Friday, October 30, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

The Jim Jones Revue - Rock 'n' Roll Psychosis

Questions and Answers

Following on from last week, Mastermind throws down it's other gauntlet tonight at 8pm. Specialist subject: British Indie "1979-1989". Those were the days, when Indie was a philosophy and not just a guitar sound.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

State of Neglect

I really should pay more attention to the Third Culture site and the associated Edge newsletters.

Here's Alison Gopnik, author of The Philosophical Baby and The Scientist in the Crib, talking about how babies learn.

There's loads of stuff over at the Edge: Richard Wrangham talking about his book, which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, lots of stuff by A. C. Grayling, and loads of book recommendations :-)

Check it out.

Oh yes, it's very easy to mock

A letter from yesterday's Irish Times:

Madam, – I’m a little confused that the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, is discouraging people from gathering at Knock to witness apparitions which he believes “risk misleading God’s people and undermining faith”.

This is the the same “faith” that believes that a cosmic Jew who was his own father by a virgin can enable you to live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh, drink his blood and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from something invisible called your soul that is present because a woman made from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat an apple from a magical tree. – Yours, etc,


Hat tip: Sweary

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Claw Boys Claw

The latest issue of Harper's magazine includes an excerpt from a series of interviews by John Gerassi with Jean-Paul Sartre. Gerassi is a professor of political science at Queens College and the author of Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century. Talking with Sartre: Conversations and Debates, a selection of his interviews with Sartre from the early 1970s, will be published this fall by Yale University Press.

For hardcore Sartre fans of . . . ahem . . . a certain age, can I also draw your attention to the 2-DVD set Sartre par lui-meme, brought out to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Sartre's death and including the interviews that appeared in English in 1980 in Sartre by Himself, which some of you may hold in fond regard.

jean-paul sartre: At Normale, there were some ten of us who ran around together. The great thing about group activity is that the decision-making process is generalized to the group. So when we decided to take over a bar and that led to confrontations, yes, each of us was responsible, but it was a common act. Of course, there were some individual disasters too. Well, not disasters, I’m exaggerating, but when we decided to experiment with drugs, I ended up having a nervous breakdown.

john gerassi: You mean the crabs?

sartre: Yeah, after I took mescaline, I started seeing crabs around me all the time. They followed me in the streets, into class. I got used to them. I would wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, my little ones, how did you sleep?” I would talk to them all the time. I would say, “Okay, guys, we’re going into class now, so we have to be still and quiet,” and they would be there, around my desk, absolutely still, until the bell rang.

gerassi: A lot of them?

sartre: Actually, no, just three or four.

gerassi: But you knew they were imaginary?

sartre: Oh, yes. But after I finished school, I began to think I was going crazy, so I went to see a shrink, a young guy then with whom I have been good friends ever since, Jacques Lacan. We concluded that it was fear of being alone, fear of losing the camaraderie of the group. You know, my life changed radically from my being one of a group, which included peasants and workers, as well as bourgeois intellectuals, to it being just me and Castor. The crabs really began when my adolescence ended. At first, I avoided them by writing about them—in effect, by defining life as nausea—but then as soon as I tried to objectify it, the crabs appeared. And then they appeared whenever I walked somewhere. Not when I was writing, just when I was going someplace. The first time I discussed it with Castor, when they appeared one day as we were strolling in the Midi, we concluded that I was going through a depression, based on my fear that I was doomed the rest of my life to be a professor. Not that I hated to teach. But defined. Classified. Serious. That was the worst part, to have to be serious about life. The crabs stayed with me until the day I simply decided that they bored me and that I just wouldn’t pay attention to them. And then the war came, the stalag, the resistance, and the big political battles after the war.

gerassi: When you tried to launch the so-called Third Force, anti–United States and anti-Communist?

