Saturday, September 21, 2013

Areas of Interest

After studying for thirty years I recently realized how many themes of interest I have that keep getting picked up, satisfied for the time being, and then set aside. I thought I'd try to list some of these areas of interest. Some of them are relatively new. Some of them I left in graduate school in the eighties and always wanted to explore again:

Romanticism. The German variety from the late 18th and early 19th century. I never learned the difference between all those German “S-C-H’s”: Schiller, Schelling, Schleiemacher, the two Schlegels. I see though that there is a philosophical anti-foudationalism there and I’d like to understand it. Started reading Frederick Beiser's well-written intellectual histories, The Romantic Imperative and others.

Pragmatism. Looking at the Notre Dame Philosophical Book Review site there are some new books on Pragmatism. Since it is my basic philosophy I'd like to see what people who can explain it well are saying about it. So read Robert Schwartz's Rethinking Pragmatism and Michael Bacon's new introduction to Pragmatism.

The other day I saw on the new book shelf at my college library an introduction to The Kyoto School of philosophy. This is the school of philosophy that arose in Japan in the 20th century and used western philosophical language and techniques to philosophize an Eastern way of understanding existence and the world. I’ve always thought I’d like to understand better what philosophers using a analytic style would do with Buddhist concepts and that’s what these guys did.

I’ve always wanted to understand Spinoza better but haven’t found the right book for it.

Recently I read a compelling reinterpretation of ordinary language philosophy. It's always intrigued me but it always seemed dry and dusty. But Avner Baz’s book When Words are Called For interprets ordinary language philosophy as a radical critique of central parts of contemporary philosophy.

I’ve always wanted to understand how those who practice philosophical counseling understand it and distinguish it from psychotherapy. I got a couple books by Peter Raabe on it. Looks like they have trouble defining what philosophical counseling is.

While I assume – because of my assimilation of Chomsky’s political insight – that Iran is being set up as a useful enemy by the American political establishment and media, I didn’t really understand contemporary Iran well. I just figured it’s an authoritarian Islamic state and bad, but of course not to be threatened, sanctioned and attacked as the US is doing. But the recent book by longtime policy insiders Floyd and Hilary Mann Leverett, Going to Teheran, is quite an eye-opener. They say that the Islamic revolution of 1979 was an authentic revolution and that Ayatollah Khomeini was an authentic revolutionary. I always figured he was an evil guy (remember those eyebrows?) who established with others an authoritarian Islamic state. The Leverett’s always refer to “The Islamic Republic of Iran” instead of just “Iran” to emphasize that there was a genuine attempt at, and that there is a genuine kind of, democratic republic in Iran. That it is an Islamic-democratic hybrid and that the people do have some say. They even present solid evidence that the last elections that re-elected Ahmadinejad, which were presented in the American media as fraudulent, were actually as legitimate as elections generally are in democratic countries. More recently, the current elected president, Hassan Rouhani, is considered, by Iranian standards, more moderate than Ahmadinejad.

I want to understand more about what Charles Peirce, the pragmatist philosopher, said about the relationship between ethics and aesthetics. Did he really see ethics as more fundamental than epistemology and aesthetics as more fundamental than ethics?

What are the further implications of seeing knowledge as a kind of social status that some information has conferred upon it by a social consensus, rather than as a designation of the information’s validity according to some independent means of validation?

I still want to get back to Hegel. Maybe through Robert Pippin, maybe through Zizek, and maybe through Fredric Jameson. Not sure I want to read Hegel himself.
Some day I’d like to try reading Lacan himself. I spent a couple years in a reading group reading secondary sources on him: Bruce Fink and Slavoj Zizek.

The concept of the normative seems to be big these days. It still seems murky to me. This new book by Joshua Gert, Normative Bedrock, seems to take an approach I like, but I’m having trouble getting into it.

I still would like to read some Bakhtin after reading in a study group a selection from Tzvetan Todorov’s The Dialogical Imagination. I like Bakhtin’s attempt to see meaning as originating not just in contexts but in specific, unique contexts that, because they are the context that are occurring right now with these people who are talking, gain meaning from what has just been said and what we anticipate saying. It could link up with Baz’s interpretation of ordinary language philosophy since he criticizes both the semantic and the contextualizing approaches to determining truth and meaning by focusing on not trying to create a theory of meaning. That ordinary language philosophy is, Wittgenstein-like, a careful dismantling of the need for such theories. Maybe a kind of philosophical therapy.

In general, through pragmatism, ordinary language philosophy, Nietzsche, Buddhism, phenomenology, Bakhtin and others I seem to keep wanting to get away from abstraction and systems to a thinking that focuses on the texture of lived experience. Philosophy as being used to alter ourselves for the better and so having practical purposes.

I want to read more Zizek, but not commentary on Zizek, because he’s so enjoyable and delightful to read. And he gives lively and understandable descriptions of tough thinkers’ thoughts.

I’d like to finish Richard Bernstein’s Praxis and Action.

