Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Things in their worlds, in Monica Ali's Alentejo Blue.
    "Ladies, may I remind you," said Eduardo, coming across with arms raised as though to chase ducks from the porch, "eating is not permitted at the compuer stations."

    Telma Ervanaria took another bite. "It's a café, isn't it?" she said.

    "No, it's not," said Eduardo, who would tell you that black was white, "it's an Internet café. Is a table just a table?"

    Telma Ervanaria stared at him. She didn't like the way hair grew out of his nose, in curls. "Yes," she said. "It is."

    "That's where you go wrong. A table over there," he said, pointing, "is a table. A table in a school is a desk. A table beside a pulpit is an altar, and this table here is a computer station. No eating allowed."

P. 197
Monday, February 26, 2007

Maverick Philosopher finds one of his articles used in a university course.
There are people who say that no one reads the philosophy journals. False. If my articles get read and studied (see the underlining in the above photocopy), then a fortiori for those of rather more distinguished thinkers.
I expect making articles available online increases the reads.
War is over because there is no "war".
Not only did American leaders go for the existential War of History instead of dealing with reality, they chose the worst possible dramatic vehicle for restaging the national passion play. For what we are experiencing is no war of civilizations. It is not even a war.

Because the national narrative is a sacred retelling of God’s message and His American mission, its periodic restaging always assumes the form of a great war—revolution, civil war, world war. But after 9/11, there was no great war to be had, so we created a simulacrum. Up to a point, we might keep it looking like a war. But at last it will not perform for us. It cannot support the demands of the drama we require. What we needed was a grand yet simple story with easy enemies and a ringing ending called victory. But our drama has shape-shifted from a war into an uncontrollable force accelerating larger world transformations.

The “war” is revealing the distant contours of the end of modernity.
It's also at the distant contours of the drama that the bombs and guns perform in this "no war".
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Tom McCarthy, excerpted earlier on the subject of giving, has his book Remainder reviewed in the New York Times on its American release. Here's an earlier Bookforum review.

A couple years ago we linked to his Simon Critchley interview for the Necronautical Society.

Here's a bit more from his Tintin book on the nothing that is Tintin.
Everybody wants to be Tintin: generation after generation. In a world of Rastapopouloses, Tricklers and Carreidases -- or, more prosaically, Jolyon Waggs and Bolt-the-builders -- Tintin represents an unattainable ideal of goodness, cleanness, authenticity. Apostolidès, pondering The Broken Ear, claims that Tintin is like the fetish as, despite being surrounded by corruption, he has a pure soul. Apostolidès is so close and yet so wrong: Tintin is like the fetish alright -- but this is because like Conrad's Kurtz, he is 'hollow at the core'. 'An empty hero', Tisseron calls him, 'void of all idenitity', a blank domino', writes Serres, 'the empty and transparent circle'. The 'degree zero of typeage', he is also the degree zero of character, of history, of life itself. Beautiful, seductive, he is, like Bazac's castrato, the vanishing point of all desire. The black dots of his eyes are the opposite of every sun, his skin the antitype of any color. Tintin is pure negative, the whiteness of the whale, the sexlessness of the unconsummated marriage, the radical erasure of the Khamsin. In The Blue Lotus Dawson complains that he and his network of accomplices are toujours tenus en échec par ce gamin! -- 'always frustrated by this kid!'. Linguistically as well as psychologically, his complaint is bang on the money: the expression faire tintin means, as the dictionary of French slang points out, 'to be deprived of a satisfaction expected or due to one, to be frustrated in something'. Tintin is what happens to Sir Francis, and Tintin is the trauma of that event replaying for the Captain. Even his name contains a deadly repetition: Tin-tin -- like the cars, the cows, the knights: Tintin, nothing, generalised collapse of all economies.

