Friday, October 29, 2010

Talk at CSU Stanislaus Friday, October 29th

If you've got some time to kill this Friday, and if you live in the area, I'll be giving a talk at CSU Stanislaus tomorrow afternoon, entitled "Benjamin, Sorel, and the Critique of Violence." It takes place from 4pm to 6pm, and while the room hasn't been announced yet, you should be able to get information at the Department of Philosophy office at L185 (which, if I remember correctly, designates the Vasche Library). 

As I wrote a few weeks ago: I did my last two years of undergraduate work at CSUS. I suppose that makes it a homecoming of sorts. It's also the first time I will have given a paper in the Central Valley, which means some of my old friends who are academically inclined and interested in what I have been researching, and who still live in the area, will have a chance to see some of that research in progress. And, as I'm still ironing out some of the kinks, it is a work in progress.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The OED's Definition of 'Schellingian'

I wasn't exactly surprised to discover the adjective 'Schellingian' in the Oxford English Dictionary, but take a look at the line from Peirce that I've highlighted in bold (note also that the OED makes it difficult to copy a passage without taking with it a lot of formatting baggage):
1865 tr. Strauss's New Life of Jesus I. 190 Similar instances may be brought forward from the history of the Schellingian philosophy. 1865 J. H. STIRLINGSecret of Hegel I. I. v. 275 Once in Jena, we have to see him a declared Schellingian. 1865 W. PATER Appreciations (1889) 75 Schellingism, the ‘Philosophy of Nature’, is indeed a constant tradition in the history of thought. 1874 MORRIS & PORTER tr. Ueberweg's Hist. Philos. II. 114 Kantism, the renewed Spinozism (Schellingism), and Herbartism lay conjoined and undeveloped in the doctrine of Leibnitz. 1894 C. S. PEIRCE Let. 28 Jan. in R. B. Perry Tht. & Char. of W. James (1935) II. 416 If you were to call my philosophy Schellingism transformed in the light of modern physics, I should not take it hard. 1895 C. GARNETT tr.Turgenev's On the Eve iv. 30 My father was a learned man, a Schellingist.  1967 Encycl. Philos. VII. 260/2 The most important of the Russian Schellingians were Professor D. M. Vellanski..and Prince V. F. Odoyevski. Ibid. 261/2 In his early Schellingian period he [sc. Belinski] stressed aesthetic activity.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Zizek Blames the Left for the Rise of the Right

Recently Slavoj Zizek was interviewed on Democracy Now to talk about the rise of anti-immigrant fervor in Europe and his newly published book Living in the End Times. Addressing the current rise of the Right in Europe and the US, he referred to Walter Benjamin's observation that, "Behind every fascism is a failed revolution." Unlike his frequent rantings that can be difficult to follow at times, he makes his points in this interview very clear: The Left is to blame for the rise of the Right.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Ain't Over 'til it's Over

I hate to break it to you, but you won't be able to put off working on that next manuscript because of the Mayan calendar anymore:
A new critique, published as a chapter in the new textbook "Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World" (Oxbow Books, 2010), argues that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years. That would throw the supposed and overhyped 2012 apocalypse off by decades and cast into doubt the dates of historical Mayan events.
I don't know what the History Channel is going to do, though...just when they thought they had linked 2012 to Nostradamus and the bible code...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rainy Spells in Korea


As fall begins here in Korea and the leaves turn orange and red the rains seem to be subsiding. Fortunately for me, a rain lover, I caught one last pulverizing pour and found myself picking up The Rainy Spell by Yun Heung-gil to match the mood. This translation was done by Suh Ji-moon and published by Jimoondang Publishing Company in 2002 from the original Jangma of 1973. As North and South divisions continue on as key political and even sociological and cultural components of the region I found this read a gem. Although many of the other books I’ve read here also deal with this subject matter, this one deals with the division at its face as well as through the metaphor of rain.

