Category Archives: complaints

humanism as backlash

I just read Scu’s blog post which provides his riff on Harman’s thoughts on the Adrian Johnston interview carried out by Brian Smith and myself. While I completely get where he is coming from, I think it may be a bit much to call the position outlined by Johnston an ‘anthropocentric backlash’ for at least two reasons. First, it’s hardly a new position to privilege the human to some extent, and there is a certain French reliance on Descartes and Rousseau that seems to have never really left (the best contemporary example would be Badiou). Second, it seems like the position of someone like Johnston is far to subtle to be taking for a sort of reactionary humanism, as for him, following someone like Zizek, the point is that through a sort of evolutionary glitch (or fuck-up) humans have been left with a certain capacity for freedom and reflection which is unique to our species. Thus rather than being a ‘traditional’ humanism, it’s a sort of humanism grounded in a thoroughly materialist account of how life and subsequently thought are events which take place after the primacy of matter. After reading some of the excerpts of Meillassoux’s Divine Inexistence in the Harman book, I think his own position (in which humans are ‘the ultimate’) is probably a better target for anyone out to fight the ‘new humanism’.

thoughts on conference etiquette

I attend a lot of conferences. sometimes giving papers, sometime just hanging out, taking notes, and drinking afterward. i find them to be the one of the necessary antidotes to the isolation and loneliness that comes with doing phd research; especially when you’re based in a very small department in a fairly dis-connected scottish town. that said, i have to come to the belief that there is a sort of un-written code of conduct that makes for the best conference experiences, and after recently attending a conference (which will not be named) in which all of these rules were broken time and time again, i’d like to outline a few of these simple rules.

first, and most importantly: if you’re presenting a paper at a small conference with no parallel sessions, go to other papers besides your own. in my mind, nothing makes a graduate student seem more pretentious than traveling to a far off city to present at a conference, skipping all the other papers, then showing up for your own and expecting people to give a shit. at the conference i attended recently there were 7 papers (with responses) over the course of 1.5 days. out of all of the presenters, a friend and i were the only two to actually go to the other papers. even the (very well known) keynote was there for the entirety of the second day of the conference, yet many of the graduate students simply came and went, showing very little respect to the other presenters.

another thing i recently noticed is something that should never be said while giving a paper at a conference, and in can come across in a few different ways. examples:

‘i would talk more about (topic x) but this is actually from a larger work/article….’


‘if i had more time i would go into (x), but…’

Okay. you’re a graduate student. someone put out a call for papers, likely telling you at the outset that you had 20 minutes to speak. you sent in a short abstract, and had months to figure out what to say during your presentation. please (please) do not show up with some 8,000 word article you’re working on, and then attempt to rush through it in 20 minutes, all the while acting like what you have to say is so deeply important that you can’t express it in 20 minutes.

and along with this, can we all agree to stop providing textual summary, literature reviews, and exegesis in short conference papers? wouldn’t it be much more productive (and fun) if we made arguments? i thought phd theses and journal articles were our opportunities to prove how many books we’ve read and how many footnotes we have? why not take advantage of the chance to be around other young scholars working in a similar area and make an interesting, even provocative, argument and then have a lively discussion afterward? i hate being self-referential, but alas, this is one of the things i really appreciated about all of the students presented by graduate students at the conference in dundee last month. they each stayed to 20 minutes, and provided interesting/provocative arguments that lead to productive discussion. and along with this, they were committed to the event as a whole, interacting with the papers and ideas of others the whole way through.

i’ll stop there, but will return later to offer some more thoughts on conference etiquette and strategy. in particular i will attempt to offer the perfect ratio of alcohol to coffee that allows one to spend 2-3 days barely sleeping yet somehow able to interact with complex ideas during the day and drink like a frat-boy (or sorority girl) at night.

most overrated philosophers, really?

in the past day or so quite a few bloggers have been throwing out their own candidates for who the most ‘overrated’ philosopher is. i had no intention to get involved in the debate, but just saw this posted on graham’s blog:

 Most overrated of all time: someone I like to read but can’t seem to use… Kierkegaard.

now, this quote doesn’t come from graham himself but rather from someone he knows ‘fairly well’. that said, i find the idea that Kierkegaard is the most overrated philosopher of all time  absolutely absurd. if anything, he has to be near the top of the list for the most underrated philosopher! has someone who works on Kierkegaard, it’s shocking how many people working in philosophy have never really given his work much attention, and it seems if anything most people’s experience with Kierkegaard involves reading Fear and Trembling and maybe Repetition in an undergrad course on existentialism. if the person who sent this to graham “can’t seem to use” Kierkegaard, this is likely their own fault.

along with this, i’m pretty shocked at how many times Sartre’s name has come up in these discussions as well. maybe he was overrated in the 60’s or something, but he’s also one of those figures who seem to be more and more relegated to undergraduate ‘introduction to existentialism’ type courses. and it is also telling that his most serious philosophical work, Critique of Dialectical Reason vols. 1 and 2 is only now starting to get some bits of attention in the english speaking world.

and just to perpetuate the debate, i think Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida are three of the most overrated philosophers, at least in the recent continental tradition.

what just happened?

