, its current impact in the world here and now, its attributes, its relations, its alliances with other things. And here we find a more genuine point of opposition between Socrates and Latour. (93)

Here Harman does not seem to ask the obvious (sophistic) question--isn't wisdom itself an expression of power? Despite these conceptual differences, Socrates' transcendental non-humanism leads Harman to conclude that "the similarities between Latour and Socrates are much greater than those between Latour and the Sophists" (95). Quarreling with Harman's depiction of sophistry is not my primary aim. Quarreling with his depiction of sophistry is; unlike Latour, Harman fails to pull back the Platonic theatrical veil and question Plato's depiction of sophistry as mere, pandering, power-grubbing foolery. (My initial affective annoyance stems from the fact that I really appreciate the complexity and nuance of Harman's work--I wish he paid some attention to some contemporary rhetorical theory, particularly a 25+ year rehabilitation of sophistry, rather than simply echoing Plato's dismissal).


Joseph Pew and Latour's Third Position

Dave Weinberger has a live blog up today from Google's Chief Technology Advocate Michael T. Jones. Jones quotes Joseph Pew (1946): “Tell the truth and trust the people.” A quick search for the quote led me to the Pew history page, where it is accompanied by another quote by another member of the Pew family:

“No subversive forces can ever conquer a nation that has not first been conquered by ‘subversive inactivity’ on the part of the citizenry, who have failed in their civic duty and in service to their country.”

Another interesting point reported by Weinberger- "The [Pew] site shows that since 1980, the viewership of the evening news in the US has halved. Broadcasters ask where the audience went and how to get them back, which is the wrong question, he says; they went away by choice and you can’t force them back."

Rather than attempts to force them back (such as Rupert Murdoch's pay-for-access approach), Weinberger notes Jones's bullets:

How to solve the great problems of the publishing industry? 1. Please users. 2. Please customers. (Advertisers are the customers.) 3. Ask the right questions. 4. Accept change. 5. Embrace failure. 6. See the essence. Be sure you’re solving the right problem.

In some ways, I'll always remember Mxrk's take on this--just make it easier for people to pay. I'd add to that, only make us pay when we want to. If its good enough, then enough of us will want to. But, for that, you need to trust the people.

Plato's Laches

In an effort to put more up on this blog, I'm going to start publishing my reading notes from Evernote. Today, I came across a reference to the Laches dialogue in Brad McAdon's 2004 article "Plato's Denunciation of Rhetoric in the Phaedrus." I was interested in this dialogue precisely because its central concern is courage--a quality I think central to Plato's distrust of sophistry, Latour's socialization of science, and Levinas's intersubjective ethics. In brief: Plato misunderstands sophistic notions of courage as either 1) denigration of the masses or 2) propensity toward power. Latour and Levinas (and recent depictions of the historic Gorgias by people such as Bruce McComiskey and Scott Consigny) offer us a third option: courage as the willingness to approach the many from a position of weakness rather than [epistemological, rational, etc.] strength.

What appear below is my initial reactions/notes to the dialogue. Many are grammatical fragments. Please proceed with tolerance.

The dialogue opens with Lysimachus querying two Athenian generals, Nicias and Laches, as to whether his sons should learn to fight in armor. Nicias says "yes" (for the sophistic reasons). Laches says no (can't fake it to real soldiers, looks foolish). Lysimachus calls for a vote, who should teach his sons courage, he asks Socrates to join the discussion.

