Blog Ending or Continuing??

As the name of the last episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation was titled “All Good Things Must Come to an End,” so too, this blog is ending.

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I am moving to blog at Philosophical Percolations, a new blog being organized by Jon Cogburn and several of his LSU cohorts. I’ll post a link to it when the domain name is cleared, and it’s not ordained with test posts. I have a host of meditations I will be writing on personalism, teaching religion, and some other area interests hinted at over here. The blog will require a bit of more time, the type of time commitment larger than maintaining two blogs at once. Also, I cannot cross post anything, so I should devote my time and energy to it.

I am unsure whether or not I should end the blog. It has been my joy to share what thoughts exist in my brain after graduate school and the last two years joining the under-culture of adjunct philosophers circulating around Northeast Ohio. In many ways, I have enjoyed this blog; it has made it possible to feel a connection to other philosophers online that living out of my car teaching between Akron, Kent State, and John Carroll does not foster despite several of these places playing lip service to promoting ends of a just community. And while I will never gossip about the working conditions of these places, there is a dark side to adjunct work that makes me appreciate the better places of this world, and why I must continually attempt to find such a place. I am told they do exist.

This blog’s namesake owes itself to those two elements drawn from James and Husserl. Phenomenology and pragmatism are still strange-bedfellows in my mind as I have been actively reading James scholarship and William James over the past two years, and actively transitioning my dissertation into book format. I’ve learned a lot about myself in so doing. I also cemented relationships that grew out of this blog and interaction. A good friend of mine, Jason Hills, also posted issues in higher education and the profession of philosophy at large. Without his first efforts, I don’t know that I would have continued to stay here. I am very grateful to him.

Unlike my other blog, I will not officially end this blog. I have empowered some to blog here–that is, if they wish to keep it up. If someone approaches me to continue the blog, I can always make someone an administrator, and as the Uber-Lord of this blog, I reserve the right to judge the fittingness of such a request. Initially, this blog was to serve as a space for newly-minted SIU PhDs to share their work, and as we tended to produce Continental and American philosophy PhDs, I thought the name appropriate. That never happened, so the term “Horizon and Fringe” became somewhat mine.  Let me know if you have someone in mind that could take this blog over. They need not necessarily have ties to Southern Illinois University, but philosophically, they should have the interests in line with what I take the spirit that the namesake inspires. I still desire a day that a blog in American and Continental philosophy could take off.

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The Malaise of Philosophy’s Relevance: An Answer to an Anonymous Analytic Friend Why He Ought to Read More Continental Philosophy

imagesI know it’s controversial and puts me into an old category subjected to the egos of a previous war, a war waged by those on and off my dissertation committee, a war that caught pragmatists in the middle, and a label not even invented by whatever Continental philosophy is since the label is the “miscellaneous” category invented by analytic philosophers to organize labor about what they should dismiss than know about. A friend recently commented and said that I tend to borrow and be influenced by Continental Philosophy more so than whatever holds for analytic philosophy (there are notable exceptions like W. D. Ross and Rosalind Hursthouse, but ethicists are largely the exception in my thinking); I may even be disparaging about analytic philosophy from time to time, and yet some friendships continue in recognition of the contentious nature of philosophy itself. The analytic friend asked me why he ought to study Continental philosophy even if he conceded the caricature given below. Here’s my attempt at answering that question very loosely.

The largest reason I have never been persuaded about the alleged superiority of analytic philosophy is (and has always been) how unthematized experience is; left unrefined and barren, ignoring experience divorces philosophy from the relevance of living a transformed life by philosophy. Recently, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong wrote an essay at Daily Nous where he claimed:

Because of these potential applications [in the previous paragraph to this one, Sinnot-Armstrong shows the pragmatic relevance to some classic analytic questions], there must be some way for philosophers to show why and how philosophy is important and to do so clearly and concisely enough that non-philosophers can come to appreciate the value of philosophy. There also must be some way to write philosophy in a lively and engaging fashion, so that the general public will want to read it. A few philosophers already do this. Their examples show that others could do it, but not enough philosophers follow their models. The profession needs to enable and encourage more philosophers to reach beyond the profession.

