A Dark Precursor

Provisional Thoughts on Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Universities

Etienne Balibar – Laïcité or Identity – English Translation

Today in Liberation there appeared a short piece by Etienne Balibar devoted to the question of the principle of laïcité in contemporary French political life — most recently manifested in the ban imposed by several municipalities on the wearing of burkinis, which was overturned last week by the Council of State, which is the highest administrative court in France.

Balibar welcomes this ruling, but also argues that there is a more serious matter at stake, and worries that the principle of laïcité, historically vital to the preservation of civil and personal freedom in France, is — in the ‘identitarian’ version that is currently in the process of being articulated — coming more and more to serve exactly the opposite function. He traces a philosophical genealogy of the notion, and then shows how in the current conjuncture it is being deployed in a way that is profoundly dangerous and indeed both drifts in the direction of a legitimation of “States of exception” and tends to be drawn into what he calls a “mimetic rivalry with the totalitarian discourse against which, at the same time, French politics pretends to guard itself.”

Given the interest of this piece, and its short length, I took the liberty of translating it quickly for the benefit of non-French speaking readers. Below you can find my draft translation (corrections and suggestions are always welcome). Please note that I have left ‘laïcité’ and related terms untranslated, since the English equivalents ‘lay’ or ‘secular’ are either frequently awkward or confusing given Balibar’s use of ‘seculaire’ in several places in the article in a non-technical sense.

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Guattari, Institutions, and … Utopias?

I’ve been thinking about Guattari and institutions a lot. More specifically, I’ve been thinking that part of what is interesting about Guattari is that a large portion of his thought is devoted to questions not only about the ways in which subjects are constituted by and in relation to institutions, but also about how relations between subjects and institutions can be rearticulated in order to give rise to real and lasting transformations of both.

Such questions are eminently practical for Guattari, arising out of his political and his psychiatric practice, both of which involve institutional relations at very basic levels—he was a hospital psychiatrist and an activist whose political work was always carried out within a network of highly instituted contexts (Trotskyist militancy, the Youth Hostel movement, various periodical publishing collectives and research groups, etc.).

What all these institutions have in common is that they are at least potentially revolutionary—though in both the case of the hospital and the case of the party, there is also the constant risk of stagnation, blockage, or constraint. As a result, working within institutions requires constant attention. But given this attention, and a certain amount of institutional skill, Guattari also clearly believes that the institution, as such, can function both as a site and an enabling condition for the emergence of new and better forms of life. In the psychiatric context, for instance, the transversal relations that can be set up within the institution allow it to function as a rich and flexible diagnostic and therapeutic instrument.

Guattari is by no means unique among his contemporaries in seeing the creative power of institutions with respect to forms of life.  Foucault, of course, must be credited with a similar insight.  And the very early Deleuze also seemed to have been thinking in terms of institutions as mechanisms of satisfaction, rather than exploitation or constraint.  But Guattari frequently inflects the point differently, and especially optimistically.

In this respect, it seems worth asking what might be gained by reading Guattari in relation to the Utopian tradition.  Already in More we can find envisioned a manner of organization in which the institutions of society should be capable of producing, at least in most cases, a profound alteration in the affective constitution of subjectivity—such that, for example, the desires for property, luxury, or visible status should be purged from the citizens of his island.  Moreover, the organization of work and the distribution of tasks in Utopia is clearly aimed at fostering in each individual a continual process of development precisely on the basis of maximizing his or her opportunities for intellectual, scientific, and creative endeavors.

But it may be less to More’s canonical text and more to the experimental communities that were set up by many socialists in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and which may have to some extent been consciously or unconsciously repeated in the hostelage movement, that it may be profitable to compare the relatively closed, or at least deliberately circumscribed and programmatically organized (and reorganized) space of the clinic to which Guattari devotes so much of his early theoretical energy.

At very least, this seems worth following up.

Letter to the Trustees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, re: Steven Salaita

Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees
Hannah Cave, Trustee
Ricardo Estrada, Trustee
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee
Lucas N. Frye, Trustee
Karen Hasara, Trustee
Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee
Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee
Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee
Edward L. McMillan, Trustee
James D. Montgomery, Trustee
Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee
Robert A. Easter, President
Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel
Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University
Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees

Dear Trustees and Other Officers,

I write to express my dismay at the conduct of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the case of Steven Salaita, who by all common standards and past practices at your institution (and throughout the U.S. academy) was hired as an Associate Professor of American Indian and Indigenous Studies at your institution, only to see his appointment revoked weeks before he was due to take up the position.