sartre: Exactly. But it didn’t work. It attracted too many reactionaries who may have been against U.S. domination but for the wrong reason. And soon we understood, we had to choose. The basic question: Who was ready, willing even, to launch an attack on the other, to lead us into a new war that would devastate the planet? Obviously, it was the United States. So we had to abandon the Third Force and ally ourselves, albeit reluctantly, with Russia.

gerassi: So, during that period, no crabs? No depression?

sartre: Not until 1958. We had work to do. To push France out of NATO, to refuse U.S. bases, to stop selling our resources to U.S. conglomerates. There were rallies, demonstrations, marches almost every day. And our magazine had to lead the way. Then de Gaulle seized power and suddenly it dawned on me that my life would be totally absurd, that my generation was doomed to exist under his pathetic and ridiculous assurances of “la grandeur de la France.”

gerassi: Unlike your previous depression, which was personal, that depression was social, meaning no crabs, right?

sartre: I would have liked my crabs to come back. The crabs were mine. I had gotten used to them. They kept reminding me that my life was absurd, yes, nauseating, but without challenging my immortality. Despite their mocking, my crabs never said that my books would not be on the shelf, or that if they were, so what? You have to realize that my psychosis was literature. I was poured into a world where there was a certain immortality, and it took fifty years to put all that into question, to go not from an ivory tower, but still, from a privileged state of the intellectual, to the contrary, challenging the role of the intellectual. I did that by writing The Words, by rereading Marx, by approaching the Communist Party, and by realizing that I had simply been protecting myself. Whatever happened, my books would be on the shelf, hence I was immortal. For all my anti–religiousness at the time, I was almost like a Christian who thinks that if he’s a nice guy he’ll end up next to God.

gerassi: And your social depression got rid of all that?

sartre: Indeed. My crabs had considered me important, or else why bother me? De Gaulle, the ridiculousness of the Cold War, America’s drive to conquer and control, all that made me realize that I was not and would never be significant.

gerassi: From the end of the war until de Gaulle’s coup d’état in 1958, you were haunted by neither crabs nor depression?

sartre: We keep calling them crabs because of my play The Condemned of Altona, but they were really lobsters.

gerassi: Even Castor occasionally refers to them as your crabs. Anyway, they were gone then?

sartre: Oh, yes, they left me during the war. You know, I’ve never said this before, but sometimes I miss them—when I’m lonely, or rather when I’m alone. When I go to a movie that ends up boring, or not very gripping, and I remember how they used to sit there on my leg. Of course I always knew that they weren’t there, that they didn’t exist, but they served an important purpose. They were a warning that I wasn’t thinking correctly or focusing on what was important, or that I was heading up the wrong track, all the while telling me that my life was not right, not what it should be. Well, no one tells me that anymore.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Feel-Good Story of the Day

The Guardian Family supplement profiles 101-year-old Frank Whipple, who left Cork at the age of 8 after his dad was involved in the Easter Rising and who saw action in the 1926 General Strike, fought the fascists in Cable Street in the 1930s, and for more than 30 years has cared single-handedly for his beloved daughter Peggy, who has special needs.

A thoroughly uplifting profile, except for the stuff about Millwall, obviously.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

The Rosebuds - Life Like


A great time to be had by all the family.

Details here. What's on here.

Some history here.


My Father was in the Royal Marines but my Mother was a florist. Am I a Nazi?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cutting-Edge Art or Lazy Git? #2

I had to find out for myself just how hard it was:

Silver Sun, Shropshire, August 1831. Virtual Paint on Virtual Paper, $600,000 o.n.o.

Dustbowl Fence, Oklahoma, 1378. Virtual Charcoal on Virtual Paper, $35 o.n.o.

Always know your worth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Women! Know Your Place!

The New York Review of Books for October 22 carries a review by Steven Mithen (subscription only) of two books on evolutionary psychology: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham, and Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language, by Dean Falk.

Who's cooking your dinner? Who's looking after your kids? If you are a man, it is probably the woman—or women—in your life. You know that women mainly do the daily domestic grind. And so it has been, not just throughout history but also throughout the last two million years of human evolution, according to Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire, and Dean Falk, author of Finding Our Tongues.

