In 2008, I was studying at Oxford, and happened to be in Blackwell’s books on my birthday (not really a rare occurrence, because I couldn’t walk past the shop without perusing some books, if only for a few minutes). At that time, I was engaging in many talks with a good friend on Karl Barth over some beer, so I thought it would be a good idea to actually read something substantive by him. Since I am not a theologian, probably, I decided on Der Romerbrief, thus making Romans II the first book that I specifically bought for myself on my birthday. At the time, I made a resolution to continue this tradition to the extent that I could afford it. Last year, I picked up Giorgio Agamben’s The Man Without Content and a novel by Walker Percy.

This year, I’ve basically embraced the fact that I only read literature sporadically, so I decided to stick with the philosophy. While I’d like to have continued upping the quantity of books and bought three, other restrictions like paying rent and eating have worked against that goal. However, since I have a decent-paying job right now, I was able to afford some quality-priced books. This year, I decided to pick up two of the Harvard volumes of Walter Benjamin’s work, Vol. 2 pt. 2 and Vol. 4. They are very slick-looking volumes, and weigh in at around 500 pages or so, each. With five volumes in the series, and the Arcades Project at almost 1100 pages, that’s quite a bit of writing! I hope the volumes will be useful in relation to a course I’m taking in the spring on Marx and Critical Theory, but I also have some other ideas for conference papers and such.

As Benjamin has his famous fragmented style, I was going to compare that to my non-blogging, but I think the sheer quantity of stuff he wrote prevents that comparison. Still, as I’m pretty busy with school and 30 hours of work per week, the on-and-off, mostly-off nature of the blog will continue. I am excited to finally be cracking into the publication-scene with one, hopefully two book reviews forthcoming. I also have hopes of sending two conference papers off in December, and I am also slowly trying to translate one of Michel Henry’s essay on Descartes. It’s been a busy few months, but I’m enjoying grad school very much.

You Are Not Alone

Pretty epic video of Mavis Staples performing her new single, “You Are Not Alone,” live at Lollapolooza. Jeff Tweedy produced the album, hence his presence (and how I found the video, to be honest, even though Staples has been a standout artist for many years).

Over the past week, I’ve been entrenched in Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. Here is an interesting note regarding Kierkegaard’s impromptu response to the King of Denmark over the king’s worries about communism:

It will be a battle between one class and another, but it would always be in the interest of the hostile parties to have good relations with the monarch. The same problem had occurred in ancient times and was recurring now, and it was easy to see that the king would in a way be beyond the fray. There would be hostilities like those in a house, between the cellar and the ground floor and between these two and the next floor, et cetera, but they would not attack the landlord.

Garff, Kierkegaard, pg. 483

I’m not sure exactly what to make of this, other than the fact that apparently Kierkegaard was not very well informed about communism in 1847 (when this encounter with the king took place).

H/T: Lenin’s Tomb

Breaking a (not self-imposed) silence simply to link to an excellent discussion of the US Tea Party phenomenon by J.M. Bernstein, a philosophy professor at the New School.

In truth, there is nothing that the Tea Party movement wants; terrifyingly, it wants nothing.  Lilla calls the Tea Party “Jacobins”; I would urge that they are nihilists.  To date, the Tea Party has committed only the minor, almost atmospheric violences of propagating falsehoods, calumny and the disruption of the occasions for political speech — the last already to great and distorting effect.  But if their nihilistic rage is deprived of interrupting political meetings as an outlet, where might it now go? With such rage driving the Tea Party, might we anticipate this atmospheric violence becoming actual violence, becoming what Hegel called, referring to the original Jacobins’ fantasy of total freedom, “a fury of destruction”? There is indeed something not just disturbing, but  frightening, in the anger of the Tea Party.

Posting will continue to be scarce as I try to prepare for my summer at St. Olaf. The past few weeks have been a blur of trying to figure out some details for the fall, while also trying to do some reading. I’ve undertaken a ridiculous task of trying to read the Critique of Pure Reason and Infinite Jest at the same time, while also trying to do some other reading that’s more pertinent to what I should be reading right now. Needless to say, it’s an uphill battle.

(For those needing background information on what’s been happening at Middlesex, please go here.)

A new petition aimed at reversing the shameful decision to close Middlesex’s philosophy department has been composed. The petition, which is authored by Todd May and John Protevi, is a pledge for an academic boycott of Middlesex unless the philosophy department is fully reinstated. Please take a moment to sign the petition, and include some location or institutional affiliation so that an international outcry can be registered.

You can find the petition here.

I’m reading Kierkegaard’s excellent Two Ages right now, a book in which Kierkegaard offers an aesthetic interpretation of the work of Danish novelist Thomasine Gyllembourg (the book is at first a review of her work Two Ages, but also reviews other works of hers). After the review, Kierkegaard turns to critique the present age, which is what most commentators (including myself) read the book for.

I’ve just finished a part where Kierkegaard describes a fight that he witnessed, and I find it particularly humorous and difficult to imagine, especially the part where Kierkegaard describes his intervention.

I once witnessed a fight in which three men shamefully mistreated a fourth. The crowd watched with indignation; their hostile muttering began to spur them to action: some of the crowd converged on one of the assailants and threw him down, etc. The avengers thereby exemplified the same law as the assailants. If I may be permitted to interject my own incidental person, I will finish the story. I approached one of the avengers and attempted to explain dialectically the inconsistency of their behavior, but apparently it was quite impossible for him to engage in anything like that, and he merely repeated: “He had it coming. Such a scoundrel deserves three against one.” This borders on the comic, especially for the person who did not witness the beginning and then heard one man say of the other that he (the lone man) was three against one, and heard it the very moment when the opposite was the case–when there were three against him. In the first situation there was the comedy of contradiction in the same sense as “when the watchman said to a solitary person: Please break it up! Disperse!” The second situation had the comedy of self-contradiction. I gathered, however, that it was probably best for me to surrender all hope of ending this scepticism lest it be continued against me.

Kierkegaard, Two Ages (Princeton UP), pg 87.

Perhaps in the coming years we will see a new kind of superhero, who explains (dialectically) the inconsistency of bad guys’ actions.