Musing on a Philosophy Conference

So I attended the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy 2005 conference at UNSW last week. I got to meet some of the superstars of the philosophy world and was lucky enough to hear some good papers that pushed my thinking.

Sandy, Mel and Mark (yes, I am a good looking bloke, lol!) were there at various times over the three days. Mark put in the hard yards during the plenaries being a ‘mike runner’ for question time.

UPDATE: Sandy discusses Wendy Brown’s talk here. Mel has a number of posts: one on Brett Neilson’s paper on precariousness, one on Ros Dipose’s paper on responsibility to the other, and one on Bernasconi’s talk on ‘Perpetual Peace and Total War’. I am pretty sure she has more to come.

Two photos I took here.

Some of the ideas that I found interesting:

1) Tim Rayner‘s paper on the “Multitude in Power: Power, Poverty and Revolution”. Tim is co-editor of the Contretemps online philosophy journal and I had seen him previously speak at an event hosted by the Russelian Society. What got me thinking during his presentation is his account of Negri’s discussion of poverty in Negri’s long essayKairos, Alma Venus, Multitudo found in Time For Revolution (which I have discussed previously on my blog, but only focusing on the first essay “The Constitution of Time”). I had just been thinking about the role of the poor in the mass-automobilisation of entire populations in the US through the emergence of the jalopy (which has a genealogical link to the hot rod). In this line of argument, the poor effected the conditions for the automobilisation of the masses by creating a car from other car parts. What is let loose across the social is biopolitical, in fact, it is a biopolitical revolution that I would suggest is on par with the mass uptake of the contraceptive pill. (However, the similarity ends very quickly as to think of sexual reproduction as a form of poverty without introducing some qualifications is to open yourself up to serious critique!) What Negri offers is an account of the ‘pure accident’ or ‘virtual structure’ of the sort of creation, resistance and appropriation that so interested the previous generation of researchers and theorists of youth subcultures. In short, the motor for biopolitical production can be found in the ‘ontological scandal’ and innate creativity of the poor.

2) Sean Bowden‘s paper on “Deleuze and Leibniz: The Question of “World” and the Politics of Being” was interesting for his discussion of jurisprudence and monadic perspective. Bowden’s paper was one of many papers to draw on Deleuze’s discussion of jurisprudence with regards to human rights in the L’Ab?c?daire de Gilles Deleuze with Claire Parnet. I found this interesting cause of the paper Mek Gregg and I wrote together and also in relation to Agamben’s argument re a state of exception. Bowden was suggesting that Deleuze’s example of the smoker and taxi driver in the context of creative responses to problems (in this case smoking in taxis) demonstrates the creative dimension of jurisprudence. He framed the event of creation in terms of two singularities (smoking situation and non-smoking situation) being mediated by a third (legal order?). I asked a question about what happens when one singularity in the antagonism is subsumed or occupied by those who are meant to represent the third singularity. This is the case of what is happening in Guantanamo Bay when the sovereignty of the US State is both an antagonist (in relation to the unlawful combatant) and the mediator of the event through the actualisation of particular parts of the legal milieu (in this case the Geneva Convention)

I left the first day early and arrived late for the second day (missed a couple of sessions!). Thursday had some solid papers but I did not really engage properly with them.

3) I enjoyed Eugene Holland‘s keynote. He was asked some tricky questions regarding the way he staked out the difference between science and philosophy in the work of Deleuze and Guattari. The central difference is that philosophy has a plane of immanence while science has a plane of reference. I liked it goes it gells with the way I think about my critical practice as not necessarily coming up with the right answers (plane of reference) but asking whether or not the questions being asked is in fact the right question (plane of immanence). I later asked him a question about the way he was drawing on d&g to set up the philosophy::science binary in relation to Badiou’s claim that what he does in philosophy is a science.

4) I didn’t really understand Judith Butler‘s keynote. I had not read the Benjamin essay to which she referred. Plus I kind of switched off when she started talking about ‘divine violence’. Her talk wasn’t for me.

I missed the first session on the last day, which was annoying because I missed Charles Stivale’s paper. I did say hello to him and he knew who I was I think. That was a bit exciting.

