Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Palinochio Take the Prize

(updated: 12/27/09)

As reported yesterday by Countdown's regular fill-in host Lawrence O'Donnell, Sarah Palin has garnered the "Best Life of the Year Award" from Politifact for her outrageous and morally repulsive Facebook falsity about "death panels." In the segment below, O'Donnell discusses the runners-up (including the nonsensical "birther queen" Orly Taitz and the conspiracy-finding idiocy of Glenn Beck) with Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News. Carlson puts it appropriately, saying: "We live in a time when...politicians are not just entitled to their own opinions. They're entitled to their own facts."

So, because the embedded video from MSNBC won't stay up,
here's the
link to the segment. Let me know if it stops working, and I'll correct it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

CFPs: Politics and Waiting, Deleuze and Ethics, Foucault and Animals

Check out these really interesting CFPs. The first two are for conferences; the second is for a book project.

  • Waiting for the Political Moment: June 17-19, 2010 in Rotterdam and Utrecht (deadline: January 4, 2010)
  • Deleuze: Ethics and Politics - April 9-10, 2010 at Purdue University (deadline: January 15, 2010)
  • Foucault and Animals - This is a call for abstracts for collection of essays to be edited by Matthew Chrulew and Dinesh Wadiwel. Deadline: February 28, 2010 (500-word abstract); the accepted essay, sometime in late 2010.

From Dickens to Obermann: "With Growing Amazement and Multiplying Anger the True State of Our Healthcare"

For several months now, MSNBC's Keith Obermann has focused his journalistic eye with laser-like precision on the debates -- and more often, nonsense -- surrounding health care reform efforts, including and up to this week's ongoing debacle of a Senate bill. I have previously lifted up as essential to any thoughtful member of "The Left" (however self-designated membership within its roster may be) Obermann's commentatorial work. Some of my friends like to chide me by saying that Obermann is very often is too seduced by his own rhetoric and presumptive critical voice, citing as the most egregious example of such self-seduction his ongoing usage of Edward R. Murrow's (in)famous tag, "good night, and good luck." I make no recoil when hearing such an attempted rebuke; instead, I embrace it. We need more commentators with the journalistic integrity and social conscience of an Edward Murrow -- a list on which I would happily and proudly append the names of both Keith Obermann and Rachel Maddow.

What I find most powerful in Obermann's commentary on the (failed and failing) attempts at health care reform is the passion of his rhetoric: he speaks not only from the heart of an American social conscience, but most poingantly from the heart of one who has experienced and seen the worry and hurt and sorrow and pain of this country's health care system. It is for this reason that I wish to encourage everyone to listen to the hour-long "special comment" he offered back in October. His words are as vital to hear now as they were more than two months ago. There is so much I could say about his remarks: about how they left me nearly tearing up as they compelled me to recall what it was like four years ago dealing with the doctors at the bedside of my own dying brother. But such reflections must still wait, their rawness still too new even after so much time as passed and the extraordinary comfort of so many has been offered.

I think it's also appropriate for us to recall this comment now for two additional reasons: medievalists will not fail to hear Obermann putting to productive use an analogy with the English Courts of Chancery, and literary critics will not fail to attend to Obermann's powerful evocation of the Victorian era's social conscience, Charles Dickens, and his beloved (and today overly sentimentalized) novella A Christmas Carol, which was published on 19 December 1843.

Embedded below is only the first six minutes of Obermann's commentary. See here to watch the remaining parts, or here to stream the entire episode.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Do NO Harm": Or, How Health Care Reform Has Been Perverted to Benefit the American Insurance Cartel

updated: 12/18/09 at 6pm CST

This will be my first attempt at imbeding videos, but I wanted to share Keith Obermann's December 16th, 2009, special comment on the perverted efforts at health care reform. I rally behind Obermann, who, along with Rachel Maddow, remain for me the single best, most thoughtful, most journalistically authentic, and rhetorically sensitive of commentators -- along with them being among the most compelling voices we now have on "The Left" (whatever such a construct can mean in an America always and seemingly forever suspicious of such a thing). Yes, I'm a proud Leftie!