There was once a time—not too long ago—when men could wallow with pride in the Stone Age accomplishments of our sex. It was slaying beasts, making tools, and fighting each other that transformed a Stone Age primate, physically and mentally little different from a chimpanzee, into the big-brained language-using primate that strode out of Africa to dominate the world. How lucky for women that their Stone Age menfolk were so brave and clever.

It is now men who need to nod in acknowledgment at the accomplishments of the Stone Age women who undertook the cooking and childcare. For according to Wrangham and Falk, it is those activities that provided the causes and conditions for the evolution of large brains and language. Women should particularly appreciate these two fascinating books about our evolutionary past.

The evolutionary history of our species is by far the best story ever to be told. It is one that needs continual rewriting and retelling as our knowledge of the fossil and archaeological records improves, as the genomes of humans, apes, and monkeys are revealed and compared, as neuroscience penetrates the working of the brain, and as we appreciate the evolutionary significance of activities that have previously been
neglected, cooking and childcare being the two cases in point. While the details
remain under debate, astonishing progress has been made in our understanding of human origins ever since Darwin explained how natural selection works and the first human fossils were found 150 years ago.

Mithen finds plenty to disagree with in each book, mainly because each one tries to provide a "magic bullet" explanation for all of our cognitive development. Even so, each provides a new take on the development of humankind's social skills that merits reflection.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cutting-Edge Art or Lazy Git?

Pre-digital camera, we all used to make panoramic shots by taking several photos and joining them up. When David Hockney started doing it, apparently he was a fucking genius, even though his Polaroid collages took no more than 5 hours to complete. Now, the New York Review of Books reports, he's making art using the Brushes app on his iPhone.

Over the past six months, Hockney has fashioned literally hundreds, probably over a thousand, such images, often sending out four or five a day to a group of about a dozen friends, and not really caring what happens to them after that. (He assumes the friends pass them along through the digital ether.) These are, mind you, not second-generation digital copies of images that exist in some other medium: their digital expression constitutes the sole (albeit multiple) original of the image.

Here's one:

Good, isn't it? And time-saving, too.

In a Guardian interview, Hockney explains,

There are advantages and disadvantages to anything new in mediums for artists, but the speed allowed here with colour is something new. Swapping brushes in the hand with oil or watercolour takes time.

Here's another couple:

It's probably a good job he hasn't tried any of the many other available iPhone apps out there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!!

Rubberbandits: Greyhound Shuffle

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Conquer National Obesity: Deport the Fat

In the summer issue of the journal International Migration Review, Lingxin Hao and Julie J. Kim argue that America's national obesity epidemic would be far worse than it is, were it not for mass immigration.

The average immigrant is slimmer than the average native-born American and stays that way for some 10 years after coming to the United States, says Hao, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, and Kim, a Hopkins Ph.D. candidate. Part of the explanation is self-selection: Migrating from one country to another (even under good conditions) is a challenge for even the fittest, and those who take the risk are usually in good health. And if immigrants get sick, they show what sociologists call the "salmon-bias effect," i.e., they head for home. What's more, the exercise and nutrition patterns of immigrants stay in place for a few years after they emigrate, giving them an "immigrant advantage" before they embrace America's fast-food lifestyle.

The typical native-born American male, 5'8" tall, weighs 187 pounds. This makes him officially seriously overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A man of that height should weigh 170 pounds, at most. His immigrant counterpart weighs, on average, 175 pounds. An immigrant woman of average stature is also about 12 pounds lighter than a corresponding native-born woman.

Roughly 30 percent of Americans are obese, which is defined as weighing more than 205
pounds for men of typical height, and 180 for similar women. One's body mass index, the formal measurement of healthy weight, tends to increase until age 60, then level off.

America would be better off if newcomers were innoculated against the national penchant for gobbling fries and shakes in front of the television. A shrewd public-health policy, Hao and Kim conclude, would aim to delay the erosion of the immigrant advantage.

