Report on Hallward Seminar

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.

12 thoughts on “Report on Hallward Seminar

  1. You forgot the contribution of other members of staff to raise important points about Martin Luther ;-).I would like to register my support for the Hallward discussion, Peter Hallward and his project to root philosophy in the concrete. I still feel uncomfortable with his attempt to re-abilitate aspects of Mao, but this is rooted in a leftist British thing, where I have alway attempted to distance myself in thought from the authoritarian expressions of communism (that no one can deny where brutal – this man crucified Christians) that frankly scare people when you talk of socialism, rather than from some objective or philosophical position.

    Your opinion on the whole orange jumpsuit thing has somewhat changed mine. I guess you are right – it is a protest rooted in a certain powerlessness – but it is important to note an international protest that memembers of Amnesty will be engaging in throughout the entire world, not just a few students in Nottingham venting their version of ‘white man’s guilt’ in the sphere of the war on terror, though again i take your point. But you are right though to say it is hardly going to change Bush’s mind about the existence of such a place, though it might go some way to fostering an increased awareness of the issue to get people more angry about it than they already are (and I don’t think anyone sane is pro-Guantanamo). Further discussion of this will be interesting – aren’t all protests in our globalised world as futile really? It might not do anything, but is it going to do any harm to do it either?

    Oh and thanks for the problematisation of my “lets go along to a fun protest” interest!!!

  2. Oh and you probably should have mentioned Hallward’s talk about “you make the path by walking it” – a highly pragmatic model – which I think was the central phrase or motif for his talk and for his concrete examples of the football school and for Paul Farmer. You have to will forward and then build things as neccesary when you discover something is wrong eg the simple project to allow people to kick the footie around required him (whoever he was I can’t recall) to note that lots of people were unable to play because they were too weak for lack of food which led him to create a soup kitchen and re-vitalise and empower the community in various other ways seemingly not directly related to football, but neccesary to complete the project as such.

  3. I just like to say hi while I’m here and that I might have understood some of your post. Sea otters have somewhat limited access to philosophy texts.

  4. Hallward appears like British Cultural Studies in reverse as someone coming from philosophy to political struggle. This is a compliment as I wish there were more people like him in this respect. He is also someone who seems to fit my general impression that the world may indeed be Deleuzian but to change it we may need to look elsewhere. Oh, and “you make the path by walking it” is Lu Xun:

    “Hope isn’t the kind of thing that you can say either exists or doesn’t exist,” I thought to myself. “It’s like a path across the land it’s not there to begin with, but when many people walk, it comes into being.”

  5. Amish,

    This is an interesting question though, right? I think for Hallward politics and philosophy (or some form of thinking) were always of interest, but he is just now, at 45ish, starting to try and understand how. Capitalism is kicking our asses and succeeding more and more at separating us from direct action. This is why Deleuze’s stoic ethic of personal deterritorialization, finding ways to resist in everyday life, etc is still important. I’ve always been unhappy with it in the end as it does seem to me that its political expression, by way of participation in democratic state politics, is libertarian. I don’t think this makes him out of this world and I don’t think utopian thinking is as bad as Hallward makes it out to be (after all, it is now utopian to hope for truly universal health care), but of course if we want to change the world we have to look else where. I’m not sure that Deleuze would want us to look to him as a guru who would help us change the world, but as someone else who is doing what he can to change the world (the stoic element again). Philosophy is but one species in a much larger ecosystem of revolutionary process.

  6. Please excuse the pedantry, but Hallward is actually several years younger. (I’m always inclined to give people back years of their life. I gave Zizek back a full lost decade over at Larval Subjects yesterday.)

    I only know this because Michel Serres asked Hallward in the interview that appeared in Angelaki (Vol.8 Num.2
    August 2003) Hallward answered that he was 34 on September 12, 2002, the date of the interview.

    And this is the best part. Serres then told him, “I have one piece of advice for you: take the university model and chuck it into the sea.”

  7. Also, just looking at the guy. My first thought was “this guy doesn’t look a day over twenty-five, how can he have published so many books” (actually my first thought was a day over eighteen). Philip Goodchild is much older (I can’t remember how old) despite his youthful looks. Deleuze keeps you young eh?

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