the contextual life

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Posts Tagged ‘philosphy

On the Shelf: Paying for Events, Funny on Twitter, and Overlooking Flaws

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I’ve just started watching Doctor Who, the new version, so I was super excited this weekend when I saw that the latest episode of ABC Radio National’s Philosopher’s Zone was an interview with Robin Bunce, a contributor to Doctor Who and Philosophy, on evil using the show’s Daleks as an example. Whether you are a fan of science fiction shows or evil, I suggest you listen to it—and then subscribe to the weekly podcast.

While discussing e-readers on episode 17 of the Bookrageous podcast, Jenn Northington asked her fellow podcasters if they saw pictures or words when they read—or at least I think it was this episode. As a lover of symbolic logic, I was so psyched when she said this and couldn’t help but give it a good amount of thought—and you should too.

Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel of the New York Times caused quite a stir in the literary community this week with their article Come Meet the Author that ran on Tuesday. In it they interview independent bookstore owners about the possibility of charging money for their events. Some events now have a ticket price, usually if the reading is held off-site in a rented space. However this brought of the question of charging for in-store events across the board. I’m sympathetic towards independent bookstores and probably wouldn’t mind some sort of exchange—a $5 entrance fee that is then put on a reusable gift card. I’m going to spend money in the store anyway, if not that night, so I don’t see much harm in it. Would you pay for author events? Under what terms?

And now onto the books of the week!

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
I’ve been waiting to talk about this one all week. Ten Thousand Saints was the book featured on the cover of this past week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review. I was sold on the second line of the review: “In nearly 400 pages, Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus. She is never ironic or underwhelmed; her preferred mode is fierce, devoted and elegiac.”

Here’s what the publisher has to say:
Adopted by a pair of diehard hippies, restless, marginal Jude Keffy-Horn spends much of his youth getting high with his best friend, Teddy, in their bucolic and deeply numbing Vermont town. But when Teddy dies of an overdose on the last day of 1987, Jude’s relationship with drugs and with his parents devolves to new extremes. Sent to live with his pot-dealing father in New York City’s East Village, Jude stumbles upon straight edge, an underground youth culture powered by the paradoxical aggression of hardcore punk and a righteous intolerance for drugs, meat, and sex. With Teddy’s half brother, Johnny, and their new friend, Eliza, Jude tries to honor Teddy’s memory through his militantly clean lifestyle. But his addiction to straight edge has its own dangerous consequences. While these teenagers battle to discover themselves, their parents struggle with this new generation’s radical reinterpretation of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll and their grown-up awareness of nature and nurture, brotherhood and loss.

I’m all about angsty, screwed up coming-of-age tales and this one sounds like a lot of fun.

Pym by Mat Johnson
Mat Johnson is highly entertaining on Twitter (@mat_johnson). For example: “In Spain, Aquaman is known as Waterhombre,” “Never did find out who let the dogs out,” and “Spent the morning at the DMV. It’s like all the sadness of a dive bar, but with no liquor and bright florescent lights.” He also participates in fun hashtags like #hiphopnovels where he offered “Last of the Puerto Ricans” and “Lord of the Fly”

I hate to admit it but the premise of his book didn’t capture my attention at first. However, people keep raving about it and he’s hysterical, so I’m willing to give it a shot.

Here’s the official summary from Mat’s site:
In PYM, recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. When Jaynes discovers an old manuscript of a memoir that seems to confirm the reality of Poe’s fiction, he conspires to get to Antarctica, the setting for Poe’s book, in hopes of discovering Tsalal, the remote and mythic land of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes with horror. Jaynes imagines it to be the last untouched bastion of the African Diaspora and the key to his personal salvation.