Note also the brief posts on the "kill the bill" movement at Critical Animal and An und fur sich

Kvond on Massumi: Inspired and Inspiring

updated: 12/18/09 at 6pm CST

Check out the really interesting series of posts on Brian Massumi's Parables of the Virtual over at Frames/Sing. This Deleuzian inspired book -- which is also inspiring, I think -- is also notoriously difficult. I think part of this difficulty (equally a pleasure in itself) stems from one of the strongest of Deleuzian thought-forms, which Massumi (our Deleuze translator par excellence) has clearly absorbed: namely, Deleuze's habit (welcome, I think) of stating/positing something to be the case (i.e., a particular ontological relation, or idea, etc.) and considering what flows from that position/statement. This Deleuzian concern for exploring/creating (rather than arguing stricto sensu for) concepts/relations can be disconcerting for many readers who might otherwise desire a constant relay between supposedly proven condition(al)s. To desire such a dialectics, we might say (with/alongside Deleuze), is already to be captured by those sedimented forms of intellection operative under the cultural rubric of "common sense." It is to disturb and compel us away from such thoughtless complacencies that so much of Deleuze's writings aim. Because I think Massumi's text equally targets these forms of "state philosophy," we are especially indebted to Kvond for offering such beautiful and generative -- generative because beautiful, but also beautifully generative -- postings. So far, we have the following topics:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

UC, Riverside & "The Disorder of Things"

A friend just informed me about this multi-year event at UC, Riverside. Check out the link here. It really looks like an amazing series of conferences and symposia.

Here's an excerpt from their site describing the project:

"The Disorder of Things: Predisciplinarity and the Divisions of Knowledge 1660-1850" is an international research network led by the University of California, Riverside and Birkbeck, University of London. Over two years the network will meet with scholars from a wide range of disciplines to discuss pre-disciplinary forms of knowledge through cultural practices, sites, texts, and objects, from 1660-1850. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches have provided creative impetus for rethinking our fields in recent years. While twenty-first century discussions of disciplinarity are often presentist in their relative neglect of historical shifts, narratives of the emergence of disciplines tend to establish teleologies of increasing professionalization, which appear to lead inexorably to our present configurations. Drawing on these well established academic critiques of the rise of disciplinarity and of current disciplinary crises, we will shift the ground of debate to a longer time frame and a wider scope in order to generate new insights into what may seem like teleological dead ends or inevitabilities today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Friday (if tardy) Florilegium

Because the last few days got away from me, I was able to post these on Friday. So, dear reader, below you will find not only some interesting links from last week, but also a few from the beginning of this one. Here follows a few internet garlands for your enjoyment ....
  • The discussion of Philip Goodchild's book Theology of Money is now officially over. Since I've previously provided links, here are the remaining ones: See these links for parts six, seven, and eight, along with the conclusion, an author's response, and a few final thoughts by discussion organizer Anthony Paul Smith, who also provides a full listing of the links to all the previous parts.
  • Over at ITM, Karl Steel offers two posts: one about working on "syllabus building" during the mid-winter break, and another briefly noting two books, Ann Rice's Angel Time and Carly Phillips' The Nature of the Blood.
  • Nicola Masciandaro on The Whim offers a catena and text on "Anti-Cosmos: Black Mahapralaya."
  • See The Immanent Frame for a very thoughtful and demographically rich post on the so-called rise of the self-identified 'no religionists," entitled, "Who Has 'Religion'?"
  • And Kvond has yet another lovely post, this time on Brian Massumi's Parables of the Virtual.
That's it for now, but more to come later in the week. Also, putting the final touches on the second part of my post on Judith Butler. Look for that, my promised conference report, and some other items before the week's end.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Directions In Queer Studies: Conference Keynote by Heather Love

Today, I'll be participating in what is surely to be a wonderful experience: a one-day conference on "new directions in queer studies." See here for the complete schedule, including an abstract of the keynote address. It is the direct result of a Prof. Ann Cvetkovich's graduate course of the same name, from which all of its presenters also come. So I'm excited to hear papers by my fellow graduate students not only from the English Department but across the university, too. The entire conference, as I understand it, was also planned and carried out by the students, and this in lieu of the more traditional end of semester seminar papers. Prof. Lisa Moore, another queer studies scholar at UT Austin and a specialist in sapphic genres of the eighteenth century, has also enabled such alternative pedagogical practices.