P. 160-161
Cars, cows, knights: all simulacra of the ideals; ob. cit. Plato's Sophist.

Tom McCarthy on the circularity of giving, from his very entertaining book on Tintin.
Let's look more closely at this money, and at money -- and fake money -- in eneral. The philospher Jacques Derrida, in his 1991 book Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money, turns to the etymological root of the word 'economy' and finds it has two parts: oikos, Greek for 'home', and nomos , Greek for 'law'. This second part, nomos, itself breaks down into the laws of distribution (nemein) and of partition (moira, which also means 'lot' or 'destiny'). Besides the values of law and home, of distribution and partition, economy also implies 'the idea of exchange, of circulation, or return'. Goods and products are exchanged and circulated, as is money itself, and in venturing money people hope that they will get at least as much back again, if not more. Pondering these facts, Derrida begins to suspect that 'the law of economy is the -- circular -- return to the point of departure, to the origin, also to the home'. Waxing mythical, he talks of the 'odyssean' nature of economy, suggesting that 'Oikonomeia would always follow the path of Ulysses' -- Odysseus and Ulysses being two names for the same Homeric hero whose destiny or moira dictated that he embark on a twenty-year-long adventure that would end with his return to his own palace.

The Odyssean circuit, the path of Ulysses: this is exactly Haddock's path, the loop he follows, his destiny. Born several generation after a partition was made and lots assigned (one ship to each son), and several-plus-one generation after another, cruel lot was handed out -- a cruel lot which nonetheless left his ancestor richer to the tune of one stately home -- Haddock sets out around the world in order to return to the point of departure, which is the home itself. The home that he returns to was not the one he left but rather that left by -- and to -- Sir Francis: his circuit is a trans-generational one. And it is money, the treasure, that sends him on this path that leads back to the home (the home whose butler, incidentally, has a name straight out of Homer's Odyssey: Nestor).

For Derrida, economy raises another question: the gift. As a phenomenon that also involves exchange and circulation, the gift is both tied to economic systems and a contradiction of these systems: giving is opposed to buying and selling; it is 'free'. On top of that, the language of the gift lies at the heart of our philosophical and general ideas, so much so that we take it for granted and hardly even notice it. To say something exists in German we say Es gibt, 'it gives': Es gibt ein Mann, 'there is a man', or, to quote the great philosopher Martin Heidegger, Es gibt Sein, 'there is being'. In English we say something or someone is 'present', and the horizon within which they exist is 'the present'. So fundamentally does the structure of giving underpin our categories of thought and of existence, Derrida concludes, that we cannot even properly say that one person or subject gives a gift to another subject: rather, 'subject and object are arrested effects of the gift, arrests of the gift' -- freeze-frames, as it were, taken from the gift's fundamental movement from 'the zero or infinite speed of the circle'.

What does the gift give? Tim. Turning to the anthropologist Marcel Mauss, whose studies of Melanesian and Pplynesian tribes form the basis of his 1950 book The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, Derrida notices Mauss's observation that 'in every possible form of cociety, it is in the nature of a gift to impose an obligatory time limit or term." A gift, says Mauss, obliges and, since the obligation cannot be acquitted or returned immediately (if it were, the gift would not be a gift but simply form part of a normal economic exchange), a delay is set in place, an interval of indebtnedness. Gratitude is owed, and that debt must not be forgotten: it must be repaid before too long. Thus past and future tenses open up around the 'present' of the gift.

Haddock's time opens up with the gift: the gift from Louis XIV to Sir Francis of a château and the gift from Tintin to the Captain of the model ship that puts him onto it: a double staggered gift, a gift within a gift. From Tintin's gift a whole past era unfolds, and the immediate furture is devoted to looping back to catch up with that past and dig it up within the present. In the Caribbean, Haddock find himself awash in time itself -- tewntieth-century time with its meridian set a Greenwich, seventeenth-century time with its meridian in Paris: noon and two o'clock overlaid even as Haddock and his entourage, to borrow Baudelaire's line again, look for noon at two o'clock.

For Derrida, though, neither Haddock's nor Mauss's gifts are proper gifts. According to him, a real gift should not impose conditions and indebtedness; it should be genuinely 'free'. But in order to function in this way, the gift would have to be unrecognizable as a gift, that is, it would have to cancel or annul itself, to undergo 'radical forgetting' -- not just overlooking but an absolute erasure that places it outside of time itself. Otherwise, it is only a partial gift, one that, in obloging the recipient and making them owe, takes more than it gives. Normal gifts are 'bad' gifts, Derrida says; they are unhealthy. As Mauss himself points out, the Latin word for 'gift', dosis, is a transcription of the Greek dosis, 'dose of poison', just as the German word for poison is (wait for it) Gift -- etymological and cross-linguistic links that lead Derrida to write of 'the poisoned gift of which legacies are made'.

