Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Colloquium: Judith Butler, Larry Rickels, and Avital Ronell

NOTE TO FACEBOOK VIEWERS: to view any of the clips you'll need to visit the actual blog. Scroll to the bottom and click "View Original Post"

Today's class was a special joint session with Avital Ronell's morning class (those of us in Larry Rickels' morning class also had Judith Butler in the afternoon). In this, perhaps, symposium is another fold into what it means to be together and to live together. We will be discussing Heidegger's What Is Thinking?, some Melanie Klein, and viewing an interview (Zur Person, a German TV program from 1964) with Hannah Arendt while discussing her ideas on judgement.

We begin with Judith Butler:

Butler offers us some light translation from the above video:
  • "Political philosophy - which I avoid - there is always a tension between man as thinking being and man as acting being. Natural philosophy does not allow this."
  • Arendt is introduced by Günter Gaus as a major thinker, but she says she doesn't feel like she is a philosopher and points out that she is not accepted as such.
In The Human Condition Arendt distinguishes public and private with forms of speech which belong to the public sphere and those that belong to the private domain.
  • The private domain has no speech, it is an arena in which bodies labor; defined by repetitive and transient actions
  • To have speech properly means it must be done in the public domain
  • These distinctions are based on the Greek polis but they are nonexclusionary; the public depends on the private to exist and yet this dependency is never theorized as a political issue because the public contains the private.
As we listen Arendt's interview, if we think of philosophy as not being a public action, but a private activity, we wonder if the public/private dichotomy is tenable? Can thinking and acting mutually exist?
  • Arendt states in the interview, "Heidegger is a philosopher (and solitary), I am a political theorist (and public), thus I do something different," this seems like some sort of gossipy speculation
  • There is a shift in her interview where she goes from talking about philosophy to talking about giving commands
  • She must the interpellation of philosopher if she is to protect her femininity; perhaps one day there will be a philosopher that does not give commands
  • Is she becoming feminine in this move or is she becoming hyper-masculine by becoming a political theorist which takes the public sphere as central, a sphere from which women have historically been excluded (a woman's place being in the home, a private domain)?
  • Eichmann's failure to think was a failure not only to maintain an inner dialogue but also a failure to think of somebody else.
Avital Ronell
How are we to understand these phantom diacritical marks (fluttering her eyes, blowing her cigarette smoke into Gaus' face) in her talk about not being welcome into the community of (male) philosophers?
  • Heidegger says that TV is an expression of his form of solitary thinking
  • Arendt says we are more dependent upon our silence, a partner for thinking, a call she is having that is difficult
  • that consciousness is more than being with myself alone but has something to do with being responsible
  • Levinas says you are never responsible enough, Derrida says that we must stand against what is unethical, even if alone, even if alone with a friend
Larry Rickels
Here we might have a psychoanalytic reading of Arendt's relationship with Heidegger within this interview using the figure of loneliness, Melanie Klein's On the Sense of Loneliness to suggest where we can detect the relationship to Heidegger