Although I do have some reservations about a few particulars in these formats (and here's not the occasion for such diatribe), I think such alternative pedagogies are vitally important, not least in their professionalizing capacities and recognition that the traditional seminar paper is probably least useful for most of today's graduate students in contrast to other potential areas for developing analyses and arguments (e.g., construction of syllabi, conference papers, book reviews, etc.)

The day will end with a much anticipated keynote by Prof. Heather Love (see here for her personal webpage), who will speak on the "queer routes of upward mobility." Love is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Harvard, 2007), an elegant and powerful study -- part literary analysis, part exquisite meditation -- on what Michael Snediker called in his GLQ "Books in Brief" review the "non-transparency of negativity." The book has justly received many accolades (see here for a sampling of its many endorsements). Back in July, The Feminist Review had this to say about Love's book. Late last week, I offered a brief Facebook status update, saying that the most arresting aspect of any literary critic's work is the degree to which she compels her readers to re/turn to the texts under consideration. I'm now enthralled with the texts Love reads by Walter Pater and Willa Cather in ways that I have never been before. With grace and tenderness, Love contests what she most recently terms the "compulsory happiness" operative within queer existence, which, by means of its "climate of emotional conformism," obdurates other forms of queer living, not least in the post-Stonewall gay and lesbian movement's failure to attend to the persistent complexity of pyschic shame. Any effort to recalibrate the categories by which queer existence today might be made more livable must turn backward to a negative archive of "shyness, ambivalence, failure, melancholia, loneliness, regression, victimhood, heart-break, antimodernity, immaturity, self-hatred, despair, shame" (Feeling Backward, p. 146 and passim).

I'm hoping to provide some post-conference thoughts and pictures. I especially want to entice the willing to blog their papers/abstracts, and so increase the possible range of their feedback. Fingers crossed!

"To Say Something In the Wondering" (Part One)

[Take note that Daniel Barber and Adam Kotsko continue, with the fourth and fifth posts, respectively, the discussion of Goodchild’s Theology of Money.]

"...I understand theoretical work not as establishing universal truths but as developing conceptual schemes that can be taken up and revised in various locations and times."

Judith Butler

My last post referenced the newly available podcast of Judith Butler’s talk on Judaism, Zionism, and the religious resources for the critique of state violence. I strongly encourage taking the time to listen her talk (along with the others by Habermas, Taylor, and West). I’ll have more to say about the content of her remarks in part two of this post, but to those for whom it might be useful, I’ve prepared a partial transcription of the text from the podcast. It was never my aim to transcribe her talk, either in full or part; rather, as I listened to it with the intention of taking a few notes, I found myself doing much more than that. I once again found myself compelled and arrested by Butler’s voice, by her words. This relates to my own—and what some have called perverse—love of Butler’s prose style. There’s magic happening for me in Butler’s syntax and word choice, grammar and lexicon. Maybe it’s her performance of a certain dialectical defamiliarization, most often present through a repeated employment of unresolved interrogative serialities. What Butler theorizes at the level of social ontology and subjectivity, she exemplifies at the level of prose style: instability, incompleteness, and a certain constitutive incoherence. The prose performs what it describes.

For such reasons—and I’m sure there are many other ones, only some of which I may be aware and able to articulate—I always return to and eagerly anticipate and devour any of her writings. A similar affective relation subtends my continual engagement with a range of other thinkers—Sedgwick, Caputo, Derrida, Agamben, de Certeau, Lingis, Benjamin, Hardt/Negri, Barthes, Deleuze, Foucault, Levinas, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Nancy, Hegel, and Jordan, to name only those to whom I most often return. For me, what such a list of thinkers share that is most compelling, most arresting, is not just the radicality of their provocative content, but their equally radical presentative forms—forms ranging from and operative at the levels of syntax and lexicon through choices to challenge disciplinary codes of argumentative intelligibility by employing aphorism, the anti-philosophically ethnographic essay, or more general disruptions to the mise-en-page. Just as Butler can speak in Undoing Gender of experiences of dispossession in the making of a livable life, so too can we speak of the need for forms of cognitive dispossessions. This, for me, has always been the most compelling and visceral importance of theory: it’s ability to undo us and to compel new forms of thinking and relating. Theory is, and has always been, for me eminently visceral.

