Friday 20 August 2010

The Onion on U.S. troop withdrawals

Sometimes only satire can cut to the core of things.

According to the president, the relative victory could be credited to a number of achieved benchmarks, depending upon how strict one's definition of "achieved" is. Obama pointed to the democratic election of an Iraqi parliament currently being held together by a thread; the streets of Iraq being slightly less hellish than they were in 2006; and the fact that women are now, for the most part, free to move around the country so long as they don't make a big production out of it.

Obama also noted that during the war more Iraqi insurgents died than American troops, which, he admitted, isn't necessarily the best way to determine a war's victor, but is nonetheless still preferable to the other way around.


Following the president's address, a car bomb ripped through an outdoor market in Baghdad killing eight Iraqis and wounding 32.

Pentagon officials also declared the mission, in a sense, kind of sort of accomplished Tuesday, citing the handful of Iraqi hearts and minds that may have been won over by the U.S. occupancy, and the fact that Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki had not yet been assassinated.


With the cessation of combat operations, and the declaration of what sources said couldn't be called a complete and utter failure because to do so would be to admit that the U.S. wasted $750 billion, lost 4,400 troops, and killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians for absolutely nothing, both Democrats and Republicans have attempted to take credit for the quasi-victory.

Two realisms

@ John (post 7)

Well, you can 'prove' anything with contextualism so, yes, my point is conceptual in that regard but I think that it makes sense.

To put it a little more precisely: it seems to me that there are two variants of 'realism' to be recognised and they often become conflated. This point can be demonstrated by quoting Levi from above:

"Nothing is completely present, there is no transcendental signified."

One variant of realism would agree with this statement, one wouldn't. The former, I would argue, has taken on board, knowingly or otherwise, the kind of arguments that Derrida and his associates have been making for the past forty years -- taken on board, understood and moved on. The latter still believe in the 'really real' beneath all the mess, superstition and unreality. This is quite a big difference.

Many of the critics of the sort of realism that Levi and Graham are proposing immediately assume that they are attempting to insert some sort of transcendental signified back into the discussion -- to get 'back' to the 'really real' beneath all the sludge and detritus of sense perception. (I must admit, this was the conclusion I initially and ignorantly jumped to.) This is rather far from the truth!

Perhaps my view is a little skewed coming much more from political theory than philosophy -- in political theory 'realism' has for a very long time been the exclusive province of rock-kickers and table-thumpers, desperate to beat their opponents into submission. Levi, Graham et al. are, thankfully, a bit above that and the difference between this old, rather vulgar, foundationalist realism and what is going on now deserves recognition.

Many 'realists' in political theory talk about going 'back' to realism, the implication being that 'yes, yes, all that stuff about signifiers and whatnot is very interesting and all but lets get back to what we were doing before -- talking about reality'. The new realism isn't going 'back' it is going in its own direction, which I, for one, am pleased about.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Derrida again.

Nothing is completely present, there is no transcendental signified. Isn’t this above all what deconstruction is asking for and isn’t this a move beyond metaphysics as the metaphysics of presence? Isn’t this precisely a world without ultimate arche that would ground everything else and from which everything would originate, and without terms that are fully present and self-identical?

Something that has become quite plain from this debate is that when you say ‘realist’ (especially when coupled with ‘substance’!) a lot of people immediately hear contained within that term ‘unmediated, full, infallible, rational, foundational presence’ — which is unfortunate… It throws the proverbial baby out with the bathwater somewhat (i.e. it ditches all metaphysics so as to ditch metaphysics qua foundationalism).

The way Levi describes his own relationship with J.D. it would make sense to describe OOO as ‘post-Derridean’ in the sense that the main lessons of his work have been taken on board and are accepted but, some decades after deconstruction first broke onto the scene, is (refreshingly) no longer bound to Derrida’s method, his vocabulary or his goals.

re: "Realism is de rigueur" (pt. 2)

@ BB (post 53)

Thanks for the reading suggestion (G. Bennington “Not Half No End”), I’ll check it out.

[I]n the spirit of OOP, why not talk about the object (i.e. Derrida) and not your linguistic mediation of the object (i.e. the “tradition”?)

Is Derrida more of an ‘object’ than ‘the tradition’? Of course there is Derrida and then there is “Derrida” (just as in Latour’s Pasteurization of France there is Pasteur (the man) and “Pasteur” (the myth, the legend, the ‘genius’)).

It is difficult to disentangle these two things but certainly both were objects or collections of objects. Derrida is dead so he’s not much of an object anymore!

As for his texts, they remain objects but very much in the plural, translated into many different languages and printed thousands of times. Never mind the fact that they are intertextually related and cannot be understood qua philosophy texts outside of that relationality.

But aside from that, if you mean that I should just talk about the real Derrida rather than what I was taught about him (perhaps erroneously) then I must say that my impression upon reading him was that while he was ambiguously realist in his interviews, in his other texts he was straightforwardly anti-realist.

Derrida was extremely lucid in his interviews and rather difficult everywhere else and I suspect many of the citations arguing for his ‘realism’ came from the interviews rather than his other texts as there he let himself use declarative sentences.
But I must be clear: I am no Derrida expert — not even close, so I am not claiming any interpretative authority whatsoever. My point is more that if Levi and others take Derrida to be an anti-realist they are, in this respect, fully in agreement with the vast majority of the secondary literature on J.D.. Where they differ is that Levi and others think anti-realism is a bad thing and most Derrideans don’t.

This jars with the Derridean side of this ‘debate’ which broadly takes the line: ‘how can you think he is anti-realist? he obviously is a realist, just look at A, B, C, D…’. Well, it isn’t at all that obvious; if it was then fewer people would have made this mistake (if that is what it is).

My question therefore is: if Derrida was a realist why have so many people come to the opposite conclusion? Everybody is perfectly entitled to argue that he is a realist but I would like to hear why it is that so many intelligent people have made the mistake of thinking he isn’t (if it is a mistake).

It may well be that he has said anti-realist things and realist things at different times and in different texts. This seems most plausible. In this case we should ask if there is enough realism in Derrida for him to be usefully taken as a realist philosopher. That would seem to be the more pertinent debate.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

re: "Realism is de rigueur"

If Derrida is truly a realist (and I think that this argument is very interesting) then 99.5% of the scholarship on his work for the past thirty years has completely misinterpreted him.

Certainly I was not taught this particular version of J.D. in grad school. To quote (verbatim) the professor who taught discourse analysis: “language relates only to language”. (Pretty unambiguous!) Perhaps I was misinformed by an oaf who knew nothing? Or perhaps, and I find this rather more plausible, I was taught the overwhelming, mainstream view present in every textbook and seminar syllabus I’ve ever seen. Perhaps this is why whenever anyone in the class was so naive as to suggest that human perception is impacted by non-human objects in fashions irreducible to individual or collective discursive representations of those objects they were swatted down with disdain?

So, why is it only now that the ‘real’ (i.e. ‘realist’) Derrida is there for all to see, so obvious and self-evident? For all those who consider Derrida to be a realist: great! But the first thing you have to do is to explain why almost everybody who has ever read Derrida has gotten the opposite impression.

Secondly: Does language relate to more than language? If there is no REFERENCE between words and worlds (nobody here is arguing that) then is there RELATION between words and worlds and, more importantly, are there worlds even without words?