5) Wendy Brown’s keynote was interesting in some respects. She talked about how contemporary theorists concede that capital is the final limit and power, which means that the ‘political’ as an autonomous site of contestation is a result and the turn to micropolitics is a response to the subsumption of the political. She discussed sovereignty which was very interesting. I didn’t quite understand her reading of Negri and Hardt’s conception of Empire as being a ‘politicisation of global capital’ or, rather, that they believe that capital is already ‘political’. Their conception of the sovereignty of Empire was problematic for her conception of sovereignty. In N&H’s distributive model of sovereignty — where there is a tension between multitplicities and the overcoding, sovereign ‘one’, which is not embodied in any singular object or person, but is itself a singularity that organise the entire globe — disturbed her model of sovereignty as an autonomous, as ‘he who decides’. The act of decision itself determines sovereignty, not anything else. Agamben uses the same model of sovereignty in his thesis regarding the state of exception. Likewise, Badiou’s ‘militant’ is determined by he who decides the truth of an event and has a militant fidelity to that truth (but not necessarily to the decision itself). (I find it alarming that Agamben can use Badiou’s conception of the event and the decision (derived from his reading of Spinoza as argued by Laerke) to describe the role of dictators who herald state of exceptions within totalitarian regimes, while Badiou romantically talks about the militant as resistant agitator. Badiou’s becoming-majoritarian needs to be interrogated.)

6) The final non-plenary session I attended was possibly the most interesting. It was something of a pseudo-book launch for the forthcoming edited collection of essays Virtual Mathematics: The Logic of Difference. (They also held a mini-conference on the 20th of June.) The line up for the panel:

–Arkady Plotnitsky, Professor of English and Director of the Theory and Cultural Studies Program at Purdue University (Indiana, USA).
–Jean-Michel Salanskis, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris-X (Nanterre, France).
–Daniel W. Smith, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University (Indiana, USA).

I was excited to hear Dan Smith speak after reading his excellent essay comparing Deleuze’s ‘problematic’ method of philosophy and use of mathematics to Badiou’s ‘axiomatic’ version in the Peter Hallward edited collection on Badiou Think Again. Eugene Holland asked a very interesting question about capitalist axiomatics in Anti-Oedipus.

Arkady gave the most entertaining presentation at the conference and I found his discussion of the ‘manifold’ very educational. He argued that the ‘smooth’ space of d&g is exactly the Riemann manifold of localised fields of ‘striated’ linear/Cartesian space-time. The manifold is not a space within which these fields emerge, rather the manifold is an assemblage of such fields. Movement within smooth space is from one field to another and from what I gathered Arkady was arguing this does not involve the transformation of the striations of already existing fields.

Jean-Michel reminded me of Larry David as he portrays himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Larry David is co-creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm can be understood as an ‘adult’ Seinfeld. The episode with Crazy Eye Killer is a classic!) Jean-Michel’s paper was entirely constructed around what he wouldn’t say because he did not have enough time. He would say something like “I would like to talk about mathematics and philosophy, but I do not have the time. If I had the time I would make three points. These three points are…” In other words, he would make his points under the guise of not having enough time to make any points. What an awesome conference paper presentation tactic!!! He finished with an anecdote from who I think was an old friend, teacher and colleague — Jean-Francois Lyotard. He said that Lyotard once told him that there were two modes of ontology in philosophy that drew on different sources as if they were romances (very French! lol!). The first is an ontology which drew on mathematics, but since the 1960s philosophy had turned to poetry and developed a poetic ontology. I thought this was a very telling point.

2 thoughts on “Musing on a Philosophy Conference”

  1. Is Negri worth a read then? I’ve heard a bit about him without ever reading any of his stuff.

    Can’t say I would know a great deal about the philosophers at the conference, but it still sounded interesting!

  2. it depends what you expect to get out of Negri. the problem with negri is that he argues something like the revolution has already happened. he is very useful (as is deleuze, i argue) for getting a very good understanding of situations and events as they happen, but totally bloody useless if you want to move beyond mere understanding. the other problem is that because the language is so convoluted and arguments so dense you can really only speak negri-ese or deleuze-ese in any proper way to someone else who has read a whole lot of stuff. i am certainly not an expert on Negri, that is for certain… all the spinozist inspired philosophers/thinkers are interesting at the moment. Spinoza emerged as a heretic in a religious community and I guess most of the people who read my blog would be heretics in the community of capitalist religiosity. haha!

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