Nicias--all men should learn to fight in armor (182e). Long passage suggests learning to fight in the terms that the sophists argue for learning to speak--preparation for combat, self-defense against the accusations, err, attacks of the one and the many. Nicias identifies combat among the

...forms of exercise especially suited to a free citizen. For in the contest in which we are the contestants and in the matters on which our struggle depends, only those are practiced who know how to use the instruments of war. And again, there is a certain advantage in this form of instruction even in an actual battle, whenever one has to fight in line with a number of others. But the greatest advantage of it comes when the ranks are broken and it then becomes necessary for a man to fight in single combat, either in pursuit when he has to attack a man who is defending himself, or in flight, when he has to defend himself against another person who is attacking him. A man who has this skill would suffer no harm at the hands of a single opponent, nor even perhaps at the hands of a larger number, but he would have the advantage in every way. [...] And we shall add to this an advantage which is not at all negligible, that this knowledge will make every man much bolder and braver in war than he was before. And let us not omit to mention, even if to some it might seem a point not worth making, that this art will give a man a finer-looking appearance at the very moment when he needs to have it, and when he will appear more frightening to the enemy because of the way he looks. (182-a-d).

How closely does this echo the defense of sophistry found in the Gorgias? Couldn't 'this skill' be logon techne? As the dialogue progresses, it becomes clear that Nicias is meant to stand for sophistry (particularly his association to Damon and Prodicus).

Socrates's response to Lysimachus's call for a vote: "So I think it is by knowledge that one ought to make decisions, if one is to make them well, and not by majority rule" (184e). As in the Gorgias (specifically Polus), a rejection of majority. And, of course, a rejection of the sophistic aspiration that the "better" course consists of the one that can be more persuasively presented to the masses. Better is trans(cendentally) human here.

Interesting note by Socrates' own education: "...concerning myself, that I have had no teacher in this subject. And yet I have longed after it from my youth up. But I did not have any money to give the sophists, who were the only ones who professed to be able to make a cultivated man of me, and I myself, on the other hand, am unable to discover the art even now" (186c).

Translator Rosamond Kent Sprague notes the overlaps between Socrates's rejection of learning in Laches and in the Gorgias (in both instances, a reference to pottery--learn how to craft small items before moving on to the larger one's. In this case, explore how to teach minor things before teaching the student?). More evidence for my interpretation that this dialogue, ostensibly on military training, is more about education and sophistry.

Nicias--who represents the sophist position, on dealing with Socrates: will question and question on something that seems quite removed from the original subject. To engage Socrates is to

...keep on being led about by the man's arguments until he [Socrates's interlocutor] submits to answering questions about himself concerning both his present manner of life and the life he has lived hitherto. And when he does submit to this questioning, you don't realize that Socrates will not let him go before he has well and truly tested every last detail. I personally am accustomed to the man and know that one has to put up with this kind of treatment from him, and further, I know perfectly well that I myself will have to submit to it. I take pleasure in the man's company, Lysimachus, and don't regard it as at all a bad thing to have ti brought to our attention that we have done or are doing wrong. Rather I think that a man who does not run away from such treatment but is willing, according to the saying of Solon, to value learning as long as he lives, not supposing that old age brings wisdom of itself, will necessarily pay more attention to the rest of his life." (188a-b).

What I notice here is that the Sophist (like Gorgias in Plato's dialogue), submits to Socrates. Honors his response. Invites the alterity that Socrates brings. And does so without running away, with courage, faces.

To note, Laches is interested in speeches that sound harmonious. He will not do well, I fear.

Socrates--let's investigate an element of virtue, particularly "ought we to take the one to which the technique of fighting in armor appears to lead? I suppose everyone would think it leads to courage, wouldn't they?" O.k., so Nicias has already warned us how the show works. This will lead to anything but courage. (190d)

Laches: courage is a willingness to "remain at his post and to defend himself against the enemy without running away" (190e).

Socrates: looking for a more abstract definition for courage, one that could count the man in the assembly as well as the solider at his post. (191d).

Laches's response (take 2): "an endurance of the soul" (192c).

Socrates rebuts: "it would be wise endurance which would be courage" (192d). Here I am already thinking that wide endurance is something, from a sophistic perspective, that amounts to obstinance. Think: Apology.

Socrates's aim is to show, almost ironically to my reading, that holding out in the face of defeat (that which Lache's originally identified as courage) is not wise but foolish. (193b).

