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John Drabinski
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For what it's worth, I've always gotten a chuckle out of the alleged rigor in and of the appeal, while hinging so much of it on a terrible analogy. Philosophy is nothing like physics. Or barely at all, and insofar as the analogy has any purchase at all, it is in a small corner of the discipline. Maybe that's the point, though. To make the corner small and exclusive, because the entire history of white Western philosophy can't be matched to "physics." Or maybe that's also the point, which reminds me of a joke Terry Horgan used to make when I was in grad school at Memphis: "ancient philosophy? Oh, you mean Frege?" In the end, you can see (at least in the U.S. context) the terms of philosophy's slow fade from academia in such a provincial idea of disciplinary purity, this shaming of cross-disciplinary appeal and influence (something no decent art history, literature, or history professor would claim). I found this to be a sad and pathetic affair. I remember it well. Admittedly, I have my stakes: Derrida has deeply influenced by work, and this sort of configuration of what's "real" philosophy has exceptional racialized effects (it makes nearly the entire black intellectual tradition non-philosophical). It is for me a kind of Donald Trump moment for the discipline. All bombast and xenophobia, very little content. Not that you asked!
Absolutely put my name on this: John Drabinski Professor of Black Studies Amherst College
I am 100% on board with a No Rankings statement. Please add my name.
Jon, these are good questions. I'd make a few replies of my own, not sure if Ed and his post co-sign, but here they are...and I know that they both speak to and well-beyond your very focused comment, so please forgive the leeway. + I'm not sure how Priest concludes that, given how "what is art/literature/history?" is at the center of those disciplines. Mention Adam Hochschild to an historian and you'll get the response your mid-century art historian had about Warhol or that your 1970s lit professor had about Toni Cade learn what they think the discipline means. And it's probably really, really important to remember that this policing gets heightened and tense when people of color, women, lbgtq writers all start staking claims to doing history, art, and literature. We philosophers are maybe taking baby steps into that moment right now (I hope we are). It's helpful, if you ask me, to look at how this went down in other disciplines. Philosophy isn't special, except that we're way way behind the times. It used to be a radical suggestion that African-American's wrote serious literature. Nowadays, no serious literature department goes forward without African-American lit specialists. + In this moment, we have to ask a question of ourselves: why are we so concerned with being boundary police? What is lost by, say, reading Martin Delany as a philosopher, and what is gained by excluding him? In the mirror, what do we make of the white faces getting all red and pink over the idea of letting some brown people in the canon-club? I'm serious. We are of the world and live in it, so asking such stuff honestly, however hard it might be, is absolutely necessary. Suddenly the policing of borders seems less like self-respecting philosophers doing hard work and more like an academic version of the cops in suburban Detroit patrolling Eight Mile Rd. + For me, the answer to the question of what is philosophy is revealing of a person's - or here, a community's (the profession's) - cultural politics. Those politics are racialized in that moment (we come from the world, so come to our profession damaged by racial prejudice), so we philosophers are confronted with ourselves: who do we want to be and how do we want to be those people? I argue for and insist upon radical plurality and openness, not only as a political principle (though that is more than plenty), but also because I know that very, very few philosophers actually read subaltern traditions, yet have very, very strong views on whether or not that stuff is philosophy. I say just say no to that hubris. More philosophy, more better. Let's not look like and be the crackers we appear to be!
I'd reiterate what Ed said just above. Perhaps Weatherson's post is different than Coleman represented, or perhaps we could underscore how his inclusion-exclusion discussion goes safely (for Anglo-American philosophy) along the boundaries between science, mathematics, and philosophy, or perhaps we could see his post as a not-the-best-choice-of-an-example example of what we all know goes on in professional philosophy in the U.S. We all know that what "counts" as philosophy is both water cooler chat AND something that shapes the profession widely. It's always worth saying, I think, that philosophy is the one humanities discipline that hasn't even gone through a Eurocentrism stage - European philosophy is "not philosophy," and that shows in hiring practices and publication habits. If France and Germany don't get included, what are the prospects for African-American, Caribbean, etc. traditions? I think some worry and concern is warranted. Weatherson's intentions and character notwithstanding. It's also worth saying that worry about a lack of charity to Weatherson doesn't seem to be matched in the comments thus far with a worry about the lack of charity toward subaltern traditions in philosophy in the U.S. and elsewhere. After all, the latter lack of charity is profession-wide, not limited to a single short article by one philosopher in England. In that sense, and with all due respect, I think some perspective is really needed. Let's keep our eyes on the exclusion and lack of charity that draws on, reflects, and reproduces one of the ugliest features of our society: anti-black racism. What about THOSE questions Coleman and Kazarian raise? I hope they're registering with those posting defenses of Weatherson (who, it should be noted, is under no penalty here and is being used as an anecdote in the service of a bigger point).
