Monday, December 29, 2008

Refusing to accept as final the present limitations

AB Purani’s Summary of Book One of Savitri
Posted by RY Deshpande on Mon 29 Dec 2008 05:52 AM IST Permanent Link Cosmos

Man is not in reality what he appears to be,—a mere material phenomenon,—mentalised animal having a physical body. He has from the dawn of history a feeling of something imperishable within him. And there are hidden powers in man which can be awakened to make the realisation of that Self possible by following a certain path of inner discipline called sādhanā in India...

Man is subject to doubts and difficulties of his own nature which are the products of a process of slow evolution from original Nescience to some spiritual perfection. His movement towards that perfection can begin by his refusing to accept as final the present limitations of his nature. The first effort at realising the spirit releases man from the ego and enlarges him so that he is able to identify himself with the World-Being...

Doom is the present apparent determinism of Nature trying to perpetuate the rule of Ignorance in mankind. It denies and contradicts man's deepest aspirations and opposes any attempt at self-exceeding... Behind the external appearance of ignorance there is the Divine Presence that works in silence. Savitri: the Light of the Supreme Home Mirror of Tomorrow

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

These guys hate each other, really and truly hate each other, even as they smile at each other

Dec 7, 2008 (title unknown) from For The Turnstiles by DGA
Canada is facing a twofold political crisis. The first part involves unaligned incentives in different regions of the nation (a conflict expressed in cultural and linguistic terms, basically in terms of mutual resentment); the second, a total vacuum of competent leadership in any one national party, and therefore, anywhere in Parliament...

Where is that leader who can legitimately integrate the Left in English and in French Canada? If he or she exists, that leader is apparently not ready, or not readily apparent.

In passing, I have a cultural observation as well: Canadians often seem to be the most resentful, passive-aggressive, put-upon polity I have ever encountered. William Buckley would fight all day while on the clock, but at the end of the day, he would still drink a beer with you. But these guys hate each other, really and truly hate each other, even as they smile at each other. This is pathological. Rather than identifying common interests and working together to meet them, you have wealthy children (that's you, Alberta) whining about having to share with cousins they do not understand or respect, and culturally rich but economically declining adolescents (bonjour, Quebec) resentfully recalling a litany of legitimate slights. Canadians typically seem really proficient at being offended, feeling slighted and marginalized. One begins to suspect that many of them are only happy when they have an excuse to feel uptight and defensive.

Cut the cord, friends. You want a working government, a plan for a future without petroleum? Quit complaining and work together in good faith, for the sake of your children and the example you set to the world.

I know the American system and American leadership is pathological in its own delightful ways, but come on, Canada, you are supposed to be smarter and better prepared on the "good government" front than we are. Meanwhile, we have Obama and you have Halfwit McGoo in a happy blue sweater duking it out with two chumps and a former janitor.

For the psychological health of America, may a real leader arise on Canada's Left and glue the thing together. For the sake of your economy and your society, I hope that leader arises sooner rather than later.

Monday, December 22, 2008

People don't want to acknowledge how much nepotism plays a role in their own lives

In Praise of Nepotism
an interview with author Adam Bellow
Adam Bellow is the author of a remarkable new book, In Praise of Nepotism : A Natural History, which in our opinion is a must-read for anyone in a family business. Or maybe we should just say it is a must-read, family business or not. He's also editor-at-large for Doubleday and former director of the Free Press.

BELLOW: The old nepotism was discredited by the Crash of '29 and the Depression. People began to feel that the American business elite was too nepotistic, they had gotten rich and given out partnerships to sons and sons in law, they allowed family interests to outweigh business rationale. It was the subtext of the Depression, and it had a powerful and lasting effect on our view of nepotism and family management in general.

After WWII, American business went global. There was a boom in the economy, and a new era of corporate management and governance was introduced. Along with that came efficiency, meritocracy, etc. It was the era in which nepotism rules were instituted in big corporations and government. And that was a good thing. It's not my purpose to say that nepotism should be left alone, because what you get then is what you see in Nigeria, India and Brazil.

We still need nepotism. It still has a role. The story in my book is the war we've fought since the American Revolution, not to get rid of the family itself but to limit and curtail the influence of family interests in both the public and private sectors. We did that in the interest of greater efficiency and fairness. However, I argue that in our attempt to get rid of nepotism, we haven't stamped it out but transformed it. What makes it new is that it respects fairness and merit. It's a new nepotism regulated by a deep-seated commitment to those values...

There's nothing wrong with sibling rivalry. It may give people some comfort to see family dynamics as disruptive, and many think that they force the business to be counterproductive. But the opposite is true. History shows that these are powerful forces and they often supply the motivation and drive that gets people to strive for excellence and give that last ounce. In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History: Adam Bellow 7:08 PM

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Foucault's genealogical investigations of medicine, madness, prisons, sexuality, etc.

Biopolitics from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

I’m not sure if the term “biopolitics” was invented by Foucault, but of course he did the most to make the concept thinkable. Foucault traces, in his genealogical investigations of medicine, madness, prisons, sexuality, etc., the ways that a regime of sovereignty, still prevalent in Europe in the Renaissance, was gradually displaced, or supplemented, by a regime of discipline, which was less concerned with the prohibition of certain behaviors than with the surveillance, manipulation, and management of all aspects of human life. Among other things, this involves a shift from being concerned with particular acts, and with clearly-defined hierarchies and chains of command, to being concerned with the bodies and souls of the entire populace. Foucault’s well-known account traces the links between attempts to contain disease by imposing quarantines, for instance, and attempts to regiment people in schools, factories, military barracks, and prisons.

Power moves from prohibiting certain actions to actively shaping and manipulating peoples’ actions overall, and from drawing lines of exclusion, lines that it is forbidden to transgress, to finding ways to include everybody and everything within a grid of carefully managed alternatives and possibilities. Foucault also describes this as a shift from the power of death (the power of the sovereign to impose death as a punishment) to a right over life (the power of the state to manage, for the sake of health, growth, productivity, etc., all aspects of peoples’ bodily habits and tendencies). It is through this shift that “life” becomes a coherent concept, and a matter or focus of concern. “Life” gets defined conceptually, by doctors and judges as well as by philosophers, insofar as it emerges pragmatically as a target and focus of power.

As always, Foucault is saying, not that “discourse” is the sole reality, but rather that both discourses and concrete, physical practices, varying historically, constitute so many ways in which we manage and control a “real” that always exceeds them. Contrary to some foolish interpretations, Foucault always remains a materialist, and a realist (in the ontological sense). “Life” refers to a particular way that we have conceived the multiplicity of lives, living beings, and life processes that surround and include us — but these always exist beyond our conceptualizations and manipulations of them.

So far so good. Esposito is an excellent close reader. He helpfully focuses on the ambiguity, in Foucault’s work: between claiming, on the one hand, that the regime of discipline and the management of life has replaced the earlier regime of sovereignty; and on the other hand, that such a disciplinary form of power is overlaid upon a sovereign power that continues to exist. Foucault proposes, precisely, that different modern regimes have been characterized by different mixtures between sovereign command over, and disciplinary positive investment of, the lives of individuals and populations. Esposito then moves backwards from Foucault to Nietzsche, in whom, he argues, “life” really emerges in its modern sense as an object and focus of both power and inquiry for the first time. 11:29 AM 12:04 PM

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ethos, pathos, and logos correspond to the capitalist triptych of the advertiser, the consumer, and the accountant

Dec 14, 2008 At Least It’s An Ethos: Why Merging Rhetoric With Composition Is A Mistake
from The Kugelmass Episodes by Joseph Kugelmass (x-posted to The Valve)
Teaching Them What They Already Know: Composition and Literature

Anyone who is not mentally ill has, within certain familiar realms, a very sophisticated, intuitive understanding of rhetorical strategy. Teenagers understand very well how to shift from one vocabulary to another, depending on audience, and sound completely different in their essays than they do in casual conversation or on IM programs. They have different ways of speaking to parents and friends, and they work hard on crafting online and offline persona that others will find appealing. This is not because they’re teenagers; actually, everybody does these things. One of the gratifying things about teaching rhetoric is that, up to a point, students “get it” right away, and manage to rapidly produce useful observations. This is especially true when they are dealing with something comfortable, like a scene from a movie.

