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November 30, 2004

Comments

David Fiore

I agree to some extent Marc--but the point is that almost everyone in the humanities is a liberal in fact, if not in theory... There's never any harm in putting pressure on an idea! Even the good ones threaten to become fundamentalisms... It's true, as you say, that a certain type of social conservative can have a field day with these kinds of questions (I always think of Frank Capra's Meet John Doe in this connection--the people "standing up for human rights" aren't even sure what they mean when they make their speeches, while fascist politico Edward Arnold has no such difficulties! As he tells Gary Cooper & Barbara Stanwyck--"You're the fakes. We believe in what we're doing...")

It's all well and good to demand that "liberals" "stand firm" against "conservatives"--but where are the battle lines drawn? Are you going to join me in pushing an animal liberation commitment to the point of outlawing all human abuse of animals? (and that includes eating them...) If not, then I have to ask why, and of course I wind up trying to use Kant against himself in order to prove that his stricture against the use of humans as means rather than ends doesn't even begin to cover the extent of our obligations to the other! I certainly have no wish to disavow the Enlightenment (my b.a. thesis was called "Enlighened Romantics"!), but I don't want to reify the pronouncements of its proponents on stone tablets either!

Dave

Marc

Dave,

Isn't "trying to use Kant against himself" itself a use of and participation in the Enlightenment tradition? Doesn't that tradtition itself encourage us to put pressure on our ideas? I'm not saying the ideas and traditions of the Enlightenment are sacrosanct - just that they're too practically valuable to dismiss them entirely by turning "the Enlightenment" into a casual pejorative (especially since it enables the kind of critique that turns it into a casual pejorative!). I have no problem with critiquing those ideas - in fact, some of the finest critics of the Enlightenment were products of it, and are today its most popular representatives. But comments like the one quoted above aren't a critique - they're a name and an attitude, and that attitude plays very well into the project of those who would dismantle the Enlightenment for strikingly different reasons.

As far as asking "where are the battle lines drawn?", I'm afraid that invites the kind of all-or-nothing proposition for which I have little use. You seem to be implying - and if I'm mistaken then I apologize - that if it's difficult to draw a line then we shouldn't draw any at all, that if we can't all agree on one total set of beliefs then it's pointless to advocate certain ones. But coalitions are formed by focusing on the shared goals, not demanding fealty to all of the individual ones.

David Fiore

Marc wrote:
"Isn't "trying to use Kant against himself" itself a use of and participation in the Enlightenment tradition? "

Exactly! That's what I'm saying. Romanticism (and there's really nothing in the various post-modern critiques of the Enlightenment that wasn't there in Emerson) isn't a radical break with the Enlightenment--it's a very logical elaboration upon the ideas of the 18th century, using most of the same tools in a slightly different way...

And as for the battle, well, I agree with you! (however, the place for "temporary solidarity" is not within the academy--where drawing fine lines is a way of life...and it's a good life!--but at the ballot-box!)

Dave

Marc

I think you're emphasizing this call for "temporary solidarity" more than I am, Dave; I wouldn't expect or want a solidarity of opinion in academia. I would, however, like to see academics produce more work that's accessible and relevant outside academia. Your separation of the academy from the ballot box notwithstanding, ideas can have a profound impact on political movements - just look at the conservatives from the 1950s to the present! Yet so many of today's academics, proud though we are of our little subversions of rational Enlightenment phallologocentrism, are unlikely to produce much of practical use. The kind of attitudinizing quoted above, while it claims to take criticism and the Enlightenment down a couple of pegs, ultimately has no argument other than its advertisement of the speaker's self-purification.

Jon

I don't know how I missed this post, Marc, but a few brief comments, then I'm off to play a show.

I won't object to this description of a certain style of criticism; it's the implied attitude that bothers me (and ultimately these comments boil down to little else), the sinking feeling that, in this context, to link something to the Enlightenment is to damn it with guilt by association.

I was being hyperbolic. I don't have a problem with the "post-enlightenment west". I will be as quick to point out the good things that have come of it. But I tend to trace things etiologically--that certain strands of criticism have arisen out of certain contexts seems uncontroversial--whether or not I've picked out the right strands is another matter altogether.

Yet these critiques are possible because they follow the models of inquiry and analysis promoted by the Enlightenment - just as the criticisms of academic scholarship quoted above are made through a mishmash of the very critical terms coined and circulated by that scholarship. Does anyone else in the world criticize rationality and logocentrism and the Western Enlightenment as much as a certain stripe of Western, post-Enlightenment artists and critics? Does anyone else criticize academic theory as much as academic theorists?

Too true. Too true. I'm much more interested in how knowledge turns in on itself whatever the context. I guess you could just look at my posts in general as being an excercise (I like to call it a game--though it might be a deadly serious one for me) in exploring the limits and margins of self-referentiality.

Isn't "trying to use Kant against himself" itself a use of and participation in the Enlightenment tradition? Doesn't that tradtition itself encourage us to put pressure on our ideas?

It does and it doesn't. Those are the interesting questions for me--where traditions/culture/ideology allow transformation or conservation.

Romanticism (and there's really nothing in the various post-modern critiques of the Enlightenment that wasn't there in Emerson) isn't a radical break with the Enlightenment--it's a very logical elaboration upon the ideas of the 18th century, using most of the same tools in a slightly different way...

Exactly, Dave--and the modernist/historical avant-garde is almost the logical conclusion to Romanticism.

The kind of attitudinizing quoted above, while it claims to take criticism and the Enlightenment down a couple of pegs, ultimately has no argument other than its advertisement of the speaker's self-purification.

Right, and I do have an uneasy tension with the attitude which I explored here. I have an uneasy tension with the self-purification notion in whatever form it comes. I know how difficult it can be to "kill the Buddha", so to speak, but that's not necessarily something I think that I (or really anyone else) can give an easy answer to. It's not as if Buddhists were unaware of the tension through out their history and praxis, and look at how many forms and variations on that theme there are.

But neither am I not going to make a stand somewhere, though sometimes I don't mind being moved...

Marc

This is clearly a discussion among academics/theorists - all that noise, and it turns out we all basically agree with one another. :)

Jon

Haha. Yeah--I explored the possibility transgression of authority through authorship in modernism through a reading Thomas Docherty's Alterities, so I was very aware of the attitude I may have been giving--and how precarious the position was.

As far as the "enlightenment" issue is concerned, I feel that it might benefit from interaction with other traditions. To give one significant example, China is predominantly Confusianist in outlook--it has an almost unbroken continuity of tow and a half millenea from the earliest Confuscian texts throgh commentaries and criticisms by Neo-confuscianists and other "outside" proponents. Discussion usually goes back to the source texts themselves, which are in predominantly in Classical Chinese (except hwere occasional translations allow "outsider" discourse).

And yet, Classical Chinese has no lexical items for duty, rights, truth, ought, agent, morality and subjective amongst several dozen other words that the West has used to create discourse about Human Rights. I'm not so sure that the West couldn't benefit from seeing how rights might be framed in a culture that has few ideological and linguistic resources to frame the issues the way the West does--neither do I believe that the West should necessarily discount a Chinese contribution to the discourse, given China's rising prominance in a "global community".

If there's to be some standard set of principles for the world, then I think it should be arrived at from the world, not just from one portion of it.

So yeah, we're basically agreeing with each other, we're just looking to different places to arrive at that agreement--and just maybe, the means can be as important as the end!

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