Saturday, July 19, 2008

More joys with the Internets

I promised that my next few posts would involve my Auseindersetzung with the world of philosophy and the last one sort of did. This one will too. But more to the point it will pose an important question:

Why in the hell do I let myself get sucked into stupid arguments?

This post over here at the Chronicle argued that deconstructionism never really fit into the "leftist" mold that right-wing conservatives were so critical of post-modernism for.

The article was well-written and although this complaint (a rather old one in fact) is wrong, I thought it was well-laid out. The subsequent discussion quickly degenerated into the usual snipes and gripes about continental philosophy by the very lamest category of analytics.

Now, the complaint about the bad political credentials of deconstruction (even if it were true, would this amount to an a priori reason for rejecting it) and about its supposed empirical unverifiability or sheer non-sense are among the two most tiresome complaints against it.

Sadly, naive Ideas Man thinks that when people make tiresome points they might actually be interested in hearing why they don't speak to the matter at hand. You'd think that I'd have been in academia long enough to know that the reason why people make the same tired points is because they like to have something to say and they like to turn any discussion in the chance to rehearse what they already know, and make sure that everybody knows it.

And when Ideas Man's idealist conception of the human race is shattered, he turns snarky.

There are enough things in life worth being occupied with (and more than enough pressing matters to be stressed about) to justify not getting involved in tiresome debates that one doesn't need to get involved in.

Sadly, there are some tiresome debates that I do occasionaly need to get involved in: for example, listening to Levinasians and Adornskis make the same tired points over and over again, since they pertain directly to issues that I am interested in and represent important (even if wrong) sets of voices in the debate.

Then there are those discussions that I'm not particularly interested in, but that I can listen to with an open mind --- debates in other words which I can enjoy following along without having a stake in --- (the Deleuzers and Badiouians, and about 90% of 20th century analytic philosophers, as long as they are talking about their own discipline and not making forays into ).

So why do I bother myself with the haters?

No more, no more. From now on, I'm unsubscribing to about 2/3s of the blogs I subscribe to and reading only those things that give me genuine pleasure (this second list of blogs that I will still read includes all those of my friends, i.e. anyone who happens to read this). And if I'm tempted to foray into blogs with a wider readership, I'm reminding myself that the point of discourse in public forums is to score debaters points and not to advance actual inquiry. We'll see if it works.


DOCTOR J said...

I'm definitely sympathetic with your frustration at the way some of these online "intellectual" conversations play out. Too many of them become too snarky too quickly, as far as I'm concerned-- including even conversations among friends (like the ones that generally happen on my blog). I attribute this to one of two things: either (1) the unfortunate restrictions of the blog-prose-format (like most electronic communications), in which most wit and irony is lost, or (2) the fact that people just feel more free to be a-holes when they're writing behind pseudonyms and, most likely, in their pajamas.

Rule #1 For Civilized Conversation: "Interlocutors must use their real names and participate fully dressed."

But to the content of that argument over at The Chronicle...
There are a whole lot of generalizations/misconceptions put forth there that I find eminently frustrating. First, I hate the term "deconstructionISM." Anyone who has read word one of the literature of deconstruction knows that it is not an "ism." I realize, of course, that sometimes this is an acidental and partially-unavoidable construction (like, for example, when I call myself a "deconstructionista"), but more often than not the sorts of people who use the term "deconstructionism" actually do think that the work of Derrida et al is some kind of independently-standing ideology. Ack.

Second, I continue to be amazed at the ease with which non-philosophers (and some philosophers) make statements like "mainstream philosophy departments in the English-speaking world have all agreed that deconstruction is a load of crap." At the risk of making a equally hyperbolic claim (but in the other direction), I would venture to say that there would be no what-we-call-"Continental" philosophy programs in the U.S. if it weren't for deconstruction being taken seriously--and being undertaken seriously.

Third... it is no mystery to me, for one, why the culture/theory wars between conseratives like Bennet and proponents of deconstruction never really got any intellectual traction (with a few exceptions, obviously). Why? Because they never really were intellectual arguments. Both sides conducted their pseudo-conversation with the other as if it were a practice in intellectual gymnastics with inferiors. Postmodernism-fear-mongerers dismiss "theory" (whatever they mean by that, but usually "deconstructionism") as utter nonsense without actually reading or carefully reflecting on the texts... and "theorists" dismiss their conservative counterparts as the illiterate fear-mongerers that they are. (haha, just kidding!)

