December Diary 2003
By Ralph Dumain
20 November - 3 December 2003
I was in a highly intellectual, introspective, retrospective mood as Thanksgiving approached. While some practical matters at hand were causing me some anxiety, almost nothing could spoil my good mood in being absorbed in intellectual work, and this is the first time I could say this since July 20. There could be several reasons for this, but it was a welcome respite just the same. During this period I followed through on producing more of the web pages I promised in (and which are now linked from) my 2003 Reading Review.
I also took out some moments to indulge in a hobby I had left to the side for a decade, Esperanto, including putting up some old writing on this site. I even put up an uncompleted essay on C.L.R. James I wrote in Esperanto (C.L.R. James & Usona Kulturo) just as I was first inspired by the unpublished manuscript of James’s American Civilization. I finished up a translation of an eight-line poem of William Blake that I couldn’t quite make gel (I Feared the Fury of My Wind) since 1989 when I successfully translated the first four and couldn’t get the second four quite right. I did this in honor of Blake’s birthday on the 28th, the day after Thanksgiving.
On 20 November I wrote a couple of posts on the book on Newtonianism just read and its possible implications in relationship to Blake. The following day I introduced my topic "Wisdom & Abstract Thought (Formal Knowledge)" to another discussion group.
Finishing up the last book I had reported on, I had a few more observations (23 November):
On the rift in the friendship between between D.H. Lawrence & Bertrand Russell (1915), who came together as complementary personalities and shared opposition to World War I:
Even worse, on at least one fundamental pointRussell's sympathetic treatment of democratic institutionsthey threatened to contradict his [Lawrence's] most passionate convictions. He lost no time in making his dissatisfaction known to Russell. In addition, to Russell's astonishment, he returned his copy of the outline, crisscrossed with numerous and often violently critical marginal notations.
In his own record of the friendship, Russell points, as the principal source of trouble, to Lawrence's unreasonable, despotic personality, and to the authoritarian social theories that he sees as merely the projection of Lawrence's egomania. Lawrence himself, needless to say, saw matters quite differently. For him, the pragmatic, issue-by-issue approach to social reform, so dear to the philosopher, was simply an evasion of what the times called for. Instead, the only cure for the evils besetting modern society was a profound and universal spiritual catharsis; any program that fell short of this would merely prolong the disease. Lawrence might subscribe to many of the specific measures on Russell's agenda; he could, however, muster little enthusiasm for a program that was no more than piecemeal. His baffled feeling that, by devising such a program, Russell had somehow betrayed their "faith," helps explain the savagely provoking tone of many of his subsequent letters.
SOURCE: Ross, Michael L. 'The Mythology of Friendship: D. H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell, and "The Blind Man"', in: English Literature and British Philosophy: A Collection of Essays edited by S.P. Rosenbaum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971; pp. 285-315), p. 290.
I've long thought that Lawrence was essentially a fascist scumbag and harbored doubts even three decades ago about people who would ooh and aah over him. This dynamic between Lawrence and Russell resembles on a wider plane of ideology and personality the same dynamic I see in bourgeois philosophy between empiricism/positivism and lebensphilosophie/irrationalism, which also corresponds roughly to liberalism vs. conservativism/fascism: mutual hostility, secret affinity, inability to overcome contradictions. In a milder way, philosophically if not politically, one could find a comparable complementarity between Russell and Whitehead, who went their separate ways following their joint work Principia Mathematica, Russell towards shallow empiricism, Whitehead towards mystical organicism.
Speaking of reactionary sacks of shit, there's also an essay in the same book about the dissertation T.S. Eliot wrote on F.H. Bradley, and how thoroughly Eliot's philosophy was imbued by Bradley's.
"I have already stated in Beyond a Boundary that T.S. Eliot is a poet I always read. First of all he is a fine poet and secondly he states most clearly and exactly whatever I do not believe; I can find it there." C.L.R. James
As the holiday approached, I also caught up with a number of scholars I knew but had not been in touch with for some time, and initiated new contacts as well. One of these contacts had to do with an unorthodox approach to the history of ideas, which brought up the Young Hegelian Max Stirner as a topic of discussion. Several questions were raised including the failure to uphold Enlightenment and intellectual independence, and what happened to Adorno and Horkheimer.
A discussion with someone else put this book on my reading agenda: Left Out: Pragmatism, Exceptionalism, and the Poverty of American Marxism, 1890-1922 by Brian Lloyd.
I revisited one of the best collection of essays on critical theorists in English, Stephen Eric Bronner’s Of Critical Theory and Its Theorists. Bronner always hits the mark. The past time I had perused the book, I covered Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno, Fromm, and Habermas. This time I was interested in Marcuse, Habermas, and Horkheimer. I think he nailed Habermas down. His take on Marcuse was different from what I got from Charles Reitz.
By Thanksgiving it was time for me to re-read Art, Alienation, and the Humanities: A Critical Engagement with Herbert Marcuse by Charles Reitz, as there were gaps in my notes from August. Once I was done with the Thanksgiving holiday, except of course for the leftovers, I plunged into my review. I stayed up all Saturday night writing it. The title is "The Reactionary Philosophy, Ambiguous Aesthetics, and Revolutionary Politics of Herbert Marcuse." It was a lot of work, but I was more than satisfied with the results. Though I already knew since August what I wanted to say, I discovered something new in the process of writing it. I was so incredibly excited afterward, it has accelerated my thinking on all fronts since. I will get back to this.
As a result of all this, Monday December 1 proved to be a day of intense thought and intellectual stimulation. There are other aspects to my mood of the previous week I won’t detail heredreams, memories, a sense of detachment from my pressing problems—which occasionally would weave in and out of my intense thinking—but Monday was an intense intellectual day. This was brought on not only by the momentum of my Reitz review, but by a number of communications and readings. A couple of scholars sent me articles of theirs.
One set of articles was on American pragmatism, including a review of Left Out. My thoughts on what was wrong with what I read not only stimulated my thoughts on pragmatism, but on the intimidation of the human mind by academia and the left and the inability to grasp the inner logic of ideas.
Another article was an analysis of academic fields based on the work of sociologist Basil Bernstein. This was hard to absorb but it inspired me nevertheless, as I strove to match this dry conceptual analysis to my recent lived experience and reactions to others, including my Reitz review and another major stimulus of an irritating sort that occurred on Monday as well, my perusal of the upcoming conference program of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association. The combination of all of these factors set off a mental chain reaction, which is still going. I felt on the verge of another breakthrough.
A stimulus of a different sort also presented itself. I received a discouraging response to my topic "Wisdom & Abstract Thought (Formal Knowledge)", which I had presumed would make sense to everybody. However, in dealing with the specialized technocratic mind (analytical philosophy is one of its manifestations), nothing that can be pinned down within it exists in its universe. This acutely reminded me of my outsider status, pitched between official institutions such as academia, and everyday working class life, and viewing both from a third vantage point.