On a deeper level, though, students “get” rhetoric (and we find it easy to teach) because it follows a similar intersubjective logic as capital. Rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with advertising, the dominant language of contemporary desire. Students find themselves growing up in a world where demographics — audiences — are created out of thin air by advertising in its various forms, and where mass production aligns itself to the desires of a consumer audience. Furthermore, rhetorical analysis is dissociative: anyone who has tried to teach ethos, pathos, and logos as operations to be performed on a text knows how students arbitrarily divide the text up into “emotional” sections and “argumentative” sections, even though such divisions are rarely defensible.

This is not the students’ fault, as we send them gunning for whatever holism a text possesses. The lysis of the text feels oddly familiar, though, because contemporary culture is similarly dissociative. Logic is the calculated process of competition and oppression, emotion is the catharsis of sentimentality, and personality is likeability; to put the matter crudely, ethos, pathos, and logos correspond to the capitalist triptych of the advertiser (the “front man”), the consumer, and the accountant.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The weak, in their slave morality, resent the power of their masters, as well as their inability to retaliate

Part III: Alyosha and Zarathustra on Com-passion and a Genuine Embodied Life
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

Zarathustra holds compassion in low-esteem and views exhibitions of pity with great suspicion. According to Zarathustra, pitying another person causes resentment in the recipient and is simply a way for the person showing pity to think himself better than others. In the sections entitled, “On the Rabble” and “On Tarantulas,”[1] Zarathustra re-visits this idea of resentment (or ressentiment) with both recalling categories and themes discussed in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. For example, in the Genealogy, we are introduced to master and slave morality.

The weak, in their slave morality, resent the power of their masters, as well as their inability to retaliate against their masters. Because the weak see no justice in this life, they invent an other-worldly realm where God metes out ultimate justice. Slave morality is credited with having invented the concepts of evil and good-concepts which are defined in reference to the masters (those in power). The great flaw of slave morality is the way in which the weak define themselves in terms their masters rather than carving out their own definition of themselves.

According to Nietzsche, values are constantly in flux; consequently, notions of good and evil are always changing and cannot be fixed. Whatever the current conceptions of good and evil happen to be, these will remain the dominant way of thinking until a different group comes into power and re-creates new conceptions. Interestingly, in this genealogical account of morals, Nietzsche concedes that the slave morality ultimately involves a cleverness about it, because it was able to trans-value the then-dominant values of its day.

For instance, the slaves turned the qualities associated with the masters-powerful, wealthy, strong, cruel-into a description of evil characteristics. Likewise, they transformed their own characteristics-weak, poor, lacking in power, compassionate-into a description of good qualities. Even though he grants this cleverness to slave morality, ultimately both Zarathustra and Nietzsche despise the ressentiment that drives it, as ressentiment in seemingly deterministic fashion produces nay-sayers who have their eyes fixed on some other-worldly world, and consequently, degrade and devalue the body and this world.

Lastly, in his discussion of the “ugliest man,” who, according to Zarathustra, murdered God because he couldn’t bear God’s constant, ever-present, penetrating gaze, we are told that the one sentiment that the ugliest man could not endure is to be shown pity.[2]

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What is the role of the category “woman” in this interplay between politics and history?

CFP: 16th Annual DePaul University Philosophy Graduate Student Conference
from Continental Philosophy by Farhang Erfani
FEMINISM AND THE POLITICS OF HISTORY April 3-4, 2009 Keynote Speaker: Falguni Sheth, Hampshire College

One of the central problematics of feminist philosophy is the narration of history. This conference will focus specifically on feminist interventions within this narration, emphasizing the role of the political therein. Whether focusing on the historical exclusion of “women” within philosophy or the influence of gender on philosophical concepts, feminist philosophy has questioned what counts as history and how specific histories are deployed in philosophical inquiries. Both within and separately from this work, questions have also been raised about how class, race, ability, sexuality, and other axes of difference shape the histories and counter-histories deployed within philosophy. This conference seeks to build upon and extend this work by posing various questions.

  • What are the politics produced by alternative historical archives?
  • Where do these politics play out in philosophical thought and how might they factor into analyses of past and present political situations?
  • What are the histories still unexplored by philosophy and how might turning to these histories offer different points of departure or complication?
  • Who has been recognized by or allowed into these interventions, who continues to be excluded, and why?
  • What is the role of the category “woman” in this interplay between politics and history?
  • How is this category deployed to cause disruptions?
  • What conversations might be staged between feminist philosophy and other critical perspectives on the politics of history?
  • How have feminist critiques of the history of philosophy both revealed and participated in the exclusionary and hegemonic gestures they ostensibly sought to resist?

The aim of this conference is to facilitate a dynamic, interdisciplinary conversation examining feminist approaches to these and related questions. To accomplish this, we invite contributions from a number of theoretical frameworks, including but not limited to aesthetics, critical race theory, critical theory, cultural studies, disability studies, epistemologies of ignorance, post-colonial studies, psychoanalysis, and queer theory. Submission Deadline: January 15, 2009

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Today we are moving from masculine based structures of the social to feminine based structures

Sexuation 1– The Logic of the Signifier
from Larval Subjects. To be-the-phallus (the feminine position) was to be the object of the Other’s desire, while to have-the-phallus is to possess signifiers of mastery with respect to identity (money, power, knowledge, strength, intelligence, wisdom, prestige, etc)... Thus, in the example of Monica Lewinsky, Clinton had the phallus in the sense of political power, but in her intimate dealings with him she discovered that he was a castrated subject, requesting, as my friend Tim jokingly put it, the ultimate rejoinder to Freud’s claim that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”. Despite having complete power, Clinton still had a desire for something else and was still haunted by a structural incompleteness. What Lewinsky discovered is that Clinton, while having the phallus, also did not possess it...

Two Political Observations
On the basis of the foregoing, it can be argued that masculine and feminine sexuation also correspond to two different types of social and political organization. On the masculine side we get centralized and hierarchical forms of social organization often associated with nationalism, totalitarianisms, authoritarian leaders, etc. In my next post I will outline the jouissance that corresponds to these structures. Corresponding to the feminine side of the graphs of sexuation, we get networked, non-linear, decentralized forms of socialization. It can indeed be said that today we are moving from masculine based structures of the social to feminine based structures. However, it should not be presumed that these structures do not possess their own deadlocks and antagonisms. Indeed, it could be said that network based social relations are far more resistant to critique and engagement than are masculine based structures.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

There can be no global theory of intellectual change without paying attention to the dynamic between men and women

Book Review: Randall Collins' The Sociology of Philosophies,
By Hava Tirosh-Samuelson Metanexus Chronos. 2004.04.15.

What about women?
Obviously when one covers 2500 years of intellectual activity, seven major religious traditions, scores of intellectual networks, and hundreds of individuals, one must leave a lot out and cannot possibly do justice to the material under consideration. There is one particular omission, however, which concerns me most, not as a Jew but as a Jewish woman. Only five female philosophers are mentioned in the book - Ann Conway, Catherine Cockburn, George Elliot, Madame de Stael, and Julia Kristeva.

Collins, I must admit, anticipates this challenge from his readers and in the introduction he raises the questions "where were the women?" In the Introduction he mentions four women, whose names appear again later in the book. Yet, in truth, this book is but another illustration that the story of philosophy is "His-story" rather than "Her-story." This is not a cheap shot on my part simply to waive the feminist "party card" and rebuke Collins for not consulting the massive material that has been collected about the work of female philosophers from ancient Greece to the present. Rather, my point is that Collins's exclusion of the women from the sociological analysis distorts his reconstruction of intellectual networks.

How can one discuss Sartre while omitting Simon de Bauvoir, or Nietzsche without a reference to Lou Andreas-Salome, or Jacques Lacan without a reference to Luce Irigaray? These women are not only crucial to the analysis of the ideas of their male counterparts, they are essential to the critique of their ideas as well as the reception of those ideas. There can be no global theory of intellectual change without paying attention to the dynamic between men and women, and without recognizing that at least half of social reality in which all philosophic activity is embedded includes women.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Same-sex marriage is okay

Gay Marriage (by Don Boudreaux) from Cafe Hayek by Don Boudreaux
Here's a letter of mine that appears in today's Washington Times:

Thomas Sowell's case against affirmative action is sound; his case against same-sex marriage is not ("Affirmative action and gay marriage are frauds," Commentary, Sunday).

It's true that marriage laws emerged largely to deal with fact that heterosexual couples have children. But this fact does not imply - contrary to Mr. Sowell's careless claim - that "the government has a vested interest in unions that, among other things, have the potential to produce children, which is to say, the future population of the nation." Certainly in a free country, the state has no business governing in any way or for any purpose people's decisions on having children.