As I sat in a café in Sangmu, I occasionally looked out at the onslaught of rain even as rain poured in the authors description. This being the case I felt especially drawn into Heung-gil’s tale. The narrator is a young boy forbidden from leaving his home, a home racked between two families with sons fighting on either side of the political division in its initial phase. The source of his incarceration came from his having sold information about a visit from his uncle to the local police for chocolate. His uncle was a fighter for the north, who had been living with his communist associates on Geonji Mountain. Consequent to the divulgence of the information, his father had been taken to the local police station and beaten until he had a permanent limp and all joy removed from him. The writer hardly took sympathy with the north in his description of such a beating. Rather, Heung-gil paints the portrait of the two young men fighting for either sides with glowing reverence for the Republic Army's Jun, the pride of his maternal family and the narrator's uncle and the converse for his paternal family's pride of the same age and soldier for the People's Army. His uncle Jun is painted as an articulate and well thought out athlete while his paternal uncle was portrayed as a scatter brained believer, who only came into maturity with winters spent starving in the People’s Army. The story, while somewhat political, only uses this as the cornerstone upon which the foundational elements of this literary structure are built.

The story reckons with the familial pains of the division. With vested interests on both sides of the conflict, the author describes a large family torn apart by the events. The narrator, only a young boy, ably suits the description of such a story, as he describes the in house events without making too many of his own judgments. Instead, he tells of the tears and infighting of his elders, facilitating the mood and confusion of a family sundered both literally and figuratively. This is the story of the pains of families throughout not just this conflict but also of the modern civil wars of the nation state itself and perhaps of nationalism generally. It tells of tears and buttresses them with the deluge of the sky in a tumultuous rain which desolates hearts and even reshapes the novel's landscape.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

BBC: The Trap (We Will Force You To Be Free)

The economy in the US is a disaster. I spent almost a month in my home with the power shut off because I could not afford to pay the bill. Fortunately, many times my neighbors threw an extension cord over the fence so I could plug in one lamp and activate my internet. What did I do with those lucky moments? I watched online documentaries.

The best one I watched was from a series by Adam Curtis shown on the BBC called "The Trap." This is the best analysis I have seen of the ideological origins behind the grim global realities suffered in the twentieth-century and now facing the twenty first. I will post a clip from the last of the series titled "We Will Force You to Be Free." Curtis examines the legacy of the British thinker Isaiah Berlin and his influence on Western political leaders. He looks at Berlin's 1958 "Two Concepts of Liberty." Berlin called revolution "positive liberty." He believed revolution always leads to disaster. He advocated "negative liberty." Negative liberty correlates with individualist freedom within a capitalist liberal democratic society. Ultimately, Curtis rejects Berlin's dichotomy, but he reveals the leaders that embraced it. The series covers much more (Watch all of it here). Here is a teaser.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Talk, Talk, Talk at CSU Stanislaus

One of the new features of the Fall semester at the University of Ottawa is what is called the Fall 'study week,' a week off from October 24th to October 30th (those are the official dates; you'll see that they don't exactly line up with weekdays). We (my wife and I) originally planned the trip to visit family and friends out in California, but I've also arranged to give a talk, sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, on "Benjamin, Sorel, and the Critique of Violence." It will be an early draft of a paper that I will be giving a few weeks later at the RPA conference on violence in Eugene; some of my thoughts on the lesser known Sorel are already posted here.

For those who know me, I did my last two years of undergraduate work at CSUS. I suppose that makes it a homecoming of sorts. It's also the first time I will have given a paper in the Central Valley, which means some of my old friends who are academically inclined and interested in what I have been researching, and who still live in the area, will have a chance to see some of that research in progress.

When I have a time and room number, I will post them. Here's the information thus far:

"Benjamin, Sorel, and the Critique of Violence"
Devin Zane Shaw
October 29, 2010, California State University Stanislaus 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

From San Francisco to South Korea on Route 1


As Said argued in Culture and Imperialism, the core of the British Empire and of cultural generally was defined by the literary form of the novel. Though the times have changed and television, movies, and the internet form the definitions of contemporary culture, I have turned to the literary novels of the second half of the twentieth century of South Korea in attempting to acclimate to my new surroundings here in South Korea. As such I found a series of translated novels, published by the Jimoondang Publishing Company of Seoul. One in this series I’ve read thus far is titled Deep Blue Night translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton and published in this series in 2002. The piece was originally published as Gipgo Pureun Bam by Choe In-ho in 1982. This particular work in the series appeals to me because its heroes are on a sojourn through California, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, by way of Route 1 - a trip I have taken well more than a dozen times myself.