Whereas Those Who Don't Like Her . . .

People Weekly tells us that Leona Lewis was "hit by a fan" at a book signing in London.

That's a novel way to show your appreciation.

Grin and Bear It

"Not without mustard, mate."

Many sources claim that the teddy bear was born after President Theodore Roosevelt spared the life of a bear cub during a hunting expedition in Mississippi in 1902, but Donna Varga reports in the June issue of The Journal of American Culture that the truth is not so straightforward. According to her, the actual bear was a 235-pound adult, which was set upon by hunting dogs, beaten over the head by a guide, and tied to a tree. Shooting the bear was felt to be unsporting, so Roosevelt instructed the hunt manager to "put it out of its misery" with a knife, and the hunting party ate the bear meat over the following two nights.


New Castoriadis Stuff

via Agora International:

Modern Capitalism and Revolution
. Written by Cornelius Castoriadis under the pseudonym Paul Cardan, and first published in three parts, "Le mouvement révolutionnaire sous le capitalisme moderne" in Socialisme ou Barbarie 31 (1960-61), "La signification des grèves belges" in S. ou B. 32 (1961) and "Le mouvement révolutionnaire sous le capitalisme moderne (suite)" in S. ou B. 32. (1961). Translated into English by Maurice Brinton and published by Solidarity London in 1965 as Modern Capitalism and Revolution, together with an introduction and additional English material by Brinton. This second English edition was published by Solidarity London in 1974, with a new introduction by Castoriadis.

"Beating the Retreat into Private Life," a pdf of an extract of a conversation between Castoriadis, Michael Ignatieff, and Christopher Lasch in The Listener in 1986.

CASTORIADIS: I think what is implied in all this is various things. 'One day at a time', if I take this very nice expression, is what I call the lack of a project—in both the individual and society itself. Thirty years ago, 60 years ago, people on the Left would talk to you about the glorious night of the revolution, and people on the Right would talk to you about indefinite progress and so and so forth. And now nobody dares express a grandiose or even moderately reasonable project which goes beyond the budget or the next elections. So there is a time horizon. Now in this respect 'survival' is an expression you may criticise, because, of course, everybody thinks about his retirement pension and thinks also about his children's education. But this time horizon is private. Nobody participates in a public time horizon, in the same way as nobody participates in a public space. I mean, we always participate in public space, but take the Place de la Concorde or Piccadilly Circus during rush-hour. There you have one million people who are drowned in an ocean of social things, who are social beings, and they are absolutely isolated. They hate each other, and if they could clear their way by neutralising the cars in front of them, they would. Public space today is what? It is within every home with TV. But what is this public

It's empty.

It's empty, or worse. It's public space mostly for publicity, for pornography—and I don't mean only straightforward pornography, I mean there are philosophers who are in fact pornographers.

Well it was 1986. Do read the rest of it.

If God had meant Americans to play football . . .

they'd know who Brian Clough was. Time magazine does the introductions via a review of The Damned United.

As for The Damned United, American audiences may find some aspects of the film unbelievable. Did British soccer players really have hair like Klaus Kinski's at the end of Aguirre? (Yes.) Was northern England in the '70s really that damp, dark and miserable? (No, it was worse.)

But the film is worth seeking out, and not just because of Sheen's extraordinary performance. In his research, Sheen discovered that Clough loved Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the 1960 Karel Reisz film, starring Albert Finney, about a young working-class iconoclast and self-mythologizer — just like Clough. The Damned United is an homage to films of the British new wave — Saturday Night, A Kind of Loving — in the way that it exposes how Britain's old class divisions stunted countless lives. Clough and Revie were intelligent men for whom soccer promised a release from a life down the pit or in the factories. Then they discovered that the game was run by small-town businessmen with patronizing attitudes straight out of Dickens. The wonder is not that both men had a chip on their shoulder; it's that it wasn't a bloody plank.

