AUFS’s failure of branding

In the comments to Mikhail’s send-up of SpecReal/OOP/OOO, I came across this very compelling post by Kvond that characterizes SpecReal/OOP/OOO as a kind of philosophical “speculative bubble.” Not being very conversant with Graham Harman’s work or the details of Levi Bryant’s “onticology,” I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Kvond’s analysis — but it does seem like his description of “philosophy as Ponzi scheme” is something that could actually happen:

These packaging movements [of OOO] meet squarely it seems with Harman’s own Great Idea concept of philosophical significance, the thinking that all the Great Philosophers were really exaggerators that some how fooled the public long enough to get their ideas off the ground. Once enough people “buy into” the intial debt of explanation it is passed off onto the whole group, the bad mortgage is cut into tiny Madoff pieces and distributed everywhere. Philosophy as Ponzi scheme.

This brings me to the point of this post: how can AUFS brand itself so as to reap the benefits of such dynamics? So far, we don’t have the workings of a coherent brand: we’re ecologically-minded quasi-internal critics of the Christian tradition who also read novels? Half the time we don’t even approve of our own ideas, much less advocate others join in the fun!

Obviously we need to streamline here, so what’s our Big Idea? (And no, “being rude to commenters” isn’t enough.) We can collaborate on the explanation later — right now, we just need something that can really reach out to MA students and the underemployed, because they’re at the forefront of blogging. Then we can work on how we divide out the labor of “declaiming from on high” and “responding to everyone who writes about [insert brand] ideas in 1000-plus-word blog posts.” I’d like to think I would get the former job, but my relatively hyper-active blogging would likely saddle me with the latter — Brad would probably thrive best in the declaiming department. Seriously, though, we can hash that out later. We just need a Big Idea, fast.

35 thoughts on “AUFS’s failure of branding

  1. Move #1: Kotsko announces a widely publicized closure of comments on Heteronomy with a convoluted but ultimately believable explanation (preferably after having some sort of meltdown while trying to respond to all the comments).

  2. Wouldn’t a big idea be the kind of thing you say can’t go on the blog because you’d expect to be paid for it? Or do you want a slogan? Like “Defending orthodoxy is bad faith”. “Real creativity is also self-critique”.

    Actually, it’s difficult to see how intellectual slogans get such a purchase on our desire…

  3. Maybe we can claim that the infamous tagline is a really deep philosophical statement that informs everything we do. “You cannot fuck the future, sir — the future fucks you”: I can imagine detailed commentaries springing up on blogs across the land.

  4. I for one think the “philosophy as ponzi scheme” hermeneutical tool fits the bill for “big idea,” but sadly lacks the crucial dimension of “allure” that so attracts graduate students who’ve been neglected by their academic advisors.

    The AUFS slogan works too, but isn’t it inherently too correlationist?

  5. I wouldn’t be so quick to abandon this “being rude to commenters” thing. You have to do what you do well, and I think there may be something of substance lurking under this seemingly superficial concept.

  6. I seem to remember a post (or perhaps a comment) where it was claimed that people were finding the blog by searching for terms like “crazy christian philosophy” or some other strange combination of words. I can’t seem to find it now though.

    There’s your brand. People are already searching for it.

  7. What’s awesomest about OOO, of course, is its wonderful acronym, like a cyclops wearing sun-glasses — so why not start where the action is and develop an awesome acronym, then work out an idea to fit it later? After all, Harman likes to say creativity in writing most often comes from pre-existing limitations.

  8. I for one think the “philosophy as ponzi scheme” hermeneutical tool fits the bill for “big idea,” but sadly lacks the crucial dimension of “allure” that so attracts graduate students who’ve been neglected by their academic advisors.

    How about ‘Become a famous philosopher/theologian in just 20 blog posts!’

  9. I thought “Post-Philosophy” would have been nice but then I googled it and it has almost, but not quite, zero hits.

    Another idea would be ‘Un PoCo PoMo’ for Politically Correct Post-Modernism but I would ask a finder’s fee for that.

    Seriously though, you clearly have something going – a little bit anti-Dawkins but with his customary rudeness – so you’ll just need to find something less high-brow to capture bees. Once they are in, they won’t be able to leave.

    (this being said:neo-religionism is rather open, google-style although unfortunately ‘open source religion’ isn’t, just see

  10. “Being Rude to Commenters isn’t enough” is itself not quite enough, but rudeness there must be for y’all to be true to yourselves. The thing is you’ve got to combine the style with the substance in one catchy phrase. How about

    Rude Theology.

    or even, for more continental flavor, Theologie Brut?

    (I thought of Rude Orthodoxy too, to echo your favorite sacrificial scapegoat movement, but methinks it’s too close.)

  11. The title is actually based on the URL. I don’t remember what I initially intended for the URL to be, but whatever it was was taken — and in a moment of inspiration, I typed in “itself,” which followed in but also mutated my own personal tradition of naming my internet venues reflexively (initially my personal webpage was called “The Homepage,” which became “The Weblog” when I started blogging).

    Since I intended this to be something we did “just for us,” which would find its own audience (or not), I decided that translating the URL into something like its German equivalent would be suitably off-putting.

  12. “I decided that translating the URL into something like its German equivalent would be suitably off-putting.”

    kvond: Then your site is PERFECTLY branded. You are a marketing genius!

  13. AK: “Is there some animal that’s afraid of mirrors? That’d be a good name for Levi’s radical lack of self-awareness, to fill out the old bestiary.”

    kvond: unfortunately he already has that animal in his zoo. Vampire. Well, he’s not really “afraid” but certainly doesn’t appear (ironically, just as an infant doesn’t before the Lacanian “mirror” stage)

  14. If you can’t find a snappy brand name, you could always take an old product and stick a clock in it?*…

    *Heidegger joke sold separately

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