A new orientation

7. Is there love in productivity? Is the notion of productivity—trauma, irruption, etc—necessarily masculinist and/or erotic? Is eros necessarily a discourse of lack (and thus falling within masculinity)? Eros is, after all, between poverty and resource. Can there be a discourse of creativity that is not intrinsically masculinist without also falling prey to the naïveté of “giving birth” (since this is obviously not what it means to be “feminine”)?

Instead, the answer must be in the limit (or, convertibly, in the “between”). The limit is neither masculine nor feminine (even, perhaps, the “feminine” that deconstructs discourse, logic, symbol). The limit is the point of indiscernibility—[either/or]/[both/and]. It is out of the limit that creativity is possible. The limit is virtual. The limit, therefore, allows us to refigure the transcendence/immanence problem. The novel is immanent (since there is no “no-where”), but also transcendent (it comes “from nowhere” insofar as it is indeterminate, invisible, etc, and insofar as the limit is itself not a place).

The “immanent” aspect of the limit ultimately is the question of origin—is there an “origin” to the world? The origin must be double—infinitely productive. The duality of origin is defined by the limit.


A german friend of mine linked me this article, from Die Zeit. The question is “what does a philosopher do all day?” They ask Doktoranten, and not undergrads, but then only seem to talk about what they do all day (namely, they don’t get too much into “what they actually do think about”).

Apparently, though, fewer Germans are studying philosophy, and certainly the “greats” of German philosophy don’t seem to get much attention from these “kopfzerbrecher.” Birte Schelling doesn’t know if she’s related to Friedrich Schelling, the guy who promoviert at Humboldt in Berlin (apparently occupying an office near where the masters of german idealism worked) scoffs at Marx’s quote and says it wasn’t the “philosophers” who only interpreted to world, but rather more properly just Hegel (its unclear to me if he likes Kant or not, though… he’s working on “problems of Urteilskraft), and the guy who “likes to stroll in the woods like heidegger” thinks that the age of philosophical systems is over and now philosophy is just the disciplinary watchdog that tells other people if their theories make any sense (though I guess he likes Gadamer… he has pictures of him as a slideshow on his computer [if i understood correctly].

If the nytimes article sutures philosophy to abstract “critical thinking” instrumentally useful for one’s career, this article seems to deny that. The only problem is that it may go too far in the other direction — even if the philosophers have some idea of what philosophy does, no one else may expect to (except realizing that discussing that very question is philosophical). The article seems to present the sentiment that “philosophy is for those weird people who like to think about things that make their heads hurt.” Thankfully doesn’t ask for philosophy to justify itself (perhaps one thing germans will always take for granted), but by doing so, it may suggest that philosophy has no relevance to anyone but “philosophers.”

Or maybe my German isn’t as good as I think it is.

The betrayal of Socrates


According to this article, in ten years the number of colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs rose by fifty-two; in some schools the number of majors in existing programs has doubled in that same time period. Is this really a good thing?

From queen to maidservant: The university administrators and APA representatives interviewed were unanimous in extolling the “relevance” of philosophy: people can (and often do) double-major in philosophy (and some other more useful and, let’s face it, financially stable area of study) and “go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, investment bankers and even commodities traders”. This is because philosophy “emphasizes verbal and logical skills” and “gives [majors] strong skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking”. Philosophy is justified because it is instrumental: “philosophy has attracted students with little interest in contemplating the classical texts, or what is known as armchair philosophy” (more on this in a moment). And that is not all. The article closes with yet another use for philosophy: one female major is quoted as saying “she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive. ‘That whole deep existential torment,’ she said. ‘It’s good for getting girlfriends.’” One wonders (1) where the so-called “life examined” is (from the title of the article); or, even if the examined life really is the value of philosophy, why philosophy’s value is limited to the illumination or edification of an individual life insofar as this life is considered irreducible. This is the double bind: if the value of philosophy is the examined life, we lose the legitimacy of a concrete practice (institution, history, etc) of philosophy (this is the ideology that tells us that “we are all philosophers”); on the other hand, if the value of philosophy is its (instrumental) ability to service the field of cultural and economic production, then we have surrendered the proper name of philosophy (particularly insofar as philosophy operates at the (reflective) limit of thinking).

From philosophy to sophistry: Having thus abstracted the value of philosophy into “critical thinking”, quite independent of any concrete practice of philosophy (could a Marxist really go on and become an investment banker?), the article tells the story of one student who, having switched to philosophy from pre-med, won over her mother’s concerns about a philosophy degree, having “persuaded her with [her] argumentative skills”.