From the Philosopher of Autonomy to DIY

Substantial chapters on all your old faves: The Ex, the Three Johns, the Janitors, Ted Chippington, the Nightingales, the Wedding Present, June Brides, Five Go Down to the Sea, and lots of other members of the post-post-punk scene. Available here for £14.99 plus p&p.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Castoriadis: Psyche, Society, Autonomy, by Jeff Klooger, with a foreword by Dick Howard, Brill Publishing, 2009. Hardcover. 368 pp. €121.

(Note: This article was originally written for the Irish Left Review Web site).

In the July 4, 2009, edition of the BBC World Service’s discussion program The Forum, Nobel physics laureate Frank Wilczek, author of The Lightness of Being, gave listeners a succinct description of the nature of the universe:

Close to the core of quantum mechanics is that you learn that seeing is a very active process. There are limitations to how much you can know about an object without disturbing it. This is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and when you get into the really subatomic realms, that becomes even more extreme. To observe the spontaneous activity in space, in a sense you have to create it. An analogy might be, beneath the surface there is lava boiling, or magma boiling. To get it out, to bring it to the surface, you have to actively intervene. And then it comes out, and in a sense you’re creating it on the surface.

These ideas—the conception of the universe as a seething, boiling magma, and the idea that we actively participate in the creation of the world we perceive—play a significant part in the philosophy of Greek-born Francophone thinker Cornelius Castoriadis, one-time Marxist, co-founder of the group Socialisme ou Barbarie, and the so-called “philosopher of autonomy.” Castoriadis both read and wrote on a broad range of topics—mathematics, physics, biology, the social sciences, linguistics, the arts and humanities, popular culture—and did his best to stay on top of the latest developments in the hard sciences, so we should perhaps not be surprised to see such ideas so conscientiously applied in the construction of his philosophy (in contrast to the appropriation of scientific ideas by those literary and cultural theorists vilified by Alan Sokal). The encyclopaedic nature of Castoriadis’s oeuvre makes him a challenging thinker to summarise, however, and it is to Jeff Klooger’s immense credit that he successfully manages to do so here, ably tracing the pathways of Castoriadis’s thought and presenting them in a condensed but coherent form, choosing as his starting point Castoriadis’s theory of self-creation and pursuing its implications first for our understanding of society and history and then for our ideas about identity, the human body and psyche, the nature of Being and beings, and the meaning of meaning.

Based in part on the formal implications of a wholesale rejection of determinism and in part on his explorations of the diverse aspects of human existence, Castoriadis advances a radical and provocative approach to questions about the nature of being, incorporating an unequivocal acceptance of indeterminacy as characteristic of "being" in the human realm. As far back as Zeno, Parmenides, and Heraclitus, philosophers have been aware of the paradoxes inherent in the application of an identity logic to being: the logical impossibility of change, motion, and creation. Faced with the reality of change, creation ex nihilo, and impermanence, we are forced to either accept that the appearance of change is illusory or else accept an indeterminacy at the heart of being that traditional Western logic-ontology rejects as inconsistent with its definition of being. Castoriadis’s solution is to introduce the concept of magma, a mode of being in which indeterminacy is never absent. Wilczek’s comment above thus offers us a useful metaphor for thinking about being in general, as Castoriadis conceives of it. Both Being as a whole and individual beings, including human beings, are magmas, seething, boiling "masses" in which entities, ideas, forms are constantly being created, forcing their way to the surface, and then disappearing like a burst bubble into the ether. This metaphor can be usefully applied to the quantum physical world, to the biotic world of living animals, to the human psyche, and even to history.

