Tag Archives: boundaries

Philosophy on the Edge

I’ll attend the Pacific division meeting of the American Philosophical Association later this week in San Francisco. Even though it’s only a division meeting (not national), it’s a massive event nonetheless. There are a few panels I’m very excited about, including one with Al Lingis and Tony Steinbock, focusing on Steinbock’s recent book, Moral Emotions, which is something like a sequel to his Phenomenology and Mysticism.

I’ll be presenting Friday evening in a panel about philosophy on the edge. Preview: I’ll say something about how coexistence in the Anthropocene is without center or edge. With the ongoing and inevitable erosion of anthropocentric subjectivity, countless beings are crowding into center stage. Everything is a center, being centered amidst multiplicities of centers with a circumference that is nowhere; but this could also be formulated by saying that everything is not a center, being on edge in a world whose center is nowhere and circumference everywhere. In some sense everything is both a center and an edge, but in another sense, everything is neither a center nor an edge. What this means it that coexistence in the planetary era is fundamentally ironic, ambiguous, and uncertain. My main point will be that this situation does not just call for humans to give up anthropocentrism. It calls for philosophers to give up philosophy, to give up the power of philosophy so that philosophy might become possible again, and still for the first time. Giving up power is about becoming vulnerable to intimate encounters outside of philosophy and outside of the occidental context of philosophy.

I’m thinking with Foucault here, specifically this remark he made in an interview during a stay at a Zen temple in Japan in 1978. “The crisis of Western thought is identical to the end of imperialism,” which is also “the end of the era of Western philoso­phy. Thus, if philosophy of the future exists, it must be born outside of Europe or equally born in consequence of meetings and impacts be­tween Europe and non-Europe.” Adding some specificity to his comments, I want to make a couple of small incisions to open up some possibilities for a philosophy of the future. The incisions use the cutting edges of deconstruction and Buddhism, that is, the blades of the mohel and manjushri. There are a few different lines of thought to bring together here, at least three, including Keiji Nishitani’s work on the encounter between nihilism and emptiness (shunyata), the work of Robert Magliola, Jin Park, and others facilitating an encounter between Derrida and Nagarjuna, and Tim Morton’s invocations of Derrida and Nagarjuna in his dark ecology. The point is not to help solve any problems with some Buddhodeconstructive tag team. The point is to become vulnerable, weak and powerless. The point of the blades of the mohel and manjushri is this: surrender.

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Testing the Boundaries of Reality

A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation at the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Forum at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.  I spoke about some of the research I used for my dissertation (Philosophy for a Planetary Civilization: On the Verge of Integral Ecology), which I defended last March.  A video of the talk is available HERE.  I was introduced by Matt Segall, who recently posted some summary reflections on the talk.

Like many talks I give, the style is mostly improvisational.  Nonetheless, my meandering musings elicited some thoughtful questions and comments from the people in attendance, making about half of the video Q&A.  I’m not going to summarize the presentation here, but I will state my gratitude for the various criticisms I’ve received.

Those criticisms include the following:

1) My critique of AT&T’s “Rethink Possible” slogan didn’t account for the full history of AT&T.  This was by far my favorite criticism.  AT&T is a weird entity with a complex history.

2) My interpretation of Platonic dualism didn’t do justice to the elements of Plato’s writings that subvert dualism and pervert the very idea of Platonism.

3) My espousal of rhizomatics might not be effective in countering the interconnected flows of global capitalism.

4) Aside from an injunction to tarry with complexity and uncertainty, my philosophical experiments do not give very specific guidance on questions of ethics, politics, and practical action.

5) My focus on the humor of truth (Isabelle Stengers’ concept for a critical standpoint from which to recognize the limits of one’s theories) did not adequately account for the many other ways of recognizing the limits of one’s theories (e.g., humility, imagination).

6) Perhaps the strangest criticism I heard is that my emphasis on humor makes me impervious to criticism or somehow difficult to criticize.  I’m happy to accept that criticism, especially insofar as I sometimes tell jokes instead of responding directly to questions.  However, I think I’m generally quite vulnerable and available to criticism.  Indeed, humor (following Stengers) was presented precisely as a means to stay open to criticism, not as a hipster strategy for being ironic and, like, whatevs.  Furthermore, as indicated by each of these six criticisms, some people found it quite easy to criticize my points and positions.