So, in the past 30 hours or so, everyone has collectively decided that they hate Badiou. What a burst of originality.

I’m glad at least some people are getting the ridiculous and sad irony in all of this. I’m not going to bother linking to all the ‘lets kill the father’ posts out there, I’m sure you’ve seen them or can find them, but almost all of them share one troubling thing, an odd absence of any philosophical or textual engagement with his work. And, if I can make a guess, at least a few seem to be written by people critiquing a book (LoW) which they have not read, or, understood.

As I said in a comment on one of the previously mentioned blogs, this reminds me of being 14 years old and turning violently against one of my favorite punk bands when they would sign with a major label or put a video on mtv.

Dark and obscure doesn’t always equal rigorous or interesting.

brilliant advice…

from Graham:

Anything that helps you be productive should be treated as holy. What that may be differs for each of us. For me, it’s long multi-volume history books, as well as certain public sites that have been “lucky” places for me for thinking and working– the now-closed Café Trevi on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, a specific cybercafe near Russell Square in London that still exists, etc. I do recommend treating these sorts of lucky rituals and places with a near-religious awe, because humans are all constantly within inches of turning into sulky, embittered procrastinators and aggressive resenters of the productive and the fulfilled. But you have to find your own holy places and holy relics. (OOP)

This is both brilliant advice, as well as utterly painful for me to read. While living in Nottingham for my MA I did most of my ‘good’ work at one of the many mellow pubs or cafes in the city. On moving to Dundee to start my PhD I figured I’d be able to do the same and find a few places possessing that certain ‘energy’ allowing me to work. Sadly, there is not even a shred of ‘cafe culture’ in this city, and the pubs are not the type of pubs that are used to people coming in mid-day with a stack of books under their arm. (A stack of alcoholism, maybe…)

Thus, I’ve been doing most of my outlining/writing in the small library cafe, and taking advantage of St. Andrews, which is right across the river, and being filled with mostly American and English students it has great cafes where you can buy one cup of coffee and sit for a couple hours comfortably working away. Although at times pretentious, at least St. Andrews ‘feels’ academic, and it’s not hard to walk into a pub and find an awkard looking academic with a pint of ale and a book.

Regardless, great advice.

on endorsements and logics of worlds.

a question…

why the hell did continuum have Joan Copjec write the only endorsement feature on the cover of Logics of Worlds? On the continuum website they have a lengthy, and appropriate, endorsement from Peter Hallward, who is, you know, a philosopher, and whom is more or less the english language Badiou expert; why the hell wouldn’t they put that on the published book? I mean, who working on continental philosophy (esp. the materialist strand) thinks of Joan Copjec as someone important?

Maybe I’m just missing something…

just a thought…

Does anyone else notice how (some of) the online scientific-realism contingent is basically becoming the reformed Calvinism of continental philosophy? This may reveal a bit of ‘naivete’, but are we really back at the place where continental philosophers need to take too seriously questions of determinism and eliminitivism? If the determinist are right, then almost all of the work in recent continental philosophy falls out the window, so one should either find one of the sub-groups within contemporary anglo philosophy who rejects free will. And as for eliminitivism, as I understand it, weren’t the Churchlands basically disregarded by the anglo philosophy world years (and years) ago? I confess I wasn’t studying philosophy a decade ago, and am only familiar with bits and piece of the literature, but speaking with people who were around then, and do know the literature, they seem astonished when they find out young Continental philosophers are taking this stuff seriously again.

I’m just not sure what motivates someone to ‘do’ philosophy if theories such as determinism and eliminativism are right? If there is no such thing as a freely existing subject…then shit…count me out.

(sorry for the micro rant)

Leiter on getting a job in the US with UK degree

There is a conversation going on right now on Leiter Reports regarding the success of students with a UK PhD applying for jobs in the states. As someone who plans to be doing just that in the next few years this is of some significance, as it is to many other students in my department; sadly though, the comments left so far have given the impression that the only reason to get a PhD is to get a good job. Now I obviously understand that we all have to make money one way or another, but if someone doesn’t have a passion for their field of study then they should just get a job in business and make a lot more money for much less effort. One comment literally gave the advice to make sure your adviser helped you develop a ‘marketable’ topic for your dissertation. As one who is planning on writing  PhD that will most definitely not be marketable in the states, I find it ridiculous that anyone would focus years of research around marketability.

The only advice that is really necessary for this situation is that one should study with the adviser and department that will best facilitate their field of interest and work their ass of for however many years they are there. Screw marketability. What is the point of spending years of your life in a department that doesn’t fit your academic interest for the sake of better chances in an unpredictable job market?  Eh.