Late to this, but here is an online response. Jason has some smart and good replies (thanks for those).
RE: #1, that is just reprehensible. Editors need to be held accountable at least in words, as in people regularly asking what the fuck were you thinking. I wouldn't say the same about single-book authors, who are of course under all sorts of pressure to publish and keep jobs, but editors...they have choices. Prices get quoted. Correspondence about these things is clear and direct (they are contractual terms) and there are of course plenty of examples on Routledge for editors to see (e.g., the "Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers" series - the Levinas one comes in at $1440, the Derrida one at $1239.75...Amazon discounted!). This collection is very interesting at so many levels. I'd teach a lot of it regularly, if, well, if there was even a high price I could imagine saying yes to. When you factor in the fact that most of the essays are reprints from paywall protected, but broadly available on campuses, journals, this becomes both a crass money making scheme for the press and a c.v. pad for editors.
Funny story. But the website is a reactionary, anti-diversity right-wing outfit.
I hope you really did send that, because it is not only funny and brilliant, but completely reasonable (which makes the funny and the brilliant all the more).
Mohan, we don't know one another (though Google can no doubt kinda-acquaint us), but I've been around the block and I know where this goes. Either I can't explain it with sufficient clarity to you or I can explain it with sufficient clarity to you. If I can't, then that either confirms that Derrida is a charlatan or confirms that I'm an incompetent and a fake. Or both. Yikes! If I can, then you say "why couldn't Derrida just say it that way instead of with this strange, allusive sentence?," which then allows you to also say "Gutting is right...when you're 'clear,' you're better. Because I think you're better now." It's a tiresome game because it proceeds from a tiresome dynamic: I am proving myself and Derrida to you. To which I say: What? Really? Because I'm a grown man who has done plenty in the profession, so the idea of proving myself or Derrida is both degrading and odd. We're on an internet forum, not a job interview, and you've said yourself that you're not interested in actually understanding Of Grammatology. The fetch, John, fetch thing is, well, ugh. Puts me in a bad mood. If you read what I have to say (instead of just my remark about the passage you quote), then you'll see that I think it's perfectly fine, great, applause-worthy, and philosophically legitimate to write across traditions. It's not my bag (I do Africana theory as a focus nowadays, though I also work in Europhil...I can do that "across traditions" work, for interested parties...see my page for some examples), but I'm glad it is the bag of some smart people. Gutting, in fact! I also think folks should work in single traditions if they like. I don't want to tell people what to do. I just want us to respect the work we all do, no matter if we share a tradition or if those traditions are in tension (Africana and European traditions = a lot of tension, as you might expect). I also expect us to have humility and say "I don't understand that...I don't have the background." Not that hard to do, when you think about it. For an understanding of the sentence, see the above explanation by Daniel. It's a good one. I've taught Of Grammatology in three different classes, and the students understood it pretty well, just in case you're worried about my teaching abilities (evaluations available upon request...ha ha).
I didn't mock you for quoting it. I said that I find it completely comprehensible and that if you want to understand it, you should do a good amount of background reading, as well as read the entire book. Daniel Nagase has explained it plenty well. I won't repeat it, nor am I especially interested in playing the "I found a hard passage, you explain or it's bullshit" game. You're not actually asking me to help you work through Of Grammatology. If you were, this would be an awkward forum for such an assist. You could always start a thread entitled "Working through Of Grammatology. I'm struggling and could use some help" if I'm mistaken and you're trying to get JD straight.
Daniel in #77, that's the oh-snap! comment of the month! And well-done. In the end, what I find genuinely confusing (I mean it, I'm not being sarcastic) is this: when reading and finding something unclear, why locate the problem in the book? Why not locate the problem with you, the reader, until proven otherwise? If you put in work and it still seems unclear or nonsensical, then there might be legs to your claim. Taking a glance, not understanding, then blaming the book...really? That's not a criticism of a book. That's a failure to look critically at yourself as a reader. It's okay to not understand everything. To expect to understand everything, upon first glance and first read, is unrealistic and actually a strange politics of the intellect. We all have to learn to read. For most, we stay in one tradition and forget that learning. My story is different (some of you will relate to this). I switched field of emphasis, moving from European philosophy to philosophy and the black Atlantic. That meant learning to read all over again (and doing a lot, lot of reading). Learn figures of speech, modes of argumentation, relevant historical experiences, and so on. As much as the content of the books, it was valuable to encounter myself learning to read again...learning tradition, threads, continuities, ruptures, allusions, and so on. It took over a decade. But it took. It only took because I kept critical of myself as a reader, asking not "why is this book written so shittily?," but instead "what do I need to know in order to understand this book?" I'd like to self-aggrandize and call myself generous as a hermeneut, but, honestly, that's just being real.
