Saturday, May 30, 2009

Quote of the day, or a public display of ignorance

At the end of an essay by Alain Badiou, 'The Transcendental' (in Badiou: Theoretical Writings), he writes that:

'[T]he equation ("The conjunction of the maximum and a degree is equal to this degree") is phenomenologically unimpeachable. But if this is indeed the case, the fact that the reverse of the supreme measurement of the maximum transcendental degree – is also the inapparent is itself a matter of course' (225-6)

Which leads to the punch line of the whole essay:

'It is thereby guaranteed that, in any transcendental whatsoever, the reverse of the maximum is the minimum' (226).

At which point, forehead wrinkled in depressed frustration, I put the book down and think 'what the hell does all of that verbal vomit mean?'. The 'reverse of the maximum is the minimum'? And that took a whole essay to figure?

The reverse of forwards is backwards, folks!

OK chumpy, here is good equation: 'the opposite of *&%llocks is something that makes sense, at least certainly after it has been slowly read more than four times' – surely also as 'phenomenologically unimpeachable' as it gets.

Please help me out, here! Anybody know of any 'obviously-utter-idiot-New-Testament-twit-and-out-of-his-domain' introductory books on Badiou?


At 5/30/2009 1:07 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

it sounds like the same kind of idiotic mumbo jumbo that so many 'enlightened' people swoon for- as those who swoon at crap art because it's called 'modern'.

speaking of, i remember a display at the NC museum of art years ago. it was, and i kid you not, a circle of rocks. utter stupidity, but i was amused when old women stood by it and talked about how clever it was...

bad. is bad. he is the theological equivalent of a circle of rocks and his admirers are just silly old pompous women who feel self important.

At 5/31/2009 8:21 AM, Anonymous dan said...

Apart from recommending his book on Paul (which I think you've already read), I don't know of any great intros to Badiou. Let me know if you come across anything you really like.

Personally, I find it helpful to read Badiou within the orbit of other continental philosophers. It helps me to understand what Badiou is and is not saying when I read him in light of Zizek, Deleuze, Debord, Baudrillard, Hardt and Negri, and others.

That said (and going against both Jim and Josh), I hope you don't give up on the continental philosophers. Think of reading them as comparable to when you first started reading Paul -- you probably didn't understand much at first, but what you did understand excited you so much that you kept reading. That, at least, has been my experience.

At 5/31/2009 9:17 AM, Anonymous Brian Mooney said...

Maybe I am simply up too late and thus too bitter (so I am not 100% sure) but I THINK Chris has seen that, indeed, this Emperor has no clothes.

All the more the shame if there is actually something of worth (as Josh suggests) hidden underneath this malignant, obscurantist bombast masquerading as mere harmless drivel. Spit it out man, if you really have something to say! Kant do it? Too bad. In the words of one Captain James Tiberius Kirk, "We grow weary of your foolishness."

Let us now place our rocks in a ring, and praise famous men.

At 5/31/2009 4:03 PM, Anonymous psychodougie said...

i just thought it was me!

even tho there was more i didn't understand than did, there were some really thought-provoking bits in St Paul - the foundations of universalism.

it goes to a further point perhaps - do we need to make sense to sell books? an optional extra maybe!

At 5/31/2009 4:55 PM, Anonymous dan said...

What other discipline do we do this with? Do we one day decide to read some heavy duty physics texts and expect them to make perfect sense to us? Do we dive into Barth's dogmatics and assume we should immediately be able to know what he is talking about? Do we read the Epistle to the Romans and think that Paul is being as clear as we want others to be? No, no, and no.

So why impose this standard upon philosophers? Either do the work necessary to understand the discourse of the discipline (like we do with physics, or with Barth, or with Paul) or stop complaining.

At 5/31/2009 10:16 PM, Anonymous Ray Timmermans said...

Sounds a little like Barth in the first volumes of the Dogmatics!

At 6/04/2009 5:32 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

Thanks for sharing those quotations.

Doublespeak nonsense worthy of its own holy book, religion and endless rival interpreters.

At 6/04/2009 9:26 AM, Anonymous ukcbd said...

Your up shall be down and your in shall be out but in the end as at the beginning your whither shall be thither. Or something like that. All seems perfectly reasonable to me. Probably been out in the sun too long.

At 6/04/2009 9:30 AM, Anonymous ukcbd said...