Yesterday morning (Tuesday, 2 December) I sent out this brief harangue, based on my reaction to the APA conference program:
I’ve been following up various links and checking out a number of web sites. I can only say I’m glad I’m not in the profession. At least technocrats are competent: while much of the technical, logic-oriented programs are not of direct concern to me, I can at least respect their work from a distance, as narrow and specialized as it is. But the soft side of philosophy—including radical philosophy—fills me with contempt, though I suppose that is the niche I’m stuck with. Radical philosophy, Africana philosophy, Philosophy Born of Struggle, American Philosophy . . . . it’s all such shit, I can’t bear it. I took a look at the contents of Radical Philosophy Reviewwho would dare to write this kind of shit? And this is all confirming my disgust with my fellow baby boomers, which became part of my just-completed review of Reitz’s book on Marcuse. (We’ll see if I give my editor a heart attack!) I’m not one of those people who sees the New Left as morally superior to the Old Left. Generationally, the boomers are somewhat more flexible through no virtue of their own, but they are no less rotten, they may even be worse. Their childishness as ‘60s rebels segued into their childishness as middle aged academics. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!
This gave the impetus to a round of e-mails with various people. To one person I wrote:
This crystallizes for me a number of recent experiences: my own theoretical perspective on CLR James which academia cannot understand, my hatred of the James racket with which I’m tied up in my life’s work, the miserable way I have been treated in the wake of the death of our director, my hatred of the academic left with its intellectual mediocrity and slimy morals, my review (completed after staying up all night Saturday) of Charles Reitz’s brilliant analysis of Marcuse combined with his childish conception of intellectual work and academic politics . . . my review of tons of mediocre scholarly literature (black, feminist, postmodernist, etc.) . . . it’s all coalescing, especially as I become contemplative and retrospective in this holiday season. . . .
From my perspective, there’s a question of methodology, the relation between the abstract and the concrete, and the mid-level theoretical static and intellectual noise that makes a big theoretical deal out of small intellectual potatoes. To illustrate what I mean I would have to compile a list of papers in journals and conferences whose very titles make me want to barf. There is something incredibly naive in all this which belies its purported intellectual sophistication. . . . There may be another way of conceptualizing the application of theoretical perspectives other than the smorgasbord approach that seems to prevail, which itself reflects very much the logic of the marketplace and commodity fetishism.
The ellipses indicate passages not offered up for public consumption. Later I wrote to the same person:
That is, these pseudo-progressive academic radicals are engaging in little more than a grammatical exercise whose semantic content is impoverished. They’ve mastered the jargon, the simple abstract concepts, which they grammatically recombine in various ways which are in fact theoretically superficial though they trade in abstractions. They do a poor job in mediating the abstract and concrete. Rather they remain in the recombinant play of mid-level abstractions which are far inferior to those Marx criticized a century and a half ago. I was irritated by this sort of theoretical onanism even when I was young and naive in the ‘70s and this stuff was still in its gestation period in the USA. There’s a problem with simplicity and complexity; the hierarchical organization of concepts is all fudged up via the play of mid-level abstractions.
Later on, I responded to another person:
Your frustration comes from not having the opportunity and support structure to develop your perspective. One learns to articulate and develop one’s mind through practice; it’s a snowball effect. And you don’t seem to have had the opportunity to do this, which puts you in the same boat with billions of others. You are constantly frustrated by the difficulty in articulating your thoughts and impressions presented with unfamiliar stimuli, and you don’t have a structure of interaction with the outside world that would help hone and develop your perspective. A decade ago I wouldn’t have been able to see this as I do now.
My experience with Jim helped a great deal, but not always in the obvious way that he could deal with the same abstract ideas that I do. However, he understood the social process I attempted to describe above, and I’m probably the only other person he ever met who understood it. So this helped us both, even if we didn’t always speak the same language. . . .
My post [ridiculing the baby boomers] was not just an emotional outburst by a long shot. Just read my review of Reitz. . . . in reviewing his book I discerned a connection between what [people were] like then and what the academic left is like now. It’s really a trivial matter to make the comparison you suggest, which has been done to death. There’s a more subtle pattern of behavior to analyze. The Old Left was a product of a more restrictive and regimented society. The New Left came out of the postwar generational experience so of course was psychologically primed in a different way, with higher expectations and a somewhat freer spirit due to the increased prosperity of American society, etc. Supposedly the New Left was instinctively less authoritarian, but is that so? It may have been more self-indulgent in its Yippie wing, but then there was the authoritarian Maoist wing . . . . So what happened as the naive rebels of the ‘60s wormed their way into mainstream institutions in the ‘70s? No, I’m not saying they sold out. The concept of ‘selling out’ is a naive ‘60s idea anyway. I’m talking about a more profound level of socialization that combines bourgeois conformity with bourgeois rebelliousness. Perhaps you’ve not had sufficient exposure to the mentality to perceive it.
But also you have not had the opportunity to develop your perspective to the point where you have to confront things like this. The only way of learning is the hard way, it seems. If you get burned enough times, you may be stimulated to make that conceptual leap needed to be able to detect patterns in thought and behavior you could not before. As usual, I’m preaching against naivete. I began as the most naive person on the planet, but I’ve learned to perceive things that other people cannot, and I know why.
And later on, in a face-to-face encounter with someone completely unfamiliar with my intellectual work, I explained what I had learned from my recent thinking, reading, and writing, including my analysis of what happened to the baby boomer student radicals. He thought it was also motivated by my experience with the sort of people I have to deal with in the wake of Jim’s death, which is partly correct, in that this experience has made me despise middle class professionals with a depth I could never have dreamed of before. I had an interesting time clarifying for him what I really meant, which was not about “selling out,” a romantic notion I reject. As best I can recall, this is the gist of what I said. No, it’s not a question of transitioning from getting oneself dragged off campus by the police to a comfortable middle class existence. Who in is his right mind would antagonize the police just for show? And sooner or later, everyone has to make a living some way. No no no. The issue is that certain members of my generation never resolved their confused ideas about intellectual work, about politics, and especially about the relationship between the two. It is disgustingly pretentious to politicize your intellectual work when your ideas are so bad to begin with. The integrity of your ideas comes first, then they can be used by others. These people’s ideas and their politics were confused then and remain confused today, though they as well as American society have gone through a number of changes. The process of socialization and adaptation to academia is not about ‘selling out’—certainly a number of these people remain activists—it’s about something more profound—an interaction between their own confused personalities and projects and the social institutions through which they seek to exercise their will and through which their wills and mental habits are shaped.
I should have added: it’s all about the nature of power.
Late last night I had another insight about “Marxism.” Lampooning Lao Tzu, I said to myself: “The Marxism that can be named is not the real Marxism.” In a paradoxical way, the entity called “Marxism”, as opposed to the application of Marxian intellectual and political insights and methodology, is a bourgeois construct! I will explain this at length at another time.
Some more odds and ends. . . .
I made a connection between what I had learned about the role of the intellectual in the past decade with some nonsense I remembered from the old days in the Esperanto world where certain elitist individuals decided they wanted to be its organic intellectuals, which of course first necessitates creating or pretending to create the organism to which one pretends to give the proper voice. This won’t have any specific meaning for you, but I let the proper people know what I thought about this.