In analytic philosophy I hate how ahistoric and wrongheaded thinking of philosophy as an aspiring science is, how the solving of narrow problems as if philosophy should ignore the deeply existential and pragmatic concerns of life. When analytic philosophy doesn’t ignore the existential and pragmatic concerns of life, analytic philosophers enter a realm of the living subject, the practical agent, and it’s the sphere of value theory I’ve never taken issue with that undergirds much of the same area of agreement and engagement with my work. Instead, it has always been their myopic focus and inability to contextualize their relevance to the ongoing history of their own development. Like the science they admire, analytic philosophers seek to move forward, make progress on problems, and always look to the future at the expense of the present and past that configures their own possibility.

Of course, there are exceptions, and in many ways, analytic philosophy is dissipating to an awareness of other approaches. I know more analytically-trained philosophers reaching out to sources beyond their training, but such outreach and cooperation can only be sustained if experience is thematized. Hermeneutics, phenomenology, existentialism—these are approaches that recognize a qualitative richness to experience, and offer ways to interpret that experience. In many ways, we could introduce, like analytics, a strong sense of experience. Let’s call this thesis the Strong-Commitment-to-Experience. Skepticism about these trajectories comes from Derrida and his descendants. We could call this the Weak-Commitment-to-Experience. In many ways, what separates the two is that Derrida and his descendants do not think that the subject and/or the center of experience can be thematized in any reliable sense. There is no metaphysics of experience possible at all. A metaphysics of experience is not the same sense of metaphysics repudiated in Heidegger’s Being and Time since I would read Heidegger as offering us a way to make sense of experience, even if it just is one among many possible ontological interpretations of Dasein’s facticity. Contrary to the French post-structuralists, there is no structure or intelligibility to experience beyond the assertion of an interpretation, and no matter how heretical a phenomenologist is to Husserl, phenomenology is always committed to the fact that the world discloses its pre-intelligible meaningfulness to an experiencer.

If analytic philosophy seeks to always push its possibility into the future under the promise of science as the ultimate deliverer on all ambiguities and felt difficulties, then there can be absolutely no compromise with a vision without experience. This is an age-old problem, and most commonly distorted from the idea that a part of experience must be reduced or explained away by science as the final arbiter. Such tension can be felt in older moments of analytic philosophy and its own self-reflection. Dennett’s intentional stance comes to mind very easily on that score.

I firmly am convinced that enthusiasm for science is not the final answer on such questions, and I would not attempt to labor the pursuit of such a question beyond the brilliance of Husserl’s engagement with the natural attitude. Try as I might, I don’t think I could do it justice. What I can say is further assert why I am more open to Continental philosophy based upon the benefits one receives by paying attention to experience itself and how the interests in value theory in both analytic and Continental philosophy emerged.

First, a continental philosopher often pays attention to the cultural horizon, seeing problems of interpretation of experience as caused by the milieu that gives rise to the problem itself. This means that experience might pay attention to any number of elements drawn from the lifeworld in question. As such, continental philosophers pull from art, history, politics, and literature. In many ways, this chief boon is particularly responsible for how influential Continental thinkers have been to many within the humanities. We can all recall discussions with colleagues who are taking a horribly watered-down literary theory seminar in English or Cultural Studies and not reading Derrida through his critique of Husserl. Like reading Foucault and talking of “geneaology” without reference to Nietzsche

Second, this attention to experience also means that Continental philosophers engage in the production of art and often have a more acute connection to culture. Sartre wrote plays and novels, and Heidegger wrote bad poetry. Sartre also critiqued art. I, too, write bad poetry and short stories on occasion, but that’s a post for another day. However, this connection does bespeak even to my own life. I’ve also talked to 90.3 in Cleveland about critiquing art exhibits around the city. That proposal is still ongoing, and yet to be decided (more than likely a flight of fancy).