Additionally, the "married couple" has become a legal entity with unique status under tax, property, insurance and estate laws. Being married also carries with it important, largely positive, social implications. The fact that gay couples cannot (by conventional means) have children is no reason to deny these couples such status.

DONALD J. BOUDREAUX Chairman Department of Economics George Mason University Fairfax

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

‘Those’ days

SACRED FEMININE: The Divine Flow TOI, 6 Oct 2008, Narayani Ganesh

Three days in a month my mother would hang around looking cool in her bedroom. She would read magazines and novels in a supine position, her head resting on a block of wood fashioned like a pillow. She would sometimes practise drawing kolams — patterns that are made with rice flour at the entrance — in an unruled notebook, and would ask me which ones I liked.

Amma looked so relaxed, unhurried and undisturbed. She wouldn’t take part in household activities nor go out shopping or attending functions. On ‘those’ days, Amma wouldn’t wear the usual crimson, tear-shaped kumkum on her forehead. Instead, she sported a black, round bindi, what we called chaandu pottu, made of dried, burnt rice that was left to coagulate and dry in the cradle of the empty half of a coconut shell.

You made your thumb moist with a little water and gently rubbed it on the stuff and the paste would be transferred to the index finger with which one drew the round mark a little above but between the two eyebrows. When pestered with questions, Amma would say: “I’m on my monthly three-day vacation!”

The family — like many others in the community — has long since discontinued with the seclusion tradition as archaic and regressive. Yet, ancient tradition revered the Sacred Feminine, and regarded the menstrual flow as affirmation of life. At Assam’s Kamakhya Temple — one of the nine Shakti Peeths — the annual Ambubachi Mela celebrates the Sacred Feminine in the Devi’s annual menstrual flow. The spring water from the Yoni — symbolising the power of procreation — and pieces of red cloth are distributed as prasad .

What would my grandmother — if she were alive today — have to say about recent medical research that finds menstrual blood to be rich in stem cells! A US company promoting this concept says that women can collect their menstrual blood, after following instructions carefully to avoid contamination, and send it to the laboratory where it will be put through a purifying process and stored for future use in the treatment of diseases like cancer.

As cord blood banking is a recent phenomenon, culling stem cells from menstrual blood could be easier than mining bone marrow. It would also be free of controversies over the ethics of using embryonic stem cells. Above all, it could help remove superstitions and taboos associated with ‘those’ days.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

We should sympathize with them for the nature’s onslaught on them

Towards the Rebirth of India
ShareThis Sep 24 2008 Aju Mukhopadhyay Beta

If caste is an old issue we wish to annul, how could we play with it for our political mileage? Free India is more than 60 years old- most of all who were deprived for the prevalence of cast system have passed their life time. Reservations or suppression of merits cannot continue for ever. Let the opportunities for education and training be opened to all with special care for the deprived and less developed ones but merit must be given due honour for the country’s well being.

Trafficking is a heinous crime. Victims are terrorized by various means. In a civilized society it must be stopped. Why on earth some women should live separately, why their main activity shall be to sell their bodies? Are there not many other functions of human beings and do such persons not have many such qualities to work on besides selling their bodies? Why should they be called sex workers? Large numbers of people have vested interests in them but it must be noted that no such person is noble or great in any sense, none of them is really a friend of the victims.

Sweden has passed a unique law: They treat buying sex and broking for it as criminal activities whereas all the prostitutes are treated as victims. If a civilized society aspires to progress it should give up the system of harlotry, abolish the brothels. Similarly all transsexuals should be honourably rehabilitated in the society as they too can do everything except sexually, in the normal way, which is in no sense a real bar in life. We should sympathize with them for the nature’s onslaught on them.

Nature and Wildlife must not be allowed to be further dwindled if we have to continue to live like human beings. Proper environment must be maintained. Villages must not be made hybrid products while facilities of the modern world should reach there. Agriculture and agriculturists in a country like India must be given their proper share in life and society. Industrialization and proliferation of software should be done in harmony with other sectors of economy.

While it is individual right to belong to any religious group or not, to accept God or not, no one should play with religions for political or such gains with the net of secularism. Proselytizing should be prohibited. Spiritualism is above ritualistic ordinary religions. Once mankind embraces it there would not remain petty quarrels over religions. Sri Aurobindo brought down the highest spiritual consciousness, the Supramental light and force for the upliftment of mankind, supported and helped by the Mother. It is open to man to aspire for it towards higher life leading to Life Divine. Sri Aurobindo wrote on 14.1.1931

‘The Supramental is not inconsistent with a full vital and physical manifestation: on the contrary, it carries in it the only possibility of the full fullness of the vital force and the physical life on earth. . . . All other yogas regard this life as an illusion or a passing phase; the supramental yoga alone regards it as a thing created by the Divine for a progressive manifestation and takes the fulfillment of the life and the body for its object.’ 17

The spiritual regeneration of India will lead to its becoming the leader of the world, gaining a global unity, leading mankind towards a higher life, away from war and strife. The may be fulfilled if the majority realize the need for it and act towards realizing the truth, today or tomorrow.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sri Aurobindo and the use of religious symbols in the Indian Freedom Movement

The Political Goddess: Aurobindo's Use of Bengali kta Tantrism to Justify Political Violence in the Indian Anti-Colonial Movement
269 – 292 Author: Rachael Fabish

The notion of a goddess being used to inspire young men to throw bombs may at first seem far-fetched. But what if that goddess is Kalī? Fierce Kalī—who stalks proudly through the Bengali imagination, dripping blood, scantily clad in tiger-skin and severed human body parts, slaying and devouring countless demons? Early in the twentieth century, Bengali philosopher and activist Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950), a key figure in the development of Indian nationalism, glimpsed the potential of Kalī-worship as a potential tool of political mobilisation to promote revolutionary terrorism, and forged a movement around the fearsome Tantric goddess that culminated in a rash of revolutionary terrorist acts against the ruling British colonial regime.

* This essay is a modified version of a paper submitted to the 15th NZASIA International Conference, Auckland University, November 2003: 'Asia: Images, Ideas, Identities'. It is drawn from my unpublished Master's Thesis entitled 'The Political Goddess: Aurobindo and the Use of Religious Symbols in the Indian Freedom Movement'. Please see this thesis for further evidence from Aurobindo's writings and development of the argument I present in this essay.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Let's not lose sight of the larger goal of self-transformation

My two cents as an Aurobindoan: I've written about this topic on my blog, but, I fear, in a way that generally tends to offend all sides involved in this debate.
I understand that as queer people we are very wounded and there is a need for "queer-centric" spirituality sometimes just to bring attention to the sort of collective wounds we have endured (and growing up in an Islamic country, I've suffered many traumas, so I know firsthand how these wounds feel).
However, I take the Foucauldian position that the very creation of sexual and gender categories is used as a tool of oppression. And this is very consistent with the Vedantic philosophy which sees the life-force (of which sexuality is a mundane aspect) as essentially one -- the life-force merely crystallizes into various forms at the divided physical level. In truth, eros is universal, equal to all, and has no preferences.
It is easy to turn our LGBT identities into another ego-mask and sink into a sense of victimhood -- whereby we refuse to recognize our participation in the queerphobia, homophobia and transphobia in society. Yes -- unconsciously we *do* participate in these things and we ourselves internalize these phobias. I often feel that we use the masks of these identities to avoid facing our own shadows. And then there is always the danger of a kind of collective ego developing, which takes you further away from your true soul, your true identity.
However, of course every single group has its relative gifts to offer in this evolutionary journey. Within the integral yoga community, I've been told that the greater visibility being given to LGBT people shows that humanity is growing out of its immature attachment to a binary gender system, and is starting to see love as not being wedded to physical nature or procreation. So LGBT identities *are* playing their role in propelling humanity to a higher evolutionary state.