Yesterday I read Max Stirner’s celebrated little essay (in pamphlet form), The False Principle of Our Education. Its basic approach to educationinflammatory in mid-19th century Germanyseemed pretty sound and radical even for today. Several passages were murky to me as the essay progressed. Stiner rejected both the classic liberal arts approach and the modern, austerely utilitarian perspective. Stirner renounced the imposition of intellectual culture as some impersonal force to which one submits; he urged that knowledge be assimilated and personalized by the free spirit. His description of this process is coded in a way I don’t quite understand. For example, he writes about turning knowledge into will. I’ve also looked into some essays by others on Stirner, as I’m not going to find the time to read The Ego and His Own. I’m following certain hypotheses on how Stirner differs from Nietzsche, as I’m not really sure. Stirner’s philosophy taken literally is dubious in the eyes of many others, but there’s something in it about the process of self-education that seems to be central and perhaps more lasting than his other conceits.
I wasn’t sure where to put this in, but some time in this Thanksgiving zone I had a sudden inspiration about C.L.R. James, about the continuing invisibility of his methodology. My considerations sprung from the comparative study I’ve had in mind between James and the thinkers of the Frankfurt School and comparable continental European thinkers. From conceptualizing the difference, I proceeded to outline in my mind some decisive features of James’s philosophical approach that remain undetected by the academics now processing him through their meat grinder. Here I’m not referring to his Hegelianism, which after all is detectable, but rather to the structure of his approach to all philosophical questions that come his way. What I have to say about this will be very radical.
(3 December 2003)
3-9 December 2003
I spent a fair amount of time on Max Stirner for several days, aided by discussion with scholars. My take-off point was Stirner's essay The False Principle of Our Education. Very little of the discussion turned out to be about education, but I gained a new perspective on Stirner and the Left Hegelians. I also very much enjoyed Stirner's essay "Art and Religion." I also read some essays on Stirner on the web, beginning with Max Stirner's Egoism and Nihilism, by L. A. Schiereck, which is mostly a deflation of Paterson's tendentious treatment of Stirner based on a religious standpoint. There was a discussion of Max Stirner as Hegelian by Lawrence Stepelevich, a key article. Stepelvich's THE REVIVAL OF MAX STIRNER was not so interesting. I found his HEGEL AND STIRNER: THESIS AND ANTITHESIS more interesting, especially the focus on Stirner's style, also the discussion of negation. We discussed G. Browning's "Stirners Egoism and the Ghost of Hegel". Finally I read Max Stirner's Egoism by John P. Clark. Nothing moved me to take on Stirner's magnum opus The Ego and His Own.
The ongoing discussion included the Marx-Stirner debate, the relationship between Stirner and Nietzsche, the insight and limitations of Stepelevich's approach, the issue of Stirner's being misunderstood due to being held hostage to exogenous ideological agendas, Stirner scholarship, the Young Hegelian movement and the possibility of an alternative exit other than the routes taken by Stirner and Marx, the limitations of Stirner's egoism. The most important aspect and least recognized aspect of Stirner to emerge from this discussion was the central role of irony and humor in Stirner's book, all predicated on his mockery of Hegel and his fellow members of the Young Hegelian circle, "The Free." At least one interlocutor agreed with me on the importance, albeit limited importance, of the role of ironic debunking, and confirmed my suspicion that Stirner did not have much to offer beyond this. Questions were then raised about the role of irony in Bruno Bauer and Feuerbach and the relationships among the three figures. We also discussed the epistemology and role of irony in general. Finally, we took up the topic of Hegel's vs. Stirner's conceptions of education originally proposed.
Another discussion with Hegel scholars centered around movements in the visual arts, both the older modern art movements and contemporary trends. I had a couple of interesting private discussions with a friend. One was about the comically naive scientism of a study employing brain science, done by a black researcher at Dartmouth, which concluded that whites became cognitively impaired following the mental strain induced by suppressing prejudical behavior while interacting with blacks. Another discussion involved the opportunities and conditions under which people develop the habits of autonomous, systematic reflection or are inhibited from doing so. This was something Jim and I became very conscious of in the '90s, though we sometimes judged specific individuals differently.
I discovered another article on the web by one of my heroines, Meera Nanda: Postmodernism, Science and Religious Fundamentalism. This is a very important argument: postmodernism has introduced a new intellectual foundation for reactionary Vedic Science. Formerly, obscurantist Hindu ideologues, operating under the assumptions of modernism, used the authority of science to validate Vedic Science and assimilate modern science to its ideology. The new relativism promoted by postmodernism has enabled the undermining of both the universalist claims of science and its naturalist underpinnings and thus a new epistemic strategy for the ideologues of Vedic Science based on the notion of "local knowledges" with equally valid truth claims.
Since writing my 2003 Reading Review, I
have added new web pages promised there, as well as links to them from the aforementioned
page. These pages were based on mostly on researches I did in spring and summer,
which culminated in the completion of my analysis of Dialectic of Enlightenment
the day before Jim's death. However, it was June when my recent studies of C.L.R.
James, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Grace Lee Boggs were done, which Jim delighted
in. This material has not been made public yet, but I put together an essay
compiled from material I wrote in June, which includes a James component in
a critique of Loren Goldner's advocacy of a "Third Stream" philosophical
tradition as alternative to the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment: "Hegel,
Marx, Goldner, C.L.R. James, Enlightenment and the Philosophical Dichotomies".
On Friday, I received a generous donation of a coveted recent book on a hitherto
but neglected topic, the first book of its kind: Forgotten Readers: Recovering
the Lost History of African American Literary Societies by Elizabeth McHenry
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2002). The body of the book looks terrific,
but the author wrote an epilogue which is so stupid, I had to write a separate
review of it, as it symptomatizes everything that is rotten in academia: Remembering
the Past and Forgetting Yourself, Or, Why Oprah Is Not an Abolitionist.
My review of Reitz's book on Marcuse inaugurated a new phase of my analysis
of what is deeply wrong with the academic left, and my reading of Karl Maton's
article on academic fields using Basil Bernstein's conceptual apparatus induced
further reflection. Now I am even more attentive to teasing out the tacit assumptions
of the contemporary academic mind, and McHenry's ridiculous epilogue confirms
all my suspicions. This reminds me how much Jim loved the aphorism I concocted
and relayed to him in June: "The goal of Stalinism is to make yourself
I have begun reading Left Out: Pragmatism, Exceptionalism, and the Poverty of American Marxism, 1890-1922 by Brian Lloyd. It promises to be a fine book. The introduction sets up the author's framework on intellectual history in general and American intellectual history in particular and questions conventional wisdom on the latter. The first chapter is about "Pragmatism as a Dual Tradition" and is quite impressive. How is it that John Dewey both fundamentally opposed the philosophy of William James but claimed James as well as himself as part of the common tradition of pragmatism? This chapter is quite a revelation.
(9 December 2003)
10-22 December 2003
Left Out: Pragmatism, Exceptionalism, and the Poverty of American Marxism, 1890-1922 by Brian Lloyd is a marvelous book. It is rare for me to find an analysis that tells me anything new, but this one has a lot to say about American Marxism in the Debs/2nd International era and about the class basis and ideological underpinnings of American Progressivism and pragmatism. Usually I can polish off a book in a day or two. This one is taking me a long time.
I'll get back to this shortly, but first, a digression.