This action was taken in violation of established procedures of shared governance, which give faculty in individual departments and the academic authorities of their colleges control over the decision of who to hire. Salaita’s candidacy was thoroughly reviewed by his prospective colleagues, who found him acceptable, as did other university authorities. He was offered a contract and signed it. For Chancellor Wise, apparently on the basis of trustees’ expected refusal to give final approval to his appointment (heretofore an entirely pro forma step in the process), to terminate his appointment at this stage without any due process is a gross violation of the well established norms of shared governance, and in particular of the principle—set forward by your own accrediting body—that “the governing board delegates day-to-day management of the institution to the administration and expects the faculty to oversee academic matters” (see Section 2c4 of http://www.ncahlc.org/Criteria-Eligibility-and-Candidacy/criteria-and-core-components.html).

Further, the basis for all of this, namely the fact that some people were upset by some of Salaita’s public statements regarding events this summer in Israel/Palestine and lobbied the administration and the trustees, is a gross violation of established norms of academic freedom. Salaita’s statements have no bearing whatsoever on his professional duties at the university—regardless of the specious and deeply disingenuous arguments that have been constructed in order to make it appear that they might. Again, there is an ample body of evidence regarding Salaita’s conduct in the classroom, which was duly considered by his hiring department during his candidacy. By all reports, he is an exemplary teacher—one who is held in the kind of nearly universal esteem by his students that most of us could only dream of. To prefer the baseless insinuations of parties who have never encountered the man in a classroom to the reports of his colleagues and students in order to manufacture a pretense for removing him is absurd.

There is, in other words, no justification for removing him. More, to do so in the manner in which your institution has conducted itself is to violate core principles of due process, shared governance, and academic freedom—bedrock principles of university life. The degree to which this is true is evidenced by the extraordinary number of academics—including myself—who have agreed to boycott your institution until this decision is reversed.

Before closing this message, I also want to ask you to consider another aspect of this case which has been less frequently remarked upon, namely that what is happening to Salaita—the invocation of a standard of civility as grounds for excluding a scholar from a university community—fits an old and ugly pattern. Salaita, as I am sure you know, is Palestinian-American. Those of his statements which some have contested are not simply the speech of any generic individual, but the speech of someone whose own community was profoundly and directly affected by the events that he was discussing. This speech expresses a grievance. But this has been obscured in much of the discussion, which has simply painted him as generically ‘uncivil.’ And precisely this operation of obscuring the speaker’s position in order to facilitate labeling him or her as ‘uncivil’ has all too frequently been used to shut down aggrieved speech by members of marginalized groups against the systems (or the agents thereof) that marginalize them. In the American academy, this tactic has been all too common, having been used against generations of non-white scholars, non-male scholars, queer scholars, scholars demanding equitable treatment for those affected by disability, and so forth. (If you think about it for a moment, you should be able to recognize the stereotypes of the ‘angry black man or woman’, the ‘angry feminist,’ etc., and see how they work here.) Labeling the claims of those folks (and their conduct) as uncivil and unprofessional serves simply to divert attention from the substance of those claims and the necessity of acknowledging or answering them. It also prevents us from recognizing or acknowledging the position—and the anguish—of the speakers. That it frequently leads to the exclusion of the folks so labeled from the academic world as such is, of course, part of the point of such labeling. And to the extent that you have accepted that label as it has been applied to Salaita, you are reiterating this pattern once again.

What, then, are the stakes here? This tactic, the degree to which it is all too often successful, is a crucial part of why the U.S. academy remains, for all of its nominal or rhetorical interest in ‘diversity,’ a space that is dominated by logics of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, ableism, etc. We are very far from really achieving the diversity that we supposedly seek—and which the same document setting out the Criteria for Accreditation under which your institution operates articulates as one of the values that it is bound to foster. The choice which faces you is thus not merely a choice regarding principles of shared governance and academic freedom, but it is also a choice about whether you will make the substantive commitment to applying those principles to all members of the academic community, and will actively seek to foster a community that is genuinely inclusive instead of reiterating once again an old, tired pattern of exclusion.

For all of these reasons, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to approve Steven Salaita’s appointment. Doing so is the only possible path toward resorting the position of your fine institution within the international academic community.


Edward Kazarian, PhD
Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies
Rowan University*

*I list my institutional and departmental affiliations only for the purposes of identification. I do not speak for the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies or Rowan University.

Elisabeth Roudinesco’s Obituary of Jean Oury [in English]

Sadly, Jean Oury died several weeks ago at the age of 90.  What follows is my quick translation of Elisabeth Roudinesco’s short obituary, published in Le Monde on May 16, 2014.  The original text is here.

Jean Oury, Leader of Institutional Psychotherapy, is Dead

by Elisabeth Roudinesco

French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jean Oury, internationally known for being the leader of French institutional psychotherapy, died the night of May 15, at the La Borde clinic in Cour-Cheverny (Loir-et-Cher), his student and friend Pierre Delion, professor of child psychiatry at Lille, has announced.

