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’.


Cosmos and History

The ‘Real Objects or Material Subjects’ issue of Cosmos and History edited by Dr. Brian Smith and myself is now online here.

We put some work into this and I hope some of you enjoy it, or are at least productively provoked by it.

Real Objects/Material Subjects Journal Issue (finally.)

So I’ve let this blog wither away into nothingness….but would like to try to insert a spark of being into it again by posting the table of contents for an upcoming issue of Cosmos and History edited by Brian Smith and myself. It features papers that are based on presentations given at the ‘Real Objects or Material Subjects?’ conference which took place at the University of Dundee in March, 2010. As C&H is open access, the issue will be available for everyone. I’ll post again once it’s online. Until then, here is what you can expect:

Real Objects or Material Subjects?

The Future of Continental Metaphysics

Table of Contents

Editors Introduction

Michael O’Neill Burns & Brian Anthony Smith

The Problem with Metzinger

Graham Harman

The Transcendental Core of Correlationism

Paul Ennis

Critical Idealism and Transcendental Materialism: A Speculative Analysis of the Second Paralogism

Michael Olson

Objects in manifold times: Deleuze and the speculative philosophy of objects as processes

James Williams

Becoming L’Homme Imaginaire: The Role of the Imagination in Overcoming Circularity in Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason

Austin Smidt

Beyond Objects, Beyond Subjects: Giorgio Agamben on Animality, Particularity and the End of Onto-theology

Colby Dickinson

Fanon and Political Will

Peter Hallward

The Necessity of Contingency or Contingent Necessity: Meillassoux, Hegel, and the Subject

John Van Houdt

Aufhebung and Negativity

Ryan Krahn

Lacanian Materialism and the Question of the Real

Tom Eyers

Materialism, Subjectivity and the Outcome of French Philosophy

Interview with Adrian Johnston

upcoming paper at UCF

In early April i’ll be leaving full-time residence in the UK and moving back to Orlando, FL to have free rent, finish writing my PhD, and hopefully get some teaching work. Luckily, I’ve been invited to give a colloqium paper in the department of philosophy at the University of Central Florida on April 14th. If any readers are in the central Florida area, I encourage you to come. Here are the details of the paper I’ll be giving:

Title: Anxious Ontology: Reading Søren Kierkegaard between Idealism and Materialism

Abstract: In much of the recent secondary literature, Søren Kierkegaard has been read as pre-figuring much of what took place in 20th century European philosophy. Often this reading places Kierkegaard in a philosophical lineage that came to be embodied in the ethical, hermeneutic, and deconstructive methods which are often considered to be parts of the larger post-modern sensibility of 20th century philosophy. In this paper I will break from this tradition of considering Kierkegaard’s relation to 20th century philosophical trends by considering him in both the 19th century context of German Idealism and the recent 21st century turn to speculative, or transcendental, materialism. In particular, I will focus on Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety, reading this text both as a response to theories of immediacy emerging in German Idealism and as pre-figuring recent materialist re-considerations of Idealism. Along with providing my own attempt at a 21st century reading of Kierkegaard, I will place my argument into dialogue with two recent interpretations of Kierkegaard offered by David Kangas and Slavoj Žižek. At the heart of my argument will be the claim that Kierkegaard’s potential relevance to 21st century debates is dependent on a rigorous re-consideration of his indebtedness to the philosophical climate of the early 19th century.

21st Century Idealism Registration

Registration for 21st Century Idealism is now open on the conference website. It is absolutely 100% free, all you need to do is fill out a simple form. Easy.

Details on affordable accomodation in Dundee should be on the website soon as well.

21st Century Idealism: Provisional Schedule

While this schedule isn’t 100% certain as of yet, it should look something like this:

21st Century Idealism: April 1-2, 2011, University of Dundee

Friday, April 1st

10:15-10:30 Welcome


Sebastian Ostritsch (University of Bonn): The Philosophical Ubiquity of Idealism and the Possibility of a Fundamentally Non-Idealistic “Philosophy”

Søren Rosendal : Hegel’s Realism: The Ex-timate Real

Claire Pagès (Université Paris Ouest/Nanterre): Should we abandon the Hegelian idealism?