At the beginning of the month I read a review of Lloyd's book by John Ryder. Ryder points out the allegedly "glib and superficial treatment" Lloyd gives of pragmatism as a philosophy. Secondly, the critique of American pragmatism's overt or implicit fusion with American socialism is interwoven with the issue of American exceptionalism. Thirdly, there is Lloyd's conclusion that pragmatism is essentially an apology for bourgeois society. And there is the judgment that pragmatism's politics is essentially liberalism. Now depending on how one evaluates each of these components and their interrelationships, one will come to different conclusions about the degree of dogmatism one is likely to find in Lloyd. Rightly or wrongly Ryder hints at a certain amount of inflexibility or dogmatism in his treatment of these issues. I can see different ways of interpreting them and especially their interrelationships or independence from another. There is another major issue not mentioned, perhaps because the book reportedly slights it, to wit: the actual epistemological and ontological commitments of pragmatism, which are the primary grounds on which it should be indicted, and which supply the missing link that would demonstrate the intrinsic relationship between pragmatism and bourgeois apologetics.
On the other hand, I see American exceptionalism as an issue potentially separable from the rest. There are some rare Marxist approaches to American exceptionalism, for example C.L.R. James's American Civilization, which has been co-opted but not properly intellectually processed by the left academic meat grinder. Exceptionalism and pragmatism may both be quintessentially American ideologies springing out of the same set of circumstances, but I would be hesitant to claim that their relationship is intellectually crucial. I can see the argument for the linkage, as they both deny certain kinds of social determination in favor of ideology and rhetoric, but I would not want to invest much of my time in proving their interrelationship except maybe as a byproduct of another analysis. However, I await Lloyd's own demonstration of an intrinsic linkage.
A distinction could even be made between the components of liberalism and "liberalism", and between liberal institutions and their necessary connection to bourgeois society. That is, liberal institutions could be seen to be a prerequisite and necessary ingredient in the formation of a socialist society. (The early Habermas was working in this vein, I would say.) My guess is that Ryder would be happy with such an argument, as I would.
Hence it is possible to infer some degree of dogmatism in Lloyd's account, though that would be a risky inference to draw from a book review alone. I always look forward to the trashing of pragmatism. On the other hand, hatchet jobs have to be executed with some degree of skill. I've looked through Harry Wells' book on pragmatism, and, as much as I would like to believe it, I don't: it is poorly argued and completely unconvincing.
Other comments on Ryder's review: even though Dewey may have been more progressive that Lloyd is willing to concede, that hardly makes his philosophy more desirable or profound or any less bourgeois. It just means that others have been indulging in overkill. I have the impression that I am not Ryder's usual reading audience. I believe this not because I'm not in the philosophy profession, but because I am not the type of person he must take care to remain on good terms with. He seems to be addressing an audience biased against him and which must therefore be won over. I may be wrong, but I sense an inhibition here. Ryder's need to defend pragmatism is unconvincing. His review turns out to be disappointing.
My impression is still that Deweyan pragmatism was largely rhetorical and programmatic: that all the talk about experimentalism and openness was just that, rather than a technically elaborated thus usable philosophy. For that reason, pragmatism was better geared towards functioning as an ideology than as a constructive philosophy. In this way, pragmatism has been as ideologically rigid as anything else.
I see nothing unique about the value commitments of pragmatism to justify the existence of a distinct philosophy bearing that name. I also value "individual development, free inquiry into and exchange of ideas, and the importance of democratic forms of social organization". Is that any reason for me to enlist myself in the ranks of pragmatism? I see none whatever. I'm also interested in education as a top priority, and in instilling certain habits of mind, independently of specific political commitment. Should I then call myself a pragmatist? I can't see why. I can see good reasons not to, as pragmatism in the popular mind means just the opposite, i.e. adaptation to circumstances rather than standing on principle, a questionable foundation for any intellectual position and least of all intellectual independence.
As for what allegedly went wrong with Marxism, one must know how to approach the problem intellectually and sociologically, or one will similarly be reduced to sloganeering. How did Marxism get transformed from a set of possibilities to a set of ideological truths, and what were the social determinants of such social instantiations? One liberal temptation is to bypass the intellectual content and methodology of Marxism completely, which must have some relationship to its ability to be configured in various ways including ideologically. And on the other side, there is the problem of slighting the sociological dimension, the nature of socialization and institutionalization that primes ideas and people to be incorporated into certain types of structures. In sum, the pragmatic liberal critique of Marxism is as much sloganeering and propagandistic and external to any concrete content as is pragmatism itself. Open-endedness, open-mindedness, experimentalism, etc. are all fine rhetoric, but there is no intellectual content to any of it it, and there can be no philosophy that monopolizes such generic values or can lay claim to exclusive rights over them. Either one is capable of manifesting these properties or not; there is something suspect about bragging about them. Ironically, open-mindedness is a matter of practice and not of theory. It cannot be theorized in a vacuum, because as such it doesn't exist; it only has meaning with respect to some range of options based upon the state of knowledge at any given time. Neither Dewey nor Habermas is adequate in explaining why bourgeois democracy can never realize its promises or why the ideal speech situation is indeed a counterfactual fantasy.
The ideological rigidity of Marxism, to the extent such exists, in my view comes not from its intellectual content but from its social instantiation. The very construction of an intellectual entity called "Marxism", dating from the Second International, itself constitutes a problem, one that was compounded by the Russians. It is perpetuated today by intellectuals with a lust for power whose argument against their critics is that they are harping from the sidelines and are not part of the "movement". (The only movement I see here pertains to the bowels.) This is the same garbage that was slung by the Communist Party decades ago. The guilt of Marxist intellectuals is the failure to defend and promote intellectual independence. However, the humiliation and regimentation of the intellectuals goes back to the Bolsheviks, perhaps back to Kautsky (I'm not very knowledgeable about this, though). Luckily, I'm independent of both academia and the Left, so I don't feel as inhibited as others do. I'm also very suspicious of various trends, such as the current infatuation with and misuse of Gramsci. (See my harangue "Antonio Gramsci, Organic Intellectuals, and the Division of Labor". My line on this is that being an organic intellectual is all about finding someone's ass to kiss.
The new issue of the popular philosophy magazine Philosophy Now is on American pragmatism. At least some of its contents can be found online. Some articles are accessible to subscribers only and require a password. There was a prior inquiry on the magazine's discussion list as to what the word "pragmatism" means. There wasn't much said, but the first intervention was the popular notion "truth is what works", which is essentially what Harry Wells opposed in his rather crude hatchet job Pragmatism, Philosophy of Imperialism. On 10/25/03 I wrote this:
. . . The folk meaning of the "philosophical" term is: truth is what works. Very Darwinian. However, given the variety of philosophers under this rubric, there are more sophisticated conceptions, and I'm told that there are realist varieties of pragmatism. However, "pragmatism" has a historical trajectory. No one who comes out of scientific realism (materialism) would have any reason to label himself a pragmatist. Pragmatism comes out of the naïveté of the American experience, as a rebellion against the old metaphysical idealism and an attempt to evade the ontological commitments of the traditional philosophical schools while fudging its own. Roy Wood Sellars criticized the waffling in the pragmatist (e.g. Deweyan) attempt to establish "experience" rather than spirit or matter as the fundamental ontological category. As with all empiricism and positivism, there is a fundamental ambiguity at its heart in its duplicitous attempt to evade "metaphysics", a swear word for ontological commitment.
