Theory and Research

I am going over my writing from the last few years and sorting out what should go where. The problem I face is that there is a paper I really want to write to do with Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm and there is no way, that I have figured out at least, that I fit a proper discussion of Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm into the context of my empirical research. This is not a simple matter of me trying to ‘apply’ some theory or another to my empirical research, rather my concept of enthusiasm was developed through my empirical research (fieldwork and archival research of 30 years of magazines and other materials). Therefore it is annoying, almost disheartening, to realise I am going to have split my work into two papers. One that deals with enthusiasm as a concept and is therefore primarily a philosophical work and the other that delves into my empirical research to outline a historical example of a culture and political economy of enthusiasm. This separation should not exist in my mind but there are good reasons for it.

1) Readers of the two papers would be very different. The philosophical paper is essentially a reading of Kant. The cultural studies paper is essentially a Foucaultian genealogy of enthusiasm within modified-car culture. On the one hand, I hardly think too many bourgeois academic philosophers would be interested in my empirical work. On the other hand, the empirical work presents a strong example of the ways enthusiasm can be harnessed as a resource by cultural industries and with the emergent dispositif of labour relations organised around immaterial labour and so on it is a useful way to understand what is at stake.

2) I have misgivings about my own abilities to do a reading of Kant justice. Some philosophers specialise in Kant and his various works (and secondary readings) are practically all they study for their entire lives. I am a competent reader of Kant, I think. In that I recognise an interesting argument made about Kant’s work when I read it. Maybe I’ll present some readings of Kant here? (I just created a Kant category for my blog.) The issue of course is that I am only interested in his discussion of enthusiasm. His general philosophy about the legislative function of reason as a synthesis of the faculties is not that interesting to me at the moment. Anyway, a separate paper on Kant’s enthusiasm would force me to properly engage with Kant’s enthusiasm in a sustained manner.

3) Theory. I loathe the notion. I am not sure what people were thinking when they thought it was a good idea to invent this category of academic work. There are only conceptual tools. Theory should be banished. I don’t want my Kant paper to appear as if it were ‘theory’. That is why I am so reluctant to give up on a paper that incorporates empirical research.

4) My style of writing is to trace influences on my work and influences on others’ work to the page or series of pages and reference these pages so readers can follow exactly where I am getting ideas from. One of the best things about A Thousand Plateaus for example are the footnotes. There is a question of competence here, particularly when reading or using something in a particular way, so others familiar with the work can follow what you are doing. There is also a question about a creative ecology or milieu to which my own work belongs. Its totality is only ever a partiality of another totality and so on. I want to be able to frame the horizon of intelligibility of my understanding and imagination. This makes my writing rather dense and requires a patient reader. Splitting what I am working on at the moment into two papers will at least save the reader having to be patient on two counts for the philosophical stuff (Kant, Deleuze, etc.) and the empirical historical work (magazines, newsletters, etc.). I can understand why Foucault chose not to include footnotes in some work. Splitting it will make each paper appropriately energetic or at least less of the inverse.

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