Last night Peter Hallward came to speak to the theology and religious studies post-graduates and faculty. He arrived about 10 minutes before the seminar was scheduled, which was good because many of the students had decided to take a lax approach towards attendance, and explained to a few of us some of the work he is doing on Haiti at the moment as we walked him to the builiding. He has not finished his book on Haiti, which was to be published this month, but I think this is because it became an important project for him over the past few months. It certainly determined his address, entitled ‘Dialectical Volunterism’, a title that scared off all of our religious conflict students. Really too bad, because Hallward’s talk was on the whole perfectly accessible. He admited at the start that this was the intital stages of his thinking on a new project that he has not put the research into yet, but this allowed him to speak quite freely and conversationaly.
He began by re-stating his conviction, present in his Deleuze book, that the choice for philosophers is still to contemplate or change the world. It is clear that this is not a hard duality, as contemplating the world is the very beginning of any attempt to change it. The urge to change the world comes about when we examine the world, how we think it will make sense and find that it does not make sense. In this way, Hallward said, the world is a scandal for philosophy. He related this to liberation theology, which he has been reading as of late, where the liberationists were presented with ‘poverty and the sinful structures surronding it’. At this point there must be a decision of the collective will to change the world. This became a point of contention for Neil Turnbull, a radical sociologist in the audience, as one could read this as a reactionary motif and not at all a revolutionary one. However Peter Hallward wants us to leave behind Adorno and Marcuse as our model for revolutionary leftist change and embrace Lenin, Mao, Aristide, Chavez, etc. In actuality Hallward betrays himself on this point for he did not discuss Lenin or Mao and his discussion of Haiti, while generally pro-Aristide, focused on the work of Paul Farmer and the reclimation of unused land in the industrial belt for youth football by another private citizen. Despite his seeming pro-State logic in ‘The Politics of Prescription’ it is obvious from this talk that his own position is closer to Hardt and Negri than he may want to admit.
Perhaps the difference is that in Hallward’s dialectical account there is a privelge to spatial thought and within Hardt and Negri the privelege lays with time. For the dialectic of voluntarism, the terms of which he has not formed yet, proceeds along four points: 1) A point of depature (like Zeno’s arrow) which marks the decision or the will into praxis. 2) The place from which it departs or the ground that authorizes the depature which can be reflected on after, and only after, the fact. In this way the decision is not ex nihilo (hence the dialectic). 3) The will anticipates its rightness or justice by the way it tries to develop itself or sustain itself. 4) There is a territory that is determinate, that presents challanges to the will. In other words the decision is immanent to the situation it responds to.
At this point he opened it up to discussion, which was the most lively we’ve had, with questions ranging from the philosophically and historically complex (John Milbank and Neil Turnbull) to emotionally charged disgust at the refusal of the British people to do anything about Tony Blair’s war crimes despite the general acceptance of them (Angus Paddison). I think it is fair to say that the department enjoyed Hallward’s address and Hallward himself. He is a very open, egalitarian, and humble person without letting that make him boring.
Hallward’s own philosophical commitments are certainly inspiring and I am convinced that my suggestion to read he and Goodchild together was right, not for any scholastic reasons but because both see the importance of allowing outside situations, concrete problems, determine philosophical investigations. For Goodchild it is the collision between ecology and economy and for Hallward it is the way people resist and decide in situations where they have very little breathing room. They do this without taking the life out of those situations, without abstracting them in any bad way, and it is a true testament to their intellectual power that they allow these situations to fully exist in their thought. These relectionions are going to open up to my own thinking on the relation of philosophy to political struggle and change. In the past I’ve remarked, without explanation, that I don’t think my knowing who actually destroyed Yugoslovia would help anyone concretely and thus seems worthless. I still hold to that, just as I hold to the perhaps cynical belief that my dressing up in an orange jumpsuit and standing in the middle of Nottingham’s Market Square will help no one in Guantanamo Bay and is really an excercise in making ‘us’ feel better (‘Not in my name!’). I’m going to explore these in more depth in later posts.