39 thoughts on “Syracuse open thread

  1. I’m not sure I want to speculate on the future(s) of Continental Philosophy of Religion. There’s one thing that I’d like to see happen soon: more dialogue between phenomenology/hermeneutics/deconstruction and speculative realism and the like. I had many good conversations about this over the week. Many thanks to those who were kind and patient enough to clearly explicate Meillassoux, Brassier, and Harman to me.

  2. That’s a tall order, given that one of the core convictions of many Speculative Realism types is how bored they are with phenomenology/hermeneutics/deconstruction and/or how those three represent everything SR is trying to overcome.

  3. I get that. But, based on how it was presented to me over the weekend, SR gives a certain caricature of its predecessors that I’m not sure is fair. I heard the following over the weekend: “Derrida thinks that physics doesn’t matter because it denies its linguisticality,” “Heidegger hated science,” “Earlier strands of continental thought were anti-realist,” and “Yes, ‘Big T’ truth exists and we have direct access to the thing in-itself.”

    These are, in my opinion, naive readings of earlier continental thought. I could be wrong. I’m just wanting there to be an actual dialogue about these things. So far, it seems that we’ve only had two monologues speaking past one another.

  4. It seems to me the situation is more similar to the Radox vs. Deleuzian “dialogue” — Radox people are denouncing their caricature of Deleuze, and most Deleuzians just don’t know or care.

  5. I wasn’t on twitter simply because I didn’t have internet access really on my phone and it was a pretty packed conference. It was a good event though. To Caputo’s real credit it felt like a passing of the torch (though apparently no one told Westphal this). Philip’s paper was a stumbling block, but of the best kind, and I wish Malabou had been more explicit about what she was doing, but the keynotes were nonetheless very good. Every panel I went to had at least one strong paper and I usually hate going to panels. So, no, it was exciting, just perhaps too liminal or incomplete still to say much about it. We decided that the future of continental philosophy has to happen outside of hotels.

  6. I would echo Anthony’s comment that there was a real passing of the torch atmosphere from Caputo. I enjoyed Goodchild’s talk quite a bit, and many of the papers I attended were very strong. Generally, I think there has been a bit of a turn among younger scholars working in the field, although when I speak of “the field,” I’m reminded of Goodchild’s critique of that idea during the roundtable (critiquing a term that he coined).

    Some of this might be a little more fleshed out next summer at the Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion’s conference at Liverpool Hope University. In general, with respect to “the speculative turn,” I think we need to have a wait-and-see approach for what’s going on. There is a relative lack of stuff out there, although I think what is out there has generated some points of discussion (as evidenced by the Meillasoux and Hegel panel).

    I think there is also a lot to be said for the future of the field with respect to other new kinds of thinking that aren’t associated with the speculative turn. The most obvious example at the conference was the panel on Laruelle. In the future, and perhaps at the Liverpool Hope conference, I’d like to see more dialogue between continental philosophy of religion and politics, although this may reflect my own interests more than anything else. I can only speak for myself, but political implications are behind some of the criticisms I would make of the positions developed by what we could broadly call “RO” and the arguments of a lot of radical theology (with respect to this last distinction, I will say that I want to make some time to read Clayton’s new book and Jeff Robbins’s). Some of this was implicit in Malabou’s talk on Derrida, I think, but like Anthony I would have liked a more explicit tone.

    In any case, I thought it was a great event and am glad to have finally met some people in the flesh in addition to having made some unforseen connections.

  7. Not to any one person, but it had a certain “I get that people aren’t just into Derrida and Gadamer anymore and I wish you the best” vibe. Like when Elvis died and bands like the Talking Heads felt like there was space for them then (not that Caputo is dead).

  8. Yeah, it was evidenced by his outstanding key note talk, where he was able to address some of the arguments that are being made by younger scholars and come up with a response from within his own position. More generally, I think the fact that Goodchild and Malabou were the other invited keynotes reflects the fact that there was a kind of torch passing (granted, Caputo may not have been directly involved with the other keynote invitations, but he repeatedly spoke highly of their work this weekend).