P. 122-125
Friday, February 23, 2007
Tariq Ramadan, as big a threat to democracy as...
To allow Ramadan’s brand of Islamism a platform in the heart of the American academy would be the equivalent of allowing, say, Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt to lecture in the United States during the Third Reich. It was the judge who had prosecuted many Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson, who warned that the Constitution is not a “suicide pact.” It is not incumbent on a democracy to allow its enemies the freedom to subvert its very existence. Tariq Ramadan is just such an enemy.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Maurizio Ferraris on the absolute device, your mobile, or at least mine, since my upgrade to the latest smartphone.
The cell phone, brining together in a single limited physical space all the functions that we have already listed (telephone, radio, cinema, television, e-mail, Web and data storage) is the absolute instrument. It is what the hand was for Aristotle and for Hegel. If we needed proof that German is a philosophical language, we could appeal to the fact that the Germans use a rather touching Anglicism for the cell phone, calling it ‘Handy’. And here we have to hand, within our grasp (as Heidegger would have put it Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit) the absolute tool, the machine that puts an end to all other machines because it summarises them all within itself. And the thing that is so serviceable – and the word ‘manageable’ has the Latin root for hand – is not, I repeat, an instrument for talking but an instrument for writing.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Postmodern Culture has an article on ontology and the left.
Since Heidegger and up until the mid-1980's when a deconstructive version of Marxism emerged in the works of Laclau, Mouffe, Zizek, Badiou, a.o., ontology was synonymous with Heideggerianism: "Contemporary philosophical 'ontology' is entirely dominated by the name of Heidegger," Alain Badiou correctly stated in 1988. Badiou himself, of course, will break with this tradition; yet this general identification of ontology and Heidegger allowed most leftist intellectuals at the time to dismiss the entire ontological tradition as a dangerous aberration in Western thought. As a philosophical tradition, ontology is not only suspect among leftist intellectuals. It is part of an oppressive super-structure that affirms rather than challenges the existing status quo. "In all its mutually excluding and defaming versions, ontology is apologetic," Adorno unequivocally states in 1966. For Adorno, the basic fault of ontology in general, and of Heidegger's "foundational ontology" in particular, is its essentialism, which seeks the eternal, self-identical truth underneath the flow of history.
I don't doubt that Adorno's misreading of Heidegger led the left into an ontic wilderness, but Adorno is not solely to blame here either.
Snippet of Heidegger home movie.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wittgensteins, Heideggers, and Gadamers, Oh My!, the blog, has a question.
In this always already thematized world it is easy to discern where language would fit. Language provides extensive resources for representing entities to subjects (a point not contradicted by those such as Brandom who conceive of language primarily as means of making inferences rather than representations), and thematic thought can easily be understood as language-spoken-to-oneself.

My question here is whether the early Heidegger’s alternative account of being human effectively elides this link with language. As I stated in my last post, clearly Heidegger’s account in Being and Time does give a prominent place to language. So, what I’m asking is not whether early Heidegger actually showed how language is unnecessary for a meaningful existence, but whether he provided resources for making such a case.
Jonathan Lethem explains postmodernism as acknowledged mash-ups.
Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing.

What happens when an allusion goes unrecognized? A closer look at The Waste Land may help make this point. The body of Eliot's poem is a vertiginous mélange of quotation, allusion, and “original” writing. When Eliot alludes to Edmund Spenser's “Prothalamion” with the line “Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song,” what of readers to whom the poem, never one of Spenser's most popular, is unfamiliar? (Indeed, the Spenser is now known largely because of Eliot's use of it.) Two responses are possible: grant the line to Eliot, or later discover the source and understand the line as plagiarism. Eliot evidenced no small anxiety about these matters; the notes he so carefully added to The Waste Land can be read as a symptom of modernism's contamination anxiety. Taken from this angle, what exactly is postmodernism, except modernism without the anxiety?
Monday, February 19, 2007
It's all Heidegger's fault; #2007219.
That's why the founding fathers of radical Islam — such as Qutb and Mawdudi — borrowed heavily from what Ian Buruma and Avi Margalit call "Occidentalism" — an ideology with its origins in Heidegger's criticism of the West, adopted by Japanese fascists, the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge and, more recently, Al Qaeda and their ilk.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Wozu Dichter?

