Tag Archives: Foucault

Alchemical Thoughts: Of Tales and Fires

In Plato’s seventh letter (341c), he says that what he pursues in his studies cannot be expressed in words, but emerges through sustained communion with “the thing itself” (to pragma auto) and “is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself.” There is always a call for a return to the thing itself. Contemplation feeds on an alimentary fire. Thinking is alchemy.  Continue reading

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.

The Grander the Narrative…

Reports of the death of metanarratives have been greatly exaggerated. Critiques of grand narratives (metanarratives) often have the respectable intention of protecting the specificity of different peoples and places from the homogenizing and totalizing effects of universal claims that are supposed to apply to everyone in all times and places. But these critiques fail on numerous accounts. Continue reading

It’s only teaching, but I like it

The last month has been a busy one.  I’ve graded roughly 400 pages of student papers, and I’ve given about 60 hours of lectures.  I haven’t spent much time writing, and I feel good about that.  Well, I suppose I’ve done some writing, if you count lecture notes, syllabi, and emails to students.  To adapt a phrase from Mick Jagger, it’s only teaching, but I like it.  This is what I do. 

I consider myself a teacher far more than I would consider myself a writer.  Along those lines, I feel an affinity with Heidegger: my work is not to write, but to teach, where teaching is understood not as advising or instructing (belehren) but as a practice of letting learn (lernen lassen).  Foucault is also a companion in that regard.  I often recall his statement that he is a teacher and not a writer or a public intellectual or a philosopher.  This isn’t to say that being a teacher precludes writing.  Heidegger and Foucault wrote quite a lot.  But they were not writers.

I would say that teaching is more difficult than writing.  Indeed, teaching is even more difficult than learning, since the teacher has to learn how to let students learn.  The teacher has to be more teachable than the students.  I feel like that’s almost verbatim from one of my favorite Heidegger books: What is Called Thinking?  Not incidentally, that book is a series of lectures, like so many of Heidegger’s works.

I’m sure there are some possible rebuttals to what I’m saying here.  Nonetheless, I simply can’t shake some of my Heideggerian convictions… after so much walking along the path, still coming into the nearness of distance…  Hier stehe, ich kann nicht anders.