But in the end, I just feel that these relative identities are very limited. I am not denying that there *are* relative spiritual gifts that are offered by LGBT people, but what I'm saying is that in truth, each person is a *unique* soul -- and the soul transcends and is above all our external identities. The soul is the *highest* individuality. Each soul is potentially a *creator* -- the creator of something completely new and original, something never seen before. As long as we cling to external identities and external group identities -- which I don't deny is often necessary given the extent of the emotional wounds we sometimes sustain -- our soul and its *unique gifts* will remain forever hidden from us.
Even as we stand up for our right to express our LGBT identities, let's not lose sight of the larger goal of self-transformation. Posted by: ned August 04, 2008 at 11:41 AM

PJ, I guess I should qualify everything I write as saying that it's where *I* am personally and it's what I am trying to live right now -- but it may not be right for others.
In the spiritual/yogic view, your true individuality *is* realized in the One. What we typically refer to as our individual ego, from the yogic viewpoint, is hardly "individual" or "unique" at all -- it's weighed down by attachments to the past, neuroses and atavisms inherited from our parents and cultures, and so on.
What I aspire for yogically is to be free of all these attachments to the past and be liberated to create the future -- and to create something truly new and unique. The point I was making was that ego-based identities are always sort of coping mechanisms that we use to avoid letting this true self or soul emerge. That doesn't mean they aren't necessary or helpful -- we certainly do have to put up a facade for the world in order to not disturb it too much. But the real "me" lies somewhere much deeper than my superficial outer ego-personality. And the real "me" is always going to be something of a Mystery, something I can't quite label or put my finger on. Posted by: ned August 05, 2008 at 11:21 AM

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Puri peregrination

HC orders bitter couple to take Puri trip Times of India - 24 Jul 2008, KOLKATA: Playing the saviour of marriages yet again, Calcutta High Court on Wednesday directed an estranged couple to take a five-day trip to Puri with their child....
The court then suggested that the couple should spend some time together by themselves — away from their families. After consultation with lawyers from both sides, the judge decided on Puri. Justice Banerjee directed the couple to leave for Puri on Friday with their five-year-old daughter. They are to return to Kolkata on July 30 and appear before the court a day later. The judge felt that the child may act as a bonding factor for the couple. Spending some time with each other may also help them to get rid of certain misconceptions.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Gender issues were further sidelined by questions of life and death and the clash of civilizations in an era of terrorism

The Sex Difference Evangelists (and a History of Feminism by Camille Paglia)
from Integral Options Cafe by WH

For another take on the issue of women and feminism, here is the newest from Camille Paglia, writing over at Arion. She is essentiually looking at the history of feminism as a reform movement.
Feminism Past and Present: Ideology, Action, and Reform
CAMILLE PAGLIA Click Here to View .pdf Version (Recommended)

Two technological innovations—cable TV and the World Wide Web—broke the hold that American feminist leaders had had on media discourse about gender for twenty years. Suddenly, there was a riot of alternative points of view. Most unexpectedly, a new crop of outspoken conservative women arrived on the scene in the ’90s—Laura Ingraham, Barbara Olsen, Monica Crowley, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin—who blurred conventional expectations about female self-assertion. These women, who had attended elite colleges and in some cases had worked in the Republican administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, were aggressive, articulate, funny, and startlingly sexier and more glamorous than their dour feminist adversaries. The old Pat Nixon stereotype of conservative women as dowdy, repressed, soft-spoken, and deferential was annihilated. Old Guard feminists, who came across as humorless and dogmatic, were losing the TV wars to a spunky new breed of issues-oriented women. Barbara Olson, who died in the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11, was a co-founder of the Independent Wo­men’s Forum, an association of conservative and libertarian women that was first formed as a response to liberal media bias in reporting during the Anita Hill case, in which Northeastern women journalists were directly and perhaps inappropriately involved.

After 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, gender issues were even further sidelined by questions of life and death and the clash of civilizations in an era of terrorism. There was a resurgence of popular interest in military regalia and history and in traditional masculinity, showing up even in children’s toys. Feminist commentary on this development—which was predictably labeled “reactionary”—has seemed out of touch with the times. Perhaps whenever survival is at stake, we need to unite as human beings rather than as quarreling genders. The legacy of 9/11 has certainly presented a problem for Hillary Clinton in her political aspirations. The necessity at this time for a woman candidate to look strong and to show command of military issues certainly led Hillary to vote for the fateful war resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force in Iraq—a decision that has come back to haunt her and that has made her a constant target of that audacious and ingenious female guerrilla group, Code Pink.

  • What precisely is feminism?
  • Is it a theory, an ideology, or a praxis (that is, a program for action)?
  • Is feminism perhaps so Western in its premises that it cannot be exported to other cultures without distorting them?
  • When we find feminism in medieval or Renaissance writers, are we exporting modern ideas backwards?
  • Who is or is not a feminist, and who defines it?
  • Who confers legitimacy or authenticity?
  • Must a feminist be a member of a group or conform to a dominant ideology or its subsets?
  • Who declares, and on what authority, what is or is not permissible to think or say about gender issues?
  • And is feminism intrinsically a movement of the left, or can there be a feminism based on conservative or religious principles?

While there are scattered texts, in both prose and poetry, which protest women’s lack of rights and social status, from Christine de Pisan to Anne Bradstreet and Mary Wollstonecraft, feminism as an organized movement began in the mid-nineteenth century, inspired by the movement to abolish slavery—just as the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s was stimulated by the civil rights movement, which targeted segregation and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the Jim Crow South. Feminism was therefore keyed to the expansion of liberty to an oppressed group. And feminism was always linked to democracy: it is no coincidence that feminism was born in America and that that became the early model for British feminism.

In general, feminist theory has failed to acknowledge how much it owes to the Western tradition of civil liberties grounded in ancient Greece, not simply in the flawed democracy of classical Athens, with its slave economy and its severe circumscription of women’s lives, but much earlier in the first appearance of the individual voice in Archaic poetry, one of whose finest practitioners was the world’s first major woman writer, Sappho of Lesbos.

Second, feminist theory has failed to acknowledge how much the emergence of modern feminism owes to capitalism and the industrial revolution, which transformed the economy, expanded the professions, and gave women for the first time in history the opportunity to earn their own livings and to escape dependency on father or husband. Capitalism’s emancipation of women is nowhere clearer than in those magical laborsaving appliances such as automatic washers and dryers that most middle-class Westerners now take for granted.

Third, feminist history has insufficiently acknowledged the degree to which the founders of the woman suffrage movement—that is, the drive to win votes for women—were formed or influenced by religion. It is no coincidence that so many early American feminists were Quakers: Susan B. Anthony, for example, was the daughter of a Quaker farmer, and Lucretia Mott was a Quaker minister. It was in Quaker meetings, where men and women were treated as equals, that women first learned the art of public speaking. The quest for suffrage, motivated by religious idealism and paradigms, cannot therefore automatically be defined as a movement of the left. Indeed, the social conservatism of most of the suffrage leaders was shown in their attraction to the Temperance movement, whose goal of banning alcohol in the US finally led to the fourteen socially disruptive years of Prohibition after World War One. In the nineteenth century, alcohol was seen as a woman’s problem: that is, working-class men were alleged to waste the meager family income on alcohol, which led in turn to the neglect or physical abuse of wives and children. Temperance, flaring into public view in the 1870s, was called the “Women’s Crusade” or “Women’s Holy War.” Temperance women gathered in groups outside saloons, where they prayed, sang hymns, obstructed entry, and generally made nuisances of themselves. Many saloons had to move or close. It was one of the first examples in history of women mobilizing for social action.

However, the impulse to regulate private behavior that can be seen here was a persistent element in feminism that would resurface in the virulent anti-pornography crusade of the 1970s and ’80s. The nineteenth-century suffrage leaders reacted punitively to Victoria Woodhull, who espoused free love—an issue that Susan B. Anthony and others felt would tar the entire movement and doom it politically. They were motivated by a contrary goal to rescue women from “vice,” that is, the clutches of prostitution. Sexuality outside of traditional marriage was seen as a danger that had to be curtailed by moral norms. The preeminence of ideology over the personal can also be seen in Anthony’s nun-like devotion to the cause and in her prickly resentment of the way her colleagues were pulled in another direction by the needs of family and children. By the end of her life, Anthony was revered and universally honored, but her obsessive focus on a single issue was perhaps not a model for the balanced life.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

'Swakīyā Prīti', one’s love for own wife only

Upendra Bhanja: The Great Poet of Orissa
from Dr. Harekrishna Meher by Dr. Harekrishna Meher

Upendra’s poems are mostly dominated by Eros, the first among the nine sentiments of literature. Some narrations of the sensuous erotic dealings are seen in his poems. So his works have suffered a lot in the pens of some modern critics. Great poets like Vyāsa, Kālidāsa, Māgha, Śrīharsha of Sanskrit, and Ādikabi Sāraļā Dās, Dānakrushna Dās, Kabisūrya Baļadeba Rath and others of Oriya literature have unhesitatingly delineated the contextual erotic dalliance in their poems. In Oriya literature, all such erotic depictions, though indicative of so-called obscenity and lack of some refined taste, are due to the influence of Sanskrit literature. Such descriptions may be poetic lapses; but are not detrimental to the poetic genius. Several instances of eroticism can be found in modern literatures also.

