I think that’s why I haven’t been able to sleep, caffeinated soda too late at nite. Having typed out all of the following I feel sleepier, as will you if you read it. I’m happy to help with ending others’ insomnia, as attested to here. Just now I’m too lazy to break this into multiple posts, so a mish mash of things…

First, I decided recently that I will read Heidegger. I’ve been resisting for quite some time, can’t say exactly why. I will be slow, as I’ve already got too much to do. My rationale is simple – he’s an important figure for the history of philosophy, and folks who I respect (writers and friends) take him seriously. Also, I like the Germans – Kant, Hegel, Marx, Schmitt… all of them have gotten me very excited. (I’m also going eventually to read a bit of Husserl and more Hegel.) There’s a sort of … stodginess to it. A mustiness, like a decaying old used bookshop.

Not to say it’ll be easy. Being and Time’s all checked out at the library. I got a volume called “Philosophical and Political Writings.” The first piece is called “The Jewish Contamination of German Spiritual Life”. The third is called “Follow the Fuhrer!” Fucking hell. At least he’s stodgy, I guess.

Second, some notes on two books so I can return them to the damn library, instead of leaving them partially or completely finished on my shelf while I slowly forget what they said and forget to take notes on them (as I’ve been doing with Badiou’s Manifesto for Philosophy for ages, I may have to reread the damn thing now). Anyhow, two books, Nancy’s Birth to Presence and Mao’s On Contradiction.

Re: the Nancy (part of what sparked my “I shall read Heidegger despite his being a dirty lousy nazi” resolution), I only read a few selections, and I just want to pull out some quotes. Heidegger’s word for “decision” is Entscheidung (82), which I have no idea what that says about Heidegger but I’d been wondering about re: Schmitt. It’s the same term. Tra la.

Some quotes from “Finite History”. “[H]istory (…) does not belong primarily to time, nor to succession, nor to causality, but to community, or to being-in-common.” (143.) “[T]he question of beginning, of inaugurating or entering history (…) should constitute the core of the thinking of history.” (146.) “[H]istorical knowledge is also an excellent critical and political tool in the fight against ideological representations and their power.” At the same time “the more history becomes a broad and rich historical knowledge, the less we know what “history” means” (147). Perhaps because this broadening and enriching helps delink history from ideological formulations? “We are not a “being” but a “happening” (….) We are not – the “we” is not – but we happen”. “Community, therefore, is not historical as if it were a permanently changing subject within a permanently flowing time”, rather “history is community, that is, the happening of a certain space of time (…) which is the spacing of a “we.”” (156.) This can have either a political or a police mode – the happening of a we as an instance of history, or the positing via a discourse of history of a We as a count.

Some quotes from “Abandoned Being.” Nancy states that being is nothing but “pollakos legomenon, the spoken-in-multiple-ways”. (36.) Abandonment is the cessation of this multiple speaking. Still, there is “a pollakos, an abundance, in abandon”. (37.) “To be abandoned is to be left with nothing to keep hold of and no calculation.” (39.) “To abandon is to (…) turn over to (…) a sovereign power.” (44.)

“One always abandons to a law. The destitution of abandoned being is measured by the limitless severity of the law to which it finds itself exposed. Abandonment does not constitute a subpoena to present oneself to this or that court of law. It is a compulsion to appear absolutely under the law, under the law as such and its totality. In the same way – it is the same thing – to be banished does not amount to coming under a provision of the law, but rather to coming under the entirety of the law. Turned over to the absolute of the law, the banished one is thereby abandoned completely outside its jurisdiction. The law of abandonment requires that the law be applied through its withdrawal. The law of abandonment is the other of the law, which constitutes the law.

Abandoned being finds itself deserted to the degree that it finds itself remitted, entrusted, or thrown to this law that constitutes the law, the other and same, to this side of all law that borders and upholds a legal universe: an absolute, solemn order, which prescribes nothing but abandonment. Being is not entrusted to a cause, to a motor, to a principle; it is not left to its own substance or even to its own subsistence. It is – in abandonment.” (44.)