  9. I’m agreed with Anthony on the strength of the panels — they were consistently good and quite enjoyable to go to. If one were to speak of a “Future,” it would be a deep, variegated one more than that of a vanguard.

  10. What was exciting to me was a sense that those interested in radical theology at the conference held the church and ecclesiology to be central concerns. But I also felt a significant divide between what is deemed “theology” and “philosophy” at the conference.

    Also it was very noticible just how obviously male the audience was, but also the age group. Young. And I didn’t get the sense that there were a lot of ego contests going on.

    And even though I didn’t get the discussion I wanted on my paper during the session, the post-panel, dinner, and bar conversations were quite useful in terms of what I need to do to my paper to develop it further. I don’t think that has ever happened with a paper that I have presented in any conference setting before.

  11. “I get that people aren’t just into Derrida and Gadamer anymore and I wish you the best” vibe.

    I cannot image a stronger and more compelling scholarly conviction on which to base one’s retirement from the field.

  12. My general sense (and I didn’t get to go to as many panels as I would have liked) is that the future of Cont.Phil. of Religion is pretty wide open and maybe a bit murky and unassured.

    It’s wasn’t just a passing of the torch moment. The arc of Caputo’s teaching career coincided with Cont. Phil. moving towards a more religious direction peaking maybe in the late 90’s, now it is very clearly moving away from religion. There is also the sense that the old masters are gone and whatever the future of Cont. Phil. will be it will happen in the US and the UK. Both factors point to the need for something genuinely new, a homegrown phil. of religion to fill the void.

    I get the sense that cont. phil. of religion might be somewhat fallow ground for awhile but also that things have the potential to change very quickly and that this is big opportunity for us to experiment with ideas and invent totally new.

    There have to be other options besides radox, nihilism or some form of neo-existentialism. It would be nice if we got some actually creative theologians to make new problems for phil. of religion, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

  13. From a UK perspective, I was struck by a number of factors. First, the strong presence of death-of-god influences, no doubt fuelled on part the current interest in Zizek (and highlighted by Tom Altizer’s exceptional primary colour jackets). Secondly, a strong affirmation that radical theology is inevitably political and post secular. And thirdly, the move to engage with science, something that came put strongly in Clayton’s paper, but also in Malabou and Caputo’s keynotes. I think the latter especially is partly influenced by the speculative realist thing, and it was good to see some critical engagement with that movement at the conference. I guess my paper was an attempt to show there were grounds for dialogue between aspects of SR and deconstruction’s thinking of the trace (even if I was nasty to Meillassoux, sorry Anthony!). So I’d agree there isn’t a single, clear perspective emerging, but that’s no bad thing. It was pleasing to be in a context where Radical Orthodoxy appeared to be a thing of the past! More constructively, alongside the dialogue with SR, it would be good to see people exploring the new materialism critically- does it banish all language of transcendence, or can the latter be rethought in a way that is not merely idealistic and alienating?

  14. Apologies for the typos in my previous comment. The offending bits should read ‘no doubt fuelled in part by the current interest in Zizek’ and ‘came out strongly in Clayton’s paper.’ I blame jet lag and stupidity. And possibly Nick Clegg.

  15. I should mention that vol. 3 of Speculations will be dedicated to Speculative Realism and Religion. We’ll have a lot more info and a CFP about this soon. Vol. 2 should be out before the end of April.

