Tag Archives: hermeneutics

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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Lacan and some philosophers

I’ve been sitting in on the seminar on hermeneutics that Sean is doing this semester. Besides Gadamer’s Truth and Method, we’re reading several essays by Ricoeur, and some pieces by Derrida. Our last class was on the topic of ideological critique, reading a piece on Habermas’ critique of hermeneutics as being unable to adequately critique ideology or politics at all because of its inherent relativism.

The next day I was exchanging emails with Sean and this ended up with a discussion of Freudo-Marxism and Lacanian-Marxism, and Sean leading me to look at a few pages of a book by Charles E. Reagan called Paul Ricoeur: his life and his work. Pages 25-31 (available as a free preview on Google Books) detail Ricoeur’s relationship with Lacan, which was unusual to say the least. I find the relationships that Lacan had (or tried to have) with philosophers very interesting. I of course knew about his attempt to seek approval from Heidegger and the encounters with Deleuze, but I was unaware that he had sought out both Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur as potential allies. The whole thing has this very bizarre feel to it. Of course now there are many philosophers who pledge allegiance of some sort to Lacan. Does anyone know of any other relationships between Lacan and philosophers, and if so, were they as strange as these?


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The Next Big Thing (Uncharted Waters)

Graham has a great post up on “the next big thing” in philosophy, in reference to the recent flurry of activity in regards to Badiou.

What I especially liked about this post was the following:

In continental philosophy, the cutting edge is usually wherever 25-30 year-olds are working right now. The senior figures in continental philosophy are more likely to still be working on whatever was hot when they were 25-30. (My older Department colleagues, bless them, still think Merleau-Ponty and Derrrida are the latest news. Nothing against Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, but they are obviously not the latest news. I assume this would be far less likely to happen in analytic philosophy circles.)

This reminded me of my undergraduate thesis experience. My grad advisor, Sean, taught at my undergrad institute and was going to supervise my thesis on Eckhart and Heidegger (and at the time, Derrida). My basic premise was that while contemporary philosophy of religion (Caputo, Kearney, and Marion) were enthralled in the “innovations” of Heidegger and Derrida (on ontotheology and negative theology) that the same innovations could be found in Eckhart’s German sermons, that almost identical moves had been made. The hope was to use this as ammunition for an eventual revival of Eckhart, who, while Caputo even has a book on Heidegger and Eckhart, has been mostly overlooked in contemporary philosophy of religion. I was excited about this, and Sean was excited as well.

Unfortunately, Sean left and came to my current school, which is where he’s from originally. He and his wife moved back here to raise their son. At the time I was really upset because I’d already begun work on my thesis and thought I would have to find a new topic, which I really didn’t want. I met with my new advisor, who specializes in Aristotle and Virtue Ethics. He assured me that I could keep my same topic, and that he had an interest in both mysticism and Medieval philosophy. I was relieved to say the least.

After working on the first half of my thesis in the Fall, the half on Heidegger, ontotheology, and Eckhart, I had a meeting with him. I was told he didn’t want me to do the Derrida half, that this should be a thesis on Heidegger and Eckhart. I didn’t understand why, considering Derrida was (and still is) highly relevant to the philosophy of religion. My advisor told me that Derrida hadn’t proved himself to be a lasting figure yet. I was stunned. I considered myself something of a deconstructionist at the time, and had plans to study it further in grad school and was being told that what I was working on, what I was planning to continue working on, wasn’t a proven system yet even though Derrida had just died and had been producing work for decades, not to mention all of the work of other deconstructionists. All of the contemporary people I was working with for my thesis were highly influenced by Derrida. Again, I was stunned.

The rest of the year was spent miserably trying to turn what I had thought was simply a chapter, less than half of my total thesis, into the thesis itself. I was depressed, angry, and confused. My advisor became more and more critical of the contemporary thinkers I was using for my thesis, telling me that I needed to be doing a historical thesis. I tried to explain that I was doing a work of hermeneutics (which had been the point all along) which he also seemed to scoff at. To top it off, I found out early on that my advisor wasn’t reading any of the books I was reading. I had read the complete works of Eckhart, Heidegger’s Identity and Difference, a couple of books by Caputo (The Mystical Element of Heidegger’s Thought, and Weak Theology), a couple by Marion (God Without Being, and Being Given), and one by Kearney (The God Who May Be), plus assorted essays and secondary sources. My advisor didn’t read any of them.

I had a couple of good courses that year though, a seminar on Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, and a seminar on Foucault which I sat in one (it was a sociology course and I lacked the pre-reqs). What I loved about these courses is that in the case of Merleau-Ponty, I was understanding the context of Jean-Luc Marion much better, while reading Foucault furthered the interest I already had in Deleuze.

I realized that year that while I am interested in the history of philosophy as it is broadly understood, I wanted to be doing contemporary work, looking for that next big thing. I think that’s why when I came here for my MA, while I had planned originally to write a thesis on Derrida (essentially writing what would have been the second half of my undergrad thesis) I quickly abandoned it to study the contemporary relevance of Schelling, reading Grant’s book, along with a lot of Zizek.

Basically, I was very unhappy working with someone who thought the history of philosophy (at least continental philosophy) ended sometime in the beginning of the 20th Century. Now I’m working with someone who is much more understanding of my interests, and has even started reading speculative realism texts in order to also understand the next big thing.


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