They’re at it Again: Stories from Twenty Years of Open City
Open City is a non-profit literary magazine edited by Thomas Beller and Joanna Yas, originally founded in 1990 by Beller and Daniel Pinchbeck. It has ceased to publish in print but continues to live online. I recently picked this one up from my local indie. It was on the front table and the names on the cover were impossible to ignore. I didn’t realize how many amazing writers have contributed to Open City over the years. This collection includes writing from Jonathan Ames, Sam Lipsyte, David Foster Wallace, Richard Yates, Singrid Nunez,  Edmund White, Said Sayrafiezadeh, and Phillip Lopate.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I’ve been reading up on science fiction for the past year and was excited to read this one in the next week or so but when I went to look for a quote from Card I came across something disconcerting. This: “Laws against homosexuals should remain on the books.” As someone with a strong moral compass in a certain direction, I’m now conflicted as to whether or not I should read this wildly popular series—not to mention pay for it. In my mind handing over money for it would be a form of condoning his opinions. It’s something I’ve thought about for a while in a larger context. In order to have heroes must we overlook flaws? Many of the Beats were horribly misogynistic yet I loved Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady while growing up and still defend my infatuation to this day. Yet I will not read Heidegger because he was an anti-Semite. I’m sure I’ll end up reading Ender’s Game—with a healthy amount of contempt for doing so. Have you ever overlooked an author’s personal flaw in order to read their book? Have you ever refused to read a book because of an author’s stance on an issue?

Written by Gabrielle

June 24, 2011 at 6:18 am

books for readers :: how to write a sentence / stanley fish

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Chapter 1
Why Sentences?

In her book The Writing Life (1989), Annie Dillard tells the story of a fellow writer who was asked by a student, “Do you think I could be a writer?” “ ‘Well,’ the writer said, ‘do you like sentences?’ ” The student is surprised by the question, but Dillard knows exactly what was meant. He was being told, she explains, that “if he liked sentences he could begin,” and she remembers a similar conversation with a painter friend. “I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, ‘I like the smell of paint.’ ” The point, made implicitly (Dillard does not belabor it), is that you don’t begin with a grand conception, either of the great American novel or a masterpiece that will hang in the Louvre. You begin with a feel for the nitty-gritty material of the medium, paint in one case, sentences in the other.

But wouldn’t the equivalent of paint be words rather than sentences? Actually, no, because while you can brush or even drip paint on a canvas and make something interesting happen, just piling up words, one after the other, won’t do much of anything until something else has been added. That something is named quite precisely by Anthony Burgess in this sentence from his novel Enderby Outside (1968):

And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning.

Before the words slide into their slots, they are just discrete items, pointing everywhere and nowhere. Once the words are nestled in the places “ordained” for them—”ordained” is a wonderful word that points to the inexorable logic of syntactic structures—they are tied by ligatures of relationships to one another. They are subjects or objects or actions or descriptives or indications of manner, and as such they combine into a statement about the world, that is, into a meaning that one can contemplate, admire, reject, or refine. . . .

. . . Here is Dillard again: “When you write you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it and it digs a path you follow.” And when you come to the end of the path, you have a sentence.

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One / Stanley Fish / ©2011


syntax: the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses)
syntactical: of, relating to, or according to the rules of syntax or syntactics
inexorable: not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped
syntactic structures: good definition not found
ligature: a) a printed or written character (as æ or ƒƒ) consisting of two or more letters or characters joined together;
b) something that is used to bind
subject: a) one that is acted on; b) an individual whose reactions or responses are studied
object: a) a noun or noun equivalent (as a pronoun, gerund, or clause) denoting the goal or result of the action of a verb;
b) the goal or end of an effort or activity
actions: things done
descriptives: serving to describe
indications: serving to point out
stanley fish on ABC radio national’s the book show

Written by Gabrielle

March 27, 2011 at 10:51 am

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bertrand russell is my math teacher

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Principles of Mathematics (Routledge Classics)i was a complete slacker in high school… i was distracted, bored, angsty, and whatever else kept me from caring about arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and calculus. it turns out, i never learned math. i can barely multiply and just the other day, i learned, or relearned something long forgotten, that when you multiply two negatives, you get a positive. i’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

given all this it might seem odd that i am now reading Betrand Russell’s 500 page book, Principles of Mathematics. i blame Badiou, who i have spoken of before on this blog. basically, Badiou claims that all thinkers worthy of being called philosophers must know math. since reading – or attempting to read – Badiou, i have felt strangely inadequate when it comes to understanding the world around me – and an unusual disatisfaction with the usual political philosophy books that i’ve accumulated over the past year or two.