Alaric invaded Rome in 410 AD.
The nightmare

was waiting for him.

He stayed three days.
From Anne Carson's The Fall of Rome: A Traveller's Guide
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Mark Wrathall compares Epicurus and Heidegger on death, and explains why it matters to us.
There is a perfectly obvious and banal sense in which death is a possibility for each of us, because dying or demise are events which, at any given moment, have a probability of occurring that is greater than 0%. But death is a special possibility--not just because we all die, or because, 'on a long enough time line', the probability of dying rises to 100%. It is because death is the possibility which makes us what we are, it is our 'ownmost' possibility. Let's briefly contrast Heidegger's views with another philosophical account of death. Around 300 BC, Epicurus, the founder of Epicureanism, argued that death, 'that most frightful of evils...is nothing to us, seeing that when we exist death is not present, and when death is present we do not exist'. As a consequence, Epicurus believed that it was incoherent to have anything but a stance of indifference towards our own deaths. For Heidegger, by contrast, death is not 'nothing to us', but our ownmost possibility. And for Heidegger, anxiety in the face of death is the right way to respond to it.

Epicurus's argument follows something like these steps:
1 Something can matter to us only if we can experience it.
2 We can experience something if and only if we exist when it is present.
3 We do not exist when (our) death is present.
4 Therefore, we cannot experience death (2, 3).
5 Therefore, death cannot matter to us (1, 4).
This argument seems to work to the extent that we think of death as an ordinary physical entity or event. It seems true that I can't experience particular objects or events -- say, this picture of my wife on my desk -- unless I exist when it is present. At the same time, Epicurus's conclusion seems absurd: of course my death matters to me. Heidegger's view of death helps us understand where Epicurus's argument goes wrong.

For Epicurus, 'being present to' means something like 'being in (the right kind of) causal contact with...' But 'being present' doesn't always require actual causal contact. Some things are present to us even when they are not exercising a causal impact on us. Consider, for example, a condition like blindness. Blindness can be 'present to me' without my being in causal contact with any particular object or event. Blindness is present to me' when I lack the ability to interact with objects in a visual way. So the class of things that are present to me needs to include not just objects that are causally acting on me, but also conditions like blindness -- conditions that need to be understood as a mode of access to or receptivity to objects. Blindness is a way of being that shapes to possibilities that are open to me -- it excludes me from the possibility of visually experiencing the world (although it may open up possibilities for hearing or smelling or feeling the world that are not normally available to people with sight). A particular way of being receptive to things is 'present to me' when it shapes my possibilities for relating to objects.

Of course death is not like blindness in the sense that death is not something I can experience while in that condition (see Epicurus's premise 3). But we've learned an important lesson all the same: something can matter to me not simply when it is an object that is physically impacting me, but also when it shapes and affects the way I exist in the world.

The next question is whether something can shape and affect my experience of the world, even when it is not something actual (like blindness), but something possible. The answer is 'yes': when we 'have possibilities', they shape our experience of the world. Suppose I know that there is a possibility that friend will pay me a visit this afternoon. Having this possibility makes me keenly aware of the disarray in my home and the lack of anything suitable to serve a visiting guest. Things of which I would otherwise have been oblivious are made suddenly prominent. The fact that we don't exist when death is actual is thus irrelevant. We do exist when death is possible, and this possibility changes not just our awareness of certain things in the world, but the significance of those things. So Heidegger agrees with Epicurus's premise three: 'Death, as possibility, gives Dasein nothing to be "actualized", nothing which Dasein, as actual, could itself be.' But our death is present to us as a possibility nonetheless, and it matters to us that we might not be able to comport ourselves towards things, any more, even if we can't experience being unable to do so. If this is true, then Epicurus is wrong -- death is not nothing to us.