  16. I missed the first day, so I can only rely on others on Malabou’s talk and the responses it drew. What I took away from Goodchild’s keynote as well as comments at the roundtable (nisi fallor – at least the first part I caught) was the limits of thought alone – a most salubrious reminder. It’s also true in my experience that each of the panels I attended had at least one strong paper, including one by Tamsin Jones on religion and trauma on my panel. The session on Laruelle as offered by Anthony, Dan and Rocky succeeded in creating a new space for Laruelle’s thought for philosophy of religion, the first of more acts to come, I’m sure. Clayton’s declaration for entropy as the future of the same certainly made a strong impression, although I thought Caputo’s valedictory, generous as it was in responding to it (perhaps somewhat extemporaneously, since it came shortly after Clayton’s talk), capitulated too soon in conceding that physics gave us all the metaphysics we’re going to get. With this I strongly disagree. That is, that containment of metaphysics is based on a certain (outdated) ONTOLOGICAL metaphysics and its implied objectivist logic of identity. Instead, from Anaximander, Zhuangzi and Yogācāra to Cusanus, Borges and beyond (though probably not SR), we have plenty of resources to build alternative metaphysics that EXCEED positivist science (no matter how sleek and sophisticated – or Deleuzean-sounding). So I’d say, let’s do our jobs as philosophers, and not abdicate our burden.

    Obviously I couldn’t attend all panels, but as someone mentioned, gender seemed underplayed at the conference, and some sessions looked and sounded like stag parties. Ditto on race, ecology and postcoloniality. Still, the conference was on the whole well attended and programmed, and I enjoyed meeting some interesting folks (the strongest talents being often the most modest), and normally I don’t expect even that much out of an academic event.

  17. Earlier I made a snide comment to decompress, but let me give a serious response. As someone who is a little older than most of the readers on this site, I can say that one of the really encouraging things about this conference was the youth factor. Caputo prefaced his keynote with an observation that this demographic differs dramatically from that of the Metropolitan Opera, which is a heavily over-60 crowd. This was overwhelmingly an under-50 and even under-40 crowd. This alone testifies that there is a new generation committed to *thinking* in our time, and God knows it is most apparent that they are not in it for money, stature, security, or an easy living. They—or I should say, you—are in it because you care about situating yourselves in this catastrophic, epochal new world with intellect on, not off (as contrasted with so much of society, to our deep despair). There is an assumption at work that thinking matters, that thinking is the rudder, that thinking is quite possibly the most important praxis we need to be engaged in, because thinking is the action by which we know where we are and where to go. This was the cumulative though unstated thesis of the conference, and it gave me hope. That said, there is too much emphasis on trendy ideas, and not enough really fundamental thinking. Little of what I heard cut deeply enough, or weighed our reality with a full enough scope. For me there is a “penny wise, pound foolish” issue (to get a little Goodchildian about metaphors). By that I mean, close critical analysis of the latest ideas, which is a vital skill when directed toward a greater end, is not being adequately tested—made to prove its real worth—in terms of its productivity in light of the urgencies of our actual world, including the nonpolitical urgencies. Thinking must go to the essential purpose or it wastes time in a historically unprecedented transformative epoch when we have no time to waste in finally discerning (like on location maps): YOU ARE HERE. For me the “where are we?” and the “whereto?” remained obscure. When Rome is burning to the ground (at last), when biological species are dying out daily, when food and water crises threaten mass suffering, when nuclear meltdown is suffusing the atmosphere globally, and when our taxes are funding the most irrecoverably wasteful and destructive system ever visited upon the earth, we need to think with more deliberate seriousness. But that probably means also with more humor.

  18. It was nice to meet some of the people on this blog. I’m going to try to become a regular reader.

    I’d follow David Liu and say that I too learned more about Laruelle, which was nice, and that Caputo’s lecture was a mixed bag.

    I really enjoyed his comments on reality as ungrounded gift, excess, and miracle for which we should be grateful (a kind of religiosizing of Nietzsche perhaps). But I thought that the whole “physics is metaphysics” theme was unhelpful. I’m all for circulating through physics and other sciences as we do philosophy, but science is only one discourse. It’s not clear to me that we can learn about “worlds” from physics any more than we can learn from Borges.

    Relatedly, I think there might be interesting work done on the whole problem of “worlds”. Caputo seemed to say he was a “one-world-er” (to coin a clunky word) as opposed to a “two-world-er”. But wouldn’t someone like Laruelle say that this way of conceiving things still remains in the classic Platonic binary of one and/or two worlds? Doesn’t Borges talk about infinite worlds? I’d be interested to know what people think on this topic.