In all his epical compositions, Upendra has not only shown the ornate style, but also distinctly portrayed the emotions, feelings and sentiments of mankind. So his writings are not simply crammed with poetic imaginations. His poetic pen has also recorded the reality of life, psychological analysis and various facets of worldly experiences. Several data of socio-cultural, historical, geographical, religious and like conditions of his age are also diffused in his works. Both imagination and truth are mingled charmingly.

Love in Upendra’s pen is seen very sensuous, alluring and romantic. He has preached 'Swakīyā Prīti', one’s love for own wife only or for an unmarried loving maiden, the would-be wife. He has never supported or depicted 'Parakīyā Prīti', one’s love for the wives of others. Such attitude strengthens the social discipline by preserving the ethical value of mankind, especially in Indian culture.

An illustration of the heart-touching love is cited here from his work. As the context goes on, in ‘Prema-Sudhānidhi’ kāvya (Chapter-XIV), the young lover and the beloved maiden both pine for each other during their separation. The prince passionately writes a love-letter to his sweetheart princess, consoling their hearts, bearing the pangs of separation and preserving their lively love... ( Compiled in the English Book “UPENDRA BHANJA”Published by : Kalinga Bharati, Dagarpara, Cuttack, Orissa, 1990.)

Dr. Harekrishna Meher
Address: Dr. Harekrishna Meher, Reader & Head, Department of Sanskrit, Govt. Autonomous College, BHAWANIPATNA-766001, Orissa (India). * Phone : +91-6670-231591 * Mobile: +91-94373-62962 *** Email : * * * * URL :

The genesis started from the sexual intercourse of the Creator and a cow

Sunday, October 15, 2006 (Sculpture of the goddess LAJJA GOURI) SEXUALITY AND SPIRITUALISM IN INDIAN LITERATURE (1) Sarojini Sahoo
Location: Orissa, India View my complete profile

Generally in Greco-Semitic family, God is described in masculine terms.but in the Indic family, we find God is considered as both masculine and feminine form. In Taoism, Yin and Yang and in Hinduism Prakriti and Purusha are considered feminine and masculine .The concept of Ardhanariswar form of Lord Shiva in Hinduism is also considered as the major factor of gender equality and for this in ancient India we find evidence of homosexuality, bisexuality, androgyny, multiple sex partners and open representation of sexual pleasures in artworks like the Konark, Khajuraho temples, being accepted within prevalent social frameworks.

In Samkhya Philosophy, the concept of Prakriti and Purusha was later accepted in buddhism and Bhagwat gita. We may define the Prakruti as ‘female’ or negative charge and purusha as ‘male’ positive charge. This Prakriti is all pervasive but complex primal substance, which is transformed into multifarious nature. The primal entity is not perceived in its original form, for then it is in a state of equilibrium, and as such remains non-modified. This eternal and infinite principle is insentient and consists of three interdependent and interchangeable elements called the gunas. These are sattva, rajas, and tamas. These gunas are not the qualities but the constituent parts of Prakriti. They give complexity to Mula (original) Prakriti. But Purusha is inactive and passive, but sentient and also infinite and eternal.

Under the inscrutable influence of Purusha; the equilibrium in Prakriti is disturbed and the whole universe of unlimited permutations and combinations comes into existence. The first modification of Prakriti - primordial nature - is called as Mahat or Cosmic Intelligence. It further involutes into two forces, 1) Akasha, the primal matter, and 2) Prana, the primal energy. Akasha forms the material basis, and Prana the energy basis of creation. From the interaction between Akasha and Prana are formed five subtle elements, crudely translated as Ether, Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. In various proportions, these are the constituents of all the material existence in the universe. As can be seen, even Mahat or Intelligence is matter consisting of three gunas, and five elements.In Physics also we find an atom is made up of proton and electron..Proton is a positive charged particle and electron is negatively charged particle .The attraction between Proton and Electron made the existence of an atom possible.

Later, this concept laid to the Shiva and Shakti dual theory of creation. Adi Shankaracharya, the founder of non-dualistic philosophy (Advaita – ‘not two’) in Hindu thought says in his ‘Saundaryalaairi’ –“ Shivah Shaktayaa yukto yadi bhavati shaktah prabhavitum na che devum devona khalu kushalah spanditam api” i.e. It is only when Shiva is united with Shakti that He acquires the capability of becoming the Lord of the Universe. In the absence of Shakti, He is not even able to stir.

In Vrihadaranyakopanishad, it is stated that the genesis started from the sexual intercourse of the Creator and a cow. the cow was running from the Creator with a fear to being raped and ‘she’ was transforming ‘herself’ in different forms and but the Creator was finding out ‘her’ and every time from the sexual intercourse (or we may describe it as a ‘rape’) the genesis started. I don’t find any reason why we the Indian people get so much worried about Wendy Doniger. I do admit that the western thinkers portray Hinduism inappropriately through Greco-Semitic concepts and categories. I often find my western Philosophers examine Bhagwat Gita as a negative terms of Arjuna killing his relatives because of his Hindu outlook. But as Hindus, we are also very much sensitive regarding sexuality, especially when it is quoted with our religion and spiritualism. But we have to admit that sexuality is often described in our myths, Puranas and in our religious text, above all in our literatures from medieval age to this post modern age. In this serial essay, I will try to justify the role of sexuality from different angle and also try to compared it with the European/American concept of sexuality. (To be continued) posted by Sarojini Sahoo at 8:58 AM

Born in 1956, Dr Sarojini Sahoo has an MA and PhD degrees in Oriya Literature, and a Bachelor of Law, from Utkal University. She now teaches at a Degree college in Belpahar, Jharsuguda, of Orissa... She has published seven anthologies of short stories and five novels.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Mother had permitted us to visit Sri Aurobindo’s Room on that day

16. Sri Aurobindo’s Room 17. The Touch of Her Feet 18. An Experience in Mexico 19. Ramapuram 20. Industrial Peace

16. SRI AUROBINDO’S ROOM KARMAYOGI The Mother's Service Society Pondicherry 605 011 India

One day I was starting for the Ashram with my family. When we were about to lock the front door, my sister-in-law arrived with her husband. We had planned to be out of the town for the day. To receive them just at the moment of starting was embarrassing. We could not leave them behind alone, nor did I feel free to invite them to the Ashram, as it would amount to introducing them to my faith. Sensing my embarrassment, my brother-in-law asked if they could accompany us to Pondicherry. That was a great relief.

Our visit to the Ashram was not for any special occasion there such as Darshans. But it was special to my family, as Mother had permitted us to visit Sri Aurobindo’s Room on that day. Now-a-days Sri Aurobindo’s room is open to all visitors, but in those early days Mother Herself was giving permission to visit the Room. She used to permit only a few people and, that too, not on all days. That was why I could not stay behind postponing my visit.

My brother-in-law was a superintendent in the Regulated Market. He had been there for four years temporarily and was trying to take a permanent post in the government through the public service commission. He had applied for various jobs and he was selected for the cooperative department as an officer. When he received the order of appointment, he and his wife came to our place to give us the good news and make arrangements for his training period, etc. I was happy that on his fresh appointment he would add Mother’s Blessings to it, as he had volunteered to visit the Ashram.

At the Ashram the sadhak in charge of such arrangements asked us if my guests too would like to visit the Room. I considered this as a special Grace. They agreed and the sadhak extended us the kindness of securing special permission for our guests too at that last moment.

We visited the Room guided by an elderly sadhak who was with Sri Aurobindo for 30 years. The Room was full of peace and silence. His Presence was marked. Having taken us through the Room, the sadhak came out and explained in a soft voice the details, showed us the place where Mother and Sri Aurobindo used to give Darshan until 1950, the seat of Mother from which She had been giving Darshan after 1950, and how the visitors used to go to them one by one to receive their Blessings. Sri Aurobindo’s aura was so full of peace that even during a raging cyclone neither wind nor rain entered into his Room. Inside the Room was his chair, his bed with a tiger’s skin spread out on it, and several shelves with his books and papers. We returned home that night feeling elated with the peace of his Room.