P. 65-68
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Cave! The coffeee shop walls have ears.
A coffee shop is a place where you can maintain your anonymity, says D., and at the same time it prevents feelings of loneliness. E. agrees: "People know to ignore you, not to bother you but on the other hand there is also a certain atmosphere among the regulars who come to work here. This week, an author sat here and started talking about Heidegger. I just had to eavesdrop."
Besides the nosey parkers, those places also reek of coffee. I'm avoiding them until they bring back the Chantico, or better.
Mark Wrathall's book of essays on U2 makes the news. I got it when it came out because of the contributors, but frankly, there's more than enough Bono in most people's lives already. And I say that as someone that hasn't seen U2 since the Boy tour--that "I Will Follow" was some song! They had to play it a second time for an encore when they ran out of tunes.

At least with the essays in this volume, from the disposable-pop-icons-and-philosophy series, the connection between the icon and philosophy is less tenuous than usual. However, my overall impression is that this collection would have been more descriptively titled "U2 and Religion". Bono is more about passion and believing, than he is about matters one typically associates with philosophy, like say, thinking.

In related news, contributor to this procession of U2 tractata, Iain Thomson gets a grant to spend his time on a more substantive endeavor.
Saturday, February 10, 2007

Metaphysical Saturday on Derrida on Heidegger, with video.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Martin as metonymy for mastermind. All's well that alliterates well.
Maria Busssmann's series of drawings: Following Heidegger.
Theories as such could be described as marked hiking paths, differing in degrees of challenge and risk, etc.
But I had overrated my self. To follow the traces of Heidegger's ideas was indeed as difficult (and sometimes dangerous) as to find the hiking paths.
Therefore, I never arrived at „Heidegger's Cabin", as I had
planned, but rather i remained in the picture - continuing to find myself "off the beaten tracks"
She promises to return to this theme:
In her next project, Bussman will return again to Heidegger, but instead of graphite on paper, she will use chalk on a blackboard. After each drawing is finished, she will erase it.
If a drawing is erased from the blackboard, and no one captures it on video, is it really Art?
Sunday, February 04, 2007
The Contributions indicates that beyng eludes Dasein, denying it a ground. Claudia Baracchi expands:
What is foreshadowed is the truth of being as Ereignis, as the coming to pass of being-there: "Being [seyn], however, up to now the most general and most current in the shape of beingness, becomes as Ereignis the most unique and most wondrous [or most estranging, Befremdlichste]". Ereignis names being as being-harbored in the coming to pass of beings, for beings are made manifest as "sheltering [Bergung] of the truth of Ereignis". In turn, being-there, "used by being, is said to be that through and as which being eventuates, properly comes into its own, appropriates, that is, comes to pass, takes place (ereignet). The transition from truth as correctness of judgement to truth as the turning of Ereignis is made perspicuous through the recognition of "time" as "the naming of the 'truth' of being [Seins], and all this as a task, as 'on-the-way' ['unterwegs']; not as 'doctrine' and dogmatics".

P. 33
Everything in quotes is from the Contributions.
Friday, February 02, 2007
You don't really die, if they name something after you.
"Death, my friend. The grim blackness of no return. The great question mark of life. The paradox is why we embrace death's imagery so eagerly every Halloween, seeking it out in the media, playing trick or treat costumed in the grave's finest, making fear our parodied captive while it holds us eternally captive?"

Zombos rubbed his chin. "Heidegger's angst, eh?"
Consider it finitude deferred.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
I hate Blogger.

I concur. Blogger just goes from bad to worse. I blog less because I have to keep logging back in. It screws up regularly. Another blog I have has been unavailable all morning. Meanwhile other technology gets better. I've ordered a new desktop PC with a 24" monitor, dual CPU, and Vista, for 75% of what I paid for the previous one with 19", single cpu, half the ram, a third the disk and Xp. Heck, new video cards crunch floating point numbers faster than the computer I learned FORTRAN on, and that occupied a room with industrial strength air conditioning. I got a new mobile phone last month and was so impressed with the improvements, I got two more for the family, and ditched carrying a separate mp3 player--Blue Tooth headphones rule! No more getting snarled in cables. And Blogger? Their only suggestion is that I switch to a less secure browser.
For when Ereignis is not sufficient.

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