But my appeal to listen to Butler’s podcast emerges out of another conviction, one that aims to counter certain accepted stereotypes of theorists as amounting to little more than caricatures of thought or reductionistic tag lines: what we might call the “greeting card theory of theory.” Implicit here is the belief that theorists can’t continue to develop their thinking. This was also the case with Derrida’s reception within literature programs, as if “figuring out” the Derrida of the 1970s was “figuring out” anything interesting he might ever have to say. A similar example might be the largely new historicist promulgation of the Foucault of Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality, Volume I.

I think this has been played out perniciously in Butler’s case, and perhaps with no greater vehemence than Martha Nussbaum’s painfully vicious 1999 New Republic ad hominem. Indeed, many will recall that Nussbaum’s text is but an example of its author’s own inflated sense of importance as a diagnostician of what is “properly” theoretical and therefore good (with all its moral weight) work; Nussbaum’s supposed “engagement” with Butler is so cartoonish that even those critics who have disagreed with or contested Butler’s positions often find themselves coming to her defense against Nussbaum. But while I may have conjured this ghost of the critical past (and there’s an obvious psychoanalytic discussion to be had as to why I feel so haunted by this ghost, why I can seem to let it stay dead and buried where it belongs), I certainly don’t want it to linger. Or, perhaps more fitting for these long December days, we might think of my conjuration of Nussbaum’s horrid text less as some reanimated spirit than a bit of undigested beef. Humbug!

In any event, the reception of theory is something about which I am very often concerned, and in this I am as interested in who has been received and when as the what of theirs that has been privileged. Certainly one can point to the all-important issue of translation, and it is always crucial to consider when and what possible motivations (including the culturally symptomatic) obtain within a field of translatability. Why translate this work at this time? So,there is a discussion to be had about the temporality of theory. But we can also consider the issue more restrictively. What aspects of a thinker’s output are considered readable within a certain disciplinary horizon? Posing this question certainly doesn’t (or at least need not) entail effacing a consideration of theory’s temporality: our desires for particular theoretical schemes are as much a response to certain felt needs as they are the conditions by which we are enabled to recognize what our needs might be.

It is in this way that I agree with Jonathan Culler, who writes about how we are “ineluctably in theory”: that our very ability to pose the questions we ask is itself already made possible by the “space articulated by theory” (see his The Literary in Theory, pp. 2-3). This is why theory can never be a simple reflection of some believed independent reality leading to some supposedly practical application. No, theory never shuttles in such a way, as if the distance between points A and B were so easily bridged. There is more like a New York subway line: initial tracks may have been previously laid, but new ones will always be needed, new tunnels and lines constructed, and in each and every instance, amidst a diverse throng of passengers boarding and departing in their many anonymous and exponentially infinite ways, there are starts, stops, detours, and the occasional pull of the emergency break.

This unexpected peroration aside, Butler’s podcast also speaks directly to the reception and appreciation of her most recent work, especially insofar as these writings deal with questions of ethics and religion. Here another point to raise but hold in abeyance is what precisely is meant when one speaks of the/a "re/turn to ethics" or, somewhat correlatively, the "re/turn religion." Derrida, of course, famously resisted this language of turns, and equally so, I think, I think in Butler. Not only does all this talk of "turning" leave us dizzy, it fails to account for its own performativity: to interpellate a “turn” toward ethics/religion is to call into being a horizon of audibility within which certain claims might be speakable. That is, whatever else a "turn" in theoretical circles might be, it is far from a constative naming but instead a tropological performance. To speak of a theoretical "turn" can also be a way of retroactively fitting previously unheard (sometimes willfully misread or ignored) texts or positions into a now consumable product (and I think such capitalist language of the marketable is appropriately descriptive). Here we do well to recall that the very rhetorical language of "tropping" we might use to describe this phenomenon itself stems from the Greek tropos for "turning," since in a trope one turns a thing’s literal meaning toward more figurative ends. So maybe getting dizzy is constitutive of the theoretical game: "pussycat, pussycat, we all fall down." So much for abeyance.