Third, an openness to experience means that people on the street can see the relevance philosophy has to their lives. If philosophers openly talk about the cultural problems associated with living in a capitalist society and one talks to a dock worker, the problems are addressed in a more satisfying way than as if their relevance is feigned from on high. A chair of a very analytic department once told a colleague of mine that the problems of philosophy are whatever the writers of the top analytic journals say they are. Such insanity can only be made by the raw efforts of assertion. Even analytics, famous ones like Harry Frankfurt, are responding currently to the malaise of relevance. In his Portrait of American Philosophy, he says:

I believe that there is, at least in this country, a more or less general agreement among philosophers and other scholars that our  subject is currently in the doldrums.  Until not very long ago, there were powerful creative impulses moving energetically through the field.  There was the work in England of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell and of Gilbert Ryle, Paul Grice, and Herbert Hart, as well as the work of various logicial positivsts.  In the United States, even after interest in William James and John Dewey had receded, there was lively attention to contributions by Willard Quine and Donald Davidson, John Rawls and Saul Kripke.  In addition, some philosophers were powerfully moved by the gigantic speculative edifice of Whitehead.  Heidegger was having a massive impact on European philosophy, as well as on other disciplines–and not only in Europe, but here as well.  And, of course, there was everywhere a vigorously appreciative and productive response to the work of Wittgenstein.

The lively impact of these impressive figures has faded.  We are no longer busily preoccupied with responding to them.  Except for a few contributors of somewhat less general scope, such as Habermas, no one has replaced the imposingly great figures of the recent past in providing  us with contagiously inspiring direction.  Nowadays, there are really no conspicuously fresh, bold, and intellectually exciting new challenges or innovations.  For the most part, the field is quiet.  We seem, more or less, to be marking time.  (pp. 125-126)

Now, it’s Thursday. I have to prepare a lecture on Buddhism and cannot give any more voice to this question. However, I invite you to highlight the boon from your particular engagement with Continental philosophy. Since so many places have disparagingly shared their hatred for Continental philosophy, I won’t share such comments. Instead, I will only share thoughtful meditations (which can be equally critical of it) about its possibility. Is Frankfurt right to include Continental philosophy above? Is Continental philosophy in the doldrums as analytic philosophy is? It would seem that, for me, Continental philosophy is never in the doldrums in the same way exactly. Continental philosophy is in the doldrums because its very good fortune about responding to interpreting cultural horizons also means that it has become an activity of commenting upon comments about someone else’s comments about Heidegger. It has become textual exegesis without application.

The irony is striking to me. After completing and posting this blog post online, I could have just as easily directed my friend to the same answer I gave to C. P. Snow’s Two Cultures. 

House of Cards: Season 3 Review (Spoiler Alert)

As many of you may know, I am editor of House of Cards and Philosophy, and I have been watching it intensely for the last three years. I must say I am rather ambivalent about the third season. At first, the season starts with tiny threads starting to unravel. I was convinced that this season might be when all the cards start falling down, what we might call the Empire Strikes Back in which there would be some major defeats to the egoist surging power of Frank’s ascendancy to the White House and the other main characters. Instead, the show’s third season reveals a series of stop-and-gos, of near defeats and evasions in the exchange of power that resembles a dogfight from Top Gun rather than a decisive narrative arch. The ending of the season is not even abrupt as the first two and even less surprising. In that way, I found it to be a let down. 

We start six months into Frank’s administration. Heather Dunbar seems poised as a virtuous person, a force of moral rectitude that could stand against Frank’s tyranny, and in overly-simplistic fashion could be the Light to Franks’s Vader-esqueness. She is used by the show’s writers to highlight the obvious nature of Frank’s tyranny. That’s something we already know. Yet, she falls from the moral high ground. Philosophically, her failure implies that one cannot be Kantian in politics (as I suspect all good lawyers are good Kantians in real life). Secondly, her failure amounts to one strategy that makes her become almost what she hates, and you get the sense that the only way to make sense of Underwood’s nomination for the Democratic ticket is that the voters pick up on the reality of politics. House of Cards still depicts the ever-present need to transform oneself before the machinatoins of power in DC rather than trying to transform DC. There is a high level of cynicism that is maintained throughtout this season. In that way, nothing has changed, and Heather Dunbar falls from grace. It just takes more desperation as she comes closer to getting the nomination to resort to Frank-like tactics.  