The next morning while I was reading the newspaper, my brother-in-law drew my attention to a news item which said the government had raised the basic salary of the Market Committee Superintendents to Rs.200 from the present Rs.140. He was excited about the rise in salary and explained enthusiastically the steps the superintendents’ organisation took to represent to the government that the salary should be raised. He wound up saying, “It is all very exciting and good, but I am leaving the department. I am not going to benefit by this raise. In the Cooperative Department again I will start afresh at Rs.140.” He was disappointed that he could not share the benefit for which they had all worked for so long and so successfully.

For me the news item was another confirmation, perhaps the thousandth one, of Mother’s Grace that is showered on all, if only they come into contact with it consciously or unconsciously. I wished he had stayed in this department and enjoyed the higher scale. As he was a relative and the husband of my sister-in-law, I could not express all the thoughts that crossed my mind. The situation called from some restraint. He was younger to me and, therefore, I had some freedom of expression, but it had its own limit. He was not a devotee of Mother and did not understand Mother’s ways, nor did I feel free to share my full understanding of the situation, which might look like an imposition of my faith on him. I could only speak about the relative merits of the scales, departments and jobs.

He was alternately overjoyed at the new permanent job and frustrated at not being able to benefit by the new scale in the old job. During the conversation I asked whether he would not like to stay on in the old job and benefit by the higher scale. His cryptic reply was, “I would very much like to, but my probation there has not been completed and job confirmed.”

Later, when he was not at home, my sister-in-law referred to the subject in detail, expressing the same mixed sentiment of joy and disappointment. I sought a clarification from her for his cryptic statement that he was not confirmed in his old job. Her reply was more concise and explained, “He has not passed the account test.” I ventured to suggest that he could reappear and complete it. She said, “He took even the second attempt.”

Obviously he and she were very anxious to remain in the old job, now that there was a higher salary, but it was no longer possible. Being a touchy subject, I stopped all my conversation with them on this topic.

In private I spoke to my wife that, if he applied for an exemption, the department might grant it, and he could still complete the exam. Bang came the reply, “Through my uncle, who is a high officer in the department, that exemption was secured last year and that too was not helpful.” As my wife is very knowledgeable about Mother’s ways of life, I explained to her how this opportunity came from Mother’s Blessings and, if pursued, would certainly bear fruit, even if the case appeared to be hopeless. I told my wife that in certain extreme cases the department might grant an exemption a second time. As he has earned a reputation in the department for efficiency, he might still get that exemption. He and his wife discussed with us arrangements for his family during his training, his stay at the training, and several other things before finally deciding on his profession and he left for his native village, leaving my sister-in-law with us.

My wife privately asked me not to be concerned about his job and his future prospects, etc., as it was a sensitive issue. She also heard from her sister that a second exemption too had been secured through some political influence. That too was in vain. My wife added that it seems there was another agriculture test also in arrears. What had so far been a riddle to me was now very obvious. There was not even a ghost of a chance for him to remain in the old department.
I mused, “Mother has given them unasked a blessing. For him to arrive at this new salary at the new job will take six years after training. Also he would lose the four years of service in the old department. Ten years of service in the government is no mean thing. Even a day matters. Mother who has given the new scale would also remove all further obstacles, if he only had faith and took the necessary effort fully. He does not understand it and I do not feel free anymore to approach this topic. But I don’t think this is the end of the matter. Let me await and see, without taking any further initiative from my side.”

Just then a man came to report how he had miraculously saved his six acres of crop, after losing all hope by praying to Mother. In the afternoon my sister-in-law, who was engrossed in some needle work, put it aside and addressed me, "Do you have something to tell my husband about this new job? What would be your advice?” I explained my understanding briefly and emphatically said that he would steer clear of all the difficulties, if he only had faith and did his part.

A few days later he returned. He came to me and announced that he and his wife had decided to reject the new appointment and try his best to remain in the old job, completing his arrears. Obviously his wife had spoken to him prior to that. I was happy.

After he took this bold decision, life became different for him. Everywhere he went, life was supportive. There was a kind officer who gave another exemption. Someone took interest in him and helped him to prepare for the examination. Contrary to his previous life experience, wherever he went to get a work accomplished in this connection, he found an old classmate, a friend, a relative, etc. All went smoothly and he passed both the exams. He was confirmed in the old department on the new scale.

For a couple of years we did not meet. Again he came, this time alone, to tell me he had been transferred to Ramnad District. I wondered why a transfer to such distant place. He explained that he had been promoted and transferred. He was now promoted as the Secretary for a whole district, under whom all the superintendents worked. He said this was possible because the department was rapidly expanding, many new posts had been created, and he had ten years’ experience! Ordinarily this promotion was not his due for another six or seven years.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stylistic virtuosity of the sort we find in Hegel’s Logic or Adorno’s Negative Dialectics does more to hinder a thinkers project than to help it