This is not to say that the universe is characterized by chaos. A universe in which indeterminacy was ubiquitous would lack any kind of stability or permanence, the ontological equivalent of white noise, with no discernible forms at all. Indeed, the traditional Western logic-ontology would not be conceivable were it not for the fact that beings exhibit some semblance of permanence and stability. At different levels of being, entities persist, are stable, endure, for periods appropriate and relative to their scale: As evolutionary psychologists observe, the persistence of entities and our perceptions of them as such have to be adequate for our survival needs. An inability to perceive predators as enduring, stable entities in their environment undoubtedly places animals at a distinct disadvantage in the survival stakes. And mathematics becomes possible because we are capable of extrapolating from semi-permanence to create concepts with the appearance of permanence.

At the psychological and social levels, magmas and our involvement in self-creation are again central to Castoriadis’s ideas. Castoriadis draws on the not-uncontroversial work of the biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, particularly their concept of autopoiesis, to explain the human capacity for self-creation and autonomy. His background as a psychoanalyst results in a Freudian conception of the human psyche, however, that we might today regard as somewhat quaint; the mind as a seething, undirected collection of urges and drives, the conscious mind representing only the superego, the socialized, self-disciplined part of the psyche, managing and controlling the individual’s wilder impulses, generated by the lustful, aggressive, self-seeking id. The containment and control of such urges, in the traditional Freudian framework is the source of our neuroses, our dreams, our fantasies, but also our creativity. It thus fits in well with Castoriadis’s overall ontology, but it isn’t a framework that holds up so well these days in light of what we know now about cognitive development, particularly in children. Even so, the damage done is minimal. Here’s neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás discussing human creativity:

The neural processes underlying that which we call creativity have nothing to do with rationality. That is to say, if we look at how the brain generates creativity, we will see that it is not a rational process at all; creativity is not born out of reason.

Let us think again of our motor tapes in the basal ganglia. I should like to suggest to you that these nuclei do not always wait for a tape to be called up by the thalamo-cortical system, the self . . . In fact, the activity in the basal ganglia is running all the time, playing motor patterns and snippets of motor patterns amongst and between themselves—and because of the odd, re-entrant inhibitory connectivity amongst and between these nuclei, they seem to acts as a continuous, random, motor pattern noise generator. Here and there, a pattern or portion of a pattern escapes, without its apparent emotional counterpart, into the context of the thalamo-cortical system.

In other words, the constant firing and sparking of creativity goes on even while our conscious mind is otherwise engaged. When the spotlight of the conscious mind goes out, when we sleep or drift into semi-consciousness, we can access those noises, that bubbling of ideas always there beneath the surface. This might not be the creation ex nihilo that Castoriadis has in mind, but it keeps intact his idea of the human psyche as magma. In any case, the deficiencies in Castoriadis’s Freudianism do not significantly undermine his case for indeterminacy or for the role of autonomy in human affairs, and Klooger prudently devotes only a limited amount of space to this aspect of Castoriadis’s thought. Of greater significance is the “imaginary,” an aspect of the human condition, and of society and history, that traditional thought has always ignored, neglected, or failed to recognize. Acknowledging the importance of the imaginary, and of the imagination, means acknowledging creation as an essential part of the human condition; by creation, Castoriadis means the emergence of forms that are in no way determined by what preceded them.

For Castoriadis, society is, in its essence, a process of self-creation, an activity whereby societies bring themselves into being by the creation of social imaginary significations which they embody and around which they organize themselves. This is true of all societies, but only those societies, says Castoriadis, that recognize themselves as self-creating, who understand that their institutions and structures are not given from on high by the gods or pre-ordained by Nature, can be characterized as autonomous; its members have the capacity not just to reflect on, question, and challenge the legitimacy of their institutions, they can also go about actively formulating their own alternatives.

Such demystification of society is what took place in ancient Greece, where this transformation in consciousness gave rise to the birth of philosophy and democratic polis. It also occurred later, in the modern West, beginning in around the 12th century in autonomous city-states, but attaining its peak in modernity proper, where what Castoriadis calls the project of autonomy engages in a radical critique of the existing organization of society and the pursuit of the goals of individual and collective self-determination.