In part two, I will return (or, perhaps, finally attend to) Butler’s comments on religion and Judaism within the context of some of her other recent writings and the appeals therein to those proper names—Benjamin, Levinas, and Arendt, most notably—of a certain Jewish intellectual tradition.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Florilegium: Money, Secularism, Religion, Anonymity

So, in my ever-renewed efforts to update this blog more frequently, here are few new interesting links I've come across.

  • Day 3 of the ongoing discussion of Goodchild's Theology of Money
  • The Immanent Frame, a collective blog offering a forum for interdisciplinary exchanges among leading humanities and social sciences scholars around the issues of secularism, religion, and the public sphere, previously posted the audio files from its October symposium at SUNY Stony Brook on "Rethinking Secularism." The event featured talks by notables Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Judith Butler, and Cornell West, with closing remarks by Craig Calhoun. See here for an open thread on the event. As a supplement to these aforementioned links, which were all posted in early November, now see here for the full text of the ensuing exchange between Butler and West as moderated by Eduardo Mendieta.
  • Kvond offers an especially elegant rejoinder to the most recent in a series of attacks on anonymous blogging. I won't enter the fray of such "prejudicial hilarity" here, except to note that what I find so elegant about this rejoinder is Kvond's Spinozistico-Deleuzian meditation on the benefits and possibilities of "anto-nymy" as continuing the "long history of pseudonymous writings" within the "virtual world’s new potentiality for micro-climates of interpersonal subjectivity." Offered there is a truly graceful reminder about the powers and effectivities of blogging as an activity of pure immanence as contained/enacted in the "name." Kvond's rejoinder here to the equally always thought-provoking Larval Subjects continues earlier conversations, on which see here and here.
Also, I'll be posting more original content over the next few days, including (with permission) an interesting email exchange I've had with a friend and colleague regarding President Obama's speech this week and his "decision" to surge the troop levels in Afghanistan. Two other forthcoming posts will concern the observance of earlier this week of "World AIDS Day," and another on my now less than recent thoughts about the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Montreal at the beginning of November, including the very positive reception of my paper on Jean Gerson, the discernment of spirits, and masturbation. But more on that shortly.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking Note: Reading Goodchild, Heading CFPs

Please continue to take note of the extremely interesting and productive book discussion of Philip Goodchild's Theology of Money. For the basics, see my earlier post here.

Tom Striphas over at Differences & Repetitions has helpfully posted two recent CFPs that have been making there around the interwebs.
  • "Beneath the University, the Commons," to be held at the University of Minnesota, April 8-11, 2010. The deadline for abstracts and/or other forms of participation is January 1, 2010. This event continues the important work of two previous gatherings on "Re-Thinking" and "Re-Working" the university, on which see www.reworkingtheu.org. To echo Striphas, this looks amazing! Please check it out. Perhaps there might be some collective interest for participation among BABEL members?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Theology of Money: A Book Discussion/Event

Beginning today and continuing for the next twelve days, the theological/philosophical bloggers over at An und für sich will be offering the latest in their series of in-depth book discussions. The volume under review is Philip Goodchild's very exciting and recent offering, Theology of Money. For those unfamiliar with the Goodchild's work in philosophical theology, the following interview might prove helpful. The book was originally published by SCM Press in the U.K., and so there is also a new preface accompanying the U.S. edition, released by Duke Press as part of their new and exciting "New Slant: Religion, Politics, and Ontology" series. Those, like myself, who are especially interested in Deleuzian treatments of contemporary culture, will be particularly interested in this book discussion, since Goodchild has made repeated and constructive use of Deleuze's thought.