I tried to locate some of my other e-mails on pragmatism in various debates of this past year. I found this one written 10/15:
Judging from the example of Dewey, the argument for openness and fallibilism is just vague rhetoric and propaganda; there's little substance in it. Same with the claims for "experimentalism" and the overall scientism of the project. As a vague programmatic statement, it might be worse, [i.e. things could be worse] but because it is little more than that, the philosophy becomes more ideological than scientifically useful.
I've heard arguments that there are many varieties of pragmatism, and that some pragmatists are materialists. But I say that if you are a materialist, you need not waste your time labeling yourself a pragmatist. The very existence of such a school comes out of specific social and ideological conditions. Naturally, a number of intellectual traditions can be mined for the rational content contained with them, but said rational content needs to be liberated from the ideological shell. And there is no need for any entity called "pragmatism" to exist except for questionable ideological reasons. Just as pragmatism was influenced by the idealism it rebelled against, so other trends in American philosophy would not reject an influence from pragmatism but would still criticize it. Roy Wood Sellars is exemplary in this regard.
Another from 6/2:
I think Korsch and Hook have it wrong, though I agree there is a connection between thought and praxis. Participation or non-participation in anything always alters the way you think, not just the propositions you hold, but your concrete orientation towards and experience of the world. But their instrumentalist formulations are superficial. Pragmatism purports to combine theory and practice but obscures both, and curiously, remains an abstraction external to the concrete content that is supposed to matter.
Also in June I wrote part of my unfinished review of Phelps' book on Sidney Hook.
Rereading Ryder's review, I think he failed in his criticism of Lloyd's take on pragmatism, James, and Dewey. Ryder bypassed much of Lloyd's argument and suggested there are other aspects of Dewey which are progressive and worth considering, which well may be so but hardly invalidates Lloyd's argument. I was struck by the central role Lloyd ascribes to psychology in the theoretical basis of so many of the thinkers he treats, starting with James and Dewey. Also, the duality Lloyd sees in pragmatism as measured by the fundamental philosophical opposition of Dewey to James even while naming them both part of the same tradition. I find Lloyd makes a very convincing prima facie argument all around, and even gives me clues as to the real nature of the current revival of pragmatism by today's opportunist liberals, such as Rorty and Cornel West, both firmly in the camp of irrationalism. I can also see some underlying motivations for those who now claim the mantle of "American philosophy," an expression I have always considered an oxymoron.
Lloyd takes a panoramic view of the class logic (small producer socialism) behind the early American socialists in his book. While I can see an argument for intellectual independencei.e. the need for intellectuals to be independent of bourgeois thoughthis argument for the theoretic development of Marxism independent of the labor movement, while intriguing, troubles me as far as practical politics go. Revolutionary situations such as obtained in Russia, China, and various other countries are relatively rare, and most people are reformists except under drastic conditions. Hence what does Lloyd consider the practical political role of Marxist theoreticians to be? It would seem he would have to uphold the vanguard party conception, or else I can't see how the maintenance of the independence of the Marxist tradition could have any political efficacy. The existence of vanguards, though, tends to exacerbate the very problems they are designed to solve, for new class ambitions can solidify under the banner of revolutionary parties as they do under reformist ones, as Lloyd well knows. My one quibble with Lloyd is with his political perspective, which remains an enigma to me: maintaining the intellectual independence of Marxism is one thing, but what other options could there have been with regards to political praxis?
I don't have enough knowledge of the primary sources to have a solid basis for judgment, but I'm very impressed with Lloyd's achievement. My guess is that Lloyd has sized up these people very well. I've read the first 225 pages, with only 200 to go. Lloyd has convincingly stuck it to William James, Dewey, Veblen, E.R.A. Seligman, Robert Rives La Monte, Ernest Untermann, Louis Boudin, the Socialist Party, the Wobblies, the Second International, Pannekoek, Morris Hillquit, William English Walling, Walter Lippman, Max Eastman, Randolph Bourne, and Louis Fraina. Boudin and Fraina seem to be a bit different intellectually from the other Americans, but they are ultimately seen as failures, too. I'll go into details another time.
Hegel, Wittgenstein, and Philosophy as Negation
I intervened in a discussion of Wittgenstein and Hegel by reintroducing some old material:
Lawler, James; Shtinov, Vladimir. "Hegel's Method of Doing Philosophy Historically: A Reply", in: Doing Philosophy Historically, edited by Peter H. Hare (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988), pp. 267-280.
Lawler dissects the concept and various interpretations of taking an historical approach to philosophy, including the strong version, that historical consciousness is not necessary only for understanding philosophy's past and its development, but its present and its current problems as well. One could just climb the ladder and then toss it away, as Wittgenstein and others have suggested. But for Hegel, the process of reaching the conclusions is just as indispensable as the results. While others may discuss various aspects of Hegel's conceptions, Lawler stresses negativity above all others. Philosophy has a radically antithetical character; the emphasis is always on the process of negation rather than on positive conclusions.
The development of philosophy as well as individual philosophers are impossible to understand as a timeless conversation about eternal questions. Another indispensable factor in both the ability to develop philosophical positions as well as to explain them historically is the relationship to the state of science at the time. This means that Thales could only propose limited solutions to limited formulations of the essential questions: "Why did Thales himself not recognize that what was essential was not the notion that everything is water, but that it is important to view reality as a whole? Then, why could he not continue to develop the entire unfolding of the logical Idea?"
There are some other important issues that surface as a by-product of the historical examples used, especially in the description of Hegel's struggle against Schelling. Lawler implicitly confirms Lukacs' fingering of Schelling as the progenitor of modern reactionary irrationalism. (Our struggle against New Age thought is analogous to Hegel's struggle against Schelling!) The part about Schelling's anti-empiricist, retrograde holism, is very very important, though distinct as a topic from the main theme of the essay. Schelling reflects a dynamic recurring repeatedly over the past 200 years. Hegel's opposition shows up an other manifestation of how progressive Hegel was in his milieu. The triangulation of Hegel-Schelling-empiricism carries some important lessons. Hegel in a sense is the first philosopher to mediate the struggle to come between positivism and lebensphilosophie! However, the fact that he came out of idealism and the problematic of the philosophy of identity (and a specific time and place and state of scientific knowledge) means that he mediated this conflict in a particular way, which formed the basis for later opposition. I can't stress strongly enough how important this is.
I'm highlighting least three key ideas: negativity, science, and concretization (the development of philosophy's formulationswhich I didn't summarize hereand Hegel's defense of empiricism contra Schelling).
There remains one loose end in Lawler's presentation: have we now reached a point where we can work on our own philosophical problems without any reference to philosophy's past, having already sublated all its previous struggles? What previous positions are present philosophical endeavors negating? Is negation necessary as a means of doing philosophy now, or is it only important as a means of gaining historical consciousness, or self-consciousness? To take an example, supposing for the sake of argument that the development of analytical philosophy for Bertrand Russell was a negation of British Neo-Hegelian idealism, or that the Vienna Circle was a negation of conservative metaphysics in Central Europe, is contemporary analytical philosophy a negation of anything? Another question: does "it" have self-consciousness, either of its historical position or of its essential nature? How can doing philosophy historically be done now in the treatment of contemporary philosophy's problems, or to advance it to its next stage, if there is to be one?