 2:00pm-1:00pm Lunch Break


Tom Eyers (CRMEP, Kingston): The Underground Current of the Idea: Idea, Idealism and Ideology in Althusser, Lacan and Badiou

Joseph Carew (Bergische Universität Wuppertal): German Idealism and Ontological Catastrophe: Slavoj Žižek and the Horror of Subjectivity

 2:00-2:30pm Coffee Break


John Van Houdt (Tilburg): The Ali Baba Problem: Idealism for the 21st Cenutry

Kirill Chepurin (Higher School of Economics, Moscow): The Absolute’s Blind Spots: Geist and Contingency through Hegel’s Anthropology

Guillaume Lejeune (Université Libre de Bruxelles): Self-Construction and Society. Malabou and Brandom about Hegel.

 4-4:30pm Coffee Break

 4:30-6:00 Keynote Presentation: Markus Gabriel (University of Bonn):

 21st Century Idealism: Facticity, Accessibility, and Contingency

 Saturday, April 2nd

10:00-11:30am Keynote Presentation: Beth Lord (Dundee): TITLE TBA

 11:30-11:45am Coffee


Alexander William George Andrews (University of Nottingham): Invisible Hands: Hegel, Marx and the Market

Dave Mesing (Duquesne University): Political Prefaces: Kierkegaard’s Politics of the Beginning

 12:45-1:45pm Lunch Break


Daniel Whistler (Liverpool): Schelling, Tautegory and the History of Philosophy

Jeremy Dunham(UWE-Bristol): G.E. Moore’s The Refutation of Idealism and the Late 19th/Early 20th Century Idealist

Pete Wolfendale (Warwick): The Greatest Mistake: A Case for the Failure of Hegel’s Idealism

 3:15-3:30pm Coffee Break


André Reichert (Freie Universität Berlin): A Deleuzian Idealism. Postcartesianism, Diagrammatics and Prephilosophy

Johan Nystrom (Kingston University): Dancing and Leaping: Repetition in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Deleuze

 4:30-6:00 Iain Hamilton-Grant (UWE-Bristol) TITLE TBA


Note that this year registration is FREE and coffee/snacks will be provided for all attending. If you are planning to attend, please email me to register at mykeburns [at] gmail [dot] com. Further details on the schedule, accomodation, registration, and pre and post conference events should be available on the conference website soon.

academic back up plans?

With the recent decline in full-time academic jobs (and jobs in general), and especially jobs in the humanities, there has been a bit of talk amongst friends and colleagues about potential back-up plans if some (or many) of us are unable to acquire full-time academic employment.

For the time being, I’m hoping to move back home (to Florida), finish writing my thesis, and find some sort of adjunct teaching at a local college. Past that, I have thought about doing an alternative teaching certification program in urban education, but have just realized that the job market in that area is just about as grim as the academic market. If not that, I used to work in community development, and while I think I’d find it fairly intellectually stimulating, the non-profit market is just as bad as education these days.

I heard from a friend last night that in some states nurses are being hired with six-figure starting salaries. While I’d never considered nursing before, it could be an interesting option after finishing my thesis. I feel like ‘Dr. Michael Burns, R.N.’ would be a great title, and cause quite a bit of confusion amongst doctors at the hospital who would take shots at a man who was a nurse and not a ‘doctor’. Also, if I could deal with the piss, puke, and shit; I’d make way more than any academic position.

All of that said….what are the non-academic back-up plans others have been considering? I think this is an important discussion that some of us may be avoiding…..

‘Religion and Liberation’ Conference

Below is the information for an upcoming conference at Durham on the topic of ‘Religion and Liberation’ featuring some great keynote speakers. Be sure to check this one out if you’re interested in the topic.