The life of Jean Oury, born March 5, 1924 in La Garenne-Colombes, tends to become confused with his work at the La Borde clinic, a place which he founded in 1953 and which he was known to keep alive despite all difficulties.

Analyzed by Jacques Lacan

Jean Oury was not the founder, but the inheritor of institutional psychotherapy. This current of psychiatry, of which he became the most famous incarnation, was based on a global approach to madness resting on the idea of psychic causality of mental illness in opposition to theses privileging purely physico-chemical causes. It aimed to reform the institution of the asylum by privileging a dynamic relation between caregivers and patients in sites of care said to be “open” to the outside world.

The term institutional psychotherapy was employed for the first time in 1952 by Georges Daumezon. In France, this approach, which already existed elsewhere in the world, had developed starting in 1940, under the Occupation, in the Saint-Alban (Lozère) psychiatric hospital, where there were mixed together pell mell members of the resistance, the mentally ill, refugees and passing intellectuals such as Paul Eluard or Georges Canguilhem.

Jean Oury began his career in 1947 as an intern in psychiatry at the Saint-Alban hospital. At La Borde, he famously worked with Félix Guattari, who died in 1992, who in 1957 took on the administrative directorship of the clinic. A member of the Ecole Freudienne de Paris until its dissolution in 1980, Jean Oury had been analyzed by Jacques Lacan for twenty years. His brother, Fernand Oury, who died in 1997, was the creator of the movement of institutional pedagogy.

—translated by Edward Kazarian    


François Laurelle — Le principe de minorité — Foreword [In English]


Originally published in 1981, Le principe de minorité, the title of which can be translated as The Minority Principle, is the first in the series of works that Laurelle would eventually designate ‘Philosophy II.’

The following short foreword, subtitled “The Immediate Givens of Multiplicities,” lays out the general plan of the work and announces its major aims. The first of these is a critique and of the major theoretical treatments of “the contemporary problem of Difference, that is to say of continuous and relative multiplicities that it still inscribes in the hypostasis of Being, or of minorities that it still implants in the body of the State—hypostases that it only causes to stretch without daring to break them.” Evidently, the text anticipates important elements of the extended critique that Laruelle would level against Nietzsche, Deleuze, Derrida, and Heidegger in Philosophies of Difference—though here his announced targets are Nietzsche, Bergson, and Heidegger.

But Laruelle also aims to present an alternative to these inadequate approaches, which he figures under the sign of a type of multiplicity that he distinguishes from two others: the ‘discrete or arithmetic’ type and the ‘continuous’ type, which he associates with the philosophers of difference. The third type, which Laruelle proposes here, are  “dispersive, Unary Multiplicities or Minorities, which” he goes on to say, “are the absolute concept or the essence of multiplicities.” It is this notion which sets him over and against the traditional global categories that are typically held to encompass differences of various sorts: “Being, the Idea, the State, History, etc.” Against these, he argues for “the absolute, non-relative autonomy of parts, differences, minorities, beings [étant], events, singularities, etc.” And from here, he will proceed to argue that in treating these dispersed elements as absolutes, as ‘immediate givens,’ we shall be led to reconcile “a thought of the multiple and of becoming [. . . ] and a thought of the absolute, but of the Absolute as such, a thought of the One, but of the One without unity, beyond the Idea, Logos, Being itself [l’Etre même].” It is in this ‘One without unity,’ this absolute One beyond Being, that, Laruelle contends, we shall find the genuinely “immediate givens” to which the philosophies of Difference ultimately failed to keep its promises at both a theoretical and a political level. And again, readers familiar with the general outlines of Laruelle’s oeuvre will see in all of this an early formulation of themes that remain central to his more recent thought, including texts like Future Christ and its companion, Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains.

Textual Notes and Acknowledgements

This translation is a draft. It has not been reviewed by Laruelle. Please do not publish it without permission. I would also appreciate prior notice if you intend to quote from it or cite it.

I have generally hewed fairly closely to Laruelle’s syntax, and left the original French in brackets where it seemed to me that his meaning might be subject to various readings, or where the original French terms had resonances that were difficult to render adequately in English. Two sentences, especially, proved very difficult to translate and I have supplied the original French in footnotes, which readers are invited to consult.

Finally, this translation has benefitted enormously from a careful review by Tyler Harper. He made a number of excellent suggestions for revisions, many of which I have incorporated in what follows. All mistakes and infelicities are, of course, my own.

The translation follows after the break, or can be downloaded in .pdf form here.