I’d like a nice book on Kierkegaard and to read again, in the Hong translation, the parts in Concluding Unscientific Postscript about subjectivity. As I recall the passages on subjectivity are so compelling that it seems while reading them that subjectivity is the true reality and the starting point for any thinking or living. That’s rhetorical skill!

Still want to read Adorno again and the Frankfurt School but not sure what. Maybe the nice looking history of the school by Rolf Wiggershaus.

More Hayden White. Still want to read all of his Metahistory.

I’d like to understand the dichotomy between the figural and the literal. Does literal correspond to the correspondence theory of truth? Literal meaning how things actually are? But isn’t that a philosophical assertion: how things actually are. We live a culture in which the surest knowledge is from the natural sciences and so what is "literally" true is what is physically true and not metaphysically true. Compare how those from medieval times may have thought that God and the soul were literally true and nature was a metaphor, messages from God, to be interpreted. This difficulty with the idea of the literal underlay Nietzsche’s metaphorization of language. That metaphor or the figural comes first and then comes literality.

I'd like to review Max Weber's sociology and the phenomenological sociology of Alfred Schutz. I could never get into Schutz because I was so politically minded and much more attracted to The Frankfurt School thinkers. Perhaps I could appreciate Schutz now.

I still want to understand theories of the placebo effect. If the placebo effect has to be ruled out as a cause of healing against every new medicine, and if it also is superior, sometimes, to doing nothing and letting the body heal itself, how does it work? What is the physiological mechanism by which we heal ourselves better than our natural process because we think we're getting medicine? Mind over matter doesn't explain much since almost everyone would see mind as a result of the matter of the brain and nervous system.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Chomsky and Zizek and the Journal

The recent “feud” between Chomsky and Zizek that the Wall Street Journal is promoting is only interesting for the use it is being put by the Journal. Reading Chomsky on politics in 1982 transformed me into a lifelong learner, reader of Chomsky and reader of Chomsky’s political critics. His empirical accuracy over a thirty year period has been astounding (check out the 500 pages of footnotes that accompanied the book Understanding Power). Contrary to many who are fans of Chomsky’s political critique, I’ve also loved the work of Salvoj Zizek. Chomsky’s statements implying that Zizek’s work has no value are wrong. I’ve found Zizek’s insights stimulating, helpful and fun. I don’t think I would understand what’s valuable in Lacan without Zizek and Bruce Fink. So I think Chomsky is wrong about Zizek and Lacan, and Zizek is wrong about Chomsky. They are both great in their domains. I do think that Zizek’s comments about contemporary political events – like the war in Afghanistan – are weak. That kind of stuff is Chomsky’s great strength.

It shows how skewed mainstream debate is that you can just state a crude version of Chomsky’s views and they seem foolish. But is the sense of foolishness in Chomsky’s views or in the mainstream assumptions that he is countering? What if it turns out that the mainstream assumptions are ludicrous – the US is pro-democracy, there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace process? If the radical argument against mainstream assumptions is seriously considered then the reader has to find out what’s right by exploring the issues. The Journal author doesn’t want the reader to do this and so the whole incident is presented as humorous and not to be taken seriously. Ironically, this is just the kind of journalistic behavior that Chomsky and Zizek help us understand. No wonder the author doesn't want to confront the issues they raise.

The whole point of the story of the “feud” is to marginalize these thinkers who offer a radical and rationally argued critique of western social and political structures and policies. Since the Wall Street Journal is a bastion of and, on its editorial page, a promoter of mainstream conservative policies they naturally oppose radical critique. Since the Journal is in the power position they can make fun of opponents. By not treating them seriously they can try to get their readers not to treat them seriously and instead use them for entertainment purposes.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Nietzsche and Klossowski

For the last few months I've been poring over Pierre Klossowski's Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle. I had heard about it as one of the great Nietzsche interpretations, but I was unprepared for how great it is. What first intrigued me was the translator's quoting Michel Foucault's letter to Klossowski after the publication of the book in French in 1969. Foucault wrote: "It is the greatest book of philosophy I have read" and that in its quality it is "with Nietzsche himself." That's high praise! But it's true. I don't think I've ever read a book a second time right after finishing it the first time. I've told myself I would with some books, but never did. I'm just finishing it a second time and may start a third. I don't use it to derive arguments or know what Nietzsche really said. I experience it. It elaborates pretty precisely a proto-Freudian vision of existence and the world in which all that we take for granted as what makes things happen as they do are actually secondary or tertiary epi-phenomena or froth on the waves of reality. So consciousness, reason, the will, the self, distinct things, order all are plausibly, acutely and convincingly dismantled and seen as the result of an underground world of forces and impulses.

Recently a friend asked his standard question when I tell him about a thinker I'm reading: "What is the essence of the thinker's view in one sentence?" In one way it's absurd to try to summarize someone's thought in one sentence, but in another way it's an interesting challenge. He asked me to summarize Nietzsche and I thought my answer pretty good. I said: "Existence is a cacophonous melody."