I’m not sure what to make of a lot of this. What I like: being as multiple, abandonment as reduction of being to nonmultiple, the emphasis on sovereignty and law, and the retention of abundance – remaining multiple – within the abandon. I would like to read this in relation to my claim that bare life is not (rather, bare life happens, and is still not bare – it’s abandonment is a form abundance-as-bare, abandoned abundance – in at least many cases.

Now, Mao. I’m not sure what to say about this. I don’t think I took a lot away from it. Perhaps I should re-read it, but no time. One thing that struck was that the comments on life as always in motion and as processual (17), and the remarks on emergence (18) might be read in relation to Deleuzian and other talk about life as a category, particularly coupled with the comments against evolutionism and mechanical materialism. If it worked, that’d be rather ironic, using Mao (who quotes Engels extensively on this) in that way. “The living soul of Marxism is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions.” (24, the thought is attributed to Lenin, in the work “On Dialectics.”) Fair enough, but if that’s the soul then what organ or substance of Marxism’s is “On Contradiction” (and “On Dialectics”) a part of? The discussion of principle contradiction and principle aspect of a contradiction (36-37, for instance) has a nice fluidity, but seems to boil down to basically tactics, such that the terminology doesn’t contribute much at all – one attends to what one must attend do, that which is more pressing and relevant at the time, why use the dialectical terminology though? That’s not an argument against that terminology so much as my not getting what the argument for it might be here.

“All things are (…) impelled to move.” [T]here is an utter lack of identity.” (43.) The identity of opposites doesn’t interest Mao much (43), how they dynamically interact and become each other is more his bag (44). This becoming doesn’t achieve stasis or unity though, or if it does it’s temporary and contingent – produced. “The unity or identity of the contradictory aspects in objective things is never dead, rigid, but living, conditional, changeable, temporary, relative” (45). This is a key plank to Mao’s Marxism. I don’t know what to make of the contradiction vs antagonism distinction. Mao cites Lenin, some “critical notes on Nikolai Bukharin’s Economics of the Transition Period.” (61.) I’ll have to see if I can chase that up. Lenin’s quoted as saying that contradiction persists under socialism, but antagonism does not. (Quoted on 52.) “Antagonism is a form of struggle within the contradiction, but not the universal form” (50). Contradictions within revolutionary organization, for instance, don’t have to be antagonistic. Hopefully, antagonism in that context can be avoided. One should try, so to speak. I wonder if the term (antagonism) has these same resonances within Negri’s work. He’s certainly read Lenin, Mao, and the rest, and I think the term comes up pretty early on (in the 70s) in his work. That’s all on Mao. Still gotta read that Zizek intro eventually, and not sure what Althusser was so excited about in his citation of Mao (maybe it was some intra-party jockeying re: the PCF’s China policy?).

Third, assorted thoughts on Ranciere and the uses of universities, thoughts rattled loose in my head by the good folks at edu-factory.org.

Ranciere –

I had the thought recently that the important part of the ignorant schoolmaster is not the ignorance at all. Or rather, the ignorance matters only as an enabling condition. The point is that in the encounter between the ignorant schoolmaster and student(s), the knowledge (or ignorance) of the schoolmaster doesn’t matter. The encounter is indifferent to that. The relationship is not one of intellect to intellect, but of will to will, and of will to intellect. There may be a power relationship and force operating here, but not inegalitarian claims or counts: no assignment of places and no order to get back in your seats. (I had a note someplace about paternalism and the ‘indigenous law’ that Portugal passed in some African colonies, but I can’t find it just now. I guess that’ll have to wait.)

Anyway, the encounter in indifference to position is the egalitarian move in Ranciere’s book. It’s not “all intellects are identical”, which would be a new count. The idea is a non-identitarian (and primarily negative) egalitarian assertion. Knowledge and intellect is severed from being a marker of status, a mode of assigning places. That’s one of the result of Ranciere’s dwelling on the incompatibility of the ‘Jacotot method’ with institutions. Also, and I think I’ve said this before, I think disagreement characterizes the encounter between the ignorant schoolmaster (or the indifferent student or colleague that the ignorant schoolmaster works with) and the stultifying explicating schoolmaster. The stultifier refuses to judge the other as capable of self-activity (get back in your seats! you have no right!), but in doing so must at least presume the other can understand the pronouncement of the judgment and the order to follow the judgment. The ignorant or indifferent in term refuses to judge the stultifier as arbiter, as being able to assign seats. I’ll have to dig up the Situaciones/MTD-Solano pamphlet on the workshop they did on the Ignorant Schoolmaster, that might help.