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Canards about the University: Three Orthodoxies

Earlier today, Natalia Cecire posted a remarkable intervention into the current debates about higher education on Twitter. She wrote:

@ncecire: Three orthodoxies. 1. There is a “skills gap,” meaning young people aren’t getting enough high-level education.

@ncecire: 2. We need far more teaching than we can possibly provide, which means we need MOOCs. 3. Far too many people are getting Ph.D.s.

My first response to this was to be thrilled, and to send her the link to my first post in this series, which interrogates her number 3 above.  What I appreciated, initially, was how I felt she’d captured something fundamental about the incoherence of the current state of the conventional wisdom, and I told her as much. But the more I think about it, the more I’m tempted to reformulate these slightly, or at least to ask after the conditions under which they frame not an inconsistent, but rather a consistent way of thinking.

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Moral Stupidty

Yesterday, Talking Points Memo reported on new CBS News poll that found extremely high percentages of respondents approving of the use of drones against suspected terrorists. According to the article:

Seventy-one percent of Americans — including 78 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats — said they support the use of drones against suspected terrorists. Only 20 percent of respondents said they are opposed.

My initial response to this was twofold: 1) disgust and dismay, and 2) the thought that we might need a category of ‘moral stupidity’ to describe this kind of phenomenon. I want to briefly explain the latter, since the more I think about it, the more I think such a category — or perhaps, for reasons I’ll explain below, a category of ‘moral stupidities’ — has some genuine value and is worth developing in a precise way.

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François Laruelle – Phénomène et Différence – Introduction [in English]

François Laruelle’s first book, Phénomène et Différence. Essai sur l’ontologie de Ravaisson, appeared in 1971. As he notes in the final paragraph below, the text was his thesis for the doctorat de troisième cycle. Laruelle acknowledges this academic origin, regretting that the work as it stood did not take account of some of the theoretical developments in very contemporary French thought which related to its subject matter—or that it only did so around the margins. This qualification must be added because, when Laruelle prepared Phénomène et Différence for publication, he added the introductory text which is translated here in order to position what was already, by his own characterization, a “free essay” on Ravaisson in relation to the contemporary problem of difference.

As matters now stand, that Introduction can be seen as a remarkable first statement of a number of themes that have endured in Laruelle’s thought. Indeed, in the correspondence wherein he graciously gave me permission to post this translation, Laruelle himself observed that “these three pages . . . announce a constant tendency in my thought.”

Accordingly, I am glad to be able to present the following translation. The Introduction begins in page 9 of the French edition, and I have marked the page transitions in that edition as they occur. Also, given the likelihood that many readers will have difficulty obtaining a copy of Phénomène et Différence, I have been quite free about supplying the original French in brackets where it seemed useful for clarity or where the sense of Laruelle’s text might be open to variant readings in English. Several readers, including Laruelle himself have seen this text, but none of them have checked it carefully against the French. Therefore, while I am fairly confident in its accuracy, this should be treated as an uncorrected draft translation, which may contain errors and infelicities — for which I take full responsibility and of which I invite discussion in the comments.

The translation follows after the break, or can be downloaded in .pdf form here.

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Canards about the University: “There are too many PhD programs.”

Consider this the first in a series devoted to pieces of conventional wisdom which one hears repeated in discussions of higher education, which strike me as deserving of more skepticism than they usually receive.

If there’s one thing that the current state of the job market proves, it’s that there are too many PhD programs in the humanities.

I think this is wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

Jean Laplanche Has Died

Today, Le Monde carries a short announcement, written by Elisabeth Roudinesco, that Jean Laplanche died yesterday of pulmonary fibrosis.

Here is the text of Roudinesco’s announcement translated into English:

Born the 21st of June, 1924, Jean Laplanche, psychoanalyist, graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, agrégé in philosophy, doctor of medicine, former intern at psychiatric hospitals, founder of the Centre de recherches en psychanlyse and psychopathologie fondamentale (1979, University of Paris VII), then professor emeritus, died the 6th of May at the Hospital de Beaune of the effects of a pulmonary fibrosis.

Jean Laplanche belonged to the third generation of French psychoanalysis. He was analyzed by Jacques Lacan, who remained, after Freud, his major intellectual reerence, and was among the founders of the Association psychanalyse de France (APF, 1964). He was the scientific director of the publication of the complete works of Freud by the Presses universitaires de France (PUF) and the author, with Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, of the celebrated Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, publised in 1967 and translated into twenty five languages.

He was also the author of an important body of work: 20 volumes, pulished by PUF of which some were translated into many languages. He was also, until 2003, and under the name of Jean-Louis Laplanche, a remakable wine-maker, proprietor of the Château de Pommard, which he inherited from his father.