The story captivated me by recounting my own experience of traveling from San Francisco to Southern California in a detail I haven’t felt since the first time I took the trip. Choe recounts the way the homes in Carmel hang over the beautiful sands below in a style that moves quickly and leaves no trace of the experience lacking. The tale is wrought with indulgences commonly forbidden in South Korea, such as the use of marijuana. Choe uses these indulgences to emphasize the cultural abyss between South Korea and the U.S., which I have seen and felt in this side of the Pacific. The author transforms the use of marijuana as one of the two obvious metaphors in the story. The characters Jun-ho had left his wife and children behind in Korea before coming to the states, having gotten in trouble for smoking marijuana, and had abandoned Korea for the states in search of a different life. This, coupled with the actual trip itself, outlines a journey for both characters through a couple of years of self searching.

The narrator and voice of reason, tells the story of his friend, a mirror image of himself, except that within the foreign Korean community of Los Angeles his associate and travel companion is of far greater disrepute. The story lends itself to an outline of the feelings of culture shock as transformed into a cultural nationalism itself. For the western reader, the story has several levels of utility. The story outlines at the outset the nature of Confucianism, Korean style, from solidarity to social castigation and deference based upon age, and just reads fluidly.

The expectation of arrival builds towards a conclusion each character begins to approach. Choe writes a tale of life in America as a journey not just into debauchery from the point of view of Korean values, values Choe pens into the narrator's reflections, but into cultural annihilation for the two characters. Choe almost uses the form of the novel as a manifesto of return to Korea. The arrival at Los Angeles eventually no longer represents a conclusion of their journey back to their home there but signifies the desire to return to Korea itself. Choe outlines a journey towards the comforts of ones own culture. In this respect the novel also explains much of the culture of Korean solidarity which I have encountered in my time here. Many of my Korean friends quickly jump to the protection of South Korean culture as a highly valued commodity even as western forms of culture deteriorate existing Korean cultural artifacts. This sentiment has political backing too. Haksoon Yim, the Director of the Department of Policy Development in the Korea Culture and Contents Agency, has written a book entitled The Emergence and Change of Cultural Policy in South Korea, published by Jinhan Book of Seoul in 2003, arguing this point lucidly. Deep Blue Night reads well and appeals to Koreans and Californians as well. It also sketches a cultural encounter between divergent world views and cultural nationalisms increasing in the frequency of their exchanges.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wacquant on the So-Called Prison-Industrial Complex

This is the second installment on Loïc Wacquant's Prisons of Poverty; here is a link to the first; I also suggest that the interested reader check out Jason Read's review of Wacquant's recent Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (2009) at Unemployed Negativity.

My review of Loïc Wacquant's Prisons of Poverty, posted here last week, left out one important aspect of his book. In the chapter dedicated to showing how the social state became the penal state, Wacquant provides four arguments against the "demonic myth" of the prison-industrial complex, which designates either a supplement to, or intensification and transformation of, the military-industrial complex. While this concept has had some success in the critique of penalization, Wacquant argues that it is analytically flawed, and thus problematic practically. He presents four primary problems with the thesis of the prison-industrial complex; I will reproduce his summaries (without the italicization; from pages 84-87) and then add a few comments (with any additions in brackets).
  • First, it reduces the twofold, cojoint and interactive, transformation of the social and penal components of the bureaucratic field to the sole "industrialization" of incarceration [The transformation in question is that of the transition of state intervention from welfare to workfare].
  • Second, the imagery of the "prison-industrial complex" accords the role of driving force to the pecuniary interest of firms selling correctional services and wares or allegedly tapping the vast reserves of labor held under lock.
  • Third, this activist vision is premised on a flawed parallelism between the state functions of national defense and penal administration, which overlooks this crucial difference: military policy is highly centralized and coordinated at the federal level, whereas crime control is widely decentralized and dispersed among federal authorities, one hundred state departments of justice and corrections, and thousands of county and city administrations.
  • Finally, constricted by its prosecutorial approach, the woolly notion of "prison-industrial complex" overlooks the wide-ranging effects of the introduction, albeit in a limited and perverted form, of the welfarist logic within the carcereal universe itself.
At the time, I held off from discussing this critique because it might appear incongruous that Wacquant, who situates the transformations of the criminalization of poverty within the intensification of capitalism under neoliberalism, would also deny that profit motive is behind the 'boom' in incarceration. There are, I think, two sides two his critique, which I'm going to address as an ideological critique rather than a sociological critique.