On the uses of the university… Edufactory’s got me thinking. What in the hell am I doing at a university again? There are of course many reasons. One way to sort them is sort of top-down/policing and bottom-up/political, perhaps, though that may overstate things.

Negative reasons. In a nutshell, I had exhausted the career path I had been on, working in nonprofit/NGO stuff, the social justice industry. In so doing, I exhausted and strained myself physically and emotionally, several relationships, and my finances, and I no longer had the complex of beliefs and affective responses conducive to finding the work and the life satisfying. My exit involved a two year tail spin of making right around what my cost of living was, but in a sort of stumbling and unpredictable way with occasional gaps and with no health insurance. I couldn’t find better jobs. I didn’t know how to do anything particularly employable, and some of the jobs on my CV raised eyebrows in job interviews (“what exactly did you used to do at that union you worked for?”) in a way which was uncomfortable and which, because of the answers I had to give, compounded the degrading-ness of job interviews. I worked a ton of different jobs, some of which meant working nights during this time, which sucked as my partner worked days and patching that relationship up (in part just by being around a little) was a major priority. (I counted once, I think I’ve had like 20 or 25 jobs pre-return to university.) So, eventually, I was like “Fuck this. I like to read, I’ll go to grad school.”

Positive reasons. Naive ones, that is. After finishing college I worked hard and spent a lot of time to maintain as full an intellectual life as I could on my own and, to a limited extent, with others, while working at my job(s) a lot. I had moderate successes which, under the circumstances, I feel somewhat proud of. The idea of coming back to school was really appealing – I wasn’t going to have to work so hard to maintain this, I would join an excellent and vibrant intellectual community readymade, etc. The latter has, to a limited extent (limited in its readymade-ness certainly). The former hasn’t happened. School’s a ton of work, and it’s almost as much work to maintain my own intellectual life outside the requirements as it was prior to coming back. (And the pay and benefits suck and the labor standards aren’t great among other things, but I digress.) I was naive on two counts here. One, I thought the work would end – the work of reading etc would not be work somehow, and I hadn’t recognized that a big part of the work I’d done was in finding, building, participating in, and sustaining networks with others, a work which hasn’t ended though it has lessened to some degree. Two, I thought that I could have my job be this really cool thing, where it’d be like how I earn my living but also how I make my life. That is, that the activity would be both job and vocation. That’s the mistake that sent me down the NGO route, and kept me in it for a while. Simply, waged labor and the good life are not co-extensive.

On that, the real positive things. As jobs go, this is far from the worst (while no form of waged labor corrects the abuse which is waged labor, one form can correct abuses specific to another form) in many ways. Among other things, I like students. I like meeting with them, talking with them, hearing what they think, helping them improve their writing a bit, trying to make them excited. It’s no creme brulee but it’s pretty decent. I digress again. The good life and waged labor: the relationship is one of subtraction. Each takes from the other. Maximizing the former means limiting or pulling resources from the latter. I have managed to read some material for school that I would anyway, and likewise with some writing. I’ve gone to some conferences with partial funding, which involved spending time with people I would spend time with anyway. None of this is particularly political in a large scale or organizational sense, though. That sort of subtraction I’ve not done really, or very little. Not in such a fashion that I feel I really understand it or know how to do it, more like I’ve been part of a group that’s done this a bit. Doing so more is a goal.

Some friends and comrades and I have got a Marx reading group which we got a meeting space at the university for, through the connections of some of us who work at the university. That’s a babystep. (And that reminds me, note to self, blog about the discussion on prim acc and planning.) We’ve shown some films now and again – I’ve just been tangentially involved in that, not really involved at all – and we’ve held trainings, workshops, and brought Staughton Lynd to speak all in facilities gotten the same way. And a group of us are forming a student group, to get that same kind of access/channeling of resources. Also just a babystep, but hopefully more to come. (Avalanches are made of snowflakes, after all.)