  19. I thought I unsubscribed last night, but apparently it didn’t work, Anthony, so I received your question in my e-mail. Thanks for responding. Well, I would agree that “apocalyptic” can be considered a trendy idea, though I don’t see the pertinence of “white people” in your question (except as a positive pertinence, stated below). Philosophers are in the business of coining language to name reality, and the emergent language, when it is picked up and used by others in significant numbers, becomes what I mean by trendy. Certain ideas acquire a cache that can become problematic for thinking itself. For example, we are still trying to slay the Ding an Sich that still hovers behind all our “interpretation.” I use all kinds of trendy language (and I even miss Baudrillard, who was a master of trendy naming), so that is not to denounce it as of no value. But “to what end?” is the question. The value of ideas is tested by answering the question, where will this new naming/thinking conduct us in a time of extraordinary urgency? That will be answered differently by different language/concepts. I use the term “apocalyptic” to name the historically unprecedented transformativeness of the late modern period, a transformativeness so rapid and so largely unnamed, unidentified, undealt with in adequate terms, that the eventuality of history is outstripping language and thought. My view is that thought needs to catch up to discern where we already are, which is of course a state of absolute change. Thinking absolute change is our problem. We have it, but we can’t think it. And this conscious realization is generally more important for nonwhite people than white people because more nonwhite people live in perilous conditions around the globe, including right here in Los Angeles. I would be open to use another word, but apocalyptic is the most world-transformative word I know. If anyone has a better word, I would like to consider it. (And sorry I missed your paper; I was at the Goodchild session. I would note to other readers that you missed mine, though your question may give the opposite impression.)

  20. I use the language of apocalypticism, but quite often in such a way that my heart doesn’t look to be into it. In my work, I’m far more inclined to appeal to the language of aesthetics to express something similar, albeit in a more explicitly materialist register. The danger there, of course that you replace “trendy” with “wanky.”

  21. My point, my annoyance really, is the indeterminate nature of the protest when one claims there is too much trendiness. There were a lot of papers on Marion and Kierkegaard and there were more than a few on Deleuze. There was quite a few that seemed to focus on trauma and a whole panel devoted to Rollins. So, with apologies for my snark, what was trendy? And what counts as fundamental thinking? It’s true that there was a distinct lack of engagement with suffering, but when Altizer and Caputo had their exchange and Caputo promised to talk with Altizer more about the apocalypse when he visited him in the Poconos, well, a little honesty slipped out.

    If anything what disappointed me about the conference was how overwhelmingly Christian it was. As someone on my panel said, we have a duty to be anti-Christian now. If I wasn’t convinced of that before the end of the conference, Westphal’s first question cemented it for me.

    I’m largely in agreement with you about the urgency of things, though I find it a little overstated by many apocalyptic thinkers. There is a kind of humiliation of humanity at work in the apocalyptic that I find to be profoundly disempowering, perhaps because it is so world-forming.

    I am sorry I couldn’t make your paper. My ride had to work until noon and so we weren’t able to make it to Syracuse from Manhattan until around 5:00pm on Thursday.

  22. Lissa’s hopeful note on thought and thinking in her second comment deserves itself further thought here. She celebrated the liveliness of thinking and thought at the Syracuse conference because thinking was “the rudder,” “the action by which we know where we are and where to go.” This seems an engagement with the long tradition on the ruling agency of thought that began in earnest with the Preplatonic Anaxagoras and had a serious run in Plato, (less explicitly) in Aristotle and Stoicism, much of late ancient and medieval thought across several religious and philosophic traditions, and more recently in Hegel, Wiener, and beyond. Indeed Plato, in his Laws, went to the trouble of coining the term cybernetic (kybernetikē) to articulate the power of the nous (with its divine source and dictates) to govern, i.e., pilot, the entire human polis, and Hegel’s Geist (as the conflation of nous and pneuma across time) is but a temporalizing twist on that cybernetic after the invention of history.