First, we should view the ideological form of neoliberalism as an all-encompassing worldview. As we've discussed before, neoliberal theory pushes a philosophy (if we could even dignify it with such a word) of individual choice, sometimes with the twist that equates individual choice and moral behavior. Therefore one's success or failure is built upon making good choices in both an economic and moral sense, and some of these ideologues equate the two. This is why they argue (as I've mentioned before) that the welfare state "rewards sloth and causes the moral degeneracy of the lower classes," and foments so-called "urban violence" (12). With one focal point (individual choice) they can argue against the welfare state and for the penal state, or even for increased incarceration managed by private firms (from the point of view of neoliberalism, the state ought to force open previously public functions, whether in welfare or prison management).

Second, the analogy suggested by the slogan is very important, and thus a bad analogy will be misleading practically. I know that makes it sound like I read too much Lenin over the summer, which I did, but I think it's largely true. And the suggestion that the prison is like either the military or industry is today misleading. Rather military or industrial organization, the prison is better understood as part of what Deleuze called the 'society of control' in which ever finer methods of surveillance replace a strict division between inside and outside (in a manner similar to job 'flexibility'). This is why it's important to look not just at the number of those incarcerated to grasp the criminalization of poverty, but also those on probation or parole. In the United States, then, the number (in 2000) under the surveillance of correctional supervision then jumps from 2 million to 6.5 million, or 3 percent of the country's population (138-139). Given the arguments we've already discussed, a much more important slogan appears on the cover of the book: we need to fight the prisons of poverty.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Claude Lefort, 1924-2010


It's October, which must mean that one or more of my French theory heroes has died. This time the bell tolls for Claude Lefort, true relic of a particular France I've learned about and loved.

Though lesser known among Anglophone readers than the post-structuralist superstars of the 80s and 90s, Lefort's intellectual efforts in political theory deserve wider recognition. A student of Merleau-Ponty, Maussian sociology, and a founder of post-Trotskyite council communist journal Socialisme ou Barbarie, the early Lefort brought phenomenological tools to bear on some of the major political problems and events of his time. As a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie, he joined Castoriadis, Lyotard and others in furthering the critique of bureacratic deformation in communist states and workers' movements. Though for a time a contributor to Sartre's Temps Modernes, Lefort bloodied Sartre's nose in a penetrating Leftist critique of "The Communists and Peace". This singled him out early on as an upstart and, possibly, a major contender.

Essentially unmooring himself from Marxism, Lefort went on to make major contributions in the history of political philosophy and the philosophical critique of totalitarianism. Drawing from Merleau-Ponty and Arendt, he theorized democracy as a perpetually shifting, centreless and interminably constituting political field; totalitarianism on this view being an attempt at drawing up final accounts and foreclosing the political as such through total mobilization. Lefort's analysis of actually existing communism and its collapse, however, was nuanced enough to trouble the simplistic notion of totalitarianism bandied about by other political commentators.

Lefort was, in sum, a rigorous Leftist thinker who responded to the general political disillusionment of his generation with sustained critique and searching forays into intellectual history. This made for less sexy fare than Baudrillard's apocalyptic irony and Deleuze's offhanded comments on anal sex, but I think we could all benefit from a close reading of Lefort.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Congratulations to Dr. Young

Mark Young successfully defended his PhD. thesis, 'Intellectual Virtue and the Good: A Theory Concerning the Constitutive Value of Intellectual Character' on September 22, 2010. 

Sure this post is a bit belated, but  Dr. Young stalled on sending me the title of his dissertation until after he had submitted the final version on October 1st.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

'Amir Khalid's Views on Muslims in Europe

In the last video blog I addressed the expulsion of Roma in France and showed a clip on Canadian Roma people. Another contentious issue in Europe (and growing in America) is the increasing Muslim community. The popular Islamic Egyptian preacher 'Amir Khalid discusses his views on the realities and solutions to this growing tension. His commentary reveals much about the current situation. It is also interesting to see him give an Islamic response to the backlash against Muslims. Whatever one makes of 'Amir Khalid's views, he gives insight to how Muslims are feeling about their precarious role within Western civilization, Europe particularly.