Arendt discusses being alone in her essay Some Questions of Moral Philosophy
(100) I mention these various forms of being alone, or the various ways in which human singularity articulates and actualizes itself, because it is so very easy to confuse them, not only because we tend to be sloppy and unconcerned with distinctions, but also because we they invariably and almost unnoticeably change into one another. The concern with the self as the ultimate standard of moral conduct exists of course only in solitude. Its demonstrable validity is found in the general formula "It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong," which, as we saw, rests on the insight that it is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself. This validity can therefore be maintained only for man insofar as he is a thinking being, needing himself for company for the sake of the thought process.
Earlier in the same essay Arendt discusses the distinctions between solitude and isolation:
(98) Solitude means that though alone, I am together with somebody (myself, that is). It means that I am two-in-one, whereas loneliness as well as isolation do not know this kind of schism, this inner dichotomy in which I can ask questions of myself and receive answers. Solitude and its corresponding activity, which is thinking, can be interrupted either by somebody else addressing me or, like every other activity, by doing something else, or by sheer exhaustion. In any of these cases, the two that I was in thought become one again. If somebody addresses me, I must now talk to him, and not to myself, and in talking to him, I change. [...] Because this one who I now am is without company, I may reach out for company of others - people, books, music - and if they fail me or if I am unable to establish contact with them, I am overcome by boredom and loneliness. For this I do not have to be alone: I can be very bored and very lonely in the midst of a crowd, but not in actual solitude, that is, in my own company, or together with a friend, in the sense of another self. That is why it is much harder to bear being alone in a crowd than in solitude - as Meister Eckhart once remarked.
Isolation, on the other hand:
(99) [O]ccurs when I am neither together with myself nor in the company of others but concerned with things in the world. Isolation can be the natural condition for all kinds of work where I am so concentrated on what I am doing that the presence of others, including myself, can only disturb me. Such work may be productive, the actual fabrication of some new object, but need not be so.... Isolation can also occur as a negative phenomenon....[I]t is the enforced leisure of the politician, or rather of the man who is himself a citizen but has lost contact with his fellow citizens. Isolation in this second negative sense can be borne only if it is transformed into solitude, and every one who is acquainted with Latin literature will know how the Romans, in contrast to the Greeks, discovered solitude and with it philosophy as a way of life in the enforced leisure which accompanies removal from public affairs.
NOTE TO SELF: Does Lynch's talk about Jay-Z's hegemony becomes strained if we start discussing the solitude of hiphop? Is there solitude in hiphop? It seems that the only successful rappers to "leave the game" were Biggie and 2Pac, and clearly these aren't tenable exit strategies.

ALSO: Cato quote at end of the above section: "Never am I more active than when I do nothing, never am I less alone than when I am by myself." In contrast to the 圣人 shengren (sage) who does nothing and in doing nothing leaves nothing undone.

Melanie Klein peruses loneliness as the inevitable break-out of the therapeutic practice; the need to mitigate between hate and love is at the center of integration
  • While lack of integration has its pains, the process of integration (in analysis) brings its own pains
  • Klein valorizes idealization and seeks to preserve the cleavage between the good and the bad - not the good preserved - this is a Nietzschean moment that separates her from Freud
  • Idealization is already marked by Klein as disposable, as integration is never permanent, the glamor of idealization (as the Good Object) is gone, though, at some point.
  • When it leaves, it leaves us with the loneliness of transference
Arendt moves from the couple (thinking) to the group (acting) through solitude:
(104) ...Socratic morality is politically relevant only in times of crisis and that the self as the ultimate criterion of moral conduct is politically a kind of emergency measure. And this implies that the invocation of allegedly moral principles for matters of everyday conduct is usually a fraud; we hardly need experience to tell us that the narrow moralists who constantly appeal to higher moral principles and fixed standards are usually the first to adhere to whatever fixed standards they are offered....
We catch a whiff of Heidegger just prior to the above quote:
(104) This ambiguity, that the same act will make good men better and bad men worse, was once alluded to by Nietzsche who complained of having been misunderstood by a woman: "She told me that she had no morality - and I thought that she had, like myself, a more severe morality." The misunderstanding is common although the reproach in this particular case (Lou Andreas Salome) was far off the mark.
Heidegger must have been the Good Object at one point: the two-in-one continues to threaten the none-in-one.

Avital mentioned Arendt not feeling welcome - this is the expression of a wound. Perhaps she might be anticipating a wounding, thus wounding herself so as to control the wounding.
  • Did she not feel Heidegger was appreciative enough?
  • Who is this other with whom I must think?
  • Do I preserve the Other by a melancholic sense of loss?
  • this cleavage (that Larry mentioned) as the precondition for thought?
Derrida refers to Lot's offering to the strangers when discussing hospitality

Kant situates us so:
  • we are hosting a guest and the cops come looking for the guest - do we tell the truth and give the guest over to them or do we lie?
  • Kant says give the guest over
  • Arendt says Kant did not have an ear fir the possibility of the horror that can occur in his truth-telling world
Arendt's address is to Heidegger's text on Hölderlin (Andenken) and is perhaps more concerned with remembrance; a bringing together of thinking and memory
  • That which is mourned, homecomings, are toward the future; this loneliness is in this sense a two-in-one
  • She is performing an excentric half, calls forward to the core of Heidegger's What Is Thinking? so as to aberrate it
Is Heidegger trying to birth Nietzsche? Is Nietzsche what Heidegger meant by home? Arendt screams Nietzsche, she is pregnant with the future.