Religion and Liberation: Interdisciplinary Perspectives” of Durham University’s Department of Theology, Faith and Globalization Programme, and Centre for Catholic Studies, at St Cuthbert’s Catholic Church (University Chaplaincy), Durham, UK, 17 December 2010,
9.00 am-6.30 pm

Call for papers

Description: “Current debates about religion and politics tend towards two positions: 1) concern over the danger of religious extremism; 2) criticism of religious traditions’ conservative positions on social issues. While these debates are important, their dominance often eclipses the significant history of religiously rooted liberation movements. This conference aims to address this often-overlooked connection through the investigation of three themes: 1) historical analysis of religiously rooted liberation movements; 2) theoretical analysis of the connection between religious ideas and theories of liberation; and 3) critical analysis of religion’s role in contemporary philosophy and critical theory. Through this investigation, we seek to show how the theoretical and historical elements within these traditions may provide a complementary critical resource which enables communities to work on solutions to the crises confronting contemporary society.”

The organizers welcome submission on these or other related topics: Religious responses to the political and economic effects of globalization, including the responses of indigenous religious traditions; Theoretic, sociological, or historical perspectives on the role of religious traditions in struggles for human rights; Theoretical, sociological, or historical perspectives on Islamic or Christian liberation theology; Religion and the financial crisis; Religion and environmental activism; Connections between theological traditions and the critique of political economy; Religion and forms of social organization; Religion, politics of identity and contemporary social movements; Influence of theological traditions on political or economic structures; Regional assessments of the current status of liberation theology.

Keynote speakers: Philip Goodchild (University of Nottingham), “The Future of Liberation”, and Roland Boer (University of Newcastle, Australia), “Kairos and Akairós”

To propose a paper, please send a title and a 400-word abstract to:

Deadline: 19 November 2010

Participants will be informed by 26 November.

Registration fee: £5

21st Century Idealism: CFP

21st Century Idealism, April 1-2, 2011. University of Dundee

Keynote Speakers: Iain Hamilton Grant (UWE-Bristol), Markus Gabriel (Bonn), Beth Lord (Dundee).

Last year’s philosophy conference at the University of Dundee Department of Philosophy explored the contemporary debate between theories of materialism and realism with regard to the project of the recommencement of metaphysics in the continental tradition. This year’s conference will explore the relevance of a perspective which served as a silent partner in last year’s debate: idealism. 

We invite abstracts of up to 500 words for 20 minute presentations on topics generally related to the contemporary relevance (or, irrelevance) of philosophical idealism.

Suggested topics include (but are by no means constrained to):

  • The use of the German idealist tradition (Fichte-Hegel-Schelling) by contemporary philosophy (both continental and analytic).
  • Responses to the recent resurgence of interest in Schelling (and particularly responses to the projects of Iain Hamilton Grant and Markus Gabriel)
  • The role of contingency in German idealism and it’s contemporary influence.
  • The recent re-readings of Hegel in Jameson, Nancy, Malabou and Zizek. 
  • The relation of Kierkegaard to the idealist tradition. 
  • Contemporary philosophies of nature, and the role of biology in contemporary debates in idealism and metaphysics. 
  • The continental appropriation of British idealism. 
  • The contemporary appropriation of post-idealist figures (Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Feuerbach, Marx, etc)
  • The 20th century French appropriation of 19th century German philosophy. 
  • The relevance of both romantic and materialist critiques of idealism.
  • The role of aesthetics in contemporary metaphysics 
  • The recent turn to idealist figures (particularly Hegel) in Anglo-American philosophy, and the relevance of this turn. (Especially with reference to the Pittsburgh school)
  • Idealism as a potential site of dialogue between the analytic and continental traditions
  • Idealist tendencies in figures such as Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, and Meillassoux.
  • The influence or relevance of philosophical idealism to politics, sociology or economics.

abstracts due by january 15, 2011. visit the conference website for information on submission.

conference announcement: ‘Idealism in the 21st Century’, April 1-2

While there is much more coming on this (including a CFP), I’d like to announce the 2011 Dundee philosophy conference. This year’s title will be ‘Idealism in the 21st Century’, and keynotes will include Markus Gabriel and Iain-Hamilton Grant, with more to be announced soon.

A call for papers will be circulating within a week, and I hope we can make this even more successful than last year’s conference.