Doug falls. He is recovering from injuries as Rachel left him at the end of season 2, and he almost becomes respectable. His growth teeters between reconciling with a long lost brother and then after recovering from a lapse of his alcoholism, he is sucked back into the maw of power. The first few episodes are shot in dark, as if the entire cast of main characters is lurking in shadow. This dark lighting strategy is used especially in scenes where we see Doug on the outside of Frank’s inner circle in the beginning of the season. He is weak in body, and cannot stand being apart from Frank. He even falls literally in the dark, a shower breaking his arm and before the meeting with Frank, he duct tapes the injury forging a cast with kitchen utensils. That’s just what being tough means. 

The not-so-real-shocker is the trajectory of Claire and Frank. Claire wants power and Frank resists but gives in to her demand to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations. When her appointment is denied by Congress, Frank reluctantly gives in and makes a recess appointment to the United Nations anyway. They come to loggerheads over some issues until Claire finally delivers an overturning of Russia’s veto of a peackeeping plan on the UNSC. In between these episodes, a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks are sand-painting a mandala, a Buddhist picture of colorful sand meticulously crafted. The mandala symbolizes the impermanence of all things attesting to the Buddhist truth that there is no self-subsisting identity of any one entity in the universe. Instead, we stand in constant relation to a dynamic overwhelming flux and only the arrogant see themselves apart and permanent outside this flux. In the same episode, both Claire and Frank renew their vows of marriage, the political process is taking a toll on their marriage since for political reasons, Frank will remove Claire from the post of UN Ambassador in order to get the Russians from withdrawing their troops. 

When I first saw the mandala, that’s when I had anticipated the unraveling of the entire series. However, the unraveling was the slow and wobbly nature of their marriage. Frank and Claire seemed indomitable, but now Lady Macbeth (if that was even appropriate analogy to begin with) is in the 21st century. She wants to be an equal, and yet she is betrayed by Frank, always expected to be at his beck and call, and she wants equality of station. She resists him. In the very last episode, she does not go to Iowa Caucus. Frank is furious. He holds her chin like a mother scolding a child. She looks at him. She doesn’t flinch. She knows the Frank she married, and she looks at him ambivalently. You cannot tell if it is horror, shock or stoicism—maybe it’s a little bit of everything. She 

Added to this season is the character Tom Yates, a writer of somewhat ambiguous background. He is tapped as a talented writer since Frank loved reading his review of video games. He wrote a famous book some years ago, and now he is summoned to the Oval Office to write about Frank’s background and why the domestic jobs program called America Works should be praised. Frank wants the idea, the philosophy of the program, to be described, but the writer resists. He accompanies Frank almost everywhere and is the envy of the White House press corp. Pretty soon, Tom’s voice almost replaces the need for Frank’s asides. Tom becomes a conscience for the audience, and reveals a deep penetrating look not at America Works, or Frank’s life, but the equality behind Frank and Claire. In the end, he is fired for giving an honest telling of the distance and aspiration of both Claire and Frank. The only thing he misses is the deeply truly sinister energy, the real tyrant, still left to our knowledge, but the introduction of Tom does reduce the amount of significant asides Frank gives to us. Frank’s asides let us in to his sinister plans as he went from Majority Whip, to Vice President, and finally now to the Presidency. Now Frank has nowhere to go, and perhaps nothing or little left to say to us? What’s higher or more prestigious to the Presidency: nothing as far as our imaginations can stretch, unless of course, Frank makes a bid to transform the character and heart of American democracy into a dictatorship. That’s a show we could accept Frank in, and we’d secretly root for him to ruin but probably not the political imaginary we have at the heart of popular culture. The only way such a set-up would even be acceptable in a future season would be to see Frank nearly succeed, but only cut short at the last minute as an agent of virtue stopped him (even up to assassinating him) from transforming the heart of the republic into the projection of fear and domination Frank ultimately desires. As predictions go, I feel as though I do not know who could actually be the agent of that change. 

The only virtuous people throughout the entire series are the victims of Frank and Doug. Freddie is back. He got hired through the America Works program, and Frank gets him a job on the grounds when the program fails to be funded through Congress. He has his grandson named Deshawn with him, and Frank jokes with the young boy that he, too, could be President of the United States. When Freddie walks out with his grandson, DeShawn excitedly reports back that Frank said, “I could be President someday.” Freddie stops in the middle of the hallway. He looks down at him and said that Frank lied to him. Freddie is now well aware of what happens when you try to befriend Frank, and he wants his grandson to never be part of that world, the world that we also see Remy Denton suddenly quitting. Remy wants to be outside politics, and whether or not the lure is big enough to pull him back in is one we’ll have to see, but certainly Remy isn’t the one of virtue I wanted to talk about, though I mention him since his withdrawal from politics is very much like the virtue of Rachel. Instead, the second victim is Rachel Posner. She had to withdraw from DC to be redeemable. 