Castoriadis has been criticised for the supposedly ethnocentric underpinnings of this theory, for privileging Western culture and Enlightenment thought over alternative conceptions of philosophy and society, but as Klooger points out, identifying the project of autonomy with particular societies does not necessarily entail equating it to the concrete cultural and institutional expressions of it within those societies. That said, and as Klooger acknowledges, Greece was not alone in undergoing such transformative experiences. Other societies—those identified by Karl Jaspers as the axial civilizations, along with Greece—were undergoing their own revolutions in understanding. Says Jaspers,

What is new about this age, in all three of these worlds [i.e., China, India, and the Occident], is that man becomes aware of being as a whole, of himself and his limitations. He experiences the terrible nature of the world and his own impotence. He asks radical questions. Face to face with the void, he strives for liberation and redemption. By consciously recognizing his limits, he sets himself the highest goals. He experiences unconditionality in the depth of selfhood and in the clarity of transcendence.

Or perhaps we might say, more prosaically, in the Old Testament God is going around speaking unto everyone, whereas by the end of the Gospels not even Jesus is on speaking terms with him.

Klooger draws on the work of sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt on axial age civilizations to explore the challenges that their history poses to Castoriadis’s concept of heteronomous societies (i.e. those societies unaware of their own self-creation) and to contrast Eisenstadt and Castoriadis’s conceptions of the history and nature of self-reflexivity. The distinction is fine, but essentially Castoriadis’s definition of self-reflexivity entails the active questioning of established truths and norms, and not just mere incredulity towards them. It was only in ancient Greece, he contends, that this challenge takes place; only there are the two fundamental questions of philosophy—How ought we to live? and What, and how, ought we to think?—are asked for the first time.

Klooger does an excellent job of identifying the lacunae in Castoriadis’s work and spares no effort in teasing out the smallest of contradictions in what remains an impressive, coherent, and powerful intellectual edifice. Some of his objections, over terminology, for instance, may strike the reader as hair-splitting, but it’s also clear that he has laboured intensively to make sense of Castoriadis’s and to render it comprehensible for his readers. In his later writings, Castoriadis explored the threats posed to contemporary society by our declining awareness of its, our, self-creation and by the dominant social imaginary of our time, the unlimited expansion of rational mastery. These are topics outside the scope of Klooger’s work but provide a logical extension to it. Interested readers can find The Rising Tide of Insignificancy and Figures of the Thinkable available as pdfs online. I highly recommend them.

Undergraduates who’ve paid attention in class, postgraduates under a certain age, and non-academic readers of an inquisitive bent and with an enthusiasm for philosophy will find this book invaluable as a challenging, provocative, and genuinely enjoyable introduction to a thinker whose ideas remain extraordinarily relevant and useful. Before engaging directly with Castoriadis’s own works, which can be intimidating in their intensity and vocabulary, students would do well to read Klooger’s introductory text. It is to be hoped that Brill can be persuaded to bring out a paperback edition in the near future. No one can realistically expect individuals to fork out €121 for a book, and this particular one is too important to be confined to the libraries of academic institutions.

Friday, October 09, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

I,Ludicrous - We're The Support Band (single out now!)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

More Thinking Allowed

Another gem from Laurie Taylor, this week's Thinking Allowed program (podcast) features Pierre Bourdieu's old mate Loïc Wacquant, Professor of Sociology at the University of California and author of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity, discussing the history and structure of the U.S. penal system with Nicola Lacey, Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory at the Mannheim Centre for the Study of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the Department of Law at the London School of Economics and author of The Prisoners' Dilemma: Political Economy and Punishment in Contemporary Democracies.

The program also features my old personal tutor, the charming and top bloke A. C. Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, discussing the purpose, perils, pitfalls, and peculiarities of classification.

Manchester FA 1 Hull 0

This was the main sports story on the back of last night's Manchester Evening News.

20 years ago I played against Hardly Athletic for The Old Cock (club motto:"Everybody likes to beat The Old Cock on Sunday Mornings") and I don't remember them wearing a kit anything like as good as their current one.