Betrand Russell claims, according to the back of his book, that math and logic are identical and what is commonly thought of as math is just a bunch of deductions from logical premises. i’m willing to entertain the idea but it’s becoming pretty clear pretty fast that it’s going to take a bit of effort on my part to decipher how Russell plans to prove this. it’s a whole lot of vocabulary i’ve never had to grapple with before and so what will follow is my attempt to decode the language of math and logic to see if Russell makes any sense.

in the meantime, if you’re like me and need to start with – or should start with – the basics, The New York Times Opinionator blog has started a great series on math that does just this. Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University has started  a weekly series that breaks down math for the common high school slacker. his first post can be read here: from fish to infinity.
and the subsequent posts are here: rock groups, and the enemy of my enemy.

Written by Gabrielle

February 17, 2010 at 6:38 am

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what do we tell the children?

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i was thumbing through a collection of essays by the incredibly prolific Betrand Russell the other week when i came across the section on education. he mentioned that most theorists have been childless, which i thought was interesting – yet incredibly believable. while i am far from what anyone would consider a philosopher, i am a theory-junkie and i could never imagine having a kid. i’d rather use my time to read. that being said, in what seems to be a theme among many philosophers, i love thinking about education and society. while reading kant’s introduction to logic i came across a great paragraph, which is now underlined and starred. it goes:

Reason is an active principle which ought not to borrow anything from mere authority of others – nay, not even from experience, in cases where the pure use of reason is concerned. But the indolence of very many persons makes them prefer to tread in the footsteps of others rather than to exert their own understandings. Such persons can never be anything but copies of others, and if all men were of this sort the world would forever remain in one and the same place. It is, therefore, highly necessary and important not to confine the young, as is commonly done, to mere imitation. pg.68

Written by Gabrielle

February 8, 2010 at 6:34 am

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from Descartes to Wittgenstein and back

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there are few more satisfying feelings than the one i get from finishing a book, which i just did this morning.

i picked up A Short History of Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton the other week and started reading it right away. it never even touched my bookshelf, which is more than i can say for the scores of titles i have waiting for me.

roger scruton, according to his bio, is a leading conservative philosopher, which basically means that his chapter on Marx was full of smirky scoffing. other than that, i didnt find much in the way of total bias and i have to say, i really enjoyed this one.

it’s a basic overview of modern  philosophy – as the title claims – starting from Descartes (predictably) and ending with Wittgenstein, less predictably (at least for me). although it says one would think that it was an introduction, it was at times challenging – but not impossible. it was a satisfying read that boosted my philosophical vocabulary, introduced me to some new names, and hammered out some key concepts that had previously eluded me. it might be a bit daunting for a first-timer looking for an easy way to wade into the brain pool of intellectual giants but for someone with a bit of background – but really not too much – it is quite possibly what they’ve been looking for.

throughout the different sections – with names like ‘Rationalism,’ ‘Empiricism,’ ‘Kant and Idealism,’ etc. i found myself making mental – and physical – notes as to what i wanted to read next. i had a pretty decent list going until i got to the end and came across the section on phenomenology – founded by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century. it was a surprising turn of events because up until the latter part of the 200 pages i was leaning more toward political philosophy. – i was looking forward to Althusser’s For Marx or Fromm’s Beyond the Chains of Illusion but instead, the broad realm of knowledge – of what we know, how we know it, and how we can trust that knowledge seemed much more interesting than theories of economics and The State.