Both Heidegger and Arendt state that they are not philosophers, they are both upset with philosophy
  • Heidegger is now a thinker
  • The will to listening and obeying are both intimately connected for Heidegger as was pointed out by Nietzsche -
    (What Is Called Thinking?, 48) "You just wait - I'll teach you what we call obedience!" a mother might say to her boy who won't come home. Does she promise him a definition of obedience? No. Or is she going to give him a lecture? No again, if she is a proper mother. Rather, she will convey to him what obedience is. Or better, the other way around: she will bring him to obey. Her success will be more lasting the less she scolds him; it will be easier, the more directly she can get him to listen - not just condescend to listen, but listen in such a way that he can no longer stop wanting to do it. And why? Because his ears have been opened and he now can hear what is in accord with his nature. Learning, then, cannot be brought about by scolding.

  • What does he who is taught by the proper mother hear?
  • The son who is not present - is Heidegger calling Nietzsche home? not to keep him but to lose him?
  • The mother of muses, remembrance and memory, is first invoked in What Is Called Thinking?
Adorno is the figure in Germany in 1964 (during the Zur Person interview), Arendt at this time is editing Benjamin's Illuminations where she says Adorno was Benjamin's best student [Ronell here quips, "And then Arendt put her cigarette out!"]

Zen-like practice so as to maintain a relationship with the self; an ethical injunction

NOTE TO SELF: if we're to follow this thought out we should consider ningen 人間 (the betweenness of humanity)

(99) If somebody addresses me, I must now talk to him, and not to myself, and in talking to him, I change. I become one, possessing of course self-awareness, that is, consciousness, but no longer fully and articulately in possession of myself.
There is a dynamic movement between me and the Other in thinking - I can only be within the context between us.

One is defanged as a philosopher at points - what does one take recourse to in an emergency? What is a person vs. personality?

There is the ability now, through mass technologization, to self-administer the shock so as to survive

NOTE TO SELF: overcoming by undergoing the work of being together - as transformative

from What Is Thinking? (54) "[N]o thinker can be overcome by our refuting him and stacking up around him a literature of refutation. What a thinker has thought can be mastered only if we refer everything in his thought that is still unthought back to its originary truth."

It's as though her training is immersed in the political as finitude

from Some Questions of Moral Philosophy
(95) The greatest evildoers are those who don't remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and without remembrance, nothing can hold them back. For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur - the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.
Speech as radical self-generation:
(SQMP, 95) Taking our cue from Socrates' justification of his moral proposition, we may now say that in this process of thought in which I actualize the specifically human difference of speech, I explicitly constitute myself a person, and I shall remain one to the extent that I am capable of such constitution ever again and anew. If this is what we commonly call personality, and it has nothing to do with gifts and intelligence, it is the simple, almost automatic result of thoughtfullness. To put it another way, in granting pardon, it is the person not the crime that is forgiven; in rootless evil there is no person left whom one could ever forgive.
Heidegger sounded the call:
(WICT? 49) ...[A] man who teaches must at times grow noisy. In fact, he may have to scream and scream, although the aim is to make his students learn so quiet a thing as thinking. Nietzsche, most quiet and shiest of men, knew of this necessity. He endured the agony of having to scream. In a decade when the world at large still knew nothing of world wars, when faith in "progress" was virtually the religion of the civilized peoples and nations, Nietzsche screamed out into the world: "The wasteland grows..." [...] What was once the scream "The wasteland grows...," now threatens to turn into chatter. The threat of this perversion is part of what gives us food for thought. The threat is that perhaps this most thoughtful thought will today, and still more tomorrow, become suddenly no more than a platitude, and as platitude spread and circulate. This fashion of talking platitudes is at work in that endless profusion of books describing the state of the world today. They describe what its by nature is indescribable, because it lends itself to being thought about only in a thinking that is a kind of appeal, a call - and therefore must at times become a scream. Script easily smothers the scream, especially if the script exhausts itself in description, and aims to keep men's imagination busy by supplying it constantly with new matter. The burden of thought is swallowed up in the written script, unless the writing is capable of remaining, even in the script itself, a progress of thinking, a way.


  1. mentioned your post at qlipoth just now

  2. thanks for reading! where's qlipoth?