Quite aside from the other problems associated with the popularization of philosophy (see, e.g., 13 and 18 November 2007 posts), such an operation is intrinsically opposed to any real concrete practice. The attempt to make philosophy interesting and relevant to everyone and everything necessarily empties it. Once philosophy is “sutured” to its objects (as Badiou would say), then philosophy loses the critical capacity that is supposedly its greatest value. Philosophy, in other words, devolves into logic; and if there is anything the continentals were right to oppose, it was precisely this temptation and ideology according to which philosophy has no need of its history (or, more precisely, its histories) and its textuality. Literary theory learned this lesson long ago: the lack of a theory is still a theory—it’s just a naïve one. Similarly, the lack of a hermeneutic is still a hermeneutic, except under the pernicious ideology of an abstract universalism that otherwise goes by the name of “humanism” while at the same time endorsing (or at least complicit with) the most vulgar forms of positivism and technology that have apparently penetrated even into that institution whose very existence had until now been precisely to resist the doxastic tendencies of techne. If philosophy is the remembrance of Socrates, it seems that he has now been forgotten.

The result is philosophy majors who think they are being original and creative by discussing the “metaphysics behind the movie “The Matrix” or think that it is in any way appropriate to call Plato an “idiot” for thinking that language is iconic (presuming that majors even read Plato at all since, after all, the point of philosophy is not to know the classic texts but to “think intelligently” about anything at all). Or perhaps the result here is philosophy majors who think that they are not being dogmatic in turning a deaf ear to metaphysics tout court (as “nonsense” dispelled by proper linguistic analysis) or who think it is possible to talk about epistemology and any of its subfields without reading the first Critique (or, alternatively, that epistemology is all philosophy should care about)—and, moreover, that it is fruitful to do so. This is the same ideology and hermeneutic that produces the normally stupid “standard readings” of any particular philosopher under the name of a “progress” that thinks we build on the work of our predecessors either by proving them wrong or by otherwise moving “beyond” them (in good continental—or, let’s face it, Hegelian—terms, this is a logic that refuses repetition).

If it is possible to fight for the name of philosophy, it cannot be done under the name of its “popularization”. The future of philosophy does not depend on having “more majors”. It does not, of course, follow that the future of philosophy requires having fewer majors. The point, rather, is to change the question: from thinking the future of philosophy means more philosophers to thinking that the future of philosophy means a better practice. This is, simply, the question of what it means for philosophy to be an institution. Bourdieu has already opened important and challenging lines here. But the point must be more than the wedding of philosophy to the capacity for critique if—a big if—the essence of philosophy is, as Aristotle said, thinking on thinking (or, more precisely the erotic imitation of thinking on thinking).


Among the various writers who have challenged the ideologies of “objective history” (e.g., Heidegger, MacIntyre, Ricoeur, White, and, most recently, Megill’s Historical Knowledge, Historical Error), it was Deleuze who has most insistently pressed the issue despite rarely explicitly thematizing the problem as being “historical”. We cannot, Deleuze says, speak of “the” history of philosophy but, rather, only of histories of philosophy. (Is this not also a direct consequence of the famous relevant sections of Being and Time?)

When Deleuze’s monographs explicate a history of philosophy, each author is presented as a complex or a composite: it is well-known that Deleuze’s Bergson, Spinoza, and Nietzsche are inseparable, for example; Deleuze is explicit about the “monstrous children” of philosophy in this regard.

We can escalate this procedure in the case of Bergson and Merleau-Ponty by literally intertwining two texts on philosophy and history:

the relation of philosophy to earlier and contemporary philosophies is not … what a certain conception of the history of systems would lead us to assume. [Bergson] Between an “objective history of philosophy” … and a meditation disguised as a dialogue … there must be a middle-ground on which the philosopher we are speaking about and the philosopher who is speaking are present together, although it is not possible even in principle to decide at any given moment just what belongs to each. [Merleau-Ponty] The philosopher does not take pre-existing ideas in order to recast them … The truth is that above the word and above the sentence there is something much more simple … [i.e.,] the meaning [sens], which is less a thing thought than a movement of thought, less a movement than a direction. [Bergson]

In a letter, Bergson would say that an “ism” is not merely the name of the set of principles held by a particular doctrine but rather a “tendency, a direction of thought followed by a philosopher”. Is this not precisely what Deleuze means by presenting a “Bergsonism” under the guise of a “return to Bergson”? This is obviously not a reactionary move; Bergson performatively made the same point when he instructed his executors and wife to destroy many of his writings on his death.

The “history of philosophy”, above all, must resist the temptation to become a museum or a marketplace. The task of history is to attest (this word is important) to the “life” of ideas. History is not this life; nor can history—lest it devolve into the ideologies of “objective history”—orient itself toward the ideas themselves (nor to concepts—Deleuze, again). The only proper history of philosophy is neither philosophical nor historical but, rather, metaphilosophical and, perhaps, metaxiological.