one line that stood out – and possible the sole reason for the derailment of my future reading plans – was “Our attitude towards other people… is fundamentally distinct from and even opposed to the scientific attitude. We seek to understand their actions not by explaining them in terms of external causes, but ‘from within’, by an act of rational self-projection…” pg. 268 scruton goes on to say that we look for people’s reasons as to why they do things and in doing so, we attempt to view the world as the other person does. empathy is a decent way to explain this. you see someone get hurt and while you’re not feeling that pain, you can imagine the pain the other person is feeling so you can understand their tears, screams, etc.

pretty freakin cool if you ask me. so i’m going back to basics and have started Kant’s Introduction to Logic. stay tuned…

Written by Gabrielle

January 27, 2010 at 6:56 am

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truth and method

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there are a few good philosophy series out there that i trust. one of them is from Continuum Books called Continuum Impacts, described on their site as:

… seminal works by the finest minds in contemporary thought, including Adorno, Badiou, Derrida, Heidegger and Deleuze. They are works of such power that they changed the philosophical and cultural landscape when they were first published and continue to resonate today. They represent landmark texts in the fields of philosophy, popular culture, politics and theology.

i’ve been known to buy one or two strictly because of their design, later finding that i can barely understanding what’s written inside. the font they use is big and bubbly :: inviting:: yet bold and confident. they say, ‘i’m fun and cuddly’ when in fact they are some of the hardest texts out there – which is not to say that they arent fun, just not in the way their choice of presentation would lead you to believe.  

right now i’m reading Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method (written in the 1960s), which is described as:

… Gadamer’s magnum opus. Looking behind the self-consciousness of science, he discusses the tense relationship between truth and methodology. In examining the different experiences of truth, he aims to “present the hermeneutic phenomenon in its fullest extent.

Gadamer would not be expected to be well-known to amatuer philosophy buffs outside of germany -and maybe france. as an american, you have to dig a little deeper for him – but not too much. i think i saw his name mentioned by people who i’ve read but i couldnt tell you the specifics – maybe zizek, it would make sense.

at the point where i had read two prefaces and 20 pages of the first chapter, i grasped that his focus was going to be somewhere in the realm of ontology, which is basically the study of being as being and what i have taken to be the study of what we know and how we know it. Gadamer uses the term hermeneutics, which sounds a lot like ontology to me but because he uses a different term, i assume he would shake his head and think me unworthy of his book. for the record, hermeneutics is defined as the study of our methods of interpretation.

anyways, Gadamer is a name-dropper. he uses aristotle, kant, hume, and hegel – to name the bigger names –  to discuss aethetics, which now 180 pages in, i can tell you has a lot to do with the study of art in all of its forms. my  handy dictionary of philosophy defines it as what is immediately pleasing to our perception – visually, auditorally, or to our imagination. it’s the theory of taste and criticism in the creative and performing arts.

so far, apart from the times when i wonder if i am wasting my life on such nit-picking, i am enjoying the exploration into how we view art, how we should view art, and what art is beyond how it appears.

Written by Gabrielle

January 2, 2010 at 9:53 am

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shortest book review ever…

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312 pages in and i think i know a little more about Descartes. it’s more like i get the essence of descartes’s works right after the renaissance. apparently, the whole “renessaince project” failed and the new bourgeois class freaked out. they lost what little control they had and werent sure how to deal with it. antonio negri, an italian marxist who spent some time in jail*, and the reason why i decided to read the book, talks about how Descartes handled the whole failure. i couldnt tell you coherently exactly how he did handle it but it had something to do with believing in god even though His existence isnt provable and figuring that you cant really know if anything exists besides yourself and you only know that because you’re thinking. i think he was trying to beat the skeptics at their own game.

so that’s what i got out of this book. it was a lot to take in and most of it went over my head but it was a fun challenge. i cant imagine this being the best introduction to antonio negri but it’s probably essential if you want to consider yourself a fan.

