Monthly Archives: December 2009

On Method (Part One): The College of the Proletariat / The Counterfeit University / The Invisible College

The Invisible College

I quite enjoyed Nina’s string of posts on the idea of a proletarian university. It reminded me of this great post over at BLDGBLOG (consistently one of the best blogs, more on this later) where a “counterfeit university” was formed in order to plan and develop an event on the concept of ‘quarantine.’ I love this idea, this model. As Geoff Manaugh put it:

But you need nothing more than a structure, a common topic, a place to meet up, a backpack full of the most basic office supplies, perhaps a bottle opener, and the will-power to see it through; with any luck, in other words, more “counterfeit universities” will be popping up here and there, their research published independently on blogs, their meetings hosted in apartments, offices, restaurants, bars, and other spaces in their after-hours, bringing more and more people into productive conversation.

As some of you know I sat in on a reading course with someone doing their PhD on the history of magic. We read some texts from the Corpus Hermetica and some historical texts concerned with people like Marsilo Ficino, Giordano Bruno, Cornelius Agrippa, and Pico della Mirandola. It was three of us going over the same texts for different reasons and bringing different elements to the table. It was great getting to read such things in an academic setting and we’ve decided to carry the idea further.

We already have a group called the Jockey Club that gets together on Friday evenings at a pub downtown to talk philosophy. Basically what happens is every week a text is assigned and introduced by someone and we get together to talk about it. In theory this is open to anyone and everyone in the city. What ends up happening most of the time however is the same people bring up the same issues and it can be tiring. There are certain people who really just want to show off how smart they are or how clever they can be and they really aren’t there to understand the text or learn anything from it.

In contrast to the Jockey Club, we’re going to try a different model. This will be an invitation-only affair, to exclude those who don’t actually have an interest in such topics but would only come to “score points.” We’ll be reading largely esoteric texts after all, and I’m sure many of the natural science minded individuals would love to come and kick some dead horses. We’re not going to meet on campus either (the MUN campus is not a great place for casual meetings at all).

I have proposed that we call the group the Invisible College. There is something very interesting about the exchange of ideas that occurred in the original Invisible College and I think it lies in the methodology. It seems that much of the discussion around Nina’s blog concerns essentially the same methodology as the standard university: experts lecture and students learn, showing their acquisition of knowledge somehow (receiving some sort of degree). There is something else going on in the methodology of the Invisible College; members would exchange books and communicate by writing in the margins of the texts. The education would happen within the text. This strikes me as an incredible hermeneutic model of education. Those of us involved also have a broad understanding of what ‘hermeneutics’ means (link will open a PDF). I think this “learning within the text” is exactly what we are striving for, albeit not in a secretive way as was necessary for the Invisible College. What we are planning is closer to something like Bible Study than a typical academic setting and maybe that’s fitting. After all, no one will be there because that have to be there, whether it’s for needing the credits, needing it on their transcript, or because it was the only thing that fit in their schedule. This is entirely extracurricular, also perhaps significant.

Part Two soon.


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This one time…

This one time… from nelson boles on Vimeo.

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Félix Ravaisson’s Of Habit

I just read Ravaisson’s Of Habit. It is really a great little book. There is so much more in this essay than I expected and it really shows just how indebted 19th-20th Century French Metaphysics are to Schelling. Ravaisson of course attended Schelling’s lectures in Munich and was apparently set to translate some of Schelling’s works into French though it never panned out. Bergson sounds so much less “out there” when read in the context of Ravaisson. Not only are the roots of Bergsonism in there (by way of the virtual, the focus on memory and repetition, “secret vital forces” at the heart of the organism, etc.), but also the carnal phenomenology that largely separates the French phenomenologists (Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Henry, Marion, etc.) from the Heideggerian tradition. There’s also a form of the unconscious, which he calls an “unreflective spontaneity” that “breaks into […] the organism, and increasingly establishes itself there, beyond, beneath the region of will, personality and consciousness” (53). He also speaks of it in terms of “effort,” which the translators use to translate both “effort” and “puissance” [power]. The latter term of course becomes important in Deleuze and his reading of Nietzsche. It also proves important in Foucault’s later writings on the Self. Deleuze distinguishes “puissance” (as power-to, possibility) from “pouvoir” (as power-over, domination) when he discusses Nietzsche’s Will to Power. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ravaisson talks of “puissance” in relation to an unconscious drive (connected with “instinct” and “tendency”), as the ground of possibility at the centre of the organism, much in the same way that the psychoanalytic and vitalist traditions see it. There must be a connection between this early 19th Century Naturphilosophie and the later French psychology tradition (Janet). Besides that, it shows the biologization of Schellingian speculative metaphysics, grounding Schelling in much the same way that thinkers like Lorenz Oken did. Anyone interested in either the Schellingian or 20th Century French tradition owes it to themselves to read this brief essay.


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