Alexei Says: April 26, 2008 at 6:53 pm
I’m not sure that I am ignoring the role of style or textual strategies, Sinthome (especially since i took myself to be agreeing with N), but your point is well taken.
Of course, now I’m a little confused. Are you now saying — contra what you’ve written in the above post — that these textual strategies, this ’stylistic virtuousity’ are a necessary evil (say, in the case of folks like Adorno and Hegel, with whom I am more familiar), that some texts need to be difficult, and there’s no way around that? I have no qualms with agreeing with such a stance, it’s just that I took you to be championing something quite to the contrary.
And in any event, aren’t these textual strategies you mention not ideas presented through, or created by the text itself (or their author functions), even if they are not propositionally, or explicitly formulated? aren’t they as much the content of a given text as the ‘explicit content’? So what gives, at the interpretative level, credence to separating textual strategies as the form through which one delivers semantic content, when both this form and the content it conveys are both meaningful products of ‘meditations’? why not treat them as part and parcel of the same phenomena — as you say, differentially or dialectically related — but nevertheless ideas, rather than invoking a form content distinction?
roger Says: April 26, 2008 at 7:39 pm
There’s some interesting assumptions about style and content, here. The notion that there is a style that divests itself of style, and that represents the object without any style - the object being an argument, a thesis, an idea - has historic roots in the ‘plain’ prose - the natural prose - which was the ideologically preferable to the cleric’s casuistry or the court language of rhetoric. And the ideology puts style on one side, and this thing that will not be style - will be good, solid argument - on the other.
That structure of assumptions is just what Derrida and, in his own way, Deleuze are targeting, so it is no surprise that you would be irritated by the way they write. The assumptions are consonant with the long attempt to create a metalanguage that would be a self evident set of functives, autonomous, universally available, and above all, impervious to style.It is as if here, finally, we will have the content without the form. This project has, I believe, collapsed, as have its corollaries - the attempt to reduce all science to a physicalist language, for instance - but it is perpetually being renewed by philosophers who somehow think there must be only one structure of appearance. And of course the desire for it is still strong - perhaps even dominant in the ‘common sense’ Anglosphere.
I don’t believe, however, that once you have “figured out” an argument (within the gradient of the easy and the difficult) or an idea or theme, that you have unwrapped it from its style - that is a little like saying translating from French to English is translating from a mere language to the way things really are.
That doesn’t mean the plain style isn’t a good choice. You can prefer it for a number of reasons. But I don’t see how you can prefer it for not being a style. At that point, you do fall prey to an ideological illusion.
Myself, I like Deleuze’s style very much. In Logique du sens in particular, it achieves a real beauty, to my mind. And it is successful by one of the keys of stylistic success as Deleuze saw it - becoming a stimulus for concept-making over an array of disciplines. I don’t think, for comparisons sake, that Rorty has ever inspired a painter or filmmaker (although, on the other hand, I know Davidson had a marked influence on the minimalists - Davidson had a relaxed, conversational style which is the best aspect of the plain style).
roger Says: April 26, 2008 at 8:04 pm
ps - I should also say that Badiou, from what I’ve read of him, gravitates to a very interesting style - the list. The list appears as soon as writing systems appear, they form a couple. It is a sort of primal form of the epistemic text - the organization of a space in which the sign will match an object. Correspondence theory is more than a theory about truth, it is a way of organizing the social world. The list is the bureaucratic text par excellence, which sinks the assumption of power - the initial fiat into an unlisted sorting principle. One of the genuinely witty futurist tactics was to create list manifestos - as if the futurists had seized power. And, in the sixties, guerrilla groups - for instance, the Red Army - were always doing the same thing, although less humorously. The list of demands became a subgenre. Badiou would know about that from the old Maoist days. Jack Goody has a really good essay about lists, Literacy and classification, in The Domestication of the Savage Mind.
larvalsubjects Says: April 26, 2008 at 8:16 pm
Roger, while I do not disagree with the thesis that style and content interpenetrate– a point that I’ve made all along, so there’s no need to rehearse the tired post-structuralist cliches on this score –but I find myself wondering how, if what you say is the case, you are able to write such a clear post to make these points. In short, isn’t there a bit of nonsense in the thesis that one must write like Derrida or Lacan in order to express the point that there is no universals? You just made precisely these points in your post without resorting to these sorts of stylistic techniques (which is different than suggesting an absence of style). I also find myself fascinated by the massive secondary literature on these figures which seems occupied with the activity of translation. In short, I suspect that style is exaggerated in these thinkers to draw attention to a specific aspect of language. Could it not be said that brain neurons function in a way similar to signifiers. Why is it that neurologists are not compelled to construct prose that imitates the differential play of neurons when mapping the functioning of neurons? Not being a reader of Rorty myself– at least not for years –and therefore not being keyed into looking for his influence or lack thereof, I can’t say whether he’s inspired folk outside of philosophy to produce new things or not. The argument strikes me as rather specious, to tell the truth. Artists, film makers, scientists, etc., are inspired by all sorts of things.
Alexei, no I am not claiming that some texts need to adopt such a style because of their content. I am saying that Lacan, Adorno, Deleuze, Derrida, and Hegel all argued that style should be reflective of content and that content is a function of style. That is a very different claim from the claim that style dictates content. Incidentally, these textual strategies are explicitly formulated by the various authors with the possible exception of Deleuze. Here I think N.Pepperell’s observations about Marx’s textual strategies are apropos. In short, the question is whether or not Marx’s claims could have been presented in a different way. I suspect they can. We see N.Pepperell doing precisely this.
larvalsubjects Says: April 26, 2008 at 8:18 pm
Roger, I’m not making the claim that there’s a “style-less” form of writing, but speaking of a particular sort of style.
traxus4420 Says: April 26, 2008 at 9:40 pm
it seems to me that defenses of ’style’ on this thread are defenses of a particular ‘experience’ of reading, reading under a certain set of conditions assumed to be the most ‘authentic’ — most compatible with what’s taken to be the author’s ‘original product,’ most compatible with the local idiom of the text’s tightest fan bases (trained scholars and critics).
what i’m getting at is that style is part of a social configuration. if LS finds a certain style objectionable, it has something to do with the social configuration of the group that likes and perpetuates it. the styles of lacan, derrida, and deleuze all reject ‘accessibility’ as a norm complicit with this ideology roger describes as “ideology on one side, good non-ideological style on the other.”
i guess the idea is that these reading experiences contain ’something more’ than can’t be adequately expressed in a different form. by definition any form that has accessibility as one of its primary goals. of course there is never one universal form of ultimate accessibility — it’s relative to audience. so the ban on accessibility reduces to any language that more people can understand. for this move to not be simply elitist, we need to insist on this union between content and expression such that the one is inextricable from the other.
so i think this idea of some untranslatable something in these texts — translation as a kind of corruption, or a concession to the ignorant/stupid/foreign — has ideological underpinnings we should really be questioning. that there is a content which can only be understood in a particular narrow way, that it is inextricable from this particular set of experiential conditions (in the case of deleuze, that it must ‘do what it says’).
what pepperell says here:
“my underlying reaction is that texts are read in very different conditions over time, by readers socialised in different ways - and that the impact of a style, or the attempt to cultivate a particular experience of reading in order to transform the reader, in some sense perhaps relies on the notion that style would always have the same impact over time, as everything else changes around it”
makes me wonder if this experience ever actually exists as a discrete thing one must learn how to access. it seems to me more that a certain type of habitus is being advocated, certain norms of reading and the institutions which support those norms. which set up the hierarchy between ‘original’ ‘difficult’ work and the ‘mass industry’ of ’secondary literature’ that is only about translating the product of these brilliant geniuses, marking both their readers and writers as students rather than true philosophers.
larvalsubjects Says: April 26, 2008 at 10:01 pm
Traxis, I think you make a number of good points here. It seems that our reaction to these issues depending on what the telos or purpose of our activity of reading is. I am primarily interested in understanding the world around me. I want to know, for example, why the weather is the way it is in North Texas, or why social formations take the form they do around the 70s in the West, or why a particular person has a particular symptom. I find that answers to these questions can only be found in thinkers that have relational and process oriented approaches that are very sensitive to local conditions. However, it takes a good deal of work to pierce some of these texts… Something that I think has often been counter-productive to the social and political aims some of these thinkers have wished to promote. I confess that I find the aesthetic dimension of these texts secondary to my particular aims.
That aside, I think the question of institutional habiti(?) is an important one. It’s difficult for me to speak outside the context of philosophy departments, but my sense is that what we have in most continentally oriented philosophy departments is not philosophers but intellectual historians. That is, we have people who devote their lives to careful commentary on figures like Derrida, Deleuze, Heidegger, Husserl, Hegel, and so on and publish and present the results of this work. If you want to do original work in a continental vein chances are you will be required to seek positions outside of philosophy departments in some sort of sociology, cultural studies, or rhetoric department. This is reflected in continental journals and conferences. It is all but impossible to get a paper accepted to, for example, SPEP unless it is on some other figure such as Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Heidegger, Derrida, Irigaray, etc. It is unlikely, for example, that Brassier would have been able to do the sort of work he’s done here in the United States simply because he violates the commentary based orientation of continental philosophy departments and doesn’t fit the frameworks delineated in Anglo-American programs.
There has thus emerged a hierarchical system in American continental philosophy departments. On the one hand you have your revered masters (Hegel, Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Derrida, etc., etc.), on the other hand you have those that do research on these figures. While this is not an absolute, what you don’t have is an institutional setting that cultivates thinkers in their own right. A dissertation is understood to be on a particular figure or set of figures, rather than on a particular problem. It is, moreover, extremely difficult to publish articles that aren’t on aspects of the thought of various figures. Most of the intellectual work done in these departments is work of translation. That is, it consists of studies of the work of various philosophers such as my Difference and Givenness.
This is in stark contrast to Anglo-American departments. While figures are not unimportant in these departments, the focus is on problems, rather than figures and on the evaluation of various solutions to problems. This is not to say, of course, that Anglo-American departments do not have their own constraints. Whereas the “revered masters” in continental philosophy set their own problems, in Anglo-American orientations the problems tend to be already set and a sort of phase space of potential solutions is explored by individual thinkers. That is, problems in Anglo-American departments have a status analogous to figures in continental orientations.
Anthony Paul Smith Says: April 26, 2008 at 11:22 pm
I know of quite a few Continental philosophers who have done this. Take DePaul, which is hardly a top tier philosophy department, where many have published on problems. Some of how they’ve done this is via a study on a thinker, but some of it has been completely original. And Brassier’s book does the exact same thing (not one chapter doesn’t go forward without some other thinker who serves as either a figure to critique or to use). There is, of course, some truth to what you are saying, but you are giving an inaccurate description of the situation by making it far too stark of an opposition.
roger Says: April 26, 2008 at 11:31 pm
LS, I’m not quite sure I see why the use, by non-specialists, of Deleuze’s work is a specious argument, given that the stimulus for your argument is that a non-specialist audience can understand - or at least buys the books of - scientists. You are opening up the question of style with reference to one non-specialist audience, and I’m saying that there are at least two.
I think you have an energetic notion behind what you say about style and content - for instance, the idea that ‘every content is styled’ is a “tired” structuralist “cliche”. Some ideas, apparently, get tired. They evolve from truth to truism. How? Is it that they are repeated too often? Applied too generally? Do they fade into the background - losing energy like a popped balloon and settle down among the tired and drowsy cliches? As cliches, do they have the same truth value? After you know what Hegel means by a passage, does the passage lose its energy for you? Become rote? Is the rote passage the same as that passage when it was opaque?
I think that, in fact, the style of someone like Deleuze does respond in a romantic manner to the same energetic notion you are using - or at least shares a set of similar fears. How to create a style in which every repetition of the content is “fresh”? The “social configuration” in question, in the sixties, was that of a bureaucratized world, and all of those writers are trying to shake it up in various ways - hence, the aversion to the list as the ultimate form of text, whether it is the test - what does x mean by y - or the notion that the world is best described by a set theory that makes sure no proposition expresses an ill formed set, or the notion that what we want to instill in our governing elite is a canonical set of instructions to cover all circumstances.
So I’d say the difficulty question about style has to do with what the texts do. I think, ideally, the puzzle would not fit together the same way at every reading. There’s a phrase of Novalis’ that says, if I remember correctly, that God is a problem whose solution is a problem. This was the discovery of the romantic style - that there could be such objects - and it seems to have been one motive in the stylistic choices made by Derrida and Deleuze.
traxus4420 Says: April 26, 2008 at 11:55 pm
Most of the intellectual work done in these departments is work of translation. That is, it consists of studies of the work of various philosophers such as my Difference and Givenness.
Right - translations, many of which are excellent, of that which cannot possibly be translated.
i would actually argue that the desire to be ‘original’ is itself a function of this institutional setup. rather than trying to work together on solving a problem of larger importance, we’re encouraged to desire the role of genius while working hard at the perpetuation of that myth.
if it’s true that “problems in Anglo-American departments have a status analogous to figures in continental orientations” — and from my experience that’s accurate — i would assume there’s a resistance to debunking certain problems, that institutionally accepted problems have an inertia in much the same way as the genius of Foucault.
the problem we seem to have is some way of trying to address common problems, rather than problems as defined by a set of institutional conventions. to do that, it seems to me, not even style can be held inviolable.
larvalsubjects Says: April 27, 2008 at 12:01 am
Roger, I think you quite miss my point. In suggesting that your remark about Rorty and Deleuze is specious, I am not denying that Deleuze has had a great influence on people in a number of fields. He has. What I am rejecting is your blanket assertion that someone like Rorty has not had such an influence. I simply don’t know one way or another whether this is the case one way or another.
I do not recognize myself in the remainder of your remarks or how I’ve argued anything remotely similar to what you’re talking about regarding freshness and perpetual novelty. I clearly outline the problem I have with post-structuralist styles of writing in the third paragraph of the original post.
Anthony, the claim I was making was a statistical claim, not an absolute claim. Clearly there are those that manage to break out. Moreover, a lot of work focusing on problems is done in a “furtive” fashion. That is, American thinkers in the continental tradition use a particular philosopher as a way of formulating a particular problem. Butler, for instance, does this in much of her work. By and large, however, I think what I say holds about continental philosophy departments in the States. Institutionally our journals and departments are set up in such a way as to strongly discourage anything but the work of intellectual historians. Some manage to break out of this, of course, but our institutions and graduate departments certainly don’t encourage it or make independent work professionally wise or a good career decision. I think the rejection of your article on Meillassoux was an example of this sort of institutional framework at work. You were making original and independent claims, developing a position of your own, and there’s little place for that in continental journals.
larvalsubjects Says: April 27, 2008 at 12:28 am
Traxus, I wonder if the shift towards commentary on texts in continental philosophy doesn’t have something to do with a more generalized collapse of truth posited in these traditions. That is, if truth has collapsed, if there’s no longer a world “out there” that could be an arbiter of different claims about that world, what is left but to talk about texts about the world rather than the world itself?
Mikhail Emelianov Says: April 27, 2008 at 1:38 am
i would actually argue that the desire to be ‘original’ is itself a function of this institutional setup.
you don’t really have to argue this, it’s common knowledge, and it’s also common knowledge how this “desire” is produced: start with a doctoral dissertation that is - a requirement - an original contribution to the field, and go on to publications, books, etc etc. i see your beef with everything “institutional” but there isn’t much philosophy in this country done outside of the institutions…
larvalsubjects Says: April 27, 2008 at 1:45 am
Mikhail, presumably the question would be one of how to change those institutions and institutional practices.
Mikhail Emelianov Says: April 27, 2008 at 3:32 am
Certainly, i’m just saying that there’s no need to really be so surprised about the desire to be original when it’s pretty much all one is told to want to be in an institution of higher education or at least a graduate/postgraduate and professional life (in my limited personal experience) i don’t know if it’s really a manageable task to try to change this culture of originality, especially when originality is often understood as simply a novel way of combining concepts, not achieving the level of genius, as Traxus seems to suggest…