Political Descartes
Antonio Negri
Verso Press
$12.95 US

*major street cred

Written by Gabrielle

December 13, 2009 at 5:02 pm

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adventures with math

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i’ve never been a math person. i was the idiot in class who asked, “what are we ever going to use this for?” and thought i was being funny. logic was kind of cool and i like the whole, “if…, then…, therefore…” type stuff and once when we were doing graphs the teacher said that height could never be negative, and i said, “yea, we’d be upside down.” and he said, “whoa, man. that’s deep,” in that mocking, stoner voice, which made me laugh – ’cause it was true. but nope, i am not – and never was – a math person.

but lately, i’ve been reading alain badiou and, as i mentioned before, he likes math. i mean, looooves math. i can’t even get into it because i still don’t understand it. tonight, i picked up those sparks notes quick reference guides. basic math and geometry. it was pretty appalling how little i knew.

i’m curious to know how math fits into our everyday lives. since starting the book, i’ve noticed a change in my photography, the way i see things in a frame.


Written by Gabrielle

November 19, 2009 at 10:46 pm

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the helvetica around us

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i was in my favorite bookstore yesterday looking for the dvd of Examined Life (opens with video). turns out, it hasn’t been released yet but while i was looking over the videos they had on display, one caught my eye: Objectified. it had a bunch of simple, everyday images in black on the cover. the sticker on the cellophane said something like, “from the director of Helvetica“. being that i am a Netflix subscriber, i made sure to write down both film titles so i could put them in my queue when i got home.

as luck would have it, Helvetica was available for instant viewing, meaning i could play it on my computer at any time. so i watched it that night.

the film opens with typeface blocks cut from steel, a man inking them, rolling a press over them, and showing the end product – a fresh, black, inky ‘Helvetica’ in Helvetica on a piece of white paper. then, Times Square. it turns out that Helvetica is all around us and about 30 minutes into the film, it started to feel a bit oppressive. not the movie, but the fact that we are surrounded – overwhelmingly – with one typeface. i have a fear of walking outside my apartment and going mad from the oneness of our society’s choice in signage.

but, as the film goes on to show, there are reasons to embrace Helvetica. it is bold, clean, and easy to read. it is also the product of the “Swiss style,” which means it is very much concerned with the ‘figure-ground relationship,’ adding to it’s aesthetically pleasing presentation. the pro-Helvetica camp interviewed for the film even went so far as to philosophize about it’s rationality. to the pro-Helvetica camp, Helvetica is perfection.

i must say, i was buying it. i thought back to my zine days where i would toy with my font choices and even handwrite a few things. was i wrong? unwise to the supreme status of Helvetica? i was almost about to drop all my typeface-adventurism when in walked the anti-Helvetica camp – or the ‘we’re-just-not-that-into-you’ camp.

one of these revolutionaries has been my long-time design hero, david carson. i found myself cheering him on, like the dorky kid in class secretly willing the class clown to do the things she’d never dream of doing herself. david carson played with text. it looked weird, it overlapped, it didnt always make sense but it was art. it was rebellion textified.

but, as with many things, there was no simple answer. the pro and the anti camps kept coming back, intertwining and making their equally compelling cases. in the end, i came away with a shocking awareness of just how prevalant and profound something as unassuming as typeface can be.

the quality of Helvetica is astounding. the framing of the shots, the conversations from and observations of the world-renowned designers make this history of a runaway font thought-provoking and entertaining.