Sorry: forgot the bit about your jibber shall be jabber. That's very important: without your jabber your jibber degenerates into jubbly. Definitely too much sun.

At 6/04/2009 8:41 PM, Anonymous Robin Parry said...

Call me a snob (and I am an ignorant snob) but I tend to think of Continental philosophy as like the lyrics of YES songs - it sounds profound but means next to nothing. (Paul Ricoeur being an exception, but then he does cross-over with the Anglo-American analytic tradition a bit so he makes more sense)

I remember that David Clines once commented (something like) that if, after reading something 2 or 3 times it still made no sense he had stopped thinking that the problem was that he was stupid and started to think that the author was talking rubbish.

So I don't spend much time with that stuff now. I'm probably missing out on something great (I'm not being sarcastic here) but once they learn to communicate in normal human languages I'll go back and listen again.

Yours in ignorant snobbery


At 6/05/2009 12:48 AM, Anonymous dan said...

To be fair, analytic philosophers tend not to take any other disciplines seriously!

Also, if we should view books as rubbish if they don't make sense to us after two or three readings, then I reckon the first book we should discard is the Bible. I've read that book countless times and it still confuses the hell out of me!

At 6/05/2009 1:37 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

thanks for the links!

Dan, you are no doubt right - Robin I think too says that it has something. My problem: I am too proud and can't simply let this go before I understand it! So, hopefully it will be worth the effort.

At 6/05/2009 9:01 AM, Anonymous Patrik said...

re: dan

Which is of course why no other discipline takes analytical philosophy seriously. You know, the art of writing without actually saying anything. :)

However, without having read much of Badiou I do get the feeling that the reason he is suddenly so extremely popular is that all the others of his generation of French philosophers are dead. He is simply the last one of the thinkers coming out of the 68 generation standing.

At 6/05/2009 5:29 PM, Anonymous DK said...

In response to Dan,

I'm not so sure that analytic philosophy doesn't take any other disciplines seriously. Analytic philosophy may not agree with the conclusions of other disciplines, but a lot of analytic philosophy at the very least relies heavily on the data supplied by other disciplines. For example, analytic philosophy of art relies on art history and contemporary art as a starting point. It just pokes holes at commonly held assumptions that art historians may hold - examining them deeper and at a different angle. The same follows for analytic philosophy of physics, religion, etc.

For example, some physicists take it as a given, pretty much as axiomatic, that there are laws of nature that are mathematically describable. Philosophers of physics poke holes at the epistemological and metaphysical commitments of said physicists who hold to that. Some may agree with the physicists and others may disagree. But while they may disagree, I'm not so sure that it follows that they don't take the discipline seriously.

In response to the charge that giving up on a school of thought due to the obscurity of contemporary writings about and of that thought entails that one should also give up on reading ancient texts, such as the Bible, I have a few more thoughts.

First, there's a difference between reading a book published within the past 30 years and a text written 2000+ years ago. I'm not denying the richness of the NT, for example, but a lot of it was written for a specific audience that would have been expected to get what was said within two or three readings? E.g. Paul's letters. How historians and theologians get to understand the meaning is through understanding the assumptions held at the time of the audience intended (at least that is one route among several), the language, etc. With contemporary writings, I'm not denying that learning at least the jargon of the field (and every field has a jargon) is a prereq, but once learned, one shouldn't have too much of a problem understanding what is being argued.

For example, once I learned the vocab of physics, I could follow most physics articles in peer-reviewed journals. Ditto for philosophy articles in analytic journals.

When I read continental philosophy, a lot of the times the effort spent in understanding the meaning is not worth the end result - usually a trivial or nonsensical claim (such as what Chris blogged about) that could have easily been said in simpler language.

Take deconstruction for example. I get it. The theory is fairly simple. Yet I would never get it if I relied solely on Derrida. He couched a really simple theory in ridicously complex and technical prose. Usually when that happens, I suspect that the emperor has no clothes, that the difficult writing is meant to hide a sophistical theory. I think Noam Chomsky said as much about Derrida and a lot of recent French philosophy in general.

At 6/12/2009 11:47 PM, Anonymous Scott F said...

I'm with Robin. There is too much out there to be read to spend endless hours trying to determine if something is even worth reading. Many of these academic bloggers read and write for a living. For the rest of us, the situation is doubly dire. We have so little time to devote to expanding our horizons that obfuscation must be assumed dribble until prven otherwise.


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