In the last episode, we see Rachel hiding in the Southwest. She is working jobs alongside illegal aliens in the hidden economy of the Southwest. She is hiding. She has saved up enough money to secure phony IDs, and she will be reborn as Cassie Lockhart. Then, we see Doug watching her, and he is quiet. He meticulously buys an unmarked van, shovel, and other implements of a murder we already know is coming. He looks like every horror-movie-psycho-truck-driver. His huge forehead and unnerving emotion of being dedicated to the task is a brilliant performance by Michael Kelly. Rachel’s murder is the price of admission to return as the Chief of Staff vacated by Remy. She is the one link, the final string that could end Frank and link him to Peter Russo’s murder. However, if we had any doubts that Doug could be redeemed it was in the scene with Rachel talking to him from the back of the van. She pleads for her life, and Doug initially let’s her go and the scene backs away to watch the van driving down the road. Then, we see Rachel walking, and the van barrelling towards her. The scene flashes to dirt covering her grave. He is now gone the way of Frank. 

Leonard Nimoy

I have spent my life with my head in the clouds.

The clouds are thick. Beyond the dust and water vapor, my clouds are filled with faster-than-light drives, space opera, energy-based weapons, and these things are easily juxtaposed to the sword-and-sorcery fantasy genre that fills the other clouds with wizards, magic, and Ged traveling Earthsea. I have always dreamed of the future, better technologies, and even to this day, I often fall asleep to Picard or Kirk in the background, especially since Netflix has carried them for the last several years. 

 In a way, Star Trek was filled with philosophy, even before I knew I would dedicate my life in pursuit of it. Spok epitomized the rational and logical part of the soul praised by Plato. When Data created his daughter, he told her the last stage of sentience was the ability to reflect on epistemology and aesthetics. When Picard asks Wesley if he read that book he gave him, Wesley says he hasn’t had time to read “William James.” In the first few episodes of season 1, Kirk’s friend is evolving past the limit of human knowledge and that friend calls Spinoza simple while hinting that Kirk used to teach such difficult books at the academy. I can only surmise that philosophy was part of that hinted instruction.

 One can also see where they are in relation to Star Trek. As I have become a philosopher, and in particular since I have bought into a more primordially emotional existence in James, Heidegger, and Scheler, my philosophy has inverted the priority given to logic by Spok. Like Scheler, I agree with Pascal to privilege and elevate the “logic of the heart.” Now, I side with Spok’s brother, Sybok, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. However, there was a time where I was more analytic, had an appreciation for science much more than theology, and it’s plain as day that Leonard Nimoy had a hand in my development as a philosopher. 

 Science fiction makes us dream. We envision different worlds, different ways societies can be organized, what new technologies will do to the older traditions, and how to conceive a unity beyond the tribalism of our own limited humanity. In philosophy, we often use our imagination to test philosophical concepts. We imagine ridiculous scenarios to see if a premise or concept can hold water as universally as we speculate it can. Science fiction and philosophy are my two separate guilty pleasures in this world, and they both draw on the imagination.
 

Leonard, I will miss you. I never knew you. I have imagined different worlds because of you. At the end of Star Trek III: The Search for Spok, Spok was joined with his regenerated body and katra. As you had a hand in directed that movie, I often wonder that if there is truly an afterlife where I can meet you and sit and have coffee with you. If such a place exists, then the words at the end of that movie orignally meant to herald the hint of Star Trek IV become even more significant: And the Adventure Continues… I hope it does for you. If not, then I can only think those words were meant for us. We can continually be inspired by your life. It was fantastic seeing you perform, introducing me to the “spirit” of logic, and I am glad that I had the chance to know of you.

Oh yeah, you’re not a bad director either. Three Men and a Baby was a funny movie, too. Peace.