Rule #2 of Civilized Conversation: "You have to take the other person seriously. And taking someone seriously means actually reading their work in the most sympathetic light first."

Last thing, Ideas Man-- for the record, I completely agree with what you said in that conversation here: "...if one thinks that any argument which has been persuasive to a lot of people is manifestly ridiculous, one has probably misunderstood the argument." Amen!

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the sympathy, Dr. J.

Yeah, I agree with you on the term deconstructionism --- over on that thread, I found myself struggling about what to call what it was I was defending: I think most of the time, I settled for post-modernism even though that's less descriptive than deconstruction. . . I used to just say "continental" but now I'm told that we're just one lame way of doing continental, so . . (and a big important blog that will remain nameless recently told us that SPEP also ruined "pluralism" --- perhaps by occasionally being pluralistic, despite its best efforts to only pay lip service to the idea).

I run into the problem every time I try to explain what I do for jobs or for the book I'm trying to pitch or whenever it is that I explain what I do: I describe my niche in its narrowest configuration as deconstructionist Heideggerianism, which basically just means Heidegger, but not the existentialist Heidegger, or the hermeneutical Heidegger or the Heidegger-circle Heidegger and certainly not the nazi Heidegger . . . but the way that smart folks in France (oddly enough, in philosophy departments) currently do Heidegger...

I've been thinking about writing about the anonymity/pseudonymity/real name thing vis-a-vis blogs for a while. The main reason why I write pseudonymously here is so that my students or prospective employers won't find it just by googling me, but I don't consider it anonymous since a) everyone who reads it knows me in "real life" and b) anyone who didn't but just enjoyed my ramblings could quickly figure out who I was. But in my few forays into more public-type blogs, I've made a point of using my real name and stand by 96(ish)% of what I say. . .

On your point 3, I agree entirely. I had thought about qualifying my statement by saying "good faith discourse" but thought that would muddy the water too much.

And thanks for not calling my credo "absurd." I was really surprised by that, because I thought it was just polite . . .

christophresh said...

A''Red (not to use your real-full name), you and Dr.-L....-J are giving me a lot of interesting things to think about. Haven't read that FAMOUS blog in a while, or the primary one on which you comment at all, so won't comment on that.

This idea of naming your name, though...
I wondered, too. I just recently started typing on the internet. Used to just watch it go by... Now I leave my dirty dirty footprint upon its spiteful little face on the regular.
But I wasn't sure whether to call L or A'Red by a first name! And now I can see, that it must vary, and must be regulated by etiquette (MINE IS IMPECCABLE).
But you've all seen my foul mouth
*AND HOW OFF-TOPIC I AM* (which would make any student, or employer, think that I was completely off my rocker)
so I feel like it would be pragmatic to avoid my real legal name.

But more importantly, I think that the internet, like the stage (or more accurately, as you'll see, the backstage), is a decent place to shift your persona. So that would be the better reason to not name yourself the same name.
I am not for those who propose creating 'another' persona online. Instead, it's that you never have an UTTERLY fixed persona, and thus can use the inherently WARPING technology (and techne, let's be frank) of the internet to augment/shift/displace/, within this medium, a self. To get goofy, you can have the self that you have already halved a half a million times, half-helped into a better -not to say another- self.
So it's backstage, rather than the stage: we still think of the actors backstage as 'really' themselves, but they are preparing and building for a self that can only occur with the assistance of both the 1) existing self and 2) the media of the stage or the technique of the-actor-on-stage.
Oh shit, I've forgotten why not-naming would help this backstagey process.
Well, you all are quite sympathetic: supply me a reason, please.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...


I like the idea of the backstage insofar as it points to the claim that one's internets self is ones real self. I think I'm going to have to write a post on anonymity and pseudonymity. But don't hold your breath acos' I am tired.

P.S. I enjoy learning about sampling on your blog and about music that I can refer to to make me look cool.