I think our posts about simulposting were simulposted. Finally, I understand how Baudrillard is much simulation!
Simulpost with John above...agree with what you have to say!
On what grounds do you claim that Anglo-American philosophy is clear? Because, I gotta say, it just isn't true if you're not a philosopher in the Anglo-American tradition. I'm a reasonably smart person. The canon and now random talks, articles, and so on that I come across...does not make sense to me at all. That's okay. It's not my tradition. Why other folks can't make that same concession - that understanding texts means engaging with the tradition over extended time, not just in one conversation or short, random perusal - I'll never understand. Of Grammatology is not such a difficult text. If you've read Heidegger (especially his middle period), Rousseau, and Hegel, it's a fairly intimate commentary. It also helps if you read French, because, although Spivak is one of the most important living intellectuals, she's not the best (by her own admission) translator. If you pick it up and read a random passage without background knowledge or context (as one comment person does above), then I guess you have a hard time. (Though, honestly, the passage makes perfect sense to me.)
I meant that analogy as not the demand/lack of demand for clarity, but as the demand for what can simply be called "background reading." I didn't, well, make that clear! I'm not sure I'd go completely with you on #2. For a handful of thinkers, there is a performative dimension - putting the conceptual practice on the page. The "Substitution" chapter of Levinas' Otherwise than Being is a great example of this. But I also find most of the allegedly "obscure" writers to be pretty clear. Why? Because I've been reading them since 1987. I did the background reading. I'm unsympathetic to folks - and this is most of the Anglo-American types who have venomous opinions about Europhil, let's be real - who read casually for the first time and declare that it's all nonsense. (Mostly, I think people parrot what they've heard about Europhil.) If that were a legit basis for a claim, I could tell you that Anglo-American philosophy is fuzzy bullshit, because it made no sense to me when I read it in graduate school. But I didn't say that, I don't say that now, and I never would. Because, in the end, it's a tradition. Like all traditions, it makes sense from the inside. The imperialism of thinking the insider-clarity is the outsider-clarity too, well, I just don't know what to say about that except that it's factually false. If I wanted to understand Anglo-American philosophy (I don't, I have other projects), then I'd engage in multi-year study, rather than pop off about my first impressions. Not because I'm some sort of idiot (I can read hard stuff, I really can!), but because I respect it as a tradition.
Thanks for #4. I've always found that the absolutely most bizarre of claims. Anglo-American (I prefer that to "analytic" ... everyone analyzes) philosophy is pretty opaque to a reader like me. And that's okay. It's a tradition, with complex stories to tell and so on, so one should expect to read a lot before engaging with the stuff. I wouldn't expect to read and genuinely understand Ulysses or Beloved without a lot of prior reading. Why this doesn't get extended to European (I prefer that to "continental" ... Europe isn't actually a continent) philosophy, I'll never understand. In the end, the "clarity" claim is narcissistic. It's a bunch of Anglo-American philosophers saying "I understand what we do, so it must be clear." Well, to that end, I find Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida, and Levinas pretty easy reads. I really do!
Funny, I picked up this book and thought the very same things as the reviewer (though mine was a snap-judgment, based on the ToC). Reading this, it's an interesting question. "Inexplicable" is an interesting word. It's one of those you read and it has a delayed effect, no? At first, it's common and familiar. Then you think about it and it really puts feet to the fire. I do think stronger words are warranted in these cases, especially because most of the problem could be taken care of with the term "European." Though, there are Americans in this particular volume, so that just redoes the issue. But the fact is that these sorts of collections (it's one of many), named under generalized terms, reveal a deeply habitual white supremacy. I mean that in two senses. First, the presumption that white theorists theorize problems "as such," thus they do not need to be identified with regional or racial qualifiers. Second, the habits of go-to "important" people, which reveals reading habits and the structure of graduate institutions. I mean, really, to have completely left out anti-colonial Some figures, just a sketch: Du Bois Washington (B.T.) Césaire Fanon Lumumba Senghor Wright Locke (Alain) Davis (Angela) Why not the Black Panther Party as a whole? For all the memory of guns and berets, they were brainiacs from the outset. That's just the first hint at a canon. The black Atlantic critical tradition also has a counter-canon in folks like Glissant, Chamoiseau, Benitez-Rojo, Gilroy, others (I should write up a post on this and send to you all). All of this is to say: I think "inexplicable" is a brutal term, when really registered, but I also support much stronger language. Perhaps stronger language would prompt authors/editors to make the appropriate (and not at all shameful) qualifications on work, titles, analysis, and so on. To be clear, I'm not making a statement about the hearts of authors, only habits. But when habits get outed, they put us at a crossroads, no? Change or actually own up to the supremacies implicit in those habits. I'm betting almost all authors/editors would change.