Laches, unused to dialectic deliberation (oh, the drug of the soul): "But an absolute desire for victory has seized me with respect to our conversation, and I am really getting annoyed at being unable to express what I think in this fashion. (194b).

Nicias: courage is wisdom (but not in particularly musical arts--flute playing or lyre playing, Platonic-Socratic metaphors for Gorgias's style). As with Gorgias in the Gorgias, sophistry is reduced to a kind of mystical performance that, stripped down to notation, carries no force.

Laches expresses confusion/outrage at Nicias's assertion that wisdom and courage are the same thing.

Nicias's "wisdom" is equated to something mystical--to the "magical" gift of the seer. Think: idiotic things Plato's Gorgias says vs. the things that Gorgias's actual texts indicate he would probably say.

Laches responds that Nicias is simply twisting words to avoid defeat. Such a demented practice is only suitable for a court of law.

Nicias: "My view is that very few have a share of courage and foresight, but that a great many, men and women and children and wild animals, partake in boldness and audacity and rashness and lack of foresight." (197b) [Like Callicles, sophistry as a denigration of the common in favor of the superior, a typical Platonic representation of sophistry].

Socrates positions Nicias within a tradition of sophists (Damon, Prodicus). Laches: "well, Socrates, it is certainly more fitting for a sophist to make such clever distinctions than for a man the city thinks worthy to be its leader" (197d).

It is unlikely that a sophist would agree to Socrates's distinction that fear is only a product of future evils, not present ones. (198b). Fear is also a product of the present, part of the mood of the scene, the kairotic moment. Fear is not simply a state of mind, but a mode of being.

Also, Socrates tricks Nicias. The logical conclusion would be that fear and hopelessness also have a past and a present, and that wisdom of courage is an understanding of what made us fearful, why we are fearful, and what we might come to fear. Instead, Socrates limits fear and hope to the future, searching for completely different qualities (dimensions) of courage in the present and past. (See 199d-e)

The funniest part of the dialogue might be that Socrates wins the argument (and the endorsement as the teacher of Lysimachius's sons without himself offering even a definition of courage!). But, of course, he has offered a demonstration of armored combat, adorned by the sparse speculations of dialectic rather than the lavish shine of sophistry.

There is also, at the conclusion of the dialogue, what I think can be read as a clear swipe at Isocrates's complaints of Socrates as an old-school boy: "What I don't advise is that we remain as we are. And if anyone laughs at us because we think it worthwhile to spend our time in school at our age, then I think we should confront him with the saying of Homer, "Modesty is not a good mate for a needy man. And, not paying any attention to what anyone may say, let us join together in looking after both our own interests and those of the boys." (210b)

I appreciate Socrates's sentiment--particularly that first line: "what I don't advise is that we remain as we are," Anyone in rhetoric, I assume, forefronts the propensity toward change. As the sophist-monster often points out--the difficult part of social discourse isn't the argumentation, but the inclination. How do you get someone to care? And, once they care, how do you get them to listen? And, once they listen, how do you get them to contemplate (rather than antagonize?). We cannot be so silly as to take the disposition toward change for granted, as something that merely precedes the real work of rhetorical theory.

At the same time, however, is Socrates really an emblem for change? When in the course of a single Socratic dialogue did Socrates ever change his thinking on anything? Socrates is a master antagonist, but he targets the other and insulates the self. That line should really read: "what I don't advise is that you remain different from my transcendental ideal."


Lessig Quotes Huxley

Lawrence Lessig quotes Huxley (1927) in his OpenVideoAlliance webside chat:

"In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity."

In brief, if you want a populace that speaks, then you need to provide them with the tools, permissions, and incentives to speak. Copyright is responsible for creating a read-only culture rather than a read-write culture.

The pre-supposition here is that being creative (in-the-world) establishes a positive relation with others (sharing, expressive, empathic) and makes us more satisfied and fulfilled than mere consumption.