    My question, returning to Goodchild’s caveat on thought ALONE (none of us is against thinking as such), is the question of thought’s affective vectors. That is, does thinking only affect us and our trajectory in life (personal and communal), which is what the preponderance of the Anaxogrean tradition says, or is it in turn affected and NEEDS to be affected, not only in the sense of inflected or changed, but COUPLED in action as in linked bodies and their forces.

    Put more bluntly, can thinking (with all its many folds and social modes) be sufficient as its own cybernetic, its own rudder and pilot (indeed destination)? If so, let thinking simply think more “thinks” (to quote Dr. Seuss)! If not, then what else do we need? I am inclined to say that other praxes, including more ethical and institutional ones (as Goodchild also enunciated), need to be coupled with thinking itself to activate a more intensively multivectoral economy – however belated and thus untimely it be. Somewhere in there, love too (or compassion/metta) has got to count (perhaps we should all go back to reading Weil’s implicit loves of God). I take it from Lissa’s third comment that she might not, I hope, be opposed to this more expansive perspective on thought (trendy or not).

  23. Anthony, by ‘anti-Christian’ are you referring to the larger anti-ideological project being developed by many authors here at AUFS or is this something more pointed that is developing in your thinking?
    What was Westphal’s question?

  24. There are few things I’m more tired of than intellectuals wringing their hands about whether thought is effective in the world, why they’re doing this, etc. I’m especially tired of it when it’s presented as some kind of innovative wake-up call. Thinking is important. We should do it well. We should also do other things, and we all pretty much do. Claiming that a conference paper is not stopping world hunger is not an interesting or even a relevant critique.

    You can’t prejudge whether or how thought is going to be useful — all you can do is make it as good as you can, qua thought, and see what happens. You can’t make thought very good if you’re constantly caught up in self-beratement about your preemptive judgments of its relevance or usefulness.

  25. I am also unhappy with the idea that thinking has to prove its usefulness. There is a danger of a worthy political radicalism morphing into the barbaric utilitarianism we are currently labouring under in the UK, where scholarship has to demonstrate its ‘economic contribution’. Which more or less means its willingness to be co-opted by the agenda of neoliberal capitalism. Perhaps in this context, being useless can be an act of defiance.

    I am also puzzled by Lissa’s reference to ‘absolute change’. Unprecedented, rapid change, yes. Urgency, yes. But what meaning can absolute change have? If it is truly absolute, then no thinking can have any purchase on it whatsoever.

    I suspect that this kind of apocalypticism plays into the hands of capital, in which, famously ‘all that is solid melts into air’. The only absolute becomes the imperative of change itself. But nothing, even capital, is as pure and friction free as this. If we are to speak about and engage with change at all, one of the tasks of thinking is to de-absolutise it, refusing to recognise the myth it tells about itself.

  26. In reviewing what I said earlier, I can see how those wearied of banal calls to action might have been inclined to read my comment in that light (if the previous two comments were meant, at least in part, to engage what I wrote). So allow me try to clarify and unpack my point more closely. I certainly agree with Adam’s view that “thinking is important,” and that “we should do it well,” and “we should do other things.” I am also happy to subscribe to a certain notion of thinking as encompassing the Socratic (if not also Platonic) scholē, leisure that exceeds immediate pleasures of any political economy. (Aristophanes’ taunt of Socratic thought as “airwalking” is a most apt description of this excess and freedom.) Strangely, though, my concern is NOT with the ethical status or consequence of thinking as such (hence no hand-wringing or “utilitarian” reflex on my end – if any of that was addressed to me), but more broadly the METAPHYSICAL (in the classical and Vichian senses) status of it – which would THEN have ethical consequences. It is in that spirit (which I further express below in a graffiti sort of way) that I evoked the Anaxagorean tradition on NOUS, which has had a long interweaving run with the philosophical history Laruelle has been interrogating with his non-philosophy – a critical reevaluation of (philosophical) thought itself.