There is this post, which I found to be really reaching... I tend to agree with you about the NBA commentariat, where I find the real "issue," such as it is, is the rush to determine the entirety of a player's future after a handful of games. Not really an issue and certainly not a racially charged issue. Race creeps into the chat, I think, when his story is contrasted with racialized images of spoiled black players, but that doesn't have to do with his game, which is pretty damn fun to watch. This from a certified and certifiable Knicks-hater!
There's actually no reason to believe open access publishing leads to "dubious scholarship," so, to be frank, the comment from Jesse is mostly a non-starter. Open access publishing with UPitt (my experience) works with research librarians, who cover a bunch of specialist stuff that is necessary for indexing and the like, but the work of judging quality, critical feedback, and related has always been done by academics. In all my publishing work, which is no small number of articles and books, the feedback has come from fellow academics. As well, the stakes (which I've tried to lay out plainly here) are really high. I care a LOT about unemployed, under-employed, and employed at struggling college/university faculty, and grad students who have stopped being a part of a graduate institution (long term dissertation writers, for example). Those faculty don't have access to a lot of (most) research. That's plainly wrong, if you ask me, and open access is the only solution. Project Muse and JSTOR aren't going to be free-of-charge, ever. An entirely new model is needed.
Huh, we might try that. I do wonder, though, if folks really would buy when they can get it all for free online. Though an obvious thing to offer, I hadn't thought of it. Thanks!
Mark, I have no doubt and that's giving me hope, honestly. Related, I think there's another important issue in open access that I don't cover: making research accessible to the academic underclass. Adjuncts, contingent faculty generally, long-term grad students no longer under fellowship or paying tuition, undergrads or M.A.s taking time off before moving on in grad school, and the unemployed - all of these people (the majority of philosophers, no?) are at constant risk of not having access to scholarship. Pay-to-read also means employed-by-someone-who-pays-for-you-to-be-able-to-read. The politics of open access includes this group. I think we all need to contemplate how our choices about where/how to host journals effect the class structure of academic life. Why pursue a medium that not only excludes poorer schools and the international community, but also all those struggling along, but still an intimate part of philosophy's intellectual life? I'm surely not the only one who gets emails from contingent and unemployed folks asking me to retrieve a PDF for them. That's just not right. We can easily do better.
Eric, ah, yes...I read that last week or so when you posted it. I talk in this about a very specific problem in publishing, but what you raise is huge too. It is frustrating to see that sort of thing guiding the direction of a profession, because, in the end, it's about personalities and the like. Open access changes that. Starting a journal is not a complex financial undertaking (despite what some comments say after your post, which is part of why I wanted to write this piece). Matt, I love perusing journals on the shelves too. I do it all the time. I'm always surprised to find myself the only one there, but, given what Emily says above, I think that's standard. Online perusal is not the same. Yet, it seems like folks are getting research done very well via databases, so my sense is that a big challenge for the future of open access is the production of databases. Project Muse and the like - you can't just list your journal there. Plus, their whole business is restricting access, so what does it mean to be open access, yet index your journal behind the pay-wall? This stuff is fresh and new. Surely there's something to be done. Depositories are fabulous. They also aren't comprehensive, nor do they lend themselves to interdisciplinary research.
JDJ, I get that scenario and its a terrible trap, really. Libraries are scraping together whatever arrangements are possible with shrinking budgets, so changing the exchange changes those arrangements and recalibrates all the scraping. For me, that's an unfortunate consequence, rather than a reason to not go open access. I think the imperatives are real, that access matters for many, many reasons, and this sort of concern is just an unfortunate consequence. The move to open access won't happen for all journals, all at once. That means things will be quirky, even difficult, in many cases. But are those quirks and difficulties bigger than contesting the political economy of pay-to-read conditions of scholarly exchange? Going open access is easy. The consequences are what get complicated, but I say we have to face them and deal with them, instead of sticking with the status quo.