Alexei Says: April 27, 2008 at 10:51 am
LS: we seem to be talking past each other, and i’m not entirely sure why. But let me give this another shot, if only as something of an experiment:
I’m not claiming that style dictates content, or that content necessarily dictates style. That would be absurd — and I didn’t even want to approach intimating something like either of these two claims.
Of course, there is a give and take between style and content, and certain styles do limit or encourage certain kinds of thinking, just as certain languages facilitate and limit certain kinds of thinking (E.G. French has a rather elaborate tense system, English has a robust descriptive vocabulary). Everything that one says in french can be translated into English. But not everything that is simple to say in english is easy to say in French (think of how ‘convoluted,’ to an English speaker, the English expression, ‘don’t miss me too much’ is in French). Not everything that is easily explicated is easily thought for the first time. And so, some things are easier to express in French than in English, and vice versa. Same with ‘philosophical styles.’
SO, it stands to reason that if a thinker has a particular problem, or wants to motivate a certain perspective, or argument, some styles will help, some will hinder. Surely, this is the crux of our debate: whether ‘difficult styles’ (and not bad grammar, or sloppy indexes, or less than fastidious announcements of influence) are essential to a thinker’s project. That is, does a particular style facilitate a particular line of thought (and notice that this isn’t an a priori consideration; it can only be settled on a case by case basis)?
Now, I take it that an ‘analytical’ work (a work of translation, as you call it) can parse its object without resorting to the the latter’s style. however, such a work is possible only when the primary text has been written. Neither N Pepperell’s work on Marx, nor my own stuff on Benjamin, for instance, is possible without Marx and Benjamin.
Furthermore, I take it that hypotheses concerning whether, say, Marx could have written Capital in a different style but could still have achieved the same effects and conclusions to be an exercise of counterfactual imagination that verges on pointlessness. We have a text written in a certain way; we want to understand it, and perhaps understand why it was written in that manner; and, perhaps, we want to understand what the limits and potentials of that style are.
Simply put, Marx’s work, and his style were developed in order to think through specific problems. And that’s what needs to be figured out. Moreover simply because we can ‘translate’ well after the fact someone’s thinking into a ’simpler’ style in no way entails that these thoughts could be initially ‘thought’ independently of that style. And there seems to be something like a revisionist, counterfactual impulse, which doesn’t really seem necessary to me, in claiming the contrary.
So, all this said, may I ask you again the same questions from my last comment?
(1) Are you now saying — contra what you’ve written in the above post — that these textual strategies, this ’stylistic virtuousity’ are a necessary evil (say, in the case of folks like Adorno and Hegel, with whom I am more familiar)? That some texts need to be difficult, and there’s no way around that?
(2)isn’t style as much the content of a given text as the ‘explicit content’? So what gives credence to separating textual strategies as the form through which one delivers semantic content, when both this form and the content it conveys are meaningful products of ‘meditations’?
parodycenter Says: April 27, 2008 at 11:10 am
Anthony, the claim I was making was a statistical claim, not an absolute claim.
But dr. Sinthome Angelina wants Absolution, one way or the other, why else would she be studying theology for so long?
especially when originality is often understood as simply a novel way of combining concepts
Mikhail I think what you’re encountering is the culture of mixage that spills over from MTV into reality, which as we long know from my hero and cyperpunk icon Shaviro’s writing now belongs to the media. Maybe this culture instead of being feared could be put to good use by encouraging kids to find ways to enter that space in between the two layers of the mixage, the old and the new, in order to create something Uncanny. Take a look at the Justin Timberlake clip with Madonna, it suggests just such a possibility.
larvalsubjects Says: April 27, 2008 at 1:40 pm
No Alexei, I do not think that they are a necessary evil and I believe that often stylistic virtuosity of the sort we find in Hegel’s Logic or Adorno’s Negative Dialectics does more to hinder a thinkers project than to help it. But once again, none of what you’ve outlined in your posts has to do with the topic of this post. The point I was making about style was clearly stated in the third paragraph of the original post and in a variety of subsequent posts in this thread. 6:36 PM 6:59 PM 7:08 PM