Particularly as an educator in the humanities, I feel I have a responsibility to promote a read-write culture by "all available means." Beyond the technological, this also means promoting theory that speaks to our "being-in-the-world" and intersubjective existence as a metaphysical defense for fair-use.

My RSA presentation this year focused on Latour's reading of Callicles in Plato's Gorgias. Latour's reading shares an extremely interesting overlap with Lessig's vision for 21st century political practice. Lessig cites two principles: first, we need an increase in the ability to see the dependencies between political agents and corporate/private profits. Second, we need the courage to act upon such visions. Seeing and courage, philosophy and sophistry, are for Latour the oppositions Plato lays out in the Gorgias (philosophy has insight, but not the courage to face the crowd. Sophistry might lack insight, but courageously faces and works with the multitude). What we need, then, is a commitment to the integration of what Latour identifies as the philosophic and the sophistic.

A few other interesting Lessig pieces I dug up in my travels today:


Derek Fisher

A few people commented on Facebook that Derek Fisher's daughter has the same disease as Rowan. Unlike Rowan's case, they were able to use a radical procedure (injecting chemo drugs directly into the eye) to save his daughter's eye. Even if our doctor used such a method (and I don't believe he does), Rowan wouldn't have benefited from this--her tumor's location would have pretty much eradicated any chance to see out of the eye again.

Derek Fisher contacted us during Rowan's illness to make sure that we were satisfied with our medical care and to inquire into whether we financially needed assistance for her treatment. We responded that we were happy with our care and that we fortunately did have insurance.

Still, his kindness pretty much necessitates that I root for one Laker this postseason. But only one.


Post Conferences Post

I just got back from RSA and Computers and Writing--two great weekends that left me both socially and professionally refreshed. I'm working today towards advancing both papers (one on social media, ethics, and Rowan's cancer, the other on Latour, sophistry, and Levinas) toward publication. With that in mind, here's my summer reading list:

  • Lingis, Alphonso. The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common. I read this one on my plane rides, but lost it. Argh. Given how much I write in my books, this was a painful loss.
  • Levinas, Emmanuel. Ethics and Infinity. Conversations with Philippe Nemo. I love Levinas's candor in interviews, so I am looking forward to this collection.
  • Levinas, Emmanuel. Humanism and the Other. I read this one for my diss, but want to return to it as I prepare to transform the diss into a book proposal. So much of the great work I saw this weekend at RSA uses Heidegger, Latour, and Harman to advance a rhetoric of the non-human. I want to revisit Levinas's challenge to the Human more intimately--because I feel the Heidegger-Latour-Harman work risks repeating what Levinas's ethics so desperately opposed--liquidating humans in our search for The [non]Human. (and, yeah, that line will probably appear in an article soon...)
  • Levinas, Emmanuel. Entre-Nous. Why stop at two Levinas?
  • Harman, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (Anamnesis). As I said above, Harman was a significant node in my RSA network this year. This book explicitly picks up an argument for a metaphysical rhetoric. Harman's other books look great too, but I have to start somewhere, and I don't have time to read all three (I would also like to read Tool-Being and Guerilla Metaphysics, but those two will have to wait).
  • Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media.. Collin won the C&W best book award, and I think I am going to teach it in my Contemporary Rhetoircs course this fall (I want to read it first to see how much it draws upon postmodern theory--my hope is that it draws upon and advances us beyond pomo while formulating praxis for digital environments).
  • Kristeva, Julia. Strangers to Ourselves. Two talented graduate students included this one in their independent studies with me (one on rhetoric's relation to post-coloniality, the other on a rhetoric of abjection). I recommended the book without having read it. Time to read it.

In addition to these seven, I'll be teaching Gregory Ulmer's Internet Invention for the first time. I'm reading through it now, and beginning to construct my first MyStory. I contacted Ulmer about the work (looking for some examples, which he readily supplied!), and he strongly advised that I construct a MyStory before I begin trying to teach them. I had already planned to do this, hopefully I can post an update regarding my progress soon.

Happy summer reading all!