Written by Gabrielle

November 18, 2009 at 10:21 am

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god is math

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right now i’m reading Alain Badiou‘s Theoretical Writings. it’s a collection of his work that claims to be a good introduction to his philosophy. so far, i agree. i had read his Metapolitics a while ago and remember liking it but supposedly, straight politics, which that book was,  is not Badiou’s thing. apparently, it’s math. badiou loves math and seems to have this unnatural fascination with infinity. i dont quite get it yet but i think i’m starting to understand how he feels. throughout all his essays the possibility of ‘the neverending’ plays a major role, bouncing off other peoples’ theories, and explained through vocabulary lessons and analogies.  

for example, Leibniz‘s Pond:

“Each portion of of matter may be conceived as a garden full of plants, and as a pond full of fish. But every branch of each plant, every member of each animal, and every  drop of their liquid parts is itself likewise a similar garden or pond.” pg. 66 Theoretical Writings.

that’s a pretty vivid image of infinity. now take Spinoza. the only thing i knew about Spinoza before reading chapter 7: Spinoza’s Closed Ontology was that he was a Spanish (actually, Portuguese) Jew who lived somewhere around the 1600s and was ostracized  by his community for being blasphemous. i then learned that the story i’d heard wasn’t entirely true but can’t remember what the real story is. in any case, i do know that he had some notion of God that people didn’t like.  now that i’m halfway through the chapter, i know that Spinoza believed in an infinite God who was at the same time One. multiples unified. God, as one omnipotent power, is everything that we are, everything we aren’t, and everything we know, and everything can’t.

to be fair, Spinoza’s theory rest on the notion that our intellect is how we understand this concept of God – and that our intellect is something reliable. this can not be proven and therefore you get a choice to agree or not. or, as badiou asks:

“how is it possible to think the being of intellect [intellect’s essence]… depends upon the operations of the intellect?”

although i see how it would be hard to prove God with concretely/scientifically, i don’t think Spinoza’s idea of God is a dangerous one, and therefore, i’m willing to accept it.

badiou’s love for infinity and obvious approval of Spinoza’s Infinite God made this chapter a lot of fun.

Written by Gabrielle

November 15, 2009 at 5:09 pm

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notes from a Lost Cause…

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“quotes”, paraphrases, and thoughts on zizek’s In Defense of Lost Causes

“the hegemony of the scientific discourse thus potentially suspends the entire network of symbolic tradition that sustains the subject’s identifications.” pg. 33


democracy requires a non-democratic element for it’s health.  
“if, as the musings of Spinoza and Tocqueville suggest, democracies tend towards cathexis [investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea] onto principles antitheoretical to democracy, then critical scrutiny of these principles and of the political formations animated by them is crucial to the project of refounding or recovering democracy.” pg. 103 (zizek quoting wendy brown).


“… the Lacanian Real which, at its most radical level, is the disavowed X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically distorted: it is simultaneously the Thing to which direct access is not possible and the obstacle which prevents this direct access, the Thing which eludes our grasp and the distorting screen which makes us miss the Thing. More precisely, the Real is ultimately the very shift of perspective from the first to the second standpoint.” pg. 127

anamorphic: producing, relating to, or marked by intentional distortion of an image.

anyone who is vaguely familiar with zizek will have heard of Lacan. from what little i know of Lacan, i know that his concept of the Real is pretty important. i had a vague sense of what it was just from the name but, as mentioned before in the main post, zizek is an educator and he kindly laid out what he thinks the Real is.

zizek is a name-dropper but he does it well. from reading the russian revolutionaries, german socialists, and anarchists, i’d figured out that the french revolution was a defining moment in europe. everyone who had thoughts of an alternative society had feelings about the french revolution. i also knew some guy robspierre at the head and that something went very wrong and that everyone, both the left and the right, called it the Terror. zizek gets into all this with some interesting analyses. what i liked most was his descriptions of robspierre.