I wrote this musing on 9 January 2002:
Wittgenstein is not my subject, but a thought crossed my mind when mentally going over a new idea for an essay on philosophy as negation. Surely others have commented on the peculiarity of a quasi-mystical philosopher as a central figure of British analytical philosophy. Is not "whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent" not a profoundly ironic statement, as was Wittgenstein's status itself? And philosophy as therapy? The reassertion of what was banned by a self-imposed limitation? Or the negation of the legitimacy of the history of philosophy as a history of successive negations by reducing it to therapy, having been otherwise relegated to the silence of the illogical?
From 12 January 2002:
Philosophy as negation: it will take some time to explain this germinating idea, but it has something to do with the developmental nature of philosophical consciousness, not just in the course of history, but in the development of an individual, whether that person recapitulates the history of officially recognized thought in a disciplined manner or pursues an idiosyncratic course. Some thoughts:
(1) Philosophical consciousness as negation of unreflective thought (and common sense), struggle with or negation of appearances both sensory and ideationalthe laborious construction of thought structures that strive against inherited mental habits.
(2) The historical and developmental dimension: that is, the impossibility of leaping from naive cognition to a fully satisfactory abstract apprehension of reality and self-understandingthe need to pass through successive stages.
(3) The problem of the empiricist/analytical regime in philosophy: getting the results you want, eliminating what is deemed to be metaphysical dead-ends: while not necessarily refusing to recognize the fact of the development of correct ideas over time, in stages, does not recognize the permanent philosophical value of preserving the memory of development as part of what counts now, i.e. that philosophical consciousness in its self-awareness does not rest upon finding positive results alone and discarding abandoned paths, but cannot be fully adequate without incorporating its own developmental history into its theoretical awareness.
(4) Some developmental approaches:
(a) climb the ladder of appearance, then kick it away (Plato?)
(b) the sublation of all previous philosophical positions, preserving their content from a new perspective: Hegel
(c) Philosophy as therapy, curing its own disease.
I suggest there's something peculiar about (3). I'm curious as to whether there is unintentional irony here, a reassertion of something made verboten by the austere regime of analytical philosophy. Why philosophy as therapy rather than sublation? It reminds me of pop zen, like a Werner Erhard EST seminar: the point of this teaching is to grok that there is no point at all and you wasted your money attending my seminar. Ideologically this is most curious.
From 30 October 2001:
Isn't there something ironic about Wittgenstein's double life as a mystic and empiricist, something dialectical in a schizoid sort of way?
While I got nowhere with any of this the first time around, this (from 12 December) clicked with someone doing an unusually intriguing comparative analysis of Wittgenstein and Hegel:
Isn't there something peculiar and ironic about a quasi-mystical philosopher as a central figure of British analytical philosophy?
Is not "whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent" not a profoundly ironic statement, as was Wittgenstein's status itself?
And philosophy as therapy? The reassertion of what was banned by a self-imposed limitation?
Recognizing the senselessness of one's propositions? Throwing away the ladder after climbing up? Could this be seen as the negation of the legitimacy of the history of philosophy as a history of successive negations of previous positions, by the reduction of philosophy's development to therapy, having been otherwise relegated to the silence of the illogical?
Why philosophy as therapy rather than sublation? It reminds me of pop Zen, like a Werner Erhard EST seminar: the point of this teaching is to grok that there is no point at all and you wasted your money attending my seminar. Ideologically this is most curious.
Later on I added:
It is interesting to note how Hegel is absent from a number of philosophical discourses, most obviously in the English-speaking world. For example, Whitehead knew nothing of Hegel. This sort of thing has important consequences for the history of philosophy. By this I don't mean the obvious nor do I intend a partisan attitude on behalf of Hegel. Hegel can be considered a place-holder for a number of concerns, which, if neglected, bear consequences. Conversely, when Hegel is plugged into various concerns or existing gaps in the approach to knowledge, he will be used in various ways.
And later on:
. . . there is an issue hidden in all this that is worthy of discussion, which is the issue of self-consciousness that analytical philosophy habitually represses. However, the philosophy of consciousness is also inadequate, as it too fills a slot in the division of social and intellectual labor and thus remains unconscious of a great many things, including the significance of modern developments in the natural sciences, logic, and mathematics.
The discussion of Max Stirner continued, with some interesting digressions into his relationship with Nietzsche, and a possible affinity with Herman Hesse. I had a little something to say about the appeal of Hesse and various existentialist writers to teenagers, particularly in the context in which I was grew up.
However, I attempted to steer the dicussion back to the question of education and comparison with Hegel. Stirner's general appeal to individual autonomy is appealing, but does Stirner have something substantive to say about the institutions and the specific processes of socialization? In the abstract I sympathize with Stirner, but the problem remains that everything is in the abstract. Ultimately, it is necessary to elaborate on the conditions under which autonomy becomes meaningful. I don't romanticize the outsider, though I am one myself. Having observed the relationship of outsiders to mainstream institutions over the course of decades, I've thought about their relationship to knowledge, schools, indoctrination, etc., so I would say that Stirner stands at the beginning of the discussion rather than at its conclusion. However, in his social context, his position seems to be a radical one. Perhaps examining both Hegel and Stirner on this matter, one might be able to come up with some more ideas. No one can recreate the entire history of human knowledge and culture ex nihilo, in one lifetime. One can always reinvent the wheel, as we say, but one cannot reinvent everything. One must capitalize on what has gone before, even if selectively. The issue is in the struggle with intellectual and cultural patrimony, who ends up digesting it, and who gets digested?
Subsequently I had to refute the suggestion that I was overly concerned with "tradition." The accumulated knowledge of humanity is hardly equivalent to "tradition". If we were not dependent on the accumulated scientific and technical knowledge of the past, and the entire history of social development that has brought us to this point, we would still be sleeping in caves, drawing pictures of the hunt on the walls, and our thoughts would be rather limited. Even with his limitations, it would seem that Hegel gives us much more to think about than does Stirner. I find strong claims for Stirner implausible.
However, I did receive some elaboration on Stirner's notions of freedom and
"ownness." His language, to the unitiated, is cryptic. Phraseology
about spirit sinking into material is redolent of Hegel, but this sounds too
"objective" for Stirner. Repudiation of "sacred dread" sounds
more like Stirner. More interestingly, Stirner gives an account of individual
development: (1) the realistic stage of childhood, (2) the idealistic stage
of youth, (3) the egoistic stage of adulthood. This is the most intriguing content
I've read so far, but I have not fully absorbed it. While I think I understand
some of the remarks made about the idealistic stage of youth (conscience)the
internalized superego rather than response to direct physical causality, obedience
and punishment (the childhood stage)certain of the alleged properties
of this stage and its transition to the adult stage seem to me to present an
oversimplified scenario, whereas I could see different paths of development.
Some of Stirner's language about youth sounds Hegelianspirit, mind, ideas,
externalities. . . . I am most unhappy with Stirner's characterization of adulthood:
man has bodily, personal, egoistic interests"; "who deals with things and thoughts according to his heart's pleasure, and sets his personal interest above everything. To me, this sounds childisha rather anemic conception of maturity, even accepting for the sake of argument the justifiable overthrow of the authoritarian superego. While I am willing to accept "ownness" as an adult stage, this characterization of it looks rather thin and devoid of objective content. I await further clarification.
