I MYSELF AM SOMETIMES STUPID

Jon Cogburn has provided some context for the comment of his that I criticised:

“Terence,

I don’t disagree with anything you write here. My more substantive critique of Zabala are on the other thread: http://www.newappsblog.com/2013/06/policing-meaning-and-eavesdropping-on-being.html.

Here’s my story. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas I was very lucky to be able to study both analytic (mostly Iowa metaphysicians) and continental (with Doug Kellner, Kelly Oliver, and Johanna Seibt (who taught both Sellars and Hegel) leaving and Louis Mackey dying that dried up right after I left) philosophy. But then as a graduate student at OSU the only continental I got was one day when a professor brought in his copy of Being and Time and read from it to make fun of it. And I went along with that, and possibly still would be going along with that if I hadn’t met Protevi here at LSU and did some reading groups with him.

I would not mock someone for just saying ignorant things about analytic philosophy. But (1) Zabala goes on aljazeera (this isn’t the first, or nearly the worst, time) and uses these kind of generalizations as part of a power struggle going on in contemporary European philosophy. And for people who take him seriously it is just an excuse to not read very much, which for me is the bane of overprofessionalized academic philosophy and the real problem with the analytic/continental split (it’s an excuse for astounding reading laziness on both sides that is only excusable in terms of the ridiculous publishing requirements in academic philosophy). (2) Zabala is not a graduate student or newly minted assistant professor somewhere. He’s a major figure in the field who is going to thrive no matter what me or Protevi write about him. See his profile at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/profile/santiago-zabala.html . He’s co-edited a book with Jeff Malpas for God’s sake (which makes his aljazeera attacks on “analytic philosophy” all the more mysterious to me).

I reply: “Thank you Jon for giving me your context, and my little diatribe is directed against what you call “reading laziness”. So maybe I fall under what I accused you of, ie “writing laziness”. I have been wanting to react to various criticisms of the new MOOC trend which have voluntarily closed their eyes to the whole sociology of academia that makes the actual experience of “real live” interaction not so beautiful. I must tell you that as an admirer of Ivan Illich etc. I am sometimes ashamed of my role in the public school system in france, and my “beautiful soul” is not enough to de-contaminate my action. So I criticised you while including myself within the field of criticism. And of course I will publish my apology on my blog. I must add that here you were hermeneutic where before you were ironic, so I for one understand now that far from being a poor victim of a cronyist blogger, as I previously thought, Zabala is some sort of micro-hegemonic figure. Does it require such a status to reply to Hawking’s ignorant provocations?”

I can only add that given the aggressivity of my critique Jon showed admirable restraint and civility. Thanks to his reaction the discussion has advanced considerably.

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2 Responses to I MYSELF AM SOMETIMES STUPID

  1. joncogburn says:

    Terence,

    Thanks for the nice words, but no apology necessary. I found what you wrote to be interesting.

    Related- I like myself least (and indeed think I am objectively least worthy or liking) when I get in a moral panic or abrogate to myself the position of scold. So it was very nice to get some thought provoking push-back on the overhasty snark. And what you wrote about policing was correct.

    More generally, there’s *something* correct about what Zabala writes. I think that the predominance of a certain kind of naturalism and historical blindness among analytic philosophers that does still tend to radically foreclose traditional questions (e.g. “why is there anything at all?”) and traditional answers to these questions (e.g. the absolute). I just find his essentializing language to be painful as it leaves out in the cold analytic philosophers who don’t fit into the story, and ends up being used by some continental philosophers to condemn whole swaths of continental philosophy as “not really continental philosophy.”

    Of course, the inevitability of policing in the sense you raise makes these kinds of problems to some extent inevitable. I mean, we can’t read and teach everything. And we can’t hand out grades randomly.

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  2. terenceblake says:

    This is why I like the French system (which unfortunately is changing) where someone else who I don’t know grades my students. I police but X grades. As you may see if you take a quick look at my blog I am anti-essentialist, so if that is your objection to Zabala I can only agree. If “naturalism” is supposed to exclude questions about meaning then I can only reply that this is a performative contradiction. And ridiculising the notion that it is a performative contradiction is just special pleading (a refined name for propaganda and attempted thought control. I have no particular sympathy for the classical notion of the “absolute” but I think that the (very vague) notion of the outside, which goes back to Blanchot, is important. One of my favorite thinkers, after Deleuze, is Kenneth White, who published LA FIGURE DU DEHORS (THE FIGURE OF THE OUTSIDE) in 1982. So Blanchot, Deleuze, White are major references for me and when I see Meillassoux heralded as some amazing new turn I compare him to these thinkers and find him very little indeed. I think that on the question of meaning ALL THINGS SHINING has very important things to say, despite a sometimes cheesy surface.

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