“… for Robspierre, revolutionary terror is the very opposite of war: Robspierre was a pacifist, not out of hypocrisy or humanitarian sensitivity, but because he was well aware that war between nations as a rule serves as the means to obfuscate revolutionary struggle within each nation. Robspierre’s speech “On War” is of special importance today: it shows him as a true peace-lover who ruthlessly denounces the patriotic call to war, even if the war is formulated as the defense of the revolution, for it is the attempt of those who want “revolution without revolution” to divert the radicalization of the revolutionary process.” pg. 161

just from that little bit, you get a good idea about how this guy thought. but the fleshing out of him continues:

“I say that anyone who trembles at this moment is guilty; for innocence never fears public scrutiny” – Robspierre

to which zizek says, ” What can be more “totalitarian” than this closed loop of “your very fear of being guilty makes you guilty” – a weird superego-twisted version of the well-known motto “the only thing to fear is fear itself.” ”  

and finally, robspierre’s totally rebellious “rejection of habit”. zizek defines the “domain of habit” as “a complex “reflexive” network of informal rules which tells us how we are to relate to the explicit norms, how we are to apply them: to what extent we are to take them literally, how and when are you allowed, solicited even, to disregard them…” pg. 171

for example, refusing something because the offer was only meant to be polite – and doing so as if the refusal is really your choice. robspierre didnt play these games. he defied tradition. zizek explains, “… revolutionary-egalitarian figures from Robspierre to John Brown are (potentially at least) figures without habits; they refuse to take into account the habits that qualify the functioning of a universal rule.”

robspierre was obviously an interesting character…

Written by Gabrielle

October 13, 2009 at 9:06 pm

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writing about the book i read

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zizeki read a ton. it’s what i do. i measure my productivity in page count. one book leads to another, or at least the good ones do – the writers who reference other authors are always my favorite.

sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. with a book by the author or a book about the author?

the other night i went out to my favorite local bookstore. it’s one of the few surviving independents. they have a great political, cultural theory section and i rarely leave without spending at least 40 dollars. this time was no exception. i had picked up ’50 Key Contemporary Figures: From structuralism to post-humanism’ edited by John Lechte. i’ve seen some other titles in the series and had to fight really hard not to buy a few of them. but i picked this one up, thumbed through, and felt only what i can describe as love. i got all warm and gooey inside and wanted to hug the thing while dancing around the store in mock-ballroom fashion. everyone who’s anyone – at least from structuralism to post-humanism – is in it.


i almost made it to the counter – about to escape in under 30 dollars – but instead i was drifting over to the new paperback non-fiction shelf. this was where they had all the latest damning political books. the ones that tell of corporations are running the government and ruining your life. in the sea of all this horror, i saw ‘In Defense of Lost Causes,’ by the slovanian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. ok, so the cover has a photo of a big, rusty guillotine blade on it but it’s zizek and he is very trusting.  

as with many things, i forget how i first came across zizek. i think i read something about him and bought a book off amazon. i found a collection of essays and thought it would it be a good way to start. i was wrong. when it came in the  mail and i had a chance to look at it, i realized that i had no idea what he was talking about. he was referencing people i’d never heard of, using vocabulary that might has well have been another language. the only time i’ve touched it since then has been to clean.

but i didnt give up. zizek is too fascinating a figure to ignore. luckily he’s a cult icon and a media darling. my first full-length exposure to zizek was the film by his name, created by filmstress, astra taylor called Zizek!. the filmmaker follows him around the US and his home in slovenia. it’s just him talking about philosophers and life. he’s actually pretty accessible if he’s talking.  it was suiting that i came to understand him through film since he’s probably best known for his film theory and hitchcock fascination.

zizek is a compelling figure but it’s healthier to see him as a conversation. reading zizek with a bit of skepticism can be a thought-provoking experience. he’s name-dropper but but does a really good job – at least in this particular book – to show you why he is using a specific philosopher to compare his ideas to. in this way he’s an amazing educator; he knows how to speak to his audience. 

In Defense of Lost Causes is the perfect start to zizek’s work.

Written by Gabrielle

October 12, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Posted in books

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what i see when i read hegel

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hegel 2

Written by Gabrielle

October 7, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Posted in books

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