Meera Nanda and the Fight Against Irrationalism
I received a review copy of Meera Nanda's new book, Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindi Nationalism in India (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003). I'm a great admirer of her militant stand for science and Enlightenment (secular, not New Age) and against authoritarianism and irrationalism. I'm also learning things about India I never knew before.
Speaking of India, last week I happened upon the Fall 2003 issue of Daedelus, which is devoted to the sciences. There are articles on Einstein, science and the courts, etc. There was a very interesting article on medieval Indian mathematics. This is an area that is not well researched, and never will be, as there are thousands, maybe millions, of old manuscripts that will crumble into dust before scholars ever get around to looking at them. Apparently India had the most advanced mathematics in the world, but because of the caste system their work received only a limited dissemination. I know nothing about any of this, but it's very interesting.
My Project of the Year Continues
My own approach to the problem of irrationalism seems to be a bit different from that of others. I have been working on this problem from the standpoint of a basic duality that afflicts the modern world and induces a constant vacillation between the poles of positivism and irrationalism, linking this to the division of labor. Horkheimer and Adorno (separately, not together, and at different times) were aware of this problem, but could not advance their analysis beyond a certain point due to their inability to engage the natural sciences. One of the conceits of the modern world, among intellectuals, and in popular culture, has been the attempt to concoct new philosophies to address the need to overcome fragmentation and alienation. This in my view is a fundamentally misguided effort. Another strategy, characteristic of critical theory, has been to diagnose this problem from the vantage point of the heritage of the philosophy of consciousness which has its origins in German idealism. However, this very tradition, as I've suggested, had an inhibiting effect on those who came out of it in spite of their rebellion against idealism. Hegel, Marx, and various strands of Marxism have attempted to address this problem as well, but the underlying logic of their positions has yet to be laid bare. This problem of alienation and these dichotomies could be addressed from a perspective that sweeps away layers of ideological mystification. One avenue of exploration entirely original with me involves the thought of C.L.R. James, which was based entirely on his group's study of Hegel and Marx (including the then-unknown 1844 mss) combined with James's historical and cultural perspectives. I am suggesting important implications of the development of these ideas in an American context completely removed from the development of Continental European thought, with the exception of the influence of Marcuse's Reason and Revolution. I also put forward the notion that whatever limitations James may have had in this area, he never fell into the trap that others did, including his erstwhile colleagues and huge chunks of Western Marxism, and that his perspective bypasses all of their concerns. I approach the question of the fragmentation of knowledge and existence and its overcoming from the standpoint of an analysis of its social roots, with an eye to the stumbling blocks that have impeded efforts at integration.
The "essays" on my web site are not finished scholarly products.
They represent an intermediate stage, that comes from editing various fragments
into larger, more coherent if still unpolished entities. My latest installment
is: Intellectual Traditions, Alienation, and the
Integration of Knowledge.
Hegel, Lukacs, C.L.R. James, the Social Totality & the Contemporary Artist
I have also been involved in an ongoing discussion of Hegel's aesthetics and issues surrounding the contemporary visual arts, including an evaluation of artists, specialized audiences, and the popular taste. I summed up my general position on 18 December.
I have not proffered any definitive view of the relationship between artist and audience, whether it be a professional specialized audience or the general public. I threw out some pointed questions packed with insinuations; however, my intention was not to make definitive assertions. . . . I see no point in making a priori metaphysical declarations, replete with Capitalized Words, on putative necessary distinctions between fine art, popular art, the professional art community, and the general public. I would begin with two considerations, though:
(1) It may take more depth and ability to create for a general audience than it does for a specialized coteries of cognoscenti. Hegel makes some remark about the empty vanity of such solipsists as Schlegel and the just rejection of the public of the conceited works of an ingrown clique. C.L.R. James, who based his aesthetics on Aristotle and Hegel, made a claim in his unpublished writings of the 1950s, and argued that the cultural hierarchy in place (in Britain as a point of reference) distorted the understanding of artistic endeavor by hijacking Shakespeare, whose work was popular culture, and turning him into high culture. Similarly, ancient Greek tragedy was popular culture, but was turned into high culture by the cultural elite. This would not be a radical claim now, but it was heresy in the 1950s. James claimed that the best art was made by making it for the whole population, for the entire range of social classes, not just for one's insider friends. He claimed that a narrow preoccupation with "ideas" hurts art. I don't accept all his arguments unreservedly, and I believe that society has evolved to the point where everyone consumes abstractions, but I will elaborate on this another time. However, considering the social totality may be a useful point of departure, even if we reshape the argument to effect different conclusions.
Lukacs, of course, began from this point of view, but his anti-modernist prejudices impaired his judgment, though some of his concerns were valid. When does art magnify the fragmentation, alienation, and reification of the social world by further mystifying it? Not an easy question to answer.
(2) The relationships obtaining between artist, the specialized audience, and the popular audience are not metaphysically fixed but vary with circumstances. Popular taste is not invariably low (and certainly not as low as it is right now) and popular culture is not always based on the lowest common denominator. Similarly, specialized audiences are not invariably the guarantors of high standards. Hence, analysis of concrete situations is required to explain why societies and the arts develop as they do and why their standards and assumptions vary as they do. Hence, at the very least, a triangulation is required: artist : specialized audience : general public. If the truthor the falseis in the whole, then the consideration of totality will be of help regardless of the conclusions we come to.
Two further considerations immediately come to mind:
(3) Different arts have different properties. Music and theater are performing arts, and when performed live, the audience has am immediate role it does not in other areas. Literature may be read aloud but these days is usually a private experience (one could say the same nowadays with musical recordings, videos, DVDs), and yet mass distribution may still apply. The visual arts are different. They are customarily unique objects, and become mass produced only through reproductions. Hence the visual artist is in a unique quandary. He can't ply his art in local bars and nightclubs to scratch out a living waiting to be discovered. There are other dimensions of his problematic relationship with the culture as a whole. Hence the direction that visual art takes may be thereby affected.
(4) Hegel's analytical frameworkand oursmay have to be altered in light of the qualitatively changed social and technological relationship which not only governs our lives but the relationships between artists and different publics. I've suggested without explanation the growing role of abstraction in society. However, it may no longer be possible to address the social totality as before. Considering the new system of relationships we have to address may not solve the problem, but it might help us to stave off further alienation and mystification and minimize the effects of fragmentation.
Basil Bernstein & Karl Maton on Disciplinary Grammars, Knower Codes, Epistemic Devices, & the Ruse of Interdisciplinarity, & Again C.L.R. James
I am trying to work out the application of some of Maton's
ideas (building on Bernstein) on the grammar of a corrupted scholarly field
to my notions of recombinant trivial pursuit and the sausage machine of theory.
My standpoint is based on an analysisstill vagueof the mystification
of abstraction (cf. my comments on Lacan as half-way between mythology and science),
which may have some linkage with this grammar notion.