    The implicit theological status of thought was inaugurated by Anaxagoras (perhaps under the Heraclitean influence of the logos of fire as homologous to the thunderbolt of Zeus) and fully exploited by Plato (with the inspiration of Pythagoras) in a theopolitical vein (Foucault’s episteme and discourse can be traced to Plato’s Laws). This tradition became, surprisingly, even more THOROUGHLY developed in the Rabbinic tradition of the manifold Torah (from the theocosmic to the ethical and the juridical) than in (non-Jewish) Greek thought, Stoicism being a remote second. This cybernetic notion of the Torah was built in part built on the Hebraic basis of Deuteronomy (probably the earliest political theology), now grafted onto the Hellenic logos. In some ways it was emulated by the early Christians from John of the Gospel and Justin Martyr on – though one could also argue that it is implicit in the general New Testamental notion of METANOIA (“repentance,” but the Pauline phrase “renewal of mind/thought” is probably a more accurate understanding) as a new, divinely driven cybernetic, operative not only in the individual, but, through the church and the (asymptotic) relation to the kingdom of God it held, in the whole created economy. The episcopal courts (foundations of canon law) that developed subsequently were an experiment in that direction, but it seems to me that a farther reach was achieved later by Islamic traditions, both jurisprudential and philosophical. In this way shari`a and halakhah shared a parallel development as a divinely immanent nous, and the rudder of all human life.

    At the same time a bifurcation occurred in Islam between filasafia and revelation, from Al-Farabi (following Eriugena) through Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and his Christian successors, which implied an inflection of the two-world theory of Plato previously made extreme by Tertullian. An attempt was made by Bonaventure (himself an heir to a taxonomy of worlds and modes of thought) to bridge this gap when he wrote his mystical Journeyof the Mind into God (and other pertinent works) to enact a reductio (leading back) of all thought to God, but within two generations, thought was immanentized (under the building pressure of nominalism) by Ockham’s conceptualism, which became, curiously if not always explicitly, an activity of the individual human mind, and in that sense a cornerstone in the rise of modern science that would enthrone the sovereign human mind. It is from there that Berkeleyan idealism (in its own expansion of the cogito) takes its roots, but now the innovation is no longer conceived as a classical cybernetic or Ockhamist semiotic, but (impurely) as sensualized ideas and world-building activity. This was then mythologized (in the Geist and in the world-historical) by Hegel, and paved the way, through German Idealism in general and even Peircean pragmatism, for Heidegger’s notion of denken (thinking) as enworlding, an oscillation between living and worldmapping – but in a dehistoricized trance. (In this trajectory, Husserl’s noetic intuition almost seems an erratic and retro blip.)

    The problem with this Heideggerian Denken, as Gadamer and Habermas came to realize, was the autistic (therefore anethical) quality of it. When Foucault pondered the question of “what is an author?” he was dealing with the same problem in a different way (though when he spoke of episteme and discourse he was recapitulating the Platonic nous in a post-Wienerian – almost “automatistic” – vein). Likewise Derridean deconstruction is rightly taken as an assault on the autonomy and sovereignty of thought. (Still, Heidegger is to be credited for thinking seriously about thinking, and for being a bridge between the inwardliness of thought in Kierkegaard – perhaps still palpable in Henri – and the positive, though not positivistic, constructiveness of Deleuzean thought on thought.)

    Long before Derrida, however, Buddhist pedagogy already insisted (along with certain strands of Presocratic thought) that NOTHING was autonomous or self-governing (one word Anaxagoras had used for nous was autokratēs, a cognate with the term for a military general or dictator, later used of the Roman emperor), including thought “itself.” Rather EVERYTHING is contingent on something else in a web of co-constitution, -inflection, –emergence, -demise or -transformation (in sum, the dynamic matrix of pratītyasamutpāda). When I queried the limits of thinking/thought ALONE, I was (to chew a Butlerian mouthful) “troubling” the IDEA of thought an sich, NOT assessing its ethical status. This was meant both as a tribute to thinking/thought – as “itself “worthy of a genealogy and (a) thought, and an invitation to fashion new (or timely) thought on thought. It is in this sense that I invoke the analogy of Laruelle’s work at the beginning of this comment. The ethical import of this sort of project (which is not really new) IS urgent, but should of course still be a thing of open intervention and debate.

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