On 20 December I elaborated my thoughts on (inter)disciplinarity and the division of labor. I don't think of postmodernists as engaging the division of labor conceptually. Practically, though, with their incompetent incursions into the natural sciences (cf. Sokal) they could be seen as assuming they can pontificate on everything without knowing anything, thus confirming complaints about the practical violation of an inevitable division of labor. My issue is the relationship between one's partial knowledge and one's relationship to the totality, which I would argue is an inevitable concern.
To recap with now-familiar examples, I analyze the leading figures of the Frankfurt SchoolAdorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse. Marcuse is the worst of these. H & A's Dialectic of Enlightenment is awful, but these two wrote other, better stuff on their ownHorkheimer in the late '30s, Adorno before and after. Both of them were acutely aware of the division of labor as a problem bound up with ideology and the limitations of various schools of thought. However, I argue, their own place in the division of intellectual labor as humanistic intellectuals with a certain background, made it impossible for them to achieve a proper synthesis through their own failure to engage the natural sciences, which they never learned to distinguish from their bête noire, positivism. I also argue that their academic descendants, who are far less talented and original than they, have never been able to properly acknowledge this limitation (as I do), due to the conceits of their own particular uninspired rut in the intellectual division of labor. I am interested in the conception of the division of labor as en enabler of social and ideological mystification.
As it turns out, C.L.R. James and his group made this a central concern in the 1940s, when nobody else was thinking about this. But they didn't couch this in a sexy Continental philosophy framework; rather they worked everything out sticking to Hegel and Marx (including the then unknown young Marx) alone. And no James scholar has ever understood this because James studies took off in the '90s when it was caught up in the postmodernist, postcolonialist, cultural studies wave.
The "postdisciplinary" landscape of the postmodernist type is bullshit. These second-rate footnote whores are the most disciplinary people in human history, in the most artificial of ways. And interdisciplinarity as an academic concern is hypocritical, predicated on the absoluteness of the divisions it claims to bridge. I see this all the time, and it is most irritating. (In my current and most subversive work, I link this manipulation of boundaries to slumming.) Whereas those whose actual work is oriented towards the object of study rather than named fields of studyMarx and James, for examplethen become divided up in artificial disciplinary ways, which is not objectively based in the way that natural sciences are divided up according to the objects of study (physics, chemistry, etc.). I would say some divisions of study are logical, others are artificial (especially in the social sciences), and getting mixed up about which are which is the problem.
Maton and I are on the same page when he criticizes social positioning rather than objective competence as the determinant of today's obnoxious academic intellectual behavior. I would only add that the dominance of the knower code is usually implicit rather than an explicit principle. That is, one need not argue for an intellectual position based on a knower code; one need only exhibit insiderist behavior as footnote-whores do. James studies is not even insiderist, as there is no inside per se. However, there are those who would like to turn it into an insiderist game, if they could.
"Footnote whoring" is a term I coined in the summer of 1997, after being frustrated by a James seminar we organized for a bunch of constipated grad students at Columbia churned out by the theory industry. Edward Said was also present, in the same capacity as the students. I was so completely exasperated by this experience I realized how hopeless these people were, and spent the next couple of months thinking about this. Coincidentally, upon returning to Washington I had a fascinating conversation with a working class black woman who turned out to be just as frustrated in her dealings with Washington people as I was in New York, based on identical considerations though in a completely different sphere of life. She even had her own way of describing it, which she called "citation behavior," with no consideration of bibliographic citations in mind. She was thinking of quotational behavior, more specifically, relying on spurious authorities rather than thinking while standing on one's own two feet. And when I explained my problem to her, she understood it completely and even had her own brilliant analysis of the problem.
Footnote whoring among the cultural studies crowd is about covering one's sorry intellectual ass by quoting fashionable yet spurious authorities in a completely provincial and in-group way. Interdisciplinarity feeds this too, with the selective importation (cross-dressing) of ideas from other fields without any knowledge of other things going on in those fields. One galling example is the citation of feminist philosophers of science such as the execrable Sandra Harding, by people who not only do not understand the issues in the field but know next to nothing about other things going on in philosophy of science including critiques of this brand of intellectual charlatanism. The resultant style of writing is one of complete fragmentation: a manipulation of the grammar of a field (i.e. the field that haphazardly imports from other fields) whose conceptual structure is barely tacked together without any coherence.
As my "contribution" to the celebration of the birthday of L.L. Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, on 15 December, I uploaded a number of Esperanto texts (and one in French) based on my work of the late 1980s and early '90s, reflecting my pre-James stage. I also began the process of updating an article I wrote on English on games in the Esperanto world. Plus I made a quick suvey of work I've missed in the past decade. The most interesting item I located was a recent dissertation on Hegel, Rosenzweig, and Heidegger written in German and Esperanto. I found a few more pages in English on the web on Hungarian Esperantist author Sándor Szathmári. I also discovered an interesting pianist-composer from Australia, Michael Kieran Harvey. I'm wondering whether his composition "Kazohinia" was inspired by Szathmári's novel of this title, which is also known in Hungarian literature.
I have helped a scholar or two with research on the history of individualism as a concept, including positive approaches to individualism from a Marxist standpoint. I have an ongoing selected bibliography on the subject. I recently acquired another book of possible relevance, The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to the History of Subjectivity by Alain Renaut. At first glance, Renaut is a challenge to figure out. Renaut seems to be obsessed with defending liberalism and humanism against its alleged detractorsnot only the postmodernists and Heidegger, but against other targets such as Marx. The context is very French.
I read a paper a friend of a friend wrote on Arturo Schomburg. There's no biographical material on Schomburg on the web of any substance. The most interesting thing I found was a key programmatic essay by Schomburg, "The Negro Digs Up His Past."
The local branch libraries are lacking in many areas, but the nearest branch turns out to have a noticeable comic book and graphic novel collection, which is useful to me, as I already have a first class scholarly library of my own. I grabbed Art (Maus) Spiegelman's book (with Chip Kidd) on Jack Cole, creator of the classic 1940s superhero Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits: Jack Cole and Plastic Man. I vaguely recall DC Comics' revival of Plastic Man in the '60s, but my guess is this was tame compared to Cole's manic creations of the '40s. The authors point out the go-for-broke quality of much popular art, the way certain eccentric creators just let their imaginations fly when nobody is breathing down their neck to make Art, though indeed someone is always breathing down their neck to make deadlines. Well, Shakespeare was in it for the money.
I also looked up Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, in search of a segment I recall from his radio play in which the Ruler of the Universe defends his Humean solipsism.
I also found occasion to look up a Blake text and put it on my site, a supplementary
variant of William Blake's "The Everlasting
Gospel." You'll see why.
This month I received review copies of new James-related books. I have also been working on a few James projects, but I've got to hold these close to my vest.
Recently I participated in a discussion of authenticity, which had a number of parameters, including inauthentic, ideological constructions of the concept.
I am now working on a statement for an upcoming discussion of my topic "What is the relation between wisdom and abstract thought?". I don't look to the established philosophical literature for guidance here. I used Oizerman as my takeoff point. I found myself venturing into the closely related question of theory and practice. Here the one philosopher who consistently inspires me is Adorno; at this moment, his essay Resignation.
Today is the winter solstice, and the weather is beautiful.
(22 December 2003)
2003 Reading Review
New Year's Resolution: Exploring Philosophical Cultures (December 2003 - January 2004)
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